December 16, 2015

The Seven Madmen


The Seven Madmen (1929) by Roberto Arlt, translated by Nick Caistor, afterwords by Nick Caistor and Roberto Bolaño (Serpent's Tail, 2015)



I didn't think I shall ever finish The Seven Madmen, Roberto Arlt's infamous novel, in time for the end of the world. I tried to pace myself, reading a few pages at a time, but the virus of desolation spread rapidly to contaminate my buoyant spirit. I'm far from the finish line on this one. I'm hardly halfway through the novel. Definitely not your average picker-upper read.

Remo Erdosain, the protagonist, might as well be frolicking in purgatory. At the start of the novel we found him down and hard on his luck, having been accused of stealing money from his company and being given an ultimatum to settle the money he stole. As he walked the streets of Buenos Aires, trying to find a way out of his sticky situation, he encountered a gallery of characters, in various states of derangement. How bleak the outlook for Erdosain. The very air he breathed seemed saturated with depression and desperation. Erdosain was fucked. The novel was packed with an emotional wallop.

Let us say, for the sole purpose of comparison, that Erdosain is a citizen under the regime of Kim Jong-un. In this case, of course, Buenos Aires is Pyongyang, and Argentina is North Korea. That was an unoriginal approach. But you get the drift.

What's being paraded were hollow, cartoon characters, defined only by their anguish and revulsion. Characters wallowing in monotony and boredom. Even their flashes of paranoia and distrust were predictable. Wretchedness piled on top of wretchedness. What's worse than a damned soul?

He felt as though blood was pouring from every cranny of his soul – as if it was being torn by a drill. With his powers of reasoning numbed, stunned with anguish, he set out on a wild search for a brothel. It was then he experienced the horror of empty nothingness, that luminous horror like the dazzling brilliance of the sun as it bounces off the curved surface of a salt-flat.

The novel was full of these brilliant metaphors of light and darkness. The same light that blinded Meursault in Camus's L'Étranger or Tajomaru in Akutagawa's "In a Grove". In fact the novel was swimming in perverse metaphors.

Here's another example: "It seemed to Erdosain that each worry was an owl that flitted from one branch of his suffering to the next." That was the formulation of translator Nick Caistor who said he tried to avoid straightening the repetitions, lack of grammatical accuracy, and wayward logic of Arlt.

Los sietes locos was in fact translated twice in English, the first one in 1984 by Naomi Lindstrom, published by Godine. She translated the same sentence snappily as: "He felt each spasm of grief hopping like an owl from branch to branch in his misery." That sounded more wayward to me.

Another sentence comparison:

Lindstrom:
Like a horse with its guts torn out by a bull, mucking around in its own viscera, every step he took drained his lungs of their lifeblood.

Caistor:
Just as horses who have had their guts ripped out by a bull slither about in their own intestines, so every step that Erdosain took left him with a little less lifeblood in his lungs.

The violence in that sentence was palpable and exact and scientific. At the level of a sentence, Arlt conjured the devil in the details. One's life was at stake in each Arlt sentence. A bullet fired into the chest, close to the heart, gave a life or death sentence: "His life was saved only due to the fact that this organ contracted at the precise moment the bullet whizzed by." Whew!

What Erdosain was longing for was redemption for his soul, but we were almost sure he would not get it in this life.

"What am I doing with my life?" he would ask himself, trying with that question to shed light on the origins of this anxiety which led him to long for an existence where the next day would not be merely time measured out in a repetition of today, but something different and totally unexpected, like in the plots of North American films, where yesterdays tramp suddenly becomes today's secret society boss, and the gold-digging secretary turns out to be multimillionairess in disguise.

Let us say, it was a fictional fulfillment of desire. Erdosain was longing for fiction, for something unpredictable, "something different and totally unexpected". Wasn't that an existentialist objective?

Arlt's world was a beehive of lowlifes in the entrails of Buenos Aires. Whores and gangsters and tormented souls rubbed shoulders with pseudo-anarchists and terrorists. There's a fuzzy destabilization plot to rid the world of the bourgeois army. Society was a sewer connected to the latrines of emo individuals. Still, the perplexity and the questioning mode of Erdosain made for a novel of pathetic grandeur.

Lindstrom (81):
“I’m nothing in everyone’s eyes. But still, if tomorrow I throw a bomb or murder Barsut, suddenly I’m everything, the man who exists, the man for whom generations of criminologists have prepared punishments, jails, and theories… That’s really weird! And yet, only crime can affirm my existence, just as evil is all that affirms the presence of man on earth.. Really, this is all so weird. Still, despite everything, there is darkness and mankind’s soul is sad. Infinitely sad. But that can’t be how life is. If tomorrow I figured out why that can’t be how life is, I’d pinch myself and disinflate like a balloon spewing out all these lies I’m filled with.”

Caistor (88-89):
I'm nothing to anyone. And yet, if tomorrow I throw a bomb or kill Barsut, then I become everything, a man who exists, a man who generations of legal experts have prepared punishments, gaols, and theories for. ... That's so strange! And yet it is only thanks to crime that I can affirm my existence, just as it is only evil which affirms man's presence on earth. ... All this is very strange. And yet despite everything, darkness does exist, and man's soul is full of sorrow. Infinite sorrow. But that cannot be all there is to life. Something inside me tells me life cannot be like that. If I could only discover the precise reason why life cannot be that way, I could stick a pin in myself, and all this hot air of lies would be deflated like a balloon.

Roberto Bolaño (the poor Chilean) supplied a back cover blurb and afterword to the 2015 UK edition. The latter was the infamous essay, or speech, from Between Parentheses where Bolaño described three strains of doom-virus infecting the Argentinean literary canon. The essay was hardly a flattering portrait of Arlt's novelistic enterprise. Read properly (i.e., literally), Bolaño was saying Arlt could not be a basis for an Argentinean literary school or movement because of his pure fatalism. For him, Arlt's art was infected. He compared Arlt to Onetti. Both "[opted] for the parched and silent abyss." Arlt's writing represented a desertification of literature that guaranteed the destruction of literature. That may or may not be exactly a damning judgement, but it was an ambivalent assessment of Arlt's fiction. And yet he considered Arlt one of the "exceptional writers and literary giants" in Argentina. It was a love-hate judgement.

I think Bolaño was more irked by Ricardo Piglia's championing of Arlt's flavor of fiction than by Arlt himself, whom he called blameless. In fact, he was wary of (false) prophets or literary apostles or disciples. He could not bear César Aira trumpeting Osvaldo Lamborghini's legacy. The literature of doom as represented by the two Osvaldos (Soriano and Lamborghini) and Arlt (to some extent) is a self-destructive enterprise. The language of novels in this mold devours itself.

Bolaño delivered the speech "The Vagaries of the Literature of Doom" in December 2002 in Barcelona at the Kósmopolis International Festival of Literature. He prefaced his reading as follows:

Argentine literature is so rich, so powerful, that in the end it seemed more fitting to focus [my piece] exclusively on it; on Argentine fiction basically. ... The piece is ... limited to the drift of Argentine literature since Borges's death, basically. Sadly, this gangster literature, or literature of doom is the most vital, the richest. Personally, it doesn't excite me much, mostly because I'm sick of the literature of doom, but there's no doubt it's the most vital, and that it has the most influence on the rest of Latin American literature. The literature of doom, as I've said, is a kin of sub-world or infra-world outside the law.

The self-contradictions in those opening statements were glaring. Who needs a self-help book if one is sick of the literature of doom?



P.S. Mad covers of English translations

1. The 1984 Lindstrom translation. Talk about literalism in depicting seven mad persons. Almost cool, if only for the rapacious swimmers in the background.






2. The first edition from UK publisher Serpent's Tail. The glum look.





3. The 2015 edition of Serpent's Tail. Nothing remarkable here.



4. The US edition from NYRB (2015). The cover is more apt for Melville's Moby-Dick.







Passages from Naomi Lindstrom's translation of The Seven Madmen quoted above are taken from Never Stop Reading. All Bolaño quotes are from Between Parentheses, translated by Natasha Wimmer.

Caravana de recuerdos hosts The 2015 Argentinean (& Algerian) Literature(s) of Doom until the end of the month.



December 11, 2015

Favorite books 2015


My reading choices lately had been pretty much insular. For various reasons, I became interested in local (Philippine) literature in English and Tagalog. There's a very practical reason for this. The books were simply what's readily available and accessible to me in bookshops. Also, the postcolonial and postwar orientation of the books I've sampled was of great interest to me. I managed to make good headway on my two reading lists: the best Philippine novels of the last century and Filipino novels in English translation.

A subjective and flawed exercise, this singling out of books. Yet the obligatory post is quite enjoyable to write, if only to relive each specific reading experience, the beautiful flaws and obvious artifice of a well-made fiction. I selected eight novels as favorites this year. My only complaint about them is their ugly covers.


