Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Making sense of the Ateneo

I read with delight John Nery's column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer "Erasing Ateneo". Here our Blue Eagle columnist compares English translations of a passage in the most famous chapter of Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere "Idilio en una Azotea"

Rizal's original is

"Eramos aun ninos, fuimos con tu madre a banarmos en aquel arroyo bajo la sombra de los canaverales. En las orillas crecian muchas flores y plantas cuyos estranos nombres me decias en latin y en castellano, pues entonces ya estudiabas en el Ateneo."

(sorry for the spelling. my n tilde isn't working on my damned keyboard!)

In the passage, Nery's alma mater is mentioned. He then compares the latest English translation (2006) by Harold Augenbraum, the 1961 translation by then Philippine ambassador to the Court of St James, Leon Ma. Guerrero and the well received 1996 translation of the late Soledad Locsin.

Augenbraum translates El Ateneo as "athenaeum". So like John Nery, I immediately went for dictionary.com and searched for its the meaning. The word's etymology comes from the Greek neologism Athenaion or temple of Athena, where poets read their works. In English "athenaeum" means 1) an institution promoting literary and scientific learning, 2) a library or reading room and 3) the Temple of Athena.

Surely la Universidad de Ateneo de Manila fits the bill for number 1. The Loyola Heights campus is more than a library (although it has a superb library appropriately named in honour of the Hero). The campus definitely isn't the Temple of Athena!

Nery is miffed that his beloved Ateneo became a common noun. I understand his feelings for this is Ateneo's sesquicentennial year and last Sunday, the school kicked off the celebrations with rites at its old Intramuros campus. But Nery misses much of the old meanings. The Ateneo then and now signified and still signifies subversion. I would agree that Augenbraum removes the subversive nuance by using a common noun. Guerrero's translation doesn't even mention the word "Ateneo" but he translates it as "school with the Jesuits in Manila" Guerrero's translation caters for users of English in the Commonwealth. Since the Tudor and Reformation history of England and the colonies is a tale of religious subversion, Guererro's translation carries the message well. "Ateneo" may not convey the subversive "punch" for these readers. Those reared on American history and American English usage may not get Guerrero's idea. In the reign of Elizabeth I, the major threat to her reign and the Established Church of England were from Jesuits sent from Rome. The most famous of these Jesuits was Father Edmund Campion of "Brag" fame. Campion was known as the "seditious" Jesuit and was canonized in 1968 as a Catholic saint. I don't think Guererro 'erased" Ateneo in his translation. However he could have used the name and had a footnote explaining what the Ateneo is. Derbyshire had a footnote explaining what Ateneo was.

Derbyshire's translation uses Ateneo as a proper noun and so do Priscilla Valencia's and Soledad Locsin's. Nery should have no problem with this.

Nery implies that Rizal's Ibarra could not have learned the names of flowers and plants in the library. Again Nery doesn't get the idea. He looks at Victorian science with 21st century lenses. In the 19th century, naturalists learned their taxonomy from species catalogues which were so valuable that only libraries and museums could afford to have them. Father Blanco's Flora de Filipinas is a prime example. It was only when ships were fast enough and after the opening of the Suez Canal that naturalists like Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace went on collecting expeditions, thus laying down the foundations of modern biological science.

Even today, a student of biodiversity still starts his/her studies in a library and museum before embarking on a field trip!

Rizal paints a picture of a time that is now lost. Even his depiction of the riparian environment is no longer found in many places in the Philippines.

So I translate Rizal with my Spanish 20 training as

When we were children, we went with your mother and bathed in that creek under the shade of the bamboos. Along the banks grew many plants and flowers whose strange names you told me in Latin and Castillian. for you were then a student at the Ateneo.

Augenbraum isn't familiar with Philippine biodiversity. It is silly to translate canaverales as sugarcane. Sugarcane can't give shade and in the Philippines, bamboo or "kawayang tinik" is common riparian vegetation. Bamboo also is the habitat of many snakes!

As for Ateneo, while it may not look so subversive in the 21st century, its ethos is subversive. Ridiculed with the carino brutal term "conyo" by students and alums of the State University, Ateneo is Jesuit first, Catholic second and as such is subversive (What John Paul II wanted in Ex Cordiae Ecclesiae is that a church run university should be CATHOLIC period). When there is a major controversy, the subversion bubbles out of the Loyola Heights campus. The latest demonstration of that is when Ateneo profs publicly declared their support for the Reproductive Health bill. Ateneo prez, Father Ben Nebres had to do damage control since the news allegedly wafted into the Vatican.

If Ateneans are conyo elitist let them be as long as they are subversive. The Ateneo has educated the country's elite and the nation owes the school much of its identity and its revolutionary tradition. Working with Ateneans has been a pleasure for me. After all who else can talk about Philosophy and Theology while doing an ecological field survey and over a bottle of Tanduay? I don't think anyone from UP can do that!

I have been mistaken for an Ateneo alum perhaps because of my taste for blue shirts and the fact that I once taught there. But I believe it was because the Jesuits shephered me in my journey back to the Catholic Church. They did very little in indoctrination except in giving me a biography of Edmund Campion.

I wish the Ateneo the best in their 150th year. May the university produce more subversives!


john marzan said...

Ateneo a "subversive" school? they were the most vocal in siding with the arroyo regime on the "hello garci" scandal. of course not all ateneans are pro-arroyo, but most of them are--especially the majority of the jesuits running the institution.

blackshama said...

If what you are saying is true, then they shame Rizal!

sabbatical said...

this made me realize that environment service in our country is a form of subversion, however one does it. and from the ignatian prayer, one must be steadfast in the fight, without heeding the wounds or seeking for rest. thank you for this reminder, thank you for this inspiring post.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! Am an ES grad from Ateneo and the part about Theo / Philo conversations on field, over Tanduay brought back so many memories. Does my heart glad to be called "subversive"!