Do We Need A New Poetics For Philippine Spec. Fic.?
It was too bad that there wasn't a lot of time left over for the open forum Q&A. It was sorta interesting listening to the exchange between Dean Alfar and my orgmate Mark Derpo on the pros and cons of the label "Speculative Fiction." While Mark had a point in that spec fic as a label is imprecise as hell, I'll have to confess that I'm in Dean Alfar's camp in that, imprecision and all, it's still a convenient umbrella category. It's an ugly category, and it can occasionally rile me, much like how the terms "pocket battleship" (nastier than a heavy cruiser, but not quite a battleship) and "machine pistol" (automatic pistol that's not quite a submachine gun) used to leave me scratching my head in perplexed frustration. Like "machine pistol" and "pocket battleship", the term "speculative fiction" is convenient and occasionally fun to use and poke fun at. :p
One comment from the forum that I really wanted to explore was one of Dean Alfar's quips about poetics and academia, and a rare appeal for aid from critics (which was hilarious at the time given his many amusing jabs at academia and the critical establishment). I don't have the exact quote, but at the time, I remember Mr. Alfar making an appeal to the Comparative Lit people for a new framework or distinct poetics for the discussion of Philippine speculative fiction. I wish I had taken down better notes, but my sketchpad was also competing for attention at the time :p.
It got me thinking. A new poetics for Philippine spec fic? My gut response is: 'why?' Do we really need a new framework for reading, examining, and talking about spec fic? I wanted to ask what Dean Alfar meant by that quip, but Q&A time wrapped up. Still, the thought wouldn't quite leave my brain until I exorcised it now by writing it down. I now take a plunge into the icy depths here and hazard my own opinions. Any factual errors I make here and now are my own screwups, and so help me gods if M'am Anna Sanchez or Sir Carlos Aureus read these and ROFL at my screwups :p.
Personally, I'm not much of a critic, as any of my classmates in workshop can tell you (unless it's a work that does a lot of western mythological allusions, in which case I've got something to gun with). I tend to be a shamelessly utilitarian synthesist when it comes to using critical frameworks, chopping and welding together bits and pieces of ideas from New Criticism's close readings, post-colonial insecurities about national identity, and even the occasional foray into *gasp* Marxist theory (which I don't normally like, but is occasionally interesting when examining social power structures in Fantasy and Sci-Fi) and using whatever seems handy for the story in question. I honestly believe there are already a lot of interesting and perfectly useful ideas out there on the critical side of things that any writer or critic can co-opt or adapt for use in examining any work, including spec fic. We don't need to go and create a totally new framework to work with, do we?
Why can't you apply pre-existing theories like say New Criticism, feminism (which I've only recently learned is more than just women's lib, but also has interesting discussions of gender and society), or mythic archetypes? What would post-colonial theorists have to say, I wonder about the science fiction trope of the "highly advanced, god-like elder aliens" versus the "plucky upstart humans"?
And here're two interesting comments from two visitors to The Wolf's Lair:
"I think before we can even attempt to come up with a new framework for studying speculative fiction, focus should first be given to attempts at studying it within the context of theories that are already out there. Also, while the ongoing discussion about what spec fic is and what we're supposed to call it is interesting and relevant in itself, I think we really should move on and actually get to the work-critiquing process."
"The word "new" is always problematic. (I was going to say "I completely agree" but that opening statement's been taken, haha.) It's easy for me to consider something new if i hadn't read enough; after all, sabi nga ni Will Smith sa Nickolodeon awards (how's that for name-dropping?), the two survival skills are running and reading, because everything has already been written about. The question is really whether anyone writes about philippine science fiction and fantasy. In that sense (and whatever anyone may say of Alfar ^_^) the concern is valid, because the only ones who do care about PSF are the ones who write the stories. To this day it's practically classified as an emerging literature, and its study relegated to relatively young students (Angela Fraga, for example, is doing a thesis on the scifi of Espino, who was writing in the 70s; Darryl Delgado's MA thesis on the fantastic even won Best Thesis, but then, Darryl herself writes fantasy), as if the, well, not-so-young critics can't be bothered by it (some of them are very encouraging, but again, that's just moral support).
it's the concern not only of philippine science fiction and fantasy writers but of other genres. look at the journals and you'll find tons of papers that do NOT deal with contemporary writing, or writing by authors 40 years old and below.
it's funny how many writers during the forum kept asserting that they're not from the academe (I mean, in reverse, just because I'm from the academe doesn't mean that I can't have the same concerns as they do). Prof. Gonzales points out in his blog that in fact, most of the speakers are college graduates, and that's automatically a factor. The thing is that some of them/us immediately assign critical theory as a province of the academe when writing (in English, at that) itself is a province of the academe. Just because one says that s/he isn't a critic doesn't mean that s/he is anti-academe; often, the claim is merely self-defense."
Feel free to head on over to The Wolf's Lair to share your thoughts, or if you prefer, leave some comments here.