Category: literati

The (Mis)Education of the Filipino Writer

The Tiempo Age and Institutionalized Creative Writing in the Philippines
Conchitina Cruz

Abstract
According to Merlie Alunan, the writers Edilberto and Edith Tiempo, founders of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop, have so influenced Philippine literary production that the latter half of the twentieth century and “a few more decades hereafter” can be called “The Tiempo Age.” This essay examines the relationship of aesthetics and politics in institutionalized creative writing in the Philippines by unpacking the politics of the Silliman Workshop’s autonomous aesthetics. It situates the origins, pedagogy, and imagined community of the Silliman Workshop within the network of American colonial education in the Philippines, American cultural diplomacy, and institutionalized creative writing in the United States. It explores how New Criticism, as appropriated by the Iowa Writers’ Workshop-trained Tiempos, conflates the autonomy of the literary text with the autonomy of the literary space in which it is produced. The lack of institutional self-critique authorized by this conflation results in the propagation by the Silliman Workshop of colonialist and classist ideas about language and literary production, which are camouflaged, if not naturalized, as principles and mechanisms integral to the craft of writing. The essay calls on the successors of the Tiempos who currently run the Silliman Workshop to scrutinize the historical contingency of the aesthetic values they inherited and to revise their New Critical pedagogy, which continues to uphold the primacy of English as the language of creative writing education and literary production.

FULL TEXT: PDF

BECOMING A WRITER: THE SILENCES WE WRITE AGAINST

Many have said that our writing community is small because the Philippines is a small country to begin with. But our population is nearly twice the population of the United Kingdom and about a third of the population of the United States, which only shows that we aren’t a small country at all. I’m beginning to suspect that our own exclusionary tactics are to blame for making our writing community as small and incestuous as it is.

— Monica Macansantos

PEN america & charlie hebdo

i follow two famous novelists on twitter  — joyce carol oates (them, Blonde) and salman rushdie (Satanic VersesThe Ground Beneath Her Feet) — and it’s been interesting to find them on opposite sides of the argument re whether or not charlie hebdo deserves PEN’s prestigious freedom-of-expression courage award.  rushdie was rather pompous and sexist and brooked no argument.

@SalmanRushdie
The award will be given. PEN is holding firm. Just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character.

oates, among the 200 or so who boycotted the gala in protest, didn’t bite, instead was self-reflexively ironic.

@JoyceCarolOates
Exciting to witness a conflict in which each side is “holier than thou.”

and then i ran into this piece by glenn greenwald (of snowden fame) siding with the protesters, that led to another page where he posted the exchange of letters between deborah eisenberg and PEN’s executive director suzanne nossel that sparked the controversy.

sharing this, from eisenberg (Twilight of the Superheroes):

… Satire might be thought of as sort of a free zone, where potentially dangerous or destabilizing ideas can be safely sent out to play, or to perform for us, and social inequities are implicitly an element in most satire – though it is the parties thought to be holding disproportionate power or prestige who are the usual object of successful satire. It seems to me that power and prestige are elements that must be recognized in considering almost any form of discourse, including satire, and that to ignore very real inequities between the person holding the mighty pen and the subject fixed on paper by that pen, risks making empty and self-serving nonsense of the discussion. In any case, your apparent assumption that I fail to recognize the value of satire is puzzling, given that I made liberal use of it in my letter of March 26.

… It is the work available to us, not the objectives behind it, which we experience and judge. If, for example, I read a book that strikes me as worthless, my opinion of it will not go up simply because the author tells me that she had wanted it to be better than War and Peace. And further, the subjects of a satire are bound to have a different relationship to that satire than those who are only peripherally involved or who have the same set of cultural assumptions as the satire’s author. The Muslim population of France, so much of which feels despised and out of place in their own home, is very aware that the non-Muslim population of France is reading and enjoying mockery of their religion, and they are very unlikely to care what objectives Charlie Hebdo ascribes to itself, however lofty those objectives may be. A person wounded by ridicule is unlikely to much care what the ridiculer intended – to care whether the goal of the ridicule was to stimulate insight or to inflict humiliation.

But presumably the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award is being awarded to Charlie Hebdo for its actual publications, not for its stated aspirations. So those aspirations are as immaterial to PEN’s choice as they are irrelevant to the Muslim population of France. What actually matters most in this instance, in my opinion, is what people believe is being awarded: What does PEN wish to convey by presenting this prestigious award to Charlie Hebdo? And that is still not one bit clear to me.

Charlie Hebdo is undeniably courageous in that it has continued irrepressibly to ridicule Islam and its adherents, who include a conspicuously and ruthlessly dangerous faction. But ridicule of Islam and Muslims cannot in itself be considered courageous at this moment, because ridicule of Islam and Muslims is now increasingly considered acceptable in the West. However its staff and friends see it, Charlie Hebdo could well be providing many, many people with an opportunity to comfortably assume a position that they were formerly ashamed to admit. This is not a voice of dissent, this is the voice of a mob.

