Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 14, November 2006

The Postcolonial Perverse:
Hybridity, Desire, and the Filipino Nation in Federico Licsi Espino, Jr.'s Lumpen[1]

J. Neil C. Garcia

  1. As a concept, perversion signifies an ‘erring, straying, or deviation from a path, destiny, or objective which is understood as natural or right.'[2] Although by now almost exclusively sexual—in particular, homosexual—in connotation, perversion’s histories are probably as old as metaphysical thinking itself, being the threat that inheres in any metaphysical concept, for which teleology or an ‘inward movement’ is a necessary premise. This is because, as deconstructionist historians have demonstrated, the greatest danger for any ontological enterprise is posed not by the absolutely opposite or the directly negative, but rather by the deviant or the perverse. Perversion inheres as a possibility in any purist or essentialist notion or philosophy, being ‘at once utterly alien to what it threatens, and yet mysteriously [implicit] within it.'[3] Because of this, we might say that the agency of the pervert lies in his/her unsettling menace, in the perilous shadow his very existence retrospectively casts on the no-longer-pure norm, away from which s/he has turned, and toward which s/he can very well turn again and again. The pervert is a pervert because s/he used to be and therefore continues to possess the promise and the prospect of being normal or ‘natural’ once more.
  2. In this paper I will argue, among other things, that the concept of the Filipino nation, as it has been constructed by and in the dominant historiographic and fictional literatures of the Philippines, may be seen as one such normative project, with its own teleological and essentialist premises. It is a project that is at once performatively enforced by both state-sponsored and anti-establishment nationalist discourses, and perverted precisely as it is enacted by Filipino subjects who can only approximate and never fully realise it. In postcolonial studies, this lack of fit, this incongruence between the ideal and the performance, has profitably been called hybridity. That is to say: the transcultural process by which the syncretic or mixed effects of discursive impositions and norms may be said to reveal a ‘split’ or discoherence between the intentions of power—be it colonial or postcolonial—and their translation in the local context, their reception.[4] The resultant culture in this relationship is thus neither this nor that, but rather a perversion or a deviation away from either this or that, a paradoxical mixing or syncretism that brings to a crisis the initial binarism of Self and Other from which it springs.
  3. The concept and/or practice of hybridity has been understood as one possible form that postcolonial resistance takes, and indeed, in this paper this is how I will deploy it. However, unlike its mainstream use in colonial discourse analysis, in this paper I will also seek to demonstrate how hybridity as postcolonial perversion—that is to say, as the paradoxical subversion of norms that may or may not cover the fluid calculus of gender, sexuality, nationality and other markers of identity—is not merely inherent to the structure of colonial relations itself, but rather, can be wilfully represented in fiction or poetry by postcolonial writers. Thus, in postcolonial studies, while hybridity is the necessary consequence of the encounter between the coloniser and the colonised, this very fact does not mean it cannot be elected or volitional on the part of either, or of both.
  4. Indeed, in representations of and by postcolonial subjects, hybridity may well be a willful exercise in ethical self-definition. In order perhaps to register what he perceived and experienced to be a mostly perverse or hybrid existence as a multi-lingual writer of more than forty books of poetry and fiction in pre-martial law and martial-law Philippines, Federico Licsi Espino, Jr., author of the novella, Lumpen,[5] not only emplots and thematises hybridity in his text; he also deliberately perverts or hybridises the form of the nationalist novel and of the hegemonic version of nationalist history which underpins it, precisely to drive home his point that even or especially on the question of the nation, hybridity is inescapable.

    Lumpen and normative Philippine history
  5. In the Philippines, nationalist versions of history have typically followed a positivist, continuous, linear, rational and ironically colonial narrative of historical progression from the idyllic or ‘Golden Age’ of precolonial purity, to the Fall and Darkness of the colonial era, and, finally, to the Birth and Growth of the Nation.[6] By deviating from and ignoring the outlines of this historiographic paradigm, Espino unwittingly offers us a compelling kind of ‘transformational realism’ in and through his work, which situates it squarely in what the Filipino-American Marxist critic, Epifanio San Juan, Jr. calls a tradition of allegorical realism in Philippine fiction.[7] On the other hand, by distinguishing itself from the typical Filipino novel of the nation, Espino’s stubbornly problematic and hybridised text manifests its own distinct features in relation to this nationalist symbolic tradition, precisely by its insisting on the generative power of ambivalence, deviance and perversion, which are what allegorical realism, by virtue of its didactic, ethically conservative and transcendental underpinnings, over and again must disown.[8]
  6. In particular, in Lumpen, Espino may be said to offer his own unique rendition of the martial law novel, which both local and foreign literary critics have identified as a genre in its own right, characterised primarily by a variety of dissimulated and apocalyptic forms of Marxist-inflected, nationalist, anti-Marcos critique.[9] In Lumpen, Espino offers a perversion of this genre as well as of its foundational concept of the proletariat—the ‘masses’ or the ‘Filipino people’ which has been left unproblematised as an internally coherent, simply representable and confidently heterosexual collectivity by even the most important anticolonial historians of the Philippines of the last thirty years.[10]
  7. In other words, Lumpen, like any other fictional or indeed cultural text in the Philippines, is hybrid—constituted of syncretic, culturally simultaneous and fragmentary modes, images, meanings, languages, registers, forms, subjectivities, scriptures and performances that helplessly attend the neocolonial condition. But what makes it unique is that unlike even the most sophisticated historiographic novels about the same relative period of social unrest in the Philippines, Lumpen does not wish away with a wave of the nationalist hand the paradoxes, divisions and differences that comprise the collective identity of the urban ‘lumpenic’ or subaltern subject, on whom counterhegemonic nationalist imaginings, almost as a matter of routine or precisely as a necessary anti-elitist gesture, have been built in recent years.[11] Thus, by being about the lives of the downtrodden, including the less savory types of lowlife vagrants, commercial sex workers, thieves, and morally questionable students and bureaucrats, Lumpen already offers a kind of postnational counter-memory, a dissident text that lays bare not only the evils of the existing Marcosian dispensation, but more crucially, the biases of both dominant and alternative nationalist discourses on the very question of Filipino national liberation itself.
  8. It does this by ironically repeating the existing images and concepts in which the discourse of the Filipino nation has traditionally been couched, and yet by repeating them with the critical difference that paradoxical perversion or postcolonial hybridity makes. Again, while hybridity or perversion is constitutive of both the colonial and the neocolonial cultural condition, in this text rather than condemn or fictionally reify it to fit the humanist, heterosexist and primarily nativist agenda of mainstream nationalist discourse, Espino recognises it, occasionally ironising or even celebrating it as the productive energy that generates difference even or especially in a neocolonised country like the Philippines.[12]
  9. In the end, however, he allows the postcolonial reader to recognise those aspects of his/her own social being and his/her society and history that have hitherto remained repressed. Like any other complicated postcolonial text, Espino’s Lumpen leaves the question of whether hybridity is necessarily always a ‘good thing’ open to postcolonial discussion and debate, especially since, in the lives of some of its protagonists at least, it is possible that certain instances of it—certain deviations and perverse turns of collective action and thought—are the effects of the enforcement of brute or juridical power, if not forms of subtle coercion. Moreover, as I shall argue towards the end of this paper, the cultural logic that is hybridity already poses a formidable hindrance to any national project. To the common, anticolonial gesture that is nationalism, hybridity may therefore be seen as constituting an uneasy and double-dealing endowment.
  10. This paper will proceed from the premise that, by and large, the canonical historiographic and literary renderings of the Filipino nation have invariably been presumptively heterosexual and, not surprisingly, nativist. The historically oppressed and ascendant national polity, as imagined by Filipino writers working in English and Tagalog, has typically excluded both the perverse and/or the culturally ‘impure’ (invariably, in such accounts, both are, in fact, often configured as one). As a consequence, the vision of a national awakening or even ‘revolution’ such texts purvey essentialises the question of resistance and reduces the complexity of the postcolonial situation into the convenient and unworkable polarities of the fully self-possessed and manifestly distinct coloniser, and his oppositional twin, the colonised.
  11. In this critical engagement with Espino’s little-known novella from 1985, I examine the various ‘dissident’ spaces made available by the inclusion of perversion and/or hybridity into the national imagination—indeed, into the question of ‘national liberation’ itself. The novella’s world is peopled by perverts and racial or ideological half-breeds: hustlers, call-girls, thieves, cross-dressers, hermaphrodites, closet cases, apparitional figures, and expatriate and racially ‘mongrelised’ characters. While the text denominates their identities as lumpen[13]—that is to say, socio-economic ragamuffins or ‘riff-raff,’ the bottom feeders who constitute the lowest possible rung of the proletariat and are for this reason alone devoid of all traces of critical consciousness—they nonetheless engage and enjoy relations with certain marginal (because sexually deviant) members of the middle-class, whom the text also mock-pejoratively calls lumpen.[14] The erotic lives of these comparably perverse, abjected, colourful, complex, helplessly enmeshed, trashy and ‘incorrect’ or lumpenic characters, transpire in the midst of political strife in the Philippine capital: student protests, marches and ‘disappearances’ typical of the period right before and during the imposition of martial law.
  12. According to the novella, the country’s official political economy is regularly challenged by its ‘underground’ economy of desire, in which other struggles and agencies may be seen to exist. Here, the downtrodden and even the so-called ‘enlightened’ or ‘politicised’ lumpen traffic in perverse gratification, both for material and erotic ends (in this text, the two blur provocatively into each other). In this world, the disenfranchised are able to indulge their own desires while simultaneously reversing the customary order of things.
  13. As a postcolonial text that itself is characterised by syncretisms—transcodings and metonymic gaps between English, Tagalog, Ilocano, Spanish, French and Greek; authentic and invented epigraphic texts coming from poetry, mythology, psychoanalysis, novels and philosophical treatises; song lyrics and news paper reports, and others—Lumpen not only admits to the possibility of imagining a Filipino nation constituted of cultural and political hybrids. It also gestures towards the necessary narration of a nation whose reversal of fortune and eventual liberation possibly lie in its embrace and celebration of the ‘impure’ and/or the ‘perverse.’ However, like all hybrid articulations, especially those that are made in the initial deconstructive moment of ‘transgressive reversal’, this text finally fails to escape its own paradoxical logic, and indeed, as we shall see, in the end its liberatory gesture is folded back into a kind of morally preordained, narrative closure. Perhaps as a function of the predominantly religious tenor in which Filipino nationalism is couched, in this novella, this closure proves to be a religiously allegorical one, as well.

