A rant on being in Baguio in late October and the frequent use of “LOL” and “:-)” as a response

Before leaving Baguio for Manila earlier this week, I had this rant, with the charger of my laptop not functioning and I am waiting for Jesa and her sister to finally finish their house-transfer and old Baguio people packing and leaving well, sensibly traceless

At a loss, I am discovering how laptop-dependent I have become. I cannot appease myself successfully even when I have haddon and kafka and Dostoyevsky to turn to now that I find Michelle’s fuck buddy suddenly sterilized. Perhaps I just need to get to Caloocan and see home and feel it with my tongue and skin. A long semester aches to be put to rest and the familiar sights in Baguio seem to deny this forever. Bea’s at 9pm and coffee and smoke and fog have all been part of this rabid June to October and a hiatus seems hard to be official as long as I still sense most of the elements that partook in the slapdashness of the past months.

Baguio is becoming stale. Without the fervency palpable in Jesa’s shadows, this city would be doomed to a slaughtered aesthetics. People only look uglier and uglier; entrapped in a polluted environment whose values being buttressed are sick and self-expedient. In supermarkets, people seem to aspire to dazzle in celebrity-like fashion: colorful designer clothes or outrageous, eccentric dresses that perhaps want to monopolize all attention in haraway. Here: the massive rise of fashion in today’s paranoia. I think this relates to the fad of appearance amplified in the fucking posts- world. One values appearance more than anything else: principles, sensibility, intimacy. So we have here speedy individuals outdoing one another in “appearing” better and in the process, make less genuine connection. There are no bridges being built among people; rather, more attention to the way one smells, the way one’s hair looks like. In an age when everything is being prefixed with posts-, as if to erase the things they precede (postmodern to the modern; post-theory to theory); when there are more advertisements and new Ipad models than knowledge and awareness of our rights or poetry, appearances have not only deceived us; they have succeeded in implying that there are nothing else aside from them.

Superficiality and everything micro penetrated our everyday consciousness and behavior and we must begin probing and penetrating in counter unless the postmodern disavowal of depth wins out. We need to appreciate the radical manners once more – way s of looking at things with invigorated and passionate plumbing of the details and implications all the way to the deepest level. For instance, we must not sulk upon perspectives that trace climate change majorly to multinational corporation’s doings, or deficient school facilities to annual budget slashes. Terry Eagleton warned us about history dashing in the immensity of its steps and potentially swooping down on us with the pettiness of our actions. The tides are always on the onslaught and we seem to become content with flimsy tents commonly going by soft ideals and slogans we cannot harden on the ground. People are dying in famish and we become deeply content with and perhaps subtly rid of guilt by purchasing doughnuts or charity sweepstakes that claim part of the proceeds will go to feeding the poor. Storms and landslides and droughts imperil lives and crops and we “do our part” by purchasing Eco-friendly bags, captivated by the catchphrases like “Go Green, Save Mother Earth!”

We are missing the point exactly because the tip of the iceberg is not the iceberg. We need to dive forward and deeper and try to see things in their greater immensity and not just chew the bits of information thrown by the media or the bulk of truth spewed by big story-makers. The more we hook ourselves with appearances, the less we see the scars under the Prada, or the lonely heart under the bejeweled body.

Always, outflow of words like this verges on outrunning a sermon. Still, that should not impede the propulsion of discourse. This too is another thing. For when big words like “war on terror,” “axis of evil” and “financial crisis” are continually being fabricated and skewed for us, we need to go beyond timid, lousy answers such as, “Yep,” “That’s a good point,” “LOL,” “IKR” and “:-).”


Begging on the streets and the common irony between rich and poor

What if one day, people in long sleeves and slacks put themselves in the streets begging not for mere coins but for a sheaf of bills among the passersby? Last Monday, that What If just happened.

The package was quite simple: A bunch of kids will dress up as “rich people,” or at least, people who do not resemble beggars. They would beg for a minimum of P5000 from ordinary people on the streets to cover the expenses for the condominium they purport to construct. There would be poetry, too, for I forgot to mention, this venture is launched by people who believe in the power of poetry to reconstruct our everyday experiences – from the more minute like taking a bath or looking at 6pm rush hours to the more immense like the crappiness of bureaucracy and the calling for social change.

Every day, the rich are making money out of the poor. With their massive control of the big businesses, the media, the vast areas of land and most government positions, they make the best out of the poor’s economic contributions in a social make-up that benefits only them in major ways. A simple drop-by and buying at a gargantuan mall which splays itself almost in the entire archipelago (Would we be surprised at the rise of an SM Palawan?) means even the littlest contribution to the profits raised by such business. Over at the National Government, most people execute tasks that protect their interests at the expense of the poor. This is manifested in the laws written and approved, the Presidential orders made and so on. Of course, there are the big landlords exploiting the labor of small farmers who till the land but get scarce share in the production.

