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.

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


Pagtulak, Pagbuo sa Sarili: Ukol sa Salin ni Janine at Tilde sa Apat na Tula ni Mikael Co

(Kung may tinutulak ka, bakit? Kung may tinutulak ka, patungo saan? Okay gets, ang pagsasalin hindi na lamang bilang pagkakawil na siya mismo ay tinulak mula sa “pagtataksil,” kundi pagtataksil muli na tinulak muli mula sa pagkakawil.)

Ang reaksyon (mala-pagdepensa) ng sinaling awtor na si Mikael Co sa Kidapawan Massacre noong Abril 1 ang isa sa mga pinanggalingan ng proyekto nila Janine at Tilde

Sa “Apat na Tulak,” kinalasan at pinag-aklasan nila Janine at Tilde ang apat na tula ni Mikael de Lara Co, dating manunulat para sa nalusaw, lumutang na rehimeng Aquino. Kumalas sila sa mapagtalimang uri ng pagsasalin; sinalin nila hindi lang ang tula ng may-akda kung hindi ang buong panlipunang milieu na kinabibilangan at tinutulungang paganahin nito. Akala ko ang tinutulak ng proyektong ito ay mga tula ni Co o si Co mismo, ngunit naalala kong ang kritisismo ay ‘di dapat nagsasayang ng laway sa vanity, sa mga personalidad o indibidwal lamang. Tinutuntungan lamang ito upang magsalita ukol sa mas masaklaw na sityong ginagalawan nating lahat, at ang mga uri ng ugnayang meron tayo rito.

(I hope it was noticed, and if not, then here I am, making it explicit: how I am not bifurcating the individual, the author (and the author’s works) and the larger environment to which he belongs and where he works. A few times before, I was flirting with the idea of tagging Tilde and Janine’s project as a kind of conceptual translation, or, translating conceptually. Then, as now, I am coming from a small proposition I made about conceptualism based on two works by Angelo Suarez: that conceptual works can make more explicit the social relations that underlie its production. The same is at work in Janine and Tilde’s “Apat na Tulak”: the translation both of the texts and the social relations (including its author’s position) that engender them. Perhaps strangely, while I see this as a strength, this is also where one of my problems with the project is stemming from. How to reconcile, how to harmonize these two translations? Should one be privileged over the other? And how should the translational work fashion itself when it is translating more than one thing?)

Maybe looking at how their translations went will be helpful.

Ang “nature-nature” na source text na “Elegy,” ginawang literal na madugo sa “Elehiya.” There is Gelacio Guillermo’s “War,” which I was reminded of here, painting the similarity between birthing a human being and birthing a new social setup. There is also Carlos Bulosan, whose poetry I find eminent in depicting nature as violent, as uneasy, as clamorous: “All the night the sea rushed in silence and knelt/ In the darkness, complaining in monosyllables.” “red tiger lilies are bravely shouldering/ Their delicate thinness above the parched earth/ Crying for rain”

Renaming the seasons becomes “baguhin ang panahon,” and it was not just what is being changed, but more tenably, what process of change will be enacted which was violated. The first one consists of a more forward interpretation – it is not just the natural seasons that are changing, that will be changed, but the “times,” with its more social connotation. But what kind of change will be inflicted? “Elegy” speaks of a “renaming”; “Elehiya” speaks of the more general “baguhin.” The former homes in on the language, the name. The process of change it speaks of is a shallow one, I think: a renaming, a changing of the garb, a changing of external appearance comparable to the way we replace the calendars as a year ends.

Can we equate the act of making the name notable – foregrounding it – to positing it as the horizon of understanding? The only way to change things is by changing their names, changing their external appearances? The limit of my language is the limit of my?

The get-up and the make-up vary but the clowns keep mellowing, weeping on the inside.

In the original, already notable is the slight veer from the naturalization of phenomena: Yes, the seasons are renamed; seasons do not just change naturally. But the act of changing is not just in terms of how they are called. The natural is bloodied. The natural screams, is made to scream.

Ang “panahon” ay di lang pag-ihip ng hangin o pagputok ng bulkan; ang “panahon” ay pagtaas-pagbaba rin ng presyo ng petrolyo at mga bilihin; ang panahon ay ang state of national emergency, ang dahas ng bombahan at sagupaan. This is elegiac.

In “Warrant,” what was “A sky, teeming with spears” in “War Chant” became “Ang langit, lango sa pulburang pumurga sa komunismong nagpalaganap ng kagutumang nilunasan natin ng kaunlaran at kaayusan sa daang makatuwirang tadhana ng lahing maka-demokrasya.” Why such protractedness?

Again: the translation here explicates the web of social relations to which the author of the original text belongs and which he actively, if not smugly, reinforces. “Daang makatuwiran” and “lahing maka-demokrasya” recall the Aquino regime. The safe and universally sweet final line in “War Chant” became reeking of sour mockery in the lengthier, albeit syntactically and semantically suspicious (“sa komunismong nagpalaganap ng kagutuman”?) final line in “Warrant.”

Not just elegiac but foreboding are the last lines of “Gravedad”: Minsan napapaginipan ko ang pagbagsak ng demokrasya/ Nagpapasalamat ako sa bawat paggising sa tuwid na daan. It cannot be mistaken: the “demokrasya” here is the same as the one in “lahing maka-demokrasya” in Warrant. This is another jab at the very role and position of the original author in society.

Elsewhere in the translational work are other cute parts: “I wish more creatures had evolved wings” was translated to “Sana mas maraming nilikhang binigyang-bagwis ng evolucion” in Gravedad. The sleek Hegelian sound of internal or self-development in the former is erased in the latter where a more complex relationship can be read. “Mind” became “naudyukang isip”; “sparrows” became “Sparrow yunit.” “The weather” becomes “panahon ng pagbabago.”

Generally speaking, I like this project, I like the concept most of all. I get what is being articulated in the work’s preface: “Kailangang kasangkapanin [sic ba ito dapat?] ang wika bilang larangan ng pag-aaklas at ang metodo ng pagsasalin bilang paraan ng paglikha at pagpuna. Sa huli’y dapat itulak ang “Four Poems,” upang ibunyag nito ang kanyang sarili, ang tunay nitong sarili, ang tunay na reaksyunaryong sarili. Itong tulak ang tangka ng proyektong ito.”

