La Furia Umana
  • I’m not like evereybody else
    The Kinks
  • E che, sono forse al mondo per realizzare delle idee?
    Max Stirner
  • (No ideas but in things)
    W.C. Williams
JOEL DAVID / Postcolonial Conundrum: Third-World Film in Perverse Perspective

JOEL DAVID / Postcolonial Conundrum: Third-World Film in Perverse Perspective

Common sense alone would lead us to expect that progressive policies would have undergone some seachange on their way [from the United States] to the archipelago…. Yes, Americans experimented in the Philippines. No, the colony was not a “laboratory of democracy”; it was, rather, a laboratory for the testing of essentially conservative formulas. (May xix)

The emergence of Philippine national consciousness can actually be dated to the turn of the 20th century, when a mass-based anti-colonial revolution, the first of its kind in Asia, marked the beginning of the end of the three-centuries-old Spanish occupation. The political boundary that had set apart the Philippine archipelago from the rest of Southeast Asia had proved sanguinary for its colonizing powers, since the westward and southward spread of Eastern (including Islamic) civilization ensured that the populace would not have been as politically consolidated during the 16th century as those who were living further eastward and northward. In selling the colony to the US for $23 million in the Treaty of Paris, the Spaniards agreed to the staging of a mock battle in Manila Bay that would make it appear that it was the Americans who expelled them, rather than the advancing Filipino troops (Constantino 213). The resulting shift in imperialist occupancy promoted a vicious and protracted war (officially declared over after four years by the US but actually waged, supposedly against banditry, for two decades afterward) that foreshadowed the comparatively milder conflicts decades later in Vietnam (241).

More significantly for this essay’s purpose, the Filipino-American War also introduced a number of language systems to a heretofore linguistically divided country: English, Constitutionally mandated as the sole medium of education and as a national language alongside Spanish and Tagalog, the collaborating region’s tongue; and the cinema, introduced during the start of the revolution against Spain and eventually landing the country in the 1984 Guinness Book of World Records edition as the world’s most enthusiastic movie-going nation. A third system of ideas which may be considered a second-order language system in this context would be psychoanalysis, which was progressively gaining headway in Europe and the US even while it was still being further developed by its propounder, Sigmund Freud, well into the 1930s. The manner in which psychoanalysis differs from, say, a Euro-American language (English, in this instance) and art form (cinema) lies not only in the fact that it draws from and contributes to these two systems, but also in the political reality of its cultural specificity.

Hence, while it may be successfully argued that Philippine sentiments have been expressed in texts that were English and/or filmic in origin, the notion of Filipinos conducting themselves according to psychoanalytic principles can only be effectively applied to the most highly Westernized members of the local intelligentsia, as well as to Westerners regarding the country’s citizens from an insistently and unapologetically foreign perspective. The fact that the country has been culturally the most Americanized in Asia further complicates this assertion, in that a counter-argument could be formulated, to the effect that most of the political and social structures still in existence in the Philippines were drawn from the model of the so-called US democratic form of government, and are thereby inevitably inflected with the philosophies that have lent themselves to Western ideological practice – those based on psychoanalysis included; furthermore, whether or not significant to the preceding discussion, psychoanalytic concepts are themselves introduced to Filipino students, starting at the secondary-education level.

This essay takes the strictly provisional (and obviously pragmatic) view that a psychoanalytic analysis of a Philippine cultural text draws only to a limited extent from the possibility that any adequately schooled Filipino would have been exposed to psychoanalytic ideas and critical practice. More important, whatever general conclusions this study can draw could only be confidently declared as reflecting not so much on the Filipino subject(s) concerned as on the originator of psychoanalytic discourse – i.e., the Western (post-)colonizing subject. My position as a Philippine national utilizing psychoanalysis for the purpose of “reflecting” on Western subjects could itself be subjected to the kind of totalizing deconstruction that would render this very exercise inutile for progressive institutional purposes. What this essay proceeds from, therefore, is a highwire crossing of the expected traversal toward expedient insight without falling into the traps of undue betrayal of the subject on the one hand and abandonment of theoretical exploitation on the other.

