Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Carlos Fuentes, from "The Death of Artemio Cruz," trans. Alfred Mac Adam

You couldn't be more tired, couldn't possibly be more tired; it's because you've traveled so far, on horseback, on foot, in the old trains, and the country never ends. Will you remember the country? You will remember it, but it isn't only one country. It's a thousand countries with a single name. You will know that. You will bring with you the red deserts, the steppes of prickly pears and maguey, the world of the nopal, the belt of lava and frozen craters, the walls with golden church cupolas and stone battlements, the cities of stone and mortar, the cities of red tezontle, the towns of adobe, the villages of reed huts, the paths of black mud, the roads of drought, the lips of the sea, the thick, forgotten coasts, the sweet valleys of wheat and corn, the northern pastureland, the lakes of the Bajío region, the tall, slender forests, the branches laden with moss, the white peaks, the black plains, the ports with their malaria and their whorehouses, the calcareous husk of the henequen, the lost, rushing rivers, the gold and silver tunnels, the Indians without a common tongue, Cora tongue, Yaqui tongue, Huichol tongue, Pima tongue, Seri tongue, Chontal tongue, Tepehuana tongue, Huastec tongue, Totonac tongue, Nahua tongue, Maya tongue, the flute and the drum, the contredanse, the guitar and the harp, the feathers, the fine bones of Michoacán, the diminutive flesh of Tlaxcala, the light eyes of Sinaloa, the white teeth of Chiapas, the short-sleeved huipil blouses, the bow-shaped combs, the Mixtec tresses, wide tzotzil belts, Santa María shawls, Pueblo marquetry, Jalisco glass, Oaxaca jade, the ruins of the serpent, the ruins of the black head, the ruins of the great nose, the tabernacles and the retables, the colors and reliefs, the pagan cult of Tonantzinla and Tlacochaguaya, the old names of Teotihuacán and Papantla, Tula and Uxmal: you carry them with you and they weigh you down, they are very heavy stones for one man to carry: they don't budge and you have them slung around your neck: they weigh you down and they've gotten into your guts... they are your bacteria, your parasites, your amoebas...
     Your land
     You will think that there is a second discovery of the land in the hustle and bustle of war, a first footstep over the mountains and canyons that are like a challenging fist in the face of the desperate, slow advance of roads, dams, rails, and telegraph posts. This nature which refuses to be shared or ruled, which wants to go on being in its sharp solitude and gives men for their pleasure only a few valleys, a few rivers -- she goes on being the sullen owner of smooth and unreachable peaks, of the flat desert, of the jungles and abandoned coast. And men, fascinated by that haughty power, stand there with their eyes fixed on her power. If inhospitable nature turns her back on men, men turn their back on the wide, forgotten sea, rotting in its hot fecundity, boiling with lost riches. 
     You will inherit the land.
     You will never again see those faces you saw in Sonora and Chihuahua, faces you saw sleepy one day, hanging on for dear life, and the next furious, hurling themselves into that struggle devoid of reason or palliatives, into that embrace of men which is broken by other men, into that declaration, here I am and I exist with you and with you, and with you, too, with all hands and all veiled faces: love, strange, common love that wears itself out on itself. You will say it to yourself, because you lived through it and you didn't understand it as you lived it. Only in dying will you accept it and openly say that, even without understanding it, you feared it each of your days of power. You will fear that the amorous impulse will burst again. Now you will die and will not fear it any longer, because you will not see it. But you will tell the others to fear it: fear the false calm you bequeath them, fear the fictitious concord, the magical patter, the sanctioned greed, fear this injustice that doesn't even know what it is.
     They will accept your testament: the respectability you won for them, the respectability. They will give thanks to the lowlife Artemio Cruz because he made them respectable. They will thank him because he did not resign himself to living and dying in a Negro shack. They will thank him because he went forth to risk his life. They will vindicate you because they will no longer have your vindication; they will no longer be able to invoke the battles and the chiefs, as you did, and shield themselves with those battles and leaders to justify plunder in the name of the Revolution and their own glory in the name of the glory of the Revolution. You will think and be astounded: what justification will they find? What obstacle will they overcome? They will not think of it, they will reap the benefits of what you leave them for as long as they can; they will live happily, will put on grieving and grateful faces -- in public, you will not ask more of them -- while you wait, six feet of dirt on your body; you wait until you feel the rush of feet over your dead face and then you will say: 
     "They came back. They did not give up." 
     And you will smile. You will mock them, mock yourself. It's your privilege. Nostalgia will tempt you: that would be the way to beautify the past; you will not do it. 
