A Contrapuntal Reading of History

In Post-colonial studies, a concept called contrapuntal reading exists. As defined by Eduard Said in his book Orientalism, contrapuntal reading “involves a simultaneous awareness, both of the metropolitan history that is narrated and of those other histories (emphasis mine) against which (and together with which) the dominant discourse acts”. That is to say that while we may have a history which is considered the canon for teaching school children in the elementary and secondary level, we as of the academe must be aware that other versions of the canon history exists. And this trend of the canon/metropolitan history versus the other existing versions of history is a polar opposition most prevalent in post-colonial countries like the Philippines, who was placed under Spanish occupation for more than three hundred years and up till today is still feeling influences of the once occupying culture.

            A sad thing which we must realize about our history is that most of it has been written by the powers which have occupied us. They have distorted and manipulated history to serve them and the most ideal examples of these are the histories written by the frailes wherein they were able to make it seem that before the coming of the Spaniards, the Filipinos did not have any form of culture and hence, history for us only began with the Spanish occupation.

             Funny thing is, even before the term was coined by Eduard Said, the Spaniards who took over our islands were already practicing the concept of Orientalism. Orientalism is ‘relations between discursive formations and discursive domains (institutions, political events, economic practices and processes) and with intersection of knowledge and power’ (Childs & Williams, Said: Knowledge and Power, 1997, p. 98). The staples of oriental knowledge were cruelty, decadence, sensuality, laziness, mendacity, irrationality, violence and disorder. ‘Orientals were rarely seen or looked at: they were seen through, analyzed not as citizens or even people, but as problems to be solved or confined, or – as the colonial powers openly coveted their territory – taken over’ (Childs & Williams, Said: Knowledge and Power, 1997, p. 100).

            And because of the fact that the majority of our history was not even written by those we would consider our own, we have to read between the lines of the texts offered to us by the powers who had once occupied us. This is because the knowledge of our past is not our knowledge but a knowledge which exist because those in power say that such knowledge must exist. As Foucault’s model of power/knowledge goes: ‘one does not occur without the other (emphasis mine); knowledge gives rise to power but it is also produced by the operations of power’.

            Most of the time though, reading between the lines is not enough and because of this, modern (or/and post-modern and/or neo) historians have gone through the route of trying to reconstruct the past by the use of representation. This technique also spills over to literature – as something most prevalent in post-colonial literature – as seen by the proliferation of deconstructed fiction. Unfortunately, the problem with representation is that ‘the way in which discourses produce specific representations of the world’ and that ‘the tendency of any discourse is to elicit forms of knowledge which conform to established paradigms’ (Childs & Williams, Said: Knowledge and Power, 1997, p. 104).


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