It was one of those literary scandals that would seem trivial to many, but was a matter of earthshaking importance to the World of Letters. Dmitri Nabokov, son of Vladmir Nabokov (writer famous for the controversial novel Lolita), had been tasked with the decision whether or not to burn the manuscript of his father’s last unfinished novel, titled The Original of Laura.
As part of his last will and testament, the older Nabokov wanted his notes burned after his death. According to Dmitri, his father couldn’t take the idea that his most cherished work, “the most concentrated distillation of [his] creativity,” to see the light of day in its unfinished form.
I made this in early 2007 I think, since we were studying post-colonialism. I wanted to frame this kind of critical thought around the two stories by Dean Alfar that really struck me for their themes. This is only the first part and it’s horribly incomplete; I seem to remember that this paper came to a total of 9 pages. There was even a specific reading of L’Aquilone du Estrellas and The Middle Prince that has seemed to be lost within the bowels of my hard drive.
Looking back on it three years later, I can see a lot of difference in the literary climate today. For one, there’s a mention of the lack of printing venues for fantasy and science fiction aside from indie publishing. I mentioned that in the essay but that was before Anvil released it’s own line of Fantasy titles. I’m pretty sure many of my former assumptions have changed (or have been modified, at least) since then.
In his introduction for Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2, editor and writer Dean Francis Alfar discusses the category “Philippine Speculative Fiction.” Presented with the demand to define it, he gives a simple answer: “[It is] speculative fiction written by Filipinos (“Introduction” ix).” He then asserts that as more Filipinos write science fiction, fantasy, and other genres in between, the “Filipino perspective” will sharpen, moving towards the ultimate goal of developing stories that can be seen as distinct products of the Filipino imagination. He then articulates the Filipino spec writer’s “anxiety about [their] national identity (x),” especially when confronted with the question of “Filipino-ness” in terms characters, settings, and even themes.
This clamor for definition is a legitimate one. Recently, there have been several forays at publishing “genre fiction” by Filipino writers, demonstrated by publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Story Philippines and the various titles produced by Psicom Publishing. It’s not that Filipinos haven’t been writing such stories until now. Filipino pop culture is riddled with such characters as Darna, Captain Barbel, and Pedro Penduko, and few can dispute how their storylines fit neatly under this umbrella term. However, as interest in genre grows and its practitioners attain higher levels of sophistication, the question of authenticity in these works as Filipino creations comes into question.
A peculiar thing has happened to my reading habits which I have only realized recently. Having grown up as a reader who shifted from Nancy Drew mysteries in her elementary years to the meatier (and longer) Stephen King horrors in high school, I have never been a stranger to the novel form. It is, by far, the easiest way to get lost in a different world, with nothing required for travel expenses except time and imagination. Having been part of a readers club, I have encountered other people who expressed a great love for long, engaging narratives as well. However, there has been a glaring lack in this aspect of my formative years–an exposure to Filipino novels.
Ask a Pinoy on the street about a Filipino novel he has read and the most frequent answer would be Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, a product of the educational system that declares them required reading for every high schooler in the country. If you are lucky, you will hear a few other titles such as Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ‘70 and Amado Hernandez’s Mga Ibong Mandaragit, which has gained light fame (or is it infamy?) recently due a recent online discussion about the Philippine canon. But the titles that have emerged from Filipino writers through the years aren’t reaching the consciousness of the lay man.
Note: I’m going to repost some of my old essays/blog posts for posterity’s sake. It has been years since I’ve done this one but I’m still relatively proud of it, and my affection for both Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allan Poe remains the same.
Planetary Pariahs: Bradbury and the Influence of Edgar Allan Poe
I. “Bradbury is the Louis Armstrong of science fiction”
More than sixty years after publishing his first story and creating a career full of contradictions, Ray Bradbury has firmly cemented a reputation as an oddity of the American Letters. As part of the so-called Golden Age of science fiction in the 1940’s and 50’s, he achieved a fanatical following through his mass production of off-beat stories, spitting them up by the dozen for pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, and Imagination! He later gained mainstream celebrity for his brilliant novels, The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. One novel is a pioneer-type tale about humans colonizing the planet Mars, the other a futuristic allegory warning against the dangers of censorship. Both of them are generally accepted as part of the SF canon. Aside from that stories had also appeared, in such highbrow publications as Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, and Collier’s and he has been awarded both the National Medal of Arts and the O. Henry Memorial Award. He also earned lavish praise from more “literary” (as opposed to “pulpy”) writers such as Chistopher Isherwood and British writer Kingsley Amis. Is he then a hack, or a genius, a veritable master of the bizarre or simply a writer of childhood elegies? Not many have ridden this fence like he has, balancing between what Amis calls his “dime-a-dozen sensitivity” and literary respectability.
His reputation among SF circles is shifty as well. Despite being constantly mentioned in the same breath as other SF greats such as Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, many science fiction purists refuse to recognize Bradbury as a legitimate SF writer, and have criticized his stories’ “science,” with good reason. In Bradbury’s fiction, Venus skies are full of rain and not toxic ammonia, and improbable rocket ships scoop out burning pieces of the sun while the crew recites poetry.
… you have to set yourself on fire.*
This was so not the post I wanted to start off with. XD
So the annual discussion about cultural appropriation and “When Is It Okay to Pillage Other People’s Cultures for Literature and Profit?” has erupted. It’s times like this that makes me both angry and sad. It also makes me despair at my lack of proper words to adequately convey the agitation and despair it ignites inside myself, but that’s the beauty of quoting people. So here goes:
Do not tell me, or the people like me who have grown up hearing Arabic around them, or singing in Swahili, or dreaming in Bengali—but reading only (or even mostly) in English (or French, or Dutch)—that this colonial rape of our language has not infected our ability to narrate, has not crippled our imagination…. Do not tell me that this cultural fracture does not affect the odds required to produce enough healthy imaginations that can chrysalis into writers. When we call ourselves Oreos or Coconuts or Bananas (Black/Brown/Yellow on the outside, White on the inside)—understand the ruptures and bafflement that accompanies our consumption of your media while we resent and critique it.
— Deepa D.
Powerful words. And it has some resonance when we try and look at crime and mystery stories with the colonialist experience as our lens:
More than heroes and heroines, however, the empire produces villains. Nearly half of the first 25 Sherlock Holmes stories feature colonial villains of one sort or another. Some come back from the colonies with their ill-gotten gains to settle into respectability, and others follow them to England to wreak a terrible revenge for the way they had been treated earlier on… The other stock ex-colonial villain in the Holmes stories is the cruel older man who has obviously had his morality buds excised through his years abroad dealing with colonials…
—Whodunit Lecture Series 2008
Crime fiction, especially its infancy, was inexorably tied to Empire and the easy (for the dominant culture) distinction of race. It isn’t a coincidence that the rise of this genre came at the heyday of Pax Brittanica and those who we consider as the writers of the Golden Age (Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Michael Innes) are British. New Zealander Ngaio Marsh, while a writer born away from London, nonetheless wrote like she was part of the club, with Scotland Yard Inspector Roderick Alleyn as his protagonist. So did a number of writers who were “colonials” but mostly wrote with the point of view of the colonizers.