On the virtue of nonparticipation

Three months back, before a friend of mine left for China, the two of us had a light talk like we always had been doing after we finished a day’s worth of work. We were walking on the cobblestones of Ateneo talking about the sorry state of the country and how the May-9 election would impact the lives of Filipinos, the poor most especially. Our sector [we’re both teaching in that university] doesn’t stand much to gain nor lose from the result of the election, I thought.

We both agreed that the vision of a Philippines under Duterte was bleak. That time, however, Grace Poe was still leading the surveys rather comfortably, and the odds of Duterte’s win weren’t that great. It was obvious there wasn’t much choice from among the five vying for the position. If I could vote, I would have voted for Mar Roxas. But I was a nonparticipant in this democratic process. And I defended so vehemently my choice of not participating. I found the whole process unnecessary and ineffectual. One vote fewer would not rock the boat.

Seeing and reading about Duterte on TV and on online news these days, I felt for the first time regret for not having cast my vote. Duterte is often seen and heard foaming with vice in the mouth. Although he hasn’t yet been sworn in, he’s already begun sowing a culture of anger.

He’s presently enjoying a high level of popularity because after many years of hypocrisy, seeing a president-elect cuss, drop putang ina instinctively, catcall a TV reporter without showing remorse is a novel experience for most of us. Most take it as a sign of sincerity and truthfulness to oneself, Duterte the polar opposite of politicians we’ve come to detest for their duplicity and avarice.

But one accepted fact of our time is that novelties tend to lose their newness rather quickly. It’s a wonder now how Duterte has continued to remain popular. Although the consuming public is beginning to show sign of fatigue seeing his face, his unrelenting braggadocio, and unapologetic tirade against anyone he feels like shaming only to declare the next day he was just kidding. Kidding my ass!

He’s a dangerous man on the cusp of sitting in the most powerful position in this land. My friend was right. There’s no virtue in nonparticipation.



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.

Choosing to be happy*

It has been four years or so since I graduated from college, and the past four years left me a bit disgruntled, dissatisfied, and aimless, even angry. At some point I began to question my motives for staying in Manila, teaching Literature (a subject I did not study in college) to undergraduate students in a university on Katipunan Avenue. At any given point, while on a cramped train for my daily commute to one of the three jobs I currently hold, or while walking in the rain to my next class, I would question the wisdom of the choices I have made, my existence, the reason why I am where I am now. At any given point, while in my class in graduate school, or writing a paper due the following day, I would feel out of place, lost maybe. What brought me here? What are these for?

I left home for college more than eight years ago. It was an inexorable day the Chinese protagonist in Jorge Luis Borges’s The Garden of Forking Paths would refer to as “day without premonitions or symbols”. Looking back, I sometimes think I should have never left home; I should have just stayed in the province, enrolled myself in a university in the nearby city of General Santos, be with people whose familiarity led me to feel that constant sickening ennui then, and live a life released from complications.

I embarked on a personal odyssey, though to a home I imagined I belonged, and chased Fate in the big city. And that day without symbols changed me forever.

Now I understand the hesitation, a subdued abhorrence, of the character of my favorite novel, Tomas, for symbols. I have chosen heaviness thinking the choice will lend meaning to my curious and starry-eyed 16-year old self then. My search for “something higher” caused this spiritual vertigo, this fear of falling.

And an unconscious desire to fall, says Kundera, “the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves”.

I do not have any intention of letting myself slip down the slope of existentialist rage for I am completely aware I shall never recover from this existentialist hole unscathed. I believe the exercise is not only a complete waste of time but also fatal.

But these questionings, far from being philosophical, are, to me, as corporeal and visceral as corporeal and visceral can get. I am enraged. And being this sensuously enraged is beautiful. It is not mere abstraction.

How I hate philosophizing!

I am in my mid-20s. They say this age places one at the pinnacle of his vitality. But too many times I saw myself irreparably exhausted, dragging myself in doing the things I once loved doing, being on the verge of running amuck. All because of the unfulfilled promises of this vitality.

For too many times, I have feared that those little cracks have already surreptitiously made their way into the dark crevices of my being and have already eaten me from the inside out and that what is left of me now is a mass of bloody flesh incapable of distinguishing the real from the fictional.

Below layers of fictive security our daily routines deceptively make us feel we possess is a reality so shaky, shifting, and unstable. Most people my age would disagree with me, vehemently judging my cynicism as vain, if not selfish, as I am a product of the comforts bestowed upon me by the equally frivolous and elitist institution of higher learning that situates itself in a country in the third world and a premiere state university that touts itself the bastion of liberal ideas amidst the crushing weight of ugliness, corruption, poverty, and hopelessness surrounding it.

One day I shall pack my bags, say adieu to my life in Manila that I used to love and learned to detest (though these diverging feelings of love and detestation, in some very rare moments, converge).

One day I shall redeem myself from the routine and the make-believe.

And go on an odyssey back to my real home.

I think of my situation now as being caught in deep shit. How I love to say this word, shit. It is liberating. It is free of abstraction.

Shit is the highest good so long as one is not caught, deeply, in it.