I probably have not read a finer Philippine novel in English in But for the Lovers by Wilfrido S. Nolledo. First published in 1970, it became extinct until miraculously resurrected in 1994 by Dalkey Archive Press. It is a fountainhead of creativity [not in any Ayn Rand sense, God forbid]. Surreal and savage scenes are interspersed with scenes of great hilarity and profundity. The large, multi-national cast of characters floats in a state of dreaming, half-waking, or in-between. The wartime set-pieces unravel in magical fashion. It's a powerful work of postcolonial perversity. Hyperbole does not give it justice.


After attending a party in a garden among socialites, the executive assistant of Imelda Marcos visited her estranged father. They argued about politics and the hot issues of the day. The father is a fervent critic of Marcos, the daughter does not care. In the end, both will be implicated in the New Society.

Linda Ty-Casper is perhaps the best living novelist from the Philippines, the one most deserving of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. (F. Sionil José -- the supposedly best bet of this country -- simply does not cut it for me.) She had a rather cruel vision of failed history in A Small Party in a Garden (1988). In this short novel, the intersection of domestic personal conflicts with fractured official histories is narrated with uncompromising irony. In one unpleasant episode in the novel, historical forces, military and male, simply shatter and belittle any human effort for decency. A political novel that slaps the face of anyone who kept silent (i.e., almost everyone) during the Marcos regime.


The Hand of the Enemy (1962), the only novel written by Kerima Polotan, is a postwar novel of social corruption that anticipated the political stagnation during the years of dictatorship under Marcos. Herself a Marcos crony, Polotan is redeemed not by the probity of her characters but by their failings. There is an almost metaphysical representation of chance fate as the enemy, whose iron hand is a specter not to be trifled with. And yet the shadow of a false prophet leading his followers to perdition haunts these pages, like the would-be dictator. And like Linda Ty-Casper, the ardent anti-Marcos, Polotan the Marcos sympathizer makes palpable a very human, and evil, design in the institution of marriage and in the political structure of government.



The Cloak of God (1975) is the best of the three novels by Rosario de Guzman Lingat finally brought into English in recent years by her indefatigable translator and champion Soledad S. Reyes. Like The Hand of the Enemy, it analyzes corruption and degradation of spirit through its duplicitous main character, Felino Paras, a theater actor who accidentally became a religious leader. It has a parable-like quality in its treatment of religion as a source of salvation for the gullible masses, easily manipulated by the perfect performance of an actor who secretly lived in sinfulness and depravity. Maestro Felino perpetrated a massive fraud by brilliantly playing a double life, by naturally acting out the role of a religious leader. It is a role the artist is born to play. Wearing the cloak of God is the character's, as well as the novel's, performative act. And in the second act of the play, she will again subvert her own performance by switching roles and switching genres.


I couldn't readily decide which of the two novels by Tsushima Yūko I read this year to include in this list. Woman Running in the Mountains (1980) almost edged out Child of Fortune (1978) in terms of which mystified me the more. But the two are sister novels, both majestically translated by Geraldine Harcourt. There's a continuity in their themes and preoccupations. Both are portraits of an unwed, expecting woman in Japan, circa 1970s. The delicate progression of scenes in these novels reveals a portrait of an immediate family and a society almost unfit for bringing up children. Through challenges in their work stations and family relations, Tsushima's protagonists discovered small personal triumphs against personal doubts and insecurities. Her almost realist narratives are deepened by tensions arising from a wayward metaphor or a stray scene, a simple recollection or a brutal dream. Tsushima is a fixture in this blog and for good reasons.



All the Conspirators (1998) is Carlos Bulosan's posthumous detective novel, published 42 years after the author's death after being discovered among his papers. It exposes the deplorable actions of persons who collaborated with the Japanese enemy during the war and who betrayed their country and fellowmen in exchange for wealth and comfort during the Japanese occupation. This entertaining novel is accessible, full of action, and a fast read. But on the serious side, it provides a damning portrait of traitorous characters who sold out their souls by informing on freedom fighters. They are always waiting in the wings, these frigging collaborators.


And then there's this infamous 1915 Kafka story of magical transformation, Ang Metamorposis, in a recent Filipino translation. This is magical transformation in a cruel, terrifying way. The pathetic and noble struggle of Gregor Samsa against unjust power structures at work and in society is a reflection of the continuing class struggles of wage workers. A Marxist interpretation of the Kafkaesque may be inevitable, especially as it dramatizes how capitalism reduces the nuclear family to financial relations.


That's it for the year round up. Been a great year for badass reading.



December 4, 2015

All books 2015


Life happened, hence the lesser frequency of book writing on this space. Life meant work and its attendant time trappings. So demanding I had to take a break from part-time night teaching in a local university. My apologies for my lack of interaction with friends and acquaintances in the blogosphere. I do continue to read posts from blogs I follow, sometimes days after bookmarking them. I manage to read every fascinating book review and posting even if I can't bring myself to comment. Unmitigated, I still manage to go into book buying sprees at stores and online. Constants, bookish habits, that endure.

I keep on reading whenever I can. Blog reviews, books, print and digital. Fifty-two books this year, and that is enough. A blessed year of distraction all in all. Considering that life meant also fatherhood for me for the first time. A baby daughter, now a couple of months old, is finding her way into the world. She reads the air with her inquisitive eyes. She wakes up into a household of books. Soon she will open picture books, first chapters, and early chapters. And then young adult books the father was often not fond of. He will find himself browsing through shelves, catalogs, and collections not his usual fare. Some years and he will find The Tartar Steppe being interspersed with The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily. Mann's Joseph tetralogy broken by the volumes of Moomin.

Life. And he can't wait.







1. Kung Baga sa Bigas: Mga PilingTula (Just Like Rice Grains: Selected Poems) by Jose F. Lacaba

2. Light by Rob Cham

3. A Field Guide to the Roads of Manila and Other Stories by Dean Francis Alfar

4. Alinsunurang Awit (Attributed Songs) by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles

5. Gagambeks at mga Kuwentong Waratpad (Gagambeks and Waratpad Stories) by Mark Angeles

6. Si Janus Sílang at ang Labanáng Manananggal-Mambabarang (Janus Sílang and the Manananggal-Mambabarang Showdown) by Edgar Calabia Samar

7. Climate Change: Evidence and Causes by The Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences

8. Guillermo Tell = Wilhelm Tell by Friedrich von Schiller, tr. José Rizal

9. Pitong Kuwento (Seven Stories) by Anton Chekhov, tr. Fidel Rillo

10. Ang Kuwintas at Iba Pang mga Kuwento (The Necklance and Other Stories) by Guy de Maupassant, tr. Allan N. Derain

11. Niyebe ng Kilimanjaro at Iba Pang Kuwento (The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories) by Ernest Hemingway, tr. Alvin C. Ursua

12. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

13. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, tr. Samuel Moore

14. Ang Metamorposis by Franz Kafka, tr. Joselito D. Delos Reyes

15. Remember, Body... by C. P. Cavafy, tr. Avi Sharon

16. Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-araw (A Midsummer Night's Dream) by William Shakespeare, tr. Rolando S. Tinio

17. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

18. Ang Trahedya nina Romeo at Julieta by William Shakespeare, tr. Rolando S. Tinio

19. Reportage on Lovers by Quijano de Manila

20. But for the Lovers by Wilfrido D. Nolledo

21. The Global Warming Reader: A Century of Writing About Climate Change, ed. Bill McKibben

22. The Hand of the Enemy by Kerima Polotan

23. All the Conspirators by Carlos Bulosan

24. A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke, tr. Ralph Manheim

25. Poems of Rolando S. Tinio, Jose F. Lacaba & Rio Alma, tr. Robert Nery

26. Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard, tr. Ewald Osers

27. Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos, tr. Rosalind Harvey

28. The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín

29. Commend Contend/Beyond, Extensions by Edith L. Tiempo

30. A Small Party in a Garden by Linda Ty-Casper

31. Understanding Human Ecology: A Systems Approach to Sustainability by Robert Dyball and Barry Newell

32. The Deleted World by Tomas Tranströmer, tr. Robin Robertson

33. Translations by Brian Friel

34. The Cloak of God by Rosario de Guzman Lingat, tr. Soledad S. Reyes

35. Tres by Roberto Bolaño, tr. Laura Healy

36. Campo Santo by W. G. Sebald, tr. Anthea Bell

37. The Death of Summer by Rosario de Guzman Lingat, tr. Soledad S. Reyes

38. Woman Running in the Mountains by Tsushima Yūko, tr. Geraldine Harcourt

39. Sa Kasunod ng 909 (Next to 909) by Edgar Calabia Samar

40. Trip to Tagaytay by Arnold Arre

41. The Bamboo Dancers by N.V.M. Gonzalez

42. Green Sanctuary by Antonio Enriquez

43. Ang Kapangyarihang Higit sa Ating Lahat (The Power Greater Than All of Us) by Ronaldo Soledad Vivo Jr.

44. Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn

45. Ang Mundong Ito ay Lupa (This World Is of the Earth) by Edgardo M. Reyes

46. Child of Fortune by Tsushima Yūko, tr. Geraldine Harcourt

47. Bullets and Roses: The Poetry of Amado V. Hernandez: A Bilingual Edition, tr. Cirilo F. Bautista

48. Pesoa by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles

49. Trese: High Tide at Midnight by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo

50. Retrato ng Artista Bilang Filipino (A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino) by Nick Joaquín, tr. Bienvenido Lumbera

