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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Blake's symmetry

19 December 2008
Blake's symmetry
Will someone please enlighten me about the pronunciation of William Blake's "symmetry" in "Tiger, tiger, burning bright / In the forests of the night / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry"? All the other rhymes in that poem are easy to see, except this one with "symmetry." One of the most difficult aspects of English for those not born to the language is pronunciation. That is why poetry in a second language is much more difficult than fiction, since poetry, as Cirilo F. Bautista loves to say, is primarily sound, with sense merely an adjunct.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 8:42 PM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Sense merely an adjunct of sounbd in poetry? Cirilo Bautista, being the "sense" poet that he has always been, should probably have "pontificated" that in poetry the sounds make sense. Yevtushenko recited his poetry to vast crowds, and the Russians lapped it all up. Poetry was meant to be recited even in Graeco-Roman times -- these were the "raps" of the agoras and the arena. They also had healing functions in Aristotelian estimate. They engendered catharsis in audiences -- the equivalent, of course, of our aesthetic experience in contemporary literary theory and criticism. They were "entertainment." Somewhere along the way, ineptitude in spoken language (corrupted intonations, pronunciations, accentuations etc.) killed the aural/oral tradition of poetry. Second languages as media for poets who have not mastered the
"adopted and adapted" language contributed to this aberration.

Come to think of it, my most prized collections in poetry are the recordings of Dylan Thomas and T.S. Eliot as they read their own poems. Basil Rathbone's Shakespearian readings are a pleasure specially in one's "dottage" (as my children describe my pre-slumber audio-video sessions in my study.)

01 March, 2009 10:59

Friday, February 27, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: The Waste Land

28 February 2009
The Waste Land

The most familiar example of a poem using non-mother tongue words is, of course, T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" (1922), which has, among other non-English lines, the famous "'You! hypocrite lecteur! — mon semblable, — mon frère!'" Eliot, as we all know, did not trust his readers to recognize the allusion and, therefore, provided the source of the quote as "V. Baudelaire, Preface to Fleurs du Mal."

Reams have been written about this line (Google lists more than 6,000, though that includes double entries), including learned dissertations about Baudelaire's influence on Eliot, but not much about whether Eliot could have achieved the same effect had he translated the line into English.

Was Eliot just showing off? Was he trying not to infringe on the intellectual property of Baudelaire by not translating without permission? Or was he doing something that he could not do in English? Do we have to be fluent in French to understand this line, or can a French-English dictionary do (since the French words are pretty close to their English equivalents anyway)? Is it too much for a poet to call us readers hypocrites to our face, or does the use of the French words make the insult a bit easier to take? Is he insulting us not just by the literal meaning of the words but by insinuating that we do not know French? Or is he flattering us by assuming that we know French and Baudelaire and poetic irony? Or is it only Stetson who should care? Questions, questions!
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 4:27 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Because of his scholarly respect for the nuances of language and the peculiar sound of colloquial banter (as opposed to his disdain for the periphrastic turn of stylized expression -- See "East Coker" in Four Quartets), I would venture that T.S. Eliot embedded the occasional Greek, Italian, Latin, French, German, Hindi lines to preserve the original vigour or textual context of those lines whether borrowed or created. Were they necessary to the context?

His Wasteland being a commentary on his "take" of his Weltanschauung, a private world view, these quotes from disparate sources like the "Inferno" of Dante, the Upanishad, Hermann Hesse's "Blick ins Chaos" require the reader to understand that Eliot embarked on "symbolising" (objectifying, really) his subscription to what F. H. Bradley in his "Appearance and Reality" postulated: "...external sensations are no less private to myself than are my thoughts or my feelings. In either case, my experience falls within my own circle closed on the outside...In brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul."

His wasteland in "Wasteland" is his estimate of Babel. The palpable irony of colloquy vis-a-vis oracle pronouncements of a Tiresias, demands the use of these languages in the multiple levels of his disjointed universe of meaning and meaninglessness. ("Shall I at least set up my lands in order?" Eliot concludes in this terrifying exercise of footnoted poetry.

Could T. S. Eliot have succeeded in structuring his Symbol of his "Unreal City" with lines like: "London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down..."HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME/Now Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart./?

