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Remembering Jose Rizal: 151 Years After
Recently, international activists discovered that Jose Rizal. the national hero of the Philippines, participated in what may be called "OCCUPY MADRID" in Nov. 1884, for several days. He joined student mass demonstrations protesting authoritarian practices at Madrid University. In 1956. Prof. Marguerite Fisher reminded us that Rizal was one of the first "to proclaim this idea [of racial equalitarianism] in Asia, for Asians; he became "far more than a Filipino patriot" against Spanish colonialism. In the essay below, Rizal is shown as a visionary thinker of "women's liberation," arguing against white-supremacist patriarchal institutions and practices.
JOSE RIZAL & THE “WOMAN QUESTION”
By E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
More than his persona as the astute and circumspect dissident, Jose Rizal as lover, romantic protagonist, and simpatico confidant of women of various nationalities, has preoccupied many scholars to the point of suspecting that there was something anomalous somewhere. Was Rizal manic-depressive, or simply neurotic? Few would accuse him of being an unscrupulous and promiscuous Casanova, much less a cynical Don Juan. In fact, Rizal was courtly, thoughtful, even fearful and wary toward the opposite sex—except his mother. What did he think of his friend Juan Luna’s killing of his wife and mother-in-law? We do not really know, we can only speculate. The inamorata Leonor Rivera exposed the Rizal phallus as a “semblance” (to use the Lacanian rubric) while Josephine Bracken restored it to its decorous size. Only one other woman challenged him: Nelly Boustead, while the Japanese Seiko Usui/O-Sei-San confirmed his virility, sacrificing herself (in his judgment) without demanding any reciprocity nor due recognition of her gift/service.
Entangled in this seductive chronicle of amorous affairs, we take a moment to interpose mindful distance and ask: what is Rizal’s ultimate assessment of women’s actual virtue and potential? None of his biographers has contributed anything substantial on this, perhaps intimidated that if they venture to engage with “the woman question,” they would provoke a Pandora’s box of adversarial criticism that might expose vulnerable biases and unconscionable presumptions.
We dare to cross the threshold of forbidden and dangerous territory at this historic conjuncture of manifold crises in our homeland. The principles of feminism and women’s liberation have rooted themselves firmly in civil society since the Sixties, emblematized by organizations such as Gabriela and its party-list, among others. And so we can carry on a discourse on gender equality, patriarchy, and sexual difference without recapitulating foundationalist origins (Aguilar 1988; Chant and McIlwaine 1995). Arguments about women’s position in the social division of labor have progressed to the point where Maria Mies (1986) posits women’s role in the production and reproduction of life as relatively independent from the production of goods, wages, profit, thus requiring a materialist analysis of its own. Frigga Haug (1999) reminds us that the feminist standpoint is both unscathing critique of ideology and utopian celebration of sensuous bodily joy, universalist solidarity, and collective self-determination, after the abolition of genders and the humanization of nature. Meanwhile, ludic or supremacist feminists (Ebert 1996; Hogan 2000) have valorized the “feminine” as a subversive sign of “desire” interrogating patriarchy, foregrounding in the process women’s desiring-production as the singular agent of transforming society and emancipating humanity.
Framing the Question
It would be disingenuous not to recognize outright Rizal’s limits as symptomatic determinations imposed by the subaltern, creole society and culture of his time. But, alternatively, one may hypothesize that Rizal was perhaps the first Filipino nationalist to have appropriated, if not resurrected, the body and its constellation of desires as a vehicle for grasping our collective “being-in-situation,” simultaneously object and subject of thought. The colonized native was both active and passive, interpellated by conflicting discourses and practices; hence the dialogic and heteroglossic discourse of Rizal’s satires, essays, narratives (in particular, Makamisa), together with the play of memory, perceptions, and fantasies in his letters and memoirs. He wove in his discourse elements of the sentient flesh, speaking subjects sutured in the diverse field of modalities of overlapping life-forms. He succeeded in capturing the truly overdetermined social formation of the Philippines constituted by antagonistic, residual and emergent modes of production. From the perspective of object-relations psychoanalysis, Rizal’s Oedipal complex quickly evaporated after his first romance, opening up for intervention the maternal/libidinal realm of invention, accident, and experimentation. Before the Dapitan exile, he was willing to explore the possibility of recreating Calamba in Sandakan, the British-controlled territory of Borneo, formerly owned and governed by the Muslim Sultanate of Sulu. He was both realistic and adventurous, critical and hospitable to the strange, enigmatic, and alien. Phallogocentric and moribund frailocracy, however, foiled all his schemes.
Colonial-theocratic sovereignty fixated Filipino women (the template of Rizal’s dreams) in the patriarchal household economy. It compelled Rizal to wrestle with the challenge of discovering ways of altering their subaltern marginalization and subordination. He tried to usher his sisters and other female compatriots into the political/public sphere (for example, schooling, shared conversations in civic gatherings, and other modes of communal praxis) to thwart the oppressive privatization of their bodies and psyches. The Liga was his aborted project. Thus, instead of placing the erotic/libidinal in quarantine, Rizal reinscribes their subversive impulses into the terrain of political discourse where they mix and explode in the people’s unceasing struggle for hegemony (moral leadership, intellectual authority) and institutional power. Women’s madness and excesses represented in Rizal’s novels symbolize and herald this eventuality. Without the affiliation and participation of women in the Filipino liberation struggle, the nation-in-the-making would simply reproduce gender and class inequality as well as racialist/imperialist domination.
Partly freed from the stranglehold of Rousseau and Enlightenment dogmas, Rizal reworked instinctively the utopian-socialist tendencies found in Olympe de Gouges, Fourier, Wollstonecraft, Marx and Engels (Macey 2000). They forecast the emergence of such exemplary figures as Teresa Magbanua, Gregoria de Jesus, Melchora Aquino, Trinidad Tecson, Salud Algabre, and others. But before we move on to Alexandra Kollontai, Rosa Luxemburg, Simone de Beauvoir, Juliet Mitchell, Angela Davis and other theoreticians of feminist identity/difference, we need to situate Rizal in the concrete social formation of colonial Philippines and define the conceptual framework in which Rizal’s attitude and ideas on women’s position can be judged for its prescience and synergetic potential. Thus we go back to Marx and Engels and the historical-materialist orientation in which the politics of Eros can be intelligibly understood in its totality, singular potency, and practical efficacy.
