Resil B. Mojares
The Haunting of the Filipino Writer


For N. V. M. Gonzalez (1915-1999)


READING THE ESSAYS of N. V. M. Gonzalez, I am quite taken by his graceful sense of being in time and place. He has used his kalutang well. It is perfectly right that his signature work is called A Season of Grace, for is not this novel an enactment, ours as much as Doro’s and Sabel’s, of how grace is earned by how we carry ourselves through time and space? 1

In his essays, Gonzales traces his passage as person and writer – from provincial Romblon and the backwoods of Mindoro, to the mecca that was and is Manila, and other meccas stranger, more distant and powerful, and then, in his last years, to a blessed coming home. In all this, he enacts for us not just the motions of an individual life but a fine dialectic movement embedded in the time and space of the nation, that “workshop of time and tide” in which a nation is made though we are haunted by the sense that we have not imagined deeply enough its shape, span, strength, depth.

There is a haunted quality to Gonzalez’s account of his sojournings, a haunting that comes from feelings of displacement, dispossession, decenteredness, disembodiment. He worries about what betrayals of forgetting are committed as one moves from Mountain to Barrio to City, the “three countries” that make up his and much of the life of the nation. He wrestles with the burden, guilt, and cost of writing in a language not his own: My merest jottings were notes not so much from an underground as from another world… Rendered in an alien tongue, [that] life attained a distinction of a translation even before it had been made into a representation of reality… even before becoming a reality of its own. Remembering a visit in 1962 to the cave temples of Ajanta in India, he recalls his “cultural innocence”: The Philippine scene has become too much a client of the American cultural establishment in those years before World War II; the Filipino intellectual was thus deprived of the instruction that cultures close by, in Southeast Asia and South Asia, could offer. Struck by how provincial he and his contemporaries were in hankering after recognition in the United States, he marks the dark edge to this naivete, how history has made Filipino writers “literary peons, sharecroppers of [the] style” of the Other. Teaching in California as the war in Vietnam raged, he quietly agonizes over the question of where the Filipino writer should locate himself in the world: An imagination, a sensibility, that emerges out of a Third World environment, must fend for itself, for it is easy prey to the rabid charity of other worlds. 2




THIS HAUNTING, THIS HAUNTEDNESS is a problem of the soul, and it is not Gonzalez’s alone. To be visited by a spirit, touched by the spectral presence of absence; to catch the miasmic whiff of the unburied dead, the traces of what has been silenced and forgotten – haunting is a metaphor for what drives the vocation of writers and the practice of writing. 3 It is also an eloquent sign of our social malaise as Filipinos, symptom of the profound affliction of a nation not quite conscious of itself.

The notion that we are a people troubled by a lost or unquiet soul is not new in Philippine intellectual history. At the turn of the century, the time of our great nationalist awakening, the “Filipino Soul,” Alma Filipina, was a theme popular among Filipino writers and intellectuals, who saw in it the sign of a people’s dream of selfhood, autonomy, and freedom. Soul: the word had an elevated, edifying sound to it, properly reverential before what it invoked, the People, the Nation.

The notion was not unproblematic or uncontested. There were those who found the concept fatuous and fugitive. T. H. Pardo de Tavera dismissed the Alma his contemporaries eulogized as an idealized ethos invented by a small Hispanicized elite, a soul more “Latin” than “Asiatic” or Malay. A scientist who admired the efficient rationality of the Anglo-Saxon, Pardo de Tavera remarked that the discourse on the soul at the century’s turn expressed a “poetic mentality” that was “ineffectual,” insufficient “to direct a country’s advance on the highway of modern civilization.” 4

In the amorphousness of the notion of the soul, however, was its utility and power. Invoking “soul” did not only ground the struggle for political independence in moral sentiments, it raised a sign that could be shaped and bent to whatever desire, this play of past and future (what we have lost, what we can gain), an ideal always present, always postponed. Deployed as a counter in the political and cultural debates of the time, it was, like the nation it invoked, both persuasive and elusive.

Such fervid language has gone out of fashion; we are suspicious of what it insinuates. Modern history has inflicted on us the example of dictators who mystify greed for power with the heightened rhetoric of resurrecting the nation’s greatness, or sweeten corruption with mellifluous invocations of “the true, the good, and the beautiful.” No wonder that in recent years we have chosen for president – a housewife, a soldier-engineer, a mumbling movie star – persons who are not the most inspired or inspiring of speakers. In a time more secular, less expansive, and distinctly anti-intellectualist, to speak of soul, if not dangerous, seems sentimental and archaic; it is a word we are embarrassed to use in public.

Indulge me then as I resurrect the word. What was often mere rhetoric to decorate patriotic articles and speeches was, in truth, a deeply rooted idea, a power-laden word. In Malay and indigenous Filipino cultures, the ubiquity of the soul is conveyed by its many names: the Malay semangat, Bisayan kalag, Tagalog kaluluwa, Iloko kararuwa, Bagobo gimokud, Subano ginawa, Bukidnon makatu, and more. They all point to the same basic notion: the elan vital, the principle of fertility and potency, the sign of what is whole and fulfilled. 5

When the soul is unformed, infirm, or lost, the body weakens, sickens, or dies. To speak of a person in Bisayan as kalagan is to speak of a person forceful and spirited, one “full of soul.” When something is not quite right with the body, Bisayans say, Naglain ang akong ginhawa. Literally, “my breathing is different,” it is another way of saying, “there’s a difference in my soul” (ginhawa, like the Subanon ginawa, comes from the Malay nyawa and Proto-Austronesian nawah, “soul”). It is the condition of being out-of-sorts portentous of a lack or loss (but also, we must add, the stirrings of a coming vision, the onset of something dangerous, strange, and new).

