Empty Text

1.
Contraquotes

Just to hear Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, the “sell-out crowd… [had to fork over] P300,000 per table nearest the stage and P22,000 per seat in the farthest sections of the ballroom.”

The “event drew a powerhouse crowd of around 500,” not bad for someone who never said anything new about leadership in a capitalist setting, but couldn’t win the nomination in the Republican primary, despite his credentials, to wit: “In 2001, Giuliani was named Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ and in 2000, he received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. Former President Jacques Chirac called him ‘Rudy the Rock’.”

He was superstar in the aftermath of 9/11, rallying the embattled New Yorkers behind him as fount of strength & courage, leader in a time of crisis. But then, anyone in that situation, given such office & particular circumstance, would have filled the bill of the iconic who took over center stage. He couldn’t have done otherwise.

He was noted, for instance, “for reduced welfare dependence among his constituents by nearly 60%,” something that seems to contradict GMA’s subsidies, but for some observers, this is a decoy ploy: she taketh more than she giveth. The VAT, additional taxation, is meant merely to serve national debts incurred by all nefarious regimes & maintain the military that is bulwark of governance.

J.C. Meyers would reveal that Giuliani’s main concern is really “striking people from welfare roles… a more pressing goal than lifting them out of poverty…” because he insisted “the people receiving government income supports were not truly in need of such assistance, they had simply been allowed to become dependent upon it.”

“In other words,” the critique goes, “the important issue was not how much a person had to spend on things like food or shelter each month, but that they are as fully removed as possible from the world of public social services and incorporated into the world of private industry, commerce, and the market.”

The lower class must pull itself up by its own bootstrap. The poor, moreover, are too lazy to work.

Giuliani’s solution is Horatio Alger’s classic formula, something our Hollywood-fed masa emulates via Eat Bulaga or Wowowee.

“If you can’t get a job,” he counsels, “start a small business. Start a little candy store. Start a little newspaper stand. Start a lemonade stand.”

This, Meyers concludes sarcastically, “represented an almost dream-like denial of reality. Candy stores require business licenses, inventories, display cases, cash register, and… rented premises, entailing security deposits and favorite credit histories.”

In Manila, a cigarette vendor would love his capital loaned from sharks if the MMDA operatives happen to get in his way. So with sidewalk retailers whose litany of woes is too boring to retell.

It adds up to capital formation for this small entrepreneurship that runs afoul of the notion of the pedestrian adage that you need perseverance & huge doses of industry to come up in the world.

But people can’t prosper selling empty bottles, cheap plastic & whatever – it is not even enough for most junkshops to operate since prices have fallen in recessionary trend.

The politicians & corporate executives, who dream of the accolade Giuliani has reaped, deserve what they paid for at the seminar.

Like colonials who lap up foreign acts – piracy has cut down studio profits & concert tours have raked in the moolah, even for bands/singers who have seen better days – the audience made Giuliani feel like an intellectual guru out to dispense wisdom in this provincial territory.

But who would give him a hoot in Wall Street?

In Manila, high-class suckers are born every minute.

2.
The Face of Class

Re the SONA, a major press editorial remarked, in part, “she could have reached out, but praised herself and her allies, and told a nation, as she told the typhoon victims in Iloilo and Aklan not so long ago, that they should wait for charity while she attended an important business abroad.”

Prior to that is a curious statement: “one which failed to comprehend how the mindset of this country has moved on from the old mentality that there are permanent classes, including a permanent and dependent class of the poor.”

A metacritique is in order: we are marking the parameters of class, identity, the classic & postmodernist philosophies that underlie the editorial. Both instances implicate a notion of class.

In Raymond Williams’ Keywords with historic permutation, class is an “economic category” & a “social formation in which, for historical reasons, consciousness of the situation and the organization to deal with have developed.” The so-called, in effect, “no permanent classes” merely means that that assignation & subscription of the individual to class itself is shifting & porous boundarywise, given the assumed laissez-faire that attends market mechanism: the so-called mobility in the workplace has offered a quasi-egalitarianism the working class is made to perceive.

Still oppositional classes exist – only the faces of the personae have changed, including their ideological allegiance & material status.

