Tyrants, Typhoons, and Trauma: Spectrality and Magic Realism in Nick Joaquin’s Cave and Shadows

Jocelyn S. Martin

Current developments in Trauma Studies can be described as undergoing a postcolonial turn. Beyond the initial Yale group led by Cathy Caruth that highlights the Holocaust as the main paradigmatic event of trauma theory with melancholia and aporia as outcomes, several scholars have since proposed other models. For example, writers such as Judith Herman or Dominick LaCapra suggest a therapeutic rather than an aporetic tendency in trauma theory,1 while other postcolonial-inspired critics, such as Sonya Andermahr, Lucy Bond, Stef Craps, and Catherine Gilbert,2 discuss compelling collaborations between Postcolonial Studies and Trauma/Memory Studies.

A postcolonial turn usually also indicates a non-Eurocentric turn. For example, scholars like Jeffrey Alexander have since asked if the Holocaust is “Western” (83). Ewald Mengel and Michela Borzaga, in their volume entitled Trauma, Memory, and Narrative in the Contemporary South African Novel (2012), emphasize at least four African views on trauma: the pre-eminence of colonialism/apartheid; the value of resistance; the importance of the sacred in the process of healing or coming-to-terms; and the need to turn to Black intellectuals, such as W.E.B. DuBois, Aimé Césaire, and Frantz Fanon. Indeed, as a psychiatrist, Fanon explored trauma3 long before the emergence of Trauma Studies.

Turning attention to the decolonized setting of the Philippines contributes to this postcolonial shift.4 In this chapter, I discuss the novel Cave and Shadows (1983) by Philippine national artist Nick Joaquin. Born on September 15, 1917 into a privileged home wherein Spanish was spoken, Joaquin nevertheless lived under the American colonial era that used education as a tool for colonization.’ The centennial of Joaquin’s birth last 2017 marks an appropriate time to revisit the work6 of this “Spanish-flavoured English”-speaking Filipino writer. Various initiatives, including the new Penguin Classics publication of a part of his oeuvre, testify to the renewed recognition of the author.

Cave and Shadows revolves around a crime investigation: Jack Henson discovers the body of Nenita Coogan in a cave that has mysteriously surfaced amid the city of Manila. Not only does his investigation reveal the reappearance of other corpses, with Nenita coming only after a series of “female priestesses” over the course of many centuries, but also the return of an ancient form of nature epitomized by the cave. In the midst of such exceptional events, government

Tyrants, Typhoons, and Trauma 123 protesters question the ban on access to the cavern. The ruling party, represented by the Manzano clan, eventually faces internal disagreement. The youngest heir, Andre, a contemporary of Nenita, in conflict with his elders, bolts out of the house, only to die in a storm in the vicinity of the cave. Confused and discouraged by two deaths and many unresolved mysteries, Jack Henson returns to his island without fully understanding these mysterious events.

Although other scholars, such as Josen Masangkay Diaz (2015), approach Cave and Shadows in terms of identity politics, I am interested in what I suggest are the spectral figures that question historical justice and that embody both remembering and forgetting. Specifically, I examine not only the specters of colonization but also the unsettled past of the infamous Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. As such, this chapter first provides a theoretical discussion of spectrality and its correlation with trauma and belatedness. It also studies the difference between mourning and mid-mourning, the latter understood as a way of ethically re-assessing historical losses. Second, it proposes two readings of the revenant, Nenita Coogan. In the third part, which analyses manifestations of ecological spectrality, I interrogate new ways of thinking about trauma in “disaster cultures.” Consequently, in the fourth part, I investigate the compatibility of Magic Realism and postcolonial trauma in decolonized societies. Finally, the chapter considers the spectrality of the Marcos Regime and the inclusion of dictatorial eras as legitimate areas of investigation in Trauma Studies.

All these elements support my argument that, in Cave and Shadows, spectral figures - corporal or climatic - allow an interrogation of historical trauma through haunting and mid-mourning. Unlike most trauma paradigms based on Western events, I consider other possible traumatic models, such as colonization, climate disasters, and dictatorship. I also propose Magic Realism as an alternative to postmodern aesthetics. Coined by Franz Roh in 1925 and later appropriated by Alejo Carpentier as lo real maravilloso (Delbaere-Garant, “Magic Realism,” 76), Magic Realism is a mode “suggesting that ordinary life may also be the scene of the extraordinary [so that] what seems most strange turns out to be secretly familiar” (Mikics 372). Because it reacts against “traditional realism, thereby creating a ‘fracture in the real’” (Maufort and Bellarsi 17), Magic Realism is “visibly operative in cultures situated at the fringes of mainstream literary traditions” (Slemon 408). Thus, Magic Realism allows for postcolonial resistance and inclusiveness of the peripheries.

 
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