FRANTZ FANON’S DIALECTICS by E.San Juan,Jr.


  FRANTZ FANON’S DIALECTICS

by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
Dept of English & Comparative Literature, University of the Philippines

My final prayer:
O my body, make of me always a man who questions!

–Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

Despite his intricately nuanced anatomy of “race” in Black Skin, White Masks and other works, Fanon has been somehow stereotyped as an apostle of the cult of violence. This passage from The Wretched of the Earth seems to have become the touchstone of classical Fanonism: “Violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organized and educated by its leaders, makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them. It frees the native from his inferiority complex, and from his despair and inaction” (94). This free-floating quote, unmoored from its determinant context, exerts a reductive and disabling force. Severed from its body, Fanon’s thought can signify everything and nothing at the same time.

Claiming to rescue Fanon from this tendentious fixation as well as from the pluralism of eclectic interpretations, Henry Louis Gates offers an assessment that at first glance promises to ground Fanon in the context of the “third world.” The Tunisian intellectual Albert Memmi seems to provide Gates a pretext for the revisionary intent: Memmi conjures the figure of a black Martinican torn by warring forces who, though hating France and the French, “will never return to Negritude and to the West Indies” (Gates 140). Unwittingly Gates recuperates the canon by ferreting out clues of self-division in Fanon, “an agon between psychology and a politics, between ontogeny and sociogeny, between…Marx and Freud” (141). This postmortem diagnosis pronounces the demise of the author and his authority. By inscribing Fanon more steadfastly in the colonial paradigm, the “disciplinary enclave” of anti-imperialist discourse, Gates hopes to demolish the Fanon mystique. His deconstructive move may strike some as iconoclastic and others as reactionary; Lewis K. Gordon, for example, speculates that Gates may be a surrogate for the European man in crisis. In effect, Gates disables Fanon by arguing that Fanon himself warned us of the limits of the struggle, thus presaging the virtual collapse of “the dream of decolonization.”

Postmodern Cultural Studies (inspired by the poststructuralist gurus Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard) may have taken off from Gates’s premise of skeptical individualism and neoliberal triumphalism. It has so far pursued a nihilistic agenda in rejecting “totality” (such as capitalism, nationalism, etc.), the codeword for theoretical generalizations about social relations of production and historical movements. Contemporary Cultural Studies celebrates heterogeneity, flux, ambiguous hybrids, indeterminacies, accidents, and lacunae inhabiting bifurcated psyches and texts. Suspicious of metanarratives (Hegel, Marx, Sartre), it repudiates utopian thought, including an alleged teleology of anticolonialism informing Fanon’s texts. From this perspective, Fanon is cannibalized for academic apologetics. The version of Fanon who takes off from Hegel and Marx is rejected in favor of the Freudian disciple, thus resolving the dichotomized subject/object which postmodernist critics privileged as their point of departure.

My argument here concerns the relevance of Fanon’s materialist hermeneutics as an antidote to the conservative formalism of the hegemonic discipline exemplified by Gates. I hold that Fanon’s central insights into sociohistorical change is pedagogically transformative and enabling in a way that locates the deconstructionist impasse in the refusal of historical determinations. David Caute perceives Fanon’s serviceable legacy as inherent in his political realism, his prophetic drive to forge “new concepts” from the clash between traditional ways of thinking and novel circumstances. In one of the most astute evaluation of Fanon’s discourse, Stephan Feuchtwang points out that Fanon succeeded in rendering “as history the material of cultural organizations without assuming an original self for recognition,” showing how contingency “is culturally organized and made” and distinguishing cultural process from its multiple determinations in economic forces, political institutions, and ideological relations. By bracketing self-consciousness as totalizing viewpoint, Feuchtwang then suggests that the fundamental questions in cultural studies raised by Fanon are, among others: What people or culture is being constructed? What “social organization of cultural difference, conceived as psycho-affective organization, enhances recognition rather than denial” and “what are the economic and political conditions in which such an organization can exist?” (473).

We need to remind ourselves that Fanon never entertained any illusion that the revolutionary struggle against colonialism will automatically realize a utopia free from the delayed effects and legacies of hundreds of years of dehumanized social relations. I contend that he was not of two minds regarding the duplicity of Negritude, for example, or the perils of populist and demagogic chauvinism that swept Africa in the aftermath of formal independence (see Fogel; Gordon, Sharpley-Whiting and White). The chapters on “Spontaneity: Its Strengths and Weaknesses” and “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness” in The Wretched of the Earth are lucid proofs of Fanon’s circumspect and principled realism. The cogent diagnosis of deeply rooted reflexes of character and the habitus of groups displays his acute knowledge of historical contradictions and the variable modalities of finitude in a world of pure immanence. It is certainly an ideological move to transpose the Manichean fixation of colonialism into Fanon’s psyche and infer therefrom that we cannot derive any testable methodology or working hypothesis from Fanon’s oeuvre. That dogmatic attitude forecloses any dialogue with Fanon as alternative or oppositional to the fashionable “incredulity” at metanarratives and the ontological constitution of reality.

One lesson we can extract from the corpus of texts is precisely the avoidance of the “schism in the soul,” what Spinoza calls “sadness” (188). This involves a passage from a diminished to a more heightened or enhanced capacity for action based on ideas adequately subsuming the causes and motivations of what we do. This involves all the social, economic, and political determinants that constitute the mode of cultural revolution in Algeria. To elucidate this mode, Fanon reformulates the archetypal Hegelian drama of sublation (Aufhebung) as “the only means of breaking this vicious circle,” the battlefield within, but this drama is not a solipsistic or monadic affair. Desire involves the mutual recognition of two or more agents juxtaposed in a common enterprise: “I demand that notice be taken of my negating activity insofar as I pursue something other than life; insofar as I do battle for the creation of a human world–that is, of a world of reciprocal recognitions” (Black Skin 218). Indeed, Fanon’s project goes beyond the formulaic pragmatism of psychoanalysis: “To educate man to be actional…is the prime task of him who, having taken thought, prepares to act” (222). And this action, by risking life, enables the exercise of freedom which mediates the contingency of the present and the schematism of the future: “The Vietnamese who die before the firing squads are not hoping that their sacrifice will bring about the reappearance of a past. It is for the sake of the present and of the future that they are willing to die” (227). This project of secular redemption reminds me of Spinoza’s axiom of humanity’s finite mode as distinguished by conatus, perseverance in striving to increase one’s power through affiliation and collaboration with others (Lloyd; De Dijn; Parkinson; Yovel, Spinoza: Adventures).

Fanon’s idea of praxis is geared toward realizing the freedom of multitudes via programs of action. His practice-oriented sensibility registers the movement of groups and collectives of bodies interacting in solidarity. What Marx once valorized as philosophy becoming incarnate in the world, that is, the unity of theory and practice, is accomplished by Fanon in envisioning the field of discourse or signification as a range of opportunities for action. In this field, collective power and the rights of individuals associated together coalesce. We move through and beyond the textuality of representation, the iconicity of signs, to its articulation with radical transformative practice. In inventorying the achievement of Cultural Studies thus far, Stuart Hall remarked how the discipline has often succumbed to “ways of constituting power as an easy floating signifier which just leaves the crude exercise and connections of power and culture altogether emptied of any signification” (286). Presciently Fanon anticipated this fetishism of textuality in his conclusion to The Wretched of the Earth: “A permanent dialogue with oneself and an increasingly obscene narcissism never ceased to prepare the way for a half delirious state, where intellectual work became suffering and the reality was not at all that of a living man, working and creating himself, but rather words, different combinations of words, and the tensions springing from the meanings contained in words” (313). A new beginning has to be made, with a new subjectivity predicated on the bankruptcy of Eurocentric humanism and the prospect of creating a “new human being” at the conjuncture where core and periphery, center and margin, collide.

Aside from the malaise of systemic alienation fragmenting sensibilities and psyches, the reason why the discipline of Cultural Studies has consistently failed to confront the problem of reification is its evasion of one of the most intractable but persistent symptoms of late capitalism, racism and its articulation with sexism. It is through confronting this nexus of racism, male supremacy, and commodity-fetishism in the Manichean arena of battle that Fanon was able to grasp the subtle, compromising liaisons between culture and power, between language and value. Like Spinoza, who applied a constructive-hermeneutical method in interpreting religious texts (Yovel, Spinoza: Marrano), Fanon used rhetorical analysis to educate the subaltern imagination and provoke a more rational stance toward everyday happenings. However, there is no unanimous agreement on Fanon’s accentuation of certain aspects of “third world” reality. Renate Zahar has reservations regarding Fanon’s one-sided emphasis on a psychologized notion of violence as a category of mediation, thus ignoring “violence conceived as revolutionary social work” (96). But even a trenchant critic like Jack Woddis had to admit that Fanon “yearned for an end to the wold world of capitalism” (175). The question of social determination and the directionality of change around which orthodox Marxists and the varieties of poststructuralisms have clashed hinges really on the modalities in which capital and the manifestations of its power have continued to renegotiate its recurrent crises and sustain its precarious but resilient hegemony.

Confronting the Racial Imaginary

Fanon’s little known essay, “Racism and Culture,” provides clues as to how Fanon will confront the impasse brought about by the institutionalization, more precisely, the “Americanization” of Cultural Studies. For Fanon, the fact of racism cannot be divorced from the methodology and aims of any cultural inquiry: “If culture is the combination of motor and mental behavior patterns arising from the encounter of man with nature and with his fellow-man, it can be said that racism is indeed a cultural element” (African Revolution 32). With the emergence of industrial and cosmopolitan societies, racism metamorphosed; its object is no longer the individual judged on the basis of genotypical or phenotypical features but “a certain form of existing” (32). Fanon mentions the antithesis between Christianity and Islam as life-forms locked in ideological combat. But what sharply influenced the change in the nature of racism as ideological/political practice, Fanon points out, is the “institution of a colonial system in the very heart of Europe” (33). Racism is part of “the systematized oppression of a people” at the heart of which is the destruction of a people’s cultural values:

For this its systems of reference have to be broken. Expropriation, spoliation, raids, objective murder, are matched by the sacking of cultural patterns, or at least condition such sacking. The social panorama is destructured; values are flaunted, crushed, emptied.
The lines of force, having crumbled, no longer give direction… [The native culture] becomes closed, fixed in the colonial status, caught in the yoke of oppression. …The characteristic of a culture is to be open, permeated by spontaneous, generous, fertile lines of force (33-34).

This mummification of practices and the hardening of institutions once alive and changing attend the loss of the native’s independence and initiative. Culture dies when it is not lived, “dynamized from within.” Exoticism and other modes of objectification (for example, the varieties of Orientalism catalogued by Edward Said) accompany the colonizers’ coercive program of exploitation and subjugation.
What complicates the ever-present visage of racism for Fanon is historical metamorphosis, the shifts of adaptation to evolving social relations. With the development in the techniques and means of production and its elaboration, together with “the increasingly necessary existence of collaborators,” racism loses its overt virulence and camouflages itself in more subtler and stylized appearances, in seductive guises, despite the fact that “the social constellation, the cultural whole, are deeply modified by the existence of racism” (36). But appearances are deceptive, and verbal mystification characterizes the introduction of a “democratic and humane ideology.” Fanon insists that “The truth is that the rigor of the system made the daily affirmation of a superiority superfluous” (37). Alienation worsens. In contrast to the apologists of the neoliberal “free market” system who reduce racism to a case of individual mental illness or syndrome, Fanon asserts the sociohistorical specificity of racism as institutional practice:

Racism stares one in the face for it so happens that it belongs in a characteristic whole: that of the shameless exploitation of one group of men by another which has reached a higher stage of technical development. This is why military and economic oppression generally precedes, makes possible, and legitimizes racism….
It is not possible to enslave men without logically making them inferior through and through. And racism is only the emotional, affective, sometimes intellectual explanation of this inferiorization (37-38, 40).

In the process of demystifying the racial imaginary that subtends Eurocentric Cultural Studies, Fanon traces the dialectic of alienation and assimilation binding colonial master and colonized subaltern. He recapitulates the phases of guilt and inferiority experienced by the colonized. Racism becomes normalized when it becomes a matter of personal prejudice, dissimulating the subjugation and oppression of peoples and nationalities. Subsequently, the colonized victims react to racism by revalorizing tradition. Archaic practices and their constellation of values are revived and affirmed. The goal of reconquering the geopolitical space mapped by revolutionary war orients the project of national liberation: “the plunge into the chasm of the past is the condition and the source of freedom” (43). But this “return to the source” (to use Amilcar Cabral’s metaphor) is not nativism but a passage of catharsis. What it purges is the obsession with purity, a symptom of the fetishizing drive. What Fanon emphasizes is the mixed repertoire of weapons or resources that the colonized masses bring into play–“the old and the new, his own and those of the occupant,” resuscitating the “spasmed and rigid culture” so as to conduct a mutually enriching dialogue with other cultures. Here, the Manichean dilemma described in “On Violence” is resolved by the agon of the historical process itself. That is to say, the “universality” achieved with the recognition and acceptance of the “reciprocal relativism of different cultures” on the demise of colonialism necessarily traverses “the experienced realities of the mode of production.” Fanon takes into account the improvement of technical knowledge, perfecting of machines within “the dynamic circuit of industrial production,” the frequent contacts of people “in the framework of the concentration of capital, that is to say, on the job, discovering the assembly line, the team, production ‘time’ ” (39). This historical materialist framework of comprehending the social formation grounds Fanon’s critique of cultural racism in the complex interaction of affects, passions, and appetites that control assemblages of bodies and govern the conduct of the whole body politic.
The theme of cultural metamorphosis broached in “Racism and Culture” is further refined and illustrated in the later essay, “On National Culture” (included in The Wretched of the Earth). What is new here is the inscription of culture in the problematique of the nation and national identity. Fanon shifts gears and plots the genesis of agency from the episodes of victimization and resistance. Fanon underlines the process of change in the cultural responses of indigenous peoples to the violence of the European colonizer, from the poetics of Negritude and the revitalization of Islam to diverse manifestations of nativism. He charts the trajectory of the organic intellectual–organic to the national-popular movement of decolonization–from the initial stage of assimilation to the reactive nativism characterized by humor and allegory to the subsequent third stage, the “fighting phase,” where the artist tries to represent the advent of a new reality and a “new man.” Fanon underscores how tradition changes with the unpredictable mutations of conflict, ushering in a “zone of occult instability” where “our souls are crystallized” with the people. What I would focus on here is not the ambivalence, indeterminacy, or the aura of the apocalyptic sublime, which one can extrapolate between the lines, but the conatus or actualization of potential inscribed in certain moments of the national liberation struggle.
Originating from the Hegelian matrix of the dialectic of master and slave, the routine approach to Fanon’s thought replicates the West’s “civilizing mission.” In this psychodrama, the native develops and matures by undergoing the trials of self-alienation, doubt, and self-recovery; the three stages outlined in “On National Culture” reconfigure the value and function of tradition and all the properties of the indigenous life-forms in a Manichean environment. What Fanon apprehends in these life-forms is their capacity for change and infinite adaptability: “the forms of thought and what it feeds on, together with modern techniques of information, language, and dress have dialectically reorganized the people’s intelligences and …. the constant principles which acted as safeguards during the colonial period are now undergoing extremely radical changes” (225). The affective dynamism of anticolonial struggle explodes the mystifying influence of customs, folklore, and abstract populism associated with “gratuitous actions,” culminating at the stage in which time, agency, and the habitus of creative strategies of intervention coalesce:

The colonized man who writes for his people ought to use the past with the intention of opening the future, as an invitation to action and a basis for hope. But to ensure that hope and give it form, he must take part in action and throw himself body and soul into the national struggle…. A national culture is the whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify, and praise the action through which that people has created itself and keeps itself in existence (232-33).

Culture cannot be divorced from the the organized forces of national liberation that “create” peoplehood and sustain its life. For this project of fashioning a life-form, the national territory serves as the concretely determinate framework for shaping that national consciousness (which for Fanon is not equivalent to European-style nationalism) that allows “the discovery and encouragement of universal values.” Far from keeping aloof from other nations, therefore, it is national liberation that “leads the nation to play its part on the stage of history” (247). Fanon concludes this speech with the image of a paradoxical exfoliation of opposites: “It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows. And this two-fold emerging is ultimately only the source of all culture” (247-48).

