(Continuation from Literary Approaches by Virgilio Rivas)

The Historical Approach            

The historical approach is a traditional approach in reading and/or interpreting literary texts. In Philippine literature, this approach was first employed by Jose Villa Panganiban and Teofilo del Castillo. In this approach, our literary history is typically divided into historical conjunctures which are reflective of the direction, texture, and inherent structural limitations of literary texts.  We will learn, for instance, that Philippine literature in most textbooks on the subject are wont to partition the development of our literary tradition into four historical epochs: 1.  Pre-Spanish Colonial Period (1400-1600); 2.  Spanish Period (1600-1898); 3.  American Occupation (1898-1946), and the 4. Contemporary Post-colonial Period.            

The historical approach is a relevant method of reading our literary development as it draws on the undeniable influence of larger historical forces on the actual shaping and production of a people’s imaginative capacity to represent life in symbolic forms.  Meanwhile, if there is immediately revealing about this approach relative to our history that has been shaped by long colonial Western expansion, it is that the pervasive force of colonialism forms a constitutive background for a historical reading of our literary progress. It is a powerful tool, for instance, in exposing the ideological nature of literary production, both in its positive and negative implications, as we shall try to stress in several representative readings of particular literary texts across our colonial and postcolonial history.            

It should be noted first that the historical approach proceeds from the task of reconstruction, that is, of viewing the past from the standpoint of the present. It happens that this standpoint, as we are trying to demonstrate here, is the historical method of interpreting texts which are held as representative of a certain historical conjuncture. By representative, we mean the texts’ closeness to the real forces of history dominating the spirit of the time.  As a dominant force, history exacts a pressure on literary productions in the way that makes its presence a pervasive element in texts.  However, the dominating function of history may not at all be manifest all the time.  History also works in latency, and most of the time, it is in its latent influence where it accomplishes its ideological task more effectively by affecting texts in the shape of internal consistency so proficient in its intrinsic workings that it appears to be functioning well independent of larger or external factors.  The so-called principle of arts for arts’ sake, while it seeks to devalue the influence of history and other external dimensions of existence, is a latent endorsement of a particular history that lends it a distinct voice.  In other words, texts do not only operate in purely aesthetic dimension, but also, and most decisively, in their historical and/or external expressive dimension.            

The representationality of Balagtas’ Florante at Laura during the Spanish colonial period is taken up in most textbooks on Philippine Literature as a powerful representative of the history of that time.  What makes it representative of the Spanish colonial literature in the Philippines ranges from its faithful endorsement of the literary canon developed by the Spanish missionaries in their attempt to discover and master the native language for efficient colonial administration to its significant influence on the revolutionary fervor of the indiosIncidentally, Virgilio Almario (1996) earlier noted that the Tagalog poetics, which Balagtas exemplified during the latter part of the 19th century, did not realistically develop from the native poetics allegedly practiced by our indigenous bards, as Spanish missionaries were wont to claim.  A historical approach in reading Balagtas, in this light, would note that the efficacy of Florante at Laura as a native literary canon served an ideological purpose for the part of Spanish colonial regime. On the other hand, the representationality of Balagtas could be taken up as a powerful symbolic tableau of our historical existence during Spanish colonization.  The work of Balagtas is a symbolic visage of what is actually happening in history. Despite its foreign texture and undeniable setting in some foreign land, the Florante at Laura would soon become an important literary influence on the revolutionary spirit that was developing on the near close of the 19th century.  Bonifacio’s Katapusang Hibik ng Pilipinas banked on the popularity of the literary influence of Balagtas, his cultural pervasiveness in native community bonding where his works were recited.  Aside from its distintively Tagalog language, the language of the indios, Bonifacio’s poetics successfully identified with the poetic resilience of the natives as evidenced by their familiarity with Balagtas’ as one of their own and as characteristically suggesting transcendent aims that the succeeding revolution would shape into an effective counter-ideology against Spain.  Also the earliest known Christian poem (May Bagyo Ma’t May Rilim) of unknown authorship was to make its mark on the cultural imagination of the natives. Notice the revolutionary potency of the following passage from the Tagalog translation of the poem: Nagiwa ma’t nabagbagDaluyong matataas,Ako’y magsusumikadBabaguhin nag lakas:Dito rin hahagilapTimbulang ikaligtas.14

