Saturday, January 24, 2004


I attended a curious lecture at the Claro M. Recto hall in UP yesterday which left me puzzled, a bit infuriated, curious and wanting to re-read Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. The lecturer, Prof. Benedict Andersen from Cornell entitled his paper "The French Connection: Rizal, Decadence and Revolutionary Anarchism." I got word of this talk from the graduate studies e-group of the college of social sciences and philosophy and the first words that grabbed me were the words french, anarchism and rizal, three terms and ideas I would not have said in one breath at any time until today.

You see, UP has this long and hollowed tradition of tearing Rizal into bits and pieces. The main beef against this American-chosen national hero was the ultimate failure of the revolutionary cause he writes in his two seminal works and the fact that he comes from the ilustrado class, not quite as "masa" as Bonifacio was (although this is arguable, some say Bonifacio wasn't quite of the great unwashed as some may claim). They argue Rizal was not pushing for true indepenence from Mother Spain, and what other evidence is needed other than Simon's foiled attempt at causing anarchy in San Diego? The typical elitist in him could not have born the true suffering of the Filipino peasantry and is thus undeserving of the title national hero. The fact that it was the American colonialists who conferred such a title on him seemed to seal the fate of anti-Rizalism.

Prof. Andersen spoke mainly on the literary merits of Rizal and the curious "coincidences" he found in the writings that bespoke of Lolo Jose having been heavily influenced by European thought. I was surprised by the fact that in the list of 19th century books Rizal owned, half were written by French intellectuals and writers. He spent 7 months in Paris writing Noli. According to Andersen, 7 months of soaking the intellectual ferment of the "world's literary capital" at the time.

The talk lingered on the sleuthing of the Professor in making "inter-textual matches" and parallels between Noli/Fili and Baudelaire, Zola (among others) and a Dutch writer whose name I didn't catch. Some inside homosexual connotations were also mentioned, to the great delight of the packed conference hall. Was Rizal gay? Its possible, but owing to the number of women he was linked to, I would say he was rather versatile and swung both ways.

I expected to hear a bit more on political interpretations and comparisons since the lecture title implied such. Sadly I was disappointed. Luckily, the hour and half long lecture was greatly enhanced by the open forum that followed. The discussion led to questions on Rizal's state of being and mind. Some reactions were rather hostile to the idea that all of Rizal's genius did not originate from his mind alone. Quite inappropriate opinions one may think. After all, the man did not live in a vacuum. He was bound to borrow from other's ideas and represent them in such a way that was new.

I found it quite interesting that in the list given us (books/writers Rizal owned or mentioned), Marx was noticeably missing. And I've always had this notion (maybe it was my PI 100 class) that Rizal was also influenced by Marxist thought as it showed in his writing. And so after having gathered my thoughts and formed a somewhat coherent comment and question in my head i raised my hand to speak.

I find it incredible that Rizal did not own a copy of Marx's writings or mentioned him in his works/letters. He spent a considerable time of his life in the heart of Europe in the latter half of the 19th century, arguably the height of imperialism. If I'm not mistaken, in the first chapter of Fili entitled "Bapor Tabo" Philippine society was visually rendered in a division between the upper half and lower half of the boat. It has been quite some time since I've read these books, but I remember this part clearly. Did Rizal ever write or comment about imperialism? He could not have been unconcious of this, living in that part of the world and being born and raised in a colony himself.

I suppose I delivered my comment and question in a rather combative tone, that was why the Professor pointed out imperialism was not yet in discourse at the time Rizal was alive so he could be excused for not having said anything on the matter. Apparently the word imperialism wasn't in commone use until Lenin wrote about it. Yeah well, just because it hasn't come out in mainstream discourse yet didn't mean Rizal couldn't have had thoughts about it. I think he missed my point entirely.

People criticize Rizal for not having a "truly" revolutionary goal. But I believe he was heavily critquing the colonial presence directly and the class divisions in Philippine society indirectly. He was insistent on the importance of education and enlightening the people. It was a different kind of revolution he was after, something that would not be temporary. But history has taken over in any case. The weak Spanish empire has finally collapsed and Filipinos found themselves serving a new master.

The director/moderator/leader of Kontra Gapi (I forget his name, but he's a cool dude) then stood up and asked that Andersen compare the works of Rizal to that of his contemporaries. The Prof then said it was impossible to make comparisons since Rizal was really only one of the two writers from the colonies writing strongly anti-colonial sentiments during the colonial period. Most of the literature would come after. Amazing.

After said lecture I went by Books-4-Less and got me english editions of the books. I still have my old high school ones, but they're in tagalog, and lord knows it will take a decade for me to finish if I read that.

1 comment:

Voltaire said...

That's been a puzzle to me as well. We can agree that Rizal was freethinker, a deist, anti-colonialist and anti-cleric.

He wasn't averse to armed revolution as a last alternative to resolve class conflict but he invested his writings and activities with ideas of radical reform. His transition from reform to revolution is as clear as Fili follows Noli, his commitment to revolution conditioned by his skepticism over the probability of success (lack of modern weaponry, an untrained army, lack of support from the nationalist ilustrado class).

I'm not too sure about Benedict Andersen's speculative "under 3 flags". Still re-reading it.

He would have certainly been aware of socialist ideas because of his friendship with the socialist Pi y Margall, one of the 4 federalist presidents of the first Spanish Republican government of 1872. Pi y Margall was influenced most by Proudhon.

Rizal was also aware of Spain's workers' anarchist tradition that welcomed Bakunin rather than Marx in Spain.

There was a letter from Juan Luna to Rizal that assumed that the two knew Marxism.

But this is all speculative.

In Rizal,