Sisa’s Vengeance: Jose Rizal’s Sexual Politics and Cultural Revolution



Sisa’s Vengeance: Jose Rizal’s Sexual Politics and Cultural Revolution

by E. San Juan Jr. 

In Sisa’s Vengeance: Jose Rizal’s Sexual Politics and Cultural Revolution, acclaimed literary scholar E. San Juan Jr. casts a critical eye on the biases of some of the prominent scholarship of Rizal over the decades. This book invites readers to look past the popular image of Rizal in order to understand his ideas as embodied in his work, and how these ideas and beliefs were shaped by the events and circumstances of his life. In the essays gathered here, the author uses the perspective of historical materialism to consider Rizal as a social and historical product of the time he lived in.

San Juan argues that Rizal’s criticism of colonial society can be gleaned from the tribulations facing his fictional women characters like Sisa, and that these injustices reflected the circumstances of the various women in his own life. Thus Rizal recognized gender equality as a key component of national liberation.


In this book, E. San Juan has established that historical materialism is necessary, and addressing the “woman question” is integral to the materialist study of history. His interpretation of Rizal fills a gap in the literature on Rizal… Appropriating this interpretation in a time of globalizing terror and poverty makes Rizal a deathless, dangerous, subversive comrade of revolutionaries in history….San Juan has in fact presented a more holistic, uncensored Rizal.

—Prof. Teresa Lorena Jopson,
Dept of Social Studies, University of the Philippines,
“A Radical Rizal” (Humanities Diliman, July-December 2014)

Scholar E. San Juan addresses the question “who is the real and true Rizal” as he seeks to “explore the network of duplicities and contradictions” related to it in a postmodern age…Rizal remains “unique and extraordinary in his single-minded commitment to his people’s liberation…” The hero’s personal tragedies as well as those of other martyrs (in particular, of Burgos, Gomez and Zamora)…are visible in his writings as an anagogic idea of vengeance—a “collective mode of fulfilling a promise to ancestors to heal the rupture of interrupted group exchanges—as the legitimizing foundation of a nation-in-the-making….” The 150th birth anniversary of the hero is an opportunity to reassess Rizal. Now more than ever, it is time to rethink what it means to be Filipino in a time when the country is being re-colonized by the United States under the guise of the global war on terror and the diasporic condition of Filipino laborers scattered across the globe…
—Mai Andre D.P. Encarnacion,
“Review of Sisa’s Vengeance” U.P. Newsletter (March 2012)

Whatever San Juan writes is worth reading because of the intensity of his style and the special emphasis he gives certain aspects of the works he deals with. Until I read his analysis, I had not seen the multiplicity of possible layers of meaning in a tiny, vivid incident involving Maria Clara and a leper; San Juan finds Rizal’s novels to be “primarily significant today as critiques of feudal and individualist experience in Philippine colonial society.”

—Prof. Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr.
University of Hawaii
“Review of Toward Rizal,” World Literature Today (Spring 1984)

About the Author

E. SAN JUAN, Jr. is emeritus professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Ethnic Studies from several U.S. universities. He received his A.B. from the University of the Philippines and his A.M. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. He has taught at the University of Califor

nia; Brooklyn College of CUNY; University of Connecticut; Trento University, Italy, Tamkang University, Taiwan; and Washington State University. San Juan was a fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University; Fulbright professor of American Studies at Leuven University, Belgium; and fellow of the Institute of Humanities, University of Edinburgh; Wesleyan University Center for the Humanities; and the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center at Bellagio, Italy.  He was recently visiting professor of English, University of the Philippines; and professorial chair lecturer in Cultural Studies, Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Among his recent books are: Racism and Cultural Studies (Duke UP), Working Through the Contradictions (Bucknell UP); US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave); In the Wake of Terror: Race, Nation, Class and Ethnicity in the Postmodern World (Lexington); Balikbayang Sinta: An E. San Juan Reader (Ateneo UP); Between Empire and Insurgency (University of the Philippines P); Critical Interventions: From Joyce and Ibsen to Charles Sanders Peirce and Maxine Hong Kingston (LAP, Saarbrucken, Germany); Learning from the Filipino Diaspora (UST Publishing House); Filipinas Everywhere (Sussex Academic Press); and Carlos Bulosan: Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the U.S. (Peter Lang Inc.).

San Juan is now completing two books, one on the relations between Charles Sanders Peirce’s pragmaticism and the theory/praxis of historical and dialectical materialism; and the other, on the complex interface among the Moro insurgency, the Filipino diaspora, imperial terrorism, and the national democratic struggle in the Philippines.


Watch Vibal Foundation's companion video titled "Surfacing the Radical Rizal," which features Rizal's radical transformative ideology to upend the Philippines with the mother of all insurgencies: the quest for nationhood.


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