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The Likhaan Anthology of Philippine Literature in English

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Literatufe and· Society

SALVADOR P. LOPEZ

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T he word has soul as well as body. Writers who consider themselves keepers of the word may not ignore the fact that it has a physical body and possesses

qualities of sound and color, fancy and imagination. But the word is more than

so J. olor _i_:; ��E

and power. It is not an inanimare-rhing-of-1:fead consonants and vowels but a living force-the most potent instrument known to man. Whoever uses speech merely to evoke beauty of sound or beauty of imagination is not exploiting the gift of speech for all that it is worth; he is exploiting it only in those qualities that are inherent in the word but external to

9JiJ, capable of infinite beauty

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_:_'.1ing of blood a f1:

the mind and soul of man. When a writer uses words purely for their music or purely as an instrument-of fancy, he may claim that he is a devotee of pure art,

since he insists on using words. on_ly in their strictly primitive qualities. In point

1 y of fact he is really a d�cadent aesthete who stubbornly confuses literature with " painting and refuses to place words in the employ of man and his civilization.

·)A\· There is hardly any writer of importance who does not, sooner or later,
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come to a point where his readers will ask of him:

"Why do you no longer write as you used to?" or "The lightness and the laughter have gone out of your writing; you now write almost exclusively on

politics, as if life offered nothing besides human folly and the social struggle.

Wh y do you no longer \Vrite of pleasant and beautiful things?"

For the young writer is almost certain to start his career by writing m�shy poetry and-sophomoric philosophy, permitting his f;mc)Vfo reveal hedonistically among lovely phrases culled from books and sayings come down from the ancients-remnants of fascinating courses in lite�r. .tili. college. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, as the years pass, there com@s.oyer his writing a change not only in subjectmatter but in general temP,t;J.ap.g_@.Jl!J!!dDaily exposed to the headlines of the newspapers, his Olympian superiority or indifference yields slowly to the persistent hammering of the facts of his own experience and of contemporaryhistory. Upon his sophomoriccertainties is cast the shadow of terrible happenings-whole nations in the grip of terror, starved, maimed or killed through no fault of their own, pawns in the bloody game of

men lustful for wealth and power crushed under the heels of the dictators. An amorphous idealism or, on the other hand a precocious cynicism is no longer

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374 The Likhaan Anthology ofPhilippine Literature in English

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adequate to meet the vast problems which daily present themselves before his eyes. Did he use to write on poetry and philosophy, expatiate on the beauty of life and the splendor of human brotherhood? If so, he soon begins to realize that he was merely echoing what he had read in books, for the book of life conveys a different message altogether.In his heart is no longer merely the singing exultation over art and nature and living; in his heart is a deep compassion for the suffering of the oppressed and anger at their oppressors. Not that he has become blind to the beauty of nature and the works of man; it is only that he has begun,to relate his ideas and every important thing that happens to some definite principles of beauty and justice and truth. His eyes have pierced through the veil of deception with which so much of the face of life that is ugly is covered. He has begun to pursue truth instead of phrases. He is no longer a florist, scissors in hand gathering lovely blossoms; he has become a tiller of the soil, spade in hand, digging into the roots of things and

planting seeds. ·

This is the usual course of a writers litei=ar1 development. There is no more dramatic illustration of thisprocess than the case of the late DirectorTeodoro Kalaw of the National Library who, like so many of the outstanding leaders of the older

generation, started his career as a newspaperman. His autobiography contains a

1 candid confession which shows the inevitable change that occurs in the attitude and temper of the sensitive writer as he grows older in experience and wisdom.

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Kalaw,

it seems,

was something of a "columnist"

in the early days

of his

employment

on

the

staff of that

famous newspaper of the transition,

El

Renacimiento.

