Image AN INTRODUCTION TO NICK JOAQUIN:  Celebrating the Virgin and Her City:


 by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.


 What, then, is revealed in the quarrel between Remus and Remulus is the way in which the city of man is divided against itself, whereas, in the case of Cain and Abel, what we see is the enmity between the two cities, the city of man and City of God.

-St. Augustine


Life should be changed because the state of the world will be changed . . . . We shall not be what we have been, but we shall begin to be other.

-Joachim of Floris


Justice cannot exist where all the best things in life are held by the worst citizens; nor can anyone be ham where property is limited to a few, since those few are always uneasy and many are utterly wretched.

-St. Thomas More


WRITING AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY his now classic autobiography (The Education of Henry Adams, 1900) where the Philippines is a place from which he was, in a manner of speaking, “glad to escape,” Henry Adams marvelled at the dynamo in the Paris Great Exposition of 1900 as a “moral force,” a “symbol of infinity.” In that incandescent metropolis, Adams “had studied Karl Marx and his doctrines of history with profound attention, yet he could not apply them,’ leaving him perplexed, “his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new.” He reflects that in America the dynamo of the classical and medieval past—Venus and Virgin—neither “had value as force—at most as sentiment.” The author of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (1913) muses further:


The Woman had once been supreme; in France she still seemed potent, not merely assentiment, but as a force. Why was she unknown in America? . . . She was goddess because of her force; she was the animated dynamo; she was reproduction—the greatest and most mysterious of all energies . . . this energy was unknown to the American mind….

            All the steam in the world could not, like the Virgin, build Chartres . . . . Symbol or energy, the Virgin had acted as the greatest force the Western world ever felt, and had drawn men’s activities to herself more strongly than any other power, natural or supernatural, had ever done.1


            Eighty-three years later, Adams’ compatriot Harvey Cox, theologian at Harvard University, upholds anti-Virginal secularization as “the unappreciated offspring of the prophets, including the prophet of Nazareth, who railed against religiously sanctioned injustice with as much fervor as any anticleric.”2 But since times have changed, Cox appreciates more than other postmodernist thinkers the persistence of the female image of the divine in a culture such as Mexico where Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Christian version of the Aztec fertility goddess, Tonantzin, becomes the site of a raging battle between the Church hierarchy and the masses of the faithful. Popular and learned consensus testifies that the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, “La Vida,” continues to radiate a dynamic force replicated in liberation theology and in the fiestas of popular religion in Latin America and the Third World at which Henry Adams would have marvelled today even as he becomes anxiously sensitized to the tremors of an impending nuclear apocalypse. Without in any way adducing direct influence or indirect acquaintance, Nick Joaquin uncannily offers an inverted, more precisely, dialectical refraction of Henry Adams’ historicist schizophrenia.

            On first reckoning, Joaquin’s world view is polarized into two apparently divergent but ultimately complementary tendencies. First, the mythologizing and intrinsically aestheticizing tendency to reconcile opposites and to explain complex historical events by a metaphysical and idealizing schema whose most densely charged chronotopic figure is the Virgin of the Rosary enshrined at Sto. Domingo church. Practically the entire thematic and symbolic strategy in Joaquin’s fiction and drama gravitates around, and is permeated by, the figure of the Virgin Mother. This is the realm of utopian extrapolation. Second, the crudely mechanistic and technological determinism that informs such discourses as “Culture as History,” “History As Culture,” “Technology: The Philippine Revolution,” and numerous magazine articles. Of course, this is a synoptic view made up for exigent analytic purposes, ignoring the chronology and circumstantial matrices of each text. Logically, if the proposition expressing the first tendency means what it says, then we can characterize the organizing principle, the controlling vision, of Joaquin’s art at its best as a postmodernist reaffirmation of utopian desire, taking the term “utopian” here to signify the collective social project of humanizing and naturalizing Henry Adams’ dynamo by establishing its organic linkage with the feminine dimension of the psyche and cosmic life; and at its worst, an apologiathat is what the inaugural key text in the Joaquin canon, “La Naval de Manila,” essentially is—for patriarchal institutions and hierarchic power.

            I submit that “Nick Joaquin” as the authorial simulacrum generated by an ensemble of texts embodies the multiple historic contradictions of contemporary Philippine society, reproducing these contradictions, inflecting and conjugating them in highly idiosyncratic ways, modifying and altering them, in the same process that the class divisions and the multilayered mode of production—that is, the social relations of production in the total Philippine formationpowerfully shape and overdetermine the ideas, forms, conventions, metaphors, and language structured in the body of texts ascribed to “Nick Joaquin.”

            Contextualized thus, “Nick Joaquin’ is both an aesthetic problem to be posed and analyzed, and equally an ethicopolitical problematic reflecting our own national predicaments, sufferings, traumas, struggles, dreams and aspirations: what Filipinos are, have been and will be, insofar as beauty and freedomfollowing Schiller’s insight—share a common destiny and are inseparably linked in praxis.

