Friday, February 25, 2005

Rizal's two unfinished novels

Rizal's two unfinished novels

Posted 00:47am (Mla time) Feb 25, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the February 25, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

EACH year on Feb. 25, people are busy with a commemoration of the 1986 People Power Revolt that drove Ferdinand Marcos from power and installed Corazon Aquino as president of the Philippines. Since the Inquirer is also one of the main products of those troubled times, it tries valiantly to keep the flame of Edsa alive, by publishing first-hand accounts on the front page.

But all this now seems like a dimly lit part of the Philippine past, especially to many of my students who were toddlers when all this was going on, changing the lives of their parents and all those who were adults at the time. Feb. 25 should be a time to remember the events of Edsa 1986 and today's column should focus on people power, but I go back to the late 19th century.

What better proof could there be that I am a walking anachronism than that I associate Feb. 25 not with Edsa 1986 but with Berlin 1887? Very few people know and remember that at 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 25, 1887 in Berlin, Jose Rizal placed the last period on the manuscript of "Noli Me Tangere."

I remember February 1986 well because that was supposed to be the centennial of the "Noli" but then things were overshadowed by the events of Edsa. At that time, I had embarked on the project that would study the novel as it progressed from its rough drafts to the final clean manuscript copy to the first printed edition of the novel. How did the novel develop? Even this study was overtaken by Edsa.

Working on this led to other unfinished manuscripts by Rizal in the vault of the National Library, and two of my favorites are worth remembering today because they should have been completed like the "Noli" and "Fili." The first is labeled "Principios de una novela satirica" by the National Library but it is better known under the title "Una visita del Señor a Filipinas" or in its English translation, "The Lord Gazes at the Philippine Islands." As an untitled work, it goes under a variety of names depending on which text or translation you are reading, thus it is also known as "Friars and Filipinos" or "The Divine Wrath."

The story opens with God the Father pacing around in heaven. He hears a stream of complaints from the earth and turns his attention to the Philippines where the complaints are coming from. He walks around, consulting a number of people, including Confucius and Buddha, asking about certain beings called friars and a pope who claims to speak in His name on earth. God traces all this to the Christian Church, so he summons both Jesus Christ and St. Peter to explain how and why this state of affairs has come about. Not satisfied with their answers, God then commands Jesus and Peter to return to Earth, investigate in the Philippines and report back to him. Jesus, naturally, refuses to go but is assured that on this trip he will not have to undergo another round of suffering and death on a cross.

Jesus and Peter are transported back to Earth, but God, it seems, has a bad pitching arm or an equally bad sense of direction because the pair appear, not in the Philippines, but in Hong Kong. They first visit a tailor because they are wearing New Testament attire instead of the clothing in vogue in the late 19th century. They learn about passports, visas and all the necessities for travel on board a regular steamer service from Hong Kong to Manila. All should have gone well, but upon arrival in Manila, the boat is placed under quarantine, which adds to the impatience of the duo that wanted to return to heaven as soon as possible. Jesus notes down all his observations (actually, more complaints) in a pocket notebook, which is later opened by Spanish customs and immigration officials in Manila, leading to yet another round of detention. When Jesus and Peter complain about the shabby treatment they receive in the hands of the Spaniards who do not know who they really are, both are branded as subversives by the authorities.

Somehow Peter manages to escape and searches for the Manila Cathedral, which he has heard in heaven is the seat of the archbishop whose authority emanated from Peter himself. As a matter of fact, a statue of Peter is to be found in the Cathedral. This is the place to go for help.

While leaving the Customs house, Peter overhears Jesus being interrogated, and at this point he feels so relieved that it is daytime because then he doesn't have to hear the cock crow thrice again.

Unfortunately, the unfinished novel ends abruptly on this note, leaving us wishing this classic of Philippine comic or satirical literature were completed. But then, that is Rizal for you: truly a man with so many talents, he tried out so many things but left many things half finished. What better word to describe this but “sayang” [what a pity]!

Then there is the other unfinished work of Rizal, also untitled, but known as "Memorias de un gallo." Written in the first person, it is a fictional autobiography of a newly hatched chick trying to fathom the mysteries of the world outside the secure confines of the eggshell.

The chick asks the mother hen the great existential question, "What is a man?"

A man, replies the mother, is "a chicken bigger than all of you, very powerful, very strong."

On this enlightening sentence, Rizal abruptly ends the manuscript to keep us guessing what he really meant well on to the next century.


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