Understanding Rizal without Veneration:
Quarantined Prophet and Carnival Impresario
Rizal failed to draw the necessary lessons from his travels
“…but I rejoice more when I contemplate humanity in its immortal march,
always progressing in spite of its declines and falls, in spie
off 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,
“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
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”?
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
Memorial to Dr. Jose Rizal in
Photo from myhistorylink.org
This seems a banal truism. We
remain a neocolonial dependency of the
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
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
“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.
strategic wisdom, how can we explain Rizal’s failure
to predict the role of the
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 “
What happened to this universalist historian and
globalizing polymath? Was Rizal a victim of temporary
amnesia in discounting his memorable passage through the
It is indeed difficult to
understand how Rizal failed to draw the necessary
lessons from his travels in the
“I visited the largest cities of
“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
“We were quarantined because
there were on board 800 Chinese and, as elections were being held in
“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 “
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
“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,
What can we infer from this
hiatus between Rizal’s anger in being quarantined and
his belief that the “great
What is the historic context
surrounding Rizal’s tour of the
Rizal seemed not to have followed
We can understand this
omission of the
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
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
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
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