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by Philippines Cultural Studies Center
Thursday Dec 29th, 2011 7:34 PM
On December 30, 1896, the Spanish Empire executed Dr. Jose Rizal of the Philippines for revolutionary words and deeds. Today, Rizal is recognized not only as a hero to 100 million Filipinos but also to Asians and people of color struggling for justice, dignity and liberation. In Nov. 1884, Rizal joined protesting students against tyrannical Madrid University officials. He affirmed that "I was also there," part of OCCUPY MADRID, denouncing tyranny, The essay below seeks to recall Rizal's significance for us today.


by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

A specter is haunting las islas Filipinas—not just the territory, but also the Filipino diaspora around the world. Jose Rizal as ghost or the phantom in the neocolonial opera stalks across islands and continents. Rizal--the name is familiar, even a household word, like Avenida Rizal, Rizal Coliseum, the “Rizal” brand attached to all kinds of souvenirs, gewgaws, and collectibles. But over the decades and centuries, after 150 years, somehow the figure remains distant, alien, self-estranged. Rizal, the national hero, is routinely celebrated by bureaucrats, cult-followers, trendy pundits and inutile academics. But among so many fetishized images, counterfeit icons, and fabrications, who is the “real” and “true” Rizal? Such a question is perhaps anachronistic, irrelevant, or foolish in our postmodern age of simulacras, hybrid replicas, and virtual dissimulations. Our task in such a bind is to explore the nexus of duplicities and contradictions in our vexed and vexatious question.

Rizal’s significance for us today remains problematic, contentious, open-ended. His prestige is no longer monolithic, unequivocal, standardized. Readers of his works are now prone to extract multiple ambiguous meanings. After Constantino’s signal interrogation of the ascribed heroism of Rizal, we are left to puzzle out the gap between public appearance and covert essence, between the transparent integrity and the extravagant dissonance of our subject. Unamuno’s impression of a quixotic, Hamlet-like Rizal still appears warranted, despite the efforts of Ambeth Ocampo, Malou Jacob, and others to restore him to his all-too-human dimension. Nonetheless, Rizal remains unique and extraordinary in his single-minded commitment to his people’s liberation. Deconstructing the Empire’s transcendental signified, he had to construct the people/nation with a distinct “personality,” a world-historic presence, one no longer needing tutelage and capable of self-governance. This was a collective project of contriving a social contract by mobilizing potentia multitudine (Spinoza) in the process of permanent revolution, activating popular memory to midwife the future.

One of Rizal’s protagonists in the Fili posited the rationale of his life-long endeavor (conatus): “A life not consecrated to a great ideal is a useless one… Redemption presumes virtue; virtue presumes sacrifice; sacrifice presumes love.” The logic of such a syllogism led to Rizal’s arrest, trial, and execution. He was lucky to be able to chose the form of his death despite the peril of misrecognitions and misrepresentations. As Fr. Miguel Bernad (1998) has lucidly shown, Rizal’s trial was his vindication; the Court’s judgment was already presupposed in his being invidiously categorized as an “Indio.” More scandalous was Rizal’s habit of identifying himself with all the victims of colonialism, whether Indios, Chinese, creoles, ethnic aborigines, or marginalized Spanish peninsulars, thus articulating the syntagm of particular grievances into a universal cry of revolt against global injustice, a paradigmatic agenda of rectification and settling of accounts. “Sisa’s vengeance” is the shibboleth and trope of this agenda.

What above all distinguishes Rizal’s sensibility is the habit of thinking dialectically, grasping the total flow of experience in its manifold determinations. In his critique of Morga’s chronicle, for instance, he charted a mutable field of passions, affects, contingencies. Beyond the empirical and the aesthetic realms, his concern was always profoundly ethical and humanistic as he negotiated the transition from feudal corporatism to the possessive individualism of bourgeois/market capitalism. In a letter to Mariano Ponce, he considered all the persecutions, cruelties, abuses as necessary for Filipinos to prove their fortitude and valor, so that “in spite of everything and everybody, they will be worthy of liberty….In every struggle there must be victims, and it is the greatest of battles which are the most sanguinary. What is imprisonment? What is death? An illness sends us to bed at times and takes our life. The question is whether this infirmity and this death will afterwards be useless for those who survive” (Epistolario 2, 165-66). This challenge to wager life, Rizal affirmed, will generate the missing “personality” of the masses, a desideratum for deserving freedom and independence.

On the Edge of Extra-territorial Musings

Disruptions, aporias, and detours accompanied Rizal’s pedagogical and agit-prop vocation. Through his own improvised “ruses of reason,” Rizal opposed not only obscurantism and idolatry but also nihilist skepticism and self-deluded egotism. He repeated to his sisters that his motivation in his Enlightenment work was not meant to cause “the stain of dishonor,” rather the opposite. His attitude to Marcelo del Pilar and other expatriates in Madrid demonstrated Rizal’s conscientious prudence (he later denounced this exorbitant prudence as a native flaw preventing initiatives) in putting honor, construed as the fidelity to principles and national ideals, above mere creature comforts and self-serving welfare: “My politics is to become eclipsed….I wish to be sure that I may never be regarded as a stumbling block to anybody, even though this involves my own fall.” Representing himself (in the name of others, justice, the emancipated future) entailed self-erasure, temporizing, ultimately death.

