Peso RateWeatherPhilippines Time

The Disentangling Of A Tongue-tied Subject

(By Charlie Samuya Veric)

Recent trends in Southeast Asian studies, literary or otherwise, point to a common desire to create a cultural genealogy that would invigorate the bond that ties these modern nations. This desire, we know, is a direct reaction against the Orientalist and Orientalizing production of knowledge and therefore, power in Southeast Asia. It is an attempt to show that the region is more than a colonial invention that dwells in the imaginary of dead white colonialists of yore.

British scholars in 1850, for example, created the term "Indonesia" to condense the mass of islands comprising what used to be known as the Indian Islands or the Indian Archipelago that included the Philippines. The term was coined by G. W. Earl and was first used by J.R. Logan in two articles published in the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, an ethnological journal in the mid-nineteenth century. Though Dutch colonial writers occasionally excluded the Philippines when using the title in a geographical sense, the derivative term "Indonesians" always encompassed, according to Jan B. Ave (1989), a vast array of peoples that are culturally related. Historian M.C. Ricklefs (1981) would go as far as saying that the Dutch invented and thus, defined, the territorial boundaries of modern Indonesia.

The history of Western colonialism, therefore, was without a doubt essential to the constitution of geographic knowledge’s that later marked out the spaces of various national blocs in Southeast Asia. As scholar Luisa Mallari-Hall writes, "Colonial powers and border conflicts have redrawn [Southeast Asia's] boundaries, displacing the cultural traditions of its inhabitants and reworking them into discrete parts... [Such] is multiplied by the absence of direct intellectual and cultural exchanges within the Southeast Asian region" (1999, viii). But not only spaces were invented. The most virulent invention of all was the terrifyingly fantastic world of the native and her being in that (an)other world-among cannibals and blooms of birds of paradise that so astonished the eyes of the Occidentals.

Colonial historian Horace St. John, for instance, writes in Indian Archipelago (1853) that birds of paradise are "fabled to be the messengers of God, who fly to the sun, but overpowered by the fragrance of the isles over which they pass, sink to the earth and fall into the hands of man" (quoted in Boon 1990, 16). Hundreds of years earlier Antonio Pigafetta wrote of the same otherworldly world that soon animated the imagination of other Orientalists after him. Who can forget that after Pigafetta circled the world, he published an account that contained the first substantial Malay word list in a European tongue? It is argued that such chronicle was written in order to advance Western trade contacts. Thus, it can be said that in the beginning of Orientalism, in the first murmuring of Western expansion, the translation of native words made possible the worlding of the Other in the Occidental imagination. Interestingly, aside from the 426 Malay entries, Pigafetta was also able to gather 160 terms from the "heathen" inhabitants of our very own Zubu, now known as Cebu. This practice of classifying the other world into a gorgon parade of cannibals, dwarves, delicious cloves, native kings, humid hours, and inevitable birds of paradise became a bad, inveterate habit among colonialists and Orientalists alike.

As James A. Boon argues in Affinities and Extremes (1990), "Indonesian studies as we know them today became routine in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century English-language "descriptive histories." Fundamental books by William Marsden on Sumatra, Stamford Raffles on Java, and John Crawfurd on the archipelago at large, flirted with various ideas of decay" (12-13). Certainly, the image of putrefaction endures within Southeast Asia because of a lack of critical dialogue between and among Southeast Asians that would counter the Orientalist framing of Southeast Asia as both space and idea. In literature and literary studies, for example, we, in the words of Mallari-Hall, "rarely get a chance to have a dialogue, to hear each other speak of our literary practices" (1999, viii). This impoverishing dearth, this death throe that induces spasms of delirious thirsting results from a lack of literary scholarship by Southeast Asian researchers and academics who "seldom look at the literature of Southeast Asian countries other than their own, or make attempt to compare them directly" (Kintanar 1988, xi). Such lamentations were the reasons why research centers specializing in Southeast Asian studies were established. In 1976, social science and humanities scholars by the region instituted the Southeast Asian Studies Program to promote comparative research and writing on Southeast Asia. Earlier, in 1968, the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies was founded as a regional research center focusing on issues of stability and security, economic development, and political and social change.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, literary scholar Leopoldo Y. Yabes propounded the theorizing of Southeast Asian literary traditions in his essay "Tradition in Literature with Particular Reference to South, Southeast, and East Asia" (1979). Yabes, according to literary historian Bienvenido Lumbera, was the first in the Philippines to ascertain such a regional literary connection. It must be pointed out, however, that forty-five years before Yabes published his essay, Amador T. Daguio already wrote an essay titled "The Malayan Spell and the Creation of a Literature," published in Philippine Magazine in September 1934. In that essay, Daguio lamented the loss of a tradition, a literary past, that he deemed crucial in the "founding of a national literature" (Daguio 1954, 207). To address such lack, Daguio posited the recreation of a "Malayan spirit" in order to "achieve something at least more worthy of ourselves than what is merely a ridiculous aping of what is foreign and foreign to our feeling and thought" (206). According to Daguio, "[o]ur folklore, our traditions, our customs go back to India, the land of philosophy, to Arabia, the land of religion, to China, the land of learning" (206). Intriguingly, Yabes edited an anthology of Filipino essays in English in 1954 that included a reprint of Daguio's article.

