Chicken Abortion

Naa kay eighteen diha, ki?
—Anonymous

I WALKED ALONG the polluted sidewalk downtown where there lay a stretch of street food stalls that habitually begins to grow crowded at the first stroke of twilight. People who just got off from school and work found themselves feasting on the delicacies to relieve their hunger and nerves, sometimes while enjoying a conversation with an acquaintance or a friend, mostly exchanging summaries or anecdotes on how their day went.

Passing by, I could hear peals of laughter, as incessant as the sizzling of food in the scalding oil, and even belches of people whose stomachs were gratified right after the gulp of their beverage, often followed by lighting a cigarette.

I looked with astonishment at the burning of the cigarettes, for their tips stood out perfectly, like crimson stars, between the moonlight and the glares coming from the headlights congested in the road.

The greasy savor in the air suddenly rendered me famished, but somehow absolved me from the whole day of earthly labors.

*****

I was well into my fourth piece of penoy when a group of foreigners lined by the stall I was in. The crowd threw glances at them.

The five foreigners, three men and two women, whom I thought were Americans, looked exhausted, out of breath, undoubtedly from carrying huge backpacks, bags, tents, and rolled sleeping mats. Nevertheless, I saw excitement gleaming from their faces; their eyes were of those beholding the arrival of a long-awaited meal.

At once, I reckoned that the foreign group must have heard myths about Balut and that now they were going to unfold its mystery; one of them confirmed it by saying he found “the Balut.”

The men declared to draw first blood while the women backed them up with cheers.

I listened to the vendor stuttering his way in giving instructions. He guided them through gestures—like pointing at a certain part of the shell—and managed to convey the instructions with precision.

I was surprised at how the men devoured the embryo in an instant, perhaps without even tasting, and certainly without spitting the bits of bones and hairs out; regardless, they expressed delight at its tastiness.

The women’s applause caught the attention of the busy crowd. It was their turn next. But no sooner had they peeled the shells than they backed down at the sight of the embryo.

As though spectators in a show, passersby circled around the stall and cheered for the women.

“Chicken abortion!” I broke in. People, including the foreigners, turned and laughed at my remark; a student even repeated, “Di ta mokaon ani uy, kay chicken abortion.”

One of the women stopped laughing and asked me, “What happens if no one eats them?”

“They’re thrown away,” I said rather coldly. “The reason they’re ‘aborted’ is because the farms here can’t afford to raise them. So even if they were to live, they’d eventually die of starvation. Besides, no one can shelter all of them, and they’d be a nuisance if they’re too many.”

The crowd, I realized, was silent and listening to me the whole time, perhaps never expecting such an insight on the matter.

“Balut,” I continued, “is actually a solution to poultry overpopulation.”

*****
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Illustration by Geraldine Sy

I lit my fourth cigarette while walking into the heart of the downtown, which I fancied to be pumping the traffic of strangers and vehicles into the streets.

The evening declined, and I looked at the moon glowing brighter beyond the rise of the buildings, the sight of it misted by the smoke coming out of my mouth.

I stood on the street corner, listening to the cacophony of wheels, horns, footsteps, and gossips, when a strange memory involving balut sprang into mind:

Once, a sallow balut vendor, who was my “suki” since he was just across the street near my home, confided to me about hearing death rattles of full-grown embryos from inside their shells as he boiled them in his large pot.

(Published on Sun.Star Weekend: March 27, 2016 and on Zerothreetwo, a local online magazine)

Cheers to TINTA! A Toast to Another Bottle of Ink!

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute.
We read and write poetry because
we are members of the human race.
—Sir John Keating, Dead Poets Society


ON THE TENDER NIGHT of the 27th of February 2016, at the 2nd floor of Handuraw Pizza, Gorordo, TINTA of University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu marked its 13th monthly poetry reading, or “Basa Balak,” which was handsomely titled “Kasumaran: Pisik sa mga Tinagsip” (Anniversary: A Splatter of Fragments), as a year already passed since TINTA started breaking ground into the city’s literary landscape.

