Chapter 3 (Excerpt from AFTER POSTCOLONIALISM by E. San Juan/Rowman & Littlefield)
WRITING AGAINST EMPIRE
I repeat that the so-called anarchists, nihilists, or as they say nowadays, Bolsheviks, are the true saviours and disinterested defenders of justice and universal brotherhood…. I took advantage of the occasion to put into practice the good ideas I had learned from the anarchists of Barcelona who were imprisoned with me in the infamous Castle of Montjuich.
–ISABELO DE LOS REYES
Of all the ends to which the writer may dedicate his talents, none is more worthy than the improvement of the condition of man and the defense of his freedom.
Any act of envisioning the future requires a mapping of our past and current locations. Where are we now? Where did we come from? Where are we heading to? Postality–post-colonial, post-industrial, even post-revolutionary–seems to characterize the current impasse in modern critical thought. Inaugurated by the United Nation’s bombing of Iraq for occupying the territory of another nation (Kuwait), the post-Cold War era we inhabit today may be as far removed from the Enlightenment vision of a cosmopolitan world culture (expressed, for example, in Goethe’s notion of a Weltliteratur) as the years when this century opened with the Boer Wars in South Africa, the Boxer rebellion against foreign incursions in China, and the Spanish-American War. Our postmodern conjuncture is in fact distinguished by ethnic particularisms and by the valorization of the aleatory, contingent, and heterogeneous–all symptoms of a more profound structural crisis.
Globalization is the proposed answer, an internationalism that transcends national boundaries. But, in truth, the ideal of internationalism presupposes a plurality of nation-states asymmetrically ranked in a conflict-ridden global market. It thrives on national differences since “world interdependence has diffused balance of power considerations and transformed them into a balance of terror” (Smith 1979, 196). As long as the ethnic archive persists amid the homogenizing secular ideals of modernization and liberal individualism that subtend the policies of most states, an order grounded on exchange-value and the logic of capital accumulation, nationalism will remain a major if not decisive force shaping the economic, political and ideological contours of the “New World Order.” I want to stress a warning here: nationalism is a phenomenal form whose content is part of a concrete dynamic totality that we must try to grasp if we do not want to succumb to all the excesses (fascism, ethnic cleansing) stemming from reifying or fetishizing only a part (Lefebvre 1968). Nationalism as a world phenomenon is thus a historically determinate process of group-identity formation with diverse manifestations and ramifications. In the project of constructing the national-popular (in Gramsci’s sense), the form of the “nation” loses its essentialist quality (embodied in pettybourgeois cultural nationalism or cultural populism) when it affirms its contestatory socialist content. How is national-democratic writing as a cultural practice and expressive habitus in the Philippines configured in this dialectic of identity and difference?
Before venturing to answer this question, I would like to illustrate how the Filipino first entered the U.S. imperial imaginary as an image or figure of the Other–the ethnic alien/stranger–before his national identity could be ascertained or asserted. By comprehending the historic modalities of this representation, a production of axiomatic knowledge subtending imperial power delineated in the previous chapters, it would be possible to appreciate the Filipino struggle for seizing the space for a project of national-democratic allegory. On the rationale of this retrospective, I advert to Marx’s theoretical insight concerning the problem of persistence or “active anachronism” of past cultural formations whose material infrastructure may have disappeared but whose values and meanings continue to exercise a powerful impact on the present (Mulhern 1992).
The genealogy of this allegorical metanarrative begins from a critique of colonial and neocolonial epistemology embodied in anthropology, humanistic research, art criticism, and so on, deployed in U.S. ideological state apparatuses. It proceeds toward a didactic and pragmatic articulation of ideals unfolded in “guerilla” theater (inventoried by Doreen Gamboa Fernandez in her substantial book Palabas and Eugene Van Erven in The Playful Revolution), in underground publications put out by armed partisans, or in recent commercial films like Bata, Bata, Paano ka ginawa? Bienvenido Lumbera (1997) has surveyed the emancipatory and subversive tendencies in recent popular culture and films crafted by Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, and Ricardo Lee since the end of martial law. The ineluctable subtext to which they all respond is the U.S. template of the Filipino as the object of its civilizing crusade (revitalized today with the Visiting Forces Agreement) which begets its contradictory, nationalist rebellion and its unpredictable ramifications.
Stigmata from “Manifest Destiny”
The closing year of this millenium signals the end of the centennial celebration of the Philippine Revolution against Spain, and marks the beginning of the centennial anniversary of the Filipino-American War ironically celebrated by Mark Twain in his journalistic slogan: “Thirty thousand [American soldiers] killed a million [Filipinos].” In 1899, Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem, “The White Man’s Burden” subtitled “The United States and the Philippine Islands,” the latter inhabited by “Your new-caught sullen peoples, / Half-devil and half-child….” Although the historical matrix of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent U.S. colonial domination of the Philippines is complex, a quote from Sen. Albert Beveridge’s speech urging English-speaking Teutonic peoples to “establish system where chaos reigns” and to govern “savage and senile peoples.” The Filipinos have no right to independence because they are not a “self-governing race…What alchemy will change the Oriental quality of their blood and set the self-governing currents of the American pouring through their Malay veins?” (quoted in Wilden 1987, 30). Sanguinary rhetoric of this kind heralded the flow of U.S. commodities and the concomitant transubstantiation of Filipino bodies into cash (surplus and exchange values).
As Agnes Smedley (1993) and other commentators have observed, the late 19th and early 20th century witnessed the rise of eugenics, Social Darwinism, and the pseudoscientific measurement of phenotypical and genetic characteristics as the ideological legitimation of “Manifest Destiny” for the Anglo-Saxon race. Bourgeois society, in contrast to feudal or tributary social formations, deploys various legitimation schemes to supplement violence and other coercive means. Given the lessons of social engineering applied on the American Indians, the U.S. colonial bureaucracy mobilized a whole corps of social scientists, primarily anthropologists, linguists, educators, and geographers, to prepare the ground for its hegemony (which, by the way, necessarily implies concessions to the subaltern and astute patronage).
Quite exemplary is the role of Dean Worcester (1921), professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, who was appointed by President McKinley to the first Philippine Commission in 1899 on the basis of his knowledge of zoological specimens collected in the Philippines. Worcester later wrote a book denouncing the barbaric practices of slavery and peonage of the Muslims in the Philippines (for a critique of Worcester, see Adamkiewicz 1994). In 1914, an article appeared in the New York Evening Post exposing Worcester’s not so impartial stance, given his employment by a corporation (the American-Philippine Company) profiting from exploiting the natural resources of the newly acquired territory:
The earnest labors of Dean Conant Worcester, for thirteen years Secretary of the Interior in the Philippine Islands, in violent opposition to the policy of the present National Administration as regards the islands, for example, might lose somewhat of their moral force if by any chance it should be found that Mr. Worcester embodied not so much an altruistic devotion to the welfare of the Filipinos as concern for sufficiently legitimate but relatively selfish commercial interests in the Philippines, whose prosperity might seem likely to be curtailed should the Filipinos acquire control of their own government (New York Evening Post, Jan. 21, 1914).