     You will bequeath the useless deaths, the dead names, the names of all those who fell, dead, so that your name might live; the names of the men stripped so that your name would have possessions; the names of the men forgotten so that your name would never be forgotten.
     You will bequeath this country. You will bequeath your newspaper, the nudges and adulation, the people's awareness lulled by the false speeches of mediocre men. You will bequeath mortgages, you will bequeath a class without class, a power without greatness, a consecrated stupidity, a dwarfed ambition, a clownish commitment, a rotten rhetoric, an institutional cowardice, a clumsy egoism.
    You will bequeath them their thieving leaders, their submissive unions, their new latifundia, their U.S. investments, their jailed workers, their monopolizers and their great press, their field hands, their hit men and secret agents, their foreign bank accounts, their slick speculators, their servile congressmen, their adulatory ministers, their elegant subdivisions, their birthdays and commemorations, their fleas and wormy tortillas, their illiterate Indians, their fired laborers, their despoiled mountains, their fat men armed with scuba gear and stocks, their thin men armed with fingernails. Take your Mexico: take your inheritance. 
     You will inherit the sweet, disinterested faces with no future because they do everything today, say everything today, are the present and exist in the present. They say "tomorrow" because tomorrow doesn't matter to them. You will be the future without being it; you will consume yourself today thinking about tomorrow. They will be tomorrow because they live only today. 
     Your people.
     Your death. You are an animal that foresees death, sings its death, says it, dances it, paints it, remembers it before dying its death. 
     Your land. 
     You will not die without returning. 
     This village at the foot of the mountain, inhabited by three hundred people and barely visible except for some glimpses of roof tiles among the leaves, which, as soon as the stone of the mountain fixes itself in the earth, curl on the smooth hillside that accompanies the river in its course to the nearby sea. Like a green half-moon, the arc from Tamiahua to Coatzcoalcos will devour the white face of the sea in a useless attempt -- devoured in its turn by the misty crest of the mountains, origin and frontier of the Indian plateau -- to link itself to the tropical archipelago of graceful undulations and broken flesh. The languid hand of dry Mexico, unchanging, sad, the Mexico of stone cloisters and locked-in dust on the high plateau, the half-moon of Veracruz will have another history, tied by golden strings to the Antilles, the ocean, and, beyond, to the Mediterranean, which in truth will only be conquered by the battlements of the Sierra Madre Oriental. Where the volcanoes join and the silent insignia of the maguey rise up, a world will die which in repeated waves sends its sensual crests from the parting of the Bosporus and the breasts of the Aegean, its splashing of grapes and dolphins from Syracuse and Tunis, its deep wail of recognition from Andalusia and the gates of Gibraltar, its salaam made by a bewigged black courtier from Haiti and Jamaica, its bits and pieces of dances and drums and silk-cotton trees and pirates and conquistadors from Cuba. The black land absorbs the tide. The distant waves will fix on the cast-iron balconies and in the portals of the coffee plantations. The effluvia will die on the white columns of the rural porticoes and on the voluptuous undulations of the body and the voice. There will be a frontier here; then the somber pedestal of the eagles and flints will rise. It will be a frontier no one will defeat -- not the men from Extremadura and Castile, who exhausted themselves in the first foundation and were then conquered, without knowing it, in their ascent to the forbidden platform that allowed them only to destroy and deform appearances: victims, after all, of the concentrated hunger of statues made of dust, of the blind suction of the lake which has swallowed the gold, the foundations, the faces of all the conquistadors who have raped it; not the pirates who loaded their brigantines with shields thrown with a bitter laugh from atop the Indian mountain; not the monks who crossed the Pass of the Malinche to offer new disguises to unshakeable gods who had themselves represented in destructible stone but who inhabited the air; not the blacks, brought to the tropical plantations and softened by the depredations of Indian women who offered their hairless sex as a redoubt of victory against the black race; not the princes who disembarked from their imperial galleons and let themselves be fooled by the sweet landscape of palms and nut trees and ascended with their baggage laden with lace and cologne to the plateau of bullet-pocked walls; not even the leaders wearing three-cornered hats and epaulets who in the mute opacity of the highland found, finally, the exasperating defeat of reticence, of mute mockery, of indifference. 
     You will be that boy who goes forth to the land, finds the land, leaves his origins, finds his destiny, today, when death joins origins and destiny and between the two, despite everything, fixes the blade of liberty. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Carlos Fuentes, "Mexican Tempi: Adagio," from A New Time for Mexico, trans. Marina Gutman Castañeda and Carlos Fuentes

