Friday, September 30, 2016

Notes on Maximum Volume 2: #3 Those Who Don't Build Must Burn by Brylle B. Tabora

It's 2050 and a corporation is peddling poems made by a machine called the Wellington Dollar-A-Poem Machine, which spews out 1,200 poems a day on demand. The hero, Eric Austria, ex-professor of poetry and author of a poetry book that flopped, is against it so he storms to the office of owner of the machine, Mr. Wellington, to plea for the case of the now-jobless poets. But Wellington faults the poets of 2042 for being incendiary,  writing poems that were anti-establishment which started riots and a pattern of kill, burn, kill, burn among the readers. And, Austria asks, "what about artistic freedom?" Wellington replies, "There is no freedom which is absolute." Austria replies, "But poetry, like everything, evolves---" Wellington says he'll have none of it. So, Austria sets a poem for a dollar machine on fire.  

This is the first science fiction in the Maximum Volume anthology (I don't know if there are other's as I haven't finished the book.) And it takes on the classic sci-fi theme of man vs. machine. It reminds me of the Infinite Monkey theorem, which speaks of the probability that six monkeys typing infinitely on a keyboard will churn out something shakespearian. The answer is one to infinity. But would the answer be the same with a machine, which is fed with everything that Shakespeare wrote? Will algorhytms be able to mimic the randomness and precision of human intentionality? Well, Deep Blue was programmed to speak the language of chess with a specific objective of beating its opponents. And Deep Blue beat Kasparov  in 1997. So, to reform the question, will people be able to build a machine that will conquer poetry, like Deep Blue which conquered chess? If it happens, let's take it from Prof. Austria who borrows a line from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, saying, "Those who don't build, must burn." Good story. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Notes on Maximum Volume 2: #2 Fly-Over Country by Ian Rosales Casocot

Fly-Over Country had me thinking which is the story within the story. There are four characters, Allan, Henry, Tony, and Yvette. Allan is the "you" of the story, an American writer who tends bars on evenings, shirtless, and he meets Tony who is a Filipino writer. They have a one night stand and as Allan flirts with Tony, Allan convinces Tony to put Henry, a fictional Filipino character in what Tony was writing. But Henry parallels Tony in Tony's writing. And considering that Allan is also a writer, Allan tells Yvette about Henry who Allan has appropriated in his own fiction. (If you've reached this far, you might need a pen and a piece of paper to keep track.) Yvette convinces Allan to kill Henry in Allan's story. Henry dies by the Asian malady known as bangungot after the brief one night stand with Allan. And in Allan's story, Yvette is the mother of Henry. So, which story is within the story, or for that matter, which story is autobiography? But Allan declares, "Everything is autobiography." and Yvette dismisses it because after a while, "it kinda becomes boring." Not in this one though,  especially because the metafictional premise is fleshed out in solid and clear prose with the second person viewpoint adding a layer of dreaminess, and the recurring image of the "fly-over country" mirroring the theme of the loneliness of the characters and their fiction as they resolve their issues of intimacy.  Allan declares in the key part of the story how the heart might as well be a kind of fly-over country, "like where you were this moment, the broken (hearts) knowing no destination, except this wilderness of so much  open spaces where no one looked, where everything was lost in some discarded cartography." You gotta hand it to the author for pulling this off. Absolutely brilliant!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

163. Duterte's Wager

Blaise Pascal must be turning in his grave. Duterte just mangled Pascal's wager and re-stated it to support the reimposition of the death penalty. "Let's impose the death penalty just in case there is no god." says Duterte. Yet, Pascal encourages us to take the win-lose nothing bet, which is -- there is a God, rather than the lose-lose nothing bet, which is the case if there is no god. The win-lose bet takes our interest to mind, as we win if we believe there is a god and act accordingly, and indeed there is a god, and lose nothing if there is no god, as all is lost anyway. The lose-lose nothing bet, which is there is no god, loses if there is a god -- "Oops! There is a god, damn" and loses nothing if there is no god -- "I was right but I'm still dead". But Duterte --  he's asking us to reconsider the lose-lose bet. And he's saying the lose-lose bet supports the death penalty. Jeez, non-sequitur. It's really another way of saying, there is no god, let the State kill if it wants, and never mind if it turns out that God exists. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

