If I can begin with biographical ek, I was born on February ’86, a couple of weeks before the ouster of Marcos and I started writing in the late 2000s. W/c means I’m a generation or so removed from the FQS generation. Even so I’d like to think that I can trace my own politics and worldview, especially as a writer, to FQS literature and the ideas it laid out.
In particular I can trace it to one short story that we took up in a Pan Pil subject under the late Dr. Tet Maceda. The story is “Sulat Mula sa Pritil” by Norma Miraflor, which follows a young student called Isagani who’s a troublemaker and very laidback but in the course of the story gets swept into a mobilization in Mendiola. When Isagani and his friends found themselves being violently dispersed by the Metrocom, he is reminded of the many crises besetting his family and neighborhood and found strength in one thought: “Kami ang bayan.” We are the people.
It’s the archetypal story of political awakening, and my politics did indeed pivot on that line. Partly it was because it was the mid-2000s and so it was easy, and necessary, to connect the crises in the world of the story—the authoritarian government, the obscene inequality, even the poking fun at the frivolity of literature—to what was happening around me then. Gloria Arroyo was president, government critics and activists were being systematically targeted, and the regime’s belief in trickle-down economics and embrace of free trade were exacerbating inequality.
So I think the foremost legacy of FQS literature to me as a writer and to some extent my generation of writers is that acute historical consciousness, that impulse to apprehend ourselves in historical terms, to think of individual lived experience as informed by and suffused with the forces of material history, to be attentive to the “bigger picture.”
In writing this translates I think to a sensibility that not only privileges the political as a worthy and necessary preoccupation of fiction but also one that makes full use of the capacity of fiction to diagnose society, and w/c believes that writing can and ought to be emancipatory or liberative. These may sound basic or self-evident but it’s an idea that I feel still has to be asserted. Especially in view of a broad privatization of every aspect of life these days, including people’s sense of themselves in relation to the world. It’s also important in the context of Philippine writing in English, with its long and contentious history of eliding if not altogether shunning the political.
If I can cite my own practice as example, my current work-in-progress is on the spate of political killings and the human rights situation under Arroyo, but in the course of writing it I found that it inevitably has to converse with what’s happening today under Duterte and all the way back to Magsaysay and his CIA friends. This also happened for my first book on the call center industry, which I tried to situate within the longer continuum of the country’s colonial history. Historical thinking, I feel, deepens and enlarges the canvass through which we make sense of our otherwise isolated narratives.
This philosophy of art for me owes a lot to the radical spirit of FQS literature. While part of history, the 1970s also feels close enough to feel critically urgent. When Duterte approved the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, for instance, we walked out of our classes and chanted Marcos Hitler Diktador Tuta, something I’d never thought my generation of activists would ever chant.
Finally, alongside this sense of commitment, FQS I think taught us that our participation in politics ought to go beyond writing. The concession that writing, or art, is not enough, or will always have limitations considering the realities of Philippine society. That a disenchantment with art can be healthy. In this manner I think another key legacy of FQS lit is that keen self-awareness of our contradictions as writers, as artists, often privileged, who have to navigate the complex ecosystem of systems and institutions and the power relations that make it possible for us to write in the first place. On the flip side I suppose another lesson from the FQS generation is that writers can be instrumentalized by authoritarian regimes.
It is for this reason that many of the writers I admire from my generation are not just writing. They are also part of groups and collectives that are in some way involved in issues beyond artistic production, or they collaborate with groups that are involved in issues. So perhaps the greatest legacy of FQS lit is that broad demystification of artistic production even as we continue to believe in its emancipatory potential.