Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ubbog Creative Writing Workshop

Ubbog Creative Writing Workshop

Marquez and Mythicization (2)

Another scenario in the process of myth-making – and this is no longer based on the text under study – is the rejection of a theory for an unexplained phenomenon and the assertion of a counter-explanation.

The new theory or speculation may, in turn, be amplified and institutionalized thus  leading to the setting up of another system of thought, religious tradition, or cultural norm.  It may, however, be offered by a skeptic simply as a debunker with no intention of letting a particular line of thought become cemented into a path of tradition (or traditionalism).

Now, we can concretize this whole process of mythicization by citing several widely discussed topics involving science, pseudoscience, and religion, such as UFO’s/Ufology, Evolution vs. Creationism/Intelligent Design, Reincarnation, and End-time prophecies.  All of these controversies erupted as responses to what the human mind perceives as mysterious/unknown/unexplained and therefore something that has to be figured out. They have also spawned a slew of speculations and theories, followers and scoffers, promotional and proselyting strategies, and thought and behavioral patterns.

The case of Harold Camping easily comes to mind.    

“I can tell you very candidly that when May 21 came and went it was a very difficult time for me, a very difficult time,” said Mr. Camping, 89, a former civil engineer. “I was truly wondering what is going on. In my mind, I went back through all of the promises God has made, all of the proofs, all of the signs and everything was fitting perfectly, so what in the world happened? I really was praying and praying and praying, oh Lord, what happened?” 

What he decided, apparently, was that May 21 had been “an invisible judgment day,” of the spiritual variety, rather than his original vision of earthquakes and other disasters leading to five months of hell on earth, culminating in a spectacular doomsday on Oct. 21 — something he had repeatedly guaranteed. On Monday, however, Mr. Camping seemed satisfied with his new interpretation, which apparently spared humankind its months of torture for a single day of destruction.*

Camping’s blooper is nothing new, of course, and there will be more cranks like him in the years to come just as there will always be gullible folks who will believe in any "Biblical interpretation" no matter how outlandish.  Camping’s guesswork is part of this larger obsession among Christians to “unlock” the secrets of apocalyptic texts like the books of Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation.  These books are, in themselves, mysterious but by extension the greater “mysterious phenomenon” is the future about which everyone is  largely ignorant, interested to know more, and tempted to speculate.

Scriptural texts are used to determine what the future holds, and interpretations are encapsulated in theological constructs such as “Signs of the Last Days,” “Millennial Reign,” “Rapture,” “Tribulation,” and “Armageddon.” Speculations become doctrines, personalities develop adherents, and movements calcify into sects. One need only study the formation of the following religious institutions to see how “End-Time” ideas go through the process of mythicization: (EuroAmerican) Pentecostal/Charismatic groups, 7th Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC-Manalo/1914), Pentecostal Missionary Church of Christ (4th Watch), Kingdom of Jesus Christ Name Above All Names (Apollo Quibolloy), among others.

Like “Esteban’s village,” these religious societies demonstrate the transformative power of myths: changed lives, sense of camaraderie, socio-economic progress, political clout, local community service, and global outreach.  Unlike Esteban’s village though, these same institutions show the destructive effect of myths: thought control, narrow worldview, belligerent proselyting, sectarian strifes, material exploitation, and spiritual disenchantment.

4 O heart you will not arrive  at the solving of the riddle,
You will not reach the goal the wise in their subtlety seek;
Make do here with wine and the cup of bliss,
For you may and you may not arrive at bliss hereafter.

5 If the heart could grasp the meaning of life,
In death it would know the mystery of God;
Today when you are in possession of yourself, you know nothing.
Tomorrow when you leave yourself behind, what will you know?

6 How long shall I lay bricks on the face of the seas?
I am sick of idolaters and the temple.
Khayyam, who said that there will be a hell?
Who's been to hell, who's been to heaven?

