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The Novel of Justice: Selected Essays (1968-1994)

The Novel of Justice: Selected Essays (1968-1994)

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The Novel of Justice: Selected Essays (1968-1994)

178 pages
1 heure
Nov 30, 2017


“Since the beginning of Tagal poetry,” says the author, “marginality has been upon us, standing at our back with more than paternal interest.” 

Although not for long, he points out. The thirteen essays but comprise this volume—apprisements and avowals of our new situation, he calls them—suggest a continuity rather than an inchoateness in the Filipino imagination.

Nov 30, 2017

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The Novel of Justice - N.V.M Gonzalez



Once, in California, I knew a Filipino, an old-timer, who carried around a threader. The contraption was hardly the size of a matchbox and it was an ideal gift, he said, for a friend or anyone in the family with failing eyesight. It allowed one to thread a needle at the snap of a finger.

Even in the dark? I asked.

If you have to, he replied, knowing I meant no offense. With a chuckle, he suggested that I join his trade. We are all growing old, and this is so much better than simply pan-handling.

A shop on Mission St., in San Francisco, supplied the stock, an easy sell at a dollar each. He was not really in such dire straits, but he had always a threader in his pocket wherever he went. He didn’t think of returning to the Philippines though; he had no more family there. He had been away too long. New York had kept him busy as a taxi driver for well over forty years. Now, in California, with no winter weather to dread, he was comfortable on Social Security; and, besides, he had those threaders…

I was reminded of him just the other day when a letter came from my Los Angeles friend Russell Leong. It was about my book Work on the Mountain. Russ was particularly pleased about my mention in that book of Ajanta, those caves that Buddhist monks had dug on the side of a mountain in Maharashtra State, in Central India. The monks set themselves to the task around 200 B.C. All together they had built some thirty caves and temple halls, quitting only about 650 A.D. Afterwards the jungle took over with alacrity. Only in 1819 was the world to learn about Ajanta again.

In my preface to Work on the Mountain I described how Ajanta has inspired me. I feel certain, I said, that the only logical and honest way an artist may deal with Reality is to aspire to the dedication and faith of those workers at Ajanta.

I sent one of the first copies of the book off the press to my friend Russell Leong, in Los Angeles. It was about Ajanta that he wrote back at once. It is always interesting when things have a thread to the ancients, he said. There is something compelling about art work painted on caves that survives time, rebellion and revolution.

To claim alveolar space for Filipino writing in the honeycomb of time is of course presumptuous. Let it be known, though, that in fact we have been rather as diligent as bees.

We do have a persistent problem. There has been from the very beginnings of Tagal poetry the threat of anonymity upon us. No sooner had we become literate and aware that we had a story to tell the world than we discovered that we have been indentured and assigned to the chore of drawing water and hewing wood, while our masters for the most part have remained in their azoteas enjoying their cigars.

At the beginning of this century, unbeknownst to us, David Prescott Barrows (1875–1954) urged that we Filipinos be given an acquaintance with Shakespeare; that would make us better colonials. Thus we were launched upon yet a new language and culture, our emblems of progress for the succeeding decades. After Spanish colonization, this was something of a breather.

Were we grateful? Naturally. Critical? We had to be, considering the flashflood of challenges upon our intelligence and creativity. How we have coped may inspire only comments about our feeble efforts over the years; but no one will probably be too eager anyhow to render such an easy judgment.

I have often wondered whether Jose Rizal, and his brother Ferdinand Blumentritt, knew of Eduard Dauwes Dekker, or Multatuli, as this early whistle-blower of colonialism styled himself. Despite the attention he attracted in his day, Dekker is now scarcely heard of or read. My discovery of Multatuli and Max Havelaar, which I would call a watershed in my education, came by happenstance in Seattle. It was an afternoon in October that I came under the spell of the rather long movie into which Dekker’s story had been transformed. And this was the Seattle where, in the twenties, migrant Filipino workers disembarked only to be promptly quarantined on suspicion of being responsible for the epidemic of meningitis then raging.

I had been invited to teach at the University of Washington and soon enough got the impression that my stay could be meant to show that those difficult days for Filipinos were over. Indeed, they were; two world wars and much more had had to happen, though. We could now get back on track as a people. Yet marginality has been at our back, standing there with more than paternal interest.

For me, though, there had been that visit to Ajanta. Its meaning had now become clear. A sensibility with blinders needs time to accustom itself to seeing things in new light. One has to learn to look not only around but everywhere, even in the dark and mightily shrouded pasts.

Many voices are now telling the Filipino story; we are not only being heard these days but are finding an audience. I have rendered here some apprisements and avowals of our new situation, as it were, my desire being to suggest a continuity rather than an inchoateness in the Filipino imagination.

My hope is that in the first section, The Story Friday Can’t Possibly Tell, the reader may become acquainted with that large block of time when, incident to our being colonials, the evolution of our dependency was not even palmed off as the history appropriate to our awakening. Out of a rather late provenance we defined a cultural presence as decently as we could.

The section Among the Wounded cites approximations of success that may be attributed to that intrepid effort. Because my intention is not to offer a survey, only a few books are mentioned, and, for that matter, only those with a direct bearing on the image of the Filipino imagination I have been trying to compose. Other writers, at some point ahead, should be able to move forward and range beyond—into orature, and, in the provinces, the languages there of the soul.

Today, unprecedented advances in communication and publishing may bring disappointment to those eager to check us as a people culturally deprived. Aficionados of kitsch and such may find this no accruement. What awaits them is a discovery that there have been writers amongst us with some engaging vexations.

