Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Are We Writers Shallow?: A Voltairean Exploration

My friends' Facebook walls have been calling everybody's attention to F. Sionil Jose's quoting of a well-loved former senator in his latest column essay on titled "Why we are shallow". Okay, the essay has my attention, and now---having nothing better to do---I'd like to offer my own conjectures regarding what's behind all this rampant shallowness Jose is talking about.
     But first things first. The idea of Filipino shallowness that visited the novelist-columnist came from a friend of his from another Asian country, an idea which initially floored him. Then, recently while watching a presentation of Asian dances with former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, Jose observed that there was but grudging applause from the audience for the stylized movements of a stately Japanese dance while a near-standing ovation was accorded to the energetic jumping in the Filipino-cum-Vietnamese tinikling. Jose said anyone can learn the tinikling in 10 minutes, and Senator Shahani was supposed to have asked, "Why are we so shallow?"

Well, let me see, we have been shallow for centuries.
     It was probably one of the things the Japanese hated us for, the reason perhaps why they treated us and our women like the Chinese during World War II, because we couldn't understand their dances which they didn't have the time to elucidate on for our modest collective comprehension. Meanwhile, our long-standing enthusiasm for the tinikling only demonstrated this alleged shallowness, because---as Senator Shahani would know---we as audiences often approach the dance with merely the eye of tourists, laughing and clapping only at the dancers' meager feat of avoiding the bamboos. Senator Shahani, being a Sorbonne University Doctor in Philosophy in Comparative Literature, would know that there is more to the dance than what my favorite cooking television personality could drunkenly and metaphysically say about it in the Vietnam episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations Season One. There is definitely something about the rich presence of thick bamboos in this feasting dance, as well as about the allusion to the tikling bird of the rallidae species and the tikling farm traps made of bamboo, the erotic and taxing accelerando rhythm in the fourth quarter of the dance, its relation to Philippine martial arts and tribal war dances, its possible role in Leyte among Bankaw's people prior to the Bankaw Revolt. However, we are not all trained to be dance historians, much less as semioticians, to ever get---or want---anything more than the fun we're already getting from the tinikling at face value. In fact, we didn't all have that privilege of getting to know anything about our own dances, much less the Odori, and so we remain shallow.
     As Jose's foreign friend would say, this shallowness is manifest even in our major papers. I'd read the Philippine Star, for instance, and what would I get? Apart from F. Sionil Jose's column, there's practically nothing to read in there except the comic strips, the classifieds for preferably female applicants, and the boring crosswords and sudokus. It's a total waste of recycled paper. Another Star columnist, the poet and novelist Alfred Yuson, was probably wryly acknowledging this shallowness in his newspaper after he was indirectly asked for his opinion about Jose's column and assumptions: "Shallow shallow me. Shallow me wherever you may be... tra-la-la...," he said.

