Introduction to JOSE RIZAL


Introduction to Rizal: Toward a Re-Interpretation By E. San Juan, Jr.

This is the introduction to the book: RIZAL IN OUR TIME, published 1997 by Anvil Publishing Inc., Pasig, Rizal, Philippines.

This essay is especially dedicated to all the readers of the Austrian-Philippine Website edited by Johann Stockinger.
(E. San Juan Jr., March 24, 1998)

Rizal is the great “enigma,” so goes the official doxa and conventional wisdom. Because of this indeterminacy, the ruling elite and its state agencies are utilizing everything in their power to make Rizal, his life and writings, help to resolve its legitimacy crisis. For the centennial of his death in 1998, Rizal will again be invoked as the one of the doctrinal foundations of the neocolonial state, his teachings on the importance of civic virtue and spiritual reform rehashed while his critique of injustice and inequality is kept safely in the margins. To echo “the first Filipino,” you get the Rizal you deserve.There have been many proponents and advocates of the enigma syndrome since Rizal’s canonization by the U.S. colonial administration. The most internationally renowned is Miguel de Unamuno, the fierce thinker of Spanish existentialism (in the opinion of Julian Marias), who recorded his reaction to Wenceslao Retana’s Vida y Escritos del Dr. Rizal. Unamuno agreed with Retana’s view of Rizal as the “Oriental Don Quixote,” basically a romantic personality; but for Unamuno, Rizal was only a hero of thought, in substance a Hamlet, “a fearless dreamer,” irresolute and weak for action and for life. This malaise infects the Noli Me Tangere. Unamuno delivers his judgment (1968, 8-9):

Because Rizal himself is the spirit of contradiction, a soul that dreads the revolution, although deep within himself he consummately desires it: he is a man who at the same time both trusts and distrusts his own countrymen and racial brothers; who believes them to be the most capable and yet the least capable – the most capable when he looks at himself as one of their blood; the most incapable when he looks at others. Rizal is a man who constantly pivots between fear and hope, between faith and despair. All these contradictions are merged together in that love, his dreamlike and poetic love for his adored country, the beloved region of the sun, pearl of the Orient, his lost Eden.

In his prologue to a 1908 edition of El Filibusterismo, Retana seems to reaffirm his interpretation of Rizal as the Tagalog Quixote, though now made more multidimensional with the addition of influences like Nietzsche, Leopardi, and Alexander Herzon, the instigator of Russian nihilism. This is suggestive; in general, however, Retana’s patronizing tone and his anatomical determinism (influenced by the notorious Cesar Lombroso) can only be pathetic and risible from our vantage point.

Other commentators have pursued Unamuno’s line of typologizing. Nick Joaquin, the vindicator of the populist wing of the ilustrado tradition, presents his own version of Rizal as the “anti-hero” by marshalling and replaying the ideas of Ante Radaic and Leon Maria Guerrero. Radaic’s psychoanalytic diagnosis of Rizal as a victim of an inferiority complex, if taken as the decisive key to his life, strikes many as mechanical and even trivializing if not a symptom of Radaic’s own obsessions: “Because of an excess of spirit, Rizal saw his body as inadequate, and this, in turn, influenced his complex psychological structure.” For Guerrero (1963), the causal sequence has to do with the social and economic context: Rizal’s schizophrenic temperament derives from his petty bourgeois class background, even though Rizal is credited with inventing the idea of a Filipino nation. For Guerrero, Rizal’s development as a middle-class intellectual explains “the puzzling absence of any real social consciousness in [his] apostolate so many years after Marx’s Manifesto or, for that matter, Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.”

