The Resistance
-by Ernesto R. Sábato-

translated by D. Ohmans
© copyright 2013

Text imprint Barcelona, Seix Barral, ©2000

to Elvira González Fraga who collaborated with me on this book and over so many years, with very deep affection. FIRST LETTER: THE SMALL AND THE LARGE The sweet consolation of finding the world in a soul, of embracing my kind in a feminine creature. F. HÖLDERLIN
THERE ARE DAYS when I arise with a demented hope, moments when I feel that the possibilities of a more human life are within reach of our hands. This is one of those days. And then, I have set to writing almost groping in the dawn, with urgency, like one who might go into the street to ask for help against the threat of a fire, or like a ship that, at the point of disappearing, were to send a last and fervent signal towards a port it knows is near but deafened by the noise of the city and by the number of billboards that disturb the view. I ask you that we pause to think of the greatness to which we can still aspire if we dare to value life in another way. I ask that courage of you which situates us on man's true dimension. Everyone, at one time or another, yields. But there is something unfailing and it is the conviction that--only-- spiritual values can save us from this earthquake that threatens the human condition. While I write to you, I have lingered to touch a rustic statuette that the Tuobas gave to me and which reminded me, like a ray in my memory, of a virtual exposition that they showed me yesterday on a computer, which I should admit seemed to me like something from Mandingo. Because to the extent that we relate in an abstract manner, the further we move from the heart of things and a metaphysical indifference takes charge of us while entities without blood or proper names assume power. Tragically, man is losing dialogue with others and recognition of the world that surrounds him, given that it is there where encounters are made, where love is possible, the supreme gestures of life. Table talk, including the discussions or angers, already seem replaced by the hypnotic vision. Television tantalizes us, we remain almost captivated by it. This effect between magical and malevolent is due, I think, to the excess of its light that overcomes us with its intensity. I cannot but remember that same effect it produces on insects, and even on the large animals. And then, it is not only difficult to leave it, but we also lose the everyday capacity to look and see. A street with enormous tipa-trees, some innocent eyes in the face of an old woman, the clouds of an afternoon. The flowering of aromas in mid-winter is not noticed by those who do not even enjoy the jacarandás of Buenos Aires. It has often surprised me how we see the landscapes better in the movies than in reality. It is urgent to reconnect with the commons spaces that prevent us from being a massified multitude isolatedly watching television. What is paradoxical is that through that screen we seem to be connected with the entire world, when in truth it removes the possibility of humanly cohabiting, and what is equally serious, predisposes us to apathy. I have said ironically in many interviews that "television is the opiate of the people," modifying Marx's famous phrase. But I believe it, one becomes lethargic in front of the screen, and while finding nothing of what one seeks, they stay there anyway, incapable of rising and doing something good. It takes away the desire to work on some artisanry, read a book, fix something in the house while listening to music or drinking maté. Or going to the bar with some friend, or conversing with your own. It is a tedium, a boredom to which we accustom ourselves "for lack of something better." Being monotonously seated before the television anesthetizes the senses, makes the mind slow-witted, harms the soul. The senses of the human being are closing, every time requiring more intensity, like the deaf. We do not see what does not have the illumination of the screen, nor do we hear that which does not come to us charged with decibels, nor do we smell perfumes. Now not even flowers have it. Something that affects me terribly is noise. There are afternoons when we walk blocks and blocks before finding a place to have a coffee in peace. And it is not that we finally find a quiet bar, but that we resign ourselves to asking, please could they turn off the television, something they do completely willingly for me, yet I ask, what do persons who live in this city of 13 million inhabitants do to find a place to talk to a friend? What I describe happens to everyone, and most especially to true lovers of music, or does one think they prefer to hear it while all talk of different themes and by shouting? In every café there is, either a television, or a musical apparatus at full volume. If everyone complained like me, energetically, things would begin to change. I ask whether the people are aware of the damage it does to the hearing, or is it that they have been convinced how advanced it is to speak in shouts. In many units one hears the neighbor's television, as if we respect each other so little? What does the human being do to support the increase of decibels in which they live? Experiments with animals have demonstrated that a high volume damages their primary memory, later crazing and finally killing them. I must be like them because for a while I have walked down the street with ear plugs. Man is accustomed to passively accepting a constant sensory intrusion. And this passive attitude ends being a mental servitude, a true enslavement. Yet there is a way of contributing to the protection of humanity, and it is not to give up. Not to watch with indifference the disappearance from our view of the infinite richness that forms the universe which surrounds us, with its colors, sounds and perfumes. Already the markets are not those to which the women went, with their stands of fruits, or vegetables, of meats, a true festival of colors and smells, festival of nature in the middle of the city, attended by men who vociferated amongst themselves, while we felt gratitude for its fruits. To think that we went to the chicken stall with Mama to buy eggs which, at that moment, were emerging from the laying chickens! Now everything comes canned and purchases have begun to be made by computer, over that screen which shall be the window through which men experience life. Equally indifferent and untouchable. There is no other way of attaining eternity than drowning in the instant, nor other way of reaching universality than through the specific circumstance: the here and now. So then what? The small space and the short time in which we live must be revalorized, which has nothing to do with those marvelous scenes we can see on television, but that is sacredly implanted in the humanity of the persons who live in it. One says chair or window or clock, words that designate mere objects yet, nevertheless, suddenly transmit something mysterious and indefinable, something which is like a key, like an ineffable message from a deep region of our being. We say chair but do not mean chair, and are understood. Or at least we are understood by those to whom the message is secretly aimed. Thus, that pair of clogs, that candle, that chair, do not even mean those clogs, nor that wan candle, not that straw chair, but Van Gogh, Vincent: his anxiety, his anguish, his solitude; such that they are more like his self-portrait, the description of his deepest and most painful anxieties. Serving as objects in this apparently dry world that is outside of ourselves, which perhaps existed before us and that most probably will outlive us. As if those objects were trembling and transitory bridges to span the abyss that always opens between one and the universe, symbols of something profound and hidden they reflect; indifferent and gray to those incapable of understanding the key, yet warm and firm and full of secret intention for those who know it. For man does with objects the same as the soul does with the body, impregnating them with his desires and feelings manifesting themselves through folds in flesh, the eyes' brilliance, the smiles and the corners of your lips. If we become incapable of creating a climate of beauty in the small world around us and only pay attention to business reasons, so often dehumanized and competitive, how can we resist? The presence of man is expressed in the arrangement of a table, by some piled-up records, in a book, in a toy. Contact with any human work evokes in us the life of the other, leaves tracks of its passage that help us to recognize and to find him. If we live like automatons we will be blind to the tracks that men leave us, like the pebbles which Hansel and Gretel threw in the hope of being found. Man expresses himself to reach others, to emerge from the captivity of his solitude. His unusual nature is such that nothing exceeds his desire to express himself. It is a gesture inherent to life that does not contribute to utility, which transcends all functional possibility. Men, as they pass, leave vestiges; in the same manner, upon returning to our home after an overwhelming day, any little table, a pair of worn-out shoes, a simple familiar lamp, are moving symbols of a coast that we want to attain, like the exhausted shipwrecked who succeed in touching earth after a long struggle against the tempest. Work leaves us with few free hours. Scarcely a quick breakfast we usually take already thinking of the problems at the office, because we live in such a way as producers that we are becoming incapable of pausing before a cup of coffee in the mornings, or some shared matés. And the return home, the time of re-uniting with friends or family, or of being silent like nature at that mysterious afternoon hour that recalls the paintings of Millet, we so often waste watching television! Concentrating on some channel, or surfing, it seems we obtain beauty or a pleasure which we no longer discover sharing a casserole or a glass of wine or a steaming broth soup that links us to a friend on an average night. When we are sensitive, when our pores are not covered with implacable caps, the nearness of the human presence shakes us, inspires us, and we understand that it is the other who always saves us. And if we have reached the age we have it is because others have been incessantly saving our life. At the age I am today, I can say, sadly, that every time we have missed a human encounter something was left atrophied in ourselves, or broken. Often we are incapable of a genuine encounter because we only recognize others to the extent that they define our being and our mode of feeling, or what would be propitious for our projects. Once cannot detain themself in an encounter because they are full of works, of negotiations, or ambitions. And because the size of the city dwarfs us. Then the other human being does not reach us, we do not see them. More or less within reach is someone unknown with whom to talk over a computer. On the street, in business, in infinite deals, one knows --abstractly--that they are dealing with human beings, but concretely we treat others like just another functional or informational provider. We do not live the relation in an affective manner, as if we had a protective cap against human occurrences "deviating" from our attention. Others molest us, cause us to waste time. Which leaves man shockingly alone, as if in the midst of so many persons, or because of them, autism propagates. I have seen some films where alienation and solitude are such that people try to love through a monitor. Not to mention those artificial mascots invented by the Japanese--I know not what they are called--which one cares for as if they lived, because they have "feelings" and one must talk to them. How wasteful and how tragic to think that this is the way that many people have of expressing their affect! A sinister game when there are so many children expelled by the world, and so many noble animals on the road to extinction. It is time to turn back this abandonment and this massacre. This conviction must possess us to the point of commitment. Life is open by nature, although in those where a barrier has been erected around their own it would seem to be darker than a dungeon. The heartbeat of life requires a pause, just the space that a heartbeat needs to keep living, and through it one can spy the plenitude of an encounter, just as great tides can breach even the most fortified dams. Or a disease can be the opening, or the spillover from any miracle of life: a person who loves us despite our closedness like a drop that beats incessantly against the high walls. And then the person who was most alone and closed can be the most capable of herself enduring that grave lack for a long time. The reason for which those who have most suffered being orphans are those who take the most care with the beloved person. Love that is never received at a discount, that always attains the magnitude of a miracle. And this verification that we have so often made in life, however poorly it falls on some psychologists, is what encourages us to think that our society, so sickened and dehumanized, can be that which gives origin to a religious culture, as Berdiaev prophesied at the start of the 20th century. Medicine is one of the