Vernacular Virtual: Toward a Philippine New Materialist Poetics




new materialism, material poetics, tropical materialism, onomatopoeia, Philippine vernacular, folk poetry, Jose Garcia Villa


This essay turns to and through the Philippine vernacular in order to open up the possibility of a new materialist regard of literature, one that specifically stems from the Philippine tropics. It proposes that the opportunity for such a tropical materialism rests on the onomatopoeism observed in the vernacular. Onomatopoeia, as a material linguistic principle, is recognized here to be most instructive in reunderstanding Philippine folk poetry — texts which date back to the precolonial period — in terms beyond mere representation. As a counterpoint to these traditional literary texts, the essay also ruminates on the poetry of Jose Garcia Villa, a prominent Filipino modernist writer, whose works in English are intuited here as demonstrative of the similar onomatopoeism found in Philippine folk poems. Although these literary materials might initially appear to be disparate and disconnected, the reading undertaken here nevertheless seeks to coincide these texts, bringing them into relation to highlight their possible yet understated entanglements, so as to ultimately motivate an intra-activity constitutive of contingent spatiotemporalities that may allow the emergence of a groundwork for a Philippine new materialist poetics.

Author Biography

Christian Jil Benitez, Ateneo de Manila University, The Philippines & Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

Christian Jil Benitez teaches Filipino at Ateneo de Manila University where he earned an AB-MA in Filipino literature. He is currently doing his PhD at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. Hailed as Poet of the Year 2018 by the Commission on the Filipino Language, his critical and creative works on time, tropicality, and materiality have appeared in Katipunan, Kritika Kultura, Philippine Studies, and eTropic, among others. His first book, Isang Dalumat ng Panahon, a treatise on Filipino time, is published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press. He lives in Rizal, the Philippines.


Alaimo, S. (2010). Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self. Indiana University Press.

Alaimo, S. (2016). Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times. Minnesota University Press.

Almario, V. S. (1984). Balagtasismo Versus Modernismo: Panulaang Tagalog sa Ika-20 Siglo. Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Almario, V. S. (2006). Pag-unawa sa Ating Pagtula: Pagsusuri at Kasaysayan ng Panulaang Filipino. Anvil Publishing.

Almario, V. S. (2017). Taludtod at Talinghaga: Mga Sangkap ng Katutubong Pagtula. Commission on the Filipino Language.

Barad, K. (2003). Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3): 801-31.

Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press.

Barad, K. (2015). Transmaterialities: Trans*/Matter/realities and Queer Political imaginings. GLQ, 21(2-3), 387-422.

Barton, R. (1955). The Mythology of Ifugaos. American Folklore Society.

Beetz, J. (2016). Materiality and Subject in Marxism, (Post-)Structuralism, and Material Semiotics. Palgrave Macmillan.

Benitez, C. J. R. (2018). Salaysay, Saysay, Salukoy: Tungo sa Dalumat ng Alamat. The Cordillera Review 8(1), 59-90.

Benitez, C. J. R. (2019). Panahon and Bagay: Metonymy and the Close Reading of Dictionaries to Understand Filipino Temporality. Philippine Studies, 67(3-4), 457-488.

Benitez, C. J. R. (2021a). Marlon Hacla, Melismas. SARE: Southeast Asian Review of English, 58(2), 212-217.

Benitez, C. J. R. (2021b). Telepathic Visions: On Alvin Yapan’s An Kubo sa Kawayanan (2015). Res Rhetorica, 8(2), 55-81.

Benitez, C. J. R. (2021c). On the Weariness of Time: El Niño in the Philippines. eTropic, 20(1), 210-220.

Benitez, C. J. R. (2022a). A Tropical Traumaturgy: Rereading the Folk in “May Bagyo Ma’t May Rilim.” Kritika Kultura (38), 232-265.

Benitez, C. J. R. (2022b). Bagay: Articulating a New Materialism from the Philippine Tropics. Rupkatha Journal, 14(1), 1-11.

Benitez, C. J. R. (2022c). Isang Dalumat ng Panahon. Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Bennet, J. (2010). Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press.

Bennett, J. (2012). Systems and Things: A Response to Graham Harman and Timothy Morton. New Literary History, 43(2), 225-233.

Bloom, H. (1997). The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. Oxford University Press.

Bredin, H. (1996). Onomatopoeia as a Figure and a Linguistic Principle. New Literary History, 27(3), 555-569.

Burns, T. A. (1976). Riddles: Occasion to Act. Journal of American Folklore, 89(35), 148-53.

Campomanes, O. V. (2003). The Vernacular/Local, The National, and The Global in Filipino Studies. Kritika Kultura, (3), 5-16.

Chittiphalangsri, P. (2014). On the Virtuality of Translation in Orientalism. Translation Studies, 7(1), 50-65.

Chua, J. O. (2013). The Making of Jose Garcia Villa’s Footnote to Youth. Kritika Kultura, (21/22), 1-31.

