Writer’s note: From now, until the end of the year, I shall write about articles originally written in Filipino, share thoughts regarding their respective contexts, and discuss related themes. Part translation, part summary, part review, I hope these previews pique the curiosity of the readers about the essays and their ongoing conversations with other texts that challenge national narratives and preconceived notions on Philippine literature, art and culture.
Arlo Mendoza’s essay, “Ang Manunulat sa Panahon ng Alyansang Taktikal, Oportunismo, at Sentimentalismo” (The Writer in the Age of Tactical Alliance, Opportunism and Sentimentalism) begins with contextualizing the temper of this ultraviolent stage of history for aspiring Filipino authors. The state projects a strongman in “god mode,” and converts of fentanihilism would rather let Digong (ipagpasa-Digong), than let God (ipagpasa-Diyos). In fact, two men of the church were shot dead this week, one in Nueva Ecija and another in Mindoro. For DDS devotees, such acts of god are smites the country needs. There is a familiar trend with the “ninongs” (godfather), “ninangs” (godmother) and “inaanaks” (godchildren), as elaborated in Mendoza’s essay, but we shall discuss it at length later after taking note of these sort of Tribulation of Tatay Digong, so that the Philippines can be a great nation, drug-free, terrorist-free, once again.
The “terrorist” label for communists and activists is an all-out war against the people, a justification for the deaths, harassment through trumped-up charges and other human rights violations against critics of the regime. Life-and-death decisions of students, who died after joining the ranks of the guerillas to protect the vulnerable sectors in the mountains, were either reduced by online trolls and military mouthpieces as youthful naiveté or re-purposed by sophomoric “academics” as careerist stepping stones to court the attention of their equally sophomoric sempais, who are nothing more than self-proclaimed historians of the left.
The former are either outright enemies or perhaps good parents genuinely concerned with the future of their children, while the latter are manipulators maximizing the symbolic (and later, actual) profit that they can extract from the nostalgia of being former student activists, therefore, former comrades of fallen revolutionary martyrs. These are not mutually exclusive, as they may feed on each other. Striking the chords of anxious and protective parents, the manipulators caught and held the attention of unsuspecting mothers and fathers. As conservative ideas garnished by sophisticated quotes from trendy philosophers, the reactionaries rejoice and applaud seemingly sincere but really soulless eulogies by trapos dressed as educators, who have an urgent need to climb up the academic hierarchy to secure spaces up the pantheon.
The self-proclaimed apostate calls attention to the very alarming revolutionary violence snatching children from their parents for a lost cause he once believed in. As if in a state of emergency to garner points through anti-left sempais, he invests in the dream or utopia of the few, which is also the nightmare or apocalypse of the rest. So, he paints the revolution of the rest in the countryside as more distressful than the “revolutionary” government being pushed in the capital, which would further institutionalize killings of suspected addicts, communists, their sympathizers—and keep the world safe from evil.
As if a reverse testimony for a perceived religious fellowship waging a holy war, a sentimental take on the ongoing protracted peoples’ war puts another stone in the mausoleum that the reactionary state tries to build in order to bury progressive ideals six feet under. Like all art exhibits, the aforementioned installation art needs write-ups or exhibition notes. That is the job of scholars and writers, hacks or “professionals.”
With disarray and turbulence, some individuals consider themselves chosen ones and volunteer to be the “konsensya ng panahon” (conscience of the times), as a senior writer puts it. These dark times call for such, but in his essay, Mendoza warns of the opportunistic tendencies of literary giants who once lent their pen for the dictator from the North then and oppose the tyrant from the South now. As if the divisions of forces and factions are not complex enough, some writers seen as “progressive” further complicate the problem of the cultural field by pandering to the Olympians, in the name of tactical alliance. This might be a temporary, but necessary step toward the goal of constructing the widest networks against the narrowest enemies, but Mendoza’s inquiry merits reflection and action: to what extent shall the left-leaning or -sympathizing godchildren defend godparents, who espouse the remnants of the Cold War’s anti-communist rhetoric?
Unpacking the anthologies Bloodlust (2017), Hoard of Thunder (2012), and the romanticized notion of the writer as “genius,” Mendoza shows how selection, periodization, and mystification tend to divorce literature from politics. In the process, the positions from which the godparents or godchildren write turn vague, hence, in a sense, somewhat defeating the purpose of an alliance through political means, toward political ends. Obscured political positions of the writers we link arms with, in the name of the “word” or for the sake of “letters” sound nothing less than a copout and return to the “art for arts’ sake” debate. But who are we to judge? Creation (or authoring) necessitates criticism (or “attacking,” as considered by affected inaanaks).
Though, as mentioned in the previous column article, Butch Dalisay mentioned in Taboan 2017 how writers are always in the process of becoming or developing; they have written and done something within their lifetime, however short. We can engage in arguments about anything, based on available information, without being personal; to some extent, we can work objectively with what we have. So, Rizal’s, Bonifacio’s and Arguilla’s life and works are ripe for interpretation and educated speculation. For literary giants, living legends walking with us mortals, all respect is due, but that respect shall be informed. Veneration should require understanding.
Should we wait for their final evolutionary stage to assess their attitude toward revolutionary ideals? Should there be more room for tolerating writers because they are gifts of god (or of godparents to their godchildren) to humanity? How about apostates and their respective sempais? How do we value validations offered by the few’s utopia? Do we have similar visions of the future? Do we have no other options but take literary ammunition from bourgeois institutions to build up the impact of our “pagdura” (spitting)?
These, among many other questions addressed by Arlo Mendoza’s “The Writer in the Age of Sentimentalism,” along with “Terrorism of the Text” were meant to makes writers and readers (including ourselves) question the role of writing and reading. At these times when there seems to be a trend for making one’s nation “great again,” which translates to immediate weeding out and fast-paced killing off of threats to nostalgic visions of godfathers and fatherlands, which of the many emergencies matter? How shall we read and write texts?