Monday ∗ 23 Apr 2012

burn baby burn: criticism, jargon, power

may simple akong tugon sa usapin ng paggamit ng jargon at teorya para sa pagsusulat tungkol sa sining at kultura: sino ang audience mo?

this is not to say that i don’t think theory’s important, in fact i think there is nothing but theory, every critical piece has a theoretical backbone, a framework against which it falls. and this is not to say that i don’t believe in knowing from where we speak, being clear about our own biases, and our own limitations as we write about texts, as we write at all, period. this is not to say that we shouldn’t be reading reading reading, because writing is about knowing where what you say stands in the grand history of thought and thinking that we’d like to think exists in these shores.

this is to say this even when i know it shouldn’t matter: i’ve done scholarly writing in all the years i’ve spent in the academe (which has stretched on for far too long), and it has been a conscious decision to refuse — refuse completely — to write in that manner in the other venues that i feel deserve better writing, i.e., writing that doesn’t seem like i’m talking to myself and the few who would care for big words when all they need is a sense of why i think something is good, or bad, or both.

in the discussions that happened after Burn After Reading on Facebook walls and comment threads, one of the things raised about discussing literature is the importance of jargon, the need for it maybe? and the lack of criticism and critical rigor in general in these shores. Clinton Palanca began it on Lila Shahani’s wall post:

I have been following the debate, up to the point it turned into a debate about the debate, and whether it is worth debating or not, et cetera, and I feel that present-day writers take twice as many words to say… well, I’m not quite sure what they’re saying. There is too much jargon, too much equivocation, too little affirmation or denial of whether what was said is true or not. <…> I also think that literary criticism is to be differentiated from critique, because in the process of mentorship (which is a good thing, as opposed to patronage), what we need is to be told simple things, such as whether it’s good or it’s bad, and how to fix it. This is what we need more of.

to which Lila responded:

P.S. Clinton, literary criticism is a field full of jargon. If that’s the topic of your Rogue article, it becomes difficult to analyze it without going into a definition of terms first. If it were a different topic, no one would even bother with jargon. But seems to me it was inescapable with this subject, sorry. Otherwise, this thread would have been much too long.

and yet on the Rogue FB page, where another comments thread exists, there was nary a word of jargon, and anyone would be hard-put to say that that is any less intelligent or critical of Burn After Reading. on my wall, the exchange that Angelo Suarez and Adam David generated, without jargon (complete with pambabastos of Derrida, haha!), i thought was infinitely more productive and clear about where the limitations of Burn After Reading lies, and why i could’ve written it better. and no, neither demand a theoretical paper of me (though i imagine Gelo might be writing exactly that). all the questions in these two threads have forced on me the question of why exactly i chose to write Burn After Reading the way i did — and no this is not the essay where i talk about not naming names.

this is the one where i want to say this: while i was taught jargon and theory, and i taught it to an impressionable and i’m pretty sure angry bunch of literature majors who were cursing me throughout one semester of a theory course, i think that its place is not the pages of a magazine like Rogue, or the articles i write on GMA News Online. heck, i don’t even want it in this blog, and that’s really for reasons more personal than anything else: if what i write will not be read by Angela (the mother) and by Joel (the brother), then who am i talking to? certainly i can write a theoretical treatise complete with all the jargon but why would i want to do that?

i thought it was clear that people are not to be measured by the theorists they can quote. i thought it was clear that we all grow up and out of having to quote theorists like there’s no tomorrow, in order to justify what we’re saying. i’m not any more stupid or intelligent for not using or using jargon to write Burn After Reading: its form is borne of its own mode of production, one that i am conscious of.

that this form of feature writing for a magazine should generate discussions that can only be about jargon, is fine. that we imagine that this is a valid point to stick to, to even insist on, with regards criticism and critical thought is just wrong. that here we are being told that there’s no other way to talk about literature, points precisely to the kind of powertripping and superiority complex that the literary establishment — the critics it loves included — work with. Neil Garcia responds to Clinton, too:

last thing: clinton, there’s not enough serious criticism (not even enough reviews) of our books. that’s probably what explains the perceived inordinate power of literary patronage: no discursivity balances it out.

