New Foreword to the reprint of E. San Juan, SUBVERSIONS OF DESIRE: Prolegomena to Nick Joaquin, University of Santos Tomas UNITAS issue, 2018.

Foreword  to the 2018 reprint of SUBVERSIONS OF DESIRE, U.S.T. Press

by E San Juan, Jr.


With the 2017 launching of The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic as a Penguin Classic, Nick Joaquin’s status as a transnational writer, a planetary artist, was finally confirmed. Before Joaquin died in 2004, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) honored him with the establishment of the Esquinita de Quijano de Manila–his nom de plume as a journalist–at its Miguel de Benavidez Library Humanities Section (The Varsitarian, 3 February 2008). After earning his associate of arts degree at UST, Joaquin was awarded a scholarship  at the St. Albert College in Hong Kong in 1947. He left in 1950 to pursue a life in letters for which he received the National Artist title in 1976 and the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Literature, Journalism and Creative Communication in 1996.

The Dominican Order awarded Joaquin a scholarship for his essay on the celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary/La Naval, the patron saint of the “Ever Loyal and Noble City of Manila.” The nation’s colonial capital Manila, a city born from Western-Eastern confrontations, figures as the chief protagonist in his fiction and poetry,  in “The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” as well as in Cave and Shadows and in Almanac for Manilenos. Joaquin’s brief sojourn in Hong Kong as a seminarian may have inspired Joaquin to write his magisterial novel, The Woman Who Had Two Navels. Its setting in that cosmopolitan arena of two warring cultures (Hong Kong), where the Aguinaldo revolutionary junta spent time in between battles, evokes the dilemma, the duplicitous or ambiguous identity of the Filipino nation.   

This problematic identity of the Filipino is Joaquin’s obsessive theme in all his works. We have been subjected to over 400 years of colonial subalternization, first by Spain and then by the United States of America. The scars of this traumatic experience, its flagrant symptoms, may be diagnosed in the consumerized and commodified mores of our urban compatriots. Joaquin is one of our most acute critics of this predicament. But despite his acclaim as our most distinguished writer in English, Joaquin is scarcely read by 103 million citizens, now spread as a proletarian diaspora around the world. It is quite unikely that cohorts of the 12 million OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) would have read his fiction or poetry. However, the recent operatic version of “Portrait” as “Larawan” may have exposed thousands to his critique of the bifurcated soul of the nation and its protracted crisis.

        UST has been one of the foremost instigators of our nationalist revival by holding regular symposiums on Nick Joaquin’s achievement. With the reprinting of this book, first published in 1987 by Ateneo de Manila University Press, which remains hitherto the only book-length scholarly study of the major works, UST continues its patronage of the arts. The first chapter of this book, entitled “Celebrating the Virgin and Her City,” signals its primary motivation: to reinscribe Joaquin’s texts in the field of sociopoitical contradictions defining our nation since the Filipino-American War (1899-1913) and its fraught aftermath.

This book’s  historical context of composition should not be forgotten. It was framed within the height of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War struggles in 1966-72 and the Central American solidarity movement in the seventies and eighties in the imperial metropole. Of crucial importance is the beginning of the exuberant Women’s Liberation Movement in Europe, North America, and around the world. Composed during the years of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986), and in argument with the post-structuralist, deconstructive trend in hermeneutics and philosophical theorizing in Europe and the United States, this book stages the agonized questioning of a version of Hegel’s “Unhappy Consciousness” as it participates in the dialogue with national-democratic critics of Joaquin’s works. It is also a product of the author’s education in formalist criticism and historical-materialist polemics. In line with the dialectical method of metacommentary, this book attempts to excavate the submerged but irrepressible utopian impulses in the texts (see author’s remarks on its launching, “The critic as parasite/host,”  (Midweek, 24 August 1988).

       Thirty years have passed since then, with all the victories and defeats of the mass mobilization for popular democracy and true independence.

A massive corpus of reportage and commissioned books by Joaquin remains to be studied, interpreted, and evaluated. This is the challenge for the rising generation of Filipino scholars. What their collective judgment of this book may be, together with its uncalculated effects, will depend on the outcome of the current democratic struggles and not on any single individual critic. Of course, we cannot forget the warning that any cultural document is always two-navelled, fusing barbarism and civilization together.

Finally, as the “Preface” endeavored to suggest to the prospective readers, “‘Joaquin’ then may be conceived as the sign of multiple contradictions outside/inside the texts. Let Joaquin speak to/for the masses.” Let us all begin a slow painstaking reading of Joaquin’s project of fashioning the emergent conscience of the nation while appreciating their integritas, consonantia, and claritas–qualities that St. Thomas Aquinas deemed essential for all art-works.

      For making this reprint possible, I want to thank in particular Rev. Fr. Jesus M. Miranda, O.P., PhD,  Secretary General, and Michael Anthony Vasco, PhD, Dean, College of Arts and Letters, University of Santo Tomas; and for her visionary initiative, Prof. Maria Luisa Torres-Reyes, editor of UNITAS.##



NICK JOAQUIN’S APOCALYPSE: The Tragi-comedy of the “Unhappy Consciousness” 

When we say of things that they are finite, we mean thereby..that Not-being constitutes their nature and their Being…Finite things…are related to themselves as something negative, and in this self-relation send themselves on beyond themselves and their Being….The finite does not only change…it perishes; and its perishing is not merely contingent…It is rather the very being of finite things that they contain the seeds of perishing as their own Being-in-self, and the hour of their birth is the hour of their death.

—G.W.F. Hegel, Science of Logic (1929), 142

by E.San Juan, Jr.
Dept of English & Comparative Literature, University of the Philippines

The elevation of Nick Joaquin’s reputation to a Penguin Classic in 2017 augurs an apotheosis of sorts but also an exoticizing marginalization. Under the rubric of the “postcolonial,” the endorsers relegate the Filipino author to a fraught academic trend in rapid obsolescence. But his acclamation as our Garcia Marquez, the exemplar of postcolonial “doubleness,” albeit overlain by “a tribal civilization,” ascribes an “aura” fit for our glorified addiction to commodity fetishism. No, we are not in Duterte’s total war against suspected drug-lords. I am referring to that inescapable “aura” that Walter Benjamin anatomized in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” It is the aura of “The Portrait” as the quintessential Filipino theater. It is the aura of a sanctified writer whose mastery of English in his stories has allowed him to define, for the whole nation (still contentious since the popular/people remains outside the neocolonized nation-state), its historical and political genealogy and predicament.

Benjamin is also the source of Vicente Rafael’s view of Joaquin’s craft as a sign of emancipation from U.S. colonial subjugation. Together with his contemporary Anglophone writers, Joaquin “epitomized the modernizing promise of colonial rule” (xx). Using English as the “very idiom of modernity itself,” in Rafael’s reckoning, Joaquin succeeded in “regaining the capacity of remembering itself in order to constitute the remembering self” (xxi). This is premised on the “attenuation of experience” which led to the “demise of the craft of storytelling” (xv). This is a flawed construal of Benjamin’s essay “The Storyteller.” Actually, Benjamin linked narrative art to the web of social relations, specifically the mode of production and conflicted classes (peasantry, guild artisan, merchant trader, capitalist industrialist), which produced the substance and determined the narratability of varying experiences. Story-telling is tied to the rhythms of work and the oral context of a a long-=vanished communal audience. With the onset of capitalism, that context dissolved; the “short-lived reminiscences of the storyteller” gives way to the “perpetuating remembrance of the novelist.”

