They were playing at the camp’s recreational court when he grabbed the basketball & dribbled away like crazy, but no one dared to lose his cool because they all had understood: he had been given the cure none of them had undergone, even in varying degrees. With comradely hands, they calmed him down – his wild energy like water broken loose from a dam.
If the guys who administered him the “method” would bump into him years later, what would they be thinking?
Probably, they were following orders – he was enemy, & guilt was never something attendant to their duty because they’re on a mission to stop the imagined deluge.
But if they went to confession in their Church, would they, even for a moment, stumble on their memory?
The state, they probably would muse, is higher than the individual. Murder is not most foul if committed in the name of peace & order.
When the conversation shifted, without explicitly quoting him, to Lenin’s injunction “What is to be done?” the mentors at Choco Kiss remembered him – each to each private thoughts, as if his involvement was the very mode of wisdom itself, something they would wish for. If only he would tell about the troubles he had seen…
He was a man of action, but a theorist as well, but never carried a reputation like a tattoo on his arms for all the world to see. He was your friendly neighbor going about his academic business, although, now & then, his weather would be unbearable, & you let him be.
What would he have said at the seminar?
In a way, all the CONTEND guys, including their New York confreres, were on the same page: the praxiology of belief & theory on the future that must now be delivered from the hands of the few.
& surely, old Nic would have approved.
No way the survivors can be stopped.
Everyone is beholden to exorcising the sense of bereavement. After all, in John Berger’s words, “the past is robbed of its future, which is now the present. To the extent that the bereaved wants to go on sharing his past life of the dead person, his own past becomes fixed. It is then as though the elements of the past line the circumstances of the circle, and the future elements withdraw, losing all immediacy. I have nothing to live for now.”
Everything is “transformed immediately into the terms of the past.”
But suppose the “period of bereavement passes. The future becomes available again, the present impinges, & it pulls the past out of its fixity.”
This generation, haunted by debacles & small victories, must move on.
No matter how much they raise the decibel on calls for China to examine its human rights record, all the sound & fury would signify nothing.
Except the noise on the lipsynching of the “ode to the Motherland” & the digital fireworks on screen that virtually amounted to a global scam foisted on televiewers to transport them into the fantasy of the grandeur that is China, recuperating its imperial past “when China dazzled the world at its doorstep.” Vishakha N. Desai recalls “the Tang Dynasty (618-907), often thought of as China’s golden age, when it was truly the ‘middle kingdom’ at the center of the universe.”
“Its capital, Chang-An (modern-day Xian) was a world-class city: visitors came from all over the world and were dazzled by its wealth, beauty and power. Its emperors used silver from Persia, glass from Europe, precious stones from Central Asia, and gold implements from India.”
This recuperation however wasn’t purely a Chinese undertaking, a meeting of indigenous talents outside of the context of alien impurities: “The Bird’s Nest stadium was the creation of the multinational design team of Herzog & De Meuron, with suggestions from the visual artist Ai Weiwei. Many artists involved in the creation of the spectacle, including the fireworks specialist Cai Guo Qiang, the dance star Shen Wei, and the composer Tan Dun, earned their fame primarily in the West. Even Zhang Yimou,” the filmmaker who chronicled the “hard life of a young modern China.”
The decision of a “senior politburo member,” in an attempt “to combine the perfect voice and the perfect performance,” led to the substitution of Peiyu, the voice behind the performance, “who appears to be losing her milk teeth, and her two front teeth are only partially grown, at slightly awkward angles.”
Which underlines the so-called obsession with the image – something that Jonathan Beller, in his Cinematic Mode of Production, points out as the figuration of cinema itself – “that which marks the change over to a mode of production, in which images, working in concert, form the organizational principle for the production of reality.”
For instance, in his notes on Eisenstein, the noted director “was interested in control through organization of attraction” & who postulates that “the method of agitation through spectacle consists in the creation of new chain of conditioned reflexes by associating selected phenomenon with the unconditioned reflexes they produce.”
