National Artist Virgilio Almario's Lecture on Rizal
Filipino critic sheds new light on Rizal the novelist
By Romulo P. Baquiran, Jr.
It all began in 1996 when two writers—Rogelio Sicat and Virgilio S. Almario—decided to do new translations of Rizal’s Noli me tangere and El filibusterismo. They considered Patricio Mariano’s early 20th century version of Noli as rather archaic and the more popular abridged versions, like the one done by Maria Odulio de Guzman, as total literary mess. The latter massacred the original text to suit pecuniary interests. We can imagine what philistine values have been imbibed by generations of students from the abridgements.
Unfortunately Sicat succumbed to cancer, leaving Almario to do the project alone. The new Filipino versions of the novels came out in 1998 in time for the centennial celebration of Philippine independence. Almario did his Filipino versions straight from the Spanish. Since then students and teachers have the happy option to use the reliable version of Rizal’s novels.
In December 2003, in commemoration of Rizal Day, Almario delivered a paper on the value of re-reading the Noli and the Fili. After five years, that paper have turned into a book-length collection of essays, Rizal: Nobelista.
When asked how he can still write scholarly pieces with all the administrative concerns of being dean of the U.P. College of Arts and Letters, he quipped “It’s a matter of time management.” His free time is spent typing away at his computer.
He regards his book as guide on how to appreciate Rizal’s importance as a novelist. Almario believes that even if we jettison Rizal as national hero, his two novels are more than enough to sustain his stature as one of the greatest Filipinos. Contemporary novelists always look up to the Noli and Fili as formidable benchmarks. Their literary ambitions are tempered by Rizal’s art.
This literary veneration is completely absent in schools. Even today, the main concerns in most classes are Rizal’s life and his heroic deeds. The teachers are only one part of this pedagogical lack. They simply cannot share what they do not have. Hopefully with Nobelista, they can check out a substantial reference, and maybe the rigid view on Rizal will change.
Almario, who is a National Artist for Literature, has this to say among young readers of Rizal; “Our writer has produced a very entertaining book. You must not treat him as a mere school assignment. Open your mind to the merits of his novels. And never, never read the abridged versions.”
Virgilio S. Almario will deliver a paper titled, “Rizal’s German Literary Connections” as part of U.P. Institute of Creative Writing’s Centennial Panayam Series on June 19, 2:30 pm at the Faculty Center, U.P. Diliman. His book, Rizal: Nobelista published by the UP Press will be launched after the lecture. Call 9221830 for details.