When the Not-All Speaks: On Kadamay and Liberal Philanthropism

I had two distinct experiences with Gawad Kalinga and their brand of granting free housing to the urban poor. In the first instance, I was able to participate in a GK integration program for the recipients of housing in a former squatter’s area in Parañaque which was improved through GK funding and programs. Aside from the usual feeding program for the children, the highlight of the program was a series of talks led by Catholic groups. The talks centered on traditional family roles and their importance in a peaceful family and community. The roles of the father and the mother are emphasized in the most Catholic way possible; the father works and the wife attends to the matters of the house. In addition, sexual ethics are discussed through a series of obscene analogies: men are like firecrackers; if you don’t light a firecracker up, they tend to explode almost immediately; women, on the other hand, are compared to an electric iron which needs to be plugged in to heat up (it sounds more obscene in Tagalog: kailangang isaksak bago uminit, isaksak which either means to plug in something, to stab someone, or the act of penetration in sexual intercourse). These values are taught to the recipients of housing with the intention of making them prim and proper citizens, dissuading them from leaving their new houses and put them for rent and squat elsewhere. In the second instance, we took a more hands-on approach, helping other GK volunteers in constructing the houses; we did everything from carrying sacks of cement to mixing cement and so on.

There is nothing special in this instance aside from the fact that participating in a GK volunteer activity is always a venue for other parts of society to do good deeds. Participation has some sort of cultic appeal to it. The volunteers, donning specially made volunteer t-shirts, designer denim pants, and original rubber shoes, come to the sites with the expectation of being welcomed by a throng of poor people cooperating with them in building a better community. This is embodied in the typical appearance of a GK village: dolled up single detached houses with neon or bright pastel colors on the outside, unpainted walls on the inside, and each house looking the same with a few plants to adorn the house and the community perimeters. GK promotional material always painted these communities as an evolution from the dense and unorganized communities formed by squatters to the proper communities with a sustainable sense of communal identity.

Gawad Kalinga (despite its growth as a religious to a more secular group) is the typical response to urban poverty. The rising number of squatter communities in places near business districts and urban peripheries posed a challenge to both government and private sector. Real estate investment has been focused on the development of more gated communities and high-rise condominiums, appealing to both high income executives and middle class yuppies who can afford government loan programs to procure affordable housing units provided by private real estate companies. Hence, all the development of subdivisions and condominiums in Southern Metro Manila and the Southern Tagalog cater to those people who are employed in regular desk jobs or for the burgeoning class of small time digital entrepreneurs.

Clearly, the people who are employed in casual, contractual, and manual labor do not have a place in this system. Since contractual labor (or outsourced laborers) does not oblige companies to grant securities for its employees, the rampant employment of casual labor in the city made it impossible to have a sustainable financial capability to be able to eat three times a day, let alone afford government loans for housing. Furthermore, past attempts at relocating the urban poor to mass government housing has constantly failed, being far from sources of income. “Why would I live in a subdivision, if I’ll starve just to pay the bills. I’m a squatter, but it’s quite clean in our area” said one squatter I encountered. To understand the mind of a squatter is to understand the constant state of emergency these people experience, having to live with no stable income or stable means of employment.

Kadamay comes as a whiff of fresh air into the dynamic of urban poor politics. Typical liberal attitudes regarding the urban poor is condescending. Liberal politics restricted their political organizing around NGOs and Local Government actions, made to be dependent on either more blessed members of society or to scraps of welfare doled out by local government politicians at crucial times of elections, even the author of Governing the Other necessitates that a proper democratic approach to the poor is to understand their rationality and have it represented by civil society groups that best suit their ways of thinking. In short, liberals only see them as recipients, victims of circumstance, victimized by their own lack of education and economic capabilities. The bourgeoisie, therefore, see themselves in the role of intervening in this order and granting all sorts of humanitarian aid to these people. Such attitude stops at the religious concern for the victim; the victim has to remain one in order to be helped, he has no right to self organization.

Kadamay’s occupation of stagnant housing projects in Pandi, Bulacan breaks this system of victimization. One should only hear Senator Antonio Trillanes’ remarks on Kadamay as a haven for communists and members of the New People’s Army, citing its security threat or Sen. Tito Sotto’s demand for reconsidering the President’s decision for giving them the houses, citing it as a beginning of a terrible legal precedent for other occupation of stagnant government housing. Such remarks show how Kadamay’s actions attempt to break the vicious circle of liberal philantropism that acted as a stopgap to the country’s lack of welfare programs. Hence, what they did is highly traumatic; the once group of people that are seen both as rabble and recipient of bourgeois kindness organized and took what they think is proper for them i.e.  the simple dignity of being able to live securely.

