The Buried Giant (Kazuo Ishiguro, 2015)

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber 2015)
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber 2015)

The 2017 Literature Nobel Prize is awarded to the writer Kazuo Ishiguro. He was born in Japan in 1954 and moved to England at the age of five with his parents.

I previously reviewed his work “The Buried Giant” on this blog. An article on the occasion of his winning the prize will follow.


Five characters are looking for their memories in “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro,

A magic mist hangs over the land. It pollutes the air, puts people in a twilight state and ensures that they no longer have memories.

The beginning of Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel “The Buried Giant” is set in England during the 6th century BC and the mode of storytelling varies from fantastic literature to historical literary novel. In the course of more than 400 pages it becomes apparent that the novel is also a literary meditation, a meandering reflection on remembering and forgetting. It ponders on the necessity of repression for coexistence and ruminates on the loneliness of dying.

Ishiguro’s mastery over a simple plot of a dense network of enigma, symbolism, and complexity made the journey or the exploration in the novel the basis of both the human psyche and community.

The core of the story told by the British writer of Japanese origin is an aging British couple, Axl and Beatrice, who leaves their village to visit their son, who is said to live only a few villages away. But where exactly, they have forgotten because of the mist. They also cannot recall why the boy then went away. On their way, they meet the enigmatic warrior Wistan, Gawain, a knight of the Round Table, and a strange boy, Edwin, carrying a fatal wound on his stomach. From the journey to her son, they forge a joint mission to kill a bestial dragon whom they find out is responsible for the impenetrable veil of forgetfulness. The nearer the small group comes to the dragon, the more clearly it becomes apparent that none is who or what they first seem to be – not Gawain, not Wistan, not Edwin; not even the love the couple held for for each other.

In the beginning of the story, an old acquaintance, asked Beatrice, “How would you, and your husband, prove your love to each other, if you no longer have memories of your common past?” At the end of the novel Axl, doubts his wife: “Can it be that our love would never have grown so strong over the years, had not the mist taken our many memories?”

In this way he formulates the basic conflict of the novel, which is structured as a history: how necessary is forgetting, the obliteration of memory, the individual and the community? It is not too of a revelation to say that the mist also signifies and bears peace for the country and the people; one can forget the reason that had sown discord and hatred – and at the same time, what meant as an existential threat to Axl and Beatrice and their love.

Thus, it is clear that there are great, universal themes that Ishiguro’s novel deals with. And he takes his time in exposing this, a considerable amount of of time. In the initial external focalization, that is, without giving us an insight into the thinking or feeling of the characters, the narrator describes actions and dialogues without explaining or commenting. Thus, the text completely leaves the reader with a sense of interpretation.This is an exciting technique and it would work if the great mystery that is supposedly in space is not very predictable; if not the basic conflict would be very banal and the final dissolution almost kitschy. In the last third of the text a frequent change of perspective comes into play, which breaks the aesthetic homogeneity of the novel: suddenly Gawain speaks in a kind of inner monologue, suddenly we get the happenings from Edwin’s perspective and finally from a ferryman’s mediation. On the one hand, Ishiguro admits them only as individual figures, which is inconsistent. The forgetting or the degree of amnesia is not the same for all the figures, so Wistan can well remember whom he hated and why. All of this makes the novel look textured, not quite thought out, and is not consistent with its structural nature.

Ishiguro’s style recalls the great Japanese novelists of the twentieth century, the so-called “third new post-war generation,” who have taken to allegorically process historical material to illustrate basic human problems. “The Buried Giant” is such an allegorical approach to history, which takes a dateable historical conflict as a slide to devote itself to the central questions of existence by the means of a fantastic and associative narrative.

Ishiguro had already chosen similar approaches to urgent questions in “Remains of the Day” and “Never let me go”, but he had managed to link the narrative film organically with the existential questions, “The buried giant” ultimately failed. The historical fundamental conflict remains arbitrary, interchangeable, and a mere motive for action, the figures in their psychological development manageable and the tension curve of history flat. Thus the reader, after reading, will remain slightly unsatisfied, and driven into a somewhat diffused sea of ​​questions, whose answers appear schematically on the horizon, but unapproachable and disappears in the mist.


The Bourgeois trap

Last Saturday, writers and artists nominated Joma Sison to the Order of National Artist. The inclusion into the elite order is considered the highest honor for writers in the Philippines. The nominators were led by the Concerned Artists of the Philippines and National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera.

