AND THE LANGUAGE OF LIGHT
All human acts and all human creations constitute a single drama, and in this sense we are all saved or lost together. Our life is essentially universal. -- Maurice Merleau-Ponty, (MP), An Unpublished Text.
People are not alone and abandoned in an empty universe, but are linked by countless threads with the past and the future; as each person lives his life he forges a bond with the whole world, indeed with the whole history of mankind….But the hope that each separate life and every human action has intrinsic meaning makes the responsibility of the individual for the overall course of human life incalculably greater. -- Andrey Tarkovsky (AT), Sculpting in Time.
The poet in the 21st century lives in an age of stark contradictions, as we all know. Poetry has become more and more public, and more poetry is being published now than at any other time in history. Yet the arena of public poetry, and of publishing, like most aspects of our lives, is slowly being governed by certain sets of ideas that “define” what poetry is; in other words, while we continue to talk about freedom of creation and making it new, this freedom is confined within restrictions dictated by dominant histories, cultures, and the market. Literature, like everything in our life, is something to be bought and sold. It is a clearly defined object, and anyone who does not produce this object in the acceptable form cannot be part of the “discourse.” Therefore, while poetry theoretically reaches more people than it previously could, it also creates a more severe division between poet and the dominant society. It becomes more and more the condition of the poet to feel, as never before, a sense of alienation – from the standards and ideas of society, and the relentless materialism society exults in – of being alone in a spiritual vacuum, of being “out of key among the cosmic harmonies.”
Every life reaches a crisis point that compels a spiritual re-examination, not necessarily a religious conversion but often simply a deeper look inwards, and every generation and every age reaches a similar collective spiritual crisis. Since the twentieth century, the century of the great wars, we have been aware that we had been building up to this crisis. It is the sense of apocalypse, often dismissed as simply some kind of millenarian paranoia; yet more and more the signs of our self-destruction are becoming clear: we are a race seemingly intent on destroying ourselves. It is against this backdrop that a poet must summon the courage to speak up. It is no longer possible to consider oneself separate from the fate of the entire world. And this is where the dilemma of contemporary poetry lies: because the world that needs to be addressed lives with barriers and boundaries, some imposed by the intrinsic nature of language, some by political and economic regulations, and others by the spiritual emptiness we have created for ourselves.
All communication of mental meanings is language, communication in words being only a particular case of human language and of the justice, poetry, or whatever underlying it or founded on it. -- Walter Benjamin (WB), On Language as Such and on the Language of Man.
As my life and experiences make clearer to me my relationship with the world and the language with which I try to interpret it and relate to it, I am convinced that there are borders imposed by language, that is, by communication in words. Second guessing, nuance, ambiguity, irony, misinterpretation, lost in translation, glitch, double entendre, accidentally deleted: how many phrases have we come up with to indicate the fact that words are the most unreliable of communications, that in between telling and understanding anything can go wrong?
I would like to be able to sum up everything I know, remember, feel, desire, hope, and fear, with words. I know this is impossible. Therefore I choose poetry. Poetry as an act of defiance against the incommunicability of being.
What strikes me further, on reading these poems, is the realization of how ingenuous was the expansiveness with which I wrote them: it was as if I were writing for someone who could only love me a great deal. I understand now why I have been the object of so much suspicion and hatred. – Pier Paolo Pasolini
We live in a world governed by ideas which other people have evolved, and we either have to conform to the standards of these ideas or else alienate ourselves from them and contradict them – a position which becomes more and more hopeless. -- AT
Another contradiction: Although the poet uses language to create his work, the language of words, unlike music, dance, and the visual arts, is the medium most resistant to demolishing borders. It is also the most racially charged. This is especially true in a multicultural society like the United States, where “ethnicity” keeps coming up in any discussion of a work by a non-white writer. One must be genetically native to the language in order to deserve the use of that language; any variance from this genetic birthright, and the keepers of dominant standards and ideas become condescendingly amused, baffled, upset, or hostile: you are an immigrant in the language, and as an immigrant you can only be given limited rights.
