Thursday, August 31, 2006
BERTOLT BRECHT’S SENORA CARRAR’S RIFLES AND ITS THIRD WORLD RESONANCE
by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
The changeability of the world insists on its contradictoriness. There is something in things, people, events, which makes them what they are, and at the same time something which makes them different.... The demolition, explosion, atomization of the individual psyche is a fact,...the strange centerlessness of individuals. But absence of center does not mean absence of substance. One simply faces new entities which must be newly defined.
--BERTOLT BRECHT, Arbeitsjournal
A recent sojourn in the Philippines for a year has confirmed for me Brecht's usefulness (his favorite epithet) in revitalizing the moribund naturalistic-cum-Broadway theater in metropolitan Manila, particularly in the productions of PETA, The Philippine Educational Theater Association, based in Manila. Progressive colleagues in theater, after local adaptations of Galileo and The Caucasian Chalk Circle, are rehearsing the only play Brecht classified as one of "empathy," that is, one which seizes the spectator's predisposition for identification with illusionary events and characters in an "opportunistic" way. We know of course that Brecht's intention is not to delude the audience but to educate or enlighten it by cultivating and legitimizing a participatory mode of aesthetic involvement. When he completed the first version of Galileo, he noted in his journal on February 25, 1939 that it was "technically a step backward just like Senora Carrar's Rifles. Too opportunistic... Aristotelian (empathy-) drama" (1964, 115). Given the dreaded stigma attached to the term "Aristotelian," what can Third World revolutionary artists find in the play that would not simply exacerbate the ever-present temptation to indulge in ultra-leftism--the simple negation of art for immediate political action? Would exploiting the didactic potential of Brecht's play be opportunist, or simply an attempt to use one tool for the same ends Brecht privileged in the Organum: to historicize life, "to treat social situations as processes" (1964, 193) so as to alter them? Since I have not seen any discussion of this play from a Third World radical perspective, I venture to submit the following speculative reflections to explore possibilities in the terrain of Brecht's "fall," perhaps a felix culpa, into empathy drama.1
Essentially, Senora Carrar's Rifles intends to exhibit a specifically contextualized dialectics of choice: how a traditional mother in a semifeudal Spanish village during the Civil War, while opposed to violence, performs her task of maternal care and civic responsibility. Opposites eventually coincide, resolving tensions on a higher plane. Her basic conflict is not one between opposing violence and preferring peace, but one between the desire to maintain the status quo of precarious abstention to preserve the life of her two sons, and the temptation to fight the inhuman (Franco's fascist military) forces threatening her still tolerable condition. Her apparent neutrality in a time of civil war is one replicated in Third World peoples (peasants, workers, petty bourgeoisie, indigenous minorities) long inured to having no control over their destiny, obsessed with guarding or defending what little they have, bargaining with the powers-that-be. This claim to neutrality is precisely what the play questions. (Of course, Brecht was really addressing the "neutral" allied powers at the time even as he critiqued pacifist liberals.) In a conjuncture where the contradictions are sharply defined, where friends and enemies can be neatly demarcated (loyalist Republican forces versus Franco's religious "nationalism" supported by Hitler and Mussolini), Senora Carrar's dilemma and its resolution provides an exemplum for those hoping to mobilize those morally paralyzed by setbacks--Brecht anticipated this when the democratic allies failed to rally to the beleaguered Republicans--or those who find an attitude of temporizing or compromise as a shrewder policy, a tactic of cutting one's losses. The lesson is that the mother loses what she has been desperately trying to keep. What she should have learned is the reverse, the precept from the Gospel: Only if the seed dies will it bear fruit.
Senora Carrar learns the fatal mistake of delaying or wanting to compromise, and therefore reaps the opposite of her intention. Through a non-commital agnosticism, one sacrifices what one holds dear; thus, armed intervention is necessary in self-defense, self-interest thereby fusing with the survival and freedom of the community in which one's private worth finds ultimate validation. This urgent message--if one may put it too programmatically--is what, I think, appeals to our anti-imperialist compatriots faced with a population (as in the Philippines) where the religious ethos of the institution of the family resists involvement in projects of radical social transformation because of a conservative dogmatism and rigid particularistic ethos derived from a residual tributary formation.
One should note that this thematic mapping of the play stresses the polemical and pragmatic thrust since it focuses on the strategy of exposing the folly of anyone assuming a position of neutrality while everyone in the community suffers. In a context of total war, neutrality becomes acquiescence to the dominant force or a submission to the ascendant trend. All engagements are complicitous with one side or the other; partisanship is all. Seen from this perspective, the mother's plight and her conversion evoke the need for the spectator to participate in the ongoing collective project of resisting what is experienced as evil, destructive forces, provided the knowledge and recognition of such forces have become identical with a consensus of the popular alliance--that is, that such knowledge has become a transformative material force when translated into praxis.
But what this interpretation leaves out is not, as I'll argue in a moment, the historicizing or alienating element--note how Senora Carrar intermittently stands back to demonstrate/narrate herself with highly nuanced defamiliarizing effects--but the problematic of ressentiment in which the revenge motif and the more fundamental question of the gender division of labor find themselves eclipsed. Unless the son killed by the military is construed as symbolic of the socialist project, the mother's decision to fight may be taken simply as a reassertion of the subaltern will, the maternal urge to project the offspring (the usual essentializing stereotype), in this instance, against the patriarchal mandate of generals and priests. In other words, the mother is not motivated by any radical principle except that of affirming the dignity of the poor and their right to strike back. We conflate here a humanist and an aristocratic motivation to elucidate the general direction of a whole pattern of behavior.
In his essay "Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting" (circa 1935), Brecht first enunciated the function of Verfremdungseffekt or alienation-effect as a historicizing of incidents portrayed on the stage. This mode of representation is geared to exposing the temporality of any social situation and the unfolding of what is natural or normal as artificial and constructed, the product of a process of contrivance. Experience conceived as process implies mutability, a continuum of mutation. It signifies contradiction, heterogeneity, and sedimentation: "...the image that gives historical definition will retain something of the rough sketching which indicates traces of other movements and features all around the fully-worked-out figure" (1964, 191). Consider in this passage how Senora Carrar's position alternates between dependency and mastery:
DIE MUTTER: Du bleibst!
DER JUNGE: Nein, ich gehe! Du kannst sagen, du brauchst Juan, aber mich brauchst du dann nicht auch noch.
DIE MUTTER: Ich halte Juan nicht, weil er fur mich fischen gehen soll. Und ich lasse dich nicht weg! (Sie lauft auf ihn zu und umarmt ihn.) Du kannst rauchen, wenn du willst, und wenn du allein fischen gehen willst, ich werde nichts sagen, und auch einmal in Vaters Boot!
DER JUNGE: Lass mich los!
DIE MUTTER: Nein, du bleibst hier!
DER JUNGE (sich losringend): Nein, ich gehe!--Rasch, nimm die Gewehre, Onkel!
DIE MUTTER: Oh! (Sie lasst den Jungen los und hinkt weg, mit dem Fuss vorsichtig auftretend.) (1967, 1224)
THERESA: You're staying here!
JOSE: No. I'm going. You can say you need Juan, but then you don't need me too.
THERESA: I'm not keeping Juan here just so he can go fishing for me. And I will not let you go. (She runs to him and throws her arms around him). You can smoke if you want to, and if you want to go fishing alone I won't say anything, and you can even go in father's boat.
JOSE: Let go of me!
THERESA: No, you are staying here!
JOSE (Struggling to free himself): No, I am going! Quick, get the guns, Uncle Pedro!
THERESA (With a cry of pain): Oh! (She lets go of JOSE and limps away, stepping very carefully as if one foot hurt her badly.)
Senora Carrar then acts out the role of the hurt and resentful mother who, in a fit of casting out Jose as a disobedient child who refuses to acknowledge her "patriarchal" assumption, invokes the brother to chastise him. The dynamics of ressentiment thwarts any impulse of sympathy from the spectator even as we discover the deception or imposture this seemingly helpless woman has been foisting on us. Pity and terror, and their catharsis, are neglected here, thus making the drama's putative original, John Synge's Riders to the Sea, its parodic and sentimentalized version.
While it is generally conceded that the instructive crux of this play coincides with the turn of Senora Carrar's judgement when she condemns the murderers of her son as "not human beings" but small-pox that "must be stamped out," such a sudden reversal of thought may strike those already identifying with the unfortunate mother as a "tour de force." This in itself generates a discordance in the audience's effort to establish consistencies and probabilities. At first, Senora Carrar could not believe that her son would be killed by "just fishing." That defied logic, but then immediately she falls sick as she kneels beside her son's body. While the women mourners pray aloud (an incongruous importation of Irish piety into the milieu of Andalusian anti-clericalism), Senora Carrar arrives at her "moment of truth" --she holds out the "ragged, worn-out" cap of her son as proof that he was identified as "a gentleman" and therefore executed. (This allusion to the positional effect of apparel has been foreshadowed by Jose's earlier donning of a militia cap.) Such a peripeteia may seem forced if we don't observe that the long speech she delivers before the son's body is brought in demonstrates the necessary distancing from this empathy-inducing funeral rite.
Ostensibly a harangue against Pedro and the partisans for scheming to lure Juan to the frontline, the mother's reflections enact the loss she would soon confront. Applying post-structuralist terms, the impact of this utterance hollows the plenitude of her subsequent pathos. In this way, character or ethos (in the sense meant in Aristotle's Poetics) is fissured into a play of rhetorical Gestus:
Wenn er mir das angetan hat und zur Miliz gegangen ist, dann soll er verflucht sein! Mit ihren Fliegerbomben sollen sie ihn treffen! Mit ihren Tanks sollen sie ihn niederfahren! Dass er merkt, dass Gott sich nicht spotten lasst. Und dass ein Armer nicht gegen die Generale aufkommen kann. Ich habe ihn nicht dazu geboren, dass er hinter einem Maschinengewehr auf seine Mitmenschen lauert. Wenn da Unrecht ist in der Welt, habe ich ihn nicht gelehrt, daran teilzunehmen. Ich werde ihm meine Tur nicht mehr offnen, wenn er zuruck-kommt, nur weil er sagt, er hat die Generale besiegt! Ich werde ihm sagen, und zwar durch die Tur, dass ich niemand in meinem Haus haben will, der sich mit Blut befleckt hat. Ich werde ihn mir abhauen wie einen kranken Fuss. Das werde ich. Sie haben mir schon einen gebracht. Der meinte auch, er werde schon Gluck haben. Aber wir haben kein Gluck. Das werdet ihr vielleicht noch begreifen, bevor die Generale mit uns fertig sind. Wer zum Schwert greift, wird durch das Schwert umkommen (1967, 1226).
If he has done that to me, and gone to the militia, I curse him. The air bombs can hit him. The tanks can run him down. He'll see that there is no joking with God, that a poor man can't beat the generals. I didn't bring him up to shoot his fellow men. I never taught him to take a part in the injustice of this world. I will not open my door to him when he comes back, not if he says he has whipped the generals! I will tell him, through the keyhole, that I won't have anybody in my house who is covered with blood. I pluck him out like an eye that offends. My husband was carried in and laid down right over there. He thought he could win us happiness by fighting. Where's our happiness? Where's it going to be when the generals get through with us? You'll see. They that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
The cathexis of the mother's attachment dissolves when she curses her son even as she embodies the opposite of what the truth of her son's sacrifice implies. The son returns indeed "covered with blood"--his own and not those he was meant to destroy. This ironic fulfillment of the mother's prophecy--a Brechtian director can anticipate this through slides or announcements to undercut suspense--can be made to function on stage as the answer to the mother's question: "Where's it going to be when the generals get through with us?" The speech thus performs the Gestus of affirming what it ostensibly denies.
