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. 

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