BREAKING NEWS!!!!! Baguio-based nobody releases some new stuff

Writer-musician Levi Masuli shares us some of his latests works as well as some updates on his life. 

BAGUIO- Baguio-based not-famous nobody Levi Masuli has released a list of what he has done in 2015 so far. Known for his anonymous online blathers and occasional self-rants when going to the bathroom, Masuli has reportedly released a couple of mixtapes and is also planning to release a collection of poetry soon.

“Apparently I have a lot of free time these past few months. It sucks being a precariat, you have to always look for ways to survive, and when there is nothing, you can always make some ‘art’ to give yourself the impression that you’re actually doing something,” said Masuli in our brief interview with him.

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Masuli looking at the light bulb looking for answers. – PHOTO by Anonymous

Masuli intimated that his latest releases, iTunes Does Spoken Word and Six Samples Played 20 Times are both experimental in nature, focusing on the nature of music and music-related mechanisms rather than music-as-beautiful-sound. Both works have explanatory notes for those who may not understand them. Masuli asserts that “the notes are part of the work, these pieces are not self-explanatory. It’s weird that people think that some things are self-explanatory when nothing actually is.”

He has also released a teaser of a more musically-inclined work, Melodicas on a Loop on his Soundcloud account. He said, however, that he is not sure whether to continue doing an album for this particular concept since it is difficult to appreciate the sound of the melodica and not a lot of people appreciate repetition as a musical device.

Regarding his non-musical activities, he is currently helping in organizing a few events in Baguio City, such as the launching of Ericson Acosta’s book Mula Tarima Hanggang and the reunion concert of the Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera. His group the Pedantic Pedestrians is also on another awkward hiatus. Nonetheless, he said that he has a lot of things in mind regarding Pedantic and he is also trying to finish a collection of poems to be released online.

“There is too much vanity in the art world, especially poetry, but the ‘scene’ is dominated by bureaucrats, elite creative connoisseurs and moneyed hobbyists. If leftists politicians are willing to engage in corrupt elections, politically-conscious artists must also know how to rub shoulders with the art authorities, assert ourselves, and compromise a bit, while being aware of its limitations and essential corruption,” said Masuli.

Badiou on Mao and looking for the ‘new’

.. there is no doubt that two fundamental episodes of Mao’s political struggle can be regarded as grave failures, which took a high toll in human lives: the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. And you’re right in seeing in both of them a passion for the infinite real movement. But, on the other hand, these two episodes proved Mao’s determination to find new ways to really move toward communism. Mao wanted a communist revolution in a socialist state. So he had to keep creating something new, keep forging ahead, keep trying, because communism is precisely the infinite that the finitude of the state, including with its brutality, is incapable of by itself. (from “A Dialogue Between a Chinese Philosopher and a French Philosopher” December 13, 2014, Manny Cantor Center, New York)

Art in Baguio, from the back rows

this was published In the Baguio Chronicle, Issue 6, No. 32, July 4-10 2015

Baguio has always been considered as a haven for artists. But the word ‘haven’ cannot possibly describe a place in a state of perpetual flux featuring a lot of colourful personalities. Today, the advent of the internet has allowed us to look beyond the usual personalities in the society pages. Art in Baguio today, like life, is happening not only in one or two particular cliques, but everywhere, simultaneously, aggressively.

For instance, just look at how vibrant the local comics scene has become. Last February, the third year of the Baguio Komikon, taglined “Pag-ibig Sa Bukang Liwayway,” gathered comics artists and enthusiasts from Baguio, La Trinidad, and even from the lowlands such as Pangasinan. What is more astounding that the sheer number of attendants is the aura of openness, collaboration and productivity that permeated the event.

Better Living Through Xeroxography or BLTX came to Baguio last April, with the aim of developing local independent publishing and writing. The activity, held at Cafe Yagam, was co-organized by writer Adam David and Baguio-based art group Pedantic Pedestrians, and was attended by local writers, zine makers, artists and students. The event was a counterpoint to local publishing and literary practices more inclined towards the mainstream literary market and its affiliated institutions.