The ideological consequences of Kadamay’s occuption is overreaching. In an administration bombarded with the criticism of its violent drug campaign, one can hear everyday the clamors to stop Extrajudicial Killings of suspected drug addicts and pushers and a call for due process in the prosecution of drug suspects. Ironically, the same people who deplored and denounced the administration’s violent drug war in favor of legal due process also favor the planned violent dispersal of Kadamay members in favor of due process in the granting of housing projects. Hence, one should rephrase Max Horkheimer’s famous quote “whoever does not support Kadamay in its occupation of stagnant housing projects, should also remain silent about the violence of the war on drugs.” In issues like this, the mettle of the so-called millennial political renaissance is tested beyond the confines of its condemnation of other issues that it saw easy to address.

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When the Not-All Speaks: On Kadamay and Liberal Philanthropism

Palm Sunday as Anti-Tragedy

The greatest ironies of the Christian faith do not start in Holy Thursday. The radical nature of Christianity that will unravel in the Paschal Triduum begins with Palm Sunday and the ironic nature of its celebration.

At the start of the mass, the congregation heads outside of the church each one holding a branch of Palm that the priest blesses; after which, the celebrant reads the gospel depicting the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem and welcomed with palm branches laid before his feet. This scene is then counteracted by the gospel reading during the mass proper, when the same congregation is tasked to read the parts of the High Priest and crowd that demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. While this scene is dogmatically meant to represent the guilt of men, these set of readings should not be read in such naive manner. Rather, is not the whole set of readings from the blessing of the palms to the reading of the passion of Christ according to Matthew a parody of a Greek tragedy?

The readings take us on the typical flow of a Greek tragedy. The fateful hero enters the city in triumph and welcomed by the people as the savior or the destined king of the city. However, this same person, by a twist of fate, does not live on to the expectation of the crowd and is denounced by the city’s ecclesiastico-political authorities for violating the fundamental traditions of the nation and sentenced to death not just physically but is removed from the community, a double death. However, a Greek tragedy employs a fundamental dramaturgic tool, the chorus, that completely separates the crowd and at the same time fully immerses them into the cathartic aspect of the play. While the chorus responds to what the crowd should feel in the performance, it, at the same time, separates them from the story by providing a fetishistic disavowed relation with the play.

If the narrative of the passion, read during Palm Sunday, were to be a tragedy, it fully parodies the flow and the ideal behind tragedy. While the message of tragedy is the inevitability of fate in the course of human and divine life, the message of the gospel tragedy is that at the beginning the fateful hero’s triumph and fall is downplayed. In the gospel, there is no fate that will devastate the characters and show his triumphant will. Here, we only have triumphant will without the fate; fate, as a series of strings that weaved together the series of events to its inevitable end, does not exist in the gospel. When Jesus dies on the cross and shouts “Father, Father why have you forsaken me”, Žižek is right to indicate that Jesus signaled the death of God as the transcendent God that sustains the fabric of our reality. In addition, he also dismantles the idea that the world is bound by an order that unfolds a singular narrative bound by love. When Jesus died, it did not end in a carnival of love, where people just loved each other and stopped judging, but signaled a constant state of emergency among his believers, carving the boundaries between believer and foe.

Hence, the ideal of palm Sunday: the palm branch has always been a political symbol, a sign of victory and conquest. Caesar’s victory at Pharsalus is symbolized by the palm tree at the temple of Nike and togas with palm ornaments are worn only by military leaders who have previous military victories under their command. It is easy to assume that the triumphant entry of Jesus in Jerusalem symbolizes a misinterpretation of his ideals that the Jews simply saw Jesus as the second Judas Maccabeus who will lead the rebellion against the Empire. This very conservative interpretation (which I first heard in a sermon when I was a devout conservative evangelical) fully separates the political from the religious that the Christian message is radically different from socio-political struggles. Here, the passion is simply read as an act of disgruntled people who did not expect Jesus to be the man for the job.

The separation however is more radical than the political/religious difference. Rather, what the Jews and other Christian readers have missed is that the triumphant entry of Jesus should be read as the initial dismantling of the ideal of fate and God’s role in actively weaving it to one piece. When Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, it already indicates that Jesus did not come to be the nationalist political savior nor simply the scapegoat for all our sins, but indicates that God is already empty and that fate does not exist until the people weaved it to be so.

Hence, the obscene implication of the last words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew is the complete reversal of the heroic tragic ideal. The city is left to its own devices and the community of believers is left to its indelible bond of Christian love. Love, here, is not the common sense notion of love as an emotion, i.e. an eros, but the tension between philand agape, expressed by the discourse between Jesus and Peter in John 21: 15-18. Here, agape does not supercede philo, but the interaction between Peter and Jesus (i.e. between ἀγαπᾷς με and ὅτι φιλῶ σε) culminates between the common expression of φιλεῖς με used by both interlocutors. Hence, agape is not the precondition for Christian love, but a product that emerges in the gap between it and philo that exists only within the boundaries of philein, i.e. of the gathering of human beings as a community of believers from where agape is produced in solidarity. That is the implication of the whole passion narrative initiated by the narrative of Palm Sunday liturgy.

