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Tuesday 29 March 2011

Allen Ginsberg: Plutonian Ode


They face high levels of radiation but work to collect data and check safety levels

Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers collect data in the control room for Unit 1 and Unit 2 at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Wednesday, March 23, 2011: photo by AP/Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency

What new element before us unborn in nature? Is there a new thing under the Sun?

At last inquisitive Whitman a modern epic, detonative, Scientific theme

First penned unmindful by Doctor Seaborg with poisonous hand, named for Death's planet through the sea beyond Uranus

whose chthonic ore fathers this magma-teared Lord of Hades, Sire of avenging Furies, billionaire Hell-King worshipped once

with black sheep throats cut, priest's face averted from underground mysteries in single temple at Eleusis,

Spring-green Persephone nuptialed to his inevitable Shade, Demeter mother of asphodel weeping dew,

her daughter stored in salty caverns under white snow, black hail, grey winter rain or Polar ice, immemorable seasons before

Fish flew in Heaven, before a Ram died by the starry bush, before the Bull stamped sky and earth

or Twins inscribed their memories in clay or Crab'd flood

washed memory from the skull, or Lion sniffed the lilac breeze in Eden --

Before the Great Year began turning its twelve signs, ere constellations wheeled for twenty-four thousand sunny years

slowly round their axis in Sagittarius, one hundred sixty-seven thousand times returning to this night

Radioactive Nemesis were you there at the beginning black dumb tongueless unsmelling blast of Disillusion?

I manifest your Baptismal Word after four billion years

I guess your birthday in Earthling Night, I salute your dreadful presence last majestic as the Gods,

Sabaot, Jehova, Astapheus, Adonaeus, Elohim, Iao, Ialdabaoth, Aeon from Aeon born ignorant in an Abyss of Light,

Sophia's reflections glittering thoughtful galaxies, whirlpools of starspume silver-thin as hairs of Einstein!

Father Whitman I celebrate a matter that renders Self oblivion!

Grand Subject that annihilates inky hands & pages' prayers, old orators' inspired Immortalities,

I begin your chant, openmouthed exhaling into spacious sky over silent mills at Hanford, Savannah River, Rocky Flats, Pantex, Burlington, Albuquerque

I yell thru Washington, South Carolina, Colorado,Texas, Iowa, New Mexico,

Where nuclear reactors create a new Thing under the Sun, where Rockwell war-plants fabricate this death stuff trigger in nitrogen baths,

Hanger-Silas Mason assembles the terrified weapon secret by ten thousands, & where Manzano Mountain boasts to store

its dreadful decay through two hundred forty millenia while our Galaxy spirals around its nebulous core.

I enter your secret places with my mind, I speak with your presence, I roar your Lion Roar with mortal mouth.

One microgram inspired to one lung, ten pounds of heavy metal dust adrift slow motion over grey Alps

the breadth of the planet, how long before your radiance speeds blight and death to sentient beings?

Enter my body or not I carol my spirit inside you, Unapproachable Weight,

O heavy heavy Element awakened I vocalize your consciousness to six worlds

I chant your absolute Vanity. Yeah monster of Anger birthed in fear O most

Ignorant matter ever created unnatural to Earth! Delusion of metal empires!

Destroyer of lying Scientists! Devourer of covetous Generals, Incinerator of Armies & Melter of Wars!

Judgement of judgements, Divine Wind over vengeful nations, Molester of Presidents, Death-Scandal of Capital politics! Ah civilizations stupidly industrious!

Canker-Hex on multitudes learned or illiterate! Manufactured Spectre of human reason! O solidified imago of practitioner in Black Arts

I dare your reality, I challenge your very being! I publish your cause and effect!

I turn the wheel of Mind on your three hundred tons! Your name enters mankind's ear! I embody your ultimate powers!

My oratory advances on your vaunted Mystery! This breath dispels your braggart fears! I sing your form at last

behind your concrete & iron walls inside your fortress of rubber & translucent silicon shields in filtered cabinets and baths of lathe oil,

My voice resounds through robot glove boxes & ignot cans and echoes in electric vaults inert of atmosphere,

I enter with spirit out loud into your fuel rod drums underground on soundless thrones and beds of lead

O density! This weightless anthem trumpets transcendent through hidden chambers and breaks through iron doors into the Infernal Room!

Over your dreadful vibration this measured harmony floats audible, these jubilant tones are honey and milk and wine-sweet water

Poured on the stone black floor, these syllables are barley groats I scatter on the Reactor's core,

I call your name with hollow vowels, I psalm your Fate close by, my breath near deathless ever at your side

to Spell your destiny, I set this verse prophetic on your mausoleum walls to seal you up Eternally with Diamond Truth! O doomed Plutonium.

When they take a break, the workers rest and eat in a small decontaminated room

A Tokyo Electric Power Co. worker looks at gauges in the control room for Unit 1 and Unit 2 at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Wednesday, March 23, 2011: photo by AP/Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency

Part of their job is ensuring that the plants are constantly cooled

Workers in protective suits conduct cooling operation by spraying water at the damaged No. 4 unit of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Okumamachi, northeastern Japan,Tuesday, March 22, 2011: photo by Tokyo Electric Power Co, (TEPCO)

Allen Ginsberg: Plutonian Ode, 14 July, 1978 (excerpt)

Jorge Luis Borges: Borges y Yo / Borges and I


Self-Portrait with Eyeshade: Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, 1775 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others' or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

