Disrupting the Realist Nation: The Forest as Radical Illegibility in the Novels of Jose Rizal

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The matter of geography does not seem to register in the predominant readings of the works of the nineteenth-century Filipino writer Jose Rizal, most of which privilege a framework built around nationalism. In this article, I consider how the forest as a narrative space and conceptual trope—or “forest thought”—can mediate the way in which history is imagined in Rizal’s novels, Noli me tangere (Touch me not) (1887) and El filibusterismo (The subversion) (1891), mostly by disclosing, unsettling, and ultimately resisting the legibility that state-making and narrative require and engender. In looking at “forest thought” in the novels and the conceptions of history that it reveals, I seek to bring to the surface a disrupting potential in the works: the forest as “excess” of and radical threat from the center, as incubator of an inchoate utopia, and as a site of generative illegibility, which also locates the trauma of colonial conquest in Rizal as a figure of European enlightenment, offering hopefully new ways of thinking about the constellation of space, narrative, state-making, and empire.