"The idea that happiness could have a share in beauty would be too much of a good thing." --Walter Benjamin

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Tryst of Trivialities

Critique of Rosario Cruz Lucero’s “The Oracle of the One-Eyed Coconut”

Authors are as accountable for truth as historians are. And in the reading of text, literary or otherwise, the writer would always have to defend and answer to his or her reader for the certain notion of “truth” he or she attempts to construct.

It is within this argument that Rosario Cruz Lucero’s “Oracle of the One-Eyed Coconut” challenges the readers, and inadvertently, challenges the text itself. Lucero renders the assassination of Mayor Pedro Soler IV by mystifying and trivializing a journalistic account. Here, Lucero focuses on the narratives of Estrellita, the politician’s helper, his wife Mrs. Soler, his son Peejay, the Parish Priest, and Angela Gaspar, and how these narratives construct and reconstruct versions of the murder account, producing not a story of the murder but of the accumulated remorse of the characters on the death of Soler.

The story opened in Estrellita’s discovery of the oracle, predicting the mayor’s assassination. The blinking of the one-eyed coconut was followed by the series of superstitious signs and premonitions that preempted, and somehow, justified the murder. While the story’s centrality of these premonitions challenge the usual objective narrative of a murder account, it however mystify the crime, trivializing it into a mere issue of the superstitions’ validity. The story not only follows the stream of superstition, it also follows the various confessions and testimonies of the characters which is as tenuous and as unreliable.

Finally, the narrative decenters from the murder and scatters through the back stories of characters, which seems to be irrelevant and illogical at all. This eventually leaves out and completely omits the murder, the only historical fact that the author used in the text.
But since Lucero presented the story in a manner of distortion, the distortion of it all could be the raison d’ etre of the text. The illogical challenges the logical, and eventually becomes the logic of “The Oracle of the One-Eyed Coconut”. However, Lucero cannot get away from such attempts scot-free.

History and literature have always been conceived as separate fields of knowledge production. While one purports to be objective, the other would be and should always be treated as fiction, as a creative artifact of the former.

However, in the story, we can clearly see the dangers of Lucero’s attempts. While much have been said and written about convergence of literature and history in one “convenient” narrative (as what the story could always claim), it could never escape the fact that it was written after the actual Mayor Soler’s assassination in Negros, several years ago.

Nietzsche and Michel Foucault could have justified that “truth” is “fiction”, constructed by the power bloc of epistemological producers. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the rest of the Latin American magic realist cult could have breezed through such questions of historical distortion because they could always reason out that they have no history to begin with.

However, just like Lucero, since truth is provisional, ergo it is subjected to constant challenges of reading and rereading, they would always have to answer to the readers the provisionality of the “truth” they have constructed. And just like historiography, fiction would always be an alternative history for the readers. The writer, by rendering an actual account, inexorably establishes and reinforces a notion of truth and a notion of history. And when “truth” is this interim, this cryptic, and this mystified, it inevitably turns out to be just as dismissible, history just as irrelevant.

Unless Lucero could justify (which is, of course, she couldn’t since she would be metaphorically dead in the process of academic literary butchering), the text would end up as just one of the story’s “aestheticized” version of the murder account, where the irrational becomes the rationale of the story, where the mysticism and mystery of it all, sans the substance, makes it all beautiful.

For in the end, after all the labyrinths of signs and premonitions, not much had been said about the murder. Not much had been said at all.


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