Such description can be made not only of the individual but the social body as well. In the distinctly socio-centric drift of native thought, what ails persons quickly translates into afflictions of communities and “nation.” When disease or misfortune blights a village, when there is a lack in the body politic – or the body of what we call the “national literature” – something, the shaman will say, is not quite right with the soul.

What is required is a healing and healing begins with an act of divination (discernment, diagnosis, criticism). It involves the act of finding (Bisayan bulong: to heal, to find), restoring (Manobo uli: to heal, to return), locating a soul distracted or lost. “Locating” the soul typically involves the act of “reading signs” and “communicating.” Spells are uttered to specify, make known, and hence place bounds around the disturbed or disturbing spirit. This is what rites of healing are about.

In dealing with what ails this body we call the “national literature,” there is a great deal to be learned from the moves of the shaman (bailan, belian). There are three reasons, the shaman will tell us, for “soul drift” or “soul loss”: shock, seduction, sin.




A SUDDEN EXTERNAL SHOCK can dislocate the soul, leaving the body derelict and disoriented. We appreciate this in those cases where the soul is not yet fully formed or firmly in place (as in children) or when the soul is momentarily adrift (as in sleep). Hence, we do not startle a child for fear of dislodging the child’s soul; we wake up a sleeping person gently to allow his wandering soul time to slip back into place. In more dangerous forms, “soul fright” or soul loss happens in the severe trauma of violence, such as a road accident or a sexual assault.

Colonialism is the trauma of Philippine literature. The trauma is defined not just by the disruptive force and duration of our colonial experience but the specific, manifold character it took and the site in which it was played out. Spanish colonialism arrived in the islands when were a nation not quite bounded and formed to withstand its assault. Except for a few, inchoate Muslim sultanates, we did not have (as in other parts of the region, such as Java, Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam) precolonial states with broad and substantial military or bureaucratic power. No Angkor, Pagan, or Borobudur. Though Filipino nationalists of the nineteenth century yearningly invoked – as many nationalists still do today – the spirit of “an ancient Filipino civilization,” the historical reality is that a “nation” or “state” beyond tribe and petty chiefdom did not exist. We had, it must be stressed, the resources for such a “civilization” – the lineaments of a vital and defining soul, if you will – in the affinities that local and ethnic communities in the islands shared and in the greater Malayo-Polynesian world of which we were part. But we were startled, nay, assaulted, before our common soul could grow firmly in place.

Colonialism created such a divide in our collective consciousness that Rizal and the nineteenth-century nationalists lamented the loss of memory of our “ancient nationality,” dreamed of lost archives, and imagined the long colonial period as a “dark age” that separated a people from their roots in the past. 6 Much of the Propaganda Movement, and the beginning of a national literature, was fueled precisely by this need to recover the past, to define, anchor, and nurture a shared “national soul.”

It is a need we have not quite satisfied even today. 7 We have come a long way from those days when the writer Amador T. Daguio could say, in 1934: “We do not possess a literary tradition… We have nothing to which we could refer, nothing that serves us as stimulus or a pattern for autochthonous work… We have, it is true, our oral traditions and our songs, but they appear to be trifling.” 8 The popular turn in the late 1960s and the 1970s, when scholars and writers awakened to the need for building “from the ground up” a more broadly based and emancipative consciousness of the national culture, strengthened and expanded our sense of tradition. Advances in cultural studies, the best of today’s Philippine literature textbooks, the debates on language, and the work of young writers in various languages across the country demonstrate the growing appreciation for the depth and variety of our traditions and the need to stand connected to these traditions.

Still we continue to face the challenge of drawing on this capital, building on it, and converting it into a vigorous literature of the present. The sense that the “history” in our literature is shallow and makeshift is expressed in Gonzalez’s comment on Philippine fiction: “Illuminative fiction on or covering periods of our history… has remained unwritten. For a people with a proud 400-year history, how many titles may we offer for a readable collection? In the few books that we cherish as the best works by Filipinos, what depths of field are revealed?” 9 A survey of the Filipino novel shows how the literary imagination largely circulates within the social-territorial space of the modern nation-state. Biased in favor of familiar lowland Christian world, the national imaginary traced by our novels and stories leaves many significant areas of memory and experience barely explored. To what extent, one us led to ask, is the “nation-space” traced by Philippine fiction dominated by urban, middle-class imaginings of the nation?

In novels that have consciously recreated national history, such as the work of F. Sionil Jose and Linda Ty-Casper, the span is confined to the world of thought and time defined by a dominant nationalist historiography that traces beginnings to the late-nineteenth century. In those cases where the writer attempts a greater “depth of field” by bringing the precolonial or early colonial past, there is something spurious and “folkloric” about this past. In Jose’s Viajero (1993), for instance, the polyphonic device of historical or quasi-historical characters speaking at various points across five centuries is undercut by a sameness of voice, the weight of the author’s homogenizing monologue. 10 Beyond the deployments of setting or scene, novels like Viajero, for all their virtues, seem confined within the limits of a received form and a historical consciousness with shallow, uncertain roots in the past.