Denver Torres (Photo by Rika Castro)

Denver Torres

Karla Quimsing (Photo by Rika Castro)

Karla Quimsing

TINTA hosted their largest crowd yet. In attendance were established Cebuano writers Denver Torres, Jona Bering, Karla Quimsing, Anthony Kintanar, and Larry Ypil; various members of the Nomads and BATHALAD, two of the literary circles in Cebu; TINTA poets Jae Magdadaro, Monica Manluluyo, Reyna Cadiz, Astrid Ilano, and Tara Angela Prieto; and Cebu-based start-up Suwh(a)t, whose soulfully hand-crafted notebooks served as prizes for the trivia and “tigmo” session. The audience, mainly composed of youths who brought their own poems, songs, and anecdotes into the open mike segment, contributed largely to the full house event.

Anthony Kintanar (Photo by Rika Castro)

Anthony Kintanar

Suw(h)at is a Cebu-based crafts start-up that seeks to empower individuality and thoughts through carefully crafted and personalized notebooks/paper products. (Photo by Rika Castro)

Suw(h)at is a Cebu-based crafts start-up that seeks to empower individuality and thoughts through carefully crafted and personalized notebooks/paper products.

Overwhelmed by the growing multitude of people appreciating the monthly poetry nights, Tara Angela Prieto, TINTA’s incumbent chairperson and also a graduating psychology student, envisioned a “stronger patronization to these literary events.”

TINTA Chairperson Tara Angela Prieto (Photo by Rika Castro)

TINTA Chairperson Tara Angela Prieto

A Rorschach Test

When the first verses were penned by its founding chairperson, Romeo Nicolas Bonsocan, on June 16, 2011, TINTA no sooner became UP Cebu’s official—and only—creative writing organization. With the guidance and support of Lilia Tio, Januar Yap, and Shane Carreon and the commitment of the group’s members, TINTA, which was initially born of the idea of having an essential creative outlet and “interest-based organization” for students, assumed the form of an inkblot smeared not just in the school walls but also in the walls of contemporary Cebuano literature.

Outside the school’s wrought iron gates, TINTA conducted their own love letter writing contest (2013; the awards night was held at the painfully missed beauty of La Belle Aurore) as well as a literary awards night (2014; this was held at UP Cebu) that drew participants from different universities.

Going in for the Quill

The organization was formerly named “Mga Alagad sa Dagang” (The Order of the Quill). Now, other than being the Cebuano translation for “ink,” TINTA also stands for “Tunob” (footprint), “Iwag” (light), “Nasod” (country), “Talento” (talent), “Alampat” (art)—five components that serve as the organization’s cornerstones.

TINTA’s groundwork activities are to “read, write, and inspire.” They practice their craft through sharing, engaging in discussion, and getting involved in the development of national literature. They also hold several workshops, where they are mentored by Cebu’s literary heroes.

Now stepping into their 5th year, TINTA continues to influence a generation of young writers to move toward a renewal—or a revolution, if you will—of Cebuano literature.

(Published on Sun.Star Weekend: March 13, 2016; photos by Rika Castro)

Book Nook: Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning: On the “Last of the Human Freedoms”

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Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms, that is, to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

TO COMPOSE a brief synthesis of Viktor Frankl’s lucid insights on a prisoner’s self-transcendence over the inhumanity of the Holocaust is the purpose of this essay.

From 1941 until 1945, the Jews were held captive and systematically massacred in the concentration camps under the Nazi territories. The covert methods of this genocide included starvation, heavy manual labor under severe conditions, torture, hanging in the gallows, then mass murders, gas chambers, and crematoriums—methods that, by the final stages of the war, had already decimated approximately 11 million people.

Upon captivity, all possessions were taken away from the prisoners, names replaced by numbers, not a strand of hair left unshaven on their bodies. They were forced to toil like animals, despite their serious malnourishment, and slumber in abominably small bunk beds like stacks of corpses.