51. Kaaway (Enemies) by Maxim Gorky, tr. Bienvenido Lumbera

52. Diary of the War of the Pig by Adolfo Bioy Casares, tr. Gregory Woodruff and Donald A. Yates







2015

Kung Baga sa Bigas: Mga Piling Tula
Light
A Field Guide to the Roads of Manila and Other Stories
Alinsunurang Awit
Gagambeks at mga Kuwentong Waratpad
Si Janus Sílang at ang Labanáng Manananggal-Mambabarang
Climate Change: Evidence and Causes
Guillermo Tell = Wilhelm Tell
Pitong Kuwento
Ang Kuwintas at Iba Pang mga Kuwento
Niyebe ng Kilimanjaro at Iba Pang Mga Kuwento
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
The Communist Manifesto
Ang Metamorposis
Remember, Body...
Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-araw
Go Set a Watchman
Ang Trahedya nina Romeo at Julieta
Reportage on Lovers: A Medley of Factual Romances, Happy or Tragical, Most of Which Made News
But for the Lovers






November 7, 2015

Guillermo Tell


Guillermo Tell = Wilhelm Tell by Friedrich von Schiller, translated from German to Filipino by José Rizal (National Historical Commission of the Philippines, 2013)




Can a Swiss (European) national epic about a revolution inspire another revolution halfway round the world? Maybe it could. But it should be translated first.

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) supplied the prefatory lines to José Rizal's (1861-1896) Spanish novel of revolution Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not). They are taken from the parody poem "Shakespeare's Ghost". The German original of the extract from the poem appeared on the left; the Spanish translation was on the right.

Qué? ¿No podría un César presentarse
En vuestras tablas? no más un Aquiles,
Un Orestes ó Andrómaca mostrarse?

Quía! Si no vemos más que concejiles,
Curas, alféreces y secretarios,
De husares comandantes y alguaciles.

Mas, di, ¿qué pueden estos perdularios
hacer de grande? Pueden tales ratas
Dar lugar á hechos extraordinarios?

***

"What? Does no Caesar, does no Achilles appear on your stage now?
Not an Andromache e'en, not an Orestes, my friend?"
"No! There is naught to be seen there but parsons, and syndics of commerce,
Secretaries perchance, ensigns, and majors of horse."
"But, my good friend, pray tell me, what can such people e'er meet with
That can be truly called great?—what that is great can they do?"

["Shakespeare's Ghost", tr. John Bowring]

Rizal translated Schiller's final play on 1886, a year before Noli Me Tangere was published in Berlin. Hence, it came to be that the first great Philippine novel was written in Spanish, printed abroad, and partly influenced by a Swiss dramatist. Rizal was a polymath of languages. From German, he translated Wilhelm Tell into Tagalog. The recent version printed by the National Historical Commission modernized Rizal's Tagalog into contemporary Filipino.

The translation was published in the Philippines posthumously, in 1907 and 1908, almost a decade after Rizal was executed by Spanish authorities for sedition. Schiller's revolutionary thinking influenced Rizal's thought and the writing of his twin magnum opus, Noli Me Tangere and its sequel El Filibusterismo (Subversion).

Like Schiller, Rizal depicted a nation in chaos and under the grip of terror from imperialistic and militaristic powers of the state. The empire and its cohorts were terrorizing the land, seeking to control the populace and enrich themselves by land grabbing and stealing other people's properties. The people were incensed by the endless malevolence and abuse of authorities, by their lack of freedom, the unjust social conditions. From apathy, they were awakened toward resistance, toward social organization, and toward the use of force. Blood accompanied their revolt.

Rizal learned from Schiller how to dramatize the fight for freedom, for independence, and self-determination. Revolution against prevailing authorities was ever justified if their representatives ("parsons, and syndics of commerce,/Secretaries perchance, ensigns, and majors of horse") use their power perversely to thwart natural and divine laws, the laws that protect human rights and basic good. In the most famous and very effective scene of the play, Guillermo Tell was told by one of the emperor's men to shoot with an arrow the apple placed on top of his own son. Who could blame Tell, who at first seemed reluctant to join the brewing revolution against the empire, if after a first-hand taste of an unjust attempt to kill his own child (by his own hands!), he decided to stamp out the enemy?

Throughout history, subjugated peoples reached saturation points, enabling them to unite and band together and to act decisively against totalitarian rulers who eventually suffered the fate of their folly. Accompanying such wars and revolutions was the emergence of nationalism and a new world order. The resistance in Schiller's drama came from people of all classes, from the working classes (fishers, shepherds, hunters, farmers) to the bourgeoisie (rich landowners, barons, heirs). In Rizal's time and in his fiction, the rebels were a mix of the workers and commons with the landed class and the ilustrados (educated elite); in Noli: the disinherited Elias and the disenfranchised Juan Crisostomo Ibarra, the novel's idealistic protagonist who will later metamorphosed into the vengeful figure of Simoun due to the abuses he suffered from Spanish clerics and authorities.

It was possible Rizal borrowed lines and ideas on radicalism from Schiller in a climactic encounter in Noli where Elias had a conversation with Ibarra. This scene was a turning point for the novel for this is when Ibarra had an epiphany, the "eye-opening" scene where he admitted his previous error in sympathizing with the authorities. Ibarra's lament might as well be a synopsis of Tell's revolutionary awakening.

"May katwiran ka, Elias, ngunit nililikha ang tao ng mga pagkakataon. Bulag ako noon, masama ang loob. Ano ba ang malay ko? Ngayon, tinanggal ng kasawian ang aking piring, natuto ako dahil sa pag-iisa't pagdurusa sa aking piitan. Ngayon, nakikita ko ang nakahihindik na kanser na ngumangatngat sa lipunang ito, nakasakmal sa lahat ng laman, at nangangailangan ng marahas na pagbusbos. Binuksan nila ang aking mata. Ipinakita nila ang sugat at pinilit akong maging kriminal! At kung gayon nga ang ibig nila, magiging filibustero ako. Subalit isang totoong filibustero. Tatawagan ko ang lahat ng sawi, ang lahat ng nakadadama na may pusong tumitibok sa loob ng dibdib, iyongmga nagsugo sa inyo na lapitan ako. Hindi, hinding-hindi ako magiging kriminal kailanman; kabaligtaran ng kriminal ang lumaban alang-alang sa kaniyang bayan! Sa loob ng tatlong siglo, nag-abot tayo ng kamay sa kanila, humingi sa kanila ng pag-ibig, at umasam na tawagin nilang kapatid. Ano ang kanilang itinugon? Sa pamamagitan ng mga alipusta at paglibak, ipinagkait maging ang katangian ng pagiging tao natin. Walang Diyos, walang pag-asa, at walang sangkatauhan! Walang natitira kundi ang katwiran ng lakas!"

Saklot ng damdamin si Ibarra, nanginginig ang buong katawan.

[Noli Me Tangere, tr. Virgilio S. Almario]

 ***

“You’re right, Elias, but man is a creature of circumstances! Then I was blind, annoyed—what did I know? Now misfortune has torn the bandage from my eyes; the solitude and misery of my prison have taught me; now I see the horrible cancer which feeds upon this society, which clutches its flesh, and which demands a violent rooting out. They have opened my eyes, they have made me see the sore, and they force me to be a criminal! Since they wish it, I will be a filibuster, a real filibuster, I mean. I will call together all the unfortunates, all who feel a heart beat in their breasts, all those who were sending you to me. No, I will not be a criminal, never is he such who fights for his native land, but quite the reverse! We, during three centuries, have extended them our hands, we have asked love of them, we have yearned to call them brothers, and how do they answer us? With insults and jests, denying us even the chance character of human beings. There is no God, there is no hope, there is no humanity; there is nothing but the right of might!” Ibarra was nervous, his whole body trembled.

[The Social Cancer (1912), tr. Charles Derbyshire, emphases are mine]




The debate on the use of violence to fight for what is right is at the center of Schiller's drama. In Schiller, the image of a blindfolded man suddenly seeing very clearly was present in the (trembling) words of Rudenz, an erring nephew of a baron who formerly sympathized with an abusive judge from Austria.

Binayaan ko ang aking bayan, ang mga kamag-anak ay tinalikdan, lahat ng taling katutubo yaring pagkatao ay iniwan, nang mapakapit sa inyo, sa kapaniwalaan kong ginagawa ang kagaling-galingan at pinagtitibay ang lakas ng emperador --- Ang piring ay nahulog sa aking mga mata --- nangingilabot akong tumutunghay sa malalim na banging aking nilusong --- inyong iniligaw ang malaya kong pag-iisip, dinumihan ang dalisay kong puso --- Mabuti ang aking nasa, at walang malay na iyo'y nagpapanganyaya sa aking bayan.

[Guillermo Tell, tr. José Rizal, my emphasis]

***

My people I forsook—renounced my kindred—
Broke all the ties of nature, that I might
Attach myself to you. I madly thought
That I should best advance the general weal
By adding sinews to the Emperor's power.
The scales have fallen from mine eyes—I see
The fearful precipice on which I stand.
You've led my youthful judgment far astray,—
Deceived my honest heart. With best intent,
I had well-nigh achiev'd my country's ruin.

