detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Monday, March 05, 2001

: . Noble Savages: Ten years ago I remember reading Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters with such intense pleasure, my hands shook as I turned the book’s pages. Only two years before, I left the Philippines for good and I craved anything by anyone that could imaginatively bring me back home, however temporarily. Dogeaters was the first novel by a Filipino I read in the US and the first Filipino novel in English I read ever. In the Philippines, I vaguely remember reading Laulhati Bautista’s ‘Bata, bata…paano ka ginawa?” and Celso Al. Carunungan’s “Satanas Sa Lupa” both great works of “political fiction” in Tagalog but those books never affected me as much as Hagedorn’s book. Neither conjured up for me an entire world, lush but true, like Dogeaters did. If were asked then what work in Philippine literature I could compare Dogeaters to, I would have said, smugly, that Dogeaters rose to the same level of greatness as the greatest work in Philippine literature: the revolutionary Noli Me Tangere of Jose Rizal. I was 14 then and therefore had license to be as foolish and to be as smug in my foolishness as any naïve boy.
So I am 25 now, going on 26 and hopefully less foolish and not a degree more smug. I remain bolted to my seat during the intermission of Dogeaters, the play. Something, I thought, had just gone terribly wrong. A whiff of some awful injustice had just stunk up the place. I stare at the faces in the audience some indifferent, some nodding in approval, some confused. Something has gone terribly wrong. I try to be fair, summoning all poco, pomo, multicult, queer theory I know to enumerate all the play’s buried and full-frontal transgressions (there are much too many) but I can’t help going by my more superficial hunches. Why not? There is no depth in this play of surfaces. Like Pop, this play fizzes, tickles the senses, and quickly falls flat. But the play, as any (small s) self-respecting and (large S) Self-absorbed Fil-Am knows is, in the end, revolutionary, right? Wrong. Here was the Philippines in all it’s hallucinating majesty, a collage of jarring scenes where history and melodrama, personal banalities and profound political matters, awful fact and tacky fiction collide, merge, indissolubly blur into….into nothing, nothing but a pointless, a criminally pointless American farce, a Post-colonial Philippines for Dummies penned by spoiled brats. Here was a parade of exotics rivalling Madame's Kasaysayan Ng Lahi where all the stock characters of the colonial imagination run rampant...(to be continued).

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