Twin Deserts: Colonial Canon and Commercialism and the First Streams of Mga Agos sa Disyerto

In tracing the beginnings of the overemphasis on canon in Filipino literature, Jose Garcia Villa is undoubtedly one of the first names that come to mind.  To Filipino writers in English, he and his annual “Honor and Horror Lists” of poetry and short stories represented ideal standards to strive for.  Inclusion in his annual selections was a legitimate seal of approval that signified one’s entry into the canon, more than the numerous literary contests existing at the time.  As Villa upheld Western standards in selecting what he considered the best of Filipino literature in English, he paved the way for a concept of canon that, according to critic Jonathan Chua, silenced the “Filipino” while highlighting “Literature” and weakened the dichotomies of American/Filipino, center/margin, civilized/savage, and colonizer/colonized.  It served as an opiate that blotted out the memory of Filipinos’ “sour” acceptance of their American colonizers.  Filipino writers were put at a disadvantage by Villa’s canon, 
which placed the English language and Western standards at the center.  Writers were confined to these western standards in the American colonial state.  This was reinforced by the American curriculum, which positioned their “canon” as a major influence on Filipinos’ literary tastes.  As a result, the production of Tagalog literature was limited to commercial magazines. 

By 1943, two decades after Villa’s work, very little had changed. The rush toward a cosmopolitan American lifestyle drew attention away from a thorough understanding of the nation’s experiences and created an obsession with making money.  This was also the case for Filipino writers in Tagalog.  Publication in commercial magazines brought income and popularity which, together with the colonial concept of canon, dried up the landscape of Tagalog literature, especially the Tagalog short story.  Neither the contributions of wellknown writers such as Lope K. Santos, Valeriano Hernandez Pena, and Patricio Mariano, nor the publication of collections such as Clodualdo del Mundo’s  Parolang Ginto or Alejandro Abadilla’s Talaang Bughaw – works that first challenged the existing culture of Kritika Kultura 21/22 (2013/2014): –117 © Ateneo de Manila University commercialism and its emphasis on income and popularity – could address this.  The arrival of Japanese colonizers did not change these circumstances, either, as writers during this period were motivated mainly by the need to survive in those tight times.  The formulaic 
writing (entertainment and didacticism) of Tagalog writers for Liwayway magazine thrived under the management of Agustin C. Fabian.  Readers’ patronage of this style of writing kept the magazine afloat and ensured its success.

It is in this context, with the English language laying the foundation for Western standards and commercialized creation, that young writers such as Rogelio Sikat, Efren Abueg, Edgardo M. Reyes, Eduardo B. Reyes, Rogelio Ordonez, and Dominador Mirasol would create new streams for what they considered the “desert” of the Tagalog short story.  All former writers for commercial magazines, these young men, the “New Blood”, found a venue for fighting against western canon and commercialism in The Quezonian, the campus publication of Manuel L. Quezon University.  The same education used by the colonizers to blind the people was used by the young writers to create streams that flowed into the desert like state of the Tagalog short story thus the term “Agos” was conceived. Exposure to the works of Hemingway and other writers opened the doors for creating stories that went beyond overused themes, erratic points of view, and idealization of subjects.  Their stories expressed their opposition to the status quo and led to the publication of the 1965 
anthology Mga Agos sa Disyerto, which revealed the new standards of these young writers. Mga Agos sa Disyerto formally declared a new direction for the Tagalog short story and would be recognized by critics as a pioneer, a herald of a new way of looking at the world, of turning a critical eye toward established traditions, with the intention of changing the way of life.


Agos sa Disyerto, Colonial Canon, Colonial Education, Commercial Literature, Anthology

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

The Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) declares Kritika Kultura as a CHED-recognized journal under the Journal Challenge Category of its Journal Incentive Program.

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Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)