Copies

I’m no painter. I’m a pretentious prick who hopes to understand a painting and the method of the painter by copying his work down to its minutest of details. I’ve done two so far: The Kiss and Femme au Béret et à la Robe Quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) both Picasso’s.

On a weekend, interspersed with eating and arguing about anything that catches our fancy, I take hold of paint brushes and a palette of cheap acrylics then dab the canvas in a tentative fashion, always tentative, hesitating.

Art thrives in mimesis. I do not aim to be original, only great ones are truly original. Most of us are merely attempting to be at least a good copy of something.

I study the lines, scrutinise each brush stroke, each idiosyncratic curve, imagined humps of random shades, odd color mixtures, and areas covered with thicker acrylic paint. I painstakingly copy each line as if every one of these lines was intentionally painted by the painter. It’s hard to imagine that they’re arbitrary and never deliberate.

Great art, I suppose, takes time to ferment. It should take him a long time to mentally deliberate whether that extra strand of hair on the left eyebrow will render his subject more masculine than he intended it to be.

More than the joy, however, of imagining what Picasso was thinking when he was making these works of art, I enjoy the quietude brought about by the making of these copies. They’re dowdy, sure. I’d give a condescending smile at anyone who pastes reproductions of Picasso’s works on the wall of his studio. I find them cheap, those reproductions, but I take exceptions this time; it is after all my place and I can do whatever I like with that blank space directly above the kitchen sink.

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Why have we become like this?

A friend of mine, a young woman of 26, asked me if she could leave before three today to join a protest rally on Katipunan, which if a critical mass is reached, will head to EDSA this evening. I indifferently said yes and told her to just make up for the lost hours next week. I on the other hand had to stay until 6 at the school to work on the evaluation of the French class students. I have papers to check this weekend, a class to prepare for, and cats to take care of. I also have to catch up on my workout as I haven’t gone to the gym for a week now because of work.

The people I see on the street, those my age, show that similar look of resignation, save for some undergraduates in their PE shirts or long tees who seem poised to change history tonight.

For all the rest, this protest on EDSA against the clandestine burying of the remains of Marcos is an annoyance, a cause of this monster traffic. The reason they’re stuck on buses on their way home to Fairview or Bacoor.

This is what has become of us. Work has made us unresponsive to events and happenings that would otherwise scandalize us had we been not rendered docile and satisfied but unthinking by work. I hate this feeling. This is what it means to be an adult; I hate that I am one.

I told myself a long time ago when I was much, much younger, that I would be part of history unfolding. That I will not stay home and let pass that rare opportunity to make a difference in this country. But look at me now. I’m scurrying to go home, cursing the traffic on EDSA just to catch some sleep.

And the saddest thing is that, passing by EDSA shrine, I saw a small crowd, hardly a critical mass enough to send the message that the people are indignant. There were several groups taking selfies while a member is holding a placard.

Everyone is tired. Everyone has gone tired. What with the unfulfilled promises of the past two People Power? The world goes on turning, with Marcos’s body finally subject to the actions of worms and vermins, after years of keeping it almost lifelike inside a tomb his family built for him.

But even rats and roaches won’t touch him. Who would want to gnaw on a dessicated body preserved in formaldehyde for almost three decades?

Life goes on.

And that is the tragedy of the Filipino, myself included, this general quiet and seeming indifference, this lack of rage at the direction this country is heading.

And my train goes to the direction of home, and I’m dying for sleep.

On the road

Amid frenzied reviewing for the comprehensive exams in grad school on Monday, I’m reading this. And the book makes the concepts and theories even more incomprehensible – and looking more closely, the question ‘what are all of these for?’ is too distracting to set aside.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

On the Road, 1957

(from the writer who will endlessly remind me of a friend I lost.)

Kerouac

Checking papers

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The most difficult part of checking students’ written works is knowing where to begin followed by when to begin. Yes, the task calls for me to be unemotional and maintain that unaffected stance, but there are a few instances when I get swayed by a swell of powerful emotions, often good ones. And in some rare cases, bewilderment and it close relatives. Choosing the best words, strong but non-abrasive, used to be a challenge. However, after having done this for quite a time now, I learned to stop thinking about how the language of my comments will affect my students. Like white wine, critiques are best served chilled.

I cannot say I will finish checking all these before the next meeting, but I can try.

Compre, etc.

I am presently preparing for my comprehensive exams this September; this after finishing all my course work in two years. The thesis writing part, arguably the more challenging part of graduate school, will probably take as long, if not longer. I’ve braced myself for the long and grating tow ahead, but at times I catch myself feeling terrible at the prospect of years spent unproductively. I plan to proceed to law school right after I’m through with grad school, that’s if I still have enough energy and drive to go on schooling.

I spend most of my days now preparing for my classes in Ateneo and reviewing lessons and lecture notes from as far as two years ago. Often I read journal articles whose extreme academese irks me. But I need to tread on because there’s no way to go but on.

Life’s a little slower these days. I already ran out of reasons to feign being preoccupied. I can now truly savor reading papers of my students and appreciate attempts of each of them at writing elegantly and clearly. I quietly smile at their blunders and feel exceptionally happy if I see glimmer of hope that one day one or two of them can be great writers. In fact all of them can if they work harder and try some more. It’s difficult to teach writing. What makes it worthwhile, though, is my regular conversations with them in class. Yes, they’re more privileged than most Filipino youths but they’re like any regular Filipino youth. They dream. And they dream big.