            From his first important essay “La Naval de Manila” written in October 1943 to the most recent dramatic piece The Beatas dated 1975 and Cave and Shadows published in 1984, the central figure of the Virgin (and mother-daughter combinations) deciphered as the symbolic condensation of the utopian and unconscious stands out with all its contradictory implications and resonance. In Christian mythology, as Alan Watts and Mircea Eliade point out, Mater Virgo signifies “the Prima Materia prior to its division, or ploughing, into the multiplicity of created things.” As Stella Maris (Star of the sea; mare = Mary), the Sealed Fountain, “the immaculate womb of this divine font,” she is the water over which the Spirit moved in the beginning of time.3 She takes on the identities of the Axle-Tree of the World, with the serpent at its roots and bearing alike the fruits of death and life (see “The Legend of the Virgin’s Jewel”); the Rose and the Lily, flowers symbolic of the receptive aspect of man’s spiritual transformation; as the Chalice or Grail which receives Christ’s lifeblood; as moon-goddess; as Space, “the Womb in which the Logos comes to birth”—a process captured by the breathless periodic and hypotactic syntax of Joaquin’s style; and in the thick, embedded phrasing of the conclusion of “La Naval de Manila.”

            So the Virgin then stands for matter, elemental substance (matria, matrix, mater); maternal womb of the universe, chaos, abyss of dark and formless matter cognized as feminine in contrast to Spirit symbolized by air and fire cognized as masculine. The Virgin is the original womb of creation, analogous to Maya in Hinduism and Buddhism; that “no-thing” which, when divided by the Logos, becomes separate things.4 The theme of the imagination acting on matter (the body, earth, water) ramifies also into the necessity of sacrifice so as to give birth to the new, with the new “fallen” creation redeemed in turn by a repetition of the sacrifice-history as cultural ritual ingeniously rendered in A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, in the two novels, The Beatas, and elsewhere:


Thus it is prophesied of Mary, “A sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,” since in all the great traditions creation is always through a sacrifice; the multiplicity of things is the One dismembered and divided. By yet another sacrifice the One is remembered—“Do this in re-membrance (anamnesis) of Me”—for the original Unity is restored when the sacrifice is repeated, because the repetition is a recollection of what was done “in the beginning.”5


            In that brief description of the myth by Alan Watts is secreted Joaquin’s conception of history illustrated in 0 his writings. Sacrifice, dismemberment and mutilation of what is whole, denoting the power of the Word or Logos, is what leads to the primal Mother’s emergence, thus subordinating her (by “the Child on one arm”) to the masculine Creator. History consequently appears as a manifestation of male power.

            What has happened in actual history is the suppression of this thoroughgoing materialism, so dangerously heretical to the imperial post-Constantinian faith, by the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin (distinguished from Eve the sinner) since she is “the Servant of the lord,” her Son. Simone de Beauvoir comments on this fateful reversal: “For the first time in human history the mother kneels before her son; she freely accepts her inferiority. This is the supreme masculine victory, consummated in the cult of the Virgin—it is the rehabilitation of woman through the accomplishment of her defeat.”6 That treacherous circle—a virtual overthrow of the primacy of the body, matter, production—is marked by Joaquin’s ethical dualism in “La Naval” between matter (tribal custom and taboo entailing “dreaminess, “ “our incapacity for decisive thought or action”) and consciousness, in this case the medieval

Christian military fanaticism in subduing heretics, Calvin, Islam.

            Founded on the assumption that the pre-Spanish aboriginal inhabitants of the archipelago had no “history” for the simple reason that they had not benefited from the saving impact of Christianity, deprived of “this awakening of the self, this release and expansion of the consciousness, “Joaquin’s thesis posits that Spanish colonial domination is responsible for our national identity: “The content of our national destiny is ours to create, but the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy, Spain has created for us.”7 Note, however, that not only the form but also the significance and content are supplied by the traditional paradigm epitomized here by the exemplary cult of patron saints. How is this tradition formed? By the commemoration of events such as the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and the Spanish naval victory of 1646 against the Dutch, both epochal successes attributed to the intervention or intercession of the Virgin. A sleight-of-hand maneuvering occurs here when those two events are juxtaposed so that by spatial contamination and shift, the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary traverses chronological distance and geography to save the “tiny Rome growing up by the Pasig” from “Calvin’s shadow.’ The content of Philippine destiny is predicated on the Spanish military victories to safeguard the colony from other European powers, sacrifices marked by feasts such as La Naval, “which is purely ours,” says Joaquin. While the text argues that Spain imbued the Filipino nation with self-consciousness, a sense of history and autonomy, that consciousness depends on its sacrifice to a perpetual repetition of an originary, archetypal event: “There is indeed no Philippine town or village, however humble, that does not feel peculiarly itself, as belonging to that spot of ground and no other, because of some patronal cult traditional to the locality, some holy image there venerated and investing the site with legend and association.”8 This mode of spatializing reflections dictated by the submerged or suspended materialism of the Virgin cult refutes Joaquin’s thesis: “If Lepanto was its last act, our colonial history may be termed as oriental epilogue to the miracleplace of the West.’ Here rears the head of rampant “Orientalism” (Edward Said’s term) that dogmatically affirms Western primacy by subordinating/marginalizing the Other: where are the natives who are supposedly creating the content of their national destiny?9