He writes:

"I must have written my first news

items

very badly

because Guerrero made innumerable corrections on them

My literary reading

had not predisposed me to prosaic journalism, which I considered as ephemeral as a wind-blown leaf, but to writing as an art, as an expression of the beautiful. I

soon became,Yvhat today is known as a colll!!!.n1.?_tJ2JJ.t my_s_c:ilu�_ll-�ic!.5- litelE.)',

and I made

rambling parag;;p1;-;;-n

\ philosophy, literature, love, dreams, illusions, and other such abstractions. To

as is usual

to-comme-nionpolitical �Jl

no in.em p t

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t0day'.

My c�lumn,

written

daily,

�ontained-

- ;hort

.,,/-" me,

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in those

youthful days,

the

all-important consideration

was styJe

 

.

discovery of the beautiful word for the beautiful thought."

·

Nor was he unmindful of the adulation of the ladies, for he admits with a

"In common with the rest of the journalists in the office;

a'isarming frankness:

my secret desire was to have the young ladies avidly peruse my column, and in truth, the column was all the rage among our society girls, who considered my. writings piquant and intriguing." Yet it was not long before Columnist Kalaw outgrew his Flaubertian pre­ occupation over the discovery of "the beautiful word for the beautiful thought." Soon enough he was drawn out of his Ivory Tower of "pure literature" into the

social and political currents swirling about him. He says:

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The Likhaan Anthology of Philippine Literature in English

375

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"Sociological themes greatly inspired me to

more writings. We were then

passing a period of real historical transition. Jverything was being subjected to change-customs, ----- laws, -· -·------------·-· language, social_pric!c:ttc:�_s." -

Kalaw, the 'romantic idealist and aesthete, had become aware that society had a claim on his a�ten�ion, and he was ncit unwiiling. to oblige. He began writing seriously on political and social questions, criticizing what he believed to be the

evgs_bro'!}ghu1.b9utp_y the American !egime, bemoaning the degeneration of the "Filipino Soul," attacki nfth abuses of the Constabulary. When, several years later, he became editor of El Renaci�iento, he was one

of the principal defendants in the most �pectacular libel suit that this country has yet known. Growing out of the strong spirit of nationalism and the universal aspiration for independence from America, this celebrated c;1_se r:nay be said to\

lit�rary jou-ina1ist, fancier:

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have marked the full intellectual maturity of the�yoilll ·""of'15eautiful thoughts couched In beautiful words.

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Having traveled the weary road from the Ivory Tower tojfti�, he had learnedr

that the only true basis of lasting beauty in literature is-{power,J

There are two perilous roads operi:;-to the heedless y�ung�riter. ffne,road

leads to !,_I:diffgentism and the otheLfo

confirmed indifferentist either because he is ignorant and does not know better

or because, knowing better, he believes sincerely, if erroneo1:lili, that the

which men liye_by.are-.b

interests of his�:fn_:And a writer becomes a

cynic and a misanthrope because the waters of his spirit that were once clear and sparkling have become muddied by personal disappointment, weakness of will or intellectual Gonfusion. (��_ifFrenti rri)); usually an inheFent vice, and there is little that can be done to correct it: · -ffTi arises from ignorance, it may be possible to apply the remedy of

instruction, but if it arises from a twisted point of view, the vice usually runs so deep that all who are thus afflicted may as well be counted lost to the quse of

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On the other hand, only those men suffer from i.::ynicism and misanthrop ·

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some injury

in the

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in the will

or in

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who possess a profound and sensitive spirit and who, --- some,vhere .-----·- along the

heart,

Since it is almost certain to have been

�ftlj�tio_njs ng_t n�� - �rily in�u

caused,

that underlie human existence, it can be cured by helping the writer stand

firmly upon so.me indestructible faith. F

r a_sensitive spiri�.� _easgy_p_r:one

first place� by a faulty understanding of the basic principles

road, received

Their

--- -ro cynicism and misanthropy unless it isfeinforce� by the st�eJgf

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toTough-mmdedness.

