IcarusBy Raymund Fernandez
Cebu Daily News
The Dutch master Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s (c. 1525-1569) paintings are beloved to this day. One of them distinguishes itself not only by the quality of its classical craft but also by the timeless poetry of its content. In the foreground a farmer is plowing his field. Farmer and oxen plow away towards a forest of beautiful trees and brushes in the distance to his left. The field overlooks a bay. A ship in full sail swims into the distance from what must be a river to his right. It is already a completely beautiful painting at this point. And yet in the far horizon, Icarus is falling into the sea. He is only a tiny speck, an extraneous detail the eye would easily miss if it did not read the title: “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”.
It is an intriguing piece of art which would seem to defy the basic principle of cohesiveness. One imagines old conservative critics dismissing the piece as a failure for being two seemingly unrelated artworks in a single frame with it sense of priorities reversed. The undistinguished even anonymous farmer takes central position in the canvas while Icarus the figure of heroic myth is only a small extraneous detail in the narrative whom the eye must search for.
But there is a bit of literature that goes with this art piece. It was made in a time of great religious strife. The reformation and counter reformation around the time of the Renaissance represented great historical upheavals that translated immediately to wars. And what Bruegel was saying was that while all these would seem to be events of great importance to most people but inside the scheme of the pastoral landscape he created in his mind and then translated into his canvas their importance is only at best an ephemeral footnote. The world continues unmindful even if Icarus is falling into history, or in this particular case, falling into myth. What was changed by his fall?
As also with our memory of martial law. As also with our memory of names like Marcos, Enrile, Ramos, Tatad, etc. Just as well that they should all be forgotten. They will inevitably drift into oblivion. Let the process start now! And Bruegel might have said of them: Let this be the year we erase them entirely from memory.
And yet some say: We should always remember if only to make sure that day would never be repeated! Then consider this: Even in the constitution we currently have, declaring martial law is still legally possible. It only seems a bit more difficult. More people would need to collude. But that is also what happened with Marcos. Now consider as well that those who did collude came eventually back to power. Some are still there now.
And if it were a question of forgiveness, that too is an issue already decided in the light of current history. Theirs are still names of great power. And so, no matter what we might all say in behalf of ourselves and for all that we stand for, we must accept that in the light of history, they do seem to have been forgiven all their sins. They will return. And if it is once again their intention to rob us of everything we have, that would be something none of us can prevent.
As in that event 40 years ago when we were all still quiet young and in the prime of our lives, they might in the future once again propose: Surrender to us your freedom and we will renew the world, build a new society for you and make everything right. We would become the powerhouse of Asia. Foreigners will want to come and invest. We would all become rich and all you would have to do is allow us to set up the police force to make all of us behave as we should so that all these will come to pass. And what would we really lose? Nothing much that we actually have since we’re only a poor dysfunctional little country.
And many of us would most likely still go by that promise still. And you might be surprised to know that the first who accepted back then were not the poor who lived in slums and had little to eat. No, let this old man remind you that the first to abide immediately and surrender, foolish as that promise immediately seemed, were poor people who drove around in fancy cars, those who had much and yet wanted more.
But then, who does not want more? Who does not want to be more secure in what they have? Is there a politician out there who would promise all these? That politician is our man. No problem there. And yet he too just like Icarus will fall. Fall into myth. Fall into history. And what will we be doing while all this comes to pass? We will be plowing our fields following a lonely oxen inside the pastoral landscape of our immediate lives, unmindful.
The lesson of Icarus was not to fly too close to the sun. And yet, some, perhaps even we ourselves, will always venture that way. Bruegel was telling us to be that farmer plowing that field. For that is the only way any meaningful change can ever come, slowly, by the sweat of our brow and by the seeds we plant in our time.