In the American publishing industry, language opens racial biases. I write in English, but my being, what I remember and write about, is Filipino. Nobody is interested in the Philippines. In the industry, the Philippines is a non-entity; it does not exist. Or it exists only in so far as what I have to say affirms what they want to imagine about my country: a bizarre and unfortunate island (and it is not even just an island!), a scab on the otherwise flawless skin of Asia, a banana republic of seventy-eight million colonial cavemen. Because my personal imagination runs counter to the American imagination, what I have to say cannot be said. What I have said has never been said. In this sense I am actually free to say what I want to say, since no one will listen to me. This is what I call, for the poet, true liberation.
The publishing industry, with its bureaucracy of agents, readers, editors, market analysts, book store chains, publicists, lawyers, and accountants, all of whom have some hand, directly or indirectly, in the final outcome of a book, has totally demolished the idea of authorship.
It seems to me that a pestilence has struck the human race in its most distinctive faculty – that is, the use of words. It is a plague afflicting language, revealing itself as a loss of cognition and immediacy, an automatism that tends to level out all expression into the most generic, anonymous, and abstract formulas, to dilute meanings, to blunt the edge of expressiveness, extinguishing the spark that shoots from the collision of words and new circumstances. -- Italo Calvino (IC), Six Memos for the Next Millennium.
There are self-existent factors which preclude the artist’s making himself dependent upon audiences or anyone else: if he does, then his own problems, inner conflict and pain will immediately be distorted by accents that do not belong to him. For the most intricate, burdensome, punishing aspect of the artist’s work lies strictly in the domain of ethics: what is demanded of him is total honesty and sincerity towards himself. And that means being honest and responsible towards his audience. -- AT
The reality of a poet living in contemporary society involves, unfortunately, constantly submitting himself to the judgment of a small elite of industry people, many of whom may not even be inspired by the music, history, art and poetry that inspire the poet, and whose only purpose, to put it a little unkindly, is to sustain the very industry that feeds them. I often wonder how many of these people, because they have been trained and conditioned to think only in certain terms, understand the work that artists do and the aesthetics and faith that compel them to create. In any case I believe they constitute a kind of barrier that insulates author from audience. I am thus inclined to praise the work of small presses, but more especially the inevitability of more widespread self-publication in the future, the democratization of publishing, which new technology makes increasingly possible: to demolish the authoritarianism of the industry and the institutions that support it, which I regret to say includes even the academe on one hand and the “spoken word” scene on the other, two poles that have contributed to creating a kind of herd mentality in poetry, a common, generic, “acceptable” set of voices. There is a tendency among poets in the academe and spoken word scene to mimic one another, particularly in diction and delivery; read any journal or go to any performance and you’ll see how everything is the same. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing: If anything, it is an indication that we have reached the same crisis that made a poet like Rimbaud inevitable and necessary, a poet who would deviate and speak only for himself, not just TO an audience, and certainly not TO A MARKET, and in so doing perhaps speak for us all.
The artist’s inspiration comes into being somewhere in the deepest recesses of his “I”. It cannot be dictated by external, “business” considerations. It is bound to be related to his psyche, and his conscience; it springs from the totality of his world-view. If it is anything less, then it is doomed from the outset to be artistically void and sterile. It is perfectly possible to be a professional director or a professional writer and not be an artist: merely a sort of executor of other people’s ideas. -- AT
Unlike communication in words, communication in film and video, because of the sensuous immediacy of the medium, is not bound by the same limits: in fact borders are welcome, exotic, unthreatening -- even despite subtitles, which seem to underscore a more intriguing aspect to the cinematic image: they emphasize the fact that we are in the presence of a different world, but one that is equally real because it is more or less a faithful mirror of what we perceive -- an affirmation of our own immediate reality.
I wanted to extend the process of writing a poem, which normally takes me about an hour, to several hours or days. I also wanted to extend the “act” of writing beyond the page, or the computer screen, to involve my entire environment, and my entire body in it, to write myself upon the world, as it were, or to write the world upon me. The process involved walking around New York City shooting images of words at random, which I did in two days. I had no text in mind, only the intention to collect as many words as possible, to provide myself with enough of an image-vocabulary to write a short poem. I then logged every word I shot, and discovered, to my surprise, that I had shot words close enough in sequence to create lines, without having been aware of it. I tried to use almost all the words I had shot. The result was a 5-minute video called Front Towards Enemy (the title was itself a shot of graffiti on a temporary wall at a construction site in Chelsea).