Rizal’s sensitivity concerning his personal dignity or honor may be deemed subtly narcissistic, even self-ingratiating. On the other hand, it can also be assayed as a symptom of inadequacy, a gnawing sense of lack, an obsessive preoccupation with an unstable, precarious, nascent selfhood—more precisely, a fallibilistic modality of performing self-determination. That paradox sustained him in straitened circumstances and at the same time undermined his psychic equilibrium. Everything seems pregnant with its contrary (to echo Marx’s quip of 1856). Thus he had to laugh to salvage spoiled intentions and damaged ideals. That gave him the formula for thought-experiments, for savage allegory and satire. What is certain is that we need to reject the methological individualism of the liberal/official assessment of Rizal’s significance that vitiates many research projects on Rizal designed for advancing fundamentalist programs and/or mercantile self-aggrandizement.

Uncannily, Rizal was a performance artist avant la lettre, unwittingly, without premeditation. It was part of a ritualized genre of caring for the soul, inflected from St. Ignatius’ exercises and ritualized in the book Rizal had in prison, Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ (see his criticism of Barrantes on theater [1984, 116-24] ). Rizal displayed this in countless letters where he dramatized his own imagined part in the campaign for decolonization. In a letter to del Pilar, Rizal exhorted his comrades to inaugurate a more militant policy of courage and genuine solidarity: “Our fellow counrymen, at seeing our valor, at seeing that Rizal is not the exception but the general rule, will also take new courage and lose their fear; there is nothing like example…. God and Destiny are on our side because we have justice and right and because we struggle not for ourselves but for the sacred love we hold for our country and for our fellow countrymen.” Earlier he wrote Mariano Ponce to advise Graciano Lopez Jaena to return to the Philippines (instead of going to Cuba, which Rizal later chose to do in order to escape the desperate vicissitudes of his banishment) “to allow himself to be killed in defense of his ideals; we have only once to die, and if we do not die well, we lose an opportunity which will not again be presented to us.” He seized that opportunity, the mise en scéne for conjuring his avatars and their vestal consorts.

Every commentator shares the consensus that the 1872 martyrdom of Father Burgos, Gomez and Zamora (just a year after the historic inauguration of the Paris Commune) transformed Rizal into a filibustero, as he confided to Blumentritt and Ponce. This is the “culprit” who constructed the baroque worlds of the Noli and Fili; the latter novel he dedicated to the three martyrs. Anxious to prove himself a worthy heir to the model of his predecessors, Rizal upheld the anagogic idea of vengeance —Simoun/Ibarra’s justice cognized as a collective mode of fulfilling a promise to ancestors to heal the rupture of interrupted group exchanges--as the legitimizing foundation of a nation-in-the-making. It is an organic concept of the emergent nation instantiated, as Rizal mindful of the Messiah once put it, wherever two Filipinos are gathered in memory of their birthplace and its common good. He declared: “At the sight of these injustices and cruelties, even as a child my imagination was awakened and I swore to dedicate my life to avenge so many victims; and it is with this idea that I have been studying. This may be seen in all my works and writings; God give me the opportunity some day to carry out my promise!” Here Rizal was enacting Simoun/Ibarra’s role, remembering inter alia the blow he received from a guardia civil in his youth, the brutal treatment of his mother by the local authorities, and the harrowing mass eviction of his family from their home in Calamba (the details of the agony was conveyed to Rizal in a letter from his sister Narcisa [Epistolario V, 167). Clearly, his aspiration to collect what’s due, redress grievances, and complete the exchange was nourished and cultivated early on in the hero’s tortuous adventure.
Pathos of Incommensurable Desire

After demythologizing the icon, what remains? The protocols for re-interrogating the Rizal cult/hero-worship have been formulated by the recurrent themes and motifs of the major biographies (Palma, Guerrero, Coates, Baron Fernandez). Except for the retraction and the Josephine Bracken episode, most events in Rizal’s life are no longer controversial. I consider the Memorias, the canonical two novels, certain letters, and the substantive essays central to the understanding of Rizal’s import and serviceability for the national-democratic struggle. Of vital importance are those originally written in Tagalog as well as the unfinished and fragmentary manuscripts.

A strategy to decenter the ilustrado reformist assessment of Rizal should begin with the letter to the Malolos women, the Liga Filipina, the letters to Blumentritt, Ponce and other colleagues in La Solidaridad, the unfinished novel on the Tagalog nobility, Makamisa, and the two political testaments dated June 20, 1892, entrusted to Dr. Lorenzo Marques for safekeeping. What is confirmed is that Rizal’s December 15 manifesto, a guileful recalcitrant document, was never made public. Hidden transcripts and oracular scenarios characterize the operations of the Rizal writing-machine. Between the Memorias, the two novels, the commentary on Morga, the major discourses on indolence and the future of the country, his voluminous correspondence, poems such as “Ultimo Adios” and “Mi Retiro,” the open letter to the Malolos women, and the two testaments, etc.--this constellation or network of representamens (to use C.S. Peirce’s term for signifiers) delimiting the range of subject-positions the Rizal persona or actant can perform fixes the parameters of further speculation on his usefulness in the task of constructing a popular-democratic bloc, a grass-roots constituency, in the fight for national-popular hegemony. We shift from archaelogy to genealogy: the author dies to give way to a kindred reader/interpreter born in the interstices of his texts and acts, as well as in their rhizomatic ramifications.

