I finally had good, uninterrupted sleep last night after having done away with assessing the stories in my fiction workshop and checking papers in my literature classes. [Today, I start with the last drafts of my playwriting workshop.] It felt great waking up this morning without the feeling of dread. Plus the day's overcast, so that helps. I could take it easy, of course; people keep telling me that. No staged readings, no final anthologies, no research defences, no final papers. But it wouldn't feel right. Plus there’s a design to all these: it’s all about reviving, researching, archiving Negros Oriental writings — my research focus for the past few years. So yeah, The Grading Crunch is heavy, but it feels like it’s worth it.
Crunched through the third and final drafts of three stories of my fiction class the entire day today. Going through their first batch of stories was, well, excruciating -- even after two grueling workshops. [They were basically throwing everything into the mix and forgot what I've been telling them all semester to do: to raise the stakes for their characters, and to make crucial decisions to cull the unnecessary.]
And then, AND THEN: they soon found their footing, their voices, their secret narrative quirks in the second and third batches stories. I found myself delighting at their inventions, things I didn't see in the second drafts of both batches.
This was a tiring day -- but I end it with some satisfaction.
I miss blogging. I miss the length of posts and the ability to imbed images within the body of the post. I miss the sense of ownership and uniqueness - how I would change my layout from time to time to reflect something I thought or felt. I miss the ease of search. I miss reading other blogs, especially the long reads, and learning consistently more about another person or their interests. Once in a while, on Facebook, I'll break the dictum on short status messages and post something long - because sometimes, length is needed, and we all need long reads once in a whlle.
missing the point
If everything is better stated briefly, then I am not long for this world. I inhale to exhale worlds in words.
missing the past
When my eldest daughter was five years old, she offered up the usual challenge.
"It's time to tell stories, Dad," she said. "You tell one and I'll tell one."
"Oh, no," I told her, shaking my head. "I don't have a happy one in mind."
"What kind do you have?"
"Well, it's kind of bittersweet."
She expelled a sigh then looked me in the eye. "I like those too - but they make me cry."
"They make me cry too, you know."
"Is it really, really sad?"
"Well, not really, really sad," I said.
"Ok, then you can tell your story - but mine will be really, really exciting. An adventure, okay?"
"Ok," I agreed. "But you go first."
And she launched into an adventurous romp featuring lost crayons attempting to find their way back home, helped by the objects that shared similar hues.
I applauded when she was done, then cleared my throat and made ready to begin my own story when she raised a hand to stop me.
"Why?" I asked her. "Don't you want to listen to mine?"
"I do, Dad," Sage said as she nuzzled her way into my arms. "But I want to be here right next to you because I know your story is sad."
And so I told the story and my little girl listened. When we got to the really, really sad part, she looked up to me with tears in her eyes, which provoked my own.
"Can't this story be a little bit happy?"
"Wait and see."
And I finished the story, with a little happiness, and held the girl I loved so much, and we shared that moment after a story is told when only perfect silence is acceptable.
"That made me cry, Dad, but I really really liked your story," she told me later. "Now let's tell Mommy and make her cry."
Should I call this "a weekend of cinematic siblings -- a love/hate story"? Because it does feel that way, and with no deliberate design on my part.
But it was interesting to see Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories on a Saturday and then Cathy Garcia-Molina's Seven Sundays on a, well, Sunday -- and see two stories that perfectly parallel each other, and yet be so culturally distinct, be so colored by their own directorial sensibilities. [But let's not talk about the ending of Seven Sundays, a racist miscalculation disguised as a comic bit.] Both films feature adult siblings at odds with each other and yet still remain irrevocably bonded by blood. And then, when forced to be together because of a sick father, their unsaid recriminations boil over but depicted with sly humor and surprising tenderness. Tenderness is important.
From Baumbauch, my take-away was more philosophical, even artistic. From Molina, perhaps because she knows what makes a Filipino moviegoer tick, my take was more visceral, immediate, and emotional. By God, I tried hard to remain above it all, to disregard the conventional manipulations of this Star Cinema confection -- but I was truly a mess when the film was through with me. And I don't think I was alone in that regard: the theater I was in was filled with people suddenly made quiet with contemplation for their own familial misdeeds. (It's Ozu's Tokyo Story with more hope.)