In order to buttress the rationality of its civilizing mission, the ruling elite of the United States, like previous European colonizers, operationalized a worldview of evolutionary progress. This paradigm of development—from a lower to a higher stage—required taxonomic and other classificatory mechanisms in order to hierarchize humans into categories deemed natural. In Worcester’s classification of tribes (similar to his table of birds), Filipinos were ranked from the Negritos, the lowest in mental and physical characteristics, to the highest, the Indonesians of Mindanao. Roxanne Doty comments: “This classificatory scheme, this rhetorical supplement to colonialism’s divide and rule strategy, permitted the assertion that the Filipinos did not constitute ‘a people’ or a ‘nation” (1996, 37). The natives were portrayed as “a very peculiar mass, a heterogeneous compound of inefficient humanity,” “a jumble of savage tribes” that cried for order and pacification. Like the Negro, Chinaman and Indian, Filipinos were “alien races…incapable of civilized self-government (Doty 1996, 43). Mounting peaceful resistance within the United States, Sixto Lopez, a Filipino intellectual sponsored by the New England anti-Imperialist League, countered that the Filipinos were a homogeneous people not so much because of their Malayan identity but rather because “they are opposed not solely to American but to any foreign rule; and they are united in the desire for independence and for the purpose of maintaining a stable, independent government” (Lopez 1900).
After the killing of a million of those “savage tribes,” the U.S. civil government in the Philippines was able to transport over a hundred speciments of their survivors to the 1904 St. Louis Industrial Exposition. Inspect the photographs of these exhibits of the Negrito and the Igorot in the recent volume Confrontations Crossings and Convergence (de la Cruz and Baluyut 1998). With proper guidance and exposure to Western material cultures, the wild Bontoc Igorot boy can be transformed in nine years into a gentleman via sartorial alteration. The spatial juxtaposition of the photo before donning Western clothes and after syncopates the passage of time here, but it reflects also the underlying allochrony and temporal distancing—the denial of coevalness between natives and Western colonizers—that anthropology and other modes of scientific knowledge-production resort to in order to generate inferior “Others” and establish disciplinary control over them (Fabian 1983).
Spectacle is an instrument of reinforcing the obvious, underlining the reality of what is given or the received status quo. Instrumentalized techno/biopolitics enters the scene. Photography or the institution of public fairs (as evidenced in the St. Louis Exposition) derives its functionality within the larger project of civil order, the class hegemony of the bourgeoise based on capital accumulation (Fast 1973). The control of behavior so as to extract surplus value from the labor power of these bodies demanded surveillance, conceived as the “bureaucratic, managerial and disciplinary form” of spectacle (W. J. T. Mitchell quoted in De la Cruz and Baluyut 1998, 18). Schools and prisons are the most visible forms of disciplinary technology implemented by modernizing colonial powers. The Bilibid Prison in Manila, Philippines, for example, used a manual of “Philippine Types,” including Christians and Moros, to index “criminal types” in the manner of Cesar Lombroso and other taxonomic classifiers.
A film documentary entitled Savage Acts and Fairs, produced by the American Social History Project in 1995, has detailed the mobilization of world fairs from 1893 to 1904 as a complex ideological apparatus to construct an American national identity and its civilizing mission around racial hierarchy. Others have argued that the mystique of U.S. Manifest Destiny revitalized at the turn of the century invented the supremacy of “imperial whiteness” by subjugating Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, and Hawaiians as the benighted “others” without whom order, morality, and progress would have remained empty ciphers. Since then the alterity or “otherness” of the Filipino has functioned to guarantee the imperial authority of the American Self.
Ever since the St. Louis Exposition when Igorots (tribal mountain groups) from
the new possessions called “the Philippine Islands” were exhibited to the U.S. public, the Filipino image has always served the “civilizing mission” of the colonizer. Unlike the Chinese and Japanese stereotypes, the Filipino “enigma” as it was then perceived was interpreted within the framework of the U.S. experience with the “ferocious” and belligerent Indians of the Western frontier at the turn of the century and the Mexican “bandidos” who challenged U.S. power. The dark-skinned Filipinos also fitted the emergent apartheid system of the post-Reconstruction period. Modes of representing the colonized Other resonated with the ideological shifts in the hegemonic rule over the “internal colonies” of American Indians, slaves from Africa, and subjugated Mexicans.
At first viewed as wild savages, the Filipino “racial type” shifted from the African category to the Asian one: Filipino guerillas in the first decades of the century resisting U.S. pacification appeared wily, devious, recalcitrant. Anthropology paved the way for the use of jurisprudence, the penal system, the annual census and surveys, and more quantifying forms of surveillance accompanying military conquest. The photographs of primitive types gathered by the colonial bureaucracy in the first three decades of U.S. rule soon gave way to the spectacle of unruly migrant workers on strike in Hawaii, California, and Washington in the thirties (see photographs in Pearls [Bock 1979]). The “oversexed” Filipino depicted in the media was attacked and stigmatized, then driven out. Soon the pariahs metamorphosed. With the sacrifices of Filipinos for the U.S. empire in World War II, the Filipino image changed into the successfully Americanized native–until its latest mutation into the dual “good” and “bad” Filipino during and after the Cold War era. The portrayal of a neocolonized subject like the Filipino is governed by what Roland Barthes calls the “studium” of a racializing apparatus with a predictable code, while the “punctum” of the Filipino image reveals a space open for articulating what is hidden or repressed: the national-popular subject on the margins of the labor market and the semifeudal countryside.
In recent years, positivist and abstract empiricist thought found in the dominant academic commentary on the Philippines has led to the now fashionable neoliberal apologia of imperialism in scholarship by American experts like David Steinberg, Peter Stanley, and others. One flagrant example already dealt with is Karnow’s In Our Image (1989; see San Juan 1998) alluded to earlier, an apologetic exercise that over-extends itself with the egregious blaming of the natives for submitting to their own oppression. This is just a notch removed from the old habit of calling the backward natives “nigger, gook, slant, heathen, pagan” (Keen 1988)–epithets applied to Filipinos at various times. With the postmodernist trend in anthropology, we get a reflexive but subjectivist interrogation of the old functionalist approach exemplified by Worcester and others. Before the postmodernist reaction, however, critical voices have already been raised about the complicity of social science research with the classic colonial project. While noting their sympathetic recording of indigenous forms of life, Western anthropologists, according to Talad Asad, have contributed “towards maintaining the structure of power represented by the colonial system…. Its analyses—of holistic politics most of all—were affected by a readiness to adapt to colonial ideology” (1973, 17-18). A recent example is the Tasaday hoax (Berreman 1990; San Juan 1998) perpetrated by the National Geographic magazine and assorted American academics and publicists in collusion with the bureaucrats and business cronies of the Marcos dictatorship.
Heedless of the continuing unequal power relationship between the “third world” and the metropole, though more sophisticated in other ways, postmodernists subsume everything into discourse, or discursive formations, removed from what Bakhtin would call the dialogical communicative context. Here is James Clifford’s well-intentioned but somehow naively disingenuous comment on the photograph of an Igorot in his influential book The Predicament of Culture:
Several years ago, while doing archival research on the history of ethnographic photographs, I found in a file a face that stuck like “an overly insistent friend, like a too-faithful regret, like a mute wanting to ask a question.” No amount of flipping through other files—countless images of Indians, Africans, Melanesians, Eskimos—could fan this face away. Nor could I penetrate its fixed, eloquent silence.