Meanwhile, recent scholarship on millenarian movements during the colonial period, particularly the works of Reynato Ileto (and Vicente Rafael), would expose the dutiful connection between the natives’ identification with the suffering Christ and their struggle for emancipation.  The identification with the passion of the messiah (thus, the Pasyon) is a classic case of turning the tables on the oppressor’s many colonial devices of subjugating the natives. The Pasyon (Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon Natin by Gaspar Aquino de Belen) recited during Lent had undergone a displacement: from its colonial tool of spreading Christianity and taming the paganism of the natives, it had been transformed into a counter-hegemonic weapon against the Spaniards, although much of the attempts at uprising inspired by this religious identification with Christ ended up in failure.

Perhaps, the most classic representative of this period was Rizal’s two famous novels. The novels, from the historical standpoint, are exceptional for their indictment of the Spanish clergy in the Philippine islands.  The novels exposed the profligacy of the friars, their hypocrisies, and their exact moral positioning vis-à-vis the vaunted Christian ideals propagated in Europe, to name few of the many catalogues of the licentiousness of the pro-enemy of Noli and Fili. However, the historical approach could also spot the weakness of Rizal’s propaganda.  An intelligent student of history would immediately notice the ideological limitation of the novels: they are both indicting the Spanish clergy, but only rhetorically cautious the whole colonial civilian-military regime backed up by the Spanish throne.  Of course, as we progress with the historical approach, we would count several factors that somehow determined the hesitance of Rizal to make a full-blown prosecution of the entire regime.  Among other things, Rizal espoused an idea that Spain is the motherland.  His ilustrado mentality is reluctant to embrace revolution, as did many of the members of his class operating in Madrid. His education, inspired by Western ideals, is opposed to the aspiration of the natives for emancipation, and in order to achieve that, take up arms, which is, at best, visceral and spontaneous in nature, lacking in the strategic requirement of wisdom.  While this is true, Rizal’s hesitance to lead the revolution, at least, as a nominal endorser of self-determination, conclusively mirrors his ideological and/or class prejudice.  (This historical approach is distinctively Marxist in character, that is, looking at the ideological purpose of the text from its material involvement in a particular class or social status which carries in itself certain deeply held values and prejudices as opposed to others).

Meanwhile, on the advent of American colonial period, the official literary production took up, naturally, the ideological agenda of the new rulers. Perhaps, the most classic case of the effectiveness of the new colonial scheme to impose English as a medium of scholarly pursuits, as against the Español of the old intellectual class still nostalgic for its fallen benefactor and which took up relative resistance to American hegemony, is the promotion of literature written in English, the language of the new intellectual.  Jose Garcia Villa’s much-vaunted poetics became the embodiment of the highest standard of Anglo-American literary tradition. Lumbera, et.al summarized the Americanism of Villa and his artistic stance vis-à-vis the powerful historical forces insisting on local texts to endorse their fresh relevance to Philippine literary scene:  

“The short stories, and later the poems of Jose Garcia Villa (1906-1997) did much to establish Philippine writing alongside Tagalog and Spanish literatures which had longer histories behind them.  Footnote to Youth and Other Stories (1931) heralded the arrival of a Filipino author steeped in the Anglo-American literary tradition who had elected to class himself, not with native writers but with the literary avant-garde in England and the U.S.  Villa’s artistic credo, to be pursued more aggressively in his poems, would propose the autonomy of art, thus freeing the artist from any obligations to society, whether moral or political, and holding paramount the creation of the work of art.” (PL, p. 96)             