Colebrook, C. (2011). Matter Without Bodies. Derrida Today, 4(1), 1-20.

COST Action IS1307 — New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on “How matter comes to matter.” (n.d.) New Materialism.

Deleuze, G. (1991). Bergsonism. (H. Tomlinson & B. Habberjam, Trans.). Zone. (Originally work published 1988)

Demetrio, F. (1990). Towards an Understanding of Philippine Myths. In Myths and Symbols Philippines (Rev. ed., pp. 3-29). National Bookstore.

Derain, A. (2018). Katha/Kata. Unpublished manuscript.

Derrida, J. (1981). Dissemination (B. Johnson, Trans.). Chicago University Press. (Originally work published 1969).

Gamble, C. N., Hanan, J. S., & Nail, T. (2019). What is new materialism? Angelaki, 24(6), 111-134.

Glendinning, V. (1981). Edith Sitwell: A Unicorn Among Lions. Knopf.

Gonda, J. (1940). Some Remarks on Onomatopoeia, Sound-Symbolism, and Word-Formation. Tijdschrift voor indische taal-land-en volkenkunde, 80, 135-210.

Hacla, M. (2020). Melismas (K. O. Muslim, Trans.). OOMPH! Press. (Originally work published 2016)

Haraway, D. J. (1991). Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge.

Haraway, D. J. (1997). Modest_Witness@)Second_Millennium.FemaleMan Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Technoscience. Routledge.

Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.

Hart, D. V. (1964). Riddles in Filipino Folklore: An Anthropological Analysis. Syracuse University Press.

Hidalgo, C. A. (1977). Philippine lexicography from 1521 to the present. National Research Council of the Philippines.

Holbraad, M., Pedersen, M. A., & Viveiros de Castro, E. (2014, January 19). The Politics of Ontology: Anthropological Positions. Fieldsights.

Hornedo, F. (1997). Pagmamahal and Pagmumura: Essays. Office of Research and Publications, Ateneo de Manila University.

Kaczmarski, P. (2019). Materialism As Intentionalism: On the Possibility of a “New Materialist” Literary Criticism. Praktyka Teoretyczna, 4(34), 191‒235.

Kafka, F. (1971). Cares of a Family Man. In Glatzer, N. N. (Ed.), Complete Stories (pp. 427-429). Schocken.

King, R. (Ed.). (2015). Poetry Is: Jose Garcia Villa’s Philosophy of Poetry. Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Kirby, V. (2011). Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large. Duke University Press.

Latour, B. (1993). We Have Never Been Modern (C. Porter, Trans.). Harvard University Press. (Originally work published 1991).

Lapiz, E. M. (2006). Sotu Tutul Tud Bulul (Isang Kwento ni Tud Bulul): Pagsasa-Filipino ng Isang Hlolok ng mga T’boli na inawit ni Ma’Dison [Unpublished Master’s Thesis]. University of the Philippines.

Lentricchia, F. (1995). In Place of an Afterword—Someone Reading. In Critical Terms for Literary Studies (F. Lentricchia and T. McLaughlin, 2nd Ed., pp. 429-446). University of Chicago Press.

Lumbera, B. (1986). Tagalog Poetry 1570-1898: Tradition and Influences in Its Development. Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Lumbera, B. (2017). “Dating”: Panimulang Muni sa Estetika ng Panitikang Filipino. In Suri: Pag-arok sa Likhang-Panitik/Probing the Literary Text (pp. 3-17). University of the Philippines Press.

Lundberg, A. (2008). Material Poetics of a Malay house. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 19(1), 1–16.

Malagar, E. M. (1980). The Guman of Dumalinao: A Suban-on Folk Epic. Kinaadman: A Journal of the Southern Philippines, 2, 253-380.

Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Duke University Press.

Moore, M. (1942, October 17). Who Seeks Shall Find. [Review of the book Have Come, Am Here, by J. G. Villa]. The Nation, 155(16), 394.

Morton, T. (2012). An Object-Oriented Defense of Poetry. New Literary History, 43(2), 205-224.

Moslund, S. P., Marcusse, M. K., & Pendersen, M. K. (2020). Introduction. In Moslund, S. P., Marcusse, M. K., & Pendersen, M. K. (Eds.), How Literature comes to Matter: Post-Anthropocentric Approaches to the Study of Literature (pp. 1-27). Edinburgh University Press.

Müller, M. (1865). Language and Reason. In Lectures on the Science of Language (2nd Series, pp. 53-105). Charles Scribner.

Neimanis, A. (2017). Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. Bloomsbury.

de Noceda, J., & de Sanlucar, P. (2013). Vocabulario de la lengua Tagala (V. S. Almario, E. R. Ebreo, & A. M. M. Yglopaz, Eds., Trans.). Commission on the Filipino Language. (Originally work published 1860).

