Master Class Lecture on Poetry 2: On Figurative Language

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 on Fiction 2: On Point of View and Three Very Short Stories

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 on Poetry 1: What Makes a Poem

Master Class Lecture Series for Lit 14: Introduction to Poetry and Drama, Second Semester, SY 2016-17, Ateneo de Manila University

Laguna Lake, photo from ABS-CBN
Laguna Lake, photo from ABS-CBN

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


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.

—Tabloid story

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.

Marne L. Kilates
January 23, 1993

*Printed here with the indulgence of the poet.

Master Class Lecture on Fiction 1: On Plot and Character

Master Class Lecture Series for Lit 13: Introduction to Fiction, Second Semester, SY 2016-17, Ateneo de Manila University

Cover of Aida River Ford: Collected Works (DLSU Publishing House), where the story “Love in the Cornhusks” may be read.

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.

Aida Rivera Ford in her younger years. Grabbed from the Compilation of Philippine Literature Blogspot Website

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.

Dear Ai gonplei not ste odun nowe

Si Rolando Tinio. Larawan mula sa Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Nabása ko ang iyong reaksiyon sa tulang “Valediction sa Hillcrest” ni Rolando S. Tinio, at nabasa ko rin ang reaksiyon ng ilang tao na bumasa sa iyong lumang-lumang tumblr entri (Agosto 11, 2011 ang petsa, sa kalagitnaan ng Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa). May ilang pumuna sa mistulang kamangmangan ng iyong palagay, at may ilang nagsabing masyado ka raw “purista” sa pagsasabing bakit hindi na lámang mag-Tagalog kung magta-Tagalog at mag-Ingles kung mag-i-Ingles. Ang higit na pumukaw sa akin sa iyong reaksiyon ay ang iyong pagtingin sa teksto bílang isang praktikal na diskurso—na sa ganang akin ay hindi naman mali. Nang pangatwiranan mo na kailangang maipaliwanag sa iyo ang “pros” at “cons” ng pagtuturo at “pagpapalaganap” (“promoted” ang paglalarawan mo) ng mga tulang tulad  nito (at marahil, nagtataká ka nang sulatin ang entri kung tula nga ba talaga ang nabása), malinaw sa akin na may hinagap ka hinggil sa kalikasang komunikatibo ng wika. Para saan nga naman ba ang gayong pagpapalit-wika, o yaong tinatawag sa linggwistika na “code switching”? Napukaw din ako sa iyong sinasabi hinggil sa kawalan ng orihinalidad ng mga Filipino, na iyong iniuugnay sa “tisoy” (o mestizo, sakaling hindi mo rin alam) na pagsasawika ng “tula” na ito ng isang Pambansang Alagad ng Sining para sa Panitikan (sana ay nalaman mo na ito sa ngayon, kung hindi’y talagang kaysaklap). Oo, Pambansang Alagad ng Sining para sa Panitikan si Tinio, at hindi lámang sa Panitikan, kundi pati na rin sa Teatro, dahil sa kaniyang pagkababad sa dulaan at pagsasalin sa Filipino ng di iilang dulang pandaigdig. Isinalin niya ang ilan sa mahahalagang dula ni Shakespeare, at baká maging interesado kang hanapin ang ilan ditong nalathala na bílang aklat. Marahil, iniisip mo na ang pag-uumingles ng persona ni Tinio rito ay tanda ng ating matinding pananalig sa lubhang kagalingan ng lahat ng pamanang Amerikano, tulad ng wikang Ingles. Hindi iyon malayong isipin, lalo pa kung malalaman mong nag-aral din si Tinio sa America. May talim ang iyong paghinagap, at dapat lámang, wika nga, na ibigay din sa iyo ang baling sa bagay na ito. Ngunit bakit nga gayon ang iyong naging reaksiyon nang makaharap ang “tulang” ito? Bakit sinasabi nilang lisya ang iyong tinuran? Ang gusto kong sabihin sa mga nagbahagi ng iyong palagay sa Facebook, kung lisya man ang tinuran, hindi mo iyon kasalanan. Hindi ka dapat sisihin, sapagkat hindi ka naman nag-iisa sa gayong kalagayan.  Oo, sablay ang iyong palagay—ngunit habang buháy naman ang tao ay laging may pag-asa. Hindi pa naman huli ang lahat.  Magandang pag-isipan sa ngayon ang kung saan mo nakuha ang ganyang pananaw at kung ano ang maaaring magawa pa.

Nása paaralan kasi iyan, sa uri ng edukasyong pampanitikan. Patawarin mo kaming mga guro na marahil ay hindi ganap na nakapagpapakilala sa iyo ng kagandahan ng tula, at ng panitikan sa pangkabuuan. Marami kaming dahilan—marahil, marami rin sa amin ang biktima ng edukasyong pampanitikan na iyong nasagap sa paaralan. Marami rin sa amin ang walang panahong mag-aral na muli—bagay sanang makapagwawasto sa ano mang nasagap naming mali. Kitang-kita ang buktot at bulok na sistema ng edukasyong pampanitikan sa Filipinas sa tinuran mo: hindi narating ng iyong maganda sanang hinagap sa kalikasan ng wika ang isa pang nibel ng pakahulugang naroroon din sa mga salita. Sa simpleng paliwanag, ang narating lámang ng iyong pagbása ay ang nibel ng denotasyon ng totoo namang matulaing diskurso ng tula. Kaya hinahanap mo ang saysay ng paggamit ng ganitong “Taglish” na wika. Maganda ang tanong mo hinggil sa mistulang “matuwid” na paggamit ng wika. Mahabang paliwanagan ang kakailanganin hinggil sa usaping ito, subalit ito na lámang marahil: ang wika ay likas na dinamiko, kung kaya’t maaari niyang biglang-biglang ariin ang iba pang wika at diskursong nakapaligid sa kaniya. Na ang ibig sabihin ko lámang naman ay ito: naghuhunos, nagbabago ang wika, at hindi basta-basta maipipirmi, gustuhin man natin. Sa denotasyon-konotasyon pa lámang ng wika ng tula, makikita na nating gumagalaw, kahit ang kahulugan, ang nilalaman (at dapat mo ring malaman, sa ganang akin, na konotasyon ang nagpapatula sa tula). May anyo pang masasabi ang wika, kung kaya’t hindi rin uubra ang “purismo” na ipinukol sa iyo ng mga nakabása sa reaksiyon mo (kapag sinabing purismo, iyon ay iyong paniniwala na may dalisay na uri ng wika at paggamit ng wika; isang halimbawa niyan ay ang paniniwala na kailangang gamitin ang mismong mga dalumat sa wika bilang panumbas sa mga terminolohiyang banyaga). May pinanggagalingan ang iyong palagay, kung kaya’t hindi mo maaaring solohin ang sisi. Ang ganyang tinuran ay hubog ng isang edukasyong pampanitikan, maging pangwika, na nakaliligta sa tunay na kalikasan ng wika. Ang tula ay isang diskursong pangwika, at may mga sinusunod na kayarian upang masabing isa ngang tula. Ang sabi pa nga ng isang paham, nakabatay sa metapora ang tula, at dahil dito, nakalalagpas ang tula sa kaniyang literal o pantalastasang nibel. May higit pa sa naroroon sa tula, halimbawa sa makikitang pagta-Taglish ng persona ni Tinio, at mahirap kung tatasahin lámang ang kaniyang gawa bílang isang tuwirang pagsasabi, bílang isang paraan lámang ng pagsasabi. Dito ko nais igiit na tula nga ang iyong nabasa; may talinghaga sa likod ng pagpapalit-wika at iyon ang kailangang talagang mahagip. Ngunit hindi nga ba, kahit sa karaniwang usapan, may mga sinasabi tayo kahit sa mga hindi sinasabi? Hindi naman lahat ng paggamit ng wika ay pagtatalastas lámang ng gustong ipahatid. Hindi ganoon ang wika.