The new aesthetics of arts for arts’ sake became the crowning glory of American literary legacy in the Philippines which Villa’s works exemplified.  However, the rise of English as a medium of literary excellence would meet its fine Tagalog counterpart in terms of how the latter imbibed the standards working behind the promotion of English works. In other words, the old tradition of Tagalog narrative inspired by the techniques of sarsuwela and the patriotic-romantic  mood of early Tagalog writers such as Pedro Gatmaitan, Benigno Ramos, Jose Corazon de Jesus, Iñigo Regalado, Patricio Mariano, Valeriano Hernandez Peña, was transposed into a distinctively modernized genre which is “radical but aristocratic” (PL, p. 97). Tagalog became distinctively aestheticized through the mediation and interpolation of English standards. Foremost of the proponents of this new literary movement in Tagalog were Alejandro G. Abadilla and Clodualdo del Mundo. (Abadilla’s poetics made a mark during the early phase of the independent republic in the 1940s when American influence was still dominant). This modernization of Tagalog literature came in the light of a rather systematic denigration of old Tagalog poetics and narrative as inferior to those verbalized in English. Abadilla’s superficial radicalism was even more evident when he transposed the aestheticism of the English school’s arts for arts’ sake into ‘literature as literature,’ more than suggesting the absence of anything external that is inferior to the intrinsic potency of craftsmanship such as history, society, politics, ideology, etc. In other words, literature must not serve extra-artistic purposes.            

The intervening period of suppression of peasant revolts during the American occupation saw the effective utilization of literature to advance the political interests of the colonizers which was met with resistance in literary experimentation on the technique of  social realism such as Lope K. Santos’ political novel Banaag at Sikat (1904).  The outright political texture of Banaag at Sikat would be artistically tamed in succeeding political literary experimentation such as Faustino Aguilar’s Pinaglahuan (1907), drawing on the microcosm of the realities of occupation and exploitation by the colonizers in contrast to the macro-historical indictment of the earlier novel.  The two novels may differ in quality or the formal organization of language, diction, and plot, as well as their pure artistic merits (which is the object of emphasis in a formalistic reading of texts), but both are creatively circumscribed by a conscious intention to put across a political message.             

So far, we have seen how texts reflect history.  This historical approach to literary interpretation is a relevant method for educating the reader to the larger forces that  influence the writing of texts as discourse, that is, texts are inherent propagators of values, whether historical, social, cultural, or moral.  Throughout time, the historical approach has developed from a strictly macro-realistic exposition of the material conditions of the production of literary discourse to several sub-systemic investigation of the polarities existing in society such as its class/economic dimension, cultural collisions, moral divisions among peoples across class, gender, etc., and deeply political disparity in terms of the distribution of social power and social goods.  For instance, we can apply the moralistic approach to Father Damaso’s sermon in Noli me tangere while at the same time maintaining a historical eye at the larger setting in which the sermon found itself instantiating a relevant stage vis-à-vis the aims of Rizal as a novelist.  The moralistic approach would see to it that Father Damaso, as an instrument of the Spanish subjugation of the natives, endorsed values and virtues typical of the political intention of the colonizer to discipline the colonized.  Meanwhile, we can also apply the sociological approach to Banaag at Sikat and Pinagluhaan in terms of how the novel exposed the actual social reality faced by Filipinos under the new colonial regime.  The actual diffusion of the ruling ideology in terms of how it is operationalized in the household, in relationship and courting rites, in the struggle for claiming an inheritance, in everyday social communication, etc., indicates the efficacy of a system to disperse the central visible agenda of the colonizer into invisible, particular, and even finicky details of concerns in smaller social units where persons are too absorbed in scrupulousness to mind the hand of the authority working behind all these permutations.            

Meanwhile, if literature is said to reflect history, this does not elegantly suggest that literature is a faithful reproduction of history.  Most textbooks would say otherwise.  But, an intelligent look at the actual workings of history on texts would bare out the weakness in this view.  Other teachers of Philippine literature would compound the already problematic idea of textual fidelity by stressing, for instance, the literary values of texts as universal, permanent, timeless, etc. Again, this view is misleading, besides its misinformed Western adaptation.            

