Monday, 14 July 2014

Mad Manifesto

So I've been here for two years, and I'm still trying to make sense of what it means (and takes) to "settle" in a city. But then again, transience is now a constitutive part of my life. I realize more and more that leaving Manila to do a PhD in another continent is a pretty big and scary step to take. At the time I didn't think anything of it - I didn't even apply to other schools, and thought that if I didn't get in, I'd just learn how to be a dive master (which betrays my class position). In that sense I wasn't falling into the competitive logic that have seeped into grad school - "Did you get good funding? The best deal? Good supervisors?" Etc. But now I'm here, and have to work my ass off to survive, and well, I threw away too many things -- family, old friends, a comfortable lifestyle, a reasonable job, familiarity -- to take on this quest for "higher knowledge". But this too is a privilege. And yet the first thing my mom asked me when I got in -- "Kelan ka ikakasal?!" I thought to myself, well, yeah I have now chosen a life of radical solitude, a life where I will continually resist (but simultaneously desire) the familiar stories of getting married, "settling down", building a family, etc. I think I have it set in my head that I will be alone, and that it's alright. And yet I have dreams about Manila that intermittently haunt me -- mundane dreams of waking up in my parents' house, hearing my sisters talk in the other room; dreams of teaching in Ateneo; dreams of walking around Quiapo with old friends -- that awaken me with a start, as if my body is trying to remind me of what I left behind. I cannot sever my histories. And yet I am here, now.

Am I really resisting heteronormativity, sexism, and the capitalist-patriarchal state by celebrating my solitude? What am I trying to protect myself from?

I am not trying to romanticize living in Manila as opposed to living in Toronto. Calling either of them "home" is difficult -- in many ways "home" is a failed metaphor. The biggest thing I learned is that I can no longer construct an image of "home" through which I can solidify my identity. I inhabit no real home, and in that sense, cannot fully attach myself to being a "Filipina", "Manilena", "Asian", or even "third world woman". Not to mention a rational being, inscribed in the telos assumed in being a "consistent" self.

What's scary about turning into this pseudo-feminist, post structural  critical scholar is the apathy it generates. I have read so much in the past two years. I am now steeped in feminist theory, post structural theory, Marxist political-economy, critical race theory, post colonial studies, continental philosophy (and naming all these fields is tenuous and forever incomplete), and I feel more and more that (a) I have much, much more to unlearn, (b) that there are structural forces "out there" that I have to learn how to name and critique and yet (c) I have to be careful not to reify (i.e. set in stone, fossilize  what patriarchy, capitalism, sexism mean, but (d) despite all this self-reflexivity -- the awareness that all theory is violent because it names the world but in doing so effaces the world -- people are still hungry, people work in horrible conditions, women still get raped, and too many people assume that Filipinos must be docile, submissive, and good at cleaning houses.

Not to mention the fact that while I'm around critical people -- especially the supposedly feminized emasculated, critical, radical, leftist men who have read just as much feminist literature as I have -- that just because you can theorise racism, heteronormativity and capitalism, just because you can quote Marx, Benjamin, Derrida, Butler, Lorde or Fanon, just because you can throw out so many quotes on what it takes to change the world... that doesn't necessarily make you a radical and it doesn't enable transformation in any concrete way. It's that old, old tension between theory and praxis, but a division that is worsened by how the academe today (and its utterly neoliberal imperatives) has turned us into individualist thinkers, caring more about creating "niches" and generating "sexy theory" to land jobs. I am not trying to recuperate nostalgia for the "good old days" when academics were closely tied to popular movements, when "sisterhood" meant both fighting and loving each other's contradictions, when professors would regularly struggle with their students, when protest and praxis weren't separate from theory. Nostalgia comes from a sense of loss, that is in many ways seen as irrecuperable. Instead I wonder about whether we can think of knowledge, learning, and pedagogy as a collective process, and whether earnest collectivities can emerge despite the violent need to separate people into identities, into a solid self that can only survive by (epistemically, subtly) killing the other.