Self-Portrait: Samuel Palmer, 1825 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Al otro, a Borges, es a quien le ocurren las cosas. Yo camino por Buenos Aires y me demoro, acaso ya mecánicamente, para mirar el arco de un zaguán y la puerta cancel; de Borges tengo noticias por el correo y veo su nombre en una terna de profesores o en un diccionario biográfico. Me gustan los relojes de arena, los mapas, la tipografía del siglo XVII, las etimologías, el sabor del café y la prosa de Stevenson; el otro comparte esas preferencias, pero de un modo vanidoso que las convierte en atributos de un actor. Sería exagerado afirmar que nuestra relación es hostil; yo vivo, yo me dejo vivir para que Borges pueda tramar su literatura y esa literatura me justifica. Nada me cuesta confesar que ha logrado ciertas páginas válidas, pero esas páginas no me pueden salvar, quizá porque lo bueno ya no es de nadie, ni siquiera del otro, sino del lenguaje o la tradición. Por lo demás, yo estoy destinado a perderme, definitivamente, y sólo algún instante de mí podrá sobrevivir en el otro. Poco a poco voy cediéndole todo, aunque me consta su perversa costumbre de falsear y magnificar. Spinoza entendió que todas las cosas quieren perseverar en su ser; la piedra eternamente quiere ser piedra y el tigre un tigre. Yo he de quedar en Borges, no en mí (si es que alguien soy), pero me reconozco menos en sus libros que en muchos otros o que en el laborioso rasgueo de una guitarra. Hace años yo traté de librarme de él y pasé de las mitologías del arrabal a los juegos con el tiempo y con lo infinito, pero esos juegos son de Borges ahora y tendré que idear otras cosas. Así mi vida es una fuga y todo lo pierdo y todo es del olvido, o del otro.

No sé cuál de los dos escribe esta página.

Self-Portrait: Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, c. 1825 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Jorge Luis Borges: Borges y Yo / Borges and I, from El Hacedor (The Maker), 1960, translator unknown

Jorge Luis Borges: El Evangelio según Marcos / The Gospel According to Mark


El Campo, Ciudad be Junín, Buenos Aires, Argentine: photo by Spender, 2007

These events took place on the Los Álamos cattle ranch, towards the south of the township of Junín, over the last days of March, 1928. The protagonist was a medical student, Baltasar Espinosa. We may describe him for now as no different to any of the many young men of Buenos Aires, with no particular traits worthy of note other than an almost unlimited kindness and an oratorical faculty that had earned him several prizes from the English school in Ramos Mejía. He did not like to argue; he preferred it when his interlocutor was right and not he. Although the vagaries of chance in any game fascinated him, he was a poor player because it did not please him to win. His wide intelligence was undirected; at thirty-three years of age, the completion of one last subject stood in the way of his graduation, despite its being his favourite. His father, who like all gentlemen of his day was a freethinker, had instructed him in the doctrines of Herbert Spencer, but his mother, before setting out on a trip to Montevideo, requested of him that every night he say the Lord’s Prayer and make the sign of the cross. Over the years, not once had he broken this promise.

He did not lack in courage; one morning he had traded, more out of indifference rather than wrath, two or three blows with a group of fellow students who were trying to force him into taking part in a university demonstration. He abounded in questionable opinions, or habits of mind, from a spirit of acquiescence: his country mattered less to him than the risk that in other parts they might believe that we continue to wear feathers like the Indians; he venerated France but despised the French; he had little respect for Americans, but he approved of there being skyscrapers in Buenos Aires; he thought that the gauchos of the plains were better horsemen than those of the hills or mountain ranges. When his cousin Daniel invited him to summer in Los Álamos, he accepted immediately, not so much because he liked the country, but more out of his natural geniality and his not having found a valid reason for saying no.

The ranch’s main house was large and somewhat run-down; the foreman, who was known as Gutre, had his quarters close by. The Gutres were three: the father, the son (who was particularly uncouth) and a girl of uncertain paternity. They were tall, strong and bony, with Indian facial features and hair that tinged red. They hardly spoke. The foreman’s wife had died years ago.

In the country, Espinosa was learning things that he had not known, nor suspected. For example, that one need not gallop when approaching a house, and that no one goes out riding a horse unless there is a job to be done. In time, he would come to distinguish the birds by their calls.

Early on, Daniel had to absent himself and leave for the capital in order to close a deal involving some livestock. In all, the business would take him about a week. Espinosa, who was already a little tired of hearing about his cousin’s good fortune with women and his tireless interest in the variations of men’s fashion, preferred to remain on the ranch with his textbooks. The heat was suffocating and not even the night brought relief. One morning at daybreak, thunder woke him. The wind was rocking the casuarinas. Espinosa heard the first drops of rain and gave thanks to God. All of a sudden, the cold air rolled in. That afternoon, the Salado overflowed.

The next day, as he was looking over the flooded fields from his porch, Baltasar Espinosa thought that the standard metaphor which compared the pampas with the sea was not, at least that morning, completely false, even though Hudson had noted that the sea appears to us much wider because we see it from a ship’s deck and not from horseback or eye level. The rain did not let up; the Gutres, helped or hindered by the city dweller, saved a good part of the livestock, though many animals drowned. The paths that led to the station were four: all were covered in water. On the third day, a leaking roof threatened the foreman’s house and Espinosa gave them a room out back by the toolshed. The move had brought them closer; they ate together in the large dining room. Conversation was difficult; the Gutres, who knew so much about the country, did not know how to explain any of it. One night, Espinosa asked them if people still retained some memory of the Indian raids from when the frontier’s military command was in Junín. They told him that they did, but they would have answered in a similar fashion had the question been about Charles the First’s beheading. Espinosa recalled his father’s saying that almost all the cases of longevity cited from the country are a result of poor memory or a vague notion of dates. The gauchos tended to forget in equal measure the year of their birth and the name of who fathered them.