Love, as presented in Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, along with all its new age-ish message of everything is connected by a thread, interconnecting people of different times and context should be rejected as a complete reactionary message. Your Name presents relations and conflicts as inevitable entanglements within the the same thread of fate that can be entangled but never separate always connected. The disaster serves as one of the entanglements that will sustain the connection of the whole and the proper place of each people within the weaved fabric of time. Each human being and nature in general moved in relation to its harmonious relation within the whole. This soft fascist vision, wherein Japanese Imperialism (as sustained by both paganism and Zen Buddhism) can be simply read as a an entanglement in the nation’s fabric, is counteracted by Christian universality and the tension between philein and agape. Solidarity breaks fate altogether and dismantles class; for this reason, Shiro Amakusa, a Christian who rejected his being part of the samurai class and organized the oppressed Christian peasants, is such a threat to the tightly knit social system and such rebellion can only be sustained by the ideals presented by Christian love. When liberals want to obfuscate class struggle to emphasize the common bond that binds humans together, a genuine response is always a resounding Christian “no”.

Palm Sunday as Anti-Tragedy

Notes on Section 210 of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Reading through Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (just to understand Zizek’s “The Most Sublime Hysteric”) and the section on Unhappy Consciousness, I come across this interesting passage that appears problematic
 
From the A.V Miller Translation of Sec. 210
 
“Thus there exist for consciousness three different ways in which individuality is linked with the Unchangeable. Firstly, it again appears to itself as opposed to unchangeable, and is thrown back to the beginning of the struggle which is throughout the element in which the whole relationship subsists. Secondly, consciousness learns that individuality belongs to the unchangeable itself, so that it assumes the form of individuality into which the entire mode of existence passes. Thirdly, it finds its own self as this particular individual in the unchangeable. The first unchangeable it knows only as the alien being who passes judgement on the particular individual; since, secondly the unchangeable is a form of individuality like itself, consciousness becomes, thirdly, spirit, and experiences the joy of finding itself therein and becomes aware of the reconciliation of its individuality with the universal.”
 
Compare that to the Baillie translation
 
“This unity becomes a fact to it, but in the first instance the unity is one in which the diversity of both factors is still the dominant feature. Owing to this, consciousness has before it the threefold way in which particularity is connected with unchangeableness. In one form it comes before itself as opposed to the unchangeable essence, and is thrown back to the beginning of that struggle, which is, from first to last, the principle constituting the entire situation. At another time it finds the unchangeable appearing in the form of particularity; so that the latter is an embodiment of unchangeableness, into which, in consequence, the entire form of existence passes. In the third case, it discovers itself to be this particular fact in the unchangeable. The first unchangeable is taken to be merely the alien, external Being, which passes sentence on particular existence; since the second unchangeable is a form or mode of particularity like itself, it, i.e. the consciousness, becomes in the third place spirit (Geist), has the joy of finding itself therein, and becomes aware within itself that its particularity has been reconciled with the universals.”
 
I will not try to reconcile the two nor recommend a translation, but both seem to point a difficult passage where Hegel uses Einzelheit (particular). Both have two corresponding consequences.
In Miller’s translation, the use of the word individuality, instead of particular, means that individual consciousness will eventually find itself back to the universal after a perilous journey of its own alienation, going back to its own substantial point of emergence. Here, Hegel seems to be pointing at a narrative of the self, going back to itself, reflecting Augustine’s Noli folas ire, in te ipsum redi, in interiore homine, habitat veritas. The impression given here is that the path of consciousness is that of a constant externalization of itself and back again to itself as an individual consciousness reconciled with a universal substance.
 
Baillie’s translation has wide ranging ontological consequences, it introduces a consciousness that is not singular, but particular. Although the translation merely points to a usual classical metaphysical distinction akin to Thomism wherein particulars always reflect the universal or is reconciled with it when the accidents are suspended in the mind, the translation points towards a struggle that is difficult to see in the Miller translation (where individuality and universality reads like an adventure of consciousness back to its own): when the particular is seen as an alien being (das andere, i.e. as an external Other, an obstacle in the Lacanian sense) in the second sense, the reconciliation of the particular with the universal points towards a struggle inherent to the particular-universal relationship. Here, unhappy consciousness implies a struggle with an alien being that can only be experience in its particularity.
What then is the difference between individual and particular in both cases? It seemed to point at the same thing, but the use of individual over particular and vice versa has consequences to any understanding of Hegel and consciousness. The passage quoted above runs after his reflections on Stoicism and Skepticism, both schools have two different ways of seeing thinking and consciousness and its relation to the world. It would seem that Hegel wanted to reconcile stoicism and skepticism and the synthesis is the absolute knowing. However, we are presented with the Unhappy Consciousness (unglückliche Bewußtsein), an “indwardly disrupted consciousness” and “It is itself the gazing of one self-consciousness into another, and itself is both, and the unity of both is also its own essence; but objectively and consciously it is not yet this essence itself — is not yet the unity of both.” Negativity is at the core of the unhappy consciousness, a contradiction that it confronts in the universal.
I think this is an invitation to study further the concept of negativity later on in the Science of Logic. To dispel the idea of a substantial return to itself, the core of the negative core of the dialectic has to be handled and not merely mystified.    
Notes on Section 210 of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Dutertismo and Neo-Phrenology