Disorder and Sorrow

Psychoanalysis originally served the then-radical function of overturning the body-over-mind hierarchy that typified premodern scientific precepts, with Freud drawing inspiration and intuition from the then similarly radical challenges of Darwinism (Gay 24 passim). Anti-colonial writers sought to appropriate psychoanalytic principles by foregrounding the pathologization of racist attitudes in their critiques of the colonial project. Frantz Fanon proposed the category of cultural racism, a form of practice which, unlike racism for the most part, relied on rational and individualized applications (32), but nevertheless resulted in a combination of exoticization and exploitation on the part of the colonizer (35) and alienation (or “deracialization”) on the part of the colonized (38). For his part, Octave Mannoni drew from the Jungian mechanism of projection, where the colonizing subject’s errors of perception are attributed to the object of colonization (198); he also modified the Oedipus complex in what he called the Prospero complex, which enabled him to create affinities between more than just two participants, as per his schematization of the dramatis personae in Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Prospero, the paternalist colonial; Miranda, his daughter threatened by rape at the hands of an inferior being; Caliban, the disgruntled and demonized Other; Ariel, the favored Other who is led on with the promise of prosperity and eventual liberty; and Gonzalo, an old dotard treated with hypocritical respect by Prospero (105-09).

Although Fanon engaged in an open denunciation of Mannoni, both can be seen as proceeding from the same premise of the racist nature of colonialism (McCulloch 215), thus opening up the possibility, problematized earlier, for the colonized Other to read the Western colonizer without being read in turn in the same way. A weakness of this approach, however, would be the nature of the intersection between radical psychology and class struggle (210) – a point, to be taken up more fully later, that will yield more fruitful results in the discussion of gender and sexuality. A more basic difficulty lies in the very supposition common to both writers – expressed outright by Fanon in his assertion that “a colonial country is a racist country” (40) and thereby equating racism with normality in racist cultures – vis-à-vis the evidence of how non-colonizing or formerly colonized cultures have since exhibited problems arising from racism practiced against minority groups in the countries in question. More important would be the same insight for which Fanon took Mannoni to task in the latter’s consequential diversion of liberationist efforts toward the psychological and away from the economic: not only would this binary be difficult to maintain, but Mannoni’s observation – that the colonizer may be so caught up in the trappings of power that it is the pleasure of colonial practice, rather than its profitability,[1] that provides him with the motive for persisting in his role (203) – opens up an entirely new possibility which neither writer opted to pursue.

The said possibility derives from the writers’ stigmatization of racism as an ultimately irrational activity, with Mannoni, risking a rationalization of the colonialist imperative, admitting that, true to Freudian form, the colonizer’s yielding to such stirrings of what may be called the cultural id provides its subject with some measure of gratification. A rejection of the prerogative of using a racially inflected resistance to colonialism, however, would deprive the colonized subject of the same pleasure that had effectively driven the colonizer in the first place. It may be too facetious at this point to marshal the evidence of how anti-colonial movements have not met with the same degree of success and profitability that colonizing efforts had by explaining that the counter-racist option may have been too readily discarded on the basis of the twin reasons of its being irrational as well as associable with the colonizing oppressor; a better way of phrasing the argument would be to state that anti-racism is a sentiment that is now officially shared by every Euro-American nation that had once indulged in colonial aggression, and therefore every anti-colonial movement that refuses to racialize the enemy might find itself in agreement on this score with a former colonizing power or two. In a postmodern situation where certain ex-colonies are actually in a neocolonial state of economic dependence even as they enjoy, politically and culturally, a postcolonial status (of which the US and its ex-/neo-/post-colony, the Philippines, remains an outstanding example), any form of resistance, whether by enemies of the postcolonial government or by the postcolonial government itself, meets at best with some amount of liberal tolerance on the part of the colonizing center, but only up to the point where the rationality of the dependency relationship begins to be challenged.

