Jessica Hagedorn 1949-
(Full name Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn) Filipino-born American novelist, playwright, poet, short story writer, nonfiction writer, screenwriter, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Hagedorn's career through 2003.
A prominent figure in contemporary Asian American literature, Hagedorn is widely respected as a postcolonial author whose works grapple with issues of power and identity in Filipino society and among Filipino American immigrants. Using characters and situations that evoke the grittier aspects of urban street life, her works treat such themes as cultural and economic imperialism, ethnic and gender identity, violence, and political corruption. Known for blending stylistic elements from disparate literary genres—poetry, fiction, music, and performance art—Hagedorn utilizes a unique collage-like format to examine the influence of popular American culture on the development of Asian American identity. Her best known works include Dangerous Music (1975), a collection of poems and stories based on her childhood experiences in the Philippines and as a young immigrant in the United States, and Dogeaters (1990), a comic novel set in the Philippines of the 1950s.
Hagedorn was born in Manila in the Philippines on May 29, 1949. She was raised during the reign of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose reputation for brutality and corruption led to his exile from the Philippines in 1986. Hagedorn immigrated with her mother to the United States in 1963, eventually becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. Hagedorn's family settled in San Francisco, where she attended the American Conservatory Theater, studying acting, fencing, and martial arts. In 1973 a grouping of her poems—titled “The Death of Anna May Wong”—was published as part of the collection Four Young Women: Poems, edited by noted poet Kenneth Rexroth. In 1975 Hagedorn formed a performance rock band, The West Coast Gangster Choir, which became known for their theatrical multimedia productions. Hagedorn moved to New York City in 1978, renaming her band The Gangster Choir and pursuing a career as a performance artist. While in New York, several of her plays were professionally produced, including Mango Tango (1978), Tenement Lover: no palm trees/in new york city (1981), and Holy Food (1988). During this period, Hagedorn also founded the music and performance art group Thought Music. In 1988 Hagedorn travelled back to the Philippines to finish her first novel Dogeaters. She later returned to the Philippines in 1992 as a journalist covering the national elections. Since 1990, Hagedorn has been a regular commentator on Crossroads, a weekly news program broadcast on National Public Radio. Her works have received numerous awards and honors, including the 1983 Before Columbus Foundation Award and an American Book Award for her poetry and prose collection Pet Food and Tropical Apparitions (1981). Dogeaters also won an American Book Award as well as receiving a nomination for the 1991 National Book Award.
Hagedorn's poetry adapts the Beat style of Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, and others from the counterculture movement of the 1960s to express the postcolonial consciousness of a Filipino woman. Her poems—often structured as character monologues—act as literary surrogates for women alienated by patriarchal society and Asian Americans trapped between two divergent cultures. The title of “The Death of Anna May Wong,” Hagedorn's contribution to Four Young Women, refers to an Asian American film actress whose career spanned from the era of silent films to well after World War II. In her films, Wong played stereotyped Asian women, exotic and mysterious villainesses with excessive, stylized gestures, who were present in generations of American motion pictures. The impact of mass-media representations on cultural and racial groups, particularly the portrayals of Asian Americans in Hollywood films, has become a recurring theme throughout Hagedorn's poetic and literary works. Another of Hagedorn's frequent motifs is popular music—her first solo poetry collection, Dangerous Music, utilizes the rhythms of jazz and rock music to examine her childhood in the Philippines and San Francisco. Pet Food and Tropical Apparitions collects more examples of Hagedorn's sexually-charged poetry, including a depiction of a transvestite with a blue wig, an earthy hymn to reggae singer Bob Marley, and a sado-masochistic declaration of female liberation. The collection also presents the comic novella Pet Food, which follows George Sand, a Filipino American teenager who lives a bohemian lifestyle in San Francisco, surrounded by street denizens, artists, pornographers, and drug abusers. In 1993 Hagedorn published Danger and Beauty, a retrospective selection of her poetry from the 1960s through the 1990s.
