October 31, 2014 
 
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Philippine Literature in the Post-War and Contemporary Period
Francis C. Macansantos
Priscilla S. Macansantos
Articles
       Published in 1946, Ginto Sa Makiling - a novel by Macario Pineda, is the first work of note that appeared after the second world war. In plot, it hews close to the mode of romantic fantasy traceable to the awits, koridos and komedyas of the Balagtas tradition. But it is a symbolical narrative of social, moral and political import. In this, it resembles not only Balagtas but also Rizal, but in style and plot it is closer to Balagtas in not allowing the realistic mode to restrict the element of fantasy.

       Two novels by writers in English dealt with the war experience: (Medina, p. 194) Stevan Javellana’s Without Seeing the Dawn (1947), and Edilberto Tiempo’s Watch in the Night. Both novels hew closely to the realist tradition. Lazaro Francisco, the eminent Tagalog novelist of the pre-war years, was to continue to produce significant work. He revised his Bayaning Nagpatiwakal (1932), refashioning its plot and in sum honing his work as a weapon against the policies that tended to perpetuate American economic dominance over the Philippines. The updated novel was titled Ilaw Sa Hilaga (1948) (Lumbera, p. 67). He was to produce three more novels. Sugat Sa Alaala (1950) reflects the horrors of the war experience as well as the human capacity for nobility, endurance and love under the most extreme circumstances. Maganda Pa Ang Daigdig (1956) deals with the agrarian issue, and Daluyong (1962) deals with the corruption bred by the American-style and American-educated pseudo-reformers. Lazaro Francisco is a realist with social and moral ideals. The Rizal influence on his work is profound.

       The poet Amado Hernandez, who was also union leader and social activist, also wrote novels advocating social change. Luha ng Buwaya (1963) (Lumbera) deals with the struggle between the oppressed peasantry and the class of politically powerful landlords. Mga Ibong Mandaragit (1969) deals with the domination of Filipinos by American industry (Lumbera, p. 69).

       Unfortunately, the Rizalian path taken by Lazaro Francisco and Amado Hernandez with its social-realist world-view had the effect of alienating them from the mode of the highly magical oral-epic tradition. Imported social realism (and, in the case of Amado Hernandez, a brand of socialist empiricism), was not entirely in touch with the folk sentiment and folk belief, which is why the Tagalog romances (e.g., Ginto Sa Makiling, serialized in the comics), were far more popular than their work.

       It was Philippine Literature in English which tapped the folk element in the Philippine unconscious to impressive, spectacular effect. Nick Joaquin, through his neo-romantic, poetic and histrionic style, is reminiscent of the dramas of Balagtas and de la Cruz. His dizzying flashbacks (from an idealized romantic Spanish past to a squalid Americanized materialistic present) are cinematic in effect, ironically quite Hollywood-ish, serving always to beguile and astonish.

       Francisco Arcellana, his younger contemporary, was a master of minimalist fiction that is as native as anything that could be written in English, possessing the potent luminosity of a sorcerer’s rune.

       Wilfrido Nolledo, fictionist-playwright growing up in the aura of such masters, was the disciple who, without conscious effort, created a school of his own. His experiments in plot and plotlessness, his creation of magical scenes, made splendorous by a highly expressive language, easily became the rage among young writers who quickly joined (each in his/her own highly original style) the Nolledo trend. Among these poetic fictionists of the 1960’s were Wilfredo Pasqua Sanchez, Erwin Castillo, Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Resil Mojares, Leopoldo Cacnio and Ninotchka Rosca. Of them all, only the last two did not publish verse. Their non-realistic (even anti-realistic) style made them perhaps the most original group of writers to emerge in the post-war period. But such a movement that slavishly used the American colonists’ language (according to the Nationalist, Socialist Tagalog writers who were following A.V. Hernandez) were called decadent (in the manner of Lukacsian social realism).

       Post-war poetry and fiction was dominated by the writers in English educated and trained in writers’ workshops in the United States or England. Among these were the novelists Edilberto and Edith Tiempo (who is also a poet), short-fictionist Francisco Arcellana, poet-critic Ricaredo Demetillo, poet-fictionist Amador Daguio, poet Carlos Angeles, fictionists N.V.M. Gonzales and Bienvenido N. Santos. Most of these writers returned to the Philippines to teach. With their credentials and solid reputations, they influenced the form and direction of the next generation mainly in accordance with the dominant tenets of the formalist New Critics of America and England.

