August 22, 2009

Gerilya (Norman Wilwayco)


Makalipas ang ilang dekadang pagpupunyagi ng mga kapatid nating New People’s Army, ano na ba ang estado ng kanilang mga ipinaglalaban? Tila wala na yatang katapusan ang giyera ng mga gerilya. Ang dating silakbo ng rebolusyonaryo ay hindi na ganoon kaagresibo. Ang mga dating nakikisimpatya ay di na ganoon kasigabo ang pagtanggap sa isang digmaan na sa tingin nila, habang tumatagal ay lalong wala nang patutunguhan. Ang Marxista ay namarkahan na ng kawalan ng pag-asa. Wala na ring gana ang taumbayan na makinig sa paulit-ulit na atungal ng mga bala.

Malimit nang kinukuwestiyon ang kaangkupan ng ideyolohiyang komunismo sa makabagong panahon, partikular ang uri ng ideyang pinapalagananap ng CPP-NPA. Binansagang terorista, hindi na ito ang dating maliksi at progresibong pulitikal na pangkat. Ito ay napaglipasan na. Nawawala na sa sirkulasyon ang tiim-bagang na pagsukbit ng riple at kalibre, sumugat ng isip, bumutas ng tao.

Sa sobrang gasgas na ng drama ng NPA ay mukhang wala nang pakialam ang masa na nakababad na ang atensyon sa praymtaym na teledrama. Ang estado ng pakikibaka ay nasasalamin na lamang ng estadistika: ang bilang ng gerilya na naitumba at nailibing sa kabundukan, ang kabuuang halaga ng kanilang nalikom na buwis pangrebolusyunaryo, ang bilang ng militar na natimbuwang at naisilid sa bodybag, ang bilang ng sibilyan na nadawit sa opensiba.

Kung ganoon ang estado ng rebolusyon, lumalabas na ang nobelang Gerilya na tumatalakay sa pakikipagsapalaran ng mga NPA ay wala na ring saysay. Marahil ay hindi na akma ang ganitong istorya sa panahon ng Twitter at Facebook? Kailangan pa bang bigyang pansin ang ganitong mga obra?

Sa tingin ko, at dahil ako ay nasorpresa ng nobela, kailangan pa nating imulat ang ating mga mata sa mga babasahing tulad nito na sumasalamin sa katotohanan ng pamumundok. Bagamat tila pasaw na ang pakikibaka, nabigyang buhay ng manunulat at nobelistang si Norman Wilwayco ang isang aspeto ng NPA nang hindi tumutulay sa propaganda.

Kung isang sukatan ng kabuluhan ng akda ay ang umilag sa mga patibong ng sentimentalismo at pulitikal na plataporma, ay naibahagi ng nobela ang aktibistang pamumuhay na balanse ang pananaw. Nailahad ng nobela ang damdamin ng mga lumalabang karakter at naitawid ang kanilang mga paniniwala at prinsipyo nang may mataas na pagpapahalaga sa kanilang dangal, hindi lamang sa kanilang pagiging gerilya kundi sa kanilang pagkatao at pagka-Pilipino.

Hindi kinasangkapan ng panulat ni Wilwayco ang pagsususog ng sariling agenda o manipesto ng pag-aaklas laban sa sistema kundi pinihit nya ang kanyang pluma para palutangin ang kontemporaryong boses ng mga rebolusyonaryo ng makabagong panahon.

Ang kuwento ng Gerilya ay ang karanasan ng dalawang bagong rekrut na estudyante ng UP na tuluyang sumapi sa hukbong NPA. Ipinamalas ng dalawang pangunahing karakter na ito ang dalawang uri ng tugon ng kabataan sa hamon ng panahon. Ang kanilang mga kalakasan at kahinaan ay pinatingkad ng kanilang pakikipagsapalaran sa hanay ng mga kasamang rebelde. Hindi lahat ng aksyon ng mga rebelde ay makatarungan at dito maaaninag ang matalas na pagtingin ng nobelista sa indibidwal na boses ng isang rebelde at kolektibong boses ng grupong makakaliwa. Tila isang insayder sa pangkat-NPA si Wilwayco dahil makatotohanan ang paglalarawan niya ng pamumuhay sa gubat ng pakikipaglaban.

