Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Response to 1986 "Declaration of the Coalition of Writers and Artists" for the Marcos Dictatorship

DILIMAN SOUVENIRS--Public Lecture, U.P. English Dept., 3/13/2018

DILIMAN SOUVENIRS: Charles Sanders Peirce's Interpretants and the Return of the Suppressed(Draft)

by E. San Juan, Jr.

Magandang Hapon sa ating lahat!

First of all, I would like to thank Chancellor Michael Tan, Vice President Maria Cynthia Banzon Bautista, Dean Maria Amihan Ramolete, and  Dr. Lily Rose Tope for giving me the privilege of teaching again in the classroom of my alma mater, and for Dr. Ruth Pison for being the helmswoman, the experienced cartographer, charting the troubled waters of our graduate seminar in literary theory. Also thanks to our diligent students who are nurturing youth who will hopefully refuse to be the future generations of OFWs.

It has been a learning experience for me, rereading Saussure, Jakobson, Lacan, Barthes, Irigaray, Derrida, Said, Foucault, etc. who have provoked, alarmed, or bewildered our smart students.---one of them coming all the way from Nueva Ecija to attend our Wednesday sessions. If I use the personal pronoun here, please consider it also as an allegorical stand-in for the generation that grew up after Liberation, from 1945 to 1965.

Of course, the speaking subject here cannot be enclosed in that time-space. So it's puzzling who is speaking, from the viewpoint of the hermeneutics of suspicion. One suspects that every act of remembering, esp. one linked to institutional memory, like attempts at translation, is an act of betrayal of sorts.

Historicizing from the Dustbin

This is not the first time I have engaged in teaching here. After I graduated in 1958, the patriarchs of the Department Prof Cristino Jamias and Leopoldo Yabes hired me as an instructor from 1958 to 1960.  In due time, the patriarchal order was fortuitously changed; my contemporaries Pete Daroy, Ernie Manalo, Max Ramos Jr. and others departed long ago for the other shore; and so too, mentors like Ricardo Pascual, Alfredo Lagmay, Cesar Majul, etc. After finishing graduate school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I taught again in 1966-67 when world-famous  Carlos P. Romulo was president. I taught again here in 1987-88 as a Fulbright teaching fellow, and in 2008 sheperded the theory seminar with Prof. Preachy Legasto. This may be my last stint, a memorable one, thanks to all our colleagues and assistants in the Department.

Just a few snapshot of the Fifties: My first teachers in English 1 were Prof Elmer Ordonez whose memorable assignment was for us to interpret Ivan Bunin's  classic story"The Gentleman from San Francisco" included in the old WW2 pocketbook collection of short stories; and Prof. Franz Arcellana, who wrote slowly on the blackboard, with his left hand, the definition of "precis" taken from the big Harry Shaw textbook in Freshman English.

But it was the textbook Approach to Literature by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, the archpriests of American New Criticism, which, I think, made a lasting impact on us as English majors then. After that, I switched my interest to philosophy (Alfred Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic became our treasured scripture, which did not prevent me from reading Sartre, Camus, Kierkegaard, Malraux, etc.), having made friends with students and teachers in that department, in particular Armando Bonifacio, Gerry Acay, and other heretics, whose periodical Inquiry published Franz's comment on my poem which I will refer to later.

A short parenthesis: my textbook learning faded, but one lesson that stuck was the time Prof. N.V.M. Gonzalez, whose creative writing course was dominated by one single book, Herbert Read's English Prose Style--Prof Gonzalez  took members of the class to attend the Manila Trial Court in City Hall to witness the drama of the libel suit againt Estrella Alfon for the obscenity of her story, "Fairy Tale of the City." That excursion outside the classroom conveyed to me the undeniable entanglement of art, disciplinary institutions (aside from the classroom), and the sociopolitical regime affecting human conduct. Later on, when I wrote a review of Signatures (edited by colleagues Alex Hufana and Rony Diaa) at  Franz's request, I was threatened with a lawsuit filed by the poet Oscar de Zuniga who was offended by my unkindly comment on his contribution to the review.

One scenario sticks out from my years of sitting at the table at the far end of the Dept: Prof Pascual Capiz, sitting at the opposite end, always finding the opportunity to advise me: "Read Spinoza, Sonny, don't forget Spinoza." Four decades after, I read a paper on "What we can learn about racism from Benedict Spinoza" to an audience at the University of Texas, Austin, in 2002.


