How binary thinking may affect reading comprehension
KRIPTOKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2020 - 12:00am

Writer-friends have been wondering why I’ve apparently kept silent after receiving some criticism for my column on this space on Nov. 4, titled “Fil-foreign Writers: On The Way To Dominance?”

There were several reasons why I took time to respond to negative reactions, also from writers, to what I thought were matter-of-fact remarks on what I perceived as a cycle of development with regard authorship of Philippine literature in English.

Personal circumstances, the Yuletide season, and the fact that this column now appears on a fortnightly basis were among those reasons. Then there was the yearend publication in the latest issue of Tomas, UST’s literary journal, of my speech in Palanca Night of 2018, which ironically dwelled on the need for harmony among Filipino writers.

But one particular allegation continues to bewilder me. The director of a prestigious university press (who shall remain unnamed since his “slander” was as a blind item inserted in a public speech) actually charged that I had “maligned” local writers.

What a befuddlement. Nowhere did I do that in my November column. I don't think any particular passage can be pointed out where I maligned a group that I actually belong to. While objectivity could imaginably lead me to be seen as a traitor to my own class or any such affiliation, nowhere in that piece did that happen.

AlI I said was that international publication of Pinoys’ literary works in English — particularly in the USA, owing to the continuing diaspora and a new generation of Fil-Am writers — appears to be overtaking local publication.

I didn’t say there’s a rivalry between Fil-foreign writers and homebound ones, nor did I disparage local writing in English, which in fact I continued to praise. The observation I made was on the cycle of development where overseas Pinoys writing in English continue to gain in numbers and quality, due to three factors: the diaspora and increasing international distribution of Filipino writers, most of whom (as of this writing) had already matured here; overseas-born Pinoys gaining excellent training and publishing opportunities abroad; and the strengthening of writing in Filipino and regional languages, which could lead to a decreased level of turnover for home-based Pinoys still writing in English.

Nowhere did I say that Filipino Anglophile writers have to compete as groups based on location, that is, beyond the universal individual competition that we’re all naturally thrown into.

Now I surmise that it’s binary thinking — automatically perceiving things in terms of two options that are usually mutually exclusive — that affects reading comprehension skills, especially in this day and age of textual glut.

Two lady directors of local publishing houses reacted differently. Upon coming back to her office, one found herself laughing down the dismay among her staff who had also misread what I wrote, as having impugned local Anglophone writing. The other said that it had actually bolstered her thinking that Philippine participation in the next Frankfurt International Book Fair should discontinue excluding Filipino writers published abroad.

As for old friend Eric Gamalinda’s impassioned reaction, let me assure him that I didn’t say nor “imply that one becomes a better writer because of one’s proximity to the colonial masters…” In fact, I’ve pointed out that spearheading the acceptance of expatriate Filipino writers, despite the initial misgivings among American publishers, was the group of home-trained writers he belongs to — that chose to migrate to New York and the West Coast and compete with everyone else. Bravo to them all!

I also never said one “become(s) a ‘better’ writer by moving abroad, or by rubbing elbows with the colonial elite.” No, I didn’t. What I mentioned was that “the local publishing scene remains dynamic, thanks to university presses…,” literary contests and the slew of writers’ workshops that have become traditional, as well as through the independent efforts of young writers who ceaselessly submit their works to international online venues.

I celebrate all our writers, wherever they’re published. It’s just that I see more and more of them getting published abroad, For which, hooray!

As for Eric’s own occasionally problematic experience with international publishers, I am sure that his multitudinal skills will eventually prevail, and gain their nod, the way more and more of our compatriots are doing. On which, by the by, I do not recognize their worth only because they were vetted by the West, but rather due to my own reading appreciation (still ongoing) of most of them.

 I realize now that my already lengthy list last November missed out on many other bylines of expat Pinoy writers, so here are additional names of authors who do us proud abroad, whether or not they’ve been published there:

Albert Casuga and Naya Valdellon in Canada, Candy Gourlay, Erin Estrada Kelly (winner of the John Newbery Medal for Hello, Universe) and Alex Quicho in the U.K., Joel Vega and Ella Wagemakers in the Netherlands, Catherine Torres in Germany, Jim Pascual Agustin in South Africa, Neal Imperial in Israel, FH Batacan, Noelle de Jesus. Lawrence Ypil and Eric Valles in Singapore, Saud Alsanousi (a Fil-Kuwaiti who has authored The Bamboo Stalk), Jon Pineda, Aimee Nezhukumamathil, Sarah Gambito, Marie La Viña, Sophia N. Lee, Nick Carbo, Marianne Villanueva, Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez, Jose Edmundo Ocampo Reyes, Melinda Luisa de Jesus, Jonas Vitman, Lysley Tenorio (The Son of Good Fortune), Mia Alvar (In the Country), Elaine Castillo (America Is Not the Heart), Joanne Ramos (The Farm), Meredith Talusan (Fairest), Albert Abonado (JAW), and Leny Strobel Mendoza (Poetry of Decolonization).

There are more, I’m sure. Caroline S. Hau, who authored Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture in 2018, is currently a professor at Kyoto University, while Glenn Diaz in engaged in academic work in Australia, so that should he get to publish while there, then he’d be strengthening expat Pinoy writing even more.

A pity that this young novelist whom I respect could only mutter “But” in apparent protest to my piece. If he had been less quiet, I might have engaged him in less-than-cutesy discourse such as his eventual trendy “Okay, boomer” that was also addressed indirectly to me. But FYI, that would be incorrect, since as a Liberation baby, I antedate boomers, and properly belong to that cohort of quiet ones called the Silent Generation.

Now that’s a thought. To avoid any further risk of being misread or over-read, in my dotage, maybe I should just keep quiet.

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