Thinking of walking and the insecurity of nearby gunshots, or your soul stolen


Finally, Jesa and I were able to fully return to Baguio last Saturday night—technically Sunday morning—when we walked from town to our place somewhere in Marcos Highway. Just like old times, past-midnight and the grey-orange-dark, godly, unpeopled streets, the highway a highway for the lunatic, giggly feet of people, sometimes ours.

Crossing my mind lately is the tremulous, tremor-like possibility of having this beloved act of walking curtailed by external circumstances—like the menace of a Duterte nationwide Martial Law—or having this beloved act placed in a different period—the ghostly Marcos Martial Law for instance—where it would not have prospered. Other instances of prohibitions from the outside are not lacking. We could have been women in the older times, in Middle Assyrian of the 17th-11th century B.C. for example where, as Rebecca Solnit wrote in “Walking after Midnight: Women, Sex and Public Space,” women were classified by virtue of their public appearance: the veiled ones are worthy of respect, the ones uncovered ooze with the sexual, suggestive of “indecent” employment and hence contemptible. A subtle way of reproaching and limiting their act of walking. Even today, with catcalling and ogling prevalent, women walking can still be deterred.

Continue reading “Thinking of walking and the insecurity of nearby gunshots, or your soul stolen”

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The Fair Beauty of Giving Away Books*


This week marks the 38th Manila International Book Fair, an annual, huge expo where numerous publishing houses gather for five days to sell their publications while thousands of book lovers, fanatics, loafers, students, academicians, authors’ fans and dreamers visit the stalls. My nearly a decade-long stint in Baguio which ended last year has prevented me from going through the previous Book Fairs, apparently a big event for enthusiasts of reading. Spending the past year in Manila to teach finally enabled me to go to the Book Fair for the first time and score some good books in mostly discounted prices. It was fun; it was like the regular mall sale only that instead of fellow lovers of clothes or shoes, you were surrounded with fellow eager-beavers for books. You could have missed a Jose Garcia Villa somewhere, but at least you found a book by Edel Garcellano or Vladimir Lenin.

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Books scavenged

Having returned to Baguio again just recently, I would have missed this year’s Book Fair. But I am not totally sulking. While the nation’s capital would have again delighted on the mere fact that a big enough site is mainly filled with books—not to mention the sheer possibility that one can score a long sought-for book or a book’s rare edition—I would be waiting for either another dead time or a conscious longing to book hunt in my favorite bookstore tambayans near Session Road. Only that something else transpired.

Just last week, Miss Maricar of Bookends posted pictures of tons of books she was giving away. She said that she was making space not exactly for new books that are forthcoming but for her own work and personal space. In our own correspondence, she also spoke of her advocacy to encourage reading, especially among children. Later on, she told me that one library from Sagada and another from Nueva Ecija have expressed their interest in picking up some of the books—ten sacks for the former, 20 for the latter. How much books Bookends has in excess and not wish to make money from them!

I was trying to figure out the underlying framework that differentiates this Bookends’ initiative from the mega-Book Fair happening every year in Metro Manila. The former does not only downplay profit (one can say that the Book Fair is doing this to an extent, as some items displayed there are on sale), it shuns this altogether. One does not display books for sale; one gives them away, stripping them of their monetary value and paving the way for the appreciation of their more intangible qualities—the knowledge they contain or the sense of enjoyment one can get from having or browsing them.

I was also thinking of Walter Benjamin and how something that he said in “Unpacking my Library” also undercuts the normalcy of monetary operations. Benjamin wrote, “Writers are really people who write books not because they are poor, but because they are dissatisfied with the books which they could buy but do not like.” I was even guessing that there is already a tinge of arrogance here, a tiny effort to owe oneself some respect. Some writers used to or continue writing because they are poor; they had to have something to eat and writing was a way to have money. I would not belabor here on how this setup affects one’s writing—its quality, its very content, its presentation. So the first part of what Benjamin said was a lie. The second part may have been another bending of truths, an exaggeration. It only implies that the quality books are less affordable; that what applies to other commodities like phones or appliances for instance also apply to books: you want good products; you ought to pay for them.

Thankfully, that is not exactly the case. I am sure many other crazy book hunters have stories resembling my experience of finding Jacques Ranciere in Booksale for just 125 or one of Angela Carter’s earlier and rarely available novels online for just 80. A friend found and bought a David Foster Wallace for just 50; another got Benjamin’s Illuminations for 60 golden pesos.

Again in our correspondence, Miss Maricar of Bookends shared to me how she saw her vision of having books as gifts aligning with her larger advocacy of invigorating our culture of reading. When she mentioned the word “gift,” I recalled reading a related idea proposed by McKenzie Wark—the “copygift.” He said that “rather than giving one’s culture to everyone in the abstract but no one in particular, one made it always a particular gift to particular people.” Connected to but distinct from the act of putting one’s work—a collection of poems, an artwork, a short video—out there, in the streets, in the Internet, for free so that anyone who might be interested can view or take it, the idea of copygift has more intimacy, as if creating something for a particular person and then giving it to her or him.