Ang totoo, lumang-luma na ang taguring “Taglish”, maging ang usapin hinggil sa kalikasan nito, at napakarami nang pag-aanyo ng Filipino sa mahabang panahon. Ang pagta-Taglish ni Tinio ay dala ng paghuhunos ng wika noong mga panahong lumabas ang tula (at kanino mo nga pala nalaman na si Tinio ang “ama ng Taglish”?; sa guro mo ba, o sa guro ng iyong pinsan na hindi itinurong mabuti ang tula?). 1965 nang lumitaw ang tula, matapos makabalik ni Tinio sa Filipinas matapos mag-aral sa America. Nagtuturo na siya noon sa Ateneo de Manila University, at bahagi siya noon ng isang “kilusang” pampanulaan sa pamantasan na naglalayong higit na pagaanin ang wika sa tula habang nakamalas sa katangian at kislap-diwa ng mga bagay-bagay. Sa paliwanag ng isa pang Pambansang Alagad ng Sining para sa Panitikan, si Virgilio S. Almario (na sana ay mabása mo rin), naglalaman ang tulang ito ng pagdadalawang-loob habang nagsesentimental sa pagbabalikbayan. Ani Almario, may mahabang tradisyon na tayo ng “pagsasalin-salin” ng mga kataga sa tula, tulad ng sa mga ladino noong panahon ng Espanyol, na nagtangkang itawid sa Tagalog at iba pang wika ang mga aral at panalanging Kristiyano. Dumako ang ganitong kagawian kay Tinio na hindi na lámang nag-aangkop ng kahulugan, bagkus nagtatanghal pa nga ng sinasabing “pagdadalawang-loob”: heto ang isang persona, matagal na namalagi sa America, at kailangan nang umuwi; napamahal na siya sa maraming bagay sa banyagang lugar ngunit dumating na ang panahon ng pagbabalik sa bayan. Ano ang kaniyang gagawin? Ano pa nga ba kundi ang mamaalam? Sa kaniyang pamamaalam, inilahad ang kamalayang malinaw naman ay “kolonisado” ng danas sa ibang bayan—bahagi na ng kaniyang pagkamalay sa wika ang wika ng banyagang bayan. Kung mamasdan mo ang pagsasawika ng tula, napakadulas ng pagpapalit-wika, walang pagkatisod at talagang umaakma sa bawat pagsasakataga. Magaan na magaan din ang ganitong estratehiya, hindi tulad ng wika ng mga tulang laganap noong panahon ng paglitaw ng tula. Maghanap ka ng Liwayway noon at tingnan mo kung papaanong talagang “napakapuro”, at napakalungkot din ng mga tulang lumalabas (alam mo ba ang Liwayway?). Malungkot din naman ang persona sa tula ni Tinio, ngunit kontrapunto ng gayong kalungkutan ang pagtatanghal sa mismong “katatawanan” sa kaniyang sentimentalism. Inuuyam mismo ng persona ang kaniyang sariling kalungkutan, at lalong yumayaman ang pakahulugan ng tula dahil dito. Ipinakikita niyang halos schizophrenic ang kamalayan nito, walang isahang kaakuhan. Lahat, sa paraang ilahas at madulas. Sa kadulasan ding iyan matatagpuan ang sinasabi ni Almario na “pagdadalawang-loob”, na sa ganang akin ay higit na pagkakalugar sa kawalang-lugar. Isang liminal na nilalang ang persona ni Tinio, paalis sa banyagang bayang napamahal na rin sa kaniya at kailangang bumalik sa bayang tinubuan, na hindi rin niya tiyak kung papaanong muling iaangkop sa kaniyang kamalayan at pagkatao. Hindi nga ba ganito ang nangyayari kapag masyado kang napalayo sa iyong bayan? Kilala mo ito ngunit hindi na rin talaga. Nagbabago ang mga bagay-bagay at maaaring maging banyaga rin ang ano mang daratnan. Bagay na bagay ang salitang “sentimental” bílang panlagom na dalumat sa tula. Itinanghal ng tula ang pagiging sentimental hindi sa pagbigkas ng lubhang kalungkutan at pangungulila sa lilisaning banyagang bayan; hindi rin ito ipinarinig gamit ang mabubunying papuri sa kung ano man ang daratnan sa bayang tinubuan. Ipinakita ng tula ang pagdadalawang-loob, ang pagiging liminal, sa wikang humuhubog sa kamalayan ng persona. Nagta-Tagalog at nag-i-Ingles. Nag-i-Ingles at nagta-Tagalog. Walang katiyakan sa pag-alis at pagdating, ngunit isang nilalang ang pinalitaw ng wika ng tula: isang personang pakapa-kapa sa dilim ng kaniyang sariling pamamaalam sa kabanyagaan, habang kumakaway sa kaniyang napipintong pagbabalik ang maparikala (ironic, parikala ang salita natin para sa tayutay na iyan) na kabanyagaan, kakatwaan ng bayang pinanggalingan. Kaysaklap, kaybigat na kalagayan na pinagagaan ng Taglish, na maaari’y wika ng mga nakaririwasa noon na babad din sa kolonyal na edukasyon (tandaang papasók na ang bansa noong 1965 sa matinding paghahanap ng pambansang kaakuhan).

Gayunpaman, natutuwa pa rin ako dahil sinipi mo ang tula ni Tinio, marahil dahil nais mo ring maliwanagan hinggil sa iyong reaksiyon. Dapat kang purihin doon, dahil pinahunan mong tipahin ang tula o maghanap ng kopya mula sa internet. Gusto kong isipin na may puwang sa puso mo ang panitikan, lalo sa pag-aalala mo hinggil sa “paglaganap” ng ganitong uri ng panulaan, at pag-iisip hinggil sa epekto ng pakana ng tula sa karaniwang paggamit ng wika. Ibig sabihin, kahit papaano, ay isa kang mambabasang Filipino na may pakialam sa mga babasahin. Ang problema ngayon ay talagang mahihirapan na kaming mga guro na paramihin pa ang iyong lipi. Batid mo naman siguro na sa kolehiyo ngayon, hindi na hinihingi ang pagtuturo ng Panitikan/Literature, Filipino at English, mga kursong makatutulong sana sa pagtutuwid ng mga maling nasagap mo mula sa hayskul na magpahanggang ngayon ay problemado pa rin ang kurikulum sa Wika at Panitikan, bukod pa sa makalilinang ng kritikal, makatao, at maka-Filipinong kamalayan. Sa ngayon, hindi ko alam kung saang akademikong pook pa matatalakay ang mga tulang tulad ng kay Tinio, na oo, maaari naman talagang talakayin sa paraang interdisiplinaryo, gaya ng mithi ng Department of Education at Commission on Higher Education, ngunit higit sanang mapayayaman kung mamalasin, unang-una bílang isang tekstong pampanitikan. Marahil ay narinig mo ang pagsasara ng maraming kagawaran ng panitikan o mga wika sa maraming pamantasan. Kahit pa sinasabing may naghihintay na hanapbuhay sa mga gurong mapagsasarhan ng kagawaran dahil sa pagbubukas naman ng mga senior high school, wala pa ring kasiguruhan ang kanilang kabuhayan. At tulad nila, nananatiling walang kasiguruhan ang edukasyong pampanitikan. Estado na rin ang nagtakda ng lugar ng panitikan at wika sa iskema ng mga bagay-bagay—wari’y wala raw pakinabang sa mga ito, lalo’t nagmimithi tayong umangat bílang isang ekonomiya. Sa sistema ng edukasyong nakabatay sa panunukat at istandard, mahirap talagang ilugar ang wika at panitikan. Ano nga bang kakayahang pantrabaho ang naidudulot ng pagkatuto sa pagbabasá ng tula? Magiging madali nga ba ang makakuha ng trabaho kung marunong kang magsiyasat ng operasyon ng talinghaga? Kung ako ang guro mo, pasado ka na sa akin dahil nakita mo kaagad ang kaibhan ng wikang ginamit ni Tinio sa tula at ng karaniwang wika. Ikatutuwa iyon ng mga Rusong Pormalista (mga kritiko ito mulang Russia na ang mithi ay patunayan ang pagkapanitikan ng panitikan), dahil, wiwikain nila, natagpuan mo ang pagsasakakatwa ng wika sa pakana ni Tinio. Ngunit kapag hindi ka nga maalam sa pagtasa sa diskurso, na sa ganang akin ay isang mahalagang kaalaman sa búhay, magiging walang saysay ang nakaharap na wika, ituturing na ingay lámang o pagsasakatagang banyaga.

At bakit mahalaga sa búhay ang kakayahang tumasa ng diskurso ng wika? Dahil ang mundo natin ay inaanyuan at binibigyang-saysay ng wika. Sabihin mang teknolohiya na ang nagpapatakbo sa daigdig, nakasalig pa rin ang lahat-lahat sa wika. Sasabihin ng mga tagapagsulong ng mga kakayahang pang-siglo 21, isa pang balangkas na hiram natin mula sa mga Americano para sa repormang K-12, na mahalaga ang pagkamalikhain sa daigdig na ito. Ngunit bakit isa sa unang tinanggal sa kurikulum ng kolehiyo ay ang panitikan? Nakaligtaan yata ng mga bumalangkas sa bagong sistema ng edukasyon na isang mahalagang ambag ng pag-aaral ng panitikan ay ang pagkamalikhain, lalo na, ang kakayahang magharaya. Ang danas pantao ay hindi laging maliwanag at busilak, kung kaya’t kailangang matuto ang tao na magharaya, na mag-asam ng kaniyang ikabubuti, ng kabutihan. Kung dumaraan ka sa sinasabing pagdadalawang-loob, tulad ng sa persona ni Tinio, maaari mong ikabaliw ang pagiging liminal, ang desorientasyon sa paglisan at pagbabalik. Ang sabi nga nila, hindi maaaring ensayuhin ang búhay, kaya mabuting bumaling sa Panitikan upang masaksihan ang mga posibilidad ng mga bagay-bagay. Babalik ako sa tinurang may higit pa sa nababása natin ang naroroon sa Panitikan, kung kaya’t mahalagang matuto ang lahat na tumaya ng diskurso ng wika, lalo pa ng wikang matalinghaga. Hindi maikukulong sa tuwirang pagsasabi at deretsahang komunikasyon ang Panitikan, at sakali mang makulong ito, isa itong bigong tangkang tukuyin ang mga posibilidad, ang mga maaari, sa ating búhay. Nananalig ang Panitikan na mayroong umiiral na higit pa sa naroroon sa teksto, kahit pa dumaraan ang daigdig sa patuloy na pagguwang sa mga kahulugan. Ang tula ni Tinio ay paghahanap ng kahulugan sa gitna ng isang naghuhunos na búhay, na lagi’t laging kailangang bigyang-saysay, saan mang lupalop makarating. Ang hiling ko, bílang guro ng Panitikan, ay huwag mawalan ng pagkakataon ang marami pang mag-aaral na maranasan ang buti ng birtud na ito ng gawain ng pagbabasa ng tula. Hiling ko rin na magkaroon sila ng kakayahang tumasa sa mga diskurso ng wika upang makasangkapan bílang isang masaklaw na kagamitan sa pakikipagtalastasan, pamamahayag, at pakikipagkapwa. Natuwa akong biglang masapol ngayon ang pakikipagkapwa dahil isa pang dulot ng Panitikan ang pagkakaroon ng hambal sa kapwa, ang maunawaan ang kanilang pananaw sa daigdig, ang matarok ang kanilang pinagmumulan habang itinatanghal ang mga sarili. Ang Panitikan naman kasi ay tungkol sa mga tao, at madalas, pagpasok sa kamalayan ng mga tao upang maunawaan ang kanilang motibasyon, pasikot-sikot ng isip, at pinakamalalalim na damdamin. Sa madaling salita, tinuturuan tayo ng Panitikan, at ng tula, lalo na, na makaramdam, kahit minamahid na táyo ng ating globalisadong panahon. Umibig ako sa tula sapagkat may matindi itong bisa na tutukan ang mga danas sa isang siksik na paraan. Gaya na lámang ng sa persona ni Tinio, na naghihinagpis sa kaniyang mag-isang lamentasyon na isa ring paraan upang pagtawanan ang sariling mga pagbabago, gayong simple lámang naman ang sitwasyon: kailangan na niyang umuwi, at hindi naman talaga niya tahanan ang America. Nakagawa si Tinio ng isang personang may split personality—isang Americanong-americano na ngunit sagad sa buto pa rin ang pagka-Filipino. Papaanong hindi mo iibigin ang personang ito, na batid na batid ang kaniyang kawalang-lugar? Ang hiling ko naman, para sa iyo, sana’y nagbabasá ka pa rin ng tula, at tumutuklas ng mga makatang Filipino, kahit malaki ang pagkukulang namin na nagpakilala sa iyo ng Panitikan. Hindi dahilan ang kakulangan upang tupdin ang sariling pagtuklas. Masyadong mayaman ang tula ni Tinio para saklawin ng tangka kong talakay dito, pero sana, nasimulan nito ang isang pagbabalik-aral para sa iyo, sa gayong paraan na napabalik-aral ako ng pagkakataong ito sa tulang ito ni Rolando Tinio, na isang makatang talagang minamahal ko.

