A Load of Those That Can Only Be Named in a Network of Neoliberal Chaos

E-xhibit: Body Pedagogics

The individual as an “individual” is unsettled through explorations of neoliberal dispositions on the “body”. We are not naïve on how the rhetoric of Philippine local advertisements have centered on our fear and insecurities. In America, the advertisements were observed to be more on selling insurances. The language of capitalism does not just stay as informative of the products they shove to our throats but are also significantly contributive to what notions or standards are being accepted in the society. The poor who cannot afford these products are again being ostracized by the majority who live their illusions by keeping the consumerist mentality. We are all being framed to consume even the things we don’t really need to keep our sanity. In return, we get to learn and look for all kinds of diskarte just to keep the things we use to safeguard our class fantasies.

Objectification of humans is one of the mechanisms that keep us from realizing our self-worth. Discovering and developing self-worth without consumption is bad for business.

F*****g Exhibit: “Adan at Eba” Dualism

Queer theory has been one of the responses of neo-Marxist ideologies to combat capitalism. If we deconstruct the dualism of sexuality, we tend to develop meaningful discourses on how to foster individuality without the confines of assigning gender roles. This open-mindedness shall threaten (and hopefully soon destroy) the businesses that capitalize on male-female dichotomy by selling products which are “gender customized”.

The education should foster classroom discourses which do promote gender equality. This requires a re-orientation that should happen to all educational stakeholders. In reality, such pedagogic means which desensitize us to the gender divide can be done through sustainable discursive practices that inform and actively involve students on different issues.

\ɪ’Gzɪbɪt\: Neoliberal Urbanism

We are used to applauding any urban spectacle that either public or private organizations bring to us. While some establishments or infrastructures may indeed help us in different ways, we also owe ourselves not to be blinded by the politics of it all. This prevents us from retaining the rats-in-the-maze status and actually we should take actions that would benefit the humanity in us.

Sino ang people sa People’s Park? Sino ang ka sa “Gusto ko, happy Ka”?

Ex-H-bit: Alternative Certification

Various social organizations promote social inequality. The institutions are capable of perpetuating further class inequalities. Meritocracy is one of the means that push people to embracing competition and unknowingly surrendering themselves in class divides.

Exhbt : Locating the “I”


Marren has presented his researches in international conferences on folklore, educational anthropology, Jacques Derrida’s Signature Event Context, and elitism in culture and art. His fiction can be read in Zinebang Gabi, Oyayi, Katastropiya, Vox Populi, Inquirer, Balintuna, Aksyon, Inkwentro, and Basag; essay in Novice and Valenzuela Network; poetry in Liwayway; and criticism in Gaslight Online and two issues of Kult journal. His fiction can also be read in the forthcoming Tomás volume 3 issue 2 and the 41st edition of Ani. He co-edited Abstract Jupiter and Ang Pulo. His collaborative work “Ortigas Excursions” won Komura; Creators’ grant. He actively engages in Zen and tarot reading, among the various interests he has. You may reach Marren at marren.arana.adan@gmail.com.

2020 – A Movie Review

Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller, Drama, Action, and anything else you can think of.

Synopsis:

The first quarter of 2020 – after a devastating virus outbreak, the Philippines, together with the world, is placed under a state of emergency ordering citizens to stay at home for an undetermined period.

Overwhelmingly unsettling—2020 is one of those rare films you shouldn’t dare re-watch, as it may trigger a paroxysm of rage, frustration, and all other agonizing sentiments in you. 

The movie unfolds with a report on a virus named COVID-19, which originated from Wuhan, China, and has started to spread rapidly in different continents. It has parallel plot threads with that of Contagion. Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), two days after returning home to Minnesota from a Hong Kong business trip, experiences a seizure and dies. Going back home from the hospital, her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), finds out that his stepson, Clark, has died as well. Doctors and researchers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention determined the disease as a pig and bat-borne virus – resembling what we saw on the news earlier on in exotic marketplaces in China.