While I was creating this video, I was in a state of suspension, of “inspiration,” similar to the state I find myself in when I write a poem. I was more keenly aware of the world around me. While I was editing on my computer, the words seemed to throw themselves at me. Something had taken over, and stayed with me for two weeks, the time it took to edit the video.
What is a poem? That which aspires to the silence of understanding. I long for the day when I will have no more need of words.
What I say is absolutely right. I am an oracle. I understand things, and since I can’t explain except with pagan words, I would rather say nothing. -- Rimbaud
From the writer and the philosopher, we want opinions and advice. We will not allow them to hold the world suspended. We want them to take a stand; they cannot waive the responsibilities of men who speak. Only the painter is entitled to look at everything without being obliged to appraise what he sees. -- MP
Nothing is permanent, not even these images. What transpires in the act of shooting is my memory. The viewer sees something else – effected in part by my manipulation of my “vocabulary.”
Everything that was ours, even if it was because of the mere circumstance of coexistence or shared vision, because it was ours, becomes us….Everything that happens in the place where we live happens within us. Everything that stops in what we see stops within us. Everything that was, if we saw it when it existed, was taken from us when it left. -- Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.
The present is terrifying because it is irreversible. -- Jean Luc Goddard (JLG), Alphaville.
Every poem is the result of a fortuitous accident. Every image is an accident of seeing. I couldn’t do anything similar to my first video poem again, because after the first poem, I am now aware of the subconscious element of it. Anything after that will be set-up, artificial, uninspiring. In the same way every poem is a new beginning; the poet learns a new vocabulary all over again; he is a stranger once more in the world.
The frame reestablishes the world, tries to define it by limiting it, because the world itself is without limits and therefore cannot be defined.
The perceived thing itself is paradoxical; it exists only in so far as someone can perceive it. -- MP
I am the instrument through which the poem is dictated. I am responsible for mastering the skills with which to “capture” this poem, meaning language, technique, etc. But the poem itself comes from a source that even now, at my age, I have not been able to pinpoint. Therefore it is very tempting to think of it in a mystical sense. Since the poem is given, and not entirely produced by my own mind or my own body, and since it is given rarely, and only to a few people, since nothing else fills me spiritually, since it is my salvation, I must accept it with humility and gratitude.
I can "blur" my words by using computer-generated voices, and distorting those voices is similar to the distortion of comprehension I want viewers to feel when they watch my video-poems and miss words or even entire lines. Some people get upset by this; some feel compelled to fill in the missing spaces, and therefore become complicit in the act of writing the poem.
The voice of “Bruce,” a computer-generated voice, takes my own voice out of me, exteriorizes it; I do not recognize my words, sometimes they astonish me, but with “Bruce,” I am no longer invested in my own language. I hear the words as words, not as anything emanating from me.
There is only one thing that bothers me about this process: the fact that I and machine have become one organism, each relying on the other to give him meaning.
People often ask me to define what a videopoem or a film poem is; apparently they cannot begin to appreciate anything unless it is first defined for them, which would enable them to pigeonhole me in some category, which in turn would enable them to understand me, in their own terms. You can’t imagine how frustrating it is to deal with these people. But here, finally, is a “definition” I’ve found and am happy with (whether it will satisfy others is no concern of mine). It’s by Pier Paolo Pasolini, in the Appendix to the New Reader (1970) that accompanies his Selected Poems: “I made all these films [The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Hawks and Sparrows, Oedipus Rex, Teorema, Porcile, Medea] ‘as a poet.’ It’s not necessary here to analyze the equivalences between ‘poetic feeling’ aroused by certain sequences in my films and a similar one aroused by certain parts of my books of poetry. The attempt to define such an equivalence has never been made except very generally, when referring to subject matter. But I think one can’t deny that a certain way of feeling something occurs in the same identical way when one is faced with some of my lines or some of my shots.”
