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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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


....who would fardels bear, / To grunt and sweat under a weary life, / But that the dread of something after death, / The undiscovered country from whose bourn/ No traveller returns, puzzles the will/ And makes us rather bear those ills we have/ Than fly to others that we know not of? --- Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare


Flowers for the dead
Rot: the garbage man collects
Dumpster mementos.

Thus, songs for the dead
Become evening echoes drowned
In trash bin clangor.

Remembrances die
With spent candles snuffed
Over silent tombstones.

Flores para los muertos
Are dead flowers in the wind
Though wild winds tow them.

We are fallen twigs
That will not be back on trees
Though wild winds lift us.

Mississauga, October 31, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Should reading Literature be encumbered by literary scholarship, hermeneutics, semiotics, and all forms of "science of meaning"? Would this not miss the "many splendoured thing" sought for in reading for reading's sake? What's not to gain in going back to "naive reading"?

Prof. Robert Pippin's article below should be a clear springboard for more discussion which we hope we could print or re-print in this blog. Please address comments or repartee to Re: Naive Reading.

(This blog repirnts the following New York Times feature as a first in a series of issues dealing with the decline of the Humanities in Universities all over the academic world. A continuation of the debate that sprung some time in the 80s hopes to elicit debate that might focus attention on the "crisis" facing Humanities programs in universities beleaguered by funding problems. Are the Humanities (literature, fine arts, film arts, drama, theatre, languages, etc.) on the way out being considered not critical in finding the unviersity graduate a job?)

In Defense of Naïve Reading


Reprinted from the New York Times, Opinionator Column, October 10, 2010. The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless.

Remember the culture wars (or the ’80s, for that matter)? “The Closing of the American Mind,” “Cultural Literacy,” “Prof Scam” “Tenured Radicals”? Whatever happened to all that? It occasionally resurfaces, of course. There was the Alan Sokal/Social Text affair in 1996, and there are occasional flaps about winners of bad writing awards and so forth, but the national attention on universities and their mission and place in our larger culture has certainly shifted.

Those culture wars, however much more heat than light they generated, were at least a philosophical debate about values, about what an educated person should know, even about what college was for. All of that has been displaced in the last decade by another sort of discourse: stories about the staggering and growing expense of a college education; the national hysteria about getting one’s children into an “elite” school (or at least one the neighbors might have heard of); the declining impact of a college degree on one’s job prospects; rampant plagiarism; the vast multitudes of part-time or adjunct faculty, usually without health care or much of a future, now teaching our undergraduates; pronouncements on the end of the book, the end of attention spans, even the end of reading itself. But the question of what all this expense and anxiety might ultimately be about, or what the point of it all is, has not surfaced much lately.

It might now be possible to get a different sort of perspective on that discussion of 20 years ago. It is not as if anybody won. The underlying issues ─ especially the philosophical issues ─ have not been resolved. The debate, in the manner of many such public debates and old soldiers, just faded away.

While the public debates may have died down — and while there continue to be such methodological debates in sociology, anthropology and history — it is still the teaching of literature that generates the most academic, and especially non-academic, discussion. There are such debates in philosophy, too, but we tend to get a pass on this issue since debates about what philosophy is have always been one of philosophy’s main topics.

Poems and novels and paintings were not produced as objects for future academic study; there is no reason to think that they could be suitable objects of “research.”

Most students study some literature in college, and most of those are aware that they are being taught a lot of theory along with the literature. They understand that the latest theory is a broad social-science-like approach called “cultural studies,” or a particular version is called “post-colonialism” or “new historicism.” And there are still plenty of gender-theoretical approaches that are prominent. But what often goes unremarked upon in the continuing (though less public) debate about such approaches is that, taking in the longue durée, this instability is in itself completely unremarkable.

