A HOMAGE TO JOSE RIZAL, REVOLUTIONARY NATIONAL HERO, on the occasion of his birth anniversary
By E. SAN JUAN, JR.
Philippines Studies Center
On the occasion of Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary in 2011, the Paciano Rizal Family Heritage released for sale replicas of an exquisitely handcrafted book devised by Rizal when he was in exile in Dapitan (1892-96). The improvised fortune-telling kit bears the title, “Haec est Sibylla Cumana”/ “This is the Sibyl of Cumae,” a book of oracles (Yuchengo 2015). The figure referred to is the priestess/prophetess presiding over the Apollonian oracle at Cumae, a Greek colony near Naples, in ancient times. She played a pivotal role in Virgil’s Aeneid, helping guide Aeneas in his journey to the underworld to visit his dead father Anchises. Bridging the realms of the living and the dead, the old and the new, she reminds us of her sisters (the most famous being the Sibyl of Delphi) who also offered to help smooth the passage of the traveller from regions of the past to the present and future (on six other sibyls, see Benjamin 2015, 303-08).
Ancient oracles served to appease the gods, revealing what secret messages are hidden behind visible occurrences and natural phenomena. During the medieval age, the Sibylline books (like Virgil’s Eclogues) were thought to prophesy the birth of Christ and the ultimate salvation of humankind. Thus, worldly time acquired import and a direction, everyday life found a specific gravity in the chartered chronicle. So would the time Rizal spent in exile—a dragging duration which he filled with socially rewarding accomplishments—bear significance, charged with still unravelled purport and portentous meanings.
What motivated the deported filibustero to spend his time and energy in inventing this game? Was it simply to while away the boredom of exile? Or does it suggest the artist’s preoccupation with fate, temporality, the hazardous passage from past to future? Rizal did not foresee his forced removal to Dapitan when he left his mother and relatives in Hong Kong in 1892. He formed the Liga Filipina on July 3. On July 6, he was arrested for allegedly transporting subversive material in his sister’s luggage, and summarily deported. During those years of exile, he appealed several times for a change in his situation, but to no avail. Chance, luck, happenstance, accident—was he the plaything of unknown mischievous forces?
Fortune-telling was no stranger to Rizal. In the festivities described in Chapter 24 of Noli Me Tangere, men played cards and chess while the women “curious about knowing the future, preferred to ask questions of the wheel of fortune” (2006, 202). Denouncing their games as if they induced fornication, Padre Salvi wrenched their sinful book and tore it to shreds. As for the matter of chance, Elias may be allowed to speak for the free-thinking spirit when he replied to Ibarra’s query whether he believed in chance—an apt response also to skeptics of the Sibylla Cumana game: “To believe in chance is tantamount to believing in miracles; both beliefs assume that God does not know the future. What is chance or contingency? An event that absolutely no one has foreseen. What is miracle? A contradiction, an upsetting of natural laws. Contradiction and lack of foresight in the Intelligence which controls the world’s machinery signifies two great imperfections” (2006, 300). The Deist Cartesian persona of Rizal is surely ventriloquizing here to dodge censorship.
Whatever the wager of this ludic exercise, Rizal’s parlor-game is delightfully provocative. It offers the player 52 questions and 416 answers (each question has 8 possible answers) all cryptic, ambiguous, vague enough to trigger wild speculation. You roll a wooden top with 8 sides in order to pick your answer from an elaborate table; chance decides which answer you will receive. One answer may be gambled here: “A mother-in-law is not just a mother-in-law; she is also a mother—and you are an enemy of mothers?” A symptomatic query. Overall, the game is user-friendly, advising us not to be afraid of the future. But whether we like it or not, we are thrown into our common lot, guessing, suspicious, left in the lurch.
According to the Rizal clan, this precious heirloom was preserved by generations of safekeepers and descendants, foremost among them Narcisa Rizal Lopez. It survived the disasters of the 1896 revolution, the Filipino-American War, the Japanese occupation, and MacArthur’s horrific “liberation” of Intramuros where millions of Filipinos perished (Yuchengco 2015). Its survival presages the hero’s fortuitous intervention into our humdrum shopping/consuming affairs in this new millennium.
Deciphering Origins in Oak Leaves
Three years before his Dapitan sojourn, Rizal was engaged in some kind of reasoned guessing, specifically in conjuring the future of the islands from the vantage-point of the Madrid-based La Solidaridad. This time it’s not divination via a wooden top or roulette-wheel. Using hi knowledge of the past and intuition of the character of nations, Rizal tried to predict the vicissitudes of the islands in the judicious calculations of “The Philippines A Century Hence.” It would be a search for what’s genuinely autochtonous, motivated by the historian’s quest “to make known the past so that it may be possible to judge better the present and measure the path which has been traversed during three centuries” (cited in Cushner 1971, 224)..
Noli Me Tangere demonstrated the protagonist’s chief malady, Ibarra’s temporary loss of roots after seven years abroad. His family’s victims would reanimate his atrophied memory. To proceed in his journey of rediscovering his homeland, Rizal had to retrace its original condition. On his return to Europe, in 1888-89, he rescued Antonio de Morga’s 1609 chronicle, Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, from the London Museum and had it published in Paris with his annotations.
Armed with testimonies of a flourishing pre-conquest civilization, Rizal dares to foretell the fate of his country a hundred years from the close of the 19th-century. Note that the extrapolation is based on a continuing dialectical movement in which potent unused qualities persist, transmuted but preserved by the forces that seek to destroy them: “Religious shows, rites that caught the eye, songs, lights, images arrayed with gold, worship in a strange language, legends, miracles and sermons, hypnotized the already naturally superstitious spirits of the country but did not succeed in destroying it altogether, in spite of this the whole system afterwards developed and operated with unyielding tenacity” (1984, 366). Given elements of the pristine past transmigrating to the fallen present, Rizal hypothesizes what may occur:
…Will the Philippine Islands be separated from the mother country to live independently, to fall into the hands of other nations, or to ally themselves with neighboring powers?
It is impossible to reply to these questions, for to all of them both yes and no may be answered, according to the time desired to be covered. When there is in nature no fixed condition, how much less must there be in the life of a people. being endowed with mobility and movement! So, it is that in order to deal with those questions, it is necessary to presume an unlimited period of time, and in accordance therewith try to forecast the future (1984, 367).
Geopolitics of Circumvention
Notice Rizal’s accentuation of “mobility and movement,” a sign of global modernity foregrounded in his 1889 article, “On Travel” (1962, 22-28). Other signs highlighted what’s relative, arbitrary, and undecideable where circumstances prevailed over all. In his essays, Rizal historicizes geography, connecting Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations with newly opened China and India via commerce and migration. He attributes all the advances in modern societies to the movement of bodies, ideas, perceptions and impressions. This compression of time-space is hinted by his pen-name, “Laong Laan,” “ever ready,” prepared for any comeuppance, as he confessed to his associate Marcelo del Pilar after dreaming of dead relatives and friends: “Although my body is very strong and I have no illness and no fear, I am preparing myself for death and for any eventuality. ‘Laong Laan’ is my true name” (quoted in Zaide 1984, 172).
Whatever the epochal contingencies involved, Rizal anchors his prediction on a constant factor: the Malayan “delicacy of sentiment,” sensitive “self-love,” readiness to sacrifice everything “for an aspiration or a conceit.” He has “all the meekness and all the tenacity and ferocity of his carabao.” Moreover, “brutalization of the Malayan Filipinos has been demonstrated to be impossible,” nor can they be totally exterminated. He concludes that “the Islands cannot remain in the condition they are without requiring from the sovereign country more liberty. Mutatis mutandis. For new men, a new social order.” Self-determination of Indios looming in the horizon cannot be ignored, given the emergence of novel productive forces bursting the integument of the repressive, decadent social order.