A critical Western literary theorist, Hans Robert Jauss, would sum up this incongruent emphasis on faithfulness and the universality of texts, specifically, those which have been elevated into so-called canons of literature, to underscore the historical fissure informing our reception of texts where the horizons of both the past and the present meet in a reconstructive light, that is, in an artificial imagination of continuity, of permanence and universality, as in a universal reading of literature across time:           

“The reconstruction of the horizon of expectations, on the basis of which a work in the past was created and received, enables us to find the question to which the text originally answered and thereby to discover how the reader of that day viewed and understood the work…It brings out the hermeneutic difference between past and present ways of understanding a work, points up to a history of its reception—providing both approaches—and thereby challenges as platonizing dogma the apparently self-evident dictum of philological metaphysics that literature is timelessly present and that it has objective meaning.” (Jauss, 1970, p. 18-19)15 

The Formalistic Approach            

The Formalistic approach came to us through the American educational system which had then reaped the commercial advantages of the liberalism that swept Europe a little less than a century ago from the time the first canon fired by Dewey against the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay led to a successful mock conclusion of the old regime.           

The formalistic approach in literature is, however, not a singularly constituting method of interpretation. As it is employed by present literary critics both here and abroad, the formalistic approach varies from emphasis and direction characteristically noted by several of its classic and popular proponents.  It will be shown later that these variations could be tentatively capsulated (thus, an intelligent caution) into a single view of texts, that is, “a detailed and empirical approach to reading” (RG, p. 27) which among others “aim to explore what is specifically literary in texts.” (Ibid.)           

This approach had been earlier recognized in the emphasis of Anglo-American New Criticism on the organic unity of the text.  Its earliest proponents were the English poets Mathew Arnold and T.S. Eliot.  Although much of their literary statements to the effect of founding a significant literary movement in the West which would later be known as New Criticism were just about laying the initial foundations of this literary theory, their statements were taken up as forming the constitutive spirit of the new literary wave.  Selden, et. al summarized the wave that these artists initiated and was later to shape the discriminating attitude of the succeeding period of marking out great literary icons (whose effect, for instance, on the Filipino poet Jose Garcia Villa is both excellent and devastating): 

“To over-simplify, what is central to all the diverse inflections of the Anglo-American tradition—and itself derived from the two sources mentioned above—is a profound, almost reverential regard for literary works themselves.  This may manifest itself as an obsessive concern with ‘the text itself’, ‘the words on the page’, nothing more nor less; with literary works as icons of human value…” (RG, p. 11; italics mine) Notice the following passages from Villa’s Poem 39, which showcases his vaunted stylistics known as the comma poems and its extensive Western tone:   


 “When, Nothing, is, so, well, said,           

Or, so, well, done,            

It, betrays, itself, and, becomes,           


As, apples, by, Cezanne, or, just,           

Lines, by, Mondrian.                                     


Between, two, points, there, can, be,     

A, straight, line,                                   

A, curve,                                               

A, zigzag,                                                           

A, spiral:           