first reaction: if we’re asking for more book reviews, maybe the literary establishment should turn upon its own Ruel De Vera, who holds the fort at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and yet chooses to review foreign books more than local ones.

the better reaction: what constitutes serious criticism exactly? is it one that’s filled with jargon? what is it that allows for criticism in general, criticism of the arts in particular to be deemed “serious” and in which case valid?

i don’t know about you, but without jargon i think Adam’s Literary Patricide by Way of the Small Independent Press was not only serious but responds to the question of: what now? quite succinctly. it’s a man with a plan, fuck you all. last year, he started not a review of the poetry anthology Under The Storm, but a series of reviews called Dry The Rain on each poem included in that book. Mabi David wrote Notes on Alternative Publishing early in March. Edgar Samar has been writing about the Philippine novel, one text at a time. Andrea Macalino has started to blog more often (yehey!) and is writing insightful reviews of culture and books that unabashedly reveal it to be a personal task. This introduction to the Kritika Kultura Anthology of New Philippine Writing 2011 stands on its own as the state of writing in these shores. This undergrad thesis of Petra Magno from 2010 is a brilliant creative theoretical treatise on and against the trajectory of Philippine poetry in English. i would even daresay that much of the poetry published on Spindle and the creativity happening over on The Cabinet are critical responses to the kinds of writing being published by the mainstream and commercial venues.

i could go on to tell you that without jargon, i think Leloy Claudio’s take on the Eraserheads is wonderful and Honey de Peralta’s assessment of readership and the dawn of ebooks is darn brave, and both are critical, full stop. we can also bring in Angelo Suarez’s and Donna Miranda’s interventions on current art practices (less of the jargon in their FB statuses, which could be a book in itself), and Joelle Jacinto‘s dance magazine Runthru, if we’re looking at the other arts. which would then bring me to the art reviews of Jessica Jalandoni-Robillos, few and far between in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the theater reviews of Exie Abola which i miss, and Walter Ang who should be writing those more often. this movie review blog of Ayer Arguelles is nakakainis in its kagalingan, too.

and so if the charge is that there is little criticism going on, i say: that’s a measure of the refusal to acknowledge what is actually going on outside of the academe and literary establishment. it is to look down on the forms in which criticism can and should come. to demand jargon, and then to imagine that jargon is what makes criticism valid or more credible, is in fact directly related to the notion that one needs an MA so that one might not be ignored. it points to how the hegemony thinks nothing of its own presumptions, pointing as these do to their own notions of what and who is important.

if we’re saying these critical engagements with texts at this point in time are problematic without the jargon, then that is the academic throwing his weight around and taking on the superior position of saying what is valid critical writing and what isn’t. according to Neil Garcia:

<…> to my mind, critique is made even more vital, given our culture’s “transitional” quality, because it prefers to dwell on the theoretical rather than the personalistic (and thus seeks to supersede orality) on one hand, and because it necessarily begins with the reflexive acknowledgment of mutual interimplication with what it seeks to analyze, on the other. and so, writing is one thing, theorizing is another. needless to say, we need generous servings of both.

sabi nga ni John Bello: wers-wers! right now let me say this though: i think that in fact all forms of writing is theorizing. in the same breath, i think all forms of critiquing should be discussed for what it says, and not who says it. more importantly, criticism should be read not based on how many difficult words its got, or whether it quotes the right theorists. because i was taught that we in fact must know to explain things without other people’s words, if only so we can hear ourselves.

i thought it goes without saying, but the democratization of literature that Burn After Reading pushes for, demands for the democratization of criticism, too. it is no surprise of course that the house that literature built would rather watch its critics make fools of themselves. it makes for a happy home. do what they’ve been doing all these years: talk to each other and keep to themselves, and imagine that what is important is that they do this in a conference where they will further validate each other. look at that house that’s burning! thank goodness the academic critics have the jargon to explain it away.

from Kubori Strips for the Soul by Michael David.

from Kubori Strips for the Soul by Michael David.

next: what’s outside the house that literature built? another house? a neighborhood? a tree? a dog house? on the question of freedom, or better yet who is the un-free?

Posted in: akademya, arts and culture, bayan, kultura, panitikan

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One Comment/Pingback

  1. walter ang
    April 23, 2012 at 11:59 am


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