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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Filipino Poethics: Reading the Philippines Beyond the Object/Subject Divide

  • Author(s): de Mata, Fritzie Mae Aquino
  • Advisor(s): Godzich, Wlad
  • et al.

My dissertation posits the necessity of formulating a new way of reading literary texts and other cultural production beyond the frameworks of identity, nationalism, and nation-state. Philippine Studies and Asian American Studies have been traditionally understood through representations of ethnic and national identities. However, approaches to knowledge based on identity limit our understanding of experience because they erase the singularity of each individual’s experiences. For instance, my work demonstrates how the Tagalog translation of Jose Rizal’s Spanish novel, Noli Me Tangere, enables the production of a unified imagining of a Philippine nation and Filipino identity despite the Philippines’ complex array of heterogeneous linguistic and cultural identifications. It also examines the intellectual history of Asian American literary studies and how approaches to it remain trapped in identity and identity representation. More importantly, the Philippines refers to Filipinos both in the archipelago and in the diaspora. Their “writings” escape the typical approach to literary studies because they communicate through balikbayan boxes (mini-containers filled with imported commodities). Consequently, my study on balikbayan boxes and Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters develops a mode of reading that veers away from reading literature as representation, a form of identity representation and mediation. Through the act of reading, I conceptualize literary texts as accounts of individuals’ lived experience, the choices they make and the motivations behind their actions. This mode of reading links different lived experiences without flattening out their specificities. I call this mode of reading poethics and it proposes a different kind of politics that is not about identity, the nation, state, or the nation-state, but something that is in the domain of the possible and calls for a type of action oriented towards justice and not legalism.

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