On Reading Books and Censorship

Note: This essay is based on my presentation at the “Reading Rights: Defending the Right to Read against Book Banning and Censorship” Webinar organized by the Academics Unite for Democracy and Human Rights on December 6, 2021.   I thank Bomen Guillermo for his kind invitation and support.  

Here are just a few of the reasons why I love books:

  1. I love their thingliness. I don’t recall ever wanting to smell or caress the TV or computer, but I love doing so with books. I love the heft, texture, color, and scent of books, their typography and design, their portability.
  2. Books are mini-shuttles that transport readers across space and time, guiding them toward inner and outer worlds, toward real and imagined ones. 
  3. I love the anticipation of reading as much as the joy of reading. I always look forward to opening a book for the first time. I’m an avid collector of first and last sentences.
  4. I love collecting books, or used to love collecting books. I am a recovering BookSale addict. 
  5. Books are easier on the eyes and less likely to drive their readers to distraction, compared to the screen.
  6. Books are good sleeping pills for adults and pacifiers for kids.  

Since you are taking part in this Webinar, I think I’m already preaching to the converted, so let me focus on a few other points with wider social, cultural, and political resonance and implications. 

People read books for pleasure, for the stories that books tell, for the music of their language(s) and the multiple meanings, even contradictory ones, they suggest. People also read for instruction, for the information that books present.

More than that, to open a book is to open a gate of interpretation. Books lay out arguments that readers can grapple with. There’s something to be said about the fact that, to quote George Orwell in 1984, “The best books…are those that tell you what you know already.”

But it is also true that we learn new things from books. Books have the power to unsettle and disturb, to challenge truisms and cherished assumptions, even to provoke and offend. They may lead readers to question themselves as well as the societies and world they live in. Above all, they sharpen one’s thinking. 

The usual knee-jerk reaction of the offended, particularly those in positions of authority who find themselves under challenge, is to argue for banning the books.

Indeed, the list of books that have been banned or challenged at one time or another somewhere in the world is quite extensive. They include not just the usual suspects like Copernicus, Galileo, Voltaire, Marx, and Darwin, but also Chaucer, Einstein, The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine, Alice in WonderlandMadame Bovary, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, A Farewell to ArmsThe Pentagon Papers documenting the US involvement in Vietnam, Yang Jisheng’s Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962, Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Perburuan (The Fugitive), the Qur’an, and the Bible.  

The most famous banned books in the Philippines are Jose Rizal’s Noli me tangere and El filibusterismo. Let’s look at the passages in these novels in which the word “terror” or its equivalents appear.

There’s the Guardia Civil, which has “only this purpose: the repression of crime by means of terror and force” (tiene no más que este fin: represión del crimen por el terror y la fuerza). There’s Sisa, full of terror (llena de terror), driven mad by the injustice inflicted on her sons. There’s Juli, overcome with terror (rendida por el terror) at the thought of the terrible fate that awaits her at the convent. There’s Matanglawin, formerly known as Cabesang Tales, who is called the Terror of Luzon (el Terror de Luzon) and the reign of terror (régimen de terror) endured by ordinary people who, caught between the tulisanes and the government, opt to join him.

There’s Simoun, who inspires terror in Basilio and others before and after Basilio learns of his plan to organize a revolution. Simoun displays antique jewelry linked to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. Padre Irene hastens Capitan Tiago’s death by feeding the sick old man’s terror with hair-raising stories (aumentar su terror con historias espeluznantes). At the Quiapo fair, Simoun makes Padre Salvi faint with terror (rendido por el terror) when Simoun, disguised as the Sphinx, accuses Salvi of having driven Maria Clara mad with terror and suffering (volverla loca de terror y de sufrimiento).

In the chapter titled “Tatakut,” certain persons are said to have advised the Captain-General “to inspire terror [inspirar el terror] and administer a lasting lesson to the filibusteros”. His Excellency refuses to release Basilio despite the latter’s innocence, on the grounds that “the punishment will prove more salutary and exemplary, since it inspires greater terror [como que infunde más terror].”  

In other words, it isn’t only Simoun and Matanglawin who have the ability to inspire terror.  Readers understand fully well that they were driven to do what they did by the injustice and persecution inflicted on them and their loved ones.

The novels also emphasize the fact that it is the government officials, the clergy, the police and military, and the state itself that regularly terrorize individuals and communities.  Rizal pointed out that the abuses committed by authorities are responsible for fomenting filibusterismo. Rizal himself would be tried, condemned, and executed as the Word Incarnate of filibusterismo (el Verbo del filibusterismo), or what states would now call a terrorist. Both La Liga Filipina and the Katipunan, with their clandestine operations, would have been categorized in our time as terrorist organizations.

And if you look at the commentary on Rizal’s novels over the past hundred or so years, the most persistent refrain you hear is the one that laments the fact that modern-day, Filipino counterparts of the abusados are alive and well and still terrorizing the Filipino people. 

Now let me turn to the topic of book prohibition in more recent memory. Under martial law, exposés or what Filipinos at the time called bomba like Primitivo Mijares’ The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos I and Carmen Navarro Pedrosa’s The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos were banned.

