On Filipino Philosophy and Gilles Deleuze

(The following is an excerpt of a longer article entitled “Re-reading Filipino Philosophy with Gilles Deleuze.”)

If Filipino philosophy means articulation of native thought, doubtless we say that Filipino philosophy has existed long ago. What renders this proposition problematic however is the inherent ambivalence in the notion of the “native” itself.  At the turn of the 19th century, as the world was undergoing massive geopolitical shift and the Philippines’ was embroiled in its own struggle for sovereignty, one person attempted to define his own concept of the native. He was Jose Rizal.  In order to undertake his project of recuperating the meaning of the native,  Rizal turned to the Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas.  de Morga was a Spanish lawyer and was the lieutenat governor in the Philippines from 1595-1603. What he had to say, Rizal thought,  deserved his readers’ serious attention since he “governed the destinies of the Philippines in the beginning of her new era and witnessed the last moments of our ancient nationality. In his introduction to the book, Rizal appealed to his fellow Filipinos’ “consciousness of the past, already effaced from your memory.” The past Rizal was alluding to was the Philippines’ prehistory which he reconstructed from the reportage of de Morga. In Rizal’s fictive and romantic history, the Philippines had an authentic Malayan and Asian past, an established culture and a precolonial nationality.  All these however floundered with the coming of European modernity. Rizal’s de Morga annotation was desribed by the Philippine culture scholar Resil Mojares as a “nationalist counternarrative.”  As he explained: “Rizal’s decision to annotate Morga was not merely dictated by expedience but the discursive formation in which the nationalists operated.  They had to speak to, through, and against the European texts that had – by now they represented the past, present, and future of the country – ‘produced a Philippines that the Filipino nationalists now desired to fashion as their own.” While Rizal’s work was read more as a fictive rather than a historical narrative even during his time, it did however succeed in convincing his contemporaries as well as the reader of the succeeding generations that such pristine, native Filipino culture was possible.  Rizal’s legacy of nationalism would prove to be dominantly influential among scholars across different historical periods and and across a varierty of disciplines.  With the resurgence of nationalism prior to and during the heyday of Martial Law, philosophy too would lean towards the nationalist discourse.  It is within this context that one may read exponents of Filipino philosophy like Emerita Quito, Claro Ceniza, Leonardo Mercado and Florentino Timbreza.  The works they did were an attempt to bring Filipino philosophy closer to the philosophy we knew from the West and the same time highlight what is a typically Filipino native thought.  As noted by Mercado in his apologia: “All movements are based on a philosophy which bullets cannot destroy.  In the growing clamor for Filipino self-identity is implied the need for clarifying what Filipino thought is.  Colonial powers have ruled the Filipinos for the past centuries and in doing so imposed their own ideologies on the people. Intellectual colonialism is like a process of condiitioning; it induces a person to forget his own culture and eventually makes him ape a superior model…In short, the Filipino needs a philosophy to explain and support his identity.”

While laudable in their own rights and for what they intended to achieve, it is difficult to see how Filipino philosophy as conceived by the above-mentioned thinkers would advance given its entanglement with the problematic of identity which as pointed out above was something which Rizal in his annotation of Morga merely posited but left unchallenged.  Rizal thought of identity in metaphysical, essentialist terms.  Identity to him was something pre-given and something which can be lost and regained through a narrative return.  The campaign for Filipino philosophy is an extension of such project. Our local gurus could not be blamed after all for their short sight for the problem was not their handiwork but was merely handed down by a tradition of nationalist narrative steeped in fictive history and romanticism. Rizal himself, for all his genius, would not have subjected what he was writing to a self-critique aware as he was that what he was writing was not a philosophical piece but a work of propaganda meant as a counterpoint to the caricaturist perception of Spain about the Philippines. He would not have been aware that both identity and alterity are products of  hegemony of European modernity. In the words of Hardt and Negri: “Colonialism and racial subordination function as a temporary solution to the crisis of European modernity, not only in economic and political terms, but also in terms of identity and culture. Colonialism constructs figures of alterity and manages their flows in what unfolds as a complex dialectical structure. The negative construction of non-European others is finally what founds and sustains European identity itself.” This is a classic case of eternal return where one sees the predominance of reactive forces over the active forces and the perpetuation of the hegemony of the Same. The more Filipino philosophy persists in its recovery of a lost identity, the deeper it gets stuck in such quandary. In order to find its voice, Filipino philosophy must strive to assert its will to power. This happens when the negation brought about by the initial triumph of the reactives forces is itself negated (the negation of the negation) and the reactive forces themselves are dissipated in the process Nietzsche called “active destruction” – the event when negation is transmuted to affirmation.  It is through this that eternal return can lead the becoming of the active forces which Nietzsche and Deleuze described as the “eternal joy of becoming.” As a first step towards this goal, Filipino philosophy, instead of harping on a lost paradise, should instead harness its own intensity to critique, not retrieve, identity.  This is the same strategy Deleuze himself learned from David Hume. Philosophy for both Hume and Deleuze does not begin from any notion of identity since identity is yet to be constituted.  Here lies the radicalism of the empiricism of Hume. It is an empiricism that speaks of a world that is constantly slipping away from the grasp of the subject who pretends to know itself as well as the given.  Hume’s empiricism overturns this belief since the given is in constant flux; the given is a mere succession of events, of a movement that never follows a single trajectory. The best that the subject can do is to believe and to invent, that is, to engage the unknown. The singular feat of Hume according to Deleuze is precisely in spelling out this problem: the problem of the subject constituting itself in the given when the given itself is not given to subject.  It is in this sense that Hume becomes one of the primary sources of Deleuzean philosophy of difference. In this position, Hume himself is turning the triumvirate of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle upside down and is likewise radicalizing everything the likes of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Marx have to say after him.  In Hume, Deleuze finds an exclamation point for his philosophy of difference and Filipino philosophy itself can find in it a veritable starting point.  Filipino philosophy can turn to but cannot afford to dwell on history if it wishes to affirm itself.  The challenge is to find an expression of newness, an exploration of becoming.  In the words of Deleuze:  “History today still designates only the set of conditions, however recent they may be, from which one turns away in order to become, that is to say, to create something new.”

