In a writing workshop I attended last May, Jun Cruz Reyes asked us, younger writers, Asan ang bansa sa mga akda nyo? Thinking about this question days after the workshop, I am prodded: is the question of the nation not a very significant one – if not “the” question to ponder — especially in our times today when the emphasis is either on the “global” or on the “local”? We know very well how the current period is celebrated as the period of globalization, where from Baguio, you can easily contact your friend working as an English teacher in Australia; or where people from Japan, Nigeria, La Trinidad and basically anywhere where there is reliable internet connection get informed at the same time of the winners in the Cannes Film Festival or the Miss Universe pageant. But on the other hand, discreetly as a response to the too widely encompassing breadth of globalization, there is the call to not forget the local, to reach back to one’s roots, to remain grounded and rooted in the face of the promises of mobility.
Is not the question of the nation the most proper and productive vantage point from which we can make sense of our everyday, diverse experiences? It does not have the totalizing and simplifying tendency of the global nor does it have the too specific positioning of the local. How rarely do we recognize that for all equalizing effects of globalization, however tenuous or delusive – the Internet for instance where ‘everyone’ can meet and interact and avail of its offerings – there are the grimmer social and political realities that fuel global phenonema? Are our notions of globalization filled with children from undeveloped nations laboring under tough working condition, most of the time unwillingly, and under the auspices of multinational, global companies? Does globalization ever mean to us the plundering of the resources of Third World countries by mega corporations from the First World who control exactly the technologies needed to turn these raw products into finished goods? For all the cutesiness of the global is a terribly malnourished child or worker from poor countries assembling the laptops that we eventually gloat at – and if we are a bit lucky or slaving, purchase — in malls.
Then there is the local, whose more vital contribution is its stress on groundedness. The local, most likely containing the practices, the belief systems, the diurnal ways of life, is closest to us. It involves the way people literally mobilize themselves (in Baguio, one can bike, ride the jeepney or the taxis, which are cheaper than in Manila), the way people form notions related to sexuality (what is it with the ubiquity of the barrel man?) or the venues where they gather to express themselves (from the dap-ay to poetry open mics). Ideas and ways of doing things are formed and shaped first via these first-hand encounters before they were shaped by more distanced sources, say the Internet or books.
During the workshop, a fellow from Iligan City, commenting on the name of one character in the play we were looking at, pointed out that “Katalagman,” the name of one of the protagonists, means “delubyo” in their language. The scriptwriter – and most of the members of the panel and the other fellows — was unaware of this. This scenario exemplifies the potential richness that can be revealed when various specific localities and cultures talk to one another. Is this not a meaningful detour from the regionalist tendency that usually leads to destructive and competitive clashes instead of productive collaborations? This is the downside of the local. Whereas the global pretends that all of us are equal (Never mind that a few is profiting from the work of many, we all have internet access anyway!) the local has this risk of reaching isolation, if not exoticization. Is the same not slightly at work when we come to identify places or communities with certain events or things? Say, Bohol and tarsier; Baguio and Panagbenga; the Kalingas and headhunting; the Mindanao populace and the demonized Moro. Sometimes, these typecast attributions are just too simplifying, eliding the complex histories and discourses that are really pulsating on the ground; the worse case is when they are false and result to negative portrayals.
Where is the “nation” in all these ramblings? The nation is in the global as much as it is in the global. It sanctions the marketing of the barrel man and the subsequent dilution of its cultural meaning – hence: a delusion as well. The nation is that which is bereft of the suitable technologies to utilize its natural resources for the benefit of its people. The nation is in the crown worn by a Beauty Queen who, to consider it kindly, was compelled by the very arena where she sought to please to say that her country’s colonizer is really its BBF. It is the entire complex of the nation that helps in pushing one to go abroad and teach English in Australia. The nation offers one good vantage point from which we can see the interrelatedness of things: a task often assigned to the writer, but must be the preoccupation of all.
It is not enough to narrate the nation, as cued by Homi Bhabha. Deleuze was laughing when he said that “to create was always something else than to communicate.” The nation is not just a symbol, a mere effect of language. Similarly, writers looking for, locating, inscribing the ‘nation’ in their works are not foolhardy wordsmiths fashioning the ‘nation’ in their works merely with the power of their words. These writers are sweaty, back sinking, sometimes kinky, sometimes slinking. And the nation is too big and yet that is precisely why they cannot find it; and then the writers – us all — will realize that the “bansa” is to be found not because it is lost – it is to be found because it is everywhere and yet it does not make sense.