When I saw Nam June Paik’s retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, I realized I was looking at the culmination of all that had been technically possible in the 20th century. We live in an age equivalent to the invention of the Guttenberg press, which changed the course of disseminated literature from oral to text. This is the era Rimbaud longed for, when poetry has no choice but to address all the senses simultaneously.
In no other field do poetry and technology walk hand in hand the way that they do in the field of electronics. – Michelangelo Antonioni, Almost a Confession.
The effort of modern painting has been directed not so much toward choosing between line and color, or even between the figuration of things and the creation of signs, as it has been toward multiplying the system of equivalances, toward severing their adherence to the envelope of things. This effort might force us to create new materials or new means of expression, but it could well be realized at times by the reexamination and reinvestment of those which existed already. -- MP
During a residency in Provence, I found myself in the company of people with whom I shared no common language (my French being only rudimentary). I decided to create a video poem all of us could understand, in other words a poem using not words but images. I “wrote” the poem in three parts, using shadows cast by the sea on a wall, a puddle of rain reflecting a tree, and the sea shot through the frame of a window. One of the residents, however, was a blind poet. She could hear the sounds of distant voices, the water, silence, but someone had to describe the images to her. The senses take what they can; the mind (imagination, memory, fear, desire) creates what it wants to see.
She suggested we collaborate on a poem: she would write a line in French, and I would finish the line in English. I suggested taking it a step further: I would respond in English, Tagalog, and images. The result is an 8-minute video I call Desire and Nostalgia in Three or Four Languages. One part of the video shows her reading from braille. It is followed by my translation of her text, electronically rendered by distorting the “Speak” function on my computer. I wanted to blur language to such a point that not even the familiar would seem familiar, so that the “reader” would have to tread in an unsettling territory in which he or she must rely on his or her own imaging of words. We fear what we cannot name.
Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our understanding by means of language. -- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 109.
Libog: the Tagalog word for lust, but also equivalent to the French je ne sais quoi. Thus we say of something less than extraordinary: kulang sa libog, lacking in lust.
Photography in verse. -- Edouard Fournier, 1864, quoted in WB, The Arcades Project.
Art: to be drawn to an object upon whom one invests an unsettling fascination. The prayer that leads to stigmata, the infatuation that leads to obsession. The need to constantly praise creation, the dangerous yearning that wrecked the soul of Poor Kit Smart.
For in my nature I quested for beauty, but God, God hath sent me to sea for pearls. -- Christopher Smart.
“In the future, only beauty will shock us.”
Today there are only states of being-all stories have become obsolete and clichéd, and have resolved themselves. All that remains is time. -- Bela Tarr, notes on The Werckmeister Harmonies.
Interior language, exterior world. In the Philippines I wrote in English, the language that represented for me the interior, distinct from my material reality. It enabled me to go within, into a secret realm, because there was no chance for my poems to be read by too many people. It was also a language that filled me with contradictory emotions: while it expressed my innermost thoughts and emotions, it was nonetheless a language to which I had no native claim, and it deprived me of the immediacy a “native” language is supposed to give. It was a language that obliterated me, not only to myself but to the rest of the world, and especially to the empire which imposed it upon me, where a non-native speaker, an immigrant in the language, will always be inferior. But in the U.S., English has surfaced as my everyday language, not just the language of my poetry. It brought me face to face with my interior world, the world I had previously articulated only in private, and brought it up from its depths for everyone to see; it was a terrifying experience in the beginning, but it demolished another barrier for me: the barrier I had imposed upon language to protect me from my own emotions and memories. When people ask me if I have changed after years of living in America, I say yes: I have finally made my peace with the language.
There is a deep sense of the interior in America but it is expressed in terms of desolation. The interior is a place to be afraid of. The homeless, mumbling on the street, unwashed, stinking of urine, are the most interior of its citizens.
Poetry brings about the transformation of the finished into the possible, of the remembered into the expected, of the waste land into a journey, into hope. -- Yves Bonnefoy (YB), The Act and the Place of Poetry.
