Sunday, September 23, 2018

Not just on paper

LOVE is physical, most of all love for a book. You know the signs of obsession: the desire, always keen, never stale, to open a new book and dip your nose into the fusion of odors rising from the crack of its pages, to run the balls of one’s fingers on the unevenly serrated pages, and more.

By now, you know I am talking of a book made of paper. In the age of ebooks, this love endures. Nothing replaces the sheer physicality of bodily contact with something that segues into imagining, reflecting, thinking.

Like all loves, this one, too, has its perils. This week my search for a book took me to one of the libraries, where I and then a succession of librarians realized that the anthology edited by Seyla Benhabib and others, “Feminist Contentions,” did not exist except in the virtual sense.

While a digital system keeps track of entire collections in all the libraries of the university, this particular collection was recently transferred from one building to another. According to a librarian, the book may have been “misplaced” during the relocation.

Another book I sought was also lost to history. My professor’s copy of “Gender Studies: Terms and Debates,” edited by Anne Cranny-Francis and others, went up in flames along with other irreplaceable collections in the destruction of the Bulwagang Rizal some years ago.

Pursuits drive obsessions. There are other libraries, friends with collections, friends who know other book lovers, secondhand bookstores, and, if all else fails, online sellers.

Paper may be a fragile vessel except in the estimation of those for whom its existence matters. Fire took away all that my professor collected over a lifetime of studies except for those she had turned over to the college photocopier for reproducing the reading packs in the courses she was teaching.

In the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Main Library is a collection that represents a collective resistance to amnesia. The Philippine Radical Papers were criticisms printed from the late sixties to the early seventies against the Marcos dictatorship.

Activists donated collections. Students, teachers, and library staff gave the manifestoes and leaflets collected during teach-ins and rallies. Underground organizations sent copies of newsletters.

Library tables became depositories for unknown others, who left behind materials, possession of which turned one into an enemy of the state and subject for arrest or worse during martial law. In 1998, the UP Press published a subject guide to the collection.

When the object of love cannot be physically possessed, what comes closest is anamnesis (remembrance).

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s September 23, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata"

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Felis politikos

FINALLY, I solved a mystery concerning this coterie of cats I run into every morning on my way to breakfast. Walking up the drive that leads to a cafeteria on campus, I see cats of all ages, colors, and sizes lined up along the driveway.

I have hailed one or two but receive no sign—not even an impassive blink from those glacial gem-like orbs—that I have been seen.

It is a strange thing. Cats and their humans have the oldest and most abiding form of bondage. For all that supercilious demeanor, a cat tolerates a human better than its fellow Felis catus.

Another cat is an ego as selfish as its own whereas a human does not just offer without being commanded slavish devotion but comes conveniently with a home, which a cat needs if it is to be distinct from its undomesticated cousins, the serval, the margay, and the other big cats.

Then when I was running late, I finally saw why the cats queued up like clockwork every morning.

I can still see the long diaphanous lavender scarf the woman wound twice around her neck before she took out a blue ice cream container from a black purse and began ladling out for every cat, who broke free from their feline formation for its long awaited breakfast of porridge.

And, of course, each cat dined on its own for as the woman in lavender must have known all too well, a cat socialises with humans but never with the competition.

Around this sprawling campus are many evidences of this ├ętatization by cats. Borrowing the French word for the “state,” anthropologist James Ferguson coined a neologism for the “knotting/coagulation of power” that ends in an unholy trinity among the state, the local elite, and the people as subjects of power.

After I walked in from the monsoon rains to a freezing classroom smelling mightily of cat, I realized ours is a university run by people for cats. To be sure, there is no tail swinging and twitching from the seats of influence but why should a cat seek the burdens of office when already seemingly all of academia dote on them?

There is the guard on duty who makes a detailed inspection of the identification card required from every student entering the college. My knees almost buckle down from anxiety that my professor will not accept the paper requiring 50 journal citations because I am detained while my fuzzy photo goes under the guard’s gaze and runs the gamut of epistemological analysis from positivism to anti-positivism.

A sleek black-and-white body insinuates in and out of my legs. I look down on the desecuritization cat, proof that even a creature who pees on books does not need a badly taken mug shot to enter the building and claim the affections of the powers that be. 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s September 16, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata"

Saturday, September 08, 2018

“Stretch pa more”

WALKING around campuses has enriched my vocabulary a word, a meaning at a time. At Diliman this week, tarpaulins announced a forum on disaster risk reduction.

The mouthful of English jargon translates into a single word in Filipino: “katatagan”.

I like how those upright strokes forming the consonants that precede the successive explosions of the first syllables resemble pillars before the final syllable descends and eases like an unfurling wave.

The late Rodolfo Cabonce’s Visayan translation also astonishes: “kamainat-inat”. The capability to spring back from hardship implies a backbone of suppleness not otherwise implied in a code of rigidity.

In class, my journalist professor observed that resilience has also been misused by the state or media to gloss over the people’s suffering. Runaway inflation? Street killings? Jokes degrading women? Smile: The Filipino is disaster-proof.

Rephrase “inat-inat” to the more current “stretch pa more”. As a girl, I played with rubber bands and garters.

In these competitions—whether to win my rival’s stack of multicoloured bands by flicking this the farthest or outjumping the competition in Chinese garter, raised by increments—I was testing my ability to spring back.

The sight of Jessie is familiar to those taking to the Oval in Diliman for morning exercise. I first met him while walking down the same slope he was walking up, balancing a pole that had a large can full of fresh “taho” on one end, and, in the other, bottles of soya milk.

I was looking for a poem in the mossy bricks in the path to keep my mind off my knapsack and the extra tote with library books for returning. From Jessie’s expression, I could tell his side of the slope was even more interesting than mine.

“Mabigat (heavy)?” I said to him as much as to myself. “Sakto lang (just right),” he said, smiling slightly.

Years ago, Dr. Madrile├▒a de la Cerna was my editor in a project to compile the histories of Cebu towns and cities. A History class “terror” at UP Cebu, Ms. Madz never gave up while I brooded over my manuscript like a hen sitting on a nest of imaginary eggs.

It takes more than writing disasters to faze Ms. Madz. Since she shepherded me through the final “final” deadline, she handles thrice-weekly dialysis and recently, treatment for breast cancer while still being Ms. Madz: volunteering for Cebu culture, serving the community.

In Cabonce’s dictionary, “resignation” precedes “resilience”. In a poem, the best is saved for the last. The best is savouring steaming “taho” from someone whose day begins earlier than mine.

And learning from a teacher who inspires long after she left the classroom.

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s September 11, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”