Tinutukoy ng Unibersidad ng Pilipinas (UP) Diksiyonaryong Filipino (2010) ang salitâng “akda” bílang “anumang nilikha ng isang manunulat,” at “naipalathala o naipalimbag na likhang pampanitikan.”
Tatlong bagay kaagad ang maisasaalang-alang natin batay sa mga pakahulugang ito. Una, sa ulit-ulit na pagsailalim sa malikhaing proseso ng pagsulat—na karaniwa’y mahiwaga’t kayhirap magagap—nakagagawa ang manunulat ng isang akda, o katawan ng mga akda pa nga [œuvre o obra, kung ating tawagin]. Ikalawa, hindi natatapos ang proseso sa pagkakalikha sa akda; maaaring piliin ng manunulat na ipakalat ang kaniyang isinulat [maaari ring hindi’t ikubli na lámang para sa kaniyang sariling pakinabang] sa pamamagitan ng paglalathala o paglilimbag. Ikatlo, sa pagpapakalat ng akda, naihahanay ang akda sa iba pang tinatanggap ng mambabása at sumasailalim din, sa proseso, sa mga pagpapahalaga’t pag-uurian. Naituturing itong “likhang pampanitikan” batay sa mga pamantayang umiiral sa pinamumuhatan at pinatutungkulan nitong konteksto.
Sa tatlong ito rin naigigiit ang mga kailangang tandaan hinggil sa akda bílang konseptong pampanitikan—na ito’y produkto ng paglikha ng manunulat; na ito’y sulatíng humihinging tunghan ng mambabása sa pamamagitan ng diseminasyon; at, na ito’y paksain ng panunuri batay sa mga pagpapahalagang pansining/pampanitikan ng isang lipunan. Sa madaling sabi, obheto itong sentro ng ating karanasang pampanitikan, siyang salalayan ng ating pag-unawa hindi lámang sa mga pinipili nitong paksa sa malikhaing representasyon, kundi lalo’t higit, sa ating paghinuha sa kung ano ang dapat ituring na “panitikan.”
Ito ang pinakadahilan ng pag-aaral ng panitikan—ang panitikan mismo, siyang ating binabalingan at binabása sapagkat ipinapapalagay na makahulugan o nagpapahiwatig ng mga kislap-diwa hinggil sa mahahalaga’t pinagsasaluhang karanasang pantao. Ito ang dahilan kung bákit táyo nag-aaral ng panitikan. Nananalig táyo na may masasamot kahit papaano sa pagdulog sa inakda ng manunulat, sa pinagkagastahang aklat, sa ipinababása sa ating teksto sa klase. Karunungan, bagong pananaw sa bagay-bagay, danas ng kagandahan. Lagi’t lagi, itinuturing ang akda bílang sentro ng diskusyong pampanitikan.
Ito rin ang ubod ng aralíng pampanitikan bílang larangan. Kayâ táyo nag-aaral ng panitikan, kayâ ito isang “disiplina,” ay dahil may mga akdang nararapat o humihinging tunghan ng gawain ng pagbása. Kung isang gawaing interpretatibo ang panitikan, tungkulin nitong ipaliwanag ang akda at maging paraan upang maging kapaki-pakinabang, kundi man kasiya-siya para sa mambabása ang karanasang pampanitikan. Hindi nga ba’t sinasabing daan din ang larang upang makapagpalaganap ng pinahahalagahang kultura ng pagbabasá? At, ano pa nga ba itong tinutunghan ng nagbabasá kundi, wika nga ng makatang si Jesus Manuel Santiago, sa isa niyang tanyag na tula, ay “pumpon ng mga salita”?
Madali nating naipagpapalit-palit sa diskurso ngayon ang mga konsepto ng panitikan at akda, lalo pa’t malaon nang yinakap ng ating kultura ang “panitikan” bílang katumbas ng “literatura” ng Espanyol at “literature” ng Ingles. Malinaw sa atin ang katangiang pangwika nito, lalo’t kung babakasin ang salitâng ugat nitong “titik.” Tuwiran itong pagtutumbas sa dalumat ng mga nabanggit na salitâng mula sa dalawa nating kolonisador, na kapwa tumutukoy din naman sa ubod na lingguwistiko, at batay nga sa etimolohiya, ay nangangahulugan ding “inskripsiyon sa pamamagitan ng mga titik.” Dagdag pang pakahulugan ang pagiging balon ng karunungan nito; ang pagiging gawain ng pagsusulat; at pagsunod sa balarila o mga batas ng paggamit sa wika.
Isang asemblea ng mga salita ang akda, isang pagsasawika’t pagsasakataga ng mga talinghaga’t salaysay na nag-aasam sa antas ng kasiningan, kagandahan, kung kayâ’t kaiba sa karaniwan at kombensiyonal na paggamit ng wika. Kung sasangguniin ang mga Rusong Pormalista na naniniwalang ang layon ng pag-aaral ng panitikan ay ang mapalitaw ang pagkapanitikan ng panitikan, ang akda bílang panitikan ay marahas sa wika sapagkat hinuhulagpusan ang pagiging awtomatiko’t ordinaryo nito—kahit pa sinisikap ding maging matapat sa mga umiiral na realidad. Ginagawa ng panitikan na despamilyar o kakatwa ang karanasan.
Ganito ang makikitang nangyayari sa mga akdang prosa, sa tingin ko. Alam nating kahit halos katunog ng araw-araw na pananalita ang isang kumpisal ng awtor hinggil sa kaniyang búhay sa isang personal na sanaysay, o ang pilas ng diyalogo sa isang katha, batid nating edipisyo lámang ng wika ang akda, kumakatawan sa tinutukoy nitong búhay at buháy na kairalan. Masdan din ang mga tulang nakatugma at sukat. Magiging katawa-tawa ang isang tao kung siya’y magbabayad ng pamasahe sa dyip sa pananalitang may sukat na lalabindalawahin, may sesurang anim-anim. Iba ang wika ng akda sapagkat isa itong komposisyon ng wika—at sa ating panahon ngayon, sa anyong pasulát.
Noong araw, wala namang talagang nosyon ng akda, sapagkat sa totoo lámang, ang ideyang ito’y talagang kaugnay ng higit na modernong konsepto ng awtor o manunulat na pinangangalanan ang sarili bílang lumikha ng isang sulatín, lalo sa konteksto ng paglalathala’t paglilimbag. Kailangan niyang “tatakan” at pangatawanan ang kaniyang isinulat dahil isa iyong tungkuling legal. Ito ang magiging tanda ng kaniyang pagmamay-ari, sa gayunding paraang senyal ito ng kaniyang mga pananagutan. Ang akda bílang kabuuan ng kaniyang mga paninindigan ay kailangan niyang tindigan. Ang ngalan niya bílang manunulat ang lagda sa kaniyang pag-aari’t pagtindig. Marami pang mababása hinggil dito mula kay Michel Foucault.
Sa sinaunang panahon, ang “pag-aakda” ay higit na pinagsasaluhan o komunal, lalo sa konteksto ng panitikang oral. Lahat ay maituturing na “may-akda” na “nagmamay-ari” ng mga panitikang nabanggit. Maaari nila itong dagdagan, baguhin, o iangkop batay sa kanilang konteksto’t pangangailangan. Anumang pinagsasaluhang panitikang madalas na nakatuon sa paghutok sa katauhan ng mamamayan bílang bahagi, at sa ngalan ng kolektibo, ay tinatawag na “kuwentong bayan,” “panitikang bayan,” o “karunungang bayan.”
Naipapása ang mga salaysayin o panulaang pangkalipunang ito sa pamamagitan ng mga napagkasunduang anyong madalas ay may katangiang mnemoniko (mnemonic), siyang batayan ng mga sinaunang anyong pampanitikan tulad ng mga tulang may “katutubong” sukat at tugma. Ganito makikita sa ating mga epiko at maiikling tulang tulad ng tanaga, diona, talingdaw, atbp. na nakolekta ng mga paring misyonero at nailathala sa kanilang mga diksiyonaryo. Hindi “trabaho” o “work” ang mga ito ng mga espesipikong táong lumalagda ng kaniyang pangalan sa akda, gaya ng tinutukoy sa ating dagdag-pakahulugan. Mga pinagsasaluhang kuwento’t talinghaga itong naipapása nang hene-henerasyon sa mithing manatiling búhay sa gunita’t makapagpatibay ng mga pagpapahalaga ng lipi.
Sa pagsapit ng makabagong panahon, naipamana nga sa atin ang akda bílang trabaho ng manunulat na lumilikha. Higit táyong nagkaroon ng komplikadong hinuha hinggil dito, tulad ng ating paggigiit na sa una’t hulí, isa nga itong “pumpon ng salita.” Subalit nananatiling isang matinding pangangailangan ang mga ganitong pagpapaliwanag hinggil sa pagiging sentro nito ng usapin, lalo pa’t maraming masamâng kaugaliang patuloy na malaganap sa pagtuturo ng panitikan. Pangunahin na riyan ang sadyang pag-aabandona sa akda matapos itong maipabása sa mag-aaral, sa maraming kadahilanan, tulad ng pagmamadaling matapos ang coverage ng asignatura.
Kasalanan din ito ng mga gumagawa ng materyal na panturo. Hindi iilang teksbuk ang napansin kong ginagamit lámang ang akda upang maging lunsaran ng mga laksang gawain sa kasanayang pangwika. Halimbawa, pinasasalungguhitan mula rito ang mga salitâng kailangang bigyang-pakahulugan, upang sa hulí’y gamítin lámang muli sa sariling pangungusap ng mga mag-aaral.
Nakagawian ding gamítin lámang ito upang tustusan ang iba’t ibang gawaing pambalarila. Ni walang mga wastong tanong na pamproseso upang matitigan ang akda bílang akda, at hindi lámang paghanguan ng mga gintong áral. Mayroon ding mga teksbuk na sadyang “nililinis” ang akda, ineedit ang mga bahagi, marahil dahil sa mga sensitibong nilalaman [isa itong malaking kasalanan sa awtor!]. Mayroon ding sa paglalatag ng teksto ng tula, sadyang itinitipa itong nakasentro (centered), kahit pa lubhang makasira sa orihinal na anyo ng akda [respeto naman sa anyong pinili ng makata!].
Larawan ng maraming bagay ang pagturing natin sa akda. Mahihiwatigan dito ang kawalan natin ng respeto sa awtor na kumatha, at sa kaniyang mismong katha. May implikasyon din ito sa totoong estado ng panitikan sa bansa, at kung papaano ito itinuturing ng mamamayan—marahil, isa nga lámang itong “pumpon ng salita,” na kapag napakinabangan na sa mainiping edukasyon ay maaari nang kaligtaan habambuhay. Kayâ kailangang magdalubhasa sa pagtitig dito. May dalawa akong pakahulugan sa “pagtitig” sa pagkakataong ito.
Una, pagtitig bílang pamamaraan ng pagdulog dito. Para kay Meyer H. Abrams (1953), ang mga pananaw na pampanitikang makiling sa akda ay tinatawag na mga teoryang obhetibo, o yaong nakatuon sa obheto ng panitikan, ang akda. Isang mahalagang kasanayang supling ng mga teoryang ito ang “pagtitig sa teksto” o close reading. Malapitáng pagdulog sa teksto, na pangunahing nakapokus sa mga katangian at kayarian nito bílang akda. Kailangang suriing mabuti ang akda bílang nakapagsasariling organismo, may kakanyahang binubuo ng mga tinatawag na “elemento.” Kailangang matuto ang guro ng eksplikasyon upang magabayan ang mag-aaral sa pagtuklas sa akda. Kung hindi, nakaradagdag pa siya sa problema.
Ikalawa, pagtitig bílang pamamaraan ng pagpapahalaga sa akda. Pagtitig mismo sa konsepto ng akda bílang susing terminong pampanitikan. Nangangailangan ng kritikal na kaalaman ang guro hinggil sa lugar at kahulugan ng akda sa larangang ito. Matagal itong nadesentro, hindi dahil sa pakikilahok ng larang sa mga kritikal na baliktaktakan [siya sanang ideyal], kundi dahil sa simpleng pagpapabaya sa panig ng mga guro, at sa patuloy na sistemikong suliranin ng edukasyon sa Filipinas na nagpapamangmang sa mamamayan. Kailangang maibalik ang akda sa gitna ng mga talakayan, at maging talagang paraan ng pagpapatalim ng kaisipan ng mga mag-aaral.
Nagsikap táyong magbahagi ng ilang pangunahing kaisipan hinggil dito sa sanaysay na ito, na ang panimula’y tumalakay nga sa tatlong mahalagang kaisipang mahahango mula sa halos payak nitong pagpapakahulugan sa diksiyonaryo. Sa una’t hulí, ang akda ay mauunawaan bílang likha ng awtor, ipinakakalat na babasahín para sa isang publiko, at paksa ng pag-uuriang pampanitikan. Ito rin ang raison d’ être, ang dahilan ng pag-iral ng, ang talagang pakay ng pagpasok natin sa panitikan. Huwag na huwag natin itong kaliligtaan.
Kababasa ko lámang muli ng sanaysay ni Caroline Hau (2000) sa kaniyang tanyag na Necessary Fictions: Philippine Literature and the Nation 1946-1980, na tumalakay, sa isang bandá, sa naging pagpapahalaga ng nobela ni Amado Hernandez, ang Ibong Mandaragit (1969), sa paghubog sa kaisipan ng mamamayang inaasahang magkakaroon balang araw ng pagkatuto’t kabatirang makapagpapalaya sa kanila mula sa kadustaan; at sa kabilâng bandá ay pumuna rin sa matayog sanang mithiin ng estado na humubog ng kamalayang makabayan sa pamamagitan ng pagsasabatas ng pagpapabasá sa mga mag-aaral ng mga nobela ni José Rizal.
Ginawa ito ni Hau dahil sa matalik na ugnayan ng kuwento sa nobela ni Hernandez at ng mga nobela mismo ng pambansang bayani. Mahihiwatigang itinuturing ng mga karakter ang pagbása kay Rizal bílang paraan ng pag-unawa sa kasaysayan at saka-sakali, sa pagsugpo sa mga di-makatwirang kairalang panlipunan.
Maugong ang isang kaisipang inihayin ni Hau sa kaniyang pagsusuri, at iminumungkahi kong basahin ninyo mismo ang kaniyang sanaysay. Sa kasaysayan umano, malinaw na nakasangkapan ang panitikan [sa halimbawa ng Noli Me Tangere at El Filibusterismo] bílang pedagohikong plataporma upang, wika nga niya, ay makabuo ng isang kamalayang pambansa na maaaring maturuan, makapagsuri, at makapaghanda ng pagkilos tungo sa ikababago’t ikagagaling ng bayan. Masasabi kung gayon na ipinook ng ganitong mithiin ang panitikan—pati na rin ang pagtuturo nito—bílang pagsusulong ng kalinangan at pagkamakabayan. Sa ganitong katwiran, mahahango ang masasabing dalawa nitong tungkulin sa ating konteksto—ang etikal at ang panlipunan.
Hindi katakâ-takâng lumitaw sa sulatín ni Hau ang ganitong pakiwari, lalo pa’t sinasabi niya rin sa aklat na binanggit na lalaging “minumulto” ng kasaysayan ng Filipinas ang panitikang Filipino. Kayâ’t sa isang bandá, sa pamamagitan ng ganitong katwiran, mauunawaan ang dahilan ng malaganap na pagpapahalaga sa áral na naibabahagi ng mga akdang pampanitikan.
Ang panitikan, sa kasaysayang sinikap balangkasin ni Hau, ay itinuring na pormatibo sa kamalayan ng nagbabasá at nagdadala rito—sa pamamagitan ng pagpapalawak ng kaniyang orisonte—di lámang ng mga bagong kaalaman o pagtanaw sa danas-pantao, kundi lalo’t higit, ng kakayahang makabatid ng mga kawastuhang inaasahan upang maging isang kapaki-pakinabang na mamamayan.
At dahil nga mamamayan ng isang lipunan ang mambabása, nakikipagkapwa siya sa mga tulad niyang kasapi din ng katipunan ng mga táong bumubuo, “humaharaya” pa nga, sa paliwanag ni Benedict Anderson (1983), sa isang lipunang tinatawag na “Filipinas.” Kayâ bílang mamamayan, kailangan niyang ganap at mahusay na katawanin ang lahat ng mga adhika, kalinangan, at pagpapahalaga ng bayang ito. Kung pagtuturo ng panitikan ang pag-uusapan, masasabing nararapat lámang, upang matupad ang aking binanggit, na bigyang-diin ang dalawang bagay—una, ang pagtuturo ng panitikan sa paraang sinusuri ang akda gámit ang mga lenteng nagpapagitaw ng adhikaing higit na maging makabayan ang mambabása; at ikalawa, ang pagtuturo ng mga panitikang makiling sa makabayang adhika.
Maraming problema ang ganitong pananaw, at naturol ni Hau ang ilan sa mga ito sa kaniyang panunuri—kabílang na ang bagahe ng pampamahalaang pagtatakda sa mga tunguhin at tutuntunin ng pagtuturo sa mamamayan. Sa ganang akin, naikakahon din nito ang akdang pampanitikan upang maglingkod lámang sa mga nakapirming tungkulin.
Bílang pagpapalawig, kailangang igiit na isang komplikadong proseso ang pag-aakda ng panitikan, ang akda mismo bílang organismo, ang pagtunghay nito sa daigdig at panahong kinauusbungan, at pagtanggap dito ng pinatutungkulang mambabása. Hindi basta-basta maitatakda ang mga ito, kayâ’t sa isang bandá’y maaaring makabigo sa halos naging pagdakila natin sa panitikan bílang balon ng etikal at panlipunang kabatiran. Isa pa, sa pagkakahon sa panitikan sa mga tiyakang palagay, madalas na nasasalaylayan sa usapan sa klase—lalo ng mga nahirati sa pagpapahalaga sa áral ng akda o ng mga baguhan [na naturuan ng mga nahirati]—ang akda mismong dapat ay pangunahing isinasaalang-alang, ubod at dahilan ng ating pagtuturo.
Hindi natin maitatatwa ang katotohanang talagang nag-ugat ang pagkiling ng marami sa atin sa paghango sa áral ng panitikan sa klase sa mismong makabayang lunggating naipakilala sa mahabang panahon ng lehisladong pagpapabása ng mga nobela ni Rizal. Kayâ kailangan din talagang balikán kung ano ba talaga ang layon ng patuturo ng panitikan.
Kapag inisip nating mabuti, ang pag-iisip hinggil sa pagtuturo ng panitikan ay gaya rin ng pag-iisip hinggil sa pag-aaral ng panitikan. Ang paksa ng pag-aaral ng panitikan ay panitikan, na binubuo ng mga nasabi ko na—ng pag-aakda, ng akda, ng minamalas nitong daigdig, at ng pagtanggap dito. Sa ganitong katwiran, ang pagtuturo ng panitikan ay pagtuturo ng kompleks na ito, na ang pangunahing batayan ng paghinuha, ang pinakasentro ng nag-uugnayan-naghihilahang mga bahagi ng inilarawan kong kompleks ay ang akda.
Kung gayon, maigigiit na ang talagang pangunahing layon sa pagtuturo ng panitikan ay ang pagtuturo ng akdang pampanitikan. Ito’y habang itinuturing din, bílang mahahalagang salik ng kaligiran nito ang intensiyon o kasaysayan ng awtor, ang kontekstong pangkasaysayan ng likha, at ang resepsiyon ng nagbabasá. Ang makabansang adhika, na maituturing na nása larang ng resepsiyon—siyang lápit na nagpapahalaga sa epekto ng akda sa nagbabasá, at siya ring larang ng áral—ay higit na mapagigitaw, kung nagalugad talaga nang husto ang akda bílang panitikan. Ibig sabihin, bago ang lahat, panitikan.
Maiuugnay ang ganitong pananaw sa mungkahi ni Virgilio Almario (2008) na panahon nang pag-ukulan ng pagpapahalaga si Rizal bílang nobelista, matapos ng matagal na “pagtimbang” lámang sa “kabuluhang pampolitika ng kaniyang mga akda.” Sabi pa ni Almario, “may malaking tungkulin ang kaniyang [ni Rizal] mga tagahangang mambabása na patunayang nakasulat nga siya kahit papaano ng dalawang nobela.” Dagdag pa niya, “(i)pinahayag ni Rizal ang kaniyang mga paniwalang pampolitika sa wika’t anyo ng panitikan. Pinatindi ang bisà ng kaniyang paninindigang pampolitika dahil sa bago’t naiibang manyobrang pampanitikang naidulot ng paggamit niya sa anyong nobela.”
Kung susundin natin ang ganitong pangangatwiran, makikitang tungkulin din natin, bílang mga guro, ang talagang ipamalay sa estudyante ang pagiging panitikan ng akda—isang pamamaraan ng pagsulat at pamamahayag, isang pagharaya’t komposiyon—bago igiit ang anumang mahahangong áral o palahamibingang pangkasaysayan mula rito. Magkaugnay ang dalawa’t integral sa danas ng pag-aaral ng panitikan.