At the end of the week, goers to the Book Fair might be full with their enormous haul and like someone screwy and clumsy, I wish I can take part of their joys. Maybe some of them bought books with the idea of giving them as gifts later on. That is lovely. Elsewhere, alternative relationships and attitude towards books and culture are being posited, being done. Surplus books are being given away for free, in support of advocacies. Books, literary works or art are not merely being bought to expand one’s personal library but being created to be given to others as gifts.

*this was also published in Baguio Chronicle’s September 16-22 issue

What’s Wrong with Dissolving Art Collectives, or, the Tenacity of Transience


Acclimatizing myself again after a year of being out of Baguio, I am thinking dangerously nostalgic, dangerously reductive things: missing things/experiences/colors that are ‘Baguio.’ Baguio in relation to me, that is: the library of institutions with some meagre resources, maybe university life, our friends here, past collectives, communities, and organizations where we lived our days.

I think of Pedantic Pedestrians and how I used to take much pride in describing it as a “Baguio-based collective” to which I belong. We were talking of beer, and drinking rallies, joining poetries, amassing dusty textual wealth, mixing Mao with Fyodor fruitcakes and futuristic flavours from Marxist, Lacanian, modernist pasts.

One by one last year, we had to Manila ourselves because of varied reasons: school, work, a-dolting, summarily: maybe to submit to the exigencies of the system we wanted fucked but not in simplistic, easy ways.

I never conceived of it as an error. I had to roar against this mushiness that beckons to keep it together. As a reader of Walter Benjamin and very recently Hakim Bey, I had to be ashamed of myself.

Ped Errors

*

When he “dreamt about the workshops of the future,” Levi was ruggedly romantic, or romantically rugged, what do you call this wordplay, not alliteration right? He wrote about “autonomous workshops” that “shall exist all over, created spontaneously by the artists who are involved in their own communities. They shall be many and they shall be useless except for their own right. … They shall follow the rules that the participants themselves have agreed upon, and these rules shall be broken if the group decides to.”

An antidote to a kind of sentimentalist, a kind of dogged, if not also lazy attachment to handkerchiefs, movements, affiliations, ways of doing things, ways of eating fried chicken? The permanent recognition of transience and the attendant task to do work, to establish ties, to meet doors—magpunyagi, atupagin ang kung anuman!

Transience is at work not only because things are always in the process of being-constituted, in all those philosophical, mystical, materialist senses. Transience also applies in the sense of the literal extermination of things: alliances dying, effigies burning, flower vases running dry, noses losing balm, collectives dissolving, revolutionary tactics changing. All that is solid smelts air.

Akin to rules being “broken if the group decides to,” Hakim Bey likened temporary autonomous zones” in an essay of the same title to “an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to reform elsewhere/elsewhen…”

With this (temporary) dissolution, the group has morphed and formed elsewhere as clues to the future.

*

Cheryl Weaver, in “Pedestrian Errors,” weaves lines together in order to draw mostly street-talking mistakes that are sometimes cute, sometimes detrimental. More than this though, she pulls off a move a la Transformational Grammar move and a disciplinary swag a la Stein. When you encounter something erratic, you thought it was madness; the underlying motive and form and technique usually invisible.

My favourite is “stepping on shoestring,” because there is no noun in there, no explicated ‘receiver’ of the action, to use traditional grammar’s terms; you just imagine that it was you, it was the person in the writer’s head, that there was someone with whom the actions befell. It is also visually appealing, because the line where the shoestring fell somehow looks like a shoestring, especially if teddy bears look dolphins to you.

Shoestring

Second best is the Stein quote in the end because up until reading that I did not really know that “then” can be used instead of “than.” More than that, the quote allowed me to imagine Gertrude, that little screwy genius, holding a cigarette through her toenails, lit with Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, slowly burning (like) its pages.

Stein and Chomsky

After ‘After the Workshop’


The quixotic act of questioning the workshop—or making it quixotic, for in reality, I dreamt that it was not only necessary and expected but also tedious.

In cities of the past where a pedantic group of friends converged, we conceived a project that responds to workshop seasons—roughly about this time also. “After the Workshop, one of us tentatively called it. We were supposed, I guess, to collate works which from our own assessment will never pass a workshop application. My memory tells me that we were not really able to talk about that concept face-to-face and with bottles of mountain airs and beers; we mostly talked about it online. Or they did talk about it and I was not there.

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The Thorns of Flowers and the Soil Where they Grow: On Valentines and Panagbenga


On the week immediately after Valentine’s Day, what can still be the merits of writing about flowers, and blossoming relationships and love being all around the corner?

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