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New Left Review 27, May-June 2004


Literary interactions between world capital and colonial periphery in the late nineteenth century—how rebel Filipino novelist José Rizal transformed elements of decadent aestheticism in Huysmans’s À Rebours, to explosive political effect.

BENEDICT ANDERSON

NITROGLYCERINE IN THE POMEGRANATE

José Rizal: Paris, Havana, Barcelona, Berlin—1

For a long time I had the vague feeling that José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, published in Berlin in 1887 (when he was twenty-six) and El Filibusterismo, out in Ghent in 1891 (he was then thirty), were almost too astonishing, not only in their technical narrative mastery, complex development of characters and linguistic richness, but because they were among the very first novels ever written by a Filipino. They offer a huge contrast with the sometimes charming amateurishness of the work of two generations of novelists in neighbouring Indonesia, before the 1950 arrival on the literary scene of Pramoedya Ananta Toer—more than half a century after Rizal’s execution by the Spanish colonial government of the Philippines. [1] Later canonized as the Founding Father of the Philippine nation, Rizal was born in the provincial town of Calamba in 1861 and shot down by a Spanish-officered, native firing squad in Manila in 1896. I would like to acknowledge the enormous amount of help I have received in preparing this text from: Ronald Baytan, Karina Bolasco, Jonathan Culler, Neil Garcia, Ellis Hanson, Carol Hau, Franco Moretti, Ambeth Ocampo and Joss Wibisono. All errors and follies are entirely my responsibility.

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