Class allegiance and maternal instinct intersect in the mother's exteriorizing of her positions, an act generating a contradiction which is resolved at the end when the mother's role of provider (bread baker/domestic caretaker) is sublimated and fused with her urge to avenge her son. Earlier she demonstrates her partisanship and sense of civic duty when she nurses the wounded militia soldier Pablo, a scene where the boundary of the family coincides with the solidarity of the village. Though she is in a sense responsible for positioning her son as innocent sacrifice, she suppresses any feeling of guilt; her psyche channels the aggressive impulse toward the users of violence against her son. It is only with the son's loss, and the ressentiment of conceiving the Other (fascist soldiers) as polluted, that the mother recovers her class identity and reaffirms the community of producers. The sacrifice of the son gives birth to subaltern solidarity.
While the dead son awakens Senora Carrar to what Pedro has been insisting, namely, the impossibility of being neutral in a world where violence and injustice implicates everyone, it may be experimentally heuristic to examine how the dead or absent father (whose metonymic extension, now the Senora's rifles, signify the locus of libidinal investment as well as collective utopian desire) looms insistently in the background. The father's return is narrated by Jose to his uncle Pedro in the beginning and functions in retrospect as a rehearsal for the son's funeral: "Died at the station here. All of a sudden, in the evening, door flies open, and here come the neighbor women, the way they do when a drowned fisherman is brought home; file in without a word, take their places around the room up against the wall and pray all together as the body is carried in." In this context, can we really consider Senora Carrar aloof, unconcerned, non-violent in principle? When she hears General Queipo de Llano's voice on the radio condemning the "misguided rabble," she reacts as follows:
Wir sind keine Aufruhrer, und wir bieten niemandem die Stirn. Wenn es nach euch ginge, tatet ihr vielleicht so etwas. Du und dein Bruder, ihr seid leichtsinnig von Natur. Ihr habt es von eurem Vater, und ich wurde es vielleicht nicht mogen, wenn ihr anders wart. Aber das hier ist kein Spass: horst du nicht ihre Kanonen? Wir sind arme Leute, und arme Leute konnen nicht Krieg fuhren (1967, 1199).
We're not rabble. We're not rioters. We haven't had anything to do with agitators. You and Juan probably would if I didn't look after you. You're just like your father--and maybe I'd despise you if you weren't. But this is a terrible business. Hear those cannons? We are poor people. Poor people can't run a war.
Senora Carrar sees the father's impulsiveness (ultimately, her own willfullness) in the sons and strives to control that; her pacifism results from the discipline of her feelings and her belief that "nobody knows what's going to happen these days," a mark of canny marginality. Such fatalism, however, masks a powerful will held temporarily in abeyance, biding the time for the felicitous opportunity.
We begin to sense at this point that the husband Carlo joined the fighting with the full complicity of his wife, in fact, at her instigation. In the middle of the play, when Manuela insinuates that "she helped her husband get to Oviedo" where he was fatally wounded, the widowed wife counters in a muffled tone: "Don't say that. I did not help him. I wouldn't have anything to do with it. I know they all try to put the blame on me, but it's a lie, a dirty lie. I'd like to see anybody prove it." Our suspicion is that the father's figure here turns out to be a function of his wife's calculation of the odds, her prudential cunning. In effect, the mother combines what Darko Suvin calls the plebeian (Schweyk) point of view and the rationalist (Diderot) outlook in Brecht's sensibility (1972, 94-98).
The concepts of property and genealogy are interrogated in the exchange between brother and sister. Pedro insists that the guns "aren't things that belong just to you," and by extension the sons are not merely the mother's possessions. Senora Carrar's response to her brother's desire to persuade Juan in releasing the father's guns from the mother's clutches affords us a poignant Geste of questioning reality and the dominant ideology. Her thinking aloud unfolds a psychic cleavage symptomatic of the stranglehold of religious belief manifest in suicidal guilt and self-pity:
Lass meine Kinder in Ruhe, Pedro! Ich habe ihnen gesagt, dass ich mich aufhangen werde, wenn sie gehen. Ich weiss, dass das vor Gott eine Sunde ist und die ewige Verdammnis nach sich zieht. Aber ich kann nicht anders handeln. Als Carlo starb, so starb, ging ich zum Padre, sonst hatte ich mich damals schon aufgehangt. Ich wusste ganz gut, dass ich mit schuld war, obgleich er selber der Schlimmste war mit seiner Heftigkeit und seinem Hang zur Gewalttatigkeit. Wir haben es nicht so gut, und es ist nicht so leicht, dieses Leben zu ertragen. Aber es geht nicht mit dem Gewehr. Das sah ich, als sie ihn hereinbrachten und ihn mir auf den Boden legten. Ich bin nicht fur die Generale, und es ist eine Schande, das von mir zu sagen. Aber wenn ich mich still verhalte und meine Heftigkeit bekampfe, dann lassen sie uns vielleicht verschont. Das ist eine einfache Rechnung. Es ist wenig genug, was ich verlange. Ich will diese Fahne nicht mehr sehen. Wir sind unglucklich genug (1967, 1219-1220).
Leave my boys alone, Pedro. I told them I would kill myself if they went. I know that that is mortal sin and I'll go to hell if I do it. But that's all I can do. When Carlo died--that way--I went right to the priest, or I'd have killed myself then. I knew very well that I was partly to blame, though he was worse, because he was so emotional, and struggle came natural to him. We haven't such a good thing of it in this world, and this life isn't so easy to bear. But violence won't do. I learned that, when they brought him in and laid him on the floor in front of me. I am not for the generals, and it is a dirty lie to say I am. But if I keep quiet and conquer my own headstrong nature maybe they will leave us in peace. That's a simple bargain. It's mighty little I ask. I don't want to see this flag again. We're unhappy enough.
The rhetoric of this passage is a mutation from the immediate present, the hortatory mode, to a narrated past and an impersonal commentary on the unbearable nature of "this life." It reveals the void on which her claim to pacifism and resignation rests. Senora Carrar also expresses a conditional wish based less on her experience as on a folk/peasant instinct toward the precarious nature of everyday life. Throughout, the detachment of the speaker is sustained by the simplicity and directness of her idiom (inspired by the Synge model), and also by the deliberate avoidance of any mawkish nostalgia for "the good old days."
While the task of reversing the play's "opportunist" use of the mother's suffering largely depends, as I've suggested earlier, on the manner of staging and presentation--Brecht in fact hoped to cancel the empathy stimulus by projecting on the stage a documentary film on the historical causes of the Spanish Civil War--the alternating registers of the utterances I have quoted suffice to indicate the self-deconstructive possibilities of theatrical spacing demanded by epic/dialectical imperatives. Cues abound in the text for exteriorizing or distancing, the unmasking of representational illusion as conventional practices or socially authorized production. Brecht himself formulates the aesthetics of the reversals in the play through the Philosopher's comments in the Messingkauf Dialogues: "Lamenting by means of sounds, or, better still, words, is a vast liberation, because it means that the sufferer is beginning to produce something. He's already mixing his sorrow with an account of the blows he has received; he's already making something out of the utterly devastating. Observation has set in" (quoted in Eagleton 1986, 172)
In the end, like Shen Te, Anna Fierling, and other fractured female protagonists, Senora Carrar ultimately shatters the spell of ressentiment, the vindictive personal impulse, and unsheathes the dialectical edge of that ambiguous Biblical injunction which justified her non-resistance--"They that take the sword shall perish with the sword"--as the collective judgement of the people against the militarist usurpers.
If the peoples of the Third World (a convenient generalization, not a homogenizing category) have suffered and continue to suffer the abuses of bourgeoise dictatorships and authoritarian regimes sustained by patriarchal/religious codes, then perhaps the "rifles" of the mothers whose sons and husbands have been tortured, killed or disappeared (as in Chile and elsewhere), can be mobilized to reveal the instability of imperialist hegemony vis-a-vis the psyches and praxis of the oppressed, especially women (to just barely touch on the feminist impulse). Brecht's play can be profitably read, and performed, as an allegory of such possible transformations. It endows the old Horatian maxim of prodesse and delectare with exuberance and conviviality.
In June 1941, Brecht made a stop-over in Manila, Philippines, then a colony of the United States, on the way to exile in California. His return via Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar may herald a new way of utilizing the still popular empathy drama (on both the stage and screen) in a neocolonial formation for subversive pedagogical and pragmatic ends. In short, alienation-effect and epic distancing can only acquire their power because they are the diacritical reverse of empathy drama, just as the colonized and subjugated indigenous subjects exist because they are the necessary desiderata on which the power of imperialism is predicated.
So Brecht commemorated his passage (on July 21, 1941, from Vladivostok, USSR, with a short stopover in Manila, to Los Angeles, USA; see Volker 102) through this contested terrain in his poem "Landscape of Exile" whose second stanza I excerpt here:
The little horsecarts with gilt decorations
And the pink sleeves of the matrons
In the alleys of doomed Manila
The fugitive beheld with job.
Brecht, Bertold. Brecht on Theater. Translated by John Willett. New York: Hill & Wang, 1964.
-----. Gessamelte Werke 3, Stucke 3. Frankfurt-am-Main: Suhrkamp, 1967.
Eagleton, Terry. Against the Grain. London: Verso, 1986.
Suvin, Darko. "The Mirror and the Dynamo." In Brecht. Edited by Erika Munk. New York: Bantam, 1972. 80-98.
Torres, Maria Luisa. "Anticipating Freedom in Theater." In Brecht in Asia and Africa. Edited by John Fuegi et al. Hong Kong: The International Brecht Society, 1989. 134-54.
Volker, Klaus. Brecht Chronicle. New York: A Continuum Book, 1975.
1. John Willet (1959, 45-46) gives the production history of this play which he thinks is a work that "seems truly to suit the Party line."
2. I have also used the English version of the play by Keene Wallis published in Theatre Workshop, April-June 1938, pp 20-31.
For a more detailed elaboration of how Brecht has been appropriated locally, see Torres (1989).
E. SAN JUAN is director of the Philippine Cultural Studies Center in Connecticut, USA He is at present visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at the National Tsing Hua University and Academia Sinica fellow in Taiwan. He was 2003 professor of American Studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Among his recent books are RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke University Press) and WORKING THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell University Press). Two books in Filipino were launched last July: HIMAGSIK (De La Salle University Press) and TINIK SA KALULUWA (Anvil).
Posted by Sonny San Juan at 3:32 PM
by E. San Juan, Jr.
You will leave everything loved most dearly;
and this is the arrow
that the bow of exile shoots first....
Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan
ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.
[One who does not look back to where he came from
will not reach his destination.]
--Ancient Tagalog proverb
The Messiah will come only when he is no longer needed. He will only come one day after his advent. He will not come on the day of the last judgment but on the day after.
It has been almost 40 years now, to this longest day 21 June 1996, of my sojourn here in the United States ever since we left Manila. The time of departure can no longer be read in the number of passports discarded, visas stamped over and over again.
A palimpsest to be deciphered, to be sure. But you can always foretell and anticipate certain things. For example, when someone meets you for the first time, this Caucasian--in general, Western--stranger would irresistibly and perhaps innocently (a reflex of commonsensical wisdom) always ask: "And where are you from?" Alas, from the red planet Mars, from the volcanic terra of the as yet undiscovered satellite of Andromeda, from the alleys of Tondo and the labyrinths of Avenida Rizal....
The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman delineates the possible life-strategies that denizens of the postmodern era can choose: stroller, vagabond, tourist, player. In a world inhospitable to pilgrims, I opt for the now obsolete persona of the exile disguised as itinerant and peripatetic student without credentials or references, sojourning in places where new experiences may occur. No destination nor destiny, only a succession of detours and displacements.