Hinding-hindi natin maaaring iwan ang teksto sa ngalan ng anumang adhika. Pakatandaang walang adhika kung walang akda. Samantalang hindi masamâng patuloy na isulong ang mga pagpapapahalagang sibiko na sinikap ipakalat sa kurikulum noon hinggil kay Rizal—ang dahilan ng lubhang pagkalulong ng marami sa atin sa paghango sa áral—makabubuting huwag nating bakuran na lámang ang pagbása sa panitikan sa mga takdang pagtanaw at halagahan.
Kung ang layon ng pagtuturo ng panitikan ay pagtuturo sa panitikang may langkay na mga kaligiran [awtor, daigdig, mambabása], nararapat ding maging layon ang pagpapayaman sa danas sa panitikan sa loob ng klase. At hindi ito mapayayaman kung hahayaang magsabato ang teksto sa mga minana nating pagtanaw dito.
Naiisip ko pa ring halimbawa ang Noli ni Rizal, at ang kung papaanong noong binása ko itong muli bílang paghahanda sa pagbuo sa isang teksbuk, ay ulit-ulit akong humagalpak sa katatawa sa mga totoo namang katawa-tawang tagpo nito, at sa mismong himig ng nagsasalaysay na madalas ay mapang-uyam, lalo’t kung inilalarawan ang ipokrisiya ng makapangyarihan at yaong maituturing na mga langaw na nakasampa sa kalabaw. Hindi ko ito naranasan noong mag-aaral pa ako. May lugod sa katatawanan ngunit maaaring agapayan ang ganitong danas kung maiuugnay sa kapangyarihan ng panulat na tumuligsa sa kawalang-katarungan.
Sa tingin ko, may tendensiyang makabagot ang pagpapabaya na unahan táyo ng ating kagawian ng pangangaral o ligaw na pagsasangkot sa kasaysayan. Sinasabing dahilan din ito ng pagkasuklam ng kabataan sa panitikan. Bakâ sakaling may mapulot táyong magbibigay-diin sa mga kislap-diwang dapat nating nahahango sa lugod na nararanasan natin, halimbawa, sa karakterisasyon, sa tunggalian at banghay, kahit sa mga laro-sa-salita at indayog ng taludtod at talinghaga.
Tandaan natin ang isang bagay, sakaling naliligaw sa pagtuturo ng panitikan, o may kakilalang nakaliligta. Panitikan muna, bago ang lahat. Mula rito, higit na magkakaroon ng lalim ang totoo namang mga pagsasanga ng layon ng pagtuturo ng panitikan—ang pagpapahalaga sa manlilikha at paglikha ng sining; ang pagsasaalang-alang sa ugnay nito sa mundo sa isang saklaw ng panahon; at ang pagkilala sa samutsaring epekto na naidudulot nito sa mambabása.
 Hau, Caroline, “The Problem of Consciousness,” Necessary Fictions: Philippine Literature and the Nation 1946-1980 (Lungsod Quezon: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000), 15-47.
 Hau, “Introduction,” Necessary Fictions, 11.
 Batay ang ganitong pangagatwiran sa pakahulugan ni Anderson sa dalumat ng “bansa.” Wika niya, ito ay “imagined community.” Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, reb. ed. (Lungsod Pasig: Anvil Publishing, 2003).
 Almario, Virgilio, “Paunawa,” Si Rizal: Nobelista (Pagbása sa Noli at Fili bílang Nobela) (Lungsod Quezon, University of the Philippines Press, 2008), ix.
Oo. Lalo pa ang talagang mahuhusay, mapagbagong-málay, at makayanig-daigdig na panitikan. Kung naniniwala kang tulad ko na ang bawat pagbabasá ay isang transaksiyon sa pagitan ng manunulat at ng mambabása, natural na umaasa ka, bílang mambabása, sa iyong bawat pagbabasá, na may mapupulot ka man lámang na kung anong mahalaga [o pagpapahalaga] sa nabása. Mga kuntil-butil ng kabuluhan, wika nga. Naglalaan kasi ang mambabása ng mapagkukunan (resources) at oras para sa akda. Bumibili siya ng libro sa bookstore, o sumasadya sa aklatan. At imbes na gumawa ng iba pang makabuluhang bagay, nagbabása siya. Sa ganitong pananaw, dalawang bagay ang sinasabing madalas na inaasahan ng mambabása—ang maaliw sa sandaling himpil na dulot ng pagbabása o makapulot ng áral dito.
Lubhang klasiko ang ganitong pananaw, na mababakas sa makatang Romano na si Horace, na nagsabi, sa kaniyang akdang Ars Poetica, na nararapat lámang na sumakatauhan ng manunulat ang magkasanib na kamalayan sa dalawang pangunahing katangian ng panitikan—ang dulce et utile, sweetness and beauty, o sa aking salin, tamis at saysay [mula sa utile, na sa Latina ay “kapaki-pakinabang, makabuluhan, praktikal”]. Sa ganitong pananaw, nabibigyang-diin ang nasabi kaninang kalikasan ng panitikan na maging mapanlibang sa isang bandá, at maging mapanghubog ng kaisipan sa isa pa. Ang ganitong pananaw ay sumisipat sa masasabing “epekto” ng panitik sa mambabása, isang aspekto ng danas-pampanitikan na nararapat lámang pahalagahan sapagkat sa isang bandá, nagkakaroon lámang ng pagkaganap ang isang sulatín kapag napasakamay na ng pinatutunghang mambabása.
Sa kaniyang masaklaw pagpapaliwanag hinggil sa teorya at kritisismong pampanitikan, unang-unang dulog na tinalakay ni Soledad Reyes (1992) ang tinatawag niyang “moralistikong pananaw,” na siyang sumasakop sa usapin ng áral. Sa pananaw na ito, aniya, “ipinagpapalagay na ang akda ay may kapangyarihang maglahad o magpahayag hindi lamang ng literal na katotohanan kundi ng mga pang-habambuhay at unibersal na mga katotohanan at mga di-mapapawing pagpapahalaga (values).” At dahil nga ang áral ay “nasa larangan ng etika o moralidad,” sinasabi din niya na para sa moralistikong pananaw, “(t)ahasan at di mapasusubalian ang ugnayan ng tao at ng teksto… Sa kanyang pagbabasa o pakikinig, magkakaroon ng bisa sa buhay ang mga kaisipang binigyan ng dugo at laman ng mga elemento ng likhang-isip.”
Sa kasawiampalad, may dalawang problema akong nakikita hinggil sa usapin ng áral sa pagtuturo at pagbabasá ng panitikan sa kasalukuyan. Una, kulang sa pagpapalalim ang ating paghinuha rito, lalo pa sa panitikang Filipino, na kung tutuusin ay tubog dito. Kung maituturing lámang sana muli ito bílang isang pagpapahalagang pampanitikan (literary value) na malaon nang buháy sa ating kultura bago pa man dumating ang mga mananakop. Kailangan talaga nating balikán ang halaga ng, at ibalik ang pagpapahalaga sa áral sa kabuuang panitikang Filipino. Makabubuti ito upang hindi naman basta-bastang nagagamit ang ipinagwawagwagang “kalabisan” ng áral, halimbawa, sa pag-alipusta sa mga panitikang popular [at lalong pagpepedestal sa mga “dakilang panitikan” o dili kayâ’y mga banyagang akda].
Makabubuti rin ito para masawata ang ikalawang problemang ibig kong talakayin. Sa isang kataka-takang dahilan, maraming guro sa panitikan ang nakamihasnang higit na bigyang-priyoridad ang pagtatanong sa mga mag-aaral ng kung ano ang kanilang natutuhan matapos magbása ng akda. Madalas, pinalalagom pa sa mga pobreng mag-aaral ang mga áral sa isang pangungusap o tesis. At iyon na iyon. Tapos ang talakayan.
Sa tingin ko, isa ang ganitong kagawian sa naging dahilan ng pagiging mabuway ng pangkalahatang kasanayang pampanitikan ng mga mag-aaral. Papaano’y ang alam ko, nakaliligtaan [o kinaliligtaan talaga] dito ang pagtitig sa akda sapagkat nagiging diskusyon na lámang ang klase hinggil sa mga natutuhang áral. Nauulila ang akda at tuluyang naiiwan sa isang tabi. Ganito ang sarili kong danas sa hayskul, kayâ’t sa isang bandá, parang ito ang iniisip kong dahilan ng aking pagiging late bloomer sa pagkahumaling sa panitikan [humabol na lámang ito sa kolehiyo at nang makapaghanapbúhay na ako’t nakabibili ng libro]. Hindi ko ibig manisi, sa gayong paraang hindi ko rin ibig humanay sa ilang kritiko na panay ang mainiping giit na walang áral sa panitikan o ang pag-aaral ng panitikan ay hindi pag-uusisa sa áral. Sa akin, makikitid na pagtanaw ang mga ito sa konsepto ng áral.
Pahapyaw na Pagsipat sa Kasaysayan ng Áral
Hinggil sa unang usapin, makabubuting balikáng-áral ang kasaysayang pampanitikan. Tatangkain ko ito kahit pahapyaw. Buháy ang áral sa mga panitikang bayan tulad ng sa mga inaawit at isinasalimbibig na mga epiko, lalo pa’t mithing maitatak sa maláy ng bawat kasapi ng komunidad ang mga birtud ng mga bayaning kinatawan ng mga pagpapahalagang nagbibigkis sa mga pangkat. Ang mga sapalaran ay nangangaral hinggil sa pananaw ng kolektibo hinggil sa sarili at daigdig. Masasabing tootoo ang bagay na ito, mula kay Lam-Ang ng mga Ilokano hanggang kay Agyu ng mga Ilianon. Patunay dito ang isang pag-aaral ng antropologong si Nicole Revel (2008) sa mga epikong mula sa Mindanao, Tawi-tawi, at Palawan. Mula sa mga ito, nakahango siya ng maituturing na “notion or exercise of leadership,” na maaaring pagtindigan ng mga modelo ng pamumuno na búhay sa katutubong kultura.
Pinakamahusay namang halimbawa ng malinaw na pagkasangkapan sa áral ang mga salawikain, na para kay Virgilio Almario, sa ilan niyang mga sulatín, ay kumakatawan sa tinatawag niyang “palabas” na uri ng pagtula, o yaong nagmimithing magpaunawa sa umugnay sa kinakausap. Ang salawikain bílang palabas na “mukha ng pagtula” ay naiiralan ng áral na gumagabay sa pamumuhay ng mga nagwiwika at nakaririnig nito. Nakatanim ang salawikain sa lupain ng araw-araw ng katutubo, at kumakasangkapan sa kapaligiran bílang pangunahing talinghaga o palahambingang nagsisilbing ilustrasyon ng mga pamantayang panlipunan at diwaing makatwiran.
Magandang halimbawa ang tanaga [may súkat na pipituhin bawat taludtod, apat na taludtod bawat saknong, monorima] sa ibabâ hinggil sa kung papaanong naghuhunos ang tanawin ng bukirin—mulang panahon ng pagtatanim hanggang paggapas—patungo sa isang áral hinggil sa karunungan ng edad at pusok ng kabataan. Sa hulí, ang paghapay ng palay ay nagiging tanda ng pagpapakumbabang inaasahan mula sa mga “pabalik na,” isang bagay na ipinahihiwatig para sa mga sumisibol at “papunta pa lámang.” Isa lámang ito sa napakaraming salawikaing maaaring balikán upang mahinuha ang mga nabanggit na paeanalinghaga at palahambingan:
Nang walang biring ginto
Noon na nga sumuko.
Kakasangkapanin ng mga Espanyol, lalo na ng mga misyonero, sa kanilang gawain ng “pagliligtas” sa mga kaluluwa ng mga paganong katutubo, ang diwain ng áral upang halinhan ng mga áral ng Kristiyanismo, na noong una’y inasahan nilang ganap na makapagpapaamo sa mga sákop at magpapayakap sa kanila sa palad ng pagiging sakóp. Ito marahil ang pinakaunang “misedukasyon” at paglalayo sa katutubo sa nakamihasnan niyang pagkakaunawa sa áral. Mula sa kaniyang pang-araw-araw na pag-iral, iniligaw ito’t nakarating na nga sa mapagtakdang mga pulpito bílang nakaabitong prayle.
Subalit hindi maipipirme ang pakahulugang itinakda ng mga prayle, at kahit ang áral ng Pasyon ay matututuhang basahin ng mga katutubo bílang paraan ng pagdalisay sa kanilang loob upang sa panahon ng ganap na pangangailangang makipagkapatiran ay matagumpay na makalas ang mga tanikala ng kaapihan.
Kung sasaligan natin ang sinasabi ni Reynaldo Ileto (1979) tungkol sa Pasyon, nagsilbi itong naratibong humubog sa kamalayan sa pakikibaka ng mga nasa laylayan at lumagpas nga sa salaysay ng maamong tupang si Kristo. Ito rin sa tingin ko ang nagpalagpas sa mga naging hanggahan ng pagbása sa Florante at Laura ni Balagtas, na sa simula’y maaaring nakita lámang [lalo na ng mga sensura sa paglalathala] na nagtatanghal ng palagian atmas iniibig na pangingibabaw ng mabuting panig ng mga Kristiyano. Pinahalagahan ni José Rizal ang anyo nito bílang tula at sa isang bandá ay itinuring ding mapagpahiwatig hinggil sa mga totoong “kaliluhang nangyayaring hari” sa kolonya batay sa masusing pagbása sa kaniyang mga nobela.
Sa pagdating naman ng mga Americano, panibagong “misedukasyon” at paglalayo mula sa katutubong katuturan ng áral ang naipataw sa atin. Dahil ang mga manunulat noong araw ay lumaban sa bagong mananakop, ipinagbawal ang pagpapahayag ng mga sentimiyentong makabayan at anti-kolonyal, kabílang na ang mga dulang tinawag na “sedisyoso” tulad ng mga naisulat ni Aurelio Tolentino. Laman ng mga ito ang mga alegorikong panghihimok sa mamamayan na huwag basta pumayag na masakop muli, at tiyak, pati na rin ang mga buháy na áral ng naudlot na rebolusyon. Pumasok din ang ganitong diwain sa panulaang tatawaging “Balagtasista” ni Almario (1984), di lámang dahil itinuturing na padron si Balagtas sa panulaan, kundi lalo’t higit, tinutuligsa ang “makabagong” diwaing dala ng Americanisasyon sa pamamagitan ng pagsalig sa tradisyon.
Sa pagpapakilala naman sa Ingles bílang wika ng edukasyon, naipamana sa atin ang kababaang-tingin sa katutubong kalinangan, kabílang na ang áral, na bagaman magiging malaganap na disposisyon sa mga akda at palathalaang popular ay maipopook bílang isang temperamentong bakya at makaluma dahil na rin sa ipayayakap na paradigma ng Americanong New Criticism sa panitikan.
Sa New Criticism kasi, na isa pang dulog-pampanitikan na makiling sa akda, kinauumayan ang lubhang pagiging madamdamin at lalo na, pagiging didaktiko ng pagsulat. Higit na masining ang pagiging matimpi, mapahiwatig, at tigib ng dunong. Sa ganitong pamantayan, maraming panitikan natin ang hindi nakapasá. Mababalikan lámang muli ang pagpapahalaga sa áral sa mga pagsisikap sa paghahango sa ating mga katutubong panitikan.
Ang Halaga ng Áral
Kailangang mabalikan ng sinumang nagtuturo ng panitikan sa Filipinas ang kasaysayan at pangkulturang katuturan ng áral upang talagang magamit at mapakinabangan sa klase. Hindi lámang kasi ito isang bagay na maaaring ipalagom sa isang pangungusap na maaaring hinging pangatwiranan sa mga diskusyon. Hindi lámang ito basta-basta kabatirang maaaring agad na tumuldok sa aralín, lalo pa’t napakarami pang kailangang talakayin. Sa pahapyaw na pagbakas na ginawa natin, may tatlong maihahaying kaisipan na maaaring lumagom sa mga nararapat na pagpapahalaga sa konseptong ito na higit sanang makapagpapayaman sa ating danas-panitikan:
1. Nilalaman ng áral di lámang ang etika o moralidad ng kolektibo kundi lalo’t higit ang mga kabuuang pananaw at pagpapahalaga ng isang lipi. Ibig sabihin, susi ang áral sa kung papaanong ibinalangkas ng akda ang karanasang itinanghal nito. Kung susi nga ito, may tatlong tungkulin ito ngayon kaugnay ng panitikan—
a. Hubugin ang málay ng mambabása hinggil sa mga pagpapahalagang panlipunan upang maging isang kapaki-pakinabang na mamamayan.
b. Papahayuhin sa kaniyang daigdig ang mambabása na may matalim na pananaw sa danas-pantao gámit ang mga nahangong pananaw at pagpapahalaga mula sa akda.
c. Palawakin ang kamulatan ng mambabása hinggil sa panitikan, sa halaga nito sa kaniyang lipunan, at sa kung ano ang maituturing na “mahalagang panitikan.” Sa pamamagitan nito, matitiyak hindi lámang ang pagpapahalaga sa panitikan, pati na rin sa pagbabasá.
2. May katangiang mapagpalaya ang áral kung pagbabatayan ang kasaysayan. Halimbawa, napapangaralan nito ang mamamayan hinggil sa mga nararapat na gawi at pagkilos sa pana-panahon ng pagkakasiil. Sapagkat nakatanim ang pag-unawa sa áral sa mga panahong kinauusbungan nito, maaari ring maging paksa ng paghahambing ang mga kasalukuyang “pangangaral” ng panitikan at mga áral sa mga akda ng nakalipas. Masdan na lámang ang isa pang tanaga sa ibabâ na kung sa panahon nito’y naglalarawan ng áral para sa mga naghahari-harian sa isang lipunan ay kilaláng nagsilbing pampanitikang babala ng taumbayan sa diktador noong panahon ng kaniyang rehimen:
Katitibay ka Tulos,
Sakaling datnang agos;
Ako’y mumunting lumot
Sa iyo’y pupulupot.
3. Sa kontekstong Filipino, hindi masamâng katangian ng panitikan ang pagkakaroon nito ng áral.
Ibig kong palawakin ang hulí sa pamamagitan ng pagmumungkahi sa ating mga guro ng munting pagpihit sa isa pang konseptong madalas ipanghalili ngayon sa áral—na kailangang tanggaping talagang pumasan ng napakabigat na negatibong konotasyon dahil sa naging kasaysayan nito bílang dalumat.
Ang tinutukoy ko ay ang kislap-diwa. Direktang salin ito ng insight, na sa tingin ko’y higit na katanggap-tanggap para sa kasalukuyan dahil hubad sa moralistikong katuturan at tumutukoy sa mga mahahangong katotohanan, o maaari pa, mga kontradiksiyon o kabalintunaang umiiral sa búhay habang itinatanghal sa panitikan.
Kislap-diwa, sapagkat sa pagbása ng panitikan, pinaniniwalaang sumisilay ang liwanag ng kabatiran hinggil sa danas at kondisyong pantao. Sa una’t hulí, ang panitikan naman kasi ay tungkol talaga sa búhay ng tao, mapagpahiwatig sa mga tuklas at maaari’y mapakikinabangang dunong hinggil sa mahahalagang pangyayari, damdamin, mithiin, at sapalaran sa búhay. Ano’t ano pa man, tulad ng áral sa pinakaubod nito, inuusisa ng kislap-diwa ang mga sagot sa mabibigat na tanong ng búhay habang sinusuri ng panitikan ang mismong búhay ng tao: bakit malalalim na danas ang pagsilang at kamatayan? ano ang pag-ibig? bakit may mahirap? nagtatagumpay nga ba talaga ang mabuti? talaga bang likás sa tao ang maging mapangwasak?
Imbes na unawain lámang ang panitikan bílang tagapagsulong ng áral, bakit hindi natin ito ituring bílang matapang na paraan ng pagtugon sa mabibigat na tanong ng búhay? May pakiramdam akong higit nating mananamnam ang mga áral ng panitikan sa ganitong paraan.
 Reyes, Soledad, “Ang Moralistikong Pananaw,” Kritisismo: Mga Teorya at Antolohiya para sa Epektibong Pagtuturo ng Panitikan (Lungsod Mandaluyong: Anvil Publishing Inc., 1992), 13-14.
Ang totoo, maaari naman talagang tanungin ang awtor hinggil sa ipinababatid na ideya o kislap-diwa ng kaniyang akda. Ngayong mga panahong ito ng pag-iral ng social media, napakadali na nitong gawin. Nangyayari na ito ngayon, dulot ng kabaguhan sa kurikulum sa batayang edukasyon, at lalo dahil sa pagkakapakilala sa senior high school ng asignaturang 21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World.
