The video is in honor of poets from Leyte and Samar. It was terrible, in the days after the storm, to hear silence from my friends, the Waray poets, on Facebook. I realized, if one of these poets disappear, we lose a culture. So I wished to read Waray poems when asked to contribute for a typhoon fundraiser by Asian American Writers Workshop. Voltaire is from my mom’s hometown, Barugo—he’s a lyrical writer who puns and plays with Waray and boldly uses the every day to create meaning. Here’s from a review I wrote of his poetry:
The rich use of verbals throughout this collection is not just incidentally an aspect of the Waray; these are also the poet’s choices. These voluptuously lucid portraits of the Waray by verbs occur because of Oyzon/Araza’s aesthetic: he believes that our ordinary lives are powerful, and the power of the ordinary is the arena of art. Verbs are the snapshot of that individuation, conjugating, dividing and splicing time and moments, establishing the concrete absolutely. Oyzon does this well. His poetry makes apparent and transparent the nature of our language, which is, of course, our self. And this is why an maupay hini nga koleksyon an paggamit ni Oyzon hin Waray: maabtik, nakakapanguga, pataraw-an, mahinumdumon. [the good thing about this collection is Oyzon/Araza’s use of Waray: shrewd, astonishing, amusing, reflective]
Truth is concrete, says Brecht, quoting Lenin who was quoting Hegel quoting St Augustine. And to me Fiction is the house of concrete that builds truth. I am honored by this prize from PEN America because of the support PEN gives to writers around the world building that house of truth that is art. I’d like to thank the judges for choosing this unknown book about acts of revolution in the Philippines. I’d like to thank Kirby Kim and Denise Scarfi and everyone at Norton. Most of all, I’d like to thank my family, Ken and Nastasia, who understand that there is not only one way to be revolutionary—that art is a form of activism. Lastly, I’d like to share this prize with my late husband, Arne Tangherlini, the first reader of this novel. He taught me how Gramsci had read Karl Marx—how our human need to make art is reason to seek revolution in the first place.
You will read Gun Dealers’ Daughter wondering where Gina Apostol novels have been all these years (in the Philippines, it turns out). You will feel sure (and you will be correct) that you have discovered a great fiction writer in the midst of making literary history. Gun Dealers’ Daughter is a story of young people who rebel against their parents, have sex with the wrong people, and betray those they should be most loyal to. At its essence this is a coming of age novel, albeit one where rebellion is part of a national revolution and where sex with another girl’s boyfriend leads to assassination. This is coming of age in the 1980s, Philippine dictatorship style, where college students are killed for their activism. The telling is fractured, as are the times. The reveal of information happens in a nonlinear manner, reflective of the mental breakdown suffered by the main character, Sol. We flip between Manila, where Sol is in school, and New York, where she goes to escape the madness that she has done and that has been done to her. Through this novel we see how fiction can scrape out a future, demand a re-look at the past—it is a reckoning kind of book. Not only does this novel make an argument for social revolution, it makes an argument for the role of literature in revolution—the argument being that literature can be revolution.
It strikes me that Proust, who died in 1922, five years before this volume Time Regained was finally edited and published—and who died almost two decades before World War 2—was prescient about the effects on the Germans of their defeat in the first world war. He throws his sympathy in the voice of Charlus, his evil but magnificent counter-self in In Search of Lost Time. I am wondering now if part of the power of Proust upon his European readers was this sense of a voice coming from the grave—this odd Jewish homosexual who became a ghostlike prophet and premonition of the horrors of insane, implacable prejudice that would arise in World War 2.
I take a break today from reading news about my hometown Tacloban, and escape from the mess of this dratted cancer, by reading Proust. November 22, 2013. And I guess it is fifty years since JFK died, the year of my birth.
Proust notes Charlus’s mercy for Germany as an aspect of his Charlusism: his homosexual desire for lovers who torture him. Germans are not the beautiful lovers who torture him: Germans are ugly to him (just as he is ugly to his beautiful lovers). Thus, by defending “ugly” Germans at end of world war 1, it must be Charlus is showing some occult mercy to himself somehow. But Proust does not mention that conclusion.
I turn to Proust in the middle of the heartbreak of Typhoon Yolanda that decimates Tacloban, and in the middle of chemotherapy for this dratted cancer, November 10, 2013.