For who among us there in the darkened theater could not identify in ways with the travails of the Bonifacio family onscreen? Who among us do not delude ourselves constantly into thinking we're too busy to see an aging parent at least for the weekend? Who among us do not harbor resentments for being ignored, for being belittled, for being "used" by kin? I finished The Meyerowitz Stories with the pleasure of having my brain stimulated. I finished Seven Sundays emotionally adrift, but in a good way, sending me off on a contemplative mood that made me ask what else I can do to make up for all the "pagkukulang" I have for the family.
Preferably over crispy pata, or Rebisco biscuits, to the soundtrack of Apo Hiking Society singing "Batang-Bata Ka Pa."
The clips we got in our social media feeds were actually cropped, incomplete -- edited to be race-baity. The white woman actually eventually turned into an Asian woman, and so on and so forth, suggesting a theme of fluidity more than anything else. Context changes perception. It's still a campaign that should have been rethought before execution, but the complete story should give us pause. The quick outrage that followed may have harmed more than helped our fight for POC concerns. In this age of click-baits and fake news, it is always wise to verify and research everything, even things that preach to our kind of choir.
3:00 PM |
A Review of 'Don't Tell Anyone' by Doni Oliveros
Local erotica at its best. Erotica aims to arouse your senses. To titillate. Fine. But this book is more than that. This is literary. The writings of Casocot and Sison are flawless. Crisp. Eloquent yet definitely shameless. The stories, the words, hit you in the groin as well as up there in your head. In her introduction of the book, Sison mentioned that this could be the book that you will hide to everyone while reading: “Bury under your bed and wrap its cover with plain paper.” This is unnecessary or even unforgivable. Books like this are no longer smut these days. Gone were the days when porn at home are your father's and it is somewhere in a locked cabinet. Now, porn is just a click away. Hiding this kind of book is making the works of Anais Nin and James Baldwin inaccessible to Filipinos. Based on what I read, in my opinion, Casocot and Sison are in their leagues. Juxtaposition of male and female in the third-sex worlds. For the uninformed or the naive, this book directly answers what gay men and lesbians do in bed to satisfy their carnal desires. No holds barred yet the emotion, could be love, is there. I am not sure if they are true but the writings of Casocot and Sison sound sincere if not sinfully honest. Which one did I like best? Sison writing lesbian F2F stories or Casocot's gay M2M actions? Sison's is more carnal while Casocot is more emotional. There is a world of difference in there but they are both ohhh so goood. Kudos to Anvil for taking the courage of publishing this homo-erotica. This could be a start of something new for us readers and lovers of Philippine literature.
Someone told historian T. Valentino Sitoy that the bit of Dumaguete being the “city of gentle people” is Rizalian lore, a local one—that it’s found, perhaps, on the historical marker on his statue at Quezon Park. Like any good scholar, the good Dr. Sitoy promptly inspected the site and the marker—and found absolutely nothing there about Jose Rizal extolling the virtues of Dumaguete as a place of people of profound gentility.
And yet this has become a famous anecdotal legend that everyone gives, especially tour guides.
No one knows where this bit of “history” comes from. We do know that Jose Rizal disembarked in Dumaguete for a Saturday’s excursion in 1896, after his exile in Dapitan, and he was reported to have noted how particularly engaging the people of the small town were. The word “gentle” is not found in his diary, of his brief chronicle of his Dumaguete stay. The closest thing to it is this observation he scribbled down: “I called at the house of Mrs. Rufina, a beautiful house, where after four years, I heard the piano expertly played. I observed that the people of Dumaguete are fond of decorating their houses with plants and flowers…”
Beautiful music, beautiful houses—beautiful people. And such gentility. Perhaps the aura of the description stuck.
Today, of course, Dumaguete bills itself, in some official capacity, as the City of Gentle People, and attributes it to Rizalian mythology, whether or not it can be proven by recorded history.
I resolved, however, to dig a little deeper, and found this bit from Father Roman Sagun’s translation and extended annotation on Father Mariano Bernad’s history of Dumaguete. Fr. Sagun is one of our underappreciated local historians, the bulk of his passion being local parish history—and he has done extensive work chronicling the Spanish settlement of Oriental Negros. About ten years ago, he embarked on a study of Fr. Bernad’s “Reseña Historia de Dumaguete (A History of Dumaguete in Retrospect)”—an important historical document, published in 1895, considering the fact that Fr. Bernad (1835-1915) was the last Spanish pastor of Dumaguete when the Americans came, had served the town with utmost devotion for most of his life, and was beloved by the locals. He had also expressed the need to tell the history of Dumaguete until 1895, although he had confessed a difficulty: “It is not an easy task to be able to investigate the exact facts and get the reliable information about the origin and beginnings of the town of Dumaguete, having interviewed so many but only finding faint traces about the past.”
