Professor Lector at the Faculty Center

I learned this week the UP Faculty Center burned down. I spent formative years there. My first novel, Bibliolepsy, was born there. I went to UP because I was told Franz Arcellana taught at Diliman. I never took his short story class, but I used to give Franz drafts of my work (they were all terrible—unbearable pieces of impossible malaise), and we’d talk about Dostoyevski (Franz talking about the fly buzzing about the the cold body of Nastasia Philipovna in The Idiot is somehow frozen in my memory) and Virginia Woolf and Kafka and so on. I liked best his stories of his friendship with Estrella Alfon, his Cebuano cohort in madcap literary stuff. Franz is not at all Lionel Lector in Bibliolepsy, but in Bibliolepsy, Lionel Lector is the only writer who escapes whole from the narrator’s crazy pen. I recognized once when I was reading Bibliolepsy to a crowd that the scene in Chapter 7: Third Poetry Reading is my own private homage to my conversations with Franz (you don’t think of these things when you are writing), and now I see it entombs my days at the FC.

Note: I was thinking of where Franz’s papers were: it turns out they were at the FC. This is very painful. May Jurilla blogs on the English Department: “The Department of English and Comparative Literature (DECL) suffered a particularly gut-wrenching loss: In February this year, the family of the late Francisco Arcellana, National Artist for Literature, donated his library to the department. It comprised over a thousand books, the most special ones marked with annotations in his hand and inscribed by their authors for him, along with rare first editions of Philippine literary works. Some of my colleagues and I were in the process of sorting through the collection. It was tedious and literally dirty work, but it came with the privilege of catching a glimpse of the life of the mind of a brilliant man who was a pillar of Philippine arts and letters and who was once one of us, a member of the DECL faculty.”

from Bibliolepsy, a novel

‘The door of the cafeteria, which was housed in the Faculty Center, opened. It had a slow way of moving, this door—a bit like the careful, rheumatic movements of many of the people who frequented the place: old or aging professors with different measures of gall drained in them. The door opened but did not close. Instead, a head seemed to hold it ajar. It peeked through the door and looked into the room. Not looking, you’d say, but glaring, or almost as if startled into our presence—the flies on the food, the aluminum dullness of the counters, the grime on the cracked plywood walls, colored flesh now, withered to the hue of our questioning faces as we looked at him, he who seemed surprised by his own arrival.

His head, when seen this way, preening back as though ready to be sliced by the door, was all eyes—a wide gray reckoning of his place and time. …

Professor Lionel Lector—though I don’t recall my naïveté anything to be proud of—was the reason I had decided to go to university at all, and this university in particular.

He was famous for one poem, a song of love and faith and dying, a common enough tale for any song, and a rare occurrence in being written so simply, powerfully and completely, easy to memorize and quick to move the one who reads. It was a poem embedded in our national memory now, published as it is in grade-school texts, definitive anthologies, commemorative books, and even periodically in the Philippine Journal of Education (as though it were a tic in this august body’s neck). Even babies, it is said, were affected by this poem. They cried at the right parts. Or so Prospero had said to me. I would cry, turning my head into my sheets, when my father recited the penultimate line of grief.

“I thought he was dead,” said burly but unsaintly Bernard.

“He should be,” said Tina. “It’s better than appearing mad like that. He gives me the creeps in the hallway, I think his dental fixtures will one day pop out. What’s he always chewing on in his mouth—cotton balls?”

“When you are old and gray, Tina,” I said, “I hope someone gives you a mirror and knocks it into your gums. I’d like to do that to you right now.”

“Hey man,” said Bernard, “chill out. It’s cool, Prims: everybody knows we worship the Prof.”

“He only wrote one poem after all,” said Tina.


You know one learns a lot from one event, sometimes from even the most innocuous ones. Spending a day talking frivolously with a group of friends, you feel upon walking away from the table a generous repulsion in your chest, like a cotton wad of gross but natural excretions. You feel that you’ve wasted time, it will not come back, and worse still, you wasted it posturing, peacocking your image, or cheaply frittering away your passion upon indifferent people—the usual feelings of self-loathing that come upon us in fitful times. And you think: Why do I even allow myself to speak?

It was like this that afternoon, as I walked out of the Faculty Center to my new apartment in Area Six. I had moved all my books to the university area, and this trooping over from Adriatico to Diliman to Adriatico took a toll on my nerves. The daily diesel fumes were deadly. And as I passed by a room where people normally had classes, because of the shortage of space in the college, I saw again the old poet, Professor Lector, by a door.

His back looked like the upright back of an amphibian, leaning in.

“I like to look at them.” He turned to me.

I was startled by his address.

His voice was loud, from the habit of years of teaching, which unduly modulates speech to this high treble.

