LITERATURE AND COMMITMENT
A Message to the U.P. Writers Club
I wish to express the warmest greetings to my colleagues in the U. P. Writers' Club. I wish you all the success in your efforts to create new works, improve your literary craft and understand the social relevance of literature.
Even as creative writers, you cannot imagine fully how desirous I am joining you in discussions. Definitely, we can exchange views more fruitfully in an interface. At any rate, notwithstanding my present confinement in a solitary cell, I can share with you some thoughts in your discussion on literature and commitment.
I think that great literature in different ages in the world and the major works so far written in Philippine literary history assume significance, social and cultural, insofar as they are somehow committed to the cause of freedom and they reflect with profound insights the social conditions and the struggle for greater freedom.
It is on the basis of solid historical proof that I urge all Filipino creative writers to commit their minds, hearts and works to the struggle for freedom. Their works cannot but gain significance by reflecting, enriching and inspiring their people's struggle for national freedom and democracy in the present semicolonial and semifeudal society. Literature must serve the people more effectively than ever before.
The most vital issues and conflicts in society are crying out to be concentrated, represented and resolved in literary works. The people are suffering from fascist tyranny the bitter fruit of foreign and feudal domination -- in a rapidly worsening political and economic crisis; and they are valiantly rising up to assert their national and democratic rights and fight for their freedom.
For the Filipino creative writers today, there can be no richer source of themes and raw materials than the sharpening struggle between reaction and revolution. There can be no better way to push forward the cause of freedom in Philippine literature than to deal with the decline of the present social system and the growth of the people's revolutionary struggle for freedom.
When I refer to the people, I mean the toiling masses of workers and peasants and such other democratic forces as the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. From among these classes there is one that provides the correct or best possible vantage point for creative writers.
I mean the working class. It is not only the productive vanguard for industrialization and modernization but it is also the basis for the most progressive world outlook and methodology for comprehending all social forces and their development in the current national democratic revolution as well as in the subsequent socialist revolution.
The revolutionary liberalism of the patriotic section of the bourgeoisie runs next to the proletarian ideology in importance and efficacy so long as both ideologies are in alliance. As amply proven since the defeat of the old democratic revolution, revolutionary liberalism can no longer take the lead in the resurgence of the Philippine revolution. Standing alone, revolutionary liberalism cannot defeat pro-imperialist liberalism, which is the official ideology of the big comprador-landlord state.
It is of great and decisive advantage for the Filipino creative writers to adopt the proletarian standpoint. It allows them to comprehend the economic, political and cultural aspect of society and to know incisively the basic trends in a number of contradictions: between the forces and relations of production; between the exploited and exploiting classes; between the state and the people; and between reactionary and revolutionary culture.
The proletarian creative writer understands comprehensively and profoundly the objective social reality and becomes a revolutionary partisan in the great struggle for freedom, justice and progress. Intellectually, he surpasses the individualistic, narrow and fragmented knowledge of the unremoulded petty bourgeois intellectual and, of course, the far more outmoded ideas and values of the feudal past.
But it is one thing to adopt the correct and progressive intellectual and political outlook. It is another thing to create excellent literary works. The literary craft requires the literary or artistic imagination. This involves not only thought but the special unity of thought and feeling; content and form; subject and style; and so on.
To create significant works, the proletarian creative writer has the advantage of grasping the typical from diffuse social reality through investigation and analysis. But he has the burden, as all creative writers of whatever standpoint have to give concrete and sensuous life to the typical or conceptual in an imaginative way.
The basic stuff of the creative writer is the word as it is denotative and connotative. The literary forms and devices enhance both thought and feeling, and yet restrain them to make for precision, subtlety and beauty. There is a sense of spontaneity in all literary forms but there is also a sense of discipline required by the theme and its development.
The literary essay is the most explicit in the handling of thought through points and counterpoints even as a great deal of feeling is carried by concrete observations. The sensuousness of human experience and also subtlety increase in prose fiction and the drama because of the interplay and conflicts of characters as well as within characters. There is the tension of more feeling and thought put into words in poetry although the long poem is more explicit in thought than the short poem.
Creative writing is a highly subjective activity, combining thought and feeling. It is among the finest and highest product of human consciousness. It is an important component of the cultural sphere which is above but not detached from the economic and political spheres. And culture both reflects and interacts with both economics and politics.
Proletarian creative writing reflects best at this point in history the social conditions, struggles and aspirations of the people, especially the toiling masses of workers and peasants. At the same time, it inspires and helps clarify the revolutionary course of the people. It puts forward heroes and noble ideas from the common people and revolutionaries who are either underrated, ignored or opposed by nonproletarian creative writers.
In the Philippines today, bourgeois creative writing has two major categories of writers: the revolutionary liberal and the pro-imperialist liberal. Proletarian creative writers appreciate the critical realism and the scientific and democratic tendencies of revolutionary liberal works. But, of course, both proletarian and revolutionary liberal creative writers oppose the utterly reactionary content of pro-imperialist liberal works, even if the style is distinguishably excellent.
The propaganda of "art for art's sake" is nothing but a minor excrescence of bourgeois subjectivism and pro-imperialist liberalism, no matter how hard it claims to be detached from any class, engages in psychological self-titillation, retails anecdotes of political ignorance and cynicism or makes abrupt mystical flights from the level of instinct and ego. The slogan "art for art's sake" and the works that come under it are manifestations of the self-indulgence of some unremoulded petty bourgeois writers.
The possibility of creative writing from a proletarian revolutionary viewpoint started in 1930, when Marxism started to take roots in the Philippines. With varying degrees of success, some proletarian literary works were written in the thirties and early forties. But from the later fifties onwards, in a crescendo conspicuously seen in the seventies and now in the eighties, such works have made a resurgence. These include the works of the late Amado V. Hernandez and many of the young creative writers today.
Proletarian creative writing inherits the people's collective spirit in folk literature; the critical realism in Balagtas' allegorical romance, Florante at Laura; the criticism of social structure and manners and the anti-colonial and democratic thrust of Rizal's Noli and Fili and his essays; the patriotic spirit in anti-American plays during the early years of U. S. colonial rule; and also the critical realism and democratic spirit in short stories, novels and poems in all the decades that have passed the twentieth century.
As the people's revolutionary movement grows and advances, proletarian creative writers are bound to increase their literary output in all forms and raise its aesthetic quality from one level to another. Their standpoint, themes, heroes, plots and direction evoke the acute interest of the largest possible readership and audience -- the working people.
The use of the national language plays a decisive role in stimulating both proletarian literary activity and the interest of the masses in proletarian literary works; and in isolating the diehard pro-imperialist liberal and other reactionary creative writers who wish to perpetuate their literary theory and tastes derived from reactionary bourgeois books in English as a result of U. S. cultural domination.
The total victory of the national democratic revolution will guarantee the predominance of a national, scientific and mass culture and the most favorable conditions for the further growth of proletarian creative writing.
Jose Ma. Sison