Niccolo Vitug on the Latest Issue of Heights (Vol. 58, no. 2): A Critique of Chroma

On the Latest Issue of Heights
by Niccolo Vitug of the Ateneo English Deparment
Sunday, March 6, 2011 at 9:19am (Facebook)

A Critique of Chroma
(Heights Vol. 58, no. 2)

When I decided to finally write a critique of the Chroma issue of Heights, the official literary and artistic publication and organization of the Ateneo de Manila University, there were many things that came to mind – most of which having to do with how special Heights is to me, having been a member of the organization behind it during my student days and now being a teacher in the English Department. Another thought was my ambivalence about being a critic. There is the desire to intervene in a means intellectual and astute, alongside the desire to truly contribute to the community I belong to. This second aspect prompts many questions having to do with the recipient of this missive. Will I be causing unnecessary distress? Will sharing my thoughts contribute to a greater awareness, or cause more misunderstanding?

However, given what I have seen in Chroma, I believe that it is good time to open a discussion on certain issues that I believe are important. I firmly believe that there is a literary tradition that comes from Loyola Heights. This tradition, to put it in the shortest way possible, is to see things differently and compassionately. It should be known that this visual acuity is something that Ateneo de Manila writers inherit from Ignatius of Loyola, who sought to find God in all things, and to let go of any attachments in order to be in full service of the Divine Majesty. After reading through the pages of Chroma, I knew that was the right time to ask questions about the vision of Heights at this point.

An Atenean learns certain Latin terms early on. Magis (More), Praelectio, Lectio, Repetitio (Before the Lecture, Lecture and Review). An Atenean is taught to give more – to aim to dispose his/her whole self to attain excellence. This excellence is achieved through preparing thoroughly before one’s classes, participating actively during class, and reviewing the lessons after class. What is this excellence for? This is intended to be a path for a person to become God’s instrument in sharing his love, peace and justice in the world. What does this have to do with the capacity to see? When one gives up the self, there is a letting go of inordinate attachments that prevent us from participating in God’s saving action. This is impossibly painful to do if not for the capacity to see that God always loves a person despite everything. This capacity to see has made the world bearable for many who choose to serve it.

As Heights is a literary publication of an institution guided by the Ignatian Spirit, then it accordingly is expected to manifest a predilection to make sure that all its activities are founded on, and introduce to others, the capacity to see beyond what is ordinary. The Ateneo de Manila is an educational institution that is known for being the locus for fields of study that are not usually taken in other Catholic institutions. The Ateneo de Manila is also known for the Ignatian term Cura Personalis – teachers in Jesuit schools are called to be more than teachers; they are given the challenge to teach each student differently from the other, so that the learning is facilitated more effectively. Guess where these visionary actuations come from. These are all enabled by a capacity to see differently.

The question to ask at this point is: Does Chroma, the latest issue of Heights, present a kind of self-reflexivity that makes us aware that it knows of its Atenean and Ignatian traditions? Is there a sense of history and context that is seen in the choice of works, ideas and designs incorporated into the issue? In a world that is currently in the grips of postmodern thought – a kind of thinking that was rooted in disillusionment prompted by the disastrous turnouts of the Second World War all over the world – I believe that historicizing and contextualizing are very frequently forgotten. Has Heights put in consideration that there may be a post-postmodern way of looking at things in the determination of the details of Chroma?

First of all, Chroma has for its cover two blank panels; only the spine indicates the name of the journal and the volume and issue numbers. Moreover, Chroma comes in five colors: flesh, gray, yellow, blue-green and purple. When I went to the Heights office to get a copy, I was generously given copies in four of the above colors, which I appreciated. I admit that the reason I was excited about them was the colors. It was very much like getting a Moleskine notebook in various hues – it was something that appealed to my fancy. However, beyond this, what does the availability of five colors of the same journal signify?