Though Hagedorn first attracted attention as a poet, her early career is particularly marked by her theatrical works, beginning with Chiquita Banana (1972), a one-act play satirizing the actress Carmen Miranda. Incorporating elements of musical productions and performance art, Hagedorn's plays typically present darkly comic ruminations on popular culture, racial and gender identity, and the immigrant experience. For example, Tenement Lover: no palm trees/in new york city employs a pastiche of letters, songs, and monologues to portray a Filipino immigrant in New York City struggling to find a balance between assimilating into his new surroundings and respecting his cultural heritage. Hagedorn has also collaborated on several notable theatrical productions, such as Where the Mississippi Meets the Amazon (1977) with Ntozake Shange and Thulani Davis, Teenytown (1988) with Laurie Carlos and Robbie McCauley, and Airport Music (1994) with Han Ong. In 1993 Hagedorn attracted critical attention for editing Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, the first anthology of its kind to be produced and distributed by a commercial publisher in the United States. The collection presents works from figures steeped in the early traditions of Asian American fiction, such as Carlos Bulosan, Hisaye Yamamoto, and Toshio Mori, as well as fiction from such emerging Asian American authors as Gish Jen, Maxine Hong Kingston, Bharati Mukherjee, and Amy Tan. Hagedorn also edited the sequel, Charlie Chan Is Dead II: At Home in the World: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, which was published in 2004.
Hagedorn's range of social and political interests and her sardonic wit reached an apex with Dogeaters, her first novel and best known work. Situated entirely in the Philippines and set primarily in the 1950s under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, Dogeaters offers an acerbic look at class divisions, foiled ambitions, rampant commercialism, violence, and the varieties of corruption in a country deeply afflicted by centuries of Western colonialism and internecine conflict. The first half of the novel introduces an array of characters—the vile plutocrat Severo Alacran; the street savvy hustler and disc jockey Joey; a former Miss Philippines who joins a band of rebel guerillas; an assortment of faded and aspiring movie stars; middle-class families with a range of obsessions; and various government officials who actively repress or simply ignore human rights. The second half of the novel centers on a political assassination and its spiraling effects on the novel's multitude of characters. Amidst the mayhem, the occasional-narrator Rio emerges as a voice of sanity, perseverance, and unspoiled hope. Resembling Hagedorn's poetic works, the narrative in Dogeaters combines a range of materials, including fabricated and actual news reports, poetry, a gossip column, letters, and dramatic dialogue. Hagedorn uses these devices to comment on the unreliability of literary and verbal representations of something as complicated as the national identity of the Philippines. Hagedorn later adapted Dogeaters as a theatrical stage play in 1998. The Gangster of Love (1996), Hagedorn's second novel, follows Raquel “Rocky” Rivera from her origins in the Philippines through her immigration with her family to the United States. The plot experiments with shifting narrators and dream-like accounts of the cultural cross-fertilization experienced by Asian American immigrants. Supported by an oddball cast of friends and relatives, Rocky struggles to establish a musical career in the United States while dealing with her desire to one day have a family of her own. After her brother returns to the Philippines, Rocky and her boyfriend Elvis Chan form a successful rock band called Gangster of Love. In 2003 Hagedorn published Dream Jungle, a novel that resembles Dogeaters both in setting and narrative structure. Employing overlapping storylines and multiple characters, Dream Jungle links the discovery of a lost tribe on the island of Mindanao by a Filipino millionaire, Zamora Lopez de Legazpi, with the filming of a Hollywood Vietnam War movie on Mindanao years later.