            In describing the Image, Joaquin states that she “is arrayed as a royal lady at the court of the Felipes’ unlike the dark Virgin of Guadalupe; her majestic queenly bearing, however, conflicts with the subsequent detail: “the face is individualized, is warmly human, and was surely chiseled by the Chinese catechumen.” Surrounding this image, by metonymic exfoliation, is a wealth of childhood memories rendered in sensuous imagery evoking communal solidarity so that, on closer analysis, it is not the ethicopolitical and ideological stakes—the war between heathen fate and Christian freedom—that haunts the text but time and death itself, the “despair” coincident with self-consciousness, that very same isolated free will that threatens to shatter the unity of time and space. And when we recall Joaquin’s fear of the “blood’s memories of the communal tribe-house” encroaching and predetermining all action, his fear of “those submerged longings for the tight, fixed web of the tribal obedience” as contrasted with “the pain and effort of responsible and personal existence,” then we see how the ironic twist of textual labor unleashes the political unconscious and releases the repressed in those intensely remembered tribal feasts and celebrations of the two Navals as an evocation of childhood innocence devoid of the “pain and effort of responsible and personal existence,’ more poignantly visible in the ecstatic surrender of a self-possessed Cartesian rational ego to the tumultuous mind-blowing music of the procession and the fiery blaze of vision, the conscious discrete self dissolving utterly in that amorphous oneiric space on which is inscribed the Prima Materia undercut here at the last moment by the idealizing phallic will: “Oh, beautiful and radiant as an apparition! — the Presence at Lepanto, Lady and Queen and Mother of Manila, the Virgin of the Fifteen Mysteries.”

            That the text of “La Naval” and its technique of montage splicing metaphor, synecdoche and metonymy distorts the more fluid and plastic reality of the historical past, homogenizing the Dionysian materia in an Apollonian structure (to adapt Nietzsche’s terminology), and ironically subverts its thesis of unveiling the truth, is now more familiar to a contemporary audience rehearsed in the deconstructive theoretical play of Derrida, Foucault and other poststructuralist critics. In The New Science, Vico suggests that “men are naturally impelled to preserve the memories of the laws and institutions that bind them in their societies.”10 Opposed to Nietzsche’s nomadic impulse, however, is Vico’s insight into history as shaped and reproduced by human actions, not by intervention of a sacred transcendental power; actions which are repeated, filiative and genealogical. Such repetition coalescing reason with raw experience provides the means whereby humans represent themselves, disclosing in the act an objective, supraindividual rationality: “Men mean to gratify their bestial lust and abandon their offspring, and they inaugurate the chastity of marriage from which the families arise. The fathers mean to exercise without restraint their paternal power over their clients, and they subject them to the civil powers from which the cities arise.”11 This historical-materialist purposiveness, the dialectic of consciousness and mode of production, may be said to animate the tensions in all of Joaquin’s fiction and also situate the ironic discrepancy of form and intention I have briefly alluded to in “La Naval’ in its roots: the actual lived contradictions of class, gender, race, etc.

            Unfortunately it is not Vico’s problematic of repetition and of mind as historical memory capable of infinite articulation and change that has instigated Joaquin’s excursions into pop anthropology but the reductive technicism or scientistic determinism of Marshall McLuhan, abetted by the obscurantist fatalism of Oswald Spengler. And this is the hyperbolic irony of all, considering Joaquin’s quite correct insistence in rejecting the notion of “timeless” essences and his positive though somewhat ambiguous emphasis on existential becoming, on a dynamic and creative view of cultural appropriation, on metamorphosis, in his treatise “Culture as History.”

            Although now changing the rhetorical tactic of “La Naval” into a more empirical and outwardly scientific recasting of the basic argument that the Spanish introduction of tools and the Faustian spirit (strange epiphenomenon of sixteenth and seventeenth baroque!) in 1521 and 1565 forged the “basic outlines” of Filipino identity, Joaquin’s essay “Culture as History” reduces “culture” into tools and technological sophistication which, rearticulated via McLuhan as “communication,” makes possible not only the Asianization of the Filipino but also his maturation as citizen of the modern world. The birth of the Filipino is categorically dated to 1565 after which “we can be nothing but Filipino,” and by Filipino is meant adobo, pan de sal, ati-atihan, Moriones, tropical gothic and baroquein other words, an aggregate total or accumulation of practices empirically observed in specific times and places.12

            With this massive accumulation of mediathe wheel, plough, road, etc.Joaquin finally locates the “sense of history” in the mediating institution of craft guilds or communities of technicians and artisans sharing the same knowledge, skills; such craft mastery, he speculates, “may have contributed to the formation of a national consciousness.” So it is this “sense of social solidarity” that Joaquin postulates as the mediating agency or vehicle of our unification as a nation composed of various regional and ethnic groupings, allowing him in a subsequent essay, “History as Culture,” to rehash the now fallacious contention that it was the elite or educated middle strata (ilustrados) and their ilk, who were singlehandedly responsible for creating a distinctly Filipino culturean embarrassingly naive chauvinism anathema to the multiethnic and multiracial nationalist movement today involving Igorots, Moros, atheists, naturalized Filipinos, and others.

            What remains disguised in Joaquin’s idiosyncratic program of rearguard apologetics for the Christianization of the native, notwithstanding appreciations of the heathen elements syncretized in folk festivals zestfully described in “The Santo Nifio in Philippine History,” “A Theory on the Sinulog,” and especially in Almanac for Manilenos, is the fundamental episteme or problematic which, as I have suggested above, is prefigured by the symbolic richness of the Virgin cult.

