Friday, June 17, 2016

Defining Philipine Literature in Postmodern Times

Dr Abe V Rotor
Literature has come a long way through the traditional test of time until it inevitably entered into a sudden acceleration of change along other fields of endeavor.  We are caught in a fast changing world brought about by breakthroughs in science and technology, the explosion of knowledge on the Internet, communication networking through social media, and globalization of nations and cultures into one homogenous village, so to speak. 

This is the era of Postmodernism, which literally means “living tomorrow today” where everything seems to be moving in a “free fall,” borrowing the words of Dr Florentino H Hornedo, a foremost Filipino social scientist and UNESCO Commissioner.

Philippine Literature Today: A Travelogue Approach takes us into a journey along the path on which literature has come a long way, evolving with richer diversity in so short a time that generations, old and new,  are brought together closer through the beauty and bounty of the subject of literature. 

·         Literature has come a long way from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables to Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere to Martin Luther’s King’s I Have a Dream;

·         from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Francisco Balagtas’ Florante at Laura to Spielberg’s Jurassic Park;

·         Aesop’s Fables and Grimm Brothers’ Cinderella to Severino Reyes’ Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang  to Disneyland’s animated characters.  

·         Ben Jonson’s Song to Celia to Leona Florentino’s Rukruknoy  to  Telenobela;  

·         Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to Pedro Bucaneg’s Biag ni Lam-ang to Flash Gordon and  Starwars; and

·         Nostrodamus: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow to Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock to Higg’s Boson: Link of Energy and Matter.

Philippine Literature Today: A Travelogue Approach aims at guiding students, in the light of present day trends, to trace back the foundation of literature’s basic tenets and principles and preserve its integrity and true essence.  Four pillars of Philippine literature stand sentinel to help the students answer the question “Quo vadis?” To where are we heading for? 

Vanguards of Philippine Literature

Four great Filipinos are acclaimed vanguards of Philippine Literature. The cover of the book, conceptualized and made by artist Leo Carlo R Rotor, depicts the theme of the book - travelogue in literature with these heroes. 
The late Dr Florentino H Hornedo with his students in Philippine Literature at the UST Graduate School

·         Jose Rizal on politico-socio-cultural subjects, including ecological, Rizal being an environmentalist while in exile in Dapitan, Misamis Oriental, Mindanao; 

·         Francisco Baltazar or Balagtas on drama and performing arts in general, fiction novels and plays, evolving into stage show and cinema;   

·         Severino Reyes or Lola Basyang on mythology, children’s stories, komiks, and a wealth of cartoons and other animations; and 

·         Leona Florentino, the Philippines’ Elizabeth Browning, Ella Wilcox, Emily Bronte et al, epitomizes the enduring classical literature.     

By the same authors and publisher, literature being a major field of humanities,thus the teaching-learning approach adopted in both books is  experiential, integrated and exploratory, and largely, on-site and hands-on. It is recommended that the latter be used as a reference in this subject. 

These great Filipinos contributed largely to the making of distinct kind of literaturewe proudly call our own.  It is linked to a larger realm - the literature of the world, which embodies universal principles and values.

Literature is a conservatory of language and culture, and of the humanities. It is a repository of folk wisdom, beliefs and superstitions.  It keeps alive the quaintness of social life.  It is a treasure of any society.

But literature first of all, must be a living one. It builds ideas and thoughts.  It strengthens character and instills discipline. To do so it must be understood by the people down to the grassroots  – not for entertainment alone but enlightenment and realization of life’s meaning. Literature indeed is, for and by the people.

·         Literature is a builder of leaders - literary greats are leaders with the power of the pen, power of conviction with words, charisma akin to the “singer, not the song.”  Or the “the master behind the masterpiece,” to whose name his work is named after. (Shakespearean, Aristotelian, Darwinian).  Leaders are looked up to,in building other leaders as well, who continue the task, to carry on the torch and “guide the nation and people through the night ‘til dawn,” in the epilogue of Rizal’s great works.

·         Literature is tested by time and change. It is a refuge to the lost, away back home for a Prodigal Son. A lighthouse in a stormy sea, birds signaling an island must be near somewhere. It is a breeze in doldrums.

Literature in changing times

We are being swept by the currents of geometric progress.  We face a deluge of information that makes separating the grains from the chaff more difficult, so to speak.  And how much more picking only the grains we need? Thus we are being led deeper into a maze that takes us farther in our quest for truth.

Monument of poetess Leona Florentino in Metro Vigan

With the multi-tasks magic palm-size electronic gadget we call in different names like tablet, i-Pod, and smart phone, the world is now virtually in our hand. Never have we been serious in analyzing William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence, which in part is quoted as follows:

To see the world in a grain of sand.

     And a heaven a wild flower;

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand ,

     And eternity in an hour.

It is a world shrunk in time and space in one’s lifetime and generation – because technology and affluence have overtaken us at the pace of living we are used to.

Fortunately we still trace Philosophy back to Socrates, idealism to Plato, Naturalism to Aristotle. We precious independence from colonial rule in Rizal, emancipation of slavery in Lincoln, militancy in women in Tandang Sora and Gabriela Silang, and constitutional reform in the trilogy of the French Revolution -Egalite’, Liberte’ Fraternite’.