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iritual sensitiveness becomes a vice only when it is not married

Although the dogma of "Art for Art's sake" has been discredited in the minds of most thinking people everywhere, yet it survives in our days in a new disguise that makes it more difficult to identify properly and therefore to combat. T he grneral condition of international chaos has, surprisingly enough, encouraged

376 The Likhaan Anthology ofPhilippine Literature in English

the revival of a dogma once f a vored by Oscar Wilde and the coterie of aesthetes who agreed with him. This is easily explained. The universal fear of insecurity, chaos and war has had the effect of distorting the vision of a beautiful and orderly world that third­

rate artists as a rule are prone to affect. This fear has driven them into f a shioning a comfortable philosophy of escape through the medium of which they hope to

flee the ugly f

Like frightened children they are overcome by fear of the dark and seek refuge

in some untroubled Shangri-la of art.

To the challen,ge.tha,tJh.e.y_g��l?IT,l_e sodally conscious and that they take partin

lmcafstruggle, they answer: ''Th�;;�ld is too much with us; we will have

nothing to do with the stiilggk.vve conceive of art as an escape from the ugliness we see around us; we will henceforth consecrate ourselves to the expression of beautiful thoughts and the creation of beautiful things. Life is ugly enough as it is;

therefore, we propose to make it more beautiful with the products of our imagination. Man being what he is, to attempt to change him or the world he lives in is bound to

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tQ: a,11.encl,,_The-pen was made for purposes utterly differenrftom the-sword; we refuse to be artists in uniform." The argument will seem sound until we reflect that

the highest form of art is that which springs from the wells of man's deepest urges and longings-his love of his own kind and his longing to be free. Divest man of these interests, and he ceases to be what he is: the richest subject for observation, portrayal and study that the artist can have before him. The opinion is still widely held that the artist and the man of letters should leave socialagitation alone and stick to art, that it is not their business to help

advance

a

landscape, compose a song or write a sonnet. Despite the fact that events in the modern world have made it increasingly difficult for artists to do their work, there are still those :,vho fondly cling to the delusion that there is an Ivory To wer to which the wors-4,ippers ofBeauty can retire away from the madding crowd. Of

course, there is no such tower; only people who imagine.that the.y dwell in one. For deliberate isolation from th� re�t o-f the world and complete indiffer�rice to the fortunes of mankind on the part of the artist can only mean one thing: that

he is incapable of profound thought and deep feeling and is therefore, to that extent, incapable also of great art. Only greatness of heart and mind and soul can produce great art. But the development of a man's emotional, intellectual and spiritual qualities is impossible save his heart, mind and soul are enriched by fruitful contact with others.A man

to be

small in heart, narrow of mind, mean of soul. Selfishness is the naturafeffect of

;�litude, and the absolute divorcement of the artist from

thiworld which alone can provide a large background for his work must result

a cts of life and the repulsive realities of the contemporary scene.

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\ t t : J.�tile �tei:p:cise. A:rJt;ll-!!l��()d CJLesca p e; it is an end in itself, never a m

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social justice and

to defend

democracy,

but exclusively to

paint

can know himself only through knowing

:tcyjiicaTancfbar���

To be self-centered

is

in mediocre or inferior achievement.

The Likhaan Anthology of Philippine Literature in English

377

Nothi11gmore thoroughly disproves the contention of the Art-for-Art-sakers _than thdacts of everyday life. When artists and writers meet, do they talk of art and Hterature? Ou"tsiders who attend their gatherings and listen to their conversation

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, will be appalled to discover that for hours they will talk of everything under the sun

i.Jy' \ save only art and literature. These two things they will dismiss after one or two

remarks on the latest books and an unusually good story that appeared the previous

day. Then, inevitably it seems, the talk will veer to the arrant stupidities of public officials, the latest statement of President Quezon on social justice, national defense, the war, the coming elections, and even perhaps the latest piece of scandal. Go through the history of literature, and you will find that the greatest writers

are ever those vyl-iose feet were planted solidly on_the.-�<!.r:.th_r:t".gm:gle.sJ_(_)f how high up in the clouds their heads might have been. This is not to say, however, that great

is written

with the definite object of influencing people to believe or to do something. While

there ;,re a few books which have survived the immediate motive of propaganda

that inspired them, yet one can say truly that the bulk of literary works of permanent value consists of those that are neither pure propaganda nor pure art but ( ")'hich are

writing must pertain to some department of propaganda.