Traveling across the south of France and Italy, there were times when I didn’t take my camera, for fear of losing it in two or three-star motels. These places turned out to be the most memorable, and therefore the hardest to commit entirely to image. The sheer breadth and sound of a storm wind along the Calanques, the smell of salt. The moon, blood orange, over Coullioure. Even the ramshackle paths along Cinque Terre, recently discovered by backpacking American mid-westerners. And the long, slow crossing through the Camargues by train, mountains of salt, egrets plunging their heads in the water, steel ships docking at ancient ports. These moments now exist for me only in words, and only if I write them. What is not written is lost forever.
“Just as the role of the poet since Rimbaud’s famous Lettre du voyant consists in writing under the dictation of what is being thought, of what articulates itself in him, the role of the painter is to grasp and project what is seen in him.” Max Ernst. The painter lives in fascination. The actions most proper to him – those gestures, those paths which he alone can trace and which will be revelations to others—to him they seem to emanate from the things themselves, like the patterns of the constellations. -- MP
I expect to be inwardly submerged, buried. -- Paul Klee.
The painter may, like Klee, decide to hold rigorously to the principle of the genesis of the visible, the principle of the fundamental, indirect, or absolute painting, and then leave it up to the title to designate by its prosaic name the entity this constituted, in order to leave the painting free to function more purely as a painting. -- MP
As Descartes once said profoundly, the soul is not merely in the body like a pilot in his ship; it is wholly intermingled with the body…For us the body is much more than an instrument or a means; it is our expression in the world, the visible form of our intentions. -- MP
Perhaps it is a link enabling us to pass from one subject to another, therefore to live together. But since social relations are always ambiguous, since thought divides as much as it unites, since words unite or isolate by what they express or omit, since an immense gulf separates my subjective awareness from the objective truth I represent for others, since I constantly blame myself, though I feel innocent, since every event transforms my daily life, since I constantly fail to communicate, since each failure makes me aware of solitude, since I cannot escape crushing objectivity or isolating subjectivity, since I cannot rise to the state of being, or fall into nothingness, I must listen, I must look around more than ever: the world, my kin, my twin. -- JLG, 2 ou 3 Choses Que Je Sais D’Elle.
Goddard for me is the affirmation and insistence of the primacy of the human, and the futility of such a premise in the modern world, which always seeks to dehumanize us. Yet every frame of his films is beautiful, as if to say only a persistent sense of beauty –- our effort, hopeless from the beginning, to find order and meaning in today’s chaos and meaninglessness –- will save us.
Everything is green as money, says a character in Almodovar’s What Have I Done to Deserve This? I am always asked, How do you expect to make money from your art? Every moment is a constant struggle between, on one hand, remaining true to yourself and creating the art that satisfies your soul, and on the other, giving in to the seduction and ludicrous demands of the market. It is a hopeless struggle, because the aesthetic of the market is always measured in terms of money.
Nobody who has ever betrayed his principles can have a pure relationship with life. Therefore when a film-maker says he will produce a pot-boiler in order to give himself the strength and the means to make the film of his dreams – that is so much deception, or worse, self-deception. He will never now make his film. -- AT
Illusion and enslavement: the two standards by which society measures its citizens’ uselessness. Creative art in particular is useless unless it involves these two elements. The illusion of glamour and fame, the instantaneous renumeration of the mediocre, or on the other end of the scale, the feeling that one is constantly toiling for the good of society, to keep it functioning properly, these are the only signs we are allowed to acknowledge that we exist. The rest of us, as the Radiohead song goes, are not living, but just killing time.
All of us are infected today with an extraordinary egoism. And that is not freedom; freedom means learning to demand only of oneself, not of life or of others, and knowing how to give: sacrifice in the name of love. -- AT
Christ’s greatest suffering was in Gethsemane, when friends he had lived with and taught for three years abandoned and denied him, and at that moment on the cross, when he asked God why he had forsaken him: at that moment when he doubted his purpose, when he realized all his life must have been a mistake. (This is the central message in Bergman’s Winter Light)
Christianity is the refusal of self-knowledge. -- JLG, Weekend.