Mexico is now set between two forms of modernity. Exclusionary modernity, drawn from Western models, banishes all that it does not understand. Inclusive modernity understands, especially after the Chiapas rebellion, that there are many ways of being 'modern,' of being contemporaneous with one's own values. Exclusionary modernity refuses the magic and mystery of a country far more attractive because of what we do not know about it than because of what we do know. [...]

Many Mexicans conceive only of a Western model of development as the way to be 'modern.' But the genius of Mexico has consisted in preserving the values of progress without ceasing to affirm the right to mystery, the right to astonishment, the right to an unending shock of recognition. Order is the anteroom of horror. Mexico constantly perverts both -- order and horror -- with the temptation of chaos, the dream at the edge of a cliff, the ritual of a people bent less on telling us what we already know than on discovering what we ignore. 

In his beautiful volume of essays The Gods of Mexico, C.A. Burland was the first to see in the art of ancient Mexico the form of the mandala, a circular symbol representing the universe, manifesting itself formally in drawings based on a system of four rectangles around an empty circle. With these sometimes highly intricate drawings, we attempt complex and numerous approximations to the reality of time and nature. 

In ancient Mexico, the mandala of water signified the several origins of a fluid world. Tlaloc was the god of water, and his kingdom, Tlalocan, was suspended on the clouds, just a little distance above the earth. In contrast to Western gods, each described as a unified whole, the four sources of power in Tlaloc were both contradictory and complementary. From the East came the golden rain of morning. At noon the waters turned blue as they moved southward. At dusk the world was flooded by the red rainfall of the West. At night crops fell, mowed down by the black rain of the North. 

Yet this description is itself a simplification, since we must immediately add that in ancient Mexico each direction of the compass had its own four cardinal points, so that the South had its own east and west, north and south, the North its own north and south, east and west, and so on. If we keep multiplying the directions of each new direction, we find ourselves immersed in a maximum concretion of the infinite. Since the very idea of the infinite is terrifying, we must step back, returning to the simpler orientations of the mandala. A center unifies this immense variety of time and space. Yet if space can be as visible as it wants to be, time must continue to be a mystery. 

Not a passive mystery but more of an invitation to re-create time. Thus its radical modernity. Condemned by 'modern' exclusionists to the shadows of superstition, the old time of Mexico comes back to life with the absolute powers of an oblivion that suddenly becomes an announcement. Einstein says the same thing as the builders of the Zapotec center at Mitla, in Oaxaca do: geometry is not something inherent in nature but a product of the mind. All measure of time and space is relative, not fatally linear and logical. The position of an object in space is defined by its relation to another object. The temporal order of objects is not independent of the position of the observer of the event. And Heisenberg adds, as if he, too, were reading the patterns at Mitla: the presence of the observer introduces indeterminacy into the system. The observer cannot be separated from a point of view. He thus is part of the system. And so, finally, an ideal closed system is impossible. 