A week ago, I took a jeepney ride on campus going to Quezon Avenue MRT station when I happened to be seated beside a classmate of mine in grad school who studied Literature in the university where I am teaching the subject now. Our conversation meandered until toward the end of our trip the subject of our talk settled on world-weariness. She related to me how bad it felt to be jobless and added that the stigma of being a graduate of that exclusive school along Katipunan and be unemployed was just too much to bear, and how she felt, during that very moment, palpable weariness of the world.

I guess, she is as deeply entrenched in shit as I, though the fashion of our being entrenched differs. She wants to escape it; I, on the other hand, wallow and linger in it, though maybe not for long.

For some, those who are lucky in the real sense of the word, still have that choice. For most, the choice is not theirs. I am grateful that I can still consider myself to be part of the former group. After all, I am still afforded choice probably because of my education, my age, my ability to use language to my advantage, my meager savings in the bank, my mother’s prayer, or simply because of sheer luck. And this opportunity I am exhausting to the fullest.

I always tell my students that being young gives them enough excuse to commit mistakes and to learn from these mistakes, that failing should not be something to be afraid of because they are at the best time of their lives to commit mistakes without having to face the grave repercussions that adults committing stupid mistakes face. And that they are lucky to be given this choice. And that this choice is theirs.

Although I feel miserable at times, it’s a little comforting to know that this misery is self-inflicted, and that I can choose, if I want, to be happy. That I can choose to end this spectacle, be kinder to myself, and, from a note my favorite professor in university once wrote me, “smell the flowers”.

*a reflection written more than a year ago I unearthed while searching for an old college picture a few minutes ago.

The sem is over at last

Endings, though most often are sad, are in reality sweet. The papers are in, the exams given, grades of students to be submitted Wednesday next week. I’m, in general, a free man. No more, at least in the next three weeks, worrying about what to say in a one-hour class period, about what to wear that will not cause the most modest of my students to blush, or about which of my repertoire of jokes to throw to keep my easily distracted students from sleeping or their thoughts giving in to their natural wanderlust.

I have been away from this blog for a time; I might, though I cannot promise, be able to at last find time to write more regularly again at least before the second begins.

For now, I am just relishing this wonderful feeling of being well-rested and lightness.

Stops and interruptions

I was holding a thick paperback of Borges’s collection of non-fictions on a train going to Boni, reading portions of some short articles when the ride is not too bumpy straining my eyes that have gone more fragile as the days go by, or during every stop. There is something about these short stops and interruptions that affects how I read a piece of literature. Because I very rarely find time to stay in one place for longer than an hour, except during my classes in grad school that stretch for three hours, I consider my time spent on these train coaches my only reading time. I take no heed of the population density inside these trains, have gone oblivious to the human stench, and have learned to keep my ears shut from trivial conversations that interest me no more.

To me, reading is an act of aggression, a war waged against a repressive environment that does its best to keep one from that intimate contact with the written language. I find it very ironic that while I teach reading Literature, I have always been at a lack of time to let the ideas I read simmer, reflect on their implications to my understanding, and in worst cases, read. And so, I have to set aside the limitations posed by my economics, academics, and the personal to somehow still find time to sit on a bench, or stand while one hand is holding a cold metal railing, and the other a book, and read as if books are as illicit as a cap of E. Assuming that the unlawfulness of books gives its reader a sense of power (diabolical or divine, it does not matter).

The stops and the interruptions at first functioned as wide, perilous voids I needed to cross in order to get  to the opposite end that promises understanding and multi-layered meanings, but, as in all other things that began as a debility, getting used to these stops and interruptions allowed me to use them to my advantage. Each of these I spend looking at the horizon, or at close-ups of people who are, like me, packed like sardines inside a nearly dilapidated train coach. These long shots and close-ups are observations, mental accounts of humanity in various contexts that are reflected, nuanced, critiqued, pitied, adored, laughed at, pilloried, worshipped, lambasted, but generally, celebrated in Literature, allowing me to get so close to what it’s like being human.

There is no such thing as a ‘perfect reading experience’, only experiences that give a book, that is, if it is truly great, as many intimations as the souls drinking it.

On depth

Whenever I write here, I begin with almost nothing in mind. I rely so much on spontaneity in easing my thoughts out. It’s an inefficient method, a hit-and-miss approach, that leaves me more baffled than enlightened as to what exactly constitutes good expression. These past few days I have been reflecting like a maniac on writing, thoughts, living in general, wealth, rest– pretty much the things that people my age would find themselves thinking about right in the middle of whatever they’re doing at a  certain time of the day. Daydreaming. Sometimes, I would catch myself daydreaming while giving my insights on my professor’s lecture or thinking about some alternate universe while standing in front of my class explaining epiphany or deus ex machina.

If this is my mind’s way of waging an imminently un-winnable war against the tide of ennui that grapples me, I am not very happy about it. This is tantamount to losing control, to not holding on too fast, to not being good enough to be able to rein my subconscious (I am not even sure if I am using the right concept or word in this case). This imprecision, which most would misconstrue as depth gives me that gnawing guilt. Depth I got not, only carelessness of thought.