Did he need his other languages from Phoenecian times to Medieval Age, through to the modern inferno of the world wars? Why not?

Nevertheless, in quite another poem, "East Coker" (Four Quartets) the Nobel laureate writes:
"That was a way of putting it--not very satisfactory:/A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,/Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle/With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter./

In my studies, I was tempted to dismiss difficult poetry thus. Then through the years, I, too, "revealed" my reverence for allusions a la Eliot by dotting my poems with "a speaking in Tongues." Ah, but I would explain this later as a manner of objectifying an experience that must lead to a capturing of a universe of attitude and meaning. One must create the "feelings" with all the available tools of language(s). Quotes are shortcuts to this universe of meaning.

Of course, Dr. Cruz raises a good question: Are quotes in original text an infringement of intellectal property by not translating without permission? If it is a valid legal question, brave souls should now file claims against Eliot's estate. Against Ezra Pound. Against every writer that considers himself "resting on the shoulders of giants" when he quotes lines that could not be bested or improved upon because they are the best way of saying them. But poetry wtih footnotes?

(Mon Dieu! Por Dios! Inaku po! "I think I shall never see/ A poem as lovely as a tree." What's wrong with this popular lyric? When a classmate challenged a venerable professor back in our university days by harrumphing: "What a waste of time 'Wasteland' is!" The professor shot back -- "Barbarians don't need to read Eliot; the canto boys don't need Eliot; drug dealers don't need Eliot; cretinous sloths don't need to read Eliot. You, dear sir, don't need to read Eliot, either." The student became one of the best contemporary writers in Philipine Literature in English. Of course, he did not "get" the point of the sainted academic--may her soul rest in peace -- until a classmate who would become a Senator of the Republic told him that the cackling professor just insulted the grumbling student by calling him those names. The senator, by the way, borrowed a copy of T. S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays from that university's library and never returned it. The grumbling student went on to write poems that "smacked" of Eliot through and through. He also became a doctor of fine arts. -- ALBERT B. CASUGA

28 February, 2009 11:30

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Language of my blood

26 February 2009
Language of my blood

Here is the first part of the poem "Muted Cry" (late 1930s) by Philippine poet Trinidad Tarrosa-Subido:

They took away the language of my blood,
giving me one "more widely understood."

More widely understood! Now Lips can never
Never with the Soul-in-Me commune:
Moments there are I strain, but futile ever,
To flute my feelings through some native Tune...

Alas, how can I interpret my Mood?
They took away the language of my blood.

If I could speak the language of my blood
My blood would whirl up through resistless space
Swiftly - sure - flight no one can retrace,

And flung against the skyey breast of God,
Its scattered words, charged with passion rare,
With trebel glow would dim the stars now there.

This is a poet's (not a critic's) argument for writing in one's mother tongue, but since it is written in a second language, it is also an argument for writing in a stepmother tongue!
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 4:28 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Trinidad Tarrosa-Subido's poems were a staple in Reading and Literature classes when we were in the grades and in high school. Lord knows why we were made to read some of them again in one Philippine Literature in English class at the university (the '60s). I surmise now that it might have been an effort to trace the growth and decay of English usage. Mrs. Subido, may her soul rest in peace, needed only to revert to her mother tongue to register her "Muted Cry" protest against the imposition of English as a medium of literary expression as well as instruction in the public schools ("one more widely understood").

I would not use this poem to teach the functions of rhyme as sounds making sense (as organizers of stanzas, maybe...). Unless I am pronouncing "Mood" (long double oo sound) to rhyme with "blood" (short double oo sound), I will never be "understood" (short double oo sound) when I let out my "muted cry" about why I need to speak in the "language of my blood."

But pray, explain these conceits: "Resistless space"? "The skyey breast of God"? "Treble glow"? I wonder if Marlowe or Shakespeare (their language icons then) would approve or turn in their graves. But that was the Filipino English (Thomasite) medium then. What is it now?

Language of Blood: (manque)

Bakit nila pinalitan ang dila ng aking dugo?
Ng isang may mas malawak na pagkaka-intindi?
Lintik na wika yan! Ginawa pa akong bobo!
Paano ko ngayon isisigaw ang aking pagkamuhi?