       Even literature in the Tagalog-based national language (now known as Filipino) could not avoid being influenced or even (in the critical sense) assimilated. College-bred writers in Filipino like Rogelio Sikat and Edgardo Reyes saw the need to hone their artistry according to the dominant school of literature in America of that period, despite the fact that the neo-Aristotelian formalist school went against the grain of their socialist orientation. Poet-critic Virgilio Almario (1944- ), a.k.a. Rio Alma, in a break-away move reminiscent of Alejandro Abadilla, and in the formalist (New Critical) mode then fashionable, bravely opined that Florante at Laura, Balagtas’ acknowledged masterpiece, was an artistic failure (Reyes, p. 71-72). It was only in the early 1980’s (Reyes, p. 73) that Almario (after exposure to the anti-ethnocentrism of structuralism and Deconstruction) revised his views.

       The protest tradition of Rizal, Bonifacio and Amado Hernandez found expression in the works of Tagalog poets from the late 1960’s to the 1980’s, as they confronted Martial Law and repression. Among these liberationist writers were Jose Lacaba, Epifanio San Juan, Rogelio Mangahas, Lamberto Antonio, Lilia Quindoza, and later, Jesus Manuel Santiago. The group Galian sa Arte at Tula nurtured mainly Manila writers and writing (both in their craft and social vision) during some of the darkest periods of Martial Law.

       Meanwhile, behind the scenes on the printed page, oral literature flourished in the outlying communities. Forms of oral poetry like the Cebuano Balak, the Ilokano Bukanegan, the Tagalog Balagtasan, and the Samal Tinis-Tinis, continued to be declaimed by the rural-based bards, albeit to dwindling audiences. In the late 1960’s, Ricaredo Demetillo had, using English (and English metrics) pioneered a linkage with the oral tradition. The result was the award-winning Barter in Panay, an epic based on the Ilonggo epic Maragtas. Inspired by the example, other younger poets wrote epics or long poems, and they were duly acclaimed by the major award-giving bodies. Among these poets were writers in English like Cirilo Bautista (The Archipelago, 1968), Artemio Tadena (Northward into Noon, 1970) and Domingo de Guzman (Moses, 1977).

       However, except for Demetillo’s modern epic, these attempts fall short of establishing a linkage with the basic folk tradition. Indeed, most are more like long meditative poems, like Eliot’s or Neruda’s long pieces. Interest in the epic waned as the 1980’s approached. The 1980’s became a decade of personalistic free verse characteristic of American confessional poetry. The epic "big picture" disappeared from the scene, to be replaced by a new breed of writers nourished by global literary sources, and critical sources in the developed world. The literary sources were third world (often nativistic) poetry such as that of Neruda, Vallejo and Octavio Paz. In fiction, the magic-realism of Borges, Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie, among others, influenced the fiction of Cesar Aquino, Alfred Yuson, and poet-fictionist Mario Gamalinda.

       On the other hand, the poets trained in American workshops continue to write in the lyrical-realist mode characteristic of American writing, spawned by imagism and neo-Aristotelianism. Among these writers (whose influence remains considerable) are the poet-critics Edith L. Tiempo, Gemino Abad, Ophelia A. Dimalanta and Emmanuel Torres. Their influence can be felt in the short lyric and the medium-length meditative poem that are still the Filipino poet’s preferred medium. Some contemporary poets in English such as Marjorie Evasco and Merlie Alunan, derive their best effects from their reverence for the ineluctable image. Ricardo de Ungria’s and Luisa Aguilar Cariño’s poems, on the other hand, are a rich confluence of imagism, surrealism and confessionalism.

       The Philippine novel, whether written in English or any of the native languages, has remained social-realist. Edgardo Reyes’ Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1966), for instance, is a critique of urban blight, and Edilberto K. Tiempo’s To Be Free is a historical probe of the western idea of freedom in the context of indigenous Philippine culture. Kerima Polotan Tuvera’s novel The Hand of the Enemy (1972), a penetratingly lucid critique of ruling-class psychology, is entirely realistic, if Rizalian in its moments of high satire, although unlike the Rizalian model, it falls short of a moral vision.

       Only a few novelists like Gamalinda, Yuson and Antonio Enriquez, can claim a measure of success in tapping creative power from folk sources in their venture to join the third world magic-realist mainstream.

       But the poets of oral-folk charisma, such as Jose Corazon de Jesus, are waiting in the wings for a comeback as astonishing as Lam-ang’s legendary resurrection. Modernist and post-modernist criticism, which champions the literature of the disempowered cultures, has lately attained sufficient clout to shift the focus of academic pursuits towards native vernacular literatures (oral and written) and on the revaluation of texts previously ignored, such as those by women writers. Sa Ngalan Ng Ina (1997), by prize-winning poet-critic Lilia Quindoza Santiago, is, to date, the most comprehensive compilation of feminist writing in the Philippines.  

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About the Authors:
Francis C. Macansantos is a Palanca Literary Award veteran winning first prize for poetry in 1989 with UP Press publishing his book "The Words and Other Poems" in 1997.
Priscilla S. Macansantos has won in the 1998 Palanca Literary Awards for her poetry "Departures" and is now an Associate Professor at the University of the Philippines.
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