12 December 2018

To read the stars

Driftwood on Dry Land by T. S. Sungkit Jr., translated from Cebuano by T. S. Sungkit Jr. (UST Publishing House, 2013)

I. Oral literature

In the age of the printed word, Nick Joaquín shared a damning assessment of the vernacular literature in "Expression in the Philippines", an essay from Culture and History (1988, reprinted 2004 by Anvil Publishing, Inc.) and a book review of Brown Heritage: Essays on Philippine Cultural Tradition and Literature, edited by Antonio G. Manuud (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1967). Joaquín was devaluing the orality of works written in the vernacular, as opposed to works written in English, in his discourse on the Filipino writer's "language problem". (Bear with me on this longish quote.)

A related mystery is the continuing "naivete" of writing in the vernacular, including Tagalog. The language problem of the Filipino writer is usually posed as a choice between the native tongue and a foreign medium. But Bienvenido Lumbera has made a most perceptive redefinition of the problem: the choice is really between a written literature and an oral one. The modern writer writes to be read; it’s not so much his training in English as the readership he would reach that obliges the 20th-century Filipino to write in English. However well he may know Tagalog, he cannot write in it because, in a sense, Tagalog is not yet a written language. What Tagalog literally has is an audience that does not so much read print as listen to it, the way it listened to bard or storyteller in pre-Hispanic times. It’s still in the age of the ballad, not yet in the age of prose.

Says Lumbera:

One of the fantastic ironies of the literary history of Tagalog writing is that much of the poetry produced seems to have been written as though it were meant to be oral literature. In spite of the fact that it is through the magazines that poetry is disseminated, poets continue to write poems that are often effective declamation pieces but hardly worth anything as reading material. This is an indication that the Tagalog poet has yet to come to terms with the printing press. But he cannot ignore much longer the fact that literature today is more often read than heard. If he is to command more than passing attention, he has to enthrall the reader with what he can do with the written language, such as illuminate the individual's experience of this time and this place. Earlier in our history, the Tagalog poet was a singer. In our time, he can remain a singer only when he accepts that, first of all, he is a writer.

Earlier in our history, the Tagalog poet was a singer. That should provoke a reinspection of certain assumptions about our pre-Hispanic culture – for instance, the claim that we were all highly literate then. But if we were so literate, what did we read? All the evidence, including that of today, points to an oral literature. The supposed writings on tree bark could not have amounted to a book culture, if by book we mean writing for permanence. And the further argument that our books were destroyed by friar and conquistador merely leads to a damaging question: Where, then, are the undestroyed libraries of the Moros? The Moros claim to have had the most advanced culture in the islands circa 1521, but even today theirs is not yet a book culture. The literature they have is, like the Tagalog, still mainly an oral literature.

Still mainly an oral literature. Joaquin's offense – for his judgement is offensive – was the typical denigration and snobbish temperament of the Filipino literary establishment-slash-imperial Manila leveled against Tagalog and other vernacular writing. One of my prized finds in the recent Manila International Book Fair held three months ago was the supposed writings on tree bark, or bamboo, for that matter: Bamboo Whispers: Poetry of the Mangyan (Bookmark, 2017).

I opened this debate on the Filipino writer's language problem – if this could be considered a problem at all in the first place – precisely because one Filipino writer was able to skirt around this problem when faced by a choice between writing in English and Cebuano. T.S. Sungkit Jr., in his novel Mga Gapnod sa Kamad-an, gave two correctives in fact. First, he basically ignored the language problem (choosing between English and Cebuano) and celebrated the oral tradition of epic literature. Second, he wrote in both by translating into English his own novel originally written in Cebuano. And it was ironic that we (I) could only appreciate these correctives after reading Driftwood on Dry Land.

Orality was what propelled this novel's aesthetic registers as myth, as legend, as epic. As it navigates a native peoples' history of a hinterland, the novel succeeded in part because of its singular design and its deep respect for the oral storytelling of the past.

I am that lad. I am that young man. I, who am now nearing the sunset of my days. I, who will narrate to you now the stories I've heard from my grandfather. I, who now believe all the predictions about us who are like driftwood on dry land. I am writing this in the hope that someday, one of my descendants will learn how to read the stars.

The novel was populated by driftwood-like drifters who inhabited the island of Mindanao and who were now adrift in their land of birth like internal exiles: displaced, driven away, marginalized. It began fairy tale-like or Biblical story-like during a time of plenty, when "rice grains were the size of a fist" and "rice plants ... could grow as high as palms", when men and women could live up to 250 years old, and life was guided by maxims so simple as to resemble clichés.

It was a peaceful night. The stars made the sky look like a white sandy beach. Everything was touched by a cool and gentle breeze. The chattering of a brook could be heard in the stillness of the night. The chorus of the insects called kulaleng could also be heard along with the sporadic hooting of an owl from a big balete tree overlooking the Kulaman River. The cogon grasses were swaying in the cool and gentle breeze. Even the few remaining trees seemed at peace in making the birds roost. Like the trees, those birds were already nearing extinction.

It would take a different kind of reading metabolism to get acquainted to the folkloric pace and rhythm of the prose. The telling was at times simple and direct, preserved as they traveled as if by word of mouth from one end of the village to another, from one generation to another. At times it could get incantatory and lyrical in its anger, wonder, and despair. It recapitulated the whole history of Mindanao Island, in southern Philippines, the land now known for its never-ending conflict and struggle for peace and justice.

The beginning was the time of the gods and personages with special abilities, a time of enchantment and magic: far longer than the time immemorial now used as a benchmark to lay claim to ancestral domains by indigenous peoples and indigenous cultural communities. The ancestors of those times were powerful. Magic was commonplace.

Our present-day story has its beginnings then when one day at mid-noon, Buuy Manlugong saw a vision.

So please listen. For this is our origin.

The captive audience was beholden to the teller of the tale who built words and metaphors out of the natural world and the blood and sacrifices of the Lumad (native inhabitants) of Mindanao. What repaid their interest was the mystical and imaginative ways the storyteller combined mythology, ethnography, and fantasy to create a unique blend of postcolonial fiction. For the lengthy duration of the tale, the listeners were rapt in attention because they respect the wisdom and experience of the storyteller.

"Before I answer your questions, I'll first narrate how we arrived into these times according to the stories of our parents."

And so Datu Mambulalakaw told his people about their race since the first great gathering in Tag-olowan which was led by Buuy Manlugong. He traced all the events up to the arrival of the alien Castilians all the way to the noontime when he saw a vision. His narration was even longer than a taltag for it was already a long time since such gathering had been called. It lasted for three weeks. And even in that duration, he was not able to tell everything.

Significant events became the baselines to reckon time, such that new tales hereafter were referred to previous events (e.g., "in the time of Mampur", "up to the arrival of the alien Castilians all the way to the noontime when he saw a vision"). New tales piled up on top of old ones. Each time a new story commenced, the previous ones were consolidated, and summarized up to a certain point.

Sungkit's novel was also a work history in the form of imaginative fiction, taking in the arrival of foreign religious influences which were eventually imbibed by ancient peoples and still prevalent up to now. Wars were frequent: "As the inhabitants of the island multiplied steadily, quarrels over boundaries started to occur." But this was an origin story (the peopling of Mindanao) filtered through the prisms of colonialism and neocolonialism: the provenance of old words, events, and legends giving way to historical fractures and disruptions. The modern interpretation was rather flamboyant and reckless, appropriating knowledge and references from ancient lore and artifacts. (I was amused of a borrowed images of the Manunggul Jar from Palawan and the Great Wall of China.)

Although presented from the perspective of the colonized, the non-domesticated English translation carried over many native words whose meanings (etymologies and even modern usage) were given in context or explicated in footnotes. The copious names of characters and places were constant: the deliberate mapping of unknown or forgotten aspects of Mindanao history, details that were consigned to cultural history and anthropological curiosity. The non-linear, episodic narrative kept being disrupted by external forces (new colonizers, new waves of migration to Mindanao). And yet, after all was said and done, the teller kept circling back to previous poetic images, motifs, and reference codes. Time dilation and time contraction – reliable agents of disruption in fiction of imaginative history – were resorted to at will.

Readers unfamiliar with Philippine, let alone Mindanao, history could resemble the title of the book. Like driftwood journeying from shore to shore, they might get lost in transit and the historical references and waves of events unfolding. But they could readily sense the broad outlines of the history of a people who time and time again faced colonial injustices against outsiders who brought harm and injury to life, property, and lifeways.

Reference was made to Sungkit's first published novel, Batbat hi Udan (Central Book Supply, 2009), a novel in Filipino which I have been trying to locate for some time now but seemed out of print already. Sungkit, who writes in four languages – Higaonon, Cebuano, Filipino, and English – had difficulty publishing his original Cebuano language novel because "there seems to be no mainstream publishing for Cebuano literary outputs". He already finished writing Agalon sa mga Balod (Lord of the Waves) – a sequel to Driftwood, which hopefully would also be translated so that one could luxuriate in the waves of more magical oral storytelling, more disruptive historical narratives, and language problem corrective.

II. Counter-literature

Another critical corrective was at work in the pages of Driftwood, one that was evident in the latter half of the book. It opened up the debate on – or rather challenges – the constitutive power of national literature. In its direct confrontation with colonial and postcolonial agents and its goal of erecting a native, tribal history of the Lumad, Driftwood on Dry Land was a corrective to the centric "national" literature of the Philippines. "The Unending Conflict", the title of the final and longest chapter in the book, gave a glimpse of this corrective in this scene of Japanese invasion of Mindanao in World War II.