Perhaps, this can be related to other design elements in the issue. The first page has the word “Heights” printed in grid fashion. A page near the beginning is filled with this quote: “The copy and paste function seems to be inconsequential in the face of all the conveniences that the digital age provides for us. Then again, when we examine it, we realize that it allows us to appropriate, to take a single line or idea and pass them off as part of our own work. On the surface, it appears to be different, to be singular and original, but the content is the same.” This page is filled up so that is you look at it from afar, what you see is literally one block of text. Towards the end of the issue, we find a similar page; only that the lines are all overlapping, so that no word can be read at all.

To me the quotation copy and pasted seems to indicate that Heights refuses plagiarism. The editorial supports this idea; Editor-in-Chief Tina del Rosario and Associate Editor Joseph Casimiro write, “In the artistic and literary setting, what is asked from you is play: experimentation with the form, images and metaphors, with the kinds of narratives you explore, with the way you choose to look at things and express that point of view.”

However, the issue of plagiarism is very complex; and the Ateneo de Manila has witnessed very heated context-specific discussions within its faculty because of this very subject. The editors write that Chroma is their “response to plagiarism” and that intended to “(play) with the form in order to present the blurring of the lines between sameness and originality, of old and new.” My question for them is, “Is the playing with form enough in order to continue the discussion on plagiarism, that has been conducted on the level of debate and argumentation?” An experiment on form, as it creates a new form of discourse, may serve to obfuscate rather than help in clarifying points for those who participate in – and those who are directly affected by – the discussion.

Perhaps, Heights should have encouraged members of the Ateneo faculty and studentry to come up with critical papers that present the various facets of plagiarism and literature, and the variety of implications that one will have to confront in the act of literary and artistic production in the face of this issue. It seems to me important to ask that, if the issue is about plagiarism, then why are the critical essays in the issue about the poetic line alone? Yes, Heights did sponsor a talk that had to do with the poetic line this semester – and we should remember that prosody is of the utmost importance in writing poems – but the context of the Chroma issue, I believe, calls for a discussion on plagiarism. In the first place, the editors of Heights took a stand with regards to it in the editorial.

I will now focus on the choice of critical essays in Chroma. The authors of these essays are Mabi David and Mesandel Virtusio Arguelles, members of High Chair and published poets. Having read their critical essays, I can say that Ms. David and Mr. Arguelles are astute thinkers and certainly deliberate practitioners of the craft. However, I now pose this question: if we are inviting guest artists to give their critical commentaries on issues in literary and artistic production, what about the practitioners within the Ateneo de Manila itself, people who know the history and context of Ateneo writing? I find it problematic that members of Heights are able to invite guests to share their critical discourses within the community, while members of the faculty who are also serious practitioners are subjected to deliberations by the staff, and are accordingly silenced when the staff chooses not to publish their works.

Heights, it should be remembered, is a student organization within the university. Is it not fair to say, then, that Heights fulfills an educative function; that through the work one does within the walls of the pub room, one learns skills and ideas that may be well beyond one’s interests and preferences? I am of the opinion that there are current literary trends that are more in fashion than others; but the literary practitioners’ solemn duty is still to know his/her tradition, because – in any case – tradition informs his/her actuations. Editors Del Rosario and Casimiro write, “(I)n literarure and art, there are no new ideas.” This is absolutely true! The question is, are the members of Heights familiar with these old ideas and the works that contain them? Is the exploration of tradition pursued in order to fashion the new that inevitably holds (whether one explores it or not) tradition at the heart of it its origin?

Of all the pieces written by studentry in Chroma, the ones that I commend the most are those of Miss Rachel Marra and Miss Tina del Rosario. My assessment of these is that these manifest the keenness of seeing that Ateneo de Manila writing is known for. Most of the other pieces, on the other hand, seem to be written in a way that experiments on form. A few other pieces seem to follow the line of Ateneo de Manila tradition, but not of the quality that is seen in the works of Miss Marra and Miss del Rosario. Again, Ignatian tradition welcomes new ideas, and we in the Ateneo de Manila follow suit; however, if Heights only welcomes the new and sets aside the old, then we begin to ask, what is all this writing and publishing for? Is this done for the community that has inherited a traditional discourse – one that at the center of it a focus on imagery, metaphoric seeing and philosophical reflection? Is there a dialogue being fostered here, or is there only an imposition of an imagined self – something that seems a kind of inordinate attachment to things, which Ignatius encouraged people to give up for God and the good of others?

