Wages of Cinema Preface

The main psychological barrier in presenting a third volume of similar material for publication is the naturalized Western tendency to attribute the last installment of a three-part structure to it. It would be, if not the best (after good and better), then at least the resolution, after exposition and development. How I wish that were so in the case of this, my third book on cinema in the Philippines. Oddly enough, the earlier motives that I could not overcome in the first two books – The National Pastime and Fields of Vision – have somehow managed to inscribe themselves in the present volume. These consist of two related tendencies that perhaps typify the situation of writing (in the traditional sense) in our cultural context: where, for larger historical reasons, cultural production has outpaced critical analysis, writers with ambitious critical projects will often enough find themselves in the predicament of having to set the very same groundwork that good criticism seeks to probe into, modify, and even repudiate; partly as a consequence of this difficulty, I have always regarded my findings as provisional, subject to further discoveries both on the basic empirical level and at the theoretical level as well.

These qualifications I hope should temper the enthusiasms, positive or negative, that may arise in response to the present volume. Readers who might want to insist on building (or demolishing) what can now be called a body of work on the basis of a progression (or regression) from reviews in the first book, old critical approaches in the second, and new theoretical discourses in the current one are of course entitled to do so. It might even be possible to read a similar attempt at structuring in Wages of Cinema, in the book’s observation of a teleological mapping of postmodernist concerns in cultural theory, with an internationalist component coming in from left field, as it were. I would wonder, however, if real life could be just as definitive.

For one thing, I had always considered foreign-film commentary crucial to the critical practice of any sufficiently cosmopolitan national cinema, and therefore I endeavored to produce reviews of then-current foreign-film exhibitions alongside my usual (and now extensively anthologized) articles on local cinema. Perhaps I should have published an intermediate volume of such reviews, but the absurdity of reading them out of their sociohistorical context was compounded by the danger of regarding these pieces as circulating within and measurable against the canons of Western film criticism. In fact, I had had chapters comprising foreign-film reviews in each of my previous books, but my reservations regarding their effectiveness vis-à-vis the articles on local cinema won out.

The current volume’s essays, in contrast, were produced in the course of roughly an academic generation, initially as papers that sometimes made their way to conferences and occasionally as texts written for purposes other than academic credit, minus the few constraints (and many fulfillments) of working within an active national and industrial imaginary. The pressures I had to deal with in overseas graduate studies had to do with the general one of survival, the more specific one of growing in seriously differential ways from my cultural roots (a fact that never failed to frustrate and confound me whenever I visited the Philippines), and the peculiar one of trying to meet my non-Filipino readers, including faculty advisers, in terms, including choices of film texts, that they could be capable of responding to.

Hence I should indulge in my standard gripe that foreign students get a rawer deal in the First World, particularly if their disadvantages are compounded by circumstances of race, class, and sexuality, but then I should also be the first to know that there are enough exceptions around to challenge this notion; moreover, I have somehow come to suspect such universalizing tendencies as not entirely free of false modesty and reverse egotism – something on the order of one’s being ennobled by having suffered more than others did.

As far as I can relate, then, my growth as an academic (which did not start only after I left my home country – an obvious point which I feel cannot be overemphasized) did not strictly observe the pattern presented by this book. That is, I did not start out obsessed with “Subjectivities,” refining these further with “Specificities,” and finally graduating (as I have not, yet) with “Sexualities,” just as I never began consuming and commenting on foreign movies only upon leaving the Philippines. It might be more accurate to say that I was always sexual and subjective from the start, and am still concerned at present with questions of history and cultural distinction – questions that fortunately tend to cut across barriers of nation, culture, and period. On an even more literal level, if one were to chronologize the essays compiled here, one would have to keep leaping from one category to another, even crossing halfway around the world at certain points.

These categories then are necessarily artificial designations – a fact that applies not just to the basic principle of cultural studies in general, but to the purposes of the individual essays in particular. More than in the case of my previous books, I find myself wishing each one (some more than others) were inventive and self-sufficient enough to stand independent of the rest. In the end, I find myself countering that such is the function of a collection, where each piece serves to complete and is completed by the others, and where any exceptions should actually be the ones that do not belong. My personal favorites (perhaps the most fluid qualifier of all) seem to be the ones that happen to raise issues that critical writing and analysis can never hope to answer by themselves. A psychoanalyst might be able to establish deeper and darker reasons for such an outlook; to the best of my knowledge, the only thing I can recognize on my part is a desire to keep at it, meaning productive discourse, with the prospect of failure a necessary risk and that of success an outcome of good timing, better luck, and the best possible readership (“best” here denoting as much generosity and patience as intellectual ardency). Given such undue fatalism, even I might not be able to tell what kind of critical project I could be able to come up with next. This finally is where the reader steps in.

New York City
August 1997

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About Joel David

Teacher, scholar, & gadfly of film, media, & culture. [Photo of Kiehl courtesy of Danny Y. & Vanny P.] View all posts by Joel David

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