Hagedorn's writing has been praised for its complex treatments of gender, social, and cultural themes from a feminist, postcolonial perspective. Her early collections of poetry and prose, such as Dangerous Music and Pet Food and Tropical Apparitions, have been commended for their unflinching examination of the American immigrant consciousness, as mediated through the influence of Hollywood cinema and rock music. Dogeaters has won critical acclaim as a social satire that portrays the complexities of Filipino society in terms of political, economic, and sexual power dynamics, with Rosellen Brown commenting that the novel is “more effective as cultural history than as fiction.” Several reviewers have argued that the novel deftly demonstrates the influence of popular American culture on all echelons of Filipino society. Lisa Lowe has observed that Dogeaters “thematizes how U.S. colonial rule in the Philippines involves not merely brutal military occupation and economic exploitation, but it is enacted as well through the installation of popular culture and the adoption of its roles, desires, and narratives of resolution.” Scholars have debated the effectiveness of Hagedorn's postmodern narrative techniques in Dogeaters, with some asserting that the fragmentary text weakens the novel's overall narrative structure. Such critics have noted that the novel's multiple plotlines allow little time for effective character development. However, the majority of commentators have lauded Dogeaters as a unique and insightful critique of postcolonial Filipino society. Hagedorn's second novel, Gangster of Love, has received a mixed reception from reviewers, with some faulting the work for its weak central character and lack of emotional impact. Commentators have noted that the more positive critical reaction to Dream Jungle, Hagedorn's subsequent novel, may be due in part to Hagedorn's employment of several of the stylistic devices she originally utilized in Dogeaters.
Chiquita Banana (play) 1972
Four Young Women: Poems by Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn, Alice Karle, Barbara Szerlip, and Carol Tinker [edited by Kenneth Rexroth] (poetry) 1973
Dangerous Music (poetry and short stories) 1975
Where the Mississippi Meets the Amazon [with Ntozake Shange and Thulani Davis] (play) 1977
Mango Tango (play) 1978
Pet Food and Tropical Apparitions (poetry and novella) 1981
Tenement Lover: no palm trees/in new york city (play) 1981
*Holy Food (play) 1988
Teenytown [with Laurie Carlos and Robbie McCauley] (play) 1988
†Dogeaters (novel) 1990
‡Kiss Kiss Kill Kill (screenplay) 1992
Two Stories (short stories) 1992
Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction [editor and contributor] (short stories) 1993
Danger and Beauty (poetry) 1993
Airport Music [with Han Ong] (play) 1994
The Gangster of Love (novel) 1996
Burning Heart: A Portrait of the Philippines [photographs by Marissa Roth] (nonfiction) 1999
Dream Jungle (novel) 2003
Charlie Chan Is Dead II: At Home in the...
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SOURCE: Casper, Leonard. “Bangungot and the Philippine Dream in Hagedorn.” Solidarity 127 (July-September 1990): 152-57.
[In the following essay, Casper discusses how food functions as a symbol of economic inequality in the Philippines in Dogeaters and criticizes the novel for its underdeveloped characters and weak narrative structure.]
No one familiar with the culture of the Philippines would underestimate the pleasure, beyond the threshold of taste, that eating provides for its people. The immense variety of available foods conveys a felicitous sense of tropical abundance; the diversity of savory preparations, a heritage drawn from mixed national origins; the surfeit of calories, unconscious compensation for an enervating climate or an expression of the bahala na (come what may) fiesta attitude: consume today what the day provides, let tomorrow take care of itself. Filipinos and food are more than alliterative. They are intimately inseparable, throughout all their waking hours. Of course, such extravagant truisms must be qualified quickly and enormously. The Philippine Cookbook by Reynaldo Alejandro or The Culinary Culture of the Philippines by Gilda Cordero-Fernando may sit on the sala cocktail table, next to volumes of art and architecture. But how many Filipino families can afford cocktail tables; or all the delectables described in these books or served in Metro...
(The entire section is 3348 words.)
SOURCE: Hughes, Kathryn. “Sweet-Sour.” New Statesman and Society 4, no. 159 (12 July 1991): 37-8.
[In the following review, Hughes argues that Hagedorn fails to clearly define the variety of narrative voices in Dogeaters.]