Sa kataka-takang dahilan, isang aralín sa aklat hinggil sa asignaturang nabanggit, na pinamunuan ko ang pagbubuo at pagsulat, ang humingi ng ganitong takdang aralín sa mag-aaral [hindi namin ito ipinagawa sa aralín; mukhang pasya ng guro]. Ang tampok na awtor ng aralíng nabanggit ay tumanggap ng napakaraming tanong sa kaniyang Facebook messenger, kabílang na ang isang pag-usig sa kung ano nga ba ang kaniyang problema at sumulat siya ng gayong akdang napakahirap daw maintindihan at hindi malirip. Ang alam ko, hindi ito ang tanging kaso, at may iba pang ulat ang ilang manunulat hinggil sa paghingi sa kanila ng paliwanag ng mga mag-aaral na tumatalakay sa klase ng kanilang mga akda.
May tawag sa ganitong pamamaraan ng interpretasyong pampanitikan—ang pagsasaalang-alang sa layon ng awtor (authorial intent). Kayâ hindi naman talaga ito masamâ o malîng tanong. Sa katunayan, bahagi ito ng mga kinikilalang lápit sa panitikang malaganap noon at ngayon.
Sa lápit na ito, na tinawag minsan ni Meyer H. Abrams (1953) na lápit na ekspresibo (nagpapahayag), higit na makiling ang interpretasyon sa ugnayan ng akda at alagad ng sining, ang manunulat. Sa oryentasyong ito, ipinagpapalagay na ang pinakasusi sa pag-unawa sa akda ay ang manunulat na siyang lumikha rito. Lohiko namang isipin sapagkat sino pa nga ba naman ang makapagpapahayag ng tamang pamamaraan ng pag-unawa sa sulatín kundi ang kumatha rito?
Sa malaon, higit na nakilala ang ganitong paraan ng pagdulog sa panitikan bílang kritisismong biograpiko (biographic criticism). Binabása at inuunawa ang akda sa liwanag ng talambuhay o mga kronikang personal ng awtor. May paniniwala na nakatutulong ito sa pag-unawa sa talagang ibig sabihin ng binabása. Ipinagpapalagay ng lápit na bakas ng henyo at paglikha ng manunulat ang akda, kung kayâ mauunawaan ito sa pamamagitan ng pag-uugnay rito sa naging kabuuang búhay at kaisipan ng sumulat. Kung ang akda ay isang sulyap sa kamalayan ng manunulat, nararapat lámang na isaalang-alang ang mga layon, simbuyo, at damdaming humimok sa manunulat na kumatha ng partikular na akda.
Nagsasanga pa ang oryentasyong ekspresibo sa masalimuot na sikoanalysis ng akda, na nagtatangkang alamin ang mga nilalaman ng kubling-málay (subconscious) ng manunulat sa pamamagitan ng kaniyang akda. Ang akda, sa ganitong lápit ay pinaniniwalaang naglalaman ng bagay-bagay na sinusupil (repressed) ng may-akda sa kaniyang tunay na búhay [halimbawa, ang kaniyang totoong kagustuhang pangkasarian (sexual preference) dulot ng mapanghusgang lipunan at panahon; pagkayamot sa di matakasang anino ng magulang; tákot sa kung anuman; o matinding pagkapoot sa sariling naitutudla sa ibang tao]. Kung gayon, masasabing itinuturing ang akda dito bílang manipestasyon ng sa iba’t ibang kadahilanan ay mga pílit ikinukubli, kinaliligtaan, o pinapantasya ng sumulat. Dito lubos na nakakasangkapan ang talambúhay ng awtor na nagiging batayan ng pag-unawa sa mga paglitaw ng mga itong kinakatawan ng akda.
Madaling gamítin ang ganitong lápit kung buháy pa ang manunulat o marami siyang nasulat hinggil sa matalik na ugnayan ng kaniyang pagsulat at búhay. Kailangan lámang ng masusing pananaliksik. Mapanghamon ito kung ang manunulat ay nagmumula sa isang malayong panahon at lalo pa, kung sumakabilang-búhay na. Bakâ kailangang pumasok sa gawaing artsibal ang sinumang ibig iugnay ang naging búhay ng awtor sa mga pag-aakda. Maaari ring pagbatayan ang mga pananaliksik ng mga iskolar na pumaksa sa awtor. Ngunit kailangang tanggapin na may limitasyon ang bawat metodo. Kayâ nananatiling isang pangangailangan ang malalim na kabatiran sa akda bílang pangunahing obheto ng pag-aaral ng panitikan.
Ganitong oryentasyon ang karaniwang dalá natin, halimbawa, sa pag-aaral ng mga nobela ni José Rizal, na palagiang pinahahalagahan sa klase bílang mahahalagang tagapagpasiklab ng rebolusyon noong panahon ng kolonyalismong Espanyol. Madalas, iniuugnay pa nga ang mga karakter sa mga totoong pigura sa kasaysayan at talambuhay ng pambansang bayani. Hindi na nga rin maiwasang ilarawan si Crisostomo Ibarra sa mga pagsasadula bílang wangis ni Rizal.
Sa kurikulum ng Filipino, sinisimulan ang pagpapahalaga sa mga nobela hindi sa pagiging akdang pampanitikan ng mga ito kundi sa pamamagitan ng pagiging pinahahalagahang mga sulatíng tuluyang bumago sa ating kasaysayan. Hindi ito mapagtatakhan lalo pa’t ang pagpapabása kay Rizal sa mga paaralan ay naipatupad sa bisà ng Republic Act 1425 o Batas Rizal noong 1956. Marahil, isa táyo sa iilang bansa sa daigdig na itinatakda ng batas ang pagiging “kanonigo” ng ilang akdang pampanitikan.
Sa usaping ito, hindi ko tuloy maiwasang iugnay ang halaga ng manunulat sa ating kultura—sa kabila ng paggigiit ng ilan na isa táyong bansang hindi palabasa. Maaaring totoo ito kung sasaligan ang kakulangan sa akses sa aklat at palimbagan. Ngunit bukod kay Rizal na nakapukaw sa ating imahinasyon at nagtulak sa mga kapwa manunulat-rebolusyonaryo na mag-aklas laban sa mga mananakop, pinatutunayan ng ilan pang manunulat sa kasaysayan ang naging pagpapahalaga ng publiko sa mga alagad ng panitik.
Naiisip ko ang tanyag na mambabalagtasan at dakilang makata na si Jose Corazon de Jesus, na mayroong cult following noong kaniyang panahon at nakapagpalitaw ng daang tagahanga nang mamatay at ilibing sa North Cemetery noong 1932. Ang ganitong kasikatan ay tatamasahin din ng mga tulad nina Bob Ong sa kasalukuyan, marahil dahil sa kaniyang pananatiling misteryoso at mailap; at ng spoken word artist na si Juan Miguel Severo, na pinasikat ng kaniyang paglitaw-litaw sa mga komersiyal at teleserye. Ilan lámang sila sa mga kasong nagpapatunay sa sinasabi kong kultural na pagpapahalaga sa mga manunulat. Kayâ sa isang banda, naging madali ring ipayakap sa atin ang oryentasyong makiling sa manunulat.
May hinala akong hubog ng ganitong oryentasyon sa panitikan sa pangmalawakan ang patuloy na “pagpapahalaga” ng ating mga guro sa layon ng awtor. Kayâ nagiging default ang pagpapatakdang-aralín, lalo ngayong mga panahong ito, ng mga interbyu sa mga manunulat hinggil sa kanilang mga isinulat. Sa ganang akin, may kinalaman din sa layon ang totoong problema ng ganitong kagawian. Ano ba kasi ang layon ng guro sa pagpapatanong sa awtor hinggil sa ibig sabihin ng akda?
May birtud ang pakikipanayam sa manunulat, lalo kung marami itong panahon at mapagbibigyan ang estudyante. Sa tingin ko, makahihikayat ito ng patúloy na pagbabasá, at maaari, sa hinaharap, pagsulat. Magandang tagpuan at pakikiugnay ang mga pakikipanayam [at hindi lámang iyong karaniwang pagtatanong sa Facebook] sa pagitan ng manlilikha at mga mambabása.
Ngunit kung ito ay ginagawa lámang talaga upang makaiwas ang guro sa trabaho ng interpretasyon—na siyang kaniyang pangunahing tungkulin sa klase—marahil ay hindi ito makabubuti sa pagpapalakas ng panitikan sa paaaralan. Nauunawaan ko kung kailangan itong gawin bílang paglinang sa kakahayan (skill), at kung nakatutulong itong makagaan sa mabigat nang trabaho ng mga guro. May pakiramdam akong ginagawa lámang ito sapagkat kulang din sa kahandaan ang mga guro sa talagang pagtuturo ng panitikan. Ngunit wala na táyong magagawa sapagkat heto na nga ang bagong kurikulum. Kailangan nating harapin ang mga bagong hámon, lalo na ang mga kailangang baguhin sa mga dáting kagawian ng pagtuturo ng panitikan.
Maaari naman talagang tanungin ang awtor, pero hindi agad tungkol sa kaniyang ibig sabihin. At dito, magsasalita ako bílang isang awtor na nakaranas din ng mga nasabing pag-uusisa. Para sa akin, higit na interesante ang unang mapakinggan ang interpretasyon ng mambabása, o kahit ng interpretasyon ng guro sa akda. Maaaring magsimula sa usaping iyon ang pakikipanayam o paghaharap ng mag-aaral at manunulat.
Sa hulí kasi, sa tingin ko, anuman ang interpresyon sa akda, lalo pa kung ito ay produkto ng mahusay na pagtuturo sa silid-aralan, higit na mahalaga ang makapagpapayamang tagpuan ng manunulat at mambabása. Kung matutupad nang maayos ang gawain [at hindi lámang sa paraang patanong-tanong na parang nagtatanong lámang sa isang kabarkada], magiging kapaki-pakinabang ang pagdadaupang-palad ng manunulat at ng mag-aaral na binigyan ng gayong takdang aralín.
Ngunit bago ito gawin, maaari marahil ipagawa ng guro ang mga sumusunod:
Papanaliksikin ang mag-aaral hinggil sa búhay at akda ng manunulat bago ang panayam. Tiyakin na marami silang alam hinggil sa kanilang paksang manunulat. Maaaring sangguniin, halimbawa, ang Panitikan.ph na may maiikling talâ hinggil sa mga pangunahing manunulat ng bansa.
Turuan ang mga mag-aaral na lumiham nang maayos sa kakapanayaming manunulat. Huwag silang hayaang basta makipagpalitan ng mensahe sa manunulat sa Facebook nang walang pormalidad. Igiit na kailangan ding irespeto ang manunulat, lalo kung hindi niya ibig magbigay ng panayam. May ilan kasing naniniwalang wala nang paliwanag pang kailangang gawin; naroroon na lahat sa akda ang kanilang ibig sabihin.
Gabayan ang mga mag-aaral sa paglikha ng mga tanong na maaaring magmithing mag-usisa hinggil sa pagiging manunulat ng paksang manunulat; mga prinsipyo sa pagsulat; at kung ibig talagang magtanong higgil sa akdang pinag-aralan, kuwento ng pagkakasulat nito. Sa pagkakataong ito, maaaring iharap ng mag-aaral ang kaniyang pagbása sa akda. Maaaring sumang-ayon o hindi ang kinakapanayam. Ano’t anuman ang maging tugon, ang mahalaga’y nagkaroon ang mambabásang estudyante ng makabuluhang interaksiyon sa manlilikha.
Sa tingin ko, mas wasto ang tanong na bakit hindi dapat unang tinatanong ang awtor hinggil sa ibig sabihin ng akda? Sapagkat sa totoo lámang, maraming maaaring unang tanungin sa manunulat kaugnay ng akdang tinatalakay sa klase. Bakit ka nagsusulat? Papaano ka naging manunulat? Papaano ka nagsusulat? Ano ang layon mo sa pagsusulat?
Dahil interpretatibo ang gawain ng pag-aaral ng panitikan, ang interpretasyon ay isang bagay na malilikha naman sa pamamagitan ng isang matibay na pagdulog sa akda mismo. Kung mayroong mahusay na pagbása sa akda, anumang makukuha mula sa pakikipanayam sa manunulat ay lalong makapagpapayaman sa pag-unawa sa likha, at pagpapahalaga sa panitikan. Sa klase, higit kailanman, dapat na maging pangunahing batayan ang malalim na pagkaunawa sa akda bílang akda. Isa lámang pagpapalawak ng interpretasyon ang pagdulog sa manunulat. Kung hindi napatitibay ang kasanayan ng pagbása sa akda, wala ring saysay ang pag-uugnay dito sa layon ng awtor.
Panayam na binigkas sa paglulungsad ng Pagkahaba-haba Man ng Prusisyon (University of the Philippines Press), at muling pagpapakilala sa At Sa Tahanan ng Alabok at Kung Saan sa Katawan (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House), Marso 11, 2017, European Documentation Center, De La Salle University Manila. Sa kagandahang-loob ng Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center.
Hindi ko mithing biguin ang mga kaibigang nahirati sa lahat ng “mahaba” tungkol sa aking mga akda. Mayroon ako ngayong napakahabang pamagat, isang pamagat na may mga terminong kailangang bulatlatin, at manapa, pagnilayan. Ipagpaumanhin ninyo ang moda ng pagdalumat; kaaahon ko lámang po mula sa pagpapása ng aking panukalang disertasyon, at tiyak na ipagtataka ninyo ang aking himig. Hatiin natin sa tatlong bahagi: (1) Mga Pagtatapat at Pahayag ng Pananampalataya; (2) Sa Tula at Sanaysay; (3) Sa Panahon ng Walang-Katiyakan. Ang una, malinaw naman po, ay mula sa aking bagong aklat, ang una kong aklat ng malikhaing sanaysay na inilulunsad natin ngayon mula sa University of the Philippines Press, at kung saan ako nagtatapat at naghahayag ng mga pananampalataya bílang makata at Katoliko. Sa ikalawa nakatakda ang mga kinasasangkutang panulatan sa loob ng 17 taon na ipinagdiriwang at muling binabalikan ngayon sa aking unang dalawang aklat mula sa University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, ang palathalaan ng aking minamahal na unang alma mater. Sa ikatlo, nakapook ang lugar sa kasaysayan ng mga pagsusumikap na ito: ang madilim, mapanglaw na gubat ng ating panahon, ang ating kasalukuyang panahon, sa kasawiampalad. Sinabing minsan ng makatang Roberto T. Añonuevo na may elegansiya ang ligoy, at maaari, sa mga ganitong kahabaan, may makikita ring elegansiya na nabanggit nga ng nasabing tarikang makata hinggil sa tula. Ngunit higit sa elegansiya, higit kong nakikita ang minsang naisulat kong taludtod na “walang pagmamadaling pananatili” sa ganitong mga kahabaan. Isa itong paboritong linya mula sa isa sa aking mga tula, na sa ganang akin ay naghunos bílang isang personal na praktika at pananampalataya habang patuloy ako sa paglikha. Isang linya ito na nahango kong kislap-diwa sa pagninilay sa harap ng rebulto ni San Ignacio de Loyola sa kapilya ng pamantasang pinananahanan ko ngayon. Kailangan kong ipagpauna itong talâ hinggil sa haba, sapagkat bagaman itong panayam ay ipinangangako kong hindi ko hahabaan at lalabis sa katanggap-tanggap, nais kong igiit na kung may natutuhan man po ako sa lahat nang ito, iyon ay ang birtud at pangako sa bawat “walang pagmamadaling pananatili,” sa pasyensiya, sa pagtitiyaga sa pagdalumat, sa pagtitiis sa di madaling pag-iisip, lalo pa’t kung masusi o malalim, hinggil sa mga bagay-bagay. Kayâ samahan po ninyo ako.
Sa ganito ko marahil maisasalaysay ang aking sariling panulat sa loob ng 17 taon—isang mahabang “walang pagmamadaling pananatili,” at kung minsan, wala ring pagmamadaling paglilimayon, na kung tutuusiin ay, para sa akin, isa lámang permutasyon ng nauna. Talambuhay ko itong “walang pagmamadaling pananatili,” itong walang humpay na pag-aabang sa mga susunod na salita at sa sarikulay ng mangha. Sa mga taóng ito, maraming bagay ang ipinagpasa-Diyos ko ang pagkakamit at pagkahinog. Nakaapak ako kung gayon sa mga pananatili at pagpapatúloy, sa larang na iyon ng mga kontradiksiyong nagtatagpo’t lumilikha ng mga mataginting, makahulugang pananaw, na kailangang hintayin ang akmang panahon upang sumilang, sumilay. Sa Pisika, maaaring magunita natin sa mga pananatili’t pagpapatúloy ang Batas ng Inertia kung saan, nakapananatili ang mga bagay sa pamamahinga o pag-andar hanggang hindi nakatatagpo o nakahaharap ng isang kakontrang puwersa (unbalanced force) na babago sa estado ng pananatili o pag-andar. Depende sa bigat (mass) ang puwersang dapat ipantalab kung ibig natin itong mapagalaw—ito ang sinasaklaw ng Batas ng Akselerasyon. Sa pagpapagalaw naman nito, samantalang itinutulak ng kakontrang puwersa, gumaganti o tumutugon din ito ng puwersa. Ito ang Batas ng Pantay at Makahidwang Puwersa. Sa ubod ng maikling pagbabalik-tanaw na ito kay Isaac Newton at sa mga batas sa Pisika na kaniyang ipinamana sa daigdig (na isa ring kumpisal ng aking pagiging isang lihim na mahihiligin sa Agham, ang siyensiya ng mga danas), matatagpuan ang isang susing salita na tiyak na makapupukaw rin sa inyo ngayong pinag-uusapan natin ang pananampalataya, panulat, at walang-katiyakan: ang pagbabago o change. Napakasarap sabihin. Ang bandera nga ng mga propeta ng kauupong administrasyon, “change is coming”; ngunit nitong hulí, parang may pakiramdam ang di iilan sa atin na totoo rin ang sinasabi ng pun nito: “change scamming.” Mula rito, sinasabi ko ngayong ako, at táyong lahat, ay nakapook sa “Panahon ng Walang-Katiyakan” na tinatawag dahil mula sa ating mga walang pagmamadaling pananatili o paglilimayon sa búhay, biglaan táyong itinulak ng kasaysayan, nagitla ng talagang kaylakas na puwersa ng pagbabago, at nadalá sa isang estado ng pagkalito, pagkasuklam, at pagkabagabag. Sa hinaba-haba ng prusisyon, at ng pamagat ng panayam na ito, nalinlang nga ba táyo? Nang isa-isang mangagbuwalan ang maraming sinasabing sangkot sa droga bago umupo ang dinarakila’t itinuturing na Tagapagligtas, natigalgal na ako. Hindi na ako gaanong nagtakâ nang mga sumunod na pagkakataon, bigla’y ibig nang busalan ang mga kritiko. Ngunit nakatakot ako. Nakatatakot naman talaga ang Tokhang. May pakiramdam na rin naman akong mapalilibing ang diktador sa Libingan ng mga Bayani sa sobrang bait nitong ating punò sa pamilyang mandarambong. Tumaas lámang talaga ang asido sa sikmura ko nang hikayatin kaming lumahok sa walkout sa gilid-kahabaan ng Katipunan dahil lihim na naipalibing na nga ang lintek. Bakit ba táyo hinihinging magpatúloy na lámang, mag-move on, wika nga? At, bakit ba nila táyo ibig patahimikin, o lunurin sa laksang kabulaanan at kasinungalingan? Para hindi na natin isipin kung táyo ay nalinlang?
Madaling mapoot sa mga panahong ito na sampu-sampera ang mga katotohanan at makapamimilì (at makapamimilí) ang kahit sino ng maaaring paniwalaan. Ngunit ito marahil ang dapat kong ipagtapat at ipahayag: kumakapit pa rin ako sa pananampalataya, gaano man ito kaliit at kasindak ngayon. Walang pangangaligkig ang makapipigil rito. Totoo naman na may mga araw na gusto ko na lámang magkulong sa silid at pagsarhan ng pinto ang daigdig na, o talagang kaygulo. Tulad ng marami rito, marahil, hindi ko naman maiwasang hindi mag-social media, at kahit anong gawin kong unfriend at unfollow—kahit sa matatalik na kaibigan o kadugong hindi ko mawari ang tatag at hiwaga ng pananampalataya sa nakikita ngayong Dakilang Poon ng Kabulastugan at Kabastusan ng bansang Filipinas, hindi ko pa rin ganap na malinis ang mga sariling espasyong birtwal mula sa mga kabesado na nating kabulastugan at kabastusan. Hindi ko rin naman mapigilan ang sariling makisangkot, kahit katakut-takot na sermon sa Facebook ang inaabot ko sa tuwina mula sa sarili kong tiyahin na sagad sa butó ang pagiging Marcos Loyalist at dinadakdakan ako hinggil sa o kaygalíng na panunungkulan ng diktador. Hindi naman daw niya nakita ang sinasabing karahasan. Nasambit ko tulóy minsan sa kaniya: e papaano po ninyong makikita ay lahat ng maaaring pagdaluyan ng impormasyon ay hawak ng diktador? Tápos, Ilokano pa táyo, nakinabang táyo sa infraestrukturang ipinagmamalaking “pamana” niya? Maaari namang manahimik na lámang, lumabas ng bahay, tumingala sa langit, at sabihing, ay maganda pa rin nga ang araw at daigdig, ngunit kapag laksâ ang ibinubuwal gabi-gabi at ginagawang karaniwan ang dugo, dahas, at digmaang dinadapurak lámang ang maliliit; at dinedepensahan ang mga kakamping may salapi o impluwensiya kahit maysala, palagi akong napatatanong ng saan ba ako dapat lulugar? Naitulak na táyo sa mga ganitong realidad ng ating kasaysayan, sa ganitong mga anyo ng pagbabago, subalit kailangan pa rin nating maniwala, kahit hindi na natin alam minsan kung sa ano, kung saan, o kung kanino. Kailangan pa rin natin maniwala, hindi man natin nakikita, sabi nga ni Kristo. Kahit walang sugat na nasasalat ang ating mga daliri kundi ang mga sugat ng mga nabuwal na pinaslang dahil sila raw ay mga hayop. Hindi sila tao. Hayok. Walang humanidad. Kahit marami táyong hindi nakikita, tulad ng pag-asa. Huwag na iyong pagiging disente, o iyong pagiging matuwid. Nakababato naman talaga ang mga tuwid na daan, itanong pa ninyo kay Robert Frost. Kahit pag-asa na lámang. Ayokong masanay, at makaramdam na, tunay nga, sanayan lámang ang pagpatay, wika nga ng Heswitang makata na Paring Albert Alejo. Hindi maaaring makasanayan ang pagkabalisa upang sa huli’y panawan ng pandama.