What intervened after my apprenticeship with formalist New Criticism--my book on Oscar Wilde, despite the philological-historicist bent of my advisers Jerome Buckley and Douglas Bush, is basically formalist, not really contextualized in the gender wars then brewing in the early sixties--anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights and Women's Liberation movements culminating in May 1968--as well as the First Quarter Storm, the Diliman Commune, and the imposition of the Marcos dictatorship in 1972. My U.P. Press book, Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle (released a day or two before Marcos declared martial law), was still largely a formalist commentary of Bulosan's writing. Notwithstanding the title, it was a symptom of a cultural lag, typical of our backward or underdeveloped social formation, unsynchronized with the structuralist and post-structuralist tide that swept the Western academy from 1968 to 1986.  Nothing strange for a neocolony, not postcolony, experiencing the turbulence of the crisis of global capitalism via the Marcos authoritarian interlude.

The influence of the changes that occurred, in particular the revision of the canon, and the transformation of critical frameworks/paradigms--the eruption of feminist, ethnic, and subaltern/people-of-color agencies in the social text--overlaid/reconfigured my previous New Critical horizon. I did not jettison my formalist training--how could one do that? One's consciousness is determined by one's social conditioning. Adjustments had to be made, resulting into a palimpsest of texts that requires an inventory (to heed Gramsci's advice).

One's identity is always the site of an intertextuality traversing the dialectic of base and superstructure, often overshooting it. Marks of its effect may be found in the much-attacked book from left and right, Subversions of Desire: Prolegomena to Nick Joaquin in 1988.

Unbeknowst to the public, it will be reprinted by the Dominicans of the University of Santo Tomas, since the Jesuits are no longer interested in the unorthodox, difficult and eclectic discourse filled with references to Lacan, Foucault, Benjamin, Jameson, Deleuze-Guattari. and Kristeva. They prefer the Nazi sympathizer Heidegger and the Jewish mystic Emmanuel Levinas. This will be my excuse, at this juncture,  to transit to the problem of semiotics based on the Saussurean premise that orients both structuralist and postmodernist thinking (including postcolonial criticism) so fashionable still, though Derrida has been replaced by Butler, Ranciere, Badiou, Agamben, and other European imports to the metropole of the declining but still ferocious American Leviathan of the Trump era.

Signifiers Galore

     Even before May 1968, the deluge of the dancing signifiers had begun to wreak havoc on the conservative bastions of higher humanistic learning. As everyone knows, a crucial event was the 1967 Johns Hopkins Conference on "The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man," where the archpriests of poststructuralism (Lacan, Derrida, Barthes, Goldman, Todorov, etc.) entered the scene, literary theory and criticism suffered a sea-change, as it were.

In After Theory, Terry Eagleton summed up the historic contexts of 1965-1980--"the age of civil rights and student insurgency, national liberation fronts, anti-war and anti-nuclear campaigns, the emergence of the women's movement, and the heyday of cultural liberation," in which the sensibility of society had "shifted from the earnest, self-disciplined and submissive to the cool, hedonistic and insubordinate. If there was widespread disaffection, there was also visionary hope" (825) in consumerist, narcissitic society of the spectacle.

The present conjuncture seemed then "the herald of a new future, the portal to a land of  boundless possibility"--until 1989, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, shock therapy for the Soviet system, followed closely by the Iraq War, 9 /11 and the global war on terrorism, and the erosion of the Neoliberal dispensation from the 2008 global capitalist earthquake and the explosions in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and the entire Middle East. We are still living the aftershock of those events. For some, the age of identity politics aka the culture of neoconservative reaction began, overshadowing the fall of the Berlin Wall, demise of the Soviet Union, Tiananman Square, 9/11, and the 2008 neoliberal capitalist meltdown, and the election of Trump and his neofascist "America First" agenda.

To understand this re-arrangement of the furniture in the landscape, I urged our graduate students to review Saussure's foundational remarks on the dyadic structure of the sign, and the larger frame of Jakobson's six functions of language in communication.  What has become salient is the arbitrary nature of the signifier-signified nexus, with the inference that meaning is produced by systematic differences. Its divorce from objective reality seems assumed, though parole/speech thrives somewhere out there defying lawful order and any fixed rule. The Russian Marxist Mikhail Bakhtin was unheard of, and Roman Jakobson forgotten. Meanwhile, the enigmatic influence of Lacan signaled the advent of deconstruction, with signifiers shifting over the signified, meaning not only deferred or undecidable, but virtually impossible to pin down. For Lacan, actually, the Name-of-the-Father terminates the sliding of signifiers, thus his infamous phallocentrism overheard in chic salon conversations.

Another parenthesis: when I took a class with I.A. Richards in poetics in my first year at Harvard--I recall Ching Dadufalza exulting over her acquaintance with the founder of close formalist reading--he of course
assigned his book Coleridge on Imagination, as expected. But what surprised me was his strong recommendation that we study carefully Jakobson's 1958 landmark essay, "Linguistics and Poetics," given at a conference in Indiana University, but only published later in 1960 in the book Style in Language, which Richards also assigned. Contrary to the canonical views, Richards was not really a formalist but a neoHegelian pedagogue informed by the entire Western heritage and enriched by borrowings from Mencius and then current behavior psychology.