Two novels from the US set out to chart a new place in the literary landscape: South East Asia during the middle decades of this century. Dogeaters is set in a Manila ground down by dictatorship—sweet, steamy and so rotten that even the fiercest rain cannot sluice it clean. Such is the social interleaving of the place that there is no need for a clumsy narrative device to bring Generals, street boys and dreamy Catholic girls into the same story. Instead, they are bound together by a series of desires, cynically manipulated by a corrupt regime, which work to enthrall at every level of society.
There is sex, for instance, a commodity for sale in the smartest consulate bedrooms and the seediest clubs where “shower dancers” strut their soapy stuff for the goggle-eyed foreigners. There is Hollywood, too, for Manila is a community that fantasises that it is just to the east of LA, a cultural colony where imported icons like Liz Taylor and Rock Hudson rub shoulders in imagination with local porn stars and TV personalities. Finally, there is the pull of brand names: the fetishisation of Rolex and Rochas, the subtle disappointment in home-grown products like...
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SOURCE: Hussein, Aamer. Review of Dogeaters, by Jessica Hagedorn. Times Literary Supplement, no. 4617 (27 September 1991): 26.
[In the following review, Hussein examines the themes of fantasy, food, and popular culture in Dogeaters, calling the novel “an echo of an epic ballad of resistance.”]
At the entrance of the Manila Intercontinental Hotel, a radical senator is shot down. Two bystanders, one a waiter with dreams of show business success, the other a male prostitute and petty criminal, are caught up in a chain of events that will lead to the imprisonment of one and the other's flight to a guerrilla hideout in the mountains. Meanwhile, on the borders of this narrative, the story of Daisy, the senator's daughter, arrested for her seditious activities, interrogated and brutalized, unfolds.
Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters is a song of her native Manila, a walk on its wild side where, in the city's pits of deprivation, the privileged and the powerful rub shoulders, in a search for young flesh. It is also an indictment of the Marcos regime, a fiction about the net of politics cast over the lives of ordinary people, changing victims into rebels.
There are echoes of Han Suyin in Hagedorn's evocations of the timbre of life in South-East Asia; there is more than a touch of Manuel Puig, too, in her fascination with the paraphernalia of popular culture....
(The entire section is 537 words.)
SOURCE: Evangelista, Susan. “Jessica Hagedorn and Manila Magic.” MELUS 18, no. 4 (winter 1993-1994): 41-52.
[In the following essay, Evangelista explores the elements of magical realism in Hagedorn's writings, particularly as they relate to the author's identity as a Filipina immigrant living in the United States.]
In 1975, a then relatively unknown Filipino-American poet named Jessica Hagedorn wrote a poem called “Song for My Father” in which life in Manila took on some of the surreal appearance of life in some Latin-American city under siege:
dope dealers are executed in public and senators go mad in prison camps the nightclubs are burning with indifference curfew draws near soldiers lurk in jeeps of dawn warzones as the president's daughter bogies nostalgically under the gaze of sixteen smooth bodyguards and decay is forever even in the rage of humorless revolutionaries
(Danger and Beauty 37)
The tone of this poem, and of a few other poems and stories dealing with life in the Philippines, suggested an interesting contrast with Hagedorn's other work, her Filipino-American writing which, although it shares the same sharp-edged glitter and flamboyance of the Philippine-centered work, lacks its dreamy, fantastic cast. Hagedorn's novel, Dogeaters, nominated for the National Book Award, deals with life in Manila in the 1970's, and...
(The entire section is 4544 words.)
SOURCE: Ancheta, Shirley. Review of Danger and Beauty, by Jessica Hagedorn. Amerasia Journal 20, no. 1 (1994): 197-202.
[In the following review, Ancheta observes that the poetry in Danger and Beauty is effectively voice-driven and rooted in musical rhythms, commenting that the collection provides a good introduction to Hagedorn's literary range and achievement.]