The Artifice of National Liberation

My contention is that Fanon’s idea of national liberation provides the logic of social constitution and assemblage needed for grasping the dynamics of cultural change in any geopolitical formation. By dissolving the boundaries of self and other, of nation and global ecumene, this new mode of theorizing history undercuts the fashionable postmodernist representation of the body as sheer polymorphous matter charged with desire and presumably a site of resistance against hegemonic capital. In the first place, ensembles of corporeal energies occupy a category different from the isolated, monadic physical body that postmodernists privilege. Moreover, one can argue that bodies are not simply vessels of desire but “a plane of immanence” (to use Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s notion) where power and freedom born of necessity coincide. Fanon’s theory of the praxis of multitudes not only challenges the binary opposition of bourgeois elite aesthetics and an idealized massified culture of everyday life which motivates a trendy version of Cultural Studies (see, for example, Fiske); it also exposes its paralyzing effect on the critical sensorium of ordinary people. Without a collective conatus catalyzed in the ethics of decolonization, the dogma of methodological individualism will continue to vitiate the attempts of Cultural Studies practitioners to move beyond the limitations of Enlightenment thought (racism, patriarchy, class exploitation) and affirm identities in the interstices of difference.
One way of illustrating Fanon’s singular mode of interrogating cultural practice may be sketched here in a brief commentary on his essay, “Algeria Unveiled” (in A Dying Colonialism). A recent appraisal of Fanon by Ato Sekyi-Otu regards this text as Fanon’s finest exposition of the “possibility of expressive freedom” discovered through the instrumentalization of the veil. A phenomenology of existential choice reinterprets Fanon’s discourse as an allegory of Hegelian dialectics: “The measure of freedom is the degree to which space and symbol, area of action and device of self-disclosure, are multiply configurable, open to the agent’s choice of ends and means, and are thus no longer signifiers of a radically compulsory and constricted identity” (226). This flexible disposition of the veil profiles, for Fanon, the eventual “transformation of the Algerian woman.” It is this dialectic of experience occurring in the “public theater of revolutionary action” that, for Sekyi-Otu, embodies the resonance and efficacy of Fanon’s prefigurative hermeneutics.
With the problematique of Cultural Studies as the context of exchange, my reading of Fanon’s mobilization of a cultural motif is somewhat different. I consider Fanon’s programmatic text as a critique of postmodernist ethnography that privileges subjective fantasies, aleatory gestures, cyborg speech, and “travelling” localizations. Fanon in fact subjects psychoanalytic speculations to the actual historic disposition of forces, using the assemblage of “composable” relationships (Hardt 28) on an immanent field of forces as a means of eliminating the need for transcendence implicit in a posited “unconscious” which perverse “Desire” supposedly inhabits. In extrapolating Fanon’s unique critical stance, I deploy some concepts taken from the philosopher Benedict Spinoza in order to illuminate how the “common notion” of national liberation takes shape in the course of an uncompromisingly materialist and anti-empiricist account of the Algerian woman’s role, both spontaneous and constrained, in the productive rationality of the revolution.
Fanon begins with the customary association of the veil as the synecdochic mark of Arab culture and society for the Western gaze. While the masculine garb allows a “modicum of heterogeneity,” the white veil that defines Algerian female society permits no alteration or modification. In the early thirties, French colonialism seized the initiative to abolish “forms of existence likely to evoke a national reality.” Based on the premise that behind the overt patrilineal armature of Algerian society lies a “matrilineal” essence, Fanon seizes on the patriarchal animus of colonial metaphysics. He rehearses the France’s fabled mission civilizatrice: “If we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the women; we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight” (38). Algerian society thus stands condemned as “sadistic and vampirish,” its internal mechanics in need of revamping and overhauling.
This bureaucratic consensus to forcibly emancipate the cloistered Algerian woman became a major policy of the French colonial administration. The rationale is strategic: to overcome the Algerian male resistance to assimilation via the control of women. But up to 1959, Fanon observes, “the dream of a total domestication of Algerian society by means of “unveiled women aiding and sheltering the occupier” continued to haunt the colonial authorities. All schemes to persuade the Algerian intellectual (not just the fellah or peasant) failed. Fanon sums up this attitude to the veil as symptomatic of “the simplified and pejorative way” the French regarded the “system of values” used by the colonized to resist the erasure of their “distinct identity.” Identity here equals culture, and culture as shared history or cohabitation distinguishes the nation. What follows is Fanon’s attempt to describe the sociopsychological causality gravitating around the penetration of indigenous society by the assimilating power. The tropes of aggressive sexuality deployed here mark the scope and latitude of the disciplinary regime France tried to impose, with the weapon of sexual seduction unfolding instead the impotence of the colonizer:
Every rejected veil disclosed to the eyes of the colonialists horizons until then forbidden, and revealed to them, piece by piece, the flesh of Algeria laid bare…. Every new Algerian woman unveiled announced to the occupier an Algerian society whose systems of defence were in the process of dislocation, open and breached. Every veil that fell, every body that became liberated from the traditional embrace of the haik, every face that offered itself to the bold and impatient glance of the occupier, was a negative expression of the fact that Algeria was beginning to deny herself and was accepting the rape of the colonizer (42).

But the impression of conquest blurs as soon as Fanon inquires into the West’s cultural imaginary, with its fatal conflation of appearance and essence, phenomenon and reality, generating the Other as guarantee of the Self’s mastery.
Fanon understands that for the colonizer in control of the machinery of representation, every mask or disguise assumes that a truth lurks behind it. This translates hermeneutics into technocratic subterfuge. The search for the hidden face is invested with “romantic exoticism,” sexuality, and the will to possess that belies any claim to appreciate the physical beauty of Algerian women so as to share it with others. Fanon argues that the violence of revealing the Algerian woman’s beauty is really directed at something else under the skin, so to speak; the quest is to bare the secret or mystery in order to break her opaque alterity, “making her available for adventure.” What frustrates the European’s desire to possess the Other and fulfill his dream is the habitus attached to the veil: “This women who sees without being seen frustrates the colonizer. There is no reciprocity…. She does not yield herself, does not give herself, does not offer herself” (44). The “secret” is then immediately reduced to ugliness and deformation through a rape that evokes a deceptive sense of freedom for the conqueror, a passivity whose real cause escapes his comprehension—hence, the “sad” passions (e.g., humility, pity) shrouding the Manichean metropolis.
What is striking here in Fanon’s commentary is the way the erotic affect produces a disintegration of the Western psyche. This constellation of symptoms, mapped here as “faults” and “ fertile gaps,” appears in dreams and criminal behavior. The rending of the veil then leads to an act of violent appropriation charged with a “para-neurotic brutality” projected onto the victimized: the “timid” woman hovering in the fantasy becomes transformed into an insatiable nymphomaniac. Fanon describes the dream narrative of the colonizer circumscribing a “field of women” (gynaeceum, harem). In the dream, the woman-victim “screams, struggles like a doe, and as she weakens and faints, is penetrated, martyrized, ripped apart” (46).
Apprehending the decomposition that afflicts the colonizer, sign of an ironic pathos in which one’s capacity for grasping causality or the chain of necessity is diminished, Fanon examines next the reaction of the colonized. Initially the conduct of the occupier “determines the centers of resistance around which a people’s will to survive becomes organized” (47). And so the veil, formerly an inert and undifferentiated element in quotidian existence, acquires a new significance: it becomes a taboo or cult object. Contraposed to the Western focus of pedagogical energies to destroy the veil, the Algerians weave a whole universe of affective passions (obscured causalities) around the veil to thwart the colonizer’s attacks, or at least to bring about an “armed truce.” The principle Fanon applies here guides his entire cognitive and didactic mapping of the alignment of political forces, a principle encapsulated in the maxim: “problems are resolved in the very movement that raises them” (48). In other words, the modes and occasions of struggle entail a whole repertoire of ethical choices and tactics. In response to the ferocity of the French settler and “his delirious attachment to the national territory” (48), the Algerian revolutionary leadership decided to mobilize women to the fullest, urging them to summon a “spirit of sacrifice”as they became part of an extended and highly differentiated revolutionary machine. This decision represents the identity of will and intellect posited by Spinoza in his Ethics (II, 49), precipitating joy-passion born from the common notion, the composition of bodies in mutually useful relationships (Deleuze, Spinoza 54-55).
Women were then incorporated into the guerilla combat units mindful of the differential rhythm of their participation. In the process of constituting this new assemblage, the FLN (Algerian National Liberation Front) realized how the taboo or cult of the veil undermined the strategy of inventing commonalities across gender and class. Reinforcing tradition as a means of resistance led to women’s loss of ease and assurance, negative affects that attenuated their cooperation with the military forces: “Having been accustomed to confinement, her body did not have the normal mobility before a limitless horizon of avenues, of unfolded sidewalks, of houses, of people dodged or bumped into. This relatively cloistered life, with its known, categorized, regulated comings and goings, made any immediate revolution seem a dubious proposition” (49). Determined by the horizon of war and death by torture, the organization of women partisans (efficient collective agency) accumulates knowledge of the microphysics of bodily motion that eventually precipitates the emergence of a new character “without the aid of the imagination,” the coefficient of play and imitation in art. Before Fanon offers examples of women’s creative actuality, he recapitulates the theme of culture change by acknowledging the advent of a new protagonist who will soon dismantle the Manichean theater of regimented subjects deployed in demarcated zones:
It is an authentic birth in a pure state, without preliminary instruction. There is no character to imitate, on the contrary, there is an intense dramatization, a continuity between the woman and the revolutionary. The Algerian woman rises directly to the level of tragedy (50).

Bodies Bearing Stigmata

A hiatus intervenes at this juncture of the essay. Fanon evokes a scenario of passages and shifts of position, maneuvers leading to the urgent decision to involve all women gradually in the daily tasks of the revolution. Attention to the complex architectonics of space, a heuristic cartography of place and environment, where state power and the subject’s right (the conatus of persevering) confront each other, preoccupies Fanon. This allows him to trace the genealogy of freedom and grasp the coextensiveness of natural right (enjoyed by all humans) and power, in a manner close to the spirit of Spinoza’s politics (Spinoza 219-20; Gildin). Ideas of the play of forces replaces passive affects at the mercy of illusion, notions of contingency, and irrationalities that pervade social existence. Freedom inhabits the space of necessity, Fanon suggests, when the mind of the revolutionary organization acquires an idea of the nature of the body politic corresponding to its essence and objective: its affirmation of life, the collective joy of shared agency. This idea becomes manifest in the Algerian masses becoming the subject of revolution in the actuality of combat, in taking political decisions and implementing them.
A geopolitical surveyor, Fanon sketches for us the stage in which the tragic mask or persona assumed by women partisans will demonstrate its irrepressible hubris. It is the revolutionary process that destroys “the protective mantle of the Kasbah,” its “almost organic curtain of safety.” With the fragility of Manichean barriers exposed by decolonizing reason, the Algerian woman sallies forth out of the immobilized quarters into the bare streets of the settlers’ city; in doing so, she destroys the boundaries separating tradition and modernity, the self-reproducing organs of alienation and anomie, established by the colonial state. But even while new linkages are made and new channels of communication and logistics are set up by her own skills and intelligence, a recomposition of internal relations proceeds from within. We witness the shifting velocities of women’s striving to increase her power/right of transforming her place in society. This is the locus where the consensus of national liberation, the power of the multitude expressed to the fullest, transpires:
Each time [she] ventures into the European city, the Algerian woman must achieve victory over herself, over her childish fears. She must consider the image of the occupier lodged somewhere in her mind and in her body, remodel it, initiate the essential work of eroding it, make it inessential, remove something of the shame that is attached to it, devalidate it…. Initially subjective, the breaches made in colonialism are the result of a victory of the colonized over their old fear and over the atmosphere of despair distilled day after day by a colonialism that has incrusted itself with the prospect of enduring forever (52-53).

An ethics of national liberation materializes through the vicissitudes of political antagonisms. Internal relations (compatibilities, elective affinities, disaffiliations) are rearranged on the basis of what promotes the striving for the maximum expression of the collective body’s power. This involves the associative movements of love, desire, and solidarity that generate common notions, purposes, and projects giving direction to the popular struggle. With the overcoming of passions bred by the mystifications and falsehoods that comprise the oppressor’s ideological apparatus, a new agency is born armed for the next phase—the counterhegemonic use of terror. This signals the phase when “the Algerian woman penetrates a little further into the flesh of the Revolution” (54), her actions transvaluing the whole Manichean asymmetry of power. This unprecedented transvaluation inverts the custom-ordained proportion of motion and rest, speed and slowness, that has characterized the position of women’s bodies in urban space. The rationale of this reversal is suggested by Spinoza’s proposition: “Whatsoever increases or diminishes, helps or hinders the power of activity in our body, the idea thereof increases or diminishes, helps or hinders the power of thought in our mind” (Ethics II, P2).
The systematic adoption of political forms of terror cannot be fully understood apart from the qualitative progression of the anticolonial struggle and its corresponding tempo of change. Fanon sums up the stages of deliberation and the nuances of attitudes toward the “circuit of terrorism and counter-terrorism.” He reminds us that from this point on the Algerian woman becomes inseparable from the constitutive force of the militant and conscientized (to use Paulo Freire’s term) multitude. Her “speed” is now synchronized to the momentum of the national-democratic mobilization. This is also the point when Fanon warns against confusing revolutionary terrorism with the anarchist cult of violence, the fetishism of the deed, and the mystique of death. Fanon almost reaches the intensity of Spinoza’s intransigent affirmation of life in the course of defying tyranny, pain, fanaticism, and ignorance: “The fidai [guerilla combatant] has a rendezvous with the life of the Revolution, and with his own life…. To be sure, he does not shrink before the possibility of losing his life or the independence of his country, but at no moment does he chose death” (58). The Algerian woman’s spirit of sacrifice is in fact a commitment to joy identified with an enhanced, active life coincident with the nation’s construction of democratic power, the vehicle for human fulfillment in the decolonized community.
In the section on the reconfiguration of the woman’s body, Fanon sketches an ethics of separation and assemblage that approximates Spinoza’s concept of freedom as the transition from the natural realm (the horizon of war) to civil society where, for Fanon, the nation-people functions as transformative agency. Freedom is the recognition of necessity, of the chain of causality, sparked by intellectual reflection. This passage to freedom is symbolized by the transformation of the Algerian woman’s body as a relation of parts that can be decomposed and reconstituted, parts with proportions of motion and rest regulated by the variety of encounters in life.
In this context, the veil becomes the signifier that actualizes woman’s power/right in a corporeal logic that breaks down the Manichean duality. In the following excerpt, we can discern the motive of Fanon’s conversion of cultural-studies ethnography into an ethical-political reciprocity of body and the world marked by the varying modalities of the expression of woman’s power:
The body of the young Algerian woman, in traditional society, is revealed to her by its coming to maturity and by the veil. The veil covers the body and disciplines it, tempers it, at the very time when it experiences its phase of greatest effervescence. The veil protects, reassures, isolates…. Without the veil she has an impression of her body being cut up into bits, put adrift; the limbs seem to lengthen indefinitely. When the Algerian woman has to cross a street, for a long time she commits errors of judgment as to the exact distance to be negotiated. The unveiled body seems to escape, to dissolve. She has an impression of being improperly dressed, even of being naked. She experiences a sense of incompleteness with great intensity. She has the anxious feeling that something is unfinished, and along with this a frightful sensation of disintegrating. The absence of the veil distorts the Algerian woman’s corporeal pattern. She quickly has to invent new dimensions for her body, new means of muscular control. She has to create for herself an attitude of unveiled-woman-outside. She must overcome all timidity, all awkwardness (for she must pass for a European), and at the same time be careful not to overdo it, not to attract notice to herself. The Algerian woman who walks stark naked into the European city relearns her body, re-establishes it in a totally revolutionary fashion (59).

The organizing skill and resourcefulness recounted here exemplifies not individual ingenuity but the contrapuntal play of bodies and political milieu where what used to be merely accidental encounters of veiled women evolves into organized ethical striving for expression of their united power. This accords with the democratic mobilizing principle expressed by Spinoza: “If two come together and unite their strength, they have jointly more power, and consequently more right against other forces in nature, than either of them alone; and the more there be that join in alliance, the more right they will collectively possess” (Political Treatise, Chapter II, paragraph 13). The multitude as substrate of change now incorporates women, a major component of self-determination or national autonomy, amplifying the potential of the whole nation. Women thus epitomize the power and intelligence of the masses sprung from the inexhaustible matrix of the national-liberation struggle.

Toward Cultural Revolution

The final testimony to how the necessity of revolutionary combat functions as the condition for freedom of the colonized subaltern coincides with the motion of women’s bodies in the streets of Algiers. Fanon describes the way women concealed bombs and weapons, illustrating how the organizing of composable parts fused spontaneous and planned elements, integrating will and contingency. The veil’s combination and permutation of opposites disrupts the conventional dichotomy of tradition and modernity. It also displaces the colonial contract, the normative codes of duty and obligation, into a field of needs and exigencies defined by the overdetermined historical situation:
Removed and reassumed again and again, the veil has been manipulated, transformed into a technique of camouflage, into a means of struggle. The virtually taboo character assumed by the veil in the colonial situation disappeared almost entirely in the course of the liberation struggle….
The Algerian woman’s body, which in an initial phase was pared down, now swelled. Whereas in the previous period the body had to be made slim and disciplined to make it attractive and seductive, it now had to be squashed, made shapeless and even ridiculous. This, as we have seen, is the phase during which she undertook to carry bombs, grenades, machine-gun clips.
The enemy, however, was alerted, and in the streets one witnessed what became a commonplace spectacle of Algerian women glued to the wall, on whose bodies the famous magnetic detectors, the “frying pans,” would be passed. Every veiled woman, every Algerian woman became suspect. There was no discrimination. This was the period during which men, women, children, the whole Algerian people, experienced at one and the same time their national vocation and the recasting of the new Algerian society (61-62).

We witness in this revisiting of a phase in the national-liberation struggle the making of the Algerian masses via the composition of multiple relations between women’s bodies and their circumstantial inscription. Fanon’s “genealogy” is really a recording of the passage of new subjects catalyzed by the “historic dynamism of the veil.” Determined by beliefs associated with tradition, the veil functioned at first as a mechanism of resistance, opposed to the occupier’s design to “unveil” Algeria. This reaction entrenched passive affects sprung from uncomprehended external causes. In the second phase, Fanon summarizes, the veil was instrumentalized to solve the new problems created by the struggle. The veil refunctioned thus unfolds a horizon of composable relations bringing people together, enacting in the process the constitution of social power itself and its consensual legitimacy. Now with the power of acting determined by adequate ideas (knowledge of the nexus of causality), the theology of Manichean polarity dissolves and a new political organism is created that transforms what is “natural” into social history. The ethical striving underwritten by the anticolonial revolution charts the passage from the immobilized “natural” Manichean order of segregated habitats and locations to the free organizing of capacities, exploding the fallacies of bureaucratic representation, the reified market, and the injustice of the imperial social contract.
This Spinozistic reading of Fanon’s text, arguably a hermeneutic thought-experiment never tried before, pursues the line of inquiry made by Antonio Negri in his book The Savage Anomaly. In Spinoza’s political theory, we find the primacy of collective human praxis, an expression of the constitutive modality of the multitude as a determined being.
Fanon’s vision of cultural revolution implicit in A Dying Colonialism testifies to what Irene Gendzier calls Fanon’s evolution from the psychologist to the political militant. The transmogrification of European humanism in the torture of political prisoners triggered this shift. We have seen how in “Algeria Unveiled” and other essays Fanon’s disruption of the separatist, apartheid logic of colonialism harmonizes with a radical transformative politics antithetical to the liberal pluralism of mainstream Cultural Studies practitioners. Given this brief comment on Fanon’s insight into the productive social dynamic of the national-liberation project, one which is extremely relevant to the crisis of the South in our globalized corporate milieu, I venture this hypothesis: Fanon’s value for us today inheres in this discursive practice of a cultural politics that goes beyond the populist articulation of heterogeneous forces along a “chain of equivalence” (insofar as such equivalence is already embodied or contained as a causal motivation and impetus within the semiotics of language, polemical prose, rhetoric and a wide range of speech-acts) to advance and illuminate the ethical drama of the multitude in the actual revolutionary process. For Fanon, culture, not just language or discourse, is key to the revolutionary transformation of the whole communicative situation in which power (potentia), the capacity for joyful experience, is rooted in adequate ideas. By “adequate ideas” is meant the appreciation of the body’s infinite capacities attuned to our reasoning power. The framework of intelligibility for Fanon is the national-liberation paradigm where the recognition of Others overcomes the seemingly permanent alienation of the Manichean world of colonial subjugation. In this trajectory of cultural inquiry, word and deed become one.