Apropos of the sojourner, Cesar Vallejo writes during his exile in Paris, 12 November 1937: Acaba de pasar sin haber venido. ["He just passed without having come. "] A cryptic and gnomic utterance. One can interpret this thus: for the sake of a sustained bliss of journeying, the "passenger" (the heroine of the passage) forfeits the grace or climax of homecoming. But where is home? Home is neither on the range nor valley nor distant shores--it is no longer a "place" but rather a site or locus to which you can return no more, as Thomas Wolfe once elegized. We have not yet reached this stage, the desperate act of switching identities (as in Antonioni's The Passenger, where the protagonist's itinerary ends in the adhoc, repetitious, inconsequential passage into anonymous death) so as to claim the spurious originality of an "I," the monadic ego a.k.a. the foundation of all Western metaphysics. Our postdeconstructionist malaise forbids this detour, this escape. Antonioni's existential "stranger" forswears the loved one's offer of trust,
finding danger even boring and trivial. After all, you are only the creature--not yet a cyborg--shunted from one terminus to another, bracketed by an a-methodical doubt and aleatory suspicion.
So here we are, "here" being merely a trope, a figure without referent or denotation. To such a denouement has Western consumerized technological society come, trivializing even Third World revolutions and violence as cinematic fare. Beyond Rangoon is the latest of such commodities in the high-cultural supermarket of the Western metropolis. The setting is no longer Burma but Myamar. The names don't matter; what is needed is some exotic location on which to transplant a white American woman's psyche suffering a horrendous trauma: discovering the murdered bodies of her husband and son upon coming home from work. Desperate to put this horror behind her, she and her sister then join a tour to Myamar. Soon she gets involved in the popular resistance against a ruthless military dictatorship. So what happens? Carnage, melodramatic escapades, incredible violence and slaughter, until our heroine begins to empathize with the unruly folk and arguably finds her identity by rediscovering her vocation; as physician, at the end of the film, without much ado she begins to attend to the victims without thought of her own safety or pleasure. She is reconciled with the past, finding substitutes for the dead in "Third World" mutilated bodies. And so white humanity redeems itself again in the person of this caring, brave, daring woman whose "rite of passage" is the thematic burden of the film. It is a passage from death to life, not exactly a trans-migration from scenes of bloodletting to moments of peace and harmony; nonetheless, strange "Third World" peoples remain transfixed in the background, waiting for rescue and redemption. So for the other part of humanity, there is no movement but simply a varying of intensity of suffering, punctuated by resigned smiles or bitter tears.
So the "beyond" is staged here as the realization of hope for the West. But what is in it for us who are inhabiting (to use a cliche) the "belly of the beast"? But let us go back to Vallejo, or to wherever his imagination has been translocated. Come to think of it, even the translation of Vallejo's line is an escape: there is no pronoun there. Precisely the absence of the phallus (if we follow our Lacanian guides) guarantees its infinite circulation as the wandering, nomadic signifier. Unsettled, travelling, the intractable vagrant....
Lost in the desert or in some wilderness, are we looking for a city of which we are unacknowledged citizens? Which city, Babylon or Jerusalem? St. Augustine reminds us: "Because of our desire we are already there, we have already cast our hope like an anchor on these shores...." By the logic of desire, the separation of our souls from our bodies is finally healed by identification with a figure like Christ who, in Pauline theology, symbolizes the transit to liberation from within the concrete, suffering body. What is foreign or alien becomes transubstantiated into a world-encompassing Ecclesia, a new polis in which we, you and I, find ourselves embedded.
Stranger no more, I am recognized by others whom I have yet to identify and know. Instead of Albert Camus' L'Etranger (which in my youth served as a fetish for our bohemian revolt against the provincial Cold War milieu of the Manila of the '5Os), Georg Simmel's "The Stranger" has become of late the focus of my meditation. It is an enigmatic text whose profound implications can not really be spelled out in words, only in lived experiences, in praxis. Simmel conceives "the stranger" as the unity of two opposites: mutating between "the liberation from every given point in space" and "the conceptual opposite to fixation at such a point," hence the wanderer defined as "the person who comes today and stays tomorrow." Note that the staying is indefinite, almost a promise, not a certainty. But where is the space of staying, or maybe of malingering?
Simmel's notion of space tries to bridge potentiality and actuality: "...although he has not moved on, he has not quite overcome the freedom of coming and going. He is fixed within a particular spatial group, or within a group whose boundaries are similar to spatial boundaries." The wanderer is an outsider, not originally belonging to this group, importing something into it. Simmel's dialectic of inside/outside spheres is tricky here; it may be an instance of wanting to have one's cake and also eat it:
The unity of nearness and remoteness involved in every human relation is organized, in the phenomenon of the stranger, in a way which may be most briefly formulated by saying that in the relationship to him, distance means that he, who is close by, is far, and strangeness means that he, who also is far, is actually near. For, to be a stranger is naturally a very positive relation; it is a specific form of interaction. The inhabitants of Sirius are not really strangers to us, at least not in any sociologically relevant sense: they do not exist for us at all; they are beyond far and near. The stranger, like the poor and like sundry "inner enemies," is an element of the group itself. His position as a full-fledged member involves both being outside it and confronting it.
And so, following this line of speculation, the query "Where are you from?" is in effect a token of intimacy. For the element which increases distance and repels, according to Simmel, is the one that establishes the pattern of coordination and consistent interaction that is the foundation of coherent sociality.
Between the essentialist mystique of the Volk/nation and the libertarian utopia of laissez-faire capitalism, the "stranger" subsists as a catalyzing agent of change. In other words, the subversive function of the stranger inheres in his being a mediator of two or more worlds. Is this the hybrid and in-between diasporic character of postcoloniality? Is this the indeterminate species bridging multiple worlds? Or is it more like the morbid specimens of the twilight world Antonio Gramsci, languishing in prison, once alluded to, caught between the ancien regime slowly dying and a social order that has not yet fully emerged from the womb of the old. We are brought back to the milieu of transition, of vicissitudes, suspended in the proverbial conundrum of the tortoise overtaking the hare in Zeno's paradox. This may be the site where space is transcended by time. The stranger's emblematic message may be what one black musician has already captured in this memorable manifesto by Paul Gilroy: "It aint where you're from, it's where you're at."
Historically, the stranger in Simmel's discourse emerged first as the trader. When a society needs products from outside its borders, a middleman is then summoned who will mediate the exchange. (If a god is needed, as the old adage goes, there will always be someone to invent him.) But what happens when those products coming from outside its territory begin to be produced inside, when a middleman role is no longer required, i.e. when the economy is closed, land divided up, and handicrafts formed to insure some kind of autarky? Then the stranger, who is the supernumerary (Simmel cites European Jews as the classic example), becomes the settler whose protean talent or sensibility distinguishes him. This sensibility springs from the habitus of trading "which alone makes possible unlimited combinations," where "intelligence always finds expansions and new territories," because the trader is not fixed or tied to a particular location; he doesn't own land or soil or any ideal point in the social environment. Whence originates his mystery? From the medium of money, the instrument of exchange:
Restriction to intermediary trade, and often (as though sublimated from it) to pure finance, gives him the specific character of mobility. If mobility takes place within a closed group, it embodies that synthesis of nearness and distance which constitutes the formal position of the stranger. For the fundamentally mobile person comes in contact, at one time or another, with every individual, but is not organically connected, through established ties of kinship, locality, and occupation, with any single one.
From this paradoxical site of intimacy and detachment, estrangement and communion, is born the quality of "objectivity" which allows the fashioning of superior knowledge. This does not imply passivity alone, Simmel argues: "it is a particular structure composed of distance and nearness, indifference and involvement." For instance, the dominant position of the stranger is exemplified in the practice of those Italian cities that chose judges from outside the city because "no native was free from entanglement in family and party interests." Could the courts in the Philippines ever contemplate this practice, courts which are literally family sinecures, nests of clan patronage and patriarchal gratuities? Only when there is a threat of interminable feuds, a cycle of vindictive retribution. Otherwise, legitimacy is always based on force underwritten by custom, tradition, the inertia of what's familiar. So strangeness is subversive when it challenges the familiar and normal, the hegemony of sameness.
On the other hand, it may also be conservative. The stranger then, like Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky's The Idiot, becomes the occasion for a public display of intimacies. He becomes the hieratic vessel or receiver of confessions performed in public, of confidential information, secrets, rumors, etc. He is the bearer of guilt and purgation, the stigmata of communal responsibility and its catharsis. His objectivity is then a full-blown participation which, obeying its own laws, thus eliminates--Simmel theorizes--"accidental dislocations and emphases, whose individual and subjective differences would produce different pictures of the same object" (15). From this standpoint, the Prince is a stranger not because he is not Russian but because he "idiotically" or naively bares whatever he thinks--he says it like it is. Which doesn't mean he doesn't hesitate or entertain reservations, judgments, etc. Dostoevsky invents his escape hatch in the Prince's epileptic seizures which become symptomatic of the whole society's disintegrated totality.
We begin to become more acquainted with this stranger as the spiritual ideal embedded in contingent reality. Part of the stranger's objectivity is his freedom: "the objective individual is bound by no commitments which could prejudice his perception, understanding, and evaluation of the given." Is this possible: a person without commitments, open to every passing opportunity? Baruch Spinoza, G. E. Moore, Mikhail Bakhtin are not wanted here. Ethics be damned. I think here Simmel is conjuring up the image of the value-free sociologist who has completely deceived himself even of the historical inscription of his discipline, finally succumbing to the wish-fulfillment of becoming the all-knowing scientist of historical laws and social processes. Simmel is quick to exonerate the stranger, the middleman-trader, from charges of being a fifth columnist, an instigator or provocateur paid by outsiders. On the other hand, Simmel insists that the stranger "is freer, practically and theoretically; he surveys conditions with less prejudice; his criteria for them are more general and more objective ideals; he is not tied down in his action by habit, piety, and precedent." The stranger has become some kind of omniscient deity, someone like the god of Flaubert and Joyce paring his fingernails behind the clouds while humanity agonizes down below.
Finally, Simmel points out the abstract nature of the relation of others to the stranger. This is because "one has only certain more general qualities in common," not organic ties that are empirically specific to inhabitants sharing a common historical past, culture, kinship, etc. The humanity which connects stranger and host is precisely the one that separates, the element that cannot be invoked to unify the stranger with the group of which he is an integral part. So nearness and distance coalesce again: "to the extent to which the common features are general, they add, to the warmth of the relation founded on them, an element of coolness, a feeling of the contingency of precisely this relation--the connecting forces have lost their specific and centripetal character."
One may interpose at this juncture: Why is Simmel formulating the predicament of the stranger as a paradox that too rapidly resolves the contradictions inherent in it? The dialectic is shortcircuited, the tension evaporated, by this poetic reflection: "The stranger is close to us, insofar as we feel between him and ourselves common features of a national, social, occupational, or generally human, nature. He is far from us, insofar as these common features extend beyond him or us, and connect us only because they cannot connect a great many people." What generalizes, estranges; what binds us together, individualizes each one.
We witness an immanent dialectical configuration shaping up here. Every intimate relationship then harbors the seeds of its own disintegration. The aborigine and the settler are fused in their contradictions and interdependencies. For what is common to two, Simmel continues to insist, "is never common to them alone but is subsumed under a general idea which includes much else besides, many possibilities of commonness." This, I think, applies to any erotic relationship which, in the beginning, compels the lovers to make their relationship unique, unrepeatable, even idiosyncratic. Then estrangement ensues; the feeling of uniqueness is replaced by skepticism and indifference, by the thought that the lovers are only instances of a general human destiny. In short, the lovers graduate into philosophers reflecting on themselves as only one of the infinite series of lovers in all of history. These possibilities act like a corrosive agent that destroys nearness, intimacy, communal togetherness:
No matter how little these possibilities become real and how often we forget them, here and there, nevertheless, they thrust themselves between us like shadows, like a mist which escapes every word noted, but which must coagulate into a solid bodily form before it can be called jealousy.... similarity, harmony, and nearness are accompanied by the feeling that they are not really the unique property of this particular relationship. They are something more general, something which potentially prevails between the partners and an indeterminate number of others, and therefore gives the relation, which alone was realized, no inner and exclusive necessity.