Sa mga ganitong kabatiran ko tulóy naitatanong sa sarili kung para saan ba itong mga pagtatapat at pahayag ng pananampalatayang ito, itong mga pagsusumikap manalinghaga at magsaysay sa gitna ng panahon ng mga sukaban. Bílang manunulat, kailangan ko ng masasaligan, ng pananampalataya, at maaari, sa malikhain at mapaghubog na birtud ng pagsulat ko iyon natatagpuan. Sa tula, nababalikan ko ang bisa ng komposisyon ng poiesis: ang kumatha, ang masangkot sa imbensiyon, hindi lámang ng mga posibilidad, kundi ng mga posible, lalo sa buháy nating halos lustayin, abuhin ang ating kakapiranggot na pag-asa. May mga mundong higit na mapag-aruga, mapaglinang, at makatwiran sa dulo ng panulat. May mga paraan itong magsasabi at magsasabi ng totoo. Kayâ kahit kailan, bagaman etimolohikong nakatindig sa gawain ng imbensiyon (counterfeiting) ang poiesis, hindi ito maaaring magsinungaling. Ang imbensiyon, sa anyo at sa nilalaman, ay nakalaan lámang sa higit na matalab na paglalahad at paghaharap ng katotohanan. Sa kabilâng dako, sa sanaysay ko naman nababalikan ang potensiyal ng pagsubok, ng paninimbang, ng pagtuklas. Essais, wika nga ni Montaigne, trials in thought. Kay Alejandro G. Abadilla, mga pagsasanay, mga paghahagilap sa kabatiran, sa ngalan ng kasanayan, ng pagiging sanay sa pakikihamok, pakikipagbuno sa mga ideya. Bagaman sinasabing nabubuhay na táyo sa daigdig na posmoderno, at ganap nang baság ng pagdalumat ang mga absolutong katotohanan (na sa ganang akin ay siya ring nagluwal sa mga halimaw na “alternative truth” at “post-fact”) naniniwala ako na ang tunay na saysay ng dekonstruksiyonistang deferral ay ang pagpapaliban ng kahulugan, hindi para sa saysay lámang ng pagpapaliban ng kahulugan (gaya marahil ng gustong ipagawa sa ating “creative interpretation” ng mga hunghang sa Palasyo), kundi para makahakbang táyo nang paurong at mamasdan at mamasdang muli ang lahat. Upang masuri ito. Isang walang pagmamadaling pananatili sa kahulugan, kung gayon. Marahil ay pagbiglang-liko rin ito sa diwain (o kawalang-diwain) ng dekonstruksiyon, patawarin ako ng Poong Jacques Derrida, na tiyak na susumpain ako sa pagtawag sa kaniya na “poon.” Ngunit sabi nga kamakailan sa Facebook ng pantas kong si Thomas Moore, awtor ng tanyag na Care for the Soul: “Humans have an instinct for religion and spirituality in some form. Ignore it and your well-being and health suffer.” Isang personal na pangangailangan para sa akin, bílang tao, at bílang manunulat, ang maniwala upang manatiling malusog, matino, at nakapamumuhay. Iyon ang pangunahin kong relihiyon. Oo, mayroon naman akong relihiyon, ang aking Katolisismo, batay sa aking pagkakaunawa rito’t personal na ugnayan sa Diyos, ngunit upang matupad itong mga tungkulin at pangako ng pagsulat, kinailangan ko ring ituring ang opisina ng pagsulat bílang isang katambal na simbahan at tabernakulo ng aking mga pananampalataya. Kinailangan kong ituring na misa ang aking bawat pagkamangha, at pagtatalâ ng mga pagkamanghang nabanggit sa anyo ng tula at sanaysay. Batbat ng kontradiksiyon o diyalektika itong pamumuhay na ito, sa ngalan ng pag-asa, maaaring sabihin ninyo. Ngunit ito ang puso ng pananampalataya, ng aking pananampalataya. Kung ako ang inyong tatanungin, kailangan talagang magkaroon ng sapin-sapin at kung minsan ay nagbabanggaang kabatiran kung ibig talaga nating maniwala. Isang anyo ng pagdadalisay.
Lalo ngayong nahaharap táyo sa sinasabi ngang “Panahon ng Walang Katiyakan.” Hindi natin piho ang búkas: bakâ magising na nga lámang táyo na wala nang mga karapatan. Ang butihing komentador ng Zen Buddhism na si Allan W. Watts, tinawag ang ganitong kawangis na panahon minsan na “Age of Anxiety.” May dunong umanong mahahango sa “insecurity,” sa panahong walang kasiguruhan ang lahat at parang ano mang oras ay may sasabog, sasambulat, sa “time of unusual insecurity.” Kayâ iminumungkahi ni Watts na mabuting pagtuunan natin ng pansin itong panahong ito, itong ating kasalukuyan, kaysa mag-asam nang mag-asam lámang para sa mas mabuting búkas. Napakabagsik na mungkahi: manahan sa ngayon sapagkat ang búkas ay paparating pa lámang (kung darating nga iyon sa atin). Ang kahapon naman, tapos na. Mahirap itong gawin, itong pananatili sa ngayon, itong pagyakap sa kasalukuyan, at kahit noong sinusubok kong matutuhan ito sa pamamagitan ng arawang praktika ng zazen, ang pagsasanay sa mapagnilay na pag-upo at pananahimik ng espirituwalidad na Zen, sumusuko talaga ako. Bagaman wala akong naging agam-agam sa pagdaragdag nito sa aking nakamihasnang espirituwal na praktika, natuklsanan kong ang hírap talagang magpatubo’t magpalago ng pasiyensiya. Maingay ang isip, bukod sa likás talaga akong maingay (alam ninyo iyan, mga kaibigan ko). Masakit pa sa tuhod at hita ang pag-upo. Umiiyak ang kaluluwa’t katawang lupa ko sa tuwing nagninilay. Minsan, isang Linggo ng umaga, habang nása isang zazen, may kumislap na diwa sa akin sa piniling pag-upo’t pagninilay sa silya, sa halip na pag-upo sa zabuton, o yaong matigas at pabilog na unan na nakapatong sa malambot na sapin sa sahig. Walang tigil ang ingay sa isip, kung saan-saan ako dinadalang mga alalahanin at kailangan gawin, habang sinisikap kong tupdin ang turo sa aming mga nagninilay sa zendo na ituring ang mga ito bílang dumaraang ulap. Langhap, buga. Langhap, buga. Wala akong nagawa. Ingay. Tápos, isang biglang katahimikan. Gumaan din bigla ang aking madalas na masakit na mga balikat. May dumakong pagkabatid, isang hindi ko kilaláng kaliwanagan. Sa kabatirang ito, parang may kung anong pagmamatigas, pagmamatuwid ang nabali, animo’y isang patpat, at umalingawngaw sa aking bungo ang malutong na malutong na halakhak, na hindi ko naman nadamang inuuyam ako. Tumatawa lámang, humahagalpak. Parang sinasabing suko na, suko na ako. Akala ko nga’y nababaliw na ako. May bumitaw sa akin—at hindi iyon ang katinuan, sa palagay ko. Marahil ang matinding kapit sa pinakaakmang praktika ng paghahanap ko sa kabatiran, sa mismong pagtitiis na umupo nang pagayon nang 25 minuto araw-araw, at kung Linggo, apat na beses nang gayong katagal din. Nagmumunakala lámang ako. May naging paliwanag doon ang aming sensei o guro, na parang gayon nga, ngunit hindi ko rin talaga naunawaan ang episodyong iyon ng pag-alingawngaw ng halakhak. Inaalaala ko iyon at iniisip na bakâ iyon din ang tugon sa aking pinakatanong: ano ba ang nangyayari sa atin ngayon? Hindi ko maintindihan, gaya marahil ng pagkalito ng marami sa atin. Ngunit, kailangan nga ba nating maintindihan? Hindi ko rin alam. Pero kung pagbabatayan ko ang aking sariling danas, maaaring may bumitaw din pagdating ng tamang panahon; maaari, ang ating kolektibong mithiin na mapatigil itong mga kahangalan; maaari ang kahangalan mismo, na hindi kakayanin ang ating mismong pananampalataya sa mga pinahahalagahan at pinakaiingatan; maaari rin ang sarili nating mga bait, hindi ko tiyak. Basta, magtiwala lámang na may bibitaw. Iniisip ko, bakâ ito talaga ang paraan ng pamumuhay sa panahon ng walang katiyakan—ang yakapin mismo ang walang-katiyakan, at isiping may katapusan din ang lahat, lumilipas, dumaraang parang ulap.
Matapos ng 17 taon at tatlong aklat (at kung ano-ano pang sulatín), ano kayâ ang maibabahagi ko sa inyong nag-abalá para samahan ako ngayong hapon? Hindi ko rin alam, gaya marahil ng mistulang pagngangá lámang ng tinanong sa isang koan o piraso ng matalinghagang aral sa Zen hinggil sa tunog ng pagpalakpak ng isang kamay lámang ang gamit. Ano nga ba ang tunog niyon? Isang hiwaga. Hindi ko alam. Hindi ko pa rin alam, sapagkat hindi pa nagtutuldok ang aking mga pangungusap, at tinitiyak ko sa inyo na susulat pa rin ako ng susulat, ng tula at sanaysay, at magtuturo ng panitikan, dahil ang mga ito lámang po ang alam at káyang gawin ng inyong abang lingkod. Ang mga ito lámang ang alam kong paraan upang bigyang-anyo ang mga pagninilay, upang magkaroon ng panghahawakang pananampalataya sa mga mahaba’t pusikit na gabing kapwa natin pinagdadaanan. Nagtataya ako, kahit inilalantad ang lalaging kakulangan ng Salita, ng kawalang-katatagan at kapanatagan ng logos. Nananalig ako, kahit may ilan nang tumatalikod sa mga pananampalatayang ito, sa iba’t ibang dahilan. Nananalig ako sapagkat iyon ang aking nakasanayang gawin—ang manalig. Nananalig ako dahil ang pananalig ay isang pagsasanay, isang walang katapusang aprendisahe o pagpapakatuto, isang buong búhay na pag-aaral hinggil sa búhay, na hindi naman táyo palagiang binibigyan ng kapanatagan. Noong nakaraang Linggo, ebanghelyo sa pasinaya ng Kuwaresma ang 40 araw na pananatili ni Jesus sa Ilang—isa sa pinakapaborito kong episodyo ng búhay ni Kristo, at siya ngang paksain ng aking unang dalawang aklat, na mga aklat ng tula. Ang episodyong iyon ay kasaysayan ng tukso, at kung papaanong napanagumpayan ng anak ng Diyos ang mga pagsubok na nagpain sa kaniya ng nakapananariwa sanang kapanatagan sa gitna ng katuyuan at kahungkagan ng lupain. Hinarap niya ang kaniyang mga anino at nakapagdalisay siya ng sarili, bago niya hinarap ang misyon ng pangangaral at pagbatá sa pasyon. Diyos si Kristo, at alam niya ang lahat; ngunit baon niya ang kontradiksiyon ng pagiging tao, kayâ nása ubod din ng kaniyang pagkatao ang kawalang-kaalaman, ang pagsuko sa niloloob ng Diyos, at mistulang maging isang nagtitiwalang musmos. Nilisan niya ang Ilang na batid na kailangan niyang ipaubaya ang lahat sa ama, at dumaan ang dapat dumaan sa kaniyang maikling buháy. “Ama,” wika pa niya na tigib ng hapis sa bundok ng mga olibo, sa Halamanan ng Getsemeni, habang hinihintay ang mapanugis at magkakanulong halik: “kung maaari’y ilayo mo sa akin ang kalis na ito. Gayunma’y hindi ang kalooban ko ang masunod, kundi ang kalooban mo.” Gumaba rin sa kaniya ang alinlangan, ang hindi niya alam, habang tinutulugan ng antuking alagad. Ang daan ng krus, ang via crucis, ang nagsilbing huling daan ng edukasyon ni Kristo, ang kaniyang pinakamahalagang bildungsroman. Isa iyong bildungsroman, isang edukasyon sa pagpapakataong may pagtanggap at pagkamálay sa kawalang-katiyakan. Sa huli, ang mga alagad naman ang dumaan sa bildungsroman hinggil sa pagpapakatapang, pagpapakatatag, at pananalig. Talagang napakahusay na halimbawa ni Kristo.
Huling kuwento na lámang: noong nakaraang Lunes ng Pagkabúhay, bumalik ako sa klase ko sa Poetry sa Ateneo na may báong ispiker. Ipatutugtog ko sana ang ipababásang liriko ng “Morning Has Broken” ni Cat Stevens. Tamang-tamang talinghaga para sa umagang iyon pagbalik mula sa mahabang bakasyon; talinghaga rin siyempre para sa nagdaang pagdiriwang sa Muling Pagkabuhay ni Kristo. Habang sinisimulan namin ang pakikinig, biglang umugong ang sirena sa aming kampus at umalingawngaw ang anunsiyong noong una’y hindi namin naintindihan. Mahaba ang anunsiyo na nagsasabing maghanda raw kami sa paglikas. Nása koro na si Cat Stevens nang maunawaan namin na may seryosong sitwasyong hinaharap ang unibersidad. Nabalitaan naman po siguro ninyo ang madalas na pagtanggap ng Ateneo ng mga “bomb threat,” kayâ hayun, kahit gitla at takót at nagsisimula nang magsitawag-magsitext ang mga mag-aaral sa mga magulang, tahimik at panatag kaming lumabas sa mga silid upang magtipon sa mga pook kung saan dapat lumikas. Medyo sanay na kami, bukod sa pinagsasanayan talaga ang mga emerhensiya sa Katipunan ngayon (tandaang may bahagi po ng pamantasan na dinaraanan ng Marikina Valley Fault). Matagal-tagal din ang itinayo namin sa initan bago nalamang may bomb threat nga. Sa gitna ng pagtitsismisan ng mag-aaral, pagtiyak na kompleto ang mga kasapi ng aming klase, at pakikipagdaop-palad sa mga kaguro, bigla’y parang naulinig kong muli ang pinatahimik ko na’t ipinasok sa bag na si Cat Stevens, at ang kaniyang praise for the singing, praise for the morning, praise for the springing fresh from the world. Kaylaking parikala, bukod sa parang wala namang nakaka-fresh sa mabilad sa araw. Papaano nga kayâ kung sumambulat na lámang ang lahat noong umagang iyon, at gaya nga ng tangka sa text na natanggap ng aming mga administrador, dumanak ang dugo? Ano pang magiging kapuri-puri? Walang natagpuang bomba sa pagsuyod sa unibersidad, awa ng Diyos, bagaman nang mga sumunod na araw, nasanay na kaming dinadalaw-dalaw ng K-9 na nagpapanatili ng aming kaligtasan. Ngunit paano nga kayâ? Kung nagkaganoon, bakâ isinusumpa ko na si Cat Stevens; o marahil, hindi rin naman ako makabibigkas pa ng sumpa dahil kasama ako sa sumambulat. Bumalik kami sa klase kinabukasan at pinakinggang muli si Cat Stevens nang mistulang may bagyong pagkabatid sa búhay. May bago pang umagang sumapit sa aming lahat! Kayâ may saysay pa ang papuri, lalo na ang mga linyang ito: Praise with elation, praise every morning; God’s re-creation of the new day. Wala talagang nakaaalam. Walang nakaaalam ng panahon. Ang tanging maaasahan sa una’t huli ay ang katiyakan na muling nililikha ang mga bagay, na lalaging may umagang sisikat. Sa tanyag na tula ng Heswitang Gerard Manley Hopkins, namumugad ang Espiritu Santo sa anyo ng kalapati, at nakabantay, nakaantabay sa isang “bent/world,” sa isang daigdig na wasak, buktot, at gastado, na kahit ang pangungusap at taludtod ay ipinakikitang balî. Hindi natin alam ang panahon, lalo pa ang búkas. Marami táyong hindi alam, at mabuti na ring kabatiran iyon, marahil. Pumapagaspas ang kalapati sa katiyakang pinagpapanibago ng Diyos ang lahat. Sa panahon ng walang katiyakan, nakasusumpong ako sa tula, sa sanaysay, at sa panitikan sa pangkabuuan, na may nagpapagalaw pa rin ng lahat, may primum movens o prime mover pa rin, sang-ayon nga kay Santo Tomás de Aquino, at ang dakilang dunong na ito ang nag-adya na madala táyo sa panahong ito, hindi lámang upang madalâ sa ating mga pagkukulang, kundi marahil upang sumibol ang mga bago’t higit na kapaki-pakinabang na mga kabatiran.
Sa huli, nais kong ibahagi itong pagunita hinggil sa panahon ng lahat. Ang haring si Kohelet/qōheleṯ, ay nakahango ng mga sarili niyang kabatiran at naikalat itong mga ito bílang ang aklat ng Ecclesiastes. Ano nga ba ang sinasabi niya roon? Pana-panahon ang pagkakataon. Narito ang aking muling pagsasatula na halaw mula sa King James Version, na inihahayin kong pangawakas, bílang pasasalamat sa inyong pakikibahagi, at bílang abo-sa-noong pagunita na rin hinggil sa kalikasan ng ating búhay at pagkatao:
ECCLESIASTES, KABANATA 3
Sa bawat bagay, may panahon, may oras sa bawat hangarin sa ilalim ng araw:
Panahon para maipanganak, at panahon para mamatay; panahon para magtanim, at panahon upang hanguin ang ano mang itinanim;
Panahon para pumaslang, at pahanon para maghilom; panahon para sa pagwasak, at panahon para sa pagbuo;
Panahon para lumuha, at panahon para humalakhak; panahon para manangis, at panahon para sumayaw;
Panahon para iwaksi ang mga bato, at panahon para tipunin ang mga bato; panahon para yumakap, at panahon para talikdan ang pagyakap;
Panahon para magkamit, at panahon para makapagwaglit; panahon para manatili, at panahon para magliwaliw;
Panahon para gumiyagis, at panahon para mag-ayos; panahon para manatiling tahimik, at panahon para magsalita;
Panahon para umibig, at panahon para mamuhi; panahon para sa digma, at panahon para sa kapayapaan;
Ano ba ang pakinabang ng siyang nagsumikap sa kaniyang pagbabanat-buto?
Nakita ko ang hámon na inihanda ng Diyos para pagdaanan ng kaniyang mga anak.
Ginawa niyang maganda ang lahat ng bagay, sa kaniyang panahon; at inilagak niya ang daigdig sa puso ng mga nilalang upang hangaan nila ang kaniyang gawa mulang simula.
Walang ibang makabubuti sa kanila liban sa sila’y magpuri at mamuhay nang matuwid.
At, bawat tao’y kailangang kumain at uminom, at malugod para sa lahat ng kaniyang pinagsumikapan; biyaya ito ng Diyos.
Batid kong ano man ang gawin ng Diyos, ito’y walang hanggan; walang makadaragdag o makababawas dito; at ginawa ito ng Diyos upang magkaroon ng tákot sa kaniya ang tao.
Ano man ang nangyayari ay ang kasalukuyan; at ang makakamit pa lámang ay magaganap pa lámang sa hinaharap; ano mang inadya ng Diyos ay nása pangnagdaan.
Bukod pa rito, nakita ko sa ilalim ng araw, sa lunan ng paghuhukom, na naroroon ang pagkabalakyot; sa lugar ng katuwiran, ang katampalasanan.
Sa aking puso, huhusgahan ng Diyos ang matuwid at balakyot: sapagkat may panahon doon para sa lahat ng mithi at bawat gawa.
