Manual of a Distracted One

-by Alejandro Rossi-

translated by D. Ohmans
(c) copyright 2010

Text imprint Mexico City, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 5th ed., 1987


This book brings together a series of works published between 1973 and
1977. The majority were written for the section Manual del Distraído that
appeared monthly in the old Plural--the original, that directed by Octavio
Paz--and in Vuelta, the new journal which continues those efforts. Only three
derive from other sources: from Diálogos, from University Magazine and
Literary Life. I include them since the Manual of the Absent-minded was never
constrained by genre limitations: the reader will find more or less canonical
essays here and essays that appear more like a narrative; and shall also discover
stories that include essayistic elements and narratives whose only desire is to
recount a little story. Not absent either are very brief reflections, quick
confessions or my memories. A book, regardless, whose unity is more stylistic than
thematic, a book that flees from didactic yet not from critical rigor, and which
fervently believes in the nouns, in the verbs and in the rhythms of sentences. A
book--improbable reader--that expresses my liking of the game, of morality, of
friendship and, above all, of literature. Read it, if it is possible, as I wrote
it: without agendas, without cosmic pretensions, with a love of detail.
A. R.
TO CONFIDE FOR Boswell the doctrine of Berkeley was false, although impossible to refute. Doctor Johnson, more inspired, more impatient than his biographer, gave a strong kick to a rock as he exclaimed "I refute it thus." The existence of matter or, in more general terms, of the external world--according to those negated by Berkeley--did not require demonstration. A slap was sufficient, a kick, the most trivial of our actions. In 1939, during a famous conference, G. E. Moore announced that he could prove--at that moment--the existence of two material objects. He argued that it was enough to lift his hands, and while making a gesture with the right said "Here is one hand" and then moving his left added, "Here is the other." Dr. Johnson and Boswell continued their discussion regarding other matters. Moore, the philosopher, began to explain why the exhibition of his hands guaranteed the reality of the Universe. There is a conclusion whose familiarity is not a motive to reject the analysis underlying it: innumerable persons believe in the existence of God and, nevertheless, not one single proof of that has survived. Cardinal Newman-- a man of longevity, convert, and one whom Joyce considered the best prose-ist in the English language--is amazed, in his Grammar of Assent, by the number of beliefs that in daily life we accept as absolutely true which however are based only upon probable premises. Many of the examples that the cardinal proposes to us reveal a classical empiricist epistemology, while meanwhile the ancient skeptics--let us say Carnéades--admit the practical necessity of a set of beliefs whose certainty is not demonstrable. We think and act as if they were true: in order to live we have to assent, in an unconditional manner, to merely probable propositions. One of the philosophic tasks is, then, to analyze this disproportion between everyday necessities-- absolutist--and the severe conclusions of an ultimately skeptical theory of knowledge. The alternative possibility is to attempt the gnoseological justification of certain beliefs simultaneously common and basic. Doctor Johnson would criticize the first project as extravagant and the second as pleonastic. Our habitual movements imply, in effect, certain convictions. We count on the existence of the external world when we sit on a chair, when we lie on a mattress, when we drink a glass of water. Any act--except perhaps terminal auto-eroticism--supposes the presence of objects, bodies and faces. To affirm the unreality of the neighbor is no better than arrogance or surfeit provoked by their unbearable proximity. To dream they are our reflection is a dangerous and always ephemeral illusion. Perhaps at some moment we were astounded by the idea according to which it is impossible to prove the existence of unperceived objects; yet it is unlikely, for example, that that confusion modify the custom of thinking that the tree which no one sees is still there. Or that we would believe, after that philosophic battle, that the book or the painting disappear when we do not look at them. Or that we constantly spin our head to catch the instant when the armchair returns to its place. Or that one would ask me-- already in full fanaticism--if these scissors only age in my presence. We confide, furthermore, in things preserving their properties. We are not surprised that the room, on the following morning, maintains the same dimensions, that the walls have not fallen, that the clock is slow and the coffee bitter. To verify that the street is identical produces a mediocre happiness. The contemplation of the world as a permanent miracle is a training state for a religious vocation. We are all somewhat nervous, but the terror that the roof will collapse or the floor flood is not continuous; we are thankful for life, although not for every day and every hour. Biology speaks to us about genetic mutations while, nevertheless, few persons consider it a triumph not to have been transformed, during the night, into a beetle or into a caterpillar. Gregor Samsa--we repeat once and for all--should be an exception. The species do not mix. The daily routine considers also the regularities of the cycles. An autumn at the end of a winter would alarm us, as would an oldster who suddenly would begin to regain youth, dark hair, an unwrinkled face, a muscular arm and the other still covered with scaly skin. Aging is perhaps melancholy, but it has the advantage of familiarity. A friend who after 20 years maintained the same physical characteristics, as if the process had been paused, would not elicit admiration but rather, shock. We believe in our singularity, that is, in that it always will be possible to find a trait, however insignificant, capable of distinguishing two men from each other. Uniqueness, for another thing, we support up to certain limits. In general terms, we could say that it is vanity and pride while properties shared by the majority persist. We all are intelligent, though I may be a little more; bravery is not exceptional, however it is pleasant to imagine that it visits me with greater frequency. We recalculate the differences that permit the comparisons. Total uniqueness, on the contrary, frightens and isolates. We conceive of the monstrous or the aberrant as that which escapes the common rule. A prodigious memory is, without doubt, admirable; the capacity to remember--as did one Ireneo Funes--the exact appearance of the unkempt mane of a pony seen 15 years ago is--to say the least--disquieting. It excites us to discover a person who foresees some of our future actions; less so to hear the news of what we shall do every day of next week and verify that, for instance, on Wednesday at four in the afternoon we move the ashtray, that Friday, around 12:15, we decide to take a handkerchief from our pocket and that Saturday, as we had been told, we approach the window a few minutes after having talked on the telephone. But an excess of resemblance or similarity also is dangerous. To agree with regard to a determinate opinion is a normal experience; to interact with someone who has the same preferences, whatever may be the theme in question, is much more rare. For some the relationship then begins to be asphyxiating. If likeness is accentuated and arrives at a situation in which the two of us not only like the smell of wet grass, the same sonnet and, in particular, the ninth verse, not only the yellow in that painting or the texture of that wall, or those four lost beats in an hour of music, and that additionally, when we laugh the other also laughs, when we sweat, he sweats, when my head aches, he also complains, when I hurt myself he feels the injury, then participation and the joy of coinciding give way to terror and panic. Perhaps an exact physical replica, although disconcerting, would be preferable to that inner portrait that destroys our individuality. We have been fooled and will continue to be fooled. Nevertheless it is impossible to live believing that every occasion requires careful examination or a counter-proof. When we ask what time it is, we do not think we are being lied to. Efficacy, not to mention sanity, counsels belief in the truth that it is 6:15. To suspect the passer-by who responds without slowing down or even looking at us is an attitude based on a distant and abstract rationality. Not to be satisfied and with difficulty to keep verifying is a demonstration of rigor or scientific spirit. A constant suspicion of the timetables of trains or airplanes condemns us to immobility. Except for specific circumstances it is well to believe when we are told that we should turn left or that the pharmacy is to be found in three blocks. We buy a book and even though we do not know the publisher we do not judge it necessary to scan the 200 pages to establish whether we have pulled a cat from the bag, a novel or regulations instead of a treatise. To believe in the external world, in the existence of the neighbor, in certain regularities, to believe that in some way we are unique, to rely on certain information, corresponds not so much to an acquired wisdom or to a set of understandings, but rather more to that which Santayana called animal faith, that which orients us without demonstrations or reasoning, that which, without guaranteeing us anything, lifts us from dementia and restores us to life. PURE BONES I DID NOT ENTER the Chiesa del Gesù, in Rome, with the intention of reviving memories, or with the purpose of knowing the origins of a history that, at bottom, had always been foreign to me. I entered without clear motives and without many hopes. A distant curiosity, neither erudite, nor religious. A desire, perhaps, of verifying that there also things were the same. Thus the marble did not surprise me that covered the floor and the walls; it seemed natural to me to encounter cleanliness and pulchritude, a lustrous environment like a luxurious cassock. Immediately, I had the security that it would be easy to visit it: the paintings await in their sites, the lateral light of the chapels will be in play, the little plaques that give the names of the painters shall not be lacking, the chosen subject and the year of their execution. Order, distance and silence. Perhaps some señora with face profiled, rapidly and anxiously praying a rosary. I paused in the middle of the nave, without knowing what to do. I later walked towards the chapel dedicated to Saint Ignatius and saw the four columns of lapis lazuli. I thought about the elements which comprise that church: late Renaissance, Baroque and assorted Neo-Classical. Elegant words that do not reproduce that incontrovertible atmosphere which I was already breathing fully. The attempt, here so realized, of domesticating what to others had been a creative vision, the deliberate robbery of a fierce and risky thematic. Rebel forms that now express obedience and fear. Inventions in the service of power, which wants submission, not personal realization. The art is a mere persuasive technique. The Counter- Reformation. A groping, a process of corruption, a lobotomy, a violence that only ceases when we have the security that we touch wax, not flesh, not skin, nor hair. A cruel church, without flies, without frail ones, without sandals, a controlled and static church, where we do not recognize anything of what we bring. In one of the altars, inside of a golden jail encrusted with colored marble, the dried hand of Saint Francis Xavier. The nails, almost black, as if they were beginning the motion of blessing. I approach and read that they were brought from Goa. I went out into the street, had a smoke and decided to observe the dwelling where Saint Ignatius lived during his last years. I crossed some whitewashed corridors, mounted some stairs and found myself before one of those books in which visitors leave their signature, proclaim their nationality and write some sentences. I scanned the pages and noted that the majority were Spanish-speaking. Elderly alumni of the colleges of Buenos Aires, Caracas, Mexico City. A gentleman from Guadalajara took the opportunity to recite all his titles, ex- this and ex- the other. A Spaniard filled the entire page with a tedious harangue about the scarcity of parishes, wishing, almost ordering that they increase. A group from Luxembourg had traced out a happy little sketch of the principality. I also found the signatures of three members of an extremely rich Venezuelan family, a simplistic letter that printed out the surname so there would be no mistaking it. I felt the urge to deface the book, to scribble an idiocy or leave a long and incomprehensible phrase there, the greeting of an idiot full of rage. I did not dare, telling myself that it was useless foolishness, but in reality there operated that paranoiac element so carefully nourished during those years. The apartment consists of a hallway decorated with frescoes on the walls and in the ceiling. Three rooms form the central nucleus. They are well-preserved and the color that predominates is a rosy brown. In the first room is the figure--life-sized--of the saint. It had been a long time since I had seen an image of him and it surprised me that he should be of short stature and would have so anonymous an expression. A little stubborn and silent priest. In contrast the mask made upon his dying is, curiously, more alive. A small and round face, with a sharply pointed nose and his chubby cheeks badly painted a powerful pink. Here the face is that of a peasant who must have died very old. An archaic simpleton and somewhat drunk. A face from popular art. The mouth, nevertheless, induces horror: the corners of the lips are stretched back and it is unclear whether we see the enormous smile of some lips deformed by age or the sorrowful grimace of a man who, under torture, is obliged to smile. As if they had been amusing themselves with a half-crazy old person. There are some spots that seem to be from smallpox. The chapel where this was celebrated is to the side; the entrance to it is the original, but the wooden door is supported against the wall and covered with a sort of metal fence. Somewhere there is a notice that informs us, without emphasis, that this is the door which the saint opened every morning. I saw a Father cleaning some objects. I asked him whether I could enter and discovered that he was Spanish. He began to give me certain datums without any interest, which I half heard, taking care only not to offend him with my distraction. When I could I interrupted him: "What part of Spain are you from, Father?" I thought that he was from Madrid. While he spoke the memory of Ortega y Gasset's voice came to me, heard on a record, years ago, in the unit that José Gaos had along Melchor Ocampo street. That thick voice with words falling, mumbled at the end of sentences, which in that era surprised me with its tone so much of the salon, of the café. A gray-haired employee pontificating at six in the evening before his usual victims. He answered me that he was from Pamplona, he too allowing his words to lag a little. He was a neglected priest, with that excessive groomed smile shown by persons of an age when they wear a dental plate, which in this instance was a cheap one and, if I am not mistaken, including parts a little bigger than required. The small eyes, blue, very mobile, one of those men who like to be among children. "And have you been in Italy long?" "For fifty years." "Heavens, Father! Yet, have you returned sometime to Spain?" "No, I have never returned." He said it thus, calmly, without giving it the slightest importance. "Why, but you have not forgotten Castilian, Father?" "No, how could I, many visitors from Spain, from Latin America, come here, I speak to them continually." We passed into the last room. Where the mask is. He explained to me that that was the original, from which many copies had been made, but that the original was that one. I do not know why he insisted so much; perhaps he held to a polemic that made him indignant. "Yes, that is the true one and the tomb is in the church. Did you already see it?" "Of course, Father." He opened the leaves of a complicated piece of furniture, a sort of stand with many small boxes, and in each one were stacked some bones held together with white and red threads. Minimal bones, creamy, like old marble. I began to feel bad. Because I saw only bones, a primitive, mad reality I could not erase by thinking of missionaries, of books, of college, of more or less sensible discussions. "They are relics that have been brought from various sites" - I heard what he was saying. He showed me some that were from Pedro Claver. "He was in Cartagena, in Colombia." "Yes, that is so, Father." Then he asked me if in Mexico there were many parishes. I did not know how to answer him and I took a tangent. I spoke to him of the reforms of the oldest colleges. Upon that I had read something. "Yes--he answered--now they are changing everything, and within five years they will do it again; having discovered that it was good for nothing." He laughed. "Where it seems that there have been parishes is in Argentina." "Yes, it is possible, Father. Yet I think that in general they are not abundant, is that not true?" "How could they be abundant! In Loyola there are only 15 youths and here in Italy they have had to close various seminaries." "I, Father, studied with the Jesuits." He tilted his head. "Those were other times. Then the Jesuits were fine. How it is today..." and he made a gesture in the air. But always with good humor. I returned to the first room and he showed me a small balcony that overlooked a patio. "There Saint Ignatius would go to contemplate the sky; of course, in that time the building in front did not exist." He added nothing more; I drew near and on the wall was a plaque that announced: "Balcony where Saint Ignatius contemplated the sky." Later I discovered a table upon which there were some prints of the founder and of Saint Luis Gonzaga. The Father advanced, gathered several and offered them to me. He asked me if I had children. "Excellent, excellent. Take these." I gave him my thanks and somehow inserted some coins in the money box. I outstretched my hand and returned my glance to the life-sized replica of Saint Ignatius. "I did not know that he was small" - I said. "In stature," he replied, very quickly. I left with the three prints. I did not tear them up, or throw them away. I never look at them, but there they are. They are of no use to me yet, nevertheless, I remember them. I accept the confusion. THE PERFECT PAGE TO WRITE about the work of Jorge Luis Borges is to resign oneself to being the echo of some Scandinavian commentary or that of a North American professor, tenacious, erudite, enthusiast; it is to resign oneself, perhaps, to again correcting the 124th page of a doctoral thesis whose author may well be defending it at this precise moment. In the bibliography prepared by Horacio Jorge Becco--which covers the years 1923-1973--the section, "Critique and biography" contains 1,010 works. There is everything: books, monographs, critical reviews, sweeping essays and minuscule exegeses, memoirs, photographs, apologetics, discourses, titles that aspire to elegance--Jorge Luis Borges or the Fatal Labyrinth: masks, mirrors, lies, and labyrinth--, others that ring of an academic career--An examination of his poetry in the context of the collected works--, those which attempt minimalist paradox--The Subject Doesn't Object--, also those that achieve complete vulgarity - A Blind Writer with Insight (whoever seeks its horror shall find it). Without omitting, naturally, the ineluctable "Genio y figura" by J. L. B. To write about Borges is to compete with an author who never has stopped thinking about himself, throughout his work and before the innumerable recorders that have surrounded him. The cited bibliography collects, in effect, interviews that only fit in a book, conversations that require 144 pages, less laborious talks, perhaps casual--five, seven, ten pages--and even including a very brief encounter whose title merits transcription: My sad note (five minutes, 40 seconds with Jorge Luis Borges). For my part I lack files, have only a mediocre memory, his books, the habit of reading them and a wish to imitate them. I renounce erudition and risk plagiarism. I pass, with the sensation of one satisfying a desire, to being another entry in the next edition of Horacio J. Becco's bibliography. I imagine that Borges is not overly interested in literary immortality; I do not think that he stays awake imagining how many pages will be dedicated to him in future histories of literature or the shape of the possible statue. Concerning the other immortality, the personal, a long time ago he maintained ("Funes the Memorious") that: "perhaps we all know profoundly that we are immortal"; almost presently, the 21st of July (La Nación, Buenos Aires) he confessed that he saw such prolongation as a threat. I remember also having read that an afterlife appeared to him unlikely. I do not pretend to reconcile those beliefs - susceptible of changing, in an instant, from an unforeseen experience, a fear, a hope, or an abandonment. I do not wish to digress regarding the personal which belongs to him. My proposal is to talk of another afterlife, no less mysterious, and which has been a constant preoccupation of Borges. I am thinking of what we could call the destiny of the literary work. In an essay in 1930--"The superstitious ethics of the reader"--Borges indicates that the perfect page, "the page wherein no word can be changed without damage, is the most precarious of all. Changes in language erase lateral meanings and shades of meaning; the 'perfect' page is one consisting of these delicate values that can be worn down with greater ease. Conversely, any page that has an immortal vocation can endure the fire of errata, of approximate versions, of distracted reading, of incomprehension, without leaving its soul behind in the proofs." This paragraph is cohabited by a technical observation and a conviction. The first tells us that the history and the evolution of language eliminate certain connotations, certain resonances, the allusions and the dependent meanings. The text is transformed, thereby, into a triviality, something simplistic or more of an incomprehensible object. Here Borges characterizes the perfect page as that which subsists with only verbal values. I ignore whether he also thinks that those values always exclude others. He suggests, in any case, that the perfect page is, in some sense, the empty page, mere linguistic artifice. It cannot resist time because it is only language: the inattention of a lino-typist, different usages, change, life itself finally destroys it. The conviction that animates those lines of Borges is that, at bottom, they refer to a banal project or, if one prefers, to a mistaken calculus. In a later work about Quevedo we read that he " inferior to no one, but has not come up with a symbol that empowers the imagination of the people. Homer has his Priam who kisses the homicidal hands of Achilles; Sophocles has a king who deciphers enigmas and whom the hags will make decipher the horror of his own destiny; Lucretius has the infinite stellar abyss and the discord of the atoms; Dante, the nine infernal circles and the heavenly Rose; Shakespeare, his orbits of violence and of music; Cervantes, the fortunate alternation of Sancho and of Quixote..." The work that invents or discovers that symbol endures; that which does not find it or look for it disappears or is fatally marginalized in the literature of a specific nation. The condition is now different and more severe, but the emphasis is the same: they survive who transcend the language. To alienate that project Borges also supports himself in another order of reasons. The pursuit of new metaphor, for example, will be a useless, vain task, given that the truths, those which formulate intimate connections between one image and another, have always existed; those that we can still invent are the false ones, those not worthwhile inventing (Other inquisitions). In a story, Doctor Brodie's report he reiterates the idea that "...the ordinary metaphors are the best, because they are the only true ones." The writer, he adds, is only a splinter from a log, the transient interpreter of a linguistic tradition that imposes precise limits. The conclusion is almost a renunciation: "Individual experimentation is, in fact, minimal, except when the innovator resigns herself to shaping a sort of museum, a piece destined for discussion by the historians of literature or of mere scandal, like Finnegan's Wake or the Solitudes" (The Other, The Same. Prologue.) More than literary precepts, Borges explains for us, I believe, the fears and the skepticism that his own work inspires. It is a tension, a lack of confidence that they never have abandoned. As if one were suspicious of his splendid verbal gifts, of his love of the word, of his inclination to play, toward surprises, towards parody. The fear of mannerism or of the empty baroque, of that which he observed in Quevedo: enormous prose so as to say nothing. The mistrust of his virtues and inventions, the fear that time reduces them to stylistic sophisms, to marginal eccentricities, the danger that someone, tomorrow, would describe them as "Labyrinths, puns, emblems/ Frozen and laborious nothingness" ("Baltasar Gracián", The other. The same). These scruples--excessive in a writer as limpid, as measured and economical as Borges--may be those that nourish that gospel of simplicity, recommended in ironic, precise, acid, joking prologues, similar overall to those it pretends to repudiate. Borges' pages are damaged with errata, but they are not empty. They are, many times, perfect, and never foolish. I do not know whether Bustos Domecq and Suárez Lynch find a universal symbol, and the language they employ certainly roots them in a specific geography. Those doubles have created, nevertheless, extraordinary verbal parodies. I do not know why the impossibility of translating them into Czech diminishes them. We can, we should defend ourselves from Borges' theoretic asceticisms with his own works. The destiny of the literary work includes, additionally, the problem of its identity. One of its aspects, for Borges, is the--fascinating-- disproportion between results and intentions. Chesterton wished to be an apologetic, orthodox writer, the polemicist who defends a clear, solar doctrine and, nevertheless, always was, in some way, obscure, shadowy, satanic, and desperate. "Something in the dust of your self tended towards nightmare; something secret, and blind and central" (Other inquisitions). Swift proposed a sort of accusation against the human race and ended up writing a children's book (Discussion). Borges usually gives us two explanations. The first insinuates that the catechisms proclaimed by an author are not necessarily the motivations and the nerves of the work. The second, more properly a corollary of the former, has to do with his insistence that "the exercise of literature is mysterious" (Doctor Brodie's report, Prologue). Writing is a voluntary dream, he tells us; artistic creation is the opening to uncontrollable and unconscious forces and influences. The author can be the worst interpreter and not know the identify of their work. If it survives, perhaps it differs from what they imagined; their own--Swift's lament against humanity--disappears; the other endures, the amusing adventures of Gulliver. Yet, also, a book, a poem, any text admits infinite readings, which depend on epochs, preferences, conventions, or superstitions. "The words amica silentia lunae now signify the intimate, silent and shining moon, and in the Aeneid meant the interlude, the obscurity that permitted the Greeks to enter the fortifications of Troy" (Other inquisitions). That interference, the reader, allows multiple identities. The work survives if someone reads it, but that reading transforms it. "Pierre Menard, author of Quixote" is the extreme elaboration and perfecting of that idea. "(Cervantes)...opposes the poor provincial reality of his country to gentlemanly fictions; Menard chooses as 'reality' the Tierra de Carmen during the era of Lepanto and Lope." Menard's Quixote--an exact replica of the original--is, notwithstanding, different; in one passage Cervantes offers a rhetorical eulogy to history; Menard, with the same words, evokes pragmatic doctrines. Cervantes' style is that of his age; Menard, on the other hand, prefers the archaic. Who is, in reality, the author of Quixote? The concept of identity, in reference to the work, becomes elastic and precarious. Borges, writing about Kafka, argues the thesis that every writer creates their precursors: beginning with Kafka we are capable of detecting "Kafkaesque characteristics." It was impossible to discover them before, because they simply did not exist. As if one said: perhaps I am writing the pages that exemplify--dimly--the traits of a future writer. I am, from then on, the epigone of a still non-existent master, am the representative of a school whose manifest is unknown to me. That which shall define me still does not exist. I am not a precursor: I am, more accurately, the indecisive matter whose form and meaning is awarded by another. To risk an hypothesis upon the future of a poem or of a story implies then, knowing what now is impossible to know: the identity of the poem or of the story. I do not know what the future reader will think of Borges. Perhaps he will appear somewhat obvious to them, because his epithets, his syntax, the custom of qualifying through the verb, his innovations all will become part of the normalcy of the language and, thus, what for us was amazing for them will be normal, just a more articulate conversation. Their prose will be more tranquil, more humble, will flow peacefully and without effort. I am sure that this destiny would not disgust Borges. My desire, nevertheless, is otherwise. That they not find it so natural, but also that they not need the help of the philologists, a possibly eternal species. I would wish that those readers approach him as we have done: with the certitude that we stood before the exception. That also for them his work be, at once, magical and precise. Maybe they shall discover a Borges even greater than our own. TALES IT IS A STORY I HAVE ALWAYS told in the same manner, without worrying too much about the veracity of the facts or why the narrative should be organized in that way. It forms a part of a familiar repertory and almost all of my friends have heard it with more or less courtesy. It is not amazing, although it may be vaguely picturesque and, at certain elevations, somewhat nostalgic. I ignore why I have repeated it so many times: perhaps the vanity that a personal event be an adventure. Yet it is also possible that one seeks confirmation. Or help. The story has an involved beginning: in 1942 my father decides that the wife and their two children should leave Europe for reasons of security. We would go to Venezuela, my mother's nation, and there we would wait out the end of the war. It was not easy getting out of Italy. After some months I heard talk of a special train that would cross France and end at Bilbao, full of Hispano- american diplomats. Some communications failed or the dates did not coincide and today I only remember the airport, the small plane, windows painted white so that we would not see the enemy, then the cordial face of a priest and the anecdotes of my father. The story never lingers over the weeks passed in Seville, not wanting to describe the two siblings' experiences, their reactions to the new city; at times it mentions--in a slightly unexpected manner--my teacher's recommendations, spoken in a bus a few days before the trip, that I view Rome with eyes wide open, an obscure and threatening phrase. Only if the companions are Venezuelan and know the protagonist, the story begins with a witty parenthesis so as to delight--with a rage whose origin is precise, yet inadmissible--in hysteria, in the furious gesticulations of that bearded man, of fevered eyes, grandiloquent, vain, hypnotized by power, who moves his hands and lifts a hundred times from his chair and turns again to the table like a demented ass. The narration barely alludes to the Port of Cádiz, perhaps mentions the deep waters, the distant wharf, the first silhouette of the ship; it does not enter into details, speaks rapidly of the farewell and is very conscious of what is not said. In some versions it is observed that I had never looked at my father with such attention. From then on to focus the tale a tone at once festive and earnest is attempted. Perhaps that is adequate, because for the two brothers that Spanish ship--El Cabo de Hornos--is inexhaustible. The story emphasizes the excitement produced by the multiple corridors, the passages, the stairs, the salons, the closed doors of so many cabins. The two kids whisper intensely, discover unknown zones, classify the passengers, the different South Americans, the jews, the Spaniards, the French, Africans, Polish, Czechs, Hungarians, Scandinavians. The narrative also pulls in obvious anecdotes from life on board, the organization of games, the growing familiarity, the friendships with other lads. It catches fire when it recounts the episode of the German submarine that detained us to review the passenger list. Although it does not prove it, it suggests that I saw the warship and perceived the anguish of certain persons. It is not certain, I slept, everything occurred at dawn. No one was taken off and, probably, we dealt with a routine reconnaissance. Except for a little excessive emphasis and some undue insinuations, up to now, nevertheless, I have not lied. The fault, I already said, is in the omissions. It is considered important to speak of the submarine or about the scene where we all got sick, but more quiet beginning the moment I became aware that the voyage was an escape. I noticed that every day we were further away. The tale would have all situations be always amusing and therefore does not perceive the confused aspects, the desolate instances. The naps that they made me share with that girl who came to our cabin in search of silence, are transformed into the chronicle of a boy who contemplates an old woman, thin and very white, who orders him to look at the wall while she removes her dress so as later to lie on the bed undressed without modesty. She closed her eyes and if I moved she chastened me with an impatient whisper. She slept with her mouth open and her feet on a pillow. She did not snore, yet she made a noise I have never heard since: a sort of clicking of the tongue against the palate, a dry, grave and accusative sound. Every 20 or 30 seconds, an insatiable and spasmodic tongue. A woman of Basque surname, born in Santiago Chile, a resident of Rome since her youth, insufficiently rich, our guest during a summer in which she told me not to step on the ants, a surprising chance utterance. This is the usual chronicle, undoubtedly true, but in which I do not encounter the fury of my memories nor my decision not to imagine the future. Also present there is the dejection caused by certain critical conversations about Italy; a slow process of erosion that left me exhausted and empty. The story consists, however, in the part that refers to what is French and is Uruguayan. Before objecting, it is well to recognize that the material is diffuse, static, scarcely suggestive. The perfect woman who dazzles the boy. What could happen there? Except seduction, except the unexpected and meticulous sexual act, all other variants being trivial. In the absence of a resounding occurrence, I limit myself--and here I am in agreement with the tale--to enumerating, without higher ambition, the three or four more or less tangible things that happened. In the first place, the confusion caused in me by the French beauty, by that unusual and overwhelming deed. Later, the long excursions to find her and see her for a few moments hoping she would not see me. At last, the definitive intervention of the Uruguayan, a silent and robust individual: one night I followed them up to the highest bridge, near the chimneys. It is not worth the trouble now to reconstruct fugitive emotions, states of incoherent spirit, without precise names. Thus it happened-- minimally--and it repels me to give it an epic dimension. I am in accord with the tale: psychology destroys the fiction. The arrival in Trinidad accelerates the rhythm. The narrative confronts its trial by fire. The ground is prepared and the necessary information offered: Trinidad is an English colony and, furthermore, an important naval base. The ships that came into South American ports had to anchor in the enormous bay and submit to a rigorous and slow inspection. Not only the cargo but also the passengers. The captain announced, a few days before, which were the rooms to be occupied by the English authorities to complete their interrogations and the examination of documentation. He added that they also would inspect the staterooms. He advised against any protest and called for collaboration and patience. Absolutely no one could disembark to the port. We stayed there around two weeks. The tale highlights--I believe with reason--the tremendous curiosity of the two brothers at seeing a British official and the vague disillusionment they felt upon contemplating the very plain tropical uniforms, the short pants, the white socks, the so-normal shoes. It is also true that the older brother dreamt of a dialogue in which certain dry epigrams against English imperialism were repeated. I knew--I now confess--that the author of those attacks, a professor of Greek, had criticized those who abandoned Italy. The English--the canonical version continues--worked from eight in the morning until six in the evening. The functionaries' interviews were friendly and at the end they let it be known that perhaps they would call them back. There were never shouts of arguments. One day, the fifth or the sixth, the atmosphere changed: the Dutchman, a sturdy, kindly man, a friend of ours, boarded the launch and we never saw him again. We wanted to say good-bye, but were defeated by timidity or the solemnity of the scene. Beginning that afternoon there was always someone who appeared with the Englishmen. We did not really know them, yet there we were, near the stairway, hushed. For the inspection of the cabins they brought more employees and did not permit the passengers to be present. My mother praised the English for the hundredth time: there was nothing, according to her, that would not be found in its place. The tale, I realize, becomes lost in stupidities and in falsely dramatic details. The explanation is easy: would that it had the forcefulness of a police report and the sharpness of an ancient portrait. A desirable goal, but beyond its reach. Therefore I abbreviate the conversations with my brother: if he laughed, if he had a satisfied expression, if he spoke in a low voice; I repeat, nevertheless, that none of that is very important. The essential is this: that he had hidden his notebook of Italian military songs in a lifeboat. He showed it to me with avid delight, and would not lend it to me for anything in the world. I admit that the narration improves when I describe the passengers' enthusiasm near by the Venezuelan coast, a few lost small lights that they could admire for half an hour. It improves because it rests upon clear, simple acts, the fulfillment of a desire, the disappearance of fear. But it does not learn its lesson and becomes newly entangled with the arrival in Puerto Cabello. Why do you tell us so much about the baggage in the corridors, of the upturned staterooms, of the weariness of the crew? Why do you insist that the orchestra played a paso doble while we tied up to the pier? Why be distracted in this way? Why do you not get to the point but tell us the most affectionate farewell was for Juan, our warm Basque steward? That is what one should do and forget about the lower cases, the shabbiness of the port, my family's black automobiles. The entrance to Caracas in the rain is not a bad image, but it requires the introduction of other elements to be expressive. Why do you not decide to proceed to the ending of the story without artistic cartwheels? I know it is a rhetorical question, know perfectly well that it will not change and that is why I assume responsibility for the conclusion. The matter is as follows: Juan had handed my brother a packet of letters for him to immediately mail. We could not resist temptation and we opened them. They