SISA’S VENGEANCE by E. San Juan Jr., reviewed by Francis Macansantos

A Book Review of Sisa’s Vengeance

by Francis C. Macansantos
E, San Juan, Jr. was one illustrious young poet of the sixties, showing mastery of the medium in both Filipino and English. He has since reinvented himself as scholar of literature and culture, in America where he is based. With a Ph.D. from Harvard and professorships emeritus from several universities in the U.S., he is deemed an intellect of the first rank in literary and philosophical circles abroad. But just like Rizal, our first intellectual, San Juan is an exile, opting though to return to his country in the form of the books and articles he has written elsewhere, scholarly vessels that contain riches of insight on his motherland’s history, culture, and politics. Some who admire his poetry would prefer verse, but from his published offerings it seems as though he has hung up his lyre.
In prose, however, the rapport he has kept up with his motherland has been fervidly dynamic. Her freedom from post-colonial chains is the constant poem in this scholar’s heart. He reminds us of that other illustrious viajero, the controversial novelist, Dr. Jose Rizal.
And it is obvious that like most Filipino intellectuals, San Juan can never drop the subject of Rizal or his continuing relevance to the idea of liberation. What he does reject is the notion that we need to choose between Bonifacio and Rizal, one against and excluding the other. Indeed, he even sets aside discussion (postponed for another book, perhaps?) on Rizal’s refusal to join the revolution, preferring instead to emphasize the hero’s achievement in conceptualizing an authentic ideological guide to freedom.
In Sisa’s Vengeance, San Juan takes up and evaluates the views of practically all the major Rizal biographers and commentators, pointing out their shortcomings. He takes special exception to Under Three Flags by Benedict Anderson, whose assessment of Rizal lowers his stature as political thinker to that of a “mere moralist and novelist.” On good authority (of Jim Richardson who exposes Anderson’s numerous errors) he attacks Anderson’s “ignorance” and lack of conceptual rigor.
But it is only towards the later chapters of Sisa’s Vengeance that San Juan fully discloses his main theme (and to most of his macho countrymen a startling one): that the proof of his authenticity as revolutionary is his principled belief in and his fervent advocacy of women’s rights.
It comes to light in the book’s latter chapters that for San Juan, the cause of women’s liberation is the sine qua non to any authentic movement for human liberation. An authentic vision of social change requires a profound understanding and staunch espousal of the cause for women’s rights.
Media has tended to present Rizal as a fickle playboy with a girl in every port. Such popular representations flatter the self-image of Filipino machos. But San Juan’s sensitively scrupulous view yields to us a more respectful, even at times diffident man in love—often a victim of heartbreak, all despite Maximo Viola’s account of Rizal’s presumed encounter with a Viennese woman of the streets.(Rizal, in fact, was actively involved in the rehabilitation of sex workers.)
Rizal idolized his mother who was an exceptionally gifted and cultured person, and he was made aware by his studies in London of Morga’s Sucesos ,of the high social status of women of the Philippine islands before the Spanish conquest. It was in London in the midst of his research on Morga that he wrote—upon the request of M.H. del Pilar—his rightly famous letter (written in Tagalog) to the women of Malolos proclaiming their right to education and their duty transmit their learning to their children.
Apart from these women, his mother, and those whom he was linked with amorously, Rizal had other—albeit imaginary—women: Maria Clara, Sisa, Juli, Doña Consolacion, Salome, and others—the women of his novels. Sisa, especially, is central to San Juan’s meditation on Rizal’s character, as it is she who embodies the victimization of women and of the motherland. After establishing the necessary link between the patriarchal system and all oppressive (because profit-oriented) systems, San Juan adroitly transforms Rizal’s arguably feminist position into a fulcrum to elevate and authenticate his revolutionary status.
Indeed, San Juan’s readings of Rizal’s literary works recommend themselves directly to students and scholars of literature. Sisa’s Vengeance provides a plethora of insights into Rizalian texts that are a fitting reward for any reader who has plowed through the rather difficult–often specialized—prose. Such oases, or epiphanies (pun intended) are surely traces of a poetic sensibility.

Francis C. Macansantos is a Baguio-based writer,who writes poetry, essays and fiction in English and Chabacano, his native language. He is a Palanca award winner and an NCCA Writers Prize awardee. His latest book, Balsa: Poemas Chabacano, was recently launched at Ateneo de Zamboanga, where he received the Most Outstanding Alumnus of the Year award in December 2011.

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MULTICULTURALISM AND EXCHANGE VALUE–Marginal Observations by E. San Juan, Jr.


by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
One approach to disentangling the aporia of equal recognition of unequal cultures, of assigning comparable worth to a multiplicity of singular and incommensurable forms of life, would be to consider this dilemma as a symptom of the failure to grasp the paradigmatic sociality constituting individuals.

This sociality of multiculturalism, however, is historically specific to late capitalism. So it is necessary in the process of ethical and political judgment to grasp the ways in which the concept of value and its forms is theorized in the political economy of commodity production as an epistemological framework in assaying the worth of cultures. The usual point of departure is Marx’s comment on the fetishism of commodities in the first book of Capital:

A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labor appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labor; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labor is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labor.

This is the reason why the products of labor become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses (Selsam 1970, 276-77).
Commodity fetishism occurs when definite social relations assume “the fantastic form of a relation between things,” when products of labor become commodities. What is crucial to elucidate is the “value relation” which in the process of exchange both reveals and hides the human content, the concrete labor embodied in commodities. Marx’s analysis of the forms of value may help clarify the antinomies in Taylor’s predicament.

Marx begins with the simplest accidental commodity-form instanced in the exchange of any two commmodities of given amounts:
x commodity A = [is worth] y commodity B
In effect, if A is worth B, then B expresses the value of A. So then, by analogy for example, if Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is worth Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, then the African novel expresses the value of Tolstoy’s work.

This is an accidental exchange–no regularity or frequency is implied, given the lack of the political, geographical, and other economic factors to sustain regular trade between two groups, societies, or continents.
In the elementary form of value which comes about when trade becomes a regular practice of various societies, the value of commodity A in the process of exchange is expressed or manifested in commodity B. Commodity A is called “the relative value form” because its value is expressed in B, called the “equivalent form” whose material or corporeal use-value provides the phenomenal form of appearance for the value of A.

Here the two sides of the actual exchange process, the relative value form and the equivalent value form are opposed but united in a contradictory totality. There are different use values in a and B, the only common feature in them is the abstract value that each embodies in their differing use values. Here the various concrete labor that shaped A and B are reduced to abstraction due to capital’s social division of labor and the logic of exchange.

One commodity which embodies concrete labor is substituted for another commodity. A’s value can be manifested only through its reflective mediation in B; B’s otherness expresses one single aspect of A, namely, the abstraction to which human labor can be reduced.

It is in this phase of exchange that liberal democracy posits the equality of citizen-subjects mediated through the market and the bourgeois state apparatus. The relative value form of culture A (African Americans) incorporating the expenditure of energies by millions can be apprehended only if submitted to an equation (which parallels exchange); its equivalent form, from Taylor’s point of view, would be European culture which would select an aspect of African American culture that it can embody or express: for example, rational argumentation, male supremacy, etc. In other words, the relative form of African American culture can only be appraised or valorized by the equivalent form (here the dominant system of individual rights) the reveals its value.

While value is evidently a social relation, the equivalent form functions enigmatically to hide this contingency by making it appear that it naturally expresses the value of the other. In the primordial stage of exchange, African American culture would simply be worth Western culture in an accidental way: its use value is as good as any other.

In this elementary stage, however, we enter a domain where commodity production is generalized, humans are defined as owners of commodities (labor power) that they can dispose of, and the exchange of commodities predominate. This embraces the historical period from petty commodity production to booty capitalism, soon to be followed by the colonial expansion of Europe in the conquest of territories and the subjugation of peoples (African slaves, aboriginal Indians, etc.) up to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

So far Marx posits value not as an eternal or natural form of social production but as the objectification of abstract labor that undergoes a historical metamorphosis. Value is not intrinsic to a single commodity; it reflects the division of labor of independent producers “the social nature of whose labor is only revealed in the act of exchange” (Bottomore 1983, 509).

While commodities are embodiments of quantities of labor, their value-form derives from a relation: the value of commodity A cannot be identical to its natural self; it acquires objective existence in the physical form of commodity B which then becomes the value form of A. This expression of equivalence between various commodities demonstrates the specific quality of value-creating labor; the process of exchange reveals the general or common labor that has produced all those commodities.
Concerning the equivalent form of value, Marx identifies its three peculiarities thus: first, commodity B, its material body, objectifies abstract labor in expressing the value of commodity A; second, the concrete labor which produced commodity B becomes the form of appearance of abstract labor so that the particular processes of individual work which fashioned it becomes identical with other kinds of labor; and third, private labor assumes directly the form of social labor.

So “while a commodity is both a use value and a value, it only appears in this dual role when its value possesses a form of appearance independent of and distinct from its use value form. This independent form of expression is exchange value” (Bottomore 510).
Because the elementary form of value does not fully reflect the universality of exchange value, the multiplicity of commodities circulating in the market, we move to the expanded form of value–the analogue to cultural pluralism, or benign multiculturalism. Here commodity A not only exchanges with commodity B but also with commodities C, D, E, ad infinitum; the equivalent form of value is indifferent vis-a-vis the relative form. Here commodity A is configured within a whole world of commodity production, the social totality.

At this point we begin to understand that it is not exchange which regulates the magnitude of value but rather the magnitude of the value of commodities that regulates the proportion in which they are exchanged. Since here various useful labors are equalized, the series of representations or equivalent forms of the value of A is limitless, fragmentary, and lacks internal unity.
Eventually a stage is reached when one single commodity is chosen to represent the values of all commodities, setting aside the use values of particular commodities and expressing what is common to all of them; this “universal equivalent” belongs to the general form of value. The natural form of this universal equivalent serves as the value form of all other commodities, that is, exchange value, which erases both abstract labor and the socially necessary labor time that measures it. The form of value then appears in the money form and its quantitative measure.

Marx writes: “From the contradiction between the general character of value and its material existence in a particular commodity, etc….arises the category of money.’ In the transition from the general form to the money form of value as universal equivalent, the determinations of the prior forms of value remains: the contradictory unity and reflexive relations between the relative form and the equivalent form in the simple form, the totality and  infinitude brought out in the expanded form, and the mediated character in the general form.

Thus, in the general and money forms of value, the relative value-form of all commodities are gathered at the same time and expressed in the universal equivalent fixed by custom (money). In this stage, all social relations and with it use values are convertible into money relations. In this context, the price-form is a process in which use value, produced by concrete labor, becomes a product of that universal tool controlled by capital: the laborer, labor-power. Price equates an object with all other commodities, its labor with all others, thus rendering it abstract. As Harry Cleaver notes, “The qualitative equality of work has been affirmed and the quantity set socially. Money shows to the commodity that it is a product of abstract labor–a value” (1979, 164).
Anticipating charges of idealism, Marx contends that economic categories are not a priori constructions, they reflect human activities in history. The mode of analyzing the commodity form of value is based on the reality of the process of exchange whereby products of labor are commensurated in capitalism; the process of exchange demonstrates the sociality of production, connects independent producers, and guarantees that the value realized in exchange is the form of appearance of that labor socially necessary to the production of the commodity in question. From this one can elaborate on the law of value (how value is determined by socially necessary labor time) in terms of the categories of capital and its accumulation, the dominance of money relations, and the inversion of social relations of production (commodity fetishism) and its registration in consciousness (ideology).
Viewed from the genealogy of the forms of value summarized here, the multiculturalist Imaginary at first glance remains in the stage of the expanded form of value. Believing in the unrepeatable authenticity of use values embodied in art and other cultural practices, the multiculturalist nonetheless submits to a process of endless substitutions in the hope that this will do away with hierarchy, with domination and subordination. Both the relative forms of value and equivalent forms are shifting, fragmentary, heterogeneous; their contradictory relation obscures their totalizing and mediating effect.

Amid this instability, or “bad infinity,” Taylor enters the scene and while being appreciative of the range of differences and their dialectical motion, the irreplaceable nature of cultural groups and their right to survival, he doubts if his empathy for those deprived and suffering in the status quo can really be a trustworthy measure of their relative worth. In short, he doubts if a universal equivalent–the fusion of horizons in a heremeneutic transaction–can be found, a symbolic totalizing intuition or act that can genuinely extinguish Eurocentric bias (liberal theory of rights, the Hegelian concept, etc.) and enable parity of all competing parties, groups, cultures.
Unfortunately, this search for a universal equivalent form of value can lead only into the complete reign of commodity-fetishism–the money form of value–which equalizes everything in abstraction: the liberal banalities that all cultural groups share common concerns, dreams, anxieties, ideals, etc. We are faced here with the allegory of the Zulu Tolstoy negotiating his identity in the sphere of the Lacanian Imaginary, unaware of the lack that would resolve his crisis into a semblance of Symbolic plenitude.
Meanwhile, the Real insists on the necessity of recognizing that “socially necessary labor time” mystified, perverted, obfuscated by exchange of vernaculars, polyphonic dialogue, interpellation, by ludic speech and “hyperreal” communication. In Symbolic Economies, Jean Joseph Goux has traced the history of the connection between exchange value and the symbolic leading to the exclusion of “the surplus of meaning” in capitalist society, this “deficiency of meaning” arising from the reduction of everything into the quantitative universal equivalent, the money form of value.

This is the milieu of market liberalism where free and equal subjects can exchange ideas despite disparities in resources, opportunities, communal notions of the good. Multiculturalism can perhaps thrive here so long as the roots and sources of culture in concrete practices are not submitted to translation or transposition into the value form. But this is inescapable since multiculturalism implies comparison, translation, critical discriminations of all sorts.
But what is at stake in proposing this return to what may probably be dismissed as traditional and oldfashioned thinking?
In the conclusion to his ambitious work now recently published as American Civilization, CLR James envisioned an “integrated humanism” evolving from the multicultural environment of the United States, one that will make politics “an expression of universal man and a totally integrated human existence.”

Such a belief, almost utopian and even naive, in the capacity of the masses to absorb the whole of civilization and radically transform society is almost impossible for anyone who would ignore the reality of commodity exchange, its contradictory nature, and the possibilities of its overcoming. Partisans of multiculturalism can help in this overcoming by a more radical critique of its own formation and a historical sensitivity to the reality of labor, modes of production, and the material underpinnings of culture itself in its largest definition as social praxis.

[Drafted circa 2000; © E. San Juan, Jr.]



– ni E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

[Panayam sa Taboan 2014 Philippine Writers Festival, Pebrero 25, 2014, Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales]

Kung sa anong dahilan, inatasan akong ilarawan ang situwasyon ng literatura–mas tumpak, ng awtor– sa bingit o gilid…Ngunit bakit natulak dito? Hindi maihihiwalay ang gilid sa gitna; kapwa pook ng relasyon o ugnayan.

May saysay pa ang mag-usisa kung ano ang diyalektikang proseso nito, ang pinagmulan at kahihitnan. Paano babansagan ang bawat hati ng panahon upang makatiyak sa ating pinanggalingan at patutunguhan? Nasaan tayo sa temporalisasyon ng kasaysayan?

Siyasatin natin ang mapa ng panahunan. Tanggap ng lahat na pagkatapos ng krisis noong 1970, minarkahan ng pagkatalo ng U.S. sa IndoTsina, nagbago ang mundo sa pag-urong ng Unyon Sobyet sa antas ng “booty capitalism.” Sumunod ang Tsina at Biyetnam, ngayo’y mahigpit na kasangkot sa pandaigdigang ikot ng akumulasyon ng tubo.

Pumasok tayo sa panibagong yugto pagkaraan ng 9/11, ang pagwasak sa Twin Towers, New York; at paglunsad ng digmaan laban sa tinaguriang “teroristang” Al-Qaeda sa Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen. Nasa bingit tayo ng giyera laban sa Rusya at Tsina, sa gitna ng away sa Syria, sa dagat Tsina, kasangkot ang Spratley at mga isla sa pagitan ng Hapon at South Korea.

Samantala, maalingasngas ang usapin ng NSA surveillance, ng isyung nuklear ng Iran, pagpaslang ng sibilyan sa pamamagitan ng drone, atbp. Talagang tumitingkad ang krisis ng kalikasan, sampu ng paglusaw ng yelo sa Timog at Hilaga. Penomenal ang Yolanda, baha, lindol, bagyo sa Mindanao, at iba pang sintomas ng epekto ng kabihasnang pinaiinog ng exchange-value, salapi, tubo. Tanda ba ito ng bagong epoka, o pag-uulit lamang ng nauna at walang progresyon.

Para kay Martin Heidegger, repetisyon ng tradisyon at mito ng lahi ang dulo ng pagpapasiyang umiral sa harap ng takdang kamatayan. Para kay Walter Benjamin, ang kasukdulan ng panahon ay pagputol sa repetisyon–sa opresyon at kahirapan–sa katuparan ng Ngayon, pagpapalaya sa pwersang sinupil o sinugpo sa araw-araw upang maligtas ang lahat.

Pagsabog ng Imperyo

Isang tugon sa giyerang pinamunuan ng USA ang riff ng yumaong Amiri Baraka, “Someone Blew Up Amerika” Kung may cybercrime law, tiyak na hinuli na ang makata. Matinding binatikos si Baraka, ngunit hindi natinag ito. Malago’t matatag na ang tradisyon ng rebelyon ng grupong ito mula pa itinda ang nahuling katawan ng mga Aprikano sa pamilihan ng mga negosyante ng mga esklabos, ang simula ng kapitalismong global.
Ang barikada ng pagtatanggol ng karapatang magpahayag ay binabalikat ng mga manunulat sa larangang sinakop–Palestina, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen–at bansang patuloy na pinagnanakawan ng likas-yaman, tulad ng Pilipinas, Mexico, Columbia, at maraming bansa sa Aprika at Timog Amerika.

