Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Reflections on Postcolonial Theory, the Filipino Diaspora, and Contemporary Cultural Studies: Interview of E. San Juan, Jr.
By Mike Pozo
by St John's University Humanities Review, 1.3, April 2003
(conducted on Jan. 23, 2003 with Mike Pozo, Editor)
1. What is Post Colonial Theory and how do you use a Marxist perspective to critique it?
Based on the orthodox tenets laid out by Edward Said, Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak -- the "founding fathers" of this discursive territory, postcolonial theory seeks to explain the ambivalent and hybrid nature of subjects, their thinking and behavior, in the former colonies of the Western imperial powers, mainly the British Commonwealth societies. It seeks to prove that the colonial enterprise was not just a one-way affair of oppression and exploitation, but a reciprocal or mutual co- or inter-determination of both metropolitan master and "third world" subaltern.
Whatever the subtle differences among mainstream postcolonial critics, they all agree that colonialism, for all its terror and barbarism, presents a rhetorical and philosophical anomaly: the postcolonial subject as identical and different from the history textbook's portrayal of the submissive and silent victim of imperial conquest.. It claims to be more sophisticated or "profound" than the usual left or even liberal explanation of colonialism.
Obviously this is a riposte to the conventional view that imperialism produced the dehumanization, if not decimation, of colonized peoples. Not just marxists, but liberals and enlightened people generally subscribe to this view.
First of all, one should reject the "Cold War" view of marxism as equivalent to economistic determinism, stalinist tyranny, and the like. Marxism cannot be reduced to such inanities. Synoptically, the marxist critique is multi-leveled: first, postcolonialists obscure or erase historical determination in favor of rhetorical and linguistic idealization of the colonial experience; second, the postcolonialist mind refuses to be self-critical and assumes a self-righteous dogmatism that it is infallible and cannot be refuted; and third, the practical efffect of postcolonialist prejudice is the unwitting justification of, if not apology for, the continued neocolonialist -- "globalizing" is the trendy epithet -- depredation of non-Western peoples, in particular indigenous groups, women, and urban poor in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
In sum, postcolonialism rejects the historical-materialist critique of imperialism in favor of a highly suspicious and even demagogic claim to rescue the postcolonial subject from its own abject past. Have they succeeded? I doubt it. I find this kind of postcolonial theory an alibi for intellectual acquiescence to current hegemonic pieties.
2. Is Post Structuralism/Post Colonial Theory, in fact, ineffective for "third world" or "minority" critics of what you today call, neo-colonialism? Why? And what exactly is meant by Neo-Colonialism?
This question is an excellent posing of the strategic value of any theory purporting to advance the interests of those marginalized or subordinated by the global status quo. It can only be answered in terms of specific situations and protagonists.
Let me try a general answer. I should emphasize that my focus is on the orthodox brand of postcolonial theory that is safely marketed in the classrooms and scholarly conferences. Now, the postcolonial approach of Edward Said is to be distinguished from the scholastic verbal magic of Bhabha and Spivak for its clarity of historical reference and political thrust. Its resonance is clear: its critique of U.S. imperialist hegemony, esp. in the Middle East, cannot be doubted (although it is silent about "internal colonialism" in the U.S. itself). It has provided weapons for oppositional "minority" intellectuals. It has been useful in "conscienticizing" (Paulo Freire's term) a larger audience than those addressed by Derrida or Foucault.
But, to my mind, it is less post-structural or postcolonial idealization that drives Said's discourse; rather, it is his sensitive and informed understanding of neocolonialism as a political regime and behavioral pattern (or "habitus," to use Pierre Bourdieu's term) of continued dominance of nominally independent nation-states through neoliberal, transnational disguises, as mediated through the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization.
