By Joel Pablo Salud
Today, Kalatas and the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) remember the man who helped build the largest organization of writers in the Philippines today. Born in Feb. 20, 1932, Adrian Cristóbal was highly acclaimed for his satire and for his commentaries on Philippine culture, history, and public affairs. This homage by Salud, Philippine Graphic magazine editor-in-chief and Kalatas columnist, was first published in the Graphic, where Cristóbal spent the last days of his life as executive editor and literary editor, while writing columns for a number of national newspapers. Prolific in ways that other writers can only envy, he had been the author of numerous books, including Pasquinades and Occasional Prose— collections of his essays. He also lectured in various universities here and abroad, among them Cambridge and Oxford. He passed away in Dec. 22, 2007.
“I am not assigning an exalted meaning to the term ‘intellectual,’ I am simply giving a name to persons with a passion, wisely or foolishly, for ideas and expressing them.” – Our Revolutionary Tradition by Adrian Cristóbal
The life and works of writer Adrian Cristóbal gives conviction to the idea that all things belong to the intellectual—the azure-blue sky, the grassy plains, the mangled streets and dark alleys, the wine and grafts that poison our lives, the men and women rushing to their fates. To write about these was never for the faint of heart, he would always say, as it requires some degree of uncommon valor and talent to lend form and identity to the world on which people act out their destiny. One has to be a “sinister force” to continue writing about the truth, to be that dark blotch of ink on an otherwise hypocritical white paper, tapping on the keys with little or no qualm to attendant consequences. Theirs is a life given over to seclusion, to a kind of isolation so desperate they are almost always branded as insurrectos. Truth, he once said, is never anything but a rebel to its own cause.
The works of Adrian, as he was fondly called, mirrored much the subversive nature of writing, that is, if subversion falls under the label of painting the real picture. Unlike rebels, nonetheless, he was possessed of a kinder disposition, his wit serving as the blade that cut through walls of ice and stone. Adrian may have been accused of many things—that he was the mouthpiece of the late ousted tyrant of the Palace being the worst of them—a supposition from which he never cringed and for which he gave no apologies. But no one can accuse this intellectual of wielding the pen without reason and passion.
“The role of intellectuals in the great revolutions,” Adrian once wrote, “accounts for the conservative wisdom that they are a sinister force in societies. By their words, they give a shape and form, spirit and body, to discontent. Conservative wisdom even accuses them of creating discontent in the midst of stability. And yet when revolutions succeed, they are honored by the new order for what they have wrought. Still intellectuals are never satisfied, unless they have been co-opted, and so the time inevitably comes when they find themselves again on the side of subversion. Like journalists, to put it in the vulgar sense, intellectuals do not stay bought, “not by ideology, love, or money.”
It was, thus, his choice to walk the better part of valor. He rose to the occasion when times called for it with pen in hand, and crafted essays on both the delicate and intricate side of life. He was as penetrating and exact as eyes trained to hunt for game, and this can be gleaned from his works:
“I have never been much impressed by the amount of brains needed to run a government. Intelligence of the political kind is ruthless and not entirely free from stupidity, even if one singles out its exemplars: Bismarck, Maeterlinck, Peter the Great, de Gaulle, Kennedy, etc. But endowed with moral strength, character, intellect in politics gave one a Washington or a Roosevelt. Now Cory is neither a Washington nor a Roosevelt, but the goodness that we found in her, and which many others recognized as saintliness, was just the right stuff for the social cancer. Saintliness plus revolutionary power is a formidable combination.” (I Had A Dream, 26 Feb. 1989, Pasquinades).
Other minds come to fore when one reads Adrian, like the witty Liebling of the New Yorker, or the master of the essay, Joseph Epstein (or was it Joseph Mitchell?) Anything and everything was a potential subject for discussion, and for Adrian, nothing was ever wasted on the subtleties of rhetoric, the nuances that blur political lines or those all-too-common states of inebriation. From “Pleasures of the Streets” to “The Polygamous Misogynist” to his essay on Valentine’s Day, Adrian was a troubadour of the writing life in the truest sense, never leaving a simple unfolded tissue, an unrented motel room or being middle-aged as an excuse to be fallow.
“We are a nation of lovers. But let no one make a slogan of it, let no one make any other use of that fact for a political or other purpose. It’s the one thing that belongs to all of us, privately, although collectively. None of that “I-love-my-people” thing. That’s for the birds—birds mate on February 14, do you know? The motels are full on Valentine’s Day. That’s a fact. Leave it be.” (SRO in Motels on Valentine’s Day, February 12, 1989, Pasquinades).
It is for good reason that intellectuals—living or dead—tell their tales: That we who have been left to scrounge for meaning may not give up on life. Adrian Cristobal continues to move among us with the same vigor as before, creating and recreating, wielding the creative process as though it were a sword clutched by a warrior’s hands. His voice was, and still is, both timeless and time-bound, always speaking to those who have ears to hear. The genesis of a life and work offered to literary immortality has its clear provenance in a vision of paradise that leaps from a “work of the imagination” to “work of art,” as Professor Gemino Abad hinted in his First Adrian Cristobal Lecture Series:
“Literature, in the end, always implies change in our psychic weather. Language itself, the literary medium, is in flux, reflecting through a people’s history, our mind-set, our ‘jejemons’ of feeling. Besides that constancy of change and transformation we should also be aware that imagination by its very nature has infinite possibilities, especially, precisely, because imperfect is our paradise.” (Prof. Gemino Abad, The Future is First Shaped by Words, First Adrian Cristobal Lecture Series, August 2010).
At last, Adrian clearly envisioned a paradise “made in the Philippines” by Filipinos, formed and shaped by its intellectuals—men and women of unrelenting passion to express their ideas. No, he was never the peddler of “unreachable stars.” At a pace dictated solely by the speed of his mind and that of his pen, and pragmatic convictions, he had, after years of writing, come to realize that such a paradise must begin with the intellectual himself—an achievement for the virtuoso in the writer that is easier said than done:
“I concluded as early as that time that one couldn’t both be a writer and ‘a man of position and responsibility’ at the same time unless he could suppress virtuosity in favour of virtue. It could be done with some success, but never with complete success. Unless one dies as a writer, the imp of the perverse is ever in his being wherever he finds himself. It is his id, and how powerful id is…”