For provisional purposes, however, let us examine Lumbera's pronouncements resonating Yabes resonating Daguio. Lumbera says that "the body of works that would seem to place Philippine Literature within the Southeast Asian tradition is precisely the oral literature that to this day lives among cultural communities" (1999, 2). For Lumbera, the oral literature is the single most potent tradition that will link the Philippines to Southeast Asia and will allow Filipinos to recover a usable "precolonial" past (5). The retrieval, however, of a "recoverable" and usable past is fundamentally anchored in language, the Filipino language to be exact. "To recover the past,"writes Lumbera, "it needs a native language that will allow it to make its oral literature a living part of its contemporary culture. That language is Filipino"(5).

A slippery vicissitude of time is at work in Lumbera's narrative. First, he assumes that there is a "precolonial" past that can be recovered in oral literature. Second, he posits that the repossession can only be realized through language and in no other language can it be reclaimed except in Filipino. Third, the unsaid in Lumbera's theoretical slip is this: the "precolonial" past is "out there" to be recuperated by a language partly alien to itself. Here lies the gap and it forebodes to swallow everyone that gazes into it. Lumbera dangerously proposes, albeit unconsciously, that the "precolonial" past is an immutable essence, frozen somewhere in the elsewhere of the world and memory of time, waiting for the sun-language from the future to shine on it and make it live again and speak as though it never died or slept or forgot itself totally. Moreover, Lumbera proposes that "the Philippines needs Southeast Asia" (5) and that this need feeds on a literary tradition. that is oral literature. Here, memory is the underpinning assumption that informs the theorizing of oral literary practices that exist in Southeast Asia. This memory, however, is not just a recollection of things past but rather, a collective consciousness that serves as an ever evanescent link to the "precolonial" universe of the region.

What is significant about such a concept is the very idea that this fragile, plural memory is ineluctably grounded in language. Thus, most contemporary attempts to reconstruct regional historiographies use language as a base for theorizing a "Southeast Asian" identity. By saying language, I do not mean language per se, but its imagined powers to structure an identity. This theory of language, to me, is what conspicuously links the Philippines to Southeast Asia in general, and to Indonesia in particular. We all desire to discover that primal sound, infinitesimal and distant, that would give melody to our songs of ourselves, our selves.

Our selves have been elusive. And we are all hunted by the hauntings of our own languages.

Certainly one of the most diligent theoreticians visited by the specter of such desire is Filipino historian Zeus A. Salazar. For Salazar, the Philippines and its Southeast Asian neighbors share a "common past" that covers the entire Pacific or "Oceanic" domain. This "common civilization" derives, according to Salazar, from an "Austronesian or Malayo-Polynesian base-culture" (1998, 61). Salazar argues that Southeast Asian affinities make themselves manifest in Philippine languages and dialects-but mainly Tagalog, to be exact-through linguistic borrowings. Moreover, Salazar contends that the terms that "actually have come down to us from our common heritage with other Asian nations and cultures... constitute our linguistic ties with them" (63). Salazar claims that

Philippine languages belong to a broad family of languages called Austronesian or Malayo-Polynesian. It extends from the Easter Islands and Hawaii off the coast of America across the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean up to Madagascar, just off the eastern coast of Africa... This very extensive linguistic family, above all, also covers a culture area. The Madagascans (Malagassy) are not very different from the Filipinos. In this context, the Taiwanese, not the Chinese or Han migrants but the aboriginal Taiwanese, are not much different from the Filipinos themselves in terms both of their languages and cultures (72).