All these speculations on Rizal’s ambivalence culminate in the classic speech of Claro Recto on “Rizal the Realist and Bonifacio the Idealist” (reprinted in Rizal: Contrary Essays, edited by Dolores Feria and Petronilo Daroy). The speech was given at the time when Recto, the most trenchant critic of U.S. neocolonial intervention in the Philippines, was beleaguered by the anti-Communism of the Magsaysay/Garcia Establishment openly supported by the United States Embassy and CIA operatives. Recto’s thesis that Rizal was revolutionary in his poetry and rationalizations “but in the face of reality, based on truth, he was the inverse” and “realism won…when the moment arrived for a final decision” was plausible, given the evidence he adduced. Bonifacio, meanwhile, proved to be a realist in spite of his idealism, but Recto did not really cite any substantial body of facts or testimonies to this effect. The bulk of Recto’s rendering of “parallel lives” centered on Rizal’s ambiguities and paradoxes, the dialogical method of his rhetoric and thinking in his novels. Obviously Recto was setting up a model of antithetical world views or epistemes neither of which can be distilled in complex personalities like Rizal or Bonifacio. Whatever the merits of Recto’s analysis, I would like to record here how I personally was present at that historic occasion at the D & E Restaurant in Quezon City when Recto delivered the speech in 1957, the spark that kindled the nationalist “prairie fire” and “long march” of the sixties climaxing in the First Quarter Storm of 1970.

It is easy to reduce any person’s life to certain character traits or recurrent habits and customary practices, following the orthodox ideological reflex of focusing on the psychology of individuals to explain complex events in which s/he participates. This may have some pedagogical value, but it is entirely misleading, of course, since individuality can only be understood within the milieu of the totality of social relations at any given time and place. What is crucial is the complex interaction of multiple forces of which the individual (who becomes historically significant only when s/he represents a collective or group or sector) is only one element. Manifold structures and a nexus of factors overdetermine every other element in any concrete situation. Provided we take into account the entire trajectory of Rizal’s life, the preponderant influence of certain events (like the 1872 Cavite Mutiny and the execution of Burgos, Gomez and Zamora, the Dominican order’s harassment and eviction of Rizal’s family and others in Calamba in 1887, 1889, 1891, and so on) and figures in his life, it is a useful shorthand device to concentrate on certain tropes and themes in Rizal’s writings to highlight hitherto neglected aspects, especially those regarded as subversive, oppositional, and revolutionary, that have been obscured or downplayed to promote the interests and reproduction of the status quo. This is the primary intent of the essays in this volume. I assume that most readers would consult the most available biographical works to provide the historical and social contexts of Rizal’s writings: for example, Rafael Palma’s The Pride of the Malay Race, Austin Coates’ Rizal, Leon Maria Guerrero’s The First Filipino, and others.

Writing in Harper’s Monthly Magazine of April 1901, the distinguished American realist writer William Dean Howells praised Rizal’s Noli for its artistry and its “sense of unimpeachable veracity.” Although he was active in the Anti-Imperialist Movement at that time (Mark Twain and Williams James were two of the most articulate members), Howells was not fully cognizant of the atrocities being committed by his countrymen in the suppression of the Philippine Republic led by Emilio Aguinaldo. Howell’s editorial remark betokens his generous spirit (1979, 27-28): “The many different types and characters are rendered with unerring delicacy and distinctness and the effect of all those strange conditions is given so fully by the spare means that while you read you are yourself one of them, and feel their hopeless wieght and immeasurable pathos, with something of the sad patience which pervades all…. Even in the extreme of apparent caricature you feel the self-control of the artistic spirit which will not wreak itself either in tears or laughter” (for a perceptive commentary on the dialogic techniques of Rizal’s novels, see Matibag 1995). The last sentence reminds us of Rizal’s well-known “Laughter and Tears,” a masterpiece of ironic satire in which one can apprehend dissonant and rebellious notes amid the burlesque and scandalizing mimicry:

It was a world which granted privileges to some and imposed prohibitions on others without regard to one’s merit or to one’s capacity…. Endowed with strength and eager to learn, one had to drag oneself in a narrow prison cell when one could see an open field, a vast horizon in the distance; when one hears from above the flapping of wings; when one could feel the beatings of a heart; and when one believed oneself entitled to enjoy the beauty of a dream (1979: 32).