The time of trouble arrived one morning. A boat landed with fully armed men called bow-legged by the elders, landed in Dabaw. The Americans were caught by surprise. The people called Filipinos, who were with the Americans, were also surprised. They fought along with the Americans but they lost badly.

I highlighted the phrase above – and the other phrases below – to show how the novelist, through the narrator, exhibited non-identification, almost ambivalence, with the national identity. This was understandable. The Lumad faced one of the most systematic erasures of cultural identity in Philippine history, gross violation of human rights, and involuntary participants in "the unending conflict" that plagued parts of Mindanao then and now.

"One of them said that he will return," said Amay Pidyong when they talked about it at the ilian in Idong. "He [General Douglas MacArthur] was very tall and very white. I'm sure he's an American. But I think the other man with him has the same height with me."

"Then who do you think was that man who came with the American?" asked one of their cousins.

"Well, I really don't know," said Amay Pidyong. But his family was with him. He seemed to be a high ranking official." Amay Pidyong then had no idea that the man was the president of the nation called the Philippines.

Again, Mindanao was as if apart from the nation called the Philippines, as if the people of Mindanao were not living in a Philippine territory. All pointed to the idea that this meta-history or counter-history was in fact counter-literature, running kontrapelo (against the grain of) the constituted national literature.

When the Japanese were booted out from the island, the so-called Filipinos had the government in their hands. Most of the officials were Dumagats but the people knew that it was actually the Americans who gave the real orders. The situation was clear for everyone to see throughout the island.

This was but the acknowledged consensus that the post-war Philippines was nothing but an American-sponsored government, given the neocolonial policies in the islands that practically yielded sovereignty to previous colonizers (Americans and Japanese), the caciques (landed), and the elite. The Dumagats (people who arrived from the sea; essentially outsiders) were the new ruling class running Mindanao, including the diminishing ancestral lands of the Lumad.

Driftwood thereby emerged from outside of centric literature, from the periphery, so to speak. It was directly imagined as apart from national (Philippine) literature, in so far as that literature also emerged from revolutionary and anti-colonial stirrings against the Spanish regime in the 19th century. This consciously decentered literature culminated in further aggression against the indigenous peoples in the southern island via the deforestation and systematic despoiling of natural resources and, later, the massacres perpetrated by an extremist paramilitary group in the 1970s.

It was during those years when the influx of a myriad of people from Luzon and Visayas reached its peak. The news spread that Mindanaw was a promised land. And through the help of the government and some American missionaries, the aliens took root in the wide and fertile plains. It did not take long for some Japanese businessmen to see that they could cut trees on the island. They could use the trees to rebuild the houses in their country which were destroyed by war. The frenzied cutting of trees started. The island was crammed with logging companies. This phenomenon added to the influx of men from Visayas and Luzon.


Soon, the thudding of felled trees echoed in the forest. Many places suddenly had roads so that the logging trucks could haul the logs. The areas which were uninhabited once were occupied by settlers who were usually workers of the logging companies.

At this point the tone of the novel shifted from epic storytelling to contemporary political realities. It was already obvious that the period of magic and enchantment was replaced by neoliberal market economy orientation. The gods no longer descended the earth to talk to warriors and wise elders who in turn told of tales of blessed past alongside future anxieties and dark presentiments. This shift or disruption was the most pronounced in the novel. To train oneself to read between genres or between tonal shifts in hybrid texts, adjustments in reading metabolism could point toward much-needed correctives to Western hegemonic tradition. The map was in the constellation of stories handed down from generation to generation.

He realized that for him to learn how to read the stars, he must remember all things that were already written in the history of their race.

All things were thus remembered and transmuted into old forms and words of mouth. The counsel of the past was the covert mantra of the story. Later, the wind whispered it again to our narrator, the novelist: Gather all the stories to know what the future brings.

09 December 2018

More terrifying are the nightmares when you’re awake

Ang Kapangyarihang Higit sa Ating Lahat (The Power Greater Than All of Us) by Ronaldo Soledad Vivo Jr. (Ungazpress, 2015)

Note: I wrote the following in 2015 as an intro to the novel. There is no translation.

[Mga] Paunang Salita

1. ang mabisang paraan ng pagsasaayos ng problema

Kung ikaw ay nagdesisyon na magpakain ng stray cats o mga pusang gala, importanteng ipakapon mo sila. Kung hindi sila kapon, magbe-breed sila at dadami.Maling pagmamalasakit ang pagpapakain sa galang pusa ng walang kaakibat na pagpapakapon

Kadalasan sa mga nagpapakain ng ligaw/gala o stray na pusa ay nape-persecute o nakakaaway at pinagtutulong-tulungan ng mga kapitbahay at komunidad, lalo na’t hindi pinapakita ng taga-pakain o “feeder” na sya ay “responsible feeder” o nagpapakapon at nagsisimula ng TNR effort sa kanilang komunidad.

Ang TNR o “Trap-Neuter-Return” ang pinakamabisang paraan ng pag-control ng populasyon ng mga pusa sa isang lugar. Dahil ang kapong pusa ay hindi na manganganak o makakabuntis, hindi na madadagdagan pa ang kasalukuyang bilang ng pusa sa isang lugar. Maging ang mga pusa sa kalapit-lugar ay hindi na rin papasok sa isang lugar na may mga kapon ng pusa.

Ang mga kapong pusa ay pangangalagaan ang kanilang “source of food” at hindi nila papayagang may kaagaw sila dito. Kapag ang pusa ay hindi kapon at nanganak, i-si-ni-share o ibinabahagi nya ang pagkain sa mga anak nya kaya’t dumarami ang pusa sa isang lugar kapag hindi sila kapon.

Kapag kapon lahat ng mga pusa sa isang lugar, hindi na rin mapapalitan ang mga pusang namatay na (maliban na lamang kung namatay na lahat ang pusa at merong mga papasok na bagong pusa na makikinabang sa “holding capacity” resources /tira-tirang pagkain ng isang lugar.)

– The Philippine Animal Welfare Society. http://www.paws.org.ph

2. dreamlandangst

Sa mga nakabasa na ng dalawang kalipunan ng kuwento ng ungazpress, hindi na nangangailangan ng babala ang handog nilang unang nobela. Dapat alam mo na rin ang bitag na pinasok mo. Ang [mga] babala ay hindi na uubra kaya 'di na kailangang pamain. Lalo na kung ito naman ay walang kabigin sa [mga] bangungot na umaakbay sa bawat himaymay at kalbaryo ng buhay maralita. Sa dreamland na iniikutan ng nobela, ang buhay ay isang panaginip na umuupos sa (halang na) kaluluwa ng sambayanang hindi na magigising. Hindi dreamland ng operang Miss Saigon o soap operang pampalipas-oras. Ang [mga] digmaang itinatampok dito ay kainan ng laman, puso, at bayag. "Higit na nakagigimbal ang mga bangungot habang gising" – ang sabi dito. Evil na puwersa laban sa mabuti. Mahirap laban sa filthy rich. Hayop laban sa karapatang pantao.Tao laban sa animal na tao.

Habang naghihintay ng order, nagmasid-masid muna s'ya sa paligid. Desperadong humahanap ng dilihensya. Sa kapal ng tao, hindi n'ya mawari kung pa'no didiskarte. Hindi naman kasi s'ya mandurukot. May malaking pinagkaiba ang mandurukot sa holdaper. Para sa kan'ya, ang mga mandurukot ay mga tirador na walang bayag - na kung kumana ay palihim, patalikod, galaw hunyango. Mas panglalake raw ang panghoholdap at di hamak na mas makatao ang proseso, dahil bilang holdaper ay ipinaaalam mo sa mga biktima na kailangan na nilang magpaalam sa mga minamahal nilang gamit at salapi, di tulad ng mga mandurukot na iniiwanang praning ang kanilang mga biktima.

"Isang aleng nagmumurang kamias ang nadale namin kahapon, matrona. Kontak ng tropa ni Buldan. Sabik sa burat, pinatikim ko ng burat saka ko dinigma. Tumataginting na pitong libong piso ang laman ng wallet ng gaga. Pares ng hikaw na ginto, tatlong singsing na ginto rin, at kwintas na silver na may pendant na puso. Inarbor ko yung kwintas sa hatian namin ni Buldan. Di naman na ito nag-arimuhunan at pumayag agad.

3. sellout cops

Nambasag na naman ng trip si Ronaldo S Vivo Jr. Hinantad ang [mga] kaepalang umiiral sa (alta-)sosyedad. Kaipala'y hatid ang [mga] kabalintunaan sa paligid-ligid na puro linga. Sa dreamland ay tuluyan nang nakapinid ang pinto ng palasyo at gobyerno. Kaya naman ang nasasakupang sambayanan ay patuloy sa pagganap sa kanilang dakilang propesyon: pagpupuslit, pandurukot, pagbebenta ng katawan, pangongotong, pangingikil, pang-aagrabyado.

Ang [mga] naturingang alagad ng batas, ang [mga] kampon ng dilim – patuloy sa pagpapatupad ng batas at lagim. Hindi sila maaring lumihis sa layunin: ang Sariling Alamat ng kapulisan.

Ang sabi, para mo masukat kung ga'no kabobo ang isang pulis ay huwag mong bilangin kung ga'no na karaming katarantaduhan ang nagawa nito o kung ga'no na kabigat ang atraso nito sa sinumpaan n'yang tungkulin. Sa halip, tukuyin mo kung ga'no ito kadalas nagtanggol sa masa. Ibig sabihin, bobo kang pulis kung lumilihis ka sa dakilang layunin ng kapulisan na susuhin ang higanteng burat ng gobyernong pahirap at maging instrumento sa pananarantado nito sa bayan.