Perhaps in Gunnar Myrdal's "America," where a universalistic creed, once apostrophized by that wandering French philosophe De Tocqueville, prevails, this privileging of the general and the common obtains. But this "perhaps" dissolves because we see, in the history of the last five decades, that cultural pluralism is merely the mask of a "common culture" of market individualism, of class war inflected into the routine of racial politics. Witness the victims of the civil rights struggles, the assassination of Black Panther Party members, violence inflicted on Vincent Chin and other Asians, and so on.
As antidote to the mystification of hybridity and in-betweeness, we need therefore to historicize, to come down to the ground of economic and political reality. What collectivities of power/knowledge are intersecting and colliding? In a political economy where racial differentiation is the fundamental principle of accumulation, where profit and the private extraction of surplus value is the generalizing principle, it is difficult to accept Simmel's concept of strangeness as premised on an initial condition of intimacy and mutual reciprocity. Simmel is caught in a bind. He says that the Greek attitude to the barbarians illustrates a mind-frame that denies to the Other attributes which are specifically human. But in that case the barbarians are not strangers; the relation to them is a non-relation. Whereas the stranger is "a member of the group," not an outsider.
Simmel arrives at this concluding insight:
As a group member, the stranger is near and far at the same time as is characteristic of relations founded only on general human commonness. But between nearness and distance, there arises a specific tension when the consciousness that only the quite general is common stresses that which is not common. [Here is the kernel of Simmel's thesis.] In the case of the person who is a stranger to the country, the city, the race, etc., however, this non-common element is once more nothing individual, but merely the strangeness of origin, which is or could be common to many strangers. For this reason, strangers are not really conceived as individuals, but as strangers of a particular type: the element of distance is no less general in regard to them than the element of nearness.
Examples might illuminate this refined distinctions. Simmel cites the case of categorization of the Jew in medieval times which remained permanent, despite the changes in the laws of taxation: the Jew was always taxed as a Jew, his ethnic identity fixed his social position, whereas the Christian was "the bearer of certain objective contents" which changed in accordance with the fluctuation of his fortune (ownership of property, wealth). If this invariant element disappeared, then all strangers by virtue of being strangers would pay "an equal headtax." In spite of this, the stranger is "an organic member of the group which dictates the conditions of his existence"--except that this membership is precisely different in that, while it shares some similarities with all human relationships, a special proportion and reciprocal tension produce the particular, formal relation to the "stranger."
An alternative to Simmel's hypothesis is the historical case of Baruch Spinoza, the archetypal exile. A child of the Marrano community of Jews in Amsterdam, Holland, who were driven from Portugal and Spain in the 14th and 15th centuries, Spinoza was eventually excommunicated and expelled by the elders of the community. Banned as a heretic, Spinoza became an "exile within an exile." It was, however, a felix culpa since that became the condition of possibility for the composition of the magnificent Ethics, a space of redemption in which deus/natura becomes accessible to ordinary mortals provided they can cultivate a special form of rationality called scientia intuitiva. The "impure blood" of this "Marrano of Reason" affords us a created world of secular reason that, if we so choose, can become a permanent home for the diasporic intellect. Unfortunately, except for a handful of recalcitrant spirits, Filipinos have not yet discovered Spinoza's Ethics.
So where are we now in mapping this terra incognita of the nomadic monster, the deviant, the alien, the stranger?
We are unquestionably in the borderline, the hymen, the margin of difference that is constituted by that simultaneous absence and presence which Jacques Derrida was the first to theorize as a strategy of suspicion. It is, one might suggest, an epileptic seizure that is regularized, as the character of Prince Myshkin demonstrates. When asked by that unforgettable mother, Mrs. Yepanchin, what he wrote to her daughter Aglaya--a confession of need of the other person, a communication of desire for the other to be happy as the gist of the message, Prince Myshkin replied that when he wrote it, he had "great hopes." He explains: "Hopes--well, in short, hopes of the future and perhaps a feeling of joy that I was not a stranger, not a foreigner, there. I was suddenly very pleased to be back in my own country. One sunny morning I took up a pen and wrote a letter to her. Why to her, I don't know. Sometimes, you know, one feels like having a friend at one's side...."
Dear friend, where are you?
Since we are in the mode of a "rectification of names," a semantic interlude is appropriate here. Just as our current hermeneutic trend seeks etymologies and obsolete usages for traces of the itinerary of meanings, let us look at what Webster offers us for the word "exile": it means banished or expelled from one's native country or place of residence by authority, and forbidden to return, either for a limited time or for life; abandonment of one's country by choice or necessity. "The Exile" originally refers to the Babylonian captivity of the Jews in the 6th century BC.
The Latin exilium denotes banishment; the Latin exilis denotes slender, fine, thin; "exilition," now obsolete, "a sudden springing or leaping out." This "sudden springing or leaping out" offers room for all kinds of speculation on wandering strangers inhabiting borderlines, boundaries, frontiers, all manner of refusals and evasions. But the movement involved in exile is not accidental or happenstance; it has a telos underlying it. It implicates wills and purposes demarcating the beginning and end of movement. As Spinoza teaches us, everything can be grasped as modalities of rest and motion, of varying speed. Even here ambiguity pursues us: rest is relative to motion, motion to rest. If everyone is migrating, then who is the native and who the settler?
Another word should supplement "exile" and that is "migration." The movement from place to place that this word points to in one usage is quite circumscribed: it is the movement from one region to another with the change in seasons, as many birds and some fishes follow, e.g., "migratory locust," "migratory" worker: "one who travels from harvest to harvest, working until each crop is gathered or processed," to wit, the Filipino "Manongs" and their Mexican counterparts. The species of homo sapiens pursues the line of flight instinctively followed by bird and fish, but this calibration of the instinct itself is drawn by the rhythm of the seasons, by earth's ecological mutation. So exile betrays political will, while migration still obscures or occludes the play of secular forces by the halo of naturalness, the aura of cosmic fate and divine decree. The fate of Bulosan and compatriots of the "warm body export" trade today--all five million bodies--offers the kairos of an exemplum.
The life-history of the national hero Jose Rizal offers one viable paradigm for Filipino intellectuals in exile. When this leading anticolonial propagandist-agitator was banished to Dapitan, in the southern island of Mindanao, in 1892, he assured his family that "wherever I might go I should always be in the hands of God who holds in them the destinies of men." Despite this unabashed deistic faith, Rizal immediately applied himself to diverse preoccupations: horticulture, eye surgery, collecting butterflies for study, teaching, civic construction, composing a multilingual dictionary, and so on. He also maintained a voluminous correspondence with scientists and scholars in Europe and Manila. Even though the Spanish authorities were lenient, Rizal had no utopian illusions: "To live is to be among men, and to be among men is to struggle.... It is a struggle with them but also with one's self, with their passions, but also with one's own, with errors and with anxieties." The anguish of Rizal's exile was assuaged somewhat by his mistress, Josephine Bracken, an Irish Catholic from Hong Kong. But he could not deny that his being transported to Dapitan was demoralizing, given "the uncertainty of the future." This is why he seized the opportunity to volunteer his medical skills to the Spanish army engaged in suppressing the revolution in Cuba. Amplifying distance and alienation, he could resign himself to the demands of duty, of the necessity "to make progress through suffering." Fatalism and service to the cause of humanity coalesced to distinguish the ethos of this exile at a time when rumblings of popular discontent had not yet climaxed in irreversible rupture. When Rizal was executed in December 1896, the revolution had already exploded, concentrating scattered energies in the fight against a common enemy, first Spain and then the United States.
In the context of globalized capitalism today, the Filipino diaspora acquires a distinctive physiognomy and temper. It is a fusion of exile and migration: the scattering of a people, not yet a fully matured nation, to the ends of the earth, across the planet throughout the '60s and '70s, continuing up to the present. We are now a quasi-wandering people, pilgrims or prospectors staking our lives and futures all over the world--in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North and South America, in Australia and all of Asia, in every nook and cranny of this seemingly godforsaken earth. No one yet has performed a "cognitive mapping" of these movements, their geometry and velocity, across national boundaries, mocking the carnivalesque borderland hallucinations glorified by academics of color.
Who cares for the Filipino anyway? Not even the Philippine government--unless compelled by massive demonstrations of anger at the execution of Flor Contemplacion in Singapore. We are a nation in search of a national-democratic sovereign state that will care for the welfare of every citizen. When Benigno Aquino was killed, the slogan "the Filipino is worth dying for" became fashionable for a brief interval between the calamity of the Marcos dictatorship and the mendacity of Corazon Aquino's rule. But today Filipinos are dying--for what?
In 1983 alone, there were 300,000 Filipinos in the Middle East. I met hundreds of Filipinos, men and women, in the city park in Rome, in front of the train station, during their days off as domestics and semi-skilled workers. I met Filipinos hanging around the post office in Tripoli, Libya in 1980. And in trips back and forth I've met them in London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, and of course everywhere in the United States--a dispersed nationality, perhaps a little better than Philip Vera Cruz and his compatriots during the '30s and '40s, field hands and laborers migrating from harvest to harvest from California through Oregon to Washington and Alaska. A whole people dispersed, displaced, dislocated. A woman from Negros watched her husband flying to Saudi Arabia in 1981: "Even the men cry on leaving and cling to their children at the airport. When the airplane lifted off, I felt as though my own body was being dislocated." Like birthpangs, the separation of loved ones generates a new experience, a nascent "structure of feeling," for which we have not yet discovered the appropriate plots, rhetorical idioms, discursive registers, and architectonic of representation. Indeed, this late-capitalist diaspora demands a new language and symbolism for rendition. As narrative? or as spectacle?
The cult hero of postcolonial postmodernity, Salman Rushdie, offers us a harvest of ideas on this global phenomenon in his novel, Shame. The migrant has conquered the force of gravity, Rushdie writes, the force of belonging; like birds, he has flown. Roots that have trammelled and tied us down have been torn. The conservative myth of roots (exile, to my mind, is a problem of mapping routes, not digging for roots) and gravity has been displaced by the reality of flight, for now to fly and to flee are ways of seeking individual freedom:
When individuals come unstuck from their native land, they are called migrants. When nations do the same thing (Bangladesh), the act is called secession. What is the best thing about migrant peoples and seceded nations? I think it is their hopefulness. Look into the eyes of such folk in old photographs. Hope blazes undimmed through the fading sepia
tints. And what's the worst thing? It is the emptiness of one's luggage. I'm speaking of invisible suitcases, not the physical, perhaps cardboard, variety containing a few meaning-drained mementoes: we have come unstuck from more than land. We have floated upwards from history, from memory, from Time.
Rushdie finds himself caught not only in the no-man's-land between warring territories, but also between different periods of time. He considers Pakistan a palimpsest souvenir dreamed up by immigrants in Britain, its history written and rewritten, insufficiently conjured and extrapolated. Translated into a text, what was once a homeland becomes a product of the imagination. Every exile or deracinated subaltern shares Rushdie's position, or at least his invented habits: "I, too, like all migrants, am a fantasist. I build imaginary countries and try to impose them on the ones that exist. I, too, face the problem of history: what to retain, what to dump, how to hold on to what memory insists on relinquishing, how to deal with change."
And so this is the existential dilemma. For all those forced out of one's homeland--by choice of necessity, it doesn't really make a difference--the vocation of freedom becomes the act of inventing the history of one's life, which is equivalent to founding and inhabiting that terra incognita which only becomes known, mapped, named as one creates it partly from memory, partly from dream, partly from hope. Therefore the stranger is the discoverer of that region which becomes home in the process whose termination coincides with the life of the planet Earth, or with our galaxy.