According to my friends who were students and teachers at the University of the Philippines (UP) at Diliman, UP library books that had keywords or titles like “revolution” and “Marx” were removed from the open stacks and circulation. Even the Campus Crusade for Christ’s book Revolution Now! was removed from the reading room. These books were not withdrawn from the library collection. Instead, they were “archived”, which is another way of saying that these books were kept under lock and key. It is true that in principle the books could be perused. The problem was that one had to submit an official request to gain access to the books. In this way, the military was able to keep tabs on who personally requested the books. 

At the same time, however, the UP librarians created a parallel secret archive for the materials–speeches, manifestos, newspaper clippings, literature, pamphlets and leaflets–critical of the Marcos regime, materials that would form the core of the UP Radical Papers collection, away from the prying eyes of the military.

After the People’s Power Revolution, the materials from both archives became available for use by students, teachers, and scholars. 

Access to libraries and their materials is crucial to critical thinking and research, as any student or scholar can tell you. For the past year or so, I’ve been working on a glossary of the Marcos era, and I have found that books and other library materials still provide the best access to fully vetted, systematically organized and presented data and debates that can be backed by verifiable sources. 

Looking back, I think that the “archiving” of so-called “subversive” books and materials did not prevent activists from becoming activists and resisting the Marcos dictatorship. Activists found ways to link up with each other through networks of solidarities among likeminded people and, just as crucially, people who didn’t necessarily agree with each other politically or ideologically.

Ideas circulated in clandestine and other forms. More people were learning about the abuses of the dictatorship by alternative means, including the mosquito press and aboveground as well as underground advocacy inside and outside the Philippines. More important, they were experiencing for themselves firsthand the effects of political repression and the increasingly dire economic condition in the country, which was greatly exacerbated by nepotism and crony capitalism.

And yet, as much as the withholding of books and other reading materials did not prevent people from experiencing for themselves the disastrous consequences of constitutional authoritarianism, it did at the same time have the general effect of restricting access to information and filtering knowledge about the regime. Restriction and filtering have had lingering effects even into the present.

The educational system produced textbooks for elementary and high school students that touted the accomplishments of the Marcos era but did not give full and accurate information, let alone encourage teachers and students to think more critically, about the regime’s failings and their negative consequences.

Mainstream press reporting was censored at the time. Even decades later, with a few important exceptions, it is often unsystematic and lacking in nuance and context. In the age of social media, people prefer their echo chambers over informed analysis. Fewer still bother to read books, especially academic ones, or do their own research.

Demographic change is clearly a factor behind selective historical memory, as nearly sixty-five percent of our total population is aged 34 and below and a little less than eighteen percent of those now aged between 35 and 49 years were born only after martial law was declared, meaning that more than eighty-two percent of the current Filipino population had either not been born yet or were still children when the Marcos dictatorship was toppled.  

Those old enough to have lived through the martial law years have tended to view the period selectively through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, though this attitude in part springs from disillusionment with the failure of People Power democratization to deliver on its promise of peace, order, prosperity, and decisive action to improve the lives of fellow Filipinos.

Which brings me to the current situation and its implications for Philippine society. We all know that a solid, grounded education makes for an empowered, conscientious citizenry. The essential ingredients of a good education are good students, good teachers, good libraries and laboratories, and supportive administrations. 

Withdrawing or banning books from libraries erodes the core principles of freedom and democracy affirmed by no less than our Constitution. There is something very wrong when documents signed by the government itself, such as the Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 and the“Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines” of 1998, are among the materials withdrawn from libraries. Should military and school authorities then also withdraw from bookshelves the Constitution on which these documents affirming the inviolability of human rights are based? 

Academic freedom is based on the freedom of thought and expression. But educators have no right to use administrative fiat to infringe on students’, teachers’, and researchers’ constitutionally guaranteed rights as citizens to inquire and think for themselves and engage in free and open discussion. More substantially, the job of educational institutions is to nurture students’ ability to make their own judgments about the books they read, whether educators agree with the ideas contained in these books or not, and especially when they don’t.  

Freedom of thought and expression includes the freedom to speak truth to power, to criticize people in positions of authority, and demand change for the better. People don’t only have the right to criticize their leaders and other authorities when these people are not doing their jobs; they also have the right to defend themselves against tyranny, oppression, and injustice. Let us not forget that the 1987 Constitution was itself founded on the right of revolution.  

People who don’t want other people to read books that they don’t like assume that people cannot be trusted to figure things out for themselves. They believe that ideas need to be “processed” and “guarded”, the better to spoonfeed students. They’re not interested in promoting debate; as far as they’re concerned, “sa pamamahay ko, ako ang masusunod”. To understand where authoritarian tendencies reside, we should begin by looking closely at ourselves, our homes, and, yes, our schools.

The Supreme Court tells us that “Academic freedom has traditionally been associated as a narrow aspect of the broader area of freedom of thought, speech, expression and the press”. Narrow its purview may be, abusing academic freedom has much broader implications. If you have no problems undermining the concept of academic freedom, you also end up undermining every other freedom because, basically, you don’t think that freedom and democracy matter at all.