Memory, homeland, the narration of collective experience, shared fate—this is what is at stake in judging Joaquin’s relevance today. It is the novel as “the form of transcendental homelessness” (a concept borrowed from Georg Lukacs) to which Benjamin attributes the function of revitalizing epic memory. And so it is the novel, such as Joaquin’s The Women Who Had Two Navels and Cave and Shadows, that evokes the genuinely epic experience of time: hope and memory….” (quoting Lukacs, 99). Whether such mode of experience salvaged from the “ruins of modernity” can be conveyed by the tales and legends that comprise the bulk of the Penguin collection, is questionable. We cannot echo what Gorky once said of Gogol’s “The Overcoat,” that Filipino writing all came out of Joaquin’s two navels.

Rebirth of the Author?

Postructructuralist critics have long pronounced the death of the author in its conventional sense as artificer/creator. But Barthes and Foucault has resuscitated him as a function, a site of discursive contestation, rather than an originating presence with the mystical halo given by the Penguin Classic editors and blurbs. One American reviewer ventured already to dismantle that halo by ascribing to Joaquin a melancholy anger, relentlessly composing “a fierce elegy for a past that never was”; she sums up Joaquin’s central preoccupation thus: “The older generation is bitterly impotent against the sea changes of the present; and the younger generation is desperate to understand the world, but adrift between potential and petrfication” (Valentine).

The thematic problem that Joaquin engages with concerns the question of the historical Subject of Filipino experience. It is not the mismatch or incompatibility between generational attitudes, but rather how this Subject, confined to the ilustrado/pettybourgeois urban sector, asserts itself, its negativity, in the process of evolving to a dynamic self-conscious determinate position. Esentially, this Subject is an evolving identity-in-difference (Marcuse). Situated in the transition from the feudal/colonial mode of production to a neocolonial, comprador mode, this Subject undergoes diremption. Defined by Otherness, it proceeds to recognize its difference/alienation and struggles to sublate the antagonisms converging in its life-world in order to construct its new subject-position, a relatively autonomous, free, rational self-consciousness in command of its life.
The Subject as an identity-in-difference, for Joaquin the hispanicized Filipino creole (Rizal, Luna, etc.) bifurcated by Spanish and Anglo-Saxon subjugation, refuses to accept the domination of alienated labor (capitalist exploitation) and struggles to maintain the honor-centered norm of colonial Manila. Proof of this is Joaquin’s 1943 essay on “La Naval de Manila,” a celebration of the Spanish victory over the Dutch in 1646, which won him a scholarship to St. Albert seminary in Hong Kong in 1947 (De Vera). From the Commonwealth period up to the installation of the “puppet republic” of Roxas, Quirino and Magsaysay, Joaquin’s endeavor to construct this Subject—the metamorphosis of the ilustrado into a civic-minded citizen of the Republic—founders. Only the sisters of Antigone—Candida and Paula of “The Portrait” remains as testimony to this heroic attempt to shape a national allegory, a self-determining materialist story of private lives and individual destinies encapsulating the “embattled situation” of the third-world public culture/society (Jameson 320).

Whether Joaquin succeeds or not in this reconstruction of the national allegory of the Subject, the rational self-conscious intelligence of the Filipino middle-stratum. beyond sensuous certainty, selfish interests, animal passions, etc., is the topic for debate. It will be naïve and simplistic to reduce the complex theme to the conflict between the priests and satyrs, between the pagan, totem-and-taboo tribalism—the brute world of the “bitch-goddess” worship in the Tadtarin cult—and sadistic chastity of Christian ascetics. Even though Joaquin may be fascinated with the primitive ideal of cyclic regeneration, this is easily incorporated into a Christian paradigm of death-and-resurrection, syncretism being a false dialectic of subsumption and rechristening—the well-tried colonial ideology of cooptation and assimilation.

Marginalizing the Metropolis

At the outset, I would argue that Joaquin’s focus on the agon, the ordeal, of the urbanized Indios of MetroManila fails to resolve their predicament. On the contrary, it refracts the syndrome. It reproduces the contradictions of the past by negating the challenges and opportunities of the present. The chief symptom of this inability to dialectically transcend the past is its exclusion of the peasantry and the whole proletarian world of serfs, women, tribal or indigenous communities (Muslim, Igorot) marginalized by Spanish and U.S. colonial domination. However, the mediations offered in “The Order of Melkizedek,” “The Woman With Two Navels,” and “The Portrait”—resigning to the contingency and accidents of life, asserting impetuous will, or welcoming the priestly intervention of the ordinary alienated citizens of a competitive bourgeois society—are flawed, temporary stop-gaps.

At the end of the day, the Unhappy Consciousness (as described by Hegel in Phenomenology of Spirit) of Joaquin’s Subject yields up the fruits of labor and enjoyment for the absolving act of the intermediary consciousness (such the father’s in “Three Generations” or the epiphany of Candido and Sid Estiva, Bitoy Camacho and Pepe Monzon). But they occlude the fate of Others: of the sisters Paula and Candida, of the children such as Adela, and strangers around the decaying house in Intramuros. In the tales, as well as in “The Summer Solstice,” “Candido’s Apocalypse,” etc., moral decision and understanding are sacrificed for a stance of stoic fatalism, or abject sinfulness. This is not useless if one conceives this stage as one aware of its particularity, the limits of mechanistic self-satisfaction, abstract solipsism, and alienated privacy. One can convert the experience of the Unhappy Consciousness as a prelude to attaining the stage of the universal, the rational self-conscious stance of the Subject.

Crucible of Experience

The key concept of experience is central to our inquiry. Benjamin asserted that the old sense of communal experience embodied in Leskov’s stories has been destroyed, replaced by information. Information consists of events. positive facts or factoids, mixed with explanation. In industrial capitalist society, the mass media communicates information, with instant verifiability, eradicating the amplitude of traditional storytelling based on the interactive collaboration of the audience. The modern audience consists of atomized psyches devoid of memory, victimized by the reifying and alienating impact of universal commodification. Memory, death, and time disappears; experience yields to information.

What Benjamin has condensed in the term “information” is the reduction of life as the passive undergoing of the phenomenal world. Empiricism and sensationalism informed the scientific exploration of the world by bourgeois merchants and industrialists. Kant rejected this by positing the active thinking of the cognizing subject, leaving the thing-in-itself untouched. It was Marx who revised contemplative materialism by affirming human practical action to change the material world. By investigating the necessary properties and the laws of motion of the phenomenal world, and the rational methods of activity to transform it, humans have given the concept of experience a new meaning. Experience thus denotes the interaction of the social subject with the external world, merging with the “sum total of society’s practical activity” (Rosenthal and Yudin 154).

Experience is thus a complex notion of imbrication of various layers of phenomena, both subjective and objective. It was Hegel who defined experience as a transactive interface of subject and object working its way in a dialectical process in his Phenomenology of Spirit. From a phenomenalogical frame, Hegel conceived of experience as that which later views of reality have of the earlier ones; that is, what more mature and self-conscious grasp of reality reveal is the “experience” of what was inscribed in earlier, naïve notions. In effect, it is the experience of the passage of consciousness, “the dialogue between natural consciousness and absolute knowledge” (Heidegger 146; see also Findlay 87).

