Great Prose, Simple Prosody

The Hours is a chilling novel. The way it chilled me was quite a sleeper. I read it on and off for a few months, and only this past holiday season did its singularity strike me, and it hit my blood. Why did I keep on putting down the book? I had an easy enough time getting into the end of first chapter, but after that, the household chore scenes that followed enticed me to attend to my own quotidian home duties (i.e., unironed laundry).

A novel is a piece of writing. It is not sung. The novel, incidentally, often deals with the unsung. Julian Barnes draws out fabulous connections from bits and pieces that would seem, on the surface, biographical trivia. The novel has been known to be open to the treatment of material too squalid or unmonarchial for the genre of the courtly epic. Although Shakespeare wrote of lowly beings, he could never privilege such creatures. There was, time and again, Falstaff.

The unsung, the unsaid--- these present challenging new frontiers for writers. The new may cleverly be a fresh approach... to the old. Philippine Centennial Literary Prize Contestants and Entreurs (i.e., perhaps any of those women who incidentally did not bag anything ) dug up heroes overshadowed by the propagation of Rizal. Isabelo Abaya was set at the forefront. Bienvenido Lumbera recalled a group of Tagalog women who denounced the sheer animals of the U.S. Yankees. The periodicities of history demand the utmost attention of writers, who have accordingly responded. A.S. Byatt was right to recall the spirit of Victorianism, as a bourgeois readership and film adaptation viewership for such material as hers. Lumbera's prize-winning play was appropriately stages this month, as a response to the dwarf president's hospitality to the US Army, the worst terrorist group to have hit our brown soil.


Cunningham does not get all queasy about saying what has already been said by other people. Julian Barnes, on the other hand, likes to fidget around with facts not as heretofore widely known as the person to whom they pertained. Flaubert's Parrot, way back in 1984, well preceded the Eurorail in establishing a solid English-French connection. Barnes' novel's depiction of Flaubert's quirks is perhaps more profoundly French than Patricia Duncker's Hallucinating Foucault.

Althogh Duncker succeeds in a number of insights on French nether life, her background seems more finite. Paul Michel, unlike the other Frenchman Flaubert as magnified by Barnes, may be read as a contrived assemblage of pre-noted characteristics of marginalized, lower-class .

What has been said before must be said all over again, but in a different way. This works out best only with the careful craft of the literary mind. When Gloria openly recalled for Japan's head officials the cliche, "A friend in need is a friend indeed," she secured an amount of financial foreign aid well within expectations, but she has yet (with the remainder of her term) to still ponder on what is need and what is effectual help. Can Her Excellency set free the barumbarong-bred Filipina GROs from their worship of the Japanese man for his lapad?

Suicide is an unoriginal theme, and yet (unlike the smallpox--- or even the influenza which had stricken Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway) it can never, ever be substantially purged from the ill habits of humanity. Aurelio Agcaoili did not even appreciate its figuring into Francisco Sionil Jose's Antonio Samson character (The Pretenders).

How is the tragedy of the suicide made emphatic in a literary piece, moreso nowadays, considering the as already suicide-strewn heritage of world literature? Suicide has been a European literary archetype since Antigone. Virginia Woolf's suicide is not entirely Ophelian, although "death by water" (to use words from my favourite T.S. Eliot poem) is implemented. Although Woolf, like Ophelia, had her effusions of language before her fatal act, her language did not all carry the Ophelian fervour of distraction.

When noted post-Enlightenment Asian and Third World writers took up writing which drew extensively from European traditions, suicide became a sound recourse for characters and other main characters. There was Achebe's Yeats'-titled novel with the suicide of the manly Okonkwo.


In class, we emphasized the centrality of homosexuality in the text. Although homosexuality is writ large in literature, from Plato (albeit that Isagani Cruz is an idiot to ascribe homosexuality to Jose Rizal), the Negrense babaylan short (either short-lined if not short-bodied altogether) oral texts, Michel Foucault

How do we articulate the distinctiveness of Michael Cunningham? How did he manage to be so distinctive despite his handling of such common themes as suicide and food, even taking alongside the important issue of AIDS? Whereas most portrayals of suicide cease at the impact of the victim's becoming deceased, or its report, Cunningham draws out immediate post mortem phenomena. Even the moments after pulse is lost, Cunningham believes that the body must still be communicated. Nay, Richard's dead body must needs be touched by Clarissa in the same way that Superman had to hold Supergirl on the front cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths DC comic book.