To conclude this critique, I would like to recap my main ideas in a few sentences. First: The Ateneo de Manila is the keeper of an Ignatian tradition, which is, briefly, to see things differently and compassionately. Second: this Ignatian tradition, open to both old and new ideas and forms, has at the center of it the call to do everything for the greater glory of God. Third: Heights, a part of the Ateneo de Manila community, is an inheritor of this Ignatian tradition, something that complements the literary arts. Fourth: I am prompted after seeing the Chroma issue – with its inclination to experimentation in form: is Heights still aligned to the Ignatian heritage, which fosters – as I have mentioned – a way of seeing differently and compassionately, a discourse in which members of a community can participate and conduct a dialogue between tradition and innovation?

Letter to the ALMS: Traditional Latin Mass at the Church of the Gesu


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Nearly a year ago, the ALMS was founded to have the Traditional Latin Mass said in Ateneo de Manila University. So far, we have not succeeded. Our main problem is we cannot find a suitable chapel. I think the Church of the Gesu is good enough for TLM. The problem may be the cost: it is about P 3500 per mass.  If this cost is the only thing that keeps us from having a TLM in Ateneo, then I propose the following solution:

I shall pay the P 3500.

We can have one Sunday mass per month. The mass collections can go to the presiding priest. Fifty (50) persons giving P 20 each is already P 1000. If we can have an attendance of 300 persons, the mass collection would be enough to pay for both the priest and the rental of the Church of the Gesu.

I can only give financial support, but this is not enough:

  1. We need somebody who can be the overall coordinator of ALMS, preferably a student, because we wish the ALMS to be an Ateneo student organization recognized by Ateneo de Manila University. I already have my hands full as undergraduate committee head of the Physics Department and SERC Subcenter coordinator of the Manila Observatory.
  2. We need volunteers for the choir. Mr. Nikko Vitug, faculty of the English Department, is already offering his services as choir master. Mr. Vitug has a syllabus ready for the Gregorian chant training.
  3. We need volunteers for the sacristan. Dennis Maturan, Founding Chairman of Ecclesia Dei Society of St. Joseph (EDSSJ), is already offering the services of his group for sacristan training. We only need but ask them. EDSSJ is based in Parish of Our Lord of Divine Mercy in Sikatuna, Quezon City. I could not be around during Saturdays because I have a offshore class in Angeles University, Pampanga for our M.S. Physics Program. We need a sacristan coordinator for Ateneo.
  4. We need volunteers who will make sure that the altar vessels and linens are available, and that the sacristans and priests have their vestments. Frank Chow’s TLM community in Canada can help us procure the vestments and linens which we can buy from the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate in Novaliches.
  5. We need volunteers for the promotions. Fr. Lester Maramara, SJ, the Director of the Ateneo College Campus Ministry Office, has given us permission to post TLM announcements in Bulletin Board of the College Chapel.
  6. We need to find a priest who can say TLM for us. Fr. Tim Ofrasio SJ is now assigned in a parish in Novaliches.
  7. We need to schedule our first general assembly, preferably mid January. We need to have our first TLM at the Church of the Gesu by February. We need to recruit more students and faculty to join the yahoo group.

I would appreciate your thoughts on these matters. I hope and pray that we can now finally move forward.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr.

