Saturday, 27 March 2021

ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว

Duanwad Pimwana
Duanwad Pimwana’s latest novel, ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว: นิยมนิยายอันเหลือจะบรรยาย (‘indescribable fiction: unspoken dreams’), was published last year. Duanwad, a pen name for Pimjai Juklin, is one of Thailand’s leading contemporary writers, and ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว was inspired by Don Quixote, the first novel in the Western canon.

Duandwad has spoken out in opposition to the current military government, and the novel takes place in the chaotic atmosphere of the 2013 PDRC protests leading up to the 2014 coup. Her political stance is clear from chapter seven: its title, แผนฆ่าประชาธิปไตยในห้องปิดตาย, refers to the death of democracy.

Uthis Haemamool’s recent novel ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’) also comments on the 2014 coup. Duanwad wrote a chapter in the anthology Remembrances of Red Trauma (1 ทศวรรษ พฤษภาฯ เลือดปี ’53), reflecting on the impact of the 2010 massacre on Thai literature.

“Fox recklessly disregarded the truth...”

Dominion Voting Systems yesterday filed defamation charges against Fox News, seeking $1.6 billion in damages. Their lawsuit accuses the network of broadcasting “a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies” and “outlandish, defamatory, and far-fetched fictions” in the aftermath of last year’s US presidential election.

Fox News hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, and Jeanine Pirro spread outlandish conspiracy theories in the weeks after the election, seeking to cast doubt on Joe Biden’s victory by falsely alleging that Dominion rigged the election. Dominion’s lawsuit states: “Fox recklessly disregarded the truth. Indeed, Fox knew these statements about Dominion were lies.”

The allegations of election fraud were also repeated on a daily basis by Donald Trump himself, who refused to concede the election. The ultimate impact of such dangerous misinformation, and the culmination of Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in American institutions, came on 6th January when he incited a riot at the US Capitol.

Fox News defended another of its hosts, Tucker Carlson, against defamation charges last year, arguing that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”, and last month Fox Business cancelled Lou Dobbs Tonight, its highest-rated show. Smartmatic, another voting technology company, is currently suing Fox for $2.7 billion.

Monday, 22 March 2021

Derivatives and Integrals

Derivatives and Integrals
Derivatives and Integrals
Derivatives and Integrals
Derivatives and Integrals (อนุพันธ์ และปริพันธ์) opened at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok on 5th March, and runs until 10th April (extended from 28th March). The exhibition includes a copy of the banned book The King Never Smiles on a small Buddhist altar, though the cover photograph has been replaced by a photo of Stephen King. All ‘sensitive’ text on the book jacket has been covered by the logo of the anonymous artist กูKult, whose exhibition this is. (The artist is due in court today, charged under the Computer Crime Act and the lèse-majesté law.)

On closer inspection, the book on the altar is not actually The King Never Smiles: inside the dust jacket is another hardback of the same size, the first volume of Continuous Multivariate Distributions. (Revealing this feels a bit like pulling back the curtains on the Wizard of Oz, though of course that’s also what the exhibition is doing.)

Propping up the altar is another book, a Thai self-help guide, though a simple equation has been written on its cover (one interpretation of which could involve regnal numbers and a gun calibre). The exhibition’s full title is a more complex algebraic expression, \frac{df\left({x}\right)}{dx}\Bigg\vert_{x=c}\wedge\int_{a}^{b}f\left({x}\right)dx.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย

Democracy Restoration Group
Royal Thai Police
This afternoon, police searched the offices of Same Sky Books and confiscated 10,000 copies of a booklet by pro-democracy protest leader Arnon Nampa. The booklet, สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย (‘the monarchy and Thai society’), contains the text of a speech delivered by Arnon at Democracy Monument on 3rd August 2020.

The booklet’s publishers, the Democracy Restoration Group campaign, announced yesterday that it would be given away at a REDEM protest rally at Sanam Luang this evening, and many copies were distributed there despite the police seizure. (Arnon had previously distributed small quantities of the booklet last year.) Riot police used water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, as they had on 28th February.