areas where a counter current can be seen which attacks this tragic belief in Abstraction. If in 1900 a healer cured by suggestion, the doctors would laugh, because in that time they only believed in material things, like a muscle or a bone; today they practice the same thing that formerly was considered superstition under the name of "psycho- somatic medicine." Yet for a long time the fetishism of the machine, reason and matter persisted in them, and they became proud of the great triumphs of their science, for the sole deed of having replaced the epidemic of smallpox with that of cancer. The central mistake that medicine made comes from the false philosophical basis of the past three centuries, from the naive separation of soul from body, from the frank materialism that led to seeking every infirmity in the somatic. Man is not a simple physical object, deprived of a soul, nor even a simple animal: they are an animal that not only has a soul but also a spirit, and the first of the animals to have modified its own environment as a work of culture. As such, he is an equilibrium--unstable--between his own energy and his physical and cultural medium. A disease is, perhaps, the rupture of that equilibrium, which at times can be provoked by a somatic impulse and at others by an animal, spiritual or social impulse. It is not surprising that modern sicknesses like cancer be essentially due to the imbalance which technology and modern society have produced between man and his environment. Is cancer not perhaps a certain type of unmeasured and vertiginous growth? Mesological changes have caused the disappearance of entire species, and just as the great reptiles could not survive the transformations that occurred at the end of the Mesozoic period, it could happen that the human species were incapable of surviving the catastrophic changes of the contemporary world. For these changes are so terrible, so profound and above all so dizzying that those which provoked the disappearance of the reptiles appears insignificant. Man has not had time to adapt to the brusque and potent transformations that his technology and society have produced around him; and it is not too much to claim that modern diseases may be the means asserted by the cosmos to expel this proud human species. Our time includes telephones for suicides. Yes, it is probable that something can be said to a man for whom life has stopped being the supreme good. I myself often attend to people on the border of the abyss. Yet it is very significant that one must seek a human visage by telephone or the computer, and does not find them in the home, at work, or in the street, as if we were interned in some walled clinic that separates us from the people beside us. And then, having been deprived of the closeness of an abrazo or of a shared table, what remains for us are "the communication media." In the same manner, how much better it is to die in one's own bed, surrounded by affection, accompanied by familiar voices, faces and objects, than in those ambulances that traverse our streets like meteors to enroll the moribund in a sterilized hall, instead of leaving them in peace. I remember with admiration the names of some old doctors whose mere entrance cured the sick. What an ironic smile that dazzling truth merited! It is a summer night, the moon shines from time to time. I advance towards my house among the magnolias and the palms, amongst the jasmines and the immense araucarias, and I pause to observe the web that the weavers have left at the front of this house which is now a dear ruin, with rotten or unhinged blinds; and nevertheless, or precisely because of its age similar to mine, I understand that I would not exchange it for any mansion in the world. A value exists in life that often remains invisible to others, yet which man hears in the depth of his soul: it is fidelity to or betrayal of that which we feel as a destiny or a vocation to accomplish. This destiny, like everything human, does not manifest in the abstract but rather incarnates itself in some circumstance, in a small place, in a beloved face, or in a very poor birth in the confines of an empire. Neither love, nor true encounters, nor even profound misadventures are works of chance, but instead are mysteriously allotted to us. How often in my life have I been surprised how, among the multitudes of persons who exist in the world, we cross paths with those who, somehow, possess the charts of our destiny, as if we had belonged to the same secret organization, or to the chapters of a single book! I never know whether I recognized them because I was already seeking them, or they were sought because they already bordered the provinces of our destiny. Destiny is shown in signs and indices that seem insignificant yet we later recognize as decisive. Thus, in life one often thinks they are proceeding lost, whereas in reality we always move on a fixed course, occasionally determined by our most visible will, but in others, perhaps more decisive for our existence, by a will unknown even to ourselves, yet nevertheless powerful and unmanageable, which causes us to march towards places where we should meet with beings or things which, in one manner or another, are, or have been, or will be primordial for our destiny, favoring or hindering our apparent desires, easing or aggravating our anxieties and, at times, what seems still more surprising, in the long run proving to be more awake than our conscious will. In the moment, our lives seem to be unrelated scenes, one beside the other, like tenuous, uncertain and extra-light leaves scattered by the furious and meaningless wind of the time. My memory is comprised of fragments of existence, static and eternal: time does not pass among them, and things that happened in epochs very remote from each other are linked some to others or reunited by strange antipathies and sympathies. Or maybe they come to the surface of consciousness united by absurd yet powerful links, like a song, a joke or a common hatred. Such as now, for me, the thread that unites them and which causes them to emerge one after the other is a certain ferocity in the search for something absolute, a certain perplexity, that which unites words like child, love, God, sin, purity, ocean, decease. Yet I do not believe in destiny as a fatality, as in the Greek tradition, or in our tango: "against fate, no one prevails." For if I did, why would I be writing for you? I believe that liberty was destined for us to fulfill a mission in life; and without liberty nothing is worthwhile. And more, I believe that the liberty which is within our reach is greater than that which challenges our living. It is enough to read history, that great teacher, to see how many roads man has been able to open with his arms, how much the human being has modified the course of facts. With effort, with love, with fanaticism. But if we do not allow what surrounds us to touch us we shall not have solidarity with anything nor any one, we being that chilling expression that names the human being of this time, "atomized particle," that individual who creates around themself several other capsules to enclose oneself in their functional department, in the limited part of work in their charge, in the schedule of their agenda. We cannot forget that before sowing, fishing, the gathering of the fruits, the elaboration of artisanry, like work as a blacksmith or in a dressmaking shop, or in country establishments, persons gathered and were incorporated in the totality of their personalities. It was the intuition of the beginning of this rupture which brought the 18th century workers to rebel against the machines, to wish to set them on fire. Today men tend to massively cohere in order to comply with the growing and absolute functionality the system requires hour by hour. But between the life of the great cities, which passes over like a tornado over the desert sands, and the custom of watching television, where one accepts whatever happens and does not feel responsible, liberty is in danger. As serious as was said by Jünger: "If the wolves infect the masses, one fine day the flock becomes the prey." If man's mentality changes, the danger we experience is paradoxically a hope. We can recover this house that was mythically given to us. History is always novel. Therefore, despite the disillusion and accumulated frustrations, there is no reason to disbelieve in the value of everyday gestures. Although simple and modest, they are those that are generating a new narrative of history, thus opening a new channel for the torrent of life. Man's belonging to the simple and the nearby is even more accentuated in old age when we proceed to close out projects, and become nearest to the land of our infancy, and not to the earth in general but to that piece, to that infamous piece of land upon which our childhood occurred, where we had our games and our magic, the irretrievable magic of irretrievable childhood. And then we remember a tree, the face of some friend, a dog, a dusty road during the summer siesta, with its scent of cigars, a stream. Things like that. Not great things but small and very modest things, yet which acquire in the human being incredible magnitude, above all when the man who is going to die can only defend himself with the memory, so distressingly incomplete, so transparent and incorporeal, of that tree or that stream from infancy; that are not only separated by the abysses of time but also by vast territories. Thus we are able to see many oldsters who almost do not speak and always seem to be looking into the distance, when in reality they are looking inwards, into the depths of their memory. For memory is what resists time and its powers of destruction, and is somewhat like the form that eternity can assume in that incessant motion. And though we (our consciousness, our feelings, our hard experience) may have been changing over the years; as also our skin and its wrinkles keep being proof and testimony of that transit, there is something in the human being, there far within, there in very dark regions, clinging with tooth and nail to infancy and the past, to race and the land, to tradition and to dreams, which seems to resist that tragic process, establishing the eternity of the soul in the smallness of an appeal. A general crisis in society has been needed for those simple yet human truths to re-emerge in all their strength. We shall be lost if we do not turn back, with energy, with love, that tendency that makes us lovers of television, moronized youngsters who no longer play in the parks. If there is God, may he not permit it. Images return to my memory of men and women struggling against adversity, like that pregnant little indian, almost a girl, who drew tears of emotion from me in the Chaco because amidst misery and privation, her soul was grateful for the life she carried. How admirable despite everything is the human being, this so small and transitory thing, so repeatedly flattened by earthquakes and wars, so cruelly put to the test by fires and shipwrecks and plagues and deaths of children and parents. Yes, I have a demented hope, linked, paradoxically, to our actual existential poverty, and to the desire, which I discover in many gazes, that something grand could consecrate us to earnestly care for the land in which we live. Throughout, while I say this, something like a tremendous vision makes me feel that the great nightmare is already past, that we have now understood that all abstract consideration, although referring to human problems, cannot console any man, can mitigate none of the sadness and anxiety which a concrete being of flesh and bone can suffer, a poor being with eyes that look anxiously (towards what or to whom?), a creature who only survives through hope. Very tired now, on this November night, the araucarias bringing to memory the love my friend Tortorelli had for trees. It was moving, him even embracing some that recalled the era when he had been a forest ranger. We had the experience of traveling with him through Patagonia, to places as impressive as the petrified forests, those of myrtles, and those others where millennial trees rise. He would say to us, stroking the trunk of those formidable still living araucarias in Coihues: "Think for a moment that when the Roman Empire emerged and when it collapsed, when the Greek and the Trojans fought for Helen, this tree was already here, and continued to be when Romulus and Remus founded Rome, and when Christ was born. And while Rome came to dominate the world, and when it fell. And thus empires passed, interminable wars, Crusades, the Renaissance, and the whole history of the West up to today. And it is still here." He also told us that the humid winds of the Pacific drop almost all their water on the Chilean side, such that a fire on this side is fatal, because the trees die and the desert inexorably advances. Then, he took us to the edge of the Patagonian steppe and showed us the cypresses, almost doubled over from the suffering which, as he said, "protected the rear." Hard and stoical, like a suicide legion, they formed the last line against adversity. I believe in the cafés, in dialogue, believe in personal dignity, in liberty. I feel nostalgia, almost anxiety towards the Infinite - yet human, to our measure.