Ateneo Latin Mass Society

Ateneo Latin Mass Society (ALMS): Proceedings of the First General Assembly

Dear ALMS members and friends,

We had the General Assembly last Friday, 22 January 2010 at 5:30-7:00 p.m. The venue was Faura 116. These are the members present:

1. Miguel Franco Dimayacyac– Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) ARSA
2. Enrico A. Villacorta– AdMU Student
3. Jesson G. Allerite–Universit y of the Philippines (UP) Student
4. Maricel Obieta–AdMU ASF
5. Joanna Ruiz– AdMU Loyola Schools
6. Bobing Venida–AdMU Economics
7. Mikki Hornilla– AdMU Student
8. Emmanuel Hernandez–AdMU Student
9. R. R. Raneses–AdMU Political Science
10. Niccolo Vitug–AdMU English
11. Moy Timbayan–AdMU Student
12. Quirino Sugon Jr.–AdMU Physics

Fr. Tim Ofrasio, S.J. talked about his life and his experiences in the Traditional Latin Mass. I took notes of his edifying talk. I shall transcribe my notes and try to recall everything that he said. I shall send you the polished form next week.

Fr. Tim asked us if we want we adopt Novus Ordo Lectionary or stick with the lectionary of the Extraordinary Form. (He also asked whether we wish all Latin hymns or mix them with English hymns.) The group decided that we stick with that of the extraordinary form. The readings will be in Latin. Latin-English missals will be provided for the unchanging parts of the mass. The Introit, Propers, and Readings will be provided in Latin and English on adjacent columns, as done in Parish of Our Lord of Divine Mercy (PLDM) in Sikatuna, Quezon City. (The question on hymns will be answered by the Choir coordinator.)

The proposed date for our first mass will be on Feb 3 (Wed) at 6:00 p.m. It will be a low mass. This is pedagogically sound, since we are still learning the ropes. I shall reserve the Manila Observatory Chapel for us. We can invite friends, but we cannot yet announce it in Ateneo Blueboard. Our first announced mass should be a sung mass with vested servers.

The members were asked to which committee they wish to be part of.

For the Choir, we have Niccolo Vitug as our music director. He is a faculty in the Ateneo English Department. He once played the organ for Missa Cantata. He was also the music director in a Catholic church in California. With Niccolo are R. R. Raneses, Moy Timbayan, Maricel Orieta, Jesson Allerite, and Miguel Dimayacyac. Maricel and Jesson are members of the PLDM choir. Miguel has stacks of Gregorian chant song sheets, his grandmother’ s collection.

For the Sacristan, no one wants to become sacristan. So I volunteered myself to learn the rubrics. But I wish another faculty shall commit himself to do this, so that I could have more time for writing and coordinating.

For Finance, no faculty volunteered, so I shall handle this in the meantime. With me are two students: Enrico Villacorta and Moy Timbayan.

For Publications, the Coordinator is Emmanuel Hernandez, a student. He usually goes to mass with Fr. Tim Ofrasio, S.J. every morning, so he is familiar with the 1962 Missal Lectionary. With him is Joanna Ruiz and Mikki Hornilla. Joanna can help us with the photocopying. Mikki has a camera. The camera is important. The first Traditional Latin Mass in Ateneo de Manila will be a news in the TLM blogosphere. R. R. Raneses said that he will give us his Ateneo Latin Mass Society blog, http://ateneo- latin-mass- society.blogspot .com, as our official blog. But we do not yet have someone to manage it. So I’ll start the ball rolling. I shall ask Mr. Raneses to make me a contributor to his blog.

We have made a good start. Please remember the Ateneo Latin Mass Society (ALMS) in your prayers. Almsgiving would also be good. Since we are begging for recognition as an organization, we must also give alms to those who need it most, for the measure with which we measure will in return be measured out to us (c.f. Lk 6:38). And who are the ultimate beggars but the Poor Souls in Purgatory? Please give alms to the Poor Souls by having a mass said for them or remembering them in your prayers, especially the souls of the Jesuit priests who once worked in Ateneo. They repay a hundredfold.

In Christ,

Dr. Quirino M. Sugon Jr.
Ateneo Latin Mass Society