Nakapagitna ang taumbayan dito, hindi nasa gilid, bagamat ang sining/panitikan na may ambisyong tumiwalag sa gulo’t kagipitan ng karaniwang tao ay naging luxury item. “Tubo ko’y sa sariling pagod,” sabat ni Balagtas. At karamihan sa may mapanlikhang kakayahan ay napilitan o malugod na sumanib sa korporasyon at burokratang institusyong kumalinga’t gumamit sa kanila.

Sa gayon, nireplika ang sinaunang tungkulin ng mang-aawit ng tribung purihin ang hari at pagsilbihan ang makapangyarihang dinastiya o angkan.

Lumang tugtugin na ito buhat ng ihudyat nina Flaubert at Baudelaire ang pagkabagot at pagkasuka nila sa kamyerdahan ng kanilang burgesyang lipunan. Posible lang iyon sa artisanong may kasarinlan sanhi sa pag-unlad ng pamilihan. Iyon ang ugat ng modernismong kilusan na di umano’y hinalinhan ng postmodernista’t postkolonyalistang pananaw sa huling dekada ng siglo 20. May sariling pinagkukunan na ba ang postmodernistang artista? Sino ang awdiyens niya, paano siya nabubuhay?

Bagong Panahon, Bagong Moda?

Sa umpisa ng bagong milenyo, postmodernistang pastiche at pinaghalong genre/sangkap pa ba ang gawi? Hindi ba nagbago na ang pangitain, hilig, panlasa ng publiko sa matinding dekonstruksion at demistipikasyon nina Marx, Freud, Nietzsche? At pantay-pantay ba lahat ng tendensiya sa sining?

Sa tingin ko–tema ng pagsisikap ng avant-garde programa ng suryalismo, sitwasyonista, konseptualista, atbp.–ay talakayin ang problema: paano matatamo ang liberasyon ng pang-araw-araw na buhay, ang ordinaryong karanasan, sa komodipikasyon nito, sa isang banda, at sa pag-uulit-ulit nito upang manatili ang paghahari ng ilang nagmamay-ari. Paano mabubuwag ang bakod na humahati sa sining at lipunan, sa artista at karaniwang mamamayan?

Bumalik tayo sa ilan temang nakakawing sa problemang napasadahan na. Saan man mauwi ang kabihasnan, sa barbarismo o sosyalismo (ayon kay Rosa Luxemburg), kuro-kuro ng iba, magpapatuloy ang panitikan hanggang may wika o diskurso, kahit wala nang awtor. Di ba laos na ang awtor, ayon kina Barthes at Foucault, ngunit nariyan pa rin ang ecriture, sulatin, senyas/tanda o marka.

Sa bisa ng artikulasyon ng mga senyas nabubuo ang kahulugan, ang diyalogo ng awtor at mambabasa. Marahil, ang opinyong ito ay ebidensiya ng sakit ng optimistikong utak at pesimistikong damdamin.

Totoo ngang malubha ang lagay ng kalikasan ngayon, lubhang napinsala ng mapanirang sistema ng kapitalismong industriyal mula pa isilang ito noong 16 dantaon. Ginahasa ang kalikasan sa walang humpay na pagmimina at inalipin ng mga konkistador ang mga katutubo upang hakutin ang likas-yaman sa mga kolonya’t gawing kapital sa akumulasyon ng tubong walang lohika o katwiran kundi kasakiman sa kapangyarihan. Kaya nga, mariing kinundena ni Dante sa Divina Commedia ang mga usurero at mga negosyante ng mapagkunwari o mandarayang gawa.

Isinangla nga ni Doktor Faustus ang kaluluwa upang maging diyos habang hinahabol ang magayumang kariktan ni Helena, ang ideyal ng kagandahan.

Sumunod ba ang artista, ang manunulat, sa landas na hinawan ni Doktor Faustus at nagkamal ng dunong at dangal sa kanyang panitik? Sinubaybayan ni Thomas Mann ang papel na ginampanan ng manunulat bilang nabighaning alagad ng pasistang lakas sa Europa noong krisis ng imperyalismo noong dekada 20-30 ng nakaraang siglo.

Sa kabilang dako, inihayag naman ni James Joyce ang radikal na vocation ng artista bilang tagapanday ng konsiyensiya’t budhi ng kanyang lahi. Si Joyce ay tubo sa Irlanda, kolonya ng Inglatera, na may mahaba’t mayamang tradisyon ng himagsikan laban sa mananakop.

Naisusog na ilang historyador na ang panitikang Ingles, English Literature, ay imbensiyon ng mga kolonisadong sabjek tulad nina Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, O’Casey, Beckett, at iba pang nakaluklok sa gilid ng imperyo.

Sindak at Balisa sa Modernistang Klima

Sa imperyalistang bansa, ang perspektiba nina Mann, Andre Gide, Malraux, at nina TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf, atbp ang namayani. Samantalang sa bayang sinakop, ang prinsipyong tumututol at gumagala ni Joyce at Kafka ang nakanaig, simbolikong pagsalungat sa alyenasyon at mabangis na digmaang nagparusa sa daigdig noong unang bahagi ng ika-20 siglo. Sumunod sa kanilang yapak ang postkolonyalistang manununulat tulad nina Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chinua Achebe, Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, atbp.
Palasak nang itanong sa mga akademikong kumbersasyon: Lumipas na ba ang krisis ng modernismong estetika sa tagumpay ng Estados Unidos at mga kaalyado sa WW2 at nahalinhan na ba ng postmodernismong pananaw, estilo at paraan ng pagkilatis at pagpapahalaga sa sining?

Ano ang hinaharap ng makabagong awtor sa panahon ng kapitalismong global, na inuugitan ng neoliberalismong ideolohiya, sa gitna ng giyera laban sa terorismong tutol sa hegemonya ng Kanlurang bansa? Nasa bingit ba ng kung anong sakuna o kapansanan ang manunulat?

Bukod sa lugar, anong yugto o antas ng panahon ng kasaysayan ang lagay natin? Ito ang pinakaimportanteng paksang dapat pag-aralan at saliksikin upang matuklasan kung ano ang kinabukasan ng literatura, partikular sa Pilipinas bilang neokolonyal na pormasyong natatangi sa Asyang maunlad at industriyalisado. Pwede ring magkibit-balikat at sabihing walang mapapala sa ganitong pagmumuni, mabuti pang sumulat ayon sa dikta ng puso at hilig ng sensibilidad. Ok lang….

Krisis ng Imahinasyon

Ating balik-tanawin ang predikamento ng mga awtor sa ating kasaysayan. Noong panahon ng krisis ng kapitalismong monopolyo noong dekada 1930-40, nahati ang pulutong ng petiburgis na intelihensiya sa dalawa: ang taga-suporta ng “art for art’s sake,” sina Jose Garcia Villa, A.E. Litiatco, atbp, laban sa progresibong grupo nina Salvador Lopez, Federico Mangahas, Arturo Rotor, at Teodoro Agoncillo. Ang dibisyong ito ay repleksiyon lamang ng paghahanay ng iba’t ibang saray ng lipunan sa ilalim ng kolonyalistang rehimeng Komonwelt.

Sa kabuuan, ang manunulat sa wikang bernakular ay kapanalig ng mga progresibong lakas ng anak-pawis at intelihensiyang nakaugat sa masa. Hanggang ngayon, ang wika ay larangan ng pagtatagisan ng samut-saring sektor sa lipunan.

Nakaayon ang situwasyon ng awtor sa institusyonal na aparatong pang-ideolohiya: lathalaing pangmadla, iskwelahan, burokrasya, atbp. Bagamat sunuran lamang ang rehimeng Quezon at mga oligarko sa utos ng Amerikanong amo, populista at makabayan ang dating ng kanilang mobiisasyon. Sinupil ni Quezon ang mga komunista.

Ngunit nang lumaking panganib ang pasismo sa Europa at Hapon, napilitang humingi ng tulong si Quezon sa mga organisadong lakas ng manggagawa’t magbubukid. Napilitang itaguyod o kaya’y akitin ang mga kasapi ng Philippine Writers League na nakikiramay sa pakikibaka ng mga anak-pawis. Sa paglalagom, hindi Doktor Faustus kundi Stephen Dedalus, o kaya mga karakter nina Turgenev at Gorki ang prototipo ng mga awtor noon.

Kung sa bagay, sumasalamin lamang ito sa matibay na pagsanib ng intelektwal (ilustrado) sa mobilisasyon ng taumbayan, tulad ng inasal nina Rizal, Del Pilar at mga Propagandista, hanggang kina Lope K Santos, Faustino Aguilar, Jose Corazon de Jesus, at Benigno Ramos. Samakatwid, kung nakabungad sa krisis, nakasandal o nakasalig ang kapalaran ng awtor sa kalagayan ng madlang tumatangkilik sa kanyang akda.

Sanhi sa di-pantay at masalimuot na pagsulong ng ekonomiyang pampulitika, sa aking palagay, hindi malalim o maselan ang agwat ng awtor sa mga institusyong publiko na naglilingkod sa madla–liban na lamang sa mga akademikong milieu nina Villa, Arcellana, atbp. Gayunpaman, salungat din ang estetikong pormalismo nina Villa at mga kapanalig sa instrumentalismong kultura ng korporasyon at materyalistikong konsumerismo ng metropole.

Ilugar ang Panahon at Sukatin

Sa panahon ng Ikalawang Digmaang Pandaigdig, halos lahat ng manunulat ay kalahok sa pakikibaka laban sa pananakop ng mga tropang Hapon. Noong liberasyon, ang dalawang arketipo ng awtor ay kinatawan nina Amado Hernandez, peryodista at unyonista, at Alejandro Abadilla, huwaran ng indibidwalistikong manlilikha ngunit partisano ng wikang pambansa.

Batay sa karanasan ni Abadilla sa Amerika noong dekada 20 at sa bukod-tanging okupasyon niyang maliit na negosyante, humiwalay si AGA sa kalakarang pakikisangkot at tumambuli ng kanyang personal na pagtingin sa tradisyong itinuring na makaluma, konserbatibo, de-kahon o nahuhuli sa takbo ng panahon. Ito ang padron ng avant-garde: gawing bago ang akda, tumalikod sa nakaugalian, baklasin ang lumang regulasyon at panuntunan, gibain ang bakurang humihiwalay sa sining at madla.

Ang temporalisasyon ng kasaysayan ay pag-uulit ng nakaraang karanasan. Ngunit sino ang sumusukat o tumitimbang sa agos ng panahon at paano ito nababansagan na makaluma o makabago? Makatatakas ba tayo sa rutang siklikal? Makaiiwas ba tayo sa bingit o gilid sa ibang konseptuwalisasyon ng makabago, ng modernidad, ng kontemporaneo?

Ito ang dapat talakaying maigi–ang temporalisasyon ng historya at uri ng modernidad na nadalumat at isinakatuparang isatitik o isatinig–upang maipaliwanag ang kinabukasan ng awtor sa gitna ng krisis ng buong lipunan.

At ang krisis na ito ay di pansamantala lamang kundi permanente, batay sa buod ng sistemang kapitalista: ang walang hintong pagbabago ng paraan o mekanismo ng produksiyon, ang walang tigil na pagsulong ng imbensiyon ng mga gamit sa produksiyon, ng teknolohiya, at mga produktong ipinagbibili sa pamilihang pandaigdig. Ito ang saligan ng modernidad, ng mabilis na pag-iiba at transpormasyon ng mga bagay-bagay at kapaligiran.

Pagpasok sa Kosmos ng Cyberspace

Dumating na tayo sa epokang digital at mabilisang komunikasyon. Sa yugtong ito ng kapitalismong nakasalig sa teknolohiya ng kompyuter at dagling impormasyon, nasaan ang posisyon ng awtor? Kahit man tumutol sina Arundati Roy o Harold Pinter sa imperyalistang karahasan sa Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, o sa bilangguan sa Abu Ghraib at Guantanamo, ginawa na bang instrumento lamang ang salita, wika, diskurso, sa program ng World Bank/IMF at WTO? Saan nakapuwesto ang awtor sa malalang krisis ng neoliberalismong mapang-usig?

Isang tugon sa bagong yugto ng kasaysayan, ang paglaganap ng kompyuterisadong komunikasyon at digital text-based environment, ang WEB, ay yaong conceptual writing nina Kenneth Goldsmith, atbp. Nagmula ito sa conceptual art nina Sol Lewitt, Joseph Kosuth, Robert Smithson, Andy Warhol, atbp noong dekada 1960-70, na taglay ang mahabang genealogy buhat kina Mallarme, Stein, Marcel Duchamp, Beckett, Burroughs, John Cage, OULIPO, atbp. (Sangguniin ang antolohiya nina Craig Dworking & K. Goldsmith, AGAINST EXPRESSION, Northwestern U Press, 2013 at kritika ni Marjorie Perloff at POETRY magazine sa Internet).

Ang susing argumento ni Goldsmith, hango sa manifesto ni Sol Lewitt, ay ito: Pinagaan at pinahusay ng digital networking sa broadband ang paraan ng pagkopya at pag-angkin /paghalaw (appropriation; detournement), pagputol at pagdikit. Sa iba, plagiarism ito, pagnakaw ng gawa ng iba. Pahayag ni Goldsmith (p. xix). Dagdag pa niya: “The idea becomes a machine that makes the text.” Ang konsepto ang gumagabay sa pagbuo ng produkto. Ipinatapon o binasura na ang subjectivity ng awtor, kaakibat ang paniwala na ang likhang-sining ay ekspresyon ng diwa, imahinasyon o ispiritu ng artista.

Nakasentro ang konseptuwal na gawa sa konteksto /sitwasyon at proseso. Isinaisantabi ang mga lumang kategorya ng genre, dekorum sa estilo, pati na rin ang pagkakaiba ng medium o instrumento sa pagpapahayag (pinta, salita, musika, galaw at iba pang senyas/tanda). Mahalagang layon nito ang pagbuwag sa pribadong pag-aari sa sining bilang komoditi at pagsira sa bakurang humahati sa ekslusibong larangan ng sining at ordinaryong daigdig ng karaniwang pamumuhay.

Ipinagpapatuloy ng panitikang konseptuwal ang mithiin ng avantgarde mula pa sa pagsilang ng modernidad sa kasukdulang antas ng kapitalismong industriyal noong ika-19 dantaon.

Maraming uri ng panulat konseptuwal at kahibangang tangkaing ilagom ang barayti nito sa sipat ni Goldsmith. Marami ring teoryang nagpapaliwanag sa iba’t ibang pagsubok sa ilalim ng bandilang konseptuwal at postkonseptuwal. Sa aking palagay, nailagom na ito ni Walter Benjamin sa kanyang sanaysay, “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Panukala ni Benjamin na sa pag-unlad ng teknolohiya, ng mga kagamitan sa paglalathala, brodkasting at komunikasyon, nalusaw ang “aura” ng sining at na-democratize ang dating pribilehiyong sanktwaryo ng sining.

Gayunpaman, alam ng lahat kung paano madaling nakolonisa muli ito. Naging selebriti sina Warhol at mga “high priests” ng Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Minimalist Art, at pati na rin ng Conceptual Art. Nabigo ang adhikaing ikinabit ni Benjamin sa suryalismong avantgarde, laluna ang mga eksperimental na pagsubok sa potograpiya at pelikula.

Eksperimentasyon at Pakikipagsapalaran

Sa tingin ko, hangarin nina Goldsmith, Vanessa Place at iba pang praktisyoner ng panulat konseptuwal ang labanan ang alyenasyon at anomieng dulot ng buhos ng impormasyon, teksto, diskurso. Nais nilang ipaibabaw ang kanilang intuisyon, isip, o galing intelektuwal upang masugpo ang baha’t pagsambulat ng wika at iba pang senyas sa Web na pinapatnubayan ng interes ng korporasyon at akumulasyon ng tubo o kapital.

Walang kontrol sila roon, ngunit itinuring nila na pwedeng maikontrol nila ito sa deklarasyong ang konsepto o iskemang sumungaw sa ulirat ang siyang ugat/bukal ng kahulugan, katuturan, halaga, ng kanilang niyaring diskurso/produkto. Ito ba’y ilusyon o pantasya lamang?

Tila nakalimutan nila ang isang payo ni Benjamin sa kanyang akdang “The Author as Producer.” Upang makahulagpos sa diktadurya ng tekstong inuugitan ng kapangyarihan ng salapi, kailangang sunggaban ng mga manunulat ang gamitan sa produksiyon–imprenta, kompyuter, software, atbp.–upang magamit ang mga ito sa kalayaan at kabutihan ng lahat ng tao, hindi lamang iilan.

Hamon ng Kinabukasan

Ngunit sa halip na gawin ito, pinababayaan ng mga artistang konseptuwal ang patuloy na paghahari ng korporasyong siyang nagdidikta ng Web at Internet, sampu ng gobyernong may kontrol ng mabisang teknolohiya. Nagkasya na lamang silang ipagbunyi’t itanghal ang birtud o galing ng kanilang utak/kamalayan. Hanggang ngayon, ang matinding hamon ni Benjamin ay naghihintay pa ng karampatang kasagutan.–###


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Picasso2MODERNIDAD AT GLOBALISASYON: Diyalektika ng Panahon at Lugar

ni E. San Juan, Jr.


    Tila kabalintunaan ang nangyayari ngayon.  Singkahulugan ng modernidad ang katwiran at pagkamakatao, sagisag ng pagsulong ng kabihasnan.  Sa malas, batay sa krisis sa Ukraine, Syria, patuloy na digmaan sa Afghanistan, Mindanao, at hidwaan tungkol sa China Sea, umuurong na tayo mula sa modernidad tungo sa barbaridad, mula globalisasyon tungo sa kumprontasyon ng mga makasariling bansang nagpipilit ng kanilang natatanging etnisidad na namumukod sa iba.  Kabaligtaran nga.