The means by which psychoanalysis and the cinema fell in with the advance of modernism assumed a different register in the non-Western colonialized world. As in many a Third-World country, the anti-colonial resistance in the Philippines configured the republican seat of power as no better than a puppet regime and appraised modernization as the means by which the US aspired to consolidate its neocolonialist stranglehold on the country. Modernism therefore impacted on the Philippines to a heretofore exceptional degree during the US-sanctioned (and possibly US-engineered) martial-law dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos, when opposition activities could be legally suppressed and US intervention became a more open practice. The scenario helps explain the simultaneous occurrence of certain phenomena that may at first seem to be historical aberrations in themselves: an artificial period of further economic growth fueled by the excessive infusion of foreign loans followed by an abnormal decline that distinguished the country as the most highly developed in the region before and during the early years of martial rule and the least developed afterward; and the flowering of Western art forms, especially industrial-based culture, the cinema foremost among them.

Film and Politics

Thus the irony of two “Golden Ages” in Philippine cinema occurring during periods when anti-insurgent stability was enforced: the first during the 1950s, when the US refined its psy-war tactics for subsequent application in Vietnam in its suppression of the Communist peasant-based movement, which had returned to the policy of armed struggle after the US reneged on its promise of remuneration after the Communist movement’s successful participation in anti-Japanese guerrilla warfare during World War II; and the second, as already expounded, during martial law. Central to a consideration of this essay’s psychoanalytic project would be a 1979 product that in many ways has become the most celebrated film event in the Philippines: personally selected for competition in the Berlin Film Festival by festival director Moritz De Hadeln, it was preempted from doing so by a year-long ban imposed by the military censors; upon its release in 1980, its original title, Manila by Night, was changed to City After Dark, and its permit consisted of a multiple-page single-space listing of visual cuts and aural deletions that mostly specified sex scenes, cusswords, references to political issues and figures, and all mention of the word “Manila” (Office of the President 19937-38). The mangled release won the critics’ best-film prize, and the integral version was subsequently premiered under the censorship-exempt Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, a Marcos-era agency that found itself in the paradoxical position of proving the regime’s libertarian position in the wake of the international outcry following the assassination of oppositionist leader Benigno S. Aquino, Jr.; it has since consistently topped local best-film surveys (Davíd 135) and was cited as one of four Filipino films in the Sight and Sound historical survey of world cinema (December 1994 supplement).

Formally, Manila by Night is a multiple-person narrative consisting of major characters separately tallied at nine by the critics’ group in its quarterly citations and at thirteen in the published screenplay’s “Cast In Order of Appearance” (Bernal, “Manila by Night” 23). The movie takes after the format of a number of European and later American films,[2] most notably Robert Altman’s Nashville – a source that Ishmael Bernal, the filmmaker, had acknowledged. Robin Wood critiques the format as aiming “to reach and satisfy as wide a youth audience as possible” (216) and associates Nashville’s “multi-plot, multi-character structure” with the disaster movies popular during the same decade (29). Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner, on the other hand, draw a distinction between disaster films and what they termed group films (including in their definition Nashville and Secaucus Seven but not Big Chill), which, apart from having several characters, would prescriptively display such other traits as open-endedness, distantiation, generic playfulness, and attempts at demythologization (269-82); their valorization, however, reaches its limit in their clarification that “the criterion for judging such matters should be pragmatic, one that measures the progressive character of a text according to how well it accomplishes its task in specific contexts of reception” (268).

An effective way of commencing an appreciation of the multiple-character format would be the splintering by Mannoni of the basic two-agent system that constitutes the Oedipus complex. Two difficulties that may be raised against the Prospero complex, however, would center on the ultimate collapse of the multiple-player situation onto the centrality of Prospero himself as sole phallus-wielder, as well as the historical record of its inutility in colonial and postcolonial discourse; if, that is, Mannoni had intended his analysis to expose the workings of the colonizing subject’s psyche, then it may be pertinent to raise the issue of how far the other participants in colonialist struggles, whether colonized or colonizer, have seen fit to adopt his diagnosis, the way that Freud’s Oedipus complex has been treated by the very cultures that it was purportedly critiquing.