Joma Sison’s legendary accomplishment as a poet, as a former professor of literature, as a revolutionary leader and as a founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines deserves to be honored and studied by the nation that has been accustomed to conformist writers. Having said that and assuming that the moves to push his “elevation” to the Order of the National Artist is not a personal agenda, I am strongly recommending that he rejects the nomination. NOT THE ORDER OF NATIONAL ARTIST, please.

Since one cannot actually reject a nomination for the O of NA, he should reject the honor if this is given to him. (If I remember correctly, in the case of FPJ, the honor is given with or without the consent of the receiver.)

By his rejection he is making a concrete statement for the CPP-NPA that is currently at war with the government that continues to bestow the honor through the imprimatur of the President of the Republic. An acceptance would be damaging to his own legacy as a writer who has stood by the principles of an ongoing revolution against the GRP.

Aside from the fact that the award was instituted by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Joma Sison stands to receive the award from an avowed human rights violator and corrupt politician. He should realize that the gravitas of the state honor is that it is an exercise of power by the head of state bestowing the honor. A Supreme Court decision a few years ago testifies to this interpretation since the president can be held accountable for any abuse of this power (simply put, the honor is more about the giver than the receiver). Why allow your enemy to exercise power over you?

Again, I am not arguing against the merits of the life and work of Joma Sison. Even if that was all it took and meant there are still two events that should precede his acceptance of the honor. First, is the conclusion of a successful peace agreement between the GRP and the CPP-NPA-NDF. It is unheard of for belligerents to bestow honors to persons belonging or maintaining allegiances to the other party. Why accept an official honor from your enemy?

Second, wait until Rodrigo Duterte is replaced by a President that respects human rights and is not a puppet of an imperialist state OR wait for reforms in the Order of National Artist that completely removes the veto power of the President on the final list of recepients.

Beyond this, Joma Sison can learn from Jean Paul Sartre on his rejection of the Nobel Prize: “The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances.” This means that Joma Sison, should refuse to be co-opted by a state whose practices he is waging a revolution against. The honor would only serve to canonize him to the “greats” of the reactionary state.

Another personality Sison should refer to is Jose Marti. Imagine what it would mean for the revolution and for history if the poet and Cuban national hero sought an award from Spanish imperialists? More than his personal stature, it is the stature of the revolution that would be diminished by this glaring and symbolical compromise.

Unlike the Nobel Prize which Sartre has given the benefit of the doubt on the question of being a “bourgeois” award, there is no question that the O of NA is a bourgeois award; from its origins and current structure (resembling the Orders of Knighthood and other heraldic honors of certain monarchies) to its controversies and the current composition of the Order. To avoid the risk of falling into the trap of his enemies and rightist circles and if he values the respect he is getting among certain organizations, academics, cultural workers and artists who are not necessarily aligned with the National Democratic Front of which he is often wrongly perceived as an infallible demigod, HE SHOULD REJECT THE OFFICIAL HONORS.

No amount of apologetics in the future will rectify this apparent faux pas.

Intramuros of Two Augusts



The ruined convent on Calle Real
appear as a skeleton of beams (where life escapes,
without echoes), the blood mixed
in the concrete, histories under the dust,
dreams under the rubble.

It was last August
when my body last knew yours,
the first time we met
as bodies, just bodies, as knots
Before that we were steel and muscles,
Muscles and steel. Now we bond with the dust
Of what we were, the dust to which we were,
Hundred of years we embraced our deaths,

Woven now to what we weave,
Our threads and the clothes in which
We become, now that our love
Is called death, now that our
World has become smaller, just us,
Our dust, becomes a knot between us and our past.

Cool Memories


With a curatorial proposal that appropriates the narrative potential of the space by diluting the subject matters of the works exposed, Cool Memories: Geronimo Cristobal is an exhibition that, paradoxically, transposes the essential and creative concept of the artist.

Unlike in the beginning of his career where he explores a more derivative technique with his colorful textures, Geronimo Cristobal has become more interested in creating chromatic materials and forms. Inspired by the oriental Wabi-sabi aesthetic, he has managed to fuse the imperfection, simplicity and roughness of certain processes and natural materials with a seductive beauty that is imposed by the emotional experientiality of color. Exalted by the texture that is palpable and the symbolic references that are evoked, their chromatic surfaces become leading entities that, silently, link nature, humanity and transience. In his works, time does not exist and art history is in a limbo. Even though there are visible testimonies of a very distant past – like lands of different environments and volcanic rocks – their cover-up and transformation turn the natural fragments into strange totemic presences.

