Being sarcastic and sincere (but mostly sincere) with Borges and Tilde


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.”

Continue reading “Being sarcastic and sincere (but mostly sincere) with Borges and Tilde”

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.

Continue reading “Our N. A.*s for Literature”

Sometimes, Lav and Noe and Malraux hold hands and they do not see each other


When there is no distinct feature, no recognizable object or expression is being accentuated in a movie scene, something must be happening elsewhere, by other means. For a medium whose communicative power is mainly visual, blocking out almost completely the visually distinguishable can be very telling.

There is a scene in Lav Diaz’ “Ang Babaeng Humayo” where Horatia first met Hollanda. The former was wearing a cap and a jacket which she will later offer to the ailing cross-dresser. The streets were dark and Hollanda was struggling wildly to move; it was then that Horatia came to help. We see just the outlines of their bodies during this first meeting that flirted with the tender. We do not see the features of their faces as they talked; no faces seen in this first meeting that flirted with the tender. At one point, the camera focused on the jeepney behind them, an inert witness to this first meeting that was tender. In offering this tenderness, Lav went against the primacy of the visage, demonstrating instead the palpable in the auditory. The visual is not utterly negated, for the outlines of their bodies and their movements are still barely perceptible. But in this scene, much of the power of the scene is rendered by what is heard.

In Gaspar Noe’s “Love,” something similar is at work. But here, dialogue is absent; it is mostly the dimmed contours of the characters—the lovers Electra and Murphy—against the accentuated background. It is neither through their facial reactions nor their exchange of words that we witness their reconciliation. The outline of their bodies sufficed.

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As much as sight is significant, it also always verge on being overrated. When I can hear the coming of the color red, I will hear it. I wish I can also touch the meaning of redemption. I imagine myself tasting that scene when Summer saw Tom in the parking lot again after she has married. Sometimes, it is good to smell the drums announcing exuberance.

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When Hollanda and Horatia first met in “Ang Babaeng Humayo.” Screenshot from: https://livelovecinema.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/cine-reviews-ang-babaeng-humayo-the-woman-who-left/

When the protagonists have fallen towards the end of Malraux’s Man’s Fate, I know I can live with less of my eyes apprehending all the noises and meanings. Katov was being sent to her place in the prison, waiting for death. He mused: “all those who were not yet dead were waiting for the whistle.” They were whispering—these people awaiting the whistles of their respective deaths—and there they were able to sense a feeling of oneness, however futile or meaningless. Then Katov lose the cyanide in his hands and in the darkness, struggled to find it on the floor: “Their hands brushed his. And suddenly one of them took his, pressed it, held it. ‘Even if we don’t find it…’ said one of the voices. Katov also pressed his hand, on the verge of tears, held by that pitiful fraternity, without a face, almost without a real voice (all whispers resemble one another).”

Sometimes, I do not want to see faces.

I want to feel fraternity that is pitiful with a hand that is bloody and livened by thick veins.

I want to feel love with tears of two having a union in their places.

I want to touch compassion and kindness, like this summer heat presses on our harrowed napes.

Sometimes I want to see your face in your tired feet, or your paper doodles.

Let us touch each other there.

 

 

 

 

Thinking Now, of Now and Ahead, with some help from Trainspotting’s Renton


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If we look at it closely, we can appreciate Renton’s jutting butt much better. For the mesmerizing irony is his butt is a whiff away from the subs, the subs which the butt’s projection (and the subsequent scenes) betray. Aside from this, Renton’s uneasy figure is overpowered by the colourful, clean and very organized background; hence, his littleness is in place precisely because he is out-of-place (almost an inconsequential presence) in the entire scene.

Which can be said as well to the last urinal in Do You Not Think so Far Ahead? The rest of the urinals in the work are mere backgrounders to each section’s title; even some of them are blurred. But the last urinal is presented in so meticulous details: with parts labelled, an inset and a see-through. What is a “wax ring,” a “ballcock”; how about “flange bolts”? The last urinal shows those. Before this, the urinals shown are dead daily company. In the last one, it is presented as an intricate machine, with all its mechanical workings implied.

I’m no longer alive, said all previous urinals. Not true. Renton went as fast as he could, looking for any decent toilet; while fantasizing too.