On the other hand, 2020 sets itself apart from others of the same genre by giving its viewers a visceral experience; like you just came to watch and soon enough, you realize you’ve already been signed up for a role, or more accurately, participation in the overall predicament to which the ending is uncertain.

The tension builds up as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise. To help contain the spread of the virus, life outside is put on hold. Social distancing and other health-related protocols have been imposed to which people have eventually grown accustomed to. I believe this holistically captures the reality of a pandemic scene. While the world is developing a cure for the disease, humanity struggles with life in the new normal.

Another way the movie becomes more complex is when the media’s critical reporting ends up being attacked. When the country’s largest TV network is denied a franchise renewal before the congress, it takes a massive toll on the media landscape. What an untimely moment in the story. Remember the scene where it renders most, if not all, netizens fuming? That is a picture of democracy clamoring for its clamped-down freedom. When news and information are deemed vital more than ever, blindsiding the press is the last thing you’d want to happen.

Social media also plays a crucial role in the bigger picture. People rely on this platform as a potent tool for information dissemination. Ironically, this is also where fake news proliferates rapidly, much like the virus. Fake news created socio-political fissures among citizens. As a viewer, that made it extra difficult for me to determine what to believe.

Let’s talk about the characters. Yes, there are too many characters to watch out for, which adds to the confusion. Which storyline should I follow more?

One major intelligent move that the writer and director did was putting the spotlight on seemingly small roles. This tells the viewers that the disease can take out anyone and that every character’s move can make or break the whole story. And if you’re to ask me who stood out, I would say it’s the frontliners! Imagine saving the nation without the flashy superpowers but only skill and heart to serve—that’s beyond heroism.

And when we thought that the adversities are overwhelming enough, there comes a plot twist in the face of typhoons surprising the characters with another wave of challenges. Though this comes off as a massive blow, this doesn’t necessarily present itself as a long-running mishap as pictures of solidarity and altruism are seen everywhere to help people slowly emerge from the quagmire.

Overall, 2020 is heavily written. It is not just a sensational film about pandemic but a depiction of modern-day reality. It goes beyond characters going through unexpected challenges but largely an illustration of human consequences on a global scale. 2020 uncovers the harshest of truths about the world we live in now and provokes our deepest realizations about life, our purpose, and how we take care of our planet.

Despite it leaving us a trail of unpleasant narratives, I still believe though that the movie still has its saving grace: it is open-ended.

It doesn’t need a part two nor a Brad Pitt to discover the vaccine out of a life-threatening situation. It’s up to its strong-willed viewers to continue directing the flow of the story and interpret it one way or another.


Chum Ocenar lives in Rodriguez, Rizal and works in a consumer finance. His essay, A Second-Hand Dream has been published in Inquirer’s Youngblood. His pandemic poetry collection, Sa Panahon ng Ligalig has also been listed in the National Book Development Board’s Bookwatch 2020

The Educational Encounter in the Digital Sphere

The critical concept of “educational encounter” is an important key to exploring and experimenting with the emancipatory potentials of online education in the context of the neoliberal academic regime. Due to the massive and rushed migration of educational processes to online modes in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, this question has become more urgent than ever. In the pre-pandemic era, the ideology of neoliberalism had already reduced education into a standardized and infinitely replicable commodity. The whole educational process is being forced into a straitjacket of quantifiable outcomes in order to produce a labour force completely compatible with the needs of the global labour market.

The recent elaborations on the concept of “educational encounter” by the Dutch philosopher of education Gert Biesta has provided a way to develop a concrete perspective on the subversion of neoliberal spaces in higher education. According to Biesta (2006), the emancipatory educational practice of the “educational encounter” has three main components: (1) It requires trust between the teacher and the learner because it is risky and unpredictable.; (2) Transcendental violence, because difficult questions are asked, and difficult encounters may arise. The most deeply held beliefs of the participants can suddenly be put in question; (3) Responsibility of the educator who must support the learner in becoming an autonomous, “unique, singular being.” Taking his insights further, we can ask if such “educational encounters” can take place on digitally mediated platforms? And how?