Nothing was left of the prisoners’ lives but their hope for liberation and their nakedness to the inevitability of death surrounding them. But amid the gamut of terrors, for three years, Frankl, who was a psychiatrist before the occupation, investigated the camp’s psychology and secretly jotted down notes on scraps of paper that served as the manuscript for his own psychotherapeutic theory: that is logotherapy (logos is Greek for meaning).

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning—an autobiography about his Holocaust experience and an introduction to the concepts of logotherapy—Frankl postulated that “the sort of person a prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, not the result of the camp influences alone.”

Numerous prisoners, after recognizing the impossibility of surviving under the camp’s environment, either ran into the electrically charged fences to commit suicide or simply awaited death to come over their beds. They found no meaning in prolonging their unjustifiable suffering.

But Frankl observed there were a few prisoners who “never lost their ideals in the depths of degradation” and possessed a humor that offered necessary self-detachment and reprieve from the conditions. They endured their suffering honorably and remained as though undaunted in the face of the camp’s thoroughly abject reality.

These odd behaviors, however small in number, Frankl concluded, suffice as proof that the “work of choosing” and the “will to meaning” become the “soul’s weapon in the fight for self-preservation.” As long as there is a deep sense of meaning that fortifies the spirit, an individual can suffer without despair and not become subject to decay.

Logotherapy presupposes that man’s inherent will to meaning and freedom of choice are the authors to his own personality: “Man is more than psyche. […] Man is a self-determining being, man decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.”

The antithesis of surrendering to the machinery of the base instincts is the discipline of making conscious decisions in each moment. Between stimulus and response is a space of freedom that is solely determined by the individual’s volition.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: February 29, 2016)

“Bugsay”

HE WAS NOW DOWN to his last bottle of rum. He swigged half of it as he sat at the edge of his bangka, his feet swaying with the current, his eyes gazing at his reflection on the water under the blurred disk of the moon.

He poured the rest of the rum into the sea and let the bottle slip from his grasp.

Soon he began paddling, arms afire, intoxicated yet determined. He held on to his resolve and never looked back. The clouds above him massed together, like a crowd gathering around a man threatening to take his own life.

Upon reaching the farthest his arms would let him, he set aside his paddle and unsheathed his sundang, which was a fine glint under the feeble moonlight. He glided his fingertips along its cool edge, the image of the blade leaping down his throat and of his naked body afloat in the sea running through his mind.

Just then the clouds sparked, and rain started to pour.

Chills ran all over his body. His bones grew weak. His life was a line of delicate tiles falling one by one. The sundang dropped from his helpless grip. Vertigo struck him as a lightning would a remote tree, and he collapsed into his own vomit.

 

It was a timeless dark when he opened his eyes—eyes he didn’t remember closing. The rain had stopped, he figured as he looked up, but the clouds remained crowds in the sky.

He kneeled in front of where he thought God was and cursed him without cease. He wept until he was blind, and fell into the deep well of sleep.

He awoke amid the still night, shivering. He willed himself to stand but couldn’t: he was feverish to the bone. He curled up in his bangka as would a fetus in his mother’s womb. He closed his eyes and entered sleep’s chamber. There he dreamt in delirium as, outside, the night crept closer toward dawn.

 

The night arrived at daylight.

His fever had already settled down, but his mouth still held a hint of nausea. His inflamed eyes looked for the sun and saw it. Lying on his back, spread-eagled, he let the warmth sober him up while he squinted at the clearness of the day.

It was not long when he regained the strength to get back to his feet. He stood, welcoming the heat that stung his back. He picked up the sundang lying near his feet. It glinted under the sun. He glided his fingertips along its edge, which was also starting to get warm. He dipped the sundang into the sea, wiped the blade with his shirt, and slipped it back into its sheath.

When the day turned into fire, he stripped off his clothes, unsheathed the sundang, and dove into the water.