It is only a matter of time. Sooner or later, Rizal asserts, a natural law dictates that the colonies will declare themselves independent. When the country secures its independence “after heroic and stubborn conflicts,” no other power will dare to take up what Spain has been unable to hold, not even the United States whose traditions will not allow it—a seriously misleading oversight. Rizal closes with an eloquent hymn to a vision of a bountiful, free, convivial homeland reminiscent of the naturalizing invocation of the 1882 essay, “Amor Patrio” / “Love of Country” (1962, 15-21).
Very likely the Philippines will defend with inexpressible valor the liberty secured at the price of so much blood and sacrifice. With the new men that will spring from their soil and with the recollection of their past, they will perhaps strive to enter freely upon the wide road of progress, and all will labor together to strengthen their fatherland, both internally and externally, with the same enthusiasm, with which a youth falls again to tilling the land of his ancestors so long wasted and abandoned through the neglect of those who have withheld it from him (194, 391).
A mood of exultant self-confidence pervades the landscape of blood-soaked, scorched fields where zealous tillers appear, poised to strike with plow and harrow. To be sure, Rizal cannot indulge in probabilities. He ventures to chart a destiny vulnerable to random, haphazard incidents. But immediately he assures us, with nonchalance, “It is not well to trust to accident, for there is sometimes an imperceptible and incomprehensbie logic in the workings of history. Fortunately, peoples as well as governments are subject to it.” Soon Rizal will render transparent this dystopic conspiracy of history.
Indeed, Rizal cannot allow the gratuitous and the aleatory from taking over, for he discerns a hidden pattern under surface contingencies. There’s more hidden behind appearances. He interpreted his dreams as enigmatic forecasts of the future. Does this mixture of law and luck, decorum and delirium, capture Rizal’s own strategy in confronting his relations with women, not just with his mother and sisters, whose feelings and sensibility somehow gravitated to his orbit?
Scandalous Missing Object
We may now segue, with “fear and trembling,” into the perilous domain of sexual politics. Benedict Anderson’s meticulous catalogue of European influences on Rizal’s thought in his book Under Three Flags analyzed Rizal’s susceptiblities. Rizal absorbed omnivorously the heterogenous colors, valence and savors of European culture. But was he gay? Or was he secretly an anarchist, a closet nihilist? Anderson sought to anatomize Rizal’s psyche and its bizarre libidinal permutations. It’s an intriguing detective itinerary that unfortunately succumbs to smug Eurocentric vainglory.
However, we need to focus our discourse on “the woman question.” Since our task here is limited to investigating the situation of Sisa as a metaphor for the problem of gender inequality, the fraught issue of Rizal’s sexual identity is entangled with the position of the Others—the outcasts, lunatics, profane flunkeys, perverse guardians of “the sacred,” etc. In this context, it might be profitable to survey the aleatory as well as reiterative performance of his erotic disposition and disclaimers. His go-ahead signal for this inquiry was sounded at the end of his prognostication: “The masks have fallen…” We no longer see through the glass, darkly.
Earlier, in his 1884 speech praising the painters Juna Luna and Felix Hidalgo, Rizal announced: “The patriarchal era in the Philippines is waning…The furrow is ready and the ground is not sterile” (2011, 18-22). Nature has been historicized; the androcentric cosmos needs to yield to the nurturant, generative principle of the cultivators, fisher-folk, artisans, women, indigenes or ethnic minorities—the exploited Indio workers seeds of tomorrow in cities and countryside.
Biographers have eagerly inventoried the fabled targets of Rizal’s affections, with their varying if incalculable pressure on his political and ethical pursuits. Ultimately, the aesthetic/hedonistic level of engagement would be surpassed, shifting the burden of responsibility to the ethical and eventually political field of symbolic violence. We owe this angle of interpretation to the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55) who lived before Rizal was born, his writings unknown to the Filipino exiles in Madrid and Paris. So far we can trace the critical moments of evasion in all encounters with the desired subject/object of cathexis and its fetishistic resonance, including the two eccentric cases: the Japanese companion and the Irish paramour.
Trauma of Counter-Identity
In Either/Or and other texts, Kierkegaard defined the alternative modalities of living with Others endowed with the power of recognition or refusal. They are inscribed in the tortuous passage from the aesthetic to the ethical and then to the religious domains characterized by “the baptism of the will” (1946, 107-08; 129-30). For Rizal, however, the leap into faith is circumvented by his rationalist disposition acquired during his European schooling. Aside from frailocracy’s stranglehold, the path of orthodox piety is blocked by the commitment to the mother/nation, a universal category, in which immanent martyrdom aborts mystifying transcendence. The ideal of honor, self-esteem (pundonor or amor propio), grounded in his appreciation of native practices, also thwarts subservience to dogmatic absolutism. The Kierkegaardian concept of repetition, the recollection of past experiences superimposed on a future trajectory of conduct, has distinguished Rizal’s handling of his affairs with women. Nostalgic retrospection marks all his letters from Europe, syncopated with dreams of retrieving the years of childhood innocence and customary family/clan solidarity.
But Rizal was not a naive idealist habitually looking backwards. He was always forward-looking, given to utopian speculations (for his Dapitan experiments, see Craig 1913; Zaide 1984; for the Borneo scheme, see Rizal 2011, 321-28). One way of implementing this existentialist orientation is to foreground Rizal’s development as a versatile artist-thinker, his gradual maturation by force of circumstance from a quasi-romantic reformist public intellectual to a radical-democratic revolutionist, as Fr. John Schumacher has suggested (1987). After completing the Noli, Rizal was already a revolutionist, confident that “the peaceful struggle shall always be a dream, for Spain will never learn the lesson of her former South American colonies” (letter to Blumentritt dated 26 January 1887, cited in Cushner 1971, 225). The discordant vortices of natural
endowment and historical opportunities converge in this metamorphosis of Rizal’s world-outlook.
The inaugural moment of the psyche’s reflexivity, as we have
discussed earlier, is the aborted affair with Segunda Katigbak, circa 1878-79. Rizal was 16 years old when he met her in Trozo where his maternal grandmother resided at that time. He found the “sylph” alluring, Her engagement to a townmate in Lipa, Batangas, may have deterred Rizal from proposing. But he blamed his shyness when he failed to detain her carriage as it passed by for the imagined tryst he had carefully prepared in his mind. In his Memoirs, she is represented as a swift ”floating shadow.”
At the time when Rizal’s mother was losing her eyesight and could not recognize her son, the son remembers his first love’s expressive eyes, ”ardent at times, and drooping at other times, a smile so bewitching and provocative,” while her entire self “diffused a mysterious charm” (1984, 308). Rizal was paralyzed, saying nothing. And so, later on, he drew this painful lesson of disenchantment that would haunt him for a long time:
[Segunda Katigbak] bowed to me smiling and waving her handkerchief, I just lifted up my hand and said nothing. Alas! Such has always happened to me in the most painful moments of my life. My tongue, profuse talker, becomes dumb when my heart is bursting with feelings… In the critical moments of my life, I have always acted against my will, obeying different purposes and mighty doubts. I goaded my horse and took another road without having chosen it, exclaiming: This is ended thus. Ah, how much truth, how much meaning, these words then had! My youthful and trusting love ended! The first hours of my first love ended. My virgin heart will forever weep the risky step it took in the abyss covered with flowers. My illusion will return, indeed, but indifferent, incomprehensible, preparing me for the first deception on the road of grief” (1984, 317).
The montage of illusions would unfold quickly. After this traumatic wound whose scars would rankle for a long time, Rizal slowly recovered via the phantoms of Miss L. of Calamba with “seductive and attractive eyes,” and of Leonor Valenzuela of Pagsanjan, Laguna. A recharging station on the way to his sacrifice for the motherland was Leonor Rivera of Camiling, Tarlac, who attracted him as a tender “budding flower with kindly, wistful eyes.”Again, the beloved’s enthralling eyes, surveillance without relief. Leonor’s mother objected, so Rizal’s parents advised him not to visit her in Dagupan when he returned from Europe. It was the ultimatum to abjure the local femme fatale and circumvent residual elective affinities with previous acquaintances.
