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Speech of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay during the 150th Rizal Anniversary PEN Conference on Nation & Culture, CCP, Pasay City, 3 December 2011, 5:30 p.m.
Posted: Sunday, December 04, 2011
THE ARTIST AND THE PUBLIC SERVANT
(delivered by former Senator Francisco Tatad)
It is a distinct honor and privilege for me to be among artists at this closing session of PEN’s 150th Rizal Anniversary Conference on Nation and Culture.
You are the natural workers of culture. The primary articles of your art or craft are words and ideas---the armor and sword of reason, the weapons of the imagination. Because of you, much more than others, the rest of society is able to keep an intelligent grip on the human condition in the best and the worst of times.
Your labors are not always sufficiently appreciated by those who like to claim credit for shaping the nation and its culture. But what kind of nation or culture would there be without the engine of truth in your craft, without the eagles of your imagination?
This is why a nation that denies their rightful place to its artists and writers is one that has lost its soul.
I inhabit a different world, the world of politics, which allows me to speak a language slightly different from yours. But our two different worlds are not permanently separated; they meet in the human heart and are ultimately conjoined.
You use words and ideas to celebrate truth and beauty in various forms. I use words, ideas and deeds to communicate service to our people, and to make possible what at first seems impossible.
I use the everyday speech of men and women who are trying to create poetry from the jaded prose of their daily lives. These are the men and women in the poorest places of our cities and countryside who echo the lament we hear in t. S. Eliot’s Choruses From “The Rock”:
“In this land no man has hired us, our life is unwelcome, our death unmentioned in “the times.”
These are the men and women who need to see that government has not forgotten them, and that someone is there to build them homes, to come to their aid and comfort when they are maltreated by their overseas employers, to save them from being manipulated by drug traffickers and human traffickers, to help their dependents cope with the cost and pain of separation from their foreign-based breadwinners, and to condole with bereaved families whenever their overseas member dies or is executed by a foreign government for having committed a capital crime.
None of these may quite resemble any of your labors. But in a certain sense we end up doing the same thing. For as you sing to the soul so that it may soar on eagle’s wings, we sing to the body so that, as the Italians put it, the soul may dance.
We stretch no truth then when we say our two worlds do indeed intersect and converge at the most vital point. And so, too, our notions of nation and culture.
It is reasonable to assume that when we talk of culture today the definition offered by the British anthropologist Edward Tylor applies---that it is the sum total of a group or society’s evolved set of ideas and behavior, habits and beliefs, laws and morals, symbols and potentials, values and ideals.
Culture is both integrated and diverse, evolved and learned, created and shared through life. In the end, it brings individuals together, but distinguishes the individual and the group from others. That is why the defense of one’s culture is a high and serious sovereign question.
There is ample scholarship to suggest that culture is the evolution of religion—or the building of a certain kind of faith in what is commonly held as good. And while it includes habits and beliefs that may or may not be “elevating,” or “redeeming,” culture in its highest expressions is always reaching out for what is potentially of general benefit. It is, as Matthew Arnold said, the cultivation of the humanist ideal.
That, too, is what government is all about.
In talking of the nation, we cannot ignore the objection coming from some sectors that, although we use the word in everyday speech, we have not yet really become a nation. I will not be able to adequately address this issue now, but perhaps we could take a look at the view offered by men like Benedict Anderson who speak of the nation as “imagined communities.”
According to that view, a nation exists because it is imagined by people who, even if they don’t see each other, know about each other and believe in a commonly created or imagined community through communication. They conceive the nation as “a deep horizontal comradeship” and people are willing not so much to kill as to die for such imaginings.
I shall leave these ideas for another time. For now let me just touch on a subject that may be of interest to the parties present here. Going through the diverse papers presented in this conference I could sense the ultimate acceptance among cultural workers such as yourselves of the necessity of a state policy on culture.
That is most heartening indeed. I have not encountered in any detail a draft proposal or bill for a new department of culture, but let me offer my initial thoughts on what state policy should or should not be regarding culture.
First, it should be informed by the nature of culture itself—what Arnold said of its character as “not a having and a resting, but a growing and a becoming.”
A state policy on culture should be generative and not restrictive, cumulative and not exclusive—especially with the diverse geographies and sub-cultures that comprise our archipelagic nation.
Also, it should not be what Plato called for in his ideal republic—a censoring education. Instead it should be stimulating and searching. It should encourage examination and critical perspective, and guide towards discovery, towards more knowledge, from which should eventually flow wisdom.
In this respect, we cannot even ban television programs that are intellectually and morally asphyxiating. We can only counter them with better ones. Good will not be good enough, the best should always be our aim.
Thus, culture should be revelatory as well as creative. It should revel in our national character but our character should reveal itself on the basis of its own strength, despite all the layers of foreign influences that seek to smother it or erase it altogether. Our innate Filipinoness should emerge from within us on its own as much as we make it come into being in response to various stimuli.
“Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle,” Albert Camus reminds us. “This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.”
Camus and Jean Paul Sartre extended the French intellectual movement from Voltaire to Rousseau to Gabriel Marcel, and from Paris to the whole world. In Asia, two patriots and poets were born 150 years ago in the same year, 1861, one month from each other. Jose Rizal was born in June in Calamba and Rabindranath Tagore in may in Bengal.
One wrote novels and poetry seeking his country’s liberation. He was executed by his colonizers at the ripe old age of 35. The other lived to become a poet-philosopher, and won the Nobel Prize for literature, seeking the liberation of his country and the soul of his people.
One wrote, in the series of songs called Gitanjali, the following lines:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
where the world has not been broken up into fragments
by narrow domestic walls;
where words come out from the depth of truth;
where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into
The dreary desert sand of dead habit;
where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening
thought and action—
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.
The other wrote in his Last Farewell:
I shall die when I see the colors of the sky
Announcing, at last, the day at the end of night;
If you need more color with which to stain the dawn,
I would spill my blood, pour it upon the good hour
And gild even the sparkle of the newborn sun.
My dreams when I was this high, scarcely a man,
My dreams when young, brimming with vigor,
Were one day to see you, jewel of the eastern sea,
Eyes unmarred by tears, your brow lifted high,
Without frown or furrow, without blemish or shame.
My friends, your constant work of creation is your own gift to the future. It has always been so since Rizal gave his creation as well as his life to a Filipino future—brow lifted high, without frown or furrow, without blemish or shame.
You have earned the gratitude of our people.
Thank you and good evening.