Freedom and democracy are foundational to this country and to the proper functioning of any state, market, and society. Those who have no respect for these foundational concepts subvert the very system they claim to be upholding or defending against so-called communist-terrorists. 

It was Antonio Gramsci who in 1919 wrote that “To tell the truth, to arrive together at the truth, is a communist and revolutionary act” (“Workers Democracy” editorial, L’Ordine Nuovo [The New Order]).  In this age of fake news and alternative facts, of illiberal politics undercutting civil liberties and democratic governance, of new technologies such as artificial intelligence that enhance the state’s power to control its people and are augmenting human reasoning and decision-making in unforeseeable ways, in this age of historical amnesia and lionizing of strongmen and their brood, anyone who adopts a critical stance and works to transform the system is likely to be labeled a subversive, a terrorist. Well, if telling the truth is a “communist and revolutionary act,” then may there be more communists and revolutionaries. 

Posted in Essays | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Aurora Roxas-Lim: In Memoriam

Her friends called her “Roxy,” but I always called her “Auntie Aurora” because that was how my mother, who was related to Benito “Uncle Ben” Lim, called her.  

Auntie Aurora was a marvelous woman. She had merely to enter a room or into a conversation to light it up, to ramp up the energy level.  Not only was she companionable, vivacious, and warm-hearted; she was also visionary, indefatigable, efficient, and no-nonsense. A rare combination. 

Above all, she was an inspiration, a model of the life of the mind dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. 

In my mind, she and my mother were forever linked by their association with the University of the Philippines and by their abiding interest in art.  My mom was the first person in her family to go to college. Because Tondo was far from Diliman, Mama—who, like Auntie Aurora, was accepted to UP as an honors graduate on scholarship—lived with Auntie Aurora and Uncle Ben in their campus housing on weekdays.  My mom was originally a pre-Medicine student, but left school to marry my dad. After raising five children, she eventually went back to UP, shifting to the College of Fine Arts to major in Painting and graduating magna cum laude the same year that I did. 

As a UP undergraduate, I once toyed with the idea of majoring in Art Studies because I liked to draw and paint and was deeply interested in Asian art history, but decided to stay on as an English major because I loved reading literature and creative writing (known then as “imaginative writing”—don’t ask me what’s the difference!) even more. Auntie Aurora, too, had been an English-lit major as an undergrad before she shifted to art studies.

It was Auntie Aurora (and my mom) who encouraged me to pursue graduate studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  Auntie Aurora had been a doctoral student of art history in Ithaca, but had had to cut short her program of study and return to the Philippines because of a serious eye condition that required surgery and long-term treatment.  From her, I learned about Cornell’s Southeast Asia Program, the premier area studies program in the United States at the time. From her, I learned as well of Cornell’s famed Wason collection of library and archival materials relating to East Asia.  (There was also a colonial connection here, as the First Philippine Commission appointed in 1899 by US President McKinley was headed by Jacob Schurman, the president of Cornell.)  

It’s ironic that, in those days, one still had to go all the way to America to learn about Southeast Asia and write a dissertation about Philippine literature. But I look back on my Cornell sojourn with great fondness, because I was fortunate to have learned a lot from my teachers and fellow students there. Like Auntie Aurora, I studied Bahasa Indonesia. Like Auntie Aurora, I have been involved in promoting Asian (and in particular, Southeast Asian) studies through institution-building and scholarship.

Over nearly three decades, Auntie Aurora kindly kept in touch, meeting in person, talking by phone, and later, exchanging emails.  At the small wedding dinner party that my parents organized for me and my husband Shiraishi Takashi, while my husband and Uncle Ben happily bonded over their common interest in the politics of East Asia, Auntie Aurora sat next to me and shared with me her painful experience of the Japanese occupation. I was shaken, in particular, by her eye-witness account of the torture and murder of one of her brothers, and the injuring of her father and another brother. But I was deeply honored by her wedding gift of her life story—an injunction to remember that the history of our family (my grandfather had been a guerrilla, too) is also bound up with the history of our country. 

My last email exchange with Auntie Aurora was over the passing of Uncle Ben, whose involvement in the policy of mass naturalization of the Philippine Chinese in the mid-1970s—a naturalization that importantly paved the way for the integration of the ethnic Chinese into Filipino society—also inspired me to delve deeper into the Chinese Question in the Philippines.  She wrote a beautiful tribute to Uncle Ben for his funeral and shared the text with me and my parents and siblings.  

I cannot do justice to the long, productive life Auntie Aurora led, the friendships she enjoyed, the careers of younger people she nurtured, the academic institutions she strengthened, the scholarship she pioneered. All I can say is that I am deeply privileged to have been influenced by her, and my life would have been quite different had it not been for her.

Posted in Essays | Leave a comment

Recommended Halloween Reading: Last Lines of 15 Notable Works of Horror Fiction

  • Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818), Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley 

In a nutshell: unwanted baby wreaks vengeance on irresponsible parent. 

He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.

  • Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), Charles Maturin 

In a nutshell: scholar bargains with the devil for a 150-year extension on life, only to spend most of it looking for his contract replacement.      

