Stalin vs. Marr: A Mysterious Battle of Soviet Linguistics in the Early 1950s

Introduction

The “free discussion on linguistics”, which took place in the spring-summer of 1950 and ended with the publication of Stalin’s works, has always attracted and will continue to attract the attention of scientists and the general public with its unexpectedness and enigmatic quality. Unexpected—because even against the background of the rapid scientific discussions of the postwar period, the discussion on linguistics was a real mystery, culminating in a spectacular appearance on “stage” of the head of the Soviet superpower and the world socialist bloc. Enigmatic—because to this day, the motives that motivated Stalin and determined his personal participation in a purely scientific discussion, the goals that he set, the result achieved are all still completely unclear. Apparently, the entire discussion—a cascade of events of different levels and plans—was organized and rather skillfully arranged by Stalin personally; but it is unclear what reasons forced the leader of the Soviet state not only to monitor and control the course of the discussion, but also to write works on linguistics himself. In order to correctly pose this question, it is necessary, having clarified the political motives and content of the linguistic discussion, to reveal its political meaning, since it was the imperatives of politics that were decisive in it: the entire story about the “new doctrine of language” of Nikolai Yakovlevich Marr and its defeat shows how linguistics, despite its tasks and essence, directly comes into contact with politics, how politics permeates linguistics, transforming it and giving it purpose and direction, imperatives that are not related to science, or even alien to it.

It is obvious that Stalin’s works contained political meanings and messages that went far beyond not only linguistics, but also humanitarian science as a whole, that, according to Viktor Trushkov (“Marxism and Questions of Linguistics”) “is a work that deals with the problems of Marxist-Leninist theory that were topical for the middle of the 20th century, topical above all for the socialist construction of the USSR” (Trushkov, 2011, p. 45). What exactly did Stalin want to say with his works on linguistics? What ideas did he want to introduce? What new attitudes to bring into Soviet political discourse? The present study is devoted to finding answers to these questions.

Discussions on Linguistics and on Political Economy

In the ideological life of the USSR 1944–1953 two forms of influence on culture, science and public opinion began to play a decisive role. On the one hand, these were special “cultural campaigns” carried out widely and broadcast to the whole society (for example, the fight against “sycophancy” and then against “cosmopolitanism”), and on the other hand, they were purely scientific discussions in various branches of science—history (1944), philosophy (1947), biology (1948), linguistics (1950), political economy (1951), etc. The first are usually called ideological or political (sometimes cultural) campaigns. The latter are called scientific (sometimes scientific-ideological) or creative discussions in the literature. The first were more intense and boisterous. The latter were relatively restrained (except, of course, for biological discussions). But in terms of the power of influence on Soviet society and culture, they were approximately equal, despite the fact that the influence of the second in time extended much further. The influence of the discussion on linguistics represents a unique case among all campaigns and discussions.

The meaning of the ideological operations of the first kind, which can be linked into a single “mega-campaign”, is readily revealed: the affirmation of Soviet patriotism and the strengthening of anti-bourgeois rhetoric in Soviet culture. The purpose of the “mega-campaign” was to establish a new all-Soviet bipolar worldview based on the acceptance of the principle of opposition, in the words of those years, between the anti-democratic and imperialist camp led by the United States and the democratic and anti-imperialist camp led by the USSR. Such a bipolar worldview logically followed from the geopolitical realities of the second half of the twentieth century, emerging after the end of World War II. The general meaning of scientific discussions can be defined in approximately the same vein of patriotism and anti-capitalism (anti-Americanism) in which the campaigns took place, however, the specific political orientation of each individual discussion often eludes the researcher. Their goal was to carry out in science, and thereby to establish in culture, state-centrism, the glorification of the Soviet state as the civilizational leader of the world and socialism as a new socio-political system extending its influence throughout the world.