Let’s go to music. Apart from the local radio stations, some local independent musicians are pushing the local boundaries of their craft. ListenBaguio is currently launching the first all-original all-Baguio internet radio show featuring local musical talents. This is not only a sign of life, but a portent of something about to burst, especially given that local artists are often swayed towards the metropolitan, Manila-oriented music scene. ListenBaguio showcases Baguio not only as a ‘well’ of talents waiting to be ‘discovered’ but a vibrant community of prolific and driven groups and individuals.

Long-time cultural group Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kultura will be holding a reunion concert on July 18, 5:30 PM at the University of the Cordilleras Theater and July 19 , 2:00 PM, at Baguio City National High School Auditorium .

Poet and activist Ericson Acosta will also be launching his book on July 17, at the Mt. Cloud Bookshop, 5:00 PM. A short talk with Acosta will be also held at the University of the Philippines Baguio Lobby on the same day, 1:00 PM.

Everyone is invited to participate in these community events. There is so much more than what was listed here. These are really exciting times to be in the City of Pines.

Books: Shoplifing from American Apparel, Eeeee Eee Eeee and Richard Yates by Tao Lin

I haven’t been writing about books lately, so let me do some.

I have downloaded EPUB copies of Tao Lin’s Shoplifing from American Apparel, Eeeee Eee Eeee and Richard Yates by Tao Lin. These ‘novels’ are three of the most refreshing reads of the year. It like drinking water after drinking only Coke all year (wow, that metaphor sucks). It was actually a new experience.

Eeeee Eee Eeee is the oldest of the books. Didn’t like it very much, but it was a clever. I hate the chapters with the bears and dolphins coming out of nowhere a la surrealist non sequitor. I have read some books which have scenes like that, and although I do not particularly hate these kinds of sequences, I was just expecting something different. In this book Tao Lin talks about depression and boredom and hamsters, you know, the usual stuff.

Shopl6096464ifting from American Apparel is a novella, and it is much more interesting than Eeeee Eee Eeee in a lot of ways. Shoplifting was written in a style that is almost journalistic and affectless as reading the news off a week-old pambalot ng tinapa; or, I guess you could say, in a flat, dead-pan manner. It is the literary equivalent of games that do not need you to play them, because they play themselves like this one, or a song where no changes happen, just a repetition of sound. This novella is something like those things, because although it gives you a feeling that ‘something’s about to happen’, it really doesn’t give you anything, and you know it, BUT YOU READ ON. It’s basically like junk-food, substance-less, perhaps bad for the health, but we just eat and eat because something in it tells us so. A lot of people in Goodreads actually complain about Tao Lin being substance-less and ‘vapid’, unlike Dostoyevsky, and such and such, but that is precisely what Tao seems to be aiming for.

download

from Vice.

Of course, these are just interpretations, but these interpretations held out in Richard Yates, which people in 4chan and Reddit actually like. Richard Yates, like Shoplifting, consists of transcriptions of Gmail chat, texts, and short sentences which move the ‘narrative’ forward. Again, Tao Lin was faithful to his concept of writing process, because he knows that doing otherwise would result in a disappointingly sentimental plot.

I read something somewhere about ‘ambient stylistics’ of a piece of writing that is just ‘there’, being itself, unfurled, not really saying anything but expressing itself through its being there. It doesn’t have to be the center of the reader’s focus. Tan Lin (not the same as Tao Lin) said something about this kind of writing, in this age of language excess:

“the best sentences should lose information at a relatively constant rate. There should be no ecstatic moments of recognition … the most boring and long-winded writings encourage a kind of effortless non-understanding, a language in which reading itself seems perfectly (I say this in a positive way) redundant.”

This is a really humble and mature thing for art to be, since a lot of art are trying to look ‘expensive’ or ‘transcendental’ or something special saying ‘hey, look/read/listen to me!’ Accepting that art is really just art, just something out there, not as valuable as diesel or money or a placard, just art, that is a very interesting idea. Come to think of it, I didn’t think reading Tao Lin was an ordeal at all, a challenge in order to bolster my self-worth, to say to myself (or perhaps to the world, “look I read a book”)

Reading Tao Lin gave me the opportunity to feel and think about non-literary things.