He motioned me to move closer.

“Look at them,” he was whispering. “It’s my class.”

“Then why aren’t you teaching it, sir?” I asked.

“I am,” he whispered, nodding his head. “They just don’t know it.”

“What are you teaching them, sir?” I asked.

“It’s just this.” He motioned me even closer to him, so that he said loudly in my ear: “It’s that the author is dead. He is no longer in our midst.”

Through circumstances and an almost strange delicacy, I had never enrolled in his class. I call it delicacy, a reader’s weird sense of abomination. Later as I got more comfortable being around these hallways, the mere sight of the poet in the building produced in me a kind of pain.

It was not just that he was old and intermittently lucid and altered from what he may have promised to be when he wrote the poem. It was not only the mental readjustments one had to make when one saw him (continual as those adjustments were), from one’s continuing historical image of him to his continuing, or may I say deconstructing, presence. The historical image, of course, receded as the present man daily peered through doors, gnashing his teeth as though chewing lifelong sheaves of paper.

It was a pain of all of these but not quite—not simply an everyman’s sorrow over the passing of time, which happens to all of us, even though we are not poets.

I could not quite put my finger to it, at least not at that moment.

I had to return to the building for a class that afternoon, and I saw him again in greater shadow: the way light fell upon the day. He was in a dark hallway a bit ahead of me.

“And how did the class take it, Professor?” I asked.

“Ah, hello, hello,” he said jovially, seeing but not placing me. He spoke with that jocular twang of his, peculiar to him, although they say he picked it up from his student days in the American Midwest, in Iowa with Paul Engle or Kalamazoo, amid the scent of Bienvenido Santos’s apples.

Professor Lector’s speech was a healthy rounding of vowels, an amused adoption of a foreign language.

“Take what, my dear?”

He stopped in his tracks to wait for me near the glass entrance midway through the hall.

Light was better there.

“How did they take the fact of the death of the author?” I asked.

He put out his hands in that gesture of doubt, moving his palms up and down. “So, so,” he said, shaking his head conspiratorially. “It’ll take them a while to get over it.”

“How long did it take you?”

I regretted that I had spoken.

Because there was this tragedy about which people whispered. How Professor Lector had stopped writing at an age too young for everyone’s wishes.

It was as much a tragedy, for some folk, as it was a mystery.

People thought they saw some signs of its cause. Knowingly they point out how after the writing of his seminal poem, Professor Lector had condemned it. He condemned the anthologizing, the commentating and the repeated publications in Philippine journals. All of this is true. He liked the poem, he had said in an interview, but he liked others better. He pointed to his masterpiece, which the world ignored. He wrote other poems, but we continued to memorize the same lyrical relic. He grew old, but people still confronted him with his boyhood poem.

And then he had confronted them with silence. He showed them the speechlessness of his days. And it became a mystery to everyone that he spoke nothing (for when a poet publishes nothing new, he may as well be mute); when in fact, say some clever souls, when he had spoken before, readers had drowned out his words by their thoughtless applause.

That was one theory. That readers, by their early, too partial pleasure, had killed Professor Lector. The public had made him sit on his laurels, squashing them.

It’s a fanciful theory.

There are others.

When I saw him in the hallways, it would sometimes seem as if his speechlessness were a long bout of self-revulsion, a cradling of an unspent loathing—”Why do I even allow myself to speak?”

But I recognized my own pale miseries in that.

He looked at me with those wide-open, humorous eyes and answered my question, which I had regretted, with that booming trill to his speech: “How long did it take me? Most of my life, my dear, most of my life. I had to teach it to myself.”

I moved on with him. We had reached his office.

“Yes,” he said, frisking himself for his keys, “the author annihilates himself.”

“Literally or symbolically?”

“Eternally and daily,” he grinned. “That’s how it should be. But mind you,” he said, pointing a finger at me, “I’m not revealing any of my secrets.”

He tinkered with his door’s lock, as if it were difficult, but it was easily opened.

He gestured that I take a seat.

I did.

His office held the clutter of a life dwelt in the mind—books, scattered paper, college bluebooks, greeting cards from students illustrated with Virginia Woolf in facsimile smile. I suppose I sought what I hoped to find: a sign of writing in progress, his secret life that would astound skeptics and pierce the mystery once and for all.

A typewriter lay on a side table, a bulky, dusty Remington. On a sheet on his desk I quickly noted the type he favored, the merry, wide font of Pica.

“A letter to a student,” he said to me. “They write me from all over, you know.”

“You write them back,” I said.

