|Understanding Rizal Without Veneration
Quarantined Prophet and Carnival Impresario
By E. San Juan, Jr.
“…but I rejoice more when I contemplate humanity in its immortal march, always progressing in spite of its declines and falls, in spite of its aberrations, because that demonstrates to me its glorious end and tells me that it has been created for a better purpose than to be consumed by flames; it fills me with trust in God, who will not let His work be ruined, in spite of the devil and of all our follies.” Jose Rizal, letter to Fr. Pablo Pastells, Nov. 11, 1892, while in exile in Dapitan
“Ang sagot sa dahas ay dahas, kapag bingi sa katuwiran.” Jose Rizal, “Cuento Tendencioso”
It seems fortuitous that Rizal’s birthday anniversary would fall just six days after the celebration of Philippine Independence Day - the proclamation of independence from Spanish rule by General Emilio Aguinaldo in Kawit, Cavite, in 1898. In 1962 then President Diosdado Macapagal, father of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, decreed the change independence day from July 4 to June 12 to reaffirm the primacy of the Filipinos’ right to national self-determination.
Either ironical or prescient, Aguinaldo’s proclamation contains the kernel of the contradictions that have plagued the ruling elite’s claim to political legitimacy: Aguinaldo unwittingly mortgaged his leadership to the “protection of the Mighty and Humane North American Nation.” Mighty, yes, but “humane”? The U.S. genocide of 1.4 million Filipinos is, even today, disputed by apologists of “Manifest Destiny.” But there is no doubt that Aguinaldo’s gratitude to the Americans who brought him back from exile after the Pact of Biak-na-Bato spelled the doom of the ilustrado oligarchy which, despite the demagogic ruses of Marcos, Aquino, Ramos and Estrada and their handlers, has proved utterly bankrupt in its incorrigible corruption, electoral cynicism, and para-military gangster violence.
And so, sotto voce: Long live Filipino Independence Day!
Let us not forget the specific milieu we are inhabiting today: a barbaric war waged by the U.S. ruling elite against any people opposing its imperial will - the exploited and oppressed of the world. For over a century now, the Filipino people, particularly peasants, Moros, women, and the indigenous communities, have paid an exorbitant price to support the affluence, freedom, and democracy of this racial polity. Given the total subservience of the current regime to the dictates of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization (all servicing global capital and primarily U.S. corporate business), as well as the puppetry of previous regimes, the change has proven to be empty ritual.
This seems a banal truism. We remain a neocolonial dependency of the United States, with the comprador bureaucracy and military beholden to the Washington Consensus and its current authoritarian program enabled by the contested USA Patriot Act. Proof of this is the recent police action against members of the Philippine Forum who were prohibited from joining the New York City Philippine Independence Day Parade. This exclusion of Filipinos by the Philippine Consulate is due to the fact that they were protesting the “obscene” Trump Towers luxury apartment of Consul Cecilia Rebong amid the widespread poverty suffered by millions forced to send fathers and mothers to work abroad as domestics or recruited contract workers, hailed as “bagong bayani” or ignored as unheroic corpses that arrive three-to-five a day at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
I. It is not certain whether Rizal knew or met Aguinaldo - we have no desire to implicate Rizal (as has been done by those sectarians who blindly follow Renato Constantino - see my Rizal For Our Time, 1997) with those who betrayed Bonifacio, Antonio Luna, and others. After the polyphonic novels toying with plural alternatives, Rizal decided on one parth: the Liga Filipina. Rizal of course met or was acquainted with Bonifacio and others in the Katipunan who were involved earlier in the Liga. Despite his exile to Dapitan, he was still playing with utopian projects in British Borneo. Historians from Austin Craig to Rafael Palma, Gregorio Zaide, Carlos Quirino, and Austin Coates have already demonstrated that despite Rizal’s reservations about the Katipunan uprising, his ideas and example (all susceptible to a radical rearticulation) had already won him moral and intellectual ascendancy - what Gramsci would call “hegemony”— whatever differences in political tactics might exist among partisans in the united front.
