Sunday, September 23, 2007

More Thoughts on "Filipino" Speculative Fiction

More ideas seem to be thrown at the table and what's interesting about all of this is that there's discourse. Unfortunately, the questions too are ever-expanding and I think have strayed a bit from the original topic (or at least loosely based on them) so it's best we formulate them into question and address them (feel free to clarify):

1) The Criteria for Filipino Speculative Fiction

This question I think is easily what Bhex and Kenneth are asking. The former gives us a clear-cut definition while the latter not so much. If I may, I'll use Cecille's (see previous comments) questions to attempt to answer this question. Should Filipino fiction be about the Philippines? Well, not necessarily. Most of our stories might take place in the Philippines but isn't that kind of limited in scope. Aren't there other Filipino experience that go beyond our borders, such as OFWs, expatriates, or perhaps a Filipino who's lost somewhere? Should the stories be written in Filipino? Well, when use the language Filipino, we automatically make it our own. But as I pointed out earlier, the country has had a long history of different national languages and what about all the stories that's not written in Filipino, especially the quintessential Filipino novel Noli me Tangere? Must it be written by a Filipino? I think some local writers who aren't natural-born citizens that have managed to capture the Filipino spirit (albeit not necessarily in fiction) such as Fr. James Reuter, S.J. And then comes the bigger question I think: that a story not contain all of these elements or lack one of these elements, as long as at least one of these elements is present in the work. That's honestly a tough question. But at the end of the day, we're talking about speculative fiction here and not realist fiction. The strength of the former is that it goes beyond boundaries. I think by placing such boundaries, in this case an undeniable Filipino element, we are limiting the kind of stories we tell. That's not to say Filipino Speculative Fiction should not contain a Filipino element. I think one can be included even if it's an abstract one. For example, of the strengths of fantasy and science fiction is that it distances readers from reality and uses something else as a metaphor for our current experience. The aliens might represent another ethnicity. Other planets other countries. le Guin writes in Left Hand of Darkness writes about a culture so totally alien yet familiar if you continue on. Could we not write about aliens traveling to far off galaxies and working there, never to return home despite the technology being readily available? Can that not be a metaphor for the OFW experience even if OFW is not spelled outright?

2) The Agenda in Filipino Spec Fic

Tin's more recent post I think best describes this argument. That Filipino Spec Fic should have a thrust, a more social agenda. Now I'm not saying it shouldn't. But isn't that what the realist writers are doing right now? Writing stories that theoretically have an impact on society? Of course I'm not saying that spec fic should or should not be socially relevant. I dread the world of two extremes, one where all the fiction in the world is socially relevant, and the other where all fiction is merely fluff. I was talking to Dean the other day and he makes a point of nurturing both aspects. He talks about how the beginning literature of a civilization starts off with the relevant and later moves on to material with less gravity. Arguably we're still in the former stage but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be writing material belonging to the latter. Does ethics and politics and social responsibility have a place in speculative fiction? Definitely. But I also want to read stories that don't attempt to be as lofty. Ultimately though, what story isn't political, what story doesn't set out to teach a lesson of some sort? Even the most simplistic of mores have something to reach readers, albeit it's not necessarily the ones we want to read about.

5 comments:

Shadowdancer Duskstar said...

Frankly, the way that Filipino fiction goes annoys the HELL out of me. The Filipinoisms are forced, and thus become strained and look very artificial. There's always this 'need' for Filipino writers to inject this prerequisite 'Filipino-ness' which, I feel, stifles them (and ultimately, is probably why I don't see very many Filipino authors make it to international best selling lists.) Somehow, it lacks the 'natural' feel of other ethnic writers, wherein they manage to bring someone into their world without forcing it down people's throats.

I'd like them to be more subtle about injecting the Filipino setting into writing.

Frankly, I'd like to see Filipino writers break out of this mindset. The winners of the last Neil Gaiman fictionwriting contest (ESPECIALLY that Battle of Mactan retelling! - that was SO not fantasy!) needed to be slapped upside the head for the most part, I feel. That sort of storytelling panders to a shallow 'nationalistic' image that cripples Filipino writing, which, unfortunately, the contest organizers only encouraged with the choosing of winners.

I'd like the Filipino writing community to GROW out of the gutter they've set themselves into. Why settle for the dregs of a gutter when there's a lush field beyond?

Mia said...

In reply to the previous commenter:

There's always this 'need' for Filipino writers to inject this prerequisite 'Filipino-ness' which, I feel, stifles them (and ultimately, is probably why I don't see very many Filipino authors make it to international best selling lists.)

Kindly elaborate. I'm curious how you've come to that conclusion when 1) many Filipino writers in English are not writing about the Filipino experience at all; and 2) writers such as F. Sionil Jose, who wrote stories set in Ermita and Rosales which were about very Filipino issues and mores, receive international acclaim. I'd like to know why you think writers cram "Filipino-ness" down other people's throats, or what you have to say regarding the matter of Sionil Jose's obvious and unsubtle injection of the Filipino setting into his work. Pray tell, what is this nationalistic image you speak of, and how is it shallow?

There is a gutter, maybe, but I don't think it's the one you're describing.

Anton said...

The important thing to consider is the term “speculative.” To speculate means “to think over possibilities.” If there are no constraints to these possibilities, then speculative fiction can refer to any type of fiction. In which case, any debate on the meaning of speculative fiction is meaningless, never mind Philippine speculative fiction.

If these possibilities are constrained to historical realities that may have taken place (e.g., Britain stays on in the Philippines and the Spaniards never return) then one can call this genre “alternate history.” If one imagines ancient gods taking control of the region, then that’s fantasy. If one imagines the Philippines not giving in to IMF-WB restrictions and eventually becomes a superpower nation, and from which we develop a space age consisting of Filipino space explorers, then that’s alternate history and science fiction. If one imagines a small Filipino barrio where it rains flowers everyday, then that’s marvelous realism. In which case, given different possibilities and constraints, the term “speculative fiction” is meaningless.

What about “Philippine”? In literary studies, the label is usually applied to literary works where a Philippine local language is used or the author is generally recognized as a Filipino, whether through his citizenship or ancestry. Thus, Jessica Hagedorn’s novel is part of Philippine literature.

What, then, is Philippine speculative fiction? If there is no agreement on constraints to possibilities mentioned earlier, then it refers to any fictional work written by authors recognized as Filipinos or written in a Philippine local language.

Charles said...

There are those who believes that all fiction is speculative. And to a certain extent, I think labels exist to help readers "understand" what they're reading rather than an actual inherent description of any piece of work.

Spec Fic, as most people would consider it, is an umbrella term for anything speculative which mentions all the genres you pointed out. No contradiction there. I think Spec Fic is best described by what it isn't than by what it is (via negativa).

As for Philippines, that's what we're contesting. Should we limit it to definitions imposed by literary studies? I'm sure there are pros and cons for doing so. But personally I'm not limiting my answers to established, preconceived norms.

Anton said...

But if all fiction is speculative, then the phrase "speculative fiction" is redundant.

Re: Philippine literature, the points I gave above are logical. In short, not only are they "imposed" by literary studies, they also make sense. However, I gave a third point in my web log: that of author's location when the work was being written. (One good example is Erich Auerbach and his work *Mimesis*.)