The Magellan Fallacy: Globalization and the Emergence of Asian and African Literature in Spanish

The Magellan Fallacy: Globalization and the Emergence of Asian and African Literature in Spanish

by Adam Lifshey


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ISBN-13: 9780472036851
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication date: 12/02/2016
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Adam Lifshey is Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Program in Comparative Literature at Georgetown University, as well as the author of As Green as Paradise: A Novel, and Subversions of the American Century.


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The Magellan Fallacy

Globalization and the Emergence of Asian and African Literature in Spanish

By Adam Lifshey

The University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2012 Adam Lifshey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-472-11847-2


Novelizations of Asia: Pedro Paterno's Nínay (1885)

The first Asian novelist in Spanish completed the journey of Magellan three and a half centuries later. He did not, however, conclude it. As Pedro Paterno sailed from the Philippines to Spain in the early 1870s, he must have thought of Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian wayfarer on the circumnavigation of 1518–21 who survived the death of Magellan in the archipelago and returned to Iberia along with fewer than a tenth of the original crewmen. In the European context, it is Pigafetta whose account of the round-the-world voyage and the demise of Magellan put the Philippines, literally, on the map. It is Pigafetta whom Gabriel García Márquez cites as a starting point of Latin American fiction in the opening paragraph of his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature. And Pedro Paterno, the first major Filipino author in Spain, composed new texts and contexts for the world as much as did Pigafetta. He too made the radical trip west that Magellan never did.

Paterno cut a singular figure in the fin de siècle world. He was an absurdly aristocratic national of a nonexistent nation who sided for and against a dying European empire, for and against a frustrated Asian revolution, and for and against a triumphant North American colonizer. By all accounts, his personality was extraordinary. He was a self-proclaimed lord of royal indigenous blood, an inveterate organizer of parties for whatever high society surrounded him, and a walking pomposity whose obsession with footnotes in his early novel is matched only by his obsession with virgins in his late stories. He wrote erudite tomes that passed fantasy off as fact. He assumed authoritative voices for readerships that barely existed. He made history, literally, time and again, and he knew it, and history unmade him just as quickly, time and again. In his person and his texts, he transposed islands and continents without end, and in so doing he created cartographies capacious enough to unmoor all the maps onto which he wrote both the Philippines and the world. If the death of Magellan marks the birth of modernity, then the fictions of Paterno are the fulcrum on which the powers of the planet pivoted.

During the two dozen years that Paterno spent in Madrid in the late nineteenth century, his mind kept traveling to the Philippines in an unbounded flux of there and back again. This incessant movement, however, never followed a strictly linear path between the peninsula and its colonized archipelago, for Paterno offered a globalized rather than binary vision of the world. In that vision, he, as the pathbreaking Filipino intellectual in Spain, could promote the Philippines in the metropole as a unique component of Europe. He saw himself, for all intents and purposes, as the captain of a ship arriving from the Philippines with news of distant but civilized lands and culture. Controlling the representation of those lands and culture, however, always eluded him despite his voluminous literary and scholarly output on the subject. That is why Paterno never concluded Magellan's journey in any definitive sense. An essentialized Philippines always slipped beyond his reach despite his sustained efforts to the contrary. Paterno's Nínay of 1885, the first Filipino novel in any language and the first Asian novel in Spanish, is a remarkable testament to the global ebbs and flows of a man and a country that spill out over their banks even when most apparently confined within them. His Aurora Social (Social Dawn) of 1910–11, a flurry of fictional narratives produced after a generation of absence from the genre and on the eve of his death, is equally overlapping of its borders, albeit in a different way. As a result, Paterno subverted far more in his writings than anyone has acknowledged, indeed, far more than he intended.

That probably fewer than a dozen people today have read even two of Paterno's fictions is a sign of how inordinately the Philippines has been ignored as the symbolic birthplace of globalization. Paterno, like the Philippines he tried to imagine into existence, was a derivative of everything and nothing. His person and his oeuvre embodied both Magellan and Lapu Lapu, that is, both the Western captain and the indigenous leader who defeated him, while being resolvable to neither the foreign aggressor nor the local sovereign. It is this inability to pin Paterno down to any particular character or country or continent that makes him the critical author of globalization that he is. Only via Nínay and Social Dawn does the circumnavigation of centuries earlier resume in the form of fiction from where it first fractured.

