Monday, May 27, 2019


I never knew what the phrase "Noli me tangere" meant until I did a bit of research on the Philippines where it is the title of the most important novel in the country.  As the person wrote the Wiki entry put it:  "Noli Me Tángere (Latin for Touch me not) is a novel written by José Rizal, one of the national heroes of the Philippines, during the colonization of the country by Spain to describe perceived inequities of the Spanish Catholic priests and the ruling government.

"Originally written in Spanish, the book is more commonly published and read in the Philippines in either Tagalog or English. Together with its sequel, El Filibusterismo, the reading of Noli is obligatory for high school students throughout the country. The two novels are widely considered as the national epic of the Philippines and are performed in non-musical operas throughout the country."

But literature comes in layers and in this case the title comes from the Catholic layer of Philippino culture.  It has also been used in other countries to make different points..  The sentiment is repeated by people who are too hurt to accept sensation or intimacy, or as advice to people who are refusing the future.  It can also be a deathbed sentiment.  In the Christian first-use, it suggests that after death, when resurrected, one cannot be owned or embraced as in ordinary life. 

(Wiki) "Noli me tangere ('touch me not') is the Latin version of a phrase spoken, according to John 20:17, by Jesus to Mary Magdalene when she recognized him after his resurrection. The biblical scene gave birth to a long series of depictions in Christian art from Late Antiquity to the present. The original Koine Greek phrase, Μή μου πτου (mē mou haptou), is better represented in translation as "cease holding on to me" or "stop clinging to me", i.e. an ongoing action, not one done in a single moment."

The Book of John is concerned with the whole dilemma of whether Jesus, since he is the body/conceived Son of God who is supernatural, is still somehow human as promised.  The phrase might be used by a biographer who wants to break up some stereotypical notion or point of view, to let some new interpretation come through.  Giving up what is already assumed to be known, real, and proven is one of the most difficult human problems.  

While political assumptions are being shredded everyday, and one whole party refuses to give an inch, the balking becomes more and more maddening, esp. since the planet itself has no problem with giving up what has been true before, and we plunge ever closer to climate disaster.

The weirdest translation of the phrase has been noted by the Austro-Hungarian writer Ferdinand Blumentritt  -- that "Noli Me Tángere" was a name used by local Filipinos for cancer of the eyelids. Rizal, the author, was an ophthalmologist.  Actually, it sounds like a good phrase to be tattooed on a stand-alone person.  The novel itself is a century old and published in both English and Tagalog.  Can Tagalog be considered an indigenous language?  It's also a vid on YouTube.  

Once Bob and I were out in a field trying to catch our horses.  I came across a nest in the grass with eggs but no bird just then.  I touched one egg ever-so gently with the tip of a finger to see if were warm.  Bob saw me do it and scolded me.  "Now that you've touched the egg, the mother bird will smell you and abandon the eggs.  You just murdered."  I still feel badly about it.

But that's nothing compared to leaving Browning, marriage, love and having to say, "No, don't hold me back.  I've got to do this."

"The loveliest episode of Holy Week – Christ rises from the potting shed.  Only the subtlest artists choose to include this still, small scene of calm after the horrors of the Passion in their Easter cycles.  An article by Laura Freeman › Painting reviews."  I didn't really know this story.

Here's a rather scary dance about the phrase.  

I only know two Philippinos.  One was an artist who owned two houses on the block where I grew up in Portland.  He was best friends with my mother and brother.  They shared a cat  ("Mokley") which was quite touchable, since it was not feral.  Many feral cats cannot be touched.

The other was a student in Heart Butte, a mix of Phillipino and Blackfeet because his mother had been sent on relocation to a city where she ended up in the "ghetto" where all the poor people, sequestered from the mainstream who didn't want to touch them, were gathered in a patchwork of origins.  So here we have examples of why people don't stay separated -- one is governments who meddle and move people around and the other is artists who are always moving around in search of ideas.  We are all mongrels.  Which is one reason we may want to test each other, touching to feel for the truth.

Museums always say "Do Not Touch".  Some plants can be killed or stunted if touched by people.  The phrase is a warning.  And yet, if we read or watch a story that moves us, we say it is "touching."  So that's why it's a phrase that persists, that shows up in surprising places.  

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