In March 1887, Rizal (1979, 142) commented on the Noli (which to Retana combined the wit of Voltaire and the carnivalesque daring of Rabelais): “Where I have found virtue, I said so emphatically in order to render homage to it; and if I have not wept in speaking of our misfortunes, I have laughed at them for no one would like to weep with me at the misfortunes of our country and to laugh is always good in order to hide one’s sorrow.” Rizal writes in his “dedication” of the Noli: “I shall lift a corner of the veil which shrouds the disease, sacrificing to the truth everything, even self-love….” He wrote to Father Federico Faura: “I want to awaken my countrymen from their profound lethargy, and one who wishes to do that does not use soft and gentle sounds, but detonations, blows, etc.” Given the repressive climate of the colony, Rizal’s disingenousness can be considered a product of his strategic genius at dissembling, simulating, awakening, unveiling and unmasking (both Noli and Fili were designed to expose the “cancer” of the body politic on the steps of the temple so that a cure may be offered). Rizal, indeed, was speaking truth to power.

In our “postcolonial” and postmodern milieu, we are familiar with the phenomenon of hybridity, syncretism, marginalization of Others, especially subaltern people of color- the entire range of Orientalisms and perverse subjectivities produced by imperial/colonial domination so acutely examined by Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Paulo Freire, and others. Rizal’s case falls into this sociohistorical zone, a time when (to recall Gramsci’s famous observation) the old order is dying and the new one has not yet fully emerged from the bloody womb, and all kinds of morbid symptoms abound. After the aborted revolution of 1848 and the still undreamed-of Paris Commune of 1872, Karl Marx mused in 1856: “In our days, everything seems pregnant with its contrary.” From this perspective, we can appreciate how Rizal’s ordeal (intensely replicated in his novels) condenses all the symptoms of anxiety, uncertainties, self-doubt, and paranoia shared by all, subalterns and masters alike, generated by the oppressive and alienating circumstances of colonial society (see San Juan 1984).

Rizal’s Memorias, an experiment in self-detachment and performative risk-taking, epitomizes the bewildering, even chaotic, transitional stage found in all “third world” peripheral or dependent formations. One can discern the affliction of melancholia and the arduous labor of mourning that shaped Rizal’s sensibility:

Whenever I thought that I must now leave that peaceful retreat in which the eyes of my intelligence had been opened to a degree, and my heart had begun to learn nobler feelings, I fell into a profound despondency…. I had a cruel foreboding which unfortunately came true…. I was depressed, indifferent, brooding…. Tears paid in token of farewell to the times gone by, to a contentment that would not return, to a tranquillity of spirit that was slipping out of my grasp, leaving me bereft….

I formed the design of keeping silent and, until seeing greater proofs of sympathy between us [Rizal is referring to Segunda Katigbak who "bewitched" him at a certain point in his student life), neither subjecting myself to her yoke nor declaring myself to her....I felt anguish and inquietude conforming with love, if not with jealousy, perhaps because I saw that I was separating from her, perhaps because a million obstacles would rise between us, so that my nascent love was increasing and seemed to be gaining vigor in the struggle.... But in the critical moments of my life always I have acted against my disposition, obedient to different purposes and to ponderous doubts. I spurred my horse and took another road without having chosen it, exclaiming: This is ended thus (quoted in Guerrero 1963, 43).

The last statement encapsulates Rizal's singular predilection for overcoming crisis: an inclination to sacrifice, to deny the seduction of what is forbidden (perhaps the preOedipal mother), to seize the time for pleasure, for the good death - as he wrote to Mariano Ponce in 1890: "One only dies once, and if one does not die well, a good opportunity is lost and will not present itself again."

There are many revealing episodes in Rizal's adventure toward "martyrdom," an ending he anticipated many times (see in particular the two letters he left with his family in Hong Kong dated June 20, 1892), but none more intriguing and heuristic than his exile in Dapitan. A short digression on this before I conclude.

