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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, July 09, 2016

entry arrow10:00 AM | Three Days of Brain Food

Coming off the last panel of the 10th International Conference on Philippine Studies or ICOPHIL that I attended, last Friday—something delightful on “The Filipino Woman in Philippine Travel Writing, Poetry, Romance Novels, and Film” with Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, Ma. Ailil Alvarez, Dawn Marie Nicole Marfil, and Joyce Arriola—and while hanging around, post-panel, in the corridors of the Mary Marquis Smith Hall in Silliman University with novelist Clarissa Militante, University of Sto. Tomas Publishing House director and essayist Jack Wigley, and environmental literature advocate Rina Garcia Chua, it dawned on me that conferences like this are really an oasis for starving minds. We are bombarded with the mundane, and often the inane, in our every day worlds, and so a gathering that really celebrates scholarship—this one on almost everything that has something to do with the Philippines—becomes a welcome rarity.

Dawn’s research in particular, on the frankly sexual texts of recent Filipino romance novels, really piqued my interest because I have a forthcoming book that deals squarely on the literary and the sexual—something I call “literary smut”—and I just got a bit of good news from my publisher about the book, and so listening to Dawn demonstrate what she has uncovered so far, given her framework, was exciting and provocative. And it felt like I had formed a mental kinship with someone, somebody who’s actually interested in investigating what I find also interesting, at least for the moment, in our own backyard of cultural production.

The thing is, I’m not sure if anyone in Dumaguete knew this, but almost every possible expert on any field related to the Philippines—literature, film, biology, archeology, psychology, visual arts, chemistry, history, cultural studies, everything—were here for three straight days for the 10th iteration of the ICOPHIL. These people—from Nicanor Tiongson to Lilia Quindoza Santiago—are the celebrities of the academic world, the humanities in particular: these are the people you read about in books, or are the people who wrote the books you’re reading, if you are at least a college student. Last Wednesday to Friday were made for fine intellectual fix, and people I knew who wanted it—and there were quite a few—went regularly to Guy Hall and the other venues to listen, to understand, to learn, to ask questions, to have their minds blown.

I had no idea, for example, that we had our version of the drag ball in Tondo called the “wagwagan.” I told a friend who was seated beside me: “This is sooooo Paris is Burning.” “Yes!” he said. “Manila is Burning!” Oh, the things you learn at the ICOPHIL.

The ICOPHIL is presented only once every four years, and they usually do it outside of the country. For the first time in a long time, it’s being held in the Philippines, and it was here in Dumaguete. It was a chance I couldn’t pass up. Plus, so many people I know and/or read about—from Leloy Claudio to Martin Manalansan IV, from Rolando Tolentino to Nerissa Balce, from Oscar Tantoco Serquiña to Neferti Tadiar, from Oscar V. Campomanes to Karina Africa Bolasco, from Resil Mojares to Patricio N. Abinales, from Em Mendez, Gen to Asenjo, from Ferdinand Lopez to Angel Shaw, from Jing Hidalgo to Von Totanes, etc. etc. etc.—were here in Dumaguete. I never usually get this kind of heightened intellectual stimulation here at all (when my brilliant friends gather sometimes for dinner, all we do is rant about being here, hahaha), so it was something to look forward to.

And Dumaguete is pretty small. And I swear, for several days and nights, I could smell the elevated smartness in the air. It’s like you walk five steps, and someone says, “That guy pioneered queer theory in the Philippines.” You walk five more steps, and someone says, "That guy's legal expertise formulated the marine laws of the country.” And so on and so forth. I totally fanboyed when I met and got introduced to Neferti Tadiar and Martin Manalansan, for example. Sometimes, the names of the papers you read for your research remain just names in ink—and you get totally astounded when they are finally in front of you, in the flesh, talking to you. “I just quoted you last week in the research paper I was writing!” I told Martin. He laughed.

Plus I really am liking the refurbishing of the Guy Hall, all done for the purpose of hosting the ICOPHIL. I love the restoration of old corridors (which were transformed over the decades to office spaces), and the restoration of the old terrace facing the sea (also transformed over the decades to office spaces). Who knew it felt this grand, this airy, this light? Bureaucracy made it stuffy and cramped, and old. So, hail the resurgence of old Guy Hall!

And congratulations to Dr. Bernardita Churchill and all the ICOPHIL organizers, and Dr. Earl Jude Cleope, Dr. Ben S. Malayang III, and Dr. Betsy Joy Tan, and all the rest from Silliman for a job well done. We enjoyed the cerebral fiesta.

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