    Lumpen: character as plot
  14. The novella tells the stories of a number of characters, mostly young male students belonging to the underprivileged class in the city, all incidentally or intimately related to one other as classmates, siblings, contractual lovers, comrades-in-the-movement, benefactors or fellow-hustlers. It takes place in the old district of Manila, in particular Quiapo and Sta. Cruz, which are districts north of the Pasig River. This area served as the centre of commerce and academic learning—bustling with a density of restaurants, cinemas, department stores, banks, pawnshops, sundry business establishments and a ‘university belt’ of religious and secular schools—for three decades after the end of the Second World War, a truly disastrous event which saw the complete destruction, owing to the merciless and extravagant dropping of ‘friendly’ American bombs, of the walled city of Intramuros and the gentrified districts south of the Pasig.[15] The year is 1971, months away from the declaration of Martial Law by the American-sponsored conjugal dictatorship of Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos. Almost daily now, the city is witness to increasingly angry student marches and demonstrations, all calling for genuine national liberation and the downfall of Marcos’s lackey and American-backed, fascistic regime.
  15. In particular, the story opens within the hellish depths of Manila’s famous ‘armpit,’ the historic and decrepit corner where the famous national shrine of the pagan-looking, masculine-identified and dark-skinned image of the suffering Christ—the ‘Black Nazarene'—may be found. Here, inside its sultry, damp and ill-lit underpass—a dungeon-like passage that calls to mind the seventh circle of Dante’s inferno—the city’s apparitional revenants, its amorphously bodied and lust-driven souls, routinely stand, ogle and drift. Into this netherworld descends one of the novella’s resourceful and sexually ambidextrous protagonists, Georgios ‘Segko’ Segkopoulos—‘two-fourths Greek, one-fourth Spanish and one-fourth Filipino’ (p. 1)—who is briskly walking to his appointment in a Chinese restaurant with one of his many lovers and/or benefactors, Ben Manco, a thirty-year-old accountant in an American-owned firm.
  16. Segko and Ben are but two of the novella’s abjected and mostly ill-fated personae, all of whom lead parallel lives. Segko’s grave problem is that he is starting to like and feel an attraction and even affection for men, in particular this regular, dapper and very generous client. As the two of them have dinner, for the first and troubling time Segko notices that Ben’s brown Malay features are quite lovely, after all. A foreboding, strange and uncomfortable, bubbles up from deep inside Segko’s mind, and in dismissing the thought he makes himself believe he dislikes Ben, who gives him money which he claims will go to his studies, and who is by far the most decent and the nicest of his many lovers. The deadly edge of his dilemma is made even sharper by the fact that his blissfully ignorant, beautiful and loving wife, Clarita, is simply too pregnant to have sex with these days. Segko knows that heterosexual congress is the best way a man can nullify the threat that regular homosexual sex poses—a threat that haunts him as a recurrent dream of castration at the hands of the darkly handsome Ben:

      There was the ever-present danger of being contaminated with the psychic rot which made that profession a profitable business. Making love to a woman smoothened the psychic creases which could lead to a permanent warping of the soul, a soul that had grown accustomed to the unnatural (p. 11).

