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Affect and History in Ninotchka Rosca’s

State of War


One of the important distinctions between Filipino American

literary expression and the literary expression of ethnic groups

descended from other Asian countries of origin lies in the former’s

colonial and neocolonial relationships with the U.S.. In light of the

historical experiences of colonization, Filipino (American) writers’

searches for self-identity are ineluctably intertwined with the

problems of Filipino nation-building. Oscar Campomanes claims

that out of the double yoking of Filipino American experiences of

displacement and Philippine-American (neo)colonial relations

arises “a literary tradition of Filipino exilic writing and an exilic

sensibility” (1992: 51), which, instead of taking “the United States

as the locus of claims or ‘the promised land’,” projects a reverse


and an opposite movement back to the ancestral land. This

obsessive return to the homeland postulates not a nostalgic

repossession of national origins, but a painstaking engagement with

the complex negotiation between past and present, the search for

identity and the obstruction of layers of colonial history that

rendered the search impossible.


I. History, Affect, Everyday Life

Categorized as a writer of literature of exile by Campomanes,

the US-based Filipino writer Ninotchka Rosca pays persistent

attention to excavating and reinventing the troubled history of her

homeland, tracing back to primal scenes of colonial violence,

juxtaposing the beginning of the colonial nation with the social and


See also Dolores de Manuel’s and Rocio Davis’s comments on Rosca’s return

to the ancestral homeland. De Manuel observes that “a provocative feature

of Rosca’s work is its ‘ancestral focus,’ which takes the form of a

literary-historical ‘return’ to an imagined homeland” (2004: 104). Rocio

Davis calls the return a “literary repossession of the homeland and its

history” and that it is “a manner of subverting the conditions of inherited

culture, a symbolic attempt to reverse the working of times and migration”

(1999: 64).