4. wasakpad

Ano ang [mga] sumunod na nangyari? Ito lang naman ang tanong na nagpapaikot sa mambabasa. Hindi ito yung babasahing prenteng-prente ka na sa pagkakaupo habang kinikilig sa maaring mangyari dahil alam mo na na mangyayari. May kakaibang estilo ng pagkukuwento si Vivo na bumabalik sa kanyang mga unang kuwento sa PseudoAbsurdoKapritso Ulo. Ito ang wasak (non-linear) na pagtatahi ng kuwento at damdamin. Hindi mo namamalayan tastas na ang diwa mo dahil sa pagragasa ng agam-agam at pighati. Nakapaloob sa di-kompromisong pagpapahayag ng pinandidirihang katotohanan, halaw sa hilaw na buhay lansangan, hinding-hindi mahihiwatigan ng mga fan ng pamaypay na kwento (fan fiction) sa wattpad.

5. kinapon ang (kapangy)ari(han)

Sa paglukob ng transgresibo sa tradisyon ng sosyal realismo, ang nobela ay maaring pampurga sa [mga] hindot na luho at ulayaw ng burgismo't burgesya. Dude, ito ay negosasyon hindi lang ng puri at dangal. Kaluluwa at buhay na ang nakataya dito. May eksenang pantapat sa kalunus-lunos na mga tagpo sa Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Insiang, Scorpio Nights, Mga Agos sa Disyerto, at iba pang produkto ng malubhang haraya. Huwag nang ikumpara sa metaporikal na inidoro ni Bob Ong sa MACARTHUR. Ibang shit-level ng hardcore ang nakapaloob sa unang nobela ni Vivo dahil lubos na isinuka ang metapora at ilusyon. Higit anupaman, ang nobelang ito ay pagdalumat sa [mga] emaskulasyon ng kabataan sa lipunang makatae. Ang [mga] di-makatarungang paraan ng pagkapon sa pag-asang umahon sa buhay, mabuhay nang tahimik at di sumala sa pagkain sa buong araw. Dinggin ang bating(ting). Tinigpas na ang kaka(n)yahang lumalang ng sining.

6. Kastrationsangst

Gahd, ang bigat lang ng tema nito. Manhid lang ang walang pandama. Paano ba haharapin ang kapangyarihang higit kaninuman kung bumira at gumupo? Isugal ang oras sa bitag ng salita. Magbasa at panawan ng ulirat. Kung paanong namayagpag sa nobela ang pagkabalisa sa kastrasyon-kolektib. Kung paanong namayani ang terorismo-sibil sa walang patumanggang pandarambong at pagnakaw ng kaayusan sa lipunan. Ang pagkadurog ng pagkalalake at pagkababae ng mga aso at pusang galang nagtangkang magpumiglas at manlaban. Ang pagkainutil ng diwa't pagkalumpo ng kaluluwang hindi maiibsan ang sakit. Kahit anong usal at dasal. Sumpain ang pagpapakatao sa panahon ng kanibalismo at pagkahibang habang nilalaro ang nakaliliyong kalaydoskopyo ng krimen at parusa.

7. sirit na

Isugal ang oras sa bitag ng salita. Magbasa at panawan ng ulirat.

Kafka's labyrinths

Amerika: The Missing Person by Franz Kafka, translated by Mark Harman (Schocken Books, 2008)

Kafka's comic novels could hardly be called social realist ones, but I could detect a sympathetic attitude for subaltern-like characters. (And here I used the term "subaltern" loosely; Kafka's posthumous novels were hardly postcolonial). The novels operated within a psychological space of helplessness and entropy, hence they seemed to unravel in a nightmare landscape. Gregor Samsa awoke from a listless dream to find himself transformed into a monstrous insect. Here, Karl Rossmann arrived in America greeted by a transformed landmark, a signal that we were about to enter a weird reality.

As he entered New York Harbor on the now slow-moving ship, Karl Rossman, a seventeen-year-old youth who had been sent to America by his poor parents because a servant girl had seduced him and borne a child by him, saw the Statue of Liberty, which he had been observing for some time, as if in a sudden burst of sunlight. The arm with the sword now reached aloft, and about her figure blew the free winds.


 The scenes that followed were classic comedy from the master of indirection and misdirection. Karl was fetched by his uncle in the ship after running into misadventures with "the stoker" and another passenger to whom he foolishly entrusted his trunk. He was practically adopted by his uncle, a very wealthy business and politician. However, for flimsy reasons, his uncle disowned him and left him to his own devices. With this great misfortune and the succeeding hysterical scenes that followed, it was not farfetched to say that he was prejudged and found guilty of an unspecified crime, just like Josef K in The Trial, even before he set foot in America.

Now it was simply a matter of finding one's way back to the dining room, where in the initial confusion he had probably misplaced his hat. Of course, he intended to take along the candle, but even with a little light it was not easy to find one's way about. For instance, he could not tell whether this room was on the same floor as the dining room. On the way over Klara had dragged him, so that he hadn't been able to look around; Mr Green and the servants carrying the candelabras had also kept him busy, and indeed he wasn't even able to say how many staircases they had passed, one, two, or perhaps even none. If the view from here was any indication, the room was fairly high up, and so he tried to imagine them taking the stairs, but even at the entrance they had had to go up several stairs, so why couldn't this side of the house be elevated also? If only there had been a glimmer of light from a door somewhere along the corridor or one could have heard a voice from afar, however faintly!

Confusion and disorientation reigned. Deadlines were missed. Unfortunate delays ensued. A chain of improbable digressions brought one to the brink of laughter. We were in Kafka territory alright. The claustrophobic and pathetic situation Karl found himself in was simultaneously funny and tragic. One had to consider it very funny. Otherwise the anxious reader, in all seriousness, would be frightfully affected by darkness and horror.

Karl, like K. in The Castle, was surrounded by characters who constantly demand for his attention or who sought him for some use. He was thrown in one absurd situation after another, one set piece of back luck after another, the kind of absurdity and lucklessness that induced one to a side-splitting laughter, the only redemptive and bearable reaction, because, certainly, not to laugh and to take the writer seriously was more than tragic. Kazuo Ishiguro, in The Unconsoled, borrowed this almost unbearable absurdity and comedy to great effect.

While Kafka's three unfinished comic novels and fantastical stories like "The Metamorphosis" could be read literally, they most certainly opened up fertile grounds of inquiry for the reader. Translator Mark Harman, in addition to rewriting the German in an agile prose ("agile" being my token adjective for the quality of a translation from a language I do not speak), supplied a preface which provided an overview of Amerika's critical reception, some new background researches on Kafka, and some pathways with which to approach the ideas raised by the novelist. Harman noted how Max Brod's "once widely accepted portrayal of Kafka's works as religious allegories has not aged well". In fact, Jorge Luis Borges, who translated Kafka, considered Kafka's fiction as "a parable or a series of parables whose theme is the moral relation of the individual with God and with his incomprehensible universe". This might be true, but I think that a secular reading of the novelist was the one that offered a more robust reading.

Harman also underscored how, among Kafka's novels, Amerika constituted the most overt social criticism. That was obvious given how the major characters in the novel were all immigrants to America, with their countries of origin emphasized for good measure. It was also obvious how social hierarchies and inequalities (between the rich businessmen and the poor working class) were incorporated into the novel and how it eventually focused on Karl's adventures in soliciting menial work. It could even be argued that the novel's central topic was "work" in the same manner K. (a surveyor), Josef K (a banker), and Gregor Samsa (salesman) were partly prosecuted or haunted because of or on account of their work.

In her introduction to Walter Benjamin's Illuminations, Hannah Arendt—the German intellectual philosopher and previous editor of Schocken Books which championed the publication of Kafka's body of work—considered the Czech writer in light of the Jewish question.

No doubt, the Jewish question was of great importance for this generation of Jewish writers and explains much of the personal despair so prominent in nearly everything they wrote. But the most clear-sighted among them were led by their personal conflicts to a much more general and more radical problem, namely, to questioning the relevance of the Western tradition as a whole.

Certainly the Jewish question gave a rich context or background to any reading of Kafka. If one was to believe Arendt, the constricting atmosphere that pervaded European societies at the time, including Kafka's, was hard to ignore. When she wrote about the "most clear-sighted" Jewish writers, Arendt was referring Kafka and Benjamin, among others. (It would be interesting to look into how Benjamin himself viewed Kafka in the two essays included in Illuminations.) (Extending to later non-Jewish European writers, I suppose this critique of the Western tradition was extended by Thomas Bernhard, W. G. Sebald, and László Krasznahorkai, each in his own revolutionary way)

When she wrote about "questioning the relevance of the Western tradition as a whole", one could recognize how this applies to Kafka's fiction which was a maze of digressions and collapse of meanings. The Western philosophical tradition I would say applied to the liberal capitalist machinery of society: the power plays and power structures, labor inequities, economic inequalities, problematic family relations, societal arrangements, slavery and overwork, the deterioration of one's health and well-being. Like Gregor Samsa confined and wasting away in his small room, the sick Robinson (Karl's acquaintance) was visited by a grim self-realization.

Now I've ruined my health for the rest of my life, and what did I have other than my health? If I exert myself ever so slightly, I get a pain there and here. If I were healthy, do you think those boys in the hotel, those grass toads—what else would one call them?—could possibly have defeated me. But no matter what's wrong with me, I won't breathe a word to Delamarche and Brunelda; I'll work as long as possible, and until it's not possible anymore, then I'll like down and die, and only then, when it's too late, will they see that, though I was sick, I was still working, always working, and that I actually worked myself to death in their service.