Pagkalusaw ng Isang Disiplina

Kagabi ay hindi ko na napigilan ang sarili na lantarang tawagin ang pansin ng butihing palaisip na si G. Leloy Claudio, na sumulat sa ng kaniyang pagtatanggol sa General Education Curriculum (GEC) ng Commission on Higher Education (CHED), lalo na hinggil sa duda ng ilang partido na malay na pagsikil nito sa Wikang Filipino.

Hindi ko na sana ito papansinin, tulad ng mga hindi ko pagpansin sa mga okasyonal niyang pakikisawsaw sa kung ano-anong usapin. Ngunit ang nakatigalgal sa akin ay ang pagtawag niya sa mga nanunuligsa na “emotionally-charged”, at “ill informed” pa nga sa pagrerehistro nila ng mga “national polemics about the national language.” Binasa ko nang husto ang maikling artikulo niya sa website, sa mithing maunawaan ang kung ano ang talagang sinasabi niya hinggil sa maaanghang na nasabi na hinggil sa usaping ito. Labis kong ikinagulat ang marami niyang akala.

Marami sa mga sinasabi niya ay nasabi na—tulad ng mga “options” lalo na para sa mga gurong lumalabas at nahihintakutan dahil posibleng mawalan ng trabaho sa pagdating ng ganap na pagpapatupad ng K-12, at ngayon nga ay mistulang naghuhuramentado sa midya. Sa tesis na “hindi naman pinag-initan” ang Filipino sa paglikha ng bagong kurikulum sa kolehiyo, kibit-balikat na ipinanukala ni G. Claudio ang animo’y talagang mga napakadali ngunit hindi makataong solusyon: ang retraining o pagtuturo ng asignaturang tulad ng Art Appreciation; secondment sa hayskul, at pagbaling sa mga dalang posibilidad ng interdisiciplinarity.

Ang mga panukalang ito sa pangkabuuan ay nakaangkla sa kaniyang pangunahing ideya: “In asking the CHED to have mandatory Filipino language instruction in the college curriculum, advocates are, in effect, calling for the outright privileging of Tagalog over English. None of them advocate returning both Tagalog and English instruction.” Hindi ko alam kung natitiyak niya ang kaniyang sinasabi sapagkat ang totoo, hindi naman isyu ng mga sinasabi niyang “polemiko” ang tungkol sa pribelehiyo ng ano mang wika, bagaman malinaw namang sa mahabang panahon ay marhinalisado ang Filipino (at iba pang wikang Filipino) sa akademyang tubog sa Ingles.

[Huwag na muna nating isama pa ang marhinalisasyon ng mga wikang Filipino mula sa iba’t ibang lupalop. Kamakailan, nakasagutan ko sa Facebook ang isang guro na kasapi yata ng lumilitaw ngayong pangkat ng mga dalubwika (dalubhasa sa wika) na humihingi ng “linguistic justice”. Bigla akong napaisip nang marinig ko ang kataga—linguistic justice. Kapag pinagnilayang mabuti, hindi lamang sila talaga ang nangangailangan ng katarungang pangwika. Lahat ng mga wikang Filipino—kasama na ang Tagalog—ay nangangailangan ng pagkakaaahon mula sa pagkakadusta, at sa wika nga ni Vicente Rafael, ay “pagkakasakit” ng kolonyalismo, sa ahensiya ng pagsasalin. Oo, may mga lumitaw na hegemon sa wika, tulad ng Tagalog, ngunit ang hegemoniya ng mga ito ay hawa ng kolonyal na kamalayan, at dapat ngang mapalitaw. Sinabi ko na sa isang pagkakataon na tiyak na may sakit ding ganito ang iba pang Kristiyanisadong wika sa Filipinas. Kaya may katumpakan ding sabihin na tungkol sa linguistic justice ang usaping ito.]

Iniisip marahil ni G. Claudio na sapat na ang pagtatalaga sa Filipino sa mababa at mataas na paaralan. Ang sabi niya, ang mga kurso sa GEC ay talagang “advanced” na, at sa kaniyang lisyang retorika, inaasahan na ang ganap na kahusayan sa pag-aaral ng wika sa Enhanced K-12 Basic Education Program (BEP). Lubhang ideyal ang ganitong pananaw, lalo’t kung hindi naman nakikita o nalalaman ang totoong sitwasyon sa ibaba. At ang kataka-taka, sinusukat niya ang maaaring “kahusayang” ito sa bilang ng oras na maituturo ang Filipino sa BEP. Ang sabi pa niya sa kaniyang addendum sa humahaba nang usaping ito, “(t)he two years of senior high school, according to CHED documents, require 80 hours of Filipino language instruction per sem(ester). So I’d like to know what the concern is.”

Sasagutin ko siya ngayon sa pamamagitan ng marami kong tanong. Ano nga ba ang ipinagpuputok ng butse naming nagsasalita hinggil dito?

Sabi pa niya, “(t)he net effect is, in fact, an increase in time and resources devoted to the study of the national language.” Non sequitur. Kung oras nga lamang talaga ang sukatan ng inaasahang kahusayan, palagay ko, hindi natin makikita ang maraming kabagang sa gayong “karahas” na pakikipagtalo. Sapagkat hindi oras ang isyu kundi ang mismong pagkalusaw ng institusyong pangkalinangang-wika, na mistulang pagtalikod na rin kung tutuusin sa diwang pang-pambansang wika na nakasaad sa ating Saligang Batas. Naniniwala akong hubad sa kritikalidad ang ganitong praktikal na tugon, at myopiko ring pananaw ito na tiyak na magbubunsod ng mas malalaking suliranin para sa bansa. Isang mainiping pagtaya at di makatwirang pagtatanggol sa isang programang sa mula’t mula ay may nabubulok na ubod.

Sinasabi ni G. Claudio na sapat na ang Filipino sa BEP, samantalang may pagkakataong pumili ang mga institusyon ng Ingles o Filipino sa pagtuturo ng bagong mga asignaturang isinalin pa nga (ay, pasalamat tayo) sa Filipino sa CHED GEC, sa Memorandum 20 na nilagdaan ng tagapangulo ng CHED Patricia Licuanan noong Hunyo 28, 2013. Makalulusot pa sana ang CHED sa pagigiit ng “option” na “English or Filipino” sa GEC, lamang ay talagang inisip, dinalumat ang kurikulum sa Ingles—at nananatiling isang “option” ang Filipino, hindi lamang dahil inihuli ito, kundi lalo’t higit, tiyak na mas pipiliiin ang Ingles sapagkat nakasanayan nang gamitin at madaling madadala sa bagong sistema. Burado na ang presensiya ng Filipino sa malawakang sistema.

[Kaya ipinagtataka ko rin kung bakit pinaggigiitan ng isa pang kritiko ng wikang Filipino na “misguided” ang mga tagapagtanggol ng pambansang wika. Kung mamalasin natin sa pangkabuuan, hindi lamang naman ang sinasabi nilang hegemonikong Tagalog ang naisantabi. Ang lahat ng mga wikang Filipino ay naisantabi sa bagong sistemang ito, na nagmimithi lamang na ihanda ang mag-aaral sa global na merkado, kahit ibinabandera pa ang nasang hulmahin ang kabataan na “secure in their identities as individuals and as Filipinos.” Sang-ayon ako sa Mother Tongue Based Language Education, oo. Ngunit hindi dapat matapos sa maagang yugto ang pag-aaral ng mga wikang pambansa. Kung maaari pa nga, dapat na iakyat din ito sa mataas na paaralan, maging sa kolehiyo. Ito sa palagay ko ang paraan upang makamit ang linguistic justice na tinatawag. Ang huwag patahimikin ang mga wika sapagkat nabigyan na naman ito ng espasyo sa sistema. Ang patuloy na pagdidiskurso sa mga wika at sa Filipino ang tunay na diwa ng pagtupad sa diwa ng Saligang Batas sa nagsasaad ng mithing linangin ang wika.]

