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Uploaded February 11, 2016
"So, ano po'ng 'pinaglalaban natin?": Considerations on SubVerso Bookfair 2016
a review of last month's first SubVerso Bookfair
photo grabbed from the video by No Icon at https://vimeo.com/154290242
by Angelo Oyardo
ONE CLD SAY that the most striking aspect of SubVerso Bookfair 2016---the first SubVerso bookfair held last January 16 @ The Collective---is the word from which its name is derived: “subverso,” a verb directly borrowed from Latin, meaning to “overturn,” “overthrow,” “subvert”. So as one sauntered ‘side the stalls of self-publishers & preloved-books dealers @ the event, eavesdropping on the surrounding bargaining & banter, one cldn’t help but ask oneself---What subversion? What exactly is being subverted thru this?
On the Facebook page of the event, the bookfair was simply (perhaps too simply?) introduced as a “literary event organized by artists, writers and a community of independent booksellers and individuals committed to reading and consuming any printed matter”. & any printed matter, indeed, it turned out: lining the peripheries of the plaza @ The Collective were myriad books, zines, & magazines---local & otherwise---as well as notebooks, artworks, stickers, even customized matchboxes, each put on proud display by a humble hodgepodge of characters that ranged from so-called “hipsters” (the “rich kids,” to recall a joke at the event) to anarchists. For a day, the venue, a usual watering hole for mostly the artsy &/or the hungry, was transformed into a tiangge of, by, & for the literary. But “more than a bookfair,” it was also intended to be a “cultural event”---designed to promote not only the writing & reading of literature, but also its other performative interpretations (live spoken-word poetry, for example); the other arts (such as music & the visual arts); & discussions on literature’s materialization thru publication & distribution (there was in fact supposed to be a talk about independent publishing, but it was unfortunately cancelled on the day of the event). @ first glance, then, SubVerso Bookfair 2016 cld seem like a modest festival of the literary word & world, a celebration w/ no clear-cut sign, if not no clear-cut sense, of subversion.
Not to say that the event was devoid of any dissident gesture or intention---not @ all---but oneis saying that it was devoid of any specific articulation of such a gesture or intention. E.g., there was no “for the gradual withering of the profit motive,” or no “ESTABLISHING ALTERNATIVE DISTRIBUTION SYSTEMS OUTSIDE THE NATIONAL BOOKSTORE MONOPOLY,” to quote from 2 past posters concerning BLTX (a small press expo which, I was told by one of the organizers, Philip Almazan Paraan, SubVerso Bookfair seeks to compliment & complement). Such an articulation matters b/c it is of strategic importance---w/out which, what enemy against whom to differentiate one’s cause, against whom to hazard revolt? &, in effect, what possible allies named? Maybe, not for want of trying, the closest to such a statement was: “More than a book fair, it is a cultural event designed to promote local authors & literary work & the culture of reading in general,” which, while commendable for the scope of inclusion allowed & for its preference for the local, still cld have been dangerous in that it leaves much definition & direction to be desired, or, worse yet, much to be potentially ignored. Consider: what if, @ the bookfair, the amount of local literature available---that is, local independent literature---turned out to pale against that of non-indie preloved books (whether local or foreign) & non-indie first-hand books produced by comparatively more successful local publishing houses (that is, w/ substantially more financial &/or social capital), resulting in an unwise imbalance between those focusing on a target audience & those focusing on a targetmarket? One would guess that the main intention to promote local (independent) literary work & local (independent) authors, as well as the conjectured intent to decelerate further the profit motive & to re(de)fine alternative distribution systems (remembering how the bookfair was designed to somehow pay homage to BLTX), & thus define the very name by which the occasion is identified---all these can be put into question. Ultimately, what is problematic is that while one wouldn’t presumably claim that SubVerso Bookfair 2016 was in cahoots w/ what it is trying to make kaput, the opposite implication cld stand almost quite as validly b/c of the (un)intended vagueness & lack of leaning towards something that would state what exactly should be achieved & subverted thru the event. (& it doesn’t help that Paraan said that he wld probably consider welcoming some sort of collaboration w/ National Bookstore regarding the event, should the opportunity present itself.)
"Regardless of one’s persuasion, the need to ask the following—& this time one would ask not only (for) oneself but (for) others as well—will & should persist: What subversion? What exactly is being subverted thru this? And so on and so forth. . . ."