Ong, T. & Lacuna, I. (Eds.). (2019). Látag: Essays on Philippine Literature, Culture, and the Environment. U.P. Institute of Creative Writing.

Patke, R. S. (2007). Modernist Poetic Practices in English Poetry from Southeast Asia: A Comparison Between Jose Garcia Villa and Arthur Yap. Kritika Kultura, (9), 5-16.

Pettazzoni, R. (1967). The Truth of Myth. In Essays on the History of Religions (pp. 11-23). Brill.

Pound, E. (1935). Make It New. Yale University Press.

San Juan, E., Jr. (1996). Articulating a Third World Modernism: The Case of Jose Garcia Villa. In The Philippine Temptation: Dialectics of Philippine-U.S. Literary Relations (pp. 171-214). Temple University Press.

San Juan, E., Jr. (2010). Jose Garcia Villa—Critique of a Subaltern Poetics. EurAmerica, 40(1), 1-29.

Santos, L. K. (1911). La onomatopeya en el idioma tagalog. Cultura Filipina.

Santos, L. K. (1996). Peculiaridades de la poesia tagala/Mga Katangian ng Tulang Tagalog (T. O. Regala, Trans.). In Almario, V. S. (Ed.), Poetikang Tagalog: Mga Unang Pagsusuri sa Sining ng Pagtulang Tagalog (pp. 59-159). Sentro ng Wikang Filipino. (Originally work published in 1929)

de Saussure, F. (1986). Course in General Linguistics (C. Bally and A. Sechehaye, Eds. R. Harris, Trans.). Open Court. (Originally work published 1916)

Shelley, P. (2002). A Defence of Poetry. In Shelley’s Poetry and Prose (D. H. Reiman and N. Fraistat, Eds., 2nd Ed.; pp. 509-535). W. W. Norton & Co.

Shklovsky, V. (1965). Art as Technique. In Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays (L. T. Lemon, & M. J. Reis, Trans.; pp. 3-24). University of Nebraska Press. (Originally work published 1917)

Sitwell, E. (1993). Preface. In J. G. Villa, Selected Poems and New (pp. ix-xiv). The Bookmark.

Skiveren, T. (2018, February 7). Literature. New Materialism.

Skiveren, T. (2020). Feminist New Materialism and Literary Studies: Methodological Meditations on the Tradition of Feminist Literary Criticism and (Post)Critique. In Moslund, S. P., Marcussen, M. K., and Pedersen, M. K. (Eds.), How Literature Comes to Matter: Post-Anthropocentric Approaches to the Study of Literature (pp. 131-152). Edinburgh University Press.

Sollar, W. (1986). Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture. Oxford University Press.

Starr, F. (Ed.) (1909). A Little Book of Filipino Riddles. World Book Co.

Stevens, W. (1923). Harmonium. Alfred A. Knopf.

Todd, Z. (2016). An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn: “Ontology” Is Just Another Word For Colonialism. Journal of Historical Sociology, 29(1), 4-22.

Tolentino, R. (2007). Sipat Kultura: Tungo sa Mapagpalayang Pagbabasa, Pag-aaral, at Pagtuturo ng Panitikan. Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Tsing, A. (2019). When the Things We Study Respond to Each Other: Tools for Unpacking “The Material.” In Harvey, P., Krohn-Hansen, C., & Nustad, K. G. (Eds.), Anthropos and the Material (pp. 221-243). Duke University Press.

Rivera, M. (2015). Poetics of the Flesh. Duke University Press.

Villa, J. G. (2008). Doveglion: Collected Poems. Penguin.

Williams, R. (1983). Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Rev. Ed.). Oxford University Press.

Wilkinson, R. J. (1936). Onomatopoeia in Malay. Journal of the Malayan Brance of the Royal Asiatic Society, 14(3), 72-88.

Wilson, L. L. (1947). Ilongot Life and Legends. (n.p.).

Yapan, A. B. (2010). Ang Bisa ng Pag-uulit sa Katutubong Panitikan: Tungo sa Isang Panimulang Teoryang Pampanitikan [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of the Philippines.

Yapan, A. B. (2021). Ang Pag-uulit sa Katutubong Panitikan. In M. L. Sicat-Cleto (Ed.), Reading the Regions 2: Philippine Folk and Oral Literature (pp. 40-47). National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Yu, T. (2004a). Asian/American Modernisms: Jose Garcia Villa’s Transnational Poetic. In N. Carbo (Ed.), Pinoy Poetics: A Collection of Autobiographical and Critical Essays on Filipino and Filipino American Poetics (pp. 343-367). Meritage Press.

Yu, T. (2004b). ‘The Hand of a Chinese Master’: Jose Garcia Villa and Modernist Orientalism. MELUS, 29, 41-59.




How to Cite

Benitez, C. J. (2022). Vernacular Virtual: Toward a Philippine New Materialist Poetics. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 21(2), 95–119.