Some Self-help Books Are Propaganda

Self-help books are nice. They teach people how to organize their lives, how to be more responsible, how to take care of their children, how to fix the clogged toilet, and so on. Self-help books were the default authority in terms of practical things before there was the internet, much like an offline Wikihow. Some self-help books are actually not that helpful after all. There are those that claim to help people how to dream lucidly, or to experience out-of-body experiences, and these books are by now practically dead scrolls because the internet. But there are those that are actually propaganda. They were churned out to validate the very source of the problem which caused us to buy a book called “How to Get Rich and not be Poor” in the first place. Books such as Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I Will Teach You to be Rich, The Greatest Salesman in the World, and a lot of others, teach their readers that success is just there, anyone can reach with it a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. It is shocking to read books that claim to know how to ‘hack’ a system as complex as capitalism. But it is even more shocking to read books that try to solidify the definition of ‘success’ as a purely financial one.

Financial self-help books zip right through the best-sellers lists as if on meth. The more ‘inspirational’, the faster they climb the ladder. Like all ‘art’ today, financial self-help books are popular because they entertaining, positive, uplifting, etc. Like art, self-help books have achieved an aura of transcendental value. Hence, operating under the fetishized definition of success, it becomes more than a ‘cheat code’ to the ‘game of life’/ ‘the ratrace’/ etc, and it becomes a bible, a code containing universal values. Which is to say: without being (financially) successful, we can never fulfill our selves as humans. It is the surplus, not the labor, that is put on the pedestal. There is definitely something wrong with this.

The Viet Nam War and agrarian revolution

In Vo Nguyen Giap’s People’s War, People’s Army, the Commander-in-Chief of the Viet Nam People’s Army during the Viet Nam War outlined the liberation war waged by the Vietnamese against the combined imperialist aggression of France and the United States. The document is very interesting since it also tackles how the Viet Nam Worker’s Party’s socio-economic programme translated to its military strategy against two of the world’s most powerful powers.

With regards to the connection between the Party’s program for agrarian reform and strategy:

The raising and defence of production, and the development of agriculture, were problems of great importance for supplying the front as well as for the progressive improvement of the people’s living conditions. The question of manufacturing arms was not one which could be set aside.

In the building of rural bases and the reinforcement of the rear lines for giving an impulse to the resistance, the agrarian policy of the Party played a determining role. Therein lay the anti-feudal task of the revolution. In a colony where the national question is essentially the peasant question, the consolidation of the resistance forces was possible only by a solution to the agrarian problem.

For the Viet Nam Worker’s Party, the agrarian and anti-feudal task of the revolution is not only a minor aspect, but one of the primary parts of their struggle against the French and the American invaders. Through agrarian reform, they are able to consolidate and expand their forces. Unlike the Americans who forced their young people to draft themselves in the Army, the Vietnamese saw the political and economic significance of joining the struggle against the imperialists.

This leads me to that weird thing called Oplan Bayanihan by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They conduct medical missions, feeding programs and other community events in far-flung areas in order to improve their image among the people. However, this is all a show since the military and the government do not address one of the most pressing problems in the Philippine countryside, which is land reform. No matter how creative the AFP will get in masking their military operations, they will find it difficult to eliminate the New People’s Army if the NPA are the ones who are doing the land reform for them. Even the US cannot defeat the Vietnamese people, who were empowered by unity and the realization that they can liberate themselves; what more for the AFP with their guns underfunded by corruption, their soldiers driven by dreams of personal economic stability, who find it more and more difficult to fight for a country starving them?

Read Giap’s People’s War, People’s Army here.

Sartre on masturbation

A masturbator by choice, Genet prefers his own caresses since the enjoyment received coincides with the enjoyment given, the moment of passivity with that of the greatest activity; he is at one and the same time this consciousness that clots (caille) and this hand which churns in agitation. Being, existence; faith, worksl masochistic inertia and sadistic ferocity; petrification and liberty; at the moment of pleasure the two contradictory components of Genet coincide; he is the criminal who violates and the saint who lets himself be violated. The masturbator makes himself unreal – he brings his own realization; he is very near to discovering the magic formula that will open the sluice gates.