Occlusions and Disclosures
Goodbye, Leonor, and welcome our other sisters who beckoned, mournful sirens languishing in moribund Europe. In 1890, while attending a play in Teatro Apollo, Madrid, Rizal lost his gold watch chain with a locket containing the picture of Leonor, a weird omen. Remember Maria Clara’s locket given to the leper, then owned by Juli, and finally claimedby Simoun? Subsequently, Rizal received Leonor’s letter announcing her forthcoming marriage to an Englishman (the British engineer Edward Kipping), her mother’s choice.
In contrast, Maria Clara (modeled after Leonor) lost her mother early, so it was another father (Padre Damaso) who dictated her choice, her quarantine in the convent “safeguarded” by the cagey Padre Salvi. Leonor asked for forgiveness, but Rizal broke down, agonizing for weeks, comparing himself to an immense volcano exploding and “putting an end to everything living and breathing.” His Austrian correspondent Ferdinand Blumentritt tried to console him with folkloric, homegrown platitudes:
…but you are one of the heroes who conquer pain from a wound inflicted by women, because they follow higher ends. You have a courageous heart, and you are in love with a nobler woman, the Motherland. Filipinas is like one of those enchanted princesses in the German legends, who is a captive of a horrid dragon, until she is freed by a valiant knight….I am grieved with all my heart that you have lost the girl to whom you were engaged, but if she was able to renounce a Rizal, she did not possess the nobility of your spirit. She is like a child who cast away a diamond to seize a pebble….In other words, she is not the woman for Rizal (quoted in Zaide 1984, 180).
Is it possible that Blumentritt had in mind Rizal’s 1882 essay “Amor Patrio”?
Rizal affirmed this love of “patria” (motherland) “just as the child loves its mother in the midst of hunger and misery.” We follow the procession of the children in his fiction: Basilio, Crispin, Elias, Juli, Tano, Placido Penitente, Isagani, and other nameless orphans.
Before Leonor’s confession of infidelity in 1890, Rizal seemed to have been bewitched by Consuelo Ortiga y Perez. It was shortlived; he had to give way to his rival, Eduardo de Lete. It was only in Japan on his second trip to Europe in 1888 when he met 23-year-old O-Sei-San, a samurai’s daughter, that he may have experienced carnal bliss. With a geisha’s simulacra? It is impossibe to test the veracity of his record of intimacy in this quite exceptional liaison.
Rizal’s testimony can be taken as sincere, unless he is pretending to be the victim of Orientalist fantasies: “O Sei-San, Sayonara, Sayonara! I have spent a happy golden month; I do not know if I can have another one like that in all my life…No woman like you has ever loved me. No woman like you has ever sacrificed for me. Like the flower of he chodji that falls from the stem fresh and whole without falling leaves or without withering—with poetry still despite its fall—thus you fell. Neither have you lost your purity nor have the delicate petals of your innocence faded…Your name lives in the sight of my lips, your image accompanies and animates all my thoughts. When shall I return to pass another divine afternoon like that in the temple of Meguro?” (quoted in Zaide 1984, 132).
Rizal’s apostrophe extolled his Japanese companion as the “last descendant of a noble family, faithful to an unfortunate vengeance….” What the last two words signify remains a puzzle. Is it simply an extravagant cliche to compensate for an unresolved aporia of doubts, virile pride and intractable premonitions? Or is it a vow to fulfill a long-forgotten promise?
We follow Rizal in his peregrination. Next in line was Gertrude Beckett with brown hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks, the oldest of three sisters in his boarding house at Primrose Hill, London, near Frederick Engels’ residence. But though the flirtation became hot and heavy, as it were, Rizal quickly realized that he could not marry Gettie. It was at this time (22 February 1889) when Rizal composed in Tagalog his provocative “Letter to the Young Women of Malolos.”
We may pass over the episode with Petite Suzanne Jacoby who pursued him with her letters in French when he fled to Madrid in July 1890. Rizal confided to his sister Soledad: “In my love affairs, I have always acted with nobility, because I myself would have felt humiliated had I behaved otherwise. I have despised and considered unworthy every young man I have seen hiding himself, prowling in the dark…” Earlier he expressed the reason for his temporizing and diffidence: “I cannot deceive her; I can’t marry her, because I have other affections to remember in our country…. (Palma 1949, 130, 133). What are these other affections?
Neither ascetic nor hedonist, Rizal did not isolate himself, vowing chastity and performing rituals of self-purification. The next challenge was posed by Nellie Boustead. In romantic Biarritz, Rizal courted Nellie who supposedly reciprocated. But Nellie’s mother registered objections, and Nellie herself required Rizal to become a Protestant, which he shrugged off. His friends Tomas Areola and Antonio Luna encouraged Rizal to choose the matrimonial path, to no avail. it was only when Josephine Bracken came to Dapitan, accompanying the blind Englishman George Taufer, that Rizal recovered, with due qualifications, the unrepeatable experience he recorded with his Japanese muse. That was also the year, 1893, when Rizal received the news of Leonor Rivera’s death.
The historian Ambeth Ocampo psychoanalyzed the recurrence of snakes as phalllic symbols in Rizal’s dreams. A trivializing suspicion. He speculated that Rizal may have been a closet gay: “It dawned on me that the fact that Rizal had many women [“had” is arguably a masculinist hyperbole] was probably an indication that he was incapable or perhaps had difficulty in maintaining a stable relationship with one woman” (2011, 67-68)—except with patria, which, for Ocampo, was too lofty, too inhuman. No one has claimed that Rizal “possessed” any of his female acquaintances except perhaps O-Sei-San and Bracken.
Finally, Ocampo contends that given the unresolved Oedipus complex, Rizal could have been a homosexual. But his yearning for his Nanay, Rizal’s idolizing his mother, was “very Filipino,” Ocampo concludes, so that could not serve as a proof of homosexuality. But why deflect the inquiry to this topic, obscuring the gendered division of social labor (including reproductive/sexual behavior) that undergirds the androcentric system?
Encountering the Irish Sibyl
The coming of Josephine Bracken, a “wandering swallow” for Rizal, disrupts this maneuver to dismiss “the woman question” as superfluous if not irrelevant. To return to Anderson’s aside on Rizal’s sexuality, the scholar’s tactic is to demonstrate that the milieu rendered in the novels witnessed gay and lesbian practices thriving without any overt stigmatization, as in Chapter 21, “Manila Characters,” and Chapter 22, “The Performance.” It’s all very entertaining if not distracting. So what?
In truth, Anderson does not have anything worthwhile to say about Sisa, Juli, Salome, Dona Consolacion, nor about Segunda Katigbak, O-Sei-San, Leonor Rivera, etc. His references to Bracken are a summary of inferences made by Coates, Guerrero, and Ocampo regarding her spurious progenitors. Since she was not of authentic Irish provenance—her mother was alleged to be a Chinese laundress, the father unknown, and therefore Bracken could not be evidence of Rizal’s heteronormal disposition. Anderson devotes three pages to Rizal’s Dapitan exile but ignores any role Bracken may have played in the martyr’s struggle to endure his punishment.
Only Dolores Feria, among a plethora of feminist scholars, succeeded in defining the role of the 19-year-old Bracken as the “missing menber. ” While sutured to the Rizal narrative by fortuitous circumstance, she could not eclipse the formidable Teodora Alonzo. The stern mother and her daughters objected to Bracken’s rejoining Rizal in Dapitan after Tauffer’s ailment was somehow relieved. The Catholic priest Father Obach who refused to marry them was scandalized when the two held hands together and married themselves.
Rizal’s mother resigned herself to this unorthodox arrangement—the authorities tolerated the hybrid Bracken as a legitimate phenomenon within the querida system. Alonzo opined that it was better to “live in concubinage in the grace of God than to be married in disgrace” (Palma 1949, 254). Due to an accident, Bracken prematurely delivered an eight-month old baby boy whom they christened “Francisco” (in honor of the hero’s father) before burial (Zaide 1948, 240; Craig 1913, 123-25). Rizal thus vanquished both the ancestral totem taboo, the archaic fetish of the virgin bride, and the myth of his indeterminate sexuality.