Pace Constantino, we need understanding before we can have genuine if fallible appreciation. The mythification of Rizal in the popular imagination, as discussed by Reynaldo Ileto in his “Rizal and the Underside of Philippine History,” need not contradict or lessen the secular, libertarian impact of Rizal’s writing and deeds on several generations of organic intellectuals such as Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto, Apolinario Mabini, Isabelo de los Reyes, up to the seditious playwrights in the vernaculars, the writer/activists such as Lope K. Santos, Amado V. Hernandez, Salvador P. Lopez, and nationalist intellectuals such as Ricardo Pascual, Claro Recto, Baking, Constantino, and others. What is needed, above all, is a dialectical grasp of the complex relations between the heterogeneous social classes and their varying political consciousness—peasantry, workers, petty-bourgeois ilustrado, artisans, etc.—and the struggle for an intelligent, popular leadership of a truly anti-colonial, democratic, mass revolution.
A one-sided focus on Rizal as a sublimation of Christ or Bernardo Carpio, or Rizal as “the First Filipino” (Leon Ma. Guerrero, Nick Joaquin), fails to grasp the “unity of opposites” that conceptually subtends the dynamic process of decolonization and class emancipation traversing different modes of production in a sequence of diverse social formation. We need a historical materialist method to grasp the concrete totality in which the individual finds her/his effective place. After all, it is not individuals or great heroes that shape history, but masses, social classes and groups in conflict, that release the potential of humanity’s species-being from myths, reified notions, and self-serving fantasies partly ascribable to natural necessity and chiefly to history.
Can this explain the limitations of Rizal’s thinking at various conjunctures of his life? Numerous biographies of Rizal and countless scholarly treatises on his thought have been written to clarify or explain away the inconsistencies and contradictions of his ideas, attitudes, and choices. The Yugoslavian Ante Radaic is famous for a simplistic Adlerian diagnosis of Rizal based on his physical attributes. This at least is a new angle, a relief from the exhibitionist posturing of Guerrero and the Creolist obsessions of Nick Joaquin. Radaic, however, failed to honor somehow Rizal’s own psychoanalytic foray into the phenomena of the manggagaway, aswang, and kulam, and other subterranean forms of resistance. How can a person be afflicted with an inferiority complex when he can write (to Blumentritt) a few hours before his death: “When you have received his letter, I am already dead”?
The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno and the American realist William Dean Howells have recognized Rizal’s subtle analysis of human character and totalizing social critique. For his part, Jose Baron Fernandez’s Jose Rizal: Filipino Doctor and Patriot provides us an updated scenario of late nineteenth-century Spain for understanding the predicament of the Propagandistas in building solidarity, cognizant of Retana’s disingenuous apologia. With tactful lucidity, Rafael Palma’s classic biography, The Pride of the Malay Race, has demonstrated the fundamental secular humanism of Rizal, the inheritor of Spinoza’s Ethics and the Enlightenment’s legacy (Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant). Rizal shared this secular humanism with other propagandistas, a humanism whose utopian thrust was tempered by scientific rigor, self-critical distance, and fin-de-siecle disenchantment. How else could one interpret the exchange between Rizal and Fr. Pastells, Fr. Florentino’s reflections in El Filibusterismo, and the rationalist critique of self-deception and mass hysteria in most of his writings. Ambeth Ocampo has forcefully contributed to the demythologization of Rizal (see his Rizal Without the Overcoat) as well as to the discovery of Rizal’s third novel (on this, more below). Each author responds to the pressure of his moment and the inertia of the past. However, it seems unquestionable that the conventional appreciation of Rizal tends toward an indiscriminate glorification of his mind, his ideas, his “Renaissance” versatility, and so on. Scholastic pedagogy and the opiate of the masses have both contributed to this idealizing, nominalist tendentiousness.
Rizal was a product of his place and time, as everyone will concur. But due to desperate conditions, others credit Rizal with superfluous charismatic powers that he himself will be the first to disavow. We do not need the pasyon or folk religion to illuminate this mixed feudal-bourgeois habitus (to borrow Bourdieu’s term). We are predisposed by social habit to focus on the role of the individual and individual psychology so as to assign moral blame or praise. This is the self-privileging ideology of entrepreneurial neoliberalism. But there is an alternative few have entertained.
