Eugene Salazar Lit 261 Survey of Philippine Lit An Integration Paper for Philippine Literature

March 31, 2007 Mr. D.M. Reyes

To trace the trajectory of methodologies, content and issues surrounding the category of Philippine Literature would be an impossible if not a herculean task. The constraints of space, expertise (or its availability) and time may hinder a properly thorough undertaking to foresee the accomplishment of such task in an integration paper alone. An attempt to sketch its implications for categories like aesthetics and nationhood may be excused as a forced hand to span Philippine literature’s breadth and sustained voice of expression throughout the nation’s history and development both with its inflections in the social, political, intellectual, religious, aesthetic and cultural dimensions. Any attempt to lay out the shape and directions of a nation’s particular corpus of literary production would necessarily demand a serious treatment of that nation’s politics, history, economics, religiosity (or irrelegiosity), and culture as manifested in the pluriform facets of the Filipino collective experience and by this we mean the lived experiences of individuals who share common cultural environs. On top of this, social class and historical locatedness provide more complexity in grasping this nearly amorphous phenomenon. By extension and by implication that there is a discernible relationship between the constructs of nationhood, aesthetics and postcolonial condition, the present writer will attempt to follow the interstitial nodes where these three theoretical notions inform, interrogate and focus the several tiers in reading the ways in which signification has taken place in the discourse of Philippine literature. Selected texts from Lumbera’s Philippine Literature A History and Anthology will

be used to demonstrate the multiplicity of notions at work in these areas of criticism, literary production and reading consumption of what is dubbed as Philippine literatures. Following these premises, this paper will define the notions of postcoloniality, aesthetics and nationhood as inflected in the cultural conditions and theoretical articulations of criticisms as regards the status of Philippine literatures. To limit our focus on these three ideas is highly critical for not only that they contribute to a better understanding of the current status of Philippine literatures but they also provide a sounding board for an extended inquiry to the future of literary criticism and production.

The Problematics of Aesthetics, Postcoloniality and Nationhood A. The Concept of the Beautiful

The question as to whether literature as an end in itself or as a medium for social transformation may have been articulated fluently in the debates of S.P.Lopez and Jose Garcia Villa but it seems to be a recurring theme in our understanding of contemporary literature not only because it interrogates the raison d’etre of literature in a country whose majority is not living in good conditions but also begs the age old question of aesthetics. The problem has been raised and dealt with by Plato, Immanuel Kant, William Wordsworth, Sir Philip Sidney and Matthew Arnold with varying results and conclusions. With its variant expressions rooted from equally variant modes of thinking (the T’boli’s chant songs, the Sugbuanon’s short story contributions, the Hiligaynon oyayis, the Ivatan’s versified poems and a host of others), Philippine literature(s) will have to be dealt with by the literary critic with these questions in mind. What makes one literary expression (whether it’s a

song, a riddle, an aphorism or an oral recitation of a war story) possessed of aesthetic value? How is the concept of a beautiful poem, an ennobling war song, a pithy saying or a great folktale to be understood? One possible response would be for the critic to study the particular language and pay attention to the syntax, semantics and phonics of these particular works and check them against such ethnic standards. While this maybe a daunting task, it is not at all a good starting point for the appreciation of these cultural forms of expression for in fact emerging works on such literature are already in existence (Francis Cimatu’s work on the Cordillera, G. Arnold Azurin’s studies on Iloko literature, Florentino Hornedo’s work on the laji- a versified war-song among the Ivatans, Resil Mojares’ corpus on Cebuano literary forms, Prof. Lucero’s work on Hiligaynon narratives, and other continuing works to understand literature in its localized forms) Another possible way of looking at these is by acknowledging the contributive work these linguistically diverse forms of literary expression as unique and legitimate articulations of the cultural life of Filipinos from the regions. Since the origins enter the picture promiscuously, the question of beauty is now democratized. These various literary forms are expressions of indigenous groups and therefore attempts to answer the great questions of life, of which literature is said to be the medium. To question as whether these ethno-lingustic groups as lacking the notions of art and beauty would be the extreme forms of cultural triumphalism. Not only because it smacks of smugness and intellectual dishonesty, but indeed the presence of discernible features which Western-influenced critics would describe as standards are perceptible in these indigenous forms, even before the advent of criticism and literary study. Ethno-linguistic epics from Alim to Darangen consist of versified oral forms, replete with discernible patterns (rhymes, tonal points and counterpoints for reference,