So many nearly Faustian accomplishments transpired in Dapitan. We can only cite here one fulfilling act: Rizal proved the value of his medical studies when he successfully operated on his mother’s eyes. His education was not wasted; he was already earning a doctor’s income in Hong Kong before his fateful return to Manila. A few days before he left for Spain as a medical volunteer for the beleaguered Spanish army in Cuba, the plebeian Andres Bonifacio fired the first volleys of revolution on August 26, 1896. Rizal was impicated and brought back to Manila, imprisoned in Fort Santiago, and condemned to death by a military court which had already agreed on its verdict before the trial.
Before his execution, Rizal bequeathed his copy of Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ to Bracken, with the dedication “To my dear and unhappy wife.” She was also memoralized in Rizal’s “Ultimo Adios” in the penultimate line: “Farewell, sweet stranger, my friend, who brightened my way.” This “dulce extranghera” later marched and fought with the Katipunan detachment together with Rizal’s brother Paciano, fighting Spanish soldiers in Cavite, Laguna, and the surrounding hinterland before she was finally persuaded by her fellow partisans to return to Hong Kong and assist the revolution from that relatively secure vantage point.
As cited earlier, Feria paid homage to Bracken’s participation in the armed struggle against imperial Spain. Bracken’s role as Insurrecta offers the direct antithesis to the iconic Colegiala, the model for the Maria Clara character-type. Feria compares her with Salome, the polar opposite of the convent-bred woman, recalling for us the legendary figure of the earth-goddess Maria Makiling, naturally generous, an emancipated spirit. Her power to give joy to Elias, her beloved, may be deemed “an act of grace, with its own moral justification.” Feria elaborates further:
The orphan Salome…anticipates the twentieth-century woman’s frankness and sexual freedom and the pre-Spanish Filipina’s ignorance of original sin…Josephine, like Salome, was an outsider…[She] has been successively portrayed as Magdalene, Mata Hari, Kitty O’Shea, Sadie Thompson, and Joan of Arc; but her own preferred image of herself was as Insurrecta. In fact our last really detailed glimpse of her, provided by the memoirs of General Ricarte, shows Josephine fleeing from barrio to barrio after the Spanish capture of San Francisco de Malabon, hungry, and the soles of her feet bleeding, but refusing to lag, as the long retreat moves across the Maragondon mountains to Laguna…Josephine signifies more in the experience of Rizal than simply an imprudent infatuation or the eroticism of pity…For Rizal, Josephine Bracken was a breath of fresh air; and in her he found an expression of freedom from class restraints, conventionality, and a practical impertinence which his own original environment, the conservatism of his family and friends had so long denied him. Indeed, Josephine was Rizal (1968, 110-20).
This substantial homage to Josephine Bracken as an integral part of the Rizal saga may neutralize all suspicions regarding the hero’s performative sexuality. He could live with strangeness, even the phantasm of Bracken’s enigmatic past, because he knew her before in the volatile conduct and catalyzing disguises of Segunda Katigbak, Leonor Rivera, Consuelo Ortigas, and the foreigners O-Sei-San, Petite Jacoby, and Nellie Boustead, not excluding the veiled countenance of the “hospitality” lady of Vienna.
Articulating the Excess/Exclusion
At this juncture, I would call attention to the previously excluded chapter on “Salome and Elias,” now restored by Soledad Lacson-Locsin in her expert translation of the novel. This episode rounds out Elias’ character as more than a capable, intelligent peasant victimized by adverse circumstances. In contrast to the naive Ibarra (in the Noli), Elias personifies the cunning “labor of the negative” by claiming that he loves his native land because he owes her so much pain and misery” (Agoncillo 1969, 39). He is adored by a mature, sensitive woman who respects him and allows him the final decision to leave her for her own sake so that she won’t be persecuted as his accomplice. We hear Rizal’s parting words to his intimate acquaintances in Europe: “Take advantage of your youth and beauty to look for a good husband whom you deserve. No, no, you still do not know what it is to live alone, alone in the midst of humanity” (Noli 2004, 216).
In effect, Rizal knew himself thoroughly as a marked protagonist, soon to be a dangerous dissident. This dates back from the time he penned Amor Patrio, “A La Juventud Filipina,” his annotations to Morga, the incendiary diatribes and polemics in La Solidaridad, and certainly the two explosive novels that no doubt contributed to inciting his countrymen to organize the Katipunan and launch the national uprising of 1896, morphing into the stubborn resistance to U.S. imperial aggression and its ferocious genocidal onslaught.
As for the controversy over Rizal’s alleged retraction and marriage to Bracken, which Zaide dismissed as immaterial to the hero’s achievement (1984, 255-56; for a different view, see Pascual 1962), I refer students to ponder on the various perspectives explored in the scripts of two screenplays by Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr. and Mike de Leon, Rizal/Bayaning 3rd World (2000). A rigorous study of Rizal’s writings in the context of the historical specificities of their appearance, as well as their impact, would be the most judicious way of appraising the worth and pertinacity of the controversy (San Juan 2000).
Constellation of Motives
Initially conceived as an extended metacommentary on Rizal’s message to the women of Malolos, this essay has exceeded its intended goal. But one thing leads to another, as they say. Not only because one cannot really grasp the totality of Rizal’s impact on the popular consciousness, including ilustrado and plebeian interlocutors. But with “the woman question,” every element in the fabric of his discourses and their purport counts as an integral factor/force in determining their reality-effects, their consequence in action. Past melancholia and future hopes converge in his reflections on the harsh present.
Rizal pursued a mode of inquiry similar to that of Rosa Luxemburg who applied Marx’s logic of crises and ruptures. Frigga Haug describes how Luxemburg’s method of appealing to the masses rejects empathy with the wretched situation of the oppressed: “Instead of empathy, she seeks the germs of the future in the defects of the present. This approach is disconcerting because it is alien, familiar only in the form of hope. But by presenting hope as sadness about being torn free and dispossessed, her criticism becomes truly radical…Her route goes out into the world, not back into the home….This politicization of experience, the political articulation of everyday experience, the transformation of the wish to endure into the will to change—these things are indispensable for women’s politics” (1992, 230-43). From the wish simply to survive to “the will to change”–that formulation captures quite aptly the Desire called “Rizal” parlayed into this current project.
In this perspective, Rizal was not simply a moralist endeavoring to educate the minds and dispositions of his compatriots. Nor was he simply deploying a conscienticizing agency whose efficacy transcends the aesthetic reach of his novels. He was instilling hope by politicizing everyday experience, transmuting the instinct of self-preservation into “the will to change”—precisely his message to the women of Malolos, a dynamic conatus (to use Spinoza’s concept) embodied in the barbed insinuations and innuendoes of the Noli and Fili.
Benedict Anderson begs to differ. He faults Rizal for being a short-sighted moralist. In contrast, Austin Coates contends that Rizal’s novels are essentially political, not literary, artifices (Ocampo 2011, 97). While elucidating the sociopolitical context of Europe in which Rizal’s ideas germinated, Anderson finds Rizal limited in depicting the brutal exploitation of natives and their social misery: “There is nothing in Rizal’s
voluminous writings like Luna’s horrified description of the Parisian iron foundry, the painter’s naively expressed, but telling remark that the Filipinos were fortunate compared with the industrial workers of Paris seems utterly outside the novelist’s frame of reference” (2005, 108).
The remark is incredibly wrong-headed and rebarbative. It pointedly ignores the quite discrepant economic and social reality of feudal/agrarian Philippines. The colony’s chief production consisted of export-crops abaca, sugar, indigo, hides, etc. Its sole industry of textile weaving in Iloilo was quickly destroyed by the importation of cheap cotton from England (Arcilla 1991, 134-46). Labor organizing in the cities in the form of gremios and embryonic cooperatives for mutual aid in the countryside only started in the first decades of U.S. colonial rule.