Rizal originally thought of Filipino identity as a molar reality, as something that defined who we were and whose reclamation is indispensable in establishing a national community. Succeeding scholars pursued the same line of inspiration and as shown in the paper, early exponents of Filipino philosophy infused their workds with the same mindset.  It was a philosophy anchored on nationalism which itself is fed by a memory of an identity, whole and intact, before it was deterritorialized by our European colonizers. As I argued in the paper, there is a need to re-visit Filipino philosophy since the very foundation from which it seeks legitimation is itself under question. Identity, says the Deleuze, is the very reason for the floundering of Western culture, the same damaged culture that we inherited from Europe with its alleged discovery of the Philippines.  To be truly liberating, philosophy, Filipino or otherwise, must extricate itself from the domain of the Same, that is, from the realm of identity.  The real matter for philosophy, in fact, the only matter, is the creation of concepts and according to Deleuze, concepts are created not by the sustaining what is but by provoking what can become.  This is how Filipino philosophy can evoke difference.

Filipino scholars of philosophy can no longer hope to reclaim what has long been deterritorialized.  This is not to say that native speculation has reached a dead end.  The value of the philosophy of difference of Gilles Deleuze as an alternative language for Filipino philosophy lies precisely in its ability to indicate new directions and to inaugurate virgin passage ways that can help Filipino speculation more than just a regional philosophy but a genuine field of immanence where both Filipino and philosophy can become.  To help us accomplish this goal, we are here proposing some Deleuzean concepts and how they may be applied in our pursuit of pushing the boundaries of Filipino philosohy ever wider.

First, identity is a molecular, not a molar, reality.  Following Hume’s insight, Deleuze tells us that subjectivity is not something pregiven; it is in constant flux, an assemblage that is constantly constituted.  From this perspective, we can read Rizal’s much mourned lost Filipino “identity” as a mere moment in a long episode of identity creation which continues until today.  The Filipino is not a figure that once was and would have been forever until deterritorialized.  The Filipino is a bundle of tales, a fusion of forces.  There is no reason to exorcise ourselves of our colonial past in the hope of finding a nationality that is pure and untouched for the Filipino is a field of constant deterrritorializing and reterritorializing influences. To think that we can be Filipinos without the any colonial intervention is to betray the very history of the word “Filipino” itself.  A Filipino speculation on philosophy can qualify as philosophy according to its capacity to create concepts that can elevate our understanding not just our ethnicity but moreso, the possibilities of our relational nature as human subjects. This notion acquires particular urgency especially in this age of massive Filipino diaspora and the postmodern blurring of the traditioal ethnic and cultural boundaries.

Second, Filipino philosophy should direct itself to becoming a minority.  In the past, our native thinkers considered it Filipino when speculation is done in contrast to the Western systems of thought or when the vernacular is used as opposed to the colonial language. Deleuze would hesitate to call this mode of philosophizing different because, as it is, it remains stuck in the negative. Difference, as Deleuze would have it, is not celebration of negation but a festive announcement of affirmation.  Filipino philosophy as a minority philosophy must not step back from a majority language or from a majority system of thought.  What it should do instead is insert itself within them and from inside, discover new way of saying, new mode of thinking well beyond or even against the majority’s very own.  Filipino philosophy can do this not only within philosophy itself but within other disciplines the way Deleuze interpreted the novels of Kafka, the paintings of Francis Bacon or French cinema.

Rizal’s hope was an experience of genuine becoming for every Filipino.  An alternative Filipino philosophy using Deleuze is a corrective to the belief that such hope is lost and such hope is past.  We are a people composed of singularities who continue to create and recreate ourselves from various social, cultural and historical intensities. As a philosophy of difference, Filipino philosophy is a narrative of our constant becoming. The principal task of Filipino philosophy is to resist not only the tendency to define itself according to the framework of ethnicity; it should in fact defy the very tendency towards definition.  The task of philosophy, if we follow Deleuze, is to push the boundaries ever wider, to create spaces that will make possible the creation of new concepts.  To use ethnicity to designate how we think and what we are thinking as Filipinos is to denigrate both philosophy and the Filipino by reducing them into metaphysical categories. It does not mean of course that the question as to what makes Filipinos Filipino should be set aside.  On the contrary, the only way to give justice to this problem is to keep it open.  Filipino philosophy, to become philosophical, must restrain itself from making conceptual prescriptions on questions that border on either philosophy and Filipino. Philosophy and Filipino – they are both singularities; they exceed identity. They can only become.  Read through Deleuze, Filipino philosophy means philosophy becoming Filipino and Filipino becoming philosophy.  What needs articulation is not identity but the creative process of engagement with a variety of forces which affect the singularities they both continuously become.

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