I understand neocolonialism as the domination of peoples and societies by capital (primarily Western, but including Japan) through the liberal market and other ideological means, not through direct political rule. It is the practice of exploitation and oppression of the majority of the world's laboring masses under the guise of democratic access to markets, the free flow of commodities, technology, ideas, bodies, and so on. We need to translate the abstraction "neocolonialism" into concrete empirical situations. We have to specify various neocolonialist practices in every region or place where the ascendancy off corporate transnational capital generates effects of misery, violations of human rights, rape, malnutrition, genocide, and so on. There are probably as many neocolonialisms as postcolonialisms. Contradictions produce opposites, the exploiter and his gravedigger, as the dialectic works its way remorselessly, through our own collective and individual actions.
         3. In your book Beyond Post Colonial Theory, you describe a possible alternative to this theory. By re-examining writers/revolutionaries in the "post colonial" world, do you find validity in Nationalist movements unlike say Edward Said and his role as a disaporic intellectual?
In arguing with orthodox postcolonialism, one has to operate on the same discursive terrain, unfortunately, just as Milton had to use the same Christian framework in trying to upset and subvert it from within. This is not a novel insight. It is, one might say, a law of dialectics.
My method is open to conflicting interpretations. Of course, my attempt to reaffirm the moment of national-liberation struggles within the postcolonial period can be grasped either as a repudiation of postcolonialism entirely, or a re-articulation of its original vision. In any case, I am not alone in doing this; my colleagues Benita Parry, Neil Lazarus, Neil Larsen and many others have accomplished this move brilliantly. I refer your readers to the recent volume edited by Crystal Bartolovich and Neil Lazarus entitled Marxism, Modernity and Postcolonial Studies.
Although I have criticized his inadequate views on marxism, I consider Edward Said's commitment on behalf of Palestinian self-determination -- a "nationalism" different from Arafat and the bourgeois elements -- as a progressive one that should be supported in the face of Israeli state terrorism. (Said's situation, of course, is very complex and cannot be discussed here in depth.) In this context, Said's status as a diasporic intellectual is very much defined by his actual political and ethical activities.
As for the nationalist thematic: One needs to be reminded again that the nationalist struggles of Puerto Ricans or Filipinos against U.S. imperialism is not the same as the nationalism of the PATRIOT ACT, of George W. Bush and the streamlined chauvinism underlying American Studies scholarship.
3.  Furthermore, in your most recent book Racism and Cultural Studies you speak about the "forced diaspora of migrant workers" and the "import of uneven and combined development globally" as further evidence of the futility or inability of Post Colonial Theory. Can you say more about this?
Insofar as mainstream postcolonial theory cannot explain, say, the phenomenon of 10 million Filipinos working abroad as "overseas contract workers," poorly paid, maltreated, raped and killed -- this observation also applies to Sri Lankans, Bangladeshi, Mexicans, and millions of Africans and Latin Americans -- then it is useless for any emancipatory politics. It will simply be an academic exercise to advance careers, and of course to reinforce ongoing plans for a war on Iraq, North Korea, and other societies deemed accomplices or accessories to the "axis of evil," in the words of the current "helmsman" of the only remaining superpower.
Please correct me if I am wrong: I don't see Bhabha or his numerous epigones and acolytes being too much disturbed by the current outrageous racist violence against Arab Americans, or anyone suspected of being linked to Osama bin Laden. In this moment of emergency, with "friendly fascism" rearing its head behind neoliberal slogans, there is a great opportunity for postcolonialists to demonstrate that they care, that they have historical efficacy and ethical conscience (which they celebrate at every chance they get).