Magellan himself does not appear in these texts, but Paterno could not have written a new world without him. The ending point of the voyage for one man is the starting point for the other. Together, which they never were, they opened novel spaces for Asian literature in Spanish. Paterno began by publishing in Madrid the first Filipino book of poetry, Sampaguitas, in 1880. A sampaguita is a white flower that would be a recurring symbol of both Filipino nationhood and virginal purity in all later archipelagic literature in Spanish. As far back as 1593, with the publication of the first book in the Philippines, entitled Doctrina Christiana en la lengua española y tagala (Christian Doctrine in the Spanish Language and Tagalog), locals had collaborated with Spanish priests in diverse ways to translate religious teachings from Spanish (Mojares, Origins, 47–50). The early seventeenth-century Filipino printer Tomas Pinpin even had written some poetry in Spanish (Mojares, Origins, 51). The creative writings of Paterno, however, stand apart from the obscured work of such predecessors because his texts are foundational to a largely secular and institutionally autonomous Filipino literary tradition in Spanish, notwithstanding the religious references and leanings of many of its authors. Paterno was highly influenced in style and substance by his European contemporaries and, regardless of the moralizing thrusts of his fictions, wrote outside the power grid of church and pedagogy. As a result, the flowery poems of Sampaguitas function in effect like the travel narrative of Pigafetta, as an initial secular attempt to process a modern world in which the Philippines and the West were now forever intertwined.

This endeavor evinced itself at greater length in 1885 with the publication by Paterno of Nínay in Madrid and in the language bequeathed to him by the flag under which Pigafetta had sailed. When Paterno returned to the Philippines for good in 1894 (his only previous return home was a trip in 1882–83), he continued navigating new waters through the end of Spanish rule in 1898 and the consolidation of the U.S. occupation thereafter. He founded numerous newspapers and wrote in 1902 the first Filipino opera in Spanish, entitled La alianza soñada The Dreamed Alliance). As his days ended early in the 1910s, now contextualized by the heavy colonial promotion of English, Paterno produced the hispanophone narratives of Social Dawn to proclaim in a bygone imperial language the necessity of carving out a patriotic space amid the dominance of a new one. In between his permanent return to the Philippines and his final writings, he became an indisputable father of his country in his roles as director of the Museo-Biblioteca de Filipinas (Museum-Library of the Philippines) in 1894; as mediator between the Spanish governor-general and indigenous revolutionaries in negotiations that resulted in the Pact of Biyak-na-Bato of 1897, a mile-stone that marked for the moment the end of armed anticolonial hostilities; as president of the revolutionary Congress of Malolos in 1898; as legislative sponsor of the forerunner of the Philippine National Library; as assemblyman in the first Philippine congress under U.S. rule; and as a failed candidate for Speaker of that congress and for provincial governor (Mojares, Brains, 16–40). Despite all this, Paterno was ridiculed throughout his career and forgotten by the end of it. His posthumous life in historiography is scant, sometimes only amounting to brief characterizations as a traitor for his role in the Biyak-na-Bato accord. Significantly, Nick Joaquín, perhaps the most respected Filipino essayist of the twentieth century, leaves Paterno out of his A Question of Heroes, a study of the mixed legacies of ten founding fathers of the Philippines. All were contemporaries of Paterno. Despite the manifest efforts and impacts of Paterno as a national figure, Joaquín apparently deemed him so unheroic as to not make this list of even the conflicted luminaries of his era. This is in keeping with the consensus on Paterno, both in his time and since. History is embarrassed by his paternity, but such fathers are what most patrias are made of anyway.

There is no getting around the fact that the fictions by Paterno are awful by almost any measure. There is no denying that his scholarship — he produced copious histories and cultural and scientific studies of the Philippines in between Nínay and Social Dawn — was considered even by his Filipino contemporaries as apocryphal and vainglorious. There is no refuting that Nínay was read by very few people at the time and the entire run of Social Dawn perhaps by no one. Moreover, Paterno the man has been regarded by historians and contemporaries in a spectrum that ranges from fatuous ass at one end to sycophantic treasonist at the other. Yet none of this is relevant to an examination of the singularly important globalized phenomena that are his fictions. They created new coordinates that many later authors would assume in turn, regardless of whether they acknowledged or knew that Paterno first mapped them out. Máyolo G. Torres, one of the few scholars to praise Paterno without caveat, has gone so far as to call Paterno "el gigante de los gigantes de su época" ["the giant of the giants of his epoch"] (13). Although Paterno, it is true, did not see further than other men, that is largely because he spent his life trying to stand on his own shoulders. He was a bizarre type of giant, a sort of Atlas manqué who created the world he then tasked himself with carrying, but he was a giant nonetheless. And all giants, whatever the burdens they bear, must be reckoned with at some point.

Paterno should be read because of his stupendous failures, because he so dramatically achieved the opposite of what he sought. In this he is a man for all modernity, a writer who understood postmagellanic Europe and Asia and everything in between, whichever direction the earth might turn, despite the mammoth amount of evidence that he understood next to nothing at all. He tried to cohere antipodal cultures in his writings and his person, probably convincing himself that he succeeded in doing both while spectacularly demonstrating that he did not. The currents of his prose and poetry rush against each other in unending proof that the cultures he sought to align were no longer antipodal anyway, that since Magellan and Lapu Lapu they occupied the same unstable spaces of Pigafetta and his progeny and were condemned to a common world evermore.