[Act III, Scene III, Wilhelm Tell, tr. Theodore Martin, my emphasis]

The trajectory of the apple (and the arrow) follows the Newtonian laws of physics, but to deny laws governing "the chance character of human beings" is to tempt fate and to test the patience of man. "Papanain sa ibabaw ng ulo ng anak! Kailan ma'y walang nakitang katulad na utos sa isang ama!", exclaimed a fisherman who learned of the scene with Tell and his son.

Paano ang hindi pagngalit ng buong poot at dahas ng sansinukob at hindi pagtutol sa gayong gawa! Oh! hindi ko nga pagtatakhan kung ang mga bato ay magsiyuko sa dagat; kung yaong mga nakatayong yelo na hindi naagnas buhat pa nang ang lupa ay lalangin ay magsitunaw at bumuhos ngayon, kung magputukan ang mga bundok, kung ang matatandang bangin ay magsagupaan, at isang pangalawang paggunaw ay lumamon sa buong tirahan ng tao at sa lahat ng may buhay.

[tr. Rizal]

***

To level at the head of his own child!
Never had father such command before.
And shall not Nature, rising in wild wrath,
Revolt against the deed? I should not marvel,
Though to the lake these rocks should bow their heads,
Though yonder pinnacles, yon towers of ice,
That, since creation's dawn, have known no thaw,
Should, from their lofty summits, melt away,—
Though yonder mountains, yon primeval cliffs,
Should topple down, and a new deluge whelm
Beneath its waves all living men's abodes!

[Act IV, Scene I, tr. Martin]

The act was not only against divine law (ungodly), but also against logic (unreasonable); not only against human nature (inhuman), but against nature itself (unnatural): "And shall not Nature, rising in wild wrath, / Revolt against the deed?" This was to overturn all sacred beliefs and to run counter against natural instincts. This was universal stuff and felt by many. The personal (interest) seems to be a major force to reckon with when it comes to the political (matters).




Tell is somehow one of the composites, a template, for the filibuster character of Simoun Ibarra in Rizal's El Filibusterismo. In Translation and Revolution (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2009), Ramon Guillermo's book-length study of Rizal's translation of Schiller's play, Guillermo dissected Rizal's several word choices and exposed the nuances in the translator's grasp of the necessity for bloody revolution to quell slavery and to protect life, property, and family. I discovered reading Guillermo's book how the "modernized" version of Rizal's Guillermo Tell produced by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines may actually have done violence to the work by unduly renovating Rizal's Tagalog and paraphrasing too much his (old) Tagalog expressions which to me were still relatively understandable. An example was the famous passage quoted by Ramon Guillermo.

Hindi nga! nagwawakas din ang karahasan, kapag ang naaapi ay walang makitang tulong dito sa lupa, at ang kanyang tinitiis na pasan ay hindi na makayanan, ay itinitingala ang loob sa langit, at tinatawagan ang walang hanggang katuwiran ng Diyos, yaong katuwirang walang pagkabago na gaya ng mga bituin, at doon humihingi ng lakas. Sa gayo'y nagbabalik ang matandang panahon na ang mga tao'y nag-aaway at nagpapatayan, at ang patalim ang huling kinakapitan kailan ma't naubos na ang ibang paraan sa pagkakasundo. Ang ating mga mahal na yaman ay dapat ipagtanggol sa mga manglulupig; dapat nating ipaglaban ang ating lupa, alang-alang sa ating asawa't mga anak.

[modern Filipino version by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), based on Rizal's translation]

***

Hindi nga; natatapus din ang karahasan.
Kapag ang nagigipit ay ualang makitang tulong,
kapag ang bigat ng pasa'i lumabis ...
kukunin nga niyang masaya sa langit at ipananaog sa lupa
and di matingkalang katuirang nahahayag doon
sa itass di nababago at di nasisira,
paris din ng mga bituin ...
nagbabalik ang matandang lagay ng lupa,
kapag sa tao humahadlang ang kapua tao ...
at sa huling gamot, kapag ang lahat na'y aayaw bumisa,
ang patalim ay ibinibigay sa kaniya ...
ang ating mga ari ay dapat nating
ipagtanggol sa karahasan.—Ating ipaglaban ang ating lupa,
ipaglalaban ang mga asawa at ang mga anak.

[tr. Rizal, quoted by Ramon Guillermo, from May Gaua Caming Natapus Dini: Si Rizal at ang Wikang Tagalog (2002) by Nilo S. Ocampo]

***

Yes! there's a limit to the despot's power!
When the oppress'd for justice looks in vain,
When his sore burden may no more be borne,
With fearless heart he makes appeal to Heaven,
And thence brings down his everlasting rights,
Which there abide, inalienably his,
And indestructible as are the stars.
Nature's primaeval state returns again,
Where man stands hostile to his fellow man;
And if all other means shall fail his need,
One last resource remains—his own good sword.
Our dearest treasures call to us for aid,
Against the oppressor's violence; we stand
For country, home, for wives, for children here!

[tr. Martin]

The most obvious tinkering done by NHCP was to transform the poetry lines into prose format. The "modern" paraphrasing, furthermore, was arguably different in tone and content from Rizal's original version. It's a translation of a translation. I'm no longer sure if I'm actually reading Rizal's version!

Ramon Guillermo's study of Guillermo Tell provided a lot of background information and context into Rizal's creative process, his theory of translation, nationalism (c. 1890) and ideological background of the work. He used computer-aided discourse analysis, quite technical and academic and stiff in many parts but the insights he extracted were fascinating, based on the few pages I read and browsed.

Going back to the original question posed at the start of this post, it appears that Rizal was inspired enough by the revolutionary ideas of Wilhelm Tell to create his own revolution in his novels. Novels which inspired the outbreak of the 1896 Philippine Revolution against three centuries of Spanish rule in the Philippines. Novels that "survive" and "live on".*


I read this for Week 1 (Friedrich Schiller Week) of German Literature Month V, generously hosted once again by Caroline (of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Lizzy (of Lizzy's Literary Life).


* In his concluding chapter to Translation and Revolution, Guillermo introduced the idea of translation as a lifeline.

At the beginning of Wilhelm Tell, Konrad Baumgarten is being pursued by soldiers for killing Count Wolfenschießen who had made indecent advances on his wife. He arrives running at the bank of the raging river and pleads with the reluctant boatman to bring him across the river to safety. Baumgarten exclaims:

Ihr rettet mich vom Tode! Setzt mich über! (V. 68)

Save me from sure death! Bring me across!

It can be observed here that the German verbs for "taking across" and "translating" has the same form: "übersetzen" (though the verb "übersetzen" which means "translation" is, strictly speaking, not separable into "über-" and "setzen"). This pure coincidence creates the possibility for playing on two possible meanings of "übersetzen." It could therefore be read as either as "Save me! Bring me across!" or as "Save me! Translate me!" Walter Benjamin's (1985) much cited philosophy of translation, in fact, looked upon translation as the means by which a literary work succeeds in "living on" (Fortleben), or "surviving" (Überleben). The translated work achieves this not by remaining simply as it was but by being transformed and renewed in translation. If Baumgarten's life was saved by Tell who had the courage to bring him across the raging river, the text of Wilhelm Tell could in turn be made to "live on" by being translated across other languages and cultures. Jose Rizal's Wilhelm Tell translation can therefore be considered as one example of this "living on", though it is actually one translation, which almost never made it across.

 


November 4, 2015

Si Janus Sílang at ang Labanáng Manananggal-Mambabarang


Si Janus Sílang at ang Labanáng Manananggal-Mambabarang (Janus Sílang and the Battle Between the Armies of Manananggal and Mambabarang) by Edgar Calabia Samar (Adarna House, 2015)

Compulsive reading ang bagong yugto ng pakikipagsapalaran ni Janus. May bagong mundong tinatatag si Edgar Calabia Samar gamit ang mga lumang materyales ng kababalaghan at engkanto. Bagamat mahahalintulad ang ilang karakter at eksena sa mga popular na pelikulang banyaga, may sariling pambayang punto de bista ang pagkakalahad ng istorya. Updated na ang mito ng pinagmulan ng mundo. At ang labanán ay nakatuon hindi lang sa tagisan ng lantay na kapangyarihan kundi sa mental na pakikipaglaban ni Janus sa sarili nyang mga agam-agam bilang isang kabataang naharap sa mga matinding pagsubok sa buhay.

Ito ang ikalawang aklat pa lamang sa serye ng Janus Sílang na mukhang papantayan ang dami ng tomo ng Harry Potter. Isang taon na naman kaya ang gugugulin sa paghihintay ng kasagutan at closure sa cliffhanger sa dulo ng istorya. Sinu-sino ba itong 77 púsong na ito na nakabida sa pamagat ng ikatlong libro? Ano ang kinalaman nito sa 88 na pinakamabagsik na pamamaraan ng bárang (kasama na ang epektibong panlaban sa mga ito) na pinapaksa ng librong binubuklat-buklat ni Janus sa aklatan?