The ’80s debaters tended to forget that the teaching of vernacular literature is quite a recent development in the long history of the university. (The same could be said about the relatively recent invention of art history or music as an academic research discipline.) So it is not surprising that, in such a short time, we have not yet settled on the right or commonly agreed upon way to go about it. The fact that the backgrounds and expectations of the student population have changed so dramatically so many times in the last 100 years has made the problem even more difficult.

In the case of vernacular literature, there was from the beginning some tension between the reader’s point of view and what “professional scholarship” required. Naturally enough, the first models were borrowed from the way “research” was done on the classical texts in Greek and Latin that made up most of a student’s exposure to literature until the end of the 19th century. Philology, with its central focus on language, was once the master model for all the sciences and it was natural for teachers to try to train students to make good texts, track down sources, learn about conflicting editions and adjudicate such controversies. Then, as a kind of natural extension of these practices, came historical criticism, national language categorization, work on tracing influences and patronage, all contributing to the worry about classifying various schools, movements or periods. Then came biographical criticism and the flood gates were soon open wide: psychoanalytic criticism, new or formal criticism, semiotics, structuralism, post-structuralism, discourse analysis, reader response criticism or “reception aesthetics,” systems theory, hermeneutics, deconstruction, feminist criticism, cultural studies. And so on.

Clearly, poems and novels and paintings were not produced as objects for future academic study; there is no a priori reason to think that they could be suitable objects of “research.” By and large they were produced for the pleasure and enlightenment of those who enjoyed them. But just as clearly, the teaching of literature in universities ─ especially after the 19th-century research model of Humboldt University of Berlin was widely copied ─ needed a justification consistent with the aims of that academic setting: that fact alone has always shaped the way vernacular literature has been taught.

The main aim was research: the creating and accumulation and transmission of knowledge. And the main model was the natural science model of collaborative research: define problems, break them down into manageable parts, create sub-disciplines and sub-sub-disciplines for the study of these, train students for such research specialties and share everything. With that model, what literature and all the arts needed was something like a general “science of meaning” that could eventually fit that sort of aspiration. Texts or art works could be analyzed as exemplifying and so helping establish such a science. Results could be published in scholarly journals, disputed by others, consensus would eventually emerge and so on. And if it proved impossible to establish anything like a pure science of exclusively literary or artistic or musical meaning, then collaboration with psychoanalysis or anthropology or linguistics would be welcomed.

Will the sciences eventually provide the actual theory of meaning that researchers in literature and the arts will need?

Finally, complicating the situation is the fact that literature study in a university education requires some method of evaluation of whether the student has done well or poorly. Students’ papers must be graded and no faculty member wants to face the inevitable “that’s just your opinion” unarmed, as it were. Learning how to use a research methodology, providing evidence that one has understood and can apply such a method, is understandably an appealing pedagogy.

None of this is in itself wrong-headed or misguided, and the absence of any consensus about this at this still early stage is not surprising. But there are two main dangers created by the inevitable pressures that the research paradigm for the study of literature and the arts within a modern research university brings with it.

First, while it is important and quite natural for literary specialists to try to arrive at a theory of what they do (something that conservatives in the culture wars often refused to concede), there is no particular reason to think that every aspect of the teaching of literature or film or art or all significant writing about the subject should be either an exemplification of how such a theory works or an introduction to what needs to be known in order to become a professor of such an enterprise. This is so for two all-important reasons.

Literature and the arts have a dimension unique in the academy, not shared by the objects studied, or “researched” by our scientific brethren. They invite or invoke, at a kind of “first level,” an aesthetic experience that is by its nature resistant to restatement in more formalized, theoretical or generalizing language. This response can certainly be enriched by knowledge of context and history, but the objects express a first-person or subjective view of human concerns that is falsified if wholly transposed to a more “sideways on” or third person view. Indeed that is in a way the whole point of having the “arts.”