Whenever President Rodrigo Duterte justified the war on drugs as a violent offensive against drug addicts and drug pushers, one cannot fail to notice the following argument: based on the observation and studies of scientists and psychologists, constant drug use and addiction damages the brain and decreases its size, wherein any form of rehabilitation becomes impossible.” The argument is solidly based on an assertion that the size of the brain, greatly affected by drug addiction, is the sole evidence for the impossibility of rehabilitation and re-integration into normal society. What we get here is an attempt to provide justification through some form of quasi-phrenology, a neo-phrenology, albeit based on the size and shape of the brain to determine the attitude of a human being.

Phrenology returns as a justification for the distinction between normal and the abnormal, the decent and the indecent, marking the human being with an inevitable physical quality that determined his place in society. Duterte’s neo-phrenology shows the core of Dutertismo as a category of political exclusivity, forming the backdrop of the politics of the drug war and not simply a moral issue. Through the reduction of the addict to the less than human entity with a reduced brain size, what enters to politics is a determination via the formation of a biological category. In this case, the addict loses its humanity through the loss of possession of a brain, short of the normative category for being human. Between the normal and the reduced brain sizes lies the difference between two pre-determined roles. The decent human being is everyone who is not an addict; humanity under Dutertismo is seen from a fundamental point of exclusion. Through the determination of the addict as a category of exclusion, acting as the obstacle for the process of a law-abiding society built on discipline, we encounter the obscene underside of Dutertismo’s project of universality.

Duterte prides himself as a friend to the left and the right that any politics as such is to see that “we are all Filipinos.” Such universal distinction only applies to those who are determined as outside the category of exclusion. The present administration’s attacjment to the law is that of a pure fetishistic disavowal. They know precisely well that the law demands due process, but nonetheless the requirement is lifted so that those who follow it to the letter can enjoy the freedoms it guarantees. Duterte’s “Filipino” is not its citizens, but the other to whom he designates his absolute belief in believing more than he believes in himself. The relegation of confidence and loyalty to the other that believes more than I believe forms the justification for impunity and justification of all forms of police violence and legal excesses.

To say that Duterte is the embodiment of the loss of the rule of law completely misses the point. His administration is the law’s obscene underside that any drive to the universal category of citizenry and the normativity of the law is founded on a prior category of exception. Under the present administration, the addict is the homo sacer at its finest, even worse he isn’t even human nor a sacrificial lamb for the satisfaction of the (legal and national) gods. Through this exception the administration sees itself justified: what it murders are not even human nor will be considered human, but an obstacle that needed to be plucked out in order for the organic unity to be whole. The repression of struggle (as class struggle or the creation of dividing lines) is built around this exception so that organic and holistic unity can be achieved. Fascism in all its brutality will not come with the hatred for a race, but in the mythology of the pseduo-universality of the citizenry. The ideas of the enlightenment are turned on its head.

Dutertismo and Neo-Phrenology

The Return of the Totalitarian Repressed

            Perhaps, the general symptom of to-day’s political milieu is the emergence of highly divisive polarized political situations. The rise of populist politicians under questionable policies has plagued not only the Philippines but also different parts of the world. However, the recent events leading to the Supreme Court decision to bury Ferdinand Marcos under a hero’s grave demands that we look at it not as an isolated case of historical amnesia but as an overall symptom of our incapability and resistance to admit the inherent contradictions within our post-1986 liberal democracy. At the same time, compromises made under the banner of national unity have divided us more than it has actually united different sectors of society.

 

The Failure of the Post-1986 Liberal Democracy: A Manichaeism

Ken Fuller described in The Lost Vision that despite the promises of reform after the Marcos dictatorship, the Aquino administration bearing the constraints of the large debt left by the previous administration and the demand by different sectors to expedite the recovery of the country’s economy, conceded to the neoliberal policies that its predecessors have applied under the brutal hand of the dictatorship. The Cory administration did not shy away at the number of extra judicial killings, suppression of dissent, and concessions to neoliberal policies and economics. The forced choice borne upon the young democracy of the 1987 constitution paved the way for a wide neoliberal deregulation of the economy.

What it basically introduced or reintroduced is the same brand of cronyism with different names and a different sponsor and protector. The oligarchy continued to reap the benefits of neoliberal deregulation, while those who are affected remained in the same poverty-stricken condition as before. Liberal democracy in this case only allowed the formal freedoms guaranteed by the fundamental rights of man, but it did not allow the resistance to the economic dogmatism that the country will be an obedient child to the market, following its oscillations and trends of speculation.