In the now classic treatise, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1844; 1891), Frederick Engels formulated the cardinal insight that the inequality of the sexes coincided with the rise of class society: “The overthrow of mother right was the world-historical defeat of the female sex” (1972, 120). Within the patriarchal monogamous family based on private property (land, domesticated animals, slaves), Engels added, “the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude; she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children.” Women were relegated to the private sphere of the kitchen and boudoir under male authority. Historically, the form of patriarchal supremacy is a result of the class contradictions prevailing at a particular stage of social development, from savagery to slave, feudal and capitalist stages. The anthropologist Robert Briffault noted that with the institutionalization of monogamous marriage and the nuclear family as the basic economic unit, the supremacy of the male became normative; the male head of household production with property-holding rights and the privilege of disposing surplus wealth displaced the mother. Structural coercion based on the male’s inalienable right to property defined women’s differential access to resources and their unequal life-chances. Integrally central in maintaining early tribal communal relationships, women lost their equal share in productive tasks and with it that acephalous solidarity gutted by “the rise of competitive interests,” by commodity fetishism and the cash-nexus (Hays 1958, 179-80; Caudwell 1971). With the onset of capitalism, males became the bourgeois masters, women the proletarian class within the family.
Revisiting the Matrix
In pre-Hispanic Philippines, residual mother-right flourished within extended kinship groups (gens or clans) engaged in hunting, fishing, and subsistence farming in communally managed territory. Production was chiefly for use, not for exchange. In those self-provisioning communities, there was no substantial surplus; women inherited property and exercised a large degree of autonomy. Women’s productive function in gathering food, fishing, planting/harvesting. domestic and artisanal crafts (weaving, pottery, etc.) gave them economic independence and parity with men. In reviewing the status of native women before and after the conquest, Elizabeth Eviota observes that women producers controlled their own labor and its fruits, while “unmarried women exercised their sexuality freely…Women were the valued people exchanged in the marriage transaction” supervised by kins and the whole community (1992, 35-36). Women’s active role in production and reproduction allowed them to be relatively sovereign thinking, enjoying subjects endowed like men with the human-species potential actualizable through cooperative sensuous praxis.
Spanish colonialism destroyed that egalitarian communal setup. It ushered a thoroughgoing gender differentiation with the institutionalization of private property, monogamy, and the patriarchal authority of fathers within the family. The cloistering of women within the male-dominated household limited them mainly to accomplishing religious and household duties. Onerous tribute of unpaid labor reduced the natives to debt peonage, the root of the iniquituous patron-client tie-up that legitimizes inequality across race, class, and gender. With the church regulating women’s bodies/sexuality and imposing a regime of chastity, women displaced from work and driven to prostitution or vagrancy were confined to convents and public jails, or deported to Palawan. Rizal depicted the methodical surveillance of women (chiefly via the confession as the disciplinary, therapeutic technique) in the plight of Dona Victorina, Dona Consolacion, Maria Clara, Sisa, Juli, Paulita Gomez, among others. Eviota concludes: “Centuries of economic, political and religious imposition had transformed the lively sexual assertiveness of Filipino women into a more prudish, cautious image of womanhood” (1992, 61). The church-sanctioned institutions of monogamous marriage and the colonial State’s routinization of charisma (Gurvitch 1971) sealed the final demise of “mother-right,” with the babaylans reduced to witches or malignant brujas. The fate of Maria Clara encapsulates the loss of status of women of the emerging principalia, and of the more intense pacification of her lesser sisters in the symbolic-ideological template of a racialized patriarchal society. Nonetheless, those who refused marriage or violated/resisted the despotic family—Ibarra, Elias, Salome, Basilio, Tasio, Cabesang Tales, and others—presaged a salvific and reconciling utopian future for all since the social contract depended on unchallenged male ascendancy.
Within this historical-materialist framework, we can properly appreciate Rizal’s works as articulations of a synthesizing theoretical inquiry in which the form of universality springs from the concrete singularity of particular life-worlds (Oizerman 1981). Social totality acquires concrete dynamics in the lived experience of sensuous reflective subjects. Aesthetically, they render typical what are specific and individual. The predicament of Maria Clara, Sisa, Salome, Juli, Dona Consolacion and other characters in Rizal’s novels becomes emblematic of the decaying colonial order of nineteenth-century Philippines. In depicting the physiognomies and symptomatic acts of his female protagonists, Rizal also presented a lucid anatomy of the body politic, the diseased corpus for which he was imploring his audience to suggest a cure. In short, the key to understanding Rizal’s revolutionary critique of colonial society may be found in his realistic-allegorical delineation of women in his fiction and discourse. By symbolic extrapolation, Rizal shows how patriarchal supremacy founded on the control of women’s bodies and their productivity becomes the ultimate “weak link” in the colonial class/race hierarchy the toxic vestiges of which still afflict us today (epitomized among others by the Catholic Bishops’ opposition to the Comprehensive Reproductive Rights Bill [HB 4244] being proposed in the Philippine Congress).
In a much anthologized essay “The Filipino Woman” (1952) written at the height of the Cold War, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil elaborated a notion of the Filipino woman as a heterogeneous, multifaceted, amphibious creature that seems to inhabit not those tropical islands in Southeast Asia but some kaleidoscopic realm of fantasy. Not that she defied history or geography; in fact, she dared to encompass both by presenting a hybrid, polychromatic portrait. It is a sophisticated attempt to capture the variegated position of Filipino women in history, offering us a pretext to explore Rizal’s thinking about women, sexuality, gender, and everyday life in the context of anticolonial resistance. If prisons, for Dostoevsky, index the truthful condition of any society, then the situation of women may be considered the revealing symptom of the health or malaise of their habitat, both its sociohistorical and psychic configuration.
Nakpil is a liberal but dilettantish observer of Filipino manners and mentalities. She is careful to discriminate fact from fiction: “Although, historically, it would be inaccurate to go so far as to maintain, as many writers like Rizal and Craig have, that amazonian princesses like Urduja and autocratic matriarchs like Sima once ruled over Filipinos…, [what] these pretty tales of displaced queens seek to symbolize was nonetheless solid and substantial reality.” The truth, however, involved a more elaborate, complex interweaving of hierarchical gender-differentiated and autonomous spheres (Eviota 1992). After the Spaniards converted the indigenous barangays and made the Filipina “preoccupied with fig leaves,” Rizal and his nineteenth century contemporaries had to go to Europe “to get a good look at women.” Rizal’s women were classified legally by the Spanish regime together with infants and idiots, Nakpil adds, “for she could neither enter into contracts without her husband’s consent, if married, nor leave her home without her parents’ consent before 25, if unmarried.” That applies of course to upper-class women. She concludes that the Filipino woman of the period just after World War II is “a sort of compromise between the affected little Christian idealist of the Spanish regime, the self-confident go-getter of the American era, and the pagan naturalist of her Asiatic ancestors” (1980, 14). From this mixture of lifestyles and essentialized ingredients, Nakpil supposes that in a few generations, the Filipino woman will iron out her “mongrel contradictions” into a ‘thoroughbred homogeneity” embodied in a “clear, pure, internally calm, symmetrical personality.” But she resists such a possibility. Why? Because then she “will have lost the infinite unexpectedness, the abrupt contrariness, the plural unpredictability which now make her both so womanly and so Filipino” (1980,18). Ludic postmodernism takes over empirical realism.