  17. By the end of the novella, Segko has tried but failed to quit his occupation, and while his experience working as a janitor in a big university downtown introduces him to the ideological struggle and friendship of some of the activists, still he cannot completely turn his back on his past, and resumes his old occupation, except this time, he resolves to limit his clientele exclusively to lonely rich matrons. At the end of the novella, on an eerie and moonless night, Segko’s wife gives birth to a hermaphroditic, ‘intersexed’ baby, and he takes this to mean that he is indeed a cursed man, whose true and inescapable nature his own unfortunate progeny has needed to embody for his sake.
  18. Segko is a friend of other callboys plying their wares on the famous Rizal Avenue or Avenida,[16] arguably the Philippines’s ‘avenue of perversion’ (p. 8) for the simple reason that, going by Espino’s vision, the Filipino nation is, in fact, one long avenue of perversion, which—as will soon become apparent in this text—really means it is not pure, but is hybrid or ‘mixed’ in every way. One such friend is Rolly Aglibut, also called Rolly the Red, because he is one of the leaders of the Maoist-inspired popular student movement. Rolly is of peasant stock, originally from the Ilocos, the same northern province from which the reviled dictator hails. Being an enlightened member of the lumpen, predictably enough Rolly hates the strongman Marcos, whose elaborate network of plunder and mass-scale corruption has paupered the poor all the more. Like many of his fellow-activists, Rolly makes ends meet by part-time hustling, and he and Segko have now and then ended up as rivals over the same limited pool of homosexual customers. The last time Rolly sees Segko, they’re about to have sex for the voyeuristic pleasure of a Taiwanese businessman with a name that means ‘fellatio’ in Tagalog. This businessman, Feng Chu-pah, is the owner of a famous Chinese restaurant in the city’s posh financial district. In a dimly lit room, Segko freaks out just before Rolly can go down on him, cursing both him and the portly and slit-eyed ‘celestial’ by the pejorative bakla, and storming out of the dingy motel back to the streets of the mean and strangely funereal city.
  19. Rolly is not like most callboys: while he is confident in his masculine heterosexuality, he nonetheless sympathises with the bakla. He even defends them when his fellow-activists get together for beer after one huge rally, during which they discuss the untimely death of the famous and rich doctor with a ‘Charles Atlas chest,’ Jimmy Calvo. According to newspaper accounts, the doctor suffered a heart attack while in the arms of one of his lovers, the squat but well-endowed journalism student Al Embuscado, who used to be the live-in partner and kept man of Rolly’s sister, Belinda, a voluptuous prostitute specialising in milking foreigners of all their ready cash. One such foreigner is the romantic and handsome visiting poet from Malaysia, Dr. Chairil ‘Carl’ Awang, who is wide-eyed and gullible enough to fall for one of Belinda’s routine prevarications.
  20. Almost everyone in Rolly’s circle of fellow-activist friends has hustled for cash, and unlike him, they unanimously believe the bakla to be their exploiters. True to form, Rolly argues that the financial and transactional arrangement between the bakla and the lalake (or ‘real man’) merely reflects the dominant economic relations in Philippine society, and that both parties are equally capable of exploitation, if it came to that. Moreover, he believes that all love and all loving follows certain conventions, and for the bakla it simply and necessarily involves the giving of financial support to his beloved, which is not such a bad thing at all. Rolly’s unconventional way of thinking is also evident in his subscribing to the folk-Catholic belief in the protective charm of amulets, in this case, of a secretly kept communion wafer that is placed in a lavender pouch and worn like a pendant around the neck. This anting-anting is supposed to make him impregnable to bullets on all the days of the week except Friday, the day when Christ gave up the ghost on the cross. By novella’s end Rolly does die, felled by military bullets in a skirmish near the presidential palace. Nonetheless, in seeming emulation of the early Christians of Europe, he is promptly hailed as a martyr by the same popular movement he so selflessly served.
  21. Ben Manco’s younger brother, Ed, works as an assistant to Sammy Weston, an unhappily married, childless and, we soon learn, closeted American engineer. Riding Sammy’s fancy car, the two of them brave the city’s late-night streets still seething with the crush of demonstrators, whose anti-American slogans and chants fail to distract them from their urgent mission: go to The Satyr, a notorious strip-tease and live sex joint. Ed enjoys the sight of naked girls who use their astonishing pelvic muscles to pick up the five-peso bills twirled around the fingers of lasciviously grinning customers. Sammy seems uncomfortable with it all, breaking out in a cold sweat at the sight of the tattooed stud—a jaded-looking ex-convict—going down on a flabby, bored-looking woman, and riding her in quick jerky motions all the way to the sad and badly acted orgasm.
  22. Back in his car, Sammy cannot help himself any longer, and goes for Ed’s crotch. Thus begins their wild and passionate liaison which they keep under wraps; quite a feat in a country where gossip takes wing at the slightest provocation. They succeed in doing this until late one evening, when Sammy is delirious with fever, and he mutters Ed’s name among other incriminating things in his sleep, which confirms what his wife, a former beauty queen from her native Kansas, has always suspected. One day, she schemes to seduce Ed while Sammy is out playing golf, and succeeds. Unbeknownst to them, however, Sammy has come home early, and he overhears his wife praising her Filipino lover’s charmingly circumcised penis while they’re banging each other in the master’s bedroom. Sammy gets into his car and drives off in a neurotic frenzy, soon getting himself into an accident which kills him on the spot. Kathy Weston comes to identify his body in the city morgue, expresses no sadness, and decides to have it cremated and shipped back to the States.
  23. Ed feels somewhat responsible for Sammy’s death, and stops seeing Kathy, who proceeds to pick up callboys like Rolly and Segko on the infamous Avenida, until one night when she receives a ghostly visitation from Sammy, whereupon she screams her eyes out and spontaneously combusts. Ed turns impotent and seeks help from a Jungian psychoanalyst, who tells him that since he was raised a devout Catholic it must be his guilt that’s causing the trouble. Following Dr. Daanghari’s prescription, Ed takes tranquilisers and goes to confession. But none of this helps, he still cannot get a hard-on even when he espies a lovely young woman’s creamy panties that peek from between her carelessly open legs. In a trance he goes to Manila’s cruisy Rizal Park one evening, and flashes in front of a prostitute, who squeals at the sight. The photographers milling around the place catch him, and maul him senseless. In the novella’s epilogue, we are told that misfortune befalls the Manco brothers: Ben commits suicide after finding out that he has contracted an incurable illness (which sounds like it could be AIDS), and Ed becomes a paraplegic after the mauling incident in the public park.
  24. There are many other characters in the novella, all more or less trafficking in its culturally confused and confusing, helplessly perverse world. There is the thirty-year-old poet and literature teacher, Miriam Dulzura, who is living on her own, away from her adoptive family, because she wants to be able to write in quiet. While taking a shower one day she thinks of her two most avid admirers: Wystan Robles and Dennis Dimalanta, poets both. Wystan, lean, brown, and ascetic-looking with piercing dark eyes, works as a journalist by day, but writes protest poetry by night, in both English and Tagalog. He is a Christian socialist who likes hobnobbing with Americans, including rabidly conservative literary critics. Dennis, a married man who is not into politics at all, writes luminous elitist poetry, over which a visiting American writer has expressed effusive admiration. For all their differences and similarities, by far Miriam likes Wystan more than Dennis. In a moment of weakness, however, she falls prey to the latter’s sexual charms, and ends up getting impregnated by this lothario, who is only after her body, nothing else. These three characters are still part of the novella’s world, because they all work, study or drink around the vicinity of the Avenida, and because, to varying degrees, they are all involved in the anti-establishment struggle. Dennis’s brother, Raul, is in fact one of highest-ranking student leaders of the movement.