It may be more practicable then to effect a return not so much to the Oedipus complex as to the other psychoanalytic concepts that derive from it. Primary among these would be Freud’s exposition of group psychology, utilized in the West for primarily therapeutic purposes and thereby understood as referring to small and deliberately formed assemblies. The interesting aspect, for purposes of this discussion, of Freud’s analysis of group psychology is that it delineates a state of affairs that is not only social in nature, but that also calls for political measures – i.e., the condition of a leader imposing restrictions on a group in order to ensure a relation of subordination toward himself, and who aims to legitimize his undue measure of influence ideally through “the illusion that the leader loves all of the individuals equally and justly” (56). The use of the primal father and the horde as originary models indicates that group therapy, much less small groupings, need not be one of the Freud essay’s main discursive priorities; in fact, Homi Bhabha has drawn from Freud’s description of the melancholia that ensues from the excessive criticism by the ego ideal of the ego for the latter’s awareness of its own inferiority (64) as equivalent to the “‘projective disincorporation’ by the marginal of the Master” as an early step in colonial disengagement (Bhabha 65).

What this essay would like to develop, however, is Freud’s qualification of the oppressed group member’s (or Other’s) circumstance as actually oscillating between melancholia and another condition – that of mania, wherein “the ego and the ego ideal have fused together, so that the person, in a mood of triumph and self-satisfaction, disturbed by no self-criticism, can enjoy the abolition of his inhibitions, his feelings of consideration for others, and his self-reproaches” (64). A politically inflected analysis that expresses interest in the seemingly less enabling aspect of the Other’s psychological constitution will have to see where Freud had been able to develop his concerns herein earlier; the one area that suggests itself, in line at least with the objective of elucidating the film-text at hand, would be that of perversion, definable in this instance as mania manifested in terms of acts of sexual transgressions.[3] In the Philippines, the injunction to observe the reproductive imperative in sexual conduct finds itself suspended between two options that have both been coopted by foreign forces: that of population control, promoted by the US and the World Bank through the Philippine government, and that of anti-contraception, advocated by the Catholic Church through its hierarchy in the Philippines. The institutional motives can be thus reduced to the following formulation: the economic colonizing power desires a lesser colonized population in order to lessen the impact of destitution attendant to the expropriation of wealth from the colonized country; the cultural (in this case, religious) colonizer, on the other hand, realizes a paradoxical alliance with the anti-colonial (and anti-religious) radical in their common call for reproductive sexuality, but with opposing visions in mind – the former that of institutional stability through an increase in the faithful, the latter that of instability and subsequent discontent.

The Censorship Function

If we grant, as is consistent with the practice, that population control measures not only do not aim to destabilize the principle of reproductive sexuality but actually promote it by overvaluing the act of reproduction, then what such complex signals induce in the colonized subject would be a sense of alienation from the reproductive imperative arising from the inability of any available institution to ensure a choice that would psychically benefit the said subject more than it would either of the opposing foreign forces. Cornelius Castoriadis describes in this wise, pace Freud, the “impossibility” of psychoanalysis and pedagogy “in creating autonomy for their subjects by using an autonomy which does not yet exist” (Castoriadis 6) being resolved in turn by the similarly “‘impossible’ task of politics – all the more impossible since it must also lean on a not yet existing autonomy in order to bring its own type of autonomy into being” (7). In designating politics as the activity which aims to institute an autonomous society – i.e., “one which not only knows explicitly that it has created its own laws, but has instituted itself so as to free its radical imaginary and enable itself to alter its institutions through a collective, self-reflexive, and deliberate activity” (7) – Castoriadis upholds Freud’s postscriptural remarks (Freud 67-68) in his declaration that the goal of the autonomous society would be the creation of autonomous individuals (Castoriadis 7), though without taking into account Freud’s discussion of the role of myth (Freud 68-69) and its definitionally utopic resonances.

