Friday, December 30, 2011

Rizal Series (Part 1): Learnings from F. Sionil Jose's Reflections on Dr. Jose Rizal

Note: The following post is from my learnings gathered from a two hour lecture given by National Artist F. Sionil Jose on August 18, 2011 at Crossroad 77.

F. Sionil Jose's Reflections on Rizal

It was rather amusing for when host Dody Lacuna, a well-known media personality, started off with the introductions, F. Sionil Jose went on center stage and categorically said, "Huwag na!" "Tama na!" As it turned out he wanted to begin the lecture right away without any pyrotechnics involved.

As soon as Mr. Jose was seated, he said that when Rizal saw Shakespeare's Hamlet, it left a deep impression on him for it spoke about the dignity of man. Mr. Jose then transitioned to the time when Rizal's contemporaries Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo won the gold and silver respectively at the Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884.

                    Juan Luna's Spoliarium now at the Philippine National Museum

         Felix Ressureccion Hidalgo's Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas Al Popolacho 
                              now at the  Metropolitan Museum of Manila

Remember Rizal's toast to them? Asked Mr. Jose.

"...Luna and Hidalgo are the pride of Spain as well as the Philippines. Though born in the Philippines, they might have been born in Spain, for genius have no country, genius bursts forth everywhere, genius is like light and air — the patrimony of all: cosmopolitan as space, as life and as God." From

After saying portions of this toast, Mr. Jose then said something which once again blew me away: "It took Michelangelo 18 years before he was recognized. It only took Juan Luna 6 years!" Just imagine what Luna could have done with the technology we have today. And it only means one thing: Filipinos can compete with the best in the world and emerge as victors!

True enough, Mr. Jose believed that too. Although he started saying that what Rizal modeled over a hundred years ago is now a myth to most Filipinos, he ended his statement in an uplifting tone. "Rizal matched wits with any white man" which garnered the world's respect. Proof is many nations have adopted Rizal as their hero as seen in many landmarks and statues from around Asia, Germany and in Spain.

National Artist F. Sionil Jose

What Is Rizal's Relevance Today?

Mr. Jose said that he was in Grade V when he first read the translated versions of the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. He said that since his family was poor, they can't afford to buy books. He sold newspapers, he added, so that he could read. Even his mother who recognized his passion for learning, tried looking for books to satiate his hungry mind. He then went on to relate how his illiterate grandfather was deceived by some people and what his lolo told him between cries, "Mag-aral ka para hindi ka apihin." (Translation: Study hard so that no one can take advantage of you.)

It wasn't long before Mr. Jose was able to connect the dots between his grandfather's tragic life and Rizal's novels about the injustice suffered by Filipinos under Spain. That was why when he read the portion wherein Sisa's sons were accused by the friars, he cried, for he remembered what happened to his lolo (grandfather). From then on, Mr. Jose started hating social injustice and began pitying the oppressed. He said that he inherited that from reading Rizal's writings.

Rizal's oil portrait ( 1883) by Felix Ressurreccion Hidalgo

In that sense, Rizal wrote his novels not just to expose Spanish tyranny but also to teach his countrymen how to love the country. Interestingly enough, he was also known to be a big brother, who sometimes scolded his Filipino contemporaries living in Spain about their excessive spending.

In fact, Rizal and fellow compatriot Marcelo H. del Pilar saved their money to put up La Solidaridad!  Mr. Jose said that like Rizal, he believes that a nation is created not by the rich, but of writers, artists and musicians. Following this line of thinking, Mr. Jose said that Germany became powerful not because of its government officials but because of Goethe, Schiller and Beethoven, among others. European politicians at the time, he added, wanted to be associated with writers and artists because they shaped people's thoughts and memories.

Unfortunately, Filipinos don't have any memories, Mr. Jose said. Reflecting on this, I remember what my college professor once said. Reading is not a common habit among Filipinos unlike other nationalities for example who read even in subways and trains. Mr. Jose added that the beauty of Rizal's novels is that they give us memories of the past and strengthen our nationhood. Like many writers, Rizal  makes our history alive!

What Mr. Jose said afterwards made me truly think. Rizal was not Asian! Rizal was every bit "western" judging from his allusions to Greek mythology and proficiency in many languages: a polyglot conversant in 22 languages, maybe even more. I believe Mr. Jose used the word "western" to depict Rizal as a true renaissance man learned not only in literature but also in history, the arts and sciences capable of trading wits with anyone in the world!

With a passionate tone, Mr. Jose added, "Rizal was a super artist. Just imagine how much literature he must have created if he wasn't killed at 35!"

Since, Mr. Jose talked about a lot of things during the lecture, I believe it would be best to make an on-going series about my learnings on F. Sionil Jose's Reflections on Dr. Jose Rizal in future posts. As a fitting conclusion, I'd like to leave you with a portion from Rizal's "Letter to the Young Women of Malolos:"

"Ignorance is servitude, because as a man thinks, so he is; a man who does not think for himself and allowed himself to be guided by the thought of another is like the beast led by a halter." 


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