On Senior High School Students Interviewing Filipino Writers

Recently in Mindanao, local writers have been surprised to receive emails and private messages on social media from senior high school students about their life and work. These questions and requests for interview seem to be from requirements being asked in school, an innovative class activity, I suspect, by idealistic young teachers who want our young people to get in touch with our local literary scene.

This is of course unprecedented, specially among local writers, as Filipino literature in general is largely underrated, unread by the Filipino readership. This is particularly the case with the youth, which largely consumes foreign literature, and if there is ever local consumption it is limited to works of popular fiction, very far from the literary crop.  Our writers rarely get so much attention.

How, you ask, did the writers react to this sudden surge of attention? Scorn.

Many writers decried the intrusive nature of the interviews. Others deplored how the students did not even bother researching basic information about them before asking. Still there are those who called on the teachers to teach their students to be formal enough and write a request letter. And others simply complained that with the barrage of interview requests, they don’t have time to write.

 

There is, first and foremost, nothing mature or professional about bashing senior high students on social media. If there are rude requests from them (and admittedly there have been), simply tell them off or ignore them without making it public that you have done so.

Then there is a certain arrogance to demand that any interview be conducted in formal terms.

This, I think, reveals the underlying elitism that so defines our literary – and our artistic – community.

The pervasive attitude among artists, specially writers, is that their art – and their dedication to the field of art – makes them important, somehow worthy of utmost respect and veneration. The artist is a sacred person according to the Filipino writer (many will always think of the celebrity of Neruda or the venerability of Hugo), and one ought not to treat them the way one would treat other, more ordinary people.

Filipino writers dismiss the dearth of readership they should be getting as the result of the unwashed masses’ lack of education and breeding. They scorn teenage Filipinos for reading Wattpad novels and Kilig Romances. Ironically they do so while espousing generally Gramscian ideologies.

The Filipino writer has long decried the lack of attention, and when she finally gets it, she complains it is not in the necessary note of reverence she thinks she deserves.

The truth of the matter is (and it is a painful reality I am saying as a writer myself), a writer who is not read is an irrelevant writer, and the vast majority of our so-called ‘literary writers’ are irrelevant writers who are not even read by one another. We are no important Hugos and Nerudas to whom formal letters of request have to be given so interviews can be asked, it is just downright arrogance to demand something like that when a polite, even if informal private message on Facebook, would have done.

There is even more arrogance in those saying students ought to research about the writers first. It assumes, first of all, that the writers in question are important enough to be on the books (trust me, even National Artists sometimes have very little information out there). They also forget the fact that in the Philippines, Filipino books and other material that deal with Filipino writers (academic journals, literary magazines, etc.) are both often prohibitively expensive (a 350 peso novel is average), and excessively difficult to find. I cannot even find anywhere the birth places of so many Filipino writers that I have to ask from common friends. This all just goes to show how out of touch our writers are to their own realities.

But I think the biggest manifestation of delusions of grandeur are in those saying they don’t have time to answer questions because they have to write. How utterly snobbish can you get. You refuse to entertain what can be your potential readers because you have to write stories and poems nobody will read.

It is very counterproductive. One of the frequent reasons cited by less egotistic writers as a reason why Filipino literature remains so inaccessible is because our writers are not introduced to our children. That is now being remedied, and even if the efforts are facing challenges, the sheer snobbery with which writers respond to them are far more damaging to the efforts than whatever glitches these first efforts may have.

We need our kids to start appreciating our very good body of local literature, but how do we expect them to like our work when their first experience of it is a writer publicly humiliating them on social media?

 

 


Leoncio Deriada’s ‘People on Claveria Street’

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I just finished reading Leoncio Deriada’s latest novel, People on Claveria Street.’

A prequel to his last novel ‘People on Guerrero Street,’ it’s about the author’s first year in Davao in the late 1940s, when he was still an elementary student. It is to date only the third novel written about Davao.

The books offers a fascinating glimpse at Davao in the past, back when the now highly urbanized metropolis of Mindanao was still a semi-rural frontier town recovering from the War. This has always been one of the charms of Deriada’s work, specially as Davao and much of Mindanao is terribly apathetic to its own history.

I will be writing a review of the book soon!


An International Mention

 

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Well, this is unexpected.

While vacationing in Singapore, I found my name in a book in Books Kinokuniya. My ego purrs with delight as it is stroked.