The archive’s caption records an “Igorot Man” (brought from the Philippine Highlands to be exhibited at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis). If we look intimately into this face, what disturbances appear behind? (Don’t turn around.) (1988, 163).
The disturbances do not lurk behind but around us, implicating us. We do not have to invoke the image of the “noble savage” to compensate for the damage inflicted by the ideological apparatus of the machinery of capital accumulation on colonized peoples (Solomos and Back 1996). In all the territories where the present descendants of the “Igorot man” are found, there has been fierce and protracted resistance to United States military bases (before it was removed in 1992), airplanes, weaponry, and the attendant toxic wastes destroying the fields, forests, and rivers where millions lived. Like the writers in English and Pilipino noted here, indigenous visual artists are now representing themselves, their people, mediated by the actions of the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front’s political maneuvers to develop a counterhegemonic national popular consensus. Clearly, the problem of representation has been resolved by the discourse of collective action, a pragmatics of transformative communication (Fraser 1997). As the new representatives of this “fourth world” strategy formulates the distinction without implying any exclusive binary opposition: “Ours is a struggle of existence, theirs is a more profound issue of humanity’s survival” (Duhaylungsod and Hyndman 1997). In any case, contrary to what postcolonial pundits allege, the subalterns demonstrate that they can indeed speak and represent themselves with cogency and tactical astuteness.
Recovering the Alter/Native
Let us return to the inaugural or “primal” scene of colonial aggression at the turn of the century. When the United States occupied the Philippines by military force at the turn of the century, a Filipino nation had already been germinating in over 200 revolts against Spanish colonialism. Filipino intellectuals of the Propaganda Movement (1872-1896) had already implanted the Enlightenment principles of rationality, civic humanism, and autonomy (sovereignty of all citizens) in the program of the revolutionary forces of the Katipunan and the first Philippine Republic. At the outset, the Propagandistas–Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, etc.–used the Spanish language to appeal to an enlightened local and European audience in demanding reforms. With the aim of conscientization, Rizal’s novels, Noli Me Tangere (1887) and El Filibusterismo (1891), incorporated all the resources of irony, satire, heteroglossia (inspired by Cervantes and Rabelais), and the conventions of European realism to criticize the abuses of the Church and arouse the spirit of self-reliance and sense of dignity in the subjugated natives. For his subversive and heretical imagination, Rizal was executed–a sacrifice that serves as the foundational event for all Filipino writing.
Although a whole generation of insurrectionist writers (the most distinguished is Claro Recto) created a “minor” literature in Spanish, only Rizal registered in the minds of Spaniards like Miguel de Unamuno. In effect, Hispanization failed. In 1985, when I visited Havana, Cuba, I found Rizal’s two novels newly reprinted and avidly read–a crosscultural recuperation, it seems, of a popular memory shared by two peoples inhabiting two distant continents but victimized by the same Western powers.
In 1898, the Philippines then became U.S. territory open for the “tutelage” of its civilizing mission. Among other ideological apparatuses, the English language and American literary texts, as well as the pedagogical agencies for propagating and teaching them, were mobilized to constitute the natives of the Philippine archipelago as subjects of the U.S. nation-state. In sum, then, American English was used by the colonial authorities when the United States military suppressed the Filipino revolutionary forces and its Republic while waging war against the moribund Spanish empire. Language became an adjunct of the imperial machinery of conquest and subjugation. Bakhtin’s notions of monoglossia and heteroglossia can be deployed to elucidate how language functions as the vehicle for enforcing the hegemonic rule of a social bloc over a polyglot mass of subjects. The “otherness” of Filipinos comprised of multiple speech-genres and semantic worlds eventually yielded to a unitary medium of communication enforced in government, business, media, and the public sphere. American English became the language of prestige and aspiration.
Just as an independent Filipino nation was being born harnessing the vernacular speech of peasants and workers, U.S. imperial hubris intervened. Its conquest of hegemony or consensual rule was literally accomplished through the deployment of English as the official medium of business, schooling, and government. This pedagogical strategy was designed to cultivate an intelligentsia, a middle stratum divorced from its roots in the plebian masses, who would service the ideological apparatus of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. Americanization was mediated through English sanctioned as the language of prestige and aspiration.
Meanwhile, the vernacular writers (the true organic intellectuals of an emergent populus), who voiced the majority will for sovereignty against U.S. “Manifest Destiny,” sustained the libertarian Jacobin heritage of the Propagandists. Witness to this were Lope K. Santos, author of the first “social realist”–more precisely, anarcho-syndicalist–novel Banaag at Sikat (1906), and Isabelo de los Reyes, founder of the first labor union and of the Philippine Independent Church, both of whom were deeply influenced by Victor Hugo, Proudhon, Bakunin, and the socialist movement inspired by Marx and Engels. As I argued in my book Reading the West/Writing the East, “vernacular discourse articulated a process of dissolving the interiority of the coherent, unitary subject” (91) in texts that dramatized the breakdown of taboos (what Deleuze and Guattari call “territorializing” codes) and the release of Desire in the sociolibidinal economy of violence and delirium. What Santos, Reyes, and the seditious dramatists neglected is to privilege the agenda of seizing the means of artistic-cultural production, a task emphasized by Walter Benjamin (1978) in his instructive address, “The Author as Producer.”
While U.S. imperial power preserved the tributary order via the institutionalization of patronage in all levels of society, the use of English by apprentice-writers fostered individualism through the modality of aesthetic vanguardism. Personal liberation displaced the dream of national sovereignty. The overt and subterranean influence of the “Lost Generation” (Anderson, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein) on Jose Garcia Villa and his contemporaries shaped the content and direction of Philippine writing in English from the twenties to the sixties. Internationalism in this case took the form of imitation of U.S. styles of private revolt against alienation in bourgeois society. While Villa enacted the role of the native as Prometheus and achieved a measure of recognition by the U.S. New Criticism in the fifties, he has never been included in the U.S. literary canon (Lopez 1976, 11). In encyclopedias and directories, Villa has always been identified as a “Filipino” writer. Interred in the pantheon of formalist mannerism, his ethnic signature survives only in his name, though the lyric subjectivity of the persona he invented and the anonymous inwardness of the avantgarde pose he affected are thoroughly saturated with social motivations and the dense textures of Villa’s metropolitan milieu (San Juan 1996b).
