Saturday, April 19, 2008

Science Fiction and Filipino Literature

Luis Katigbak posted a link to a Filipino essay about Science Fiction and Filipino Literature ( written by local poet/editor Roberto AƱonuevo. It's in Filipino however.

Here's my unofficial translation of the piece into English (and I hope he doesn't mind me posting it):

Science fiction, be it stories or novels, is currently popular and appeals to the youth. The said work did not truly arise from young writers stemming from the University of the Philippines or Ateneo de Manila University. It draws its roots from Tagalog and aspiring writers should look back at its history.

It possibly started from the korido* Ibong Adarna where the song of the magical bird can heal any physical sickness. Also, the droppings of the Adarna can turn anyone it touches into stone. The affected person can revert to their original form only if they are drenched with water from the hermit who possesses hidden knowledge like science.

It took a long time before science fiction penetrated the Philippines. When Doktor Satan, written by Mateo Cruz Cornelio, was written in 1945, it drew in readers and introduced them to this new genre. This is fiction based on the world of science, albeit science combined with such fertile imagination that it almost becomes believable to people looking for relief from sickness.

Doktor Satan revolves around the life of Dr. Alberto Estrella. Alberto's dilemma is that his mother had fallen ill and he needs to find a new medicine that can cure her. He researched intensively until one day, he was able to revive the life of the Russian Igor who had committed suicide and so his suspicion that he had found a medicine for immortality was reinforced.

Alberto drank this drug that he invented but unfortunately, started experiencing unexpected side-effects. His personality was subsumed by the spirit of Satan who had a fierce attitude. Eventually, Alberto slew his girlfriend because of his inability to suppress this force. Alberto continued to spread terror until he was slain by his brother Pepe who was an agent of the law. Meanwhile, Alberto's mother recovered from her sickness after she drunk the medicine given to her by her son.

It is easy to say that Cornelio was influenced by the works of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein (1818; 1831) or Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) which is the suspicion of the critic Soledad S. Reyes. However the works of Cornelio is not an intentional imitation because his desire was to find a a cure for the illnesses of man is not exclusive to the West but present as well in the myths and legends of Asia.

If we go back to the events of the decade 1930 - 1940, it is a time when science was making great breakthroughs. One of these is the discovery of Ernest O. Lawrence, the classification of blood cells in people; the progress of Max Theiler against yellow fever; and the research of Otto Warburg with regards to the enzyme. From biology to chemistry, from physics to medicine, there were a lot of discoveries that culminated with the invention of the atom bomb that destroyed millions of lives in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The period when Cornelio wrote his novel was a time of dread and it is not surprising that man would seek a cure for sickness.

Science fiction did not end with Cornelio. In 1959, Nemesio E. Caravana would write the novel Ang Puso ni Matilde that was serialized in the magazine Aliwan. This is different from all the other works of Caravana because it was gambling on a concept that the masses could not fully understand.

"Matilde" is not human but a female bulldog. Matilde is the loyal dog of Dr. Lino Romasanta. This novel revolves around the theme of transplanting the heart of one dog to the body of Angela, the girlfriend of Lino. Dr. Razul raped Angela, who afterwards went crazy and later suffered a heart attack. Lino swore that he would revive his beloved and marry her. A skilled surgeon, Lino extracted Angela's heart and replaced it with Matilde's. Angela was revived but her behavior started changing, sometimes behaving like a human, at other times like a wild dog. Thus began the challenge of Lino as a devout husband and agent of medicine.

If we look back at history, the first successful operation with regards to the heart of a dog was in 1914 which can be attributed to Dr. Alexis Carrel. Meanwhile, the first human heart transplant was performed by Dr. Christiaan N. Barnard in 1967 at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa. This means that Caravana guessed the possibility of transplanting a human heart; however, the theme of his novel revolved around transplanting the heart of a bulldog into the body of a human.

A new generation of youth must discover this work of Caravana. Caravana's language is polished and his characterization is believable. The author also used compelling locations and impressive use of words that if this were cinema, it would be described as 'stealing your breath away'. Here is one example that takes place after the wedding ceremony of Lino and Angela:
Hindi matingkala ang kagalakang nag-uumapaw sa puso ni Dr. Romasanta nang matapos na kasal. Masigla at halos pasagsag na inilabas niya ng simbahan ang kanyang magandang asawa.

Gayunman, nang sila’y magkasama na sa awto ay hindi pa rin lubusang mapawi sa isipan ni Lino ang pag-aalaala. Baka sumpungin ng pagkaaso si Angela. Hindi nakaila kay Angela ang pag-iisip ni Lino.

—Bakit ba tila may inaalala ka?—pansin ni Angela.
—A, walang anuman,—pakli ng manggagamot. —Naisip ko lamang na tutuksuhin tayo ng ating mga kaibigan.
—Maano kung manukso sila,—ani Angela.—Bakit, ikahihiya mo ba ako kaninuman?
—Hindi sa ikahihiya. Ang totoo’y ikinararangal kita, Angela. Para sa akin ay ikaw na ang lahat: ang langit, kaligayahan at lahat-lahat na!

Gayon na lamang ang pagbabatian nang dumating na ang bagong kasal sa tahanan ng lalaki. Gaya ng sinabi ni Lino, gayon na lamang ang panunukso sa kanila ng mga dinatnan.

At dumating ang oras ng salu-salo. Sabay-sabay na nagsiluksok ang lahat sa isang mahabang mesa. May biruan at may tawanan. Madalas nilang pasaringan ng biro ang mga bagong kasal. Nguni’t napuna ni Dr. Romasanta na walang imik si Angela. Napansin din niyang nananalim ang mga mata nitong nakatitig sa buto ng hita ng litson.

Kinabahan si Lino. Sinapantaha niyang hindi malayong sumpungin si Angela. Nakita niyang gumalaw-galaw ang mga labi nitong walang iniwan sa asong si Matilde. (Ika-21 labas, Ang Puso ni Matilde ni Nemesio E. Caravana, Aliwan, 7 Oktubre 1959).
It is good if we can look back at previous works before we declare what new innovations we are making in literature whether it is in English or in Filipino here in the Philippines. Looking back at our past is to look at the future potential of our national literature.

*A poetic form


Anonymous said...

thanks loads for the link and the translation, charles. this is an interesting and exciting read!

Charles said...

Thanks for helping with the translation!