May 30, 2013

JEWELER: Fifth Annotation, Crocodiles of El Fili

Tilde and I started on the path to crocodiles intent on exploring the most popular reptilian metaphor during the election period. He has written three posts, each with a different illustration, the last a short retelling of the Maguindanao crocodile legend in comic form. I heard that the series also spawned yet-to-be-divulged offspring for him, which is great news, because we have been hoping since day one that these projects would also inform creative purposes. It remains to be seen if others could make similar gains for themselves from these our lively efforts. For my part, I wanted at least three annotations in: right before the elections, on the purple day itself, and during the count. Fortunately, I have gone on to write a fourth. [1]

Only the fifth remains.

In [2] Father SalvĂ­ qualified his tale right before the telling: "you should not forget the one that is the most beautiful because it is the truest." The tale that follows is a moral, doctrine in an entertaining form, one that seeks to encourage converts. Perhaps too, it is meant to warn against disbelief, intimidate disbelievers.

In [3], the reproter Ben Zayb replies at once: "Marvellous, what a marvellous tale!" He hobnobs and—in his special manner—he kowtows. This being the routine for which we have long identified him. However, Rizal makes more of this character than a mere yes-man. Ben Zayb flatters but does not kneel. He seems to be keeping himself from doing so only because the priests already have parishioners in good supply, continually kept ignorant.

No. What he offers the priests the decorous fawning of the educated, perhaps the genteel (the type of attention they have been steadily losing as knowledge and civilization progresses in the West). The scientific too, as evidenced by Ben Zayb's words: "Very suitable for an article! Description of the monster, the Chinaman's terror, the waters of the river, the canefields. And then again, it lends itself to a comparative study of religions. You will observe that the heathen Chinaman in the moment of his great danger invoked, of all people, a saint whom he knew of only by hearsay and in whom he did not believe. The saying that the devil we know is better than the saint we don't, obviously did not apply in this case. For myself, if I were to find myself in such a danger in China, I fear I would call upon the least known saint in the calendar before calling upon Confucius or Buddha. Whether this argues toward the logical inconsistency of the yellow race can be elucidated only after profound anthropological investigation."

Or at least, the pseudoscientific. Rizal's narrator says as much: "Ben Zayb had adopted the manner of a professor and traced circles in the air with his index finger, amazed by his own ingenuity which had derived so many allusions and consequences from the most insignificant premises." The word "ingenuity" must also alert us: maybe Ben Zayb's mode is that of the aesthete? (And maybe these annotations are of like spittle.)

In [4], Simoun subtly shoves Ben Zayb's rhetorical curlicues aside with his version of the Socratic mode: "two questions you should raise in your articles. First: what the devil can have happened to the Devil when he suddenly found himself encased in stone? Did he escape? Did he stay there? was he crushed? And second: can the fossils I have seen in the museums in Europe possibly be the victims of some antediluvian saint?" Simoun plays deuce against deuce. He takes it to the realm of the museums and dinosaurs (empiricism, science) and hides a challenge in chronology (could St. Nicholas be that old?).

However, this degree of sophistication was lost on the priests, at least on Fr. Camorra, whose only reply was a grave "Who knows?"

The jeweler fails (here, and at the close of the book) because his designs needed to be symmetrical ("what the devil can have happened to the Devil..."). Simoun demanded that his revolution be intricate (the hologram of Egypt, the meticulous crystal of his bomb), justice ought to be poetic for it to be justice. He had been this way even as Ibarra, so perhaps no one can say that it was the loss of Maria Clara that necessitated a revenge of commensurate beauty.

I sign off from these notes tonight. Someday, I might again touch upon the slime of these green scales. And if not these Fili specimens, remember: another cayman lies in wait, submerged—partially—in the Noli Me Tangere.

[1] Open Season | crocs across, beyond pages | Grounds for Sport | Word Magicks | the mother of crocodiles | A Hidden Worship | gator as guilt incarnate | scale souvenir
[2] José Rizal. El Filibusterismo. Trans. by Leon Maria Guerrero. Quezon City: Guerrero Pub., 1996: 21.
[3] Rizal: 22.
[4] Rizal: 22.

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