Federico Garcia Lorca and academic freedom

Today I encountered one of the most opportunist takes on academic freedom and the university. So to counter what was a trigger to a sadness and rage that could have lasted for days, I re-read the most beautiful and liberating piece on academic freedom written by Steven Salaita. The first piece, that was sad and enraging, for me anway, was as an intervention into a scandal involving yet another instance of a Marcos coming to an event that is fully sanctioned by the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Irene Marcos is one of the daughters of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Many Filipinos remember them as mass looters, mass murderers and US imperialist lapdogs whose conjugal dictatorship continues to accumulate wealth as we pay for the onerous and huge debt they clinched with the IMF-WB. She is married to a real estate czar who is hated by farmers in Central Luzon. All of that is well known and for many years felt like harsh realities we can live with until she was invited to the opening of Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba.

Irene Marcos is dubbed by some colleagues in the academe as the most benign among the Marcoses, a genuine patron of the arts and other disciplines, and herself a student at the College of Music at one point. They tend to talk about her with such fondness you would think the Virgin Mary has made a second coming. I do not disrupt these conversations as I only open my mouth in disagreement when I think I can still be convinced by the other side. My silence almost alwsys means that I am not willing to listen anymore. But of course, in the academe, silence is associated with civility, magnanimity, femininity, and academic freedom.

An article posted on Facebook entitled “Regarding the student demonstrations that enlivened the opening night of Dulaang UP’s “The House of/ Ang Tahanan ni Bernarda Alba” by esteemed playwright Floy Quintos begins with an eager and earnest affirmation of the student protest which took place in various parts of the historic Palma Hall building during the play’s opening night: “Once again, a proud UP tradition was upheld. Personally, I am happy that the convictions of UP students were so quickly ignited and acted upon. It is their God- given right. It is in the finest tradition of the University.”

A lethal blow on logic in the name of a liberal defence of academic freedom happens when Quintos avers that banishing anyone who bought or can buy a ticket to a play—something that Irene Marcos can always afford given a history that still hurts—is also fascistic:

“I have my own strong convictions against the Marcoses return to power and the erasure of all human rights violations that occurred during Martial Law…But I am just as passionately AGAINST barring anyone from coming to watch a performance. Anyone who makes the effort to come to the theater, pay for a ticket and share in an artistic vision of any theatrical endevour. That for me goes against the highest and noblest aim of the Theater to engage an audience in the experience of a live performance and the ideas that a play espouses. To bar anyone from buying a ticket and watching a performance would be an act of Fascism just as grave and as terrible as any other.”

This line of thinking betrays a deficit in a sense of proportion. The violence of the Marcoses continues with Irene Marcos’ denial of that very same violence that dispossessed millions and enriched her family. None of that can be squared with any given group’s demands, protests and grievances at any given day or occasion.

Furthermore, a leap in logic occurs when he strongly proposes that UP officializes a list of banned individuals: “Make it an Official policy to bar the Marcoses and who ever is deemed unfit to enter or is offensive to the community. Officially and as a governing body of the University, state their names and declare them Persona Non Grata . The University authorities should do this now and with the conviction and finality that the academic community expect.”

For what? To legitimize the protest he applauds in the same piece?

Let me break that down. First, it will be absurd for the University to dispense of a list of names to be banned from its premises. Not only will that require a weekly meeting of the “list committee” as our system produces crooks faster and better than pro-people laws. More importantly, Quintos’ proposal is disturbing as it reduces the act of defiance to an act of bureaucratic obedience. Second, there is no need to debate on whether ticket buyers should be allowed to consume theatre productions as the market has long shaped the life of arts and culture almost anywhere in the world.

Market-driven academic freedom is no longer an argument, it is the rule. So to present people’s protest of Irene Marcos’ presence in UP as a denial of art’s democratic function simply because she has fully paid her way into it is to affirm the state of things and art’s tragic subsumption under the logic of the “free market.”

That the university is a marketplace of ideas is an obligatory creed that signals the University’s surrender to the logic of the free market, the bankrupt rule of liberal democracy, the reign of capital.

The only reason why we have been opening our doors to the Lumad, and how at one point the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Peace Negotiators, no less than Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, among others, came for a public forum is because the Left, which planted the seeds of dissidence in the 60s to combat feudal culture and clerico-fascism and later on pushed for the national democratic revolution toward socialism, gained ground in its campaign to stop the killings and for just peace which began in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Most days, the University is very much a marketplace with unmistakable similarities with showbiz and local politics run by petty tyrants.

The protest of the militant segment of the studentry was, in Lacanese, an escape of the Real (that which is always suppressed and radically shaking) into the symbolic (the rule of normative culture).

