The Novels of Jose Rizal

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  • Topic: Philippines, Philippine Revolution, José Rizal
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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...
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