“Everyone. When I can, you see, when I can.” He gestured to all the papers on his desk, chairs, settee and cabinets, and upon a host of other papers and books. “They like to write to me. That’s my son,” he pointed to a picture. “He lives in Belgium, in Liege. Where they have these town fairs, you know—market days where they only sell guns and bullets. Can you believe it? My son lives in the world’s marketplace for guns. He’s a travel agent. And that’s my grandchild. She plays the piano, but more spectacular than that—she drives a car. Mine! At the age of sixteen! And that’s my wife.”

I saw a picture of a lady in sepia. I saw calendars given by colleagues. I saw pens and penknives. I saw coffee spoons and cheery, literary mugs. But apart from the space held by the typewriter, cramped in the corner by a cabinet of books and a settee with a flowered footstool, shouldered by a calendar of wit, beginning with Oscar Wilde and downhill from there, draped with bluebooks on its keys, I failed to see his space for writing.

As if mysteries might be so easily unravelled.

And what I saw clearly was my bungling, sorry vulgarity.

Professor Lector had seated himself before me.

“Now,” he said, “why are you so interested in the death of the author?”

I knew somehow he had found me out—a sneaky reader with misplaced concern. My intentions were more folly than malice, of course. I had no excuse for my spying and indecent interest but my lack of understanding.

For here was a writer whole in his world—his letters and his sons and the books he read and spoke about; a man booming with amusement in his voice, with a healthy attachment to his world—always peering in through doors, taking us all in with bright, living eyes, with the penetrating, permeating voice of a midsummer’s turtle.

I may have caged him in his poet’s cell: I had given him only a strip of paper, long as a poem, on which to stalk and speak about things. But he had jumped out of it—he had bidden himself away from the reader.

And even when and if he did take the bluebooks off the Remington and dusted the keys to type his words in merry, fat Pica—did he have to wave the matter to the world, to the rampaging bull of readers that snorts in small circles, inhuman and impatient to see his unlifted, furled and secret cape?’

Albert in Argentina


(I am printing this on the anniversary of Albert Camus’s visit to the Americas. A festival about his visit to New York City, Camus: A Stranger in the City, will be celebrated beginning today, March 26, to April 19, 2016, activities here.

I wrote this piece a long time ago, after reading a biography of Camus. His host in Argentina was Victoria Ocampo, Camus’s translator and friend of Borges; she was the publisher of the great magazine Sur, which published Borges’s stories. Camus and Borges met once, in Buenos Aires—but there is no record of it. [Whereas here is a picture of him with Derrida!]

Borges_DerridaBorges with Derrida in Buenos Aires.

Reading about Camus in Argentina, I was struck by the women—Victoria Ocampo and Silvina Ocampo [wife of Bioy Casares, co-writer of Domecq Bustos and a minor character in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”] being just two of them—prominent in postmodern literature; whereas Camus was a dying breed—a moralist. Camus was literally dying, of course: the descriptions of his suffering from tuberculosis were haunting; I think it is why I wrote this.)



She is the mistress of a frantic land—gold horses turning into green, loudly galloping as if colors had sounds; the brown brim of a huge secular hat (that was the pampas); and the dazzle of the heat exactly like that lasso that frisks the hispanic air and inspects nervous systems and the minute veins of one’s eyes.

But up close, the woman is sedate; severe even. It is the country that deceives him. He is deceived again, the way it is when he sees a kinetic mother, for instance, and instantly he imagines her children: volatile of mouth, flintlike. A land and its people. He has the primitive urge to impose one upon the other, as if geography has genetic functions. He knows that he, traveler, possesses the null features of the exile.

Her name is Victoria Ocampo. This meeting, one notes dutifully, has its famous predecessor. The meeting between another Albert and Victoria happened (and here the mind wanders) amid the smell of dog-hair and pomade (she of the hair and he of the pomade) and thick German curtains in the tasteless royal sala, while little Victoria’s governess breathes heavily, brocade against breast (Albert noticed).

Our dark Victoria with the quivering hair has nothing much in common with the dead Teutonic queen (her bucolic body and ruminant’s face—folly for any Argentine!) save their separate baptisms and the mild strain of the German. But the Alberts? The one who, in his old age, unsenile and versatile, conjured a crystal future, progressive as an ape; the other who lived the one’s future. Albert of Algeria, keeper of Nothing, our very own Crown Jewel.

One would think that this indolence, the South’s voluptuous inertia, would move him, for he is African. The sweet anomie of this carriage’s rocking, like a fly’s slow buzz in Oran. But—what was it?—forty milligrams of streptomycin?   A consumptive’s brooding aura is more than enough antihero for us—but to be a writer to boot! and a cigarette-wielding triumph, Gallic in name but African in truth! An embarrassment of riches!