Kakaiba ang estilo na ginamit ni Wilwayco para gawing interesante ang mga eksena. Ang kanyang boses na ginamit ay malalim ang pinaghugutan – isang masinop na paglilimi ng mga litanya ng sambayanan. Sinsero ang angas na pinakawalan nya mula sa umuugong at umuusok na damdaming radikal. Ang pagbabasa ng nobelang Gerilya ay sya ring pagsalat sa teknika ng panulat na masasabing mas higit ang antas ng paglalagom ng layon at ideya kaysa sa mga popular na naisulat katulad ng sa piksyonistang si Bob Ong.

Karapat-dapat ihanay ang Gerilya sa mga kontemporaryong akdang patuloy na hinahanap ang sagot sa misteryo ng pagiging isang tunay na makataong Pilipino. Bagamat hindi nito masosolusyunan ang problema ng NPA, maaari pa rin itong makapagparating ng anumang mensahe na nagsasabing may karapatan tayong lumikha ng mas makatarungan at mas kaaya-ayang lipunan.


(Maraming salamat sa Bookay-Ukay na naglathala ng ebook ng Gerilya sa kanilang website. Pwede ring ma-download ito ng libre sa mismong blog ni Norman Wilwayco. Makakabili ng kopya ng Gerilya sa Bookay-Ukay bookstore na matatagpuan sa #55 Maginhawa St., UP Teacher's Village, Diliman, QC. Para sa impormasyon ay bisitahin lamang ang bookay.multiply.com.)


August 11, 2009

Six Easy Pieces (Richard P. Feynman)



What better way to follow up five moral pieces than with six easy ones?


Subtitled “Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher”, the six easy pieces are drawn from Richard P. Feynman's The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1963, originally prepared for publication by Robert B. Leighton and Matthew Sands). That Lectures book is chosen by Discover magazine as one of the top 25 science books of all time. Feynman’s work joins such quaint books as Newton’s Principia (1687) and Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859), and modern science texts such as Einstein's Relativity (1916) and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962).


The lecture-pieces are collected with a view of compiling the six easiest chapters in the Lectures. Reading them is like attending an introductory course to physics. It is definitely a painless approach to the subject considering that the entire Lectures edition (definitive and extended) runs in three volumes and weighs 10.8 pounds! Pieces is to laymen as Lectures is to physicists.


Pieces is also an introduction to the Feynman style or the Feynman approach to physics. In the introduction to the book, by Paul Davies, the Feynman style is described as “a mixture of reverence and disrespect for received wisdom.” The reader will appreciate the truth of this conflicting description soon enough. Indeed, reverence and disrespect goes hand in hand in the discussion of physical concepts in the book and they are not mutually exclusive.


The Feynman style is a rebellious way of dealing with scientific ideas, in the sense that it questions everything and tries to put into context the history of science as developed by its conscientious scientists and philosophers. The reader is then cautioned to not expect a conventional treatment of physics as he is in for an enjoyable and “tantalizing” taste of the Feynman style of learning and, for me, teaching the subject.


The prefatory materials did well to introduce the readers to the content of the book and to water down the expectations they may have had prior to reading it. It is not meant to be a comprehensive introduction but a good enough jump off point for anyone with just a slight curiosity about the subject. The first preface by two of Feynman’s colleagues serve to contextualize the background of the actual lectures in Caltech, how they came about, the objectives of the lectures, and the actual reception of the students to the live lectures.