We thus confront a creature both womanly and Filipino despite circumstances and contingencies. But is this gendered construct real or imagined? In the midst of the rancorous debate over the Reproductive Health Bill, we wonder whether Nakpil’s image of the polymorphously perverse, composite Filipina body is causing all the furor and controversy. Is this aleatory, contrarious, unpredictable group the pretext, topic, occasion or effect of what is happening? As the comparatist anthropologist Jack Goody has demonstrated, the historical status of women in any society depends on the nuanced articulation of the family, cultural specifics, and the politico-economic system, in which a degree of structural autonomy may exist between production and reproduction: patriarchal authority in politics, matrilineal power in the domestic domain, and various permutations of kinship and sexual division of labor (1998, 95).
An analogous controversy bedevils the position of women in Rizal’s discourse that makes problematic their catalyzing or counter-bewitching resonance in his life (more on witches later). This is not virginal territory to explore. All the Rizal biographies cannot avoid mentioning, if not belaboring, the propaedeutic influence of his mother Teodora Alonso, Leonor Rivera, and Josephine Bracken, not to forget the shadowy Segunda Katigbak and the vibrant Nelly Boustead hovering over the margins of his memoirs. But from this distance in time and space, it is self-indulgent to speculate on the erotic, libidinal adventures of the hero—unless we intend to package that aura of romantic melodrama for sale to the profit-maximizing mass media. Are we not reeling from a surfeit of these banalities and trivia? For our purpose of doing an experiment in thought/critique about the function of the female/feminine in Rizal’s thought and its reverberations in ideological struggle, this essay will be limited to a focus on one question: Was Rizal (his life and works) a contributor to the maintenance of the patriarchal order or a critic of the effects of the social division of labor in class society, which is the condition of possibility for male supremacy, sexist chauvinism, and the exploitation and oppression of women? Are characters such as Sisa, Maria Clara, Salome and Juli significant for more than their technical efficacy in the melodramatic twists of the narrative? What ultimately is the role of Josephine Bracken in the sequence of women-protagonists in Rizal’s life beginning with, say, Segunda Katigbak? What follows are speculative glosses and heuristic reflections, a cognitive mapping of the subject-position of this “Other” whose subliminal tracks were already outlined by Nakpil’s versatile pen.
Syndrome of the Ideal
Most discussions of Rizal’s women usually start with Maria Clara and her counterpart in real life, Leonor Rivera. Let us not tarry with the first whose value as a model was fully assayed first by Salvador P. Lopez in his “Maria Clara—Paragon or Caricature?” in Literature and Society (1940), and put to rest in the trenchant critical inventory of Dolores Feria’s “The Insurrecta and the Colegiala” (1968). Of the informed Rizal commentators, only Nick Joaquin seems to be scandalous enough to salvage Maria Clara from the Victorian cesspool. Joaquin urges us to read again Chapter 7, “Idyll in an Azotea,” and pay close attention to the eyes of Maria Clara and Juan Crisostomo Ibarra, for “the question that love poses in a bright or veiled glance cannot be answered by speech” (1988, 11). But the encounter between the two lovers is not just optical; it is noisy, as it were, counterpointed by a plethora of ventriloquizing voices, not a conversation but spliced whispers of two solitary persons communing with conscience and gnomic spectral presences.
What is curious is that face to face with his beloved, Ibarra invokes the organ of memory where Maria Clara’s image blends with the landscape of his journeys in Europe mixed with local scenery. Remembrance resurrects the past: Your memory “has been my comfort in the solitude of my soul in foreign countries; your memory has negated the effect of the European lotus of forgetfulness, which effaces from the remembrance of our countrymen the hopes and the sorrows of the Motherland.” For the traveling native, the beloved has metamorphosed into “the nymph, the spirit, the poetic incarnation of my country: lovely, simple, amiable, full of candor, daughter of the Philippines, of this beautiful country which unites with the great virtues of Mother Spain the lovely qualities of a young nation” (2004, 58). For the expatriate fabulist, the local muse Maria Makiling is just around the corner.
Idealization sanitizes the submerged furies of envy and jealousy. Amidst this elaborate rhetoric of denying that Ibarra has forgotten her sweetheart, the past returns in the farewell letter he wrote, which she reads to remind him of “pleasant quibbles, alibis of a bad debtor.” The demure, acquiescent paramour revives the admonishing tone of Ibarra’s father, with a message recalling the mother’s death and the father’s impending demise, and the need to sacrifice the present for a “useful tomorrow for you and your country.” This patriarchal command, transmitted through the son’s fiancee, agitates Ibarra and compels this retort: “You have made me forget that I have my duties” to honor the dead. Agreed, Maria Clara was not “a namby-pamby Manang,” as Joaquin chides us; and that her confessor found her a problem girl. Nonetheless, she is only a mediating instrument for Ibarra to satisfy the traditional demands of filial piety and vindicate the honor of the ancestral totems. In the end, she is used by Padre Damaso (her biological father) to humiliate Ibarra by forcing the cuckold Capitan Tiago to marry her to another man, Linares.
Residual matrilineality soon asserts itself. When Ibarra returns after his escape from the guardia civil to see Maria Clara for the last time, he renews his vow by figuratively restoring the power of mother-right: “By my dead mother’s coffin, I swore to make you happy no matter what happened to me. You could break your own pledge, she was not your mother, but I who am her son, I hold her memory sacred and despite a thousand perils, I have come here to fulfill my pledge…” (2004, 532). For her part, Maria Clara reveals the secret of her origin—the friar’s violation of Capitan Tiago’s trust and her mother Pia Alba, the break-up of the illusion of the Indio father’s authority—and her promise not to forget her oath of fidelity. The inscrutable becomes legible by oral mediation. This scene follows Elias’ renunciation of the patriarchal mandate to uphold the tarnished family honor by refusing to take revenge on Ibarra and allow the unity of all the victims seeking justice to supersede his clan’s particularistic interest. Nonetheless, Maria Clara serves throughout as the seductive screen of the fathers and the dutiful sons.