But what lay at the core of this stranger is not thoughtful depravity, wartime metaphysics or midcentury terror. It’s this bleeding in the lungs. Cough cough. “It’s the flu,” he says. “I have a slight case,” in the demure demotic of his South, accent clanking among smiling Spanish eyes. Victoria clucks in Argentine: “Oh you poor dear.” She has a great-aunt’s gestures, plus a French chignon.

In sum, the Greeks called it suffering into truth. Albert fashioned its philosophy. Modern medicine called it tuberculosis.

Diplomatic conga lines in Rio, in Tegucigalpa. Scenic handshaking and speechmaking against Lake Titicaca, Angel Falls, the heights of Macchu Picchu and ruins of Cuzco, carvings from Ixtlan and Oaxaca, and little girls bearing flowers in Xochimilco: para el hombre simpatico. Use the decent vous. He marks the end of civilizaton, after all, le charmant Camus. So many wished to see him, speak, shake, caress, flatter, effloresce, spontanate, clitorize, fantasize: fuck. In New York, remember, Park Avenue matrons sending him bouquets? A thinking gangster. Humphrey Bogart of the French cabals. Simpatico. Stranger. Glory exhausted him, no wonder. Vanity strains against moral purpose. But no love for humanity arises from speculative hors-d’oeuvres.

The South irritates you, says Victoria. No no he says.   We are a tiring yet charming people: emptyheaded, full of heart. No no he says. Remember the rain in New York? South America, on the other hand, is tres fatiguant! All this sun! Like Algiers, he says weakly. No need to worry, she pats him on his hat, dark-brimmed, like his eyes. In La Plata, we will keep you in the compound, like a hermit, like a saint. Like a dying man, he says. Yes, she says, for she had translated him, after all: like a man with plague.

The latent malevolence of Mayan prophecies remained undisturbed while Albert’s thoughts were pluperfect, French-induced. In this time of murderers when a man has not loved if he has not dreamed of perpetual prison for his woman twice to have thought of suicide and once spectacularly women looking like water carriers from Kabyle so black so poor he loved the blacks though he had no idea who they were.

It was the flu. It was the fever of the bones. His head ached. He missed Maria. He watched soccer. He took walks in the rain. He fed pigeons. He said he was no existentialist seeing as he had never read the Germans such as Hegel. He missed Maria. He believed he was Spanish at heart, Algerian in his bones, and unfortunate in his lungs. But he never spoke anything but French. He smoked. Refugees from Franco’s Spain were at the top of his list of 100 great men. His lungs bled. He missed Maria.

The villa has plane trees, a European boulevard, a speckled-dappled entry into ease. Heliotropic heart. Or should one say lungs: these bloody blooms that feed on light. He turns toward it, photophiliac, the sun his own sanatorium, in and out among the leaves. Devoutly to be wished: at the moment. How his heart, it seems, doubles over as in both curtsy and caress before the sun. Horses simmer toward home. Activists sometimes live well, such as here in Buenos Aires, beyond the gloom of a dictatorship. Fried bananas, paella in alioli, chipotle in French dishes, Chateau Margaux. Eccentricity is aristocratic, but one can only go so far. All the desserts are Scottish. Albert grows fat on cream. Butterball. Victoria keeps editing, editing, editing his events, a veritable whirl of intellectual beauty. Thus he meets Borges, Jorge Luis: so he is filed in Dewey Decimal. In Borges’s library, Albert himself lags several entries behind. Blind man meets consumptive. Sisyphus, meet Domecq Bustos. Historic convergence. Borges is older. It turns out: he is fast fading into modernity. He can’t help it. He is an old-world gentleman with a stopwatch, growing younger as time lapses. Whereas, as we know, Our Hero is a fossil, The War’s Moral Watchman, intelligence in a temporal trap. Bell-jarred by his own petard. However, he is not yet aware of his obsolescence. He believes in flux, his body imitating a lust for life: necrotic juices cast like bloodstone among the living cells. But it is that which pulses that matters—nothing else is of consequence but what breathes. The beaches of Oran, the light of the sun. Borges smiles with the modesty of prophets, Tiresias-like: reserved courteous caballero. He survives while Albert is dying. Victoria takes a picture. Click click. For some reason no one mentions the event.


He plays cards, dances the tango. Ayayay, the paso doble: let him practice first. Grace on the floor, it is Mediterranean. Mambo de Midi. Samba only in the sun. Good principle. Better than dialectics. He keeps moving to the music, swaying, rhythm. See our philosopher dance! Reification of the twain: mens sano in corpore sano. Caseated tissues, cheeseballs, let them eat cake—lie in wait. This is not their time, step, step, triple step. His disease haunts him afterward, only in bed when the lights are out but the moon is argent. He writes letters. To Samba and Rumba. My dear Maria. Cough cough. He bleeds. He is bleeding. The fascinations of Buenos Aires are bleeding him dry. His prose, if we only knew it, is written in blood, but in school we are taught that is beside the point. Author is dead. French prognosis. And yet he stays in the retina, necrosis walking, dancing the rumba with life.




