Imagining Ourselves: When Filipino Writers Address Filipino Audiences on Filipino Concerns

Bienven do L. Lumbera
From Thought the Harder, Heart the Keener: A Festschrift for Soledad S. Reyes. Eduardo Jose E. Calasanz, Jonathan Chua, Rofel G. Brion, editors. Quezon City: Office of Research and Publications, Loyola Schools, Ateneo de Manila University, 2008.

ne of the first ilings I Ieamed as an aspiring \,eriter in the 1950s was that a writer claiming he is all aftist does not write for a-ny speciffc audience-he writes because he has to arrd he wiil ffnd his proper audience if his work is afly good, that is, il it is able to touch ille huma.dtl in any man, regardless of nationali5,, period or clime. I do not remember any more how I came upon ..he formulation as I had set it dolrTr iI1 $rriting, or how many years it took to jell as some kind of lal, that subdy asseris itself in discussions of literature that is suppos€d to be "greaC'or "enduring." I do kno\,r, however, that as poet and critic, I labored under ils lreight for mary years, until it was a.lmost too late for me to cha"1ge. I kro(-, too, that d1e assumptions imbedded in th€ formulatiol

o

have sunk such deep roots in my consciousn€ss tlat all I need to do is sii still alld focus, ald the ideas would crawl out of my skin and insist on being attended to or, al the very least, acknowledged, even as ihey elude quotation maxks a,1d loohotes ard {iscy bibliographical amenities. "Unive$a.lism" in hterahue may be descnbed as the urge of a creative writer to trarscend the boundaries oftime ard clime to reach oui i,o a genemlized, abshact audieDce in thc belief that one is ihus able to produce drt that will have pemanert va]ue- Such a.n r:rge has been implanted in the minds of many a *nter by iiiera.ry education that equated "modemit_v" in art and literatur€ \\,iilr tle ulfeu:edng of i}}e artist fiom his soci€ty. In shorl, "universalism" would have us believe ihai Philippine a , to be modem, needs to forgo its natiqtality. The poehy of.Jose Garcia Villa epitomizes rrth6 modem'J in our literature-the poems are not "about" anlthing at all, illey a.re "verbal consh.ncts' that may hint at ideas but rever qldte articulate Lhem; they ar-e musical composiiions rather than ideationa.l or emolional expressions. Villa brought relief to a litera.ry scene dominated by the polemical novels ofJose Rizal and by the pahiotic verse of Fjzal (once again), del Pilaf,, Bonifacio, andJacinto. The
Ranan Magsatsat Auatu1 ll.tnte, 3 Stlientut 993.
1

of tlle Philippines found the ground on which they could stand in demonstrating $. since the flon Filipino reader might come from the United Shtes or other English+peaking countries. I would be teachiflg fiction.yith defeat and ignominy the Propagandists }vere dispened by the hopelessnex and personal interesis. that under the illusioD of not cate ng to ary audience. poelry. It was inevitable.M.. Oscar de Zuniga.hat they were capable of doing.v graduate study. Estrella Alfon. Years later. and othe$ rvhile I was still in high school in the ffnal yeals of the 19'10s. Edith Sihvell. Francisco Arcellalla. that I wanled to make a good impression on whoevo might read me and I was courting hls synpatly. and savoring the literary offe ngs of such distinguished contributors as N. Ifl keeping with the Iiterary iheory I picked up at the Arnedcan universitl where I did m. shoulder to shoulder with &e likes of Sherwood Anderson. I had nothing i. Edna St.entieth centuy Philippines projected a lilipino capable of striding towards the fuhrre.I rvas. and even Emest wr:iters mentioned were from Heminguay. In the ianguage of the Americans ihat thev had mastered.ar embatded past.lking aboui Literaxy works. Gonzalez. and while iheir works could still agitate.fl:ite mv first poems and stories as a studert at the University oI Santo Tomas. the Revolutionaries by captiviqr and combat fatigue.o sa]. Therefore. Young writers brardishing a new language ard theh own illusions of mobiiiry and change had a sense ofnew horizons opening up to them. duough the agency of the lalrguage that rvas my medium. world porver which could brag of liierary ffgures commanding atteniion ihe world over. to a. that a non-Iilipino reader would chance upon my poem and actually read it.1y speciffc reader-I was writing simply because I had \rords at mlr command aJld pichres remember€d from other better known rriters. I did not knou at that time. preferably foreign. The poetry and liction of the nelv htelligentsia of the hr. therefore. Insiead.l. Brt because I rvas tsing English. they could paxiicipate in the d):namism of a ne$. I txained my students to focus on techniquc and rhouqht the Earde. the young $. holvever. Of course. This rlas the spfit I imbibed ftom reading the weekend magazines of The Manila Times attd Th? Manila Chrori.V. it was essential ihat my poem demonstxate acceptable awareness of trends and techniques curent in those countries. of couse. I had hoped then. the images of the Filipino that they summoned were associated \.Jose Garcia Villa had appropdated the English language to himself and he could make it pe orm tricks that impressed even the colonizen who brought the language over. I generally prescinded from matlers of culture and history in ta. and drama to freshmen and sophomores al the Aleneo de Manila Universit). that when I began to r. it rvas impo ant that I did not burden my chance reader unnecessarily with details that might bafiie hin+er.nters from the Universif. unknowingly tailoring my work to suit the culture of my iheoretical chance reader. Vincent Millay. Given ihis language. Hearr ihe (eener . I was aware.

