The latest novel, the third of a series, of Dan Brown’s symbologist character Robert Langdon is out. Its title is “Inferno.” It is one of the books readers wanted to chew down. And why not. Brown’s fiction is almost presented in a non-fiction manner. His two previous opus “Da Vinci Code’ and “Angels and Demons” were awesome as it captured much attention and garnered praise even from the conservative academe.
His latest flick “Inferno”, a term he borrowed from Dante Allegheri’s classic “Divine Comedy” ,likewise earned not only raised brows but controversial allusions too. In the novel, the gates of hell was a picturesque description of Manila , as the foremost location and those that inhabit, the local denizens. Quite smart.
Dan Brown is a very conservative man and it is indicated on the characters and subjects of his novel. In his latest novel “Inferno” he wrote that the gates of hell is Manila. For him anything, in his estimation, where there is fun, it must be in the netherworld. Anyone can describe this place according how he sees it fit. Using the parameter of Dante’s Hell, it should feature enigmatic negativism, which is universal like poverty, pain, torment, anguish, struggle, but these should be embraced in a place where contentment, resignation and understanding reign as if it is celebrated and even declared as amusing. There is no place indeed in the planet where pain is accepted as truth and wisdom understood as fate than in Manila. If indeed Manila is such a place, then by gum! Everybody wants to be there! Thanks Mr. Brown!
Hell, fire and brimstones, these are the threats that early invaders using the Cross would intimidate the tribal folks until the latter would relent and succumb towards conversion. As a consequence, they become malleable populace which the conquering Spaniards could impose social control. This is the same pattern which latter day cults would apply and in the process would regain their prosperity and luxurious gains. This, at the expense of the gullible people.
But why did Dan Brown specified Manila and not Pattaya of Thailand, or the ghettoes of USA, the slum of Kenya, the dungeons of Mexico? This is because in Manila there is tolerance of grief and agony over discomfort. And the denizens would treat each other lightly, entertainingly and with hilarity to boot. In Africa, the poor are sullen, in Cambodia the lowly are gloomy, in India the desolate shantytown is miserable. But in Manila, the poor are relaxed. Not that Manilans are completely submissive and docile, not that they have forgotten to argue and push themselves to improve their conditions but they are absolutely buoyant that life is worth the struggle, worth the brawl, worth the fight. Manilans therefore have remained cool in the boiling cauldron of poverty. Hell is therefore no match for this attribute; hence the hellish intensity is stranded merely at the gates.
In the gates of Hell, Hades is nowhere.
Her story is almost lifted from Greek literature.
Let me begin describing Girlie from the standpoint of mythology.
A certain King and Queen had three daughters. The charms of the two elders were more than common, but the beauty of the youngest was so wonderful that the poverty of language is unable to express its due praise. The fame of her beauty was so great that strangers from neighboring countries came in droves to enjoy the sight, and looked on her with amazement, paying her that homage which is due only to Venus herself. In fact Venus found her altars deserted, while men turned their devotion to this young virgin. As she passed along, the people sang her praises, and strewed her way with chaplets and flowers.
This perversion of homage due only to the immortal powers to the exaltation of a mortal gave great offense to the real Venus. Shaking her ambrosial locks with indignation she exclaimed, “Am I then to be eclipsed in my honor by a mortal girl?”
Thereupon she calls her winged son Cupid, mischievous enough in his own nature and rouses and provokes him yet more by her complaints. She points out Psyche to him and says, “My dear son, punish that contumacious beauty; infuse into the bosom of that haughty girl a passion for some low, mean, unworthy being, so that she may reap a mortification as great as her present exultation and triumph!” (For a pleasurable appreciation of the fable, read Bulfinch Mythology, pages 71-79 on Cupid and Psyche).
That serves as introduction. Indeed, Psyche’s life, the mythological figure, is resurrected in Girlie’s novel-like biography. Like the fable, Girlie is the youngest of three daughters and considered also the fairest among them. She was smart and sociable. She was not only a pretty face but her poise was elegant, her manners majestic. She was the toast in every gathering.
