Tony Perez’s Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao (1995) begins after a gruesome crime. Some terrible event—criminal rapes kid, criminal kills kid, cop chases criminal, criminal kills cop, criminal kills self (xii)—is briefly sketched in the prologue that serves as “a short history before the novel begins” (prologue title) (xii). The novel itself (separated by a section title, “Kid, Stabbed, Enclosed in a Chest”) centers on three characters related to those involved in the crime. Intimately, the lives of these characters intersect, but they never get to know each other’s complicity. Memories of the crime—more precisely, memories of the father, of the adoptive father, and of the brother—consistently haunt Ike, Benny, and Cez. Their remembering, however, is always cut short if not colored or excused, and they cannot remember the crime itself in which they were not present.
The set-up of Perez’s novel bears hallmarks of post-political logic. The determining event (the crime) is already over. It has traces on the present that, to a large extent (as seen in the lives of the characters), it shapes, but present characters (Ike, Benny, and Cez) have limited access to the event. The determining event is presupposed by the present, but the present can no longer do anything about what determines it. The event is already in the past: it cannot be touched except in memory; it cannot be changed. Thus the present, trying to recover from the past, is marked by it. Unable to enact something else, the present functions according to what the past has put in place.
This allegorical reading is warranted by the novel’s title. Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao refers to the destination of the jeep (basic means of public transportation in the Philippines) that Perez used to take. According to the author’s page in the book, the things that Perez witnessed and the stories he heard while riding the jeep gave him his material for the novel. Perez’s choice of the title, then, gestures toward the generalization of the case that he writes about, implying its representation of the milieu from which it comes: the way from Cubao to Kalaw (and back again) that goes from the dense and busy downtown of a working-class neighborhood to a red-light district not far from the US embassy and the five-star hotels that line Manila Bay. True to the milieu, the novel foregrounds poverty, crime, broken families, working children, everyday encounters of strangers, and the crowded yet sprawling urban landscape that ultimately leads to the former colonial master. These surrounding conditions inform the novel’s plot, not to mention the post-political condition depicted through it. That is, what happens or, perhaps, what happened to Ike, Benny, and Cez reflects the larger milieu of Cubao-Kalaw, indeed Philippine society itself, in which the conditions imbue the sense that nothing can be done. The novel, then, is permeated by post-political logic because what it depicts is a society that is post-political.
Perez, however, not only depicts this logic. The solution he offers to the post-political condition he discerns (he very explicitly offers a solution) is also thoroughly post-political. By the end of the novel, Perez shows the three characters somehow being able to come to terms with the traumatic past, symbolized by them opening up their own chests (the kid who was a victim of the crime was enclosed in a chest), chests they have kept from the moment of the crime. This allows them to move on to a different future, a future that rectifies the past. Despite doubts about his sexual potency, Benny finally decides to ask Eileen, his long-time girlfriend, to marry him (225). They adopt Dading, a street kid. The father figure is thus resurrected in Benny, the father that he lost when the man who had adopted him, the cop, was killed. Cez similarly realizes that when he deliberately lost his brother, Charlie, on the streets, who was then raped and murdered, he also lost his childhood (236). This realization paradoxically convinces him to ask Gina, a longtime friend, out on a date, portending the start of a mature relationship that would enable Cez to grow up.
These transformations in Benny and Cez were made possible by Ike, the psychology student who gave them “psychotherapy sessions” (180). Through this process, Ike himself gains a realization: he loves his father, the criminal; he feared him because he loved him; he had long forgiven him but he still had to forgive himself (210-1). Ike’s guide through all this, i.e. through the transformations that allowed them all to pass from the past into the future, is his faith: the student of Industrial Psychology is also a brother of the Legion of Mary. Ike’s willingness to help Benny and Cez stems from the values imbued in him by the Catholic Church. When Ike encounters trouble in a “relaxation exercise” with Cez, he gains back control through prayer (128-9). More importantly, Ike gains his epiphany about his father while attending mass (210). Benny likewise stops having nightmares after experiencing the Holy Spirit (via a brother) at a prayer meeting (146-7). There is thus a sense in which what allow the characters to heal from their past wounds are the faithful values, rituals, and promises of religion.