" even when the pieces were quite explicit in their messages. dissertation on Tagalog know norv that the critical was not able to draw out {iom the works discussed I poety. the poets succeeded in asserting the distinctness of their identity and mad. not becatse h1lman nature is "univemal. commented that I was bearing down ioo hard on the distorting tendencies ard aberatrons of colonialism on Tagalog poety. Somehow. 1\4ren a student of mine karsferred to an American universi5. butl was flotpefturbed at all. I asked quesbons that would Iead io the corclusion that ali men rvhatever their naiionality. human beings whose aspirations and motivations may be culled from the texts in which these are imbedded. was that human behavior analyzed in an Aten€o class did nol differ much &om human behavior anallzed in Nel. or individua. In the mid 1960s.i . ard instrument I used in my class the speciffcities of cultural determination that make the analysis of literar'! works intellectually rewarding. I supposed then. I had not realized how much my research had politicized me until my professor in Modem Poeffy. The remark at any other tlme would have alarmed me.l quirks.ule. I look back at my studenls case.hr ft for 9o edad s Reyes . M).I was gaining inslght into tle impact of hisiory on creative $Titers ard the inflrl\ of influences ftom the literature of the colonizers. and had to retake the basic English courses he had talen at the Ateneo.I retumed to the Ateneo to resume my teaching.ching up" with the modems in Westem poetrv. and foufld the campus astir1rith a new splrit. are in achlalitl of ihe same mold. as a matter oIfact. was itselfthe source ofthat sense ofwholeness that enabled poets to maintain their identiry even as thev assimilated the influences of Spar sh poelry. Reconsbucting the history of Tagalog poetry rurder r}le Spanish regime had brought me lace io face with ihe depredations of colonia. York. I also know norv ahat dre same tool brought about congruent results in qlezon City and New York.as moving back in iime.r borrosFd their vFry own.maqfin!olrseves wh€n Fil p no Wr te6 Addre$ Fi PnoAudencesonFlipnocon." but because the cultural assumptions behind lhe instrument were laid out in New York ard taken over by a professor in quezon City. I must have been rather successful lnreducingthe texts into compositions affilming thai aU human beings are the same no maiter ihe background {iom which they came. as I 1t. In 1967. I had begun to write m]. sitting as panelist during my thesis defense. I realized that the "tradition" I wanted to tag as the "culprit" keeping Tagalog poetry from "cai. uhar r-h. \\nrai ii Proved.I was secretly pleased by ii. At the sarne tme. siation in Life.erns l1 symbol by way of dmwing out "implications. The students as well as ihe faculty were imbued with an opemess to what was new a]ld a readiness to h_y what was as yet A Fests. lhe notes he had taken down in my class eamed him admiration and good marks. it allo1ved me to see how at vadous junctures in our history. oiginal inteniion was to demonshate that the delayed process ol "modemization" could be blamed on the persistence of "h'adition" as represenied by Balagtas.

