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BAGI DISCOURSE AND OTHER ALTERNATIVE DISCOURSES OF SELF AND

IDENTITY; IMPLICATIONS UPON THEORIZING ETHNICITY


(A Paper Read in “Theorizing Ethnicity: A Roundtable Discussion,” CSC Conference
Room, UP College Baguio, May 24-25, 2002)

-Narcisa Paredes-Canilao, Ph.D.-

Introduction

The term ethnicity acknowledges the place of history, language and culture in
the construction of SUBJECTIVITY and IDENTITY, as well as the fact that all
discourse is placed, positioned, situated, and all knowledge is contextual.
-Stuart Hall, 1992-

Since identity is not stabilized by nature or some other essential guarantee, then
it follows that it is constructed historically, culturally and politically: the
concept which refers to this is ethnicity.
-Andermahr, et al., 1997-

Ethnicity has been defined as a socio-political concept referring to group identity


based on shared cultural, religious, or linguistic heritage (Andermahr, 1997:68). Because
the concept connotes the particularity and belongingness which many people value, it has
served to foster the cause of communities or groups endangered by marginalization, or, at
worst, extinction, in a globalized world.
Largely due to theorizing in critical theory, ethnicity has resulted from the effort
to rethink race and so ethnicity which is an “unstable complex of social meanings,
constantly being transformed by political struggle,” (Dines and Humez, 1995: 573), has
been contrasted to the more “essentialist” concept, race, which is based on skin color or
physical features. Thus, if the markers of race are biology and physiognomy, those of
ethnicity can be language, territorial right or culture.

Main Argument of the Paper

In this paper I will argue that concepts of self and identity are integral components
of ethnicity. But ethnicity, in contrast to race is anti-essentialist, acknowledging how
selves and identities are constructed historically, culturally, politically, and lately, thanks
to poststructuralism, discursively. This acknowledgement necessitates ethnicity’s
reliance on social constructionism, specifically deconstructionism, which are
methodologies for rigorous analysis of the ways and processes by which identities are so
constructed.
However, social constructionism and deconstruction can be pushed too far to the
point of paralyzing political practice. Especially in the case of deconstruction, I cite three
innate problems for political practice. First, owing to its preoccupation with textuality,
the uncovering of hierarchical oppositions in texts, and the indeterminacy of textual
meaning, analysis has led to paralysis. This is the classic case of the centipede suddenly
finding out it could not walk when it bothered to know how many feet it had. Second,
very threatening to political efforts is the deconstructive decentering of identity and the
subject leaving all forms of identity politics bereft of group identification essential to
organizing and mobilization.
A third problem of deconstruction for politics, and which takes the greater bulk of
the paper, has something to do with its very narrow conception of self and identity. The
postmodern subject is a specific reaction to the humanist or the enlightenment self – the
free, autonomous, rational and self-contained, soliloquizing individual – idealized in
Western philosophy culminating in the Cartesian self (Derrida, Levinas, Taylor,
Sandywell). But this is not the only way to conceive of the self. Likewise not all
processes of self and identity construction follow the same path of separation and Oedipal
conflict. Other and less problematic self-conceptions are available not only in nonwestern
thought systems but also in Western philosophy itself. An illustrative case of the latter is
found in Gilbert Ryle’s critique of the Cartesian official doctrine of the self (Ryle, 1949).
Illustrative cases of the former are found in the major Asian mystical systems of
Hinduism (the self identified with the Brahman), Buddhism (the self blown out in
nibbana) and Taoism (the self in unity with the Tao). Similar alternative notions of the
non-self may also be found in less centralized cultural systems in Asia, as shown in
sporadic researches on Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Maori, and other more
minoritized cultures and thought systems. Evidence of alternative constructions of self
and identity are enshrined in non-western discourses.
Relying on the discursive and cultural approaches, this paper explores one more
alternative notion of the self in the Ilokano cultural system, as manifested on the manifold
discourses by which Ilokanos refer to, or talk about the self. However, in Ilokano there is
no special term for the self. The self is referred to as the body (bagi), thus this paper
explores the Ilokano concept of self implicit in Iloko bagi language.