However, victim of execution, caresser or caressed, these phantasies in the end will have to be reabsorbed into Narcissus; Narcissus fears men, their judgments, and their real presence; he wishes only to experience an aura of love for himself, he asks only to be slightly distanced from his own body, only for there to be a light coating of otherness over his flesh and over his thoughts. His personae are melting sweets; this lack of consistency reassures him and serves his sacrilegious designs: it caricatures love. The masturbator is enchanted at never being able to feel himself sufficiently another, and at producing for himself alone the diabolic appearance of a couple that fades away when one touches it. The failure of pleasure is the acid of pleasure of failure. Masturbation as a pure demonic act sustains in the heart of consciousness an appearance of appearance: masturbation is the derealisation of the world and of the masturbator himself. But this man who is eaten up by his own dream knows surely enough that this dream is there only by virtue of his willing it; Divine (the other in some of Genet’s masturbation phantasies) ceaselessly absorbs Genet into herself, and Genet ceaselessly absords Divine. However, by a reversal which brings ecstasy to a point of overflowing, this clear negation (clair neant) will provoke real events in the true world; the cause of erection, the ejaculation, the damp stains on the bedclothes is – the imaginary. In a single movement the masturbator captures the world to dissolve it and insert the order of the unreal unreal into the universe; it is necessary that they be images, since they act; No, the masturbation of  Narcissus is not, as some misguidedly think, the little gallantry that one performs towards the evening, the nice, boyish compensation for a day’s work: it wills itself a crime. Genet draws his pleasure from his nothingness: solitude, impotence, the unreal, evil, have producted, without recourse to being, an event in the real world (from Being and Nothingness, pp. 341-42.)

Baguio Nostalgia

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From Verso’s Facebook post

This year has witnessed the demise of a few of Baguio’s oldest homegrown establishments. Star Cafe, known for its good food and as a cultural hub, decided to end its 74-year service last June. This December, Mandarin Restaurant, another old Chinese restaurant, once a home to the city’s country and folk musicians and a frequent meeting place among students, professionals and locals, will stopping operating by next year.

Having been in Baguio for the past six years, one of the things an ‘immigrant’ like me has noticed among those who were born, raised or have lived in the city for a considerable part of their lives is their tendency towards nostalgia. Facebook groups as such Baguio Nasa Puso Kita have became important popular places for sharing pictures and stories about ‘old Baguio.’ In the usual vein of the ‘good old days’ nostalgia trip, most of the users lament the degredation of the city from the renowned City on the Hill to to its current status as an urbanized, crime-laden and generally dirtier tourist destination. Baguio may be miles away from the armpit of a place which is Metro Manila, but most of the posts lament that it is definitely going there.

Yet as disappointment waxes to nostalgia and nostalgia fades to forgetting, it is also easy to lose perspective.  Baguio’s transformation from a forested hill into a vacation-ville for Americans has also claimed a few important cultural and political spaces among the natives. The vacation-ville eventually became a tourist spot, attracting pilgrims and immigrants from the provinces, and slowly inched its way into urbanity.

Photo not mine

Session Road. Photo not mine

But it would be myopic to see this path towards urbanity as a development from agricultural town center to city to metropolis. As with Metro Manila and other cities throughout the country, this urbanization has no industrial basis. Like Makati being founded on commercial establishments and call centers, Baguio’s economy is based on its current status as a ‘university city.’

Today, Baguio’s sprawling houses covering the hills, the pollution turning fog into smog, the population boom pushing its boundaries to the limit and even the deterioration of its tourist spots are indicators of this drastic change in urban orientation. More and more students are climbing up as Baguio grows and more and more spaces, just like Mandarin and the others, are cleared up for dormitories and other establishments for students. The 182 trees which SM cut were for more parking spaces. Minimum wage is not even attained by many workers who labor through contractual basis. Crime rate rises as standard of living plummets. Meanwhile, indigenous-themed coffee shops emerge here and there as call centers become more and more knowledgeable in the art of exploiting contractual cheap labor. This trajectory of ‘development’ is far from sustainable. Development? For whom?

