Two hours earlier, I presented a paper called “On the Possible Shamness of Academic Conferences” in the beautiful, exoticized islands of the Philippines. I arrived at the conference just hours before the start of the program and after watching all the carbon emissions from the airplane I rode in going here (the experience reminded me of this. I am from the unknown island of Untied Dingcome.
Just after my presentation, I thought of the possible shamness of academic conferences, precisely the title of my paper. Before finally deciding to attend this conference, I had to think not twice but tries—that is, for grammatical purposes, I had to try to swallow my heart and think about the event as an opportunity to meet and listen to people, see a new place, secure a prestigious certificate, taste exotic food and pray that really meaningful conversations will transpire.
I guess I was rattled inside. This is when I resorted to reviewing encouraging messages from my senior classmates. These encouraging messages, ironically, talk about academic conferences in not-so-encouraging terms. That is what made these reminders lovely and spiriting for me!
(One described “a lot of [conferences as] sham” while another is more particularly indicting, using words like “self-serving academics” to refer to the london pips)
I begin with Borges who vilified a simplistic view of reading-as-transaction in The Library of Babel:
“You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language? The methodical task of writing distracts me from the present state of men. The certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms. I know of districts in which the young men prostrate themselves before books and kiss their pages in a barbarous manner, but they do not know how to decipher a single letter.”
The spice of life is not its problems; it is the comedy that we make out of its little agonies.
During the Salamindanaw International Film Festival, on the last day of the Film Criticism Workshop, we had the chance to watch Patay na si Hesus (Villanueva, 2016) which for me was like winning a lottery.
Obviously not in the art itself, not in its formal aspects, not in the way a cinematic shot takes fifteen-minutes long and not the more standard five seconds in Hollywood, not in the way a black square is superimposed on a red rectangle, not in the way sentences are cut short in the midd, not in the way language calls attention to itself, say, by changing mula Filipino to cambiar, grammar notwithstanding.
Pretentious art becomes in the manner of seeing, the tools in analyzing and judging.
Pretentious because there is an expectation of honesty from art, of art knowing what it is trying to achieve, trying to articulate, of art knowing the limits of its powers, harnessing its chosen forms and techniques to match with what it is trying to achieve, trying to articulate. INSTEAD OF SOMETHING THAT PRETENDS TO KNOW WHAT IT IS DOING WITH THE VISUAL POEM? THE ERRATIC MONTAGE IN FILM? THE ABSENCE OF SOUND IN MUSIC?
Less pretentiously on my part, pretentious art is made by the lack of the proper and necessary education and venues for conversation to make sense of, grapple, grasp and fondle such works of art. This kind of education is not a very humble thing to ask given the millions who do not even know how to read or write. Pretentious art is made by the lack, or more aptly the inequality of access to these works of art of cultural works. Access to these things not a very humble thing to ask given the millions who do not even have access to food or clean water.
I see Vice Ganda dancing all day and then one day I see Lav Diaz opening a movie with a scene where nothing happens for 88 minutes.
For some—or most?—“pretentious” art is even an anomaly. Majority of artworks, of cultural works—from a ten-peso rental of a Precious Hearts Romance to Arundhati Roy’s much-awaited The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Kathniel’s kilig flick from Star Cinema to Lars’ Nymphomaniac—are not a pretense to them. It is a luxury.