The Promise of the Foreign: Nationalism and the Technics of Translation in the Spanish Philippines / Edition 1

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In The Promise of the Foreign, Vicente L. Rafael argues that translation was key to the emergence of Filipino nationalism in the nineteenth century. Acts of translation entailed technics from which issued the promise of nationhood. Such a promise consisted of revising the heterogeneous and violent origins of the nation by mediating one’s encounter with things foreign while preserving their strangeness. Rafael examines the workings of the foreign in the Filipinos’ fascination with Castilian, the language of the Spanish colonizers. In Castilian, Filipino nationalists saw the possibility of arriving at a lingua franca with which to overcome linguistic, regional, and class differences. Yet they were also keenly aware of the social limits and political hazards of this linguistic fantasy.

Through close readings of nationalist newspapers and novels, the vernacular theater, and accounts of the 1896 anticolonial revolution, Rafael traces the deep ambivalence with which elite nationalists and lower-class Filipinos alike regarded Castilian. The widespread belief in the potency of Castilian meant that colonial subjects came in contact with a recurring foreignness within their own language and society. Rafael shows how they sought to tap into this uncanny power, seeing in it both the promise of nationhood and a menace to its realization. Tracing the genesis of this promise and the ramifications of its betrayal, Rafael sheds light on the paradox of nationhood arising from the possibilities and risks of translation. By repeatedly opening borders to the arrival of something other and new, translation compels the nation to host foreign presences to which it invariably finds itself held hostage. While this condition is perhaps common to other nations, Rafael shows how its unfolding in the Philippine colony would come to be claimed by Filipinos, as would the names of the dead and their ghostly emanations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Following up on Contracting Colonialism, Vicente L. Rafael studies the Philippine nationalists’ failed attempts to lay claim to Spanish, and the emergence of a hungry Tagalog meaning-machine eager to ‘host the foreign in the familiar.’ Rafael takes his readers on an astonishing trip through the Philippine cultural archive, from vernacular comedia, epic and novel, to underground newspapers, speeches, and the captured documents of secret societies, examining language as an unstoppable producer of social and political possibilities, including the possibility of the national. No one grasps better than Rafael the ambiguous agency of language in colonialism and decolonization.”—Mary Louise Pratt, New York University

“In the tradition of James Siegel and Benedict Anderson, Vicente L. Rafael has given us a daring book about the ambivalent origins of the nation in the Philippines. It will be loved and emulated by students of nationalism, Southeast Asia, and comparative literary studies everywhere. There is good reason for this, for it is a beautiful book, a book of readings for lovers of literature, a book about literature for the media age. Mostly, however, it is a book about the foreignness in us all: an unassailable refutation of nationalist ideologies of purity.”—Rosalind C. Morris, author of In the Place of Origins: Modernity and Its Mediums in Northern Thailand

Julius J. Bautista

“This latest work is one of erudition and unique insight. What is characteristic of Rafael’s prose is not only its eloquence but the meticulous unpacking of every snippet of source material, which is mined for its heuristic value, propelling the argument towards often unique lateral understandings. This is a work that would be of great value to Philippinists in particular and to those who are interested in the development of nationalist thought in Southeast Asia more broadly.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822336648
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 12/28/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Vicente L. Rafael is Professor of History at the University of Washington. He is the author of White Love and Other Events in Filipino History and Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society under Early Spanish Rule, both also published by Duke University Press.

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By Vicente L. Rafael

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3651-8

Chapter One


Castilian as a Lingua Franca

The Fantasy of Communication

In the spring of 1889, the editors of the Filipino nationalist newspaper, La solidaridad, then based in Barcelona, wrote in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of a telegraph cable system in the Philippine colony. Running between Manila and Hong Kong, and from there to Europe, the system furnished an "electric language" (lenguaje electrico) with which to transmit "patriotic thoughts" directly to the motherland, Spain. Thanks to telegraphy, the Philippines was put in contact with the world in new ways.