Likewise ─ and this is a much more controversial thesis ─ such works also can directly deliver a kind of practical knowledge and self-understanding not available from a third person or more general formulation of such knowledge. There is no reason to think that such knowledge — exemplified in what Aristotle said about the practically wise man (the phronimos)or in what Pascal meant by the difference between l’esprit géometrique and l’esprit de finesse — is any less knowledge because it cannot be so formalized or even taught as such. Call this a plea for a place for “naïve” reading, teaching and writing — an appreciation and discussion not mediated by a theoretical research question recognizable as such by the modern academy.

This is not all that literary study should be: we certainly need a theory about how artistic works mean anything at all, why or in what sense, reading a novel, say, is different from reading a detailed case history. But there is also no reason to dismiss the “naïve” approach as mere amateurish “belle lettrism.” Naïve reading can be very hard; it can be done well or poorly; people can get better at it. And it doesn’t have to be “formalist” or purely textual criticism. Knowing as much as possible about the social world it was written for, about the author’s other works, his or her contemporaries, and so forth, can be very helpful.

Secondly, the “research model” pressures described are beginning to have another poorly thought out influence. It is quite natural (to some, anyway) to assume that eventually not just the model of the sciences, but the sciences themselves will provide the actual theory of meaning that researchers in such fields will need. One already sees the “application” of “results” from the neurosciences and evolutionary biology to questions about why characters in novels act as they do or what might be responsible for the moods characteristic of certain poets. People seem to be unusually interested in what area of the brain is active when Rilke is read to a subject. The great problem here is not so much a new sort of culture clash (or the victory of one of C.P. Snow’s “two cultures”) but that such applications are spectacular examples of bad literary criticism, not good examples of some revolutionary approach.

If one wants to explain why Dr. Sloper in Henry James’s novel, “Washington Square,” seems so protective yet so cold about his daughter Catherine’s dalliance with a suitor, one has to begin by entertaining the good evidence provided in the novel ─ that he enjoys the power he has over her and wants to keep it; that he fears the loneliness that would result if she leaves; that he knows the suitor is a fortune hunter; that Catherine has become a kind of surrogate wife for him and he regards her as “his” in that sense; that he hates the youth of the suitor; that he hates his daughter for being less accomplished than he would have liked; and that only some of this is available to his awareness, even though all true and playing some role. And one would only be getting started in fashioning an account of what his various actions mean, what he intended, what others understood him to be doing, all before we could even begin looking for anything like “the adaptive fitness” of “what he does.”

If being happy to remain engrossed in the richness of such interpretive possibilities is “naïve,” then so be it.

Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books on German idealism and on theories of modernity. His next book, on the problem of fate in American film noir, will appear in 2011.

Monday, October 18, 2010



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All accidents save for Acts of God shall be deemed covered by this insurance policy. -- - Insurance coverage provision.

I lift my eyes to the mountains, from where shall come my help?/ Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. --- Church hymn based on Ps. 121

Mario Gomez, 63, delivered on his promise:
“Querida mia, donde esta mi beso? Donde esta mi amor?”
Her lips quivering, she flirted on the inserted camera
Snaking through the pit, a cavern of refuge now,
A mansion no less for the indentured thirty-three,
“Ven aqui, Mario mio, si quieres beso, abrazo, y mas!
Ven aca! Venga, venga, viejo. Te quiero! Te quiero!”
Sobs arrested in her throat betrayed her when she bade
Him to stay puissant, she needs her virile man strong.

Those daily papelitos between lovers saw them
Renewing their nuptial vows: when you come out,
Not if you come out,  we will get married once again
At the Iglesia on the hill, and offer our four children,
Our shrivelled skins, our shack, our mortgages, our debts,
Our dwindling years in grateful celebration to El Senor,
Y todos los santos , Who is our help, our true salvation.

Daybreak brought to its amazing plenitude the skills,
The survival tacks, the fattening of starved psyche,
The miracles of man and his science:

They’re out! Lazarus manqué!