But what I see, instead, is a call to return to aesthetics, to form, to the tired and empty cliches about humanism, which one would think has been laid to rest by the three decades of deconstruction, poststructuralist innovations, etc. Signs of the contradictory milieu we live in.
Unfortunately we've returned to the time of the terrible metanarrratives, this time the metanarrative of United States triumphalism.
4. Much of your work has dealt with Cultural Studies (CS), however, you're originally from a Literature background. Given the short-comings of Post Colonial theory, how would you conceive of a manner to study Literature from the perspectives of "third world" and "minority" readers, students and scholars?
I think this is being done gradually -- one can cite Paul Lauter's heroic attempt to diversify or democratize the U.S. literary canon, though it is by mechanical addition, less a thoroughgoing decentering of a monolithic and hegemonic exceptionalism. The numerous projects of transnationalization of American Studies, the fashionable conferences on postnationalism and cosmopolitanism, the continuing debates on multiculturalism -- these are all symptoms of the crisis of the old "common culture" dispensation. Everyone participating in the intellectual conversation on the transformation of the humanities is aware that there is no going back, that we need to be answerable and responsible.
However, the neoconservatives have temporarily won under the regime of the war on terrorism, don't you think? But they have not eliminated the contradictions, esp. the contradiction between labor and capital.
I believe literary study and scholarship can be reinvigorated through a comparative and interdisciplinary approach -- nothing radical, to be sure. Unfortunately, comparativist and interdisciplinary scholars still cling to a belief that their "civilization," in short, the liberal democracy based on private ownership and the exploitation of surplus value -- the liberalism of the market -- is the necessary foundation of all these revisions and changes in the academy. You can detect this in many oppositional critiques of current scholarship and intellectual fashions.
As long as one clings to this belief in private property and the right to exploit others -- the sacred rules of the free market -- any reform in literary or cultural studies will suffer from what Georg Lukacs has called "reification." In short, it is not just using a "third world" or minority perspective that is necessary or essential. For such "third world" mentality might just me mimicking consumerist values and habits, as they often do (I just visited the Philippines where "malling" is the prime occupation of millions, thanks to globalizing corporate blessings.)
First things first. What is needed is the overthrow of the "free market" rooted in inequality, private property, and hierarchy. That is the prerequisite to any genuine and creative transformation of the human sciences dedicated to the liberation of the spiritual and material energies of every individual on this endangered planet. I hope this is not to sound too prophetic or evangelical in the pejorative sense.
5. You have described U.S. nationalism as the "opium of the masses", could you elaborate on this?
The allusion here is of course to Marx's famous ambiguous quote on religion.
U.S. nationalism -- that the United States is superior to any society or that Western Civilization as embodied in the institutions of the U.S. has privileged position over others -- has operated as the means of exacting consent from the majority of citizens. Of course, it operates subtly. It does not proclaim itself as such. When anyone speaks of how U.S. representative democracy should be the pattern in other countries, there you have an example of the "opium" working.
In general, as many have noted, U.S. movies do it all the time, especially as the chief agency of propaganda -- education, if you feel that's too harsh a comment -- that exercises enormous influence on the consumers in the dependencies and peripheries. Now, just as Marx called religion "the opium of the masses," it has another side: it offers consolation, strength, hope of renewal in the interstices of civil society. Unfortunately, like drugs, the feeling of consolation doesn't last. Now, the postnationalist Americanists argue that this nationalism no longer exists. I wonder what they would say about the PATRIOT ACT and state measures after September 11? Are we postnationalist yet?
