Trajectories of a Lecturer
Silay Lumbera, in a class report on the CONTEND forum, “talked about Erika Salang, her classmate when they were both in elementary.” The latter grew up “to be a mass activist, then a full-time red fighter at 16.” She eventually perished in an encounter with the 31st Infantry Battalion on March 29, 2006.” The whole townsfolk she had served mourned her youthful deeds.
The student paper was gushy about the anime-like adventures of Erika, & witnesses seemed to have been seduced into fantasizing about the possibility of following her tracks.
Its unsaid however could be debated as an erasure of bourgeois fatalism, or a wild card of choice for a meaningful career: the narrative after all, equates liberation with death, a mythic Christian precedent drilled into the faithful.
But to die at 20? When the world for post-adolescents has just started to unfold? Kids, who were awed by the story, might glimpse a nihilistic, nay, suicidal imperative here…
It is almost, this lecture of a well-meaning militant, an application of the “estrangement effect,” whereby the consciousness (of English 11 students), steeped in the old ways of viewing, ideologically, their negotiated life are shocked into contemplating/actualizing an alternative lifestyle—like a door has opened before them—but this estrangement itself, whose techniques, in the words of Jameson, “have become the dominant style” [which] reconciles the consumer [the audience awed by the revelatory narrative] “with capitalism”, must be “stranged” [itself] and “corrected by a more totalizing way of viewing phenomena.”
Is this possible? Like Paul on the road to Damascus?
Totalization, theoretically, results “in the resistance to the power of reification in consumer society and” [reinvention of] “that category of totality which, systematically undermined by existential fragmentation on all levels of life and social organization today, can alone project structured relations between classes as well as class struggle in other countries, in what has increasingly become a world system.”
But is this easier said than done by an American scholar who has not empirically immersed himself in a revolutionary setto?
UP students are trapped in their distinct imaginary (“the relationship of the subject to the material effects of ideology” which overlay and distort the “economic circumstances governing individual life”) of their own social class, which is constantly affirmed by the praxiology of the system itself.
How can a radical rupture happen?
Starbucks, Trinoma, media events create the “closed consciousness” [Adorno] wrought by the technology of cosmopolitan living: the individual is a fragmented monad that seeks only its own pleasure, never the sacrifice of death for a collective of another antagonistic class.
After graduation, they would willfully settle into the humdrum fantasy of a well-paid career, whose politics of survival would turn them into defenders of laissez-faire & the corporate state.
Every narrative/ lecture is a wager: sharing anecdotes of heroism is also sharing a notion of defeat of the struggle that has yet to proclaim a triumphalism that is real, perceptible. There is only a history of the State still able to empower itself, procuring the support of the mainstream that is given likewise to the fatalism of corruption & degeneracy.
But these words however for those who have feigned to lose heart: “the hopeful side of the narrative,” assures Eagleton, “is exactly that ‘value’ is something derivable, historically speaking, from ‘fact’—that oppressive social orders, as a matter of their routine operation, cannot help generating the kinds of forces and desires which can in principle overthrow them.”
Is a “closed consciousness” totally beyond psychological assault?
For instance, when a Philippine Eagle was shot & feasted upon by a young man in Sultan Kudarat, Bukidnon, the datus in the area performed rites to exorcise the unknown culprit then, who eventually “felt the heat & surrendered to authorities.”
The imaginary sorcery, the fear of divine retribution, in defense of animals, possibly made him own up to his crime. Did “closed consciousness” predetermined by a tribal mode of ideology enable the leaders to punish the felon & preserve the harmony between the ethnic minority & nature? Unless pre-industrial mindset is not deemed atavism.
This is analogous to the class reporters in Silay Lumbera’s lecture, gripped as the freshmen are by a Christian concept of missionary work; they could very well mimic the “sacrifice” of Erika despite their presumed individualistic &— because capitalist, or market drive impulses—selfish self-preservation.
Something indeed to be wished.
Christian ethical demands as possible revolutionary way to rupture?
When the “30 second spot featured a rapid montage of clips from television shows and Hollywood films of actors and cartoon characters…picking up the telephone and saying “Hello”, the ad for iPhone was cause for Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay to bristle over the Youtube exposure because it resembled “his own video ‘Telephones’.”
