Finding Our 'Humanness' in Asian Literature

Manila Bulletin, August 14, 2005 | Go to article overview

Finding Our 'Humanness' in Asian Literature


Byline: ROMMEL B. DE LA CRUZ, Ed.D. Graduate School, Jose Rizal University

IN our country divided by ideas of different nature, ideas which spawned unspeakable hatred, violence, and wars, how can we, Filipinos, think of ourselves as one people than many? How can we learn from our experiences and of those peoples we share this continent we call Asia? One answer is looking at the past. This past is best told not from history but from literature. Literature is a history not only of what man has done but what he has thought of himself, his world, and his ideas all may come as fact, non-fact, or simply beyond fact. Asian literature tells the world in no less than dramatic, esoteric, philosophical and religious way of the journey of the human spirit for that elusive communion with its destiny. On her way, we have learned that the journey is no less significant than the destiny, and that the spirit is always in communion with its destiny. This journey and its essential have to be told.

In the past, we have the Indian drama. It is less interested in the pursuit of the higher function of the mind but more in the more mundane cravings of the flesh. Still in many ways it has produced that pleasant, primordial, and positive feeling for those people it has worked its charm. The proper blending of the character, time, place, actors gestures and voice, and historical devices contributes to this. Hence, long ago we could see people in Asia enjoying the same amusing effects of Latin soap opera mania, which is sweeping this part of the world. Shakuntala, representing this genre, depicts a fair-off facsimile of the real life. It is charming yet sometimes a little bit sexually laden; mild yet infused with that distinctly Indian vigor; and bold yet not that bashful in recounting of events. It seems to suggest that the old Indian drama is honeslty romantic and escapist.

The Japanese Kabuki of the 17th century is a showcase of various arts painting, drama, song, and music. If we happened to live in the past, we could say that this Japanese drama is the way people of this period have reinvented the modern Holly wood computer and technology-packed special effects flicks. Kabuki usually deals with harsh daily life in contrast with the fleeting world of imagination. It revolves on the plot of transformation of man to animal, highlighting the old Japanese belief of the world as indivisible. This drama perhaps is not that popular among the generation X but the Japanese still enjoy its themes and characters as they continue to embrace Anime mania, a Japanese brand of animation. In one aspect, though, we could see the superiority of the Kabuki because it is able to portray sensuality of the basic human needs without uttering a single world.

From the classic The Dream of The Red Chamber to the time of the revolutionary Peking Opera, the Chinese drama offers a different way of viewing life and the world. Here the central theme goes back to the primeval struggle between good and evil; only that the good is either represented by the common working people or how they want their world to be. The style here of a writer always exhibits that feature of story telling. It is basically flat yet gripping with realistic and graphic experiences and plots.

The drama in Asian literature also attests to the basic sociological tenet that man by his nature wants to be in control of his world. He may invent a deity to express his innermost desire to take control of the natural forces and phenomenon that have harmed him in some way and invoked that fear and curiosity in him. The Wayang Kulit of Indonesia, a theater production with puppets as actors, exemplifies this. This Javanese form of theater is a mirror of the Javanese world view. It promotes the concept that life is fleeting and changeable, not controlled by mortal or even gods, but manipulated by the puppet master.

There is no literary genre that can recount the human spirits attempts in a perennial attempt to have communion with the universal truths of birth, death, joy, sorrow and the search for the creator than that of the poetry.

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