rhythmic executions and accompanying instruments) are if not artistic, beyond the comprehension of a Western scholar. If one peruses the literature written in English from the American period to the present, one may perceive the lofty use of the language by Filipino writers- from Manuel Arguilla’s use of English as if it’s a Philippine dialect (to quote one Western critic) to the ebullient poetries of Jose Garcia Villa. Not only was the use of the language full of craft and mastery but the treatment of socio-political as well as individual visions of struggles, realizations, emancipation, universality and truce were written off by Filipino poets (de Ungria, Abad, Abadilla, Angeles,Villa), essayists (Pantoja, Polotan, Reyes) , fiction writers (Arguilla, Brillantes, Dalisay, Datu, Jose, Matute, Nolledo, Santos, Tiempo) , criticisms (Abad, Cruz, Garcia, Lumbera, Mojares, Joaquin) and plays (Cruz, Dumol, Villanueva). In My Love, Ever Since You Left Me, Gregoria de Jesus, wife of Andres Bonifacio not only follows the tradition of resistance as foregrounded in this passionate verse of longing and love but uses the revolutionary conditions to amplify the inner struggles of the individual woman not just as partner to the revolutionaries but as individuals who share not only the revolutionary ideals but also the frustrations of a love ruptured by a pressing social reality. It magnifies personal feelings and longings for a beloved taken away by circumstances. Written in quatrains and in passionate bursts, the poem embodies a powerful lyric of a beloved to a lover, sketching romantically details of longing and hopes of unification in the near future. If a reader would seek to interrogate the question of craftsmanship, one need not look far for answers. The roster of names does not simply intimidate but provides a valid avenue for affirming the contribution of Philippine literature to questions of aesthetics. This is of course a localized inflection of how writers view the world and its experiences through the

lens of the beautiful. This formulation came not only in short fiction but in other genres as well poetry, novels, and plays as well as emergent forms of literature – resistance, expatriate, speculative and alternative forms. As regards English as linguistic medium, exposure, experimentation, borrowing and revisions were strategies employed by writers among these islands to articulate themselves reaching to delicate and impeccable employment to represent the lived experiences of the Filipino. With its many users from across the archipelago, English became a “common” language as people-groups from across the regions used it to communicate and establish literary dialogues with their counterparts in academes and industries (film, theater, book clubs etc.). The way with which English was used showed another aspect of the Filipinos flourishing under the American colonial masters. There are a number of scholars today who contend that English is no longer just a foreign tool of domination and if this is true, Filipinos have used the language for their own, making it as if it is just another one of those “dialects” spread throughout the land. If this were so, we have done beautifully with a Filipino-English. B. The Inseparable Problematics of Nationhood and Postcoloniality

Postcoloniality will definitely cast a long shadow in the dialogues on the nature, aspect, constituency and methodology of Philippine literature. Influenced by two powerful colonial masters, the Philippines has yet to cope with the scars of oppression and amnesia from Spanish and American rule. The act of tracing one’s history, identity and therefore the necessary provision of a codified expression of the collective experience is fraught with these problems. Aside from that, the academe and her committed scholars and critics will have to

look at the multiplicity of forms, modalities of living, relating, feeling and thinking and consequentially of expressing those ideas (whether oral, written or performative) The Philippine literary landscape with all its “literatures” suffers from the unresolved notion of nationhood and the gnawing reality of a postcolonial present. Questions of identity formation (as a nation: What makes up a national literature? What is Philippine about Philippine literature?) and identity continuation (How shall our literatures be from this point on? What shall we speak of in our on going dialogues with ourselves and with our countrymen who live different experiences?) continue to problematize our knowledge of literature. Perhaps there is no better example of the problematic of nationhood and postcoloniality other than the debates of Balagtasismo and Modernismo. National Artist Virgilio Almario has astutely covered the issues and insights of this literary and cultural brawl. The question of nationhood as to what is Philippine literature invites lots of questions many of which were answered by literary critics (Isagani Cruz, Soledad Reyes, Oscar Campomanes, Bienvenido Lumbera, Nick Joaquin). In the debate of the pro-Balagtasan versus the modernists questions of language loom large as well as the extent to which Filipino writers should borrow from the West (whether form, style, language, inflection and methods). Perhaps today among ultra-nationalists, the driving force is still the advocacy of a Filipino medium of expression which not only prefers the Tagalog-based Filipino of Pres. Quezon but invites the ire of the other regions’ advocate of individual languages (Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Pampango, Ilokano, Bicolano etc.). Bievenido Lumbera in an essay titled “Harnessing Regional Literature for National Literature” reviews the questions of nationhood and literature by glimpsing the