The shock of colonialism should not be exaggerated. An indigenous culture persisted and developed in areas Spain was unable to effectively penetrate or control. At the same time, colonialism was not something imposed on us from the outside but, in sum, a reality that we ourselves shaped through our own acts of evasion, resistance, and reinterpretation. “Filipino culture” is defined not just by what we were in preconquest times (times that were not pristine or uncontaminated) but by how we carved out in the colonial belly a historically specific identity. Yet, even as we need a greater understanding of this dynamic of identity-creation, or “soul formation,” we cannot afford to romanticize or gloss it with facile nativist claims of creativity. Such claims have to be demonstrated in the originality, force, and daring of our cultural productions.

The recuperation of a long and lost heritage drove such scholars as Pedro Paterno, T. H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes, and Rizal himself to pursue such projects as the study of Sanskrit and pre- Hispanic scripts, ancient religion, and native mythology. These are projects that, a hundred years later, still seem strangely and sadly unfinished. We take vicarious pride in Rizal’s cosmopolitan appetites – studying languages like German, English, and Italian (twenty-two languages, we are told), reading a wide range of texts, raiding Europe’s storehouse of learning. We have paid less attention to the fact that, in his last years, he devoted himself to studying Malay, Mangyan, Subano, and Bisayan; worked on a Tagalog grammar; spoke of producing a monumental dictionary of all Philippine languages and dialects; and dreamed of writing a novel in Tagalog. If the dream of a “lost Eden” is so pervasive in the work of the early nationalists, it is because they felt the keen need to name and mobilize the intellectual resources with which we could confront and enter into a dialogue with the Other.

A review of our literature produced since then shows that the need remains.




SOUL LOSS CAN BE TEMPORARY, the startled soul can find its way back, it can heal. The greater danger lies where the soul is not only invaded but also seduced and abducted by more powerful spirits. It can be taken away to a secret place and not find its way back. We strike gongs and drums or bang pots and pans, staging a nose barrage, calling out a name. Come back, come back. But the soul, believing that the dark tree in which it is ensnared is a luxurious, brightly-lit place, has forgotten its name and lost its desire to escape.

Colonialism was not just an invasion but a long seduction. Unlike the Dutch in Indonesia, who saw their colony as a place and a people to be mined for goods and guilders, the Spaniards – while not indifferent to produce and pesetas – were also interested in colonizing and collecting souls. In their turn, the Americans, driven by their own sense of imperial rightness, proceeded to “civilize” intimate parts of the Filipino body and mind the Spaniards had not quite penetrated. A new language, symbolic forms, sensibilities, patterns of thought inveigled us. How effectively we were seduced is shown by how, with no trace of irony, Jorge Bacobo in 1912 would call for the birth of a “native Tennyson”; the founding members of the U. P. Writers Club in 1927 would announce that they aimed to become “the faithful followers of Shakespeare”; and the Philippines Free Press in 1928 would declare that it was its goal to develop “some literary genius who might make a name for himself in the United States.” 11 We imagined ourselves guests at a banquet in a glittering place, deaf to the faint, elsewhere sounds of bamboo sticks and pots and pans.

Come back, come back. Gonzalez, speaking of soul loss and the Filipino writer, relates Kofi Awoonor’s story of African villagers who are invited to come aboard a white ship to drum for its captain, only to be carried away as the ship sails and vanishes beyond the horizon. There are many who do not return. 12

The story of our literary education is familiar enough. I need not retrace it. It bears repeating however that, from the time modern schools were first founded in the country, what passed for our literary education was an educing of the mind toward distant excellencies of Greco-Latin, Spanish, and Anglo-American models. Relegated to the backwaters, Philippine literature has never occupied a prominent place in the curricula of colleges and universities. Moreover, the teaching of Philippine literature has been biased in the favor of an English stream of writing and it is only is only over the past three decades that serious attention has been given to such vital constituents of the national tradition as our folk, popular, and so-called regional literatures. Lulled by the pleasures of being precocious pupils of the modern (the first Asians to write a novel in English, we proudly claim among others), we dreamed, as Gonzalez remarked, of breaking into print and finding our voice in the world (which mostly meant, at the time, the United States). Yet, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez said of the similar experience of Latin American writers: “The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own serves only to make us even more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary.” 13

The phenomenon of “soul drift” us such that, to arrest it, what is required is more than a simple shift of attention. To write in Cebuano today (and one can cite other Philippine languages as an example) is to write in a language diminished and submerged. Today’s young Cebuano writer, poring over the Bisayan dictionaries of Mateo Sanchez (1711) or Juan Felix de la Encarnation (1851), will quickly recognize deeply estranged he is from the language, how much of its wealth he has lost. 14 Bienvenido Lumbera has remarked on the “loss of literacy” consequent to Spanish conquest, when Filipinos lost their skill in the indigenous scripts before they had acquired the new Roman system of writing. 15 What may be more consequential is how, in the longer term, writers and readers have lost language itself.