The colonial reality of 19th-century Philippines, its historical specificity, eludes Anderson’s optic. As already suggested, Rizal matured quickly in the aftermath of his mother’s imprisonment and the 1872 Cavite Mutiny together with the execution of Fathers Burgos, Gomez and Zamora. His disillusionment with his compatriot’s reformist program intensified in 1890 with the eviction of his parents from their Calamba farm and the persecution of relatives (see the articles, “On the Calamba Incident” and “Justice in the Philippines”; 2011, 296-99; 317-20).
But even before that, Rizal already expressed complete disenchantement on many occasions, as evinced in the 1884 article, “Reflections of a Fiipino,” and in a letter from Madrid, dated November 1884: “Studying at Madrid disillusions me. [Filipinos are] dishonored, entrapped, debased, opposed and tyrannized. I was also there [in the mass demonstrations of students and faculty]. I had to disguise myself three times…”(Zaide 1984, 76).
Circumscribing a Paradigm-Shift
Mimesis, following Aristotle, seeks to render the configuration of experience in a plotted sequence of events. But the modern naturalistic representation of incidents could not by itself register the nuances of feelings and sentiments of the Indios undergoing the symbolic and actual violence of the colonial system. To do that, Rizal had to politicize their experiences in both domestic/familial sphere and public space. Thus we observe the heteroglossic rendering of social gatherings and the focus on concrete locations: busy homes of notable personages, the plaza, church, market, theater, cockpit, urban/village festival sites, prison, transport vehicles, farms, schools, leisurely retreats, graveyards, offices of bureaucrats and officials, streets and remote trails, domestic interiors, and the liminal zones between rural and urban settings. The massive repertoire of events and the spectrum of particulars marshaled are meant to produce a plausible, veridical reality-effect.
Without doubt, the milieu transcribed by the artist is labyrinthine, multilayered, enticing and bewildering at the same time. One example is the arrangement of sensorily vivid crowd scenes in Makamisa, including the ribald, mock-heroic tuktukan game, which testifies to the writer’s virtuoso gift. Rizal’s dialogic imagination encompassed a wider range of themes, motifs, dramatis personae and their ramifications than those found in Eduard Dekker, Galdos, de Larra, Baudelaire, or Malatesta’s pseudo-sophisticated ruminations (for further evidence, see the compendium of Rizal’s Tagalog texts in Ocampo 2002)..
Granted, Rizal may have been influenced by European intellectuals such as Bakunin, Proudhon, Dostoevsky, and others during his two sojourns in Europe. Anderson, in fact, credits those myriad influences as the real sources of Rizal’s creativity, the templates for his plot and characters. He cites, for example, Rizal’s casual conversation with two Russian women nihilists in Paris in the lodging of Trinidad Pardo de Tavera.
Ferreting similitudes between European events and personalities, and the gothic/baroque furniture of the Fili, Anderson pronounces on the derivative quality of the novel: “The prolepsis is mostly engineered by a massive, ingenious transfer of real events, experiences, and sentiments from Spain to the Philippines, which then appear as shadows of an imminent future….El Filibusterismo was written from the wings of a global proscenium on which Bismarck and Vera Zasulich, Yankee manipulation and Cuban insurrections, Meiji Japan and the British Museum, Huysmans and the Commune, Catalonia and the Carolines, Nihilists and anarchists, all had their places. Cochers and ‘homeopathists’ too” (2005, 120).
Indeed, we are served a mindboggling potpourri of leavening substances to yield a buffet of exotic dishes for further meditation! At one “Soiree at the Home of Mr. B.” in Berlin (circa 1886), Rizal reflected how one “young barbarian from the Philippine Islands” exchanged pleasantries with the blonde, blue-eyed “granddaughters of ancient barbarians…who astonished the patricians of Rome,” an encounter proving how the world “turns round and round” (1962, 216).
Anderson’s comparativist mind-set can be praised for encyclopedic erudition. But he seems too self-satisfied with his cosmopolitan bravura. He disingenuously insists on a mistaken assumption, spiced with a racist innuendo. Surely Rizal is not vying to be an epigone of Huysmans, Bakunin, Malatesta, Nietzsche, Herzen, etc. In his 1908 prologue to an edition of the Fili, Wenceslao Retana performed a similar autopsy of European influences and putative mimicry. But, unlike Anderson, Retana (despite his imperial hauteur) buttressed his assessment with allusions to the concrete experiences of the wretched subalterns. He also accentuated the singular predicament of the native intelligentsia seeking reforms.
Moreover, Retana underscored the specificity of locations and the constellation of incidents shaping Rizal’s sensibility: “During his very first years he hardly witnessed anything around him except human misery pictured on a landscape replete with melancholy and mysterious poetry; and stimulated by an exquisite nervous sensibility, the child Rizal, on the shores of the great lake which gives its name to the province (la Laguna) asked whether there was beyond, any social state better than the one he saw in his hometown, in the urban part of which he knew the dominant despotism of the friar-landholder; and the suburban part of which the bandits govern” (1979, 33-34).
The “bandits” noted here would epitomize the numerous Indio victims with their load of grievances against colonial authorities (both civil and religious) in that period. Filibusteros included women protesting their brutalization by their husbands or confessors, beggars who became outlaws (tulisan), and heretics labeled infidels or savages by the theocratic regime.
In the lifetime of Rizal’s parents, filibusterismo was already rampant. Examples are the1815 Sarrat rebellion, the 1823 Novales revolt, the 1832-41 uprising of the Cofradia followers of Apolinario de la Cruz, the 1872 Cavite Mutiny, to cite only the most dangerous or threatening to the status quo (Constantino 1975, 132-44). In his “Data for My Defense” written in Fort Santiago, Rizal enumerated some of those separatist movements (2011, 342). A sampling of native grievances can be gleaned from the satirical articles such as “A Freethinker,” “A Pompous Gobernadorcillo,” “The Vision of Fray Rodriguez,” “By Telephone,” “The Lord Gazes at the Philippine Islands,” “The Religiosity of the Filipino People,” aside from the more widely influential diatribes such as “The Indolence of the Filipinos,” “The Philippines a Century Hence,” and other relevant documents in Tagalog (see Ocampo 2002).
One can argue that Retana’s journalistic sensorium was better adjusted to apprehend the historically specific conflicts and crises that informed Rizal’s worldview. Retana recorded the ethos of the rural countryside, the predatory feudal monstrosities, and one native response to the regime’s barbarism that Rizal may have condensed in the following paragraph: “When a people is gagged; when its dignity, honor, and all its liberties are trampled; when it no longer has any legal recourse against the tyranny of its oppressors; when its complaints, petitions, and groans are not attended to; when it is not permitted even to weep; when even the last hope is wrested from its heart, then….it has left no other remedy but to take down with delirious hand from the infernal altars the bloody and suicidal dagger of revolution! Caesar, we who are about to die salute thee!” (2011, 129; see also Retana 1979, 146-47). Echoes of Padre Florentino’s farewell prayer to the dead Simoun?
The concept of the Kantian sublime predominant in Rizal’s melodramatic staging animates the conclusion of the essay “The Sense of the Beautiful” in which the ancestors shed their tears on the child’s cradle “so that the sacred plant of liberty and progress may bloom” (1962, 32). Friedrich Schiller, author of the play William Tell which Rizal translated into Tagalog, once declared that one encounters and actualizes freedom/autonomy through the creation of beauty as “living form” via the calibrated, nuanced play of instinct and reason(1952, 407-08). Rizal was thoroughly acquainted with this solution to the quandary of the artist grappling with the recalcitrant, refractory materials of quotidian existence.
Aesthetics mediates the ethico-political burden of Rizal’ s narrative craft. It is Intriguing how the image and voice of the Roman slave-gladiators acknowledging the glory of the Emperor (quoted earlier) recall Juan Luna’s masterpiece, El Spoliarium. The painting depicted in sombre tone the gory gladiators’ corpses, their sacrificial tribute, dragged from the arena of combat in the Roman amphitheater. Rizal celebrated Luna’s evocation of the carnage as a sign of resurrection—a prelude to the planned fireworks of Simoun/Ibarra, this double agent of a repressed community, passionately envisaging the apocalyptic triumph of his cohort of avengers.