Now, exactly what is that raw complex of experience bedeviling Joaquin’s conscience? Everyone knows that the passage of our country into modernity was interrupted twice: the first, by the defeat of Aguinaldo’s revolutionary forces by U.S. invasion and bloody pacification from 1899 to 1913; and, second, by the U.S. failure to prevent the Japanese occupation and destruction of Manila, followed by more than two decades of neocolonial subservience to U.S. diktat. The harmony of Spanish monastic supremacy subtending the feudal/patriarchal order was broken not by the 1896 Katipunan uprising but by U.S. imperial conquest. While accepting the compromise of the Commonwealth, where the ilustrado fathers (Recto/Don Perico in The Portrait) found token recognition, Joaquin could not accept the collaboration (and U.S. acquiescence to) with the Japanese due to the horrendous devastation wrought on Intramuros, the prime symbol of the ascendancy of Catholic morality and ancien regime ethos It is the experience of WW2 disaster, the “orgy of atrocities” matched only by the 1937 Nanking massacre (Karnow 321), which traumatized Joaquin crawling out of the rubble of Intramuros. The Filipino entered the phase of “transcendental homelessness,” the theme of the classic European novel and of The Two Navels and Cave and Shadows.

Except for the tales and folkloric adaptations—“The Legend of the Dying Wanton,” Dona Jeronima.” “The Mass of St Sylvester,”—the major stories in this collection attempt to confront the two crises by resolving, in an imaginary sphere we call “ideology,” the contradiction between the project of reconstructing the tradition by sublation—negating the archaic, preserving elements of Christian humanism (free will; reason under grace), and lifting it to a more universal level—and accepting the fate of imperial domination. Whether the experience of his protagonists demonstrate a genuine dialectical resolution of the schisms in their world and psyches, remains to be clarified.

Mapping the Oral Space of Time

Let us examine how this adventure of the Unhappy Consciousness unfolds toward a sublimation of its immanent contradictions. Joaquin’s two novels originate from the matrix of tale-telling. the core problem we need to engage with is the nature and consequentiality of those experiences rendered by Joaquin’s moralizing tales. And what shapes of memory and hope may be glimpsed and delineated so as to give counsel, wisdom, or whatever, to its modern audience. Who this audience is and where, remains also as problematic as the specific necessities and contingencies underlying both Joaquin’s life and the still taken-for granted sociohistorical situation that is the condition of possibility of his art.

To answer this question, let us take as specimen the widely-anthologized “The Summer Solstice.” The time-period (1850) is still colonial, peripheral suburb of Paco (also replicated in Obando, Bulacan) outside of the Walled City Manila,still pervaded with pagan practices. The Tadtarin, a three-day fertility festival, was overlaid/legitimized by the Christian feast of St. John the Baptist, enacts the death, flourishing, and birth of the sun/life-force. The Tadtarin is represented by an old woman who ritually dies, carrying a wound and a sheaf of seedlings; she is resurrected, the crowd of women-worshippers dancing around her, with St. John the Baptist figuring as the somewhat tabooed but engulfed phallic icon.The orgy is supposed to harmonize humans and the rhythm of the universe, here intimated by the triple-time dance steps evoking the sound of chopping something into small pieces (Roces). It is less a Dionysian debauchery than a celebration of desire, passion, lust, attuned to the organic cycle of animal/natural life.

But history, not myth, preoccupies Joaquin in celebrating June. In the zodiac-designed Almanac for Manilenos, Joaquin assigns the solstice month to Juno, the patroness of marriage and fertility, following prehistoric Roman tradition. But more significant is June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo’s proclamation of the independent Malolos Republic. June 24 is the feast of St John the Baptist canonized by Christ himself; “all the rest of humanity were born in sin,” adds Joaquin, except for St. John, Christ and the Virgin Mary (Almanac 170). But what for Joaquin is more significant is the founding of Manila by Legaspi on June 24, 1571, because with city records and chronology of deeds, Spanish conquest gave history to the country and began to eradicate pagan myths and obscurantist practices like astrology and occult fortune-telling.

Communal time, however, is cyclical and cannot be reduced to the spatial linearity of the scientific calendar. What Joaquin does is to use this social/cultural arena to dramatize the phase of consciousness which Hegel described as the conflict of slave and lord, the bondsman and master. In it the slave wins recognition (self-consciousness) via his labor and creation, whereas the lord remains in-himself, sunk in empirical solitude, treating the slave as a thing/object. In the relation between Dona Lupeng and the husband Rafael Moreta, the archetypal gender-war centers on the woman’s introflection of the collective, universal for-itself of the community. She is no longer just wife or mother, for she now embodies the in-itself/for-itself Subject that mediates between the patriarchal law of property-owning society (wives and children are the slaves in the Roman familia). The melodramatic episode of the husband crawling to kiss the wife’s foot has externalized the Unhappy Consciousness into a fight between two humans reduced to animal/physical sensations, with mastery as the object/goal, in the realm of the empirical/natural life. We are remote from any hope of reaching the self-conscious Universal that sublimates the organic/biological impulse into the ordered ethical sphere of the family and self-reflecting Spirit of civilization.

Joaquin’s resort to the strategy of Christian evangelicism assimilating/adapting pagan rituals can also be observed in the other tales: “Dona Jeronima,” “May Day Eve,” “Guardia de Honor,” and “The Order of Melkizedek.” In the latter, the sacrifice of Guia betokens the return of the Manichean casuistry personified by the guilt-ridden Fr. Lao.
But at the same time, with Fr. Melchor standing for a recurrent urge to repeat the inaugural sacrament of the Feast of Circumcision, and the founding of a new millenary movement to renew society, Joaquin revives the roots of the Unhappy Consciousness by the emblem of the “burning bush,” his toothbrush and the burning plane-ticket filling the void of the niche in Salem House.

The would-be dialectical mediators of opposing forces, the tutored Candido and the moralizing Sid Estiva, seem unable to grasp the negativity of the empirical surface. They remain trapped in sensuous certainty, the antinomy of desire and sinfulness, unable to leap to inward capture of Other’s inwardness, remaining torn by heterogenous immediacy. In this hardboiled detective story, the “Sign of the Milky Seed –a pun on seminal fluid—or the Order of Melkizedek generates Father Melchor, side by side with the revenger Fr. Lao, who seem to parody the vocation of those “justified and sanctified by God’s grace” and who “offers his existence in sacrifice to God’s incomprehensible dominion (Rahner and Vorgrimler 376). Sid Estiva is just a catalyst in the return of the priestly order so that the political millenarism of the youth (Guia and her circle) is sublimated into the erotic affairs of the adult guardians (for a diagnosis of this shift in Western philosophy, see Taylor).