Melmoth and Monçada exchanged looks of silent and unutterable horror, and returned slowly home.

  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Robert Louis Stevenson 

In a nutshell: urbane, respectable doctor unleashes the beast in him.

Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.

  • The Great God Pan (1894), Arthur Machen 

In a nutshell: doctor experiments on a young woman to “lift the veil” over the human mind, known to the Ancients as “seeing the god Pan”; she does, literally, and more. 

And now Helen is with her companions…

  • Dracula (1897), Bram Stoker 

In a nutshell: bad enough that this immigrant acquires chunks of our real estate; he’s out to steal our women, too! 

Already he knows her sweetness and loving care; later on he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake.

  • The Turn of the Screw (1898), Henry James  

In a nutshell: governess battles two dead ex-employees of a country manor for the souls of her two young charges, but are these ghosts real or just figments of her imagination?

We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.

  • Rebecca (1938), Daphne du Maurier

In a nutshell: naïve, innocent second wife is haunted by beautiful, brilliant—above all, dead—first wife.

And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.

  • The Haunting of Hill House (1959), Shirley Jackson

In a nutshell: ghosthunters observe and document phenomena in a house reputed to be haunted, but who is the haunter and who is the haunted?

Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone. 

  • Interview with the Vampire (1976), Anne Rice

In a nutshell: immortality is a bitch.

And then, stuffing the notebook quickly in his pocket, he gathered the tapes into his brief case, along with the small recorder, and hurried down the long hallway and down the stairs to the street, where in front of the corner bar his car was parked.

  • The House Next Door (1978), Anne Rivers Siddons

In a nutshell: new, ultra-modern house plumbs the horror of breaking social taboos.

“It looks like it’s alive.”

  • Falling Angel (1978), William Hjortsberg

In a nutshell:  Beware of clients who call themselves Louis Cyphre and hire shamuses to track down missing crooners over breach of contract. 

This time, the joke was on me

  • The Woman in Black (1983), Susan Hill

In a nutshell: hell hath no fury like a mother sundered from her child.


  • Beloved (1987), Toni Morrison

In a nutshell: slavery, America’s original sin, is a revenant.


  • The Little Stranger (2009), Sarah Waters

In a nutshell:  As British country house and gentry fall into ruin and the working-class gains ascendancy, whose poltergeist is it?

For I’ll turn, and am disappointed—realizing that what I am looking at is only a cracked window-pane, and that the face gazing distortedly from it, baffled and longing, is my own.

  • Aklat ng mga Naiwan (Book of the Left-Behind, 2018), A.A. Mendoza III

In a nutshell: at last, our very own Filipino novela del dictador about a dictator who writes a novel titled Ang Pista ng Mga Katawan: Kontra-Pagwawasto (The Feast of Bodies: Against Correction), the second part of which is a 300-page, extraordinarily gruesome interrogation manual (divided into three sections, “Pagdukot” [Abduction], “Pagtortyur” [Torture], and “Pagdispatsa” [Disposal]”) that gives the lie to the myth of the “smiling martial law.”  

Aminin man natin o hindi, nasa guhit-tagpuan ng ating kolektibong kahibangan ang ating katubusan. (Whether we admit it or not, our redemption lies on the horizon of our collective mania.)

Posted in Lists | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Edel Garcellano

Edel Garcellano, poet, critic, novelist, teacher, passed away on April 23, at the age of 73.

I first met Edel in 1990, right after I graduated from the University of the Philippines at Diliman and applied for a job as an Instructor at the Department of English and Comparative Literature.

As an undergraduate, I had many excellent, inspiring teachers—Franz Arcellana, Amelia Bonifacio, NVM Gonzalez, Nieves Epistola, Winifred Evangelista, Wilhelmina Ramos, Pacita Fernandez, Sylvia Ventura, Yolanda Tomeldan, among others—who trained me in the art of reading, writing, and research.

In those days, literary studies was largely New Critical, formalist in spirit, orientation, and method. English majors studied the classics and engaged in “close reading” of literary works.  My concentration was “Imaginative Writing,” not “Creative Writing” (don’t ask me what’s the difference). We read novels, plays, and poems, not “texts.” We worked on “analyses”, not “critiques.”

The education was not entirely (neo-)colonial. Our solid grounding in English and American literature (no problem acing the GRE Literature in English test when the time came to apply for graduate school in America) was complemented by language-training in Spanish, French, and Chinese and by coursework in Philippine, European, and Asian literature. Few of the courses at UP were being taught in Filipino, though, and there were no courses specifically devoted to Southeast Asian, Latin American, and African literature.

Encountering Edel came as a shock, intellectually and otherwise. With his leonine features,  polemical style of talking and writing, and unfailing sense of humor, Edel was charismatic, funny, and provocative. Unflinching and unrelenting in his pursuit of a point of fact or argument, he embodied a critical stance that I had only come across in the pages of La Solidaridad and the Philippine Collegian, in the loose-leafed Xerox copies of essays, pamphlets, and little red books that our Social Science II instructors surreptitiously circulated among select students, and in the mimeographed manifestos and statements issued at rallies and demonstrations.