As I have tried to argue in previous essays, Rizal displayed an astute dialectical materialist sensibility. One revealing example of concrete geopolitical analysis is the short piece on Madrid and its milieu excerpted in Palma’s The Pride of the Malay Race (pp. 60-62). He was neither an environmental determinist nor social Darwinist. While gauging the force of social circumstances, he did not succumb to mechanical determinism - although the weight of his familial and religious upbringing may be said to condition the limits of possible variations in his thinking and actions. This materialist intuition is leavened with praxis-oriented realism, as glimpsed from this passage in a letter to Fr. Pastells:
“It is very possible that there are causes better than those I have embraced, but my cause is good and that is enough for me. Other causes will undoubtedly bring more profit, more renown, more honors, more glories, but the bamboo, in growing on this soil, comes to sustain nipa huts and not the heavy weights of European edifices….
“As to honor, fame, or profit that I might have reaped, I agree that all of this is tempting, especially to a young man of flesh and bone like myself, with so many weaknesses like anybody else. But, as nobody chooses the nationality nor the race to which he is born, and as at birth the privileges or the disadvantages inherent in both are found already created, I accept the cause of my country in the confidence that He who has made me a Filipino will forgive the mistakes I may commit in view of our difficult situation and the defective education that we receive from the time we are born. Besides, I do not aspire to eternal fame or renown; I do not aspire to equal others whose conditions, faculties, and circumstances may be and are in reality different from mine; my only desire is to do what is possible, what is within my power, what is most necessary. I have glimpsed a little light, and I believe I ought to show it to my countrymen.
“…. Without liberty, an idea that is somewhat independent might be provocative and another that is affectionate might be considered as baseness or flattery, and I can neither be provocative, nor base, nor a flatterer. In order to speak luminously of politics and produce results, it is necessary in my opinion to have ample liberty.”
A dialectical process underlies the link between subjective desire and objective necessity/possibility traced in this revealing passage. Its working can be discerned in most of Rizal’s historical and political discourses. They are all discourses on the permanent crisis in the condition of the colonial subject, a crisis articulating danger with opportunity. The virtue of Rizal’s consciousness of his limitations inheres in its efficacy of opening up the horizon of opportunities—what he calls “liberty”— contingent on the grasp and exploitation of those same limits of his class/national position in society and history. In short, the value and function of human agency can only be calculated within the concrete limits of a determinate, specific social location in history, within the totality of social relations in history.
II. Granted Rizal’s strategic wisdom, how can we explain Rizal’s failure to predict the role of the United States in intervening and colonizing the Philippines? In his otherwise perspicacious analysis of the past, present, and hypothetical future in “Filipinas dentro de cien anos” (The Philippines within a century, published in La Solidaridad, 1889-1890), Rizal mentions the United States as a possible player in international geopolitics:
“If the Philippines secure their independence after heroic and stubborn conflicts, they can rest assured that neither England, nor Germany, nor France and still less Holland, will dare to take up what Spain has been unable to hold… Perhaps the great American Republic, whose interests lie in the Pacific…may some day dream of foreign possession. This is not impossible, for the example is contagious, covetousness and ambition are among the strongest vices… the European powers would not allow her to proceed… North America would be quite a troublesome rival, if she should once get into the business. Furthermore, this is contrary to her traditions.”
There is a curious breakdown of dialectics, if not knowledge of history, here. How could Rizal be so blind? Maybe blindness is a function of insight, as American deconstructionists conjecture. It may be that Rizal had been reading too many eulogistic accounts of the United States circulated in Britain, France, Germany—too much de Tocqueville, perhaps? Rizal’s prophetic stance allows him to moralize on the “strongest vices” of “covetousness and ambition,” but somehow his vision can not permit the “traditions” of the “Great American Republic” from being contaminated by the imperialist virus. He mentions Samoa and the Panama Canal, but seems oblivious of the Monroe Doctrine and the nightmarish fear of the Haitian revolution, the first successful revolution of slaves in history. He settles on the fact that U.S. territory was not yet congested; and besides, the European powers will check any imperial ambition the U.S. might show.