Such loss has disengaged us from local ways of conceiving and representing the “world” – from indigenous repertories of artistic forms and devices, to distinctive structures of meaning and sentiment, modes of thinking and feeling that show the myriad possibilities for imagining time, space, persons, and communities. Reviewing Philippine poetry, for instance, one sees how we have scarcely begun to draw from the rich poetic traditions of the country and the Southeast Asian region. By virtue of the language they use, poets in local languages are more connected to these traditions, and the vitality of Tagalog poetry, for instance, demonstrates the virtues of work that looks out into the world but stands moored in the realities and resources of location and place. In recent times, Filipino poets – Virgilio Almario, most prominent among them – have applied themselves to the study and appropriation for contemporary uses of a “native poetics.” Picking up from where Jose Rizal and Lope L. Santos left off at the turn of the century, Almario mines descriptions of Tagalog verse forms by early Spanish missionaries and analyzes specimens of old poetry to build a Filipino poetics “from the ground up.” 16 Such work needs to be widely recognized as well as deepened by extending the investigation to other Philippine languages, collating studies done by anthropologists and linguists, going beyond technics to epistemic styles, and contextualizing local traditions within, or in relation to, Malay and Austronesian cultures. 17

We are talking not just of going back to “the beginning” but of better understanding and drawing from (as Almario himself urges) the colonial encounter with its specific, creative enactments of subversion and appropriation of alien forms. Though he tilts the balance too heavily in favor of the Hispanic side of the colonial experience, Nick Joaquin is perfectly right in consistently resisting all attempts to deny history by extirpating the colonial past. 18 It is not an accident that Joaquin demonstrates in his own work that it is in being rooted in the colonial past that his is the most original voice in postcolonial Philippine writing.

Colonialism had its opportunities, gaps, and openings. We had modern universities and modern novels long before other countries in the region. We were introduced early to the possibilities of print culture. We had Jose Rizal. Yet, despite the fact that these are milestones we take pride in, why are we haunted by the thought that we have not adequately harnessed this past to our advantage? Rizal felt his work unfinished and dreamed of writing a “third novel.” How do we explain that, a hundred years later, we are still haunted that this “third novel” has not been written?

The “magical realists” of Latin America did not only draw from pre-Colombian mythology but the artifacts of the colonial experience – the fabulous European accounts of discovery and conquest as well as native American fantasies of the Other. Authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa cannibalized European medieval romances and assorted European fables in creating a distinctly “Latin American” fiction. This mining of a region’s lode of buried images is not mere literary excavation but an unmasking of a wholly contemporary Present with its own perverse marvels of modern greed, violence, and dictatorships. As Garcia Marquez eloquently declares in his Nobel Prize lecture in 1982, it is a breaking out into their own distinctive voice of a people the estranging postcolonial realities of Latin America had condemned to “one hundred years of solitude.” 19

All this is not unfamiliar to Filipinos. Yet, speaking of European metrical romances, why does it seem like we are stuck with invoking the lonely example of Balagtas? Speaking of modern political horrors, why is it that the grim documents of torture, massacres, and disappearances over these decades still seem raw and unprocessed? Speaking of “cannibalizing” old forms, why do works like Alfred Yuson’s Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café (1988) and Voyeurs and Savages (1998) seem like a miming of imported postmodernism instead of a raising up of the ghosts of Tuwaang and Hudhud (with their own local transgressions of the time-space continuum) or, to cite an example closer to our time, of Gabriel Beato Francisco’s 1907 trilogy of Tagalog novels (with its use of pastiche to communicate the cababalaghan of a time of Revolution)? 20 And speaking of solitude, why has Philippine literature remained – despite the claims we are often overeager to make for it – largely invisible in the world?

What these caveats convey is that the challenge of translating the variety and fullness of our own distinctive history into the literature of the present remains…





SOUL LOSS CAN BE TEMPORARY, the startled soul can find its way back, it can heal. The greater danger lies where the soul is not only invaded but also seduced and abducted by more powerful spirits. It can be taken away to a secret place and not find its way back. We strike gongs and drums or bang pots and pans, staging a nose barrage, calling out a name. Come back, come back. But the soul, believing that the dark tree in which it is ensnared is a luxurious, brightly-lit place, has forgotten its name and lost its desire to escape.

Colonialism was not just an invasion but a long seduction. Unlike the Dutch in Indonesia, who saw their colony as a place and a people to be mined for goods and guilders, the Spaniards – while not indifferent to produce and pesetas – were also interested in colonizing and collecting souls. In their turn, the Americans, driven by their own sense of imperial rightness, proceeded to “civilize” intimate parts of the Filipino body and mind the Spaniards had not quite penetrated. A new language, symbolic forms, sensibilities, patterns of thought inveigled us. How effectively we were seduced is shown by how, with no trace of irony, Jorge Bacobo in 1912 would call for the birth of a “native Tennyson”; the founding members of the U. P. Writers Club in 1927 would announce that they aimed to become “the faithful followers of Shakespeare”; and the Philippines Free Press in 1928 would declare that it was its goal to develop “some literary genius who might make a name for himself in the United States.” 11 We imagined ourselves guests at a banquet in a glittering place, deaf to the faint, elsewhere sounds of bamboo sticks and pots and pans.

Come back, come back. Gonzalez, speaking of soul loss and the Filipino writer, relates Kofi Awoonor’s story of African villagers who are invited to come aboard a white ship to drum for its captain, only to be carried away as the ship sails and vanishes beyond the horizon. There are many who do not return. 12

The story of our literary education is familiar enough. I need not retrace it. It bears repeating however that, from the time modern schools were first founded in the country, what passed for our literary education was an educing of the mind toward distant excellencies of Greco-Latin, Spanish, and Anglo-American models. Relegated to the backwaters, Philippine literature has never occupied a prominent place in the curricula of colleges and universities. Moreover, the teaching of Philippine literature has been biased in the favor of an English stream of writing and it is only is only over the past three decades that serious attention has been given to such vital constituents of the national tradition as our folk, popular, and so-called regional literatures. Lulled by the pleasures of being precocious pupils of the modern (the first Asians to write a novel in English, we proudly claim among others), we dreamed, as Gonzalez remarked, of breaking into print and finding our voice in the world (which mostly meant, at the time, the United States). Yet, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez said of the similar experience of Latin American writers: “The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own serves only to make us even more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary.” 13

