- Interrogations in Philippine Cultural History: The Ateneo de Manila Lectures by Resil B. Mojares
Interrogations in Philippine Cultural History: The Ateneo de Manila Lectures
Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2017. 191 pages.
In 2013 the Ateneo de Manila University bestowed upon Resil B. Mojares the prestigious Tanglaw ng Lahi award, which recognizes those who have made significant contributions to Filipinism and Filipino identity. In his acceptance speech Mojares stated that "for one who writes about the Philippines, lives in the Philippines (and not having thought, even once, of actually leaving it), nationalism is not something abstract and intellectual; it is deeply existential" (Resil B. Mojares, "Response of 2013 Tanglaw ng Lahi Awardee Resil B. Mojares," Online, http://www.ateneo.edu/response-2013-tanglaw-ng-lahi-awardee-resil-b-mojares, accessed 12 Oct. 2017). From the perspective of Philippine cultural history, this statement is a call to recognize nationalism in its concrete expressions. In the wake of this award, Mojares delivered a set of lectures at the Ateneo de Manila from 2014 to 2015 on various topics that crisscrossed disciplinal boundaries. The eight lectures covered diverse subjects: Nick Joaquin, Andrés Bonifacio, colonial printing, Cebuano devotion to the Santo Niño, literary studies, film, a certain Pascual Racuyal, and Philippine scholarship. The lectures have been compiled in Interrogations in Philippine Cultural History, which brings to the fore critical and thought-provoking insights.
Cultural history is a road less traversed by historians than other fields of inquiry. Most of the topics studied by historians and presented to lay readers, without prejudice, tend toward political history. As opposed to politics, culture is such a complex term that, although understood by almost everybody, defies an all-encompassing definition because it practically includes everything. Mojares, however, does justice to the concept of culture by distilling the varieties of the "everything" in Filipino practices through writing narratives about diverse human expressions, from rituals to film, from comics to historiography.
Historiography is the key to appreciate Filipino cultural expressions as concrete manifestations of history. In Mojares's evaluation of facets of Philippine culture, his "no-holds barred" questions reverberate to stir critical engagements. For example, in the opening chapter, he calls for a reevaluation of Nick Joaquin, who is often disregarded in the historiography of the [End Page 130] Philippine Revolution. Similarly, in the second chapter, Mojares revives the question of Bonifacio's socioeconomic position by considering both the semantics of terms such as "plebeian" and "masses" and the prejudices in the historical judgment of heroic characters.
The wealth of Mojares's wisdom cannot be denied. Again, in his chapter on Joaquin, there is a thin line between historical fact and literary imagination, between the objective (an ambiguous term traditional historiography holds on to) and the subjective, between the intended and the unintended. The dichotomies can go on. For example, Mojares mentions that Nick Joaquin did not write as a historian or a sociologist—Joaquin wrote because he was a writer (5). Nevertheless, Mojares validates Joaquin's significance as a historian and asserts that Joaquin himself and his life works are historical texts in themselves.
Aligned with Joaquin's regard for Spain's legacy in Philippine history and society, Mojares, in writing about colonial printing (ch. 3), debunks the oft-repeated mantra that Spanish colonialism was primarily counterproductive. In this light, Mojares makes a clarion call for a more nuanced portrayal of that period. Many characters involved in this narrative are worth recognizing. Firstly, the Dominicans introduced printing to the Philippines, beginning with Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Española y Tagala (1593), and subsequently led the way in printing religious paraphernalia. Mojares also mentions "good Spaniards" like Gov.-Gen. Carlos María de la Torre and José Felipe del Pan and calls for a more favorable attitude toward them because of their contributions to the history of publishing. Many of the natives involved in the world of colonial print are now nameless in history, but a handful of them can still be recognized: from Tomás Pinpin, the first native to author a book, to the ilustrado and folklorist Isabelo de los Reyes. By the 1900s, the...