Lahat ay nagtatapos sa isang lunan; lahat ay alabok, at magbabalik sa alabok.
Master Class Lecture Series for Lit 14: Introduction to Poetry and Drama, Second Semester, SY 2016-17, Ateneo de Manila University
From last time’s lecture, we have underlined that Poetry is a kind of imaginative language use. Poetry shapes language in a way that distinguishes itself from other forms of literature (primarily, all literary prose), and other means of communication. How does it do this? Poetry operates by way of condensed suggestion; it shows instead of tells. When the National Artist for Literature Edith Tiempo says that Poetry is “structured in metaphor,” she identifies this figure, metaphor, as the main element that enables poetic suggestion, and thus indirectness, which is not merely done for its own sake, but to awaken us from our automatic ways of thinking and perceiving. Metaphor transforms by way of the image. What we see in the image changes into something else, as metaphor essentially transports a thing’s qualities to another. The mystery of the comparison takes place when the image is fully made to embody the other, and ultimately becomes, and quite astonishingly, the other, while at the same time still sporting its same, old self. The most used up example is Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” from As You Like It. The stage’s setting of performances is transferred to the world, where “all the men and women (are) merely players.” Life, in all its complexities, is all of a sudden being characterized as a performance of roles, a delivery of pre-ordained performances. The plane where this transformation, this metamorphosis takes place, is language, as language is made to make a turn from its usual, straightforward discourse and reinvent articulation to offer fresher insights into our experiences. Poetry’s swerving from our automatic means of making sense is best illustrated by a mastery of figurative language commonly used to evoke the vast potential senses of imagery. This swerving, also known in literature as tropes [etymologically “turns” or “conversions,” where, as M.H. Abrams in his A Glossary of Literary Terms would put it, “words and phrases are used in a way that effects conspicuous change in what we take to be their standard meaning”], reinvigorates language, and as they say of Poetry, makes it new. Recognizing this newness reawakens the senses and compels us to be very attentive to whatever newly-revealed meaning is being afforded us by the poem. I say being afforded because poetic revelation is never a finished experience. If we allow it, Poetry would linger in our minds for quite a while, or even for life, and we would not be able to completely mine its signification. There would always be something new to see. Figurative language provides form to Poetry’s turns of thought, and makes possible the conversion of meaning carried out by tropes. The schemes to be found in what we traditionally call figures of speech are not only meant to be identified and classified alone, as most of us have been reared to do in our past experiences of studying literature, but also to be unpacked as working, as indeed part of the poetic scheme of suggesting new ways of seeing. As far as I’m concerned, there are three main schemes of poetic conversion, rhetorically, that is linguistically being afforded us in Poetry: (1) the scheme of comparison, the most basic, where we also classify the two most familiar figures of speech, simile and metaphor; (2) the scheme of representation, exemplified by two other figures, synecdoche and metonymy; and (3) the scheme of distortion, which we may find in the figures of paradox and irony. Simile and metaphor are schemes that compare different things, though both carry out comparisons differently; similes explicitly compare using “like” or “as,” to name a few, while metaphors, on the other hand collapse the comparison by immediately, though deftly, applying one thing or its quality to another, in such a way that the comparison works by implication. Meanwhile, synecdoche and metonymy organic represent, that is, serve as stand ins for something else—still a matter of transformation; synecdoche is known to use parts to represent the whole [and vice versa], while metonymy works by replacing one thing with a name or term that is closely associated with it, as understood by a particular meaning-making community. Paradox and irony depart from and unsettle literal meanings by proposing opposition and disjunction, respectively. Paradox offers ideas that are quite contradictory and absurd, yet creates something logical and astounding out of them; irony, meanwhile, states or presents an idea or situation but actually means its opposite; some describe this as expressing something contrary to the truth. All, as we can see from our working definitions, strive to transform language, and consequently, meaning. Encountering them may startle us, make us think, and figure out why and how the transformation had to be carried out. Whatever the intended effect, figurative language intends to awaken us and also speaks of a human tendency, given the limitations of our own understanding. We always aspire and attempt to make sense of experience, but generally run out of concrete means of expression. Words easily fail us. Language is always an approximation of thought and may not always be reliable to bear all we want to mean. Comparisons, and ultimately, these figurative transformations, enable us to find a way to negotiate imprecision by helping us liken our most significant ideas and experiences to the more palpable world. Representations alert us to associations and relations, compartmentalizing the vastness of our experiences, and making us grasp their largeness by way of small things. Distortions on the other hand expand our expression, pushing language and statement to the limits, and reiterating that imagination is never, ever a straight, predictable path. Below is a comprehensive visual illustration of the said schemes and some of their subsequent permutations. Brief definitions are also given to further clarify distinctions.
Allow me now to illustrate how they work in the poems for discussion today. Similes carry out the task of marking the comparison by emphasizing ideas, as in this example from the Jaime An Lim’s “On the Eve of the Execution,” where the persona expresses heaviness while contemplating on his decision to direct the execution of a certain “Andres” so that the country’s “healing (may) begin”: “These medals burn like molten lead/ upon my breast. This sword, heavy/ with tassel and gilt, hampers my stride./ I have not asked for this burden.” The speaker in this poem, is of course, President Emilio Aguinaldo, who in the lines mentioned, characterizes himself as a fully decorated soldier and leader justifying, rationalizing his move to commandeer the death of the founder of the Katipunan Andres Bonifacio [who in history led the Magdiwang faction against our Caviteno’s Magdalo group] and finally unify the “house divided” and continue giving birth to the Philippine nation. The image of the molten lead diminishes the honor and valor represented by the medals on Aguinaldo’s chest, and the comparison transforms these decorations into nothing but useless metal burdens that the first Philippine president would seem to bear all his life. The persona continues, mustering all modesty, reiterating that the decision was done for the good of the country: “I have not wished to alter the lay and order/ of the stars, content to let the sun lord the skies,/ the sea crawl at the foot of the hills, the eagle/ soar no higher than the span of its sight./ Yet what needs to be done has to be done.” The persona, lending voice to Aguinaldo, gives this historical figure the benefit of regarding his decision as the only possible means to salvage the nation: “Not that I love you any less, you must/ believe that, but I love your country more./ You, who have always fought for the good/ of the many, should understand this.” He talks to Bonifacio here by way of what we call apostrophe, a literary device of addressing the absent, and in the historical context of the poem, silenced, since the Supremo and his brother Procopio have already been incarcerated by the Aguinaldo government for treason and sedition by this moment of the poem. For the persona-as-Aguinaldo, getting Bonifacio out of the way is necessary, and he utilizes a very apt analogy to illustrate this: “Too long the land lies wounded, the house divided:/ child from mother, husband from wife, brother/ from brother, a scatter of reeds buckling/ under the slightest blow.” The acute situation of dividedness [as may be seen in the images of wounded, as well as the separation of families] is set side by side with the image of the “scatter of reeds” that easily gives “under the slightest blow” of a scythe, signifying by way of what we call implied metaphor, any sort of test or challenge to the new-found unity in the integrating Philippine nation. The nation, the persona reiterates, needs unity, and he uses military images to evoke the sense of leadership he believes he emulates, being swept to power by the votes of his national council: “One unfurling/ under the sky, hearts beating to one marshal drummer.” The “unfurling/ under the sky” refers to a flag, and this image immediately suggests a metonymy exemplifying one most important national symbol. If we remember, the Philippine revolution sported many flags, typifying our various geographic, linguistic, ideological, and cultural differences. This use of a metonymy by Aguinaldo’s persona emphasizes the need to rally under one flag, under one nation, where everyone moves in unison, with “hearts beating to one marshal drummer.” The use of hearts here, hearts in a collective term, is a good example of a synecdoche, where a most vital part of the human body is utilized to conjure a collectivity, a sense of national community, even in the imagination, where nations are indeed first conceived. The “one marshal drummer” meanwhile is another metonymy for the persona as leader, as he pursues the image of “hearts beating to one marshal drummer”. The national collective here is dramatized as being a troop or battalion in review, military inspection, or parade. In this image, all are seen to be moving forward in unison and in achieving one goal under one leadership. Aguinaldo’s persona implies that it is his “supreme sacrifice” to be the country’s first leader, as well as to make difficult choices like the execution of Bonifacio, whom he considers a rather divisive figure who may hinder the possibility, not only of the “(o)ne unfurling/ under the sky”, but also the “hearts beating to one marshal drummer.” He likens his sacrifice to that of Bonifacio’s, who in his eyes, really has to die. He argues that both of them anyway dream of national unity, and supreme sacrifices have to be made, each to each. However, the one who is in power is ordained to play god, and this poem, which as I have said addresses Bonificio, becomes ultimately, Aguinaldo’s own self-address, as he uses Bonifacio to stand in as a sounding board for his own self-dialogue. At this point in the poem, in his own desolation, the persona situates himself in that point of no return in history, which he assumes should be understandable for the Supremo himself. The persona utilizes powerful metaphors that show how he discerned on his decision: “I have bowed my head in the lonely room/ of my conscience. I have looked into the darkness/ of my soul and heard my thoughts pace/ the long lightless corridors of the night./ And found the only answer you would have wished./ Were I in your place, I would ask for nothing less.”
However, the one who is in power is ordained to play god, and this poem, which as I have said addresses Bonificio, becomes ultimately, Aguinaldo’s own self-address, as he uses Bonifacio to stand in as a sounding board for his own self-dialogue.
A metaphor, which collapses comparison and illustrates how one becomes another, is composed of two parts, according to I. A. Richards: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the subject of the comparison, while the vehicle is referred to as the metaphorical term. The tenor is a thing, idea, or person being referred and the vehicle manifests the comparison. The images mentioned above offer three metaphors that show Aguinaldo’s moment of reckoning: “lonely room/ of my conscience”; “darkness/ of my soul”; and “and heard my thoughts pace/ the long lightless corridors of the night.” The first one, that of Aguinaldo’s conscience (the tenor), is being likened to a lonely room (vehicle), and may conjure, not only the lonesome experience of making this difficult choice of liquidating his government’s potential political opposition, but also the historical isolation he will be receiving after the fact. This is also something that may be read in the “darkness/ of my soul,” where the soul (the tenor) is characterized as shrouded in darkness (the vehicle), and is quite hard to actually peer into when choices have to be made. We see the use of personification in the lines “and heard my thoughts pace/ the long lightless corridors of the night,” and we understand how restless Aguinaldo’s soul had become, at least in this imagined monologue by the poet. The “long lightless corridors (vehicle) of the night (tenor)“ is a metaphor that serves as a rejoinder that further characterizes not only this fictionalized Aguinaldo, but also his historical dilemma on that eve of the execution. When he says to Bonifacio the stand in: “And (I) found the only answer you would have wished./ Were I in your place, I would ask for nothing less,” we may infer that he was simply comforting himself with the fact that he had decided as the situation demands. Was he trying to do a Pontius Pilate in this imagined moment, washing the blood from his hands? Yes. Quite an interesting speculation about this historical incident. Bonifacio’s execution has long been debated by historians as murder of the first order, but in this poem, a humanized Aguinaldo, full of conflicted ideas about sacrifices and heroisms, is presented, as if he is in his own court martial or trial, where he is alone being judged by a jury composed of God (or history), the Supremo whose death sentence is moot and academic, and himself. When he says: “I send you to a hero’s death while I shall remain/ a footnote in history, my name shrouded in gross/ speculations,” he sounds very noble and exemplary in humility. He sounds very willing to be a mere “footnote in history” just to stay true to the common dream of “(o)ne unfurling/ under the sky.” He seems very convinced of his own reasoning, but not quite, considering his past self-reiterations of “what needs to be done has to be done.” “Not that I love you any less, you must/ believe that,” he tells Bonifacio the stand in, who deflects the words and brings them back to the teller. You must/believe that. Indeed, a tragedy in false humility.Does Aguinaldo, as inhabited by our persona, actually believe in what he is trying to say? Was he successful in his self-argument? In the poem, he keeps on telling Bonifacio, in the eve of his execution, that he “should understand this,” and that his death, in Aguinaldo’s hands as main executioner, is something he himself would have wished to keep the new nation intact. But this is, of course, Aguinaldo’s editorializing, since he, as said, was rationalizing his decision in the midst of being afflicted by guilty conscience. He tells of how reasonable and well-meaning his decision is, and appears to be quite convinced himself. His words however betray him, and as he utters, “I send you to a hero’s death while I shall remain/ a footnote in history, my name shrouded in gross/ speculations,” we hear the voice of this Aguinaldo’s own covetousness, his own desire to possess the heroism he is about to give away. All statements expressed by him in the poem fall into utter irony, where the opposite, that is, contempt of everything about Bonifacio, is actually implied. In the line, “Isn’t that your dream, too, worthy of the supreme/ sacrifice?” he does not praise Bonifacio but mock him, since his life was in his hands, and he had more to lose than gain with him around. One only takes the supreme sacrifice as needed; it is not something one prescribes. Aguinaldo the persona considers his taking the reins of power, and the decision to execute the Bonifacio brothers, as sacrifice, and conflates them with the “sacrifice” he was expecting the Supremo to take wholeheartedly as a price to pay for the unity of the emerging Filipino nation. He has, as I have already said, silenced him and imposed his own way of seeing things. For Aguinaldo, both of them are sharing a “common sacrifice,” and the least that he could do is to wish Bonifacio peace as he “meets (his) destiny”: “So go in peace and meet your destiny, my brother,/ for all our sake even as the night bleeds into morning.” It was a destiny that history has been arguing as one that Aguinaldo imposed. He sends him away, to oblivion, but does not get his wish, as historians would have it: “Go, Andres. Let the healing begin.” In the poem, Aguinaldo the persona foretold how history would regard him, as “a footnote in history, my name shrouded in gross/ speculations.” The tone of the poem is very ironic [sarcastic, actually], and provides a compelling tension that lends humanity to these otherwise cold historical figures we occasionally appreciate [that is, literally, during occasions commemorating them]. There’s irony too, in the silence of Bonifacio here, since his figurative opposition gave voice to the fictionalized Aguinaldo’s speculated political, and even personal insecurity. Aguinaldo’s only means to slay the shadow of the Bonifacio was to execute him, get him out of the way. The poem does not only illustrate its historical conjectures by way of simile, metaphor, synecdoche, and metonymy, but also of irony, where the unsaid, the opposite, is revealed. While the poem is indeed a dialogue on the eve of the execution, it is mostly directed to Aguinaldo’s self, who is considered by many as perpetually and historically haunted by Bonifacio’s execution. No healing had really began after the Bonifacio brothers were killed in the mountains of Maragondon, Cavite. Until now, historians are still arguing whether Bonifacio is indeed the rightful individual to be considered the first Philippine president. Many still find Aguinaldo a contentious figure in Philippine history, and even a symbol of a leadership culture that reeks of regionalism or parochialism. Is healing possible, as wished by this version of Aguinaldo in poetry? Perhaps. The project of the nation is always a work in progress. To heal, in this Aguinaldo’s perception, is basically to unify. To a country as divided then and now, there are choices that need to be made. But when are the persecution and murder of opposition ever justifiable? I’ll leave this question as food for thought, as we continue to consider and weigh our love for this country.
The poem does not only illustrate its historical conjectures by way of simile, metaphor, synecdoche, and metonymy, but also of irony, where the unsaid, the opposite, is revealed. While the poem is indeed a dialogue on the eve of the execution, it is mostly directed to Aguinaldo’s self, who is considered by many as perpetually and historically haunted by Bonifacio’s execution.
From love of country, we move on to more familiar territory, the territory of the self and all the other things we love, as we examine the figures present in the poem “Finder Loser” by Ophelia A. Dimalanta. As it is a play on our usual notions of “finders, keepers,” we encounter in the title a paradoxical contemplation of a persona about life as precisely consisting of, and being summed up by these two proverbial experiences. The title actually offers an oxymoron, an instance of paradox where contradictory terms are put together to evoke a concealed meaning. For indeed, how can one finder become a loser all at the same time? The poem’s persona makes sense of it by way of life’s very paradox. In the first stanza, the persona articulates how the acts of finding and losing primarily compose his/her life: “more than half of my life/ i spend searching for lost/ objects (papers, receipts,/ old letters, pills, and whatever/ else) and causes and the rest, losing and finding, and losing/ them again, found or otherwise; losing what i have and in good/ measure, finding what/ i can’t almost have—/ one perpetual lifetime probe,/ forever rummaging through/ bureaus and drawers and pages/ of my life’s past disarray.” The first few lines contain an ironic illustration, by way of understatement or litotes, which basically operates by scaling down; life, in its vastness, is understood as a matter between the experiences of finding and losing. Of course, we know that life is definitely larger that these two opposing poles, but the persona persists in proposing this way of seeing life as “one perpetual lifetime probe” and offering as additional metaphor for living, this “forever rummaging through/ bureaus and drawers and pages/ of my life’s past disarray.” One’s life is only to be understood in hindsight, and this properly explains why the persona needs the figures [or vehicles] of the “bureaus and drawers and pages” to be able to make sense of “life’s past disarray.” The “rummaging” however will take forever, and no matter how one neatly attempts safe keeping through the vehicles of the persona’s metaphor, there are no guarantees that generally, the search, as well as the losses would end. Is the poem suggesting that life is a cycle of desiring that comes with consequent frustrations? Perhaps. And this also motivates the persona to pursue the said ironic compression of the nature of life. Both finding and losing are found to be profound enough to characterize what it is! The persona does not tell us exactly what he/she is finding or losing, but finds comfort in the fact that to find is to lose, and to lose is also to find. This is what may be perceived in the second stanza, where the persona makes some form of an implied wish, if and when he/she dies: “and so when i finally go,/ keep the vault unliddled, for i/ shall surely sit up and look/ around to pursue this search,/ holding on to dear life,/ or dear death, does it matter—/they are one in the proper/ time but not till then.” How can death and life be one, “in the proper/ time”? Another paradox is offered to us, this time, one that blurs the difference between the two particular poles that truncate human life. Pursuing the logic of this paradox, we may begin by considering life and in its myriad searches and losses, as also ways of dying, of burying old selves and resurrecting new selves that are more primed to live in fullness. Death does not just come literally, and yes, “in the proper/ time” as the persona puts it; in living however, we experience deaths that are formative [and yes, also destructive] to our personhood. For instance, something somehow dies in us when we experience big and small losses. Certainly, we are also able recoup and recover something in these, we discover our selves anew, which makes losses all the more as worthy to be embraced. This is perhaps the reason why the persona, even in anticipated death, intends to go on finding and losing. Finding and losing are perceived to be all the same, whether or not one is already on that side of the life. It is a gift that keeps on giving. The persona assures him/herself, as well as his/her implied addressee the following: “i shall go on seeking out/ lost faces and faiths in the/ cold, collecting, calculating/ crowd, sadly aware that later/ but an unbreath away,/ i shall lose them all again,/ as i was wont, losing all/ in this final irretrievable/ loss of my deathtime.” There is fierceness, as well as self-assurance on the part of the persona, whom we may infer as a one who lives life fully. Not even death, which is the ultimate manifestation of loss, could deter him/her from his/her lifelong search. Despite a keen awareness of mortality and acceptance of loss’s unrelenting presence, he/she allows that seemingly only abiding life force that brings meaning to life—that of the search, for knowledge perhaps, for happiness, or even for enlightenment. Her unconventional view of the afterlife [usually perceived as a realm of the uncertain, despite Catholic catechisms about its being life eternal] lends her the capacity to bravely see its possibilities; in his/her mind, he/she will go on finding and losing, and she even anticipates the “final irretrievable/ loss of (his/her) deathtime.” This, in my reading, is also his/her way of undermining the finality of death. He/she extends life’s search in the afterlife, where his/her thirst for the things longed for would never ever be quenched. And this, even when the price to pay is death itself, that final repose and rest that may provide the persona the reprieve from all the search he/she been engaging all his/her life. He/she is willing to let of that reprieve! There’s just no resting for this persona. The line “final irretrievable/ loss of my death time” is another instance of irony, this time, in the form of hyperbole or exaggeration, which, as I have earlier explained, works by magnifying or amplifying the sense being offered by a statement. How could one’s death time be rendered irretrievable and possibly become part of everything one could lose? The reading I have offered suggests the logic of this irony, since this persona’s quest to search and find overcomes both life and death. In the last few lines, the persona also entertains the possibility that death would be more tolerant, and not as stern as expected—an interesting personification, if you ask me: “or perhaps, possibly yes,/ death will be kinder and oh, yes/ allow me at last this/ flowing final find.” In the end, the persona reveals that which he/she longs for, in life, and even in death: that flowing final find, a musical assemblage of words, alliterating to conjure the discovery, not of eternal youth, but of eternal longing and search, which flows in finality and is final in an asserted flow. Does the finding ever end? The answer is of course, no. Which makes the statement another instance of oxymoron, as it paradoxically combines both flow and finality to modify the word “find,” and which in the first place is never complete, in this poem, if unaccompanied by its oppositional term “lose.” In his/her search for the essence of life, the persona finds him/herself lost in all his/her longings, wishes, dreams, or desires, loses him/herself in the process, and understands in the end that this will go on, till kingdom come. Is this a bad thing or not? It depends on the way one sees it. Any search after all is an attempt to possess, to have, and the judgment on attachments may be easily passed given the circumstances. The persona however is talking in the abstract, is apparently dealing with abstract life searches, which makes life “one perpetual lifetime probe.” The persona’s only wish, I suppose, is that even death itself comes to terms with human nature: that it may grant him/her this “flowing final find,” where the end is paradoxically circumvented by the steady life force that is human persistence. It is, in itself, a wish, which coasts along the vicinity of finding, but despite the possibilities of loss, the desire for the flowing final find is hope enough to make this persona endure.