Jessica Hagedorn: poet, performance artist, novelist and playwright, has deservedly etched her place in American literature. From her early rhythms in Dangerous Music through the successful novel, Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn has entertained us. Danger and Beauty is a collection of poetry and short fiction from her earlier books, including Pet Food and Tropical Apparitions, together with new work. The book is divided into four sections: “The Death of Anna May Wong: Poems, 1968-1972,” “Dangerous Music, 1975,” “Pet Food & Tropical Apparitions, 1981” and “New York Peep Show, 1982-1992.” This volume allows those not familiar with her earlier poems to appreciate her range and achievement.
The book is dedicated to the late poet, Kenneth Rexroth, who encouraged Hagedorn from the time she was a teenager. In her introduction, Hagedorn writes:
His [Rexroth's] flat on Scott Street is the ultimate boho heaven for me. Poetry is respected....
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SOURCE: Shih, David. Review of Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, edited by Jessica Hagedorn. Amerasia Journal 21, no. 3 (winter 1995-1996): 210-12.
[In the following review of Charlie Chan Is Dead, an anthology of Asian American fiction edited by Hagedorn, Shih asserts that the most compelling aspect of the volume is the inclusion of works by several relatively unknown authors.]
One reason may be the cover: an Asian American gangster brandishes a revolver, his keen eyes trained on your own. Another, the sheer size of the book: over five-and-a-half hundred pages. Either way, Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction intimidates upon first glance. How this attitude strikes you “mostly depends on your race, creed, hair color, social and economic class and political proclivities” (90), if I may borrow from Marilyn Chin's narrator in her story, “Moon.” From the outset this anthology celebrates, perhaps even demands the subjectivities of its contributors. “I let it be known that I was definitely more interested in ‘riskier’ work, and that I was eager to subvert the very definition of what was considered ‘fiction’” (xxviii), writes editor Jessica Hagedorn. Take nothing for granted, we are warned. Only one thing is for sure: Charlie Chan is dead, and somebody has killed him. If the cover is any...
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SOURCE: Lowe, Lisa. “Decolonization, Displacement, Disidentification: Asian American ‘Novels’ and the Question of History.” In Cultural Institutions of the Novel, edited by Deidre Lynch and William B. Warner, pp. 96-128. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Lowe discusses the relationship between fictional and historical narratives in three novels by Asian American authors—Dogeaters, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictée, and Fae Myenne Ng's Bone.]
To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it “the way it really was” (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.
—Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”
Frantz Fanon directs our attention, in Black Skin, White Masks (1967), to the importance of language as the medium through which a colonizing culture forms the colonized subject: “To speak means to be in a position to use a certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization” (17-18). In alluding to the paradoxical fluency of the colonized subject in the colonial language and culture, Fanon astutely names the twofold character of colonial formation. The imposition of the colonial language and its...
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SOURCE: Casper, Leonard. “Four Filipina Writers: Recultivating Eden.” Amerasia Journal 24, no. 3 (1998): 143-59.
[In the following essay, Casper analyses the influence of colonialism and neocolonialism on the works of four female writers from the Philippines—Hagedorn, Ninotchka Rosca, Cecilia Manguerra-Brainard, and Linda Ty-Casper. While discussing Dogeaters, Casper links the recurring motifs of food, mass media, and gossip to the novel's central theme of escapist dreams and fantasies.]
Innumerable historians have traced the Hispanization and Americanization1 of Philippine culture during continuous colonial rule throughout 400 years. Far too little attention, however, has been paid the counter Filipinization of these influences, through adaptations in religion, government, architecture, the culinary arts, and similar spheres of daily life.2 A century after Commodore Dewey's one-day defeat of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay (May 1898) and the subsequent arrival of American ground forces, and half a century after formation of the Republic of the Philippines (1946), Americans arriving in Manila still have the immediate impression that the Philippines is simply an extension of Stateside multiculturalism, and “little brown brotherism” remains intact. The tourist is in transit too suddenly to discover what lies beneath the facades of Manila-Makati or behind the...