Next level na ang istorya. Umaarangkada na ang numerolohiya na itinampok din ni Sir Egay sa nobelang Sa Kasunod ng 909. Ngayon ay naurirat na ang siyam na mundo na kinapal ng Siyam na Bathala ng Santinakpan. Parang Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog lang ang peg. Tutal namamayagpag pa rin dito ang batang halimaw na Tiyanak at may Atisan blues pa rin kaya hindi madaling mawaglit ang alaala ng Walong Diwata. Ang mga nobela ni Sir Egay, maging ang serye na ito, ay may continuity, parte ng iisang mundo, ng iisang haraya. Pawang mga pambata o pangkabataan (young adult) ang puntiryang audience dahil na rin nakasentro ang mga misteryosong eksena sa bidang bata o tinedyer. May pang-akit sa awtor ang ganitong kabataang karakter at tema. Sabi nga sa Eight Muses of the Fall, na salin sa Ingles ng Walong Diwata.

Before all this began, I kept telling myself that I didn't want to talk to the adults, especially to the elders, because they already had their stories. They're whole. Beginnings, endings, and everything in between. On the other hand, the children, their stories are still fresh. Raw. No editing, no thought of revisions. Continuity; what a strange, foreign concept. No need for endings. You only need to figure out how to begin those stories. And when it's begun, it's a wellspring from where all other fresh, raw stories burst—raw, fresh stories that could only come from them, no one else.

*

"I don't want to talk to adults anymore," I said while I wove in and out of the waves, close to the shore. I remembered the afternoons when I'd pay a visit to the elders of Atisan, just to get a story, something I could put in the novel I could never seem to begin writing. "The problem with grownups, elders especially." I went on, "is that they already have stories. They already know what to say. They're whole. They're not raw, they're not as fresh as the children's. I like the truth in stories that don't have to abide by some formula, that don't have to snuggly [sic] fit into some structure. I like the truth when it's in something that's yet to be whole."

Dahil sa ganitong prinsipyo ng spontaneity ng pambatang kuwento, hindi mo alam kung saan ka dadalhin ng istorya. Kung kaya't ang timpla ng rekado ng mga kababalaghan ay may pang-akit din sa mga matatanda na tulad ko (36 anyos). Ang pagtatagpi-tagpi ng mga pangyayari ay orihinal sa pagkakaroon ng sariling salamangka at lohika bagamat kakikitaan nga ng impluwensiya ng popular na akdang banyaga. Technopathic mapping. Hello, Professor X. Ang Santuwaryo Castillo na mala-Azkhaban.

May sariling kodigo (batas) na sinusunod ang mundo (at kalibutan) ni Janus Sílang. May sariling kapit sa hindi pa naitakdang kinabukasan. Ang nagsisimulang trahedya ng Manto. Ang angkan ng Esturas na mukhang may malaking papel sa susunod na mga kabanata.

Kagaya ng Tiyanak, nananatiling maigting ang panghalina ng Manananggal sa panulat ni Sir Egay. "Halos isang buhay" na gumagabay sa likod nya ang Manananggal. Isang inspirasyon, isang musa. Bahagi pa rin ng siklo o continuity ang mga nilalang na ito. Ito ang binalik-balikan nyang ehemplo at basehan (batis) ng kanyang pagbabanghay.

Kailangan niya ng nilalang na makalilipad tulad ng mga banog, pero kailangan niya ng taling hihila rito pabalik sa lupa upang matiyak na kontrolado niya ito't mananatiling mag-uulat sa kaniya. Kaya't isang sumpa ang pagkahati ng katawan ng manananggal. Isa itong pangako ng lagi't laging pagbabalik, ng lagi't laging pag-uwi....

Ito ang eternal return o eternal homecoming ng pagnonobela. At ito ay pumapaimbulog sa ika-21 dantaon. Naka-adapt na sa teknolohiya ang mga engkanto at barang. Nababasa na ng electromagnetic waves ang brain imprints ng mga espesyal na nilalang (púsong at bagáni). Marahil ang mairereklamo ko na lang ay ang pagiging convenient ng mahika para bigyan ng paliwanag ang mga mahirap intindihing konsepto. Halimbawa ay ang paggamit ng masamang engkanto (evil) bilang isang paliwanag sa climate change, mga digmaan, mga delubyo na mahirap ipaliwanag dahil sa magnitude nito. Ang Yolanda bilang stage ng pananalasa ng Tiyanak. Ang pagsakay sa ganitong mga kalamidad, sa pamamagitan animo ng 'magic of convenience' ay bumubura sa lohika at siyensiya na hindi dapat tuluyang iwaglit sa kamalayan. Ang mga pangyayaring katulad ng extreme weather events at climate change ay napapatunayang gawang-tao at hindi gawang engkanto kung kaya ang responsibilidad at pananagutan natin dito ay hindi dapat ilagak sa supernatural na solusyon.

Gayunpaman, nananatili ang interes ng seryeng ito para manumbalik ang sigla ng pagbabasa na nakahuhumaling kagaya ng nakalakihan nating komiks na linggo-linggong sinusubaybayan. Sana lang ay may sapat na payoff ang bawat susunod pang kabanata para naman hindi masayang ang nakayayamot na santaóng paghihintay sa kapalaran ng mga bagáni at púsong.


November 1, 2015

Gagambeks at mga Kuwentong Waratpad




Gagambeks at mga Kuwentong Waratpad (Gagambeks and Waratpad Stories) by Mark Angeles (Visprint, 2015)


Entertaining is the story of Angelo/Gelo aka Gagambeks, an orphan and a poor boy who grew up with his grandma in a shanty. Gagambeks is a combination of the words Gagamba (Spider) and beks (for beki, slang for gay), and a reference to a local television series Gagamboy (Spiderboy) and, dare I say, the Marvel hero. Gagambeks, hence, is the spunking new hero Spidergay. Waratpad is a play on the reading site Wattpad. Warat means torn or broken. Waratpad stories are stories going against the grain of local romance stories (chick lit, fan fiction) through thematic and linguistic play on love stories.

The novella started with our hero searching for his 'future boyfriend'. Poverty and hard luck forced him to work his ass off in a garments factory owned by a greedy merchant. In this factory Angelo became exposed to noxious chemicals and unjust workplace regulations. Angelo was branded Gagambeks because of his long, thin legs and effeminate behavior. His strength and beauty were tested when he was forced to fight in a mud wrestling/kickboxing event. From there, Gagambeks' advocacy to fight for the rights of the factory workers began when he started to make a speech against the factory owner's anti-worker policies. There was a big commotion, and then the lights blacked out. Suddenly Gagambeks was kidnapped by a hunky guy who looked like Enrique Gil. Angelo was not even sure the man was a villain or a sympathizer. Could he be the future boyfriend he was looking for all along?

Mark Angeles combined entertainment and a not-so-subtle proletarian message in a story couched in playful language and riotous plot. It's the kind of story relished by those who are not after serious, as in serious, works of fiction. For this was the territory of postmodernism. And the postmodern is perverse, to paraphrase J. Neil Garcia's cultural criticism in The Postcolonial Perverse. It is perverse because it does not take itself seriously though its message is just as heavy-handed. It punches the holes of conventional storytelling and reader expectations.

The writer's acknowledged novelistic influences were Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid at ang Authobiography na Mali (by Jun Cruz Reyes), Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata (Ricky Lee), and Lumbay ng Dila (Genevieve L. Asenjo). I could detect JCR's novel's influence in the effective integration of activism in a novel. But I don't know about Lee and Asenjo's books. I would love to read Lumbay ng Dila (Tongue's Loneliness), it's on the wish list, but I failed to finish reading the unconvincing pyrotechnics of Ricky Lee in Amapola.

Angeles brings sensitivity to his characterizations of the marginalized and the challenged persons in Gagambeks and in the rest of the stories. Onoda in "Samurai" was a great recreation of the actual Japanese soldier who hid in a Philippine island for decades and refused to surrender even after the war was already ended by an atomic bomb. Stories like "Mata-Mata" were not as successful because the juxtaposition of historical events with a contemporary violent crime seemed forced. Stories like "Casafuego" and "Lazarus" were notable for the successful application of magic and miracles (i.e., of metaphor) to personal and historical struggles.

Mark Angeles started with writing poems. Now he has come out of the closet, so to speak, with his unique fictional style of blending fantasy and wit to proletarian issues. His colloquial approach to the story was fresh. As in "Lazarus", the final story of the collection, where one character learned the truth coming out in the open just like the biblical character emerging from the closet-like cave of death after hearing the thunderous voice of a god. Similarly, the truth of fiction writing from a writer of sharpened senses has now emerged from the dark cave, revealing vital and sharp imperatives.