At this juncture, we can also learn from the mentor of the Palestinian diaspora, Edward Said, who has poignantly described the agon of exile. Caught in medias res and deprived of geographical stability or continuity of events, the Palestinian narrator of the diaspora has to negotiate between the twin perils of fetishism and nostalgia:
Intimate mementoes of a past irrevocably lost circulate among us, like the genealogies and fables severed from their original locale, the rituals of speech and custom. Much reproduced, enlarged, thematized, embroidered and passed around, they are strands in the web of affiliations we Palestinians use to tie ourselves to our identity and to each other...We endure the difficulties of dispersion without being forced (or able) to struggle to change our circumstances.... Whatever the claim may be that we make on the world--and certainly on ourselves as people who have become restless in the fixed place to which we have been assigned--in fact our truest reality is expressed in the way we cross over from one place to another. We are migrants and perhaps hybrids in, but not of, any situation in which we find ourselves. This is the deepest continuity of our lives as a nation in exile and constantly on the move.... .
Said's hermeneutic strives to decipher the condition of exile as the struggle to recover integrity and reestablish community not in any viable physical location but in the space of cultural production and exchange. Despite its cogency and the eloquence of its truth-bearing signs, Said's discourse can only articulate the pathos of a select few.
We Filipinos need a cartography and a geopolitical project for the masses in diaspora, not for the elite in exile. Many of our fellow expatriates, however, are obsessed with beginnings.
Speaking of who arrived here first on this continent, our "born-again" compatriots are celebrating the first men from the archipelago who landed one foggy morning of October 21, 1587 at Morro Bay, California. These sailors from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Buena Esperanza were of course colonial subjects, not "Filipinos," a term that in those days only referred to Spaniards born in the Philippines (in contrast to the Peninsulars, those born in the European metropolis). But no matter, they have become symbolic of the renewed search for identity.
Such "roots" seem to many a prerequisite for claiming an original and authentic identity as a people. After all, how can the organic community grow and multiply without such attachments? Margie Talaugon of the Filipino American Historical National Society points to Morro Bay as the spot "where Filipino American history started" (Sacramento Bee, 19 May 1996). If so, then it started with the Spaniards expropriating the land of the Indians for the Cross and the Spanish crown. Under the command of Pedro de Unamuno, "a few Luzon Indians" acting as scouts (because of their color) accompanied the exploring party into the California interior until they were set upon by the natives who failed to correctly interpret their offerings. In the skirmish born of misrecognition, one Filipino lost his life and Unamuno withdrew. Other expeditions followed--all for the purpose of finding out possible ports along the California coast where galleons sailing from Manila to Acapulco could seek refuge in case of attack from pirates. When the Franciscan missionaries joined the troops from Mexico mandated to establish missions from San Diego to Monterey that would serve as way stations for the Manila galleons, Filipinos accompanied them as menials in colonizing Indian territory in what is now California.
Anxiety underlying the claim to be first in setting foot on the continent also accounts for the revival of interest in the "Manillamen." The rubric designates the Malay subjects of the archipelago who allegedly jumped ship off Spanish galleons and found their way into the bayous of Louisiana as early as 1765. In contrast to the early Luzon "Indians," these were rebels protesting brutal conditions of indenture; they were not knowing accomplices or accessories to colonial rampage. There is even a rumor that they signed up with the French buccaneer Jean Baptiste Lafitte and thus took part in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. These fugitives settled in several villages outside New Orleans, in Manila Village on Barataria Bay. They engaged chiefly in shrimp-fishing and hunting.
The most well-known settlement (circa 1825) was St. Malo which was destroyed by a hurricane in 1915 (Espina). The Filipino swamp settlers of St. Malo were memorialized by one of the first "Orientalists," Lafcadio Hearn, whose life-configuration appears as amphibious and rhizomatic as the transplanted Malays he sought to romanticize. Here is an excerpt from his article, "Saint Malo: A Lacustrine Village in Louisiana" (Harper's Weekly, 31 March 1883):
For nearly fifty years, there has existed in the southern swamp lands of Louisiana a certain strange settlement of Malay fishermen--Tagalas from the Philippine Islands. The place of their lacustrine village is not precisely mentioned upon maps, and the world in general ignored until a few days ago the bare fact of their amphibious existence. Even the United States mail service has never found its way thither, and even the great city of New Orleans, less than a hundred miles distant, the people were far better informed about the Carboniferous Era than concerning the swampy affairs of the Manila village....
Out of the shuddering reeds and grass on either side rise the fantastic houses of the Malay fishermen, poised upon slender support above the marsh, like cranes watching for scaly prey.... There is no woman in the settlement, nor has the treble of a female voice been heard along the bayou for many a long year....How, then, comes it that in spite of the connection with civilized life, the Malay settlement of Lake Borgne has been so long unknown? perhaps because of the natural reticence of the people....
What is curious is that Hearn, in another "take" of this landscape (in Times-Democrat, 18 March 1883), shifts our attention to the mood and atmosphere of the place in order to foreground his verbal artistry. The need to know these strange swampdwellers is now subsumed into the program of a self-indulgent aestheticising drive; the will to defamiliarize turns the inhabitants, the "outlandish colony of Orientals," into performers of fin-de-siecle decadence. Voyeurism feeds on invidious contrasts and innuendoes that weakly recall Baudelaire's worldly ennui:
Louisiana is full of mysteries and surprises. Within fifty miles of this huge city, in a bee line southwest, lies a place as wild and weird as the most fervent seekers after the curious could wish to behold,--a lake village constructed in true Oriental style, and equally worthy of prehistoric Switzerland or modern Malacca.... The like isolation of our Malay settlement is due to natural causes alone, but of a stranger sort. It is situated in a peculiarly chaotic part of the world, where definition between earth and water ceases,--an amphibious land full of quiverings and quagmires, suited rather to reptile life than to human existence,--a region wan and doubtful and mutable as that described in "The Passing of Arthur," where fragments of forgotten peoples dwell...a coast of ever shifting sand, and, far away, the phantom circle of a moaning sea.
...Nature, by day, seems to be afraid to speak in a loud voice there; she whispers only. And the brown Malays,--for ever face to face with her solitude,--also talk in low tones as through sympathy,--tones taught by the lapping of sluggish waters, the whispering of grasses, the murmuring of the vast marsh. Unless an alligator show his head;--then it is a shout of "Miro! cuidado!"
Since the voices captured are in Spanish, we know that these brown peoples have been Hispanized and estranged from their original surroundings. But never mind: the sounds blend with the other creatures of the bayous, a cacophony of organic life orchestrated by Hearn's precious craft. St. Malo's miasma is domesticated for the elegant French salons of New Orleans and the adjoining plantations. Unlike the foggy, damp and rainy Siberia of Chekhov's story "In Exile" (written in 1892), which becomes the site of epiphanic disclosures and cathartic confessions, Hearn's theater affords no such possibility. Old Semyon, Chekhov's choric observer, can demonstrate his toughness and fortitude all at once in the face of Czarist inhumanity: "Even in Siberia people can live--can li-ive!"
The repressed always returns, but in serendipitous disguise. Hearn would be surprised to learn that St. Malo's descendants, now in their eight generation, are alive and well, telling their stories, musing: "Well, if we don't know where we come from how do we know where we are going?" The indefatigable filmmaker Renee Tajima interviewed the Burtanog sisters in New Orleans and notes that "there are no mahjongg games and trans-Pacific memories here in the Burtanog household. The defining cultural equation is Five-card Stud and six-pack of Bud (Lite). The talk is ex-husbands, voodoo curses, and the complicated racial design of New Orleans society." Out of the mists exuding from Hearn's prose, the Burtanog sisters speak about anti-miscegnation and Jim Crow laws, the hierarchical ranking and crossing-over of the races in Louisiana. These exuberant women certainly do not belong to Bienvenido Santos' tribe of "lovely people"--a patronizing epithet--whose consolation is that they (like artists) presumably have ready and immediate access to the eternal verities. No such luck. Not even for internal exiles like Mikhail Bakhtin, Ann Akhmatova, Ding Ling, or for "beautiful" souls like Jose Garcia Villa.
Why this obsessive quest for who came first? Is precedence a claim to authenticity and autochtonous originality? What if we came last, not "fresh off the boats," clinging to the anchors or even floating on driftwood? Does this entitle us less to "citizenship" or the right to be here? Who owns this land, this continent anyway--the "natives" before the cartographer Amerigo Vespucci was recast as the name-giver to a whole continent?
In his semantic genealogy, Raymond Williams traces the etymology of "native" to the Latin nasci (to be born); nativus means innate, natural; hence, "naive" as artless and simple. After the period of conquest and domination, "native" became equivalent to "bondman" or "villein," born in bondage. This negative usage--the ascription of inferiority to locals, to non-Europeans-existed alongside the positive usage when applied to one's own place or person. Williams observes further: "Indigenous has served both as a euphemism and as a more neutral term. In English it is more difficult to use in the sense which converts all others to inferiors (to go indigenous is obviously less plausible than to go native). In French, however, indigenes went through the same development as English natives, and is now often replaced by autochtones."
We may therefore be truly naifs if we ignore the advent of United States power in Manila Bay (not Morro Bay) in 1898. This is the inaugural event that started the process of deracination, the primordial event that unfolded in the phenomena of pensionados and the recruits of the Hawaiian Sugar Plantation up to the "brain drain" of the seventies, the political opportunists who sought asylum during the Marcos dictatorship, and the present influx of this branch of the Filipino diaspora. To shift to the romance of the Spanish Galleons is to repress this birth of the Filipino in the womb of the imperial body, a birth which--to invoke the terms in which Petrarch conceived his exile as the physical separation from the mother's body--implies liberation. This is probably why Jose Marti, the revolutionary Cuban who lived in exile in the United States while Spain tyrannized over his motherland, spoke of living in the "belly of the beast."
Here the metaphor becomes fertile for all kinds of movements, of embarkations and departures. For Petrarch, "exile was the primary fantasy of discontinuity that allows the poet some relief from the tremendous anxiety he seemingly felt because of his 'belatedness'--that is, his exile." Petrarch was "wounded" by his Greek precursors; he resolved to heal the wound by conceiving the act of writing as a process of digestion, of engulfing, regurgitating, and absorption. We find analogous strategies of sublimation in Virgil, Dante, Gramsci in Prison Notebooks, and so on. This displacement of the original trauma, which assumed earlier Gnostic resonance as the imprisonment of the soul within the body, may perhaps explain the preponderance of oral and gustatory images, eating and digesting activities, in the fiction of Hagedorn, Zamora Linmark, and others.
Are Filipinos condemned to this fantasy of cannibalism as a means of compensation for the loss of the mother? Are we in perpetual mourning, unable to eject the lost beloved that is still embedded in the psyche and forever memorialized there? Are we, Filipinos scattered throughout the planet, bound to a repetition compulsion, worshipping fetishes (like aging veterans of some forgotten or mythical battle) that forever remind us of the absent, forgotten, and unrecuperated Others?
That is perhaps the permanent stance of the exile, the act of desiring what is neither here nor there. This paradigm is exemplified in the last speech of Richard Rowan, the writer-hero of James Joyce's Exiles, addressing Bertha but also someone else, an absent person: "I have wounded my soul for you--a deep wound of doubt which can never be healed. I can never know, never in this world. I do not wish to know or to believe. I do not care. It is not in the darkness of belief that I desire you. But in restless living wounding doubt. To hold you by no bonds, even of love, to be united with you in body and soul in utter nakedness--for this I longed." The quest for the mother as the cure for jealousy, for the illness accompanying the discovery that one cannot completely possess the body of the loved one (the mother-surrogates), is given an ironic twist by Joyce's meditation on women's liberation in his notes to Exiles: "It is a fact that for nearly two thousand years the women of Christendom have prayed to and kissed the naked image of one who had neither wife nor mistress nor sister and would scarcely have been associated with his mother had it not been that the Italian church discovered, with its infallible practical instinct, the rich possibilities of the figure of the Madonna."
