PROJECT GRACE-UP

NATIONAL LGBTQ+

WRITERS WORKSHOP

Cristian Tablazon

Of Cuyonon and Hokkien parentage, Cristian was born in Manila and raised in Tarlac. He works with moving image and other photo-based media, installation, and text. He is a recipient of several fellowships in creative writing, cultural criticism, and artistic research, and his works have been published and exhibited in 14 countries. His writings have appeared in hal., Kritika Kultura, High Chair, Asian Journal of Culture Literature and Society, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Social Science Diliman, Ani, Kilómetro 111: Ensayos sobre cine, and Queer Southeast Asia, among others. He runs Nomina Nuda, a small, nonprofit independent platform and exhibition space in Los Baños, Laguna, PH, and works as a resident instructor and program coordinator at the National Arts Center, Mt. Makiling. He is also a member of the Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle and SAKA (Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo). He will be curating Variations of the Field at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center this year through a grant from the Japan Foundation and the Philippine Contemporary Art Network. This exhibition explores the network of imaginings, world-making, and fabrication of Philippine modernities under the US empire, and the entanglements of discourses of natural history with culture and state histories. His research interests include memory and autobiography in moving-image practices, political economies of naturalist discourse, low-resolution imagery, place and space in cinema, transportation and mobility in East and Southeast Asian horror films, and spaces of spectrality and representations of trauma in visual media.

The Story

Tablazon’s work is an excerpt from an unfinished novel. It is a heart-breaking but dignified account of queer love lost at the moment when the beloved is all that remains. The character reckons with this final loss after all manner of disaster and tragedy has come his way. His melancholia is grounded in a consciousness of things fading without trace, from lessons on the rapture, a volcanic eruption ravaging his hometown, the father going to prison. That one finds the courage to be singular in the face of this ultimate encounter with solitude is astounding, albeit with a dark and stoic gaze that stares into nothingness and death. This is braver than holding on to the hope that favors what could be life if offered by another love that is yet to come but still not present.

The Workshop

Tablazon’s skill as a fictionist is beyond reproach: this novel excerpt leaves the reader hankering for more—specifically, for the rest of Manuel’s existentially burdened story, which the author has yet to complete. And yet, in the workshop, he was able to describe the arc he was intending for the completed work, the second half of which would see the dramatic absence of his main character, with the focalization shifting from the selective to the fully omniscient. The plan would also include shifting the story away from the narrative toward the cinematic, as the novel was intended to mirror the story’s journey away from the printed toward the audiovisual text, gesturing toward the idea of openness and interpretive ambivalence, as evinced also in the novelistic donnee of narrative absence as presence. Nonetheless, in this excerpt, the selfhood of the existentially afflicted and doomsday-fixated Manuel is powerfully evoked in the linked episodes of his early childhood traumas (mostly familial), the psychosomatic effects of which he continues to bear in the difficult present, that animate—and complicate—his relationship with his best friend and romantic beloved. The question of verisimilitude was raised during the discussion, with the density and magnitude of misfortunes befalling this protagonist being called out as a potential problem for the novel’s claims to realism. And yet it was acknowledged that this was, on an allegorical level, a relatable story of queer suffering, particularly when seen in the context of the doctrinal condemnation—the normative extinguishing—of queer desires and identities that routinely afflicts many Filipino queer children. That even queer storytelling in the Philippines tends toward allegory presents an interesting and, in many ways, inevitable “contact zone” between this new tradition and the established novelistic tradition, within which Filipino writers are, by virtue of an officially legislated nationalist education, institutionally trained.

Featured Work:

In His Own Words: Where I Come From

            We didn’t have TV when I was little and I remember fondly how I’d listen intently to horror and romance radio-drama series and conjure scenes in my head. I also grew up reading Tagalog horror and fantasy komiks, and voraciously took in pictures of natural history, archaeology, and mythologies in books in our municipal library. I had been fascinated by old photos in our family albums annotated by my mother’s stories. They are records of another time and place, and yet they are more than that; they are remnants of previous lives and affects, and there is a strong spectral quality to them. I think this is what initially lured me to the spectral (and all its productive connotations) and that sense of the aftermath that I now seek to maintain in my own work. I am drawn to the paradox of writing that labors, using language, toward the incommensurable, to generate scenographies beyond language, or at the very least, moments and spaces that elude language.

            My initial curiosity directed at stretching the limits of narrative and finding a way around dominant modes of storytelling (that are typically plot-driven, spectacle-and-event-oriented, heteropatriarchal in their tendencies, and compulsorily rife with progressive, ‘phallic’ arcs) goes back to when I was a creative writing undergrad majoring in fiction in the 2000s, stifled by the strictures of curricular fiction writing. Other than feeling that these defining narrative models did not sufficiently underscore my inclinations in terms of concept, subject matter, and structure, I found that they are mostly allusive, if not directly analogous, to the workings of dominant and patrilineal historiography. The master-texts that this brand of writing generates, “especially monumental narratives of national formation” (Landy), are shaped by repressive ideas of development, emergence, linear time, scientific reason, humane pragmatism, governmental ordering, nation-building, etc.” (Ileto), and are primarily concerned with “the establishment of chains of cause and effect, the temporal ordering of phenomena in a [progressivist] way”. This is “[t]he kind of history”, as Ileto further claims, “that […] orders the data of the past into a trajectory of emergence, growth, complexity and increasing rationality, the kind that celebrates great moments and individuals, the kind that mindlessly cites [heroes] or the ‘masses’ as if they were stable and fixed entities, [and which] should be seen in relation to power struggles in the field of knowledge”. As the codes and grammar of historiography mostly fall, needless to say, under the regimen of narrative, any attempt at undermining, osmosing, and reworking the dominant modes of fiction cannot be extricated from (the problem with) the discourse of official history. The question of prevailing narratology is hence an inherently historiographic one.