October 19, 2015

Apat na Aklat ng Bayan






Ang Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) ay nagpasinaya ngayong taonng bagong serye ng publikasyon na tinatawag nilang "Aklat ng Bayan" (Book of the Nation), isang malaking proyekto na bahagi umano ng "Aklat ng Karunungan" (Library of Knowledge) at magtatampok sa angking galing ng wikang Filipino. Kasama sa proyektong ito ang paglilimbag ng mga pag-aaral sa wika, panitikian, at kultura ng Pilipinas; salin sa Filipino ng mga akda mula sa katutubong wika; at pagsasalin ng mga obra maestra ng pangdaigdigang panitikan. Kudos sa KWF sa naisip nilang makabuluhang pakulo! Ito ay maaring ihanay sa iba pang pambansang proyekto (katulad ng Library of America, Library of Korean Literature, at Modern Library of Indonesian Literature) bagamat nakasentro sa wikang pambansa.

Ang apat na kababasa ko lang ay nakuha ko mula sa booth ng KWF sa katatapos na Manila International Book Festival.
1. Pitong Kuwento (Seven Stories) ni Anton Chekhov, salin ni Fidel Rillo
2. Ang Kuwintas at Iba Pang mga Kuwento (The Necklace and Other Stories) ni Guy de Maupassant, salin ni Allan N. Derain
3. Niyebe ng Kilimanjaro at Iba Pang Kuwento (The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories) ni Ernest Hemingway, salin ni Alvin C. Ursua
4. Ang Metamorposis ni Franz Kafka, salin ni Joselito D. Delos Reyes
(Ang mga ito ay pawang mga kuwento. May salin naman ng mga tula mula sa dalawang makatang nagtamo ng Gawad Nobel sa Literatura: ang Gitanjali ng makatang Bengali na si Rabindranath Tagore, salin ni Virgilio S. Almario, at Sa Prága: Mga Piling Tula ni Jaroslav Seifert (In Prága: Selected Poems of Jaroslav Seifert), koleksyon mula sa makatang Czech na isinalin ng isang grupo sa pamumuno nina Roberto T. Añonuevo at Gian Lauro Abrahan V.)

Tunay ngang nagpapakita ng galing ng mga lokal na manunulat na bigyan ng kapantay at kaakibat na salin ang mga klasikong akda nina Kafka, Chekhov, Hemingway, at Maupassant. Ang huling blog post ko ay nagbigay ng suri sa mahabang kwento ni Franz Kafka na "Ang Metamorposis" (link). Hindi ko gagamitin ang espasyo na ito para sa pagbibigay ng suri sa iba pang sinalin bagkus ay magbabahagi ng mga importanteng isyu patungkol sa pagsasalin.

Kung tutuusin marami pang dapat ayusin ang serye na ito. Pinapakita ang pagsunod sa modernong ortograpiya ng Filipino ngunit hindi naman pare-parehas ang aplikasyon sa lahat ng salita. Marami pa ring mga tipograpikal at gramatikal na kamalian na tyak na hindi naman makikita sa orihinal na akda. Para sa akin, mas dapat pag-igihan ang copyediting at proofreading ng pagsasalin dahil nakabatay ito sa isang akdang sinulat ng maayos at masinsin ng awtor nito. May responsibilidad ang tagapaglimbag na ayusin ang paglabas ng aklat na nakapangalan pa rin sa (dahil nakabalandra sa pabalat ng aklat ang pangalan ng) orihinal nitong awtor.

Ang salin ay dapat gawin nang makinis at dapat na masusi ang pag-edit dito. At hindi naman siguro ganun kaliit (maliit nga ba?) ang bayad sa mga tagasalin at mga editor ng KWF para tipirin ang kalidad ng pagpapalimbag? Isa pa, pamahalaan ang nagpapatakbo sa KWF at pati na rin sa Natinal Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) na syang nagbibigay ng grant sa pagsasalin, kung kaya pera ng taumbayan ang ginagamit para dito. Sana lang ay ayusin nila kasi talagang nakakadiskaril ang pagbabasa kung maya't maya ay may maling baybay na mapupuna.

Isa pa, hindi rin malinaw kung ang ilang salin ay talagang nagmula sa orihinal na wika o kaya ay adaptasyon ng salin sa Ingles. Si Fidel Rillo ba ay bihasa sa Ruso? Si Allan N. Derain ba ay ginamit ang orihinal na Pranses ni Maupassant at direktang nagsalin mula Pranses patungong Filipino? Si Joselito D. Delos Reyes ba ay nag-aral ng Aleman? Ligtas si Alvin C. Ursua sa Ingles ni Hemingway bagamat mas mainam kung dineklara kung anong edisyon ng aklat ni Hemingway ang pinagbatayan ng kanyang salin.

Tungkulin ng publisher at translator na banggitin mismo sa aklat kung anong bersyon ang ginamit sa pagsasalin - mula sa orihinal ba na lengguwahe o mula sa isa sa mga salin sa Ingles? Kung Ingles ang pinagbatayan ni Rillo, ito ba ay ang Ingles ni Constance Garnett o ang Ingles ng mag-asawang Richard Pevear at Larissa Volokhonsky o Ingles ng iba pang nagsalin kay Chekhov? May implikasyon ito sa pagiging transparent ng salin at sa intellectual copyright. Maari namang isulat sa copyright page na ang salin ay direktang ginawa mula sa orihinal na wika kung ganito talaga ang kaso.

Kung titingnan naman ang mga napiling manunulat, puro kalalakihan ang anim na naunang naisalin. Mas mainam kung magkakaroon ng representasyon ang mga kababaihan sa susunod pang isasalin para sa Aklat ng Bayan. Maganda rin kung magkakaroon ng sapat na representasyon ang mga manunulat mula sa iba't-ibang panig ng daigdig. Maganda kung talagang aayusin ang programang ito dahil totoo namang maganda ang layunin at kapaki-pakinabang sa mga mambabasang Pilipino.


September 26, 2015

Ang Metamorposis


Ang Metamorposis by Franz Kafka, tr. Joselito D. Delos Reyes (Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, 2015)



It was well and good that I finished reading The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels right after Franz Kafka's story of an ordinary man's transformation into a monstrous insect. A specter of class antagonism haunted the story of Gregor Samsa's unfortunate situation. That specter was mostly in the background, but it was as palpable as the powerful, omnipotent, and omnipresent reach of an absentee landlord. The tension was there from the first page, when Gregor was without warning rendered into a terrifying living thing, impotent and marginalized and hideous. His struggle against irrelevancy and uselessness in a capitalist society began.

Nang magising isang umaga mula sa isang masamâng panaginip, natuklasan ni Gregor Samsa sa kama ang sariling isa nang kahindik-hindik na insekto. Nakatihaya siya sa matigas at tíla baluting likod, at sa bahagyang pag-angat ng ulo ay natatanaw nya ang malakupula't kayumangging tiyan na nahahati sa matitigas na arkong tumutumbok sa magkabilâng gilid ng katawan; ang katawang iyon ay hindi halos matakluban ng kubrekama na sa anumang sandali, maaaring dumausdos at tuluyang malaglag. Ang kaniyang binti, na kahambal-hambal at lubhang maninipis kung ihahambing sa kabuuan ng kaniyang katawan, ay sumisikad-sikad nang walang kalaban-laban hábang pinagmamasdan niya.

[One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin. He lay on his hard, armorlike back, and when lifting his head slightly, he could view his brown, vaulted belly partitioned by arching ridges, while on top of it, the blanket, about to slide off altogether, could barely hold. His many legs, wretchedly thin compared with his overall girth, danced helplessly before his eyes.]*

I was reading the recent translation of the story into Filipino by Joselito D. Delos Reyes, part of the new Aklat ng Bayan (Book of the Nation)** series of Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino. The choice and arrangement of the translated words in this paragraph alone (kahindik-hindik; malakupula; kahambal-hambal) was so chilling it was as if from the outset Gregor had no chance at all to survive this struggle. The choice of the word malakupula (like a cupola) in "malakupula't kayumangging tiyan" for "brown, vaulted belly" was a particularly grisly description.

He never heard the alarm clock. (A missed appointment to attend work, just like K. and Josef K. missed theirs every step of the way.) Let us just say that the Kafkaesque adhered to Murphy's law. Gregor emphasized that it was not a dream (Hindi iyon panaginip.). Proof of which was the presence of a magazine cutout he recently made. It was a nightmarish reality every person never dreamed of.

We never did encounter Gregor's big boss in the story, the absentee landlord, the owner of the company where he worked as a travelling salesman of textiles. But after only an hour of being late for work, he was immediately visited by the officer manager, the chief overseer of the company, to specifically remind him of the temporary nature of his tenure in the company ("tandaan mong hindi ganoong katatag ang posisyon mo sa kompanya"). That he was at the mercy of being fired with just one day of being absent without official leave. The company was bent on exploiting the labor force from the likes of Gregor to earn its profits and more capital.

Because he was sick, he was no longer (viewed as) human. Hindi iyon boses ng tao, observed the chief upon hearing Gregor who barricaded himself in the room. Even his cough was described as inhuman: maging tunog ng ubong ito ay maaaring hindi tulad ng sa tao.

Kafka's exaggerated realism was on point. As in his full-length novels, Ang Metamorposis deals with the struggle of ordinary workers ("paid wage-labourers" in The Communist Manifesto***) against the mental and physical exploitation by their insensitive and inhuman society.