But, most, important, of, all,           

The, mysterious, invisible, line. 16           

The reader cannot help but be mesmerized by the fluency of the diction and the tone of this rather cerebral poem of the quintessential Filipino artist aspiring to become an American poet. Villa would eventually define the Philippine literary landscape, specifically, after World War II (until the resurgence of activism in the 1960s) when, as noted by a young contemporary Villa scholar, “poems became increasingly verbally refined; and poets, meticulously concerned with the craft of writing, less about politics of writing, if at all.”17 The influence of New Criticism on Villa’s works is exceptionally evident.  He was able to influence a number of literary stars such as David Cortez Medalla, Virginia Morena, Luis Francia, Ricaredo Demetillo, etc., while discriminating contemporary Tagalog poets, specifically, those acting out political aesthetic aims. Villa’s works received a distinct reputation among foreign writers like Edith Sitwell, David Daiches, Babette Deutsch, to name a few. Carlos Bulosan, who was already marking out a distinctive voice in America as a Filipino expatriate labor organizer, who escaped poverty to try his luck in the land of milk and honey , at the time of Villa did not enjoy the same reputation. This could be attributed to the fact that Bulosan did not agree on the independence of aesthetics from ideological or political aims, which Villa epitomized.  For Bulosan literature must serve a political aim for it to mark a purposeful presence in society, specifically, when oppression and exploitation are masked by aesthetic intoxication of our social imagination in the guise of personal celebration of individual transcendent powers as the poems of Villa demonstrate. The individualism of Villa is diametrically opposed to the aesthetics of collectivism of Bulosan. (See his short story My Father Goes To Court)           

T.S. Eliot expressed what could become a pervasive literary view and profoundly influential on the succeeding inflections of the New Criticism:  “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” (RG, p. 11) Clearly, this means escape from the various contexts in which a certain personality finds itself a determining agency, such as the historical, social, and the political.            

This trend would deepen its aesthetic purity in the succeeding ruminations on the correct method of reading texts.  But, above all, it strongly advocates a view that criticism, or literary criticism as a venture into reading literary texts is the business of professionals (RG, p. 15), of language experts, and practitioners of the verbal fluency in poetics, etc.  The elitism implied in this view is couched in phrases ‘aesthetic distance’, ‘arts for arts’ sake’, and ‘intentional fallacy’ and ‘affective fallacy’—examples of a literary outlook that eliminate the intention of the author or the emotional effect on the reader of the text as undesirable standards for judging the efficacy of a work of literary art.  Thus, the escape from personality advocated by Eliot, which alone guarantees the organic unity of the text.           

The proverbial independence of the author from the text is glorified as a venerable premise of literary criticism in the observation of Mark Schorer, professor of English at Berkeley, California, and an advocate of New Criticism.  His most relevant application of the Anglo-American literary school was on his “analysis of the language of fiction by revealing the unconscious patterns of imagery and symbolism (way beyond the author’s ‘intention) present in all forms of fiction…”(RG, p. 18) Needless to say, the theory of the unconscious sealed the supremacy of the independence of the text from any perceptible context of literary production. 

The Russian Formalist School  

To begin with, the Russian formalist school, like its Anglo-American counterpart, is not a singular school of interpreting literature that is complete and sufficient from its foundation, although it may be simplified into several common characteristics. Various attempts to modulate the original formalist school founded in 1915 by Roman Jakobson and Petr Bogatyrev, known as the Moscow Linguistic Circle were, at best, theoretical refinements.  For purposes of simplification, we shall divide the school into four transitional modifications.

First, the Shklovsky-Tomashevsky formalist strand.

This strand of Russian formalism popularizes the technique of defamiliarization which Viktor Shlovsky expresses in the following: “The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception, because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.  Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important.” (RG, p. 31) The technique of defamiliarization would be further expanded into the concept of ‘laying bare, that is, the exposition of the literary processes at work in the making of a work of art, at the same time that non-literary concerns are sidelined.  For instance, the emotive aspect of a literary work is put aside to give emphasis to the very process of presenting emotions, not the fact of emotion itself.  The result would be an unnatural reception of a familiar emotion that the text evokes which is defamiliarized from the normal expectation of the reader. In other words, the text inclines more to the devices or technique used by the writer rather than the material of experience presented in it. This is closer to the aesthetic principle of art for art’s sake espoused by the early American writers who influenced our local authors in the 1930s. 

