Saturday, May 21, 2016

Vicente L Rafael's Motherless Tongues

Thought-provoking essays on post-colonialism, neo-colonialism, translation, and the insurgency of language. Looking at the Philippines at the time of its Revolution, American occupation, and "People Power" II, and at the USA after 9/11, Rafael traces the attempts by colonial and neo-colonial powers to master translation in order to subjugate local populace. Each time he shows that the powers fail because of the insurgency of language, that which cannot be translated. Particularly interesting to me is the idea of the radical welcome that Revolution shows to the Other. Also fascinating is the failure of American schooling to eradicate Tagalog and other vernacular idioms and accents. The Introduction speaks eloquently of the suppression of other languages in order to speak and write in scholarly English. The final essays on Filipino scholars--Renato Rosaldo and Reynaldo Ileto--are appreciative of their achievements while remaining alert to their limitations. Of the latter's historical and autobiographical works, Rafael writes:

By contrast, the linguistic play evinced in Pasyon and Revolution between Tagalog and English, as I have suggested, speaks to the possibility of leveling hierarch. Rey gives a compelling explication in English of peasant movements as political projects intimately tied to ethical norms sustained by a messianic sense of history. But in doing so he also makes clear that the specificity of their thoughts and actions can be grasped only in and through Tagalog. The juxtaposition of the two languages, English and Tagalog, thus allows for the opening of worlds hitherto invisible to "us." The autobiography, however, moves in a different direction. Recounting life as a series of struggles against authority figures, the autobiography betrays an investment in hierarchy whether by way of a self commemorating an absence presence--the young "I," the silent mother--or a self overcoming the other that comes before it, in all senses of that word, whether it be a professor, another author, or one's own father. There is, then, the sense that autobiography forecloses the possibilities raised in Pasyon. The book speaks of a kind of unfinished social revolution evinced on the level of language and translation. The autobiography, however, deploys a gendered optic that conventionalizes the process of transformation, substituting social revolution with a narrative of generational masculine succession. (page 187)

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