Of course the way with which this critique was explored in Kafka was almost invisible mainly because they covered by the comedy and a deceptively artless prose. One could only admit the critique if one interpreted the broad outline of the novels as tracing the plight of the disadvantaged, persecution of the vulnerable and marginalized, racism, the last gasps of a decent person in an inhospitable environment.

He knew that whatever he could say would end up seeming very different from the way it had been intended and that the way they assessed the matter was critical, since it alone would determine the final judgement of good or evil.

The impossibility of comprehension, the inability to fully understand one's state of nature, this was embedded in the work itself. There would always be a gulf between the word ("whatever he could say") and its supposed meaning ("the way it had been intended") which would make the novels seem impervious to criticism and evaluation.

Borges called Kafka a "nihilist" whose subject is "the unbearable, tragic solitude of the individual who lacks even the lowliest place in the order of the universe" and whose greatest strength as a writer is "the invention of intolerable situations".

"Well," said Karl, "it won't be that bad"; however, after everything he had heard, he no longer believed in a favorable outcome.

Unfavorable, yes. And we were still laughing.

Quotes from Borges were taken from pieces in Selected Non-Fictions, edited by Eliot Weinberger.


19 August 2018

The Superstitious Ethics of the Reader

“The Superstitious Ethics of the Reader” (1931) by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, in Selected Non-Fictions, edited by Eliot Weinberger (Penguin Books, 1999)

I am not sure which is the most erudite writer: Borges the storyteller, Borges the poet, or Borges the critic. Perhaps the question is moot when it comes to the literary tradition which Borges helped build: the intellectual tradition, a poetic and metaphysical-philosophical bent, the striving for excellence at every imaginative turn of the pen. With Selected Non-Fictions, with its doors and windows opened wide to inquiring minds, Borges is a critical tradition unto himself. The fount of his critical production derives from all the resources available to a librarian. Borges the reader is the most erudite writer.

The superstition in the essay “The Superstitious Ethics of the Reader” referred to the “superstition about style”. This was a general tendency of readers to look for or characterize a writer’s style (mannerisms) in order to appreciate a literary text. Borges rejected this form of readerly “affectation.” This led him to state that "strictly speaking, there are no more readers left". There are only potential literary critics. He meant this in a most ironical sense.

For our librarian, greatness in a work could exist beyond stylistic flourishes. There could even be an “absence of style” if it comes to that. Don Quixote was sloppy in parts, but it was still great, owing perhaps to its idiosyncratic absence of style. Borges did not consider Cervantes to be a stylist (“in the current acoustical or decorative sense of the word”). Don Q was great not because of its style but because of its other novelistic attributes. A perfect page, our librarian critic suggested, was an “everlasting fallacy” (For this phrase, our critic gave a nudge to Sir Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial, but I did not get the reference.). A perfect page to Borges was not immutable:

On the contrary, the page that becomes immortal can traverse the fire of typographical errors, approximate translations, and inattentive or erroneous readings without losing its soul in the process. One cannot with impunity alter any line fabricated by Góngora (according to those who restore his texts), but Don Quixote wins posthumous battles against his translators and survives each and every careless version. Heine, who never heard it read in Spanish, acclaimed it for eternity. The German, Scandinavian, or Hindu ghost of the Quixote is more alive than the stylist’s anxious verbal artifices.

This passage I quote in full because I just realized Roberto Bolaño plagiarized (borrowed/paraphrased) the idea in an interview where he said: A work like Don Quixote can resist even the worst translator. As a matter of fact, it can resist mutilation, the loss of numerous pages and even a shit storm. Thus, with everything against it – bad translation, incomplete and ruined – any version of Quixote would still have very much to stay to a Chinese or an African reader. And that is literature.

Are they (our librarian and his fanboy) saying that one test of a masterpiece is its resistance to translation? Are Helen Lowe-Porter’s supposedly unfaithful translations of Thomas Mann tomes not a hindrance to the perception of the latter as a great novelist?

* * *

The taste of Borges is not always beyond reproach. He does have his personal preferences, but his magisterial coverage of traditions and his wide reading (the reading of a reader’s reader) makes one pay attention.

He is allergic to all-knowing readers. Readers who get ecstatic about style. The superstitious etiquette of readers is to be drawn to the absolute and superlative. This is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever encountered. This is such a weird novel, such a very strange novel. Such a unique reading experience. The best book of the summer.

Ah, to needlessly elevate a book:

Overstating something is as inept as not saying it at all … [R]eaders sense the impoverishment caused by careless generalizations and amplifications.

I admit I am sometimes guilty of this superstition, this affectation for style, this appeal to a definitive assessment and judgement, this Blurbing Syndrome. One has to recognize the beauty of straightforward and imperfect narratives.

The exhortation of our librarian is simple. Book bloggers have to be, first and foremost, readers. Otherwise they become literary critics.

Posted for Stu and Richard's Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018.

17 August 2018

Jaime Gil de Biedma's ambiguous poetry

"The Persons of the Verb", complete poems translated by Alice M. Sun-Cua and José Mª Fons Guardiola, in Jaime Gil de Biedma in the Philippines: Prose and Poetry / Jaime Gil de Biedma en Filipinas: prosa y poesía (in Spanish and English text) (Vibal Foundation, Inc., 2016)

Presumably an important but neglected Spanish poet of the second half of the past century, Jaime Gil de Biedma (1929-1990) remained largely inaccessible to English. That was until the publication of this collection in the Philippines. The only other book of his that appeared in translation was a selection of his well-known poems in Longing: Selected Poems (City Lights Books, 2001), translated by James Nolan.

I must say at the outset that this volume, a hefty bilingual edition, was a tome at 644 pages, plus 25 prefatory pages, plus 16 pages of photographs in the midsection. It was obvious that the publisher was a big fan. The end product was groaning with supplementary and scholarly materials, including two forewords, a page dedicated to the memory of Carmen Balcells, beautifully printed endpapers/separators for every major section of the book, a 47-page introduction by publisher Gaspar Vibal, an Autobiographical Note to the poems (1982), author’s note to the first (1975) and second (1981) editions of the poems, notes to the poems by Gaspar Vibal again. And these were only up to the end of the poesía part, which consists of three complete poetry collections: Las Personas del Verbo, Moralidades, and Poemas Póstumos.

The prosa part is Retrato del Artista en 1956, translated and annotated by Wystan de la Peña, which was also divided into three sections: Las islas de Circe, Informe sobre la administración general en Filipinas, and De regreso en Ítaca, each section terminating with translator's notes, for a total of 581 endnotes. I just managed to read up to the first section of the artist's "Portrait". The first and third parts were diary entries sandwiching a management report on Tabacalera, a well-known tobacco industry in the Philippines, for which JGB travelled all the way from Spain to oversee in the mid-1950s.

Rounding up the texts was a particularly informative annotated bibliography grouped by genre and theme, a chronology, an index, an about the translators page, and a final page with two longish blurbs. In the paperback edition that I bought from last year’s Manila International Book Fair, there was a front flyleaf containing JGB’s capsule biography, and end flyleaf with more blurbs. For a beautifully bound book, it was disappointing that the texts and the accompanying scholarly materials were not perfectly proofread. Nonetheless, the materials were well researched and certainly offered a welcome surfeit of information on the life and times of a unique, marginalized (non-mainstream) writer.

A reader interested only with a superficial introduction to JGB would surely complain about the extra pages. But one was afforded the option to immerse oneself into the depths and heights of a poet. JGB was apparently a slow writer and this was obvious from the slow cadence of his lines. Sometimes the poems were impervious. They occupied literal space yet seemingly told nothing particularly earth-shaking at first. But in the simplicity of openly declared feelings they sometimes revealed something close to an epiphany. Perhaps the inwardness of the poems was a subterfuge to JGB’s sexual identity and repressed expressions. Yet the political and sexual were interleaved in subtle wording, emanating from “el gran boquete abriéndose hacia dentro del alma”, as signaled in the poem “Ars Poetica”.

The nostalgia for the sun on the roof terraces,
against the dove-colored concrete wall
—nevertheless so vivid—and the sudden cold
that almost startles.

The sweetness, the warmth of the lips by oneself
amid the familiar street
as in a grand salon, where distant multitudes
would have arrived like beloved family.

Above all, the vertigo of time,
the enormous nothingness that opens towards the depths of the soul
while promises that fall in a faint
as if they were froth, float above.

Its is surely the moment to ponder
that simply being alive demands something,
perhaps heroic deeds—or just
some humble common thing

whose earthly skin
is to be handled between the fingers, with a little faith?
Words, for example.
Familiar words, halfheartedly worn-out.

JGB could sound tender and forthright and conversational. But his frustrations were concealed between the lines. He wanted to rebel at being part of the bourgeoisie, and his poems were his attempts (futile, perhaps, but heroic attempts) to inclusivity. With the background of civil war and poverty in Spain and his reckoning with his homosexuality, JGB’s poetry was shaped by a conflation of private and public concerns. The idyllic Pagsanjan Falls—a tourist spot in Luzon Island which unfortunately became infamous for being a sex tourism haven for foreign child molesters and pedophiles in the 80s—as a backdrop of "Days in Pagsanjan" could sometimes evoke a Cavafy-like sensuality.

Like dreams, beyond
the idea of time,
dreams made of dreams I carry you,
days in Pagsanjan.

In the heat, after the denseness,
the river throbs again,
speckled like a reptile.
And in the dark atmosphere

under the flowering trees
—gleaming, humid,
when at night, we bathed—
each other’s bodies.