But I have questions, questions that concentrate mainly on the project’s form (even as frankly, I am also questioning my questions, clarifying to myself my premises). I am thinking if it would be dry and dull to demand some kind of internal solidity (“unity” is a word I avoided, because of its connotations not the least of which is the formalist one) from the work.

“Elehiya” is most effective in enacting the multi-layered translations: the text-in-itself and its sociality: “Ilang bala ba ang kailangan/ para sa isang masaker?” More vitally perhaps, “Elehiya” to me is the most solid in-itself; that is, not just as a work of translation, but as a work in its own right.

Which I think finally brings me – after a semi-circuity – to the core, the rock, the rurok(?) of my concern. Is it fair or reasonable or not too demanding to ask a work of translation whose task is to explicitly translate both texts and social locations — explicitly because while all translations speak of or symptomatizes social location, very few explicitly do – to be also solid in-itself? What does it mean for a work to be solid in-itself: this is somewhat akin to the formalist notion of organic unity but without the sound of closedness; this speaks of the work being self-organized enough for it to command meaning. In “Manikluhod” for instance, the pronouns (the “nila,” “sila,” “ating,” “aking” etc.) and their antecedents are confusing; blocking meaning-making in the process.

Varied a little: does this demand not miss the point of translations like this? Is a kind of internal solidity still desirable – if not possible – when the translations are openly working on both words and social relations? External logic (ibunyag ang reaksyunaryo) seemed to predominate the translations and so they become internally loose.

In their efforts to betray, reveal, burn the reactionary, can we affirm that the translations have forsaken to build themselves?

On the last day of classes, the anomaly in “vivid memories” and Baudelaire saying, “Get drunk”

On the last day of classes, there were beautiful things. In my 9am class, Sir said, Don’t write poetry that lacks sincerity. In my 2pm class, Sir refused to give us an extension for a paper initially set to be due on Wednesday. In my 5pm class, a more composed presentation, and then some picture-taking. This is how October gets a thick spread of vegetable and tuna, which is to say: a healthy bread against the perenniallity of starvation. Here, I will try to be sincere in writing.


At 9am, we were curious about the usefulness of theory. How inseparate is the academy from its society, even though the academy won’t even own this society sometimes. For instance:

Academy (wearing fancy clothes, driving fancy cars, clutching eighty-eight books (now Ipads and tablets for many, pretending to be avaricious, or for others, really minding their tasks as ‘technicians,’ to borrow R’s word): “I have my own world. I AM a world in itself. What society, what poverty, what social injustice you’re talking about?”

Today, in between preparing the outline for that paper-due-Wednesday, concerning Lakambini Sitoy and her fiction, I remember Walter Benjamin and Fredric Jameson and even Terry Eagleton, and all those people the jeepney drivers won’t even have a care (following a consensus in yesterday’s 9am class) and then I also remember a tacit consensus (the usually half-participative class was its normal self yesterday) in the 2pm class: scholars/academics just repeat each other, contributing not much new stuff to our body of ‘knowledge.’

I will refuse to cluster Benjamin and Jameson and Eagleton together, under a group of ‘scholars’ who fervently accentuates the significance of getting at/getting back to the root of things (I remember here the “radix” word again, a lot of times mentioned in the 9am and the 2pm classes), seriously getting back to the past and salvaging it for arranging, for making sense of the present, and the future.

To Benjamin: “that is why we don’t believe in derivations and sources, we never remember what has befallen us” (The Metaphysics of Youth, in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 1, page 12).

To Jameson: “…the retrospective dimension indispensable to any vital reorientation of our collective future – has meanwhile itself become a vast collection of images…” (In Postmodernism, or, the cultural logic of Late Capitalism, page 66).

To Eagleton: the “absence of memories of collective and effective, political action” (In After Theory, page 7)

This, I read, is neither the operation of a collective unconscious nor whatever of that sort: Benjamin wrote that in the early 20th century; Jameson in the 80s most probably, and Eagleton just two, three years ago. This I think with more certitude is the operation of a collective experience, and a similar manner of making sense of that experience.

So maybe not all theory is highfalutin after all, highfalutin and eventually doubtable because of their seeming lack of ‘immediate usefulness,’ another phrase from yesterday’s 9am class. We can forget Derrida, sure, especially when frantically asking ourselves how do we find money to be able to enroll for the next semester; or we can dispose of Lacan and his Imaginary-Symbolic-Real triad (despite the bright interests it can spur) especially when what is realest to us are the rising prices of sweet potatoes and our long-coveted book or that dress in the mall we don’t have enough money to buy. But some theory hovers above the ground not just because they are ‘esoteric,’ but because they manifest the potential of zooming out, getting above the immediate, seemingly disordered and unrelated phenomena, and render them more comprehensible, more sensible, however ironic that is. After all, it is ironies that define our being here in the world (my favorite: think of billionaire Henry Sy and his thousands of eight-hours-a-day employees).


I remember Bazin yesterday, when the 5pm class finally lapsed to its end and there were merry moments of picture-taking. Photographs capture memories, freeze events in time, so that memories will have a more tangible form, and not just something that exists in the mind. This is why I think there is something anomalous, something perverted with the term “vivid memories.” For I think memories are by default dead, memories are not vivid; the only things vivid are the things that are concrete and in-here, in-our-time, right now. I guess to say ‘vivid memories’ is to confer to memories an illusionary kind of power, of charm, an antidote against its default deadness. It is okay; it is understandable. We need to have an anchor; memories are a good candidate.


On the last day of classes, my classmates were already looking forward to a drink next week, when exams will be over and at least two of the three remaining papers will have been submitted. Exactly, this is how I would like to end, with Baudelaire, and his famous lines from his famous poem which I first heard from my Literature professor in the undergrad, during the sendoff for graduating students two years ago:

“Time to get drunk!
Don’t be martyred slaves of Time,
Get drunk!
Stay drunk!
On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!”