I reminded our students not to forget Jakobson's linguistic analysis. If Jakobson's diagram on the functions of language were absorbed and popularized, it would have exerted some brake on the prevalence of Nietzschean/ theorizing applied by Derrida, De Man, Hartman, Spivak, and their huge academic following. Jakobson's formula on the axis of similarity (metaphor) imposed on the axis of contiguity (metonymy), remains unexplored. To quote Jakobson: "The poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination" (39). But instead of this linguistic knowledge used by teachers, it is Lacan's "floating signifiers" that have ruled the day ever since it was given in 1957 and publicized in translation in 1966. Students' perplexity over Lacan persists, despite Jakobson and the salutary warnings of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.

Absent the Author

      It is no longer news to learn of the author's demise (announced by Roland Barthes) in between the interstitial locus of differance. By author, Barthes referred to the empiricist and rationalist conception of the individual origin of the text, its final signified. This classical idea of author presumably encloses the text within a single meaning enshrined in the author's biography, instead of allowing its intertextuality to induce a variety of readers to produce multiple readings. From the modernist, avantgarde perspective, the texts of Mallarme, Joyce, etc. are considered the occasions of language, the circuit of signifiers speaking; they are not the author's psyche, or a representation of its subjectivity, its interiority. Presumably the narrators of Proust's novel, or of Ulysses, are generated by the textual machine without anyone programming it--it's DNA is the differential logic operating within it.

In "What is an Author?" Michel Foucault has also informed us that the author-function is historically variable. It is defined by a variety of discourses and institutions (for example, copyright laws). Ancient epics or medieval romances do not have authors in the modern construal of individual originators or artificers. Foucault's argument is tied to the death of the human subject, the Cartesian ego, determined not by conscience but by historically specific structures circumscribing its socio-political existence. Thus writing is not something that can be completed and appropriated but an interminable practice, a postmodern theme epitomized by Samuel Beckett's character saying: "What does it matter who is speaking," someone said, what does it matter who is speaking?"

Can Peirce's Intervention Identify the Speaker?

    On second thought, it matters who is being addressed, who is listening or overhearing these utterances.

For now, I  will quickly summarize Peirce's semiotic triad so as to get to the prime exhibit for today, the putatively notorious poem "Man is a Political Animal."

For Peirce, meaning is produced by the triad of signifier (representamen), the object signified, and the interpretant which connects signifier and signified. The representamen is something which stands to somebody for something; it addresses someone and creates in the mind an equivalent sign, the interpretant of the first sign, and this too stands for something, namely, the object or idea of that first sign. Communication is the result of the interplay between representamen, interpretant, and object/idea.

This mediating item in Peirce's theory of signification,or meaning-production, namely, the interpretant, is missing or invisible in the Saussurean dyadic scheme. Without this interpretant, it is impossible to figure out what connects the signifier and the hypothetical signified. Robert Scholes remarks that, following Saussure, signs do not refer to things, "they signify concept, concepts are aspects of thought, not of reality." We move then into the realm of thought.

Peirce is recognized as the founder of pragmaticism, not the psychologistic version of pragmatism popularized by his friend William James, or the postmodern version of antifoundationalism propagated by Richard Rorty. Peirce's maxim or principle was first fomulated in his 1878 essay "How to Make Our Ideras Clear": "In order to ascertain the meaning of an intellectual conception we should consider what practical consequences might conceivably result by necessity from the truth of that conception; and the sum of these consequences will constitute the entire meaning of the conception."  Peirce explained that the "sum of these consequences" is equivalent to a process of rational conduct open to fallibilistic inquiry. The early Peirce may have speculated on infinite semiosis, as Eco and Derrida supposed. Later on he concluded that we should strive for a "concrete reasonableness" and its embodiment in a community of inquirers open to the impact of experience, the intractable factuality of an objective world, the historicity of life, and the inflluence of traditions" (Hoopes).

     To go back to the connection between the signifier and the signified, namely, the interpretant, Peirce enumerates three possible forms of interpretant (in his "Letters to Lady Welby"):  "the interpretant as represented or meant to be understood, its interpretant as it is produced; and its interpretant in itself." There are two main kinds of interpretants: the dynamic interpretant, and immediate interpretant. Later in his life, Peirce speculated on the third kind of interpretant, the logical or final interpretant that would sum up the finidings of the first two. The dynamic interpretant can treat the sign/signifiers as something the reasonableness of which will be acknowledged; or as an act of insistence; or something for contemplation.  Meanwhile, the immediate interpretant considers the signifiers into three kinds: 1) those interpretable in thoughts or other signs of the same kind in infinite series; 2) those which are interpretable in actual experiences; and 3) those which are interpretable in qualities or feelings.