    Ibungad natin ang problemang bumabagabag sa atin: Anong uri ng modernidad ang taglay ng Pilipinas? Kaugnay nito, paano mapapalaya ang potensyal ng ordinaryong araw-araw na buhay ng bawat mamamayan?
    Isang anekdotang may masusing pahiwatig ang ibabahagi ko muna. Kamakailan, sa isang workshop ng mga manunulat sa TABOAN 2014 (pagtitipon ng mga manunulat sa Subic Free Port, Zambales) tungkol sa pagsasalin, naitanong ko sa panel: “Pare-pareho ba o magkakapantay ang lahat ng wika na magagamit sa pagsasalin?” Di umano, isang inosenteng tanong. Tugon sa akin ng dalawang kasali roon: “Oo, pare-pareho, walang wikang nakahihigit sa iba. “Ibig sabihin, Ingles, Cebuano, Pranses, Intsik, Ruso, Aleman, lahat iyan ay magkakapantay-pantay…

    Saan ba tayo nakatira? Anong petsa ba, saang lugar? Nakakalito nga. Tingnan ninyo: bagamat ang Subic ay isinauli na sa Filipinas, patuloy pa rin ang paggamit noon ng Kano sa taun-taong Balikatan Exercises, pati Clark at iba pang base sa buong sangkapuluan. Gayunpaman, una munang pinagkaabalahan ng mga nagpupulong ang PX goods at aliwang karaoke sa Olongapo, hindi ang VFA at patuloy na interbensiyon ng US sa ating soberanya. Kaya patas ba ang neokolonya at bansang nagdidikta ng kondisyon ng VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) sa gobyerno ni Presidente Aquino?

    Himayin natin ang sitwasyon. Sa perspektiba ng lingguwistika, tama, bawat wika ay nagsisilbing sapat sa pangangailangan ng grupong gumagamit nito. O sa layon ng partikular na pagsasalin. Ngunit ang wika, anumang senyas na may kargadang kahulugan, ay hindi nakalutang sa himpapawid o sa pantasiya; nakaugat ito sa espasyong may tiyak na lugar at panahon. Sa globalisasyon ng mundo sa ilalim ng IMF/WB at mga higanteng korporasyon, walang pasubaling global Ingles ang namamayani. Hindi lengguwaheng Intsik, Ruso, Hapon, Pranses, Aleman, Espanyol, o Filipino…. Bakit nagkaganito?

Punto de Vista sa Pagsasaliksik

    Dalawang mungkahi.  Una, palagay ko’y hindi natin masasagot iyong tanong kung hindi susundin ang ilang gabay o paalala.

    Una, ilagay sa konkretong konteksto ng kasaysayan ng lipunan ang wika o anumang usaping pangkultura.  Pangalawa, hindi uubra ang indibidwalistikong pananaw (methological individualism) kung nais natin ang malawakang kontekstuwalisasyon at praktikang paghuhusga. Bakit? Sapagkat ang lipunan ay hindi koleksiyon ng hiwa-hiwalay na atomistikong indibidwal. Binubuo ito ng artikulasyon ng ugnayang panlipunan na may kasaysayan, may lumipas at kinabukasan.

    Sa madaling salita, kontekstuwalisasyon sa isang tiyak na yugto ng kasaysayan at pagtutok sa proseso ng panlipunang relasyon ang dalawang bagay na dapat idiin sa ating pag-aaral ng modernidad. Kung hindi, arbitraryong hatol ng metapisikang pag-iisip ang maghahari.

Pagtugis sa  Kasalukuyan

    Makasaysayang pagkakataon ito upang pag-isipan natin ang sitwasyon ng Filipinas, ang katayuan ng lipunan at kultura nito, sa panahon ng globalisasyon. Panahon din ito ng malubha’t lumalalang krisis ng imperyalismong sumasakop sa buong planeta. Bagamat global ang pananaw, isang sipat na bumabagtas sa bakuran ng mga bansa, lokal pa rin ang pokus ng analitikong pagsusuri ng ispesipikong buklod ng mga pangyayari at tauhan. Nakaangkla sa praktikang dalumat ng mga kolektibong lakas.

    Panahon din ito ng paglantad sa “total surveillance” at “drone warfare” na isinasagawa ng US habang patuloy na pinatitingkad ang giyera laban sa “terorismo”–ibig sabihin, ang interbensyong paglusob at paglupig sa mga bayan at grupong kontra sa imperyalismo ng mga higanteng korporasyong nakabase sa US, Europa, Hapon–ang Global North at mga kaalyado nito. Nakapanig pa rin ang Filipinas sa Global South, nakapailalim pa rin sa mga industriyalisado’t mayamang bansa.

    Sa okasyong ito, ilang tesis lamang ang ilalahad ko upang ganap na talakayin natin sa pagpapalitang-kuro hinggil sa usapin ng suliranin ng modernidad.

        Nasaan tayo sa hirarkiyang internasyonal? Bagamat kunwaring may kasarinlang republika buhat pa noong 1946, ang Pilipinas, sa katunayan, ay isang neokolonya ng US. Lantad ito sa pagdepende ng oligarkong gobyerno sa poder militar ng US, at sa mapagpasiyang kapangyarihan nito sa WB /IMF, WTO, G-7, UN, at konsortiya ng mga bangko’t nagpapautang na mga ahensiya.

    Sa pandaigdigang situwasyong ito, nakalukob tayo sa panahon ng malubhang krisis ng kapitalismong pampinansiyal. Ebidensiya ang pagbagsak ng Wall Street, pangalawa sa nakaraang siglo, noong 2008. Mas maselan ito kaysa noong 1929. Napipinto pa raw ang isang mas mapanira’t katastropikong pagbulusok sa hinaharap na makapagbabago sa kultura’t ideolohiyang pumapatnubay sa kasalukuyang modernidad. Dito nakalakip ang modernidad ng lahat ng bansa.

 Akumulasyong Walang Ginagalang

     Maingay ang konsumerismong namamalas na pangunahing aktibidad sa lipunan—laluna sa mga siyudad sa atin na siksikan na ang malls, trapik, gusaling “call centers–kaya tila nakalimutan na ang basehan nito. Paglago ng tubo ang siyang lohika pa rin ng lipunan.

    Bagamat iba’t ibang porma’t paraan ang akumulasyon ng kapital, ng tubo, dahil sa makabagong teknolohiya ng komunikasyon at transportasyon, sa tulong ng kompyuter at Internet, nakasentro pa rin ang sistemang global sa pagkamal ng kapitalista sa surplus-value na nagmumula sa di-binayarang trabaho ng karamihan. Iyon ang bukal ng tubo/profit. Kasama na rito ang “service workers,” OFW–mahigit 12 milyong Pilipinong empleyado sa Saudi, Hong Kong, at saanmang lupalop, pati sa mga barkong nagdadala ng langis at mga produktong ipinagbibili (kabilang na ang armas, bomba, tear gas, atbp).

    Sa patuloy na lumalaking remitans nakasandig ang ekonomya ng bansa–dagdag ang “call centers” at iba pang “business outsourcing.” Walang matibay o malusog na produksiyon ng makina, ng malaking kagamitan sa industriya, sa atin kundi mga mall, ispekulasyon sa real estate, at “service industry” ng turismo, atbp.
    Sa ibang salita, ang tubo o kapital ng uring kumukontrol sa malalaking gamit/paraan ng produksiyon, ay hinuhugot pa rin sa lakas-paggawa ng mayorya, ang mga anakpawis, magbubukid, at mga propesyonal na bumubuo sa panggitnang saray, ang petiburgesya. Dito nakasalalay ang modernidad ng ordeng internasyonal.

Buod ng Modernidad

      Ang pinakaimportanteng katangian ng kapitalismo, ayon kay Marx, na siyang birtud na nagtutulak sa tinaguriang “modernization” at “development,” at humuhubog ng kultura, lifestyle, at araw-araw na pamumuhay ay walang iba kundi ito: walang tigil na transpormasyon ng modo ng produksiyon, walang patid na pagbabago ng kagamitan at proseso ng produksiyon ng lahat ng bagay, at reproduksiyon ng relasyong panlipunan/ugnayan ng mga tao.  Nakasalalay dito ang pagsulong ng lipunan, ang paghahati ng panahon.

    Sa maikling salita: “Everything solid melts into air….” proklamasyon ng Communist Manifesto. Pangkalahatang pagbabago, pag-iiba.

    Nais kong salungguhitan ang katotohanang naipaliwanag na nina Marx, Engels, at sinaunang pantas tulad nina David Ricardo, Saint-Simon, at iba pa. Materyalistikong diyalektika ang nagsisiwalat sa rebolusyong nagpapasulong sa kasaysayan ng mundo. Ang rebolusyong ito ng “mode of production” (na umuugit sa kompitensiya ng iba’t ibang paksyon o grupo ng burgesya) ang saligan ng modernidad sa estilo ng buhay, ng kultura, ng sensibilidad at mentalidad ng bawat lipunan.

    Sintomas ng pagbabago ay masisilip at makakapa sa larangan ng ideolohiya–relihiyon, pulitika, sining, mass midya, atbp.–kung saan nakikita, nararamdaman, natutuklasan ang pagtatagisan ng ibat ibang pwersa sa lipunan sa bawat yugto ng kasaysayan. Ang modernidad ng globalisasyon ay nagkakatawan sa tekstura’t istraktura ng ideolohiya.

Metamorphosis ng Kapaligiran

    Bumalik tayo sa tema ng lugar at panahon. Pwedeng ituring na alam natin kung nasaan tayo. Kung di ninyo alam, konsultahin ang GPS, o inyong cellphone. Kung sa bagay, nagtatalo pa rin ang mga akademiko hinggil sa diyalektika ng “place” (lugar) at “space” (espasyo) sa isyu ng globalisasyon. Dahil nga sa kompyuterisasyon, nakompress ang espasyo–ayon kay David Harvey sa kanyang librong The Condition of Postmodernity–kaya panahon, bilis ng pagkitid ng espasyo, dagliang transaksyon–ang makatuturang problemang kinakaharap natin ngayon, ang “politics of time.”

    Ginawang larangan ng pagsukat at pagtimbang ang bawat bahagi ng kasaysayan, ang pagkilala sa bahagdan ng kasaysayan. Paano babansagan ang bawat hati ng panahon upang makatiyak sa ating pinanggalingan at patutunguhan? Nasaan tayo sa temporalisasyon ng kasaysayan? Bakit importante na nasa unahan tayo at hindi sa huli? Paano ang pagkilala sa huli at una? Ano ang bentaha nito, ano ang implikasyon?

       Siyasatin natin ang mapa ng panahunan. Tanggap ng lahat na pagkatapos ng krisis noong 1970, minarkahan ng pagkatalo ng U.S. sa IndoTsina, nagbago ang mundo sa pag-urong ng Unyon Sobyet sa antas ng “booty capitalism.” Sumunod ang Tsina at Biyetnam, ngayo’y mahigpit na kasangkot sa pandaigdigang ikot ng akumulasyon ng tubo. Pumasok tayo sa panibagong yugto pagkaraan ng 9/11; at paglunsad ng digmaan laban sa tinaguriang “teroristang” extremists–giyera sa Syria, Palestina-Israel, at laban sa Iran ukol sa langis, petroleo, na pangunahing enerhiya pa rin sa pabrika.

    Sa ngayon, nasa bingit tayo ng giyera laban sa Rusya at Tsina–sintomas lahat ito na patuloy na kompetisyon ng mga paksyon ng kapitalismong global hinggil sa pamilihan ng komoditi, kung saan ipagbibili ang yaring produkto, at kung saan kukuha ng hilaw na materyales sa produksiyon. Sa kontekstong ito, mabilis ang pagbabago ng kagamitan sa produksiyon at pagsasakatuparan sa paghango ng tubo/profit. Mabilis din ang buhos at agos ng penomenang kaakibat nito sa anyo ng kultura ng araw-araw na kabuhayan.

Digmaan sa Arena ng Kultura

     Samantala, maalingasngas ang usapin ng NSA (National Security Administration ng U.S.), espiya o surveillance, tortyur, at kagyat na asasinasyon o pagpaslang ng sibilyan sa pamamagitan ng drone, atbp. Talagang tumitingkad ang krisis ng kalikasan, sampu ng paglusaw ng Artika at Antartika. Penomenal ang Yolanda, baha, lindol, bagyo sa Mindanao, at iba pang sintomas ng epekto ng kabihasnang pinaiinog ng exchange-value, salapi, tubo.

    Tanda ba ito ng bagong epoka, o pag-uulit lamang ng nauna at walang progresyong pag-inog na kasaysayan?

    Walang tigil na pag-uulit ng araw-araw na buhay o pagbabago–alin ang ating oryentasyon? Saan tumutungo ang takbo ng panahon, ang gulong ng kasaysayan? Para sa konserbatibong modernista (tulad ni Martin Heidegger), repetisyon ng tradisyon at mito ng lahi ang dulo ng pagpapasiyang umiral sa harap ng takdang kamatayan. Ito ang solusyon sa eksistensiyalistang kilabot. Ang mito ng Volk ay siyang kalutasan sa angst ng tiyak na pagsapit ng itinakdang kamatayan. Nalutas ang indibidwal na kapalaran sa mistipikasyon ng dugo’t lupa ng Volk. Ito ang doktrina ng Nazi sa Alemanya noong nakaraang siglo.

       Maraming kategorya rin ng transpormasyong titigil sa repetisyon ng araw-araw na buhay.  Para sa radikal na modernista (tulad ni Walter Benjamin), ang kasukdulan ng panahon ay pagputol sa repetisyon–sa opresyon at kahirapan–sa katuparan ng Ngayon, pagpapalaya sa pwersang sinupil o sinugpo sa araw-araw upang maligtas ang lahat. Rebolusyong radikal ang kailangan.

    Maraming paraan ng liberasyon ng araw-araw na buhay, na makikita sa avant-garde na kilusan ng suryalismo, futurismo, situwasyonismo, sining konseptuwal, atbp. Kaalinsabay nito ang mga rebolusyonaryong proyektong pampulitika ng mga anarkista, sindikalista, at sosyalistang nilagom nina Marx, Lenin, Gramsci, Luxemburg, Mao, atbp.

Karnabal  ng Pakikipagsapalaran

          Anong yugto ng kasaysayan tayo ngayon? Saang dako ng proseso ng modernidad (hindi modernisasyon) nakahinto ang bansang Pilipinas?

    Ang temporalisasyon ng kasaysayan ay pag-uulit ng nakaraang karanasan. Ngunit sino ang sumusukat o tumitimbang sa agos ng panahon at paano ito natatarok na makaluma o makabago? Makatatakas ba tayo sa rutang siklikal na krisis ng kapitalismo o imperyalismo? Makaiiwas ba tayo sa kalamidad sa pagbuo ng ibang hugis o uri ng makabago, ng modernidad, ng kontemporaneo nang hindi pinapalitan ang lohika ng kapitalismo?

    Bihag pa rin tayo ng indibidwalistikong pananaw, ng “methodological individualism” ng burgesyang sosyolohiya at sikolohiya. Suhetibismo’t relatibismong kabatiran ang resulta. Nakakulong pa rin tayo sa atomistikong pagtingin, tiwalag sa konkretong konteksto ng kasaysayan. Nakatago pa rin ang tunay na kawalan ng katarungan sa alyenasyong namamayani sanhi sa reipikasyon ng ugnayang panlipunan. Ang ugnayan ng bawat tao ay nilalason o nilalambungan ng petisismo ng komoditi, ang pagsamba sa salapi, tubo, mga produktong mas mahalaga pa kaysa buhay ng mga taong yumari o lumikha nito.

    Ang mga problemang ito ang dapat talakaying maigi–ang temporalisasyon ng historya at uri ng modernidad sa araw-araw na kabuhayan–upang maipaliwanag ang kinabukasan ng bansa sa gitna ng krisis ng kapitalismong global. At upang mapalaya ang nasugpo’t nasisikil na enerhiya ng taumbayan, ang kinabukasan ng diwa’t budhi ng bawat nilalang.

    Maidagdag pa na ang krisis na ito ay di pansamantala lamang kundi permanente, batay sa mabangis na rasyonalidad ng sistemang kapitalista: ang walang hintong pagbabago ng paraan o mekanismo ng produksiyon, ang walang tigil na pagsulong ng imbensiyon ng mga gamit sa produksiyon, ng teknolohiya, at mga produktong ipinagbibili sa pamilihang pandaigdig. Naidiin ko na: ito ang saligan ng modernidad, ng mabilis na pag-iiba at transpormasyon ng mga bagay-bagay at kapaligiran, hanggang sa epokang digital at mabilisang komunikasyon. Kalakip nito ang susi ng modernidad at globalisasyong sumisira sa kalikasan at pinagmumulan ng giyera at pagdurusa ng nakararami.

Alyenasyon at Reipikasyon

    Sa lipunang pinatatakbo ng tubo, salapi at komoditi ang namamagitan sa bawat tao. Alyenasyon ang bunga nito. Reipikasyon o pagtiwalag sa maramdaming buhay ang resulta nito. Kontrolado ng komoditi ang lahat, ginawang bagay na walang buhay ang tao, sinipsip ng mga bampira ang dugo ng bawat nilalang.

    Sapagkat sa ordinaryong karanasan, ang tunay na pagtatagisan ng mga uri at sektor sa lipunan ay nakatago o natatabingan ng petisismo sa komoditi–ang buong mundo ng salapi, negosyo, pagpapalitan ng binili-ipinagbili–sampu ng mistipikasyon ng reyalidad dulot ng relihiyong institusyonal, pyudal na gawi’t paniniwala (halimbawa, ang doxa na demokrasya raw ang sistemang pampulitika natin)–katungkulan ng mapagpalayang kritiko/intelektwal pampubliko ang wasakin ang tabing na nagtatago sa katotohanan: ang paghahati ng lipunan sa ilang mayamang nagsasamantala at karamihang aping binubusabos. Ibunyag ang pagtatagisan sa likod ng tinaguriang normalidad ng pagkakaisa o natural na pamumuhay araw-araw.

