Finally got to sit down and watch Fernando Meirelles's Blindness (2008). I often wondered how he would transform the apocalyptic world Jose Saramago created in his novel.
I wasn't disappointed at all. Julianne Moore was magnificent in her portrayal of the Doctor's Wife -- letting us feel what she was thinking and feeling in that wretched world that she alone was the sole witness. Through the intensity in her eyes and by how her jaw would be clenched tight, she could as well be mute as the only seeing person in a city where all the people had become blind.
I didn't like Gael Garcia Bernal being cast as the King of Ward 3, though. While he delivered quite a good performance, he didn't quite fit the character I imagined when reading the book. He looked really frail to be the King of Ward 3. Of course, that may be what Meirelles intended -- in a world where no one is able to see anything, size is not necessarily might.
And of course, my having read Saramago's novel Blindness (1995) may have clouded my lenses while watching the movie.
Such a timely read it was then, what with the news about Influenza A H1N1 all over the papers. And with the alarming warnings of pandemic proportions. While there was cause for concern, some of the serious stuff was glossed over by the sensationalized reporting -- moreso on TV. Some of the reports even quoted government and health officials talking about the need to call in the military.
Which brings me to the novel, Blindness (1995), and how it portrays a city and country turning into a version of Hell as one by one the citizens are struck blind. The first few who lost their sight are quarantined in an abandoned mental asylum, with the military keeping watch so that no one escapes to infect others.
But soon everybody, inside and outside the quarantine, are struck blind. And soon humanity becomes its own nightmare. Except for a group of individuals led by a woman, the Doctor's Wife (no name is given her in the novel), who wasn't afflicted with the sudden blindness.
She becomes the only witness to the degradation around her, and sometimes she wishes that she were blind too. But ultimately, she is able to lead her group to a kind of sight -- a kind of hopefulness that lives on in everyone who doesn't forget their humanity.
For Raymundo Mata is a footnote in the annals of the Katipunan, the Philippine revolutionary group that fought for independence against Spain and later America.
He is mentioned only in passing: "On June 15, 1896, Dr. Valenzuela left Manila aboard the steamer Venus. To disguise his real mission, he brought with him a blind man named Raymundo Mata and a guide, going to Dapitan to seek Rizal's expert medical service."
But Gina Apostol recuperates this character in her recent novel, The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 2009). She lets Raymundo Mata speak for himself through what is purported to be his notebooks or, as the historian Estrella Espejo describes it, more of "an assortment of unpaginated notes and mismatched sheaves packed in a ratty biscuit tin and stuffed in a tattered medical bag, the edges of the papers curled up in permanent dust" (2).
The translation, done by Mimi Magsalin (pseud.), is divided into five parts that chronicles Mata's childhood in Cavite and later involvement with the revolutionary group. Part 3 of his notebooks contain entries that reveals Mata's encounters with Jose Rizal in Dapitan. The fourth part revolves around Mata's dark secret as well as clues to the whereabouts of the Katipunan's money, while the last part titled "Aftermass" reads like Rizal's unfinished novel Makamisa.
Espejo is handed this manuscript, rather the translation of Mata's notebooks, by the publisher Trina Trono. Overcome with the potential significance of this historical document, she shares her thoughts and the translated manuscript with Diwata Drake, a Murkian scholar who had published chapters of her forthcoming tome You Lovely Symptoms: The Structure of the Filipino Unconscious, Not Really a Langue or a Parole.
Equally overwhelmed by this historical find, Drake becomes engrossed in reading the manuscript that she becomes oblivious of Espejo's near fatal attack (though Espejo believes Drake tried to smother her in her sleep). The short of it is that Espejo is confined to the Quezon Institute and Sanitorium in Tacloban, Leyte, while Drake roams around the world (like a fugitive, perhaps?).
But such is the drama of Philippine scholarship it seems, or what the novel seems to mimic.
As Ambeth Ocampo relates in Makamisa: The Search for Rizal's Third Novel (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 1992), he stumbled upon Rizal's text from the marginalia often swept aside by official chroniclers of the National Hero. Apparently Dr. Angel Hidalgo, Rizal's grandnephew and a scholar who compiled an annotated bibliography of Rizal's works, alerted the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission (JRNCC) about "an unpublished manuscript in Spanish resembling the Tagalog Makamisa in plot and characters, and existing in the National Library" (18).
Hidalgo suggested that the existing manuscript be "transcribed, translated, and published." However, Hidalgo was silenced by his uncle, "Leoncio Lopez Rizal, the acknowledged authority on Rizal and a member of the JRNCC...by declaring, 'No se puede por que el manuscrito es un borrador. Un borrador del Noli me tangere, nada mas!' (That cannot be done, because the manuscript in question is a draft. A draft of the Noli me tangere, nothing more!)" [translation provided] (18).
And so Rizal's third novel remained buried among other manuscripts in the National Library, until Ocampo was able to retrieve it. His transcription and translation is what we now have in his Makamisa: The Search for Rizal's Third Novel.
This same kind of contentious scholarship is what Apostol mimes and mines in her own explorations into the Filipino identity. And what a rollicking heteroglossic carnival she presents us readers.
For the novel is not just about the footnote figure that is Mata. It also mimics the combative scholarship in the spats among Espejo, Drake, and Magsalin in the footnotes and in the forewords and afterwords to Mata's notebook entries.
It is the footnotes that really propel the novel to its ending that turns out to be, in Espejo's words, really "a circular loop, with same beginning and no end." An ending that thrusts Drake into her own quest to unmask what she suspects to be Magsalin's hoax (abetted by Trono, if she is not herself the pseudonymous translator).
Such is the nature of literary works, it seems. It can inaugurate a revolution just as much as Drake says of biographical texts, it can launch a thousand "false starts, red herrings, dead ends, mysterious trails" that make the quest -- whether for a nation or for the novel's closure -- worth the while.
Moreso when we can chuckle through the pages, something that Apostol liberally indulges us with in her serious play with rewriting history.
As Magsalin cryptically writes in her postcard from "'an island in the South China Sea'": Mi noamla: ra puada vimgoes am at.
Some choice passages from Eudora Welty's autobiography of her childhood and the beginnings of her life as a writer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984):
"Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it's an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole." (14)
"...I stumbled into making pictures with a camera. Frame, proportion, perspective, the values of light and shade, all are determined by the distance of the observing eye." (21)
"The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order, a timetable not necessarily--perhaps not possibly--chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation." (68-69)
"The frame through which I viewed the world changed too, with time. Greater than scene, I came to see, is situation. Greater than situation is implication. Greater than all of these is a single, entire human being, who will never be confined in any frame." (90)
"Travel itself is part of some longer continuity." (97)
"It is our inward journey that leads us through time--forward or back, seldom in a straight line, most often spiraling. Each of us is moving, changing, with respect to others. As we discover, we remember; remembering, we discover; and most intensely do we experience this when our separate journeys converge. Our living experience at those meeting points is one of the charged dramatic fields of fiction." (102)
"Of course the greatest confluence of all is that which makes up the human memory--the individual human memory. My own is the treasure most dearly regarded by me, in my life and in my work as a writer. Here time, also, is subject to confluence. The memory is a living thing--it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remembered joins, and lives--the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead." (104)
"As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within." (104)
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