Conceived by Romero Barragan (curator of an austere, spiritual and sculptural gallery below his Makati apartment), the exhibition focuses on the comparison of ancient Filipino terracota vases with the interior of both an erupting volcano and a hypocaust-heating system in Roman antiquity. Invaded in its stony and black interiors with various facilities that, through volcanic rocks glazed in red, orange and gold mean flows of lava or treasures found, the museum alternates its extraordinary collection of pre-hispanic pieces and its fascinating volcanic rock architecture with the stones of sharp edges and small dimensions covered by the artist. With vertical brick installations that look like fragments of poles, Geronimo Cristobal refers to the hypocaust system. And in the outer spaces, in addition to their known and huge cubes of cooked clay that stand on top of each other, other cubes stand out, which, as if they were soft sculptures, pile up evoking the processes of melting a material.
Oscillating between the appropriation of nature and its human transformation into an object of strange, useless and artificial beauty, the exhibition Cool Memories: Geronimo Cristobal does not respect the elemental origin of the natural. On the contrary, it refers to the human need to possess, intervene and interpret it through different ideas and processes that, in the artist’s case, seduce by the elegant and emotive expressiveness of an order that symbolically refers to its forms, accidents and chromatisms of a certain origin.

Consisting mainly of rocks, the sample exhibits very few two dimensional works. Among them, a splendid material composition in grays and blacks that remember the Japanese technique of kintsugi, which consists in repairing the broken ceramics, turning the seams at the break into attractive line drawings.

This text was published in the edition 2015 Catalogue, Cool Memories – Jose Victor Fuentes

Luis Gordillo’s fixation

Text below was translated from La fijación de Luis Gordillo by Margot Molina from the 16 Oct 2014 edition of El Pais. I recently bought a book catalogue of his retrospective at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) last week and noticed that his works echo the same painterly concerns of several Filipino artists working in the contemporary art scene. This is a preliminary attempt at uncovering a connection or circumstantial similarities in the milieu of Spain and the Philippines that influenced its painters working in a certain period.

Luis Gordillo, photographed before his work 'Is this the future?' / LAURA LEÓN
Luis Gordillo, photographed before his work ‘Is this the future?’ / LAURA LEÓN. From EL PAIS (No copyright infringement intended)

An exhibition in Seville traces the obsession to paint heads that the artist developed in the 1960s when he began to employ psychoanalysis.

At the age of 80, anyone would think that Luis Gordillo is retreating from everything and will now worked locked in a bubble, without the need of the rest of the world. Nothing more is further from reality because the father of pop-art in Spain and influence of several generations of artists is a sponge that absorbs everything and translates it into his own language. Gordillo has not lost an iota of curiosity that has transformed him into one of the best Spanish artists of the second half of the twentieth century. This is evident in hisin Cabezas, the exhibition that opened Thursday (October 2014) in Seville.

The exhibition, which can be seen at the Real Alcázar until 9 January 2015, brings together 55 works (many of them multiple so that a total of 123 pieces are shown) made between 1956 and 2014.

“When I got into pop art, in 1963, all I did were heads. The subject appears and disappears throughout the years, as a feet or a tail can also appear, but curiously I always return to painting heads. I suppose this comes from my interest in psychoanalysis, which I started in Madrid in 1963 and I have done for 40 years, although with interruptions,” reflects Luis Gordillo (Seville, 1934) before one of the series of the sample: Cabecitas Expressionistas, 2003-2010).

“But psychoanalysis creates a dangerous dependence, that someone listening to you is nice and I’ve always had a lot to tell. I could spend hours pulling the thread and I suppose that certain levels that has reached my work come from there, “says Gordillo, who a decade ago showed in his city his first steps as an artist through 150 works in Pre-Gordillo goes to Paris .

The exhibition begins with drawings from the late 50’s, most of which belong to the artist’s brothers, although the strong core of the exhibition, curated by his brother José Manuel Gordillo – from whom he started the idea of ​​gathering the heads – and Luis Montiel, are pieces from the sixties and seventies. The gouache work, Cabeza de Santiago (1963) and the drawing, Self-portrait with Jose (1963) are exhibited for the first time and several paintings in the 60 works presented have not been shown for decades.

