Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Hari ng Tondo", Asiong Salonga, Carla Abellana and the Aesthetics of Arthur Schopenhauer

“Hari ng Tondo” is a song by Gloc 9, featuring the alluring voice of Denise Barbacena, a rhythmic adventure that brings into the open a resounding depiction of the life story of Nicasio Asiong Salonga (1924-1951), a notorious gang leader, born and raised in Tondo, with all the acrimony, celebration and parody worthy to mention in any story that interests the mortal in us. Splendid in its portrayal of the criminal world, we thus borrow from Arthur Schopenhauer, who says, "nature is not divine, but demonic" (WR, p.349).

The song, and indeed the movie itself, through torture, blood dripping, opens with a depiction of the antinomy, of the binary opposition, of good and evil, under the background of poverty and the irreversible tendency of one's "will to power" to commit violence, “Kahit sa patalim kumapit, isang tuka isang, kahig ang mga kamay na bahid ng galit.” Herewith, reason dwells not in the tragedy that is life. There is only the destiny of men, unnerving, passionate, unethical, irreparably wrong, but existentially beautiful. Still, one commentator notes, "life as such", for Schopenhauer, "is suffering" (Compilation, p.9)

What follows is a kind of realism, an enunciation of objective values which proceed from the depths of one’s being, of life, of family, of love or the lack of it, and one that is accompanied by a misconception (or redefinition?) of values, a tendency to justify the end result of one’s circumstance, “kasama sa buhay na minana isang maling akala, na ang taliwas kung minsan ay tama.”

In the movie, which I watched three times, I see Hobbes, who reminds us all, in life and in war, it is "all against all" (Ibid.) But in the movie, one crucial mistake by the director is allowing the emotions to matter. Art, indeed, must never evoke emotion (Compilation, p. 13). In art, and indeed in life, against all odds, man must stay unperturbed. The message of any work of art is clear: There is a way beyond. The light of being, thus, should come into the picture. Life cannot be too dishonest to say that one does not suffer. Man, without exception, is his own soul. His pain is his reality. But this emotion is one that any man must transcend, for aesthetic delight has to be "pure will-less, painless, timeless" (WR, p.179)

The chorus, with Barbacena’s sweet voice giving eternal credibility to a lullaby that attempts to make sense out of an otherwise fruitless life, “ang hari ng tondo, hari ng tondo, baka mabansagan ka na hari ng tondo, hari ng tondo hari ng tondo ohhh, baka mabansagan ka na hari ng tondo”. Schopenhauer tells us to master our destiny, to renounce any means of hope, for man, alone, is at the receiving end of life. A bottomless pit, where sheer ignorance, and the utter magnanimity of the divine does not work. Life is not nature; life goes beyond "personal emotion, personal participation" (Ibid., p.373). While nature compels us to cause suffering to each other, the will empowers man to see "the true nature of things, of life, of existence" (WR, p.406).

The song plays on youtube as each line is written in this piece, a useless experiment, but regardless, an ecstatic journey in my imagination. The mafiosi in any man, the genes of the Godfather, creeping into my veins. Yes, Carla Abellana, if any, is the melody of this song. Yes, life is "a continuous flux", to quote Nietzsche, but Carla makes the story of Asiong "heaven sent". To picture out the images of the song, the face of Carla evokes the emotion that life is unforgiving, but beautiful, though the world of commerce, through Carla, seems to project what life is not, its aberration. She is the "beautiful" in what is "ugly". The root remains buried in the depths of that calamity we call human destiny. "Suffering", indeed, "is not accidental, but is written into the system" (Compilation, p.8).