What transcendence could mean and what Mayakovsky might have wished for

Because we are all bombed with the need to compromise, it becomes even more urgent, more awe-inspiring to push for transcendence until the last air from our mouths gets pushed out.

It could be Mayakovsly’s misfortune, that he lived in perhaps one of the more turbulent times and spaces of all time – early 20th century Russia confused after the seeds of a once unguessable idealization finally landed on the soil of their resolute country. Art, and the artist had to confront another condition – an ironic one, because in as much as it was so novel, it was also so much dreamt about it might have worn out — and Mayakovsky apparently was not persistent enough, or optimistic enough to keep on producing art as a weapon, a shield of the producing self against a material setting perfectly in turmoil, a setting asking for only some decades to have a semblance of stability.

The face is always half-shown. sabi ni Zizek
The face is always half-shown. sabi ni Zizek

To wish to be resurrected for another time – a time when all the failures of his present will have been vanquished by the actualization of what he could only envisioned – is not poetic or cute of Mayakovsky, it’s plainly timorous and pathetic.

He wrote:

“Resurrect —

I want to live out my life!

So that love won’t be a lackey there

of livelihood,



or worse.

Decrying bed,

Forsaking the fireside chair,

So that love shall flood the universe. (Russell 1985, 202)”

He had to pin his hopes on a future that will fulfill his once visions-on-fire, visions crashed by what he had seen in the Russia of his time. Again: the conflicted self, much more an artist, much much more, a bourgeois artist (if you don’t find that a bit redundant or inept), dwindling in the face of her society also in conflict with itself. Mayakovsky was not able to make the necessary, perhaps the appropriate compromises. And he was not able to transcend either. A fine illustration perhaps of the much common debacle in living, even an avant-garde died in the same suffering.

Oh, what a glorious thing to say, and much more to do, definitely: to transcend. Perhaps that is precisely why this art group, Pedantic Pedestrians, does not want to imply that it seeks to transcend art and its current configurations policed by several institutions and apparatuses; or precisely why I still look up, again, to those who recognize that transcendence (social, economic, political, artistic, romantic) is futile in this late capitalist frame, and hence, would do something concrete to alter such frame and abolish the need for transcendence; and lastly, that I suddenly remembered this song by Dreamtheater, who affirmed that the “soul will transcend.”

In itself, to transcend is to make an unavoidable, impurifying move in order to arrive at some purity. To compromise only appears to be the most necessary. But: it only appears. There could be transcendence, there could be non-compromises. Try to look at the successors of the people of Russia which depressed Mayakovsky.


Not in the center of your eye, or mine, or the center of this ruinsome blog post, or the glamour of the television or your tablet.

We cannot talk about where to look, only where to NOT look. Look not in Harvard jeans, or in Godard films, or the sushi or kimchi on the table; not on a male porn star’s torso, not on shopping malls, not on the roads from the rural to the metro.


Apparently, to compromise is a necessary prelude to transcendence.

We have a whole life to lose — and perhaps, perhaps, all wagers begin with this, and all events in life somehow begin with wagers – a whole new life to gain — maybe the life Mayakovsky wanted to gain, but did not.

Selfying Books

The idea is sort of derived from this post. What I specifically have in mind is this (which could also be the idea behind the afore-linked post): instead of showing off the “self” via a selfie, why not show off one’s gallery of books?

Which can be read as:

(Okay, someone’s calling attention to his being a “bookworm”)

(Okay, he reads ‘Philosophy,’ he’s smart)

This is the danger of being too meta, of hanging on to an often awkward, often dizzying, often self-liberating schizophrenia. Anyway, lastly: if we want to “show off” our made-up faces and the places of the tourist attractions we have been to, then why can’t we “show off” the pages we have read, intend to read or just intent to display in our future book shelves. Perhaps if everyone starts doing a selfie of their books, there would be like a bacchanalian rage about books, and we can all get to talk about the same books we have read, exchange books with or make reading recommendation to others. Wonderland of books, hopefully the total opposite of Bradbury’s implicit fear.

