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The Novels of Jose Rizal

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Autor:   •  February 8, 2011  •  Essay  •  2,868 Words (12 Pages)  •  1,001 Views

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Rizal, for all the agitation his writings produced, never called for outright revolt against the Spanish colonizers. On the contrary, his explicit statements never ceased to sustain the hope that Spain would allow the Philippines the freedom and means to develop its intellectual and material resources within a colonial partnership. A Philippine revolution, in Rizal's view, would be unsuccessful and yet inevitable, should Spain continue to delay in granting the kind of reform that would ensure security, freedom, dignity and education for the Filipinos. If a revolutionary, then, Rizal remained a cautious one to the end of his brief life. Regardless of these reservations on Rizal's part, the Judge Advocate General Pe=F1a, charged with passing the death sentence on Rizal, called him el Verbo del Filibusterismo, meaning, according to the Philippine usage of the time, the "word of insurrectionism" or revolutionary separatism. That Pe=F1a thus identified Rizal as an exponent and leader of the separatists. And although Rizal had discouraged insurrection, his words would later arouse the militant Katipunan ("patriots' league," literally "confederation"), led by Andr=E9s Bonifacio, to take up arms in a violent confrontation that might have forced the departure of the Spanish from the Philippines.

Rizal, to judge from his writing, intended no such effect in his readers; his correspondence reveals why prudence had tempered his indignation against colonial misrule. In a letter written to Dr. P=EDo Valenzuela from his exile in Dapit=E1n in June 1896, the year of his death, Jos=E9 Rizal expressed his views on Philippine revolution in response to Valenzuela's news that an uprising was imminent. Rizal wrote:

That I do not approve. A revolution without arms should not be started against an armed nation. Its consequences will be fatal and disastrous to that country. The Filipinos will necessarily have to lose owing to lack of arms. The Spaniards, once conquerors, will annihilate the Filipinos who love their country, will employ all means to prevent the intellectual, moral and material progress of the conquered people who, sooner or later, will have to start a new revolution.

In the same letter to Valenzuela, Rizal cites the Cuban revolution of 1868 as a precedent to current events in the Philippines, and he alludes to the tremendous costs of the second and third Cuban struggles as well.=20 Although in the right, a Philippine revolution, like the Cuban revolutions of the mid- nineteenth century, would simply fail. It was practical considerations, not inflexible principle, that moved Rizal to oppose revolution while doing his part to start up the anti- colonial resistance movement in Asia.

One can se the same sort of pragmatic idealism (the phrase is Gandhi's) worked out in Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. In the novels themselves, Rizal's mode of satire and social criticism puts in question the legitimacy of Spanish domination and yet displays some complexities that challenge the traditional documentalist, propagandist interpretation that his works have elicited to this point. Those novels bear out the particular ambivalence in Rizal's viewpoint -- an ambivalence, I would stress, not chosen by temperament but imposed by sociohistorical conditions. Rather than to unfold only a verisimile depiction of colonial injustices, the novels deploy a strategy of evocation, indeterminacy and self-ironizing metafiction, problematizing the narrative of Philippine revolution by constructing self- referential narratives implicitly critical of their own propositions and hypotheses.=20 This would be the logical path, given that the substance of nationalist resistance, according to Rizal's preface to El Filibusterismo, is itself fictional. In that preface addressed "Al Pueblo Filipino y su Gobierno," which was suppressed in the first edition but appeared in subsequent editions, Rizal states, "Tantas veces se nos ha amedrentado con el fantasma del Filibusterismo que, de mero recurso de aya, ha llegado a ser un ente positivo y real, cuyo solo nombre (al quitarnos la serenidad) nos hace cometer los mayores desaciertos." Rizal proposes to examine the reality of that ghost and this ruse: mirages that have taken on substance in the minds of the Spanish gobernadorcillos and the Filipinos alike.=20 The "Advertencia" that follows the preface of El Filibusterismoindeed warns that the author has "disfigured his characters" in order to avoid making them "the typical photographs" that were found in his first novel. To complete this strange apparatus of framing the narrative proper, an epigraph credited to Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizal's Austrian mentor, ambiguously remarks:

Facilmente se puede suponer que un filibustero ha hechizado en secreto =E1 la liga de los fraileros y retr=F3grados para que, siguiendo inconscientes sus inspiraciones, favorezcan y fomenten aquella pol=EDtica que s=F3lo ambiciona un fin : estender las ideas del filibusterismo por todo el pa=EDs y convencer al =FAltimo filipino de que no existe otra salvacion fuera de la separaci=F3n de la Madre-Patria. (my emphases)

By attributing the idea of separatism to only a supposed filibustero, his inspirations followed unconsciously by Filipinos -- and by using subjunctives to emphasize the hypothetical status of that inspiration -- Blumentritt reinforces from a distance the notion of revolution without openly espousing it or assigning it unequivocally as a thesis to Rizal's novel.

Alerted by these unusual framing devices, one can verify that a shift in representational strategies has occurred in the transition from the first novel to the second, which the Filipinos refer to affectionately by the respective nicknames Noli and Fili. The shift involves a changing attitude toward language: whereas the Noli is more classically "transparent" and referential with relation to the social reality it portrays, the Fili sustains a more "analogical" and explicitly fiction-based relation to a reality it "disfigures." Such considerations of literariness suggest that both texts would lend themselves to alternative readings to become not so much reflections of reality but provocations for the reader to interpret that reality in a different manner. In this light, it becomes easier to understand that Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo present anti- colonialist "expos=E9s" conditioned by a painful awareness of historical contingency -- of the formidable colonial power already poised to smother any sign of resistance. Such awareness matches a complex narrative form attentive to the contradictions of the Philippine colonial situation. In the framework of these considerations,


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