This "brave instrument" (valioso instrumento) engaged the interest of the editors involved in a campaign for reforms that sought to extend the rights of Spanish citizenship to all those living in the colony. Telegraphy made it seem possible to speak directly and intimately with the metropole and beyond. Its promise of rapid communications at great distances meant bypassingthe mediation of the colony's more "retrograde elements" and "enemies of progress," an allusion to the Spanish clerical orders and their bureaucratic allies. Hence, it did not seem to matter that the first transmission, reprinted by the editors, was a profession of fealty and devotion to the Crown sent by the governor general on behalf of the colony's subjects. It seemed less important that modern technology was used to convey a traditional message of feudal subservience. The editors were drawn instead to the sheer fact of this "sublime discovery" capable of speedy transmissions: a "language of lightning" (lenguaje del rayo) that triggered fantasies of immediate communication. Sidestepping the content of the message, they celebrated the capacity of a technology to overcome existing barriers to speech.

The existence of such barriers in large part accounts for the foreign location of La solidaridad. Colonial censorship, fed by the suspicion and hostility of the Spanish friar orders toward any attempt at challenging their authority, along with the threats of imprisonment, exile, and execution made it dangerous to ask for reforms in the colony. Hounded by colonial authorities, many of those in the first generation of nationalists were forced to leave the Philippines for Spain and other parts of Europe where a more liberal political climate allowed them to speak out.

It is important to underline at the outset the ethno-linguistic heterogeneity of this first generation of nationalists. Though they were all young men of mostly middle-class backgrounds with university education in Manila and Europe, they came from the various linguistic regions of the archipelago and differed, at least in the eyes of colonial law, in their ethnic makeup. Most spoke the local vernaculars such as Tagalog, Ilocano, Kapampangan, Ilongo, and so forth as their first language and counted among themselves mestizos (both Spanish and Chinese), indios or "natives," criollos (Spaniards born in the Philippines distinguished from the more privileged peninsulares, or Spaniards born in Spain). Collectively they came to be known as ilustrados, enlightened. In Europe during the 1880s and early 1890s they were joined in their campaign for reforms by Spanish liberals and Freemasons, at least one Austrian intellectual, and an older generation of Filipino exiles in England and Hong Kong who had suffered earlier in the hands of colonial authorities. Known in Philippine historiography as the Propaganda Movement, their activities were based in Barcelona and later in Madrid, with ties to Manila and surrounding towns. Ilustrados themselves traveled widely to study at universities in Paris, Berlin, and London, and it was not uncommon for them to be multilingual. Their efforts, largely liberal in character and inspired no doubt by their understanding of the Spanish revolutionary legacy, focused on seeking the assimilation of the Philippine colony as a province of Spain, restoring Filipino representation in the Spanish parliament, encouraging greater commercial activities, and securing equal treatment of the colony's population regardless of race before the law. That is, Filipino nationalists at this time wanted to be recognized not just as "Filipinos," for this merely meant in the late nineteenth century one who was not quite indio or Chinese, yet not quite Spaniard. They also wanted to be seen as Spanish patriots, at home in Spain as much as they were in the Philippines.

Nationalism in the Philippines thus began as a movement among groups uncertain about their identity and anxious about their place in colonial society. Beneficiaries of the increasing commercialization of agriculture and the penetration of European trade starting in the later eighteenth century, they sought not a separate nation-at least not yet-but a claim on the future and a place on the social map. Their initial appeal was not for the abolition of colonial rule but for its reformation in ways that would expand the limits of citizenship and political representation. The first generation of nationalists thus initially sought not separation but recognition from the motherland. This wish brought with it the imperative to communicate in a language that could be heard and understood by those in authority. Such a language was Castilian.

Traversing ethno-linguistic differences, Castilian served as the lingua franca of the ilustrados. Learned haltingly and unevenly first from their parents or private tutors and later on, for those who could afford it, at clerically controlled universities in Manila, Castilian allowed this small group of nationalists to speak with one another. Equally important, Castilian provided them with the medium for communicating with others both within and outside of colonial society. Thus could they address Spanish officials in Spain as well as in the Philippines; and Europeans and later on Americans who knew the language. With the exception of a very small group of criollos for whom Castilian was presumably a first language, most nationalists found in Castilian a second language common to each because native to no one. At the same time, they found in Castilian the means with which to translate their interests in terms that were audible and readable within and beyond colonial society. The foreignness of Castilian, the fact that it did not belong to them, was precisely what made it indispensable as a lingua franca for seeking recognition.