WORKS CITED

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Caute, David. Frantz Fanon. New York: The Viking Press, 1970.

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Fanon, Frantz. A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press, 1965.

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Fiske, John. “Cultural Studies and the Culture of Everyday Life.” In Cultural Studies. Ed. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler. New York: Routledge, 1992.

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Gates, Henry Louis. “Critical Fanonism.” In Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schleifer. 3rd Edition. New York: Longman, 1994. 132-143.

Geismar, Peter. Fanon: The Revolutionary as Prophet. New York: Grove Press, 1971.

Gendzier, Irene. Frantz Fanon. New York: Grove Press, 1973.

Gildin, Hilail. “Spinoza and the Political Problem.” In Spinoza: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Marjorie Grene. New York: Anchor Books, 1973.

Gordon, Lewis R. Fanon and the Crisis of European Man. New York: Routledge, 1995.

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Hardt, Michael. “Spinoza’s Democracy: The Passions of Social Assemblages.” In Marxism in the Postmodern Age. Ed. Antonio Callari, Stephen Cullenberg, and Carole Biewener. New York: The Guilford Press, 1995. 24-32.

Hegel, G.W.F. The Phenomenology of Mind. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.

Lloyd, Genevieve. Spinoza and the Ethics. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Negri, Antonio. The Savage Anomaly. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Norris, Christopher. Spinoza and the Origins of Modern Critical Theory. Cambridge, Mass: Basil Blackwell, 1991.

Oppenheimer, Martin. The Urban Guerilla. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969.

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Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Pantheon, 1994.

San Juan, E. Beyond Postcolonial Theory. New York: St Martins Press, 1998.

Sekyi-Otu, Ato. Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Spinoza, Benedict de. A Spinoza Reader. Ed. Edwin Curley. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Woddis, Jack. New Theories of Revolution. New York: International Publishers, 1972.

Yovel, Yirmiyahu. Spinoza and Other Heretics: The Aventures of Immanence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1989.

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Posted in AESTHETICS, CRITICAL THEORY, DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS, SOCIOCRITICISM, SPECULATIVE PROVOCATIONS, UNTIMELY OBSERVATIONS

THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC STRUGGLE IN THE PHILIPPINES


A BRIEF NOTE ON THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC   STRUGGLE IN THE PHILIPPINES (circa 2003)

by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

When U.S. occupation troops in Iraq continued to suffer casualties every day after the war officially ended, academics and journalists began in haste to supply capsule histories comparing their situation with those of troops in the Philippines during the Filipino-American War (1899-1902). A New York Times essay summed up the lesson in its title, “In 1901 Philippines, Peace Cost More Lives Than Were Lost in War” (2 July 2003, B1)), while an article in the Los Angeles Times contrasted the simplicity of McKinley’s “easy” goal of annexation (though at the cost of 4,234 U.S. soldiers killed and 3,000 wounded) with George W. Bush’s ambition to “create a new working democracy as soon as possible” (20 July 2003, M2). Reviewing the past is instructive, of course, but we should always place it in the context of present circumstances in the Philippines and in the international arena. What is the real connection between the Philippines and the current U.S. war against terrorism?
With the death of Martin Burnham, the hostage held by Muslim kidnappers called the “Abu Sayyaf” in Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines, one would expect more than 1,200 American troops (including FBI and CIA personnel) training Filipinos for that rescue mission to be heading for home in late 2002. Instead of being recalled, reinforcements have been brought in and more joint military exercises announced in the future. Since September 11, 2001, U.S. media and Filipino government organs have dilated on the Abu Sayyaf’s tenuous links with Osama bin Laden. A criminal gang that uses Islamic slogans to hide its kidnapping-for-ransom activities, the Abu Sayyaf is a splinter group born out of the U.S. war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and used by the government to sow discord among the insurgent partisans of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Protected by local politicians and military officials, the Abu Sayyaf’s persistence betokens the complicated history of the centuries-long struggle of more than ten million Muslims in the Philippines for dignity, justice, and self-determination.
What is behind the return of the former colonizer to what was once called its “insular territory” administered then by the Bureau of Indian Affairs? With Secretary Colin Powell’s decision to stigmatize as “terrorist” the major insurgent groups that have been fighting for forty years for popular democracy and independence—the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, part of a coalition called the National Democratic Front, the introduction of thousands of U.S. troops, weapons, logistics, and supporting personnel has become legitimate. More is involved than simply converting the archipelago to instant military bases and facilities for the U.S. military—a bargain exchange for the strategic outposts Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base that were scrapped by a resurgent Filipino nationalism a decade ago. With the military officials practically managing the executive branch of government, the Philippine nation-state will prove to be more an appendage of the Pentagon than a humdrum neocolony administered by oligarchic compradors (a “cacique democracy,” in the words of Benedict Anderson), which it has been since nominal independence in 1946. On the whole, Powell’s stigmatizing act is part of the New American Century Project to reaffirm a new pax Americana after the Cold War
Immediately after the proclaimed defeat of the Taliban and the rout of Osama bin Laden’s forces in Afghanistan, the Philippines became the second front in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Raymond Bonner, author of Waltzing with Dictators (1987), argues that the reason for this second front is “the desire for a quick victory over terrorism,… the wish to reassert American power in Southeast Asia….If Washington’s objective is to wipe out the international terrorist organizations that pose a threat to world stability, the Islamic terrorist groups operating in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir would seem to be a higher priority than Abu Sayyaf” (New York Times, 10 June 2002). Or those in Indonesia, a far richer and promising region in terms of oil and other abundant natural resources. As in the past, during the Huk rebellion in the Philippines in the Cold War years, the U.S. acted as “the world’s policemen,” aiding the local military in “civic action” projects to win “hearts and minds,” a rehearsal for Vietnam. The Stratfor Research Group believes that Washington is using the Abu Sayyaf as a cover for establishing a “forward logistics and operation base” in southeast Asia in order to be able to conduct swift pre-emptive strikes against enemies in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, and elsewhere.
Overall, however, the intervention of U.S. Special Forces in solving a local problem inflamed Filipino sensibilities, its collective memory still recovering from the nightmare of the U.S.-supported brutal Marcos dictatorship. What disturbed everyone was the Cold-War practice of “Joint Combined Exchange Training” exercises. In South America and Africa, such U.S. foreign policy initiatives merged with counter-insurgency operations that chanelled military logistics and equipment to favored regimes notorious for flagrant human rights violations. In Indonesia during the Suharto regime, for example, U.S. Special Operations Forces trained government troops accused by Amnesty International of kidnapping and torture of activists, especially in East Timor and elsewhere. In El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala, the U.S. role in organizing death squads began with Special Operations Forces advisers who set up “intelligence networks” ostensibly against the narcotics trade but also against leftist insurgents and nationalists. During the Huk uprising in the Philippines, Col. Edward Lansdale, who later masterminded the Phoenix atrocities in Vietnam, rehearsed similar counter-insurgency techniques combined with other anticommunist tricks of the trade. Now U.S. soldiers in active combat side by side with Filipinos will pursue the “terrorists” defined by the U.S. State Department—guerillas of the New People’s Army, Moro resistance fighters, and other progressive sectors of Filipino society.
Are we seeing American troops in the boondocks (bundok, in the original Tagalog, means “mountain”) again? Are we experiencing a traumatic attack of déjà vu? A moment of reflection returns us to what Bernard Fall called “the first Vietnam,” the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902, in which at least 1.4 million Filipinos. The campaign to conquer the Philippines was designed in accordance with President McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation” of the uncivilized and unchristian natives, a “civilizing mission” that Mark Twain considered worthy of the Puritan settlers and the pioneers in the proverbial “virgin land.” In Twain’s classic prose: “Thirty thousand killed a million. It seems a pity that the historian let that get out; it is really a most embarrassing circumstance.” This was a realization of the barbarism that Henry Adams feared before Admiral George Dewey entered Manila Bay on 1 May 1898: “I turn green in bed at midnight if I think of the horror of a year’s warfare in the Philippines where…we must slaughter a million or two of foolish Malays in order to give them the comforts of flannel petticoats and electric trailways.”
In “Benevolent Assimilation”: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903 (1982), Stuart Creighton Miller recounts the U.S. military’s “scorched earth” tactics in Samar and Batangas, atrocities from “search and destroy” missions reminiscent of Song My and My Lai in Vietnam. This episode in the glorious history of Empire is usually accorded a marginal footnote, or a token paragraph in school textbooks. Miller only mentions in passing the U.S. attempt to subjugate the unhispanized Moros, the Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao and Sulu islands. On March 9, 1906, four years after President Theodore Roosevelt declared the war over, Major General Leonard Wood, commanding five hundred and forty soldiers, killed a beleaguered group of six hundred Muslim men, women and children in the battle of Mount Dajo. A less publicized but horrific battle occurred on June 13, 1913, when the Muslim sultanate of Sulu mobilized about 5,000 followers (men, women and children) against the American troops led by Capt. John Pershing. The battle of Mount Bagsak, 25 kilometers east of Jolo City, ended with the death of 340 Americans and of 2,000 (some say 3000) Moro defenders. Pershing was true to form—earlier he had left a path of destruction in Lanao, Samal Island, and other towns where local residents fought his incursions. Anyone who resisted U.S. aggression was either a “brigand” or seditious bandit. The carnage continued up to the “anti-brigandage” campaigns of the first three decades which suppressed numerous peasant revolts and workers’ strikes against the colonial state and its local agencies.
With the help of the U.S. sugar-beet lobby, the Philippine Commonwealth of 1935 was established, constituted with a compromise mix of laws and regulations then being tried in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hawaii. Eventually the islands became a model of a pacified neocolony. Except perhaps for Miller’s aforementioned book and assorted studies, nothing much about the revealing effects of that process of subjugation of Filipinos have registered in the American Studies archive. This is usually explained by the theory that the U.S. did not follow the old path of European colonialism, and its war against Spain was pursued to liberate the natives from Spanish tyranny. If so, that war now rescued from the dustbin of history signaled the advent of a globalizing U.S. interventionism whose latest manifestation, in a different historical register, is Bush’s “National Security Strategy” of “exercising self-defense [of the Homeland] by acting preemptively,” assuming that might is right.
The revolutionary upsurge in the Philippines against the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) stirred up dogmatic Cold War complacency. With the inauguration of a new stage in Cultural Studies in the nineties, the historical reality of U.S. imperialism (the genocide of Native Americans is replayed in the subjugation of the inhabitants of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba) is finally being excavated and re-appraised. But this is, of course, a phenomenon brought about by a confluence of multifarious events, among them: the demise of the Soviet Union as a challenger to U.S. hegemony; the sublation of the Sixties in both Fukuyama’s “end of history” and the interminable “culture wars,” the Palestininan intifadas; the Zapatista revolt against NAFTA; the heralding of current anti-terrorism by the Gulf War; and the fabled “clash of civilizations.” Despite these changes, the old frames of intelligibility have not been modified or reconfigured to understand how nationalist revolutions in the colonized territories cannot be confused with the nationalist patriotism of the dominant or hegemonic metropoles, or how the mode of U.S. imperial rule in the twentieth century differs in form and content from those of the British or French in the nineteenth century. The received consensus of a progressive modernizing influence from the advanced industrial powers remains deeply entrenched. Even postcolonial and postmodern thinkers commit the mistake of censuring the decolonizing projects of the subalternized peoples because these projects (in the superior gaze of these thinkers) have been damaged, or are bound to become perverted into despotic postcolonial regimes, like those in Ghana, Algeria, Vietnam, the Philippines, and elsewhere. The only alternative, it seems, is to give assent to the process of globalization under the aegis of the World Bank/IMF/WTO, and hope for a kind of “benevolent assimilation.”
What remains to be carefully considered, above all, is the historical specificity or singularity of each of these projects of national liberation, their class composition, historical roots, programs, ideological tendencies, and political agendas within the context of colonial/imperial domination. It is not possible to pronounce summary judgments on the character and fate of nationalist movements in the peripheral formations without focusing on the complex manifold relations between colonizer and colonized, the dialectical interaction between their forces as well as others caught in the conflict. Otherwise, the result would be a disingenuous ethical utopianism such as that found in U.S. postnationalist and postcolonialist discourse which, in the final analysis, functions as an apology for the ascendancy of the transnational corporate powers embedded in the nation-states of the North, and for the hegemonic rule of the only remaining superpower claiming to act in the name of freedom and democracy.
The case of the national-democratic struggle in the Philippines may be taken as an example of one historic singularity. Because of the historical specificity of the Philippines’ emergence as a dependent nation-state controlled by the United States in the twentieth century, nationalism as a mass movement has always been defined by events of anti-imperialist rebellion. U.S. conquest entailed long and sustained violent suppression of the Filipino revolutionary forces for decades. The central founding “event” (as the philosopher Alain Badiou would define the term) is the 1896 revolution against Spain and its sequel, the Filipino-American war of 1899-1902, and the Moro resistance up to 1914 against U.S. colonization. Another political sequence of events is the Sakdal uprising in the thirties during the Commonwealth period followed by the Huk uprising in the forties and fifties—a sequence that is renewed in the First Quarter Storm of 1970 against the neocolonial state. While the feudal oligarchy and the comprador class under U.S. patronage utilized elements of the nationalist tradition formed in 1896-1898 as their ideological weapon for establishing moral-intellectual leadership, their attempts have never been successful. Propped by the Pentagon-supported military, the Arroyo administration today, for example, uses the U.S. slogan of democracy against terrorism and the fantasies of the neoliberal free market to legitimize its continued exploitation of workers, peasants, women and ethnic minorities. Following a long and tested tradition of grassroots mobilization, Filipino nationalism has always remained centered on the peasantry’s demand for land closely tied to the popular-democratic demand for equality and genuine sovereignty.
For over a century now, U.S.-backed developmentalism and modernization have utterly failed in the Philippines. The resistance against globalized capital and its neoliberal extortions is spearheaded today by a national-democratic mass movement of various ideological persuasions. There is also a durable Marxist-led insurgency that seeks to articulate the “unfinished revolution” of 1896 in its demand for national independence against U.S. control and social justice for the majority of citizens (80 million) ten percent of whom are now migrant workers abroad. Meanwhile, the Muslim community in the southern part of the Philippines initiated its armed struggle for self-determination during the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) and continues today as a broadly based movement for autonomy, despite the Islamic ideology of its teacher-militants. Recalling the genocidal U.S. campaigns cited above, BangsaMoro nationalism cannot forget its Muslim singularity which is universalized in the principles of equality, justice, and the right to self-determination. In the wake of past defeats of peasant revolts, the Filipino culture of nationalism constantly renews its anti-imperialist vocation by mobilizing new forces (women and church people in the sixties, and the indigenous or ethnic minorities in the seventies and eighties). It is organically embedded in emancipatory social and political movements whose origin evokes in part the Enlightenment narrative of sovereignty as mediated by third-world nationalist movements (Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh, Mao) but whose sites of actualization are the local events of mass insurgency against continued U.S. hegemony. The Philippines as an “imagined” and actually experienced ensemble of communities, or multiplicities in motion, remains in the process of being constructed primarily through modes of political and social resistance against corporate transnationalism (or globalization, in the trendy parlance) and its technologically mediated ideologies, fashioning thereby the appropriate cultural forms of dissent, resistance, and subversion worthy of its people’s history and its collective vision.

______________________
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

E. SAN JUAN works with KAMALAYAN in Washington DC, and is visiting prof of English & Comparative Literature at U.P., Diliman, Quezon City.Hewas redcently visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at the National Tsing Hua University and Academia Sinica fellow in Taiwan, and professorial lecturer in cultural studies at Polytechnic University of the Philippines (2016-2017). He was 2003 professor of American Studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Among his books are RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke University Press);WORKING THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell University Press); US IMPERIALISM AND REVOLUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES (Palgrave); and CARLOS BULOSAN: REVOLUTIONARY FILIPINO WRITER IN THE U.S. (Peter Lang Inc.)

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

E. San Juan’s Carlos Bulosan: A Critical Appraisal, a book review


SanJuan_cover2-page-0Carlos Bulosan—Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the United States: A Critical Appraisal  By E. San Juan, Jr. New York: Peter Lang, 2017, 132 pages.