6. Can you describe the differences/similarities between U.S. nationalism and that of "third world" nationalism?
I already responded to this earlier. But this bears repeating: the most important criterion is whether the sense of national unity benefits the majority of laboring citizens, or this sense is utilized by the ruling class, a small minority of rich folks who control the business world, to promote their own profitmaking interests. There will always be group solidarity, it's a fact of sociality. But the question is: for what? What's the meaning of this togetherness and belonging?
As I said, the nationalism (if you can call the sovereignty struggle nationalist) of native Hawaiians, for example, cannot be equated with the nationalism of the white and/or Japanese elite in Hawaii. Nor can the nationalism of the Moral Majority, of Pat Buchanan and Cheney, be similar to the nationalism of the East Timorese, or for that matter to the nationalism of the Zapatistas, the guerillas in Colombia, the New People's Army in the Philippines (the last one recently declared "terrorist" by Colin Powell). All nationalisms are similar in that they try to arouse the sense of ethnic togetherness and solidarity. But the difference is: for whose benefit? What is at stake? Who are victimized? What goals of human liberation are promoted or damaged by nationalist activities?
Again, we need to be historically concrete and specific, as we should be when answering questions about theory, literature, and so on.
7. What are some of the questions/issues students and professors interested in CS should ask concerning the notion of "multicultralism" which for many in this country may sound like a good thing?
This question deserves a long substantial answer. Here I can only begin with a preliminary remark: I agree with Manning Marable that we should fight for a multicultural democracy. In contrast to the belief current in the fifties and earlier that the U.S. is a homogenous society founded on Anglo-Saxon culture, and Western civilization (Christianity, the Great Books of the Western World, etc.), the idea of multiculturalism is a refreshing and potentially liberating one. U.S. society cannot be subsumed by one ethnic group or culture. That is historically false, completely unwarranted, besides mortgaging the future to the destructive tribal idols.
Unfortunately the ideal of multiculturalism has been hijacked by sweet-talking neoliberals. As I have argued in my earlier book, Hegemony and Strategies of Transgression (SUNY Press), multiculturalism has been appropriated to vindicate neoliberal policies and instrumentalities. In short, the U.S. ruling class takes pride in the world hegemony of the United States because it is multicultural, diverse, open, sensitive to differences -- difference as a guarantee of uniformity and democratic oneness.
This multiculturalism is an alibi for predatory globalization, which is the euphemism for the further extension of corporate exploitation everywhere. If this is multiculturalism, then we can all stop reading Foucault and Lacan and instead go shopping and marvel at the infinite variety of multicultural goods -- not just food but ideas, fashions, styles, images, simulacra, etc. Baudrillard may still be right about the terrorism of the marketplace.
However, if multiculturalism signifies a sensitivity and openness to the Other so that the notion of identity is itself problematized -- I am thinking here of Alain Badiou's critique of identity politics and alterity -- I have no quarrel with such a program of genuine, creative multiculturalism.
Finally, I would like to reiterate that in all my works I try to apply a historical-materialist approach that considers human labor (both mental and physical) as the key to the critical transformation of society. It is a point of departure, not the answer to every question. In this I join other socialists and radicals working within the intellectual tradition of Benedict de Spinoza, Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Rosa Luxemburg, Walter Benjamin, CLR James, and others in advancing the cause of all those throughout the world who continue to be victimized by the "free market." Is there any other feasible alternative?
 St John's University Humanities Review, 1.3, April 2003
(conducted on Jan. 23, 2003 with Mike Pozo, Editor)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008