The Philippine Commonwealth (1935-46) epitomized the transitional, in-between zone of engagement for beleaguered nationalists. However, the victory of English over the vernacular speeches of Filipinos (a heterogenous mass of ethnic and religious communities artificially unified by Spanish and U.S. colonialism) could not be unilateral and definitive. The power of language precisely inheres in its ability to coopt, absorb, or incorporate others, in a precarious and unstable synchronic order. This is because language is itself a transitory and mutable balance of multiple conflicting forces whose integrity is contingent on the shifting configuration of those forces. Bakhtin writes in The Dialogic Imagination: “At any given moment of its historical existence, language is heteroglot from top to bottom: it represents the co-existence of socio-ideological contradictions between the present and the past, between differing socio-ideological groups in the present, between tendencies, schools, circles and so forth.” Alterity then defines the nationalized usage system of English (or any language, for that matter) even as it is used to constitute and instrumentalize unitary subjects for colonial administrative ends. While the Filipinos had no choice except to submit to the imposition of American English in order to survive and gain a measure of autonomy, their use of English in literary and public discourse demonstrates an ethics of utterance that challenges colonial power. The colonizer’s language is then abrogated and reappropriated for the purpose of critique and transformation. I analyze examples of early and later modernist writings (prose and poetry) in English by Filipinos to illustrate the carnivalesque potential of English, the discovery of multiaccentual signifiers, what Mikhail Bakhtin calls “double-voiced” words or words with loopholes. In various modalities of communication, Filipino mimicry of American English sought to explode the “Ptolemaic” universe of colonial regimentation and release the “Galilean” potential of language to articulate contradictions and incommensurable differences. Within the sign as an arena of struggle, a Filipino “English” is born.
In my book The Philippine Temptation, I tried to illustrate the intertextuality of the varying practices of Filipino writers in English and their resonance with the vernacular and borrowed traditions. My purpose in doing so accords with Bakhtin’s central insight that complex political, ideological, and social conflicts in any society permeate and constitute the play of language and discourse in and between societies offers a heuristic point of departure for a more historically informed “postcolonial” inquiry into the field of world literature written in English, or “englishes.” It has become academic consensus by now that the canonical language of Shakespeare and Milton and its literary conventions cannot be imposed as a universal standard for appraising the value of writing in ex-colonized formations (for instance, Australia, Canada, India, among others) without resurrecting the specter of imperial domination and racial subordination. Notwithstanding the notion of “American exceptionalism,” this applies also to the American English of Hawthorne, Whitman, and Henry James as the canonical standard for judging and evaluating the works of the racialized “minorities” in North America: African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
The literary history of Filipino writing in English thus exhibits a more tangled and labyrinthine surface than official histories would admit. Given the complex historical background absent in most textbooks that I have sketched here, writing in English in the Philippines is no doubt an ideological practice firmly imbricated in the conflicts and ambiguities of subaltern existence. If we deploy a historical contextualization of the field of writing practices, we will see that English is only one “language game,” or one choice in the means of cultural production amid a space where electronic visual communication (television, video, cinema), together with its protean “commodity aesthetics” (Haug), predominates. In fact, Filipino English can be construed as only one kind of vernacular medium or vehicle with a fairly limited, and even shrinking, audience within a decolonizing but assuredly not yet postcolonial site of multifarious antagonisms. The sign, indeed, is one strategic arena of political struggle.
A breakthrough in the conformist practice of imperial speech-acts occurred in the thirties. It was the global crisis of capitalism and the intense peasant dissidence throughout the islands that impelled Salvador P. Lopez, Teodoro Agoncillo, and others to mount a challenge to U.S. hegemonic authority and the threat of fascism by establishing the Philippine Writers League (1939-41). For them, nation signified the working people, the producers of social wealth, whose alignment with the anti-fascist insurgency in Europe and Asia invested with apocalyptic Jetztzeit (Walter Benjamin’s term) the solidarity of all the victims of capital. For the first time, the insurrectionary legacy of 1896 was rediscovered and utilized for grassroots empowerment. We find this stance of nationalist internationalism in the fiction of Manuel Arguilla and Arturo Rotor, in the novels of Juan C. Laya, in the essays of Jose Lansang, S. P. Lopez, Angel Baking, Renato Constantino, and the massive testimonies of Carlos Bulosan. For the first time, writers in English rallied together with the vernacular artists (among others, Jose Corazon de Jesus, Faustino Aguilar, and Amado V. Hernandez) to affirm the dialectical interaction between spiritual creativity and radical mobilization, even though the protest against continuing U.S. domination had to be sublimated into the worldwide united front against fascism.
The praxis of Filipino national allegory was thus born in the conjuncture of what was desired and what was exigent. It was conceived in this hiatus between the project of liberating the homeland (from Japanese invaders) and the defense of popular democracy everywhere. Consequently, it sublated 19th-century bourgeois nationalism in the heuristic trope of what came to be known as “national democratic revolution.” This allegory is not the antithesis of social realism but its sublation into a dialectically mediated form of communication. It combines observation and explanation, ethics and politics, expressing what Filipinos want to be and how things are, unmasking fetishisms and protesting against them, at the same time conceiving of the possibilities for change based on the plasticity of history (when read from the viewpoint of the exploited producers). Deploying this stance of critique, I adapt Theodor Adorno’s “determinate negation” to the unravelling of this sociopolitical conjuncture, a mode of dialectical thinking which Fredric Jameson describes as “a consciousness of contradiction which resists the latter’s solution, its dissolution either into satiric positivism and cynical empiricism on the one hand, or into utopian positivity on the other” (1990, 131).
The exemplary practitioner of this allegorical mode was Carlos Bulosan, a worker-exile in the U.S. from the early Depression to the beginning of the Cold War. His now classic ethnobiography, America Is in the Heart (1948), synthesized the indigenous tradition of antifeudal revolt in the Philippines with the multiracial workers’ uprising in the West Coast and Hawaii against racist exploitation. Bulosan’s art expressed his partisanship for popular/radical democracy. It demonstrated his faith in the intelligence of people of color–Reason’s cunning, in the old adage–rooted in cooperative labor. His sympathy with Republican Spain beleaguered by fascism coincided with his union organizing against racist violence in the U.S. and Japanese militarism ravaging his homeland. Because Bulosan’s sensibility was deeply anchored in the proletarian struggles of his time, he was able to capture the latent transformative impulses in his milieu as well as the emancipatory resonance of the realist-populist genealogy in U.S. literature: from Whitman to Twain, Dreiser to Richard Wright. In this he devised a performative typicality of characterization that fused the symbolic impetus of drama and the realist unfolding of trends in epic, a feat which Georg Lukacs considers formally impossible (1973). But the pretext here may be the popular-front politics of the thirties and the national-democratic strategy of the Huks in the forties and fifties. The prime exhibit is Bulosan’s novel The Power of the People (1972; reissued in 1995 as The Cry and the Dedication) whose thematic burden was to render in concrete incidents the reciprocal dynamics between the Huk uprising in the fifties against U.S. imperialism and its comprador allies, and the farmworkers’ agitation in the U.S. for equality and justice. Following the tradition of a feasible socialist realism, Bulosan’s art transformed “psychological conflicts into historical contradictions, subject as such to the corrective power of men” (Barthes 1972, 74). In contrast, the aesthetes who emulated Villa could only gesture toward, or parody, U.S. neoconservative styles and banalities ranging from the compromised liberalism of the welfare state to the slogans of religious fundamentalism, laissez-faire utilitarianism, and packaged postmodern fads fresh from the dream-factories of California and New York.