No reading material was to be found in the entire house other than some issues of the magazine The Farm, a veterinary manual, a deluxe edition of the Uruguayan epic Tabaré, a History of Shorthorn Cattle in Argentina, the odd erotic or detective story and a recent novel, Don Segundo Sombra. In order to liven up in some way the inevitable after-dinner conversation, Espinosa read a couple of the novel’s chapters to the Gutres, who were all illiterate. Unfortunately, like the book’s hero, the foreman had been a cattle drover himself and was not interested in the happenings of another. He said the work was easy, that they took with them a pack mule which carried all that they needed, and that if he had not been a cattle drover, he would never have seen Lake Gómez, he would never have gotten to the town of Bragado, nor would he have visited the Núñez ranch in Chabachuco. In the kitchen was a guitar; before the events I am narrating happened, the labourers would sit in a circle and someone would tune the instrument without ever getting around to playing it. This they called a guitar jam.

Espinosa, who had left his beard to grow, had begun to pause before the mirror to study his changed face, and he smiled at the thought of boring the boys in Buenos Aires with his tale of the Salado’s overflowing. Curiously, he was missing places to which he had never been and would never go: a street corner on Cabrera where a mailbox stood; some cement lions on a porch a few blocks from the Plaza del Once on Jujuy; a barroom with a tiled floor whose exact whereabouts he was not sure of. As for his brothers and his father, through Daniel they would have learnt already that he was isolated -- the word, etymologically, was accurate -- by the floodwaters.

Looking through the house whilst still hemmed in by the waters, he came across a Bible in English. In its last pages, the Guthries -- such was their original name -- had left a record of their family history. They were originally from Inverness, had come to the New World, no doubt as labourers, in the early days of the nineteenth century and had intermarried with Indians. The chronicle broke off sometime during the eighteen-seventies when they no longer knew how to write. Within only a few generations, they had forgotten their English; by the time Espinosa met them, even Spanish was troubling them. They had no faith, but in their blood there endured, like a dim current, the harsh fanaticism of the Calvinists and the superstitions of the pampas. Espinosa told them of his find and they barely acknowledged it.

Leafing through the volume, his fingers opened it at the start of the Gospel according to Mark. As an exercise in translation and perhaps to see if the Gutres would understand any of it, he decided to read to them the text after dinner. Their attentive listening and their mute interest surprised him. Maybe the gold letters on the the cover lent the book more authority. "It’s in their blood," Espinosa thought. It also occurred to him that man has throughout history told and retold two stories: that of a lost ship that searches the seas of the Mediterranean for a dearly loved island, and that of a god who allows himself to be crucified in Golgotha. Remembering his elocution classes in Ramos Mejía, Espinosa rose to his feet to preach the parables.

In the days that followed, the Gutres wolfed down the barbecued meat and sardines so as to arrive sooner at the Gospel.

A little pet lamb that the girl had adorned with a sky-blue ribbon had injured itself on some barbed wire. To staunch the bleeding, the Gutres were wanting to apply cobwebs; Espinosa treated it with some pills instead. The gratitude that this treatment inspired took him aback. At first, he distrusted the Gutres and had hidden in one of his books the two hundred and forty pesos that he had with him; now, with the owner away, he had taken on Daniel’s role and was giving timid orders that were being followed immediately. The Gutres would trail him through the rooms and along the porch as if they were lost without him. Whilst reading to them, he noticed that they would take away with them the crumbs that he had left on the table. One evening, he caught them unawares as they were, in few words, speaking of him respectfully.

Upon finishing the Gospel according to Mark, he wanted to read one of the three remaining gospels; the father, though, asked him to repeat the one he had already read to them so that they could understand it better. Espinosa felt that they were like children, who prefer repetition over variety or novelty. That night he dreamt, not altogether surprisingly, of the Flood and was awoken by the hammering that went into the Ark’s construction, which he supposed he had confused with the thunder. In fact, the rain, after having abated, was getting heavier. The cold was bitter. The Gutres had told him that the storm had damaged the toolshed’s roof and that, once they had repaired the beams, they would show him where. No longer a stranger, they treated him with special attention, almost spoiling him. Not one of them liked coffee, but they always had a little cup for him that they heaped with sugar.

The storm hit on a Tuesday. Thursday night he was awoken by a light knock on the door, which, because of his misgivings, he always kept locked. He got up and opened it: it was the girl. In the darkness he could not make her out, but he could tell from her footsteps that she was barefoot, and later in bed, that she had come naked from the back of the house. She did not embrace him, nor did she speak a single word; she lay beside him and shivered. It was the first time she had lain with a man. When she left, she did not kiss him; Espinosa realised he did not even know her name. For some sentimental reason that he did not attempt to understand, he swore never to tell anyone in Buenos Aires about the incident.

The next day began like the others before, except for the father’s speaking to Espinosa and asking him if Christ had allowed Himself to be killed in order to save all mankind. Espinosa, who was a freethinker but felt obliged to justify what he had read to them, replied, “Yes. To save us all from hell.”

Gutre then asked, “What’s hell?”

“A place underground where souls burn and burn.”

“And those that drove in the nails were also saved?”

“Yes,” replied Espinosa, whose theology was a little shaky.

He had feared that the foreman would demand an account of what had happened the night before with his daughter. After lunch, they asked him to read the last chapters again.

Espinosa took a long siesta, though his light sleep was interrupted by persistent hammering and vague premonitions. Toward evening he got up and went out to the porch. He said, as if thinking out loud, “The waters are low. It won’t be long now.”

“It won’t be long now,” repeated Gutre like an echo.

The three Gutres had been following him. Kneeling on the floor, they asked for his blessing. Then they cursed him, spat on him and shoved him to the back of the house. The girl was crying. Espinosa knew what to expect on the other side of the door. When they opened it, he saw the heavens. A bird shrieked. ‘A goldfinch,’ he thought. The shed was without a roof; they had torn out the beams to build the cross.