Notes for a lecture, March 12, at Ateneo University on the launching of BALIKBAYANG SINTA: AN E. SAN JUAN READER

--E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
Dept of English & Comparative Literature
University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City

In this current situation of portentous upheaval in the Philippines, any discussion of the “language question,” like the “woman question,” is bound to be imcendiary and contentious. The issue of language is always explosive, a crux of symptoms afflicting the body politic. It is like a fuse or trigger that ignites a whole bundle of inflammable issues, scandalously questioning the existence of God in front of an audience of believers. Or the immortality of souls among the faithful. Perhaps my saying outright that I am a partisan for a national language, Filipino, may outrage the postmodernists and cosmopolites among you—how can you say such a thing when you are speaking in English? Or, as Senator Diokno once said, “English of a sort.” How dare I infuriate the loyal speakers of Cebuano, Ilocano, Pampagueno, Ilonggo, Taglish, Filipino English, and a hundred or more languages used in these seven hundred islands. One gives up: it can’t be helped. Or we can help lift the ideological smog and draw the lines of demarcation in the battleground more lucidly.

One suspects that this is almost unavoidable, in a society where to raise the need for one national language, say “Filipino” (as mandated by the Constitution) is bound to arouse immediate opposition. Or, if not immediately, it is deferred and sublimated into other pretexts for debate and argumentation. Fortunately, we have not reached the point of armed skirmishes and violent confrontations for the sake of our mother-father tongue, as in India and other countries. My partisanship for Filipino (not Tagalog) is bound to inflame Cebuanos, Bicolanos, Ilocanos, and so on, including Filipino speakers-writers of English, or Filipino English. We probably try to defuse any brewing conflict quickly by using the colonizer’s tongue, or compromise babel-wise. My viewis that only a continuing historical analysis can help explain the present contradictory conjuncture, and disclose the options it offers us. Only engagement in the current political struggles can resolve the linguistic aporia/antinomy and clarify the import and consequence of the controversy over the national language, over the fate of Filipino and English in our society.

One would expect that this issue has been resolved a long time ago. But, given the dire condition of the Philippine political economy in this epoch of globalized terrorism of the U.S. hegemon, a plight that is the product of more than a century of colonial/neocolonial domination, all the controversies surrounding this proposal of a national language since the time of the Philippine Commonwealth when Quezon convened the Institute of National Language under Jaime de Veyra, have risen again like ravenous ghouls. I believe this specter can never be properly laid to rest until we have acquired genuine sovereignty, until national self-determination has been fully exercised, and the Filipino people—three thousand everyday, more than a million every year--will no longer be leaving in droves as Overseas Contract Workers, the whole nation becoming a global subaltern to the transnational corporations, to the World Bank-World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the predatory finance capital of the global North. We cannot help but be interpellated by the sirens of the global market and transformed into exchangeable warm bodies, we can at least interrogate the conditions of our subordination—if only as a gesture of resistance by a nascent, irrepressible agency.

In the hope of avoiding such a situation, which is almost ineluctable, I would like to offer the following seven theses that may initiate a new approach to the question, if not offer heuristic points of departure for reflection. In contrast to the dominant neoliberal idealist-culturalist, metaphysical approach, I apply a historical materialist one whose method is not only historicizing and dialectical—not merely deploying the “Aufhebung” of Hegel within an eclectic, neoWeberian framework (as Fernando Zialcita does in his provocative book--Authentic Though Not Exotic: Essays on Filipino Identity (2005)—but also, as Marx said, standing it on its head in the complex and changing social relations of production within concrete historical settings. The materialist dialectic offers a method of analysis and elucidation of the context in which questions about a national language can be clarified and the nuances of its practical implications elaborated.

Thesis 1: Language is not an entity or phenomenon in itself but a component of the social forms of consciousness of any given social formation. As such, it can only be properly addressed within the historical specificity of a given mode of production and attendant social-political formation. It has no history of its own but is a constituent and constitutive of the ideological terrain on which the struggle of classes and historic blocs are fought, always in an uneven and combined mode of development. It forms part of the conflicted evolution of the integral state, as Gramsci conceived it as the combination of political society and civil society. The issue of language is located right at the heart of the construction of this integral state. Hence not only its synchronic but also diachronic dimensions should be dialectically comprehended in grasping its worth and contribution to the liberation and fulfillment of the human potential.

Thesis 2: The function and nature of language then cannot be adequately discussed in a neutral and positivistic-empiricist way, given its insertion into conflicted relations of production, at least since the emergence of class-divided societies in history. In the Philippines, the status and function of various languages—Spanish, English, and the numerous vernaculars or regional languages—cannot be assayed without inscribing them in the history of colonial and neocolonial domination of the peoples in these islands. In this regard, the terms “national-popular” and “nation-people”—as Gramsci employed them in a historical-materialist discourse--should be used in referring to Filipinos in the process of expressing themselves as diverse communities, interpellating other nationalities, and conducting dialogue with themselves and other conversers.
It is necessary to assert the fundamental premise of the “national-popular,” the nation as constituted by the working masses (in our country, workers and peasants), not the patricians. Otherwise, the nation (in the archive of Western-oriented or Eurocentric history) is usually identified with the elite, the propertied classes, the national bourgeoisie, or the comprador bourgeoisie and its allies, the bureaucrats and feudal landlords and their retinue of gangsters, private armies, paramilitary thugs, etc. Actually, today, we inhabit a neocolony dominated by a comprador-bureaucratic bloc of the propertied classes allied with and supported in manifold ways by the U.S. hegemon and its regional accomplices.

