Note: Posting this a bit earlier in the week as there will be a major announcement on Thursday. We’ll also be holding off the PSF6 reviews for December but will resume in January.
This post is a part of our story-by-story review of Philippine Speculative Fiction volume 6. You can see the introductory post, and our disclaimers here. Bold font is Mia Tijam, everything else is Paolo Chikiamco.
And so… Paging Adam David, look oh, more of your demand for experimentation in Phil Spec Fic!
I know that this is not your favorite, Counsel, because it’s non-linear hahahaha! See, I think most would react to this story, after reading it, with “And so?” Yeah, what’s the point, right?
Objection! I didn’t find the format difficult, but I think that’s because it was fairly obvious once I started the piece that I wasn’t supposed to find any narrative linking the segments, each of which was self-contained, and linear. I think my difficulty comes more from the experimental stories where I know (even if I’m wrong) there’s supposed to be an overarching narrative somewhere, and I just can’t seem to find it.
—-Haha, okay, okay!
I appreciate this kind of story being included in PSF anthologies because: 1) It challenges the reading-linear-habit which kind of breeds lazy-reading. 2) Because it does, then the brainwaves are exercised when it comes to perspectives and understanding of meaning, of what the story is really about.
As someone who has never been a fan of difficult to read fiction (as opposed to non-fiction), I feel the obligation to state that lazy reading is a perfectly viable state of being a reader-for-pleasure.
—-Hahaha, riiiiight. Like Lazy Boy and TV, hmmm?
Intrinsically, this story is what you call playing on motif. So the question is: what is the motif? What is common among all the names? What connects them? Because the usual reader might think that they are not connected, as if the names are just slides in projection or just weird episodes (and the weirdness making it all under “speculative”).
By “usual reader” that’d be me I think. I already said that I didn’t see the need to draw a narrative connection between each segment, but as far as a common theme, my anchor was the title itself: each segment used the idea of alternative names to show alternative realities (in my reading, all the protagonists are the same woman, in different worlds), and within each segment, the etymology of the name was interpreted through a short narrative.
But there is the movement, the transformation of women who are constantly (and at times failing) moving towards (their ideas of) freedom. The irony and paradox of this, what the names signify and how they are realized in the identities of the characters.
If you simply break it down, one movement of the story would look like this:
virile? stranger? stone? melancholy? flower = woman: freedom
What’s one of yours?
I guess you can infer from my previous comments that I didn’t look for a movement in the totality of the story. I didn’t see the realization of freedom aspect of it because the Barbara and Deidre stories don’t seem to me to be about the protagonist moving toward an idea of freedom. I also saw the “realization of identity” that you mentioned, but I saw it play out in each segment, and not in the story as a whole–except in a negative way, in the sense that none of these women are “real”, since the woman who gives us the title of the story was not named Arsenia, Barbara, Chantal, Deirdre or Erica.
— There’s that, the title is a device that would make a reader re-think the whole narrative. It’s a trick. The play on “these are the names that I was not named yet I may be named or has become my name(s)”.
I’m really liking this story because of the language. I find it beautiful though at times it leads to vagueness like with Chantal, almost lacking coherence which is not necessarily bad— as if full understanding can almost be grasped by the reader yet it slips away. So ephemeral…So evanescent…So trademark Ateneo Beautiful Language Workshop hahahahaha. (And let’s brace ourselves for maybe an uproar again from the budding and flowering talents from that wonderful school of thought hahahaha… Sorry mga kaibigans, I like the violence and edges in language eh which Joel Toeldo was addressing in one of his poems in his new poetry collection Ruins and Reconstructions).
I think it’s clear to everyone by now that I probably couldn’t tell a good poem from restroom vandalism–
—- Hahahaha, you can go to the Mag:net Katipunan restroom and see “vandalism” that might be a good poem. You might even see “fuck art, pay me” hahahaha. And hey, they say graffiti is street art and “Punks Don’t Dead” has replaced “Punks Not Dead”.
But I too enjoyed the craft with which each story was written, each word was weighed. I liked the way the sentences flowed into the next, and the way the turns of phrase seem novel to me.
Yet it is this language that elicits understanding— both on the cerebral and emotional level— that invites reading and contemplating. Like with Barbara— I like it the most. Which one did you like?
Okay, quick ranking, favorite to least: Barbara, Arsenia, Chantal, Erica, Deirdre. Yes, even if Barbara was probably the least speculative of the five.
This is way better than Christine Lao’s Creature in PSF5 so when it comes to tracking progress of stories/writers in PSF, Lao has leaped and now abound. Definitely looking forward to reading her next story in PSF.
Or elsewhere! Let’s not forget to encourage our authors to submit to other markets, both local and international.
—Which reminds me, her story in PGS Online is exactly why I consider her “abound”. [And let me take this opportunity to tell Ms. Lao that syntactical manipulations that may result in a language that could be far off from Standard English is an exercise in showing the difference of Philippine English with Standard English, the difference of transliteration with translation, the difference of how 9/10 Filipinos would use English in a conversation versus non-native speakers of English using the language on the native speaker's level. And try shifting from Empirical Kant to Wittgenstein--- take your pick if you want Philosophical Investigations or Tractatus--- and maybe one can reach Longinus' Sublime haha.]
[Pao: I can't believe we edited out a discussion of leitmotif for being too technical, but we then move on to frickin' Wittgenstein.]
Finally, if the story’s a book of names… So where’s the book? Ah, here comes another novel someday!