El Campo II, Ciudad be Junín, Buenos Aires, Argentina: photo by Spender, 2007

El hecho sucedió en la estancia Los Álamos, en el partido de Junín, hacia el sur, en los últimos días del mes de marzo de 1928. Su protagonista fue un estudiante de medicina, Baltasar Espinosa. Podemos definirlo por ahora como uno de tantos muchachos porteños, sin otros rasgos dignos de nota que esa facultad oratoria que le había hecho merecer más de un premio en el colegio inglés de Ramos Mejía y que una casi ilimitada bondad. No le gustaba discutir; prefería que el interlocutor tuviera razón y no él. Aunque los azares del juego le interesaban, era un mal jugador, porque le desagradaba ganar. Su abierta inteligencia era perezosa; a los treinta y tres años le faltaba rendir una materia para graduarse, la que más lo atraía. Su padre, que era librepensador, como todos los señores de su época, lo había instruido en la doctrina de Herbert Spencer, pero su madre, antes de un viaje a Montevideo, le pidió que todas las noches rezara el Padrenuestro e hiciera la señal de la cruz. A lo largo de los años no había quebrado nunca esa promesa. No carecía de coraje; una mañana había cambiado, con más indiferencia que ira, dos o tres puñetazos con un grupo de compañeros que querían forzarlo a participar en una huelga universitaria. Abundaba, por espíritu de aquiescencia, en opiniones o hábitos discutibles: el país le importaba menos que el riesgo de que en otras partes creyeran que usamos plumas; veneraba a Francia pero menospreciaba a los franceses; tenía en poco a los americanos, pero aprobaba el hecho de que hubiera rascacielos en Buenos Aires; creía que los gauchos de la llanura son mejores jinetes que los de las cuchillas o los cerros. Cuando Daniel, su primo, le propuso veranear en Los Álamos, dijo inmediatamente que sí, no porque le gustara el campo sino por natural complacencia y porque no buscó razones válidas para decir que no.

El casco de la estancia era grande y un poco abandonado; las dependencias del capataz, que se llamaba Gutre, estaban muy cerca. Los Gutres eran tres: el padre, el hijo, que era singularmente tosco, y una muchacha de incierta paternidad. Eran altos, fuertes, huesudos, de pelo que tiraba a rojizo y de caras aindiadas. Casi no hablaban. La mujer del capataz había muerto hace años.

Espinosa, en el campo, fue aprendiendo cosas que no sabía y que no sospechaba. Por ejemplo, que no hay que galopar cuando uno se está acercando a las casas y que nadie sale a andar a caballo sino para cumplir con una tarea. Con el tiempo llegaría a distinguir los pájaros por el grito.

A los pocos días, Daniel tuvo que ausentarse a la capital para cerrar una operación de animales. A lo sumo, el negocio le tomaría una semana. Espinosa, que ya estaba un poco harto de las bonnes fortunes de su primo y de su infatigable interés por las variaciones de la sastrería, prefirió quedarse en la estancia, con sus libros de texto. El calor apretaba y ni siquiera la noche traía un alivio. En el alba, los truenos lo despertaron. El viento zamarreaba las casuarinas. Espinosa oyó las primeras gotas y dio gracias a Dios. El aire frío vino de golpe. Esa tarde, el Salado se desbordó.

Al otro día, Baltasar Espinosa, mirando desde la galería los campos anegados, pensó que la metáfora que equipara la pampa con el mar no era, por lo menos esa mañana, del todo falsa, aunque Hudson había dejado escrito que el mar nos parece más grande, porque lo vemos desde la cubierta del barco y no desde el caballo o desde nuestra altura. La lluvia no cejaba; los Gutres, ayudados o incomodados por el pueblero, salvaron buena parte de la hacienda, aunque hubo muchos animales ahogados. Los caminos para llegar a la estancia eran cuatro: a todos los cubrieron las aguas. Al tercer día, una gotera amenazó la casa del capataz; Espinosa les dio una habitación que quedaba en el fondo, al lado del galpón de las herramientas. La mudanza los fue acercando; comían juntos en el gran comedor. El diálogo resultaba difícil; los Gutres, que sabían tantas cosas en materia de campo, no sabían explicarlas. Una noche, Espinosa les preguntó si la gente guardaba algún recuerdo de los malones, cuando la comandancia estaba en Junín. Le dijeron que sí, pero lo mismo hubieran contestado a una pregunta sobre la ejecución de Carlos Primero. Espinosa recordó que su padre solía decir que casi todos los casos de longevidad que se dan en el campo son casos de mala memoria o de un concepto vago de las fechas. Los gauchos suelen ignorar por igual el año en que nacieron y el nombre de quien los engendró.

En toda la casa no había otros libros que una serie de la revista La Chacra, un manual de veterinaria, un ejemplar de lujo del Tabaré, una Historia del Shorthorn en la Argentina, unos cuantos relatos eróticos o policiales y una novela reciente: Don Segundo Sombra. Espinosa, para distraer de algún modo la sobremesa inevitable, leyó un par de capítulos a los Gutres, que eran analfabetos. Desgraciadamente, el capataz había sido tropero y no le podían importar las andanzas de otro. Dijo que ese trabajo era liviano, que llevaban siempre un carguero con todo lo que se precisa y que, de no haber sido tropero, no habría llegado nunca hasta la Laguna de Gómez, hasta el Bragado y hasta los campos de los Núñez, en Chacabuco. En la cocina había una guitarra; los peones, antes de los hechos que narro, se sentaban en rueda; alguien la templaba y no llegaba nunca a tocar. Esto se llamaba una guitarreada.