A millenary impulse of prefiguring the return of the Messiah underlies this project of Joaquin to resolve the sordid dilemma of the Unhappy Consciousness. It evokes the delusionary phantasies of victims of overwhelming catastrophes in the Middle Ages, replete with a demon scapegoats, messianic leaders, millennial mirages, together with the army of Saints ready to purify earth so as to establish “the new Jerusalem, the shining Kingdom of the Saints (Cohn 73). The Pauline image of the crucified Christ, hinted by Father Melchor, invokes the millenary tradition of revivalist sects inspired by St. John’s apocalypse (Smith 172-79), a repetition-compulsion lacking catharsis. What needs underscoring is St. Augustine’s insistence that the millennial kingdom wished-for by millenarian movements actually began with the birth of Christ. One historian notes that in the anti-Papacy movements (for example, the Anabaptists) from the thirteenth to the sixteenth, “the earlier millenarianism bloomed again in full vigor. It became part of the baggage of the Reformation and has continued to the present day, a seemingly necessary consequence of verbal inspiration of the Scriptures” (Mead 492). Joaquin’s revival of this chiliastic, millenarian tendency testifies to a reformist, if not revolutionary impulse in his work that connects with the genealogy of our rich tradition from Tamblot to the Colorums and Mt Banahaw sects, the Rizalistas, up to the revolt of the Lapiang Malaya of Valentin de los Santos on May 21, 1967 (Agoncillo and Guerrero 508).

Triangulating Counter-Modernism

Counter-modernist reformation evokes not a return to a utopian past but a futuristic projection of an authentic fulfillment. It might be worthwhile to note first, as a propaedeutic, the time-span of Joaquin’s production of his stories and novels, between 1946 and 1966, except for “Three Generations,” published in 1940. We are plunged into the postwar milieu of “Liberation,” the onset of the Cold War, the founding of Communist China, the Korean War, the upsurge and crushing of the Huk rebellion, and the Vietnam War. For Joaquin, as his polemics against U.S. neocolonialism in the articles on WW2, Bataan, Corregidor, etc. indicate, the single traumatic event is the destruction of Manila and Intramuros in 1945. That holocaust also spelled the confusion, anomie, and decadence of a feudal, comprador formation, evinced in “The Order of Melkizedek,” “Candido’s Apocalypse,” and “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino.”

So fixated is Joaquin to this sequence of episodes that one might categorize Joaquin’s art under the rubric of trauma-psychodrama due for psychoanalysis. But if one seeks a pedagogical or ethico-political motivation behind this obsession, it might be heuristic to sketch here a metacommentary on the singular way that Joaquin selects events, personages, locales, etc., in order to resolve recurrent aporias, conflicts or tensions that block normal everyday life. What we need is a symptomatic deciphering of this fixation, the repetition-compulsion if you will, in order to ascertain Joaquin’s position in the raging struggle for true independence and popular sovereignty.

It is easy to demonstrate how Joaquin exorcises the haunting specter of WW2 catastrophe by imposing a break, an ineluctable cut between past and present. This is clear in “The Mass of St, Sylvestre.” The GI soldier’s colloquial flat idiom to convey his witnessing is both truthful and parodic. Anglo-Saxon technology/photography cannot capture the aura of a ritual, the sacramental cathexis of joining past and future through collective repetition. What supersedes the soldier’s momentary vision is the recording of the sight of ruins, blocks and blocks of ruins—the heritage left by McArthur’s “liberation.” The present sensibility can never fully capture the substance of Manila’s history, so let us resign ourselves to that stark separation, that gap or rupture which seems impossible to cover up.
In stories like “Three Generations,” “May Day Eve,” and “Guardia de Honor” where the the problem of continuity is also staged, the moment of epiphany connecting generations is Joaquin’s easy fix. The father in “Three Generations” repeats compulsively the past which the son refuses to accept. In “May Day Eve,” the weeping Badoy struggles to discover coherence in the discordances of the past afforded by the urban rituals of Intramuros. Meanwhile, in “Guardia de Honor,” the contingency of everyday life furnishes the space for humans to exercise free-will by following sensuous inclination and intuition (chiefly Natalia Ferrero’s) who bridges the gulf between parental authority and the children’s right to decide their destinies. In all three stories, we find a formula to reconfigure the repetition-compulsion as a wound healed by the same passage of time that allows the subject, the spiritually tormented protagonists of the three decades of US colonial occupation to accept historical necessity without the benefit of Christian transcendence. In “A Portrait,” the role of Bitoy Camacho, the narrator-participant, easily plays the role of mediator, tying past and present, suturing the wounds of self-denials, hypocrisies, compromises, and fatalism distributed among family members, relatives, and strangers.

Confounded Temporality

Modern times spelled worse individualist competition among clans, family dynasties, and ethnic assemblages. I think it is imperative to remind ourselves that our colonization aborted our entrance to modernity—bourgeois industrial society—precisely because the U.S. preserved the feudal landlord system overlaid by a comprador-bureaucratic setup. Except for a semblance of urbanization (railroad, highways), selective meritocracy and a paternalistic electoral system, the old order of exploitation of workers and peasantry, together with the repression of the indigenous/ethnic folk (Moros, Igorots, Lumads), prevailed. Proofs of this are the numerous peasant revolts, uprising of millenary sects, and the Sakdal/Huk rebellion of the thirties, forties and fifties. The center failed to hold, everything seems to be falling apart. The surrender of Bataan and Corregidor is a prelude to the rapacious epoch of the next thirty years after MacArthur’s bombing of Manila.

In brief, we failed to make the transition, suspended in the dying world of Crisostomo Ibarra and a new world struggling to be born. In between we witness mobid, bizarre symptoms of agonized existence. We see how the reality of uneven/combined development preserved an ethos of hierarchical manners/customs, patriarchal despotism, and superstitious beliefs anchored to a backward agricultural/pastoral economy which clashed with bourgeois commercial interventions that undermined its drive for harmony. How to reconcile the polar opposites of communal solidarity and individualist-familial selfishness, is one way of formulating the problem. There is no returning back to a utopian golden age of theocratic diplomacy and honor-centered decorum. Joaquin’s praise of “custom and ceremony” and its twin children, beauty and innocence, seems an ironic resignation to the implacable onslaught of social Darwinism in the twenties and thirties, and the predatory business antagonisms of family dynasties during the postwar regimes of Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal and Marcos.

Counterfeiting the Tale-teller

In the rural/pastoral world of the three centuries before the outbreak of the Katipunan rebellion, the tale or oral narrative provided not only entertainment but knowledge. From Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, the tale served to distill folk-wisdom in the guise of fantastic occurrences (as in folklore dealing with supernatural characters), or the prowess of heroic pioneers (Paul Bunyan). In the Philippines, aside from the pasyon and saint’s lives, the medieval romances of chivalric protagonists and adventures elaborated in Ibong Adarna or Bernardo Carpio postponed death by the Scheherezade trick of endless multiplication of episodes. Medieval vision literature as well as the exempla in the Gesta Romanorum, or the prodigious inventions in Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, or in Voltaire’s Candide, offer models for adaptation. The duration of storytelling afforded a home for raconteur and listeners, as well as counsel that can be extrapolated from the ending of the adventures.

This is the tradition of the short-story form followed by Joaquin. It is basically the orally-disseminated tale that goes against Joaquin’s prejudice against it in favor of the visually-oriented narrative (Joaquin Discourses 67-72). Ironically, Joaquin’s gothic retelling of legends invokes the power of the aural or auditory imagination so carefully documented by Walter Ong. But, as T.S. Eliot once said, tradition cannot be inherited. Joaquin labored hard to deploy versions of the tall tale, or traveller’s yarns, in “The Legend…” and “Dona Jeronima.” They are aesthetic stories made out of stylistic devices and motifs taken from gothic romances. which utilized the “gradual heightening of psychological tension of the sensation story and the concealment of meaning associated with the detective story, along with ‘fine writing,’ to make an overt bid for high prestige” (Ferguson 189).