There is no question that Rizal’s prodigious commitment in trying to represent an emergent nation/people is unprecedented in the annals of the “third world.” His identity has been equated with the singular dedication to the liberation of his country which inexorably led to his persecution and martyrdom. On the testimony of Andres Bonifacio and the1896 generation, and of ilustrado politicians from Aguinaldo, Quezon, Roxas, and biographers Wenceslao Retana, Rafael Palma, Austin Craig, Carlos Quirino, Leon Ma. Guerrero, and others, Rizal’s heroism is unparalleled in the annals of Philippine history, and of Asia as well. His influence has extended beyond Asia up to the Americas, Europe and Africa. With the usual qualifications, he is now cited together with Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Gandhi, Sun Yat-Sen. Jose Marti, and other revolutionary nationalists of the last century.

But aside from being a national-democratic intellectual ahead of his time, Rizal and the narrative of his labors constitute a difficult imaginary organon for Filipinos. It is one that occupies a subterranean space transcending historical determinations precisely because of the specific circumstances that defined and circumscribed his life. The saga of his words and deeds symbolizes a specific Filipino modernity that breaks the boundaries of the Enlightenment schematics of ascetic virtue precisely because of its archaic and feudal, even primitive, ingredients. The Rizal mind-body complex may be conceived as the locus for the convergence of heterogeneous socioeconomic formations that by their mixture yields that configuration of an anti-hero first glimpsed by Unamuno and observed by Teodoro Agoncillo, Ante Radaic, Claro Recto, Dolores Feria, and others. In my book Rizal in Our Time (Anvil, revised edition 2011), I called attention to some discordant, incongruous elements in the Rizal archive in the hope of synthesizing them. In the two essays collected here, the play of contradictions and seemingly irreconcilable polarities is foregrounded and used as speculative points of departure.

The Indio Witness Speaking Tongues

Rizal’s life registers both acquiescence to fate (divine providence, “bathala na/bahala na” = let the overarching plot unfold) and resistance to it. Destiny for Rizal was a contrapuntal orchestration of fatalism and voluntarism. resignation and the affirmation of will-to-power. His project of shaping his life-world was premised on the inertia of circumstances outside his control non-synchronized with occasions for seizing opportunities. His contacts with liberal European intellectuals were such occasions; the other was his meeting with the “Irish half-caste,” Josephine Bracken. Rizal’s life may be summed up as one unrelenting endeavor to grasp and master, unavailingly, the discourse of the Other. In the process, the Other metamorphosed into multiple worldly others, the sacred merging with the secular: his family, friends, teachers, comrades in La Solidaridad, allies in the international conversation (Blumentritt, Meyer, Virchow, etc.). He disavowed this project of comprehending the Other by the power of his sincerity and utter self-abnegation. One proof may be found in his unprecedented letters to the Jesuit “inquisitor” Fr. Pablo Pastells who tried to re-convert him to the orthodox piety of his youth. Rizal sums up his position: “My sole wish is to do what is possible, what is in my hands, the most necessary” (11 November 1892). Despite being commonsensical, down-to-earth and pragmatic, Rizal suffered numerous attacks of depression, profound melancholy, even despair. His diary and letters attest to this cycle of intense moods and dispositions foreshadowing the “wild justice” (Francis Bacon) symptomatic of the compulsion to resurrect the past in order to redeem the present and the future.

The Spanish doctor-biographer Baron Fernandez has highlighted for us the occurrence of those moments. The traces of their beginning can be discerned all throughout the Memorias as silences, ellipses, absences that punctuate his departures and returns: from his early sojourn in Binan to the years in Ateneo and UST (1872-1882) and to the first voyage to Europe (1882-1887), and its aftermath. Even the brief interlude (1888) of his travel across the United States—from the quarantine in San Francisco to his comment on America as the land of opportunity despite the lack of civil rights for African Americans—betokened revealing lapses and inconsistencies. Throughout his second foray into Europe, the crisis of his family’s plight in Calamba hounded him. Somehow filled with remorse, he blamed himself for his family’s eviction from their farmland, the chief source of their livelihood, by the Dominican order; for the persecution and banishment of his relatives, and the suffering of his parents and sisters. He too suffered, feeling himself complicit in causing their misery. On one day in Madrid, June 24, 1884, before the banquet at which he delivered his famous speech honoring Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, the starving Rizal was on the verge of delirium.