The Accomplice

                                           

And one clock stopped—and knew the meaning of time
—Anonymous

 

AT PRECISELY 6:30 P.M., he noted, his mother was rushed to the hospital on account of a violent seizure.

The building was possessed by the spirits of disinfectant and the long lines of cold, seemingly undying fluorescent lights. The march of the doctors, nurses, personnel, and patients on wheel chairs with their guardians, along with the around-the-clock operative necessities in the passageways and rooms, always unsettled him. He wondered—not for the first time—how many patients die each day in all hospitals.

They were now inside a room. He sat on a stool beside his mother’s bed, gently pressing one unresponsive hand.

He felt that his mother’s apparatus sourced an ominous gravity. He tried not to keep time to its punctuated beeping, yet he couldn’t help but give a furtive glance at the transparent tubes and fluctuating green lines, and then at his timeworn watch wrapped around his wrist.

Its hands pointed to 8:15 p.m. Checking the time gave him a sense that moments were now fixed and numbered. When he heard the door swing open, he turned and saw the doctor, who then reported to him the results.

“Sir, I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “But your mother’s in a critical condition.”

He didn’t respond—or rather, had no idea how. In fact, he turned back to his wristwatch, and made as if he was fiddling with it.

The doctor waited. The silence let in an air so sinister that despite the double fluorescent bulbs, the room seemed to grow darker as if it were also suffering an episode of its own illness.

“Sir,” the doctor addressed him again.

“Doc,” he said. He wiped his face with the neck of his shirt and stood to face the doctor.

“We all did our best,” said the doctor, “but there’s nothing we can do now but pray and prepare ourselves for anything tha can happen any moment.”

“I see that,” he said as he gazed at an invisible dot on the white wall behind the doctor. “Doc, can I ask you something?”

“Yes,” said the doctor.

“Doc,” he said, his eyes still fixed on the dot. “What are your thoughts on God?”

The dot on the wall sprang into visions corresponding to his sharp query.

The doctor just stood silent.

“Him letting people suffer and die?” he added. “It seems like Death is God Himself.”

He tapped at his watch as if to indicate life as it draws near death. He glanced down.

The hands pointing coldly to 8:31 p.m. made him ask, “Where’s God now?” He looked at every corner of the room and turned to the doctor. “See, Doc? Only Death is coming to us.”

He sat back on his stool, realizing he has never actually believed in God, but has always wanted to blame Him ever since.

“I bear witness to these tragedies almost every day,” said the doctor.

He stared at him, and their eyes met.

“Doc,” he said. “I just don’t understand why all these things happen.”

“I suppose we must try to endure all that is to come, however worse they’ll get. The least we could do is to try.”

The doctor let out a deep sigh, reviewed his other papers, and checked his own watch. “Sir, I’m sorry, but I need to be going now. I need to attend to my other patients.”

The doctor hurried out with an unsteady stride.

When the door opened, from where he sat, he heard a score of footsteps, and imagined one of them to be Death’s.

He took in what the doctor had said about enduring “all that is to come.” He observed his mother’s faintly heaving chest and thought her lungs were giving up on the weight of breathing.

He meditated on her mother’s culminating mortality that was reflecting his, the doctor’s, and everyone’s. Diseases, accidents, misfortune, time, fate, and even life itself were all accomplices of death.

His own belief templates and choices, in some obscure link, influence or even determine someone else’s, and his too, he concluded, were preconfigured by other people’s, by the past, and all the way back to the womb of space and time.

Thus he examined the course of his life, as a metaphor: Had he spent more time with her mother, her life would not have been thoroughly miserable. Had she been a better mother, he would have not left her alone. Had his father not been a monster of a husband, his mother would not have turned insufferably monstrous herself. Had life gone easy on his father as a child, he would not have created monsters.

Everyone, including himself, was Death’s accomplice, he thought with the similar certitude sentencing his own death in the future.