Master Class Lecture Series for Lit 13: Introduction to Fiction, Second Semester, SY 2016-17, Ateneo de Manila University
From our last conversation, we underlined three basic principles of Fiction as we oriented ourselves in about the workings of plot and character: (1) Fiction is basically a sustained telling or unfolding of an event; (2) Fiction is a worlding, that is, a creation of another reality which may be similar to or different from our lived reality, and because of this, proposes some form of comparison, examination, or rumination; (3) Fiction is the work of imagination. All three must be remembered and reviewed as we begin to pursue a discussion of another fictional element, point of view. Considering that point of view is often described as who tells the story or how the story is told, the first principle suggests that in order for a sustained telling or unfolding to take place, there must be an intelligence or consciousness framing or focalizing the whole story. Our keyword here is framing, and this intelligence or consciousness—usually described as a narrator (who may be one of the characters in the story)—is making an effort [consciously, or even unconsciously, since that is possible] to be the instrument of seeing for us readers. We witness the unfolding of the event because of the teller of the tale, and in our reading practice, we normally distinguish the author from the point of view, since we consider it as a construct, as part of the whole make up or composition of fiction. We suspend our disbelief and participate in this illusion of a narrator sustaining the unfolding of the story and we believe the breadth and depth of its selection and combination of details as well as its ordering of events. While we are aware that the hand of the writer is always observable in the movement of the story, making it move here or there, twisting it at some point, or making readers anticipate in suspense, Fiction lends us this beautiful illusion that indeed, someone [or sometimes, something] is telling us this story. This transports us to an attitude of attention towards this moment of telling that is the story, which worlds an experience that merits our consideration, as the second principle proposes. To continue following a popular metaphor, the point of view serves as a camera zooming in and out of other characters’ minds or advancing conjectures and speculations according to what it had been designed to see. We see the world, this other “lived reality” because this narrator assembles and directs the process of worlding. By trusting the teller, we see a space—which we call setting—thrive not only with physicality but more importantly, with the motivations and actions of people. The point of view does a lot more things than description. It may be prescribed to immerse itself as a main or one of the supporting players in the story’s action; it may also ordain itself as a witness to all events across the story’s landscape; it may also choose to report in a removed or involved way. All these depend on the decision of the writer as he/she decides to frame the story. These attitudes, as we often call them, affect the shaping and reception of the story. It may make one sympathetic or indifferent towards fictional characters. It may also configure the way we as readers understand the fictional event based on how the point of view regards it: is the narrator suggesting an idea about the story he/she/it has witnessed [of course, he/she/it always does]? The medium, as they say, is the message, and the point of view, as the fictional medium of witnessing the story’s event, embodies a “message,” a thought or meaning for and about the story. The story as imagined, let us remember, is not imagined for imagination’s sake, but to evoke a thing or two about significant human experiences. And part of Fiction’s ploy is to create a make-believe experience, a form of contrivance as the word’s etymology suggests. As “dissimulation” (to pretend), “ruse” (scheme or ploy), “invention,” and “fabrication” [considering Fiction’s Old French origin ficcion], Fiction does not pretend to be factual as it is more interested in engaging the probable [although it is completely possible that it taps elements form real life to build its crafted reality]. As it creates worlds, it also creates the means by which these worlds may be seen. The narrator is a constructed being that mediates and intervenes in the conception of fictional worlds. For Fiction to be true to its being a work of the imagination, someone (or something, as I have said earlier) must be causing this imagination. There must be, as St. Thomas Aquinas once said of the dynamic universe, a prime mover, an intelligence that makes everything move. To imagine, according to etymology, is to form a mental image or picture, to form an image, or to represent. Any form of storytelling participates in the act of imagination, but Fiction elects itself to impart a full range of probabilities that furnish readers various ways of witnessing worlds and fictional events. In Fiction, one is not only limited to the character him/herself telling the story; there are other probabilities around him or her that can contribute a unique mind picture or imagination of what is happening. Paradoxically, points of view delimit and extend the vision of witnessing and enables the assumption of various, probable consciousness, which ordinary storytelling—for instance, news, history, or even your daily gossip or tsismis—does not usually afford us. Point of view precisely makes Fiction fiction, and distinguishes it from its deemed opposite, Nonfiction. While nonfiction may use fictional techniques, as in what they call today as “creative nonfiction,” its storytelling is confined to the limits of human mediation—whether its supposed “narrator” [the journalist, historian, or memoirist] decides to immerse in or distance from the story. In Fiction, a point of view may decide to be God, a lowly human, or a speck of dust; the difference will definitely show. It may even decide to radically transform, as in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The point of view is part of the artifice of language that tells one a story, quite distinguishable from narrators [writers, or even interviewees] of/in nonfiction, who may pretend to dissolve themselves in the telling despite their being very much present in their narrative or portray themselves as main characters of their life stories [as in autobiographies]. Nonfictional discourses have respective “narrators” deemed to perform certain tasks: for instance, news means to inform (or misinform, depending on intent); history opts to remember (or even forget); their “points of view”, if I may be allowed to borrow it here, are shaped by their discursive design. In Fiction, points of view indeed offer points of view, ways of looking, considerations to experience. If we pursue point of view as also considerations of experience, this element may be seen as enabling us to actualize notions of perspectives which maybe be quite arduous in ordinary discourse. Points of view are part of the trick of Fiction’s imaginative project. They frame how stories are to be told, as they also characterize their ways of seeing. They help us overcome the limits of our seeing and perception.
To continue following a popular metaphor, the point of view serves as a camera zooming in and out of other characters’ minds or advancing conjectures and speculations according to what it had been designed to see.
There are four conventional points of view known to readers of Fiction: (1) the omniscient point of view; (2) the third person limited point of view; (3) the objective point of view; and (4) the first person point of view. All are employed to convey and characterize specific ways of witnessing the unfolding of a story-event. The omniscient point of view, understood as a God-like perspective, has unlimited knowledge and prerogatives, and is free to inhabit the consciousness of characters at will. This point of view tells all about motivations, behavior, and action, and because it can access the minds and hearts of characters, offers a broader understanding of human relations and conflict and how both make the story, as particular sweeping stories are designed to do. We suspend our disbelief and surrender in awe to the intelligence who had yarned together all that is needed to be known. Omniscience, which etymologically means “all knowledge”, probably sits in consciousness because of our initiation to the epic, the grandest and most communal among stories that emerged from the human imagination. The Iliad and the Odyssey are our exemplars in the Western Canon, where we are made to witness (and re-witness) the exploits of men destined for glory, the tragedy and persistence of women, and the integration of great civilizations. Homer, the traditionally ascribed author of the epics, is believed to be blind, but has been an encompassing teller and witness of all action, from the events of the end of the Trojan War up to the glorious return of Odysseus in Ithaca, after years of itinerant exile. Before the birth of the printing press and books, tellers or chanters are carefully elected by societies to memorize epics, which basically encapsulate the history of the community. The epics have to be memorized in ordained and mnemonic forms like poetry so they may be preserved for generations. As device, the epic’s omniscience may be traced to the need to enthrall an audience’s imagination and transport listeners to a time and place of greatness which members of the community must always remember, along with the values the heroic figures embody. In Philippine folk literature, I always remember the epic of my Ilocano homeland, Biag ni Lam-ang, the Life of Lam-Ang, the “oldest recorded” and “the only complete epic to come down to us from the Christian Filipino groups,” according to Damiana Eugenio. The omniscient narrator follows Lam-Ang, literally, from womb to tomb, and characterizes the hero as a superhuman figure, wishing for his own name as soon as he was delivered, ably defending himself in all battles, and resurrecting after his final encounter with a shark. He also builds the story by going into the minds of Lam-Ang’s mother Namungan and his wife Dona Ines Cannoyan, who may easily remind one of Odysseus’s wife Penelope. These two play major roles in this epic, and serve to strengthen the triangulated narrative which offers a glimpse to Ilocano culture, despite Spanish encroachment, as can be seen in the uses of the terms “don” and “dona” before the names of characters, and the reference to baptism when Lam-Ang requested for his name, to name a few. This culture embodies strength as it is able to completely resist colonial culture and reiterate its community’s story of courage and power. While the narrative is much smaller in scale than the first one we have mentioned, the omniscience of the narration is present, as in all other Philippine epics, which amount to hundreds, and still counting [and I suppose that makes up for scale; our stories put together are myriad and might be longer than the Iliad, Odyssey, and all the western epics combined]. Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, utilize a particular kind of omniscience to a certain extent, but as we know, the supposed “narrator” who has put together the rise and fall of the protagonist Juan Crisostomo Ibarra, shows his hand every now and then, as he offers commentaries or pokes fun at the hypocrisy of both colonizer and colonized. Meanwhile, the third person limited point of view is a perspective that follows one character, major or minor, in the story. The story is filtered through the said character, and since the emphasis here is on the word limited, how the story is conveyed or framed is shaped by this character’s biases, actions, and motives. The third person limited point of view is a frame by which readers view a very focused, but distant perception of the world. This character being pursued by the narrative is seen as participating in the unfolding of an event. The narrator relates how this character grew into an awareness of his/her situation, and oftentimes lays down indications about how the processes of transformation took place. If the omniscient narrator lends a sweeping account of an event, or a series of interrelated events, where characters interact and are ingenuously observed by an all-knowing narrator, the third person limited point of view elects a person in the story to follow, describes his/her impulses, traces back his/her past, unravels his/her mind, and ultimately, bares his/her soul. All these are carried out while the narrator ironically sports, all at the same time, distance as a third person perception and intimate knowledge of the character in focus, whatever the circumstance. Last time’s story, “Love in the Cornhusks” by Aida Rivera Ford, is a story told in the third person limited point of view that followed Tinang as she came to terms with her life choices. The narrator helped shape Tinang’s process of enlightenment by showing, not only what truly mattered in the end, but how she achieved epiphany. When the narrator said: “Among the cornhusks, the letter fell unnoticed,” the action became indicative of the realization. The narrator does not just tell it, but shows it in a more intelligent, powerful way.
The first story for consideration today, “First Rain” by Raymund P. Reyes, also sports a third person limited point of view following the story of a certain Mr. Malpas who works as a teacher in the Middle East. In the story, the narrator allows us to witness what Mr. Malpas saw, and how he perceived the interesting turn of events in school after it had started to rain. Through this filtering, our attention has been focused on the perspective of Mr. Malpas, from the time he had “finished calling the roll”, right to his dilemma of calling off classes and his sudden remembrance of home and childhood rains, up to his “defeated” resolve and returning of “the chalk to its box.” It is a very compact story which shows very little about the circumstances of Mr. Malpas’s decision to teach in the Middle East [the very general term for the setting, actually, which is illustrated by the details of the “gusts of flying sand” and the rain’s pouring “a day—or a few intermittent hours throughout a week, at most,” as well as the reference to “this Arabian city”, that locates him, and transports us readers, to Saudi Arabia, a traditional Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) destination], his life back in the Philippines, and his work of educating foreigners. Despite its shortness, as it is, a very short story, it echoes shared OFW and diasporic experiences brought about by the need to support one’s family and the lack of opportunities back home. As we follow this story’s point of view, which by implication, also compels that we recall similar experiences and bring them with us in our reading, we are made to append our common understanding of this decades-old complex Filipino phenomenon to the desolation that descended upon Mr. Malpas, who in the end of the story was “empty” like his deserted classroom, as “(s)tudents gathered on the lawn, dancing like frogs, their white robes clinging wet upon their skins.” His students are generally warm, but are primarily being what they are—children longing for rain in a desert climate. The story presents this stimuli for the conflict, which brings Mr. Malpas to decide on whether he would “finish his lesson for the day,” so that “children could go and enjoy their rain.” What was going through his mind is typical teacherly predicament; he has a lot to consider: “He was giving a quiz on Wednesday. He had spent an afternoon last weekend making it. He opened the desk drawer and took out a piece of chalk. He had an hour, he decided.” As “(a)ll eyes were on the spectacle on the horizon,” he had no recourse but to let the thunderstorm enthrall his students. However, as “(h)e stared out the window and hoped that it would stop,” he is gripped by what we can imagine as a usual ache: “Suddenly, he felt homesick.” The succeeding narration provided by the third person limited point of view gave us a glimpse of the Mr. Malpas’s inner life which contains much of tender memories from back home: “It rained the whole year in Batanes [where he probably hails] but it had been months since he left the country to teach in the Middle East. He loved those heavy dark clouds too, especially when lightning crisscrosses their breadth. When he was a child, his mother would watch with him as they sat on the rocking chair on their porch. It was like somebody in heaven was taking pictures of the earth, she would say. Afterwards, the rain would pour and mother and son would shift their focus from the sky to the ground, following raindrops as they splattered and broke on the glass.” Observed closely, the narrator has not only entered and unraveled the consciousness of the character [where his thoughts, considerations, and motivations are to be found] but also his memories, which he conjures in that moment, perhaps as the character tries to cope with homesickness. When his students leave the room, his isolation becomes more acute and the narrator zooms out to give us a bigger picture of his own internal darkness as a migrant worker: “When the room was empty, he stood and peered out the windows again. Students had gathered on the lawn, dancing like frogs, their white robes clinging wet upon their skins.” The narrator has strived to reveal the sadness and longing of this teacher who had found both comfort [because of memories of home] and affliction [being disturbed by the weather (we may surmise that he is a very conscientious teacher) and displaced by economic constraints (which led to his working abroad anyway)] in the pouring rain. The narrator’s diction (choice of words) shows how the perspective intends to persuade readers to empathize with Mr. Malpas’s position: “When the room was empty, he stood and peered out the windows again. Students had gathered on the lawn, dancing like frogs, their white robes clinging wet upon their skins” (italics mine). The emptiness in Mr. Malpas’s being, magnified and deflected in the emptiness of the room, is contrasted with the innocent joy of thrilled, rain-drenched children, “dancing like frogs.” Imagine this same scene rendered in the objective point of view, described as a reportorial perspective that simply narrates the story’s unfolding without commentary, interpretation, or inhabiting a character’s mind. It would probably take a whole lot of revising diction to do that, making the whole story sound like a mere report of the unfolding, which may start with the rain pouring, evolve with the teacher and students having a little discussion about calling off classes, and end with the teacher looking out of the window while students are rain-soaked, playing in the rain. The end. My attempt of a report already looks very bare, but it is just one of the possibilities. Conventionally, the objective point of view, also called the dramatic point of view, narrates as a spectator, putting together what is to be seen and heard from the story. Its only mediation, so to speak, is its quiet witnessing. While the objective point of view is believed to be a more speedy form of narration, I suspect that it will take away all the conjured effect of isolation distance from the homeland brings in Mr. Malpas, who was dramatized as severed from all the joyous abandon outside the window. The quiet witnessing of the objective point of view might not be able to provide the necessary contexts of his being away from home, unless it provides a tedious flashback. The story’s parameters and form however render it impossible.
The emptiness in Mr. Malpas’s being, magnified and deflected in the emptiness of the room, is contrasted with the innocent joy of thrilled, rain-drenched children, “dancing like frogs.”
The final mode of narration, the first person point of view, may be observed in our second story, “Mother, Mother” by John Bengan. This compact story, which juxtaposes the accounts of two mothers of what has long been called extra judicial killings (now sanitized by the state as “killings under investigation”) that befell their sons, is a very relevant one nowadays. Back in the year of the story’s publishing, (2007), it was already making a sharp commentary about the ruthlessness of this so-called war on drugs, which appears to be going on for quite awhile in the Republic of Davao City. The first one is narrated from an obviously privileged perspective, based on how the mother characterized herself: the mother is clearly one with entitlements, property, and mobility (“I was in Cagayan de Oro when it happened, busy talking my sister through an annulment”; “I had gone completely mad, dropping the phone on the wool of the carpet of my husband’s Land Cruiser”; “Weeks passed and I flew to Canada, where no one really knows about me and my son.”); the second one was from that of one from the fringes, of a mother who was “selling grilled pork and entrails” in a typical city street. Both were recounting the unfortunate moment of learning about their son’s deaths, deftly connected by media and police with dangerous drugs. Characterization is key in apprehending the first person point of view, where an “I” is chosen to assume not just the focus but also the central intelligence of the story. The character of the narrator shapes the story’s ways of seeing. All these are affected by the narrator’s biases, behavior, and motivation. Whether the story elects to narrate in the first person inhabiting the minds of a minor character (one who might simply provide a somewhat passive perspective to the story’s unfolding) or a major character (who usually is the subject of the story, actively and vicariously living the story’s unfolding), the narrator’s hints about him/herself must be accounted for. We began reading Bengan’s story by looking at the class differences of the mother, which is easily discernible. But since this is a story of juxtaposition, it is asking readers to see any difference among (1) the way the mothers responded to the news of the deaths and how they coped; (2) the way they perceived or even judged their sons’ alleged drug involvement; (3) the way they lived their lives after the fact. Towards the end of the second mother’s narration, and of the story as a whole, the killings never end, as “a body of a thirteen-year-old” was found “on the edge of the Bankerohan River.” “The boy ran drugs for dealers around our place,” the mother said, as she remembers that that same day, when the body was found, “I was at the cemetery, cutting the grass around my son’s headstone.” The story hints that the two mothers are connected by the fact that the second mother’s son “worked as a carpenter” at the furniture shop of “another man who was killed, right outside his own house” (italics mine). This phrase echoes the second sentence in the first mother’s narration: “Actually, he was killed, shot in the head like some goat, right outside his home in a village on the upper side of Matina.” Both were devastated by the news. The first mother was away, “snaking through traffic” when she heard about it through a phone call made by her frantic daughter. She described herself as having “gone completely mad”, weeping “soundlessly” and long, “as if some demon pulled a switch inside my body and set free decades worth of unexpressed anguish.” The second mother, meanwhile, characterized the moment as not only crushing but disabling, as she was made to “run after something” upon hearing the screams Your son! Your son!: “I wanted to run, but I couldn’t move my legs; I thought of flying.”However, a very telling line seems to imply what the neighbors know, and that which the mother chose to be silent about: “I was stunned when I saw the look in my neighbors’ eyes, as if they had known this day would come.” It took time for both distraught mothers to see their dead sons, who were both diminished as criminals by news reports [on the part of the first mother: “From the broadsheets I learned that a motorcycle-riding gunman took his life. Police told me what they could: I raised a criminal who smuggled cocaine from foreign lands” (this statement may come to a reader as quite ironic, since it is as if the mother does not know anything about her son); on the part of the second mother: “In my house, these people (referring to the “television crew”) asked about our life, about my son. They wouldn’t go until they get it right (so, who is really determining who they are?). So I told about him, the son I lost, he was too young, my eldest who was a dreamer. But they wanted to hear about the pusher.”]. While it is interesting to find out whether the sons were indeed involved in drug trade, both mothers, in their anguish, focus on the pain of loss, which in the story connects them despite their apparent differences. A commentary that may be possibly culled about these juxtaposed narratives would be how these killings cut across classes and how these essentially dehumanize both the victims (for they have never been brought to court for the supposed crimes), and their bereaved. In our earlier reference to the sons, we have already shown how sensational media treats them as mere figures for the drug war’s data. On the other hand, the mothers, in their narrations, were diminished and battered by the news of their son’s death: [on the part of the first mother: “With the news of my only son’s death, my body ached for nourishment”; “Torment coiled in my chest like a serpent, and this hole widening and deepening as days and nights descended on my body”; on the part of the second mother: “My neighbors watched as I started to thrash on the ground, tearing at my hair, my clothes”; “I rode a wheelchair to the funeral”]. While indeed the first mother is privileged to fly to “Canada, where no one really knows about me and my son,” the second mother from the fringes is resigned to living in an environment of impunity, where violence and killings continue. Read separately, this story of two mothers showed contrasting apprehensions to similar contexts of loss. However, since we have argued that they are connected, the juxtaposition may be properly recognized by considering the higher intelligence or consciousness that put together these stories in the first place.
As human beings, our perception is as limited as our experiences, and literature, Fiction most especially, provides us ways of approaching the vicarious and various possibilities of the human situation, no matter the distance or likelihood. To be human, we need to feel! The dead are not just numbers or unknown figures. They are human, no matter how the powerful portray their supposed inhumanity.
