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).
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.
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.
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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