Ka Dan & Other Occasions



The Centennial celebration of the University of the Philippines must necessarily be a high-powered production that befits an apparatus of the government to proclaim its social value relative to its theoretical signification. It must therefore give way to a ceremonious salutation of individuals who have been perceived by the status quo to have conferred on it premium marketing value – & it could only set store by players of the game within its ideological matrix: thus, when Justice Reynato S. Puno was deemed the most distinguished alumnus of the university, the implication could only be vast.


For instance, judicial activism must henceforth be prescribed as the only mode of action, for law is governance that holds a fractious society together. Its objectivity goes beyond partisan alignment.


To this, the bourgeois class that constitutes the state (the feudal oligarchy that preempts power) would only say amen.


Puno has demonstrated the canon of energizing the probity of rules – & his writ of amparo as well as writ of habeas data are landmarks in reformism.


Yet have these provisions stayed the armed components of the state from subverting the principles of accountability? Do they cower in fear, as if legalese were a Damoclean sword poised to cut the hydra of terror altogether?


Of course not.


They have given, the writs that whetted the libertarian appetite of the mainstream, false hope to the orphans of the desaparecidos – & the rule of the fascist clique has persisted with wild abandon.


When guns rule, law falls silent.


Yet, atavistic optimism must be impressed upon the young that revolutionary changes can only be achieved within the technical permutations of the law (there must be spaces of freedom within the chains). The ritual of observance in the midst of anarchic predisposition by the elite who continuously returns to power through electoral consensus (Badiou sneers at this failing of democracy that facilitates the recuperation of fascism) must be sustained for fear that the underclass would interpret dura lex, sed lex within their context.


That Puno should be held in high regard by the sustainers of the status quo would certainly raise the hackles of partisans if contested – the audience has been primed, after all, for that kind of positivity.


But the fearless (reckless to the neocons, who have fought for change, suffering privation & all that, even death) will never make it to the shortlist of patriots to be honored.


This is one occasion for mooning, indeed.





In a Sunday column for the conservative Bulletin, “Breaking Signs,” Cirilo F. Bautista narrates an encounter with a former colleague who had gone into the profitable insurance underwriting. The ex-literary devotee said “in [his] line of job, [they] value straight talk… But poets… enjoy torturing [their] readers with [their] verbal obscurity.”


To which the columnist was quick to defend his turf: “You don’t like reading between the lines to see the meanings that are not obvious in the text but which are embedded there by the arrangement of the words. You must realize that the poem represents a kind of code – it is a human experience waiting to be uncovered and discovered… The imaginary is transferred into the real through the machinery of the metaphoric mind.”


But a message is a semiotic text, it should be argued, that “has contextual and circumstantial selections” in its various coding. For Umberto Eco, “a reader is supposed to single out the text’s elementary ideological structure, the operations overdetermined by his ideological subcodes…”


For instance, a reader of “Fleming stories who shares the ideological judgments expressed by the text at the level of discursive structure is probably not eager to look for an underlying ideological scaffolding at a more abstract level; on the contrary, a reader who challenges many of the author’s explicit value judgment is to go further with an ideological analysis so as to ‘unmask’” [Cirilo Bautista’s words are uncover & discover, which is his intention; but proceeds from a claim of non-ideological practice] “the hidden catechization performed at more profound levels.”


In a similar vein, “textuality,” according to Fredric Jameson, “may be considered a methodological hypothesis whereby the objects of study of the human sciences… are considered to constitute so many texts that we decipher and interpret, as distinguished from the older views of these objects as realities or existents or substance that we in one way or another attempt to know.”


(Formalist reading presumes that reading is knowing, but there’s a hell of a difference between the notion of writer as producer & writer as creator.)


The insurance salesman assumes (SOP in Philippine literature pedagogy) a text is transparent & self-manifest; the Dominican-bred columnist, though wary of the literal, isn’t however worried at all that his deciphering/interpretation plays only along a line of his ideological orientation (new criticism, anti-Marxist) & therefore limiting as well as limited.


