Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Walter Benjamin & Today's Fateful Walk

I took a long, leisurely walk after I finished my paper in CL 122 (Contemporary Literary Theory and Criticism 2). I felt weightless -- my body at least is; but hmm I realized it's harder to quantify the weight of our thoughts and feelings than gauge our physical weight. Ok it's tempting to concretize that idea here -- but I can hear Voltaire now, whispering: "let us work without theorizing, Sen" ~lol

And he's right.

Now, what I am supposed to write today is about my CL 122 paper, which gave me a lot of stress this semester. It's perhaps because I am still gauging this field I am entering now -- the world of literature and literary theories. Anyhow, the paper I wrote was grounded on Walter Benjamin's Theses on the Philosophy of History and its relevance in viewing the Second World War history of the Philippines. It specifically talked about redeeming the silenced / hidden / forgotten narratives of Japanese POWs in the Philippines who wrote autobiographical novels after the war ended in 1945. 

Basically I argued in the paper that Philippine literary and historical texts construct dominant historical images and narratives about the war. This is because the country learned much of its history through the "barbaric" transmission of culture, history, and civilization from the victors of that historical struggle. (During WWII, the US emerged as victors.) Quite famously, from Benjamin's seventh thesis: There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.
Now what is needed, I reasoned, was the necessary plurality of narratives from the subjects of "losing" states like Japan. This is where I saw the need to critically examine the autobiographical texts written by notable Japanese POWs such as Ooka Shohei, Tetsuro Ogawa, and Kiyoshi Osawa. I thought about qualifying them as "angels of history" for their narratives can potentially fracture the dominant historical images about Japanese soldiers and about the war in general found in our literary and historical texts.

Of course, I took caution with this stance, fully aware that this work might be used to obliterate the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in the country. But what surprised me while I was making the paper was that giving a new historicist reading of these texts not only affirmed those brutalities BUT it also gave us new ways of looking at war history in the Philippines. It gave us, in Benjamin's words, a "unique experience with the past" (XVI). For instance, my paper's conclusion was summarized this way:

By qualifying Kiyoshi Osawa as an “angel of history”, we were able to acquire the following historical understandings:
1.) Even before the war, there were already anti-imperialist sentiments and dissatisfaction with the imperial government as exhibited in the rebellious character of Osawa and his friend, the old “socialist” man named Watanabe Sensei.

2.) There was a harmonious existence between Japanese and Filipinos before the war as evident in the proliferation of Japanese businesses and the increasing number of immigrants in the country (30-40k Japanese immigrants by 1941, most of them settled in Manila, Baguio, and Davao)

3.) The war was not fought between all Filipinos and all Japanese; many in fact helped each other to survive the disastrous ordeal.

4.) Public sentiment during the early years of war was generally noncommittal and could have tilted either way depending on how well the Japanese army could win the hearts of Filipinos.

5.) There was a diminishing support for the Japanese army from Japanese civilians themselves because of the atrocities they committed in the country.

6.) The Japanese Imperial Army tried to salvage the severing relations between Japanese and the Filipino people by seeking advice from Osawa -- but it was too late.
It was good to ground the paper on Walter Benjamin's idea, I think.. because I was super surprised that when I presented the idea to my professor, she readily gave me a go signal to do it -- she never even questioned it, which shocked the hell out of me. While I was working on my paper, I found out why: it was too freaking ambitious! haha! (Perhaps it's worth an MA thesis to critically examine and unite the narratives of all the non-fiction works by Japanese POWs in the Philippines, diba? Hmm.)

While evaluating my capacity to write about the topic, I decided to reduce the paper by analyzing only ONE autobiographical novel -- it was Kiyoshi Osawa's A Japanese in the Philippines. I chose this book because I loved seeing the country through his eyes, especially that he migrated here in the 1920s at age 19. He's quite a personality, Mr. Osawa. I immensely enjoyed reading his wartime accounts and about his childhood in Gunma prefecture.

Although I wrote this stressful paper non-stop for only four days, I would say I'm proud of my work. But I cannot post it entirely here since it's 20 pages long. Hmm, I can only post the excerpt of the paper or else this blog will be dead boring -- more aptly, dead and boring. lol

Since I have always wanted to turn this blog as a "commoner's" place for philo and literary discussions, feel free to drop a message if you want to examine the longer version of the work. The introduction should do for now... kasi I plan to elaborate more on another understanding of Benjamin's Theses using the analysis I gathered from writing this paper.