 

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            I think I’d always be uncomfortable with problematic labels like “queer artist” or “queer art,” and I had rarely thought about my queerness before, to be honest. It feels natural and default to me, so I typically refuse to affirm insistences on alterity whenever possible. I acknowledge, however, that not needing to harp on difference—to feel normal despite being queer—is a matter of privilege for others. I definitely think of queerness as a given and yet alternative state, a natural state of deviance, and while risking sounding essentialist, I would say that my poetics would have been different if I weren’t queer.

 

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Ako ang pithaya at ikaw

ang piging. Sinusukat ako sa lahat ng pagkakataon

batay sa aking gutom.

 

            Sa isang papel na hindi ko pa natatapos—”‘The Boys’ World’ in ‘90s Philippine Cinema and Television: Fetishizing the Metonymies of the Privileged Boyhood”—sinisikap kong suriin ang gampanin ng Inggit sa pagbuo sa ekonomiyang seksuwal ng mga pampelikula’t telebiswal na paglalarawan noong 1990s sa mga batang lalaki (kadalasang mestiso) at sa pinagpalang daigdig nilang nagbibigay kahulugan sa kanilang kasarian at antas panlipunan. Itinatampok  ang “boys’ world” na ito sa mga family drama (na madalas pagbidahan noong ‘90s ng mga tauhang mula sa upper-middle at upper classes), mga pelikulang pantinedyer gaya ng Rollerboys at Nagbibinata (Jose Javier Reyes, 1995 at 1998), ng teleseryeng G-Mik (Laurenti Dyogi, 1999-2002), ng programang For Kids Only (1994-2000), at maging ng mga patalastas ng Enchanted Kingdom, ng mga laruan, ng McDonald’s, Coca Cola, ice cream, at hotdog, ng cornflakes, Nido, Milo, at Colgate. Ang Boys’ World ng Dekada Nobenta.

Ito ang daigdig ni Patrick Garcia, mula buhok hanggang sapatos. Ito ang panahon ng Megamall, ng walkman, ng Eraserheads at Backstreet Boys. Ito ang walang hanggang tag-araw sa Baguio, sa Enchanted Kingdom, sa Star City, sa Splash Island. Ito ang daigdig na binabalangkas ng game-and-watch at videogames (mapa-Family Computer, Nintendo, o Sega), rollerblades at skateboard, basketball, Nike rubber shoes, NBA at Magic Cards, komiks, mga dinosaur at robot at iba pang nagmamahalang action figures.

            Hindi ko rin makakalimutan ang batang lalaki sa loob ng kanyang magarang silid isang gabi sa isang patalastas at kung paanong sumapit mismo doon ang mahiwagang tren ng paham upang sunduin siya at ihatid sa Enchanted Kingdom, at maging ang bawat Sabado ng umagang nakatanghod ako sa mga Ingleserong batang abala sa pagkalikot sa mga pinakabago’t mamahaling laruan (na ipauuwi rin sa kanila pagkatapos) sa For Kids Only at ang maya’t mayang pagpapatalastas nito ng Playdough, MightyMax, Zoids, Creepy Crawlers, Matchbox at Lego.

            Mababanaag sa mga naratibong ito ang capitalist orientation ng pagigiit at pagdiriwang sa pagkalalaki ng mga binatilyo at ng paghahabi ng loci ng boyhood pleasure (na siyang kinapapalooban ng mga ideya tulad ng tenderness at joy), at kaakibat ng gayuma ng mga batang lalaki, ng kanilang ‘kaguwapuhan’ at pagiging “cool,” ang isang topos ng gahum, isang daigdig na binabalangkas ng mga bagay at espasyong mariwasa, kolonyal at maka-Kanluran, makabago, at makalungsod. Sa eksklusibidad na itinatatag ng mga kababanggit na katangian, lalo pa sa isang mahirap at kolonisadong bansa, hindi nakapagtatakang linangin ng inggit ang isang masidhing pagkamangha. “Since these objects have already become symbols of sex and power, the child-spectator (excluded from this world because of his sexuality and social class) is, in effect, castrated.  It is in this essence that these fetish objects sum up to loss.”

            Pinagnasaan ko nang taimtim ang mga kapwa ko batang lalaki at ang nasabing daigdig sa mga panahong iyon; inibig ko sila--bilang isang bakla, bilang isang binatilyong hindi mapabilang, bilang isang tubong lalawigan, bilang isang kabilang sa pamilyang salat sa yaman. Tigib ako ng inggit; nais kong dumalo sa piging, ngunit hindi ako imbitado.

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