7 Neither you nor I know the mysteries of eternity,
Neither you nor I read this enigma;
You and I only talk this side of the veil;
When the veil falls, neither you nor I will be here.**
* McKinley, Jesse. “An Autumn Date for the Apocalypse.” The New York Times, 23 May 2011. Available,

** Omar Khayyam, The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam, trans. Peter Avery & John Heath-Stubbs (London: Penguin Books, 1981), 38-39. Available @ Amazon: The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam 

CSC Lectures: SD in Higher Ed and Geoinformatics

The Cordillera Studies Center (CSC) of the University of the Philippines Baguio, in celebration of its 31st Anniversary, is pleased to invite you to two lectures:

  1.  Innovations in Sustainable Development in Higher Education�
by  Dr. Raymundo D. Rovillos
21 June 2011, Tuesday, 10:00 a.m., Cordillera Studies Center Research Laboratory
2.  Geoinformatics in Research and Some Applications from the Field�
by Ms. Alicia G. Follosco
23 June, Thursday, 2:30 p.m., College of Social Sciences Audiovisual Room

In his lecture, Dr. Rovillos will talk about the concept of sustainable development and how this figures in the agenda of universities all over the world who are called upon to address problems brought about by global economic recession, climate change, social injustice and ecological damage. Specifically, his lecture will discuss perspectives on Education for Sustainable Development, and provide some examples of innovative academic programs (research, instruction and extension/public service) in higher education.  Dr. Rovillos is Professor of History and Dean of the College of Social Sciences at UP Baguio.

Ms. Follosco, who is a University Researcher at CSC, will talk about the field of geoinformatics and how its techniques and tools for the acquisition, processing, management, analysis and presentation of geospatial data are employed today in many applications and fields. In particular, her lecture will present the results of some recent studies that show how the developed tools and innovations in geoinformatics can be utilized to enrich spatial analysis in social and natural science research. Ms. Follosco holds a M.Sc. in Geo-information Science and Earth Observation from the University of Twente, the Netherlands.
We hope you can make it to these lectures. Thank you and best wishes.

Yours sincerely,
CSC Director

CSC lec jun2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dimitri della Faille Lectures at the University of the Philippines Baguio

Dr. Dimitri della Faille, a professor of Sociology at the Université du Quebec   (CA) is slated to deliver three lectures at the University of the Philippines Baguio on June 27-29, 2011.  His talks are scheduled as follows:

Is Development Studies Still Relevant?
June 27, 2011 (10am-12pm)
Cordillera Studies Center (CSC) Research Laboratory, UPB

Some Critical Thoughts on NGOs and Development
June 28, 2011 (5.30pm-8.30pm)
College of Social Sciences (CSS) C-201, UPB

Is There a Future for International Development?
June 29, 2011 (4.00pm-6.00pm)

The speaking engagement was made possible through the coordination of Dr. Narcisa Paredes-Canilao who put Dr. della Faille in touch with Dr. Raymundo Rovillos, CSS-UPB Dean.  

It sure will be another great time learning from Dimitri whom I and Dr. Canilao first met during the "Third International Conference on Multicultural Discourses" (Hangzhou, CN) where he presented his paper, "The Global Framing of the Indigenous Problem."  Dr. Canilao, Dr.  Maria Teresa Tinio (Ateneo de Manila University), and I were the only Filipinos in the said gathering.  Dr. Canilao's paper was titled "Multicultural Discourses for a Critical-Emancipatory Social Science (A Theoretical Framework),"  Dr. Tinio's was "Exceptionalism and Its Foil: American Colonial Discourse on the English Language in the Philippines,"  and mine was "A Brown Man's Burden: Critiquing an American Restorationist Discourse."

Dimitri is a cool guy whose company everyone in that conference enjoyed and who was always willing to share the fruits of his uncanny ability to familiarize himself with the nooks and crannies of an unfamiliar city like Hangzhou -- a much welcome thing for the rest of us whose spatial intelligence level is laughable.  He also introduced me to Freemind, a Java-based freeware I now use in my classes and in my non-academic lectures.

So Dimitri, welcome to da Pelepens! :)

1000 Days for James Balao

I don't subscribe to everything that the Cordillera People's Alliance (CPA) stands for.  For one, I think some of its members are overly critical of the government and lack self-reflexivity in espousing their ideology.  I also think that while many of them are quick to condemn the military for atrocities committed against the masses, they also tend to keep  mum about the crimes of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People's Army (NPA) against the Filipino people.