To evoke our empathy for the human figures of the story—as what points of view are meant to do—the narratives of the two mothers, said in the first person point of view, are framed by a larger consciousness—which in this occasion is what may be termed a silent, dissolved third person point of view, which orchestrates the discourse of the mothers, and seems to direct how the comparisons and connections are to be done in the reading of this short short story. The silence, in effect, lends voice to these figures silenced by society’s thirst for blood. This kind of point of view, in my reading, taps into both the third person limited and the objective narrator, to provide focus on the story’s plotting, and to render an almost documentary-like unfolding, where the mothers are made to appear to be giving an unadulterated account or interview. Points of view create these effects, as well as expand our perspectives, especially in these days where the spate of killings are being exonerated through shameless denials and the perpetration of alternative facts. As human beings, our perception is as limited as our experiences, and literature, Fiction most especially, provides us ways of approaching the vicarious and various possibilities of the human situation, no matter the distance or likelihood. To be human, we need to feel! The dead are not just numbers or unknown figures. They are human, no matter how the powerful portray their supposed inhumanity. Closely observing points of view in action as a fictional element allows us to witness imagined situations [which sometimes mine real-life experiences], study action [as provided by the story’s perspective], and wonder what these say about the human impulse. Etymologically, the term perspective, which we usually associate with art as a technique of creating an illusion of three dimensions, depth and space in a flat surface, figuratively means “a mental outlook.” As they say, ars longa, vita brevis, life is short, and art, Fiction in this case, is eternal, not only because it composes life meaningfully, but also shapes it using outlooks. We may not have our entire lives to broaden our horizons, but if contemplated upon, this is what points of view offer us. It even suffices in granting us the experience of being co-opted into the narratives, as in instances of stories utilizing what is problematically called “second person point of view,” which, as can be seen is not included in my list of concepts. You (and now I am addressing you, dear students) must be surprised—why problematically? I say this, because, a main requirement for a point of view is that it is able to frame the story, and consequently, articulate an outlook. This “second person point of view”, as commonly defined, is a narration that addresses a “you”, the reader actually, who is made to participate in the unfolding of the story. No issues with the narrator, really, but the problem lies with the you, this second person. The “you,” however, is silent, and quite passive, as the narrator—usually a first person, sometimes, an oracular or prophetic voice addressing a general audience—dictates particular actions or motivations for him/her. The “you” is used as a device for whatever effect the story intends. As part of the fictional ploy and suspension of disbelief, readers allow themselves to be co-opted by the storyteller, and this probably convinced some teachers of fiction that indeed, participation is also a form of outlook giving. However, I am more inclined to call this a narrative addressee, and readers, in that moment of reading the text, assume the consciousness of the addressee as characterized by the narrator. In our third and final story, “Conversation” by Darryl Delgado, we encounter this experience of being the addressee of a narrator enjoying a drunken stupor with her spouse along Matahimik Street. I like the fact that the story is titled “Conversation” and it takes place along the said road. The title and the setting evoke a very interesting tension, one that encapsulates the noise and silences between the characters of the story. This conversation ensues with the wife directing the narrative, and the husband, the you, performing the ordained actions or dialogue. The husband, the you, while he is made to respond in certain parts, becomes the figure whose presence in her life stirs the wife to ruminate on their life together. In the randomness and incoherence of their conversation—which makes sense because of the couple’s togetherness—the main narrator muses on what they both do (both write and teach), their marriage, and their life together: “It makes me think: Surely the swaying moon, smug with the knowledge of melting, knows about this, this death of ice. I don’t know why I think that thought though. I don’t know now why I had thought it would be a good idea to get drunk—and not just drink, but get drunk—with you tonight. I don’t know why we got married. I thought we had agreed to be married to ourselves, and date each other on the side. I thought we would travel the world, help the poor, write novels. I don’t know why we both ended up as teachers. I don’t know why I am starting to hate hearing, listening to, pronouncing words.” There’s is not much conflict manifesting in this compact story, but if one believes that conflict is also a tussle within the self, we may say that the wife, in that moment, found an opportunity to consider her life, and her life with this man who is her equal, even in getting drunk. It’s a subdued tussle meant to yield for her some kind of illumination in the present [the story is narrated in the present tense, take note] as she speculates about their future. As she went to “stop at the nearest lamppost” to lean and puke, she realizes how the constant presence of this man reaching her, “breathing short, heavy breaths” [because she ran from him] is comforting enough to last her a lifetime: “Your face is red. Your eyes alive like they have never been before. You seem to me magnified by some strange force.” Her illumination is projected not only by the street lamp, but also by the 7-11 at which she gazes after puking: “The brightness of the store softly illuminates the entire block.” The illumination wandered off again, this time, associating itself with a story of Estrella Alfon, and their not having any children. Now, if this is indeed a conversation between wife and husband, is it also safe to say that at large, the husband figure and the you, were both utilized by the wife as some sort of a sounding board for her own self-dialogue? In the end, is she really talking to her husband, or is he talking to herself? The answer to both is yes, which explains the art in this use of address. Essentially, the story is told in the first person point of view, but uses a stand in, the narrative addressee, in order to reflect and deflect the drunken conversation, which embodies the nature of love and marriage, in the first place. Relationships are coherent and incoherent, sane and mad, focused and aimless. Relationships are paradoxes, they are disjunctions that make sense, where individuals with various similarities and differences coalesce in what the great poet Shakespeare once called “the marriage of true minds.” The contradictions usually dissolve and even the dialogue “I wass stalking about Siberia, I mean talkings abouts Siberia…” becomes a warm reassurance as the world spins wildly in one’s drunkenness and doubt. The only guarantee of the relationship is indeed the moment one shares with the beloved, even if, as in the story, both are “swaying”, and “the ground under (their) feet is heaving like a tentative wave.” Resonating with the first person narrator of this story is made possible through a keen sense of understanding the dynamics between the wife-narrator and her husband-narrative addressee-you. As the two hold hands at the end of the story, the you, us readers, are also made to reexamine our perceptions about relationships and commitments. After all, a relationship is not all about the romantic search for forever. It is, as the final story tells us, about the shared graces and illumination of the now.
Master Class Lecture Series for Lit 14: Introduction to Poetry and Drama, Second Semester, SY 2016-17, Ateneo de Manila University
Poetry usually comes to a lot of people as rather perplexing. Many think its perceived “depth” requires special skills for unlocking. Many also mistake “mysterious,” even flowery and winding expression for poetry; feelings, or “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” as we would often quote from the poet William Wordsworth, more often than not become the final arbiter of one’s understanding of the poetic. In both cases, poetry is seen as something that necessarily evades our understanding, something that must keep meaning to itself in order to be, and because it is, poetry. What is often neglected is its being a kind of imaginative language use, a moment where words, put together, are shaped to precisely transform and mean something else. This moment seems to validate the said notions about poetry: after all, doesn’t this meaning something else create “depth” and a certain kind of indirection? However, when we exclude poetry’s languageness we simply miss the point. Every reading of poetry is an experience of language, and since poetic meaning is the ultimate subject of everyone’s curiosity, let us begin this discussion by tracing back how meaning is made to emanate from poetry’s most basic unit: words. I have already said that poetry is saying something but meaning something else. When we were first taught about vocabulary, we were introduced to the two levels of word meaning: (1) denotation, the most basic level, which generally refers to the dictionary or literal meaning; and (2) connotation, the level of other meaningful possibilities. All of literature, as imaginative language use, is made to mean bearing these two levels of signification. This is precisely why, for instance, we never ended talking about short stories or novels as simply what they have narrated; they contain ideas, and these are embedded or suggested, especially in plot and action. This linguistic nature is made more apparent in poetry as it is a heightened use of imaginative language. A more compressed, condensed one where the choicest of words are placed in, as the say, the best order. The National Artist for Literature Edith Tiempo, in her work Six Poetry Formats, properly distinguishes prose and poetry in this manner: “Whatever the substance and format, what is therefore the fundamental element that does make poetry the unique species of literary art that it is? Fortunately, as we see it today, the question is quickly answerable regarding the bottom agent responsible and as they say, No sweat: Prose is direct statement and direct exposition, whether written in versified lines or in paragraphs. On the other hand, poetry has traditionally been acknowledged as indirect, as structured in metaphor.” She even emphasizes: “Without structuring of metaphor there is no poetry.” The “structuring of metaphor” being mentioned by the great poet explains whatever depth or mystery may be found in poetry, for after all, metaphor, etymologically, is not only a suggestion of resemblance between two different things, but actually a representation that entails some form of “a transfer”, a leap of meaning, I say. However, we have long been impelled to immediately search for meaning in a poem—and possibly, its “lesson” or “moral” as many of us have been taught—without actually first considering the poem’s “structuring of metaphor.” Where does a reader find it then? Poems, for them to transform metaphorically, utilize images in their heightened language use. The assemblage of words in a poem create impressions in the mind that are perceptible because they recall our sensory experiences—the visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, olfactory, and the kinesthetic. Images comprise the literal figures and phenomenon we see in the poem; they are precisely what’s in there, and what’s happening. In any search for meaning, we must not immediately strive for what may be called “higher” meanings. We must learn to linger a little. We have to start somewhere. The connotation, say of the word “mother” as nurturer works because of its denotation. The literal must cohere with the figurative, with the metaphorical, and our useful key in “unlocking” poetry, as they say, is to linger at imagery. Poems transform into meaning because of images. The image is, we must say, the most fundamental element in poetry. It is structured in metaphor, ang metaphor happens in the image. It must not only be perceived then on its face value.
Edith Tiempo, National Artist for Literature: “Whatever the substance and format, what is therefore the fundamental element that does make poetry the unique species of literary art that it is? Fortunately, as we see it today, the question is quickly answerable regarding the bottom agent responsible and as they say, No sweat: Prose is direct statement and direct exposition, whether written in versified lines or in paragraphs. On the other hand, poetry has traditionally been acknowledged as indirect, as structured in metaphor.”
Let’s take for example two traditional poems from Tagalog, a dalít and a tanaga, which I have translated for you. The dalít (a quatrain with a feet of 8 per line, monorime) is a proverb that juxtaposes two situations. The first couplet conjures the image of a wound, and how a person of will would cope with its pain: “Enduring the wound/ makes bearable pain,” while the second clearly shows the opposite: “(T)he one who resists and persists/ wails at the merest scratch.” The dalít tells of two situations that oppose when it comes to the experience of the wound and being wounded [perhaps in literal battles or squabbles]; but instead of telling directly the ancient Filipino listener that one must learn how to bear one’s challenges or suffering with dignity [and not with a lot of whining and complaint], the poem, which must be commonly shared in times of strife or adversity, opted to utilize a more vicarious experience—an image! An image of wounding! It presented two possible responses to it. The literal wound transformed into something else, a condensed lesson on life’s disposition powerful enough to change perceptions, especially when times get rough. Meanwhile, the tanaga (a quatrain with a feet of 7 per line, monorime) utilizes what is called in figurative language as personification to characterize the inanimate speaker or persona of the poem. The personification process already shows the leap from the literal to the figurative [and this makes language new and unfamiliar], and it heightens the statement even more when the poem imbues the speaker with audacity, as it addresses another inanimate object in that watery world, perhaps of a fishing village: “Be warned, firm Stake/ when waves come rushing!/ I, a minute moss/ will coil on you.” In the literal level, a tension is being suggested between the characters of the poem, one that must have to do with their positions in that water world. A “minute moss” warning a “firm Stake”? If you have been to lake or seashore towns in the province, you will surely encounter stakes or bamboo poles planted deep into the waters to make fish pens. They precisely lord it over the fresh water world, and this image of firmness was recaptured by one anonymous mind, the nameless persona, who seemed to have had more empathy in the nondescript moss, which basically glut the waters. This dynamic between the “firm Stake” and the “minute moss” evoked a sense of awareness about polarity among members of a society, and what happens when towering, domineering figures seem to throw shade onto the minuscule, or as we are wont to call it nowadays, the marginalized. Mosses may be minute but “when waves come rushing,” they could conjoin with others to create a hefty weight that may coil the stake and dismantle its firmness. That sounds like a revolution to me. This very short monologue, ala-David versus Goliath, illustrates, in the connotative level, the potential of the small (and usually the many) in the face of an imperious, and perhaps, autocratic figure. In its minuteness, its being from below, the moss had the temerity to threaten the “firm Stake” because time will come that the small would awaken and be able to muster all courage to push for a final reckoning. This very old poem from lifted from an entry of the Vocabulario de La Lengua Tagala (where the earlier dalít also came from) captured the imagination of the oppressed during the Marcos dictatorship. Despite the distance in time, the tanaga spoke of the same sentiments the “minute moss” was striving to articulate. It may be speaking of the same views nowadays, but Filipinos, as was suggested by the dalít, are generally patient, as much as they are also persevering, to a fault. The belligerent “firm Stake(s)” of today, who, we could imagine, must be bearing so much accumulated moss, has to be warned, because “when waves come rushing” they might suddenly find themselves submerged deep in the waters, demolished from the very silt where they used to be firmly planted. That doesn’t need much of what we call recently as “creative imagination” to decode.
The belligerent “firm Stake(s)” of today, who, we could imagine, must be bearing so much accumulated moss, has to be warned, because “when waves come rushing” they might suddenly find themselves submerged deep in the waters, demolished from the very silt where they used to be firmly planted. That doesn’t need much of what we call recently as “creative imagination” to decode.
Another thing that could be said about imagery is that it thrives in particularity. The general or abstract is given form by way of images, is made more specific and palpable, as we may have seen in our earlier examples. Suffering was made more acute by way of the comparison of the reception of wounds, and revolutionary potential dramatized through a personified audacious moss. Imagery is description coming to life, and as images are assembled together in a poem, they bring forth, a scene, an event that comprises the lyrical experience of a poem we usually call a dramatic situation. Briefly, the poem’s dramatic situation, also sometimes called the objective situation, is what is generally happening in the poem [with emphasis on the situation, and not on the drama (in the way we understand the word today), though they are very much related, since poetry is indeed the primary form of drama; in dramatic parlance, the dramatic situation may also be described as the scene we witness in the moment of the poem; it is its staging, so to speak]. The poem calls forth a worlding of images, and they are put together to pursue a meaningful experience. The dramatic situation usually works this way: in poems, we always have a speaker, a persona, talking about something. That moment of speaking is occasioned by an experience that is supposedly suggestive of something else, as we say regarding metaphor. The persona’s moment of speaking assembles the imagery that is being put together to articulate insights or contemplations about whatever experiences. Once asked about the dramatic situation, one is basically being made to think about two questions: (1) what occasioned the speaking?; and (2) what has been worlded as the persona articulated thoughts or statements? Understanding the dramatic situation and its consequent imagery unlocks the denotative level of the poem. One cannot simply move onto any particular interpretation without unpacking the dramatic situation and image. One would see later on that the dramatic situation and its scenic assembly actually support the connotative prospects of a poem. The poem’s connotation is always founded on its denotation, as to be seen in the dramatic situation. In the dalít, a learned persona, perhaps a wise elder or a community philosopher, seems to speak about the wisdom of endurance, as an invisible public listens, being reminded of common and shared experiences of loss, pain, or suffering. The comparison of how wounds are received becomes an illustrative dramatic situation. Clearly, a lesson has been effectively conveyed. In the tanaga, a minute moss speaks tenaciously to the silent but intimidating “firm Stake.” Its “speaking truth to power,” so to speak, situates its subversive possibility in that world where systemic injustice persists. In time, injustice will be acted upon and the proud will be brought down. This is precisely what the moss warns the Stake about. The Stake, which may represent a collective’s leader, is responsible to its constituency. If a leader turns tyrannical, the way the stake is being characterized in the tanaga, people are entitled to make him answerable for it. Power emanates from the people, and this is what the “minute moss” intends to reiterate. The moss’ speaking and speaking truth to power comprise this poem’s dramatic situation (In terms of drama, we know that this is dramatic because characters in conflict were created, with one of them given the stage for a very short but powerful monologue). The event that unfolds in the poem shapes the idea it tries to articulate. The dramatic situation and its consequent images provide concreteness to the abstraction of ideas. The concretization of the abstract, as many poets and critics have already said, bestows poetry, and all art, the transformative capacity.
One cannot simply move onto any particular interpretation without unpacking the dramatic situation and image. One would see later on that the dramatic situation and its scenic assembly actually support the connotative prospects of a poem. The poem’s connotation is always founded on its denotation, as to be seen in the dramatic situation.
Another poem that may interest us in further understanding how imagery and dramatic situation work is the poet Marne Kilates’ “Python in the Mall.” It is a poem in free verse of four irregularly arranged stanzas, and comes with an epigraph (a lead-in of the poem) quoting a tabloid story. This is a very important key to what will happen in the poem, as it is clearly “inspired” by this piece of news. In an objective reading of the poem, we always distinguish the poet from the persona. This use of the epigraph may however make assumptions about the news item moving the writer to respond by way of a poem as equally valid as a persona making his/her own response to this thing he/she had read in the same tabloid. Both poet and persona are driving towards a “reading” of the story of this “serpent-like creature” that resides “in the dark recesses of a new shopping mall.” If you grew up in the 1990’s, you surely have been initiated into this urban legend tied with the rise of malling culture along the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA). Quite recently, this lore of the “serpent-like creature” was remembered and recreated in a horror film. The story of how this creature would suddenly barge into occupied fitting rooms from secret doors and take captive unsuspecting women, only to leave them dazed in the mall’s parking lot, captured popular imagination back then. An awareness of the context makes a good unlocking of the poem in terms of denotation. In doing this, we not only establish, in the main, the occasion of the poem, which is that of responding to news, but also how the persona (or even the poet, as we said) intended to read the article, as well as the urban lore that came with it. In the poem itself, the “serpent-like creature” transforms into something else, something more abhorrent, if we come to think of it. In the first stanza, we witness how this python in the mall is born. The python, which is a “she”, “hatched in the dank/ Basements of our gullibility,/ Warmed in the gasp of our telling,/ Curling in the tongues/ Of housewives and clerks.” This creature has clearly transformed into lore as it was transcribed in the poem. The public talk—rumors, tsismis, as we call it—about her made her exist. She further finds form in the perpetration of her lore, as we see in the succeeding stanza, which also refers to details I have mentioned earlier: “We gave her a body half-serpent,/ Half-voluptuary, and a taste/ For maidens and movie stars/ Who began to vanish mysteriously/ Behind the curtains of boutique/ Fitting rooms and water closets,/ Never to be seen again,/ Or only to be found in the parking/ Cellars, wandering dazed/ Into the headlights of shoppers’ cars.” The persona, being self-aware, includes himself/herself in the collective, and expands further how everyone participates in this endeavor of scaring ourselves, of making our own ghosts in a supposedly urban and progressive world. As the creature comes alive in the imagination of the public, the python generously bequeaths onto her creators what will fill them: “How she fed on our thirst/ For wonders, fattened on our fear/ Of vacant places. Slowly/ We embellished the patterns/ On her scales and admired/ The sinuous grace of her spine.” In a way, the tables have been turned and the creature has somewhat turned into a deity of sorts, while the creators, willing prey to her inclinations. The creators of their own horror have indeed fallen victim to their own plots. This is sheer irony.
The public whose imagination was fed by mass media—in this case, tabloid news—was in a way, eaten up by its own created terror. They were hungry for more. This is what may be seen in the last stanza: “Avidly we filled our multifarious/ Hungers at her belly, and lapped/ The marvelous tales of her forked/ Tongue. And as the gleaming temples/ Of her worship rose in the midst/ Of our squalor, how we trembled/ At the seduction of her voice,/ O what adoring victims we became.” Horror is both repulsive and seductive, and as people continued the talk of the terror of the mall serpent, the more that they were engrossed in it. We could stop in our reading in this level, since there are already indications that we have already reached a decent connotative level, where the persona is basically making a very sharp commentary on how, as he/she describes it, we fill our “multifarious hungers” and lap “the marvelous tales of her forked/ Tongue.” We know that the persona reads the lore of the serpent-like creature as something to be examined, as it seems to create thoughtless believers (whom we call fanatics nowadays) out of its own invented terror. However, I cannot help but read another meaning from the lines “And as the gleaming temples/ Of her worship rose in the midst/ Of our squalor.” What “temples/ Of her worship” are we really talking about here but the temples of malling culture, of the shopping mall that created both creature and lore in the first place? While the persona is reflecting on the absurd fascination for the story in sensational mass media, he/she is also criticizing the platform by which the figure and the story have been created: consumerism. Like the lore, consumerist culture, brought about by the rise of malls, seduced the public to become mere “adoring victims,” worshipping false needs or branded frills peddled behind department store glass displays or spread across billboards. Is the marvel the same for both the lore and mall culture? Both are serpent-like, hatching in the “basements of our gullibility”, feeding “on our thirst/ For wonders,” and making us tremble “(a)t the seduction of (their) voice(s).” The historical rise and aftermath of malls along Edsa in the 1990’s—and one must note that the poem was dated January 23, 1993—is, I think, the very thing being commented upon by the poem. This is, if we really happen to linger more on the poem. There is even tsismis that such lore was only floated in the media by the competing mall-owning family. Through his engagement with the phenomenon of the much-talked about serpent creature in mass media, “(s)upposedly the offspring of the mall tycoon himself,” the persona was able to pursue a more pointed account of how malling culture changed not only the landscape of Edsa (where traffic is something we love to hate), but also the way it reordered people’s lives and consciousness based on capitalist interests and gains. Read in this manner, the poem shows the persona as offering a discerned insight, a moment of awakening from the zombie-like collective marvel and seduction perpetrated by this culture, which one way or another has taught us the horrors of our frailties as human beings, which consumerism offers to heal through its myriad market options. Talk about retail therapy. The persona does not directly pass judgment, but roots him/herself in that collective experience. He is very much part of it, yet he awakens from it. He remembers that the collective is in a state of squalor, wretchedness. Malls in the supposed “Third World” or the “Global South”? Quite paradoxical for people who do not have much spending power, don’t you think? How damned we are to spend, spend, spend. We actually believed and internalized the horrors of the materialism we were taught to embrace. As this is a poem, it is suggested that the spell—of both the lore and mall culture—has to be broken. And how? The persona acted out the best manifestation of rousing oneself: to finally speak and examine the ill effects of the spell. To cast another spell, by way of the poem, which is after all, language, a spell [we are initiated into words through spelling, remember]. And that made the difference. Both the persona and the serpent-like creature transformed towards the end of the poem, with the earlier offering a sharp critique, and the later changing into a figurative manifestation of that which plagues contemporary Filipino society.
