sassy: aiming high, hitting low

imagine. complaining about the tagalog of amado v. hernandez in mga ibong mandaragit [now required high school reading, thank goodness, being a sequel to rizal’s fili].

that’s sassy? that’s stupid. and lazy. and, really, anti-filipino, i.e., anti everything that filipino stands for.

clearly connie v. has no love for the filipino language. she takes pride in speaking it fluently, but she can’t be bothered to write it or read it or value it, unless it’s something simple and easy, blog-easy LOL and, maybe, illustrated, para hindi boring? kidstuff, in other words. what a value to pass on to her daughters.

clearly she’s never read the pasyons or rizal or bonifacio in tagalog. that’s even more different from the tagalog, ok, filipino, we write today. but you just have to concentrate a little more than usual, and yes, a good dictionary helps, it’s certainly worth the effort, expands the mind no end.

anyway, by the way, what’s going on ba? why does connie v. actually think she deserves to have it easy and simple? what’s with this sense of entitlement? hubris? is she just so full of herself?

for more here’s katrina, who’s with academe (on and off) and into philippine lit with a passion:

i’m the last person who will look down on what people enjoy reading, nor will i insist that you must read certain books in order for you to be called “literary”. i will insist though that anyone who dares to diss any form of literature, particularly philippine lit, should have more to go on than just his or her superficial notions of taste and literature, and in this case, language.

this is exactly what connie veneracion did in her manilastandardtoday column last Tuesday. she complained about the difficult Tagalog of Amado V. Hernandez’s Mga Ibong Mandaragit, and in the end questioned its inclusion in her daughter’s school curriculum. obviously exasperated that neither she nor her husband could read this Filipino classic, she went on and on about literature and creativity, about writers making things more difficult on purpose, about the simplicity of Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and how it was so easy to understand, and how there are Filipino writers like Jay David who do write in a Filipino that’s easy to read. in the end, she blamed Ka Amado – and i imagine any other writer – for the difficult writing she had, and failed, to endure.

the question really, is this: why was she not blaming herself?

when we have difficulty reading literature in Filipino, and then have the gall to complain about it, we must should be ashamed. the question here isn’t whether or not a writer purposely made his or her writing difficult – how do you even prove purpose? the question is, why exactly you yourself, as a Filipino, cannot sit through a Filipino classic novel without complaining about its language. in the case of veneracion, Ka Amado was to blame for his kind of writing, because look! Hemingway and Jay David are so much more easy to read. never mind that Hemingway writes in a different language altogether, and David is of a different generation and therefore uses a different kind of Filipino in his writing.

it seems to be lost on veneracion that these are false comparisons, based only on her personal taste and range of reading capabilities, both of which are infinitely problematic in its insistence on simplicity and ease in reading, because literature of any kind is so much more than these.

whose requirement is it that literature be easy, anyway? isn’t this different for every person? popular literature such as David’s, for example, will be a difficult read for a Filipino who has English as a first language, for example, or someone who doesn’t use Manileño Tagalog; in the same way that Old Man and the Sea will not be an easy read for someone who isn’t familiar with Hemingway’s kind of English.

the language of literature – even when it seems easy – never is. in truth, if anyone imagines Hemingway to be easy, then in reality they do not understand him. in fact, the last thing i imagine any writer would want to hear is that his or her work was “easy” or “simple”, as neither is synonymous with “well-written” or “life changing” or even just “ang galing mo magsulat!”.

which points to another glaring fact about veneracion: she isn’t even aware of her own limitations as a reader of all these texts, and how what she had to say against Mga Ibong Mandaragit wasn’t a simple case of language, or the dichotomies that have come out of her discussion: creative writing versus popular writing, the classics versus the contemporary (as the discussion in her blog has pointed out), high art versus low art.

none of these dichotomies are easy to pin down, and the last one’s particularly difficult for a text such as Mga Ibong Mandaragit. yes, Ka Amado’s status as a Tagalog classic that’s required reading makes him “high art” in a sense, but contextualize that in the continued dominance of philippine writing in english (and here i speak not just of literature but of magazines and blogs as well), and the notion of high and low become problematic.

in fact, a little reading would tell veneracion that the presence of these Filipino classics (Mga Ibong Mandaragit, Florante at Laura, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo) in our school curriculum is anything but an effort at making it more difficult for our daughters (and apparently their parents) to appreciate literature. reading some history would’ve told veneracion that in truth, the presence of these Filipino classics in the curriculum is the product of a continuous struggle to wrest our classrooms from the throes of a western(ized) syllabus/reading list. and yes, save our children from colonial mentality – for good measure, as apparently some parents are beyond saving.

