On education and seduction: a harvest of prose

by Joel Pablo Salud, Manila Critics Circle

There’s a growing fan base on the lookout for nonfiction books these days, and not without good cause: the dearth of facts.

Fiction, both literary and the pot-boiler variety, still holds considerable sway among book fans. But the nonfiction genre has, of late, seem to come of age, paving the way for Filipino readership to enjoy such diversified choices as creative nonfiction, the narrative essay, more so, the memoir.

On the narrative essay, two young brilliant authors come immediately to mind: Rolando B. Tolentino, former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications, and J. Neil C. Garcia, the associate for poetry at the Institute of Creative Writing.

Their books form a body of work which transcend the commonplace nonfiction narratives, engaging readers in such diverse topics as empire, primordiality, and vagination for Tolentino, and indie films, spirituality, and gay liberation for Garcia–both prismed through the pop culture lense.

Myth and Writing: Occasional Prose by J. Neil C. Garcia, as the book blurb suggests, aspires “to perform something else, something quite specific,” that being the transformation of all fiction into the ‘transfigurative magic” of myth, “without which it would be quite impossible for any of us to grieve, to love, and be fully a person in this world.”

Garcia’s interests, even while pursued from a popular culture standpoint, hardly come off as ‘light’ reading. Any and all who dare venture into the world of this remarkable poet must, for obvious reasons, learn to dig deeper, if only to see a world from the perspective where consent to create equals commitment to the same.

In his essay “The Literary Practice of Complexity,” the first in this collection, the poet Garcia delves beautifully into the paradox and profundities on which his chosen genre stands for all time:

“In poetry, in fact,” he writes, “complexity is primarily an offshoot of the semantic operations of paradox, which is the complex unity, the reconciliation of irreducible differences that the poem, being metaphorical, routinely performs. The effect of poetry itself demonstrates paradox–at once dulce et utile, which is to say at once instructive and delightful, which represents the polar ‘concerns’ of virtually all poetic theories across the centuries. The instructive function has been argued in terms of the valorizing of poetry’s Reason, Wisdom, Truth, Statement and Content, while its delightfulness may be seen in the valorizing, across centuries of poetic theorizing, of poetry’s Imagination, Pleasure, Beauty, Image and Form. Despite the fact that these ‘elements’ can be provisionally and analytically identified in the course of one’s reading, as anybody here who has ever read and enjoyed poetry can confirm, a poem as ‘gestalt’ is finally an experience that is all and yet none of these things, all at once.”

As an avid reader of poetry, which in my youth had formed much of my idea of what a writer ought to be, I can easily attest to several poems’ sweet and delightful paradox, “at once dulce et utile”–the attempt to educate and to seduce–as the very rubric that must rule all writing.

Rolando B. Tolentino’s book, Keywords: Essays on Philippine Media Cultures and Neocolonialisms, on the other hand, rouses the journalist in me as it delves into our sense and imageries of nation and deconstructs the same using history, cinema, and all things political.

One particular essay by Tolentino, “Vagination: Cinema and Globalization in the Post-Marcos, Post Brocka Era,” caught my interest in that it opened my eyes to the reality of the so-called ‘vaginal economy,’ and how, as an offshoot of the the Marcos regime and the Lino Brocka cinematic dispensation, it has continued to this day as the fuel that moves the ‘national libidinal drive”.

“Vaginal economy,” Tolentino writes, “refers to the intensifying feminized sexualization of Philippine labor that is mobilized in the national development program. This involves the dual transnationalization of Philippine labor–in the homeland, to service the labor needs of multinational capital, whether as factory, service sector, or sex workers; and outside the homeland, with the continued reliance on OCW, especially in times of crisis […] If sexualized Philippine labor resuscitates the endless crisis of the national economy, then sex-oriented cinema saves the day for the Philippine movie industry, forestalling its periodically announced death.”

Tolentino goes on to articulate the bond between the vaginal economy, particularly embodied and emblemized in sex-oriented films, and the economics of contract work, and how the former has created a lingering national image.

“Overseas contract work represents the politics of hope and its lingering effect on both the family and the nation. This resounds with the ethos of bomba films, women becoming eroticized sacrificial lambs in order to redeem the family. Multinational work has brought women in the work area; they are generally underpaid and prone to sexual exploitation. Like the bomba queen, their bodies become magnets for modes of capital accumulation.”

From the profundities and paradoxes inherent in art to the raw images of a prostituted national economy symbolized in Philippine cinema, these two books, I believe, put into the perspective issues rarely tackled in the discourses of nation and nation building.

It would do this country well to have no shortage of books of this character, nature, and scholarship, these mighty monuments in the field of literature. Books like these are our virtual lifeline.

Because more than the benefits of a formal education, I believe this country needs to be astounded into learning, jolted into thinking critically, and knocked over into looking at things from different angles. These books provide the impetus and the punch.

Myth and Writing: Occasional Prose by J. Neil C. Garcia was published by the University of the Philippines Press, while Keywords: Essays on Philippine Media Cultures and Neocolonialisms by Rolando B. Tolentino by the Ateneo de Manila University Press. Both saw print in 2016.  G





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