The manner, therefore, by which Manila by Night alarmed the martial-law censors may have been expressed in terms of an anxiety regarding how Filipinos may be apprehended in heterocentrist and dimorphic Western culture – a position that was later implicitly modified, in allowing the uncensored version limited exhibition at a government venue, to that of how such immoral characters were merely ruptures in an otherwise intact body politic.[4] A different way of explicating the movie’s delineation of polymorphous perversities would be to submit that such a state had been induced by colonial excess; this would however lead back to Bhabha’s contention that melancholia, rather than mania, is the route to anti-colonial awakening, as well as bring up the too-apparent difficulty of finding such an awareness in any of the movie’s characters in the first place. The quandary in this case stems from affixing correspondences between political entities and Freudian psychical elements: the colonial subject (equivalent to the fictional characters of Manila by Night) as the id, the critical spectator (including the filmmaker) as the ego, and the cultural censor as the ego ideal, necessarily conflated with the colonizing subject – which in turn would also conflate into itself the politico-economic power (the US) and the religious power (the Church). More productive insights may be yielded if the censor were seen as assuming the function of the ego in relation to the colonizer, and thus be seen as caught between on the one hand providing Freud’s “illusion of love” for its subjects and demonstrating its worth to its leaders (in terms of Catholic morality), and on the other hand asserting its supremacy over its subjects and proving its benevolence and consequently its approbation among its subjects to its leaders (in terms of American populism).

This more complex operation of the censorship function allows us to approach the text as more than just an instance of condensation and/or displacement, or rather as dreams that have been converted into symbolic images as a result of repression. Where the critical ego can be made to understand that the ego ideal might be repressive because it is being repressed in turn, the political project, as defined earlier by Castoriadis, focuses on autonomizing the colonized society in the instance of Manila by Night, not by reading the film-text as a fiction, but by simply reading it and letting the question of its validity bother not the colonized subject but the colonizing reader. The process would involve the recognition by the colonizer of himself in the Other that would lead to the colonizer’s attempt at the destruction of the Other in fantasy (Benjamin 36-39), but only, it is implied, in a fantasy that the colonizer can control.

In combining the Western normative standards of dimorphism and heterocentrism in terms of quantified object relations, the category of unisexuality, as opposed to bisexuality, shapes up as the logical limit: if not heterosexuality, that is, then better homosexuality rather than bisexuality. The masculinist gendering of this line of thinking extends the hierarchization even further by overturning it at one point, thus: for women, if not heterosexuality, then better bisexuality, where reproduction can still be chanced, rather than lesbianism. The resultant descending categories of straight male, straight female, homosexual male, bisexual female, bisexual male, and lesbian may occasionally undergo shifts among the inner terms, but social evidence generally points to the primacy accorded the straight male and the subnormality accorded the gay female.[5] The necessarily binaristic relation between any two categories constitutes a throwback to the Oedipal scenario, with subsequent attempts (including Mannoni’s) aimed at decentering the as it were two-party system. Ronald Britton proposes parental sexuality as the means by which (unlike in Mannoni) the father would not remain supreme; this results in what he called the Oedipal illusion, where the reality of the child’s wish to re-enter the mother through her genital passage being obstructed by the father, is occluded by a phantasy of Oedipus, now enthroned, ignoring the fact that his queen is both his wife and his mother (93). Consequently, “curiosity is felt to spell disaster…. The discovery of the Oedipal triangle is felt to be the death of the couple [and therefore] the arrival of the notion of a third always murders the dyadic relationship” (94). The impasse in this formulation is twofold in nature: first is the elision of the crucial stage in the Oedipal narrative – the slaying of the father – and second, again in terms of this essay’s interests, is the persistence of a two-party system in either instance of Oedipus in relation to his father or of him in relation to his mother. The value of Britton’s formulation, however, is that it introduces the possibility of a single actant actually playing out more than one role, and in doing so upsetting the order maintained illusionistically.