That said, before going any further one needs to consider that maybe one has perhaps gone too far. What if there was never any intention on anyone’s part to “overturn,” “overthrow,” or “subvert”? What if one has read a bit too much into things? Of course there is a need to revolt---to reclaim reading & writing from being luxuries, from being things merely to be afforded---& of course the name “SubVerso” might have somehow wanted to conjure up that urgency. But then again, maybe---maybe---the name was chosen simply because it sounds & looks enticing, as an element of advertisement (take its “v”, for example: so delicious in its lower-lip-numbing sultriness to pronounce, & in its being capitalized---erected---almost puts one under the shadow that is the Voltes V-like verve & vividity of verse). A misnomer, then, the name of this bookfair---but a nonetheless impressive-sounding misnomer.
young author Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon guards her items at the SubVerso Bookfair
However, in conversating w/ three of the organizers, namely Kris N. Ordońez (a publisher/bookseller), Mich Lado (a bookseller), & Paraan (a cultural worker), one might begin to catch a glimpse of the motivations behind the bookfair & that there was, in fact, some design for subversion. For one, the event was supposed to cater to the local independent writers, booksellers, & publishers specifically (or preferably) “working on the fringes”---to bring them together & to give them ill-afforded space in which to reap widened (re)cognition & “to attract patrons,” possibly “entic[ing] the public to read and create literature” as well. It must be mentioned here that the idea of a more closely-knit local literary community was of frequent note, evidenced by, of all, Paraan’s impassioned repeated return to using the phrase “bringing them together”. &, to much relief, the turnout of independent writers & publishers at the event was to a large degree the largest for an indie or alternative bookfair, w/ 7 out of the 9 participants being self-publishing &/or self-distributing. Moreover, there was one notable attempt at “the gradual withering of the profit motive” & perhaps at “establishing alternative distributive systems outside the National Bookstore monopoly”: a certain independent writer/distributor called Yaman---who, besides selling writings on journeys & encounters & encountered journeys in the Philippines for ₱50 each, all of which were typewritten and stapled on bond paper---set up a mini-“free market” where anyone can “buy” anything in exchange for “anything”. & by "anything" he fully meant anything (or any thing), for it included “nothing @ all”.
artbooks.ph's co-owner and curator Ringo Bunoan (center right) sets up her table at the event as the author (left) scans her collection.
Thru further questioning about their mainsprings, the writer was told by Ordońez that “literature in our country, as [she] often call[s] it, is ‘manipis’”. To be clear, the thinness spoken of, the lack, pertains not so much to the quality of locally produced literature per se, but to an impression of the Philippines’ general reception of literature, to one’s preference for the written (read: printed) word (whether it be produced locally or---to a lesser extent----shipped from overseas) that continues to wane for lack of interest &/or of resources for it, causing, in effect, the retardation of any attempt at its sustained production. Yet while the quoted observation is @ best f*cking ballsy & @ worst too sweeping for the taste of most, it isn’t too difficult to imagine why it cld elicit acquiescence. To further quote Ordońez, for example: “People rarely go to literature for reference and enjoyment, and even so, it only happens for academic purposes most of the time.” Another: “With the advent of the internet, people now prefer [the work of bloggers] to [that of physical] publishing.” One more: “Hate to say this, but, before, we just considered having our sellers bring only Filipino [l]iterature. Thing is, we’re 100% sure that attendance wouldn’t spike as much and the market might just be between ourselves. The foreign market indeed has trampled our own. […] Our government is of no help, too, favoring multinational investors instead of promoting local entrepreneurship.”
Needless to say that the above observations about our literary scene are not @ all new. But as for such recycled regrets regarding the present condition, it’s the fact that there has yet to be any substantial resolution---despite admirable efforts---that prompts so urgently the need for continuous consideration, clamor, & subversion. One might like to believe that it was this sense of responsibility in mind---& it is a responsibility---that inspired Ordońez, Lado, Paraan, & their colleagues to hold SubVerso Bookfair 2016, which, despite some shortcomings, was nonetheless a fairly creditable gesture in furthering contention against what causes the gauntness of the Philippines’ local literary scene & in bringing together, @ least for a day, a humble amount of local independent writers, booksellers, & publishers “working on the fringes” & more, allowing them to commune on levels less exploitative. (& mind you, this is only the 1st SubVerso Bookfair.)
Still, more critical elements may choose to momentarily suspend the organizers’ claim to their above-listed premises & consider the concept(ualization) of the bookfair---its lack of specifically-communicated principles & strategies as tools for toppling, as well as the consequences that such a lack may suggest. And, yes, one mustn’t also take lightly its prospect of a future collaboration w/ those w/ less savoury motivations---e.g., National Bookstore, to reference Paraan. Regardless of one’s persuasion, the need to ask the following---& this time one would ask not only (for) oneself but (for) others as well---will & should persist:What subversion? What exactly is being subverted thru this? And so on and so forth. . . .
Perhaps it is in this exact prompting for the evaluation of the idea of the independent bookfair where we find the contribution to subversion supposedly still implicit in SubVerso Bookfair 2016. [d]
PERFORMANCES AT THE SUBVERSO BOOKFAIR:
Text © copyright 2016 by diskurso art magazine online.
Photos by Jojo Soria de Veyra.
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