Rizal was born a hero

"It was euphoric to move in this flicker of languages"

In her new novel “Wilhelm Tell in Manila”, the Swiss author Annette Hug reproduces the translation of the Swiss national myth into the Tagalog by the Filipino national hero José Rizal. This also opens up completely new perspectives on Schiller's “Tell” piece.

From Silvia SüessMail to the author

WOZ: Annette Hug, the protagonist of your new novel “Wilhelm Tell in Manila” is the Filipino national hero José Rizal, the pioneer of the independence movement against Spain. So a real person. How did this become a fictional character?
Annette Hug: Basically, I assumed that everything I invent about Rizal is more boring than what can be found in the sources. Because his life really does somersaults. That's why I always started from an anecdote or a comment in a source and then imagined a scene. To do this, I invented a French teacher - it was necessary for Rizal to have a dialogue with someone in the text - as well as a childhood dream. I also condensed something: Rizal lived in Heidelberg, Leipzig and Berlin for a good year in 1886/87. What he experienced during this time I concentrated on the three months of August to October 1886, when he was translating Schiller's Wilhelm Tell.

This translation of “Wilhelm Tell” from German into Tagalog is the focus of your book. In Rizal's short and eventful life, this episode seems more like a footnote. Why did you choose this one?
The Philippines and Switzerland are the two countries that are closest to me. That there is a connection between the two national myths - Rizal is a national myth in the Philippines like William Tell with us - that appealed to me. With this translation as a starting point, I was able to write a book in which I am not writing about the Philippines, but rather a Filipino whose life is extremely well documented and who has appropriated the Swiss myth. As a result, “Wilhelm Tell” is stepping out of a musty Swiss patriotism and is part of a globally networked history of civic awakening.

The section you choose to look at is extremely important. It makes a big difference whether I see the history of the Swiss federal state in the Zurich – Bern – Geneva – Lugano – Urschweiz section or in a network of Zurich, Leipzig, Manila, Madrid, Santo Domingo, Paris.

I hope you will come up with other ideas if you tell the story within this wider horizon and not just focus on the Swiss Middle Ages.

What was it about Tell that fascinated Rizal so much that he translated the Schiller piece?
It is the question of violence in the revolution. Rizal also employed them himself, as someone who wanted to liberate himself and was thinking about the liberation of his country with great urgency. José Rizal was a big skeptic, and his optics make the ambiguous element in Schiller visible again: It is not clear whether Tell is right or whether he is a gunman who is endangering the revolution.

Did Rizal see himself as Tell?
No. Melchtal is probably closest to him. He is the youngest in the conspiracy. He is accused of being reckless and unable to control himself - like Rizal. In addition, Melchtal's father is blinded by the Vogt. Rizal also feared vicarious punishment for his parents at home in the Philippines because he was politically active in Spain - a very realistic fear. In addition, Rizal's mother went blind and Rizal worked as an ophthalmologist in Germany. While slowly reading Rizal's translation, Melchtal suddenly appeared to me as the main character.

They describe Rizal's translation work very precisely - how he searches for suitable words, weighs them up, finally finds them or even invents new ones. How did you go about it?
Rizal is in conversation with Schiller. My idea was for me to join the conversation and talk to Rizal about Schiller. This leaves a certain distance between me and Rizal. So my main job was to understand Rizal's translation work. I have back-translated his translation of "Wilhelm Tell" from the Tagalog into German. I then compared the result with Schiller's original and saw where there are differences. It was basically my machine that generated questions for me. For example: How did Rizal decide to write “sea” instead of “lake”? How did he come up with the idea of ​​translating the Vogt as “hukum”, that is, as “judge”, and not as “gobernador”, which would be obvious? And from these questions my picture of the intellectual Rizal arose.

So the considerations that Rizal makes in your book during his translation work are actually your considerations?
Yes. However, one can also prove certain considerations based on sources. In a letter to his brother, for example, he explains why he calls Gessler a "judge". But I had to open up many of his considerations.