The crisis confronted in them inheres in the sharp division between the sacred and profance, the worldly and spiritual. Incorporating vice and piety, Currito Lopez’s soul is saved by the intervention of the Virgin. However, this event cannot be made intelligible to a secular crowd without the mediation of Dona Ana de Vera. The contradictions between the debased world of sixteenth-century Spain/Manila and its exaltation of saintly virtues are resolved by the domestic routine of a devout Dona Ana. There is no hint of suspicion that the miraculous and the ordinary can co-exist harmoniously in the person of Dona Ana, the exemplary mother of an official in the early days of Spanish pacification of the islands.

Unless amnesia has overtaken the colonial state, in 1613, the memory of the Lakandola-Soliman revolt of 1574. and the Magat Salamat and Agustin de Legaspi 1587 conspiracy in the Manila area has probably not been wiped out. In 1589 and 1695, several uprisings in Ilocos and Cagayan against reduccion and tributes might have disturbed conscienstious administrators of the provinces. And before the decade passed, the Bankaw uprising (1621) was followed by the Tamblot rebellion (1622) which exploded with thousands of natives in Bohol rallying to the native priest, attacking churches and opposing the fifty Spaniards and one thousand native troops recruited from Pampanga and Cebu (Constantino 85; Veneracion 57, Zafra 72). No doubt Currito and Dona Ana seemed oblivious of rebellions happening around them, turning the rest of 17th-century Philippines into a cauldron of nativist fury against Church and State.

With the flourishing of the galleon trade and its eventual demise, the schism between the worldly and the spiritual intensified. The reliance on tribute, polo y servicios, ravaging of the natural resources (gold and silver), and exploitation of native labor can no longer be maintained in the face of British naval superiority in the 17th century. The capture of Manila by the British in 1752 kindled numerous uprisings against Spanish tyranny throughout the islands. One can no longer expect the Catholic Church and its hegemony to continue without serious erosion and eventual collapse. Joaquin wrestled with this threat in Dona Jeronima: she becomes the symbolic return of the repressed, only to be tamed, recuperated, ultimately subdued. But the dialectical process of subsumption of the wild or dangerous appear spurious or fraudulent: a myth-making compromise yokes the penitent Archbishop/lover with the wasted Jeronima. She becomes the local deity of the place, the new diwata celebrated by varying generations. But both lovers transcend their original historical matrix and acquire mythical aura, forfeiting the possibility of realizing the identity-in-difference born of self-consciousness and the labor of negative determination.

Syncretic Allegory

Is the narrative scheme of unifying opposites a mystification? Philipine Catholicism is a syncretic product of the fusion of medieval doctrines and folk mythology, This approximates the lesson of “Dona Jeronima.” However, the process of reconciliation elides a final closure because the Archbishop’s ring cannot be recovered from the river, emblem of the flux of nature and worldly existence. We are suspended in the sphere of what Hegel calls “the unhappy consciousness,” the transitional passage of Spirit (“Geist” may be designed as the Aristotelian enargia or cosmic life-force, to put it simply) from Stoicism. a thoroughgoing negation of the world sunk infear and servitude, to Scepticism which dissolves all rules, perceptions, certainties. But this freedom of the Skeptic “reinstates the dogmatism that it both requires and negates.” In short, it embodies a truly paradoxical situation. distinguished by inner contradictions one-sidedly resolved by the proud self-righteous Stoic and the ironic dialectic of the slave’s mastery over the lord.

Hegel’s notion of the “Unhappy Consciousness” refers to the dual experience of medieval Christendom, a tension between the Changeable and Unchangeable. It epitomizes the negativity of human existence. Hegel explains that this contradictory, inwardly disrupted consciousness typical of Judaism and medieval Christianity “is the gazing of one self-consciousness into another, and itself is both, and the unity of both is also its essential nature. But it is not yet explicitly aware that this is its essential nature, or that it is the unity of both” (126). We follow the pious man’s struggle “to synthesize his double consciousness, in which each of the opposed terms finds itself again and again in the other, but in a merely implicit union with its other, which again and again dissolves ande sharpens the agony of severance” (Mure 79). As Findlay paraphrases it, “Each approach to the Godhead must, therefore, be succeeded by the painful reaffirmation of its own nothingness, each positive achievement or enjoyment by an act of humble thanksgiving for Divine Grace” (98).

Hegel’s description of the “Unhappy Consciousness” in The Philosophy of Religion can be applied to the experience of the Archbishop in Dona Jeronima, as well as to aspects of the Dying Wanton’s life, and the predicament of the major protagonists in “Candido’s Apocalypse,” “The Order of Melkizedek,” and The Woman Who Had Two Navels. Note the syncopated turns of consciousness and reciprocal effects of each on the other: “In thought I raise myself to the absolute, transcending all that is finite. I am therefore an infinite consciousness, and at the same time I am a finite consciousness of myself in my whole empirical make-up. The two terms approach each other and fly each other. I am the feeling, the intuition, the imagining of this unity, of this conflict; and I am the connection of the conflicting terms. I am this combat. I am not one of the combatants engaged but both of them. and the combat itself. I am the fire and the water which make contact. I am the contact and the unity of the utterly self-repelling” (quoted by Mure 49-50).

The circumscribed mercantilist milieu of the galleon trade traverses the 17th century punctuated by the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and St John’s “dark night of the soul.” Mexican silver was exchanged for Chinese goods via the port of Manila on the way to Acapulco and eventually to Spain. The tragicomedy of the Archbishop’s rescue from shipwreck, and withdrawal from the city to inhabit the riverside hermitage to confront his past captures one way the colony survived on the fact of rapid socioeconomic changes—for one, the subordination of Spain to British commerce (Constantino 110). One can perceive the shiftings, permutations, and reiterations of Subjective Spirit registering those historical transformations in this passage where Joaquin animates the vicissitudes of the “Unhappy Consciousness” caught between the city and the navigable river, the aporia of the changeless and the mutable, where the meaning of the quest is at stake:

Riding forth from the city at twilight, the Arch bishop shivered with senseless excitement and wondered if revelation was at hand. On the desert isle and the retreat on the riverbank, he had pressed with might and main for an answer…Children accepted the earth with frank pleasure;. and lost innocence only in the grief of knowing themselves exiles from elsewhere. Was the quest, then, a relearning of this frank pleasure—and of reverence for the despised flesh, astonishment for the scorned world? Was it this quest which, extending beyond this life, made flesh and its fevers, even if they be forever and ever, not hell but at worse a purgatory, a school for lovers? (163).

While there is combat between the priestly lover and the pagan woman, there is no internalization of the Other. What reconciles them is the collective belief, transforming both into mythical deities of the place. The negative totality of each does not evolve into self-conscious “negation of the negation.” Instead, a sacramental aura shrouds both, elevating them into a timeless, supernatural domain. Similar but different from “The Summer Solstice,” where the dionysian revelry of women mediates Dona Lupeng’s sensuous self into a demand for recognition, here the vision of the eternal river—the cycle of natural existence. the mirage of immediacy—closes the Unhappy Consciousness’ quest.

