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Affect and History in Ninotchka Rosca’s

State of War


“Rosca introduces a cyclical and detrimental view of history

through metaphors of time looping in and out and by lyrical

description of characters hurled into a sort of time warp of the

past . . . The characters, their ancestors and descendants are

destined to meet again and again in a series of extraordinary

coincidence” (1999: 68).

In place of the official historical record, music, songs and

children’s folk tales capture residual historical memories, invoking

sentimental reminiscences of, and magical connections with

ancestral histories that were either disrupted by colonization, or so

produced that no record can be found. The narrative is sprinkled

with fragmented memories of the past in songs played with harp,

saxophone, and nursery rhymes chanted by children in the streets.

In the absence of historical records, the response of a bygone

generation to their times and lives are preserved and passed down

through repetitive performances of songs. The song “Lovely

Stranger,” composed by Luis Carlos and played by Mayang on her

harp, records their nostalgia for bygone eras. It functions to offer

an ambience for one’s immersion in the female lineage and a past

cut off from public memories. The title “Lovely Stranger” portrays

a woman in black with blue-black hair

a common feature of

Maya and Mayang, suggesting an ancestor both estranged and

intimate to the offspring, calling for recollection and reconnection.

Mayang falls into a sensational connection with the past when she

plays the song on her harp: “In a few minutes, she lost herself in

the tune and could almost believe that boats were once more

plying the canal and that the failing light outside was a dawning,

that instead of easing into night, the world was moving into

morning, a morning as fragile as a dream” (Rosca, 1988:

276). The

song carries the lingering memories of female ancestors and, as it is

continuously played by the public, becomes a cultural artifact that

exerts imprint on the consciousness of the offspring, reminding

them both of the shame of their female ancestors and the existence

of a world inhabited by their ancestors prior to colonization. For