‘The House of True Desire’: Afterthoughts

The House of True Desire: Essays on Life and Literature. Cirilo F. Bautista.
University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011.

The House of True Desire. Cirilo F. Bautista. University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011.
The House of True Desire. Cirilo F. Bautista. University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011.

There is a relation between the life of a literary piece and the allotment of power in society. The essays in this collection form an image of the writer as one who is essentially rooted in the country’s political conditions. However, the meaning of this rootedness is not always self-evident. The entanglement of standards of literariness with social forces is not necessarily always allusive to the doctrine that society’s material conditions of production are determinative of literary production.

Cirilo Bautista’s collection contemplates a notion that political conditions do not always preclude the freedom of the consciousness of the writer. The will-to-imagine, so to speak, is not entirely a function of the will-to-power.

The philosopher Baruch Spinoza said that if rocks were capable of thinking, and if one was thrown at a certain trajectory, it would believe that this trajectory was a product of its volition. If writers are these rocks, it is history — the critical schools of thought tell us — that does the throwing. And consciousness, being enmeshed in material conditions of production, fails to account the action of history, and instead assigns the cause of its trajectory (in various political, sexual, academic, or artistic endeavors) to a vacuity — in short, to the freedom of the will.

Cirilo Bautista’s essays conceive a kind of clearing in this chain of determinations. The House of True Desire, a collection of the author’s writings from his column in Panorama magazine, “Breaking Signs”, does not explicitly articulate this theme. But it is present in the book’s overall tenor. He never tires of cataloguing political problems of the nation along with the articulation of a poetics. The author’s own experience of poverty and his outlook of it as a spectator inform his views on the inextricable connection of literature and society, and it is the writer’s manipulation of signs that is key to the writer’s active stance in the world of necessity.

The relentless correlation of a poem’s “linguistic environment” with the immediacy of reality in all its fleshliness is not always apparent. “We seek in literature what we cannot find in life, and in life what literature promises,” he says. In “Literature and Suffering”, he adopts a Nietzschean-romantic perspective which views art as the distillation of all the pain endured by the artist. But our perspective of literature must go beyond this view. To see the “best words in the best order” as merely a distillation of experience is to limit the writer’s role as a container and to see any piece of literature as merely an indication and product of the Zeitgeist.

Bautista talks about “signifiers”, “linguistic space”, and “private transactions” between the reader and the poem as though literature is strictly a textual affair, with the sole motivation of the reader being “delectation”, a deeply private and intimate subjective experience with the piece. His reviews of Jose Garcia Villa, for instance, reveal how the poet’s manipulation of signs can radically alter the imaginative capacity of the reader. However, one cannot deny that extra-poetic considerations haunt Bautista’s reflections. Read between the lines and you will feel the author’s longing for a more active stance that goes beyond “delectation”—what is the role of literature in government, for instance?

The question of “social relevance” is not a Philippine-style self-reflexive dilemma of our local literary community. It is an ancient question which the Greeks asked themselves. While some may frown at Plato’s view of poetry as a danger to the stability of the republic, one can receive this condemnation with a different attitude—that is, as an inadvertent form of flattery. It highlights the poet’s social importance and conceives of poetry as a potent agent of political change.

The author, however, is suspicious of any critical agenda in the creative process. Bautista does not advise the young writer to try to change society with a literary piece, and seems to capitulate to the statement that the sword, after all, is mightier than the pen. My suspicion, however, is that the author wants literature to change society in the manner that religion does—that is to say, by way of the soul. —Russell Stanley Geronimo,

*Thanks are due to Mr. Carljoe Javier of University of Santo Tomas Publishing House for generously providing a review copy of this book.

Ran: The Death of God

The theme of the death of God has nothing to do with God. It has everything to do with humans and what happens to them on earth. It is not a religious assertion, but a declaration of a mood—the mood of modernity, which we also find in other lines from other writings, including William Butler Yeats’ “Things fall apart” or Karl Marx’s “All that is solid melts into air“. It heralds the coming of nihilism. Fernando Pessoa said that we are slaves to the gods whether or not they exist. This is how Nietzsche’s “God is dead” ought to be received: not as a question of belief about the reality of the deity, but as an articulation of the human condition in modernity. This is not the time to debate about Aquinas’ theological proofs. God, whether or not you believe in him, is an issue we have to deal with. But the philosophical dimension of this issue is essentially un-theological and anthropocentric—it is predominantly a human issue. Insofar as the idea of God is a projection of human wishes, as the writings of Ludwig Feuerbach tell us, our relation to God (or to the idea of a God or gods) mirrors the state of human reality. Hence, the philosophy of the “death of God” is also an exercise in self-consciousness.

[Read the rest in Interlineal.]

Painlessly instructed: Notes on The Consolations of Philosophy

“Our experiences and beliefs are liable frequently to be dismissed with a quizzical, slightly alarmed, ‘Really? How weird!’, accompanied by a raised eyebrow, amounting in a small way to a denial of our legitimacy and humanity,” writes Alain de Botton in his book, The Consolations of Philosophy.  He then, in commiseration, talks about Montaigne, who, by learning the beliefs and behaviors of people from other regions through travelling and reading, “could gain legitimacy for parts of himself of which there was no evidence in the vicinity—the Roman parts, the Greek parts, the sides of himself that were more Mexican and Tupi than Gascon, the parts that would have liked to have six wives or have a shaved back or wash twelve times a day…”

The Consolations of Philosophy essentially does two things: provide the titular consolation and exhibit the practicability of Philosophy.  The common problems of man are presented and corresponding philosophers—their lives and views—are considered to discuss each of them.  The table of contents will give you the impression that you’re about to read a self-help book.  It says Consolations for in the heading and the chapters underneath are Unpopularity, Not Having Enough Money, Frustration, Inadequacy, A Broken Heart and Difficulties.  And it is a self-help book.

[Read the rest in Interlineal.]