Ethnicity, Anti-Essentialism and Social Constructionism

Underlying discourses on ethnicity is the anti-essentialist theme or the distrust of,


or the scorn for essentialism. Essentialism and anti-essentialism can be understood better
by tracing their origins and specific elaborations in philosophy. In fact philosophy has
traditionally been identified with the search for essences. Essentialism in philosophy is
the view, often in the field of metaphysics (in philosophy, metaphysics is the
investigation of the true or underlying nature of things), that the true and the fundamental
nature and purpose (in the sense of end or telos) of anything is revealed through its
essence.1 Essence, in turn, is the totality of attributes, elements, etc., without which a
thing would not be what it is. Essence in philosophy has been traditionally contrasted
with “accidents” those that a thing may or may not have, or those without which
something still retains its substantive identity.
What is the significance of philosophizing on essence? First, metaphysically, a
thing’s true nature or true identity is tied up with its essence. Its essence is its true nature
and identity. The essence is permanent unchanging and eternal, while accidents are
transitory and impermanent. Secondly, epistemologically, true knowledge of anything is
attained only by knowing the essence of that thing.

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But why is essentialism objectionable? Because no method is full-proof and
guaranteed to discover the truth or the real. Oftentimes desire and power has been passed
off as the truth with disastrous effects on the powerless. Essentialism also discourages
dynamism and freedom.
Indeed, less powerful or less-privileged groups such as women and ethnic
communities, have very good reasons for this mistrust. So many times, imagined or
attributed qualities “essentially” found in women and minorities, such as weakness,
laziness, or lack of initiative, have been explained in terms of biology and conveniently
employed as a weapon in the armory of discriminatory and unequal treatment.
The attempt to trace back essential qualities of a person or a group of persons to
biology, known as biological determinism has been the strongest and most vicious
constraint to feminism and other liberatory movements. Biological determinism is the
belief that “the biological substrate determines or limits individual behavior” (Birke,
1986:37.) Biological determinists advocate that “biology is destiny.” Oftentimes,
biology has also encompassed environmental factors in the way some personal or group
characteristics have been explained in terms of climate, natural resources, and
geographical location.
“Nature” or “natural” has also been employed, side by side with biology, to
justify discrimination or inequality. Thus it has been argued that since women are by
nature weaker than men, or that since certain races are naturally less intelligent, they
therefore deserve discriminatory treatment. It is in this sense that of late we talk of the
“naturalization” of what are actually socially and culturally constructed attributes, or of
how these have been “naturalized”.
Another term equated with anti-essentialism is social constructionism, the view,
mainly from sociology, that social reality is constructed in history and culture and open to
change through political intervention.. Social constructionism as originally espoused by
Marx and later appropriated by critical theorists, and first and second wave feminists was
a potent weapon for political change. The main idea then was, inequality among men and
women do not have a natural or biological basis but are the artifacts of social and cultural
practices motivated by relations of power. Simone de Beauvoir’s “One is not born but
becomes a woman,” (1953: 249) succinctly captures this view. The good news of social
constructionism then is since existing conditions of injustice are not permanent or eternal,
change is possible by political intervention thru reforms or thru more revolutionary
means, so that a more just society is achieved. Long years of advocacy and struggle
inspired by the theory of social constructionism resulted in legislative reforms,
institutional changes, empowerment of the less privileged and general social change. It
was an era when there was a working relationship between academics and practical
politics.
But enter poststructuralist and postmodern theorizing,2 and under them social
constructionism is radicalized as discursive constructionism. Guided by the Derridean
dictum: “Il n’y a pas de hors texte” (There is nothing outside the text), language and
representation mediate and construct our access to social reality. Thus the important task
at hand is deconstruction or the location of phenomena within hierarchical oppositions
which structure them. As this is done, reversal and displacement of the oppositions
follow. These are the twofold steps of deconstruction as elaborated by Derrida. 3

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The Limits of Deconstruction for Political Practice