The phenomenon of “soul drift” us such that, to arrest it, what is required is more than a simple shift of attention. To write in Cebuano today (and one can cite other Philippine languages as an example) is to write in a language diminished and submerged. Today’s young Cebuano writer, poring over the Bisayan dictionaries of Mateo Sanchez (1711) or Juan Felix de la Encarnation (1851), will quickly recognize deeply estranged he is from the language, how much of its wealth he has lost. 14 Bienvenido Lumbera has remarked on the “loss of literacy” consequent to Spanish conquest, when Filipinos lost their skill in the indigenous scripts before they had acquired the new Roman system of writing. 15 What may be more consequential is how, in the longer term, writers and readers have lost language itself.

Such loss has disengaged us from local ways of conceiving and representing the “world” – from indigenous repertories of artistic forms and devices, to distinctive structures of meaning and sentiment, modes of thinking and feeling that show the myriad possibilities for imagining time, space, persons, and communities. Reviewing Philippine poetry, for instance, one sees how we have scarcely begun to draw from the rich poetic traditions of the country and the Southeast Asian region. By virtue of the language they use, poets in local languages are more connected to these traditions, and the vitality of Tagalog poetry, for instance, demonstrates the virtues of work that looks out into the world but stands moored in the realities and resources of location and place. In recent times, Filipino poets – Virgilio Almario, most prominent among them – have applied themselves to the study and appropriation for contemporary uses of a “native poetics.” Picking up from where Jose Rizal and Lope L. Santos left off at the turn of the century, Almario mines descriptions of Tagalog verse forms by early Spanish missionaries and analyzes specimens of old poetry to build a Filipino poetics “from the ground up.” 16 Such work needs to be widely recognized as well as deepened by extending the investigation to other Philippine languages, collating studies done by anthropologists and linguists, going beyond technics to epistemic styles, and contextualizing local traditions within, or in relation to, Malay and Austronesian cultures. 17

We are talking not just of going back to “the beginning” but of better understanding and drawing from (as Almario himself urges) the colonial encounter with its specific, creative enactments of subversion and appropriation of alien forms. Though he tilts the balance too heavily in favor of the Hispanic side of the colonial experience, Nick Joaquin is perfectly right in consistently resisting all attempts to deny history by extirpating the colonial past. 18 It is not an accident that Joaquin demonstrates in his own work that it is in being rooted in the colonial past that his is the most original voice in postcolonial Philippine writing.

Colonialism had its opportunities, gaps, and openings. We had modern universities and modern novels long before other countries in the region. We were introduced early to the possibilities of print culture. We had Jose Rizal. Yet, despite the fact that these are milestones we take pride in, why are we haunted by the thought that we have not adequately harnessed this past to our advantage? Rizal felt his work unfinished and dreamed of writing a “third novel.” How do we explain that, a hundred years later, we are still haunted that this “third novel” has not been written?

The “magical realists” of Latin America did not only draw from pre-Colombian mythology but the artifacts of the colonial experience – the fabulous European accounts of discovery and conquest as well as native American fantasies of the Other. Authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa cannibalized European medieval romances and assorted European fables in creating a distinctly “Latin American” fiction. This mining of a region’s lode of buried images is not mere literary excavation but an unmasking of a wholly contemporary Present with its own perverse marvels of modern greed, violence, and dictatorships. As Garcia Marquez eloquently declares in his Nobel Prize lecture in 1982, it is a breaking out into their own distinctive voice of a people the estranging postcolonial realities of Latin America had condemned to “one hundred years of solitude.” 19

All this is not unfamiliar to Filipinos. Yet, speaking of European metrical romances, why does it seem like we are stuck with invoking the lonely example of Balagtas? Speaking of modern political horrors, why is it that the grim documents of torture, massacres, and disappearances over these decades still seem raw and unprocessed? Speaking of “cannibalizing” old forms, why do works like Alfred Yuson’s Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café (1988) and Voyeurs and Savages (1998) seem like a miming of imported postmodernism instead of a raising up of the ghosts of Tuwaang and Hudhud (with their own local transgressions of the time-space continuum) or, to cite an example closer to our time, of Gabriel Beato Francisco’s 1907 trilogy of Tagalog novels (with its use of pastiche to communicate the cababalaghan of a time of Revolution)? 20 And speaking of solitude, why has Philippine literature remained – despite the claims we are often overeager to make for it – largely invisible in the world?

What these caveats convey is that the challenge of translating the variety and fullness of our own distinctive history into the literature of the present remains…





THE SOUL WE SEEK is not -- as our metaphors of shock and seduction may suggest -- something pregiven, or simply misplaced or lost and, once found, can be possessed once and for all. Malay animism instructs us with the view that the soul is not something unitary and fixed, but dialectical and dynamic. Like the cardinal notion of loob (or the Bisayan buot), the soul is formed in the human activity of focusing and expanding, centering and decentering, in a constant dialectic of past and present, actuality and possibility, between what is in us and what lies outside and beyond. [end of page 306]

Local knowledge guides us with examples. The refusal to essentialize the soul, to give it a privileged, a priori status, can be read in the prevalent and Filipino belief that a person may have as many five or seven “souls,” each with a different name, locus and function. This volatile surplus of souls is not be to be construed as one more metaphor for the oft-lamented Filipino penchant for excess and division. What the Bagobo, Batak, or Tiruray imagines is less five or seven souls as a soul fivefold or sevenfold. It is a notion that conveys a native (or of you will, “postmodern”) passion for what is open and transactional, a wariness of essentialism and exclusion.

