Science of Sadness



Was it that time (he was six) when they fetched him in the middle of a sunny afternoon from school to see his infant brother, all swaddled in cotton cloth, & lying on a small table, a candle flickering at headmost edge. He had passed away (he could have been victim of sepsis, but who would know if no doctor was present at this birthing?) but he couldn’t bring himself tears: he was overwhelmed by strange emotions of it all – his mother blankly looking at her baby, his grandmother praying in a corner, & no one had trickled in yet to pay their respects. He wasn’t even afraid – the dead haunt you into a world of terror – to sit by his coffin at the calesa that brought them to the municipal cemetery. & when his mother broke down before the sealing of the small tomb, he felt awkwardly embarassed to see her crying for the first time.

She was with her when she asked for Openg to dine with them, sharing their salt fish & gruel. She feared being alone, he would know later, & it would be the beginning of her nervous breakdown which led her to spend months in Manila… That was all he could recollect; every episode thereafter like a blank reel of film… All he knew was he would rather be alone, cover himself with a wooden blanket, & linger in the dark landing of the stairs until his pious grandmother would call him up for supper.

He didn’t have any playmate, so he would just spend mornings & afternoons listening to his neighbor’s radio & the twitter of birds in the huge acacia tree that limned the whole compound where they rented the ground floor of a makeshift apartment.

Was that when it all started, this feeling of anomie & the incurable brooding that infest his daily reckoning?

Was it something that caused him bad grades at the university that violently pulled him out of his rustic pace & delivered him right smack into the hassle of city life which made him cringe at the company urbane strangers & academics with phony American accent?

All his elementary life he had spent cultivating a vegetable plot in a provincial school – & any idea of enlightenment (read: the age of reason) was accidental.

& so on.

This impoverished childhood & rebellious youth – did it correctly image his passage into adulthood?

Yet “psychologists from England’s University of Plymouth and US University of Virginia” in the persons of Simone Schall & her colleagues would report “that happy children don’t always learn their lessons well.” In “top-down processing, a good mood tended to rely on existing knowledge… to understand new information.” While “in bottom-up processing… people start with no pre-conceived notions and build up their own thoughts and ideas based on what they learn as they go on.” (As quoted from the column of Massie Ballon.)

He was neither sad nor happy: only he felt “that something is amiss, triggering detail-oriented, analytical processes.”

But it would be superfluous to apply it to him who would face a deadend when navigating the past: he had to be reminded of events that sifted in during conversations, photos that placed him at a particular place & time…

Nothing in this case could account for melancholia, no matter how scientific it could be.

Even literature couldn’t explain it all.

& how badly people set great store by it.


Which, in effect, argues for the dictum that losers are smarter than spoiled brats?

This is SOP for most apologists who aver, that given equal opportunity, the technocrats of the future would emerge from the ranks of overachieving scavengers at Payatas, Gramsci’s potential organic intellectuals who will pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

This is something devoutly to be wished; however, these are rugby-addled brains, noodle-fattened bodies whose genes have been altered so toxically there is nothing much society can expect but to lock them up or send them to rehab for they are the virtual monsters bred at the margins, out to wreak violence even on members of their own subclass.

Writers who originate from the sanscullotes would bat for Schall’s lab results – as if by being celebrated by the mainstream & pursuing the ideological hegemony of the state, they shall have proved themselves superior by virtue of their suffering which they could writerly retell with clarity & empirical truths.

But they have likewise internalized the neo-fascism of the state through a notion of language & craft, embraced a lifestyle of the rich & famous… [You can pull a boy out of a country, but never a country out of a boy, they say. & it will show.]

Affluent but sad: that is the bummer.


& when he thinks of how these kids prepare assiduously info packages for incoming freshmen so they could savor a life worth making in UP – the onerous tuition hike, the system that penalizes everyone, regardless of class, for an education that serves foreign corporations, etc – he becomes all worked up, as if gripped by the misplaced sentiment for the poor who tugs at collective heartstrings. But Bob Dylan douses their slow fire: “You can’t expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor.”

So he turns suspicious of the revolutionary wager that the masses will be ripe for revolt, which too often is a losing proposition: on the basis of Kantian moral imperative, they will be lacking in ethical superiority to judge the executors of evil designs precisely because they are contaminated by the Devil himself…

But Brecht is aware of this contradiction, as in the parable of the Gordian Knot:

“… Oh, the man

Whose hand tied it was not

Without plans to undo it, but alas,

The span of his life was only long enough

For the one thing, the tying.