Witness to Emergencies
By the time Rizal was born in 1861, the predominantly feudal/tributary mode of production was already moribund and an obstacle to further socioeconomic development. Trade and commerce expanded when the country was opened to foreign shipping in 1834-1865, especially after the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 (Arcilla 1991). Vestiges of courtly love and chivalric ways dissolved in the triumph of the cash-nexus warranted by merchant and circulation capital, further validating profitable marital exchanges to expand or consolidate property. A national market arose. While the islands for the most part remained tribal and rural under the grip of the rent-collecting frailocracy and its subaltern principalia, land-tilling families such as those of Rizal flourished within the limits of the colonial order. The family household organization enabled the socially constructed gender asymmetry based on biological difference to segregate daughters from sons (women assigned to procreation and child nurturance, men to public affairs) and adversely affect their potential to develop as creative human beings and morally responsible citizens.
Political power continued to be monopolized by the peninsulars in the bureaucracy and military, together with the religious orders. They controlled large estates and appropriated the social wealth (surplus value or profit) produced by the majority population of workers and peasants most of whom were coerced under law (for example, the polo servicios) and reduced to slavish penury. Ruthless pauperization also doomed indigenous folk deprived of access to public lands, animals, craft tools, and so on. Only a tiny minority of creoles and children of mixed marriages (mestizos of Chinese descent) were allowed to prosper under precarious, serf-like, and often humiliating conditions that eventually drove them to covert or open rebellion. Rizal was one of these children sprung from the conjuncture of contradictory modes of production and reproduction of social relations, a child responding to the sharpening crisis of the moribund, decadent Spanish empire.
Rizal’s family belonged to the principalia, the town aristocracy. His parents owned a large sumptuous stone house and adjacent property; their wealth derived from cultivating leased land owned by the Dominican Order which later expelled them for refusal to accede to a rental increase and other impositions. Rizal’s mother managed a store and operated a flour-mill and ham press; the parents traced their lineage to merchants and provincial officials with affluent Chinese petty-bourgeois provenance (see Chapters 2-4 in Craig 1913). With a private library of more than 1,000 volumes (the largest in Calamba, Laguna), the Rizals (of eleven children, nine were women) enjoyed a relatively privileged rank among the native gentes or clan establishment. Compared to his muted respect for his father, Rizal esteemed his “clairvoyant” mother in a more expressive and exuberant way: “My mother is a woman of more than ordinary culture; she knows literature and speaks Spanish better than I. She corrected my poems and gave me good advice when I was studying rhetoric. She is a mathematician and has read many books” (1938, 335). Intellectually more adept than her husband and belonging to a more distinguished clan of professionals, Teodora Alonso (Rizal complained in the same letter to Blumentritt) “did not want that I should study more!”
Later on, in an 1884 letter copied by Leonor Rivera, Rizal’s mother would advise him not to “meddle in things that will distress me,” congratulating him on his graduation: “”I’m thanking our Lord for having bestowed on you an intelligence surpassing that of others” (1993, 159). But she wryly cautions him not to be too wise: “If he gets to know more, the Spaniards will cut off his head.” Confident and proud of his accomplishments at the Ateneo and in Europe, Rizal set the warning aside. No doubt Rizal worshipped his mother; consequently, when she was subjected by Calamba’s gobernadorcillo and guardia civiles to the cruel punishment of walking from Calamba to Santa Cruz, a distance of 50 kilometers, on a charge that was never substantiated, Rizal suffered an incalculably profound trauma. It was a deeply painful wound that disturbed him enough to motivate him to condemn—to quote his rationale for writing his novels—“our culpable and shameful complacence with existing miseries,” and “to wake from slumber the spirit of the Fatherland.” The mother’s ordeal served as the primal scenario of violation, the initiation into the crucible of Rizal’s life-pilgrimage. It also marked the defeat of the Indio fathers—their virtual emasculation and castration—and the return of the avenging Furies of classical natural law.
Rizal was then only eleven years old when his mother was arrested on that malicious charge. She and her brother Jose Alberto, a rich Binan ilustrado, were accused of trying to poison the latter’s wife who abandoned his home and children when the husband was on a business trip in Europe. It was Teodora Alonso who persuaded the brother to forgive his wife’s infidelity, to no avail; she connived with the Spanish lieutenant of the Guardia Civil to file a case in court accusing her husband and Dona Teodora of trying to kill her. Rizal’s recounting of the disaster (in the Memorias entry from Jan. 1871 to June 1872) does not wholly capture the devastating impact of this disaster on the adolescent’s psyche: “The mayor….treated my mother with contumely, not to say brutality, afterward forcing her to admit what they wanted her to admit, promising that she would be set free and re-united with her children if she said what they wanted her to say….My mother was like all mothers: deceived and terrorized…” (1950, 30). Rizal visited her in prison; she endured the unjust imprisonment for two years and half. With his brother also suspected of complicity with Father Jose Burgos, executed with Fr. Gomez and Fr. Zamora for sedition, Rizal summed up the effect of the two events: “From then on, while still a child, I lost confidence in friendship and mistrusted my fellowmen.” Leon Maria Guerrero rightly appraised this unbearable tragedy of his mother as the key pivotal experience that Rizal could not face except through the anonymous student diary we quoted. He grappled with it through the cathexis of a public grievance, the 1872 martyrdom of the three secular priests which tormented his brother Paciano, “not so agonizing or so personal as his beloved mother’s shame,…shamefully imprisoned, unfairly tried and unjustly condemned” (1969, 17; see Baron-Fernandez 1980, 19-20). Such injustice implied the loss of an objective standard of morality; the teleology of scholastic metaphysics gave way to the contingency, relativism and perspectivism of the modern world where force and material power settled disputes and adjudicated antagonisms.
Deciphering Eve’s Stigmata
To resolve the trauma, Rizal invented female characters whose struggles sublimated his mother’s experience and its painful affects. Sisa’s plight may be read as Rizal’s attempt to confront the violation of his mother’s honor by indirection and to redress the grievance. But one apprehends an excess in the narrative, more obsessive than melodramatic, more exorbitant than the rhetorical pity and fear evoked by Aristotelian tragedy. In Chapter 21 of the Noli, the guardia civiles arrest Sisa as the “mother of thieves,” blaming her for her children’s actions. The mother is thus made answerable and responsible for her sons, not the delinquent father. Sisa’s walk to the barracks is Rizal’s re-enactment of his mother’s torture, an unforgivable outrage. It was not just an empathetic re-living of the mother’s agony but a mimetic performance of the ordeal. This actualization may be construed as a cathartic effort to assuage the compulsion to repeat the past:
Seeing herself marching between the two, she felt she could die of shame. It is true no one was in sight, but what about the breeze and the light of day? True modesty sees glances from all sides. She covered her face with her handkerchief and thus, going on blindly, she wept bitterly in humiliation. She was aware of her misery. She knew she had been abandoned by all including her own husband, but until now she had considered herself honorable and respected; until now she had regarded with compassion those women shockingly attired whom the town called the soldiers’ concubines [Dona Consolacion, the alferez’s wife, and Don Alberto’s deviant and vindictive wife would represent this group]. Now it seemed to her that she had descended one level lower than these in the social scale (2004, 166).
