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 Overcome with the potential significance of this historical document, she shares her thoughts and the translated manuscript with Diwata Drake, a Murkian scholar who had published chapters of her forthcoming tome You Lovely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.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.