contributive potentials of the literature from the regions. For Lumbera, the beginnings of creating a national canon would necessarily mean dealing with the existent forms of literary expression from across the archipelago. He admits of the daunting task but anticipates the collective efforts of scholars from fields kindred to literary studies (linguists, sociologists, anthropologists, etc.) to give shape to the so-called national canon. Invoking Benedict Anderson’s metaphor of imagined communities, Lumbera proposes for a need to utilize a theory that will put “national literature” and “regional literature” in proper dialogue so as to move the step to canonical formation in the direction of inclusion of the country’s various literary expressions abandoning the limits of strictly formalist norms and elitist treatment of the status of regional literature as something inferior. Lumbera also criticizes the prevalent thinking that only those works written in the tongues of the colonial masters (English and Spanish) are canonical. He suggests that works in whatever language (from around the archipelago) should be deemed canonical once they were thoroughly studied and criticized by experts. By extension, he seeks to dismantle the idea of the canonical superiority of only English and Spanish texts written by Filipinos (of whatever ethno-linguistic origin). With the plurality of languages the critics and scholars will face, the notion of national literature will be addressed democratically and inclusively. The interrogation of the Filipino identity (and the Filipino literary writer as well) is of course embedded in this question of national identity. This after all is Anderson’s chief notion of community, as a group of people who collaborated on forging the face of the imagined and the actual Filipino regardless of ethnic group. To show that the notion of the identity of the Filipino is pluriform as well as fused with sub-categories like gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, social class and ethnicity, one need not look far to prove this point. It does seem exhaustive as it invites

theoretical contributions from studies of ethnic identies, feminist and masculinist accounts, gay and lesbian sub-culture, socio-economic status, diasporic displacement, and perhaps age-based world-views: the struggles and coming of age encounters of a young Chinese Filipino in a Martial Law Philippines in The Execution by Charlson Ong; a woman’s tumultuous affairs with life, business and giving love a second-chance in Kerima Polotan Tuvera’s Sounds of Sunday; the prevalence and erotic power of superstition expressed in the man-woman tension of Nick Joaquin’s The Summer Solstice and the conflicts and hopes of a confused young professional in Honorio de Dios’s Geyluv. If the representation of experiences through codified forms (narratives, poetries and others) take on a variety of forms, there seem to be one commonality among them- the articulation of life experiences through themes of realization and self-discovery, conflicts and tensions of world-views, societal roles, liberation from oppressive structures (whether institutions or individuals) and the role of the transcendent (as ritualized in religious ceremonies, nature rites and belief systems). This is of course attributable to the geographical terrains, cultural experiences and unique ways of seeing the world (from the mountains, to the valleys, to urban jungles etc.). By virtue of a contemporary geography set by political expedients and resources, the Filipino must acknowledge these varied forms of living in order to enrich one’s understanding of the notion of nationhood. Because the problematic of nationhood and nationalist literature will end with this acknowledgment, one cannot still ignore the so called nationalist tradition articulated by critics like Elmer Ordonez or Bien Lumbera. This nationalist tradition in literature, as advocated by iconic figures like Rizal and Balagtas, will continue to inform post-EDSA notions of national literature. This tradition replete with themes of political emancipation and individual liberty continues to enhance our understanding

of a national literature even as we attempt to include the regional corpus of literary works. These two strains (nationalist impulse and regional inclusion) will eventually codify our maturing perceptions about our nationalist canon. The postcolonial shadow looms strongly as we affirm to extricate ourselves from the being children of the East and the West (to use Carlos P. Romulo’s synthesizing phrase). Even as writers continue to cultivate regional languages enriching the culture and the country, one cannot ignore the contributive presence of our colonial masters: the Spanish influence on our religiosity, our cultural practices of social events-fiestas, weddings, funerals, birthdays etc. (and the social communicative circuits involved there), our recurring habits both as shame and pride to the world and the American language and its titanic contribution to our education (and miseducation) along with the way we see the world of the academe, our social status as dependent on our command of the language, our competitiveness with the global standards as leaning strongly on our English “proficiency” and the on-going reliance for economic relations with the United States as reflective of our inability to formally renounce this love-hate relationship with Uncle Sam. Decolonization has been declared by many in our academes (or at least initially we have acquired consciousness of decolonization) and those yolks of bondage have been thrown off effectively. While we cannot, remember what was forgotten and erased by the colonial powers, we can still embrace the remnants of these traces in our indigenous people groups (their modes of thinking, relating and living) and at the same time utilize what was inherited from the West: education, critical thinking, language competency, epistemological ways of seeing, technology and rights-based system of governance. These will seep into the collective and actualized experiences of the Filipino. From thence conflicts, interrogations of meaning,

consensual forms of living, and academic contribution will persist as well as inform our ways of writing and reading. In the end the literature of the Philippines from a postcolonial perspective will be emphasized, and undermined by these conflicts, negotiations and revisions of life and life-making. Along with the other Filipinos dispersed around the globe, Filipinos will continue to learn from “strange” cultures and adopt features that they may find meaningful as their own. The conflation of genres, the creation of categories (like gender, class, race etc.), and the critical encounter of the readers with the published texts will sustain and revise our notions of literature as more theories, narratives and poetries continue to issue from our presses. As more members of our society become more literate and critical, the Filipino will and can contribute significantly to the economy of civilization articulating what it means to be Filipino, and be proud of it.

Bibliography Lumbera, Bienvenido and Cynthia Nograles Lumbera. Philippine Literature A History and Anthology. Pasig City, Philippines: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2005. Santiago Lilia Quindoza. Mga Panitikan ng Pilipinas. Quezon City: C & E Publishing, Inc., 2007.

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