It is no surprise, then, that religion pervades the novel. In fact, the final chapter shows Ike, Benny, and Cez meeting each other for the last time, in which their Christmas greetings lead to a song (“Peace on earth, and to those people with good hearts”) that echoes throughout Cubao, throughout Manila, throughout the land … (242-4). It is not that there is never any doubt about religion, but ultimately religion is portrayed as the great healer, what allows passage through the post-political impasse. When Ike, for example, observes how similar a praying over is to a hypnotism session, even as this makes him suspect that the Holy Spirit is nothing but “autosuggestive powers,” in the end he dispels his doubts by choosing faith over psychology, which later on allows him to make his breakthroughs with Benny and Cez (156-60). Cez himself, the scriptwriter who dreams of writing horror stories because, according to him, “life is not tearful or funny but rather bewildering—full of mystery and wonder,” in the end gives up on this dream, having realized that people ought not be scared but should rather be helped (to stand on their own, to aim for dignity), be saved (from poverty, from sin) (11, 193).
It can be argued that religious faith is not the only solution suggested in the novel. The novel also teems with references to children, who are viewed with optimism or at least with hope. Ike, for example, fits religious service to his busy schedule because it is for the kids. In fact, he is taunted, “You’re just happy when you’re with […] kids” (5). Benny takes Dading into his care because he couldn’t bear seeing a kid out on the streets. The child then enables Benny to be the father that he never had. Cez’s transformation, likewise, can be read as his regaining of the child in him. Having regained his childhood, Cez grows up. This emphasis on the welfare of children, who, it is hoped by the characters, would have a better future (thanks to them) and thus would enact or put in place a better future world (something these children are already able to do to the main characters, with their seemingly miraculous effect on the adults), one that is beyond the post-political, is potentially revolutionary. However, this potential is short-circuited because references to children are always and immediately tied to the fact that they are “close to the Lord” (4). Perez’s optimistic view of children is thus in truth a religious view. This is perhaps expressed most clearly in the end, when right before the song of peace echoes through the land, the final image that the reader is left with is the Sacred Child, Jesus Christ (243).
Perez’s offering of religion as the way out of the impasse is a post-political response for many reasons. Most obviously, religion offers otherworldly consolation (as in Ike’s plea to his brother to pray for their father) for problems very much here and now (the crimes of their father and its effects on the victims and on them). In a way, Perez could argue his way out of this Marxist claim that religion is the opium of the masses because the effects of the crime he depicts are, as it were, “spiritual,” having to do with the psyche. As such, Perez could rejoinder that religion is the appropriate response since faith nurtures the spirit. The question, however, is: Does the “spiritual” response to a “spiritual” effect or symptom need to take the form of religion (which Ike expressly chooses over psychology), with (as the novel manifestly showcases) God and idols, Catholic songs and blessed sacraments, religious brotherhoods and priestly figures? The solution that Perez offers to paralysis (hopelessness) and alienation (helplessness) is not only spiritual healing, not only religious faith, but a particular religion, namely Catholicism. Catholicism, it should be remembered, is in the Philippines, like the Americanized economy, a postcolonial legacy. Just as the economy is at the root of widespread poverty and crime (that causes, among other things, broken families, working children …), the conservative social values preached by the Church, its secretive culture, and its black-and-white logic upheld by shame, privilege the traditional family to the detriment of other relations, in the process pushing deviant social relations underground, unrecognized and repressed.
This is not to suggest that what the criminal did in the novel is acceptable or that murder and the rape of children are wrong just because the Church says so (on the contrary, they are wrong for more fundamental reasons). Rather, what I would like to point out is the way in which the crime that is the presupposition of the novel is a particular constellation shaped by the economy (no one was available to fetch Cez and Charlie, both still children when the crime took place) and the Church (the deeds of Ike’s father constitutes a return of the repressed, the result of desires that could have taken other forms were the father not so constrained). If the response to this social-economic constellation is religion, the same thing that furnishes the crime’s social conditions and which perpetuates the economic ones in its offering of other-worldly consolations (distracting from wide-scale change of the economic system), then, it seems, we are caught in a vicious circle. What Perez is offering as the solution is in fact a condition that perpetuates the problem he is pointing to, his post-political milieu. This makes Perez’s response, then, contrary to the illusion of it enabling passage through and out of the impasse, exemplary post-political in that the passage’s goal, if there is one, is to return precisely to the conditions that constitute the state of being post-political.
