Perhaps I have a teeny weeny bit of right, by right as the English would have it, to comment on things about National Artist Sionil Jose's essays, novels, short stories and plays. I will have to confess, I have read all his books and I have all his books, save one "Vibora" which some idiot of a friend never returned (Never lend books. There was a legit reason why in medieval England they had them chained to the desks!). This is a fact that my mother was so proud of during one formal cocktail shindig at the US Embassy's historic Chuck Parson's ballroom. Mom, my sister and myself had been Fulbright grantees and so was F. Sionil Jose. During the usual literati banter that accompanies these events, my mother told Mr Sionil Jose that "My son has read all your books". To which Sionil Jose replied "Give my condolences to your son". This I heard within earshot since I was at a nearby cocktail table talking to then US ambassador Kirstie Kenney! (Kenny has been leaked out on Wikileaks since then!)
Today, Sionil Jose replies to his critics, one of them is yours truly. After all I have posted on Facebook that his essay was one of his shallowest, compared to "Our Moral Malaise" which is at the deep end of the Sionil Jose " Why we are Shallow" essay's theme. But perhaps the old man of letters had a didactic aim.
Nonetheless, I have publicly argued and got ad hominem FB posts from saying that all those "shallow" critics never got what Sionil Jose meant since many of the critics never got beyond "The Pretenders" (a part of the English lit canon at UP)... well some to their credit got to "Mass" but I doubt it if they got as far as "Ermita", with the "Gagamba" and then to "Ben Singkol"..... "Sherds" and one of my favourites "Sin"!
The critics failed to see that Sionil Jose's "Shallow" comment can be only understood in the nationalist ideology he proposes, which they will only find out if they read most of his works. Sionil Jose has called for Revolution in of all places, UP's FC conference hall! Some people took him seriously and many did not. It seems that age is a liability to calls for Revolution. Read the reactions here. His speech to UP Tacloban grads in 2003 is here.
The Lefties at UP won't be amused by Sionil Jose since his nationalist revolution ideology calls for the Army to take lead, not the masses idolized by the Left which Sionil Jose rightly or wrongly says are easily fooled. Nonetheless, a close reading of Sionil Jose will reveal that the Army is composed of soldiers who originally came from the masses. Sionil Jose points out that the masses had it almost right but they put Erap into power who ironically is not from the masses or even if he was not, he never shared any of the hardships of the masses except as mere illusion. He accuses the Revolution of Jose Maria Sison of the same thing. I can go on discussing Sionil Jose's ideology but it would be better for the reader to read Sionil Jose.
And so today, for his "shallow" critics Sionil Jose teaches them. He did have a didactic aim.
" So you out there who were outraged by the truths I flung before you — I said nothing new; I merely emphasized the obvious which is a writer’s traditional chore. You should be outraged at the gross obscenities in our country — the callous oligarchs who exploit us, our apathetic poor who whine and expect the government to feed them. Why don’t you be outraged at the politicians who lie to you, the corrupt police who condone the rampant crimes against us, the crooked judges who sell justice to the highest bidder. Why rage against this tired, old hack who merely confirmed what all of you know? The truth is out there for all of us to see but can’t, because we are blissfully wallowing in the shallows."
And so when the Revolution triumphs, you know what the brooms will sweep away!