Estado ng matinding kalungkutan

I had been looking, with some shock, at a satellite image comparison of Haiyan and Katrina. And reading various reports as President Benigno (Noynoy) Aquino III declared a state of emergency, or more precisely, a “state of calamity” [estado ng matinding kalungkutan]. 

Aquino, the name of a political and economic dynasty.

Storms, always, still, given the first names of women: “Haiyan” is Tagalog for “Yolanda.” [See Liz’s comment below].

The devastation is almost incomprehensible, certainly immeasurable. The criticisms of NoyNoy’s responses to disasters is legendary (see Noynoying).

And I keep coming back to the same question: at what point does the sense of a “calamity” go beyond the boundaries that no storm has ever been or could be contained by? When does the “state of a calamity” become (to paraphrase Walter Benjamin) a calamity for the states and those within them who continue get rich from inaction, neglect and worse?

Naderev Saño piece in the Guardian today is heartbreaking reading, as is John Vidal’s.

Think of this as your city or town:


Below is a fragment from my “Oikopolitics, and Storms” essay (The Global South, 3:1, Spring 2009, pp. 69-70), written in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the collapse of the subprime housing market in the US.

Storms […] disturb the earth’s surface, the geographies and architectures of what is given. They challenge forgotten and buried histories of appropriation, their infrastructure and their limits. They are the ubiquitous motif of that which is excessive in its violence, indistinct in its desires, and unpredictable in its consequences. They can bring relief in the midst of drought and heatwave, or they can portend disaster. Storms can, also, be unleashed. To invoke a storm is to raise questions about what presents itself, simply and presumably without finite conditions and histories, as a Way of Life; doing so in the dramatic (and oftentimes naturalising) language of meteorology, whether the effect is to underline—and perhaps embrace—the volatility or to insist on the protection of this Way of Life. Let it be noted that ways of life, in the twentieth century like no other, are thought in national terms, as the Australian Way of Life, and so on. And so, if, as Maarten Hajer put it (2005:4), “whether or not environmental problems appear as anomalies to existing institutional arrangements depends first of all on the way they are framed and defined,” it is also the case that these are enframed within the nation-state superintending households. In the discourses of conservation and protection, given both the composition of the problem and their framing, there is the predictable appeal to a normal state to which things might be returned or, at the very least, a call to preservation in the guise of the merely technical or neutral; or, what is much the same thing, as an appeal to civic virtue and the ostensibly empty figure of citizenship. The storm is, to put it briefly, the occurrence of politics, however concealed or expressive. It is the appearance of conflict over and about (as Arendt understood politics) the infra-, being-with-others, the between and beyond of relation (which is also to say, disconnection). […] Though, while the storm seems to expose foundations, brings down powerlines and tears apart buildings, or at least threatens to, as with the notion of a crisis, it is when these are already shaking that one is able to sense a crisis at all. It is not, foremost, a question of visibility— unless the sense here is akin to the visibility of a tip of an ice-berg, the complex peak and irreducible coincidence of movements and histories. Which is to say, Hurricane Katrina disclosed the crisis that is the norm in the United States.

5 thoughts on “Estado ng matinding kalungkutan”

  1. To clarify, Haiyan is not Tagalog for Yolanda. Haiyan is the World Meteorological Organisation Typhoon Committee’s choice of name, and it’s Chinese in origin. It means “petrel”, the Typhoon Committee having largely abandoned the tradition of naming storms for women for birds, flowers, etc. However, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration gives every storm that enters the Philippine area of responsibility a local name, usually a woman’s name, in this case Yolanda.


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