The salesman operates at a lexical level where “clearly” his premiums are projected to redound to his own benefit: but it will not reveal how much of his contribution rakes in profit for the company & keeps the capitalist machine humming. The columnist intimates profoundly beyond the so-called Freudian manifest, but barely the latent which escapes the subject.


Both miss the point. They operate from within the discourse of monopoly capitalism & their disagreement is illusionary: they’re ideological brothers who believe in the same god of hermeneutics that feeds off the hegemonic palaver of the state.


The insurance paper will camouflage business profit; although the subscriber is made to believe he too will prosper mutually; the literary practitioner will insist on the particular line of meaning his poetic frame axiomizes, which he propounds is beyond ideology.


If Bautista, in the polemics of E. San Juan, Jr., states that poetry goes beyond the notion of class, or is not determined by it, he actually depoliticizes the text (if ever a dictator would bother with formalists, it is certainly for a different reason). Gelacio Guillermo, who once in his youth mistakenly valorized Bautista’s archipelagic grid, would however, in his later years, advocate a partisan-based lit on the overwhelming vantage of national liberation: in the varied spectrum of reality, a choice has to be made to respond to Sartre’s “For whom does one write?” or Lenin’s “What is to be done?”


To wit, an occasion of walking into the woods (we posit a poem of this nature) could symbolize a journey to the truth, but how would that implicate the current salvaging of innocents if the text is not specific about them? There is always this fear of being simplistically political, but much ambiguity happens this way, & we allow poets to go scot free, as if they’re above partisanship & their poems virtually cover the universal. As if, moreover, a poet has no blind spot. The so-called prophetic eye is an invention of shamans who would dazzle the eyes, never the mind.


Can an age see itself looking & performing the rituals of seeing? Can we see the back of our heads?


At summer workshops, where acolytes lie at the feet of their masters like herded cows, gurus turn benevolent shepherds. But a pat on the back could also be a sledgehammer on the consciousness.


“Let us save the children.”





Jill Bolte Taylor, “a neuroscientist working at Harvard University’s brain research center,” recently experienced nirvana when she suffered a stroke.


There “was a piercing pain behind her eyes… a blood vessel had popped. Within minutes, her left lobe… began to fail her… [But] the incessant chatter that normally filled her mind disappeared. Her everyday worries – about a brother with schizophrenia and her high-powered job – untethered themselves from her and slid away.”


It is established “that the left brain gives us context, ego, time, logic… The right brain gives us creativity and empathy. Her message, that people can choose to live a more peaceful, spiritual life by sidestepping their left brain has resonated widely.”


But does one need to “lose the ability to speak, to understand numbers or letters, or even, at first, to recognize [one’s] mother? Eight years of recovery followed.”


An accidental route to nirvanic bliss, but is not recommended for anyone to allow seizures to hit the left lobe only, as if it could be perfectly arranged.


The psychostate can however be duplicated, or simulated, on the level of “mindfulness meditation,” according to Zindel Segal, a psychologist at the Center of Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. The therapy, it is called, is however “rooted in the teachings of a fifth-century B.C. Indian prince, Siddharta Gautama,” the Buddha.


This philosophy as a modern practice “help[s] relieve stress, soothe[s] addictive cravings, improve[s] attention, lift[s] despair and reduce[s] hot flashes.”


It is also a religion of fatalist acceptance where one “just lets [things] be… not trying to change anything.” [A similar therapy is conducted on trauma victims, of the recent sinking of Princess of the Stars, where “tearful relatives” are de-stressed clinically & made to confront the inevitability of the tragedy.]


It is built-into the process that “a person can turn, mentally to face a threatening or troubling thought and learn simply to endure the anger or sadness and let it pass, without lapsing into rumination or trying to change the feeling, a move that often backfires.”


Briefly, against dialectico-material principle, nothing can be changed. One must simply flow – a fallacy for those who would fashion existence in the context that man can work things out in a world of so-called metaphysical disorder.


“You have nothing to lose but your chains” would ring hollow, or mean differently to a guy in lotus position.