Despite Bulosan’s achievement, it remains the case that the vision of a nation-in-the-making sedimented in Filipino writing in English cannot be fully assayed except in antithesis to the metropolis. Since the sixties, however, the U.S. Establishment claim of truthfully representing the Filipino has entered a period of protracted crisis. For U.S. scholarship, Filipino writing in whatever language remains invisible, at best peripheral. Because Filipino writers challenging the realism of the center and the pathos of the status quo have not refused to abandon the theme of national/class emancipation, the now contested project of modernity given a subaltern inflection, they have not been so easily coopted by paternalistic praises and assimilated to the neoliberal multicultural canon. U.S. neoliberal ideology may accord formal rights to Filipino cultural identity, but does so only to deny recognition of its substantive worth.
This is then an appropriate juncture in which I would stress the hard lesson of historical critique and political extrapolation. What we need to inculcate in the sensibilities of every generation is how the “civilizing” ethos of global capital assumes new disguises at every stage of uneven development, and that oppositions and contradictions cannot be converted into a series of differences for the sake of celebrating a neoliberal pluralism without sacrificing the ultimate goal of justice, participatory democracy, and self-determination of peoples. An aesthetics of “postcolonial” difference or hybridity is a poor substitute for a politics of thoroughgoing popular-democratic transformation. What makes a real difference in the Philippine scene is the moment of recognition by the millions of the powerless and disenfranchised that their society can be changed if they can organize and act in order to alter iniquitous property/power relations radically. When performed by the masses, cultural criticism within the tradition of Rizal, Mabini, Lope K. Santos, Amado Hernandez, Salvador Lopez, Renato Constantino, and others becomes a handmaiden to the process of seizing the initiative and demanding full recognition and substantive equality.
Labor of the Negative
Writing finds itself historicized, so to speak, without knowing it. Unless the production of such discourse is historically situated, one cannot grasp its power of producing meaning and also comprehend what Foucault calls the knowledge/power combinatoire and its dual effects of inhibiting and in the same breath mobilizing people into action. Filipino scholar Nicanor Tiongson (1992) offered a version of this historicizing strategy by stipulating five questions that critics must address: 1) What is the content or message of the art-work? 2) How is this conveyed? 3) Who is transmitting it? 4) When and where did this art-work come into existence? And 5) For whom is this art-work? In a classic formulation “On Literature as an Ideological Form,” Etienne Balibar and Pierre Macherey (1992) have systematized the dialectical-materialist historicizing of criticism with more precise calibrations of the relative autonomy of the political, ideological, and aesthetic levels and their interanimation. In the Philippine context, Tiongson’s intervention is crucial because it rejects the reactionary poison of formalist aestheticism that American New Critics have inflicted on Filipino students and educators via Cold War channels. This imperative of contextualizing aesthetic form becomes more compelling if we accept Earl Miner’s theory that Asian poetics is fundamentally affective-expressive rather than mimetic or dramatic like European poetics in general, a distinction originating from unbridgeable socioeconomic disparities, in particular the asymmetries in the mode of production (82-87). Conversely Third World mimesis, unlike the Western kind, can be deciphered as ultimately allegorical and collective in meaning and motivation, as Fredric Jameson (1981) has so persuasively argued.
This view of a contextualized literary practice has even influenced oppositional trends. While theorists of postcolonial letters celebrate their difference as the part of Commonwealth/British literature that really matters, they have so far not claimed to appropriate Philippine writing in English as an illustration of what the authors of The Empire Writes Back call a “hybridized” or “syncretic” phenomenon” (1989, 180, 196). The reason is not far to seek: whether in the U.S. or in the Philippines, Filipino writers cannot escape the vocation of resistance against neo(not post)colonial forces gravitating around the World Bank-IMF, guarantors of transnational hegemony. They cannot shirk the task of reinventing the nation anew in a world where the eclectic pragmatism of the transnationals seeks to impose everywhere the internationalist mandate of Eurocentric supremacy. This program of reimagining the national-popular (in Gramsci’s terminology), not the state which has instrumentalized the nation, is not nationalist in the vulgar sense of seeking to preserve ethnic purity or instigate a cult of linguistic uniqueness; rather, it is “nationalist” in defense of the integrity of the work-process in a specific time-place. This nationalism inheres in affirming the dignity and worth of workers and peasants that constitute the nation-people for-itself in the ultimate analysis.
Whenever U.S. experts on the Philippines pronounce judgment on our literature, the implicit standard may be seen to originate from the notion of “tutelage.” In sum, U.S. knowledge-production of the truth about the “Filipino” rests in part on the organic metaphors of parent-child and tributary-stream, a figural strategy whose repetition endows U.S. representational authority with sacramental aura. In the 1969 Area Handbook for the Philippines, an official government baedeker, we read: “For the first two decades of the American occupation the short story suffered from a stiltedness of style when written in English, but, after the authors went through a period of practice in acquiring the idiom, excellent writing began to emerge” (Chaffee 1969, 140). This is repeated in subsequent editions, together with the citation of authors (Villa, Romulo, Nick Joaquin, N.V.M. Gonzalez) who acquired importance by being published in the United States. In addition to such marginalizing techniques, U.S. critical discourse also occluded the reality of resistance to its client regime (the Marcos dictatorship) by the tactic of omission. One evidence among others: after 1972, “themes shifted from social comment to a search for self-awareness and personal identification” (Vreeland 1976, 148). What actually happened was that “social comment” faced with government censorship either stopped, turned Aesopean, or went underground. Further, U.S. “postcolonial” will to categorize and subjugate its clients can be illustrated by the well-intentioned but patronizing comments of Donald Keene (in a review of an anthology of modern Filipino short stories): “…we are certainly fortunate that there are now Filipinos who can speak to us beautifully in our own language…[this collection] is an admirable testimony to the emergence of another important branch of English literature” (1962, 44).
One response to this strategy of incorporation by subsumption is the privileging of contradictions inscribed in the site of what is alter/native, the other of paranoid mastery. I submit that Philippine writing is not a “branch” of American or English literature; it is sui generis. This is not just a matter of “differences ‘within’ English writing” or embedded national traditions which Bill Ashcroft et al consider “the first and most vital stage in the process of rejecting the claims of the centre to exclusivity” (1989, 17). Nick Joaquin (1987), the most acclaimed portrait-painter of the petty-bourgeois Filipino, formulates the genealogy of his maturation as a process of awakening to the exuberant rituals of the folk and the pious gentry. After describing the itinerary of his education in the reading of American and British authors (from Dickens to Willa Cather), he finally discovers the Philippine folk-Catholic milieu of ceremonies and festivals which provide the raw materials for his imagination. While rightly denouncing the mechanical imitation of U.S. standards and styles, Joaquin seeks to locate the authenticity of Filipino creativity in a populist version of Christianity lodged in the psyche of characters resisting commodity fetishism–in The Woman Who Had Two Navels, Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, and Cave and Shadows. My provisional assessment of Joaquin’s oeuvre (see San Juan 1988) applies a combination of negative and positive hermeneutics to uncover the oppositional and emancipatory tendencies in texts which are generally regarded on the surface as nostalgic and pathetically anachronistic celebrations of a romanticized Hispanic legacy.