Am I a leftist? A feminist? I have no idea. Do I need these attachments to say that I care about the lives of the people who do need help, who are racialised and sexualised, who feel a sense of alienation and loss everyday? But am I not romanticizing all this too? Am I justifying my criticality as an academic by saying I care about "these people"? Am I not both self and other, but also hyper-aware that the other is inexhaustible?

That was a bit of fashionable poststructuralist mumbo-jumbo, I know, but let's just say it's difficult to live with the knowledge that I inhabit this particular body, and yet also inhabit too many texts that move me. That sometimes move me into paralysis. Why is it that whenever I enter the bakery near my house, tended by so many Filipinas, that I cannot speak to them in "our" language, feeling that I am an imposter, assuming this affinity? Why is it that I've become so adamant at asserting my otherness, and yet at the same time, forget I might lapse into assuming I'm a victim? It's all too easy to be a victim. How can I account for my complicity?

Other issues arise, divisions that reproduce the madhouse of disciplines in the academe. Area studies versus grand theory, political-economy versus post structuralism  anthropology versus history.. the list goes on. But it would be too easy to lapse into an easy eclecticism. Sometimes it might be better to latch onto a concrete political project, an objective political programme -- well aware of its contradictions, but active enough to deal with them on an everyday basis, to do actual work with real, living people.

I have no answers. That makes me uneasy, but this shouldn't be all about me. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Berger on the class of survivors

The peasant imagines an unhand capped life, a life in which he is not first forced to produce surplus before feeding himself and his family, as a primal state of being which existed before the advent of injustice. Food is a man's first need. Peasants work on the land to produce food to feed themselves. Yet they are forced to feed others first, often at the price of going hungry themselves.

However much a bad harvest is considered an act of God, however much the master/landowner is considered a natural master, whatever ideological explanation are given, the basic fact is clear: they who can feed themselves are instead being forced to feed others. Such an injustice, the peasant reasons, cannot always have existed, so he assumes a just world at the beginning. At the beginning a primary state of justice towards the primary work of satisfying man's primary need. All spontaneous peasant revolts have had the aim of resurrecting a just and egalitarian peasant society.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise is a 1995 romantic drama film directed by Richard Linklater and written by Linklater and Kim Krizan. The film follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a young American, and Céline (Julie Delpy), a young French woman, who meet on a train and disembark in Vienna, where they spend the night walking around the city and getting to know each other.

The plot is minimalist, since aside from walking and talking, not much happens. The two characters' ideas and perspectives on life and love are detailed. Jesse is a romantic disguised as a cynic, and Céline is seemingly a romantic, albeit with some doubts. Taking place over the course of one night, their limited time together is always on their minds, and leads to their revealing more about themselves than they normally would, since both believe they will never see one another again.

Sunday, 29 February 2004


Sunday, February 29, 2004
at nakita ko na. hindi ako pah-tee girl.

went out with friends that i really really missed last night (especially duckyy and bea) and had a good time, sans the pretentious party culture. cori's right, we're nice-conversation people. i preferred the great grappa's beer and quiet moments in a small area in greenbelt than the loud see-and-be-seen strip of bars. i know i've been ranting about these things for more than two years, but it really just hit me now. ¶ 2/29/2004 11:32:08 AM
Sunday, February 22, 2004
(tired me) i'm tired of being critical. i'm tired of questions. i'm tired of having to watch myself speak, having to watch the words i write, checking that my claims are plausible, that i'm making sense.

so i'll be me tonight: silent and blank. i will retreat into a monologue.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.

(Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali) ¶ 2/22/2004 08:23:35 PM
Friday, February 20, 2004
on blogs and activism Have had a slew of emotions this morning. Read the blogs of a lot those heights, literary(ily) great people, and am really humbled by their ability to combine wistfulness with simplicity. I'm still hiding behind my words. (If I would go to self-pity mode, I'd say I'm not good enough.)

