Passionate pitch for AB Storytelling
I entered the humanities passionate. I was, am, an avid reader, though neither voracious nor fast. Books were my staple entertainment, books were my childhood friends. With nothing else to consider, the attraction to the discipline was inevitable.
I left it disillusioned, with an extra two-and-a-half years under my belt. I became a weary writer, the aspiration now an empty label. In the second university I attended, I was the course’s last graduate.
The details of my bad decisions are irrelevant. Telling me that taking up English or literature is a bad career choice is irrelevant. New graduates face peculiar odds all the time. The job market does not always offer the career they chose to pursue; they may either risk seeking new horizons or fulfill their obligations and needs by taking up any job popping up in their vicinity. But this is a weariness inflicted and felt outside the discipline, any discipline.
There is an air of resignation choking the halls of humanities departments, beneath the failure to attract students other than those passionate already, beneath the inability to defend itself against the budget axe. There is no other place for us, they say, but to teach. We are halfheartedly taught how to teach and educate as an aside to the entire track. We may pursue writing, but we have to compete with communications and journalism graduates. We may pursue law, but we have to compete with philosophy, political science, economics—an entire range of professions. Through four years we are never fully trained to deal with our odds. The academe is nothing more than a refuge; we pursue a passion without a home, a treasure seldom valued.
I wish for people like me, in love with stories, to find a home, a community, an industry meant for us, outside the academe. If only we were taught how to build that home.
Does literature have a practical aspect? I believe so. Shorn of the criticisms that gave literature its pride and canons, there is left the humbler act of storytelling. It is the mother telling bedtime stories to her children. It is the construction worker telling jokes and sharing tales with his fellows during a lunch break. It is a brokenhearted woman seeking solace in a friend from a cheating lover. It is the rituals and superstitions passed on by elders, the gossip spread over fences and in transactions in sari-sari stores, the unfulfilled visions and promises of politicians.
It is an act closest to our humanity. It is the substance that links us to every discipline, from the introspection of philosophy to the discoveries of the sciences. It is an act that English majors study but set aside, choosing instead to focus on what is better, not what brings us together. Our theories on our barely read texts can only inform the disenfranchised, but nothing more. On their own, bereft of public communication, our papers are echo chambers among the passionate.
Call this a frustrated cry over a discipline that feels more antiquated with every passing academic year. We take pride in the Marxist voices we shelter but refuse to recognize the revolution that ought to happen within us, a transition that is crushing us: the increasing value of the technical, the industrial, the vocational. We cannot remain stubborn with our books against a capitalist world that has given chances, albeit an alienating one, of social mobility to those who do not seek the classics for advice. We may have the keys to the meaning of life, but it means nothing if we do not actually extend it to those who need it. And extend it we can, if humanities students can be told to focus on the dearth of our cultural industries and avenues toward imaginative expression, and be taught to build more of them.
Here is what I propose in place of or in addition to the humanities: its vocational defense. AB Storytelling can be a course training students in the art of the narrative for the purpose of building and participating in cultural industries. They may specialize in one of three: oral storytelling, to give voice to the marginalized and to reinvigorate oral traditions; written storytelling, to craft stories that can last generations; and digital storytelling, to build memorable interactive tales for the technological era. Its liberal-arts soul will not be erased; its curriculum will only be reoriented. Moreover, it will give humanities graduates a chance to reconnect with every discipline there is, in order to lift what makes these disciplines human. No longer will humanities majors be held in doubt for their passion, for they will be referred to instead as storytellers: masters, communicators and analysts of the narrative.
Nonetheless, there is a need for a stronger storytelling tradition in the Philippines. You hear it in the proliferation of love advice segments on radio. You see it in the cries against the lineups of the Metro Manila Film Festival. You notice it in the emergence of literary communities in social media. People gather, not around literature, but around stories. Filipinos, a creative lot we are, find no home in what our literary critics insist be written. Our creativity barely has enough diverse homes to prosper. If only we are taught how to build them. I hope my fellow future brethren will find a way. I think this change is the way.
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Ace Z. Alba, 24, writes poetry in his spare time.
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