Barbara Jane Reyes and your salonniere on literary culture and lack of critical discussion in the Filipino Lit community

Recently on Google+, poet Barbara Jane Reyes posted the article “Slimpickings at Manila Lit Fest 2011” by Kristen Stewart Santiago, and the conversation rolled between BJR and your salonniere about Pin@y literary culture and the twisted relationships between writer, reader, and critic. Join the discussion below and let us know your thoughts.
 –  Nov 29, 2011   –  Public

I posted this article on FB and not surprisingly, got no response, except for my dear husband’s “thumbs up” (and a great conversation over dinner). I found this article via Ninotchka Rosca, who is FB friends with the author, whose honesty and call for critical writerly discussion I hella appreciate. I posted this article on FB and not surprisingly, got no response, except for my dear husband’s “thumbs up” (and a great conversation over dinner). I found this article via Ninotchka Rosca, who is FB friends with the author, whose honesty and call for critical writerly discussion I hella appreciate.

My own thoughts on Filipinos and book festival: there’s a time and a place for “love fest,” and even spectacle, and I think that we can afford to have more actual content, process, literary discussions rather than base self-promotion and unconditional love. Among writers, educators, and students, our conversations can and should be more substantial, nuanced, intellectual, critical, and manifold.

Rashaan Alexis Meneses  –  Just finished reading and discussing Anzaldúa with the students and her words keep sticking to my mind: “it is not enough to have our books published, we must actively engage in establishing criteria and the standards by which we can be viewed.” I’m currently wondering how we establish that criteria without getting side-tracked into anthropological socio-political history? How do we account for the history and politics but keep the making of art in focus? Anzaldúa also writes that the particular is even more important than the universal. I find that problematic when we focus too much on the trials and tribulations of the artist’s persona and personality. Again, we lose sight of the art and art-making. Why are we so personality driven? Why is it so difficult for us to sustain attention on craft?
Nov 29, 2011  –

Barbara Jane Reyes's profile photo

Barbara Jane Reyes –  Thanks for your response Rashaan. I think personality and one’s charisma may be a shortcut for the actual intellectual work of reading and thinking about the literature? That’s one thing. Also, I was reminded that many readers aren’t so much interested in the nitty-gritty “how” of work in progress, but the final product they can choose to consume or not to consume. I partly agree with this, but then was reminded of some of the questions I’ve gotten from people in non-academic/non-art circles — they are indeed interested in where I got my stories from for Diwata, the influences of my elders on Diwata’s narratives, and the emphasis on community and family when I talk about how we come together for story or where storytelling happens. So the particulars of my family traditions/conventions may have some intersections with theirs, or just remind them to look closely at their own as a unique/special but also culturally driven thing. It’s in this place that I can “sneak” in craft issues, how to turn those old stories into poems, rather than transcribe verbatim. But because this conversation is rooted in family tradition, it holds audiences’ interest.For me, that’s where I find it easier to steer away from straight socio-politicizing — to state as the premise and the central point of the discussion that the old storytellers in my fam had an ART about their tellings and retellings, I can still hold onto the sociopolitical concerns of the work without letting these take over. So that’s one thing.I’m totally craving more public spaces/venues to have these substantive discussions among Fil Am’s.
Nov 29, 2011

Rashaan Alexis Meneses's profile photo

Rashaan Alexis Meneses  –  I’m thinking about Lionel Trilling’s “Life of the Mind” and wrestling with ideas about literary culture, which I think you’re describing. There’s the reader, the writer, and the critic, and we make up one dysfunctional family with a lot of in-fighting. That’s one way of looking at it. Though Trilling also speaks of cultural currency, which I think is what you’re getting at with what readers are hungry for, conversation that is semi-craft but not pure craft, maybe something in between. I think of it like walking a tight rope, how do we walk the line between playing critic, devising critical theory that is comprehensive and concise and keeping the reader in mind. What kind of a role is this for the writer and again what happens to the object of art or text? So much to talk about and explore here. You’re absolutely right. Need more venues, more public spaces and more forums to mull over all of this. Thanks for the fodder here.
Nov 29, 2011

Barbara Jane Reyes's profile photo

Barbara Jane Reyes –  Absolutely, on the sort of craft talk, tightrope feeling. I’d previously felt like I had to give totally separate talks to totally different rooms of readers/audience, but am realizing more and more that students’ and readers’ questions do intersect and the content and intensity of my talks doesn’t shift so much. So it’s more of like translation, modulating the languages (jargon versus layperson speak) we speak to whichever groups we are currently addressing.I also believe in not dumbing down the content of our talks, not to underestimate the reader. I find that readers of all kinds can be challenged, if only to stretch themselves just a bit out of their comfort zones. In many ways, this speaks also to what we already do in the creative work — “pandering,” overexplaining, auto-anthropologizing versus giving context, making the writing as complex, vivid, concrete, using as clear and specific language as it can (must?) be in order for readers to find their own entryways into the work, and then in author talks/Q&A’s, acknowledging, considering, honoring the readers’ various entryways.
Nov 29, 2011

Rashaan Alexis Meneses's profile photo

Rashaan Alexis Meneses  –  Its a kind of acrobatics. Perhaps less this bridge called my back but more body and text as agile athlete? We have to stretch ourselves often, but I think its perfectly fine to expect the reader and the critic to also meet us halfway. They have to stretch themselves as well and maybe the onus is on the author to seduce the reader and critic into that stretch? How do we pose flexible enough questions or give adaptive answers to invite reader, critic, author to meet in a fluid imaginative space?
Nov 29, 2011

Barbara Jane Reyes's profile photo

Barbara Jane Reyes –  Totally yes on the flexibility! This is something I’ve learned through so much book talk; what I envision as I am writing isn’t necessarily what results when in conversation with readers. Some writers take this as failure, that readers did not get exactly what we intended. I think it’s just opportunity for dialogue, and the reality that everyone reads through their own lenses of experience et al.One of my students told me she’s interested in the kind of experimental poetries in which meaning is left up to the reader to assign to the text, versus the writer dictating what that meaning is. In theory, she said, it’s a political act, one of community building.There could be a Filipino cultural aspect to the unwillingness to engage in dialogue which can become contentious (but does not have to be), as when people of differing opinions come to the table and express those differences, which i just think of as real and necessary diversity. So there’s that need for smooth interpersonal relationships, or pakikisama which favors consensus at the risk of conflict and critical discussions that are viewed as dissent and argument.But I am with you on being adaptive, listening to others’ readings and responses, and here, yes, there is the opportunity to engage in community building.
Nov 29, 2011

Rashaan Alexis Meneses's profile photo

Rashaan Alexis Meneses –  So glad to hear your students have discovered what makes literature strong. The reader needs to work for the meaning. Yiyun Li in her talk said that if the writer explains everything its essentially propaganda. I can’t remember which writer also told me that writers do need to teach readers, in the beginning of their work, how to read the text, but really just the beginning. We do need to give some guidance.I agree that it might be cultural to avoid conflict though I do see the same kind of self-congratulatory, self-indulgent, self-centered fluff in a lot of writerly and intellectual forums that should and could be focusing on craft. Don’t even get me started on the magazine “Poets & Writers” or even in the New Yorker or the NY Times when they recently interviewed Murakami and just wanted to know about where he grew up and what kind of music he listened to when he went jogging. I tend to think its an American obsession to focus so much on persona. Can I blame Freud for this and pop psychology?I’ve enjoyed thinking aloud on issues that are near and dear to me. Thanks for this!
Advertisements