            Confronted with the profound temporality and alienation of modern existence, Joaquin realizes that the devaluation of the Goddess-technical knowledge, Logos, cannot but be masculinist will-is temporary; her disappearance is explained by Orthodox doctrine as a falling asleep (dormitio) and by Roman Catholic teaching as the Assumption of Mary-her elevation to heaven, bypassing death. She has temporarily relocated in another space, temporarily exiled if you will, but engaged in frequent incursions, showing forth in unexpected sites, speaking and communicating. This Marian figure of space lays the groundwork for conceiving a modality of time which has been ascribed (by Julia Kristeva and others) to a specifically female subjectivity: “repetition” as experienced in gestations, natural cycles of recurrence; and “eternity” or monumental duration, cosmic temporality. The two modalities conjoined trigger a hallucinatory jouissance that drowns linear consecutive clock time. Kristeva notes how the Virgin incarnates and sanctions this experience of cosmic, mystical time which in essence can only be textualized in space: “One is reminded of the various myths of resurrection which, in all religious beliefs, perpetuate the vestige of an anterior or concomitant maternal cult, right up to its most recent elaboration. Christianity, in which the body of the Virgin Mother does not die but moves from one spatiality to another within the same time via dorrnition (according to the Orthodox faith) or via assumption (the Catholic faith).”13

            One can elucidate the narrative and parabolic function of Nenita Coogan’s body and her mysterious death vis-à-vis the epiphany of the earth-goddess and her avatars in Cave and Shadows, and the mother-daughter polarity in The Women Who Had Two Navels in the light of Marian temporality characterized by the experience of time metamorphosing into space. In a note to “The Art of Ancient Egypt,” Joaquin betrays this antinomic consciousness when he mistakenly equates Egyptian art’s urge to deny mortality by equating “the will to endure” with “history.”14


            The most elaborate virtuoso performance ofjoaquin’s diacritical sensibility where a precapitalist epistemology of space and time operates to program the style and structure of the text is Almanac for Manilenos. Using the calendar convention of amalgamating discordant facts and incompatible topics for utilitarian purpose, Joaquin superimposes a cross-referential analogical unity on a vast encyclopedic catalogue of material through the device of astrology. Immediately the empirical and the supernatural are yoked together in a metaphysical conceit reminiscent of baroque poetics, each planetary or astral sign lending intelligibility to the montage of otherwise discrepant, incongruous, trivial or indifferent data. Thus, for the month of January, the commentary opens with a headnote detailing the physiognomy of people born under the horoscope signsuch headnotes serving as a figured bass, or dominant chord, to the composition. Time is filled with a succession of information: iconography of Janus, the primitive rites of passage, the chimera as oxymoronic emblem, the event of the Japanese occupation in January 1941, descriptions of downtown Manila in the past, the feast of the Nazarene in Quiapo followed by the feasts of the Sto. Niiio in Tondo and elsewhere, a meditation on the etymology of place-names, a note on the 1872 Cavite uprising tied,,N,,ith a fiesta for La Virgen del Carmen, and finally a retrospective lament on the decline of Bilibid Viejo. Take another example, the month of May which begins (after the astrological headnote) with an account of the Battle of Manila Bay in May 1898, followed by notes on May Day festivals in England, May fiestas in various city districts, a note on the emerald, the legend of the Santacruzan, the fall of Corregidor, followed by Bonifacio’s execution, a description of Sta. Ana and then of Marikina, of Chinese Mandarins in Manila, and finally a description of indigenous Maytime rituals centering on the earth-goddess and the Virgin cornucopia, anatomy, Borges’ Library, Joycean palimpsest-the Almanac codifies for Joaquin the semiotics and grammar of the quintessential Filipino experience.

            Unlike its genre, this almanac suspends the utilitarian and fetishizes the simultaneous. Addressed specifically to Manilefi6s, it intends to synthesize past and present happenings under the hegemonic sign of the city, a city vaporized into impressions, auras, fashions, cliches and personified by folk heroes and celebrities, a metropolis (no longer Intramuros but sprawling Metro Manila) that Joaquin celebrates less as locus of events than as a figure of the conjunction of linear/chronological time and cosmic/repetitive timea symbol then of what for him is a project addressed to the Other: the always deferred sacramental constitution of Filipino subjectivity.

            But what is fascinatingly unique and symptomatic in the contrivance of this project is the experimental handling of the almanac as a religious calendar of festivities crossed with that typically modernist invention, the newspaper and illustrated weekly with their unrelenting, rigorous flattening out of everythingthe petty, the accidental, the numinousinto exchangeable counters. But in Joaquin’s almanac, old news is always new; and the recent never gets obsolete as it oscillates in the general circulation of the ephemeral and the cosmic, all the antipodes and contraries fused in the simultaneity of a frozen mosaic. This experience of reading the almanac, subtly effecting a decentering of the subject, corresponds to Joaquin’s notion of the world citizen in “Culture as History’: “Shouldn’t we rather recognize that each person is a sort of unconscious anthology of all the epochs of man; and that he may at times be moving simultaneously among different epochs?”15

            Now, the model of the unintentionally oxymoronic and levelling effect of the newspaper exercises its appeal for Joaquin because it is the unprecedented textualization of the modern city in the age of industrial capitalism, a textualization comparable with the polysemous and analogical texture of Christian art and philosophy but only insofar as it can be subsumed within an ideology already surpassed by the logic of the expanded reproduction of capital. Can the Virgin and the Dynamo be wedded together in fruitful coexistence, as Joaquin strives to do in the Almanac and elsewhere? Can the Faustian spirit (Goethe’s symbol of the ruthless hustler of capitalist property-values) which Joaquin idolizes as the legacy of 1565 (another bizarre hybridization!) bejoined as the loving consort of the Great Mother Goddess hymned in the entries for May and October in the Almanac?