were written in German and my brother, who followed military operations with great care, assured me that they mentioned names of famous battleships. The truth is we became frightened. We confess everything when my uncle asked us, for the third time, why we did not want him to drop them off at the central post office. We gave them to him. The addressee was an old German resident suspected of espionage. There were official recriminations and the navigation company promised to investigate. It is possible that, later, they would take other measures. I do not like to think of that. This is, then, the completed story. The tale, almost always so sparse in relation to ourselves, suggests that we committed a treachery. Perhaps it does because it presumes, in its innocence, that a traitor is a most interesting literary personage. That frivolity repels me. I reject the hypothesis about the tale and propose that which is indisputable: my brother and I were betrayed by Juan. The tale attempts to narrate an adventure and uses us without scruples. It is cautious only to reinforce its final truculence. Its clumsiness gives it away. It is at once ingenuous and malign. The moment has arrived to send it to the devil. STREETS AND HOUSES I AM NOT a worker, am not a bureaucrat and neither am I a millionaire. Nevertheless I exist and if the pious and vaguely hypocritical classificationists would like they could say I am an "intellect worker." I reject that consolation and declare the truth: I am a philosophy professor. I do not reside, therefore, in a proletarian neighborhood, do not know the lack of water and of light, have not endured the absence of plumbing, do not walk among sewage and am not obliged to share my sleeping room with six other persons. For the same reason I am short on private gardens, swimming pool, tennis court, greenhouses, statues, solarium, colonial patios and humid lanes for contemplating, from a rocking chair, the rain that falls. I live in an average apartment - by its size, by its aesthetic stimuli and by its comforts. Its maximum virtues are its high ceilings, the wood floors and the whiteness of the walls. The walls, clearly, could be thicker so as to spare me from hearing intimate and unnecessary noises: the blowouts of my neighbor, his guffaws, his nightmares, his preferred locutions. The apartment overlooks the street through windows that extend from the ceiling to the floor. It would be splendid if somehow I could see a pine forest, a lake or even a meadow. I am less interested if all that is possible is to see sheets, towels and television antennas. They connect me with the outside, it is true, and that is the reason why the tables and the chairs vibrate every time a plane passes. If I open those picture windows, a terrific wind comes in, the rumbling of motors and the carbon monoxide. Maybe the builder of this edifice dreamt of a different city. Perhaps he thought that the petroleum reserves would soon run out and the motors would be electric; it is probable that he would also believe in the advantage of public transportation and I am sure that he never foresaw the development of commercial aviation. Undoubtedly the motorcycle seemed a prehistoric animal to him, on the edge of extinction, an item in the museums of technology. In him I suspect some theory concerning the progressive diminution of the sun's energy: after a short while his window panes would allow receiving, after noon, a soft golden light, we no longer sweating, no longer needing to tear off the tie and shirt, the tops of my books no longer curling up. I do not live badly, I am not complaining, I sympathize with the utopian visions of that architect, but I conclude that in my case a different city is required. And my habits also. I have friends and the desire to see them suddenly occurs, that urgency to communicate something, a sensation, a fervor, an anxiety, to bring out in discussion a slight hint we may have had. Or to seek them out for a monologue, to complain, to receive support. Or for us to remain silent, without pyrotechnic responsibilities, in calm, those slow conversations, without a fixed topic, without conclusions, relaxed yet lively. They are, even in this case, immediate necessities whose satisfaction requires attention. Enthusiasm is quenched if to get together we must wait five days, and during those days it is also possible that the depression may have disappeared. There exist Valium, self-deception and slumber. I would like, then, that my friends should be near, that we can unite by walking only a few blocks or in some customarily established site. I would wish that friendship might take in those momentary effusions, instants of abandonment or of sincerity, the live trauma of our hours. The city does not favor that intimacy. Not one single friend of mine lives in the same zone. We meet, we still speak, yet we have forgotten that daily interaction. Distance and jobs impose complicated strategies: tomorrow is impossible, day after tomorrow it is I who cannot, so must make the date for the end of the week, not this one, of course, because I will be going out of the city, perhaps the next, or better to wait for a vacation, with the Day of the Dead approaching and, furthermore, Christmas is not too far away. Friendship is nourished by dinners planned with formal anticipation, by sporadic and wearying encounters, because he, obviously, lives in the South and I in the North. There remains the telephone. I know that for some this resolves everything: they use it to call the plumber, to know the hour, to awaken on time, to seduce, to be indignant or minutely relate one's states of mind--surprising and unique--which fill them at those moments. Persons who do not arrange meetings through the telephone, but instead it is there where they meet. The opposite happens to me, and using it I lack naturalness or perhaps an adequate technique. I experience it as a symbol for alarm, an apparatus that is used to communicate urgent things, news which modifies my plans or alters the normality of the day. As if I thought that the telephone is the vehicle of the extraordinary. When it rings, my first reaction is to hide, I approach with aversion and if they have called the wrong number I always feel relief. Telephonic conversation deals badly with pauses, with silences, those interruptions within even the most engaged dialogues. It is not common for two friends to resort to the telephone to pass an hour together almost without talking, each one sipping a coffee in their house, unhurried, a word now and another further along while they listen to the other's breathing. On the telephone we speak more and the verbal rests are minimal because an axiom governs those interchanges: one must always respond with words or, at least, with certain sounds. The telephone, furthermore, submerges the physical reactions of the interlocutors, the benevolent glance or the approving nod, those signs whose presence calms and encourages. I do not see her, do not know if she already began to count the matches, to page through a book, to roll the eyes, or do not know if she already began to draw ships, fish and flowers. Thus it may be, since I miss the movement of the eyebrows, that the telephone obliges me to be courteous: I affirm when I really would wish to negate, support reasoning that seems contemptible, emit sounds of solidarity, celebrate, concede, avoid arguments. I am hypocritical and elusive. I wish to only exchange stupid information: the airline schedule, the state of the weather, the Pope's health, the winner of the Nobel prize, the date of a battle. The conclusion is at once trivial and alarming: I prefer to speak by myself. The streets define the city. They are an extension of the house, the room, the intimate space where we keep our bed, clothing and food. The streets are what the artisan uses in order to work, the streets where they traffic and gamble. Noisy and promiscuous, they promote indiscretion, affect, make anonymity difficult and impede solitude. The opposite case is the street characterized as a foreign territory: indicating, in a categorical fashion, the division between the public and the private world. It does not hold me, because if I want to buy a newspaper I will not find it there and if I want to drink a glass of water I will have to return to my house. Aspirins, pencils, sheets of paper, erasers and wine always are sold much further away. The street on which I live is less arid, but intervenes little in my life. It is wide, has sidewalks and is bordered by some small trees. I visit it because I wish to walk, because I like moving my legs, because I feel nervous, because I am tired of sitting in an armchair. I use it as if it were an athletic track or a gymnastic apparatus. There is no other justification for those walks. It is a street without being a labyrinth not taking me to anywhere: no one lives nearby and work is too far away to go by foot. The transactions I experience are not emotional: a tailor, a drugstore, a kindergarten and an academy of regional dance. Nor does it inspire visual enthusiasm, not opening upon panoramas, lacking surprises. Abandoned by pedestrians, it rapidly approaches that archetype of public thoroughfare that accepts only automobiles and high velocities. Thus the street ceases to be a human space and becomes a tube through which we circulate: it pleases us that the asphalt is in perfect condition, the passers-by who attempt to cross it--like cows on the highway-- annoy us, we desire synchronization of the lights, eulogize its broadness and well-designed curves. Gradually, almost without noticing, we have renounced the street. It is no longer a place of convenience or of encounters: it is, rather, the price we pay to reach one house from another. We are resigned to them being ugly, hard and inhospitable. That seems to us to be the consequence of an obscure, vast and uncontrollable process. Mystery is the hiding-place of leisure. A bad poem indicates a bad poet, a defective story presupposes a poor writer and a silly painting always make us think of such a painter. An unkempt city, by contrast, devolves to multiple authors: avaricious architects, complacent functionaries, speculators, submissive citizens and real estate agents disguised as urbanists. Active people, indefatigable termites who work, gnaw at it, now for many years. ROBBERIES I KNOW THAT FOR MANY hotels only represent shelter for travelers, fleeting nights, quick habitations whose forgetting is not lamented. They are transition, distance or the symbol of a stubbornly solitary life. For me they were ambiguous and familiar residences: for reasons that now seem almost imagined I lived in hotels for some years during my childhood. We installed ourselves--first in Florence, then in Rome--in large and silent rooms, with that table removed, the sofa shoved to the left, the desk and the chair substituted with our furniture, requiring thick curtains, using our own sheets and flower pots, away with that porcelain bringing bad luck, the bare walls, no foolish watercolors. The lamp for studying was my own and I was never far from a small bookshelf where I placed schoolbooks, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. At seven in the morning a young Yugoslav woman awakens me, we breakfast in a deserted dining room, climb the Via Veneto and she waits until the bus arrives. I return at five in the afternoon, greet the porters and though it is prohibited I stroll through the lobbies. Someone calls me, I bend my head so they can give me a kiss, ask about my parents, a housemaid jokes with me, I see nothing in particular, wish to hear no conversation, that placidity being sufficient, the noise of the cups, the spoons against the plates, the silver- plated teapots. My room opens upon a terrace and there, supported against a cement handrail, I see the crowns of the trees, the roof of a neighboring hotel, the top floor of a Ministry. I do not want to study, I have time, behind a planter I find a ball of unpainted wood, begin to play around with it, little by little I proceed to imagine a soccer game, become animated, organize the space, assemble characters, am content. I cannot reconstruct the plays: all I remember is when the ball collides against the left wall and the instant when it enters the drain. Yes, a sort of channel for draining water. I crouched down, inserted my hand, but the passage was not narrow and the ball had fallen. I decided that it was lost, sat myself on the floor and commenced to live the catastrophe: it was impossible that, at this hour of the afternoon, it would not have broken someone's head. Six floors. I became aware that no lie would be accepted: the other guests could not have been playing with a wood ball. Elderly couples, rheumatic men or splendid women who could just die of laughing. The worst would have been if I had injured a child younger than myself: my age then, would serve me for nothing. The best would be a solitary old lady, already moribund, without parents, detested by her neighbors, above all evicted, without hope. Or perhaps a dog, even were it one of those fine ones, with a collar, revoltingly caressed by its owner; they would squeal, I know, yet after half an hour everyone would be bored. At last and finally it is a dog, ma'am, I already told you that I would you an identical one. Father would chastise me, but the hysteria, the exaggeration, the morose owners would by then be the principal matter. So then to have killed a dog. And then I began to cry. I think, now, that in this crying there would have been much confusion, many protests: about the presence of that hole, about its width, about its not having been covered, about it not stopping the ball, about playing alone. I went down by the stairs and at the first floor I almost returned. I got to the vestibule, the porter was speaking with a guest, I walk rapidly to the entrance, exit and greet the person charged with helping the door revolve. And there I remain, mute. I do not say anything either when he asked if that wooden ball was mine. It almost killed me, it fell like a bomb. In my room I examined it carefully and did not decide to throw it into the trash. That year tangled me up several times. The war had caused certain hotels to become privileged ones. The food was better; the heating worked and hot water was not lacking. A friend of my mother's would come to bathe with great frequency. Very tall, a desperate smoker, her voice rough and a chemist by profession. Surely in love with a ghost or with a reclusive codger. We would converse while she filled the tub. She sought the exact temperature, checked the towels, smelled the soap, effusively admired the bathroom. Enigmas abounded: why lock the door, what took her so long, why that silence, what would she do with those large legs, what would I do if she faints and drowns, why does she not want to talk when she emerges, why does so much of her hair fall out? Yet what interested me was something else: why did she wear that watch? A man's watch, excessive for her, a match perhaps for her voice, but not for her hand. A perfect machine indeed, its noise impeccably minimal. Mine is worth nothing: it is thick, square, the hands are wide, I correct the time four times a day, the numerals are not luminous, if it falls it breaks, I cannot put it underwater, it is unreliable, it will not last long, is a watch for wearing to church, is idiotic, is a watch for one with glasses, short pants, a sailor's outfit. Hers is serious, heavy, strong. For months I observed it and imagined myself in bed, at night, with that tremendous watch by my side. Faithful, intense, a stallion in my bedroom. It is inexplicable, but that watch was in the bathroom, upon a white chair. The toilet, as always, odorific, the floor dry, only a little steam. I had it in a box and the next day I carried it in my pocket all the time. I knew that she had called by telephone: she did not insist and no one asked me again. She returned after a week and asked for the watch. I refused her only once: I handed it over alive, intact. We all bought flashlights. In the streets there was no light and it was already normal for the hotel to remain darkened. The diversions were interrupted and each proceeded, without enthusiasm, to their dwellings. I did not have a flashlight and the truth is it did not matter much to me. Instead I helped the staff to close the curtains so that not even the clarity of the night could get through. Yes, I liked for the hotel to be a sort of black box full of murmurs. We all began to dine early. Thus I was with my mother when I saw the chubby, bald man. A talker, a show-off. He removes his gloves, folds the scarf, mentions the snow, the war, rubs his hands, moves his neck and hangs up his coat. In the dining room he hesitates, gestures lightly yet it is obvious that he does not know anyone. One of my errors was thinking that he would depart soon. A week at the most. Another error, perhaps a fatality, was to approach--the next day--the small group who surrounded the bald man. He explains that it is a new model, without batteries, but has a small motor that works when a lever goes up and down, just as, if we squeeze an udder, it adjusts to the shape of our hand, no, it is not difficult, is immediately familiar, it is simple, cannot break, fits in any pocket, is almost weightless. I was convinced of two things: the flashlight was perfect and I would steal it. I slept in peace, satisfied. I would steal the flashlight. I used a simple method and luck was with me. After six thirty I was downstairs. At seven the bald man entered, left his coat in the vestibule and disappeared into one of the lobbies. At eight we finished dinner, and I accompanied my parents while they had coffee, I said that I was going to the bathroom, I went to the bathroom, left, put my hand in the--enormous--pocket of the overcoat and removed the flashlight. I went to the room by the stairs, came down running and re-joined them. I asked for an apple tea. Papa was right: the bald man was a poor devil. He shouted, obliged the management to search in every corner, mistreated the housemaids, grumbled to himself, attacked the guests with the same information, no, he had not left it anywhere else, of that he was sure, it was here, here in the coat. The bald man as a plague, ever more agitated. He threatened the porter and lost his stirrups when a Chilean woman commented that for her all flashlights were the same. The incident ended badly, because the bald man wanted to bring the police. I became scared and committed the only error of which I regret. I went to the administration and said that I had found the flashlight. I thought, stupidly, that a vague explanation would suffice. But they wanted to know and subjected me to an interrogation. I mentioned the room that, on every floor, is next to the elevator. There the brooms and mops are kept and there is also a table and a chair. It is the place where the one charged with heavy cleaning relaxes. An old man with whom I spoke every afternoon. They called him and I had, to my disgrace, to repeat the story in front of him. He did not argue with me; he said, simply, that he had never seen that flashlight. Maybe they thought we were accomplices. The bald one calmed down and I returned to my room. Very alone. SURPRISES I HAD a strange girlfriend. She revealed that she was a crypto-Jew and I thought--in my Christian ignorance--that that was an erotic sect. For months I awaited the invitation. * * * I envy those who say that an inner voice invades them and dictates, almost against their will, immortal verses and magnificent epithets. Although I have been attentive to the quietest whisper, I believe not even a single noun is due to such an intrusion. Yet it is responsible, I am absolutely sure, for a ridiculous and impossible episode. The session began like so many others, I telling him which was the aching molar and how long it had hurt me. The doctor, a very young redhead full of freckles, listened with an attentiveness and care that I judged excessive. Why did he look at me like that? Perhaps, I say, I pronounced a word badly or maybe foreigners disturb him. He begged me--that is the correct verb--to remain calm, that there was no reason to lose my serenity. He added that he would kill the nerve, yes, he would kill it and he emphasized-- with an unnecessary precision--that in 15 minutes it would be dead. I smiled and made an indefinite gesture with my hand, an elegant way of indicating that I accepted the diagnosis and that would he, please, proceed. I think he liked my attitude, because he opened the window and invited me to admire the landscape. An urban landscape, one would say, a sort of plaza where I could observe ten or 12 parked buses. The sky, I concede, was blue. We remained in silence. A few minutes later, now ready to administer the injection, he asked me if I liked Oxford. Given the situation, it would have been sufficient to raise my eyebrows or assent slightly with my head. But I wished to talk and my response was: "Yes, father." I became motionless, I admit, as perplexed as he was. I closed my eyes and opened my mouth in an exaggerated way. The needle entered and I decided that it was alright to groan. The doctor did not recover the thread and stayed silent. Then I rinsed my mouth in a noisy and obtrusive manner. What else was there to do? I also pretended that something was happening in the plaza, craned my neck and adopted a smiling and interested expression. No reaction. I closed my eyes anew and remembered that redheads were unpredictable, an intermediate race, slippery, hypocrites. Those there. At last, poor thing, there was no alternative to speaking and in a cowardly tone he asked me if I felt pain. And I answered: "Yes, father." I confess that this alarmed me. At that moment I would have wished to frankly discuss the matter, to make him see that I was on his side. Yet he did not give me time. Almost without moving his lips he wanted to know if the pain was very strong. We both heard the reply: "No, father." We parted rapidly, he hardly offering his hand. Better that way, because it was sweating. * * * The forest was enormous. Some very tall and gray pines. From a distance I saw the girl chasing a terrified wolf. I swear it. * * * A man agonizes in a room and beside the bed, on a tile floor, a dog is sprawled. Someone enters, looks for a few seconds and again closes the door. * * * "Every breath we draw wards off mortality that constantly impinges on us. In this way, we struggle with it every second, and again at longer intervals through every meal we eat, every sleep we take, every time we warm ourselves, and so on." This image of Schopenhauer's is unforgettable: to breathe, drink or sleep are continuous battles against finitude. The contemporary philosopher feels uncomfortable in the company of Schopenhauer, he is not a technician, opines about anything, invents sayings, sustains enormous hypotheses, is a verbose old man who does not shrink, who lowers his pants and shows us the scar from his last operation. Welcome. * * * During the last two years of high school I pursued, almost without exception, a simple routine: when classes ended three or four of us friends would go to a café to drink an innocent glass of Toddy, we made jokes, we did not talk about anything and did not even light up a cigarette. We had known each other for a long time, but only the tedium and the miserable studies united us. Now when I reflect on it, I am a little scandalized by our lack of intimacy. I only remember their names, I know nothing about them. Perhaps we had a presentiment that soon we would stop seeing each other. Then we would walk together for a few blocks and I would go to the bookstore. Poblet, the owner, was a Spaniard of short stature, strong, his eyes very alert, nervous, his humor rather dry, always on his feet, conversing in bursts and with hands in his pockets. It pleased me that it was so. In part because that vaguely brusque humor made me feel better, two comrades who, without much indirection, exchange information. But also because I lived immersed in Baroja's novels and required that Poblet should resemble those solitary and impatient characters. Between two bookshelves I stayed until eight at night, pulling out books, reading the flaps, discovering authors, always amazed that Poblet would permit me so much liberty. He lacked pedagogical urges and never attempted to impose a lesson upon me. If you asked me about them, I would be incapable of saying what his literary tastes were and except for one case I do not remember any commentary about the books that I bought either. The majority were by Spanish authors and I supposed that, although he would not show it, that would flatter him. A desire, I admit, incongruent with my Barojian vision. In those sacred books I first encountered Borges and Gómez de la Serna and am proud of having devoured them without anybody having recommended them and without knowing anything about them. Had Poblet read them? I ignore that, although I would wish no, in order to feel that he treated me as he was; it would be sad to discover that with others he discussed them passionately. The hypothesis of a reader attentive yet resolved to keep his opinions quiet, repels me as slow and egotistical. Let us say then, that he did not know them. During the year of frequenting the bookstore I sat in a dusty but comfortable sofa in the second room. A privilege that I enjoyed immensely because thus I could appear, before the other customers, to be an erudite and cruel youth. It was there that Poblet, upon seeing me leaf through The Forging of a Rebel by Barea, said, to my surprise, that it was very easy to arrange things like that, leaving the wife and children and leaving with a stray. I remained mute and he never spoke of the matter again. It is possible that that was the moment of greatest intimacy. Or had I been mistaken and Poblet was a boringly conventional type? Later I left Buenos Aires and returned at the end of two years. I renewed the visits, and the reception, without being effusive, was very cordial. I believe that we drank a vermouth and he related to me-- satisfied yet without airs--that on one of his trips Ortega y Gasset had visited the bookstore. He referred to him as "Don José." During the 18 years that I was absent from Buenos Aires I never forgot Poblet. When I returned--only for two weeks--I stood contemplating the shop window, but I did not enter. The same occurred on another occasion. I arrived at the bookstore, peeked in the door, but did not enter. The next year, I took heart. I saw him immediately, approached and began to speak with much emotion. He interrupted me with an uncomfortable courtesy, assuring me that he did not know who I was. I insisted, naturally, awaiting the delicious instant of recognition. I mentioned--and supposed that it would be the definitive touch--that he had sold me the Sur collection. Yes, yes, it is true, he had had it, but did not remember the buyer. I think that by now he was disturbed and therefore invited me to see the bookstore. I simulated doing so. But when I went across to the second room he approached to tell me that I could not enter there, that those books were not for sale. I said farewell lifting my voice a little, adios señor Poblet. The bitter shades of Baroja. * * * When I was an adolescent I thought that the great writers were persons incapable of wrongdoing. My reasoning was at once simple and false: goodness accompanies comprehension and intelligence, without which--I thought--it is impossible to write a worthwhile page. I even remember my shock at reading, in the memoir of a contemporary, that Valle-Inclán kicked a (small) dog intent upon climbing on his leg while he (Valle-Inclán, of course) searched for a book. * * * So-and-so, so ready to serve, so prepared, so energetic, is relegated to minor posts, eternal counselor, leader of marginal missions. Such-and-such brandishes his celebrated finger of fire and his catastrophic and sonorous voice bellows. So-and-so, perhaps resigned although a little angry, dedicates his final years to courtly criticism and becomes the touchy memorialist of its favored personages. Such-and-such, still fiery and noisy, wets a severe finger in holy water and becomes one of the figures which he so denounced. A TUTOR I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN Count Alessandri. The years have passed--almost 15--and I still remember him with an undue frequency. I know, however, that only I am responsible for my memories and not the poor life of Alessandri. To dwell again upon it perhaps would be an injustice, because I am not sure of what I want. It lacks sense to narrate some anecdotes that never were clearly revealing or draw, with fine rhetoric, a more or less extravagant character. I am bored with that type of stories. I do not aspire to demonstrate that I too possess my gallery of monsters. Reality is not extraordinary because a hooker reads Ovid or because a watery bachelor passionately studies Malebranche in a minimal South American town. I ignore what should be an adequate reaction to such actions, but I refuse dying of surprise or delivering myself to that mid- afternoon literature. It is possible that I lack capacity to achieve the famous epic-grotesque tone and that, without giving it much attention, precepts are being insinuated whose basis is my defects. All this is possible. I think, nevertheless, that Alessandri does not merit this style. What would be appropriate, is a blurred and academic question. Suppose--falsely--that each piece of marble contains one single perfect statue and that a determinate episode calls for specific prose. Reality would then be already written and literature--when it is convincing--would be a sort of faithful echo. The contrary seems more certain; reality, by passing through literature, is organized and changes. That is why it is not easy to write about Alessandri. The hours we spent together, the months we shared at Oxford, the classes where he saw me, the conversations, the encounters in the street, what he allowed me to see, what I could glimpse despite him, nothing in all this is a sure field. There nothing is decided. I feel as if the story begins now. With remembering two or three deeds which are limpid and indisputable: my arrival at the home of Mrs. Fitzgerald, the room with the washbasin and the large window towards the street. A comfortable habitation, but worn and shiny. An old cloth. I have no doubt about this description and its objectivity is reinforced by the very slight sensation of revulsion which has not left me for a year. Many other things are scarcely probable, matters for a long and meticulous discussion. The precise color of the curtains, the shape of the lamp, the thoughts that occurred to me as I began to fold the clothes. It is difficult to be at once entertaining and truthful. But, however, I am convinced that the furniture, the high ceiling, the gas chimney and the white towel encouraged a certain attitude. Because I would have been able, it is clear, to rebel, seek another room, pay a higher price, not accept that low, used bed. I did not stay out of modesty or resignation, but instead for the malign enjoyment as tasting mediocrity. This is a disagreeable and haughty affirmation yet it explains, let us say, the long chats with Papadakis. We would meet in the dining room, during the breakfast hour. The Greek was from Crete, a bank employee, spoke terrible English, smelled of perfume and frequently combed himself. Those details are clear and I rest in them. One would not want, nevertheless, to multiply them haphazardly. They are useful, are guides and I should select them carefully. To analyze the way Papadakis smoked, narrowing the eyes in a simulation of intense pleasure, is unnecessary. It adds a layer of buffoonery that does not help much. There are, finally, limiting cases: is it irrelevant to mention the Greek's friendliness? Is it possible, perhaps, to recognize a quality without simultaneously approving of it. It seems to be an examination question while in reality it is the confession of an uncomfortable and diffuse feeling. I had affection for him and I may have demonstrated it meanly? Is this essential? Is it right, at these heights, to lose oneself in sentimental recriminations? The only important thing is to write that Papadakis was to first to speak to me of Alessandri. I would like to share that the information was gradual: at the beginning I knew that a Count lived in the house. Which did not move me, although it left me a little perplexed that they called him "Count." Certainly I had obvious associations, an old man, flirtatious, kindly, poor and, doubtless, demanding. I suppose--furthermore--that the unction bothered me with which Mrs. Fitzgerald and the Greek referred to him. Here I am--I believe--on firm ground, because I know that I am still jealous and competitive. In consequence those sweet tones could not please me. Later I became aware that he was English notwithstanding his Italian surname. I say these things with the desire of arriving at a conclusion: moved by curiosity I became a student of Alessandri. As if the gradual accumulation of data were to have created an insupportable tension. A nobleman of uncertain origin, a private instructor, a reclusive diamond in Mrs. Fitzgerald's basement. Nevertheless, none of this is certain: I never thought that a saint or a delicate artist lived in the downstairs apartment. If there was curiosity, it was minimal. I never was bothered by not yet having seen the Count in person. Nor is it true that I asked to meet him because Papadakis convinced me of his didactic excellence. The Greek, as I have said, was merely picturesque and amiable. Did I, then, establish a class schedule for some other practical consideration? I would wish to give a simple and brisk reply. Convenience, the just price, the search for a modest yet useful approach. If that were the response, I could posit myself as a clear and tranquil person, who ponders and decides. It is an agreeable image, albeit also comical. Perhaps it is on false grounds: to find a strange and brilliant reason behind such an opaque action. I do not dispute that there may have been motives, but most likely they were multiple, banal, without any importance. A minuscule and dispersed constellation. Why should I reconstruct it, why embark upon a project at once impossible and superfluous? It is preferable to forget the exegesis and concentrate on a few ineluctable emotions. To recognize, for example, that it is shameful to me having been a student of Alessandri. In the first place, because it annoys me to think that Papadakis and I had the same teacher. You could say that is innocent vanity, but I know that that foolish fact confirms my membership in the circle. And I have always felt a sort of embarrassment at having agreed--in a famous city--to such an obscure and uncertain pedagogue. It is a conventional reaction, which betrays weakness. I am in agreement. The Count, furthermore, did not teach badly. He enjoyed, above all, correcting pronunciation. At the end of a few weeks those phonetic exercises had been transformed into a parody of the diverse accents. I supplied that topic with words and phrases gathered in university hallways and at academic gatherings. We shook with laughter, laughed freely, without restraint, deeply. The Count received me with joviality, his greeting mixing absurd Italian expressions, and once an old and confused story slipped from him concerning his relations with the university. I was left with the impression that there had been a misunderstanding and that he still awaited a reply. Were we friends? The question is correct, yet very complicated. Outside of the classes we did not see each other and it is true that the Count, at that time, worked a great deal. Once I ran into him in the street, laden with small packages of food. He adjusted them so as to shake hands and babbled those strange and multilingual greetings. He smiled and found departure difficult. A friendship is not measured, naturally, by the frequency of the visits. What I have written up to now evokes a polite man, a friendly gentleman and the description--if I am not mistaken--suggests a person between 50 and 60 years of age. Someone, in any event, whose arrangements are relatively easy. Yet the Count--nevertheless--is not a personage from a vignette. When he greeted one, he held their hand too long, despite my attempts--more or less courteous--at release. He was stocky, not very tall, strong--not more than 45--with a short neck and large medallion head, which he threw back with a certain bravura. Perhaps his best gesture. The clothing always tight, to the point of bursting and that is the physical image of an excessive and disagreeable vitality. Any action was charged with an incomprehensible intensity. Alessandri served the coffee as if something was celebrated, a definitive farewell or an exceptional meeting. An atmosphere of imminent overflow. He was pleasant with me, was tolerant of my jokes, but surrounded me with an adhesive and avid attention. Just as if he were to watch me from close up. About those traits of the Count I do not vacillate, because it is not difficult to remember that which disgusts us. I recall that way of sibilant and rapid speaking he used for attacking. The Greek--who left one frightened and quarrelsome morning--surely heard that rare and lurid tone. There they are then, the defects yet, however, I have hardly advanced at all. To clarify the matter will it be necessary to write that I sympathized with the Count? Should I say this while in reality ignoring what I affirm? What should I confess to continue this text? These questions--solid though infinite--do not help me. Shall have to return to what I can control. Simple and solitary facts. A blind enumeration. II Before insisting about Count Alessandri it is well to clarify some things. First to conclude with a series of questions that could sound grandiloquent. A sort of rhetorical staircase that lacks the landing. "What should I confess to continue this text?" It seems that I allude to a decisive and incommunicable fact: a troublesome but necessary truth for organizing the narrative. The reality is more boring: I do not retain any secrets and I ask forgiveness for literary torpor. I add that he did not pretend to be mysterious or elegantly authoritarian. If I speak of the Count it is because my dealings with him were at once emotional and trivial. Or monotonous and memorable. Is it worth defining? Be clear, then, that I do not promise any astonishing revelation. The Count, at the end of these pages, will not be a son of Mussolini nor the author of an unforgettable sonnet. The problem raised by that slightly sordid question is another: if I ignore my emotions, it is impossible to convey the minimal story of Alessandri. To discover them is the motive of this tale. That is why I cannot be frank, or direct, or decisive. Thus it is necessary to linger on marginal and perhaps tedious data, the color of a curtain, the physical characteristics of a certain dwelling, my reactions before the Greek and Mrs. Fitzgerald. Those minutia are my allies. Or better said: I have no others. I am quite sure, for example, that we interrupted our classes at the end of a few months. I probably took advantage of the Count's flexibility to suspend them. I already said that he was not a bad professor and one would be an ingrate not to recognize it. Yet that excessive satisfaction at receiving his pay stub each week annoyed me. He brought the check near to his eyes grasping it with two hands and I am sure that he scanned all the markings. Without stopping smiling he folded it several times and hid it in his wallet. Then, between being ashamed and jubilant, he extended his hand to me. I came to feel that the existence of the Count depended on the punctuality of those payments. Doubtless an exaggeration, yet perhaps more of reality's than my own. Here I collide with insuperable limitations. I have described--attempting to be faithful--a few actions of the Count; I have distinguished his bodily movements from my sensations and in that manner have contributed--very much despite myself--to the illusion that they are two alien and mutually exclusive areas. Very much despite myself--I repeat--because, strictly, I do not have proofs that the Count would examine each letter on the check. I say that because I already accepted that he was distrustful and that he mixed courtesy with the habits of a money changer. The conclusion--so dramatic--that I took responsibility for his life is, more properly, a premise. If it were not so, I would not have written that he squeezed my hand with the gratitude of a poor parent. Because Alessandri--it is fair to say--never whispered anything to me concerning his financial situation. And less so in the first stage of our dealings. The second was begun a considerable time later. A noon meeting at the post office. He greeted me with affect and--as always--with a certain verbal disorder. He wore a double-breasted overcoat, elegant, very old. He was embarrassed when I made a jest about his intense epistolary activity. Perhaps a stupidity on my part, because I knew that Alessandri regularly answered the work offers published in the newspapers and in some specialized magazines. I also knew that he inserted announcements offering his services. The Count, who lacked friends, abounded in anonymous correspondents, the secretary of an institution, the employee of a bank who straightened out a debt, some commercial house that included an overdue bill. The essential, I suppose, was to receive something, were it only impossible brochures about a Polynesian cruise. I was witness to his rapid and professional movements: he opened the letters with a single cut and on occasion commented, with charm, how business and important governmental affairs wearied him. Sad mannerisms, attempts to present a prominent figure, naive and transparent comedy. Yes, all this is true, yet it seems that I too am constructing a personage, that is, a set of properties selected with care and supposed acuity. Here, with no doubt, is vanity active to the point of contempt: on one side I "rescue"--as one is accustomed to say--the life of Alessandri, am his savior, his prophet or, to express it with abundant hypocrisy, his memorialist. On the other side I assume the Count is unpresentable in public such as he is. I intervene, then, and order, subtract, erase and recalculate. The creative activity. A respectable activity--agreed-- but easily unjust. How is Alessandri to blame that the sordid details or machinations of his survival attracted me? Or that I would dwell so much on the dirty fingernails, on the frayed collars, on the probable lies? Why should the Count carry the burden of my literary formulation? Nevertheless, I do not provide other materials. I should admit, therefore, that that day at the post office the Count invited me to dinner. He said it thus, suddenly, and later repeated various times that yes, that he invited me to dine. One should not forget his timidity, yet also his avarice. After the first unfamiliarity he grabbed my arm and we walked some blocks together. He related that he had switched to a large house, had rented the downstairs and that a project for a college was underway. "St. Margaret." No special reason for the name: it was that of the street. He declared that he had a pupil, a boy from Nairobi who he was preparing to enroll in the university. I would meet him the night of the dinner. Of course he lived with him. The Count cooked, imparted the lessons and took him to run in the park. Study and sports, the classical division of any respectable college. An advertisement caused the miracle. A faraway family read it and decided to send an adolescent. Perhaps they thought that the price was modest for a private institute with good food, specialized teaching, a family atmosphere, games and, above all, interaction with overseas youth. Nothing strictly false, perhaps some excessively categorical adjectives. I understood the Count's optimism, his fanatical and victorious tone. I bought two bottles of wine and perhaps as revenge selected the cheapest. Or was I newly the victim of an already crystallized literary vision. Alessandri belongs to the universe of failure, pensions and cheap liquors. Thick and worn images. He opened the door immediately and upon seeing him I thought he was nervous. He praised the wine excessively and became involved in an enumeration of its non-existent virtues. The room was large, yet the excess of furniture made movement difficult. He presented the pupil to me, a tall lad, bony, with very mobile eyes. I asked him some questions and he responded in good English. A serious, educated, formidable African. The Count's satisfaction was clear. The meeting began under favorable auguries. I shall not attempt, clearly, to transcribe the minutia of a conversation at root tedious and conventional. I am not a stenographer and I do not believe that fastidiousness possesses a metaphysical justification. It is sufficient to indicate that the College, in addition to the central living space, counted a small bedroom, a kitchen and a bath. The Count slept in the living room. He had to clean, buy the food, teach arid and forgotten subjects. It was necessary to acquire simple manuals, those that do not require an instructor, to read them during the night and explain them the next day. For the moment he insisted on language and history. The basic disciplines, the master truths. He said it with seriousness or perhaps with an imperceptible irony. The only complaint that I heard was in relation to the insatiable appetite of the African. But it did not bother him to prepare his breakfast, make his bed, deal with his clothes. I do not believe that he would consider it humiliating or simply stupid. The Count, to my discomfort, was not disposed to joke about the situation. He smiled, but this was a college, he was the director and in the other room slept his only student. I reluctantly accepted the proposition and tried not to be overwhelmed with student tales. The dinner--must I say?