1. Paralysis and Quietism


Because of the centrality of textuality in deconstruction, an overwhelming failure
to act or pervasive quietism has infected most academics and this infection has spread to
activism and advocacy. Martha C. Nussbaum, a contemporary English philosopher
decries this sad state in an article singling out the postmodern feminist Judith Butler as an
‘American feminist” who “has shaped these developments more than any other.” In her
article entitled “The Professor of Parody: The hip defeatism of Judith Butler,” Nussbaum
complains how feminist theory, especially in America, has condescended to the
“extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously,” and
how for some feminists, this already suffices as “a significant type of political action”
(1999:38).4
It is sufficient to use words in a subversive way, because there is little room, in
fact, no room at all, for large-scale social change, because we are already structured by
the structures of power, resisting them only succeeds in reinscribing them. The latter idea
is of course attributable to another reigning French Maitre a Penser, Michel Foucault,
another “Great White Father” (Susan Bordo, 1992:163) who has succeeded in seducing
activists into quietism. The other French fathers are Derrida, Barthes and Lacan (Naomi
Schor, 1987: 99).5
In addition, deconstruction is suspicious of grand narratives as despotic and
dictatorial. All political acts of change or reform, in so far as they hold a vision of a better
future are already preconditioned by the grand narratives of the existing regime, and thus
will only succeed in replicating the same oppressive regime though in new and insidious
ways.
To top it all, further alienating postmodern theories from political activists, the
academic publications of these symbolic thinkers have been characterized by “lofty
obscurity” and “disdainful abstractness.” In the case of Judith Butler, Martha Nussbaum
notes that she has joined certain quarters of “continental philosophy” that has propagated
the blatantly false idea that the philosopher is supposed to be a “star who fascinates and
frequently by obscurity rather than as an arguer among equals.”6

2.Decentering of Self and Identity


Most threatening of course to political practice especially identity politics 7 is the
second problem – the postmodern idea that in an unequal world structured by hierarchical
dualisms, the identity of the oppressed has already been constituted by the oppressor.
Resistance based on shared or group identity, or the assertion of subjectivity or agency
based on such an identity, therefore insidiously reaffirms the identity on the basis of
which oppression was operating in the first place.
To demonstrate the real threat of deconstruction’s refusal of unitary self and
identity, the history of feminism would be instructive. Second wave feminism,
specifically radical and socialist feminism appropriated the Marxist idea that the
oppressed and marginalized desire for change because of their interest to be freed from a
shared and common experience of oppression. In the case of women, the basis of
resistance and reform is their having been treated as The Other, the second sex, the
irrational, the lack, the body, etc., in diametrical and hierarchical opposition to men as

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The One, the first sex, reason, presence, mind, etc. But in contrast to first wave
feminists (liberal and Marxist) who asserted that women too can transcend their
relegation to the other divide and cross over to the male turf, the second wave feminists
asserted that the very difference of women from men in the hierarchical dualism is
precisely their strength. The battle cry thus shifted from “equality” to “difference”.
Now, third wave feminists of the postmodern camp are taking issue with this
move of identifying women thru their difference from men. They contend that it is
precisely these differences that were the basis of women’s oppression in the past, and
grounding resistance and identity in them is a tragically misguided enterprise because it
will only succeed in serving the very powers that constituted these differences to suit
their purposes. Anne Snitow in her essay “Gender Diary” poses the problem in a nutshell
in: “How are women to transform the idea of woman, which has for centuries stood as the
justification for their oppression, into a basis for political freedom and social and
economic equality?” (in Hirsch and Keller, 1990: 9-43).
A solution, or a better word would be a ploy of resistance, suggested by
postmodern feminists is to empty the category, and the identity, woman. Women should
vacate the only speaking position available to them, the feminine, and subvert the notion
of a monolithic or eternal woman by proliferating a multiplicity of identities.
Another strategy of resistance is to poke fun at the ruling paradigm. From the
available space assigned to them by Patriarchy, women can enact their constructed roles
under the ruling discourse, but with parody and mimicry. As we act and speak as
gendered subjects we actively constitute, replicate and reinforce the system, however if
we do it with parody and mimicry, we are contributing to its unmasking and unmaking.8
This political strategy on the symbolic realm is at best frigid, and at its worst it
immobilizes political action. And since feminism has been originally conceived as a
political movement, some feminists have concluded that postmodernism and feminism
are more opposed rather than compatible bedfellows.9
Whether or not identities are discursively constructed by hierarchical dualisms, a
common identity is necessary for group consciousness, and it is only when there is group
consciousness that organizing for mobilization becomes possible. This is the reason why
some activists, especially relatively small and less powerful ones, for the sake of political
efficacy and as a matter of survival, have embraced a form of essentialism in a move
called “strategic essentialism.” Proponents argue that extreme or purist social
constructionism – the summary dismissal of all kinds of essentialism, simply reinscribes
an inescapable essentialist logic. Instead, it must be reflected where and how essentialism
is necessary for political efficacy.10 Here common pre-existing personal identities or
experiences are built upon as organizing tools to build cohesive and potent political
communities. This project, however, has met serious objections due to the temptation of
reifying an unreflective identity that is closed to criticism and analysis.

