Saturday, October 28, 2017

Of huts and books

IF the “bahay kubo” had bigger floor space, would we now be a nation of readers?

I contend that books tend to proliferate like molds. My husband says that’s the kind of thinking that keeps us perennially running out of house space.

A couple I know rent the apartment beside theirs to store their library; his and hers, I stress. He said he could go solo and I could cohabit with my books.

Had our ancestors been more into reading, our contemporary huts should include, along with the family altar and wall of children’s diplomas, a shelf or two of reading material.

From Patricia May B. Jurilla’s “Bibliography of Filipino Novels 1901-2000” (University of the Philippines Press, 2010), I learn that the early Tagalog novels did not even impose that much on spatial constraints.

“Quite a number,” she writes, were “booklets, chapbooks, or pamphlets… resembling novenas.” Citing the standards set by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), Jurilla said a “proper” book must have at least 49 pages.

Since her book about lists concentrates on books, Jurilla also did not include fictional works that were published as serials in newspapers, magazines, and popular publications, such as “komiks (comic books)”.

The popular success of serialized fiction—with writers, readers, and publishers—as the cheaper and more entertaining medium also whittled down the growth of Tagalog (Filipino) novels.

Books written in Tagalog faced stiffer competition with films and telenovelas. Jurilla does not venture into the impact of the digital sphere, but I can speculate how e-books and online user-generated content, such as those found in Wattpad, affect local publishing.

What lessons can be applied from Jurilla’s study for nurturing the writing of and reading in the 12 other major indigenous languages: Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Bikol, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Maranao, Tausug, Maguindanao, and Kinaray-a?

Commitment from the same triumvirate: writers, readers, and publishers.

We need also translators to enable Filipinos to appreciate the literature of other regions.

We need the academe and other advocates from the community to promote the voices of the Filipino Others so that, as Jurilla quotes Resil L. Mojares, the “Golden Age” of Filipino novels will represent a watershed both in terms of “artistic and social illuminations,” as well as “quantity of the novels produced”.

More than the freeing of literal space is required. No less than the unmooring of our narrative space will free the Filipino imagination.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s October 29, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Tale of tales

BOOK-READING friends protested when I cited last week that Ferdinand Marcos never bothered to close down libraries and book stores, as he did the mass media when he declared martial law in 1972 because, in his view, “Filipinos are not book readers”.

Added professor Francisco Nemenzo in his foreword to the “Philippine Radical Papers” (University of the Philippines [UP] Press, 1998), “In the Philippines books do not pose a threat to power, as in other countries.”

If that judgment grates, what do you think of this observation?

“The ‘komiks’… would be described at one point as the ‘national book’ of the Philippines, a label not altogether inaccurate given the massive readership and the influence on national culture that the form achieved.”

Cheap and disposable, the “komiks” were illustrated novels sold as serials. Cinema and “komiks” lorded over the entertainment market in the Golden Age of the 1950s and the 1960s.

Culling information that refracts into many insights of Filipinos as a nation of readers, Patricia May B. Jurilla traces in the “Bibliography of Filipino Novels 1901-2000” (UP Press, 2010) that market survival conspired with war and martial law to stunt “Tagalog (Filipino) novels” and Filipino “novels in English”.

In the 1990s, Filipino-penned novels suffered again setbacks from TV romances and “telenovelas” with their “fanatical” following.

Jurilla observes that knowing the apathy of masses to English as a medium and the predilection of educated Filipinos to read imported books, the Filipinos persisting to write novels in English are driven by interests other than profit: “fulfilling artistic, cultural, nationalistic, or personal objectives”.

That line opened another window to introspection, a pleasure handily passed on by this reference, described by its author as “a book made up of lists of books.”

Does our fraught relationship with Tagalog or Filipino hobble our reading as a nation?

In an endnote in her introduction, Jurilla recites the facts that captures the arc of our polarization: In 1959, the national language known as Tagalog was officially renamed to “Pilipino”. In 1973, it was changed into “Filipino” and affirmed in 1986. “Filipino” is still in use.

When I recently recoiled from writing a paper abstract in Filipino, my hesitation stemmed from the same reflex pushing a Cebuano, placed in a situation where Bisaya cannot be used, to choose English over Filipino.

Tagalog is the alien and alienating tongue.

It is worth one’s time to get lost among books. Not all encounters lead to a confrontation with the stranger inside our heads.