all the issues veneracion raises about literature in this country are complex, none of them are easy. what was wrong was that her discussion went beyond simple. it was simplistic. and unjust.

this is revealed even more by veneracion’s assessment of Jose Garcia Villa and his comma poems which she calls “crap” (in her blog she calls it “lokohan”). my question of course is “relative to what?” because if you are forced to respect ee cummings for his experiments in form, then why not the same respect for Villa? and let’s say you don’t care for cummings either, then at the very least, Villa – and any other writer for that matter – deserves respect for writing the way he did in the context of Philippine poetry that had yet to get it, or do anything like it.

i wish veneracion had better literature teachers when she was growing up, then maybe at the very least, she would have the words to actually praise the literature she likes other than saying they’re “easy” and “simple”; she’d also have better sense than to simply say that the works she doesn’t like – and can’t understand – are crap.

because no text, no literature, no writer, least of all Ka Amado and Mga Ibong Mandaragit, deserves that.”


  1. Angela,

    I read the article by Connie Veneracion and thought that she wrote one unnecessary heavy hitting piece. What was she in fact trying to say? That the novel by Hernandez was difficult to read and therefore not suitable for school reading?

    To be perfectly honest, I have not read Hernandez’ novel but
    like Katrina, Sassy Lawyer’s take left me asking, “why was she not blaming herself?”

  2. exactly, anna, di ba! can it be that she thinks she’s perfect just the way she is? or can it be that she thinks she’s relevant (more relevant than mandaragit) just because her blogs sell?

  3. Trust me guys, do yourselves a favor, just join the boycott on Manila Standard Today. Inquirer has the goods, ABS-CBN can provide better information, GMA News has great videos, and Manila Standard Today uhmmm, they have Malu Fernandez..

  4. then we’d have missed it completely, nick, since i don’t make pasyal to her blog at all. and stuff like that shouldn’t be missed or allowed to pass without comment. seriously offensive and misguided stuff like that kailangang sagutin at kontrahin. besides mst is remarkable for being unabashedly pro-gma (except for tony abaya, and who knows about sassy) so it’s worth reading for the latest palace spin on things. maluf i ignore of course.

  5. hi! came to your site via professional heckler’s. anyway, i read this book when i was in high school (3rd year din!)and i immensely enjoyed it! our class even had to prepare a skit based on some chapters of the book and we all had a great time.

    sayang lang talaga, sana di na lang sya nagreklamo at sabay nilang mag-inang inintindi yung nobela :( maganda sya connie v, promise! :)

  6. hi neva ;) way to go! pinoys who can’t be bothered to read and understand the tagalog of our classics and who think they’re not missing out on anything are wearing blinders, di lang nila alam.

  7. Ayayay Angela, so instead of raising the standard of teaching in Filipino we should just take the short cut (as always) or the easy way out and forget about the writings of Amado Hernandez a legend, nationalist and a national artist even. All because she can’t understand Amado hernandez writing……. tsk, tsk, tsk, too bad, or was it because she saw him as a “commie” that whatever literary contribution Hernandez gifted us she simply would rather ignore?

  8. If the Sassy Lawyer is required to read Joyce’s “Ulysses” in college, would she raise hell? and blame Joyce?

    Even if she declares herself Sassy, her whole reaction smacks of illiteracy!

  9. pedestrian observer, haha, the red bogey! actually mas maganda nga sana if that had been her excuse. at least then we would be exchanging thoughts on nationalism, and how government propaganda through the years since magsaysay has downgraded it to something evil and worthless. at least mas mataas ang antas ng diskurso, di ba naman.

  10. hey blackshama ;) no she wouldn’t blame joyce kung di niya maintindihan ang ulysses. iba yan, stateside angst. hindi na lang siya aamin na di niya ma-gets. yes, stupid may be too strong, illiterate sounds good (so to speak).

  11. Maganda ang bagong template mo, Angela.

    Kung sa mga manunulat ngayon, dapat talagang maging challenge na magsulat sa Filipino nang magaan at malinaw.

    Pero weird nga itong isinulat ni Sassy Lawyer. Sana nga mas mataas ang diskurso sa pagpuna. Hehe.

  12. hello nameless one ;) “non-Tagalog native speakers” meaning you speak another regional language but not Tagalog? then you don’t belong in the same category as sassy who speaks Tagalog fluently, sabi niya. for you the filipino language academics should be translating works like ibong mandaragit.