Surely, our textbooks in Reading and Literature have "matured" enough to use the poetry of Cirilo F. Bautista or Gemino Abad, and use Subido's poem to illustrate Philippine English usage in the 30's. One thing is certain, though: her English then may not qualify as the Filipino English spoken or written now.

"'Di ba, true yan? 'Nong Say mo?"

Weep not, Tarrosa, in your celestial abode.

26 February, 2009 10:23

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Translations and audience effect

21 February 2009
Translations and audience effect

At the Panrehiyong Forum Pangwika [Regional Language Forum] in Legazpi City, Philippines, last Thursday (19 February), teachers of Bicol University read a poem with each line written in or translated into three languages (Spanish, Filipino, and Bicolano). It was not clear to me (listening as a non-Bicolano) which were the original lines and which were the translations, but it was clear from the reading that the mood or tone of the lines changed with the language (of course, it could have been the three interpreters who were reading alternately). A thought: does a translation change the tone of a text? Translations are supposed to produce in the target-language audience the same effects they produce in the source-language or original audience, but perhaps they really don't.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 4:20 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Does a translation change the tone of a text? Bad translation would; competent ones would use all the linguistic tools (viz., figures of thought, speech, language and the tonal energies akin to the tone of the intentions of the original text -- sounds that capture the sense, text and context that achieve the content) that are available in the translating language.

One case of a good translation I have come across (where I am also convinced that the translation is actually superior to the original one) is that of Philippine poet Jose F. Lacaba's translation of Max Erhmann's "Desiderata".

(See "Ka Pete", a blog where Mr. Lacaba publishes his translation of the popular Jesuit-student moral guide. The translation, "Minimithi" preserves the tone, and it certainly produced an even more significant--because it is in contemporary Pilipino--effect on this reader.

Follow the blog on:

In this case, the translation matches the earnestness of Erhmann's prose poem, but, I dare say, surpasses the tonal serenity and even vigour of the original.

One might draw the conclusion that Lacaba is, after all, the better poet. I would not gainsay that. -- ALBERT B. CASUGA

26 February, 2009 09:16

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Antoni Clapes: LANGUAGE OF THE BLOOD

25 February 2009
Antoni Clapes

Catalan poet Antoni Clapés, in an interview by and translated from Spanish into English by Amanda Schoenberg, says:

"Writing poetry in Catalan is something that, for me, has a strict component of naturalness. I think one writes in the language in which one dreams. And my dreams are in Catalan. I don’t think that people can be bilingual or trilingual: no Swiss, for a neutral example, would admit to being trilingual. I think that we are essentially monolingual, and that the acquisition of language is through the first sounds that a child learns from his mother and it is these which configure the basic linguistic universe. Afterwards, from the community, one can learn - and love - other languages, one can dominate them perfectly, including being able to create in them. But I am not sure that one can write poetry in a language different from that which emanates from the most intimate corners of oneself."

Hundreds of Filipino poets, writing in their second or third language (English) despite dreaming in one of 171 native languages, would disagree. As a critic, I agree. I know that some Philippine poems in English are exquisite, but as even rabid English writing defender Gemino H. Abad admits, quoting a Philippine poet writing in English in the early part of the last century, English is not "the language of our blood."
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 3:56 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

One does not need a "language of our blood" to write poetry. If that quote means that all poetry must come from the deepest recesses of our psyche, then no Filipino can ever write poetry in the English that he has adopted and "adapted". Otherwise, all the anthologies of Philippine poetry writing in English published (including those edited by Gemino Abad) would be a collection of verbal effusions bereft of "soul". Verbal drek. Language as an epistemological medium and artistic expression can be learned. Poetry is a stylized expression of "created realities." If the discipline of language use is not applied to it, then every "cry from the heart," every rhyming rhythmic rap, or the growlings of madmen as acts that require the "language of our blood" would be poetry. Poetry as a literary art does not require the bloodcry from primordial angst. Poetry has no cultural, racial, or national boundaries. -- Albert B. Casuga

