COURAGE AND CREATIVE WRITING AGAINST COWARDICE
A Solver Agcaoili
One of the problems of Ilokano Literature—both in the aspect of production and reception—is the dearth of decent critics who are willing to go into the lions’ den and say the word that says, without equivocation, that something is awfully wrong when a supposedly decent literature is now being fiercely guarded by pretenders and patriarchs who are connected to each other by an affinity system heavily dependent upon the spirit of alcohol, adventurism, and allowances for junkets galore.
The pretenders are not easy to spot, as their mien and countenance can be lamb-like, their smile the cool smirking of a rapacious lion looking for someone to devour.
The pretenders can be fatherly too, and can afford to pat you at the back, and take you in as their protégé provided you are willing to say Amen to their view of the world and truth, and you are willing to stroke their back even as they stroke yours in that endless psychological blackmail of patriarchs and protégés stroking each other’s back.
But these pretenders are people who like to father untruths that they wrap with flimsy arguments that are calculating and calculated: (a) calculating because the intent of their arguments is to deceive the vulnerable public; and (b) calculated because the effects of their shallow arguments are so productive they can even convince award-giving bodies to give them “the highest recognition” of their writers organization, but not necessarily the recognition of their peers; the acolytes of Ilokano Literature vow to them in wordless reverence; the neophytes blindly follow their wishes even when they are being verbally abused; their novices are so awed they are immobilized and stupefied by their mere presence in cyberspace and by their verbal threats; and other writers become so awed they cannot speak, they lose speech, they lose their language, they forget they have their own anatomical tongue. Oh, the lesser writers get to know the meaning of silence whose synonym is cowardice!
There is the silence that is the fullness of language, true, as in that silence one has to have before his real God, not them these godlings whose claim to writing is that they know how to worm their way up to the corridors of organizational power.
But there is something sinister in this silence of the better writers.
This silence of writers before these pretenders is a silence of acquiescence, the silence that gives rise to the tyranny of selfish values in Ilokano Literature as in every society; it is the silence that makes it possible for the dictatorship of self-righteousness—the vice of patriarchs who know only their brand of truth and their version of individual justice. It is the same silence that gives rise to the dictatorship of shallow poets and minor writers who cannot see art beyond their own practice of shallow poetry and meaningless, irrelevant Ilokano writing.
We can spot the patriarchs of Ilokano Literature because they look like the God of Adam in the Genesis account of a Sistine Chapel painting: long beard, stern look, and the heft of a huge personality, made huge because of a puff of hot air on their skin and garment—and perhaps in their mind and imagination.
The image of that God in the Sistine Chapel account reaching out to that mortal He created, of course, is too physical for comfort. He is white, he is European, he probably is Jewish in an anthropomorphic sense.
So we need to transform these physical attributes into something ‘metaphorical’, something beyond the form, in that original meaning of that term to mean the people who:
(a) can write ad hominem statements against others;
(b) have evolved an exclusivist attitude to parochial and provincial awards reserved for the old people—a sense of undue ownership to these awards, whatever these are;
(c) have won an award or two and now flaunt them for the public to know, and if the public is not in the know, them the patriarchs make it a point to remind the unknowing and uninterested public that they are, indeed, the patriarchs of Ilokano Literature because, really, they have won one award or two and then stopped writing seriously—if they ever were serious at all in the first place— because they might be found out eventually that they have patrons and that they simply cannot write and their winning such awards was by virtue of powerful alliances or plain luck.
All these constitute the tragic-comic in contemporary Ilokano Literature, these power-tripping actions and perpetual stranglehold of patriarchs in the practices that lead to Ilokano writing.
Other literatures of the Philippines are so seriously concerned about resistance, revolution, renaissance, and rebellion—in their metaphysical and literal forms.
Other literatures of the Philippines are committed to the reclaiming of the people’s fundamental rights to their languages and to the people’s rights to educational access through their languages.
On the one hand, here is Ilokano Literature that is so mired in parochialism, in patriarchy, in provincialism.
Here is Ilokano Literature with its ever-narrow view of literature, aesthetics, and writing practice, a view that is directed towards the self to the point of selfishness and individualism, to the point of self-glorification, to the point of self-aggrandizement.
I began to read Ilokano Literature with interest in the 70s as a very young boy in the grades, and then more seriously as the years went by.
Even when Bannawag and other Ilokano literary pieces were not one of the required readings in high school, then in college, and then in graduate school, I remained schooled in the wonderful surprises of this literature of a people who are also at the same time my people.
I reveled in this literature: written or oral or any other form you can imagine, including its performance genre, especially that annual rite of the comedia at the foot of then Gilbert Bridge--then made of hard wood and what looked to me like suspension cable wires like a cheap imitation of San Franscisco's Golden Gate--in Laoag where I accidentally discovered prompters shouting the long lines for the actors to shout back to the enthralled audience: “Daanam ti espadak a natadem/ No dimo madaanan, biagmo ti maiwalang!” (Be prepared with my sharp sword/Or your life will then be cold!)
With that kind of an experience, I began to see, like Carlos Castaneda under Don Juan the burro's tutelage: seeing as understanding.
In the seeing was the recognition of what is termed in the Ilokano language as “panuli”, the corner posts that we need to build the house of Ilokano Literature.
As they years went by, the seeing became one of familiarity, that easy recognition, that name recall, indeed, that investment in public perception, to borrow the terms of social marketing and communications.
As the names became familiar, they eventually became household names.
Then along the way came a new episode in the literary history of my people: the intrusion and invasion of new names, names that are not familiar, names whose substantive connotations in my literary perception of things are not simply there.
In short, the names of Johnny-come-lately pretending writers whose sense of commitment to a cause much grander than the self-aggrandizer’s view of things, names that do not matter, names you can easily drop when you begin to account what matters to the literary history of your own people.
These are names that in turn would dominate the Ilokano public sphere in the recent years, names created by accidents, shadows, alliances, patronage—in short, names courtesy of patriarchy in Ilokano Literature.
These are names that are akin to puffed pillows by Uratex or plastics like Orocan; they puff and they are not for real as they are plastic.
Literary history is one discipline within a larger discipline we call cultural criticism or cultural studies.
It is a discipline that you do not await the patriarchs to tell you to wade into but a discipline that interests you because you see patterns, trends, landmarks, cornerstones, and corner posts in that long journey we call the history of the artistic practices of a people such as the Ilokano people.
One day, this assaults you: names that are not part of these “panuli” began to dominate the patriarchal conversation—the only kind of conversation your literature can afford to have anyway.
And then these names began to hold the sticks and the carrots of a literature that has grown so accustomed to the Marcosian tactic of making everyone kowtow to the dictator’s wishes, with the carrot of travel and junket for those who can dance the curratcha with them, and with the stick for those who refuse to sell their soul to them.
And so it happened: that in these days of challenges for Ilokano Literature—as in the days of the conjugal dictatorship, only a handful came to the temple of truth.
Only a handful came to say, My silence, my silence, is cowardice.
Only a handful came to say, the patriarchs are my compadres and comadres and therefore I cannot afford to lose them the carrots and the junkets.
Imagine a literature this way—and we can rightfully and aptly imagine the end of Ilokano poetics.
When this silence continues, Ilokano Literature will soon come to an end.
The ‘silence of the lambs’ among contemporary Ilokano writers, indeed, is pathological of our years of kowtowing to the wishes of the big bosses of literature, them who can call the shots because they are powerfully connected in that network of compadrazgo politics of Ilokano writing practices.