The aim of this paper is to compare, at least in general terms, the linguistic debate of 1950 with the debate on political economy of 1951. What do they have in common? The main point is Stalin’s personal leadership and participation: both culminated in the intervention (whether staged or impulsive as it appeared to be) of the leader, and the publication of the resulting collections of his works, compiled as a series of articles in the course of each discussion: Marxism and Questions of Linguistics and Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, respectively. The last time the leader made important theoretical generalizations was in his report to the XVIII Congress of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks in 1939. It is quite clear that the topics and problems raised in the two discussions seemed to Stalin to be of cardinal importance, since he took up his pen and proposed solutions to the problems posed (not to mention the organizational aspects of his activity during the discussions).

After the publication of Stalin’s works, a calm atmosphere was established in linguistics and political economy; scientists were determined to work in accordance with these newly introduced principles and in the “right” direction. It was Stalin’s personal participation that set the vector for reducing ideological tension within the social sciences and for some reduction of ideological pressure upon these sciences. Analyzing Stalin’s works on linguistics and political economy, one cannot help but pay attention to the restraint of tone of the main discussant, to his almost Aristotelian calm when analyzing problems that were the subject of heated clashes between ideologists, scientists, and politicians, to the emphasized declared dismissal of the position of arrogance and “Marxist vanity”, a clearly audible call for the same restraint and calmness, addressed to scientists and ideologists.

Stalin’s call did not go unanswered: the relative correctness of the participants in the discussion, the calm progress of the events, and the effectiveness of the results are noteworthy. In the very principle of the selection of materials for a discussion on linguistics, when opponents received equal opportunities to speak; and “from above”, until a certain point, there were no signs for one side or another, there was a specific message—all opinions will be heard. Of course, with Stalin’s personal participation, it would be absurd to preserve the “classical” style of speeches of Stalinist ideologists (Andrey Zhdanov; Georgy Aleksandrov; aspiring ideologist Mikhail Suslov; Dmitry Shepilov; Yury Zhdanov—son of Andrey Zhdanov, etc.) with calls for destruction, exposure, “tearing off masks” and the often-sad results for scientists. In this regard, it is surprising that discussions in the humanities, which are by definition ideological in nature, were generally characterized by a lower degree of ideological tension and even expressiveness of rhetoric than in others (especially in biology, which was notorious not only for the fierceness of its rhetoric, but also for its tragic consequences for many scientists).

Stalin introduced a different style of scientific discussions— calm and friendly, in a constructive manner, without hysteria and exaltation. A new way of overcoming group disagreements among scientists was also proposed: instead of the usual methods, inherent in the Stalin era, reduced to mutual accusations of various kinds of “heresies” and the ensuing “organizational conclusions”, – new methods of scientific polemics, mutual criticism were introduced. And on this basis, an “operational consensus” was established in this sphere of science, based on common rules, a normative system of interaction between science and the authorities, in which the initiative came from the authorities, who set the vector, the contours of the planned course, the “guiding star”, establishing the limits of ideology in science. The principle of consensus between scientist and power is remarkably expressed in the words of the linguist, Timofey Lomtev, addressed to his colleague Samuil Bernstein: “I always take the position of the party. Before Stalin’s speech, the Party’s attitude in linguistics was to recognize the ‛new doctrine of language’. Now a new stage begins, the Stalinist stage. I, together with the Party, am moving to this new stage” (Bernstein, 2002, p. 151). Or in the words of Alexey Losev: “Everyone is for Marr—and I am for Marr. And then I condemned Marrism, or one will not remain a professor” (Bibikhin, 2006, p. 173).

