Literature shaped by politics

It is not quite correct to argue that it was only in 1972 that Filipino writers started to use their writings to explore socio-political realities. The tradition of protest has always been a potent force in the production of socially committed writings, as a number of critics such as Bienvenido Lumbera, and Epifanio San Juan Jr. have argued. The 1970s, for example, witnessed the proliferation of poems, short stories, and novels which grappled with the burning issues of the times.

In a large number of magazines and journals, writers in both English and Pilipino faced the problems of exploitation and injustice, and appropriated these realities as the only relevant materials for their fiction. In effect, writers such as Ricardo Lee, Virgilio Almario, Efren Abueg, Ave Perez Jacob, and Dominador Mirasol produced a large number of texts that were profoundly disturbing, even as these works zeroed in on the various forms of repression and violence. But when Martial Law was declared, the writers found themselves silenced. The literature rooted in commitment that had flowered earlier could no longer be written.

Only a few could dare incur the ire of the powerful voice which pronounced that literature ought to deal with the true, the good, and the beautiful It was assumed that dominant literature during the period of activism was not good, not true, and certainly not beautiful, obsessed as the texts were with the nightmarish situations spawned by institutionalized violence, where Messiah-like figures were rendered impotent, where Mary-like characters were being turned away by agents of law and justice, and where characters were witnesses to the widespread pillage and destruction committed by the likes of Tio Samuel.

It was not fitting literature for the Society. But the voice that spoke so eloquently could not be stilled forever. Gradually, the writers found their voice. The composition of the group of writers whose works have already built a name for themselves include Bienvenido Santos, F. Sionil Jose, Gregorio Brillantes, and Nick Joaquin. The list also includes Carlos Bulosan, the Filipino expatriate, who now speaks to the present in two compilations of his writings. This period has also been an eventful one for literature in Pilipino.

In poetry, Jose Lacaba, Virgilio Almario, Lamberto Antonio, Epifanio San Juan Jr. , and Teo Antonio have each published their own volumes of work. In the novel, Dominador Mirasol and Edel Garcellano had their works published. Galian, on the other hand, gathered together essays, poems, stories and plays. Jun Cruz Reyes and Liwayway Arceo both had their works published. In retrospect, writings produced between 1972 and early 1983 seem to have trodden the path of realism.

These works are realistic in the sense that the texts have been shaped by the view that literature has the power to approximate quantifiable, verifiable realities in their materiality. Thus, the texts vie with each other in depicting various aspects of socio-political realities which are meant to dovetail with the events and processes characterizing lived life. In most of these works, there is also a veering away from traditional ways of examining realities and framing experience.

New realities, new perceptions demand new ways of seeing which popular literature cannot hope to employ. Indeed, works produced within the realist/modernist perspective display a repudiation of much that has been deemed escapist-the romance that has plagued traditional writings. The more realistic and objective the treatment of the material, the better the text becomes, according to realistic, canons. The subtitle of Galian – Panitikan sa Panabon ng Krisis (1983)-aptly describes not only the political but also the literary situation in the contemporary period.

When the assassination of Aquino took place on August 21, 1983, the tremendous implications of the phrase could no longer be dismissed. Within the last year, a new type of discourse has emerged and proliferated in time and space. I am not only referring to Aquino's writings and writings about Aquino; I am referring more specifically to the literature that has emerged from the underground. They have come out in various forms-the novel Hulagpos (1980), the poems in Mga Tula ng Rebolusyong Pilipino (1982), the short stories in Magsasaka (1984).

What for the last decade or so had been deemed unnameable has finally surfaced with such force, defining with insistence the kind of literature that has been produced by The Other-the threat to the nation's stability, as imaged by the voice of authority. The Other-the scourge and the evil Outsider-has come out in order to join the more "legitimate" texts in constituting varied realities, in enunciating various perceptions, in exploring various worlds. Collectively taken, these works should be perceived as various strands that form the complex system of literature shaped by politics.