Ang sugat ay kung tinanggap
di daramdamin ang antak;
ang aayaw at di mayag
galos lamang magnanaknak.
Enduring the wound
makes bearable pain;
the one who resists and persists
wails at the merest scratch.
Katitibay, Ka Tulos
sakaling datnang agos!
ako’y mumunting lumot
sa iyo’y pupulupot.
Be warned, firm Stake
when waves come rushing!
I, a minute moss
will coil on you.
Translated by Louie Jon A. Sanchez
PYTHON IN THE MALL*
A serpent-like creature has taken residence
in the dark recesses of a new shopping mall.
Supposedly the offspring of the mall tycoon
himself, the creature feeds, by preference,
on nubile virgins.
She hatched in the dank
Basements of our gullibility,
Warmed in the gasp of our telling,
Curling in the tongues
Of housewives and clerks.
We gave her a body half-serpent,
Half-voluptuary, and a taste
For maidens and movie stars
Who began to vanish mysteriously
Behind the curtains of boutique
Fitting rooms and water closets,
Never to be seen again,
Or only to be found in the parking
Cellars, wandering dazed
Into the headlights of shoppers’ cars.
How she fed on our thirst
For wonders, fattened on our fear
Of vacant places. Slowly
We embellished the patterns
On her scales and admired
The sinuous grace of her spine.
Avidly we filled our multifarious
Hungers at her belly, and lapped
The marvelous tales of her forked
Tongue. And as the gleaming temples
Of her worship rose in the midst
Of our squalor, how we trembled
At the seduction of her voice,
O what adoring victims we became.
Master Class Lecture Series for Lit 13: Introduction to Fiction, Second Semester, SY 2016-17, Ateneo de Manila University
We begin by first attempting to understand what Fiction is all about. Admittedly, we all enter this class already having some notions of what it is based on previous experiences or engagements with Fiction. Thus we may ask: what have we read that constitute/s what we know of Fiction? We may, each of us, have various amounts of readings done in the past, and surely, some of these might be a peg of sort in the way we understand Fiction: (1) Fiction is basically a sustained telling or unfolding of an event; (2) Fiction is a worlding, that is, a creation of another reality which may be similar to or different from our lived reality, and because of this, proposes some form of comparison, examination, or rumination; (3) Fiction is the work of imagination. Allow me to elaborate. All of these are true, as Fiction is indeed, a literary act, a moment of literature, where language is utilized to craft an experience, again and again, in order to fulfill a story’s promise: that it would end, that despite the ordinariness or precariousness of a hero’s journey (as stories are basically about heroes we call people, and vice versa) there is a commencement to it all, a revelation, an epiphany, a completion. The thought of the finality of the story is always worth the reading. It is a sustained telling or unfolding of an event because its narration has to properly move action towards what we all know as closure. From the beginning of time, we have also been sustained by narratives as it encapsulated our personal and collective stories. It is also a worlding, a participation in creation, since writers of fiction, basically, play god and create universes and people them with characters worth scrutinizing. Characters are like us, human beings, and are complex composites of (personal and collective) history, motivations, and behavior. Both world and people in fiction compel readers to slow down and look closely—the devil is in the details, after all, and everything in the story is composed to mean. Lastly, it is also a work of imagination, and I suppose not the type of creative imagination we are being asked to undertake in the public sphere by the powers that be. It is imagined, but it is not fake—this distinction must be clearly made. Fakery is meant to confuse, deceive, and distract, whereas fiction, as a noble art, intends to help imagine the discovery of truth. It means to bring us closer to it, despite its defamiliarizing operation. The story you’re reading might be unfamiliar to you and many ways, but it familiarizes you with things you share with the characters, like experiences of success or failure. Lastly, when we talk of “imagination” here, we talk about the imagination of the writer, who worlded the story, and the imagination of the reader, who participates in the same worlding. The text is only completed upon reading, and what it reveals—the story’s outcome/ending or its insight to experience, for instance—only unfolds when a reader finally engages it, and in a way, makes it happen. Because Fiction is Literature, and literature operates as a language of suggestion, as a language of implication, there is always another takeaway in reading stories, aside from enjoying the narrative; it is, after all, and in another level, suggesting something about life, then and now, and basically about all sorts of human experiences. Add to “human experiences” the word “significant,” and you will again be reminded that stories compose the most significant of our stories as human beings because we always want to wonder and remember. Do you want to traverse another reality, to a setting kinder to existence? Read a story. Do you want to remember what seems to be deliberately forgotten, erased from collective memory? Read a story. Stories enable us to do these, and they also provide a chance for us to pin down certainty, which is usually wishful thinking everyday, while we travel worlds, other or otherwise, or contemplate on our lives which always comes to us unrehearsed. Closure is only possible in fiction. Fiction, no matter how tedious or cumbersome some find it, is a gift that consoles through and through. And how? Let me illustrate by talking about the main concepts for the day.
Fakery is meant to confuse, deceive, and distract, whereas fiction, as a noble art, intends to help imagine the discovery of truth.
Life is generally boring, and I’m not the first person who said this. It comes to us as a series of disparate events that only cohere and run in a particular direction because, by and large, we see it as governed by what we call time. It might be good to recall in this discussion another word related to it, chronology, which is defined by the New Oxford Dictionary as “the arrangement of events and dates in the order of their occurrence.” In Greek, the word “khronos” denotes “time, a defined time, a lifetime, a season, a while,” as it is also the name of the Titan that personifies time. We understand life based on the way it could be encapsulated chronologically, that is through time. At its most basic, we can imagine chronology by looking at a day’s worth of living through a watch, or a year’s speeding by way of a calendar. An hour, a day, a week, and a month, come one right after the other, putting some semblance of order, no matter how quotidian our lives have become. Imagine life where everything is only to be understood in this kind of linearity. Humans however were basically not programmed for the tedium of this sequential order, and proof of this is our undying appetite for stories, which bring us all sorts of conflict. Stories almost always provide a means to play with time, which in a strictly sequential fashion may not be able to articulate one other important keyword in the discussion of fiction: action. Action may simply be described for what it is, which is a thing done, or an act, but in fiction however, it is the process of an undertaking that sits in an imagined timeframe and awaits for some form of achievement or revelation. Life and experience are just too much to contain in our heads, much so narrate, which brings us to chronology’s other facet of meaning, its being a chronicle, a setting down of the sequence of events. We must have invented fiction in light of our incapacity to coherently hold in our heads all our possible stories, to set against the monotony and automatized chronology of our lives. A kind of composition had to be learned in order to do this, a careful selection of action that would constitute the event of the story, which, it may be said, leads to the development of forms of written storytelling like the short story. The short story, particularly the conventional one, lends very easily to compactness and sublimation as it examines one dramatic unfolding or present, and makes it readable in “one sitting,” as Edgar Allan Poe once put it in his Philosophy of Composition. In the Poetics of Aristotle, a tragedy, a story of a hero’s downfall deemed “complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude” is considered whole, coherent as we have been saying, when it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is what Aristotle calls the “proper structure of Plot,” which in this instance was applied to drama. If we think about it, all manner of narration requires this “proper structure,” and this explains why we also see Plot as a fictional element. As they are composed, stories begin by introducing people in particular places and situations, develop dilemma that erupt in the middle, and close by way of revelations.
The short story, particularly the conventional one, lends very easily to compactness and sublimation as it examines one dramatic unfolding or present, and makes it readable in “one sitting,” as Edgar Allan Poe once put it.
Plot was made more familiar to us by that very peculiar triangular graph we usually call the Freytag Structure or Pyramid, attributed to the German novelist and playwrit Gustav Freytag, who also analyzed Greek and Shakespearean drama. He evolved the Aristotelian three-part movement into five, which he took from the Roman critic Horace, and explained more specifically what works within these sections. The following are the parts of the plot: (1) Exposition, where the characters and their initial situations are located; (2) Rising Action, where the story heightens by way of specific stimuli and action on the part of the characters; (3) Climax, where the story makes a turn and transforms the characters; (4) Falling Action, where the revelation or outcome of the story is slowly being decided; and (5) Resolution or Denouement, where the knots of the story are untied and a conclusion is proposed to the story. Conventional stories usually follow this structure, which eventually became a point for reinvention as well [stories and storytelling really cannot be confined in conventions for long], but quite interestingly, this matter of convention has been giving us a glimpse of the mechanisms of narrative. We further understand the said mechanisms of the story by considering action’s fundamental basis: characters’ motivation and response. When it comes to action, Plot and Character are closely linked, as both are only realized when an imagined situation (plot) and human beings (character) are worlded, that is, put together. Even “character-less” stories, and there are some, actually have characters, only they have been rendered absent—as as they say, absence is also presence, but I’m getting way ahead of my story. For action to take place in a plot, human figures must be made to exist, and they must be given opportunities to determine their responses to crafted situations. In terms of writing, character is the inscription of both human action and humanity, as in every plot, we see not only the character’s capacity to do and behave, but also the entirety of that person, as he or she processes within him/herself what he/she will do, or how he/she will behave, according to presented contexts. In his book, The Art of Fiction, critic and novelist David Lodge wrote that “(c)haracter is arguably the most important single component of a novel,” and I also say the same for fiction in general. Characters are basically imbibed with one important fictional component that makes action possible: tension. It may be an internal tension (or what they call, the character versus him/herself), external (character versus society, the world, or the environment), or a combination of both; it may effect a transformation (and we normally call characters who change towards the end of the story as dynamic or round characters) or not (these meanwhile are called static or flat characters). They may be protagonists or antagonists, as we are wont to label them in teleseryes we secretly watch. Tension shapes a character and enables action, and tension creates conflict. Conflict is at the core of plot, as it propels action. The fiction writer and critic Robert Penn Warren bluntly said in his essay “Why We Read Fiction”: “(N)o conflict, no story.” In fiction, characters are challenged to face a problem. Plot provides a means for the human figure to dramatize action.
Tension shapes a character and enables action, and tension creates conflict. Conflict is at the core of plot, as it propels action.
Allow me to illustrate what we have discussed through a reading of “Love in the Cornhusks” by Aida Rivera Ford of Davao. This is a story that conventionally follows the plot structure. The exposition shows the protagonist Constantina Tirol a.k.a. “Tinang” in her former master’s house. She drops by to invite her to be a madrina or godmother in the baptism of the baby she has brought along. There’s mention of another character, Amado, in the course of the conversation, which was suddenly cut off by the crying of her hungry baby. The action starts to rise when the letter left for her in the drugstore is mentioned. She begins to think about what it may contain, and thoughts about possible bad news pervaded her thoughts. It was apparently from Amado Galuran, the former tractor driver who is later revealed to be her former lover. It was described as “Tinang’s first love letter,” and from the time our muddied and exhausted protagonist decides to stopover a “corner of a field where cornhusks were scattered”, lay her baby there in the mean time, and read the letter, we were provided a portrait, not only of her past and abruptly-ended romance, but also the life choices she had elected for herself as a rural woman who had some education. “Tinang was intoxicated” with thoughts of the past, as she is, in the beginning already depicted as being weighed down by motherhood and life with her Bagobo husband Inggo, who had “two hectares of land”, and whom she looked down at first. An intimate encounter between Amado and Tinang has apparently ensued, carefully depicted by the omniscient narrator of the story: “He had not said much more to her, but one afternoon when she was bidden to take some bolts and tools to him in the field, a great excitement came over her. The shadows moved fitfully in the bamboo groves she passed and the cool November air edged into her nostrils sharply. He stood unmoving beside the tractor with tools and parts scattered on the ground around him. His eyes were a black glow as he watched her draw near. When she held out the bolts, he seized her wrist and said, “Come,” pulling her to the screen of trees beyond. She resisted but his arms were strong. He embraced her roughly and awkwardly, and she trembled and gasped and clung to him.” In the reading of this part of the story, we may have felt a little excitement as well as we waited with bated breath what will take place. This was very intense, but what was really making its intensity rise up? We will only find out in the next paragraph where Tinang discovers “(a) little green snake slither(ing) languidly into the tall grass a few yards from the kalamansi tree.” She remembered her child! The intimate time in the story may have been intense, but the escalation into the climax of the story, of Tinang’s being “bitten” by reality, was brought about, both by her crushed desire and basically, her guilt because we can easily infer that she is aware of the choices she made. She chose to be practical in life, taking the Bagobo for a husband despite initial ridicule, perhaps because she felt slighted with Amado’s sudden disappearance. The choice between two good men—a landed indigenous man and a clearly ambitions man—may have returned to make her re-examine that moment. This is the suggested falling action of the story. She happily gave herself to Amado, and in that moment or reading the letter had stoked old flames that never really died. She however is already married, and as to be revealed in the denouement, is also somewhat being weighed down by the morality of her nostalgia. In the story, Tinang was caught between the chance of a thought of an ideal, romantic life with Amado, and the reality of her choice to settle down with Inggo and be the mother of their children. The story resolved the conflict by suggesting the choice Tinang made after being bitten by reality and awakened from her momentary remembering: “With a shriek, she grabbed (the baby) wildly and hugged it close. The baby awoke from its sleep and cried lustily. Ave Maria Santissima. Do not punish me, she prayed, searching the baby’s skin for marks. Among the cornhusks, the letter fell unnoticed.” With the baby safe, who know who clearly got “bitten.” The dread said it all. The resolution was short and sweet: Tinang is aware (and was made aware again) of her choice and she stands by it—to have a family with this man, and stay where she is.
The choice between two good men—a landed indigenous man and a clearly ambitions man—may have returned to make her re-examine that moment.
As main character, Tinang emerged as a dynamic character transformed by an almost allusive moment—the snake and the tree easily reminds us of the garden myth, and how, in the Holy Bible, the event of the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil had revealed to Adam and Eve a fundamental truth about them: that they were naked, and thus embarrassing to be seen. Did Tinang discover something about herself in that moment under the tree? Yes. She was given a moment of reckoning, an opportunity to review her life choices. The story was very sympathetic to her, and treated her as a dignified woman despite her struggles. She was however, still human, and that moment or romantic rekindling made her see the other possibility of her life: life with Amado, “who could look at her and make her lower her eyes.” The letter made her remember “the young girl she was less than two years ago.” Clearly, she was not that young girl anymore, and she is aware of it. What’s very notable with this female character is her sharp self-awareness and agency as she was torn between her real loves in the cornhusks: her past (as exemplified by the lover Amado and his belatedly read letter) and her present (Inggo, her Bagobo husband, and her children). Her decisions in life may be shaped by her traditional and rural environment, but we see her here own up to her choices. The powerful figure of the “little green snake” fed into her being the value of her decisions, which we may surmise was very easy to discern for her. She grabbed the baby “wildly and hugged it close” and the letter fell “unnoticed”—a very telling reversal between the loves in the cornhusks. Decisions are continuously made by characters until the final period is placed, and in this story, we witnessed Tinang’s resolve, as a woman, wife, and mother, to choose the entirety of her present life, no matter how hard it had become. Did she have a closure? With both Amado and her decisions, yes. The narrative made sure it sustained the telling of this woman’s essential recognition, where an almost distant, rural world and time also existed. The figure of the Bagobo signals for us not only what we call “local color” but also the otherness we from the Manila-center normally associate with it. Our key details regarding the world brought forth by the story are the Bagobo references, as well as of Cotabato, where Amado probably still lives at the time of the reading of his letter. This world is the world of Mindanao, rich in indigenous culture but archipelagically othered, as it had been for long plagued by discord. Back in the days of the story, we already see how Bagobos from the Davao region are perceived: Tinang laughs at her husband-to-be Inggo in the beginning, perhaps surprised with his temerity. The perception seems to be unchanged if we actually look at this portion of the story, while Tinang, by way of the narration’s intrusion in her mind, juxtaposes the “comfortable world” she used to live in as domestic help in her Señora’s house: “…she sighed thinking of the long walk home through the mud, the baby’s legs straddled to her waist, and Inggo, her husband, waiting for her, his body stinking of tuba and sweat, squatting on the floor, clad only in his foul undergarments.” What image do we see here of the Bagobo, despite him being landed? Your protagonist however, is very self-conscious, as I have said, and she takes responsibility for her choices. In the end, the story also made us rethink about the way we relate with Mindanao, and how the malaise against its peoples—particularly the indigenous, and even the Muslim—is brought about by the self-righteousness and entitlement of the (Spanish) Christianized (Americanized) educated lowlanders. This is very observable in a clearly challenged Tinang, trying to cope with her new and clearly backward Bagobo life [perhaps in the hinterlands, as hinted at in the story], continuing to participate in Catholic rituals [remember that her Bagobito is to be baptized], and entertaining the possibility of a different life with the educated Amado, who writes her a letter in English [she is said to have “reached the sixth grade,” a product of the public education system put in place by the Americans]. I am mentioning the subtly placed comparison to help in understanding the “othered” Mindanao world [because it is different, unfamiliar, and underdeveloped, where the community’s snail mail were claimed through a town drugstore] called into being in the story.
There is, I think, no more debate as to the probability of the well-composed event of Tinang’s awakening. We have been prepared for the logic of her actions, as well as her momentary choice to reminisce; after all, life has been tough, and it is not far-fetched for our protagonist to take the chance to remember the uncomplicated world of her youth and love.
As a work of imagination, fiction provides enjoyment through believability. Believability compels us to suspend our disbelief, and fully engage in the plot of the story—in this case, the epiphany [the moment of enlightenment, understanding, internal revelation in a character] of a woman who was given a moment to review her decisions in life after claiming an unread love letter. Believability is an important virtue associated with another fictional concept, realism, which M.H. Abrams succinctly explains in this manner: “It is more useful to identify realism in terms of the intended effect on the reader: realistic fiction is written to give the effect that it represents life and the social world as it seems to the common reader, evoking the sense that its characters might in fact exist, and that such things might well happen.” We may say that believability is the “intended effect on the reader”, and fiction, as imagined in the mode of realism, aspires to evoke “the sense that its characters might in fact exist, and that such things might well happen.” There is, I think, no more debate as to the probability of the well-composed event of Tinang’s awakening. We have been prepared for the logic of her actions, as well as her momentary choice to reminisce; after all, life has been tough, and it is not far-fetched for our protagonist to take the chance to remember the uncomplicated world of her youth and love. In the scheme of things, however, it would have taken so many other possibilities to burst her bubble, but the writer elected the figure of the snake to bring her back to reality. In the rural environment, it is utterly probable, though of course, we could not deny the fact that it is deus ex machina, wrought by divine intervention. Does the figure of the snake compromise the believability, or the verisimilitude, the likeness to the truth of the story? The answer is of course, no. In the first place, we have already seen Tinang being aware of the weight of her decisions. She patiently carried her about-to-be-baptized child [and another one on the way] in a long, muddied walk from the hinterlands, bearing in mind her duties as a mother. We also saw that she was quite selfless as the first thing she thought about upon hearing about the letter was bad news from relatives: “A letter! Tinang’s heart beat violently. Somebody is dead. I know somebody is dead, she thought. She crossed herself and after thanking the Señora profusely, she hurried down.” There was mention of Amado, but it seemed to have not affected her that much at first. She was just busy with her child. She knew her priorities but was merely human. When she opened the letter, nostalgia simply surged and for a moment, she was swept away. Though not for long. The snake slithered as both symbol and impetus for her to pull herself out of her daydream because literally, the child laid down on the cornhusks was clearly in danger. “Ave Maria Santissima. Do not punish me, she prayed, searching the baby’s skin for marks. Among the cornhusks, the letter fell unnoticed.” Her awareness of what matters in her present life, as may be seen through her actions, made the story believable. It was an acute awakening, but a believable awakening nonetheless.