Espinosa, que se había dejado crecer la barba, solía demorarse ante el espejo para mirar su cara cambiada y sonreía al pensar que en Buenos Aires aburriría a los muchachos con el relato de la inundación del Salado. Curiosamente, extrañaba lugares a los que no iba nunca y no iría: una esquina de la calle Cabrera en la que hay un buzón, unos leones de mampostería en un portón de la calle Jujuy, a unas cuadras del Once, un almacén con piso de baldosa que no sabía muy bien dónde estaba. En cuanto a sus hermanos y a su padre, ya sabrían por Daniel que estaba aislado -- la palabra, etimológicamente, era justa -- por la creciente.

Explorando la casa, siempre cercada por las aguas, dio con una Biblia en inglés. En las páginas finales los Guthrie -- tal era su nombre genuino -- habían dejado escrita su historia. Eran oriundos de Inverness, habían arribado a este continente, sin duda como peones, a principios del siglo diecinueve, y se habían cruzado con indios. La crónica cesaba hacia mil ochocientos setenta y tantos; ya no sabían escribir. Al cabo de unas pocas generaciones habían olvidado el inglés; el castellano, cuando Espinosa los conoció, les daba trabajo. Carecían de fe, pero en su sangre perduraban, como rastros oscuros, el duro fanatismo del calvinista y las supersticiones del pampa. Espinosa les habló de su hallazgo y casi no escucharon.

Hojeó el volumen y sus dedos lo abrieron en el comienzo del Evangelio según Marcos. Para ejercitarse en la traducción y acaso para ver si entendían algo, decidió leerles ese texto después de la comida. Le sorprendió que lo escucharan con atención y luego con callado interés. Acaso la presencia de las letras de oro en la tapa le diera más autoridad. Lo llevan en la sangre, pensó. También se le ocurrió que los hombres, a lo largo del tiempo, han repetido siempre dos historias: la de un bajel perdido que busca por los mares mediterráneos una isla querida, y la de un dios que se hace crucificar en el Gólgota. Recordó las clases de elocución en Ramos Mejía y se ponía de pie para predicar las parábolas.

Los Gutres despachaban la carne asada y las sardinas para no demorar el Evangelio.

Una corderita que la muchacha mimaba y adornaba con una cintita celeste se lastimó con un alambrado de púa. Para parar la sangre, querían ponerle una telaraña; Espinosa la curó con unas pastillas. La gratitud que esa curación despertó no dejó de asombrarlo. Al principio, había desconfiado de los Gutres y había escondido en uno de sus libros los doscientos cuarenta pesos que llevaba consigo; ahora, ausente el patrón, él había tomado su lugar y daba órdenes tímidas, que eran inmediatamente acatadas. Los Gutres lo seguían por las piezas y por el corredor, como si anduvieran perdidos. Mientras leía, notó que le retiraban las migas que él había dejado sobre la mesa. Una tarde los sorprendió hablando de él con respeto y pocas palabras. Concluido el Evangelio según Marcos, quiso leer otro de los tres que faltaban; el padre le pidió que repitiera el que ya había leído, para entenderlo bien. Espinosa sintió que eran como niños, a quienes la repetición les agrada más que la variación o la novedad. Una noche soñó con el Diluvio, lo cual no es de extrañar; los martillazos de la fabricación del arca lo despertaron y pensó que acaso eran truenos. En efecto, la lluvia, que había amainado, volvió a recrudecer. El frío era intenso. Le dijeron que el temporal había roto el techo del galpón de las herramientas y que iban a mostrárselo cuando estuvieran arregladas las vigas. Ya no era un forastero y todos lo trataban con atención y casi lo mimaban. A ninguno le gustaba el café, pero había siempre un tacita para él, que colmaban de azúcar.

El temporal ocurrió un martes. El jueves a la noche lo recordó un golpecito suave en la puerta que, por las dudas, él siempre cerraba con llave. Se levantó y abrió: era la muchacha. En la oscuridad no la vio, pero por los pasos notó que estaba descalza y después, en el lecho, que había venido desde el fondo, desnuda. No lo abrazó, no dijo una sola palabra; se tendió junto a él y estaba temblando. Era la primera vez que conocía a un hombre. Cuando se fue, no le dio un beso; Espinosa pensó que ni siquiera sabía cómo se llamaba. Urgido por una íntima razón que no trató de averiguar, juró que en Buenos Aires no le contaría a nadie esa historia.

El día siguiente comenzó como los anteriores, salvo que el padre habló con Espinosa y le preguntó si Cristo se dejó matar para salvar a todos los hombres. Espinosa, que era librepensador pero que se vio obligado a justificar lo que les había leído, le contestó:

-- Sí. Para salvar a todos del infierno.

Gutre le dijo entonces:

-- ¿Qué es el infierno?

-- Un lugar bajo tierra donde las ánimas arderán y arderán.

-- ¿Y también se salvaron los que le clavaron los clavos?

-- Sí -- replicó Espinosa, cuya teología era incierta.

Había temido que el capataz le exigiera cuentas de lo ocurrido anoche con su hija. Después del almuerzo, le pidieron que releyera los últimos capítulos. Espinosa durmió una siesta larga, un leve sueño interrumpido por persistentes martillos y por vagas premoniciones. Hacia el atardecer se levantó y salió al corredor. Dijo como si pensara en voz alta:

-- Las aguas están bajas. Ya falta poco.

-- Ya falta poco -- repitió Gutrel, como un eco.

Los tres lo habían seguido. Hincados en el piso de piedra le pidieron la bendición. Después lo maldijeron, lo escupieron y lo empujaron hasta el fondo. La muchacha lloraba. Espinosa entendió lo que le esperaba del otro lado de la puerta. Cuando la abrieron, vio el firmamento. Un pájaro gritó; pensó: es un jilguero. El galpón estaba sin techo; habían arrancado las vigas para construir la Cruz.