The second preface is by Feynman himself, unedited as it sometimes refers to pieces not actually included in the book. Feynman explains the lecturer’s after-the-fact view of his own achievement. The lecturer himself feigns failure in his interaction with his students—which really is a measure of his humble and discreet character. He may not be too successful in the original batch of his students but I think his future students are indebted to this work.


Six Easy Pieces really is a glimpse of two things: the subject of physics and the teacher himself. Feynman is one of the charismatic physicists the twentieth century has produced. He is born in 1918 in Brooklyn, and received his doctorate from Princeton in 1942. His teaching stints in Cornell and Caltech earned him notoriety for the unorthodox approaches and methods he brought to the subject.


For his pioneering work in quantum electrodynamics, he was made a co-winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics. He died in 1988, leaving behind a legacy of books, technical publications, original theoretical works, and unique approaches to teaching.


The book is mostly a transcript of the actual spoken lectures in an actual class, and so it does read like a script. There are many instances when Feynman injects some jokes and ad-lib surprises into the material. The minimum of mathematics, if at all, makes this introduction very friendly and will be cherished by anyone easily deterred by anything containing plus, minus, and equal signs, exponents, and algebraic formulations.


The real spirit of the book is in Feynman. The lectures are given in such a way as to cultivate in the reader (whether a teacher, student, or otherwise) the fundamental aspects of physics as the most fundamental of sciences.


I wish that I have read the book myself during my college struggles when I dreaded the alienating presentation of physics in textbooks and the robotic explanations of learned professors. But I am still lucky to have read this now as a physics teacher myself. I have been teaching the course in a local university for two semesters now.


My view of this book then is influenced by two perspectives: that of the (perpetual) student's and that of the teacher's. I must say that both have been enriched by Feynman’s physics course in this book. As a student, I thoroughly appreciated Feynman’s gentle approach to the subject. As a teacher, I commend his genius grasp of the subject matter and his apt analogies when trying to demystify the almost “otherworldly” ideas of quantum mechanics and gravitation. I am inspired by the way he constructs his surprising parallelisms of physical ideas: he leads me to think for myself some creative metaphors to compare with physical phenomena and matter.


For a teacher, it is a great aid to be able to deduce ways of making topics that are fairly new to students, (such as the uncertainty principle) comprehensible and digestible. The lively manner in which Feynman shared his free-wheeling and alert thoughts, jumping from the words on the page, is itself a physical event—teleportation maybe. I can just imagine how the living Feynman must have struck awe to the listeners of his lectures.


My only reservation is that portions of the book are now obviously dated. Certain materials covered are no longer sufficient to explain the current findings and status of physics. For example, the explanation on fundamental particles (still incomplete at the time of Lectures) does not contain reference to the Standard Model which, although still incomplete, is the more generally accepted explanation of that idea. The new developments in modern physics could have been included as an appendix or afterword of the book.


Going back to what the book’s editors are trying to accomplish, I think it answers well to the purposes to which the pieces are brought together:


The six pieces, are they easy?Yes. In fact, there’s another Feynman collection of six other topics collected under the title (what else could it be) Six Not-So-Easy Pieces. On my wish list is the omnibus of these two books called (not-so-surprisingly) Six Easy Pieces and Six Not-So-Easy Pieces. I'm also looking out for his surely candid bio, Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!


Do the lecture-pieces represent the “essential of physics” as the subtitle suggests?—Yes. They cover the basic introduction to atoms, basic physics, the relation of physics to other fields of study, the law of conservation of energy, the law of universal gravitation, and quantum mechanics.


Are the pieces explained brilliantly, as also suggested in the subtitle?Yes, the brilliance is inspiring.


Is it ultimately a good reference for students and teachers?—It works for me. Where previously I lack focus, I believe that I’m a better instructor for it.