JGB, who died of AIDS complications in 1990, was an intermittent celebrant of love and romance. His impermeable poems sometimes gave way to open declarations, as in these lines from “Pandemic and Celeste”, which contained an epigraph from Catullus:

To know about love, to learn it,
it is necessary to have been alone,
And it is necessary to have made love
on four hundred nights
with four hundred different bodies. For its mysteries,
as the poet said, are of the soul,
but a body is the book in which these are read.

JGB's “Posthumous Poems”, published when the poet was still very much alive, was a distillation of his idea of moralities closely haunting mortalities. In this final anti-poetic sequence, somewhat in the tradition of Nicanor Parra, self-questioning, anti-self rants embodied the unself-conscious, fullest expression of one’s own devil’s advocate. One poem was called “Against Jaime Gil de Biedma”, another, “After the Death of Jaime Gil de Biedma”. The persona called "Jaime Gil de Biedma" in the poems could safely indulge in self-pity. It was a perfect way to put distance between the self and the Self.

Against Jaime Gil de Biedma

What's the point, I'd like to know, in moving house,
leaving behind a basement darker
than my reputation—and that says a lot—
hanging small white lacy curtains
and taking a maidservant,
renouncing my bohemian days,
if you come later, you bore,
embarrassing boarder, an idiot wearing my suits,
loafer, good for nothing, shithead,
with your clean hands,
eating from my plate and dirtying the house?

The late night bars, the pimps,
the florists, the dead streets at dawn,
and the dimly lit elevators follow you
when you arrive drunk,
as you pause to look
at your ruined face in the mirror,
with eyes still raging
which you don't want to close.
And if I scold you,
you laugh at me, and remind me of the past
and say that I am getting old.

I could remind you that you are no longer charming.
Your casual style and your disdain
become ridiculous
when you are more than thirty years old,
and your enchanting smile
of a day-dreaming boy
—who feels sure to please—is a sad remnant,
a pathetic attempt,
While you look at me with pleading eyes
and cry and promise me
not to do it anymore.

If only you weren't such a whore!
And if I didn't know, so long ago,
that you're strong when I'm weak,
and that you're weak when I rage ...
Of your homecomings I keep a confused impression
of panic, of sadness, of unease,
and of hopelessness
and impatience and resentment
of suffering again once more,
the unforgivable humiliation
of excessive intimacy.

With a heavy heart I'll put you to bed,
like one who goes to hell
to sleep with you.
With each step dying of impotence,
stumbling over furniture
in the dark, we'll stagger our way through the flat,
clumsily embracing, wobbling
from alcohol and repressed sobs.
Oh, vile servitude of loving human beings,
and the vilest
is to be in love with oneself.

"A Body Is a Man's Best Friend" was almost reminiscent of Auden's "Lullaby". While Auden's rhythmic poem was essentially a tribute to a night of tryst, sleeping heads, faithless arms, and human love, one would reinterpret Gil de Biedma's (posthumous) intent considering its inclusion in a cycle of posthumous poems.

A Body is a Man's Best Friend

Time is not yet over,
and tomorrow is as far as a reef
that I can scarcely make out.

                                   You don't feel
how time drips slowly in this room
with the light on, how the cold outside
laves the window panes... How fast
you fell asleep in my bed tonight, little animal,
with the simple nobility of necessity,
little creature, while I watched you.

Well, then, good night.
                                        That quiet country
whose borders are those of your body
makes me feel like dying
while remembering life, or staying up
—tired and excited—waiting for dawn.

Alone with age, while you sleep
like someone who has never read a book,
little tiny creature: to be a human being
—more honest than in my arms—
therefore, a stranger.

If JGB was tucking his own "little" self to sleep, wasn't it a shocker that the self is none other than "The Other"? After all, he wrote in another antipoem, that "I saved myself writing / after the death of Jaime Gil de Biedma".

For Stu and Richard's Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018.

02 April 2018

Čapek's non-human kind

R.U.R. (Robot Unibersal ni Rossum): Isang Dramang Kolektibang may Komikong Prologo at Tatlong Yugto mula sa Tsekong Manunulat na si Karel Čapek [R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots): A Collective Drama With a Comic Prologue and in Three Acts from the Czech Writer Karel Čapek], translated to Filipino by Guelan Varela-Luarca (Central Book Supply Inc., 2016), from the English version by Claudia Novack

The term robot supposedly first appeared in the 1920 Czech drama collective R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek. They were humanoid machines created in a factory by scientists using a formula. The template for robots was humans. In this present age where the rights of "non-human persons", or at least those of animals, were increasingly being recognized, we had to give it to the Czech dramatist for his prescience. The robot inventory of Rossum's Universal Robots (R.U.R.) company warehouse currently held 347,000 units. Harry Domin, the CEO of R.U.R. acknowledged the capacity of these robots to be taught.

DOMIN.   Bueno. Puwede ni'yong sabihin sa kanila'ng kahit na anong ibigin ni'yo. Puwede ni'yo silang basahan ng Bibliya, ng mga logaritmo, kahit ano. Puwede ni'yo pa ngang turuan hinggil sa mga karapatang pantao.

DOMIN.   Well. You could share with them whatever you want. You could read them the Bible, logarithms, anything. You could even teach them about human rights. [1]

Coming from somebody called Domin, that was quite a superior statement. According to Dr. Gall, the R.U.R.'s chief of research and physiological department, robots had to be taught "pain" in order for them to protect themselves from destroying themselves. This was for "industrial reasons" (read: pure capitalist motives). Robots could destroy themselves if they don't know how to feel pain. They could put their hands inside a machine, where their fingers are chopped off, their heads could be broken, even if they don't feel anything. "Kailangan nating ipakilala sa kanila ang kirot; natural na proteksiyon iyon laban sa pagkasira." (We had to teach them the concept of pain; it will be their natural protection against destruction.)

Čapek offered a scenario of the future, a Gedankenexperiment. Humans will rely on robots to do all forms of labor for them. As Domin explained, the human kind would now have the time to do anything they wanted. Poverty would then disappear. True, he said, humans would become unemployed as a consequence, but that was because no job would even need to be performed by any human being at all! The machines would do all the things at their bidding. And as a bonus, human slavery would finally be a thing of the past. Mankind would just be left to pursue its perfection.

Helena Glory, the woman who visited the factory, would have none of it. She believed it was a terrible situation for the robots, and it was a violation of natural law, for even if male and female robots were created, they did not feel anythings for each other. They will never love, will never bear children, will never hold a newborn baby in their likeness in their arms.

But since this was first-rate science fiction, it was only a matter of time before the robots were provoked and awakened, before a labor union of robots was organized. It was only a matter of time for the human spark to flare inside the robots and for them to finally revolt against their masters and creators.

Our Czech writer carried the logic of this dystopia to the end. (And it would not be farfetched to imagine that this play might itself be a product of a robot's thinking ...) The situation and characters, humans and non-humans alike, were vivid. It was a Marxist comedy, a satire on human intellect and ingenuity, a perfect product of neo-liberal capitalist society, a slogan for non-human persons' rights. It was written in 1920, a pioneer of visceral robotic imagination, a defining work, way ahead of any ghosts in the shell, the terminators, pacific rims, blade runners, and ex machinas [2].


1. The play was translated into Filipino from Claudia Novack's English version. Since I don't have a copy of Novack, I back-translated the passages, as well as the paraphrases, above.

2. Spoiler: Here we were introduced to the "Čapek test" (contra Turing test) of determining whether a non-human robot finally exhibits the characteristics of a biological human being. It was a simple biological test, and it involves a robot mimicking the characteristics of living things, reproduction being the clincher criterion. The other human aspects (empathy, tolerance) might be easier to test for robots. I mean, even for humans these aspects were hard to come by. The likelihood of failure was high.

30 March 2018

Tsushima's light and darkness

Territory of Light by Yūko Tsushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt (Penguin Classics, 2018)

Yūko Tsushima's early novels and stories, at least those that were translated so far, were of a piece. They were variations of a single theme: they constantly featured single mothers and their struggles to raise their daughters alone in modern Japanese society that was still marked by traditional mores. Her latest in translation, Territory of Light, appeared originally in 1978-79, between the publication of Child of Fortune (1978) and Woman Running in the Mountains (1980). It might not be far-fetched to say that each of the first person narrators in these I-novels (Shishōsetsu) could be substituted for each other. They registered the same cold voice, the same stubbornness, and the same calculated rebelliousness.

While the backgrounds of the female characters were the same, the individuated details and poetic images were what made them distinctly whole and apart. The silent voice and quiet devastation lingered in each for a long time. The single mother was thankfully not a saint or martyr, but just a plain human being, what shallow readers would usually detest for being "unlikeable" or "unrelatable". Because they were fallible and often turned down by their own failings, their journeys were all the more interesting. They usually began as a newly separated single mother, challenged by ordinary circumstances, judged by society and their designated moral police or arbiters, and eventually, gradually, gaining and recognizing their self-worth.

Even if I was an incorrigible fool, I wanted to believe that there was still something fundamental in me worthy of my own respect.

With combined humility of character and stinging outbursts of emotion, the wife decided to file for divorce from Fujino, her husband, after he practically abandoned her and their daughter. This decision was rebuffed by her and Fujino's friends and acquaintances. "Nothing good will come of a divorce", one would say to convince her to backtrack from her decision. "Believe me, nothing goes right for a woman of her own", another one would tell her pointedly. And her husband would chastise her, "how are you going to manage with the little one on your own?" "Shadowy figures", who seemingly were conspiring collectively against her, would plague her consciousness. This novel was as much a poetic journey toward an unknown epiphany as a psychological journey (or "transformation", though that word is overused) of the woman from a helpless single mother to an independent individual able to repulse at every turn the forces that compel her not to turn away from her husband and "ruin" the family.