It is necessary to locate Baguio City’s ills as something which is not specific to the place or its experience. It is part of the wider conditions of the country where privatization is justified and oriented towards satisfying the whims of the market. Rosy nostalgia or apocalyptic meanderings about the future will not change anything. What we need is a sober re-orientation, analysis, and mobilization against the root causes of these changes.

Reading protest poetry in public

Last month, we established the Metro-Baguio chapter of Kabataang Artista Para sa Tunay na Kalayaan or KARATULA. With the aim of organizing and mobilizing the young artists of Metro Baguio, the group organized a few activities such as public poetry readings, mural making, etc, as well as participated in local art events. So far, the group has reached a positive momentum, and we are currently grinding our gears for a production for the 50th anniversary of the Kabataang Makabayan.

Prior to the establishment of KARATULA, a few friends of mine and I have staged quite of handful of artsy-fartsy events just for the bourgeois fun of it. The poetry group Pedantic Pedestrians initiated projects such as public poetry translation projects (details here) and street readings. I have also organized a few street jams with musician friends that aims to open musical production to the common people, together with sporadic jams with street performers (who are technically beggars) and a few flyer distribution here and there.

This has been going on for roughly two years now, and it is only recently that we have started to problematize the actual achievements and limitations of these kinds of activities. With KARATULA’s explicitly national-democratic political orientation, the urge to break away from the strictures of bourgeois art to the integration with the common people has opened up a lot of discussion. I wish to share some of these insights, and questions, to the blogosphere. It would be good to hear more thoughts on these problems.

Street performances

Last October 31, KARATULA staged poetry performances in various public places around the city (bus stations, intersections, parks) under the tagline “Paano Pumatay ng Multo?,” an attempt to keep up with the All Soul’s Day vibe while reminding the listeners of the ‘true’ horrors of Philippine society, where, in the words of one of the poets, “araw-araw Undas” (it is All Soul’s Day everyday). The concept was really simple. We tried to get feedback by assigning people to ‘listen’ and observe the audiences’ reactions, as well as talking to them regarding the happening. (Some videos here, here and here.)

However, it is easy to detect a certain populist vibe in the performance’s intentions. The aim was to inspire political agitation among the listeners, to ‘disrupt the hypnotic flow of Capital’, as one of the more theoretically-inclined among us put it, through the vocal recitation of stylized words we call poetry. Yet was is the fundamental difference of vocal recitation of politically-charged verses to straight-forward slogans we hear in rallies, aside from the obvious differences in poetic/aesthetic formulation? What is the political motivation for using ‘poetic’ devices that makes it ‘superior’ to slogans? A few insights has been raised:

1. Slogans are simpler, easier to understand, and take only about a few second to say. On the other hand, a poem usually takes about a minute ot two to recite in its entirety, and poetic devices make the political messages more difficult to digest, especially for someone who is not accustomed to listening to poetry.

2. Public areas are sites of constant movement. People who walk right into the performances usually leave right after checking out what is happening, perhaps because they have urgent businesses to attend to or because they wanted to go their homes (or their jobs) as quickly as possible.These workers (tourists?) hear approximately five seconds worth of words because the words are drowned in the din of the city’s sounds. Therefore, the words they hear were mostly heard out of context (the entirety of the poem).

3. Those who actually stop and listen to the performances are usually tourists who take pictures of this ‘spectacle.’ It is difficult to determine whether the tourists actually care about the content of the performance, given their positions are tourists and consumers of exotic spectacles.

4. There is a distinct possibility that the act of displacing a poetic performance, regardless of content, and bringing these performances into heart of urban mobility, emasculates the poem as an organic capsule of political subjectivity into a shallow simulacra of its image (following Baudrillard), therefore following the same logic of capitalistic image-consumption that is attempts to disrupt.