What happened to this universalist historian and globalizing polymath? Was Rizal a victim of temporary amnesia in discounting his memorable passage through the United States in his second trip to Europe?
It is indeed difficult to understand how Rizal failed to draw the necessary lessons from his travels in the United States. Perhaps he was too engrossed as a tourist in novelties, enthralled by the Golden Gate Bridge, the Indian statues everywhere “attired in semi-European suit and semi-Indian suit,” Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, and New York City where (to quote his words) “everything is new!”. Unlike his adventures in Europe, he did not find any inamorata—didn’t have time for dalliance. His travel diary was, in Ocampo’s judgment, sparse and hasty; but his letter to Mariano Ponce (dated 27 July 1888 two months after his passage) reveal a somewhat traumatic experience:
“I visited the largest cities of America with their big buildings, electric lights, and magnificent conceptions. Undoubtedly America is a great country, but it still has many defects. There is no real civil liberty. In some states, the Negro cannot marry a white woman, nor a Negress a white man. Because of their hatred for the Chinese, other Asiatics, like the Japanese, being confused with them, are likewise disliked by the ignorant Americans. The Customs are excessively strict. However, as they say rightly, America offers a home too for the poor who like to work. There was, moreover, much arbitrariness. For example, when we were in quarantine.
“They placed us under quarantine, in spite of the clearance given by the American Consul, of not having had a single case of illness aboard, and of the telegram of the governor of Hong Kong declaring that port free from epidemic.
“We were quarantined because there were on board 800 Chinese and, as elections were being held in San Francisco, the government wanted to boast that it was taking strict measures against the Chinese to win votes and the people’s sympathy. We were informed of the quarantine verbally, without specific duration. However, on the same day of our arrival, they unloaded 700 bales of silk without fumigating them; the ship’s doctor went ashore; many customs employees and an American doctor from the hospital for cholera victims came on board.
“Thus we were quarantined for about thirteen days. Afterwards, passengers of the first class were allowed to land; the Japanese and Chinese in the 2nd and 3rd classes remained in quarantine for an indefinite period. It is thus in that way, they got rid of about Chinese, letting them gradually off board.”
Evidence by this and other works, Rizal definitely understood racism in theory and practice. But it is not clear to what extent he recognized how the absence of “real civil liberty” extends beyond the everyday life of African Americans, beyond the Asians—it is not even clear whether he considered himself Asian, though in his reflections on how Europeans treated him, he referred to himself as “dark skinned,” a person of color, especially in relation to European women. Rizal never forgot that in spite of being a relatively privileged Chinese mestizo, the Spaniards uniformly considered him an “Indio.”
Was Rizal so magnanimous or charitable that he expunged the ordeal of being quarantined soon after? Not at all. In his travel diary concerning a train ride from Paris to Dieppe in 1889, Rizal encountered an arrogant American taunting his other companions (an Englishman and two Frenchmen). His comments indicate that he never forgot the quarantine, surveillance, and exclusionist procedures he went through:
“I was beginning to be annoyed by the fury of the traveler and I was going to join the conversation to tell him what I have seen and endured in America, in New York itself [Rizal doesn’t disclose what he “endured” in New York], how many troubles and what torture the customs [and immigration] in the United States made us suffer, the demands of drivers, barbers, etc., people who, as in many other places, lived on travelers….I was tempted to believe that my man’s verbosity, being a good Yankee, came from the steam of a boiler inside his body, and I even imagined seeing in him a robot created and hurled to the world by the Americans, a robot with a perfect engine inside to discredit Europe….” (Quoted in Ambeth Ocampo, Rizal Without the Overcoat, 1990; see also Gregorio Zaide and Sonia Zaide, Jose Rizal, 1984).