The same idea of an active, manifold soul is distilled in the popular Filipino belief that a person has two souls, each inhabiting one side of the body. The left-hand soul frequently leaves the body to roam, and dreams are nothing but its experiences on these wanderings. The right-hand soul is the protector and companion of the body, which it never leaves except sometimes to lie on the ground as the person’s shadow. The right-hand soul (also called “life-soul”) is “tightly bound,” assuring values of safety, comfort, health. The left-hand soul (“shadow-soul”) is free and unbound; it represents the creativity of activity, danger, dis-ease. This twinning of the soul is our way of recognizing that the character of the life of a person (or, for that matter, a nation) does not lie in one or the other, it is located in the space where identity and desire are constantly negotiated between what a tightly bound soul represents and what the unbound soul promises.

In this local poetics of soul formation is as fine a conceptual model as one can find for how the Filipino -- and the Filipino writer - - relates to his society and the world. The centering idea of a “national history,” “national literature,” or “nation” is a claim against the reality of many unaggregated, dispersed, and competing versions of community. These versions are generated out of the differences of language, ethnicity, religion, gender, and class. We need to assess the discourse formed by the voices coming from these “localities.” We need then to judge what, in the formation of a national discourse, is rendered peripheral, subordinate, or invisible. We need to calculate how the fullness and health of the body is diminished and imperiled by the neglect or suppression of its parts.

How real is the claim of a “national” literature when many of our best writers are not part of the cultural literacy of students in our colleges and universities, and many of the texts comprising our litera- [end of page 307] ture are in languages we cannot read? How vital is the claim when there are still parts f the national life and the country’s territory, like Mindanao and its Islamic tradition, which remain in the national imaginary’s outer margins? How well can one make the claim when even in “lowland Christian society,” the dominant site out of which the nation has been imagined, the discursive field is unequal and imbalanced? Consider the dominance of Metro Manila where power and resources are concentrated in terms of educational and media facilities, the apparatus of cultural policy making, and the instruments for canonical recognition and reward. Here are to be found the headquarters of government cultural agencies, publishing houses and centers of book distribution, prestigious award-giving bodies, national textbook boards and makers of “lists of required readings,” and -- not the least -- the nexus in the promotion of Tagalog-based national language. Here cultural productions take the privileged guise of the national, beside which all else is merely regional, provincial, or local.

The forms of exclusion and forgetting are not always innocent or benign. If we are haunted by the sense that we cannot quite break through the depressing realities that entrap us as a people, the reason stares us in the face. So much of our public life is littered with the unburied dead. Brutal facts of social misery, abominations past and present, government investigations going nowhere, new scandals replacing old ones, leaders who refuse to be buried, the present reprising the past again and again. A society that has mislaid its dead and breathes its stench without outrage or guilt will forget what breathing deep and free means.

The philosopher Ernest Renan has said that creating a “nation” requires a shared amnesia. To imagine our oneness requires that we forget our differences. We must be sure however that what we are asked to forget are not those that only serve the self-serving interests of powerholders (histories of social betrayal, political opportunism, or military repression) or the expedient and pious ends of a narrow and exclusionary “official nationalism” (such as the suppression or homogenization of linguistic, ethnic, or religious differences). We shall not carry the past with us like a carcass on our backs but there are things that we forget only at the cost of diminishing the kind of nation we can be.

In imagination’s failure to encompass the fullness and variety of the nation lies the third condition of soul loss -- what I have chosen [end of page 308] to call (if grandiosely) sin, but sin not in a medieval, Judeo-Christian sense of what is transgressive but what is self-limiting, exclusionary, and exclusive. “Soul stuff” is formed out of the internal dialectics of what we earlier adverted to as the virtues of the bound and the unbound. It is built up not through the setting aside of differences but through their combination and cultivation. If the soul closes upon itself, it weakens and becomes less than what it can be. Acts of political and cultural exclusion -- within the nation’s boundaries or across them, whether borne of bias or forgetting -- starve the soul.

Local ideas of the soul place the primacy on process and activity rather than essence. We value the elaborate rites of “soul nurture” -- asceticism, meditation, the arts of magic and learning -- that concentrate power “inside” (loob) and thus strengthen the soul. At the same time, we acknowledge the power that can be accessed from the outside (labas) as represented by those moments when the soul departs from the body and roams the countries of dream (even nightmare), risking danger in that state of enchanted death old Bisayans call linahos ingkamatay (“an almost death”). We value such daring knowing that, because we have honed ourselves in acts of mindfulness, compassion, and discipline, we shall return, filled with visions of strange things seen, and an even richer sense of our identity and difference.

It is in this same sense of privileging activity over essence that, in many parts of the Malay world, the soul is imagined as “wind” (Malay nyawa, or “breath”; Greek anima or anemos, “wind”), and not just wind but a force field of contrary winds. How “full of soul” a person becomes is a function of how well a person, or the shaman in the person, tames and weaves these inner winds, nurturing and healing not by expelling or leveling of difference but the synergistic balancing of opposites. In the same way, the fullness of our literature can be judged by how well we weave and fuse within us the winds that blow from the many sites of what we must claim, in the nation’s making, as our shared life.

