I have a particular fondness for essays that probably very few readers share.
My year takes me from the narratives of Orwell—a fixture on my bedside table—to some of the most exotic lyricists (like Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude and Joseph Epstein’s Narcissus Leaves the Pool) ever to demand the death of trees.
Home-front essayists come few and far between. On the side of literature, there’s Alfred Yuson and Sarge Lacuesta, both recognized poets and short fiction writers, respectively. The rare Bienvenido Santos, of course, Jing Hidalgo’s creative non-fiction, and the occasional prose by Greg Brillantes come to mind as favorites.
I take swigs of National Artist F. Sionil José’s Why We Are Poor like shots of Jack D. sans the ice. I am smitten by the narratives of veteran newsman Luis Teodoro and Vergel O. Santos,and those of Inday Espina-Varona which appears on her blogs.
My daily craving for sacrosanct humor hurls me out the bed and into the pages of Woody Allen and Jack Sedaris.
For those heartrending chronicles of societal and inner life, there’s Joan Didion and Susan Sontag.
But then Lisandro “Leloy” Claudio comes along with his book, Basagan Ng Trip (Anvil Publishing), and takes us on a wild and fulsome journey in the art of grousing and complaining.
It’s a bellyache of a book where, after you’ve stripped it of the urgency and honesty of his narratives, a sort of sweet-sour dark humor balloons from between the lines. And that, my dear readers, is what I damn love about this book.
Thanks to Leloy’s attempt to raise the act of criticism and objection into an art form, saying “Being a critic and essayist was, one could say, my only means of self-expression. Indeed, I cannot create, so I just complain […] and yes I am proud to call them complaints, because complainers believe that things are wrong and can be changed. Welcome to the world of the second-class citizen in the republic of letters—the much maligned ‘tagabasag ng trip’.
The polemical essay in Philippine writing often carries with it curlicues of academic verbiage, making this rather difficult to understand for the ordinary Juan, if not swallow, on the whole. The inkling toward isms confines much of the lines to the dictates of either political or apolitical jargon.
As former post-doctoral Fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University and former assistant professor at Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University, one would expect the same from Claudio’s writings.
Apparently, he refuses to go the way of pedantic embroidery to write a collection that is easy on the eyes as well as the mind. He pens his adventures in thought—from the classroom to the wider arena of pop culture, history, and secularism, to say little of nostalgia—in the manner of the everyday speaker.
And yet there is nothing “everyday” in the way he says it. Claudio is, from top to bottom, quite the gifted storyteller. He disembarks on the familiar if only to land his craft in a place that leaves the reader craving for more.
I particularly like his essay “Eman Lacaba and the Pinoy Hipster”.
Starting out with lunch at Maginhawa Street in UP Teacher’s Village, and later, a drink or two at Cubao Expo, Claudio proceeds to expound, or as academics would say, deconstruct the life of activist poet Eman Lacaba using the hippie and beat culture as backdrop.
The question he posits in his essay maybe a case for further study: “How could Lacaba be ‘hipster’ if he died fighting a dictatorship?”
“That Eman Lacaba dedicated one of his poems to Jack Kerouac—the hipster progenitor whose On the Road serves as a blueprint for other meaningless attempts to render melodramatic the ‘alienation’ of the privileged white male (i.e. Ben Stiller’s pretentious Reality Bites)—evinces his fascination with the quality that places one in ‘the know,’ otherwise known as ‘hip’. Yet to label Lacaba ‘hipster’ and other activists like him would be a disservice.”
Caudio’s crystal irreverence brings the reader into the darker world of the cultural critic who breathes fire.
His take on ‘religious extremism’ which nearly halted Lady Gaga’s concert in the Philippines. In his essay, Let Lady Gaga Dance:
“I’ve never been a Lady Gaga fan, but when conservative Christian groups called for the banning of her concert, I felt lucky to have a friend with a spare ticket. Remember, the religious Right—socialized to fear sex, provocative art, and rock and roll—is composed of the most boring people in the Philippines. As such, what they hate stands a good chance of being fun. And the Lady Gaga concert was, indeed, fun […] From the moment she stepped out of an inflated vagina, I knew she would not be cowed by our domestic Taliban…”
At a time when dictatorship is rife, and lies are spread as news, humor, sarcasm, and a tad better rendering of irreverence, I feel, are needed in order to get the message across.
I remember the fantasy author Neil Gaiman saying he believes “in the sanctity of the right to mock”. What better way to outdo attempts at censorship than to thicken utterances with intelligent irreverence. Censors would probably even thank you for them.
Basagan ng Trip: Complaints About Filipino Culture and Politics by Lisandro Claudio and published by Anvil Publishing is a welcome joyride of immense significance to the art of the straight narrative. This collection of short essays, penned with the reader in mind, is a must-have as a literary and journalistic EDC.
I stand by what I here said, thus walang basagan ng trip. G