Class filiation is provisional; class ideology is oppositional.

In this wise, we take note of Robert Seguin’s caveat: “Extensive political organization and fortuitous political categories… will not guarantee… automatic simplifications of class relations.” Moreover, “an atomized liberal landscape” cannot warrant “class politics” with “identity politics,” much that labor becomes only “one among other interest groups.”

Essentialist argument or identity assumptions have resulted in the “proletarianizing of the image in the history of workers’ and socialist movements.” [in] “giant posters of brawny men wielding hammer as the true incarnation of socialism, an image that no one finds uplifting anymore.”

(Maoist-influenced local posters have their disturbing homogenization – & young artists tend to rebel against this as dogmatic, unimaginative.)

Furthermore, this means invoking “Antonio Negri and Felix Guattari in Communists Like Us,” which Seguin does not buy, “the approach of seizing upon any and all manifestations of resistance, down to the most local and personal, and invoking them as proletarian.”

Seguin is not willing to an open-ended enlistment of the word proletarian, however, although he finds the broadening of the term as “striking and energizing, and old-fashioned in a salutary kind of way” [they try] “to tie moments of resistance [traced] directly to the contradiction between wage-labour and capital, and to the necessary antagonism of this contradiction.”

This is supplemented by E. San Juan, Jr., who opines “given the changes in the objective conditions of social life (technological innovations, complexification of needs, flexible division of labor, political upheavals)… Marxist theory strives to integrate these changes to the fundamental truth in our epoch of history, namely the contradiction between capital and labor…”

To insist that class per se is not permanent, is to “become fascinated with a post-modern neo-romantic tendency in Ideologiekritik that proposes a logic of consistency, identity politics, post-utopian heteroglossia.”

(In the literary field, class analysis as the basis in reading a text is elided in critical reading – the flowering of magic realism is simply the election of the non-political in amost political act of writing, or ecriture.)

The aforementioned editorial could be infected by this: “the aestheticization of agency/subject position as a substitute for dialectics.”

For Franco Berardi, “the workers’ struggles of the sixties and seventies had an epicenter and a fundamental motivation: the refusal of industrial labor, of human’s life submission to the factory and to mechanical discipline.”

Hence, “for capital to defend itself from capital, the sciences are employed,” substituting “human labor with electronically operated flexible system…”

To a certain extent, computer has broadened the options for the workers – this process taking over the tedious discussion groups in disparate territories.

Thus, the notion of class division leapfrogs into the “intellectualization of the working class.” It’s a double-edged sword. Ownership of info is not absolute; points of subversion occur. Consequently, its diasporic flight as cheap labor in industrial countries has politicized them, infecting labor with a cosmopolitan world-view that, in the Philippines, tends to subvert the local feudal governance.

& here is where GMA’s predicament lies: cutting down the cost of text messages, while populist in appeal, merely pursues the logic of state destabilization as the flow of information grows ten-fold, the secrecy is no longer tenable for the state. GMA is in a time-warp: the technology of information will merely undo whatever she superficially pronounces.

& we digress. Given the subversive ramification of the online revolution among the workers, can we be optimistic about the future?

Can the movement amplify its mission among the masses & raise their consciousness toward their own uplift?

But San Juan, though gung-ho about the praxis for revolutionary change, is also skeptical. He is critical in a 1993 Polygraph issue, of the cadres: “In the first place, were the basics of materialist dialectics ever studied? Yes – by rote: a doctrinal catechism. Proof of this is my personal encounter with cadres who, without second thought dismiss Lukacs, Luxembourg, and Althusser as irrelevant Western thinkers (because they did not lead successful revolutions – how about Marx and Engels?), the official party belittles or ignores their contributions to the Marxist tradition… Such dogmatism has roots not only in petty bourgeois elitist syndrome, but also in the metaphysics of patriarchal absolutism pervading family life and all of civil society, sanctioned by religion and by quotidian business routines.”

A mouthful which surely will not endear the critic to the underground left.

But suppose his contention falls into what Slavoj Zizek says: “You know, Marx thesis eleven: philosophers have only interpreted the world, we have now to change it. Maybe, as good Marxists, we should turn it around. Maybe we are trying to change it too much. It’s time to redraw and interpret it again, because do we really know what is going on today?