3. Too Narrow Conception of Self and Identity: Malestream Psychoanalysis and the
Cartesian Cogito
The concept of self and identity presupposed by deconstruction is itself in need of
deconstruction. For not all selves are constituted in the same way as the humanist self or
the self idealized in the enlightenment – the free, autonomous, rational and self-contained

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person. It is this self, by the way, otherwise known as the bourgeois self, which is being
subverted by the postmodern, decentered subject.
Western traditional psychoanalysis otherwise known in feminist circles as
malestream psychoanalysis accounts self and identity constitution thru Freudian drive
theory and Oedipal conflict.11 According to this account, self and identity construction
develop by means of the realization of otherness or separation of the individual from
environment and relationships. Identity henceforth is reinforced by gradual and
continuing assertion of independence and self-sufficiency which is further determined by
the desire to separate from mother and enter the Law of the Father. To this narrow and
obviously male-centered account of identity construction, the psychoanalytic feminist
Nanacy Chodorow12 uses object relations theory which posits that self and identity
construction need not be a separative process, but rather that of relation and connection.
Likewise the desire of the growing child to separate from mother and enter the Law of the
Father may be true for some males only and may not be the operative in the identity
formation of girls and other boys.

Alternative Ways of Constituting Self and Identity


That oppressed persons too find agency in history despite the postmodern
objection that subjectivity and selfhood are not exempt from social and discursive
construction, and are “mere records of the needs and desires of the powerful carved in the
bodies and souls of history’s multiple others,” is the point of Laura Lee Downs’ s essay
entitled “If ‘Woman” is Just an Empty Category, Then Why Am I Afraid to Walk Alone
in the Dark? Identity Politics Meets the Postmodern Subject,” (1992) Speaking of how
the postmodern decentering of the subject and identity has debilitating effects on identity
politics as a whole, Laura Lee Downs has taken issue, this time with a feminist
postmodern historian, Joan Scott in the book, Gender and the Politics of History (1988).
To Downs this book serves as a powerful and convincing introduction of historians to
postructuralism, and it has made Joan Scott the veritable spokesperson for gender history.
Downs argues that the marginalized and the oppressed, because of given
conditions can become “differently constituted beings.” Downs mentions two works13
which show that knowledge, subjectivity and agency can still be possible for “differently
constituted beings,” such as working class children. But identity formation in such cases
follows a path different from accounts of traditional malestream psychoanalysis which
have invariably invoked the twin principles of separation or otherness, and Oedipal desire
as integral to identity formation.
We can also cite empirical evidence on the availability of spaces for differently
constituted identities in the Philippine context. Further research can be undertaken to
discover the underlying conceptions of self and identity in our local practices and beliefs
and changing conditions in our families. But these are implied or explicitated so far, in
the researches of Filipino social scientists (Jocano, Mercado, Bulatao, Enriquez), as well
as those working on the Cordillera, (Brett, Bacdayan, de Raedt). In the case of the
Cordillera, I mention these observations in three studies two of which were also based on
empirical research, (see Paredes-Canilao 1989, 1990, and 1998).
l. The practice commonly found in traditional Cordillera communities of rearing children
and socializing them not thru the individual families but through the community may be

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conducive to a relational rather than separative identity. Elders and younger siblings take
care of the children, socialization happened in the ulog, and the ator.
2. The belief that certain personal crimes are crimes against the community is also
productive of a more relational and communitarian, rather than separative and
individualistic self-concept.
3. The Filipino extended family might also be productive of relational and kin-based
rather than separative identity formation.
4.Strict taboos in the Cordillera against incest may weaken if not reject the role of
Oedipal conflict in identity formation.
5.Likewise the traditional image of women as strong and capable of men’s work upset the
Oedipal narrative, where fathers only are supposed to be strong and mothers weak but
nurturant.
6. In more recent times, mothers going out of the country as OCWs and fathers remaining
to do housework and look after the children, has eroded the patriarchal family system and
likewise tips the Oedipal narrative off-balance.
7. Changes in the nuclear family, and the growth of variously styled families, e.g.,
single-headed households, single mothers, women family heads, gay-lesbian partnerships,
also weaken or render the Oedipal account inoperative.

