[This essay is forthcoming in the next issue of Pagbutlak, the official student publication at UP Visayas Miag-ao.]
After settling on the campus during my first semester at UP Visayas Miag-ao back in June 2009, the first thing I went to see on the first week of classes was the Main Library. Then a transferee from UPV Cebu College with its rather small library, I was delighted to find some books I’ve been meaning to read in the Miag-ao library collection. Being one those people who spent an inordinate amount of time poring over books, I’ve always thought a good library to be a boon in a country where many a good book are either too expensive or hard to find. In any case, the rather hefty fees charged by the university for library use should be motivation enough for every student to maximize the facility.
One borrows books at the library because one is too poor to order titles one desires from abroad or is dissatisfied with titles for sale on mainstream bookshops. For the mischievous, pinching books from libraries or borrowing them “with its attendant non-returning” is considered an appropriate mode of acquiring books a la Walter Benjamin.[i] I don’t recommend this unconventional manner of obtaining books. But given the chance, I would have easily aimed for Marx’s Capital (HB501 M3633), a book whose first volume I finished reading after graduating. Another would be Derrida’s Margins of Philosophy (B 53 D4613) and the first volume to Foucault’s The History of Sexuality (HQ 12 F6813), which I first read as a student in UPV.
I am including the call numbers of the books I mentioned here in the hopes that the reader in the vicinity of the Miag-ao library can take a look at them. As Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges writes: we people may cease, “but the library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incompatible, secret.”[ii] Indeed, even after graduating, I continued using library services by having friends borrow books on my behalf. I was able to read Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (PS3515. E37 F6), Italo Calvino’s The Invisible Cities (PQ4809. A45 C35), and Karen Edaniel’s thesis on the Class and Gender Relations of the Tumandok of Central Panay (LG 993.5 2002 P6 E33) this way.
But if, as literary scholar Resil Mojares says, books do not only furnish a room but also furnish a life and browsing through a shelf is also to retrace a journey undertaken,[iii] then what kind of life does the books from UPV Miag-ao’s main library furnish and what adventures does it offer its users? For sure, it’s not as grand as the University of San Carlos Main Library located in the 16,000-square meter Josef Baumgartner building which houses the iconic Cebuano Studies Center, a site I frequented whenever I’m in Cebu. There were likewise no classic books by Badiou, Bakhtin, Gramsci, or Mao Tse-Tung and too few titles by Brecht, Lenin, or Marx. There were nevertheless some gems that any keen reader of literature and the humanities can peruse. Apart from the customary dictionaries, encyclopedias, and reference materials, the library did house a relatively considerable Filipiniana and literature collection.
Being at that time the editor of the campus paper Pagbutlak who moved around student activist circles, I was excited to find the anthology Muog: Ang Naratibo ng Kanayunan sa Matagalang Digmang Bayan sa Pilipinas (PL6165.4 M86) and Alice Guillermo’s magisterial Protest/Revolutionary Art in the Philippines (NX180.R45 G85) in the library. Indeed, as Mexican poet Octavio Paz points out, literature is not just “the sum of individual works as the system of relations between them”[iv] and libraries are one of the spaces for dialogues and confrontations with these intertextual relations. In my case, I actively cultivated an affinity with books coming from a national-popular and historical materialist persuasion.
The Miag-ao library was where I first encountered the activist poet and literary scholar Gelacio Guillermo’s summing up of the poetics of the national democratic movement in The New Mass Art and Literature and Other Related Essays (PS9993.M58 N49) and Ang Panitikan ng Pambansang Demokrasya (PL6142.G85). There was fictionist Jun Cruz Reyes’ early book Negros (PL6164.2 R46 N3) on his immersion with peasants and guerrillas of southern Negros Occidental and Monico Atienza’s Bayan Ko: Mga Tula ng Pulitika at Pakikisangkot ni Jose Corazon de Jesus (PL6164.2 D44) that corrects the stereotype of Huseng Batute only as a romantic poet.
The UPV Main Library was where I first read William Hinton’s Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (HD1333 C62 C474) and Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent (HC 125 G253) before I acquired my own copies of the same books a few years later. I enjoyed Mojares’ The House of Memories (PN6142 M64), a collection of his literary columns from the early 1990s. I also read Soledad S. Reyes’ The Romance Mode in Philippine Popular Literature and Other Essays (PS9991 A4 R48) and the somewhat dense literary criticism of Edel E. Garcellano’s First Person, Plural: Essays (PS9993 G16 F57).
I read Luis Francia’s reportage on the Philippines in the 1980s in the Eye of the Fish: A Personal Archipelago (PS9993 F764 E94), Jose Lacaba’s translations of poets from around the world in Sa Daigdig ng Kontradiksiyon (PL 6164.25 L33), and Rosario Cruz Lucero’s Feast and Famine: Stories of Negros (PS9993.L83 F43) which would become one of my favorite works of fiction. Other favorites of mine were E. San Juan, Jr.’s Ruptures, schisms, interventions: Cultural Revolution in the Third World (PN51 S35) and Joi Barrios’ Ang Pagiging Babae ay Pamumuhay sa Panahon ng Digma (PL 9993 B26 P34). I also found Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism (PN761 S28) and Orientalism (DS12 S24) useful.
Finally, I tried but wasn’t back then able to penetrate through the Selected Subaltern Studies (DS463 S42), an anthology of Marxist and poststructuralist-inflected Indian cultural history, and Ramon Guillermo’s engagement with Zeus Salazar in Pook at Paninindigan: Kritika ng Pantayong Pananaw (DS 667.2 G85). This account is, of course, limited to how I personally used the library, which I am sure have its own charms for different kinds of readers.
Most of these books I sought out were from the 1960s-1980s or were part of the trajectory of this turbulent era that saw acute economic crisis, the imposition of dictatorial rule under Marcos, the spread of opposition to the US invasion of Vietnam, the resurgence of leftist movements in the country, and the ascendance of Maoism and national liberation struggles worldwide. And yet the persistence of the social ills inherited from that era including continued foreign domination, oligarchic monopoly over wealth and power, and the persistent lure of authoritarian solutions under the name of Duterte ensures the relevance of these works ― in the same way the Marxist tradition has been defined as a classic that must be returned to again and again.[v]
As Marxist literary critic E. San Juan, Jr. said, “Literature can be a weapon for enslavement or liberation, for continuing subservience to former colonial masters and the internalized colonizer or for emancipation. Let us select those weapons, those texts and writers, that will help us free ourselves from what one writer calls ‘400 years of servitude…’”[vi]
[i]. Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting”, Illuminations, Trans. Harry Zhon (New York: Schocken Books, 1968/2007), 62.
[ii]. Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel”, Labyrinths, Eds. Donald Yates & James Irby (London: Penguin Books, 1970), 85.
[iii]. Resil Mojares, “A Houseful of Books,” House of Memory: Essays (Pasig City: Anvil, 1997), 208.
[iv]. Octavio Paz, Alternating Current, Trans. Helen Lane (New York: Arcade, 1990), 35.
[v]. Fredric Jameson, “Marx and Montage”, New Left Review 58, July-August 2009, 117.
[vi]. E. San Juan, Jr., “Literature and Liberation”, History & Form: Selected Essays (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1996), 25.