From Duplicity to Mourning Cathexis

We have tried to sketch here a cognitive mapping of the terrain encompassed by Joaquin’s effort to thwart the onslaught of alienated labor. Its symptoms in a still ascendant but eroded patriarchal institution and its oligarchic ideology survives in the family. The bourgeois family sustains the servitude of women, wives and mothers, confined to housework and the care of children. Masculine domination of the public world is guaranteed by the isolation of women to the sexual/animal domain (as in “The Summer Solstice”) or as sacrificial offerings (Guia, Dona Jeronima). It would need the intervention of Connie Escobar and the two sisters, Paul and Candida, to untangle the misery and greed of the pettybourgeois family, the tyranny of the fathers and their surrogates, to actualize the Concept of the Subject as identity-in-difference.

In the archive of critical commentary on this story (extended into a novel), the theme of doubleness, hybridity, and ambivalent identity predominate. Bienvenido Lumbera impressed by Joaquin’s “dramatic rendering of an obssesive problem of the Westernized Filipino intellectual caught between the pressures of his people’s history and of two colonial cultures—that of national identity” (Lumbera and Lumbera 244). More recurrent is the theme of the “divided Filipino psyche” urged by the Singaporean Shirley Lim who locates the problem of Filipino identity not in its dualism but in “the denial of that fracture” (73). Practically all critics subscribe to the consensus that the two-navelled women emblematizes the syndrome of disrupted, indeterminate or differentialed psyche/sensibility of Filipinos, a simplifying formulation that reduces the complex manifold antagonisms into a prictorial proposition (for a deviant take, see San Juan. Toward a People’s Literature; Subversions). Opposed to this individualistic, empiricist reading, I propose focusing attention on the institution of the family and its embeddedness in a society of exchange and its historical specificity. This includes the mediation of labor, the metabolism between society and nature (Lukacs 109-12).The form of doubleness is only an offshoot of the logic of determination construed as negation, as adumbrated in the vacillations of the “Unhappy Consciousness.”But what is crucial is to ascertain the historically variable content of the form which defines the meaning of substantive ethical transactions.

In Joaquin’s ilustrado family, we discern not the unifying force of love, but “the barbarism of private property against family life” (Marx, Critique 99). The labor of the negative in history escapes the narrative milieu of these tales. They subsist in the sphere of natural needs, egocentric appetites, with brute force imposed on workers and peasants. Would “The Woman with Two Navels” and “The Portrait” demonstrate a contrary process of resolving the contradictions of atomistic society and its individualistic ethos of inward spirituality or hypocritical sociability. We have noticed that in spite of forced denouement, all the knots are not tied by the convergence of events and compromise of charaters. The texts reveal their fissured, distrupted fabric, “disparate and diffuse from being the outcome of the conflicting contradictory effect of superimposing real processes which cannot be abolished in it except in an imaginary way” (Balibar and Macherey 284).

One indication of this ideological strategy is the situation of Paco Texeira. Haunted by the totemic mother (represented here by Concha Vidal), he grapples from the pole of narcissism to object-eroticism by shifting the libidinal object to Connie Escovar. His journey and sojourn in Manila is an attempt to heal the wounds/disruption of his own family and thus achieve self-integration. But even after the combat with Connie, Paco emerges victorious, only to be hounded by the Furies in the shape of the Philippine landscape that his father told him about. He thought he had escaped Connie/Concha, “But looking up and seeing the mountais, his heart stopped, his eyes started out of his head, his throat screamed soundlessly. He had not escaped, he had not fled at all—for there she still was, stretched out under the sky, the sly look in her eyes and the bloody smile on her lips, and her breasts and shoulders naked” (Joaquin 103).On this function of equating mother/homeland, Geza Roheim comments: “Neurosis separates the individual from his fellows and connects him with his own infantile images. Culture (sublimation) leads the libido into ego-syntonic channels by the creation of substitute objects. The most important of these substitutes is a human being, the wife who replaces the mother (quoted in La Barre 167).

So it is Paco Texeira, the hybrid child, outsider/insider to the Hong Kong exiles, that fulfills what the Monson family failed to do: return to the father’s homeland, affirming patriarchal origin. Paco’s memory reinstates the position of his vagrant father, bringing him to life, acknowledging him as a source of vital wholeness: “He had clutched at the railing as he gazed at the mountains in astonished delight, thinking of himself as a boy, seated on the bed, staring at his father’s photograph, and trying to stir up some feeling over his father’s death….The astonishment had renewed itself all the time he was in Manila, every time he looked up and suddenly saw the sleeping woman outlined against the sky—and it changed the indifference with which he had come into his father’s country into a stirring of clan-emotion–a glow, almost, of homecoming” (89). But the homeland offered only the camaraderie of the band of musicians, and the Oedipal threat of incest and the killing of the totemic father.

From Family to Polis: The Antigone Effect

From Hegel’s perspective, the family serves as the natural basis of political life, making humans ethical beings. It is the “obscure right of the natural element within spiritual relationship.” It stands for individual versus communal right. Hegel perceives that in Greek society, “the old Gods are assigned the right of family situations in so far as these rest on nature and therefore are opposed to the public law and right of the community” (quoted in Rose 133). In Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, the conflict is between family right, the right to bury the dead, and communal right, the law of society. Both ethical powers clash. Antigone is compelled not by her character, but by pathos.”an inherently justified power over the heart, an essential content of rationality and freedom of the will” (Rosen 133). Collision of two equally necessary and substantial rights results into tragedy—those of Connie/Concha and of Candida/Paula—modulated into comic resolution with the reinstatement of the extended neofeudal family. The reaon is that in modern capitalism, only freedom in thought, not actual freedom, exists; and commodity-fetishism, reification, imposes the fatal necessity that constitutes normality.

Meanwhile, Joaquin shifts the stage of the conflict from mother/daughter to father/sons. It is the cultural milieu of the Monson family that becomes the mode of sublimating anxieties, a network of defense mechanisms consisting of Pepe Monson, Father Tony, Rita Lopez, and the domestic hearth of Mary Texeira, the wife. It is the wife who substitutes for the mother, stabilizing the gap between narcissistic fixation and object-eroticism. The wife serves as the matrix of the family which serves multiple functions (economic provision, exchange of sexual services, socialization); But more important than all the tasks performed by the family, Eric Wolf reminds us, “it remains also, even where ties of kinship are highly diffuse, the bearer of virtue, and of its public reflection, reputation. Because the family involves the ‘whole’ man, public evaluations of a man are ultimately led back to considerations of his family” (8).

The Matrix Principle

Women protagonists therefore uphold the familial niche containing the emblem of virtue. But this presumes the recognition of the unity-in-difference of women in the family. In Connie Escobar’s situation, Joaquin allegorized the fantasy of division and the spirit’s diremption. But she is not afflicted with the schizoid temperament of the Unhappy Consciousness. It is Paco Texeira, the musician, half-Filipino half-Portuguese, who undergoes the shifts, displacements, and confrontations of the Negative Totality that is Manila/Philippines after Liberation. Fleeing the clutches of the mother Concha Vidal, he pursues the daughter Connie. After offering a sacrificial doll to a Chinese god in Manila’s Chinatown—the flagrant Other demonized by the Spaniards by consigning them to the Parian ghetto outside Intramuros—Connie wrestles with Paco, a struggle that emblematizes the agon of master-slave long superseded by the Unhappy Consciousness. illusion and the pleasure-principle confronts the reality-principle immanent in Paco’s identification as member of the band. In any case, his return to his family reaffirms the husband-wife relation as, in Hegel’s terms, the one “in which one consciousness immediately recognizes itself in another, and in which there is knowledge of this mutual recognition” (Hegel, Phenomenology 273).