    The agon/y of the author
  25. The novella ends with a short chapter that does not attempt to tie up all these loosely connected lives, even as it finishes them off, epilogically speaking, by closing them in the same moralising way: more or less, everybody gets either his or her comeuppance, which comes in the form of death, debilitation, sickness or existential suffering; or his or her reward, which comes in the form of simple bodily survival, or perhaps, posthumous praise. The religious imperative weighs heavily on this text, and we must bear in mind that Lumpen is quite possibly the earliest locally published work of fiction by a Filipino author that frankly tackles the controversial issue of homosexuality and of sexual licentiousness in general. That it had to be done in the ‘prestigious’ and ‘serious’ language of English can perhaps be explained by the fact that after centuries of erotophobic indoctrination by the medieval Spanish church, Tagalog and the other local languages, to the ear of most contemporary middle-class Filipinos, seem incapable of ‘handling’ matters relating to sex without at the same time vulgarising them. Moreover, because it intends both a polemic and a postcolonial ‘anti-nationalist’ interrogation, Lumpen simply had to be written under the aegis of the language of colonisation, even when—as is usually the case in postcolonial literatures—it subverts the very same language that it deploys.
  26. We must not underestimate the moral difficulty this fictional project conceivably presented to the author, who was born in 1939 to a close-knit, largely fatherless but devout Tagalog family, and was educated by the Dominicans in the Philippines’ oldest university, the Royal and Pontifical Catholic University of Santo Tomas,[17] where he served as president of the Catholic Writers Guild. By the 1970s, Espino was one of the most widely celebrated writers in Manila, acknowledged as a genius by many of the country’s most important critics and patrons. During his heyday as an extraordinarily gifted, multi-awarded writer in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Ilocano, and Bicolano, Espino received practically all the national and local literary prizes there were to receive,[18] and was even honoured for his collection of Spanish poetry in Bilbao, Spain.
  27. His works reaped accolades[19] from luminaries like the late National Artist for Literature, Francisco Arcellana, who once wrote that ‘Espino writes literature with his right hand, and journalism with his left,’ and from the Marxist critics, Epifanio San Juan, Jr., who declared that Espino’s ‘style is both intuitive and sublime,’ and Petronilo Bn. Daroy, who called Espino ‘the lone literary recorder of the decadence of Anglo-American culture’ in the Philippines. Commenting on this particular novella, the popular journalist and sometime-fictionist, Norma Japitana, wrote that while not a political novel, Lumpen does manifest ‘political overtones and undertones which make it relevant to the times.’ Finally, the poet, critic, and University of the Philippines professor, Ricaredo Demetillo, concludes that Espino has ‘expanded the subject matter and character of Philippine literature’ precisely by attending to such ‘mad’ topics as homosexuality, incest and social taboos in general.
  28. What makes Lumpen agonisingly and uncannily significant in relation to the prolific and linguistically hybrid writing life of Espino is not only the fact that it chronicles exactly the kind of existence he eked out as a journalist and creative writer who moved around in more or less the same circles that his characters inhabited, or that he wrote and published it while Marcos was still in power (while the novella itself was published in the mid-eighties, its first chapter, ‘Georgios Segkopoulos,’ had been written much earlier, winning first place for the short story in the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards of 1971). Rather, it is that this book—which most writers and teachers of Philippine literature have likely never heard of, published as it was in a limited-edition newsprint paperback by a small, independent press—was probably one of the last things Espino wrote and published just before he suffered another one of his nervous breakdowns[20] and, as urban legend would have it, almost fatally castrated himself.[21] Shortly after this horrific incident, Espino’s family supposedly had him committed to the psychiatric ward in the basement of a well-known hospital in Metro Manila, and other than this carefully spoken bit of scandalised rumour, nothing has ever been heard of him again.
  29. It would appear that the ‘perverse dynamic’ which Espino set in motion in his novella cast a long and inexorable shadow that transgressed the fixed boundaries of his art and fell across the painful length and breadth of his own anguished life. (Thus, his fictional character Segko’s nightmare became his lived reality—psychically at least, if not in fact anatomically). Lumpen’s most obvious perversions are, of course, religious and sexual in character. Depicting the routinary paganisation by Filipinos of the Western religion called Catholicism is not anything new in Filipino fiction, and indeed novels like Nick Joaquin’s Cave and Shadows have in fact made it the conceptual center of their plots.[22] Nevertheless, Lumpen puts a new spin on this old insight by parodying and even hyperbolising it, as when from the depths of despair, the sexually tormented and profoundly shamed Ben Manco cries inside the dingy cubicle of a public rest room: ‘Christ the Lord, the Lord of Electricity. O shiver me. Galvanise me. Rabbi!’ (p. 22). And then, the supposedly atheistic Communist student leader, Rolly the Red, receives this bit of shamanistic wisdom from a local medicine man, that overturns doctrinal orthodoxy in regard to the Holy Eucharist of the Catholic church: Mangkukulam din is Kristo [Christ is also a witch-doctor] (p. 90). Finally, the text blasphemously relates Segko’s hapless, cursed, and genitally perverted or ‘mixed’ child to the Verbum Infans, the ‘Word without a word’ who is the nativity-scene’s own pudgy-cheeked, beautiful and beneficent Saviour (p. 114).

