detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Thursday, October 31, 2002

: . Averting the Gaze:

Waiting for Mariang Makiling

From Waiting for Mariang Makiling: Essays in Philippine Cultural History by Resil B. Mojares:
    To write about Philippine culture is to wander through a forest of signs, ambushed at each turn by sights, sounds, and silences, dark and dissembling as well as bright with intimations of transforming discoveries. It is easy to be heedless, self-absorbed; one does not quite realize that, enchanted, one has already lost one's way (in rich Bisayan, gimino; in Tagalog, minalikmata -- bewildered by spirits, deceived by phantasms). What is required, legend says, is that the seeker is pure of heart. This seems a bit of romantic fancy but, knowing the heart, the most difficult of tests.
    Jean-Paul Sartre has said that the "Actaeon complex" drives all research and investigation. The reference is to the hunter who sees Diana and her nymphs secretly bathing in the river and is punished by being transformed into a stag chased by the hunter's own dogs. "Every investigation," Sartre says, "implies the idea of a nudity which cover it, just as Actaeon clears away the branches so he can have a better view of Diana at her bath."
    Knowledge is a hunt and the scholar the hunter who surprises a nudity and violates it with his look, and is punished by the gods by becoming the hunted, devoured by his own dogs.
    That is Sartre. The defining tales in our own culture are not quite as dramatic. We have put the premium not so much on seeing the nude as the more modest virtues of wakefulness (as in the Ibong Adarna story) and faithful waiting (as the Mariang Makiling story suggests). It is just as well. We are a culture blessed with moves to avoid the claims of those who say they have seen the truth.

I have decided to name Waiting for Mariang Makiling pu-pu platter's first ever Book of the Month.* In the next few days I will be posting the table of contents and a sample essay from the book as well links relating to the author and the subjects of his work. I'm not quite sure which essay to post (I am, however, open to suggestions) but so far my personal favorite must be "Catechisms of the Body" -- which discusses the role that Spanish era books of conduct played in disciplining Filipino bodies into docile colonial subjects -- since I've actually heard Mojares present an earlier version of it two years ago at NYU. (I also witnessed the strange spectacle of an otherwise self-important Vicente Rafael, looking every bit like a New York intellectual in a slimming black outfit, leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes the better to attend to every syllable issuing out of Mojares' mouth.) If anyone has any ideas on how to make my Book of the Month gimmick work (and more interactive) please don't hesitate to send me your comments.

*Sorry for crudely bringing this up but I paid $32.00 for the book and an additional $15.00 for it to be sent via airmail from the Philippines. I did this in a moment of weakness -- I'm a great admirer of Mojares' work and I had to have his latest book. $32.00 is actually a fair price for an American university press softcover but for a Philippine university press softcover? Does the book really cost that much in the Philippines?

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