Today’s police raid has echoes of an almost identical case last year, when an announcement that a similar booklet would be given away at a protest drew the attention of the authorities. That booklet—ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’)—was also seized by police before the rally, though some copies were eventually distributed.

Monday, 15 March 2021

Micro Politics

Micro Politics
Micro Politics, published in 2018, is a collection of four contemporary Thai plays and theatre performances: The Disappearance of the Boy on a Sunday Afternoon (การหายตัวไปของเด็กชายในบ่ายวันอาทิตย์) by Thanaphon Accawatanyu, A Nowhere Place (ที่ ไม่มีที่) by Pradit Prasartthong, Bang La Merd (บางละเมิด) by Ornanong Thaisriwong, and Hipster the King by Thanaphol Virulhakul. The scripts are printed in both Thai and English, and the book also includes interviews with each playwright.

The four works were all performed in the aftermath of the 2014 coup, at a time of increased political repression. Military officers attended and videotaped almost all performances of Bang La Merd, in an act of intimidation through state surveillance. As the publishers explain in their introduction, the collection is “a chronicle of social changes during those trying times, reflecting on the effects of the regime on individuals, questioning the events, and offering insights towards political problems in Thailand.”

Friday, 12 March 2021

Coup, King, Crisis

Coup, King, Crisis
After “Good Coup” Gone Bad, Pavin Chachavalpongpun has turned his attention to the 2006 coup’s more repressive sequel: the 2014 coup (from Bad to worse, as it were). Coup, King, Crisis: A Critical Interregnum in Thailand, edited by Pavin, focuses on Thai politics under the junta and the succession from Rama IX to Rama X. (After the Coup is an earlier anthology of essays on the 2014 coup.)

Pavin’s introduction summarises the 2019 election anomalies and the “political earthquake” of Thai Raksa Chart and Princess Ubolratana, though these really require their own chapters. Sarah Bishop writes about the Thai Raksa Chart dissolution, refuting the notion of ‘judicial coups’, though her argument is unconvincing as she ignores the Constitutional Court’s disqualifications of Samak Sundaravej, Somchai Wongsawat, Yingluck Shinawatra, and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. (For a more persuasive analysis of the politicised judiciary, see Eugénie Mérieau’s chapter in Military, Monarchy and Repression.)

The most interesting contributions are Kevin Hewison’s chapter on the royal succession, Paul M. Handley’s updating of The King Never Smiles, Tyrell Haberkorn’s discussion of Mor Yong, a primer on military factions by Paul Chambers (co-editor of Khaki Capital), and an account of self-censorship by David Streckfuss (author of Truth on Trial in Thailand). Streckfuss discusses the use of metaphor by writers and artists as a strategy to evade censorship, noting the “tension between letting readers in on the joke and somehow concealing it from the authorities”, citing the short story Hakom and the film Cemetery of Splendour as examples.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

“I have realized the wickedness of a
person who calls himself a scholar...”

Nattapoll Chaiching
Nattapoll Chaiching
Historian Nattapoll Chaiching’s book ขุนศึก ศักดินา และพญาอินทรี การเมืองไทยภายใต้ระเบียบโลกของสหรัฐอเมริกา 2491-2500 (‘feudal warlords and the eagle: Thai politics and the United States 1948-1957’), about Thailand’s relationship with the US during the Cold War, was a runaway bestseller among liberals and political enthusiasts when it was published last year. His earlier work, ขอฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ ความเคลื่อนไหวของขบวนการปฏิปักษ์ปฏิวัติสยาม (พ.ศ. 2475-2500) (‘I dream an incredible dream: the anti-Siamese revolutionary movement 1932-1957’), published in 2013, also saw a revival in sales after it was among five titles seized by police from the offices of the publisher, Same Sky Books.