    Perverse movement and postcolonial agency
  30. On the other hand, the novella’s other primary perversion is the ‘homosexual’ contamination of ‘heterosexual’ masculinity, or the inexorable irruption of what it calls the ‘third’ gender into the ‘first.’ In the text, this perverse movement is embodied most forcefully by the politically committed Rolly and the racially mongrelised Segko, who suffers nightly from the dream of losing his manhood, precisely because, according to the heterosexual norm that polices the local performance of masculinity, he has already effectively lost it when he fell in love with his brown and sleek-haired client, Ben Manco. That the woebegone author may have personally identified with his novella is clearly suggested by a direct editorial intrusion of a strange Spanish-speaking voice into its narrative. As though to defend himself against the implications of the possible ethnographic charge that he ‘participated in the very thing he observed,’ after stating that many in the city have fallen prey to the wiles of the handsome and forthcoming callboys, the novella’s omniscient speaker declares offhand—and self-defensively—that there are some who have ‘eluded their phallic sorceries,’ and practically insists that he is, indeed, such a one: Por eso no levanto mi voz [For this reason I do not raise my voice] (p. 15). I know of no direct, documentary evidence that will explain, once and for all, what Espino’s sexual orientation was, although a close reading of his confessional and angst-ridden poetry easily reveals that he suffered from serious psychological stress throughout his life,[23] possibly even gender-role confusion and sexual repression when he was a child. This we partially infer from the fact that he lamented growing up in a house without a father, where he felt smothered by the affection of his female relatives, especially his doting aunts.[24]
  31. In any case, by offering its own painstakingly dramatised point that Filipino men from the lower classes engage in homosexual sex for the ostensible purpose of getting extra cash, and that the popular student movement that took to the streets of Manila to demand the end of the neocolonial regime of Marcos and his cronies was composed of males who had sex with one another or with middle-class bakla patrons on a regular basis, Lumpen draws our attention to the perversion that inheres both in the Filipino institution of masculinity, and in the institutionalised ‘notion’ of the Filipino nation itself.
  32. Another way of saying this is that by depicting the lives of masculine heterosexual men like Segko and Rolly, Al and Jimmy, Ed and Ben, and all the nameless others who lead lives comparable to theirs, Espino is arguing for an interpretation of Filipino patriarchy and nationalism as being anything but pure, for as teleological ‘essences’ they are, by necessity, internally incoherent, hybrid or perverse. And we must remember that Espino’s critique of Filipino nationalism proves particularly cogent precisely because it is maleness that is discovered to be impure and contradictory. As the exemplar of the foremost Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal, clearly demonstrates, it is maleness itself—and its corollary myths of self-abnegating heroism, sacrifice and honour—that lies at the unassailable heart of Filipino nationalistic sentiment and thought. In this novel, its perversion is made all the more potent because the very men who deviate from the masculine requirement of true and unbridled heterosexuality all look and act pretty manly, still and all. The dominant image of the Filipino male homosexual—the effeminate and/or cross-dressing bakla—while mentioned in passing every now and then, is mostly absent in this fictive world. Thus, the deviation from heteronormativity by its able-bodied and rather dashing masculine men becomes all the more troubling, for the simple reason that other than this minor discrepancy, their identities remain pretty conventional indeed. After going down on his clients, Rolly can be expected to resume the macho roles of boyfriend to a woman, and of valiant leader of the student activist movement. After servicing the winsomely muscular and macho doctor, Jimmy Calvo, Segko returns home to sleep beside his gravid, clear-eyed and longsuffering wife, to whom he is nothing if not a dutiful husband.
  33. That maleness in the Philippines is not purely one thing or another but rather fundamentally contaminated with what it most violently and ‘officially’ disowns may also be taken to mean that maleness or any other sacralised value or philosophical premise in Philippine nationalist discourse simply cannot keep its own word about anything, let alone about itself. It is as though Espino in this text is calling the masculine bluff, and unmasking Filipino men’s enactment of their masculinity as merely a perverse and largely failed performance of its ‘ideal self.’ This only means that the claims masculinity makes about itself just cannot be trusted and taken on face value. Masculinity in this novella is a role that is itself ‘suspect,’ for it is haunted by the ‘unnameable something that stir[s] in the back of [the] mind’ (p. 14). This is another way of saying that perversion in the postcolonial context means an inability for any one principle therein to remain well, self-certain or principled for very long.
  34. We may look at postcolonial agency as coinciding with the pronounced difficulty faced by postcolonial agents to commit themselves to any or all forms of categorical thought. The Marxist and atheistic ideologues in this novel are wannabe-capitalists who invest in their own bodies which they very readily sell, both for ego-boosting profit and for cash. What’s more, they now and then go to church to acquire amulets made from a piece of pastel-colored cloth wrapped around the lozenge of a consecrated Eucharistic host. Here, also, Western-trained psychiatrists trust in the healing power of the sacraments, and liberally prescribe them alongside a daily dose of Thorazine. Religiously hung-up homosexuals revel in the pleasures of gay sex in between kneeling inside a public urinal to pray and beg forgiveness from a hastily graven graffito of the Crucified One. Nationalist writers seek the company and approval of visiting American literary power-brokers. And masculine, heterosexual men drop their pants for each other and for other men when the urge comes, or when the price is right. Finally, even demure and virtuous women like Miriam Dulzura prove unable to keep their chastity, turn demurely sluttish or sluttishly demure (in the text, mahinhing talipandas, dalahirang banayad) (p. 68), and in the heat of the moment, let themselves spectacularly go.
  35. Thus, it is this text’s lucid contention that perversion is one way Filipino subjects may be seen to resist their oppression, precisely by veering away from and therefore eliding the absolute dictates of any imposed norms. The imperatives of power are never fully and purely carried out to the extent that their subjects do not and indeed cannot fully apprehend and actualise them. What this implies is that nothing is ever rigidly this or that in the Philippines, inasmuch as the convictions and faiths of even the most resolute Filipino ideologue, the most fervid Catholic devotee, the most ardent nationalist, the most virtuous woman, can be qualified, compromised and hybridised, made deviant at every turn. Postcolonial perversion may therefore be another name for social mediation or negotiation, and this is primarily how Filipinos, subjects as they necessarily and painfully are of their colonial and neocolonial histories, manage to keep body and soul together, eke out a livelihood, endure from day to annihilating day, survive.
  36. What is supremely interesting is that, in Lumpen, it is nothing if not desire or sexuality itself that drives the cogs and wheels of this tremendous negotiating machine, and most casually brings this perversion about. We see this insight rather clearly in the novella when Miriam, caught in the amorous embrace of Dennis, loses all scruple and inhibition and lets go of all her inner defenses, ‘which fall piece by piece, dictum by dictum … principle by principle’ to the ground (p. 66). The wonderfully rife image of strict moral codes being pulled by desire’s inevitable gravity and falling like bits of shed clothing to the floor is a metaphor that holds true not just for this character but for everybody else in Espino’s surprisingly familiar, perversely fictive world.
  37. In all this, we are presented with an image of the Filipino subject that cannot be fixed or hypostatised in any one grand philosophy or theory (like nationalism), for their being subjects caught in the weft and warp of a continuing and largely harrowing history means that their stories are not and cannot be all at once over. Thus, short of colonising them all over again, Filipinos may not ever be made to constitute an essence or a being, since they already are ever in the process of becoming. The very form of Lumpen itself resonates this unfinishedness, this becomingness: from chapter to gossipingly broached and casually connected chapter, the novella shuttles between mimetic and nonmimetic modes, and is riven and nuanced from the inside by a variety of linguistic, textual and textural features. And with fictional epigraphs that allude to nonexistent books and authors placed alongside real, actual quotes and pithy oral sayings or proverbs, it is evocatively split between the national and the narratological, between the catty and the documentary, between the true and the false, between the historical and the historiographic.
  38. Lumpen may therefore be seen as an exemplary postcolonial text, which pursues an ironic subversion of the colonial and nationalist discourses of nationhood, maleness and even allegorical narration itself. As with postmodernist texts, postcolonial fictions recognise how the Other actually constitutes the Self; meaning, that every form of rebellion is informed by what it seeks to break free from. The strategies available to the postcolonial project—irony, allegory, self-reflexivity, etc.—provide the means to subvert the dominant colonial culture, precisely by being ‘complicit’ with it. Thus, we see a purpose for the use of English and Spanish in this novella, and for the presence of American characters and cultural elements like movies, food, fashion, books and the names of such everyday realities as streets—Belinda lives on Washington street, for example—and of the very Filipinos themselves (Rolly, Edgar, Ben, Jimmy, etc.): they are here because, by virtue of their colonial history, they are who and what Filipinos have already become; they are here because if the novella is going to be realistic in whatever way at all, they simply need to be.
  39. The critique of the historical role that America has played and continues to play as the Philippines’ ‘brutally benevolent’ coloniser and neocoloniser can only be credibly made inside the hybrid culture that Americanisation and its modern and postmodern technologies have effected therein. Nonetheless, a crucial difference presents itself when we remember that while postmodern critique draws from the same assemblage of techniques and strategies that postcolonial writing does, nonetheless their political aims remain irrevocably distinct from—and even hostile to—each other. The politics of Lumpen, as with other postcolonial texts, in the end seek not a détente with postmodernism, but rather the dismantling of structures of colonialism and neocolonialism, which have, of late, precisely taken a postmodern turn.
  40. Lumpen’s sophisticated, postcolonial take on the question of identity is best evidenced in the character of Segko, the racially mixed callboy who stands as the clearest exemplification of the cultural and ethnic syncretism that constitutes the contemporary Filipino subject. In Segko, we can see how the mongrel or the mixed is the same as the perverse—a deviating or turning away from the norm which is purity, whether national, cultural or sexual (in this text, these three are practically indistinguishable). And yet, revealingly enough, Espino’s novella describes Segko’s perverse hybridity as hauntingly beautiful and desirable. Notice the description of Segko’s head: ‘It was the head of Eros, with the yellowish bloom of Parian marble, with fine serious brows, and dusky clustering ringlets standing out in soft plenteousness over temples and ears’ (p. 4). In this description, the European element ‘Eros’ coexists in a harmonious synthesis with the Chinese (‘Parian marble’ alludes to the Chinese enclave just outside the Intramuros of Spanish times), and with an underlying Malay ‘duskiness.’ In all this, we see an acknowledgment, on Espino’s part, that identity—in this case, Filipino identity—is an unfinished but nevertheless beautiful accretion of influences and presences, and is, for this reason, always already ‘in process.’ Because identity is never really finished or achieved, it only follows that it never was and cannot ever be pure or ‘uncontaminated’ by any or indeed all its constitutive ‘others.’
  41. The recent violent history of the Philippines that began with the murder of around half a million Filipinos during the bitterly fought but mostly unlamented three-year Filipino-American war,[25] forces us to see how the most obvious Other of the Filipino self is—and probably for a long time yet, will continue to be—American. This text repeats this common enough observation, and actually gives us a funnily stereotypical, mock-colonial description: walking down an almost-deserted city street on their way to a famous sex-show, the Filipino assistant, Edgar Manco, ‘dogs’ the footsteps of his American boss, Sammy, like ‘a little brown man following his tall white brother’ (p. 24). And yet, we know it is the rash-ridden and namby-pamby American closet queen who the novella turns into the Filipino gigolo’s grovelling and loyal lover, whose frustrated wife likewise falls prey to the brown-skinned stud’s sexual charms. All told, the American couple, Sammy and Kathy, in relation to everybody else, are not given any major defining function in this text, and are merely reduced to the role of fleeting, almost inconsequential, ‘appearances.’
  42. Perhaps we can even argue that Espino’s decision to trivialise these ‘Yankee’ characters in this way, and to give them both a miserable and in Kathy’s case in particular, an outré and most ungracious end reveals an obviously angry, anticolonial gesture on his part. But because the novella does not fix its attention on any one character, and merely presents in a chatty and almost apparitional fashion its unlikely cast of characters in all their contrariety and difference, we are inclined to attend to its utterances not as a naïvely realist portraiture of any one actor or set of actors, but as an allegory, or rather, as a loosely bound collection of multiple and transformational ‘counter-allegories’ that do not really coalesce thematically, even as they do so narratologically. That is to say, the protagonist they collectively describe is not so much the individual as the heterogeneous collective, who are left to their own devices, and are fictively ‘captured’ in the register of the plurivocal. And so, other than complying with the nationalist requirement to take America to task, Lumpen also proposes a postnational critique of identity: rather than simplistically binarise the issue between the native Self and the foreign Other, Espino’s dissident text seeks to identify the Filipino nation’s ‘others’ as also being, ironically, the irreducibly different ‘Filipinos’ themselves.
  43. To the degree that the normative category ‘Filipino,’ as it has been preached and enforced by canonical Philippine literature and history, presumes to be able to allegorically capture and subsume the plurality of subjectivities and selves of the very ‘Filipinos’ it supposedly merely describes and yet in fact discursively materialises, then, finally, it is in fact the latter and not any outside, alien or dominating force that functions as this category’s constitutive Other, the structure that it repudiates and yet simultaneously incorporates precisely as its founding repudiation. In other words, it is the real ‘Filipinos’ themselves that the symbolic nativist fantasy of ‘Filipinoness’ excludes, but at the same time it is they who are supposed to ‘embody’ it into being. And this novella makes this point exceedingly clear, as it attends to lives of the Philippines’s erstwhile invisible lumpenic or subaltern subjects, who subvert at the same time that they pervert the dominant narratives that have conspired to represent them in historical and literary discourses of the past century.