5. If we accept the insight above (number 4), then it is inevitable to accept the implication that a political poem contributes to the consumeristic spectacle of the city. Baguio, being a tourist city as it touts itself to be, can only benefit from these public performances through its contribution to the spectacle-making project. Therefore, instead of acting as a violent disruption of Capital, it may even act as a palliative, a source of entertainment, to ease the pains of labor, instead of highlighting these pains and inspiring political agitation on the listeners’ part.

The observations above may sound too cynical as they were presented to be such, and it begs the questions of how does political art maneuver itself in a setting where every form of resistance is simultaneously assimilated to the logic its resists in the first place.

The imperative to integrate with the masses, through grassroots organizing, with the aim of creating a form that will address the alienation of bourgeois art from the conditions and experiences of the common people, has been as the most obvious solution to these dilemmas. Only through integrating with them can we actually see the entirety of the conditions. Some other options are:

1. Conduct criticism-self-criticism among the members along with an assessment.

2. Assign people to observe the event, the reactions of the people, the general vibe of the event.

3. Create a ‘scene’ that may help people feel compelled to stay longer and listen to the entirety of the poem.

4. Workshop the poems to be read to accommodate the assessments.

The worsening conditions of the country’s economic and political conditions only push the cultural workers to further problematize the effectiveness of their programs. This should be done in the level of theory and practice. I hope these opinions may help in furthering the discourse.

 

Jazz and Politics

Historically, jazz has established itself as the American music. Even today, much of American music pays its dues to this musical tradition.

Much of jazz music is primarily instrumental, yet despite the lack of words, jazz in the past has been marked for its political dimension. According to Louis Proyekt in his interesting essay on jazz and politics, jazz boomed in the US right at the cusp of the anti-war movement in the first half of the 20th century and the rise of the organized Left. Billie Holiday performed “Strange Fruit,” written by Abel Meerpol, a communist high-school teacher and member of the Communist Party, in New York during the 1930s as a denunciation of the lynchings of black slaves in South America.


Jazz transcended its status as ‘entertainment’ with the rise of bebop, the evolution of jazz which was defined for its fast improvisations and esoteric chord changes, as a way of asserting the blacks’ intellectual and artistic identities. It was meant to be difficult to play and even to listen to, but this self-imposed isolation was the black musicians’ way of breaking away from the mainstream of American entertainment which have long seen black people as mere entertainers, an offshoot of their long history of slavery. Bebop symbolized the passion and explosive energy of the black people who were immobilized not only be physical chains but also the racial stereotypes and the conditions of living which deprive poor and black people from having equal status to whites.

When bebop finally lost its momentum both as an artistic and as a political movement, free jazz emerged with the names of Ornette Coleman, Pharaoh Sanders, Cecil Taylor and a multitude of others. Free jazz rose from a dissatisfaction from the rigid structures and harmonies of bebop, and it aimed to break away from it by discarding all the established norms of proper music through doing away with harmony and rhythm. Moreover, it emphasized the collective nature of music, which breaks away from the the individualist ‘aura’ of earlier solo-based jazz. Coleman’s Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation was met with ridicule for its abandonment of musical norms, but upon closer inspection, Free Jazz is far from chaotic. It captures a brief moment where individuals, freed from the direction of the composer, collectively create a musical consensus, through listening, responding and carrying out these little musical ‘agreements’ for the collective’s interests.

Free jazz was a very diverse movement composed of different artistic sensibilities, but they were all framed within the rise of the Black Power movement in the 1960s and the various anti-racist and anti-imperialist movements around the world. For instance, Sun Ra’s Afrofuturist philosophy has driven his life’s work, attempting to create an identity of almost mythic proportions through his songs promising a planet where all of the struggles in this world are all but tiny variations in a universal ‘song.’

Jazz’s political dimension stems from its improvisational musical aspect, since improvisation breaks away from the capitalist fetish for product. Improvisation highlights the process, the raw material of music where sound and music is seen as a single unit, where genres and structures are seen as mere symbols and planes from which ideas are launched, resisting the current of capitalist production by the assertion of the utterance as an utterance, not as a sound that can be multiplied and sold as reproductions of the same.