Sunday, August 31, 2003

what lies beneath: a "critical" survey

As part of the varied table topics our barkada discussed last night (and we were in one hell of a celebratory mood - triggering off a little gem of idea that I can't talk about here yet), I brought up the notion of the underlying theme or themes in each of our bodies of work. The idea is here is two-fold: first, that it is possible, by looking at a single text by one of us, to interpret what that author "is all about" (therefore, a representative work that yields the author's unconscious agenda under critical analysis). Second, that each one of us is in fact writing about only one or two themes across the variety of our corpus.

Carl, newly-minted National Book Awardee (sorry, but I'm so proud of him), writes in three genres (used in the sense of a category of artistic or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content) - grafiction, prose fiction and poetry. Analysis revealed that his work for comics and fiction is about hope - hope for something better despite the mundane or complex intricacies of life. Hope that by effort, will or courage, people can enjoy life, whether it is in the end ordinary or extraordinary. His poetry, on the other hand, echoes the sentiment of loss, the personal nuances of little tragedies. See: One Night in Purgatory & Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah (graphic novels), Lu Parlores du Anjelia (prose).

Marco's body of work is predominantly comics, and his underlying theme is contentment - being content with the life you lead, finding pleasure in the company you keep, looking at life with an optimistic perspective, because, certainly, life is not all that bad. There is value to a smile, to laughter, to retiring at the end of the day knowing that, despite appearances, all is well. See: Angel Ace (continuing comic series).

Vin, last year's National Book Awardee, writes comics, prose and poetry. He writes about love denied. I would have assumed that his master theme was more reflective of the sunny climes of Happy Land. Yet if you dig deeper in his work, you'll see just that, because Vin's work yearns for the idealized love - whether romantic or platonic, and what it takes to get there. There is hope, there is always hope, depsite the initial onset of challenges. See: Isaw, atbp., The Clockwork King (grafiction).

Nikki gravitates towards the essay, the novel, short fiction, poetry and pornography (definitely not erotica, and yes, there is a difference). Her unconscious theme is choice. Once you make a choice, you need to live up to it. Sleep in the bed you make. There are underpinnings of feminist empowerment, of course, but never overtly so (except for the porn pieces that are irredeemably constructed to simply arouse). See: The House on 14th Street (upcoming grafiction), Skin and other poems (poetry), Post-Partum Digression (essay), Tulisan ei Ladron (prose).

Arnold, two-time National Book Awardee, writes grafiction almost exclusively. His central theme is about the power of love to defy any and all difficulties. There will be challenges, yes, but love (and its kin, loyalty, friendship and trust) transcends everything in the end. Like classic fairy tale tropes, goodness is rewarded, evil is punished and love will find a way. See: Mythology Class, Trip to Tagaytay, After Eden (graphic novels).

Jason writes comics and short fiction. His deeper theme is rebellion against authority and his agenda is the promotion of native magick and spiritual (re)awakening of the Filipino soul. See: Baylans (upcoming full-length graphic novel).

And I, a writer of writes plays, short fiction, comics and the very occassional poetry, deliberate about the tragic consequences of yearning for idealized love. There is no such thing - better to love who you have right now, embracing what's good, flawed and mutating about that person, and live in the now; rather than long for something that doesn't exist to the detriment of everything else. See: Island, Short Time, Onan Circle, Loving Toto (plays), L'Aquilone du Estrellas, Spark: The Sad and Strange Tale of Sister Maria Dolores, the Nun who Exploded (prose).

After we performed the most surface and cursory of analyses on our indivual bodies of work (not much text, but enough for a discussion - none of us have published a trillion novels, comics, fiction pieces or poetry), Vin asked if, now that we are aware of what lies underneath, we should do something about it.

I think that there are three options open to authors made suddenly self-aware: to ignore analysis and just write what you want in the way or ways that you want; deliberately recognize your theme/s and promote your agenda in future work; or to consciously write about something else (either adding variety to your themes or abandoning the old for something new).

None are the "correct" option, every option is fine. As far as themes go, everything is valid and need not be justified. For me (and perhaps for all of us), more important that writing about something deep or reflective of the human condition is writing something you enjoy (or would enjoy reading yourself), and enjoying yourself while doing so.

But sometimes it helps to see yourself in a mirror that allows you to begin to ponder what you are about.


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