They’ve surfaced the heroic thirty three! Sterling silver
Not unlike those Judas ransom , they ascended one
By quivering one, all clutching rusty crucifixes in praise
Of a God who was not in the sealed cavern even as they
Prayed: Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven
And the temblors of this earth.

What does it matter that Seguridad de Oro considers
This entombment non-coverable by mining insurance
Because it was an Act of God? After all, the caving in
Was in great pursuit of gold and silver, metals to shore up
The sinkholes of cities calcified in the manners of greed
That will not serve His greater glory, wherever He has gone
In the caverns of this empty, now liberated cave.
Mario Gomez will have his kiss, hugs, and more.

Mississauga, October 18, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010



Autumn ---/ even the birds/ and clouds look old.
                                                 --- Basho

Autumn leaves leave twigs
When wild fall winds shear branches
Of their brittle foliage.

Twigs cast thin shadows---
Like trembling fingers, clutch air
For their treetop tuck.

They cannot hold on---
Twigs must break away like sons
Preening as oak trees.

Twigs cracked by wild wind
Fall pell-mell on bristly grass,
Burn as quickly too

When fierce sunrays turn
Valleys to tittering flame:
A covenant with spring.

When twigs break away,
Shorn saplings do not take them
Back as prodigal branches

Like shadows swallowed
By sunsets gone past mountains
Lost to murky nights.

O, we are fallen twigs
And will not be back this way again
Though wild winds lift us.

Mississauga, October 12, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010



Thursday's The National Post reported and carried a New York Times story on this year's Nobel Prize in Literature winner. Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian, is the second South American to garner the 10 million kroner ($1.5 million) plume. Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Nobel in 1982.

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A Mario Vargas Llosa: Felicitaciones! Bravo!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010



Toronto Star's publishing reporter Vit Wagner reported Tuesday's choices which largely ignored entries from past winners of the Man Booker Literary Prize. The $50,000 book award is Canada's most sought-after literary prize.

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Wagner says: "The 2010 finslists, revealed Tuesday in Toronto, are as subject to debate as those of any other year."

This year's panel of judges: Canadian broadcaster Michael Enright, U.S. novelist Claire Messud, and U.K. author Ali Smith. 38 publishers submitted 98 books.

Favourites Asia Man Booker winner Miguel Syjuco (Ilustrado) and UK Booker finalist Emma Donoghue (Room) were shut out from the previous 13 longlisted authors.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Photo by Bobby Wong Jr.


(For Julian Ashley+, October 2, 1984-January 30, 1885)

It is the Sea eats limb so life (so love)/ may not to its eternal wanting finish/ what it late started must soon deny:/ a clown’s journey through a circle’s shadow. . .

Another fishing season would have gone
by sundown, but I have stopped counting
and stopped fishing, too; think of all the bass
that got away and the crayfish dried brittle
on rocks laved clean of seaweed and brine,
ebb tide marking rhythm and time when
breaking waves drown the homeward hallos
of fishermen pulling empty nets and ruined
mesh dragged off by catamarans whose relics
now jag brackish breakwater rocks when
low tide retrieves stray shells wrapped in flotsam.

It is my hammock hour. Come swing yourself
on this final refuge. Don’t take too long, hijo.
We have groupers to grill, oysters to chuck!

Echoes of your shrill shrieks and laughter startle
me still when I cock my ear to catch them
filling rooms and spaces that I would have shared
with you if you had only given me the chance
to teach you how to fish. But you left without
saying goodbye. At sundown, though,
on my hammock hour, I still hum your lullaby.

October 2, 2010, Mississauga

On October 2, Julian Ashley  Casuga-Dela Rosa, my first grandchld,  would have been 26, but he succumbed to sudden infant death syndrome four months after his birth.

I wrote an earlier poem marking his passing, "For the Grandson Who Did Not Choose to Stay", which I reprint together with the new poem above in his durable memory. O, how we could have gone away fishing, had he stayed longer. Con amor duradero, hijo mio.

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