Ataredecer en el campo, Junín, Argentina: photo by Germanramos, 2007

Jorge Luis Borges: El Evangelio según Marcos / The Gospel according to Mark, from El informe de Brodie (Doctor Brodie's Report), 1970, translated by Antonios, 2008 (via Anagrammatically)

Monday 28 March 2011

Jorge Luis Borges: A un gato / To a cat


Young male tabby cat, Portugal: photo by Alvesgaspar, November 2010

En otro tiempo estás.

Eres el dueño

de un ámbito cerrado como un sueño.

You live in other time.

You preside over

a world as closed-off to us

as a dream.

File:Henri Rousseau 010.jpg

La Bohémienne endormie (The Sleeping Gypsy): Henri Rousseau, 1897 (Museum of Modern Art, New York; image by Scewing, 2010)

Jorge Luis Borges: A un gato / To a cat (excerpt), translated by TC

Jorge Luis Borges: Buenos Aires (Pure Fiction)


Borges quote at Buenos Aires Metro station, Madrid:
photo by Javitomad, 16 June 2007

...................The idea that Buenos Aires has a history

...................strikes me as pure fiction

...................I take her to be as much a part of eternity the wind and the sea

File:Jorge Luis Borges Hotel.jpg

Jorge Luis Borges,
Hôtel des Beaux Arts, Paris
: photo by Pepe Fernández, 1969 (image by Sking, 2006)

Jorge Luis Borges
: photo by Alicia D'Amico, 1963, in Bagó: Grandes Maestros de la Fotografia Argentina (image by Abuelodelanada. 2008)

Calle Luis Borges, Buenos Aires
: photo by madison and cats, 10 March 2011

Jorge Luis Borges Wall Poem (El Apice), Groenhovenstraat 18, Leiden
: photo by iharsten, 2 March 2011

El Apice

........ ............No te habrá de salvar lo que dejaron
...................... ..Escrito aquellos que tu miedo implora;
............No eres los otros y te ves ahora
.... .............Centro del laberinto que tramaron
.............Tus pasos. Ne te salva la agonía
................De Jesús o de Sócrates ni el fuerte
............ ...........Siddharta de oro que aceptó la muerte
..........En el jardin, al declinar el día.
...................Polvo tambíen es la palabra ascrita

. .......................Por tu boca. No hay lástima en el Hado
........Y la noche de Dios es infinita.
...................Tu materia es el tiempo, el incesante
....................Tiempo. Eres cada solitario instante.

..........(La moneda de hierro, 1976)

Jorge in Wonderland (I was sitting in the park when suddenly Jorge Luis Borges came out of nowhere and strolled across the grass)
: image by Guglielmo, 16 June 2007

In the garden of forking paths (Borges): image by Lagrangepoint, 1 February 2011

Finzioni (Borges): photo by namylar, 15 January 2011

I had always imagined paradise as a kind of library (Borges): photo by Ryan Dearth, 30 January 2011

Andreas Gursky, Bibliothek, 1999
Bibliothek ("Paradise as a kind of library"): photo by Andreas Gursky, 1999 (Sprüth Magers, Berlin/London)

La Proximité de la Mer (Borges), Canary Wharf, London: photo by galaad, 4 April 2010

...Nubes (I)

......No habrá una sola cosa que no sea

.una nube. Lo son las catedrales

... vasta piedra y bíblicos cristales

..............que el tiempo allanará. Lo es la Odisea.

..................que cambia como el mar. Algo hay destino

.....cada vez que la abrimos. El reflejo

.de tu cara ya es otro en el espejo

y el día es un dudoso laberinto.

......Somos los que se van. La numerosa

.....nube que se deshace en el poniente nuestra imagem. Incesantemente

.la rosa se convierte en otra rosa.

.Eres nube. Eres mar, eres olvido.

...........Eres tambien aquello que has perdido..

(Los conjurados, 1985)

Quando a curiosidade é infinita, o mundo se torna igualmente infinito? (Borges)
: photo by Alice Barreto, 25 May 2010

Quando a curiosidade é infinita, o mundo se torna igualmente infinito?

Descobrir o desconhecido não cabe apenas a Simbad, Copérnico ou Érico, o Vermelho. Não há um único homem que não seja um descobridor. Ele começa descobrindo o amargo, o salgado, o côncavo, o liso, o áspero, as sete cores do arco-íris e as 20 e tantas letras do alfabeto; passa pelos rostos, mapas, animais e astros; conclui pela dúvida ou pela fé e pela certeza quase total da própria ignorância.

Wall Poem (Borges), El Ateneo Bookstore, Buenos Aires
: photo by pogo coconino, 17 May 2010

El mar

............... Antes que el sueño (o el terror) tejiera
mitologías y cosmogonías,
.................antes que el tiempo se acuñara en días,
.................el mar, el siempre mar, ya estaba y era.

....................¿Quién es el mar? ¿Quién es aquel violento
.......y antiguo ser que roe los pilares la tierra y es uno y muchos mares
..............y abismo y resplandor y azar y viento?

............Quien lo mira lo ve por vez primera,
..............siempre. Con el asombro que las cosas
.......elementales dejan, las hermosas

.................tardes, la luna, el fuego de una hoguera.
.................. .¿Quién es el mar, quién soy? Lo sabré el día
ulterior que sucede a la agonía.