Anyway, I stumbled upon a really good article in the guardian. It seems that a lot of those high-profile politicians have joined the blogging bandwagon. Howard Dean and John Kerry (US democrat hopefuls) have already been using the blog as a format for being accessible to voters. And now Tony Blair wants to make his own blog so that he can begin an 'engaging dialogue with the people'. Dean claims that 'virtual activism' can be translated to 'real activism'... sounds cool, eh?

I'm suddenly reminded of the time when both MIRC chatrooms and those email surveys were all the rage. One of the questions from those surveys was, "Who and how many are your online friends?" To which we ought to have replied, "None, because I have real life friends!"

When I tried to teach globalization I made my students read two contrasting articles: one post-modern reading, emphasizing 'flows' and 'disjunctures' and a Marxist reading, emphasizing wb-imf imperialism and proletarianization. Threshing these arguments will be done another time, but it was interesting that my students found the former po-mo reading very appealing. The whole notion of flows and fluid landscapes sounded good, implying that the world now consists of multiple flows such that time and space are compressed and information can be handled in real-time, in no time.

It sure is appealing to believe that we are living in a single 'global village', but we have to ask a really important question -- who is dictating the common-sense of the age? Our friends working for multinational corporations have become part of a transnational capitalist class, believing that they live the lifestyle of their first-world counterparts, just look at our apparent 'affinity' with shows like Sex and the City. They seem to forget that while they work (slave) for first-world capital, they are still situated in the third world. The vestiges companies put in their call-centers, like American flags or forcing American accents on Asian workers act as forms of insulation from the realities of economic inequality and social inequity (read: poverty and social injustice). Has the neoliberal onslaught been so strong that we have lost our own ideologies, or at the very least, our ideals? Whatever happened to third worldism? Can it only be a politics of negation, anti-imperialism, Eastern versus Western values? What does it mean to be an activist? To live the manifesto, or to go shopping in Greenbelt? Has the politics of protest been reduced to the politics of consumerism?

And while we're at it, how can I move away from my own insulation? ¶ 2/20/2004 07:56:06 AM
Monday, February 16, 2004
just another political post :P just read that yet again there will be delays in the elections in afghanistan. the major dailies claim that it's because of the low voter turnout (especially the female vote, tallying to only 2%) and the fact that so many parts of the country are still ridden with pockets of violence. these things are said to be substantive hindrances to democratizing the country.

turning to iraq, practically the same rhetoric is being launched against fast-tracking the elections. and yet, the issue is probably more complicated than the inability to mobilize voters. i wonder if it's because of the rise to prominence of the politically powerful shia parties, who will precisely try to win legitimate power through elections. thing is, they're sympathetic to iran (dubya's axis of evil), close friends with ayatollah, and will probably contest the us' influence in the country. so now dubya and paul bremer are not just afraid of bringing democracy to iraq. now their biggest obstacle is the fact that they are afraid of bringing the wrong democrats to power. ¶ 2/16/2004 10:22:15 AM
Saturday, February 14, 2004
GOOD NIGHT -- Czeslaw Milosz -------

No duties. I don't have to be profound.
I don't have to be artistically perfect.
Or sublime. Or edifying.
I just wander. I say: "You were running,
That's fine. It was the thing to do.
And now the music of the worlds transforms me.
My planet enters a different house.
Trees and lawns become more distinct.
Philosophies one after another go out.
Everything is lighter yet not less odd.
Sauces, wine vintages, dishes of meat.
We talk a little of district fairs.
Of travels in a covered wagon with a cloud of dust behind,
Of how rivers once were, what the scent of calamus is.
That's better than examining one's own private dreams.
And meanwhile it has arrived. It's here, invisible.
Who can guess how it got here, everywhere.
Let others take care of it. Time for me to play hooky.
Buena notte. Ciao. Farewell.