A second sufficed

To cut it.”


She stood on a mound of stones to view the spot where our feline possession, Bugsy, was laid to rest two years ago. She had been warned of snakes slithing in the overgrown grass, & could only whisper a short prayer across the untended lawn of a house slowly falling apart…

He was family, & “deeper than all the roses” is the loss at his passing at the animal clinic.

He was ours. All lowly creatures, so-called, deserve that affectionate moment of remembering. If only humanity were civilized, then there would be, he mused as she stood silently at the edge of the front yard, a kind of peace, like a gentle wind, in this troubled land where cats & dogs roam in hunger & in-chains while merciless humans pray at angelus for God’s merciful blessing.


Fredric Jameson clarifies that savages of the past are historically different from the savages of today: yes, there’s a chasm that separates the technological civilization of the modern from the primitivic periods of early tribes. The former lived in an enclosed world that was cryptic & natural; the latter pretends to be in full control of his wits, & like someone who stands on a cliff, sees the bigger picture, diagrams the expansive space.

So saying, contemporary philosophers stand on the shoulders of their forefathers: they can now advance beyond the permutations of Plato’s cave, or Kant’s categorical imperative.

Whenever he wakes up, as if from deep nightmare, he is overwhelmed by undefinable exhaustion & malaise: a ghost must have pushed him down on a cushion of pins like an Indian mystic. Stress? Cerebral atrophy? Lingering idiocy?

He’s wired to everything that seems to media-happen in the world: the guilt trip of American voters that made them rally behind the Afro-American who mouths change as if he could fix American imperialism; the death of children in the earthquake zone of China; the genocide in Darfur; the sex trade in Algeria, London, everywhere; the bombing in Iraq; the burkha myth for women in Iran, etc.

He’s helplessly suffocated by the avalanche of events exploding in every nook & cranny of the planet.

O how he wished he was a neanderthal savage who would only worry over a volcano erupting in the vicinity, or the other tribe foraying into their own hunting ground…

The equation wouldn’t be quadratic; & the survival kit simple enough.

Technology has become a source of multiplex of stress coming from all sides.

It’s the “technology of the railroad against the plane,” which implicates, for Paul Virilio, the notion of speed that spills us into a fast lane, this cybernetics “which organizes networks of relations and information and, as such, they quite obviously convey the perspective of a humanity that is not only unified but also reduced to uniformity.”

For the “new technologies,” he warns, carry “a certain type of accident, one that is no longer local and precisely situated, like the sinking of the Titanic or derailment of a train but general, an accident that immediately affects the entire world.”

Never has the adage “no man is an island” assumed a more catastrophic reading.


The mourners who lined up at the actor’s wake in their jogging shorts & sneakers so early in the morning are the very iconic of the tabloid perversities that allow the profane to be elevated to the level of the acceptable.

These bums never knew the guy as a friend, for sure, but they were ogling his remains like pedestrians poking with their eyes an animal lying dead on the pavement, or voyeurs on necrophiliac high.

If only he were God & could unleash thunderbolts from his hands: he would scuttle them like cattle to let the family be alone in their grief. In dignity. In disconsolate peace.

Alas, but there is this problem of ownership: the vulgar public thinks he owes them…

[& Marilyn Monroe’s Playboy spread still turns them on.]


(For Camille)

When Jerry West traded Vlade Divac, his Yugoslavian center who came in after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired his Laker uniform, for a Philadelphia kid named Kobe Bryant who was fresh off high school, cage cynics must have scored it a crazy stunt.

What did West see in the tyro named Kobe?

Years later, the “Black Samba” would clinch the MVP award in the NBA; & West’s gamble would bring smile at how far he could see into the future.

Michael Jordan drafted Kwame Brown, & became laughing stock among high rollers.

She applied for an instructor’s job at a downtown university & breezed through the exams with flying colors. Yet the old fogeys still insisted on graduate units – as if extra credential is index of intellectual clout. They stuck to their rules they themselves interpreted in whichever way.

How about kids who would helplessly fidget at the hands of time-warped pedagogues, whose spiel is read from yellowing notebooks?

Her first heartache, an interminable sadness – but there would be more because the Althusserian apparat is a snake pit.

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2 Responses to Science of Sadness

  1. ver says:

    Hi Sir (again),

    I also ask your permission to reprint this poem…




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