He looked at his watch and turned around to listen to the muffled footsteps behind the door. For some unknown reason or sensation, he divined the inevitable arrival.

A long, loud beep filled the room.

Keeping a Diary: A Lifelong Discipline

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If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.

—Anais Nin, In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays


MY INDULGENCE on Henry Miller’s autobiographical novels has led me to Anais Nin, a free-spirited, intelligent woman whose ideas have molded and complemented with Miller’s writings. I’ve no sooner read Nin’s works than she becomes one of the few female writers I adore and venerate.

Nin, a monumental diarist and feminist in the twentieth century, writes “to taste life twice, in the moment and in introspection” and to “recreate [herself] when destroyed by living.” The lifelong and almost-daily practice of keeping a diary has built her “an inner world that can withstand destruction.”

At age 11, Nin has started the diary as a series of letters to her father who abandoned the family. She decides to become a writer. Decades later, the diary has grown into some 150 volumes. The 35,000 pages of handwritten journals are now kept as a unique, uncensored document of a woman’s “multileveled” life contending against puritanical, societal dogmatism and restraints.

Her five novels, collection of short stories, and essays on various subjects, Nin believes, are all “merely outcroppings” from her diary: what she produces outside is “a distillation, the myth, the poem.”

Here, gathered from Nin’s and Miller’s works, are a few methods of their lifelong discipline:

  1. The diary as a confessional and confidant. Begin by “eliminating the idea of the [diary] as [good writing].” Express explicitly and fearlessly. “It’s not an exercise in literature; it’s an exercise in our lives.”
  2. Automatic writing. This is devised by the surrealists to bypass consciousness. It is thought without effort and control. Write “unconsciously,” with abandon and digressiveness, as though possessed by spirits. Besides its cathartic effect, this method introduces intimacy with the cryptic workings of the mind and the “supernatural forces.”
  3. Free association and dreams (techniques in psychoanalysis). The person is given a certain word as a stimulus and is encouraged to report—quickly and without censorship—whatever image or word association that arises in his mind; this is to uncover repressed thoughts.
    When recording dreams, don’t rush to wake up; instead, with eyes still closed, remain in the twilight state (between waking and sleeping), reach inward for that last thread of dream material, and trace back the labyrinth before writing. Note down impressions of the dream. List a string of free associations stemming from the dream elements (e.g., a stab wound in the dream could be related to the fear of death or suppressed sexual arousal in real life).
  4. Various compositions. Write insights on specific subjects (e.g., relationship traumas), portraits/sketches (e.g., impressionistic reviews of places, events, and character analysis of people), letters, imagined moments, and dialogues.

Keeping a diary, as Nin said, is a necessity to everyone’s “becoming” as the daily logs put life into deliberate attention and reflection. The diary is an “instrument for living” that should be not only for writers but also for anyone from any walks of life.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: February 8, 2016)

In and Out the Labyrinth of the Mind (A Personal Note on Gestalt Therapy’s Impact)

 

The most tremendous voyages are sometimes taken without moving from the spot.
—Henry Miller, The World of Sex

 

THE GESTALT MARATHON is an indoor, static marathon, with all its participants inside a large, conducive room weary and confounded from the in-depth processes, emotional exercises, experimentations, and self-encounters and discoveries yet equipped with an awareness so sharp it cuts deep through the surface of their perceived experience and evokes rich and different perspectives from within—perspectives that are at least insightful, freeing, and integrative, if not directly curative.

`           Awareness per se, by and in itself, can be curative. (Perls)

In August 2009, after two days of intensive self-awareness activities, I have stepped upon this new ground where I have made contact with myself and understood “awareness” not just in its psychical nature but also in its biological, instinctive sense (as an élan vital that encompasses not just humans but all of life). “Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in us. Everything else about us is dead machinery” (Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions).