One contributing factor in Rizal’s saturnine if not morbid outlook during that period is the illness brought about by malnutrition, anguished work, and excessive gymnastics, as diagnosed by his good friend Dr. Maximo Viola. In 1886, Viola offered a symptomatology: “Afternoon fevers preceded by chills, slight cough, feeling of fatigue and haggardness” (Baron Fernandez 1980. 95). Rizal took arsenic and discontinued his physical regimen. While emphasizing the material determinants of the psyche, we will not pursue a mechanistic Freudian analysis such as Radaic’s, or the ludicruous Lombro-esque portrayal of Rizal carried out by Retana (1979).

Rizal believed in every person’s capacity to learn from mistakes and solve problems, developing in the process an informed and intelligent will-power. Creative human labor, the metabolism of social praxis, is the key to the fashioning of culture; solidarity or cooperation is the basis for the making of civilization. At the same time, Rizal intuited Marx’s cardinal axiom that individuality (sensuous praxis) is nothing but the totality of social relations at a specific time and place of one’s existence. Human agency becomes possible and materially efficacious only within the limits established by the historical parameters of possibility, which in turn is configured by the degree of development of the productive forces, by the prevailing division of social labor and its ideological legitimization vis-à-vis the totality of social relations of production and reproduction. The body, sexuality and difference, as well as the registers of shifting identities, acquire their meanings and resonance within this totality. This hypothesis can be tested and judged in the crucible of revolutionary social praxis.

The doctor we quoted earlier is the same Viola who accompanied Rizal in a “grand tour” of Europe in 1887, up to the memorable visit to that Viennese siren—one of the manggagaways that Rizal dared to experiment with, prior to his Dapitan exile and the confrontation with sorcery and/or psychosomatic illness. He was immune to seduction because of wounds sustained earlier; the scars of the Katigbak affair (replicated in the Leonor Rivera showdown) were still raw. Rizal’s act of memorializing in his journals those temptations performed the rite of exorcism. The next documented attack of depression occurred after his stay in Biarritz, his refusal to accept Nelly Boustead’s condition (excusing it with the phrase “we are all in the hands of God” or Fate), the completion of El Filibusterismo, aggravated by the schisms among his friends in Madrid, and the news in 1891 that the Madrid Supreme Court upheld the punishment suffered by the people of Calamba. Before he left for Hong Kong, Rizal was suicidal. He wrote to his friend Jose Ma. Basa: “…for I may die, or something may happen to me, and I don’t want you to lose anything in case I cannot embark. I fear that something may happen and I may not go through with the trip” (Baron Fernandez 1980, 195-96). Melancholia and mourning for the lost “object”—the extra-territorial patria, youth’s innocence--triggered shame that eventually deteriorated into guilt and self-blame.

Mapping Disenchantment and Epiphany

Such existential ordeals were not new for Rizal. They accompanied the dissolution of the inherited religious world-view, the traditional pietas of classical antiquity, and its replacement by a secular, worldly orientation. The therapeutic reflections on the dangers of uprooting, nostalgic longing, confrontation with new hostile environments, and the failure of vows and promises, are poignantly recorded in the Memorias and intimate letters to his family, friends, and collaborators. His studies of physics and philosophy precipitated a “polarization” that “plunged me into a world of miseries from which I have not yet emerged.” In his youth he endured the agony of his isolation in Binan and Manila. But such traumatic paroxysms were nothing compared to the lethal void sprung from the vertigo of amorous fantasy catalyzed by the figure of Segunda Katigbak. Death and the erotic constituted the hero’s passive/active, oscillating, precariously balanced sensibility. The chapter in Memorias between April to December 1877 constitutes a signifying chain of tropes, images, and metaphoric clusters that capture the destruction of the phallogocentric subject (earlier fed by Ateneo medals and his parents’ support) and the passage through a fleeting jouissance in the moment of loss, speechlessness, and motor paralysis. Rizal was devastated. Ironically, representation (writing) equals loss of self-presence, amnesia, a leap into the abyss. The subject becomes other and drastically re-positioned through this break, this fade-out and seizure—a bewitchment he would analyze during his exile. This disintegration (ec-stasis) of the psyche transpires in a fantasy game combining disavowal and complicity, alternating ingenious retreats and disingenuous advances.

We witness here the inscription of the psyche into the tabooed space of mourning, frontier-crossing or violations of borders, and the uncanny haunting of the ruined home. The ruptured ego experiences the pleasure of its vertigo as Rizal anticipates the final disappearance of the beloved several days before the last meeting: “That was the first night that I felt an anguish and inquietude resembling love, if not jealousy, perhaps because I saw that I was separating from her, perhaps because a million obstacles would stand between us, so that my budding love was increasing and seemed to be gaining vigor in the flight” (Zaide and Zaide 1984, 314). The climactic separation is rehearsed here as though it would relieve, if not prevent, the advent of that catastrophic eventuality. The lover’s mind is already crippled as he waited for the appearance of the vehicle where the beloved’ s handkerchief will appear as a premonitory sign: “I saw the swift currents [of a nearby brook] carrying away branches that they tore from the bushes and my thought, wandering in other regions and having other subjects, paid no attention to them.” Finally the moment arrives and the erotic object enters the horizon of ethical decision—only to find the agent-to-be immobilized, even castrated, despite a histrionic stance and theatrical readiness:

…She bowed to me smiling and waving her handkerchief, I just lifted up my head 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. The vehicle passed like a swift shadow, leaving no other trace but a horrible void in the world of my affections…. [I]n 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. (Zaide and Zaide 1984, 317).