Muli, ang usapin ng dali. Kaya tama rin si G. Claudio na baka nasa hayskul nga ang pag-asa. Marahil.

Ngunit wala ito roon. Sa isang matalik na pagsusuri ng kurikulum ng BEP Filipino, makikita ang maraming butas sa iniisip si G. Claudio na “mas pinalakas” na Filipino. May bilang na 141 pahina ang mapang pangkurikulum na ito, at higit na hahaba ang talakayan kung sisimulan ko sa simula—sa Kinder. Ang pagtitig ko sa mapa ay nakatuon sa pangmalawakang balangkas nito, at sa kabuuang pagturing sa panitikan ng programang hayskul, na siyang bungad ng mga kabataang papasok sa senior high school o sa kolehiyo.

Una, ang mismong programa ng K-12 Filipino, na kompartmentalisado ang mga kasanayang tumutugon sa kakayahang pang-ika-21 siglo [maka-agham at teknolohiya ang balangkas], ay sumusupil sa ubod ng katuruan ng wika. Ang pinakamataas na antas ng wika, ang panitikan ay patuloy na kinakasangkapan dito bilang lunsaran ng pangwikang kasanayan, at hindi binabasang panitikan, gaya ng sana’y inaasahan. Malabo ang posisyon ng mapang pangkurikulum sa aspektong ito, kahit tila ba pinaniniwala ng mga gumawa nito ang kanilang sarili na sapat nilang binalangkas ang mga aralin sa mga kunwang kaukulang kasanayang nakabaling sa mga anyo at uri ng panitikan.

Kung tititigan ito, makikitang sa bawat gawain, nangingibabaw ang paggamit sa panitikan sa napakababaw na pamamaraan ng pakikipagtalastasan. Malawak at tumutugon sa teknolohikong panahon. Isinasaalang-alang ang lahat ng sinasabing “makro-kasanayan”. Ngunit horizontal lamang ang tiyak na magagawang paglawak. Walang lalim. Halimbawa, sumasapat na ba ang pagmapa ng Pag-unawa sa Binasa kapag itinakda nitong ang kasanayan ay “Naiuugnay ang mga pangyayari sa binasa sa mga kaganapan sa iba pang lugar ng bansa”? Pag-unawa nga ba talagang may lalim sa Binasa ang “Nasusuri ang pagkamakatotohanan ng mga pangyayari batay sa sariling karanasan”? Bakit paulit-ulit ang pangangailangang ilahad ang mga elemento ng maikling kuwento mula sa Bisaya at Mindanao, halimbawa? May pagkakaiba ba? Bakit ba lagi na lamang nagsisimula sa pag-uugnay sa daigdig at kasalukuyang pangyayari ang pagbasa ng panitikan? Bakit kailangang laging ipasulat sa mag-aaral ang mga alternatibong katapusan sa mga kuwentong o pagsasalaysay na kadalasan ay “hindi maganda” ang katapusan?

Kung mamarapatin, sa bahaging nauna, ang kasanayang “Pag-unawa sa Binasa” lamang ang binabasa, tinititigan ko, sapagkat susi sana ito sa pagtutuwid sa lisyang pagtuturo ng panitikan na malaong ipinapatupad ng ating sistema ng edukasyon. Ang pagsipat na ito sa ilan sa mga problematikong gawain (ilan sa talaga namang napakarami pa!) ang magpapakitang halos walang ipinagbago ang metodo ng pagpapaunlad sa kasanayang ito, na hahango sana sa ating mga mag-aaral sa lusak ng kakulangan sa pagkamalikhain at hahasa sa pagkamapurol ng kritikal na pag-iisip. Ang mga lumikha ng kasanayan ay hindi gaanong maalam sa pinapaksa nilang panitikan, kung kaya’t lumilitaw sa mapang pangkurikulum ang mga tulad ng “Naihahambing ang tekstong binasa sa iba pang teksto batay sa: paksa, layon, tono, pananaw, paraan ng pagkakasulat, pagbuo ng salita, pagbuo ng talata, pagbuo ng pangungusap,” na nakatuon sana sa pagsuri ng isang teksto ng kulturang popular.

[Isa pang kataka-takang bahagi ng mapang pangkurikulum ang patuloy na pag-unawa sa sinasabi sa linguwistika na mga “suprasegmental” na katangian ng pagbigkas sa salita. Ginamit ito sa isang aralin sa tula. Ang nais ng aralin, ipabigkas sa mag-aaral sa tamang tono, himpil, at diin, ang tula. Wala namang problema. Ngunit kung babalikan natin ang mga pundamental, hindi nga ba, iba talaga ang ating wika, iba sa mga wikang may malinaw na mga katangian ng himpil o diin, halimbawa? May hinala akong isinalin lamang ito ng mga bumalangkas ng kurikulum mula sa Ingles, dahil kagulat-gulat na kahit marami nang naisulat hinggil sa katutubong palatugmaan natin sa Filipinas—mula pa kay Rizal—parang wala pa ring nakabasa na wala naman tayong mga pagdidiin (stressed) at di pagdidiin (unstressed) sa salita. Mayroon lamang tayong apat na tudlikan: mabilis, malumay, malumi, maragsa.]

Bakit din ba panay ang munti’t malalaking pagkakamali sa kurikulum, na parang tanda ng kakulangan sa kahusayan ng mga lumikha nito? Bakit ba ginagamit ang salitang “kabanata” sa Florante at Laura gayong batid naman natin na ito ay nasa anyo ng awit at patula? Baka kasi nga ito ri’y may katangiang pasalsaysay. Inisip ba nilang kaydaling gawin sa pagbulatlat sa teksto ang layong “Nailalahad ang sariling pananaw at naihahambing ito sa pananaw ng iba tungkol sa pagkakaiba-iba o pagkakatulad ng paksa sa mga tulang Asyano”? Handa kaya ang guro sa ganitong mahaba-habang paliwanagan? At, handa kaya ang mag-aaral. Ano ang ibig sabihin ng kurikulum map nang iatas nito sa isang item ng Pag-unawa sa Binasa ang “Nabibigyang-puna ang kabisaan ng paggamit ng hayop bilang mga tauhan na parang taong nagsasalita at kumikilos”? Isang pabula ang paksa, at kumbensiyon ng pabula ang pagkasangkapan sa hayop! Balak bang pagsa-tauhin ang karakter?

At bakit ba pinipilit tayo nang pinipilit ng mapang pangkurikulum, sa mga pagkakataong magagawa nito, na suriin ang mga teksto “batay sa pananaw/ teoryang: romantisismo humanismo naturalistiko at iba pa”? Matagal nang tinututulan ng mga eksperto sa panitikan ang ganitong lisyang pagkasangkapan sa “teorya” sa hayskul dahil una, hindi naman naituturo talaga nang maayos ang mga dalumat at pamamaraan ng sinasabing teorya o lapit-pagbasa. Ikalawa, hindi naman mga pananaw, ni lapit-pagbasa, ang mga binabanggit na “teoryang” ito. Bukod sa nakakagulo sa pag-aaral ng panitikan, maging ng wika—na sana’y nagtutuon na lamang ng pansin sa mga tamang pamamaraan ng pagtitig sa teksto—ginugulo pa nito ang isip ng mga bata sa pagpipilit na ang “humanismo”, “romantisismo”, o “naturalismo” ay mga paraan ng pagbasa. Nagagamit nga sa talasalitaan ang teksto, nagiging salalayan ng gramatikong kasanayan, ngunit patuloy na binababoy ang pampanitikang katangian nito.

Ang pinakamasaklap sa palagay ko ay ang tuluyang marhinalisasyon ng mga malaon na nating tinatanggap at ipinagmamalaking obra maestra. Ang mga ito—ang Florante, Ibong Adarna, at ang mga nobelang Rizal na Noli Me Tangere at El Filibusterismo—ay muli at muling idiniyestiyero sa huling quarter ng mga taon, at dahil nga roon ay hindi na mababasa nang buo dahil sa hayskul, ang huling quarter ay yugto ng mga pagmamadali. Ang tugon ng mga materials developer dito—yaong mga gumagawa ng teksbuk—ay lumikha ng buod sa mismong mga bagong teksbuk, na malinaw namang inhustisya sa mga akdang pampanitikang nabanggit. Sa pagkakataong sari-sari nang puna ang naibato sa mga patakbuhing kompanya ng teksbuk na naglalathala ng mga “pinagaang” na bersiyon ng mga akdang pampanitikan na ito, isang hakbang paurong ang pagpipi sa mga ito bilang mga dakilang akda ng ating kultura. Isang kabulastugan, kung tatanungin ako ni G. Claudio, na patunay lamang na wala sa haba ng oras ang kalakasan ng isang programang pang-edukasyon kundi nasa nilalaman nito.