Her parents, on the other hand, were so generous and kind that most of their peers and friends would attribute on them the characteristics of royalty. They were for them a royal couple, a King and Queen in terms of compassion and benevolence. Their attributes would pass on to her eventually.
Her beauty was almost absolute and it attracted several men absolutely. Like that in the fable, she became vulnerable and gullible and had fascinated even the low, mean and unworthy men circling around her. Like her parents, she too had a soft spot for the downtrodden and helpless. And so, for those who wanted to earn her attention, some must have to act with posturing. Only those who excel in fraud would be able to act convincingly. And so Girlie became related to a trickster but was disgusted later, having found the true nature of the man, she became estranged. She was introduced to another and she was dismayed later. Another relationship was founded, only to realize that she was again duped. All along in her entire marital state, she tried to be a perfect partner but she was repaid with ungratefulness and deception. Her life story could only come from a tragic chapter of a sad and a perfidious episode on love; unrequited and unreciprocated.
Her anguish exacted a toll on her health. Like Psyche, she wandered about in search of true and pure happiness, in search of salvation and at times contemplating on ending her travails by plunging headlong into the abyss due to a series of sufferings and misfortunes.
But she is still young, not as young though as she was before, but she has children from failed relationship whom she must devote her entire life. Here lies her deliverance. Here lies the conclusion of her passion. Here lies the almost copious duplicate of her life imitating art, as in a fable unaware of imitating fact, or as if through coincidence, fiction to non-fiction.
True enough Girlie is Psyche, or years before, during the ancient mythological times, Psyche has found Girlie a futuristic existence.
In the Greek fable, although as yet in real life for Girlie, Psyche succeeded in living happily ever after.
A BOOK REVIEW
I read the whole 753-page book in 30 days. That long because I wanted to read it only during a period when I was not in a hurry to complete a task for a day. And it was a real treat (although it cost me P1,500—but its worth and more). Procuring the book is almost a story. I even went to check all book stores (in Davao and Manila) for a copy and for some time, it was very frustrating not to find a copy. On the second month of its first publication I became lucky to get the last copy, the only one left on the display shelf.
After running away with a newly printed tome, I read through seriously like a copy writer and a fledging student of history. It was so solemnly serious that I even noticed lapses (there are two in the midpart of the book) on grammatical construction notwithstanding the technical assistance of a professional biographer in the person of Nelson A. Navarro. But lapses do not make or unmake the true essence of a literary gem, although it saddles a fellow writer once in a while. Senator Enrile’s life indeed captured the substance of a period which had been covered by several layers of intriguing situations. And it supplied all the necessary impressions which in effect are reflective of a historical span which my parents undergone and which at a certain stage I have played some minor parts too. It was like living what my parents have gone through and in a continuous fashion, reminiscing those times when I would follow through the same historical path without gaps.
Senator Enrile’s youth as pictured in the biographical work, was a very difficult act to follow. It was very, very tough. I would not even venture to presume that my ancestors would survive such a situation given the same challenges. I must admit that I have to submit a respectful genuflection on the man, calling him with the title Senator even if in writing it would be enough to call him just Enrile for purposes of literary discussion. But no. He must be that respectful to the point of adoration. Let us give what is due for the man. He lived through, endured and even outlasted almost all those whom he patronized and even those considered as opponents.
After reading the first few chapters in the volume and hearing erstwhile rebel Joma Sison expressed disgust about the biography, I felt that the rebel Sison was merely being iconoclast to the core. He never appreciated anything including what is current in history. He would even find himself still living in a period when he regards dissension as being progressive. He dissents and tries to live in a world outside of reality. And he governs homegrown rebels according to same myopic view of political changes. But that is democracy, one can raise hell and as long as it never transgresses a right, it is even encouraged.
The succeeding chapters were also engaging. It is a personal confession. The man reveals his inner thoughts and discipline. It was a very instructive and inspiring monologue. I would even mistake the lesson-filled talk as Shakespearean.