Nattapoll has been heavily criticised by conservatives, culminating in a lawsuit issued on 5th March. In December last year, Chaiyand Chaiyaporn, a professor at Chulalongkorn University, accused him of falsifying references in the Ph.D. thesis on which his Cold War book was based. A week later, an ultra-royalist former monk, Suwit Thongprasert, accused him of lèse-majesté: “I have realized the wickedness of a person who calls himself a scholar and has got a Ph.D. who dared to develop a thesis with false information... harmful towards the royal institution.” (Suwit’s statement was issued under his monastic title Buddha Issara, though he was defrocked in 2018 as a result of his role in the 2014 PDRC protests.)

Last week, aristocrat Priyanandana Rangsit sued Nattapoll and Same Sky Books for defamation, seeking ฿50 million in damages. According to the lawsuit, Nattapoll’s books incorrectly assert that her grandfather, Prince Rangsit Prayurasakdi, sought an improper political influence over Phibun Songkhram’s government in the 1940s. She argues that this misrepresentation of her ancestor—who died seventy years ago—tarnishes her family name, and is thus defamatory to her personally.

Friday, 5 March 2021

Thai Cinema Uncensored

Art Review
My book Thai Cinema Uncensored is reviewed in the March issue of Art Review magazine (volume 73, number 1), on page 111. Reviewer Max Crosbie-Jones writes: “Thais and Thailand watchers will recognise the bigger story, an all-too-common narrative arc streaked with moments of fear, absurdity and humour, in Hunt’s lingering closeups on the mangled, hidden wreckage of film censorship.”

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Stanley Kubrick Produces

Stanley Kubrick Produces
James Fenwick’s Stanley Kubrick Produces focuses not on Kubrick’s artistic achievements as a director, but on his role as a producer and his place in the studio system. The book makes a revisionist assessment of Kubrick’s work, as Fenwick argues that the last decades of his career represented a debilitating decline in his ability to operate as a producer: “What emerges is almost a tragic narrative, Kubrick’s rise and fall as it were.”

The book covers Kubrick’s producing career chronologically, beginning with the independent films he both produced and directed. Fenwick even tracks down a copy of World Assembly of Youth, a short documentary that Kubrick once claimed to have worked on. (“Despite long-standing speculation about Kubrick’s involvement in the project, there is little evidence to support this.”) Fenwick makes an additional discovery: that Kubrick was involved in the sound editing of a film with the working title Shark Safari in 1953. Supported by extensive archive research, the book also provides detailed accounts of Kubrick’s producing partnership with James B. Harris, his collaborations with Kirk Douglas, and his various studio contracts.

The central thesis is that absolute control is a double-edged sword. Kubrick secured total control over every aspect of his films, though this was ultimately a Pyrrhic victory, as his micromanagement increasingly delayed the development of new projects: “Kubrick had become an impotent producer, overwhelmed by his own centralized management style and the information and research that he sought.” (The Channel 4 documentary The Last Movie made a similar point, comparing late-career Kubrick to a computer overloaded with data.)

Monday, 1 March 2021

REDEM

Riot police fired rubber bullets last night, when a protest near Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence turned violent. The police also deployed rubber batons, tear gas, and water cannon against the protesters. More than 1,000 people had gathered at Victory Monument in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, before marching to the Viphavadi Rangsit Road military barracks where Prayut resides. They attempted to remove shipping containers that the authorities had installed as a barrier, and threw rocks and other projectiles at the police. There were injuries on both sides, and a police officer suffered a fatal heart attack.

The protest was organised by REDEM (Restart Democracy), a rebranding of the Free Youth movement. (Free Youth had previously relaunched as Restart Thailand, though their RT logo, with its Communist hammer and sickle design, raised concerns among other pro-democracy groups.) REDEM issued a manifesto on 24th February, with three demands: a reduction in state spending on the monarchy, the removal of the military’s political influence, and a welfare state to ensure economic equality.

Last night represents an escalation of tensions between protesters and the authorities, and marks the first use of rubber bullets by the police since the protests began last year. It also indicates a more aggressive approach by elements of the protest movement, which is increasingly fragmented and leaderless. The various protest groups have differing demands, some of which are viewed as too extreme by potential allies. Protest leaders Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, Arnon Nampa, Parit Chirawak, and Panupong Jadnok, amongst others, are facing multiple charges including sedition and lèse-majesté.