“If this is a symptom, then what is a country? A tumor of ideology?!”

From The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata

“[1]  Enough, Estrella, enough. All readers of history are prey to this revolutionary postscript—dueling memoirs that rose from the ashes of war. Magdiwang writers jumped the Magdalo to the gun: Artemio Ricarte and Santiago Alvarez, both Magdiwang, penned the first memoirs. Then that elegant stylist, Apolinario Mabini, damned Aguinaldo in sublime dudgeon. “Miong” Aguinaldo never recovered from Mabini’s prose style. It took him six decades before he published the Magdalo version of events (though before that the historian Agoncillo did function as ventriloquist). He was too late: by that time he was a villain, a schemer, and a murderer in the eyes of many. The point is: he became so not necessarily because of established fact but because he did not frame the narrative. The question of why Aguinaldo took so long to publish—the Mystery of The Tardy Memoir—is thought-provoking. On one hand, his image as villain was convenient to Americans, the actual combat enemy. The Magdiwang case, the vilifying of Aguinaldo, suited the eventual occupiers (which does not mean that Magdiwang statements were untrue). Aguinaldo’s memoirs show he was perhaps an insecure egoist who lent his instability to others’ schemes. At worst, he killed not only Bonifacio but also Luna. So the Interesting Case of the Dueling Revolutionary Memoirs may be no postmodern mystery; the first president is, as we suspect, less than a hero, and his tardy recollections may be tacit acknowledgment of his sins. This does not lessen the following fact: Estrella’s agony is symptomatic, a fantasist’s angst. The Supremo’s death inscribed trauma—it is the emblematic wound of all Filipinos betrayed by fellow Filipinos. (One notes that Aguinaldo, in turn, was betrayed, though unfortunately  for him not killed, by a Filipino turncoat in America’s pay.) This duplicitous sense of self, the Judas wound, marks the country’s notion of its humanity, so potent in its history. Only in the story of Rizal is there no Judas kiss, which may explain why, given the country’s complex aversion to the past, it clings to the hero with implacable ardor. Rizal’s death is simple: Spain killed him. Filipinos are not complicit in his blood. Emilio Aguinaldo, on the other hand, is troubling—he is the man in us whom we prefer not to see: the sinner in our midst who is ourselves. Just as we will never see Rizal as a man because we idolize him, we cannot see Aguinaldo as a man because we vilify him. (Dr. Diwata Drake, New York, New York, U.S.A.)

” [2]  Whoa, Aramis de Michigan. Calm down. (Trans. Note)

” [3]  Dr. Diwata, let me explain the physical nature of my ‘implacable ardor,’ as you call it—though you do not deserve my patience! I recall distinctly when my illness began. It was late in June in the year martial law was lifted by the tyrant, and yet the country was no more changed than I was by the proclamation. I was a freshman in college taking Philippine History and Institutions 101. I’d always been a bookworm, an idealist—yes, as you say, a fantasist. As a kid, I used to collect the posters of the heroes and labeled them with their corresponding epithets, because I was a nerd with weird compulsions. When I learned about the political assassination of the Plebeian Martyr by the men of the First President of the Republic, I was not only surprised that I had never heard about it before in my high school textbooks: I went into septic shock. My breathing froze in that room at Palma Hall Annex, and my asphyxiated shriek before I slumped sideways from the graffitied desk onto the lap of my blockmate, a pale, kind of palsied kid from Panay, made the entire classroom go still (or so I was told, as I had gone into abasic atrophy, a kind of failure of the nerves). I remember (or fancy I do) the ambulance, the brief blur of flame trees in my rolling vision, the concerned face of my professor (the bifocaled, unwitting perpetrator of my nervous wreckage), as I was strapped onto a trundle, given emergency respiratory help, a blood pump, and whatnot. My classmates waved at me as if calculating already whether or not they could take time off to go to my funeral. It was a minor seizure whose source the doctors could not fathom—whether I was epileptic, schistempsychotic, or just plain pathetic, it was a mystery to them. I returned home for the rest of the term, and in those months all history books, even komiks versions, were banned; but surreptitiously I read. By the end of the year I was back at college, but this time armed with the weight of history—not to mention all the kilos I had gained from provincial puto. In this way I became a vessel of the country’s pain, a small price to pay for truth. If this is a symptom, then what is a country? A tumor of ideology?! (Estrella Espejo, ditto)”

Some books to read after watching Heneral Luna

I see that there is a petition going around to get CHED to show Heneral Luna in schools. I’d say that should go with a list of books and texts to read on the revolution and especially the war against the Americans. Here would be my choices, apart from the usual suspects (Agoncillo textbooks, Rizal’s novels [must read], and so on). I read these doing research for The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata and for my new novel, William McKinley’s World, and I annotate a few of the books here. In my view, all of these books should be reprinted, if they are not online. CHED should reprint the out of print books.

