By VIANCA GAMBOA
Quick, think of an ugly overplayed post-millennium mash-up that thanks to the school room Christmas party, our ears never bled like before. Some people enjoy it, some people don’t. As killjoys, we should always be the latter.
“Aliasing” is the ninth novel to the London-published series Semina about irregular, experimental forms of art and encourage novel submissions with “total disregard for the conventions that structure received ideas about fiction.”
Produced by writer, artist, and activist Stewart Home under Bookworks, it was inspired by the original zines of the same title assembled by California post-war artist Wallace Berman circa 1950s. Semina contains experimental writing in any form or subject. It is considered one of the most influential pioneers of DIY art form machine in their time.
In this novel, Mara Coson centers on the Filipinos’ mundane way of life post-history, in the heydays of radio broadcasts, mythological creatures with fourteen teeth, and headless chickens. The title, which means a distortion of error caused by a mismatch of frequencies from the original signal, was inspired by the “aliasing” patterns of the Philippine weave binakul used by elders to scare away evil spirits. As how Mara would put it, “[the book] altogether receives signals from the past, present, and future and creates identity and other place.”
Set in a fictional town of Turagsoy, with intertwining stories covering the likes of some non-fictional characters—from the lesser known, the original badass, Macabebe Marie, a Filipina intel warrior posing as a soldier for the Phil American war in the early 1900s, to a Marian visionary and healer Emma de Guzman, foraying into skewed Catholicism.
It is a multitude of perspectives booming from one speaker to another (like math rock shoegaze L R L-R ear porn or visually, besides from the binakul itself, maybe overlapping patterns on striped shirts) interwoven together to create some sort of distortion. It would very much look like cutaway shots when turned into a movie, but no complaints, in the first place we’re not in it for the pattern. Not to get you totally fazed from digressions to digressions—nothing is linear, the characters almost never move toward the central point—there are distinctions and snippets of truth, but there are a lot of them, one other after the other: There is a subdued voice of grief hidden between an ale’s one-liners, two-syllables, sound bites from wars like tatatatatatata, a radio announcer with bad diction, a radio announcer with good diction, a radio announcer,a goddamn Meteora, and a volcanic erup—no, wait.
Spoiler alert: The world is not as we know it. It is not flat, nor round, it’s shaped like an antenna.
The Whim Weaver
Mara recently launched her debut novel in Powerbooks Podium and talked about it like it was some brainchild of a living, breathing version of anxiety, which gave it some sort of logical justice for its jagged approach.
The whole idea is centered on the overlapping patterns of binakul and so is the pacing of her storyline. “I found it fascinating that we were working with these geometric shapes so long ago, and I wondered how it could shake the world forming in my mind.”
As per Mara, the challenge wasn’t about pulling an all-nighter for six months to finish a 40,000 word novel and get published, but more of writing a narrative in the local contemporary setting for the foreign readers to “feign” on. The relevance of the story, however, isn’t completely parallel with her idea that it is, in fact, the Philippine society. “I didn’t want to say this is the Philippines because I think there’s no one way of writing about it, how much more creating a world from it. I wanted to create other ways to build familiars. I still wanted to guide readers into a familiar environment like you know where it is, but you can’t quite place it.”
She took advantage of Semina for her self-conscious exploration with the impulse of establishing a strong sense of place. “I started to think about the concerns around what makes a contemporary Filipino novel—the pressures of authenticity, faithful representation, political history, identity politics. And I thought about what I considered conventionally necessary foundations if I was not to go to the route of realistic fiction for mysticism, superstition, Marian worship therapists, superstition, colonial history, Island life. I had initially rejected these elements to free myself from these expectations. But then I started to think further that if I didn’t want them, why? If I instead included all these elements, how would I then write about them?”
The book cover conveys nothing out of the ordinary and was inspired by handmade rubber stamps in the Philippines. “[They] basically just put together catfish, volcano, Mara Coson, Aliasing, Semina no. 9 all together.”
Mara said that there weren’t any significant experiences in the book but she was able to instill some remnants from her past like things she have seen on TV, stuff she have written in high school, and in all her cleverness, the time she made cheese . “I think a lot of people who have read the book have said, ‘Oh, it’s very familiar. It feels like my childhood,’ whether they grew up in the province or in the city, or if they listen to survivors ever since the world began, over and over on the radio.”
She admits that she often ends up grasping for words when asked to describe her book. “Characters? I don’t even have names for the half of them. Please, I didn’t even put street signs—nothing other than an impending volcanic eruption, which no one in the story is allowed to talk about.” Although mirrored in the post-history, she believes it’s more of a translation of the deep anxiety that we live in today, that’s why the book tend to run on tropes and stutters.
There is of course, a message for her readers, in case everything sounded too complex. “Just keep on reading it even if suddenly it becomes a script, suddenly you don’t know who’s talking, orsuddenly it’s like you’re listening to radio.”
She began writing her second novel in response to Aliasing, which has a clear path for another experimental approach, but nothing is set in stone—her creative writing process flows in ways she could never imagine. Taking cues from her first novel, “I didn’t want to provide a fixed history for readers to be set on the path where they can identify definite markers to determine things that are possible and not possible.”