Monday, February 21, 2011

POETRY AND REVOLUTION


POETRY AND REVOLUTION:

REMARKS ON THE BOOKLAUNCHING OF TOMASITO TALLEDO’S SONG OF WAR PATRIOTS
By E. SAN JUAN, Jr.


Magandang hapon sa lahat! I am pleased and honored to be present here on the launching of Ka Tomasito’s first collection of poems—of politically committed verses here in the city of Graciano Lopez Jaena, Magdalena Jalandoni, and Steven Javellana. Imagine a book freely distributed, not sold, launched here in Iloilo City, Feb. 25, 2011—this is a revolutionary act in itself.

More than twenty years after the Feb. 1986 revolt, we come here to commemorate also the tragedy of its aftermath, such as the assassination of Panay human rights workers and the disappearance of Nilo Arado and Luisa Posa-Dominado, as well as thousands of victims of extra-judicial killings dating back to the Aquino regime up to the bloody Arroyo. Such defeats and disasters herald the advent of the day of collective redemption, the genuine unleashing of People’s Power.

What is strikingly subversive here, as I noted, is the poet’s free distribution of his book, a violation of the rules of our consumerist global ethos. Everything in globalized capitalism, not only your body’s labor but also your dreams, your psyche, are bought and sold in the market. The cash-nexus corrupts bodies and souls. Megamalls provide the space for leisure, fantasies, the invention of communal utopias. Everything becomes a commodified spectacle—the latest of which is the Dinagyang festival we witnessed recently. Panay’s aborigines, and their descendants, are commercialized and cannibalized in these annual rituals, sacrificed to Mammon and the banality of decadent oligarchs—a trapo spectacle so antithetical and anathema to the “War Patriots” Talledo honors in his poems.

We thus live everything through this process of contradictions, in a world of local and global antagonisms. We attend for now an occasion celebrating an art negating commodity fetishism. This symbolic gesture erupts here in the heart of a transmogrified neocolonial milieu—the Philippines, now famous not just for the Abu Sayyaf but for over ten million OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) all over the planet. We supply the global servants of the transnational bourgeoisie, including those who built the infamous Guantanamo prison cells for Al Qaeda suspects , as well as the military barracks in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Filipinos are neither world citizens nor cosmopolite transnationals; they are still subjects of the owners of their labor-power, neocolonial subalterns of the global corporate elite.

After 1972, Marcos' declaration of martial law, up to September 11, 2001 and the collapse of finance capital in 2008, we have entered a period characterized by the unprecedented crisis of oligopolistic finance capital. Specifically US imperial hegemony. Contradictions have grown intractably sharper. Talledo’s poems are situated in this epoch. While his book contains poems of a personal nature, the bulk could not have been produced, nor would they be intelligible, without an inventory of the entire historical period from 1972 to the present—from the First Quarter Storm of 1969 to the nightmarish years of the Marcos dictatorship and its sequels (the vigilante atrocities during Aquino’s time and the tortures, abductions, and extrajudicial killings under Arroyo). This is the concrete historical context enabling the performative efficacy of Talledo’s poems.

Collective experiences and social encounters are the condition of possibility for writing that aims to educate and mobilize masses of people. I assume this is the purpose of Talledo’s art. Brought up under other circumstances, I for one cannot write some of these poems. We sang “God Bless America” in the rubble of my elementary school after World War II.

During the Cold War in the Forties and Fifties, I grew up in an environment glorifying Magsaysay and the CIA’s bloody pacification of the Huk countryside. In my undergraduate years in the UP, we were brainwashed by the propagandists/disciples of American New Criticism and the universal truths of the human heart proclaimed by William Faulkner, TS Eliot, and Lionel Trilling. The Manila PEN chapter and certain Manila mass media were conduits for CIA funding chanelled through the Congress for Cultural Freedom and other NGOs. Our American-trained professors functioned as the pedagogical apparatus for inculcating reactionary ideas and doctrines that normalized or legimitized the exploitation of our compatriots suffering under centuries of Spanish, American and Japanese colonialism.

Of course, we were not completely immune from any ethical responsibility. We were exposed to the conflicts between the secular camp and the religious/sectarian forces during the time when Senator Claro Recto was fighting for an unexpurgated Rizal archive. Our intellectual heroes were Bertrand Russell, Jean Paul Sartre, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche; I struggled through reading Sartre’s “What is Literature?” while writing my vorticist experimental poem “Man is a Political Animal.” Existentialism and elite individualism were the narcotics of our adolescent years in Diliman.

Events, however, cannot be wholly sanitized; and our neocolonial culture, however seductive, can not constitute the totality of our social lives. The worldwide resistance against the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights struggles of women, ethnic and indigenous communities, and the Third World revolutions of Che Guevara, Fanon, the Cultural Revolution in China, and the nationalist resurgency in the Sixties in the Philippines washed away some of the toxic sediments in our minds. The Diliman Commune and the imposition of Marcos’ despotism awakened “the beautiful soul” inspired by Jose Garcia Villa, the dogmatic slumber of the anarchist “Unhappy Consciousness,” and moved us to the partisan camp of Salvador Lopez and Arturo Rotor, the tradition of nationalist activism identified with Amado V.Hernandez, Teodoro Agoncillo, and Renato Constantino.

Artists were originally shamans, integrated into the pre-feudal communities. Class divisions converted artists into servitors of the dominant elite, the feudal landlords, compradors, and their colonial masters. The recent squabble over the political entitlement of National Artists is a symptom of how art has been so alienated and perverted in our society. Given our colonial history, we cannot separate literature from the class struggles that define our genealogy. Writers in our country are faced with choosing either the side of moribund aestheticism personified by Villa and the side of the engaged artistis represented by Balagtas, Rizal and the Propagandists like Jaena, and Lopez, Arguilla, and Hernandez, and other organic intellectuals of oppressed classes.

One may cherish the illusion that there is a neutral ground between these antagonistic forces, room for compromise and reconciliation. But we do not choose, in reality; we are chosen… Ka Amado, in particular, taught me this lesson when I worked with him in the early Sixties in his journalistic projects; in fact, his whole life is a pedagogic model of evolution from an aesthete to a committed artist, more exactly a “tribune of the people,” to use Lenin’s terms. It was also Hernandez who persuaded me to abandon English for Filipino in writing poetry.

Let me end here with the question for Talledo who has also written in Hiligaynon and Kiniraya: why write in English? This is not a matter of purifying the language of the tribe, as Mallarme aspired to do, but rather trying to become a “tribune of the people,” perhaps less ambitious but more difficult and arduous. This question of language may be peripheral to Sartre’s larger question, why write? And for whom are you writing? However, it condenses all the problems connected with the struggle for democracy, socialist liberation, and human dignity.

But maybe the larger question we have to confront is Walter Benjamin’s challenge to writers living in times of emergency, such as today—with our country undergoing profound changes, disasters, tragedies, etc. while US hegemony slowly bleeds away: how do we seize the means of communication, the means of intellectual and artistic production from the control and power of the corporate elite? How do we expropriate these from the oligarchs and the oligopolies, from the parasites and plunderers of social wealth? I offered this challenge to the students in UP-Visayas at Miagao who inquired how we can defeat US imperialism and the terror of finance capital, and advance the national-democratic revolution of the Filipino “wretched of the earth.” We may perhaps start by reading Talledo’s book and reflect on the conditions in which we find ourselves today, here in Iloilo City, Feb. 25, 2011. Happy birthday, Ka Tomasito! Mabuhay ang progresibong manlilikha! Mabuhay ang sambayanang Pilipino!--###

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