Defamiliarization also works in the strategy of emplotment (or the organizing structure of the raw material of a work of art). Digressions, disruptions, and displacements or the ‘violation of the expected formal arrangements of incidents’ (RG, p. 34) in a story are techniques of emplotment consistent with the aim of this formalist school. A closer look at this expansion of defamiliarization will reveal that formalism is not entirely inclined to the pure aesthetic value of art.  Boris Tomayevsky insists, for instance, that the motivation behind the conscious laying bare of narrative devices in defamiliarization cannot be divorced from the condition of artificiality.  This means that the author or writer defamilarizes a story either to destroy some traditional expectations but only to insinuate an alternative reading that is not part of the official or canonical, or lay bare the total arbitrariness of aesthetic creation.  Arbitrariness gives credence to the inventive nature of works of art which are most often ideologically inscribed within a particular cultural setting. 

The inventive aspect, of course, is not an independent nature of fiction; it is what makes us take the reality of fiction as almost natural in the sense of how we identify, for instance, the fictional characters in the novels of Rizal to the actual characters that the hero was supposed to describe who were either his friends or acquaintances, or foes in real life. If we have to suppose that Rizal employed the technique of defamiliarization to take an effective aim at his real enemies in the Spanish frailocracy (notice the comic scene in Father Damaso’s rather solemn evocative sermon), then we have to allow for the strictest formalist device of turning a real instance of a social fact inside out to make it more realistically compelling to the reader. But, we should not leave his defamiliarization to be dogmatized into a naïve inference that Rizal, after all, might be describing people in real life, or perhaps extending his own personal experiences to the characters in the novel. The actual processes involved in the creation of fiction are not necessarily of conscious deliberation by the writer; some have been shaped by overlapping social and personal incidents that only an inventive organizing structure of emplotment can shape into a coherent fictional narrative. What can turn out to be the conscious aspect of creation is the author’s strategy of employing literary devices to come up with a coherent narrative (emplotment). The materials that constitute this narrative are themselves fragmented, disorganized, and may in fact be independent of one another.  These materials are the contents of human experiences which are too intricate and complex to be perceived as coming from a single source, that is, in the case of Rizal’s novels, coming from his immediate existential environment. 

Meanwhile, it must be stressed that Rizal banked on the social imagination of his readers who were strictly members of the enlightened class of his time.  His motivation to defamiliarize Philippine social reality is foregrounded already by his inclusion in a particular culture of reading, or the professional culture of the ilustrados. In this light, a formalist reading can expand into a historical treatment of the production of literary works. The latter aspect of the expansion of the formalist school was enhanced by Roman Jakobson who undertook to heighten the technique of defamiliarization propounded by Shlovsky. He proposed the theory of ‘shifting dominant’ to underscore rather the fact of change which defamiliarization as a literary practice communicates through literary creations.  His reflection in this light represents another strand in Russian formalism.He defined first the ‘dominant’ as ‘the focusing component of a work of art: it rules, determines and transforms the remaining components.” (RG, p. 37; italic emphasis mine) The dominant, in other words, circumscribes the actual processes of creation, determines the particular field of creative inflections from available influences or models whose strength and potency across time is the result of their familiarity and habitual usage in a given culture. Needless to say, a given dominant is subject to the interpolations of other emerging dominants which may subvert the former and replace it as the new dominant.  Thus, the shifting dominant that Jakobson proposed. It is not difficult to expand this concept into larger developmental concerns which inform the processes of literary invention such as those which history or society can bear down on practitioners of art as well as the social forces vying for symbolic articulations in culture. 

Another strand of Russian formalism is popularly known as the Bakhtinian school. Three important concepts comprise of the central teaching of this school: 1) language as a material reality, 2) context determines the meaning of statements or declarations, 3) the concept of the carnival.‘Language as a material reality’ implies that as a sign-system it cannot be dissociated from social construction.  The Bakhtianian school, associated with Mikhail Bakhtin, Pavel Medvedev and Valentin Voloshinov, insists on the “intimate connection between language and ideology” (RG, p. 38).   