Mariano Bernad Sanz
In “Reseña,” we catch a glimpse of a possible origin of Dumaguete as a “gentle” place, and attributes it to native culture nurtured by Spanish civility. Bernad, as translated by Sagun, writes: “The people of the Oriental Coast are most hard-working, perhaps because they were able to adopt the ways and attitudes of their parish priests, mostly Spaniards, like Father [Jose Manuel Fernandez de] Septien, who was so tenacious and enterprising… I was also able to observe that they distinguish themselves as gentle in manners and showing great admiration and respect for their priests. May they be able to keep it up as God wills it. This gentleness (cariño aprecio) and affectionate nature (afecto) must be traceable in the remote past, the people having been nurtured by so many Spanish parish priests, in as much as the town since antiquity was in constant contact with Cebu whose inhabitants used to achieve the fame of being gentle (cariñosos) of which I knew a long while… [Before the 1850s], generally speaking, the pace of life in these towns moved very slowly.”
Could this be the true historical source of the phrase “city of gentle people”? Dumaguete playwright and cultural worker—and now retired University of the Philippines professor—Ludendorffo Decenteceo, however, has another theory, and it points to more contemporary origins.
“The phrase ‘the city of gentle people’ was coined by Philidore Quingco of DYRM,” Lu wrote me. “Quingco also worked at DYSR at one time. DYSR started it all by having the tagline of Dumaguete as the ‘cultural center of the south,’ or words to that effect. The initial effect it had on people was, ‘Yuck!’ But it is the odd word that sticks out and sticks.”
So, was it Bernad? Or Rizal? Or Quingco?
No one can know for sure—but the proof of the puto maya may be in the people themselves, as we are now, gentle faces for a city that’s in constant flux.
10:11 AM |
A Review of 'Don't Tell Anyone' by Anette Fabre of Anette the Wicked
Right off the bat, this book is amazing, I have never read anything like this obviously because this is the first LGBT literature I have read. Really, this is amazing. I have no qualms reading smut because duh, fangirl since 2009. I have long been exposed to smut. Literary smut that is. You know, stories that depict sex as something beautiful almost. Sex is where two people come together, either to fall in love or not. Both authors have tackled writing LGBT sex as beautiful as heterosexual sex. I have been reading gay smut stories since I have been exposed to the world of fan fiction. If I'm not reading books, I'm reading fan fiction. But, gay fan fiction is different from literature. Literature is more raw. It digs through your heart and mind. After that, it fills you up with so much emotion that you kind of overflow. This book is no nonsense, straight up gay and lesbian erotica. This book should be handled with caution yet with an open mind. I mean, come on. the LGBT community have sex just like heterosexuals, albeit it looks different. But yes, they can have sex. They can achieve climax as well. Damn right, they are the sexiest people I have ever come across with. Not only do they have sexy bodies to begin with, but their minds are sexy as hell. This book is literally in your face. Like, really you will devour this in one sitting. Or maybe sitting on top of someone, I don't know. Hah. Innuendo right there. Reading this book didn't change my sexual orientation as a heterosexual. Reading this book made me understand the struggles and hardships of the LGBT community when they fall in and out of love. They suffer so much just like we do. Reading this book makes me want to study about gender and all the difference that there is about it. Just so I could understand that there's more to it than just being called a man or a woman. This is just a beautiful piece of literature that I hope some day a lot of people would get to read more LGBT Lit. I hope this isn't the last from either of these authors. I hope more people follow suit as well. This book is funny, sexy, witty, sad, and just downright amazing. Just buy it now.
We've been waiting for the film adaptation of F.H. Batacan's Smaller and Smaller Circles for a year now, and the final poster and trailer has dropped! Looking forward to this. It looks gritty beautiful.