    Nasaan tayo ngayon? Ano ang dapat gawin? Sa harap ng mistipikasyon ng komersiyanteng kultura at araw-araw na komodipikasyon ng karanasan, dapat sikapin ng makabayang intelektwal ang pagbubunyag sa katotohanan ng neokolonya, ang patuloy na pagsunod ng oligarkong namumuno sa utos ng USA (sa tulong ng mga kakutsabang elite) at pagpapailalalim ng kapakanan ng taumbayan sa interes ng tubo ng korporasyong global. Pagwasak ng mga ilusyon at kababalaghang pumapalamuti sa mandaraya’t  mapanlinlang na burgesyang orden ang dapat adhikain ng mapagpalayang sensibilidad at mapanuring kamalayan.

Sa Wika Nakataya ang Katubusan

       Maibalik ko ang usapan sa wika o lengguwaheng sinasalita at isinusulat.

    Ang wika ng kumbersasyon, midya, paaralan, kultura, atbp., ay madugong larangan din ng pagtatagisan ng mga uri, ng burgesyang gamit ang Ingles–o baryasyon nito na mga “englishes’– bilang sandatang ideolohikal sa pagsuhay sa buong sistema ng palsipikadong soberanya at walang hustisyang demokrasya. Sa gusto o ayaw mo, wika ay sandata o kagamitan sa ideolohiyang pagtatagisan ng mga uri. Samakatwid, pinipili ka ng wika upang magpasiya laban sa interes ng iyong kolektibo o magsumikap itaguyod ang kapakanan nito.

    Paglimiin natin ang nangyayari sa milieu na lunang sosyo-politikal na ating ginagalawan. Araw-araw, sa TV, Internet, pelikula, radyo, at iba pang midya, ang wikang ginagamit–na nakakabit sa mga imahen, dramatikong eksena, performance art, awit, at komplikadong salik ng pelikula– ang wika ay siyang sangkap na makapangyarihang umuugit ng mensahe na siyang nagtutulak sa ating kumilos, magsalita’t gumanap ng isang tiyak na papel sa lipunan, partikular na ang maging konsumer at masunuring mamamayan. Isang subalternong alagad ng imperyo.

    Mapang-akit at mapang-gayuma ang nangingibabaw na kakintalan, ang kagyat na impresyon ng kapaligirin, na nakasaplot sa katotohanan. Nakabubulag ito at nakaliligaw. Upang makaligtas sa alyenasyon at reipikasyong nabanggit ko na, kailangang hubarin ang balat-kayo, ang saplot ng pagkukunwari’t panlilinlang ng burgesyang ideolohiya.

    Kung pesimistiko ang utak, sikaping maging optimistiko ang pagnanais, payo ni Antonio Gramsci.  May dahilan kung bakit masigla ang pagnanais bagamat maulap ang kabatiran.  Hindi malagim ang lahat ng sulok ng larangan ng kultura. Ang halimbawa ng mga kritikong sumusulat sa PINOY WEEKLY o BULATLAT, mga progresibong midya, at mga kapanalig sa iba pang midya at diskurso ay isang katibayan na ang malikhai’t mahusay na artikulasyon ng konsepto ng katwiran at katarungan sa wikang umaabot sa nakararaming mambabasa–ang wikang sinasalita ng taumbayan–ay siyang mabisang kagamitan sa pagpukaw ng mapanuring kamalayan, ng mapagmalasakit na damdamin.

Kahinugan ng Panahon

    Ibaling natin ang kamalayan sa ngayon. Ang kumbersasyon natin sa hapong ito ay isang paraan upang makatulong sa edukasyon ng nakararami at mobilisasyon sa mga kolektibong proyektong makapagsusulong at makapagpapabuti sa sawing kalagayan ng nakararami. Hanggang may nakikinig at handang kumilos salungat sa indibidwalismong naghahari, may pag-asa pa ang ating bayan.

         Ang kontradiksiyon ng modernidad ay nagbubunga ng kanyang kalutasan. Sa panahon ng globalisasyon, sa mas mabilis at mabilisang pagbabagu-bago ng lahat ng bagay, sa disyerto ng mall at mga “Global City” na itinatayo sa guho ng mga tahanan ng maralitang taga-lunsod at sa bukid na inagaw sa mga magsasaka, kailangan ang mapangahas at subersibong panulat upang tuklasin ang katotohanan at itanghal ito sa panunuri’t pagkilatis, pagtimbang at pagpapahalaga, ng taumbayan. 

    Mapanghamong tawag ito na hinihingi ng sitwasyon, isang pagkakataon kung saan ang diskurso ng manunulat, kritiko’t guro ay makapagsisilbi sa pagpapalaya’t pag-unlad sa tunay na ugat at bukal ng kanilang imahinasyon, ang simpleng araw-araw na buhay ng masang yumayari ng kayamanan ng lipunan, ang proletaryo’t magsasaka ng bayang naghihimagsik. 

[Talk at the College of Mass Comm, University of the Philippines,March 5, 2014] ###

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


Edukasyon at Pedagohiya sa Bisa ng nobelang DESAPARECIDOS ni Lualhati Bautista

ni E. San Juan, Jr.

1.  Sa unang malas, umaayaw na o natatabangan ang marami sa pagkasulyap sa salitang “ideolohiya.” Ano ba ito, propaganda o chika tungkol sa politika na hindi bagay sa okasyong itong pagsunod sa binagong K-12 curriculum. Kung inyong nabasa ang Batas at Memo ni Dir. Licuanan, nais daw hasain ang estudyante sa kritikal at malikhaing pag-iisip upang itransporma ang sarili at kapaligiran. Naku, bigating layunin ito. Idiniin din na kailangan daw iakma o iayon ang turo’t aralin sa global istandard.

2. Isa sa required reading sa mga kolehiyo sa Europa & mga bansa sa Aprika at Amerika ang The German Ideology nina Marx at Engels. Tiyak na alam ng lahat na bawal ang komunistang lathalai’t usapan sa mga klasrum, laluna sa panahon ng “Cold War.” Tapos na ito sa buong mundo, pero patuloy pa rin tayo sa mentalidad ng pagbabawal. Kung sa bagay, ngayon ang panahon ng “total surveillance,” & hanggang ngayon, ang premyadong pelikulang “Orapronobis” ni Lino Brocka ay hindi pinahihintulutang maipalabas sa publiko.

Sa ano’t anuman, ang “ideolohiya” ay salitang laganap na sa iba’t ibang sangay ng aralin sa humanidades at siyensiyang sosyal. Hindi na dapat pagtalunan kung bakit mahalagang siyasatin ang kaugnayan nito sa pagtuturo. Halimbawa na nga ang inyong pagtaka o pagkamangha, kung nangyari nga, sa paglitaw nito sa programa.

3. Isa pang halimbawa: Malimit nating pasalamatan ang mga burokratang upisyal sa pagtustos sa pagpupulong tulad nito. Sa katunayan, ang dapat pasalamatan ay mga manggagawa, magbubukid at empleyadong tulad ninyo na siyang yumayari ng kayamanan ng bansa. Ang lakas-paggawa ng karaniwang mamamayan ang nagbubuwis ng halaga upang mangyari ang miting na ito, kaya sa kanila ang pasasalamat natin–hindi sa mga politiko at kanilang “pork-barrel” na nakaw sa pagod ng mga anak-pawis, bukal ng anumang kabihasnan.

4.  Sa gayon, ang ideolohiya ay hindi lamang pumapatnubay na ideya o paniniwala kundi kilos, gawi, praktika. Ito’y mga institusyong siyang gumagawa ng sabjek sa bawat indibidwal. Ang sabjek ang siyang aktor na kinikilala, nagpapasiya, kumikilos, may pananagutan.

Makikita sa relasyon ng titser at estudyante: “Hoy, makinig kayo!” giit ng guro. Awtoridad ang titser, kinatawan ng Estado at siyang nagdedeposito ng kaalaman sa basyong utak ng mga kabataan. Ito ang “banking method” ng edukasyon na tinuligsa ni Paulo Freire. Galing ito sa mahabang karanasan natin sa disiplinang pedagohikal ng kolonyalismong Espanyol at Amerikano.

Sa pagsakop ng ekonomiyang nakaangkla sa “exchange value” ng trabaho, wikang Ingles ang instrumento sa paghulma ng sabjek ng malayang pamilihan–ipagbili ang lakas-paggawa kung may bibili.  Bagamat ang hangarin ng makabagong sistema ay indibidwal na may nagsasariling katwiran (“autonomous rational mind,” naisaad ni Immanuel Kant), kaiba ang resulta: ginagawang masunuring sabjek ang indibidwal sa posisyon niya sa istruktura ng lipunan.

5. Ang lipunan ay katumbas sa ugnayan o relasyon ng mga sabjek. Hindi ito kumpol lamang ng hiwa-hiwalay na inbidwal. Bawat identidad/kaakuhan–halimbawa, sabjek bilang awtor, mambabasa, guro, atbp.–ay nabubuo lamang sa loob ng ugnayang panlipunan. Samakatuwid, ang sabjek ay produkto ng pagkilala, pagtawag, interpelasyon ng diskurso, praktika, institusyon.

Hindi kaakuhan/identidad ng awtor ang pinagmumulan ng kahulugan ng akda. Iyon ay bunga ng diskurso, ng tekstong binubuo ng magkasalungatang puwersang nagsusulong sa kasayaysan.  Ang indibidwal ay ginagawang sabjek ng wika sa diskursong gamit ng mga institusyong ideolohikal. Makapangyarihan ang asignatura sa panitikang Filipino sa paglalantad ng sitwasyon kung saan ang wikang Ingles ay dominante pa rin, tanda ng poder ng modernisadong oligarkiya, na bunyag nga sa paggamit ng “mother tongue” sa unang baytang ng iskwela. Pahiwatig na sa kompitensiya ng wika, nananaig pa rin ang poder ng bangko’t korporasyong global ng U.S., Europa, Hapon, at sirkulo ng industriyalisadong bansa.  Ang poder ay naisakatawan sa wikang Ingles, o sa mga “englishes,” na bumubuhay sa gahum o hegemonya nito sa buong daigdig.

Sa pamamagitan ng mga institusyon at operasyong praktikal nito, kinikilalang sabjek ang sinuman upang makaganap ng takdang tungkulin sa isang tiyak na lugar sa kasaysayan ng lipunan. Gayundin ang awtor: batay sa institusyonalisadong praktika, ang identidad ng awtor at gawa niya ay nakasalig sa pagtawag at pagkilala sa kanya ng namamayaning pananaw–ang normatibong paniniwalang operasyonal sa gawi, batas, atbp. kung saan nakasandig ang kapangyarihan ng dominanteng uri sa hinating lipunan.

6.  Walang sitwasyon na permanente sa kasaysayan. Lapatan natin ng historikal na panimbang ang pabago-bagong pagtingin sa awtor at akdang itinuturo natin.

Namihasa tayong ipalagay na ang isang akda ay bunga ng henyo o talino ng awtor. Iba noong sinaunang panahon: ang awtor ng epiko, korido, pasyon, atbp. ay kabilang sa pangkat na naglilingkod sa lider ng tribu, ng simbahan o aristokrasya (tulad ni Balagtas). Ginagabayan sila ng kombensiyon, determinadong kodigo, at panuntunang institusyonal.

Nag-iba ito paglipas ng Renaissance; tuluyang humiwalay ang artisano’t naging negosyante ng kanyang dunong sa sinumang bibili nito. Malaya na siya sa malas, pero alipin naman ng pamilihan. Ganito pa rin ang sitwasyon ng awtor  o sinumang intelektwal (guro, peryodista, atbp) na walang pag-aari ng kailangang kagamitan upang mabuhay.

Noong ika-19 siglo, umaklas ang mga artista laban sa burgesyang orden ng kapitalismong industriyal. Batay sa romantikong pananaw, ang awtentikong galing ng manunulat ay tiwalag sa burgesyang lipunan at indibidwalistikong pamantayan nito. Itinuring na doon nagmumula ang kahulugan at katuturan ng akda.  Kalaunan, pinatingkad ito ng ideolohiya ng sistemang kapitalismo, bagamat ang normatibong mapang-angkin ay tinuligsa nina Flaubert, Zola, Dostoevsky, Gorki, Dreiser, Hemingway, atbp.

Ang rebelyon nina Villa, Abadilla, Amado Hernanez, at mga modernistang sumunod ay sintomas ng krisis ng sitwasyon ng petiburgesyang intelektwal sa neokolonyang predikamentong tumitingkad at lumalala ngayon.

7. Sa pagsipat at pagkilatis ng diskurso, mapapansin na impluwensiyal pa rin ang klasikong pamantayan nina  Regalado, Balmaseda, Panganiban: ang “dulce et utile” ni Horace pinatining ng romantikong ideyalismo.  Nitong dekada 70 at 80 pumasok ang formalismo, feminismo, istrakturalismo’t iba pang tatak postmodernistang perspektibo, sa neoliberalismong bandila ng “end of ideology” o tandisang tagumpay ng kapitalismo pagbulusok ng Unyon Sobyet at alternatibong radikal.

Tatlong lapit ang resulta. Una, ang didaktikong motibasyon: birtud ng literatura ang pumukaw ng diwa o damdamin at magbigay ng aral na mapapakinabangan. Masisinag ang utilitaryanismong ugit sa dokumentong nabanggit. Pangalawa, ang empirisistikong hilig na sa reyalistikong pamamaraan nailalahad ng akda ang katotohanan, tiwalag sa anumang paniniwalang moral o etikal ng awtor. Pangatlo, aliw ang dulot ng ayos o porma ng sining; kariktan o kagandahan ang mahalagang katangian nito para sa esklusibo’t sopistikadong sensibilidad.

Matatarok na sintomas ito ng kontradiksiyon ng mga grupo sa lipunan: ang awtoridad ng mga naghaharing uring may mala-pyudal na pangitain, laban sa komprador-burokratang saray na tutok sa pamantayang global at siyentipikong pamantayan. May panggitnang oryentasyon din.

Ngunit hinahanap pa, dili kaya’y hinihitay pa, ang pagtinging sumasalungat ng mga nakararami, ang interpretasyong nagsisiwalat ng pagtatagisan ng samutsaring sektor ng lipunan at pagkakabuhol ng mga ito. Sa madaling salita, ang katotohanan ng kasalukuyan sitwasyon at kalakaran ng tunggalian ng mga uri.

8. Batay sa kuro-kurong naisaad, atupagin natin ang pangunahing tanong: Sa tawag ng nobela ni Bautista, anong sabjek ang nabubuo mula sa karanasan ng pagbasa? Upang matugon ito, marahil dapat usisain muna ang ating sitwasyon at kinalalagyan. Anong kondisyon ng ating lipunan sa ngayon?  Bilang guro at estudyante, saan tayo nakapwesto sa kasalukuyang krisis ng kapitalismong global at alitang rehiyonal?  Ano ang tungkulin natin sa institusyong inutusan ng Estado na hubugin ang isip at damdamin ng kabataan? Para sa anong layon o adhikain?

9. Ang literaturang itinuturo ay isang sangay ng kabihasnan na kagamitan sa paghulma ng isip at kilos ayon sa dominanteng pangitain ng namumunong uri. Anong pangitain ang gumagana’t nanaig?

Indibidwalismong makapamilya o makauri ang istandard, hinaluan ng ilang demokratikong islogan. Inatasan ang guro upang itanim sa utak at puso ang indibidwalismong makasarili kaagapay ng pagsunod sa batas. Hindi bulgar na pangungurakot sapagkat may kaunting aral tungkol sa pakikipagkapwa-tao at pagtulong o pagdamay sa di-kamag-anak, at pagmamahal sa bansa.  Sa tradisyonal na ugali, idinidiin ng guro ang aral o ulirang halimbawang mahuhugot sa tula, kuwento, nobela, dula na magsisilbing gabay sa araw-araw na pamumuhay.

10.  Sa ganitong pagtingin, ang guro ay gumaganap ng papel ng isang awtoridad, tulad ng pulis o pari. Masunuring estudyante, hindi nagtatanong—ito ba ang hangad natin? Hindi ba kabaligtaran iyon ng nais natin: isang responsableng taong may sariling pangangatwiran? Paano maitatanim at mapapaunlad ang kakayahang mag-isip nang walang alalay, ang maging taong taglay ang kasarinlan at rasong independiyente (autonomous reason) na ideal ng demokrasyang orden, hindi diktadurya o pasistang sosyedad?

11. Ang panitikan ay produkto ng mga kontradiksiyong sosyal at siya ring nagpapaulit-ulit nito.  Hindi nasa tinig ng diwa o guniguni ang kahulugan ng akda, kundi nasa pag-antig o pagpukaw ng saloobing nakatugma sa polarisasyon ng mga tauhan at pangyayari. Ang akda ay hindi ekspresyon ng nangungulilang diwa o malay kundi artikulasyon ng senyas o salitang taglay ang magulo’t maligalig na ugnayan ng bawat tao sa lipunan.

Sa retorika ng teksto at pagbabalangkas ng naratibo, nakalilikha ng posisyon para sa mga sabjek na kumakatawan sa sistemang nabibiyak, tigib ng nakabibighaning katangian. Ang matingkad na karanasan o reyalidad ay bunga ng diskurso na humuhudyat o tumatawag sa atin upang makisangkot o lumahok sa tunggalian ng mga lakas.

Bumungad sa dalumat ang interogasyon o interpelasyon ng akda. Saan tayo lalagay? Saan tayo papanig, saan makikisanib?

12. Paano susuriin ang ideolohiyang hugis o banghay ng nobela ni Bautista?  Sa biglang sipat, mahihinuha na iyon ay nakasalig sa makatotohanang dating at epekto ng tila-realistikong detalye ng paglalarawan, laluna ang eksena ng tortyur, ng maramdaming pagtatalik nina Ana at Roy, atbp. Hindi kailangang magduda na peke o eksaherasyon ang mga pangyayari. Matalas at masinop ang paglalarawan ng malagim na karanasan na nakasentro sa mga rebolusyonaryong Ana, Roy, Karla, Jingki, at kanilang pamilya. Ano ang hinihiling sa atin? Ano ang demanda ng nasubaybayang eksena’t pangyayari?