How does Perez make this work? How does a condition of the problem manage to create the illusion that it is a solution? More importantly, once accepted as solution, what makes possible the perpetuation of its status as such, i.e. what makes possible the perpetuation of the illusion? Could the illusion perhaps be serving a purpose? If so, what explains the efficacy of the illusion? What does it do (beyond perpetuating the post-political)? If Perez’s novel, Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao, is exemplary post-political in both the problems it diagnoses and the solution it offers, then how things work in it would probably shed light on the operations involved in post-political logic, clarify how post-political logic operates. Based on the pervasiveness (even omnipresence) of memory in the novel and its frequent interaction with the present, I would hypothesize that post-political logic involves a splitting in time. More precisely, post-political logic, I would argue, makes use of the splitting in time so as to limit what the past can do to the present.
The splitting in time is prefigured in Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema 2: The Time-Image. In a chapter entitled, “The Crystals of Time,” Deleuze makes a distinction between the actual image and the virtual image, in the process theorizing two types of time. In Deleuze’s previous philosophical works, the actual refers to things already in existence (this chair) while the virtual are potentialities that could at any time, especially were the conditions different, be actualized (a new design for a chair, a new way of sitting down). While the virtual does not exist, it is, compared to the actual, no less real (it insists). Deleuze constantly reiterates in Cinema 2 that while the two are distinct, the actual and the virtual are not opposed. In fact they are indiscernible, consistently exchanging and affecting each other in a crystal, the smallest or closest circle of relation possible (also described as mutual), which is the relation of the actual with its double, the virtual (68-70).
Deleuze writes in Cinema 2 that “what is actual is always a present, […which] changes or passes” (78). There is, he continues, a past contemporaneous with this present, a past that is virtual (78). Deleuze has a more elaborate discussion of time in a chapter in Difference and Repetition entitled “Repetition for Itself.” There he offers three (or four) levels in which time can be thought, more precisely three (or four types of) syntheses that constitute time. Deleuze’s distinction in Cinema 2 between actual time (or time of actual things) and virtual time (or time in the actual’s double, the virtual) are two of the syntheses. Briefly, Cinema 2’s actual time is the living present in Difference and Repetition, functioning at a level (the realm of actual things) in which all that exists is the present, in which the past and the future are mere dimensions of this present. The way that this present works is that repetition in the past leads to the contraction of a habit in the present (all happens in the present), which then makes the subject turn to the future in a certain way, with certain expectations (that things will go as they habitually do).
“This present passes,” writes Deleuze in Difference and Repetition, later echoed in Cinema 2 (76). This must mean, Deleuze deduces, that there is something other than the present, since if it were only present, then present as it is, it would never pass. The assumption is that the present (a philosophical concept, something abstract) is pure: the present is only and fully present, incapable of doing anything in time other than to be present, i.e. incapable of passing. For it to pass, then, Deleuze deduces, there must be something else that has the characteristic of passing, the past (again, a philosophical concept). The pure past is the virtual time of Cinema 2 . It must be clarified that what Deleuze refers to in Cinema 2 as the past is not a former present, which is but a moment or instant (a past instant but is not the past). It is, rather, what in Difference in Repetition Deleuze refers to as the past in general in which the presents that have passed, former presents or past instants, are stored. Thus the past (in general), as Deleuze insists in Cinema 2, cannot be replaced by a new present (78-9). Just as the actual coexists with the virtual, the present is contemporaneous with the past as what enables the present to pass. The past (in general) is not ontologically the same as the present—one is virtual, one is actual. The past (in general) is more like a presupposition of the present, with presents (or present instants) being stored in the past (in general) once they have passed.