--was a fiasco: college fare, sober, healthy, only a single cup of wine. I retired early. The Count--I ignore whether with premeditation--destroyed the words and the images that I had prepared. 15 years ago I decided to launch a story. Now it is another. I fondly recognize the disaster of the chroniclers. THE USELESS DEFENSE The punitive measures against Alexander Solzenitzen have revived, clearly, the tears of innumerable crocodiles, those professionals of outcry, howls and napalm. It was a foreseeable reaction, known up to the weariness, a hypocrisy whose familiarity cannot justify our silence. The task, once again, is to reveal the maneuver, detect the sophisms, refuse to participate in that false wake. But if this hygienic and necessary work is completed marshaling phantasmagoric arguments or through attitudes that, far from separating us unite us with the crocodiles, then we shall have failed and shall have substituted one mask for another. I believe, therefore, that it will be useful to remember some of those schemes, closer to rhetoric and interrogation than to logic and truth. One of them consists in lowering Solzenitzen's literary importance and maintaining that, definitely, we treat of a writer of third or fourth rank, a pamphleteer disguised as a novelist. With which it is attempted, in the first place, to bestow authority on the critique of Solzenitzen, converting him into a mediocre witness, and making the veracity of his artistic talent depend upon this. This premise accepted--that is, this stone in the mill--it advances to the second implication: in the dispute with the Soviet authorities no essential problem is either resolved or exemplified, the great themes are absent from this sordid personalistic polemic without theoretical elevation. As if it dealt with a local squabble between the chief of a delegation and a man at bottom without the slightest importance. The final conclusion--apparently reasonable-- reaches our ears that the situation would be much, but much different if Solzenitzen were Tolstoy. Then one would have to believe him; then we would have cause to be worried; then it would be worthwhile to rub our eyes and wet our face with cold water. Another alternative is to consider him an artist solely for his defects. Do we not perhaps all know that that class of persons are unstable, capricious, egocentric, obsessive, resistant to any integration, enormously susceptible? Is not the writer, almost by definition, that man who exaggerates certain traits of reality, those who propose to us, without scientific or objective ambitions, a highly personal and unique vision of the world? They usually are, furthermore, chronic utopians, never satisfied perfectionists, hardened moralists, perpetual censors, incapable of comprehending the slow and contradictory processes that lead to social transformation. Here the proposition--through an image of the writer that they present as an enfant terrible or a difficult adolescent--is to suggest to us that the rows, the dissatisfaction, are his habitual state, whatever might be the order of the universe. Solzenitzen is a "novelist": this is the key word for understanding the situation. Writers are like that. Entertaining, moving, unreliable. Now with the generic person established, we pass to the biography. The insistence is now concerning Solzenitzen's religious inclinations, concerning his misty conceptions about life and humanity, so distant from materialism, so close, on the other hand, to Christian preoccupations, somewhat Messianic, despite being populist and held by many Russian intellectuals during the 19th century. Solzenitzen represents an archaic, not a revolutionary, age. Throughout we should not forget that he feels uncomfortable in the Soviet Union: in such an expression socialism is undoubtedly intolerable. The problem has been displaced from the protests and specific accusations made by Solzenitzen to a description of his basic dysfunctionality in relation to the social system. The reasoning, it goes without saying, is atrocious: trampled underfoot is that that malady or maladjustment may justly derive from the truth of his accusations and that this ideology, considered as a relic, perhaps may be the result of the experiences suffered by that writer. It is also possible to resort to rhetorical minimization: what reach can the furies and the disgusts of Solzenitzen have against the formidable and unavoidable reality of the Soviet Union, a nation that has eliminated hunger, that has achieved enormous technical victories, that has modernized despite the civil war, the fascist siege, the initial poverty. Shall we forget that the October Revolution is the major event of the 20th century because a novelist finds difficulty in publishing his books? Are we not here before a typical case of historical frivolity? These questions, even beyond the truths they enclose, presuppose an abusive confrontation: they insinuate that the condition for presenting the critiques of Solzenitzen is to negate a set of facts. Attention is newly directed towards another focus: what is debated now is not socialist democracy but industrial and scientific successes instead, which transform any dissidence into an insignificant tantrum, superficial, ahistoric. A variant that is situated midway consists in recognizing that Solzenitzen's expulsion was an error, a clumsiness, but with the immediate warning that it is an episode whose significance is null. A lamentable equivocation, functionaries who lost patience and were carried, yes, we agree, away by a moment of bad humor, of irritation, a sort of strike at a bee which does not stop circling near the face. They are things, disgracefully, that occur everywhere. The directors are not infallible. Lastly I wish to mention the barefaced terrorisms, the verbal assaults, the insults although veiled. The recommendation that he enjoy his gifts in a Swiss chalet or that he create and develop on some Norwegian farm, next to a silent lake, in full solitude, his undoubted talents for the mystical. He will have time to spare--it is concluded in a hard tone--to contemplate the mountains and inquire into the meaning of the world. Or those who are indignant because, according to them, Solzenitzen wished, pridefully, to enjoy special privileges, liberties not conceded to the rest of the citizenry. If you live in a place where they are short, to demand them is a lack of solidarity, an expression of moral condescension! Or those who affirm that the anti-Soviet operation has failed because the Russian writer still continues to be alive. Then there are those who maintain that to criticize the Soviet Union is a convenient expedient for feeling clean in the middle of a garbage dump; they advise us to leave Solzenitzen in peace and concern ourselves, preferably, with the injustices that we have there, in front of us, not far away. In the survival of these attitudes diverse factors intervene. Fidelity to the official politics of the Soviet Union--cost what it will--is one of them, an old custom that derives directly from Stalinism: the existence of the socialist homeland is over and above any moral or ideological scruple. From there the idea, full of snarls, with no theoretic grounding, concerning the dependent function of the intellectual, mere mouthpiece of power, grammatical organizer of the elements. Heir to this extreme position is a radical mistrust of the writer who minimally follows this pattern, a suspicion and fear that generate violent and disproportionate reactions. The intellectual, for her part, is racked, very often, by the fear of historical isolation, the fear of becoming an abstract moralist whose labor is limited to the emission of various vacuous pronouncements; if now we add the sensation, also frequent, of gratitude regarding the office, the result is an impulse towards blind subordination to partisan structures or to power. The temptation of the real. Defending Solzenitzen, for these confused ones, is to exit from history, is to assume eccentric, marginal and isolated positions. Better to sacrifice the intelligence, causing it to contort like a snake; better to renounce, thus, the sole practical contribution they might make. I imagine the happiness of the crocodiles before each one of those argument schemes. To use them is equivalent to giving backing when it is diagnosed that socialism is a closed universe, self-defensive as an ancient sect, a rigid system become incapable of correcting its own errors. Socialism is not to be defended by closing the eyes or justifying cruel bureaucracies; its defense should move towards collective self-criticism, that is, toward democracy. It is the only way to defend it. AMERICAN CHRONICLE IT IS LAMENTABLE TO FALL into desperation because we have not turned in a paper in time or because a gentleman still has not signed a document. It is unpardonable that those miseries should produce anguish and, at times, disgrace. It is metaphysically scandalous that insignificant causes should have such importance in our lives. The bureaucracy--safe in undoubtedly artificial paradises--is this mismeasure, that alchemy which transforms a pallid oldster or a gelatinous matron into decisive and inevitable personages. A universe of petty monarchs, seals, prose ad nauseum, equivocal whispers, false problems, regulations, corridors, waiting rooms, greasy armchairs, uncertainty and despotism. I have supported that world, but above all I have endured the Consuls. I do not want to propose sociological generalizations nor political explications: that is easier and, among ourselves, less healthy than the narration of a personal experience. Mine yes, but not unique. Almost always a foreigner, I have lived--I would say--before the Consuls and I know that by now I shall not escape that routine: with anxiety, with resignation, with rage, I will continue handing over my passport. I also know that nothing can exceed the sensation of abandonment, the fear they may not return it to me, the delirium that they might find it false. I am there, seated, with a modest face, impotent, perplexed, surrounded by depressing and vaguely philosophical questions, my identity, my ego, the principle of individuation. It is exaggerated, is sad, a Consul should not provoke such reflections. Definite ideas, conceded, yet also bad memories. Because when I went to the Ministry of the Interior, after six months of being in Mexico, the Consuls were still middling and neutral figures. The metamorphosis began when they informed me that it would be quicker to change "migratory status" at some consulate near the border. Laredo, for instance. They pointed out the list of the necessary documents and in a calm and agreeable tone insisted that in three days all would be arranged. I thought, without malice, that the suggestion was somewhat strange: the central office leaving the solution to a peripheral branch. I accepted the advice, nevertheless. I arrived in Nuevo Laredo, they retrieved my tourist card, we crossed the bridge and I entered upon the North American migratory pathways. The employee began to review the passport, pausing at my photograph, turning the pages after having examined them thoroughly, viewing all of them, even those that were blank. He closed it, said nothing, opened it again and began a second reading. He shakes his head and asks me why they awarded me a visa valid only for five days. I explained that in reality I need only several hours, to present my documents at the Mexican Consulate and return, if possible, the same day. The reply was unfavorable. He wants to know more, and then I tell him that I study in the University and that I came to Laredo because they instructed me to. I repeat that the process is very simple. Now he does not speak, he concentrates, I too remain silent, knowing not what to add; I do not understand what the difficulty is. He asks me, then, what would happen if the Mexican Consul were not to grant me the student visa. I say the problem is imaginary, there are not grounds for considering it, I do not lack any papers. He insists. I suggest, then, that he speak with the Consul: the reaction is a strange smile, as if my proposition were the test he awaited. He rises and informs me that he cannot let me enter into the United States. I request permission to speak with the Consul or that the police accompany me to the Consulate. Once again the smile. The case will be elevated to a superior authority, so kindly wait in the corridor. An hour later they bring me to a room where six or seven persons are found. They are standing, in silence, and at the sides of the door are two uniformed agents. At the rear is a table set upon a platform and behind it, seated, a gray-haired thin man. He orders some documents, does not lift his head, says some words I do not understand, a juridical formula--I think--to initiate the event. Following that he pronounces someone's name. When my turn arrives, the procedure is the same: he reads the half sheet that summarizes the conversations taken place with the immigration functionary and, while adding absolutely nothing, concludes by denying me the permission. I approach to protest, indicating that I cannot return to Mexico, ask what is the reason for that decision and all I obtain is an explosion of fury: I have been judged, they will take me to the bridge and they will pay the fee to cross it - ten American cents, if I remember correctly. The rest does not apply and no appeal is permitted. A little, fat policeman asks me, in an effeminate Spanish, to accompany him. We walk towards the bridge, he voices a song and is annoyed because I comment about the beauty of the judgment. In the middle he stops, makes a joke and motions with his hand to continue. I advance, slowly, toward a Mexican agent. I was in Nuevo Laredo ten days. In a disorderly and torrid little hotel. In the morning I went out early, breakfasted in a shady, fresh café, with some ancient fans hanging from the ceiling. There I stayed a long while, read the newspaper, went to the bathroom, ordered another coffee. I circled the plaza and around 11 presented myself in the Immigration offices. There was air conditioning, a delight. And, furthermore, they always received me well. The chief, from the first moment, gave assurances that my case was clear and simple: he would communicate with the Consul and tomorrow or the day after I could return to the capital. That I should not leave Nuevo Laredo, that I would return, please, the next day, how enchanted to know me. That night I slept peacefully. A sensation of relief which was reinforced when the chief told me the good news: the Consul was in agreement and probably would arrive that same afternoon. He did not come, but I did not become alarmed. A Consul, of course, I understand it, is a busy man. I chatted with the secretary, left to buy a police novel and took refuge in the café. The second and the third day do not count, for they informed me that the chief had left the city. A lot of work. And the Consul? No, they knew nothing. In the afternoon, even though it was useless, I returned to the offices to avoid the heat of the street. One of two hours, wandering the corridor, speaking to the employees, I saw how they served the tourists. The Chief sympathized, was surprised to see me--had not the Consul come?--I shall call him by telephone, that I should not leave, it was a quick matter. He expounded the matter with corrections and even with fervor, was without doubt on my side. Yes, it was not possible that I keep waiting. The Consul would be here tomorrow. When I departed, at three in the afternoon, he still had not arrived. I did not return that day, went to the movies and later I sat in the plaza. The Chief encouraged me, did not understand why they had advised the border to me, what bad luck about the Consul, well, this happens at times, work accumulates, a little patience, not asking much. The eighth day was definitive. At 12:30 the chief received me, laments the absence of the consul and asks me, with a certain exasperation, if I have money. I tell him the truth: only to pay for indispensable costs. He lifts his eyebrows, breathes deeply, promises to insist. In the street I encounter the Agent with whom I had spoken the first day. Returning from vacation. A soul at once charitable and greedy. I went to the post office and placed the telegram. 24 hours later the reply arrived. He awaited me in his office at four; neither the Consul nor the Chief were mentioned. He offered me a Tourist visa. I greeted the secretary and learned that the Chief had never communicated with the Consul. The hotel desk, upon clearing the account, joked a little about me: he had been informed, he knew everyone. My Third Tourist Card was won in August and I decided, together with Peter, a friend whose problem had been identical, to go to Guatemala. Once more they had suggested to us to try some border consulate. Yes, my Third Tourist Card, because the Mexican Consul in Buenos Aires, where I spent three months, did not want to provide my documents. I presented myself to the Consulate with a great variety of papers: examination certificates, letters of recommendation, bank balances and, furthermore, a brand-new passport. It was not sufficient: I was not yet registered for the second year. Indeed the registrations were to begin within two months, and all this is the proof that I am a regular student. It does not matter, without that paper there is no student visa. Bring it and I shall grant one to you. I waited two months and obtained the witness. The Consul audited, audited, audited and, finally, asked for six photographs. They were useless. On the appointed day a year later, another Consul denied me the same visa. He was a talkative and imaginative man. He said that he had received a strange, rare communication: Hispano-American residents in Mexico would only be able to obtain the return visa in some country on the American continent. He agreed with me that it was an incomprehensible directive and tried to convince me to travel, on his responsibility, without a visa. I sent a letter. They responded that the information was false. Small incidents, agreed, but frightened animals jump at any noise. Consuls and Migratory Agents have been, in this age of persecutions and assassinations, infinitely important persons. They can condemn or save. As always, there has been everything. Illustrious cases and unforgettable junk. Some pro-Franco agents tried to extort Walter Benjamin and only succeeded in his suicide. IN MEMORIAM THERE ARE forms of survival that only require memory or experience; yet there are others, more secret, based on friendship, on unforgettable conversations, on encounters and discussions that seemed casual for being so everyday and frequent. On occasions this second manner is more effective than that obtained by the professional diarists or by those who systematically confess themselves before a recorder, feeling at the same time immortal and modern. I am speaking of those figures who, on the margin of the official institutions, practice a disorderly and provocative pedagogy, who trouble and expose those who move between one manual and another. In our countries, where so frequently intellectual peace is obtained after the reading of three or four books, those conflictual and indomitable personalities are marvelously useful: as spoilsports, as maladjusted, as fastidious, because they yawn at the opportune moment, because they laugh when they should, because they never understand anything, because they belch, oversleep and ask simple things that all of us should know. I knew and profoundly loved one of them, an intellectual pinhead of the first order who left us 23 years ago [1963]. I speak of George Portilla. I do not want to sanctify him, for the simple reason that he was no saint, neither of letters, nor of philosophy, nor of any sect. He was an unsatisfied, anarchic and confused man, who lived out what perhaps were his major virtues, as frustrations. I think, for example, of his notorious reluctance to box himself into a prudish and bureaucratic society; I think of his sorrows for not being an optimistic, energetic, punctual, calm, secure, empty, abominable functionary; I think of his aggressive and heterodox Catholicism, which I interpret as his desire to love something deserving without any discussion. Yet above all I think of the discomfort, of the insecurity caused in him by the enormous burden of rage he carried within and of his attempts to tame it, to approach it as if he dealt with a wild beast. He never fully accepted it, never decided to embrace it fully in a creative, explosive way - reducing it, I repeat, to a sickness or deformity. For this I reproach him because it definitely implies not having recognized that marginality, social fiasco, was what nourished his expressive force and his critical capacity. I lament that he did not more violently reject the image of himself propounded by a repressive, vulgar and engorged society. They smelled the danger and then immediately converted Portilla into an extremist, into a joker, into a picturesque character or into the dear friend who requires help, patience, compassion, pills, doctors. Each group, as we know, has its own castration methods. What is more, certain of Portilla's intellectual ideals, products of his upbringing and of the cultural milieu in which he lived, did not help him to feel comfortable in what was his natural style. Although at times he was ironic about the "Professors"--"little men we have to reveal great men"--he always admired, a little ingenuously, the academic world, its ceremonies and its terrors. He might have wished to participate in it with erudite monographs, textual commentary, exegesis, that is, the complete opposite of what, out of minimal fidelity to his instincts, he actually did. But he did it with a sensation of diminishment, of lost paradise, a Wagnerian tenor obliged by circumstances to sing La verbena de la Paloma. Take into account, furthermore, that Portilla had the misfortune of running into a philosophy that proudly described a waiter's activities in terms of "being in itself," "being for itself," "transcendence," "ecstasy," etc. with the well-known result that one understood nothing of a waiter's real work nor the modalities, supposedly complicated, of "Being." Useless jargon that enveloped literary description and added nothing to the philosophy. Encouraging, it is true, the illusion of being, at the same time, concrete and rigorous. They are superstitions that can paralyze anyone. Only in his final years did Portilla leave this pseudo- theoretical bundle to one side and moved toward a more varied thematic and a cleaner language. He wrote little, but the tone in the end was his own. As if he had recovered the authors of his youth, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche. When he died what could be called a culture of protest began to crystallize. A diffuse ideological climate that was based upon a multiplicity of facts. The youthful desire to try new forms of relationships; the rediscovery, on the part of an ever more numerous student population, of their political importance; the entrance of the middle class, until then silent and conformist, into higher education; a massive sexual demand; liberation struggles at the national level and for minorities; a new idea of the priesthood; the oppressive experience of cultural manipulation. And, surrounding everything, constant criticism--from sociology, from cinema, from literature--of industrial society. I have enumerated phenomena of diverse types; the list could be expanded mentioning the brutal attraction of drugs, the cultivation of an itinerant primitivism, the aestheticization of primary objects associated with poverty, like sandals, necklaces, certain fabrics, etc., the creation of microsocieties based on artisan or agricultural work, the hope of finding the purity of life that is sought in some religions. To the formation of this protest ideology, add the resurgence of Marxism at the academic and popular level, which I explain, in part, by the presence of this atmosphere of indignation and rebuke created by phenomena who origin has not always been political in a precise sense; and also by the generalized consciousness--a product of critiques many of which are non-Marxist--of the interdependence of the different elements that structure a society, that is, the almost intuitive access, as if it were already a common cultural space, to the concept of totality. A rebirth that owes nothing to the official texts of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, paradigms of monotony, nor to devout admiration of the European socialist nations. We all have been surprised by what has occurred during these years and we all live with the sensation that the historical rhythms have accelerated. Reality still maintains a family air, but it is no longer precisely the face we knew. I do not know how Portilla would have reacted. I suspect, however, that he would have felt stimulated by that problematic, that which was a mixture of moralism and social criticism: he would have found the exact occasion to unleash, as an accurate and ferocious essayist, that rage of which we spoke before. I suspect too that he would have been impatient at the inarticulate intellectual babbling of the protests, often fed by pamphlets and more pamphlets, and likewise by the triviality of the external symbols, showing Portilla to be still somewhat Puritanical. What I have no doubt about is that he was one of those rare persons among us with the possibility of approaching that new public without the necessity of disguising as an adolescent and without conceding anything with regard to seriousness and rigor. With authenticity, with dignity and because, in the last analysis, Portilla always understood philosophy as reflection upon the general beliefs of a community. He has left us with a great loss. TO TEACH BEGINNING in the 19th century the majority of philosophers were professors. They struggle to win their chairs, cling to them, save and at last even retire with a certain decorum. In our age it is difficult to find the figure of the thinker whose paradigm is Descartes: a gentleman who possesses solid credentials, travels, lives in retirement, chooses his friendships, establishes his agenda in accordance with his tastes--Baillet tells us that he wrote in bed until well into the morning--, lacks pedagogical obligations, does not offer classes, does not correct exams, does not revise study plans, naps, writes, invents masterworks. Undoubtedly there still exist characters with fixed incomes and juicy inheritances, solitaries who inhabit humid and austere houses, who perhaps meditate from time to time and probably plan some small and decisive treatise. Yet if we discover a man with these characteristics, we immediately suspect him of extravagance, ingenuousness, inert projects. We all know that Spinoza ground glass and, nevertheless, we have little hope that today the watchmaker or the shoemaker will be philosophers. It is troublesome for a more or less important person--like Hobbes--to educate the chosen son of a nobleman or industrialist. The case of Benedetto Croce--a philosophic professional outside of the university organization, owner of houses and lands- -attracts attention precisely because it is exceptional. Literature permits Sartre to abandon his chair. Wittgenstein is different: he wrote his best book before becoming, reluctantly, a professor; he detested the academic obligations and required asceticism, intensity, concentration of a philosopher. For him the University was the place of concessions, vanities, complacencies. Philosophy was a calling, a most singular vocation, not a profession among others. For the rest of his colleagues--whatever may be their inner convictions, teaching is almost the only manner of surviving. The additional sources are the cultural bureaucracy, the constant production of texts or the family histories - scarce if we remember that, in general, the philosophers are recruited among the middle classes. For better or for worse, philosophy has taken refuge in the Universities. The professors teach and the pupils learn. It would be delicious if everything would reduce to these seven words. The professors dictate intense, passionate, cerebral, perfectly didactic classes, while the students write in their notebooks with a sensation of enthusiasm, plenty, discovery. They quiet down when it is necessary, ask only at the opportune moment, distinguish clearly between a horizon and a perimeter, are not distracted, do not converse with their neighbor, it never crosses their mind that it is interesting to leave one's own name carved into the wooden benches. The professor knows his students, knows what each one of them has read, what are the unique difficulties upon which they stumble, is capable of reconstructing and correcting the mental process that led to an erroneous conclusion. He has experience and is not unfamiliar, it follows, with the importance of elegy, regulates the stimuli, encourages the conviction that efforts do not pass unseen. He revises his work, compares it with the previous, enhances it and, later, also criticizes it. But he does not destroy it, because not being an angel does not make him a butcher; he indicates the defects and they do not detract from the qualities. The highest moment of the pedagogical labor for them is not the denunciation of clumsiness or the finding of error. Nor are they flattered, be it through the route of excessive and indiscriminate adjectivization--at root a distant and indifferent attitude--or through a phony identification with vital issues of the students. They do not pretend to be equally young, do not make unmeasured efforts to create a pressured and superficial intimacy. They know that it is secondary to dress like them and imitate them in certain idiosyncrasies and verbal preferences. They consider it an obligation not to nourish fantasies and they explain to the student that it is better to begin other studies or perhaps limit the project. They do not act, out of fear of hierarchy and of thus engendering a privileged group, as if everyone were equal. They know that that is the only way of at once avoiding personal unhappiness and collective inefficiency. We are speaking, it is clear, of a person who cannot be terrorized because he was born 20 years ago or because he is not a prophet and is simply intent on being a philosophy professor. The professors teach and the students do not nod off, they regularly attend the hall, read the bibliographies, are satisfied with what they learn, notice that in the second year they know more than in the first, that the different classes they attend are not necessarily contradictory, that the philosophy is varied yet is not chaotic, that the institutions, although imperfect, are preferable to an impoverished and absurd autodidacticism. They recognize that that professor did not become worse nor better for not having signed the latest manifesto; they admit that philosophy is something more than a good conscience or some holy indignation. They admit that it resembles any scientific discipline. They concede that it is necessary to learn. This vignette decomposes not only remembering the professor who reports sick too often or that one who, when he arrives, sits in the chair, pulls away from the table, leans it against the wall, narrows his eyes and begins to recite, without paper, without notes, without variation, the lesson of the day. A rancid, fingered, untouchable meal. The vignette smells of utopia because it presupposes a condition--cultural homogeneity--which only is fulfilled in very limited groups or in the final stages of teaching. Normal is a fragmentation that diminishes or deforms the efforts of the most perfect of the professors. The examples are simple. Of 20 students who commence their philosophic studies it is probable that only a few will have elected that particular professor because somehow he coincides with theoretical directions which they desire to explore. The others are there because the schedule is convenient, because there is space, not to part from their friend or because the administrative offices sent them there. A few will have seen or even read some of the books that are recommended. The rest are subdivided among those who have randomly encountered the names of the authors and those unaware of work, author and editor; among those who are disconcerted when it dawns on them that there will not be a single text by which to navigate during the entire year and those who are disturbed and enervated to find that memory, the capacity of faithfully reproducing sentences, paragraphs, ellipses, the doubts and inhalations of the philosophers is insufficient for becoming a model pupil. Or between those who are surprised because the class cannot be reduced to quiet and morose dictation and those who do not understand that it might be a useless effort to copy yesterday's scribblings in fine letters - clean, round, elemental. And not lacking will be the one indignant because the professor suggests the reading of works that are not translated. For a minority the professor is repetitive, tiresome, progresses slowly, pays excessive attention to those fellow students who over and over again return to ask the same thing; the others, on the contrary, who complain of the vertiginous pace of the expositions, a rapidity that they interpret as disdain and rejection. The same happens with the language: many find it distant, elusive, dark, are not accustomed to certain tones and idioms, and on occasion even the vocabulary and the syntax seem strange to them. A situation which is complicated even more when the auditorium is fragmented into students who expect from philosophy the rapid supply of ideological arms, students who approach because a set of theoretical problems interests them and students who have inherited an elegant and ornamental idea of philosophy. That which satisfied some inconveniences others. That one accepts--because her previous experience has been such--that the student, until proof of the contrary, knows less than the professor, and it does not bother her to adjust to certain traditional customs; that one who is seated to the right, for his part, considers tutelage important and instantaneous camaraderie with the professor, without which--we suppose--the teaching is abstract and paternalistic. In such a situation, everything is difficult: the academic relations among the students, the establishment of common tasks, finding an adequate voice that avoids the impatience of that faction who now judge us overly obvious or the rage of the remainder because we do not take them into account and they are already lost and we continue on and they are there, without understanding anything, fed up, bored, frustrated. To teach in these conditions is more complicated than constructing a valid argument. It is possible, then, that the philosopher, a prudent man, will return to his craft, to his trade or to idleness. But if he does so, he will not blame the University for reflecting and reproducing in the classroom the fragmentary reality of our nations. PLANTS AND ANIMALS COLLECTING animals is an ancient custom. Wen, the first king of the Chou dynasty, possessed a "Garden of Intelligence" in which he exhibited samples from the different provinces of the Empire. Htasu, an Egyptian emperor, organized an expedition that returned laden with monkeys, leopards and giraffes. Augustus fed 420 tigers, 200 lions, 600 African animals, a rhinoceros, a hippopotamus and a snake 25 meters in length, without counting the elephants, the eagles and the 36 crocodiles. Gifts abound: the inevitable Harunu-r-Raschid (transcription of Cansinos-Assens) sent an elephant and some monkeys to Charles the Great; another elephant was the offering that Manuel I of Portugal made to León X and it is said that even Juan Vicente Gómez, the Venezuelan chief, solicited a puma--silent meat-eating animal-- from the Italian government. During the 19th century the private collections are transformed into zoological gardens and there is no important city that renounces having its own zebras, dromedaries and lions. The zoological gardens fulfill a double function: they become at times a center of scientific investigation and, above all, permit the direct observation of unknown fauna. The perpetual nearness, however, emphasizes the cultural distance. The inhabitant of the city confronts, now, a zoo foreign to her habitual world, essentially associated with the past and, therefore, to literature and the imagination. The strength, the ferocity or the extravagance of certain animals accentuate the differences between a way of life and that other era in which they were or still are the principal characters. The zoological garden demonstrates that, for us, they are useless beasts; only contemplation remains, the sleeping panther, the trunk of the elephant turning in the air. The cell or the closed cage generates confidence in a civilization that has imposed itself on this feline, cruel, predatory environment. The plaques that announce the origin of the exemplar evokes distant geographies, adventure books read during childhood, an obscure and archaic universe in which humanity survives because they are astute and inventive. The triumph of the Intelligence. The zoological garden is conceived, in reality, as an homage to the hunter, visible testimony to our dominion. A favorable place, in consequence, to broach brief civics lessons or to improvise some sermon concerning evolution and progress. Others, on the contrary, will feel disconcerted before so much biological excess, those colors, the luxury of those spots, the neck, the mane, the manner of turning its head; incomprehensible forms that far from reviving an idea of order are like a proof of the arbitrary and of chaos, the refutation of any cosmic design. The zoological garden is hardly an example of our relations with the natural world. Distance is the basic category. The usual now is not to see the live chicken, but that divided into breast and thighs and the fish is always on a bank of ice. Dead nature: the skinned animal, the filet without bones, the slab of meat, the end of a process whose origin is ever more remote from us. We know, distractedly, that somewhere there must be pens with chickens, cows that bellow, stables, granaries. We know, in the way of a general principle, that manufactured objects require primary materials: but what we perceive, that which we manipulate, is the carton that contains the milk, the rectangular butter covered in paper, the already cooked lentils. The image of nature that is projected is, thus, that of a deposit of materials. Or the colony that provides iron, vegetables, oil, apples. There are children who have seen tigers and polar bears and never a burro or a rabbit. It is possible, then, that in the future city the zoos shelter, to amaze the young, not only condors and hippopotamuses, but also calves, sheep, goats and pigs. They shall discover that they exist, shall recognize that the cow continues to be an essential animal and the obligatory oratory during those instructional excursions may somewhat forget the battle of man against the jungle to expound, instead, upon the origin of butter and ham. Pío Baroja tells us of the surprise of a child when they told him that underneath the asphalt was earth, the same in which the wheat is planted. Technology highlights the remoteness. The houses, those autonomous and isolated spaces, are connected with nature through pipes and wires: we open the faucet and the water comes out, a single movement is enough to turn on a light or so that the gas heats a meal. Indispensable elements that arrive to us in an anonymous and subterranean manner, almost abstract, without associations, without memories, with moving us anywhere. Like a recorded voice that repeats the exact hour. When we wet out face or when we wash our hands, the water, so to speak, plays the same role as the towel and the soap: instruments subordinate to our needs. It is not a river which suddenly springs forth: it is a liquid that dissolves, while we think of something else, the grease of society. In the city, nature is presented as a park or garden, limited spaces that attempt to reproduce an image of her. They are not virgin zones bordered by structures and roads, left to themselves so that we may remember how the universe was before cement or carbon monoxide. The garden, we all know, is an interpretation, the result and at the same time the promoter of our conceptions and sentiments regarding nature. There are symbolic gardens whose understanding requires initiation. There are gardens that suggest barbarism, abuse, insecurity. Others emphasize a clear, rich world, nature as the governance of the process. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Italians laid out gardens that simulated streets, plazas, urban perspectives, the conquest of the rustic, the conviction perhaps that the world is rational. Thus, the garden is not simple nature, only trees, meadows, hills. It is, additionally, history, illusion, states of being; here there is no "purity," only scene, memory, persuasion. Remoteness confronting intact nature. The parks have never been workplaces. They are, essentially, centers of recreation: we go to play, to stroll, to take in the sun, to waste time, to get exercise, to revive images; or perhaps we go to relive private episodes, to converse, to attempt intimacy. They represent, in the civic organization, idleness, they moment in which we detach from our tasks, from effort. Consequently, parks and gardens, even when they are sordid and suffocating, even the abandoned ones, even those that have more dust than leaves, foment a general vision of nature as an area of rest. Which, again, implies distance, a pathway that does not form part of the daily routine. We head towards beaches or mountains--a day, some weeks, several months a year--in the same way that we enter a park. The proposition is identical: to distract ourselves or to recuperate. In its extreme, the person who goes on a vacation resembles the sick who take a brief stroll through the hospital garden, breathe a more pure air, contemplate a pond, stretch their legs, view the sky, keep a stone in their pocket as a reminder, chatter about existence, nap, return. The images evoked are superficially counterpoised. They reunite when we notice that the natural world--seen as a prison, deposit of materials or garden--presupposes an attitude whereby we are unique personalities: nature is that which is foreign, different or, as the Hegelians would say, exteriority. We profit, then, from an ontological right to receive, to modify, to impose, and to exploit. It is probable that animism may be an unsustainable theory. Yet it is also certain that we only love that which is similar to ourselves. The conclusion is that we might be able to relate lovingly to nature only through a false doctrine. THE FALSE OBJECT THE SECOND version of a book may be excessive, but it is not an imitation of the first. To transcribe Don Quixote from the first down to the last letter could be penitence or a literary project; what it will never be is a falsification. Pierre Menard is an astonishing character, not a delinquent or a prolix imitator. It is possible to appropriate a theme, a narrative technique, even a syntax, is possible to use the verbs and the adjectives of the master, become indignant and saddened by the same causes, to simulate his perplexities, quote the same authors, invent--except a little later--the same characters. It is possible, is frequent and apparently is the ineluctable vocation of certain writers. The literary work impedes, however, complete imitation: if the devotee carries it to completion he becomes a mere copyist. To reproduce the original is not to create an extraordinarily similar new object: it is, aridly, one more presentation of the poem or of the novel. A painting, as opposed to literary works and to musical compositions, is susceptible to falsification. A copy of The Maids of Honor is not a new apparition of the original, but instead a new object that claims to be equal to the model. To reproduce a drawing--whatever may be the procedure--is an alienation of the original. A paperback edition brings us to Garcilaso's poetry; a copy, however perfect it may be, is always a substitution. Absolute imitation, far from being in painting a whimsical, mysterious and allegorical project, is a modest undertaking, a minor art that sometimes becomes a detective story and an aesthetic problem. To discern the perceptual differences--and thereby, of artistic taste--between a perfect falsification and the original is a task that fascinates the philosophers and enervates art historians. Now then, there exist some objects of which no one would say they are falsification yet, nevertheless, in some manner are tributary to others. An example that, unfortunately, is always at hand, is that of paper napkins. It would be rare, although the species varies, to find a businessperson who tried to make them pass for cloth napkins, just as it would also be strange for someone, after using them, to try to wash them and, maybe, even iron them. Nor could we maintain that the paper napkins, the paper cups and plates are reproductions in the way that a photograph is with respect to a picture. That greasy napkin, too small, absorbent, filthy, is, simply, an object that substitutes for another in a determinate function. The paper cup does not simulate the crystal one; it is also a cup, but one of paper. It supplants, does not imitate or copy. The introduction of new materials carries consequences; there are actions that are affected by the change. One of the classic mannerisms to express fury was to grab a glass and smash it against the wall. But if it is plastic it bounces, remains intact and the noise like a child's plaything would be sufficient to demonstrate the infirmity. The supposed Russian custom--ignoring whether it is also Soviet--of toasting and later throwing down the glass is not a proud gesture but instead normal if we are dealing with a paper cup: once used--so the instructions say--one must throw it in the trash. I do not know whether in the past women let a handkerchief fall; what I do know is that today no one would dare to recover a Kleenex. We would think she tossed it because it was dirty. The new materials, on the other hand, avoid objects being, so to speak, subjectivized to transcend their immediate utility. The relation to them is inattentive, cold, quick, instruments to satisfy necessities, testimonies to our physiological necessities, hardly that of our fantasies, preferences, fetishes, memories, manias. The cause, it is clear, is found in the transitory, ephemeral character of those flimsy objects, manufactured to use up, to decompose in due course. We experience them, furthermore, as replaceable, as one more among many, at bottom anonymous, interchangeable, whatever store displays them while only the price varies. Objects without history, which surround us with solitude. There are even worse. I think of the enormous variety of false objects that populate our everyday world, a world that is constructed as a systematic replica, a reflection, a phantasmagoria. On one side are the objects imitated by using a different material. Before the paper cup here the distinctive trait is the frank proposition to simulate something else. It is the case of a chair upholstered with a material that resembles leather, but is not leather; the table which could be made of wood yet, however, is not. Here are those excessively rubbery, elastic plants, with their thick, badly drawn leaves, those plastic vegetables that do not breathe, no not dry out, only collect dust. In another category should be mentioned the chimney that will not light because it should not, or the false beam that does not support anything. False objects introduce, on a massive scale, an illusion of equality and of participation: although we are not Englishmen and do not belong to any exclusive circle, we can seat ourselves on an almost leather armchair, its fabric a little wrinkled, apparently old, respectable, secure, Victorian, and British. We can never own a house constructed in the colonial era, yet it is possible, at least, to have a room that evokes it: we purchase some rafters--it does not matter that they are thin--and criss-cross the ceiling. If verisimilitude is our passion, then we shall add a pair of bleeding crucifixes and some ironwork. They are not expensive because so many have the same project. Thus we shall have achieved an austere, historical and patriotic room. After all it was not so difficult. We live in a subtropical climate, wood is scarce but, despite this, a family united around the hearth is so attractive. We construct a small chimney which, although it does not light, allows us to experience--through some painted logs and little red lights--the customs of a Nordic family. The false object foments a spurious and perspectival universalization. The city cloaks itself in buildings that, through the most blatantly decorative and conventional elements, try to evoke other countries, other atmospheres. We deal not with a profound architectonic influence, but with superficial imitation, from the carnival, which assumes a credulous, conformist citizen, self- satisfied because he is offered a new masquerade, a piece of France, of England, of Italy. The conclusion is not a critique of imitation in general. To imitate is not only an activity practiced by the vast majority; it is also a discipline and may even be a necessary stage. The moralists and the teachers extol it. A universe of pure creators might be better, but it continues to be a romantic dream and a somewhat stupid will towards purity. What we repudiate is our having degraded our capacity for imitation, and having placed it in the service of insignificant trinkets. I repudiate that parallel and inauthentic world that approaches us and whose destiny we foresee to be the progressive imitation of itself until arriving at absolute fantasy. Pierre Menard is unattainable, but should be the tutelary god of the imitators. FRIENDS OF STENDHAL I AM A TALKER, I admit, but when I am nervous I do not open my mouth, I remain quiet, I feel some ridiculous desires to scratch and invariably think of the whistle of a ship. It is natural, then, that it would be he who would initiate the dialogue. With a very modest observation concerning the patio palm trees, so elegant, so much resembling, if we look carefully, the necks of giraffes. I did not demonstrate enthusiasm, it is clear, only a movement of the head, a minimal signal that I had heard him, in no way a literary adhesion. And, nevertheless, he did not stop looking at me and smiled, to be honest, in a frankly sympathetic manner. A man more properly low, wide and a jaw with strong, separated teeth. I went on a tangent and murmured something about the resemblance between the animals and the vegetable world. A not very stimulating idea, agreed, yet without artistic compromises. Seemingly my reply pleased him, for he gave me a handshake and asked me what year I attended. A terrible decision given that I hated those thirsty mosquitoes who take advantage of lines and waiting rooms to gorge on alien biographies. I do not want anyone to ask me anything and when they do I lie, I lie shamelessly. I was tempted to confess to him that I was not an alumnus but instead the one charged with cleaning the latrines, a nocturnal and sacred office, indispensable so that the innocents of the world continue to live. Or to assure him that I was the young gardener responsible for the palms continuing to resemble giraffe necks, always given, needless to say, that giraffe necks do not stop resembling palm trees. But there was the big smile and for the second time I capitulated. No abject surrender, this time, although I did pronounce the words, "lacking little." Two words that had the effect of a theological warning: now he did not joke and looked at me--I do not exaggerate--almost with reverence. The same perhaps as of a person who flunked grade school and admires high school graduates. During that silence the door opened and I presented to the prefect another of the false documents in which my mother, that is to say myself, requested that he allow me to leave at 3:15 because her son, now myself, needed to visit the oculist. "That is fine," commented father Mosquera, "eyes are genuinely important." The eyes, the air, fire, my perfect falsifications and maybe even the man with the jaw. When I saw him again, four or five days later, he greeted me as if we were friends. The wide smile, of course, and a hand-squeezing that united the three typical defects: exaggerated time, excessive force and very rapid piston movements. And without allowing me a breath, before I could fabricate some elegant response, he told me that he awaited his son. A simple explanation, yes, perhaps truthful, although without mystery, lacking magic in a school where except for a few orphans all the alumni dealt with their respective parents. He obliged, in consequence, an impoverished rejoinder, barren of rhetorical splendor. "He shall come soon," I resigned myself to say in an absolutely stupid tone. "Of course he shall come" - and once again the pat on the shoulder. What did this gentleman think, that I was alarmed or worried about the delay of the child? Or that in those situations I still accepted the myth of the lost scholar, whose bad luck took him or her along prohibited and changing hallways? An odious little story, false in every direction, didactic, showy and, nevertheless, repulsively expressive. If he implies it, I thought, I shall give him the fright of his life. What he did, on the contrary, was to take me by the arm and begin to walk. Without any preamble, as if he was in a hurry, he announced that his problem was lack of memory. "My memory fails," he repeated moving his head in a quite theatrical fashion. For a moment, during some slow and absurd seconds, I thought that he would ask me for help finding his son. A lad, for his part, who did not appear anywhere. Why did he not arrive? Probably the man with the jaw perceived my impatience because he suddenly paused and said something truly unexpected: "I am a writer--do you know--and a writer should record certain things. If you were now to ask me to cite, for example, I don't know, a sentence or a thought of Stendhal's about love, nothing, I could not do it. It is a grave defect. Don't you think so?" I immediately assented and took advantage of that instant of complacency to leave him standing and escaped out to the wide and luminous road swearing that I would memorize Stendhal. WORDS AND IMAGES THERE ARE words that give us away. They are not necessarily spectacular, belong to no theory and, nevertheless, express our intimate images of the Universe. The combination "warm beer" may be opaque or not very surprising and their intellectual weight is, doubtless, slight. I admit it, but I recognize their efficacy in suggesting a forlorn vision of reality to me. If I read that two people drink warm beer, I think of tired men, in mediocre pensions, in messy rooms and with the suitcase on the dresser; I sense complex and elliptical conversations regarding negligible topics, the smell reaches me of those friendships mixed with tedium and hopelessness. I know there are no women there, that they do not receive letters, that they adjust to light work, a routine exercised with perfection and aversion. Tense, hard individuals, with some live memory--the moisture they hide--furious, deceived. They drink warm beer, observe the people, lack fictitious enthusiasms, are convinced that any action is an extravagance or a shady project, live in Santa Maria and Onetti is among the few they know deeply. They are not a summary of the world, but exemplify one of its possibilities. I imagine them, perhaps unjustly, with bad teeth, with ancient cavities which they survive chewing aspirins. At the last minute, already at the end of the process, they will visit an anonymous practice and will allow, without too much complaint, the sick tooth to be pulled. They will know there is no remedy, that the other parts also will go, and thus they feel no need to ask that doctor anything. The cavities define them, the patience with them, the obstinacy in allowing them to take their course, the confused consolation of thus taking refuge in truths at once ordinary and metaphysical. "Marionette" is a term charged with connotations. I recall, inevitably, the puppet theaters, those minimal scenarios before which I still stop. Although there may be blows, shouts, hugs, unforeseen discoveries, love or assassination, those representations promote an image of immobility. The characters speak, but they are almost always the same, a fixed community-- frozen--in which the intrusions, the new people, comprise the exception. The positions do not change: the poor lover will continue being the poor lover, and the old libertine is eternally rich. A clear hierarchy is immutable. Each one exemplifies a trait--badly repaid goodness, avarice or cleverness--and we know that psychological crises will not be explored there, there will not be change of ideas, revelations that imply movement. We do not participate in a process, but instead in a sequence of incidents whose alternatives are limited. The only thing that will bring the future will be other "plots": only there will there be change. The story becomes a chronicle of episodes which are reiterated now and again. The "eternal drama" is the jealousies, the lust, the frauds, the envy, the dilemmas, the betrayals, and the deceits. That is what is important and that is the insuperable. We admit the presence of a cynical and resigned mythology, yet I admit that in any case the marionettes attract me. They satisfy an urge toward simplicity, the desire to reduce the trauma of life to enumerable and permanent elements. To leap out of time, to remain with the security that we capture that which is decisive. It is also fascination with the static: a color, a picture, the light upon an object. Or some gestures that are repeated, some words, an anecdote. A character who enters the scene, drinks a glass of water, leaves, enters again, again drinks a glass of water, exits, and for the third time returns and drinks a glass of water. We feel that now he will not drink a glass of water. Marionettes and puppets evoke--in another dimension--the idea of an inscrutable destiny that governs us. Here the possibilities of vulgarity are infinite: it is an image, in effect, capable of generating impoverished fatalism, mysterious triviality, elementary fallacies, silly dramatizations and--what is worse yet--complacency and abominable literature. "Playthings of destiny" is a direct result of those profundities. Misused, it is consoling, is easily imbecilic and sits well with the cheapskates, the prudes, the rentiers, and the elegant undertakers. But it is a basic idea. It controls, with a different grammar and different emphases, many of our representations. It focuses the diffuse conviction that we are not completely free, the suspicion or the nostalgia for superior designs and, therefore, of an order. It expresses our sensations of impotence and desperation and also our historical paranoias, the secret groups who decide everything, the invisible organizations, the certainty that we in the majority are the secular victims of unknown plans. The explanation always eludes us, because to know it we should have been at certain meetings, to convene in that impossible office, to form part of the sect, to be one of the elect. It is not easy to decompose that image: so long as relations of domination exist it will have currency. The "harlequins" also intrigue me. It is a figure whose presence creates, immediately, emotion and depth. Like the marionettes they provide an occult meaning, but as opposed to them it does not suggest a spirit--divine or human-- but instead is a part of ourselves, forgotten and equivocal. The harlequin is vaguely sinister because it represents the "other face": it is united to the conception whereby they are the buffoons, the insane, the idiots who speak the truth. They open the doors, shout what they think, are satisfied without squeamishness, know that they have sex, hair, tongue, remind us what we did not do, discover our impulses and our insolence. The harlequin is, then, the messenger from an anarchic and explosive Arcadia, a no-man's land, nearby and simultaneously unreachable, a territory whose vision excites us because it offers us an image of expansion or of liberty. The power of the harlequins--or of Pulchinela--resides in the capacity to symbolize those basic and dangerous tendencies that will accompany mankind since the Creation: the harlequin costume--different from the usual dress, foreign, therefore, to the normality of every epoch--underlines the "antiquity" of those deeds or, if we prefer, their necessity. But the figure of the harlequin--this is the second point-- displaces those brutal facts, those uncomfortable and obscure constants, into fantasy. The most real is presented under the sign of the imaginary. We admit the reality if we can confuse it with imagination. The imagination is, then, the appropriate scene for contemplating reality. It would now be easy to conclude that the imagination is the master highway which leads to chaos, the hand that palpates, that which commerces with truths. A risky maneuver, always on the edge of catastrophe, that is, of subversion. Gustav von Aschenbach exemplifies this rift with mastery. He had collapsed one night on a park bench, "head thrown backwards and arms hanging," already having admitted that he loved Tadzio. Now, after dining, he is seated in the terrace of the hotel, a space that borders, from a certain height, on the garden. Aschenbach, like the other guests, drinks a coffee or a refreshment, yet he is the only one among them--or so he thinks--who knows the truth about the situation in Venice, threatened by pestilence or cholera, morbidity, putrefaction. The adolescent is there, a few steps away, standing, silent and lascivious. He is also an inhabitant of a sick city. And it is precisely through this limpid and beloved figure that Aschenbach feel the corruption of the external world. At once some street musicians interrupt, a band of harlequins, acrobats who sing, act, try to entertain, through mime and with jokes, the public on the terrace. The director of the group is "brutal and cynical, dangerous and entertaining," and the songs thanks to the grins, the grimaces, the impudence, become something strange, "vaguely shocking," we read in the text. They announce a disorderly and ambiguous Universe. That is the reason why Aschenbach, despite that he too perceives the simplicity and sentimentalism of those melodies, does not arise, does not retire to his room, does not leave the hotel. He remains in the armchair, viewing the musicians, still able to contemplate them although they are already near. Venice, beautiful and putrefying, is the traveling actors, the harlequins, who in turn represent "desire," the other shore, the negated reality. When Aschenbach asks the musician whether Venice is infested, what he seeks is to know is whether they--symbol of his desire--are sick: he is asking if for satisfaction it is necessary to accept destruction, to paint one's face, to become one of them. The answer is ambiguous, but Aschenbach understands it and when he decides, as in a dream, to enroll in that zone he dyes his hair and applies facial make-up. He becomes a character in the "fantasy." The musicians-harlequins act out the image that the guests have created of the negated reality. They are emotional, yet they are also abject: they approach to request money with head lowered, being the dog, the slave, the untouchable. They are threatening, because their instincts are destructive. They form part of the rabble, because it is easy prey to those secret pulsations. They are vulgar, because "desire" is primary, the first stage. The idea, therefore, that civilization is the struggle and the triumph over these forces. The distance before the poor person is, then, an ethical distance. Aschenbach gives them a great deal of money, a sort of exorcism, which may be his last defense. The musicians meet again in the garden and sing a song whose final stanza explodes in a collective outburst. A joke. They laugh at the guests, they focus on them infectiously and the latter participate in the laughter. One of the harlequins contorts herself, howls, screams. The more brazen the more the activation. They remove the masks--for only a moment--when there is now not the least doubt that we are viewing a comedy, in which we are confronted by the scenario. The other great mask. Thus, the essential difference is stressed: they belong to another order, to another social class, or to the dream. They are not excessively real. A passing spectacle. Not for Aschenbach, however, whom at the end receives Tadzio's gaze and remains alone on the terrace. AN IMAGE OF JOSÉ GAOS THE DEMISE of José Gaos, in the spring of 1969, obliges those of us who were close to him, not only to eulogy and homage, but also to an examination and a reckoning of his activity as a professor and writer of philosophy. I wish to clarify, from the beginning, that this is not a task motivated solely by historical piety, by the affection and the gratitude towards the person or by the fulfillment of an academic ritual whose execution would have been dictated by rules of institutional courtesy. It does not try, in summation, to enact a sort of academic mass, a scientific ceremony--pompous and at root indifferent- -to honor the figure of the departed teacher. Far from it, that which is necessary is to attempt, perhaps risking injustice and exaggeration, a first analysis, severe and irreverent, of the work of Joeé Gaos. The reason to do so is, at once, simple and splendid: beginning in 1940, until around 1960, he is the key personality of Mexican philosophic life. When means that in Gaos the philosophic projects, the intellectual habits, the mannerisms and the obsessions which characterize that period originated. In a word, he posited a philosophic style whose comprehension is indispensable in explaining not only the virtues, but also the limitations and dead ends of an immediate past. In a more dramatic fashion, one could say that Gaos incarnated, within very much his own modalities and with absolute dedication and seriousness, a conception of philosophic work that, to many of us, now appears unsustainable. The pages that follow propose to fixate some basic traits in the work of Gaos, and in this way they continue a discussion--vital and direct, as he enjoyed it--which we initiated with him many years ago. I have no other manner of demonstrating my closeness to José Gaos. During his life Gaos enjoyed an extraordinary prestige as a professor. He justified that opinion by many undeniable virtues which extended from the most external--care in the modulation of the voice, the handling of gestures, the elegance in speech, the conception of the academic hour as a finished product, with an ending that will adjust not only to the exigencies of the theme, but also to certain canons of dramatic composition--to those other excellencies that were the result of Gaos' philosophical erudition, of his scrupulous interpretation, of the intense work which, invariably, he put in the service of each lesson. The oral word was his chosen instrument, that which he handled with freedom and comfort, with spontaneity and even literary creativity. For Gaos teaching was not, as for so many other persons, the price that must be paid to be able to dedicate oneself to a discipline; I do not think that he would have lived it as a burden or as a distraction from his work as writer or as researcher. On the contrary, the professorship revitalized him and I am sure that that was where, with some frequency, he tasted happiness. Every person has their privileged moments and I think, with a certain sadness, that for Gaos reality was always arid and bland in comparison with those hours of his life in which he was the actor of the character that he himself had invented. At times, above all in the ancient Department of Philosophy and Letters, he arrived at class with an evident physical tiredness, in a bad mood, unsociable, impatient, used up by an implacable agenda of translations, thesis direction, instruction at diverse sites, consultations, detours in stray buses; yet it was enough that he should enter the hall, that he should initiate the ritual motions of accommodating his papers upon the desk, to change and clean his glasses, seek a comfortable position on the chair, edging over a little and crossing his legs, was enough that he should begin to speak, with that quick nasal voice, for the fatigue to give way to the pleasure of forming those long sentences, to the pleasure of delivering himself to the emotional task, through a clearly sensual relationship with the language, of analyzing, reconstructing and explaining ideas. Gaos' best classes produced the effect of a beautifully told narrative, as a well-shaped story and not, for example, of a proof or demonstration. Those in attendance rarely interrupted the lesson with some question, but instead fulfilled, knowingly or not, the function of spectators, of the theatre public whose mission is to see and hear. He was a virtuoso of the seminar, of the "magisterial" class, as he liked to say. It is right to remember, for the rest, that a great part of his teaching activity was dedicated to the explication of the history of philosophy. This task Gaos conceived as that of commentator; typical was for him to select a classic work and to manipulate it as if he dealt with a rare and precious item, a jar that we should describe in its most insignificant details, an antique document whose writing we should decipher, a painting that presents us with enigmas of filiation, of influences, of the particular vision of the artist's world. Then that he should emphasize equally the aspect of the book's material composition, that is, its organization into sections, into chapters, into paragraphs, into sentences; that he should emphasize as much how some idea would appear in this place and later would return to be mentioned further on in that other, its apparition a determinate influence on this one; that he should call attention to the use or the abandonment of such and such terms. It is natural, then, that history and philology should be in the service of philosophic explanation and might be seen as the most important auxiliary disciplines. Nevertheless, those hermeneutic procedures only accidentally coincide with what we might call argumentative analysis, that is, the examination and the validation of the structure of the proofs, arguments and demonstrations that eventually might be found in a philosophic text. It is one thing to treat the words with the care of one who confronts a manuscript or a masterpiece of literature, where each element is significant and essential, while a very different one is the epistemological investigation of the text. Doubtless sometimes both types can co-exist, above all in certain special cases, yet this does not authorize us to pass roughly over the radical difference between their measures. Certainly, to say it with some exaggeration, Gaos sacralized the text. This attitude, which consciously or unconsciously fomented a certain beatitude, immediately elevated to a supreme virtue the reading of philosophy in its original language, the precise handling of sources, historical erudition, the possession of fine editions, of commentaries, in a word, all those arms that might permit the conquest of the sacred city. And I hasten to add, to avoid silly ambiguities, which actually are virtues and which, in a certain sense, comprise one of the most positive aspects in the teaching of José Gaos. There is no irony in their enumeration; there is, simply, the desire for their hierarchy. We should not omit, therefore, that Gaos would incline, at least as a theoretical ideal, towards the linear commentary on the text, that is, on the analysis of each and every one of the parts of the selected text. Thus those extended seminars, which were prolonged over years, concerning a single work; those courses that patiently wanted to go over all the ins and outs of the original edition. The reading of Hegel's Logic lasted four years! Gaos found himself as the extreme opposite of the philosophy professor who concentrates her attention on a few key theses about the theory's structure and who in a certain sense abstract from it the linguistic and cultural peculiarities with which it was written. Confronted by the text, to put it briefly, Gaos lacked scientific liberty. This treatment, which we could denominate personal, individual, of the great texts of philosophy was expressed, also, in his resistance, in his negative methodology towards reinterpreting theoretically--from a later and possibly richer vantage point--a determinate thesis. This horror at "theoretical translation," equivocally justified as historical scruple, in practice meant a severe limitation in conceptual analysis and a paralysis of valuation. This form of exegesis, so respectful of the literary composition, responded, at bottom, to the idea that philosophy is an archaic discipline that need not be taken seriously from the point of view of truth; Gaos held the profound conviction that philosophy was not an activity that, for instance, proposes approaches and theoretic solutions which, according to the case, are true or false, relevant or irrelevant, with a greater or lesser explanatory power. This aspect remained subordinate to the view that the history of philosophy is--in the part that particularly interested him, namely, metaphysics--the sequence of a series of private images of the world--images belonging to an individual or to a collectivity in a determinate historical moment--to be presented with scientific pretensions. The task is, then, to try to reproduce them, to make them emerge a little like the way one reconstructs the erased drawing in a deteriorated picture or one who discovers the trace of a figure in a tangle of lines. Or, perhaps, like one who tries to recapture a state of mind. Because for Gaos philosophy was the frustrated discipline par excellence: it endeavors to do science and only attains to personal confession. The philosopher, in consequence, will come to be the prototype of the stray. And here is where is found, in my opinion, the skepticism that Gaos carried in his bones: that philosophy lacks a specific assignment, that philosophy--said baldly--is good for nothing. To the degree that it constitutes a failed attempt, the interest that it evokes is of a cultural and anthropological order. As a creative philosopher, his entire life was dedicated to the study and to the contemplation of those intellectual ruins, fascinated, like the archaeologist before the remains of a dead city. To analyze that errant adventure, metaphysics, Gaos constructed a logical- semantic apparatus that represents his contribution to that zone of philosophy which he called technique and which, in a wider sense, we could qualify as scientific. Within the domain of the Spanish language it is difficult to find anything that compares with his book, De la filosophía. It was a labor of many years, brought to completion almost in a secret manner, that is, a little at the margin of the great themes that he helped popularize in Mexico, historicism and philosophic anthropology which were, elsewhere, those that remained associated with the public figure of José Gaos. Here it should be said that his most docile disciples, those from the first hour, followed those pathways: the history of ideas, cultural reflections and historical problems, that is, they continued along the roads that in Gaos represented the cultural inheritance left to him by the pedagogy of Ortega y Gasset. Regarding other aspects, the truth is that he did not have, properly speaking, disciples. The reasons are complicated and diverse and now I only intend to touch on them. To begin to understand them, it is necessary to keep present that the logical- semantic facet of his thought developed and was maintained practically isolated within the limits outlined in the Logical Investigations of Husserl. Later he wanted to pursue those themes in the light of phenomenology, which was not that leading to the Logical Investigations. The problems raised in that work were developed in another philosophical direction: previously by Frege, later by Russell, by Wittgenstein and, in general terms, by analytic philosophy. There was, thus, an incoherence in his theoretic formation and in this sense it suffices to assert that Gaos made a mistake in the selection of his philosophic tradition. Thus, the technical aspect of his reflection remained historically atrophied. The intellectual interests of the Spain of his youth and of his first maturity were otherwise, and Gaos could not break that cultural conditioning, which would have permitted him the free development of his philosophic inclinations. When in the second half of the decade of the Fifties as a group of persons intimately involved with him, we began to interest ourselves in logic and semantics, Gaos directed a series of readings which, nevertheless, did not modify his central ideas. It was already too late and the game had been played. I am sure, from another viewpoint, that for Gaos this was a difficult and somewhat unrewarding era. He found himself--perhaps for the first time--with persons who shared certain preoccupations, concerned themselves with problems that he had manipulated with the privacy of a personal diary; people who valued that part of Gaos' work, yet who, notwithstanding, felt it excessively tied, to put it briefly, to the early Husserl. We all had the conviction that that problematic had been enriched and in many aspects superseded. The child had aged without the parent noticing. Philosophical solitude, the source no doubt of many virtues, does not conduce with the work of science. Gaos' reaction to this situation could not help being ambiguous: on one side the relief the discussion of those questions produced in him was patent - like the patient who after much fear and trembling dares (at last!) to speak of that. Yet there also gathered in him a defensive attitude that at times he carried--it is necessary to write--to incomprehension and brusque rejection. Enjoyment and deception at the same time. With the passage of the years--we are now at the beginning of the Sixties--the frank discussions, in which he demonstrated to all of us the temper of a thinker, were ever more rare and the philosophic relationship became limited to occasional parries and to mutual impatience. The opening, the privileged moment, had already passed. If we could play with the dates, I would say that the dissident apostles reached him too late. In summary account, the program of Gaos responds to the idea of philosophy's decadence. He did not concern himself to find--or to invent--a positive function that could develop alongside other disciplines. His was, too seriously, a "philosophy of philosophy," a reflection, I would say, closed in upon itself, communicating badly with science. His indubitable analytic capacity was expended in those prolix "phenomenological descriptions" that for him and his teachers represented the paradigm of "rigor" and "science" in philosophy. He never distinguished between theoretic simplicity and phenomenological infidelity. He left us, in a nutshell, a hybrid legacy, put us at the edge of the great formative currents of contemporary thought, while he left us an incomparable example of philosophic obsession, of tenacity and of professionalism. If this eulogy seems poor compared with the memory of José Gaos, keep in mind that the work of a philosopher is not measured solely by the importance and by the eventual continuation of his themes, but also by having shown, as he did, what in truth the philosophic activity is. Among us there was no one who could do so better. MINUTIA THE MEDIOCRE shelters in the actual and thus it becomes a venerable figure. History managed to do what the former could not: to refute the actual. The arguments are no longer necessary, it no longer matters to reason with detail and attention, that drowning sensation has disappeared, the pesky fly is no longer the only trifling object. Events and the new situation demonstrates the irrelevance of that labor. The mediocre presently surrounds us and sleeps in peace. I do not recommend, therefore, reading from the Diary that Croce wrote during the years 1943-1944, and whose first page starts on July 25th, the date of Mussolini's arrest. It is not wise to open that book because you cannot escape by pointing out the anachronisms and the 19th century ideas: that all will be erased before Croce's tremendous intellectual seriousness and before his extraordinary virtues as a worker. In that period he reaches age 78 and they are convulsive, confused months, notices arriving of dead parents, lost friends, Italy divided, armed struggle and the fascist bands in the north. Croce lives in Sorrento and many persons come to him. He is consulted by North American officials, Italian military, journalists, many varied people who solicit favors from him, presentations, requests for occasional writings and he drafts, convinced of his duty, interviews, manifestos, articles and discussions. He participates in the reorganization of the Liberal Party--of which he is the principal ideologue--, receives writers and professors, converses with the king about the problem of the monarchy, forms part of the new government and punctually attends the first deliberations. And at the end of a day like this, tense and anxious, he reads again, at night, The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest and outlines an essay that will permit him to rectify previous judgments. It is the 30th of April. The 2d of May, without having interrupted his official tasks, he concludes the work on Tirso de Molina. In the Diary we observe the continual return to what he thought were the key moments in western culture, to re-make, confirm or modify their interpretation. Thus he decides, in the midst of the chaos, to re- read the works of Goethe and, in particular, the minor ones. An effort that results, of course, in another publication: the Three essays on Goethe. I prefer admiring this force, this labor, this fidelity to his themes to criticizing the reasons for which he rejects the proposition that the Liberal Party should--in general!