....(El otro, el mismo
, 1964)

Two of my favourite books in any language
: photo by Sam Kelly, 12 January 2008

On the left, the Fundación Internacional Jorge Luis Borges; on the right, the house in which Borges wrote The Circular Ruins (among other stories), Barrio Norte, Autonomous City of Buenos Aires: photo by Sam Kelly, 20 May 2010

Jorge Luis Borges: El hilo de la fábula / The thread of the story


Theseus' cycle of deeds: centre: dragging the Minotaur from the Labyrinth: Kodros painter, Attic red-figured kylix, c. 440-430 BC, found at Vulci (British Museum; image by Twospoonfuls, 2008)

The thread was placed by the hand of Ariadne in the hand of Theseus (in the other was his sword) so that this might permit him to penetrate the labyrinth and discover at its centre the man with the head of a bull, or, as Dante would have it, the bull with the head of a man, bring death to this creature, and if the labour was performed correctly, thus unravel the secrets of the networks of stone, and return again to her, his love.

But things happen as they happen. Theseus could not have known that on the other side of the labyrinth was another labyrinth, that of time, and that beyond there, in some prefigured place, waited Medea.

The thread has been lost; the labyrinth has been lost also. Now, we no longer even know whether these corridors that encircle us are those of a labyrinth, a secret cosmos, or a chaos of pure chance. Our beautiful duty is to imagine that there exists a labyrinth and a thread. We might never come across the thread; or we might stumble upon it unexpectedly and then lose it again in an act of faith, in the rhythm of a line, in a dream, in the sort of words that are called philosophy or in a moment of mere and simple happiness.


Theseus and the Minotaur: Attic black-figure pot, 6th c. BC.: image by Darsie, 2005

El hilo de la fábula (Borges): image by Emenegritos, 31 January 2011

Theseus dragging the Minotaur from the Labyrinth: Kodros painter, Attic red-figured kylix, c. 440-430 BC, found at Vulci (British Museum; image by Marie-Lan Nguyen, 2007)

Jose Luis Borges: El hilo de la fábula /The thread of the story, from Los conjurados, 1985, translated by TC

Jorge Luis Borges: La Casa de Asterión / The House of Asterion


Classical 7-circuit labyrinth: image by JamesJen, 2009

And the queen gave birth to a son named Asterion.
Apollodorus, Library, III, I

I know they accuse me of arrogance, perhaps also of misanthropy, perhaps madness too. Such accusations (which I shall castigate in due course) are laughable. It is true that I do not leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (which are infinite* in number) are open day and night to man and animal alike. Anyone who wishes may enter. One will not find feminine extravagance here, nor gallant courtly ritual, just quiet and solitude. Here one will find a house like no other on the face of the Earth. (They who declare that in Egypt exists another similar are lying). Even my detractors admit that there is not a single piece of furniture in the house. Another ridiculous tale claims that I, Asterion, am a prisoner. Need I repeat that there are no closed doors? Should I add that there are no locks? Besides, I did one evening step out onto the street; if I returned home before nightfall, I did so because of the fear that the faces of the hoi polloi, faces discoloured and plain like an open hand, had induced in me. The sun had already set, but the helpless cry of a babe and the coarse supplications of the common herd signalled that I had been recognised. The people prayed, fled and fell prostrate; some climbed up to the stylobate of the temple of Axes, others gathered stones. Someone, I believe, hid himself under the sea. Not in vain was my mother a queen; I cannot mix with the common people, though my modesty does so desire it.

The fact is that I am unique. What a man can pass unto others does not interest me; like the philosopher, I think nothing is communicated by the art of writing. Annoying and trivial minutiae have no place in my spirit, a spirit which is receptive only to whatsoever is grand. Never have I retained the difference between one letter and another. A certain generous impatience has not consented that I should learn to read. Sometimes I deplore this, for the nights and days are long.

Naturally, I am not without amusement. Like a ram on the charge, I run through the galleries of stone until dizzily I tumble to the ground. I conceal myself in the shadows of a cistern or in the corner of a corridor and pretend that I am being searched for. There are rooftops from which I let myself fall until I bloody myself. At any time I can shut my eyes and pretend that I am asleep, breathing deeply. (Sometimes I really do sleep, sometimes the colour of the day has changed by the time I open my eyes). But of the games I play, the one I prefer is pretending there is another Asterion. I pretend that he has come to visit me and I show him around the house. With great reverence I tell him: Now we return to the previous intersection, or Now we head towards another courtyard, or I knew you would like this drain, or Now you will see a cistern that has filled with sand, or Now you will see how the cellar forks. Sometimes I err and we both laugh heartily.

Not only these games have I imagined; I have also meditated on the house. Each part of the house repeats many times, any particular place is another place. There is not one cistern, courtyard, drinking fountain, manger; there are fourteen (infinite) mangers, drinking fountains, courtyards, cisterns. The house is the size of the world; better said, it is the world. Nevertheless, by dint of exhausting all the dusty galleries of grey stone and the courtyards with their cisterns, I have reached the street and I have seen the temple of Axes and the sea. This I did not understand until a night vision revealed to me that there are also fourteen (infinite) seas and temples. Everything exists many times over, fourteen times, but there are two things in the world that seem to exist only once; above, the intricate Sun; below, Asterion. Perhaps I have created the stars and the Sun and the enormous house, but I do not remember anymore.

Nine men enter the house every nine years so that I may deliver them from all evil. I hear their footsteps or their voices in the depths of the galleries of stone and I run with joy in search of them. The ceremony lasts a few minutes. One after another, they fall to the ground without my having to bloody my hands. Where they fall, they remain, and the cadavers help to distinguish one gallery from another. I know not who they are, but I do know that one of them prophesied, at the moment of his death, that someday my redeemer would come. Since then, the solitude does not pain me because I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end he will rise above the dust. If I could hear all the rumblings of the world, I would detect the sound of his footsteps. Let it be that he take me to a place with fewer galleries and fewer doors.

I wonder: what will my redeemer be like? Will he be a bull or a man? Will he be perhaps a bull with the face of a man? Or will he be like me?

The morning Sun was reflected in the sword of bronze. No trace of blood remained.

“Would you believe it, Ariadne?” said Theseus. “The minotaur hardly put up a fight.”


