Playing with the craft
Every generation has a question and whoever can unfold its enigma will become the voice of that generation. This is what Jun Cruz Reyes believes in.
For Victor Emmanuel “Vim” Carmelo Nadera, being utterly futuristic will get one nowhere after life. Knowing the past in order to change the future is essential to be alive forever.
For Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, veering away from the traditional is dangerous. A deliberate disregard of the norm must be supported with the complete knowledge of what exists and had existed.
These are the contrasting scenarios for writers bound to keep the flame of the word burning. Their views manifest their intrinsic role to become the voice and the icon of their genre which is legitimately or illegitimately called experimental writing.
A prize-winning fictionist, Reyes has been an acknowledged expert in experimental writing. But the versatile painter and sculptor doesn’t call himself an experimental writer.Rather he opts to be called a trailblazer.
“When you say experimental, naglalaro yan eh. I’m serious with my art and its effect is calculated. I synthesize tradition, at the same time that I break tradition. I am not experimenting, (because what I do) is calculated,” Reyes said. The UP Filipino professor explained that anthropological and historical data are incorporated in his works.
Experimental writing is a post-modern category. Juggling genres to come up with something experimental is the style practiced by some Filipino writers.
His novel Ilang Talang Luma Mula Sa Talaarawan Ng Isang May Nunal Sa Talampakan (UP Press, 1999), appears to be a travelogue. But if one scrutinizes the book, it is not the place where he focused his theme but on the people and the period. He discussed how to resolve the dilemma of an artist in a point of economic and political turmoil in relation to personal distress.
“It is not really experimental in the sense that you are playing with your work, (I think that is more) of a technology transfer. Literature grows and evolves and it has to conform with adjustments. All great artists for that matter either synthesize or revolutionalize their craft. So (it is not) experimental,” Reyes said.
According to him, a writer always attempts to say something new in order to depart from cliches. In this case, the writer is always experimental.
Reyes however, say that Filipino writing has changed for the past 10 years as universities with creative writing programs continue to nurture writers who are getting bolder in their craft. But consistency is a problem.
Although believing that experimental writing should never be called “experimental,” Reyes advises the young generation to keep on writing. He says that one should never stop discovering one’s imprimatur or distinct voice.
“NVM (Gonzales) is NVM, Ophelia (Dimalanta) is Ophelia as Santos (Bienvenido) is Santos. Your voice is your contribution. You don’t experiment with it. Your voice is always authentic. Write in the manner you understand, whatever language, imprimatur makes you different,” Reyes said.
The challenge to a good writer is to simplify a complicated idea and make it more reader-friendly. To have the foresight and be able to present it so that readers can understand the world deeper through the writer’s eyes may be experimental depending on the generation it caters to.
“Anybody may be experimental, but if you will be assessed after 20 or 40 years and your work is no longer read, your attempt is futile,” says award-winning poet, fictionist, playwright, essayist and former Varsitarian editor in chief and publications adviser Vim Nadera.
In order to supplement something that can be called experimental in the present generation, one has to have a clear view of what has transpired in the past. Experimental writing for this UP Literature professor is a revolt against the past. Nadera emphasized that whoever wants to try the experimental style must first delve into the past.
“Back to the basics – know the rules first so you know what to violate. Do the opposite, create your own. Parang yung mga Fine Arts students sa UST, they learn about anatomy first, classical styles and still life before they will go to avant garde, post modern or what we call experimental,” Nadera said.
For him, everything is divided into binary opposites. He juxtaposes conflicting elements to come up with a unified and subtle form that a large audience can relate to.
Nadera cites his books 15 Lamang (DLSU Press, 1994) and Dalit (Anvil Publishing, 1993) as manifestations of his experimental style. His Dadaistic approach blends well in the contemporary ritual and rap form prevalent among the youth. UST Center for Creative Writing and Studies (CCWS) senior associate Cirilo Bautista is even quoted saying that Nadera’s language is modern and relates to the theme of the present generation.
Marrying the opposites is the writer’s mission. Even if they tamper with nature, clone or hybrid species, writers will never get imprisoned. Creative writers have the license to commit mistakes and get away with them. This expressive freedom must be taken as an opportunity to improve an artist’s craft.
One can change the world through writing. True enough for Nadera, he is now more concerned with the content of his works, unlike in the past when his focus is more on the form. This MA Psychology graduate of UST now touches on the way people deal with women, homosexuals, lesbians, children, nature, disabled and the poor.
“When you can (already) see through the real side of the coin, you become more content-based,” he said..
But how can a writer know that he is already on the right pace?
The highly-acclaimed performance artist tells writers to always seize the day and deal first with the topic one is most familiar with. Relying too much on the imagination is never enough if one writes to change.
Research is a key factor. Backed with a deep scientific background in his undergraduate days, Nadera believes in the “slaying- the-father-syndrome” among the young breed of writers. He sees so much talent among the present generation that just needs to be nurtured by the right hands.
Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, the premier poetess in the country today, has carved a niche in Philippine literature with her innate passion revealed in most of her works. Although her writing has always been noted for sexual edge, she never fails to create works that speak of the passion of womanhood. This for her is what makes her work experimental.
An acclaimed expert in literature herself, the director of the UST CCWS knows the rules by heart. She has broken free from the formalist tradition and created something distinctly hers. She believes that experimental writing defies what is traditional and predominant at a certain period.
But her latest collecion of poems, Love Woman (UST Publishing, 1999), is one example of successfully breaking free from New Criticism, a school of thought advocating form over content.She interweaved the aspects of womanhood through the personages of Josephine Bracken, Grogoria Silang, Tandang Sora and Gregoria de Jesus, among others heroines of the past to reconcile it with the present genre of womanhood.
However, she cautions that not all attempts toward this end can be considered experimental. “The common misconception about this system of writing is that it is just a mere disregard of the rules, that if a writer does something that is out of the system, even if it is not intentional or he does not know the rules well enough, it is experimental writing,” said the former Dean of the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters.
Like Reyes and Nadera, Dimalanta pointed out that a writer cannot just venture into experimental writing without having a deep knowledge of the traditional.
The youth have the craft, but the problem revealed through writing workshops has always been the content. Young writers tend to write beyond what is due and present, like talking about political struggles of administrations past, snows in New York, or life in Paris. These three writers believe that what is important is the desire of a writer to nurture his craft regardless of any tradition or style. Experimental writing is just labeling. Over time, what may have evolved will be given a new name, but what has been written with the knowledge and the heart will always be remembered as a priceless gem.
Montage Vol. 6 • August 2002