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.

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Vikram Seth “Two Lives” A Portrait of Love”

6014463In 1969, Vikram Seth moved from India to London to study. He finds accommodation with his uncle Shanti and his German wife Henny, a Jewish woman. Both got to know each other during Shanti’s studies in Berlin in the 1930s. The relationship of his Uncle and Aunt, which was at first rather distant, gradually deviates into an intimate connection.

When Henny dies in the 80s, Vikram Seth stays with Shanti and through this encounter he decides to write a moving account of the great lives of these two ordinary people in a biography.

His approach involved detailed interviews with his uncle, investigation of other witnesses and his review of the letters and personal documents. He describes the life of Shantis and his family in India and how he ended up in London. He shows the difficulties the Jewish woman Henny dealt with under to Nazi Germany. She managed to flee to the United Kingdom six weeks before the start of the war.

Closely connected with the life of Shanti and Henny, the author skillfully digests and narrates the historical facts. Thus the biography created an impressive 20th-century landscape. Seth, however, did not confine himself to the listing of historical events alone, he analyzed and drew extremely interesting conclusions that enriched his book. The basis for this can only be drawn from an extremely meticulous research.

It was not always easy to find a way out in the wide circle of friends of Shanti and Henny, or to look into Indian family conditions immediately, because I sometimes saw the thread blur in the detailed stories of Vikram Seth.

With this biography he places the two on a pedestal. I was very impressed by this book, I have access to the lives of two completely strange people. While reading them, they became as familiar as friends. “Two Lives” is the most impressive biography I have read so far, perhaps because the life of famous artists or politicians was not described, but the focus was on “normal” fellow human beings.

I found the only copy of this book at Popular Bookstore along Tomas Morato and have read this book time and again. The author’s view of Germany’s role in the course of the last century is always worth revisiting. His thoughts continue to pull me into contemplation about the kind of world we live in today. Vikram Seth has written a heartrending true story of a friendship, a marriage, and a century. Weaving together the strands of two extraordinary lives,– Two Lives is both a history of a violent era seen through the eyes of two survivors and an intimate, unforgettable portrait of a complex, enduring love.

Two Lives, by Vikram Seth, Harper-Perennial 975 Php (Popular Bookstore), 544 pages