--have an economic program. Or to being ironic about the noble tone--a gentleman who takes refuge in forms--with which he responds to an acid joke by Togliatti. As if education, sincerity and fair play would suffice. I admire his faith in rational activity and his repudiation of catastrophic visions. He recounts that one day Moravia and his wife, Elsa Morante, visited him. Moravia, in that epoch, had spent several months hidden among the peasants in the Roman zone due to the fascist persecution. Croce resents Moravia's bitterness and his pessimistic diagnosis of the future. I am sure he was scandalized before an attitude that, at bottom, he considered superficial and frivolous. It may be because of that that he refers to Moravia as "the novel-writer," an expression which, in context, implicitly chides him with the accusation of superficiality. It is possible that some, by having outlived him, know more than Croce: yet he, let us say with Eliot, is part of that which they know. * * * I am not too familiar with Orozco's painting. When I visited Alvar Carillo's collection what enthused me were the little satirical watercolors, the sordid streets, the sensation of darkness, of dusky dangers, sensual and violent streets. Those low houses, made by clumsy bricklayers, an earthy city, crossed with dogs, a place where deformity is the rule. Unforgettable images. A neighborhood of malign monkeys or of blind, clever pygmies. What I remember with the most intensity is one that the painter entitled, The conference. An old prostitute, seated backwards, an elbow upon the back of the chair, hands in motion, spread-eagled, talking, talking endlessly. The gibe of the word or the eulogy of madness. Or boredom, the enormous tedium of explanations, of theories, of mental embroilment. I remember the expression on the face: a demented innocence, those disembodied glances. The invasion of the imaginary character. The other paintings did not delight me. Some intense portraits, yet of an irremediable vulgarity. And the sacerdotal figures, exemplary and not symbolic, paintings, as opposed to the watercolors, in which the eye is abandoned and one reverts to ideology. It surprised me, such is my ignorance, how well Orozco writes. I think of the correspondence that appears in the book by Luis Cardozo y Aragón. Incisive, ill natured, paranoid, resentful, envious, sharp, vain, supremely lucid, with a humor that to manifest itself requires victims, a man who senses permanent conspiracies, displacement in the hierarchy of Mexican painting, solitary and needing the fervor of others, their fidelity, their loyalty. An articulate and transparent prose, stupendous when it judges and when it injures. There is Diego Rivera's fascination, the pleasure in positing nicknames, in proceeding to improve them until arriving at the definitive: the Player Piano. The richest in uses: the player piano never tires of playing, will do so day and night, accepts whatever roll is inserted, impressionist, cubist, revolutionary, et cetera: the player piano is an instrument that simulates art, approaches it, remembers it, but does not arrive at it. It is substitution and the apocryphal. It suggests mechanism, mass production, a permanent disposition, therefore prostitution, implying fat, speech without end, the brothel, towels, businessmen, handling, the watercolor, the coarse woman serving the conference. * * * The poetry that alludes to a situation created by class division. For instance, the verses in which Eugenio Montale remembers the servants who have accompanied him throughout his life: I miei cani fidati, le mie vecchie serve. Is it the poetry of an owner who, coincidentally, is a great poet? That is to say, are the servants the subject of the verse? Is it an emotion limited to persons that may not exist in the future? Is it an emotion, therefore, inconceivable in another society? Or does it deal, more likely, with the contrary? The class situation, the servant, is the recourse, the metaphor for speaking of an overpowering emotion, absolute fidelity, mutual dependence, emotional servitude, obscure effects, insatiable requirements. One way of illustrating that extreme of love in which everything is renounced and she is, uniquely, the breathing that is heard in the corridor when we return to the house. It is mythological because it incarnates our desires in a pure state. Devoted and absurd women whom modesty and shame transform into an anecdotal book of rarities and curiosities. Montale possesses the sensibility of the minimal: the ant, the gesture, the leaf, the clock on the table, the objects of everyday life. And he also possesses a perception of the woman as being constituted by continual improvisations, a constant experiment of faces, of modes of speaking, attitudes, accommodations. The enthusiasm of the poet for Italo Svevo is therefore comprehensible. The conviction that mannerisms are important. Not out of love of extravagance, but instead because a person is, in the last analysis, a means of adaptation. We are those expressions and those intentions. Parody is needed to bring them to light. There is the fascinating mixture: parody and minutia. And that kind of double-take in which the image--intense--appears. I think of the desperate elegance of a flower in the buttonhole. Only the style remains, the line without thickness, the heroic shell. My father on the beach during a cloudy day; his green hat, the heavy shoes, the sport jacket and a small stick in his hand, slender as a reed. HYPOCRITE'S GUIDE THE EXERCISE of the hypothesis of bad faith is not always a lucid and brazen profession; it usually presents itself, on the contrary, in persons who carefully cultivate their souls, pause to observe them, censor themselves, correct, clear the dust, leave the small crystal egg perfectly clean and continue the march convinced that the inner world is an abyss. We could speak, then, of unconscious bad faith, of class interests or, if it is preferred, of mechanisms of adaptation; expressions surely consolatory since they appear to respect the private sanctum. It does not interest me now to argue about this terminology, which I assume to be correct, but instead we would more like to inventory some of the contortions habitually practiced to justify or neutralize sanctionable and atrocious deeds. I am thinking of the assassination of Salvador Allende and the overthrow of the Popular Unity Government. We all know the least complicated attitude: the first step consists in concentrating on the human aspects of the situation. The valor, the humanity, the stoicism of Allende. Before a tragedy of such dimensions it is almost frivolous to mention politics, that pestilence, that disgrace, that filthy thing which devours the best men. The heart, little apparatus full of recourses, ignites. We are here very near to rounding out an idea, a rich idea, synthetic and with a long tradition: that of heroism. If we handle it with care we arrive at a liberated area, truly enjoyable, where emotional expansion is possible as well as free reflection upon the circumstantial context. From here forward it is a question of preferences and even of talent. There will be those who insist on a temple to the heroes, in their vital love or in their mortal love; in the hero as a people's expiatory symbol and in the hero seen as the incarnation of the collective virtues. The hero, always the hero, the only category at the level of our emotions. Yet in such favorable conditions thoughts, like fine rugs, tend towards complexity: the heroes, in reality, transcend history and reveal, in the transparency of their destinies, the fundamental dilemmas of human action. Take advantage, then, of this new opportunity--perhaps more diaphanous than others--to return to pose the paradoxes, the aporias, the antimonies, the central mysteries of praxis: to accomplish the good it is necessary to do bad, the means usurp the ends, today's utopia is tomorrow's jail, compromise and dirty hands, tremendously dirty. The conclusion is dry and imposing: all action is ambiguous. To learn to live with that dagger in the chest--they tell us with a straight face--is difficult wisdom: it requires renunciation of distracting attachments, of optimism, of charismatic pleasures. It will compensate us, however, by enormous mental elasticity that not only will permit us to understand everything, absolutely everything, but, further, to adapt ourselves to any situation, authentic citizens of the Universe. There are also possibilities of coming forward with greater modesty and without so much theoretical fuss. The most humble insists, greatly insists, upon the gravity of the occurrences, but utters that the lesson is obscure and improbable. It is a nostalgic voice, that truly laments being unable to draw from it a rapid and cutting conclusion. Filled with perplexity, only questions are emitted. In effect, what has happened in Chile, does it indicate that the democratic and legalistic path leads nowhere or, it may be, that Allende excessively irritated his opponents? Or else, can we speak of the fiasco of the democratic model if he had not had an absolute majority? Is not the fall due to the tactically mistaken support of the ultra-Left? Does not the error consist in having governed with a coalition government? What would have happened if Allende had allied himself with the left of the Christian Democrats? Would he still be in power if Agrarian Reform had been carried out with more common sense? Will socialism be an adequate strategy to liberate those nations? This last question is almost a methodological license, for in general a tautology underlies those musings: Chile is Chile. Any extrapolation is unjustified and that which occurs in one country is to be explained by conditions that never are reproduced in another. Chilean fascism is Chilean fascism, that is, a particularistic movement in whose genesis enters the Chilean landscape, Chilean fauna, the taste of the wine, the culinary habits, that peculiar way of relating to each other including, the most curious and unique psychology of the Chilean military, the northern man, the southern man, the silence of the woods, the coldness of the sea, the territorial narrowness. Yes, of course, also class relations, the structures of power, we do not forget them, no, agreed, yet these are useful schemes that should be applied to concrete realities, and without them we could not individualize a society, an age, a nation. Achilles will never catch up to the tortoise: the irrelevance and the infinite variety of causes definitely highlight the local character of Chilean fascism. No fear then, we are before a phenomenon that neither teaches nor frightens us given that it resembles only itself. Distraction as well as realism are frequently sought. A realism that cares to present itself as independent of politics, of justice, we shall not say of morality, a fairy tale for adolescents and ignorants, material for demagogues, an adequate topic for whoever dedicates herself to rhetoric or to sanctity. It quickly concedes that in Chile many excesses have been committed, including barbarity, while we all agree that thus is not the manner of doing things. Now then, let us be sincere and recognize that the Popular Unity Government was in chaos, that economically it had neither head nor foot, a game that would satisfy moral impulses, egalitarian manias, yet the nation meanwhile went to ruin. A sort of ethical festival--lovely, indeed--but with its hours numbered. For God's sake, nothing against Allende as a person, only his dreams. Let us be honest, Chile was in bankruptcy. This is the fundamental datum. What is happening is that we are victims of a terrible conjunction: of hurry and good intentions. Speeches do not create money, development implies sacrifices not only of the material order but also--how to say this--of a spiritual type. The accumulation of capital presupposes inequality, or rather, the weight of development is carried by a specific social class. It has always been thus. Always. Perhaps in the Soviet Union the peasantry did not pay for industrialization? There will be, then, a zone of immense poverty, a proletarian elite, favored by the regime, and a ruling group--the names matter little, national or transnational bourgeoisies, juntas, communist or socialist parties--which will be charged with planning. Obviously there will be maladjustments, protests, non-conformities. Here is--the realist murmurs--where we must not fool ourselves nor piously close our eyes: all have to compromise. If they wish to continue, that is the only way. There are, then, no basic differences between Brazil, the Soviet Union, France, Japan, Cuba, England, Venezuela, Bolivia; some sooner and others later, all pass through that stage. The rest interests the followers of politics: the local variations in the exercise of power, the diverse control techniques, etc., etc. Folklore, the history of fashion. Repression is the price of development. Except for a few sadists who are always excessive, it would thus be a breakthrough to sanitize the public person who deliberately and conscientiously renounces the pleasures of ethics and pleasing the masses. Sure of final victory, he chooses the contempt of his contemporaries and is obliged--a midwife of history--to dress as the military respectful of the Constitution. We shall be yet more sincere and admit--the realist winks to us--that that was not the vision of Allende. In consequence we are not surprised at the volatility of his Government. At root--is it not true?--nothing has occurred in Chile, a soap bubble burst, a fantasy lasted a little more than normal, the party ended and now the historical moment that corresponds to it returns. It is a return to reality because, speaking seriously, Chile, between 1970 and 1973, did not exist. We began by mentioning hypocrisy, bad faith and the adaptation mechanisms. I consider it fair to have done so because I have not been writing about intellectual errors correctable through more or less theoretic lessons. I fervently believe in pedagogy, but I also believe in the force of fear, of habits and of the pocketbook. Therefore I do not pretend to persuade but instead, at most, to exemplify. To gather for various uses some of those beauties that we hear daily. They abound, overflow, the Linotypes do not suffice in recording them, they appear in every genre and in every paper, from the rustic to parchment, in fine Spanish and in approximate translations. Given the quantity, the title of these notes is no doubt excessive. But one begins with something. BARBARIC READING TO MISREAD a text is the easiest thing in the world; the indispensable condition is not to be illiterate. Once that stage is surpassed, more civic than intellectual, the possibilities offered for dismantling, distorting and erroneously interpreting a sentence, a page, an essay or a book are, not to say infinite, yet still most numerous. I do not pretend either to exhaust them nor to classify them, tasks reserved for pacific erudites or certainly, for brilliant persons. We are content to enumerate certain varieties discussing them not by their rarity but instead by their recurrence. Nothing of black swans or strange shamrocks; instead more like street dogs who travel in a pack. For example, those abound who reduce reading to a nervous search for the "conclusion," the only place where they pause, indicating it, in general, with some victorious arrows. The underlying idea must doubtless be that all the rest is a semblance of arguments and proofs, useless pagination with no connection to the ending. As if we were the victims of a tedious ritual obliging one to write pages and more pages before arriving at the five or six essential sentences. It follows that only ingĂ©nues or newcomers waste time carefully reading each and every one of the words, they alone postulating the chimera that the conclusion is supported elsewhere. The misguided souls who carefully spell everything out, fearful of skipping a phrase. The text--the myth aside--is not a complex and interdependent verbal structure; it is a mere excuse for introducing the key paragraph. I imagine that this degraded vision of reading belongs to those who are forced to consume bureaucratic prose, the innumerable reports, the projects, the excuses, the petitions. In that swirl of letters perhaps there is no other way to survive. Some more, some less, all of us have toiled in that galley and we all learned to use the famous red pencil. The disaster appears when those habits are not conscious and act upon writings which are not meant to propose a raise or solicit a loan or outline the solution to that so hair-raising and so urgent problem. When this occurs, a primitive and unjust reading is being practiced, disguised as efficiency and cunning and whose result is a sad comedy of equivocations, surprises and arrogance. Mediocre readers for whom the universe is an office and a page is always official. The contrary vice also exists: to read the first six or seven lines and feel oneself authorized to divine that which follows. Here there again operates a self-obliging image of oneself: that of a person so seasoned in the world of ideas that the first tactical predispositions are sufficient to foresee all the succeeding chapters. Like a mathematician who before some axiom must know instantaneously which are the theorems that could be derived. That vanity, at bottom, mixes with a passive and skeptical attitude towards cultural reform, an attitude which enjoys the possibility that there may be nothing new under the sun. One's small and egotistical prophecy emerges supported by the illusion that one has already seen this and any other spectacle. Often, however, poor reading is the consequence of the popularity attained by certain genres. Every culture has its favorites. Among ourselves the choices are distributed--I hardly exaggerate--between the textbook and the testimonial. The two join to comprise what we could call the "rhetoric of the valuable text," that which codifies the properties a work should bring together to be considered important, significant, comprehensible. The textbook, from the obscure little manual to the glossy handbook, benefits from the generalized conviction that it is necessary to learn and, above all, to learn fast. Pedagogy sublimates it and presents it as a necessary and indispensable instrument in the struggle for education; if we add the belief that education leads to a higher state--be this what it may be--we shall be one step from elevating the textbook onto the ideological altar. Once there, it cannot be sullied. Since by definition they are directed at an ignorant public, it is natural that they be simple, unmodulated and frequently dogmatic. That on occasions it may be difficult to distinguish them from a catechism or from a recitation is something which will frighten only the culturally pious. Whoever writes a textbook becomes a missionary, a person who has understood that it is not a case--now--of pondering the mysteries of the Trinity. Insofar as the testimony permits, naturally, it should be politic or, at least, sociological, with a certain profusion of sacred words--dependency, exploitation, guerrillas, third world, underdevelopment, gross national product, etc.--and also it should be drafted in such a form that there be not the least doubt regarding the author's indignation. It is essential that it be a denunciation, an allegation. Its apparent urgency excuses it from any theoretic compromise: cleverness can pass for an explanation, a tautology for synthetic thought, a vacuous generalization for a prediction, an elementary correlation viewed as an example of live, palpitating dialectic, history being transformed before our eyes. The relevance, furthermore, will be greater if it describes not an ancient or continuing calamity, but an ephemeral occurrence, fleeting, volatile. What was seen, what was heard, what was lived between the 14th and the 25th of November or during the fatal night of April 13th. Books that, in that majority of cases, magnify minimal events, provide trivial data, wish to impose cocktail party conversation upon us and practice the terrorism of spontaneity. A hybrid genre including the cinematic newsreel, the tape recorder and the sermon. The reader, bewildered by those testaments and used to these compendia, becomes accustomed to associate certain themes with some definite stylistic procedures. Thus, the political problems should be approached with a didactic, aseptic and informative prose; the supreme virtue is literalness and the only adornments tolerated are the classical citations, those never sufficiently read worthies. Repetition is not a defect, but rather the old wisdom of the classroom. To avoid confusion it is advisable not to write dryly of the North American; it is much clearer to say, "the North American imperialists." It also helps, when the Soviet Union is mentioned, to add "the socialist nation" or "revisionist" when speaking of Trotsky or "lackey" if the theme is a banana republic president. The other permitted tone for political questions is the violence page, yet always that it be subject--this is the essence--to the established adjectives and rhetorical figures. Satire and irony, those traditional weapons, should be excluded from the local arsenal because they confuse it with ambiguity and with indefiniteness. For the forgetful one should write as with a pentagram, indicating with a doodle the moments of parody or the passages whose intent is to mock; and perhaps two doodles must be used to get into their heads that the "position" of the author can be expressed through the selection of a verb, through linguistic resources whose purpose is to ridicule or strip the contrary thesis. It would be necessary to invent even more doodles to remind them that the structure of a paragraph and a tone of voice are sometimes equivalent to an opinion. Even humor is suspicious and is only recognized in the comic strips or in its most elementary presentations: the description of a banquet where the rich wear monocles, sport cruel bald heads, meaty necks, while the women, notwithstanding the abundance of chairs, insist on sitting upon the knees of those sharks. Language is not the only victim. The main one is the reader who has been trained in the recognition of a few impoverished and monotonous formulas. They have been taught a squalid rhetoric that separates them from aesthetics as well as from critique. A reader who falls into a sea of perplexity if the essay or the book departs one millimeter from the habitual drone; a reader, consequently, who is scandalized with excessive ease. A reader to whom many doors have been closed. Barbaric reading to one who so trapped is, definitely, the reduction of language to minimal and designated registers. But an amputated language always corresponds to incomplete thought. UNDERTOW MY HOMAGE to Eugenio Montale is neither exegesis nor flattery. I simply wish to translate a few pages that belong to the poet's narrative work. I understand that they are not eccentric or accidental. They reflect the concentration of his prose and a liking for a certain everyday epic that he himself had celebrated in Italo Svevo. He passed through the corridor, in slippers and pajamas, occasionally negotiating mountains of dirty laundry. My hotel was of the first class, because it had two elevators and a lift (almost always out of order), yet did not have a place for the sheets, pillowcases and towels in a temporary process and the housemaids had to pile them here and there, in the dead spaces. Come evening I would go to those dead spaces and that is why the maids did not like me. Nevertheless, after having distributed some tips I obtained tacit permission to roam wherever I wished. It was in the middle of last night. The telephone rang softly. Was it in my room? I approached with cushioned steps, but I heard someone answer it; it was number 22, the room near mine. I was about to retire when the voice who answered, a woman's voice, said: "Don't come yet, Attilio: in the hallway there is a man in pajamas. He goes from one end to the other. And he could see you." I heard, from the other end, a confused grumbling: "No," she answered, "I don't know who it is. He is a misfit who always behaves this way. Please, do not come. In any case, I shall let you know." She hung up noisily, I heard steps in the room. I quickly moved away, sliding as if on skates. At the end of the corridor there was a sofa, a second pile of dirty laundry and a wall. I saw that the door to room 22 opened; through a crack the woman watched me. I could not remain there at the end, and slowly returned. I had about ten seconds before passing in front of 22. I rapidly examined the different possible hypotheses. 1) To return to my room and close myself inside. 2) Idem, with a variant, that is, telling the woman that I had heard everything and that my intention was to retire and thus do her a favor. 3) Ask her if she truly was desirous of receiving Attilio or whether I was her chosen pretext to extricate herself from a thankless nocturnal corrida. 4) To ignore the telephonic colloquy and continue my stroll. 5) To ask the lady if she hoped eventually to substitute myself for the man on the telephone, for what ends see number three. 6) To demand explanation of the word "misfit" with which she had allowed herself to designate me. 7) ...the seventh struggled to form itself in my head. But now I had arrived in front of the crack. Two dark eyes, red embroidery upon a silk blouse, hair cut short, or tightly curled. It was for an instant, and the crack suddenly shut. My heart beat loudly. I entered my room and once more heard the telephone that rang in number 22. The woman spoke softly, I could not understand the words. I returned to the hallway with the stealth of a wolf and there I managed to distinguish something: "It's impossible, Attilio, I tell you that it is impossible..." Then the click of the receiver and her steps towards the door. In one leap I headed toward the number two mountain of castoffs, revolving hypotheses 2, 3 and 5 in my heart. The crack opened again. It was impossible for me to remain there standing. I said: I am a misfit. But she, how did she manage to know that? And whether bringing me up would save her from Attilio. Or even might save Attilio from her? I am not made to be the arbiter of anything and much less of the life of others. I returned dragging a pillowcase with a slipper. The crack was wider, the head twisted more to the outside. I found myself one yard from that head. I positioned myself firmly after having liberated the pillowcase with a kick. Then I said in a too strong voice that resounded down the corridor: "I am through passing by, ma'am. Yet you, how do you know that I am a misfit?" "We all are," she said, and again closed the door with an impact. Within the telephone sounded anew. The Butterfly of Dinard * * * Yesterday I dined with J. Other friends also came. We were all in the room, talking and drinking. After a while I stopped, because I felt anxious or, more properly, due to those intolerances that overcome me. I arose from the armchair and placed myself before J.'s bookcase. There I saw Quasimodo's translation of Catullus' Cármenes. A little art book that I bought at the beginning of the Seventies and which on the first page contains, in green ink, my name and the date. I had loaned it to J. many years ago and he never bothered to return it to me. With time, although with effort, I resigned myself to the idea that it was not mine. But in that instant I recalled the scene that J. had improvised the previous week with such enjoyment. He had found, among my books, the translation of Kavafi edited by Mondadori. Without saying anything to me, he hid it on a table, under his hat. Later, while we ate, he commented that he had wanted to ask me to lend it when--O surprise!--he discovered his name on the first page. It was his! He reconstructed several times, with an unpleasant enthusiasm, that minimal process of looking at the foreign book and discovering his own. As if he followed a small, intense and meaningful parabola. When my turn arrived, I thought, it is clear, of poetic justice. I return to my seat with the book in hand and I too expound my astonishment before the mystery of that cycle that now repeats itself. J. listens with an unattractive apathy. But I do not insist on the victorious recovery of the item. An elementary dramatic precept advises against the emphasis. With naturalness I comment upon another translation and highlight Quasimodo's virtues. I get J. to agree with me. We pass into the dining room and I leave the book on some furniture. After dinner I pause again before the bookcase and when I am about to peruse a tome by John Russell on Francis Bacon, J. approaches me and whispers in a mild, persuasive tone: "Take it, that way you can look at it at leisure." And he adds that he never imposes difficulties on loaning books. Everyone, I knew, was on my side. I give him--he is smaller than me--a pat on the neck. A little later we begin our farewells. Naturally, I remember Catullus. I look for it, do not find it, ask J. about it, he assures me that he does not know where it is, insisting as we reach the elevator, organizes the exits in two groups, proposing that I leave with the first, which I reject, go to the bedroom, shuffle through books, beside the bed observe the Kavafi edition, continue looking, foresee the outcome yet fall to temptation and ask him once again. J.'s pupils are contracted with enjoyment, he almost pushes me to the elevator, we go down, not a word is said and now at the door to the street I become aware that in the final disorder I have forgotten the book about Bacon. * * * I thought, to cheer myself up, that my setbacks in writing were normal. I sought to remember the work of some important artist, struggles that consoled me. The only image was that of the poor youth who appears in "Teorema": a ridiculous failed painter who to discard his painting performs an even more ridiculous and pompous gesture: he lowers his pants and urinates upon the canvas. Even to destroy their dryness. The conclusion is obvious: negative acts are almost always narcissistic and rhetorical. * * * The illusion of writing a simple and awesome parabola. The illusion of telling a limited and blind anecdote that might be a simple and appalling parabola. FOR VARIOUS REASONS I DO NOT WANT TO FOOL anyone saying that I am a philosopher. It is a profession that I ignore, respect and do not practice. Yes--speaking freely--one could call me a thinker; it is an inconclusive question that requires a certain discussion of terms. I shall avoid that, for its boredom and uselessness. Yet that I am a person who thinks, I can swear to. All day, from when I wake up, thinking is an activity that I practice with desperation and avoidance. A train that speeds down a Russian mountain. The slightest contact with reality unleashes that inner fury. I have, then, to think rapidly and decisively. With what has been said it should be clear that I am no provocateur: I have never tried to involve myself with the world or scratch the reality of fame. It is more the contrary: to understand it indifferently from afar would have been my major desire. Yes, a long vigil in place, moving the eyes, stretching the arms, chewing, but without thought. Or thinking only intermittently, with all the intensity that you want, yet not continually. Or to think continually, but without that meticulousness, without that detail. And were it possible, to think like someone who follows a fly's flight with their glance? Or like those persons who start a record, listen to it with bovine placidity and than return it to protection in an insignificant and lacquered little piece of furniture? Were it in my power, I would think little, less and, above all, in a coarse and imprecise manner. I would select the propitious moment and dedicate myself to think without the least precision, in ignorance, making leaps, overturning everything, a miniaturist who marks the wall with a palm leaf or constructs an immense and misshapen clay doll. I joke, naturally, because I know unto satiety that living without thinking is a contradiction. And thinking without doing it with zeal, with perseverance, without always turning towards the right and to the left, is nonsense. I think that here is the crushing aspect of the matter. But it could not be otherwise: thinking, certainly, is to take into account the unlimited variety of factors that intervene in the smallest of our actions. I utilize approximate and deliberately incorrect language because, strictly, there are no small actions, stripped of complexity. My experience--believe me--is definite: any action-- thought through to the bottom--is a well that leads to the center of the earth. When this vision is attained, it no longer matters too much what happens; life itself becomes something dense and adventurous. The ant travels the circumference of the watch or the child loses itself in the jungle on a African stamp. Thus I move in a constant epic in which only the adequate circumstances, the flags, the spears, are missing. I do not see other differences between the worries of a great general and my own. A question of luck, of destiny or of rhetoric. The careful biographer will detect, nevertheless, the same Calvary and will not allow being fooled by the absence of externals. The scenery, to be sure, is only the scenery. What counts is that inner concentration. I have heard that theories eagerly seek examples, disposed to make all sorts of concessions to have them by their side. In my case they abound, which perhaps proves that I am not a theorist but, instead, a guinea pig or a frightened chicken. Consider, to enter upon the material, an episode from which I still have not emerged. Yesterday I deposited--or perhaps abandoned--a letter in the post office. A situation of major importance that I could no longer postpone. A letter to my brother soliciting a loan. Now then, a brother, however you turn it, is not a charity institution; geographical distance attenuates certain all-too-human reactions, but it is not an alchemist's cabinet. The drafting of the letter should, then, confront that fact. We have here a circumstance in which thinking is strictly necessary. Because to our disgrace, a letter to a brother can be written in many ways: to think-- gentlemen!