Nakaaantig ang pagsisiwalat ng matinding kahirapan ng mga aktibista, ng mabangis na kalupitan ng mga sundalo ng diktaturya, ng matinding galit at kalungkutang sinapit ng mga protagonista. Taglay ng akda ang makasaysayang kakintalang mahirap iwaglit sa kolektibong gunita.

13.  Ating ungkatin ang ideolohiya ng teksto sa makinarya ng paghahanay ng mga insidente: Paano nalutas ang problemang gumulo sa buhay ng mga tauhan? Paano nairesolba ang mga kontradiksiyong prinsipal (diktadurya versus demokratikong masa at representatibong partido nito) sa pamamagitan ng imahinaryong paraan, sa pantasya o nais-kaganapan (wish-fulfillment)?

14. Pansinin na ang suliranin ng kontradiksiyon ng oligarkong pangkat suportado ng imperyalistang Estados Unidos at mga partisano ng demokrasyang pambansa ay naipaloob sa isang kompromisong antas. Ibig sabihin, naisalin iyon sa kuwadro ng problema ng inang nawalan ng anak at sakunang naranasan ng mga aktibistang pinahirapan.

Sa sakripisyo ni Karla, sa kanyang pagmamalasakit, na bunga ng pangingibang-bayan (paglipat sa Canada) at pagkalinga ng pamilya, nakuhang ipagtapat sa anak ang katotohanan ng nakalipas. Sumunod naman si Malaya sa paniniwalang ang pagka-ina (maternidad) ay biyolohikal, hindi sosyal; at pagtanggap sa kanya ni Ana bilang simbolo ng kanyang pagsisikap at gantimpala sa pagmamahal sa sarili.

Sa kasukdulan, umabot sa pagkakakilanlan at pagbabalik ng kaginhawahan, bagama’t ironikal ang alingawngaw sa dulo. Na wari baga’y may kutob na walang tunay na pagbabagong naganap, may kutob na nasayang ang pawis at dugong ibinuhos ng mga nakipagsapalaran, at bumabalik muli ang sinugpong nakalipas. Ano ba talaga ang kanilang mithiin? Ang katarungan ba’y nakasalalay sa hatol ng hukuman sa Estados Unidos, hindi sa Filipinas? Tila malabo pagdating natin sa dulo.

15.  Sa panig ni Roy naman, ang interogasyon ng Komiteng nagsisiyasat tungkol sa mga biktima ng martial-law kaugnay ng kasong ilalapit sa korte sa U.S., ay nagsilbing katarsis upang maibilad niya ang nasugpong yugto ng kanyang buhay, laluna ang pagkitil ng buhay ni Jingki ayon sa atas ng partido, na paghihiganti sa pagkasawi ng buong pamilya niya. Sa tulong ng mga abogadong Filipino at Amerikano, ang katarungan ay natamo, nagkaisa muli ang ina’t anak, at nakamit ni Lorie ang kabatiran tungkol sa madugo’t lihim na talambuhay ng kanyang magulang. Narekober ang nakalipas, nabuo ang totalidad ng kasaysayan, umabot tayo sa masayang wakas, bagama’t may babala na baka maulit muli ang diktadurya sa proklamasyon ni Arroyo sa huling pahina.

16.  Samakatwid, ang tunay na problemang hinarap ng nobela ay nalutas sa imahinaryong paraan, sa paglilipat nito sa isang lunan o palapag na madaling maaayos ang lahat sa paraang pagtawag sa tradisyonal na paniniwala, sukatan o prehuwisyong bumubuo sa lumang kaayusan na siyang pinagmulan ng krisis na sinuong ng mga karakter sa nobela.

Nabuo ang sabjek sa pagtuklas na gumagana pa rin ang tradisyonal na moralidad na batayan ng kilos, isip at damdamin ng tipikal na tauhan sa nobela: pamilya batay sa awtoridad ng magulang, sindak ng militar laban sa rebeldeng pangkat na dapat katakutan, atbp.

Matingkad ang paglalarawan sa problema ng mga anak at magulang, ngunit tila pansamantala lamang ang yugtong iyon, limitado sa ilang tauhan, hindi saklaw ang buong bansa. Lumilitaw na ang diktadurya ay tila anomalya lamang, at ang krisis ay pansamantalang emerhensiya. Ganoon din ang kalabisan ng mga kaliwang puwersa na siyang nagpakilos sa mga aktibista, ngunit hindi sumaklolo o tumulong sa kanilang kahirapan.

Sa namamayagpag na “culture of impunity,” tila patuloy ang predikamento ng mga ina. Testigo ang ina ni Jonas Burgos, ang mga magulang nina Karen Empeno at Sherlyn Cadapan, at marami pang iba. Baka maging “desaparecidos” ang buong bansa sa paglabas ng migranteng contract-workers–mahigit 10 milyon na–pati likas-yaman, mga islang lulubog o mawawasak sa bagsik ng napipinsalang kalikasan ng planeta.

Ang pagkawala ng anak ay mistulang sagisag sa pagkawala ng soberanya, kalayaan, integridad ng bansa.
Simbolo kaya ng resureksiyon o muling pagsilang ang pagbabalik ng anak? Sino ang sabjek ng kinabukasang ipinahihiwatig ng pagbuo muli ng pamilya?

17.  Kung hindi kayo sang-ayon sa metakomentaryong nailahad, patunay iyon na nangingibabaw pa rin ang tradisyonal na paraan ng pagsusuri’t pagpapahalaga sa literatura. Kung nabagabag man kayo, tumalab kahit paano ang proposisyong nailatag dito, maaaring simulang baguhin ang modo ng pagturing sa panitikan bilang repleksiyon ng tinatanggap na realidad o kaya’y ekspresyon ng kaluluwa ng salamangkero ng wika. Simula ring maghuhunos ang pagkilala sa estudyante at guro bilang mga sabjek ng naghaharing paradigma o kwadro ng pagkilatis at pagpapahalaga. Sa gayo’y pwedeng mag-umpisa ang kumbersasyon ng mga komunidad sa impetus ng diyalektikal at materyalismong pagsusuring naibalangkas dito.

16.  Sa paglagom, maitanong: taglay ba ng lahat ng akda o diskurso ang hugis ng ideolohiyang nahimay rito? Kung ganoon, walang dapat alalahanin. Walang panganib ang magbasa ng diskursong nag-uulat ng nakaririmarim na mga tagpo, ng mga nakasisindak na pangyayari. Sandaling nagimbal ang kalooban ng mambabasa.

Sa pag-igkas ng imbestigasyon hinggil sa mga biktima ng diktadurya, sa pag-inog ng mga insidente, maidadala lahat ng mga masalimuot na kontradiksiyon sa isang lugar na madaling maipapaliwanag ang lahat, at saka maiuugnay sa mapayapa’t makabuluhang paraan ang mga nagtutunggaling puwersa upang sa gayon maisauli ang dating status quo at mapatahimik ang lahat. Kung tutuusin, walang dapat ikabahala sa masinop na pag-aaral ng nobelang puno ng madugo’t marahas na tagpo.

17.  Sa Kanlurang arkibo ng araling kultural, ang genre ng modernong nobela ay nakatuon sa pakikipagsapalaran ng naligaw na kaluluwa sa mundong walang diyos. Ang bayani ay masikhay na naghahanap ng kahulugan o katuturan sa buhay, biktima ng alyenasyon sa daigdig ng komoditi at ipinagbibiling bagay sa mega-mall saanman, napapaligiran ng walang tigil na sigalot, terorismo, digmaan ng mga uri’t sari-saring lakas ng nagbubuhat sa gunita ng nakalipas at takot sa malagim na hinaharap.

Sa Filipinas, ang nobela ay nakaugat sa krisis ng pyudal at patriyarkal na orden. Naitampok sa pagsasalaysay ng buhay nina Ana at Roy ang predikamento ng pamilyang nabuwag at mga kabataang napahamak sa pakikibaka sa ngalan ng kalayaan at hustisya, sa kalakaran ng krisis ng neokolonyal na rehimen, kung saan natuklasan ng mambabasa ang tunay na pagkatao ng mga sabjek sa proseso ng pagtataguyod ng rebolusyonaryong balak.

Makapagtuturo kaya ito ng mabuting halimbawa upang ang sabjek na imbensiyon ng diskurso, resulta ng wika ng likhang-sining, ay maitransporma sa mapagpalayang direksiyon?  Magagamit kaya ang pormang ideolohikal ng literaturang pinaparangalan ngayon sa makatao’t progresibong layunin?  Tiyak na ito’y isang kolektibong proyekto na dumudulog sa lahat at humahamon sa ating budhi, puso, katapangan at katapatan.###

[Ang unang borador ng papel na ito ay binasa bilang panayam sa Ateneo University, 14 Pebrero 2014]

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Lualhati Bautista’s DESAPARECIDOS, Bonifacio, & the Politics of Time–E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

[UP VISAYAS TALK Feb 4, 2014]

by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

1. Any process of reflection on the situation of Filipinos and Philippine society today, post-9/11 and in the midst of intense U.S. surveillance of the world as part of its global war on extremist terrorism, requires sustained historical consciousness. This involves critical self-reflection if we want to intervene in changing our social situation and our everyday lives.

“Historical” implies the passage of time through events from one mode of social relations to another, the past undergoing transformation to produce the next stage of social development, the future.   “Consciousness” implies not just individual self-reflection but a grasp of the milieu and its collective self-awareness, the mentality of the epoch, as well as its manifold determinations.

2. The Yolanda catastrophe disclosed the stage we are in: an entrenchment of the neocolonial formation begun in 1946. We witnessed again not only endemic corruption and ineptitude, but more starkly the intervention of foreign actors, in particular, the United States navy and airforce, which offered a pretext for allowing large-scale, more permanent deployment of US forces throughout the country. This in addition to the drone/Special Forces operations already going on in Mindanao, Sulu, and other regions. The protest over pork-barrel thievery is a symptom of growing popular discontent–not enough, however, to spark nationwide insurrection.

3. Part of the symptom of increased deterioration of the neocolonial setup is the impact of the public exposure–on top of other local protests in various regions. esp those affected by mining, demolition of homes,etc.  Everyone knows that this has been going on since the US colonial administration parcelled out the bureaucracy and the ideological state apparatus–courts, legislature, military–to the local elite with landlord and comprador roots. This was part of the pacification campaign from 1899 to the Cold War period.

Bourgeois sociologists call this the client-patron relationship, part of the old structures of interdependency. The US cultivated this and institutionalized it in the Quezon Commonwealth regime; it worsened during the Cold War era, systematized by the Marcos dictatorship, and vulgarized in the Estrada and Arroyo regimes.

4. Except for a few stories and novels in the vernacular, literary artists have not thoroughly diagnosed the corruption endemic to a neocolonial, dependent system. One outstanding example is Stevan Javellana’s WITHOUT SEEING THE DAWN. Of course, the classic works of Lope K Santos, Arguilla, Amado V. Hernandez may be cited as allegorical and realist testimonies to the historical contradictions of the period from the early years of US colonial rule to the fifties.

Aside from state censorship and persecution of subversive writers, the use of English and the class-affiliation of the intelligentsia served to reinforce the ideological hegemony of the imperial power in the sphere of culture. Even the most popular vernacular poet of the twenties and thirties of the last century, Jose Corazon de Jesus, who wrote in accessible Tagalog and attacked racist Americans, could not fully escape the individualist conformism of his vocation. He was more effective as a journalistic recorder of folk beliefs and hypnotic entertainer of the plebeian crowd.

5. Our literature in English remains confined to clever imitations and at best genteel parodies of the latest vogue celebrated by US taste-makers and fashion arbiters. The major writer who dared to wrestle with the crises of the collective psyche, more precisely the ordeals of activists, during the Marcos dictatorship and after is Lualhati Bautista, also famous for the films DEKADA 70 & BATA BATA PAANO KA GINAWA? Bautista is a self-declared feminist writer in Filipino who tries  to cater to the taste of the bakya crowd and the high-brow aficionados of the Filipino commercial cinema. But her virtuosity seems not to have registered deeply to make her name instantly recognizable as that of Manny Pacquiao or Nora Aunor, star of the recent film THY WOMB.

6.  Before I offer a few comments on Bautista’s latest novel, DESAPARECIDOS, I want to say something about the 150th anniversary of Andres Bonifacio’s birth celebrated last year.

7. After World War II, I was seven years old and entered the Andres Bonifacio Elementary School near Blumentritt, Sta Cruz, Manila. I knew more about the 13 martyrs of Cavite than about the Supremo because I acted in a skit about one of them. Later I knew more about Jose Abad Santos when I entered a school named after him.

During grade school and high school, I had only rudimentary notions of Bonifacio’s role in the 1896 revolution. Only in college, after being exposed to Agoncillo’s Revolt of the Masses, did I acquire a fuller understanding of Bonifacio’s importance, albeit a somewhat distorted version due to the prejudiced optic of such commentators as Agoncillo himself, Zaide, Nick Joaquin, etc. It is only through the brave efforts of our kasamas in the national-democratic movement that we can now appreciate Bonifacio’s decisive intervention in that epic of revolt against Spanish colonial domination, an ongoing narrative beginning from Soliman and Dagohoy up to Silang, Apolinario de la Cruz, Burgos, to Rizal, Jaena, Del Pilar, and the Katipunan.

8.  From a historical-materialist perspective, Bonifacio is less an individual than an embodiment of collective forces
that were stirred up by the Propagandists, mainly by Rizal’s novels and his failed Liga. The Katipunan is not just a collection of disgruntled individuals but an organized assemblage of conscious minds mobilized for directed, planned action. It laid the ground for constructing the counterhegemonic vision of future national-democratic struggles: the Sakdalista, Huk, NPA/NDF, etc.

9. Unlike the hero-worshipping habits imposed by aristocratic Spain and the utilitarian U.S., the ideology of the Katipunan emphasized cooperation, mutual aid, and the welfare of the community. National solidarity, not individualism. The revolution initiated by Bonifacio’s Katipunan contradicted the cacique mentality of the Aguinaldo circle, petty holding proprietors, titled ilustrados, the Westernized intelligentsia.  While Bonifacio and his circle were themselves products of the European Enlightenment, specifically the radical philosophes, they also functioned as organic intellectuals of the workers and peasants. Not the pasyon but the habitus of Indyo artisans and urban workers (Manila then was a collection of neighborhoods) shaped their everyday conduct, a life-form whose virtue inhered in spontaneous feelings, rituals of sharing, emotive gestures and clandestine agitation rather than detached inquiry.

10.  All the writings of Bonifacio, as well as the documents of the Katipunan, testify to a massive endeavor to educate workers and peasants in order to raise their political consciousness, not to enhance their talent to promote their individual status or family fortunes. This applied also to the writings of Rizal, Mabini, and others. But Bonifacio used the vernacular and appealed to the organic sensibility of people engaged in daily work and collective struggle against a violent predatory system.

In sum, the narrative of Philippine modernity based on the rational autonomy of each individual talent harnessed for the common good begins with Bonifacio and the Katipunan. Incredulity toward this master-narrative can only sustain the abuses of dynastic warlord families, proprietors of semi-feudal estates, as well as their comprador-bureaucratic networks in government. Consumerist individualism and lumpen criminality are morbid byproducts of this interregnum between the old dying system and the new one still convulsed by birth pangs.

11.  We have not yet achieved full sovereign autonomy, given our dependence on US dictates (military, economic, etc.) and IMF/WB and WTO mandates. With over ten million OFWs, the economy depends vitally on the unstable global market hiring migrant labor. Call centers and outsourcing businesses immediately suffer any slight adjustment in global stock exchanges.

Lacking any master-plan for industrialization, food sufficiency, ecological health and sustainable development, our country remains an immiserated appendage of global finance-capital. And if it were not for the remittance of billions of dollars to pay the foreign debt and support the consumerist lifestyles of both the rich and the families of OFWs, we would be like Haiti, a virtual US colony. But an economy based on commodification and export of millions of brown bodies is precariously mortgaged on the cycles of global capitalism, afflicted with periodic calamities and ongoing wars and worsening destruction of the planet’s ecosystem.

12.  Bonifacio’s dream of national autonomy, popular sovereignty, and prosperity remains suspended in the sporadic struggles of numerous groups around the country–farmers, indigenous Lumad communities, women, students, OFWs abroad, etc. The moment of systemic breakdown depends on the convergence of all these separate insurrections, movements variably contingent on or affected by the international alignment of blocs of regional forces.

Bonifacio’s execution by the Aguinaldo clique reminds us that unless class divisions, and their attendant  ideology of narrow class or familial interests (both of which are maintained by US hegemony) are overcome, we cannot progress as an independent nation and a people with dignity and singular identity. This unity is something to be theorized in consonance with practical organized movements.

13. Bonifacio is being resurrected everyday in the numerous efforts of our countrymen to oppose imperialist diktat and the subserviency to their imperialist patrons of our politicians, compradors, and landlords–the oligarchic elite– whose lives have been molded to maintain a violent system whose grant of “impunity” for torturers and killers is a clear sign of its moral and political bankruptcy.

14. This climate of “impunity” for those responsible for atrocities and barbaric excesses during the long night of the Marcos dictatorship is the theme of Bautista’s novel DESAPARECIDOS. The title itself, derived from the Latin American nightmare of repression of insurgents by military dictators supported by the CIA (as in Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile, etc.), betokens the continuing repression of civil liberties and the fascist violence used to impose it. It also symbolizes the vanished, erased or extinguished parts of our memory and consciousness without which we cannot claim responsibility for our actions, or freedom to create our own destiny.

15. Foremost among the disappeared in Panay are Luisa Dominado and Nilo Arado. They were followed by Jonas Burgos, Sherley Cadapan, Karen Empeno, and dozens more. What happened? Can a body just disappear in a society whose laws, whose constitution, presumably seek to guarantee the life and liberty of everyone? Who are the agents of making bodies disappear as if by magic or uncanny and bizarre means? And when bodies surface as corpses, cadavers with stigmata of State coercion (euphemistically called “extra-economic compulsions”), are there risks for anyone who can identify them?