In the Hall of the Alcázar Apeadero, which has almost tripled its exhibition space thanks to the intervention of the study of the architect Frade, you can see fundamental works in the trajectory of the artist as the acrylic work, Cabeza Macho (1973) and the diptych Trio gris y vinagre ( 1976), both loaned by the Foundation Suñol of Barcelona. Although more than half of the pieces belong to the artist’s collection, the stunning polyptic series Luna (1977) belongs to the Reina Sofía Art Center in Madrid.

The exhibition brings together works from 1956 to 2014, including some early unpublished drawings

“When I abandon figurative references, it seems to me that the head is no longer enough and I begin to dive into deeper levels, to penetrate the brain,” says the artist thoughtfully, almost as if he had returned to a session of psychoanalysis, therapy that he abandoned A decade ago, to explain the genesis of much of its production in the 1990s.

In Superyo Frozen, a large exhibition organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (MACBA) in 1999, many of the works were diptychs that resembled a sectioned brain. “It was like entering the inside of the head and capturing its rhythms,” adds Gordillo, the creator of a colorful and attractive “mental map”, as he defines it.

Cabezas, organized by the Seville City Council with the sponsorship of the La Caixa Foundation and the Cajasol Foundation, welcomes the visitor with three great prints by Melchor Voyeur in blue, green and purple, the same motif that served in 2007 to cover The Roman bridge of Cordoba during its restoration. And it shows how this obsession with the heads does not belong to the past with several recently dated works. The last work, Is this the future?, is an acrylic on canvas made this year in which the face, possibly the artist’s own, flattens like If it were a rubber mask on a succession of planes.

“Now I am still very open, because to maintain many things at the same time takes a lot of energy and there are days when it seems that my head breaks. Before I could develop many themes intellectually at the same time, now not so much “, confesses the Gordillo. And with a smile assures that it is his feminine side that has allowed him to multitask; Although his wife, Pilar Linares, helps him. “She is 50% of what is here, perhaps even 60%. She works a lot and is my absolute partner,” he concludes.

Noynoy Aquino’s “good faith” and the death of 44 soldiers

Noynoy during the funeral for SAF 44. Source: GMA NEWS TV, no copyright infringement intended.
President Noynoy during the funeral for SAF 44. Source: GMA NEWS TV, no copyright infringement intended.

In a statement, the Liberal Party said the former president’s actions relating to the incident were “imperatives in good faith to advance the cause of justice and peace” in the restive south.

Even if PNP Director General Alan Purisima was in suspension during the time of the operation, anyone in Noynoy’s shoes would’ve taken heed of his advise given that he was on the case for longer than any General. Anyone would’ve done so just to cover all the bases. That being said, it is still wrong and in fact potentially criminal to continue working with a suspended government official but there’s a good alibi there for Aquino. Contrary to arguments of ignorance over military movements, it seems that the former President was actually well-informed and even offered substantial inputs into the operation. It will be important to know why Roxas and Espina were kept out of the loop while they are in the chain-of-command, because if we follow this alibi, then wouldn’t the opinion of the DILG and the OIC also matter? Wouldn’t it be part of “good faith” or are we missing something here? The nation hasn’t quite healed from the death of its 44 elite soldiers and this is evident the way our fellow citizens now take more notice of the death count in every battle and tragedy. We all want the truth to come out before any understanding and forgiveness can ensue. I believe though, that the President never wished his own soldiers to die in battle, after all he called well-trained SAF, not boy scouts. The Ombudsman is undoubtedly right in dismissing the homicide case while endorsing the criminal negligence case. The court trial is the best venue to explain and finally put a closure on this case.


The case of usurpation of authority was filed against Aquino for allowing then suspend Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima to participate in the planning of the operation against Marwan.

Read more:

Return to the mental caves to recover inner images

cebu-7(An excerpt)

“Human life is nothing more than a picture, blessed with images. The human life is cursed and it is only in pictures that we are able to grasp it, the pictures are untraceable, they have been with us since the beginning of human existence; they are earlier and more powerful than our thinking; they are in a timeless space where the past and the future are intertwined and they are more powerful than us.”
– Hermann Broch, “The Death of Virgil”, own translation)

The petroglyphs of Angono in the province of Rizal are the oldest known stone engravings in the Philippines. The carvings were first documented by acclaimed Philippine painter Carlos Francisco in 1965 while he was leading a Boy Scout troop on a hike. Little else is known about the figures, or the people who etched them. One clue is that many of the human carvings appear to be in a squatting position, which has led scientists to theorize that the area was a place of worship. The engravings are under a massive rock projection. A total of more than 127 human and animal figures cover the rock wall over a length of 25 meters and a height of 3.7 meters.