Propaganda

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in some way deeply rooted in the earth of human experience.

If somebody should point to Shakespeare as an example ofthe pure artist, it

aesthete

shrinking in a corner nor a self-satisfied person too complacerit to b6ther about

one of the most

active that mankind has seen. Exploration and discovery, science and invention,

art and letters-all these activities were being carried on at a high pitch. The pall of the DarkAges had just been lifted, and the minds of men were once again free

and venturesome. Since Shakespeare had one of the keenest minds of his time and was a contemporary of Francis Bacon, it is impossible for a man of his deep and sensitive nature not to have been stirred by the ideas and movements of the

age. Well has it

humanist," a man of historic perspective, reacting powerfully to the social and

political currents oLhi SJ;, ime, and striving earnestly

eJ1J!_aJi9n of the belief that the _great ar�ist

is a gaunt, solita-ryoeiiigforever immersed. in visions of deathless beauty, untouched by questions of pain, poverty, injustice, and oppression. In the beginning you have a young sensitive artist, quick to anger against social injustice and political corruption.

his

A time comes when his books bring him wealth and

but not a "closet

would only

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be necessary to

show

that Shakespeare

in which he

was neither

lived was

tlie piobleri.1s ofhis·time:

The period

been said of him

that

he

was

a humanist

to chan

g

e

the world.

The life (if Emile Zol¥s the_�Ef t _

r,

f a me, and he

forgets

antecedents, saying to justify himself: Well, I have fought my battles. I don't see why I should not enjoy my life as it is. As for those who are condemned to live in

the gutter, there is nothing anybody can do about them a y.

Then, suddenly, in the midst of this smugness, the ( 9.!�yf�� ��\?mst ur.on

and he

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and Zola is drawn into it. The old fire in his he.i,n p _urris again,

fights as he never fought before. When the battle is won a

been righted, he has learned to say: The individual does rni matter; only society

g d a great wrong has

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378 The Likhaan Anthology ofPhilippine Literature in English

does. I thought that my work was done; now I know that it has only started. The world must be made over for the humble and the wretched. �Th�h;i�e of the writers of the Philippines is clear. Will they spin tales and string verses in an Ivory Tower? Will they fiddle while Rome burns? Will they

wall in a vacuum? Or will they, without forgetting that art must make its appeal to man through beauty and power, rather do their work in the world of men, breathing the air we breathe, thinking of the problems that puzzle us, lending the vision and genius with which they are dowered to their ultimate solution? Poetry is probably the oldest form of literature. On the one hand, it is akin to songTn which form primitive riian"iiought to preserve tne remembrance of his heroic past. On the other hand, it is akiD, to_magi_c; by means of which heseught . to.preserve himself from evil spirits through incantation and to win the favor of the beneficent deities through praise and prayer. Thus primitive man may be said to have stumbled upon literature, if he did not purposely fashion it as an instrument primarily functional in character. It may be stretching the point too far to say that with him art was a purely utilitarian device, but it seems logical to suppose that the natural economy of his life was such that it did not easily encourage indulgence in activities of an artificial, superfluous or useless character. When he f a shioned a stone ax, it was to facilitate the securing of his daily food, and when he sang, danced, or chanted poetry it was not merely to fill an idle hour with pleasurable excitement but to invok- e -the ··· f a vors of his gods. As it was with primitive man, so it is with him who has not fallen into the error of regarding civilization as a process of enfeeblement and deterioration. Indeed, the dogma of Art for Art's sake is the mark of a decadent generation, advanced and defended most stoutly by those who have irretrievably lost something of the vitality of nature through vicious selfindulgence or by those who have been tainted in the blood by some inherent vice. Undoubtedly there are men in every generation who will create for their own sake beautiful things which it is our duty to treasure. But these artists represent an aberration from the normal course of nature, and if we confer upon ,them the name of genius, it is genius of a decidedly inferior category. Thus iShakespeare is a greater artist than Christopher Marlowe, Shelley than Keats, WaltWhitman than Edgar Allan Poe. Shakespeare,Shelley andWhitman achieved more than mere beauty in their w,nks; they were, in a fashion that is not to be