Walden and other writings: Henry David Thoreau The Adventures of Hickleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Mark Twain The Old Man and the Sea: Ernest Hemingway Pushkin: Eugene Onegin Black and Blue: Anna Quindlen Good as Gold: Joseph Heller The Divine Comedy I: Hell: Dante Alighieri Physical: James McManus Housekeeping: Marilynne Robinson
Walden and other writings: Henry David Thoreau
The Adventures of Hickleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Mark Twain
The Old Man and the Sea: Ernest Hemingway
Pushkin: Eugene Onegin
Black and Blue: Anna Quindlen
Good as Gold: Joseph Heller
The Divine Comedy I: Hell: Dante Alighieri
Physical: James McManus
Housekeeping: Marilynne Robinson
My Son's Story: Nadine Gordimer Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: Frederick Douglass Utopia: Thomas More Too Fat, Can't Fly: Yuko Kondo Coast of Chicago: Stuart Dybek Wise Blood: Flannery O'Connor The Blind Assassin: Margaret Atwood Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens
My Son’s Story: Nadine Gordimer
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: Frederick Douglass
Utopia: Thomas More
Too Fat, Can’t Fly: Yuko Kondo
Coast of Chicago: Stuart Dybek
Wise Blood: Flannery O’Connor
The Blind Assassin: Margaret Atwood
Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens
Much Ado About Nothing: William Shakespeare The Dying Animal: Philip Roth Waiting for Godot: Samuel Beckett The Odyssey: Homer Herland: Charlotte Perkins Gilman Nobody Move: Denis Johnson House of Sand and Fog: Andre Dubus III The Uncollected Henry James: Edited by Floyd Horowitz Great Books: Balzac and Goethe
Much Ado About Nothing: William Shakespeare
The Dying Animal: Philip Roth
Waiting for Godot: Samuel Beckett
The Odyssey: Homer
Herland: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Nobody Move: Denis Johnson
House of Sand and Fog: Andre Dubus III
The Uncollected Henry James: Edited by Floyd Horowitz
Great Books: Balzac and Goethe
Medea and Other Plays: Euripides Real Cats don't do Talks Shows: Gerberg The Crucible: Arthur Miller James Joyce Today: Essays on the Major Works The Classical Monologue: Women The Handmaid's Tale: Margaret Atwood Dubliners: James Joyce Blindness: Jose Saramago
Medea and Other Plays: Euripides
Real Cats don’t do Talks Shows: Gerberg
The Crucible: Arthur Miller
James Joyce Today: Essays on the Major Works
The Classical Monologue: Women
The Handmaid’s Tale: Margaret Atwood
Dubliners: James Joyce
Blindness: Jose Saramago
The Brothers Karamazov: Dostoyevsky The Tempest: Shakespeare The Diary of a Madman and other stories: Nikolai Gogol A Spot of Bother: Mark Haddon Hocus Pocus: Kurt Vonnegut Four Great Plays: Henrik Ibsen S.: John Updike Cat's Cradle: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov
The Brothers Karamazov: Dostoyevsky
The Tempest: Shakespeare
The Diary of a Madman and other stories: Nikolai Gogol
A Spot of Bother: Mark Haddon
Hocus Pocus: Kurt Vonnegut
Four Great Plays: Henrik Ibsen
S.: John Updike
Cat’s Cradle: Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov
Less Than Zero: Bret Easton Ellis Tender is the Night: F. Scott Fitzgerald The Rules of Attraction: Bret Easton Ellis Othello: Shakespeare Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man: Joseph Heller Lunar Park: Bret Easton Ellis
Less Than Zero: Bret Easton Ellis
Tender is the Night: F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Rules of Attraction: Bret Easton Ellis
Othello: Shakespeare
Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man: Joseph Heller
Lunar Park: Bret Easton Ellis
Books' Selfie 7
One Day on the Life of Ivan Denisovich: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Strong Motion: Jonathan Franzen
A Home at the End of the World: Michael Cunnigham
Dining with the Dictator: Dany Laferriere
Tree of Smoke: Denis Johnson
Travels in the Scriptorium: Paul Auster Los Angeles: A.M. Homes Tess of the D'urberilles: Thomas Hardy Empire Falls: Richard Russo The Edible Woman: Margaret Atwood New Beginnings: Brooklyn Follies: Paul Auster
Travels in the Scriptorium: Paul Auster
Los Angeles: A.M. Homes
Tess of the D’urberilles: Thomas Hardy
Empire Falls: Richard Russo
The Edible Woman: Margaret Atwood
New Beginnings:
Brooklyn Follies: Paul Auster
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: James Joyce America is in the Heart: Carlos Bulosan Beat Generation: Jack Kerouac The Sound and the Fury: William Faulkner Amedee. The New Tenant and Victims of Duty: Eugene Ionesco Molloy: Samuel Beckett The Corrections: Jonathan Franzen
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: James Joyce
America is in the Heart: Carlos Bulosan
Beat Generation: Jack Kerouac
The Sound and the Fury: William Faulkner
Amedee. The New Tenant and Victims of Duty: Eugene Ionesco
Molloy: Samuel Beckett
The Corrections: Jonathan Franzen
The Story of Philosophy: Will Durant The Making of Kubrick's 2001 The Politics of Breastfeeding Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women
The Story of Philosophy: Will Durant
The Making of Kubrick’s 2001
The Politics of Breastfeeding
Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women
Beyond Life Sentences: Eileen Tabios The Maverick Room: Ellis Twelfth Night: Shakespeare Latino Caribbean Literature The Door: Margaret Atwood Paradise Review Black Zodiac: Charles Wright Eighteenth-century Women Poets The Faber Book of 20th Century Women's Poetry
Beyond Life Sentences: Eileen Tabios
The Maverick Room: Ellis
Twelfth Night: Shakespeare
Latino Caribbean Literature
The Door: Margaret Atwood
Paradise Review
Black Zodiac: Charles Wright
Eighteenth-century Women Poets
The Faber Book of 20th Century Women’s Poetry
Nonfiction Film Holidays on Ice: David Sedaris Edvard Munch: J. P. Hodin Principles of Intensive Psychotheraphy (which I bought during a semester when Jesa was having a related course in psychology) English Romantic Poets: M. H. Abrams
Nonfiction Film
Holidays on Ice: David Sedaris
Edvard Munch: J. P. Hodin
Principles of Intensive Psychotheraphy (which I bought during a semester when Jesa was having a related course in psychology)
English Romantic Poets: M. H. Abrams

The togetherness in writing: reflections after ‘hearing’ Adam David and Miguel Syjuco’s ‘ongoing conversation’

I haven’t finished reading this, but you can read this man here, and you might share his optimism. I did

Adam David and Miguel Syjuco’s conversation, as published by Ateneo’s Kritika Kultura, more than an unexpected yummy treat not exactly for aspiring writers but for ongoing-writers, is also a heartwarming exchange between two literatis that could make us realize the specialness of the act of writing vis-à-vis the calloused and complex lives lived in today’s society. In this exchange, the two actively engaged in a discussion of issues revolving the literary scene mainly in the Philippines but also in the international context. Issues such as the arguably persisting crab mentality within the “little kings and queens of Pinoy lit” as opposed to the characteristically Pinoy bayanihan unfelt within this same exclusive circle; the common ground between the long-standing divergence of art for art’s sake and art for man’s sake, however too general and simplified these terms might sound; and the problems of incorporating both local and international flavors and reaching for both these kinds of audiences were touched on.

This exchange appears to be a really stimulating one, exemplifying the kind of engagements, of communication, that is highly valuable for and between humans in this universe, in this society that recent documentations have said to be more and more alienating, despairing and apocalyptically self-defeating. It appeared as an unadulterated kind of passing of thoughts between each other, not much hampered by ideological or personal predilections or motivations, but made almost visibly vibrant by the willing meeting of the minds of learned and experienced individuals. David would recall his getting out of the Malikhaing Pagsulat program of UP while Syjuco would perhaps bittersweetly retell his early struggles not just to get published but more significantly, to survive day after day abroad. Less firsthand and concrete than these, though certainly not less acute and relevant is David citing Marianne Robinson or Sjyuco endlessly harking back on his (readerly) engagements with Bolaño. It is less of a debate with a tacit aim of declaring a winning side than a dialogue where judgments are provisional and ideas are put forth for its own and the others’ morphing into something less uncertain, something more tenable and worthwhile to keep.