The characters in his book were not surreal creatures not even caricatures of their better selves but real protagonists in the unfolding drama of politics during the era. He was fair in his description, although a bit sounding melancholic when it pertains to his inner concerns. All throughout he never gave himself to partiality and preconception, ever the top notch lawyer that he is. His legal mind, cautious and guarded, was his arsenal in dealing with every dispute he would encounter.
He knew his facts well. And in every stage of his development he reflected and punctuated a season specific for his no non sense character. He wanted to impress and this made him a favorite and easily a friend to all by being real, by being candid, by being truthful, honest, straightforward. For him it is like what it really is the law. He is a lawyer and as such he clings to all its principles and precepts. He does not only try to live with it, he lives by it.
You may dislike the man, as he admits his engineering feat for constructing brick by brick martial law, but no one can swear that he used it for his own vanity. He never abused. Otherwise, then President Marcos during the period when Senator Enrile rebelled and ignited the 1986 Edsa revolt would have a lot of issues thrown at him to discredit him from the adoring mass of people standing on vigil at Camps Aguinaldo. But Senator Enrile was a serious man, frank and faithful to his cause. He knew that he was up against a cabal of untrustworthy allies, that he would eventually be whisked, that the good oftentimes get the short end, that evil triumphs because decent people wait for the slow wheel of justice to the detriment of time, that he must, as a matter of faith, more so as an antidote to fate, to raise the bar using violence to achieve the purpose of peace.
He outlived most of his contemporaries and unlike those who lived to repent and resent the additional years as burdensome, he continued to prove himself worthy of a man who tried to exact the truth in every minute of his lifespan. His book even dared those who peddled lies and challenged them to live according to the true measure of one’s conscience.
The biography of Senator Enrile, as a reader’s treat, is a disclosure of a crusade along political, social and personal veracity. His sincere dedication to uprightness made him a hero twice over and he continues, in my estimation, to lead the life of a true warrior.
Ever since man invented the tools, the craft, the language, formula and the style of writing, he began the arduous task of laying down his thoughts, ideas and even his fears, strengths and almost everything embedded in his memory. Written down were his so called imprints, evidence that once upon a time, he occupied a space in the universe and tried to contribute to eternal consciousness.
Writing is a product of his mind, a summation of his thoughts. It is a process he invented in attempting to pass on whatever lessons he has learned, whatever developments and triumphs he has accumulated so that those behind him will be able to enjoy and benefit from. It is about his reflections, it is about his dreams, his aspirations, frustrations, pains, afflictions and agonizing moments. He may not have evolved completely to be that ideal persona he wished biology to take care of, but his lifestyle has changed radically ever since he successfully wielded the pen.
The books accumulated by writers contributed much to humankind’s strength. It has become his guide, his roadmap, his reference to live fully. Note that countries with greater readership are prosperous relatively speaking. They have advanced considerably well. Even in struggling economies, those who are well read are well off than their counterparts.
The writer therefore is a specie completely to be studied in isolation. His orientation and perspective are different from others whose persuasion is on another field. He may be sedate most of the time, a bit irritable and prickly, cantankerous even and to a certain extent petulant but that is his nature. He may even suspect that he is possessed, endowed with demons and ill tempered. There are several cases where writers are hermitic and difficult to please. They are never successful as a pillar of the family. They rejoice at loneliness and solitary life is the apex of their happiness. It is in this state that they derive full satisfaction, and it is in pure seclusion that their creativity is fully expressed. They belong to the world even if their own is just a simple nook.
The writer is one who has managed to evolve himself totally from his fledging predecessors. Writing has become his passion, whether he is aware or not, if only to share instinctively an idea to the world. He may be utterly asocial or anti-social, shunning entirely from the glare of any relationship but his product has stimulated progress to a full generation.
Society never celebrates the presence of a writer unless he is gone. His respect lies only once he reaches life hereafter. In reality however writers never die at all. Their writings are perpetual reminders that he is still living not only in the memories of those he touched but tied in the developments which mankind enjoys.