A study by Natalier and Clarke (2015) identified some challenges in the pursuit of a pedagogy of educational encounter in the context of online education in the contemporary neoliberal university. According to them, “The education encounter suggests the value of critically considering the interaction of online education technologies and practices, relationships between educators and students, and institutional administration and management practices.” They found that the university teaching staff they interviewed generally reported the absence of “encounter” online. Many teachers felt a lack of feedback and dearth of engagement from students on online education platforms. They found it hard to discern the subjectivities of their students and fathom their interpretations of teaching materials. In spite of this, most of the faculty interviewed did not view online technology as itself posing insuperable obstacles in pursuing a progressive pedagogical agenda. More than anything else, it was the heavier workload required by online education as compared with face-to-face, which made it difficult for teaching staff to create spaces for educational encounters while simultaneously addressing the institutional and professional demands required of them by the technocratic, metrics-obsessed academic auditing regime. The pressure to conform to “standardized patterns and outcomes of interaction” often won out over their efforts to undertake experiments in the online learning process. In another study, Smith and Jeffrey (2013) found that the opportunities for educational encounter opened up by “teachable moments,” which also fleetingly arise in online modes, are most often missed by the teacher.

These more pragmatic insights into the contemporary online educational situation can be contrasted with those of the technological pessimists who believe that online education is inherently lacking any emancipatory potential. The Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han’s (2013) dystopian perspective on digital communication, while representing a useful corrective to the postmodern celebratory and utopian tendency which early on greeted the introduction of digital communication, is representative of a total technological pessimism which makes online “educational encounters” theoretically impossible. (By implication, Felix Guattari’s notion of “postmedia” is, in its very spirit, diametrically opposed to Han’s formulations.)

Han observes that the “visually poor” digital medium “strips communication of tactility and physicality.” Other researchers have noticed that the main difficulty in online communication is traceable to the way the normal communication process has been deprived of the richness of its non-verbal and contextual dimensions. For Han, the increasing use of digital communication makes direct contact with real people recede into irrelevance until we supposedly end up being enclosed in narcissistic spaces. Another shortcoming of the digital medium which Han latches on to is the fact that eye contact is impossible using the currently available technology. We are always looking past each other. Doubtless, eye contact is one of the most meaningful aspects of the face to face encounter (this is especially true among Germans in fact). As of this writing, several software and /or hardware remedies are currently being devised to address this shortcoming, which may lead to more or less convincing or more or less artificial results. Clearly, this is not an insurmountable limitation. However, Han derives from this merely technical flaw, the conclusion that it “points to a fundamentally missing gaze – that is, to the missing other.” For Han, therefore, “The touchscreen does not look,” and that, digital communication is “becoming more and more bodiless and faceless.” In sum, the face on the screen becomes a pure virtual image. It may be laughing or crying but there is no one behind it. It is nothing but a pure spectacle for the viewer. The “irruption of the other,” so essential for the educational encounter, has become an impossibility. In many respects, this fantastical account of the total realization of the solipsistic neoliberal subject seems implausible on many levels. While it is true that his thesis on digital communication must be situated within Han’s total philosophy of technology, some critical remarks may be brought up at this point.

