Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Gilda Cordero Fernando

Prof. Gemino H. Abad of the University of the Philippines was kind enough to send me Volumes I & II of Underground Spirit – a compilation of short fiction from 1972 up. They are handsome volumes and offer quite a spread on Philippine short fiction in English, since the imposition of martial law.  I believe that more volumes are forthcoming.  Prof. Abad inscribed the volumes to me with the words "one's country is what one's memory owes allegiance to..."

Which reminded me that for years I had planned to write or say something about one of the great prose stylists of the Philippines, Gilda Cordero Fernando, who is constantly underrated as a writer, even by herself, methinks.  But then Gilda has never been one for the “struts and charms of trade” as Dylan Thomas puts in, so her literary presence tends to be constantly drowned out by those who do strut.

Her long story People In The War has no equal in Philippine literature. I read it when very young and it has never left me and it taught me, from the moment I finished it, that large themes like invasion, occupation and violence are comprised of small acts of humanity and inhumanity – both inflicted upon ordinary beings and into acts of which they are forced. Hey, to know how tremendous that was, think of how many words and pages it took Tolstoy to say that in War and Peace. This lesson from Gilda was the root of my oft-repeated thesis that one does NOT write for the people but rather one should write as one of the people, thereby undergoing the process of becoming declasse.

Once in a while, I am seized with the urge to read that Gilda story again and re-experience the seismic shock of understanding a Truth about human beings. Gilda reminds me of the equally underrated Katherine Anne Porter, whose Flowering Judas was a consummate treatise on revolution and betrayal.

Gilda’s writing world is a world of women – though not as didactically dry and self-pitying as Kerima Polotan’s; it is a world magical indeed, long before magic realism rose out of Latin America, imbuing with mythic resonance the small, the daily, the minutes, rather than the years, of Time. She has a housewife capture a duende (elf) ; a hairdresser create subtle narratives from hairstyles; and so on. From all these, one draws a sense of women’s quiet strength and Gilda was doing it before feminist values became the “common sense” for women even in the West.

Gilda was also the force in the creation of books on various aspects of Philippine history and culture, which brought together artists and writers, antedating the manga novel fad from Japan. Truly, she’s done crucial work but is under-recognized for it, and I am inclined to think that it’s not simply because she is female but because she is gorgeous and intelligent, to boot. Ah, well, every woman out there will understand that.

So, here’s to you, Gilda; let’s raise a glass of EF THEM! to all the dead and/or dying old men overrated as Philippine national artists – which of course you will never do, gracious person that you are.

My, this started out as a piece of recommendation that you all buy Underground Spirit – please do so – and became a short discourse on Gilda Cordero Fernando. But if you can manage it, please read People In The War. -- ##

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It Is Done

From a character in Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book: “I realized I’d change nothing by proving that the life we live is someone else’s dream.”

The sentence floated through my mind as I watched the fifty-some new members of AF3IRM, all under 30 years of age,  take their oath of commitment to principle, cause and organization after two days of intensive deliberation at the end of nearly two years of study. I wished then I could add a footnote to Pamuk’s book: “At least it gives one a chance to choose -- not to do so,  or to live a different dream or a dream built on one’s experiences.”

Some principles were debated and established during those three days, among which were a) one has the right to make history wherever one is – in accordance with the material conditions of one’s existence and the right to acknowledgement of that history; b) true social transformation encompasses transformation of gender power relations and an end to the relegation to the private sphere of obligations which should be and are social in character; c) as with other sectors, women have a right to theory-building. There were others but to me these were among the weightiest.

The last will likely be the most difficult but even ideology has to evolve.

We had good landmarks to go by. Prof. Johanna Brenner warned about an international movement to restore/maintain the hetero-patriarchy; Dr. Anna Guevarra exposed the deliberation behind the push for Filipinas to metamorphose into servants for overseas work; Charlene Sayo raised the rather bizarre Oedipal specter of second generation Filipina-Canadians having to deal with white male Canadians raised by Filipino nannies; Roma Amor, a trafficking survivor, traced her vulnerability to domestic violence in her Philippine marriage.

The strange thing for me was being able to play on the guitar, after the launch, without mistake the song “Good Night, Ladies.” This piece of music has strange resonance for me, since my nanny invariably tuned in to Ruben Tagalog’s radio program “Harana” (serenade) as she waited for me to fall asleep. The program ended, I think, with this song and to this day, I associate it with burdens laid down and preparations to voyage into the mythic realms of sleep.

As for the guitar playing, I took it up to learn to read notes. I’d picked up somewhere that learning a new language was the best way to forestall brain decrepitude. I thought music being a different language and having been an opera buff since I was 15 years old, I might as well learn how to read notes.

It’s been so difficult, what with slashes of calluses on the fingertips of my left hand (I once tried using my right hand on the frets but that inverted the guitar, silly me) that I kind of wish I’d chosen to learn Arabic instead. The brain processing is so different I find myself forgetting language and drawn to playing high math games.

The poor ewok Guapo curls up in pain whenever I practice, so terrible are the sounds. When a friend who’s a classical guitarist asked to look at my Martin guitar, I had to demand that he NOT ask me to play for fear he would suffer a stroke from laughter.

So now you understand why playing “Good Night, Ladies” without a single false note was so edifying.

I do not know to which ladies I was saying good night. Perhaps you do. But I do hope that this signifies a preparation to return to the mythic realms, from which I'd been diverted by politics.  -- ##