May 18, 2013

WORD MAGICKS: Third Annotation, Crocodiles of El Fili

It seems that once upon a time the river, like the lake, was infested with crocodiles so huge and voracious that they attacked boats, overturning them with a blow of the tail. Our chronicles record that one day a heathen Chinese, who had up to then refused to be converted, was going down the river past St. Nicholas Church when suddenly the devil appeared before him in the shape of a crocodile and overturned his boat to devour him and take him to Hell. Inspired by God at this crucial moment the Chinese called for help to St. Nicholas and immediately the crocodile was turned to stone. The old-timers say that in their day it was possible to recognize the monster in the fragments of stone that still remained of it; I myself can say that I was able to make out the head of the reptile and judging from it the monster must have been enormous! In [1].

Fr. Salví's narrative legitimizes its storyteller's general claim to ascendancy as priest of the land as well as an individual among other powerholders mingling on the upper deck of the steamship Tabo [2]. By means of his story, we discover that his claim is (at least) two-fold: the miraculous and the rational.

First, the power inherent in stole and cassock is the same miraculous force that, when invoked properly, could turn the devil to stone. By "when invoked" I meant to stress levels of word magic at play here: the plea of the Chinaman contained inside the story of the priest, the story of the priest contained in the novel of the author. Each level presents parallel bids for survival: boatman vs the devil, priest vs the other storytellers, Rizal vs the priests. Notice also how on each level the protagonist is an enemy converted into a symbol for the storyteller's disposal. The Chinaman becomes Fr. Salví's case for faith but only so that the priest could assume his role in the novelist's argument against frailocracy. (For further study: the intention of the defiance in each level. Or, the degree of desperation.)

An effective miracle must contain both the ineffable and the intelligible, which brings us to the second claim. For Fr. Salví's power arises also from factual evidence, from the explicable: the stones along the river resemble the broken pieces of the devil-made-manifest. In this case, miracles are not counterfactual, rather they are assumed to be the basis of the factual. Beyond the stones as mere proofs of the miracle, we are to accept each stone as manifestations of the miraculous-in-the-world.

This is why Fr. Salví inserts himself as eyewitness ("I myself can say that I was able to make out the head of the reptile"), the recipient of the transcendent power is in the best position to perceive it. Let us entertain two possibilities: (a) recipient therefore perceiver, or (b) perceiver therefore recipient.

In (a), the vocation and position endowed him with the means to perceive the demonic (crocodile) in the every day (stones). In (b), it is the narrative transmission of the proofs of power (legend, 1st and 2nd readings) that generate the power (priesthood, authority recognized by folk who transform themselves into parishioners).

An important question for later: What are the implications of turning the devil itself into stone?

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[1] José Rizal. El Filibusterismo. Trans. by Leon Maria Guerrero. Quezon City: Guerrero Pub., 1996: 21-22.
[2] Open Season | crocs across, beyond pages | Grounds for Sport