More problematic than this essentialist quest for an indigenous genius loci subordinated to Eurocentric Christianity is Joaquin’s idea of tradition as a cumulative inventory of the colonial past: Rizal was produced by 300 years of Spanish culture, Villa by 400 years (add about 100 years of American colonial tutelage) of Westernization, a frame of reference which includes for Joaquin “Adam and Eve, Abraham, Venus, St. Peter, Cinderella and the Doce Pares” (1982, 42). So Joaquin contends that “if Philippine writing in English is to be justified at all, it will have to assert its continuity with that particular process and development” of absorbing the Western episteme and the problematic of the Cartesian ego. Rather than a radical rupture with the past, Joaquin’s empiricist na‹vet‚ legitimizes a syncretic adaptation of European forms, values, knowledge–an internationalism which replicates the less subtle conditionalities of the World Bank-International Monetary Fund. Such a mimicry of colonial icons and paradigms springs from a myth of self-apprehension characterized by syncretism and hybridity, signs of “differance” so highly prized by the current theoreticians of postcolonial or minority discourse reacting to the master narratives of bourgeois freedom and progress.
But what would differentiate this axiom of syncretism from the doctrine of liberal pluralism (either postKeynesian or postFordist) under which the “New World Order” of the U.S., Japan, and the European Community seeks to redivide the world into their respective spheres of influence? Is nationalism, interpreted recently as a mode of “ethnic cleansing,” a genuine alternative? Is ethnocentric nativism (a return to the pasyon, various tribal mores, and other sectarian or autarchic practices) a viable option? How has Philippine writers succeeded in transcending the either/or dilemma of choosing between abrogation through appropriation, or unilaterally privileging the indigenous? Is Samir Amin’s universalist resolution of this predicament (proposed in his book Eurocentrism) a cogent way of breaking through the impasse?
As one response, I want to cite the example of the most celebrated Filipino writer in the United States today, Jessica Hagedorn, whose achievement is as problematic as the plight of the Filipino diaspora in the global marketplace. But one may hazard the following hypothesis. Moving from a postmodernist position of indifference to significant political and ideological contradictions, Hagedorn epitomizes a predicament shared by other “third world” or racialized minority intellectuals in the United States. Given the neocolonial dependency of the Philippines, her country of origin, and its vicissitudes during the Cold War, Hagedorn’s imagination could not transcend the limits of the vacillating petty-bourgeois imagination: her fiction centers on individual quests for identity. The reasoning behind this is furnished by Christopher Caudwell: “All art is conditioned by the conception of freedom which rules in the society that produces it… In bourgeois art man is conscious of the necessity of outer reality but not of his own, because he is unconscious of the society that makes him what he is” (1937, 297-98). Hagedorn evinces no comprehension of the objective necessity, the determinate conditions of possibility, of her own practice, her own compromised subject-position. She has been simultaneously domesticated and idolized as a cult figure by a neoconservative discourse centered on rhizomatics, nomadology, archipelagic poetics, liminality, and the fetishism of disjunctures and homelessness. Read via negative dialectics mindful of the pressures of racism, violence against subalterns of color, and patriarchal oppression, Hagedorn’s style and narrative strategy suffer a dis-integration that marks their singularity and realism. They begin to register the historical limits of the postmodern and postcolonial ideology of valorizing idiosyncratic differences over and above class, race, and gender. Her novel The Gangster of Love can be read as a national allegory of the Filipino sensibility triangulated by the force-field of imperial subjection, racial subordination, and sexist repression, while Dream Jungle parodies this mimesis in a highly self-conscious mannerist fashion. Her work may be taken to represent the cutting-edge of anti-“postcolonial” writing in the epoch of late or global capitalism in permanent crisis.
In Struggle Begins Responsibilities
Initiatives for a renewal of national allegory (see Jameson 1986), the renaissance of the national-popular imagination, might be witnessed in a critique of what I might call instrumental or culinary nationalism–the ideology and culture of the “New Society” of the Marcos regime drawn up by progressive intellectuals just after the February 1986 insurrection. It might be instructive to recall, in this context, how in Africa and Asia after the sixties, the triumph of elite nationalism led to the catastrophic disillusionment of writers who expected the radical transformation of society after independence. What the “passive revolution” (see Chatterjee 1986) ushered in was neocolonialism, not release from the bondage to capital. During the Marcos dictatorship, pseudohistorical propaganda and self-serving kitsch which manipulated symbols of the archaic tributary/feudal past tried to project a state obsessed with “national security” and anti-communism and at the same time purvey a simulacrum of the nation’s “authentic identity.” This was allowed within the parameter of the Cold War. Nicanor Tiongson and his circle exposed how the ethos of communal cooperation called bayanihan or kapitbahayan was ascribed by the state to the barangay (the pre-Spanish village government) as its “soul.” This ethnic locus would then function as the political base for the authoritarian political party, Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (1986, 53). Incidentally, a variant of this nativistic and ahistorical primitivism undermines the pettybourgeois trend of sikolohiyang Pilipino and its academic offshoots.
In 1969 Mrs. Imelda Marcos raided the public treasury to realize her fantasy, the aristocratic and fetishized edifice called the “Cultural Center of the Philippines” which she designated as the “Sanctuary of the Filipino Soul.” These icons, symbols, and rituals of Marcos’ “Filipino Ideology” might have fooled his narrow circle of cronies and compradors, but it was easily grasped by most Filipinos as mystification and apologetics for corrupt oligarchic despotism as well as marks of subservience to Western and Japanese transnational interests. Lino Brocka, the leading progressive filmmaker then, pointed out that such “nation-building means trying to give a ‘beautiful’ picture of the country, trying not to disturb people, not to make them angry by depicting the truth to them” (Tiongson 1986, 57). This understanding was shared by most artists who sympathized with the platform and principles of the underground coalition, the National Democratic Front (NDF). The NDF’s alter/native project of constructing a “democratic and scientific culture” via participation of the broad masses insured that nationalism of the kind that disappointed many African writers like Chinua Achebe and Ayi Kwei Armah would not be a substitute for the thoroughgoing transformation that would be brought about by a change in property-relations and the redistribution of social wealth/power. Such a change would by necessity entail the assertion of national sovereignty against U.S. impositions. Above all it would prioritize the democratic control of a circumscribed space or territory without which the Filipino people cannot make any contribution to the community of states claiming to represent nations.
Thus we come back to the paradox that the internationalism of Goethe, Condorcet, and Marx conjured: for “national one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness” (to quote the Communist Manifesto) to be eradicated, what is required is precisely nationalism conceived not just as a collective primordial sentiment but as a mode of organizing a community of participant citizens. It is not the concept of the nation-people that is problematic but the comprador or dependent state that manipulates the “nation” as its instrument for accumulation. Neil Larsen exposes the universalizing culturalism of postcolonial critics who insist on the irreducibility or incommensurability of difference as an inverted form of Eurocentrism (echoing Amin) and draws the apt lesson: “Those who currently protest the anachronism of the ‘national’ as such, reducing all to a question of the ‘transcultural’ and global hybridity, merely think the whole without the part, apparently ‘solving’ the problem by conceptual fiat but in fact condemning themselves to theoretical and political irrelevance” (1995, 215).