Panitikan ang paksa at teksto ng pag-aaral ng wika sa BEP ng K-12, at itong mga halimbawang butas na ito sa pag-aaral ng panitikan ang nagpapakita na hindi pinalalakas ng programa ang Filipino, bagkus ay pinapatay pa ito sa pamamagitan ng ganitong mga nakapanlulumong pagpapabaya. Oo, may 80 oras ngang itinuturo ang Filipino kada semestre, pero tiyak kong 80 oras iyon ng pagtuturo ng sari-saring kalisyaan at basura. Ang masaklap pa, sinusunod ng kurikulum, sa pangkalahatan, ang balangkas na spiralling ng mga aralin. Lalong lumalala ang problema sapagkat nag-i-spiralling ding malinaw ang mga kamaliang pinayagang maitala sa mapang pangkurikulum.

[Magsasapantaha ako: bakit nagkaganito? Marahil ay minadali ang pagpaplano. Maaari ay maraming hindi pagkakasundo. Maaari ring maraming may interes sa pagbabagong mangyayari na nagmithing makakuha ng posibleng negosyo, lalo na sa produksiyon ng mga teksbuk. Ang balita ko, naging “pahirapan” ang pagkuha ng mga mapang pangkurikulum na ito para sa mga materials developer—animo’y kontrabandong ipinupuslit noong nakatakda pa lamang itong matapos. Gaano kaya ito katotoo?]

Kung ako kay G. Claudio, sapagkat may mithi naman siya na maging tagapamansag ng interdisciplinarity, aaralin ko muna ang laman ng mga kurikulum na itong lilikha nga ng mga mag-aaral na tutugon sa “pangangailangang panlipunan at global na pamayanan”, ay lilikha rin tiyak ng mga Filipinong kubikong ang kamalayang pambayan. Sabihin na nating anti-nasyonalismo siya, na siya ngang posisyon talaga niya sa ispera publika. Malinaw na may direksiyong pambayan ang kurikulum sa Filipino, na agad-agad din nitong tinatalikuran sa pagmamapa nito ng mga kasanayanang nararapat na mapaunlad sa loob ng klasrum. Ginagawa ngang nakatutugon sa teknolohikong sagitsit ang mga bata, ngunit upang hayaan lamang nilang maging busabos ang bayan nating sawi.

Sana nga ay ganoon kadali ang lahat. Sana nga ay madaling kamtin ang mga mithi. Ngunit ang dali at praktikalidad na nasa hinagap ni G. Claudio ay sadyang napakalayo sa realidad.

Hindi ko lamang alam kung gaano kalalim ang kabatiran ni G. Claudio sa lagay ng ating edukasyon sa ibaba para maging madali sa kaniya ang malinaw namang pagtatanggol sa pamahalaan, sa CHED GEC, at sa DepEd BEP, sa isyung ito ng Filipino. Pinalad—o minalas yata—akong makapag-ikot sa maraming bayan sa Filipinas upang tumulong sa tinatawag na mga “teacher training” at nakausap ko ang mga guro mula sa mga sentro at malalayong bayan. Hindi sila handa para sa mga minimithing pagbabago ni G. Claudio, na mithing pambayan ko rin naman. Nababagabag sila. Mungkahi ko kay G. Claudio na sa lalong madaling panahon ay mag-ikot-ikot upang makaharap ang nakapanlulumong sitwasyon ng kakulangan sa paghahanda. Nakaambang lalong maging mangmang ang mamamayan. Lalong pinalala ng mapang pangkurikulum ang buhay ng mga guro, na lubhang hirap na dahil sa mababang sahod, kakulangan ng mga pasilidad ng paaralan, at higit na kawalan ng pagkakataong makapaghanda sa daluyong na ito ng K-12. Isa lamang ang disenyong pangkurikulum sa napakalaking balakid sa pagtupad ng mga gurong ito sa mga katungkulan nila, at tila hinayaan na lamang silang lumangoy sa malawak na karagatan ng estado.

Ngayon, dinadalaw ang lahat ng takot na mawalan ng trabaho, at sa palagay ko, hindi iyon dapat na ipagkibit-balikat lamang. Minsan, kailangang lumipas ang panahon ng hinahon upang ligaligin ang malupit na tiraniya ng pagtanggap-na-lamang at pagtitiis, na nakaambang sumakop muli sa atin. Naririto ang rebolusyong hinahanap ni G. Claudio, sa rebolusyon ngayon, ng mga pinatatahimik, sa ngalan ng pangako ng kaunlaran. Sa rebolusyon ng mga handa at matatapang na magsiyasat ng mga lingid na balangkas ng repormang ito, na handang humimay ng mga diskurso at dokumento sa ngalan ng tunay na pangangatwiran, bansagan mang “polemiko” o ultra-makabayan. Wala akong nakikitang masama, lalo na kung ganito kasama ang isinasalaksak sa ating mga lalamunan.

Isa pa, ang sabi ng mapang pangkurikulum ng BEP Filipino, layon nitong makahulma ng “buo at ganap na Filipino na may kapaki-pakinabang na literasi.” Bakit kaya ang lumalabas ngayon, parang higit na kamangmangan, lalo na sa pagiging Filipino, ang tinutunghang landas ng mapa? Ito ba ang tuwid na daan? Daan patungo sa kamangmangan? Hayaang mabusabos ang wika at kasamang mabubusabos ang panitikan. Ang pagbusabos sa panitikan at wika ay hindi lamang atake laban sa kabansaan. Atake din ito sa totoong nilulusaw na disiplinang akademiko sa panahong ito ng neoliberal na pananampalataya—ang humanidades, na kandungan ng pagkatao at pagpapakatao. Isa sa mga haligi nito ang wika, ang panitikan. Nagtuturo man ang mga guro sa Filipino o sa Ingles, mismong estruktura ng pag-iral ng mga disiplinang tinatalunton nila ang nilulusaw ng sistema.

[Sa ibang pagkakataon, susuriin ko ang mismong balangkas ng CHED GEC. Nais kong ipakita ang pagkatuta nito sa “global” na mga kahingian. Tinik sa lalamunan ng globalisasyon ang humanidades sapagkat sa larang na ito sinisinop, sinusuri, at inuusig ang laksa nitong mga pagkukunwari.]

Nauunawaan ko ang sentimiyento ni G. Claudio hinggil sa imposibilidad ng kabansaan. Ngunit, sa ganang akin, hindi makatwiran na ganap na tanggalan ang mamamayan ng pagkakataon na mithiin ito, kahit patunay pa nga ni Caroline Hau ay isa itong katha. Kailangan din ang kuwentong ito. Kahit itatwa pa niya, ang pag-aaral ng wika ang batayan ng pagkamakabansa ng mamamayan. Maaari tayong maligaw ngayon, kung hahayaan natin ang mga sariling ganap na ma-tiyanak ng globalisasyon, at ng ASEAN 2015 Integration.

Salamat kay Dr. Antonio P. Contreras.

Hinggil sa Indibidwal at sa Komunidad

Balangkas ng panayam na binigkas sa panel na “Paghubog ng identidad sa loob ng isang samahan”, ng Hubog: Identity as Cornerstone ng Malate Literary Folio, De La Salle University, Manila, Enero 24, 2015. 

1898807_722582331189607_4365860128471471385_oTulad ng lahat, naatasan akong magbahagi ng aking pagninilay hinggil sa indibidwalidad vis a vis pagiging kasapi ng komunidad—o iyon ang aking pagkakaunawa sa paanyaya. Pinipili ko ang higit na makahulugan at mapanlagom na “komunidad” sa halip na grupo, organisasyon, pangkat, klub, atbp., upang ipahiwatig ang higit na malawak at mahalagang implikasyon ng pagpili na maging bahagi ng isang kolektibo sa ngalan ng isang layon at mithi—at sa konteksto natin, para sa mga alagad ng sining. Ang aking perspektibo hinggil sa komunidad ay nag-uugat sa pakahulugan nito bilang nagkakaisang pag-ayon sa isang pananampalataya o paninindigan, “shared by all or many,” wika nga ng etimolohikong minulan nito. Ang indibidwal naman, sa minulang Latin na individuum, ay “the atom, the indivisible particle,” na nakikibahagi sa isahan at malakihang pagkilos ng isang pangkat, matapos na umanib at makibahagi ng isang indibidwal sa “community of relations or feelings,” tulad ng isinasaad sa Latin na comunitatem. Nawa’y patawarin ninyo ako sa pagtawag sa mga orihinaryong pagpapakahulugan ngayong umaga, bagaman tinitiyak kong mahalaga ang mga ito para sa ating kalinawan. Ngunit kung iisipin talaga natin, ang mismong pagsasanib ng danas indibidwal at komunidad ay humihinging maisalaysay nang mabuti, lalo para sa ating ang pinanghahawakan ay salita. Kaya sa salita talaga tayo kailangang magsimula—at sa pagsasamundong nalilikha nito.