Affairs in the Philippine Islands: U.S. Senate Hearings on the Philippines, 1902. This is available online:

These hearings begin with the testimony of William Howard Taft, the governor-general. This etext has a search function, so just search Aguinaldo or Paterno or Buencamino or Luna and see what Taft or Macarthur or Otis says about them. (Buencamino and Paterno were the leaders of the Federalistas—early collaborators with the Americans.) [oops, I lied: search function does not work.] Taft’s patronizing comments on Aguinaldo, in particular, make us understand how much our own revulsion toward Aguinaldo may also be constructed, partly, by American prejudice: very interesting. (Which is not to say that Aguinaldo does not deserve his sad place in history.) The senators ask Taft about the assassination of Luna: they believe that Aguinaldo has confessed to killing him; Taft disagrees. Etc. Interesting to hear abut these events from the enemy’s side. Arthur MacArthur also testifies (he has an interesting pompous, bombastic academic voice, like a teacher giving a lesson). It will be useful for students to see how modern-day Philippines was constructed by imperialists quite ignorant of the Philippines (and by a few nice racist anti-imperialists as well, equally ignorant). In this way, we might see how present-day self-loathing is also mirrored in the imperialists’ loathing of the Filipinos. Also, if we hear ourselves described in the words of racists, we might be able to understand the power of the colonial voice in us. Or, how much that racism shapes us. NOTE: Ironically, these hearings were convened after the scandal of the American atrocities in Samar. The aftermath of Jacob Howling Wilderness Smith’s “kill and burn” response to the Balangiga uprising resulted in the faux-‘investigations’ of the Lodge Commission and this set of hearings in 1902. Taft, A. MacArthur, Elwell Otis, etc testify, and so do many American soldiers who survived Balangiga, and so on. But no Filipino testifies: there is no Filipino voice in Affairs in the Philippine Islands.

Mabini, La Revolucion Filipina (The Philippine Revolution), available online:

Mabini is an extremely elegant writer (I moved from the Spanish to the English to read his memoir/histoire of the revolution), and I think he’s the best stylist on the revolution. My joke in Raymundo Mata is that Aguinaldo never recovered from Mabini’s prose style. Mabini absolutely cuts Aguinaldo in the memoir—his great pen is worse than a bolo knife. Apparently Mabini did not include his own doubts about Luna in his memoir (his doubts hinge though on Luna as a politician, not as a general): but he absolutely blames Aguinaldo for Luna’s death. What we must admire about Mabini is that he refused to pledge allegiance to the Americans; he got shipped to Guam instead. He and Ricarte are similar in that way—they chose exile over allegiance to the enemy.

Vivencio Jose, The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna, a juicy book that I have not reread. I read it long ago. This, I believe, is the definitive biography of Antonio Luna. (NOTE: I was the editor of a biography of Jose Cojuangco that mentions his aunt Ysidra Cojuangco’s rumored love affair with Luna; of course, the book debunks it, but also without evidence, just as the rumors of their affair have no evidence. I see the story of Ysidra as Ysabel in the movie to be seductive but not convincing; great for a movie though.)

Jose Alejandrino, The Price of Freedom. Alejandrino was an officer in the Luna Division, but he was also the brother of a great general under Aguinaldo, Joaquin. Alejandrino says he wasn’t salvaged along with the others in Luna’s circle because he believes Aguinaldo was afraid of making his brother Joaquin angry.

Santiago Alvarez, The Katipunan and the Revolution. This is the most comic among the revolutionary memoirs; its great details are amazingly pungent (therefore, some say, likely lies). But all the war memoirs must be taken with a grain of salt (or maybe bagoong). They were written years after the events, with, in my view, many traumatized memories, as the writers are men who lost their war, and their competing, dueling versions of who was the hero and who was not are part of the cost of our occupation, a symptom also, who knows, of our trauma. Alvarez was the son of the leader of the Magdiwang, Mariano Alvarez, related by marriage to Bonifacio. The Alvarez family took Bonifacio in when he escaped into Cavite. His memoir is in Tagalog, since he is Caviteño; it is translated by Paula Carolina Malay (wife of Armando Malay, I think). Santiago Alvarez has a great memory for stupid yet excellent details, such as a scene of diarrhea during a battle because they were so hungry they ate rotting watermelons.