25 February, 2009 11:05

Monday, February 23, 2009

Translations: Gap between Linguistic and Literary Criticism

Criticism of translations quite obviously is a legtimate activity of the linguistically-bent literary critic. The evaluation of a work's translation, however, becomes unnecessarily narrow without considering the content/context of the literary work. Quite naturally, a gap between linguistics and literary criticism would exist if the translation is debunked as hopelessly incompetent in the first place. However, the translated literary work may be evaluated from other planes -- like its universality.
Some of the best compositions in other languages come to us in translations. Although we realize that a lot is taken away from their enjoyment because they do not reach us wth the original flavour and vigour of the language in which they were first written, we still marvel at the power with which they jolt us. They may be about other people, other voices, but they do not cease to be meaningful. It is quite easy to realize that they have become the property of mankind because they depict man as a universal being, afflicted by the same pains and triumps wherever he may be; only the accidents differ--the substance is man. Such epics as Homer's "Iliad" and "Odysssey," "The Song of Roland" and others, have become part of the universal fabric of literary treasures--they have even surfaced in other forms but with the same substance in other countries other than their land of origin.
It is this value which often stands out when critics, using the totemic or archetypal approach, unearth universal patterns of man, as well as traces, according to Wilbur Scott, of the Jungian "universal unconscious (which shows) that civilized man perserves, though unconsciously, those pre-historical areas of knowledge which he articulated obliquely in myth." ("Five Approaches of Literary Criticism.)
Bad translations are an abomination, to be certain. But one has no business translating if he is not competent in the first language. Competence here does not necessarily mean the qualification of a native speaker. All too often native speakers may miss that "quaint nuance" peculiar only to literary expression. Nevertheless,the second language writer must always be prepared to be evaluated from a "linguistic" angle -- that approach being itself a function of the formal approach.
Has any one surfaced as a serious "literary critic" who does not possess "linguistic credentials" in the first language? Good translations make good literature.
This also becomes a good argument for the literary critic to be an acceptably competent creative literary artist before putting on the hat of an arbiter of valuable literature. -- ALBERT B. CASUGA

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Dream of the Red Chamber

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Dream of the Red Chamber

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Theory of Echoes

My collection of poems, Theory of Echoes and Other Poem, will finally be launched February 24 at the University of Santo Tomas as part of the 400 books the UST Publishing House is currently publishing to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the venerable university in the Philippines (by 2011). It was a collection which would have been the other half of a fiction/poetry collaboration between Philippine-born Australian novelist Cesar Leyco Aguila and me. It was solicited by University of the Philippines' Prof. Jose Wendell Capili when he was in Australia doing his postgraduate studies. The UST Publishing decided to publish the tandem separately. Through the intervention of Dr. Ophelia Dimalanta, my collection (a decidedly thinner volume) got off the press ahead. Cesar's (former UPI, Philippines Free Press, Philippines Herald staffer, and information attache for the defunct Deparment of Public Information and UST Varsitarian Literary Editor etc.) "The Big River and Other Stories" should make it as part of the 400 before the anniversary date.

This grand project of the University is unrivalled in the whole academic world! The great Universities in Europe, America, or Asia have not done what UST is doing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Second-language writing and emotions: SAKADA

18 February 2009
Second-language writing and emotions

In "In conversation: Cebuano writers on Philippine literature and English" in the recently published Philippine English: Linguistic and Literary Perspectives, edited by Ma. Lourdes S. Bautista and Kingsley Bolton (Hong Kong University Press, 2008), Resil B. Mojares says, "Something else can be said about English - it's a way of distancing yourself from your emotions. Like if I wrote my poems in Cebuano [his mother tongue], I would worry about mawkishness, sentimentality, without the emotional control of the English language. English offered detachment. A foreign language renders things more neutral."

Is this true? Does writing in a second language distance writers from their emotions? (A linguistic take on William Wordsworth's [more likely Samuel Taylor Coleridge's] "emotion recollected in tranquillity"!) Or does writing in a second language falsify those emotions?
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 3:25 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Resil Mojares might just be doing a disservice to Philippine literature in English by assigning this second language as a "neutralizer" of emotions. Whenever any poem is competently written in whatever language the poet chooses as his medium, it is his primary function to "concretize" his experience so that it might transform itself to a "subjectified" experience capable of exuding emotions, sentiments, perceptions, insights, and the like -- stimuli to an aesthetic experience. To "neutralize" indigenous poetic emotions with English would effectively create a "neutered" poem, indeed. That is not what T.S. Eliot meant at all about these periphrastic renditions of emotions. When the poet uses his mother language to create literature, it is not his business to worry about "mawkishness, sentimentality" -- he will use his language to control that, if necessary. Any language is equipped to do that. Figures of thought and language in any language are tools for that purpose. The oblique expression of an otherwise "drippingly false" sentiment through these tools is available to any competent writer.