“Verbal signs are the arena of continuous class struggle: the ruling class will always try to narrow the meaning of words and make social signs ‘uni-accentual’, but in times of social unrest the vitality and basic ‘multi-accentuality’ of linguistic signs becomes apparent as various class interests clash and intersect upon the ground of language.” (RG, p. 39)             

The emphasis on the ideological component of language is typical of this school.  Language has a social utility which cannot be divorced from the actual realities of power which in society is disputed between classes, gender, ideologies, beliefs, etc.  There is no single constituting meaning that we can ascribe to a particular utterance because each is taken from a context that is different from another.  This school insists on the plurality of contexts, which ideology (mostly the ideology of the ruling class) flattens in order to achieve an arbitrary unity of discourse, which symbolically legitimates, for instance, the claim of the ruling class to truth, and justifies its authority and superiority. But since language is also ideological, this claim to truth can be disputed.  In literary pieces, the use of monologue, for instance, betrays the arbitrariness promoted by the text to silence the multiplicity of voices or what the Bakhtinian school called heteroglossia, that is, a diversity of voices or point of view, say, in a novel. Notice the use of monologue in the passage from a poem by Alejandro G. Abadilla (Ako Ang Daigdig).            


ang daigdig          


ang tula               


ang daigdig

ang tula 


ang daigdig

ng tula

ang tula

ng daigdig


ang walang maliw ako

ang walang kamatayang ako

ang tula ng daigdig...


The use of monologue and the direct invocation of the “I” persona asserts a unity of the poem and the world, both united in the ground of the self.  This poem asserts an aesthetic superiority which is achieved in the guise of self-conquest, a liberal attitude of mastering one’s self before he can conquer the world.  This famous poem of Abadilla was representative of the aesthetic dominant (Jakobson) pervasive during the 1940s, a dominant that aggressively pursued a rebellious life against social restrictions, but a rebellion that could only be attained in ultra-individualistic sense.  The heteroglossia of voices (other selves) is silenced in the masterful fluency of an expanded person that arrogates a poetic ownership of the world.            

Meanwhile, the concept of the carnival has influenced the tradition of literary history, penetrating in areas where even a strictly historical or extrinsic approach could be compatible with liberal aesthetic treatment of texts.  The use of the carnival is rhetorically powerful in satires.  Selden, et. al provide the example of the use of carnival in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s short fiction Bobok.                       

 “A scene in a cemetery culminates in a weird account of the brief ‘life outside life’ of the dead in the grave.  Before losing their earthly consciousness completely, the dead enjoy a period of few months when they are released from all the obligations and laws of normal existence and are able to reveal themselves with a stark and unlimited freedom.  Baron Klinavech, ‘king’ of the corpses, declares “I just want everyone to tell the truth…On earth it is impossible to live without lying, because life and lie are synonyms; but here we will tell the truth just for fun.’” (RG, p. 41)             

Alfred Yuson’s Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café is a powerful local example of the use of carnival in the novel.  His novel celebrates the magical historical power of the main character Leon Kilat, known as Pantaleon Villegas, a popular millenarian leader during the Spanish colonial period.  Kilat uses his magic to defeat his enemies, a power that no military strength could outmatch. The magical realism that the novel abounds in is certainly carnival as it not only employs an intricate time-warping plot (Leon Kilat travels in different periods of Philippine history), but appeals as well to the decisively preposterous and absurdly funny.  Martinez-Sicat summarizes what is obviously the classy carnival plot of Yuson’s novel: 

“The main promise of the charm is the launching of Leon “into the company of select spirits, who would one day assemble with their friends to drink Irish coffee in the Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café” where they would “imbibe together and tell stories.  They would savor scandals.  They would make merry together, knowing in select company that all that had passed before and would come to pass after were nothing else but open mysteries.”  The raison d-etre of the charm is for the receiver to ultimately qualify for a select group sharing an understanding of the past and the future as “open mysteries,” which to Leon “meant nothing else but alternating currents of laughter and rubble.”18  