On the other hand, I salute the CPA for being not just a "No-to-Government-Order" group but a vital stakeholder in Philippine governance.  I applaud its continuing drive to expose ineptitude and abuses of power in government, and its championing of Indigenous Peoples Rights especially as a productive member of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and a participant to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). Throughout its 27-year history, it has committed itself to numerous programs, projects and activities aimed at empowering local communities as partners for national development. 

I also join the CPA today, in this 113th celebration of Philippine Independence, in its call for a no-nonsense action of our national leadership on the enforced disappearance of James Balao allegedly effected by military and/or police forces. Frankly, if it is an abominable Ampatuan or an unrepentant Ligot who (no, that) disappeared, I wouldn't give a damn save to say let them disappear forever.  But this is the case of a fellow Igorot whose only crime is to  advocate transparency and justice in society, and I am as outraged as others that this  poor fellow is yet to be returned to his family 1000 days since his abduction. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Marquez and Mythicization (1)

G. Kylene Beers and Lee Odell (2005: 912) define "magic realism"* as
A literary style that combines incredible events with realistic details and relates them all in a matter-of-fact- tone.

One of the best known exemplars of this literary genre is, of course, Gabriel Garcia Marquez' "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" (translated by Gregory Rabassa). 

The story begins with the sight of an unusual human body being washed up on the shore of a craggy, dreary fishing village. Well-preserved in a cocoon of sea “mud and scales,” weighed a ton, and far taller and larger than all the men in the community, the lifeless hunk  breathed vigor into the community, especially the women who, in their enchantment, named him Esteban and started weaving a tearjerker story about their newly discovered macho man. The men, initially skeptical about and annoyed at the melodrama, eventually fell under the spell of Esteban's charisma and joined the women in an extravagant funeral and sea burial rite that drew crowds even from neighboring villages. And so it was that as Esteban was returned to the sea, so did the folks return to their homes with a vision of themselves building large, well-decorated houses, their barren land sprouting gardens, and their sleepy village earning fame as "Esteban's village."  [Those of you who haven't read the story won't get much from this poor summary of a rich text, so go ahead read it @]

I always include this work in my Humanities 1 (Reading Literature) reading list because 

                (a)  it is told in 2,462 words only (and therefore bite-sized enough for my students most   of whom hate long short stories);
                (b)  it comes off as one of those kuwentong bayan (folk tales) from a far-flung but familiar fishing village in the Philippines (and therefore makes it easily imaginable even by a BS Physics student who might be more interested in calculating the volume displaced by a humongous body floating on seawater than musing about the place of a body of work in a particular sea of texts);
                (c)   it can lend itself to extended reflections on the varied facets of human experience (and therefore answers a student’s skepticism about the practical value of literature);
                (d)  it is a Gabriel Garcia Marquez work (and therefore a peek into the imagination of a genius).

A common approach to this text is the Jungian way:  exploring some of the archetypes found in the story, like: (a) “Esteban” the superhero; (b) awakening of a small, sleepy community; (c) women as culture-bearers; (d) sea as the womb of mystery; and (e) the process of myth-making.

Let's talk about the last one.  

The Process of Myth-Making

I would like to think that that the story illustrates the formation of myths (i.e., made up or imagined narratives that have been, through time, elevated to the status of dogma or truth).  This process may be diagrammed as follows:

(Loosely based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez' "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World")
Myths are formed in reaction to a phenomenon that initially defies explanation or goes against a known condition or norm. In this case, the arrival of a stranger's body  by sea is the mysterious or unexplained phenomenon. The villages are mystified as to how this huge, attractive body could have come  out fully preserved despite bearing the marks of a long, torturous journey at sea, and both men and women speculate on the circumstances of his life and death.
 Eventually, as they begin believing in their own speculations, they add more details to their tale. They christen the cadaver "Esteban," thus clothing the man in a personality they could all relate to. Wavering between adoration and compassion, despair and celebration, they at last find a cultural icon for which they develop a sense of fellowship among themselves as well as with outsiders to whom they had passed on the Esteban myth,  around which they establish an elaborate (funeral) rite, and with which they formulate a vision of their own god-forsaken land evolving into a paradise of sorts.  The affect this myth has on the villagers recalls what Donna Rosenberg (1997: xxv-xxvi) has to say about myths: 
Each myth has its place in their mythology of its culture.  Taken together, the myths unify the members of the culture by giving them a shared past; a meaningful, life-sustaining present; and a predictable future... 