Thesis 3: The Filipino nation is an unfinished and continuing project, an unfinished work, constantly being re-invented but not under conditions of its own making. Becoming Filipinos is a process of decolonization and radical democratization of the social formation, a sequence of collective choices. This is almost a cliché among the progressive forces with a nationalist orientation. It bears repeating that Filipino sovereignty is a dynamic totality whose premises are political independence and economy self-sufficiency. We have not yet achieved those premises.
Given the current alignment of nation-states in the world-system under U.S. hegemony, whose hegemony is unstable, precarious, sustained by manifold antagonisms, and perpetually challenged by other regional blocs, becoming Filipino is an ever-renewing trajectory of creation and re-creation, a process overdetermined by legacies of the past and unpredictable incidences of the present and the future. Within this configuration, an evolving, emergent Filipino language may be conceived as both a medium and substantive element in fashioning this sequence of becoming-Filipino, a sequence grasped not as a cultural essence but a network of dynamic political affiliations and commitments. It is also an aesthetic modality of hegemonic expression.

Thesis 4: Only within the project of achieving genuine, substantive national independence and egalitarian democracy can we argue for the need for one national language as an effective means of unifying the masses of peasants, workers and middle strata and allowing them integral participation in a hegemonic process.
Note that this is not just a question of cultural identity.
Without changing the unequal and unjust property/power relations, a distinctive Filipino culture incorporating all the diverse elements that have entered everyday lives of the masses can not be defined and allowed to flourish. Without the prosperous development of the material resources and political instrumentalities, a Filipino cultural identity can only be an artificial, hybrid fabrication of the elite—an excrescence of global consumerism, a symptom of the power of transnationalized commodity-fetishism that, right now, dominates the popular consciousness via the mass media, in particular television, films, music, food and fashion styles, packaged life-styles that permeate the everyday practices of ordinary Filipinos across class, ethnicities, age and localities.

The consumerist habitus (to use Bourdieu’s concept) acquired from decades of colonial education and indoctrination has almost entirely occupied the psyche of every Filipino, except for those consciously aware of it and collectively resisting it. With the rise of globalization, it has been a fashionable if tendentious practice among the floating litterateurs, mostly resident in colleges and universities, to advocate the maintenance of the status quo; that is, English as the prestigious language, Taglish as the media lingua franca, and Filipino and the other languages as utilitarian devices for specific tasks. But soon we find that this imitated pluralistic/multiculturalist stand only functions as the effective ploy of neoliberal finance capital. This seemingly pragmatist, accomodationist stance ultimately serves neocolonial goals: the Filipino as world-citizen as compensation for its lack of effective national sovereignty. Its obverse is regional/ethnic separatism. The culturalist or civilizationalist program, often linked to NGOs and deceptive philanthropic schemes, skips the required dialectical mediation and posits an abstract universality, though disguised in a self-satisfied particularism now in vogue among postcolonial deconstructionists eulogizing the importance of place, locality, indigeneity, organic roots, etc.
We discover in time that this trend serves as a useful adjunct for enhancing the festishistic magic, aura and seductive lure of commodities—from brand-name luxury goods to the whole world of images, sounds and multimedia confections manufactured by the transnational culture industry and marketed as symbolic capital for the pettybourgeoisie of the periphery and other subalternized sectors within the metropole.

Thesis 5: Spanish and English are global languages needed for communication and participation in world affairs. They are recognized as richly developed languages of aesthetic and intellectual power useful for certain purposes—English particularly in the scientific and technical fields. But they have a political history and resonance for “third world peoples” who have suffered from their uses. Its sedimented patterns of thought and action cannot so easily be ignored or elided. The discursive genres of law, business, etc. in English and their institutionalized instrumentalities cannot be judged on their own terms without understanding the political role they played as effective instruments in the colonial domination of the various peoples in the Philippines and their total subordination to the political-cultural hegemony of the Spanish empire, and then of the American empire from 1899 to 1946, and of U.S. neocolonial control after formal independence in 1946. Everyone knows that while Rizal used Spanish to reach an enlightened Spanish public and an ilustrado-influenced audience, the masses who participated in the Malolos Republic and the war against the Americans used Tagalog, and other vernaculars, in fighting for cultural autonomy and national independence. Historically the national and democratic project of the Philippine revolution—still unfinished and continuing—provides the only viable perspective within which we can explore the need for a national language as a means of uniting and mobilizing the people for this project.