The valuation of the straight male in Manila by Night can be seen to undergo this trajectory, but whether the (fictional) subject himself arrives at this realization may be questionable, and much less would be the concern herein. A casual glance at two available contemporary sources of Westerners gazing at Filipino sexuality helps illustrate how working within an alien framework of analysis affects the perception of the object itself. The first, an empirical study of comparative homosexualities in a number of national contexts including the US, lumps together the Philippines along with a number of other Third-World countries, presumably on the basis of their common experience of Hispanic colonization, as its way of explaining the fluidity of Philippine male sexuality (Whitam and Mathy 153-56). Although the study favorably compares the option of machismo, which justifies homosexual relations within the binary of masculine dominance and feminine submission, to that of American heterosexuality, the authors also acknowledge, though without supplying the necessary empirical contrivances, that the Philippines is unique in representing the erotic tradition “of Southeast Asia, the most tolerant area of the world with respect to variant sexuality” (144-45). The other text, a tourism guide to gay Philippine life, avoids the pitfall of seeking explanations by way of analogous Western, specifically Latinate, tradition, but nevertheless resorts to basic still-Western categorizations in describing Filipino men thus: “‘Straight’ is gay and gay is gayer” – this as a chapter subtitle, immediately followed by the observation that “Filipino sexuality has many hard to explain [sic] aspects” (Itiel 10). More knowingly, the guide differentiates between Philippine male sexuality and machismo by asserting that “Being ‘straight’ in the Philippines doesn’t dictate one’s sexual role play” (11).

The reason why the latter text arguably falls back on an even more basic and naturalized Western framework draws from its insistence on defining gay-available straight men as not straight, and therefore merely “straight.” While it may be imperative to look further into a perversion of what is already “perverse” to begin with, it would also be helpful to see what the implications of such an insistence on Westernized categorizations lead to. Granting the feminization of the Other already imposed by Orientalism, the fact that such potentially gay men can still be called “straight,” even within quotation marks, implies, if these men were Western, the condition of bisexuality, as valorized by Freud himself. But again, since these men are not men enough by virtue of their Otherness, then as non-men (and therefore, still within the existing binary, as women), their capacity for straightness would mark them as lesbians.

Lesbian Logics

The potential for radical applications of this insight can be appreciated via a recollection of the historical teleology from gay through queer to lesbian as narrated from within the ranks of lesbian activism itself. As the first visible participant in sexual activism, the (necessarily masculinized) gay person found himself dichotomized, in then-emergent public and legal debate, into either a responsible citizen (and therefore monogamous or, at best, celibate) or a dangerous solicitor; the queer response was to uphold the latter category rather than allow gays to be accepted at the expense of the very sexuality that always-already defined them in the first place (Smith 206). The lesbian predicament was that, in the privileging of the male homosexual even after the shift in discursive strategies, the homosexual woman remained equated with the responsible-citizen codification via the sexist configuration of women as sexually passive and therefore harmless, as reflected in the invisibility of lesbianism in sodomy laws (207). In her bid to secure socially discursive visibility, the lesbian saw her options as falling within the “harmless” rather than the “dangerous” sphere of comprehension: sexualized, she was regarded as a poor substitute for the heterosexual man; desexualized, she was depicted as seeking either to mother or to be mothered (Richardson 191-93).

Such a no-win situation extended to lesbians’ bid for visibility, in their call to use slogans that assert that dykes “Solicit and Fuck Too” (Smith 210), a representational bid that has carried over to the use of active-passive interplay and even sado-masochism in lesbian pornography (Richardson 197). But just as lesbians had seen their sexuality appropriated by feminists in the clamor for “political lesbianism” where the options for dominance and submission were rejected (195), the quest for queer-inflected visibility presents the same danger of legal repression faced by gay males (Smith 210), while the promotion of lesbian sexuality in pornography stands in danger of either straight-male acceptance or, in its more extreme phase, alienation from even lesbian subjects themselves (Richardson 198). Tamsin Wilton, in quoting B. Ruby Rich, echoes the perception that “while gay men may unearth gay material, lesbians must conjure it, invent it” (7) – a complaint that in fact can be turned around and converted into a strong point.