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Kristeva distinguished the symbolic from the semiotic mode of signification: the former is an “expression of orderly meaning” and the latter is a “discharge of subject’s energy, emotion, drives.” Renton had fantasies not only of order but of pristineness, not only a toilet seat but

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Eventually, what he had was an artless, if not perfunctory, discharge. He too anticipated it, he was aware of the circumstances, he was aware of the pathos of fantasies, his very own fantasies

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To posit, obliquely, that art is or can be autonomous is to flirt with fantasies. And most likely it is the pathetic kind of fantasy (I fancy it precisely because it not here, it is not real, I cannot make it real). But it can be read in more empowering terms: rather than art striving to be “autonomous”; art recognizing itself as “situated,” as located and invested and as “Do You Not Think so Far Ahead” put it, “such formulation certainly brings in the sociality and the materiality of a given work.”

I recall Zizek and his notes on “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” and Desire: the very unfulfilment of Desire fuels Desire – fulfils it, why not?! In more solid terms that can defeat those defeatist undertones, we can say of art and autonomy that art, now explicit about its location, its situatedness, “bursts forth” “towards it,” towards autonomy, or more aptly, towards the abandonment of this very pursuit.

The notion of an autonomous art has long gone filthy; it is time to flush it.

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In many ways, we have these confounding contradictions: always have them, so the great differences will lie on how to confront them. “What if the very properties which were supposed to repel market forces are the same properties which pull it towards the market?”

What could be these properties of art? What are the forces of the market – the art institutions, the purchasers of art, the art auctions? But not all art institutions are the same; so are the purchasers and auctioneers of art. Here, not only raising questions are equally, if not more significant than raising a point; making explicit and interrogating, again, the very location, where one is making her point, where one is coming from is significant too.

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In the movie, it makes sense. What was just announced as the “worst toilet in Scotland’ revealed itself promptly as indeed, worthy of such title (an interpolation ‘outside’ of the film, for, if you let me spell it out, what Renton saw was just the “toilet,” not “the worst toilet in Scotland – now I feel like a loser for spelling it out).

Yet outside the movie again (literally “outside” for this was presumably hardly known until this  came out) there was a betrayal – a perfectly harmless and logical one for movies are all about representing reality using its techniques – props and effects included.

But not all makes sense neatly in this sequence in Trainspotting. Okay, it is the worst toilet in Scotland; but if that is so, then why this look on Renton’s face:

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Further, why this?

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And finally, this:

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Can we go back to Kristeva? Or, is this a going back to Kristeva? The motherly womb, the place of plenitude, oceanic fullness, psychoanalytic pleases?

Easy, we are forgetting that Renton was on heroin

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And as he said much earlier in the film and much famously: Who needs reasons, when you’ve got heroin? Who needs Kristeva and Zizek when you’ve got heroin? The heroine is not the Mother, but – sorry – heroin.

The contradiction is resolved in the film, in a way. Renton’s retreat into fantasy is an upshot of his drugs. But drugs are not explicitly the gimmick involved in “Do You Not Think so Far Ahead.”

So when it said that “we will never run out of gimmicks,” we can ask if the inexhaustibility being implied here is the liberal one – the surplus of ideas, the surplus of gimmicks, often without asking, for what purpose?. In “On Choosing,” a suggested answer: for every gimmick, a certain amount to be paid. Will it be a payment for resistance, a payment for individual glorification, a payment for lazy indoctrination, a payment to have, finally, a will? We choose.

(What did Renton choose? Interestingly, he chose something seemingly Zizekian):

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What did “Do You Not Think So Far Ahead” choose? In “On Access,” it chose to speak of “carollers from the gaps of the gate, tugging at each other, hesitant to sing their song” while it also speaks of people who “exude confidence and the importance of their words.” In a single page, it chose to speak of hesitance and confidence, exuding importance and tugging at each other and the access of art becomes an axis of the social divide.

And this divide is present not only in SOCIETY AT LARGE, but in one’s self, the tininess of one’s selves: the conflict, the “chasm” “between a person’s radical ‘principles’ and her/his decadent lifestyle.”

This paves the way for “On Choosing” and “On This Right Now,” with the latter I am opting to read not as a simplistic insistence on the now, the moment (ATM! ATM!). “On This Right Now” gets back to questioning, looking at the very ground where one is standing, where one does the thinking and the looking – whether it be looking away, looking and thinking against, looking and thinking ahead.

Which brings me to this conclusion: I should not think so far ahead, I should not forget to think of the here and now where I am doing this thinking ahead.

Photocopy Your Powers: Notes for the Second BLTX Baguio*


Are these books?
Are these books?