  • Reviewed by Jeffrey Arellano Cabusao
    Department of English and Cultural Studies
    Bryant University, Smithfield, Rhode Island

 

Carlos Bulosan, one of our most significant Filipino writers of the twentieth century, is the focus of a new book by one of our most significant and prolific Filipino literary/cultural theorists and public intellectuals today—E. San Juan, Jr. According to American Studies scholar Michael Denning, San Juan is listed as one of the “most important New Left intellectuals [teaching and writing]… during the great student uprisings of the late 1960s and early 1970s” (Culture in the Age of Three Worlds, NY: Verso, 2004). It was during this period that San Juan published his pathbreaking book-length study titled Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1972) which introduced Bulosan as a revolutionary working class author to the fields of Asian American studies, American literary studies, and Philippine studies.
Before his early work on Bulosan in 1972, San Juan was already active in radical Filipino cultural politics as a collaborator with Philippine national artist Amado V. Hernandez in Ang Masa and with Alejandro Abadilla in Panitikan. San Juan first introduced Hernandez’s poems to an international audience with Rice Grains (NY: International Publishers, 1966). His edited volume of Georg Lukacs’ essays, Marxism and Human Liberation (NY: Dell, 1972), circulated among orthodox socialist and New Left activists in the 1970s and 1980s. Aside from his sustained inquiries into racism and ethnic relations, San Juan initiated the first book-length study of the major literary works of Nick Joaquin in his 1988 treatise Subversions of Desire: Prolegomena to Nick Joaquin (Quezon City: Ateneo University Press), more relevant now with the sanctification of Joaquin as a Penguin Classic.
San Juan’s dedicated research and committed work within radical Filipino cultural politics have paved the way for Carlos Bulosan to become a canonized figure in the academy and an iconic figure of Filipino labor militancy throughout the Filipino diaspora. The publication of Carlos Bulosan—Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the United States: A Critical Appraisal (hereafter Bulosan-RFWUS) provides an opportunity for San Juan to reflect upon (and assess) the development of Bulosan scholarship within the U.S. academy as well as to provide suggestions for reading and engaging with Bulosan’s body of work in ways that move beyond the walls of the contemporary academic industrial complex. One of the central concerns with regard to achieving canonical status as a progressive writer is the risk of being misread—of having one’s body of work emptied of radical content so as to serve the interests of the neoliberal academy (an ideological state apparatus).
The prevailing mode of reading Bulosan (from Asian American/Ethnic studies to American literary studies) has been through the immigrant-assimilationist paradigm—one that replicates the model-minority myth while simultaneously erasing the fact that Filipinos in the United States are not immigrants. Given the long, brutal history of U.S.-Philippines colonial and neocolonial relations, Filipinos in the United States inhabit the position of colonial/neocolonial subjects. The specificity of the racial-national subordination of Filipinos is also obscured when Bulosan is transformed into a reified icon for mass consumption (like the Malcolm X baseball caps of the early 1990s). The two modes of consuming Bulosan (immigrant-assimilationist paradigm and reified icon) are combined in a recent video produced by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (November 29, 2017). The brief video, which features readings from Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart by Junot Díaz, Hasan Minhaj, and Ivy Quicho, appropriates the text’s sentimental Popular Front Americanism to situate the Filipino experience in the United States within a narrative of immigrant assimilation. The video ends with the following statement: “Since America Is in the Heart was published, at least 45 million immigrants have become Americans.”
To be sure, if Bulosan were alive today, as Peter McLaren posits in his foreword to Bulosan-RFWUS, he would courageously protest eruptions of “nativism, misogyny, a deepening racism, environmental catastrophe and virulent mobilizations against immigrants” in the United States since the election of Trump last November 2016. San Juan asserts that Bulosan would simultaneously contribute to mobilizing Filipinos to speak out against Duterte’s shameless “demagoguery and… collusion with the oligarchic exploiters of millions of peasants and workers” in the Philippines. The silencing, however, of Bulosan as revolutionary anti-imperialist artist by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center is symptomatic of the canonization (or institutionalization) of Bulosan. San Juan’s central argument in Bulosan-RFWUS is the following: Bulosan’s “body of writing cannot be fully understood without respecting his ethico-artistic motivations.” Leaning upon Fredric Jameson’s advice to “historicize, historicize, historicize,” San Juan reminds his readers that the liberatory potential of Bulosan can be grasped only when his writing is situated within the context of U.S. colonial conquest and neocolonial control of the Philippines.
In Bulosan-RFWUS, San Juan challenges the institutionalization of Bulosan by shifting the center of the Bulosan canon from America Is in the Heart to the posthumously published The Cry and the Dedication, a novel written during the Cold War period about the anti-imperialist Hukbalahap peasant rebellion in the Philippines. San Juan’s historicizing approach enables us to appreciate the complexity of a collective Filipino “protest consciousness” (here I’m rearticulating a concept used by Angela Davis in her reading of Blues women) that resides at the heart of Bulosan’s diverse body of work—poems, short stories, novels, essays, letters. Throughout Bulosan-RFWUS, San Juan offers insightful close readings of a wide variety of texts within the Bulosan archive—from “The Romance of Magno Rubio” to letters written by Bulosan, from essays on cultural production to satirical stories collected in The Laughter of My Father and The Philippines Is in the Heart. In urging us to rethink Bulosan’s use of satire in his short stories, San Juan examines the use of “carnivalesque discourse in Bakhtin’s dialogic conceptualization” that illuminates Bulosan’s method for tapping into our collective Filipino “protest consciousness”—more specifically, “Bulosan’s use of the popular-anarchist predispositions in folk-culture.” Subsequently, a new direction for research on Bulosan, according to San Juan, is to delve deeper into Bulosan’s use of “common [Filipino] folklore, tradition, and history” in his body of work.
In addition to enriching our understanding of the complexity of Bulosan’s revolutionary imagination, an historicizing approach enables San Juan to excavate deeper within the Bulosan archive. San Juan’s research on the Sanora Babb papers (held at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin) not only situates Bulosan within a vast network of progressive artists and writers (which includes pioneering Bulosan scholar and activist Dolores Feria), but also raises questions about the authorship of All the Conspirators, which Caroline Hau and Benedict Anderson have introduced as a recovered manuscript from the Bulosan archive. While much has been accomplished due to San Juan’s work over the decades, more research is necessary to properly inventory the Bulosan archive.
Finally, another direction for further research suggested by San Juan is a Janus-faced approach—to read Bulosan in relation to historical and contemporary figures of the Filipino diaspora, specifically Philip Vera Cruz (founding member of the United Farm Workers) and Jose Antonio Vargas (Filipino journalist, courageous activist for undocumented immigrants, and CEO of Define American, a non-profit that defends immigrant rights in the United States). With regard to the former, San Juan examines the ways in which Vera Cruz’s work as a militant labor organizer functions as a bridge that connects Bulosan with the development of Filipino labor militancy during the New Left period. With regard to the latter, San Juan examines how the lives of Bulosan and Vargas converge and simultaneously diverge as a way of assessing the contemporary situation (and future possibilities) of the Filipino presence in the United States.
Over the past four decades, San Juan has worked tirelessly on expanding how we read and engage Carlos Bulosan—by introducing new writings from the Bulosan archive and by offering dynamic and fresh theoretical perspectives rooted in a tradition of historical materialist thought. I’ve attempted to document San Juan’s sustained commitment to reading, researching, and expanding upon Bulosan’s ethico-artistic motivations from the New Left period to our contemporary period of globalized “war on terror”/ecological disaster in Writer in Exile/Writer in Revolt: Critical Perspectives on Carlos Bulosan (Lanham: UPA, 2016). The publication of Bulosan-RFWUS is a reminder of the inexhaustible possibilities of the Bulosan archive that surface when one heeds the call to “always historicize!” It is San Juan’s offering for a new generation of Filipino activists and intellectuals—a text that provides the necessary theoretical tools and methodological approaches to continue to make Bulosan relevant for (and present within) our lives in the twenty-first century.

 

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

METAKOMENTARYO–E. San Juan, Jr.


tapaya_muralMetakomentaryo sa Pagkakataon ng Kolokyum Ukol sa “The Places of E. San Juan, Jr.”

E. San Juan, Jr.
Polytechnic University of the Philippines
philcsc@gmail.com

 

Abstract

In a provisional synthesis of his lifework, E. San Juan, Jr. surveys the issues and aporias that define his critical oeuvre. He warns at the outset against the narcissism of autobiographical acts, or what he calls the selfie mode. In locating himself, San Juan uses instead the historicizing lens. In this metacommentary, San Juan locates his life project between his birth in 1938, which saw the defeat of the Republican forces in Spain and the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy, and the new millennium marked by 9/11 and imperialist terrorism. He begins with the class background of his parents and moves on to discuss his years as an undergraduate at the University of the Philippines-Diliman; his graduate education at Harvard; his collaboration with Tagalog writers; his radicalization as a professor at the University of California-Davis, and at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, in the midst of the nationalist movements, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights era; and his late engagement with the question of racism. San Juan also names the sources of his radical politics as well as the aporias in his thinking, including his oversight of the historical genealogy of local cultures in Philippine vernacular literature, folklore, ecology, and mass media. He ends by reiterating the need to develop the discourse of critique in the hope of re-inscribing the ideal kingdom of the Categorical Imperative into the immanent adventure of humanity in its reflexive history.

 

Keywords

critical theory, cultural studies, E. San Juan, Jr., metacommentary, Philippine literature and criticism, race and ethnicity, radicalization

 

About the Author

Kilalang kritiko at manlilikha sa larangang internasyonal, si E. San Juan, Jr. kamakailan ay fellow ng Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas; at ng W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University. Tubong Maynila at lalawigang Rizal, siya ay nag-aral sa Jose Abad Santos High School, Unibersidad ng Pilipinas, at Harvard University. Emeritus professor ng English, Comparative Literature at Ethnic Studies, siya ay nakapagturo sa maraming pamantasan, kabilang na ang University of the Philippines (Diliman), Ateneo de Manila University, Leuven University (Belgium), Tamkang University (Taiwan), University of Trento (Italy), University of Connecticut, Washington State University, Wesleyan University, at ngayon ay Professorial Lecturer sa Polytechnic University of the Philippines. Namuno sa U.P. Writers Club at lumahok sa pagbangon ng makabayang kilusang ibinandila nina Claro Recto at Lorenzo Tanada noong dekada 50–60, si San Juan ay naging katulong ni Amado V. Hernandez (sa Ang Masa) at ni Alejandro G. Abadilla (sa Panitikan) kung saan nailunsad ang modernistang diskurso’t panitikan kaagapay ng rebolusyong kultural sa buong mundo. Kabilang sa mga unang aklat niya ang Maliwalu, 1 Mayo at iba pang tula, Pagbabalikwas, at Kung Ikaw ay Inaapi, na nilagom sa koleksyong Alay sa Paglikha ng Bukang-Liwayway. Sumunod ang Himagsik: Tungo sa Mapagpalayang Kultura, Sapagkat Iniibig Kita, Salud Algabre at iba pang tula, Sutrang Kayumanggi, Bukas Luwalhating Kay Ganda, Ulikba, at Mendiola Masaker. Sa kasalukuyang kalipunan, Kundiman sa Gitna ng Karimlan, matatagpuan ang pinakaunang pagsubok sa tulang neokonseptuwal sa wikang Filipino. Bukod sa From Globalization to National Liberation, inilathala rin ng U.P. Press ang naunang mga libro niya: Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle, Toward a People’s Literature, Writing and National Liberation, Allegories of Resistance, at Between Empire and Insurgency: The Philippines in the New Millennium. Inilathala noong 2015 ng De La Salle Publishing House ang kanyang librong Lupang Hinirang, Lupang Tinubuan.

 Labinlimang minutong kabantugan? Namangha ako nang unang banggitin ni Charlie Samuya Veric na may plano siyang magbuo ng isang forum tungkol sa akin—hindi pa ako patay o naghihingalo, sa pakiwari ko. Sabi nga ni Mark Twain: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Bagamat laktaw na ako sa hanggahang tradisyonal—ilan na bang kapanahon ang sumakabilang-buhay na (magugunita sina Pete Daroy at mga kapanahon, kamakailan lamang si Joe Endriga).
Bagamat labis na sa taning, magiliw na pasasalamat ang ipinaaabot ko sa mga katulong sa Kritika Kultura, bukod kay Charlie kina Ma. Luisa “Lulu” Torres-Reyes, Vincenz Serrano, Francis Sollano at iba pang kasama, sa kanilang walang sawang pagtangkilik. At sa lahat ng mga kolega’t kabalikat na gumanap sa pakikibahagi ng kanilang mga kuro-kuro’t hinuha tungkol sa ilang akdang nilagdaan ni “E. San Juan, Jr.”

Pasakalye
Sambit ni Heidegger, ang paborito ng mga teologo rito: “Ang tao ay nilikhang-pa-kamatayan,” laging balisa. Nagbibiro ba lamang tayo? Sa pasumalang ito, taglay pa rin natin ang pag-asam na makukumpleto ang ilang proyekto bago sumapit sa ika-walumpung taning. Deo volens, wika nga ng mga paganong Romano, tumitingala sa iba’t ibang musa, bathala o espiritu ng kalikasan. Sino nga ba itong awtor? Di ba patay na ang awtor, ayon kay Roland Barthes? Gayunman, tila nakasalamuha o nakabangga ng mga nagsalita ang aninong may ganoong etiketa o bansag, na kahawig ng pangalan ng santong buminyag sa Mesiyas, o iyong Ebanghelyo ng Bagong Tipan.
Patakara’t hilig kong umiwas sa anumang okasyong itatampok ang sarili sa makasariling kapakanan, tinaguring “pagbubuhat ng sariling bangko.” Ayaw ko nang modong selfie. O anumang makatatawag-pansin sa “Cogito” na unang nahinuha ni Rene Descartes at naging saligang prinsipyo ng Kaliwanagan (Enlightenment) at siyentipikong rebolusyon sa Kanluran noong Siglo Labing-Walo. Mahirap ipatotohanan na may “Cogito” ngang walang bahid ng walang-malay (unconscious) na siyang sumisira ng anumang afirmasyong maihahapag dito. Huwag nating kaligtaan ang matalas na sumbat ni Walter Benjamin sa kanyang sanaysay tungkol sa suryalismo: “Walang matapang na narkotikong ating sinisipsip kapag tayo’y sawi o malungkot kundi ang ating sarili mismo.” Kailangan ba natin ng opyong kawangki ng relihiyon o mas matindi pa roon?
Pangalawang babala kung bakit kalabisan o kabaliwan ang pumaksa sa sarili. Payo ni Charles Sanders Peirce, fundador ng pragmatisismo, tungkol sa ego/identidad: Iyon ay “error,” ilusyon, isang kamalian o kawalan, kahungkagan—anong senyas o tanda ang makatutukoy sa kamalayan sa sarili, sa ideolohiyang kaakibat nito? Kumbiksyon ko na ang “sarili” nga ay lunan/lugar ng kawalang-muwang, ignoransya, at pagkakamali. Samakatwid, puwedeng punan at wastuhin ng kapaligiran, ng kasaysayan, ng kolektibong pagsikhay at pagpupunyagi. Sanhi sa klasikong materyalismong minana sa tradisyon, sadyang hindi gaanong nasaliksik ang pormasyon ng subheto, o sabjek-posisyon, sa mga diskurso ko na nito lamang huling dekada nadulutan ng masinop na pagsisiyasat.
I-braket natin ito muna. Kung sakaling nailugar man ang awtor, makatutulong din sa mga susunod na imbestigador o mag-aaral ang pagmapa ng panahong sumaksi sa ebolusyon ng mga akdang natukoy. Payo nina Marx at Engels na ang mga kaisipan ay walang naratibo na hiwalay sa modo ng produksiyon ng lipunan—sa Zeitgeist ng ekonomiyang pampolitika nito. Kaya dapat isakonteksto sa kasaysayan ng taumbayan—“Always historicize!” Ang metodong ito’y dapat ilapat sa anumang ideya o paniniwala, tulad ng sumusunod, bagay na maiging naipunla sa internasyonalismong perspektiba ni Veric.

Bakas ng Paghahanap sa Landas
Sapagkat mahabang istorya iyon, ilang pangyayari’t tauhan lamang ang maiuulat ko rito. Bakit nga ba nakarating dito’t sa iba’t ibang lugar ang marungis na musmos mula sa Blumentritt, Sta. Cruz, Maynila? Di ko lubos maisip na nakaabot ang uhuging paslit sa sangandaang ito. Utang ito sa magkasalabit na takbo ng sirkumstansya at hangarin.
Tila pakikipagsapalaran ba lahat? Malamang. Hindi nasa bituin ang tadhana kundi sa kontradiksiyon ng saloobin at kasaysayan. Kaya dapat ilugar ang mga pangyayari sa tiyak na panahong 1938, na sinaksihan ng pagkagapi ng mga Republikanong puwersa sa Espanya at pagbulas ng rehimeng pasista sa Alemanya at Italya, hanggang sa epoka ng Cold War (1947–1989), sa diktaduryang U.S.-Marcos (1972–1986), at bagong milenyong pinasinayaan ng 9/11 at imperyalistang terorismo hanggang sa ngayon. Pinakamalalang krisis ito ng kapitalismong global sa loob at labas ng neokolonyang sistema sa Pilipinas.
Bago ko malimutan, nais kong banggitin ang unang pagsipat sa mga unang kritika ko ni Soledad Reyes noong 1972 sa isang artikulo sa Philippine Studies, at sa isang interbyu ni Maria Luisa Torres-Reyes sa Diliman Review noong 1987–88, nang aming inihahanda ang nabuking pagdalaw ni Fredric Jameson dito sa atin—isang interbensiyong sana’y nakapukaw sa mga postkolonyalista’t postmodernistang naligaw sa bayang sawi. Sayang at hindi nakasama sa publikasyon ang puna ni Tomas Talledo sa limitasyon ni Reyes at sa dinamikong saklaw ng mga tula ko noon.
Supling ako ng dalawang gurong graduweyt sa U.P. noong dekada 1930–35. Taga-Montalban, Rizal ang ama kong pesanteng uri ang pinagmulan; samakatwid, kabilang sa gitnang-saray, hindi ilustrado. Sandaling naging kalihim ang ama ko ni “Amang” Rodriguez, kilalang patnugot ng Partido Nasyonalista noong panahon ni Quezon. Kaklase ng mga magulang ko si Loreto Paras-Sulit sa U.P. at unang libro kong nabasa sa aklatan namin ay unang edisyon ng Footnote to Youth ni Jose Garcia Villa. Nang ako’y nasa Jose Abad Santos High School, nakilala ko sina Manuel Viray at Sylvia Camu, tanyag na mga dalubhasa, at nabasa ang mga awtor sa Philippine Collegian at Literary Apprentice—mabisang kakintalang nakaamuki sa landas na tinahak.