Among her virtues as a novelist, Tsushima's extraordinary display of compassion and empathy was the most haunting. Contemplating the reasons behind a woman's suicide by jumping in front of a train, the narrator of Territory of Light was "gripped by a sense that [she] shouldn't distance [herself] from the person who'd gone under the train as if it were nothing to do with [her]." Her extraordinary sympathy extended from the singular victim to the collective.

What burden of suffering or grief had brought them [the suicides] to this point? How long had they spent on this platform, and what were they looking at? They'd stood here alone, unnoticed. Now there was a whole crowd staring at the cast-off physical body, mangled and bloodied. What pain had driven them to it? I wanted to know, I badly wanted to know.

In several instances, the female protagonist was creating scenarios in her mind where she tried to communicate with characters or imagine a conversation. She would, for example, recall a story in her childhood wherein several children talked about the miraculous survival of a boy who fell from the school's rooftop, who had fortuitously landed on a water trough just about his own size. She would consider the veracity of this story in hindsight, and assume that the story might be a fictionalized account because it was convenient for children to think so.

The children might well have made up that version of events. Maybe one of them saw the accident victim's body, noticed the nearby cistern, thought 'If only he'd landed in there', and in a moment of anger at the child who hadn't fallen where he should, decided to forget he was dead. Reality couldn't be as brutal as that. Perhaps the child who saw returned to his playmates, not giving the body with its shattered skull a backward glance, and reported: 'They say someone fell off the roof, but he fell right into the water and he's fine,' adding, with a laugh, 'Some people do the weirdest things!' Yes, I remember the rumour as always being accompanied by laughter. The children had realized that it was possible to survive a fall from a roof, despite the grownups' best efforts to scare them, and the shared sense of superiority this gave them made them erupt in laughter.

This made-up story would itself be tested by the end of the chapter. In any case, this building of an alternate reality within the reality of the fictional fabric, making up a different version of past events, a kind of fiction within fictionwas a technique that Tsushima was using since Child of Fortune, her first novel, and was exploited in full in her novel Laughing Wolf. In the latter, the children's points of view were the departure point to set off convenient fictions, assumptions, and simulations to stave off the brutality of reality. As the narrator confessed at one point, "it cheered me up to expand the bounds of what I could think of as not impossible."

In a scene of the mother and daughter visiting a tree park on a Sunday, she imagined a playful conversation with another pair of mother and daughter she encountered in the park. The imagined version of an event to suit one's convenience was also akin to the imagined transaction or trade in "The Silent Traders", one of Tsushima's signature stories in The Shooting Gallery. In an almost similar manner and voice, the mother created a fictional version of a "silent trade" in her mind as a substitute to the boredom, insecurity, and fear she felt as a single mother, this time looking for a child who just ran away from her.

Tsushima's approach to the novel was also unique in terms of her handling of imagery. The twelve chapters, which originally came out in monthly installments in a Japanese periodical, were often built around a single image mentioned in the title. Hence, "The Water's Edge" was centered around the flooding of the apartment roof. The narrative unfolded with the restraint and grace of the elements – light, water, wind, sand dunes, trees, birds, fire. And with light as the dominant, illuminating image, the poetry was evident in the sentences. Geraldine Harcourt, the perennial translator of Tsushima's novels and stories, must have been on point and extra cautious in her selection of words here if she can reproduce sentences like, "The early summer leaves were still young; they stirred coolly at the tips of the branches, giving off tiny gleams that flitted like insects", or "The more of those gloomy, cramped apartments I looked at, the further the figure of my husband receded from sight, and while the rooms were invariably dark, I began to sense a gleam in their darkness like that of an animal's eyes. There was something there glaring back at me. Although it scared me, I wanted to approach it."

Harcourt was able to reproduce not only Tsushima's poetic touches but also her characteristic motifs here and in stories elsewhere – shooting galleries, aquariums – including the abiding figure of a mentally handicapped boy who, like a guardian angel, was almost to be expected in every novel and story of Tsushima's. Another fascinating aspect of the stories was the dream sequences which the mother constantly relived as if to assuage her heightened anxiety.

While the element of water was also very pronounced, as it was in Child of Fortune and in "The Watery Realm", from the recent two-story sampler Of Dogs and Walls (2018), it is the titular imagery of light that surfaces now and again in the novel. In the tradition of Sōseki's Meian (Light and Darkness) and Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows, Tsushima fully embraced the light and bathed her scenes in it.

My daughter ... scampered off towards the pond. I ran after her, out of breath. A weeping willow stood at the point where the side path joined the main one. As it caught the rays of the sinking sun full on, its brightness was dazzling to eyes grown accustomed to the shadows. My daughter was jumping up and down, trying to grab one of the willow's dangling branches. All right, I would wow her by grabbing a whole bunch. Shading my eyes with one hand, I approached my daughter in the light.

While light was everywhere in various forms, the "territory of light" was the single mother's newfound apartment that gave her freedom to live on her own after her husband abandoned her. The wide windows that brought in sunlight to the rooms enabled her to expel the actual and symbolic shadows and darkness lurking in the corners. The novel thus explored how it is to claim just such a territory, such a certain sanctuary. Just how it is to search for and live in a clean, well-lighted place. By the novel's end, we saw the mother, after bathing her life in the light for some time, expelling darkness in the process, ready to face darkness once again as she made arrangements to transfer to a new apartment room that was now placed in a dark, secluded corner.


When Yūko Tsushima passed away on February 2016, she was at the peak of her literary prowess. Unfortunately for readers in English, we have not yet encountered the full range of her achievement and genius. Much remained untranslated in Tsushima's oeuvre. In contrast to the themes of motherhood and pregnancy in the early novels, there was what might be termed a Tsushima late style. To be more precise, this style constituted a geographic and thematic shift in subject in her later works. Already, through the prism of single mothers trying to cope with their situation amid fears and insecurities, the novelist was able to distill the rhythms and textures of a challenged, solitary life. In her recent novels, she turned from the domestic upheavals of a split nuclear family to the varied classical and historical themes in Japanese fiction. Think of wars, famines, and religion. Then combine it with Tsushima's modernist techniques in full throttle, already apparent in her early fiction and exemplified in Laughing Wolf, originally published in 2000 and her only novel translated so far in this mold.

In terms of geographic reach, Tsushima's settings of late veered toward Eastern and Southeast Asia. According to Harcourt, her final novel was partly set in Macau and Batavia during the 17th century. As evident from an interview with her in 2014, posted in Youtube (here) with subtitles by Harcourt, Tsushima was influenced by indigenous people's worldviews, particularly the Ainu's, and ecological issues in the early 1990s, something that have influenced her recent work. What is clear is that the full extent of her innovation in novel writing is yet to be revealed in translation.

I received a review copy of the book from the publisher. I have to commend them for the increasing interest they take on Tsushima's fiction. Child of Fortune, which has gone out of print, will be republished by them later in the year. My gratitude also for the translator, Geraldine Harcourt, for her correspondence in early 2016.

05 February 2018

Footnote to the angel of history

Kung nakakakita tayo sa ating harapan ng isang hanay ng mga pangyayari, nakakakita naman [ang anghel] ng iisang sakuna lamang, ng walang katapusang pag-ipon ng bundok ng durog-durog na labi na inihahagis sa kanyang paanan [1].

How could Walter Benjamin impute so much interpretation to what the angel in Paul Klee’s painting was contemplating? Was that what the caricature-like drawing actually thinking? As it turned out, there was an alternative image for the "melancholically beautiful" image of the angel of history. In a footnote to thesis IX of his Filipino translation of Benjamin's work, Ramon Guillermo mentioned another fascinating image, the one that was also used as cover page of the translation:

“Angelus Novus”: Painting ni Klee (1920) na naging pag-aari ni Benjamin sa isang panahon. Ngunit tila may basehan ang hinuha ni Bolívar Echeverría na ang higit na pinagbatayan ni Benjamin sa tesis IX ay ang guhit na pinamagatang “L’histoire” (Ang Kasaysayan) mula sa Iconologie nina H.F. Gravelot at Ch. N. Cochin (1791) (Echeverría 2005, 25y).


“Angelus Novus”: A painting by Klee (1920) that was for a time owned by Benjamin. But Bolívar Echeverría's [2] conjecture may have a basis: that Benjamin's main inspiration for thesis IX was the drawing called “L’histoire” (History) from Iconologie by H.F. Gravelot and Ch. N. Cochin (1791) (Echeverría 2005, 25y). [my translation]

In "L'histoire", the angel's head was turned to the right. Faced with a specter of destruction around her, the angel of history had chosen not to be a mere spectator. With vigor and passion, she transcribed what was happening in real time. Her right hand held the pen; her left supported the book.

And what of the figure of death in front of her? The old man's back functioned as the writing table, inclined at just the appropriate angle for the angel to write at ease. Like the angel, death was concentrating on his task, very intent to not make the slightest move, full in his support for the angel's role as historian.

And what was she writing about? Presumably something important, so urgent it needed to be put on paper. It had to do with a conflagration, an event that needed an angel to witness and record. We could somehow recognize a man and a woman fleeing a burning city in the background. Where were the rest of city dwellers? It appeared as if they were casualties of some kind of war. The magnitude of destruction was discernible from the smoke covering almost the entire horizon.

Death was assisting our angel historian, but his long scythe was almost leaning toward her left wing. Is writing history akin to a brush with death? Was the angel all too willing to sacrifice her wing just to be able to get a snapshot of war?

And what was that book beneath her? Tucidide on top of a trumpet, muffling the music of the instrument? What was the Athenian historian doing in this apocalyptic setting? Was he providing the framework of history for the angel to pattern her own historical narrative?