Sisa’s intense shame attests to the power of gendered socialization primarily mediated through the family and the church apparatus, as Rizal would argue in his letter to the Malolos women. But Sisa’s sense of honor testifies to an inherent dignity, an impregnable self-respect—qualities he recommends for Filipina women to acquire—testifying to her goodness and decency despite sordid appearances. Sisa’s torment accelerates when this dweller on the fringes beyond the scope of the church bells’ tolling (measuring the extent of Spanish power) approaches the town: “she was seized with terror; she looked in anguish around her: vast rice fields, a small irrigation canal, thin trees—there was not a precipice or a boulder in sight against which she could smash herself.” Sisa then becomes suicidal as the urban space engulfs her. Alienated from the urban circuit of money and commodity exchange, she is terrified by the signs of civilization. Inwardly she vows to her son that they will withdraw farther into “the depths of the forest.” When she reminds the soldiers that they have entered the town, Rizal’s discourse becomes opaque, generalized, imposing rhetorical distance: “Her tone could not be defined. It was a lament, reproach, complaint: it was a prayer, pain and grief, condensed into sounds” (167). Inside the barracks, “she was convulsed with bitter sobbing—a dry sobbing that was tearless and without words.” Literary artifice becomes impotent here to transcribe maternal anguish, the dissonant music of the pre-Oedipal chora (Kristeva 1986).
Sisa now resembles an animal, sensuous practice suspended in defensive pathos. Before she was released by the alferez who was at loggerheads with the friars, “Sisa passed two hours in a state of semi-imbecility, huddled in a corner, head hidden between her hands, hair disheveled and in disarray.” She was summarily thrown out from the barracks, “almost forced out because she was too stunned to move.” She is a non-entity to the alferez, a sensuous psyche consigned to the domain of inert objects and beasts, a figure caught in the antinomy between the transcendent and the phenomenal dimensions of human existence (Heller 1999, 229) .
What happens subsequently is Sisa’s transformation into the voice of Nature, the sentient environment of rural Philippines. Conversely, it is the humanization of the stigmatized territory customarily identified with the autochtonous ambience of savagery and barbarism, with bandits or tulisanes, with outlaws, pagans and vagrant lunatics. With Sisa, however, Rizal describes the process of dehumanization/naturalization, beginning with her calling for her sons upon arrival at her hut, searching her surroundings: “Her eyes wandered with a sinister expression. They would brighten up now and then with a strange light; then they would darken like the skies during a stormy night. One can almost say that the light of reason was ebbing close to extinction.” She wandered “screaming or howling strange sounds. Her voice had a strange quality unlike the sound produced by human vocal chords.” Rizal deprives her of human language and endows her with the more infinitely varied sounds of the elements. The next day, defying the narrator’s wish that “some kindly angel wing would blot out from her features and memory the ravages of suffering” and that Mother Providence would intervene during her sleep, “Sisa wandered aimlessly, smiling, singing or talking, communing with all of nature’s creation,” except her fellow humans.
In Rizal’s poignant dramatization of this topos of pieta (mother-child linkage), Sisa commands a reservoir of psychic energy not found in the other female protagonists. It is not found in Juli, Cabesang Tales’ daughter, whose labor-power had to be alienated when her father joins the outlaws. As though re-living the traumatic ordeal of Rizal’s mother, the narrative voice describes Juli’s walk to the convent accompanied by Sister Bali. “She thought the whole world was looking at her and pointing a finger at her.” Overwhelmed with terror, she resisted Sister Bali’s urging, “pale, her features contorted. Her look seemed to say that she saw death before her” (335). Frightened by the prospect of her lover Basilio’s exile, with wrath and despair, Juli closed her eyes so as not to see the abyss into which she was going to hurl herself”—the desperate assertion of her freedom, a stoic defiance of woman’s enslavement.
One can infer a general tendency from this incident, a hypothetical line of argument. When the family’s patriarch can no longer protect the household with the separation of the worker from the means of production/subsistence, the daughter becomes a prey for the lecherous power lurking behind the institutional enclaves and indoctrinated practices. Pushed to the extreme, Juli preserves her dignity, her chastity, in her lethal escape from that profanation emanating from the house of God’s ministers. This anticipates Maria Clara’s prison of Santa Clara in Intramuros at the close of the Noli from which the only escape is madness or enigmatic silence and disappearance enforced by the carceral discipline of an obscurantist institution. Women’s experience of self is thus structured in the tension between the hegemonic ideological representations and the unfulfilled needs of the sensuous, suffering body, repressed but still animated with its genuine wants and desires.
The Pathos of Excommunicating Truth
In contrast to Juli, Sisa is caught in a severe contradiction: she cannot kill herself because her sons need her. The maternal instinct compels communication with other victims. In the latter part of the Noli, we encounter Sisa again on the eve of the San Diego town festival when Maria Clara and her relatives confront the leper, a blind man “singing of the romance of the fishes…” Art and reality collide. The blind singer allegedly contracted leprosy by taking care of his mother. Rizal dilates on this episode of the leper who, like Sisa, uttered “strange incomprehensible sounds.” When Sisa approached the leper sunk to his knees thanking Maria Clara for the spontaneous gift of her locket, what Rizal calls “a rare spectacle” dramatized here incorporates that germ of a universal principle growing out of the historically specific life-world of women in that reactionary milieu. It is the negated principle of woman’s decisive function in reproduction, nurturance, and production of subsistence without which a regime of gender equality is impossible (see Ebert (1996).
This particular scene speaks volumes on the themes of justice, equality, egalitarian and participatory democracy, ecumenical peace, and ecological survival whose manifold ramifications we cannot spell out and analyze here. Notice the multilayered implications of the mad mother exhorting the blind leper to pray for the living on the day of the dead, this gesture of reconciling incompatibles deliberately punctuated by the clamor of the normal spectators to separate the two victims:
As he felt her contact, the leper cried out and jumped up. But the mad woman held on to his arm to the great horror of the bystanders, and said to him: “Let us pray!…pray! Today is the day of the dead! Those lights are the life of men; let us pray for my sons!”
“Separate them, separate them! The mad woman will get contaminated!” the crowd was shouting, but no one dared to approach them.
“Do you see that light from the tower? That is my son Basilio who comes down by a rope! Do you see that one from the convent! That is my son Crispin, but I am not going to see them because the priest is sick and has many coins of gold and the coins got lost. Let us pray, let us pray for the soul of the priest! I brought him amargoso and zarzalidas; my garden was full of flowers, and I had sons. I had a garden, I was taking care of flowers and I had two sons!” (2004, 249-50).