The people need to reconstitute these facts and their everyday realities as existing, actually dominant coordinates that largely shape their living. The streets are a suitable venue to forge such push for reconstitution since it is the heart of public life. Here, people of all kinds stroll every day, to and from work, or school, or just in their enforced loitering. Here are located the groceries, the churches, the medical centers, the clothing shops – most of what people need, from the literal food to food of the soul, and most of what is told for them to want.

Most certainly, such reconstitution cannot be spurred by mere verbiage. One can actually argue that verbal communications are always reliable to some extent. But the case for this one, entails otherwise. One can appear sermonizing about the ills of capitalism and how they seep down through our behaviors and cultural choices. Yet this is likely to be ineffective. People are already fatigued of these types of communicating to them. If worse, they no longer pay attention. “Political” verbals teem with words that mostly sound appear ragged and alien to their target audience. They usually lack the novelty, the color and the vivacity that precisely abound in popular culture fads. The point here is to render the same content of political messages in more diverse, more jolting manners that are likely to engage the target audience more. This is what Pedantic Pedestrians tried to achieve with its first venture in Street Poetry last Monday.

We believe that the crispness of the message of political engagement and critical thinking should still ring in the people’s ears especially now that more stomachs are unfed and more rights are violated. But the people need new forms of engagement. The mainstream culture is already infested with a pacifying, delusive happiness that new, if not shocking forms must be explored in order to reach them again.

Other links to our “street poetry:”




Pedantic Pedestrians at the onset of “begging”: Donning clothes not resembling those of beggars, we went to the streets for a symbolic message.
Always, there is a potential to be misinterpreted. But some shades of attention proved a good headstart.
A woman passed by and expressed her support. She even advised us to rephrase our “written poster” in order to make its message clearer to our target audience.

The serious limits of “postmodern” fiction: On David Foster Wallace’s “Here and There”

For my first intercourse with David Foster Wallace, controversial author of the acclaimed, encyclopedic novel Infinite Jest which I also aim to read, what I see is what I deem to be the classic wounded hero of contemporary fiction. In the story “Here and There” which is part of collection of stories, “Girl With Curious Hair,” Wallace displayed mastery of his characters, Bruce and his partner, as he puts the two of them in a “displaced” exchange of thoughts that somehow managed to appear responsive of one another. This actually prefaces a lack of similar groundedness between the two whose relationship would eventually fall apart and prelude a more excruciating, albeit commonly proffered falling apart in contemporary society (arguably, one that Wallace himself succumbed to in real life) – the falling apart of the individual.

The incongruities that first struck me here is those between Bruce and his partner. At the onset, Wallace’s wrenching of the deceitfully simple words “here” and “there” was not yet too hard to follow: if not physical distance, it involved mental misapprehensions. We could argue later, upon proceeding with the text, that there was not even an effort to apprehend. Bruce would share,

“At the time, with her, yes, I’d feel vaguely elsewhere…” Physical proximity had its merits, but something is proving to be more potent a force when this factor is negated: “I knew her, I knew every curve, hollow, inlet and response of a body that was cool, hard, taut, waistless…. Only when I was forced to be away at school did things mysteriously change.”

Both were resigning to the widely propagated dictum of things changing and Bruce’s partner would provide a clue to the more pressing issue they had to face: “I sense feeling being avoided not confronted.” In the affluence of cosmic forces and existing material conditions that factor in their relationship, there was no mutual effort to arrest anxieties and uncertainties. Bruce was envisioning a world rife with cleanliness and perfection. The essential improbability of this “there” he dreams of would ultimately subjugate him and make him wallow in murdering fear.

Bruce’s structural vision: being the “great poet of technology”

For all of his engineering enterprises and fascination over definitive systems and the concomitant ramblings on the potential of language in particular and signification in general, Bruce had quite an immodest vision. He hankers for the mathematicization of meaning and communication, the foregoing of language that after all dirties the communication process. In his conversation with Leonard, his older brother, Bruce received the same beating but remain undeterred:

“Leonard maintains that I am just like our mother and suffer from an unhappy and ultimately foolish desire to be perfect. Leonard says I’ve always liked playing games with words in order to escape the real meanings of things. I become almost hysterically excited and say that that’s just the point and begin to spout run-on sentences about the impending death of lexical utterances.”