There are three things that have slowly become apparent as we live out the current days with their quotidian tremors that often signal—at least to those people who are sensitive to them—an unending arrival of apocalypse:
First, that Jean-Paul Sartre and Darren Aronofsky are right: hell is other people.
Second, that Hannah Arendt is right: the great cover of evil is banality.
And third, that Umberto Eco is right: a very good way to fight evil in the world is to persist in writing about it.
Evil is a curious thing. We tend to think of it as a dreadful embodiment of metaphysical darkness—a demonic possession, for example, or the bloody body count of serial killers, or the social havoc that is unleashed in the wake of psychopaths. In these instances, often graphically illustrated by the purveyors of our popular culture through movies and books, evil as a thing is banished to the realm of fantasy. It has become a malevolence that lurks mostly in the fringes of our imagination. We can be screening The Exorcist on our laptop screens, for example, cowering from its perfectly modulated jump scares—but we can just as easily turn the whole thing off, and then proceed to draw the curtains of our closed-off rooms, and suddenly the daylight of the “real” comes crashing in, saving us from a further sense of dread. Real evil, alas, is not so easily pigeonholed, and doesn’t usually come with bells and whistles.
What is often missing in the simplistic consideration of evil is the real thing that lurks in the human heart which, once in a while, jumps into abominable turns of history that allowed Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Marcos, and many of others of their ilk to happen.
Hitler impassioned many Germans—who were understandably feeling defeated by the ruinous end of the First World War—and he did so with his dreams of National Socialism. He triggered with it another great war, as well as the systematic elimination of “undesirable people” through a program we now call the Holocaust. (For Hitler, it was just called the “Final Solution.”)
Stalin built on the communist ideals of Lenin before him—but soon realized that a “revolution” ceased to be a revolution when it had no enemies to fight, and so he unleashed a never-ending search for “counter-revolutionaries” that ended up as several cycles of murderous purges in Russia, sparing no one.
Pol Pot dreamed of a return to a pure peasant society for Cambodia, and unleashed a program he called “Year Zero,” which soon systematically brutalized his people through years of making them toil in the so-called “killing fields.”
Mao dreamed of an empowered China and ushered in a plan he called “The Great Leap Forward,” a catastrophic program that led to 18 to 46 million dead Chinese—perhaps the greatest genocide in history.
Marcos dreamed of a “New Society,” and armed it to the teeth with martial rule.
What is often amazing to consider in these experiments in terror is that they were often carried out at the behest and in the name of those that these dictators ruled. “I want you to know that everything I did, I did for my country,” Pol Pot once said. All the others felt the same way, too. In many cases, these despots often unleashed their worst tendencies with the approval of many. Hitler was beloved in Germany, and his policies—obviously wrong and evil in retrospect—resonated with the German masses. In their eyes, Nazism was a chance for Germany to become great again, and Hitler could do no wrong. Today, we ask a question that cannot be truly answered: how could so many be deceived? How could so many give tacit permission for atrocities to happen? And the answer may be this: human nature. Jean Renoir perfectly sums it up with this line in his film The Rules of the Game: “The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons.” Which makes Sartre right. Hell is other people—especially those people who have learned not to see anymore the moral imperatives of decent living.
I made this observation not too long ago: “When the bodies started piling up a few days ago in what appeared to be a growing rage for vigilantism, emboldened by a strongman’s battle cry for a war on drugs, the manner of the deaths and the manner of the disposal horrified me—as they should any right-minded human being. The anonymity of the hits. The crude fact of packaging tape sometimes covering the corpses, mummifying them in despairing positions. The cardboard signs that declare the dead a criminal—‘Pusher, ‘wag tularan,’ ‘Snatcher, ‘wag tularan,’ etc.—justifying the murder. Inside, I scream: ‘What happened to due process?’ These days those two words—bedrocks of a functioning democracy—are being laughed at. And I could not understand how people could shrug off the sinister implications.
“There has been a quiet acceptance by almost everyone of these things happening. And also waves of violent mocking by a mob if you issue dissent.
“It is not an entirely new thing. A sense of history would attest that these things have happened before, in exactly the same manner, give or take a culturally specific difference. I am going to use right now the most frightful of historical correlations. Because now I totally get what life was like for ordinary Germans in Nazi Germany, especially in the contentious pre-war decade. You see, seeing and reading about the horrors of World War II—in particular, the unbelievable death machine of the Holocaust—I used to ask myself: How come nobody did anything? Why were ordinary Germans so quiet, so passively (or aggressively) supportive of the programs of Hitler’s regime? Couldn’t a civilized people recognize a evil in their midst?”
