The Martial Law Era had spawned many rebels and writers, all of whom consider themselves belonging to the First Quarter Storm Generation. They lived and saw a reality in turmoil. There were voiceless. It was a decade of absence. Paulino Lim’s “Ka Gaby” (1998) is a work that puts on a face and gives voice to the faceless and voiceless in the 70s. But the work’s singular merit, other than the popularizing of narrative sequences, lies in its character-mouthpiece: a nun. A quick browsing of the work reveals a funny yet poignant depiction of the turbulence of the 70s which planted the seeds for a future revolution. Lim presents the ideological disparity between institutionalized religion (Roman Catholicism) and the social teachings of Marxism, albeit in a Romanticized manner in the thoughts of the nun.

Fiction As Countermemory

Michel Foucault and the cultural critics have explored the function of literature as countermemory whereby a retelling of history lends itself to a creative discourse that interpellates power relations. But “Ka Gaby” requires a more penetrating approach. The subject position of the author and the book problematizes the perceived social statement of the work. The author, an expatriate writer of American education, draws his creative material on a remembered episode in Philippine history seen by the eyes of a politicized nun. This warrants an analysis which will lay bare the ideological mediations present in the novel. In Edward Said’s The World, The Text, and The Critic, he contends that texts have ways of existing that even in the most rarefied form are always enmeshed in circumstance, time place and society—in short they are in the world, and hence, worldly. Within cultural studies there is a determined attempt to reconcile culturalism and structuralism involving the actively experiencing reader with the constituted and positioned reader. This theory argues that hierarchies between ruling and subordinate blocs are negotiated and that the concept encompasses a theoretical reconciliation between the imposed structures of the dominant ideology and an active cultural expression of the dominated class.


If this were so, then there is fair reason to re-examine “Ka Gaby” in light of subject position as Lim writes from the “outside.” Further we may consider “Ka Gaby” with respect to Said’s idea of “configuration” in which there is a desire to make critical work out of the fabric of life and a refusal to separate the imperialism of the mind from the imperialism of nations. The novel purports to do this. We can sense Lim’s effort at forging a kind of literary criticism in the work so as to make an act of political intervention. But William Ray argues that there will always be a disjunction between the empirical subject and the subject as positioned by the text, between the act of reading and the text read. Neither of which can be set aside in any study of culture or literary expression, whether it stresses the sociological or the semiological, the social formation or the signifying practice. It is this dislocation that I am concerned about. My examination focuses on the representations embodied in and promulgated by the text to make them appear as statements of protest.


Said’s Semiotics


To Edward Said the novel is a complex of authority and “molestation”, or you might say fictionalization. “Ka Gaby” as a retelling of the Martial Law years notwithstanding, the author’s subject position clearly results in an ideological intervention by his references to 60s and 70s Americana. Something has to be said on his “authorship” and “authority” too. We may assume, for purposes of discourse, that there must be a “beginning intention” that taxes the novel’s political agency as a work of literature. Lim, by reason of authority, takes on the role of analyzing the prevailing cultural system at the time, but his intervention becomes problematic because he writes outside the sphere of his referents. His position cannot be any closer to Ka Gaby’s romantic notions of freedom and justice. Here we see what Said calls the “relations between the imperialism that results from the production of knowledge” (our reading experience of the novel) and that which results from the invasion of territories (the language in whose consciousness the narrative is told). Seen strictly in the view the work may not be as politically- toothed as it is said to be: it in fact incorporates aspects of American pop culture as stylistic motif, suffice it to say that the nun is burning with the fever of communism.


The rather sensitive socio-political flavor is subtly smoked-screened by the catholic conscience even while she sees reality in Marxian terms. Her deliberate abandoning of the calling, desacralizing herself and her vows, and her taking up the cross of social protest is not as much a reaction to social injustice as a kind of Messianic complex triggered by a spiritual vision.


This is where the camouflage lies. “Ka Gaby” then as a piece of cultural criticism is “oppositional” only in so far as it graphically shows the brutalities of the military under a dictatorship. Although something of Lim’s non-linear narrative mode salvages the work from further reducing the human subject (a bitter episode of our history) to functions of systems.