Our N. A.*s for Literature


Recently in Facebook, one N.A. for Literature, F. Sionil Jose, subtly proposed “The way out for Marawi,” where he chastised the “traditional support system” and pinpointed the arrival of immigrants, whom he described as “industrious and enterprising,” in certain Mindanao towns as causing their development. He said that Moros “are also to blame” because “they are indolent, their datu systems inhibits political and economic mobility.”

An uproar ensued. Claims too sweeping, if not uninformed, insensitive not just to actual, grounded realities but grounded and nuanced realities. It is as if the Moros are monolithic. It is as if the continuing operations of and reception to the “traditional system” are standardized. In other words,  most of the statements arguably just do not apply.

*

There is an ongoing exhibit called Lines: Pictures and Poems by Jose Garcia Villa at the Ateneo Art Gallery featuring another N.A. for Literature. Perhaps aptly, and playfully, although also insignificantly, there is a simultaneous exhibit called Ligalig: Art in a Time of Turmoil. The jurassic idea was that Villa completely averted politics in his artistic practice, an idea worthy of scoffing not exactly Villa but us who still viewed art and politics separately.  In “The Best Filipino Short Stories of 1939-1940,” part of his annual selection of the best short stories in the country, Villa said in the preface, “Perhaps the most salient new feature of Philippine poetry is its proletarian trend, its espousal of the social cause.” I almost never imagined Villa using “proletarian” in a sentence, let alone sort of hail it as being part of something “salient.” In the Ateneo Gallery exhibit, one can hear Villa the N.A. for Literature recite one of his poems, the famous one about poem’s being magical and like seagulls, I guessed? To view poetry and poets as dead is not applicable; they recite verses, their own, and their voices crack like seagulls in the dark.

Hahaha, syempre I will culminate with Amado V. Hernandez, one of the more progressive among the N.A.s for Literature. His “Luha ng Buwaya” is a favourite literary painting of the farmers’ struggle against their exploiters. I am trying to think the extent by which this novel can qualify as a “thesis novel,” akin to Sartre’s “thesis plays,” “exemplifying his philosophical propositions” (in Looking Awry). Before I can do that well, I need to further look at this notion of thesis-insert-literary-genre-here, maybe starting with Sartre’s plays. Also: a curiosity how females were cast in the novel. In one part, one female character is described as follows: “Si Sedes ay isang asawa at hindi isang palawingwing sa bahay. Katulong siya ni Andres sa pagdadala ng kanilang buhay.” In another: Aling Sabel and Pina prepare the snack of farmers as they hold a meeting. Not to discount the act of preparing snacks, but how accurate is this painting of women’s roles in rural-based social movements, specifically here a peasants’ union?

Finally: this photo from PanPil 101 Memes, exactly out of place, inapplicable in this list of N.A.s:

Why the hamburger? Here, a response totally not applicable, taken from Mark Fisher, “Capitalist Realism”: “Some students want Nietzsche in the same way that they want a hamburger; they fail to grasp—and the logic of the consumer system encourages this misapprehension—that the indigestibility, the difficulty is Nietzsche.”

Why that hat? Maybe because some of us want our N.A.s to say things that really apply to our daily suffering and joys, and not things either timeless or historically confused. Maybe we fail to grasp that some of our N.A.s are better off in memes, or maybe as memes?

 

*N.A., more usually as “not applicable,” in this instance, “National Artist”

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