At alam ninyo rin, ser, na ang ahente, na halos buong taóng hindi makikita sa opisina, ay madaling nabibiktima ng mga tsismis, kamalasan, at daing at sumbong na walang kamalay-malay. Malaláman lang niya ito kung nakabalik na siya mula sa isang nakapapagod na paglalakbay at doo'y tuwirang maghihirap mula sa nga parusa na hindi man lang niya natutukoy kung ano ang orihinal na dahilan.

[You also know very well that a traveling salesman, being away from the office most of the year, can so easily fall victim to gossip, coincidences, and unwarranted complaints, and he cannot possibly defend himself since he almost never finds out about them, except perhaps when he returns from a trip, exhausted, and personally suffers their awful consequences at home without fathoming their inscrutable causes.]

This almost revealed the mystery surrounding Gregor's metamorphosis, his disintegration into something hardly human after being over-exploited by the labor machine. The basic framework of Kafka's 'critique' of modern society was this disintegration of social and societal meaning. In Marx and Engels, "[the bourgeoisie] has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal rites that bound man to his 'natural superiors', and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked, self-interest, than callous 'cash payment'." Gregor's entreaties fell on deaf ears.

Gregor was the model employee; for many years never had he been absent in work for a single day. The powers that be would not take that into consideration. Gregor's life force must be squeezed out of him to feed the market economy. The common worker became an insect in the colony of capitalist economy. The queen bee needed to be served. The individual was reduced into the form of something like an animal if only to satisfy the appetite of the system.

Nang mga panahong iyon, ang tanging kagustuhan ni Gregor ay gawin ang lahat ng makakaya para matulungan ang pamilya na makalimutan, sa lalo at madaling panahon, ang kasawiang dinanas ng negosyo at maisalba silá mula sa pagkakasadlak sa kawalang pag-asa. Mula noon ay pinaigting na ni Gregor ang pagtratrabaho; mula sa pagiging isang simpleng klerk, halos gabi-gabi na siyang naging isang ahente kung saan tiyak na mas malaki ang kita. Ang mga pagpupursigi at pagsusumikap na iyon ay kagyat nasuklian ng malaking salaping kaniyang naiuuwi sa manghang-mangha at tuwang-tuwang pamilya.

[Gregor's sole concern at that time had been to do whatever he could to make the family forget as quickly as possible the business catastrophe that had plunged them all into utter despair. And so he had thrown himself into his job with tremendous fervor, working his way up, almost overnight, from minor clerk to traveling salesman, who, naturally, had an altogether different earning potential and whose professional triumphs were instantly translated, by way of commissions, into cash, which could be placed on the table at home for the astonished and delighted family.]

Gregor's family was in debt to the very manager he was slaving for. His parents were now in advance age. As a man in his prime, he took the cudgels to be the breadwinner and fend off for the family.

"In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed," Marx and Engels wrote, "in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed – a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market."

"Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State," Marx and Engels added. "They are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is."

For Marx and Engels, the bourgeoisie is unfit to rule society because "it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state [e.g., the insect-like existence of the transformed Gregor], that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him." Gregor was allowed to live only as long as the ruling class requires it, as long as he increases the capital. By being destitute, weak, and unproductive, he became an outcast in the eyes of the bourgeois society where (Marx and Engels again) "the living person is dependent and has no individuality". Gregor must die because he was no longer a worker who earns (an article of commerce and instrument of labour) but a burden to society. Gregor was no longer marketable.

The family (mother, father, daughter) was forced to work as their financial status became more dire. They let go of the household help and accepted tenants to the house to augment their much reduced income due to Gregor's condition. "The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation", wrote Marx and Engels. This reduction of the family relation to money matters was inevitable.

Sa labis na trabaho at pagod na pamilyang ito, sino pa ang magkakaroon ng panahon na bigyang-pansin si Gregor maliban na lang kung lubusang kailangan? Patuloy na lumiliit ang badyet ng bahay; pinaalis na ang serbidora [...] Ginampanan na nila sa abot ng makakaya ang lahat ng utos ng mundo sa mahihirap na tao; ikinukuha ng ama ng almusal ang mga maliliit na kawani ng bángko, iniuukol ng ina ang lakas sa pananahi ng mga damit panloob ng mga estranghero, at pabalik-balik sa kaha ang kapatid para sa mga utos ng mga mámimíli. Kung higit pa doon ang kailangan ay wala na siláng lakas na gumawa pa.

[Who in this overworked and exhausted family had time to look after Gregor any more than was absolutely necessary? The household was reduced further; the maid was now dismissed after all {...} Whatever the world demands of poor people, they carried out to an extreme: the father fetched breakfast for the minor bank tellers, the mother sacrificed herself to [sewing] underwear for strangers, the sister, ordered around by customers, ran back and forth behind the counter. But those were the limits of the family's strength.]

Slowly and gradually, Gregor's family suffered the same working system that reduced the son to a thing of monstrosity. His sister, Greta, who at first religiously cared for him and fed him began to change her attitudes toward him. In the end, Greta passionately and vehemently rejected her brother (Hindi ko tatawaging kapatid ang nilalang na ito, at ang masasabi ko lang: kailangan na nating alisin iyan. ["I will not pronounce my brother's name in front of this monstrosity, and so all I will say is: We must try to get rid of it."]).

After Gregor's demise the family collectively heaved a sigh of relief. They no longer had to care for a useless invalid, an inutile member of the family. They were ready to move on, with hope in their hearts because they were at present fortunate to be "employed".

Hábang maginhawang nakasandal sa kanilang upuan, pinag-usapan nila ang kanilang plano para sa hinaharap, at lumabas, sa málapitáng pagsisiyasat, na hindi na rin iyon masamâ, dahil sa trabahong mayroon silá na bagama't ngayon ay hindi pa nila napag-uusapan, tiyak namang magdadala ng magandang búkas para sa pamilya.

[Leaning back comfortably in their seats, they discussed their future prospects and concluded that, upon closer perusal, these were anything but bad; for while they had never actually asked one another for any details, their jobs were all exceedingly advantageous and also promising.]

This reinforced the mentality of a colonized family within the bourgeois society, by viewing future happiness in terms of the fruits of labor employment. This ironic resolution was heightened in the end when the parents looked at Greta, now in her physical prime, as an article of commerce and instrument of labor, i.e., in terms of her potential contribution to the family coffers through marriage to a good prospective husband and by being paid as wage laborer, in complete opposition to her brother's damaged body.

At, bilang animo'y isang pagpapatibay sa kanila bagong pangarap at matalinong balakin, nang marating ang destinasyon, tumayo ang anak at ipinakita ang magandang hubog ng batang katawan.

[And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions that at the end of their ride the daughter was the first to get up, stretching her young body.]

Gregor was bound to fail in this class struggle. As Marx and Engels pointed out: "The first direct attempts of the proletariat to attain its own end, made in times of universal excitement, when feudal society was being overthrown, these attempts necessarily failed, owing to the then undeveloped state of the proletariat, as well as to the absence of the economic conditions for its emancipation."

At Kafka's bidding, in his juncture of history when the proletariat has not yet organized itself and acquired political supremacy and constituted itself as the nation, Gregor was a casualty because of the as yet undeveloped state of the struggle, if he even made any attempt to fight back. If he even could be considered heroic in any sense of that word. The Gregor Samsas of the world had yet to reach their saturation points and fight back. But the economic conditions for the emancipation of slaves are now turning. The frameworks for radical and progressive movements have now been tested. The time is now ripe. GREGOR SAMSAS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!


Read in anticipation of German Literature Month V.


* The English passages quoted are by Joachim Neugroschel, from The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories (Scribner), first published in 1993.

**The Aklat ng Bayan series aims to publish works in Filipino or translations into Filipino of noteworthy texts, including translations of great foreign works of literature.

*** The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, translated by Samuel Moore (Penguin Classics, 2015). Translation first published in 1888.

September 25, 2015

But for the Lovers


But for the Lovers (1970) by Wilfrido D. Nolledo (Dalkey Archive Press, 1994)



The postcolonial is perverse*, according to the Filipino critic J. Neil C. Garcia. But why stop there? The postcolonial is grotesque, is disgusting, is radical, is transgressive. The postcolonial is a product of colonial wars, of wars inglorious. It is blasphemous; it is bestial.

Just like But for the Lovers, the only full length novel published by Wilfrido D. Nolledo (1933-2004) in his lifetime. This novel blatantly wears the sleeve of postcoloniality and postmodernity. It is a (diffi)cult book. In Philippine novel writing, it is a milestone, deserving of the top spot in a list of the best Philippine novels in English published in the last hundred years.

He was beginning to eat flowers and the crescent moon was in his eyes when he awoke again. One night long ago when they had intercepted a code from the enemy on the shortwave and had not needed him anymore, they pulled out their tents, mantled him with leaves, and left him. They left him a rifle, a buri basket and a book of psalms, for the Major had decreed in defense of this murder: Let the little legionnaire lie here and die; it is written, it shall be read. But the boy went on sleeping and did not die and when he awakened it was to see (it was to find himself alone) a bird, a whitewinged maya dart in from the west, perhaps headed for the monsoon. Steadying the Springfield , he cocked the hammer with a quivering thumb, and waited. It flew away, whatever it was, and now he squinted up and remembered that it was the first time in a long spell he had seen the sky,and he thought: It is longer, lonelier and lovelier than any of my prayers. He sighted the nimbus—an eagle in captivity—and fired.

