F Sionil Jose & Jose Rizal. Double search for justice & moral order
MANILA: Today, Monday, 30 December 2013, Rizal Day, I noticed my daughter Ela's copy of F Sionil Jose's novel Sherds (2007, Manila: La Solidaridad, 128 pages). Out of curiosity, I read Chapter 1, those 7 pages, and then the last page. I didn't like the ending.
End of story? No. I looked at the blurb on the back cover and I didn't like it either. It says among other things:
Sherds – the latest work by the Philippines' most widely translated author – is, perhaps, his most thoughtful and incisive comment on the Filipino condition. For all its sophisticated urban setting, it still belongs to the vernacular literary tradition, hewing ever closely to the author's major theme – the Filipino's often hopeless search for social justice and a moral order.
Hopeless search(es) for social justice and a moral order – thereby, F Sionil Jose makes it look like the Philippines is in a State as bad as his Nightmares.
We create our own nightmares. Yes, we all are heroes in our own eyes.
The present is also the past. F Sionil Jose reminds me of the Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal, who in the 1880s and 1890s is also fighting in his country and abroad with his pen against injustice and immorality. Both F Sionil Jose and Jose Rizal are searching for social justice and a moral order, and neither can find either.
I am struck by the literary languages used: Spanish for Jose Rizal and English for F Sionil Jose. Most un-Filipino, right?! Spanish is the language of our colonizers for 350 years; English is the language of our colonizers for 50 years. Aren't these gentlemen both exhibiting colonial mentality in their own time? Why don't they use Tagalog (Filipino) since that's what the masses of Filipinos understand? Hasn't Jose Rizal written that he who does not love his language is worse than a smelly fish?
Let's see. I translated Jose Rizal's "Sa Aking Mga Kabata" (To Kids Of My Own Time) in English and published my version in FiSH, the youth magazine of Shepherd's Publications (vol 3 no 3, 2005, page 14); later, I published the same in my blog ("A Dangerous Peace. Being About Rizal's Racial, Intellectual Sport," 19 June 2007, Frank A Hilario, blogspot.com):
Sa Aking Mga Kabata
Sinulat ni Jose P Rizal
To Kids Of My Own Time
Translated by Frank A Hilario
Kapagka ang baya'y sadyang umiibig
sa kanyang salitang kaloob ng langit,
sanlang kalayaan nasa ring masapit
katulad ng ibong nasa himpapawid.
If the people naturally love
its tongue that is a gift from Heaven,
pawned freedom too it will seek to gain
as the bird that flies the sky above.
Pagka't ang salita'y isang kahatulan
sa bayan, sa nayo't mga kaharian,
at ang isang tao'y katulad, kabagay
ng alin mang likha noong kalayaan.
Since language is an estimation
of kingdom, town and community,
and man is like, a match to any
creature who has been of freedom born.
Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika
mahigit sa hayop at malansang isda;
kaya ang marapat pagyamaning kusa
na tulad sa inang tunay na nagpala.
His native tongue who does not treasure
is worse than a beast or smelly fish;
'tis right that on our own we nourish
like a mother who bestows favor.
Ang wikang Tagalog tulad din sa Latin
sa Ingles, Kastila at salitang anghel,
sapagka't ang Poong maalam tumingin
ang siyang naggawad, nagbigay sa atin.
Tagalog language is like Latin,
English, Spanish, and angelic tongue,
because God who has the wisdom
is He who gave, to us did assign.
Ang salita nati'y tulad din sa iba
na may alfabeto at sariling letra,
na kaya nawala'y dinatnan ng sigwa
ang lunday sa lawa noong dakong una.
Our own language, like any other,
had alphabet and letters, its own,
now vanished since by waves overthrown
like bancas in the lake long before.
I did Jose Rizal one better by translating his boring a/a/a/a poem into my more interesting a/b/b/a rhyme.
While translating, I discovered that what Jose Rizal means by "sariling wika" is not the obvious "native tongue" but in fact, the term is a metaphor for "freedom" or "independence." This is a poem, remember? If you insist on the literal meaning, like most Filipinos do, you are not reading the poem but reading your own thoughts into the poem.
The most telling argument against "sariling wika" as the literal "native tongue" and not "freedom" is found in the last stanza, which speaks of the language as having vanished – if this language has vanished, how come Jose Rizal is still using it?!
Are you following me so far? Now this: When it comes to writing his 2 novels that will become famous – and send him to the execution field, eventually – he turns to the Spanish language, which is not his own. If "native tongue" in that poem means "native language," then he has turned anti-nationalist in his own terms. But he has not. Jose Rizal knows exactly for whom he is writing: the intellectuals in Spain and in his own country. He is appealing to their sense of social justice and moral order. Noli and Fili dooms him because he has exaggerated the Philippine condition.
Now then, since F Sionil Jose insists in using the English language as his medium in writing his many short stories, a novella, 12 novels (including this one), and collections of his pieces, non-fiction, if you insist that writing in Tagalog is what Jose Rizal means for loving one's country, then F Sionil Jose is not a nationalist! F Sionil Jose doesn't love his country, only himself.
More about justice and morality. Indeed, in Rizal's time in the Philippines, there is social justice and moral order when it comes to the Spanish colonizers, but not to the colonized Filipinos. Jose Rizal is right to raise his pen to the heavens.
In F Sionil Jose's time, to say that the Filipinos are searching for social justice and moral order is a huge hyperbole, which is not excusable in a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Literature that he is.