A sort-of defense of the decent kind of men’s magazines.
I recently had to spend a night out in the city, waiting for the sunrise. It was already past midnight, and on a whim I boarded a bus to Makati. Nowadays, these buses with brightly-lit cabins ply the city’s highways all night. Other souls were shuffling on and off the bus, going around the metropolis for leisure or for labor; it was hard to tell which, here in the offshore-outsourcing capital of the world. They all looked impatient, in any case.
Up until a year ago, I worked graveyard hours in Makati myself, and I’ve memorized the night-time pulse of its wealthy streets. The place always feels safe, even in the most ungodly hour. On a weekend, it is even serene, but not dead. Every turn of the district is illuminated by lights spilling out of innumerable convenience stores; every intersection, by the blinking of traffic lights.
I planned to kill the time by reading in some 24/7 restaurant, picturing myself like Mari Asai in Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, digesting a hardbound at a Denny’s in Tokyo. I didn’t have a book with me then, however, so I dropped by a Ministop and grabbed the current issue of Esquire from the magazine rack. I had to stand and wait a few moments in front of the cashier before the sleepy clerk, who was catching up on some shut-eye, sensed my presence.
This music-video is Shirley at their heartstring-plucking best, visualized with sublime storytelling.
Awit, masaya ang mga tenga
Sa aking alaala ito nagsimula
In life, as with music, there is movement and then there is stillness. There is sound and then there is silence. When the action becomes too much, we leave the town looking for solitude.
We all have our own places where we turn to for comfort in loneliness. Sometimes it is an old, empty parking lot, at the fringes of the city, close to the forest and free for tired souls to inhabit. You would come there for solace, but what happens when someone else comes wandering into the space you would rather have all to yourself?
Panaginip ang dumalaw
You may choose to keep to yourself, retreat into your thoughts; or you may be enchanted by this other soul. You see her lost in smoke and clouds of thought, and you hear questions in your mind, prodding you to explore, to find out what it is that you share with her that drives both of you to seclusion. You may choose silence; or you may take a deep breath, and open a connection, offer a distant but firm handshake.
In Lav Diaz’s 8-hour epic, our nation is a country imagined in monochrome.
Las Islas Filipinas, according to Lav Diaz’s 8-hour epic Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery), is a nation imagined in monochrome. It is the same vistas: cities of colonial architecture, endless coastlines of soothing seas, and forests of tropical green. Yet, it is not the same images: we see all these filtered in shades of black and white.
In similar fashion, the stories that Hele tells are not tales as they ordinarily are—because the massive ambition of Lav Diaz, the central conceit of his project, is the interweaving of the historical, the literary, and the fantastic.
Let us count Hele‘s narrative threads, all set at the turn of the end of the 19th century, during the Philippine Revolution from Spanish rule.
Note: this essay is not so much a critical review as it is a reading of this film and a commentary, so it necessarily shares plot and characterization details.
Are we helpless in the eternal slippery march of time from present to past?
If one is feeling philosophical, one might be inclined to ponder the most basic features of our reality: space and time, the dimensions, for instance. One might then discover that these fundamental things, or objects or constructs, could be blamed for the struggles of people—the human condition, as they say.
Let us look at space. Distance is the backbone of so much human drama. It is the element present in conflicts of various genres: in romance, lovers yearn for closeness; in adventures, man attempts to overcome nature by reaching for the stars; in war, kings and generals win battles through the brilliant use of territories.
But between space and time, it is clearly the latter that is the subject of greater mystery, and deeper struggles.
While in space we are free to move forward, backward, higher, lower, and so on, under time we are in a tyranny. The future is always out of reach, the present is fleeting, and moments are always slipping into the past. Given unlimited time we could conquer any imaginable amount of space; but even with the seemingly boundless space that we have on earth and beyond, time remains invincible, unsurmountable.
“Unconscious anthology”—I have not encountered a more beautiful phrase to concisely describe the richness of society, and the heritage of its individuals.
Culture as History, a 1988 essay by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, employs two massive words in its brief title, only linked by a provocative conjunction. Entire lifetimes and university departments are devoted to these topics, so Joaquin must have thought his essay’s particular subject important enough to warrant a short but dense title. And it is indeed significant, at least for his target audience, Filipinos. In this essay, the author deals with popular beliefs about the birth of Filipino culture, and does so with much wit and wisdom.
It was published only about a decade before the 21st century, a circumstance that led me to think about Joaquin’s insights from a present-day perspective. But before that, a review is in order.
The essay: crucial points and select quotes
Culture as History is one continuous piece of prose, but thematically I see it as having four parts.
In the first one, relatively independent from the rest of the essay, Joaquin introduces his inspirations—the intellectuals Marshall McLuhan and Oswald Spengler—and discusses the relationship between literacy and culture. The “modern notion” of illiteracy as ignorance is debunked: if the illiterate peoples of the past were indeed ignorant, how come they were able to build magnificent churches and other cultural wonders which we, today, cherish as national treasures? (It is, after all, the toiling of the masses that actually built these structures, not the plans of the colonial masters.)