Recent researchers have been able to explain the fatigue induced by Zoom meetings in terms quite similar to Han’s observations, but have formed rather different conclusions (Cauterucci, 2020; Jiang, 2020; Sander & Bauman, 2020). For example, due to the “visually poor” nature of Zoom communications, it is found that the brain is forced to continually fill in the missing non-verbal cues and round out the lacking contextual information in order to adequately process, piece together, and interpret the available stream of images and sounds. Moreover, the lack of feedback which is especially felt in a virtual meeting consisting of several people, results in a tendency to overcompensation in the communicative performance of each participant, which is, once again, exhausting. These findings do not even take into account circumstances where weak and unreliable connectivity impede or frustrate digital communication. One sees here that the impoverished visuality of digital communication is not just accepted as is by the human cognitive mechanism. The fatigue felt by partipants is due to cognitive compensation as well as communicative overcompensation. The partaking subjects subconsciously refuse to accept the vanishing or receding of the other. The friction and resistance offered by the digital medium and encountered by the participants in communication, rather than cutting off communication, provokes instead an extraordinary effort by humans to come in contact with each other or catch each other’s eye. Han’s argument bypasses the rough materiality of technology and metaphorizes it to the extreme. He cannot accurately describe the human encounter in the digital sphere because he has insufficiently thematized the problem of the human encounter with and response to technology. Naturally, Han’s conclusions, were they taken at face value, would render any genuine “education encounter” impossible.

The German existentialist philosopher Otto Friedrich Bollnow’s (1903-1991) reflections on the concept of “encounter” (“Begegnung” in German) as a pedagogical notion can permit the further development of its implications for online education in the digital era. Bollnow’s first exposition of this was in an essay entitled “Begegnung und Bildung” (Encounter and Education) which was published in 1955. (One must also not neglect to mention that Bollnow, like Heidegger, was a committed Nazi.)

The sense of “Begegnung” in German is not so different from “encounter.” The English word was borrowed from the Old French word “en/contre” means “against” or “counter to.” Similarly, the German verb “begegnen” comes from the root “gegen” which means “against.” Bollnow clarifies that Begegnung is not simply a meeting (or “Treffen”) with someone or something, rather, he stresses that aspect of Begegnung which means collision. The Begegnung of two entities means that that they are both actively in motion upon crashing into each other. Moreover, the encounter, according to Bollnow (as with Biesta), has something of the unplanned, unforeseen, and accidental about it. An encounter reveals the severity or hashness of the external world independent of the subject and may thus be terribly unpleasant or painful. An encounter leaves one “shaken” (erschüttert) to the very core of her being. Someone who has experienced it often hears the words, “You must change your life” (Du mußt dein Leben ändern). Bollnow’s innovation resides in his broadening of the use of the “encounter” beyond that between two persons to the encounter between a person and an object, that is to say, an “encounter” between a student and educational materials or objects, historical, philosophical or literary. Since an educational encounter cannot be planned or orchestrated in advance, the role of the teacher is to prepare or make available to the student, the conditions of possibility for such an encounter. Though he was critical of a certain understanding of Bildung which saw the educational process as an unbroken and even process, Bollnow did not intend to replace the classical German Humboldtian concept of “Bildung” with Begegnung. He wanted to transform and complete the notion of Bildung with Begegnung. Without Bildung, the student would not only not be strong enough to face the shattering experience of the encounter but would also be incapable of recognizing an encounter even if it were underneath his or her very nose.

Bollnow does not say much about the role of the teacher in his essay, but his notion of encounter can be translated into Freirean terms as a triadic “co-intentional” relationship between student and teacher who are both involved as subjects in the unveiling of objective reality. Though Freire preferred to speak of dialogue rather than encounter, and his aim was social transformation rather than individual existential crisis, there is much in common in his approach and that of Bollnow (both were influenced by Martin Buber). For Freire and Bollnow, the teacher’s function is to direct or guide the student’s attention to an object which would allow them both to reflect fundamentally on its meaning.

In summary, Han’s approach is vitiated by two shortcomings. The first, as mentioned above, is that his representation of the human – machine encounter lacks sufficient structures of mediation. This encounter is understood here, not as a smooth and inexorable operation which Han likes to compare to the surface of a  smartphone, but in the Bollnowian sense productive of friction, resistance, and difficulty. The second issue is that Han, focusing exclusively on the dyadic relationship between two subjectivities, has not been able to take advantage of the more complex intersubjective perspective which can be opened up by the triadic self-other-object relationship. Due to these shortcomings, the paths for encounter were therefore prematurely and arbitrarily closed off. A triadic perspective can allow a better comprehension of how a teacher and a student can together take up and rigorously work through an object of study, with all its hazards and risks, within the medium of digital communication, with all its glitches, frustrations, imperfections, and defects. The educational encounter in the digital sphere is clearly not impossible but it is something which must not only challenge the disastrous neoliberalization of the university but must also necessarily subvert the digital capitalist regimes of surveillance and control.