The Pastiche that is “Sintang Dalisay”

In a globalized world (my apologies for this cliché), an artistic production can only survive and remain relevant if it is able to take on in the multi-variegated characteristics of the consumers, the socio-political milieu of the setting it finds itself, other market realities, and the ever changing vicissitude of the audiences’ taste. The preceding statement, being a cliché, admittedly, has, of course, this interesting ability that characterizes most trite lines—it terminates further thoughts and explications, which, a reader wanting a more well considered and balanced treatment of the subject, ends up at best accepting the thesis without considering its true merits, or worse dismissing the attempt as a total waste of his precious time.

This reaction paper to the play, though not promising to eliminate all clichés that are usually a staple in most writings about artistic productions much bigger than the essays themselves, will discuss why Sintang Dalisay, a modern dance drama based on the early 20th century awit utilizing Igal, a “traditional and expressive dance genre of the Sama (also known as Bajau or Bajo of insular Southeast Asia” (Hussin quoted in Sintang Dalisay Isang Pagbabalangkas ng Awit na Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Rome ni G.D. Roke, 9) is an example of an Asian adoption and adaptation of a Western text which resulted in a hybrid of sort that while still, interestingly, retains its distinct Asian-ness is successful in becoming a totally mutated text that is neither east nor west. It drifts in the middle, rendering itself both a representation of humankind’s universal dreams and desires made concrete and tangible by Asian artistry and innovations.

Sintang Dalisay, a production of Tanghalang Ateneo, direction by Ricardo Abad, movement and dance choreography by Matthew Santamaria, stage design by Salvador Bernal, music design by Edru Abraham, and lighting design by Meliton Roxas, Jr., is a theater production of late that attempted and succeeded in defying all quotidian statements about what a modern (or postmodern) theater should be.

It is an interpretation of an awit by G.D. Roke’s Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Romeo which was published in Manila in 1901 (Ick quoted in Sintang Dalisay Isang Pagbabalangkas ng Awit na Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Romeo ni G.D. Roke, 11).

An awit, according to Ick, is the Tagalog rendition of metrical romances from Europe brought to the country by the Spaniards. The plot usually revolves around lovers (who are usually from the affluent class) caught in a feud between their families. The star-crossed lovers, to borrow Shakespeare’s phrase, of the awit usually involve a Christian and a nonbeliever (more often than not, a Moro) who fight for their love and eventually succeeding in the end by way of proselytizing (of the Moro to Catholism) or some magic.

The postmodern theatergoer, both easily distracted by shifting and disconnected images and hungry for an identity pegged upon un-shifting grounds, a child of the most influential medium of his time, the internet, will find Sintang Dalisay providing him with a much needed respite from all noises, the hackneyed meanderings, and the obvious lack of identity. Despite the pastiche (the word should not be understood in its derogatory sense)—the medium, Igal of the Sama; the music, gamelan of maritime Southeast Asia; the language, Tagalog of the early 1900s (with some whisking of political humor that will not make a contemporary audience feel lost); the text, an adaptation of the famous bard’s Romeo and Juliet (and other sources: Mateo Bandello’s Romeo e Giuletta derived from Luigi da Porto’s Historia Novellamente Ritrovata di dui Nobili Amanti, William Painter’s The Palace of Pleasure, and Arthur Brooke’s The Tragicall History  of Romeus and Juliet (Ick, quoted 12); the actors, young Filipino thespians studying in one of Manila’s exclusive universities; the audience, a multi-national lot (seated beside the writer of this essay that night was a bunch of boisterous Japanese girls who giggled at the exposure of the sweaty pectoral muscles of the male lead as he and his young lover undulated to the sound of the wooden string instruments)—this dance drama was successful at its definition and representation of what it deems Asian theater.

Homi Bhabha, a prominent cultural theorist, said that this hybridity is a response, a show of resistance, if we can put it this way, of the former colonies to the power of the colonizers that persists even after the colonial structures have been demolished in the middle of the last century. This idea of “hybridization,” which was taken from Edward Said’s work, results in the materialization of novel cultural forms from multiculturalism.

Sintang Dalisay, is a beautiful progeny of this hybridity. Nonetheless, the reading of this theatrical text’s hybridity should not end in the discussion of aesthetics but should be extended to the political and theoretical. Instead of seeing colonialism as something locked in the past, Bhabha shows how its histories and cultures constantly intrude on the present, demanding that we transform our appreciation of cross-cultural relations (4). This adoption of a western text and the postcolonial adaptation of this text to the realities of the receiving culture lend it a new identity that is truly its own—it is neither Romeo and Juliet nor the original Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Romeo of G.D. Roke.

It is Sintang Dalisay which is that unremitting attempt to relocate the center, to find a place where it destroys the cliché. And in so doing widens the plane of discourse.

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K.. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge. 1994.

Tanghalang Ateneo. Sintang Dalisay Isang Pagbabalangkas ng Awit na Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Rome ni G.D. Roke. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila. 2012.