SECOND LETTER: THE ANCIENT VALUES I had before me the entire rich earth, and nevertheless gazed only at the most humble and the smallest... Where would a poor man be if the faithful land did not exist? What would we have if we did not have that beauty and bounty? R. WALSER
AFTER TRAVELING for hours over the imposing Humahuaca Pass we have returned to the old city of Salta, so lovely in another time, today almost unrecognizable, plagued with billboards and with modern buildings that have spoiled the beauty of its colonial streets. Nothing is still remaining, as if no one were to look at it, the aristocratic city of Salta, as if this modern disenchantment which commits to nothing had also arrived to it, where houses are built so as to dismantle them the next day, already without frontages or old ironwork. For the afternoon I have approached the historic Cathedral, the sanctuary where tomorrow thousands of believers will celebrate the Fiesta of the Miracle. Many of them have come for days in pilgrimage to offer their innocent promises as simple as a wildflower, as their so urgent petitions such as for food, health or work. Seated in the plaza my longstanding obsessions returned. The developed societies have been erected upon scorn for transcendental and communitarian values and those which have no value in money but rather in beauty. Once again I verify how the cities of our nation have been uglified, Buenos Aires as much as the old cities of the interior. How little they have been cared for! It is painful to see photos from years ago, when everything still conserved its shape, the trees, the frontages to its buildings. During my ponderings, I pause to watch a three or four year old child playing under the care of her mother, as if beneath a world drained through competition and individualism, where there no longer is a place for feelings nor dialogue among men, there subsists, like ancient ruins, the remains of a more humane time. In the children's games I detected, at times, the remnants of rituals and values that seem forever lost, yet which so often I discover in distant and inhospitable villages: dignity, unselfishness, greatness against adversity, simple happiness, physical courage, and moral integrity. The child keeps playing in the plaza's kiosk, where the orchestra will surely play tomorrow or there will be a guitar concert like previously in Rojas on festival days. In another era--I regret using expressions with a certain archaeological air, but when one's age is almost a century...which means, that of the past century!--when I was a child in Rojas, they even held to values derived from birth, love, adolescence, parting, a beautiful and profound ceremonial. The duration of life was not the hurried one of clocks but instead space was even preserved for sacred moments and for grand rituals, where ancient beliefs of these lands were mixed with the exploits of the Christian saints. A punctuated rhythm in which festivals and events marked the fundamental milestones of existence, which were awaited by those of us at six or seven years of age, by the adults and even by the old-timers. Like the arrival of Carnival, a birthday, the celebration of Christmas, that indecipherable enchantment on the morning of Kings, or the great festivities for the Patron Saint with a parade, food and dances. Until the movement through the stations and the alternation of day and night seemed to harbor an enigma which formed part of that ritual, perpetuated over generations like a sacred history. Everyone participated in those fiestas, from the poorest to the richest. I recall the admiration with which I observed the horsemen's demonstrations and how I liked going to the circuses. There were good epochs and calamitous epochs, but they depended on nature, on the crops; man did not think he must always work at every moment to control the experience of everyone, as is thought today. Now humanity lacks leisure, in good part because we have grown accustomed to measure time in a utilitarian manner, in terms of production. Before, men worked at a more human level, frequently in offices and shops, and while they did so they conversed among themselves. They were freer than the man of today, who is incapable of resisting television. They could rest during the siesta, or play dice with friends. I remember from then a very common phrase in those times: "Come, friend, let us play a while at cards, just to kill the time," something most inconceivable for us. Moments in which the people gathered to drink maté, while they contemplated the afternoon, seated on the benches that the houses often had in front, on the balcony side. And when the sun set on the horizon, while birds made themselves comfortable in their nests, the earth underwent a long silence and men, self-absorbed, seemed to ask concerning the meaning of existence and quietus. Men's life was centered on spiritual values almost in disuse today, like dignity, disinterestedness, stoicism of the human being against adversity. These great values, like honesty, honor, a taste for well-made things, the respect of others, were not something exceptional, being found in the majority of persons. Where did they derive their valor, their courage confronting life? Another phrase from then, such as I never observe in this time, was that of "God will provide." The mode of being then, the unselfishness, the serenity of their manners, undoubtedly reposed in the deep confidence they had in life. As much during fortune as disgrace, that of importance did not derive from themselves. The values also emerged from sacred texts, were divine mandates. Men, ever since they were found standing upon the earth, believed in a superior Being. There is no culture not having had its gods. Atheism is a novelty of modern times; "the Bible wept at steam heat" could never have been said before. And if not, we return to read Homer, or to America's myths. Men thought they were sons of God and the man who feels similarly can come to be a servant, a slave, yet never will be a mechanism. Whatever be their life circumstances, no one can remove that belonging to a sacred history: life will always be included in the glance of the gods. Will we be able to live without life having a lasting meaning? Camus, understanding the magnitude of the loss, says that man's great dilemma is whether or not it is possible to be a saint without God. But, as Kirilov had previously genially proclaimed, "if God does not exist, all is permitted." Sartre deduces from the famous statement man's total responsibility, even though, as he said, life be absurd. This height of human behavior is manifested in solidarity, yet when life feels like chaos, when there is no longer a Father through whom we feel ourselves brothers, sacrifice loses the flame which nourishes it. If everything is relative, does man find value in sacrifice? And without sacrifice can he somehow live? Children are a sacrifice for the parents, the care of elders or the infirm also is. Like the renunciation of the individual for the common good, like love. Those who age working for others are sacrificed, those who die to save their fellow, and can there be sacrifice when life has lost meaning for man, or only is found in individual comfort, in the achievement of personal success? In the morning, en route to the monument to Güemes, that romantic and brave hero, I have stopped to look at a carousel with brass rings like those in my village. And emotion chokes my throat to think of the civic beauty in which I was raised, those simple joys so infrequent to the children of today. Another lost value is shame. Have you noticed that people are now shameless and, therefore, it happens that intermixed with good people one can find, with a wide smile, a subject accused of the worst corruptions, as if it were nothing? In another time his family would have secluded him, but now everything is the same and some television programs solicit him and treat him like a gentleman. From the perspective of modern man, people previously had less freedom. There were fewer possibilities for choice but, undoubtedly, their responsibility was much greater. At least it did not occur to them that they could ignore the duties of their station, their fidelity to the place which life seemed to have awarded them. It is noteworthy the value those people gave to words. They were in no way a weapon to justify deeds. Today all interpretations are valid and words serve more to detach us from our acts than to account for them. I do not want to weigh you down with the anecdotes engraved in my memory. Furthermore, it is probable that the youngest do not comprehend the reach of myths, which are the experience of a remote atemporal life, charged with meanings that illuminate the present. As Eliade well puts it, every conception of the world must be lived from within to understand it, and the fact of sharing it strengthens belonging and the link between men. People then knew and did not need to show, the trajectory of the life of each being within the sight of all. And I can affirm this because, for me, the fact that people recognize me not only give me great support, yet also creates in me a responsibility. However, when multitudes of human being abound in the streets of the great cities without anyone calling them by their name, without knowing of what history they are a part, or where they are going, man loses the link behind which his life occurs. They now do not live before the people of their village, their neighbors, their God, but anxiously lost among multitudes whose values are unknown, or whose story is scarcely shared. When most cultures relativize their values, and "globalization" crushes with its power and imposes an arrogant uniformity on them, the human being, in her confusion, loses the sense of value and itself and no longer knows in whom or in what to believe. As Gandhi said: I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people's houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave...I would have our young men and young women with literacy tastes to learn as much English and other world languages as they like...But I would not have a single Indian forget, neglect or be ashamed of his mother tongue, or to feel that he or she cannot think or express the best thoughts in his or her vernacular. Mine is not a religion of the prison-house. In our nation there are many men and women ashamed, in the great city, of their country's customs. Tragically, the world is losing the originality of its peoples, the wealth of its differences, in their infernal desire to "clone" the human being to better dominate it. Whoever does not love their province, their territory, the village, the little place, one's own house however poor it may be, can little respect others. But when everything is desacralized existence is shadowed by a bitter sense of the absurd. That represents one of the reasons why there is so much fear of dying; it has become a taboo. Today there are almost no wakes and to cry at a burial is an insufficient, infrequent act. As soon as we stop caring, we will have stopped sharing that mysterious moment in which the soul leaves the body, when the latter remains as dead as a house remains when the beings who inhabit it and above all, who suffered and loved in it, leave. Thus it is not the walls, nor the roof, nor the floor which individualizes the house but instead those persons who live there, with their conversations, their laughter, with their loves and hatreds; beings who impregnate the house with something immaterial yet deep, like the smile on a face is. To deny mortality, not to go to cemeteries, not to mourn, all seemed to be an affirmation of life, and it was, to some measure. But, paradoxically, it has become a trap, one of the many which existing society has produced so that man does not come to perceive limit situations, those when our world plummets, the only ones that can shake us from the inertia by which we proceed. Donne said that no one sleeps en route from the jail to the scaffold, yet nevertheless we all sleep from the crib to the grave; or are not entirely awake. We shall know nothing of life without the sorrowful consciousness of that final mystery. This was understood by the cultures that identified the Goddess of Fertility with the Divinity of Mortality. Mother Earth cared as much for the seeds as for the dead, since these last, like the granules that had been buried, would return to life renewed beneath a new form. In China, in its millenarian tradition, the women were entombed in their wedding dresses. This belief in the fecundity of life beyond one's demise is universal and is expressed in the symbols which, without our knowing it, are present in our funeral rites, like the candles that burn for the last birthday of the person who has died and the crowns which are placed on them to symbolize their triumph, their having arrived at the goal, in the same manner than triumphant athletes are crowned. In our provinces there are lovely celebrations like the Deceased Correa, that young woman who parts with her baby in search of her husband who has fallen prisoner. She falls dead in the desert yet, when they find her, the peasants affirm that the creature kept suckling on her. Something inconceivable for us, yet full of poetry and of symbolic capacity for the men from those lands where they exile to the San Juan desert to be helped by it. How emotionally in Santiago del Estero have we shared that dinner which follows the demise of an infant! They call it the Meal of the Little Angel and it has a very deep sacred resonance, for the pain of those who are left without the baby and eat between tears, like a plea, symbolizing the magnitude of their hope. Not for nothing does Dostoevsky end Karamazov with a similar narrative. The heat is unbearable and heavy, the moon, almost full, and surrounded by a yellowish halo. Not a leaf moves: everything announces the storm. The mountains seem illuminated like a nocturnal theatrical scene; nevertheless, the gardens are still laden with the intense perfume of jasmines and magnolias. Religion has lost influence over men and for some decades the myths and the religions seemed superseded forever and atheism became generalized among the advanced spirits. Nevertheless, in these years, man in his desperation has returned his gaze towards religion in search of Something that can sustain him. All this, they will tell me, is nothing but legends, things that were believed in the past. However, when thought and poetry