Come now, are we serious in all these melancholy reflections? Was Jose Rizal indulging in this when, in exile at Dapitan, he was preoccupied not just with Josephine Bracken but with a thousand projects of cultivation, teaching, polemical arguments with his Jesuit mentors, correspondence with scholars in Europe, opthalmological practice, and so on? "What do I have to do with thee, woman?" Or Isabelo de los Reyes--our own socialist forebear--hurled not into the Heideggerian banality of our quotidian world but into the dark dungeon of Montjuich prison near Barcelona for his anarchist and subversive connections: was he troubled by porous and shifting boundaries? and that perchance he was not really inside but outside? Or for General Artemio Ricarte, self-exiled in Japan after the victory of the Yankee invaders, is imagining the lost nation a labor of mourning too?
Let us leave this topos of Freudian melancholia and ground our speculations on actual circumstances. Such postmodern quandaries concerning the modalities of displacement of time by space, of essences by contingencies, could not have budged the tempered will of Apolinario Mabini into acquiescence. A brilliant adviser to General Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the first Philippine Republic, the captured Mabini refused to swear allegiance to the sovereign power of the United States. This "sublime paralytic" conceived deportation as a crucible of his insurrectionary soul. Intransigent, he preferred the challenge of physical removal to Guam where he was incarcerated for two years. Contemplating from the shores of Guam the remote islands of las islas Filipinas across the Pacific Ocean, Mabini felt that we needed to bide our time because surrender/defeat was not compromise but a strategy of waiting for the next opportunity. He envisioned a long march, a protracted journey, toward emancipation. One can only surmise that Mabini's shrewd and proud spirit was able to endure the pain of banishment because he was busy forging in his mind "the conscience of his race," writing his memoirs of the revolution, his cunning deployed to bridge the distance between that melancholy island and the other godforsaken islands he was not really able to leave.
Exile then is a ruse, a subterfuge of the temporarily weak subaltern against the master. It is a problem of deploying time against space--the classic guerilla stratagem against superior firepower. It is the cunning of conviction, of hope. We have a replay of Hegel's choreography of master and slave in a new context. Long before Foucault and Michel de Certeau came around to elaborate the performance of everyday resistance, Bertolt Brecht had already explored in his Lehrstucke the theme of Schweikian evasions and underminings. The moment of suspended regularity, the interruption of the normal and habitual, becomes the occasion to vindicate the sacrifices of all those forgotten, invisible, silenced. In Peter Weiss' play Trotsky in Exile, in the scene before his execution, Trotsky expresses this hope amid setbacks, defeats, losses of all kinds: "I can't stop believing in reason, in human solidarity.... Failures and disappointments can't stop me from seeing beyond the present defeat to a rising of the oppressed everywhere. This is no Utopian prophecy. It is the sober prediction of a dialectical materialist. I have never lost my faith in the revolutionary power of the masses. But we must be prepared for a long fight. For years, maybe decades, of revolts, civil wars, new revolts, new wars." In times of emergency, Trotsky's waiting in exile proves to be the time of pregnancy, of gestation and the emergence of new things.
After the Jewish diaspora in the sixth century B.C., the captivity in Babylon...now we have the Palestinians, deprived of their native habitat, finally on the way, in transit, to--we don't know yet. A nation-state: is that the harbor, the terminal, of the passage from darkness to light? Unless the transnational bourgeoisie conspire together in this postCold War era of inter-capitalist rivalry, I hazard that after so much sacrifices the new social formation will not be a simple mimicry of the bourgeois nation-state. Let us hope so. For so many years after World War II, the Palestinians were the "wandering Jews," also known as "terrorists" by their enemies. One of the most eloquent poets of this diaspora, Fawaz Turki, described how Palestinians in exile signify to "the transcendence...in the banal," how they agonized "over who is really in exile:/they or their homeland,/who left who/who will come back to the/other first/where will they meet...." Exiles are like lovers then who yearn not for homecoming but for a meeting, another tryst, the long-awaited encounter and reunion. At first, the land was the loved one; later on, the land metamorphoses into events, places, encounters, defeats and victories.
For Edward Said, however, exile is the space of the "extraterritorial" where the Baudelairean streetwalker of modernity finally arrives. Said celebrates exile with a vengeance. In After the Last Sky, he recognizes the pain, bitter sorrow, and despair but also the unsettling and decentering force of the exile's plight, its revolutionary potential. Even though Said believes that "the pathos of exile is in the loss of contact with the solidity and the satisfaction of earth: homecoming is out of the question," he seems to counterpoint to it a Gnostic, even neoPlatonic, response by invoking Hugh of St. Victor, a twelfth-century monk from Saxony:
It is, therefore, a source of great virtue for the practiced mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about in visible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be able to leave them behind altogether. The person who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong person has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.
But this asceticism may be culture-bound, or it may be peculiar to a continental mentality overshadowed by surrounding mountains. Like our brothers in the Caribbean, we Filipinos are archipelagic creatures trained to navigate treacherous waters and irregular shoals. Our epistemic loyalty is to islands with their distinctive auras, vibrations, trajectory, faultlines. John Fowles is one of the few shrewd minds who can discern the difference between the continental and the archipelagic sensorium: "Island communities are the original alternative societies. That is why so many islanders envy them. Of their nature they break down the multiple alienations of industrial and suburban man. Some vision of Utopian belonging, of social blessedness, of an independence based on cooperation, haunts them all."
With this Utopian motif, we may recall Shevek in Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed for whom exile is the symbol for inhabiting an unfinished, incomplete world where fulfillment (happiness, reunion, homecoming) is forever postponed. This sustained deferral is what exile means: "There was process: process was all. You could go in a promising direction or you could go wrong, but you did not set out with the expectation of ever stopping anywhere." Meanwhile, consider the fate of partisans of the South African struggle now allowed re-entry into their homeland. Exile for them always entailed a return to exercise the rights of reclamation and restitution. Yet when the "rendezvous of victory" arrived in 1992, we find "translated persons" and partisans of metissage at the entry points. Commenting on Bessie Head's achievement, Rob Nixon considers the exiles as an invaluable asset for the construction of a new South Africa: "Reentering exiles should thus be recognized as cross-border creations, incurable cultural misfits who can be claimed as a resource, rather than spurned as alien, suspect, or irrelevant."
Toward the predicament of uprooting, one can assume polarized stances. One is the sentimental kind expressed poignantly by Bienvenido Santos: "All exiles want to go home. Although many of them never return, in their imagination they make their journey a thousand times, taking the slowest boats because in their dream world time is not as urgent as actual time passing, quicker than arrows, kneading on their flesh, crying on their bones." The other is the understated, self-estranged gesture of Bertolt Brecht. Driven from Europe by Hitler's storm-troopers, the pathbreaking dramatist found himself a refugee, neither an expatriate nomad nor border-crossing immigrant. Crossing the Japanese Sea, he watched "the grayish bodies of dolphins" in the gaiety of dawn. In "Landscape of Exile," Brecht cast himself in the role of the fugitive who "beheld with joy...the little horsecarts with gilt decorations / and the pink sleeves of the matrons / in the alleys of doomed Manila." Situated on the edge of disaster, he discovered that the oil derricks, the thirsty gardens of Los Angeles, the ravines and fruit market of California "did not leave the messenger of misfortune unmoved." By analogy, were the Pinoys and other Asians at the turn of the century messengers of a messianic faith, underwriting visions of apocalypse long before Brecht sighted the coast of the North American continent?
From these excursions into delinquent and wayward paths, we return to the idea of transit, passage, a movement of reconaissance in search of a home everywhere, that is, wherever materials are available for building a shelter for work and community. This may be the ultimate philosophical mission in our time whose most provocative and poignant prophet is John Berger. Berger's meditations on home, migration, and exile in And our faces, my heart, brief as photos deserve careful pondering. By way of provisional conclusion to these notes, I can only summarize a few of his insights on the complex phenomenology of exile here.
You can never go home again, Thomas Wolfe counseled us. But what do you mean by home? we respond. Berger speculates on what happens after the loss of home when the migrant leaves, when the continuity with the ancestral dead is broken. The first substitute for the lost, mourned object (kins, home) is passionate erotic love which transcends history. Romantic love unites two displaced persons, linking beginnings and origins, because it pre-dates experience and allows memory and imagination free play. Such passion inspired the project of completing what was incomplete, of healing the division of the sexes--a substitute for homecoming. But romantic love, like religion and the sacramental instinct, has suffered attenuation and transmogrification in the modern world of secular rationality. It has been displaced by commodity-fetishism, the cash-nexus, and the cult of simulacras and spectacles. Meanwhile, Berger expounds on the other alternative historical hope of completion:
Every migrant knows in his heart of hearts that it is impossible to return. Even if he is physically able to return, he does not truly return, because he himself has been so deeply changed by his emigration. It is equally impossible to return to that historical state in which every village was the center of the world. One hope of recreating a center is now to make it the entire earth. Only world-wide solidarity can transcend modern homelessness. Fraternity is too easy a term; forgetting Cain and Abel, it somehow promises that all problems can be soluble. In reality many are insoluble--hence the never-ending need for solidarity.
Today, as soon as very early childhood is over, the house can never again be home, as it was in other epochs. This century, for all its wealth and with all its communication systems, is the century of banishment. Eventually perhaps the promise, of which Marx was the great prophet, will be fulfilled, and then the substitute for the shelter of a home will not just be our personal names, but our collective conscious prsernce in history, and we will live again at the heart of the real. Despite everything, I can imagine it.
Meanwhile, we live not just our own lives but the longings of our century.
Revolution, then, is the way out through history. It is Walter Benjamin's Jetzt-Zeit, Now-Time, that will blast the continuum of reified history. It is an ever-present apocalypse whose presiding spirit in the past, Joachim da Fiore, finds many incarnations in the present: for one, the Filipino overseas contract worker and his unpredictable, unlicensed peregrinations. Meanwhile look, stranger, on this planet Earth belonging to no single individual, our mother whom no one possesses. We find solidarity with indigenous peoples an inexhaustible source of comfort, inspiration, and creative renewal. The aboriginal Indians, dispossessed of their homelands and victimized by those merchants--agents of Faust and Mephistopheles--obsessed by private ownership and solitary hedonism, express for us also what I think can be the only ultimate resolution for human exile and diaspora: "We and the earth, our mother, are of one mind."
Zygmunt Bauman, "From Pilgrim to Tourist--or a Short History of Identity," in Questions of Cultural Identity, eds. Stuart Hall and Paul Du Gay (London: Sage, 1996), 18-36.
Cesar Vallejo, Selected Poems (New York: Penguin, 1976), 5.
Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 83.
Georg Simmel, "The Stranger," in Race, Ethnicity, and Social Change, ed. John Stone (North Scituate, Mass: Duxbury Press, 1977), 14. All references to Simmel's essay is to this text.
Paul Gilroy, "It Ain't Where You're From, It's Where You're At": The Dialectics of Diasporic Identification," Third Text (1990): 3-16.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1971).
Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (New York: McGraw Hill, 1974).
Yirmiyahu Yovel, Spinoza and Other Heretics: The Marrano of Reason (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).
Benedict Spinoza, A Spinoza Reader, ed. Edwin Curley (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994).
Leon Ma. Guerrero, The First Filipino: A Biography of Jose Rizal (Manila: Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, 1969).
Salman Rushdie, Shame (New York: Vintage, 1983), 91.
Quoted in Glenn Bowman, " 'A Country of Words': Conceiving the Palestinian Nation from the Position of Exile," in The Making of Political Identities, ed. Ernesto Laclau (London: Verso, 1994), 138-170.
Lorraine Jacobs Crouchett, Filipinos in California: From the Days of the Galleons to the Present (Cerritos: Downey Place Publishing House, Inc., 1982).
Quoted in Edward Larocque Tinker, Lafcadio Hearn's American Days (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1970 ), 171. Lafcadio Hearn's article, "St. Malo Story" first appeared in Harper's Weekly (31 March 1883) and appears in Jim Zwick's WEB pages: http://www.rochester.ican.net/~fjzwick/centennial/fil-am.html.
Anton Chekhov, "In Exile," in Anton Chekhov's Short Stories (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1979), 96.