And that pointed, pyramid-like structure on the left? It was the one image that corresponded well to the perpetual accumulation of rubble in thesis IX. It was the structure of wreckage that could reach up to heaven, being driven by the storm called Progress (Fortschritt).

The drawing in Gravelot and Cochin's Iconologie certainly was a more illustrative and dramatic representation of the angel of history than Klee's. The reason for Benjamin's indirection, if it was that, may be moot at this point. In any case, the latter's cartoon sketch of an angel, as interpreted by Benjamin, was a helpless historian in the face of storm: his wings were pathetically frozen when struck by the force of the wind. L'histoire, on the other hand, was a more militant angel. She was unfazed by the events unfolding around her, and not even bothered by the sharp scythe of death. Faithful and objective was her transcription of human catastrophe so that the readers would be able to decipher the pattern of folly. Her purpose was clear: to be the conscience and the counsel of history. So that we never repeat it over and over and over again.



[1] From "Tesis IX", in Hinggil sa Konsepto ng Kasaysayan by Walter Benjamin, trans. Ramon Guillermo. Translation: Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, [the angel] sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. (from Thesis IX, trans. Dennis Redmond)

[2] For his translation of Benjamin’s theses from German to Filipino, Ramon Guillermo also consulted Bolívar Echeverría’s 2008 Spanish translation of the theses, in addition to Benjamin's French translation of his German original. The references at the end of Guillermo's translation also listed "El ángel de la historia y el materialismo histórico”, in Echeverría (ed.), La mirada del Ángel: En torno a las tesis sobre la historia de Walter Benjamin (México: Universidad Autónoma de México).

Image of L'histoire from: Materialist Theology

04 February 2018

Joaquín and the angel of history


Last February 2017, I wrote the following in a blog post about the impending publication of Nick Joaquín's The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic:

The inclusion of his famous play A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (1966) in the Penguin anthology was an inspired decision. The three-act "elegy", which the playwright also labeled as "a novel in the form of a play", was a distillation of his romantic ideas on Spanish Filipino culture, its struggle against modernity and war, symbolized by the protagonists—two spinster sisters—and their tenacious hold on a highly symbolic picture painted by their disillusioned father and inspired by Greek mythology. A Portrait was the writer's statement about art and its role in restoring ceremonial traditions, art and its fragility against the savage wars of peace. The writer was much concerned about the inability of culture (Spanish Filipino customs and ceremonies) to adapt to encroaching lawlessness and to reconcile the history of the past with the chaos of the present. Much like Walter Benjamin's "Angel of History" in On the Concept of History (Thesis IX), after Paul Klee's Angelus Novus (1920), Joaquín's elegiac source spring was looking back at the past with the foreknowledge that the future storm would bring ruin to memory.

Vicente L. Rafael, who introduced the book, was reading my mind, and I, his. The book was published in April 2017, and I did not recall reading an advance copy of Rafael's introduction prior to that. The final paragraph of his introduction reads:

Nick Joaquin's stories provide us with such counsel. Swept by the catastrophes of colonialism and war, Joaquin, like St. Sylvestre [in his 1946 story "The Mass of St. Sylvestre"], looked both ways. Lingering on the threshold of what had happened and what was yet to come, he found himself irresistibly drawn, like the Angel of History, to the debris of colonial catastrophes that just kept piling up around him. He sought to retrieve from the ruins of modernity the means for conveying experience—his own as well as others'—in stories about forgotten legends, repressed events, flawed fathers, two-naveled women, and the miracles of a merciful Virgin that continue to emerge from the ever-perplexing and vertigo-inducing history of a certain Philippines. We, whoever we are, receive his stories told from a ruined world, hearing and perhaps sharing them as we would the shards of our own lives.

Rafael provided an endnote to the penultimate sentence:

The image of the "Angel of History," suggested in this instance by the image of the myriad angels surrounding St. Sylvestre as he leads his procession, is of course drawn from Paul Klee's painting Angelus Novus and discussed by Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," in Illuminations, 257-58. I borrow the term "vertigo-inducing" from the great historical comparativist Benedict Anderson, who uses it to describe the conjunctural strangeness of the Philippines in world history. See Anderson, "The First Filipino," London Review of Books 19(20) (Oct. 16, 1997): 22-23 [online]. He, too, was an admirer of Nick Joaquin and Walter Benjamin.

Anderson was of course an admirer of Benjamin. He wrote an introduction to the Filipino translation of Benjamin's treatise, Hinggil sa Konsepto ng Kasaysayan (High Chair, 2013), translated by Ramon Guillermo. To me, the image of the Angel of History, in relation to Joaquín's oeuvre, was suggested by Anderson himself, by Benjamin  himself, and by Joaquín himself.

I bought Guillermo's translation in the Manila International Book Fair 2016. According to my Goodreads account, I marked it as "to-read" in October and "shelved" it in the "2016" folder in December (i.e., read the book in the latter part of 2016). Anderson's striking description of the Angel of History was what particularly drew me to it. Here's the relevant passage; forgive the lengthy context at the start.

In the growing darkness of the 1920s and 1930s, Gramsci, the great Italian Marxist thinker and leader wrote, incarcerated in Mussolini's Fascist jails, that communists had to combine "pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will." Kafka had written not long before his early death: "There is hope, but not for us." Benjamin, who had to flee to Paris when Hitler came to power in 1933, watched Franco bloodily win the Civil War in Spain, Tokyo's armies cruelly occupying a huge part of China, anti-Semitic dictatorships in Portugal and central, eastern and southeastern Europe, France defeated by Hitler and now led by Marshal Pétain's rightwing dictatorship, but only in its southern regions, and Stalin's compact with Hitler in 1939, whereby eastern Europe was divided between them. Benjamin's, [sic] "Theses on the Concept of History", never fully finished, was written in the doomed Paris of 1940. It is from this devastated last work which come some of the most unforgettable, despairing passages. "All documents of civilization are at the same time documents of barbarism" is the shortest, while the most melancholically beautiful is the image of the Angel of History, who has his back to the future and contemplates all human history as an accumulating, unending pile of wreckage, ruin, and disaster. Benjamin wrote that the Angel can not turn his back from the past because his wings are caught in an unstoppable storm coming from paradise, "the storm that we call progress."

Joaquín himself was that same angel of history, enacting the same gesture of looking squarely at the ruins of Manila after the Japanese bombed it in the Second World War. The anguish of the novelist was evident in his elegiac and edgy descriptions of postwar Manila in The Woman Who Had Two Navels (the novel version) as "flat and spiky, its bared ribs and twisted limbs a graph of pain in the air", "traffic brimming between the banks of rubble", "the ruins noisy with night clubs", "a glittering fashion show in the bullet-pocked ballroom of a gutted hotel".

In Nick: A Portrait of the Artist Nick Joaquin (2011)—a biography of the novelist co-written by his nephew Tony Joaquín—the angel of history was pained at the image of destruction and atrocity in the walled city in front of him. The book was quoted in Ruel S. De Vera's review article:

There are many memorable scenes in “Nick,” but probably the most heartbreaking was that of Nick surveying the ruins of Intramuros after it had been razed to the ground during the Second World War: “Intramuros was so familiar and close to Nick’s heart. He knew where each building had stood. As he gazed around him and took in the destruction and realized all that had been destroyed and lost, a deep loud groan escaped from him and his body began to shake all over as sobs rose from the very pit of his stomach.”

I saw Ang Larawan: The Musical in cinema early this year. This adaptation of Joaquín's famous play was full of intimations and prefigurations of war. The role of art, history, tradition, and culture was sustained amid the spreading tentacles of modernity, war, and progress. The controversial portrait at the center of the play, the one owned by two unmarried sisters, might as well be the same horrifying image the angel of history was witnessing: the image that could crush his wings and send him tumbling into the future.

02 February 2018

Redonnet's splendid and vicious cycle

Hôtel Splendid by Marie Redonnet, translated by Jordan Stump (University of Nebraska Press, 1994)

The Hemingway school of writing isn't one I'm fond of. In his review of a bestseller, Chad W. Post described it as "short, direct, concise, with little abstraction."

A book that is solid, something you can easily envision, with sentences you never get lost in.
The whole novel is unchallenging in that way. It’s the kind of writing that you can sort of relax into, the type of writing that lets you forget that your life is stressful and a struggle. I can see why this appeals to a lot of people—it’s the sort of writing that uncomplicates your consciousness as you read it.

It's the kind of judgement that I can't hand down to Hôtel Splendid, Marie Redonnet's novel of a hotel's decline. To say that it belongs to the Hemingway school of writing was a superficial claim. That claim was without basis, uncalled for. In fact, it was a travesty for it was the opposite case. In fact, at this point, I found this (my) introduction to the book already stale.  

Hôtel Splendid belonged to the Redonnet school of writing. It was not a bestseller. But in the year of the fire rooster, one of my most rewarding reading times was spent on this slim novel of parasitism and survival. For sure, the sentences were crisp and short and clipped. Subject was followed by verb and terminated by predicate, but that was not the hard and fast rule. Some dependent clauses allowed some fresh air to unclog the musty air of the sentences. But taken out of context, certain passages would make for a mannered and insufferable style. It was the arrangement and clustering of sentences that give the short novel its heft and depth. Redonnet plowed on and gave an indubitable testament to the dreariness and clarity of suffering.

