01 May 2008

Book Review: Sanchez & Mojares

The grammar is atrocious, the relationship between texts and visuals unclear, and the printing amateurish, but some of the pieces of advice in Marlo Sanchez’s Best Advice for Your Own Business (Muntinlupa: Pinoybisnes Resource Center, 2002, 245 pages) should be useful to the office employee who wants to make it big in the world of entrepreneurs.

Sanchez comes from a rare breed – the breed of Filipino bestselling authors. Appropriately enough, publishing his own books is his own business, and he unselfishly shares with his readers the secrets of his success as an entrepreneur and an independent publisher. The nuggets of practical wisdom in his books are enough to start off anyone seriously thinking of becoming rich.

Unlike his previous Be Smart! Start & Manage Your Own Business and A Smart & Practical Guide for New Entrepreneurs, this latest Sanchez product features cartoons by another well-known figure, Washington “Tonton” Young, creator of Pupung. Young is himself another entrepreneur, managing a small eatery very much like the one featured in his cartoons.

The book is highly recommended for those dreaming, but still afraid, of starting their own business, as well as for Pupung fans.

Much better written and printed is Resil B. Mojares’s Waiting for Mariang Makiling: Essays in Philippine Cultural History (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2002, 324 pages). Mojares has set out to find out how Filipinos in the past imagined their world. Or, if we want to be even more precise, how we Filipinos today imagine our world.

Mojares is the major structuralist or poststructuralist or postmodern critic in this part of the world, yet you will find it hard to spot a structuralist buzzword or a reference to a poststructuralist demigod in his work. Mojares has not indigenized contemporary Western critical theory; instead, he has universalized traditional Filipino critical theory. In his footnotes, you will see a lot of names and texts that are the result of his digging in libraries. But in his text, you will be dazzled by a lot of gold ore that comes not from other people’s books, but only from his sharp and fertile mind.

Imagine an essay that succeeds in tying together Maria Makiling, Bernardo Carpio, Rizal, Ferdinand Marcos, Macario Pineda, Jose F. Lacaba, and our desire to steer our own course as a nation. (The word “nation,” by the way, has a very bad press in Mojares’s book.) Or an essay that finds Pigafetta circumnavigating not the globe but the writing process. Imagine doing with Italian texts on the Philippines what Edward Said thought he did with French texts on the Middle East in Orientalism, and subverting or deconstructing (we should say for the sake of those, who, like Mojares, dislike jargon, debunking) Said’s findings. Imagine reading a history or a biography and concentrating on what is not being said, on the unsaid, the unsaid being the real history or biography, whatever the word “real” means. Imagine treating the process of being hailed as a saint – beatification and canonization – as a text. Imagine following the journey of a physical statue and coming up not with a physical map, but with a map of the mind of the Cebuano. Imagine constructing a genealogy of manners, or even a catechism of the body. Or taking an 1891 menu and forming a portrait of the late 19th century in Cebu.

We could say that all this was done before by Jacques Derrida when he wrote a thick book based only on a postcard he bought on a visit to Oxford or by Roland Barthes when he wrote about women after looking only at printed photographs of women’s dresses. We could say this, but we would be wrong. Mojares has done postmodern readings of various texts much better than Derrida or Barthes, at least for Filipino readers, because we know all the references and do not have to research on who exactly the people and what exactly the texts are being used in a Derrida or Barthes essay.

In fact, in my classes on literary criticism, I hardly ever ask my students to read Derrida or Barthes anymore; I just ask them to read Mojares. They get the theories and the methods and the insights accurately anyway, and they get them much faster and much easier than in wading through often unreliable English translations of often badly-written French texts. True, Mojares shifts from Spanish to English to Tagalog to Cebuano sources with equal facility, and expects readers to share this facility. But frankly, what business do we have doing literary theory, not to mention Philippine history, if we do not know Spanish, English, Tagalog, and yes, Cebuano?

Like Rizal, Mojares never seeks knowledge for its own sake, but always, in his own words, “knowledge at his country’s service.” One way we could read his latest book is to wonder why nothing has changed since the old days, why the Philippines is still as invisible as it was when Rizal vainly looked for Philippine weapons in the otherwise complete Museum of Artillery in Paris, why we insist on betraying our imagination by adopting, or even adapting, foreign signs, significations, and sins.

(First published in BizNews Asia, 7-14 April 2003.)

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