Aside from the continuity of the Marcos neoliberalism—a neoliberalism a la Pinochet—replaced by an Aquino neoliberalism—neoliberalism with a human and motherly face—, the post-1986 liberalism played one dangerous political tactic: the demonization of the Marcos regime. By positing the dictatorship as the face of pure political evil, the Aquino administration have reduced the 1986 EDSA revolution as a battle between the forces of good and evil and that the unified effort to depose Marcos was the triumph of good versus evil led by an agent of change who singlehandedly led us to freedom and gifted us the present democratic constitution. The 1987 constitution became the Holy Scripture and the Aquino family the Holy family to whom we have the utang na loob for our present democracy.

The Manichaean discourse failed miserably as the incompetence of the subsequent administrations proves that the promised democracy did not actually work for the rest of the poverty afflicted people. The obscene effect is not the legitimization of our present liberal democracy, but the nostalgia of the way things were, a return to the old order of things.

 

Nostalgia: Where Authoritarianism Breeds

Authoritarianism is not born out of the non-existence of liberal democracy, but of its fundamental failure to surpass the bureaucratic regime where consensus is constructed among a few members of an elite cadre of policy makers. Furthermore, liberal democracy tried to dispel political passions by placing it within the legal boundaries of the state and the communicative acts that follow from it. What is so radically different in our local liberal democracy is the perpetual authority of the illustrado class, the same dynasties have ruled the country with little to no benefit of the citizens.

As liberal democracy projects are bound to fail as it engages in a Manichaean struggle against the forces of evil, the plan backfires and people, disillusioned with to-day’s political status, turn to the past, looking for a pristine moment that has to be restored. The logic therefore of totalitarianism i.e. right-wing conservative fascism, is the establishment of a mythopoeic conception of the past that in the progression of history and the inevitable changes that will occur, something must be kept in permanent place that must never change, positing an external obstacle that constantly watches the progress of events, prohibiting the renaissance of the golden age. Nostalgia is the emotion that arises out of the authoritarian vision; a justification for everything can be constructed out of one’s romantic relation with the past. The agents and ideologues of fascism thrive in constructing their public discourse on the exemplification of the past and the assertion of an internal unity of society. One should be reminded that the word fascism was derived from fasces, the symbol of power that binds together all of the castes of society and upheld by the legal authorities. Fascism, given such etymology, is far less than the cooptation of revolutionary consciousness, but the combination of cooptation and the re-legitimization of old social relations that was supposed to have been suppressed by liberalism. While the contemporary right-wing populist is against liberals and the values of liberalism, he can only achieve his aims through the mechanisms of liberal democracy, pandering on its logic, system of suffrage, and construction of public opinion. The greatest of fascists, Hitler and Mussolini, did not engage in insurrectionary revolution, but were voted into power through national parliamentary elections. They were presidents in every legal sense of the term, but whose campaign runs under the unity of the people to heal the wounds of the past (in the case of Nazi Germany, to unite the Germans against the wounds of the Versailles treaty and world Jewry).

 

Unity under Dutertismo

We can read President Duterte’s speeches on different occasions in the same manner. When asked by a journalist what he will do after the violent dispersion at the US embassy. Duterte remarked “I’ll call the police and the activists together…there is no left and right. We are all Filipinos.” What is wrong with this remark? Duterte showed not the attitude of a stereotypical authoritarian leader, but the stereotypical liberal who abhors the polarized political situation and demands the unity of the citizens. But, unity for what purpose or goal? Behind the appearance of a liberal lies the fascist core, echoing Marx’s jibe against the party of order in Eighteenth Brumaire of Luis Napoleon, liberals act like liberals, but profess fascist ideology among themselves. Authentic fascism in our current time is not entirely the madness of the extremists or the obnoxious presence of trolls on the internet to silence dissenting opinion, but the voice of people who call for unity simply by the sheer mythology of the nation and the perceived obsolescence of old ways of resistance and partisan politics. We should not see authoritarian leaders as the people who are greedy for power, ready to devour the country with its vitriolic speeches. Rather, they are people who see themselves as part of a wide project of restoring a country to its pristine condition. Marcos did not declare martial law and cracked down on communists and activists simply because who was against communism; rather, he saw himself as part of a greater mission to preserve order and unity. The declaration of Martial law was conjured within Marcos’ spiritual exercises asking God for a sign and rid the country of the un-orderly influences and permissiveness.

The difference between the leftist and a believer in right-wing demagoguery is not between passionate revolutionary and the traditionalist or the vulgar populist and the rational liberal; the fundamental difference lies in how both the left and the right deal with struggle. The left sees contradiction everywhere; the most fundamental relationship between things is not the unity of opposites, but that the struggle of opposites is absolute and in constant opposition.[1] The rightist on the other hand sees conflict and opposition within the current political situation, but what must occur at the end of it is not to fight a constant internal struggle and study the class contradictions in society, but that behind the conflict lies an identity that will unite all walks of life. Hence, the struggle of the left and the right is not between the multitudes versus the universal rationality of the right. What we have is the struggle between two universalities. The universality of the right is that of the unity of all social hierarchies, of everything has its proper place, repressing the struggle of opposites for the sake of what is supposed to bind us together as a nation.