Recent discourses that appear to be most applicable to the lesbian predicament as recounted herein reconsider the condition of invisibility (notably in Phelan) – not as a form of edenic nostalgia, but as a further means of distinguishing subjects formerly oppressed by their concealment from public awareness and acceptance. Judith Butler, in writing of the Foucauldian regimes (primarily that of heterosexuality) of discourse/power that regulate the materialization of sexual norms (15), stresses that

it will be important to think about how and to what end bodies are constructed as it will be to think about how and to what end bodies are not constructed and, further, to ask after how bodies which fail to materialize provide the necessary “outside,” if not the necessary support, for the bodies which, in materializing the norm, qualify as bodies that matter. (16)

In this essay’s admitted valorizing of Manila by Night as a multiple-character Third-World text, one can readily draw correspondences between two items mentioned. On the one hand would be Butler’s paradoxical configuration of bodies that “fail to materialize” serving material functions by way of helping define the bodies that are granted material privilege, in both physical and pecuniary senses. On the other hand would be the cultural text’s capacity to leave historical traces and generate ideological shifts in its wake without necessarily allowing itself to be the same body that it had been for prior and current experiencers. Even more uncanny, although this would be a point too ambitious and open-ended for this essay to pursue, would be the manner in which these latter-day discourses on gender and sexuality conjure up the Philippines’s still-enduring anti-colonial response – that of guerrilla warfare. It were as if the eventual articulation of what may have been at this point the most successfully suppressed First-World gender-cum-sexuality wound up sounding not much different from the long-complaining Third-World voice, with both realizing upon their asynchronous awakening the need for small-scale struggles of attrition premised on the readiness for covert operations and aimed at maximizing popular sentiment for the movement and against unconscionable oppressors.[6]

In taking up arms against the phallic system, some debate has predictably been directed at the signifier of desire itself; among the notable alternative propositions to the immutability of the phallus are the anus in Guy Hocquenghem’s advocacy of homosexual desire (97-100), Butler’s postulation of the lesbian phallus (57 passim), and, in postcolonial terms, the adjunction of the body through the hand to include the writer’s pen (Mishra and Hodge 283). Teresa de Lauretis, however, argues that the mediating term in perverse desire should be not the phallus but rather the fetish, since the instinctual investment it represents resides “not in the mother (negative Oedipus) or in the father/father’s child (positive Oedipus), but in the female body itself, ultimately in the subject’s own body-image and body-ego, whose loss or lack it serves to disavow” (289). The negotiation in psychoanalysis toward an order that could be termed postpatriarchal might assume certain features of postcoloniality in that the persistence of oppressive structures is not denied even as the subject’s agential potentials are being critically explored beyond the “exorbitation of discourse” that writers like Bhabha are discommended for (Parry 43). The condition of what can similarly be termed postphallicism may be derived from De Lauretis’s decentering of the phallus – i.e., a multiplicity of alternatives in relations of contention and complementariness, rather than a singular attribute subsuming all others, can be put to work.

As a multiple-character sample situated within this ongoing inspection of its levels of consciousnesses, Manila by Night also functions beyond merely fragmenting traditional notions of character. The resultant reliance on types facilitates the move away from concepts of property and money economy associated with modernist capitalism and toward the Western reader’s postmodernist realities of corporate individualities (Suvin 688). More important, the constant shifting of identification from one subject to another without any singular subject predominating enables the configuration of a social formation – an abstract super-character that is literally socially constructed. If one were to unreservedly drive this argument to a state that could be pronounced progressive, one could advance this milieu character as a figure to be set against the father, thus ensuring its being both distinctively non-patriarchal and protective toward its subjects in a manner that partakes of both feminist-motherly nurture and lesbian-perverse alterability attributable to the fictional nature of the text; i.e., in a worst-case scenario where the possibility of critical annihilation appears inevitable, the entire super-entity along with its comprisable subjects could simply dissolve in its presentational mode and constitute the equivalent of a dream that can always threaten to recur. If on the other hand the preceding statement were to be regarded as too visionary to lend itself to questions of institutional change, one can still safely enlist the horde of leaderless subjects whose adaptability applies not just to their agglomeration but to their individual sexualities: developmentally regressive, carnally productive without being reproductive, disclosing without the solicitation of sympathy, they foster the Othering of the powerful by revealing what patriarchy has denied as consequences of its historical interventions and has largely managed to suppress within its own boundaries. There is more to be feared, after all, in the return of the unrepressed.