Of the various thematic strands and motifs woven in this network, I will only underscore three: 1) the horticultural stage of social production alluded to recalls the stage of the matrilineal/matrilocal setup in primitive society, a time when the communal household enabled the reciprocal division of labor between the sexes—notice the absence of Sisa’s husband, her sole supervision of the household, and her subsistence obtained from working the land (productive labor as one form of praxis); 2) the parasitic excess of a mercantile economy (centered on coinage extracted by friars, thus combining religious ideology and trade/commerce) monopolized by a theocratic state and a frailocracy whose mercenary use of religion demystifies their legitimacy in purveying the mystical and magical; and, finally, 3) the contamination/contagion of an alienated society, misrecognized but actually lived by the people who called for the separation of the physically diseased and the psychically abnormal, both appendages of a cancerous body politic.
We cannot help but register the behavior of the crowd as cynical, callous and hypocritical. The spectacle manifests a further irony inscribed in the fact that the living have mortgaged their destinies to the dead—indeed, one can say that the dead fathers, tradition, fetishized rituals, idolized metals and reifying commodities (symbolized in the File by the hypnotic power of Simon’s merchandise) have taken over. Aside from taxes and governmental levies on ordinary citizens, the selling of indulgences, and other ceremonial fees and tributes collected by the church demonstrates systemic corruption. In the last chapter taking place on Christmas Eve, Basilio catches up with his deranged mother. Finally she recognizes him and is briefly restored to normalcy, only to die and be consumed in a funeral pyre together with the fugitive Elias. Phoenix-like, Sisa’s motherhood is affirmed only to be dialectically cancelled and preserved or sublated into the predicament of other surrogates and avatars—Melchora Aquino, Salud Algabre, Felipa Culala, Maria Lorena Barros, Cherith Dayrit, Luisa Posa-Dominado, Kemberley Jul Luna, and other militants in today’s national-democratic insurgency. We still labor under the sharpening crisis of the imperial fathers and their native acolytes, alarmed by the resurgent nationalism of fiery woman-warriors, mothers and daughters of a long durable and sustainable revolutionary tradition authentically of our own making (Aguilar 1998; San Juan 1999).
Exorcising the “Two-faced Goliath”
We need not linger over the semantic and philosophical complexities of other episodes where Sisa intrudes. Suffice it to mention here the scene in Chapter 40 where Dona Consolacion, the alferez’s crazed wife tortures Sisa; or in other episodes where Sisa’s seemingly gratuitous appearances at the margin of festivities disrupt the quotidian trappings and ceremonies of the respectable citizens. As an antithesis to the maternal archetype (instanced by the negative examples of Maria Clara’s mother, Dona Victorina de Espadana, and others), Dona Consolacion may be interpreted as the wicked half of the ambiguous duality of the mythical pair Demeter/Persephone, the Laura/Flerida duality in Francisco Balagtas’ awit, or Kali, the Indian goddess of fertility and destruction (Eliade 1958, 418-19). Alterity operates within the gender dichotomy, as in all socially constructed categories of subject-positions, of identities. Dona Consolacion is a modified specimen of the genre. Isolated and frustrated, forbidden from participating in the festival (“she saturated herself in her own bile”) and ready to unleash repressed energies on anyone in sight. We confront again the archaic Furies hounding the perpetrators and apologists of rape and matricide.
Rizal amplifies her Medusa-like malignance in a way complementary to Sisa’s unnnatural look: “Her eyes glittered like a serpent’s, caught and about to be crushed underfoot. They were cold, luminous, piercing, akin to something slimy, filthy and cruel” (346). Is this the sensitive, devout Rizal repulsed by the loathsome aspect of the sinful Eve, the mesmerizing siren and wily temptress of myth and fable? Her unrelenting brutality toward Sisa who was reduced into an animal emitting “howling sounds” can perhaps be understood as a release of dammed-up resentment against her husband; but what enables her to do this is her sharing the alferez’s status evident in her taunt: “Cursed be the mother who gave you birth!” With equal fury, Dona Consolacion attacks her husband, blaming him for not allowing her “to fulfill my duties toward God!” This episode is a hilarious vaudeville of marital conflict and its reverberating tensions, as evinced in the case of Uncle Alberto cited earlier. Rizal satirized local mores and manners with gusto, somewhat diverting us from the real target of the degradation of both sexes; but the power of Rizal’s critique ultimately inhered in the grasp of the totality of social relations, which subsumed the economic structures that buttressed the racializing ideology and institutional practices of Spanish colonial might. What is true and real in the lived experiences of Rizal’s characters (as well as his contemporaries) acquire meaning and significance only within the context of the historical totality, in the dynamic sequence of the past moving to the present and future, in nineteenth-century Philippines.
The patriarchal age might be coming to an end, as Rizal once intoned; but its repressive legacy endured up to his death, and after. Dona Consolacion and her benign counterparts, such as Paulita Gomez and Dona Victorina, may be Rizal’s strategy of thwarting feminist protest. After all, not all women conform to the Maria Clara/Leonor Rivera model. Early experiences involving Consuelo Ortigas, Leonor Valenzuela, Segunda Katigbak, the anonymous older L. of an adjacent village, not to mention the unstinting solicitude of his mother and sisters throughout his life, all offered Rizal comfort and affirmation of his virility in one degree or another; none threatened him or provoked an unconventional response. So whence the need to invent a nasty violent female protagonist, displaying her irrational fury and then neutralizing her by parody and caricature so as to guarantee our safety from her claims to rational judgment? Why exhibit women’s aggressive capacity, her destructive potential? Why the need to exorcise the derelict, malevolent wife of uncle Alberto—if not to purge the devastating trauma of her mother’s torture and compensate for the male Indio’s powerlessness?
Unrequited love cannot justify any suspicion of Rizal’s chauvinism. With Segunda Katigbak, it was Rizal’s internal schism that paralyzed the adolescent male ego: “But at the critical moments of my life I have always acted against my heart’s desire, obeying contradictory purposes and powerful doubts” (1950, 52). A schism of objective and subjective determinants erupts, signaling the subject’s forced initiation into secular modernity. That crisis occurred in December 1881, six years before his engagement with Leonor Rivera was annulled by her parents who could dispose of their daughter’s body without consulting her. Even though he enjoyed Nelly Boustead’s company, among others, and succumbed to the O-Sei-San’s insidious charm—addressing her in his diary, Rizal wrote that “No woman, like you, has ever loved me. No woman, like you, has ever sacrificed for me,” not even his mother or his fiancee (Zaide 1984, 132), Rizal confessed that he almost grew mad when he lost Leonor. It was the “first sledgehammer blow” of the railway construction that fell on him; the British engineer Kipping was a free man, Rizal was not (1999, 113).
