12 February 2017

Hemingway's prayer

Ang Matanda at ang Dagat (The Old Man and the Sea) by Ernest Hemingway, translated by Jesus Manuel Santiago (Sentro ng Wikang Filipino, 1999)

Niyebe ng Kilimanjaro at Iba Pang Kuwento (The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories) by Ernest Hemingway, translated by Alvin C. Ursua (Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, 2015)

The seafaring old man in The Old Man and the Sea was Santiago. He was down on his luck and he was called salao, "which is the worst form of unlucky". The Filipino translator, Jesus Manuel Santiago, rendered the phrase as pinakamalas sa lahat ng malas (the unluckiest of all the unlucky). The repetition captured the sense of Santiago's defeat. His furled flag was like "the flag of permanent defeat" (bandera ng ganap na pagkagapi). It was a good translation. It was clear from the way there was a ready counterpart name given for the many kinds of sea creatures (fish, bird, shark, seaweed) in the novel.

The simple, fable-like story was supposed to highlight the humility of man in the face of nature, his dignity intact after a long struggle. It was significant that the character was presented as a subaltern: someone who was old and poor and who belongs to the working mass of small fishers. Santiago was doing his honest work. We could not begrudge the artisanal fisher his livelihood and thrill of adventure.

His most recent sally into the the Gulf Stream was almost like a suicide mission. He was alone, and he would go into the farther reaches of the sea, far from anyone's reach. He was mostly unprepared; he even forgot the salt that would help him spice up fish that would serve as his food. That the old man will leave empty-handed and be defeated by the forces of nature and circumstances was almost assured. The reader was meant to admire the character's tenacity and big heart. And the sometimes stilted prose that was nevertheless described by the 1954 Nobel Prize Committee as a prime example of the novelist's "mastery of the art of narrative."

The reader would be subjected to the thick of the adventure, man versus fish, then man versus sharks. Sometimes we were privy to the existential questions and ruminations besetting the old man during moments of great hardship. We were told of his dreams of his youth in Africa and the lions on a beach, almost indicating that he was trying to recapture his lost youth. In one very telling moment, Santiago was even likened to the Christ being nailed on the cross.

The Old Man and the Sea was Hemingway's ode to martyrdom and a form of machismo. It was the distillation of his ennobling of figures of men without women, those who were never cowed in facing great tests of human strength and endurance. They went through the motions of defeat, vilified, and cast aside. And they remained steadfast on their mission, however suicidal.

They might not be religious, yet they lived on simple prayers:

"Aba Ginoong Maria, napupuno ka ng grasya, ang Panginoong Diyos ay sumasaiyo. Bukod kang pinagpala sa babaeng lahat at pinagpala ka naman ng iyong anak na si Hesus. Santa Maria, Ina ng Diyos, ipanalangin mo kaming makasalanan ngayon at sa oras ng aming kamatayan. Amen." Pagkaraa'y idinugtong nya, "Pinagpalang Birhen, [ipanalangin] mo ang kamatayan ng isdang ito. Kahanga-hanga man siya."

This was a more sincere, less satirized prayer than that infamous nada-prayer of the defeated figure in "Sa Dákong Maliwanag, Dalisay" (A Clean, Well-Lighted Place), from the collection Niyebe ng Kilimanjaro at Iba Pang Kuwento (pdf), translated by Alvin C. Ursua.

Kawalan namin, nawawala ka, kawalan ang ngalan mo. Kawalan ang kaharian mo. Nawala ang loob mo dito sa kawalan para nang kawalan. Bigyan mo kami ng kawalan ng aming kawalan sa araw-araw; at pakawalan mo kami sa aming mga kawalan, para nang pagpapakawala namin sa wala sa amin; at kawalan mo kaming ipahintulot sa kawalan, at pakawalan mo kami sa kawalan ng wala. Aba, kawalan, napupuno ka ng kawalan, ang kawalan ay sumasaiyo.

The adventure was also an opportunity for extolling manhood and masculinity. The conquistador reveled in sport fishing. 

"Pero papatayin ko pa rin siya," sabi niya. "Kahit gaano siya kadakila at karilag."

Bagamat hindi iyon makatarungan, naisip niya. Pero ipakikita ko sa kaniya kung ano ang kayang gawin ng isang tao at hanggang kailan siya makapagtitiis.

"Sinabi ko sa bata na ibang klase akong matanda," sabi niya. "Ngayon ko iyon dapat patunayan."

Ilang libong beses na niyang napatunayan iyon pero wala ring silbi. Ngayo'y pinatunayan niya iyong muli. Bawat pagkakataon ay isang bagong pagkakataon at hindi niya kailanman inisip ang nakalipas habang ginagawa niya iyon.

That perhaps encapsulated the pathetic worldview of the conquistador. To be discontented with what he had and what he had proven so far. Every day was a test. In every situation, he had to master himself and conquer the quarry: the big fish, the mad bull, the boxing opponent. The peacock strutted his stuff, displaying the full extremity of his beautiful desire to kill for sport even if the prize was not meant to be won. The sharks were not an accident. It must be quintessentially the White Man's burden, this unfettered desire for colonization and domination even if it was recognized to be unjust. And this lack of regard for the counsel of the past.

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