A bricolage of historical times is at work in such an explanation. Salazar creates a linguistic genealogy that traces its origins to the pre-national and pre-historical order of things in terms of political and territorial formations that are evidently derivatives of colonial Modernity; in other words, modern historico-cultural formations such as "Southeast Asia" and "Filipino."More problematic is the fact that Salazar cannot verify his assumptions that predate history and are, therefore, unrecorded. For example, to prove his theory on Asian linguistic affinities, Salazar cites relatively recent studies mostly produced in late nineteenth and twentieth centuries: T.H. Pardo de Tavera's El Sanscrito en la Lengua Tagala (1887) and John U. Wolff's "Malay Borrowings in Tagalog" (1976), to name a few. To remedy such a historical malady, Salazar proposes "a research into actual and internal linguistic interrelations... [that] would be productive in terms of pinpointing unrecorded historical contacts with our Malay and Indonesian brothers" (1998,72. Emphasis supplied). Perhaps Salazar does not realize that such a proclamation, though richly resonant, signifies the end of history that he so loves: one that is steeped in positivistic fetishism with "authentic" and "verifiable" historical records. Indeed, such a theory of History that erases localities of subjecthood is anachronistic, even dangerous. Which "Indonesian,"for example, is Salazar talking about? Is she from Java or Aceh or Sumatra? Which "Malay" when to speak of a Malay is to immediately think of a Moslem, one and the same, inseparable, one? And why create a linear emplotment of history and culture as though the present, therefore, the "actual and internal linguistic interrelations"(72), are an unfettered progress of positions and opinions across space-time? As though the present Bahasa Indonesia is the same language as Malay, the lingua franca prior to the formation of Indonesia as a nation. But this is not surprising. When one closely reads Salazar's work, one finds out that his linguistic postulates are wildly speculative: theoretical pronouncements liberally peppered with "probably's," "could be's,' "perhaps","and "would seem's."No doubt, these unverifiable conjectural theorems demolish all of Salazar's structuralist and scientistic posturing.

Salazar uses common contemporary terms when he belabors to substantiate his argument on Southeast Asian linguistic affinities. To illustrate, Salazar attributes the word nganga to an Indian source, citing the archeological discovery of the remains of a betel nut chewing chieftain buried at Duyong Cave. Now Filipinos prepare kare-kare and this, according to Salazar, is related to betel nibbling. Or this one: pan de coco is a spin-off of the Chinese siopao. Amazingly, Salazar proposes that this "other type of affinity," a.k.a. Asian culinary interconnection, should be "mentioned, even assiduously studied"(62). A reader senses here the perfection of triviality. But let us suppose we already know that. What remains unsaid then, is this: for Salazar, there is a seamless connection, a flawless transparency, between language and the real. That language is not a form of mediation, but rather, the thing itself. This unruptured, almost eternal, therefore, unchanging ideation of language is, indeed, symptomatic of Salazar's conception of language's place, or absence of it, in history. As Salazar declares, "[c]ertainly, [our] linguistic affinity with the rest of Asia should not be construed in the light of our common enslavement"(62). In other words, Salazar elides the long and continuing history of colonialism in some parts of Asia. It appears that for Salazar, language is independent of its instrumentalist function, be it ideological or pedagogical.

However, it is imperative to look into the colonial violences that gave impetus to nationalist movements in Asia in general and Southeast Asia in particular. This is because the linguistic question and the seemingly endless language debates are precisely necessitated by the constellation of discourses that accrue to the formation of "national" space, time, and idea that are reactive, if not contradistinctive, to the colonialist order. If we look at the different, differential, and deferring reactions of national formations to colonialism by way of their distinct language policies, we will be able to trace and identify the underpinning assumptions that trigger the striated and often thorny relations between language and its theoretical and fundamental function in advancing nationalist ideas and practices. Given such a condition, we can then grasp the theory explaining the ambiguous place of the English language and literary practices within national and nationalist frameworks. In the end, the correlation of linguistic theory to nationalist literary practices, on the one hand, and English-language writings and theoreticians of English as a mode of localized and nationalist literary practice, on the other, can therefore be established.

Though both the Philippines and Indonesia were savaged by colonialism, the search for that voice, that language, started in the latter as an aphoristic component of nationalism and national identity. In other words, language and nationalism were a clear and overpowering theoretical problem in Indonesia from the very beginning of Indonesian nationalist literary practices, such that the genesis of nationalist literary practices was inevitably coeval with the exegesis of a language that would articulate national and nationalist sentiments. For centuries, Malay had been the language of contact for the whole archipelago, which is estimated to have about 200 different languages. Malay was the lingua franca for the Indonesian peoples, and their way of communicating with foreigners. It was the language of the trade as well as of the court. Interestingly, the Dutch made use of Malay to consolidate the administration of the Netherlands East Indies, making it as an indispensable vehicular language for all. It is important to say, however, that Indonesia even before it became "Indonesia" was a conglomeration of heterogeneous languages and ethnicities. In fact, it is common to describe Indonesia as a multiple collection of old, local nations (Bachtiar 1974).