Though abstract—and sometimes abstruse, elusive, and ineffable—awareness also seemed like a state of matter, at least to me: I have my hands on it, uncomprehendingly feeling its fluctuations, its rising and falling (a lifeline), and its pulsing, as though a heart, from the deepest trenches of my skull-sized ocean.

Franz Kafka spoke of literature “as an axe with which we chop at the frozen seas inside us.” The same thing can be said of the Gestalt marathon. With all the compression and pressure already inside the participants—their lifelong suppressed issues and traumas remaining incessantly percussive via neuroses—the release is akin to an eruption of a dormant volcano that has long forgotten about its own existence but suddenly awakens from this amnesia of living.

The Gestalt marathon offered me a chance to let my deep-seated feelings burst and tear down my prison and chains, albeit not permanently. When I found out that, by theory and experience, there’s a rhythmic relationship (contact and withdrawal) even to such things like freedom and captivity, I started building another prison, this time, of my own choosing: it is an inner world where I can give my thoughts free rein without extrinsic influences and only led by pure impulses bubbling from the well that is my soul (my organism). I believe that opposites complement one another, as in the principles of Taoism of light and darkness. Truth is that nature is cyclic, inevitable, and necessary.

The walls of this prison mirror my solitude, but this voyage of the mind arrives at a fecundity of potentials that is seeking to be drawn into life and to participate in reality. It’s like slipping into a dream and waking up with Samuel Coleridge’s flower in hand.

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then? (Coleridge)

Conversely (this time, the flower is from the outside), at moments of selfless subjectivity, which I soon learn from Gestalt therapy, I take note of how an external stimulus passes “through my senses and into my mind” and watch the whole course of this awareness continuum bifurcating through the labyrinth, along with its curious loops and random turns and associations. This is why time passes inside the mind differently (in our heads lies a “battleground of invisible forces”).

We are aware of the age-old adage of the “mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” The mind is the center where we process what our senses gathered. The Gestalt marathon freed my mind—and thus freed me from it—and attuned me well with my senses. An awareness that is not just run by the brain but also by the pleading of the guts has been born. (The finish line of the marathon is integration: the mind-and-body split made whole.)

The “frozen seas” are chopped down; the seas become an ocean. My awareness circles above like a bird. But all of life follows the rhythm of life. Parts of my ocean will, in its own time, freeze. However, that’s not a bad thing; it has to happen so I can rest on top the labyrinths.

Koryu, look. The birds are going back north.
I wonder who said that birds are free?
Though they fly in the sky freely,
If they had no place to arrive or branches to rest on,
They might even regret having wings.
What is true freedom?
It is, perhaps, having a place to go back to. (Koumyou Sanzo)

Book Nook: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: On “Burning” Books

2c8fbe5e4422715ae29c6caef51be045“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

FAHRENHEIT 451 (1952) opens with this frightening line. Ray Bradbury writes of a dystopian future where books are burned along with the homes where they are hidden. Here, the firemen’s job is to start fires instead of putting them out. The masses are addicted to watching and discussing TV shows flashing from their “four-walled televisors” and are oblivious or indifferent regarding the imminent genesis of a nuclear war—about their world being “swept with confused alarms and struggle and flight / where ignorant armies clash by night” (Arnold, Dover Beach).

Hitherto, Bradbury’s prophetic legacy remains resonant—even almost solid and identical—in its unnerving resemblances and implications to this modern era of rapid technological progress but with the most of humanity still mindless of its repercussions. Take for example the irony of their ignorance: with tons of information bombarded and crammed into people’s heads, only a little time is now left for quiet introspection and skepticism. People are “[rushed] quickly to conclusions [their] minds [haven’t] time to protest” and thus learning only a little, which is “a dangerous thing” (Pope, An Essay on Criticism).

Due to the ubiquity of the Internet, the endless blabber flooding the social media, and the online articles abominably compressed for quick, shallow reading, elements essential to critical thinking—such as “the quality of information,” the patience and “the leisure to digest it,” and “the [carrying] out [of] actions based on the interaction of the previous two”—are inanely abandoned.