Subversive Metamorphosis

That experience would prove deracinating and purgative for the adolescent Rizal. In order to cure himself, more precisely rescue the mortified ego from further “deception”, he tried to deflect the libidinal drive to fix its cathexis on another woman, L, an older bachelor girl, “fair with seductive and attractive eyes”; but his thoughts and heart followed Segunda Katigbak “through the night to her town.” This excursion to a substitute failed to heal the wound, pushing him to the edge of perverse self-immolation and necrophilia: “If the most filthy corpse had told me that she too was thinking of me, I would have kissed it out of gratitude.” Conversely, in the last farewell, the dead lover would release the enslaved mother(land) elegized in “Kundiman” and cohabit with her in “enchanted terrain.” Rehearsing the agony of loss, the prodigal son/lover would later on reflect on this episode in order to equip himself for the ordeal of the last destination.
Overall, the admonitory impact of this experience—a recapitulation of abjecthood necessary for acquiring a new subjectivity—should not be overestimated. I submit that the truly crippling trauma for Rizal was his four-years deportation to Dapitan following the blasting of his hope that Governor Despujol would allow the settlement of his family to British North Borneo. This was wholly unexpected, in spite of earlier events such as the deportation of his relatives (in particular, Manuel Hidalgo) and the painful uprooting of the Rizal clan from Calamba and their temporary stay in Hong Kong. Apart from this exile (1892-1896) culminating in his arrest in the middle of his travel to Cuba, speedy trial and execution, the other profound crisis in Rizal’s life (as already mentioned) was the arrest and extremely cruel treatment of his mother for alleged connivance with his uncle Jose Alberto in trying to kill his delinquent wife. This happened a year before the 1872 Cavite Mutiny and the execution of the priests Burgos, Gomez and Zamora; and the retreat of his brother Paciano Rizal from public visibility. Rizal recounted this vicious treatment of his mother in the third chapter of his Memorias, a primal scene of horror—even though the vile torturer suffered remorse.

The case lasted for two and a half years. The thirteen-year old child identified with his mother, victim of an iniquitous system resembling that suffered by the protagonist of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo that Rizal was reading then, together with Chateaubriand’s melodramatic romances. Teodora Alonzo’s brutalization and the murder of Father Burgos coalesced to make Rizal a “filibustero.” In this context, Rizal’s novels may be conceived as a sustained, elaborate program of therapy to overcome the earlier traumas of abjection and refusal. However, the Dapitan calamity could not be resolved except by martyrdom which Rizal welcomed, having anticipated that ending a long time ago in his dreams and his counter-intuitive deciphering of the maneuvers of the Jesuit priests and the Katipunan messengers.

Burlesque Dance of the Enigma

Reviewing in 1901 the publication of Rizal’s Noli translated into English, the “father” of American realism William Dean Howells unreservedly praised its exquisite artistry. It reminded him of the verbal economy of modern Spanish novelists; indeed, Rizal “has gone beyond them in a certain sparing touch, with which he presents situation and character by mere statement of fact, without explanation or comment” (1901, 805). Is Howells reading the same artifact charged by many to be melodramatic, weirdly baroque, sentimental, replete with prolix moralizing, etc.? It seems that, for the Yankee reviewer, this “little saffron man” succeeded in rendering types “with unerring delicacy and distinctness.” We suspect that Howell is compensating for the barbaric aggression of Generals Otis and Arthur McArthur’s soldiers, climaxing in the ferocious pacification campaign of Generals Bell and Smith, during the Filipino-American War (1899-1902); this genocidal horror was recently recalled to an American public by John Sayles’ film, Amigo, without mention of 1.4 milion dead Filipinos. Rizal’s “unimpeachable veracity,” for Howell, resides in “the self-control of the artistic spirit” shown “even in the extreme of apparent caricature” (1901, 806).

We forego summarizing the two novels here. Needless to say, a historical materialist perspective goes beyond the mere inventory of facts and statistics, requiring the deployment of situational frames and intertextual contexts. Linkages and connections are needed in order to grasp the totality of any phenomenon. In addition to the empiricist gloss, we need a versatile semiotic reading of the Rizal archive responsive to its polysemous texture/structure. Rizal, however, would surely repudiate the cosmopolitanesque, free-floating notion of Filipino-as-Everyman, Patricia Evangelista’s notorious denizen of a borderless world, the anonymous balikbayan giving back to the country what she has purchased/earned from servitude to the rich nation-states of the Global North (Pinoy Abrod 2004). Rizal is much more skeptical, less naïve, than our well-intentioned but nonetheless naively cynical compatriots. This is in keeping with his own self-reflexive hermeneutic, a rigorous interrogation of the motives of his words and actions and their resonance in varying constellations of forces and events.