There is a sense then that Filipino nationalism did not originate with the discovery of an indigenous identity by the colonized and his or her subsequent assertion of an essential difference from the colonizer. Rather, its genesis lies in the transmission of messages across social and linguistic borders among all sorts of people whose identities and identifications were far from settled. Further, such transmissions had foreign origins and destinations, crossing provinces and continents, emanating from distant cities and strange locales. These transmissions were in Castilian for the most part, a language long heard in the colony but, because of the colonial practice of dissuading natives from learning it, largely misunderstood and barely spoken by the vast majority of those living in the archipelago. Castilian was in this sense a foreign language to most; and among ilustrados, it was a second language with which to represent the interests of the majority of the colonized. Thus we can think of Filipino nationalism as a practice of translation, here understood first as the coming into contact with the foreign and subsequently its reformulation into an element of oneself. From this perspective, nationalism, as I hope to show, entails at least in its formative moments neither the rejection nor the recapitulation of colonialism. Rather, it is about the discovery of an alien aspect residing within colonial society and its translation into a basis for a future history.

The Promise of Castilian

The sense of exhilarating possibilities opened up by contact with the foreign comes across in the La solidaridad article on the telegraphy cable system. Reaching outside the Philippines, it was a system that surpassed the communicative limits of colonial society. The "language of electricity" cut across linguistic differences to the extent that it belonged to no particular group or country. It could send messages to the world because all languages could be translated into its codes. It was thus exterior to all other languages, and this is what gave telegraphic technology the quality of a new kind of lingua franca.

The nationalist editors identified neither with the inventors of the telegraph nor, as we saw, with the contents of its transmission, but with its peculiar power to cross linguistic and geographical boundaries. Such crossings were crucial to their project. We can see this heightened fascination with communication in their reliance on the Castilian language. La solidaridad was not the first Filipino nationalist newspaper although it proved to be the most influential publication of the movement. An earlier nationalist paper was Diariong Tagalog, founded in 1882 (fittingly enough, the same year as the appearance of Renan's essay on nationalism) by Marcelo H. del Pilar, who would later become the editor of La solidaridad. Based in Malolos, a city north of Manila, it was a bilingual publication, featuring articles in the Tagalog vernacular and in Castilian. Though it did not last long, Diariong Tagalog was the first in a long line of bilingual nationalist newspapers that would appear in the Philippines from the late nineteenth to the first half of the twentieth century.

Throughout the history of nationalist publications, then, print Castilian always had a significant place. While vernacular languages such as Tagalog or Cebuano were used in specific regions to express political sentiments, the Spanish language invariably accompanied these expressions, allowing them to circulate beyond their regional confines. We can think of Castilian as a second language for translating the primary languages of the archipelago. It relayed sentiments and wishes not only across linguistic regions; for those who could use it, it had the power to convey messages up and down the colonial hierarchy, linking those on top with those below. In this capacity, Castilian played a function analogous to that of the telegraph, transmitting messages within and outside the colony.

Given the power of Castilian to expand the possibilities for contact and communication, it comes as no surprise that nationalist ilustrados should become invested in its use. Hence, in the pages of La solidaridad we read of the persistent demand among nationalists for the teaching of Castilian to all inhabitants of the colony. Colonial policy from the late sixteenth through the end of the nineteenth century had installed Castilian as the official language of the state. The Crown had repeatedly mandated the education of natives in this language. However, as with many other aspects of colonial policy, such injunctions were honored more in their breach than in their observance. In 1863, as part of a series of reforms of the colony's educational system, the Escuela Normal de Maestros, or Teacher's School, was established and supervised by the more liberal Jesuits to enable Filipino teachers to learn and teach the Spanish language. However, such a school met with scorn and "bitter opposition" from the friar orders, especially the parish priests who no doubt saw the prospect of Castilian-speaking Filipino teachers as a threat to their influence. Given the weakness of the colonial government and the vigorous resistance of the friar orders to spreading Castilian, only about 1 percent of the population had any fluency in the language at the end of more than three centuries of Spanish rule.