Living under a military dictatorship, I became aware of all the absurd and unnatural restrictions imposed upon me by the laws, politics, and religion of my country. Death, hunger, desperation, annihilation, were not concepts that I conjured for poetry: they were real, immediate images that confronted me daily, and inevitably became undercurrents of my vocabulary. I do not write about death, hunger, desperation, or annihilation; in fact I avoid them –- that is the normal reaction of anyone who has lived with them. But they persist like the faint, almost imperceptible vibrations on a glass that’s been struck lightly. I continue to rebel against any form of despotism, any attempt to dictate to me what I must or can do, any form of oppression: that is my outward persona. But only one who has lived a history like mine can truly hear the vibrations of this struck glass.
We must simultaneously serve suffering and beauty.-- Camus, The Artist and His Time.
I refuse to become what you call normal. -- JLG, Alphaville.
My favorite American is Sitting Bull. Earning more money than he had ever made in his life when he was on tour in England with Buffalo Bill, he saw so many beggars and couldn’t understand why the wealth of Europe could not be shared among all its people, which was the law of nature, the law of the universe. So he gave away all his money to every beggar he met. He came home as poor as ever. White people thought he was stupid. His own people thought he was a saint. (In Dostoevsky’s Russia, he would be a yurodivyi, “a holy fool.”)
That’s one sign of underdevelopment –- the inability to relate to things, to accumulate experience and to develop. -- Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Memories of Underdevelopment.
I come from a country in a centuries-long process of self-destruction. Everyone of us contributes to its apocalyptic ending. By relinquishing memory, by destroying one another, by being still. Whenever I meet a Filipino, I see someone in the process of transfiguration. But this transfiguration is Christ-like only in the sense of Christ the lamb, Christ the sacrificed.
It seems to me that I embody all my country’s misery and degradation. But no doubt that’s only hubris on my part.
We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. -- Proust II:605
People generally think of the pain of nostalgia, but what is worse is the pain of estrangement: the process whereby what was intimate becomes foreign. We experience that estrangement not vis-à-vis the new country: there, the process is inverse: what was foreign becomes, little by little, familiar and beloved. -- Milan Kundera (MK), Testaments Betrayed
“Al Sagrado Corazon de Jesus”
Written during the American Occupation of the Philippines
by Manuel Bernabe (b. 17 Feb. 1890)
No mas amor que el tuyo
O corazon divino
El pueblo Filipino
Te da su corazon
En templos y en hogares
Te invoque nuestra lengua
Tu reinaras sin mengua
De Aparri hasta Jolo
--from Cantos del Tropico, 1929
We used to sing this song during the renewal of our family’s devotion to the Sacred Heart, an annual ritual begun by my grandmother during the early American period, through the Japanese invasion, and right till the year of her death, in 1989. She was 90 years old. After her death we stopped holding the ritual, especially since my own family had become more eclectic in its religious and/or philosophical beliefs. Years after emigrating to the U.S., I realized I was losing most of my memories of my childhood in Manila, and asked my mother to e-mail me the lyrics to the song. (I am my memories as much as I am also everything I have forgotten.)
Nostalgia: this inexorable, insidious awareness of your own dependence of your past, like an illness that grows ever harder to bear. -- AT
From a video in progress: Forgetting is always reciprocal, there is no such thing as one-sided forgetting, it has to be total and mutual, otherwise forgetting doesn’t happen at all.
I am a part of my people: I have been through the same bit of history as anyone else of my age, observed and thought about the same happenings and processes, and even now, in the West, I remain a son of my country. I am a fragment of it, a particle. -- AT
I learned to “write” only when I became no longer aware of the act of writing, the physicality of it. In my childhood, I used to write by hand. I was aware of the hand moving, of the scratch of pencil on paper. Then slowly I learned to write on a typewriter. Although I never really learned to use a typewriter properly (I typed with four fingers), the process soon became instinctive enough that I didn’t even need to look at the keys. When I first tried to write a novel on a computer, I was frustrated by the complications of the DOS programs, and lost entire files accidentally. Therefore I wrote short pieces, slowly and carefully. As I became more proficient with the computer, and programs became simpler, my writing became fluid, even verbose. What makes video technology different from these other technologies? As cameras and computers become cheaper and software less complicated, I see more and more people being able to compose the way I do. Already we see the art of film-making being democratized by this new technology. Just as poetry was democratized by performance and slam, there will be a lot of bad work and some astonishing ones. Just as I never imagined, when I was ten years old, that I would one day write a poem on a computer, there will be a day when someone can pick up a camera or some other newfangled contraption and say, I will write a poem.
