Archive for the Essay Category

On Reason and Gut Instincts

Posted in Composition, Culture, Essay, Politics, Reflection on February 13, 2012 by theburningpulpit

It’s a cardinal rule–from the courtroom down to the Scooby-Doo detective shows–that evidence be presented to determine and penalize the culprit. This comes not only from the Roman idea that the prosecuted should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but from the fact that, as beings given reason, we demand to see the links between cause and effect: we need to see the cause so that we can understand the effect. No effect is manifest without a cause, and a different cause might not produce the same effect. There can be no water without oxygen and hydrogen, and sodium cannot produce water. It follows, then, especially in our contemporary institutions, that for something to be acknowledged as being there, as real, as the truth, then there must be some concrete thing that can attest to it, and nothing more. However, more often than not, such a simple cause-and-effect relationship cannot be found lying upon the ground. Evidence may always be misplaced, concealed, or destroyed. And this is the problem with many cases, from legal to fictional. The prosecuted cannot be convicted; a suspect cannot be arrested. And yet at the same time, the prosecutor or the detective (and sometimes, even the audience) is very much sure that the one facing trial, or the one sitting quietly by the scene of the crime, is the guilty party. And yet, where does this surety come from? A mere guess, perhaps. Or some vague psychological clue. The suspect’s face, or his aura. Intuition, gut instinct–all the sort of things that institutions cannot accept because beyond the realm of reason. Sherlock Holmes says that guessing is a shocking habit, abhorrent to the rational mind. That much is true. But does that make the gut, per se, inferior to rational inference? The judge and the chief of police might say so. But how about in real life, that is, life as we live it every day, chaotic as it is, full of surprises, full of uncertainties, full of lies and deceit and people whose money can change even the shape of evidence, of criminals whose intelligence can daunt or misdirect the detective? And not everyone can be a detective, not everyone can be a lawyer. But in many cases, gut instinct (or whatever we might want to call that which is outside of reason) can set everyone else better upon the right path. Take the masses, for instance. Yes, the uneducated, uncultured masses. They do not hold a J.D. or a Ph.D. or a F.A.W.T.H.A.L.D. but sometimes, they’re just right when it comes to certain issues. Collective unconscious? Maybe. Or take the novice chess player. In a chess book I once read, the author, a GM, was astounded by a rookie player discovering an easier way to win a certain case-game, much easier than what the chess authorities taught. Now, it may be too radical to clamor that our governments and our sleuths abandon reason altogether, throw the idea of obtaining evidence aside, and trust their gut instincts. For one, intuition is double-edged, and two, a thin line separates unadulterated gut feeling from whim. However, assuming the mantle of reason, making economic advantage corrupt it, and using the slowness of the process of obtaining evidence to their advantage, are all too often tools employed by the culprits, those who are powerful and wise. And those who are weak and meek have nothing but the sense that they are correct. So things must always be, perhaps. The good wise men, those like Holmes who advocate pure reason for the greater good, are either powerless, or still in school, or too few, or nonexistent save in novels that people cherish precisely because they have achieved impossible feats–good, but impossible nonetheless. And until the light of pure reason illuminates humanity’s way, or until humanity has fully grasped Divine Revelation, gut instinct must, we suppose, suffice.

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Of the Sea

Posted in Composition, Essay on March 24, 2011 by theburningpulpit

The sea, the sea!

My first true love was the sea; the sea is probably my one true love (and farm fields, my querida). Which is strange, for I have seldom been to the sea: seven times on the beach, and only one beyond sight of the shore. But the rarity of these encounters is perhaps the reason why I yearn for the sea, why I long for it, why I hear its call–rolling waves and crying seagulls–all the louder.

My fascination with the sea stretches back to my childhood, during my sister’s birthday, which also happened at the time to be on Easter Sunday. But back then the sea was the beach, the playground of sand and kingdom of sandcastles, and the waters were a distant entity, strange and large and fascinating and vaguely frightening. I saw people on TV, drowning beneath the waves. And yet the sea played with me. The same waves that doomed others lapped my feet, wetting my toes with its cool caress.

But love came a little later, and it came with this music. For some reason, that song spoke to me, and it spoke to me of the sea, of its endless width and depth, of the sunlight making the waters glitter with gold and diamonds, of the cool winds blowing, the waves ebbing, the seagulls flying home. And hearing that song, I knew that in my heart, the sea is home. I may not be a mermaid. I may not be an elf. But still–in the sea I found a glimpse of that quiet, of that contentment, of that peace I have always wanted to find. I realized: when I die, I want to die facing the sea, my foot feeling the cool waters one last time, my ears filled with that song, that deep, beautiful, hopeful song.

This is not to say that the sea is always peaceful, and that we should never be afraid. Even the sea fills me with dread, sometimes. I may brave crossing the sea, as we did when we crossed the strait between Luzon and Mindoro. But I cowered when a tsunami became a very real possibility. And yet, now I think of it, can we always be sure, can we always be at ease with those whom we love? Those we love are never completely made known to us, and that which we do not yet understand disturbs us, discomfits us. And must we love them any less for this? Should we not, in that which we love, cherish what we do not know as much as, if not more than, what we do know?