Mexican time, old and new, is rooted in this oldest of memories, in this radical and inclusive novelty. It is constituted by them as it constitutes them. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Roque Dalton, "Juan Cunjama, Sorcerer," trans. Hardie St. Martin


My old skin
snake skin
my skin with its pale hair
holding up under waves of rain
my laughing knife-wound my knees
so solemn in their decrepitude
showing through these rags

Loved but chaste my body
kept a good distance away
from the woman caught in summer's claws
my foot the winner my hoof fool-proof
against the thorns on far-off trails

My grime my proud
loathing for the days of man
my arm and my staff sticking out
like two long-dried-up rivers 
my bones put together with ashes and spit
my veins the fire in them snuffed out
my despair with its yellow teeth
in a last-ditch fight against a laughing mask

My love the forgotten
look of the sulking boy
my manly fear
my courage of a frightened man
the weariness that makes me 
walk on


The devil and god one and the same,
the wings of the dead
make a single terrified sound

All things are the same man has only 
to arouse slow powers from their sleep
and take over the deep secrets of life

I know what I'm telling you
all I need is the chemistry
of black prayer to honor your footsteps
for you I blend the scattered voice of herbs
in vials never reached by the sun
I am the only free man
the only one without masters
under my roof of unlit flowers
I sleep in a coffin of red pine
and I won't die this will be my death
one more dream an awakening
simply put off for another time

My body and its wondrous glass
between it and the white worm
while hand in hand with Tlaloc
the real me walks in each raindrop
over the trees and the sea

Monday, May 7, 2012

Jaime de Angulo, Shaman Songs

Go away, big fly, go away!
Don't bother me, big fly.
I am dreaming.

Busy bee flying back to crowded hive,
You are no totem for shaman seeking power!
I am looking for a locust in the grass,
A locust whirring in the sunlight.

i will go the mountain to-night!
he will come, he will come!
he will scare me.

I climb the mountain
I am looking for a crater lake
Don't anybody follow me, I am in trouble
I must sing my bitterness to the lake,

Coyote, my power, come!
Through the wind I call you
Through the rain, in the storm,
I, a young man, am calling you
Answer what's in my heart.

I am talking to the lake.
I am talking to all in the lake.
I am not a human being.

I am a head rolling down the hill.
I am a head calling for my power.

I run down the mountain.
I come from the lake
My power is a howling wind.

By the dark pool at sunset
the puma waits.
The shadows rise, clutching the night
i dare not go back.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Helena Blavatsky, from Isis Unveiled