The selection of Sumatra-based Malay, however-a minority compared to the Javanese majority-was not met with palpable resistance for fear that other ethnic groups, such as the Sundanese, would also push for their own languages. Such, without a doubt, would have eventually led to a confrontation. It must be noted, however, that the notion of a national language congealed only in the twenties. Correlatively, "in the same period it was at first not quite obvious that the new Indonesian literature was going to be written in Malay" (Teeuw 1967, 9). It was only in 1928 when the ideal of unity and of having one national language became an overriding concern. On October 28 of the same year, the all Indonesian association Indonesia Muda (Young Indonesia) passed a historic resolution proclaiming the tripartite thought of one country, one nation, and one language. The declaration professes that "the sons and daughters of Indonesia" belong to "one fatherland, Indonesia,"and to "the Indonesian nation" and shall "uphold as the language of unity the Indonesian language" (Teeuw 1967, 22). Mochtar Lubis, noted Indonesian writer and a former member of Indonesia Muda, remembers that "our older brothers kept telling us that the main enemies of Indonesian freedom are [sic] colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. My generation was imbued with these ideals, that we had to fight colonialism"(1999, 199). It was, indeed, apparent in Indonesia that language was strategically instrumental to the formation of a multiple nation that defined itself against its perceived and material Other, an Other that took the form of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism.

Seven years before the founding of Indonesia Muda, a poem written in Malay was credited by A. Teeuw as a "worthy prelude to the struggle of the Indonesian people for a language and a culture of its own"(1967, 11). The poem is "Bahasa, Bangsa" and the author is Muhammad Yamin. Fresh from the pangs of contemplating the nation's birth and the life of its future, the poem goes onto invent, and therefore mark, the nation in the image of the reproductive, reproducing, and reproducible-mother and child:

When it is small and of tender years,
The child sleeps in its mother's lap,
Its mother sings songs and lullabies to it,
Praising it as is right and proper,
Rocking it in love night and day,
In its cradle suspended over the land of its ancestors.

Born into a nation with its own language,
Surrounded by its family and relations,
It will grow up in wisdom in the Malay land,
In sorrow and in joy and in grief;
Its feeling of solidarity is consolidated
By its language, so beautiful and melodious.
. . . .

We breathe so that we can go on living
To continue to use the language which is an extension of our spirit
Wherever Sumatra is, there is my nation,
Wherever Pertja is, there is my language.
. . .

I shall never forget my language
remember, O youth, Sumatra is in distress
Without a language, the nation disappears.

(Teeuw 1967, 257, trans. by A.H. Johns and Burton Raffel)

Here, not only is motherhood reproduced but also the production of nation-the reproduction of its agents through motherhood. Thus, the dominant image in the poem: "When it is small and of tender years,/The child sleeps in its mother's lap,/Its mother sings songs and lullabies to it..."Both the mother and the child are thrown into "a nation with its own language." Prior to the existence of the mother and the child, however, there was already a world, or nation, or however one called it, and this nation or world had its own grammar that structured all that came after it. This world that dwells in the past, however, is summoned in order to validate a present that so desires a national future.

Such a primordial affinity-based on ancestry, family, land, and language-justifies and becomes the basis itself for the formation of a new national identity that emerges from a heterogeneous site of languages and identities. Note, however, that Sumatra-and not (yet) Indonesia-signifies the initial sedimentation of national space. Sumatra, as the geographic site of a Malay group with the same language, is coexistent with language. Speech and space in the form of geography, therefore, supplement each other. Thus, wherever Sumatra is, there is nation. Wherever Pertja is, there is language. Apparently, space, language, and national consciousness intersect in the construction of a national block. If geography grids the boundaries of national territory, language forms the grammar of national and nationalist consciousness. As Michael Hitchcock and Victor T. King argue, "[a] vital element in the formation of national consciousness was the development of an awareness of the spatial continuity of Indonesian territory. [Its] identity is often closely linked to definitions of space, a defined territory forming an imaginary community that exists in a given location" (1997, 4). And so in Yamin's cosmology, before the sovereign becoming of a being was the world-and the Word. It is a word, a language "so beautiful and melodious". For Yamin, language "is an extension of spirit". And "without a language, the nation disappears". And, ultimately, because language is only a protraction of something more primordial, bigger than the world and the grammar of the word, when language disappears, the spirit also leaves. And that means the end.