Thesis 6: The use and promotion of a national language does not imply the neglect, elimination, or inferiorization of other regional languages spoken and used by diverse communities involved in the national-democratic struggle. In fact, it implies their preservation and cultivation. But that is contingent on the attainment of genuine national sovereignty and the emancipation of the masses, their integration into active participation in governance. Meanwhile, in the course of the national-liberation struggle, all languages should and are being used for mobilization, political education, and cultural self-affirmation. Simultaneously, the dissemination and development of one national language becomes a political and economic-cultural necessity for unifying the diverse communities under a common political program—which does not imply a monolithic ideological unity-- in front of the monstrous power of finance-capital using English as an instrument of subordination and neocolonial aggression.
In this regard, I would argue that the unity and collective pride attendant on the use of one national language provides the groundwork and fundamental requisite for the promotion and development of other ethnic/regional languages within the national polity. This is a psychological-ideological imperative that cannot be deferred.

Thesis 7: Hegemony, the moral and intellectual leadership of the Filipino working masses, the scaffold within which an authentic Filipino identity can grow, assumes the rise of organic Filipino intellectuals who will use and develop Filipino as the evolving national language. Again, this does not mean suppressing other regional languages. Nor does it mean prohibiting the use and teaching of English or other international languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, etc.). It simply means the establishment of a required platform, basis or foundation, without which the productive forces of the people within this particular geopolitical boundary can be harnessed, refined, and released in order to, first, benefit the physical and spritual health of Filipinos, repair and recover the damage inflicted by centuries of colonial oppression and exploitation, and thus be able to contribute to the cultural heritage of humankind. Without national self-determination, there is no way Filipinos can contribute their distinctive share in global culture. In fact, it is impossible to be a global citizen unless you have fully grown and matured as an effective democratic participant in the making of a prosperous, egalitarian nation-people in a historically specific territory defined by a whole concretely differentiated sequence of events not replicated elsewhere.

Historical examples are often misleading, but sometimes elucidatory. It may be irrelevant and even Eurocentric to invoke the examples of Italy and Germany as nations that experienced unified mobilization through the affirmation of national-popular languages, Italy vis-à-vis the Papal ascendancy, and Germany vis-à-vis Latin/Roman Catholic hegemony. In any case, again, the social and historical function and character of language cannot be adequately grasped without situating them in the complex dynamics of the conflict of social classes in history since the break-up of the communal tribes in the hunting-gathering stage, since the rise of private property in the means of production, and the intricate dialectics of culture and collective psyche in the political economy of any social formation. In short, language is not just a permanently undecidable chain of signifiers, always deconstructing itself and falling into abysmal meaninglessness, but a social convention and a site of struggle, the signifier as “an arena of class struggle,” to use Mikhail Bakhtin’s phrase. I believe that only from this historical materialist perspective, and within the parameters of the political project of attaining genuine autonomy as a nation-people, can the discussion of a Filipino national language be intelligible and productive. But, again, such a discussion finds its value and validity as part of the total engagement of the people for justice, equality, and all-sided emancipation from the nightmares of the past and the terrorist fascism of the present.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Review of E. San Juan's HIMAGSIK by Ben Medina, Jr.

Before and after Angelo de la Cruz: The Filipino since 1898


Himagsik: Pakikibaka Tungo sa Mapagpalayang Kultura.E. San Juan, Jr. 2004.Manila: De La Salle University Press.

