Book Launch Lecture: Millennial Traversals

Millennial Traversals had a long and involved narrative behind its emergence. Invited to lecture during the website launch of the University of Santo Tomas’s UNITAS journal, I took the opportunity to discuss what turned out to be two volumes’ worth of special UNITAS journal issues. This occurred less than a week after I delivered a lecture on another recent book of mine, Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic. (To enlarge the pics at the bottom, please click on them. To go to the Millennial Traversals book feature on this blog, please click here.)

THE MILLENNIAL TRAVERSALS OF MILLENNIAL TRAVERSALS

Thank you for attending this occasion and allowing me the honor to speak in commemoration of the launch of the UNITAS website. My own contribution comprises two volumes of Millennial Traversals, which I had originally uploaded as an open-access book on my own website. I’d had occasion to go over this book several times – from conceptualizing it to finalizing it for its digital version to correcting, revising, and updating it further for what would now be its so-far final version.

Some of you might be able to read the finer (or shall we say bloodier) details of how Millennial Traversals took shape in its present form on the UNITAS website, so I might as well own up to certain motivations that I had to be careful in expressing on the page. Since the originally intended volume was non-print, I wanted to take advantage of certain freedoms unavailable to me during the times I was preparing my earlier book manuscripts for what we now call dead-tree publications. That explains the extra-long complete title, which goes Millennial Traversals [colon] Outliers [comma] Juvenilia [comma, ampersand] Quondam Popcult Blabbery – all this even before we get to the title of each part. For the same reason, I put together a digital manuscript that was a few times longer than any book I had previously published, whether as author or as editor.

What I did not anticipate, of course, was the fact that UNITAS was now being handled by a long-term acquaintance of mine. Professor Lulu Torres-Reyes and I had been coordinating since the start of the current decade, on articles, lectures, and special issues for Kritika Kultura, the journal she founded and edited at the Ateneo de Manila University. But we had actually started out as casual acquaintances for almost four decades, when we would join informal film screenings and discussions organized by mutual friends of ours. So it was no surprise to me that she had proved receptive to film-studies materials, and that when she tried her own hand at film scholarship, she met with resounding success here and in Korea, the country where I work.

When the process of transforming Millennial Traversals into the edition that can now be found on the UNITAS website was completed, I stepped back and considered what significance the project might have had, if any. I was of course thrilled that I could claim to have a book that first took shape as an open-access digital text, and wound up in a printable version afterward. All my previous books took the opposite course – from print editions in their original incarnations, to online versions on my website. I don’t know of any instance of a Philippine text that observed the format shift that Millennial Traversals underwent, although the possibility might exist somewhere. At this point, all I care to announce is that it happens to be the first local film publication that first came out in digital format. It would also be the first that passed through a print format, and wind up in still another digital format, in another website.

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What proved uncanny for me was when I finally stared at the book covers, I flashed back to the first few journal issues I ever bought, as a high-school student at the University of the Philippines. I realized later that these must have been dissertations that were deemed outstanding at the time, but each one provided me with the double satisfaction of collecting a book as well as a journal copy in one volume. Millennial Traversals is of course an anthology of my output, in keeping with the nature of all my previous sole-authored publications. It marks my farewell to this arrangement, and has been followed by the manuscripts for a film monograph on Manila by Night (recently published by Arsenal Pulp Press in Canada) and for a canonical listing of Philippine film entries for the publisher of YES! magazine, Summit Media.

Hence Millennial Traversals is and isn’t a book volume publishable as a journal issue. It is physically a UNITAS publication, in two separate issues in fact. But in its original incarnation, it was intended as a blog feature, then-unique in the Philippines, with several ambitious and probably ultimately imperfectible goals:

• first, it sought to compile my responses to Filipino films from the late 1970s to the present: of over 30 titles covered, about ten are hard to track or possibly permanently lost;

• second, it also aimed to demonstrate certain ethical functions that were part of my self-valuation as a film critic, including my insistence on financial independence from investors, the attendance of theatrical screenings with a paying audience, the re-watching of titles I planned to review in order to take down detailed notes on the text and its spectators, and the cultivation of an audience perspective that requires the readers’ participation by watching any film being commented on, regardless of my subjective response;

• third, it refused the then-fashionable practice of standing apart from practitioners in the industry, because of the so-called intentional fallacy – when in fact the author should be a primary source of the work’s always-complicated journey from conception to exhibition; and

• fourth, it gestured toward basic critical attempts concerning certain cherished beliefs among film critics, starting with certain notions that implicated myself and resulting in a few awkward examples of self-deconstruction.

The urgency of foregrounding these values was conveyed to me by friends who were closely observing the then-burgeoning film-blogging scene, complicated by the top academic and critics’ official’s statement that film bloggers deserved to be dismissed if they could not present any degree that would qualify them as film commenters. Considering that baccalaureate-level film education was either too exclusivist (available at the national university) or too expensive (in private universities), the remark was unfair and ironically elitist, given the author’s leftist bona fides.

