Philippine Literature Today: A View from Afar by H.O. Santos Essay Example
Philippine Literature Today: A View from Afar by H.O. Santos Essay Example

Philippine Literature Today: A View from Afar by H.O. Santos Essay Example

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  • Pages: 8 (2092 words)
  • Published: June 30, 2018
  • Type: Essay
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In order to give an overview of my understanding of Philippine literature, I will share my personal experiences. Around four years ago, I started writing fiction. Before that, I didn't have much exposure to short stories from the Philippines. However, novels were easier to find in libraries and bookstores compared to collections of short stories. Also, since I have lived outside the Philippines for most of my life, it has been difficult for me to come across Philippine literature where I currently reside.

Despite my school curriculum focusing on American and English literature rather than Philippine literature, I compensated for this by extensively immersing myself in Philippine short stories over the past two years. Additionally, since 1998, I have maintained a consistent habit of reading approximately 120 contemporary non-Philippine short stories annually. To


enhance my own writing in this genre, my writer friends recommended that I read at least two short stories every week. They believed that concentrating on novels would not be as beneficial for developing skills specific to writing short stories.

As I was reading Philippine short stories, I also kept up with the latest news on the Philippine literary scene online. Moreover, I looked through Philippine magazines and received tear sheets from friends by mail. To understand the dynamics of the Philippine literary establishment, I communicated with writers via email. It is clear that my perspective is that of an outsider, and my views may only be influenced by my previous exposure to non-Philippine short stories.

Despite the large population of 70 million in the Philippines, the literary community may seem small and interconnected. Within this community, it is no

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common to criticize each other's work, with only positive remarks being publicly expressed. When discussing Filipino American writers in the Philippines, it usually refers to those who have relocated to the United States and developed their writing skills while still in their home country. Often overlooked are writers who have learned how to write in the U.S., without being influenced by prominent Filipino writers through college courses or apprenticeships. Lysley Tenorio serves as an example - a Filipino American writer who has gained recognition beyond typical college literary journals and has been published in esteemed magazines like Atlantic Monthly. However, despite his achievements, Tenorio remains unknown within the Philippines.

Despite the likelihood of Filipino editors and contest judges readily dismissing his works for not fitting the preferred short story mold, it is still important for Filipinos to appreciate writers like him. These writers incorporate Filipino elements into their stories, albeit through different storytelling techniques. The inclusion of their stories enriches Philippine literature and expands its horizons. I occasionally made a point to keep informed about the panelists for workshops and the contest judges.

Regardless of whether the workshops took place in Baguio, Dumaguete, Davao, or elsewhere, and regardless of their association with either the Palanca or the Free Press contest, it appeared that a consistent group of individuals consistently dominated these workshops. These individuals hold esteemed positions within the Philippine literary establishment and frequently rotate among themselves as panel members and judges. While this phenomenon is understandable in a country with a limited number of writers, it raises a concerning issue: the promotion of inbreeding within the literary community, resulting in a lack of diversity

in styles and ideas. I argue that having a larger pool of talent would greatly benefit the long-term health of Philippine literature.

To eliminate the perception of unfairness and bias in Philippine literary events, workshop coordinators and contest organizers should consider including fresh panelists from international sources if necessary. Additionally, it is important to involve lesser-known Philippine writers in these boards and panels. Although not widespread, there are negative reports that cannot be easily dismissed as mere jealousy. The circulation of such stories signifies the need for Philippine literary icons to actively demonstrate fairness and neutrality.

I will only focus on one aspect that greatly affects Philippine literature, which is highly burdensome and detrimental. I have received feedback indicating that certain individuals hold grudges against writers who may have crossed their paths at some point. These vengeful people disregard and criticize these writers whenever they can, and ensure that their works do not succeed in competitions where they serve as judges. (This becomes evident when one judge aggressively tries to convince others that a specific entry or writer is inferior instead of highlighting the strengths of the story they want to win. I hold this belief because information shared in supposedly confidential settings tends to leak out. It is surprising how many individuals, who are unable to speak openly, express their concerns privately to their colleagues. By openly discussing this allegation, you may assume that I harbor negative feelings towards the literary establishment. However, that is not the case, as influential Filipino writers are often generous and selfless in their endeavors to promote Philippine literature.)

Most individuals in the writing community are aware of the

consequences of isolating and disregarding a writer they have personal dislike towards. They recognize that engaging in such unprofessional behavior can only harm the cause to which they have dedicated themselves. In writing school, one of the initial lessons is often centered around the principle of "Show, don't tell." For readers without a background in English, I will elaborate on the meaning behind this concept. The easiest way to comprehend it is through a straightforward example. Let's consider a scenario wherein Jose walks five kilometers from the bus stop to the factory where he is seeking employment, feeling tired and famished.

Jose experienced unexpected exhaustion during his five-kilometer walk to the factory, resulting from the longer distance between the bus stop and the workplace. Sweating and slowing down his pace, he arrived tired and hungry. The presence of food stalls near the factory entrance reminded him that he had skipped breakfast that morning. These details provide a vivid portrayal of Jose's physical state in the story, conveying his fatigue and hunger indirectly. Additionally, a character's personality can be revealed through adjectives used in narration or their reactions and behavior towards various situations and individuals. Philippine short stories often tend to narrate rather than demonstrate these aspects, possibly reflecting cultural tendencies.

