Should we abandon the texts of JV Ardidon simply because they are a bit demanding, a bit too hard to comprehend? To do so would most likely mean a loss for us, for we would be deprived of the chance to experience and then make sense of traumatizing encounters in literature and art in general.
What I did with “Three Traumas” is to grapple with them. The texts are difficult in that they apparently refuse the obscenely formalistic framework in its production. No “organic unity” can be promptly grasped here, which is not the same as saying that it lacks any organization, be it a principle or an actual structure. On the surface, the works appear to be deliberately scattered, and so the readers will likely be stumped: critical reading of “organic” texts is already hard enough; engaging with works which give more primacy to formal procedures than an outright message is equally challenging. “Three Traumas” is more performing than stating something (this is based on Searle’s categories of the perfomative and constative functions of language) and that does not mean that the two are mutually exclusive. (As sampled by critics like Eagleton: when the priest “said” “I now pronounce you wife and husband,” he is also “performing” the ritual of marriage; if I tell you that I feel hot and the aircon is off, I might be subtly requesting you to turn it on).
What is “Three Traumas” doing then?
Maybe inducing an “apoplexies” among its readers? Here, layers: (1) inducing an “apoplexies” in that the readers, stalled by the very term which is used to explain what is going on, will be left in greater confusion or (2) “apoplexies” in its literal sense: a neurological failure, or the more general physiological or emotional breakdown. Something which they can turn away from, or embrace, race upon.
All “traumas” are indeed traumatizing – not just in terms of what they are doing to the readers but to their very content: suspects being killed, poor suspects being killed, poor minor suspects being killed, escalator accidents, and the more philosophical lack of choice in Trauma #3.
Trauma #2 began with “losing”; Trauma #3 began with precariousness. Is this what “Three Traumas” is doing, presenting itself with utmost certainty as a work touching on uncertainties – a defeatist tendency of some postmodernisms? What if the joke is that the work itself is unsure of what it is doing?
And it is at this point that I can voice out again how we frowned upon what looked like a gratifying (although this only seems so) act of artistic na pagsasalsal. It is okay to give the readers loads of uncertainty; those can make them think, pique themselves, chew on the work more attentively. It is okay to give the readers blankness and fleeting thoughts (as opposed to Big Truths) if only they point out substances and sort of solid ideas elsewhere, outside the work. What I appreciate in “Three Traumas” is precisely what I think is its main weakness as well: in what I interpret as a conscious rendition of incompletion in order to spit at notions of “organic unity” or the self-enclosed artwork, it also ended up lacking too much and flirting with meaningless haziness (yes, some hazy things are productive).
Hence, two question that I think need to be asked by cultural workers – hardly novel questions but questions that are almost always important and, by virtue of being asked in varying contexts, gain new significance: the first one is a direct quote from Boris Groys, ““Who aestheticizes—to what purpose?” and (2) ang walang-kamatayang “para kanino?”
A reflexive note on the two questions: they implicate the other key agents that surround and mobilize the work: the writer and the reader. What is the purpose of the writer? What is she dealing with and where is she coming from; how aware is she of what she is dealing with and where is she coming from; how does she herself in relation to what she is dealing with and where she is coming from? Gusto ba ng writer na isulat ang susunod na ”Great Filipino Novel,” kung oo, paano nya nage-gets ang ideya ng “Great Filipino Novel,” kung “next” na lang ito, anong nobela o tradisyon ang sinusundan ng panulat niya?
At ukol sa walang-kamatayang “for whom”: asking this must not be seen as mechanistically done para lang ma-elicit ang ninanasang sagot na, ahem, ahem, “para sa masa” chuchu. Again, the writer’s conscious intention plays a key role. Sumusulat ba sya para sa kapwa manunulat; para sa barkadang may parehong interests at cultural exposures or tastes; para sa larger public, para sa Internet users?
Last two points:
But the writer, the text and the readers dwell in something larger, they dwell in something definite and something that transcends them. Kaya may iba pang mga bagay na dapat isaalang-alang.
In “Partisan Poetry: A Metacriticism,” Edel Garcellano cites Ernesto Cardenal, the mode in Russia raw is to “create an art that can be understood by the people”; whereas in Cuba, it is to “educate the people to the point where they can understand art.”
What are the institutions in place and which are responsible for the production, consumption, distribution, discussion among others of artworks? Feeling ko, habang nagsasalsal ang may-akda, habang nagtatangka siyang bumuo ng mga bagong moda ng pagpapahayag, habang nagtatangka siyang bumuo ng mga bagong moda ng pagpapahayag upang magsulong ng mga bagong moda ng pag-iisip at bagong uri ng kamalayan, kelangan nya ring makipaghalikan at makipagtitigan sa masalimuot niyang kapaligiran – art traditions, art history, art institutions, art education and all – unless mag-fall under the tendency na maging “I, me, myself” tulad ng tingin ni Rolando Tolentino sa avant-garde practice sa bansa. (Interestingly, nang binalikan ko uli ang essay ni Paulino, I also found his opening lines pertinent: “Layunin ng mangangatha na malaman kung anu-ano ang kaganapan labas sa sarili upang mas mapalawig ang paksa ng sulatin at lumihis sa kinasanayang kumbensiyon ng panulaan.”)
Panghuling punto: In “Charmless and Interesting: What Conceptual Poetry Lacks and What It’s Got,” sinabi ni Robert Archambeau: “in contrast to the once-and-for-allness of our experience of, say, the sublime, the… interesting is the one we tend to come back to, asking to verify, that it is STILL interesting.” Dagdag pa: “The interesting courts controversy, not necessarily through its contents, or any polemical position about which it tries to be didactic, but through the way in which it collides with the expectations of the moment.”
Ngayon, binalikan ko itong “Three Traumas,” at medyo na-affirm lang naman ang initial readings ko rito. Ngunit kalakasan iyon ng akda, sa tingin ko. Higit pa, it succeeded in its tacit demand on the readers: di lang, basahin mo ‘ko, titigan mo ‘ko kung hindi banggain mo ako, buuin mo ‘ko.
Pero hindi lang dapat “expectations of the moment” ang isinasaalang-alang ng mga likhang sining, cultural products in general. Dapat ring pagnilayan ang mga mas solido, kung hindi man mga mas continual na tanong: ano ang gusto kong sabihin, ano ang gusto kong gawin, sino ang gusto kong kausapin o hawakan, ano ang gusto kong gawin nya?
Pwede ko siyang paranasin ng trauma: sana lang hindi mabagok, bagkus e mabago ang ulo nya.