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Knifes Edge: Selected Essays Edel E. Garcellano

Knifes Edge: Selected Essays

Edel E. Garcellano

Published 2001
ISBN : 9789715423212
260 pages
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 About the Book 

Edel Garcellano’s Knife’s Edge: Selected Essays is a collection of essays on Philippine literature and its literary production. Garcellano writes in his Preface that this collection of essays serves as a “metacritique of current discursive practices of the idols of the marketplace who have long steered the public toward the so-called neutral, non-ideological and pure positions.” Thus, using a Marxist framework, Garcellano analyses literary criticism in contemporary Philippine literature and debunks the formalist aesthetics that have dominated the critical practice of Philippine literature. Some of the essays here were taken from his earlier collections published in the 1980s and the 1990s, namely First Person, Plural (1987)- Intertext (1990)- and Interventions (1998)- and problematizes ways of reading both mainstream literature and protest and underground literature. In the Introduction, Caroline Hau writes that republishing these essays in 2001 would make one re-think the ways of reading and reaffirming Marxism, especially with the crisis of the Left in both the international and the local scene: what with the fall of the Soviet Union and China, and the ideological splitting of the Philippine Left into rejectionist and reaffirmist camps in the 1990s. Garcellano then points out that popular nationalism, Philippine Marxism and literary studies are interconnected with one another (xiii).Knife’s Edge is divided into three sections, namely Critique, Re(Reading) and Criticism. The first section critiques the production of protest, revolutionary and post-Edsa literature in the light of Marxist discourse. The second section offers a re-reading and a metacriticism of certain protest and revolutionary texts and tries to see up to what extent are they revolutionary, while the third section Criticism offers a criticism of certain critical practices, some of them in the academe.Garcellano not only reads literary texts but also treats political events as texts, and shows the intermingling of the two. For instance, in the essay “Post-EDSA Literature and Marxist Discourse”, Garcellano problematizes the symbolism of Ninoy Aquino and the ahistorical and transhistorical attitudes that the mainstream writers have in surrounding and representing his death and heroism, which is a product of bourgeois class interests as the EDSA is a middle-class revolt. Says Garcellano: “Ninoy Aquino was an acceptable capitalist hero […] a broker for feudal interests, a class unifier—was a firm believer in organized and disciplined corporate rule” (5). Furthermore, he argues in “The EDSA Drama as Literary Text” that the EDSA revolt is seen as a product of “cosmic intervention” and has nullified the historical continuum and the liberative force of the mass movements during the Marcos dictatorship: “On the main, the February revolt has given rise to the middle-class myths and modes of liberative forces and concealed others, as though the even itself had fallen outside the grasp of the participants themselves” (215).Garcellano’s arguments rest on three premises. The first is that authorship should not be seen as a product of an individual mind (or genius) but is rather an “institutional construct”, from which discourse emanates. Caroline Hau, in her Introduction writes, “Garcellano treats the author as a “principle” responsible for authorizing statements in and about literature. These statements not only provide the context in which the texts are read and circulated, they define the parameters through which texts are classified and validated (as “good” or “bad” writing) (xvi). By deconstructing the “cult of authorial personality” (xvi), he goes now to the second premise, and that is literature is political. Some mainstream writers would discredit their involvement in politics- however, their positions in the state bureaucracy and connections with powerful literary establishments (such as award-giving bodies, publishing houses, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts) would be privileged and their aesthetics would be seen as universal, when in fact it perpetuates the interests of a certain class. The third premise is that politics, economics and literature are intertwined, which the capitalist compartmentalization has insisted as separate and different fields. By doing so, he locates literature as a product of economics and politics and affirms their historical importance. He also argues that the imbalance of power in the Philippines not only results to class war in Philippine society but also in Philippine poetics. Garcellano writes succinctly: “Antagonism in poetics, in short, is simply antagonism between classes” (25).The essays in Knife’s Edge draw heavily on Marxist and poststructuralist literary theory, especially those that theorize on literary production and discourse. Moreover, he gives a metacriticism on Philippine literary scholarship. The essay “Of Theorizing Anti-Theorists, Nativists and Literary Shitheads” points out the absurdity of nativism and dismissal of Western theory, which thereby succumbs to essentialism—and ironically, to a certain extent, anti-intellectualism. Similarly, in the essay “Philippine Hermeneutics and the Kingpins of the Hill”, Garcellano scathingly criticizes mainstream writers and critics such as Gemino Abad and Alfred Yuson for their universalism and depoliticization—as they write from their privileged positions, they negate both nationalism and the class war which also characterizes literary production but which critics like them would not acknowledge.Predictably, by putting established literary writers and critics under deep scrutiny, Garcellano has earned the ire of the literary establishment, which places him in the margins of the academe. These same people would criticize Garcellano for the “difficulty” of his prose (making this book quite a challenge to read) as well as to the various referencing and “name dropping” of literary theorists. However, Caroline Hau writes that this is precisely Garcellano’s strategy: to go against the type of writing prevailing in the academe (Garcellano comments, “It is so easy to write in the Philippines, as though writing were an easy profession”) and to the defamiliarize the reader and make him/her more aware of the discursive practices that surround the text (ix-x). After all, metacriticism itself using Marxist theories and thereby questioning the literary mode of production, laying bare the existing power struggle in the field of letters in order to ultimately democratize it is no easy task. Garcellano himself would aver in the first sentence of his Preface: “Knife’s Edge is admittedly not for everyone, although it purports to serve populist causes in the field of literary production.”