It should be emphasized that Soviet socio-political science in those years, and even later, right up to the passing of the USSR into history, could not develop without the initiative of the current leader, who personally set its vector and pace. Viktor Vinogradov, in one of the many post-discussion articles, criticizes Marr’s teaching, analyzes its nuances, but at the same time admits that “if the brilliant works of Joseph Stalin had not appeared, the discussion itself would not have solved much” (Vinogradov, 1950, p. 17). Timofey Lomtev recalls: “Many linguists, including me, felt that language is not a superstructure over the base, but no one directly and clearly expressed this” (Ilizarov, 2012, p. 300). Arnold Chikobava, wondering whether language is class in a class society, asserts: “Comrade Stalin’s answer is: no, it is not” (Chikobava, 1950, p. 41). Stalin’s answer decides everything. The linguist recalled that when he was called to Moscow to participate in a possible upcoming discussion, an interesting phrase was dropped: “Issues of linguistics will be discussed there with the secretaries of the Central Committee, and you should prepare” (Chikobava, 2001, p. 510). In other words, the question of the conformity of this or that position with Marxism could not be resolved without the “secretaries of the Central Committee”. Therefore, when we talk about Marxism in any area, about the “Marxization” of such and such a science, we must remember that the issue is not Marxism at all, but the “line of the Central Committee”. This is aptly captured by Alexey Losev: “Even Marxism, if taken as a theory, is not our doctrine at all, and it will not help anyone. The Mensheviks are also Marxists… We are not guided by theory, no matter how thrice Marxist, nor by practice, no matter how thrice revolutionary. We are guided by that most concrete refraction and unification of both, and moreover by the unification at this moment, at this minute, which is called the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks and really functions through its Central Committee. No logic, no purely vital observations will help one to keep up with this; and one will not fit it into any logical forms” (Losev, 2002, p. 358). The Central Committee of the Party decides everything.

The establishment of state-centrism in science meant that the principle of classism of social sciences was questioned (or, at least, the need for its adjustment was recognized). Partisanship gradually began to be understood as conformity with the interests of the state. The pan-class, “pan-revolutionary” left-radical interpretation of partisanship was being disavowed. This is probably why the first discussion involving Stalin was a discussion of linguistics, the “partisanship” of which, unlike political economy, was not indisputable (certainly not for Marr’s supporters), although it was rhetorically supported by many linguists.

The difference between the discussions on linguistics and political economy is striking: political economy was an area of supreme ideological importance and high-debate tension, so that Stalin’s participation in these disputes was necessary and expected. It was a question of creating a relatively consistent theory of socialism, which did not yet exist in a developed form at that time; or, to put it another way, of apologizing for the socialism built in the USSR in Marxist terms (remember that in 1936 the first phase of communism, socialism, was declared to have been essentially realized). In the field of political economy, it was necessary to create a canonical text, which Stalin was seriously concerned about precisely in 1936. After the war, with the establishment of the foundations of world socialism, the need for a “canon of socialism” increased immeasurably. This problem would be solved with the publication of the textbook Political Economy, created under Stalin’s supervision and with his participation (he was both editor and co-author), but published after his death, in 1954. After the war, with the establishment of the foundations of world socialism, the need for a “canon of socialism” increased immeasurably. This problem would be solved with the publication of the textbook, Political Economy, created under Stalin’s supervision and participation (he was both editor and co-author), but published after his death, in 1954. This textbook appeared as a true encyclopedia of Soviet “state Marxism”, a concentrated expression of Stalin’s understanding of the nature of socialism and his geopolitical plan for the Soviet state, and it became for a long time the canon of socialist theory. It is hard to imagine that anyone other than Stalin could have established the principles of the theory of socialism, answered pressing questions, and resolved the doubts of scientists and ideologists (for example, about the status of the political economy of socialism, about commodity-money relations under socialism). Stalin’s intervention in the discussion on linguistics was completely unexpected for everyone—both for the participants themselves and for the people, who were caught up in the heat of this mysterious polemic, despite its complete incomprehensibility for the majority of the Soviet people, both in terms of its content and in general in terms of the meaning of the very fact of its conduct.