162. Notes on Celeste Lecaroz's Portraits: #3 They are not "portraits"

They are abstract art, she declares as I point out to her some lines of the face in her work which diverge from the reference.  To abstract from reality is to cut from the real world and paste it on the canvas. To expect that it is an exact graphic representation of reality is futile, because it is neither its intent (if it has an intent at all) or its means. Instead, this kind of art uses the language of colors, shapes, forms, and lines, which are pure abstractions. Thus, to appreciate Celeste's art, one has to expect the colors, strokes, lines, shapes, to speak louder than the image of the face, which does not have to be a perfect copy. But the face is central to her art. It is what makes the pieces accessible to the untrained eye, the shock of recognition that shows the subjects in colors which represent who they were, who they are, and who they would ever be. I read somewhere that it was a tongue in cheek blessing to tell someone,  "May you be painted by Picasso," as Picasso's paintings of faces have displaced eyes, ears, and nose. It takes a lot of education  to actually like a portrait by Picasso. But, it's abstract art -- just like a Celeste Lecaroz portrait, which a portrait it is not. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Notes on Maximum Volume 2: #1 "The Auroras"

Two gentlemen, Dean Francis Alfar and Sarge Lacuesta, venture in a project to publish the best Filipino fiction and they nail it. Rather than engage the blogosphere in the polemics of Dutertesism, why not engage these gentlemen and write about their fine harvest? Just a word of caution, every reading is an opportunity for misreading, but never mind as long as we enjoy it. 

1. The "Auroras" by Sasha Martinez is about arrivals, departures, welcomings, homecomings, lost loves, found loves, destruction, and reconstruction with a post-war historical cast of characters who lived through it all. I labored all afternoon, Google in hand, finding out the characters who had a modern-day online presence: Armi Kuusela, the first Ms. Universe from Finland who married a Filipino banker, Gil Hilario -- albeit Gil is not in this story as it ends just as Armi is about to go to Baguio where she would subsequently meet Gil in a blind date -- and, Colonel Manuel Nieto, the be-moustached aide-de-camp of Pres. Manuel L. Quezon, subject of teen-ager's crush and a sort of forbidden love by Aurora, the narrator, yes -- he's real too. Celebrated personalities come to an afternoon tea party to welcome Ms. Universe and I was fully convinced this is a record of the actual event. Just then, the unabashed congressman who declared himself the only one eligible among the Filipino gentlemen smitten by Ms. Universe, makes an appearance close to the end of the story. A few clicks and I learned this is the same guy who faked his war medals and looted the bureaucracy.

2. Of course, as a work of fiction, the story has to earn its merit without the aid of external elements — and it does so beautifully in a language that is often hypnotic. Yet, this is part of the fun in historical fiction, recognizing how the written points to the unwritten and delighting at how the written shows the world lurking beneath this lyrical tapestry. The story understates much of the historical detail, making it all the more intriguing. I'm particularly fascinated with Colonel Manuel Nieto's story about the bear, the last one in Luzon said to have hidden in a cave at the edge of Intramuros. The bear raged as the Spaniards partied and prayed each night. It is the story within a story, a metaphor for what was once native to the island, hopelessly and foolishly resisting the inevitable excursions of and intrusions to the Filipino soul. Yet, the bear is gone and Aurora, the narrator, declares herself to have become the woman of the world. Having married Jakob, the brother of Armi Kuusela, Aurora will bear children who "will be most assuredly blonde, and not improbably blue-eyed.” And close to the end, she muses about her lost love, the Colonel and his story about the bear with things having gone full circle. There are four Auroras here: the wife of Manuel L. Quezon, the flowers named by the hotel gardener after her, the narrator named Aurora, who leaves an old love and brings home a new one, and the Roman goddess of dawn who layers this fictive world, as it starts and ends, with the colors of a new beginning. Ganda! 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