There is no questioning Rizal’s obsessive engagement with constructing the Filipino as a nascent collective agency, the foundation for a new polity based on rational argumentation and civic virtues. He explored the possibilities immanent in the immediate present, invested with contradictory tendencies and implications. As Rafael Palma and others have demonstrated, Rizal’s singularity inheres in this intransigent focus on his mission: “I prefer the death of the ant which bites even in the moment of dying….I am going to prove to those who deny patriotism to us that we know how to die for our duty and our convictions” (Palma 1949, 340). Gladiator-like, he challenged the Furies, staking everything, claiming the righteous God on his side.

Rizal’s trenchant self-esteem, the antidote to pride, was paradoxically a self-negating virtue. Sacrificing his life, rejecting conservative prudence and welcoming death in the arena, Rizal pursued his writerly task, his shamanistic duty, to expose the cancerous bodies of the afflicted on the steps of the temple so that others—presumably the healthy, compassionate ones--may offer a remedy. Rizal staged the illusion of this spectacle in the narratives of his two novels, as well as in various satirical pieces. They operated as prophylactic devices of purgation, salutary vehicles of exorcism. The “shock and awe” triggered by obscurantist terror was rendered intelligible from the optic of a curative agent/shaman, the culture-hero of folk memory and autochtonous tradition. Rizal crafted the spectacle of this crisis, with its catharsis involving both victimizers and victims, under the sign of an avenging spirit that is the mother of all revolts and transgressions:

Some people say: “It is these imprisonments and deaths that terrify and intimidate the rest!” If the country lacks courage, if it is paralyzed by despair, infected, close to disorganization, fire is precisely the remedy indicated. Fire will awaken vitality, irritate the cells, cause the fluids to circulate…And it is only dead if there exists no vitality at all. Suppose we free it today from the tyranny of the friars; tomorrow it will fall under the tyranny of their employees (Epistolario 2, 166).

Insurgency Without Guarantees

Slaves of today, the tyrants of tomorrow—are we hearing echoes of the fugitive Ibarra? of the prophet-demystifier Tasio? The self-embattled Rizal feared the return of the repressed embodied, for instance, in Simoun, the personification of the irrationality of the whole system. So he speculated that this prophecy can be foiled by critique, by vigilant self-scrutiny and anatomizing of the body politic. In the process, Voltairean metaphysics yielded to Dionysian actuality. This incarnation or transubstantiation of ideas may have resulted only in “Felipinas Caliban,” as Alma Jill Dizon argues in her allegorical reading of the two female protagonists, Dona Victorina and Dona Consolacion. Like Fr. John Schumacher (1978), Dizon calls attention to Rizal’s criticism of the corruption of complicitous subjects. But such individual cases cannot be divorced from the brutalized plight of the whole body politic.

Rizal was unsparing in applying self-disciplinary measures. Based on his own experience, he reminded the Malolos women how Filipina obsequiousness arose from “the combined effect of their excessive kindness, modesty, and perhaps ignorance.” As Rizal noted in diagnosing subaltern indolence, the malaise resulted from centuries of slave/master inter-dependency whose idealist phenomenology Marx and Engels had stood on its head in their critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1970) and The Holy Family (1844;1975). Unfortunately, this one-sided view of Rizal’s partisanship needs to be rectified by a more nuanced, holistic appraisal of the multifaceted world of both artifices in which all the characters are embedded. Like Sisa, both women function as indices of a much broader dynamic typicality, what Engels had in mind when he theorized the concept of scrupulous realism in his remarks on Balzac, Lasalle, Ibsen, and other authors (1973).

Praised by Howells (as noted earlier), Rizal’s critical realism was premised on an analysis of the total situation embracing both colonized and colonizer. Engaged in subverting delusions/illusions, he paid close attention to the complicities of the colonized with her subjection. Mapping the trajectory of decolonization (as voiced in Tasio’s jeremiads, in Elias’ predicament, or in the tragic ambiguities of Cabesang Tales and his clan), Rizal sought to forge a national-popular will that would interweave European ideas and the vernacular canon, folk millenarian impulses and elite intellectual resources. We can cite the hermeneutic insight of another scholar, Eugenio Matibag, who examines in a more dialectical manner the “play of an emancipatory desire” in Rizal’s novels. While he remarks on the bifurcations and antitheses of characters and motifs, Matibag asserts that Rizal believed in a “unique Philippine culture…founded on a Filipino creolism” (1995, 262). Hence Rizal “creolizes Spanish language by including regionalisms, Tagalog words and Philippine spellings in dialogue and narration.” Indeed, the novels are genuinely intertextual and analogic, eliciting a wide spectrum of responses and thus anticipating the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other postmodern fabulists. What I would propose, however, is the application of the method of metacommentary (exemplified in the works of Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Fredric Jameson) that combines a critique of ideology with a heuristic exploration of utopian, carnivalesque possibilities. After all, the actualities of the future are present in the interregnum of what exists but not-yet, in the pedagogical domain of potentiality, as well as in the quotidian experience of our shared, interactive lives.

