Lockdown 3

The world is burning, I wrote R, a good friend from India, a few days ago. The usual kumustahan via email (he isn’t on social media). Their lockdown was entering its second month, he said, and not to be outdone I told him ours had just passed its tenth week, officially the longest in the world. Of course it’s not funny the affinities and parallels that emerge thanks to a pandemic that happily ignored national borders, but the history nut in me couldn’t help but ‘welcome’ how the plethora of crises had become so glaring and intractable that to ignore them, to not be radicalized by them, requires some degree of actively shutting them off. This is sometimes referred to as privilege.

Speaking of which, may I share some happy news? My PhD supervisor doesn’t think that the work-in-progress is trash. I sent her the complete thing, and she didn’t think it was trash. (Less cheery she was about the first chapter of the research monograph; ‘Iron out those convoluted sentence structures w/ reversed word order that work so well for you in the novel’). I’d like to think I made no compromises in the manuscript politics or aesthetics wise, despite the circumstances, i.e., foreign supervisors, international program, etc. While revising, I felt that I was trying to cut every sentence into fragments, twist syntax as inelegantly as I could, etc. (In the words of Carmen Carrera: No foam proper sentence here!!) I didn’t explain or italicize or translate. Bahala kayo. I made plot circuitous and (hopefully pleasurably) torturous. So a monstrous relief that she got it and thought it worth doing.

These days I’d been reading up to give the manuscript more flesh in the bones. American intelligence reports from the period, ‘underground’ fiction, Huk and NPA history, and, recently, rewatching The Americans. There is little system and deliberation in the way that I take in these sources, lest I be accused of egregious hard work. And how wonderful how the ‘real world’ via social media and the news inserts itself indelicately in between these notes from so-called history. The violence of the anti-terror bill, for instance, really gains monstrous clarity when seen vis-a-vis the long and terrible genealogy of similar legislation and their relationship w/ state-making, no matter how the shift in name from counterinsurgency to anti-terrorism tries to camouflage it. W/c is to say, a sense of legality is always crucial for the state’s performance of legitimacy, but never had it stopped the state from doing what it wants in pursuit of the self-same legitimacy.

There was panic and powerlessness in one group chat recently w/ news that the bill was nearing enactment. Panic made more pronounced by the riots in the US. The usual explanations: people power fatigue, disillusionment, the soul-sapping way of life in the metro that leaves no energy for political action, etc. Had been thinking about this while heartily watching clips of solidarity during protests, e.g., creating a net of arms to catch a girl who had disconnected an overhead CCTV camera, helping apprehended protestors escape police capture, mobbing a bow-wielding white man who cried All lives matter at a demonstration, etc. The Tagalogs have a cute word for mobbing: kuyog. Social media can incubate political-minded kuyog. On Twitter so-called organic trends always find a way to defeat orchestrations of state-funded troll armies, which is always tardy because coordinated and the website flags suspicious activity. A favorite example is the unanimous rejoicing at the collapsed bridge in Zamboanga that saw a bunch of politicians fall into murky waters, a telenovela comeuppance facilitated by the substandard infrastructure they routinely enable.

A long time ago I heard a Korean labor person, pressed to make sense of the hapless labor situation here, argue that Filipinos probably lose their working class consciousness the moment they step out of factories because it is replaced by another category of identity: family, place, even a sense of individualism hardened by dog-eag-dog desperation. I am not entirely convinced, although my reasons are anecdotal, unscientific, naive, possibly delusional. Whenever I find myself in an MRT or LRT coach packed w/ workers around rush hour, yes, people are glued to their phones and mentally trying to astrally project themselves out of the moment, but I also espy spontaneously coordinated movement every now and then, when the crowd would convulse like one body: as when someone announces that a pregnant passenger needs to get off and the bodies part, or when the driver mentions the wrong stop and people laugh. How else, in logistical but also ideological terms, do we survive the day to day of living in the Philippines w/o the most cursory requirements of looking after one another. Where are the riots? I’m not sure, although I am thinking of our jeepney drivers. In the status quo an arduous living. During lockdown hungry and mad and now obscenely left out from the so-called new normal envisioned by the government. I am thinking of how the Diliman Commune started.

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