Myths create meaning out of nothingness, sense out of nonsense, order out of chaos, and purpose out of aimlessness. 
The myth-making process in the story transpires overnight. In real life though, myths develop over an extended period.  


*In his award-winning essay "The Writer's Sense of Country," Creative writer and social anthropologist Arnold Molina Azurin (1995:181) prefers "ethnic realism" to the term "magic realism" arguing that the stereotypical label

is mindless of the author's [Marquez's) admission that his works are impregnated more by the legends and folk historical traditions in Latin American than by sheer stylistic phantasmagoria; so there is more folkloric memory than sleight-of-the-hand in his text.

Works Cited:

Azurin, Arnold M. 1995. Reinventing the Filipino Sense of Being and Becoming: Critical Analyses of the Orthodox Views in Anthropology, History, Folklore and Letterse. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

Beers, G. Kylene & Lee Odell. 2005. Holt Elements of Literature: Essentials of American  Literature. Fifth Course. Austin, TX: Holt, Rihehart, and Winston, Inc.

Rosenberg, Donna. 1997. Folkore, Myths, and Legends: A World Perspective. Linconlwood, IL: NTC Publishing Group.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Jocel and Jerome

Kalinga was on national news last night, not because of another delightful whitewater rafting adventure along the Chico River, a breath-taking mountain trek in Balbalasang, the taste  of our delectable onoy rice, or a tourist's unforgettable experience of our hospitality, but because of a tussle inside the DZRK radio station.  Governor Jocel Baac was caught on video barging his way into the announcer's booth and snatching the microphones from Jerome Tabbanganay who was then on air. Jerome claimed he was hit (or the Governor hit him) on the face during the commotion.

"Ayna apo, kababain," I reacted, and wondered what the rumpus was all about. Although the report was sketchy about the circumstances that led to apo Jocel Baac's outburst, it is clear that Jerome's hard-hitting commentaries got the Governor's goat.

The whole affair may be something which Jocel Baac's political rivals and Jerome Tabbanganay's ill-wishers may gloat over, but it is to me something to cry  about. First, I admire them both -- Governor Baac  for being a talented leader who has done a lot of good things for his constituents,  and manong Jerome for being  a true journalist who has fearlessly articulated the legitimate sentiments of  countless individuals who  find filing complaints through text messaging more convenient than personally coming out in the open  to air their views or complaints. Second, Jocel and Jerome are my dad's friends who never failed to acknowledge the old man's contributions to the development of the province -- the former crediting Gus Saboy for the numerous  local legislations implemented by the provincial government, and the latter acknowledging the pioneering role Gus Saboy played in the establishment of the first radio station in Kalinga.  Third, I have pleasant memories of that announcer's booth where, as an agraraman nga ubing, I used to sit with Magdalena Calilung and Naiza Magaao (now married to Larry Lopez of PIA) beside me, bearing with my poor attempt at playing kiddie announcer. And fourth, the incident will surely continue to expand the negative connotations of our ethnicity, with even some of our own people remarking in jest about a "Kinakalinga nga aramid."  So I have every personal reason to be sad about the two having a spat in the DZRK booth.

Perhaps, this incident reflects what Kalinga still lacks or needs: sustained reforms in local governance, a critical evaluation of our cultural idiosyncrasies, maturity in handling criticisms and conflicts or in dealing with our personal and ethnic insecurities, the ability to make criticisms constructive, and a better understanding of how a political powerhouse or the media airwaves can make and unmake us.

We are all guilty of hurting others with our unguarded words and rash acts.  Thankfully, we are also capable of making amends and rebuilding ruined relationships.
I hope that something can still be done to bridge apo Jocel and manong Jerome's rift.  I hope that the next news about the two is not going to be good news because it is bad.