The two-navelled woman thus represents a return of Mother-right in the guise of Persephone replacing Demeter, or the Virgin’s immaculate privilege overshadowing the son/father link. Joaquin’s fable, however, returns to the predicament of the patriarch Monson disillusioned, disenchanted by the present order of anarchic individualism illustrated by the assertive Escovar and his mirror-image Paco. The older Monson is oblivious of changes in Phiippine society, still believing that he cannot utter “Nunc dimmitis servum tuum, Domine” (according to his children) because he still believes he is needed. This bubble of fixation or cathexis is threatened and destroyed by the intrusion of Concha Vidal and the daughter Connie, as though the Divine Law controlling natural existence represented the reality of neocolonial Philippines and its violent repression of peasants, workers, etc. in the Huk rebellion and the McCarthy Cold War fascist curtailment of civil liberties.

We can surmise that the two-navelled Connie and the flamboyant Concha Vidal are the twin faces of a society from which the Hong Kong exiles have kept distance, physical and psychological, a world of “dust and crabs…” Innocence has devolved into bitter disenchantment, not wisdom. This quasi-Gothic romance turned mystery thriller also renders the education of the Monson children and friends, as well as their initiation into the sphere of antagonisms, incongruities, violating traditional conventions and sacrosanct decorum:

The mirror’s cracked world was safe no longer; was perilous with broken glass, teeming with ghosts; was now the world where Paco waited for the strangle-hold and dear good Mary told lies and the cautious Rita was dazzled by dragons and Tony hid in a monastery and fathers took drugs and mothers had lost their dictionaries and young women had two navels….(Joaquin, The Woman 111).

This concludes the short story, which was expanded later into a novel at the end of which Connie and Paco together set out on a new journey, presumably suggesting the dynamics of “free will” and a future unchained from contingency and determinations. It is the birth of another illusion: the Kantian noumenal world of abstract universality without content, a floating signifier vulnerable to all forces that can limit and undermine it.

Portrait of Consumable Artifact

In Joaquin’s expanded novel, the tension between private and public worlds is dissolved with the compromises of both Connie and the patriarch Monson. Both “The Woman” and “Portrait” are Joaquin’s attempts to heal the rupture between the Spanish decrepit heritage and the dominance of Anglo-Saxon bourgeois norms. This rupture, however, was constituted by heterogenous elements: the betrayal of the revolution by the ilustrados, the suppression of peasant and workers’ insurrections by the U.S.-patronized oligarchy, and the destruction of Manila and the whole country for the sake of maintaining U.S. imperial hegemony. In “The Woman,” the thematic problem was how to rescue the patriarchal regime from the disruption by the natural powers (embodied by the mother-daughter’s wild pursuit of Paco, the wandering half-breed occupying both worlds) unleashed by the savagery of survivors and returning masters. In “The Portrait,” the crisis is shifted to the eve of World War II, just as Manila was preparing to become “the Open City” to the Japanese invaders, an eventuality muted by the La Naval de Manila procession that punctuates the concluding scene. And this time, the burden of discharging the blockage of sentiment, hopes, and aspirations—a profound trauma unrelieved by mourning and melancholia–is placed on two sisters, Candida and Paula.

Let us return to the milieu of familial ethics. Having deployed the Hegelian notion of the “Unhappy Consciousness” to characterize the situation of typical protagonists as the Archbishop in “Dona Geronima,” the father in “Three Generations,” and Sid Estiva in “The Order,” the teenager in “Candido’s Apocalypse,” it might be useful again to invoke Hegel on the role of the nuclear family, esp. the sisters, in clarifying the ethical problem. Here, of course, it is the artist Don Lorenzo Marasigan, afflicted with a spiritual lethargy/paralysis similar to the elder Monson, whose painting, an allegory of his social/moral predicament, has become an albatross on the lives of the sisters. But why assign the therapeutic agency to the sisters?

The traditional family is in crisis here. But the free individualities of the children prevails—they have no desire for one another. Hegel contends that “the feminine in the form of the sister. has the highest intuitive awarenss of what is ethical. She does not attain to consciousness of it, or to the objective existence of it, because the law of the Family is an implicit inner essence, which is not exposed to the daylight of consciousness, but remains an inner feeling and the divine element that is exempt from an existence in the real world.” The ethical life of the woman, the sister, is distinctive because “in her vocation as an individual and in her pleasure, her interest is centered on the universal and remains alien to the particularity of desire.” In the sisters Paul and Candida, we behold the affirmation of the individual’s right to recognize and be recognized, not ruined by desire. They fulfill the governance of the household and “the guardian of the divine law” from which the community derives its power and authentication” (Phenomenology 276).

But are Candida and Paula liberated from the spell of their father’s painting and the obligation accrued by this gift? This insight into the vocation of the woman as mediating the natural/divine and the empirical/legality occurs within the framework of the family. Within the ethical perspective sketched by Hegel, the family holds a universality based on intuition, separate from the all-embracing concept of the Kantian categorical imperative. Each family member sees herself in the others and acknowledges the difference; but being a form of natural cohesion—notice how need and material desires command the behavior of the elder siblings, Tony Javier, etc.—and so cannot be the model of a social and political cohesion. That is why the play dramatizes the disintegration of that old order anchored to needs, appetites, and the vacillations of the Unhappy Consciousness.

Remembrance as Tragicomic Catharsis

We come finally to the apocalypse of the hispanicized Filipino artist. Assuming that “The Portrait” is an attempt to draw the Filipino as an artist, a sensibility attuned to the sensuous, empirical environment, why Don Lorenzo’s painting such a burden to the sisters and a point of bitter conflict in the family? And does the drama really convey the emancipation of the sisters and Don Lorenzo from bondage with the imagined past?

Consider, as a specimen of wrongheaded judgment, the opinion of Leonard Casper, revered as a superior expert on Filipino writing. Casper extols the moral proselytizing message we need to chew : “For the public, the play is an elegy for lost virtues—childhood innocence; it is a reminder of the First Fall; its appeal therefore is to every man…..Victory for the spirit here (one cannot quite say the soul) is so nearly complete that, finally, there is no sense of loss. The past is carried into the future on the shoulders of the present, as in Marasigan’s painting of Aeneas bearing from Troy on his shoulders an Anchises whose face is his own” (141). If the past is simply transported to the present without any change, given the repetition of the artist’s face in both father and child, then we are faced with the triumph of necessity, contingency, the force of brute material fatality antithetical to the “innocence and beauty” born from custom and ceremony. Instead of a tragic collision of two morally valid positions, as in Sophocles’ Antigone (Wimsatt and Brooks), we have a comic closure: the sisters finally demonstrating their fidelity/kinship with the father’s sense of honor indivisible with Catholic dogma (signified by his heading the La Naval procession).

We can ask whether spirit or private property proved victorious in Joaquin’s allegory of the Filipino artist. If spirit is equivalent to person, the free individual of modern bourgeois society, Gillian Rose reminds us that
persons were first defined in Roman law as “bearers of legal property rights…The possessor [of property] is recognized in law as a person. ‘Personality’ is an abstraction of the law, and the claim to possess is the basis of the right to be recognized by law” (66-67). From this proceeds the institutions of exchange and contract, based on the division of labor and the control of surplus. “Exchange and contract depend on the recognition of formal equalities which presuppose lack of identity or inequality” (Rose 67). In the Philippines during U.S. colonial rule, the institutions of exchange and contract prevailed over the old traditional social customs premised on honor, gift-giving, noblesse oblige, and near incestuous arrangements.