With or without Irene Marcos or Senator Imee Marcos who was also here in September last year, UP is definitely defeated by and succumbs to the dictates of neolibralism— a class offensive of the global ruling elite against the rest of us. Yet we do not hold permanent protests for what feels like a permanent condition.

So why would a group of militant students, of all occasions, hold a protest action on a play’s opening night? Because ordinarily, neoliberalism makes itself appear as simply a set of policies rolled out by a “neutral” entity like government.But sometimes it appears in its most distilled form: a face, a warm body representing a ruling elite that has accumulated wealth through the disposession of the majority.

The ‘Real’ in this case was not Irene Marcos. But rather, an instance in which the academe’s complicity in that violent history is being displayed like anything. What the protest action affirms is a space that will not be defeated and will not surrender. A space that turns itself into a place that battles academic freedom’s obligatory free market version.

“Should there be an outright ban on the Marcoses entering the University of the Philippines?” is a useless question. An official ban on the Marcoses will logically mean a ban on Duterte and his military and police. The question is can UP’s complicity afford this? It absolutely cannot. The Marcoses can always go anyhere they want, they will always enjoy the academe’s complicity. However, there is no way anyone can stop the Real breaking into our symbolic territories.

In August 2012, one of Buenos Aires’ heritage hotels was memorializing Lorca through an exhibit on the lobby of the 5th floor where he lived when he stayed in Argentina. I was admiring the exhibit with my comrade who at the time was just freed from prison. Sociology professor Miguel Beltran was accused of being a FARC combatant. He was back then writing FARC’s history (a book that will see the light of day in 2016). He pointed out that Lorca’s room number on the 5th floor identified in the exhibit is the same number he saw when he knocked on my door. We rushed down to the lobby to find out whether room numbers have been changed since Lorca was there. I offered him a false gift and proposed that we swapped rooms. He probably took it as a litmus test of lasting friendship. I stayed where I was assigned, secretly reveling in the obscure celebrity of it all.

In the fifth stanza of Dacosta’s Like the Molave, which our high school English teacher assigned as our piece for an oratorical presentation, Federico Garcia Lorca is mentioned. Dacosta laments how an important figure remains unknown to the Filipino cosmopolitan imagination, which to his disgust remains under the grip of the star spangled banner.: “Federico Garcia Lorca? Never heard of him.” I made an effort to find out who Lorca was. I am still doing so 30 years after that encounter.

Now I will finally have the chance to get to know more about him as a playwright through Dulaang UP’s production.

Federico Garcia Lorca was hunted down by the Nationalist Guards of the fascist Franco regime. Fascists made him pay for what he stood for—a collective freedom he embraced as a first-rate poet-philosopher and artist. He remains to be a desaparacido to this day. I never felt him present in that room he once occupied (I lack the third eye). But don’t all disappeared or dead comrades who fought against profiteering fascists come to life each time a young militant finds another, and another one, and more, and all together, they defy authority and the promise of success in a market-driven academe?

Find Federico Garcia Lorca in the powerful words penned by Steven Salaita on academic freedom:

“… Those who humor the ruling class will always enjoy a strong advantage, something aspiring academics are happy to exploit. Sure, academic freedom is meant to protect insurgent politics, and often does, but the milieu in which it operates has plenty of ways to neutralize or quash insurgency…
… Academic freedom doesn’t prevent sexual violence. It doesn’t disrupt racial capitalism. It doesn’t hinder obscene inequality. Academic freedom isn’t a capable deterrent to genocide. The devotee of academic freedom will say that it’s not meant to do any of those things. This is correct. Academic freedom has humbler ambitions. The fact that academic freedom has a specific mandate doesn’t detract from its importance. I’m not attempting to convince you to dispose of academic freedom. I’m suggesting that it shouldn’t be the limit of your devotion.
So what does freedom mean in an academic economy structured to reward obedience? No thinking person buys the myth of merit. Academe is filled with mediocrities who achieved stardom by flattering the ruling class. Already, then, freedom is tenuous because livelihood is contingent on respectability, itself contingent on pleasing the ruling elite. Cultures of online exchange promise a kind of freedom, but more than anything they illuminate the preponderance of coercion…” (read full article here:https://bit.ly/2m7akLz)

Find Federico Garcia Lorca in every ligthning protest staged against complicity to fascism.(https://www.bulatlat.com)

Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Diliman Center for International Studies. She is engaged in activist work in BAYAN (The New Patriotic Alliance), the International League of Peoples’ Struggles, and Chair of the Philippines-Bolivarian Venezuela Friendship Association. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal for Labor and Society (LANDS) and Interface: Journal of/and for Social Movements.

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