These excursions into the aesthetics and politics of the soul carry us into the recognition of the possibilities that lie in the condition of haunting -- if we choose to confront our ghosts, wrestle with nightmare, and wrest out of it a new and heightened wakefulness.

Haunting is a form of desire. As the sign of what is amiss, a lack unfulfilled, the shade of something left unfinished, it does not only point to the past but to the future. It is what the Tagalog word for [end of page 309] memory, gunita, signifies: to dream not only of something past but the trace of what one had desired but had not quite accomplished. To be haunting is to be suspended in a dream between past and future. Few metaphors as perfect can be found for the act of writing.





INVOKING THE “NATIONAL SOUL” is treading on dangerous grounds. The idea of nation (and its concomitants, a national identity, history, literature) has been the subject of withering critiques in contemporary scholarship because of the mystifications and perversions committed in its name. Reified, the idea has been deployed in predatory forms as charter for self-serving state nationalism, territorial aggression, and religious or ethnic genocide. It has been turned into what the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa calls “a malign fantasy,” a political fiction imposed in a social and geographic reality...for the benefit of a political minority and maintained through a system of uniformity which imposes homogeneity, either gently or severely, at the price of the disappearance of a pre- existing heterogeneity and sets up barriers and obstacles which often make the development of religious, cultural or ethnic diversity impossible within its boundaries.

Yet, even Llosa cannot escape the strange necessity and power of belonging to a nation. What he says about his country is a sentiment many of us can readily recognize as our own. “For me,” he says, “Peru is a kind of incurable illness and my relationship to it is intense, harsh and full of the violence of passion...I feel that my relationship with Peru is more adulterous than conjugal: it is full suspicion, passion and rages.” Beyond the conflicted emotions, however, he confesses to a “profound solidarity” with the country. “Although I have sometimes hated Peru, this hatred, in the words of the poet Cesar Vallejo, has always been steeped in tenderness.”

What Llosa does not quite say is that it is precisely in this ambivalence, this gap between hate and love, that a writer must locate his or her work. It is the space of haunting where the writer, negotiating the distance between anger and tenderness, suspicion and desire, refuses the malignancies of blind faith and easy self-love but claims, even against all contrary signs, what Benedict Anderson calls “the goodness of nations.” [end of page 310]

While it is the soul a writer seeks, it is in the haunting of its absence that he does his best work. It is in this haunting that the nation will be created -- and not in that condition of denial where one refuses to acknowledge that one has been shocked, seduced, or has been violated. Shock, seduction, and sin are elements in the field in which creativity flourishes -- for so long as we can (and surely shall) prove ourselves strong enough to weave the various strands of our shared sense of self and nation, a fuller and richer soul.

And then, even then, may the possibilities continue to haunt us.



NOTES

This essay was presented as a keynote paper at the conference on “Localities of Nationhood: The Nation in Philippine Literature” at the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, 10-12 February 2000.

1 The rhythm of Hanunoo walking stick, the kalutang, is a metaphor N. V. M. Gonzalez used for our need to orient and keep body and soul together in a journey. For the essays of Gonzalez, see “Moving On: A Filipino in the World,” Foreign Values in Southeast Asia Scholarship, ed. J. Fisher (Berkeley: University of California, Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, 1973), 123-57; Work on the Mountain (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1995); The Novel of Justice: Selected Essays, 1968-1994 (Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 1996).

2 Quotations from Gonzalez, Work on the Mountain, xvii, 24, 43, 52- 53, 62, 84.

3 On the “return of the dead” as metaphor for what is suppressed by “tradition,” “canon,” and “systems” see Michel de Certau, Heterologies: Discourse on the Other (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986) 3-16.

4 Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, “The Filipino Soul,” Thinking for Ourselves, ed. E. Quirino and V. M. Hilario (Manila: Oriental Commercial Company, 1924), 155; first published in Spanish in El Renaciamento, 17 May 1906). Also see Tavera’s “The Conservation of the National Type” in the same book (270-89) and Felipe Buencamino, “El Alma Filipina,” El Renaciamento, 1:7 (21 August 1910), 6-7. Tavera criticizes what his contemporaries called the “Filipino soul” as a transplanted “mentality” that is conservative, antiquated, and stagnant. He urges Filipinos to embrace “Anglo-Saxon civilization” (including the English language) as a vehicle of modernity, progress, and democracy. Anglo-Saxon education, he says, will summon forth and nurture “the true Filipino soul” that “rests dormant in the mass of our people.”

5 On the soul in Malay and Southeast Asian cultures, see W. W. Skeat, Malay Magic: An Introduction to the Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsular (London: Frank Cass and Co., 1965), 47-53, 452-56, 568-80; Geoffrey Benjamin, “Indigenous Religious Systems of the Malay Peninsula,” The Imagination of Reality: Essays in Southeast Asian Coherence Systems, ed. A. L. Becker and A. A. Yengoyan (Norwood, N. J.: ABLEX Publishing, 1979), 9-27; O. W. Wolters, History, Culture, and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1982), 6-11, 101-4; K. M. Endicott, An Analysis of Malay Magic (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 95-103. For an introduction to the Philippine case, see Ferdinand Blumentritt, Diccionario mitologico de Filipinas (1895), in W. E. Retana, Archivo del bibliofilo Filipino (Madrid: Viuda de M. Minuesa de los Rios, 1896), II: 337-454; William Henry Scott, Barangay: Sixteenth- Century Philippine Culture and Society (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1994), 80, 238; Gilda Cordero-Fernando et al., The Soul Book (Quezon City: GCF Books, 1991), 95-103.