In effect, “the juxtaposition of moving fragments became for Eisenstein,” writes Beller, “a tool for reorganization of the audience’s psyche.”
The Chinese leaders, given their authoritarian diktat of selecting, isolating & projecting images that will constitute the totality of their visual of efficiency, power, reality, cannot help but censor the outflux of information that will contradict the spectacle, just as in the ancient days when physical walls that could be seen from the moon were said to protect it from marauding outsiders.
But can they stop electronic waves from escaping their panopticon?
After all, the Olympics in itself is an opening act, never meant to shut down territories.
Exactly, what is this notion of spectacle?
For Beller, “it is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people mediated by images,” which would mean as in “commodity reification,” a “reformulation” of Lukacs’s thesis that “underneath a cloak of things [lies] a relation between men.”
The whole concept of image therefore signifies consumption of it by spectators that are bound together in a reality effect of their own volition, circumstance: Chinese technocrats trigger its circulation, extracting value from the fantasy thus created, to the capitalist benefit of, primarily, the state.
It is a no brainer that pro-Tibet protesters were deported from Beijing to keep immaculately clean the envisioned Chinese notion of solidarity. It is to be noted on the side that foreign volunteers for the games had to spend for their own trip, virtually corvee labor if the Chinese treasury, which loans out to Western economies, is to be taken in the calculation. “’Experience’ is the money paid to the crew.”
In brief, China must be remembered as an efficient machine: nothing should contradict national agitprop.
The production of reality is to be controlled at all costs, like the cinema that organizes images for the desired end.
After all, for Beller, “it is an orchestration of the unconscious and the unconsciousness is the scene of production. Dreamwork turns out to be real work.”
This fetish for objective perfection according to state satrap is meant for us hypnotized by the tube to be complicit with their desires, the while applauding our impotence at the scopic reception of the spectacle – fireworks, dances, music, bodies – that presumably give us pleasure, but we labor to achieve this pleasure the Chinese invest in.
Yes, we are no more than peons in front of television sets, exhilarated & dumbfounded by the specter like marionettes dangling on a string.
“Looking extracts value.”
When we watch the Beijing Olympics, we work in a bizarre twist, for the heirs of Deng Xiaoping.
Neferti Xina M. Tadiar’s lecture on “Life, Labor and Value” starts off with the concept of labor which underpins the “workings of capitalism…” whose exploitation is “inherent in the production of profit or surplus value.” It is basically “the theft of labor-time” that on surface “appears to be a practice of fair exchange.”
“Much thinking,” she says, “has been confined within industrial production… or what is known in the West as Fordist production… but feminists have interrogated this theory and criticized it for its marginalization of the sphere of reproduction… known as woman’s work.”
She forthwith zeroes in on the so-called “feminization of labor,” & eventually “labor-time” – that which is not “any specific amount or quantity of labor-time that is appropriated from the domestic worker” but “rather… her whole bodily being, as being for others, that is appropriated to maintain and enhance the lives of others… She is appropriated as bodily life, or as ‘life-time’ spent in the serving of others.”
This is most notorious among OFWs. She takes paradigmatic note in her reading of Fanny Garcia’s short story, “Arrivaderci,” whose heroine “finds momentary salvation in-between work, the pursuit of idling [as] part of that time of waste,” which they “engaged in during their outings on days-off…” because they do not produce use-values… for their employers.” It is technically “unproductive consumption, and therefore a ‘waste of time’.”
But Tadiar posits it as virtually countertime in a sense that the “time of ‘waste’ can be viewed as a time of recovery and restoration… of (life) time lost in the production of time for others.”
She argues that “the Filipina experiential use of this ‘free time’ bears dimension of their own ‘freeing’ from commodified reproductive labor.”
Her thesis that “such devalued modes of experience as socio-cultural resources of people to practically imagine themselves out of their present conditions of life” enables the disenfranchised to escape the absolutizing hold of capitalism.
The attendant optimism opens itself to revolutionary possibility.