Around a bonfire we listen to Aesop, Homer, Scheherazade, Grimm brothers, come alive in vernacular language and costumes. The lament in Shakespearean  tragedies, lilting laughter of Jose flying a kite (Saranggola in Pepe), the lyrical melodious pleading of kudiman (Filipino love song), the dirge of pasyon (Passion of Christ) – all these take us to a travelogue back to our roots, to the keepers of that Temple which Rizal, Balagtas, Florentino, Reyes, et al built and guarded dutifully and zealously. 

Literature and Media

But in today’s capitalism fueled by consumerism, we find the art of literature besieged in a free market where profit is generally the lure and rule. Literature is trapped in this huge market, and if it holds on merely to its past– or just drifts aimlessly, then, we may lose its essence, and therefore its treasure.

We must be vigilant to the preservation of literature as the fine art, sensitive to ethics and morality as guide to human actions and behavior, against such issues as pornography, euthanasia, graft and corruption, and issues on the environment that threaten to destroy our living planet. We must regard literatureas a powerful tool in preventing war and keeping lasting peace and harmony in society, in keeping faith in our institutions, and our relationship with our Creator, fellowmen, and Nature. It is a travelogue toward the redemption of values and preserving it, indeed a journey on a very rough road.

Commercialization of media has many undesirable consequences to literature, shrouding our thinking and imagination, with the border separating fantasy and reality being eroded.  Many creatures are projected with untrue images; while we protect the endangered species, media is making them enemies of mankind – Anaconda,  King Kong, The Birds, Jaws rake profits generated by fear and curiosity while leaving false impression especially to the young. Whole forests, mountains and lakes are destroyed to flush out enemies and bad spirits, or to appease a god of wrath.

But there are, in fact, more positive contributions of literature and media in this aspect in the likes of Black Beauty, Babes, Fly Away Home,Free Willythat elevate human consciousness towards understanding animals and other creatures often rising to the level on moralism in Aesop’s fable, Kipling’s Jungle Book and George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

New horizon of Literature

Literature rides on multimedia today, in a horse-and-carriage relationship. With the conservative print and broadcast journalism on one hand, and the computer and its state-of-the-art versions on the other, the whole world today is “wired,” theoretically speaking.

But the role of each member in this analogy is not simple and clear cut.Their shared domain is a complex one that needs a definition of their boundaries. But the other school of thought is more of establishing a synergistic relationship which means that more can be gained through cooperation and unity with humanity as the ultimate beneficiary.

This is crucial for the fact that millions of people are bypassed by technology, education, healthcare and other basic necessities for which reason riches particularly generated by computer technology are now channeled philanthropically to the underprivileged.

If literature and media are to support this movement, what could be their roles, and how can they join hands to reach the masses?  We are gladdened,at the same time challenged,by a number of developments such as the following:

·         Popularization of literature to the understanding of the people. Noli the Musical, translated Rizal’s masterpiece into entertainment education for the TV and cinema.  In like manner Oliver Twist’s musical version Oliver, Oliver reached as many people as those who have read the novel.

·         The Great Books, among them Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peacenow have popular versions for bigger audiences, following the footsteps of The Bible.

·         Publishing whether in print or electronic is no longer a business monopoly, it can be done in home workshops, so with documentaries and movies. With the computer one can be an author, publisher, critic, marketer, rolled in one.

·         The combination of literary and technical forms, with today’s technology, is bringing into our homes dramas of the living world, reenactment of historical events, stories of the different cultures, and many others. This made National Geographic, Discovery, Historyand other TV series, very popular worldwide.

·         Scientific discoveries have found literature a tool for dissemination outside of the conventions of science. Titanic, although more fiction than fact could not have been made without the discovery of the ship’s wreckage at the bottom of the sea. An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary film won for Al Gore, the expert on environment and author, the prestigious Academy Award. 

·         There are animations and cartoons in print or onscreen that is gaining merits tobe classified as literature. Finding Nemo, Ice Age, Land Before Time, Disney, Barney and Friends and Jim Jamseries are among the most popular of this kind.

·         There are homilies, speeches, conference proceedings, diaries which have literary qualities to be classified as pieces of literature. 

·         The unquantifiable volume of Information has generated waste, in fact pollution – infollution.  This is exacerbated by social networking, and continued increase of wireless technology tools and users.

·         Literacy rate may have increased but computer literacy is but “coded literacy” which is not true knowledge.  This leads us to the question what constitute the genuineness of a work.

  Neophytes and experts now play the same game on the same playground with multimedia. Exclusivity of clubs, imprimatur of quality granted by select groups, stringent criteria of evaluation, and the like will have to undergo scrutiny and eventual innovation.

Children's TV show

If words, the beauty of words; if plot, the proper organization of chapters; if characters and their superb acting make the story alive; if advanced technology the provider of quality and magic – if these are parameters of acceptance, without considering other factors, we may not be exploring a new horizon of literature.  We shall miss the opportunity to face a brave new world of literature.

But we have to look back now and then to that temple built by four great Filipinos and their kind.  The flickering light through its window gives us courage and comfort when we see no star in the sky. Dawn is a child coming. ~

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