What was the lesson? What insight was Rizal imparting when he thwarted self-pity by proclaiming that he was not free? It was not just another male replacing him, it was a burgher-citizen of the imperial metropole trouncing the Indio subaltern from the contest for a conjugal partner. It was the freedom of the modern citizen able to alienate/dispose of his/her labor-power in the anarchic market. It was ultimately industrial capitalism blasting the ethnic, geopolitical walls of empire—only to sustain the patriarchal domination of women’s bodies.
Leonor Rivera died on 28 August 1893. While in exile in Dapitan, Rizal met Josephine Bracken (a Eurasian orphan from Hong Kong, Asia’s burgeoning commercial center) in February 1895 with whom he fell in love. In March 1895, he wrote his mother to extend hospitality to Josephine and treat her as a person “whom I hold in great esteem and regard, and whom I should not like to see exposed and abandoned” (Guerrero 1969, 363). This “errant swallow” promised refuge from a hostile world, reviving memories of the relatively free European women whose bodies/minds incited his imagination and fed the subterranean fountainhead of desire. She also functioned as an opportunity to re-affirm his manhood years before the time arrived when he could sacrifice his life to the object of his life’s mission: decolonizing and liberating patria.
The Shaman’s Strip-tease Agency
Accompanying the estranjera Bracken, the figure of the vindictive wife (of Uncle Alberto and others) returns to the life of the Dapitan exile in the shape of his research into psychosomatic illness. On 15 November 1895, Rizal wrote the “notes for the study of Philippine medicine” entitled “The Treatment of the Bewitched” (the original title is “La Curacion de los hechizados. Apuntes hechos para el studio de la Medicina Filipina” [Rizal 1999, 138]), ostensibly a scientific account of the etiology of a disease not caused by the usual pathogenic factors.
What is striking is Rizal’s description of the female witch, the manggagaway (the mangkukulam, the male counterpart, seems relatively harmless in casting enchantment), who inflicts a most mysterious, terrible illness, “though fortunately rare.” The male mendicant magician is but an “involuntarily malevolent fakir,” whereas the female sorcerer bewitches by suggestion. She applies “diabolical arts” the origin of which is really the social milieu, the cultural prejudices, customs and folkways of the time. Rizal diagnoses this type of sorcery as a result of auto-suggestion accompanying delirium, delirium defined by Rizal as “the lack of equilibrium between the perceptions and the conscience, a civil war inside the brain” (1964,180). This delirium is what afflicted Sisa and Juli in one degree or another. This civil war between what Freud would call the reality-principle and the pleasure-principle, between the warring forces of eros and thanatos in an Oedipalized system, acquires sociohistorical embodiment and performativity in everyday life.
Employing an objectifying stance, Rizal informs us that there are towns in Luzon where all the women enjoy the ascriptive reputation of being a manggagaway—a social phenomenon symptomatic of the entire colonial formation and its psychosomatic dynamics. The cure is immanent in its diagnosis. Here is Rizal with the physician’s required detachment unable to escape pronouncing judgment on the conduct and reflex behavior of the whole society:
Although some deserve the name for their inexplicable vainglory, for their prattling, for believing that thus they make themselves terrible, nevertheless others are absolutely innocent…A certain air, a behavior somewhat reserved and mysterious, a certain way of looking, infrequent attendance at religious services, and others, are enough to win for an unfortunate woman the reputation of manggagaway. She is the she-ass burden of ignorance and popular malevolence, the scapegoat of divine chastisements, the salvation of the perplexed quacks. Mankind also has divine defects among its divine qualities. It likes to explain everything and wash in another’s blood its own impurities. The woman manggagaway is to the common man and the quack what the resentment of the gods, the demon, the pacts with the devil in the Medieval Age, the plethora of blood, neuroses, and others were to the different ages: She is the diagnosis of inexplicable sufferings (1964, 178).
The witch, more exactly the experience of bewitchment or possession, condenses all the tensions released from the pressures of overlapping conflicts and contradictions of a transitional phase in society, that is, a society undergoing transformative upheavals. Rizal performs the rite of the exorcising, medical shaman. Instead of inveighing and counter-cursing, Rizal’s tone is elegiac, oracular, trying to discriminate and at the same time refrain from distinguishing the guilty and the innocent. Nonetheless, as a scientist-physician, he laments the human infirmity of not using reason to analyze and cure the psychic malady. Rizal anticipates Freud’s transvaluation of the soul into the body-phantom registering the impingements of family/society. I submit that this discourse and its context exemplifies a memorable instance of Rizal’s historical-materialist sensibility and his ethico-political vocation to bring about a revolution in the national psyche.
Advent of the Babaylan
In the course of his annotating Morga’s chronicles, Rizal surely encountered the early missionaries’ notes on the babaylan. His letter to Blumentritt from Dapitan (dated 20 November 1895) stated that he was “on the way to deciphering the meaning of babailan,” but nothing more. What I would underscore here is a problematic silence, perhaps a tactical deference on Rizal’s part (as ethnologist and physician), not to interpolate in his explanation the case of the babaylan or catalona stigmatized by the Spanish missionaries into the perverse rubric of the manggagaway.
Magic or the instrumentalization of supernatural/psychic power acquires gender differentiation in a colonially stratified milieu. Mostly widows or elderly women, the babaylans were the custodians of folk wisdom in the arts of healing, of divining the future, and the performance of propitiatory rituals. As medical practitioners, astronomers and interpreters of culture, they exercised persuasive control over matters of reproduction and health of the community. They not only presided over the vital rituals of weddings, births, funerals, hunts and war; they also advised the datus and sultans on how to resolve political conflicts and other problems in civic affairs. With their prestige and their authority over health, fertility and diseases, the babaylans exhibited “the pre-condition to maximize [women’s] participation and remain competitive with the men in the other spheres…even to the extent of becoming socially equal, at times, even superior to…the rest of society (Mangahas 1987, 13). Because these religious intermediaries are not organized into sects nor are they in permanent contact with the supernatural realm except during trances or moments of possession, they are more precisely classified as shamanesses (Infante 1975, 194-96).
For the historian Zeus Salazar, the babaylan functioned as the third pillar of the economic unit of the barangay, the basis for the bayan or aggregate of communal settlements. after the datu, hari or lakan (the political head) and the panday (blacksmith). In the process of the military-evangelical conquest of the islands, the babaylans were incorporated into church activities as religious women in charge of processions or servants of the convent. Those unable to assimilate, or who resisted the syncreticizing strategy of the church, instigated and supported rebellions such as that led by Sumoroy, by Waray Tupung in Bohol, by the cofradias and various messianic organizations including the Katipunan—the formidable example of the revolutionary general Teresa Magbanua easily comes to mind, overshadowing those of Gabriela Silang or Princess Urduja (Salazar 1996). In suppressing such revolts, the Spaniards demonized the babaylans, the custodians of the indigenous cultures, reconfiguring them as transgressive witches, manggagaways or mangkukulams (designating men who dare arrogate magical rights or privileges within the animistic frame of tribal beliefs).