Our universities and colleges are all to blame for this epidemic of shallowness.
     Instead of putting much emphasis on the culture of Late Antiquity, they spend too much time teaching our preppies everything about the binary structures of HTTP cookies used to hack the CIA headquarters or eBay with, or the way Florence Nightingale would assist a doctor performing a burn debridement or escharotomy, which all totally mean nothing to either Heraclius or Phocas. Look at the Hindus, for instance, even while often high on bhang lassi their continuity with their past would be retained through the centuries, so that even today you can see sacred cows still plowing their own dung on the cobblestones of Jaisalmer Fort. And the Buddhists of Thailand---who up to today can perform sacrifices of not dirtying one's soul with the mud of modern economics, relying solely for their food on the age-old charity of a modern-day profiteer with a store. So why, oh why, don't our universities and colleges bring back all that Greek that up to now is being studied in Greece, or all that Latin that up to now is still being studied at Pontificio Seminario Vaticano, for God's sake?
     The classics teach us wisdom. The Web teaches us nothing but wiki-knowledges about protons and American Idol winners. Thus the arrogance of TV personalities who have been fed these wiki-knowledges by their scriptwriters, mistaking these bits for wisdom. The classics' wisdom lead us to Western culture and all its metanarratives of superiority over tribal wisdom, which we---if we could only immerse ourselves in these holy waters---could in fact use to build our own counter-reifications.
     This failure of ours to appropriate the wisdom of Western culture has in fact led us to a level of ignorant arrogance, a broadcaster's type of arrogance, that is unable to see the role each of us is playing in the system, be it the system of government or the system of citizenship. All we can do now, therefore, is lean on the luxury of slogans and abstractions and sweeping views that are averse to the devils in the details. Thus the vicious cycle of crab-criticalities that are, being crab-criticalities, by themselves averse to criticalities. We thus end up hurling invectives at each other, calling each other stupid and ignorant and shallow, while each is without a desire for the hard task of discoursing further on rococo details of qualifying truth (the way either Michelangelo or Michel Foucault would feel happy about) regarding the fisherman's son's inability to comprehend the basics of TESDA's electrician's course or his ability to call Mike Enriquez's confused conservative or progressivist politics crap.
     We have chosen to be Westernized and yet not Westernized enough. Our embrace of democracy fails Karl Popper's dictum of owning likewise the responsibility of accepting "obsolescence" when it comes in an open society. We hold on to our animist faith concerning the divinity of our persons assigned seats of authority, be it as government authorities or culture authorities, and own nothing but a confirmation bias in favor of our ability to call anyone and everyone shallow. Western culture, if only we studied it well, would have taught us the rigors of rationalism, so that instead of sweeping conclusions regarding ourselves we could slowly tackle each man's behavior the way Spinoza tackled God, as an individual expression in a dynamic equation. Because of this inability, we have been reduced to behave like writers pretending to be sociologists, with nothing but the rhetoric of fallacies that we mistake for social science. We are thus rendered shallow---unable to see who we are, those mere writers, and the limits to what we can do.
     And if only we had Romanized ourselves well, the way South Korea has Americanized itself well, we would have armed ourselves with the capacity to hurl crockery at the quackery of Restorationist and evangelical voices on TV. If we had been Romanized enough, we would see---beyond Latin-American liberation theology---the superiority of Vatican to these discards of Calvinism and the Great Awakening. Look at South Korea, its perfect Americanization has shaped the prosperity theology of the Yoido Full Gospel Church. Meanwhile, our Catholicism is not as strong as the death threats of an Opus Dei follower on the artist Mideo Cruz in our supposedly open-ended society.

Thus, we are rendered shallow.
     And so we fail to see the shallowness of media as product of the subconscious plan of the local Illuminati to keep the status quo, wherein education remains the privilege of the post-Gomburza children of former caciques and public education is the shame hurled on the laps of Jesus' working class.
     We are rendered shallow. We can't use our pens to expose the real identities of the jokers on morning radio who are on a secret mission to destroy the seeds of social liberalism in the service of network-owning bosses with holding companies with interests in the fuits of conservative elitism.
     We are now eternally shallow. We can only choose to ignore the fact that all that entertainment fodder is what goes on in the drawing boards of corporate profiteering and, in surrender, we proceed to ourselves write shallow exegeses about our own shallowness, contributing in effect to the perpetuation of such profit-motivated mass dumbing.
     We: you, with me, are forever shallow. So we can only spit on our neighbors who can't understand our essays in English. We are totally shallow. We can only complain about their Tagalog-based intellectual incapacities deriving from our missionary and patronizing teaching-in-English failures. We are shallow. We can only ignore the fact that we are not Belgium divided into a French-speaking territory and a Dutch-speaking territory but Belgium divided into several languages inside our every territory and spot. We are shallow. We can only close our ears to the fact that linguistic differences are often also class differences. We are shallow. We can only close our eyes to the reality that the lower class aspires to become the middle class and upper class, and the upper middle class and upper class aspire to become Americans and Europeans.
     We are, safe to say now, shallow, and so choose not to write about the cost of sending our kids to schools that teach how to read, about the price of books, the language of books, the stupid marketing and distribution of books, the inaccessibility of books, the technological variations on the concept book.
     We are shallow. We continue to debate on the virtue of books, hoping to find enlightenment for everyone, while the sidewalk downstairs aims for the depths of our garbage, deeply hoping to find bread. [END]

UPDATE:On September 26, 2011, Jose uploaded a new column piece titled "A reply to you out there who disagree with me": click here to read.

No comments:

Post a Comment