What is remarkable though, about Yamin's poetry is not so much the use of Malay but the form that contains the language. Like an old photo in a new frame, the novel literary forms and devices that depart from the traditional Malay literary practice structure Yamin's language. This departure is actually considered the birth of modern Indonesian literature. As Teeuw observes,

The traditional Malay forms have been abandoned: the pantun, an epigrammatic quatrain with the rhyme scheme a b a b, in which the first pair of lines in some way alludes to the second pair which contains the explicit intention of the poet, and the sjair, a long poem consisting of quatrains with the scheme a a a a. (12)

This is not surprising because the seeds of Indonesian national awakening is assumed to have begun in 1908, the year Budi Utomo (Beautiful Endeavor) was established. In The Emergence of the Modern Indonesian (1960), Robert Van Niel proposes that Budi Utomo was the first Indonesian group on "Western lines." The organization, for Van Niel, signified the rupturing of traditional relationships. Seemingly, the affinity with "Western lines" marks the "modern."In this regard, a reversal is in order: language no longer holds an absolute primacy. Literary forms and devices now structure the language. This gives birth to a paradigm where language is defined in relation to its use, form, and content. While it is true that Bahasa Indonesia is based on Malay, it is also equally true that Bahasa Indonesia is not altogether Malay because of its new use, form, and content. The dynamism that attends the linguistic expression, therefore, is the defining character that informs the form and content of language and its functions as a literary practice. In the same breath, Armijn Pane supported the replacement of traditional literary forms. Armijn believed that it was imperative for Bahasa Indonesia to disrupt itself from the conventional Malay. Indeed, a rethinking of language responsive to the rigors of history that comes crashing like so much cataclysm to the writer, leaving her gasping, joyfully overwhelmed, and thrown into the intoxicating whirlpool of changes, departures, interfaces, collisions, and transformations, is being theorized here. As Armijn suggests, and I quote him at length,

A young writer strives for and shows concern about, not only content, but also form and rhythm. Grammar which was defined in earlier times corresponded with the language in use at that time; but it is going to be of no value to writers of the present time because it is not adequate for the language demanded by their souls.

An old teacher will shake his head when his pupils in their compositions do not pay attention to the grammar which he has taught them. The idioms which are always found in the writings of former times are utterly rejected and discounted by them as cliches which are meaningless and which no longer have any affect [sic], and they employ their own idioms, their own symbols, which arise spontaneously and are consistent with whatever they want to express. The sentence structure of their poetry is no longer the same as formerly: sjair, pantun, seloka, gurindam, but a new structure, not fixed, but constantly seeking new structures appropriate to their voices...

During this change the new literature-indeed like the society-is looking for stability, is looking for a firmer foothold, at the same time establishing a unifying literature and a unifying language, which is different from Malay spoken in Deli, Riau or any other region, and which is the language of general culture needed by these people; that is Indonesian language. (quoted in Teeuw 1967, 31)

Such burning desire to find and immediately inhabit new structures germane to the demands of the times is a compelling force that envelops language and makes it relatively stable. This, however, is perilous. For wanting a unifying language for a unifying literature, that means to say, for coveting a universal signifier of culture, i.e., Indonesian language and culture, a hideous erasure of different registers of language and culture becomes inevitable. Javanese nationalists, for example, lament the state of literature in Javanese in the midst of the Indonesian national language. Thus an internal reverse-colonialism takes place: vehemence not directed to the colonial "Other" but to the "Other" of the specular Indonesian"I."Certainly the homogenizing tendencies of an oppositional culture or language is an effect of its need to shut itself out of the gaze of the colonial Other. In such case, an anguished mimicry, an eternal return to the violence of the colonialist order is reenacted and keeps on returning, repeating itself endlessly like a Russian doll unfolding the infinity of its face, its image: one and the same in its countless manifestations. This, precisely, is the problematique posed by marginalized contemporary writers writing in other languages: if Bahasa Indonesia discriminates against Chinese-Malay, what happens to the Indonesian-Chinese?

