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Commentary

History from below

05:07 AM August 21, 2017

Umberto Eco’s first novel, “The Name of the Rose,” narrates a telling fictional story of how a medieval religious order tried to protect itself from the “subversive power of laughter.” It is the story of William of Baskerville, who came to visit a monastery that was disturbed by the mystery of a suicide.

In this postmodern novel, the concept of truth is possessed by the character of a poor woman, who is depicted as harmless, but tempting. But Adso, the novice, succumbs to his basic instincts—sex and love. While he is the supreme portrayal of human innocence, Adso is also the inner desire of the young for existential meaning and moral significance.

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Modern logic might reveal the story as something about how a reasonable man will attempt to solve a mysterious crime. Yet Eco actually foretells a postmodern twist describing the excruciating end that awaits the innocent when accused as a threat to old norms and tradition. Linguistically, Eco does not present his point by means of the plot. He employs his postmodern device by intertwining texts after texts after texts. While readers would force their way by making love the central theme of the story, the right conclusion can only be that truth is a paradox that is appealing but at the same time dangerous.

We can find a similar theme in Friedrich Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy.” Nietzsche projects a tapestry of human existence, arguing that reason is nothing but a despondent Western autocracy the aim of which is to destroy human passion. It is the latter, not the former, that powers the inner drive of humankind toward personal achievement and glory. Against the Greek idea of a world that is characterized by nobility and order, the dichotomy of the Apollonian and the Dionysian as proposed by the German thinker intends to show that human existence is determined by a mixture of the moral good and the universe’s dark forces.

Very close to the same decade that Eco published his remarkable literary masterpiece and more than a century after Nietzsche’s classic appeared, Filipino historian Reynaldo Ileto published his thought-provoking and highly influential “Pasyon and Revolution.” The monograph, which is an attempt to defy the grand narratives that mostly define the way history is written, inaugurated the birth in Philippine historiography of an idea known to scholars as “history from below.” For many years, Filipinos have been forced to read their history from the perspective of their colonial masters. In this emerging paradigm, history is read from the point of view of its voiceless victims.

Ileto’s work, which is comparable in eloquence to Renato Constantino’s “The Philippines: A Past Revisited,” begins with the story of the strange uprising of a religious and political group called “Lapiang Malaya.” In May 1967, according to Ileto’s account, the group met its tragic end from the automatic weapons of the police. Scores of its members would lie lifeless on the street. What happened to the group is a tragedy, but hegemonic forces in Filipino elite culture simply painted the struggle of Lapiang Malaya as nothing but a comic “disruption of the familiar and explicable patterns” in the country’s history.

The vapid and insular interpretation of elite culture obfuscates the grievous in Philippine politics. Masahiro Kitano thinks that “as comedy should pursue the ridiculous and the ridiculous is defined as a kind of error, it follows that an error plays a central role both in tragic and comic plots.” The comic dimension of social reality is forced upon the consciousness of the people not only by means of the economic leverage of the oligarchy, but also through high culture. In our country, politics is all about entertainment, not substance. This has become the nefarious strategy of society’s “triangular structure” in order to perpetuate the blind yet unchallenged loyalties of the masses to their own oppressors.

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Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.

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TAGS: “Pasyon and Revolution”, ” Renato Constantino, Christopher Ryan Maboloc, Friedrich Nietzsche, Inquirer Commentary, Reynaldo Ileto, The Birth of Tragedy, The Name of the Rose, The Philippines: A Past Revisited, Umberto Eco
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