“We need theory more than ever. Don’t be – don’t feel guilty for withdrawing from immediate engagement and for trying to understand what’s going on.”

But how would activists & guerillas interpret this injunction?

3.
Imperatives

At a downtown lounge
the drunken conversation –
almost a duel
that draws
imaginary knives & pistols –

turns hotter than a flat iron:
but the people don’t give a damn
about themselves anymore.
Since when have molotovs
been hurled;
pillboxes lugged in backpacks?
No, Marxism isn’t dead.
It’s in hibernation
to those who restlessly sleep.
No, it couldn’t even slay
the beasts
at Gulag & Guantanamo –
& Tiannanmen was a disaster
for the creed,
much like Stalin & his ilk.
Yes, altars must altogether
be dismantled
& tomorrow never again
laid out
of detritus of those
who perished in the night
of comrades & generals.
But the Slovenian
retrieves Lenin from the shelf,
& the bible of revolution,
in remembrance of warriors past,
brought back in circulation –
if at all
it has really gone.
Philosophers, he says,
need not join the street fray;
he simply needs to step back
& survey the bloody scene:
rework the question
but go easy on the blueprint:
certainty is uncertain.
Or the future
isn’t worth the trouble.
The children
with swollen bellies,
the mothers who stare blankly
into the horizon,
the fathers who stand
like driftwood on the sand
in Darfur,
in flooded wakes
& at unmarked graves –
O should living be a desolate repetition
of unanswered prayers
& mad confessions?

4.
Tangent

She texted her Honda
had stalled
& rallyists were prowling
the city streets.
He was tippling
at a corner bar,
the sound of rioters
dinning in his ears –
he could only seek refuge
in his beers –
O it had always been that way
of days turning livid
into days
of the moon & sun
monotonously in place,
& people sleepwalking
in blank despair.
She must have shifted gears
at the ominous crossroads
& dumped Werther’s sorrow
elsewhere.
Years from now,
he wouldn’t know
what really hit him
like lightning –

Fate? Time? Origin?
If he bumped into her
nothing would equal nothing,
stones communing with stones,
& unlike in Casablanca,
music wouldn’t drown the air,
tears wouldn’t even secretly flow.

5.
Empty Text

At a San Francisco studio, he was shown by a bearded American artist ornate frames – decorated with straws, metal balls, ropes, plastic flowers, & all Christmas decors that litter the city streets, like the assortment of junks in bag ladies’ – that are the very raison d’etre of the impromptu exhibition to signify perhaps the totality of the painting itself: nothingness compressed into the flat dimension of a stretcher. He had forgotten the titles of the individual works, puzzled as he was by avant-garde – or is it dadaist – style? Although later in his senior years – almost three decades after – he remembered the Portrait of the Madonna, even The Empty Canvas in the world of fiction.

Also, some bewilderment would seize him as he viewed a sculpture of an abstracted human figure with a head that is bored through with a hole the size of a cannon’s. It’s body is twisted in a slow, smooth flow of melted steel – starkly bizarre yet strangely engaging. It might even approach the notion of the beautiful.

But why would it be bereft of the usual face that enthralls fans in a glamorous photo shoot?

Why would it be fascinating for a figure to be without eyes, nose, lips like a deadend in a blind alley?

Finally, he seemed to have understood it all. It would be very simple, yet it had escaped him for virtually the whole of his stupid life.

It is the sum of his discontent: She who would remain faceless, inscrutable & beyond reach.

Truly, what passion is: it consumes, it dies. Everything real & concrete falls short of the heart’s desire.

6.
Insomnia

His sleep is troubled; at the wee small hours of the morning, he is often visited by dreams he wants to flee from – the desolation when he was a tyke & no one was around; the neighbor’s kids who wailed at sundown because there was hardly food on the table; the rented shack that got blown down by a storm; the death of an infant brother… all the sad events that rush in as if the world has opened to swallow him up.

But they keep rearing up like ghosts in the night.

He has decided to turn insomniac, guard against the nocturnal ambush.

He seems to have succeeded, but his waking hours have turned into a nightmare itself he has strategized to shut down, in the first place.

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