What do we know of the sea? What can we say of it? For me, all great things come from the sea. From the sea spring life and abundance as fish on the dinner table, beauty and hope as a word to the weary poet, strength and tremor as the call of adventure and the last crashing sound of death–all great things, whether we can endure them or no. Our country is the Eastern Sea’s pearl, so we still sing; the sea is our mother. The West, our brothers, came from the sea: riding tall galleons with proud flags waving, or blue and yellow ships of the line with mighty cannons roaring, or in dark iron battleships bringing horror and ruin. For good or for ill, all the great things that shaped our country came from the sea. And even now, just as our land itself was born of the dark blue waters, it is the wonder, the allure, the terror, and ultimately the total beauty of the sea that touches our hearts with its seagulls’ song and with the rhythm of its waves, that calls us home.

The sea, the implacable mistress, is the most mysterious thing of all–therefore the most dangerous. And yet it is that which stirs in our hearts the greatest feelings, the greatest yearnings. But so are all great things, so are all things most worthy of love. So is, in the end, God.

The Filipiniana Manifesto

Posted in Composition, Essay, Parody on January 10, 2011 by theburningpulpit

(Any similarities to Marx and Engel’s “Communist Manifesto” are purely intentional.)

Introduction

A spectre is haunting the literary circles—the spectre of Filipiniana. Many authors, books, and genres in the literary circles have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Marquez and Mishima, British literature and American, horror and sci-fi.

Where is the Filipino author that has not been decried as Filipiniana by the bookstores in power? Where is the Filipino author that has not hurled back the branding reproach of (overdramatic, over-romantic, and over-religious) Filipiniana, against the more financially successful telenovela parties, as well as its pocketbook adversaries?

Two things result from this fact:

1.    All Filipino artists in the different media are already acknowledged by everyone as Filipiniana

2.    It is high time that Filipino authors should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their dreams, and their tendencies within the scope of Filipiniana, and meet this spectre with a manifesto of acceptance and patronage.

To this end, Filipiniana authors of various backgrounds, genres, and styles have assembled and sketched the following manifesto, to be published in the English, Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino languages as well as the different regional languages.

Chapter I

The history of all hitherto existing Filipiniana is the history of struggles.

Throughout its history, Philippine literature stood in opposition to other national literatures as well as to itself, as medium contended against medium, genre against genre, campus against campus, and author against author. This opposition carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time never ended, for the issues were either outshone by newer issues, or merely neglected to surface another day.

Moreover, plagued by a whole history of introspection, the inner struggle to define and justify its existence, Filipiniana has withdrawn into an ivory tower as authors alienated themselves from the general public as well as from each other, erecting walls of literary craft and experimentation as they struggled with writing the Great Filipino Novel that would recapture the spark of Dr. Rizal’s Noli and Fili. At the same time, Filipino authors, having been kept in isolation, had no limited access and contact with each other’s works and so nourished themselves more and more with imported literature, whether in the form of the classics or geniuses or bestselling authors.

As a result, Filipiniana has made only at best modest gains even in Philippine society, and is fragmented between the various media and the various genres. There is little trust, much less love, between the fine literary arts with its established high academe and the more common and commercialized literature, between the writers in English and Filipino, Filipino and the regional languages. And in the end, given all this, the reading public much rather prefers imported literature than Filipiniana, and the authors that spring from this public are alienated from the Filipiniana tradition from which they themselves, by their nationality, belong.

Chapter II

Given this, what then is to be done?

The first is to abandon the Great Filipino Novel project. No project could be more unproductive, for such an objective only sets limitations, narrowing the author’s craft and imagination, and so alienating those who would read only for pleasure. It is true that social relevance and responsibility must not be foregone; however, to what point is social concern when the projected readership turns away from a dull, dry, and unimaginative writing? Abandoning the Great Filipino Novel, the authors will find that there are numerous avenues to explore, numerous themes to tackle: love, childhood, comedy, family relationships, and so on can now take the forefront. The common reader, after all, is not so much interested with philosophical insight (which is an academic pursuit) as with plot, adventure, and pleasure.

To the author’s hearts must dwell the habit of reading Filipiniana, the preferential option for works by Filipinos. This is not to say that there is something inherently wrong with reading foreign literature, and having favorites among the writers from the different countries; what is wrong is that within the collective library of the Philippine literary circle the ratio of imported to Filipiniana is disproportional. Even in its current state the Filipiniana can boast of numerous good and promising authors such as Nick Joaquin, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Gina Apostol, Merlinda Bobis, and even Mars Ravelo and Arnold Arre. By patronizing Filipiniana as much as foreign literature, budding Filipino authors get to know the current literary scene, the current context, while also learning from the brilliance and errors of the literary forefathers.

And what remains is the democratization of Filipiniana. The academe must descend from its ivory tower—not in the sense as Lopez said regarding Villa, but by considering the potency and the talents employed in other media such as pocketbooks, self-help books, gossip columns, telenovelas, and so on. While craft and technical precision, which are perhaps neglected outside the fine literary arts, are important, the down-to-earth approach of the various media is capable of drawing larger audiences. And as long as one of the primary purposes of literature is communication, drawing large audiences should be considered a priority. Perhaps the academe may well learn from the common media as it accepts alternative means of writing.

In short, Filipino authors everywhere should and in fact do support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of Filipiniana.

The Filipino authors disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible change of literary conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Filipiniana revolution. The Filipino authors have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

Authors of Filipiniana unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! (And lack of sales!)