Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Marginalization--Or Not--Of Philippine Speculative Fiction

Found two posts discussing whether Philippine Speculative Fiction is marginalized or not: This essay, Is Philippine Speculative Fiction Marginalized?, by The Bibliophile Stalker; and this reaction, My Thoughts On The Marginalization Issue, over at the Philippine Speculative Fiction blog by Bhex.


Excerpts from The Bibliophile Stalker's Essay:

One topic brought up at the recent Philippine International Writers Festival is whether Philippine Speculative Fiction is still marginalized. There are those of the opinion who think that it's not anymore, that it's rather mainstream. I beg to differ.

Philippine Speculative Fiction certainly didn't dictate that it'd be included in that panel. The ones in charge of the festival (which we assume is the "literary center") did. Another thing that if you read the description carefully, it's only Speculative Fiction which is in quotation marks.


And then let's talk about the actual genres discussed. The initial Chick Lit books had an initial print-run of 10,000 books (succeeding ones had more). During the panel discussion, it was mentioned that three Chick Lit books published in Singapore authored by Filipinos made it to the best-seller lists. If it's just economics we're talking about, Chick Lit doesn't seem to be in the margins--at least compared to other genres. The
Philippine Speculative Fiction series apparently has a print-run of 500 books. I estimate a lot of the Fiction (with a capital F) have a print run of 1,000 to 2,000.

Gay literature on the other hand seems more successful than Chick Lit. Ladlad, a Gay fiction anthology, has undergone ten reprints (I don't know what the initial print run was). Even if we're going by modest estimates (1,000 copies), that's still good circulation numbers. It was even noted that publishers are willing to task a risk with gay poetry collections but not general poetry collections.

Clearly, even by those standards, Philippine Speculative Fiction isn't mainstream. Of course "legitimacy" isn't all about print-run numbers. If that were the case, Fiction with all its realist and social-realist agendas shouldn't be the status quo. There are other factors, which includes the support of the academe, the writers of the previous generation, and the publishers. Heck, why would the said genres be lumped together in a panel called Writing Off the Mainstream if that weren't the case? There are a lot of variables involved which can't be pinned down to one cause. I mean if it was solely reduced to quantities sold, then why isn't Chick Lit accepted as literature, at least by the standards of the academia? And in that sense, Philippine horror, which is admittedly a sub-genre of Philippine Speculative Fiction and probably has identical numbers as Chick Lit, not accepted either?


I think some people are mistaking "presence" for acceptance. Philippine Speculative Fiction certainly isn't invisible and doing better than some genres of Philippine literature, but it's hardly what I'd call mainstream or taken seriously by the academia. Are we reduced to such a state that we're fighting over scraps? Local speculative fiction might be on the rise but it's not yet at the point where said writers can make a living off of it, or that it's selling in numbers that's extremely lucrative for publishers. Heck, even international Speculative Fiction isn't accepted by the canonical Literati with authors like Michael Chabon being the exception rather than the norm (and as Matt Cheney
mentioned , those familiar with both Neil Gaiman and Roberto Bolano is ony a small overlap). And if Philippine Speculative Fiction is the de facto reading material in the country, wouldn't the proponents of the movement like Dean Francis Alfar be making a lot of money by now, or failing that, dictating what kind of content Filipinos should be reading?

Excerpts from Bhex's post:

I am grateful - immeasurably grateful - to the local speculative fiction movement because it gives more avenues for speculative fiction in the country, and promotes local talent more than they have ever been promoted in the past. Hell, our realist fiction never had this much air time on the Web, even the most deserving ones!

But there are some things the speculative fiction movement is saying that I don’t find myself fully subscribing to.

As someone who loves science fiction and fantasy, who has seen her English-language speculative work published in local magazines, I have no problem with speculative fiction being billed as “off the mainstream.” I DO have a problem with agreeing that it’s being “marginalized,” because there seems to be a confusion of terms.

In my book, “marginalized” means exclusion. It means never having a shot. It means being shunned, discriminated against and relegated to a level that makes it impossible to catch up with the Joneses. It’s definitely NOT a term I would apply to local speculative fiction, and to be quite honest the way it’s being thrown around sometimes, it sounds like a catchphrase meant to gain sympathy when none is deserved.

Here’s what I’m presenting. By calling yourselves “marginalized,” your movement appears dead set on billing “realist fiction” and the literary standards of the country as anti-speculative fiction. I don’t subscribe to this, and I don’t believe it’s a healthy, productive image to promote. It feels a lot like destroying something just to build yourselves up. And frankly, as Philippine fiction has mostly been cloistered (read: unknown to international publishers) it’s an easy target. You can say anything you want about it and international readers will take your word for it.

We’re struggling to get published and recognized, locally and internationally. All of us, no matter the genre. We’re all struggling to get read. So if you aim to step on other people’s efforts (yes, this includes realism - it counts even if it’s “mainstream”) just to get noticed, please don’t be surprised if you get attacked.

So to Mr. Dean Alfar and the rest - please don’t stop writing. Just write, just get read, just keep publishing, and help our ailing literature grow, give it room to breathe.

You are all awesome people and magnificent writers. But for God’s sake, don’t build yourselves up to be something you’re not. And if there’s anything you’re not, it’s oppressed, especially not now.


This discussion on marginalization came about from one talk held during The International Writer's Festival, the Fictional Showdown. You should listen to it; the exchange gets quite interesting ("dramatically heated" some would say) somewhere in the middle. You can download the recording from a link in this post, where other links to other talks are also provided; much thanks and appreciation to The Bibliophile Stalker for providing these recordings.

So, to which side do you lean more towards, The Bibliophile Stalker's stance, or Bhex's?

4 Comments:

Blogger Charles said...

As long as readers know that Bhex has an entirely different definition of "marginalization" as opposed to, you know, the organizers of Taboan and its participants.

For example:

In the first few seconds of Writing off the Mainstream:

Host: In fact we're talking about the margins of Philippine Literature. Whether they want the label or not, in whatever sense, they are supposedly from the margins or writing from the margins...

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Kristel said...

I had no idea that "marginalization" has such arbitrary meaning these days. I myself subscribe to the Wikipedia version (oh font of all knowledge):

"Marginalization is the social process of becoming or being made marginal (to relegate or confine to a lower social standing or outer limit or edge, as of social standing); "the marginalization of the underclass"; "marginalization of literature" and many other are some examples. Marginalization involves people being denied degrees of power. Marginalization has the potential to result in severe material deprivation, and in its most extreme form can exterminate groups."

As far as I can see, nobody is being denied their power in this conversation.

3:17 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi, Charles and Kristel!

Hehehe. Looking at the Wikipedia definition, I can already foresee how some may argue about being denied some degrees of power, though not necessarily the power to express one's opposition. :D

TY for your comments!

3:49 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Kristel: Words have different definitions depending on which audience you're talking to. Me and Kenneth for example, when discussing stories, have "invented" terms which might have a different interpretation if someone else heard us talking.

In this case, it wasn't me who put up the definition of "Marginalization" but the organizers of the Philippine International Writers Festival and its participants.

4:06 PM  

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