Ex Libris Ad Urbe: Urban Portrayals in José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo as Indicators of Past Landscapes and Affections

José Edgardo Abaya Gomez, Jr.


While works of literature draw profitably from urban reality as a source of
setting, it may be argued recursively that the city-as-lived and built may, in turn,
be understood and transformed by literature and the selective perceptions of
authors who were once a part of the history of these places. This study analyzes
the settings and frames found in Filipino nationalist José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere
and El Filibusterismo in order to first uncover and match past scenes, features, and
location-names to present-day urban geography. Second, this exposition derives
an understanding of the extent of Rizal’s Manila and its environmental conditions.
Such an analysis could be used to inform technical studies of urban planners
and heritage conservationists. Moreover, analyzing the novels by locating and
relating important sites and identifying the qualities of their characters during
the Spanish colonial period reconstructs a “novel” city and allows it to reemerge
from layers of commercial and ahistorical urban sprawl that characterize parts
of contemporary Manila. At the same time, the study allows for an appreciation
of places that Rizal and his contemporaries grew fond of or associated good
memories with, developing what the author refers to as “affections,” connoting,
in the archaic sense, feelings that could be elicited by, or directed to, a setting.
In undertaking this research, the author hopes to bridge the disciplines of urban
studies and the humanities. This will lead to a more nuanced on-the-ground
development that flourishes because of the actual and the imagined past, rather
than allowing unenlightened building practitioners to efface the symbols and
edifices that make for a Filipino literary cartography.


Noli me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, urban landscape, symbols, city, setting

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ISSN: 2012-0788