In Luna’s painting, according to Rizal, “can be heard the tumult of the multitude, the shouting of the slaves, the metalllic creaking of the armor of the corpses, the sobs of the bereaved, the murmurs of prayer, with such vigor and realism as one hears the din of thunder in the midst of the crash of the cataracts or the impressive and dreadful tremor of the earthquake” (2011, 19).
Rizal’s celebration of Luna’s art is instructive. Notice the naturalization of a historical occurrence, as if the phenomenon has been providentially decreed, at the same time that nature functions as figural presentiment of what is bound to happen. It is Rizal’s diacritical gesture of temporalizing space and spatializing duration, collapsing the past into the present and future to generate the stage for the fulfillment of Sisa’s “vengeance.” It also posits the hypothesis that what appears as fate or destiny is nothing but a sociopolitical construction, a social practice or a wholly human contrivance open to alteration, reversal, change. The social order is mutable, contingent, subject to unpredictable transformations. The future is open for our choices and actions.
We then enter the realm of possibilities, of necessity converted to freedom, and the principle of self-determination as a guide to collective action, with the collaborative subalterns acting as rational-natural subjects and impassioned, mobilized communities. We behold the awakened nation-people forging at last their common destiny in mass insurgency.
The issue concerns the subtlety, depth, and sharpness of artistic rendition of the lives of the major protagonists and their doubles. Certainly, one can construe Simoun’s unconscionable scheme of killing government officials and innocent associates as one inspired by the European anarchist propaganda of the exemplary deed. Further, his scheme of rescuing Maria Clara from the nunnery replicates certain motifs and themes in canonical European texts.
But the inventory of the horrendous torment and anguish endured by Elias’ family, the suffering of Sisa and her children, and the intolerable ordeals that afflicted Cabesang Tales, Tandang Selo, and Juli (reminiscent of Rizal’s family evicted from Calamba), as well as Capitan Pablo and his band of rebels (see the Noli, Chapter 46, “The Fugitives”), would be more than enough carnage to surpass the hardships of the Parisian workers singled out by Anderson.
Actually, the issue is more embroiled and vexing. In my view, it is not a question of comparing the veracity or scale of one kind of misery against another. Rather, it is a question of selecting which scenes of conflict and struggle can synthesize the distinctive gravity and resonance of an entire people’s experience of centuries of colonial domination and the durable intensity of their resistance to it. Can art simply be reduced to a narcotic coaxing the audience to submission, or apathy? Can postmodern cynical reason be recruited to make us indifferent to this classic dilemma? Can the deconstructionists be summoned to arbitrate the merits of the case between a voluntarist artist serving the cause of the oppressed masses and a determinist critic enforcing reactionary norms and regulations for the sake of upholding high standards and refined tastes? We can imagine various scenarios and hypothesize multiple endgames and warring consequences by way of dialectical sublation or Kierkegaardian repetition.
Anatomy of the Terrorizing Sublime
Notice has been made earlier regarding Rizal’s predilection for melodrama tempered with Rabelaisian farce. Whatever sophistic qualifications may be offered, I submit that aside from the poignant rendition of Sisa’s agony and the Tales’ family’s seemingly endless punishment (analogous to Elias’ family’s tribulations), Rizal’s artistic shrewdness may be discerned in such episodes as the slow torture of Tarsilo Alasigan in Chapter 58 of the Noli and the hideous plight of the prisoners in Chapter 38 of the Fili, among others.
At such moments in the Fili, the montage of horror is framed and distanced by an explicit cut in the narration. This can be quickly ascertained in a few instances. Take the episode where, after the report of the assassinated landgrabbers (Chapter 10), the narrator abruptly shifts to addressing his readers by dissolving the illusion: “Do not be alarmed, peaceful citizens of Calamba…” For another instance, consider the freezing of the camera-eye in Chapter 23 when Maria Clara is reported dead, stupefying Simoun, at which point the narrator interrupts to perform a pacifying invocation: “Sleep in peace, unhappy child of my unfortunate motherland….” These are just samples of the obvious defamiliarizing semiotic device of the narrative designed to reconcile on the imaginary plane painfully lived contradictions energizing the plots and characters of Rizal’s fiction (Balibar and Macherey 1996).
By themselves, spectacles of misery and human degradation do not by themselves trigger anger leading to sustained mass agitation and insurrection. In fact, as the historical precedents show, they often lead to the emergence of a populist demagogue whose authoritarian violence serves as catharsis for moral panic and mass hysteria. Were the proletarian viewers of Luna’s El Spoliarium, or the readers of Zola’s portrayals of brutalized workers, stirred up enough to demand immediate action? Can literary artifice serve as an effective tool to improve the victims’ wretched condition? Other contingencies and variables involving audience reception, their race/gender/class-defined dispositions, and attendant institutional constraints have to be taken into account. Needless to say, political propaganda like commercial advertisements can employ artistic means; but their effects are dependent on imponderable contingencies, so that intentions and motives are not always realized.
Nonetheless, one can venture the proposition that the aesthetic level of response cannot really be measured and judged apart from their ethico-political ramifications. We can pose the following questions: what conceivable sequence of conduct can be inferred logically arising from such scenes as the encounter between the sanctimonious Dona Victorina and the feral Dona Consolacion in Chapter 48 of the Noli? Or what effect is intended to be produced by the last chapter of the Fili?
I have in mind specifically Padre Florentino’s impassioned appeal for the youth “who would generously shed their blood to wash away so much shame, so much crime, so much abomination” even while he condemns Simoun’s call for sacrifice, for blood, to guarantee their “rights to social life.” The priest’s appeal does not exactly block a sanguinary path to extremist purification.
One is disquieted, if not disconcerted, by the ambiguous resolution of the Fili. A sequel did not materialize with the author’s demise. The final chapter is charged with the purpose of satisfying readers’ expectations, but the scene is invested with contradictory ideological implications, just like the Noli’s closure. When an official representative of the government visits the convent of Santa Clara (where Maria Clara was confined) to speak to the abbess and meet all the nuns, we are suddenly confronted with this shocking spectacle, a cryptic intervention from the author’s buried past: “It is said that one of the these appeared with her habit soaking wet and torn to shreds; weeping, she asked for the man’s protection against the violence of hypocrisy, and revealed other horrors. It is said that she was very beautiful, that she had the loveliest and most expressive eyes that were ever seen (2004, 565)
Again, we confront those “expressive eyes” gesturing to the missing object! We have encountered this scopic insignia before, first underscored in the “Memoirs of a Student in Manila by P. Jacinto,” where the transgressive coupling of love and death, of desire and its perversions, configured the first twenty years of Rizal’s life (for the interplay of eros and thanatos, see San Juan 2011, 37-50). The surveillance of a patriarchal nomos continues in the world of make-believe. And this is where Rizal’s reflections on women’s surbordination, the sexual division of labor, and gender inequity, becomes fraught with radical, ultimately subversive political consequences when translated into either spontaneous or organized mass action–filibusterismo on the rampage.
Signposts of Deliverance
Rizal’s heroic achievement is generally identified with the ideas and actions enacted in the two novels. For schools and official functions, the “Ultimo Adios” serves as a precis of the hero’s credo. One can assert here that, by a formidable consensus, Rizal’s novels have been judged as the foundational scripture of the republic, a national allegory of our collective experience as colonized object-become-emancipated subject. In effect, they constitute the epic of our ethnogenesis, of becoming ideally a nation-state with popular-democratic sovereignty. They operate as the paradigmatic exemplum of our acquiring a historic national identity. And by “national allegory,” we allude to Frederic Jameson’s thesis on the peculiarity of political-didactic romances fashioned in colonial terrain. He reflects on this topic: “Third-world texts, even those which are seemingly private and invested with a properly libidinal dynamc, necessarily project a political dimension in the form of national allegory: the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society” (2000, 320). Embattled up to now, even beleaguered, given the insidious neocolonial bondage we continue to suffer.