But John Berger’s account of [male] migrant workers from the underdeveloped peripheries of Europe – like Turkey, Yugoslavia, Nigeria, et cetera – in A Seventh Man, in collaboration with Jean Mohr & Sven Bloomberg, strikes us like a real downer: to wit, the worker, who fantasizes about a final return [his longed-for permanent day-off from the maw of the machine] to his native land is bound for disappointment because such subjective intimation remains an illusionary goal – he cannot exchange his labor time he has collected for his future because to return is to reproduce the cycle of underdevelopment in his place; consequently, he must leave again as cheap labor, if the employing country allows him to on the caveat he is again as pristinely healthy as he used to be, & from whom could be extracted exchange-value in the market.
Every fantasy of a grand return is mere rehearsal for a trip that will bring him back to his point of departure.
Here, Berger points out, the European migrant worker “has two kinds of present: work-time and time-off.” [In parity with the female counterpart.]
“The working time he is paid for. He collects units of it when he collects his wages. As time, as a present, it doesn’t become his, joining with his past and future.”
The promise of his work-time is the collection of units (his money-time for investment in his future-time) that will lead him to acquire opportunities in the future – like money in the bank for personal projects – which in turn will enter his lifetime, or that which is deferred. The worker hopes to recuperate the time lost, & recover his living-time – as if time can be stopped, & one can start all over again.
Hence, the “migrant worker sacrifices the present for the future under circumstances which continuously confound his sense of continuity… Only when he returns to redeem his exchange units will he gain acknowledgement for what… he has done [which] was what he was forced to. He lives in a situation…” where his [life-time] is “almost totally unacknowledged.”
In Berger, there seems to be the finality of a dead-end in the cycle of serving the development of First World countries; for Tadiar, there is the possibility of recovering “stolen time” for oneself & working out his/her “potentials for forging more open futures.”
The former presumes an immobility & stasis; the latter partakes of the recovery of humanity.
(John Berger’s book was published first in 1975, & republished in 1982. Current data on status of migratory workers may have changed radically. Tadiar’s lecture was delivered on August 12 & 14, 2008 in connection with a seminar hosted by CONTEND at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.)
Amando Doronila was given the first crack by Steve Psinakis at “the transcript of a taped conversation he had with Aquino two days before he boarded the plane in Los Angeles for his return to the Philippines.”
Says Aquino: “Well, there are two reports I received along that line. If they pinpoint the plane I am coming in, the rumor in Manila is that I am taking the private jet of Enrique Zobel for Hong Kong, but all planes have been guarded and they may close the airport on Sunday or turn back the plane if they will be able to pinpoint on which plane I am coming in. The third one, and this is really iffy, they have two guys stationed to knock me out at the airport and they will try them for murder, they will convict but they have assurances.”
The die was cast. & it is the manner of his death – almost like a Greek character who succumbs to the inevitable, but daring the gods just the same – that captures the public imagination, the mythic structure of Christ accepting his fate at the hands of Pilate.
Heroic or suicidal? What exactly is the stuff of legends?
His premonition – the calculation of his chances & the scenario that would unfold – was right on the dot, almost as if God whispered to his ears an extraordinary, but foretold, fate, but that would be too logical, too predictable, his assassination… Yet it would be the one in a thousand on the scale of probability, the most odious, that which was made real.
The scenario unraveled the uncontrollable variables the conspirators tried to steer clear of: the fall of the regime…
They were partially successful though because the mastermind, Houdini-like, escaped, despite the starkness of the deed.
Years later, there would be clues on the killer again pointing to the originally tagged Galman, & we’re back to square one.
Who is Ninoy Aquino?
Today’s generation has virtually ignored him – by state fiat or collective trauma. What lingers however is the iconic pedagogical presence of Rizal & Bonifacio, as if history had stopped at them, & nothing should follow after. So with the young revolutionaries who had perished in our time.
Ninoy’s problematic status is never discussed in classrooms, as if contemporary historicizing has only the duo of Katipunan lore as pivot for classic memorializing.