That acceptance, that silence make evil the most ordinary thing in the world. All these murders have become so ordinary, we are not even moved by every new reportage anymore. We have learned to shrug away all these things, and we have even learned to make excuses for them. “Para sa bayan ‘to,” some of us have learned to say, without the slightest hint of irony—and thus Arendt is right: evil can become so banal.
Our ultimate hope lies in a suggestion Eco once proposed, especially for those facing a moral crisis in a society that is slowly embracing evil as a necessity: “To survive, we must tell stories.”
That was the imperative I went when I decided to put The Kill List Chronicles in June 2016, ostensibly to collect and archive the many literary works that started appearing, all of them protesting the new culture of impunity in the Philippines. In my introductory essay to that archive, I wrote: “Many Filipino writers…have slowly come out of the shadows of overwhelming public approval of the ongoing purge, to register dissent, to call for a process of justice that also respects human life and dignity, to strive for a country that recognizes that indeed crime must pay but this must be done in the only way that makes our democracy a functioning one. Anything else is a form of fascism.
“The rise of Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency, and his unorthodox methods of dealing with some of the country’s problems has currently inspired — if that is the right word at all — a few of our writers to take to the literary to express their grief and their horror, all in all registering a dissent that is still forming, that has yet to be studied. Some of the works take their cue from the bloody reports from television news and broadsheets. Some from the unexpected deaths — the new ‘collateral damage’ — of friends and people they know….
“This…is an attempt to archive the new literature of protest that is now beginning to be written. Only the future can tell how this literature, as a prospective tool for change, can impact what is going on at present. Protest literature are almost always considered only in the aftermath; perhaps this project can change that, and can demonstrate, once and for all, the power of literature as a social tool.”
One of the many writers who responded to that call was Carljoe Javier, who started to churn out little stories to document, in fiction, various scenarios, which would have been paranoid fantasies only a few months ago, but now have become painfully realistic.
Those stories together have become the first short story collection about the EJKs, a folio titled Cardboard Justice.
He started out with a poem titled “Cardboard Villanelle,” which rendered to playful lyricism the realization of growing horror at the status quo. Not satisfied with that, he turned to the essay—and produced “#PosiblengAdik,” a short rumination about the vicious randomness of the killings, where he makes this plea: that drug addicts and drug users—which are not the same things—must be seen as human who are capable of rehabilitation. He uses his own life as evidence of that, and writes: “We want to protect ourselves, protect our families. But every single time I see one of these people who are dead, I think, that could’ve been me. If I made different decisions in my life, I could have turned out that way. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to go to school, I can imagine being driven to do whatever it takes.”
That sentiment becomes the very theme that animates the short stories that quickly followed, each one suddenly pieces of a whole that gave us a sad geography of injustice.
“At the Door” shows us a young musician answering the frenetic knocks of raiding policemen, bent on arresting—or even killing—him, even though he has cleaned up his act for some time now. That doesn’t matter to the raiders. His name is on “the list,” and that was enough for police to harass him. That same dynamics—the fear of “the list”—puts the two characters of “On the List” in an existential crisis. Should they answer the summons or not? All the alternatives prove ultimately deadly.
“Past Buendia” follows a man on an innocent leisurely stroll in an old neighborhood—and gets mistaken for a pusher, and nearly dies because of that mistake.
“In the Street” underlines the innocence that has become compromised in the new culture of impunity: a group of young girls—a barkada—decide to have a food trip in Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, and they become witness to an actual extrajudicial killing. Their confrontation with the killer in the end marks the very end of their innocence—and signal a world that has gone absolutely upside-down. That blooms to paranoia, eventually—which becomes the focus of “At the Hood,” where a group of friends—formerly a rock band—consider attending the funeral of one of their members. But attendance at what cost? One of them demures—“It’s like those movies where people go to a funeral of a mob boss, and so there are cops all over taking picture of everyone go goes to the funeral. Then they use those photos to track down the people who went”—painting once and for all the compromises of a new age of paranoia.
“In an Uber” takes that paranoia and makes it the center point of conflict in what should be a normal social interaction between strangers: an Uber driver and his passenger. One approves of the killings, the other does not. Tension mounts.