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This is perhaps the most flattering rejection I have ever had. I sent a play for inclusion in Southeast Asian Plays, edited by Cheryl Robson and Aubrey Mellor and published by Aurora Metro Publications in the US. I didn’t get accepted, but it seems they acknowledged the writers who sent in submissions.

Normally, publicly accepting you were rejected would be unflattering. But this time it isn’t.

  • For one thing, I see my name in a book in Singapore. Beat that, HaveYouSeenThisGirl!
  • Then, the only Filipino to get in is Floy Quintos, and I don’t stand a chance against the likes of him
  • The other writers acknowledged were pretty accomplished writers too, so I’m in prestigious company

The least I could do in return, of course, is to promote the book. It’s available in most branches of Books Kinokuniya!

Every rejection should be like this!


SALEM 2017 Writers Workshop Fellows

(My old club in Ateneo de Davao is doing well!)


The Pasmodern Manifesto

The Pasmodern Manifesto

By Frank Edwin Macapanas

  • The very nature of modern Filipino identity is of hunger – for belongingness, for recognition, for resolution. And yet the Filipino is unaware of this, for he is sustained with the bahaw (stale) – pan-os (spoiled), even – ideology of the past. He is essentially hungry and malnourished, he is pasmo. This is called the Pasmodern Condition.

 

  • What are the stalenesses and spoilednesses that the Filipino partakes of? These are foreign essences he imbibes to define himself: Spanish holy water, the American spirit, and today for those in the regions the water of the river Pasig. And yet this does not help him define himself, it only ascribes unto him the identity of the cultures from whence these objects are pirated. We are all just indios, just little brown Americans, just variations of Manileno, or a combination of all these with K-pop bangs. The Filipino identity is a Budots identity, a repetitive and heterogeneous pastiche of influences, but forever devoid of coherent substance.

 

  • The condition of being unaware of one’s hunger for identity is called Dinanghag. The Filipino must liberate himself from this ignorance, from the blindness at his own malnourishment, and realize that he is hungry. Only then can he move forward as a human being.

 

  • The duty of the artist is to dispel Dinanghag by exemplifying hunger. He must embrace his own emptiness and let it define his art.

 

  • Prolonged hunger begets delusion, and the acceptance of the Budots identity without knowledge of it is itself a delusion. And yet this is a world of lies, we are all caught in Indra’s net, all beneficiaries of Nietzscheian balikbayan boxes. Nothing, therefore, is truer than the delusions of the Pasmodern.

 

  • True cultural incorporation is the making of borrowed elements our own. We however make ourselves what we borrow, we adjust to what we take, compromising our identity creation in the process. The artist must redeem the Filipino identity of such compromises, purge it of its anomalous voids. Before the Filipino can recognize he is malnourished of actual identity, he must wretch out all the otherness he has swallowed. He must kill the Spanish Jesus, he must kill Uncle Sam, he must kill Rizal. The beginning of Pasmodern awakening is purgation.

 

  • And yet truths that establish themselves are difficult to remove, like addictions to the immediate and familiar pleasure of junk foods. Dinanghag is most problematic when it is permeated by a sense of attachment, of seriousness. But the solution to this is whimsicality in derision. To move the Filipino with art, the artist must yaga-yaga, but he must not only yaga-yaga, he must yaga-yaga with the intention of hurting in order to scrape off barnacled old ‘truths’: the artist must bugal-bugal. The artist must initiate Bugal-Bugal Revolution, for the individual Filipino and for the Filipino people synchronically. This will lead to identity purgation.

 

  • The initial result of successful Bugal-Bugal Revolution is Kahasol – an immediate feeling of somewhat bereft consternation, as if sense had been ‘hustled’ away from one. This then leads to alienation, the Filipino finally seeing he is not an indio, not a brown American, not simply a variant of Manileno. And he will realize he cannot continue thinking he is any of these. Everything he has come to know as familiar will be unpleasant and different. And there will be nothing, other than these now strange lies, but emptiness. He will be incapable of determining then who he is. This is his recognition of his own hunger for familiarity, and the discomfort he will feel is Kalain (difference/unpleasantness).

