extreme texts

Vanessa Place autopsy report

“The play betrays the usual conversions: that monkeys become men, that men become gods, and that there is something to us other than the merely human.”

“Vanessa Place autopsy report” is an excerpt from the play Les Singes (The Monkeys) by Naomi Toth and Vanessa Place, set to a soundtrack by Estonian DJ Maria Minerva, and a video piece, “Traffic,” composed by Place. Les Singes was first performed in Silencio, David Lynch’s private club in Paris, a contemporary version of the eighteenth-century salon. Composed of three movements, Les Singes moves from carnival to monkey-mocking and -making to self-rendering to drinking to the poet’s demise.

Murder death resurrection

Another way for poetry

Pacita Abad, ‘Avocado,’ 2000, oil and mirrors stitched on canvas, 6” x 6”. As seen on the cover of ‘Murder Death Resurrection’ by Eileen R. Tabios; reproduced with the permission of the estate of Pacita Abad.

In 2013, I was weary of everything I’d written. So I decided to murder my poems — specifically twenty-seven poetry collections published up to that point — in an attempt to find another way for creating poems. For this attempt, I also wanted to deepen my interrogation (and disruption) of English which had facilitated twentieth-century US colonialism in my birthland, the Philippines.

It — subject

Above: Hagar Tenenbaum, ‘Rings and Ties’ (2016), pencil on paper, courtesy of the artist.

Four source-essays — by Anne Carson, Michel de Certeau, Amy Ireland, Cornelia Vismann — converge here in heavily edited form to delimit a terrain of extremity through their respective themes of gender, glossolalia, alienation, and war.

'Our' extremities, 'my' extremes

“Every poem in the world — written, drawn or uttered, published or not — is a record of the world as experienced by or filtered through its architect (human being or computer algorithm).” Left: artwork by Arnold Kemp, from the cover of ‘Howell’; right: “Pigeonholed Sally’s Oughtn’tmented American History,” excerpt from ‘Howell.’

In his rightfully famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. recounts his confusion, refusal, and eventual acceptance of the label “extremist” from his critics. King notes that there are two tendencies of extremity: extremism for moral good and extremism for moral evil. And as he puts it in “Call to Conscience,” insofar as America is an extremist nation for moral evil per its actions in Vietnam, he and other antiwar protesters are morally compelled to be extremists for good.

Philippine literary production under fascism

Introduction to the Philippines dossier

Activists of the legal mass movement for national democracy with a socialist perspective, often redtagged by the state as members of the revolutionary New People’s Army, raise portraits of Karl Marx, V. I. Lenin, and Mao Zedong on Labor Day, underscoring their ideological adherence to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Photo courtesy of Yo Salazar and SAKA.

The bureaucrat capitalist Rodrigo Duterte is establishing his dictatorship in the Philippines. In an alarming throwback to the Marcos dictatorship, he has put the south under martial law, and the number of human rights violations is mounting; the rest of the country is aggressively being militarized. Arriving in the wake of former President Benigno Aquino III’s antipeasant and antiworker regime, the Duterte regime wasted no time establishing itself as the opposition to Aquino’s haciendero elitism.

Zine qua non


“Lakbayanis, or the caravan participants, construct kampuhans (campouts) in schools that serve not just as headquarters but also as sanctuaries from the offensives of state forces employed under the payroll of mining companies.” Above: Lakbayan 2017. Photo by Ryomaandres, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the precolonial Philippines, the most comprehensive works of literature that capture the ways of living of respective indigenous communities were ethno-epics, from which novels[1] and poetry[2] draw themes that arbiters of taste shall essentially label “Filipino.” Whoever controls the mode of production most probably controls cultural institutions that — to some extent — possess relative autonomy.

'Intimate' texts against the state as emergency

“The ridiculous theatricality of deploying the occasion of death, and the personification of the door, a peripheral detail in the student protests, demands the audience to rethink the limits of its accidental shattering […] in the space transformed into a solemn funeral, no person is exempt from the gravity and intimacy of a death’s trauma.” Above: Magpies performing “In Loving Memory of ___________: Eulogies to the Library Door.” Image courtesy of Mannie Cagatulla.

Thousands of people in white started arriving in groups outside the building where Magpies, my self-publishing collective, was reading eulogies amid somber music, wreaths, candles, and donation envelopes in front of a small crowd in the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

Letting the toilets come clean

“The seriousness of the thinking man with an image of toilet in mind can eclipse whatever seriousness can be attributed to the instructions.” Image via Wikihow.

I was thinking of the appearances of the toilet bowl in Philippine art or literature and risked easy desperation in concluding that there was nothing much to think of. The closest I could think of involve soft-porn movies where it is the bathroom at large, not the toilet bowl, which figures prominently. Pandering to the voyeuristic and buoying the audience’s anticipation of the superficially naked, bathroom scenes usually feature the female feigning innocence — she is aware of the performance; she knows she is being watched — as she bares herself.

Art serves the masses by abolishing itself

Philippine poetry and institutional critique in a time of protracted people's war

The author performs ‘Chairs and Table Event’ with choreographer Donna Miranda, commissioned by Za-Koenji Public Theater, in Tokyo in 2018. Onstage, they assemble chairs and a table from which they talk about the conditions of their production, the wood they use, the Philippines’ import-dependent and export-oriented economy, and the mass movement for national democracy that informs the very work they present. Photo courtesy of Za-Koenji Public Theater.

[I]nstitutional dismantling now also involves dismantling myself; I am part of the problem — Mel Ramsden

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