confused with crude insrn

teachers of men. -,.

J If poetry originated as a functional activit )f (P�ose JS s�ch is_eve

frank\y

utilitarian in character. Prose is of the world; i'hs-fci"o earthly to serve as a vehicle

· ofpure fancy. And the j greatest masters of prose are those who have employed it in the service principally of reason and secondarily only of the imagination, those who have used it for what Matthew Arnold has called the "criticism ·of life." Thus the man who wrote Job was a greater artist than he who wrote the Song of Songs, and the author ' af &clesiastes than he who wrote_ the_Psalms. So,

The Likhaan Anthology of Philippine Literature in English

379

too, Swift is the greater master of prose than Charles Lamb, Thomas Huxley

than Stevenson, and in our own day, Bertrand Russell than Christopher Morley,

�{J/ Theodore Dreiser than Branch

Jeu er are S!Jliths_

} � form r are smiths of

i1ei!s.

_as the_

of hmguage; as the tarter have the talent to fashion the perfect

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phrase, so have the former the power to impart the stirring thought. Language with the latter see)Tis almost to be an end in itself, a device of pleasure; with the former it is' ii(��;ns to an e�d,;;; instrument of ideas. In the ·end, what really interests the writer, granting that he recognizes the value of social content in literature, is some sort of assurance that his writing will result in something that he can lay his hands on as good and useful. For certainly he has a right to expect that, having acceded to the demands of society upon his talent, certain measurable benefits will flow from his work wholly distinct from the purely subjective satisfaction that is his birthright as an artist and which comes naturally with the act of creative expression. The question is easily answered. The writer who has once admitted to himself that the problems of society are his proper meat and drink has come to a point where merely technical problems have become of small account compared to the ultimate problem which he is presumed to have already answered for himself; namely, whether there is such a thing as progress, and whether it is within the capacity of man ever to achieve progr.ess-, , Now, a writer either believes ir(,progresJ or he does not. He either believes that man is improvable because he h·as-the innate ·capacity to correct his errors or he is convinced that man is eternally damned beyond any possibility of redemption. All that we have said about writers is meant only for those who believe in progress, not that we would withhold from the others the name of writer, but that these have excluded themselves by nature or by choice from a

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reverses, is forever

picking up and moving upward. He believes, finally, that he has a place in this scheme of universal progress and that whatever he can do to help is a worthy

contribution to the upward movement of life. We are not forgetting, despite the

emphasis on "social content," t'.1at we are speaking of literature and not propaganda.

�-: � 1 ,_ ,,,_ ; Ipe challenge which we ask the intelligent writer to meet is not challenge to beat

the drums and to blow the trumpet of pmgress. We are only reminding him that of all the ends_ to which he may dedicate his talents, none is more worthy ,than the

improvement of the condition of man and the defense of his freedom.

' Nor need the writer feel that he is being compelled to become a social reformer rather than an artist. Whatever the writer's conception of his craft may be, he can safely cling to the principle that literature is the imaginative representation of life and nature, and upon this principle honestly build his achievement. If he is sincere and if he has the ability, he need have no fear that he will become a purveyor of propaganda and lose caste as a creative artist.

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_g�en _s-pea.king-.--He believes that civilization, despite evident

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