------ ¶ 2/14/2004 02:36:36 AM
Thursday, February 12, 2004
i can't seem to reconcile my being a student of politics with my lack of activism. i just had coffee with lawrence and aaron, and it hit me that i am probably one of the most a-political pseudo-marxists around. talk about bourgeois confinement--i am forever constrained by my background and social status. i am at best a student or even a sympathizer. but i can only approximate what i read, and hope that my theoretical rigour does justice to 'reality'. why then am i so afraid of 'selling out' when i have nothing concrete to sell?

yaack, angst issues. :P ¶ 2/12/2004 01:56:10 AM
Friday, February 06, 2004
ho-hum yes, i'm beginning to have a real aversion towards esoteric philosophers a la derrida. i'm trying to purge myself of jargon and complexity, believing that i can make some claims to truth and 'reality', especially claims to understanding social reality.

and in comes ning telling me that jacques precisely makes himself incomprehensible in order to make you aware of the complexity of language, in the same way that you can only become aware of the air you breathe when it's taken away from you. so we can be aware of language when we lose our capacity to speak, or our capacity to comprehend?

sounds nice, but i don't know if i buy it.

maybe we all should just say what we mean, and mean what we say?

Friday, 26 September 2003

language dies with woman

Yang Huanyi, China's last woman proficient in the mysterious Nushu language, died at her home last week. She was thought to be 98. Yang learned possibly the world's only female-specific language from seven sworn sisters as a girl. Nushu characters are structured by four kinds of strokes, including dots, horizontals, verticals and arcs. Linguists believe her death marks the end of a 400-year-old tradition in which women shared their innermost feelings through
codes incomprehensible to men.
... Beautiful story. But I wonder -- so women normally speak in codes comprehensible to men?

Tuesday, 23 September 2003

Another good reason

why they shouldn't vote for Bush...Here in an interesting article on a new controversial book, showing why we shouldn't mess with the Bushes --

But, as one of W's Yalie frat brothers tells Kelley, it's not the substance abuse in Bush's past that's disturbing, it's the "lack of substance ... Georgie, as we called him, had absolutely no intellectual curiosity about anything. He wasn't interested in ideas or in books or causes. He didn't travel; he didn't read the newspapers; he didn't watch the news; he didn't even go to the movies. How anyone got out of Yale without developing some interest in the world besides booze and sports stuns me." New Yorker writer Brendan Gill recalls roaming the Kennebunkport compound one night while staying there looking for a book to read - the only title he could find was The Fart Book.

So is that where the fundamentalist rhetoric of USes and THEMs comes from, as well as the even more interesting authoritative claim over what is evil? No wonder.

Monday, 22 September 2003

the limits of 'practical' research

The quality of research being made available to struggling hopeful scholars like me is severely limited. It's not just in terms of funding, but at the most basic level, mentorship is contingent on engaging in mainstream research. I could argue that political science in my country is locked-into mainstream research on 'good governance', 'new public management', civil-society empowerment and capacity-building, as well as in token critiques of environmental degradation and human rights. What this shows is that expertise and intellectual mobility is rooted in 'practical' research -- and while I have no qualms about being practical, it still precludes a lack of criticism, most especially the easy comfort of being complacent about one's assumptions and biases, no matter how limited.

I would probably be accused of hiding behind theory, or, as a navy officer said to me recently, I'm probably good at 'explaining what I cannot do." But it just saddens me that criticism seems to inhere only in the humanities, where it's still safe to be political because it is articulated into art, yet in the realm of politics itself, too much criticism is the ticket to academic alienation. If this is how my life is going to be like, I would rather withdraw into impractical isolation... or just read too much critical political theory into poetry. It's no wonder that I find so much comfort in Milosz and Heaney, with their poems grounded in history, war and modernity, and of course, in Adrienne Rich, with the mantra that writing is first and foremost the act of awakening a critical imagination.

I know that I must move beyond my own local, historical context. I know that practical constraints exist in order to be surpassed, but I'm just a little disgusted right now. It's no wonder that I've been so unproductive and escapist. Maybe I am being complacent -- or as Ellen Wood once said, I'm becoming comfortable within the 'interstices of capitalism'. Is a critical imagination necessarily a socialist one? I'm not sure, but I'd much rather be given the space to read about it and generate critical research on it, then to dismiss it altogether for its lack of practicality.