Within the Marxist tradition one finds a rich archive of inquiries into and controversies on “the national question,” from Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, and Otto Bauer to Mao Tsetung, C.L.R. James, Che Guevarra, Edward Kardelj, and Amilcar Cabral. Surveying this field, Michael Lowy concludes that the principle of self-determination centers on a given community’s act of deciding consciously to constitute itself as a nation (1978, 157). But before judging one nationalism as legitimate and another as suspect if not reactionary, Lowy advises us to undertake “concrete analysis of each concrete situation” relative to the goal of defeating international capitalism. In his study of ethnonationalism in Britain, Tom Nairn counseled us about the enigmatic Janus-faced nature of historical nationalisms.
Whatever the ambiguity of this phenomenon, the idea of the nation cannot be exorcised from thought without negating the historicist temper of modernity. As noted before, nationalism and its corollary, the nation-state, are energized by a teleology of the conquest of necessity by reason, of humanity’s progress toward freedom and self-fulfillment of all. This position has been questioned by postmodern thinking, as I’ve suggested in the beginning. It is also questioned by Regis Debray who believes that the idea (or ideal-type) of the nation, which for Marxists will be rendered obsolete by the advent of communism, is permanent and irreducible. For Debray, the idea of a nation is necessary to thwart entropy and death. It performs this function by establishing boundaries and thus generating identity through difference. Claiming to be more materialist than Marx, Debray insists that the universalizing thrust of bourgeois-analytic reason (as instanced by Amin’s book mentioned earlier, or the messianic thrust of Frantz Fanon’s Third World advocacy) ignores the reality of contemporary developments, specifically the resurgence of identity politics in the forms of ethnic separatism, nationalist or regional schisms, etc. We are witnessing “a growing interdependence of the conditions of economic production and exchange, comporting a trend towards uniformity; yet this is dialectically accompanied by a new multiplication of cultural diversity…. Equality is never identity…. What we are seeing now is indeed a growing divergence of cultural identities, a search for specificity as the other face of emerging globalism” (Debray 1977, 31).
Such a schematic mapping of the present world-system, a recapitulation of the principle of “uneven and unequal development,” is enabled by the very contradictions of late capitalism. In this totalizing regime of exchange value, there are multiple overdetermined antagonisms. However, the primary contradiction from the perspective of oppressed people of color is still between the advanced industrial centers negotiating alliances and compromises on the one hand, and their victims within and outside their borders. And while these victims (whole groups and populations) are heterogeneous, their commonality of sharing the collective fate of domination by mainly Western capital underpins the sociolibidinal economy of their individual quests for recognition as world-historical nations.
On the terrain of an extremely uneven social formation, writing in the Philippines stages in rhetoric and narrative an emergent popular agenda or “structure of feeling.” It proceeds by refunctioning residual forms (such as the dupluhan and zarzuela, folk theatrical genres) and marginalized conventions in order to subvert the aestheticist formalism authorized by U.S. disciplinary regimes as well as by the commodified imports and imitations from Japan, Europe, and elsewhere. By the logic of opposing an exploitative and alienating force, the resistance assumes the modality of revitalizing indigenous cultural practices so as to constitute an allegorical narrative of their return with new effectivities. What distinguishes this tendency is a cosmopolitan selectiveness demonstrated not just in the adaptation of Western genres (for example, Brecht’s epic distancing retooled in collective productions like Buwan at Baril), or in the feminist abrogation of neocolonial/feudal patriarchy (as in Lualhati Bautista’s Bata, Bata…Paano Ka Ginawa? and other vernacular experiments). Nor is it fully registered in the invention of a new style of tracking the metamorphosis of the migratory sensibility, as in the works of a whole generation of women/feminist writers like Marra Lanot, Soledad Reyes, Lulu Torres, Fatima Wilson-Lim, Fanny Garcia, Rosario Lucero, Joi Barrios, Marjorie Evasco, and many others. Rather, it can be discerned in the process of contriving a national-popular idiom addressed not to the Volk (Herder, Fichte) but to a resurgent sambayanan (populus). An allegorizing strategy of storytelling is explored to rescue the progressive heritage (in both feudal and bourgeois trappings) from neocolonial recuperation. Its point of departure is an alter/native sensibility rooted in acts of decolonizing intransigence, in a critique of the illusions propagated by the world-system of transnational capital.
The Filipino praxis of alter/native writing interrogates the “post” in “postcolonial” theory. We observe this in the partisan texts of Emmanuel Lacaba, Estrella Consolacion, Levy Balgos de la Cruz, Ruth Firmeza, Jason Montana, Romulo Sandoval, and others. They all strive to actualize what Fr. Ed de la Torre once called “incarnation politics,” a theology of liberation indivisible from the daily acts of resistance against a client state that has sacrificed the nation-people to profitmaking (see San Juan 1991). This project of articulating the subject denominated as “becoming-Filipino” is not nationalist in the orthodox construal of the term. For one, it rejects a state where the nation is hostage to brokers and entrepreneurs ready to sell it to the highest bidder. Its nationalism is prophetic because it materializes in everyday acts of popular resistance. The nation appealed to here would then signify a “concrete universal” embodying solidarity with other oppressed communities engaged in fighting the same enemy; such unity with others is premised on the cultural differences of peoples, including those whose histories have not yet been written; or those whose narratives have been either preempted or interrupted by the West’s “civilizing mission,” otherwise known as “the White Man’s Burden”. We comprehend and appreciate differences invested with identity-drives to the extent that they can be translated for the re-cognition of others and our mutual enrichment. How is the Other fully recognized? By transposing the mimesis of the Self (the parasitic colonizer within), as contradistinguished from the Other’s mimicry, into an allegory of its own constitution and self-reproduction.
What I have in mind can perhaps be suggested by Edward Said’s hermeneutics of the culminating moment of the decolonization process plotted by Fanon. This is the moment of liberation–“a transformation of social consciousness beyond national consciousness”– (1990, 83) enunciated, for example, in Pablo Neruda’s materialist poetics, in Aime Cesaire’s Cahier d’un retour, and actualized in the life of the Filipino revolutionary inellectual, Amado V. Hernandez. Because of the general reification of social life today, we cannot as yet fully understand the dynamics of these complex mutations without the mediation of allegory: Neruda evokes through Macchu Pichu the heroic resistance of the aboriginal or indigenous communities, while Cesaire’s Caribbean locus evokes the promise of Negritude in utopian rhythms. Allegory, however, needs to be articulated with the repertoire of generic forms and cultural practices specific to every social formation undergoing ethnonational genesis, experiencing the birth-pangs of decolonization. This is why I suggest that it is important to situate Filipino literary expression in the specific historical convergence of political, economic, and ideological forces–the transition from colonial dependency to the initial stages of national-popular autonomy–I have outlined above. While everyone recognizes the axiom that the linguistic system (Saussure’s langue) is self-contained, a differential system of signifiers structured in binary oppositions, it is also the case that (as Voloshinov/Bakhtin has shown) parole or speech is what sets the system in motion and generates meaning among interlocutors in the speech community (65-106). Speech acts or performances of enunciation are social, not individual phenomena. In other words, discourse is always intertextual and complicit; the world, the concrete historical life-situation of speakers and horizon of listeners, is a necessary constitutive element of the semantic structure of any utterance (Todorov 41-45). Consequently, it follows that the character of any discourse cannot be fully understood without reference to its intertextuality, its axiological embeddedness in social process, its circumstantial filiations and networks. To separate code from the context of enunciation is thus to annul discourse, to negate utterance in its modalities of communication and artistic expression. In the social text foregrounded here, namely, the conjuncture of colonial occupation, the twin aspects of U.S. hegemony and Filipino resistance are two moments or phases of the same event.