comprised a sole manifestation of inspiring spirit, from the magic of ritual words to the representation of human destinies, from the invocation of the gods to prayers to them, man could question the cosmos without breaking harmony with the gods. Today we do not have a narrative, a story that unites us as a people, as humanity, and permits us to trace the tracks of the history for which we are responsible. The secularization process has pulverized the millennial rites, the cosmogenic stories, beliefs that were as rooted in humanity as reunion with the dead, the cleansing powers of baptism, or the pardon of sins. Yet, how can the great truths that reveal man's heart through a myth or a work of art be a falsity? If the misadventures and feats of that tattered gentleman of La Mancha can continue to move us it is because something as laughable as a battle against windmills reveals a desperate truth about the human condition. The same occurs with dreams, of which one can say anything except that they are a lie. But to overvalue the rational, all that that logic could not manage to explain was underestimated. Are the great values possibly explicable which create the human condition, like beauty, truth, solidarity, or courage? Myth, the same as art, expresses a type of reality in the only way in which it can be expressed. In essence, it is refractory toward any rationalizing attempt, and its paradoxical truth challenges all the categories of Aristotelian or dialectical logic. Throughout these profound manifestations of his spirit, man touches the ultimate foundations of his condition and the world in which he lives manages to acquire the meaning that it lacks. Because of this, all the philosophers and artists that have always wanted to attain the absolute had to revert to some form of myth or poetry. Jaspers held that the great dramaturgists of antiquity expressed a tragic wisdom in their works that not only moved the spectators but also transformed them, and thereby the dramaturgists became prophets of the ethos of their people. And Sartre himself, when he wants to reveal to us the drama of the French under the dominion of the Nazis, writes The Flies which, in essence is nothing other than an adaptation of Aeschylus' ancient drama, Orestes, that tragic hero who will fight valiantly for liberty. The greatest impoverishment of a culture is that moment when a myth begins to popularly define itself as a falsity. Such occurred in classical Greece. Beyond the collapse in those stories, Lucretius recounts having seen "hearts aggrieved in every home; hounded by incessant remorse, the mind incapable of relief, and forced to vent through recalcitrant lamentations." Like the crumbling of the foundations of a house, societies begin to settle when their myths lose their richness and their value. In this impoverishment profound capacities of the soul atrophy, as close to human life as the affects, imagination, instinct, the intuition to develop operative intelligence and the practical and utilitarian capacities to the extreme. Confronting ineffable questions it is fruitless to try to approach them by means of definitions. The inability of philosophical, theological or mathematical discourse to respond to those great interrogatories reveals that man's ultimate condition is transcendent, and therefore, mysterious, inaccessible. When in 1945 in Man and Mechanism I expressed this same viewpoint, the intellectuals railed against my book with ferocity and irony. But now, before the vulnerability, or the fiasco, of Reason, of Politics and Science, the human being spins in the wind without finding where to base themself, whether in the sky or in the earth, while she is choking on an avalanche of information that cannot be controlled and from which she receives no nourishment whatsoever. "Is it possible that despite inventions and progress, despite culture, religion and knowledge of the universe, one has remained on the surface of life?" Sadly, with the nostalgia of unrealized projects, we can do nothing but respond affirmatively to Rilke's question, because wisdom is fidelity to the human condition. What has man put in place of God? They have not been liberated from cults and altars. The altar remains, yet now it is not the place of sacrifice and abnegation, but instead that of well-being, the cult to oneself, of the reverence for the great gods of the screen. The feeling of abandonment so present in this time is due to the fall of shared and sacred values. If values are relative, and one adheres to them like to the regulations of a sports club, how could they save us from disgrace or misfortune? This is how so many desperate persons wind up on the edge of suicide. For them solitude becomes so terrible and overwhelming. In monstrous cities like Buenos Aires there are millions of anguished souls. The plazas are, full of solitary men and, what is even more sad, full of dejected youths who often gather to drink alcohol or drug themselves, thinking that life lacks meaning until, finally, they say with horror, there is no absolute. I remember the solitude of the countryside - so different! It was the solitude of the infinite plains that conferred on man a natural tendency towards religiosity and metaphysics. It is not a coincidence that the three major religions of the West had been born in the solitude of the desert, in a sort of metaphor for the nothingness in which the infinite mates with man's finitude. Our modern way of thinking believes that they were backward peoples, since for them truth was a discovery, something worthy of surprise. Under modernity, man has sought the answers to the great unknowns, through his logical constructions, believing, thereby, that by doing so they were very superior to those who trusted in Providence. But today, the prideful human intellect has received so many blows that we are on the point of opening our eyes to beliefs unthinkable a few years ago. Man's religious search today is undeniable. And as Jünger says: The mythic will undoubtedly come, is already found en route. Even more, it is already always here, and the hour arrived, emerges to the surface like a treasure. Youth has already begun to search in a new way in religions. Yet we should not fool ourselves, it often appearing as something superficial, capable of adaptation to any lifestyle, a comfortable little shelter wanting nothing, without the abyss of faith that true religiosity involves. I do not speak out of yearning for a legendary time that that which we lived could not emulate. It is necessary to admit that many of those values were respected because no other way of life could be envisioned. The knowledge of other cultures awards the necessary perspective for seeing from another place, for adding another dimension and another solution to life. Humanity is falling into a globalization that does not tend to unite cultures, but instead to impose upon them the only boss who will permit them to remain within the world system. Nevertheless, and despite this, the faith which possesses me is supported by the hope that man, on the verge of a great leap, will again incarnate the transcendent values, choosing them with the freedom that this time, providentially, is confronting them. Beneath the sun of the Humahuaca Pass, silent witness to battles and killings, the Rio Grande winds like brilliant mercury. Armies of the Inca, caravans of captives, columns of conquistadors, patriotic cavalries. Over above, down under... And later nights of mineral silence when one again feels only the murmur of the Rio Grande, imposing itself--slowly but surely-- upon the bloody (yet so transitory!) combats among the men. We enter into the Salta plaza and we mix with the people who have have walked leagues with their "small Masses." They appear tired, in their poverty, in their wrinkled faces, yet they confidently keep singing with their mountain instruments. Beside them innocence is renewed. They are miraculous, a miracle that these men do not renounce their values when their pay does not suffice to feed the family, a miracle that love persists and rivers still run now that we have stripped the trees from the earth.
THIRD LETTER: BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL What is human in man is to sacrifice for the other one. E. LEVINAS
THIS MORNING I saw for sure that the southeaster was coming, and I made a mistake. The storm was held in suspense, static. The grays were lifting and by the afternoon no leaden streaks could be seen in the sky. This simple and inoffensive error brought me, imperceptibly, to the great mistakes which one commits in life. And from there, crossing a vast territory of dreams and memories, my soul remained on the border of the image of my mother that afternoon, when I went to visit her in La Plata and found her laid up, seated at the big solitary dining room table looking at nothing, that is, into her memories, in the darkness of the closed blinds, in the sole company of the tick-tock of the old wall clock. Recalling again, surely, that happy time when we were all around the enormous Chippendale table, and the great sideboards and servers of another time, with the father at one head and she at the other; when my brother Pepe repeated his stories, the innocent lies of that familiar folklore. My mother's eyes had filled with tears on seeing me and she had repeated something to me about life being a dream. I had looked at her in silence. How could I relieve her, for she would be looking back over 90 years of phantasms. Afterwards, in little gulps, she told me stories of the Rojas and of his Albanian family until it was time to go. Did I have to leave? My mother's eyes began to cloud over again. But she was stoic, descended from a family of warriors, like it or not, though you may deny it. I still remember her in the door, slowly gesturing with the right hand, not too strongly, not to be believed, those things. On Third St. the trees had begun to impose their enigmatic afternoon quiet. That head still returned once more. With her hand, timidly, she repeated the sign. Then she remained alone. My searches were so arousing that then I could not recognize that that was the last time I would see my mother healthy, on foot, and that this pain would last forever, such as to this very night when I remember it among tears. Between how we wish to live and the pedestrian bustle in which the greater part of life passes, a wedge opens in the soul that separates man from happiness like the exile from her land. Because then, while my mother remained held there, immobile, unable to retain her son, not wanting to do so, I, deaf to the smallness of her claim, instead ran after my fevered utopias, believing that to do so I complied with my most profound vocation. And although neither science, nor surrealism, nor my commitment to the revolutionary movement had satiated my anxious thirst for the absolute, they vindicate my having lived dedicated to my passions. During this transit, impure and contradictory like the attributes of the human movement, I salvaged an intuitive sense of life and unrestrained decision before what I thought true. Existence, like to the character in Nausea, seemed to me like an insensate, gigantic and gelatinous labyrinth; and like him, I felt the wish for a pure order, for a structure of polished steel, sharp and strong. The more the obscurities of the nocturnal world hounded me, the more I clung to a Platonic universe, for the greater the interior tumult, the more we feel inclined to enclose ourselves in some order. And thus, our searches, our projects or work stop us from seeing the faces which later appear to us as true messengers of that which we sought, they being at the same time the persons whom we should have accompanied or protected. How little time we dedicate to the old! Now that I am one also, how often in the solitude of the hours that inevitably accompany old age, I painfully remember that last gesture of her hand and observe with sadness the neglect that the years bring, the abandonment with which the men of our time treat older people, parents, grandparents, those persons to whom we owe our life. Our "advanced" society leaves on the side those who do not produce. My God! Left to their solitude and to their ponderings! How much respect and gratitude have we lost! What devastation the times have brought to life, what abysses the years have opened, how many illusions have been withered by the cold and the storms, by the deceits and the deaths of so many projects and beings we loved! I had intended an ascent, a high mountain refuge every time I had felt pain, for that mountain was invulnerable; every time that the garbage became unbearable, because the mountain was limpid; every time the fugacity of time tormented me, because at that height eternity reigned. Yet the rumor of men always ended by reaching me, it snuck by the interstices and climbed within my own interior. For the world was not only outside but also in my most recondite heart. And sooner or later that high incorruptible mountain ends by resembling a sad simulacrum, a flight, because the world for which we are responsible is the one here: the only one that wounds us with pain and misery, but also the only one which provides us with the plenitude of existence, that blood, this fire, this love, that mortal hope. The only one that offers us a garden in the twilight, the caress of the hand which we love. While I write this, the image of my mother returns, whom I left so alone in her last years. Long ago I wrote that life becomes an eraser, which undoubtedly gives it its transcendence but prevents us, sadly, from repairing our mistakes and abandonments. Nothing that was returns to be, and things and men and children are not what one day they were. What horror and what sadness, the glance of the child lost in us! Look! At last the innocent words have renewed me and as in the past the tears well in my eyes. I remember the long lost days and my native land brings joy again to my solitary soul and the house where one day I was raised with your prayers, where, nourished by love, a child soon grew up. Ah, how often I thought I would comfort you when from afar you saw me working upon the vast world. I dreamed and attempted much, and my breast is wounded from the force of battle, but you will heal me, my dears! And I shall learn to live like you, Mother, a long time; old age is pious and tranquil. I will come to you: now bless your grandson one more time, So thus, the man will fulfill what the child promised.