( 0917 3226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s October 22, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Footnotes for post-truth

LIBRARIES open their doors. What would be the value of collections if the doors were closed?

During an afternoon’s aimless browsing, I was nonplussed to discover a library that, to become the “unofficial archives of the political underworld,” also went “underground” for 30 years or so.

So wrote professor Francisco Nemenzo in the foreword to the “Philippine Radical Papers in the University of the Philippines Diliman Main Library: A Subject Guide,” (UP Press, 1998).

The book was compiled by the Filipiniana Special Collections Project staff of UP Diliman, which collaborated with the Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin in 1996-97 to catalogue and microfilm the Radical Papers.

According to project leader Verna Lee, the UPD Main Library became the repository of a collection, ranging from underground periodicals to protest poetry, that became contraband after martial law was imposed by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972.

After executing the “autogolpe (coup),” Marcos consolidated his dictatorship by rounding up his critics and seizing all means of transportation and communication. Nemenzo observed that Marcos should have then gone for the “secondary targets”: “libraries and bookshops”.

He did not. This wasn't due to dictator’s remorse or oversight. “(Marcos) probably reckoned that the Filipinos are not book readers,” wrote Nemenzo.

Marcos passed an edict against even the mere possession of “subversive documents”. The ultimate cost of criticism against the despot was “disappearance”.
Nemenzo commented that so great was the “nervousness” of UP librarians they removed from the shelves all books about communism AND anti-communism. Only fear of the state auditor stayed their hands from burning the incriminating collections.

Yet, “radical papers” kept turning up in the library, were left on the tables or discreetly deposited on the service desk of the Filipiniana Reading Room, he wrote. Through the cooperation of the three universities, the Radical Papers is now organized and accessible for all.

For keeping these records during an epoch that burned truth and murdered to enshrine lies, the UP Diliman Main librarians deserve the respect of the nation, not just its scholars.

The accounts written by the Left do not constitute truth. Yet, their preservation makes it possible for anyone to scrutinize and test these versions against information contained in other documents.

Through cross-checking, which involves validation or rejection, a semblance of truth emerges. In the post-truth era, that is essential to remember: knowledge comes from sifting through, not stifling the flow.

( 0917 3226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s October 15, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, October 07, 2017


IT has been pouring in this city for days. Not just rain but middle-of-the-term, over-panic’s-edge succession of class requirements.

When it rained, we stayed indoors and read. That childhood rule makes sense except library research means tracking down a book in networks connecting a system of libraries or existing informally among colleagues connected to other systems.

No one I know orders online. Given the labyrinthine process of shipping, an online habit only adds another layer of torture beyond human endurance and government book stipends.

Photocopying—a settlement with intellectual property preferred by Third World academics—often saves the day, or at least deliverance from a deadline.

Yet, our age is so cosseted by the availability of information. Our fingers simply “walk” around a digital system, and we enter the 18th-century circumlocutions of a dead German to confuse our 21st-century sensibilities.

Bibliography is an academic discipline, with multiple specializations in library science, languages, and a particular branch of learning to create the perfect bloodhounds to track and trace all and recent information published in any niche of knowledge.

Did libraries ever shun, instead of usher in, searchers?

In the “Tower of Babel,” Jorge Luis Borges tells a story of generations of librarians driven mad by the search of a room containing just four book shelves hidden in the labyrinth of a library containing twaddle. In another essay, Borges theorized that half a dozen monkeys provided with typewriters can produce all the books that the British Museum can contain.

How does one recognise true from fake knowledge? Borge’s tongue-in-cheek reply is monkey mumbo jumbo: it must have the “25 basic characters (22 letters, the period, the comma, and the space)”.

In the fictional 14th-century library of the Aedificium (“structure” in Latin) at the centre of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose,” murderous intent is coupled with information glut to keep searchers from ever returning and finding a book.

Eco’s monks are driven actually mad by the belief that the mission handed down to their order by God is all about “preserving, repeating, and defending the treasure of wisdom”.

When martial law was declared on Sept. 21, 1972, the sound of incriminating documents torn and flushed down toilets echoed around the nation (the memory was narrated by Randy David; the exaggeration is mine).

Only to one library did dissidents entrust their papers before many of them disappeared or were made to. Which library hid and later revealed its radical heart?

Reader, the labyrinth opens next week.

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s October 8, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”