Mangha ako sa salitang indibidwal. Sa patuloy kong pagbubulatlat ng minulan nito, lumilitaw ang kalikasan nitong mapagbukod. Mahalaga ang singularidad, ang pagiging hiwalay, ang paghakbang paurong, tungo sa pagkilala ng sarili. Ganyan din ang ipinahihiwatig ng mga salita mula sa ating wika na madalas na iniuugnay natin sa pagiging bahagi ng isang isang kabuuan o lipunan—kapatid, kasapi, kaanib. Ang panlaping ka-, una, ay naghahayag ng pagkakabukod, ng pagiging isang bahagi na nagkakaroon lamang ng katuturan kapag nakapagtindig na ng ugnayan sa isang kabuuan. Ang ugnayan, ay laging dalawahan, lalo na sa ating konteksto, tulad halimbawa ng pahiwatig ng salitang Ilokano na kaddua (kasama), na halos katunog ng kararua, o kaluluwa. Ang dalawahan dito, kahit sa salitang indibidwal-sa-komunidad ay maaaring ituring na tumutukoy sa maramihang ugnayan, bagay na nagpapatag sa mga nagtatagpong pagkakabukod at kaibhan. Nagkakaroon ng kaisahan. Ngunit ang mga salitang tumutukoy sa sariling sumasapi ay makikitang nagpapatuloy na nagsasalaman ng kaakuhan bilang bukod, bilang iba. Bagay na maaari nating paghanguan ng kislap-diwa hinggil sa pakikipag-ugnayan sa isang samahan: nananatiling indibidwal ang indibidwal, lalo sa harap ng kabatirang likas sa komunidad, sa samahan (na salitang tumutukoy sa pagsasama-sama), sa pangkat, ang kung baga’y magpantay ng kaibhan sa bisa ng kaisahan, sa ngalan ng ano mang lunggati, mabuti man o masama. Na may dala ring panganib kung hindi malilinang.

Kaya ang sagot ko marahil sa napakahalagang tanong ng talakayan na ito, sa kung ano ang pinakahalaga, pinakaideyal na katangian ng indibidwal na sumasali sa isang komunidad, ay ito: ang maging buong indibidwal muna, higit sa lahat. Kailangan makatiyak muna sa sarili, bagaman ang pagkilala sa sarili ay hindi naman madali at agad-agad. Mahalaga rin ang panahon. Ang pakikihamok sa ano mang partikular na paninindigan, posisyon, o paniniwala, ay nararapat na natutugunan ng isang indibidwal na pananalig, ng isang kakanyahan na handang umiral sa kontradiksiyon ng pagiging kasapi ng isang pangkat, at pagiging isang nakapagsasariling indibidwal. Ang kasapian ay mahalaga, at mahalaga rin ang mga pagpapahalaga ng pangkat. Ngunit kailangang malay ang isang indibidwal na mayroon siyang sariling kailangang ibinubukod, upang marinig niya ang kaniyang budhi, sa tuwing nakikibahagi sa ano mang kolektibong pakikihamok. Ang tinig na ito ang dicere sa contradicere ng minulang Latin ng kontradiksiyon. Ito ang “tinig ng pananalungat”, ang balintuna ng kasapian, na hindi lamang yaong tumutukoy sa pagiging kritikal sa isang konteksto ng kaisahan, kundi higit bilang pag-iral sa isang espasyo ng krisis, tulad ng ipinahihiwatig ng minulan ng salita na krinein, na nangangahulugan ng pagkilates, pagninilay, pagpapasya. Ito sa palagay ko ang birtud ng kamalayan sa kabukuran, sa konteksto ng isang kapangkatan: isang kritikal na kasapian.

Ngayon, sinasabi ko ang mga ito hindi sapagkat talagang mapanganib ang magpangkat, ang maging bahagi ng isang komunidad: napakaimposible ng hindi makihalubilo sa kapwa, lalo na para sa ating nagugumon sa soledad ng ating paglikha. Ang salita naman ay kailangang tanggapin ng isang kapwa upang maging ganap. Ngunit hindi kailangang maging isahan lamang ang daloy ng ugnayan, na nagmumula lamang ang paghubog mula sa samahan patungo sa indibidwal. Hirarkiko ito, bertikal, at mapaniil. Higit na ideyal para sa akin ang nagtatagpong tinig ng indibidwal at ng kolektibong mithi, na hindi palagiang mapayapa, bagkus natitigib ng salungatang makapagpapadalisay sa mithi. Ganito ang iniisip kong mas mabisang ugnayan, na kumikilala hindi lamang sa mas mataas na lunggati ng samahan, kundi nagtataguyod din sa kapakanan ng indibidwal bilang isang kaanib na may sariling bait, budhi, at pananaw-sa-daigdig. Sa konteksto ng manlilikhang sining, ang komunidad ay makabubuting magbigay sa indibidwal ng puwang upang lumago, nang hindi sinisikil ang kakanyahan nito’t tinig, nang sinisikap ding tunghan ang lapit ng indibidwal bilang isa sa mga posibilidad na umiiral sa munting lipunang iyon ng komunidad. Sa ganitong paraan, nakikibahagi rin ang pangkat sa diwa ng balintuna, ng kontradiksiyon, na susi rin sa higit na mga masusing pagtuklas.

Ang panukala ko ngayon sa pag-unawa sa lugar ng indibidwal at ng komunidad sa isa’t isa ay ito: ang kapwa panatilihin ang mga pagkakabukod, hindi lamang sa diwa ng pluralismo, kundi lalo’t higit sa pagpapanatili ng integridad ng mga indibidwal na nakikilahok, lalo sa mga gawaing malikhain. Para naman sa indibidwal, mabuti rin ang wika nga ng kasabihan na may isang paa sa loob, may isang paa sa labas. Hindi naman ito yaong kawalang paninindigan sa pagiging kaanib. Sapagkat ginagamit ko ito bilang talinghaga: naroong nasa loob ka’t nasa labas, may kakayahan sa patuloy na pagsuri sa iyong pagigiing kabilang, at dahil dito’y higit na nagiging kapaki-pakinabang na kasapi ng pagtitipong iyon, ng katipunan, kaipala. Hindi ito paggitna. Isa itong pagposisyon, samantalang pinahahalagahan at isinasapuso rin ang pagiging bahagi. Sa ganito nagkakaroon ng kakayahang magbahagi ang indibidwal sa mas malakihang pangkat, sa palagay ko—isang malikhaing estratehiya: ang pag-iral ng isang sarili na may maibabahagi, na may bahaging sarili, na may bahagi ng sarili. Kung sinasabing ang layon ng paglikha ay pagpapalaya sa tao, at pag-usig sa lahat ng balakid sa kaganapan ng kalayaan, isang pangangailangan talaga ang pagkakabukod, na hindi lamang pagiging iba, kundi kalayaang maging isang indibidwal sa piling ng isang lipi. Tanging malayang indibidwal lamang ang may kakayahang makisalo at makibahagi sa komunidad. Sa ganang akin, ang lunggati sa bawat pagsali sa isang komunidad ay ang pagtuklas sa kalayaan. Pribilehiyo ng kaniyang pagiging malaya ang maging kasapi ng mga komunidad, karapatan sa isang lipunang malaya. At dahil dito, ang ubod kung gayon ng komunidad ay kalayaan din.

Sa huli, ano ngayon ang layon ng kasapian para sa indibidwal at komunidad sa mga ganitong pakahulugan? Para sa akin, higit na kapaki-pakinabang na tunghan ng komunidad ang isang katangian ng indibidwal bilang bukod at sarili: ang interiyoridad. Ang komunidad, tandaan natin, ay hindi lamang isang kilusan, isang pagkilos na nakabaling sa daigdig, sa paligid. Ang aksiyon mula sa minulang actio ay paggawa, na maaaring iugnay din natin sa paglikha, sapagkat ang pinag-uusapan natin ay ang mga manlilikhang sining. Bago umiral ang isang pagkilos, kinakailangan nitong madalisay, kinakailangan nitong malinang ang mga pinagsanib-sanib na kalayaang nagtagpo, nagpingkian upang buuin ang komunidad. Sa madaling sabi, mahalaga ang papaloob na pagdalisay bago ang ano mang pagkilos. Sa ganito natin nakikita na ang mismong komunidad ay naghuhunos bilang isang indibidwal din na nagpapakilala ng sarili nitong bait at kakanyahan. Sa akin, ang komunidad ay isang indibidwal ding hinuhubog ang sarili nito sa pamamagitan ng sarili nitong likha, ng sarili nitong paghubog sa mga handog nito sa daigdig, ng sarili nitong kalayaan. Isang pangangailangan sa palagay ko ang kakayahang mapagnilay at mapangilates sa interiyoridad kahit namumuhay sa konteksto ng isang pangkat. Lalo na para sa ating ang mithi ay magsakataga, at magsabuhay nang mismong diwa ng laya, na siyang kislap-diwa ng bawat nating pagsusumikap, at siya ring palagay ko’y mabuting alingawngaw na laya, lalo para sa mga lipunang umiiral sa daigdig na dahop o tumatalikod dito. Ito sa palagay ko ang tunay na politika ng indibidwal sa kaniyang pagsanib sa isang komunidad.

Llorar, ang malarong si Papa Francisco, at ilang diskurso ng Pagsasalin

Larawang hiram mula sa The Guardian.

“If you don’t learn how to cry, you can’t be good Christians.”

Binalikan ko ang orihinal na panayam ni Papa Francisco sa layong tuklasin ang katingkaran ng ibig niyang sabihin sa mga katagang binigkas niya sa UST, lalo na nang tinutugon niya ang napaiyak na batang babae na nagtanong sa kaniya kung bakit hinahayaan ng Diyos na magdusa ang mga bata. Pinakinggan kong mabuti ang bersiyong Espanyol niya, at ang ginamit niyang salita ay “llorar”, habang inilalarawan ang malawak na kawalang-kakayahan ng kasalukyang daigdig sa pagdama (hindi rin ako tiyak kung tama ang “salin” ko: hindi kaya, kawalang-kakayahan sa pagdamdam, damdamin?). Mahalaga ang pagsasalin sa pagkakatong ito ng pagbisita ng Papa, sapagkat, nakita naman natin kung papaanong nag-iiba siya kapag sinasalita ang, sabi nga niya’y wika ng kaniyang puso—nagiging higit siyang masigla, mabisa. Samantalang naging praktikal na tulay ang Ingles, naiisip kong naging balakid din ito sa pagsasala ng katingkaran ng pakahulugan, samantalang may kasapatan naman, sa ganang akin, ang komunikatibong layon nito upang maipahatid ng Papa ang kaniyang saloobin, sa mga pagkakataong higit niyang piniling maging natural. Kaya nga siguro ito ang pagkakasala ng Ingles ngayon sa atin. Ngunit higit kong problema ngayon ang mga antas ng pagkakaunawa sa “llorar”, na naisaling “to cry” sa Ingles.