What seems hidden by the aura of Don Lorenzo’s painting is the reality of what’s going on around the house. The atmosphere of defeat, panic, and desperate escape of father/son from a devastated city keeps us distracted from the fierce antagonisms of individuals inside and outside the house. In the colonial order administeredby bourgeois rules, every individual has right to own property; but this presupposes people without property, considered as “things,” and therefore subordinated or enslaved. It is the family governed by intuition, feeling, that restores genuine totality of multiple connections, an identity of needs, sexual difference, and relations of parents to children outside from formal contractual relations of ownership. Despite the varying interpretations of the allegorical substance of the painting, the focus was always on the artist/creator, not the circumstances or context of its genesis. Thus, even with the disappearance or loss of the sacralized art-work, we never grasp the principle of unity (property relations) binding the characters. The universal spirit of the community cannot spring from particularistic appetites and needs (Hegel, Phenomenology 267-787). We may infer their distinctive motives and interests, but we never see the process of recognition in which each person internalizes the other as a possible element or stage of her development. A glimmer of self-consciousness only arrives with Bitoy Camacho’s retrospective summation, a choric voice that substitutes for the missing universality of a rational civic spirit (here fulfilled by the ritual of La Naval Procession) that synthesizes the old and new onto a higher level of historical evolution. Consciousness of the protagonists do not return to themselves to become self-reflexive. Except for the detached encompassing view of Camacho, the identity-in-difference sought for never materializes even in the superimposed procession of the Virgin
and the idolization of the auratic patriarch, Don Lorenzo.

Better To Give Than to Receive?

The question faced by the sisters revolves around the disposition of the father’s painting. Do they have the right? Since it was the father’s gift to them, does that act entail obligations that prevent its sale or transfer to another? At one point, the Senator Perico and his contemporaries suggested that the painting should be donated to the government since, somehow, it is a national treasurer that belongs to all the citizens. However, the need of the sisters to survive physically forces them to consider its sale, which they hesitate to do, since they still operate in the realm of intuition, sentiments, and blood-ties. They struggle between the realm of intuition/feeling and the realm of conceptual thought and legality, between their respect for tradition and the commonsensical advice of their siblings and friends. Paula’s resistance to Tony Javier, the failed attempts of Candida to secure a paying job, and the refusal of Manolo and Pepang to subsidize the household, all conspire to the final decision to destroy the painting, as an act of freeing themselves from necessity, from the anarchistic war of persons competing for profit, possessions, domination over others defined as non-persons. Instead of the gift (the art-work, the father’s honor, the “conscience” of the clan) becoming a commodity, it becomes a sacrifice, a token of a sacramental offering, to propitiate the gods of the household and the clan of kindred members. At the end, Paul and Candida affirm they “stand” with their father, with all the values the Marasigan house incarnate, and their beatific vision of the father heading the Virgin’s procession all confirm their disjunction from the empirical domain of contract and exchange of property/money.

We behold finally Bitoy Camacho’s rhetorical praise of the two sisters and his claim that thought the father, the sisters, and the house were destroyed by the global war, “they were never conquered. They were still fighting—right to the very end—fighting against the jungle.” Joaquin concludes with a tragic-comic flourish in Bitoy’s vow to remember and preserve the memory of the Marasigan household and the “city of our affections,” amid the encroachment of the jungle and the falling of bombs. But his promise to continue and preserve what, is not clearly enunciated. What exactly will he celebrate when he sings about the fall the house of the Marasigans. What standard or norms immanent in his vocation can legitimize his appeal to be heard or listened to, and be taken seriously?

And so, in the ultimate reckoning, the glorious civilization that Joaquin celebrates in the ilustrado families of Intramuros remains the feudal order overlaid with Anglo-Saxon trimmings (represented by the journalists, the musicians, pettybourgeois intruders). Gifts instead of commodities confer prestige, status, honor. I endorse Lucien Goldmann’s view that the novel form—here applicable to Joaquin’s entire body of work—transposes into literary form the everyday life of people in market society. Consequently, the author represents the collective consciousness of a segment of the society he addresses, with which he identifies and whose destiny he is trying to articulate (1-17).

As everyone acknowledges, Joaquin, is the artist of the hispanicized group of Filipinos, the ilustrados exemplified by Rizal, Juan Luna, Claro Recto, his father Col. Leocadio Joaquin, or Jose Garcia Villa’s father Dr. Simeon Villa—whose world disintegrated with U.S. colonial subjugation. Col. Joaquin was “a prominent lawyer in the American era; and the businessman who turned Herran street (now Pedro Gil) into the commercial hub of Paco” (Yuson and Arcellana; Lanot). Of more significance for the artist was the death of his father when he was 13 years old; and the subsequent transfer from Paco to another district farther from the ancestral home. It was Joaquin’s mission to not just elegize the urbane world of his father, but to resurrect it and universalize it. His vocation was reconstructive: faced with the chaos of post-Liberation Philippines, he sought to make intelligible the fragments of public life. For the heirs of the revolutionary 1896 period, he sought to organize a coherent, viable understanding of their predicament that can synchronize if not harmonize. in a future stage, the valued mores and sacred institutions of the past and the profane, secular imperatives of predatory business society. In effect, Joaquin’s strove to recuperate the apocalyptic drive of the defeated, the martyrs and conquered, since for him “Apocalyptic—a madness of hope born of despair—was the true, the original, climate of Christianity, and in this climate, too, evidently, revolutions are bred” (Culture 263). Whether this endeavor succeeded, as Joaquin speculates in his self-interpretation, “Apologia Pro Tribu Sua,” remains a contentious topic for current scholars.

Meanwhile, around and underlying it, the governing property-relations of inequality unfolds its logical end in war. In the worsening crisis of neocolonial society today in the regime of Duterte and U.S. hegemony, what is needed is not remembrance as such to appreciate and revaluate Joaquin’s works. Suspicion hermeneuts abound everywhere. But what is needed is what the feminist scholar Elisabeth Fiorenza calls “a hermeneutics of actualization” in which the potencies of Spirit—of self-conscious, critical minds—can interact with objective reality and release the repressed energies of the popular imagination. Such an actualization needs also the dialectical method of analysis first broached by Hegel in which the tragicomedy of the “Unhappy Consciousness” is properly
judged as a stage in the revolutionary transformation of our everyday life.
Of course, the labor of the negative operates mysteriously, even if we have not read Hegel, inscribing its own effects in multilayered “narrative time” of history (Ricoeur) in which we are all caught, whether we like it or not, as paraticipants, observers, and readers all manifesting symptoms of this melancholy enigmatic phase of the Absolute Spirit.


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

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

–Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confronting the Racial Imaginary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Artifice of National Liberation

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

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

Bodies Bearing Stigmata

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

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

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

Toward Cultural Revolution

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

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


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by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

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


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


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

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

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


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




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

E. San Juan, Jr.
Polytechnic University of the Philippines



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



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


About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

—E. San Juan, Jr.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


—Sonny San Juan
Cathedral Heights,
Washington DC, 8 Abril 2016




Re-Visiting Carlos Bulosan by Paulino Lim, Jr.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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