Here, a case in point for Bruce is already crystallizing for me. Here is a man who intellectualizes meaning and sense too much that it overtakes his entire experience. He wants to treat his experiences as a “community of signs” which perhaps he wishes to conquer with his systematization of it. But similar to De Saussure and all the grand structural scheme of rooting the ones that govern the flow of humanity every day, partly by the post-structural assertion of angst and the irremovable dialectic operating underneath the universe, Bruce’s outlook only failed and tormented him. This structural attention to and emphasis on “axiom, language and formation-rule” and its mechanistic tendency also recoils at the humanity that should be fostered by a civilization that is mainly human. With regard to his partner, a severe ending has been mapped out, all incongruities are bitterly punctuated by the insight that more than disharmony, there was total ignorance, worst, totally neglecting the human in favor of a supposed overarching process that illuminates it:

“Bruce why not just admit that what bothers you so much is that she has given irresistible notice that she has an emotional life with features that you knew nothing about, that she is just plan different from whatever you might decide to make her into for yourself. In short a person, Bruce.”

Is this not the murder of the human usually faulted on Structuralism?

After the human dies: Crumbling in fear

When his relationship has ended, Bruce found himself “immersing in the lives and concerns of two adults for whom I have a real and growing affection.” What was once a potential to reconnect with humanity became an agonizing retreat to a tormenting present, not a successful springboard to an absence (a “there) being anticipated and desired. Anxieties get into Bruce’s skin more and more and which culminates in a fittingly terrifying dream:

“In this dream I am afraid of the sky: she has pointed at it with her rake handle and it is full of clouds which, seen from here below, form themselves into variegated symbols of the calculus and begin to undergo manipulations I neither cause nor understand. In all my dreams, the world is windy, disordered, grey.”

So here comes the paralyzing fact that despite its provisionality, haunts still merely for being right there, and not just there in one’s envisioning. In contrast to Bruce’s “here,”  the clean calculations he wants, “there” at the distance were the things that are actually happening – symbols that one does not beget, and cannot fully understand. Its termination would clinch the admission of fear. Bruce fumbled in repairing the crude system of his aunt’s old stove and the disconnections that ensued, and which disillusioned him ultimately, were not something he solely caused; they were part and parcel of the system that does not always work perfectly. Bruce would let his fear gobble him as he no longer shuts his eyes when his wish for a perfect totality disintegrates in front of him.

The mismatches in here and there, Wallace’s control and the gnawing frailty of resolution:

Spanning some abstractions of a character that in the end was marred by the world whose actuality did not attune with his visions, Wallace’s short story typifies the path brazenly trailblazed by structuralism only to end in the anxiety and the little creativities  (which are absent in the story) of post-structuralism. As the writer, Wallace owned mastery, hardly characterizing his characters except for their thoughts which are immensely divorced from their material settings. What Wallace professed are two characters recollecting experiences and spewing thoughts at each other and it is in this mainly mental realm that we were able to engage with the story. In that sense, “Here and There” can be argued to cut us off a material plot where we can certainly understand the origin of thoughts more concretely and more objectively. We were offered only with the already biased thoughts of Bruce and his partner and this reduces the reliability of every interpretation, which we can aptly blame to a hardly reliable narration. Wallace bypasses the material – where the thoughts were situated and likely have been influenced in their formation, and if that was done for his own mastery of the story, then he evidently succeeds.

Still, this ricocheted to the resolution of the story, which for all of its being fleshed out from the universe of thoughts, is at its best frail, and at its worst, lifelessly abstract. Bruce admitted fear and hardly can we imagine how he would go on with his life now that his vision has been shattered — which is the same flak that debilitated post-structuralism despite its (feigned) celebration of creativity and playfulness after the collapse of the so-called structures. What is lacking is the recognition, not to say understanding of the dialectical procedure that operated at ground level where humanity exchanges breath and sweat and personalities. Definitely, it would be a surprise if that emerges in this story where the thoughts of the characters were isolated from their material situations. In the end, Wallace also joins the bevy of contemporary writers whose revelry and creativity spring from a postmodern attitude of either cynicism or openness which in the same vein, limits the discourses generated and propelled by their fictions.

The greatly missed David Foster Wallace

Getting burned in “sunny development”: on Kidlat Tahimik’s Perfumed Nightmare

Kidlat Tahimik, the renowned filmmaker from Baguio City, is arguably most famously known from his 1977 movie Perfumed Nightmare which is also often considered as one of the first Filipino indie films. Perfumed Nigtmare treated the idea of development as it was exported to the Philippines by its then American colonizers. In the end, Kidlat, who was also the main character in the film, met disillusionment instead of satisfaction.