Renee Tajima, "Site-seeing through Asian America: On the Making of Fortune Cookies," in Mapping Multiculturalism, eds. Avery Gordon and Christopher Newfield (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 270-71.
Raymond Williams, Keywords (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 215-16.
Dolora Wojciehowski, "Petrarch's Temporal Exile and the Wounds of History," in The Literature of Emigration and Exile, eds. James Whitlark and Wendell Aycock (Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University, 1972), 19-20.
James Joyce, Exiles (New York: Viking, 1951), 112.
William Henry Scott, Cracks in the Parchment Curtain (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1982).
Apolinario Mabini, "The Struggle for Freedom," in Filipino Nationalism, ed. Teodoro Agoncillo (Quezon City: R.P. Garcia Publishing Co., 1974, reprinted 1984).
Peter Weiss, Trotsky in Exile (New York: Pocket Books, 1973), 156.
Fawaz Turki, Tel Zaatar Was the Hill of Thyme (Washington DC: Free Palestine Press, 1978), 20-21.
Quoted in Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 335.
John Fowles, Islands (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1978), 17.
Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed (New York: Avon, 1975), 268.
Rob Nixon, "Refugees and Homecomings: Bessie Head and the End of Exile," in Late Imperial Culture, ed. Roman de la Campa, E. Ann Kaplan, and Michael Sprinker (London: Verso, 1995), 163.
38 John Berger, And our faces, my heart, brief as photos (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 11-12.
Bienvenido Santos, "Words from a Writer in Exile," in Asian Writers on Literature and Justice, ed. Leopoldo Yabes (Manila: Philippine PEN Center, 1982), 11.
Bertolt Brecht, Poems (New York: Methuen, 1976), 363-64.
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (New York: Schocken, 1968). See also Henri Desroches, The Sociology of Hope (London: Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1979; and Ernst Bloch, Natural Law and Human Dignity (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986).
Posted by Sonny San Juan at 3:19 PM
ni E. San Juan, Jr.
Niligawan kita sa harap ng dyukbaks….
Haiskul pa ako noon, barkada ko’y nagbabad sa isang bar sa Blumentritt….
Lubhang maalikabok ang boses mo—
“You don’t have to say you love me….”
Kidlat, hindi ito mabangong bangungot!
Sa imburnal sumisingaw ang paos na dasal ng mga uwak
tinutukso ang binging komposer ng EROICA--
Sa labi ni Ginger Spice dumudungaw
ang bagwis ng langay-langayan
“left only with a memory….”
Naku, anong asim—
Naligaw na tinig ay isang mainit na daliring kumikiliti sa aking pilipisan—
buntong-hiningang bumabangon sa panaginip
(Sinong sasagip ngayon sa mga nabaon sa Payatas?)
Alikabok sa tagsibol ng ating kabataan
nalulusaw sa erotikang bibig ni Dusty
Kidlat, tahimik ang alingawngaw ng kulog--
“you don’t have to say….”
Unti-unting umaagos mula sa imburnal:
mga taludtod na nilagas sa lalamunan ni Vladimir Mayakovsky—
awit na hindi madinig ng nanliligaw na makata
sa isang bar sa Pasay noong 1953
habang humihigop ng salabat
sa panahon ng rebelyon ng mga Huk at digmaan sa Korea—
Ang apoy ng himagsikan noon
ay sinag lamang ng neyong dagitab sa mga putahan.
Naligaw ako sa paggunita kay Dusty Springfield—“You don’t have to say….”
birheng nililigawan ng mga bugaw….
Habang nagagalak sa paglunsad ng mga Pulang Hukbo
ng bagong istratehiya sa pananakop sa lungsod ng mga pasista
habang sila’y nahihimbig sa uyayi ng
mababangong bangungot ng terorismong istetsayd….
Paalam, Dusty…. Nabuwag na ang bar sa Pasay…. Naligaw ang nanliligaw
sa dalampasigan ng iba’t ibang bansa
sa Kanluran at Hilaga…. Ay, naku, kailang umaga kaya tayo gigisingin
ng mga puting buwitre
at maputlang uwak?
Posted by Sonny San Juan at 2:24 PM
POLITIKA NG KASAYSAYAN
Narito ang isang taong namumulot ng panggatong sa siga
Doon nama’y isang masayang tumutugtog ng gitara
(Patay ka, bata ka!)
Umiindak sa musika habang nakabilad sa darang ng siga—
Maligayang nilikhang walang alalahanin habang naglalaro
(Oy, pwede ba, pambihira ka naman)
Dito ang manggagawang pawisan sa paglikom ng panggatong sa siga
(Makulit ka talaga, Oy, naku)
Nilalang na nagbanat ng buto, nakagulapay, ngunit walang naranasang
ligaya o init sa gitarang kinakalabit….
ISANG EKSENA MULA SA LAS VEGAS, NEVADA (13 Enero 2006)
Kababasa ko pa lamang ng nangyaring paglapastangan kay Magdalena Monteza sa Peru noong rehimen ni Presidente Fujimori—kung ilang ulit siya ginahasa’t binugbog—
“Ininis sa hukay ng dusa’t pighati”— Saglit akong nanood sa mga nagpipistang Amerikano sa “Strip” sa Las Vegas….
Anong tuwa ng mga tao sa tumitilampong tubig sa lawa ng Bellagio Casino, sa bulkang pumuputok sa MIRAGE, sa imitasyong gondola sa Venetian Hotel….
Walang muwang sa mga kalupitan ng CIA at U.S. tropang nanghihimasok sa buhay ng mga tao sa Peru, Colombia, Nepal, Pilipinas (sinong pumatay kina Ric Ramos, Diosdado Fortuno, Eden Marcellana, Rodante Bautista, Celia Esteban at di mabilang na biktima ng rehimeng Arroyo?)
Araw-araw, sa TV, ang pagpatay ng sundalong U.S. sa mga rebelde sa Irak at Afghanistan; araw-araw din ang awitan at sayawang burlesk sa Rio, Barbary Coast, Mandalay, Tropicana Casino—
“saan ipupukol ang itinangis-tangis”--
Totoong di ako tulad ni Dante na makapagsusudlong sa mga kontradiksyon.
Sa tulay sa Venetian, walang Beatrice na tutubos sa batok at tuhod ng makata. Walang anghel kundi isang ulilang putang umaaligid sa isang payasong naka-tuxedo, nagmumudmod ng play money at makulay na papel-de-bankgong huwad.
Binibining Magdalena Monteza, ipagdasal mo kami.
--ni E. San Juan, Jr.
Posted by Sonny San Juan at 2:14 PM
RE-VISITING THE SINGULARITY OF THE NATIONAL-DEMOCRATIC STRUGGLE IN THE PHILIPPINES
by E. San Juan, Jr.
Why is the United States planning to move its troops from Okinawa, Japan, to the Philippines and re-establish a military base in Mindanao larger than the former Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base even as it proves itself incapable of stemming the tide of exploding insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan?
When U.S. occupation troops in Iraq continued to suffer casualties every day after the war officially ended, academics and journalists began in haste to draw up “fillers” comparing their situation with those of troops in the Philippines during the Filipino-American War (1899-1902). A New York Times essay was titled “In 1901 Philipppines, Peace Cost More Lives Than Were Lost in War” (2 July 2003, B1)), while an article in the Los Angeles Times contrastedthe simplicity of McKinley’s “easy” goal of annexation (though at the cost of 4,234 U.S. soldiers killed and 3,000 wounded) with George W. Bush’s ambition to “create a new working democracy as soon as possible” (20 July 2003, M2). Reviewing the past is instructive, of course, but we should always place it in the context of present circumstances in the Philippines and in the international arena. What is the connection between the Philippines and the current U.S. war against terrorism?
Demonizing the Moros
With the death of Martin Burnham, the hostage held by Muslim kidnappers called the “Abu Sayyaf” in Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines, one would expect more than 1,200 American troops (including FBI and CIA personnel) training Filipinos for that rescue mission to be heading for home in late 2002. Instead of being recalled, reinforcements have been brought in and more joint military exercises announced in the future. Since September 11, 2001, U.S. media and Filipino government organs have dilated on the Abu Sayyaf’s links with Osama bin Laden. A criminal gang that uses Islamic slogans to hide its kidnapping-for-ransom activities, the Abu Sayyaf is a splinter group born out of the U.S. war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and used by the government to sow discord among the two insurgent organizations, the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Protected by local politicians and military officials, the Abu Sayyaf’s persistence betokens the complicated history of the centuries-long struggle of more than ten million Muslims in the Philippines for dignity, justice and self-determination.
What is behind the return of the former colonizer to what was once called its “insular territory” administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs? With Secretary Colin Powell’s decision to stigmatize as “terrorist” the major insurgent groups that have been fighting for forty years for popular democracy and independence—the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, part of a coalition called the National Democratic Front, the introduction of thousands of U.S. troops, weapons, logistics, and supporting personnel has become legitimate. More is involved than simply converting the archipelago to instant military bases and facilities for the U.S. military—a bargain exchange for the strategic outposts Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base that were scrapped by a resurgent Filipino nationalism a decade ago. With the Filipino military officials practically managing the executive branch of government, the Philippine nation-state will prove to be more an appendage of the Pentagon than a humdrum neocolony administered by oligarchic compradors (a “cacique democracy,” in the words of Benedict Anderson), which it has been since nominal independence in 1946. On the whole, Powell’s stigmatizing act is part of the New American Century Project to reaffirm a new pax Americana after the Cold War
Immediately after the proclaimed defeat of the Taliban and the rout of Osama bin Laden’s forces in Afghanistan, the Philippines became the second front in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Raymond Bonner, author of Waltzing with Dictators (1987), argues that the reason for this second front is “the desire for a quick victory over terrorism,… the wish to reassert American power in Southeast Asia….If Washington’s objective is to wipe out the international terrorist organizations that pose a threat to world stability, the Islamic terrorist groups operating in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir would seem to be a higher priority than Abu Sayyaf” (New York Times, 10 June 2002). Or those in Indonesia, a far richer and promising region in terms of oil and geopolitical considerations. As in the past, during the Huk rebellion in the Philippines in the Cold War years, the U.S. acted as “the world’s policemen,” aiding the local military in “civic action” projects to win “hearts and minds,” a rehearsal for Vietnam. The Stratfor Research Group believes that Washington is using the Abu Sayyaf as a cover for establishing a “forward logistics and operation base” in southeast Asia in order to be able to conduct swift pre-emptive strikes against enemies in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country with abundant natural resources, and in Malaysia, Vietnam, and China.
Overall, however, the intervention of U.S. Special Forces in solving a local problem inflamed Filipino historical memory still recovering from the nightmare of the U.S.-supported brutal Marcos dictatorship. What disturbed everyone was the Cold-War practice of “Joint Combined Exchange Training” exercises. In South America and Africa, such U.S. foreign policy initiatives merged with counter-insurgency operations that chanelled military logistics and equipment to favored regimes notorious for flagrant human rights violations. In Indonesia during the Suharto regime, for example, U.S. Special Operations Forces trained government troops accused by Amnesty International of kidnapping and torture of activists, especially in East Timor and elsewhere. In Colombia and Guatemala, as well as in El Salvador much earlier, the U.S. role in organizing death squads began with Special Operations Forces advisers who set up “intelligence networks”ostensibly against the narcotics trade but also against leftist insurgents and nationalists. During the Huk uprising in the Philippines, Col. Edward Lansdale, who later masterminded the Phoenix atrocities in Vietnam, rehearsed similar counter-insurgency techniques combined with other anticommunist tricks of the trade. Now U.S. soldiers in active combat side by side with Filipinos will pursue the “terrorists” defined by the U.S. State Department—guerillas of the New People’s Army, Moro resistance fighters, and other progressive sectors of Filipino society.
Pacification Without Tears?