16.  Bautista’s novel is both an expressive and communicative act. Expression becomes possible only when communication succeeds (always in contentious or conflicted degrees), enabling the reader to translate ideas/feelings into action. To ask what the novel communicates is to ask how the individual reader is interpellated to become a subject capable of action premised on a certain view of life, a configuration of lived experience, and sense of an intelligible future.  We also want to interrogate whether the project of interpellation–making readers not only conscious of their historical situation but also aware of their potential in transforming their world–successful or not. If not, why not?

17.  I propose three theses for exploration and discussion: First, this novel attempts to make sense of the terrible disruption of lives, of institutions and traditional beliefs, inflicted by the Marcos dictatorship through the ordeals of two families–three if we include the parents of Jingki, the assasinated traitor to the NPA. Were all those sacrifices worth the cause? Was that period of emergency meaningful, valuable, or necessary?

Second, the attempt to make whole broken bodies, destroyed lives, employs the plight of a mother searching for her lost child, exposing in the process the conflict between political commitment and personal (maternal) need, and the disjunction between devotion to a future-oriented revolutionary ideal and the imperative of immediate or punctual satisfaction of family togetherness and organic harmony among blood kins. Is the conflict resolved, thus allowing for the invention of a different or alternative future? What notion of the future is produced by a reading of this novel?

Third, the argument for revolutionary justice–the revenge of the deaths of others by the sacrifice of Jingki–appears as a wager that a future life free from such raw justice can arise. Absent a providential or transcendent law/god, can humans with their natural vulnerabilities and resources establish a regime honoring each individual member? Again, can the future be born from a spoiled damaged past and guilt-ridden present? Are possibilities offered by the plot of restored child and confessed deed?

18. The plot unfolds the interaction of multiple times. The themes of separation and reunion, distance and intimacy, unravel in the interplay among three zones or layers of experienced temporality: a) time lost/frozen (for Anna fixated on finding her daughter consigned to a lost comrade Karla), b) time present (Roy remembering the burning of his family in front of an NGO group trying to reconstitute the historic truth/authenticity of what happened, and finally confessing his role as party agent of revenge), and (c) time future (duration as continuity), personified by the two daughters: Karla who wants to know/learn about her past, her mother’s homeland; and Lorena whose everyday recording of what is occurring to her parents, etc., registers the symptoms of rupture and displacements, the asynchrony between past and present, thus rendering the future problematic, at best, and amenable to speculative extrapolation.

19. The novel resolves the fixations of Ana and Roy with the return of Karla from Canada, and the confession of Malaya to Ana about her origin. Moved by Ana’s obsession, Karla (whose spatial removal and marriage fills up the lost time wasted during the Marcos years) renounces her claim to Malaya. Malaya in turn reaffirms the biological mother Ana, though she does not reject Karla. Roy finally confesses that he killed Jingki, Karla’s husband, on orders of the party, thus partly purging himself of guilt. One can speculate that revenge on a former comrade Jingki compensates for Roy’s fury and sense of futility or helplessness in leaning of the killing of his parents and sister.

But it can be argued that the reunion of mother and daughter does not fully provide an answer to the lost meaning or import of the anti-imperialist struggle in the lives of these protagonists. The summary of chronological history in between the 9th and 10th chapter, entitled “Once upon a fairy tale…” attests to the problem broached by the politics of time and the disaggregation of space in an unevenly developed, ideologically conjunctural formation.

20. Surely the return of the lost daughter and the vindication of Ana’s persistent effort to find Karla, as well as the retribution inflicted on Jinky for betraying his comrades, do not appease our uneasiness. The narrative voice indicates as much, asking: Was all that enormous sacrifice worth it when the ghost of the past reappears in Arroyo’s Marcos-like authoritarianism?

We assert the proposition that biology, nature as found/received condition, is no answer to the failure of individuals to honor their personal responsibilities, much less their political commitments. We are not absolutely determined by our environment or our heritages which are all subject to contingencies and mutability. But to whom is the individual responsible?

21. Karla’s role is exemplary: she sacrifices her own daughter in order to protect and save her comrade’s child, thus valorizing community over biology. She also proves that though the struggle separates bodies and destroys families, they also open up the space for new forms of belonging, solidarity, and fellowship opposed to alienation and capitalist reification.

Her absence from the scene of carnage and torture allows the passage of time to nourish the seeds of past time (Malaya) and the potential for a new beginning in the conjunction of the two sisters. Her exiled body functions as the positive side to the negativity of disappeared and mutilated bodies, thus allowing the opening for new action, for a future of a new form of society to emerge.

It is in this horizon of expectation that this narration of negation, disavowals and disappeareds produces the realm of possibilities for collective intervention, and therefore the realization of social agency for the victims, all those denied recognition, the disappeared and violated and dispossessed.

22.  Fragments of the historical totality of twenty years (comprising the martial law years plus the early disappointing years of the Cory Aquino regime) remain suspended in a narrative replete with moments of intense dramatic confrontations. Lived existential time generates a pressure that prevents clear judgment and discourages any fair evaluation of each person’s role in the events of torture, abduction, and killing. But historical or spatial distance (between Malaya and Lorena, for instance) does not guarantee justice and elucidation of moral or ethical ambiguities, either.

23. So the final question we face is: what does the novel’s interpellation seek to elicit from us? Validating the harmonious reconciliation of Karla and Ana, of Karla and Roy, and the resolution of contradictions between the party and its members who are critical and deviant? Can the recovered daughter Malaya symbolize the future for the split psyche of the mother being healed by their embrace? Consider this: “Nang ibaba ni Ana ang kamay niya ay hindi para yakapin si Malaya kundi para yakapin ang sarili… Hanggang sa si Malaya ang yumakap sa kanya, niyakap siya nang mahigpit, buong higpit, na parang sa yakap na iyon ay sinisikap ibalik ang dalawampu’t isang taon” (p. 220).

24. In Hegel’s philosophy, the dialectic of lord and slave climaxes the process of drawing the lessons of the struggle for recognition. The lesson is the knowledge of historical time, the investigated logic of the process of history. Here the dialectic of time past and time present culminates in mother-daughter embrace, a fusion of blood-streams: nature overcomes history, dissolves memory and the narrative of differential moments into a cosmological continuum. The almost mythical rhythm of maternal/biological annuls the question about the future and with it the possibility of historical agency.

25. The question of agency (faced by Roy in the chapter before the last) involves speculations or anticipations of the future. This is tied also to the theme of violence against women, specifically targeting the body, sexuality (rape, mutilation of genitals, etc.) Ultimately, the chief task of this narrative and other structural projects of plotting (by Filipino writers) is to answer what is the meaning or sense of human actions in history. Put more concretely, what is the purpose or import of Filipino intervention in history, particularly the shaping of the present/future of the nation?

26. Resolving the problem of agency, as well as the meaning of revolutionary action, via affirmation of nature (by identifying the lost child, though Nonong’s cadaver is never publicly identified, despite the father’s torture and sacrifice of his life) is a false and misleading solution. Or it postpones the moment of choice, letting traditional authorities and conventions make the decisions.

Despite the melodramatic reunion of mother and dauther, as well as the bonding between Malaya and Lorie (an allegorical linkage of past and future by the existential present), Bautista suggests an ironical ending in the final two pages about Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017 evoking memories of Marcos’ martial-law declaration. There is a double irony here because the return of the past, even in mock or pantomime version, mimics the return of biology and blood-kinship, Nature.

27. The invocation of Nature returns us to the archaic and feudal stages of the pasyon and mythic rituals. A future shaped by human agency disappears. With it history either vanishes, or becomes the existential present, where “everything solid melts into air.”
We plunge into the narcosis of commodity-fetishism, the deceptive flux and changeability of fashion–the paradisal mirage of global capitalism and its consumerist hallucinations which have seduced us, so ubiquitous in gigantic malls that proliferate in MetroManila, Iloilo, and everywhere. The instant of pleasure or excitement becomes paramount, consumption of ideas or sensations becomes the means for the realization of utopian bliss. The narrative of events and experiences becomes superfluous.

28.  Bautista’s novel reminds us that our bodies can be “disappeared” not just by fascist violence, courtesy of the neocolonial state and US panopticon, but also by the inertia of quasi-feudal habits, by the subterranean reflexes of our physical constitutions. If we allow these forces to operate, the “disappeared” will haunt us forever, as they did for our protagonists Ana and Roy, as well as for Karla, Malaya, Lorie and all the victims and victors of this oppressive and brutal system.

The choice is ours: the owl of Minerva (the critical genius) will not fly out into this night of terror unless the vampires and ghouls of the past are challenged and the survivors with their memories intact assert their presence in time and at all times. This is the time of appearance, not disappearance, for Filipinos

29. Finally, this narrative of loss and recovery, inflected with ironic undertones and allegorical resonance, affords a moment for grasping the totality of the Philippine formation at a conjunctural moment: the neocolonial crisis of the Marcos dictatorship. Totalization enables the synthesis of past sacrifices to link present ordeals with visions of the future, expectations of new life-forms.

We as readers might be able to respond to the interpellation of ourselves as potential agents who can identify murdered activists, assassinated traitors, lost or disappeared citizens, who are all part of our own larger selves, vestiges of our own childhood and symbolic tokens of what we desire to become.

As Bautista herself declared after the Feb 1986 revolt: “Panahon na na lumikha ng alternatibong papel ng babae bilang isang tauhan, lala na’t kasama rin naman ang babae sa pagsusulong ng lipunan…sa tunay at ganap na kalayaan” (“Ang Manunulat bilang Babae at ang Babae bilang Manunulat,”  Tinig-Titik 2, 2nd issue, 1986-87, p. 6).

Various possibilities are open. If we want, a reflexive understanding of this novel can help us disentangle the barbaric from the civilized elements in the intricate, complex web of our national history–from the aborted insurrection of the Katipunan to the aborted uprisings of the Sakdalistas and Huks to the failed People Power Revolt of 1986, and so on. It can help us understand the ironies of political movements and the tragedies of the past as necessary turning-points in our emergence as a people/nation with its rightful place in the nultifaceted, dissonant, messy evolution of world-history.–2/1/2014

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KAFKA & TORTURE: Re-visiting “In the Penal Colony”–metacommentary by E. San Juan, Jr.

KAFKA  &  TORTURE:  Deconstructing the Writing Apparatus of

“In the Penal Colony”

--by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

Copan, Honduras

Capitalism is a system of dependencies, which run from within to without, from without to within, from above to below, from below to above.  All is dependent, all stands in chains.  Capitalism is a condition of the soul and of the world.

–Franz Kafka (Janouch 1968, 206)


Long a prime staple of jurisprudence and psychopathology, torture of human bodies as a form of interrogation and subjection has now become a ubiquitous preoccupation. Every Facebook/Internet client has something to say about it. Even before Foucault, Lacan, Butler, and other postmodernist gurus have pontificated on body/corporeal politics, torture in the form of slavery, lynching, and “third degree interrogation” techniques used in domestic policing and military lgistics of acquiring secret information (for example, “water cure” or water-boarding during the Philippine-American War, Vietnam, Iraq) have precipitated endless philosophical controversies. Is torture justified under any circumstances?

In this epoch of post-9/11 terrorist wars, USA Patriot Act, sophisticated CIA counterinsurgency manuals, and drone killings (see Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars), torture has become so banal as “original sin” for repeat offenders.  What World Court dare pronounce the last word on the moral calculus of torture? It took Naomi Klein’s scrutiny of “the Shock Doctrine” to restore the gravitas of inflicted pain and injury on whole populations in the context of the rancorous debates on foreign policy and corporate globalization in international forums and urban mass demonstrations (see “Torture and the United States” entry in Wikipedia). Systematic torture of groups and collectives, not just of individuals, becomes the chief bone of contention.

The thematic scope of torture as sociopolitical-ideological policy of States and political parties surely demands space—–time far beyond the limits of a cultural critique. In this context, however, I confine myself to one text which presciently foregrounds the body, albeit the fanatical body, as the arena of ascertaining truth (fidelity to reality) by using torture as demonstration. Validating torture becomes a method to persuade others of its efficacy as an instrument of justice. Convincing the victim of State authority literally translates into conviction (in this case, the officer’s death gruesomely depicted).

Kafka’s classic fable dramatizing corporeal hermeneutics might be salutary both to the victims and practitioners of torture (as Lundberg recently suggested [2013]), a heuristic baedeker to the ecology of a planet where prisons/penal institutions function as model internal colonies of which the Guantanamo Bay maximum-security cells comprise but one obsessive mirror-image. More instructive, the chief protagonist of Kafka’s story, the explorer or traveller, is symptomatic of the vacillating if self-righteous mind-set of liberals (should we say neoliberals?) whose weapon of methodological individualism becomes an apology for Abu-Ghraib outrage, philanthropic rescue of veiled women, and mass drone killings.  But let us first inquire into the contentious status of Kafka as the unrivalled icon of twentieth-century existentialist, apocalyptic modernism as well as fragmented, aleatory  postmodernism.

Kafkaesque: Vortex of Antagonisms
One of the most bold if exorbitant claims about Kafka’s greatness as the exemplary modern literary artist was made by George Steiner, and previously by W.H. Auden and Albert Camus (1991). Steiner praised the first sentence of The Trial as “the most graphic moment of clairvoyance, of prophetic imaginings, in twentieth century literature” (Bradbury 1988, 258). And this quote, endorsed by the novelist Malcolm Bradbury, is meant to enlarge the image of Kafka as one “both of the humanity and the fragility of the modern writer in the face of power and of the spirit of anxiety” of our times (1988, 257). Clairvoyance, prophetic imaginings, humanity and fragility in the face of power, anxiety–all these terms distill the commonplace and somewhat now hackneyed consensus that the epithet “Kafkaesque” sums up the tenor, Zeitgeist, temper or frame of mind of the last century of wars, crises and revolutions.
But what exactly does “Kafkaesque” mean? With just two unfinished novels, The Trial and The Castle, and short fables or exempla such as “The Metamorphosis,” “The Judgment,” “In the Penal Colony,” “The Hunger Artist,” and “The Burrow,” Kafka has dominated the field of late-capitalist literary studies primarily due to the ambiguity and enigmatic resonance of his “clear hard prose of reality”–to quote Bradbury again  “at once profoundly imaginary and strangely surreal.” What was at stake beyond formalist standards or ideals?

Kafka’s worldwide fame as the exemplary artist of the absurd and cosmopolitan anguish began with tributes made by Camus,  Auden, Thomas Mann, Theodore Adorno, and others. In the two decades after World War II, Kafka took center-stage in the ideological Cold War. The leading Marxist critic Georg Lukacs attacked Kafka’s “blind and panic-stricken angst” delivered with “passionate sincerity,” without recourse to “formalistic experimentation” (1975, 380). The source of this profound anxiety, “the diabolical character of the world of modern capitalism,” centers on the world of the Hapsburg Monarchy.  But, for Lukacs, Kafka’s quasi-mimetic art embodied in “cryptic symbols of an unfathomable realism” fares poorly compared to the critical realism of Thomas Mann.  Kafka’s “decadent modernism,” lacking a dynamic historical perspective, is thus condemned. A more polemical argument is made by the Soviet critic Boris Suchkov who charges Kafka for depriving “the concept of justice of sense, makes it relative, doubtful, ambiguous, and debatable,” allowing evil paramount sway (1981, 151). For the American Marxist Harry Slochower, Kafka’s avoidance of tragic catharsis inhibits revolutionary action (Solomon 1973, 359; for other Marxist critiques, see Hughes 1981).

The struggle over Kafka in Czechoslovakia has been documented by Eduard Goldstucker who played the leading role in rehabilitating or “demilitarizing”  Kafka at the Liblice International Conference in May 1963 where East German, Soviet, and European intellectuals clashed. Goldstucker noted that Kafka then “had become a central point in the battle for breaking the isolation caused by years of Stalinism and the cold war” (1973, 283). For those living behind the “Iron Curtain,” Kafka symbolized not modernist despair but the freedom to inquire, explore and criticize. In an exchange on the problem of using the loaded term “decadence” as a criterion in judging literary and other art-works (by authors such as Joyce, Beckett, Proust) in general, Goldstucker concurred with Jean-Paul Sartre’s conviction that “decadence” as a concept is not only useless but counter-productive, even corrupting, in a serious dialogue on the task of interpreting the value of art in society. Sartre himself argued that “if one read [Kafka’s fiction] in depth one discovers that totality which a modern new novel must always aspire to attain” (1973, 257).

Storming the Institution, Smashing Everything

The orthodox Marxist view that Kafka’s message is historically circumscribed is echoed by maverick critic Edmund Wilson who reject the novelist’s “abject heroes as parables of the human condition” (1962, 94). But this historicist objection cancels itself: Kafka’s heroes are typical because they are actualized particulars. As Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg remark on the nature of narrative in general, “Typically, life is particular and it is inarticulate and irrational,” so that the writer’s originality of vision depends on the “creation of new types of actuality” (1966, 155-56). Hence, Kafka’s authenticity proceeds from the essentially ambiguous engagement with actuality. This engagement consists of “a commitment to the world” and a common language, combined simultaneously with “a reservation, a doubt, a fear before the letter of the signs the world proposes” (Barthes  1972, 136). Kafka’s forte, his virtue, inheres in the production of “negative affirmation” (Hubben 1947, 1173).

Accepting the historical situation with reservations, Kafka responds to his immediate situation with a “yes, but….,” coalescing in one act the realistic project and the ethical project. In other words, While Kafka registers life in the modern world as estrangement, a catastrophic form of exile, he also inscribes in it a utopian hope, with the iconoclastic ironies merging with the melancholy affirmations of Josephine the Singer, and the promise of free distant spaces hinted at in the last chapter of Amerika, the “Nature Theatre of Oklahoma” (1946, 272-298).