In desperation to see the world I have wanted to prolong the time of childhood. If I see them gathered on some street corner, in those hermetic conversations for which adults have no importance, I have felt the need to paralyze the advance of time. To leave those children there forever, on that sidewalk, in that charmed universe. Not to permit the dirtiness of the adult world to injure them, break them. The idea is terrible, it would be like killing life, yet often I have asked how much education contributes to adulterate the children's souls. It is true that human nature keeps changing features, emotions, personality. But it is culture that gives form to the view which they are gaining of the world. It is urgent to confront a different education, to teach that we live on an earth for which we should care, that we depend on the water, the air, on the trees, on the birds and all the living beings, and that whatever damage we do to this grandiose universe will prejudice future life and can come to destroy it. What teaching could be if instead of injecting quantities of information that no one has retained it had linked to the struggle of the species, with the urgent necessity of caring for the seas and the oceans! The youth must be warned of the planetary danger and of the atrocities that the wars have provoked among the people. It is important that they feel part of a history through which human beings have made great efforts and also have committed tremendous errors. The search for a more humane life should begin with education. Thus it is serious that children pass hours moronized before the television, assimilating all type of violence; or dedicated to those games which reward destruction. The child can learn to value what is good and not fall into that which is induced by the environment and the communication media. We cannot continue reading to the children stories of hens and chicks when we have those birds subjected to the worst torture. We cannot fool them regarding what refers to the irrationality of consumption, to social injustice, avoidable misery, and to the violence that exists in the cities and between different cultures. However little it is explained, the children will understand that they observe a great sin of wastefulness in the world. Gandhi calls for spiritual formation, education of the heart, awakening of the soul, and it is crucial for us to understand that the first track which school and television inscribe in the youngster's soul is competition, victory over her companions, and the most emphatic individualism, to be the first, the winner. I believe that the education which we give the children perpetuates the bad because it is taught as good: the cornerstone of our education is seated on individualism and competition. It generates great confusion to teach them Christianity and competition, individualism and the common good, and give them long perorations about solidarity that are contradicted by the unbridled quest for individual success for which they are being prepared. We need schools that favor a balance between individual initiative and teamwork, which condemn the ferocious individualism that seems to be preparation for the gloomy Leviathan of Hobbes when he says that man is a wolf to man. We have to re-learn what it is to enjoy. We are so disoriented that we think to enjoy is to go shopping. A true luxury is a human encounter, a moment of silence confronting the creation, the enjoyment of a work of art, a a job well done. True pleasures are those fill the soul with gratitude and predispose us to love. The wisdom that my many years have brought me and the nearness of passing have taught me to recognize the greatest joys in the life which envelops us, although that is not possible if humanity endures atrocious sufferings and is hungry. Education is not independent of power, and thus, channels its efforts towards the formation of people adequate to the demands of the system. This is inevitable in a sense, for were it not so it would create magnificent "drones," magnificent men and women "exempt" from the workaday world. Yet if this is not counterbalanced by an education that shows what is happening and, at the same time, promotes the development of the faculties which are deteriorating, what is lost will be the human being. And only the privileged ones will simultaneously eat, have a house and a minimum of economic possibilities, and be spiritually cultivated and valuable persons. It will be difficult to find a way to permit men to access good works and a life that accounts for the possibility of creating or realizing activities pertaining to the spirit. History is novel. Man, blinded by the present, almost never foresees what will happen. If he aims to see a different future, it turns out to aggravate the existing situation or as the emergence of the contrary, when changes often arrive through facts irreconcilable with each other or, at least, not appreciated in their dimension. Today, before the proximity of the supreme moment, I intuit that a new spiritually very rich time is at the doors of humanity, if we understand that each one of us possesses more power against bad in the world than we think. And we make a decision. A new day was slowly being born in the city of Buenos Aires, a day like any other of the innumerable that have dawned since man was man. From the window, Martín saw a boy who was running with the morning newspapers, perhaps to warm up, perhaps because one has to move in that work. A stray dog, not too different from Bonito, overturned a garbage can. A girl like Hortensia was going to her work. How had Bruno once put it? The war could be absurd or mistaken, yet the squad to which one belonged was something absolute. There was D'Arcángelo, for instance. There was that same Hortensia. One dog is enough. Man, the soul of man, is suspended between the desire for the Good, that eternal nostalgia of love which we carry, and the inclination towards the Bad, which seduces and possesses us, often without us even having comprehended the suffering that our acts might have caused in others. The power of evil in the world allowed me for years to sustain a type of Manichaeism: if God exists and is infinitely generous and omnipotent, he is restricted, for he cannot be seen; however, evil is evident beyond needing demonstration. A few examples are enough: Hitler, the tortures that were committed in Latin America. Those are moments when now or again I repeat, how much better are the animals! Nevertheless, how grandiose and moving is the presence of good in the midst of ferocity and violence. Good and evil are ineradicable, because they occur in our own heart. They are, undoubtedly, the great mystery. This tragic duality is reflected in man's face where, slowly yet inexorably, the tracks of his feelings and passions, affections and enmities, faith, illusion and disenchantments, the deaths we have lived or felt, the autumns that have saddened or discouraged us, the loves that have bewitched us, the phantasms which, in your dreams or in your fiction, visit or follow us. In the eyes that cry from pain, or which close for sleep but also from modesty or guile, in the lips which tighten out of determination but also cruelty, in the eyebrows that furrow from worry or strangeness or which lift in interrogation and doubt, finally, in the veins that swell from anger or sensuality, the moving geography that the soul constructs on the subtle and malleable skin of the face continues to be drawn. Thus revealing it, according to the fatality proper to it, through that matter which is at once its prison and its great possibility for existence. Art was the definitive port where I docked my anxious ship, thirsting and adrift. It happened when sadness and pessimism has so gnawed at my spirit that, like a stigma, they were forever woven into the fabric of my existence. Yet I should recognize that precisely the alienation, the ambiguity, this melancholy before the ephemeral and precarious, was the origin of literature in my life. In treatises, the author should be coherent and unequivocal and thereby being human slips from their hands. In the novel, the character is ambiguous like in real life, and the reality that appears in a great work of fiction is really representative. Which is the true Russia? That of the pious, suffering and understanding Alyosha Karamazov? Or that of the rotten Svidrigailov? Neither the one nor the other. Or, better put, the one and the other. The novelist is everyone and each one of their characters, with the total contradictions which that multitude presents. And is at the same time, or in different moments of their existence, pious and merciless, generous and stingy, austere and libidinous. And the more complex an individual, the more contradictory they are. The same occurs with peoples. It is not a coincidence that the development of the novel coincides with the development of modern times. Where would the Furies take refuge? When a culture suppresses them, they explode and the damage is much more. Much is said of the New Man, in capitals. But we are not going to create that man if we do not reintegrate him. He is disintegrated by this rationalist and mechanical civilization of plastics and computers. In the great cultures, as in works of art, the dark forces are served, however much they shame us or disgust us. "Person" means mask, and each one of us has many. Is there really a true one that can express the complex, ambiguous and contradictory human condition? I recall something that Bruno had said: it is always terrible to see a man who believes himself absolutely and securely alone, for there is something tragic in him, perhaps almost sacred yet at the same time horrendous and shameful. We always, said Bruno, wear a mask, which never is the same but instead changes with each of the places we have assigned in life: that of professor, that of lover, that of intellectual, that of hero, that of loving brother. But, what mask do we put on or what mask remains when we are in solitude, when we think that no one, no one, observes us, controls us, hears us, requires from us, begs us, intimates, attacks us? Maybe the sacred character of that instant is because man is then in front of Divinity, or at least confronting his own implacable conscience. How many tears there are behind the masks! How much more could a man gain in encounter with another if the one were to approach the other as the needy man he is, instead of posturing as strong! If we stopped displaying our self- sufficiency and dared to recognize the great need we have for the other in order to continue living, like those dying of thirst which we in truth are, how much evil could be avoided! That tale comes to mind by Saint Exupéry of when he was forced to land in the desert, and he and his mechanic remained for three days without water to drink. They even licked the dew off the fuselage of the plane at dawn. When delirium had already begun to possess them, a Bedouin on a camel, from a faraway dune, settled his gaze on them. The nomad advanced through the sand, he tells us, like a god over the sea. "The Arab simply looked at us. He placed his hands firmly on our shoulders, and we obeyed him. We lay down upon the sand. There are no races here, nor any languages, nor any discord... There is this poor nomad who has placed his archangelic hands on our shoulders." After creating an unforgettable description of the water, he says: "You, Bedouin of Libya who saved our lives, though you will dwell forever in my memory yet I shall never be able to recapture your features. You are Humanity and your face comes into my mind simply as man incarnate. You, our beloved fellowman, did not know who we might be, and yet you recognized us without fail. And I, in my turn, shall recognize you in the faces of all mankind. "You came towards me in an aureole of charity and magnanimity bearing the gift of water. All my friends and all my enemies marched towards me in your person. It did not seem to me that you were rescuing me: rather did it seem that you were forgiving me. And I felt I had no enemy left in all the world." Modern times were centuries marked by contempt for the essential attributes and values of the unconscious. The philosophers of the Enlightenment kicked the unconscious out the door. And it came back in through the window. Since the Greeks, at least, it is known that the gods of the night cannot be scorned, and excluded even less, because they then react taking revenge in fateful ways. Human beings oscillate between saintliness and sin, between the flesh and the spirit, between good and evil. What is serious, and stupid, is that since Socrates they have wanted to proscribe their dark side. Those forces are invincible. And when one has wanted to destroy them they have hidden and finally rebelled with greater violence and perversity. One must recognize them, yet also tirelessly fight for the good. The great religions not only extol the good, but also order it done, which proves the constant presence of evil. Life is a tremendous balance between the angel and the beast. We cannot speak of man as if he were an angel, and we should not do so. Yet neither as if he were a beast, since man is capable of the worst atrocities, but also capable of the greatest and purest heroisms. I bow with reverence before those who let themselves be killed without returning the blow. I have wanted to show this supreme goodness of man in simple characters like Hortensia Paz or sergeant Sosa. As I have already affirmed, human beings could not survive without heroes, saints and martyrs because love, as the true creative act, is always the victor over evil.