John Schumacher summarizes Paterno's scholarship as "miscellanies of history, irrelevant erudition, and outright plagiarism" (Making, 108). But there is nothing less miscellaneous than the choosing of certain histories, nothing less irrelevant than seemingly unneeded decisions to cite certain snippets of academic knowledge, nothing more original than moves to steal someone else's lines. Benedict Anderson, who likely has done more than any other Westerner to make North American and European scholars aware of the importance of Noli me tangere (Touch Me Not), a novel published by the Filipino national hero José Rizal in 1887, dismisses Paterno's Nínay of two years earlier as "minor, experimental trash" (Spectre, 232). Without the allegedly minor, however, the supposedly major cannot be determined and defined. Without the experimental, the normative cannot possibly be codified. Moreover, the experimental is, at the very least, alluring. And there is nothing, of course, more revealing than trash. As the first Asian novelist in Spanish, Paterno should be of interest to anyone broadly engaged with international literature. As the first novelist of the Philippines, as an unknown and flexible foil to the overly known and stiffly molded Rizal, Paterno should rearrange the allegories of Filipino nation-hood. But as a globalized writer who took on the world, Paterno should occupy a central place in any canon of the leading artists of modernity.

Most scholarly references to Paterno make a note of his political posts, perhaps indicate his major publications, and leave it at that. Only one sustained biography of him has been published, as the first third of Resil Mojares's exemplary Brains of the Nation of 2006. (In a number of fields of scholarship on the Philippines, if Mojares has not written about a subject, no one has.) There is no known extended analysis of any of Paterno's fictions save for the dissertation on Nínay from 1967 by Torres and an essay on the novel published in 2010 by Eugenio Matibag. Torres notes that at the moment of his own writing, more than eighty years after the publication of Nínay, "hasta ahora ningún filipino se ha preocupado de estudiar detalladamente esta dicha primera novela filipina publicada" ["until now no Filipino has bothered himself to study in detail this first published Filipino novel"] (2). The bulk of his thesis, however, consists not of textual analysis of Nínay but of biographical, historical, and Spanish literary contexts for the novel. The reasons for the academic and popular aversion to Paterno are not hard to discern, as he was laughed off various stages even in his own time. His protean political sympathies and steadfast elitism made him far less viable a character for the creation of a patriotic Filipino narrative than the generation of doomed intellectuals that succeeded him. Despite his stature as the first Filipino of the era to make a name for himself, the coterie of compatriots who arrived after Paterno in Europe proved much more serviceable in building a national identity for the Philippines. Their reformist newspaper La solidaridad (Solidarity) ran from 1889 to 1895 in Barcelona and Madrid and has been analyzed far more than Paterno's fiction. The periodical was dedicated to achieving ameliorations in the way Spain governed the Philippines, not independence.

The foremost figure among the intellectuals behind Solidarity was Rizal, an essayist and poet as well as novelist who was executed by Spain in 1896 for the alleged anticolonialism of his oeuvre. Rizal was invoked in his last years and against his will by Filipino revolutionaries as their symbolic leader. His martyrdom posthumously confirmed him as the easy choice for the role of principal author of the Philippine nation. Various powers, including the U.S. regime that wrested the archipelago from Spain and local revolutionaries in 1898, found it helpful to have in Rizal a man who had perished at Spanish hands. Other key contributors to Solidarity such as its successive editors, the florid orator Graciano López Jaena and the polemicist Marcelo H. [Hilario] del Pilar, usefully died in 1896 as well. While this cast of characters exited the proscenium, Paterno, who maintained oblique relations with them while all were in Europe, had the fortune or lack thereof to survive past the imperial shift. He died in Manila in 1911 as an anachronism, an aristocratic relic of an age and empire and cultural geography that had changed beyond anything foreseeable in his youth.


Excerpted from The Magellan Fallacy by Adam Lifshey. Copyright © 2012 Adam Lifshey. Excerpted by permission of The University of Michigan Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Novelizations of Asia: Pedro Paterno's Ninety (1885) 25

Chapter 2 The Imperial Shift: José Rizal's El filibusterismo (1891) and Pedro Paterno's Aurora social (1910-11) 70

Chapter 3 Globalized Isolations: Félix Gerardo's Justicia social y otros cuentos 193?-41) 112

Chapter 4 The Turn to Africa: Daniel Jones Mathama's Una lanza por el Boabi (1962) 154

Chapter 5 Beginnings at the End: Maria Nsue Angiie's Ekomo (1985) and Juan Balboa Boneke's El reencuentro: el retorno del exiliado (1985) 199

Chapter 6 The Passages Ahead 242

Notes 275

Works Cited 305

Index 317

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