SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOW: Gates of hell

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/24 May) – When novelist Dan Brown published his “The Da Vinci Code” some sectors of the Catholic Church wanted him crucified for blasphemy. The Church mobilized hundreds of faithful in rallies against the book which contains unflattering historical facts about the roots of Christianity and its early leaders, including the supposed first pope, Saint Peter.

But I doubt if the majority of those who heeded the Church’s call to condemn Brown as a heretic, had read the controversial novel, in the same manner that I doubt if the lay people who toed the Church’s line on the equally controversial Reproductive Health Law had ever read the law in its entirety so as to render an informed judgment.

Earlier this month, Brown’s latest opus, Inferno, a story inspired by certain passages in Dante Alighieri’s poem “The Divine Comedy” hit bookshelves around the world. Interestingly, the novel tackles the moral question of how best to deal with an ever growing population vis-à-vis the world’s limited carrying capacity. The plot pits a brilliant genetic engineer named Dr. Bertrand Zobrist against the chief of the World Health Organization, Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey.

Between Zobrist and Sinskey stand art professor Robert Langdon and Zobrist’s disciple Dr. Sienna Brooks. However, in contrast to Langdon’s predictable role as the puzzle solver, Brooks’ real standpoint on Zobrist’s solution to the population question remains unknown until the climax unfolds.

Brooks is a troubled individual, who as a child harbored feelings of being unaccepted despite possessing a superior intelligence. The search for meaning, the books narrates, brings her to Manila for a humanitarian mission. Her unpleasant experience in the Philippine capital, however, including being sexually assaulted by three men, makes her exclaim that she has gone through the “gates of hell.”

That sounds serious, an unsavory description of the metropolis that would have made me protest as a Filipino. But “Inferno” is just fiction, I reminded myself and went on reading. In fact, other cities in other countries have received worse descriptions either in works of fiction or in factual narratives.

Furthermore, readers, Filipinos in particular, should interpret the unsavory phrase, gates of hell, as an allegorical description of the kind of experience of a key character in the story, Brooks. We should acknowledge that a person’s experience defines his or her perception of a place, time or event. Arguably, that’s how Brown intended it to be.

Perceptions are realities. There is no way one can impose on anybody how he or she should perceive the world or a part of it. This is so in real life. This is much more so in works of fiction.

More importantly, Brown’s description of Manila can only be appreciated if one reads it in the context of the conflict created by the plot. A tree should not be mistaken for the forest. This is perhaps why Dante chose to present his interpretation of the afterlife in one single – forgive the term – hell of a classic. Writing it piecemeal would have diminished the connectedness of the three possible destinations of human souls after death as Church teachings tell us.

But Chairman Francis Tolentino of the Metro Manila Development Authority thought otherwise. He considered the description inaccurate and even asked Brown to call Manila the “portal to heaven.” I won’t argue with that, although I must say that I feel more secure in Mindanao’s rebel-infested areas than in the metropolis.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])

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