By F. Sionil Jose
One of the questions raised in the recent Graphic Webinar Conference on Literature is where does the material for good literature come from.
I think my reply though glib is correct. Look at every person as a short story, at every family as a novel, and every tribe or nation as an epic. People all through time have always been the subject of art. Their transformation is the linear narrative.
Way back, I was very much interested in man as a pied piper. I had a long interview with the founder of the Iglesia Ni Kristo, Felix Manalo, way back in the early 1950s with the purpose of writing a novel about such an astonishing and seductive personality, but I gave it up when I read the novel, Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis. He had beat me to it. Recently, I met with two contemporaries who, like me, have grown ancient and scarred by political wars but somehow even in their twilight they haven’t changed. They both told me they had one regret; they should have established not a political party but a church. I continue to be fascinated by my contemporaries, particularly those who went into politics. Since I knew them from my youth, I regarded them as patriots willing to devote their lives to the betterment of this country, to abolish poverty and create a just society.
There was one brilliant writer who edited his college paper. He was my age and like me, he survived the war. We became very close; we shared ideals, hopes for the future. Then when he finished law, he went into politics. He was so successful; he became a national figure and he also became rich.
His story is not unique for the Philippine landscape is strewn with the rubble of their dreams.
As a writer, on occasion, I often go social climbing and on one such reception, I saw this old friend, elegant in his dark suit, with his coiffed wife. He had ascended the heights and was now looking at higher ground. I haven’t seen him for years but he hadn’t changed much. When he saw me, he rushed to me, hugged me and whispered, “Frankie, I hope you understand.” And that is what I am trying to do, to understand how people change with age, and how their dreams also die. (AI/MTVN)