"The idea that happiness could have a share in beauty would be too much of a good thing." --Walter Benjamin

Thursday, October 14, 2004

in zero coordinates:

Diagnosis of the Unconscious: Mapping the Terrain of Memory in Eric Gamalinda’s Zero Gravity

Diasporic intellectuals are, more often than not, theoretically arrested and held accountable for their locations, or to be more politically blunt about it, their positions and positionality. With the boom of postcolonial criticism in literature at the turn of century, writers, artists and intellectuals from the Third World are being made to discuss the various postcolonial concerns of national consciousness, identity, postcolonial locations and dislocations and the collective memory.

Eric Gamalinda, however, wrote his poetry against the grain. One could easily discern from the poems in the collection “Zero Gravity” that disavowal from or the refusal to be grounded. If one of the most pressing affairs of the exilic intellectuals according to Edward Said, is the need to be located, Gamalinda refused such political “entrapment”.

The collection, of course, has that indelible postcolonial mark of the memory discourse, something which has been inevitably articulated by the expatriates and the exilic. However, the politics of remembering, as proposed by Gamalinda, is placed in its most provisional and temporal space-time continuum: something that “you can always walk away” from (Memory is not a Privilege of the Poor, 21).

As what his poems resound, memory functions as history, and in this retrospect, the most ephemeral and transitory are the most scathingly painful. Here the point of view or the narrator travels the conjectures of moments as short-lived history of absences while discussing that void of the Now-Heres constructed along the lines of momentary ruptures:

In Flash Photography, he distinguishes memory from forgetting, that remembering is never liberating, it is a process of returning one’s due: “and the faculty of sight / dispels the terrifying / realization that we are alone, / that the world forgets. / All told, not absence but memory / takes what it can, / and we pay our debts / by remembering completely” (Gamalinda, 68).

In Factory of Souls, memory is a variable which moves in a shifting void (“all memory shifting like continental plates”), that the “history of love” in this old, old world, is but a mere tally of lost victories, of body counts and casualities. In Gamalinda’s perspective, forgetting is the only thing constant in this world: “I supposed we’ve always compelled / to desensitize our failures. My people say, / to go unnoticed, you play dead. I myself / may have chosen to forget a face, a name, / some cruel word uttered carelessly, but not, / after all harm is done, intending any pain. / And many others may have chosen to forget me” (Gamalinda, 66).

What Gamalinda seems to propose in Zero Gravity, is amnesia, where the narrator’s unconscious narrates experiences of forgetting, as if memory lives in the dreamscape, wherein every image, no matter how arresting and painful, exists only in past’s incoherence.

In There are Many Ways of Remembering, Gamalinda reveals the only option of surviving through the memory, and ironically that is through forgetting. In this poem, there seems to be no solace in contemplating, even if it suffices one’s longing to return from the most primitive beginnings, in the end, amnesia and forgetting takes over: “Cry like there’s no end to longing, / El Chato de la Isla, and you / La Sallago, bury my heart where you find it, / and stamp the earth flat / so no one remembers where I’ve been. / As for me, I am farther / than I’ve ever been / yet closer to the source of my beginning, / the primal nectar / and the astonished cry / of the first birds taking wing.”

In Las Ruinas del Corazon, the narrative where the discourse of memory exists in the story of Juana the Mad. In the poem, Juana the Mad’s way of keeping memory is burying it in oblivion, where memory still exists but in the spaces of absence, essentially erased: “because memory moves in orbits / of absence, because she hold her hands out in the rain, / and rain remembers nothing, not even how it became itself” (Gamalinda, 29).

Finally, in Chosen, the narrator clearly suits himself with amnesia: “I could carve my name, a cross / beneath it, the year I am here, and a hundred years later / someone will discover only the emptiness of the act. / In the same way I lose everyone the moment / I meet them, just like the way trumpet’s sad sonata / is always left unfinished, a suite of interruptions. / Or the way the past loses detail, and forgetting / gets easier in time, and we love our incompleteness, / the certainty of absence, of resonant spaces.”

This rejection of the politics of memory, and essentially a postcolonial discourse of memory as an alternative historiography, can be seen in how Gamalinda constructed the memory and forgetting. The individual can choose amnesia over regret, over the things that could hold him back. If memory is an entrapment, as what Gamalinda articulated in most of his poems, then he would rather forget and walk away. This could account for Gamalinda’s refusal to be tracked down. If memory serves as the seminal context of the poet’s perspective, this collection exists in zero coordinates. The deliberate intractability of the poems can be seen in the very rejection of the politics of memory. It seems that the poet’s panacea for the exilic is to forget, as histories could be rejected and erased all together. The nagging questions of the expatriate “Where are you now? Where are you coming back?” seems to be futile issues as postcolonial identity, as histories and historiographies themselves.

In the end, Gamalinda in Enough, regretfully, would wrap up and reduce such pressing issues into such conclusion: “Forgive my happiness, / I have betrayed you all.”


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