It is intriguing to speculate that if Rizal was able to continue his third novel, Makamisa, or the narrative entitled “The Ancient Tagalog Nobility,” we would probably have for hermeneutic inspection a full-bodied rendering of the babaylan in action. Was Teodora Alonso not one avatar of this shadowy nemesis of the patriarchal social contract? Meanwhile, we are left to ponder the vestige of calculating missionary zeal. Behind that prophylactic passage describing the female sorcerer, we witness Sisa and Dona Consolacion distilled in one phenomenal figure—the babaylan split into two embodiments. What Rizal enunciates, in general, is a symbolic complex of good and evil coexisting together, what is heretical and impious coalescing in one subject-position. Actually, it is a mirror-image of Rizal as the recalcitrant and transgressive Indio, the unpatriotic expatriate (for the friars) defying the Comision permanente de censura by speaking of the true and the real. The witch is Rizal; but the curse is this counter-statement, the doctor’s report. Alienated colonial society ascribes the source of its vices, crimes and ignorance to a fraction of the female sex and, in this collective process of purification, acquits male authority of any wrongdoing. Impartiality requires settling accounts with the patriarchs in the church and the bureaucracy (for the European record, see Figes 1970).
Certain sisters of Eve functioned as scapegoat-like Christs, just as the penitent whore Magdalene came about due to “the powerful undertow of misogyny in Christianity, which associates women with the dangers and degradation of the flesh” (Warner 1976, 225; for the communist-oriented views of early Christians regarding women and the family, see Kautsky 1925, 347-354), hence the whore becomes a beloved saint. In Rizal’s polyvocal discourse, the realms of the sacred and profane are two halves of the same coin, one an inquiring mirror of the other; hence, the term “divine” operates here as a symptomatic rubric of the religious illusion, the ideological narcotic, that the Enlightenment and the bourgeois revolutions in Europe failed to uproot. It is now Rizal’s turn to enlighten his women compatriots, in particular, of the need to liberate themselves from what William Blake called “mind-forged manacles” by their own collective effort and initiative. It is time to re-instate the primacy of personal autonomy and civic solidarity in the arena of everyday life.
The Epistle to the Women of Malolos
Teaching and learning, for Rizal as scholar-researcher in history and ethnology, are indivisibly fused in his role as committed public intellectual (Baron-Fernandez 1980; Ocampo 1998). Study, collective learning, is part of emancipatory praxis that connects human agency and the ecosystem, as Marx implied in his thesis on Feuerbach: “The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionizing practice” (Tucker 1972, 145). His now famous letter to the young women of Malolos, dated Feb. 22, 1889, was elicited by the tireless iconoclastic propagandist-rhetorician, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, while Rizal was preoccupied with annotating Morga’s chronicles in the British Museum in London, and also answering the critics of the Noli (Ocampo 1988). It was deliberately written in Tagalog at the time when he was also preparing his first article for the reformist journal La Solidaridad entitled “Los Agricoltores Filipinos.” That intervention may be compared to Karl Marx’s two contributions to the Rheinische Zeitung on the law against thefts of timber and on the destitution of the Moselle Wine Growers (McLellan 1970, 95-101).
In Rizal’s inquiry into the backward conditions of the Filipino farmers, he deplored how the farmer capitalist had to battle not only floods and locusts but also petty tyrannical officials, the constable of the civil guards and the bureaucrats of the court and the provincial government. Already equipped with an astute comprehension of the social relations of production, the political economy of the Spanish colony, Rizal this time focused his critique on the efficacy of the ideological apparatus in sustaining the unrelieved subjugation of the natives, in particular the disciplinary subalternization of women, whom he considered crucial in the formation of children’s personality and disposition. In re-visiting Rizal’s militant advocacy of a historical-materialist critique of society through his novels and various discourses, contra Constantino (1970) and vulgar Marxists, we can appreciate his singular contribution to humankind’s libertarian archive, whatever his other limitations given the circumstances and contingencies of his personal situation and the state of the world in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
The central burden of Rizal’s letter is the critique of religion, more exactly, its practice of idolatry and attendant fanaticism which violate “saintliness” defined as obedience to “the dictates of reason.” Thus he bewails servitude and “blind submission to any unjust order,” since each person can use a god-given reason and will to distinguish the just from the unjust. The role of the dissenting, inquiring conscience becomes crucial for fostering literacy and civic liberty. Positing the radical premise of all humans being born free, with no right to subjugate the will and spirit of another, Rizal urges the use of rational analysis and judgment in all activities—not just in learning Spanish, which for the Malolos women was really a pretext to have access to the mentoring wisdom of Teodoro Sandiko, Rizal’s progressive compatriot, whom they wanted as teacher (the petition was eventually granted, but Sandiko was replaced by a person approved by the church).
Rizal’s obsession with the need for activating the rational critical faculty is not only a rejection of the stereotypical attributes of modesty, passivity and docility ascribed to women by custom and ecclesiastical authority, but also an attempt to include women as citizens fully qualified to participate in fashioning the “General Will” (in Rousseau’s definition) of civil society. While not explicitly mentioning Rousseau, Rizal invokes reason as the primary requisite for self-mastery, for the exercise of moral liberty, which is a precondition for conceptualizing the universal interest of the whole society (Lange 1979; Hendel 1934). Following the Renaissance episteme (in Foucault’s construal) of human reason as a reflection of God in the human soul, Rizal is moving to a classic notion of representation being subsumed into an emergent modernist teleology of self-discipline and historical self-consciousness (Foucault 1970). Women need to learn Spanish if only to become doubly visible to the imperial panopticon’s surveillance. Rizal adhered to the Socratic maxim, nosce te ipsum, as conducing to the true concept of one’s self which motivates the dynamic creativity of human intelligence and empowers national progress (1999, 70). Opposing the confinement of women to devalued and debilitating reproductive labor—the expenditure of time and energy in providing nurture and socialization for dependent offspring—Rizal seeks to install women as citizens equal to men in exercising personal autonomy and sympathetic concern for others.[EXCERPT FROM A LONGER ESSAY}
E. SAN JUAN was previously a fellow of the WEB DuBois Institute, Harvard University; and is currently
a fellow of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin. His recent books are IN THE WAKE OF TERROR (Lexington Books) and CRITICAL INTERVENTIONS (Lambert Publishing Co., Saarbrucken, Germany).