A few critic and filmmaker friends attempted to convince me to intervene directly, by pointing out the problem in such an assumption, among other horrendous conclusions made by the same official. I opted to time my confrontations carefully, in the form of a book review and a rare exclusive blog statement. But the option of leading by example was always best practice for me, so I set about looking over the never-before-anthologized materials I could compile. I did not expect that the entire undertaking would be treated as a book, but a few netizens informed me that they were printing out the pages I had put together and binding them as voluminous textual collectanea.

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I made sure to warn people on social media that Millennial Traversals existed first and foremost as an open-access internet upload. I preferred that people would explore various categories according to whatever piqued their interest, maybe moving forward or back if any of the contiguous articles seemed worth inspecting further, or returning to the table of contents via a readily available hyperlink in case they wanted to check out another section or approach or issue. Within certain articles I also provided links to other articles, in the same book or in my other volumes, or sometimes to other websites.

I knew that this qualified notion of interactivity could be replicated in a printout of the text, but with much more difficulty. Yet I was also aware that the strictly open-access arrangement was an unstable format. Every semester I would receive a query or two from new social network acquaintances asking whether the digital editions of my books would be downloadable. My answer for nearly the past half-decade has always been the same: eventually. The transformation of digital text files into downloadable material is complicated by the fact that e-books exist in various formats. I would need to set up my own business firm in order to transact businesses with a cover designer and layout artist as well as apply for International Standard Book Numbers, one for each freaking format including the open-access version.

Needless to say, I don’t have the full luxury of attending to these concerns as speedily as I’d prefer. This accounts for my relief in UNITAS enabling Millennial Traversals to reside on its website. The original digital edition is gone for good, except for the few enthusiasts who printed it out. About 20 to 30 percent of the content was revised, since certain indeterminate or open-ended articles could last longer on the internet, given the medium’s wonderful capacity for self-correction or self-updating – a property that academics of my generation are just starting to realize and exploit. On the other hand, a book, even in journal’s clothing, is meant to be forever. As those of us who’ve been publishing might already know, perfection only appears to be an ideal, but it turns out to be too utopic to reach, the more ambitious the writing project becomes.

I’d also proffer here the wisdom I picked out from all the senior authors who’d anthologized their own articles before I started with my first volume in 1990, and which might prove useful to those considering the same kind of project. The principle of perfection-as-mirage applies: it would be impossible to identify your best entries and expect the rest to aspire to the same level of achievement. It would also be highly inadvisable to rank your articles according to your or others’ perception from best to worst or vice versa, and follow that order in anthologizing. The other obvious sequence, the time-determined one of following the articles’ chronology or reverse-chronology, similarly poses the question of the author’s rising or falling level of competence.

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Yet, from my earliest attempt onward, I found that following these problematic procedures worked best in helping me arrive at a useful structure. Counter-intuititively, I also felt more confident whenever I had more material than I could use, rather than picking out only the ones that fit a preconceived theme or thesis. This is because when you start reading more closely in order to fix typos and observe the publisher’s style requirements, you may realize that a section may require the equivalent of breathing space, or that an intensively discursive exercise could do with a stylistic coda – a function best fulfilled by a relatively throwaway article or two.

I apologize to colleagues of mine for whom these so-called lessons might already be old news. I found myself wandering down this introspective path regarding Millennial Traversals, by way of letting everyone know that I’m aware of the manifold difficulties a journal staff undergoes, on a seemingly endless basis. As soon as one issue, essentially an anthology, is completed, the next one has to be set in motion, preferably overlapping with the previous one. I once went through this kind of grind during my undergraduate and early-graduate years, and it brought out a side of me that I prefer to forget. I cannot even imagine having to contend with the additional challenge of preparing multiple volumes for uploading online.

The only source of comfort for me is that Professor Torres-Reyes could not have been any more qualified for this kind of challenge than she is at this moment. When you see her supervising the day-to-day requisites of the job with her usual humor and light touch, you can take my word that her approach comes from a long-drawn-out and contentious experience in her previous station at Kritika Kultura. Thanks to everyone for your attention, and more particularly to Lulu, the UNITAS staff, and the University of Santo Tomas.

Announcement of the event, along with a photo of the turnover of complimentary copies (pic courtesy of Cory Quitoriano); as well as a commemorative pose with UNITAS editor Lulu Torres-Reyes, filmmaker Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, and contributor and educator Bayani Santos Jr. (pic courtesy of E. Ongkeko-Marfil).

(Delivered on August 16, 2018, at the UNITAS Seminar Room, St. Raymund de Peñafort Building, University of Santo Tomas, España Boulevard, Sampaloc, Manila)

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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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