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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, June 22, 2010


ON FATHER'S DAY, my daughter Nicole sent me a copy of her son's philosophy class essay. How acutely smart of her to send me this essay instead of the usual book-gift cards (Angeli and April) from Indigo or Coles book shops! Now, this is a present to best the others! (You still owe me one, nevertheless, Alardyce Nicole!)

Her siblings treated me to Japanese sushi (April for lunch and a book-gift card, and Alfie for another at the all you-can-eat Japanese Buffet) or sent me enough Sushi Teh Restaurant gift cards (Albert Beau) for another sumptuous smorgasbord. I celebrated Father's Day in two separate "grazing" days (eat your hearts out, peres all over this Mother-biased world!)
(Please Click on the Image to zoom in on the Essay's Text)

Daniel Anthony Casuga Dy’s “Knowing If You Know Me”, submitted May 17 in Mr. D. Simmon’s Grade 12 class in Philosophy, is of incalculable worth to this grandfather who has had other constant and random “surprise” gifts like a booklet of poems by Diana Dy, 20, (our eldest grandchild), another libretto of drawings and limericks from April’s Taylor and Sydney, a sheaf of drawings by Megan, my only son’s only daughter of a trio of talented go-soons, wilted dandelions pressed between the pages of my books from Alfie’s Chloe (4) and Louis (3) whenever they meet me down their cul de sac while completing my day’s constitutional walk, and interminable lectures from nietos Matthew (on the best moves in chess and those fearsome digital games) and Michael Albert’s endless instruction on how to construct paper planes so they’d fly higher and longer!

Daniel’s essay is so like Daniel.
Here is the little boy who used to protest , when doted upon by this grandpa: “I am not a sideshow, you know!” He was just a wee lad of two or three then (not even in kindergarten then). True to this erstwhile sentiment of a shy lad --- but oh, so voluble about things he thought he knew --- Daniel has developed this impressive thesis that one “will never truly know whomsoever we think we know.” (Or "one is forever lonely?")

It is the proud and independent man saying: “No, you don’t know me.” I am made of sterner stuff; finer thoughts; warmer and heartfelt feelings --- I am complex. I am human.
Throughout this essay that invokes reinforcing ideas from philosophers Hume, Locke, Berkeley, and Velasquez --- (he should have included Descartes (subjectivism), Bacon (realism), Kierkegaard (being and nothingness), Buber (Christian existentialism), Camus (humanism, existentialism). Russell, Hawkings, and the classical thinkers who might have provided a brief but clear view of how one could know one’s self through the fabrics of a Weltanschauung through positive, objective, palpable, and caused realities) --- Daniel posits that “being able to know one’s self is a difficult task to accomplish. So, being able to truly know someone else would likely be an even harder task.”

One can see the traces of “relativism” (subject to change), "empiricism" (perceived about a person...based on what one’s five senses dictate”), and "scepticism" (‘to the elaborate human mind”). One becomes apprehensive about how much influence the classroom teacher has (he,too, has his philosophical biases) injecting these to the young mind who might yet have to be informed (grounded) about the Catholic school’s patron saint philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas’ theses, to have a sturdy foundation of thought based on human faith and reason.

Mr. Simmons notes on the penultimate page of the submission: “Daniel, this is the best essay that you have written. Well done.”

I share this encomium, Daniel allowing. I like to think that this “apple of the second bearing season, has not fallen far from the tree.”

(Back in university, at the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas --- now University of Santo Tomas --- in Manila, I would get notes from Professors like Salvador Roxas Gonzalez, Pedro Gabriel, Ariston Estrada, Jose Espinosa, Jose Samson, Antonio Piñón, and Rev. Alfredo Panizo, that normally highlighted my “little learning being a dangerous thing --- specially in Philosophy; e.g., Cosmology, Medieval Philosophy, St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Rational Psychology, Aesthetics, Theological Philosophy. I finished a major in Literature and a minor in Philosophy, magna cum laude, thanks to their caveats.)

Daniel, in one of those infrequent tète-a-tète with me, intimated that he will pursue a philosophy degree after he finishes an earlier skills course on culinary arts, and hope to work as a chef while he finishes his Humanities degree.

You want to be a chef? I asked him once, not without a sense of snotty dread. Of course, it is an art in itself, culinary art. I confess to being one of those who subscribe thoroughly to the idea that cooking is an art, a more salubrious kin to poetry and music.

