Art and literature in the time of fake news
Fake news. No word has seized present-day imagination more than this term which signifies a form of disreputable speech. From the rarefied world of international diplomacy to the realm of quotidian chatter, the word is bandied about as if it were a multipurpose tool, fit to accomplish a range of objectives. It could be used to refute an argument; it could be exploited for humor. It could unwittingly bring honor, but could also damage reputation. In a world of fluid signifiers, fake news is a luminous term. It condenses our universal uncertainties and may thus be said to capture the spirit of the age. No wonder then that in 2017 it was declared Word of the Year.
Fake news. The dictionary defines it as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.” But we all know that by now, given its use in a wild variety of situations, the word has already been ripped from its moorings in mass media. Today, any utterance or cluster of statements whose veracity is questionable can be summarily dismissed as ‘fake news.’
The fake news phenomenon has thrown into relief the most persistent and the most problematic of all enigmas: What is truth? It is a riddle that has received countless answers and received none. Pilate asked: “And what is truth?” after the Christ who was brought to him for judgment said that he had come to the world “to testify to the truth.” The drama of Pilate’s question has endured. Today, intellectuals love to say that language is slippery. So is truth.
It is in light of this conundrum that we try to find significance in the role that the arts play in securing an anchor for our beliefs. What is truth? Art has also always grappled with this fundamental question. But the arts have a different take on what truth consists of. People in the humanistic disciplines like to say that truth in art exists on a different ontological plane, that it is not to be confused with what people consider as truth in a pragmatic sense. If so, what role do we assign to art in a world riddled with fake news?
In a speech he delivered almost two years ago, Jose Dalisay, Jr., one of our finest writers, argued about “why the arts should matter.” He began by invoking the old claim that art is enriching and ennobling, but promptly brought the issue closer to home by talking about art’s social utility in terms of what it can do to help us know how “to govern ourselves wisely and well.” For Dalisay, this governance is first of all a matter of establishing and nourishing our sense of community, of knowing what truly matters, and of understanding the narrative that we construct around our being in this world. We can add that it is this kind of governance that we need not only to sift the grain from the chaff but to distinguish the truth from fake news.
The year 2017 was of course not only about the notoriety of fake news. Despite endless tribulations, from the mundane to the cosmic, many wondrous things happened—enough to sustain our faith in human ability to survive with a modicum of grace. One of the things that sustain us is art in its many guises. It is this kind of sustenance that we try to document in Sanghaya 2018.
The Sanghaya yearbook of Philippine art and culture first appeared in 2001 under the editorship of Bienvenido Lumbera, eminent writer and now National Artist for Literature. Initiated to document the state of Philippine art and culture at the start of the new millennium, Sanghaya made four more appearances until 2005, after which it disappeared from the scene. It is revived 12 years later through the initiative of P.T. Martin who played an instrumental role in the publication of all the past issues of the yearbook.
Like its predecessors, Sanghaya 2018 attempts to provide a comprehensive account of the Philippine cultural scene, and considers as many cultural forms as it can contain. Distinctions between high art and popular culture are destabilized, and efforts are made to cover developments outside of the metropolitan capital. Sanghaya 2018, however, also differs from the previous yearbooks in that it is bilingual, with a significant number of articles in Filipino. This is prompted by the recognition that the yearbook, as an official publication of the highest government body in the field of culture and the arts, must play a significant role in the propagation and development of the national language. Another difference is this: The previous yearbooks are available only in print edition; Sanghaya 2018 is available online (sanghaya.net.ph), and has social media presence through Facebook and Instagram.
Of the important events covered in this yearbook, the most crucial are perhaps the significant strides made in relation to the establishment of a separate Department of Culture, and the growing recognition that the arts, through the new paradigm of creative economy, could play a really vital role in national development. These are interesting times—not in the sense in which that phrase is understood in the context of Chinese culture, but interesting in the sense that the arts (and culture in general) seem to be on the threshold of a paradigmatic change. The new technologies are being harnessed to create new modes of artistic production, and with these new developments our ways of looking at art are bound to be altered. This, we hope, bodes well for all of us who try to keep the arts alive despite the menacing threat posed by those who love to proclaim their obsolescence.
In the first issue of this yearbook, founding editor Bienvenido Lumbera explains that sanghaya means “beauty, honor, dignity.” These are the values that the arts seek to embody, and the principles that this yearbook of Philippine culture and the arts seeks to promote.
Delfin Tolentino, Jr.