Shirley Geok-Lin Lim speaks of this despairing dispossession in her review of K.S. Maniam's The Return. In her review article "Gods who Fail: Ancestral Religions in the New Literatures in English from Malaysia and Singapore," Lim underscores the limiting, because limited, operation of a linguistic canon that exterminates specificities that continually contest its fictive yet injurious legitimacy. "Initially dispossessed by their use of the English language from their cultures,"writes Lim, "these writers in English, after the introduction of Bahasa (Malay) as the national language, now find themselves dispossessed a second time in a country in which both their native and adopted cultures have only a minority status"(1993a, 233). For it is always the case that the canon minoritizes. By providing canonical condition to an entity, the result is always that this seclusion becomes an exile, a moment of so many potentialities and potencies that make possible the birth of counteraction. And such fruition brings the hope of liberation. Certainly, it is at this juncture of liberation and exile through language where the Philippine question on linguistic imperialism must be enunciated.

IV
What is significant about the development of language and literary practices in both Indonesia and the Philippines is the fact that the rise of these issues-language, home, and exile-started in the early twentieth century. In Indonesia, nationalist sentiments germinated in 1908. Around this period and onward, the Indonesian press and journalists, who later became politicians, used Malay-the language that the nationalist movement in all its forms self-consciously employed. Moreover, the first expressions of modern Indonesian literature were published in the journal Jong Sumatra (Young Sumatra) in 1920-1922. And in 1928 the "one nation, one country, one language" resolution of Indonesia Muda was passed. Meanwhile, Philippine literature in English also began in the 1900s. Contrary to the Indonesian situation, Philippine literature in English "in the overall literary landscape, [constitutes] a larger stream than that written in Spanish, [but] a much smaller stream than that written in the vernacular languages like Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilonggo, Ilocano, Waray, Pampango, Pangasinan, [and] Bicol"(Fernandez 1994, 98). The irony of ironies, however, is that English, though a "minority" in the midst of literature in the vernacular languages, "is the most visible one because of its exposure in the educational system and its accessibility through publications"(98).

This sepulchral burlesque-whose head lingers like a specter of sign-owes its strategic existence to the interventionist policies of the American colonialism in the Philippines. With the establishment of the Philippine Assembly in 1907 and the restructuring of the local governments, the public school system along American lines burgeoned. The Thomasites arrived in 1901, and the Philippine Normal School was founded in the same year. Seven years later, the University of the Philippines was established. The official medium of instruction in these schools was English, a result of President William McKinley's directive to the Philippine Commission in April 1900. This was the age when brown tongues learned a white language. Perhaps it is an unhappy serendipity that the first collection of poems in English by a Filipino writer, Lorenzo Paredes's Reminiscences, came out in 1921. This was about the same period when modern Indonesian literature started with the publication in Jong Sumatra of landmark poems in Malay. Conspicuously, literary "modernity," unlike in the Indonesian literary scene, was associated not with any of the vernacular languages, but with the English language that loomed to the writers then as the new territory, almost supernal, that needed to be surmounted. The slave, because she can not be a ruler of her own in her own country, desires to master the master's language: the brown tongue speaking a white language to a white tongue with the most yellow of intentions.

Indeed, seduction underlies the discourse of Philippine literature in English. When noted Filipino and first generation writer in English Bienvenido N. Santos was asked why he wrote in English, love was his answer. "I fell in love with the sound of the English language. This is true... When I tell this to the Americans they laugh, "Our language sounds good?" But really, I fell in love with the sound of English" (Alegre and Fernandez 1984, 219). Sound was the eroticism that tempted the native to fornicate with the English language, tongue to tongue. The native, emasculated in the eyes of the colonialist, found the corpus of the foreign language as the only body where her sense of masculinity can be recovered. Perhaps this eroticism was the enchantment that caused writings in English to grow significantly. The vernacular was the familiar, the domesticated, and the fathomed one. English, meanwhile, was the bewitching, the Other. But not all were lured into the beautiful belly of the beast. As literary historian and critic Resil Mojares notes, the native languages saw efflorescence,

[a] defensive reaction against the new cultural order [of] the Americans [was] building in the country. Interest in the promotion and refinement of local languages found expression in the burst of vernacular publishing, the mushrooming of language associations and "academies" in various parts of the country, and the scholarly labors of the Filipino philologists in the production of grammars and dictionaries, and for the writing and reading of texts in these languages. (1994, 73)

