The series of “previews” (part translation, part summary, part review as noted in the last three column articles) shall end with Bomen Guillermo’s “Kawayan” (2007/2017) and Emiliana Kampilan’s Dead Balagtas: Mga Sayaw ng Lupa at Dagat (2017). Incidentally, the first two previews were fueled by fire and air: text’s terrorism and author’s sentimentalism, flickers that can either be blown by the wind into puffs of smoke blending with the atmosphere or into flames of arson causing alarm; while the last two were weaved by earth and water: peasants’ komiks and scholars’ scripts.
Before putting my feet back on earth allow me to hover a bit. Pardon my indulgence, as the next paragraph serves as my brief entry to the infamous essay-writing contest that shall crowd newsfeeds come the end of the year of the fire rooster:
A rooster may be condemned to damnation if it loses in sabong (cockfight). The fowl, familiar not just to Filipinos but perhaps throughout Southeast Asia, is neither a phoenix that rises from its ashes nor a minokawa that devours suns, so it ends up as fried chicken after going through hellfire. In trying, it tries to escape the grill and build a legacy. Against whom, and for whom, one can only speculate (Maybe, Gerry Alanguilan’s eponymous comic book character, Elmer, knows).
Making sense of the previous year reminds me of gambling, but somehow a calculated one: I somehow took a shot at precarity by shifting to another profession, tried to finish my graduate studies, tiptoed outside of the country for the first time to present a portion of the thesis-in-progress, and started my column with an introduction to the fentanihilism of our father, who art in Malacañang.
Of course, my wagers are minuscule, even less (probably nothing), compared to the celebrated October Revolution of 1917 and the possibilities the Soviets opened. Likewise, the national minorities and the basic sectors, with their allies in the capital, raged against the dying of the light. They ignited the flames of resistance against imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. They dare to struggle and dare to win, despite the crisis-stricken state of Philippine society and the consequent lack of resources to defend against the offensives of class enemies.
Pessimism of the mind, optimism of the will. Moral forces and material forces are two key components of achieving a collective goal, as demonstrated by Guillermo in the article “Moral Forces, Philosophy of History, and War in Jose Rizal” (2012) and the novel Makina ni Mang Turing (2013).
Such forces can affect the past and the future. Walter Benjamin’s Thesis IX portrays the “angel of history” looking at the past, as a powerful storm called “progress” pushes him into the future to which his back is turned. Guillermo’s Filipino translation, Hinggil sa Konsepto ng Kasaysayan (2013), notes Bolivar Echeverria’s presumption for consideration: that though Benjamin cites Paul Klee’s painting “Angelus Novus” (1920), the illustration “L’histoire,” from Gravelot & Cochin’s Iconologie (1791), could most probably be the basis of Thesis IX.
Hence, as further studies continue, different forces can change the past, and in effect, alter the perceived future, depending on the presumed truth of decisive forces at the present. Truth is never relative but they may change through time, depending on the subject and his interaction with the objects or materials at hand, as shown in “Bamboo.” Here’s a rough draft of my translation of Guillermo’s poem:
I tightly clenched
a piece of bamboo.
On its skin, I etched scripts
of my home so I would not forget.
This is the past’s wound
here along my path.
I firmly pressed
the sharp bamboo
and in return it etched on my palm
the red scripts of my next stop
so I would not lose track.
This is the future’s wound
here along the path.
First published by Highchair a decade ago and this year by UP press in the book 3 Baybayin Studies, “Kawayan” is a poem with themes that include uncertainties, time-space and forces (moral, material, subjective, objective) that interact to determine the past and the future through the “now.” In the present, the persona functions like the angel of history that keeps the past in its view or memory, while the bamboo, like the storm, guides him into the future. Though scars of scripts that the bamboo left may later serve as gentle reminders unlike the damages from what might be a cosmic disturbance, both natural interventions move the subjects toward certain directions.
Taking risks propels history. Kampilan’s book reads like a tapestry of selves, worlds and universes undergoing changes within and without. All of existence is in a stasis of moving inwards and outwards, with our wills going with and against the flow to create and recreate ourselves through our worlds and our universes. We exist somewhere in the pages as we gaze through the pages. As we read the past right here in the now, we project our visions into the future suggested by the book: one with peace, love, understanding, nourished by the shifting choreographed geography of earth and water.
Of course, the journey is not a walk in the park, as there shall be fissures and frictions. Oftentimes, transformation or transcendence threatens life and existence. Dead Balagtas: Mga Sayaw ng Lupa at Dagat takes the reader out of his physical body and into the universe within and without him, and back into the world where the Philippines remains clutched by oppressive forces from which it must liberate itself. Kampilan’s poignant work captures the complexity of contemporary struggles in the information age further complicated by neoliberalism. At a time when the search for identity is identified with individualist and isolationist solutions, Dead Balagtas reminds us that, whether we like it or not, people throughout time-space are linked together and we shall learn to collectively alter the course of the history that is hostaged by the privileged few.
Through Kampilan’s work, Adelina Gurrea’s “La leyenda del cama-cama” (Legend of the Cama-cama) comes to mind: the story tells of a girl who tells the story her yaya Juana told her: of how a Bisaya boy-prince, Ino-Dactu, loved a sentient heron, Mahamut, whose children became the cama-cama: mischievous but not malevolent dwarves that are half-human, half-heron. The story tells of the violent forging of nationalism through colonialism, as I have elaborated in “Larawan ng Cama-cama Bilang Filipino: Ang Imahen ng Nacion ni Adelina Gurrea” (Portrait of the Cama-cama as Filipino: Adelina Gurrea’s Image of Nacion). With great wings come great responsibilities, like the fire rooster, the hybrid cama-cama and the angel of history. With new technologies and perspectives come new tactics and strategies for potential radical changes and revolutions: axial or orbital or spiral, where the impetus of the storm leads.
A suggested soundtrack companion to Kampilan’s Earth-and-Water Dance is Tool’s Lateralus. Let me end with the song’s parting words to ponder for the darker days ahead: And following our will and wind / We may just go where no one’s been. / We’ll ride the spiral to the end / And may just go where no ones been. / Spiral out. Keep going… (davaotoday.com)