What I find most endearing though, most afflatus-lifting, uplifting, is Syjuco’s insistence on the priority of literature, and hence, a necessary push for its diligent and prolific and demanding production. The question and scrutiny of the quality of these products shall come afterwards, when there are enough literary products already distilled after a painstaking and painful process of drafting and redrafting and revising and revisiting.

At first, this statement by Syjuco passed off to me as somewhat exorbitant with its impressions, but a closer reckoning made me imbibe the sense of goading the statement may have been originally intended to effect:

“All of us have much to do. But what’s the priority? Everything else, or literature?

Syjuco would downplay all the others, the ‘everything else,’ in favor of the pushing for, the crusade for literature, even one of the usually mentioned determining forces in the activities not just of writers but all of us – economics. Said Syjuco further, “I really don’t think it’s economics, because economics is an issue everywhere. I think it’s just getting out and spending the time and patience necessary to make the work work.”

Definitely, this is not a haphazard, outright bypassing of this important influence of the economics, as some hasty (non-)readers might make out of the above statement. I think, I believe, following Syjuco’s insistence on and for the utmost importance of literature, this statement on economics is merely his implication that in spite of the vastness of this economic factor, literature can trample it on, can hurdle it and more ahead towards its triumph.

And what do I think is this triumph of literature? I think it is not just being merely there, written movementless on the page, transcribed challengers-less in the minds of geniuses and tramps and artist – the triumph of literature shall constitute an endless movement, almost a cycle, a coming-and-going towards further development of the letters that we write and bleed for and whose shapes and postures we have culled from our everyday faring in the waves of traffic and human interactions and conversations, sunbathing and smoke-inhaling/exhaling, and after these again, painful and painstaking processes of transcribing, shall be read to others, shall be made to be read, or listened to by others, for the trickiest of their interpretations, for the most provisional of their judgments, for the wisdom of their evaluations, or we do not know, for the benefit or detriment of their actions.

See, literature is on the one hand produced, and on the other, received. In its production, there shall be an unrelenting will to forge ahead despite circumstances and impinging of the economic, or of the circumstantial or of the meticulously cosmic, to produce literature, to devote eons of time for it in the cubicle, in the streets, in the ruptures in the evening made by the moonlights, in the waiting areas of malls, in the often charming stillness of aftersex. There should be time for it as there is time for eating and pooping and buying the groceries. And there should be discipline too, there should be structure in it too as there is discipline and structure, at least ideally, in our diet and in our studies, in our lives.

In its reception, there shall be an openness and respect to the diversity of voices and opinions and impressions and the frankness to butcher letters, praise letters, recommend things to letters for their own sharpening and expanding. We should be writing literature, and we should be reading literature. Hell we care with belles-lettres and literary institutions and their teachings of the literary, if people are writing crap from our standards, if they are reading Precious Hearts and Tom Clancy, let us sulk and scorn a little and be more willing to engage them. Like David said, we need to work together; like Syjuco implied, there need not be a monopoly of the discourse, everyone should be encouraged to pitch in with their several-cents of thoughts; like the both of them performed in this conversation, writing and literature should be an ongoing engagement, where people will occasionally meet and sit down and discuss together after writing their lives in the wor(l)dpad of the universe separately and who knows, maybe afterwards, they will not just sit down and talk together, they will also do and then write down things in and about and for the world, together.

The tears are elsewhere in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men

Some time last week, just a few days after I had my copy of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, I came up with this list in Flavorwire. I just finished reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms — one novel I felt like ironically hating after it affected me so much, not only with the ending that surprisingly surprised me, but with the way Hemingway rendered this kind of ending and seemingly going away mindlessly with it, as if rid of the responsibility that he shall have with regards to his works, lest we adopt a misconception of the famous Barthesian death of the author, — and even before I totally recover from the sense of loss that is mysteriously not only vicarious, which I obtained after reading Mr. Henry’s tale in A Farewell to Arms, I read Steinbeck and thanked myself I am not suicidal.

This can make you cry. S do not read if you're severely depressed.
This can make you cry. So do not read if you’re severely depressed.

I do not want to rehash my retrospectively self-interpreted easy simplification of the Modernist temper and all its supposed intertwinement to the anomie-plagued, Darwin-shocked and war-torn period. Although these are very significant details that need to be put in clearer context, especially since I do not advocate the fainting view of the isolation of the artist and her works. What is notable in Of Mice and Men is its selection of the ‘working class’ as its main characters, even going further in making one of them a “huge man” with “shapeless face” and the mind of a child. This short novel is about the buddies George and Lennie and how they built their dreams in a ranch only to see their gut-wrenching collapse. George takes care of the ‘dumb but not crazy’ Lennie who despite being such, George cannot leave not so because of selfish reasons.  We see right at the onset that George is often piqued by Lennie’s child-likeness yet in a world with attenuating companionship; the bond shared by the two well offsets their glaring differences.  George said that unlike most ranch workers, the both of them “got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.” Lennie, arguably delighted by this reassurance they appear to do regularly, stated the principle by himself: “because I got you to look after me and you got me to look after you.”

They transferred to a new ranch to work in after a hapless stint in Weed and George and Lennie made friends with their fellow workers. Here, George continually made guard of Lennie in order for him not to imperil their stay in the ranch and consequently, their fulfillment of their dream to have their own land which they will fill with animals and wherein they will plant vegetables. Lennie, above anything else, was most excited about feeding the rabbits. Underlining this dream is George’s growing rancor about their condition, a rightful sentiment of workers: “if I was even a little bit smart, I’d have my own little place, an’ I’d be bringin’ in my own crops, ‘stead of doin’ all the work and not getting what comes up outta the ground.” Steinbeck brings into this short novel, via the consciousness of George, the familiar, albeit haunting reminder of a bleak condition that for the most part has begotten a call for drastic change: the ‘alienation’ of the workers from the fruits of their labor, by virtue of their inability to possess them. This condition of course has its provenance in the dominant economic system that is attracted more to the excessive production for the sake of profit than one that is concerned with the sustenance of all.