August 8, 2009

Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Gabriel García Márquez)





It isn’t right that everybody should know that they’re going to kill her son and she the only one who doesn’t.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold can really stand another rereading. There is still a lot to be mined for such a short book, a novella in fact. Gabriel García Márquez has so imbued the book with folk wisdom and traditional beliefs that I find that this is not one of those ‘magical realist’ works that has everyone gasping in disbelief. It is rooted in its own domestic atmosphere of news and gossips.

The novella centers on a courtship, a wedding, and a murder. There’s no magic realism in these pages. There is fatal realism, for sure. It concerns mass guilt and a stab at the culture of machismo that has so pervaded the decisions of an entire village to condone a murder. Throughout the narrative, a sustained voice of inevitability permeates the telling that it is impossible not to turn your eyes away from the pages, even if the outcome is already foretold, even if by rereading, it is somehow retold.

The patriarchal and matriarchal society is what defines the novella’s strength as more than a chronicle but a document of conventional attitudes on such principles as honor and justice. I think also that the role of mothers in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is important in understanding the whole puzzle, just as important as the machismo that propels the announced crime of murder to its bloody success.

You always have to take the side of the dead.

The man whose death is foretold is Santiago Nasar. The motive is clear: he is accused of the unforgivable crime of tarnishing the honor of a just-married woman, Angela Vicario. Only in the man’s death will the woman’s honor be regained. A murder is then set in motion – a murder that has every chance of being thwarted and yet every indication of being a foregone conclusion.

The novella’s chronicler is one of Santiago Nasar’s friends who comes back to investigate the cold case a good many years after. With the obsession of a journalist, he interviews almost all the people involved in the crime. The major witnesses sought for explanations and recollections include Angela Vicario herself and Pedro Vicario, one of the two murderers who are twin brothers of Angela Vicario. (It was all too neat that the killers be twins. Perhaps to better emphasize the conflict and wavering of resolve between them.) Yet the primary witness is the entire village who was helpless to stop the crime unfolding before their very eyes.

There had never been a death more foretold.

What is poetic justice? Is it the same as the plain old romantic justice that is a condition of a society in which evil is outshone by good?

The novella is a lens for observing human behavior and responses shaped by a tragic event. The novelist is deft in providing all the necessary means, motive, and opportunities for a crime whose consummation is the very reflection of guilt, both individual and collective. There is a popular backing behind the murder and the narrator tries to find out why. Eventually it is no longer essential to know whether Santiago Nasar really is guilty or innocent of “dishonoring” a woman– this is not ultimately resolved at the end. What is perhaps more important is to understand why so many people can be so powerless to stop something they have all the means to prevent.

Is it deep-seated tradition that puts the village on the spot and leads them to commit a crime of omission? How can people be expected to react and to take action, if their long held beliefs in things such as honor is the one put on trial? It is this very same belief that commanded “what a man should do” to avenge the honor lost. It's not unlike the fundamentalist attitudes of religion.

For years we couldn’t talk about anything else. Our daily conduct, dominated then by so many linear habits, had suddenly begun to spin around a single common anxiety. The cocks of dawn would catch us trying to give order to the chain of many chance events that had made absurdity possible, and it was obvious that we weren’t doing it from an urge to clear up mysteries but because none of us could go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and the mission assigned to us by fate.

This is a book in which a second reading will not put anything in better perspective but will leave the virtue of ambiguity intact. It does not judge anyone. Not the killers, not the murdered man, not the woman on whose disgrace the murder was predicated. The killers only could do what is expected of them. The book does not judge anyone because everyone is implicated in the crime.

Gabriel García Márquez’s blow by blow style is a powerful thing. He made the reader spectator to the crime. On second reading, the reader is still held hostage by the narrative pull. It has the intensity of a thriller. The murder, even if already forecast in advance, is still a murder mystery and will remain unsolved.

Love can be learned, too. This cliché is put to good use in a surprising subplot. But that is another story. If the pursuit of love is like falconry, what about the pursuit of truth? The falcon cannot hear the falconer?


(Image: Le Fauconnier. France, 17th century; watercolor and gouache on vellum)