I hope Mr. Mojares does not intend to conclude that any Philippine language or dialect used in poetry must perforce create "sentimental" (nothing wrong with that either) nonsense, and poses the danger of emotional, verbal diarrhea. Even Cebuano is equipped with the wherewithal of poetic expression to create good poetry.

(When I wrote "Sakada" -- the Filipino lyrics sang in Isagani Cruz's play, I used these tools without muting the hurt and rage of the abused sakada (cane gleaner or gatherer) who contemplates revolution to wreak havoc on the haciendero.

"O sakada! O sakada!
Tag-ani na naman sa sakada!
Luntian ang bunga, silanga'y pula,
Umaga na rin kaya sa sting mga dampa?
Tag-ani na naman, kapatid sa lupa,
Aanihin din kaya ang 'yong kalul'wa?"

(O, cane gleaner! O cane gleaner!
It is harvest time in the canefields!
The fruit is golden, the east is red,
Will morning see us, too, in our shacks?
It is harvest time, brother of the field,
Will the master also harvest your soul?)

The English translation here (closest I could get to the "sentiment" of the Tagalog lyric) loses the power and the anger behind the lament. The rhyme and rhythm in the Pilipino version is not there. It neutered the anger for no good purpose.

I used tools to "control" mawkishness throughout the five stanzas (which I could not quote here for lack of space) -- and Dr. Cruz, saw the lyric "as good." Would English have done it any better? I doubt it; even with a more vigorous translation by better poets, it could not.

No, second languages are not "hired help" to blunt if not mute the wailing in phoney dirges disguised as poetry.

What was Resil thinking?--ALBERT B. CASUGA

18 February, 2009 10:52

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Errors or features? F. SIONIL JOSE

17 February 2009
Errors or features?

Here is an excerpt from linguist Andrew Gonzalez's "Distinctive Grammatical Features of Philippine Literature in English: Influencing or Influenced?" in Linguistics and Language Education in the Philippines and Beyond: A Festschrift in Honor of Ma. Lourdes S. Bautista (2005):

"From the point of view of linguistic study, F. Sionil Jose presents unusual features in his sentential and grammatical constructions. For personal reasons, F. Sionil Jose does his own editing and publication of his fiction. Even edited, it exhibits the traits now associated with distinctive grammatical characteristics of Philippine prose writing, which may be summarized as follows: (1) lack of tense sequence within the complex sentence, switching from present to past and vice versa; (2) lack of tense harmony in the whole paragraph (a variation of the above in extended discourse); (3) lack of agreement between subject and predicate especially where a clause is inserted between subject and predicate; (4) non-native American English uses of the article; (5) non-native American uses of modals especially the use of modals in the past tense which usually demand a modal in the present tense; (6) non-native American uses of the perfect tenses (present perfect and past perfect); and (7) non-native uses of two-word verbs or verb plus preposition combinations with participle complementation. In traditional grammar classes in the Philippine classroom, these features would be considered errors."

Gonzalez asks the question (which he asked several times earlier in his too brief lifetime) whether these are really errors or features. He even cites me (referring to the book A Dictionary of Philippine English, that I wrote together with Bautista in 1995) to justify labelling these "errors" as "features." I don't think all of the items he lists are features of Philippine English, particularly the lack of subject-verb agreement and the non-native American English use of the perfect tenses.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 3:09 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

May the soul of the late Dr. Andrew Gonzalez rest in peace after these remarks about National Artist Francisco Sionil Jose's grammatical constructions in his fiction. Gonzalez did contribute much to the development of Philippine education in English either as an educator or government official that I will not begrudge his scholarly legacy from being diplomatically "excoriating" about Mr. Jose's English.