My only dread is that when the chef starts earning handsome pecuniary reward and even fame, Philosophy and the Humanities might finally be cast aside as a bourgeois trapping in the hopelessly materialistic environment gripping mankind today, global markets withstanding.

My own Albert Junior wrote poetry in high school, then forsook the queen of literary arts for the father-of-a-family imperative of earning from the hefty remuneration of an IT (information technology) expert. Poetry’s loss, Internet’s gain. Eldest granchild Diana earned money early while in high school, and the poems of grade school vanished en toto. Will Megan, Taylor, Sydney prove faithful to their love for drawing, dance, and music ? Will Matthew and Michael convert their love for words into literary prowess someday? Will Chloe (dance, ballet) and Louis translate their love of beauty (flowers for you, abuelo!) into "finer things of the mind"?

This is, by no means, the only scribbling of Daniel --- he’s got his room walls papered with his “musings”, (What? Not pinups of voluptuous Muses via Penthouse et al? How gauche!) Now comes this essay.

About half a century ago, when I delivered my valedictory address at the La Union National High School (in the Northern Philippines), I was serendipitously positing the answer to Daniel’s questions of “not knowing one’s self” let alone others. (This, of course, is merely a facet of individualism that may mistake “standoffishness” from “the other” as “not knowing” anyone well enough. Hence, hand’s off. I stand alone. Omni soli semper. (All alone always).

In that speech, which I published subsequently in the graduation issue of the La Union TAB, the pioneer high school paper in the islands, (which I edited) I said:
I am what I am. I rest on the shoulders of giants before me. I can see further beyond horizons, because I am what I became when taller, stronger persons carried me.” (Or words to that effect, or of that sort. I forget a lot now, Daniel.)

In the days to come, my Danny Boy, when you have mastered the preparation of sushi, sashimi, tempura, and the like, visit me. In my study, while I munch on your art work, I shall talk to you about these friends I met in my little life: Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas, Bacon, Spinoza, Voltaire, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Spencer, Nietzsche, Bergson, Croce, Russell, Santayana, James, Dewey, Husserl, Kierkegaard, Durant, and a lot of friends you will meet in your pursuit of knowing what you know. Bring sake.

In the meantime, thank you for the essay, D.A.D. (Hah, that makes you a father, too, Daniel). It gives me a keener sense of my immortality.

In response to Daniel's essay, I reprint the following poem for his ontological and epistemological adventures.
(You will find, Dan-Man, that talk of “small things” while drinking your cups of coffee is also shooting the breeze in Montparnasse. I wrote this in 1968, I think, after a philosophical session with a friend, Alejo Villanueva Jr., a philosophy professor and a Harvard alumnus. Both of us were teaching then at San Beda College, a Benedictine College in Manila.)

Small Talk at a Coffee Shop in Montparnasse

Io non mori, e non rimasi vivo.
-- Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia

Black coffee, Alejo, has its way of distinguishing
anguish from angostura now that prattle
of Sartre, Camus, and Berdyaev has stopped
on a pin’s head: the blackness is proof of the battle
come as the gadfly disturbing the teacups
where they, unthinking, rattle; we, unfeeling, bleed.

“Me? I take mine with cream.” It is this need
makes one prefer a dash of milk to a dash of pity.
Fancy the hole on the doughnut where the hole
lasts only where the dough surrounds it. Fancy,
what makes you think you’re not a doughnut?
“Ontological dimensions of fear, I say.”
Fear of the bole whose business it is to stand tall?
Or of some blank wall?

With the hole there and the coffee black,
where begins the trembling for the clock?
Time in. Time out. Man becomes, then runs out.
What makes you think you’re not a man? Doubt?
“I suffer; therefore, I am alive.” But when life ran out,
one did not die, yet nothing of life remained!
One takes coffee with cream, an empirical scheme
of distinctions between man, doughnut, and dream.

A cup ennobles indignities; the fact is it empties
what makes itself itself into a hole not unlike the
doughnut’s, waiting to be filled, but filled with pain.
To be metaphysical, like the sky empties itself of rain!
Like it was afternoons and the coffee guests absent,
No prattle here of Heidegger nor even of Kierkegaard.
The tables have not remained silent
since then, Alejo. The cups have even trembled.

Once upon a time, I talked the "philosophical" talk. You might want to get a sense of this "urge" to know in one of these postings. (See April 9, 2009 Post, Philosopher or Poet?)
(I also mean to give this post to Daniel's father, Ignacio Dy, as a present for Father's Day. Belated because he has just got out of the hospital for a critical surgery. Happy to share Daniel with you, ID! )

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