The status quo will always be questioned, challenged, and criticized, in the name of a higher state of being, in the name of surpassing past achievements—over and over again. To do this, someone has to look deeply into things, see beyond the superficial, and analyze every bit the ideas already out there to create better ideas.
Here is where Ralph Semino Galán’s “Discernment” stands: It digs far beneath the surface to unravel the minute details of every book, place, and thing that is often unnoticed by untrained eyes.
Galán, a poet at heart, is a professor in the Faculty of Arts and Letters at University of Santo Tomas. He is from South, having completed his baccalaureate at Mindanao State University with an AB English (major in Literature) degree. His ability as a writer has been proven several times, and he was a fellow at national and international workshops; Siliman, U.P., Iligan, and the 2nd ASEAN Writers’ Workshop/Conference on Poetry.
His poetry has gained recognition from the Philippine Panorama and Home Life Magazine contests. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts published his first chapbook of poetry “The Southern Cross and Other Poems” in 2005 as part of the UBOD New Authors Series. His other poetry collection “From the Major Arcana” was published by UST Press in 2014.
Before that, “Discernments” was his first collection of Literary Essays, Cultural Critiques and Book Reviews in 2013.
In the introduction, Dr. Oscar V. Campomanes looks at Galán as an umalohokan who “announces the advent of yet another exuberant and refreshing voice in the now-ever pluralizing scene of local art, literary, and cultural criticism.” That is clearly exemplified by the book itself.
Doing away with the jargon of literary and cultural criticism, Galán aids his readers in their search for the deeper meaning of things. Contemplation might be the appropriate term for the moment of pondering upon the essence of something – and when I speak of essence, let us not take it as a preconceived notion. Or maybe it is. This is the conversational experience you get from this book. It does more than show you critical perspective on the selected texts, places, and things. It encourages you to engage in the same exploration.
The book opens with “Articulations of Both Heart and Mind – The Love Poems of Edith Tiempo”, an in-depth analysis of Tiempo’s poetry, where Galán says: “For unlike most love poems that only touch the heart due to their emotional effusiveness, her compositions also stimulate the mind with their intellectual incisiveness.”
Tiempo, who is called a literary sorceress by Galán, passed though the meticulous eyes of the critic seated beside Roland Barthes. According to Galán, Tiempo, in her love poems, had again proven her enchantress’ power by bewitching the intellect and feelings simultaneously—a rare feat for any writer. The essay persuasively and effectively argued why Tiempo deserves the highest literary honor in the country, National Artist for Literature Award.
Not even the painted letters of the late Ophelia A. Dimalanta, the former Director of the Center for Creative Writing and Studies of UST, escaped Galán’s eagle eyes. In his second essay, “Love Woman Triumphant – Ophelia A. Dimalanta’s Fifth Book of Poetry”, Galán lays out a meticulous and scrupulous inspection of the topics taken up in Dimalanta’s book –from the most romantic ones to the taboo and revolutionary concepts. This essay is a testament to the intellectual prowess of both writers.
Longest among all the essays in the compilation, the piece “Naming the Spirits – Feminist Nomenclature and Mystic Characterization in the First Three Novels of Isabelle Allende” shows how Galán utilized his sharp pen to present his ideas without the putting his readers to sleep. Here, he presented how literary pieces can be connected to one another, and the reality that a bigger meaning hides within each. He delivered his critical thoughts with clarity, using literary language.
Galán proves in his third essay that Isabelle Allende, who is one of the few well-known female writers from Latin America (like Gabriela Mistral and Laura Esquivel, of course) is now situated in the club of canonized literary writers. Then he dug deeper into the marginalization of women. He explored the cultural underpinnings of naming and words, specifically in the Spanish language which is the language in which Allende wrote her novels.
These are only the first there essays from Galán’s collection. His work contains pieces that can awaken the hidden critic-persona in you, if you will but read him. The purpose of the books is not merely to create a reading list of essays to help academicians. Let’s go further than that: Galán’s book makes the reader understand how a critic sees the world—effortlessly and without condescension.
Being a critic, just like being a writer, requires time to harness one’s weapon. Reading is one of the most potent tools for enriching and filling up the intellectual arsenal. It helps sharpen and create more trained eyes and minds—something that is necessary for critically inspecting people, events, and literary pieces. We need more of this in the Philippines. No, not to analyze of the latest video by Mocha Uson and her non sequitur arguments and fake news. Or maybe it could be.
Galán shows that criticism should not be left solely to the academe. He shows that everyone has the capacity to do this by creating and recreating the self from time to time. Shall we now deconstruct the non-philosophical statement of Mr. Duterte ‘Your God is stupid, mine has common sense’? Maybe we shall. But, first, grab your “Discernments”.