References

Biesta, G.J.J. (2006) Beyond Learning: Democratic education for a human future. Boulder: Paradigm.

Bollnow, O.F. (1955). Begegnung und Bildung. Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, 1, 10–32.

Cauterucci, C. (2020, May 12). I Will Not Be Attending Your Exhausting Zoom Gathering. Slate Magazine. https://slate.com/human-interest/2020/05/zoom-call-burnout-quarantine.html

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Edition. New York & London: Continuum.

Han, Byung-Chul, (2013). Im Schwarm: Ansichten des Digitalen. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz.

Jiang, M. (2020, April 22). The reason Zoom calls drain your energy. Www.Bbc.Com. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting

Natalier, K., & Clarke, R. (2015). Online Learning and the Education Encounter in a Neo-Liberal University: A Case Study. Higher Education Studies, 5 (2).

Sander, L., & Bauman, O. (2020). 5 reasons why Zoom meetings are so exhausting. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/5-reasons-why-zoom-meetings-are-so-exhausting-137404


Ramon Guillermo is Professor at the Center for International Studies (CIS) at the University of the Philippines – Diliman. He is the author of the novel “Makina ni Mang Turing” (UP Press 2013) while his most recent co-authored book is “3 Baybayin Studies” (UP Press 2017). He received his PhD in Southeast Asian Studies (Austronesistik) from the University of Hamburg, Germany. Most of his work lies in the domain of what has lately been called “digital humanities.”

Poets on the Street

In2013, the art collective to which I belong, Pedantic Pedestrians, conducted Poetry (Re)Production, a project where we accosted strangers in public places in Baguio City to ask them of their conceptions of poetry and demonstrate these conceptions by writing a poem. The intention of the project is simple, even while also going beyond the simplicity: no longer just to literally ‘take’ poetry out into the streets, bringing them closer to the public, but to make this public concretize their idea of poetry. Members of the public are thus treated not as recipients of some finished poetic work but as potential creators of the works themselves. Further, what helped in crystallizing this intention is the common notion that literature, especially poetry, is exclusive, whether in the sense of being hard to grasp or pertaining to elevated forms of thought or confined in privileged places like schools, cafes or bookshops.

The ethnographic dimension enters once the intention has been identified. Going out to public spaces to ask people to participate in the project is hard already; even more challenging is to explain the project’s goals and detail what is expected of the participants. Yet in hindsight, I see how this process activated and expanded the sense of the “practicality” of writing—a notion which in itself is already subordinated by the view that privileges the literary text as a finished product. Borrowing Raymond Williams’ terms, the process of signification, like literary production, is emphasized more as constituted of “formal signs” and not as a “practical material activity” (Williams, 1977, p. 38). Echoing this subtle critique of formalism, Alice Guillermo underlines how form is “not a mere neutral vessel of meaning” but “a bearer of ideology” (Guillermo, 1989, p. 166) and thus can be used to both point out and participate in the contestations in society.

Going out to help ‘produce’ poetry demonstrates the practicality of writing—a corporeal evidence against the idealization of the solitary writer, dreamy and brimming with inspiration in the proverbial ivory tower. Asking strangers, ordinary people on the streets to think about their notions of poetry and act out these notions challenges the related mythologization of the specialized writer, the literary genius.