Naanod ng Sigwa sa Diliman
Ilang piling impresyon lang ang mababanggit ko rito. Ang unang guro ko sa Ingles sa U.P. (1954) ay si Dr. Elmer Ordoñez na unang gumabay sa amin sa masusing pagbasa’t pagkilatis sa panitikan. Sumunod sina Franz Arcellana at NVM Gonzalez. Si Franz ang siyang naghikayat sa aking sumulat ng isang rebyu ng Signatures, magasing pinamatnugutan nina Alex Hufana at Rony Diaz. Kamuntik na akong idemanda ni Oscar de Zuniga dahil doon.
Malaki ang utang-na-loob ko kay Franz, bagamat sa kanya ring tenure nasuspinde ako sa paggamit ng salitang “fuck” sa isang tula ko sa Collegian noong 1956 o 1957. Kumpisal sa akin ni Franz na siya raw ay naging biktima ng administratibong panggigipit. Kasapi sa mga taong kumondena sa pulubing estudyante ay sina Amador Daguio at Ramon Tapales; kalaunan, si Ricaredo Demetillo ang siyang umakusa sa Maoistang awtor sa magasing Solidarity ni F. Sionil Jose.
Dalawang pangyayari ang namumukod sa gunita ko noong estudyante ako. Minsan niyaya kami ni NVM na dumalo sa isang sesyon ng trial ni Estrella Alfon sa Manila City Hall dahil sa kuwentong “Fairy Tale of the City.” Doon ko namalas na kasangkot pala ang panulat sa mga debateng maapoy sa lipunan. Dumanas din kami ng madugong kontrobersya tungkol sa sektaryanismo-versus-sekularismo sa U.P. noon, sa usapin ng Rizal Bill, at nakilahok sa kampanya nina Recto at Tanada noong 1957–58 sa untag ni Mario Alcantara.
Ang pangalawang pangyayari ay kasangkot sa parangal kay Nick Joaquin na nanalo ng unang premyo ni Stonehill sa kanyang nobelang The Woman Who Had Two Navels. Sa okasyong iyon, una kong nakita si Ka Amado V. Hernandez na masiglang nanumbat kung bakit isinaisantabi ang mga manunulat sa Tagalog at katutubong wika at laging ginagantimpalaan ang mga nagsusulat sa Ingles. Humanga ako kay Ka Amado sa maikling talumpating binigkas niya noon.
Kakatwa na ang kritika kong Subversions of Desire (1987) tungkol kay Nick Joaquin ay binati ng batikos mula sa kaliwa at simangot mula sa kanan—marahil, hihintayin pa ang henerasyong susunod upang mabuksan muli ang usaping ito. Makabuluhan ang pagtunghay ni Ka Efren Abueg sa milyu ng mga estudyante sa Maynila noon, na oryentasyon sa ugat at tunguhin ng dalumat at danas ng mga henerasyon namin.
Nasa Cambridge, Massachusetts na ako nang magkasulatan kami ni Ka Amado noong 1960–65. Naging kontribyutor ako sa kanyang pinamatnugutang Ang Masa. Naisalin ko rin ang ilang tula niya mula sa Isang Dipang Langit, sa munting librong Rice Grains. Noong 1966–67, nagkakilala kami ni Alejandro Abadilla at tumulong ako sa paglalathala ng magasing Panitikan.
Noong panahon ding yaon nakausap ko ang maraming peryodista’t manunulat na nag-istambay sa Soler at Florentino Torres, sa Surian, at sa mga kolehiyo sa Azcarraga, Mendiola, Legarda, Morayta, at España. Marahil nakabunggo ko rin si Ka Efren sa tanggapan ng Liwayway kung saan nakilala ko sina Pedro Ricarte at iba pang alagad ng establisimiyentong iyon. Natukoy ko ito sa libro kong Lupang Hinirang, Lupang Tinubuan (2015) mula sa De La Salle University Publishing House na tila naligaw na karugtong nito ang mga aklat kong Ang Sining ng Tula (1971) at Preface to Pilipino Literature (1972).

Tagpuan sa Pagpapaubaya’t Pagpapasiya
Nais kong dumako sa engkuwentro ko sa panulat ni Bulosan na siyang tagapamansag ng orihinal na “pantayong pananaw” (sa pagtaya nina Michael Pante at Leo Angelo Nery). Una kong nabasa ang kuwentong “As Long As the Grass Shall Grow” ngunit mababaw ang dating. Nang ako’y magturo sa University of California sa Davis, nagkaroon ako ng pagkakataong makatagpo ang ilang “oldtimers” sa California; at tuloy nadiskubre ang mga libro ni Bulosan sa Bancroft Library ng UC Berkeley. Muntik nang madamay ang Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle na inilabas ng UP Press ilang araw bago ideklara ni Marcos ang “martial law.” Nakatulong ang suporta ni President Salvador Lopez, na ininterbyu ko noong 1987–88 nang ako’y magturo muli sa U.P. at Ateneo.
Masasabing ang pagtuklas at pagpapahalaga sa halimbawa ni Bulosan ng mga Filipino sa Amerika ng pangatlong henerasyon (mga anak ng beterano o bagong-saltang propesyonal) ay utang sa pagsibol ng kilusang makabayan doon noong 1969–1970. Bumugso ito sa gitna ng pakikibakang anti-Vietnam War at civil rights struggles noong dekada 1960, hanggang sa kilusang peminista’t kabataan at mga etnikong grupo noong dekada 1970. Sa kabila ng makatas na pagsubaybay nina Rachel Peterson at Joel Wendland sa alingawngaw ng mga pagsubok ko sa “cultural studies” at analisis ng ideolohiyang rasismo, lingid sa kanilang kaalaman ang pakikilahok ko sa kilusang anti-Marcos noong 1967–1986. Mahusay na nasuyod ito ni Michael Viola. Suwerte, nakasama rito ang masaklaw na komentaryo ni Dr. Kenneth Bauzon sa mga saliksik at pag-aaral ko tungkol sa etnisidad, rasismo, at kapitalismong global.
Sa huling dako ng siglong nakaraan naibuhos ko ang lakas at panahon sa analisis ng problema ng rasismo sa Amerika. Ang paksang ito’y hindi nabigyan ng karampatang pag-aaral at pagdalumat ng mga klasikong Marxista, kaya nito na lamang ilang huling dekada napagtuunan ng pansin ang sitwasyon ng Moro, mga kababaihan, at Lumad sa ating bayan. Kaakibat nito, sumigasig ang imbestigasyon ko sa teorya ng signos/senyal ni Peirce at lohika ng pagtatanong nina Dewey, Bakhtin, Gramsci, Lukacs, atbp. (Pasintabi: ang 1972 edisyon ko ng kritika ni Georg Lukacs, Marxism and Human Liberation, ay isang makasaysayang interbensiyon sa pakikibakang ideolohikal dito noong madugong panahong iyon.) Mababanggit din ang inspirasyon ng mga kasama sa CONTEND at Pingkian na laging aktibo sa usaping panlipunan at pagsulong ng demokrasyang pambansa.
Ang masa lamang ang tunay na bayani sa larangan ng progresibong pagsisikap. Sa huling pagtutuos, o marahil sa unang pagtimbang, ang inisyatiba ng isang indibidwal ay walang saysay kung hindi katugma o nakaangkop sa panahon at lugar na kanyang ginagalawan. Sa ibang salita, ang anumang katha o akda ninuman ay hindi produkto ng personal na pagpapasiya lamang kundi, sa malaking bahagdan, bunga ng mga sirkumstansyang humubog sa kapasiyahan ng indibidwal at nagbigay-kaganapan dito. Walang bisa ang indibidwal kung hindi nakatutok sa pagsalikop ng tiyak na panahon at lugar.
Gayunpaman, dapat idiin na ang bisa ng indibidwal ay katumbas ng totalidad ng relasyong panlipunan, alinsunod sa balangkas ng “combined and uneven development.” Ang pasumala ay kabilang mukha ng katiyakan. Kamangmangan at kamalian nga ang laman ng sarili kung di umaayon sa riyalidad. Maidadagdag pa na ang daloy ng mga pangyayari ay hindi diretso o linyado kundi maligoy at liko-liko, kaya kailangan ng diyalektikong pagkilates at pagtaya upang matanto’t masakyan ang trajektori ng kasaysayan sa ating buhay at ng kapwa.

Singularidad ng Pananagutan
Uminog ang daigdig, sinabi mo. Saan nagmula? Nasaan tayo ngayon? Saan tayo patutungo? Ano ang alam natin? Ano ang pinapangarap natin? Paano mag-iisip? Paano kikilos? Anong uri ng pamumuhay ang dapat ugitan at isakatuparan?
Walang pasubali, utang ko ang anumang ambag sa arkibo ng kaalamang progresibo sa kilusan ng sambayanan (laban sa diktaduryang Marcos at rehimeng humalili), sa ilang piling miyembro ng KM at SDK na nagpunla ng binhing Marxista sa U.S. na nagsilbing batayan ng anti-martial law koalisyon, KDP, Ugnayan at iba pang samahan sa Estados Unidos. Malaki rin ang tulong pang-edukasyon ng mga sinulat nina Claro Recto, Lorenzo Tanada, Renato Constantino, Amado Hernandez, Teodoro Agoncillo, Jose Diokno, Jose Maria Sison, Maria Lorena Barros, at lalo na ang mga aktibistang naghandog ng kanilang buhay sa ikatatagumpay ng katarungang sosyal, pambansang demokrasya, at awtentikong kasarinlan.
At utang naman ito sa paglago’t pagtindi ng feministang kilusan kaagapay ng anti-rasistang mobilisasyon ng mga Amerikano-Afrikanong rebolusyonaryo, ng mga Chicano’t Katutubong Amerikano, pati na rin ang impluwensiya ng rebolusyon sa Cuba, Algeria, Vietnam, Mozambique at, natural, sa Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution sa Tsina. Samakatwid, nagtataglay ng halaga ang anumang gawain o likhain kung ito’y ilulugar sa larangan ng pagtatagisan ng mga uri sa lipunan, ng kontradiksyon ng taumbayan (manggagawa, magbubukid) at hegemonya ng imperyalismo’t oligarkong kasabwat nito. At may tiyak na panahon at takdang hangganan ang pagsulong ng mga kontradiksyong lumulukob sa karanasan ng bawat tao sa lipunan.
Sa partikular, ang halaga ng anumang kaisipan o praktika ay nakasalalay sa masalimuot na lugar ng kasaysayan. Nakasalig ito lalo na sa kasaysayan ng ating pakikibaka tungo sa tunay na kasarinlan at pambansang demokrasya mula pa noong rebolusyong 1896 hanggang sa rebelyon ng Bangsamoro laban sa teroristang lakas ng Estados Unidos at mga kapitalismong global na patuloy na naghahari sa neokolonyang bansa. Sosyalismo o barbarismo—alin ang mananaig?
Kalkulahin natin ang burador ng pangarap at naisakatuparan. Dahil sa malaking panahong iniukol sa kilusan laban sa diktaduryang Marcos at sa paglaban sa rasismong salot na sumasagwil sa pansarariling determinasyon ng mga Filipino sa U.S., hindi ko naibuhos ang sapat na lakas sa pagsusuri’t pagsisiyasat ng kulturang katutubo, lalo na ang kritika sa panitikang Pilipino. Hindi rin nabigyan ng karampatang pansin ang poklor o katutubong ekspresyon ng mga Lumad, Moro, atbp; ang isyu ng kapaligiran, ang papel ng midyang pangmadla (pelikula, dula, musika), atbp.
Dahil sa pagkalubog ko sa literaturang Ingles at sa oryentasyong New Criticism at saliksik-tradisyonal na sinipsip sa mga guro sa UP English Dept at Harvard University, superpisyal ang interes ko noon sa panitikang vernacular, sa komiks o pelikulang tatak lokal. Kumpara sa Ingles at Kastila, ang panitikang Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Cebuano, atbp. ay maituturing na bahagi ng kulturang popular. Ang Liwayway at mga kamag-anak nito ay organo ng diskursong kultural popular, bago pa ang megmall at penomenang sinipat ni Roland Tolentino, na siyang pinaka-avantgarde na manunuri ngayon sa buong bansa. Nabanggit ko nga na noon lamang magkasulatan kami ni Ka Amado noong 1960-65 sumigla ang nasa kong ibaling ang panahon at lakas sa pag-aaral ng literatura’t kulturang nakasulat sa Filipino. Malaki ang tulong sa akin noon nina Rogelio Mangahas, Ben Medina Jr,, Alejandro Abadilla, at Delfin Manlapaz sa hilig na ito.
Pundamental ang pagtaya ni Roland na pinakamahalaga ang world-view o paradigm na panukat sa anumang pag-aaral ng kultura. Ito ang turo ng “cultural studies” nina Raymond Williams at ni Stuart Hall sa UK na kapwa umamin ng mga ideyang hinango mula kay Antonio Gramsci. Nabatid ito ni Roland hindi sa pagpasok sa Bowling Green State University, sentro ng pagsusuri sa “popular culture” sa Estados Unidos, kundi sa paglagom ng kanyang mayamang karanasan bilang aktibista simula dekada 1980-1990 hanggang sa ngayon. Sa Bowling Green ko na lang siya nakatagpo, hindi ko na maalala ang pagkakataon sa Diliman na nabanggit niya. Ngunit hindi multo ako noong magkasama kaming dumalaw minsan kay Sanora Babb, matalik na kaibigan ni Carlos Bulosan, nang nag-aaral na si Roland sa University of Southern California sa Los Angeles. At hindi rin multo sa maraming pagkakataong makasali ako sa mga forum at lektura sa U.P. nitong dalawang dekada (1990-2010) kung saan si Roland ay mabisang gabay ng mga estudyante sa UP bilang Dekano ng College of Mass Communications. Tanggap na sopistikado na ang diskursong kultural popular sa akademya, ngunit (sa palagay ko) mahina pa’t pasapyaw ang dating nito sa mass media sa TV, radyo, at peryodiko. At bagamat malaki na rin ang transpormasyon sa indy pelikula, kailangan pang kumita ng prestihiyo sina Brillante Mendoza, Lav Diaz, at iba pang direktor sa Europa upang mabigyan ng panibagong pagtingin sa atin. Sintomas ito ng maselang sitwasyon ng kritiko ng araling kultural, popular man o elitista, na hindi maibubukod sa dekadensiya ng naghaharing uri’t dayuhang puwersa, laluna ang Estados Unidos at Europa, sa pagkontrol sa ekonomya’t negosyong OFW ng bansa. Sintomas din kaya ito ng pagkabulok ng hegemonya nila? Hinihintay ng mobilisadong madla ang opinyon nina Roland at mga mataray na kapanalig na espesyalista sa diskursong kultura popular.
Nais kong ihandog ang nalalabing taon ko sa pagsisiyasat sa mga usaping ito kaugnay ng krisis ng globalisasyon. Kabilang na rito ang kalipunan ng mga bagong sanaysay ko sa nabanggit kong Lupang Hinirang, Lupang Tinubuan. Meron akong inihahandang pag-aaral sa klasikong nobela nina Faustino Aguilar, Lope K. Santos, Valeriano Hernandez Peña, Lazaro Francisco, Iñigo Ed. Regalado, hanggang kina Genoveva Edroza Matute’t Liwayway Arceo. Nais ko rin sanang maipagpatuloy ang palitang-kuro namin ng nasirang Alex Remollino tungkol sa tula ko hinggil sa sitwasyon ni Rebelyn Pitao (kalakip sa koleksiyon kong Sutrang Kayumanggi) na sinensor ng Bulatlat nang paslangin ng pasistang Estado ang anak ni Kumander Parago circa 2010.

Pandayin ang Sandata ng Kaluluwa
Patuloy na nagbabago ang mundo, nag-iiba ang kapaligiran at kalakaran. Hindi mapipigil ito. Pinuputol at pinapatid ang repetisyon ng karaniwang araw sa paulit-ulit na krisis ng kapitalismong orden. Ikinukubli ng repetisyon sa araw-araw ang naratibo ng kasaysayang sinidlan ng pangarap, hinubog ng panaginip, at pinatingkad ng pag-aasam. Katungkulan nating palayain iyon, ang mga pagnanasang ibinaon, mga tinig na binusalan, sa mapagpasiya’t mapagligtas ng Ngayon na nagbubuklod ng Katotohanan at Kabutihan.
Ngayon ang pagtutuos, Ngayon ang pagsasakatuparan at kaganapan. Responsibilidad ito ng panaginip upang pukawin at mobilisahin ang diwang sinikil ng mga panginoong dayuhan at kakutsabang lokal. Ang lugar dito at sa abrod ng OFW ay larangan ng paglutas sa mga kontradisiyong salaghati sa ating buhay bilang bansang iniluluwal pa lamang. Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?

Mensaheng Ipinalaot sa Kawalan
Sinabi mo, nadinig ko. Sa pangwakas, nais kong sipiin ang makahulugang obserbasyon ni Benjamin tungkol sa temang naturol dito, ang halaga ng personal na pagsisikap laban sa batas ng tadhana o hatol ng kapalaran. Puna ni Benjamin: Ang anumang obrang kultural ay sabayang dokumento ng barbarismo’t dokumento ng sibilisasyon. Nawa’y magsilbing kasangkapan ito tungo sa bagong uri ng kabihasnan at hindi kagamitan upang mapanitili ang barbarismong nais nating supilin at wakasan. Sa okasyon ng bagong edisyong ito ng Kritika Kultura, muli nating ilunsad at pag-ibayuhin ang diskurso’t pagtatanong upang makapiling ang katotohanan sa nasugpong birtud ng sangkatauhan.
Maraming salamat sa lahat ng kolaboreytor at partisano sa itinaguyod na proyektong sinalihan nating lahat. Partikular na kilalanin ko rito ang tulong at payo ni Delia Aguilar, na kadalasa’y nagwasto’t nagpayaman sa mga ideyang nailahad dito. Sana’y magkatagpo muli tayo dito o sa kabilang pampang ng ilog. Mabuhay ang sakripisyo’t pakikipagsapalaran ng masang naghihimagsik! Ipagpatuloy ang laban!