We should ask: what has happened to the idea of progress Kidlat Tahimik both filmed and lived with and came up in the name of Perfumed Nightmare? When the storm blows the cocoon, the butterfly embraces the sun and more or less got burned, and hence, must opt for a new path and a new destination. A path and destination that are both self-set, as the film would tell towards its end. The bridges were either left unfinished or destroyed and so Kidlat’s and the film’s exhortations: choosing one’s own vehicle; choosing one’s own bridge.  The capitalistic monster continues to haunt and more terrifyingly so as it commences its late stage and purports to construct avenues for human development in the name of its genuine objective: perpetual growth of capital and profit for the weal of the few at the expense of the majority. Classical slogan-ish message adroitly transformed by the film into a clean narrative profuse with well-placed, mostly bricolaged images.

Tahimik was President of the Wernher von Braun Fan Club, an individual harboring the American dream in a manner and for reasons we very much certainly know. The film is not scarce with interesting and meaningful opposites: the title (Perfumed Nightmare) itself intrigues with its play on opposites. During the opening credits, we could see the words “Isang film ni Kidlat Tahimik.”

Intentional? An inconsequential oversight?

What I read is that at the onset, the film is preparing the audience to the tricky ironies it will present and perhaps it wished for them to ruminate intently on. Kidlat is captivated by the American Radio Show and the Miss Universe and perhaps we were already dismissing him as the typical Americanized rural Filipino. Still, Kidlat’s roots are firmly Filipino: the insular atmosphere, the bamboo nuts which they plod on, I think these hardly mutable spatial configurations and elements keep Kidlat from being totally drawn to barbaric Americanization.  He lives with fellow Filipino probinsyanos, drives the uniquely Filipino jeepney across the locality and ultimately, as I wish to look at it, these engagements within his lived reality constantly posed the threat to complete Americanization and likewise sustained the potential of revealing the actual motivations behind this process.

You do not regularly see this in Europe.

Kidlat got an offer to work abroad and refusal seemed unfeasible. The film exploits its own narrative to show how America dwells in spirit both in another physical land and in that land’s people’s hearts and minds. On their journey, Kidlat and a female companion had to stop in order to pee and then the camera pans to the right to reveal a landscape and eventually a Marlboro country billboard. The connotations are rich and this richness can be situated tenably in several contexts. Through brands like Marlboro, the American spirit proves to continue to thrive in its former colony. Arriving at the airport, Kidlat appeared insane with joy. Disillusionment will arrive in a matter of one flight.

Cracked Paradise: Tahimik abroad

This is how the commencement of the stint abroad can be put in words: America is paradise. Kidlat was yet to reach America, but his initial exposures to Europe evidently already thrilled him. However, the series of events led him to his realization of his perfumed nightmare. Some words I caught which perhaps foretold or signified such realization are as follows: If small markets work, why build supermarkets? If small planes work, why super flying machines? An answer might have been already stated in a genius or lunacy of analyzing the course of history of society: production is dedicated not to needs but to profit.

As an ending, Kidlat resigned not only as President but member of the club. The message of his indictments can be read simplistically: I choose my vehicle. I choose my bridge. However, one can always probe possible complications. How can this not be read as wayward individualism? To what extent does it espouse the enforcement of self-agency in the face of socio-economic forces and their concomitant narratives? As Kidlat was disillusioned by the American dream, how can we gauge his ensuing change of understanding of the realities outside himself? Is it still significant? One can propound that we can settle at where the film settles: Kidlat seeing first-hand the thing with foreign countries which ultimately curtailed his zealous desire to go to America, and shatter his lofty ideas about the country. This was furthered with valid and thought-provoking questions and insights, but how can one formulate a more solid understanding of the whole?

These are questions emerging from evaluative purposes, which are not entirely what I aim to do here. As Terry Eagleton said, we speak of ourselves when we do evaluation while we speak of the text when we do criticism. Still, I believe evaluation and criticism cannot wholly exist without the other and this is something that shall be welcomed.

As a final note, Tahimik’s Perfumed Nightmare masterfully exploits its formal properties, particularly the narrative itself, the point of view and the editing to come up with an artistic whole delivering a coherent point. Through the ways of seeing of Kidlat the Club President and the screwy juxtapositions of images in a number of frames and sequencing of clashing images, Perfumed Nightmare reveals the stink of the American-glossed idea of “development” we have been dreaming about. It is something one would not want to be into, as evinced in the end by Kidlat resigning from the Club and returning to the Philippines.


Arguably the first Filipino indie film.