- Deconstructing Filipino Studies: Queer Reading Beyond Us Exceptionalism
Martin Joseph Ponce successfully assembles a diasporic constellation of anglophone Philippine texts and, through “queer reading,” tracks its literary history beyond the telos of the nation. Beyond the Nation: Diasporic Filipino Literature and Queer Reading queers the methodological and normative gestalt that the “nation” produces in the ossified literary histories of postcolonial and US minority ethnic canons. Almost ironically it is the recuperation of English that offers an indispensable perspective on what Ponce deems the theoretical crossroads at which Filipino cultural studies is situated. Ponce identifies this crossroads as, on the one hand, the desire to forge a legible Filipino American identity and, on the other, the construction of a “Filipino American critique” that deconstructs identity in favor of interrogating the multiple, historically contingent meanings of “Filipina/o”. Both projects succumb to a politics of representation “whose logic abides by the script of U.S. identity politics” (15), and hence nationalism seems destined to frame all our engagements with Filipino studies. Thus the nation emerges as the primordial assumption and “fatal attachment” dictating the terms of Filipino cultural studies (11). Beyond the Nation seeks to question that assumption through a queer diasporic reading practice that does not just read texts and authors that consciously frame themselves outside the Philippine or US nation-states but reads texts constituting a “dispersed and coreless” tradition of Philippine anglophone writing that reveals the inherent queerness of the national project itself. Ponce’s painstaking attention to the relationship between English [End Page 575] and empire is a vital political project reminding readers that Filipino cultural producers in the Philippines do, in fact, still speak English in a vibrant literary world ironically marginalized by the very anti-imperial critique of Filipino cultural studies that would seek to excavate an authentic Filipino (speaking) subject or relegate that subject to a deconstructivist oblivion.
“Queer reading” recasts the theoretical axiom of Filipinos’ “exteriority” and “invisibility” in Asian American studies and resists the seductive pull of “archetypal identity politics” to productively theorize the radical transversality of diasporic Filipino experience. That is, “diasporic Filipino literature” is not a fixed medium “locked in some Manichean struggle between racism and self-representation” (12) but a complex and multivalent array of addresses “routed through issues of gender and sexuality” (14). Theorizing diaspora in this way is an “anti-abstractionist” embrace of the indeterminacy of “Filipino” in a queer patchwork of literary production (21). Ponce demonstrates this critical reading practice through rigorous analysis of a carefully selected array of Filipino writing that resists the normativity of the nation and the normalizing dictates of an American ethnic canon that may not find the queer formalistic play of Philippine English adequate for the ethnic quotient of minority fiction. In this reading it is US ethnic fiction that dangerously rehearses a unidirectional address from the United States outward, homogenizing the diaspora in favor of an American critical perspective on race and oppression. Pointing to these contradictions that permeate many US versions of critical race studies allows Beyond the Nation to set new directions for Filipino American studies. For instance, chapter 2, “The Queer Erotics of José Garcia Villa’s Modernism,” historicizes the beginning of “Anglophone Filipino modernism” through Garcia Villa’s linguistic and poetic experimentation that thematically “de-privileges heterosexual coupling” (59). Ponce argues that from the beginning Philippine anglophone writing was fraught with sociosexual tension, and he analyzes and historically situates this tension within the erotic linguistics of Villa’s work, thus offering a significant queer interrogation of the foundational heteroproductive myth of Philippine nationalism inaugurated by such social realists as José Rizal and Máximo Kalaw (whom Ponce interrogates in his first chapter).
Ponce also offers innovative and politically necessary readings of canonical figures in Filipino cultural studies. Beyond the Nation’s “queer reading” critiques the heteronationalist assumptions of the US and Philippine national projects in the third chapter, “The Sexual Politics of Carlos Bulosan’s Radicalism,” which questions the revolutionary masculinity hagiographically ascribed to Bulosan. [End Page 576] Ponce examines...