History does not lack but rather possess an almost plethoric memory that bears the perversities of obliterating books, libraries, and whole nations. During the Nazi regime, a bonfire for thousands of books was set in the streets of Berlin, Germany. “Where one burns books, one will soon burn people” (Heine). The first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang also commanded the rigorous abolition of the all chronicles written before his reign and the burying of their scholars because he wanted history to begin with him. The ancient library of Alexandria, a house of incalculable scrolls, suffered from fires throughout the centuries.

Destroying books is the prime symbol of censorship and oppression of thought. But “you don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture,” says Bradbury. “Just get people to stop reading them.” In Fahrenheit 451, we must note that before the government decreed the burning of books, it was the public who first turned away from reading.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: January 18, 2016)

Book Nook: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

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I wanted to destroy something beautiful I’d never have. Burn the Amazon rain forests. Pump chlorofluorocarbons straight up to gobble the ozone. Open the dump valves on supertankers and uncap offshore oil wells. I wanted to kill all the fish I couldn’t afford to eat, and smother the French beaches I’d never see.

I wanted the whole world to hit bottom.

Pounding that kid, I really wanted to put a bullet between the eyes of every endangered panda that wouldn’t screw to save its species and every whale or dolphin that gave up and ran itself aground.

UPON WINNING the Oregon Book Award for best novel and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, Chuck Palahniuk’s visionary debut novel, Fight Club, was shot to the veins of mainstream fiction. Following the success of its 1999 film adaptation directed by David Fincher, Fight Club gained cult classic status and has become a disturbingly accurate interpretation of our modern world.

The unnamed male narrator, suffering from a long streak of insomnia, finds cure by attending cancer support groups. But when Marla Singer—a sallow, heavy-smoking nihilist—enters the evening meetings and mirrors his own fraud, his insomnia returns, so he confronts Singer to split schedules with him.

On the night when his condominium mysteriously blows up, he calls Tyler Durden, whom he had previously met—under strange circumstances—on a beach. They agree to meet at a bar, where, after drinking, Durden asks him a favor, “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”

The narrator swings the punch that cradled Fight Club into the world. Shortly, a multitude of men with white-collar jobs join them. Every weekend, in the parking lots and basements of bars, they hold these late-hour no-holds-barred-and-barefisted fights that “go on as long as they have to.”

These one-on-one melees curiously evoke psychotherapeutic effects—resembling that of enlightenment—within the men: they are reborn from their entombed lives.

Fight Club soon evolves into Project Mayhem, an anarchic army led by Durden, who seeks to fulfill his visions of global enlightenment through organized chaos, public unrest, and demolition.

Fight Club is a social satire on the dehumanizing effects of consumerism: alienation brought by chronic materialism, illusory comforts, overindulgence, and career and lifestyle obsessions fueled by advertising. “The modern world is for business—not for the people,” as what the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung said.

“It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” Skillfully fusing Zen elements with Durden’s extremist ideologies, Palahniuk has written a provocative expression of metaphysical rebellion. The collective revolt against the existential vacuum is Durden’s nucleus and what draws men toward him.

Fight Club’s noir ambience and the solid economy of its prose are reminiscent of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, but with the sharp nonlinear narration executing its plot; also inheriting Kurt Vonnegut’s dark humor, Chuck Palahniuk is among today’s distinct and intriguing voices.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: December 27, 2015)

Book Nook: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflamed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders. And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk round my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1962), Anthony Burgess’s most famous work, suffered from notoriety and controversy when Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation (1971) shocked its audience as it seemed to have glorified violence. The film received critical acclaim and gained cult following. Clockwork Orange was then linked to increasing crime rates and was banned. This “misunderstanding” caused by the film made Burgess disown the book, with him saying that he should have not written it because of the dangers of misinterpretation. Though chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels, Burgess dismissed Clockwork Orange as a minor work undeserving of its fame, which all the while overshadowed his other major works.