            Such questions Joaquin has probably answered when, at the end of his discourse “The Santo Nino in Philippine History,” he apostrophizes the Holy Spirit as “the heavenly dynamo.” One extraordinarily illuminating Approach to this pervasive antinomic temper of Joaquin’s art and thought, which I have tried to formulate elsewhere as the inescapable predicament of the organic intellectual of the backward-looking but fiercely independent Filipino petty bourgeois class crushed by U.S. monopoly business but horrified by the resurgent masses of workers and peasants, can be derived from the incisive distinctions between the classical/feudal matrices of time and space and those of industrial capitalism proposed by Nicos Poulantzas

in State, Power, Socialism.

            Poulantzas explains that the spatial matrices of ancient and feudal societies share common features stemming from precapitalist relations of production and the social division of labor: continuous, homogeneous, symmetrical, reversible and open.

            Instead of differentiation and hierarchy, the geometric topographical orientation reproduced in the political organization of the polis allows slave and master to share the same space:


The points at which power is exercised are replicas of the sovereign’s body. In fact, it is this body which unifies space and installs public man within private man: it is a body with no place and no frontiers. All roads lead to Rome in the sense that Rome is at every point of the sovereign’s moving around…. [What is outside, the barbarians, belongs to a non-site or no-land.]

            Both the towns and feudal demesnes or fiefs were open and turned out, through a number of epicentres, towards that umbilical centre, Jerusalem. As Marx pointed out, the relations of production were such that religion played the dominant role in feudal social formations; it was directly present in the forms of the exercise of power and it patterned space by setting the seal of Christianity upon it…. As in Antiquity, people do not change their position: between the fiefs, large villages and towns, on the one hand, and Jerusalem and its diverse earthly incarnations on the other, between the Fall and Salvation, there is no break, fissure or distance. Frontiers and such intermediary points of demarcation as walls, forests and deserts refer not to a distance that has to he crossed in order to pass from one segment to another (one town to another), but to crossroads of a single route. The pilgrim or crusader—which is what every traveler is after a fashion—does not actually go to the holy places and Jerusalem, because these are already inscribed in his body. (This is also the case with Islam.) The body -politic of each sovereign incarnates the unity of this space as the body of Christ-the-King, and space is marked out by the paths of the Lord.16


            In contrast, the spatial matrix of capitalism produces “the serial, fractured, parcelled, cellular and irreversible space which is peculiar to the Taylorist division of labor on the factory assembly line.” Thus a territory like the Philippine archipelago can only become national by means of, and in consonance with, the power of the capitalist State apparatus.

            Following Poulantzas’ characterization of these two opposed spatial matrices, we can see that underlying the textual strategies of Joaquin’s fiction and drama is the organizing category of the medieval/feudal spatial matrix colliding or interpenetrating with that of the capitalist spatial matrix, an occurrence typical of the unevenly developed Philippine formation. To put it another way, the figure of the Virgin as the harmonizing principle of the city is made to reconcile what is reversible and homogeneous with the successive fracturings, gaps, breaks, closures, frontiers and segmentations of modern urban experience.

            In a previous article, “From Intramuros to the Liberated City: Salvaging the Aesthetics of the Polis” (included in my book Crisis in the Philippines), I attempted a sketchy mapping of Joaquin’s use of the city as thematic content and organizing technique based on the binary rhetorical antithesis of metonymy and metaphor, the paradigmatic and synchronic. Let me offer supplementary qualifications here. In The Women Who Had Two Navels, the experience of the city is dispersed, symmetrical, reversible, ultimately equated with the polymorphous feminine. The situation of Paco Texeira, the object of the agon between the Vidal women and the outsider, exemplifies this production of space: “By the time he met the senora de Vidal he had become deeply interested in Manila and was ready to be interested in any woman who most piquantly suggested that combination of primitive mysticism and slick modernity which he felt to be the special temper of the city and its people” (p.27). Opposed to elevated Hong Kong, the’lerusalem’of Aguinaldo’s exile and the site of Connie Vidal’s hallucinatory redemption (her virginal “assumption”), the city opens out to the countryside which it incorporates as overlapping utopian prefiguration: “the mountains, and the woman sleeping in a silence mighty with myth and mysteryfor she was the ancient goddess of the land (said the people) sleeping out the thousand years bondage: but when at least she awoke, it would be a Golden Age again for the land: no more suffering; no more toil; no rich and no poor.” What the novel superbly enacts is the fabled dialectics of Christian “free will” and politicogeographical determinisms in a surface where all movement unfolds with reversible directions, so that the spiritual impasse and psychological blockages dissolve when the old Monzon experiences a rapturous home-cominghe has not really moved his place or position because history is inscribed in his bodywhere the city and the Virgin (now indigenized) occupy the horizon and fulfills time: “Here he was, home at last. Behind him were the mountains and the Sleeping Woman in the sky, and before him, like smoky flames in the sunset, the whole beautiful beloved city” (p. 223).