The cultural predisposition of Filipino readers may be the reason why they prefer explanations. This preference can be observed in Filipino comedians who often explain their jokes and repeat punch lines to ensure their audience understands them. It is possible that this style of storytelling, which involves explanations, originated from the tradition of grandmothers telling stories. This inclination might also clarify why Philippine short stories

tend to have minimal or no dialogue. Philippine writers are hesitant to utilize dialogue as a means of depicting characters or advancing the plot.

Critics often point out the weak dialogue of Philippine writers, but it is important to recognize that no method is inherently superior. The "tell" approach is succinct and eliminates ambiguity, while the "show" approach captivates readers but demands more effort to comprehend the narrative. A country's inclination towards one method or the other mirrors its aesthetic sensibilities and culture. North American individuals, including readers, editors, and contest judges, are accustomed to the "show" technique and may reject stories told in a straightforward manner as unsophisticated.

In the Philippine market, it is challenging for stories written in the "show" method to be published. Furthermore, readers who are used to the "tell" method may not like stories written using the opposite approach. This creates a bigger problem as inexperienced editors and contest judges in the Philippines may mistakenly think that "show" method stories lack depth in characterization. I have personally experienced this issue. Another notable aspect is that Philippine stories often have a consistent voice, with all characters speaking similarly to the narrator.

The text emphasizes the absence of variety in character dialogue, regardless of age, gender, profession, or background. It asserts that even in first-person narratives, there is minimal attempt to match the narrator's voice with their character. However, it argues against reverting to dialects seen in Mark Twain's era. Instead, it proposes differentiating characters through subtle word choices and assigning a speaking style that corresponds to their age, gender, education level, sophistication, and other pertinent factors.

The writers' overall quality is

generally excellent in terms of grammar, style, and word meaning. However, there are different levels of expertise among writers, which can be attributed to their experience. Experience plays a crucial role in improving writing skills. Despite this, Filipinos commonly make a grammatical error by excessively using the article "the." On the other hand, Eastern Europeans tend to omit "the," even with nouns that require it. It appears that Filipinos have developed a linguistic habit of always utilizing "the" with "university," although the reason for this habit remains unclear to me.

When it comes to the use of "the," I am not referring to situations where it is necessary for limitation or specification, like in the example "the university at the corner of Quezon and Recto." Instead, I am talking about instances where the article is used incorrectly. Filipinos have no problem saying, "Juan, who grew up in Cebu, went to school in Manila" or "Juan, who grew up in Cebu, went to college in Manila." However, they consistently say, "Juan, who grew up in Cebu, went to the university in Manila." They also say,"He and I went to school together" or "He and I went to college together," but switch to "He and I went to the university together." This usage is incorrect. The correct sentences are: "Juan, who grew up in Cebu,went to universityin Manila,"and"He and Iwent touniversitytogether." When correcting people on this matter,I often face strong protests because the correct way sounds strange after a lifetime of hearing it said incorrectly. That's whyI advise you not just take my word for it—read trusted authors' worksand observe how they use it.One interesting aspect regardingth

euseof"the"relates recent developments within English speech patterns.

The debate surrounding whether television personalities should use "in the studio" instead of "in studio" suggests that using the latter term seeks to emphasize the significance of the studio, similar to how words like church, college, and university represent esteemed institutions without requiring a preceding "the." Despite these objections, the phrase "in studio" has become deeply ingrained in English language usage. Another emerging trend involves excluding the word "the" before "table," which may become more widespread in future generations. Additionally, there is a Philippine influence on numeral presentation as Filipino writers and editors follow style guides that recommend spelling out numbers up to ten while using numerals for numbers exceeding ten. However, it is important to note that these style guides were initially intended for newspapers and articles.

Originally, they were not intended for literary purposes. Most fiction writers prefer using words like "twenty-six years old" rather than numbers like "26 years old," and only incorporate numbers when referring to time, dates, addresses or to enhance clarity in the text, such as in the sentence "He had 2,495 books in his collection." However, it is essential to read works by trusted authors and observe their approach to this matter. The stories published in BPSS are edited with adherence to these two rules. Additionally, I would like to mention the specific meanings of words as understood in the Philippines.

The usage of certain words in the Philippines may confuse non-Philippine readers. Terms like "comfort room" can be understood from the context, but there are other words that evoke different images outside of the Philippines. Examples include acacia, fire tree,

polo shirt, T-shirt, and more. Westerners typically don't associate acacia with the monkeypod tree, despite there being around 200 species of acacia. Additionally, fire tree is used instead of flame tree for flamboyan or royal Poinciana, which possibly stems from its Spanish name "arbol del fuego". However, it's worth noting that a fire tree has berry-like fruit and broad leaves.

A polo shirt, also called a knit golf shirt, is the clothing worn by polo players and differs from casual or sport shirts. Conversely, a T-shirt refers specifically to collarless shirts and not all knit shirts. Although it may be perplexing when a character in a story pulls on the collar of their T-shirt, I personally do not consider it an issue. As an editor for BPSS, I avoid modifying such descriptions as they do not change the plot. Nevertheless, readers might interpret these descriptions in ways different from the author's intended imagery.

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