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Remittance Fiction: Human Labor Export, Realism, and the Filipino Novel in English


“Remittance Fiction: Human Labor Export, Realism, and the Filipino Novel in English,” argues that anglophone writers became part of the worldwide dispersion of Filipinos through international educational exchange systems, and that their overseas literary production helped to reproduce the figure of the “overseas Filipino” as a subject and object of national development. Combining world-systems analysis with a rhetorically-oriented analysis of literary style, the dissertation pursues a double investigation. First, it constructs a genealogy of realism in the Philippine anglophone novel rooted in the twentieth-century evolution of the Philippines from an agricultural economy to a financialized economy built on labor export and migrant remittances. Second, it examines the conditions of this economic transformation through a formalist analysis of literary texts I call “remittance fiction,” that is, works produced out of the writer’s overseas experience and valorized at home as national literature.

Each chapter seeks to establish the dialectic between realism, nationalism, and the remaking of the Filipino by the state as “human capital,” by focusing on the literary remittances of Juan C. Laya, Edilberto K. Tiempo, N. V. M. Gonzalez, Nick Joaquin, Bienvenido N. Santos, Wilfrido D. Nolledo, and Ninotchka Rosca. Chapter 1 analyzes how Laya’s His Native Soil adapted the bildungsroman to develop a realist prose style capable of capturing the contradictory requirements of US-directed free trade under the commonwealth transition to independence. Chapter 2—through an analysis of Tiempo’s literary criticism, Joaquin’s The Woman Who Had Two Navels, and Gonzalez’s A Season of Grace and The Bamboo Dancers—examines the importation of New Criticism into the Philippines in the context of postwar import-substituting industrialization, a process enabled by the expatriate writer’s overseas training in creative writing through programs such as Paul Engle’s Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Wallace Stegner’s Stanford Creative Writing Program. Chapter 3 historicizes the increasing dominance of the historical novel after 1965 by situating Santos’s Villa Magdalena, Nolledo’s But for the Lovers, and Rosca’s State of War in relation to the decline of import-substitution and the rise of the new remittance economy under Ferdinand E. Marcos’s labor export program. Articulating the relations between literary and economic histories, the dissertation tells the story of how Filipino English writers imagined their relation to the nation, how the state itself envisioned them as nation-builders and transnational mediators, and how international cultural organizations provided the transpacific institutional matrix within which remittance fictions were produced and integrated into economic and literary world-systems defined by combined and uneven development.

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