            In the post war years when Joaquin conceived and wrote his first novel, the national territory had just been formally separated from the U.S. empire but the weakness or false autonomy of the State as well as the dependent nature of the comprador-landlord-bureaucratic ruling bloc did not promote deterritorialization: the separation of the direct producer from his means of labor (peasantry; petty commodity and artisanal production), the persistence of personalistic bonds and kinship/familial ties, archaic religious practices. These material conditions, coupled with the 1949 victory of the Chinese workers and peasants which serves as the terminus ad quem of the 1899 Filipino-American War (Battle of Tirad Pass, etc.), underpin the expressive-realist structuring of the novel and its nostalgic clinging to the voice of the authoritative narrator still anchored to a stable, mythical world view.

            By the eighties, when Joaquin completes his second novel Cave and Shadows, the peripheral underdeveloped formation has entered a crisis in which the great urban insurrections called “First Quarter Storm” of 1970 serve as prelude to the liberation of the city by the solidarity of individual solitudes (the people) and a new reterritorialization. Authoritarian manipulation of space and time now mocks feudal practices and fosters the duplicities of transnational domination. In ideology and program, the fascist dispensation shows all the traits that Poulantzas attributes to modern totalitarianism: “separation and division in order to unify; parcelling out in order to structure; atomization in order to encompass; segmentation in order to totalize; closure in order to homogenize; and individualization in order to obliterate differences and otherness.”17 What is at stake are certain liberal institutions and Enlightenment principles justifying laissez-faire enterprise now grown obsolescent with the avid transnational drive of profit accumulation and made precarious with the internal competition among the developed nations and the intensified rivalry between the U.S.-led bloc and the “socialist” sphere in the era of late capitalism.

            With the collapse of the traditional liaisons and fraternizing between outsiders and insiders (between Paco and the Monzons, between Macho and the Vidals, and the adversarial ethos they represent)-a mutation dramatized in “Candido’s Apocalypse” and “The Order of Melkizedek”—the traditional categories and norms suffer a cataclysmic upheaval so that the conceptual coordinates of reversibility, homogeneity, symmetry, continuity and repetitiveness lose relevance. The ideals of national self-determination and the possibility of real historical change, and the question of who is going to articulate them, now occupy center stage in the struggle of class and sectoral forces, of the national-popular will against the moribund power bloc and imperialist hegemony.

            In this light, Cave and Shadows may be read as a belated response to the crisis in its structuring of time shifts and the choice of a detective-mystery thriller convention, contraposing the temporal-spatial matrices of the ancient and medieval order to the capitalist transformation of psyches, lifestyles, criteria of values and tastes, and traditions. The symptoms of the city’s displacement are clear with the deterritorialization of the mag’or protagonists: Jack Henson resides in Davao and returns to it after his ordeal and pilgrimage, Alfonso Gatmaitan is mayor of a suburban town where the cave is found, the Manzano mansion “collapses” with the breakup of the clan. These comprise so many telltale signs that the capitalist temporal matrix consubstantial with its social division of labor and relations of production is overthrowing the archaic and feudal, a transitional moment in which the conflict between the Manzanos and Gatmaitans (representing distinct social classes or fractions thereof) may be read as representations of the former, and the mythical-historical archive projecting the goddess in her various manifestations (Nenita Coogan and the Ginoong Ina as dei ex machina?) serve as a poetic figure for the latter. In parts 2, 4, 6 and 8, time moves backward and forward in a reversible and continuous sequence, so that whatever privileged moments occur in those flashbacks are absorbed in eternity (Christianity) or chance (archaic societies). Governed by a concept of time as eternal recurrence, the unfolding chronicle of the legendary fertility goddess contains no events in the strict sense, and moves in a circular direction; the past is always reproduced in the present, the essence is manifested in the here and now: “The present is included in the origins, chronology remaining a repetition of the genesis, if not actually a genealogical transfer.’ One can say that this novelistic drive to trace the origin of a sequence or progression testifies to a scheme to wrest an original omniscience belonging to God.

            Once again, Poulantzas offers us a heuristic anatomy of feudal ideology applicable to our critical analysis of Joaquin’s literary mode of production:


  Over and above the dependence of temporalities on the “natural time” peculiar to essentially agrarian societies (seasons, work in the fields, and so on), what matters is the temporal matrix underlying the agricultural, artisan, military or clerical times, that appear as so many singular times. While each of these involves certain datings, the various chronologies are not ordered throughout times that are divisible into equal segments; and nor do the various moments have a numerical frame of reference. These chronologies refer instead to a continuous time which, placed under the aegis of religion, appears as a time of eternity punctuated by second meanings, acts of piety, and belfry-chimes inserted into the rhythm of the mass. Rooted in this temporal matrix, a linear materiality of time does, of course, come forth as distinct from the cyclical materiality of Antiquity: history now has a beginning and end, located between the creation and the Last judgment. But it is still a present time: beginning and end, before and after are fully co-present in the constant essence of the Divine. Whether it is a question of immutable truth or of progressively revealed truth, and whether individual salvation is predetermined or not, all that is ever involved is a repetition or bringing-up-to-date of the origins. Here where the irreversibility of time is a mere illusion, to reach for the end is always to regain the beginning.18


            Simultaneity of before and after, past and future distilled in the present, is what exactly characterizes the Almanac’s textualization of time and the city, the reversibility of scenes in “Guardia de Honor,” “May Day Eve,” “Three Generations,” A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino; the knowledge or enigma that crystallizes in Jack Henson’s mind as he tries to pursue the origin of his dilemma; the entrance/exit to the labyrinth where Nenita Coogan’s body or its simulacrum lies entombed, etc. Finally, the present and future rejoin the mythical past when the renegade Christian and the pagan priestess reenact their roles through their “degraded” surrogates Pocholo Gatinaitan and Ginoong Ina in Cave and Shadows.