6 Jose Rizal, “A los Filipinos,” Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas por el Doctor Antonio de Morga (Manila: Comision Nacional del Centenario de Jose Rizal, 1961; first published in 1890), v-vi.

7 See, for instance, the arguments for recovering the Filipino “Malay identity” in Zeus Salazar, The Malayan Connection: Ang Pilipinas sa Dunia Melayu (Quezon City: Palimbagan ng Lahi, 1998).

8 Amador Daguio, “The Malayan Spell and the Creation of a Literature,” Filipino Essays in English, 1910-1954, ed. L. Y. Yabes (Quezon City: University of the Philippines, 1954), 205. First published in Philippine Magazine (September 1934).

9 Gonzalez, Work on the Mountain, 174.

10 F. Sionil Jose, Viajero (Manila: Solidaridad Publishing House, 1993).

11 Gonzalez, Novel of Justice, 89.

12 N. V. M. Gonzalez, “Drumming for the Captain,” WLWE 15, 2 (November 1976): 419-25; Novel of Justice, 79-96.

13 Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “The Solitude of Latin America,” New York Times, 6 February 1983, IV, 17.

14 In an inventory of Cebuano verbs referring to speech acts, Erlinda Alburo lists seventy entries in the 1885 Juan Felix de la Encarnacion dictionary that no longer appear in today’s Cebuano dictionaries. While new words and meanings have been innovated since 1885, changes in meaning suggest a loss of density in the semantic values of old words (see Erlinda Kintanar-Alburo, “Cebuano Language About Talk: Verbal Interaction and Lexical Change,” Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 26, ¾ (1998): 273-96. See Mateo Sanchez, S. J., Vocabulario de la Lengua Bisaya (Manila: Colegio de la Sagrada Compania de Jesus, 1711; compiled ca. 1617); Juan Felix de la Encarnacion, Diccionario Bisaya-Espanol (Manila: Tipografia de Amigos del Pais, 1885; 3rd ed.); Tomas Hermosisima and Pedro Lopez Jr., Dictionary Bisayan-English-Tagalog (Manila: Pedro Ayuda, 1966); John U. Wolff, A Dictionary of Cebuano Visayan (special monograph of Philippine Journal of Linguistics, 1972).

15 Bienvenido Lumbera, “Tagalog Poetry during the Seventeenth Century,” Philippine Studies 16, 1 (1968): 106.

16 See Virgilio S. Almario, Taludtod at Talinghaga (Metro Manila: Anvil Publishing, 1991); Kung Sino ang Kumatha kina Bagongbata, Ossorio, Herrera, Aquino de Belen, Balagtas, Atbp. (Metro Manila: Anvil Publishing, 1992); and Poetikang Tagalog: Mga Unang Pagsusuri sa Sining ng Pagtulang Tagalog (Quezon City: Sentro ng Wikang Filipino and National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 1996).

17 For examples, see Michelle Z. Rosaldo, “Words that are Moving: The Social Meanings of Ilongot Verbal Art,” Dangerous Words: Language and Politics in the Pacific, ed. D. L. Brenneis and F. R. Myers (New York: University Press, 1984), 131-60; William C. Hall, Aspects of Western Subanon Formal Speech (Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and University of Texas at Arlington, 1987); Hella Eleonore Goschnick, The Poetic Conventions of Tina Sambal (Manila: Linguistic Society of the Philippines, 1989).

18 Nick Joaquin, Culture and History: Occasional Notes on the Process of Philippine Becoming (Metro Manila: Solar Publishing, 1988).

19 Marquez, “Solitude of Latin America,” 17. 2020 Alfred A. Yuson, Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café (Manila: Book Development Association of the Philippines, 1988) and Voyeurs and Savages (Metro Manila: Anvil Publishing, 1998); Gabriel Beato Francisco, Fulgencia Galbillo (Manila: Limbagan ng “Ang Kapatid ng Bayan,” 1907); Capitan Bensio (Manila: Limbagang Germania, 1907); and Alfaro (Manila: Limbagang Germania, 1907).

20. Alfred A. Yuson, Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café (Manila: Book Development Association of the Philippines, 1988) and Voyeurs and Savages (Metro Manila: Anvil Publishing, 1998); Gabriel Beato Francisco, Fulgencia Galbillo (Manila: Limbagan ng “Ang Kapatid ng Bayan,” 1907); Capitan Bensio (Manila: Limbagang Germania, 1907); and Alfaro (Manila: Limbagang Germania, 1907).

21. See Ernest Gellner, Culture, Identity, and Politics (Cambridge: University Press, 1987), 6-28.

22. On the wind symbolism in Malay healing rituals, see Carol Laderman’s ethnography of shamanistic seances in Trengganu, Malaysia, Taming the Wind of Desire: Psychology, Medicine, and Aesthetics in Malay Shamanistic Performance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

23. See the entries for gunita, gulita, and onanar in Francisco de San Antonio, O.F.M., Vocabulario tagalo, ed. A. Postma (Quezon City: Pulong, 2000; com- [end of page 313] piled ca. 1620); Juan de Noceda and Pedro de Sanlucar, Vocabulario de la lengua Tagala (Manila: Imprenta de Ramirez y Giraudier, 1860).

24. Mario Vargas Llosa, Making Waves: Essays (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 300.

25. Ibid., 14-15.

26. Benedict Anderson, “The Goodness of Nations,” The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the World (London: Verso, 1998): 360-68.



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