PAPER reports, newscasts, even poolroom squabbles on US official/unofficial disappointment over the Philippines’ decision to pull out its humanitarian contingent from Iraq — "cowardice," says an American TV comic host — all make Epifanio San Juan, Jr.’s latest offering in criticism, Himagsik, timely, if not very necessary, reading for those who are weighing out an intriguing, even conscience-picking, and now simplistically put issue: Are you pro-American or whatever? And you might as well ask yourself, thinking of hostage-turned-man-of-the-hour Angelo de la Cruz: Are you pro-life or whatever?

The Philippine decision to leave Iraq asserts that life is the only choice — and with it come the blessings and the bashings. The pull-out, too, points out that the present counts much for future decisive acts. Himagsik could help you firm up your choice.

So: Pro-life? San Juan says Yes! Resolutely, handing out Himagsik. The title itself pushes you towards what San Juan believes to be the right option to take: One need not be pro nor anti-American. One needs only be pro-Filipino, for the Filipino, be Filipino. And San Juan redefines the Filipino as one who is always for the Philippines (aming ligaya na pag may mang-aapi….) and against the enemy; San Juan could never have been more precise than now. Himagsik is a remarkably concise reiteration of San Juan’s portrayal of imperialism as American — in a language all his own, not politically partisan as Whoopi Golberg’s allegedly anti-Bush (not anti-America/n) remarks were, as reported by the Associated Press.

Imperialism brought America to the Philippines as confirmed by a serious reflection over the country’s initial years under American colonization. San Juan, nourished with that historical assertion, has been a critic of American imperialism that has fueled labor activism in the country, arguing that the workers’ revolutionary spirit shall save democracy.

San Juan has told and retold the (his) fight for workers in volumes. In Himagsik, San Juan reimages his target as American imperialism that he calls the principal barrier to the country’s development, demanding of anyone who loves his country (aming ligaya….) a historical self-knowledge that he believes to be the basic premise of the people’s struggle for freedom.

In Himagsik, San Juan defines his role as critic in the freedom struggle in no uncertain terms: "ang anti-imperyalistang pakikibaka ng Ikatlong Daigdig ang dapat na ituring na batayang global ng anumang pagtitimbang sa halaga ng kritikang tubo sa mga bayang nais makahulagpos sa pagkaalipin" (the Third World anti-imperialist struggle should be considered the global premise in evaluating the significance of criticism bred in countries that seek to break loose of servitude); "ang panunuring pangkultura…[ay] hindi hiwalay sa pulitikal na labanan ng mga uri" (cultural criticism…is not separate from political class struggle); "‘walang halaga ang buhay na hindi iniuukol sa isang balak na dakila…’" (life not attached to a great idea is worth nothing); "masigasig at mahusay na tagapag-alaga ng kalayaan at demokrasya sa panahon ng paglubog ng monopolyo ng kapitalismo…ay ang uring manggagawa" (the diligent and efficient defender of the values of freedom and democracy at the time capitalist monopoly fell…was the working class).

Finally, the poet-critic San Juan significantly sings to those who fight the imperialist, the white foreigner (puting dayuhan), long before Arroyo allies (you may turn to the US, Australia, where else?) cried aloud, "No, not yet…know who your friends are, know who your enemies are…", but the Madam President knew what to do, proclaiming "life is paramount": Sapagkat iniibig kita, walang lakas namakahahadlang,walang lakas na makapipigil, sa ating pakikihamok laban sa sinumang mang-aapi… (Because I love you, no force can suppress, no force can stop, our fight against the oppressor….).

Go on, read, listen to, San Juan, and imagine GMA, Bush, Leno, Whoopi, The New York Times, and Angelo de la Cruz, and ask: "How do I love thee…?"

Himagsik becomes a love song.(B.S. MEDINA, JR. was recipient of City of Manila’s highest cultural leadership award, "Diwa ng Lahi" in 2000; the Palanca Hall of Fame Award in 1995; and the South East Asia Writer (SEAWrite) Award in 1994.)