The Remains of Empire and the "Purloined" Philippines: Jessica Hagedorn's Dream Jungle

By Lee, Hsiu-Chuan | Mosaic (Winnipeg), September 2012 | Go to article overview

The Remains of Empire and the "Purloined" Philippines: Jessica Hagedorn's Dream Jungle


Lee, Hsiu-Chuan, Mosaic (Winnipeg)


Jessica Hagedorn's third novel, Dream Jungle, derives primarily from two events that took place in the Philippines during the 1970s: the discovery of the Tasaday tribe and the filming of Apocalypse Now. (1) Upon seeing the obituary of Manuel (Manda) Elizalde Jr., the "discoverer" and "protector" of the Tasaday in 1997, Hagedorn decided to juxtapose these two events in a novel, not in order to pass judgment on the anthropological discovery (or fraud) or on Francis Ford Coppola's epic film, but, in her own words, "to capture moments in time": "these really interesting events all come together between 1971 and 1977. I just really wanted to capture the decadence and turbulence of it, the scholarly back-and-forth about it, the arguments, the mysteries, and sheer excitement" (Aguilar-San Juan 6). To what extent Hagedorn successfully "captured" these moments of the Philippines, in what way, and what this might contribute to the conception of the Philippines in relation to its imperial legacies are questions pertaining to the larger issue of the relationship between literature and nation-building.

The affinity between literature and the making of the Philippine nation can be traced back to the writings of Jose Rizal during the Spanish colonial era. Featuring social commentaries that inspired collective dissent against Spanish authorities, Rizal's writings have been considered foundational to the rise of Philippine national consciousness and taken as models for "the Great Filipino Novel" during the American colonization period (Gonzalez 962). Hagedorn's novels, however, deviate from this nationalist tradition. Born in the Philippines, Hagedorn moved to San Francisco with her family in 1963, and has since maintained a double affiliation with both the United States and the Philippines (Hagedorn, "Exile" 181). Her position as an expatriate Filipina accounts for her ambiguous relationship with the nationalist project of the Philippines. Her postmodern writing strategy, as demonstrated in her first novel Dogeaters, is further manifested in Dream Jungle: the mixture of real-life and fictitious elements, disjointed narrating voices, and gossip-driven fragmentary style distinguish her work from the realistic appeal and epic scope of nationalist writings.

Given the inadequacy of trying to understand Hagedorn's writings based on a narrowly defined "national allegory," this essay sets out in search of another model to characterize literature's engagement with nation. Of pertinence is Neferti Xina M. Tadiar's attention to literature's non-realistic experimental power. In Things Fall Away, Tadiar proposes to look to literature not "for typicality or representable realities," but for its "creative possibility" that "recasts lived experience so that it no longer takes the form of incontrovertible social fact but instead takes on the experimental character of literature itself" (17). Moreover, she associates this creative force with literature's capability to capture "historical experiences that 'fall away' from global capitalist and nation-state narratives of development as well as from social movement narratives of liberation" (5). Literature is compared to "cultural software" (16) that processes the subaltern, the supplementary, and the diminished--experiences exceeding and escaping the structure of the imperialist, the nationalist, and the social liberationist--with a view to making "other social relations available as potential bases of new political movements" (11).

Tadiar does not include Hagedorn in her discussion. Yet Hagedorn's attempt to appropriate historical events into fictional juxtaposition and imaginative transposition makes Dream Jungle a tangible example of what Tadiar describes as literature's "tangential" engagement with the Philippine "hegemonic and counterhegemonic forms of political agency" (5). In fact, the title "dream jungle" resonates with Tadiar's emphasis on the force of "dreams" in structuring social realities (Fantasy 22-24). …

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