In spite of such a strong oppositional discursive rebuttal, English was becoming the dominant and dominating language. As poet Trinidad Tarrosa-Subido says, "English was really the language of literate Filipinos. We were not distracted by a second language, which came only after our college days. So we were speaking, we were thinking in English which made it easier than thinking first in Tagalog and then trying to translate it into English" (Alegre and Fernandez 1984, 363). A litany of names usually follows her pronouncements, creating a genealogy of canonical literary exemplars such as Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sara Teasdale, and Elizabeth Browning. A seductive, self-conscious, and willing dispossession of the writing self is posited here. The native, pushed into the grammar of the New Word, finds herself severed from the past, and thus, is being infantilized by the very language she desires to acquire, and therefore, master. "Outside the English and Victorian tradition, there was no poetic salvation" pronounces poet-critic Abad (1989, 12-13). Outside the Western tradition, therefore, no moon or star shines on a poet in search of a Muse: the muse is foreign, half a world away but she is here, and there, and everywhere. Indeed one must never forget that the operations of colonialism also proceed under a gendered reification of positions and positionalities. To eschew the infantilizing and emasculating effects of the colonial language, Casiano T. Calalang, in "How Shall we Write?" published in Philippines Herald Magazine in 1927, propounds the use of the native language, Tagalog, that "is able to encage and express our characteristics" (quoted in Fernandez 1994, 102). How, asks Calalang, can American English that carries a different culture, reflect our characteristics as a people?

This is exactly the same predicament that Tarrosa-Subido articulates in her poem "Muted Cry." It is not a coincidence that Tarrosa-Subido, while wanting to "speak the language of [her] blood," speaks to us, her readers, in that "other Voice."The irony must not escape us: the nearness of the persona to the "other Voice" is the infinite distance that separates her from her Soul and Self, whatever they may mean. The poem starts with the violence of dispossession, a dispossessing not of the persona's own choosing:

They took away the language of my blood,
Giving me one "more widely understood."
More widely understood! Now Lips can never
Never with the Soul-of-Me commune:
Moments there are I strain, but futile ever,
To flute my feelings through some native Tune...
Alas, how can I interpret my Mood?
They took away the language of my blood.
. . .

Ah, could I speak the language of my blood,
I, too, would free the poetry in me,
And this now apathetic world would be
Awakened, startled at the silver flood
Of Song, my soul aptly expressing,
each flood-note listeners impressing
More as the water-drop into a pearl congealed
Than as the ripple on the ocean's breast revealed.

III

These words I speak are out of pitch with ME!
That other Voice?.... Cease longing to be free!
How canst thou speak who hast affinity
Only with promised-but-unflowered days,
Only with ill-conceived eternity,
Being, as they, mere space lost unto Space?
Forever shalt thou cry, a muted god:
"Could I but speak the language of my blood!"

(Abad and Manlapaz 1989, 114-115)

Not only is there distance between the poet and her soul, there is also an expanse between the poet and the "Other" that "[takes] away the language of [her] blood."Interestingly Tarrosa-Subido does not personify "blood" the way "Soul," "Me," "Mood," "Lips,""Voice," "Song," "Tune," and "Space" are given cardinal weight. What does this mean? To recall, Tarrosa-Subido was assigned to the Institute of National Language in 1937, where she got interested in Tagalog language and literature. Two years prior to her assignment, the 1935 Constitution was ratified. It provided for the adoption and development of a common national language to be based on any one of the existing Filipino languages. In 1937, President Manuel Quezon proclaimed Tagalog as the national language of the Philippines. Tarrosa-Subido's poem was published in 1940. What we have here, therefore, is a poet who is emerging wounded, but now healing, from the violence of linguistic imperialism: language wounds her, and from the mouth of her wound, she flies, knowing the language of the wound and the ways of its healing. Blood, therefore, represents the past in an altered present where the future of the nation is beginning to emerge in mist. In other words, Tarrosa-Subido, after mastering the other language, finds its futility in a time when nation and nationness need to be articulated in a language not foreign. For poet-critic par excellence Gemino H. Abad, however, Tarrosa-Subido "misconceives the deepest nature of language and poetry. Language is only a system of representation; it isn't representation itself" (1994, 121). But, precisely, who is represented and what is representation for? Abad refuses to recognize the operation of violence endemic to colonialism. For Abad, language is as bloodless as pure adoption, acceptance, and-ultimately-resignation. "My thesis is that we have only adopted Spanish or English for our use, and sooner than later, we hold the language to our purposes in our own native clearing" (Abad 1994, 124). Certainly, thoughtless theorizing of this sort has no sense of contradiction. For, in the end, what is contradiction to a man who says things such as this: "What will save us? Not concepts of the mind called truth or meaning, or any religious doctrine or political ideology, but beyond, around, and beneath all the mind's words, an unintimidated memory and the basic human feelings-tenderness and pity"(Abad and Manlapaz 1989, 19).

