Sunday, December 16, 2007
Certain things cannot just be done alone, and this rings true to Glenn Sevilla Mas' award-winning Death of Memory. In this play adapted onstage by Tanghalang Ateneo, being collective makes things possible, a proof of the indispensability of society as institution.
Death's Philippine premiere saw the protagonist Juan finding himself imprisoned in a time-frozen nowhere land, clueless about how he arrived there and how to escape the purgatory-like place. The three strangers he had found company with were not of much help with his questions. What he got from them was a set of rules necessary for survival in their nightmarish situation: first was the ownership of a space, second was the strict compliance to mealtime, and last was the deference to the Keeper, a mysterious entity who controlled their memory and tortured them by making them remember tormenting moments in their lives.
Juan naturally wanted to get out of the Kafkaesque limbo, but this proved futile initially, for all of them suffered deafening thunderclaps whenever he went on his way like touching the signpost reading “Misericordia” whereas the rest prevented him from doing so, or provoking his fellow prisoners to rebel against the keeper. Much as he struggled, he could not rely on his own individual might. Thus, strangers as his companions were, he had to believe them: he took a space and cleaned it, stopped everything when food plummeted from above, and messed not with the Keeper. In this manner, he gained membership in Misericordia, and the purgatorial trap was left undisturbed by the thunderclaps.
It can be gleaned from the abovementioned that all four prisoners' collective concern superseded that of the individual Juan. Just a few defiance from the newcomer made everyone anguish over the wrath of the Keeper. Since the common good was the primary claim in a land strange to all of them, Juan had to obey with the rules. This was not only because he was a new arrival (in which case, the older ones knew Misericordia's happenings better than him) but also because he would put everybody's sake to risk by messing with the keeper. He had to sacrifice his own personal motive for these strangers who, despite their unfamiliarity, were the only ones he could hold on to. The collectivism of these strangers was by far the better option for survival than becoming xenophobic in a land where they have no control of their lives, much less their memories.
But then, while Juan could not do anything alone in that limbo, the female prisoner Itch showed that it could be done, and this was the one thing the rest of them agreed to pursue: to escape the purgatorial prison by killing the keeper and freeing themselves from the pains of memory. Forcing their respective memories one by one, they struggled to gang upon the Keeper and face their past filled with colors. Alone, each one found it hard to subdue the tormentor of memory; when it became a battle of three against one, Juan, Vesper and Termino won over.
It was necessary to examine that the three prisoners acted as one body in order to realize their ultimate goal of overcoming their torturer and getting out of the nowhere land. Each individual had to sacrifice for all three's common good. Had Juan, Vesper or Temino went on his separate way in defying the Keeper, the entire group would have failed against the stronger memory controller. However, they thought as one, acted as one, and thus liberated as one. Their collective will prevailed, and it was because they unselfishly pursued individual freedom. Everybody was benefited by the collective action. Also, their achievement was credited to each of them.
The act of collectivism in Death of Memory shows that the society is more than just individuals acting collaboratively. The collective is itself an entity, much more important than the sum of all individuals. Its will is everybody's concern.