llies. For the lirst time. No longer was it recessary to smuggle Pilipino into the classroom.i .orkers.bar centers and in mourltain fasmesses. tsy decade's end. Suddenly.idespread poverty.riter. such was rhe viirality r.hat was most signilicant. dle writer \. as earl) as the 6rst haff of ihe i960s. in crorded u].mposia a.\'as being asked to \r'dte for a specific audience the peasants. a social movement. At this time. But lr.ng. foreign donination. it rvas as though young writers had discovered a new medium. of peasant speech and urban poor sla. had been generating renerved vigor. even one with a populist orientation! assumed the dominant role in his relationship rhouqht the H3rde.l democratic movemeni in ihe Phiiippines. long standing social problems and issues of the tim€s were discemed in mat€ als for fiction and poehy and given lyrical power by the politicized imagination ofvouthful.ho were in the vast colutJside.ulcertain. What proved to be problematic for me then was hou to get a $ip on Lhe problem and the issues that would go into literary norks. ra.Titing was thaL litemture ought to be in ihe seNice of social change. and the endudng Iegacy of the movement ofl Philippine literaD studies resis mainly on iis nising of Mao's question to guide the development of politically committed uiting.nd convocations: "How soon rdll the change olmedilm of instruction take place? How does one plan for a future rvhen English will have ceased to be the prestige la:rguage of the Wdtiflg in Pilipino. and guerilla iighters r. the assumption behind u. and to insist on the prior claims of artistry was the height of in'eleva. Teachers of English had begun to rvorry about loss of siaius.. and elite nrle.wrile . in $. &1d this showed in the questions they asked at q.dte$. \ras s\'r'eeping non sectarian colleges and univenities. students. the $.hich ihey tielded tlle language-exploring its rhlthmic poteDtials! probing its crudities for nnpac! experimenting with the vocabulaq.hich students ligured prominefltly. bu! for the Filipino $. to apologize for propagarda in literar] works. The writer had to know his audience the belter to sene them.lith $. r. it generated anslye* to a number of key problems of creative writing in a society characterized by !\. marches and demonshations. It had become fashionable. tuly.as picked up by the natiolla. In ihe past. Outside the campus. The national democratic movemerlt had tarBeted the masses as the "makefi ofhistory. "For whom?" rvas a political question.nce. The questior $. as a matter of fact! to use the larguage at rvhatever occasion. it was no Ionger necessarr. Para kanino? lar \rhoml The quesbor was posed by Mao Zedong to writers and artists gaihered iD thc caves of Yenan some years before the ffnal victory of the Chinese Revollrtion ill 1949. Pfipino ai the close of the 1960s had deffnitelv entrenched iiselJ in ille campuses. even in bastions of the English language like the Ateneo de Manila." and to reach this vast section ofthe populatioq the leade$ were using the Tagalogbased National Language at meetings.

ard. "Maria. However. The short story.tl$oa carne out in 1 972 as aI a:rihology of new shoft stodes writter by auilors who nele il one wal or anolher ideniifled with ihe nationa] democratic movement. When it appeared in 1972.esonFilipnoConcerns 33 \diih his readers.nt that the $riter would have to adjust the accessibiliq/ of his work according to the needs ard capabiliiy crf his audieflce. as do other collectiom of actiaist riting.rdo Lee\ "Si Tatang. .idr tle forces that killed her activist son. This mea. in school.lon" is the story of a youthful labor militallt who takes over when the elder Ieader dies in a bloody picket line encounter witl scabs and milita{. r. S. Domingo C.lzgzoa does for or1r time. Looking at the stories in the book now. ang Iyong Anak" by Wilfredo P. more ugent is the need to work with lih€ minded colleagues to dis ande oppressive condiiions.ofig (grease money) collector for the police. the use of language a-lld lts resources. had become the most widely-used of t]le literary genres. we see holv wdter and audience hadjoined together to creale dTough $e imagination the communiry that uould answer their needs and aspirations. Her€ are Filipinos ouselves imagined b.it was clea. nolr. si Freddie. we have here literary works that imagine the self of the creative artist as he has merged with the self of his intended rcaders. in the 1950s. the approp ateress ard effectiveress of the genre. a book bI itself could not unlock that pot-er. and in the neighborhood are part and parcel of *'hat the movement aims io change.r.men. of course.gad held bet$. and by the 1960s it seemed to olfer itse]f as the most popular fonn \r-hereb). si Tandang Senyong at Iba Pang Tauhan ng Ating Kuwento" presents us with a young llriter who leams that nriting about the oppressed is not enough. Unlike in previous rvorks ofthe imagination where the $riter oeaied images that readers were a. Vitusio is about a woman.mag ningOuEeves Wh€nF lprnoWrteuAddressF lpinoAudien. In Norma Miraflor's "Sulat mula sa Pritil" a teenager ftom the slums joins a demoDshation just lor the heck of i! ard comes to understand that tlle condifions he rebels against at home.hr fi lor soledad s Reye: . the manner of distdbution.aking up to her complicif $. creative writen responding to the times fashioned images of Filipinos awalting actua-LizationRica. who acts as . A Fests. Fiiipinos could imagine themseh es. and is also about a jaded and qrfcal Vieham veteran who finds the resolve to rejoin the strugBle against enploitation and oppression after witnessing the violence that cuts down a labor leader.sked to accept. What.ould learn to unite on common goals and forge ahead together wiih other sectors. is to remind us that at a given point in our recent hlstory. d1e subject maller itselJ. ihat his work was supposed to advarce the cause of the oppressed.een iis cove$ power that could build the sociery of the fuhfe. The push of a social movemert was needed so the components of anv Biven secto i(.r that he was to sene his audi€nce. Landicho's "Dugo ang Langit sa Ba. The injunciion extended to the choice of language. young writers uho made literature out of the stem shrff of the shxggle for fteedom and democracy in the decade before the declaxaiion of Marial Law.