The Ghost in the Machine: An Essentialist Doctrine of Self and Identity

One of the disastrous products of essentialist thinking in Western philosophy is


the Cartesian account of self and identity which has been for a long time the official
doctrine in western philosophy, religion, psychology, and the sciences, including the
social sciences. As elaborated in Descartes’s Meditations on the First Philosophy14, a
human person is composed of two distinct entities – mind and body, because we observe
that we have mental activities as well as bodily activities. Bodily activities are executed
by the body, so mental activities must also be executed by the mind. The mind cannot be
seen, however, for Descartes, it is more easily known than the body, and its existence is
more secure than that of the body. This is because it is reason rather than the senses that
should be employed in knowledge. As a consequence, the mind is also superior to the
body, it is the essential quality of an individual and it should take control of the body.
The Cartesian concept of self and identity is expressed in his by now classical
dictum: Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am). From this it is evident that a person’s
identity is that he is a thinking being, a thinking self. While one can doubt everything,
the existence of the self cannot be doubted, because it is the very precondition of
doubting and thinking. It is noteworthy that the self for Descartes is the individual self,
and as far as an individual is thinking he is absolutely certain that he exists, but only as
an individual. He cannot be certain as to the existence of others.
Gilbert Ryle15 an Oxford philosopher critiqued this doctrine and identified three
fallacies, “the ghost in the machine,” “category mistake,” and “intellectualist fallacy.”
First, Cartesian mind-body dualism propagates a conception of man that is questionable
for it considers the body to be like a machine being commandeered by a ghost, and yet
this is not the case in real life. Second, positing the existence of two entities the body and
the mind just because there are two types of human activities, bodily and mental, suffers
from a category mistake. It is a mistake committed when for instance one mistakenly

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thinks that aside from the individual parts of a university, e.g., classrooms, library,
canteen, there is a separate university. Third, not all meaningful human activities are
thought out by the mind or by the intellect first and then later on executed by the body.
In the meantime, the Cartesian solipsistic notion of the self has been the object of
much criticism because it confines the self to a limbo where only he is certain of himself,
and he can only be certain of himself. The narrowness of the concept of self in
methodological individualistic theories such as rational choice theory, behaviourism,
Hobbesian atomism and social Darwinism, has been explained in terms of their having
been influenced by the Cartesian concept of self.

Iloko Bagi Language: An Alternative Anti-essentialist Conception of Self and Identity

My initial investigations in Ilokano body language, which was originally the topic
I wanted to pursue in this roundtable discussion, has brought me unexpectedly into an
exciting area of research that straddles the fields of philosophy of language, epistemology
and philosophy of man. I conveniently call this new area of research, “Iloko Bagi
Language.” As I will show later, bagi language is more encompassing than body
language, for it also covers language about the mind, self and identity, all crucial
concepts in theorizing ethnicity.16

1. Manifold Meanings of Bagi


The Ilokano term bagi has manifold meanings. First, bagi means the human torso.
Thus bagi is contrasted to ulo (ulo), saka (paa) ima (kamay), etc. Second, bagi means
the body in mind-body, as in Saan nga kabaelan ti bagik ti mabannog ken mabisin unay
(Hindi matiis ng aking katawan ang sobrang pagod at gutom).. Third, bagi means self as
in Inlisi na ti bagina iti dakes (Iniligtas niya ang kanyang sarili sa kasamaan). Fourth,
bagi, this time with the accent on the first syllable means ownership or pagmamay-ari, as
in Bagi na diay daga, bagi met ni baketna diay balay (Sa kanya ang lupa, sa asawa niya
ang bahay).
Bagi also serves as the root of several Ilokano terms such as ibagi (represent) or
pannakabagi (representative), kabagian (relative), mabagbagi (innards, or sex organs).

2.Bagi (body)17
Based on my investigations of Iloko body language, it appears that Ilokanos
traditionally have a very robust sense of their body, they are not ashamed of their body,
and they give due importance to it. However there have been changes in the way the
body is regarded largely due to modernization and the entry of foreign culture.
Ilokano abounds with terms referring to activities and different movements of the
body, creative use of the different parts of the body, and terms pertaining to body-
knowing or body knowledge. Ilokano likewise teems with sensual words, which in this
sense means words pertaining to the different senses. Interestingly, I discovered that
compared to terms pertaining to the sense of sight which are relatively few, words
pertaining to the other senses, specifically sense of smell and sense of hearing, I see this
as a sign that Ilokano is a resource against the dominance and violence of sight in
traditional western metaphysics complained about in contemporary philosophy. It is the