This is the reason why I would endorse the methodological criterion of the “dialectical paraphrase” of the poetic image as elaborated by Galvano della Volpe, George Thomson, and others. We may also experiment with a modified deployment of what Mary Louise Pratt calls a linguistics of contact instead of the conventional linguistics of community (or its late-capitalist variant, Habermas’ “communicative action”) in order to displace the “normative vision of a unified and homogeneous social world” and accentuate instead “the relationality of social differentiation” (59), provided ethnographic performativity is qualified by attention to the political determinants of the writers/speakers of mediated testimonies. This is the moment to re-evoke Bakhtin’s idea of intertextuality, the triad of speaker/theme/addressee, as constitutive of the act of communication. Dialectics then instead of functional empiricism. This mode of linguistic comprehension would decenter a self-identical community, foregrounding instead “the operation of language across lines of social differentiation.” It would focus on modes and zones of contact between dominant and dominated groups and on “how such speakers [with multiple identities] constitute each other relationally and in difference, how they enact differences in language” (60). The theatrical experiments of PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association) and other groups, Bienvenido Santos’ fiction, the writings collected in the anthologies The Politics of Culture (Tiongson 1984) and Bangon (Atienza et al 1998), to cite only a few, may thus be conceived as attempts to explore the operation of an aesthetics of contact and disjunction between U.S. hegemonic apparatuses and the corresponding Filipino artistic responses.
Within the Filipino community in the United States, the use of American English registers the confluence of residual, dominant, and emergent oppositional trends. In the works of Hagedorn, R. Zamora Linmark, and Al Robles, to cite only the most recent authors, the power of language as hegemonic agency for constituting postcolonial subjects is parodied and subverted. Linmark’s Rolling the R’s (1996) may be cited as one example of a polyglotic or multiaccentual exercise in heteroglossia, syncopating idioms, stylistic registers, rhetorical figures, etc., to project the bewildering ethnic mix of Hawaii in a postmodern pastiche. The colonizer’s “English” undergoes a grilling, an interrogation from the subalterns, from which it comes out no longer the same–no longer with a superior messianic mission. (A powerful work in the same genre is Nick Carbo’s Secret Asian Man.) Such is the power of the language-users to change the rules of the game, or at least some of the moves. Aside from satiric humor, irony, and other postmodern idioms of equivocal intonation, the re-invention of the colonizer’s speech into a “postcolonial” vernacular proceeds in other Asian-American communities (as, for example, in Frank Chin’s recent novel Gunga Din Highway) influenced by African American, Latino, and Native American voices. In surveying this evolving multicultural canon, I suggest that we deploy Voloshinov/Bakhtin’s theory of utterance and of speech-genres as theoretical tools for interrogating the limits of what is now the official discourse of liberal multiculturalism premised on “cultural diversity,” on the “free market” of decentered and cyborg identities.
Any attempt to describe with finality the speech-performance of a neocolonized people struggling for liberation in the arena of global capitalism is a hazardous enterprise. All we can do here is lay the groundwork for an exploratory mapping of the trajectory of nationalist efforts towards inventing its own idiom, its own language of self-determination. Production is “unforeseeable,” as Brecht (1977) once quipped; and it is harmful, as Mao Tsetung (1960) wisely proposed, to implement “administrative measures” if you want writers and artists to produce the blossoming of more than a “hundred flowers.” Filipino cultural workers are integrating with the masses, blending realism with creative impulses from diverse sources, and through collaborative experiments synthesizing theory and practice, the central thrust of revolutionary Marxism (Baxandall and Morawski 1973). What is encouraging is the displacing of tendentious or propagandistic art with more creative expressions of serious analysis and critique of the imperatives of social reality, not programmatic obedience but conscious and polyvalent alignment of artistic will to the genuine determinations and the “hard and total specificities of commitment” (R. Williams 1977, 205). The radical reorientation of Filipino cultural politics coincides with the restructuring of its history, a process suffused with irony and ambiguities which can only be adequately comprehended if one bears in mind Marx’s vision of revolution described by Terry Eagleton in this memorable statement: “History would be transformed by its most contaminated products, by those bearing the most livid marks of its brutality. In a condition in which the powerful run insanely rampant, only the powerless can provide an image of that humanity which must in its turn come to power, and in doing so transfigure the very meaning of that term” (1990, 230). From that perspective, a Filipino nation is therefore not just being imagined but constructed and shaped by the sweat, tears, and sacrifices of millions of people in myriad acts of revolt and finding their autochtonous agency in the arts of revolutionary popular democracy and national liberation.
We have so far charted the discursive terrain where the salient contradictions of our time involving race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality and so on are refracted in a multilayered textuality open for interpretation, critique, and ecumenical dialogue. My intervention here should be deemed a prologue to a substantial and more nuanced inventory of the historical specificities of the Philippine social formation that would determine the various modes of cultural production and appropriation pivoting around the event called “becoming-Filipino.” Less ethnogenesis than alter/native poiesis, the goal is to convert the “state-nation” (Smith, 1971) to an evolving national-popular site of dialogue and praxis. Such a reconaissance of a Third World people’s struggle to define and validate its agency is in effect a task of reconstituting the nation and its position in the world community. In doing so, we encounter ourselves in others. We engage in a catalyzing exchange with voices from other societies using a constantly revised lexicon of “communicative reason” or a historical-materialist cultural politics, an exchange oriented toward a fusion of counterpointing horizons where all can equally participate in the creation of meaning and value under conditions where social justice operates not just as a regulative ideal but as the founding principle of the totality of life-forms.
My proposal of an alter/native poetics of national, prefigurative allegory as a hypothetical paradigm for Third World cultures depends of course on the peculiarities of each nation’s history. One last example from the Philippines may be adduced here to illustrate the dialectic of metropolis and periphery which informs the ever-changing configuration of the nation-people in the former colonies. When Arturo Rotor wrote his essay “Our Literary Heritage” on the eve of World War II to exhort his fellow writers to respond to the needs of the working masses, he invoked as models of committed intellectuals the names of Ralph Waldo Emerson who publicly combatted slavery and Thomas Mann who admonished artists to seek [Right, Good and Truth not only in art but also] in the politico-social sphere as well, and establish a relation between his thought and the political will of his time” (1973, 21). Rotor ended his nationalist and by the same token inter-nationalist manifesto vindicating literature’s raison d’etre by quoting Maxim Gorki: “[literature] must at last embark upon its epic role, the role of an inner force which firmly welds people in the knowledge of the community of their suffering and desires, the awareness of the unity of their striving for a beautiful free life” (1973, 23). In this way, Philippine vernacular allegory transcends narrow cultural nationalism and may be said to harmonize its pitch and rhythm with others from North and South (now replacing East and West) speaking tongues whose intelligibility is guaranteed by our sharing common planetary needs, the political unconscious of all art.