Richard Brown's suicide was justified. His was no coward's suicide. I myself could only conceive of committing suicide if I was in a similar situation of AIDS, an unlikely event. Thus, Cunningham effectively convinces the reader of the euthanasiac rationale of an AIDS victim's decision to suicide. Richard jumped, not out of cowardice, but out of authentic non-absurdist happiness. The debatable point is whether Woolf's own suicide was justified. According according to the text of The Hours, even Woolf's suicide was, although my Catholic, non-atheist morality would decide otherwise. If Woolf did not commit suicide, she might have had a nervous collapse like Friedrich Nietzsche. Her writings would remain great, not that she would get to write more books of such a point of collapse (like that which Ernest Hemmingway diagnosed of himself, treating it accordingly).

Should artists commit suicide once they can no longer produce the great stuff that they used to make? The Elton John solution is to go on playing competently, even after the fire of original composition has been lost. Bernard Taupin and Elton John (although not as prolific as Lennon-McCartney) had written several songs which other pop artists would be hard put to concoct. "Saturday Night ('s alright for Fighting)" may fall within Rolling Stones' musical range, but the music of "Your Song" carries a light, but lasting composition not noted from other hands.

Woolf's justification of her suicide does carry its validity, as argued for most uncontrivedly in her suicide note. Woolf's decision to suicide as a means of not desecrating previous happiness is quite logical, although more in the sense of painful logical, rather than detached, bureaucratic logic.

What is a suicide? Is it a DELETE key? There are stupid suicides, such as the critically bashed suicide of Sid Vicious. There are predictable enough, but pain-in-the-neck suicides such as that of Kurt Cobain. Suicide for Woolf and Richard was not a DELETE key, but a SHUT DOWN hot key (Yes, meaning a combination of three keys, especialy if we note the trilogical aspect of Cunningham's novel). The ConTRoL key was Woolf. The ALT key was Vaughan. The Delete key was Richard's mother, Laura, who had left their family.

The pain of Cunningham's prose, and its concomitant complexities, is substantially not a contrived delivery, but an organic product of the dramatic force of his episodes. The power of his prose does not rest on vocabulary, but on the concreteness of his dramae's correspondences.

Of course, Cunningham now and then uses a contrivance of device, such as when he holds off disclosing Richard's surname before the character dies. I have to admit that I am perhaps one of the small portion of readers who were taken in by the device. I could safely assume that most readers would already identify Richard with Richie early on. Why does Cunningham use a trilogy? It's too bad that I failed to read Torch Song Trilogy, one of the very first narratives dealing with AIDS, especially the disease as it unfolded in U.S. America. On an elemental level, the triangle has been Male Gay America's rallying symbol, particularly the pink triangle of Queer Nation.

We may note deliberate set-up of Cunnunghams novel. Its tri-helical structure is indeed quite different from the single stream of interior monologue that is the established characterization of Woolfs' Mrs. Dalloway novel.

When Cunningham, valourizes the triangle, we see how his triangle is not merely the icon designated for male homosexuality, it is triangle which geometrically maximizes tension and conflict. It is the human triangle of relations, which is quite antonymical to the Divine Trinity of Occident-promoted Christianity.

The confluence of three people readily enough breeds trouble. Two people may easily get to like each other in a moment, but you can count on urban Philippines to throw in one person: a prior acquiantance to one of them. This one will usually succeeding in getting his or her prior acquaintance to reject the budding, new relation to the third person. For example, Jose Estrella can easily get Sir Anton Juan to disdain someone whom she had caught him candidly inviting to the gala night of one of their many Dulaang UP plays.

What are the correspondences in the novel that specifically wrenched my heart? One most apparent to me is Richard's self-admitted "failure." On the surface, the "failure" is that of a writer whose works eventually got acknowledged, the public recognition of which did not stave off the suicide attempt (a situation which also well happened even here in our country at least twice--- fortunately, one attempt got thwarted).

(I would not regret at all if a low-value writer such as Mia Tijam would actually succeed finally in one of their several recallable suicide attempts.)

