I revisited Nick Joaquin, (1917-2004), by reading his 1960 novel, ‘The Woman Who Had Two Navels’ as my encounter with his short story ‘ The Legend of the Virgin’s Jewel’, in 1967, a must read in our English composition in high school, left me a faint imagery of the goatherd who offered milk to the viper to appease its ravenous spirit because at that time I was more preoccupied with teenage fling than looking into the jewels myself hidden in the artifacts of Quijano de Manila’s literary prose. I have searched for the book last week, but I found none, instead I found ‘The Woman’.
I finished the book in two days. ‘The ‘Woman’ enthralled me with the imagery of Manila before the war and its ruins after the war, the smoke of the ruins and the lives consumed by it, the conflicted characters, their dreams, vanity and vulgarity, corruption, salvation, and the woman who had to indulge in self-delusion of having two navels to avoid the realities of a sheltered but tormented past.
This novel also brings the reader to the countrysides; the Tirad Pass defended by few gallant rebolusyonaro who gave their lives to protect the fledgling and fleeing Republic to the mountains from the pursuing Yanquis. You hear the rivulet of the stream down below the pass, smell the trees and feel the hunger and anxiety of the defenders of the pass, their pain; their death. His pen changes focus at will without losing his reader; confronts you with a rebolusyonaryo remnant exiled in Hongkong living in decrepit tenement and dreamed of coming back home to the country he loved. Your nostril is seared by the steamy side of Hongkong, its ruckus harbor, its storm, its aureoled dawn and you hear the sound and smell the smokes of crackling firecrackers that heralded the full moon of Chinese New Year and contaminated by the jubilation of the revelers, then he shifts gear to let you feel the chill of ferry passengers and the fog that slowly consumes them, and flashback again to his main character’s self-indulging lies, to save herself from realities or face destruction.
The vivid descriptions of events, places and people were self-riveting and the philosophy astonishing that only a Mr. Joaquin and his contemporary serious writers can deliver.
We have produced renown writers, essayists, novelists, and poets like Bienvenido Santos, F. Sionil Jose, NVM Gonzalez, Manuel Arguilla, Apolinario Mabini, Jose Rizal, and Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, just to name a few because our elder generations took pains in learning grammar, syntax and prose. But we are totally strangers to them, complacent as we are to the cheap imitations we mistake for superior works in today’s newspapers and shallow analysis of our TV commentators. Gradually, we lose our glorious past and forget that our forebears had tried to paint in our souls our identity as a people, our common bond, our struggles.
To F. Sionil Jose, “We can only be a strong nation if we are bounded together by racial memory, by the sublime history that has sustained us and made us endure. If only all of us recognize it”.
Our new generation after our great forebears tethered themselves into learning the equivalent of a “one-night-stand” cultural exposition and become instant “jejemoners” or plain lazy “cut-and-paste artists” presenting the literary genius of others as their own.
In 2009, Carlos J. Caparas was named National Artist for Visual Arts and Film. He was the writer of the Telenovela ‘Totoy Bato’, featuring Robin Padilla which theme was directly lifted from three foreign films, ‘The Terminator’ (starring Shwarzenegger), ‘Troy’ (Brad Pitt) and ‘Highlander’ (Christopher Lambert).
The genuine group of literary people who inveighed against his choice as the national artist for this category had all the reasons to be up in arms and be scandalized because the choice reflects the lowest ebb of our creative genius that we find no more qualms in bestowing an award to a literary thief.
This year, the SCORP penned a decision against the clamor of Japanese Comfort Women, raped and ravaged by Japanese soldiers during their incursions of the islands in the forties by lifting arguments from other people’s thesis which cheerfully support the claim of these women and without attribution of the copied materials to their authors; secured perhaps with the idea that the non-attribution gives it right to reach a contrary conclusion of the very authors it robs of their labor.
In our noontime TV shows, we fork wads of cash to guests who evoke the most pity and sympathy from the audience after narrating their heart-rending miseries instead of giving the dough to guests for their spectacular achievement that inspires hard-work and dignity.
We have lost our roots and we acquired a modern one steep in dishonesty, thievery, and trifles. It’s no wonder why we are poor, rudderless and lost in our scramble for things that demean us rather than those that would uplift us.