By transposition, the left is the domain of mathematicians; the right, phantasists.


Logic aligns with numbers, as in theories of possibility, while the nirvanic is the stuff of Anne Dillard’s what-ifs, the plausible that challenges rationality.


Are we to argue then that fictionists [the so-called creative spirits] are blindly speeding into the dark, while promising flashes of light in the horizon to guide us through the malevolent journey; or our guides be Einstein or Hawking who could see through the irrational bluff & reduce everything to logical precision?


Shall we find comfort in simply crossing our fingers?




Ka Dan


The news of his earthly demise wasn’t anything to shock him like a surprising whiff of fresh air in a fetid room.


Already, there had been ominous signs, but he still couldn’t help catching his breath when he scanned the inside page: Ka Dan Vizmanos, at 79, had passed away.


A so-called renegade when the army war deep into Eisenhower cult, he broke out of the militarist cocoon as early as the ’50s – a paradox of the spirit that would not dare consign its fate to rigid rules & regulations, unexamined motives of power, Pavlovian mode of behavior. Tortured & subjected to truth serum, he was able to hold his ground, survive the inquisitorial regime of Marcos, & find refuge in militant orbs that kept him from vegetating, like any retiree, into wasted obscurity.


He was ever the fighter.


He once rode a rememberer’s car into a house on Roces that had since been demolished. He talked about small things to keep the conversation light & pleasurable, never slipping into the grim & determined tone of a cartoon superhero.


Like his old generation of warriors, he had finally stepped aside for the dissenters in the wings to seize the center stage of history, where he had left the onus of Phoenix-dreams of his time.




Apropos the Supreme Court, what do you make of old fogeys beholden to an appointive President & who interpret the law that binds our little lives with their infallible majesty – & laymen couldn’t question their hermeneutic prowess because no one is higher than themselves?


They who are trapped in their own ideological limitations & spheres of fears & comfort, point out the entrances & exits of the text like some labyrithine passageways in Kafka’s castle – & we can only talk to the guards at the gate because we are not empowered to proceed?


If a simple task, for instance, would be administered on these self-proclaimed thinkers who tinker with truth & meaning, like making them read a poem, a short story, anything that is discursive, & if civilians are allowed to join the fray of readers, how would they fare?


For sure, there will be a cacophony of voices, including the jurists’, that will subvert their authoritarian tenor. Consequently, all things deemed equal, we should have an inkling of their individual ideologemes & “see finally that the emperor wears no clothes.”


That Trillanes couldn’t attend the Senate hearings – the court crows about the superstructure of the law that projects it as rationally impregnable – while the likes of Lapid, Revilla, Zubiri (whose votes are still contested; imaginary unlike Trillanes’s) & other lesser lights with like intelligence quotient, could sit before a nationwide microphone & babble, boggles logic, even common sense, that the impervious arbiters of justice in the land, would have us, legal numbskulls, believe in their wisdom, much like religious fanatics who are advised that the ways of the lord are inscrutable & (surely in the final analysis once the smoke of disbelief allegedly clears) just.




The journey of a thousand miles starts with a small step.


The devil is in the detail.


Bromides that may underlie catastrophes.


When a phone caller aired over DZMM teleradyo that the Sulpicio Lines is noted for not graciously feeding stranded passengers, the Princess of the Stars’ sinking becomes explicable.


No, the Pag-asa weather bulletin was as reliable & erratic as CNN’s, which predicted a northward route. Yes, the high pressure ridge made the typhoon veer off to Romblon & slice through Southern Luzon…


The captain, some people aver, could have turned back to a nearer island shelter, but it was touted as the jewel in the Sulpicio shipyard, & tough enough to weather such cyclonic threat. It didn’t…


Was it the almost reflex action on the part of authorities that a re-routing midway would be a logistic maintenance that would bite off chunks from company profit?


The captain’s possible apprehension about headquarters’ reprimand might have forced his hand “to damn the torpedoes & steam at full speed ahead.”

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