A friend’s story: his father visited him in Baguio, sort of giddily perhaps, he told his father about a book he has made. Sort of giddily I guess, he showed his father: several pages of photocopied material, stapled. I cannot remember if his father was addled, doubted him, laughed at him a little – maybe all at once. When did a stapled, photocopied thing begin to constitute a book?

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Now, it begins to be in the offensive: swarms of self-published books, photocopied and stapled and rawer, dappled with proofs of greater doses of manual rather than mechanical reproduction, exhibiting how, sort of in contrast to Warhol’s wish to become a machine, human hands are still taking control of, kneading the machines. The control is not just theoretical; the control is out there, sweating-glistening in the flesh: hands and machine working together to create a book, not just hands operating machines to create a book.

What is the significance of this progress in the landscape of cultural, specifically book production? Democracy sheds off some of its unashamed pretentiousness and starts to approximate a more genuine version of democracy in cultural production. What Gisele Freund said about photography’s claim to being art can also be applicable to cultural industry’s inferable claim to democracy: Cultural industry’s claim to be democratic was raised precisely by those who were turning it into a business. The mass production of culture was hailed for the way it democratized cultural consumption but what the hailing overlooks is the capitalistic goal of this democratization: we want cultural products to be available to more people, we want more people paying in order to see Marilyn Monroe onscreen, listen to Air Supply, watch Mara Clara or Maalaala Mo Kaya.

In this unpromising tendency towards monopoly, self-publishing books, turning books into a do-it-yourself venture can be presented as an alternative act of democratization, one that pedestals not so much the profit aspect as the aspects that are more internal to the cultural products themselves. What is more valuable is not so much the price of works and how one can profit from them as what these works are saying, how they are saying it and what do they enact in relation to its surrounding contexts – cultural, political and social.

Democracy in publishing becomes fleshlier, sweeter to put one’s faith on once the means of ‘book’ production – tied to the alteration of what constitutes a book – becomes more accessible and then maximized. But production is not all. Once the products stand robustly in the corner of one’s apartments, one’s little, crummy office, distributing comes next. This is one aspect that appears to be lagging behind even as signs of breakthrough are already with us. Venues for sharing, selling, distributing, displaying DIY products or self-published materials are growing. This is significant for materials like these are not warmly welcomed in the national book stores, unless people are willing to do the strenuous, mostly scattered and hopeless task of slyly tucking copies of zines and photocopied materials in between pages of books or on top of rulers and pencils sold in bookstores. Another reason is this: following Apostol’s Bibliolepsy, it is in the face of the earth that cultural works “must pay dues,” and they must not have their “eye cocked to the moon, as if in secret only heaven might understand.” Cultural works must be out there in the sweatiness of everyday, being read, being refused to be read, being talked about, being a pain in the ass, being a stimulant of a vision, and not folded cleanly and demurely, meant to be read as if in deference to a life of the mind – and this apply not just to DIY stuff. Distribution is key; sharing is important; passing on material is advised. Without these, one is unlikely to get struck by a father used to seeing books glossy and well-bound and covered nicely with some cute art; a father who, in the face of a stapled material his son is showing him, might ask: When did a stapled, photocopied thing begin to constitute a book?

More of these in the next BLTX Baguio on December 4
More of these in the next BLTX Baguio on December 4

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To conclude this, a reference-as-analogy: “I listened to a tour guide at the National Gallery ask his group what made Rothko great. Someone said, “The colors are beautiful.” Someone else mentioned how many books and articles had been written about him. A third person pointed out how much people had paid for his paintings. The tour guide said, “Rothko is great because he forced artists who came after him to change how they thought about painting.” This is the single most useful definition of artistic greatness I’ve ever encountered.”

That was from David Shields’ Reality Hunger. Is not always there a kicking cuteness, a goading resolve when we talk about changes in the way we’ve being thinking about things, the way we’ve been doing things? On December 4 at Café Yagam, Better Living Through Xeroxography will return to Baguio and all the photocopied materials, DIY works will converge there and hopefully, with festivity and contained contumacy, it will force other cultural workers to expand, if not drastically change the way they think about producing and disseminating books. Let greatness be of secondary importance. The arena where greatness is being evaluated and played out is long prepared for a meaningful contestation. So see you on December 4 at Cafe Yagam, for BLTX and stapled, photocopied things all grinningly constituting themselves as books.

*This has been published in the current issue of Baguio Chronicle