______+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

7 Marso 2015, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City–
22 Disyembre 2015, Storrs, CT; 19 Pebrero 2016, Washington DC, USA
MALIGAYANG PAGBATI mula sa “sikmura ng halimaw”
[Sa okasyon ng paglunsad ng Kritika Kultura 26, 4/25/2016]

—E. San Juan, Jr.

 

Masilakbong pagbati sa lahat ng staff ng KK, kabilang sina Charlie Veric, Francis Sollano, Vinz Serrano, Lulu Torres-Reyes at marami pang kabalikat, sa pagkakataong naidaos sa pagpupulong ng ilang iskolar at manunulat sa symposium tungkol sa mga lugar ng awtor na may mapahiwatig na pangalan.

Isang munting paunawa. Ang lugar ni “E. San Juan” ay hindi pag-aari o angkin ng isang taong may ganoong pangalan. Ang regulasyon ng pagpapangalan sa partikular na indibidwal ay ipinasok sa Imperyong Romano dahil sa batas ng pagbubuwis at pagkontrol sa masa. Sa Bibliya, maraming Maria o John na ipinaghihiwalay lamang sa pagkabit ng kung saan sila unang kinilala—Hesus ng Nazareth, ang Samaritano, atbp. Ganoon din sina Zeno ng Elea o William ng Ockham. Kaugnay iyon ng ekonomyang pampulitikang umiiral noon. Tumawid tayo mula sa necesidad ng imperyong mapang-uri.

Gumawi tayo sa ibang dalampasigan. Ang paksain dito ay sari-saring pook o lunan ng mga ideya’t hiwatig sa gitna ng engkuwentro ng mga komunidad ng mga nag-uusap sa iba’t ibang lupalop, sa iba’t ibang panahon. Isang kolokyum o pagpapalitan/forum ang lugar natin. Walang pag-aangkin o pag-aari ng kaisipan, at iyon naman ay inilagom mula sa buhay ng ibat ibang wika at kultura ng samutsaring komunidad sa daigdig ng penomenang isinalin sa isip, dalumat, budhi, kamalayan—ang “noosphere” ni Padre Teilhard de Chardin.

Sa isang balik-tanaw, napulot lamang ang “Epifanio” sa kalendaryo, at ang pamilyang “San Juan” ay hiram din naman sa Talaan ng Buwis sa Espanya, kung saan pinagbasehan ang pagbibinyag sa mga Indyo noong panahon ng kolonyalismong nagdaan. Gayunpaman, nawa’y di maging “tinig sa kagubatan,” a “voice in the wilderness” ang isyu ng KK. Marahil, wala namang Salomeng magdedemanda ng ulo ng taga-binyag. Baka ang nangyaring “bomb threat” ay senyas ng sukdulang darating?

Di na dapat ulitin na ang pagsisikap ng KK ay napakahalaga sa pag-unlad at paglawak ng ating kultura, ng ating sining at panitikan, na ngayo’y nakadawit sa daloy ng globalisasyon. Kaugnay ang pagsisikap na ito sa hominization ng “noosphere” ni Padre de Chardin patungong Omega. Isang makabuluhang pagsisikap sapagkat—buksan na lang ang FACEBOOK at iba pang Website sa inyong I-pad o I-phone— nakalambong pa rin ang hegemonya ng Kanluraning kabihasnan, ang “consumerist lifetyle” na dominante sa globalizasyong nagaganap. Para sa mga kaibigan dito, siguro, Filipinization ng Internet ang kanilang maipangangakatwiran at hindi pag-gagad o imitasyon sa banyaga.

Naipaliwanag na nina Rizal, Fanon, Che Guevarra, Aime Cesaire, Cabral, atbp. na ang intelektuwal ng kilusang mapagpalaya sa sinakop na bansa ay kabilang sa mapagpasiyang hanay ng mobilisadong taumbayan, Mabisa ang mga guro’t estudyante—mga “iskolar ng bayan”— sa mapagpalayang kampanya ng bayang Pilipino sa harap ng malubhang krisis ng imperyalismo sa panahon ng “global war on terrorism.” Mungkahi kong subukan natin ang ganitong punto-de-bista para sa ating komunidad imbes na iyong galing sa World-Bank IMF, MLA, UN, o anupamang grupong internasyonal.

Salungat sa cliche, huwag akalaing nasa-ivory tower tayo—walang sulok na hindi kasangkot o kaugnay sa tunggalian ng ideolohiya, ng praktika ng paniniwala, ugali, damdamin, pangarap, sa ating neokolonya. {Natural, kung kayong nahihimbing at nananaginip, wala kayong pakialam sa ganitong palagay, at patuloy kayong humimlay.}

Laging mapangahas at mapanlikha, kayo’y mga bayani, “unaknowledged legislators,” sa lumang taguri. Nawa’y maipagpatuloy ang ulirang praktika ng KK sa paglinang ng katutubong kultura—aksyon sa paraan ng interpretasyon—na siyang ambag natin sa kumpleksipikasyon ng Omega ni de Chardin, o iyong singularidad/hacceitas ni Duns Scotus, na kailangang sangkap sa paghinog ng unibersalisyong adhikain ng santinakpan! Samakatwid, bukod sa isip, kasangkot ang pagnanais, paghahangad, mithiin ng bawat isa sa loob at labas ng komunidad.

Mabuhay ang pamumukadkad ng isanlibong bulaklak! Mabuhay kayong lahat na dumalo sa makasaysayang interbensyong ipinagdiriwang ngayon ng KK sa pagtangkilik ng Ateneo de Manila University!

 

—Sonny San Juan
Cathedral Heights,
Washington DC, 8 Abril 2016
<philcsc@gmail.com>

 

 

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

Re-Visiting Carlos Bulosan by Paulino Lim, Jr.


 

Re-visiting Carlos Bulosan
Review by Paulino Lim, Jr.SanJuan_cover2-page-0

E. San Juan, Jr., Carlos Bulosan:
Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the United States
A Critical Appraisal
New York: Peter Lang, 2107

Carlos Bulosan: Revolutionary Writer in the United States is part of a project destined for the world’s libraries of the 21st Century. With its colorful cover and solid binding, it has the number 12 on the spine, indicating its sequence in the multi-volume project: Narrative, Dialogue, and the Political Production of Meaning, co-edited by Michael Peters and Peter McLaren.
The project underscores the importance of language that enables discourse and produces meaning. It is well to recall that when the Founding Fathers altered the tripartite goal of “life, liberty, and property” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the “meaning” of America was born and, along with it, the ideology of a monotheistic Deity.

E. San Juan’s Carlos Bulosan exemplifies the guiding philosophy of the series. Co-editor McLaren considers him “one of the leading public intellectuals of the United States,” and his engagement with Bulosan “magisterial” (p. xiii). McLaren reaffirms the contemporary relevance of Bulosan, “now a central figure in Asian America history,” and the “need to recover the submerged insurrectionary impulses in Bulosan’s discourse” (p. xi). San Juan attempts to fulfill that need in this “Critical Appraisal.”

San Juan distills the research and commentaries on the revolutionary writer, and presents his observations in sections or essays with catchy titles, e.g. “Point Counterpoint: Retrospective Beginning,” and “Witnessing Swerve.” Each essay produces a meaning or knowledge that serves to correct misguided or uninformed opinions, and initiate further discourse that, in turn, may produce more meanings. Take for example the entry “The Plagiarism Perplex,” (68) a topic that interests me. From this article, I can design “a great chain of reading,” (The New Yorker, 16 October ’17, p. 79), and link Bulosan to luminaries, such as Wallace Stegner and Martin Luther King, also touched by the same issue.

San Juan is most responsible for Bulosan’s canonization, the inclusion of his oeuvre in required readings in colleges and universities, e.g., The Heath Anthology of American Literature (2004). America is in the Heart, however, has been a staple of Asian American and Philippine Studies worldwide. San Juan accepts “blame” for starting the Bulosan trend (industry?) with his first book on him in 1972, and co-editing, with Russell Leong, an issue of Amerasia Journal (May 1979) devoted to Bulosan.

I owe San Juan a debt of gratitude for enlightening my colonial mentality. In the anthology, Sabong: Stories, Etc. (2015), and in the forthcoming “Spots of Time: Memoir of a Mind,” I document my evolving (self-knowledge of having a colonial or post-colonial mind-set. In May 1977, I published “From Colonial to Beleaguered Mentality: Busing and the Filipino American,” and in October 2012, I presented a paper at the Michigan State University Conference on Philippine Studies, entitled “The Diplopic Consciousness of Overseas Filipino Writers.”

I commend San Juan for re-visiting Carlos Bulosan, especially to colleagues and institutions in the Philippines with preconceived labels, e.g., “Marxist,” or “Socialist.” NVM Gonzalez once told me that he did not understand San Juan. If NVM read this book now, I’m quite sure he’d change his mind. (He died in November 1999.) The prose is as lucid as the best of NVM’s, and the logic much persuasive. To quote myself, “San Juan writes poetry in Filipino and polemics in English. He has the sensibility of a poet and the driving logic of a committed polemicist” (Sabong, 166).
___________
Paulino Lim is a professor emeritus of English California State University, Long Beach.bulosan-for-jacketcover

 

 

 

 

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

PROTEST TRUMP’S IMPERIAL WAR-MONGERING


tapaya_mural

ON PRESIDENT TRUMP’S VISIT TO THE PHILIPPINES

By Kamalayan: Philippine Educational-Cultural Forum, Washington, DC

 

Washington, D.C.–November 6, 2017–With collusion scandals on his back, President Trump visits Manila and Clark Field, Pampanga, Philippines, historic outposts of the then rising U.S. Empire at the turn of the last century.

Today, virtually a neocolony, the Philippines serves once again as a springboard for U.S. imperial interventions in the Asia-Pacific region. Various government agreements have converted the former U.S. military bases in Clark, Subic, and elsewhere into counterinsurgency centers against Filipinos protesting corporate plunder of the country’s natural and human resources.

The Duterte regime of corrupt oligarchs has welcomed renewed U.S. military intervention in the destruction of Marawi City in the global campaign against ISIS. The war on drugs and terrorism has become a pretext to justify a Plan Colombia-type of U.S. intervention in their former colony.

Duterte welcomes Trump in the hope of increased military aid. The issue of Duterte’s bloody human rights record, the extra-judicial killing of over 9,000 suspects in the drug war, and the vicious bombing and massacre of peasants, Lumads, and Moro villages, will fill the silent corridors of Malacanang and the Asian Summit halls.

After boasting of U.S. devastation of Japan in World War II, Trump wants to involve the peoples of Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, China and the Philippines in his campaign to destroy the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea with “fire and fury.” Nothing less than a genocidal campaign will fulfill Trump’s America-First policy.

As peoples concerned with social justice, respect for human rights, and peace among nations, we call on everyone to protest Trump’s endorsement of the corrupt, deceitful Duterte regime.

Trump’s attempt to project U.S. military power on the region, and his threat of nuclear war, only serve the profiteering interests of big business. We support the demilitarization of the South China Sea and respect for national sovereignty.

We call on all peoples in Asia and the United States to reject Trump’s war-profiteering and neoliberal programs that destroy people’s jobs, their civic and political rights, and the ecological health of the planet.

KAMALAYAN Philippine Educational and Cultural Forum
Washington DC

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

EMERGENCE OF THE FILIPINO RADICAL IMAGINATION — E. San Juan, Jr.


  • Charting the Emergence of the National-Popular Imagination in the Philippines (1896–1940)

           E. San Juan Jr.

 

We did what we ourselves had decided upon—as free people, and power resides in the people. What we did was our heritage . . . We decided to rebel, to rise up and strike down the sources of power. I said, “We are Sakdals . . . No uprising fails. Each one is a step in the right direction. —Salud Algabre, a leader of the Sakdalista Uprising, 1935

Writers are, by the nature of their chosen task, the spearhead of progress. They voice the grievances as well as the aspirations of a nation; they document its achievements; they treasure for posterity the worthwhile efforts of man. They are the critics of things as they are; they are the dreamers of things as they should be; they cannot escape a large part of the responsibility for the shape of things to come. —Resolution of the First Filipino Writers Conference, February 25, 1940; Philippine Writers League

 

Of all theoretical concepts dominating global exchanges, nationalism has proved the most contentious and intractable. A wise commentator from Cambridge, UK, John Dunn, has probably seized the twin horns of the dilemma underlying the phenomenon. He diagnosed contemporary nationalism as “a moral scandal because the official ethical culture of almost the entire world is a universalist ethical culture.” Despite this, he locates its efficacy in its paradoxical situation: “If democracy is the resolved mystery 250 philippine modernities of all constitutions, nationalism is perhaps the resolved mystery of all boundaries in a world which is densely practically related across boundaries—a world of international exchange and drastically unequal power and enjoyment.”1 To be precise, these international linkages would be inconceivable without the persistence of nations, or nation-states, sanctified in Woodrow Wilson’s proposal to affirm the right of self-determination for all nations, at least those already extant, but not for peoples under colonial rule or about to be annexed.

Dunn’s Eurocentric view seems unconscionable in light of the emergence of socialist nation-states such as China, Cuba, Algeria, and Vietnam. We understand that Dunn was addressing the excesses of Nazi racial nationalism, while ignoring the British Empire’s claim to moral superiority and Europe’s ascendancy over people of color in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We need to be reminded that Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” was a triumphallist apology for US troops marching into the islands and “civilizing those uncouth, sullen Filipinos.” Since the Filipino-American War of 1899– 1913, the yet “uncivilized” masses of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands, to cite just one instance, have begun to build their nation on the ruins of the Portuguese empire in 1974, a year before the victory of the Vietnamese over the US empire and its surrogates.2

President Wilson’s “14 Points” proposal came with the breaking-up of the Austro- Hungarian empire in 1918. It offered breathing space for tribal groups in Africa, as well as a motive or rationale to discover a self, a political medium or state, which can undergo a “recognizable process of self-determination.” Such as aspiration is supposed to be a political reaction to the Napoleonic conquest of Europe, but surely it preceded Napoleon. Nations such as France or England had long realized this aspiration was “grounded in some existing sentiment of national or racial identity associated with common territory, language or religion—to form its own sovereign state and to govern itself.”3 Following this model, the break-up of the Spanish empire in the nineteenth century led to the formation of Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, and Mexico in the South American wars of independence. Led by creoles disillusioned with theocratic colonialism, the various nationalities or ethnic communities revolted not so much in the name of national self-determination but with the ideals of the French revolution—“liberty, equality, fraternity”—in mind.

Transitional Passages

Clearly, as Lenin once put it, we need to distinguish the “nationalism” of the oppressed peoples against the jingoist/chauvinist “nationalism” of the oppressor nation.4 This is due to the geopolitical law of unequal and uneven development between metropolitan powers and subordinate, peripheral formations.5 In this context, it might be heuristic to pose the following inquiry. Was the Spanish colony in 1899, about to be annexed by the United san juan jr. Charting the Emergence 251 States, just “an imagined community,” as Benedict Anderson6 would label it? Was it an artifice simply generated by print capitalism and commercial exchange which triggered consent from the letrado minority? Or was it, in Eric Hobsbawm’s7 phrase, an “invented tradition?” Or was the Filipino “nation” a process of active genesis with plural components, not ethnic purity, as the active catalyzer for the national-popular patria? This “nation” seems to be still undergoing neocolonial metamorphosis today.

Arguably, we find elements of all these in analyzing nation formation as a collective, heterogeneous process. Print culture certainly displaced orature and ritualized speech-acts when the galleon trade ended in 1815 and the country was opened to international trade. But it was not books or printed manifestoes that marked the advent of integral, if syncretic, consciousness; it was a rebellion. The consensus is that the Cavite Mutiny of 1872, the sacrifice of three priests involved in the secularization movement, ushered a widespread consciousness of shared identity. Rizal, Mabini, and others confirm this view. Renato Constantino sums up this conjuncture: “Where the concept of Filipino used to have a racial and later a cultural limitation, the repression that followed the Cavite mutiny made the three racial groups—creoles, mestizos and natives—join hands and become conscious of their growing development as a Filipino nation.”8 Thus, it was the experience of a “common historical fate” or destiny9 and the constellation of responses that midwived Filipino nationalism, not print technology and its bourgeois mediators that spelled the difference.

The 1896 revolution against Spain was initially a product of Filipino creolized ilustrados, foremost of whom were Jose Rizal, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and Marcelo del Pilar. In Barcelona and Madrid, the propagandists collaborated on the newspaper La Solidaridad in 1889. Using Spanish, their declared aspirations were universalistic, not particularistic— namely: “to combat reaction, to stop all retrogressive steps, to extol and adopt liberal ideas, to defend progress; in a word, to be a propagandist, above all, of democratic ideas in order to make these supreme in all nations here and across the seas.”10 There was no mention of a common language, distinct territory, or cohesive economic unit—the prime characteristics of a nation, not of a tribal or racial assemblage.

The Spanish colony then was an assemblage of feudal-managed haciendas, scattered ethnolinguistic communities dominated by the Church. The secularist reformers espoused democratic, libertarian principles. If we follow the classic Marxist formula, they should have demanded the creation of a national market for a homogeneous population. Even when Rizal initiated La Liga Filipina to replace the periodical, the focus transcended the cultural or ethnic qualities of “peoples without a history” (to use Engel’s phrase) destined to extinction or incorporation by a larger superior group. The Liga aimed to “unite the whole archipelago into one compact, vigorous and homogeneous body,” provide “mutual protection,” and “defense against all violence and injustice.”11 In effect, Rizal expressed a 252 philippine modernities revolutionary aim by envisaging the creation of a separate, independent social order, overthrowing the colonial polity.