Anti-Climactic Caesura: From Dapitan to Fort Santiago

When Rizal was accused during his trial of instigating the Katipunan rebellion that prematurely exploded in August 1896, he denied it and was compelled to issue the December 15 manifesto. We take note of the countervailing forces that bracket the sincerity of this document. Constantino and other iconoclasts focus on Rizal’s denunciation of the rebellion and his appeal for reforms from above as proof of Rizal’s counter-revolutionary if not assimilationist sentiment. This text, plus his response to Dr. Pio Valenzuela’s visit to Dapitan in July 1896, became self-incriminatory despite the Katipunan’s extolling of Rizal as the charismatic progenitor of the insurrection. Earlier Rizal confessed that the Liga which he planned in 1892, four years before his arrest, was “stillborn.”

During his exile in Dapitan, Rizal met Josephine Bracken via the visit of Hong Kong citizen George Taufer. Eventually she became his common-law wife despite the initial antipathy of his mother and sisters. Bracken’s miscarriage and Rizal’s burial of his unborn child Francisco (named after his father) is interpreted by Austin Coates as symbolic of Rizal’s life as “futureless as the child….For once he had succumbed to his desires, and this was weakness, and he knew it” (1992, 273; see Ofilada 2003, 46-48). A weakness that Rizal acknowledged? Scarcely. In his letters pleading that the Rizal clan show some kindness to Bracken, Rizal wrote (to his sister Trinidad, 21 Nov. 1895): “I am convinced that she [Josephine] is better than what they say. What she does for me, how she obeys me and attends to me, would not have been done to me by a Filipina” (quoted in Ofilada 2003, 43; see also Rodolfo 1958). Physical coercion was futile without ideological pressure. Given the surveillance, threat of assassination, and unrelenting persuasive moves—symbolic violence immanent in the carceral networks of biopower and the despotic “distribution of the sensible” (to borrow Jacques Ranciere’s phrase)--imposed on Rizal in Dapitan, the refuge afforded by Bracken’s companionship could not be ignored for reasons of delicadeza. In his “last farewell” (first published in Antonio Luna’s revolutionary newspaper La Independencia on 25 September 1898), the pilgrim-voyager Rizal finally acknowledged the help of dulce extranjera [Josephine Bracken], bidding farewell to “my joy,…the sweet friend that lightened my way.”

As proposed in the essays that follow, a revaluation of Rizal and a more all-encompassing appraisal of his contribution to our national-democratic revolution may be initated by using Rizal’s Dapitan exile as its center of gravity, the site of intertextuality, dialogue, and experimental inquiry. It might serve as the theoretical crucible for decoding the themes of difference, sexuality, and subjectivity along the signifying web of discursive practices and institutions that make up our colonial and neocolonial history. To be sure, the patriarch-oriented Rizal was not a feminist or woman-liberationist. But he protested against frailocracy as the epitome of the gender-based authoritarian system, inspired by populist Jacobin ideals, by the classic Roman virtues of Cicero and republican thinkers (Spinoza, Schiller), and by the naturalist, humanist secularism which he absorbed in his European travels (Miguel Morayta once invited Rizal to a celebration of Giordana Bruno in Madrid). His didactic-polemical gloss on the Malolos women’s plan to open a night-school is the crucial testimony to his egalitarian conviction that in the process supported unleashing women’s energies for a universal program of emancipation traversing the domains of race, class, gender, and nationality. The sixth precept distills that provocative animus to level authoritarian hierarchies: “All men are born equal, naked, without bonds.” The paramount injunction is to use the faculty of critical judgment to grasp what is reasonable and just and truthful as we proceed through “the garden of learning,” thwarting deceit and enjoying the fruits of mutual aid, convivial reciprocity, in a life of freedom and enjoyment of each other’s company.

A Message from the “Belly of the Beast”

Our national beginning may be said to enjoy a permanently resourceful matrix in Rizal’s life-work mediated by the 1896 revolution and the protracted resistance to US occupation. We can discount or ignore Rizal, but he will not ignore us. Death for Rizal was a momentary catching of breath before renewed mobilization: “To die is to rest….” Subjectivation followed subjection, dissensus superseded consensus: the model student became a pariah, exile, prisoner, and executed filibustero. Rizal himself provides a fitting epilogue to his life in the last paragraph of his homily to the Malolos women. He evokes the utopian garden of delights, a pastoral milieu of sensuous joy sprung from social labor overcoming the alienation of urban civilization. He conjures for us a vision of truth and rapture, rationality fused with convivial pleasure emanating from solidarity and communal sacrifice:

“Tubo ko’y dakila sa puhunang pagod” at mamatamisin ang ano mang mangyari, ugaling upa sa sino mang mangahas sa ating bayang magsabi ng tunay. Matupad nawa and inyong nasang matuto at hari na ngang sa halamanan ng karununga’y huwag makapitas ng bungang bubut, kundi ang kikitli’y piliiin, pag-isipin muna, lasapin bago lunukin, sapagkat sa balat ng lupa lahat ay haluan, at di bihirang magtanim ang kaaway ng damong pansira, kasama sa binhi sa gitna ng linang [“My profit will be greater than the capital invested”; and I shall gladly accept the usual reward of all who dare tell our people the truth. May your desire to educate yourself be crowned with success; may you in the garden of learning gather not bitter, but choice fruit, looking well before you eat, because on the surface of the globe all is deceit, and often the enemy sows weeds in your seedling plot (1984, 332).