 

[1] Mao Tsetung, “On Contradiction,” in Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tsetung (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1971), pp. 124-125.

The Return of the Totalitarian Repressed

Reading Kimi No Na Wa as an Ideological Text

 

I have a strong cynicism for films that portray the inherent unity of all things that we are connected by some invisible threads where we are destined to be connected with each other. The ontology of holistic unity of things is merely a reverberation of some ecological politic to encompass human politic, to extinguish the fire of partisan struggle, seen as the source both of societal and ecological disasters. The pervading mindset that we can create multi-sectoral solutions sans party politics that divides statecraft politics is explicated within the admiration of nature as beautiful and orderly entity to which we all belong. Hence, social relations are pattered or should be patterened after the connecting threads that connect each and every one of us regardless of race, gender, and political support. Despite its attempt to rid politics of politics (i.e. to be outside of politics), it is fundamentally built on a new age political ontology, albeit refusing to admit it.

The central theme of Makoto Shinkai’s Kimi no na wa (Your Name) lies in its plot wherein two people are connected by single destiny. With the story revolving around the Shakespeare-ish comedy of errors, Taki and Mitsuha’s destiny unfurls in the succeeding scenes as each body swap is a glimpse of each other’s life that they desired. Mitsuha experiences urban life while swapped in Taki’s body eventually landing him a date with a female coworker. Taki, on the other hand, helped Mitsuha deal with the anxieties of rural life and an overbearing political father. The comedy of errors ends with Taki’s attempt to intervene by informing Mitsuha of an impending disaster, involving fragments of a comet hitting Itomori, Mitsuha’s town. Centered around the goal to change what happened three years ago (both characters are apparently three years apart from each other ), the whole message of the film revolved around the internal unity of things and the connections it weaves upon everybody. This unity is deemed sacred that even the gods follow suit. Such was how nature is oriented and that fastidious patience is demanded of people for them to reap the rewards of the divine ordination of things.

As a text within a particular cultural network of Japanese anime, Your Name (regardless of its basic fantasy and sci-fi elements) is simply a one of the many attempts to remove anime from the clichés it was known for. Makoto Shinkai’s works have the indelible mark of being hyper-realistic with a careful attention to small details. Such technique turns anime into a respectable medium on par with the medium of cinematic fiction, something that elitist film makers are wont to accept, isolating it to the confines of animated features or some form of escapism.

However, despite the good intentions to create an animated masterpiece, its themes clearly exhibit our current ideological situation. This is clearly seen from Mitsuha’s relation to her father, Toshiki Miyamizu, and how Taki eventually helps her deal with him and its situation in the progress of the story. The kinship dynamic between daughter and father is the continuation of a feud in the Miyamizu family who were the titular heads of the local Shinto shrine. Hitoha Miyamizu, their grandmother, holds on to the family traditions, passing on the rituals and practices of the Itomori shrine to the Miyamizu daughters despite the loss of the knowledge concerning the purpose of the rituals; furthermore, Hitoha holds Toshiki in contempt for leaving the priesthood and later settled in local politics. Here, two distinct spheres are lined out: the sphere of the political i.e. the sphere of political maneuvering, agonism and technocracy and the (pagan) religious sphere of nature where the traditions echo the divine order and connections of things: they are kept despite our lack of knowledge about them, content with the knowledge that these traditions reflect the place of humans within the order of nature. Politics is the sphere of the father, where he exercises his legal authority over his legal constituents. The sphere of paganism that of the guarding of “the way things are” is the domain of maternal superego; the uncompromising attachment to the unknown and the mere appearance of ritual is the (grand)mother’s ethical stance: it is what keeps the world from what it is and hence to maintain the appearance of the traditions as such. Throughout the film, both the father and grandmother’s disagreements form Mitsuha’s silent resentment both for her father’s authority and the arbitrariness of keeping the appearance of the religious traditions. Clearly, she exercises a form of fetishistic disavowal, when she performs the prescribed sacred ceremonies. The paternal metaphor (legal authority) clashes with the maternal superego; but by going against the maternal authority, the latter re-inscribes itself, attempting to suppress the antagonism between it and politics. Your Name’s background is set on the inherent struggle between the demands of political life (and whatever it stands for) and the realm of the sacred order of things.