       1   Strangely enough, this same attitude has been assumed, in the case of the Philippines at least, by the colonizers themselves – expressed of course in the form of complaints about the unprofitability of the colonial possession (Anderson 305-06). There are two ways of responding to this reductive remark, neither of which should necessarily negate Mannoni’s point altogether. First, the nature of colonial exploitation, particularly in the case of continuing counter-insurgency expenditures, facilitates a whole lot of shadowy transactions which makes it not just possible but even desirable to claim losses in order to justify repressive measures and exude an aura of benevolence in the colonizer’s persistence in the face of the colonized’s hopelessness. Second, the global development of capital does make colonization unprofitable for the state after the initial stages of exploitation, when the country’s natural resources get depleted and/or such blatant exercise of power becomes untenable – in which case representatives of the colonizing power’s private sector (comprising Church officials in the case of Spain and bureaucrat-capitalists in the case of the US in the Philippines) take over and provide the motive for maintaining colonialist relations. In both cases the transition from classical colonialism to, if not national liberation, then neocolonialism, appears to be inevitable.

       2   The 1970s saw a relative proliferation of multiple-character films, with the Encyclopedia of Pop Culture, in its entry on thirtysomething, attributing the phenomenon to the maturation of baby-boomers (thus drawing a lineage from Howdy Doody through Woodstock to John Sayles’s Return of the Secaucus Seven and Lawrence Kasdan’s revisionist The Big Chill – Stern and Stern 519).

       3   Again, the cautionary view that such a category is of necessity always-already culture-specific can range from as wide as cross-species studies, which could facilitate the conclusion that the exclusive sexual orientation in normative North American practice may actually be atypical of primates in particular and mammals in general (Pavelka 22-23), to relatively more localized observations of how reproductive sex, as a sine qua non in such Judaeo-Christian contexts as American culture, leads to a two-sex and two-gender system (Herdt 80)..

       4   The compromise version submitted to the censors in a last-ditch attempt to obtain approval for participation in the Berlinale includes a where-are-they-now sequence that declares how seven of the major characters had transformed themselves into responsible members of Philippine society.

       5   Michel Foucault has speculated that the proprietary function assigned to women by heterosexual men has made it easier for women to engage in bisexuality than for men to do the same, for two reasons: first, men had to prevent women “from having contact with other men, so…more tolerance was exercised with regard to the physical rapport between women”; and second, straight men “felt that if they practiced homosexuality with other men [sic] this would destroy what they think is their image in the eyes of their women” (“Sexual Choice, Sexual Act” 299). This line of logic can be seen as an interiorizing of the functional moralism I used to draw up the hierarchy of what may be termed preferable preferences.

       6   An early ’90s “Vision Statement” released by the “National Democratic Front in the US” included a section on “Gender Justice and Equality” that denounced “discrimination based on sexual orientation and the separation between public and private, between the personal and the political” (42). Elided, perhaps necessarily, was the question of how Marxist principles could allow the masculinized and heterosexualized class-based struggle for national democracy to make way for the interests of, say, straight women, gay men, and lesbians, especially if certain of these groups’ constituencies do not happen to fall under the category of economically oppressed groups. Just as problematic would be the incongruity of what the statement maintained as the NDF-US’s “struggles in the US [as] part of the national democratic revolution in the Philippines which, in turn, is part of the international struggle against imperialism, neocolonialism, and other forms of domination” (42), even as it clarified that, among other historical instances, “this struggle for freedom, equality, and solidarity…is an anti-imperialist struggle against the US and other foreign entities…” (39).

Joel David

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