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rich corpus of body language in this sense, which leads to the observation that Ilokano
indicates a knowledge system that is concrete, empiricist, yet holistic.18
Just to get a glimpse of what I mean, consider this preliminary list of what
different parts of the body and what the body itself does.
Ginagawa ng mukha Ginagawa ng katawan: Ginagawa ng bunganga:
agmisoot payapayan agsakuntip
agmirugrug agkinni-kinni agpaggaak
kumusilap agdeppa agtanabutob
ag-dilat/agguyab agitudo agtanamitim
agkirem kalbiten
agkidday kidagen
perrengen

3. Bagi ken Panunot (body-mind)


But what is the Ilokano term for mind? Do we find body-mind dualism in
Ilokano? Mind is panunot. But panunot is used more to refer to thoughts, to the
products of the mind rather than to mind per se. The language game of bagi-panunot is
that bagi is solid, it is observable, but panunot is not. Bagi is an entity, but panunot is
not. And in the Ilokano cultural context, the language game of bagi-panunut is not the
same as that governing body-mind discourse. Panunut is not an entirely different entity,
in fact it is wrong to think of it as an entity, from bagi. This is evident if we look into
mental activities which do not imply or entail the existence of a mind over and above
these activities, e.g., nagbiddut, agduadua. We do not say Napanunotna nga siguro
nagbiddut isuna (Hindi niya naisip na siguro nagkamali siya), or we do not say Simrek iti
panunot na nga agduadua isuna (Hindi pumasok sa isip niya na siya ay nagdududa.)
These sentences would appear awkward in ordinary language. Rather, we say, Nagbiddut
isuna (Siya ay nagkamali) or Agduadua isuna (Siya ay nagdududa.)
Note that also, Ilokano does not have a term for “to be”, unlike in Filipino which
has “ay”, and when we are forced to translate the “ay” we use “ket” as in Isuna ket
nagbiddut or Isuna ket agduadua. This is the reason why in Ilokano it does not happen
that there is on one hand an observing or commandeering mind, and an execution of the
activity on the other. Note further that if in English it makes sense to say He is, or She is,
or I am, etc., in Filipino Siya ay, Sila ay, Ako ay. are as nonsense as Isuna ket, Isuda ket,
Siak ket. Can you imagine what would be the Filipino and Ilokano translation of Cogito
ergo sum? This is in contrast to the Cartesian rule that the mind’s existence is more
certain than that of the body. Of course the epistemological context of Descartes and
Ilokanos are different. As I mentioned earlier, Ilokano indicates an empiricist while
Descartes adheres to a rationalist epistemology.
The ilokano term for soul, kararua, is already in the language game of
Catholicism and Christianity. More of local color are the terms karkarma, which is
connected to the language game of nakabatbati. Note that in rituals to recover what is left
in nakabatbati, it does not make sense, unless one is a Martian, to ask Anya ti nabatina?
It is implicit that it is the karkarma which has been left behind. Al-alia, is not a clear
counterpart of soul however it can serve for spirit, but only the dead have in this sense a
spirit. “Spirit” for the living is an-aningaas, which takes the form of sounds from a
person who has been to a place, a house and even when he has left leave traces of herself
behind.

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4. Bagi (Self)
Self or sarili in Ilokano is also bagi, as in Diay bagina laeng ti ammona (Siya ay
makasarili). But bagi as self is not very much on currency in ordinary language. The
pronouns siak (ako) is more in currency, although it seldom stands alone as in Filipino,
for it is awkward as in Siak ket mapanak idiay Manila, we say instead, Mapanak idiay
Manila. Similarly, Nagdigosak, naglampasoak.
And so we can observe that in Ilokano, the self is not essentialized, nor is it
reified, as in Western philosophy, due to the absence of words for the self that stand
alone. In fact, note that there are no reflexive pronouns like myself, himself. He slapped
himself would be Tinungpa na diay rupana and not tinungpa na diay bagina as this would
be awkward. He is talking to himself would be Kasasaona or kapatpatangna diay bagina
but this is not “normal” and so others would say Ay ket agbagtit ngaruden ah kaka.
Bagi as self, however, does not indicate that the Ilokano self-concept is physical
reductionist, that is self is simply the body. Speakers of the language game of bagi as self
know that bagi as self does not mean only the body, but something else beyond the
physical, only it is not something that stands alone by itself. The fallacy of unum nomen,
unum nominatum (one name, therefore one thing named), fortunately, is not committed.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Ilokano bagi language indicates an alternative conception of self