December 4, 1995–January 31, 1996

Hayward, CA—Diliman, Quezon City

To the University of the Philippines I owe many thanks. Since 1989 support has been given me as International Writer-in-Residence, an appointment that began during the presidency of Dr. Jose V Abueva and continues to the present under the incumbent president, Dr. Emil Q. Javier. Both have supported the U.P. Creative Writing Center where, besides being resident writer, I also serve as one of its advisers. Thanks are also due Dean Josefina Agravante of College of Arts and Letters, and Dr. Corazon Villareal, Chair, Department of English and Comparative Literature, who, with President Javier and Chancellor Dr. Roger Posadas of the Diliman Campus, have been of one mind in providing the University’s writing program a home.

Thanks specially go to Ms. Carmen D. Padilla, Executive Director-Commissioner, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Office of the President, Republic of the Philippines, under whose auspices this book is published. The essays assembled here first appeared in the following publications: Amerasia Journal, Asiaweek, Chicago Review, Daedalus, World Literature Written in English, Filipinas, Katipunan, Philippines Free Press, Philippine Graphic, Philippine Studies and Solidarity. To their respective editors and publishers, I am heavily indebted.

Many colleagues in the field of teaching and letters have helped me; a list is bound to be incomplete but mention must be made at this instance of Mr. Fred Cordova and Mrs. Dorothy Cordova of the Filipino American National Historical Society; Prof. Sam Solberg and Prof. Tetsuden Kashima of University of Washington; Fr. Joseph Galdon, S. J., Prof. Edna Manlapaz and Prof. Doreen G. Fernandez of Ateneo de Manila University; Mr. Russell Leong of Amerasia Journal and Prof. Enrique dela Cruz of Asian American Center, U. C. L. A.; Prof. Leonard Casper of Boston College; Messrs. Rene Ciria-Cruz of Filipinas Magazine, F. Sionil Jose of Solidarity and Gregorio C. Brillantes of Philippine Graphic.

Grateful acknowledgment are also due Prof. Gémino H. Abad, Director, University of the Philippines Creative Writing Center, for many hours shared with him discussing the themes I have tried to touch on in these pages. To Prof. Elmer A. Ordonez, formerly Chair, Committee on Literary Arts, NCCA, and to Messrs. Fidel Rillo, Jose Tence Ruiz, and Danny Dalena, I am much indebted for their most generous sharing of the kind of talents and know-how that transform a manuscript into a book.



The Story Friday Can’t Possibly Tell

The Novel of Justice


L IVING IN THE MILIEU of postcolonial and neocolonial societies, we tend to forget that imperialism dies hard. Over the years, for one thing, the avalanche of information, skills to be learned, and accommodations necessary for survival under the imposed order of colonialism all demand of us an expenditure of energy which, in turn, diminishes our public and private powers of creativity and renewal.

We might expect the writer to be the individual best equipped, in his or her role as prophet of the tribe and bard of the nation, to contain the situation, to be on top of it; but, like all of us, the writer gets caught up in it and becomes willy-nilly a victim like everyone else.

Perceived as that state of continuing disequilibrium that nations experience after establishing and striving to keep for themselves the equilibrium that is theirs by right, colonization lulls the writer into accepting the status quo, and attributing to the human condition the travails of his or her people. With awe the writer abides by the judgement that the state of affairs is universal, the plight of all. The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe once raised the question What is universal? aware that it is the say-so of the imperial establishment that counts in the matter.

But there is a workmanlike tool, the novel, for understanding society in the revealing way we seek. We are warned from time to time, of course, that while literature is a substantial provider of truth, values and exaltations¹ the language of art is not capable of offering everything² claims nothing, and proves nothing. The novel is ideal, nonetheless, on account of its essential range and richness, its capability for obliging us to recognize social realities and ponder their mystiques, its power to plumb into souls and suggest the fate of generations.

In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick we may read a great deal about man and society, thanks to what seems to be a mere narrative of ample proportions about a whale, its metonymic poise a matrix for its truths. But, perhaps, we had better not be too perceptive nor too eager for political or moral instruction.³ Novels are meant to be enjoyed.

It is set down by one person, as the American writer Walker Percy puts it, to create an original fictive world, which in turn is recognized by a reader and read with a sense of discovery and delight.⁴ What to expect from our experience under imperialism could be problematic, and there is, of course, no general agreement on what constitutes discovery and delight. All the same, there are—and should be!—novels and novels and, in that slew, one that might be called the novel of justice. In such a work the writer configures a world out of life and language derived from colonial or postcolonial milieu, coming up hopefully with another kind of discovery and delight.

There appeared in 1837, in Holland, a novel, Max Havelaar, by Eduard Douwes Dekker, who wrote under the pen name Multatuli.⁵ At eighteen he entered the Dutch colonial service and found there a method of fortune-making and power-play not to his liking. The result was what we would probably call today an exposé. D. H. Lawrence, who came upon Max Havelaar seventy years after its publication, considered the work the greatest possible mess as a fictive construction, but the book was at least true to its inspiration. To Lawrence, the author’s choice of pseudonym was most appropriate, it being Latin for I suffered much, or I endured much. The book, in any event, sent a ‘shudder’ through the whole body of the Dutch nation… Lawrence saw in Max Havelaar a writerly strategy comparable to the Dostoievskian admixture of cunning journalism and honorable hate disguised as missionary zeal, so that the bird of hate hatches the chick of pity. The book, to Lawrence, amounted to "a pill rather that a comfit… The jam of pity was put on to

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