Why haven't you written a non-fiction book about Rizal and his translation work?
Literary writing is the type of thinking that is closest to me. For example, I don't want to formulate abstractly how Rizal feels about modernity. I'm interested in the context in which he uses the word “modern”. And then I enjoy the fact that it appears maybe five times in my book and always differently.

In addition, I was fascinated by the state of translation that Rizal found himself in - or in which I imagine him. Rizal was a multilingual person. He wrote his books in Spanish, his mother tongue was Tagalog, he really loved French, and he learned German in Germany. When he was translating, he was present in different languages ​​at the same time. I also had to put myself in that state. I found it euphoric to move in this flicker of languages. In addition, there was my ambition, the enthusiasm for language learning, to capture this shimmering state of being between languages ​​again in language.

How did you manage not to get lost in this flickering, euphoric state and in the amount of sources that exist over Rizal?
I got lost in the material for about two years before I found the shape. When I wrote, I made my own rules. I pretended that I would only choose from Rizal's material what is motifically linked to William Tell. That means motifs that cavort in the theater scenes as well as in Rizal's letters or diaries - such as that of the eyeballs. In Schiller's “Wilhelm Tell” I always start from motifs in which there is a semantic shift between Schiller and Rizal, that is, places where I had questions about the back translation. These questions that came up while studying translation were my guide.

Every child in the Philippines knows Rizal. Did you feel committed to the truth to Rizal and all the people he cared about?
At the beginning I had great scruples that I would choose a literary person who means something to a lot of people and of whom they have their own idea that may differ from mine. But the scruples go even further. I have followed the foreword by Christa Wolf in "Reflecting on Christa T." remind. Then she wrote about the late Christa T: “But I can still see her. Worse: I have them. " There is a lot of scruples in the word "worse": Am I doing this figure a kind of violence if I pin it down in my picture that doesn't quite correspond to it; that it certainly misses, but survives on paper?

How did you get rid of these scruples?
When I realized that José Rizal had been reinvented so many times - during his lifetime. That was one of the reasons why he was executed. Because in the public imagination he was not the doubter, but the daredevil. And that continued in the history of the biographies: With the execution, Rizal became a martyr of the revolution, but the first Spanish biography was quite benevolent; Then came a biography from the United States claiming that Rizal would have approved of the American occupation if he had lived through it. New Philippine churches introduced him into the Christian pantheon as a messiah or prophet, and finally exponents of all political currents in the Philippines, from the socialists to the liberals, the conservatives to the dictator Marcos, have appealed to Rizal. There are hundreds of Rizals already. It certainly doesn't hurt if I also put my picture of him on paper.

The author will read in Solothurn on Saturday, May 7, 2016 at 3 p.m. and on Sunday, May 8, 2016 at 12 noon.

Annette Hug

The Zurich-based author Annette Hug, born in 1970, studied history and women and development in Zurich and Manila. “Wilhelm Tell in Manila” is her third novel.

José Rizal

He was the first Filipino doctor who was able to operate on cataracts, he wrote books that were forbidden in his home country and was ultimately sentenced to death as a supposed revolutionary: José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso - José Rizal for short - came to the in 1861 in the Philippine city of Calamba when the Philippines was still a colony of the Spanish Empire.

He studied philosophy in Manila and medicine in Madrid. From 1882 to 1886 he lived in Europe, where he associated with other polymaths and soon began to criticize and attack the role of the Spanish monastic orders in the Philippines.

In 1887 his novel “Noli me tangere”, printed in Berlin, was published in the Philippines. In it he criticizes the social system and the abuse of power by Spanish priests and monks. The novel was banned and Rizal, who returned to the Philippines that same year, banned in 1892. When an uprising for the independence of the Philippines broke out in Manila in 1896, Rizal was convicted as the main culprit and executed in 1897. This despite the fact that he called the uprising in court "madness" and emphasized that he had always advised against "abandoning the lawful path and trying to shake off Spanish rule by force".

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