and identity that is different from that enshrined in Cartesian essentialist body-mind
doctrine, and so would be exempt from the axe of deconstruction. Based on the
foregoing presentation which is still only preliminary and in need of further elaboration,
the Ilokano concept of self is non-essentialist – there is no language pertaining to the
mind as the essence, or the self being essentially this or that, it is non-foundationalist –
there is no language pertaining to the self alone but it is diminished into a suffix “ak”, and
so it is the activity that is given importance, not the doer. It makes sense to answer Siak,
when asked the question Sinno ti agsangsangit. However, it is nonsensical to ask Sinno ti
agsangsangit after I have already said, agsangsangitak.
Of course, for Ilokanos already infected by philosophy, or for those already
Christianized, or converted into dualistic psychology, their subtext is already different.
In conclusion, for ethnicity, deconstruction can be employed as a tool for rigorous
analysis but we must be wary of its limitations. Theorizing on ethnicity provides an
opportunity for us to rethink the adequacy of western theories and methodologies and
unearth our own local resources.

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1
Endnotes
Kyriakos Kontopoulos provides an exhaustive definition of essentialism as follows: It is “a deep-
seated disposition to find the “essence” of things; the belief that such a project is possible; a quest for
origins; any form of metaphysical realism or foundationalism; any theory or philosophy referring to
constant (Plato) or unfolding (Hegel) universals (The Logics of Social Structure, 1993, p. 380.)
2

Strictly speaking it is wrong to conflate poststructuralism and postmodernism together as they do not
have the same referent. Postmodernism has a broader scope than poststructuralism. However, I follow
the convention in less technical circles surprisingly in social science and even philosophical literature
of equating the two. It is the same thing with the pair poststructuralism and deconstruction.
Deconstruction is a specificaaly Derridean invention, and poststructuralism is broader in scope than
Derridean thought, however most literature also tend to conflate the two.
3

These ideas are developed in Grammatology by Jacques Derrida, Gayatri Spivak, trans. Baltimore and
London, The John Hopkins University Press, 1976, 1982.
4

Martha Nussbaum notes that American feminism today faces a “disquieting trend” far more serious
than provincialism and she writes: Something more insidious than provincialism has come to
prominence in the American academy. It is the virtually complete turning from the material side of life,
toward a type of verbal and symbolic politics that makes only the flimsiest of connections with the real
situation of real women. (p. 38)
5
Derrida, for one, has declared that feminism as a form of phallogocentrism that may be tactically
necessary at a certain point, but ultimately to be deconstructed, and he writes: So I would say that
deconstruction is a deconstruction of feminism, from thje start, insofar as feminism is a form – no
doubt necessary at acertain moment – but a form of phallogocentrism among many others. Positions,
Alan Bass, trans. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1981.
6

Similarly, Susan Bordo also notes that Gender Trouble is “written in the dense, complexifying style of
much continental philosophy” (in92: 173). Unfortunately, in most cases, this academic accessorizing,
or thick jargon, has been mistaken for philosophical profundity. However, Nussbaum asks if such prose
really belongs to philosophy rather than to rhetorics and sophistry. Actually the abstruse verbosity is
seen by her as a sleight-of-hand to exhaust the reader’s energies in deciphering the prose such that little
energy is left for critical assessment of the claims. Oftentimes too, the obscurity is a disguise for
emptiness, for it “fills the void left by an absence of a real complexity of thought and argument.”
Nussbaum reports, in addition, that Butler won first prize in the 1998 annual Bad Writing Contest
sponsored by the journal, Philosophy and Literature for her impenetrable writing style (Nussbaum,
1999: 39).
7
Identity politics can be defined as “the practice of basing one’s politics on a sense of personal identity”
(Andermahr, 1999: 103) for example, woman, black woman, latino, gay, which became a dominant
form of radical political organization since the 1980s. To this definition, we must add the feature that
such a personal identity is believed to be shared by all the members of a group which is the group
identity. Following this definition, feminism and ethnicity projects therefore are very good examples
of identity politics.
8
Judith Butler’s notion of “gender as performance” and Luce Irigaray’s notion of parody and mimicry
are examples of these resisting gestures. Although in the case of Irigaray, she has used essentialism
tactically theorizing that the feminine speaking position must be asserted for the rectification of the
dominance of the masculine. Further, for Irigaray, feminine writing and textual projects are only part
of a more general feminist project of change and reform. See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble:
Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York and London, Routledge, 1990 and Luce Irigaray,
This Sex Which is Not One. Catherine Porter, trans. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.
9