Did Gonzalez concede at all that a "Filipino English" language existed? Did he accept a Filipino English that has its own "peculiar vocabulary, syntax, and grammar" much like other "bastardized" English from all over the world? Did he posit that American English is a better medium than "Philippinized English" for the Filipino's purposes? Has Filipino English matured with its own linguistic system that any author would supplant original English grammatical structure, syntax or even vocabulary with native pidgin? Gonzalez softened his analysis of Jose's English by creating a distinction between "feature" and error". Gonzalez did not need to hide behind "traditional grammar classes" to call attention to the grammatical errors of Mr. Jose. After all, if he was exercising some form of "literary criticism" through linguistic hermeneutics, his effort was legitimate criticism albeit narrow. Does the use of an adopted and "adapted" second language detract from the achieved content of literature? Does literature cease to be literature when grammatically imperfect? Of course, students of English literature would recall that if D.H. Lawrence did not have a good editor, his grammatical lapses might have doomed him as a second-rate fiction writer. Or is he? I wonder then if anyone should come to the rescue of a Filipino National Artist. But if Filipino English (warts and all) is now an acceptable literary medium, would
anyone cavil about Jose's grammatical constructions? Would this be useful?

I owe these two gentlemen a great deal of personal gratitude (both having seen to my growth as a poet and literary critic -- Gonzalez sponsored through Asia Foundation my writing a book on literary theory and criticism, and Jose accepted my first collection of poems for "consignment" at his bookstore "Solidaridad" without scrutinizing my literary credentials before displaying the thin volumes "Narra Poems and Others" and "Still Points" in his shelves).

I will, however, call a grammatical error an "error" wherever I find them -- but call "feature" a linguistic feature if it has been proven to work with disparate audiences. But can scholarly courage save Filipino Literature in English? -- ALBERT B. CASUGA

18 February, 2009 06:21

Saturday, February 14, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Giving up the homeland?

15 February 2009
Giving up the homeland?

Here are words from Cuba: A Cubano’s Coming-of-Age in America (1995), by Cuban-American writer Gustavo Pérez Firmat: The exile "waits to embark on a new career, to learn the language, to give up his homeland." Do these words ring true? Do writers learning a language give up their homeland? Or is this true only if they actually emigrate to another country? In the case of Filipinos, some writers still living in the Philippines appear to have given up their homeland by, for instance, forgetting that the language (English) they write in is not their mother tongue. These writers fail to exploit their advantage of having two languages to work with, as opposed to linguistically challenged monolingual writers. For example, they insist on following the grammar of American English, instead of the grammar of Philippine English, a variety of English as respectable as American or British English.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 6:33 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Have I given up my homeland, now that I enjoy relative comfort in North America? Is it true that being an expatriate writing in the adopted country's lingua franca also means giving up one's land of birth?

No, I will never give up my homeland (nor did Yeats, Conrad, Gabriel Marquez, Tagore, Rizal, Walcott, Richler, Nolledo, NVM Gonzalez, Bienvenido Santos, Garcia Villa, Armando Manalo, Ninotchka Rosca, Cesar Aguila, Belinda Aquino. etc.), but I could give up on the people of my homeland (who may have never lost their "ningas cogon" (brushfire) unsustained anger over colonial despotism even if that is perpetuated by its own people -- who could not even make clear choices of what language to use in teaching its children in schools, straw patriots who strike against martial rule only to sustain the same by being lorded over by former military functionaries, shadow-boxing "revolutionaries" who could not topple patently corrupt leaders propped up by corrupted military remnants of a past regime).

In fact, living in a bilingual country like Canada has added French to my having been equipped already by my homeland with my childhood languages of Ilocano-Igolot-Pangasinense, Spanish, Tagalog, American English, Filipino English, and British English, and conversational Nipponggo.

My work has always been coloured by these borrowed tongues. I doubt, however, if Filipino English grammar or rhetoric will enrich the lingua franca of world commerce -- although call centres seem to be sprouting all over cheap Philippine labour centres peopled by hapless wage earners whose "taglish" and public-school-accents confuse 75 per cent of multicultural English-speaking clients who are dumbfounded by the outsourcing of call assistance in English-speaking countries like the Philippines and India -- but for God's sake, if Filipino English has indeed attained a linguistic viability to add to the Babel of a fractured world without befuddling its communicative value as a people's medium but adding to the currency of a dominant human language, then let Filipino English be a second language to link the archipelago with the world's dominant culture.