Tama naman ito, sa palagay ko, lalo sa pagkakataong iyon: isang maulan na umaga, nakakapote ang mga tao, nakamata lamang sa tanging ispektakulo ng okasyong iyon, na hindi maitanggi ang pagbabangon ng mga multo ng kahapon: tatlong ulit tayong pinagmisahan ng Santo Papa, tatlong ulit na nasermonan, kung baga, kapara ng hiling ng Padre Kura sa pista ng San Diego sa Noli Me Tangere, na pinagtatalunan pa sa Pulong ng Tribunal, ngunit ang utos naman pala ng pari ay hindi mababali: “Aba, ang nais ng Padre Kura… ng anim na prusisyon, tatlong sermon, tatlong misa… at kung may salapi pa, komedyang Tondo at awitan sa pagitan” (salin ni Virgilio S. Almario). Ang tampok na misa sa nobela ni Rizal, na minsang inihalintulad ni Vicente Rafael sa “pangingisda”—pangingisda ng kahulugan, sa panig ng mga nakikinig ng nakaaantok ngunit maatikabong sermon ni Padre Damaso, dahil sinisikap nilang bigyang-saysay ang mga naririnig na Espanyol sa pari (karamihan ay libak) na parang namimingwit sa laot—ay isang interesanteng tagpo ng kung papaano tumutugon ang isang sinasakop na kultura habang sinasalakay ng mga pakahulugang walang kamalay-malay ang tumatanggap ay nagtatakda na pala sa kaniya sa isang puwang ng pagiging bukod, manapa, mangmang. Na nagluluklok naman sa nagsasalita sa pulpito sa espasyo ng taas at kapangyarihan.

Magkawangis ba ang sermon ni Padre Damaso, at sermon ni Papa Francisco [na parehong Espanyol ang wika, lamang ay gáling ang Papa sa Argentina, na tulad ng Filipinas (sa maraming bagay) ay nasakop din ng Espanya]? Sa rabaw, oo, dahil malinaw na sakop pa rin ng kamalayang vertikal at hirarkiko ang ugnayan natin ngayon sa Simbahang Katolika. Maraming pagkakataon na higit tayong minumulto ng mukha ni Padre Damaso sa pagharap sa mga isyung “moral”, tulad na lamang ng kasal para sa magkakatulad ang kasarian, diborsiyo, at kalusugan sa reproduksiyon. Bagaman aktibong Katoliko pa rin ako, at nagpahayag na ako ng sarili kong posisyon hinggil sa mga ito, at sa iba pa (madalas ay hindi ako sumasang-ayon sa Simbahan), matagal ko nang tinanggap na hindi isusuko ng Simbahan ang mga paninindigan nito. Doktrinang di matitinag ang balakid, ngunit hindi naman lamang ang doktrina, sa ganang akin, ang dapat maging batayan ng pagsampalataya. Kaya tulad marahil ng mga nakikinig sa sermon ni Padre Damaso, na isang pigurang pampanitikan na talagang nakatatak na sa ating kamalayan, pinipili kong bingwitin na lamang ang sa palagay ko’y mabuting kakanin sa araw-araw. Kontradiksiyong maituturing ang pagsalalay ng Simbahan sa Roma sa Doktrina, at pananatili nitong “bukás” sa pagbasa, salamat sa Ikalawang Konseho ng Vatikano. Kaya kahit parang wala namang tanda na “magbabago” ang posisyon ng Simbahan sa mga bagay-bagay—at ang pananatili ng “kaayusang” namalas natin sa pagbisita ng Papa ay mabuting basahin bilang pahayag ng patuloy na pagpirme—sasawatahin ko na lamang sa aking sariling málay ang “sakit” ng hirarkiya upang matamasa pa rin ang mabuting dulot ng pagiging Katoliko.

Kaya rin siguro higit akong naging interesado, sa kabuuan ng pagbisita ng Papa sa ulit-ulit na paggamit niya ng Espanyol, sa tuwing mithi niya ang higit siyang maunawaan. Nasiyahan ako sa mga pihit ng wika, na para sa akin ay interesanteng kibot sa sinasabi ko ngang “pirmihang” posisyon ng institusyon ng Simbahan. Bilang mangingibig ng wika, ang pana-panahong pagpili ni Papa Francisco ng wikang kaniyang gagamitin, ang kaniyang Argentinong Espanyol, ay tila ba makahulugang pagkakataon ng pangyayanig sa kaayusang hindi kailanman ikokompromiso ng Simbahan. Maganda sana itong tingnan bilang patuloy na “bernakularisasyon” ng Simbahan, sa diwa ng Ikalawang Konseho ng Vatikano—ibig sabihin, hindi pa ito tapós, at hindi dapat mawakasan. [Kung nagagawa ng Simbahan ay bakit hindi rin gawin ng pamahalaan, na kamakailan ay tinanggal pa ang Filipino sa kolehiyo?] Sa kasaysayan, ang Latin, sa paliwanag ni Rafael, ay ginawaran ng bugtong na kapangyarihang maging natatanging wika ng pribilehiyo sapagkat ito ang “wika ng Diyos”, dahil na rin ang Bibliya sa malaon, ay nasa Latin lamang mababasa; na mismong tinalikuran ng konseho nang, wika nga’y magbukas ng pinto at mga bintana ang Simbahan, sa panahon ni Papa Santo Juan XXIII, para sa modernong daigdig. [Sabay harap sa mga tao, mula sa matagal na pagtalikod.] Ngunit nagiging mabigat, nag-iilang-diwa ang pihit ng wika sa kaso ni Papa Francisco, sapagkat kahit siya’y masasabing bahagi rin ng mga sakóp tulad natin, kinakatawan niya, hindi lamang si Kristo, kundi pati na rin ang kontradiksiyong dulot ng kaniyang naging wika, matapos ng kasaysayan ng pananakop. Tanda rin si Papa Francisco ng kung ano ang maaaring maging táyo, kung pinili ng mananakop na tuluyang burahin ang ating mga wika—baká táyo ang tinatawab na Asya Latina, kung nagkataon. Ngunit kahit ganoon, higit nating piniling mabingwit ang wika nga’y higit pa-sa-nakikita, higit-pa-sa-anyo, na wika naman sa una’t huli.

“Transcendent”, “the content of the message tending towards the transcendent” ang bása ni J. Neil Garcia rito, inaasahan na, sapagkat, sasabihin ng iba, higit na mahalaga ang nilalaman kaysa kataga. Ngunit problematiko ito, bagay na sinimulang siyasatin ni Garcia, lamang ay higit niyang inaabangan ang sasabihin ng Papa sa kaniyang ensiklika hinggil sa Global Warming na nakatakdang ilabas sa mga susunod na buwan. Kaabang-abang, lalo na matapos na magmisa siya sa gitna ng isang bagyo sa Leyte (sa buwang hindi dapat dumarating ang mga bagyo), kaharap ang laksang mamamayang tulad niya’y nakakapote, at umaahon pa lamang mula sa unos at daluyong ng mapinsalang bagyo ng nagdaang taon. Inilantad na ni Garcia ang muling pagmumulto ng higit-pa-sa-nakikita, ang birtud ng hirarkikong kaisipan na siyang puminsala sa ating katutubong kalinangan. Ngunit sa katauhan ni Papa Francisco, tumitingkad ang kabukuran (alterity), lalo’t humaharap siya sa ating nangangapâ rin sa pamamaraan ng pagsasabi; sa ating mamamayan ng arkipelahikong daigdig na pakapâ-kapâ rin sa kung papaanong makikipag-ugnayan sa isa’t isa gayong isang babel din tayo ng mga wika; sa ating naibukod ang mga wika at tuluyang naisantabi dahil sa mga sumapit na daluyong ng kolonisasyon. Palagay ko, ang higit-pa-sa-naroroon na kailangang isawika niya sa wikang malapít sa kaniyang puso, ay ang nakapagpapatahimik na namamalas, habang nakikibahagi sa kabasâan, kadustaan ng mga biktima ng trahedya. Ispektro ang Espanyol, oo, ngunit sa pagpili ni Papa Francisco na wikain, kahit papaano, ang pagkakabukod na kaniyang dinadalaw sa sawing bayan na iyon (kung saan nga pala basâ rin at nilalamig si Imelda Marcos), ipinipihit na niya ang sermon sa panig ng mga tagapakinig, binibitiwan ang didaktibong pribilehiyo na makapangaral, at sa isang masagisag na sandali, hinayaan ang sariling gabaan ng kawalang-katiyakan. Ganyan ang kaniyang pakikibuklod.