When Rizal was banished to Dapitan for alleged filibusterismo in 1892, he seemed to sense that it was an interlude or moment of calm before the final storm. He assured his family that "wherever I might go I should always be in the hands of God who holds in them the destinies of men." Despite this resigned deistic attitude, Rizal was not to be deterred: he applied himself to diverse tasks and preoccupations, engaging in horticulture, eye surgery, collecting butterflies and other specimens, teaching, civic construction - his signal achievement was the waterworks of Dapitan, a community project of distributing water to the town. It was a testimony to his collectivist orientation, his scientific creativity, his will to change and improve things for a more just and humane order - an authentic revolutionary stance. Rizal also maintained a voluminous correspondence with friends in Manila and in Europe. Amid various scholarly pursuits, he was also occupied in composing a massive dictionary of all the languages and dialects of the Philippines together with their equivalents in Spanish, English, French, and German. While the Spanish authorities were lenient and tolerant, Rizal had no utopian illusions. He confessed in a letter to a friend: "To live is to be among men, and to be among men is to struggle...It is a struggle with them but also with one's self, with their passions, but also with one's own, with errors and anxieties." His versatile preoccupations and worldly concerns awed everyone, but they seemed to hide the more turbulent and agonizing drama within.

The anguish of exile was modulated by the presence of Josephine Bracken, an Irish Catholic from Hong Kong, whom Rizal later married a few hours before he was executed. (Isabel Taylor Escoda [1996] has tried to document what happened to her later on; she died a pauper’s death in Hong Kong and her body was interred by the city’s Sanitary Department in an unknown grave.) Despite such a distraction – he apparently did not lose his mind over her, as he did with Segunda Katigbak, Rizal could not “deny that his being transported to an alien place” was demoralizing. Terrified by the “uncertainty of the future,” he seized the opportunity to volunteer his medical skills to the Spanish military then engaged in suppressing the revolution in Cuba. Amplifying distance and strangeness, he could resign himself to the demands of duty, the necessity of accepting destiny in order “to make progress through suffering.” A certain amount of fatalism, plus the compulsive sense of vocation or fetish of duty, coalesced to shape the peculiar ethos of this Filipino exile at the time of revolutionary ferment.

Contrast this with the exile of another austere and disciplined freedom-fighter of the time, Apolinario Mabini. Mabini chose exile to Guam instead of swearing allegiance to the sovereign power of the enemy, the United States, who wreaked havoc on the country and killed a million Filipinos. The “sublime paralytic” conceived the deportation as a crucible of his insurrectionary determination. His intransigence became proverbial even after he returned and made a sort of peace with the conquerors. So far nobody has researched what he did during those two years of exile. One can only surmise that his shrewd and proud spirit endured the time of banishment because he was busy forging the “conscience of his race” – his memoirs on the Philippine Revolution. He employed his cunning, his intelligence, his power of remembering to bridge the distance between that godforsaken island and the homeland he never abandoned because, as in the labor of mourning, it was introjected and preserved as an object of adoration. One suspects that something like this happened to Rizal except that for him, the family and loyal friends constituted the ground of hope for ultimate redemption.

Exile could not destroy Rizal’s trust in the emancipatory potential of the multitude. In the “Letter to the Young Women of Malolos,” among others, he affirmed his rationalist belief in the inalienability of rights: “God gave each individual reason and a will of his or her own to distinguish the just from the unjust; all were born without shackles and free, and nobody has a right to subjugate the will and spirit of another.” Natural right is coextensive with each individual’s power. In this he approximated Spinoza’s radical view, elaborated in the Treatise on Politics, that human rights cannot be alienated by a social contract, or by the system of representation in any society (see Deleuze 1988). The third novel of Rizal that was rescued by Ambeth Ocampo from oblivion, Makamisa, is particularly significant because in the description of the violence of crowds, the physical massing of bodies in the exodus from Church as well as in the carnivalesque riot following this (including the youthful game of tuktukan), one can discern the constitutive power of the masses, the productive dynamic of their passions, needs, and desires that escape codification by the colonial Leviathan. The power of bodies, the logic of their affects, and their potential for organizing and transforming the immanent field of social forces, may be intimated by a curious report Rizal composed during his Dapitan exile. It is entitled “The Treatment of the Bewitched” (dated 15 November 1895) part of which I quote here (1964, 178):

The witch [mangagaway] is the she-ass of the burden of ignorance and popular malevolence, the scapegoat of divine chastisements, the salvation of the perplexed quacks. Mankind also has divine defects among its divine qualities. It likes to explain everything and wash in another’s blood its own impurities. The woman manggagaway is to the common man and the quack what the resentment of the gods, the demon, the pacts with the devil in the Medieval Age, the plethora of blood, neuroses, and others were to the different ages. She is the diagnosis of inexplicable sufferings.