Aristotle Pollisco showcases his brilliant rapping, poised against the wall, against his own background, angry, and full of emotion, but unperturbed. The decrepit in what is obvious, though, I would assume, is that he knows what he does, just like in the movie, therein lies the concrete appreciation of the consciousness of the masses. Mistresses, guns, money, alcohol, and many others are eternally linked to what is "illegal", "ethically deficient", "morally corrupt" and "socially prohibited". Here, he bolts out, like lighting:

“Minsan sa isang lugar sa maynila, maraming nangyayare ngunit takot ang dilang sabihin ang lahat animoy, kagat kagat kahit itagoy di mo pwedeng, pigili ang alamat na umusbong kahit na, madami ang ulupong at halos hindi iba ang laya sa pagkulong sa kamay ng iilan umaabusong, kikilan ang lahat ng pumalag walang tanong ay kitilan ng buhay, hukay, nuhay magpapatunay, na kahit hindi makulay kailangan mag bigay pugay sa kung sino ang lamang mga bitukang, halang at kung wala kang alam ay yumuko ka nalang hanggang sa may nag pasya na sumalungat sa agos wasakin ang mga kadenang na syang gumagapos sa kwentong mas astig pag sa bagong tahi na lunta sabay sabay natin awitin ng tabing na tolda.”

Asiong Salonga is not at issue here. What is at issue is the system. Rugged clothes define criminals. And they have remained us such. Illogical, nonsensical, idiotic. But what about NGOs who profit from their poor beneficiaries, loan sharks who exploit the struggling, financial institutions that charge exorbitant fees, judges who accept bribe money, doctors who benefit from commissions given by pharmaceutical firms, politicians (need I say), etc, etc...Indeed, there are too many. The system will always give birth to many life-stories of an "Asiong Salonga". Schopenhauer writes vividly for us:

"The world of the principium individuationis is a world of terror and suffering, from which it follows, that it's membership is a curse and not a blessing" (Compilation, p.7)

It is, as Michael Corleone says in The Godfather, nothing personal, but pure business. It is a tragedy, and yet, this tragegy, "is the highest expression of poetic art". (Ibid., p.19). Led Zeppelin's video on "The Song Remains the Same" opens with the same genre, "all against all". "The Departed" is no different.

"Music never represents an empirical object", but "the thing in itself" (Ibid., p. 20) Indeed, we have to reject so many things as useless and elitist, "Justin Bieber", "One Direction", "Simon Cowell", to name a few. Elitist and disturbing, they hide under the cloak propagated by Hollywood, but not different from modern day murderers and criminals who hide beneath our laws, written by men, but motivated by greed.

I can't help but make this judgment. Notwithstanding all those lines from "Tuesdays with Morrie" about the bright side of life, we actually and undeniably live in an inane world, maniacs and all abound, but that is life. Who says that life or love, is about being happy, anyway? Gloc 9 continues:

“Nilusong ang kanal na sa pangalan nyay tumawag alang alang sa iba tsaka na muna ang paawat sa mali na nagagawa na tila nagiging tama ang tunay na may kaylangan
ang sya pinatatamasa lahat silay takot nakakapaso ang iyong galit mga bakal na may
nag babagang tinga papalit palit sa hangin na masangsang nakakapanga hina ang nana at hindi mo matangal na parang bang sima ng pana na nakulawit subalit sa kabila ng
lahat ay ang halimuyak lamang ng iisang bulaklak ang syang tanging nag hahatid
sakanya sa katinuan at hindi ipagpapalit na kahit na sino man. ngunit ng dumating ang
araw na gusto nya ng talikuran ay huli na ang lahat at sa kamay ng kaibigan ipinasok
ang tinga tumulo ang dugo sa lonta ngayon alam mo na ang kwento ni ASIONG SALONGA.”

The above is the apparent realism that one finds in the short story "Impeng Negro" by Rogelio Sikat and "Si Ama" by Edgardo Reyes. Quality wise, of course, Pollisco's voice is not the kind of magis one expects from an artist, but the sincerity and frivolous display of desire to be, like Dong Abay's Yano and Heber Bartolome's Banyuhay before him, at least, are not suspect. "Music", for Schopenhauer, "has direct direct access into the metaphysical" (Ibid., p.21) Gloc 9, I must say, gets it done. Schopenhauer admonishes his readers: "The intention with which the poet sets our imagination in motion is to reveal to us...what life is and what the world is" (WI, p. 202)