            When the city in this second novel is eclipsed by the deterritorializing process in which the revivalist impulse and nationalist activism begin to challenge the centralizing function of the church itself and its rituals, Joaquin is compelled to draw on the Virgin figure and her chthonic energies (expressed in the popular religion surrounding Ginoong Ina) to counter the atomized, fracturing and reifying forces of bureaucratic capitalism and its differential, cumulative, irreversible temporality. This compensating mechanism seeks to enforce a conception of history as something not made but commemorated, the present as reconcretization of the past; history as recollection or unfolding of genealogies, the past spreading like an echo into the present while it unceasingly foreshadows that future which will meet up with the beginning in an endless circulation. There is no history for Joaquin in the sense of progressive evolution, an inherently bourgeois perspective. Likewise, as Poulantzas states, “pre-capitalist territories have no historicity of their own, since political time is the time of the prince-body, who is capable of extension, contraction, and movement in a continuous and homogeneous space.” For the prince-body, substitute the Virgin Mother and the earth as fields of inscription, of textualization and hermeneutics for Joaquin.

            It seems that to preserve and sustain the archaic and feudal matrices of time and space in a period, especially after the Second World War, when the classic function of the city as “the form and symbol of an integrated social relationship,” as the historian Lewis Mumford explains; where “the mind takes form” has become eroded, Joaquin in Cave and Shadows, felt the need to reconstruct the subject-positions for Filipinos that he had outlined in his previous writings and, in Jack Henson’s decentered or “castrated” position, broach the possibility of recovering a primordial but now lost symbolic site of community and authentic existence. I believe that Joaquin is in general conducting a futile salvaging operation, a rearguard battle against the powerful forces of the consumer capitalist market and its “specular” Faustian individualism that he sometimes extols. These forces, according to Mumford, effectively destroyed the time-space episteme or frame of reference incarnate in the medieval city: “The Protestant doctrine of justification by Faith and the doctrine of Divine Election came in with credit finance and the rise of the self-perpetuating urban patriciate: the visibly elect, the manipulators of intangible values…. The validity of the universal Church was denied; the reality of the group was denied; only the individual counted on earth as in heaven: nominalism or social atomism.

            Assuming that historical mutation of urban function, the Manila of Cave and Shadows can be interpreted as the space where phallocentric will has driven the feminine underground, exiled the Virgin into myth or the archives, and now desperately tries to manipulate the tortuous course of events. But the narrative undermines that order, subverts the sequential, arrow-flight time of the plot and the ratiocinative detective-knower, and eventually opens the masculinist logic of the proairetic code to the pressure of feminine modalities: repetition, cyclic rhythms, recurrence, cosmic sense of unboundedness, the vertigo of hallucination, dreams, rage and the shock of terror unleashing jouissance. Think, for instance, of the disorienting textual “madness” and dislocating carnival excess found in the description of Connie Vidal’s car accident in chapter 4 of The Woman Who Had Two Navels (pp. 183-84), or the freakish weather and the fury of the elements in Cave and Shadows. The repressed returns avenging …

            Caught in roughly the same inexorable antagonisms between the secularizing traffic of business and the archaic structures in our psyches, Charles Baudelaire, regarded by all as the greatest lyric poet of urban modernism, acutely grasped the desanctification process in the “moving chaos” of everyday life in the city. His response of cosmic irony (in Paris Spleen, for example), however, does not validate orthodox piety or a fashionable bohemian aestheticism. As Marshall Berman and others have demonstrated, Baudelaire perceived the possibility of heroism and discovery of pleasure in the modernization of public urban space, delineating primal scenes of poetic vision amid dangerous traffic whence works of art characterized by the modernist style of “undulations of reverie, the leaps and jolts of consciousness” are born.20 Baudelaire’s counterpastoral modernism, unlike Joaquin’s, embraces the city as a locus of contradictions bereft of myths, into which the poet hurls himself to be renewed by its anarchic energies, by the sudden leaps and swerves of life in its labyrinth of kaleidoscopic streets and boulevards.