Written in 1889 two years after the publication of the Noli (1887), while engaged in annotating Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (1609), the Malolos epistle illustrates Rizal’s conviction that what is needed to redeem the homeland was not a literary man but a good citizen who would deploy heart and head, not yet the force of arms. Before the frontal assault on the Spanish behemoth, a war of maneuver is necessary. Employing both head and heart, the resident of the polis would utilize the pen as the principal instrument without preempting the tactical use of other weapons. He reminds fellow agitator Ponce (in a letter dated 27 June 1888) that “Now, it does not seem to us that the instrument is the primordial object. Sometimes with a poor one great works can be produced; let the Philippine bolo speak. Sometimes in poor literature great truths can be said” (1999, 96). The allusion to the native “bolo” speaks volumes in the context of pacific writing. It summons the ghosts of women-warriors, from Gabriela Silang, Gregoria de Jesus, Teresa Magbanua, Maria Lorena Barros, Maria Theresa Dayrit, Luisa Posa-Dominado, and countless others.

Without discriminating against other means, Rizal’s strategy for the radical transformation of society was neither puritanical nor adventurist. But political agency implied sophistication in ideology-critique. For him, it was not the quality of belle lettre, nor aesthetic education alone, that would enable the masses to discover truth and unleash the energies for deliverance. It depended on a fortuitous conjuncture of circumstances, of objective and subjective forces. It involved the “ripeness of time,” for the people’s spirit blows where it wills. By this time, Rizal was already a marked man. He harbored the stigmata of the filibustero avenger, the androgynous shaman haunting the threshold of the temple. Meanwhile Rizal tried to recuperate the lesson of Maria Makiling that he retold in 1890, working under the intractable specters of Sisa, Juli, Dona Consolacion, Dona Victorina, and the ill-fated Maria Clara. Approximating an allegory of a Filipino Monte Cristo, El Filibusterismo was published in 1891, shortly after the Boustead affair and his withdrawal from active participation in reformist propaganda in Madrid. In 1892, he was banished to Dapitan. In less than four years, Rizal was dead.

A Message from the Beast’s Belly

What then is the point of this whole exercise in re-interpreting Rizal in a time of globalized terror and the “shock doctrine” of moribund finance-capitalism? What are the stakes in re-reading Rizal?

A contemporary of Rizal, the American “backwoodsman” Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), the inventor of pragmaticism and arguably the greatest philosopher of modern times, may offer us a justification. A close friend of Harvard sage William James, one of the militant founders of the Anti-Imperialist League, Peirce opposed in his quiet way the ruthless US subjugation of the Philippines in the name of “Manifest Destiny” and a white-supremacist “civilizing mission.” He was not as vocal as his New England colleagues, nor as irrepressible as the astute Mark Twain with his scathing diatribes against the US empire (Zwick 1992). Nonetheless, Peirce expressed his deeply felt sympathy for the beleaguered revolutionaries in the course of his fourth Harvard Lecture on “The Seven Systems of Metaphysics,” delivered on 16 April 1903. This was two years after the massacre of fifty-nine American soldiers in Balangiga, Samar, Philippines; and a year after the proclamation by Theodore Roosevelt that the war in the Philippines was over (Miller 1982).

Peirce did not believe that the Filipinos had been completely subdued. He believed in the legitimacy of the Filipinos’ right to fight for self-determination, as witness the Tagala on the shore appropriating a link, found by accident and transmitted to others; this story alludes to an informing telos in the chain of signifiers that when translated by the community was bound to reinvigorate the resistance against the imperial colossus. Signs produce effects and actualize purposes. Peirce’s hidden message of solidarity suddenly materializes in the middle of a discourse on “Thirdness” and on the power of words to generate incalculable effects, an integral part of Peirce’s seminal theory of signs. Didn’t Rizal, the cunning propagandist and polymath, cherish the belief that his words were bound to produce disturbance and changes of habits in whoever reads/hears them? That may explain for us the rationale for what we have accomplished here, whose value remains to be acknowledged, weighed and tested in practice by the masses for it to become a weapon in the struggle:

…Nobody can deny that words do produce such effects. Take for example, that sentence of Patrick Henry which, at the time of our revolution, was repeated by every man to his neighbor: “Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of Liberty, and in such a country as we possess, are invincible against any force that the enemy can bring against us.”
Those words present this character of the general law of nature, that they might have produced effects indefinitely transcending any that circumstances allowed them to produce. It might, for example. have happened that some American schoolboy, sailing as a passenger in the Pacific Ocean, should have idly written down those words on a slip of paper. The paper might have been tossed overboard and might have been picked up by some Tagala on a beach of the island of Luzon; and if he had them translated to him they might easily have passed from mouth to mouth there as they did in this country, and with similar effect.
Words then do produce physical effects. It is madness to deny it. The very denial of it involves a belief in it; and nobody can consistently fail to acknowledge it until he sinks to a complete mental paresis (1998, 184).