* The original says fourteen, but there is ample reason to infer that in Asterion’s eyes, this adjectival numeral is no different to infinite.

File:Conímbriga minotauro.jpg

Mosaic with labyrinth and Minotaur, Conímbriga, Portugal: photo by Manuel Anastácio, 2005

Y la reina dio a luz un hijo que se llamó Asterión.
Biblioteca, III, I

Sé que me acusan de soberbia, y tal vez de misantropía, y tal vez de locura. Tales acusaciones (que yo castigaré a su debido tiempo) son irrisorias. Es verdad que no salgo de mi casa, pero también es verdad que sus puertas (cuyo número es infinito*) están abiertas día y noche a los hombres y también a los animales. Que entre el que quiera. No hallará pompas mujeriles aquí ni el bizarro aparato de los palacios, pero sí la quietud y la soledad. Asimismo hallará una casa como no hay otra en la faz de la tierra. (Mienten los que declaran que en Egipto hay una parecida.) Hasta mis detractores admiten que no hay un solo mueble en la casa. Otra especie ridícula es que yo, Asterión, soy un prisionero. ¿Repetiré que no hay una puerta cerrada, añadiré que ho hay una cerradura? Por lo demás, algún atardecer he pisado la calle; si antes de la noche volví, lo hice por el temor que me infundieron las caras de la plebe, caras descoloridas y aplanadas, como la mano abierta. Ya se había puesto el sol, pero el desvalido llanto de un niño y las toscas plegarias de la grey dijeron que me habían reconocido. La gente oraba, huía, se prosternaba; unos se encaramaban al estilóbato del templo de las Hachas, otros juntaban piedras. Alguno, creo, se ocultó bajo el mar. No en vano fue una reina mi madra; no puedo confundirme con el vulgo, aunque mi modestia lo quiera.

El hecho es que soy único. No me interesa lo que un hombre pueda trasmitir a otros hombres; como el filósofo, pienso que nada es comunicable por el arte de la escritura. Las enojosas y triviales minucias no tienen cabida en mi espíritu, que está capacitado para lo grande; jamás he retenido la diferencia entre una letra y otra. Cierta impaciencia generosa no ha consentido que yo aprendiera a leer. A veces lo deploro, porque las noches y los días son largos.

Claro que no me faltan distracciones. Semejante al carnero que va a embestir, corro por las galerías de piedra hasta rodar al suelo, mareado. Me agazapo a la sombra de un aljibe o a la vuelta de un corredor y juego a que me buscan. Hay azoteas desde las que me dejo caer, hasta ensangrentarme. A cualquier hora puedo jugar a estar dormido, con los ojos cerrados y la respiración poderosa. (A veces me duermo realmente, a veces ha cambiado el color del día cuando he abierto los ojos.) Pero de tantos juegos el que prefiero es el de otro Asterión. Finjo que viene a visitarme y que yo le muestro la casa. Con grandes reverencias le digo: Ahora volvemos a la encrucijada anterior o Ahora desembocamos en otro patio o Bien decía yo que te gustaría la canaleta o Ahora verás una cisterna que se llenó de arena o Ya verás cómo el sótano se bifurca. A veces me equivoco y nos reímos buenamente los dos.

No sólo he imaginado eso juegos, también he meditado sobre la casa. Todas las partes de la casa están muchas veces, cualquier lugar es otro lugar. No hay un aljibe, un patio, un abrevadero, un pesebre; son catorce [son infinitos] los pesebres, abrevaderos, patios, aljibes. La casa es del tamaño del mundo; mejor dicho, es el mundo. Sin embargo, a fuerza de fatigar patios con un aljibe y polvorientas galerías de piedra gris, he alcanzado la calle y he visto el templo de las Hachas y el mar. Eso no lo entendí hasta que una visión de la noche me reveló que también son catorce [son infinitos] los mares y los templos. Todo está muchas veces, catorce veces, pero dos cosas hay en el mundo que parecen estar una sola vez: arriba, el intrincado sol; abajo, Asterión. Quizá yo he creado las estrellas y el sol y la enorme casa, pero ya no me acuerdo.

Cada nueve años entran en la casa nueve hombres para que yo los libere de todo mal. Oigo sus pasos o su voz en el fondo de las galerías de piedra y corro alegremente a buscarlos. La ceremonia dura pocos minutos. Uno tras otro caen sin que yo me ensangriente las manos. Donde cayeron, quedan, y los cadáveres ayudan a distinguir una galería de las otras. Ignoro quiénes son, pero sé que uno de ellos profetizó, en la hora de su muerte, que alguna vez llegaría mi redentor. Desde entonces no me duele la soledad, porque sé que vive mi redeentor y al fin se levantará sobre el polvo. Si mi oído alcanzara los rumores del mundo, yo percibiría sus pasos. Ojalá me lleve a un lugar con menos galerías y menos puertas. ¿Cómo será mi redentor?, me pregunto. ¿Será un toro o un hombre? ¿Será tal vez un toro con cara de hombre? ¿O será como yo?

El sol de la mañana reverberó en la espada de bronce. Ya no quedaba ni un vestigio de sangre.

-- ¿Lo creerás, Ariadna? -- dijo Teseo. -- El minotauro apenas se defendió.


* El original dice catorce, pero sobran motives para inferir que en boca de Asterión, ese adjetivo numeral vale por infinitos.

Ritratto di Gentiluomo (Portrait of a Gentleman): Bartolomeo Veneto (1470-1531) (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; image by Laura Pagnotta, in Bartolomeo Veneto: Opera completa, 1997)

Jorge Luis Borges: La Casa de Asterión / The House of Asterion, 1947, from El Aleph, 1949, translated by Antonios, 2008 (via Anagrammatically)