Theoreticians and practitioners of so called linguistic appropriation like Abad, indeed, scatter in many places in Southeast Asia. See, for intance, Alfrredo Navarro Salanga's poem addressed to Edwin Thumboo, who, like him, suffers through English in Asia. No doubt, Thumboo's pronouncements and creative productions are taken as magisterial when it comes to theorizing the place of the native in the English language. For, certainly, Thumboo illustrates the complex relations between a foreign language such as English and the creative articulations of native experiences in English. His works and theories express the fundamental problem between language and experience. In one essay, for example, Thumboo argues that "the local rooting of languages such as English and French, the significance of trends in economic and political style and philosophy, the realities and hopes behind the thinking on educational and social issues, required and still requires [the] reorientations... of metropolitan assumptions, theory, and practice"(126). One need not argue with Thumboo on that. The problem is that many take Thumboo's declarations, without duly understanding the context of his position, as radical and subversive stances against the purity of English language. But often, and quite lamentably, we do not read and get to know that Thumboo's relation to empire is, at best, happily ambivalent. What do we make of Thumboo who describes colonialism as a "gentle bondage" (1988, 124)? (A description so melodious one can forget that the sound can kill symbols.)

A writer who "spoke English to paternal uncles, aunts, and cousins; Teochew to maternal uncles, aunties, and cousins; Malay to the gardener and the driver"(133)? Thumboo-a local poet who does not speak English to his gardener and driver, swinging between two countries: Singapore and Malaysia and so enamored of Yeats-belongs to spaces and histories that have no clear tradition of systemic resistance and opposition to a colonialist order. Lim, in her book on English-language writing from Singapore and the Philippines, admits that "[l]ittle . . . social purpose, not to say political and revolutionary zeal, is to be found in the Singapore English-language tradition"(1993b, 16). In this light, attempts at recuperating Southeast Asian writings and writers in English that have ambivalent relations with empire and coupling them side by side with those that have traditions of resistance against colonialism unduly erase the clear and continuing interrogation of the place of English in the history of Southeast Asian nationalisms and nationalist practices. For if we look closely enough, theoreticians who champion theories of hybridity are themselves the prime beneficiaries of English industry in Southeast Asia: professors of English, former and future English department chairs, expatriate scholars of English in American universities, writers in English, English wannabees.

Our salvation-we that suffer through English, from English (to make one's own, Abad's most favorite preposition)-is not in an ahistorical ideation of language that has no outside to it that it can call its other. This search for the other, and, in the end, for the self, must find the specter of its resolution not in Language, but in languages: in contradicting and antagonistic relationships that inhere in the histories of ideas, in the movements of power and the overcoming of powerlessness.

Certainly the question regarding language is not about its nativeness or foreignness because peoples move, and along with their transits the waves and shifts of positions and aspirations are both familiar and strange. Languages, though inherently ideological and discursively overdetermined ultimately need agency that is the sovereign source of actions, movements, directions, and possibilities: the agency that makes is
what it is.

The (dis)connection of the Philippines to Southeast Asia and Southeast Asia to the Philippines, therefore, is not a continuous linear framing of narratives, historiographies, languages, and cultural practices. For if Bahasa marginalizes writers of other ancestry writing in English in Malaysia, if Filipino is being spoken by a womanizing drunkard who used to sit as the President of a Sad Republic, if a Singaporean poet laureate perceives sweet gentleness in bondage, then who and what does language serve? Among the remnants of utterances in this essay, I have attempted to illustrate the dissimilar reactions of the dominated to metropolitan presences that have shaped the cultural practices of the writing native. Thus, local cultural practices of Southeast Asian nations-say, Indonesia and the Philippines-that have unambiguous traditions of resistance to colonialism must be framed in contraposition to those that are ambivalent toward empire.

Certainly, the use of English alone as a recuperative trancendental tool in reconstructing Southeast Asian cultural affinities and histories is necessarily problematic. In the end, what we must guard against is the primacy accorded to ahistorical, monotypical, univalent, and eternal ideation of linguistic uses and practices that erase specificities. A moon, one and the same in all eternity and timelessness, may gaze at two poets at both ends of the world. For one, the moon signifies man. For the other: it is woman and any thing in between: it is all and no thing.

*From Bulawan 2, a publication of The National Commission for Culture and the Arts

 

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

 

 

 
 
 
Copyright © 2022 Living In The Philippines. All Rights Reserved.