The Wanderer: A literary cartography of a people to come
I promised to National Artist F. Sionil Jose that I would write a review of his novel Viajero which I will be posting here in three or four parts. This is my way of appreciating him for his wonderful words on my essay “Axioms of Choice” which appeared in The Mabini Review. I guess what made the essay into his liking is its kindred treatment of an-arche which I always suspected, since my senior high school days, was the untold philosophical horizon of his many if not all of his creative works. Yet Sionil Jose’s anarchism, as he put it in a personal conversation, is the anarchism of the old. I take it as one that is akin to the anarchism of Jacques Ellul, another philosophical inspiration of mine, and James Scott whose Art of Not Being Governed is certainly a classic of ‘an-arche’ thought. In the following review, nonetheless, I tried to connect his anarchism to Deleuze and Guattari’s more contemporary treatment of rhizomes, of bodies without organs. As soon as I finished posting all the parts here, I will upload the entire review to my academia page.
–To Kafka Ortega
What do we live for but to be a happy witness to a will more powerful than ours?[i]
In his dying moments, afflicted by an unknown disease and a more piercing malady that he hoped to find the cure for his people, Salvador Raza, Viajero’s main protagonist, uttered those words to himself yet unsure even of who he is, much more of that strange bidding that is overpowering him. Was it the numbness of his real origin? Was it the indifference of history? The limitation of the Filipino soul? By the same token, the following lines from Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund capture Salvador’s otherwise than a psychological predicament:
How will you die when your time comes … since you have no mother? Without a mother, one cannot love. Without a mother, one cannot die.”[ii]
And yet, by its portrayal of how the time of men, and women as well, can take root in the quiet realm of the actual, in the otherwise muted gyrations of a people’s soul, Viajero (Wanderer) commands by far a true power of the false.[iii] This we say as the novel, another tour de force by National Artist F. Sionil Jose, brings the whole weight of a people’s history, a power, strangely enough, nurtured by a difficult forbearance of a happy witness, to bear upon a future to come.
But for the future to surface on the horizon of things in their making possible the experience of the time of things, including what exceeds the givenness of their time as things, as time always surprises, the future must first be witnessed. As always, to be a witness is to carry a burden. Such is how the tectonic fluidity of the novel unleashes its force—by invoking a people who do not exist yet, a people as witness to the actualization of a power to falsify the present.
This is for us the unmistakable stamp of the novel. Viajero is a modern tale of ghosts and a narrative of a people whose lives, if still fortunate to cling to life, do not matter for non-people, for the life-nullifying impersonalism of the machine of history whose evil contraption is, in all times, inimitably of the creation of the powers that be. But these lives matter for a novel about zombies. A novel about them is right to the point if it shows a people embracing life in the squalid margins of modern urban landscapes, in the fringes of countryside topography whose tectonic origins underneath its soil are consigned to the unconscious of official history. These are people deprived even of animal decency, what of the esteemed dignity of a spore in these days of genetic mutation! And yet, just as in any mundane Platonic cave, a dreamer would escape.
Such is Salvador Raza, yet a dreamer who is never attached to a dream in a manner that dreamers dream, that it is they who make dreams intelligible, plain, lucid, logical; that an object of vision must first be afflicted by a soul if it is to become an image of thought, a rhizome,[vi] but rather it was a dream that found him. Out of this inversion of dream-dreamer, vision-actor binarity, Buddy emerges as an inadvertent seed that would promise at first to grow into a new arboreal structure of a living history.
In a historical sculpture in progress, such as Viajero, this talk about trees is not a strange addition to their symbolic function: from the canopy of trees where the laid-back stream of sunlight affords a sliver of hope despite the war’s hostility—the orphaned child Badong blinded by the rays of light before emerging from a dream to another, from one’s caring hands to the next, from place to place, from one geography to a distant one, from sunlight to sunlight where nighttime shadows shift in unsinkable diurnal because the revolution must not sleep—to the wistful sunshade of extendable history, an antique shop of memories that can be relived but only in the margins of the present. The list could go on: wood materials for shipbuilders in Cavite, ballasts for Spanish war machines, cannons, etc., mighty contraptions sustaining a trans-Pacific trade.
There is something genealogical about a tree. It is not a method for the people. [viii]
And yet in their place, a rhizome returns to the earth.
to be continued
[i] F. Sionil Jose, Viajero. A Filipino Novel (Manila, Philippines: Solidarida Publishing House, 2010).
[ii] Herman Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund, trans. Ursule Molinaro (New York: Bantam Books, 1971).
[iii] According to Deleuze, Nietzsche speaks of the power of the false, being the other quality of will to power, as “a quality through which the whole of life and its quality is particularly affirmed and has become active” (Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983], 185). “To affirm is not to take responsibility for, to take on the burden of what is, but to release, to set free what lives. To affirm is to unburden; not to load life with the burden of higher values, but to create new values which are those of life, which make life right and active” (Ibid.).
[iv] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis, London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1986), 148.
[vi] That is to say, “stranger to any idea of genetic axis or deep structure” (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizoprenia, trans. Brian Massumi [Minneapolis, London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1987], 12).