The disaster served as the external obstacle to seemingly reconcile the realm of the political and tradition. To read that situation fundamentally, the comet is the objet petit a at its finest, a spectral thing that intrudes constantly with the current state of things. The external thing happens to repress the antagonism inside the object in order to express the conflict as the struggle against something else outside of itself. In the case of the antagonism between politics and tradition, the comet acts as an external threat to re-inscribe the authority of the latter in the social field. A great deal of disaster flicks follow the pattern of conflict—external threat—reconciliation pattern; Slavoj Žižek noted apropos of how disaster films like Armageddon, Deep Impact or War of the Worlds does the same thing of reconciling children to paternal authority. External conflicts serve as the catalyst needed to repress the traumatic element of antagonism inherent in the relation between the two. In the case of Your Name, the comet incident is a suppression of the antagonism inherent in the relation between politics and the realm of nature, stressing the overall importance of the underlying unity that the nature entails.

The return to the authentic realm of nature from the inauthentic and oftentimes exploitative field of technology and politics pervades to-day’s field of struggle from multicultural struggles sans class conflicts to ecological activism that aims to fight technocracy. In anime, Makoto Shinkai’s work responds faithfully to Hayao Miyazaki’s criticism of the prevailing otaku culture  that form most productions of animation and the usual clichés in anime that we know to-day. Perhaps, both Shinkai and Miyazaki (and Studio Ghibili for that matter) form a reaction to the apocalyptic absurdity that pervaded animated classics like Akira or Neon Genesis Evangelion by emphasizing again the greatness of the human spirit and the hope that comes with it, set against the invading force of political upheaval and the impending damages it does not only to man but to nature.

To liberate ourselves from that bleak imagination, anime, just like cinema, attempted to make itself a reflection of everyday life. What the re-inscription of the inherent unity in nature really wants to do is to point towards an authentic sphere outside of the antagonism of political and economic life, where everyone can experience the unity of all things and how it binds us. This way the antagonism remains covered, but we are awarded with the sublime consummation of teenage love or inner peace, blind to the symptoms of the current state of affairs. Despite its attempt to restore hope and the beauty of the human spirit in anime, a medium that grew with the rise of the hikikomori i.e. people who decided to shut themselves in at the failure of integrating into the socio-economic-political demands, to unveil the authentic sphere of being outside of technological enframing is the suppression of the internal conflict within nature and the social field itself. Beneath every attempt at realism is an underlying fascination with the unseen reality, hiding beneath the inauthenticity of technical conceptualization. However, the attempt to exercise distance from the conflicts of social and political relations is to simply repress the antagonism itself, to discredit it merely as a conceptualization, conjured out of the reactionary attempt to escape the realm of the political.

Reading Kimi No Na Wa as an Ideological Text

Of Independent Cinema: Notes on a Critique

Any curious movie goer would eventually have encountered the rise of Filipino Independent cinema industry as a total opposite of mainstream film and whatever it stood for as a mass produced cultural product, meant simply as entertainment with minimal thought provoking elements. Perhaps, the symptomatic evidence of independent cinema’s separation with mainstream cinema can be seen in the work of Brillante Mendoza. While the cinematic tropes and choice of topics that Mendoza chooses dwell on the reality of poverty, one should examine the technical and narrative elements that he chooses to portray poverty. Take for example Lola (Grandmother) which is set in a perpetually flooded community where the characters engage either in legal or illegal underground economies but always end up successfully or unsuccessfully dealing with the struggle of being on the margins of government bureaucracy; these tropes that are apparently the mainstay of Mendoza’s films are presented in a social realist way, progressing in a quasi-documentary manner following the characters in different moments of daily struggle. Given the choice of ways to deal with the source material, Mendoza’s films can be described as following a social realist stance, of describing poverty as it is in its crudeness and the incapability of state mechanisms to curb poverty in an effective way.

However, despite the director’s sensibilities in dealing with poverty as a subject matter, presenting it as the other that requires our immediate authentic response, it is precisely this goal that keeps Mendoza’s films as the very symptom of neoliberalism. By creating the image of the poor as engaging mainly in the underground economy, earning their daily bread by placing themselves at the niches of the status quo, the immediate response is that of providing them an inclusive market space where everyone can properly engage in entrepreneurial ventures. Take for example the NGO Gawad Kalinga, the organization that provides free housing for the urban poor, they organize communities around the original site of the original urban poor communities where uniform single floor houses are constructed (funded by different philanthropic organizations). The condition granted by GK was that the poor who were given free housing are not allowed to rent the refurbished houses and that each family had to undergo a strict catechism in (Filipino) Catholic family values where the authority of the father is emphasized and the determined role of the other members of the family is indicated. While meant as a disciplinary integration to prevent the poor from ripping off their donors, the re-imposition of traditional Catholic values keeps them from the creation of an entirely new coordinates of communal life, remaining only at the level of paragons of Filipino Catholicism. Returning to Mendoza’s films, is not the conservative GK organization the implication of Mendoza’s supposed social realism that an authentic response to poverty is to further bourgeois philanthropy?