And in “Nagda-drama Lang,” Javier chooses to occupy the consciousness of the bereaved—a woman cradling the dead body of her lover gunned down on the streets. It is inspired by a real life incident that became an iconic piece of photojournalism—a measure of grief that President Duterte later dismissed as “nagda-drama lang.” Which finally underlines the unemotional inhumanity behind all of these.
Why does Javier continue to write stories like this? They couldn’t possibly be a hoot to write; these sad stories only immerse us—the writer and the reader—in a flood of despair that seems, for the moment, unstoppable.
I think the answer is this: our anger has to be sustained, although that itself is an undertaking fraught with difficulty. How does one sustain anger? It is often easier to give up, and then to spout out such lines of “wisdom” like: “People deserve the politicians they vote for.” It is so much easier to surrender to the prevailing darkness—much like the Germans did at the height of Nazism, or Filipinos in the first five years of Martial Law. Protest and the literature that advocates it are not something that is embraced or favored by many people especially in the immediate aftermath of disastrous things. We are often told to “shut up”—and just embrace the status quo.
Nonetheless, we write.
In his recent visit to the Philippines, the Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa made it perfectly clear that reading and writing are subversive acts: “Dictators [and] dictatorships are right in being suspicious of this kind of activity, because I think this activity develops in societies a critical spirit about the world as it is,” he said.
And its effects are not in the immediately apparent; it is in the cumulative.
So Carljoe Javier and others like him write on, because we must survive. Because we must document and dramatize the unspeakable. Because the future demands it. Because when good finally triumphs over evil—as it always does—it needs to see where its seeds began, and it might as well begin in the stories we chose to tell today.
What dark place Carljoe Javier had wrought Cardboard Justice from is something I am familiar with. I was invited to write for Rogue Magazine late last year: it was for a personal evaluation of the year that was—2016—and what had been, by and large, a tumultuous and ugly time. The spate of EJKs had exploded and divided the country, among other issues, exposing the unbelievable horror that people were actually capable for cheering for more blood.
I remembered F. Sionil Jose’s old reminder: “Art does not develop in a vacuum. The artist’s first responsibility is not just to his art, but to his society as well.” So in that Rogue article, I had posed the following sentiment, taking note of my responsibilities as a creative writer: “But when was being silent being part of the solution, ever, in history? And am in the wrong for calling for justice and for asking for equality? Should we stay quiet because the world has gone mad? Must the mob win? I ask myself: what is the role of the writer in times of crisis? Should I be spineless? When you live in horror, shouldn’t you fight the bogeyman?”
I haven’t been silent—and I have used what art I know to chronicle the nuances of these disturbing times. As I have previously mentioned, I put up a literary blog last year—I called it the Kill List Chronicles—which has become an attempt to archive the new literature of protest that is now beginning to be written. I wrote about it: “Only the future can tell how this literature, as a prospective tool for change, can impact what is going on at present. Protest literature is almost always considered only in the aftermath; perhaps this project can change that, and can demonstrate, once and for all, the power of literature as a social tool.”
Since then I have received, and archived, hundreds of poems, essays, short stories, and one-act plays that have tried to provide insight, or have struggled to define these bloody times—mostly from amateur writers, but also a significant number from some of the brightest names in Philippine literature, including Krip Yuson, Marne Kilates, Carljoe Javier, Luisa Igloria, Dean Francis Alfar, Daryll Delgado, Miguel Syjuco, Floy Quintos, and so many others.
I’ve written two horror stories for the effort, both articulating the horror of EJKs in a fantastical realm that finally didn’t seem so farfetch. And as we have seen, it has also led Carljoe to come out with what is perhaps the first short story collection about the EJKs, Cardboard Justice, and Miyako Izabel to come out with its poetry equivalent. When I judged the Palanca for the short story in English, two entries immediately stood out as gripping responses to the times—John Bengan’s “Disguise,” which won first prize, and Katrina Guiang Gomez’s “Misericordia,” which won second.
Let’s do a quick sampling of artistic responses to the national malaise. Nerisa del Carmen Guevara has done a performance piece titled “Elegy 5: Wake.” Jam Pascual has done spoken word poetry titled “Bloody Sunday.” Gary Granada has come up with a song titled “Pordbida!” Adolfo Alix Jr. has done a feature-length film titled Madilim Ang Gabi, and Bor Ocampo a short film titled, of course, “EJK.” Liza Magtoto has written a musical titled A Game of Trolls for PETA.