What has been ignored or obscured in the ideological war is Kafka’s socialist politics. In 1970, Lee Baxandall documented Kafka’s radical orientation, his affiliation with the revolutionary Youth Club of Prague sympathetic to Marxist thinkers, his early reading of Belinsky, Bakunin, Herzen, and Kropotkin, and the communitarian vision enunciated in the plan he drafted for a propertyless workers’ community. One reads in it this extraordinary statement as one of the “Rights”: “Working life as a transaction of conscience and of faith in one’s fellow man” (Baxandall 1970, 78). How can we be blind to this evidence of profound commitment to working-class solidarity? Let us not forget the confession he made to this friend Max Brod about workers seeking help from the office of the Workers Accident Insurance Institute where Kafka worked: “How modest these people are! They come to us and plead. Instead of storming this institution and smashing everything to bits, they come to us and plead” (Baxandall 1970, 74).

Dialectics versus Casuistry

Kafka offered a problem to Cold War protagonists locked each in one-dimensional optics. Writing about decadent features in capitalist society does not equal approving or justifying them; frames of mind, contexts, need to be factored into the larger picture. In truth, the situation is more complicated since all writers living in a bourgeois society dominated by alienation but also resistance, however minor, may be aware of such contradictions and have to adapt to them as best they can. Among orthodox communists, Roger Garaudy and Ernst Fischer distinguished themselves as rejecting, to some extent, the ethico-political use of “decadent” to downgrade Kafka. They would accept the reading of Kafka’s texts as realist descriptions of alienation, even satirical and critical to some extent.

In 1965, the Culture Theory Panel of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Worker’s Party issued a statement “Of Socialist Realism.” It criticized severely Lukacs’ one-sided valorization of bourgeois critical realism to the neglect of socialist realism. In the process, it also attacked Fischer, Goldstucker, Garaudy, Sartre and others who found Kafka’s work useful as a “cognitive mapping” (to use Fredric Jameson’s [2000] phrase) of the milieu at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth-century.  The Hungarian Party asserted that Kafka’s works may have aesthetic value, but its overall worth is nil because it “made alienation absolute,” metaphysical and totalizing; and even if one discerns protest, it is filled with “fear, pessimism without the essentials of tragedy…” It is decadent because it subordinates everything “to the atmosphere of imperialism,” unable to analyze causality in the recognition of relationships which remain mysterious” (1972, 254). In hindsight, every proposition in that indictment is questionable, dubious, ultimately untenable, given the substantial inquiries into Kafka’s complex ethico-political stance in the last forty years.

The enigma of Kafka’s equivocal style has been provocative and catalyzing ever since. The debate over Kafka’s realism grew central and prepossessing to the extent that his persisting aura grew out of the gap between writing and lived experience, between form and content (the prehended materials in the medium). This latter tension and its ethico-political consequences highlighted in the encounter between Sartre and orthodox Marxists was already rehearsed in the pre-WWII debates between Lukacs, Bertolt Brecht, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin and Theodore Adorno, and other “Western Marxists” before World War II (see Taylor, 1977). With the verdict permanently postponed, Kafka continues to haunt the inner sanctum of partisan hermeneutics.

Brecht’s Intervention

Brecht’s position on the debate is historically nuanced and calibrated. Responding to Lukacs’ condemnation of expressionism, Brecht contended that a dogmatic Marxist criterion that rejects techniques such as the interior monologue in Joyce’s Ulysses was guilty of empty formalism.The traditional canon of the bourgeois Enlightenment cannot solely be the guarantee of the progressive nature of realism. Actualities change and, along with them, organic visions and social mores.

For Brecht, “literature cannot be forbidden to employ skills newly acquired by contemporary man, such as the capacity for simultaneous registration, bold abstraction, and swift combination” (1977, 75). He urged critics to proceed methodically and scientifically in judging what is popular and realistic, matters which exceed questions of aesthetic form. Brecht insisted that time flows on, “methods become exhausted; stimuli no longer work.  New problems appear and demand new methods. Reality changes; in order to represent it, modes of representation must also change” (1977, 82). Kafka responded strategically to those changes in history.

For his part, the philosopher Bloch advanced analogous objections to Lukacs’ “closed objectivist conception of reality.” He objected to the one-sided concept of seamless totality that Lukacs deploys, blind to discontinuities and disruptions. For Bloch, Lukacs’ mistake lies in ignoring the avant-garde artists’  attempt to shatter the capitalist image of life as they “exploit the real fissures in surface inter-relations and to discover the new in their crevices” (1977, 22). In short, one needs a dialectical optic to ascertain what is decadent and what is progressive especially in transitional genres and experiments. Bloch connected Kafka’s milieu to surrealist landscapes, alluding to “Kafka’s  dense yet quiet echo, coming from another world to this one,….a reflection of the groundwater of dreams leaking into the destruction” of bourgeois power, capitalist hegemony (1998, 105).

The outcome of this episode in cultural history epitomizes the still disputed canonization of Kafka as the inventor of a singular mode of writing, “an expenditure of a certain energy without return.” As a subtle “geometrician of metaphor,” according to Henry Sussman, Kafka performed arabesques of equivocation and duplicity similar to those of Hieronymus Bosch (1979, 181). Describing a nihilistic world without ideals, ends or causality, John Lechte remarks, Kafka produced a world of enigmas. It was a bizarre cosmos without rational protocols. It rendered a distinctive “writing of sacrifice” which is no longer a product of sociohistorical conditions but is constitutive of those conditions (1994, 244). Devoid of transcendence, expunging all boundaries, Kafka inhabited the extraterritorial realm of the exile, the nihilist, the Nietzschean nomad without origins–the portrait of Kafka drawn by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their epochal study of Kafka’s aesthetics (more later). At any rate, the Kafka dossier is still in the process of investigation, his reputation linked closely to the vicissitudes of controversies over aesthetic standards and literary tastes (since Kant) in the global marketplace of disposable values and fungible norms.

Inventory of the Archive

In a survey of Kafka criticism from 1944 to 1955, H. S. Reiss observed the persisting fixation of commentaries on metaphysical/religious themes, as well as on psychoanalytic leitmotifs tied to biography and milieu (Udoff 1987; Murray 2004).  He bewails the fact that his own emphasis on the literary or writerly dimension had not successfully integrated content and form. He hopes that a comparative method would repair its inadequacies. Substance should give way to form, content (prehended medium) to structure. Deconstruction of Kafka is now welcome.

In a collection of critical essays published in 1962, Ronald Gray lamented the plethora of arbitrary interpretations. He called for a focus on Kafka’s writing which, as the translator Edwin Muir testifies, embodies sufficient justification for a formalist, autotelic approach. Kafka’s language was “exquisitely just,” exhibiting “absolute precision,” “complete honesty and candidness,” “scrupulous case,” “an almost scientific lucidity” (1962, 1) so much so that it has induced, or coaxed, the most disparate, heterogeneous and incommensurable readings–a supreme irony that has not escaped the most astute exegetes.  Kafkas’s cunning opacity continues to elude scholastic ingenuity.

One of the shrewdest commentators is the celebrated New Left theorist Theodor Adorno.  In his “Notes on Kafka,” Adorno likewise discerned the literalness of Kafka’s sentences: “everything is hard, defined and distinct as possible.” Lacking the “aura of the infinite idea,” Kafka’s prose constructs “a parabolic system the key to which has been stolen,” but there is a chosen rationale for this method: “Without the principle of literalness as criterion, the ambiguities of Kafka would dissolve into indifferent equivalence” (1967, 246, 248).  So then the indeterminacy is sustained precisely by a textual literalism that multiplies the ambiguous, uncertain, inaccessible; thus monotony results. Allegory exists with the imagistic or representational vehicles, but the conceptual tenors are absent, as if the whole work is a parody of the allegorical technique. In short, a surfeit of the Kafkaesque results in boredom, intolerable sameness.

Negating the Negations

Adorno pursues an analogical argument based on the Marxist dichotomy of use-value and exchange-value. He tries to establish the sociohistorical matrix of this style in “the cryptogram of capitalism’s highly polished, glittering late phase” nullified in the text: “Kafka unmasks monopolism by focusing on the waste-products of the liberal era that it liquidates. This historical moment, not anything allegedly metatemporal illuminating history from above, is the crystallizing of his metaphysics: there is no eternity for him other than that of the endlessly repeated sacrifice, which culminates in the image of the last one….The last sacrifice is always yesterday’s” (1967, 257). In the penal colony, however, the sacrifice proves to be the terminal one with the breakdown of the immolating machine. The ritual of sacrifice vindicating the old system of justice deconstructs itself, in effect dismantling hollow rhetoric and self-serving pieties that once legitimized the penal colony’s existence.

Adorno points out that Kafka freezes history into the moment of the damned, the fate of peasants and artisans as well as merchants and bureaucrats–everything historical is condemned. But in Kafka’s adaptation of the expressionist style and ethos, history congeals into myth. Adorno’s analysis of how Kafka deployed expressionism reveals the logic of Kafka’s objectivity, his detachment, the perspicuous lucidity of his gaze:  “The more the I of expresionism is thrown back upon itself, the more like the excluded world of things it becomes.” Parody and irony are Kafka’s deconstructive instruments to subvert the Establishment cultural tradition and its ideological apparatuses.

By virtue of this similarity, Kafka forces expressionism–“the chimerical aspect of which he, more than any of his friends, must have sensed, and to which he nevertheless remained faithful–into the form of a torturous epic; pure subjectivity, being of necessity estranged from itself as well and having become a thing, assumes the dimensions of objectivity which expresses itself through its own estrangement. The boundary between what is human and the world of things becomes blurred….It is precisely this as it were external determination of persons existing inwardly which gives Kafka’s prose the inscrutable semblance of somber objectivity” (1967, 262-63). Paraphased simply, the hermetically sealed inwardness of the artist functions as the condition of possibility for the reification of his characters and their fictional world. That precious inviolate world of “objectless inwardness” thus allowed the scattered enigmatic fragments of his imagined characters and milieu to exist, “a closed complex of immanence” and its antinomian mysticism legitimized by “the hermetic principle ….of completely estranged subjectivity” (1967, 261). As to the reasons for the “sealed inwardness” or “estranged subjectivity” of Kafka, Adorno is silent.

Poetics  of  Intractable Recalcitrance

Adorno’s scrutiny applies a dialectical optic into Kafka’s expressionist style in order to grasp the ideological themes in the work. Synoptic and comprehensive, it does not radically depart from the thematic preoccupation of the majority of the critiques already mentioned, except in its concentration on the expressionist, subjectivist metaphysics of the artist. It is parallel to Lukacs’ censure of Kafka’s world-view as infected by bourgeois alienation and the pathos of reification. But Adorno is more appreciative, less polemical, of Kafka’s strategy of combatting bourgeois decadence by confronting it with its own morbid mirror-image, its mutilation and mythical decay, to no avail. Is Adorno subtly apologizing for Kafka’s simultaneously opaque and transparent style, a paradoxical brew for Derridean decoders?

In his oddly positivist metacommentary, Adorno mentions Walter Benjamin’s appraisal of Kafka’s parabolic tendency which collapses aesthetic distance. This leads Adorno to uncover a submerged flow of regression in the animal parables and in the “technification” of the deja vu: “Kafka’s hermetic memoranda contain the social genesis of schizophrenia” (1967, 277). On the schizophrenic aspects in Kafka, none is more obsessed than the duo Deleuze and Guattari whose formidable brief demonstrates the way philosophy both illuminates and exploits the art-work.

The montage of  deja vu in Kafka may now be summed up. In Kafka criticism, we are confronted with the cosmos of the existentialist angst distilled in a fantasmatic realm of presences alienated from each other and from the world of fetishized objects, commodities circulating in the cash-nexus. This cliche of the Kafka archive is formulated by the mainstream scholar Erich Heller in his 1974 treatise on Kafka, a doxa that Adorno tried somehow to complicate: “The Law without a lawgiver, original sin without a god to sin against: this is the essence of the negative theology that pervades Kafka’s stories” (1974, 22). Guilt and sin flourish because there is no god, no lawgiver; not action but mere existence triggers the existential nausea for which there is no antidote or panacea. That vulgate axiom found a more concrete articulation in Stanley Corngold’s view that Kafka really diagnosed and depicted an extreme form of estrangement now called “political terror” (1972, xxi). The timely example is “In the Penal Colony” written in October 1914 in response to the carnage and brutality of the war.

Dialogism pervades the colloquy. In a review of Sander Gilman’s book  Kafka: The Jewish Patient, Marshall Berman reflected on the canonical readings all centered on religious and metaphysical themes. Repetition of the allegorical/didactic message has made Kafka otiose and trivialized.  For Deleuze and Guattari, those moralizing critics only succeed in reducing Kafka’s complexly fabricated oeuvre into a monolithic Signifier or hermeneutic master code that would wrap it all up in a neat package of truisms and platitudes. If Deleuze and Guattari claim not to be interested in meaning, what do they have to offer the readers of the twenty-first millennium?

Immanence versus Transcendence

Short of summarizing their book, I would like to quote key passages to give a taste of Deleuze and Guattari’s highly provocative inquiry into the Kafkaesque syndrome.  They disavow the search for structure or significance. They seek instead to  rely on “tests of experience,” not the search for archetypes or generic topoi to define Kafka’s imaginary. They insist that “our method works only where a rupturing and heterogeneous line appears,” trying to grasp “where  the system is coming from and going to, how it becomes, and what element is going to play the role of heterogeneity, a saturating body that makes the whole assembly flow away and that breaks the symbolic structure, no less than it breaks hermeneutic interpretation, the ordinary association of ideas, and the imaginary archetype” (1986, 7). In effect, they focus on fragments that may function as intimators or indices of transformations, metamorphoses, mutations of all kinds.

It’s an intriguing experiment in unlocking concealed textual energies. Looking for Kafka’s politics that is neither imaginary nor symbolic, Deleuze and Guattari ‘believe only in one or more Kafka machines that are neither structure nor phantasm….,” an experimental machine that will indicate the flow of desire as a polymorphous and perverse movement of energy, a kind of ramifying or rhizomatic life force that destroys hierarchical ensembles and allows creative power to transform “territories” or fields of the social space undergoing an endless process of dismantling and reconstruction. Their concern privileges the phenomenon of process, the Bergsonian flux, infinite changes in form and direction of any vital movement.

Not A Lacerating but Desiring Machine

For Deleuze and Guattari, the key to deciphering the Kafka problematic is its strategy of overcoming the reductive Oedipal triangle of the Freudian theater of the unconscious. To release power caught in the paranoid hierarchy of institutions and practices valorized by psychoanalysis, the condition of schizophrenia materializes in the expression of desiring machines along the surface of a “body without organs,” the boundless space of freedom and creativity. Where is this space found in Kafka? In the interstices between the objective reality of Kafka’s life and the discursive universe of his prose, that is, between the writer and the world.  What Deleuze and Guattari are endeavoring to theorize in their singular anti-psychoanalytic argument may be discerned in this passage:

A Kafka-machine is thus constituted by contents and expressions that have been formalized to diverse degrees by unformed materials that enter into it, and leave by passing through all possible states.  To enter or leave the machine, to be in the machine, to walk around it, to approach it–these are all still components of the machine itself: these are states of desire, free of all interpretation. The line of escape is part of the machine. Inside or outside, the animal is part of the burrow-machine. The problem is not that of being free but of finding a way out, or even a way in, another side, a hallway, an adjacency.  Maybe there are several factors that we must take into account: the purely superficial unity of the machine, the way in which men are themselves pieces of the machine, the position of desire (man or animal) in relation to the machine.  In the “Penal Colony,” the machine seems to have a strong degree of unity and the man enters completely into it.  Maybe this is what leads to the final explosion and the crumbling of the machine….Desire evidently passes through these positions and states or, rather, through all these lines. Desire is not form, but a procedure, a process” (1986, 7-8).

In all of Kafka’s corpus of texts, Deleuze and Guattari strive to trace the machines or assemblages through which the characters pass, their movements themselves considered as lines of flight away from fixed positions or states–the flight of desire or energies that cannot be frozen, repressed or captured; thus Kafka does not negate but affirms, so they conclude. But what exactly does he affirm?  We are not sure what, for Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka affirms except the dynamics of process, contingency, metamorphoses of all kinds.

Why does Deleuze and Guattari resort to a naive gesture of locating the value of Kafka’s work in the space between text and life, between the imaginary and the empirical? Reda Bensmaia’s explanation may be summarized here. Deleuze and Guattari reject the orthodox modes of interpretation by genres, types, stylistic modes of allegory, symbolism, parables of negative theology, and so on, associated with “Literature” by inventing a category for Kafka’s texts, “minor literature,” which supposedly overturns the norm: “[I]nstead of Kafka’s work being related to some preexistent category or literary genre, it will henceforth serve as a rallying point or model for certain texts and ‘bi-lingual’ writing practices that, until now, had to pass through a long purgatory before even being read, much less recognized” (Bensmaia xiv).  Which means, in effect, we have to pass through the detour of a history of reading practices applied to Kafka, from the time of their editing by Max Brod up to the last critical exegesis, in order to really appreciate his originality and force.

Declarations of intent are fine, but what about the concrete analysis of the texts and their elucidation in a coherent and cogent manner? While Bensmaia alludes to the geopolitical and sociohistorical contexts that serve as the condition of possibility for Kafka’s unique sensibility and way of writing–Einstein’s relativity, twelve-tone music, expressionist drama and cinema, the Prague linguistic circle, and Freud’s Copernican revolution–none of these factors is really utilized by Deleuze and Guattari whose concept of desiring-machines, rhizome, etc. are the theoretical mediators of their interpretive project. Their polemical agenda has been aptly judged by Ronald Bogue as an attempt to ascribe a postmodern avantgarde politics to Kafka’s “creative subversion of social representations” (1989, 122). Ultimately, it is an attempt to impose the grid of Nietschean power-triumphalism on Kafka which transforms a unique strategy of writing into a nominally revolutionary practice. This is transvaluation of Kafka with a vengeance, a treacherous utilitarian alibi.

In any case, let us give the benefit of the doubt to this schizoid reading. We are tempted to conclude that Deleuze and Guattari have not demonstrated what the concrete relations are between language, signs, and the material forces of “desiring production,” given their concentration on superimposing their schizoanalytic approach to culture at the expense of illuminating the specific dynamics of reading/understanding Kafka’s texts against the grain. In contrast, a short essay by Regine Robin (1989) entitled “Kafka’s Place in the Literary Field” has much more novel insight to offer about Kafka’s language-practice and his fictive repertoire of interpellating individuals into subjects than all of Deleuze and Guattari’s nomadic speculations.