The last but not the least important strand in Russian formalism is developed by Jan Mukarovsky.  Mukarovsky is openly political in his inflection of the technique of defamiliarization as he expands it to the technique of foregrounding when the author-writer intentionally distorts the linguistic components of a work of art for a compelling aesthetic effect.  This is commonly associated with the technique of foreshadowing which ‘would eliminate surprise, or at least greatly reduce it, and thus destroy a story that has nothing else to offer..” 19 This technique is evident when the writer lays bare the literary devices in order to kill the element of surprise or even suspense, to defamilarize the reader of his/her delightful expectation who in the end finds himself/herself not surprised by the surprise, but by “its precise nature” (WL, p. 114).  Notice, for instance, the unsual play of surprise in Joi Barrios’ poem Gahasa (PL, p. 428): 

Ihanda ang mga ebidensya.

Eksibit Blg. 1: Patalim, baril

o kahit na anong sandata,

patunay ng pagbabanta.

Eksibit Blg. 2: Panty na may mantsa,

patunay ng kabirhenan ng dalaga.

Eksibit Blg. 3: Sertipikasyon ng doktor,

patunay na-

a: sapilitan

b: lubusan

Ang pagpasok ng ari, 

Eksibit Blg. 4: Sertipikasyon ng pagkatao

patunay ng hindi pagiging puta.

Ipasok sa hukuman ang nasasakdal.

Iharap sa hukuman ang nagsasakdal.

Simulan ang panggagahasa.


Meanwhile, Mukarovsky produced the counter-part theory of the dominant (Jakobson) known as the aesthetic function which is also similar to the emphasis on heteroglossia propounded by the Bakhtinian school.  In a nutshell, the aesthetic function, owing to its plural nature, that is, it may serve both aesthetic and extra-aesthetic purposes, is in the final analysis a function of ideology.  As a historical force, ideology is subject to the ever-shifting conditions in both time and space, and therefore contingent in nature.  It is precisely the contingent nature of ideology that it finds itself inseparable from the realities of power, the actual mobilizing force of history in terms of how, for instance, beliefs are disputed which foregrounds how it will be decided later in time.  The following poem (PL, p 330) by Jose F. Lacaba strongly suggests this.  


Siya’y pinalaki ng lolang palakuwento,

kaya sa pagtulog ay laging kasiping

ang kapre, tikbalang, multo, at maligno,

sanlibot’t isang panggabing pangitain.

Itinuro sa kanya ng butihing lola

(kasabay ng katon) ang lahat ng dasal,

antanda sa Latin, senyas, at pangontra

sa kapangyarihan ng aswang at kulam.

Subalit pagpasok sa unibersidad,

nang ang kanyang lola’y matagal nang patay,

natutuhan din niya kung ano ang dapat

paniwalaan ng isang edukado: 

na ang dapat niyang katakutan ay tao,

at sa tao’y hindi dasal ang panlaban.

14 Bienvenido Lumbera, Cynthia Nograles Lumbera, Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology, revised edition, Anvil: Quezon City, 1997, p. 48. Henceforth, PL.

15 Quoted from Soledad Reyes, Pagbasa ng Panitikan at Kulturang Populat: Piling Sanaysay, 1976-1996,  Ateneo De Manila University Press, Quezon City, 1997, p. 34.

16 Ma. Teresa Martinez-Sicat, Naida V. Rivera (ed), Affirming the Filipino: An Anthology of Philippine Literature, University of the Philippines Department of English and Comparative Literature, Quezon City, 2004, p. 35.

17 Jonathan Chua (ed), The Critical Villa: Essays in Literary Criticism by Jose Garcia Villa, Ateneo De Manila University Press, Quezon City, 2002, p. 17.

18 Maria Teresa Martinez-Sicat, Imagining the Nation in Four Philippine Novels, University of the Philippines Press, Quezon City, 1994, p. 98.  Quotations are lifted from appropriate pages of Yuson’s novel published by Adriana Printing Company in 1988.  

19 Sylvan Barnet,  A Short Guide to Writing about Literature,(5th edition), HarperCollins, Tufts, 1985, p. 114. Henceforth, WL.

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