Pleasures of the Text*

We need history, but not the way a spoiled loafer
in the garden of knowledge needs it.

Of the Use and Abuse of History

As in every Busay literary folio published in the past, this year’s edition tastes like halohalo – a scrambled recipe that offers several servings in one bowl. Here you will find a carefully selected set of literary texts on different themes – from poems, essays, to short stories – written by both students of the UP Visayas College of Arts and Sciences and other contributors. Like every bowl of halohalo, I hope this year’s Busay can also serve as a respite for the abnormal heat of our times.

Let us carefully go over all the texts offered in this edition of Busay. For oftentimes we never know what we may overlook, like when we miss the mythical tale of the princess who escaped with her secret lover on what seems on the first look like an ordinary Chinese glassware. The paranoid search for hidden meanings, a search that is constantly presented by literary texts, is a pleasure in itself. We readers could partake, ala Roland Barthes[1], in the pleasure of reading into the text one’s own idiosyncratic version instead of attempting to recover what the author originally meant. Such a recourse enjoins us to disregard the whole of the text in exchange for the pleasure of getting carried away by its language and the random images such evokes: “What I enjoy in a story,” Barthes suggests to us, “is not directly its content, nor even its structure, but the abrasions I impose on the fine surface: I speed ahead, I skip, I look up, I dip in again.”[2] So take delight in the unusual juxtaposition of words, the occasional quotations or turn of the phrase, the hidden meaning, the complicated plot, or the direct and enthusiastic identification with the characters.

But as we go through the pleasures of the text, we should also remember that a limitless sensual feast is not the only horizon when reading. Literary texts are context-bound: “The study of literature does not confine itself to ‘deciphering’ the text’s meaning, but to ascertaining the way the text operates within, and helps define, a specific historical context.”[3] The absence of commentary on such realities in a text points not to the absence of such realities but on the contrary, reveals the subjectivity of the author, her conscious or unconscious biases.

The object of this literary folio therefore is not only the publication of the commonplace. This year’s Busay is committed to raising the standards of the texts published in its pages and popularizing these to a wider number of readers. Thus we consciously avoided publishing the usual serving of poems laden with melodramatic outbursts or mediocre short stories about failed love affairs or boring teachers, among others. My favorite short story in this selection, Nathan Briones’ “A Probable Future,” for example, imagines an alternate future where President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo seizes power and how a frustrated subject takes it upon himself to assassinate the usurper.

Works of non-students are likewise included here, the aim of which is to include voices that we don’t usually hear but deserve our attention. In this light, we are reprinting the winning entries by Cebuano peasants to the Central Visayas Farmers Development Center (FARDEC) Indigay sa Balak Poetry Contest.[4] Melchor Cichon’s essay “Why I Write in Aklanon,” where the Aklanon poet boldy proclaims that “poetry is a social responsibility,” is also published here. Some of the poems published in this issue of Busay, such as “The Death Song for a Guerrilla” was written in the context of the actual life and death struggles of real people for survival and emancipation. This text, which includes descriptions of social conditions of injustice and stirring calls for change, is engaged in the struggle for fundamental societal transformation.

Thus we proceed from the mere appreciation of textual or artistic form to the compelling need for a literature and art that is committed for the people. This does not mean, however, that we neglect poems and stories with personal themes in favor for explicitly political content for the former are also proofs of how all texts are bound to socio-cultural and politico-economic realities, of how even the personal can become political. This is especially true in Michelle Serrano’s story, “Like Mary,” where the focus on the personal also highlights the interrogation of gender themes.

Even with lacking resources and manpower, this year’s Editorial Board and Staff[5] endeavored to regularly publish a student publication that is timely and relevant. We began our term by cutting short our semestral break vacations to work on our first issue. We cannot forget the endless nights beating our own self-imposed deadlines for publication, and our spending of our own personal money for our frequent visits to the Printing Press in Iloilo City. We had to borrow digicams or tape recorders from classmates and friends every time we needed to cover an event. We also had to work on internet cafes and borrowed laptops until we were able to repair our office and retrieve our PC after years of neglect.

Busay is waterfalls in the Hiligaynon. It is associated with water, the play of words and meanings, and the flow of ideas. But it can also signify the train of history, the ever forward march towards a future where social justice and genuine freedom reigns – a future where everybody, be they poor or rich, can have the privilege to partake in the pleasures of art and literature. We are hence proud to present to you our last offering before the end of our term.

* With apologies to Roland Barthes.

Note: Published as the introduction of the 2009-2010 issue of Busay, the Official Literary Portfolio of the UP Visayas College of Arts and Sciences

[1] Roland Barthes is a French semiologist and cultural theorist renowned for critical studies on language, literature and mass culture such as Mythologies (1957), The Fashion System (1967), the Empire of Signs (1970), and A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1977).

[2] Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, tr. Richard Miller, New York: Hill and Wang, 1975, p. 11–12.

[3] Caroline Hau, Necessary Fictions: Philippine Literature and the Nation, 1946-1980, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000, p.267.

[4] We would like to thank Pansit Veloso of FARDEC for allowing Pagbutlak to republish these poems.

[5] Congratulations to Pagbutlak Associate Editor Eduard Dionio, News Editor Zyrine Valerie Nalaunan, Features Editor Elizabeth Gonzales, and Graphic Artist Fritz Gerald Asong for graduating on April 27, 2010! We will miss you!

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