of intellectuals, authors, and history

The most painful part in the intellectual’s life is to question the foundation, the idealism and the values that hold together knowledge and the significance to inquire it, fresh or half-baked from the moorings of the past—the colonial formation of self-identity and self-realization vested by the grace of postcolonial education. It is painful because a seeming epistemic violence occurs in all manners of interrogation when the self and the subject are detached apart from each other, that is, when the practical self loses control of the horizon presented unto itself  by the theoretical S/subject. Henceforth, the life of the mind gives a mauetic contradiction that foregoes the holistic ascent or the social responsibility of individuals to engage and be active in the cultural politics of everyday realities. The life so painful is a life that epitomizes the contradictory location of intellectuals in our society. This moment of writing the self in the slippages and margins of the residual epistemic content mirroring the world of ideas posited from the panaromic pages of the history of thought has been always standing there on the final stage of self-erasure. The “there-ness” of the moment and its final case is dissolved to interrogate the meaning and purpose of looking back. How this has come out to be a nostalgic remembering is a matter of difference, which means the intellectual owes his/her triumphs and errors in the past—the irretrievable moment of the subject. The question of difference is an entitlement because it is only through this process of self-defamiliarization that intellectuals resonate their positions of power and influence. And much has been accrued to that title of an “intellectual” as in/different to/from the working class or the masses.  To insinuate freedom of thought independent of social and political realities is somewhat like navigating the domains of the spirits from the vantage point of one lurking in the ivory tower of self-defeat. However it may sound as a condescending disapproval of the intellectuals in their relevance in society but the point is how much more is to be abdicated, how much time is to be wasted in the name of thinking without connecting thought with action.


What makes them intellectual by the way? There are three possible characteristics. Firstly they gobble up books, so to speak, and use the language and vocubularies of dead people—some are still alive though—known to be masters from a distant past. Secondly, intellectuals love to theorize by way of concocting new words and meanings for the benefit of expanding the fields of knowledge. But Roland Barthes would say that there is no original idea; that is, everything is just a product of intertextuality. Someone may have thought about it in some other remote places and corners of the universities or anywhere around the globe.  Lastly, they are always misunderstood and misinterpreted because of the unfamiliar language they use. Quite ironically, it is only when the intellectual is dead, without him/her defending his/her quixotic scholarly enterprise under the bar of public scrutinity, that other intellectuals hope to understand him/her or his/her work. Yet for the poststructuralists the work and the intellectual have no necessary connections. What precludes the one from the other is a matter of social and academic convention of which in this country, for instance, the magnanimity of work is measured inclusive of author-function and the personality of the intellectual. The work, which could have been part or contributory to the brick stones of local knowledge, is sometimes relegated as though it is the same as the person who authors it. Parochialism and personalism are even more reinforced in the works where the signature of the intellectual emanates. The discursivity of the intellectual work therefore is reduced as secondary and unimportant once the persona of its author is irrevocably corrupted by other contending persona in the academic field. Personalistic reduction of the production of knowledge has nonetheless muddled the blossoming of an intellectual tradition capable of articulating itself, disseminating and reproducing transdiscursive and interdisciplinary projects. Michel Foucaults reminds us this about the author, who at this moment could be the intellectual in the midst of recognition or abandonment:


We are used to thinking that the author is so different from all other men, and so transcendent with all languages that, as soon as he speaks, meaning begins to proliferate, to proliferate indefinitely. The truth is quite the contrary: the author is not an indefinite source of significations which fill a work; the author does not preceed the work…The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning (in Lodge, 1988: 186).


This is akin to Barthes proclamation about the death of the author. But the intellectual as an author and vice-versa in Philippine academe is demigod. While there is authorial authority on the one hand to intervene in the contigency of interpretation of text, the intellectual on the other hand has a social authority to impose conditions and restrictions benefiting the location of cultural capital within the community of scholars. It is a truism that intellectuals hold priviledge-positions in society. But who confers this position, this priviledge and status? Historical accounts prove that the position of the intellectual is overdetermined by the political and economic capitals he/she has in society. Class reductionism for the location of intellectuals has bias for the elite and commonsensically the dominant class produces the most number of scholars and academics. The original sense of being an academic is to leisurely practice the life of the mind detached from the mundane affairs of the simple-minded. Thus the Ilustrados, the enlightened ones, during the onset of propaganda movement in the Philippines were the landed meztisos,  the intellectual elite who had gone to Europe for their education.  If the basis for enlightenment were polemically considered as the moment for deep social awareness and the urgency for social change, then the Ilustrados in its real conatative sense would hypothetically join the revolution to expel the conquistedores, considering in this case that Bonifacio is an Ilustrado. But the seeming differences grounded by class reductionsim which explain the different motives and interest for furthering any cause limits the dialogue and collaboration with the Other in the first place. The ilustrado mimicked the colonial face. Agoncillo pointed out the indifference of the Ilustrados because the ultimate end of the revolustion was suggesting a reorganization of social status and privileges. As we witness in history, the intellectuals did become mouthpiece of the ruling class in deference to protecting the interest of the Empire, for it means conniving with power, it means, as it were, power for them.  To become an intellectual is to face the guilt of complicity and to face the gaze of their audience, the alterity of colonial subjects that spells out minority’s oppression, subjugation and domination. This is the dilemma of the intellectual.



The intellectuals have to excavate in the vestiges of their collective memories the foundation of their assumptions and the worthiness of their pursuit. Only then, that they can posit to change the course of the knowledge-power project enveloping the hermeneutic decadence of local ideas as these are always in the verge of either being denied or hybridized and heterogenized in the postulations of the Western discourse. (by rhod v. nuncio)






of intellectuals, authors, and history

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