Let us not forget Spanish which still spoken by all nooks and crannies of the world; and while the Philippines is honing its tools for education, why not Chinese and Japanese so that the Filipinos could be part of a tidal wave of cultural and economic current? Even after its ebb tide, the remaining languages will be valuable residues of world consciousness.

But nationalism (jingoism) may yet be the killer of universal education. Learning more languages and writing in them has sharpened this writer's awareness of how insignificant one's homeland appears vis-a-vis the wealthy and powerful countries, but it does loom large in his ken because his soul sprung therefrom. In the lyrics of that old song: "Pilipinas kung minumutya, aking adhika, makita kang sakdal laya!" -- ALBERT B. CASUGA

Thursday, February 12, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Filipino-ness and other ness-es

13 February 2009
Filipino-ness and other ness-es

Is the novel Ghosts of Manila by James Hamilton-Paterson Filipino even if its author is not Filipino? Does this question even make sense? Avoid it much as we wish, the question still rears its not-so-ugly head: what is Filipino-ness? Since the readers of this blog are not all Filipino, what is Italian-ness? What is Croatian-ness? If the Chinese are still grappling with Chinese-ness and Americans are still grappling with American-ness, what about everyone neither Chinese nor American? We toss about the term "global citizen" but does that really mean anything in the literary sense? It means something in real life, because we need passports to travel. Do we need linguistic or literary passports to travel through world literature?
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 5:52 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

If we must define "Filipino-ness" in the arts, we need to examine the themes and their underpinings. The themes invariably must derive their "meaning" from the Filipino's milieu -- his culture, his myths, his ethos -- the entire gamut of attitudes toward his text and context. Necessarily, these include the layers upon layers of cultural fibre the Filipino has gone through, not to mention the native nuance (or "take") of a fictional or poetic material.

How does Filipino-ness deal, say, with "expressions of love" on Valentine's day? In some Ilocano songs I grew up with, the expression could take the form of a handkerchief dropped by the inamorata and retrieved by the anxious swain while they sing: "Daytoy panyo'k no mareg-reg ko, makapidut isublinanto. Maimarka ti sinan puso ken naiborda iti nagan ko." (When I drop and lose my handkerchief -- whoever picks it up must return it one day. It would have been marked by the image of a heart and embroidered with my name!")

Now is this "treatment of context" in terms of the zarzuela lyrics considered "Filipino"? Is this the "Filipino-ness" we are looking for? But even that bespeaks of the "fandango" introduced by Hispanic literature, and forthwith caricatured by wartime comics Chichay and Tolindoy in the Japanese-time burlesque of the act of swearing love to one's "querida", by dropping that handkerchief and used by the pursuing lad to wipe off bird-droppings he sat on while playing "wall-flower" on the dance kiosk.

Why "Filipino-ness" (as in "bailes de ayer" --- dances of yesteryears -- often performed by expatriate dance troupes elsewhere in global diasporas)? Is that the "distinction" of poetry or fiction written by the Filipino?

What is the Great Filipino novel like? What is the text of that context? (I am sure Dr. Bien Lumbera and Dr. Isagani R. Cruz have better insights about a great Filipino Heritage.)--ALBERT B. CASUGA

13 February, 2009 08:40

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Fiipino-ness in the global age

12 February 2009
Fiipino-ness in the global age

As moderator, I started the discussion on "Filipino-ness in the Global Age" in Taboan: The Philippine International Writers Festival 2009 by reading the following passages:

From Remapping Africanness, by Anouar Majid, 2008:

“To be sure, Africanness is a fiction, or at least a word with a long and changing history. Africa is a place defined less by the skin color of its inhabitants than by the diversity of its cultures and religions. One might say that all Africans – except for the handful of elite who benefit from the schemes of corporate exploitation – are united by the suffering and painful marginalization in the age of globalization. The common theme of African novels written by Muslims in the second half of the 20th century – whether such novels were authored by Moroccan, Senegalese, or Sudanese writers – was their protagonists’ attempts to survive the debilitating effects of European colonialism.”