Are we seeing American troops in the boondocks (bundok, in the original Tagalog, means “mountain”) again? Are we experiencing an attack of déjà vu? A moment of reflection returns us to what Bernard Fall called “the first Vietnam,” the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902, in which 1.4 million Filipinos and about five thousand Americans died. The campaign to conquer the Philippines was designed, according to president William McKinley, as a policy of “Benevolent Assimilation” of the uncivilized and unchristian natives, a “civilizing mission” that Mark Twain considered worthy of the Puritan settlers and the pioneers in the proverbial “virgin land.” In Twain’s classic prose: “Thirty thousand killed a million. It seems a pity that the historian let that get out; it is really a most embarrassing circumstance.” This was a realization of what the historian Henry Adams feared before Admiral George Dewey entered Manila Bay on 1 May 1898: “I turn green in bed at midnight if I think of the horror of a year’s warfare in the Philippines where…we must slaughter a million or two of foolish Malays in order to give them the comforts of flannel petticoats and electric trailways.”
In “Benevolent Assimilation”: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903 (1982), Stuart Creighton Miller recounts the U.S. military’s “scorched earth” tactics in Samar and Batangas, atrocities from “search and destroy” missions reminiscent of Song My and My Lai in Vietnam. This episode in the glorious history of Empire is usually a blank, or accorded a token paragraph in the textbooks. Miller does not deal at all adequately with the U.S. attempt to subjugate the unconquered Moros, the Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao and Sulu islands. In March 9, 1906, four years after President Theodore Roosevelt declared the war over, Major General Leonard Wood, commanding five hundred and forty soldiers, killed a beleaguered group of six hundred Muslim men, women and children in the battle of Mount Dajo. A less publicized but horrific battle occurred on June 13, 1913, when the Muslim sultanate of Sulu mobilized about 5,000 followers (men, women and children) against the American troops led by Capt. John Pershing. The battle of Mount Bagsak, 25 kilometers east of Jolo City, ended with the death of 340 Americans and of 2,000 (some say 3000) Moro defenders. Pershing was true to form—earlier he had left a path of destruction in Lanao, Samal Island, and other towns where localresidents resisted his incursions. Anyone who resisted U.S. aggression was either a “brigand” or seditious bandit. The carnage continued up to the “anti-brigandage” campaigns of the first two decades which suppressed numerous peasant revolts, including the tragic Sakdal uprising during the Philippine Commonwealth.
With the help of the U.S. sugar-beet lobby, the Philippine Commonwealth of 1935 was established, a compromise mix of procedures then being tried on Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hawaii; the islands became a model of a pacified neocolony. Except perhaps for Miller’s aforementioned book, Michael Salman’s The Embarrassment of Slavery (2001), and some scholarly articles, nothing much about the revealing effects of that colonial subjugation of the Philippines have registered in the American Studies archive. This is usually explained by the fact that the U.S. did not follow the old path of European colonialism, and its war against Spain was pursued to liberate the natives from Spanish tyranny. It signaled the advent of a modernizing U.S. humanitarian interventionism whose latest manifestation, in a different historical register, is George W. Bush’s “National Security Strategy” of “exercising self-defense [of the Homeland] by acting preemptively.”
The revolutionary upsurge in the Philippines against the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) stirred up dogmatic Cold War complacency. With the inauguration of a new stage in Cultural Studies in the nineties, the historical reality of U.S. imperialism (the genocide of Native Americans is replayed in subjugation of the inhabitants of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba) is finally being excavated and re-appraised. But this is, of course, a phenomenon brought about by a confluence of multifarious events, among them: the demise of the Soviet Union as a challenger to U.S. hegemony; the sublation of the Sixties in both Fukuyama’s “end of history” and the interminable “culture wars,” the Palestininan intifadas; the Zapatista revolt against NAFTA; the heralding of current anti-terrorism by the Gulf War; and the fabled “clash of civilizations.”
Despite these changes, the old frames of intelligibility have not been modified or reconfigured to understand how nationalist revolutions in the colonized territories cannot be confused with the nationalist patriotism of the dominant or hegemonic metropoles, or how the mode of U.S. imperial rule in the twentieth century differs in form and content from those of the British or French in the nineteenth century. The received consensus of a progressive modernizing influence from the advanced industrial powers remains deeply entrenched. Even postcolonial and postmodern thinkers commit the mistake of censuring the decolonizing projects of the subalternized peoples because these projects (in the superior gaze of these thinkers) have been damaged, or are bound to become perverted into despotic postcolonial regimes, like those in Ghana, Algeria, Vietnam, the Philippines, and elsewhere. The only alternative, it seems, is to give assent to the process of globalization under the aegis of the World Bank/IMF/WTO, and hope for a kind of “benevolent assimilation.”
What remains to be carefully considered, above all, is the historical specificity or singularity of each of these decolonizing projects or national liberation movements, their class composition, historical roots, programs, ideological tendencies, and political agendas within the context of colonial/imperial domination. It is not possible to pronounce summary judgments on the character and fate of nationalist movements in the peripheral formations without focusing on the complex manifold relations between colonizer and colonized, the dialectical interaction between their forces as well as others caught in the conflict. Otherwise, the result would be a disingenuous ethical utopianism such as that found in Hardt and Negri’s Empire which, in the final analysis, functions as an apology for the ascendancy of the transnational corporate powers embedded in the nation-states of the North, and for the hegemonic rule of the only remaining superpower at present.
The Philippine Example
The case of the national-democratic struggle in the Philippines may be taken as an example of one historic singularity. Because of the historical specificity of the Philippines’ emergence as a dependent nation-state controlled by the United States in the twentieth century, nationalism as a mass movement has always been defined by events of anti-imperialist rebellion. U.S. conquest entailed long and sustained violent suppression of the Filipino revolutionary forces for decades.
The central founding “event” (as the philosopher Alain Badiou would define the term) is the 1896 revolution against Spain together with the Filipino-American war of 1899-1902, with the Moro resistance up to 1914 against U.S. colonization anticipating today’s Muslim separatist movement. Corollary to those events are the Sakdal uprising in the thirties during the Commonwealth period and the Huk uprising in the forties and fifties with the founding of the neocolonial nation-state in 1946. While the feudal oligarchy and the comprador class under U.S. patronage ulitized elements of the nationalist tradition formed in 1896-1898 as their ideological weapon for establishing hegemony, their attempts have never been successful.
Propped by the Pentagon-supported military, the Arroyo administration today, for example, uses the U.S. slogan of democracy against terrorism and the promises of the neoliberal free market to legitimize its continued exploitation of workers, peasants, women and ethnic minorities. Following a long and tested tradition of grassroots mobilization, Filipino nationalism has always remained centered on the peasantry’s demand for land closely tied to the popular-democratic demand for equality and genuine sovereignty.
For over a century now, U.S.-backed developmentalism and modernization have utterly failed in the Philippines. The resistance against globalized capital and its neoliberal extortions is spearheaded today by a national-democratic mass movement of various ideological persuasions. There is also a durable Marxist-led insurgency which seeks to articulate the “unfinished revolution” of 1896 in its demand for national independence against U.S. control and social justice for the majority of citizens (80 million) ten percent of whom are now migrant workers abroad. Meanwhile, the Muslim community in the southern part of the Philippines initiated its armed struggle for self-determination during the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) and continues today as a broadly based movement for autonomy, despite the Islamic ideology of its teacher-militants. Recalling the genocidal U.S. campaigns cited above, the BangsaMoro nationalism cannot forget its Muslim singularity which is universalized in the principles of equality, justice, and the right to self-determination.
In the wake of past defeats of peasant revolts, the Filipino culture of nationalism constantly renews its anti-imperialist and decolonizing energy by mobilizing new forces (women and church people in the sixties, and the indigenous or ethnic minorities in the seventies and eighties). It is organically embedded in emancipatory social and political movements whose origin evokes in part the Enlightenment narrative of sovereignty as mediated by third-world nationalist movements (Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh, Mao) but whose sites of actualization are the local events of mass insurgency against continued U.S. political, economic and military hegemony. The Philippines as an “imagined” and actually experienced ensemble of communities (Christian, Muslim, secular, etc.) remains in the process of being constructed primarily through modes of political and social resistance against corporate transnationalism and its technologically mediated ideologies, fashioning thereby the appropriate cultural forms of dissent, resistance, and subversion.
Specificities of Decolonization
As a late-modern phenomenon, nationalism exhibits polymorphous forms and so resists abstract universalizing definition. A recent study by Michael Lowy, Fatherland or Mother Earth? (London, 1998), has cogently demonstrated the need to apply a historically determinate analytic (especially the imperative of historical specificity) in ascertaining the contradictory trends in various manifestations of nationalism if we want to avoid fallacious transferences and unmediated predications of one species (e.g., communalist, fundamentalist, racist nationalisms) on multiple others (e.g., civic, popular-democratic, anti-imperialist).
Because of the historical specificity of the Philippines’ emergence as a dependent formation controlled by the United States in the twentieth century, Filipino nationalism grounds its popular and democratic impulses on the anti-colonial revolution against Spain in 1896-1898. This central event of the nationalist movement evolved into the Filipino-American war of 1899-1902, articulated with the Moro resistance up to 1914 and beyond against U.S. genocidal aggression. Its anti-imperialist substance thus provides it a radical internationalist perspective.
Right from the start, then, anti-imperialist nationalism informed by secular democratic and socialist principles may be discerned in such developments as the Sakdal peasant revolt in the thirties and the popular Huk uprising in the forties and fifties. The neocolonial client state (from 1946 up to the present) came into existence only by a revision of the Philippine Constitution unprecedented in the whole world: U.S. citizens enjoyed the same rights as Filipinos to exploit the country’s natural resources. Mandated by ratified treaties and agreements, the U.S. maintained numerous military bases and installations, as well as supplied and supervised (and continues to do so up to now) the government military and other police agencies that served its global “Cold War” strategy and its current agenda of a “new American century.”
Dialectical analysis can grasp the regressive uses of fragmentary motifs from the nationalist tradition by the landlord, comparador, and bureaucratic-capitalist classes under U.S. patronage. This oligarchy exploited the legacy of the 1896 revolution to try to establish their hegemony, but their attempts have failed—violence and other coercive means enabled a fragile legitimacy enough to earn U.N. recognition. Four instances of U.S. forcible intervention may be cited to prove dependency: the manipulation of Magsaysay populism against the Huks in the fifties; the support for the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986); the patronage of Corazon Aquino’s “total war” against the Muslims and the New People’s Army after the February 1986 insurrection; and its patronage of the Arroyo administration through foreign aid, military logistics, and the unlimited entry of U.S. troops presumably for carrying out the “war against terrorism.”
U.S.-backed developmentalism has utterly failed in the Philippines. The resistance against globalization and its neoliberal extortions is spearheaded today by a national-democratic mass movement with grassroots constituency. There is also a durable left-oriented insurgency which seeks to articulate the "unfinished revolution" of 1896 in its demand for genuine sovereignty against IMF/WB/WTO dikta, for equality and social justice for the majority of citizens (80 million) ten percent of whom are now migrant workers abroad due to economic backwardness at home. Filipino nationalism constantly renews its decolonizing energy by mobilizing new forces (women, church workers,, indigenous or ethnic minorities). It is organically embedded in emancipatory movements whose origin evokes in part the Enlightenment narrative of sovereignty as mediated by third-world left movements. Its sites of actualization are the local events of mass insurgency against continued U.S. domination. In effect, the Filipino “nation” remains in the process of being constructed primarily through diverse modes of opposition against corporate transnationalism, fashioning thereby the appropriate forms of cultural identity with a unique Filipino singularity open to solidarity and collaboration with the humanist, progressive struggles of people of color and working people around the world. --###
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
E. SAN JUAN, Jr. was recently visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and lecturer in seven universities in the Republic of China. He was previously Fulbright professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, fellow of the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University, and chair of the Department of Comparative American Cultures, Washington State University. Among his recent books are BEYOND POSTCOLONIAL THEORY (Palgrave), RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke University Press), and WORKING THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell University Press).
Posted by Sonny San Juan at 2:03 PM