    The question of nationalism
  44. On the other hand, we may argue that while calling attention to the subversive effects of hybridity on hegemonic representations of Filipino cultural life, Espino’s text likewise serves as a cautionary tale to the nationalist cause, which in its staunch commitment to the making and propagation of the myth of the nation has typically reviled cultural mixedness and impurity as vestiges of bourgeois decadence, as evidence of a deplorable lack of patriotism, or as forms of ideological wishy-washiness. Because some of Lumpen’s perverse characters are themselves firmly located within and even offer up their lives to the national revolution, we can say that, as a political text, it seeks to challenge the masculinist, heterosexist and nativist claims of this revolution, simply by unpacking and ‘disarticulating’ them. And yet, we can almost detect that implicit in the same critique that ostensibly champions perversion is a certain mournfulness, a melancholy and arguably devout gesture that bespeaks a subtly encoded and somewhat platonic desire for purity, for wholehearted commitment, for a nation or at least a vision of the nation that is not afflicted by so much ambivalence and mixed or half-hearted motives, lives and loves—a nation that is not endlessly negotiable, perverse or hybrid, especially in the ways that matter.
  45. Despite or precisely because of the ‘forbidden’ nature of the realities Lumpen attends to and depicts, the energy that the perverse dynamic Espino sets in motion in this text arguably remains a religious one at heart. The allusions to Dante and T.S. Eliot, the text’s regular and often incantatory recourse to Christian symbology, the snippets of Catholic devotional literature and liturgy, the novella’s forced and moralising closure: they are here not only because they are to be mocked or rendered impure like the ethical codes they supposedly shore up, but also because they bespeak the author’s own suppressed but still palpable wish for metaphysical redemption from the fluidity, ambivalence and unremitting changingness of all things material and temporal (what Espino calls, at the very end of his novella, the insuperable ‘matrix of time’—the ‘historical flux’ in which everyone and everything may be said to exist.) Indeed, in this text, we are once again reminded that the profane is the sacred’s constitutive other, and vice-versa. This means that, in the end, the sacred remains foundational to this fictive project, even as it compulsively and scandalously profanes it. It is almost as if, its emplotment and thematising of hybridity aside, the critique Lumpen means to mount is itself, in truth, a hybrid one: the text is effectively torn, from within, between its reckless revelling in the heady mire and merriment of perversion, and its own bright, secretly spoken and quietly seething wish for whole(some)ness.
  46. In conclusion, I would like to repeat that, as postcolonial perversion, hybridity in this novella demonstrates the non-convergence between (neo)colonial power’s intentions, and the affects and ‘effects’ of those who receive them. Again and again, in Espino’s text, we are presented deviant characters in whose actions and social relations we can see the process by which political, religious or just plain cultural codes repeat themselves as different from their ‘original’ significations, as well as from the lives they seek to control. Whether the discourse in question pertains to gender, sexual or ethno-national norms, the various rehearsals of its categories of difference—and, quite often, discrimination—undermine the very claims of this selfsame discourse to a natural and singular meaning or originality. Power—whether the state’s or the anti-state’s—repeats and imitates itself over and over, and is qualified, compromised and hybridised at every turn.[26]
  47. All discursive impositions that govern the formation of identity become resignified by the culture in which this identity-formation occurs—split between their claims and their performances, recontextualised and syncretised from the very moment of their enunciation. All told, hybridity presents us with an image of a postcolonial nation-in-progress that is helplessly perverse, helplessly performative, helplessly becoming. As an organising principle, hybridity in this novella forces us to attend to the suffered and lived differences of sexual and economic minorities, of the disenfranchised and downtrodden, of the voiceless and dispossessed. In other words, of the subaltern and the lumpenic: the various differences and identities, the demonically plural selves and others which mainstream allegorisings of the nation simply cannot ever take into account. All told, hybridity as postcolonial perversion presents us with a historical nation that, in all likelihood, will never fully coincide with its own transcendental desire for being—and for itself.
  48. And yet, like Espino, I must admit I also do fervently wish it were not so, inasmuch as the longing for an unsullied and homogeneous Self is precisely an expression of the postcolonial and, not surprisingly, novelistic longing for wholeness and depth—a dream of seamlessness, of coherent formal meaning, a longing for meaningful form.[27] Allow me, at the end of this paper, to admit it now, my espousal of the aesthetics of the generative and the provisional, my sympathy for demonised difference and hybrid perversion notwithstanding: I do powerfully and intimately share and invest in this wish! Critics and theorists tell us that the predicament of postcolonial subjects is that they are caught between the imperatives of a desire for a pristine, precolonial oneness, and the historical and experienced recognition of the impossibility of ever fulfilling this fantasy.[28] From this contradiction springs the proverbial question of ethics and, ultimately, of praxis: What are Filipinos then to do, given this monstrous chasm between the aspiration and the fact? Espino’s own answer, across the decades, is obvious to us still: he wrote, and in writing, fully and harrowingly inscribed both his personal and his personal nation’s many dark and desperate dilemmas.