If Brasseur de Bourbourg and the Chevalier des Mousseaux, had so much at heart to trace the identity of the Mexicans with the Canaanites, they might have found far better and weightier proofs than by showing both the "accursed" descendants of Ham. For instance, they might have pointed to the Nargal, the Chaldean and Assyrian chief of the Magi (Rab-Mag) and the Nagal, the chief sorcerer of the Mexican Indians. Both derive their names from Nergal-Sarezer, the Assyrian god, and both have the same faculties, or powers to have an attendant daemon with whom they identify themselves completely. The Chaldean and Assyrian Nargal kept his daemon, in the shape of some animal considered sacred, inside the temple; the Indian Nagal keeps his wherever he can — in the neighboring lake, or wood, or in the house, under the shape of a house-hold animal.**
We find the Catholic World, newspaper, in a recent number, bitterly complaining that the old Pagan element of the aboriginal inhabitants of America does not seem to be utterly dead in the United States. Even where tribes have been for long years under the care of Christian teachers, heathen rites are practiced in secret, and crypto-paganism, or nagualism, flourishes now, as in the days of Montezuma. It says: "Nagualism and voodoo-worship" — as it calls these two strange sects — "are direct devil-worship. A report addressed to the Cortes in 1812, by Don Pedro Baptista Pino, says: 'All the pueblos have their artufas — so the natives call subterranean rooms with only a single door, where they assemble to perform their feasts, and hold meetings. These are impenetrable temples . . . and the doors are always closed on the Spaniards.
" 'All these pueblos, in spite of the sway which religion has had over them, cannot forget a part of the beliefs which have been transmitted to them, and which they are careful to transmit to their descendants. Hence come the adoration they render the sun and moon, and other heavenly bodies, the respect they entertain for fire, etc.
" 'The pueblo chiefs seem to be at the same time priests; they perform various simple rites, by which the power of the sun and of Montezuma is recognized, as well as the power (according to some accounts) of the Great Snake, to whom, by order of Montezuma, they are to look for life. They also officiate in certain ceremonies with which they pray for rain. There are painted representations of the Great Snake, together with that of a misshapen, red-haired man, declared to stand for Montezuma. Of this last there was also, in the year 1845, in the pueblo of Laguna, a rude effigy or idol, intended, apparently, to represent only the head of the deity…' "*
The perfect identity of the rites, ceremonies, traditions, and even the names of the deities, among the Mexicans and ancient Babylonians and Egyptians, are a sufficient proof of South America being peopled by a colony which mysteriously found its way across the Atlantic. When? at what period? History is silent on that point; but those who consider that there is no tradition, sanctified by ages, without a certain sediment of truth at the bottom of it, believe in the Atlantis-legend. There are, scattered throughout the world, a handful of thoughtful and solitary students, who pass their lives in obscurity, far from the rumors of the world, studying the great problems of the physical and spiritual universes. They have their secret records in which are preserved the fruits of the scholastic labors of the long line of recluses whose successors they are. The knowledge of their early ancestors, the sages of India, Babylonia, Nineveh, and the imperial Thebes; the legends and traditions commented upon by the masters of Solon, Pythagoras, and Plato, in the marble halls of Heliopolis and Sais; traditions which, in their days, already seemed to hardly glimmer from behind the foggy curtain of the past; — all this, and much more, is recorded on indestructible parchment, and passed with jealous care from one adept to another. These men believe the story of the Atlantis to be no fable, but maintain that at different epochs of the past huge islands, and even continents, existed where now there is but a wild waste of waters. In those submerged temples and libraries the archaeologist would find, could he but explore them, the materials for filling all the gaps that now exist in what we imagine is history. They say that at a remote epoch a traveller could traverse what is now the Atlantic Ocean, almost the entire distance by land, crossing in boats from one island to another, where narrow straits then existed.
Our suspicion as to the relationship of the cis-Atlantic and trans-Atlantic races is strengthened upon reading about the wonders wrought by Quetzo-Cohuatl, the Mexican magician. His wand must be closely-related to the traditional sapphire-stick of Moses, the stick which bloomed in the garden of Raguel-Jethro, his father-in-law, and upon which was engraved the ineffable name. The "four men" described as the real four ancestors of the human race, "who were neither begotten by the gods, nor born of woman," but whose "creation was a wonder wrought by the Creator," and who were made after three attempts at manufacturing men had failed, equally present some striking points of similarity with the esoteric explanations of the Hermetists;* they also undeniably recall the four sons of God of the Egyptian theogony. Moreover, as any one may infer, the resemblance of this myth to the narrative related in Genesis, will be apparent to even a superficial observer. These four ancestors "could reason and speak, their sight was unlimited, and they knew all things at once."** When "they had rendered thanks to their Creator for their existence, the gods were frightened, and they breathed a cloud over the eyes of men that they might see a certain distance only, and not be like the gods themselves." This bears directly upon the sentence in Genesis, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life," etc. Then, again, "While they were asleep God gave them wives," etc.