There arguably is an imposed amnesia on society by institutional entities – schools, churches, media, except on celebrity occasion, knee-jerk remembering.
Is resistance, in any force, proscribed?
Has it become the bedrock of national behavior? Is everything lip service? Is reformism or negotiation with fascism the rule of reconciliation?
Militants are also wary of canonizing him: after all, he was not the lower-class type produced by proletarian organizers. His tactical gamble was premised on Nakasone, then Japanese premier, putting the pressure on the Palace with his economic carrot, & America being cooperative, although the martyred senator was hesitant to claim it.
“No indication except that they are watching and following my steps.”
Yeah, right, but America only chooses his boy at the last hour, when push comes to shove. Marcos, after all, had been their fair-haired protege.
It was allegedly only a rumble between two frat brothers, though the stake was very high.
Someone blinked. Ninoy didn’t.
After his demise, the subsequent EDSAs would prove the adage that more of the same for a revolution led by the other side of the bourgeois camp.
The mainstream fell short of a needed surgical operation, as it were, & allowed the Marcos survivors to regroup & lurk at the edges of the bureaucracy & private businesses. There would even be triggered a nostalgia for a Marcos clone, who would supposedly put order in the governance according to neo-liberal principles.
How should we rate Ninoy?
He aroused a nation to certain expectations, but his was seen as only duking it up with Marcos. He was never the classic Castro of Cuba who would impose a systemic discourse on an oligarchic system. True, he played ball with Buscayno in Tarlac to signify the reality of the underdogs, but it was all to buy peace in his town: something higher than a provincial ambition was waiting elsewhere. He couldn’t do otherwise.
His maverick moves – premised on old liberalism – set a series of operations that shook the nation’s comfort zone, but the people around him had other plans.
In the long run, it was a nation scarred by the banality of change, skeptical over the necessity of an “alternative” course.
The aborted history of his unmaking seemed to affirm the unfinished task of Magdalo’s Katipunan, with Ninoy as (Marcial) Bonifacio reenacting a paradigmatic tragedy.
O When will history happen according to our cherished wishes?
It takes a long time to finish,
like a chef
who waits for the lamb
to be slaughtered,
vegetables to be picked
from the fields,
& rain to stop
before he can set the table
for the feast.
Work crawls like smog
& only buzzing gnats.
Slapped off now & then
by fat, lazy hands
break the silence of the day.
When it storms
the open ditcher overflow
with dog-shit & debris
that smell like putrid flesh
the next hour
when the sun glares
in tropic heat.
The pointman, of course,
stinks of city hall
& counts his moola
while gangs of workers
idle under the sky
for their paltry pay
that may never come.
People are flies
on horse shit
hidden under foul memories.
Even the government
that dutifully forgets
time & patience
can be eternally unwinding:
insects rule the night
& uncertain waking hours
at their languorous cul-de-sac
of a heartland
in a country
of turtles & crabs.
If the conflagration comes,
even the armored cavalry
won’t give a damn
to the transients & settlers
who surge & ebb
like mucky tide.
Here, where the archipelago
meets & melts,
memory is infinitely recycled
& every sunrise
is the same, old story
turns out a repackaged prophecy.
The “Great Tomsoni’[s]” magic tricks, in a “report by Benedict Carey in Nature Review Neuroscience, can be scientifically explained.
Thus, “the magician has an assistant appear on stage in a white dress and tells the audience he will magically change the color of her dress to red. He first does this by shining a red light on her, an obvious ploy that he turns into a joke. Then the red light flickers off, the house lights go on and now the woman is unmistakably dressed in red. The secret: in the split-second after the red light goes off, the red image lingers in the audience’s brains for about 100 milliseconds, covering the image of the woman. It’s just enough time for the woman’s white dress to be stripped away, revealing a red one underneath.”
The scientists, “Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, raised hope that magic could accelerate research into perception. They found out that the brain suppressed activity in surrounding visual areas when concentrating on a specific task. Thus preoccupied, the brain may not consciously register activities witnessed by the eyes.”
