Forgetting as part of remembering
History is contested territory because one story can be remembered by different people in different ways. So it is always more engaging to do historiography than history because in trying to understand how history is written, how it is constructed and deconstructed, remembered and forgotten, readers get a glimpse of the historian’s mind, the milieu in which he or she writes, the context and complexity that make one history different from the next.
Reynaldo C. Ileto’s 1979 work “Pasyon and Revolution” has been hailed as the single most important monograph on the Philippines in the last century, the one book that defined his career. Naturally, a ground-breaking book such as this has an equal share of detractors, who predicted that Ileto would be blighted by the Cornell curse, of being a “one book wonder.” Fortunately, Ileto has broken the spell and has launched a new book, “Knowledge and Pacification”—his fourth, if we are to count his little-known monograph on Datu Uto as a book.
Ileto’s latest book is different from the first simply by its form; mercifully, it is not a doctoral dissertation but a collection of essays in three groupings, each building on one theme. The tone is conversational, at times personal, and we see the historian looking at the past from the prism of his life and times: for example, comparing his view of America with that of his father, the (in)famous Gen. Rafael Ileto whose nickname evolved from “Apeng” (the Pinoy nickname for Rafael) to “Rocky” (not after the buff silver-screen boxer but the nickname given him at West Point to distinguish him from a classmate with the same name).
Ileto weaves Philippine history into his own life, focusing on the generation gap between the strong-willed military father and the reflective scholar-son that was filled in by the nurturing of a mother who flits in and out of the narrative but is given her due at the end of this most personal essay. Even the “Acknowledgements” reads like an outline of Ileto’s professional life and the people along the bumpy way to scholarship who readers should thank for inspiring this book.
While Ileto details how his views on the past were formed by mentors, professors, classmates and friends, a glaring omission emerges from the collection: There is no essay on how he developed from criticism, how he was actually honored by his detractors. Friendly praise is never the same or as formative as unfair criticism from an enemy. One fine example from history concerns Rizal, who told Marcelo H. del Pilar that he was on the receiving end of too much praise and needed a frank opinion on his novels. Del Pilar obliged, and Rizal was none too happy for it.
All throughout the book Ileto draws on decades of archival research: from materials in what used to be called the Philippine Insurgent Records, to documents on Tayabas in the Philippine National Archives, to material on Jose P. Laurel, Artemio Ricarte, and the controversy over the 1957 Rizal Law and the hidden gems in the Mauro Garcia collection in Sophia University, Tokyo. He calls our attention to the Philippine-American War and how this is, for many different reasons, remembered or forgotten.
Is there a specific term or name for the space between remembering and forgetting? My fruitless search led me to Mnemosyne of Greek mythology, the personification of memory. For nine consecutive nights she slept with her nephew Zeus, resulting in the nine muses—one of them Clio, Muse of History. Mnemosyne is associated with Lethe, one of the five rivers of Hades, where souls to be reincarnated drank to forget their past lives. Lethe was also the river of unmindfulness, the personification of forgetfulness and oblivion. Maybe the book should have been titled “Memory and Pacification” rather than “Knowledge and Pacification”?
Why is history always bent on remembering, negating, or forgetting? Some histories, as Ileto clearly shows in the book, are examples of forgetting. Perhaps that is the subject of another book—forgetting as part of remembering, because what we remember and what we choose to forget say a lot about who we are, where we came from, where we want to go, and why we are the way we are.
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