Deleuze links the past (in general), which is virtual, (via the virtual image) to (pure) recollection (Cinema 2) or (passive) memory (Difference and Repetition), which, Deleuze clarifies, are not “mental images—recollection images, dream or dreaming” (Cinema 2 79). The latter, Deleuze clarifies in Difference and Repetition in terms of active memory, are evoked by a subject actively on yet another level or with another synthesis, an active one in contrast to the two already discussed, which are both passive. Deleuze contrasts mental images from the virtual image in Cinema 2:
[Mental images] are necessarily actualized in relation to a new present, in relation to a different present from the one that they have been: hence these more or less broad circuits, evoking mental images in accordance with the requirements of the new present which is defined as later than the former one, and which defines the former one as earlier according to a law of chronological succession […]. In contrast, the virtual image [of pure recollection] in the pure state is defined, not in accordance with a new present in relation to which it would be (relatively) past, but in accordance with the actual present of which it is the past, absolutely and simultaneously [as part of the past in general]. (79)
Later on in Cinema 2, Deleuze speaks of a split in time in which what he is referring to is the split between the actual and the virtual in the crystal, i.e. the distinction between the living present (that, having contracted habit from the past, is “launched towards the future”) and the past in general (in which the present “falls into the past,” its instants passing and being stored there) (81). “Time consists of this split [between the actual and the virtual],” Deleuze asserts. Related to this split, there is another distinction being made in the passage quoted above. Related to the distinction that Deleuze makes between present instants (such as the new present) and the past in general (which, even while contemporaneous with it, is ontologically different from the present) when he asserts that the past in general can never be replaced by a new present, the above passage hints at two processes of memory—one passive, one active—that have a fundamentally different relation to time.
In distinguishing pure recollection (a synthesis of passive memory) from what can be called active remembering (a synthesis of active memory that results into mental images such as the recollection-image, which is not the same as pure recollection), Deleuze likewise points to two relations with time: one in which the memory (the mental image) is related to a new present, a present instant other than the instant in which what is stored in memory is still present (thus a present other than the memory’s own present); and another in which the memory (this time, pure recollection) is within the present instant that is its own. That is to say, there is on the one hand a memory actively remembered once one is already out of the present of the memory and on the other hand a pure recollection that is still (in the) present (that is in its own present, that is in the present that is being recollected), a memory that is passive because it does not need to be actively evoked by the subject, precisely because it is still there, what is being recollected is still present. On the one hand, then, the memory is actual or somewhat actualized (because it is being actively remembered by a subject) while the present that it is remembering is virtual (no longer there, already past), while on the other hand the memory is virtual (it is slowly being stored in the past in general, which is the present’s virtual presupposition) while the present being recollected is still actual, perhaps even still happening. (Both cases are crystals, i.e. an actual-virtual double).
As mentioned earlier, memory pervades Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao. The memory represented in it, however, is memory of a certain kind, i.e. memory actively remembered by the characters. The memories of Ike, Benny, and Cez, indeed, shape them and inform their present actions, but they are memories of a time, a present, that is gone. But perhaps it is a present that is not absolutely gone, gone not in an absolute sense. After all, how can one tell where one present ends and another (a new present) begins, especially when the past so constantly bears on the present? Deleuze himself leaves open the question of how to divide/distinguish/delimit present instants from one another. Perhaps then active remembering is an express choice in Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao against pure recollection. That is to say, perhaps Ike, Benny, and Cez’s presents are subjectively cut by them from the past, from the present of the father, the adopted father, and the brother. Through the split of the virtual and the actual, perhaps Ike, Benny, and Cez have likewise split up their present from the past, doing this by expressly choosing active remembering over pure recollection.