What can we infer from this hiatus between Rizal’s anger in being quarantined and his belief that the “great American Republic” dare not engage in the brutal adventure of subjugating the natives of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines? Two years after his visit, in Brussels, Rizal replied to Jose Alejandrino’s question what impression did he have of America: “America is the land par excellence of freedom but only for the whites.” This insight is quite remarkable for a Filipino traveler then and today. It exceeds the intelligence of Filipino American pundits who boast of 200 percent “Americanism,” of Filipinos as hybrid transnationals or transmigrants capable of besting white supremacy. But Rizal did not pursue the inferences from his insight. While recognizing the denial of civil liberties to “Negroes” and the degrading treatment of Chinese and Japanese in San Francisco, Rizal was unable to connect these snapshots and observations to the history of the United States as one of expansion, genocidal extermination of Native Americans, slavery of Africans, violent conquest and subjugation of indigenous Mexicans in Texas, California and the territory seized after the Mexican-American War of 1845-1848.
What is the historic context surrounding Rizal’s tour of the U.S. in 1886? A historic violent railroad strike had already occurred in 1877; in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act effectively barred the Chinese from entry, a move which did not prevent twenty-eight Chinese from being massacred in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in the summer of 1885. Meanwhile, in the post-bellum South, the basis for segregation was being laid by Ku Klux Klan raids throughout the 1860s and 1870s following the Compromise of 1877 and severe economic depression. In 1886, two years before Rizal’s travels, the Haymarket riot in Chicago led to the hanging of eight anarchists innocent of the crimes they were charged with. It was the era of robber barons, workers’ strikes, immigrant rebellions, and ferocious class wars (as detailed by Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States). In 1890, the massacre of Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee marked the culmination of the genocidal campaign against the original inhabitants and the closing of the internal frontier.
Rizal seemed not to have followed U.S. history along these tracks, isolating only the puritan revolt against religious persecution and the colonial, quasi-feudal imposition by the British monarchy. So this tradition of struggling for liberty, for separation from European feudalism and the authoritarian English monarchy, was what Rizal associated with the U.S. as an emerging nation-state when he was preoccupied with demanding Filipino representation in the Cortes in 1889-1890. The United States stood for Rizal as an example of a country or people that demanded representation – “no taxation without representation” was a slogan that must have appealed to the ilustrado assimilationists, not an Anglo state whose “Manifest Destiny” was already nascent from the time of the massacre of the Pequot Indians in 1636, through the institutionalized slavery of Africans, to the savage colonization of Mexican territory in 1848. White supremacy acquired its slogan of “Manifest Destiny” in the U.S. victory over Mexico and its annexation of substantial territory once owned by Spain.
III. We can understand this omission of the U.S. from the ilustrado consciousness then. So concentrated were the energies and time of Rizal and his compatriots Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Mariano Ponce, and others on stirring up the conscience of the Spanish public in Madrid and Barcelona that they neglected studying closely the political history of the United States. They missed the “signs of the times.” It could not be helped. And so little did Rizal suspect that the “great American Republic” would be the next executioner of Filipino nationalists and radical democrats, the global gendarme of terrorists like the New People’s Army combatants, the Moro separatists, Fidel Castro, Zapatistas in Chiapas, and Maoists in Nepal.
Europe was the arena of battle, but more specifically Spain. During Rizal’s first sojourn in Europe (1882-1887), social ferment was quietly taking place between the dissolution of the First International Working Men’s Association in 1881 and the founding of the Second International in Paris in July 1889 with Marxism as its dominant philosophy. Marx died in 1883. Meanwhile two volumes of Capital have been published and were being discussed in Europe during Rizal’s first visit to Paris. Engels was still alive then, living in London when Rizal was annotating Morga’s Sucesos at the British Museum in 1888-1889. During his second sojourn (1888-1891), Rizal completed El Filibusterismo published in Ghent, Belgium, in 1891. Engels’ writings, in particular Anti-Duhring (1877-1878), have been widely disseminated in German periodicals and argued over. Given his numerous visits to Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, England, and Spain, and his contacts with intellectuals (Blumentritt, Rost, Jagor, Virchow, Ratzel, Meyer, aside from the Spaniards Morayta, Pi y Margall, Becerra, Zorilla, and others), it was impossible for Rizal to escape the influence of the socialist movement and its Spanish anarchist counterpoint. Indeed, a letter (dated 13 May 1891) by his close friend, the painter Juan Luna, conveyed Luna’s enthusiasm over Le socialisme contemporaine by E. de Laveleye, “which is a conflation of the theories of Karl Marx, La Salle, etc; Catholic socialism, the conservative, evangelical,…which stresses the miseries of contemporary society.”