So yeah, guess that's it for now.. off to Econ lib to finish my paper on Postcolonial Theory ~ agghhhh ~  fuck this life! ..oh but no, coz there are still things to smile about even while I was walking.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Back to Poetry (#2 UP Diliman Series)

Shelving the Self

The usual space
that owns my weight
is weightless.
I left the seat
Empty —

for today’s play
is to have you

Miss me.

 5/10/2012, Bibliotek

Monday, October 1, 2012

English Language Teaching (ELT) and the Subjugation of the Filipino Mind

(Reaction/critique of T. Ruanni F. Tupas's A Century of Errors: English Language Teaching and a Political History of Philippine-American Relations which can be accessed on this site:

Reading a 32-page chronicle about savagery, deceit, and inherent malevolence of imperialism left me to ruminate about the conception of history as propaganda of the powerful. On his Theses on the Philosophy of History, Walter Benjamin wrote, “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism; barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another”.

For imperial America, this “document of civilization” is written in English, to be enforced upon the hapless people of its colonies. As foreseen by Benjamin, the manner by which language is transmitted will, at all times, be tainted by barbarism; not only because the introduction of colonial language causes “psychological disturbance” to the colonial subject but also because the language itself is used as a tool for colonial and cultural amnesia. 

The Philippines is one painful product of American civilizing mission. Indeed, more than a century have passed since an American soldier shot a Filipino at San Juan Bridge, yet for those who remember, ghostly bullets of American atrocities still pierce into our national consciousness. For those who remember, it is in the renewed anguish every time we hear historical accounts of Filipino bodies being “piled so high that the Americans used them for breastworks” during the Philippine – American war. For those who forget, it is embedded in the nation’s suffering of cultural poverty and gathering of past cultural fragments to establish our national identity.

The colonial and neocolonial suffering of the Filipino, brought about by cultural and linguistic imperialism, is now a form of psychological disease on a national scale. The subjugation of Filipino minds, as Tupas contends, is sustained in the seemingly harmless domain of education research and English Language Teaching (ELT), both of which are influenced by colonial version of our history. However, we cannot be faulted for this national disorder of our psyche precisely because, following Benjamin’s thought, the colonial version of Philippine history is the “history written by the victors” who have long been mentally assaulting our system of thought for their own economic and cultural gains.

For a nation enduring its long colonial history, the Philippines is an epitome of a country suffering from colonial and cultural amnesia brought about by the barbaric transmission of language, history, and other imperialist “documents of civilization”. Because centuries of colonial assault on the Filipino result to “psychological disturbance” on a national scale, the restorative follows that a critical examination of the present Filipino psyche should be retraced. As can be noted, most approaches in psychotherapy require awareness and articulation of experience as a form of consciousness and healing. Using one’s own psychological account of colonial suffering is a step towards national therapy and sensemaking.

What Tupas failed to realize is that Bonifacio Sibayan’s retrospective essay (1991) was a form of personal reconstructive healing about the author’s confrontation of an alien language which totally altered his childhood psyche while growing up in a remote, non-English community of Bakun. Sibayan never denied the “struggle and frustrations, sometimes mixed with anger and resentment” that he endured when English was enforced as a colonial language at school. His way of coping with linguistic suffering was to forget the ordeal and shift his focus on the “many advantages derived… through education and love for books and learning”.

In other words, Sibayan dealt with his linguistic miseries in a rather “Filipino way” of coping – that is, transforming his resentment into disremembering and looking instead on the advantages of that misery which for him was “education, love for books, and learning”. This is not to say that his was the proper way to heal the mental trauma of colonialism (through which he was a mere victim), but his was an honest retrospection of internal healing; a manner by which we can view as contributive to our aim of constructing a national dialogue that will teach our people how to make sense of our colonial experience and collectively deal with our national trauma.

Both Sibayan and Gonzales (1996), in claiming that “linguistic imperialism is the thing of the past”, should be viewed as victims and not perpetrators of the very situation they deny or choose to forget. Tupas, on the other hand, in detailing “a century of errors” in our colonial education system, should be viewed as an enlightened imperial subject who, for the purpose of irony, chose to expose the savagery, deceit, and malevolence of the very colonial language he speaks and vows to speak up against.

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