He couldn’t however pursue his anger: the perpetrators, the criminals who stole his images, “were people with that much power and money. [When they] copy you, there’s not much you can do.”
But “artists have been appropriating image from the advertising world. In the 1960’s Andy Warhol made silk-screened copies of Brillo boxes and Campbell’s soup cans. In the 1980’s, Richard prince rephotographed magazine ads for Marlboro cigarettes…” & so on.
The constant appropriation & reappropriation of images, according to Graham Allen, has been noted already in Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” where technology has enabled society to reproduce original works, ushering in what may be called the era of simulacrum, where reality is a game of shadows/images.
& Truth is just one image of a deeply buried original that eventually loses its origin.
But this has been earlier presumed in Hume’s, as quoted by Eagleton, which intimated “the modern principle of intertextuality…Before the knowledge of the fact could come to the first historian, it must be conveyed through many mouths; and after it is committed to writing, each new copy is a new object, of which the connection within the foregoing is known only by experience and observation…”
Briefly, “the evidence of all ancient history is now lost to us.”
Simply saying everything written or said—any poem, fiction or philosophical essay—is “text on text”, a story on story, as in Scholes “the “hidden” [if at all possible, given Derrida’s notion of textual, in the sense of being made up of a complex weave of elements which prevents it from being clearly demarcated from something else”, or “nothing stands gloriously alone…” that “meaning is never final or stable”… & “no system of meaning can ever be unshakeably founded”] within the black box called creativity can here be glimpsed as an intertextual process, the suppression of which generates the power of the final image [which is not final, after all, only a copy of a copy].”
In effect, Silay’s pastiche of images rendered in her recollection of events—her past with Erika, & the future which configures both her & the audience—is an attempt at pronouncing a sea-change in the context of revolution, which is a writing of the Via Crucis & the onus of redemption. A Jewish story or a Marxist premise?
The class’s reception is possibly a recuperation of the nobility of the act, an attitude culled by the narrative of martyrdom of the female warrior—but, given the play of indeterminacies of a feudal society wrapped up in postmodernist splintering, the final action may yet be prescribed as an index, not of “depth”, but of “surface in multiple surfaces,” that would not pin down the singularity of truth.
They, in short, can opt out & join the counterrevolutionary faction.
After all, totalization & fragmentation are not absolute terms.
Is the future bleak?
Suppose the Angelus Novus of Benjamin, for one unrecorded moment, turned his face in the direction of the future, what then?
We would perhaps view history with an oceanful of optimism.
The CNN reporter, an American-Vietnamese, had to spend 21 hours riding cars, small bancas through the cordon of checkpoints to better slip past the militia & reach the Irriwaddy delta where typhoon survivors of Myanmar struggle to live like field rats.
The landscape is warren of unburied bones & windblown houses—if not for the paradox of grinning children who seem oblivious to the wreckage around them. As if life is like that—miserable as always, an accident in itself, a karmic phase that augers for a positive tomorrow, in this country which “is one of the most secretive nations on the planet.”
But officials cannot keep the lid on this mess forever. Electronic waves can unlock this Pandora’s box.
But in the Philippines, the Supreme Court seems unable to learn the lesson that “nothing can be kept from the prying eyes of the curious.” When it proclaimed the JPEPA case as protected by executive privilege, they have made the whole Malacañang a virtual Kempeitai garrison that exacts loyalty & obedience to the modern emperors.
The wise men in black robes, cynics observe, are no more than Darth Vader’s simulacra intoning gibberish in the labyrinth of words.
(for the Bellers)
They’ve got to come home—
see the old folks
get a grip of what’s going on.
The fear & trembling
at the once New York Centre
democrats & republicans
into each other’s arms,
opening up war fronts
O, the leap into the dark
Darth Vader’s side
where an Empress Dowager
at her feet disposable serfs
& corporate lackeys—
where poets & hacks
scribbling eternal beauty
run in circles like rats
but for Sunday warriors
in faculty halls,
grown fat & flabby,
pointing to the somewhere
of nowhere hills…
[Can they still
of old beliefs?
Can choices be listed off
Can nothing eventually
Nic is forever gone
& survivors of the imaginary
their future old stories
that must turn out
rigorous, novel, new
like ripples of laughter
in a half-empty glass
drunk in vivid nostalgia
The trick, after all,
is to move on,
lest all freeze to stone.