Andres Bonifacio was one of the original members of the Liga. With the Liga proscribed, Bonifacio and others organized the Katipunan. Using Tagalog—the native tongue of the central provinces of Luzon—they articulated the political goal of separation from Spain, the moral objective of individual rational autonomy, and the civic ideal of defending the poor and oppressed. Following the credo of mutual aid and reciprocity, the Katipunan vowed to pay the funeral expenses of its members to undercut the exorbitant fees of the Church. It demonstrated the dialectic of universal ideals and concrete action in the process of fashioning a new nation.

One Divides into Two

Given the anticolonial thrust of the 1896 revolution led by the Katipunan, Filipino nationalism from its beginning was forged from a national-popular matrix. It was national in ascribing to the subjugated Indios, the native inhabitants, a cluster of singular qualities: fraternal sharing of goods, commitment to promises, faith in the enslaved subalterns’ wisdom, and power to create a prosperous, free future. This is the message of Bonifacio’s manifesto, “Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog”: “Panahun na ngayong dapat na lumitaw ang liwanag ng katotohanan, panahon na dapat nating ipakilala na tayo’y may sariling pagdaramdam, may puri, may hiya at pagdadamayan . . . . Kaya o mga kababayan! Ating idilat ang bulag na kaisipan at kusang igugol sa kagalingan ang ating lakas sa tunay at lubos na pag-asa na mag tagumpay sa nilalayong kaguinhawahan ng bayang tinubuan.”12 From this perspective, one can infer that the nation being formed will be rooted in the dynamic relations of oppressed, toiling subjects who have become conscious of their collective plight and, in forging solidarity, begun to fashion a liberated future.

Despite the defeat of the Ilustrado-compromised Malolos Republic, and the capture of the Katipunan-inspired General Sakay, I would argue that Filipino nationalism preserved its national-popular kernel up to the outbreak of World War II. This implies an organic connection between intellectuals, the pedagogical agents of knowledge, and the the affective-feeling sensibility of the masses that can be mobilized for structural change. The peasant majority and its offshoot, the middle stratum of craftworkers and pettybourgois traders, supplied the organic intellectuals of the nascent body politic.

The revolution of 1896 survived in underground and legal struggles. Bonifacio and the inheritors of the Enlightenment tradition—Isabelo de los Reyes, Tagalog writers Faustino Aguilar, Jose Corazon de Jesus, and Benigno Ramos, as well as the partisans of the Philippine Writers League—continued to define the parameters of national becoming. The antiimperialist intelligentsia endeavored to synthesize universal knowledge and local sentiments into a “structure of feeling”13 capable of mobilizing the masses. The Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci conceived of the reciprocal interaction between understanding (intellectual) and feeling (the grassroots constituency) as the foundation of the emergent nation. Writers using the vernacular proved to be the most effective builders of this shared, communicated “structure of feeling.”

The failure of the 1896 revolution sharpened the social division of labor, with the US occupation destroying the productive linkages of family, village, and kindred institutions. The crisis widened the division between city and countryside. Filipino nationalists tried to resolve their historical predicament by “feeling the elementary passions of the people, understanding them and therefore explaining and justifying them in the particular historical situation and connecting them dialectically to the laws of history and to a superior conception of the world, scientifically and coherently elaborated—i.e., knowledge.”14 Thus, the revolutionary artists’ project of historicizing emotional patterns was translated into the task of constructing the hegemonic (moral-intellectual) leadership of the working class, in alliance with the peasantry, as the foundation of the emerging Filipino nation.1

Folk and Proletarian Synergesis

The intellectual practice of Isabelo de los Reyes exemplifies an early attempt to bridge thought and feeling in quest of a hypothetical nation. Only a sketch of his complex career can be given here to indicate one example of a nation-building project.16

In 1889, Reyes launched the first vernacular newspaper in the Philippines, El Ilocano. Pursuing the historiographic recovery embodied in Rizal’s annotations on Morga’s Sucesos and his recuperation of native poetics, Reyes’s ethnographic researches—El Folklore Filipino (1889) and Historia de Ilocos (1890) strove to articulate an identity rooted in specific localities across temporal divides. But, for our purposes, it was his prison memoirs in Spanish, La sensacional memoria sobre la revolucion filipina (1899), and his attack on American imperialism, Independencia y revolucion (1900), that reinscribed the Katipunan tradition in the annals of labor organizing. In February 1902, Reyes founded the first labor union under American occupation, Union Obrera Democratica Filipina; he also edited the first labor union newspaper, La Redencion del Obrero. Engaged in the debate on class and national concerns, Reyes also operated in the ethico-ideological domain of struggle. He collaborated with Father Gregorio Aglipay in launching the nationalist-oriented Philippine Independent Church with trade union members as core followers. Reyes distinguished himself at this time by spearheading a general strike of factory workers and farm tenants 254 philippine modernities against American business firms and friar-owned haciendas for which then governor William Taft had to call the US cavalry to disperse the crowd.17

Class struggle nourished the national-popular organism in insurrectionary praxis, a synthesis of economic and political activities in civic society. By deploying flexible organizing modes, Reyes actualized an inchoate theory of radical nationalism that coalesced national, class, and religious sentiments. His links with rural and urban agitation provided the catharsis of the economic to the political, the strategic and tactical requirements, of the campaign against colonial rule. He fused dialectically the particular nativist elements of culture with universal notions of proletarian emancipation derived from the socialist and anarchist movements of Europe. It was Reyes’s activism that relocated the emergent nation in the arena of the class war against the landlord-comprador bloc and its American sponsors. In vindicating the ideals of the Katipunan (in his book Religion of the Katipunan), Reyes suggested that their ultimate goal was really a “communist republic.”18

Reyes was a political realist, not a doctrinaire syndicalist, so that he participated in electoral-parliamentary struggles from 1922 to 1928. While his belief in the value of popular knowledge and other indigenous practices cannot be overemphasized, or made polysemous to erase the gap between the universal and particular, it would be disingenous to overlook his dependence on the virtues of conceptual elaboration inspired by Proudhon, Bakunin, Marx, and others in the socialist archive. Such a “problematic indigenism”19 needs to be dialectically configured with his intimate associations with versatile intellectuals such as Hermenegildo Cruz, who aided Reyes in founding the first labor federation and who played a crucial role in connecting the intelligentsia with grassroots insurgency.

Vernacular Speech-Acts

It was in this milieu that the first consistent articulation of class hopes and nationalist sentiments received symbolic prefiguration in Lope K. Santos’s novel, Banaag at Sikat (1906). Rendered through allegorical manipulation of typical characters, the novel focused on the antagonism between capital and labor, with the “national question” subsumed in the atmosphere of repressive police action and looming treacheries.

Unlike Reyes or the ilustrado Dr. Dominador Gomez, Santos was a soldier in the revolutionary army in the forests of Laguna and Batangas. He admired Zola, Gorki, Eliseo Reclus, and other radical thinkers. Together with Cruz, Santos edited the paper of the printworkers’ union which carried on its masthead the Marxist slogan “The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself.”20 But Santos did not succumb to sectarian workerism (unlike the US-tutored communists), since his idea of san juan jr. Charting the Emergence 255 socialism emphasized chiefly moral and legal egalitarianism. He favored a broad united front of all democratic sectors. The hero of his novel Delfin, for example, found the US Constitution filled with “socialist aspirations” informing government policies.21 This might explain why Santos’s book was not prohibited.22 Was Santos trying to include the ilustrado elite in a hegemonic project of building consensus, even confounding bourgeois liberal reforms with Marxian socialism? In the interregnum before English became widespread and Spanish as the language of public exchange declined, the Tagalog novel blossomed in the midst of intense mobilization of urban workers. This affected also the pettybourgeois sector of whitecollar workers whose affairs were intimately bound with their worker friends and relatives in city and countryside. This is reflected in the uniquely psychologized dramatization of individual, family, and racial conflicts in Faustino Aguilar’s Pinaglahuan (1907). The “national question” is evoked right at the outset of the plot, giving way to the plight of the lovers and the imprisonment of the worker-intellectual Luis Gatbuhay by the collusion of the American factory owner Mr. Kilsberg and the cunning merchant Rojalde.23 Rojalde traps the heroine’s father in a scheme that leads to Rojalde’s possession of her body, already pregnant by Luis—an emblem of the commodified object of desire, the motherland, caged by the comprador usurper. Focusing on the hero’s agony in prison, Aguilar’s novel registers obliquely the shock of Sakay’s execution and the suppression of the last guerilla resistance even as echoes of the massive May Day 1903 march still resound in the cries of protest from the impoverished victims of the market system and the decadent feudal patriarchy.

Traditionally, the novel form in the West often dramatized the individualist quest for a cosmic purpose and meaning in life. This quest is refracted by Santos and Aguilar in a social-realist direction, via a mimesis of the dialectical interaction of the collective whole and its parts. In both Santos and Aguilar’s style, we encounter a realism diverging from the raw slice-of-life, sensational naturalism of Zola and Norris. Their models were Rizal, Tolstoy, Hugo, and Balzac. Tagalog realism, often didactic or homiletic, sought to “lay bare society’s causal network”24 in delineating the contours of the country’s development, pointing out where the broadest solutions to the most serious problems afflicting the majority may be found. It is an elaborate refinement of the melodramatic historicizing realism found in Rizal’s inflammatory Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

The year 1907 also marked the dissolution of the Union del Trabajo de Filipinas headed by Lope K. Santos. While engaged in union militancy, he edited the daily newspaper, Muling Pagsilang, which serialized his polemical novel which sold three thousand copies within the first few weeks—a sign of popular acclaim for a dangerously provocative act for American censors.25 These two novels deployed the conventional romantic plot of unrequited or frustrated love as a symptomatic testimony of how the 1896 revolution 256 philippine modernities (Filipinas figures as adored paramour-cum-mother) was lost due to betrayal, inherited inadequacies, or fatal convergence of forces beyond the lovers’ control.

Traversing Metropolitan Boundaries

We need to contextualize these authors in the local-global-regional cross-currents of the time. Reyes, Aguilar, and Santos were all influenced by developments in Europe at this period, from the Boer Wars (1902), the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), and the outbreak of the first Russian revolution (1905–1906). In March 1906, the most horrendous massacre of Moros occurred in the battle of Bud Bagsak, Jolo, where 600 men, women, and children were slaughtered by troops commanded by Gen. Leonard Wood.26 Such non-Christian victims were not yet fully accounted for in the maturing conscience of nationalists. But workers in Manila in the first two decades of American rule were clamoring for Philippine independence, perhaps not having yet heard that the “working men have no nation,” as the Communist Manifesto proclaimed.27 But they inhabit a place and time that determined their identities whose physiognomy was actualized in the manifold contradictions of sociopolitical forces that shaped the rhythm and texture of their everyday lives.

From a synoptic angle, it was the old bondsman’s struggle for recognition by the aristocratic lord, as Hegel described it. The ilustrado class (epitomized by T. Pardo de Tavera and Pedro Paterno) sought modernization via assimilation to the US nation: they spoke English and joined the bureaucracy. But given the power of feudal oligarchic instutions and practices that the US colonial regime utilized to control the dissident population, the democratic ideals purportedly legitimizing it proved ironically discordant. This created the space for a limited public sphere in which the intellectuals close to the productive majority could articulate their collective passions by positing an antagonistic image of the Filipino identity. The utopian promise of independence was translated into a pretext for crisis that manifested in public discourse. Questions were posed: why and how could Quezon, Osmeña, or Roxas speak for the exploited, impoverished nation when they represented particularistic landlord-comprador interests? Which class could truly represent the productive populace as “the Filipino nation?”

We can diagram the narrative of this conflict between the national-popular protagonist versus the elitist politicians of the English-speaking landlord-comprador bloc by concentrating on a few revealing instances when Filipino artists were confronted with the imperative of choosing sides, specifically moments when personalistic aesthetics clashed with ethico-political demands, precipitating a crisis of the whole body politic. san juan jr. Charting the Emergence 257

It began even before Aguinaldo surrendered to General Funston. When the capitulationist ilustrado class defected to the US colonial masters, a significant group of intransigent intellectuals, represented by Apolinario Mabini (1969), remained faithful to the principles of the Katipunan. They articulated the cause of the peasant-worker alliance kept alive up to Sakay’s capture in 1907. The Moros continued their resistance up to 1913. Dramatists like Aurelio Tolentino, Juan Abad, and others resorted to allegorical modes using Tagalog for wider appeal, defying the Sedition Law of 1901 prohibiting “scurrilous libels against the Government of the United States.” Though persecuted and censored, they conducted guerilla underground polemics. Periodicals like the Spanish El Renacimiento and the Tagalog Muling Pagsilang opposed colonial impositions such as the use of English as the medium of instruction in public schools. In 1908, El Renacimiento published a scathing attack on Dean Worcester, then secretary of the interior, for using his office to enrich himself. Charged for libel, Teodoro Kalaw, editor, and Martin Ocampo, the publisher, were sentenced to a jail term and fined. In 1909, Kalaw ran for delegate to the Philippine Assembly and won, testifying to the support of a community larger than the Spanish-speaking citizens.

Bardic Interventions

It was only during the administration of Francis Burton Harrison and his Filipinization of the bureaucracy that the function of articulating the popular content of nationalism passed on to Quezon and the Nacionalista Party. In the fight against Leonard Wood, the famous scourge of the Moros, Quezon seized the opportunity of symbolizing the struggle for independence.

Read symptomatically, the intramural “Cabinet Crisis” of 1923–1927 staged a battle for hegemony in the realm of the state apparatus and its agencies. Quezon lost but gained moral high ground when he asserted: “I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by Americans.”29 But this did not alleviate the worsening plight of the majority. In particular, the peasant majority, severely exploited by rapacious landlords, suffered quietly until 1935. This predatory caciquism originated from the inquitous land-tenure system that the American administators preserved, thus keeping the economy underdeveloped and their oligarchic parasites in power. Various quasi-religious, nativist uprisings occurred throughout the islands, the most serious of which were led by Ruperto Rios (Tayabas), Felipe Salvador (Central Luzon), Dionisio Magbuelas or Papa Isio (Negros), the Pulajanes in Leyte, the Colorums during the 1920s, followed by the Tangulan movement, the Tayug Uprising, and the Sakdalista in the Thirties.30 258 philippine modernities

We need to remember that metropolitan Manila was only a narrow island in a larger archipelago of manifold sociopolitical tensions. Aside from the synergistic workerintellectual collaboration in the first decades of US colonial rule when novelists, dramatists, and poets played central roles, the crisis in the Twenties and Thirties witnessed the shift of hegemonic struggle to the countryside. The first significant novel dealing with the tenancy problem is Lazaro Francisco’s Ama (1929), among others. Meanwhile, the ideological struggle to assert the popular dimension of culture as embodied in the vernacular continued with the most celebrated practitioner of the balagtasan nationwide ritual, Jose Corazon de Jesus, sacrificing his job as columnist in Taliba. It seemed a deja vu scenario. On February 21, 1930, students at the Manila North High School boycotted their classes to protest Miss Mabel Brummit’s racist conduct. This was a repeat of the desecration of the Filipino flag by another American teacher in March 1921 which de Jesus used to attack imperial arrogance by denouncing uncouth behavior: “Bago ka magturo, /dapat mong makuro,/ na bawat bandila ay mahal sa puso/ ng bumabandilang sa lupa ko tubo,/ Kung ang isipan ninyo’y baluktot at liko,/ dapat kang itapon sa banging malayo./Ikaw’y isang guro /na salat sa turo.”31

Nine years after, de Jesus felt compelled to intervene again. He asserted national pride by defending the students who were expelled: “Kung ang ituturo natin naman dito. /panay na pagyuko sa Wika ng amo, /panay na sumision at lambot ng ulo, /ay gagawa kayo ng lupaing hilo.”32 This form of political engagement via “secondary orality” (e.g., the balagtasan) witnessed in de Jesus’s intervention, evokes an aura of authority and charisma that surrounds the letrado as a political leader found in Latin America. The Philippines shares a similar tradition in which the practice of the spoken word “conjures together the presence of the communal and the sacred,”33 the unlettered voice of the people finding resonance in a nation-oriented discourse opposed to the official culture of the educated English-speaking elite. By the end of the Thirties, however, the writers using English had become politicized by circumstances following the insurgencies in the countryside, the post-1929 Depression, and the rise of fascism in Spain, Italy, and Germany as well as in militarized Japan.

Art for Whom?

Mark Twain’s satiric antiimperialist blast, “To A Person Sitting in Darkness,” was unknown throughout the first two decades. But the Genteel Age was ending. Filipinos had become aware of works by John Steinbeck, Langston Hughes, Lillian Hellman, Richard Wright, and Thomas Mann, among others.34 The establishment of the Philippine Writers League in 1939, twelve years after the 1927 founding of the Writers Club at the University san juan jr. Charting the Emergence 259 of the Philippines which fostered the school of “art for art’s sake” led by Jose Garcia Villa, marked the convergence of the nationalist and the popular tendencies in the discursive arena. Salvador P. Lopez’s award-winning collection of essays, Literature and Society (1940), may be considered the model of the praxis of the dialectical synthesis of the nationalpopular posited by Gramsci for societies in transition. Between the death of the old feudal system and the aborted birth of capitalism, we encounter morbid cultural symptoms of the passage. The manifesto of the league envisioned writers as “workers in the building up of culture” whose values reject “economic injustice and political oppression”; they are urged to organize to benefit the community.35 Several members, most prominent of whom was Manuel Arguilla, sacrificed their lives fighting Japanese aggression.