She wants me to wash her. That's hard for me because she has an odor that makes me queasy. She has never worked. Mother used to support her, and now I do. I inherited the Hôtel Splendid. But in exchange, I owe an allowance to my sisters. They chose to come and live at the hotel instead of taking the allowance. Here they are housed, fed, and served. Maybe I should not have agreed to this arrangement. Ada and Adel left the hotel very young with mother. They never came back until mother died. I am the only one who never left the Hôtel Splendid. But now that they have settled in, they are not about to leave. They have made themselves at home. They have taken the two nicest rooms, but that does not prevent them from complaining about the Hôtel Splendid's poor condition and lack of comfort. I should not let them get the better of me. I keep them alive, thanks to my work and the hotel. But the Splendid brings in less and less. It needs repairs. I don't have the means.

Think of Julio Cortázar's "House Taken Over", replace house with hotel, replace house owners with female narrator, then replace the "colonizers" with the narrator's two sisters (Ada and Adel). It's a stretch of a comparison, but the same feeling of foreboding, suspense, and helplessness that haunt Julio's haunted house pervaded Redonnet's decrepit, and hardly splendid now, hotel. But this was not evident at the level of the sentence but at the furious stream of sentences. Page 49 summed the whole quite well: "And since everything always goes wrong at once, her lavatory is blocked." And since the hypothetical realm of "if worst comes to worst" was made flesh, the comedy was uncanny for its pathetic tragedy.

The swamp is swallowing up the cemetery, because there will be nothing but the swamp. Even though she [Ada] limps because of her rheumatism and has to walk with a cane, she will not give up going to the cemetery. She will go as long as there is even just a piece of a gravestone still visible. She says grandmother's gravestone is like a boat that has been shipwrecked and is slowly sinking. She has more and more difficulty walking. It takes her all day to go from the hotel to the cemetery and back. She has a touch of gout also. She is going to be a cripple soon if this keeps up. You would think Ada's rheumatism was contagious. I walk with a cane too. Since Ada took grandmother's cane, I use a stick. It does not make as good a cane. The guests complain about the noise that the two canes make in the hotel. With my rheumatism, it's painful to bend over to unblock the lavatories. The guests should be more careful. No matter how much I tell them that, they don't care. Adel sets a bad example for them. She treats her lavatory like a trash can. It's disgusting. Ada's appearance is changing. She has the beginnings of a goiter. 

One only had to note in the passage how the health of the characters and the state of the surrounding graveyard went on a downward spiral ("she limps because of her rheumatism and has to walk with a cane ... shipwrecked and is slowly sinking ... more and more difficulty walking ... a touch of gout also ... I walk with a cane too ... With my rheumatism ... the beginnings of a goiter") to gauge the amount of change happening within a short span of time. Anthony at timesflowstemmed observed this uncommon space-time compression wherein "situations and emotions change polarity within a few paragraphs". By free association, Redonnet was heaping up anarchy upon chaos in the hotel and its environs. Everything was going the way of doom. The compression was also evident from one immediate sentence to the next.

The plumber is my only ally. He comes as soon as I call him, and I call him more and more often. It is incredible the things he pulls out of the pipes. What would become of me without him? I am worried because he had a small but unexpected attack, and now he has to keep to his bed. Now would be a bad time for the pipes to let me down. The pipes have become all porous. You can see that just by running your finger over them, your finger is wet. It isn't a good sign that the pipes are porous. It's the same with the wood, which is turning spongy. Fortunately the guests are not observant. [emphases supplied]

From a rhetorical question ("What would become of me without him?") to "a small but unexpected" shift in the health of the plumber. From wishful thinking for the pipes to not let her down, to a stab of reality that the pipes have, really, talk about the timing, become all porous. The sentences rambled along in a montage of ruin and destruction. The hotel turned and turned in the widening gyre. It was not for nothing that the hotel took its name after a favorite movie of the narrator's grandmother. In that movie the hotel, that was actually right beside a swamp, was in an oasis in the middle of a desert. In the movie the wind continually blows; the oasis "was slowly becoming choked" with the sands of the desert.

Hôtel Splendid was not as inscrutable as Kafka's castle, but almost as unavailing and mythic in its cruelty. In addition to the three siblings, hotel and swamp were like characters whose states of fixity were challenged by the inherent impermanence of things. Would that the vicious cycle of life degrading unto death was celebrated through natural, pure neglect or deliberate, man-made disasters. By the time an apathetic and silent figure (maybe a burned out artist figure) checked in at the Hôtel Splendid near the end of the novel, first as guest then as a potential long-time boarder, the novel had taken its full course, following the contours of human existence and the rhythm of the swamp. The narrator was still asserting her self-respect and dignity, things tangible that's left when everything else went the way of dust and mote. She might as well be the muse haunting the hotel's now-ghostly existence.

01 February 2018

In the year of the fire rooster

Hotel Iris
Hôtel Splendid
Ang Makina ni Mang Turing
Ang mga Hangin ng Abril
R.U.R. (Robot Unibersal ni Rossum): Isang Dramang Kolektibang may Komikong Prologo at Tatlong Yugto mula sa Tsekong Manunulat na si Karel Čapek
Walang Kapatid: Kasaysayang Bisaya / Wala’y Igsoon: Sugilanon’g Binisaya
Ang Ikatlong Anti-Kristo
Ito ang Diktadura
Mga Uring Panlipunan
Ella Arcangel: Tomo Una: Ito ay Panganib
Rubdob ng Tag-init
Tabi Po: Isyu 3
The Lover
Seven Houses in France
Palawan and Its Global Connections
The Book of Proper Names
Strategies for Rapid Climate Mitigation: Wartime Mobilisation as a Model for Action?
Rationalizing the Local Planning System

Now that (Chinese) new year is almost upon us – either a creative or a timely excuse for being late to the yearend/yearstart party – I will kickstart the year (of the Earth Dog) with a look back at my reading fare: in terms of quantity, the lowest in recent memory. The lowest count since the year of the ox (2009): the first year in blog-record. But I do not regret the few pages I browsed. This was amply compensated by day job work load, career overreaching (reviewing for and passing two state exams), moving to a new home (stress and fulfillment combined), and looking at the ceiling (procrastination) or watching a lot of movies and tv shows. Sometimes I'm tempted to branch out to other subject matter (food review, film review) for the blog. Just to produce content, the amateur reader (excuse me, Tom) might wear the hat of a journalist or short story writer or food critic or travel tour guide. But the thing is, as shown by the graph below, there is a high correlation between the number of books read and the number of posts published. It's a no-brainer but I'll take home the insight just to gloss over the fact that the multi-year trend is downward. If the year of the fire rooster is any indication, then the Earth dog is bound to be an all-time low in reading owing to another stressful, demanding, procrastinating year punctuated by extreme weather events and a disruptive eruption of a volcano, metaphorically speaking.


Hotel Iris by Yōko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder

Hôtel Splendid by Marie Redonnet, translated by Jordan Stump

Ang Makina ni Mang Turing [The Machine of Old Turing] by Ramon Guillermo

Ang mga Hangin ng Abril [The Winds of April] by N.V.M. Gonzalez, translated from English to Filipino by Edgardo B. Maranan

R.U.R. (Robot Unibersal ni Rossum): Isang Dramang Kolektibang may Komikong Prologo at Tatlong Yugto mula sa Tsekong Manunulat na si Karel Čapek [R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots): A Collective Drama With a Comic Prologue and in Three Acts from the Czech Writer Karel Čapek] by Karel Čapek, translated to Filipino by Guelan Varela-Luarca, from the English version by Claudia Novack

Walang Kapatid: Kasaysayang Bisaya / Wala’y Igsoon: Sugilanon’g Binisaya [Without a Brother: Visayan Novel] by Juan Irles Villagonzalo, translated from Cebuano to Filipino by Roderick C. Villaflor

Ang Ikatlong Anti-Kristo [The Third Anti-Christ] by Eros S. Atalia

Rubdob ng Tag-init [The Summer Solstice] by Nick Joaquín, translated from English to Filipino by Michael M. Coroza

The Lover by Marguerite Duras, translated by Barbara Bray

Seven Houses in France by Bernardo Atxaga, translated from Basque into Spanish by Asun Garikano and Bernardo Atxaga, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

The Book of Proper Names by Amélie Nothomb, translated by Shaun Whiteside

Fort by B. S. Medina Jr., translated from Filipino to English by the author

Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

Ang Matanda at ang Dagat [The Old Man and the Sea] by Ernest Hemingway, translated to Filipino by Jesus Manuel Santiago

Children of the Ash-Covered Loam by N.V.M. Gonzalez


Palawan and Its Global Connections, edited by James F. Eder and Oscar L. Evangelista

Strategies for Rapid Climate Mitigation: Wartime mobilisation as a model for action? by Laurence L. Delina

Rationalizing the Local Planning System (RPS) by Ernesto M. Serote


Ito ang Diktadura: Koleksiyon ng Libros para mañana (Mga Aklat para sa Kinabukasan) – Aklat 2 [This Is Dictatorship: Collection of Libros para mañana (Books of the Future) – Book 2] by Equipo Plantel, illustrated by Mikel Casal, translated from Spanish to Filipino by Annie Yglopaz and Kata Garcia

Mga Uring Panlipunan: Koleksiyon ng Libros para mañana (Mga Aklat para sa Kinabukasan) – Aklat 1 [Social Classes: Collection of Libros para mañana (Books of the Future) – Book 1] by Equipo Plantel, illustrated by Joan Negrescolor, translated from Spanish to Filipino by Annie Yglopaz and Kata Garcia

Ella Arcangel: Tomo Una: Ito ay Panganib [Ella Arcangel: First Issue: Danger Is Here] by Julius Villanueva and Mervin Malonzo

Tabi Po: Isyu 3 [Excuse Me: Issue 3] by Mervin Malonzo