Inspired by the juvenile delinquency of the early 1960s, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and with the rise of the sci-fi genre, the prolific British author Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange, a short, transgressive dystopian satire. It was narrated in “Nadsat” language—an imaginary teenage slang invented by Burgess from his studies of Russian—by the Beethoven-loving young thug Alex. Along with his three “droogs”—that is, Pete, Georgie, Dim—the fifteen-year-old Alex leads a life of violence—stealing, beating people, raping, and committing murder with gleeful countenance—until he gets arrested and sentenced fourteen years in prison.

Two years later, still desperate to get out and blind to the repercussions, he was selected to be a test subject for the “Ludovico’s technique,” a Pavlovian conditioning treatment for criminals, and was promised to be released from prison in a fortnight. Afterward, Alex is conditioned to feel sick, paralyzed, and dying whenever he thinks of anything evil. The novel continues with Alex being freed but now deprived of free will.

(In the US edition, the last chapter, which the editors thought unnecessary, is omitted against Burgess’s will.)

Through extreme violence and depravity, Burgess probes the ancient and imperishable philosophical problems of free will, moral choice, and the grinding entities of good and evil in the battleground of man’s heart: “Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness?”

Both a linguist and a musical composer, Burgess has flawlessly orchestrated the linguistic feats in A Clockwork Orange, a reminiscent of what James Joyce did on Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. With his unorthodox mastery of language, Burgess has innovated literature and was called as one of the few and inimitable literary geniuses of all time.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: November 15, 2015)

Book Nook: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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“I’m scared of him, and that’s why I know him. If you’re scared of someone you hate him but you can’t stop thinking about him. You kid yourself he’s all right really, an’ then when you see him again; it’s like asthma an’ you can’t breathe…”

LORD OF THE FLIES, written by the Nobel laureate William Golding, is a frightening and influential work of fiction. The macabre maestro Stephen King wrote in his introduction to the book, “Flies always represented what novels are for…not just entertainment, but life and death… The writer’s imagination becomes the reader’s reality.”

First published in 1954, Lord of the Flies is an allegory of man’s descent from cultured, rational thinking to primitive, bloodthirsty savagery. The story took place at the dawn of an atomic war. A plane was shot down, and it crashed on an uninhabited tropical island. The survivors, all schoolboys, were scattered around until the loud, deep blasts from a conch called them together.

Led by Ralph, whom they later voted as chief (unanimously because he had the conch), they formed an assembly and discussed on what to do in the island, how to survive and get rescued. But “the delight of a realized ambition” overcame them—the freedom of having “no grownups” around. This sudden liberation from adult supervision made it difficult for their chief to manage the group, and even himself.

Days of blistering heat and cool, dark nights passed; the boys went on with their daily tasks: playing, building shelters, hunting, keeping fire. Then the littluns (little ones) experienced terrors from imaginary monsters and nightmares the island evoked at night. There’s a “beast” out there, but the biguns (big ones), though anxious, said there was none and even sought out to kill it.

Turmoil stemmed from juvenile misunderstandings. Jack (the head of the “hunters”) grew vehement toward Ralph’s leadership. Thus disorder broke out, splitting the boys into two groups, which soon led to brutality and Ralph’s weeping for the “end of innocence.”

Lord of the Flies’s theme is an attempt “to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.” The story is an experiment—a group of schoolboys stranded in an island without the guidance of adults—and what’s exposed is the basic wildness lurking within man’s heart, a dormant savagery awakened by the warm spilling of blood; this is what the Freudians call Id, the perpetually repressed “anarchic, amoral” unconscious drive.

Cunningly crafted by the author, the title Lord of the Flies is a translation of the Greek Beelzebub, a name for the devil.

With its dense naturalistic imagery and layers of symbolisms, Lord of the Flies is a masterwork, a modern classic, though an infinitely cynical portrayal of human condition.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: October 25, 2015)