30 January 2010

Remarks at my book launching

During the launch of a book, just like in awards ceremonies, an author is expected to thank everybody. I will do that by first thanking Dr. David Jonathan Y. Bayot, the Sherlock Holmes to my Watson, because I like posing really difficult questions, and he likes searching for their answers, so we make a good pair. I am notoriously unable to redo what I have already done – been there, written that – and he takes the trouble to hunt down my scholarly articles and put them in some sort of logical order. He has found unity where I intended merely to sow discord. Thank you, David, for this festschrift.

It is really a festschrift in the European sense of the word, a collection of articles by the honoree, just like Emerita Quito’s A Life of Philosophy. David and Karina Bolasco of Anvil Publishing are working on another festschrift, the American kind, to be launched on April 16. Good things always come in pairs. Let me invite you this early to the launching of Inter/Sections. Both The Other Other and Inter/Sections will be relaunched in Los Angeles on April 30, and if you have the time and the money, I invite you to that one, too.

I want to thank Agnes Malcampo, indefatigable and irresistible head of publications here at FEU. She just kept nagging me and nagging me and nagging me until I gave her the manuscript, then she kept nagging me and nagging me and nagging me about everything else that has to be done to a manuscript until it sees print.

I want to thank Dr. Lourdes Montinola, chair of the FEU board, Dr. Lydia Echauz, president, and the management of FEU for giving me an ID so I can enter the campus, for employing me even after I retired from De La Salle University in 2005 with the illusion that I could live on my savings, for giving me a post through which I am able to oversee the continuing education of FEU teachers, for welcoming me as a member of the FEU family. This book is worth not retiring.

I can’t possibly name everybody referred to in the acknowledgements or listed in the index of the book, but I want to thank especially the late Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, who kept at me to keep writing, and Professor Thelma Arambulo of UP Diliman, who babysat the manuscript by proofreading, copyediting, giving comments, even while she was in Canada, presumably to get away from academic work. Unfortunately, as everyone that has ever published a book knows, there are always those awful typographical errors that refuse to go away. I apologize to my readers for those. They’re my fault and no one else’s.

I’m also expected to say something about the book, even if David has already talked about it. I’ve been lucky to have been asked several times to write articles in foreign journals, encyclopedias, and books, and I’ve often wished that Filipinos in the Philippines would have a chance to read those articles. This book puts together many of those articles, not all of them, and I hope these articles challenge readers the way my local articles are meant to do.

I think of this book as my letter to the world, as Emily Dickinson would put it, that has written to me many times, through the publishers, conference convenors, book editors, and foundations that have given me time, space, and often money to write these articles. In particular, together with the Philippine American Educational Foundation and the Fulbright Program of the United States, Wichita State University was very kind to me. Wichita gave me a chance to finish writing the last part of this book, which is made up of critical essays on my literary father, Bienvenido N. Santos. I promised Mang Ben that I would finish my essays on him. This is the fulfilment of that promise, even if it’s only a quarter of a book. I want to thank Tomas Santos, Mang Ben’s son, who came all the way from Colorado to be with us today (just a little lie, because he really came for his sister's birthday tomorrow).

Now, let me talk about myself.

My students know that I am happy when I am with them in the classroom, challenging them to think in ways they never thought before. I am happy when I am surrounded by my students. I thank my students, all of them in the 41 years I have been teaching. It’s my last term of teaching, as I will be too old by my birthday in April to connect with people young enough to be my grandchildren.

My friends and family know that I am happy when I am with them, exchanging stories, experiences, trips, memories, food, affection, love. I am happy when I am surrounded by friends and family. I thank my friends, many of whom are right here in this room. You have taken time off to come to the cleanest place in downtown Manila, perhaps the only clean place. I thank my teachers who have become my friends, especially my best teachers mentioned in the dedication in the book: Mr. Gil Raval (my English teacher in all my four years of high school in Lourdes School), the late Professor Nieves Epistola (we call her Mrs. E., my English teacher in UP who forced me to write a full essay every week), Fr. Joseph Galdon SJ (my English teacher for my MA at the Ateneo, who forced me to be grammatical because he refused to continue reading my assignment once he detected a grammatical error), Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera (the chair of the English Department at the Ateneo during my graduate studies, who took me by the hand and showed me how to be a truly Filipino scholar), and Dr. Marjorie Perloff (before she became president of the Modern Language Association and one of the top three living critics in America today, she was the angry young woman at the University of Maryland who forced me to read in French and introduced me to the rigors of Russian Formalism). I thank my family, especially my most skeptical critic Medy, who has had to share me with my computer.

But they – you – all know that I am happier when I am with Plato, Aristotle, Rizal, Jacques Derrida, and all the philosophers and literary critics I talk with when I am reading their books. I am happier when I am surrounded by books, by their authors, all of them still alive and in my room, debating with me through their books. I am happier when I am in front of my computer, writing to these intellectuals that have changed the way we all think. I thank all the intellectuals, living or dead, listed in the index of the book.

But I am happiest when I give birth to a book, when I am able to hold in my hands a product not just of my own conversations with students, friends, family, and living or dead intellectuals, but also a product of the people in an industry I love so much (publishing, which I love almost as much as education and the theater). Many artists and laborers contribute to creating my books. The Jewish Talmud had it only partly right. It said that, to live a full life, we must have a child, plant a tree, and write a book. Anyone can do those, yes, even write a book. I think that, to live a really full life, we must nurture the child until adulthood (in other words, we should teach), we should care for the tree until it bears fruit, and we should not just write a book but publish it.

A book is more than just another line in my curriculum vitae, more than just another accession number on my library shelf, more than just another memory to enjoy when old age kindly stops for me (since, still following Emily Dickinson, I cannot stop for it). A book represents a chapter in my life. This book represents the life of the scholarly writer that I lived for almost half a century, a life that I intend to leave come April, when I turn 65 and, as the Beatles described that age, I finally lose all my hair. For the sake of food on the table I will still do administrative work in universities and government until my spirit, though willing, will be too weighed down by my flesh, a 65-year-old body that now needs repair more often.

But, my students, my colleagues, my friends, my family, I will spend more quality time with you. I can talk to Plato, Aristotle, Rizal, Derrida, and all the rest of scholarly gang when I meet them in heaven, and that can wait.

Thank you. (Delivered at the launching of The Other Other at Far Eastern University, 29 January 2010)

1 comment:


Congratulations, Isagani.