161. Notes on Celeste Lecaroz's Portraits: 2. Spontaneous Realism

The first time I thought this project of large colorful canvas portraits by Celeste was worth a serious second look was when she painted Fr. Roque Ferriols, S. J., the well-loved professor of philosophy from Ateneo. The portrait captured that classic Fr. Roque stare who was my teacher back in the 90s. Known for his temper and tireless drive, coupled with his mastery of Plato, St. Augustine, and Teilhard de Chardin, he'd look at you at certain occasions as if saying, "I expect you to have done the right thing." which in those days meant studying and thinking; and you would melt, if you didn't. Yet, Celeste bathed Fr Roque's portrait in colored lights, and the effect is magical, if not, mystical. This is good art. What makes it so? It starts with this massive four feet by four feet canvas which is an imposing size for an artwork. It summons attention. Then, the under coloring on which the face is painted acts as the base where all the action happens.  The strokes, varied in size and twisting and turning here and there, seem isolated from one another at close range, and appear to be spontaneously assembled. But the mind assimilates these elements and recognizes the sum of all parts. Then, the seer notices the colors that seem to have no logical reference to reality save for shades and its values which are correponded with color.  But the mind is tricked into imagining that these colors are different lights beaming  at the subject. The effect is out of the ordinary. Of course, if you do this painting on some guy from the street, it might not have that same cathartic effect on the seer. But to someone who has known Fr. Roque Ferriols, S. J., especially during the crucial years of college education, this portrait is loaded with meaning. This is real as it can be -- Fr. Roque Ferriols, everything he has written and said, everything he stood and fought for -- in a beautiful picture. I told myself, I just gotta have this on my wall. 

Sunday, September 04, 2016

159. Davao

Every bombing is a repetition of another. In June 12, 1978, there was a fire at the market of Bankerohan, Davao City. As people came to help put out the fire,  a grenade exploded, killing a number of those who came.  This much we learned from Joey Ayala's song,  “Bankerohan,” which came out in his 1991 album, "Panganay na Umaga." In March 4, 2003, the airport terminal in Davao City was likewise bombed. At least 21 people were killed and another 148 were injured. Yesterday, I woke up to hear of another bombing in Davao, this time at the Roxas night market. I'm familiar with his place as often I stayed at the Marco Polo Hotel right across Ateneo de Davao, near the site of the bombing, which killed at least 14 people and injured at least 61. The logic of these bombing attacks were obscured, but I gathered it was often politically-motivated, a vicarious attack upon an authority channeled through  the helpless civilians, whose fault it was to be at the wrong  place at the wrong time. During martial law, the Light-A-Fire Movement was notorious for bombing several establishments. I found a book by one of its leaders, Ed Olaguer, in a book store, read some chapters, and set it aside for good, regretting the time I wasted reading that book. Olaguer was never made a hero of the Marcos years, even as Olaguer tried peddling his exploits. Digging further into our history with bombers and terrorism, Jose Rizal knew how history would judge terrorists like Olaguer. In Rizal's El Filibusterismo, Simoun's plan to bomb the wedding reception of Paulita Gomez and Juanito Pelaez was foiled by Isagani, Paulita's erstwhile love interest, who threw the lamp where the bomb was hidden to the river, after a tip from Basilio. Rizal could have changed the plot, and let the bomb explode instead, which would have been the first terrorism scene in Philippine literature, but he did not do so. Rizal knew it then as we know now,  the bombers are never endeared to the authority they seek to overthrow or to the society they seek to change, or to the human race for that matter. History would always be unkind. Nobody would get a monument for killing helpless innocent people, regardless if the bombers succeed,  and no matter the nobility of the cause. The means, not the ends, is how all will be justified. Every bombing is a repetition of another. But the bombers -- they never learn.