After the literary revelations of ‘Nitroglycerine in the Pomegranate’ (NLR 27), a new political reading of José Rizal’s astonishing last novel. Imperial power, anarchist bombings and anti-colonial insurrection in the gifted young Filipino’s vision of a 19th-century global landscape.
IN THE WORLD-SHADOW OF BISMARCK AND NOBEL
In an earlier article, ‘Nitroglycerine in the Pomegranate’ in nlr 27, I discussed the novels of Filipino José Rizal—Noli me Tangere and, in particular, El Filibusterismo (Subversion) of 1891—within a loosely literary framework. I argued that Rizal learnt much from European novelists, yet transformed what he found there to explosive new anticolonial effect. But Rizal was not only the first great novelist but also the founding father of the modern Philippine nation, and did not read merely fiction. He also perused the newspapers and magazines of the various capitals in which he lived—Madrid, Paris, Berlin, London—not to mention non-fiction books. More than that, from very early on his political trajectory was profoundly affected by events in Europe, the Caribbean, and elsewhere, and their often violent local backwash thousands of miles away in his home country. The aims of the present article are twofold. One is to use a transnational space/time framework to try to solve puzzles which have long perplexed critics of Rizal’s last published novel. The second is to allow a new global landscape of the late nineteenth century to come into view, from the estranging vantage point of a brilliant young man (who coined the wonderful expression el demonio de las comparaciones) from one of its least-known peripheries.
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