I entered UP in the heady aftermath of the People’s Power Revolution in 1986. Over the next six years, the euphoria of toppling the Marcos dictatorship slowly bled out as dynastic names dominated the election rosters, activists like Lean Alejandro and Rolando Olalia were killed and protesting farmers massacred in Mendiola, members of the Armed Forces repeatedly plotted and staged coups d’etat, poverty remained prevalent, the government elected not to repudiate the gargantuan foreign debt and instead cut social spending, agrarian reform ran aground, business was crippled by power outages, and natural disasters (typhoons and the eruption of Mount Pinatubo) took their heavy toll on communities and livelihoods.

Edel helped me make sense of these unfolding crises.  Some of the English department’s junior faculty began gravitating toward Edel and gathering at his office at the Faculty Center to form a kapatiran of sorts. The office, room 1027, was meant for all of the department lecturers, but for us junior faculty, it was quickly known as “Edel’s office” or, simply, “FC 1027.”

I was part of a group that included people like Felicidad “Bliss” Cua Lim, poet and film critic and scholar now based in the University of California at Irvine; Antonio “Tonchi” Tinio, activist and former national chairperson of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers who has represented the ACT Teachers Partylist at the 15th, 16th, and 17th Kongreso ng Pilipinas; Patricia “Pat” Arinto, former Dean of the Faculty of Education of the UP Open University and now Dean of the University of the Philippines-Visayas’ Tacloban College; Lila Ramos-Shahani, former Secretary-General of UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines; Anne Marie “Nana” Mabilangan (Ozaeta), Editor-in-Chief of FOOD Magazine; and Maria Theresa “Tess” Dizon (De Vega), currently Philippine Ambassador to Germany.

Through Edel, I was introduced to Neferti Tadiar (one of the Philippines’ foremost literary critics, now at Barnard College), Luisa Mallari (Hall) (before she went to the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to conduct her now-classic comparative study of Tagalog and Malaysian novels; a plane crash cut short the life of one of our country’s pioneering Southeast Asianists), and soft-spoken but redoubtable revolutionary Monico Atienza.

We were joined by the Filipino-American scholar John “Jody” Blanco, and would in turn link up with Jaime “Bing” Biron Polo, who was then with the Department of Anthropology, and Patrick Flores of the Department of Art Studies to form the Critical Forum.

Edel “was the real heart and soul” (as Jody puts it) of the Critical Forum’s project of “bringing together scholars, artists (in literature, film, and the performing arts), journalists, and cultural workers to engage in dialogues over social and cultural issues.”

We met to discuss books and ideas, debate the issues of the day, hang out between and after classes, and dream up ways to criticize, perhaps even disrupt, what we saw as the reactionary complacency of our field and the institutional practices of reading, writing, teaching, and working in academia more generally that underpinned it.  We read Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Etienne Balibar, Marx and Engels, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Julia Kristeva, and Helene Cixous with the same appreciative but critical eye as Edel did. My M.A. teachers Preachy Legasto, Helen Lopez, and Jing Hidalgo expanded my reading list by recommending books on feminism, ethnic studies, and postcolonial studies.

People remember Edel for many things.

There was Edel’s coruscating wit, for one. Of classes at UP, he once complained that “There should be paper reading every week dito pero wala kang maapuhap. Ang paper lang dito yung panglinis ng puwet.” (“Isang Panayam”*). In one giyera patani, he said of his adversary that “He has not lost mind, really, only–alas–his teeth” (“Part One: If Dumbo Could Write, He Would Have Written Thus”*).

Edel, too, was known for his trenchant analyses of, and principled interventions in, issues ranging from the EDSA “Drama” (as Edel calls it) to the Second Great Rectification Movement of 1992 within the Communist Party of the Philippines; from the possibilities and limits of Filipino feminist and progressive writing to the reigning cult of the author, the literary award, and literary barkada; from the nativist and anti-theory turn in Philippine scholarship to the importance, but also pitfalls, of academic konfrontasi between progressive intellectuals, on the one hand, and writers, artists, academics and media practitioners, on the other hand, who, as Edel put it, “have arrogated upon themselves this privileged slot in the so-called ‘command post’ of civil society” (“The Silence of the Lambs”*).

To me, however, Edel was the consummate listener. I have a clear image still of Edel sitting quietly, head slightly bent down and forward, listening intently, intervening very infrequently to ask brief but pointed questions that forced the speaker to clarify her ill-conceived thoughts, reconsider the ideological position that grounds her thinking and action, and attend to the gaps and silences that riddle her own agenda.

Edel defied the basic assumptions that inform our commonsensical ideas of the critic as teacher,  ideas of the teacher as an unchallenged authority, fountain of truth and wisdom, and source of one-way learning and transmission of knowledge.

Edel’s idea of pedagogical practice–or more accurately, anti-pedagogy–is revealing for its resolute modesty.

In a 1994 interview with the Philippine Collegian, he said: “Hindi naman ako nakikibaka sa classroom. It’s just that I say what I want to say, according to the logic of my discourse. Pero yung messianic spirit that I will change the kids, wala. In fact, they’re the ones changing me” (“Isang Panayam”*).