Could the last phrase not shed light on the function of Sisa in the Noli, on the participation of formidable women in our struggles for national-democratic liberation who were branded and stigmatized – including the famous “la loba negra,” the protagonist in the narrative once ascribed to Father Jose Burgos?

Finally, I want to emphasize this corporeal logic/ethics of mass initiative and agency that I have tried to locate in Rizal’s texts by citing Antonio Luna and Apolinario Mabini on what kind of approach will be most constructive in lieu of the ritualistic and reactionary worship of an idol. It must be remembered that Rizal’s founding of the Liga Filipina was the prime catalyst for the mobilization of the Katipunan led by Andres Bonifacio and other separatists (note that Mabini was present when Rizal initiated the Liga). And Antonio Luna, the brilliant general of Aguinaldo’s army of the first Philippine Republic, was already in contact with Rizal in Europe when Rizal was an active collaborator of Marcelo del Pilar and Graciano Lopez Jaena in La Solidaridad. First Luna in 1884: “Assimilating his ideas, pondering his concepts that readily aroused our enthusiasm, we found an echo, though timid, of his voice within ourselves.” And Mabini in 1899: “While we Filipinos living today do not individually amount to as much as Rizal, yet we can join together to get the force necessary to the realization of the work begun by him.” I second Luna’s multiplication of Rizal’s voice and Mabini’s motion of unifying and mobilizing our forces for national-democratic self-determination.

REFERENCES

Coates, Austin. 1968.
Rizal Philippine Nationalist and Martyr. Hong Kong: Macmillan.
Deleuze, Gilles. 1988.
Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. San Francisco: City Lights Books.
Escoda, Isabel Taylor. 1996.
“In Search of Josephine.” Sunday Inquirer Magazine (25 August): 3-5.
Guerrero, Leon Maria. 1963.
The First Filipino. Manila: National Historical Institute.
Howells, William Dean. 1979.
“Editor’s Easy Chair.” In Rizal. Manila: National Historical Institute. [First published in Harper's Monthly Magazine, April 1901, pp. 802-806.]
Matibag, Eugenio. 1995.
“El Verbo del Filibusterismo”: Narrative Ruses in the Novels of Jose Rizal.” Revista Hispanica Moderna (December): 250-264.
Ocampo, Ambeth. 1992.
Makamisa: The Search for Rizal’s Third Novel. Manila: Anvil Publishing, Inc.
Recto, Claro. 1968.
“Rizal the Realist and Bonifacio the Idealist.” In Rizal: Contrary Essays, edited by D. Feria and P.B. Daroy. Quezon City: Guro Books.
Rizal, Jose. 1964.
“The Treatment of the Bewitched.” In Miscellanous Writings of Dr. Jose
Rizal. Vol 8. Manila: National Heroes Commission.
—–. 1979.
“Laughter and Tears.” In Rizal. Manila: National Historical Institute.
San Juan, E. 1984.
“The Discourse of the Other: A Reading of Rizal’s Novels.” In Toward a People’s Literature. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.
Unamuno, Miguel de. 1968.
“The Tagalog Hamlet.” In Rizal: Contrary Essays, edited by D. Feria and P. B. Daroy. Quezon City: Guro Books. the Bewitched” (dated 15 November 1895) part of which I quote here (1964, 178):

See also:

Remote Sites:

[Rizal-Blumentritt Friendship] [Culture and History]
[Austrian-Philippine Homepage]
Document
created: March 25, 1998
updated: April 6, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger
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About philcsc

E.SAN JUAN, Jr. directs the Philippines Cultural Studies Center, Storrs, CT 06268 USA and works with the Philippines Forum, New York, and the PEN American Center.
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