I am fascinated, however, with what visual artists have come up with to make sense of the madness—and we don’t have a lack of such artists coming up with works both subtle and visceral all over the country.
In Dumaguete, there’s Einstein Schwartz Gaspar Maulad whose miniature and morbid piece titled “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” does not mince intentions with its slap of the painfully ironic. It caused a bit of a stir when it was unveiled, together with the works of other Silliman Fine Arts students, last August. Here, what you basically get is a contraption that’s laid out as a kind of elongated balikbayan box, or perhaps a gift, accompanied by a label that recalls immediately the official tagline of Philippine tourism. Upon opening the box, you get a surprise: the shape of a dead body wrapped up in masking tape, bloody drips everywhere, bearing a sign that reads, “Drug pusher ako, wa’g tularan,” recalling instantly the EJKs we have come to breathe as the new reality of this carnage republic.
It’s not a subtle piece, nor is it meant to be. This is what accounts for its greatness: the forcefulness of its message that straddles the border of irony and sincerity—which is perhaps the best response to the murderous chaos this postmodern world has come to be.
And then there’s Nicky de la Peña whose Predicaments exhibit only last February continues to haunt me. I cannot stop thinking of the works in that exhibit, how appropriate they are material-wise, how uncannily conceived to be both a reflection of the headlines and as a shock to our complacencies. How simple they are in the final analysis, but also how fraught with undeniable power.
Each work—a painting? a sketch?—is set on cardboard pieces of several varieties. There’s a pizza box, for example. (“The choice of materials is vital [because …] carton boxes [have been] used for the well-known ‘adik ako, huwag tularan’ signs [we have seen],” Mr. de la Peña explains.) And on each haphazard piece, upon the uneven brown surface of the unlikely canvas, we see bodies drawn in various states of black-and-white deadness—the faces all unseen, all becoming inconvenient ghosts most people today are removed from and do not think as an affront to the freedom they are enjoying.
The works ask you: do these anonymous bodies deserve their fate? Why?
Mr. de la Peña writes in his artistic statement of his inspiration and his process: “The issue of textrajudicial killings in the Philippines has attracted international concerns. Some countries strongly criticize the current administration while some have [given] solid support, especially from the East and South-east Asian region. Opinions [are] divided into right or wrong, between justifiable actions and pure immorality. This division of perspectives is the issue [that] my works depict.”
But to add to the hauntedness of his pieces, he used his own body as the subject of the reenactments of the various crime scene. According to him, it raises questions about what is right or wrong, or framed up or guilty, or what exactly accounts for just another collateral casualty.
He continues: “Those people who don’t know me are more likely to justify the death, for they have no background of [who I am]. [My family and friends who do know me, however, will seek query.] These questions are important to me because people nowadays are quick to place judgment with inadequate comprehension of the situation, [often] turning a blind eye to justify their own opinion. With the current crisis involving the Philippine National Police…, these questions need to sink into the [minds] of every Filipino now more than ever.”
His art, like most protest art now being produced in the Age of Duterte, provokes us with this question: to what extent can you dehumanize someone to accept their murders as something completely deserved?
Can the news headlines remain impersonal to us? Can we remain unmoved?
It reminds of this passage from Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, where a society so much like ours slowly finds itself descending into misogynist dystopia:
“We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with as they used to say, but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men. None of them were the men we knew. The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives. We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
The art we do now in the name of protest is to negate those “blank white spaces at the edges of print,” and “the gaps between the stories.”
They are meant to disturb, to make people think. They are finally meant to move.
12:38 AM |
The Introverted Nightmare of Darren Aronofsky
Years ago, when I was a little kid, the children of the neighborhood would troop over to my house, knock on the door, and ask my mother if I could come out to play. She'd go to my bedroom where I'd be curled up with a good book, and she'd say, "Your friends are here." My heart would sink, and I'd dig deeper within the intimate comforts of my bed and tell her: "Tell them I'm not home."