Why would they do this? Could it perhaps be a tactic to separate themselves from what could, if still (thought of as) present, hurt them? Perhaps it is an attempt to split up the present from the past, so as to separate their presents from the past, as if to say, “The past is not (the) present” or “The past is no longer present (as such it can no longer hurt).” The hope is that with the present split up from the past, it would be possible to say that “the present is not the past,” i.e. the present would be new, different: a new present would be carved up. A new present is indeed sketched out in Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao, or at least the characters function in a present severed from the past. This present in which they function, however, is protected from the past, a former present, at the cost of making this former present pass all too abruptly. Thus from then on, this former past can only be actively remembered. Perhaps it is making itself be actively remembered (but that would make it like the past in general, which it is not). More precisely, perhaps this is the reason that the characters keep actively remembering it. More importantly, this former present made to pass is so abruptly stored that it is not dealt with. Its memory does not insist; rather, the characters remember it selectively.
The choice of active remembering over pure recollection is illustrated in the scene when Ike, the psychologist, is overwhelmed by Cez, his analysand, to whom he had offered a psychotherapy session. During the hypnotism session in which Ike guides Cez, Cez suddenly invokes the image of a chest, a kid in a chest (126). This is a moment when pure recollection threatens to flood over the present and to break the border between the new present that Ike and Cez have erected and the present, the presence, of the crime. Cez tells Ike that he wants to open the chest. Recognition of an image he is all too aware of, however, cautions Ike, and he immediately stops the hypnotism. When asked by Cez about what happened, Ike answers that they just had a “relaxation exercise” (129). The relaxation of the active faculties threatened to open the chest, and Ike learned from it what suggestive images to stay away from. He remembers this lesson at the same time that his everyday existence is pervaded by his active memories of his father.
The compartmentalizing of the crime, the event, from their present paradoxically keeps Ike, Benny, and Cez from their future. They indeed have new presents, but ones which, in their refusal to face it, to deal with it, remains bound to the past (not the past in general but the present abruptly made past, a present made into a former present) and thus unable to turn to the future. Their presents, in other words, are not living presents. This impasse is resolved, contrary to what Perez says through his narrator and his characters, by way of a changed relation to time. In the final chapters of the novel, the reader is once again presented with memories. This time, however, they are different. The chapters are entitled not with the name/s of the main character/s featured in the chapter, which has been the routine. Instead, these final chapters are entitled, “The Criminal,” “The Cop,” “The Kid.” These chapters contain memories that couldn’t have been Ike’s, Benny’s, or Cez’s, memories they cannot possibly have since they did not participate in the events that are the subject of the memories. They are, in other words, memories Ike, Benny, and Cez couldn’t have actively remembered. After the memories are described, the characters are each shown opening their respective chests, followed by a scene that shows them moving on. It is unclear how the characters are related to the memories. Perez juxtaposes the characters to the memories by telling the reader (in the form of the character telling himself) how old the character was when the crime happened. The memories themselves however, are recollected from the point of view of the person in the chapter’s title, the lost relatives involved in the crime.
Something other than active remembering is involved in these memories, then. These memories are not actively remembered by the main characters. Rather, these memories are recollected by the persons involved in the crime, the persons for whom the memory is the present (the present in which they were frozen). What is happening in these final chapters, then, is pure recollection. With this, the present of the crime becomes the same or resumes its co-extensiveness or continuity with the present of the main characters. Perhaps this is how through juxtaposition, these memories, these pure recollections, as part of the virtual past in general, are finally able to affect the lives of the main characters. The effect of the past (a former present), as it turns out, proves not to be detrimental to the (present) present of the main characters. Rather than harming them as the criminal, the cop, and the kid were harmed in the past (the former present), the past (in general), in connecting back the present, is able to effect that reconnected present as a present that turns to the future, a living present.
Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989.
Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.
Perez, Tony. Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao: Mga Premyadong Katha. Manila: Cacho Publishing House, 1995.
 There is yet another synthesis that Deleuze discusses in Difference and Repetition, a third passive synthesis, which, however, this paper is not concerned with.
 You may be stretching the quote here. It says that the pure recollection is in the actual present “of which it is the past,” so even if it is in its ‘own’ present, it’s there as a past, as part of the past in general, the virtual archive
 Deleuze discusses the extent of an instant in terms of fatigue, need, and contemplation in Difference and Repetition.