Based on an inspection of Rizal’s library in Calamba and citations in the Epistolario, Benedict Anderson concludes that Rizal had no interest, or awareness, of socialist currents except those filtered through Joris Karl Huysmans. Rizal’s singular modernity, in my view, cannot be so easily Orientalized by U.S. experts like Anderson, Karnow, Glenn May, and their ilk. On the other hand, Anderson’s presumptuous reference to the “narrow nativism” and “narrow obsession with America” of Filipino intellectuals will surely delight the Westernized Makati enclave and his acolytes in Diliman and Loyola Heights. Or even those speculating on Rizal’s homosexual tendencies despite his insouciant flirtations with las palomas de baja vuela (as attested to by close companions Valentin Ventura and Maximo Viola).
In his Solidaridad period, Rizal was just beginning to learn the fundamentals of geopolitics. The United States was out of the picture. It is foolish to expect Rizal and his compatriots to know more than what their circumstances and class orientation allowed. Scarcely would Rizal have a clue then that the U.S. control of Filipino sovereignty would continue through the IMF/WB stranglehold of the Philippine economy for over 40 years after nominal independence in 1946, an unprecedented case—the only country so administered for the longest period in history! This can throw some light on the country’s chronic poverty, technological backwardness, clientelist slavishness to Washington, witnessed of late by the export of over 9 million contract workers as “servants of globalization” and the dependence on the 8.5 billion dollars worth of overseas annual remittances to service the humongous foreign debt and the extravagant “indolence” of the few rich families and their politician flunkeys. Rizal’s memory of his ordeal in San Francisco, had he lived longer, might have resonated beyond his detention in the prison-fortress of Montjuich in Barcelona (where Isabelo de los Reyes was also confined) and influenced the ilustrado circle of Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and other supporters of “Benevolent Assimilation” in the early decades of the last century.
Finally, we return to confront once again Rizal’s “Manifesto” of 1896 written in his prison cell in Fort Santiago. Against the gradualist thrust of this Manifesto (surely a ruse to gain time) can be counterposed the overwhelming evidence of Rizal’s conviction that where the other party cannot listen to reason, force must be used (while civic education proceeds), with separatist liberation the only ultimate alternative. Padre Florentino’s invocation (“God will provide a weapon…”) was fulfilled in Rizal’s banishment and the replacement of the Liga by the Katipunan. It is enough to cite again Rizal’s resolute determination to give his life for the liberation of his people (in the two letters to his brother and to his family) as well as many confessions to Blumentritt, Ponce, Del Pilar, Fr. Pastells, and others, of his readiness to sacrifice his life for the redemption of the masses. The itinerary of his activities in Europe, Hong Kong, and Dapitan suffice to quell any doubt about his commitment. Recall his words to General Alejandrino: “I will never head a revolution that is preposterous and has no probability of success because I do not like to saddle my conscience with reckless and fruitless bloodshed; but whoever may head a revolution in the Philippines will have me at his side.”
