Writing often appears as one of the less reliable expressions of democratic right, especially if you live in a nation like the Philippines, where a tenth of the population lives in abject poverty. Why continue writing when reading is perhaps last on people’s minds? Why invest time and resources when the general population’s access to books and other texts is limited?
To me, the answer has remained crystal clear all these years. People continue to write committed literature not because they want to, but because they are drawn forward by a peculiar sense of obligation to the nation and its inhabitants. Philosophers have always questioned the role of writers in the ‘grand scheme of things.’ Upon the death of every monolithic narrative comes the question of relevance and function — as if writing can be reduced to function alone, or a freeze-dried representation within a larger system of activities and images. It cannot be frozen in time. For as much as we want to delimit the scope of committed writing in the Third World, it constantly evolves to evade capture and sure death. Because to write in the Third World is essentially consigning yourself to hardship, and yes, poverty in different degrees. The author’s plight is hardly of interest here — we can ascertain that authors can be one form or another at any point in history. The prosperity of the author is hardly important, at least in my case, because that is not the primary function of writing.
If committed writing consigns hapless souls to poverty and a life of challenge and exclusion, then why does it continue to exist? Surely, the poor souls involved with committed writing eventually succumb to poverty, or perhaps cardiac arrest, in the final reckoning.
And this is perhaps my main point — that committed writing will continue to exist regardless of the material conditions of a nation precisely because the nation exists in whatever form of gradual decay, and along with it, the necessary national imagination, designating itself so. As a Third World nation surely hurtles towards is thanatic doom, the national imagination resists the death drive. The national imagination is always pregnant for the long-haul — it devices ways to remember the past and itself, and as it is impregnated with so many hopes, fears and anxieties of avoidance of sure annihilation, historians, writers and other peculiar agents attempt to capture the series of events to make sense of the chaos.
Writing meets anarchic forces where they emerge, and attempts to take them apart, one by one, in the name of survival of existence. Committed writing is always resistance even in its crudest form, even if it is a single expression sprayed on the wall of the metro. It will always resist because it is fully surrounded by powerful and extremely well-funded enemies — the educational system, the state, and the bureaucrats that make liberty impossible without the talons of revolution. Committed writing progressively unpacks and dismantles these structures by stripping their layers and uncovering the violence of their logic(s) for all to see.
I make the important distinction between committed writing and the kind of wishy-washy writing that over-emphasizes material gain, power, and social position over ethics and the obligation to revolution. This type of writing, ultimately, becomes a part of the state’s ongoing project of cultural nationalism that offers nothing but tokenism, and many times, it never even develops to that level and instead sinks into the mire of kowtowing to market forces. But let us not waste anything — these writings show the present map of connivance of the colonials, as well as the path of destruction that History is taking. Language is inescapable, but writing provides the space for resistance, nonetheless.
We live in incredibly dangerous times — made even riskier by the fact that much of the accessible information now passes through social networks and the internet, where nothing is private, or closed, or inaccessible by those who wield power. There has always been a most organized attempt to establish informational hegemony in the most accessible social networks, and these operations are unstoppable, churning out millions of bits of lies every day. It’s almost as if Filipinos have intellectually subsided on these millions of bits of lies for years now, since Cambridge Analytica. Surely, this will have an impact on our DNA, which spells an even deeper problem a generation or two from now.
It’s somehow strange to think that something as ‘lofty’ as the national imagination would have a severe impact on people, but the truth is we cannot escape the reality of the national imagination any more than we can escape poverty or the tightening grip of political dynasties. The national imagination exists because we exist. It disappears the moment the nation breathes its last. And committed writing will ink the final word when that day finally comes.