FOURTH LETTER: COMMUNITY VALUES Each of us is guilty before everyone for everyone. F. DOSTOYEVSKY
I WANT TO TALK to you about Buenos Aires. Although I do not live there and it would be unbearable, I recognize it as my city, which is why it bothers me. It represents, in some fashion, what life is in these metropolises where millions of inhabitants live, or survive. But first I will repeat the world situation to you, which we all know, in the hope that by repetition, like drops of water, or the hammer against the closed door, one day we shall see things transform. Perhaps in reality it is happening already: the light already filters through the cracks in the old civilization. We participate in a total breakdown of western culture. The world creaks and threatens to collapse, that world which for greater irony is the result of man's will, of his Promethean attempt at domination. Wars that unite traditional ferocity with inhuman mechanization, totalitarian dictatorships, alienation of man, catastrophic destruction of nature, collective neurosis, and generalized hysteria at last have opened our eyes to reveal the sort of monster we had proudly engendered and raised. That science which was going to solve all man's physical and metaphysical problems contributed to facilitate the concentration of gigantic states, to multiply the destruction and necrosis with its atomic mushrooms and its apocalyptic clouds. With every hour the world's power concentrates and globalizes. 20 or 30 companies, like a savage totalitarian animal, have us in their claws. Continents in misery next to high technological levels, amazing life possibilities on a par with millions of unemployed men, homeless, without medical care, without education. Massification has caused devastation, where it is now difficult to find originality in people and an identical process taking place in the towns, is the so-called globalization. How awful! Perhaps we do not comprehend that the loss of our features makes us apt for cloning? The people fear that by making decisions which make life more human they will lose their work, be expelled, move to belonging to those multitudes who become stressed in search of a job that slows their fall into misery, that saves them. The total asymmetry in access to goods produced socially is ending with the middle class, and the sufferings of millions of human beings who live in misery are permanently before the eyes of all men, the more effort we make in closing their eyelids. Soon we shall not be able to enjoy study or concerts because the questions that consider life with regard to our supreme values will be more pressing. Because of the responsibility of being men. This crisis is not the crisis of the capitalist system, as many imagine: it is the crisis of an entire conception of the world and of life based on idolatry of technology and on the exploitation of man. To obtain money, all means have been valid. This search for wealth has not been carried forward for all, as nation, as community; it has not been conducted with an historical sense and with this fidelity to the earth. No, disgracefully this seems to be the stampede which follows an earthquake where in the midst of chaos everyone plunders what they can. It is undeniable that this society has grown with conquest as the theme, where having power meant appropriation and exploitation reached all possible regions of the world. The reigning economy ensures that the world overpopulation cannot be assimilated by the existing society. This phrase give me shivers: it is sufficient to allow the malevolent powers to justify the war. Wars have always counted on their promotion to wide sectors of the population who, in one way or another, benefited from it. Like sentries, every man must remain watchful. This never had to happen. "Every man for himself" is not only immoral, but also does not succeed. Beliefs and thought, resources and inventions were placed in service of conquest. Colonialism and empires of every stripe, throughout bloody battles pulverized entire traditions and profaned millennial values, first reifying nature and later the desires of human beings. Nevertheless, mysteriously, it is with desires that a change is being generated. I feel it in the men who approach me on the street and I believe it regarding the youth of the world. Yet it is in women in whom is found the desire to protect life, absolutely. The degradation of the courts and the loss of faith in justice give the sense that democracy is a system incapable of investigating and condemning the guilty, as if it were a breeding ground favorable to corruption, when in reality the fact is that it cannot be denounced by any other system. It is not non-existent in others; even ending by being more corrupt and debased, if we believe Lord Acton's well-known aphorism: "Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely." We should require governments to turn all their energies to having power acquire the form of solidarity, that promotes and stimulates free acts, putting itself in the service of the common good, which is not understood as the sum of the individual egoisms, but instead as the supreme good of a community. We should cause to emerge, to the point of vehemence, a way of sharing and of thinking which respects even the deepest differences. As Zambrano beautifully puts it, democracy is the society in which not only is it possible but is demanded to be a person. Fragile and fallible, nowadays, no other system has proven to award man more social justice and liberty than the precarious democracy in which we live. Democracy not only permits diversity but also should stimulate it and summon it. Because it needs the active presence of the citizens to exist, without that it is massifying and general indifference and conformism. And then the sclerosis from which many democracies suffer. Democracy cannot be identified, simplistically, with liberty. Many not only stop seeking liberty, but even fear it. If one compares today's liberty with what there was a few decades ago, she sadly verifies that liberty is in retreat. Millions of men in the world, and also in our so wealthy country, are condemned to work for ten or 12 hours and to live overcrowded, miserably. Serfhood is not far away for them. This fact means that those of us who can live in liberty should be more responsible because, as Camus said, "Freedom is not constituted primarily of privileges but of responsibilities." As free men in a field of inmates our mission is to work for them, by every means within our reach. "True liberty will not come through the takeover of power on someone's part, but instead from the power that everyone will some day have to oppose the abuses of authority. Personal freedom will arrive by inculcating in the multitudes the conviction that they have the possibility of controlling the exercise of authority and being respected," affirmed Gandhi, that man who fought to the end for the liberty of his ancient nation. Gandhi was convinced that man would not obtain external freedom insofar as he had not known how to develop inner freedom. This is a big task for those who work in radio, on television or write for the newspapers; a true endeavor that could be fulfilled if the pain we feel for the suffering of others is authentic. Very frequently I establish that everything is opinion, and something that began day before yesterday can be like another whose trajectory is exhaustively proved in the life of the nation. And your opinion can become decisive, without even having to be demonstrated. So-called public opinion is the sum of what happens to those who, during those minutes, chances to pass by the chosen corner, and comprise the minimum universe for a poll that, nevertheless, will appear with large headlines in the newspapers and the television programs. The questions which are usually asked are of a heaviness that would make Socrates, who had put them in a place to help shed light, frenetic. Everything happens and all perspectives are valid. Chicho the same as Napoleon, Christ the same as the king of Bastos. The future is not considered, everything is the moment. Another consequence of this state of affairs is the over-valuation of diversion. "Entertainment" programs have high ratings--and the rating is supreme--no matter the question of what value, or who finances them. Those programs are where to be amused is to be degraded, or where everything is trivialized. As if having lost the capacity for greatness, we should conform to a comedy of average quality. This desperation to be entertained has the taste of decadence. Those who behave this way reflect a truly skeptical position where it is not worth getting enraged, now that one disbelieves in every conquest that can improve life. If anything is apocalyptic it is this living as if tomorrow were not a world and we can only conceal the tragedy. Our civilization has taken a sort of welfare as the "how it should be" of life, outside of which there is no salvation. This objective is achieved through fear, and through the incapacity the men of today have in living the hard moments, the limiting situations, the obstacles. In particular, there is horror at failure. Any defect is hidden in comfort, but shortly resents the exclusion, being eliminated from existence like a football team would be from competition. Such is the difficulty that existing man has in surmounting the storms of life, of re-creating existence after the downfalls. They emerged from the subway by the hundreds, stumbled, got off the packed buses, entered onto the Retiro hell, where they returned to board the trains. A new year, a new millennium, thought the youth with pious irony, seeing those desperate ones in search of a hope induced with sweet bread and cider, with sirens and shouts. [Abaddón the Exterminator] Yesterday I received the letter of a boy in which he tells me, "I am afraid of the world." In the same envelope he sends me a photograph where I can notice something, in his manner of looking, in his weighted-down back, that revealed an enormous disproportion between his resources and the frightening reality stressing him. There were always rich and poor, dance salons and dungeons, sumptuous banquets and those dying of hunger. But in this century nihilism has propagated so that the transmission of values to the new generations is made impossible. Although, perhaps, it will be the youth who are going to save us. For, how are we going to raise them telling them of the great values, of those that justify life, when in front of them they witness thousands of men and women sink, without remedy nor a roof for protection? Or they see how entire populations are leveled by floods that could have been avoided. Do you think it is possible to keep watching on television the horror suffered by poor people on a par with ostentatious and corrupt frivolity, intermixed as in the worst of hybrids? And thereby to have children who will be men of truth? The lack of human faces generates a violence that we cannot combat with arms, only a more fraternal sense among men can cleanse it. Thousands of men pass life working, when they can, accumulating bitternesses and disillusionments, managing only to sustain themselves one more day in the precarious situation, while there is almost no individual who through their passage to power did not trade, in a few months, a modest little dwelling for a luxurious mansion with an entrance for fabulous automobiles. Why does shame not reach them? If we cross our arms we shall be accomplices in a system that has legitimized silent deadliness. Men need our voice to be added to their demands. I detest the resignation that the conformists extol, since the sacrifice is not theirs, nor that of their family. I have thought with dread of the possibility that, like those virulent diseases of past centuries, impunity and corruption should come to install themselves in the society like part of a reality to which we should become accustomed. How have we arrived at this degeneration of values in our social life? When we were children we learned behavior seeing the men who simply fulfilled their duty--an expression in disuse today--waiting to receive a recompense worthy of their labor, yet who never would have accepted any bribe. They were persons with dignity: they would not have placed in their pocket what did not correspond to them, nor would have accepted bribes nor similar lowliness. I remember how my father lost his flour mill due to a debt that he had incurred on his word. Of course, it meant immense pain for him. But it would have been unworthy of a true man to evade his responsibility, that sense of honor gave him strength and he lived in peace. And what can we say about what the unions once were! Almost innocently I recall the anecdote of the man who fainted in the street and, when he was revived, those who helped him asked him why he had not bought something to eat with the money he carried in his pocket, to which that marvelous human replied that that was union money. It is not that in that era there was no corruption, but a sense of honor existed which the people felt capable of defending by their own conduct. And to rob the coffers of the Nation, that which should serve the common good, was the worst. And continues to be. Those who hold onto teachers' salaries, those who rob the stock market or put money from bidding into their pockets cannot be countenanced. We should not be accessories to corruption. Subject who have contributed to the misery of their colleagues cannot be brought on television and treated like gentlemen in front of the children. This is the great obscenity! How can we educate if in this confusion one does not even know if the person is known as a hero or as a criminal? They may say I exaggerate, yet is it not perhaps a crime that from millions of persons in poverty the little they have is taken from them? How many scandals we have witnessed, and everything continues the same, and no one--with money--is in prison? The people know that they lie, but it seems a wave of such great magnitude that it cannot be stopped. This causes the people to feel impotent and finally produces violence, so how far shall we go? Nor can we live communally when all links are based upon competition. It undeniably generates, in some persons, a greater performance based on the desire to triumph over the others. Yet we should make no mistake, competition is unarmed war and, like it, is based upon an individualism which separates us from others, against whom we struggle. If we had a more communitarian outlook, our history would be quite another, and also the sense of life that we enjoy. When I criticize competition I do so not only out of ethical principle but also for the immense enjoyment entailed in sharing destiny, which saves us from remaining sterilized by the race towards individual success where the life of man is ending. Weeks later, another afternoon, when I sat down to reply to the boy's letter, I observed that I as a youth always wrote that I was unhappy, that I felt