Examine the published reactions to the poem in question. If we look at the three interpretants you have, those by Amador Daguio, Ramon Tapales, and Franz Arcellana, the first two can be classified as examples of immediate interpretants: they translate the poem into actual experiences that are morally censurable, invoking convention and disciplinary codes or instruments of punishment. Meanwhile the third would exemplify the dynamic interpretant that treat the poem as something reasonable, but would judge its performance as lacking in qualities or feelings--not actual experiences--ascribable to an accomplished work of art. It would invoke the institution of like-minded arbiters of taste. In short the first two interpretants draw inferences outside the parameter of aesthetics, while the third confines itself to the value of the signifiers/representamen as inadequate to expressing a hypothetical idea of art implied by the critic.

I would like to read my 2008 reflection on this incident in my book BALIKBAYANG SINTA (pp. 249-252) as one more proof that the subject is indeed constructed through difference. Or, if not bifurcated, the subject-in-question is pluralized by time-space mutations.  The subject speaking/writing in 2008 differs/defers from the subject playing author in 1957. Likewise, the subject now speaking today, March 13, 2018.

However, despite this disjunctions, this does not imply that meaning is forever deferred, even though the context is unstable, unfixed, relational, or essentially undecidable. Indeed, one may discern an aporia in the rhetoric of the poem,  the rubric "political animal" of Aristotelian origin clashing with the Browningesque dramatic monologue imitated from model poems of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, editor of avantgarde publications like BLAST in the London milieu of the first two decades of last century.  Of all the reactors, Franz Arcellana, who never really censored the poem as adviser of the Collegian then--Franz confessed to me in 1987 that he was a "fall guy" during that time, as if to exonerate himself.

Provisional  Epilogue

I am deeply grateful to Franz Arcellana for encouraging me during my undergraduate days, and as a token of this gratitude I wrote the commmentary on his short story about Christmas, and on "The Yellow Shawl" in the concluding pages of Toward a People's Literature (pp. 170-173). Personally I did not associate him at all with my suspension--there was no written statement from the UP administration, except a verbal notice from the Editor that they won't print anything from me for a while--because this whole incident was sympatomatic of the religious-secular conflict in the University at that time arising from the role of Father John Delaney and Prof. J.D. Constantino charging Prof Ricardo Pascual and his cohort of agnostics and atheists of communistic leanings.  There are other historic pressures one can notice in this complex conjuncture.

In retrospect, the whole affair was a repercussion of the Cold War and McCarthyism particularized in the neocolonial situation of the Philippines during the regimes of Magsaysay and its successors. Indeed, from 1954 to 1960, the Cold War and its local manifestations (the Huk uprising, local McCarthyism, the violence between local oligarchs, the endemic corruption, gangsterism everywhere) constitute the condition of possibility for the poem and its programmed reactions.

One can perhaps locate somewhere the lesson of this incident in this abstract of the talk: With the death of the "author," the subject-position framed in postmodern critical theory becomes a field of contestation. The linguistic turn in literary studies has made even this subject precarious, repute to be a victim of the perpetual sliding of the Lacanian signifier. As a performing subject of this public discourse, I hope to recover the position of the "author" by recollection of my U.P. experience in the fifties, specifically as the suspended student-writer of a controversial poem. The narration of this event is mediated through various interpretants. With a slight detour through Charles Sanders Peirce's triadic theory of signs, this brief intervention hopes to rescue the protagonists of that field, temporarily stabilized here, from being swallowed forever in the "vertiginous abyss" of socio-cultural "underdevelopment."

As for the  identity of the subject-in-process, or subject-on-trial, as Julia Kristeva would put it, I seek your indulgence in ending this talk with my 1986 comment on the now historic document,"Declaration of the Coalition of Writers and Artists for Freedom and Democracy." [ See reproduction below of my commentary from Philippine News (October 22-28, 1986) ]  --


Friday, March 02, 2018



Translated from the original Filipino by E. San Juan, Jr.

Are you awake? What animal creeps under the floor? Why is it darkening? Did you feel it? Was it painful? Or ticklish? Soft? Or hard? Is someone knocking? Are they here? Why are bells tolling for the dead this morning? Do you like it? You don't? Are the toilet pipes choked? Are you drowsy? What am I doing here?


Translated from the original Filipino by E. San Juan, Jr.

Are you awake? What animal creeps under the floor? Why is it darkening? Did you feel it? Was it painful? Or ticklish? Soft? Or hard? Is someone knocking? Are they here? Why are bells tolling for the dead this morning? Do you like it? You don't? Are the toilet pipes choked? Are you drowsy? What am I doing here?

[See original Filipino in AMBIL]