Someone somewhere has long been wondering: does Philippine literature exist?

Yes and no.

If by literature one means the existence of a culture of writing, Filipinos have a literary tradition. One only has to look at the sundry literary awards in the country, the Palanca foremost among them, and compare such harvest with the state of literature in nearby suppressed societies like Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea, and he'll find abundant proof of what it is to have no writing trends simply because the powers that be forbid the self-expression of the masses out of fear the status quo may be imperiled.

In the Philippines, self-expression has long been encouraged, which guarantees that Philippine writing is here to stay even if nobody reads it.

six novels to read

six novels to read

Words by Filipinos: Philippine Novels to Read

Which takes us to the second argument that, no, Philippine literature does not exist because nobody reads it. If by literature one means the knowledge of a people about their continuing revolution based on how the intellectuals animate the struggles of the national soul, then Philippine literature only lives in the hearts of Filipino writers, who are the only ones who read or buy Philippine literature. An unread literature is no literature.

Why do Filipinos not read Philippine literature?

Many an English professor, particularly the writer ones, have blamed themselves and their kind on the belief that they have not made Philippine literature captivating enough for the public; hence, public disinterest. This scenario brings to mind the rejected lover who wallows in self-pity: "It must be me."

So the jilted lover either reinvents himself (and may hang himself if the makeover did not work) or accepts himself for who he is and waits for acceptance by someone else, without changing one bit his innate identity.

It is easy for any sympathizer of Philippine literature to applaud the Filipino writer who sticks to who he is and what he can inherently do. That is tenacity, which is always praiseworthy.

What is not easy for the sympathizer is to put himself on the shoes of the departing lover and ponder what she may suggest, if at all her opinion is asked about the makeover. This is hard because the departing lover may not really care at all, her heart having been won by another.

I will not pretend to be a total sympathizer of Filipino writers, but let me try to put myself in the suggester's shoes in my capacity as a reader:

I will tell the Filipino fictionist to be less wordy. This is because when I read, I am, above all else, after the plot, not after the prose style. The prose style I will relish only in the dramatic scenes. Most of the time, I would prefer action, motion, life unfolding—not thoughts unfolding.

Which brings me to my next request: more dialogues. I want an exchange between two or more, not one, persons. Self-talk or internal discourse I can manage to conjure myself based on the actual words of the characters. Indeed, one reason many short stories in the Philippines Free Press seem (just seem) dead and vapid even when they may be, on a deeper analysis, brilliant is because the total number of the characters' speaking lines reflects the number of honest officials in Philippine government.

Indeed, one problem with Philippine literature is the preoccupation with style more than plot. I recall "Faith, Love, Time, and Dr. Lazaro," my favorite Filipino short story written by Gregorio Brillantes, and “The Cop and the Anthem,” my favorite American short story written by O. Henry.

Both talk about lost faith, but “The Cop and the Anthem” entertains me more along the way—it's fewer words and more action. Funny actions, I may add. I might even go so far as to say it's humor that's absent in many Filipino shorts. Perhaps because funny stories are not wont to win awards? But that may be inaccurate.

On the whole I believe there is nothing terribly wrong with the Filipino writer. In my heart of hearts, fuck 'em readers. If the Filipino writer is wordy, let him be. If the Filipino seems (just seems) more inclined to uphold style over plot, let him be. Maybe because he has acted out more plots than style in this too-free country, so he wants it differently on paper. To each his own culture.

Going back to the question: Why do Filipinos not read Philippine literature?

More than taste and proclivity, this thing about the nonreading Filipino is, of course, really the result of economics and technology. Economics as Filipinos cannot afford books, and technology because they have other things to do--as usual.

The best-selling Filipino book is not even pure literature, it's a semigossip book called The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos, written by Carmen Navarro Pedrosa and published in 1969 (copies are still available occasionally at the National Bookstore). Technology . . . well, didn't the oral tradition itself die with the invention of the Aramaic alphabet? This is not just a nonreading country, this is now a nonreading universe—there are hordes of nonreaders even in the richest countries.

But kahit papano, there are still people who read, never mind their small number. Most likely these few readers are the useful members of their societies. Civic movers and shakers of most countries--a clear minority--are apt to have digested their own literature as crafted by their writers. Only such readers might have fathomed the human condition in their society, but their position suffices them for the tasks of leading their fellows to the right direction.

Being an influence to these reading movers and shakers should be one reason for writers to find meaning in their existence. In fact, it is the one reason most worth having.

Source: "A reason to live" on Re-posted without permission. Magpakita ka, Ryan. ;) - Michelle



A list of Philippine novels, in English and Filipino, that students are reading in a literature elective at De La Salle University, Manila. 

Banana Heart Summer by Merlinda Bobis

Mga Prodigal ni Luna Sicat Cleto 

Lumbay ng Dila ni Genevieve Asenjo 

Ang Banal na Aklat ng mga Kumag ni Allan Derain 

Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog ni Edgar Calabia Samar 

Different Countries ni Clarissa Militante


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