The Newsletter 62 Winter 2012

Ethno-religious heritage in Singapore and the quest

Bernard Arps

Narrative is accepted as central to the representation of experience in a variety of disciplines, ranging from sociology and philosophy to history. A fascinating narrative pattern in this connection is ‘the quest’. Its focus on an individual with a strong sense of purpose, its structure of layered progression, and its promise of revelatory closure give the quest an especially solid architecture and have it exemplify familiar ideals. The quest in western mythology and literature has been much studied. Theoretical perspectives rooted in Jungian psychoanalysis have dominated since the 1950s, with plenty of academic remakes and retakes in the same vein. Oddly and disappointingly, however, this emphasis is not counterbalanced with cultural study. Quests pop up everywhere around and in people – in videogames and pilgrimage, self-perception and national histories – but this ubiquity and the quest’s presumed psychological universality have not triggered empirical research into the social aspects of its presence, its variability, and the political uses to which it is put.

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