A Writer's Choice. If I didn't read F Sionil Jose
I loved his Pretenders and I must have read it when it was newly published, in 1962. Nowadays, just once in a while I do a very quick look at his Hindsight column in The Philippine Star, but today's content, "Rosales and Pangasinan: Roots – why they matter" (17 March 2014, philstar.com), is extra special to me. Because F Sionil here talks about his province, which is also my province; about his province of writing, which is also my province; about his province of languages, which is also my province; and about his province of social justice, which is not my province. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Matthew 9: 13, NRSV).
F Sionil was born in Rosales; I was born in Asingan, 2 towns away. His beloved Rosales is now a booming town while my beloved Asingan is still a sleepy one, no thanks to either of us. His grandfather came from Cabugao, Ilocos Sur while my grandfather on my father side came from Rosario, La Union. He refers to his Rosales village as irenic while I refer to mine as ironic because it now has noticeably discarded the blood relationship for the economic. I am now a stranger in my own neighborhood.
I have met F Sionil Jose personally, the first when our common friend Orli Ochosa (God bless his soul) introduced me to him and later I gifted him a copy of my limited-edition Jose Rizal book indios bravos! Jose Rizal as the Messiah of the Redemption (December 2005, Lumos Publishing House, 187 pages). He preaches the nationalist Rizal and I preach the internationalist. He preaches Revolution; I preach Redemption. Revolution is for changes outside; redemption is for changes inside.
As a writer, he is trying to teach his protégés how to write and the Filipinos how to think; I am trying to teach the world how to think creatively and write accordingly. He has his newspaper column and I have the World Wide Web with 17 active blogs (try The Creattitudes Encyclopedia, Frank A Hilario, and iCRiSAT Watch, all 3 at blogspot.com). He has written many books; I have written a few. As author, the printed word is his oyster; as a blogger, the world is mine.
He has a Ramon Magsaysay Award for Literature (1980); he is a National Artist for Literature (2001). My award is puny compared to his awards, but I'm equally proud of it: Outstanding Alumnus for Creative Writing (2011), University of the Philippines Los Baños. My creative writing is in science, not fiction.
When I say "languages," I mean the spoken and written and the language of change. He prefers to write in English, and so do I. Whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not, English is changing the Philippine landscape. How else can we be #1 OFWs? How else can we be #1 call center agents in the world?
He thinks local about the Nationalist Revolution and I think global about the new Philippine intellectual revolution. He is a nationalist that I don't understand.
F Sionil Jose writes about social justice, about the rich abusing the poor and the poor being helpless. I write about the same poor not being helpless but ignorant of their own power. I do not know about his poor, but I know my poor can learn to empower themselves and work within the system. I call my idea the Super Coops (for more details, see my essay, "The Super Coops of 2014," 30 October 2013, Nagkaisa, blogspot.com).
He mentions Asingan as the birthplace of President Fidel Valdez Ramos, the son of Foreign Minister Narciso Ramos who he says lectured him on the 1931 Colorum peasant revolt in the neighboring town of Tayug. What I know of my hometown Asingan is that it was the Ever Loyal City to the Spanish friars, and that's historical. Am I ashamed of it? Absolutely not! I know revolutions devour their own children; little revolutions devour their own little children.
By the way, in his Hindsight column, F Sionil Jose spells Narciso as Narcisco. That's a modern failure in using the Grammar & Spelling Checker. I forgive him. I happen to know he has a personal problem using the personal computer. When I met him in his Solidaridad office at Padre Faura, about 10 years ago, he was still working with his beloved typewriter while I was already into Microsoft Office 2003; now I'm into Office 2013. Some things never change.
He spells Ilocos as Ilokos and Ilocano as Ilokano, the way the Tagalogs do. I don't. I don't write for the Tagalogs; I write for the Filipinos.
He wants the rich Filipinos to build more factories, more research facilities, "so that our brilliant young people will stay." That's job creation, and it will never catch up with millions unemployed. He wants the banks to finance entrepreneurs, and that is a tall order. The rich will not risk that much.
Writers are historians, too. It is in literature that the greater truths about a people and their past are found. Perceptive scholars read the literatures of societies they are studying for this reason, and more – a people's culture is best dredged and understood from their literature.
Not anymore, not with the advent of science writing and in recent years blogging. Indeed, bloggers are more popular than writers now. If F Sionil Jose insists that writers have the monopoly of the truth even now, then I don't understand.
If he has convictions, then I don't understand when with admiration he quotes Nietzsche as saying, "Convictions are prisons." In any case, he goes "in search not so much for new experiences or knowledge but for answers to questions … asked by the ancients and us about ourselves, the unlived life, the unexamined experience, and beyond these – the nature of the cosmos, of infinity, of God." Then I understand.
F Sionil says:
Writers are also the ultimate teachers for it is only in literature that we learn ethics – not in classes in religion or theology. The literary depiction of life and its moral dilemmas compel us to use our conscience, to make those infallible distinctions between right and wrong.
F Sionil Jose is saying man the writer is the ultimate source of ethics. If the writer is Narcissus, yes; he is talking to himself, admiring himself. Ultimately, greatness is a writer's choice, whatever his ethics, such as (see image):
To think local, or to think global. To linger on the barrenness, or to ponder on the potentials of richness.