            This is not to deny that Joaquin also exhibits a profound Baudelairean fascination for the city, for its mixture of beauty and despair, terror and ecstasy; but his interest focuses not on its perpetual novelty-the endless metamorphosis of market values in a commodity economy but on what is repeated, reversible, continuous and symmetrical. The so-called baroque texture of Joaquin’s language results from the deep inner contradiction in his art between the ‘Faustian” (a term misapplied to acts of free will) hero and the Virgin, between archaic-medieval and bourgeois orientations. While the closures of the earlier texts show a bias for a traditional orientation (first announced in “La Naval,” “Popcorn and Gas Light” and reworked in recent anthropological excursions), I would stress that the resolutions in “The Order of Melkizedek” and Cave and Shadows betray an uneasy, troubled, bifurcated sensibility. Could it be that this mythopocic almanac-maker has been affected by that exuberant outburst of the Filipino people in 1970 reclaiming the streets of “the ever loyal and noble city,” an explosion that evokes scenes of the “festival” of the oppressed: the Paris Commune 1871, Petersburg 1917, Barcelona 1936, Paris 1968, and so on? This “festival” of the subalterns, the denizens on the edges and margins, the underclasses, erupted in Philippine history only once for joaquin: in the 1896 revolution and the subsequent war against U.S. imperialist aggression. But in Cave and Shadows, for the first time, the people-as-nation surfaces through the cracks and fissures of mythical and Establishment reality, a multitude of urban-rural solitudes that seem to presage a long-awaited regenerating apocalypse. In approximating Baudelaire’s allegorical vision of “the heroism of modern life” in his essays and fiction, Joaquin assumes at last a genuinely prophetic stance which can be and ought to be integrated into a libertarian, ecumenical cultural politics. On the other hand, I think it remains a debatable issue whether or not Joaquin’s exaltation of the Virgin’s aura (“aura” connoting utopian plenitude and wholeness) can justly be appreciated only as a form of commemoration which Walter Benjamin defines as “the secularized version of the adoration of holy relics…. In commemoration there finds expression the increasing alienation of human beings, who take inventories of their past as of lifeless merchandise …. Relics come from the corpse, commemoration from the dead occurrences of the past which are euphemistically known as experience.”21 The succeeding chapters hope to contribute to a more dialectical analysis and interpretation of Joaquin’s mimesis of that aura and commemoration in his short stories, poetry, plays and two novels.






The Education of Henry Adams (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), 383-89.

Religion in the Secular City (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), 170. See also Cox’s earlier books, The Secular City (1966) and, for a revaluation of festivity and fantasy, The Feast of Fools (1969).

3               3  Alan Watts, Myth and Ritual in Christianity (Boston: Beacon, 1968), pp. 107-13. See also Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (New York: Harper, 1960), pp. 155-230.  Joaquin evinces knowledge of “Mariolatry” in Almanac for Manilenos (Manila: Mr and Ms., 1979), pp. 118-20.

4      Watts, p. 108.

5      Ibid.  On the notion of history and the sacred, see Michael Harrington, The Politics at God’s Funeral  (New York: Harper, 1985), pp. 132-37.

6      The Second Sex (New York: Grove, 1952).  De Beauvoir is seconded by Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon, 1973), pp. 90-92.

7      La Naval de Manila and Other Essays (Manila: Alberto S. Florentino, 1964), p. 30.

8      Ibid., p. 28.  Of relevance are these historical resumes: Carmen G. Nakpil, “A History of Maynila,” The Philippines Quarterly (March 1976), pp. 3-5; Teodoro Agoncillo, “The Last Years of Intramuros,” Archipelago (1975), pp. 15-22.

9      Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon 1979).  A critique of U.S. “Orientalist” discourse on the Philippines may be found in my Crisis in the Philippines: The Making of a Revolution (South Hadley, Mass: Bergin & Garvey, 1985).

10    Quoted in Edward Said, Beginning (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. 203.

11   Quoted in Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 111.

12   Nick Joaquin, “Culture as History,” The Manila Review 3 (1975), p. 13.  Except for the elaborate enumeration of tools, etc., inspired by McLuhan’s reductive technologism, this long essay conflates the basic ideal of “La Naval de Manila” and other later pieces collected in Discourses on the Devil’s Advocate and Other Controversies (Manila: Cacho Hermanos, 1983).

13   Julia Kristeva, “Women’s Time,” Feminist Theory, ed. Nannerl O Keohane, et al (Chicago, 1982), p. 35.

14   “The Art of Ancient Egypt,” The Philippines Quarterly (December 1960), p. 25.

15   Joaquin, “Culture as History,” p. 25.

16   Nicos Poulantzas, State, Power and Socialism (London: Verso, 1978), pp. 101-3. Cf. Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (New York: Macmillan, 1973), pp. 1-12.

17   Poulantzas, p. 107. On spatial politics, see Michel Foucault, The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon, 1984), pp. 239-56.

18   Poulantzas, pp. 108-9.

19   Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities (New York: Harcourt, 1970), pp. 71-72. See Gideon Sjoberg, The Pre-Industrial City (New York: The Free Press, 1960), pp. 327-28: “The periodic religious ceremonies, in which a large segment of the community may participate, are one of the few mechanisms the city possesses for integrating disparate groups in an otherwise segmented community.”

20   Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), pp. 142-66.  On the city as fesival, see Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World (New York: Harper, 1971), pp. 122-24, 20506.

21   Quoted in Fredric Jameson, Marxism and Form (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 73.








21E. SAN JUAN is a fellow of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas; and previously fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University. He was also visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at the National Tsing Hua University and at the University of the Philippines. He was 2003 professor of American Studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Among his recent books are RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke University Press); WORKING THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell University Press); IN THE WAY OF TERROR (Lexington); US IMPERIALISM AND REVOLUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES (Palgrave); CRITIQUE AND TRANSFORMATION (Mellen); and CRITICAL INTERVENTIONS (Lambert).  This essay is Chapter I of the  out-of-print book SUBVERSIONS OF DESIRE: PROLEGOMENA TO NICK JOAQUIN published in 1988 by the Ateneo de Manila University Press. It is still the only substantial materialist reading of Joaquin’s oeuvre up to now.


About philcsc

E.SAN JUAN, Jr. directs the Philippines Cultural Studies Center, Washington DC, USA and lectures at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila, Philippines.
This entry was posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS. Bookmark the permalink.