alone and maladjusted to the world where I had happened to be born. And I wonder whether it will not always be like this, that art invariably is born from our maladjustment, from our anxiety and our discontent. A sort of attempt at reconciliation with the universe for this fragile race, restless and striving creatures which humans are. The animals do not need it: it is enough for them to live. For their existence glides by harmoniously with atavistic needs. And the bird has enough with some tiny seeds or worms, a tree where to construct its nest, wide spaces to fly; and its life unfolds from its birth to its fall in a lucky rhythm that is never broken neither by metaphysical desperation nor by madness. Whereas man, upon lifting himself onto his two back legs and on transforming the first sharp rock into an ax, instituted the basis for his grandeur but also the origins of his anguish; because with his hands and with the tools made by his hands he would erect that very potent and strange construction that is called culture and thus would begin his great break: he would have ceased being a simple animal, yet would not have reached being the god that his spirit suggests. He will be that disgraced dual being that moves and lives between the earth of the animals and the sky of the gods, who will have lost the earthly paradise of their innocence and not have gained the paradise of his redemption. How often I have counseled those who approach me, in their anguish and in their alienation, to turn to art and give up to the invisible forces that operate in us. Every child is an artist who sings, dances, paints, tell stories, and constructs castles. The great artists are odd people who have managed to preserve at the bottom of their soul that sacred innocence of childhood and of the men we call primitive, who thereby provoke the laughter of the stupid. In different grades, creative capacity belongs to all mankind, not necessarily as a superior or exclusive activity. How much the ancient peoples could teach us where everyone, outside of the miserable or the unfortunate, gathered to dance and sing! Art is a master that repairs the failures and the woes of the soul. It encourages us to complete the utopia for which we were destined. The art of every age mirrors a vision of the world, the world view held by the men of that era and in particular the concept of reality. In this new century within the great supermarket of art, like the buds that germinate after a long winter, one perceives, here and there, testimonies to another way of seeing. Notably in cinema, in films of very low budget that reach us from small countries, not contaminated by globalization, the desire is expressed for a human world which has been lost, yet which has not been renounced. They are movies that bring us relief to see that the simple, human life is still alive. Man is not only comprised of mortality but also of life's concerns; not only of solitude but also of communion and love. Like a powerless god he contemplated the gigantic, turbid conglomerate, tender and brutal, expendable and beloved, that like a terrible leviathan was etched against the great clouds in the west. The sun emerged and with every second the coloring of the western clouds changed. Great violet-gray spiral gashes were displayed against a background of the most distant clouds: grays, lilac, charcoals. That pink is a shame, he thought, as if it were a painting exposition. But later the pink was spreading more and more, cheapening everything. Until it began to extinguish and, passing from scarlet to violet, became gray and finally the black that borders the dead, which is always solemn and always ends by conferring dignity. And the sun disappeared! And another day ended in Buenos Aires: something forever irrecoverable, something that inexorably advanced a step towards one own demise. And so quickly, at the end, so quickly! Before, the years passed with more slowness and everything seemed possible, in a time that stretched before him like an open road to the horizon. But now the years raced with increasing speed towards sundown, and at every moment one said surprised: "it was 20 years ago, when I saw it for the law time," or something else as trivial yet as tragic as that; and then thinking, as if confronting an abyss, how little, how miserably little remains in that march to nothingness. And then, why? And when he arrived at that point and when it seemed that now nothing made sense, he may have run into one of those street dogs, hungry and anxious for love, with its tiny destiny (as tiny as her body and her little heart which will valiantly resist until the end, defending that little humble life as if from a diminutive fortress) and then, lifting it up, taking it to an improvised kennel where at least it would not feel cold, giving it something to eat, becoming the meaning of existence for that poor bitch, something more enigmatic yet more powerful than philosophy seemed to return to him to give meaning to his own existence. Like two destitutes in the midst of solitude who lie down together to mutually share warmth.
FIFTH LETTER: RESISTANCE They are the expelled, the proscribed, the offended, those stripped of their nation and of their country, those brutally pushed to the deepest chasms. That is where the new converts are today. E. JÜNGER
THE VERTIGO IS THE WORST. With vertigo there is neither fruit nor flower. Fear is characteristic of vertigo, man acquiring the behavior of an automaton, being no longer responsible, no longer free, nor recognizing others. My soul shrinks to see humanity on this vertiginous train on which we move, terrorized ignorants not knowing the flag of their fight, without having chosen it. The Buenos Aires climate has changed. In the streets, pressured men and women advance without seeing due to obeying schedules that put humanity into danger. And without anywhere for those café chats which were a distinctive feature of this city, when ferocity and violence had not converted it into a crazed megalopolis. When all the mothers could take their kids to the plazas, or visit their elders. Can there be flourishing at this speed? One of the themes of this race seems to be productivity yet, are those products truly fruitful? Man cannot sustain humanity at this velocity, will be annihilated if he lives as a robot. Serenity, a certain slowness, is as inseparable from the life of man as the succession of stages is for the plants, or the birth of children. We are en route yet not walking, but upon a vehicle where we move ceaselessly, like a giant iron, or like those satellite cities they say there will be. Now nothing moves at man's pace, for whom among us walks slowly? Yet the vertigo is not only outside, we have assimilated it in a mind that never stops emitting images, as if it could "zap," and perhaps the acceleration will have reached the heart that already throbs urgently for everything to happen fast and not remain. This common destiny is the great opportunity, but who dares to leap beyond? Nor do we still know how to pray for we have lost the silence and also the scream. In vertigo everything is fearsome and dialogue between persons disappears. What we say is more codes than words, containing more information than novelty. The loss of dialogue sinks the agreement that springs up between people and which can make fear itself a dynamism defeating it and achieving greater liberty. But the serious problem is that in this sick civilization not only is there exploitation and misery, but also there is a correlative spiritual misery. The great majority do not want liberty, they fear it. Fear is a symptom of our time. To such an extreme that, if we scratch the surface a little, we can verify the panic which underlies the people who live through the requirements of labor in the big cities. The requirement is such that they live automatically, without having a yes or a no precede acts. The majority of humanity is employed by an abstract power. There are employees who make more and others who make less. But, who is the free man who makes the decisions? This is a radical question that we all should ask until we hear, in our soul, of the responsibility to which we are called. I believe that one must resist: this has been my motto. Yet today, how often have I been asked how to incarnate that word. Before, when life was less hard, I would have understood by resisting an heroic act, like refusing to continue riding that train that is taking us to madness and misfortune. Can people with vertigo be asked to rebel? Can the men and the women of my nation be asked to refuse to belong to this savage capitalism if they support their children, their parents? If they carry that responsibility, how are they going to abandon that life? The situation has changed so much that we should re-evaluate, carefully, what we understand by resisting. I cannot give you a reply. If I had it I would emerge like the Salvation Army, or those delirious believers--maybe the only ones who truly believe the testimony--who proclaim on the street corners, with an urgency that tells of the few meters that separate us from catastrophe. But no, I intuit that it is something less formidable, smaller, like faith in a miracle, which I want to transmit to you in this letter. Something that matches the night in which we live, perhaps a candle, something for waiting. The difficulties of modern life, unemployment and overpopulation have brought man to a dramatic preoccupation with the economic. Just as in war life is parsed between being a soldier or being wounded in some hospital, for in our countries, for a multitude of people, life is restricted to being a full- time worker or being excluded. Many orphans spread throughout the cities; the great solitude of the original person is one of the tragedies of vertigo and of efficiency. The first tragedy that must urgently be repaired is the devaluation of oneself which man feels, and which adapts the previous steps to submission and massification. Today man does not feel himself a sinner, he thinks he is a mechanism, which is tragically worse. And this desecration can only be cleansed with the glance that each one directs to the others, not to evaluate the merits of their personal realization nor to analyze any of their acts. It is an embrace that can give us the pleasure of belonging to a great work which includes everyone. If despite the fear that paralyzes us we were to revert to having faith in man, I am convinced that we could overcome the fear which paralyzes us like cowards. I have experienced fatal risks for years. Fearlessly? No, I have been fearful to the point of dread, but have not been able to retreat. Had it not been for my companions, for the poor folks with whom I had already been engaged, I would surely have given up. One does not dare when she is alone and isolated, yet indeed can do so if she is so immersed in the reality of others that she cannot go back. When I worked for the CoNADEP desaparecidos, at night I dreamt of fright that those tortures, instead of which I would have preferred to die, were suffered by the persons I most loved. Unperturbed in the dream, later I awoke in distress without knowing how to go on, but hours later I could not refuse listening to those who asked me to receive them. I could not, it would have been inadmissible for me to have said no to those parents whose sons, in truth, had been massacred. I want to say to them that I could not do it because I was already within, involved. It is so, one moves to reach the other's pain, and life becomes an absolute. More often than not, men do not draw near, even to the threshold of what is happening in the world, of what is happening to everyone, and then we lose the opportunity of having played, of managing to die in peace, domesticated in obedience to a society that does not respect man's dignity. Many affirm that it is best not to become involved, because ideals ultimately are vilified like those Platonic loves which seem to be dirtied by their incarnation. Probably something of this may be true, but the wounds of men call to us. But this requires creation, novelty with respect to what we are living and creation only emerges under liberty and is strictly tied to the sense of responsibility, being the power that overcomes fear. The man of post-modernity is chained to the commodities that technology procures him, and frequently does not dare to immerse himself in deep experiences like love or solidarity. But the human being paradoxically will only be saved if they put their life at risk for the other man, for their fellow, or their neighbor, or for the children abandoned in the cold of the streets, without the care that that age requires, who live in that weather which they shall carry like an open wound for the rest of their days. It is 250 million children who are thrown onto the streets of the world. Those young belong to us as our children and should be the primary motive for our struggles, the most genuine of our vocations. From our engagement with orphans another way of life can emerge, where withdrawing to themselves would be a scandal, where man can discover and create a different existence. History is a big set of aberrations, wars, persecutions, tortures, and injustices yet, at the same time, or for that very reason, millions of men and women sacrifice themselves to care for the most disadvantaged. They embody the resistance. We now want to know, as Camus said, whether their sacrifice is sterile or fecund, and this is a question that should be planted in every heart, with the gravity of a decisive moment. In this decision we again recognize the place where each one of us is called to provide resistance; spaces of liberty will then be created than can open hitherto unknown horizons. It is a bridge which we shall have to cross, a passage. We cannot remain fixed in the past nor delight in glancing into the abyss. On this dead end road we confront today, the re-creation of man and his world seems to us not like a choice among others but instead as a gesture like the birth of an infant, not to be postponed when its hour is arrived. Men find within the crisis itself the forces for its overcoming. This has been shown by so many men and women who, with the sole resource of tenacity and valor, fought and defeated the bloody tyrannies of our continent. The human being knows how to make new roads out of obstacles because life can be reborn in the space of a crack. In this task, it is fundamental not to suffocate what life we can conceive. Defend, as occupied peoples have done heroically, the tradition that tells of what is sacred in man. Not to let the grace be wasted of the small moments of liberty that we can enjoy: a table shared with people we like, some creatures to whom we give shelter, a stroll among the trees, the gratitude of a hug. A fearless act like jumping from a flaming house. Those are not rational deeds, but it is not important for them to be so, being saved by the results. The world is powerless against a man who sings while in misery.
