Nick Joaquin had the look of a dissolute emperor and the discipline of a monk. He lived, worked, and died in the city of his birth. He loved San Miguel beer, walking around Manila, and attending Mass. He spoke Tagalog, Spanish, and English, plus kanto-boy Tagalog and street Englishes. His style has a term: Joaquinesque. His command of voice, language, and form is absolute. Some of his sentences are like labyrinths that if you pulled a string through, you get this architectonic surety, a marvel. As a writer, I am always falling in love with him again. I study his sentences. Puns lurk in his precision. His favorite is “going for lost”: inside the phrase is Tagalog, nagwawala, meaning both to lose and to go nuts. He likes gerundizing (Tagalog is verb based) and history puns. For Filipinos, Joaquin is sui generis. Almost maddeningly Manileiio, subversively religious, pitch-perfectly bourgeois, preternaturally feminist, historically voracious, Joaquin’s work has a fatality–it simply is.
I read him when I was a child in Leyte. MacArthur had landed on my island in 1944; and since May 1, 1898, when Spain’s ships fell to American cannons in Manila Bay, the Philippines–condemned on that May Day to English–has made art in English from seeds of violence. Continue reading