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SOURCE: Lowe, Lisa. “Memories of Colonial Modernity: Dogeaters.” Amerasia Journal 24, no. 3 (1998): 161-64.
[In the following essay, Lowe evaluates the themes of sexuality, politics, mass media, and postcolonial culture in Dogeaters. Lowe also lauds Hagedorn's theatrical adaptation of Dogeaters, complimenting the play for vibrantly capturing the spirit of the novel.]
Colonialism produces its discontents for the colonized elite. They may hitchhike on the grand narrative of western civilization and at times even manage to insinuate themselves as illegal immigrants onto the project of modernity.
—Dilip M. Menon1
Sex is always political. But there are also historical periods in which sexuality is more sharply contested and more overtly politicized. In such periods, the domain of erotic life is, in effect, renegotiated.
In Jessica Hagedorn's 1990 novel Dogeaters, a Filipina immigrant in the United States remembers life in the Philippines during the Marcos era, where traces of three centuries of Spanish rule and the subsequent U.S. colonization are everywhere still in evidence. Heterogeneous and class-stratified, neocolonial Manila is evoked in different episodes arranged as if in a collage:...
(The entire section is 1369 words.)
SOURCE: Damon, Maria. “Kozmic Reappraisals: Revising California Insularity.” In Women Poets of the Americas: Toward a Pan-American Gathering, edited by Jacqueline Vaught Brogan and Cordelia Chavez Candelaria, pp. 254-71. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, Damon offers a critical reading of Hagedorn and Ntozake Shange's poetic works within the cultural and historical context of the 1970s San Francisco Bay Area arts communities from which both poets emerged.]
… the culture of the Peoples of the Sea is a flux interrupted by rhythms which attempt to silence the noises with which their own social formation interrupts the discourse of Nature. … the cultural discourse of the Peoples of the Sea attempts … to neutralize violence and to refer society to the transhistorical codes of Nature. Of course as the codes of Nature are neither fixed nor even intelligible, the culture of the Peoples of the Sea expresses the desire to sublimate social violence through referring itself to a space that can only be intuited through the poetic, since it always puts forth an area of chaos. In this paradoxical space, in which one has the illusion of experiencing a totality, there appear to be no repressions or contradictions; there is no desire other than that of maintaining oneself within the limits of this zone for the...
(The entire section is 5570 words.)
SOURCE: Lee, Rachel C. “Transversing Nationalism, Gender, and Sexuality in Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters.” In The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation, pp. 73-105. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, Lee argues that Hagedorn's unique Filipino perspective on American spectatorship and cinematic archetypes in Dogeaters creates a powerful critique of neocolonialism and late capitalism.]
[Hagedorn's novels are] the kinds of novels that will be written in the next century. They make the typical American novel look very gray.
Dogeaters begins in the air-conditioned darkness of Manila's Avenue Theater where the American release “All That Heaven Allows” plays in Technicolor and Cinemascope. Like the narrator, Rio, and her cousin Pucha, Hagedorn's readers sit enthralled to the movie's “perfect picture-book American tableau, plaid hunting jackets, roaring cellophane fires, [and] smoking chimneys” (3). Not until the second paragraph is the reader momentarily interrupted by the sound of noisy lovers stealing kisses in the theater's darkness; yet quickly the focus returns to “Jane Wyman's soft putty face, Rock Hudson's singular, pitying expression … [and] the virginal, pastel-pink cashmere cardigan draped over...
(The entire section is 17898 words.)
SOURCE: Hagedorn, Jessica, and Emily Porcincula Lawsin. “Jessica Hagedorn: Interview by Emily Porcincula Lawsin.” In Words Matter: Conversations with Asian American Writers, edited by King-Kok Cheung, pp. 21-39. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.