Stalin’s work on linguistics established a certain unanimity, a normative system, not in linguistics itself (although one can partly state this as well), but in Soviet ideology as a whole. And this can be seen at least from the following: both in scope and in the impression made on Soviet society and public opinion, the linguistic discussion surpassed the political economy discussion, which practically did not touch the people’s consciousness and did not excite it (although in content political economy was incomparably clearer than linguistics). One can hardly find in the history of the USSR similar examples of how the vicissitudes of science, about which the majority of Soviet citizens knew little before 1950, attracted the attention of ordinary people, let alone people of science. Samuil Bernstein writes: “The clamor about Stalin’s articles on linguistics is great. Not only linguists are making noise, but also archaeologists, ethnographers, historians and even philosophers. There is a huge interest in linguistics. I think that in the entire history of linguistics in our country there has not been such a linguistic boom” (Bernstein, 2002, p. 153). A separate interesting fact was the influence of the first discussion on the second: participants in the political economy discussion constantly referred to Stalin’s work, while the textbook’s authors were criticized for not paying enough attention to it. These are not just ritual phrases: Stalin’s works on linguistics determined the priorities not only (and maybe not so much) of linguistics, but of the entire Soviet social science and ideology.

So, the discussion on political economy seemed to be more significant for the Soviet ideology. Nevertheless, the discussion on linguistics carried statements that, as will be shown later, had a stronger significance. And this is not surprising. As modern Russian scientist Yury Emelyanov notes, “if the previous campaigns were aimed at defeating non-Marxist and unpatriotic trends in culture and science, in this case Stalin attacked the doctrine, which before his speech was considered a revolutionary, Marxist trend of domestic origin and claimed a practical connection with social production and class struggle” (Emelyanov, 2003, p. 432). In this connection, let us consider what Marrism as an ideology in linguistics is, and what its political meaning is.

Political Nuances and Conflicts of the “New Doctrine of Language”

Oksana Voloshina, famous modern linguist, writes: “Reading Marr’s works evokes a dual impression: one is surprised by the grandiosity of the tasks set and the insignificance (often complete absence) of evidence, those facts on which statements and whole hypotheses are based. It is unclear how one could believe his words, but it seems impossible not to believe, as the enormity of the stated goal strikes the imagination, mesmerizes” (Voloshina, 2017, p. 30). It is generally believed that Marr’s “new doctrine of language”, which was considered by its creator and his followers to be “Marxism in linguistics”, i.e., the complex of theories and concepts developed on the basis of Marxism, corresponding to it and therefore should become the normative basis and guiding methodology of Soviet linguistics, was indeed accepted by the majority of Soviet linguists as Marxism in linguistics. However, this is not the case. First of all, Marr could not develop any more or less harmonious, balanced doctrine. It was not even possible, given the meaning of his basic ideas, or rather, his revolutionary pathos-filled but not very connected and unprovable hypotheses. Secondly, it is not possible to speak of a “dictate” of Marr’s doctrine in linguistics: we can recognize only a semblance of a balance of power between the supporters of the “great Japhethid” (that’s what they called Marr ironically) and the anti-Marrists, a precarious and constantly broken balance. At the same time, of those who accepted Marrism, many believed that such “acceptance” was nothing more than a convention. Nevertheless, due to the assertiveness of its founder and adherents, as well as its powerful offensive rhetoric, Marrism, without being “mainstream”, was the most influential current in Soviet linguistics.