The relegation of this arguably more important matter to the background in favor of the eventually heartrending end of the relationship between George and Lennie is not at all deplorable. Steinbeck justified this tacit choice with a masterful rendition that can surely leave a mark on its readers, just like it did to me.

George had to kill Lennie after he unintentionally killed the wife of their son’s boss. This George did not without hesitations. Even a few moments before George shot Lennie, they reiterated their rather mushy “we-got-each-other” statement. But in the end, George killed Lennie, George killed Lennie and I want to believe he did it with a pang in his hands and a genuine twinge in his arms and a real blow in his conscience and a huge sense of regret and loss afterwards. Sometimes, I do not want to blame George with what he has done, thinking he was only impelled by his external conditions; but no, most of the time, I want to blame him and curse him for his cowardice, for his not standing with Lennie up to the end. This is what is bad, man. You read this piece of short novel and you want to be in there, in that world it creates, in a world you know is not entirely fictional, be there and change the flow of events and make them a bit more beautiful, a bit more bearable. In that case, Steinbeck mastered me, in that case, Of Mice and Men proved to be a noble piece of work. I try to say it does not swallow me after I finish reading it but it would be just false; it would be just blunt, self-denial. Flavorwire was incorrect though, Of Mice and Men did not make me cry. But Lennie and George is now holding hands with Holden and Gregor within me and my sympathy for the lost, modern individual.

Bookish byebye for 2012

As 2012 is about to kill itself, I look back at it in terms of the notable books I have read and movies I have consumed. The year has been a really prolific one in terms of the books I have devoured or yawned on at different points of this past razzle-dazzle twelve months. With the welcome assistance of Booksale and advantageously affordable online bookshops, I was able to amass more books and consequently, purvey a better domicile for gathering dusts in our house both in Baguio and in Caloocan. As for the movies, the residues of the ardor in film viewing instilled in me by my senior year’s Film Criticism class and my girlfriend’s influence to our eventual patronage of Baguio Cinematheque helped sustain the good flow of films watched this year.

I will start with the novels I have read this year. Novels have somewhat curiously become one of my more preferred genres this year. Regardless of authors (as in a Carter or a Joyce in the short story), the novel more principally sold for a good story embroidered in a thick narrative whose consumption parodizes our diurnal viewing of evening soap operas. There will be no externally imposed breaks, only personal choices on when or when not to stop from going on reading and watching the lives of characters unfold with their every decision and every cowardice or valor every day.

I should be starting with Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, a 700-page loader which took me perhaps three months (with breaks of course, and quite a long one) to finish. Vietnam War is real to me only historically. I have not been there. I was not alive when it filled the evening news. Only current media can tell me the story. Denis Johnson makes me want to be happy that I was not there; and yet, happier that despite of that, I can still read novels like this one which gives me an idea, and delivers a poignant insight about the oft-recalled war – all engagingly and beautifully.

700 pages of blood (in paperback)
700 pages of blood (in paperback)

Next, Beckett’s Molloy, a part of a trilogy whose other two I am yet to have a copy of.  Beckett already stole an artery in the heart in Godot, and more so, his Modernist fatalism-then-resurgence was something that already lured me even before. Here in Molloy, he tilled further the opulence of words only to render a dreariness to murder and bury. With scarce conversations and minimal semblance of a typical raucous-to-be-cleaned-up plot, Beckett ditched all the fanciful to come up with an eviscerating tale one should leave in her library.

Molloy Samuel Beckett

From Beckett to Philip Roth. My review of Indignation is also in this blog, and why he reappears in this list of the better books I have read this year? It is because it is a spunky novel, like a campus publication’s editorial entitled No Apologies, featuring a gritty main character in Marcuse who peeks at and prick his surroundings instead of being just pawned in the backdrop. It’s Catcher in the Rye with less heart and more teeth.

Roth's Indignation

Next, Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita where the Devil lived in Moscow and spelled his tricks to a hardly discriminating populace. Ironically backdropping this impish excursion is a stalled love affair between the title characters, the Master and Margarita and how this was restored through the kindness of the Devil himself. This novel is less comical than entertaining. Working like an inversion of Dante’s Inferno, there is not too copious blood and violence here. Else, we have an interesting play on symbolisms to say something about the thickening lack of judgment and discrimination in a humanity fazed by more and more mysteries and disappearances.

Master and Margarita

Disappearances which in Norman Wilwaycos’ Ang Gerilya were suffered in terms of a certain degree of revolutionary fervor enough to prompt one to hold a gun and kill people for one’s beliefs. This one is perhaps in all fairness a relatively square depiction of an existing armed struggle in the Philippines what with all its organizational complexities and groundwork vicissitudes. The tinges of crudeness – the fast-paced, the crass dialogue, the short yet thick episodes –perhaps work to align with the genuine picture of what it tries to convey. This one was a reading delight in a few hours, a capturing and welcome for me while I am on incessant thinking mode about my present occupations and commitments.


Then we have Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, another book which I have reviewed in this blog. Atwood is fascinating with her incisive terseness, one that outstrips adages and proverbs with a more magnified context that gives her words more gravity than boastful, catchall statements. In this novel, the dystopia she limned not only tempted me to try to grasp her apparently feminist invocations, but also put me in thrall of her pungently haunting tacit yet provoking quips. It is hard to put the heightened kind of spell which Atwood drove me into with this one. That should be enough said.

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

Lastly for the novels, I have Jonathan Franzen intentionally at last. This buddy of David Foster Wallace, who’s encyclopedic Infinite Jest still frustrates me for not yet mustering sufficient guts to read, is I think not far from Wallace in terms of sensibilities and artistic wielding. I loved him so much this year I read two of his novels, Strong Motion and The Corrections, a review of the former also appears in this blog. From these two novels, from the confrontations between Louis and his mother and Chip and Gary and Enid, what is common is that family theme which largely propels the novels. In Strong Motion, there is the delectable subplot of Renee and Louis’ romance. In The Corrections, this function was fulfilled by the respective little dramas of each child – Gary, Denise and Chip. In Franzen’s novels, length is adorable because it is like a sprawl of skin that one would die to put his mouth on. Aside from the totality which one would want to consume not for what it reveals but for Franzen’s sheer manner of telling things, there is this potency of a single sentence which explodes with its sonority and semantic fullness. When these sentences clamp on one another, Franzen more likely has already earned a fan and a trusted reader in you.