--is to discover that awful fact. I laugh at those who counsel spontaneity in such cases, that untrue thing which I represent as a dog trotting down a road or a monkey scratching his scrotum behind the bars. An exercise that does not help me and in fact distances me from the problem. One of those disquieting datums in the state of my brother's soul when he opens the letter and unfolds the sheet of white, thick, smooth paper, from the best that exists in the industry. I look for pragmatic results and, therefore, it is wise to plan, or that is, to think. Yes, think, think as deeply as one can. To confront, once more, the innumerable fireflies. To have reverence present, for example, the religious silence that luxury induces in my brother; my calculation is that the meaning of that abundant paper, full of fibers, costly, will provoke heterogeneous images, all of them united, however, by the common denominator of price. Synagogues, some very pallid woman, signed lithographs, fencing classes, genealogical trees, mothers' milk, the White House. I don't know, everything is possible, everyone has their own hierarchies. Without meaning to, I break into a millennial discussion of whether or not it is possible to predict a person's conduct. I understand that for some nothing is more complicated than the shape of a triangle; and there exist those who proclaim that only vanity lets us think ourselves superior to a formula. It may be both positions are grounded in an insuperable boredom regarding one's fellows. I admit that the contrary thesis is even more enervating: to imagine that the life of my neighbor is impenetrable and mysterious is an exaggeration which I fail to share. She is an elusive and thankless woman, but not essentially inaccessible. When I least expect it she surprises me with a slow and involving stare. I feel fickle, arrogant, disordered, and effusive. I do not understand her and accumulate adjectives that complicate the problem. I add, however, that I would overflow with patience toward solving these puzzles. Patience is an heroic virtue that is always sustained by some fanaticism and does not prosper among the distracted or the tame. My own is the patience of the rationalist who believes neither in geometry nor in impenetrable forests. To be a rationalist is to renounce the interesting exaggerations and the surprises of the stage. It also presupposes abandoning palmistry and the consolations of skepticism. I represent a laborious and modest rationality, without solar ecstasies or nocturnal mortgages on the soul. No one thinks, however, that this 18th century prudence evokes a serene life. It implies, on the contrary, the desperate seriousness of the analyst. To reconstruct, without ever having sufficient time, the prolix chain of motives and reasons that will bring my brother to read the premeditated, absolutely scientific, sheet which I sent him the other day with benevolence or with disgust. I recall manias, similar situations, associations that for him are habitual, establish the premises for a very lengthy deduction whose final conclusion should be an affectionate and tranquil reply, which would arrive to me in a rectangular envelope, the stamps well-placed on the right and in the center my name, vivid, as if it were that of someone else. I would not open it immediately. I detest eating rapidly, hurrying the rhythms, allowing things to pass without examination. It is now a habit: I would consider the size of the envelope, for I know that my brother's checks are large and he does not usually fold them. The weight is an ambiguous datum. If he denies me, the most probable is that he would write a letter to demonstrate that his decision, far from being frivolous, is difficult and complex. In that case he would write by hand to thus suggest intimacy, concentration, a response made outside of office hours, at night--he, solitary, thinking of his brother. If he assents, the check too will come wrapped in admonitions and, therefore, the letter will weigh almost the same with money or with excuses. Touch could be revealing: surely the check will be stapled to the adjoining letter and at times the tip of the finger can discover the metal. Yet that depends on the thickness of the envelope. Certified letters no longer fool me: all they indicate is my brother's decision that nothing of his shall be lost. It is his way of telling me that both his maxims and his moralisms are valuable and that he never fails to deliver something important and vital to me. If he loans me the money, his meditations will be abstract, basic, always concerning fundamental principles, the struggle for survival, the ferocity of life, the necessity of being like the rest of the tribe, hard and self-willed. Thus he would approach his preferred theme, a paradox that enthuses and excites him, though he expounds it with a limpid style, as if he laments its existence. His formulation--I am sorry--is the following: true goodness--not the superficial, the passing, the useless--is always clothed in discipline, severity, mortification. My brother, it is clear, is not an ethics professor, one of those meticulous ones who attempt to justify any counsel. He found himself, now some years ago, with that jewel and remained amazed before its complexity, its richness, its enigmatic character. He does not explain it, puts it in the letter and leaves it there, without adding a word, sure that its presence is decisive. The proposition is to leave us alone and bedazzled. I do not wish to be unjust, with other people it is more arid: to produce a minimal text that says only, no. It is natural, nevertheless, that with me it should be different: we both were born from the same womb. It is a simple, although fundamental, idea. To think would be vertiginous, yet it is also the royal road towards validating simple and grandiose acts. At that moment I feel a diffuse and agreeable warmth within my chest. I shall await my brother's reply with confidence and I promise to analyze his famous paradox with fondness and professionalism. THE APOCRYPHAL PROFESSOR I SUSPECT a certain impurity in my admiration for Juan de Mairena. For obscure reasons--although perhaps trivial--books attract me that bring together diverse things: brief essays, dialogues, aphorisms, reflections on an author, surprising confessions, the draft of a poem, a joke, or the passionate explication of a preference. A book, furthermore, whose language should be crystalline and translatable, yet at the same time admitting stylistic peculiarities and precise references to a specific geography. A book that postulates, consequently, a special group of readers. Innumerable persons read it yet, nevertheless, only a few understand the secret allusions, the scarcely disguised parodies, the mockery of the local ass, the themes of tedium and hopelessness. It may be my laziness that promotes that taste for books without rigid sequences, without scholarly severities, those texts which, without regret, we can open to any page that we wish. My laziness seeks those books, yet I also glimpse the excitement of chance: tonight I shall open to anywhere and will find the exact advice, the just diagnosis, the key word, the great idea expressed in four decisive lines. It never happens this way, but it does not matter, because the hope for a miracle is reinforced by the failures. Those books comprise a difficult genre, they are always on the edge of enigmatic prose, spurious profundity, the excessively elevated phrase, vulgarity even if covered with syntax. Juan de Mairena evades those traps and remains a provocative and dramatic book. Antonio Machado constructs a complex scene. Juan de Mairena is, officially, a professor of gymnastics who imparts classes in rhetoric and sophistry on the side. The lessons are "free and voluntary." The pupils, we are told, are "almost children": the professor situates the most torpid in the first row and, in general, directs himself to them. They have anonymous surnames, Rodríguez, Martínez, they are not definite faces but collective names, representatives of a wide and indeterminate audience. Among the participants is found Joaquín García whose specialty is that of being "the auditor." Machado introduces him as an important figure, calls attention to that silent one to whom the professor looked "with sympathy not exempt from respect." Joaquín García resolves to listen attentively, and executes that hard office with patience and fervor. Mairena rarely questions him, as if not wanting to disturb that pure receptivity, and on one occasion he praises and encourages him: "It is good that someone listens. You continue, Mr. García, cultivating that specialty." Machado moves out of Juan de Mairena and draws an ambiguous anachronistic character: born in 1865, dies in 1909 and his students first appear with him in 1934. Machado insists that Mairena is a man of the past century--"until the last hour he maintained his 1800's faith"--but at the same time observes that the 19th "could last for a century and a half." An alienation, then, that does not exclude relevance: Mairena is introduced in the present. His archaism, therefore, is not a device to suggest a perennial wisdom, a voice detached from history that only emits essential maxims. It is, on the contrary, a tactical distance, a cleverness with which to judge an epoch. Mairena, the gymnastics teacher, recognizes as a teacher Abel Martín, another solitary whose scandalous non-existence made Antonio Machado impatient. The poet populates the sparse reality, enriches it with lifelike fantasies and invents a secret tradition opposed to the monuments and to the orators. Mairena belongs to it and inherits a multiple vocation from his teacher: the two poets, the two philosophers, the two happy and desperate at being Spaniards. Both authors of books with immense and vaguely discouraging titles: "The five forms of objectivity," "From the one to the other," "The qualitative universal," "On the essential heterogeneity of being" those of Abel Martín and "The seven reversals" the metaphysics treatise written by Mairena. The master publishes a collection of poems--"Complementarities"--and the disciple composes the "Mechanical couplets," an "Art of Poetry," imagines a singing machine, drafts the "Life of Abel Martín" and writes a tragic drama--"Father and hangman"- -about Jack the Ripper. An abundant work of which we only know fragments or exegesis. Mairena does not reach us through his books--which perhaps were issued in provincial, minimal, irrecoverable editions--but through the route of indirect testimony. There are the notes taken by the students, the incomplete lessons and even the fragments of some discourse, the unedited notes, the dialogues with the students and the "rhetorical" or "sophistical" exercises that he gave them, the conversations in the café with "Don Cosme" and with "friend Tortólez," Mairena in an exam, Mairena's stage directions stemming from Machado himself, the commentaries appearing in "The Green Staff" and in the "Lighthouse of Chimpiona" and also that which Mairena "would have thought" if he still lived. Mairena, professor of physical education, repudiates gymnastics and exercises a pedagogy without a fixed agenda, without apparent progression, without the desire to accumulate knowledge, secure in its disorder and in its defects. The letters upon the table: "I beg you for a little friendship and that minimum of respect which makes the coexistence of persons during certain hours possible. Yet do not take me too seriously. Consider that I am not always sure of what I tell you, and that, though I pretend to educate you, I do not think that my education is much more advanced than yours. It is not easy that I should teach you to speak, nor to write, nor to think correctly, because I am the incorrect itself, a soul always deleting, full of hobnails, vacillations and regrets." Once and again, as one more lesson, he repeats the warning: "Do not trust in the tone of conviction with which I sometimes speak to you, which a merely rhetorical or grammatical requirement of the language..." Mairena vacillates and Machado insists upon this trait. He presents us an individual, but also an historical emptiness: we are before an apocryphal professor. The poet, in creating Mairena, fills in what was lacking there. The setting--perhaps Machado's best innovation--is, in effect, a second language. The figure of the official auditor, outside of being an example of probable humor, is the clear indication that no one listens, is the exaltation of a behavior that in that desolate cultural context is transformed into a virtue. To hear purely is not here a sign of passivity or a neutral, angelic and primary quality; it presupposes, on the contrary, an intense decision, conduct foreign to the tribe, an emotional adventure. It assumes that minimum of respect of which Antonio Machado spoke. The silence of the auditor causes us to imagine the shouts, the deafness, the arrogance. The official doctrine is found in the institutions and the true one in a forgotten hall where a poorly- dressed man meets with some adolescents. The contrast is underlined without excessive verbiage: it is enough to indicate Mairena's employment, the location and the participants. Young pupils and anachronistic professor: the first because Mairena has no illusions concerning his contemporaries and the second to suggest--now to Machado's readers--that style and truth do not always coincide. He does not charge money, because he does not teach to earn it. His existence demonstrates what happens when a man, in that Spain, flees from "the pulpits, platforms and pedestals." The refuge of the café remains--those modern catacombs--the extravagance, the paradox, the intimate passions, pride and provincial extinction. The setting also establishes the possibilities of the text. Mairena's intellectual biography permits the thematic diversity: the ontological argument, the solipsism, the theatre, the reality of the external world, poetry, language, age, criticism, the cinema, politics, the baroque, etc. etc. The setting, in this case the indirect testimony, endows Machado with an enormous linguistic liberty. It allows the unique phrase, the private page, the imaginary conversation, the transcription of a class, or the analysis of an idea. There are no obligations of continuity nor of extension. A propitious situation for Mairena to offer counsel, recall his teacher, attempt prophecy, make jokes, occasionally elect academic prose, the sermon, the debate, the didactic dialogue, intemperance and, above all, irony. Irony is the disguise of his insecurity, the other side of his social impotence, the weapon with which to attack laterally, the consequence of a certain skepticism before theories, the flight from resonant idioms, the modesty before assertiveness, and the resource for survival among imbeciles. And also something more. Juan de Mairena attempts an obscure and ineffable thing: the education of the soul. He is convinced that for this it is necessary to inculcate habits more moral than intellectual: modesty, a cheerful spirit, internal liberty, enjoyment of risk. Irony is also the powerful instrument for dismantling the foregone conclusion, the satisfied tone, the incipient vanity, the easy security or comfortable belief. The "educated soul" will be the necessary condition for thinking well. Machado invents a professor whose task is to teach virtues while revealing defects: the dead ends of one's reflections, the continual uncertainties, the limitations, ignorance, doubts, the insuperable dilemmas. The exhibition of intimacy is pedagogy here. Mairena did not require loyalties; the ideas would change, but the character will remain. LEFTOVERS IT IS SOMETIMES a relief to be able to express oneself through another. They made the effort, we only discover commonalities and passively agree. I hide, therefore, behind some reflections of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), scientist, writer, philosopher on occasion, a sickly man, tense, wise, depressive, insecure, probably unhappy. He was admired by, among others, Ernst Mach, Karl Kraus and Ludwig Wittgenstein. One of the most singular traits of my character is surely the strange superstition that leads me to extract a meaning from everything and in one day transform a hundred objects into as many oracles. I do not need to describe it, because I understand it only too well. The flitting of an insect suffices for me to question myself about my destiny. Is not that remarkable in a physics professor? Or would it not be, more likely, a phenomenon of human nature that has assumed in myself a monstrous form, exceeding those natural proportions of combining within which benefit exists. During the night of the 24th to the 25th of January--1790--while trying to recall the name of the Swiss writer and bookseller, Gjörwell, which would not come to mind, I observed the following. At first I doubted whether it would be recalled of itself; after a while I noticed that in pronouncing Swiss names I had an obscure feeling as I approached his, and felt it even more when I was very near. Suddenly, nevertheless, I was refused and it again seemed to me that I would never remember it. What a strange relation between the lost word and the others that I held in my mind and my head. Furthermore I always preferred bi-syllabic words: near, for example, were names like Bjelke, Niökoping and others still that resembled them for the j or the ö. At last, after having been tormented all night and after the condition of my nerves had worsened, I tried to discover at least the first letter and when--scanning the alphabet--I arrived at the letter g, stopped and immediately exclaimed, Gjörwell! A little later I began again to doubt whether it was the correct name. Finally I got out of bed and calmed down. The role played here by my superstition can be seen by this fact: that having found that name was for me a sign of imminent health. It is a case similar to many others in my life. I am very superstitious, but am not ashamed of it: just as I am not ashamed to believe that the earth is motionless. It is the body of my philosophy and I thank God for having given me a soul capable of correcting it. O if I could trace channels in my head to promote internal interchange and commerce among my thoughts! Instead they lie there, by the hundreds, without reciprocal benefit. It is a problem: is it more difficult to think or not to think? Humans think by instinct. And who does not know how difficult it is to repress an instinct! My body is the part of the world that my thoughts can change. Even imaginary illnesses can become actual ones. In the rest of the world, on the contrary, my hypotheses cannot disturb the order of things. For some days now (since April 22 of 1791) I live under the hypothesis (I always live according to an hypothesis) that it is harmful to drink during meals. And I find myself perfectly well. We should think that everything has a cause; it is like the spider which weaves the web to imprison the fly. It does it even before knowing that a fly exist in the world. We use the word soul like the mathematicians use x, y, z in algebra, or like the word attraction. Perhaps it is only a word, like opinion, state. As if Newton had said x or y in place of attraction. A book is a mirror: if a monkey approaches it, an apostle cannot be seen reflected. We lack words for discussing wisdom with an idiot. One is already wise who understands a wise man. She was one of those who always wants to do things better than ordered. It is a horrible quality in a servant. Of one who only thinks of present things, one could say it was not they who invented the soul's immortality. My head has experienced some creative workdays, yet not that of the sun. * * * In 1926 Ortega y Gasset wrote a small essay entitled "Different destinies." The proposition was to compare the Italian "soul" and the Spanish "soul" with the object of establishing the premises for arriving at a probable conclusion: "a Spanish fascism is unlikely." The Iberian "soul," as opposed to the Italian, is focused, abhors sensuality and repudiates ostentation. Even their festivals- -the black festivals of Vasconia and Castille--are ascetic and intimate. They ooze--the verb is not mine--"interiority." Profiled, thus, is a severe and spiritual soul, which does not become dazzled by appearances, the plaza, the shouts. Add, too, that the Italian is an "ancient" soul, that is, "it puts public life ahead of private": it diminishes, then, the value of the individual and abounds in crime, the political tragedy. In the Spaniard, on the contrary, the conviction predominates "that governing is an exercise in ability, more of a patriarchal operation." Therefore, Ortega adds, "the State (in Spain) has tended to pause with surprising tact before the private person." The Iberian ethos impedes the political violence exercised by an authoritarian State. Fascism would be, in Spain, a suite of historical-psychological contradiction. The false prophets or the erroneous social predictions do not surprise me. What scandalizes me is the irrelevance of the premises, the ghostly methodology and the vision--at once frivolous and false--of the Spanish reality. Only the shepherds are lacking, the opulent meadows, the plump cows, the gilded light, the satisfied laborer, the lively dog that greets one and the wife reclining against the door. A good life: sweet bosses, respectful owners and a kindhearted State. There are no uniforms, there is no hunger, there are no abandoned lands, there is no rage, no priestly garb, the people are a happy beehive, without rotten boroughs. There never was violence, there never will be fascism. The virtues of the soul--those essences that the surfaces do not indicate--guarantee that whatever social organization shall be soft and bountiful. * * * How often I find myself thinking of the innumerable persons who are making love at this precise instant, behind those windows. It is a recognition that never fails to surprise me and which makes me feel, while walking down the streets, as if I were the caretaker of a gigantic brothel. KNOWN REGIONS IT MIGHT be possible to affirm that mankind loves the truth; it is also fair to maintain that that tendency has produced admirable results. I have written those two phrases with a certain fear, with anxiety, feeling the desire to put them between quotes so to give the impression they are not mine, but those of some classical whose name goes without saying. Their improbable originality does not frighten me, but instead their amplitude, their breadth, as in a photo of our planet taken from a space ship. It is my custom not to worry about what is far away--the solutions, the other side of the coin, the last pages--and I have always tried, furthermore, not to approach truth too closely or, at least, not the great truths, decidedly preferring the flatlands, the alleys without exits, the ideas with no future. To survive amongst this dust my character has suffered modifications and it is probable that at these levels it should be inferior to all expectations. I classify myself, then, as an intellectual of low power; I am devoted to quick, flashy intuitions, those whose exposition fits within a few well-polished sentences. There are no recipes to induce them, except to remain still, immobile, without moving a finger, running the risk, if it is nighttime, that the mosquitoes will also arrive. I know that out there they have spoken of a timeless vocation for the epigram. Those out there. In any event I think I know my limits: I am not a discoverer, am not an inventor. Even more, with time I have attained an authentic repugnance for those grand figures, for the cultural heroes; for many years my reading has been nourished by epigones, by comfortable secondary personages whose light is a reflection of the great stars. I find more clarity in them, more order, less impertinence. They do not extrapolate, lack totalistic visions, I can drop them without remorse. I shall go even further: those works sometimes reach a perfection that the original, due to its struggle to be so, does not know. By way of illustration I could mention those archipelagos where the small islands are incomparably more beautiful than the main one where the ill-fated volcano that produced them is located. However, I shall not insist on the analogy, for I am aware that geography is of interest to a most limited group of persons. Understand the foregoing as a mere stylistic variation. I warn, naturally, that I am moving through the branches: this analysis of my personality, however cleansing it may be, cannot be prolonged. I return again to the general principles. I have enunciated two of them; the tradition suggests a third would be convenient. There is no problem, I am prepared, I wrote it a few days ago, standing, quickly, almost closing my eyes; but the truth taken to its ultimate consequences does not always favor social felicity. I concede immediately that none of the three is too interesting and does not even amuse me, yet I have read somewhere that when one commerces in great principles solidity should be preferred to astonishment. I patiently submit to the disciplines of the genre. I have avoided, indeed, falling into academic jargon, maintaining that familiar conversational tone which unfortunately seems to me the unequivocal sign of an essayist of pedigree. Nor do I wish to posit ridiculous problems concerning the relations among them: if, for example, the three are truly independent, or if the first two support the third, etc., etc. In reality I confess that it would bother me exceedingly if they were taken as a conclusion and would be more than satisfied if they were interpreted as the expression of a diffuse wisdom, accepted by humanity as a whole, at the same level as those so-little stimulating old proverbs. I am obliged to continue. Frankly I would not like it if some ironical little cousin were to cast their bad milk at me tomorrow, discoursing, with a half-smile, of narrative impotence, of secret aims or, even worse, of forced literary choices. But I am alarmed anyway: not so much by that familiar scene as by the enormous number of words that fit on a page. Those who know me will be perplexed before that tense prose, nervous and even indecisive. They will miss the major virtue of my office, the enigmatic conciseness that has been my cross and my triumph: a dozen memorable phrases for which I had renounced the glories of an art book with photographs on the frontispiece. Some youths worry me, those whom in all simplicity I would call my disciples and to whom I have taught the hard lesson that flies do not enter closed mouths. For them, the heirs of my discriminatory silence, for them, fierce and cowed, never succumbing to literary temptation, only for them is the following supplication. Follow me--with a minimum of grimaces--in a new manner, whose very provisional essence I would describe as follows: the expression of certain ideas requires a linguistic abundance which we had not suspected. It is the vertigo, I know. Let us all remain calm; for the moment I ask for tolerance and I, for my part, promise that I will exercise the maximum prudence, without falling into regrettable shudders of egoism. I sense, also, a loss of control and the vague sensation of nausea that the confessional whisper of these pages may have caused you; admitting that there are elements in them worse than the most boring of their precursors: that once more we are about to read one of those pathetic short histories, full of vacillations, nostalgias and trivial memories, those recorded tapes, those watery monologues which forget that literature is only the unforeseeable combination of words. As you see, boys, I know the terrain I walk; my sincerity, rest assured, will never be complete. I repent of having said that I am alarmed; it would have been sufficient to allude to a state of ironic surprise, less definable and definitely removed from the repertoire of the average reader. I do not delete what is written, but it is urgent to add that those popular sentiments should not invade me. The contrary is what is certain: the great events of our age for me have been a constant source of annoyance, as if the aunt of some friend were to die and we have to postpone the reunion. I detest historical exaggeration and for a long time I have been preparing a reply to the professional alarmists of which, however, until now I only know the ending: "...I resume my billiards game." This stylistic whirlwind in which I find myself began a few months ago when a magazine fell into my hands--English, of course--in which the problems that had emerged in Swedenka, the new city so much discussed in my adolescence, were languidly enumerated. Those afternoons with uncle Gerard, the vice consul in Bilbao - the moral of all the stories, shining points in the geography of the universe! I am not sentimental: I immediately perceived that he was tender and miserly, an insupportable combination. Yet in him there was a disorderly capacity for surprise that stimulated my imagination. I remember some of the mysteries: that Cervantes had not been Basque, that the zarzuela should not bask in the fame of the Viennese operetta, that his woman had abandoned him, existence in Andorra, musical memory, the loyalty of dogs. It was he who told me of the imminent founding of Swedenka, of the proposal to create not only a model industrial center, a mirror--according to him--of modern technology, but instead a new community, a village of the future, a sort of social laboratory where unprecedented rules of coexistence would be put into practice, the key result of the work of sociologists, anthropologists, urbanists, and psychologists. He envied my age, which would permit me to admire the first generation of children born and raised in Swedenka, liberated--he furiously insisted--from the cult of the mother, from stomach acid, from melancholy. The Arcadias, the perfect republics have never attracted me and the visions of uncle Gerard, so dependent upon his domestic life, increased my innate distaste for utopian thought. Had I had greater artistic elasticity, I might not have become distant from him; for his curiosity had fastened itself on the novels of Felipe Trigo and on the painting of Gutiérrez Solana, single-minded passions like those of a checkers player. And thus the dream of Swedenka was dissolving, leaving me uncertain whether I had heard the announcement of a new dawn or the confession of an equivocal intimacy. To be mentioned in parentheses, one of the things that disconcerts me is this need to look backwards, myself, who does not tolerate photograph albums nor the smothering whispers of parents or friends. But I also take note that a subject is waiting for me there, served, as they say, on a platter: to reflect in my maturity upon a theme that in my youth hardly interested me. I could lend myself to irony, to a cheerful meditation over the cyclical character of inspiration, or to an occasion to lament the sparse novelty of our ideas, whose ranks closed, when they were settled, in late adolescence. Agreeable topics that permit stylistic adjustment and which group themselves naturally in groups of ten lines divided by some cute little drawing. I leave them behind for the moment, with the security that time will not harm them; I reserve them for a literarily sibilant, abstract, old age, a sweet and immobile oldster whose darts, like those of a Zen master, infallibly hit the target. What interests me now is to speak of Swedenka. No one shall expect from me, nevertheless, a history, however synthetic and brief it might be, of what has occurred in that city during its 25 years of existence. I am of the opinion that the real historians only approach past events after at least a century; I admire the stoicism with which, feigning other preoccupations, they let succulent events go by, unrepeatable moments that now no one will know as they do. I find--I say distractedly--too many resemblances with my life not to feel a profound sympathy for them. Swedenka captured my attention because I read that its inhabitants--those who grew up there--did not reproduce. At first this situation did not so much depress as enthuse me; I thought it might give basis for one of those Philippics against industrial civilization that however much they bore me always leave me with the desire to belong to it, that sad envy which the vices of opulence produce in me. No, we do not deal with some genetic aberration caused by the factories: those who planned Swedenka brought them to perfection in, we could add, every detail. I immediately thought of the most obvious thing--fed up as I am of always hearing the same thing--that is, I thought about an excess of birth control pills. If this had been so, I would have turned from the article, ultimately happy to prove that the famous town of the future--O, uncle Gerard!--was also contaminated by meetings of repetitive women associated undoubtedly with husbands with pink shirts and chop sideburns. Those nauseas eliminated, I imagined--in the form of an homage--a generation of severe artists, convinced that any image will be imperfect. I recognize I went too far: those virtues appear in solitary rooms, incarnate in detestable characters and are accompanied by a thousand necessary defects, obviously absent from Swedenka. The explanation is considerably more harsh: the young men of Swedenka refuse to make love. We are unaccustomed to it and the idea of a massive homosexuality fatally fills our heads, as if pure vocations did not exist in the world, sailors, solitary navigators, reflective persons, a variety of characters who, given the famous invitation, retreat with seriousness, without depression, with optimism, and sometimes even honor. We like the exaggerations, those failures of reality; a complete generation of sodomites, closed into themselves like a perfect circle, would have fascinated us. Yet the situation in Swedenka is otherwise, closer, I would say, to literature. It appears that that youth was educated beneath an explosive axiom: every object in the universe is equal to itself: a chair is a chair, a horse is a horse, a bolt is a bolt, a flower is a flower. Processes and/or situations are also subjected to this order: the soup boiling in the pan is the soup boiling in the pan, the man listening behind the door is the man listening behind the door. Ricardo Encinas (a friend) laboriously writing (as always!) the ninth verse of his (atrocious) monthly sonnet is Ricardo Encinas laboriously writing the ninth verse of his monthly sonnet. I can complicate the example: Patricia (Ricardo's wife) sleeping (since long ago, old man!) with Antonio Romero (another friend of Richard's) is Patricia sleeping with Antonio Romero. There is no turn of the page. Situations, for their part, are even more stable: the orange peels upon the bed are the orange peels upon the bed, the cigarette pack on the bed is the cigarette pack on the bed, the ten letters saved in the suitcase that in beneath the bed are (to our disgrace, gentlemen!) the ten letters held in the suitcase, the pants under the mattress are the pants under the mattress, the suspenders that are on the floor beside the bed. Violence--I suppose--would be a process. The pedagogues foresaw a precise and realist future. Bread to bread, and wine to wine. The world without masks, sundown on those tedious carnivals where Pepito is Harlequin and Margaret, Columbina, your eyelashes ebony and your eyes two stars or any other literary waste. The reality--it is insisted--is fascinating. Everything in its place and every thing equal to itself. An end to farces and confront, face to face, object, processes and situations, without squinting and without asking quarter from anybody or anything! - Conchita's short eyebrows are--definitely--the short eyebrows of Conchita. Any aggregate is, technically speaking, an illusion. It is, to see me as a fawn, as an old gladiator, as a migratory bird, as a moralist of the Lower Empire, as loquaciously elderly, as a weary mentor, as a famed solitary, as a testament. And do not tell now whether you are harboring some hope of being the voice in the desert, the pilot light, the lighthouse, or the pearl among swine. But if I cannot be an example, nor a symbol, nor even an intermediate state, then neither can I be a clod of manure, a grain of sand in the desert, an insect flying about a toilet. It is complicated to put oneself in Swedenka. I learn with relief that literature has survived such renunciations: it cultivates an energetic and somewhat brutal poetry and the reiterative, enunciative styles proliferate, dry inventories of the universe which do inspire a certain panic. The pedagogues believed that those who grew up in that way would skirt any psychological trap, all neurosis being--strictly speaking--a translation of images, that is, a metaphor. Shackled since childhood to those certainties, they did not run the risk that Cecilia's incomprehensible murmurs should become, suddenly, the song of the Siren, or that Valerie's movements, at once so elastic and so static, should transform her into a hot kitten. Metaphorically ingenious beginnings, yet already directed towards an outlandish and asphyxiating baroque. The results of this praxis are plentiful: a robust contact with objects, processes and situations in the environment, a self-assurance that translates into behavior without duplicity and hypocrisy. They ended the mindless flattery, the mysterious dependencies, the double-takes before the indiscreet questions. And, nevertheless, sex languishes. The universe of the image, the theatrical scene, the dream dies in those encounters with the unmasked woman, with those women who absolutely do not look different than they are, who could not possibly even be compared with a carnation. Eliminating the most scholarly approximations--Venus, primeval Eve, the Medusa, Demeter--the road was opened so the female could stop seeing herself as a slave - it matters little whether reclined on an ottoman or enjoyed like a splendid animal; so she could stop seeing herself as huge or tiny and flower at last into a fully measured figure. Because every image seeks its complement: if you are the wolf, I am the lamb, if you are the spigot, I am the hose, if you are the lily, I could be the pig. But if you and I are solely you and I, we shall pay for our identity. I comprehend that in many instances the situation that is presented is depressing; meticulous and realistic recognition of the companion creates open revulsion in some, in others a mild sadness, and not lacking are those who experience the victorious sensation of having tamed something indomitable. They maintain that that lack of desire is precisely the proof that sex is not important and that seen close-up it lacks any drama. Proof, overall, that their years of splendor, of glory, were irremediably united to the comical idea that man had created himself: messenger of God, priest of a complicated biological rite, link in some necessary chain. Or the contrary: errant creature, ephemeral, little worm received by the vain, luxurious woman, et cetera, et cetera. The new civilizations do not improvise and only with time attain perfection: they abound, in the meantime, in nocturnal emissions, which--they assure us--should be understood as the insistence of a monotonous and iterative unconscious. That is to say, primitive, stupid, that enjoys consuming primary symbols, eternally enamored of trinkets and gadgets. Fleeting disorders, fatuous flames, crazes from the latest hour, ridiculous gestures of one already knowing defeat. Like myself, who writes these lines in full retreat, with no desire to draw out consequences, without it mattering at all if I waste the possibility of a crystalline and timeless satire, insecure and jealous of my bath, stuck more than ever in those four or five episodes that fill me with shame, with disgust, with desires, with tensions, with insolence. If they are canceled stamps, they are canceled stamps. If they are amulets, they are amulets. I simulate, then, an illuminated syntax, yet renounce nothing. Not vulgarity, not repetition, not casting blame. I consider myself vanquished and give up the moralizing, the daring leaps, the stories with some ending and return--brothers--to this room in which I barely fit. Greetings. TAMING OF THE SYMBOL IF I SEE a dog wagging its tail, I infer its happiness; if it offers me a paw, its tenderness. If I find myself near a coffin, I think of a dead person. A gentleman who walks along the corridors of a hospital dressed in a white lab coat with some apparatus hanging from his neck, suggests a doctor to me. When the firemen hurry down the streets, I understand that they are heading towards a fire. The swallows announce the summer; the clouded sky, the rain; the presence of Sr. Fulano the fatal misstep. None of these conclusions aspires to surprise one and to reach them does not require too many theoretic flourishes. Perhaps indolence might be the adequate spiritual state to revive them. Some of these certainties appear eternal: we all have the impression, or the hope, that until the last of our days we shall keep repeating that a swallow does not make a summer or that lightning precedes thunder. Others, on the contrary, comprise the monotonous certainties of a precise epoch, or a period, of a society. Of this last, of the history-specific, I wish to speak. They are useful precisely because they are easy. It is necessary that it not be a complicated operation to recognize, in a street congested with automobiles, which of them is a taxi; it is important, at times, to rapidly identify the police and not confound her with a priest or with a sage. A certain wailing sound should make me immediately understand that an ambulance is nearing and not evoke the agony of an elephant. It is well that it not be an accomplishment to decipher the meaning of the red, green and yellow lights. In all these cases--only some examples--a very brief intellectual adventure is completed that consists in interpreting some signs. If the defect in these interpretations is caution, their great virtue is that of almost always being true. The reason is not mysterious: for something to be a sign a certain regularity is indispensable. The arrow that systematically misleads me from the exit, perhaps is saved by the design, yet fails as a sign. Our orientation is thus based on the dominion of innumerable and modest correlations. To ignore them assumes converting ourselves into involuntary comics: to enthusiastically greet the friend who is wearing a black tie, to cordially grasp the hand extended by the beggar, to have illusions before the election box. Meanwhile there are a set of signs--the manner of talking, of dressing, of gesticulating, etc.