In his book, Lopez cited the case of Teodoro Kalaw who quickly moved from the Ivory Tower to the civic arena as editor of El Renacimiento. In the confrontation with Governor Wood, Kalaw discovered that “the only true basis of lasting beauty in literature is—power,” by which Lopez means the “power” to speak the truth for the sake of improvement of man’s condition and the defense of human freedom everywhere.36 Contrary to Herbert Schneider’s notion that the Filipino writers succeeded in capturing “the Malayan Spirit”37 under the twin guidance of Villa’s craftminded teaching and Lopez’s warning against propaganda, we can argue that the nation projected by both writers in English (such as Arguilla and Rotor) and in the vernacular reflected the urgent demands of the peasantry and working class that constituted the nation from the founding of the Socialist Party by Pedro Abad Santos in 1929 and the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1930 (a year after which it was outlawed and its officers jailed). In any case, the “Malayan Spirit” found its incarnation in a poignant story of Narciso Reyes, “Tinubuang Lupa,” published on the eve of World War II: mourning a dead relative, the young protagonist listens to his grandfather’s recollection of his father’s courtship days, memory fusing with anxiety and dreams, instilling in him a profound cathexis of love for the ancestral home, a sense of national belonging.38 Before the outbreak of World War II, the struggle for hegemony of the nationalpopular concept began to engage with the problem of emancipating the “productive forces” in the countryside. The peasantry constituted the largest mass base of the nationalist struggle before and after the inauguration of the Commonwealth, a transitional period before the grant of formal independence in 1946. With the Communist Party suppressed and union activism controlled, intellectuals were forced to pay attention to the public sphere and reconstruct the strategy of the united front of peasant-workers. The mediation of organic intellectuals became the necessary agency to effect the catharsis of the economic nexus to the political realm. This was carried out in Carlos Bulosan’s stories and essays between 1933 and 1940,39 and in stories by Hernando Ocampo and Brigido Batungbakal, among others.40 260 philippine modernities Radicalization of the intelligentsia deepened after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the global Depression after the 1929 Wall Street crash, Japanese occupation of Shanghai in 1932, the Nazi victory in 1933, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, and Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Of the many versatile intellectuals who performed that mediating role was the poet-orator, Benigno Ramos.41 What significance did Ramos’s poetic praxis hold for understanding the possibilities and limits of artistic intervention in radically transforming colonial society at that specific conjuncture?

Storm over Arcadia

The stage was set for the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth on November 15, 1935. It is now public knowledge that the Tydings-McDuffie Law sealed the abject dependent nature of the country as source of raw materials and dumping ground for finished, industrial goods. With the economy and state apparatus (legal system, foreign affairs, military, currency) controlled by the corporate interests in Washington, the groundwork was set for stabilizing a neocolony. An oppositional movement was needed to expose the Commonwealth fraud. Conceived by Ramos, the Sakdal Party had been campaigning against the maldistribution of wealth and excessive taxation, and for the confiscation of large landholdings for redistribution to the landless. Luis Taruc, the leading figure of the Huk rebellion in the Forties and Fifties, connected that historical specificity (land-hungry peasantry) and the global actuality of the time in his memoir, Born of the People: It had been that way under the Spanish regime for centuries. When the Americans came, they made boasts about having brought democracy to the Philippines but the feudal agrarian system was preserved intact. On the haciendas there were laborers who were paid less than ten centavos a day. Thousands more earned less than twice that much. From ten thousand miles away the Spreckles sugar interests in California reached into the sugar centrals of Pampanga and took their fortune from the sweat of Filipino labor.42

Ramos’s mobilizing organ was the weekly newspaper Sakdal, which used Tagalog as the medium of communication. It began as a vehicle of Ramos’s criticism of the Quezon regime as composed of lackeys of American imperialism, the landlord-comprador bloc, the Church hierarchy, and the Philippine Constabulary whose brutal treatment of peasants sparked violent resistance. The self-righteous Stanley Karnow echoes the Establishment dismissal of the rebel: “Filipinos thrive on abusive polemics, and Ramos’s vitriolic genius made him an instant celebrity.”43 Other groups like the Tanggulan, a patriotic secret society founded by writer Patricio Dionisio, a former member of the Communist-led Congreso Obrero, voiced their grievances in Sakdal, making it a national-popular tribune of the disenfranchised masses.

In effect, the Sakdal movement replaced the official political parties as the articulator of mass sentiments and aspirations, the grassroot “structure of feeling.” The Sakdal program targeted the educational system glorifying American culture, the American military bases, and the US stranglehold on the economy. Their leaders advocated “complete and absolute independence” by December 1936. In the 1934 election, Sakdal party’s parliamentary strategy proved effective in electing three representatives, a provincial governor, and several municipal posts in provinces adjacent to the metropolitan center of power. Ignored by Quezon and the oligarchic clique, the Sakdalista movement mounted an uprising that spread through the provinces of Laguna, Rizal, Cavite, Tayabas, and Bulacan, which the Philippine Constabulary crushed in one day before its fire spread throughout the islands.

A few days before the plebiscite on the Constitution designed to legitimize the Commonwealth, the peasantry staged a bloody uprising on May 2, 1935, involving at least sixty thousand armed partisans in nineteen towns. Earlier, their peaceful demonstrations were harassed and permits for assemblies revoked. In the three towns where the rebellion centered, fifty-seven peasants were killed, hundreds wounded, and over five hundred jailed.44 Ramos was then in Japan, negotiating for support; eventually he was extradited and jailed. His admiration for the Japanese ethos and achievement failed to be critical of the reactionary, racist patriotism of its leaders then gearing up for brutal imperial conquest of his homeland.45

The Sakdal, with its leadership’s opportunist stance, abandoned its mass base by devoting itself to the propagation of the Japanese-sponsored program of “Asiatic Monroeism.”46 Notwithstanding its inadequacies, the Sakdal movement performed a decisive and necessary pedagogical function: it raised the level of political consciousness in a nationalist-radical democratic direction by connecting the poverty of the people with the colonial system and its ideological state apparatuses (education, media, diplomacy). Renato Constantino’s judgment assays the positive impact of Ramos’s praxis: “The Sakdalista movement, despite its opportunist and fascist-inclined leadership, was a genuine expression of protest, and a milestone in the politicization of the people.”47 262 philippine modernities

Unacknowledged Legislator?

Long before his Sakdal engagement, in 1912 Ramos reacted to the Westernization of the literary tastes and standards of his milieu: “It is not pleasing to be told that one sounds like Victor Hugo, Zamacois, Blasco Ibañez, or any other foreign writer. We have started to demonstrate that in our country, we have our own literary masters.”48 The imposition of English has been regarded as the most powerful instrument to commodify culture since the valorization of exchange-value (profit) over use-value (need) transformed art and literature into saleable goods no different from copra, sugar, and hemp, the bulk of the dollarearning export crops. Enforced American English also fragmented the polity, dividing the educated elite from the plebeian subalterns. Given his pettybourgeois background, Ramos as a key translator in the Philippine Senate could have easily switched to writing in English. He did not. In the marketplace of social media, he chose the down-to-earth idiom of the productive forces, the working class and peasantry, and transformed himself into their organic intellectual voice.

Earlier we noted how the orator-poet Jose Corazon de Jesus was fired from his job for criticizing an American teacher, Miss Brummit, for insulting Filipinos. Ramos joined his fellow writer and lambasted Quezon’s shameless public subservience to the American colonizers, for which he was immediately fired. Ten days after, Ramos set up the periodical Sakdal, followed by the founding of the Sakdalista political party in October 1933. Language became again, as in the first decade, the crucial arena of ethical and ideological struggle. Given the fact that “all poetry is in origin a social act, in which poet and people commune,”49 Ramos’s use of the vernacular—essentially magical and emotive—was a wager of affirming the communicative praxis of his art. His verses reflect constellations of feeling directed and controlled by the social ego, by necessities of his particular time and place, in order not only to interpret but to change the entire social order.50

From his youth, Ramos depended on his audience for realizing the value of his declamatory talent. Without the crowd of listeners and their responses, he is not an artist; with them he became poeta revolucionario.51 He forfeited the individualist hubris of Villa and chose the task of actualizing the popular virtues inherent in the tradition of revolutionary Tagalog writing. Under the aegis of winning hegemony for the plebeian citizenry, “popular” art means (in Brecht’s aphoristic lexicon) “intelligible to the broad masses, taking over their own forms of expression and enriching them/adopting and consolidating their standpoint /representing the most progressive section of the people in such a way that it can take over the leadership: thus intelligible to other sections too / linking with tradition and carrying it further /handing on the achievements of the section of the people that is struggling for the lead.”52

I quote Ramos’s “Filipinas,” composed in the  transitional years 1929–1930, before he was expelled from the colonial bureaucracy and committed himself to the redemption of its victims:

Kay-rami ng layak nitong aking Bayan!

Kay-rami ng dumi, kay-rami ng sukal!

Pati na ang hanging aking pagkabuhay

kung aking langhapin ay may amoy-bangkay!

Nasaan ang aking mga iniibig, ang mga anak kong may pusong malinis? Nahan ang panulat na namimilansik upang ang kadimla’y mawala sa langit? Nahan ang matapang na mga makatang tutula ng aking puhunang dalita? Nahan ang maraming anak na nanumpang tutubusin ako sa aking pagluha? Kung kahapon ako’y inapi ng Dasal ngayon ay lalo pang kaapi-apihan. Namatay ang aking Magiting na Rizal at patuloy pa rin ang kanyang kaaway.

Ang mga lupa kong kinuha’t ginaga,

nahan, o anak ko, nangabalik na ba?

At kung hangga ngayo’y di mo nakukuha

ano’t natitiis na ululin ka pa? 53

 

Unlike the typical didactic and moralizing poems that were commodified in the mass periodicals, Ramos’s poem departs by ascribing this lament of sorrows to the maternal figure of the nation. This follows a long allegorical tradition from Hermenegildo Flores’s “Hibik ng Filipinas sa Ynang España”54 to “Joselynang Baliwag” and Bonifacio’s “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa.”55 The imagistic cluster of pollution, abandonment, mourning, and dispossession suggests a miserable predicament that cries for urgent remedy, so antithetical to the utopian pastorals of Fernando Amorsolo and his counterparts in literature.56 The tone is simultaneously elegiac and hortatory. Not only does the poem advance the popular tradition, enriching and transmitting to the next generation the standpoint of the masses, but it also challenges the “children” to assume leadership. The mother’s exhortation to reclaim the stolen homeland and to stop enduring great privations invokes Rizal, the national icon and martyr.

We observe in the structure of Ramos’s poem the dialectic between land/blood and the ideals of sovereignty and sacrifice for collective liberation. Abstract, rhetorical notions of patriotism and autonomy are concretized in intelligible terms (more vividly nuanced in many poems collected by Delfin Tolentino Jr. in Gumising Ka, Aking Bayan). The poet’s fidelity to the struggle for liberation is unequivocal and uncompromising. While Ramos is generally censured for being a “traitor” by sympathizing with the Japanese anti-US imperialism during the war—a still contentious issue that defies stereotypical reductionism57—there is no doubt that, on the whole, Ramos’s poetic achievement may be taken as the most eloquent, innovative expression of the national-democratic imagination in the first three decades of American domination. Not even the eloquent “social justice” slogan of Quezon could distract from the Sakdal’s collective dream of emancipation, as passionately voiced by Salud Algabre58 in the vernacular. Ramos’s speech-acts effectively communicated to a people yearning for dignity and self-determination, at a conjuncture where the commodification of the slogan of “independence” seduced the more privileged stratum of the citizenry whose preferred language (English) detached them from the pain, joy, anguish, and dreams of the majority of Filipinos. This situation of subalternity has worsened today in the neoliberal intensification of commodity-fetishism against which progressive Filipino artists are uniting with cultural activists in other countries, just as Rizal, de los Reyes, Ramos, and the Philippine Writers League did in the last turbulent century.–##

Notes 1. John Dunn, Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 62. 2. Horace Davis, Toward a Marxist Theory of Nationalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978). 3. Roger Scruton, A Dictionary of Political Thought (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982), 421. 4. V. I. Lenin, National Liberation, Socialism, and Imperialism (New York: International Publishers); Epifanio San Juan Jr., “Nation-State, Postcolonial Thought, and Global Violence,” Social Analysis 46, no. 2 (Summer 2002): 11–32. 5. For a succinct formulation, see David Harvey, “The Geography of Capitalist Accumulation: A Reconstruction of the Marxian Theory,” in Radical Geography, edited by Richard Peet (Chicago: Maroufa Press, 1977). 6. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983). 7. Eric Hobsbawm, Worlds of Labour (New York: Pantheon, 1984). 8. Renato Constantino, The Philippines: A Past Revisited (Quezon City: Tala Publishing Services, 1975), 143. san juan jr. Charting the Emergence 265 9. Otto Bauer, quoted in Michael Lowry, Fatherland or Mother Earth? (London: Photo Press, 1998), 46; Davis, Toward a Marxist Theory. 10. Teodoro A. Agoncillo and Milagros Guerrero, History of the Filipino People (Quezon City: R. P. Garcia Publishing Co., 1979), 143. 11. Ibid., 156. 12. Teodoro A. Agoncillo, The Writings and Trial of Andres Bonifacio (Manila: Mayor Villegas Office and the University of the Philippines, 1963), 69. 13. Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961). 14. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 418. 15. Epifanio San Juan Jr., Between Empire and Insurgency. (Quezon City: University of the Phiippines Press, 2015). 16. Resil B. Mojares, Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T. H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes and the Production of Modern Knowledge (Quezon City: Ateneo University Press, 2006); William Henry Scott, Cracks in the Parchment Curtain (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1982); Benedict Anderson, Under Three Flags (New York: Verso, 2005). 17. Gregorio Zaide, Great Filipinos in History (Manila: Verde Book Store, 1970), 461. 18. Rainier Werning, Crown, Cross and Crusaders (Essen, Germany: Nerlag Neuer Meg, 2011), 88. 19. Mojares, Brains of the Nation, 363. 20. Jim Richardson, Komunista (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2011), 21. 21. Lope K. Santos, Banaag at Sikat (Manila: Manlapaz Publishing Co., 1960), 236. 22. On this issue, see Maria Luisa Torres-Reyes, Banaag at Sikat: Metakrisismo at Antolohiya (Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2010). On his refusal to commodify his novel, see his autobiography, Lope K. Santos, Talambuhay ni Lope K. Santos, Paham ng Wika, ed. Paraluman S. Aspillera (Quezon City: Capital Publishing House, 1972), 70–71. 23. Soldedad Reyes, Nobelang Tagalog, 1905–1975 (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1982), 45. 24. Bertolt Brecht, “The Popular and the Realistic,” in Marxist on Literature: An Anthology, ed. David Cring (Baltimore, MO: Penguin, 1975), 424. 25. Alfredo Saulo, Communism in the Philippines (Quezon City: Ateneo University Press, 1990), 7. 26. Samuel A. Tan, The Filipino-American War, 1899–1913 (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2002) 176. 27. V. G. Kiernan, “Nation,” in A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, ed. Tom Bottomore (Cambridge, MA: 1983), 344. 28. Agoncillo and Guerrero, History, 298–300. 29. Teodoro A. Agoncillo, Filipino Nationalism, 1872–1970 (Quezon City: R. P. Garcia Publishing Co., 1974), 31. 30. Constantino, A Past Revisited, 270–74. 31. Monico Atienza, Bayan Ko (Quezon City: College of Arts and Letters Publications Office, University of the Philippines, 1955), 194. 266 philippine modernities 32. Quoted in Virgilio S. Almario, ed., Jose Corazon de Jesus: Mga Piling Tula (Manila: Aklat Balagtasan, 1984), 35. 33. John Beverly and Marc Zimmerman, Literature and Revolution in the Central American Revolutions (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1990), 16. 34. Salvador P. Lopez, “Literature and Society—A Literary Past Revisited,” in Literature and Society: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, ed. Roger Bresnohan (Manila: United States Information Service, 1976), 9. 35. Salvador P. Lopez. Literature and Society (Manila: University Publishing Co., 1940), 117–18. 36. Salvador P. Lopez, “Literature and Society,” in Affirming the Filipino, ed. Ma. Teresa Martinez- Sicat and Naida Rivera (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Department of English, 2004), 297, 303. 37. Herbert Schneider, “The Period of Emergence of Philippine Letters,” in Brown Heritage: Essays in Philippines Cultural Tradition and Literature, ed. Antonio Monsod (Quezon City: Ateneo University Press, 1967), 587. 38. Narciso Reyes, “Lupang Tinubuan,” in Ang Maikling Kathang Tagalog, ed. A. G. Abadilla, F. B. Sebastian, and A. G. G. Mariano (Manila: Beda’s Publishing House, 1954), 148. 39. Epifanio San Juan Jr., Toward Filipino Self-Determination (Albany: SUNY Press, 2009). 40. Bienvenido Lumbera and Cynthia Lumbera, Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology (Manila: National Book Store, 1982), 116. 41. After him, the most illustrious was Amado V. Hernandez, whose activism in the Fifties and Sixties is beyond the scope of this article; for Ramos’s influence on Hernandez, see Almario Balagtasismo Versus Modernismo (Quezon City: Ateneo University Press, 1984). 42. Horacio de la Costa, Readings in Philippine History (Manila: Bookmarks, 1965), 268. 43. Stanley Karnow, In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines (New York: Random House, 1989). 44. Agoncillo and Guerrero, History, 418. 45. See Barrington Moore Jr., Social Origins of Democracy and Dictatorships (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966.) 46. Constantino, A Past Revisited, 370. 47. Ibid. 48. Quoted in Lumbera, “Literary Relations,” 311. 49. George Thompson, Marxism and Poetry (New York: International Publishers, 1946), 58. 50. Christopher Caudwell, Illusion and Reality (New York: International Publishers, 1937). 51. Almario, Balagtasismo Versus Modernismo, 17. 52. Brecht, “The Popular,” 423. 53. Benigno Ramos, Gumising Ka, Aking Bayan, ed. Delfin Tolentino Jr., (Quezon City: Ateneo University Press, 1998), 180. 54. Reynaldo Ileto, Filipinos and Their Revolution (Quezon City: Ateneo University Press, 1998), 11. 55. 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