He did in me.

Jonathan Franzen compressed earthquakes and abortions and a hypocritical media and more in this one.
Jonathan Franzen compressed earthquakes and abortions and a hypocritical media and more in this one.

The Corrections

Derailing the road to brilliance for Joseph Heller’s subtly aestheticist Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man

At the onset, I proffered tinctures of commiseration to Eugene Pota, Heller’s surrogate in his own novel. Aging and on the decline in terms of written productivity, Pota struggled to produce a novel that could fittingly cap his illustrious career after a consistent slump after his first breakthrough work. The entire novel was in fact dedicated to this entire hardship that otherwise could have gone tasteless if not for the inclusion of interesting drafts from Pota’s attempts at a final novel. Pota likened his dilemma to the classic voice in Beckett’s The Unnamable who typified the intensity of volition coupled with the vitality of action in the statement “I must go on. I can’t go on. I will go on.” Standing at stark contrast is Franz Kafka who discourages going on through his police character in one parable who, when met by someone whose map failed to coordinate with the place he is going around alone, asked the police and notoriously responded, Do not go on.

On the one hand, Pota’s resolute drive and his efforts to materialize it is somewhat admirable, if not amusing at times. From the Sexual Autobiography of his wife to the rewriting of Greek mythology and turning parts of the body into a novel, Pota did not have a scarcity of sound ideas to start with and develop. In the end, as we can correctly expect, Pota was not shown to have finished a novel and Heller need not to do that in his “own” novel. The point about the rigor and the difficulty not just of novel writing but of being a writer in general has been fairly shown. In an identified postmodern manner also, we can say that Heller used Pota to show how the book we were reading was actually made, how this book about the difficulty of writing a book and being a writer has been produced. For purposes of padding a review or notes on this book by Heller, I can still languish on commenting about its satiating self-referentiality.  That I would refrain to do however since I believe a more significant point — a point on Heller’s conception of the “artist” in this novel – needs to be made.

The “artist” in Heller’s novel

Apparently, Heller’s “artist” in the novel, as embodied by Eugene Pota, is one who is most concerned about his craft and how this can propel him to a self-satisfying stature. Having lost the youth and its concomitant prolific power and also the recognition and validation that resulted from those, Pota was pressed to regain a semblance of that production and reception, if not an emulation of it, as he treads the final laps of his career.

As always, one cannot and must not overlook the economic factor that impinges on every decision and action of the author and his characters. Pota was trying to do a “novel that motion picture industry might want,” and here, with the thought of selling the rights to some movie company, we can surmise that Pota also considers the economic assurance a last, successful book can provide for the rest of his life.

Several pages have been allotted to the character “Tom Sawyer” finding first his creator Samuel Jenkins, the real name of Mark Twain, before knowing the dreary process he went through before finally dying in debt and despair. Disappointed, Tom sought to learn the tricks of successful writing career from some of the other renowned authors of the past, among them Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe and Ernest Hemingway, only to find out the dampening similarity of their fates and was likewise somewhat discouraged to ever covet such brilliant career in the letters as those writers had.

Pota, and hence in extension, Heller, seemed to be finding ways to preclude such dismal thing from happening to him and this gave him the itch to produce that one last, sealing novel. Here, we can see that the literary artist for Heller is one who develops massive doubts and insecurities in the end as brought by his selfish perseverance to recoup recognition, if not mere economic stability.

In the novel, we can notice also Pota’s insistence on elaborating a new plot, something that no one has ever done yet. A very familiar sentiment among writers but perhaps among cultural practitioners in general as well, this provides one crucial hint to the framework Pota is following as he embarked on producing a new novel. This emphasis on a neoteric plot implies a treatment of art as something that must be judged based from its own elements and components. This view disregards altogether the important external factors such as the conditions of production and consumption or reception and the larger social and historical conditions where the artwork, its creator and its readers/audience are all situated, that need to be looked into as we regard what is art and how it becomes valuable.

In other words, the novelty in content which Pota deems necessary for his work to be voted as art and have a chance to be received with affirmation, if not with exaltation, is prepared by an almost hermetic conception of art loosely made famous and recalled in Oscar Wilde and the Aestheticists. This is one key manifestation of the novel which I openly avert for my views of art are diametrically opposed to what the novel carries through its implications.

Ultimately, I believe that art must be valued based both on content and form and one that accentuates novelty of content in itself too much seems oblivious, if not plainly ignorant of existing social conditions that have hardly changed in the recent decades. Or else, one who puts too much premium on his newness of content seems to rely too much on the powers of imagination and not on the credibility of observation and astute analysis of concrete conditions in producing a masterful work. This tendency I find abominable for I believe that art should reflect and strive to better the social conditions where it is born. Eventually, I believe that this kind of art can prove more adept in making its readers think and elicit particular actions from them.

Apart from its predictable and unchallenging self-referentiality, it is most importantly the aesthetic principles it subtly forwards that Joseph Heller’s Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man passes me as not just nothing extraordinary but more aptly, a stunted artistic exercise.

The man made by Catch 22

The serious limits of “postmodern” fiction: On David Foster Wallace’s “Here and There”

For my first intercourse with David Foster Wallace, controversial author of the acclaimed, encyclopedic novel Infinite Jest which I also aim to read, what I see is what I deem to be the classic wounded hero of contemporary fiction. In the story “Here and There” which is part of collection of stories, “Girl With Curious Hair,” Wallace displayed mastery of his characters, Bruce and his partner, as he puts the two of them in a “displaced” exchange of thoughts that somehow managed to appear responsive of one another. This actually prefaces a lack of similar groundedness between the two whose relationship would eventually fall apart and prelude a more excruciating, albeit commonly proffered falling apart in contemporary society (arguably, one that Wallace himself succumbed to in real life) – the falling apart of the individual.

