Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vision for Philippine Novels

I have been reading the group emails from my old fraternity mates in college. There is an active exchange between alumni and current members. It’s funny to see the photos of these frat boys, me included, as they age through the years. They were preparing a collage of old photos which showed them in their college years. It’s for the souvenir program for the coming fraternity dinner and dance ball. We all looked so young then; thin, good natured, smiling without a care in the world. But the new photos now show men who are overweight, old but still with the smile of youth when the old frat boys meet together.

Most of the mails are about the Philippine condition. Most of the boys including me had nationalistic dreams back then. It was the image and heritage of the great campus that had nurtured past political figures; famous in local history. But I guess the times did not provide the opportunity to work on historical values and nationalistic urges. Instead most of the folks went out of the country to greener pastures. So most mails reminiscence about the past, post photos of drinking sessions and recent reunions with fraternity brothers. But the old feelings of nationalism are still there and one mail commented that the situation has not changed since Jose Rizal wrote about the Philippine condition in his 2 novels during the 19th century.

It’s true as no other novel seemed to have captured the imagination of the country since his death. It is like the country has been mired into decline after the revolution. Of course, it’s not true because the country has moved forward since then, achieving a lot of progress. But the pure feeling of love of country has not been aroused since that period of revolution. There were some episodes of minor resurgence but not enough to make a people proud or inspire a new generation of leaders. So people escape the country or join the New People’s army. I think it’s because there has not been a novel that can inspire the Filipino imagination.

The written word has been supplanted by Philippine cinema without achieving the proper maturity. Philippine cinema to me is the best in South East Asia in terms of maturity, imagination and brilliance. But the film medium remains the venue of escapist entertainments except for the rare films of the late Lino Brocka or Peque Gallaga. But film has a fleeting quality that does not have the permanence of the written word. I think there is a lack of good books that can portray the existing conditions. Compare this to the renaissance of Indian letters in English in the recent years. There are so many good Indian authors that are vibrant and creative but there is no Filipino equivalent.

It seems that the Philippine literary scene has remained stuck in 19th century conventions. There were experiments in magically realism, for example but it does not seem to have any substance. On the other hand, Philippine cinema seems to have gotten some recognition in recent years but not enough to fuel a renaissance. I think the country needs a voice in literature that could inspire the old feeling of nationalism in old fraternity brothers as well as the youth of the nation. But that is a long way from the winter of the Carolinas. Articulating that vision requires hard work and a clear goal to be achieved.

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