[In the following interview, Hagedorn discusses her childhood in the Philippines, her life in the United States, her writing career, and the reception of her work in both the Philippines and the United Sates.]
I met Jessica Hagedorn for the first time when I was in elementary school. I met her, not in the physical sense, but in a way that an impressionable young Filipina could never forget: in the Seattle Public Library. Every day after school, my parents used to force my brother and me to go to the library near our home until one of them could return from work. I hated reading back then because of this routine. One day, I browsed down an aisle of poetry collections and came across a simple black cloth-bound book with a black-and-white photograph of a burning guitar pasted to the front. The cover read “Dangerous Music by Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn” (Hagedorn 1975). I loved music, and, as a Catholic schoolgirl, I was naturally intrigued by this concept of danger. There were so few Filipino writers published in those days that I read the book over and over every time we went there. A few years later, I had so many overdue books that I...
(The entire section is 6090 words.)
SOURCE: Bacalzo, Dan. Review of Dogeaters, by Jessica Hagedorn. Theatre Journal 53, no. 4 (December 2001): 642-43.
[In the following review, Bacalzo offers high praise for the March 2001 Public Theater production of Dogeaters, asserting that the stage production successfully transforms the broad-ranging novel into “a vibrant theatrical landscape.”]
Jessica Hagedorn's 1990 novel, Dogeaters, is not the easiest work to adapt for the stage. Set in the Philippines during the Marcos regime, this epic book is filled with numerous characters that have detailed personalities and eccentricities. The novel is also infused with a Filipino pop culture aesthetic that draws from American movies, local radio soap operas, and a celebrity-driven political system. Hagedorn's own stage adaptation successfully transforms this mix into a vibrant theatrical landscape.
The author takes two minor characters from her novel—radio and screen stars Barbara Villanueva and Nestor Noralez—and transforms them into Brechtian narrators. Hagedorn ingeniously uses the book's preoccupation with movies and show business to create a purely theatrical method of telling the story. Played by Mia Katigbak and Ralph B. Peña, Barbara and Nestor become perky talk show hosts. They introduce key players in the drama, as well as provide historical background for those in the audience unfamiliar with the...
(The entire section is 1017 words.)
SOURCE: Balce, Nerissa S. “Dogeaters, by Jessica Hagedorn.” In A Resource Guide to Asian American Literature, edited by Sau-ling Cynthia Wong and Stephen H. Sumida, pp. 54-65. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2001.
[In the following essay, Balce provides an overview of the historical context, critical reception, and major themes of Dogeaters, including a supplemental bibliography of writings by and about Hagedorn.]
[Dogeaters, by Jessica Hagedorn, was first] published in the United States by Pantheon Books in 1990. Paperback edition published by Penguin Books in 1991. Received a National Book Award nomination in 1990.
A novel with more than forty vignette-like chapters set mostly in the Philippines, Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters challenges the norms of reading with its stylized, non-traditional form. The novel's structure includes different linguistic and stylistic registers that signal shifts in the narratives, giving the effect of a collage of lives or stories. The novel, then, can be read as a text without a single central narrator, since it consistently changes points of view and voice. The episodic scenes in the novel suggest a montage with a dreamlike textuality. The text also includes fictionalized and factual quotations from news accounts and...
(The entire section is 4744 words.)
SOURCE: Mendible, Myra. “Desiring Images: Representation and Spectacle in Dogeaters.” Critique 43, no. 3 (spring 2002): 289-303.
[In the following essay, Mendible explores the significance of popular culture and mass spectacle to Hagedorn's representation of Filipino society and politics in Dogeaters.]
To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessary. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.
—Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
The following description of an Imelda Marcos “performance” during a 1965 political rally in Manila suggests the unstable boundaries between politics and spectacle, authority and image making, captivation and captivity:
Led to the microphone, she touches it, and prepares to sing her winning repertoire. […] She has lost weight considerably […] it is a slight and vulnerable back that rises above the scoop of her neckline. […] She knows the excitement of power—the crowd waits, like a trapped and unresisting prey, for Imelda to begin using that power. [… T]he old charisma, with its look of suffering, potent tonight as never before, the brilliance of beauty commingling with the brilliance...
