- Subversions of the American Century: Filipino Literature in Spanish and the Transpacific Transformation of the United States by Adam Lifshey
Works by Caroline Hau (Kyoto University), Raquel A. G. Reyes (University of London, SOAS), Neferti X. M. Tadiar (Barnard College), John D. Blanco (University of California, San Diego), and J. Neil Garcia (University of the Philippines) are reinventing the field of Philippine literary studies, but none of them has delved deeply into the twentieth-century literature produced in Spanish. Adam Lifshey has been vigorously searching out and reading this under-considered archive for the past several years. This includes his previous book, The Magellan Fallacy: Globalization and the Emergence of Asian and African Literature in Spanish (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012), and a guest editor spot at the online journal Kritika Kultura (Ateneo de Manila University) in 2013. His new book, Subversions of the American [End Page 475] Century: Filipino Literature in Spanish and the Transpacific Transformation of the United States, places some of these texts within the context of global United States hegemony after 1898. Lifshey argues that an understanding of what it means to be, think, or read "American literature" requires us to start from the neglected productions of the US Empire, in particular literature by Filipinos produced in Spanish across six decades, starting in 1902, the beginning of US civilian administration in the Philippines. Lifshey argues that this work, produced in Spanish by people officially considered US subjects between 1902 and 1946, had an ambivalent relation to Anglophone US literary culture. He claims that "America was remade" through appositional, non-hegemonic literary production in the overseas empire (4).
Lifshey focuses his study on narratives by four writers: Pedro Paterno, Guillermo Gómez Windham, Mariano de la Rosa, and Jesús Balmori. With the exception of Paterno, none of these authors has earned a monograph in either the United States or the Philippines, and almost none of their work has been translated into English (in which many Filipinos are fluent) or the indigenous Philippine languages, despite the fact that Spanish is barely known in the Archipelago, nor is it common in Philippine Studies in the United States, which Lifshey rightly laments (3). Through interpretations influenced by postcolonialism and the new turn toward empire across multiple disciplines, Lifshey paints a portrait of seditious narratives in novels, short stories, and operas that have little or no critical history prior to this book.
Sometimes, Lifshey's enthusiasm to read the archive as "subversive" to the US Empire causes him to overlook more obvious interpretations. A good example is his reading of Pedro Paterno's 1902 opera La alianza soñada (The Dreamed Alliance), which narrates an alliance of Filipinos fighting an invasion of Manila by moros (a term used to refer to Muslims from the southern Philippine islands). Lifshey argues that the moros of the opera allegorize the American forces then occupying Manila, despite presenting evidence that Paterno and the guest-of-honor at the opera's premiere, then Governor-General William Howard Taft, did not understand there to be an allegory (30). Given Paterno's reputation as a balimbing (Tagalog for "starfruit," and used to describe the many sycophantic faces he showed to imperial powers), it seems more likely that the moros represent, simply, moros, the very Muslims who had resisted Spanish colonialism and over whom the US military continued to hold power until 1913, despite the rest of the (Christian) Archipelago's turnover to civilian government in 1902. La alianza soñada would then no longer be subversive of American power, but rather a plea for the US military to crush the Muslims that threatened Christian hegemony in the new order. There are other moments [End Page 476] of interpretive overreach, such as when Lifshey ascribes to Balmori the thoughts of the protagonist in his novel Los pájaros del fuego (The Birds of Fire) (143). In his own day, however, Balmori was known for his biting irony and perspectival...