There were other reasons for the limited spread of Castilian. The Philippine colony was located at the furthest edges of the Spanish Empire. Even with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, travel to the Philippines from Spain was still a matter of several months. Possessing neither the gold nor silver of the New World colonies, the Philippines had few attractions for Spanish settlers. Fearful of repeating the large-scale miscegenation between Spaniards, Indians, and Africans in the New World, the Crown had established restrictive residency laws discouraging Spanish settlement outside of the walls of Manila. As a result, no sizeable population of Spanish-speaking criollos ever emerged, and there persisted a paucity of teachers, Spaniard as well as Filipino, to teach Castilian to the wider population.

Ilustrado nationalists argued that such limitations could be remedied. Enforcing existing laws, the government, if it chose to, could devote resources to building schools and providing for the more systematic instruction of Castilian. Yet, the state seemed not only incapable but unwilling to carry out these measures. It seemed then to be violating its own laws. Such conditions came about, as ilustrados saw it, largely because of the workings of the Spanish friars. They had long blocked the teaching of Castilian to the masses in the interest of guarding their own authority. Their steadfast opposition to the widespread teaching of Castilian kept the colony from progressing. Cast as figures opposed to modernity, the Spanish clergy became the most significant target of ilustrado enmity. In their inordinate influence over the state and other local practices, the friars were seen to stand in the way of "enlightenment," imagined to consist of extended contact and sustained exchanges with the rest of the "civilized" world. Thanks to the friars, colonial subjects were deprived of a common language with which to address one another and reach those at the top of the colonial hierarchy.

How did the Spanish clergy assume such considerable influence in the colony? To answer this question, one needs to keep in mind the immense significance of Catholic conversion in the conquest and colonization of the Philippines. Spanish missionaries were the most important agents for the spread of colonial rule. Colonial officials came and went, owing their positions to the patronage of politicians and the volatile conditions of the home government. They often amassed fortunes during their brief tenure and with rare exceptions remained relatively isolated from the non-Spanish populace. By contrast, the Spanish clergy were stationed in local parishes all over the colony. They retained a corporate identity that superseded the governments of both the colony and the mother country. Indeed, they claimed to be answerable only to their religious superiors and beyond that to a God who transcended all other worldly arrangements. This access to an authority beyond colonial hierarchy proved essential in conserving their identity as indispensable agents of Spanish rule.

Through the clergy, the Crown validated its claims of benevolent conquest. Colonization was legitimized as the extension of the work of evangelization. Acting as the patron of the Catholic Church, a role it had zealously assumed since the Counter-Reformation, the Crown shared in the task of communicating the Word of God to unknowing natives. While the state relied on the church to consolidate its hold on the islands, the church in turn depended on the state in carrying out its task of conversion. Missionaries drew on the material and monetary support of the state, relying upon colonial courts to secure its land holdings especially in the later nineteenth century, on military forces to put down local uprisings and groups of bandits, and on the institution of forced labor for the building of churches and convents.


Excerpted from THE PROMISE OF THE FOREIGN by Vicente L. Rafael Copyright © 2005 by Duke University Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Forgiving the Foreign....................1
1. Translation and Telecommunication: Castilian as a Lingua Franca....................17
2. The Phantasm of Revenge: On Rizal's Fili....................36
3. The Call of Death: On Rizal's Noli....................66
4. The Colonial Uncanny: The Foreign Lodged in the Vernacular....................96
5. Making the Vernacular Foreign: Tagalog as Castilian....................119
6: Pity, Recognition, and the Risks of Literature in Balagtas....................132
7: "Freedom = Death": Conjurings, Secrecy, Revolution....................159
Afterword: Ghostly Voices: Kalayaan's Address....................183
Works Cited....................213
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