Artemio Ricarte, Memoirs. Anything about or by Ricarte is worth reading. I do love how he ended up owning a turo-turo diner in japan. Or something like that.

Of course, Emilio Aguinaldo also wrote his memoirs (he wrote two, in fact), Mga Gunita and Saloobin; but each must be taken with a grain of bagoong.

Reynaldo Ileto, The Filipinos and Their Revolution, and Pasyon and Revolution. Indispensable for thinking about what the historian Ileto calls the ‘third realm,’ the peasant world of Christ-tropes and anting-anting faith that is one of the very few books that analyzes the revolution from below. It is important to recognize that the history of the revolution we are normally taught is an ilustrado history: it is history from above. And to teach the revolution, we need to be aware of our own class consciousness, and the class ideologies inherent in the way history has been written. The Manila-consciousness, of course, is a given: that Manila-fantasy aspect of our history should also be part of our awareness in teaching the revolution. Ileto does many things that deconstruct such fantasies; in the process, of course, like anyone else, he creates his own. But that, too, is a given: it is a part of the neurotic, ordinary braid of writing about history, a hazard of the revolution.

Resil Mojares, The Brains of the Revolution. Among others, Mojares casts a sympathetic gaze on Pedro Paterno (even as he recognizes, of course, this buffoon’s huge faults), and while I disagree that we need to waste any time on sympathizing in any way with Paterno, who had an amazing propensity for betraying the revolution while ostensibly allying himself with it [a truly weird guy whom Rizal mocks in code in one of his journals, and the one moment in Helen Taft’s racist memoir of her years in the Philippines that I kind of nodded at was her laughing over Paterno’s obsequiousness], Mojares’s judicious common sense is necessary in any list of books on any topic on the Philippines.

Simeon Villa, Aguinaldo’s Odyssey. Simeon Villa was a doctor in Aguinaldo’s army as it fled north after the defeat at Malolos; Villa was captured with Aguinaldo in Palanan. His diary was thus captured by the Americans as well, and it is one of the documents in the Philippine Revolutionary Records. It also exists in J.R.M. Taylor’s extremely annoying translated volume The Philippine Insurrection Against the United States. I read through that volume in the New York Public Library, and Taylor’s ignorant annotations on the Philippines are nauseating, more so because he was the translator of our story. In any case Villa is not a very good writer, or at least he is not an emotional one—an odd thing, as General Villa is the father of the poet Jose Garcia Villa (Villa the poet hated his dad, however—which is a different story). But Dr. Villa’s narrative is important because it documents the barefoot, scarring travails of the last dregs of the desperate troops of Aguinaldo, hunted relentlessly by the men of Arthur MacArthur, in particular the implacable Javert-like fiend, Fred Funston (I imagine Funston like a pirate, with a patch in his eye). In Villa’s rather autistic voice, the ilustrado nature of the Filipino officers remains problematic, but even so, his diary is terribly sad—it ends right on the date of their capture: with an eerie lack of foreknowledge. As far as I know, Villa’s book is the only extant memoir written during the war.

Orlino Ochosa, The Tinio Brigade: Anti-American Resistance in the Ilocos Provinces. This is a good companion volume with William Henry Scott’s on the Ilocanos. Someone should make a movie of Manuel Tinio. He is one of the revolution’s most successful generals. He was on the boat with Aguinaldo back from Hong Kong, but he was actually only eighteen when he joined the war against Spain. But he was such an able general he soon took charge of the northern army against the Americans. He surrendered to the Americans after Aguinaldo was captured. Note how no one knows much about Tinio—the heroes of the American war are not enshrined the way the Spanish war heroes were. I imagine one reason might be the fact that they became politicians after the war. Tinio did not write a memoir.

William Henry Scott, Ilocano Responses to American Aggression. Scott is very meticulous and gives a good survey of the peasants, the towns, the provinces, and the heroes and the enemy occupiers in the Filipino-American war. It is a good book for recognizing the daily life but also the high stakes in the war—that we began as an anti-imperialist nation—and our loss in that war brands us, sears us, so much so that we have forgotten that war. At the end of his book, Scott muses on that fascinating gap—the lack of memoirs detailing our war against the Americans. Filipinos do not write the story. None of the heroic northerners in Scott’s book wrote their memoirs—most wrenching would have been Manuel Tinio’s memoir: perhaps the most honorable and successful among the Filipino generals in Scott’s book. The paragraph on his surrender to the Americans is heartbreaking. But Tinio never wrote his own story down. Scott notes that one great revolutionary against the Americans, Juan Villamor, wrote an unpublished chronicle, Inedita Cronica de la Guerra Americana-Filipina en el Norte de Luzon, 1899-1901, but even that unfinished chronicle, projected to be three parts, has part 1 and part 3 but not part 2: the section on battles against the Americans. The only Filipino-American war memoir that exists intact is Simeon Villa’s. Even the very talkative memoirist Santiago Alvarez, for instance, does not talk much about the battles against the Americans—he focuses on his time with Bonifacio, and he ends with some funny addenda on the colorum; Ricarte focuses on the Bonifacio period as well, with some huge swaths of (I imagine justified) vitriol against Aguinaldo. The lack of emphasis on the Americans in the movie Heneral Luna is just one more war story that for some reason cannot address adequately that imperial war, as if the American war is an undigested, indigestible bitter pill that we have yet to swallow in the story of the making of our nation. The tendency in history is to move on quickly into the Quezon era, and then World War 2, when America is our unedited hero. It’s a weird gap in the Philippine story, the American war.