Overambitious projects may be objectionable in many fields, but not in literature. Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond all hope of achievement. Only if poets and writers set themselves tasks that no one else dares imagine will literature continue to have a function. Since science has begun to distrust general explanations and solutions that are not sectoral and specialized, the grand challenge for literature is to be capable of weaving together the various branches of knowledge, the various “codes”, into a manifold and multifaceted vision of the world. -- IC
I've met many American poets who champion the "anti-intellectual." They argue that the intellectual is the product of the academe, which is the bastion of the privileged. For them, to reject the intellectual mainstream is revolutionary. (They can't be entirely blamed; academics tend to debase art and the intellect with all their verbal garbage.) But this attitude is defeatist and cancels Gramsci's proposal to take the process of intellection in our own hands, his call for a counterhegemonic culture and the development of intellectuals among the working class -- people who will reveal to us who we really are. In the Philippines, for example, everything is owned by the privileged few, including the opportunity of higher education. But I insist that the intellect, the mind, is the last thing the privileged can own. Ignorance is what keeps the poor the way they are. Education is not only the turf of the privileged, it must be guarded by them jealously, because to grant it to the poor is to enlighten them as to the causes of their poverty. Therefore self-education, the persistent education of the intellect, is the most revolutionary act possible.
One day a hideous thought came to me: what if our rebellions were dictated not by internal freedom, by courage, but by the desire to please the other tribunal that was already preparing, in the shadows, to sit in judgment? -- MK
All my life I’ve been going around waiting for something. All my life, in fact, I’ve felt as if I were waiting in a railway station. And I’ve always felt as if the living I’ve done, so far, hasn’t actually been real life but a long wait for it, a long wait for something real, something important. -- AT, The Sacrifice.
The summer before 9/11, N. told me about the Russian director Andrey Tarkovsky. I immediately found a copy of Nostalgia at the New York Public Library, and after watching it, I knew that this artist was going to change forever my vision of art and the world. Few artists have this total, overwhelming capacity to transform me, because only few set out to write and create, not to instruct, but to seek out kindred souls, as he himself stated in his book, Sculpting in Time. That summer I was in the process of conceptualizing a new novel, something that I wanted to write only for myself, with no consideration at all for the stipulations of the market. I wanted to speak from the soul, as it were: to write what was most important to me, and to write only with a sense of personal urgency, as though this was going to be the very last book I would ever write (all my books are written with that urgency, and I had believed, with each book, that it was going to be the very last; this is the only way I can get a book written). My idea for the novel was going to be simple: I wanted to create a character who believed the end of the world was coming soon, and that it was his responsibility to record every single thing, no matter how insignificant, to save it from certain oblivion. But I had no idea how to write it, and where to begin. In August, I wrote a script for a thirty-minute video, which I intended to shoot that fall, believing that the novel would eventually take the form of video, as some of my poems did, and I started shooting preliminary “background” footage. Shortly after that, I, like the rest of the world, was profoundly affected by the events of 9/11 in New York. I have long now considered New York my new home, and I took the attack as a personal violation, an attack of the spirit. I was unable to take up my camera and shoot anything: what had happened was too powerful that I couldn’t even begin to process my own reactions, and because the media as usual exploited the catastrophic images of the World Trade Center crumbling and people leaping to their deaths, I was gripped by a “video sickness,” I couldn’t deal with visual images. I began to question everything I had shot and created on video, even my very purpose in using video. I re-read much of what I had written prior to 9/11, wondering if I had said everything I had wanted to say, or if I had held myself back for any reason, because I was afraid of being misunderstood, or of offending people. I became gloomy, unsociable, and paranoid; in other words, I became the character I had been looking for, and on the evening of the 11th, after spending the afternoon with about two hundred people on the new pier on the Hudson on 66th, the only place where we could view the apocalyptic smoke of the Twin Towers, I came home and started writing the novel. There was no question about it now -- nothing should be compromised, and all that was demanded of me was to speak for myself, and to speak truthfully, no matter what the consequences. I realized the two media, language and image, now perfectly complemented and influenced each other: I wanted to use video to save every single moment from forgetting, but obviously one cannot turn on a camera all the time (although theoretically this is not impossible). So I turned to words to perform the function of the camera: an unflinching record of truth, to see everything as it is.