Charting the Site of the Execution

It appears that the methodical doubt applied on Kafka’s critics leads only t an impasse. Erwin Steinberg (1976) has exhaustively summarized previous explications focusing on the religious and aesthetic dimensions. After catagloguing the personal and historical factors (such as the influence of Judaism, Christianity, Kierkegaard, etc.) surrounding the composition of the story, Steinberg concludes that the story is flawed aesthetically and intellectually. Among other reasons adduced for the failure is Kafka’s neglect of fully delineating the antithesis between the Old Commandant and the New, as well as his vexed portrayal of the explorer. Rigorously identifying exact correspondences between image and idea, character and moral position, seems a fruitless if wrongheaded interpretive strategy.

Assuming indeed that Kafka’s work marks the conjuncture of specific sociohistorical contradictions that could not be resolved, it is only logical to confront a discursive aporia engendering diverse interpretations. This aporia manifests itself in fragmentation, inconclusive or deliberately incomplete texts, reified character-types, and other allegorical/parabolic schemes of dramatizing polarities, oppositions, disparities. Clearly one wonders at the variety of responses elicited by Kafka’s seemingly lucid, empirically contoured sentences.

But this should be a felicitous turn of events instead of being a predicament. The semiotician Floyd Merrell invokes Alfred North Whitehead’s view that paradoxes and aporias are “windows opening out to new horizons,” enablers conducing to ” heightened learnability, accountability and knowability… Paradoxes and their attendant praxis involve the conditionality and the conjecturability implied by the pragmatic maxim” (1997, 317), the principle of semiosis enunciated by Charles Sanders Peirce, the founder of pragmaticism (cf. De Waal 2013; Merrell 2000; Robin 1998). Since this pragmaticist maxim has been distorted or perverted to the effect that meaning is what is useful or narrowly instrumental, it might be useful to quote Peirce himself.

First of all, pragmaticist interpretation concerns the meaning of an intellectual conception as connected with “what practical consequences might conceivably result by necessity from the truth of that conception” whereby the sum of those consequences will constitute its entire meaning (Peirce 1931-35, 5.9). Ethical and aesthetic norms are involved when we consider what “conceivably practical bearings” or consequences a belief in a conception would have, bearings that “would go to determine how we should deliberately act, and how we should act in a practical way and not merely how we should act as affirming or denying the conception to be cleared up” (Peirce 1998, 145).

In sum, belief in the truth/meaning of a commentary–an interpretation of signs–entails judgment and action (ethics/politics). The end-result of any critical inquiry (in this case, a literary judgment) is not a true or false proposition but, rather, a pattern of conduct. The question then is what behavioral consequence might be inferred from our reading Kafka’s story as (for most critics) a rejection of old traditional ways of punishment (indexed by the torture apparatus and the dogmatic, authoritarian habits instituted by the Old Commandant’s regime) and an acceptance of humanist, more enlightened penal codes (presumably represented by the explorer). In other words, what actions are entailed or implied by our modes of reading Kafka’s narrative?

Everyone of course expects literary discourse to be polysemous, the denotative and referential functions of language articulated with their connotative or emotive functions, to use the common terminology. Hence the reading experience cannot be reduced to a table of truth-functions. What might be useful for us is to employ Peirce’s semiotics, more exactly his triadic theory of signs and the role of the interpretant, to clarify the differences in the readers’ understanding of the “message” (intention, motivation, purpose) of “In the Penal Colony” (Kafka 1948, 191-230).

For Peirce, the literary work is composed of signs that are triadic in nature. A sign is constituted by the representamen (often labeled the signifier), the object (signified), and the interpretant, the mediation between the object and the signifier. Without going into the complex schema of the categories Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, suffice it to sum up Peirce’s concept of the literary work as “a sign of qualitative possibility,” “a representamen of possibility experienced as Rhematic Symbol” (Sheriff 1989, 78).  Rhemes are qualities, feelings, signs of immediate consciousness that acquire symbolic mediation in the art-work; thus, the interpretant, the nodal point in the process of formulating meaning, expresses the qualities evoked by the literary artifice. Peirce states that “the idea of a quality is the idea of a phenomenon….considered as a monad, without reference to its parts or components and without reference to anything else….An element separated from everything else and in no world but itself, may be be merely potential” (1.424). The experience of a literary text subsists in this realm of possibility, a realm capable of being described in the discourse of critical analysis and evaluation.

Incarnation and Recognition

In Peirce’s semiotics, the interpretant serves to provide the premises of belief and the inferred effects of these beliefs.  As James Hoopes paraphrases the pragmaticist maxim, “A sign receives its meaning by being interpreted by a subsequent thought or action” (1991, 7). Without further elaboration, let us consider what interpretant situated in what realm of possibility is triggered by this crucial passage in Kafka’s story. This is the moment when the torture machine (here called the Designer) has begun operating on the officer who volunteered to vindicate the “justness” of the machine as an instrument of justice. But signs of breakdown had been initially noticed by the soldier and the condemned man (negative specimens of colonial degradation), with the explorer unable to be indifferent. The character of the “explorer” designates a European dignitary and visitor; the German term “Forschungsreisender” includes the senses of traveler, researcher, and voyager, whose selected physical movements and inquisitiveness or curiosity are registered here:

The explorer, on the other hand, felt greatly troubled; the machine was obviously going to pieces; its silent working was a delusion; he had a feeling that he must now stand by the officer, since the officer was no longer able to look after himself. But while the tumjbling cogwheels absorbed his whole attention he had forgotten to keep an eye on the rest of the machine; now that the last cogwheel had left the Designer, however, he bent over the Harrow and had a new and still more unpleasant surprise. The Harrow was not writing, it was only jabbing, and the bed was not turning the body over but only bringing it up quivering against the needles. The explorer wanted to do something, if possible, to bring the whole machine to a standstill, for this was no exquisite torture such as the officer desired, this was plain murder.  He stretched out his hands. But at that moment the Harrow rose with the body spitted on it and moved to the side, as it usually did only when the twelfth hour had come. Blood was flowing in a hundred streams, not mingled with water, the water jets too had failed to function. And now the last action failed to fulfill itself, the body did not drop off the long needles, streaming with blood it went on hanging over the pit without falling into it. The Harrow tried to move back to its old position, but as if it had itself noticed that it had not yet got rid of its burden it stuck after all where it was, over the pit. “Come and help!” cried the explorer to the other two, and himself seized the officer’s feet. He wanted to push against the feet while the others seized the head from the opposite side and so the officer might be slowly eased off the needles. But the other two could not make up their minds to come; the condemned man actually turned again; the explorer had to go over to them and force them into position at the officer’s head. And here, almost against his will, he had to look at the face of the corpse. It was as it had been in life; no sign was visible of the promised redemption; what the others had found in the machine the officer had not found; the lips were firmly pressed together, the eyes were open, with the same expression as in life, the look was calm and convinced, through the forehead went the point of the great iron spike. (1948, 223-25).

After this scene, the concluding episode describes the explorer’s visit to the teahouse where the previous Commandant was buried since the priest refused his internment in the churchyard, about which the officer was ashamed. Earlier the explorer could not read the script offered by the officer, simply accepting the officer’s word in trust; now, however, the explorer struggled to decipher the very small letters of the inscription on the stone marking the old Commandant’s grave. This sections strikes us as a parody of the Messiah’s second coming, given the failure of the torture/justice apparatus to deliver justice and the promised deliverance. The “Designer” betrayed its creator, the Commandant himself:

Here rests the old Commandant. His adherents, who now must be nameless, have dug this grave and set up this stone. There is a prophecy that after a certain number of years the Commandant will rise again and lead his adherents from this house to recover the colony. Have faith and wait! (1948, 126).

After paying his respects, as it were, to the relics of the old order/tradition, the explorer boards his ferry for the steamer, driving away the soldier and the condemned man who were eager to depart with him: “…but the explorer lifted a heavy knotted rope from the floor boards, threatened them with it and so kept them from attempting the leap” (1948, 127). The explorer thus decides that the specimens of the colonized, oppressed victims are not worth saving; the penal colony, in short, is unsalvageable for the benefit of civilized mankind.

Translating Stigmata

One psychoanalytic critic, Paul Goodman, finds in the explorer a mixed sadistic-masochistic posture so that the ending proves limited by the “reactions of the Explorer, who washes his hands of the problem: that is, the dreamer will not take the responsibility for the dream” (1947, 257). Goodman’s reductive gloss omits the ironic and parodic nuances discernible in the way the representamens (signifiers) are joined to the semiotic objects (the whole theater of torture, etc.). Together, those elements yield an interpretant both typical and singular, a concrete universal of dialectically fused detachment and involvement. In that context, Goodman’s inference is clearly untenable. More faithful to Kafka’s creative trajectory is Philip Rahv’s view that the story is a transitional one in which the violent patriarchal figures of “The Judgment” and of the old Commandant become “mythicized in the manner of images of authority projected” in The Trial and The Castle (1970, 195).

Taking all these into account, I submit that the pragmaticist key to the narrative function of the passage quoted earlier is condensed in the explorer’s plea to the other two spectators, “Come and help!” In contrast to the other precepts or exhortatory speech-acts–“Honor thy Superiors!”  “Be Just” and “Have faith and wait!”, the explorer’s call is fully synchronized to the demands of immediate actuality. It epitomizes the situation where a hypothesis, calculated from the signs (icons and images) of the actual environment, is tested if it meets the purposes of the moment. It is also a test of the reader’s sensibility, judgment and ethical intelligence, ultimately a signal for initiating a scheme of conduct, a program of action (already hinted at by the injunctions, “Be just,” “Have faith and wait!”), translating descriptive statements into hypothetical imperatives and commands.

Meanwhile, let us consider alternative readings. Roy Pascal resolves the seeming inconsistency of narrative perspective which distances the reader from the explorer but also compels us to identify with him and his dilemma (as in his calling the torture-machine an instrument of murder). From this angle, the explorer stands for “the modern enlightened man…whose distinctions it is to have detached himself from action and material interests, from the ranks of the death-dealers, and whose calamity it is, too. For if reflexion rescues him from the partisanship of action, it also enfeebles dedication and spontaneity” (1982, 88-89).

It is not exactly accurate to accuse the explorer of refraining from action–his skepticism about the inscription/torture machine becomes a death-sentence for the officer, and he drives away the colonized soldier and prisoner–or being paralyzed by thought; he enacts judgments and decisions inferrable from his actions. Clayton Koelb remarks that the explorer eludes the reading/writing system in which texts really “wound and stab us” (2010, 120). Meanwhile, the reading operation conflicts with the writing/killing operation, opening up wounds that induce understanding of the gap between the promised deliverance of the imperatives, “Be just” and “Have faith and wait,” and the sordid realities around.
The torture machine writes on the body to facilitate reading the fatality of the difference between what is promised and what is actual.

Taming the Logocentric Leviathan

Kafka is obviously playing with the ambiguities of meaning generated by the process of semiosis pivoting around the Peircean interpretant. Symbols of authority and tradition, both in their permanence and fragility, abound in the narrative. The most highly charged sign is obviously the torture machine, the instrument of justice manifest in the successful or failed transfiguration of the victim. The body and its motions stand out as the most visible iconic sign which also function as an index of the effects of power. From the linkage of icon and index, the symbolization of power as weak, unstable or precarious becomes evident. From the explorer’s point of view, the penal colony is in danger of disintegration. But he seems amused, indifferent, removed from any serious concern, driving away possible refugees, concerned only with his comfort and safety.

We can proceed to unfold layers of meanings without stopping, especially if we are academics paid to recycle old stuff and transmute them into new ones. But, as John Sheriff (1989) suggests, the experience of the literary work is not equivalent to any number of propositions or arguments which can be multiplied ad infinitum.  If the art-work is a Rhematic Symbol, the proper interpretant is an ethical move: a pattern of decisions leading to purposeful conduct.The interpretant emerges from our conception of practical consequences entailed by the explorer’s over-all attitude to the officer and his gratuitous sacrifice to vindicate the old order, as well as his stance toward the soldier and condemned man–unattractive victims of the colonial regime. This interpretant equals our understanding of how the explorer, despite his presumed humanity, either concurs with the decadent or moribund state of the penal colony, or dismisses the whole affair as something trivial, inconsequential, insignificant.

Peircean hermeneutics locates the effect of the artistic experience in the realm of qualitative possibility. This implies that what we conceive to be possible in the sphere of action (with the attendant feelings/emotions) is accompanied by changes in qualities, resonances, affects–the practical bearings or entailments Peirce emphasized as the ultimate goal of inquiry (1992, 132). Certainly the experience of horror at the brutality of the justice-machine, the mechanical absolutism of the ritual, and the almost animal if not mechanical behavior of the soldier and condemned man as representatives of the colonized subjects, induce traumatic moments and sets us adrift, marooned, discombobulated. This accords with a peculiar generic feature of modern short stories which one scholar described concisely as “the debunking rhythm characterized by conceptually unresolved antitheses” (Leitch 1989, 146).

As for the question of Kafka’s politics that we initially broached, it may be sufficient to refer again to Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of Kafka’s usage of “minor” language as collective, political, and deterritorializing.  In Jean-Jacques Lecercle’s assessment, this minoritarian practice challenges the unicity of language understood as a system divorced from history and pedagogical praxis (as in Chomskyan linguistics). This practice is directly political because “it aims to grasp the state of the linguistic class struggle within a linguistic formation; it helps to define the moment of the linguistic conjuncture; it makes it possible to separate the emergent from the old. In short, it facilitates not only a description of the conjuncture, but also the intervention that it calls for” (2009, 213).

Within this frame of analysis, this essay can be taken as a deliberate intervention in criticism, particularly in semiotic (Peircean) theory as a rational mode of interpellating individuals to become subjects of a radical or transformative ethical/political program. Not only to come and help in a collective project of ultimately overthrowing global capitalism, but also (in the meantime) to make literary and cultural inquiry intransigently ethical and political at all times if the opportunities/contingencies permit.

Shadowing a Prophetic Horizon

It is premature to say that a reading of Kafka’s story will make the reader
loathe and condemn all forms of torture. In fact, the opposite—doubt, cynicism, or hedonistic playfulness–may result. Everything depends on the reader’s circumstances, inflected by the social milieu and the state of the global crisis. But so powerful is Kafka’s story that we wager that no reader can be wholly indifferent to the implications and inferences she can draw from the spectacle of the body written by the unrelenting claws of justice. In his diagnosis of Kafka’s illnesses, Gilman described how Kafka put his body on trial and pronounced harsh judgment on it (Berman 1995, 604). But, to be sure, this did not signal a postmodernist body politics separate from the historical and sociopolitical contexts in which bodies, collective relations, and the political economy of goods exist, so that Berman opines that Kafkaesque experiences–“what happen to people who claim their human rights and are referred to departments that can’t be found” (1995, 608), multitudes of bodies tortured to death being the paramount evidence–have become universal, ubiquitous, a fact of everyday life (see also Lingis 1994).

In the end, what Kafka’s text signifies is not any specific agenda for improving the justice system or reforming the penal institution.  Rather, the text explores the potential range of qualities and feelings of the immediate–the sense of tension, incompatibilities, discrepancies, in short, the complex network of contradictions invested in the images, characters and scenes constituting the narrative. This is the most precise hypothesis we can formulate in line with Peirce’s own theory of art as the means by which we experience the “possible successive awarenesses and interpretations of signs” (Sheriff 1989, 84). The most serviceable explanation of the logic and rationale of Kafka’s art is Walter Benjamin’s thesis that Kafka’s world is “world theater” already alluded to in the Oklahoma Nature Theater: “For him, man is in and of himself on stage” (2009, 209). Benjamin’s notion was borrowed from Brecht who rejected Kafka’s fear of the ant-colony state, a nightmare from which he could not wake up. Brecht believed Kafka’s “parable is in conflict with vision…As a visionary, Kafka saw what was to come without seeing what is….The images are good. But the rest is obscurantism” (Benjamin 1979, 205, 207).

Benjamin was not turned off by Kafka’s “obscurantism” which he grasped as an elaborate defensive pose, a repertoire of theatrical stances and maneuvers. This is in line with Benjamin’s theory of baroque allegory (1978; Buck-Morrs 1989). Less baroque and more cubistic, Kafka’s picture of the world as a stage converts everything into stylized moves according to a code not exactly equivalent to that of Deleuze and Guattari but one which is missing, like the code for photographs. Everything becomes conventional or stereotypical. But unlike the medieval or renaissance masquerade, the images and impressions (of Firstness; stream-of-consciousness) have not yet fully crystallized into conflicting indices (the realm of Secondness; experience), eventually to become symbols (Thirdness; laws and norms). Kafka’s theater is germinal, still trying out its performance cues and acting repertoire. Consequently, on stage, the most important is gesture, each one “constituting a process, one might almost say a drama, of its own… He robs human gesture of its traditional props and then possesses, in it, an object prompting unending reflections” (2009, 205-06); hence the officer’s gesture of voluntary sacrifice, the explorer’s reaction, etc.

With some qualifications, I submit that this is the key to unravelling the mystifying and enigmatic complexity of “In the Penal Colony.”  We cannot forget the gesture of the explorer performing his mock neutrality, equivocation, sham humanitarianism. We marvel at his facilty in playing roles in a world where “god is dead” (to use the old Nietzschean aphorism), but the human is only being born (this time echoing Gramsci). Kafka valorized the infantile situation (as Bataille argued) and thus made his texts of sovereign “nothingness” (1957, 141) fit for burning. The bonfire awaits the Kafkaesque Messiah. Before it, the torture machine, this exemplary Ideological State Apparatus, symbolizes the interregnum between old and new regimes, a stage filled with morbid symptoms, with old paradigms unable to clarify new phenomena–the stage of Kafka’s penal colony–with our view of its torturers and victims changing at every historical conjuncture.


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