It is great because of its language, its unabashed poetic touches, network of allusions and alliterations, puns with punitive effects, and foreign words galore. In various linguistic registers and movements—mo (modernism) or po-mo or po-po (postmodern poetry, in prose)—it is in a league with the illustrious set of Ulyssi. Within a quota of one for every culture, hands down the Philippine Ulysses goes to But for the Lovers.

The basic story revolves around three spectral figures, all inhabitants of room 13 of Ojo Verdes boardinghouse. There is Hidalgo de Anuncio, the Spanish vaudeville/clown artist whose time is almost up, whose very name evoked the master of chivalry. There is Molave Amoran, the feral, resourceful youngster, a sturdy streetkid whose survival instincts come in handy in time of chaos. And there is the unnamed girl whose very silence bespeaks her being a symbol in a war that was fought on symbols.

The setting is Manila during the last interminable months of Japanese invasion right up to the immediate aftermath of the country's liberation. People are desperate, impatiently waiting for the return of the Americans to liberate the country and alleviate their suffering from hunger and destitution. P-38s are hovering above, bombing the city. Throughout the air raids and the looting, the beautiful girl sleeps. And during her waking hours, she is like a somnambulist. The war-torn reality has become a huge launch pad for her dreams, for Hidalgo's pining for the Spanish days of yore, and for Amoran's nocturnal adventures to fend food for the three of them. The three exist to wait for Rapture or whatever. In an apocalypsed landscape of ruins, some like Hidalgo cling to the former colonial past and Hispanic culture, knowing full well that their time is ticking out.

[Hidalgo] was the last flamboyant castilla de entresuelo. Today his sole anchorage was that sprawling colonial-style building across the street from Carmelo and Bauman's. Older than anything else in la ciudad, it'd preserved its ancient appurtenances: an azotea, shell windows, carved rejas, even its original embankment. Here resided the Del Rosario sisters, who had suffered the encroaching commercialization of their beloved street yet had steadfastly refused to bend to the cooings of merchants. Huge profit forecasts and storm warnings could not induce the Del Rosario sisters to consider leases and alterations. The hermetic pair invited no one inside their domains save a few "blood friends." For decades outsiders were curious about what the interior of the house was like. The original draftsman's plans of this relic had either been lost, burned, or, some believed, locked in the Del Rosario vaults for future perusal. Those who revered the lavish historicity of the house only from nostalgia did not know (or had forgotten with the passing of time) that inside were some twenty-four bedrooms, eroding furniture and life-size images of saints. Nor would strangers recollect that the Del Rosario sisters were the last of their line; they had no heirs but, according to popular legend again, had adopted some children. (And wasn't one of them a negrito?) The years had gravely altered the street, the city, the neighbors around them ... que va, the Del Rosario sisters remained unchanged with their house. Their withered palm branches at the eternally shut windows turned green again in honor of the seasons.

Hidalgo is nostalgic. He seeks refuge in old colonial mansion with two spinster sisters reminiscent of the Marasigan sisters in Nick Joaquín's famous play. The Hispanist is eulogizing the passage of an era, when the definitive break from Spanish as former colonials is almost assured, whatever the outcome of the war.

In addition to the triumvirate, the rich cast of characters include Vanoye, one-armed Portuguese POW and demagogue who was tortured by the Japanese in Fort Santiago and was one of the internees in the University of Santo Tomas; Tira Colombo, the thrice widowed matriarch and landlady of the apartment in Ojos Verdes, whose inhabitants provide the manifold strands to the story; three Japanese soldiers—the samurai Sergeant Yato, the poet Corporal Ito, and the weird old Major Shigura who stalked the girl at all times; Captain Jonas Winters, an American pilot who survived the crash of his air bomber plane; Tomasa Pompeyo (aka Tomodachi Toni) who owns a nightclub and whose husband was missing; and a bunch of other minor character studies whose colorful anecdotes provide a good dose of laughter amid the harsh perversity of the times.

As postcolonial novels go, this one is replete with questions and ideas about identity and cultural hybridity. The novel's hybridity in fact already oversells the idea. Hidalgo himself, the old peninsular at home in Manila, whose pan-identity ["an unleavened pan like him"] haunts him, is feeling his almost-anachronistic presence in a country colonized by American Hollywood.

But what finally opens up to the reader is the mosaic of guffaw-inducing set-pieces and a glimpse at the Manila second world war subculture. It is a period of waiting, waiting, and more waiting for Liberation (capital L). A time of torture and marriages (since life goes on), of mendicancy and endemic thievery. But most of all, a time of waiting, waiting, more waiting. The waiting took several forevers. Although there are some, like Tira Colombo, who never give a damn about the whole debacle. Pragmatism saves her from the boredom of waiting.

All that brouhaha around her did not bother Mrs. Colombo. To her, the Liberation [1945] meant not much more than an extra chupa of rice, perhaps some fresh eggs. Politics, government, religion—they were big, fat gobs of one rotten yolk to her. She would benefit not a single kusing from a change of venue; she would not profit from a shift in ideology. Acculturation was for those who did not have or did not cherish what they most privately had, which was identity. The landlady, even with half an ear cocked, with but bat eyes in the daylight, had long reached the conclusion that after Bienvenido Elan, her first husband, there could never be any new idea. History would pass (as indeed it had) over Mrs. Colombo like a tractor, and she would not notice, would not care. What she truly, incessantly lamented was the depletion of man, in whatever form or substance. To her way of thinking, war had been cruel only insofar as it had cauterized the vaginal life source, in its unabating diminution of the male. That cities were razed to the ground, the mothers were ravished in dark rooms, that babies perished for lack of milk only signified (to her) that men were killing each other senselessly, selfishly. No sect could be so sublime, no philosophy so enlightening, no administration so just that could ever again remedy the loss of essence. After the demise of Architect Elan (oh, Bienvenido!), her one last link to any branch of formal constructiveness, Mrs. Colombo just retired from ideas.

The novel gains its suspense from being in medias res. The language play and inventiveness save even the disgusting scenes of torture. The diversity of wartime voices provide a counterpoint to the wartime stupor. But for the lovers (but which lovers?), this would have been a mawkish drama of excess about a set of people forever chewing on the rumors of Liberation that as time goes by remains more and more like that, a remote possibility.

Nolledo's prose is a melting pot of variegated styles. The comedy and grotesquerie are of a piece. In prose "pulsing and polychromatic", in scenes that lapse into the territory of nightmares and dreams and trauma.

They resumed the journey with a melange of guavas and baked lizards. A python had coiled at their feet in an arbor and Quasimoto killed it with a single swipe of the bolo. Twice Alma boggled at a minaret swinging like a pendulum. They diverted her from wheezing showers, whooshing reeds, mildewed clotheslines with withering scarecrows, preening skulls and Halloween papayas. From a grotto, they espied a balloon in the clouds and below it was another boat, and they all knew that her suitors were not far behind. Invoking the prophets at that critical juncture and calling to the patron saint of navigation, Quasimoto steered away and the boat accosted a rainbow and they went loafing-loving-longing on the crest. They outwitted a flood to ransack an empty farmhouse where posters embossed in magenta proclaimed: "THE JAPANESE ARE COMING!" They also unearthed New Year hats, buntings, billfolds and tinfoil from a hope chest. Aron flung the Springfield away, drowned the toy forever in a well. Alma idled behind charred sugar cane and spidery stalks as the boy began to tell her she was beautiful. By sunup, they were blue and bold and blighted: they all had insomnia. They made a palatable salad but dared not eat it lest the sound of loud lettuce unleash the hounds of war. They bound their boat to the bougainvillea vines. When the boy sneezed, they lost it.

Quasimoto, Aron, and Alma are three figures within the dreamlike scene at novel's confused (confusing) prologue. They correspond to other (actual) characters inside (in) the novel. The shifting identities of the characters, of the "lovers" of the title, make for a dynamic deconstruction of purpose and meaning.

"The Spanish Novel in the Philippines will be commemorated in English. Everything else is posthumous", Hidalgo de Anuncio announces like a literary psychic. Nolledo's own may be that Spanish Novel in English. The fate of his three other (maybe more) complete novels was posthumous. Sangria Tomorrow; Vaya con Virgo (aka 21 de agosto); and Cassandra Pickett in the Wings. These apparently experimental novels from a neglected master of the perverse are waiting, waiting, and waiting.



* In the preface to his two-volume The Postcolonial Perverse: Critiques of Contemporary Philippine Culture, Garcia wrote: 'What is postcolonial is necessarily perverse, since perversion is the frustration of teleology and its requisite purity, the undermining of the normative and the narrative, the transitivity that troubles the supposedly pristine, eternal, and abiding. These are precisely what postcolonialism must imply, being that it is, among other things, the historically situated labor of arriving at a critical awareness of colonialism's fractured and translated (and therefore eminently appropriable) "nature."'