(The entire section is 7526 words.)
SOURCE: Review of Dream Jungle, by Jessica Hagedorn. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 31 (4 August 2003): 53.
[In the following review, the critic offers a positive assessment of Dream Jungle, calling the novel “[b]arbed and alluring.”]
Barbed and alluring, [Dream Jungle,] this third novel by Hagedorn (Dogeaters; The Gangster of Love) revolves around the purported discovery of a Stone Age “lost tribe” in the Philippines, and deftly explores late 20th-century Filipino cultural identity. Led to the caved-welling Taobo by an enterprising local in 1971, mestizo politician Zamora López de Legazpi is as contented as a “conquistador without an army” can be. At around the same time, 10-year-old Rizalina, the sole survivor of a shipwreck in which her brutal father and twin brothers were killed, comes to live with her mother, who serves as loyal cook to Zamora at his grandiose Manila palace. A model student with an inquisitive mind, Lina is briefly happy, but when she is nearly 12 and Zamora takes an unseemly interest in her, she flees and ends up prostituting herself. A few years later, Vincent Moody appears, a captivating but aptly named film celebrity who abandons his girlfriend and son in California to star in a big Vietnam-era blockbuster, Napalm Sunset (think Apocalypse Now). When he stumbles upon Lina at a joint called the Love...
(The entire section is 326 words.)
SOURCE: Upchurch, Michael. “What's Cooking on Mindanao?” New York Times Book Review (5 October 2003): 13.
[In the following review, Upchurch argues that Dream Jungle is Hagedorn's “best book since Dogeaters,” praising the author's skillful evocation of the Philippines in the 1970s.]
A narrative collage hopscotching from year to year, from place to place and from one point of view to another: that's what Jessica Hagedorn offers in her intricate new novel, which boldly links a Manila millionaire's “discovery” of a Stone Age tribe on Mindanao with a filmed re-creation of the Vietnam War on that same guerrilla-plagued island six years later.
Dream Jungle scrupulously documents its chosen time and place: the Marcos-controlled Philippines of the 1970's. But it also, more ambitiously, engages with the unreliability of the realities it depicts.
Could this whole Stone Age tribe business (based on the controversy surrounding the “gentle” Tasaday) be a fraud? Will the fake war (based on Francis Ford Coppola's filming of Apocalypse Now in the Philippines) make contact with the real hostilities nearby? Can Napalm Sunset—Hagedorn's perfect title for the film—do justice to the agonizing war that inspired it? What interference (or protection) can the filmmakers and anthropologists expect from the Philippine military and the Marcos...
(The entire section is 1415 words.)
Brown, Rosellen. “The Year in Fiction: 1990.” Massachusetts Review 32, no. 1 (spring 1991): 123-46.
Brown discusses the theme of corruption in Dogeaters, describing the novel as “a splashy, vigorous, angry, horrifically amusing and depressing book.”
Corrigan, Maureen. “Yo-Yo in a Rock Band.” Nation 263, no. 13 (28 October 1996): 64-6.
Corrigan criticizes Gangster of Love, asserting that the story is not compelling due to the emotionally disengaged narration and underdeveloped characters.
Iannone, Carol. Review of Dogeaters, by Jessica Hagedorn. Commentary 91 (March 1991): 52.
Iannone faults Dogeaters for its self-righteous tone and stilted narrative.
Moore, Susanna. “Danger in the Philippines.” Washington Post Book World 20, no. 14 (8 April 1990): 1, 7.
Moore compliments Dogeaters as an “imaginative” and “sophisticated” novel.
Additional coverage of Hagedorn's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Asian American Literature; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 139; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 69; Contemporary Women Poets; Literature Resource Center; and Reference Guide to...
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