Albert Sonnichsen, Ten Months a Captive in the Philippines. Very interesting book on being a prisoner in Aguinaldo’s army. His book would also make a good movie. Some excellent details on daily life in the revolutionary provinces. It is available online:

Sonnichsen was a fairly liberal-leaning man (still has racist traces, though) who was captured in Malolos. He was a kid from Oakland, CA, part Danish. The book’s trope is that of a white man taken by the natives (like those American tales of being kidnapped by Native Americans). In captivity, he meets some key figures like Juan Villamor, teaches English to a mayor, learns Spanish from his fellow prisoners (some Spanish POWs), watches a revolutionary fiesta, eats a lot of bibingka, and so on. Some very moving scenes in the book, such as when a Filipino mother feeds him and asks him about how Americans treat their prisoners—turns out her son was captured by the Americans. Sonnichsen’s papers are in the New York Public Library, and he ended up joining the independence rebels in Macedonia after his capture in the Philippines. Wondered if his time captured by revolutionaries made him join a different war.

Alfred McCoy, Policing America’s Empire. This gives devastating light on why the revolution so spectacularly failed—trust me, it is not our fault. It is also not Aguinaldo’s fault. Our self-loathing is misplaced. The brutal counterinsurgency and policing methods of the Americans were abominable, relentless, rapacious, outrageous. Scandal-making and spying and ferreting out blackmail-worthy secrets on postwar katipuneros are only a few of the sidelights that explain why the stories of the American war do not exist. People were hounded into silence, collaboration, allegiance, and so on. Of course, many were likely going to be venal anyway, like Quezon (he seems to have been a spy, more or less, or at least a well-groomed informant, for the infamous U.S. constabulary chief of Manila, Bandholtz). Quezon especially does not go down well in this book; but nobody does. But the fact is, the venality of any Filipino intriguero in the American years must be balanced with the implacable policing system that both anticipates the Marcos era but also creates it. The spy, policing, and military system of the Americans is inextricable from its effects: even though one may also see that that past system may not be the direct cause of our current state and atrocities, the thread is indelible. If one split our history in half, with the American era (up to 1946) on one side and folded the other half (1946 and beyond) over it, we’d simply be creating a mirror montage: the American era facing the post-American era, and the spy and military structures of each would mirror the other: the corrupt and relentlessly self-serving age of the American occupation is embalmed in the failed forms of governance we know now.

The Unintended is in an Irish anthology, reviewed in The Independent, an Irish newspaper.

“These two diverse and compelling collections represent the finest talent in contemporary writing and editorial guidance in a world where homeland is mutable, distance is relative, identity is fluid and exile is never far away.”

Read the full article here.

Finished a draft, but the wrong one. The Unintended

is done. At least its first full draft. (I ended up finishing the wrong novel, not William McKinley’s World. Oh well. Still working on that.) A place holder website on some matters that come up in the novel right here. Yep, it includes Elvis. And Muhammad Ali. And Gus, the polar bear of Central Park zoo. And the stories of six women moved by loss. And, of course, Balangiga, which I know too much about. Finishing a novel is like shedding research notes, fact after fact, coming off like scabs.!articles-of-war-articles-of-interest/c1wiq


I talk a lot about language in this interview about Gun Dealers’ Daughter

because, in my view, a writer’s job is to recognize reflexivity constantly: to wonder why it is we use the words we do. And for a Filipino, that angst is vital: because with our multiple tongues, the fact that a human is a translated being, a split self divided by words, is always in our face.

Thanks to Rowan Hisayo Buchanan of Asian American Writers Workshop. Listen to the interview here. Best perhaps to use the subtitles tool. It is on the roof deck of my apartment building, and we did not realize how noisy the airplanes would be. Also, I hate my hair! It’s ugly. I should have had my haircut before, not after, the interview!