He went on to joke that “Ako nga tamad ngayon, kasi tamad ang mga estudyante ko,” but his main point was that he was teaching himself: “So ang nangyayari I do things on my own. Basa na lang ako ng basa.”

Although I didn’t have the privilege of being Edel’s student, the way he talked about what he did in his classes suggests to me that the value of coming into contact with an inspiring teacher like Edel, who changes your way of thinking, perhaps even your way of life, has more to do with the critical stance Edel encouraged his most gifted students to develop on their own, rather than any distinct style or method of teaching, let alone transfer of ideas.

Edel was of a generation that had been radicalized by the political and intellectual ferment of the 1960s and early 1970s, the generation that experienced martial law and was fully aware of the brutality beneath the mask of what Imelda Marcos, shamelessly stealing from the Latin Americans, called the “smiling dictatorship.”

Edel once told me that getting a failing grade of “singko” in class was a badge of honor in the fight against reactionary teachers, the irrelevance of the subject being taught to students, and the bureaucratism, careerism, and self-promotion of academics and artists (including creative writers) who engaged in vicious infighting over the crumbs that the state and private sector deigned to brush off the table.

He was also of that generation of writers, like Nick Joaquin, Gregorio Brillantes, and Kerima Polotan, who, whatever their ideological stripes, honed their skills in journalism and had first-hand experience of the world outside the cloisters of academia.  In his time, as he would say in his “Letter to Young Poets,” “[t]he idea of a Ph.D. or master’s in whatever was somewhat preposterous.”

More than critic and writer, Edel was a complex, brilliant man.  He was my imagined and real-life interlocutor, the person whose voice echoed in my head whenever I took up book to read and pen to write. Who are we working, writing for? What are the intellectual and political stakes of our research? Who benefits?

There’s much more that I can say about how Edel shaped my thinking, and that of several generations of students, researchers, and activists at UP and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (where he later taught), how unstinting he remained in his emotional and intellectual support all these years.

But it’s Edel’s voice I keep hearing these past few days, his voice over a cup of coffee at the Katag in the basement of the Faculty Center, sadly burned down in 2016; over iced tea at The Chocolate Kiss on campus; over pasta at the Jorge Vargas Museum.  Edel, food, and thought: sustenance.

And his words resonate still, incisive and plangent as ever, in his poems, his masterful novels Ficcion (1978) and Maikling Imbestigasyon ng Isang Mahabang Pangungulila (1990), and his essays.


*”The Silence of the Lambs,” “Isang Panayam,” and “Part One: If Dumbo Could Write, He Would Have Written Thus” appear in Edel Garcellano’s essay collection Interventions: Essays (Quezon City: Polytechnic University of the Philippines, 1998). “Letter to Young Poets” (2016) is from The Works of Edel Garcellano, https://theworksofedelgarcellano.wordpress.com

Posted in Essays | 4 Comments

Video Golay Lecture: For Whom Are Southeast Asian Studies?

The 11th Frank H. Golay Memorial Lecture, Cornell University

“For Whom are Southeast Asian Studies?”

Caroline Hau (Kyoto University)



Video of lecture: https://www.cornell.edu/video/caroline-hau-for-whom-are-southeast-asian-studies

Which audiences, publics, and peoples do Southeast Asianists address and serve? The question of “audience(s)”—real and imagined, intended and unintended—is arguably central to (re)conceptualizing the rationale, scope, efficacy, and limits of Southeast Asian Studies.  It has an important bearing on what kind of topics are chosen for study, what and how personal and institutional networks and intellectual exchanges are mobilized, which dialogues and collaborations are initiated, what language(s) one writes in, where one publishes or works, which arenas one intervenes in, and how the region is imagined and realized.  I focus on Jose Rizal’s two novels–Noli me tangere(1887) and El filibusterismo (1891)–and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1983, 1991, 2006) and examine the ways in which the issue of audience(s) crucially informed the intellectual projects of the two authors, and how the vicissitudes of production, circulation, translation, and reception shaped the intellectual, political, and artistic trajectories and legacies of these three notable Southeast Asian studies texts. I will also discuss the power of these texts to conjure and call forth unexpected and unintended audiences that have the potential to galvanize Southeast Asian studies while stressing the connected histories that link Southeast Asia to other regions and the world.

Previous Golay lectures were delivered by Barbara and Leonard Andaya, Benedict Anderson, James Scott, Claude Guillot, Aihwa Ong, Anthony Milner, Jomo K.S. Sundaram, Ruth McVey, Craig Reynolds, and Erik Thorbecke.

Caroline S. Hau is Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan. Born in Manila, she was educated at the University of the Philippines and Cornell University. She is the author and (co-)editor of more than thirteen books, including Necessary Fictions: Philippine Literature and the Nation, 1946-1980The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation, and Region in and beyond the Philippines; (with Kasian Tejapira) Traveling Nation-Makers: Transnational Flows and Movements in the Making of Modern Southeast Asia; and Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture.  She has published a novel, Tiempo Muerto, and two volumes of short fiction, Recuerdos de Patay and Other Stories and Demigods and Monsters: Stories.