Do one thing after another as lucidly as possible –- therein lies salvation. -- Peter Handke, The Weight of the World.
Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual, for the ideal; that longing which draws people to art. Modern man has taken a wrong turn in abandoning the search for the meaning of existence in order to affirm the value of the individual for its own sake. What purports to be art begins to look like an eccentric occupation for suspect characters who maintain that any personalized action is of intrinsic value simply as a display of self-will. But in artistic creation the personality does not assert itself, it serves another, higher and communal idea. The artist is always a servant, and is perpetually trying to pay for the gift that has been given to him as if by a miracle. Modern man, however, does not want to make any sacrifice, even though true affirmation of self can only be expressed in sacrifice. We are gradually forgetting about this, and at the same time, inevitably, losing all sense of our human calling. -- AT
I took up video again only after the poet A. died that following winter. I had shot a video of him the previous spring, when I found out he was dying of cancer. Looking at the videos, I was amazed at how much life he had in him, and how defiantly he fought death, his death that was already consuming him, making him lose his eyesight and his memory. Two days after we shot the video, he couldn’t even remember we did it. Only I have that memory now: time captured, as it were, within a few moments; a few minutes’ proof that A. and I had once existed.
No more is it a question of speaking of space and light; the question is to make space and light, which are there, speak to us. -- MP
When we encounter an attractive object or something that pleases our mind, we see it as beautiful and real, but actually it is as empty as a summer rainbow. To abandon attachment toward it is a practice of the boddhisattva. -- Twenty-third Practice, The Path of the Boddhisattva.
Want nothing: you will be free.-- Pessoa
My perception of the world is limited by my five senses, and my perception of image is limited by my sensual perception of light. Buddhism to me holds one of the most beautiful and saddest truths. Image, time, mind and memory are parts of this shimmering rainbow, and to try and capture them seems absurd and futile. At the same time there is an overwhelming need in me to mark my place in this stream of time, to use my senses and to revel in the brevity of time and space that is given me. Sometimes I imagine we are nerve endings of that supreme consciousness, who needs us to experience the sensual world, and that we feed it all our perceptions, and without us that being would be utterly lonely and bereft.
To escape the shameful constraint of choosing between obedience and madness, to dodge over and over again the stroke of the despot’s axe against which we have no protection though we struggle without stay: that is the justification of our role, of our destination and our dawdling. We must jump the barrier of the worst, run the perilous race, hunt on even beyond, cut to pieces the wicked one, and finally disappear without too much paraphernalia. -- Rene Char
There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self. -- From the Radiohead website.
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.
-- Walt Whitman.
I think of that poet whose hope was the clearest, whose suffering was the keenest; the most secret of those who formed that sort of quadrangle in which all thoughts are lost and then recovered in endless refractions. Purely, like poetry incarnate, he became totally absorbed into the hopeless love that is love for mortal beings. But his desire remained desire, and his impulse toward plenitude maintained the sense of the unpossessable. This union of lucidity and hope is what I call melancholy. Nothing comes closer to Grace than this ardent melancholy. This at least is the gift that a true poet can offer. And in his poverty, giving remains his wealth. -- YB
The act of poetry involves all the senses, the entire body, the entire mind, and to develop as a poet is to develop body, heart, and mind. Poetry is impossible without this commitment, without this total involvement. The most difficult part about writing a poem is not the writing but the process that leads to it, the process that demands belief, compassion, a sense of hope –- all virtually impossible challenges. All of this takes a lifetime. And at the end of our lifetime, what matters is not what we have written, but what we have become.
Originally published in Pinoy Poetics, Meritage Press, 2004.