 

  • And yet he will continue to see delusions, for hunger always begets delusions. But this time he knows he is seeing delusions, and these delusions will consciously emerge as an attempt to fill in the void where truth is supposed to be. The Filipino must embrace the delusions of the Pasmodern as they are, and not as truths, for it is better to be deluded and know that one is deluded than to see the truth and not know that the truth is a delusion. There is no truth, so we must make it. This is Pinataka, the deliberate creation of truths in its inherent absence.

 

  • The role of the artist is to create. The artist must take Filipino identity in his own hands, grip it firmly, stroke it violently until it blisters, and let liquid possibilities spurt out of it. The artist must not be limited to who the Filipino is, or who he seems to be, but must be preoccupied with who the Filipino can and in his own opinion must be. The Pinataka artist consciously contributes to the endless discourse of identity creation.

 

  • Any artist who believes he is ‘depicting’ realities is being deluded without knowing it. The nostalgics who hark back to long gone precolonial times, the colonialists who deify the Spanish or the Americans or the Koreans, the activists decrying anything not dealing with farmers or the urban poor or the environment or gender as ‘socially irrelevant,’ the removed poets aspiring for ‘moral universals:’ all of them are deluded without knowing it. The only serious artist is the Pinataka artist.

 

  • The Pinataka artist is also superior to De Man’s ‘deliberate misreaders,’ for more often than not the deliberate misreader is not really misreading deliberately but accidentally, inadvertently forging new meaning out of the old. The Pinataka artist is conscious even of his deliberate accidents.

 

  • There are two types of Pinataka artist: the ones who are completely devoid of any tradition, and the ones disowned by their tradition. Both types contribute to the creation of identity, but the latter is superior to the former, as the former, out of native genius, may simply produce unwittingly what has already been produced, while the latter are aware of what has been said in the discourse before and will deliberately be different.

 

  • The Pinataka artist is a prophet, and as such he cannot be encumbered by the mundane communicative difficulties of class in conveying his prophecy. And yet in his attempt at initiating Bugal-Bugal Revolution he can take advantage of class. He can Lim-buwag – shatter (in Tagalog ‘buwag’) the established Dinanghag by overturning (in Cebuano ‘limbuwag’) the accepted hierarchies in that class. Bakhtin calls it carnivalesque, but we will not borrow his term (we must rehabilitate ourselves for the time being of our addiction of borrowing!) as we already have our own. By presenting lower class culture to the upper classes and vice versa, they will see not that their class has defined who they are, but that they have allowed their class to define them – seeing what is not one’s own does not present universals, it alienates one from the familiar. This will lead to Kahasol, then ultimately Kalain.

 

  • The end of the Pasmodern endeavour does not exist, one Bugal Bugal Revolution must come after another endlessly. The Filipino identity will never be fixed. It is the duty and mission of the Pinataka artist to make Filipino identity one of permanent kalain, one of Ka-ugaling-on, ‘however-ness,’ the state of identity that will always have its insufficiencies and contradictions. Liberated from Dinanghag, the Filipino will never be complacent and will forever be a being ahead-of-himself, constantly taking his own identity as an issue.

 

  • It is not strange for the Pasmodern Filipino, enlightened by Pinataka art, to embrace his Budots identity. Rather it is expected, as true and complete rejection of any sense of inherent essence will make incongruous hybridity as acceptable as, if not preferable over, any delusions of purism. Filipino identity may easily become its own question. It is the duty of the artist to constantly ask that question.

Expectations for the SALEM President

The President of the Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors (SALEM), student literary org of the Ateneo de Davao University, has a colourful history.

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The club was revived from a defunct course club in 2010, and has since become one of Mindanao’s most prominent student literary organizations. Since re-founding, it has had five presidents.

Over the years, certain expectations of the student occupying the post have become conventions, many of them solidifying as responsibilities and qualifications. As the second to hold the office, I think I can say that the SALEM President is expected to:

  1. Begin his/her term by helping out with the Ateneo de Davao Summer Writers Workshop
  2. Be one of the leading – if not the leading student literary writer in Ateneo
  3. Be published, at least once, at least on the local level (meaning at least the Davao Writer’s Guild’s Dagmay), with a literary work, preferably before taking office
  4. Be a voracious reader, who can namedrop at least three Filipino writers he/she has read, and talk about at least three literary theories in informal conversation (the numbers are arbitrary but you get the point)
  5. Be well versed in Ateneo de Davao’s own literary tradition
  6. Be an intellectual with a chagrin for any proud display of ignorance, but must never be a grammar prescriptivist
  7. Actively, audaciously, and prolifically conceptualize and initiate activities that will lead to the growth and development of the school’s aspiring writers  – ‘Keep the AdDU Writers awake,’ as the battle cry from Ricky de Ungria puts it
  8. Connect Ateneo students to the greater literary community in Davao, in the Philippines, and if possible in the world
  9. Have the wide network of literary contacts necessary for the above two
  10. Inform, involve, and exploit SALEM’s large and moneyed pool of alumni about in and for club activities
  11. Regularly represent SALEM and AdDU in all literary gatherings and events in Davao
  12. Help outside parties who want to bring literary events to AdDU
  13. Bring outside parties into AdDU to have literary events
  14. Actively cooperate with other club presidents in Ateneo (SALEM pioneered collaboration between clubs)
  15. Be inclusive and accessible to students, specially members, and be contagiously passionate about literature
  16. Nurture and take special care of the new members,making them feel the love of the club through the President
  17. Groom, as early as possible, the next President who meets, or who has the potential to meet, the above qualifications.

 

 


‘Police Blues’ from Abdon Balde Jr.’s 100 Kislap: A Formalist reading

(Something I wrote in college for I forgot which class)

The Kislap is a sub-category of Filipino flash fiction that the Palanca Awardee Abdon Balde Jr. invented, and exemplified in his book 100 Kislap. The defining characteristics of this type of flash fiction are the maximum of 150 words and the use of the Filipino language (making it the first manifestation of strictly Flash Fiction in Filipino literature).  In the book’s preface, Balde explains that what made the Kislap unique was that the word limit did not define the writing process, but the other way around: if the story happened to be less than or equal to 150 words then it happens to be a Kislap.

With just 74 words, “Police Blues” is among the 100 Kislap in the collection. The story, whose text is written in the silhouette of a police badge, begins with a sentence that describes the time (hatinggabi), the antecedent action (pagkatapos naming magtalik), the action that starts the conflict (narining… ang ingay) and the setting (“ibaba” hints that they are on an upper floor). The first paragraph ends with a speculation of the sound being caused by a burglar.

The second paragraph simply reveals how the narrator asks the unnamed partner to remain. Then, in the next paragraph begins its sentences with the actions “bumangon” and “hinugot,” and also mentions the .45 and its holster, hinting the character might be a policeman, or at least someone licensed to hold a gun.

The following paragraph, just one sentence, subconsciously confirms our speculation that the narrator is a man when it mentions “briefs.”

When the narrator mentions that Supt. Nicodemus Ferriols is pointing a gun at him, the climax comes.  But somehow, the reader might feel suspicious of something when he addresses the superintendent as “Nicco,” which sounds like a nickname of endearment.

The last paragraph’s first word (taksil) explains everything. To add to this, the words “lalaking yan,” referring to the partner (whom the reader had assumed was a woman) confirm the homosexuality. The ending is humorous because it completely ignores this unexpected fact and continues its theme of policemen.

The main thrust of the twist in the story lies in its skaz. The narrator treats homosexuality as a completely mundane thing, failing to even mention it or hint of it until the end. To the reader who does not have that point of view, it completely defamiliarizes it. The same is done to sex. The narrator casually mentions having sex, and again, to the virgin reader, it cannot help but come as a shock.

The story also has some metonyms in it. The mention of the .45 strengthens the hint that the narrator is a policeman (a notion established by the title and by his initiative to come down). The briefs, at first humorously and defamilarizingly but later on glaringly, establish his being a man.  To the reader equipped with only an AI level of reading comprehension, these metonyms would not have such meanings.

There are two instances of using free motifs to cause defamiliarization. The first, the slow descent, features (as mentioned) the briefs, which later on proves to be a Chekov’s gun.  The second is when Nicodemus Ferriols is introduced, the time when the narrator decides to reveal the setting of the instance (the sofa in the salas). It is evident that this rather out of place exposition is meant to prolong anticipation.

But perhaps the most interesting fact about the story is its brevity. It ends right when that realization by the reader is slightly mocked, leaving the reader feeling somewhat tantalized. He (the reader) has already modified his expectations as to the text, but his modification is now left unfulfilled. The prolonging of achieving pleasure (which the formalists emphasize and which the poststructuralist Lacan would later call jouissance) is very much present in this story.