In Rizal’s unconventional allegory, the hero’s situation is cast as a microcosm of the body politic, the historic predicament of the majority writ large. As synedochic figure, Ibarra’s plan to improve schooling (inflected later in the students’ demand for a Spanish academy) fuses private and public spheres. Both attempts are foiled. The conflicting sides mirror the asymmetry between lord and slave (in Hegel’s famous tableau). But through agonizing labor and initiative, the slave acquires self-consciousness, elicits recognition, and liberates herself as an emblem of transcending the syndrome of contradictions. The pathos of awakening–the recognition of the totality of the situation after the reversal and catharsis of repressed emotions–initiates us to enter, at last, the threshold of national-popular revolution.
Argued from another vantage-point, we engage with the disruption of assemblages, compromises, and temporizing unions. Diremptions prevail over fusion and linkages. What the novels strive to convey, among other aims, is the break-up of the matrimonial market and its cognate family structure, the basis of masculine domination. Sisa’s plight and Elias’ genealogy condense this trajectory. Its aftermath coincides with the swift disintegration of the decaying tributary structure and its supernaturalist legitimizations. Sexual difference comes to the foreground in Rizal’s counter-metanarrative and exfoliates into pathetic submission, serial tragedies, or into the fury of nihilist rage (for an argument against gender dimorphism, see Butler 2000, 143-79).
In the Beginning: Exchange of Women
In this context, Pierre Bourdieu’s insight into the role of women in the economy of reifying commodity exchange yields heuristic pertinence: “The principle of the inferiority and exclusion of women, which the mythico-ritual system ratifies and amplifies, to the point of making it the principle of the division of the whole universe, is nothing other than the fundamental dissymmetry, that of subject and object, agent and instrument, which is set up between men and women in the domain of symbolic exchanges, the relations of production and reproduction of symbolic capital, the central device of which is the matrimonial market, and which are the foundation of the whole social order—women can only appear there as objects, or, more precisely, as symbols whose meaning is contributed outside of them and whose function is to contribute to the perpetuation or expansion of the symbolic capital held by men” (2001, 42-43).
Responding to this crucial question cannot be shirked: what can abolish this market and the salient role of symbolic capital in organizing social relations? Victimized women’s rebellion and the sympathy or solidarity it elicits, is one answer. Rizal, of course, responded within the given opportunities of his time and place, cognizant of the hierarchies of power and knowledge limiting his agency, resources, and reflexivity.
Changes in the mode of production are bound, sooner or later, to modify the reproduction of the whole power-arrangement, including the distribution of wealth and symbolic capital. With the changes in the family structure and domestic/household set-up, plus opportunities for remunerative work outside, women gained more autonomy. They were gradually freed from strict parental control and the burden of rigid traditional mores regulating kin-network (Goody 1998, 79-95).
From this point of view, we can appreciate the shattering of masculine domination in the wreckage of Ibarra’s courtship of Maria Clara, the sundering of families and murder of daughters (Sisa’s case), the farcical rigmarole of Dona Victorina and Dona Consolacion, estrangement among relatives and friends, as well as the interruption of Paulita Gomez’s wedding and the heart-breaking separation of Elias and Salome. Such reversals transpired in the process of disclosing the truth behind appearances, alongside satiric lampoons, sardonic interior monologues, and tragicomic interludes.
Let us rehearse Rizal’s attitudes and sentiments touched on earlier. The curse of patriarchal ascendancy is over. It has been exorcised, and a new epoch of indeterminacy and dicey possibilities glimmer in the horizon. The dice have been cast. Shall we greet the new age of hope convulsed in its bloody birth-pangs? Whatever the reader’s response, this advent of a new epoch is welcomed by the hero on the eve of his execution:
Mis suenos cuando apenas muchacho adolescente,
Mis suenos cuando joven, ya lleno de vigor,
Fueron el verte un dia, joya del Mar de Oriente,
Secos los negros ojos, alta la tersa frente,
Sin ceno, sin arrugas, sin manchas de rubor,…
Mi patria idolatrada! Dolor de mis dolores!
Querida Filipinas, oye el postrer adios!
Ahi te dejo todo; mis padres, mis amores,
Voy donde no hay esclavos, verdugos ni opresores,
Donde la fe no mata, donde el que reina es Dios!
My dreams, while yet merely a child, or when nearing maturity,
My dreams, when a youth full of vigor at length I became,
Were to see Thee one happier day, O jewel of the orient sea,
Thine ebon eyes dried of their tears, thine uplifted brow clear and free
From the frowns and the furrows, the stains and the stigma of shame….
My idolized motherland, whose grieving makes me grieve,
Dearest Filipinas, hear my last farewell again!
I now leave all to thee, my parents, my loved ones I leave.
I go where there are no slaves, a brute’s lash to receive;
Where faith does not kill, and where it is God who doth reign.
(Tr. Frank Laubach; Palma 1949, 321-22)
Frame of Intelligibility
Our meditation on the sexual politics of Rizal’s allegory is nearly over for now. We have concentrated on the representation and elaboration of his ideas on “the woman question,” broadly construed, in his fiction and in various speech-acts. It will take another treatise to explore further the transformation of Rizal’s artistic project via complex dialectical mediations to a fully fleshed ethico-political program of action. We have witnessed its initial outline in the constitution of the Liga Filipina. We can also glimpse the concept of the “general will” adumbrated in “The Rights of Man,” “By-laws of the Association of Dapitan Farmers,” and the proposal for the development of north Borneo by Rizal’s family and relatives.
The principles enunciated in the documents of the French Revolution can be extrapolated from Rizal’s manifestoes or public statements drawn up before his trial and execution, such as “An Address to the Spanish Nation” and “Data for my Defense” (2011, 309-91). Those discourses contain both negative/critical insights combined with positive/utopian projections and their corresponding affects. They are impregnated with a totalizing vision of the whole imperial system–Spain/Europe vis-a-vis Philippines/Asia–where History appears as pivotal events of confrontation between lords/bondsmen, colonized and colonizers.
We can assert that those events are also moments of decision in which heritage (the past), including its barbarism and lethargy, are dialectically converted by agents into destiny via group praxis. We offer the following semiotic diagram spelling out agencies and other thematic strands and their interweaving in the novels to supplement an earlier schematic tabulation found in Rizal in Our Time (2011, 94):
[PLACE DIAGRAM AFTER THIS PARAGRAPH]
Toward.a Radical Architectonic
Suffice it for this occasion to suggest the direction for a future
critical negative/positive hermeneutics of Rizal’s life-work to discover hitherto unexamined aspects. Almost all his biographers concur that Rizal’s self-formation diverged from the usual pattern of a linear evolution due to the impact of sociohistorical circumstances. The planned course of his studies was interrupted in 1882, then in 1888, followed by the Depitan exile in 1892-1896. The itinerary of his thought unfolded in ironic or paradoxical ways. Sometimes Rizal argued for revolutionary change only to back-track with the usual qualifications about means and methods. But when faced with extreme urgent situations, Rizal committed himself to dissidence, remonstrance, protest, intransigent resistance.
The vicissitudes of Rizal’s speculative adventure, its “structure of feeling” (to use Raymond Williams’ rubric), may be tracked in his narratives. Adopting the genre of gothic melodrama popular in Europe, Rizal reworked the reversal of fortunes (including peripeteia and anagnorisis) caused by institutions into naturalistic scenes where the charismatic or supra-empirical tendencies predominate, Scrutinize, for instance, the chapters portraying Mr. Leeds’s Imuthis, the mummified Egyptian talking-head; the ghostly phantom on the convent roof; crocodiles in the lake; the philosopher Tasio’s uncanny intuitions; Dona Jeronima’s escapades, and other seemingly bizarre phenomena. They all problematize the intrusion of forces beyond one individual’s control, suggesting the pressure of structures and received group mores or folkways–the power of Necessity circumscribing people’s will and choices, the ruses of Spirit (in Hegel’s philosophy) to determine individual/group fates immanent in the antagonism between the advancing forces of production and the inherited social relations that inhibit progress.