EPILOGUE: DECISION AND FATE Dying, that inaccessible action done in obedience, occurs beyond reality, in another kingdom. M. ZAMBRANO
EVERY HOUR FOR MAN is a living spot in our existence that occurs only once, forever irreplaceable. Here lies the tension in life, its grandeur, the possibility that the ungraspable fugacity of time peaks in absolute instants, such that in looking back, the long trajectory appears to us as the revealing of sacred days, inscribed in different times or eras. To pause life, its ineffable process, is not only impossible but, if we try, we shall fall into the blackest of depressions; the days will pass for us lacking all transcendence, they will drag and we can banally waste them, since nothing essential is transacted in them. The life of man shall be reduced to the happiness that he might coin, as if the greatest existence were that which best resembles a pleasure cruise on a luxury liner. I believe that what is essential in life is fidelity to that which one believes is their destiny, which is revealed in those decisive moments, those crossroads that are difficult to bear but which open onto wide options. They are very serious moments because the choice exceeds us, one seeing neither forward or back, as if a cloud covered us at the crucial hour, or as if one had to make the decisive choice of existence with their eyes closed. Something like this happens to us today, when we millions of people understand the urgency demanded of us, yet do not fully discern the light that would orient us. United in giving to others and in the absolute desire for a more human world, we resist. This will suffice for awaiting that which life has in store. Since boyhood I have lived through worry about liberty. I have had anxious moments without knowing what to do, without understanding what would result from a serious choice before which, nevertheless, no one can accurately measure the facts. I recall it like one who might run a stretch of a lost path, and then return back, without having definitive data which would prove that that was a good road. It hung in the balance until the crucial moment when my soul's decision was made, and then I advanced towards it whatever the consequences. Values are what orient us and preside over the big decisions. Unfortunately, due to inhuman work conditions, through education or from fear, many persons do not dare decide regarding their vocation, by regarding that inner call which the human being hears in the silence of the soul. Nor do they risk being often mistaken. And nevertheless, fidelity to vocation, that mysterious calling, is the hanging in balance where existence transpires if one has had the privilege of living in freedom. There are decisive moments in the life of peoples like in that of men. Today we are traversing one of those with all the danger that comes with it; but all misfortune bears fruit if a man is capable of bearing the difficulty with greatness, without selling out one's values. As in the life of men, cultures traverse fertile periods where the moments of pain and of joy alternate beneath the same sky; the people continue the process of life with a view that comes from generations and incorporates changes into a meaning which transcends them. This is not one of those moments, on the contrary, it is an anxious and decisive time, as was the passage from Rome's imperial days to feudalism, or that of the Middle Ages to capitalism. Yet I dare to say that this is more serious because it is absolute, now that the life of the planet itself is in play. Our culture is displaying unequivocal signs of proximity to its end. It seems relentlessly obliged to re-invent news, fashions or novel variants, because nothing it extracts from itself is durable, fertile or healing. It is like when a patient is very ill and the doctor prescribes something new every day and the family, in its desperation, switches doctor and treatments. It is happening like that to us, as we confuse news with novelty. What is decisive is not to think that everything will continue the same and that this mode of living will do for now. Our civilization's capacity for conviction is almost non-existent and is focused on convincing people of the goodness of its stuff, which by the hundreds of millions is offered in the marketplace, without keeping in mind the garbage that accumulates hour by hour, and which the earth cannot assimilate. Globalization, which has brought me so much bitterness, has its counterpart: there is no possibility now for peoples nor for persons to exist by themselves. This is a decisive hour, not for this or that nation, but instead for all the earth. Destiny weighs on our generation, this is our historic responsibility. These modern times in the West, today in their final phase, endowed men with a culture that gave them refuge and orientation. Beneath its firmament, human beings euphorically traversed moments of splendor and suffered wars and atrocious miseries with integrity. Today we are accepting its fate, its necessary winter, with difficulty, knowing that it has been constructed with the efforts of millions of men who have dedicated their life, their years, their studies, the totality of their work hours, and the blood of all who have fallen, meaningfully or uselessly, for good or for bad, throughout five centuries. Modernity began with the Renaissance, a time unmatched in creations, inventions and discoveries. It was a stage that, like childhood, was still under the view of its predecessors. Rationalism was its true independence. The garb of humanist culture has gone into the abyss. That European man who entered upon modern history full of confidence in himself and in his creative potentialities now departs from it with his faith in tatters. At others, the capacity of life to finding the requisites for returning to creation leaves me dumbfounded, like one who well knows how life exceeds us, and surpasses everything that we can think about it. I know that many persons will be irritated by this letter, I myself would have rejected it years ago when I confused resignation with acceptance. Resignation is cowardice, is the sentiment that justifies the abandonment of that for which life is worth fighting, is, somehow, an indignity. Acceptance is respect for the will of others, be this a human being or destiny itself. It is not born of fear like resignation, but instead is more the fruit. I do not know if anyone before Berdiaev predicted that we would return to a new Middle Ages. It would be possible and also healthful. Certain elements would seem to be present indicating similarities, like the state of putrefaction of power in Rome, where the care which had been put into the election of Caesar's successors decayed towards irresponsibility, which is a grave symptom; the tendency to feudalize due to external dangers. Then, as now, there was no security outside and violence decimated those who did not stay protected by the walls. Also the drastic division between the powerful and the poor; the growing religiosity. Then what was cut were the roads, today it would have to be the cables, if they were not to be "converted" and television move to serving the people. We think of the Middle Ages as night, as a severe, austere time, when all the splendor of the Roman civilization was silenced. Berdiaev says: The night is no less marvelous than the day, is no less of God, and the radiance of the stars lights it, and night has revelations that the day ignores. Night has more affinity with the mysteries of origin than does day. The Abyss never opens more than at night. For our culture, night will be the loss of our things, which are the light that shines for us. Who will be able to guide us now? Who are those human beings who, like Joan of Arc or little David, transformed history with the sole assistance of their faith and of their courage. Just as in individual fate there is something that happens within the spirit, and which allows for the acceptance of fate, it is important that our culture stop defoliating. Every conversion, like fate itself, has a fare, a time to abandon the traits of the past and accept the story like old age is accepted. To become accomplices of the present so that the veils will fall and the simple truth will be denuded. If anything is owed to man it is the possibility that the truth mature and be revealed once and for all, without the distortions of propaganda or of opportunism. I feel enthusiastic about the possibility of re-commencing another way of life. That which helps the decision is a deep sea, which has been forming throughout the isolated deeds that begin to connect, images that surprise us, books that we read. The people whom we visit, a feeling for country when we are in exile. Something different which gives value, that surprises us and that we feel like a utopia which draws near. The change occurs when our gaze cannot leave it. We cannot forget that in these old times, already used up in its values, there are those who believe in nothing, yet also there are multitudes of human beings who work and persevere in hope, like sentries. In history the courts are not exclusive, and already in the final stages of the Roman empire, its citizens frequented their barbarous neighbors, and it is certain they had love affairs with them; similarly already among us are the inhabitants of a new way of living. Today like then, there are multitudes of people who do not belong to this post-modern civilization, many being tragically excluded and many others still seeming to form part of the social institutions, but their soul is impregnated with other values. The passageway is a step back so that a new sensation of the universe might take place, in the same way that in the fields the stubble is turned so that the bare earth can receive the new seed. Were we to fall in love with this passageway! If instead of feeding the cauldrons of desperation and of anguish, we were to turn passionate, revealing an enthusiasm for the new that expresses the confidence which man can have in life itself, completely opposite from indifference! To stop fortifying ourselves, to desire a human world and already be on that road. Like the light of the aurora that is sensed in night's darkness, fate is that close to me. It is the invisible presence. Sometimes in life I have felt I was in danger and could die. And nevertheless, that feeling of fate is nothing compared to that of today. Then it would have been part of my struggles or some circumstance: a failure of my projects. I could have died unexpectedly and not had it been like today, in which fate is gradually taking me, when it is I who am inclined towards her. Its arrival will not be a tragedy like it might have been before, for fate will not snatch away life: I have expected it for a long time. There are days when the sadness of dying fills me and, as if fate could be fooled, I entrench myself in my studio and set to painting with frenzy, confident that it would not end my life while there is an unfinished work in my hands. As if fate could understand my reasons, and I be a Penelope to hold it back. When the people stop me in the streets to give me a kiss, to hug me, or when I go to some show like the Book Fair, where a crowd is waiting for me for hours and showers me with their affection, an invincible sensation of a farewell clouds my soul. Reasoning preoccupies me less and less, and if it no longer had much to offer. As Kierkegaard said it well, "faith begins precisely where reason ends." Moment when I unquestioningly navigate the inner sea, no matter the rains nor the cold. And other times when I attach to old, esoteric wisdoms, and find heat in their ancient pages like in the persons who surround and care for me. I am ashamed to think of the old-timers who are alone, discards pondering the sad inventory of what is lost. Previously, mortality was the display of the cruelty of existence. The fact that belittled and even made ridiculous my Promethean everyday struggles. The atrocious. I used to say that fate would take me with the help of the army. Thus I expressed my decision to fight to the end, of never giving up. But now that fate is a neighbor, its nearness has irradiated me with a comprehension I never had; on this summer afternoon, the story that I lived is before me, as if it lay in my hands, and there are hours when the times that I thought misspent contain more light than others which I thought sublime. I have forgotten vast expanses of life yet, however, the encounters still palpitate in my hand, the moments of danger and the name of everyone who has rescued me from depressions and bitterness. Also that of you who believe in me, who have read my books and who will help me to die.