Nancy Hartsock, a radical-socialist feminist contends in “Epistemology and Politics,” that the
decentering methodologies of postmodernism hinder rather than help in the accomplishment of feminist
goals. Postmodern theories reject the scholar’s dream of understanding the world systematically in
order to change it. And thus they merely recapitulate the ill effects of enlightenment theories on the
marginalized by denying them the right to participate in mainstream interaction (in Harding, 1991: 182)
Christine di Stefano an Italian feminist has four main objections against postmodernism
expressed in her essay, “Dilemmas of Difference”. First, the postmodernists who are mostly white
privileged men of the industrialized West can now afford to subject the enlightenment to critical
scrutiny because they already had their light of day. Second, postmodern critique has really been
directed to precisely these same philosophers and will be incongruous when directed at other projects.
Third, mainstream postmodernist theory has itself been gender-blind, insensitive to the many ways that
its own rereading of history, politics, and culture are likewise politicized. Fourth, postmodernism
makes feminist politics impossible due to the postmodernist prohibition against subject-centered
inquiry (in Harding, 1991:182-183).
Other feminists encourage a dialogue between the two. Two proponents of socialist feminism, Nancy
Fraser and Linda Nicholson, strongly argue that while feminism and postmodernism are two of the
most important political-cultural currents in recent theorizing that have gone deep and wide in
critiquing Western institutions and modes of discourse, the two have proceeded from opposite
directions. While postmodernism subordinated practical political and social issues to philosophy,
feminism subordinated philosophy to the interests of social criticism. While postmoderns offer
persuasive criticism of foundationalism and essentialism, their conception of social criticism is anemic.
On the other hand, feminists are powerful social critics however they tend to lapse into foundationalism
and essentialism. Fraser and Nicholson propose a meeting of the strengths of both and an elimination
of their weaknesses – something like – social criticism without philosophy (Fraser and Nicholson,
1989: 283).
10

Diana Fuss is an example of a feminist who has embraced strategic essentialism. See her Essentially
Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference. New York and London: Routledge, 1989. Other strategic
essentialists are the Italian Feminists who were influenced by the difference feminism of Luce Irigaray.
I discussed at length the difference feminism of Luce Irigaray in three researches: “Knowledges of
Women: Feminist Epistemologies from Liberal to Postmodern Feminism” (1994), “Philosophical
Analysis of Gender Language” (1998), and “Exposing the Sex of Knowledge: Simone de Beauvoir and
Luce Irigaray” (1999).
11

Psychoanalytic accounts of self and identity construction are highly complex, but due to time and space
limitation I can only treat it briefly. But I discussed this more lengthily in my dissertation entitled
“Knowledges of Women. . .” (1994).
12
See Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering. Berkeley, California: University of
California Press, 1978.
13

Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love, and Carolyn Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman.
14
In Rene Descartes, A Discourse on Method, Mediations on the First Philosophy, and Principles of
Philosophy, John Veitch, trans. London, Melbourne and Toronto, Everyman’s Library, 1912, 1981, pp.
63-143.
15

Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind. New York, University Paperbacks, 1949.
16
Of course the problem, Is Ilokano ethnic? Should be a more basic question. However, to appreciate
the alternativity of self and identity found in bagi language, one need not assume that indeed Ilokano
qualifies as ethnic.
17

I have already presented at length Iloko body language (language referring to the body and language of
the body) in my research entitled “Language, Culture and Indigenous Knowledge: Reflections on
Ilokano” (2001). For this present paper I have a preliminary list of words referring to bodily activities.
I also wanted to include Ilokano terms for the different parts of the body, something like an
Ilokano account of human anatomy, but due to lack of time, I was unable to do so. But based on my
current investigations of Iloko body language, it appears that Ilokanos traditionally have a very robust
sense of their body, they are not ashamed of their body, and they give due importance to it. However
there have been changes in the way the body is regarded largely due to modernization and the entry of
foreign culture. I also discussed these at length in my aforementioned research.
18
My aforementioned research contains examples of Iloko body language. See “Language, Culture and
Indigenous Knowledge: Reflections on Ilokano,” in Towards Understanding Peoples in the Cordillera,
Vol. 2, Baguio, Cordillera Studies Center, 2001, pp. 186-197.

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