    Coda: the failed revolution
  49. And what if the poor and battle-weary Filipinos, here and now, were to take up the narrative challenge, pick up the dreamy pen, and follow suit? Chances are, this updated ‘novelistic nation’ would not be all that different—perhaps, would merely be a recalibrated version of Espino’s own. For one, it would still have the same cast of characters: prostitutes (sexual, political and all the colourful variants in between), opportunists from the lowest to the highest levels of crassness or grace, irrational intellectuals and American-obsessed nationalist artists, hypocritical women and men parading and valiantly guarding their nonexistent virtues. And the government, no longer a censorious dictatorship, would be just as evil if not more so, for it would now flaunt the stain and stench of its corruption for everyone to see—in the broad daylight of mass media, no less! This nation would still be one long avenue of creeping poverty and perversion, oozing with neocolonialism’s—now officially called globalisation’s—violent imperatives and contradictions, rife with moral doctrines being routinely misunderstood, taken apart and reassembled to suit the interests of the privileged few, with practices not coinciding with preachings, with the proliferative hybridities of thought and action overflowing the very cup of allegory, and exceeding the supple form of storytelling itself….
  50. And yet, what would perhaps distinguish the present-day Filipino nation’s paradoxes is the sad fact that while Espino’s revolution, set in the beginning of the 1970s, was nothing if not pure possibility, for many present-day Filipinos, their hearts’ youthful revolution in all likelihood has already failed them—forsaking as it repeatedly has the ground of suffered history, and painlessly choosing to forget and forgive the wickedness and the treachery, the collaboration and collusion, the double-dealing and corruption that it used to abominate in the dispensation for whose annihilation many had so willingly annihilated their lives, and that it now, shamelessly, mindlessly wallows in. Everywhere, the revolution compromises and perverts itself[29] to the point of utter negotiability. Everywhere, the dream of liberation lies about the Filipino nation’s mangled body, ravaged and in tatters. Everywhere, revolutionary principles and ideals are being sold and resold, blended, diluted, mixed and remixed into an amnesia-producing cocktail of self-serving interests, conveniences and lies.
  51. Obviously, being hybrid is not about being either/or, but both/and. As far as the Filipino nation—or, for that matter, any nation—is concerned, this means that being hybrid can only be, at once, both a good and a bad thing.


    [1] This paper was read at the First International Conference of Asian Queer Studies held at the Ambassador Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, 7 to 9 July, 2005.

    [2] Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 104-05.

    [3] Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence, p. 112.

    [4] See Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London: Routledge, 1993, p. 45.

    [5] Federico Licsi Espino, Jr., Lumpen, Pasig City: Limbagang Araro, 1985. The pages of further references to this novella may be found in the text.

    [6] Reynaldo C. Ileto, ‘Outlines of a non-linear emplotment in Philippine history,’ in Reflections on Development in Southeast Asia, ed. Teck Ghee Lim, Singapore: ASEAN Economic Research Unit, 1988, pp. 131-32.

    [7] See Epifanio San Juan, Jr., ‘Trajectories of the Filipino diaspora’ (manuscript), forthcoming article in the Diliman Review, 2 (2005), a journal of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, p. 17.

    [8] That the nationalist literary tradition, as outlined by its revered critics and theorists, does not address such perverse issues as homosexuality and ethnic or cultural mixedness is clear from these two major anthologies: Bienvenido Lumbera & Cynthia Nograles Lumbera (eds), Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology, Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 1997; and Elmer A. Ordoñez (ed.), Nationalist Literature: A Centennial Forum, Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1996.

    [9] See, for instance, Leonard Casper, The Opposing Thumb: Decoding Literature of the Marcos Regime, Quezon City: Giraffe, 1995.

    [10] The most influential of these historians are Reynaldo C. Ileto, Vicente Rafael & Zeus Salazar. For a critique of these nationalist historians’ comparably essentialist—that is to say, idealised and nativist—premises concerning the linguistic and cultural community that is the Philippines, see Caroline Sy Hau, 'The "cultural" and "linguistic" turns in Philippine scholarship,' in Ruptures and Departures: Language and Culture in Southeast Asia, ed. Corazon D. Villareal et al., Quezon City: Department of English and Comparative Literature, University of the Philippines, Diliman, 2002, pp. 36-70.

    [11] Not even the more recent, formally complex and ‘postmodernist’ Martial Law novels have been able to complicate and confound the image of the Filipino national and/or revolutionary subject in the way that Lumpen does. For a survey and poststructuralist reading of the more important Martial Law novels of the past two decades, see Ruth Jordana Luna Pison, Alternative Histories: Martial Law Novels as Counter-Memory, Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2005.

    [12] The transformation of the Philippines from a colony to a neocolony must be seen in the context of American policy in Asia; thus, up until 1991, the U.S. maintained military and naval bases on Philippine soil that existed beyond the pale of Philippine laws. The economy of the Philippines remained dependent on American financial aid, and fifty years after it had supposedly been granted independence by its imperial master, it continued to serve as ‘a market for American goods, source of raw materials, and an open field for American investments.’ For an in-depth discussion of this painful and unfinished historical passage, see Renato Constantino & Letizia R. Constantino, The Philippines: The Continuing Past, Quezon City: The Foundation for Nationalist Studies, 1978, pp. 193-268.

