by Jade Mark Capiñanes (Essay)
I have a vague memory of myself as a child jumping out of a window. I would have fractured some leg bones had our house been a story higher. Our house was a wooden stilt bungalow, as all the other houses in our coastal community were, and when you threw yourself out of a window, you’d either land on the wooden bridge or dive into the water.
In my memory I landed on the bridge. It was an afternoon. Then I ran—and that’s the pretty much the whole thing. Where did I go after that? And why did I leap out of our window in the first place? The only reason I can think of is that maybe my mother had locked me up, given my tendency to flee from afternoon naps. (And maybe that explains why I always crave for afternoon naps now.) I doubt, though, that my mother really did that. Perhaps I was just a child—young, immature, inclined to do silly things.
A window suddenly closing reminds me of an accidental circumcision. Not mine, fortunately, but Tristram Shandy’s. He is the titular character of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, a novel by Laurence Sterne. In the novel Tristram, when he was still a child, urinated out of the window because their chamberpot was missing. All of a sudden the window sash came down, like a guillotine. The guillotine, so to speak, hit a different kind of head this time, cutting off some skin, and hence Tristram was circumcised. Of the event Tristram says: “thousands suffer by choice, what I did by accident.”
Our house had two sliding windows. Each was just wide enough for my little self to pass through. Originally they were jalousies, but my father, a glass installer, had replaced them with sliding windows whose frames were covered entirely with brown, transparent glass. Since the panels moved horizontally, anyone who might have urinated out of our window was safe from any accidental circumcision, unless someone else, with the same fetish Robespierre had for the guillotine, suddenly closed it by choice.
In my memory, however, the glass panes were no more: they’d been replaced by lawanit, a kind of plywood. They were brown just the same, but unlike glass, they didn’t let light to enter our house. In a fit of rage, during a fight with my mother, my father had smashed the glass panes. It was no accident. My father often did that when they fought: he’d throw and break whatever was within his reach. Later he himself fixed our windows by putting in some sheets of lawanit. Now it wasn’t fragile, so my father could do to it whatever he wanted to.
The façade of our house looked like a human face: the roof corresponding to the hair, the door to the mouth, and the windows to the eyes. The eyes, they say, are the windows to the soul. But did our house have a soul?
Throwing someone or something out of window—unexpectedly—has a rich history. The act is often associated with overthrowing authority.
In the Bible, for instance, Queen Jezebel’s own servants throw her down from a high window, her blood spattering against the façade of the court and on the horses, which then tramples on her. All because she has done a series of blasphemous acts against the God and people of Israel. And as if those were not horrible enough, her unattended corpse is eaten by stray dogs. It has been prophesied by the prophet Elijah: “In the property of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel.”
The Thirty Years’ War, on the other hand, is said to have been sparked by the following incident: On May 23, 1618, due to a religious conflict, Protestant revolutionaries tossed Catholic regents out of the Prague Castle through a window. Around two years later the word defenestration, which means “the act of throwing someone or something out of a window,” was first used.
The said incident is now called the Second Defenestration of Prague. It can be said that it was necessary to create the word to remind us of such an important episode in one of the bloodiest religious wars in history.
Indeed necessity gives birth to words, symbols, signs. It was necessary for Adam to name the animals in the Garden of Eden to set himself apart from them and to assert his dominance over them. (In another sense the story was also necessary to reinforce the patriarchal structure of ancient societies.) Filipinos have several words for rice—palay, bigas, kanin, tutong, etc.—because it is our staple food and is therefore necessary.
But isn’t a word in itself an accident? There is no urgent, compelling, God-given reason why the act of throwing someone or something out of a window should be signified by the word defenestration. True, the word has its Latin origins, but for all we know it could have been throwindowing or jezebelization. Call it palay, bigas, kanin, tutong, but chances are, when Filipinos are hungry, they’ll look not for words, but for the concept they refer to.
It is also important, therefore, to defenestrate, to throwindow, to jezebelize, to throw the authority of a word out of a window.
sometimes feeling like trapped inside a shaky house the only thing to do is to look out the window asking what does it feel like to be outside again not having to think and fight over the window that has accumulated months of ignored dust and harsh words supposedly thrown out of the window after being hurled at each other but has been stuck in the frame wanting to escape maybe jump out of the window hoping for some ground to land on without blood and broken bones and horses and stray dogs having been inside this house for a long time but no words or labels to name this whole thing trying to think it is unnecessary when feelings are sure and the concept is intact because after all words are arbitrary words fail words fail words fail words fail words fail saying too much still not says enough wanting to really jump out of the window but just waiting for someone to do it first but why talk about windows so much when the door is always open mouth reminding thousands suffer by choice whispering be free again be free again be free again