  13. Name, you are not speaking for all of us. I am Ilonggo and you are demonizing the rest of us. I haven’t read Ka Amado but plan to in the future. As a matter of fact, because of this “controversy” I’m buying a copy of Mandaragit to find out for myself. You should consider our position in the language issue, because we are not “powerful” and “central” our languages are being “attacked” everyday by other influences and because there is no awareness of this fact among the majority of us, therefore some of us who take up the cudgels and fight for the survival of our language, and ultimately, our culture. UNlike some groups, I do not believe that there is a Tagalista faction plotting the demise of our other languages, but definitely the growing influence of Filipino/Tagalog and english is detrimental to our own language and we are seeking ways to promote our language. Just because we care for our language, culture, and ultimately our heritage, doesnt man we are anti-Tagalog. I happen to respect Filipino, like any other language, and write and speak it fluently.

  14. demigod, may your tribe increase! i’ve always wanted to learn to speak ilonggo and kapampangan, and to read the literature. but never heard of any venues in manila. inggit ako sa ‘yo ;)

  15. The book really is insanely difficult to read, given the fact that English is now the medium of instruction in almost all schools, and the fact that more and more families use the English language at home. However, it is wrong to put down a work of art by a Filipino just because it is written in the author’s native language — and what a beautiful language it is.

    Admittedly, I am much much much more proficient in English than I am in Tagalog/Filipino. However, I do appreciate our language, and I think that Mga Ibong Mandaragit is one of the most well-written Philippine novels — even if I understand only half, LOL.

  16. bogart, salamat din ;)
    blah, it’s a beautiful language indeed. worth the effort of getting into it no matter how difficult. kasi sa umpisa lang mahirap. at a certain point you get the hang of it.

  17. may malalim na punto akong tinitingnan sa naging reaksyon ni connie v.

    nasisilip kong sekundaryong dahilan na lang niya ang “paraan” ng pasusulat ni Ka Amado. Tingin ko, mas politikal na pagkamuhi ang nagtulak sa kanya para isulat ang anti-Ka Amadong pyesa.

    Kapansin-pansin ang pagpapalitaw niya ng punto ng pagiging Komunista ni Ka Amado. at dito ako lubos na na-intriga. ang galit niya sa mga komunista ay ginamit niyang dahilan para kuwestyunin ang pagkakabilang ng “Mga Ibong Mandaragit” sa mga required readings ng mga mag-aaral ngayon.

    Kasi, kung papaniwalaan siya sa kanyang claim na Tagalog nga ang kanilang pangunahing gamit, lumalabas na pabalat lang ang mga bira niya sa estilo ni Ka Amado. Nadamay na lang si Villa sa pagsisikap niyang maglatag ng iba pang halimbawa ng “crap” na piyesa, para magmukha naman siyang maraming alam.

    At malamang, yun ang punto niya. Bakit may mga komunistang mas magaling pa sa kanya?

  18. just passing through

    >>The non-Tagalog native speakers of the Philippines are with Sassy on this one.<<

    Point one: I am not a native Tagalog/Filipino speaker. I started with English…
    Point two: I admit that I haven’t read the piece in question.

    Now that’s out of the way, what I would want to say is this. I HAVE read some Filipino literary works that are of possibly comparable depth [I read his poem “Isang Dipang Langit” for one thing-and was able to appreciate it for that matter]. That said, Filipino not being the first language is no excuse for not being able to comprehend and subsequently enjoy works of those hailed as one of the greater/greatest writers of their time. As mentioned above, dictionaries could quite possibly become your best friend in cases such as these.

    PS What exactly does she consider “fluent” I wonder when she cannot understand the piece, and neither will she condescend to consulting a dictionary…?

  19. federalist philip

    I guess what connie v is complaining about is the compulsory learning of amado hernandez. I have no quarrel in people writing on the language they prefer, but i take issue on what subjects should be taken up in college. I am a college professor, and i teach philosophy, and i believe that students must have more latitude in choosing what they want to study. At any rate, yes studying literature takes time and effort, or what paul ricoeur says as, “a loving struggle.” I don’t care to read florante at laura again, and i hope my 5yo son never has to take it up in school. I would care though that he takes up Shakespeare’s plays and chekov. that would be more substantive than amado hernandez.

  20. sorry, but if you’re pinoy and youd rather your son read shakespeare than ka amado, baka youd also rather be in u.k.? ka amado is required high school reading, along with the noli and the fili and florante at laura for very legitimate reasons, has to do with sense of history and sense of nation, even if its a damaged nation.

  21. nag-aaral para sa eksamin

    Kahit ako, ‘nung una, nahirapan basahin. Pero, grabe. Ang ganda ng pagkasulat ng nobela. ‘Di ko lang alam kung bakit kailangan pa niyang insultuhin (sa aking palagay), ang pagsusulat ni Ka ‘Mado.

    Oo nga pala. Sana nga naman ay tanggapin natin ang iba-ibang paraan ng pagsulat. Magaling naman silang lahat kung tutuusin. Magkakaibang taste lang tayo.