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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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Isagani R. Cruz's Beyond Futility: The Filipino as Critic, (New day Publishers, 1984), classifies me a postmodernist in the literary theory that he said I offered in my Aesthetics of Literature (De La Salle University, 1972). "His book...offers a literary theory modern in conception, almost postmodern in tendency..."

"Such a view of literature thus aims at being comprehensive, encompassing in one sweep Aristotle's mimesis, Horace's dulce et utile, Kant's aesthetic realm, and Husserl's phenomenology. Casuga's entire effort in his book, in fact, is to be comprehensive. In spite of his avowed intention of presenting a formalist aesthetics, for example, he allows the use of biographical material in analysis..."

Biographical material? One must know something about the author to know what his artistic purpose is? Would that be helpful? Where did Dr. Cruz see that evidence in the book which he generously wrote about in surveying what kind of literary criticism has been developed to lend direction to Philippine literature? I have always disavowed "biographical material" as irrelevant in literary criticism; it creates "mnemonic irrelvancies." Looking back, as I admiringly re-read his seminal work on Philippine literary criticism, I realize now that he was referring to an entry in my Writer's Notebook which might help in the analysis of my rather "difficult" poem A Theory of Echoes." The following is that journal entry:

Entry: Re Andrea's Death (September 9, 1970)

My math teacher in high school died today. I don't know what to feel about this. She's old, all right -- and she must die sooner or later.

It's sad how she must go. she won't even be able to use her math, algebra, geometry, and all her equations to get herself to heaven.

But death is nothing else but an extension of life. Just as living, she had her students as simple echoes of her awesome presence. What is an echo--but an extension of sound? And language, echo of thought?

Perhaps, her death could be a good material for this mathematical idiom and imagery Cirilo is talking about.

Andrea Alviar comes to mind now as that old, church-going spinster who leaves a void in those corridors of the old Gabaldon building in La Union High school. How the corridors must reverberate with her throaty voice--axioms coming out of her lips sounding like rules of life.

She is dead now--she has fallen--like a fractured birdwing. The end of everything is the Zodiac and the Zero which is our beginning. -- From the Author's Notebook

Here is that lead poem in my A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2009) which grew out of the entry.

A Theory of Echoes

1. Axiom

Echoes shape corridors lean
Leaving them a cipher's silence
Not unlike the axiom of a day:
All things go up to fall the way
Fractured bird wings fall, violence
Met in the loins of wind.
Lean corridors shape echoes,
Silence ciphering them, leaving
A day axiomed as not what is unlike
The way the fall of things strike:
Violence on the fractured bird wing,
Winds loyned with zodiaqual zeroes.
2. Echo

-- ALBERT B. CASUGA (Sunday Times, 1-10-71)

(Many of the key images I used in the poem are also used in the journal entry. This entry is a prose description of the experience I was concretizing in the poem. The main difference would probably be the economy of expression in the poetic version of the experience.)

Can a literary theory be gleaned from this extract?

Dr. Cruz in his Beyond Futility quotes my "literary theory" and clarifies:

To Casuga, the function of literature is to "come closer to truth, the distinct awareness and understanding of things, conditions sine qua non to the perfection of man's essence." Such an ultimate epistemological-metaphysical end is served by the specific purpose of a work of literature, namely, "to objectify and subjectify (concretize and emotionalize) an otherwise abstract aesthetic experience for the purpose of soliciting or engendering aesthetic delight in the artist as well as in the appreciator."

If the author did not "reveal" his stimulus for the poem, would it still be appreciated by the reader as something that had to do with the life-and-death continuum, the echoes of thoughts in language, the way everything must fall in order rise once more with the loins of wind.
The heuristic sagacity of the literary critic is what one must normally fall back on in order to answer "tricky" questions like this. Writer's Notebooks are usually unearthed from their archives only after their demise -- I will not wait for that peremptory silence.

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