For instance, the celebrated David Blaine “said he started doing magic at age four and quickly learned that he did not need any drama or special effects. A strong and effective way to distract somebody is to directly engage the person [with an eye contact and other interaction]. That can act on the subconscious like a subtle form of hypnosis.”
If a basketball coach, for instance, would be heard urging his players to focus on the game, what would that mean? There are peripheral things they wouldn’t witness – & should a rumble flare up, rest assured they wouldn’t know how it came about – their testimony of being on court & proximate to the event notwithstanding.
It stands to reason that the Jamaican Bolt, despite his protestation that he was only having fun & not necessarily being boorish, would surely be oblivious of his fellow runners’ veritable frustration – after all, he had a tunnel vision while running the course. Did he dignify the Olympiad sport? Certainly not: it would take time before he is able to observe athletic protocol.
Is there really magic?
It is the alchemy of speed, knowledge & insight of the crowd that make for a credible performer. But few are gifted with, as it were, the Third Eye that is no more than a keen understanding of perception, & human behavior. Illusion, not altered reality, is the principle of the task at hand.
Thus, too often, on another plane of reference, a lawyer is bound to sound parochial & virtually misinformed if he persists on building up his arguments on truth based on the extrapolation of the letters of the law. The method is always suspect. He could only operate within the ideological limit of his discourse that is handicapped by the determinations of the discursive system itself – property ownership, et cetera. He would appear astute with his legalese, but certainly would miss the bigger picture ordinary bystanders are wont to perceive clearly: to note, Court of Appeals judges are just your ordinary influence peddlers & ten percenters hiding behind the so-called majesty of jurisprudence; Supreme Court justices need not take time to project judiciousness on MOA when all is simply “hogwash” & a sell-out for presidential purposes by a cabal out to make themselves more imperious in their nutty suits…
To cut the Charter to fit an agreement among thieves is most scandalous, absurd.
The mystification of the magical is invested also on state acts, but it can be, again, scientifically explained: “the brain uses neural tricks to do this: an approximating, cutting corners, instantaneously and subconsciously choosing what to ‘see’ and what to let pass… Magic exposes the inseams, the neural stitching in the perceptual curtain.”
Unluckily, the Palace has an excess of bumbling power-brokers who are just small-time operators with gargantuan appetite.
We should not be mesmerized.
The truthfest on Roxas Blvd is a virtual carnivalesque for carousers who air their grief without a shadow cast on the merriment of the living – the state lies that kill, the marches that end up in violence. That the vibrant revelers can express themselves in such a manner also states a quaint message: the quest for truth can be fun, revolution can be a tea party, unlike in the Mao past when an invitation to a rally is an invitation to a beheading.
But how long can the festive atmosphere be maintained if storm troopers of the state cordon off the streets & hold participants to their strip of space?
How long must they wait to get to a site closer to Palace ears for their plaints to be heard?
There must be fun in living, of course.
But in a country where children die expected deaths, & militants perish under mailed fists, how can the feast of the able be sustained to lock in the innocents in the streets?
When will they open their eyes that they have only bought time before the state loses its temper & lets loose its dogs on the crowd?
People cherish peace, but the regime stands on bodies of the violated.
Theory of the Absurd
Lessing, Gordimer, Coelho, Allende
say everyone has a story to tell:
all you need is to tap your spirit
& all will flow like the river.
He wonders why he feels
like the Gobi dessert.
Only the hot wind breezes
through the plains of his mind:
when he scans the future’s horizon,
he’s a seafarer lost in the dunes,
the sand glitters like golden pins
& only the blinding rays of the sun
threaten to shut his eyes down.
How can he spin tales like Scheherazade?
Lines of lives do not intersect anywhere,
things do not cohere.
Is everyone alone,
trapped in the glass bottles
& waving their hands in helpless silence?
How can he tell stories
that doesn’t know he exists?
Always, the storylessness of stories.