This is to say Darren Aronofsky's mind-fuck of a movie, mother! (2017), was made for me, and for all the agoraphobic, introverted people out there. It's an in-your-face, what-the-hell-is-going-on film that will be remembered in the years to come, the way the divisive enigmas of Repulsion, Last Year in Marienbad, and L'Avventura have been remembered. [Awards Daily has an excellent article on the film and the lost feel for cinematic art.] It's message: hell is other people. Don't watch it: it's probably not for you.
My latest short story collection, DON'T TELL ANYONE: LITERARY SMUT, co-authored with Shakira Andrea Sison, is now out from Anvil Publishing, under its new imprint Pride Press, and should be in National Bookstore soon. Below is the inside cover, featuring the enigmatically hidden face of Albert Saspa, of Hanging Out fame.
And just a little warning: the book's very sexually graphic.
Here's Esquire Philippines' Kristine Fonacier blurb for it: "Smart is sexy. Faced with a collection that calls itself 'literary smut,' it's a real pleasure to be reminded just how true that can be. We're lucky to have arrived at a time when both the realities and our imaginations of sex are being challenged every day, and this collection of stories—with its varied viewpoints, tones, textures—does its part in pushing boundaries and buttons. But is it hot? The reader might ask. This book turns on that most primal of sex organs—the brain. And then it turns on everything else."
Let me keep this simple. I have questions, and you can answer “yes” or “no.”
Do you believe in the right to marriage and family?
Do you believe in the right to own property?
Do you believe in the freedom of belief and religion?
Do you believe in the freedom of opinion and information?
Do you believe in the right to rest and leisure?
Do you believe in the right to adequate living standard?
Do you believe in the right to education?
Do you believe in the right to participate in the cultural life of community?
Do you believe in community duties essential to free and full development?
Do you believe in the right to social security?
Do you believe that everyone has the right to equality, and enjoy freedom from discrimination?
Do you believe in the right to life, liberty, and personal security?
Do you believe in freedom from slavery?
Do you believe in freedom from torture and degrading treatment?
Do you believe in the right to recognition as a person before the law, ad the right to equality before it? Equally, do you believe in the right to remedy by competent tribunal, the right to fair public hearing, and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty?
Do you believe in the freedom from arbitrary arrest and exile?
Do you believe in the freedom from interference with privacy, family, home and correspondence?
Do you believe in the right to free movement in and out of the country?
Do you believe in the right to asylum in other countries from persecution?
Do you believe in the right to a nationality and the freedom to change it?
Do you believe in the right of peaceful assembly and association?
Do you believe in the right to participate in government and in free elections?
Do you believe in the right to desirable work and to join trade unions?
Do you believe in the right to a social order that articulates all these rights? And consequently, do you believe in the freedom from the state or personal interference in these rights?
I don’t think anyone in his right minds would say “no” to any of these. These are fundamental rights that govern what it means to be a freedom-loving human being in the world. Hence, they are called “human rights,” here presented as an exhaustive list of imperatives arrived at by socially conscious individuals in history, taking note of what has ailed and challenged humanity in the course of its existence.
That one has to articulate them like this, in a list for dummies, speaks darkly of our age which has become a time steeped in gross misinformation.
Save for the lone voice out of the First District, our congressmen from Negros Oriental—in voting to give the Commission on Human Rights a one-thousand-peso operating budge—have articulated they do not care at all about any of these.
They might as well be shouting “no” to each of the questions above.
“Do you believe in freedom from slavery?” No!
“Do you believe in the right to education?” No!
“Do you believe in freedom from torture and degrading treatment?” No!
If you think about it, the import of their vote is chilling.
But they only voted to toe the party line, they said by way of explaining their votes. Which makes me wonder about their political designation and role. Are they “representatives” of the people, their constituents? Or are they “representatives” of the age-old “trapo” politics that have continued to bedevil us as a nation?
Today is my first full normal day. It has been two weeks since I fell sick [although I did get back to teaching late Friday last week]. The coughing is not so intense anymore, and the energy is back. I promptly did all my banking and other chores today, just to get life back on track. I have yet to fully recover my appetite, but at least the idea of food does not repel me anymore. I must have lost weight -- three people yesterday told me so in the course of the day, which actually worried me. But apparently I'm not the only one. At least four other teachers at the English Department and assorted friends got struck by this weird, flu-like bug, which just came out of the blue and rendered all of us immobile, narcoleptic, and in pain. But today at last feels normal.