--that are the visible expression of a particular organization, of an order and a hierarchy. They allow me, if I understand them, to classify the various social origins, economic positions, the fantasies of certain groups. Now then, depending on the era we partake of a greater or lesser semiotic uniformity. What I want to emphasize is that we sometimes live in years when the habitual interpretations of many signs are changing. Long and silky hair, necklaces and bracelets may, these days, also conceal a male. Wide sideburns in the form of chops belonged to picadors and retired actors; today, by contrast, they are the pride of the most varied professions. Beards are even more ambiguous: if at one moment they typified artists, professors and explorers, in actuality we find them on any face, young and old wear them, they are exclusive neither to the poor nor to the rich nor do they necessarily connote heroic destinies or marginal occupations. I know rebels with beards, leftists with beards, orators with beards, intense bureaucrats with beards, conservatives with beards, tormented Christians with beards, builders of the future with beards, scientists with beards, painters with beards, specialists on the Third World with beards, tailors with beards, melancholics with beards, and vendors also with beards. Beards allow the jacket, the T-shirt, the sweater, the turtleneck, or the impeccable suit of conventional cut. A jacket and denim pants used to indicate, with no room to doubt, that those who wore them belonged to a social class of very scarce resources. Now it is best to be more careful: poverty may not be the motive for selecting that material, nor the will to mix--for, let us say, ideological reasons--with a sector of the population, but instead simply the elegance, the aesthetics, or some secret image of oneself which, probably, would be interesting to explore. Signs that have lost their defining character and have acquired the property of floating between classes. Which permits, as in the previous instance, free combination: blue jeans and clear slippers, blue jeans and the splendid silk handkerchief or blue jeans and the refined soul. Therefore it concerns not solely a change in meaning--before it meant one thing and now others--but, even more, a hybridization of the signs: at the same time they hold the ancient classificatory charge they have become adornments. They are two notoriously distinct functions. To understand this decorative aspect of the sign, I think that it is useful to refer to a specific maneuver that I am going to call the taming of the symbol. When capitalist or bourgeois societies are, furthermore, liberal, they seem to accept everything. They are not frightened that an adolescent puts a portrait of Che Guevara on the lapel; they tolerate the massive display of photographs and posters which reproduce the faces of the revolution. In the stores it is possible to obtain the famous beret and the field uniform, not to speak of pennants, shields and other lesser objects. As always, commerce is advanced and one speaks of liberty. The symbol has been degraded so as to become an ornament. It is the most efficient means of taming it because the adornment forms a part of a wider phenomenon: fashion. Which, in essence, is ephemeral and transitory and, in consequence, brings about the demise of that symbol. Transformed into an ornament, it inherits the destiny of a tie or of the pattern on a fabric. Once seen as something else, it is no longer stylish, we are tired of the same, that was used in the Fifties or at the end of the Sixties, or between '64 and '77; the Seventies--haven't you heard--are different. But, additionally, fashion presents those symbols as associated with a youthful age, thereby insinuating an atmosphere of play, of fiesta, of vague irresponsibility: youth is a privileged stage, a sort of closed reserve without communication with the authentic problems of life. Let us be, then, indulgent, that they amuse themselves with their little masks. Once again the allusion to time, once again mortality united to the symbol. The integration of the symbol with fashion creates the conditions for converting history to mythology. If I can disguise myself as Emiliano Zapata and you as Fidel Castro--just as yesterday we dressed as Polichinela and Colombina--the unreality of those figures is accented, concreteness is minimized and we place them--this is what is important--in our fantasy world. They no longer represent ideological and political positions or specific historical conjunctures, but instead exemplify and serve to express mere psychological impulses: bravery, the urge for justice, boldness, force, cleverness. The symbol, reduced to cosmetics, ceases to be subversive. The triumph of fashion. Once this operation succeeds, there will be additional gains; the elements are present to suggest that, at root, those excessive and extravagant personages are actors who perform in some strange and distant work. I celebrate other worlds, other civilizations, other societies, insulating myself from the unique relevance of Mao. The sign indicates and the symbol represents. I have attempted to show that in certain cases there is a modification of the original functions of both which revert, so to speak, to ornament and, therefore, to fashion. In the last analysis, we arrive at publicity, at the concept of merchandise and to the process of mass production. The carnival, the beards and the flags always end as something else. VAST DOMAIN OF SORROW THE AUTUMN OF THE PATRIARCH is the last revenge of Hispano-American literature. A vengeance that is nourished by fascination and bitterness, and also by a desolate love for our countries. A vengeance that is not limited to an arid condemnation, to a violent and monotonous outburst, to a didactic portrait, to a sociological forecast, to a holy yet obtuse indignation. García Márquez speaks of a dictator and at the same time speaks of an obscure and lost nation. The patriarch is not a "model despot," does not have plans nor aspires to ideological justifications, only survives, perplexed and opaque like that sluggish nation which he has governed for innumerable years. The patriarch is a sort of sleepwalking general who only believes in chance and guile. The entire country is, for him, an immense calamity, a natural act as unchangeable as the heat, the swamps, the cruel rivers. The patriarch of García Márquez represents the hopelessness that is the confusion between nature and history. To govern is, then, to resign oneself to the bogs, to the crops, to the predictable betrayals, to the bad harvests, to the voracious self- enrichment of the subalterns, to the inclement repressions, to the rebellions, to the irremediable poverty, to the periodic visits of the ambassadors, to living surrounded by lepers and fighting cocks. To govern is to maintain that shameful and insuperable cycle, without much happiness, yet without losing the panther's instinct. A patriarch who is a soldier of the federal wars, worn out by the campaigns and by the political unreality of those battle between liberals and conservatives; an official of the insurgent provinces who one night erupts, incredulous, into the presidential palace. There an interminable old age begins that is, properly, the narrative theme of García Márquez: the decrepitude of the patriarch, the meanness of his days, the solitude and the isolation. The novel is based on known historical materials and when it refers to the Latin American dictator we might speak here of an inherited iconography. It primarily translates into a vision of an agrarian nation, of large estates, chronically indebted, exporter of coffee, tobacco, cacao, or bananas, or rubber, or cane; a nation whose ancient ruling class--ranchers, bankers, businessmen--cedes the power to the rural chiefs. A typical situation of the second half of the 19th century. Also typical is the continual transfer of wealth to cover the interest on the loans, the negotiations to defer the payments, the blockade of the ports by European governments, the symbolic cannonade from some ship, the impotence, the sense of personal insult, the enraged reaction, the recourse to patriotism, the resonant proclamations, the promises, enemies are forgotten, everyone united, the nation commences anew, the allusion to the liberating heroes, the final mediation by the United States, the embargo of customs, the "Monroe Doctrine," the illusions of some, the relief of the patriarch at having preserved power, so that the gringos exploit the subsurface and leave us in peace. Also not missing is the episode of the natural catastrophe--cyclone or earthquake--, the theft of foreign aid, the resale of the medicines and the sanitary equipment. The novel also captures the immense cruelty of that desperate republic, the tortures, the infinite surveillance, the pitiless elimination of the opposition, the progressive refinement of the police network, the flattery of the military and at the same time the secret vigilance over the barracks. The patriarch, meanwhile, unites traits already classic in that genre of dictators. The timidity of the peasantry, the perpetual discomfort with the language and, consequently, the brief dry sentences, or vulgarity with pretensions of realism and common feeling--"don't be an asshole, lieutenant"--, the essential illiteracy, the long silences with questioners, the custom of looking in their eyes, one by one, to surmise--so say the legends--their second and third intentions, the infinite caution in dealings, the basic insecurity, the long memory, the custom of feigning sleep while others talk "...and although he appeared dormant from the heat he did not fail to clarify a single detail when he conversed with the men and women who had convened in their turn calling them by their names and surnames as if he had within his head a written register of the inhabitants and the codes and the problems of the entire nation." Those tyrants usually are poor lovers, but mythical progenitors, distracted and casual, originative of innumerable offspring. The patriarch dreams with "tame mulattoes" and lives surrounded by concubines, a stable of women whose faces are indistinguishable. He is, like so many infamous men, sentimental, and when he is sure that no one is listening hums "Bright moon of the month of January, shine upon me through the window here on the gallows." Dictators who reserve their tenderness for the animals, visit the stables, pet the cows, impose order, chat kindly with peons and foremen. According to the traditional iconography, those characters are perfectly sullen, especially before strangers: they promise, smile, simulate non-comprehension, interrupt to relate an ambiguous anecdote, are distracted and postpone decisions. A vignette that even its enemies accept, by a chance of obscure nationalistic solidarity. A conventional, complacent vignette, which celebrates primitive abilities and chimerical triumphs. And the comrade also appears who is the academic military, the professional, the efficient marksman who guarantees the patriarch peace, or more likely, silence. The characteristic outlines accumulate: the continual exploration of personal destiny, in booklets, bottoms of cups, lines on the palm, persistence in the interpretation of nightmares, the portents, the defeated cock, the musician with furtive glance at the village fiesta, the oppressiveness of that thicket of signs and signals. The direct style of governing and the scorn for the institutions, the nation as an enormous house that he cares for and oversees, "for in that day there was no setback in everyday life however insignificant it might be that did not have for him as much importance as the gravest of matters of state and he honestly thought that it was possible to distribute happiness and subordinate mortality with the soldierly deceits." García Márquez insists, throughout the novel, on the solitary nature of power, a not very surprising observation that, ideologically, only is modulated by the distinction between government and power: the patriarch, in various stages of his rule, alone represents the supreme authority, the distant and indisputable source of command. The incorporation of so many familiar elements converts the books into an elaborate and brilliant exercise which, nevertheless, does not modify our historical and psychological vision of dictatorship. The Autumn of the Patriarch aesthetically exploits a hackneyed and exhausted version of our tyrants. The abilities and the undoubted stylistic feats of García Márquez almost never transform those materials at root, which remain beneath the novel's surface untouched by literary pyrotechnics. In this sense it is a baroque book. A book, furthermore, constructed around a few intense and well-worked images. The most emotional, that which expresses with the greatest depth the patriarch's anxieties and desolation, is one that permits us to view this utterly sad survey before falling asleep: "he examined the whole house while he ate, walking with the plate in hand, eating stewed meat with beans, white rice and slices of green plantains, and checked the guards from the front entrance to the bedrooms, who were complete and in place, 14, saw the rest of his personal security playing dominoes in the confines of the first patio, saw the lepers accompanied among the rosebushes, the paralytics on the stairways, it was nine, placed the plate of food on a windowsill without finishing it and found himself gesticulating in the sordid atmosphere of the concubines who slept three abreast with their seven month-olds in the same bed..." He crosses vestibules, closes windows, vaguely remembers infancy while smelling the smoke of burning manure, checks the restrooms, wanders empty offices, takes two spoonfuls of honey, hangs the lamp above his bedroom and now at last "resumed watching the sentries in the darkness, returned to the bedroom, and passing before the windows saw the same sea in each one, the Caribbean in April, contemplated it 23 times without pausing and it was always like always in April a golden pool, heard it strike 12, and with the last impact of the cathedral bell felt the twisted faint whisper of horror at his hernia, there was no more sound in the world, he alone was the nation, passed by the three doors, the three bolts, the three locks on the bedroom, urinated seated on the portable toilet, released two drops, four drops, seven arduous drops, fell headlong onto the floor, falling asleep in the act." García Márquez is splendid when he forgets a little about the abstract figure of the president and describes, with detail and with art, the misery of the tropics, the oppression, the heat, the caged birds, the chickens in the patios, the old man seated at four in the afternoon across from a girl whom he studies "with a sheltering love, with which he contemplated her with a sort of reverential stupor fanning himself with a white hat, drenched in sweat"; a girl with her hair wet who "had seen him sucking at fruit juice, seen him nodding with sleep in the wicker armchair with the glass in his hand while the copper humming of the cicadas made the room's penumbra deeper, had seen him snore, Careful Excellency, she had said, he awoke startled, murmuring that no, my queen, I had not been sleeping, had only closed my eyes he told her, without noticing that she had removed the glass from his hand so it would not fall while he slept." The patriarch remains distant, here is a weary man with a great patience to continue living, a man "...enveloped in the wicker glider, with a full glass of lemonade in hand, hearing the noise of the grains of corn that his mother Bendición Alvarado shook in the gourd, seeing her through the layers of heat at three when she grasped a silvery chicken and put it under her arm and twisted its neck with a certain tenderness while she said in a mother's voice looking in my eyes that you are becoming consumptive from so much thinking without eating well, stay for dinner tonight, I beg you, trying to seduce him with the temptation of the strangled chicken that she supported with both hands so it would not escape in the expiration of agony and he told her alright, mother, I shall stay, and stayed until dark with his eyes closed in the wicker armchair." García Márquez also offers, with equal mastery, an underground image of those territories: a sound of people who thrash--recurrent verb--in the waters, in the mud, in sticky naps, a sound of hungry dogs in the markets, vulgar parrots, violent beggars, a world of pure survival, flickering, of blows, the image of a lowly tribe who hoard their food and pile it in suffocating storehouses. "A black brothel," but at the same time a sort of swamp with the primary forms of life. This is the universe of which in one lucid passage the patriarch states: "lonelier than the left hand in that country that I did not willfully select but instead which they gave me as you have seen and which has always had that sense of unreality, with that smell of defecation, with that people of no history who believe in nothing more than in life, that is the country that they imposed without asking me, father, with 96 degrees of heat and 98 of humidity in the shade capped with the presidential burden." Beyond that of the dictator there is a second novel--it may be the true one--that crosses murky zones, forget the history books and submerges itself in the immediate and indisputable reality. That reality which is communicated through a precise and creative language, with often perfect rhythms and which is contrary to that other language, supposedly "imaginative," yet which is only sublimated folklore, false magic, angels of dust, cardboard donkeys and mermaids in love. For García Márquez we should celebrate the primary, not the second language, not that which acts like the wind machine which substitutes for natural phenomena or the metal moons and the paper stars in the window to give the impression of night during the day; not that writing which jokes with the story of military patrols shooting "subversive parrots" and which tells of the transfiguration of Manuela Sánchez's neighborhood. A stylistic incontinence that almost ruins the scene of the cows passing through the rooms and the corridors of the palace. There is in García Márquez a certain enjoyment of episodes that recall a more adolescent literature and, of course, more elemental than his: I think of the assassination of Rodrigo de Aguilar, whose cadaver, upon a silver platter and with "a little branch of parsley in its mouth," is the powerful dish that the traitorous military will eat at the victory dinner fiasco. I think of Saturnino Santos, rebel general and prodigious with a machete, who barefoot and in silence always accompanies the patriarch "with that courage of a tiger which agitates the dogs and gives vertigo to the wives of the ambassadors." And I think, above all, of that episode where the patriarch arrives at a ranch, stops in front of the men--the machetero behind him with his hand on the weapon--, breaks off a cluster of fruit, eats it without saying a word and "without removing his gaze from the provocative Francisca Linero," orders the husband to go with Saturnino Santos and rapes the woman. They are emblems for adventure books or for improbable films. The literary word is at once object and instrument. There are books in which the words almost disappear and what they convey is all that is left. But there are others that never stop being a "text." The Autumn of the Patriarch is like this: a closed linguistic net that on occasions drowns, although with impeccable modalities, in the narrative material. An excessively compact book, airless, without dead zones, where we never feel that reality somehow overcomes the novelist and that this is a fragment of that, a partial and limited comprehension. Therefore the reader who essays The Autumn of the Patriarch is not an accomplice, but a spectator. OPTIMISM THE causes of optimism are variable. Leibniz tried to demonstrate that our own, notwithstanding its calamities and its notorious defects, was nevertheless the best of the possible worlds. Far from living on an accidental planet, perhaps the product of a tired and distracted God, we live at the crown of creation. Any alternative would have been worse. To recognize this fact should have fostered felicity or, at least, eliminated a type of theological resentment. A doctrine that repudiates cosmic pathos and extols the world's rationality; it invites us toward study, towards comprehension, toward the serene gaze and to passivity. Static and harmonious optimism, which delights in the perfection of the celestial mechanism and bases its happiness on the security that tomorrow, the same as today, the sun shall continue to shine on us. Metaphysical optimism that will satisfy the religious, the man of reason as well as the rentier. Without forgetting the humorists, who throughout the 18th century amused themselves enormously with that theory. The more common optimism, however, is dynamic, tied to the double possibility of change and improvement; that is, the optimism of progress. Which subdivides into diverse modalities. On one hand, scientific optimism, the conviction that there are not, in principle, fathomless secrets: mystery is a form of our ignorance and, it follows, is transitory. The perplexities of today are the truisms of tomorrow. Technology, for its part, encouraged the hope that it might serve to resolve the traditional blemishes of humanity, hunger and poverty. It generated an apolitical optimism, as if it had discovered a magical tool that would eliminate social conflicts without needing to enter into them. A vision belonging to engineers and 19th century inventors who dreamed of locomotives criss-crossing the African steppe with smiling doctors dedicated to vaccinating thousands and thousands of Asiatic children. They discovered, with joy, that to be progressive it was sufficient to believe in electric light and in Pasteur. Colonialism, accepted by the good souls as a useful evil, could disguise itself as a redemptive mission. The dilemma was not between exploited and exploiters, but between education and ignorance, between technics and primitive crafts, between civilization and barbarism. The bourgeoisie, it should be said, was the author of that pedagogical comedy in which we also find the famous monologue concerning the excellencies and curative virtues of the vote, the quintessence of democracy. "Whoever votes, rules," intoned Victor Hugo. The electoral urn and the combustion engine guaranteed the well-being of the human species. In its best exemplars this union gave rise to an energetic optimism, secular, severe, a little scholarly, associated with venerable and apostolic figures, with coats-of-arms and speeches. For the others, the slow accumulation of wealth, the conquest of new markets, the satisfaction of the victorious struggle, the security in their strength were factors more than sufficient to create a state of intense complacency with the march of the universe. Everything coincided: technology, democracy, education and economic expansion, orators and industrialists, professors and bankers. The socialism of the 19th century, to the degree that it foresaw a radically different future, was also optimistic. The liaison with the future was carried out through an analysis of capitalist society that simultaneously included a certain philosophic tradition and a set of scientific ideas and procedures. The results were presented not only--and this is the great difference--as the dreams of the just person, but instead as the objective reality discovered by the researcher. Science sustained and stimulated practice. The certainty that capitalism created and sharpened the contradictions within its own system was a formidable source of confidence. If to this is added a conception of history strongly influenced by Darwinist evolution, it is clear that the theoretic price of socialist optimism would be a certain dose of scientific determinism. The political price, on the other hand, was a development theory of social conflict and, in its extremes, a kindhearted and self-confident attitude. Reformism represents the limiting case of socialist optimism. To explain this state of mind two other elements would have to be mentioned. On one side, the growing international solidarity of the proletariat, which then began to propound class consciousness as something superior to national particularity; on the other, a simplistic idea with respect to the inherent difficulties in organizing the socialist State, which was visualized as the triumph of true ethics and of authentic democracy. They believed in the exemplary value that the first socialist state would have, inherited--thus it was supposed--from healthy traditional customs. The question that I now wish to broach is the following: upon what is the optimism of the contemporary person of the left founded? It is possible even to accept the general lines of the classical critique of bourgeois society, yet I doubt belief in precise predictions that announce the downfall of capitalism; which means--like it or not--the abandonment of many scientistic illusions. The conviction that time works inexorably in its favor is much feebler than in the 19th century. Given economic growth and before capitalism's manipulative capacity, the metaphors that suggest its demise as a necessary consequence of its expansion lose reality. The images appear, but they are also accompanied by scientific tranquilities. If this is so in those countries which comprise the paradigm of the old model, what shall we say in relation to the new situations of struggle, so distant in most instances from the canonical examples? Internationalism, for its part, entered into crisis during the war of '14 and since the October Revolution the nationalist hue, perhaps inevitably realistic, predominates. In any event, the dream of a single class that would act in unison, which would feel affected and react to what occurs, let us say, on another continent, that dream has vanished or has been transformed in manifestos, in collectives, in marches, in noble and ineffective displays. Yet it has not been converted to a common strategy. Regarding the automatic correlations between socialism and democracy or between ethics and socialism, no one today would dare to affirm them. They were, indubitably, ingenious, but one had to pass through the Stalinist nightmare to give us a full account. The purges were our Lisbon earthquake. I think, accordingly, that the real socialist's optimism is seated, more than in scientific certitude, in moral indignation, in the daily testimony of injustice, in the critique of the present. Its only connection with the future, with change, is the willingness for combat. It is not accidental that the great figures of the contemporary left, far from being closet theorists, have fundamentally been creators of concrete tactics and strategy, experts in specific situations. The political moment prevails. This may have been what Gramsci wanted to say when he wrote: "I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will." WITHOUT CONTRADICTIONS I AM FED UP that you do not greet me. Yesterday it happened again: We met on a short block at a terrible and thundering hour, in a place--to be precise--where it is possible, for example, to quicken one's pace so the head of the nearest pedestrian hides your own. With that abundance of shops it is enough to stop for an instant and pretend to be attracted to a splendid jewel or a new edition of Homer. Lift the eyebrows, smile mysteriously or open the mouth a little so we know that you are abstracted. If everything you see repels you, fix your gaze on some minimal point, on something so small that it causes you to forget the figure of which it forms a part. Take refuge in a blotch of color. It is not necessary to think about anything. Pure--or stupid--perception is sufficient. I recommend simple actions, which do not collide with any ideology. But if some basic principle--abstract and tyrannical--inhibits you from executing those acts which will surprise nobody, that will not compromise you, move to a resource at once more confused and elemental: stop walking, grasp your purse in two hands, lift it to the height of the neck, open it and bury your face in it. Everyone will adopt the most innocent interpretation. You know further that I walk rapidly, trying to feign a hurry that I almost never have and I do not like--believe me--looking for long at anything. The problem reduces, then, to a question of seconds. Confess it: it is so easy to use avoidance. Add, furthermore, the difficulty you always have had in noticing me, lacking physical exaggerations, a shiny bald head, a hump, bestial fat, huge hands, cleft lips. To describe me one must approach me and only then can phrases recover the corporal minutia that distinguish me. I conclude that you find yourself in a dead end street: be frank and assert that you have been greeting me, yes, greeting me, being able to show neither obligation, nor misfortune, nor favorable circumstances. Things cannot remain as such. I AM SURE that you greeted me. I have no doubt that yesterday you noticed my face along that brief block which the two of us, like a miracle, returned to cross on the same day, at the same hour, on the same sidewalk. It is useless to deny it. You were not in a hurry, you strolled with indolence, came returning, satisfied and solitary. Thus you were watching the people. Without offending anyone, without turmoil, the tranquil eyes, almost on the edge of stupidity. On that block that is only a travel agency, a small and trivial thing, that does not sustain instantaneous concentration. Do you see, now, that I am not inventing, that I do not speak without basis? I advanced slowly, face lifted, arms down. Normal movements, typical of those who walk with a clear conscience. I gave you, then, every opportunity. I know that you saw me from afar, in the middle distance, near, from the front and in profile. The proof that I offer is an intimate and indemonstrable item: after seeing each other I felt a sort of unequivocal restoration. I believe in external reality, but do not limit myself to its shapes and volumes. I understand, clearly, that you would not be explicit. It was not the case, on that block so unprotected, that you would fall into effusions or fixed gazes. You were sober, not grasping and I accept your strategy, chaste and arrogant. I propose an agreement: if you admit that you have been greeting me at one time or another on this very short block, I shall openly declare that those gestures of yours--so essential and rigorous- -produce in me an uncontrollable agitation. PROTESTS IT BOTHERS ME to find the word yet [mas] in a text in place of but. I feel that it is pompous and hollow. When I see it inserted into a sentence, thus, without the accent, I already await the worst: an empty seriousness, an unctuous and sonorous conception of literature. I associate it with those melodramatic pauses that, at the end of several seconds, explode into a "Yet it is not so!" Or to false perplexity: "Yet, how to say it?" or "Yet we will never know!" Theatrical mysteries yet, somehow, gloomy. A lecturer in a near-empty hall proposing their solitary vision of the inevitable holocaust. It suggests foolishness, yet also scolding, admonitions, stamps of the Old Testament, hardest punishments, and iron destinies. Here enters, without any doubt, father Pellegrini, a Jesuit with the mind of an eloquent Dominican, small, thin, almost bald and who offered us, two or three times a week, a furious sermon, composed of complex and interminable segments; sermons in which he unfolded his arms like two immense wings, created hypnotic silences, gazed into indefinite regions, and sweat copiously. On finishing he descended from the pulpit with making the slightest sound and slipped away by some side door. Father Pellegrini used the word yet. His sermons required it. I have forgotten the subjects, but not the gestures, the tragic accent, the atmosphere of catastrophe that he tried to provoke. We liked them because they distracted us; we understood little and vaguely admired his abilities. He never scared us and we always believed that he interacted with rare personages whom only he knew. He did not meet with the pupils, did not offer classes, carried on a retired life and I suspect that they used him as a sort of sacred scarecrow. I am left from him with a double image: on fire in the pulpit and tame in the corridors of the college. His only legacy may be this intolerance of mine, the conviction that yet excludes humor, wit, causes rhymed prose, prevents surprises, causes us to raise our voice, irremediably pushes us towards severity, the commonplace, the mirror. But, on the contrary, creates dichotomies, is dry, is comparable to a bucket of ice water, is a brake on easy weeping, permits, in an instant, changing one's tone, flipping the medal, removing the shoddy and the sugar. I am not interested in filigrees, open mouths, pallid, pearly, threatening orators. I prefer to use but. I also protest excessive explanations. I refer to the habit of beginning from far back and then advancing slowly towards the only fact that in reality interested us. I think of those persons who before the most modest--or most impatient--question wish to burden us with a complicated and enormous chronicle. If the name of a street intrigues us, we run the risk of hearing the history of the city. To show curiosity about the fate of a friend obliges us to find out their complete biography. Before knowing the date that author died, we shall learn of his matrimonial incidents, his jokes, his work schedule, the jealousies which consumed him, his famous dispute with Mr. So-and-So, his mother's positive influence, the relation with his editors, the slight triumphs and his love for closed spaces. We concede that the origin of certain political situations is remote, but we object that the Visigoths are always involved. To believe in the order of the Universe and in the principle of causality does not justify those abuses. The true delicacy, however, is the question about some personal characteristic. The small scar on the forehead will unleash memories of cruel governesses, nocturnal anxieties, summer vacations, songs, that implacable torment, the solitude of the woods, the fatal impulse, the fall, reflections on the tricks of memory, the danger of infection, the date on which penicillin was invented, the impotence of the ancient doctors, the strange impression produced by seeing one's own blood, pride over a bandaged head, war, its causes, that magisterial book, the body as an object, slavery, the musicality of blacks, Benito Cereno, the elegance of a ship's wheel, the sea in Spanish poetry, dying from asphyxiation, pain, and the translations of Seneca. I have noticed, also, that those characters try to interest us placing their watch on the right hand or knotting their tie in some strange manner. They take a magnifier out of their pocket to decipher some title and always open the car by the other door. If we only remain silent, they inform us that up to five shoeshine boys sleep on a cot, they eat only seafood, go out on the street when it rains, never have seen a movie and fanatically prefer chastity. It is difficult to resist that accumulation, because the shadow of a smile or a movement of the eyebrows is enough so that the account may begin. They annoy and spy on us. The moral is clear: do not be surprised if they use a glass eye, a mahogany leg or a cardboard tie and even less so if they declare themselves monarchists, Rosicrucians or confess to us that they detest electric light. Another wearisome variety is that of those who, in any context, emphasize the logical presentation of their deliberations. They determine that the final statement is incomplete if it does not include the formulation "Therefore." They warn us thereby that they have arrived at a "conclusion": they have been chatting with us, but at the same time they have "demonstrated" something. "Thus" and "It follows" are accepted variants that also aspire to shake our complacency and to show us we deal not with chatter, but with "deduction." Perhaps they love the logic, yet I suspect they also are impassioned by an attentive and quiet listener. Not a fly stirs, they discourse, we now beginning the fourth theorem. It matters little whether the theme looks at the successive sensations they experienced that morning while they bathed with cold water: they will divide it into premises and prove to us that the outcome-- satisfaction, pride--was necessary and legitimate. In effect, they preceded it with a "therefore." Only a few weeks ago I felt nauseous and "consequently" went to the movies: that action, their language suggests, was inevitable. All of life is a set of precise and ineluctable acts. Enigmas of grammar. Analysis fascinates them, and that is the reason for which their perorations always initiate with the sacramental words, "In the first place." The tone changed: the conversation--or the page--is no longer wavy and disordered, there is control, there is dominion over matter. Which is immediately verified upon hearing--a few moments later--"In the second place." At these levels even the most distracted will have become aware that "In the third place" will come very soon. To speak is to dissect, to show us the results obtained in their particular laboratory. Everything is subjected to those rigors: in the first place he read the newspaper, in the second place brushed his teeth and in the third place opened the door. Obsessive, didactic, crushing individuals. There are people for whom last names do not exist. The world is populated solely by Pablo, Juan, Alberto, Thomas, Igor, Leopoldo, Vicente, Hugo, Ramóna, and André. The writer is always Julio and the painter Antonio. All are friends, familiar figures whom we have seen in slippers, uncombed, up close. We have accompanied them to buy stockings, pencils, notebooks. We were with him when he broke his leg, when he decided to learn English, when he stopped eating meat. The difference is striking: for me they are a picture, for him--or her--a domestic everyday counterpart. The vision of a bedroom which tends to impose an insurmountable distance between ourselves and the character. They exclude us, we halfway understand, the other is the source of the anecdotes, of the simple and revealing incidents. I fill with envy, because for several minutes I provide reason: the other only shows what happened there within. It escapes me whether they ever saw him gargling. The abuse of the proper name contributes, furthermore, to simulating a nonexistent equality or to insinuate a basic triviality to those vocations: little Juan the painter, little Pedro the poet. The true causes of my annoyance may also be impure. I sense that the proper name destroys hierarchies, and I, on the contrary, desire a universe where there always will be great, distant and untouchable personalities. Those whom I recognize as teachers and judges. Filial nostalgia, religious ruins, romantic imagery, or a disciple's psychology. All are possible and, nevertheless, I conclude that over the gossip and the pretensions I prefer my reverences. WITH LEIBNIZ SINCE my adolescence I have maintained that Leibniz was right: there are no two identical individuals. I always thought that that conclusion was not based only on the impossibility that the wrinkles on one person might be--in each fold and each angle--identical to those of the other. It was more that I intuited what different souls meant, distinct ways of imagining, the guarantee of a modest but secure originality. Some encouragement, a stimulus for those of us who are stricken with doubt: if you lift your voice--as the poets say--it will necessarily be unique. Even if it is an inaudible whisper. Criticism, friends, the ancient masters all have crashed against these cliffs. What could it matter to me, then, that Juan Gorrondona--a respectable but undoubtedly transient erudite--should insist on the word epigone, should speak of pastiche and should compare my pages to a faithful yet unnecessary copy? Gorrondona and Leibniz, an impossible pair, an almost venereal man and a perfect crystal! The union would be laughable if we do not forget that it is a sacrilege. Once-- tired of his incurable gorrondonia, I sent him a simple laconic note, its epigram critical: first refute Leibniz. I still await the reply. Poor Gorrondona! To dissimulate and gain time he peppered us with an interminable series of "Considerations"--thus he called them--upon the "profound" themes of Hispano-American literature: wakes, interesting prostitutes, metaphysical drunken binges, cosmic brothels, and the characters who misleadingly commit suicide at the end of 400 pages. I believe he also dedicated an article to old familiar housewives and another to cockfights as the symbolic arena of our struggles. A giant dust storm that, it is clear, did not fool me. Almost with tenderness I imagined him consulting his famous black encyclopedia, a work replete with anecdotes and delicious indiscretions, agreed, but so useless for understanding Leibniz. The next step should have been the purchase of some common edition of the Monadology. He was animated--there is no mistaking--by the hope of finding, while I drank a café con leche, the passage that would overwhelm me. Gorrondona, we do not forget, pestered us for several decades with his theory of the "Secret clause." Every book, according to this, contains a sentence or speech that summarizes and explains it. A sort of phosphorescence or master nerve. Gorrondona dedicated his life to isolating those subterranean and decisive sentences. The rest did not matter too much to him. Fallen leaves, he would say, without mentioning even the electric dialogues, the erotic tortures of the adolescent or, at least, the imposing agony of the old hero. How many times did I ask myself if I were not writing, at that precise moment, the fearsome secret clause! It is impossible to know: Gorrondona assured us that we were "unconscious instruments." At such heights the great critic should have discovered that--for him--all the clauses of Leibniz are secret. I pushed him aside, I left him alone, seated in a wicker armchair, flabby, myopic, impotent. Leibniz has been a consolation, I already said, but I did not slumber either. From the beginning I confronted major problems, theoretic crossword puzzles that many successful writers--naturally, praised by Gorrondona--had never touched. I fell into the belief, for example, that originality could base itself upon what I am or on what I say. This is a rather original distinction-- away with timidity!