In this age where power continuously redefines and reinvents itself, the response of an enlightened academe is clear: to critique, interrogate, and resist.
It was in September when the secretariat started planning for the 3rd Edel Garcellano Conference on Literary and Cultural Studies at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Santa Mesa, Manila.
The conference, launched in 2018, was aimed at highlighting the pivotal role of criticism and scholarship in the Philippine academe, aligning with the significant research undertaken by theorists and literary scholars through the years.
When we issued our call for the submission of abstracts, we received tremendous response from scholars and researchers who approached the idea of utopia through an interdisciplinary lens and critiqued the prevailing dystopian trends. The conference would again be conducted in person after a challenging three-year pause caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
We scheduled the conference on Nov. 16-17 at Bulwagang Bonifacio and ICTO Lab 1 in the Ninoy Aquino Library and Resource Learning Center on campus. It was attended by students from PUP, writers, researchers, and other professionals from various institutions of higher learning, as well as members of Edel Garcellano’s family.
Support from the PUP Office of the Vice President for Research, Extension and Development ensured the provision of food and refreshments for the attendees. The conference’s success was the result of collaborative efforts between the Center for Creative Writing and the Center for Philippine Studies under the Research Institute for Culture and Language, and in partnership with the Gender and Development Office.
Why Edel Garcellano?
For nearly three decades, spanning 1987 to 2002 and again from 2012 to 2016, the novelist, poet and literary critic Edel Garcellano taught humanities and philosophy at PUP. His impact on his students was profound. He passed away on April 23, 2020, yet many still reminisce about his teaching methods and pedagogical approach with a sense of nostalgia.
Esteemed figures in Philippine criticism and literature, such as Caroline Hau, Neferti Tadiar, Bliss Cua-Lim, and John Blanco, acknowledge his influence on their work.
The decision to name the conference after him stemmed from his influence as PUP’s foremost literary critic and scholar. The conference continues to serve as a tribute to his legacy, honoring his enduring impact on the university’s intellectual landscape.
‘The Persistence of Utopian Imagination’
In its third iteration, the conference was organized in keeping with the essence of Edel Garcellano’s intellectual work of defying mainstream thought.
The theme was “The Persistence of Utopian Imagination,” which not only acknowledged his unexplored utopianism but also provided a platform for scholars, researchers and students who, like him, challenge conventional ways of thinking.
We divided the two-day conference into two keynote sessions and 12 panel sessions covering diverse topics related to utopias such as peasant experiences, feminism, hope, creative writing, social movements, gender studies, literary and visual cultures, archives, digital culture, philosophical interventions, and Edel Garcellano’s praxis.
The keynote speeches delivered by Dr. Jayson C. Jimenez from the Department of Philosophy and Humanities and Dr. Emanuel De Guzman from the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs on Nov. 16 and 17, respectively, offered insightful philosophical and sociological perspectives while exploring utopian ideas.
Both keynote speakers are scholars who made their mark in the academe and who consider Edel Garcellano as a sui generis writer and critic; the paper presenters in the sessions are some of the best young writers today who, in one way or another, have been influenced by his work.
The discussions and conversations in the open forums helped the students satisfy their piqued curiosity on possible research topics and gain a deeper understanding of the topics presented.
At the end, Edel Garcellano’s wife delivered a message—titled “Encountering Edel while Imagining this Conference’s Possibilities”—in which she expressed appreciation for the event and “its planned theme of the imagined Utopia and locating his work in it.”
“Young people, you, young people,” the journalist Rosario Garcellano said, “because you are now the frontliners in the fight for a better future, have to be awake, correctly informed and contextually aware” in the face of the ever-shifting dynamics within society.
Much like how we carefully organized the conference, those who encountered Edel Garcellano would agree that his commitment to shedding light on the plight of the oppressed and to helping others understand systemic injustice resonated in the discourses he led, and in the classrooms he stood in. In and despite his constant critical stance, he wanted discourses like this conference to go beyond the academe, and to open doors of possibilities and hope—the last word, his wife recalled, in a short story that he wrote in his late 20s.
But now, “exhaustion sets in more often,” Rosario Garcellano admitted, “along with the sinking feeling that this continuing struggle is Sisyphean and ultimately meaningless.” Yet, she said, “it is during such low times that we must fight to come to terms with what we, you, are here for: to engage, to resist, to write, to produce.”
The legacy of Edel Garcellano lives on, not only in his scholarly works but also in the commitments he ignited. And just as he imparted his wisdom to young poets, so did Rosario Garcellano remind the next generation that “to write is already to choose,” a dictum that maintains resonance in this time of socioeconomic and political unrest.
Her words also echoed what Edel Garcellano constantly explained to his students and friends: “The condition that afflicts everyone oppressed and exploited by state power,” she said, “and the necessity of recognizing it, naming it, to begin the process of healing.”
“It’s an abiding hassle, to be blunt about it,” Rosario Garcellano conceded, “but surely and always it is a declaration of hope, a demonstration of a profound awareness: This is not right, this is unjust, this needs a principled stance, resistance.”
With the success of this conference, we believe as its organizers that it stands as one of the legacies of PUP in modern times. The conference’s emphasis on Edel Garcellano’s literary legacy and critical commentary on societal issues will help shape the future discourse within the academe and the struggle beyond it.
Jenna Dolovino is a media correspondent of Manila Today and a staff member of the PUP Center for Creative Writing. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in sociology, and nurtures a passion for creating zines that highlight the experiences of women and workers. —Ed.