Iyan, sa palagay ko, ang birtud ng kaniyang katauhan—ang pihit patungo sa higit-na-bukás na pakahulugan sa mga bagay-bagay. Nang sambitin niyang huwag matakot na usigin ang Diyos, at hindi mali ang magtanong sa Diyos, iniiralan siya ng kibot na kahit sa transcendent, sa higit-pa-sa-nakikita, ay yumayanig, lumalagim, kahit na papaano. Ilang ulit ko na bang binabanggit ang kahit na papaano? Pero wala akong magawa; hindi ko mapigil ang sarili ko. Wala naman akong magagawa dahil ang Simbahang ito, bilang institusyon, ay may mga paninindigang mahirap matibag. Ngunit may pihit pa-wika ang Papa sa di iilang pagkakataon na higit kong naibigan, na lalong humimok sa akin ng pananatili sa kawan: kaligtaan na ang pagtatanong kung nakapagwiwika, nakapagsasalita nga ba talaga ang sub-altern, kung talaga ngang may saysay ang maging tinig sa Ilang, ngunit kung may ganitong matapang na pagsasawika, kung may ganitong uri ng tagpuan ng gawa at salita, sapat na marahil ang kibot na nalikha ng senyal para unti-unting makaliha ng biták sa muog ng mga paninindigan. May panahon ang lahat. Samantalang punò siya ng isang institusyong sangkot, sa malaon, sa maraming pagkakataon ng pagsikil at pananakop, nagagawa niyang magpasaklot ngayon sa mga hindi maipapaliwanag, sa kawalang-lugar, sa sorpresa at pagiging di-mawari, na tagumpay nang lingwistiko, sa ganang akin. Kahit na papaano. Hindi lamang naman tagapamagitan ng Verbo si Francisco; tagapamagitan din siya ng salitang humihinging tunghan nang mabuti. Kaya sa tingin ko, ang pagbisitang ito ng Santo Papa, bukod sa pagiging pastoral at pangkaluluwa (kayâ transcendent), ay isang makabuluhang pagdalaw sapagkat mayaman sa mga lingwistikong pihit na madalas nalilingid sapagkat nalulunod ng masigabong lugod, galak, at palakpakan, galak.

Madali kasi ang maiyak, mapukaw—na hindi naman masamâ. May ilang tao ang hindi naging palagay sa biglang pag-iyak ng batang nabanggit natin, na ang kagulat-gulat, ay mistulang naipagtanggol pa ng Papa, nang bigkasin niya ang kaniyang tugon. Hindi mali ang umiyak, wika niya, ang problema nga sa daigdig ay wala na tayong kakayahang dumamá. Ngunit bakit gayon na lamang ang datíng niya sa marami sa atin? Ang sagot ko: nasa kaniyang wika. Hindi siyempre sa Espanyol, na matagal na nating isinuka, ngunit, kung nakikinig lamang siguro tayo sa Papa ay matutuklasan nating nakasilid pa rin sa ating mga wika—wala na tayong pagtatalunan diyan. Ngunit ano ang ibig kong sabihin ng nasa kaniyang wika? Ang sinasabi ko: ang bawat pihit ng wika niya—halimbawa, ang pagpiling magsalita sa sarili niyang wika, ang paglulugar niya ng kaniyang diskurso sa pananaw ng tumatanggap (na kaiba sa hirarkikong diskurso ng pulpito, bagaman hindi ko gustong sabihing ito nga’y sandali ng pagsasalita ng kabukod), at ang litaw niyang pag-iilang diwa (hindi nga ba nagkaroon na rin ng problema sa mga sinasabi niya sa mga nakaraang pagkakataon, at palagiang “nililinaw” ang mga ito ng Vatikano; halimbawa, may isang mali raw sa salin na mapanganib para sa pinangangatawanan ng doktrina)—ang mga ito ay matagumpay nang pagyanig sa isang rehimen ng pakahulugang hindi papayag namatinag, at kahit man lamang diyan ay nagkakaroon na tayo ng mumunting kibot ng tagumpay na lagimín, kung baga, ang totalisadong pananaw nitong Simbahang itinatag sa petrus, sa bato. Tandaan: ang wika ay pagsasamundo.

Ngayon, balikan natin ang “llorar”. Ang naging salin dito ng butihing kawani ng Papa ay “to cry”, at ito ang naipakalat sa ating midya, na mababaw ang literasi sa wika (ay, kaysaklap!). Hindi naman sila masisisi, dahil nagmamadali sila sa pag-uulat, at iniisip nilang mainipin ang mga manonood at tagapakinig. Pinangangatawanan lamang talaga nila ang kanilang pagbabalita. Na isang kapinsalaan, sa palagay ko, sa ngalan ng “serbisyo publiko”. Ang hindi nila nahagip, na mahalaga sanang naipaliwanag sa madla, ay napakayaman ng “llorar” para maging “pag-iyak” lamang, tulad ng nasaksihang pag-iyak ng batang babae. Hindi nila nakita ang nakita ni Papa Francisco, at dahil iyan sa mismong kamangmangan nila sa wika at kaunawaan. Problema talaga siguro iyan ng pagsasalin, ngunit, bilang mamamahayag din, may pa mataas akong inaasahan sa ilan sa aking mga kabaro, higit sa paglalantad nila ng kanilang kawalang-alam. O ng kitang-kita naman. Maaaring problema rin ito ng kawalan ng likot ng guniguni. O simpleng kakulangan sa riserts, gayong napakadali namang magkompara ng salin gamit ang Google Translate. Sayang. Hindi nakita na maaari rin nitong tukuyin ang “paghihinagpis”, “pagluha”, “pagtaghoy”, “paghagulgol”, “pag-usig”, pati na “pagdarasal”, at “pagsigaw”, kung idadawit pa ang isang salitang Espanyol na“grito”. Sa pagtawag sa mga salitang ito, na umiiral naman sa mayaman ding Filipino, higit na nagkakaroon ng konteksto ang paghimok ni Papa Francisco sa kabataan na “tumangis” halimbawa, kasama ang mahihirap. Konotasyon ng panghihimok ang pakikiisa sa mga dahop, na isang alingawngaw ng ipinamalas na pananahimik niya, ng pag-amin sa kakulangan ng salita, sa piling ng mga nasalanta ni Yolanda (na isa ring makahulugang pihit ng wika). Nakapagtatakang ang mga mainiping ito ang nása larang ngayon ng komunikasyon; wala silang pitak sa wika, sa mga tingkad nito’t pakahulugan. Ang problema kay Papa Francisco, hindi ka maaaring maging mainipin kung mithi mo talaga siyang mabasa. Ang munakala ko, ito ang kaniyang birtud ng paglihis (evade), samantalang umiiwas ding banggain ang sarili niyang muog. Kaya napakasarap niyang basahin. Lamang, magtitiyaga ka.

Ngayon ko pa lamang sisimulang basahin ang kaniyang mga aklat na binili ko noon pa, ngunit bilang texto, mapaglaro si Papa Francisco, bagay na hindi ko rin ipinagtataka sapagkat dati siyang guro ng panitikan, bukod sa pagiging isang kemiko, at bouncer sa bar, at kung hindi ka magiging matalim ay hindi mo makukuha ang kaniyang pahiwatig. Una akong napukaw ng malarong paggamit niya sa halimbawa ni San Jose sa SM Mall of Asia, sa Engkuwentro kasama ng mga Pamilya (may nakahagip sa alusyon kay Jose na Nangangarap, pero saliwa ang bánat). Binanggit niya ang “sueño”, pagtulog, at ang pagtulog ni Jose bilang mahalagang tanda ng buong-buong pananampalataya sa Diyos, habang minimithing maging mabuting ama kay Jesus. Kaibig-ibig ang pagtawag ni Papa Francisco sa sarili niyang imahen ng Natutulog na San Jose sa mesa, na aniya’y dinadasalan at sinisilidan niya ng papel na pinagsulatan ng kaniyang daing upang ito’y “mapanaginipan” ng Santo, maidulog marahil sa Diyos. Maayos naman ang salin ng kawani ng Papa: “to sleep”. Na agad namang iniugnay sa isa pang kaugnay na dalumat, ang “to dream”, o pangangarap. Muli, walang nakapagpaliwanag na iisa ang salita para sa parehong gawain ng pagtulog at pangangarap sa Espanyol, bagay na dalá pa rin ng pagkamainipin, o marahil, kawalang-pakialam, dahil una, Espanyol ang wikang ginagamit (na hindi na natin ginagamit), at sapat na ang Ingles. Nakahihinayang, dahil bibihira tayong makasalamuha ng pigura mula sa pandaigdigang larang na malaro sa/ang wika na tulad ni Papa Francisco, may likot, at palagiang pinagtatalunan ang mga paninindigan (hindi ba kinailangan din ng paliwanag ang sinabi niya hinggil sa usaping Charlie Hedbdo?). Nakakahinayang, sapagkat sumapat na naman (o pinasapat ng midya) sa atin ang interbensiyong Ingles—na hindi naman masamâ—nang hindi man lamang nagtatangkang maglatag ng malikhain at kritikal na paliwanag hinggil sa kakaibang engkuwentro ng mga wika at kulturang nasaksihan nating lahat sa pagdating ng mapagpakumbabang Santo Papa.

Kasi, sapat na ang Ingles, marahil? Sa pagkakataong ito, hinayaan nating pagharian tayo ng hegemonya nito, na naging balakid upang matuklasan natin ang himagsik na tinutapad ng Papa na ito, gamit lamang ang wika, at mga pihit niyang pa-wika. Hinayaang mamingwit ang mamamayan ng kung ano na lamang.

Ang midya, sa ganang akin, ay talagang malubha ang karamdaman— kailangan ding itangis, upang kahit na papaano’y malunasan.