IV. In the long run, the criterion of solidarity with the masses imposes its critical verdict without reprieve. Rizal struggled all his life against the tendency toward individualism. He confided to Del Pilar: “What I desire is that others appear…” To Padre Vicente Garcia: “A man in the Philippines is only an individual, he is not a member of a nation.” But he also will not submit to tradition for its own sake, to unreasoned conformism: “I wish to return to the Philippines [he wrote to Ponce], and though it may be a temerity and an imprudence, what does it matter? Filipinos are all so prudent. That is why our country is as it is…. And since it seems to me that we are not doing well on the road of prudence, I will seek another road.” Several paths were tested in the Noli and Fili, including Simoun’s “anarchical nationalism,” Cabesang Tales’ guerilla foco, urban insurrection, etc. In the opinion of Eugenio Matibag, both novels were multivoiced, intricately dialogic in nature, and so open to the “play of an emancipatory desire that continues to move the Philippines today.” Of course, we don’t need to read Rizal to seek to overthrow the current intolerable system. Limited by his ilustrado class conditioning, but open to the influence of collective projects and spontaneous popular initiatives, Rizal was a nationalist democrat “of the old type,” as the idiom goes. But proof of a more genuinely populist and radical conception of change may be found in the third novel, recently recovered for us by Ambeth Ocampo in Makamisa (Anvil 1992),
Would Rizal’s stature be altered if he had completed this novel? Since this is not the occasion to elaborate on the insurrectionary imagination of Rizal, I can only highlight two aspects in Makamisa. First, the boisterous entrance of the subaltern masses into historical time and space. In the two novels, Elias, Sisa, Cabesang Tales, and others interrupted the plot of individual disillusionment, but never moved to the foreground of the stage. This new mise en scene is rendered here by the demystification of religious ritual via the physical/sensory motion of crowds, rumor, money talk, animal behavior, Anday’s seduction, and so on, escaping from the symbolic Order (sacred space) represented by the Church, as dramatized in the multiaccentual speculations on why Padre Agaton disrupted his public performance. The play of heteroglossia, the intertextuality of idioms (indices of social class and collective ethos), and the stress on the heterogeneous texture of events, all point to the mocking subversive tradition of the carnivalesque culture and Menippean satire that Mikhail Bakhtin describes in his works on Rabelais, Menippean satire, and Dostoevsky (see The Dialogic Imagination). This is the root of the polyphonic modernist novel constituted by distances, relationships, analogies, non-exclusive oppositions, fantasies that challenge the status quo. Rizal could have inaugurated the tradition of an antiheroic postmodernist vernacular centered on the antagonism of ideological worlds.
Second, the tuktukan game accompanying the Palm Sunday procession is Rizal’s proof that folk/indigenous culture, a spectacle staged at the site of the monological discourse of the Church, transgresses prohibitions and allows the body of the earth, its sensory process and affective becoming, to manifest itself. We confront the unconscious of the colonial structure in the essential motifs of carnivalesque ribaldry and topsy-turvy outlawry: “the high and low, birth and agony, food and excrement, praise and curses, laugher and tears “(in Julia Kristeva’s gloss). Paradoxes, ambivalences, Dionysian fantasies, odd mixtures of styles that violate orthodox decorums, and diverse expressions of ideological themes and chronotopes - all these characterize the Menippean satirical discourse exemplified here as well as in Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, De Sade, Lautreamont, Dostoevsky, Kafka and Joyce. (One wonders if Rizal read Dostoevsky or Gogol’s Dead Souls?) According to Bakhtin, we find in Rabelais’ work the dramatic conflict between the popular/plebeian culture of the masses and the official medieval theology of hegemonic Christianity.
Variants may be found in postmodernist works of magical realism (Garcia Marquez, Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie). In brief, Makamisa is the moment of Rabelaisian satire and carnival feast in Rizal’s archive. It may be read as Rizal’s attempt to go beyond the polyphonic relativizing of colonial authority and Christian logic in the Noli and Fili toward a return to the body of the people, not just folkways and customs but the praxis of physical labor, the material/social processes of eating and excretion, sexual production and reproduction, collective dreams and the political unconscious. It is the moment of unfinalizable becoming, the moment of the Katipunan revolution.
Once more, we encounter the spectre of Rizal at the barricades, arming the spirit for storming the entrenched fortifications of Makati or Malacanang Palace, envisioning a land where “there are no slaves, no hangmen, no oppressors,/where faith does not slay,” “Pearl of the Orient Seas, our Eden lost….”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
E. SAN JUAN is co-director of the Board of Philippine Forum, New York City, and heads the Philippine Cultural Studies Center in Connecticut, USA He was recently visiting professor of literature at the National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, and professor of American Studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Among his recent books are BEYOND POSTCOLONIAL THEORY (Palgrave), RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke University Press), and WORKING THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell University Press). Three books in Filipino were launched in Manila, Philippines, recently: HIMAGSIK (De La Salle University Press), TINIK SA KALULUWA (Anvil), and SAPAGKAT INIIBIG KITA (University of the Philippines). His award-winning book of criticism, TOWARD A PEOPLE’S LITERATURE, is being re-issued by the University of the Philippines Press.