Marcos, Derrida, and a priest who should know better than to side with executioners
When I think of the French-Algerian intellectual giant, Jacques Derrida, I immediately find myself grappling with this largely post-structuralist question: where does he get his hair done?
There were probably one or two salons in France that had mastered the art of trimming, or more specifically, deconstructing wild silvery hair such as his.
I can imagine him sitting comfortably in one of those phenomenologically soft leather swivel chairs, head poised backwards, awaiting his stylist.
No one can argue that sitting on that swivel chair awaiting the fate of his hair was a structure of consciousness and experience particularly reserved for Derrida at that very moment, as distinct a phenomena from his own nature and presence.
And yet, no one could argue against the assumption — assumption sometimes being a natural prelude to a revealed fact — that such an experience wasn’t particularly unique for Derrida as others may have sat on that chair on that very day but on different hours. Same head poised backwards, same comfort offered by soft leather, same anticipation of a great coiffure.
It goes without saying that the salon may have had other clients that day, even if we weren’t there to see them.
Would you say then that such an experience, felt and seen by different people, presupposes a truth which can be held in good authority? Of course.
There is experiential truth as well as truth born as a product of invention (as in the case of reality found in fiction and poetry). Derrida’s own theory of deconstruction, which is to overturn the systematization and institutionalization of prejudices, false dichotomies and meanings in texts, cannot treat the actual experience of sitting on a soft-leather chair and having a haircut as illusory or imagined, worse, as a prejudicial construct just because we weren’t there to see it.
Our presence or absence doesn’t change the fact that at one point, Derrida had his hair done, nor does it leave the experience in the realm of human construct. Why? Because what it is is a human experience even if he never said anything about it. The possibilities are endless.
Recently, a certain priest by the name of Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, created quite a stir by posting this tweet. Basically, he premised his argument using Derrida’s theory of deconstruction in analyzing critiques against the Marcoses.
In short, what Marcos critics like me have been doing the past couple of years (the younger generation all the more), in Fr. Aquino’s assessment, is to hurl criticism against our own self-made narrative of the Marcoses and not reality or history, insinuating that any study of Derrida or Jean-François Lyotard (with his notion of ‘meta-narratives’) may point to this conclusion.
He mentions Lyotard obviously for his idea of the legitimation (Lyotard’s term) of the status of knowledge, dealing with the question of who decides on what knowledge to store, accept or disregard.
The problem with Fr. Aquino is that he totally misunderstands the roles of Derrida’s and Lyotard’s postmodernist theories in the matter of history. This priest boils reality down into mere narratives and human constructs, thus insinuating that the same are no better than illusory or imagined concepts for reasons that the younger generation were not there to witness and corroborate them.
With this statement, Fr. Aquino risks sliding down a very slippery slope, playing along the borders of denial of martial law atrocities in the same cone as the Nazi holocaust deniers.
First, this attempt to relegate reality into mere narratives, thus shaping them as illusions, is what Derrida and Lyotard refused to do with their theories. Both philosophers wanted to discover how ideas are systematized and legitimized through prejudices and biases, not render the parts as illusory or something of a lie.
In fact, Derrida’s theory of deconstruction assumes that such narratives are structurally necessary to make sense on the whole idea.
It was the British literary critic Terry Eagleton who explained it well: “Deconstruction insists not that truth is illusory, but that it is institutional.”
Deconstruction is simply to tear something apart to see how it works. It doesn’t, at any point, dismiss the structural relevance and inherent truth found in each part.
Second, Fr. Aquino conveniently dismisses the fact that many who have suffered under Marcos’ martial law are still alive today to tell their harrowing tales of intimidation and torture. No amount of theoretical deconstruction can change that. These people still bear on their bodies and minds the pain and trauma of those dark days.
Those who speak the loudest in their condemnation of Marcos HAVE experienced the atrocities of martial law. It is a blatant lie to say otherwise. The loudest of all rants and criticisms against the Marcoses come from survivors of Marcos’ holocaust. That generation, myself included, is still alive today.
And if the younger generation does the same, it is only because they have it in good authority that Marcos was a tyrant, thief and a plunderer. This goes without saying that he was not and will never be a hero.
If we were to follow the same logic employed by Fr. Aquino, then it demolishes the very foundation and core of his belief in his religion. He wasn’t there during the creation of the world, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the missionary feats of the apostles, to say nothing of the writing of the Scriptures, the persecution of the Church and the founding of the faith.
All that needs to be said about his faith, his Church and his doctrines and canons are encapsulated within Scriptural narratives, Christianity’s historiography, and teachings of the Church Fathers — none of which Fr. Aquino witnessed himself (unless he fancies himself an immortal).
Therefore, following his logic, who’s to say that these were true? Or are these simply the systematization and ‘legitimation’ of spiritual, hence largely illusory and biased concepts? His own defense of God would be a futile attempt at a rant directed at a mere human construct.
So the question: is he a priest or a cosplayer?
Besides, I never had the chance to meet Derrida or Lyotard face to face (I wish I had). Neither did I have the honor of meeting Dr. Jose Rizal. Just the same it would be ludicrous to consider them as a product of my imagination just because their lives and thoughts were shared in narratives.
In answer to this ‘man of God,’ let me quote another French-Algerian philosopher, Albert Camus:
“It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.” Try deconstructing that.
What he should have done was deconstruct the Marcos narrative of heroism against the claims of intimidation, violence, torture, rape, disappearances and large-scale corruption.
There is so much bias in the Marcos narrative — yes, it remains a ‘narrative’ because proving its veracity is no different from intellectual suicide — that the name ‘Marcos’ and the word ‘hero’ should never stand side by side in one sentence.