The petroglyphs are not connected to each other, which suggests that they were made at different times. Their origins date anywhere from 2000 to 3000 years ago. A remarkable, perhaps not entirely accidental, occurrence is the proximity of the engravings to today’s cities of Laguna, Angono and Binangonan, which are known for their craft and wood carvings.

A few kilometers away from Manila in the capital of the Philippines, where I lived, I went there on a side trip and found, lamentably, that the carvings are nothing more than traces and shadows of what Carlos Francisco documented in 1965.

The mountains, about 90 minutes’ drive from Manila, were an entirely forested area. But most of the trees have since been felled to make way for the country’s fast-growing population, with a holiday resort, a golf course and upper-class housing development now surrounding the rock wall.

A real estate developer owns the land on which the petroglyphs are located. He has donated the hillside on which the carvings are located back to the National Museum. He allowed only a small buffer zone, though, and the road runs just 10 meters (33 feet) from the carvings. Wind and rain, as well as plant roots creeping through the stone, have also damaged the soft rock where the carvings are etched. The poorly funded National Museum cannot afford to pay for adequate security so vandalism is also a constant worry. People have scrawled their names on the rock and there are slash marks on some carvings that archaeologists have determined were only made recently. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) placed the petroglyphs on its “tentative list” of world heritage sites but that has done little to stem the powerful tide of neglect. Mining at a nearby gravel pit a few years ago also shook the ancient site. The foundations of the rock wall continue to face more threats of destruction.

The Angono Petroglyphs, which evoke the sensibilities of the primitive always present in the shadows of Philippine contemporary or neo-expressionist art making, remind us that a linear art history perspective is a limited and distorted view. In a lecture at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore, I’ve talked about the evolution of the Filipino’s artistic sensibilities. In that lecture, I emphasized the devices of contemporary artists who could go anywhere in this line of evolution to fork into another path. I have often thought that, it does not matter where I start painting, the best painters always have the earliest cave and rock drawings in their minds.

Since I began painting, I’ve always been aware of the unique situation that presents itself in the act of visual representation: that like the natural or intended palimpsests in the petroglyphs of Angono, where the voice of various people over long periods in time meld into a single artistic tableau, there is more than one voice speaking in the work. I have often confused the voices with the work but I am well aware that the notion of the creation of the work and its creator can change in art history, that when nature and human destruction creeps in, that all things return to just being artifacts with little importance given to the individual creator but rather to the kind of people and culture that spawned the creation.

Despite and because of this realization, I have never attempted to divide the voices; on the contrary I have always sought to unify the different discourses animating the images. The ultimate coherence of these discourses, though, is not necessary and is definitely not the goal of my work.

My works develop mainly from the knowledge and mastery of tradition on one hand and an epistemic confrontation with the image on the other. Both turn on the problems of perception of the form, particularly of appropriation and how we reference the world outside the work of art.

When I am painting, my preoccupation with tradition first manifests itself in what we will call here as “pre-images”: objects of knowledge that serve as a starting point for a more in depth, critical occupation with certain pictorial conventions and ideas. Painting for me thus begins as an act of critical application, rather than as an intuitive process of expressive fertility. This allows me to be more objectively productive, in other words, to practice a reasoned creativity.

While it may seem basic, there is something oppressively daunting in the endless pursuit of clever image strategies. And the successful form, the one that I would own, would be the paradoxical result of an exercise in humility: tracing the movements of tradition in the piles of ideas it has left behind.
I am very concerned with the notion of the “artistic” because I emphasize critical reflection in my process and, along with this, locating inner artistic actions and reactions against the environment within which I work. In this light, I try to be careful about quoting styles as mere appearances. I would like to think that there is something beyond them than the history of art. But, I’m always restrained by the question, what doesn’t fall under the scope of the history of art?

The full text of “Return to the mental caves to recover inner images” will appear in the accompanying publication to the exhibition “Paintings After Compositions” on July 31, 2017. 

Paintings After Compositions, by Geronimo Cristobal, CSCVA 2017, 550 Php, 35 pages.