The incongruities that first struck me here is those between Bruce and his partner. At the onset, Wallace’s wrenching of the deceitfully simple words “here” and “there” was not yet too hard to follow: if not physical distance, it involved mental misapprehensions. We could argue later, upon proceeding with the text, that there was not even an effort to apprehend. Bruce would share,

“At the time, with her, yes, I’d feel vaguely elsewhere…” Physical proximity had its merits, but something is proving to be more potent a force when this factor is negated: “I knew her, I knew every curve, hollow, inlet and response of a body that was cool, hard, taut, waistless…. Only when I was forced to be away at school did things mysteriously change.”

Both were resigning to the widely propagated dictum of things changing and Bruce’s partner would provide a clue to the more pressing issue they had to face: “I sense feeling being avoided not confronted.” In the affluence of cosmic forces and existing material conditions that factor in their relationship, there was no mutual effort to arrest anxieties and uncertainties. Bruce was envisioning a world rife with cleanliness and perfection. The essential improbability of this “there” he dreams of would ultimately subjugate him and make him wallow in murdering fear.

Bruce’s structural vision: being the “great poet of technology”

For all of his engineering enterprises and fascination over definitive systems and the concomitant ramblings on the potential of language in particular and signification in general, Bruce had quite an immodest vision. He hankers for the mathematicization of meaning and communication, the foregoing of language that after all dirties the communication process. In his conversation with Leonard, his older brother, Bruce received the same beating but remain undeterred:

“Leonard maintains that I am just like our mother and suffer from an unhappy and ultimately foolish desire to be perfect. Leonard says I’ve always liked playing games with words in order to escape the real meanings of things. I become almost hysterically excited and say that that’s just the point and begin to spout run-on sentences about the impending death of lexical utterances.”

Here, a case in point for Bruce is already crystallizing for me. Here is a man who intellectualizes meaning and sense too much that it overtakes his entire experience. He wants to treat his experiences as a “community of signs” which perhaps he wishes to conquer with his systematization of it. But similar to De Saussure and all the grand structural scheme of rooting the ones that govern the flow of humanity every day, partly by the post-structural assertion of angst and the irremovable dialectic operating underneath the universe, Bruce’s outlook only failed and tormented him. This structural attention to and emphasis on “axiom, language and formation-rule” and its mechanistic tendency also recoils at the humanity that should be fostered by a civilization that is mainly human. With regard to his partner, a severe ending has been mapped out, all incongruities are bitterly punctuated by the insight that more than disharmony, there was total ignorance, worst, totally neglecting the human in favor of a supposed overarching process that illuminates it:

“Bruce why not just admit that what bothers you so much is that she has given irresistible notice that she has an emotional life with features that you knew nothing about, that she is just plan different from whatever you might decide to make her into for yourself. In short a person, Bruce.”

Is this not the murder of the human usually faulted on Structuralism?

After the human dies: Crumbling in fear

When his relationship has ended, Bruce found himself “immersing in the lives and concerns of two adults for whom I have a real and growing affection.” What was once a potential to reconnect with humanity became an agonizing retreat to a tormenting present, not a successful springboard to an absence (a “there) being anticipated and desired. Anxieties get into Bruce’s skin more and more and which culminates in a fittingly terrifying dream:

“In this dream I am afraid of the sky: she has pointed at it with her rake handle and it is full of clouds which, seen from here below, form themselves into variegated symbols of the calculus and begin to undergo manipulations I neither cause nor understand. In all my dreams, the world is windy, disordered, grey.”

So here comes the paralyzing fact that despite its provisionality, haunts still merely for being right there, and not just there in one’s envisioning. In contrast to Bruce’s “here,”  the clean calculations he wants, “there” at the distance were the things that are actually happening – symbols that one does not beget, and cannot fully understand. Its termination would clinch the admission of fear. Bruce fumbled in repairing the crude system of his aunt’s old stove and the disconnections that ensued, and which disillusioned him ultimately, were not something he solely caused; they were part and parcel of the system that does not always work perfectly. Bruce would let his fear gobble him as he no longer shuts his eyes when his wish for a perfect totality disintegrates in front of him.

The mismatches in here and there, Wallace’s control and the gnawing frailty of resolution:

Spanning some abstractions of a character that in the end was marred by the world whose actuality did not attune with his visions, Wallace’s short story typifies the path brazenly trailblazed by structuralism only to end in the anxiety and the little creativities  (which are absent in the story) of post-structuralism. As the writer, Wallace owned mastery, hardly characterizing his characters except for their thoughts which are immensely divorced from their material settings. What Wallace professed are two characters recollecting experiences and spewing thoughts at each other and it is in this mainly mental realm that we were able to engage with the story. In that sense, “Here and There” can be argued to cut us off a material plot where we can certainly understand the origin of thoughts more concretely and more objectively. We were offered only with the already biased thoughts of Bruce and his partner and this reduces the reliability of every interpretation, which we can aptly blame to a hardly reliable narration. Wallace bypasses the material – where the thoughts were situated and likely have been influenced in their formation, and if that was done for his own mastery of the story, then he evidently succeeds.

Still, this ricocheted to the resolution of the story, which for all of its being fleshed out from the universe of thoughts, is at its best frail, and at its worst, lifelessly abstract. Bruce admitted fear and hardly can we imagine how he would go on with his life now that his vision has been shattered — which is the same flak that debilitated post-structuralism despite its (feigned) celebration of creativity and playfulness after the collapse of the so-called structures. What is lacking is the recognition, not to say understanding of the dialectical procedure that operated at ground level where humanity exchanges breath and sweat and personalities. Definitely, it would be a surprise if that emerges in this story where the thoughts of the characters were isolated from their material situations. In the end, Wallace also joins the bevy of contemporary writers whose revelry and creativity spring from a postmodern attitude of either cynicism or openness which in the same vein, limits the discourses generated and propelled by their fictions.

The greatly missed David Foster Wallace