Adam David and Miguel Syjuco’s conversation, as published by Ateneo’s Kritika Kultura, more than an unexpected yummy treat not exactly for aspiring writers but for ongoing-writers, is also a heartwarming exchange between two literatis that could make us realize the specialness of the act of writing vis-à-vis the calloused and complex lives lived in today’s society. In this exchange, the two actively engaged in a discussion of issues revolving the literary scene mainly in the Philippines but also in the international context. Issues such as the arguably persisting crab mentality within the “little kings and queens of Pinoy lit” as opposed to the characteristically Pinoy bayanihan unfelt within this same exclusive circle; the common ground between the long-standing divergence of art for art’s sake and art for man’s sake, however too general and simplified these terms might sound; and the problems of incorporating both local and international flavors and reaching for both these kinds of audiences were touched on.
This exchange appears to be a really stimulating one, exemplifying the kind of engagements, of communication, that is highly valuable for and between humans in this universe, in this society that recent documentations have said to be more and more alienating, despairing and apocalyptically self-defeating. It appeared as an unadulterated kind of passing of thoughts between each other, not much hampered by ideological or personal predilections or motivations, but made almost visibly vibrant by the willing meeting of the minds of learned and experienced individuals. David would recall his getting out of the Malikhaing Pagsulat program of UP while Syjuco would perhaps bittersweetly retell his early struggles not just to get published but more significantly, to survive day after day abroad. Less firsthand and concrete than these, though certainly not less acute and relevant is David citing Marianne Robinson or Sjyuco endlessly harking back on his (readerly) engagements with Bolaño. It is less of a debate with a tacit aim of declaring a winning side than a dialogue where judgments are provisional and ideas are put forth for its own and the others’ morphing into something less uncertain, something more tenable and worthwhile to keep.
What I find most endearing though, most afflatus-lifting, uplifting, is Syjuco’s insistence on the priority of literature, and hence, a necessary push for its diligent and prolific and demanding production. The question and scrutiny of the quality of these products shall come afterwards, when there are enough literary products already distilled after a painstaking and painful process of drafting and redrafting and revising and revisiting.
At first, this statement by Syjuco passed off to me as somewhat exorbitant with its impressions, but a closer reckoning made me imbibe the sense of goading the statement may have been originally intended to effect:
“All of us have much to do. But what’s the priority? Everything else, or literature?
Syjuco would downplay all the others, the ‘everything else,’ in favor of the pushing for, the crusade for literature, even one of the usually mentioned determining forces in the activities not just of writers but all of us – economics. Said Syjuco further, “I really don’t think it’s economics, because economics is an issue everywhere. I think it’s just getting out and spending the time and patience necessary to make the work work.”
Definitely, this is not a haphazard, outright bypassing of this important influence of the economics, as some hasty (non-)readers might make out of the above statement. I think, I believe, following Syjuco’s insistence on and for the utmost importance of literature, this statement on economics is merely his implication that in spite of the vastness of this economic factor, literature can trample it on, can hurdle it and more ahead towards its triumph.
And what do I think is this triumph of literature? I think it is not just being merely there, written movementless on the page, transcribed challengers-less in the minds of geniuses and tramps and artist – the triumph of literature shall constitute an endless movement, almost a cycle, a coming-and-going towards further development of the letters that we write and bleed for and whose shapes and postures we have culled from our everyday faring in the waves of traffic and human interactions and conversations, sunbathing and smoke-inhaling/exhaling, and after these again, painful and painstaking processes of transcribing, shall be read to others, shall be made to be read, or listened to by others, for the trickiest of their interpretations, for the most provisional of their judgments, for the wisdom of their evaluations, or we do not know, for the benefit or detriment of their actions.
See, literature is on the one hand produced, and on the other, received. In its production, there shall be an unrelenting will to forge ahead despite circumstances and impinging of the economic, or of the circumstantial or of the meticulously cosmic, to produce literature, to devote eons of time for it in the cubicle, in the streets, in the ruptures in the evening made by the moonlights, in the waiting areas of malls, in the often charming stillness of aftersex. There should be time for it as there is time for eating and pooping and buying the groceries. And there should be discipline too, there should be structure in it too as there is discipline and structure, at least ideally, in our diet and in our studies, in our lives.
In its reception, there shall be an openness and respect to the diversity of voices and opinions and impressions and the frankness to butcher letters, praise letters, recommend things to letters for their own sharpening and expanding. We should be writing literature, and we should be reading literature. Hell we care with belles-lettres and literary institutions and their teachings of the literary, if people are writing crap from our standards, if they are reading Precious Hearts and Tom Clancy, let us sulk and scorn a little and be more willing to engage them. Like David said, we need to work together; like Syjuco implied, there need not be a monopoly of the discourse, everyone should be encouraged to pitch in with their several-cents of thoughts; like the both of them performed in this conversation, writing and literature should be an ongoing engagement, where people will occasionally meet and sit down and discuss together after writing their lives in the wor(l)dpad of the universe separately and who knows, maybe afterwards, they will not just sit down and talk together, they will also do and then write down things in and about and for the world, together.