Social realist cinema is close to communism as it formed the dogma that dominated Soviet and Chinese film theory. However, the technique of quasi-documentary was inspired by Italian neorealism where real life traumas caused by the war are dealt as everyday problems. The fundamental difference between social realism and neorealism lies not eventually at the technicalities or the choice of topic, but in the way both cinematic movements deal with the source material. Neorealism championed the virtues of individuals in the struggle to make ends meet as historical events played in the background (considering how Rossellini’s neorealist films happen ex post facto of a historical event e.g. World War II). Soviet realist films, on the other hand, explore the role of individual human beings in the making of history (as in Sergei Eisenstein’s films) as they deal with different historical conditions and contradictions. Perhaps, the quintessential realist here is Dziga Vertov whose films do not proceed in a quasi-documentary narrative but removes the narrative element altogether to present Soviet society as a totally different world, a utopia to be but still operated by men. Everyday life in the Soviet Union, for Vertov, is presented like a machine, functioning properly and at the same time the camera is presented merely as a gaze unto the objects of its lens (as seen from his Man with a Movie Camera, where the camera bows to the screen as if to end its visual performance).

Are we then looking for Vertovs and Eisensteins of our time? Definetly not, but the allure of cinema passes as a gaze into objects, an arrangement of what people think, should be, must be and will be, a picture of our current ideological condition. While I do not glance at mainstream cinema as junk food for the sole purpose of entertainment, the entirety of cinema must examined as the symptom of our time. At this point, Edel Garcellano puts it better in his review of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento: the problem is not so much the lack of great technical masterpiece or of epic storylines (two of which can be seen in the delivery of Novecento), but of showing the underlying contradiction that occur within the universe of the film.[1] As such that when Garcellano in the previous essay indicated, both the source material and the technicalities of the film converge to form the cinematic text; however, it is not entirely the technical or the narrative aspect that truly makes the film a liberating art form. “Artistic unity must correlate with historical logic and dialectics.”[2]

We can thus divide the cinematic tendency of our time into two: phenomenological and dialectical. Brillante Mendoza’s films belong to the phenomenological tendency, remaining solely at the level of experiencing (pag-danas) what shows itself in the public as poverty (corresponding to the existentialist notion of “showing what shows itself” and our experience thereof that breaks conceptual trappings). At the side of dialectics is Lav Diaz and his insanely long films such as The Evolution of the Filipino Family and From what was Before that do not deal with what shows itself as poverty but brutally traumatizes the viewer with long shots and still shots showing not what occurs but how the characters create history, culmination in the film Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery as a dialectics of the Revolution of 1898 by dealing with its traumatic corre: the search for the corpse of Andres Bonifacio i.e. the search for the proletarian core of the revolution repressed by bourgeois compromises with colonial powers. What Diaz does is not the typical mastery of technical or narrative emplotment of his pictures, but includes the structure by which the universe of the narrative circulates. Hence, despite the length of Diaz’s films, they are the presentation of deeply ingrained contradictions within society, manifesting in various ways. Take for example the class struggle in Norte: End of History, two main characters are two variations on the character of Dostoyevsky’s Raskolinikov; Fabian, a law student embodying the guilty Raskolinikov, belonging to the upper class, tries to save Joaquin, the patsy Raskolinikov belonging to the working class, by reopening the case of the murder of loan shark Magda and her daughter without implicating himself results in the outburst of sanity. Incapable to place himself again in the (traditional) symbolic register of everyday life, he commits symbolic suicide by raping his own sister. Here, one should reject the new age interpretation, given by the producers of the film (astral travel and so on) and instead see Fabian and Joaquin’s characters as subjects that deal with the symbolic register and the flight thereof. In Fabian, we have the outburst and eventually symbolic suicide and death where the scene culminates in Fabian riding a boat, a clear allusion to the Charon. Joaquin does not find reconciliation with the system but fully begins to transverse the fantasy by dreaming that imprisonment itself became a condition of freedom (as seen in the final scene where he floats in midair, presumably dreaming).

While Diaz’s films dealt with poverty and injustice as source materials for his films. He does not end with the characters reconciling with the inevitability of their plight or the enjoyment despite the ordeal. Thus, he posits that the dialectical structure of social life and the irreconcilable nature of the elements within this dialectic, presented as the failure of the subjects to experience what is as the sole way of fully experiencing the structures as such (i.e. as a traumatic kernel that cannot be symbolized).

Given this difference, returning to Mendoza’s films and perhaps the tendency of most Filipino independent cinema, their approach to the narrative, technical and structural elements present only “what is” as a homogeneous and united entity i.e. as merely showing itself that needs experiencing and so on. It caters to the aesthetic of bourgeois tastes whose place needs to be situated within a fetishistic construction of social life and urban dwelling, offering itself to philanthropic acts, replacing emancipatory politics. Genuine exposition of superstructure and structural elements are replaced by the surplus jouissance of participating in the aesthetics of squalor that in the consumption of its cultural products lies the sole fulfillment of our socio-political duty that is to only know.

 

[1] Edel Garcellano, First Person Plural: Essays, pp. 110-111.

[2] Ibid., 105.

Of Independent Cinema: Notes on a Critique