Here I am, piping up again, and re-stating some of the things I’ve already said. And how good it would be if you and I could sort out and settle all these issues and those that are attached to them in the exchange of a few letters! But obviously these matters are not easily sorted out, let alone settled – and they are not easily discussed, either. They do, however, call for discussion – for examination, for re-examination, for endless, painstaking vigilance and continual efforts at clear thinking.

You seek to persuade me that Charlie Hebdo was a judicious choice to receive the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award by telling me people are flocking to join PEN because of its support for Charlie Hebdo – but that only redoubles the anxieties I described in my first letter. I can only wonder what exactly is so alluring to these new dues-payers: are they indeed demonstrating enthusiasm for PEN’s long-standing support of free and courageous expression, or are they demonstrating enthusiasm for a license that is being offered by PEN to openly rally behind a popular prejudice that has suddenly been legitimized and made palatable by the January atrocities?

In short, it is not Charlie Hebdo I’m writing to you about, it is PEN. I would be very sorry if this essential organization were to alter radically in character, from one that supports and protects endangered voices of dissent to one that encourages voices of intolerance.

and this, from garry trudeau (Doonesbury):

… Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

The White House took a lot of hits for not sending a high-level representative to the pro-Charlie solidarity march, but that oversight is now starting to look smart. The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another.

What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.

*

Why I Won’t Be Attending the PEN Galapalooza

adam, ishmael, BBL

had to make a trip to tiaong to pay ameliar — medyo late, so merong penalty, but also got to pay 3 years in advance with a nice discount — and stayed on in the elias house for some days.

it’s been good, this distance from the literary soap opera unfolding, of adam david”s reluctant david to anvil’s glowering goliath.  read adam’s side here: http://himaamsir.blogspot.com/.  it would be good to hear, too, from anvil publishing and the two writers, i.e., the complainants/ editors of the anthology Fast Food Fiction Delivery that adam played around with via a randomizer in the spirit of literary criticism.  who would have thought anvil et al could would be so displeased, get so pikon, as though there were no other way to take it, except as an affront, when in fact it raised positive interest in the book — i wanted to get me a copy, see for myself what is fast food about it ba talaga and what the short short stories (around 500 words) of literary fat cats are like.  

the even bigger surprise was, is, the reaction when adam simply took down the website on the dictated day rather than contend with a costly lawsuit: tila na-disappoint ang literary establishment — man up daw!  tila they were really just raring to fight adam in a court of law, and no where else, i guess because in a free and intelligent and sophisticated (as opposed to sophomoric) debate, baka wala silang panalo?  worse, kami raw na pumirma sa statement of support for adam ay mga did-not-know-what-we-were-doing sort of people.  grabe naman.

disclosure:  adam designed my book revo routes, including the maps;  i’ve since come to know him  better through his works posted online.  in his place, i would have taken down the website, too.  who needs the extra aggravation.  ang pikon, talo.

the distance has also been good for my bernal book project.  given minimal distractions —  spotty internet connection and no cable TV in the dining room where  i’m set up with laptop and wifi — i have finally finished a rough timeline of the life and films of national artist ishmael bernal based on clippings of feature articles and movie reviews published from the early 1970s to his death in 1996, clippings contained in huge albums that ishmael himself, and then jorge arago, kept updated, including the goodbyes and eulogies from june to december ’96.  some 200 pieces, along with ishma’s journal and transcripts of taped conversations, that i encoded in the summer of 2012 at the height of my grief over jorge.  next, i  prepare for interviews with some of his  family,  friends, and colleagues, hopefully to fill in the blanks and flesh out the curves.  work in progress, with quite a way to go.

distance notwithstanding, caught snatches of the house of reps’ BBL hearing graced by the president’s peace corps of elderlies and not-so-elderlies.   clearly the hope is that an acceptable BBL will be passed maybe in a couple of months or so, in time for the october filing of candidacy for the 2016 election of bangsamoro officials.   clearly there will be no proper transition period to prepare the bangsamoros to govern themselves. in 2010 the MILF said that upon the enactment of a law creating the bangsamoro autonomous region, they would need a 7-year interim period  to  prepare for a plebiscite, and then for the 2016 elections and self-government.   the palace said  a 6-year interim would do, obviously expecting that a comprehensive agreement and then a bangsamoro law could be churned out in a jiffy.  LOL.  no one foresaw that the president’s best efforts would come to this.  mamasapano aside, a railroaded BBL in the offing, and no transition period to speak of — is there even time for a credible plebiscite?  recipe for disaster.  what else is new.

meanwhile, commiserating with mary jane…