--which clarifies for us the fable of the "form and the content"; in effect, here the difference is established--note well--between the author and the work, without excising, consequently, the "style" of the supposed "narrative material," a heresy, I say between parentheses, that has served many contrary purposes: to exalt droning bureaucrats and lymphatic sonneteers. In that era, we can briefly say, I performed a Christian--and economic--examination of conscience--nothing of scientific analysis--and arrived at the certainty that I was a youth excessively resembling the others. What was my agenda? A powerful accumulation of tedium, to have paid for three Chinese to be baptized, the pride of an infantile engagement, to have excited my aunt with the reading of "The Faithless Wife," and the fortunate discovery of Pio Baroja and Gómez de la Serna. I add the drafting of two texts where the ashtrays and the armchairs of my house recounted their memories. I sensed that with this biographical baggage my literary destiny would necessarily be monotonous. Although the dining room table was magnificent, I declined to listen to its memories. I also played with the idea of a tale concerning my three Chinese godchildren: the civil war--cruel and blind--confronts them. One night, after a hard combat, two of them fall prisoner. The enemy captain interrogates them and condemns them to the gallows. The violet dawn moves the youngest, who invokes the name of his distant godfather. The unforeseen miracle. They are recognized, pardoned, perhaps embrace. Victims and executioner--now brothers--escape through the rice paddies. Another possibility- -less dynamic--was that, moved by the missionary, they wrote me letters and together we reflect about our four destinies. Interesting projects, I acknowledge, yet the truth is that the Chinese are elusive characters for a writer without experience. There remained the story of that blond and perfect girl. But nothing happened there, we were simply happy. Gorrondona would say that it lacked subject matter. An ignoble--and typical--way of describing the situation. Why not speak, on the contrary, of a boy who knows the measure of his strength and thus avoids falling into temptation? Discipline and severity are the right adjectives. Any other judgment is mere guerrilla literature. I aimed for difficult glory and not for the noisy familiar dinner to applaud the first edition--without a footprint--of my stories. What a difference between my tactics and the ones of those hurried youngsters! The most responsible--no doubt in this respect--is Gorrondona who in a stupidly famous essay celebrated the "urgent and fresh" language of some companions minor in age. The mythology of the "wandering minstrel" or the Pied Piper. After 20 years of age, according to this Moloch of criticism we were condemned to the culture. I, in any event, followed my own path. I capped my pen and decided to cover the length and breadth of the city. An unforgettable epoch, without reading or creative efforts, attentive only to the happy anecdotes of the street and to direct observation of the face of the public. What distinctive faces! What a mine for the meticulous and realist narrator! I became convinced that literature had hardly scratched life. On greasy buses and suffocating blocks I learned, additionally, the language of the neighborhood and the art of phonetic transcription, two tools whose mastery is the condition for being modern. The true lesson, however, was what later I called "situational language," that is, when the words refer to the action which at that instant the protagonist is performing. Instead of writing that "John closed the door," the same character will say "I close the door"; instead of announcing that "Maria lifted the chair," it will be she herself, the tenacious and laborious woman who will murmur the words, "I am lifting the chair." Situational language does not prohibit reference to objects, but it does recommend that they be, so to speak, at hand. It is better to abandon vaguenesses like "I remember last summer" and to concentrate, on the contrary, upon necessary acts: "I cross the street," "pay the ticket," "drink water," "comb myself," "undress," "see her." In this way we manage to eliminate the descriptive dregs, the terrible catalog of the objects that populate a dwelling. If the assassin is hiding in the room, it is logical that he say "load the pistol," "check the window," "I close the curtains," or even "I am sad." But it would be imprudent and absurd that he comment "I see a Tyrolean landscape," "I see a Viennese rocking chair," "I am admiring the design of the lamp," "I pass my hand over the silky quilt on the bed." Or he would die before telling us the style of the dresser or the police will have to wait in the hallway while the rascal concludes his enumeration. The novelist will have failed. An additional advantage of situational language is that it rejects characters sick with doubt and introspection. With this technique it is absolutely impossible to sustain a young lady dedicated day and night to classifying her sensations. Or the man who attempts to communicate to us even his faintest thoughts. Situational language strips them pitilessly and disqualifies them as literary material. With the ornaments and the illegal aids of the novelist eliminated, nothing remains. Only intolerable sequences: "I feel a weak attraction to So-and-So," "I have a melancholy inclination towards dogs," "I feel a stinging sensation in my muscle," "I feel a solid knot in the throat." The use of a noble verb does not change matters: "I think about my shaving brush" or "I think of my intestines" is as arid as "I feel a curious heaviness in the eyelids." I turned to writing only after having formulated these principles. A firm theory and the mind bursting with ideas. Now there was no score-keeping nor odious insecurities. Although I did not proclaim it to the four winds I strengthened the stupendous Leibnizian thesis. In effect, I already was unique. And I demonstrated it to satiation with two surprising books, Urban strolls and Continuous action. Gorrondona--a worn-out man--spoke first of plagiarism and later of monsters of reason. A poor reader of Leibniz, he never noticed the inconsistency. May future professors have pity on him. NO SUBJECT I IGNORE how I arrived at that idea which has radically altered my literary life. It may be I never "arrived," because ideas are not cans of sardines piled in a distant and secret repository. Or Easter eggs hidden among the plants. It is a Platonic vision that converts all of us into explorers or pilgrims. The images that occur repel me: that to "have" good ideas it is necessary to know the exact address, to ask for So-and-So, whisper the name of the intermediary, swear discretion, and never ascertain the final origin of the merchandise. I would like to think that I was constructing it little by little, in the manner of a virtuous ant. But ants are not virtuous, only instructive and self- centered. Whenever I can I squash them without compunction. We refuse then, to compare ourself to them. When I am old I shall dictate to an anarchic and erotic secretary the conspiracy tale whose title is already a declaration of war: "The gardener's curse." I assume, then, the responsibility and affirm that this fundamental idea emerged in my head, a bubble of air which soon broke the water's calm surface. The afternoon was not golden and I vacillated between the desire to buy a pornographic magazine and to visit a sort of girlfriend, querulous and alcoholic. I thought of her, remembered her florid housecoat, the bulging eyes, the beautiful hands, that badly placed beauty mark and she said to me, perhaps without too much logic, that human action is an illusion. A spark, I admit it, an unmerited illumination. During those seconds I was like the innocent pastor who, almost playing, did a double-take. Then began what some teaching assistants have taken to calling--without much imagination-- ambiguous literature. Although I appreciate the good will of those youths, I do not resign myself to such a summary analysis. I excuse them, nevertheless, because I know that the examiner requires quick and mnemonic definitions. Gorrondona is worse: he smiles and alludes to "our Buddha." I do not forgive him, yet take into account his progressive myopia, his deserved solitude, his worthy proletarian childhood. Human action is an illusion. What importance is there in knowing who did something? Why insist with such vehemence upon locating the subject of an action? What else does it give us were it the cousin or the robust Father St. Bernard who was the father of the baby? A curiosity belonging to the police or to lawyers, nourished by a literature at once eager and naive. That ridiculous obligation of specifying who opened the door, who pressed the doorbell, who sent the letter, who brushed their teeth, who slept in this bed, who supports the widow, who strangled the cat! Every time a character appears-- though it may only be the neighbor--the novelist tells us what is his height, the color of his tie, his stomach problems, what he is working on, his romantic habits, and his difficulties with the doorman. It is true that he does so reluctantly, with monotony and with a boredom that in the end redeems it. And it is also true that we veterans never complete those paragraphs. Yet none of this exempts from blame those leaden books, heirs of a false tradition, namely: the search for the subject. The novelist, in effect, describes the neighbor not because he is interested in that man whose life is a yawn and whose ties are abominable, but instead because he requested sugar, that is, performed an action. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the protagonist of that triviality. Any action, according to these wage workers, implies someone responsible and they do not notice that they are slaves of a juridical fiction that fills the prisons and destroys literature. It is incredible: because he forgot to buy sugar, we must find out about his very sad matrimonial exploits! When I read a story I almost implore for nothing to happen, that the invitees to the dinner chew in silence, without shaking the salt, without spotting their shirt, without spilling the wine. If the fat one on the right--whose biography we miraculously ignored--lets his napkin slip as the result of a brusque movement, we are lost. The editor--weary bureaucrat--will provide an expedient and explain to us who is the cause of such a decisive action. Received ideas-- think of Gorrondona--are tyrannical, dictate an archaic and anonymous prose, put one to sleep, are the artist's leeches. To free oneself one must risk imperfection. I fully realized that. My first narratives "without subject" are--who could doubt--dull and blind. I wished to achieve the "destruction of the agent" through the old recourse of confusion. I thought that for this it was good to deal with a generous number of protagonists; all young, all belonging to a single social class--state administrators--, all with names of famous saints, Antonio, Pedro, Juan, Jorge, Luis, José, Francisco, Vicente, etc., etc. So as not to complicate the task I postponed the women until my second exercise. As for the men they were characterized in an interchangeable fashion, utilizing synonyms and parallel dialogues. If Pedro, let us say, spoke of the transnationals, Juan would redden denouncing industrial imperialism; if Vicente mentioned Mao, José moves for the restoration of ancient China. When Francisco exalts his wife, Luis--in the hallway leading to the kitchen--notes the private excellences of Elena, according to him an 18th century female. While Antonio maintains, in a moment of diabolical lucidity, that Human essays is the worst book of the year, Jorge, who also has a drink in his hand, unhappily remembers Gorrondona's decadence. The results of this technique are crystal clear: in the first place, no action alludes to a specific person. If I write, "the young administrator expressed satisfaction at his high salary," it is impossible to tell to whom I refer. All are prosperous. The action--in this instance verbal--detaches itself from the subject and it becomes a general act, abstract yet at the same time extremely concrete: large, salaries. The alchemy of art. The requirements of the story forced me--I believe on the fourth page--to posit the phrase, "Mao's admirer," but here too there were dangers. The arrow did not hit the target. No one was left standing. Whoever was not in Peking was held up in Shanghai. In summary, though I did not pulverize it, I decomposed the subject; reduced to a minimum the uniqueness of Juan, Jorge and Antonio, disengaged from their monotonous antecedents and maybe, maybe, gave the reader--readers, let us be sincere!--the impression that it was not worthwhile to involve oneself with those destinies. I produced in the public what I like to call "seminal boredom," that state prior to the germination of the plant, silent, bland, enervating yet, nevertheless, filled with new life. With the women I followed a similar procedure. An abundance of heroines and popular names: María, Martha, Clara, Margarita, Sofía, ultimately, a list of 23 venerated images. Again I sought uniformity and excluded the baronesses, the famous anthropologists, the perfumed Hungarians, and the lover--inexplicably old--of the great man. I punished the curiosity of the gallery by utilizing an unexpected resource: they were all married to some vision from my first work. I found in the wives the same anti-imperialist rage, the same pride in a juicy salary, and clearly, the same disenchantment before the work of Gorrondona. Identical with their identical spouses, no critic could distinguish them. They almost disappeared. One more time, the seminal boredom reappeared. I already said, I am not satisfied with these attempts. It seems to me they are still not sufficiently radical. Stuttering and uninitiated, they skirt the true problem. I prevented--it is true--that the reader should enter into an intimate and sticky relationship with my characters and demonstrated to them that it was useless to ask for the agent of an action, but I did not dissipate the fundamental suspicion, that whose presence annuls all the technical feats. The suspicion that Antonio, José, and the other employees did know that each one of them was the author of precise and definite actions. The effect is disastrous: the admirers feel that they contemplate the heroes through a fictive mist - while in the printed work the countenances are confused and the actions not indicated, below, in the luminous area, all is clarity and sharpness. For great ills, great remedies. One would have to demonstrate that the administrators too ignore the actions. We would construct a literature in which no one--not even the Great Man!--could avoid knowing what they did. I already know of some interesting erasures. I chose simple stories, vaguely Asiatic, so as to display a philosophic atmosphere. Two lovers, for example, stroll through the streets of their barrio. They walk slowly, scarcely speaking, join hands, smile, are happy. They are also ugly, but they do not notice. 50 or 60 drops fall from the sky, they take shelter in a doorway and she, like a startled hummingbird, announces that she should go. Desperate, he raises his eyebrows and rolls his eyes. She, flattered, buries a finger in the dimple on her cheek and reminds him of tomorrow's date. At nine, after breakfast. They say farewell and he chews his nails with great appetite. They never returned to get together. What happened, then, between those two beloved young people? Did they separate for a few hours or did they say good-bye forever? Is perhaps a casual farewell the same as an eternal divorce? There was no deceit, both wanted to meet the next day and, therefore, it suffices to say that it was a friendly parting; that description, however, is inadequate, because life demonstrated that that departure was the last. I would not deny the truth, then, were I to write that the two lovers departed definitively. It is impossible to decide. Both grew old without knowing what action they had caused. They shake their head, look at their hands, quiet down, are humble. They do well, understanding nothing. WITHOUT MYSTERY FAILURE is tiring. This, without greater circumlocutions, I affirmed in a now famous interview. The journalist, a tragic girl yet lacking spelling, widened her eyes in an outlandish way. It scared me a little, it is true, although I understood her incredulity. She remembered--what a lovely child!--that Enriqueta Pérez-Lobo had mentioned me in her book, "Estampas capitalinas." She was unfamiliar, however, with the Hungarian translation of one of my most violent tales, the story of a man determined not to sell his small orchard. The title says it all: With feet in the dirt. Let it be clear, then, that I have been praised, that the green voice of resentment is not speaking. When I uttered that disconcerting sentence I wished to say that my Work--always enigmatic and sometimes perfect--did not even border the desired territory. I was fed up with anecdotes, felt nausea at the idea of recounting one more adventure, whether it treated of the sufferings of a jockey to lower his weight or of a most celebrated postage stamp. Little by little, slowly--what a subject for a thesis!--my Work had abandoned the false drama of the "world of appearances." At the beginning--a natural thing in a sanguine and eager adolescent--I concentrated on what Gorrondona called "the exaggerations of life." The drama of the sea, for example, the old merchant ship whose captain-- taciturn and despotic--admires Lord Byron, is beardless, sleeps in his socks, cries like a baby in the morning, and adores the full moon. The crew, always restless, always unruly--scorns those habits. The inevitable ringleader emerges, a languid and cruel Portuguese, strength of the galley, clear eyes, soft voice, dark skin. The kingpin is persuasive: at five in the morning, the hour of the tears, they will slip like serpents towards the prow. With the captain immobilized, no one shall have to fear. The rebels triumph, dark rum is run, they embrace, some dance, others applaud, then listen to the ancient songs. But the sea--fickle friend--crests, covers with foam and the wind, also very disturbing, increases in strength. The ship plunges. The sailors, at root simple folk, repent of their felony, destroy the snake from Coimbra and liberate the captain. They arrive at port in health and upon distributing the pay, the captain--without uttering a single word--throws the Portuguese's money into the water. Everyone understands. Except for Leñada, who insisted on asking me the meaning of that definitive gesture. To start from the gate I mentioned the coins of Judas. What a tin ear Leñada has. He underlined the text, made annotations in the margin in red ink and accosted me in a café to clarify every one of his observations. His is a meticulous and academic soul. He confessed that frankly he had been overcome when the crew decided to crush the snake, a lamentable though totally just act. He also praised the dance scene, moving according to him because of the mixture of rusticity and innocence. Yet the master touch, he told me, was writing the phrase "ancient songs"; in that manner I had united the present and the past, had broken the prison of the particular, the sailors of today were the sailors of always, the sailing species, the indispensable workers of the sea. The drama, he formulated, becomes human, that is, eternal. He objected nevertheless-- Leñada was timid yet stubborn--that the captain was clean-shaven: iconography, legend, universal folklore demand that the wolves of the sea be hirsute and display passionate, elegant beards, their lips lost in that thicket. On the contrary it creates a narrative contradiction: on one side an essence--life at sea--is manipulated while on the other a characters is introduced incapable of representing the genre. A man like this is scarcely an individual and will never transcend his paltry biography. Although I had not read Gilson--a sacred name for Leñada!--I defended myself vigorously and alleged that the absence of hair was related to the laments at daybreak. The skin of the captain balanced, in effect, that other so strange and pathetic trait. I am not a Platonic narrator, I shouted, but a dynamic chronicler of my time. My captains, my sailors and my ships are transitory, yet they are also unique. And from there the tale filled with apparently trivial details, the exact shape of the cook's second molar, the abundant folds in the machinist's abdomen, the precise description of a wart, of a nostril or of a fingernail. As for the Portuguese--the central piece--I drew him without pity: almost two pages to describe his feet and one completely dedicated to his glance, window to a murky heart. I dispatched the jaw and the ears in half a sheet. Whoever attempts to capture the present should pay these prices. Leñada--a good friend at last in the end--murmured that the problem was difficult, very difficult, perhaps insoluble, and promised to re-read my story. That is how I argued 15 years ago. Heatedly, raising my voice, nearing my face. Gorrondona's lamentable school. How I have changed! I am no longer a fanatic, now I speak serenely, without looking at the adversary, I hardly hear her, look at my watch and dissimulate haste. Now the image of a mutinous ship leaves me cold. One more rebellion, a minuscule illusion of liberty, a solitary outbreak. I confess that sailing songs seem horrible to me, sentimental and repetitive, an accordion, the face of the girl, the green hills. The Portuguese, I recognize, is a poor specimen, maybe a psychopath, those tattooed arms fool no one. For the captain I still retain affection, although strictly his life does not interest me: those outcries are indeed exaggerated and the custom of sleeping in stockings indicates domestic tendencies, nothing heroic, nothing grand. He reads Lord Byron, it is true, but reads only Lord Byron. Definitely, a brave and bored person. Without a doubt he continues to navigate. I did not, however, abandon adventures. As I said, contrasts attract me, the nudes, the spectacular endings. A collision between two cyclists was more impassioned than a sunset. A dogfight excited me, a Japanese garden depressed me. It is comprehensible, therefore, that I would be left with jaw hanging before the theme of the "double life." First I wrote about the classic Norman duchess with milky skin and strategic beauty marks, a woman worthy of a tapestry, happy, poetic, surrounded by festive hounds, but in love down to her bones with a shadow, an improbable and shy entity, a very modest mailman. Persecution was my forte: here I summarize and only shall say that at last she corralled him in a red forest. Leñada--what a sad man!--commented that nobility is insatiable and devours the other classes. I, on the contrary, was enthused, felt that the lode was inexhaustible and entered into a sort of dialectical furor. I narrated the efforts of a prostitute to be a philologist, the scandal among the clients when they surprised her immersed in a treatise on phonics, the vulgar mockery and the decorum of that woman who chose Navarro Tomás. A story in a certain sense opposite to that of the cabinet Minister who, at night, is determined to drive a taxi. They discovered him, naturally. The ruckus was major, the explanations confused, no one believed anything. For a sixth of a year--thus I divided time--I exploited that technique without mercy. I refined it, of course, it was not so brutal now and reading James the master taught me to use butlers, children and parks. But one day, all of a sudden, I came up dry. A profound crisis: the "double life," I said, is only a whim, a foolish game, a masquerade. I hated my characters. I forgot them. And from that moment I wanted to seek--I do not care if it sounds pompous- -the mystery of life. That silent and palpitating thing. Action, the stress of the adventures alienates us from it. Upon that, no doubt at all. What to do, then? For the moment I left the police chronicles and travel books to one side. Later I moved to my grandmother's house, a kind and deaf ancient. There, in that somnolent dwelling, I began to reflect. An experience, I assure you, not at all easy. The objects that surrounded me, for instance, were very ugly, but not mysterious. The ashtray still had the label with the price and the name of the store stuck to it. The table--how many times had they told me!--was the wedding gift from my great-grandfather, a generous and patriotic old man. Of the armchair I prefer not to speak: it was the reason my uncle Alfredo disowned his sister. Nor was my poor grandmother mysterious: the family was illustrious, married in the Cathedral, always disparaged the husband, loved birds, the hernia operation, and was deafened when the bathroom heater exploded. History, I thought, is the enemy of mystery. Otherwise, I reflect on natural objects, beautiful but obvious. The scenery of the true life. The spectacle of the stars does not overwhelm me and the silence of the heavens bothers me. I am not an astronomer, I am a writer. I grasped the bull by the horns: mystery does not exist, mystery is pure artifice. What a relief, what a joy to know that life is boring, trivial and ultra-clear! I understood in a flash what then was the dilemma of the storyteller. In the first case the mystery is the style: "A fifty-ish man, owner of a watch shop, decides to visit his tailor. He bids farewell to his wife and promises her that that night they will go to the movies. He arrives at the tailor shop, selects a good fabric, they take his measurements, and he returns to the house taking a long detour. He forgets his promise and goes to bed very early." In the second case the style is the mystery: "A man of 53 years, Central European and a specialist in pendulum clocks, decides to visit a luxury tailor. He remembers, without enthusiasm, that today is April 23rd. At four in the afternoon he bids farewell to his wife and mentions the possibility of going to a movie. At 4:20 he opens the door. They propose various fabrics, he handles them, gains time, knowing perfectly well that the coat should be alpaca. They take his measurements, he closes his eyes, is sweating, cannot avoid it. At 5:10 he finds himself again in the street. He thinks that it is too early. He crosses the avenue with relief and with terror. When he returns he almost does not speak, eats dinner and hides in his bed. He did not forget the promise." This is, then, my solution. For the moment, it is clear. BEFORE THE PUBLIC THE public has always preoccupied me. Now I resignedly confess it, with neither modesty nor arrogance. But at 18 years of age--that era full of masturbation--I feigned an impenetrable indifference. I admitted to understanding the meaning of "public bath" and even of the "public man" but I spat out, as if it were decomposed food, the expression "public intellectual." I achieved an admirable tie of my ascot: I wrinkled my nose and curled the upper lip. Several intimates said that my gesture was most persuasive, more convincing than a Gorrondona essay. The air--according to them--smelled of miasmas and the word "public" remained forever associated with my protruding red gums. Amusing moments, I cannot deny, the inevitable jests of literary life, the truce given it by the heroic vocations. A shame, however, that I would lie. Yes, I lied, because in fact I wished to come to be a writer read in buses by semi-sleeping secretaries, the preferred novelist of those clean and stupid mothers whom we find in the parks. The author of voluminous works, devoured over vacations, she seated in the chaise-lounge, thin, blond, toasted, without looking at anyone, not to the sea nor at the very lovely children--much less at the husband--, absorbed in strong and contemporary intrigues, the pacifist scientist hopelessly in love with a girl whose father manufactures weapons, the young and orthodox Israeli determined to marry with the niece of the bishop, the discovery that the industrialist's sister, widow of a Belgian count, loves a Haitian poet without restraint, color black, although edited by Gallimard; the emergence--in the 34th chapter--of a strange character with a brutally luminous gaze, a sort of wanderer without definite profession--there are great doubts as to whether he is a musician or poet or chemistry professor--who calms spirits, reconciles the contradictions, defeats the bishop, reveals the mystery of spring to the arms manufacturer and to the Caribbean artist not only urges delicacy with the valiant widow, but also recommends a stupendous female Catalan translator. I believe I have expressed myself clearly: to gather innumerable readers, whisper in their ears, impose my adventures on them, steal their time, to confront them with the fierce dilemmas of our world. That was my personal vocation. I overflowed with talent, facility for rapid dialogues, theatrical instinct for the monologues--without which it is impossible in a day to know what the father, the mother, the daughter, or that so suspicious boyfriend truly think--, an abundance of labyrinthine yet necessary themes and, above all, the ability to mix heroes from different professions and social classes, the gypsy and the atomic physicist, the painter and the courtly lady, the dermatologist and the stamp collector, the impassive croupier and the brilliant economist. I could not complete those projects. I know Gorrondona and fell under his disastrous influence. They introduced him to me one summer night on the terrace of a café. He already dreaded solitude and always surrounded himself with five or six disciples. He never had friends, but rather transitory well-bred pupils, and some Canary Islanders. He might have desired a valet, but his heterosexual reputation--he would say--was more important. For half an hour we all watched the critic devour lemon popsicles. He wiped his mouth with an enormous blue napkin and immediately asked me if I owned the Dictionary of the Royal Academy. How crazy! I had to stammer that my grandmother would give me one the next month. Gorrondona was cutting: "Buy it tomorrow and never depend upon the old." Later they told me that my sincerity had not created a good impression. He saw in it the reflection of Catholic education, which he called "the narcissism of the confessional," the source of so much bad literature. Already removed from the college, but accustomed to express himself every Friday, the young writer would not resist the temptation of using the blank page as a substitute. I still keep a mimeographed copy of his essay Art, religion and ego, an immense title for some minuscule and arrogant ideas. Poor Gorrondona! One should not forget that he was enduring a difficult period: women abandoned him without any explanation. Rumors circulated, clearly, disgracefully true rumors, I fear. Ultimately, human miseries that we shall pass over. What is important is to remember the severe discipline which Gorrondona imposed. He prohibited me, at first, from any reading other than the language dictionary. Only thus would I feel the vastness of the language, the complexity of that imposing machinery that, in general, pulverizes its workers. To know it fully is an unrealizable dream because it has been formed over centuries and we only view 30 or 40 years. The rest do not count, are vaguenesses or senile constructs. To write well--he concluded--is impossible. It assumes immortality, to be a contemporary of all the stages of the language, to only way to understand it deeply. A vain writer is, then, an irresponsible artisan, a literary suicide, an ignorant, a pest whom we should not tolerate. Gorrondona wanted to be cold, wanted to be demonstrative, but became excited, sweat too much, was already fat, did not fit in the chair, perhaps a fanatic, never a reasoner. To break our vanity--and so impede the language's revenge and ire--he obliged us not to publish a single line. He lost his stirrups and shouted that he preferred unpublished souls to printed cadavers. It was horrible: my good friend Jaime Leñada practically came apart. The golden barrel, that proud and prosperous magazine, had accepted a fragment of an ode to Darwin from him, a serene homage in real octaves to science and the British navy. I accompanied him to the editor. Leñada trembled. For my taste they returned the originals with excessive speed. I too submitted to the discipline and archived a short story, a modest but well-made tale, the unexpected encounter between Robespierre and Magellan. A parabola, naturally. I stored it in a box against Gorrondona's indications. The critic, in effect, required the destruction of all our materials. Write and forget. Rip up the pages, delete the favorite sentences and verses from memory, not to become vain about our mediocre feats. To remember, on the contrary, that our work is only a dim and distant reflection of the great machinery. Those adjectives, those rhythms--he told me one day--are a puddle of dirty water. Gorrondona's lessons tied me in a dialectical knot. He convinced me of the majesty of the language, true, but I maintained my oceanic greed for readers. A rare thing, a sort of biological necessity that subsisted unchanged notwithstanding my having accepted the master's major thesis, to wit, the depressing idea that the public corrupts. He dealt, clearly, in pure limpid crystalline theory, not poisoned by personal experiences for Gorrondona--who does not know it?--never was a favorite of the public. No one flattered him, no one corrupted him, probably no one ever read him. And, nevertheless, he spoke of the public as a diabolical entity, determined to pervert the solitary artist. Modern society--mass education, he added with disgust--is Neolithic, that monster which has completed grade school without losing the habits of the Paleolithic, that hybrid for whom great literature is a powerful narcotic. Mystery provokes their anxiety and that, in turn, aggression; then, the authentic writer becomes an enemy. But meanwhile--Gorrondona could be maddeningly didactic--industry wants to capture that enormous clientèle and, consequently, it requires special books, incredible books. The author, needless to say, is the essential element. One must look at him, shake him from his little foul-smelling department, forget the interminable buses, the used bookstores, the dark cafés, the useless friendships, the melancholy, that he use Irish linen and soft poplin, that he become accustomed to the houses surrounded by cypresses, to the celebrated landscape, that he not fear the interviews, the prizes, or the impressive women. For the Neo-reader it will be a beautiful and desired image. We listened to him in silence, without joking, Gorrondona hating interruptions, dialogue, alien opinions. The public corrupts, he very sadly repeated to me yet, nevertheless, I confess that it was difficult to imagine skinny Leñada pursued by a luscious female Neo-reader who finds him at six in the evening and returns him--exhausted--at ten at night, already having dined, oysters and white, dry, penetrating wine. Insidious doubts, I admit, but insufficient to abandon the tragic vision Gorrondona imposed. I swore to protect myself. The situation was not easy. I wanted to satisfy my appetite for the public, but also knew the punishments of language and the guile of the Neo- readers. I experienced Gorrondona's fall. I persevered, however, did not betray him, buried myself in anonymity and one day--enigmas of biochemistry or of religion--I came up with the right solution: dominate the Neo-reader, approach her, yes, but without pleasing her, permitting her no freedom, forcing her, making her feel that the writer is in command. We imagine a Neo-reader reclining upon an ottoman. She opens my new book Sparklers and-- typical whim--begins to read the third story. Thus she passes over the laboriously planned sequence. Revenge is immediate: in the first paragraph, Laura begs Augusto to recount his life and he, an understanding though impatient man, refers her to the second story in a superb work written by a friend of his, whose title is...Sparklers. A lesson and simultaneously a technical display. The Neo-reader, now a little less arrogant, accompanies the pair to the obscure restaurant and notices that Augusto is not full of jokes, that he only thinks of her. The Neo-reader daydreams, enjoys it, the ottoman creaks, but when the decisive moment arrives I write: "I kissed her, I cornered her, I nibbled her neck, undressed her, caressed her ample breasts, and explained surplus value to her." So that she knows that actual characters also play with macabre concepts. It is possible that upon starting my most intimate story, the sixth, there will be no doubt as to who carries the baton. Better for her, because this simple and deep story is fierce with Neo-readers. I face them frontally and eliminate any autonomous movement. If I say that Lázaro, at the lake, squeezed Antonieta's hand, I interrupt the action and inform the Neo-reader that the protagonist is not trying to be loving, nor to demonstrate his strength, nor to seduce her, much less order her to kneel. Nor does it deal with an automatic movement. What does Lázaro want, then? I already said: to squeeze her hand. When Antonieta--alarmed by her companion's apathy--suggests a boat ride, Lázaro smiles. The lady on the ottoman may think that Lázaro assents. And I reply to her, with a dry violence, that it is not so, that Lázaro is not interested in aquatic navigation, that Lázaro does not smile because he remembers that very gracious scene from his childhood. Read, ma'am, follow the instructions, do not imagine anything, I am the writer, not you. It is not an ironic smile, is not an hysterical smile, is not a desperate smile. Antonieta suggests and Lázaro smiles. That is all. I believe, sincerely, that upon completing the narrative there will be one Neo-reader less. It is my homage to the awful Gorrondona, the person who estranged me from the public.