With the onset of global commerce, the exchange of commodities and ideas in the second half of the 19th-century, a new landsape of urban speed and technological mobility began to erode the inertia of old rules and habits. Anomie and alienation began to unsettle the normal modes of perception and social behavior, opening gaps for intervention. Crisis actually presents us with the twin moments of danger and opportunities. Perspective is gained by people wrestling with these sudden unexpected turns, allowing the larger horizon of the social drama to surface. In the novels, the texture of the social landscape seems saturated by disappointments, miscarriage, delays, failures, aborted schemes, remorse, melancholia, flailing anger, fits of delirium.
The Sibyl of Cumae seems to be beckoning from the edge of the crossroad. Fate and capricious fortune are invoked, beseeched, and denounced. Tragic and comic affects blend in contrapuntal rhythm as when, for instance, we juxtapose the legend of Dona Jeronima with the painful trials of Maria Clara, Dona Victorina, Paulita Gomez, Juli, and other women. Sisa’s agony punctuates this lanscape with an abject experience impossible to categorize or normalize. In brief, the course of alienated existence in the colony was utterly precarious and the outcome of plans could not be fully extrapolated, hence the accidents, the exigencies, the dizzying variety of contingencies and constraints that defy the conjectures about the future offered by any number of SIbylline oracles awaiting at the wings.
Regrounding Our Agenda
We have now traversed the zone of dead quotidian space/time, coming from the Empire’s petrified duration, to the Now-time: the settling of accounts. Sisa’s torment precipitates kairos, the ripeness of all that King Lear proclaimed. By existentialist retrieval/repetition, the gaps and silences of the staus quo have been exposed. The sacrifices of Elias, Cabesang Tales, Capitan Pablo, and Sisa have been staged and witnessed by all. So now we can understand how Rizal’s preoccupation with individual lives (veridical as well as fictional) was dictated by the sheer pressure of turbulent occurrences. The imperative of family-kinship solidarity and the claim of Indio-tempered honor compelled him to move away from the customary analysis of the ego-centered psychic dimension to the more demanding ethico-political inquiry into purposes, ideals, and principles lived by communities and regions. Acquisitive individualism and instrumentalist beliefs have to be re-evaluated against the wider socio-political background, together with the ideological apparatus of Empire that legitimized extraction of surplus-value/profit, as well as feudal tribute (rent, exorbitant landlord credit), from the natives based on church/state-sanctioned inequities of race, gender, religion, and class.
The memorable dialogues of Ibarra-Elias and Simoun-Basilio, among other exchanges, illustrate Rizal’s grasp of the unity of opposites, the role of contradictions, in all social processes. Of prime importance is the dialectical reflections of the phliosopher Tasio who appied the logic of negation on all experience, thus counseling Ibarra that failure always yields a measure of success: “…Lay the first stone, sow; after the storm is unleashed, some grain of wheat will perhaps germinate, survive the catastrophe, save from destruction the species which would later serve as seed for the sons of the dead sower” 2004, 231).
Unlike the either/or stance of his townmates, Tasio’s mediation seeks to resolve antinomies, aporias, and the one-dimensional thinking validated by church/state metaphysics. As antithesis, we note the personalistic indecisiveness and temporizing abstractions found in the thoughts and deeds of the youthful Basilio, Isagani and other characters (including Don Custodio, Padre Fernandez, the opportunist lawyer Pasta, and many more) which are tested and proved inadequate, forcing one to assume more distancing, suspicious, critical, self-estranging, interrogative stances.
One standpoint for further examination is the equivocal role of Simoun, Ibarra’s double or shadow (Elias functioned in the Noli as Simoun’s avatar). His self-righteous judgment of defending the oppressed is undercut by his obsession with a frozen past, a petrified ideal (Maria Clara’s purity now compromised in the convent). This turn of events seems predestined by the middle of the narrative. In demonstrating the futile idealism of Simoun’s plan (arguably a cynical inversion of Ibarra’s pedagogical meliorism) to stir up mass unrest and chaos for the sake of salvaging his beloved–a surrogate for the dishonored father whose corpse iwas ordered disinterred and thrown to the lake, Rizal’s twin narratives evince the transition from an aesthetic exercise to an ethico-political engagement, a movement from the anomie/barbarism of Capitan Tiago and the friars to the stage of an existential leap to judgment, passing through Sisa’s and Elias’ sacrifices, the most pregnant gifts to patria.
We have been prepared for such a transition. Even before his execution, Rizal always affirmed his convictions about freedom and rights and his obligation to perform his duty to patria regardless of costs. This testifies to the inherently contradictory mechanism of the ilustrado sensibility and intellect in dealing with the crisis. The solitude of Simoun and Padre Florentino’s piety converge at the end, not without generating contradictory, extravagant impulses–other lives are on the move outside the remote retreat, advancing toward the fortified metropolis.
At this conjuncture, the emergence of a counterhegemonic bloc is not far from the scene. The ilustrado’s seemingly irresolvable predicament can only be remedied by class suicide, fulfilling its tendency to dissolve its vacillating status into that of a nomad operating as an integral component of the proletarian-peasant, united-front formation so long held dormant in the process of slow germination. With Elias’ death and the tell-tale absence of Isagani and Basilio (youth as hope of the motherland), as well as the vigil of Cabesang Tales and other insurgents surrounding Intramuros, we are left suspended in that pregnant interregnum occupied by Sisa as synoptic emblem (see the semiotic diagram in a previous page) before the quiet smuggling of “Ultimo Adios” from Fort Santiago and the tumutuous cry of Balintawak–a passage of rebirth and redemption for the subjugated multitude.
We arrive at this temporary station of our journey of interpreting and understanding Rizal’s achievement. We have compressed all the issues of gender, class and nation into the metaphor of “Sisa’s vengeance.” This may now be conceived as a symbolic labor of negation and secular transubstantiation, converting the people’s blood into the wine of redemption. The process of narrativizing routine time, everyday life, into the twists of the plot (modeled on the quest, ordeal, mission, etc.) transforms abstract theory into concrete praxis. In this context, the couple Simoun/Elias incarnates all the victims of patriarchal, frailocratic power. Meanwhile, Padre Florentino mourns over the dying Simoun confessing his real identity, The good priest implores the Christian God with His juridical wisdom to provide the weapon of retribution. He appeals to this metaphysical providence to rescue someday the treasures that he consigns to nature’s oceanic womb.
Padre Florentino’s “ultima razon” for getting rid of gold/money/commodities may be Rizal’s paramount message overriding others. The die is cast. This gesture of sacrificing merchant capital, labor/wealth stolen from the masses, is a promise of compensation for the fidellity, patience and trust of those praying for the last day of judgment—in this case, for an imaginary resolution of real-life contradictions, which is art’s socially redeeming vocation. The destruction of Simoun’s treasure (the sweat and blood of human labor turned to waste) reawakens Sisa’s muffled cry of grief and protest.
Wanting to reconstitute the lost aura of her home and children, “Sisa’s vengeance” functions as the trope of that confluence of all the energies desiring change that were blocked, sublimated, or repressed. It heralds the emergence of a popular counterhegemonic agency designed to carry out to the end the program of anticolonial, national-democratic liberation. On the whole, Rizal’s narrative of mayhem, withdrawal, defeats, arrests, torture, murder, and generalized chaos may permit the grassroots messiah, the bathala of the boondocks, to intervene in sabotaging and eventually terminating for good the hitherto tolerated, but now bloodied, barbaric, wasted march of imperial history.
Yo muero cuando veo que el cielo se colora
Y al fin anuncia el dia, tras lobrego capuz;
Si grana necesitas para tenir tu aurora,
Vierte la sangre mia, derramala en buena hora
Y dorela un reflejo de su naciente luz!
I die just when I see the dawn break,
Through the gloom of night, to herald the day;
And if color is lacking my blood thou shalt take
Pour’d out at need for thy dear sake,
To dye with its crimson the waking ray.
(Craig 2010, 148)