It is thus not accidental that in the early phases of the project’s incubation—one where we thought of having people ‘translate’ a canonical poem (say, from Tagalog to English, or from Tagalog to Ilokano)—the ‘canonical’ poem we chose for translation is by Virgilio Almario, a National Artist for Literature in the Philippines. Yet on the ground, already accosting people and facing prospective participants, I withdrew the translation part. I still made the participants read Almario’s poem May Mga Paslit as a kind of preparatory activity, perhaps unwittingly becoming the model from which their conceptions of poetry have been demonstrated in the poems they wrote. Being a National Artist, Almario serves as a good representative of the literary canon, the literature that is talked about in schools and universities, the literature that is often described as depicting the national condition even as it is hardly accessed by the nation’s people.

The results of the (re) productions seem to show the influence of pervasive notions about poetry in terms of being metaphorical and the themes it usually takes. One poem begins with the overt declaration, describing poetry as “matalinghaga” (metaphorical)—a declaration noteworthy for using the form of an address, prefaced by the familiar “Oh” (“Oh tulang matalinghaga”). The familiar denominator of poetic comparisons—“parang,” the Tagalog equivalent of “like” or “as” which are usually associated with the simile—is  also present. The “parang” marker is used to compare poetry to a song (“awit”)—a comparison which can be read as leading to the functions assigned to poetry: entertaining (“mapag aliw”), enlightening, instructing and emotionally uplifting (“nagbigay na munting talino/ At kasiyahan”). It would thus not be a stretch to claim that this poetic (re) production indeed approximately articulates an ars poetica, describing poetry and its perceived functions.

Another poem talks about the country, “ang bayang Pilipinas,” perhaps coming from the idea that poetry should talk about ‘serious’ or ‘significant’ matters, an assumption belied by another poetic (re) production which simply catalogs what the writer sees around the locus of encounter—Burnham Lake and Rose Garden in Baguio City. While one poem smacks of a moralizing tone, with concluding lines that exhort Filipinos to work hard (“magbanat ng buto”) and rehearse the familiar expression “ang kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan” (the youth is the hope of the nation), the other revels in the mundane, masked by no pretty imageries. In the latter poem, a list of what is visible: people riding a boat on the lake, students and senior citizens passing the time, those who work like vendors and masseurs. It is as if the poem heeds Rain Taxi’s subtle complaint against the “inability to dissociate ‘poetry’ from the twin norms of self-expression and figuration… the continuing—and eminently marketable—idea of the poet as a flamboyant, wounded, Byronic figure chafing against the indifference of the universe” (Perloff, 2013, p. 96). The person who penned the second poem does not seem to care about the universe’s indifference; instead, he made use of this impersonal environment as the stuff to comprise his poem.    

Finally, one poetic (re)production addresses a beloved, concerns love—cued by “sintang irog” and “pag-ibig” (“dear beloved,” “love”)—another typical trait of many poems. The lover, the act of loving is associated with the senses of proximity and completeness so that conversely, not having a beloved, or not having this beloved near is equated with sadness, a negative valuation.


The preliminary thematic analysis of the three poems gathered from the ethnographic procedure can be expanded. Such kind of analysis is just one possible trajectory for interventions in the idea of the “poetic” relying on an ethnographic component. Another option is to zero in on the ethnographic encounter itself, encouraging the participants to talk about what they have created and try to relate them to notions like poetry which are often deemed in the abstract. Steadying one’s attention into that encounter—at once literary, cultural and ethnographic—can pave conditions for tackling issues that are no longer obsessed with a singular topic, i.e. poetry. Instead, a topic branches out—poetry as work, stranger as poet—links with others—poetry and institutions, writing poetry and challenging specializations—while also calling for new modes of forming knowledge and building ideas—more collaborative, more grounded.

The solitary poet might be shaking; the streets offers itself as sanctuary.


Ivan has lived in Baguio for a decade, earning his BA and MA in Language and Literature from UP Baguio and helping found Pedantic Pedestrians, a formerly Baguio-based art group, now nomadic and interested in cultural cosmetics. He maintains columns in local newspapers Baguio Chronicle and Northern Dispatch.