Sunday, September 21, 2014

Notes on Literature and Society

 Who is Salvador P. Lopez?

Salvador Ponce Lopez (May 27, 1911 – October 18, 1993) was an Ilokano writer, journalist, educator, diplomat, and statesman.

He studied at the University of the Philippines and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1931 and a Master of Arts degree, also in philosophy, in 1933.

In 1940, Lopez' essay "Literature and Society" won in the Commonwealth Literary Awards.

He was appointed by President Diosdado Macapagal as Secretary of Foreign Affairs and was ambassador to the United Nations for six years before reassigned to France for seven years.

Lopez was the president of the University of the Philippines from 1969 to 1975.


Theme 1: Art for Art’s Sake vs. Proletarian Literature

Lopez believed that “the word has soul as well as body.”

Furthermore, he considers the word as “the most potent instrument known to man.”

Lopez adds that writers who use only language for its beauty are like “a decadent asthete who stubbornly confuses literature with paintings.”

Literature and Society can be viewed as Lopez’s reaction to the growing literary movement led by Jose Garcia Villa (1908-1997).

Lopez described Villa as “the one Filipino writer today who it would be futile to deride and impossible to ignore ... the pace-setter for an entire generation of young writers, the mentor laying down the law for the whole tribe, the patron-saint of a cult of rebellious moderns.” (Source:

 Villa believed that poetry is “written with words, not ideas.” (Source:

What is Art for Art's Sake?

“Art for art's sake” condenses the notion that art has its own value.

First surfacing in French literary circles in the early 19th century, it was a reflex of the Romantic movement's desire to detach art from the period's increasing stress on rationalism.

“Art for art's sake” was an important impetus behind the development of abstract art and Abstract Expressionism.


What is Proletarian Art?

The proletarian arts movement was an international political arts movement that flourished in the 1920s and 1930s.

Proletarianism believes that class-based struggle is necessary because capital was controlled by the few at the expense of the many.

Anguish and optimism made proletarianism seem not only possible but crucial.

Proletarian arts address the most important issues: the transformations of the world through capitalism, the possibilities of democracy, job security, nationalism, imperialism, sweatshops, torture, living wages, child care, relations between the sexes, the social function of the family, the arts and media, war, peace and empire, and so much more.


Theme 2: Growth of a Writer

Lopez mentions in his essay that “a young writer is almost certain to start his career by writing mushy poetry and sophomoric philosophy.”

However, writers experience some changes as they mature, “there comes over his writing a change not only his subject-matter but in his general temper and attitude.”

As an example, Lopez uses Teodoro Kalaw.

Who is Teodoro Kalaw?

Teodoro M. Kalaw (1884-1940) was one of the most outstanding trilingual writers and historians of the Philippines. He was born on March 31, 1884 in the town of Lipa, Batangas .

He finished his law degree in Manila and became the youngest editor of El Renacimiento, an extreme nationalist newspaper.

At 25 years old, Kalaw won a seat at the Philippine Assembly.

In 1920, He assumed the Secretary of Interior in 1920. Subsequently, Kalaw became director of the National Library, writing in his spare time historical essays.

The October 30, 1908 editorial thundered:" The Eagle, symbolizing liberty and strength, had found the most admirers--and men collectively and individually, have desired to copy and imitate this most rapacious of birds in order to triumph in the plundering of their fellowmen. But there is a man who, besides being like the eagle, also has the characteristics of a vulture, the owl and the vampire. He ascends the mountains of Benguet ostensible to classify and measure Igorot skulls, to study and to civilize the Igorots but at the same time he also espies during his flight, with the keen eye of the bird of prey, were the large deposits of gold are, the real prey...and then he appropriates these all to himself afterwards, thanks to the legal facilities he can make and unmake at will, always however redounding to his benefit."

Dean Worcester, the Secretary of Interior and the Chief of the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes, sued Kalaw and his publisher as the American believed he was the subject of the scathing editorial. The two Filipinos were found guilty and were ordered to pay Php 60,000.

El Renacimiento was forced to close down because of banckr, but immediately the duo of Ocampo and Kalaw started another nationalist newspaper, La Vanguardia.

Years later, Teodoro Kalaw would reveal that he had never even written the editorial. It was his fellow journalist Fidel Reyes.


Theme 2: Growth of a Writer (Part II)

Lopez states that there are two paths a young writer will have to face, “Indifferentism and the other misanthropy.”

Lopez describes indifferentism  as “an  inherent vice.” Further, he believes that there is little people can do to correct indifferentism especially if it comes from a deeply-rooted twisted point of view.

On the other hand, Lopez describes writers who “suffer from cynicism and misanthropy”  as people who have “a profound and sensitive spirit.” These writers experienced a life event that made them question their long-held view of the world. Nevertheless, having just a” profound and sensitive spirit” is not enough; it must be paired with an “undeviating principle” or “indestructible faith.” People can only know a thing’s true value when it has been taken away from them.

For Lopez, the writer must abandon the ‘the ivory tower of pure literature.” He must allow himself to be swept by the “social and political currents swirling around him.”

 “The only true basis of lasting beauty in literature is—power.” This power is not equivalent to political or economic power exercised by a president or an industry leader.  Lopez equates power with change. The writer, with his works, can affect positive change in society and this can only be fulfilled when the writer cannot live outside society. To reinforce his point, Lopez cites the Dreyfus Affair.

What is the Dreyfus Affair?

Émile Zola risked his career and more on 13 January 1898, when his "J'accuse"[6] was published on the front page of the Paris daily L'Aurore. Émile Zola's "J'Accuse" accused the highest levels of the French Army of obstruction of justice and anti-Semitism by having wrongfully convicted Alfred Dreyfus to life imprisonment on Devil's Island.

The 1898 article written by Émile Zola is widely marked in France as the most prominent manifestation of the new power of the intellectuals (writers, artists, academicians) in shaping public opinion, the media and the state.

Theme 3: The Great Artist

For Lopez, a great artist must have “greatness of heart and mind and soul.” A writer can only develop his emotional, spiritual, and intellectual qualities through life experiences.

What is most important for a writer is that he or she believes in progress. Lopez uses the word “progress” not in the economic or material sense rather it refers to man’s development collectively. The writer must not lose faith in mankind regardless of the man-made conflicts and disasters that highlight man’s destructive and greedy side.

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