From On Americanness, London Times Literary Supplement, 1954:

“With Hawthorne the exploration of Americanness, as something mysteriously different from any other national quality, is well under way. Its existence conditions the whole of American literature. The Englishman takes his Englishness for granted; the Frenchman does not constantly have to be looking over his shoulder to see if his Frenchness is still there. The difference is simple – being an American is not something to be inherited so much as something to be achieved.”

From a call for papers for 2009 on How To Be Chinese? Rethinking Chineseness in the Age of Globalization, by Enhua Zhang:

“How to define Chineseness? Is there one homogeneous Chineseness? Is Chineseness naturally ingrained into Chinese culture or culturally formed or even invented (by whom)? How does Chineseness travel and transform from its native land to its diasporic community?”

From "Filipino-ness in Fiction," Penman, by Butch Dalisay, Philippine Star, 2007:

“Anything written by a Filipino should qualify as Filipino literature. It doesn’t matter to me where it’s published, what it contains, or what language it’s written in. This may be a bold statement to make, but I think that writers who know what they’re doing – whether they’re realists or fantasists – don’t worry about Filipino-ness and such, leaving that to readers and critics to discern and to sort out, if it’s all that important to them. It will always be there, in any work that acknowledges or emanates from the writer’s rootedness in a certain place and time.”

From a posted comment on the topic What Makes Fiction Truly Filipino?, 2007:

“Sa totoo lang, umikot ang ulo ko sa usapang ito. Apat na websites na ang binasa ko tungkol dito, pero parang wala pa rin akong sariling opinyon na ipaglalaban ko talaga.” [Truth to tell, my head spins because of this topic. I've visited four websites about this, but I still have no definite idea of what to believe.]

The discussion featured novelist and playwright Leoncio Deriada, novelist and creative nonfiction writer Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, short story writer and historian-critic Resil Mojares, and speculative fiction writer Timothy Montes. After a wide-ranging discussion with a lot of audience participation, I realized that, whatever Filipino-ness is, it does not depend on the language chosen by the writer. Filipino writers writing in various languages are Filipino, not because they hold Filipino citizenship, but because of something that their writings offer. What that something is, we were not really able to pin down.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 5:32 AM

12 February, 2009 08:07
Albert B. Casuga said...

Is the Filipino-ness of literature in any of the Philippine languages an important question? (Butch Dalisay and Paul Lim are au courant in their comments -- when one talks about "rootedness" in time and place as a facet of Filipino-ness, necessarily, the synecdochal significance of a particular fictive or poetic material may be appreciated as an expression of a universal verity (e.g., a particular "Filipino" condition that aspires to become a "human condition"). When Lim speaks of Filipino-ness as an "accident" (of culture, existence, angst, world view, milieu, etc.), he is saying the distinction is a red herring.

The more important question must always be: Is it literature worth the trouble of spending precious life time on? Worrying about the Filipino-ness of Philippine literature is unnecessarily delimiting. The important question is and will always be: Is the fiction or poetic material ultimately an aesthetic stimulus to broaden "manners of knowing" (epistemological function), and to define precise realities created by the writer to shape his grasp of reality (phenomenological function) -- both essential to literariness apart from the energies of language as a medium of creation and transmission.

Ultimately, "Filipino-ness" would ask other questions like: Is there a Filipino soul in the art piece? What is it? What is Filipino as a nuance (of culture, habits of thought, manners of cognition, etc.) in poetry or fiction? If the writer is condemned to merely limning Filipino-ness in his art, would that not be too parochial? This will only perpetuate the "inchoateness" of Philippine literature which must outlive a colonial imprimatur as if the confluence of a myriad of colonial influences is not part of Filipino-ness. Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo" does not require "Filipino-ness" to reflect the Philippine condition in his time. Poet Alejandrino Hufana's "Poro Point" is everyman's "dive into origin" as well as his catapult to perch from "so that when he taps his fingers, he also disturbs the universe."

Looking for that "something" which sgnifies "Filipino-ness"? It is belated navel gazing. The Filipino-ness is, indeed, what the Filipino artist achieves in his lonely and painful journey (paraphrasing Joyce)to "forge into the smithy of his soul, the conscience of his race." -- ALBERT B. CASUGA