    [13] The term lumpen (‘rags’ in German) originally referred to a knave or a ragamuffin. By the 1820s, it could be tacked on almost any German word as a pejorative adjective. In his critique of Max Stirner, Marx coined the term ‘lumpenproletariat’ (in The German Ideology) to refer to ‘the dangerous classes’ of declassed, degraded and outcast elements that make up the lowest section of the population of industrial centres. See the entry ‘Lumpenproletariat,’ in The Encyclopedia of Marxism, ed. Brian Basgen & Andy Blunden, URL:, site accessed 9 September 2005.

    In Espino’s novel, the signifier ‘lumpen’ functions rhetorically, in the main: it exposes the hypocrisy of polite, Filipino, bourgeois society. In this sense, it may be said to function deconstructively, too: because lumpen is the margin that makes the centre possible, everybody in this novella is contaminated with lumpenness. As the events of the novella soon bear out, everybody in the ‘avenue of perversion’ that is pre-Martial law Manila is, more or less, lumpen.

    [14] In one of several fictitious epigraphs that prefaces the book, Espino reveals the perverse characteristic that underpins his use of the word ‘lumpen,’ by declaring, through the pseudonym of the ‘foolishly impractical outsider,’ Quixote de Extramuros: ‘If there is a Lumpen Proletariat, there is also a Lumpen Middle Class, and a Lumpen Upper Class’ (p. i).

    [15] A beautifully written, harrowing and memorable account of the month-long battle for Manila is Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil’s essay, ‘The war.’ Here, Nakpil doesn’t mince words about what she feels regarding the American ‘liberators’ who shelled Manila over and over and killed more Filipino civilians than the hysterically homicidal Japanese soldiers themselves: ‘Those who had survived Japanese hate did not survive American love.’ See Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, ‘The war,’ in The Likhaan Anthology of Philippine Literature in English from 1900 to the Present, ed. Gémino H. Abad, Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2002, pp. 443-48.

    [16] While only mentioning it in passing, Nick Joaquin does make a similar observation regarding the ‘sinfulness’ of this famous street and district in downtown Manila. See Nick Joaquin, Manila: Sin City?, Manila: National Bookstore, 1980, pp. 255-71.

    [17] I take these biographical facts from the encyclopedia entry for Federico Licsi Espino, Jr. in the Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia of Philippine Arts, Volume 4: Literature, ed. Nicanor Tiongson, Manila: the Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1995, pp. 598-99.

    [18] According to the CCP Encyclopedia, these awards include the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards, the Cultural Center of the Philippines Literary Award, awards from the Philippine Graphic Short Story Contest, the Talaang Ginto & Gawad Collantes of the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa, and from Bilbao, Spain, the Premio de Poesia Ramon de Basterra. See Tiongson, CCP Encyclopedia, p. 599.

    [19] In a shameless attempt at self-promotion, Espino used these acclamatory quotes from the literary power-brokers of the time as blurbs on the inside pages and the back-cover of his book.

    [20] As a number of his own poems disclose, Espino’s first nervous breakdown happened while he was visiting an archeological field school in Calatagan, Batangas province. According to the pre-eminent critic and anthologist of Philippine poetry in English, Gémino H. Abad, this incident became a turning-point in the poet’s life. See Gémino H. Abad (ed.), A Native Clearing: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English Since the 50s to the Present, Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1993, p. 628.

    [21] According to Anthony V. Serrano, resident historian and 'documenter' of the University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing, talk about Espino’s unfortunate ‘accident’ circulated in Manila’s literary communities sometime in the mid-1980s. From a personal interview with Serrano at the University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing, 4 August 2005.

    [22] For an interesting historiographic and mytho-poetic analysis of Joaquin’s famous nationalist ‘whodunit’ novel, see Pison, Alternative Histories, pp. 120-39.

    [23] In his bio-notes on Espino, Abad suggests that the poet did suffer immensely from anxiety due largely to his dysfunctional and less-than-ideal family life, although he also cautions the reader against conveniently carrying out biographical criticism of the poet’s body of imaginative work. See Abad, A Native Clearing, pp. 628-29.

    [24] The poet himself confesses as much in his poems, especially in ‘Poem for my father.’ For the text of this poem, see Abad, A Native Clearing, p. 393.

    [25] Under the Treaty of Paris signed on December 10, 1898, the Philippines (together with Puerto Rico & Guam) was ceded by Spain to the United States of America for a sum of $20 million. According to the Filipino nationalist historian, Renato Constantino, this colonisation, which began in 1899 and ended (at least nominally) in 1946, was propelled by American capitalist expansionism and its search for new markets in Asia, to which the Philippines could serve as a springboard or a base. It was rationalised by the Americans to themselves as either ‘manifest destiny’ or ‘social Darwinism,’ and in order to more smoothly carry out its objectives, it ‘Americanized’ Filipinos through an efficient system of public miseducation in English, which placated future resistance and naturalised American rule. This conquest was interrupted only by a brief Japanese occupation of the Philippines, from 1941 to 1944. According to Benedict Anderson, throughout its incumbency, the American colonial regime effectively smashed all Filipino opposition ‘with great brutality.’ See: Constantino & Constantino, The Philippines, p. 281; and Benedict Anderson, ‘Cacique democracy in the Philippines,’ in Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Cultures, ed. Vicente L. Rafael, Pasig: Anvil Publishing Inc., 1995, pp. 3-47.

    [26] And so, as hybridity’s foremost theorist, Homi K. Bhabha, eloquently puts it: ‘In the very practice of domination the language of the master becomes hybrid—neither the one thing nor the other.’ See Bhabha, Location of Culture, p. 33.

    [27] According to Timothy Brennan, the formation of nations in Europe was aided by the production and dissemination of forms of imaginative literature, chiefly the novel. Thus, the national longing is arguably a formal longing: a longing for the boundedness, for the unity of vision and design, for the characterological and fictive symmetry and harmony which the novel, as a work of art in nineteenth-century Europe, most wonderfully and convincingly evinced. See Timothy Brennan, ‘The national longing for form,’ in Nation and Narration, ed. Homi K. Bhabha, London, Routledge, 1990, pp. 44-70.

    [28] See Peter Childs & Patrick Williams, An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory, Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall, 1997, p. 14.

    [29] This revolutionary movement that gained momentum in the 1970s has seen many of its former youthful idealistic leaders getting institutionally co-opted and selling their souls to the system across the decades. Even while the movement continues its struggle in the Philippine countryside, it has also occasionally lost its way, been sabotaged by personalistic in-fighting, suffered from a perversion of its principles, and fallen into disarray. I refer, in particular, to the fact that in the next two decades, grave abuses have been documented by various agencies—abuses that took the shape of assassinations and tortures that were purportedly committed for the sake of purging its ranks of so-called military infiltrators. See the series of reports from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, in particular: Robert Francis Garcia, ‘Comrade torturer,’ in the Investigative Reporting Magazine: Special Report VII(2) (April-June 2001) URL:; site accessed 27 November 2005.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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From February 2008, this paper has been republished in Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific from the following URL:

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