Posted in Links | Leave a comment

Opening Lines of 50 Filipino Novels


Aguilar, Faustino. Pinaglahuan (1907)

Bayan ang tumawag at bayan ang dumalo.


Alfar, Dean Francis. Salamanca (2006)

Seven years after the complete destruction of Manilaville in Louisiana, the dissolute author Gaudencio Rivera decided to settle the matter of his prodigious sexuality and beget a child.


Bautista, Lualhati. Bata, Bata…Pa’no Ka Ginawa? (1991)

At sa wakas, tumugtog ang graduation march at nagmartsa ang mga batang magsisipagtapos.


Bulosan, Carlos. America is in the Heart (1943)

I was the first to see him coming slowly through the tall grass in the dry bottom of the river.


Bulosan, Carlos. The Cry and the Dedication (1995)

Now long shadows were falling upon the hushed silence of the great forest.


Castillo, Erwin E. The Firewalkers (1992)

Once upon a time, in the year of 19 hundred and 13, there lived in the town of Lakambaga, the province of Cavite, a man named Gabriel Diego who was sergeant of the police.


Cleto, Luna Sicat. Makinilyang Altar (2002)

Dadamputin ko na sana ang librong nakapatong sa pasamano nang mapansin kong dumapo ang maraming tarat sa punong sampalok sa bakuran.


Coson, Mara. Aliasing (2018)

A volcano is about to explode, but perhaps if they don’t think about it, it won’t happen.


Cruz, Andres Cristobal. Ang Tundo Man ay Langit Din (1986)

Lalabas na sana si Victor del Mundo sa silid na kulong ng salamin nang kumiriring ang telepono sa kanyang mesa.


De Guzman-Lingat, Rosario. Ano Ngayon, Ricky? (1971)

Nakita mo na ang Maynila?


De los Reyes, Isabelo. Ang Singsing nang Dalagang Marmol (1912)

Matapus ang kasindaksindak na labanang nangyari sa mga tagalog at americano sa Kingwa, lalawigan ng Bulakan, ng ika 23 ng Abril ng 1899, na siyang ikinapatay kay Coronel Stotsenburg, sa Capitan at iba pang mga kawal americano, kaming mga tagalog naman ay nagsiurong sa Sibul, at sa isang bahay-gamutan ng aming mga kawal ay natagpuan ko ang isang matapang na pinunong tagalog na bahagya nang makagalaw at makapagsalita dahil sa marami niyang sugat.


Derain, Allan. Ang Banal na Aklat ng mga Kumag (2013)

O Dakilang Manunubos na isinugo ng Dios Ama buhat sa Kinabuhayan na siyang unang langit.


Diaz, Glenn. The Quiet Ones (2017)

The airport’s impersonal contours and antiseptic light discouraged strength of feelings, but the regret in Alvin’s chest brooded, a petulant child.


Firmeza, Ruth. Gera (1991)

May dalang balita ang LO, ang pinunong pangkomunikasyon: Kaalis ng napakaraming sundalo, galit dahil walang natagpuang NPA sa baryo.


Francisco, Lazaro. Maganda pa ang Daigdig (1955)

Natatalisod ng tao kung minsan sa landas ng buhay ang isa o dalawa o ilan mang pangyayaring nauukit nang malalim sa gunita at di nalilimot.


Galang, Zoilo M. A Child of Sorrow (1924)

Lucio had just received his sheep-skin diploma from the provincial high school, and had laid his book on the dust-covered shelf.


Gonzalez, N.V.M. A Season of Grace (1956)

It is in the hills beyond the sitio of Bondoc where the Alag begins.


Groyon, Vicente Garcia. The Sky Over Dimas (2003)

The fact is: George Torrecarion went crazy.


Guillermo, Ramon. Ang Makina ni Mang Turing (2013)

Mula sa kinatatayuan natin ngayon, kinamamanghaan natin ang kamangmangan ng mga pangunahing panauhing pangkasaysayan tungkol sa kanilang sariling daigdig at panahon.


Jalandoni, Magdalena. Lucia (1919)

Sa isa ca malinong nga hilit nga mahamtang sa isa ca bahin sining matahum nga cadatuan sang Iloilo, may isa ca masangcad nga baybayon; baybayon nga ang iya masadia nga hunasan napunihan sang mga matin-ao nga paquinhason nga naga silac sa tunga sang iya malum-oc nga cabalasan nga sa guihapon guina hadcan sang iya maazul nga ilog.


Javellana, Stevan. Without Seeing the Dawn (1947)

He was only eighteen years old but already he was tall, as wide as a house, and he had big strong arms like those of the town blacksmith.


Joaquin, Nick. The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961)

When she told him she had two navels, he believed her at once: she seemed so urgently, so desperately serious—and besides, what would be the point of telling a lie like that, he asked himself, while she asked him if he could help her, if he could arrange “something surgical”—an operation.


Joaquin, Nick. Cave and Shadows (1983)

The vision–a crab on a string being walked by a naked girl–occurred in deep hotel-corridor twilight and moreover  when he, Jack Henson, was feeling himself in a swoon.


Jose, F. Sionil. The Pretenders (1962)

On the night her husband left her, Mrs. Antonio Samson could not sleep.


