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Critical Essay

Looking at Space and Place: The Navigation of Meaning Making

During the 1st Cebu Writers Workshop held in Oslob from the days of Feb 7 to 9, there arose during the sessions a constant need to talk about place-making. Here Place-making was dominantly figured through two other relevant concepts – that of space and that of meaning making. Fellows and panelists alike talked about their own uniquely framed politics ? concurrently nostalgic, translational, and migrational ? as intersecting with the various means by which they live in and make sense of the world around them. This has enabled multiple ways of thinking about our sense of place and the values that we charge or even burden it with.

With that being said, while the workshop took place after the call for this issue, the questions and points that were raised throughout the three-day discussion I feel are relevant in framing the significance of the ideas of space and place with regards to this issue. Such questions may cover race and gender; how do we think of our sense of Filipinoness? Of our sexualities? Of our ability to speak of our marginality (as queer, as non-English, as non-Tagalog) within our own spaces dominated by external discourses? Can we articulate a decidedly unique way of representing our cultures, of our homes, of our beingness in these spaces if we are to speak in differing tongues? Does our distance from each other (geopolitically and culturally) offer a way of affirming multiculturalism and plural-nationalism in times of political and historical homogeneity?

I do not aim to offer any conclusive answer to the above questions. Rather I aim to provide preliminary ways of looking at space and place in the context of this issue as a means of engaging with said questions. If we understand space is that which we map out, exist in, and the vessel for the physical world and action, and place as space charged with meaning and significance, then perhaps it is best to build off our discourse of space and place as a process of meaning making and identification. How do we identify the spaces we occupy (or are made to occupy) and how do we make them meaningful for us?

Amongst several of the entries there is of course one of the more fundamental workers of this process – that of the force of memory. In Christian Baldomero?s ?There is a boy in the island?, we configure the moment of place as home, articulated through a conversation between an island boy as they grapple with their complex relationship. To quote ?The boy tells you what white is in his native tongue?puti, like sand,/like your skin, like the cobblestoned boulevards you have back home. /You tell him there?s something about this island. You do not know/what it is exactly, but you tell him it?s like home. He says this is home?.

The act of remembering as bringing a comparison to what the persona recognizes as home is done through the similary of whiteness. It is ?like the cobblestoned boulevards you have back home?, or thus a remembering of a space brought back in memory. Nevertheless it is not home for the persona, rather it becomes home for the islander who asserts it by saying ?this is home?, because similarity is not sameness. The home for the persona and the islander are two different phenomenon made with different claims of significance.

Extending from this, one can also understand this process as constantly negotiated. Jose Kervin Calabias articulates this in his poem ?Cartography? where he articulates that ?What begs for clarity/Is the fickle distance between/The outline of space and presence? recognizing a necessary ontological gap between space and the idea of being in space (or what I conceive as place). This kind of gap is crisscrossed, navigated, and traversed in a continuous process where the persona says ?I will take you to the city I grew up in/ I will take you to the old stone market./ I will have you smell sights I once got lost in childhood?. This is later followed by ?I will teach you to negotiate in my space./I will teach you to haggle for thrifted clothes./You will speak in between languages of yours and mine.?

What this extends is the discourse of communicating one?s sense of place, that one can share one?s space with another and all that which is made meaningful, but to gain this sense of place is to ?negotiate in my space?. This is complicated further by the notion of language ? of both the linguistic, the bodily, and the ontological- in which speaking between these poles is an attempt to bridge forth this sense of distance.

There are numerous other entries on the list that complicate the relationship between space and place. The above two readings are sample intrusions into the ways by which the mediation between space and place is also indicative of the mediation between the authors? and their positioning and being in their contexts and lives. To illuminate the complexity and intersections between their past, present, and self means to assert a deliberation in their writing ? invoking a process porous to outside influences, perpetually dynamic, and endlessly subjective.

It is hoped that in offering a closer look at how all the authors of this issue understand the idea of space and place that we are able to present an insightful means of recognizing the constant challenge of returning to place-making in the projects presented within this issue.

By Thomas Leonard Shaw

Thomas Leonard Shaw is a queer, liminal poet-critic who lives in perpetual transit from Siargao to Metro Manila. Once a Creative Writing student and Palanca Foundation scholar at the University of the Philippines Diliman, and a poetry fellow at the 1st Philippine National LGBTQ Writers? Workshop, the 1 st Cebu Young Writers Studio, and 26th Iligan National Writers? Workshop, Thomas now majors in Comparative Literature, and studies what it means to be a writer and critic in this global age of cultural and artistic production. He was an awardee at the 2019 Amelia Lape?a Bonifacio Literary Awards and has been published by Voice and Verse Magazine. With a research interest in memory studies and the intersections between literature, history and imperial expansion, he hopes to one day teach literature and to help organize the first creative writing workshop in Siargao. His current project is an exploration of the dialectics between memory and history in the fiction of Ang?lica Gorodischer.

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