One of my painful readings of Richard's failure is his having take the Louis rather than the Clarissa Vaughan pathway of love. Two roads diverged by a yellow wood, and Richard took the wrong one. What's more painful is that it wasn't a matter of Louis being gay that made Richard's life awry. Cunningham effectively projects the healthy boy side of the gay man, the "chipper" Walter. Cunningham convinces that we may equate a substantial segment of gay men with health of the high protein order.

Richard took the wrong road, because the Clarissa path was definitely the one that guaranteed stability, although even she could not secure permanence. The stability was of the order of middle-class neatness: clean showers and water closets with lots of toilet paper.

The Hours has been read by many people as a single-sitting initial read. Yes, it took them only hours to read the novel, maybe five or six, even four. It has taken me months, however, to read the book. What made me hard for reading the book, despite its decidedly easy language (compared to the complex protracted sentences of Woolf's basis-serving novel), was my lack of notion as to what New York is. The Hours is one of my first intimate step towards New York, and I am quite afraid to take subsequent ones. Before stumbling into the New York that Clarissa Vaughan walked through, I had quite an easy time digesting the New York of Bernard Malamud. Heck, even his Chicago was easy enough to come by (although I never had gotten to set foot unto it) Why

Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway has even posed a greater reading problem for me. Again, the problem is not all with the English language itself (for such a matter, I have been adequately self-moderated with SRA kit materials as a child). I hate Europe. Even if England is not part of mainland Europe, it is an European society enough for me to hate it as such. Although I would rather get paid to be a philologist of European canonical literature.

Cunningham's novel problemmatizes reader's response to Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, but my problems with reading Woolf's are far different from those of Laura Brown. Laura Brown had an OK life before her textual confrontation. Her problem is as such the conflict between the picture of a perfect non-textual life (spouse + child = own family) and the imagery of literary textuality. Her problem with reading literature after marriage is not, however, equatable with what had been Flaubert's Emma Bovary condition. Flaubert's Emma had read Romantically victorious narratives, and as such, she had wanted to be a winner in love of equal magnitude. Laura Brown read a narrative which both spelled out and pictorially depicted the emptiness of civilized life. "The death of the soul" were the exact words of one Woolf character.

Europe is materialist and expensive.

When critics and their blurbs praise Cunningham's prose, we should not imagine that it is a sterling concatenation of high-end words and unprecedented phrases that set their writer head and shoulders above other writers. Barnes is certainly more of the concatenative prose writer. Byatt (in Possession) carries a sway, not just in em dashes, which takes, expectedly, a dip now and then into an archaic word, but generally... she makes commonly comprehenisble language flutter with fairy tale elegance.

The power that Cunningham unleashes is not that of words themselves but that of context. Such invocation is both arousingly and painfully human. Of course, the inutile and idle haute bourgeois everyday and every hour thereof defeat language itself and any of its empowering potential. The death of the person at the beginning of the novel The Hours is gruesome not because of words as churning as Dante (in English; Woolf noted the intensity of ancient writers, particularly Aechylus, when translated into English, because--- we may gather for ourselves--- ), but because the person involved (doing herself in with a paper-plain means) is a soul of terrifying magnitude. Woolf is a soul of terrifying magnitude, because of the depth of her atheism. Even in England, she noticed seeds of the atheism which may foster a community of caring, the sort that which Philosophy Professor Allan Layug had set about to enact, although middle-class elements such as Sebastian Aguilar and Mia Tijam have tried to reverse him.

The Hours and the slim Mrs. Dalloway upon which it is based are both counting novels. Their counting is not at all numerological in the Dantean sense. Cunningham echoes Woolf's quantification. Whereas the philosopher Martin Heidegger expounded on the Nothings (its metaphysics and the destruction thereof), Woolf and Cunningham after her expound on the Something---- how the Something builds up a lot, then is reduced to a Nothing.

It has been often a challenge posed by academic critics to writers since the previous century to write what was heretofore unwritten. "Why should a poet write what has been said before?", in such wise would lecture the prolific Tagalog poet Rio Alma.

Are the CL 198 novels remakes?


Cunningham has well noticed Woolf's insights on the bourgeois preoccupation with mere physical objects.

"My, does the silver look nice," said Lucy.
(Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf)

Paper submitted by
Ramuel "Rag" Raagas
CAL 92-79204