Hernandez, Amado V. Mga Ibong Mandaragit (1969)

Nangalahati na ang 1944.


Laya, Juan C. His Native Soil (1972)

Martin knew what it was to come back to these seven thousand islands and find a place to live in among sixteen million people.


Lee, Ricardo. Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata (2011)

Sa labas, habang ang mga kababayan ko ay hindi pa nakaka-recover sa sunod-sunod na bagyong pinasimulan ng Ondoy, ako, sa loob ng High Notes sa kanto ng Timog at Morato, ay naka-split sa stage, ini-impersonate si Beyoncé, kinakanta ang If I Were a Boy, theme song ng mga tomboy.


Melvin, Reine Arcache. The Betrayed (2018)

In their exile they knew that nothing could last, yet the family tried to feel at home in the new country.


Mendoza, A.A. III. Aklat ng mga Naiwan (2018)

Walang nagsusulat upang magpasupil.


Nolledo, Wilfrido D. But for the Lovers  (1970)

He was beginning to eat flowers and the crescent moon was in his eyes when he awoke again.


Ong, Charlson. An Embarrassment of Riches (2000)

Oh! But for the waste, the awful waste!


Perez, Tony. Si Crispin (2012)

Madilim ang gabi.


Polotan, Kerima. The Hand of the Enemy (1962)

On Wednesdays, Emma Gorrez knew that as soon as she entered the shop, Isabelo, the cajista, would pull himself up from his shelf of types and look at her with his small bloodshot eyes, parting his lips in a dreary smile.


Posadas, Mano de Verdades. Hulagpos (1980)

Pilipinas, 1974.


Regalado, Iñigo Ed. Madaling-Araw (1909)

Puno ng tao ang Luneta.


Reyes, Edgardo M. Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1986)

Sa simula, siya’y isang kalansay na nakatalalan sa hangin.


Reyes, Jun Cruz. Tutubi, Tutubi, ‘Wag Kang Magpahuli sa Mamang Salbahe (1987)

Hindi ako makaraan doon nang hindi mapapahinto at mag-iisip.


Rizal, Jose. Noli me tángere (1887)

A fines de Octubre, don Santiago de los Santos, conocido popularmente bajo del nombre de Capitan Tiago, daba una cena que, sin embargo de haberlo anunciado aquella tarde tan solo contra son costumbre, era ya el tema de todos las conversaciones en Binondo, en otros arrabales y hasta en Intramuros.


Rizal, Jose. El filibusterismo (1891)

En una mañana de Diciembre, el vapor TABO subía trabajosamente el tortuoso del Pasig conduciendo numerosos pasageros hácia la provincial de la Laguna.


Rizal, Jose. Makamisa (c. 1891-1892)

Tumigil ang tugtugan at natapos ang misa ni Pari Agaton.


Rosca, Ninotchka. Twice Blessed (1992)

The formal ball usually begins with the rigodón de honor, a quadrille by seven couples, six along the hall’s length and one in the middle, underneath a ball of mirrors spinning in its axis, piercing space with the pink, blue, yellow and purple of reflected light, reflected images, its harsh brilliance an insubstantial waterfall spilling upon the dancing pairs, all drawn from high society, provided of course there are enough who can dance without tripping on their feet or causing the help to titter under their breath, otherwise dancers will have to be pulled in from the Women’s School, where they train future society-page ladies and discreet prostitutes.


Santos, Bienvenido. The Praying Man (1982)

The President of the Philippines arrived late as usual.


Santos, Lope K. Banaag at Sikat (1906)

–Kailanman pong nagpakarami-rami ang taong umahon dito ay di gaya ngayon–anang isang taga-Antipulo sa ilang taga-Maynilang nanunuluyan sa kanyang bahay.


Sitoy, Lakambini. Sweet Haven (2015)

You see I didn’t love you.


Syjuco, Miguel. Ilustrado (2010)

When the author’s life of literature and exile reached its unscheduled terminus that anonymous February morning, he was close to completing the controversial book we’d all been waiting for.


Tuvera, Katrina. The Jupiter Effect (2006)

Gaby, the only Contreras daughter, was a difficult child to conceive.


Ty-Casper, Linda. The Peninsulars (1964)

In the early morning sun, the Mexican creoles standing guard on the forty-foot limestone walls appeared like bleached shadows.


Ty-Casper, Linda. Dread Empire (1980)

Past nine the night of Friday, September 21, Don Paco—having finished a large supper that began and ended with soup—turns on the porch radio for news from Manila.


Yabes, Criselda. Broken Islands (2019)

In my childhood I counted nine bridges.


Yuson, Alfred. Voyeurs and Savages (1998)

It was the farthest Chief Antonio had ever thrown his spear.



Posted in Lists | Leave a comment

Q&A on “Tiempo Muerto”

Q&A with ABS-CBN News Channel’s Jam Pascual about Tiempo Muerto.

Posted in Essays | Leave a comment

Tiempo Muerto: An Excerpt

Town & Country (Philippines) features an excerpt from my novel, Tiempo Muerto.

Posted in Essays | Leave a comment