Wednesday, January 02, 2008

No crime in these islands? (Crime fiction in the Philippines)

I don’t know how I missed this when it appeared this summer, but it is emphatically not too late to consider this compelling discussion of crime fiction in the Philippines, or the lack thereof, with subdiscussions here, here, and here.

Among the highlights is this provocative assessment from the Accidents Happen blog:

"So we don't write about it because we think it won't work in the Philippine context; the same way we don't bother to go to a police station when the FX we're riding in is held up by armed men who take our mobile phones, our wallets, our wedding rings. There's a sort of romanticized hopelessness in the way we write about crime, a stoic acceptance that that's the way things are, here in da Pilipins.

"So to sum up a very long ramble: the first reason I think we don't write a lot of crime fiction – to paraphrase [Andrew] Taylor – is that we long ago stopped trying to make sense of our violent society, and quit hoping that evil would not go unpunished."
The prevalence of crime, the pessimistic writer says, inhibits the writing of crime fiction. This makes a thought-provoking contrast with explanations of recent crime-fiction booms in Sweden and Ireland, such as this one, from an essay about Irish crime fiction: “As Ken Bruen, one of our most highly-rated crime writers wrote:`I didn’t want to write about Ireland until we got mean streets. We sure got ’em now.’”

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Blogger Linkmeister said...

I wonder if similar attitudes here explain the popularity of gangster rap.

That's seriously discouraging, I'd think; that your society is so violent that it can't be fictionalized entertainingly.

January 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One wonders if the Philippines has its own tradition of writing about crime that has nothing to do with Western crime writing. China, for instance, has its ancient stories of investigating magistrates, though I'm not sure the tradition survives.

Gangsta rap, I suspect, is less about the hope that evil will go unpunished than it is about the hope (or at least the fantasy) that evil will be rewarded. Americans are a can-do people.

January 03, 2008  
Blogger F H Batacan said...

Crime is certainly very present in Philippine cinema and television. And as several scholars have pointed out, there have been pockets of mystery and crime writing in Philippine literature. Their consensus seems to be that most of these are really works of "mainstream" literature containing elements of crime or mystery.

The question many of us have been asking is, why there hasn't been more. And there's no single answer. One thing to consider is the way our local writing and publishing communities are structured; and the way genre fiction in general, and crime or mystery fiction in particular, is viewed in these communities. Another is the special problems that the genre poses for the writer.

But the unhealthy state of the country's criminal justice system has certainly had an impact on the volume of work in the genre, I believe, and in ways we're only starting to think about and debate.

I'm not pessimistic at all :) I'm angry and utterly frustrated but at the same time completely hopeful, that the situation -- both real and fictional -- can change.

I am enjoying and learning a great deal from your site, by the way. Thank you and I apologise for the lengthy comment.

January 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the kind words, and no apologies are necessary for such a thoughtful comment. I would like very much to continue this discussion, as a matter of fact.

If "mainstream" literature in the Philippines contains elements of crime and mystery, one question to ask is whether such literature has a wide, popular readership. I would not assume that people don't take crime seriously just because they don't read detective stories. I read an interview with Boris Akunin, in which he said that in Soviet times, everyone read the Russian classics and that crime stories in something like the Western tradition did not emerge until after the U.S.S.R. fell. Now, if everyday Russians were really reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Gogol, they may nonetheless have still been thinking about crime. Also, what kinds of crime stories do Philippine cinema and television tell?

The state of criminal justice systems has certainly been on the minds of certain French and Italian crime writers, so perhaps the debate that you say is just beginning will give rise to similar crime fiction in the Philippines.

Your optimism is nice to see, but it has a double edge. One could argue that crime fiction booms when crime does. Irish crime and violence exploded as the country got suddenly rich, and this, some thoughtful folks believe, has fueled the increase in Irish crime fiction. So I wish the Philippines the best of two worlds: peaceful, secure lives, and lots of good, new crime fiction to read.

January 23, 2008  

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