“The situation in Soviet linguistics in the 1930s and 1940s can hardly be called calm, because the Marrists, especially during the lifetime of Marr himself, were not at all inclined to debate methods of propaganda of their doctrine; and it was not easy to do so with the help of standard methods, without resorting to ‛shouting and clamor, fireworks and drum beating’” (Bernstein, 2002, p. 147). Moreover, where their positions were strong (primarily in Leningrad), they became an “aggressive sect”, often resorting to methods of reprisals against opponents, so that the “Arakcheyev regime” was a sad reality. As for aggressiveness, there is no exaggeration. Thus, one of the adherents of Marrism, Valerian Aptekar’, according to the recollections of the anti-Marrist Petr Kuznetsov, threatened Marr’s opponents not at all as a joke: “And whoever raises his head—a stick will bash it in!” (Kuznetsov, 2003, p. 188). The linguist Grigory Ilyinsky wrote in 1929: “I do not see any triumph of the Japhetic theory. On the contrary, the fact that it has to be pounded in with a stick and by means of a kind of terror shows that it is doing badly. Truth does not need this kind of shameful means for its propagation” (Robinson, 2004, p. 159). But a year earlier he had warned that the Marrist doctrine would become “an ‛orthodox system of linguistics’ binding on all linguists, and woe to those who allow this ‛theory’ to be called by its real name” (p. 154). The scholar was not mistaken. We can see the rise of the influence of the “new doctrine of language” since 1930, when Marr himself spoke from the rostrum of the XVI Congress of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, after which “the Marrists had every reason to believe that their doctrine received the highest support” (Alpatov, 2018, p. 94). “Japhetidology as a general theory of language”, Abram Deborin, who soon became one of the active propagandists of Marrism, would say, “is a new science, a new scientific discipline built mainly on the principles of Marxism-Leninism” (Deborin, 1935, p. 3).

Vladimir Alpatov, academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, calls Marxism adapted to the needs of political struggle and propaganda, “Marxism II”, as opposed to the actual teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Marxism I” (Alpatov, 2018, p. 247), which is usually referred to as historical (authentic, original, etc.) Marxism. We can talk about Leninist, Stalinist Marxism II and so up to the last days of the Soviet Union (Brezhnev’s, Gorbachev’s Marxism II). Marxism II is closer to ideology (and therefore to propaganda), if not identical to it; Marxism I is closer to political theory, social science. In research literature, as well as in journalism, in applying to Stalin’s interpretation of Marxism, they often speak of the “deformation”, “distortion”, “simplification”, “scholasticization” of Marxism, which is largely true. However, although researchers raise the question of the aims and objectives of this kind of transaction with Marxism, they prefer not to concentrate on this problem. The analysis of the history of the defeat of Marr’s doctrine provides much material for reflection on how and for what purpose Stalin transformed historical Marxism, turning its ideas into a series of interrelated concepts concerning the essence and structure of the socialist state in general and the Soviet state in particular.

The article you are reading deals exclusively with Stalinist Marxism II, and 1930 was the last year when the ideas of world revolution and the world proletarian state (which were the basis of Marr’s developments) still had the strength they had in the 1920s. The Soviet ideology was beginning to turn toward the ideas of state-centrism or, as they are often defined, “national Bolshevism”, which by 1936 had already pushed “world revolutionarism” to the periphery of Soviet political discourse. And soon many adherents of misunderstood proletarian internationalism (the rules of understanding of which had also, of course, changed) turned into scribblers, Talmudists, or even Trotskyists. At the same time, Stalin had to correct Marxism I in its development by Lenin quite seriously and to construct a new, “state Marxism” on the basis of all this.

In light of these changes, Marr’s doctrine gradually became politically incorrect, but this did not lead to the defeat of Marrism in the 1930s, just as the Mikhail Pokrovsky’s school in historical science was defeated on the same grounds (perhaps because in its own sphere the “Pokrovshchina” (“Pokrovskyanism”) was no less aggressive). Marrism in Soviet linguistics up to 1950 continued to be an influential trend close to the role it claimed to play—that is, to be “Marxism in linguistics”. Although the Marrists did not succeed in subjugating Soviet linguistics in the way that Pokrovsky’s supporters briefly succeeded in subjugating history, this did not mean that they did not try to achieve such a goal. Inspired by the “successes” of the Lysenkovites at the 1948 session of the VASKhNIL and continuing some of the “successes” of 1947, the Marrists tried, using similar tactics, to go on the offensive against their ideological opponents. It was not enough for them that their opponents were not anti-Marr fighters; the goal of the Marrists was to demonstrate to Soviet linguists that “Soviet linguistics should be led by the teachings of Marr” (Kuznetsov, 2003, p. 231). Marrism was positioned as a Marxist philosophy of linguistics: “We stand on the point of view that this doctrine is capable of impregnating the science of thinking, hence philosophy, and therefore we consider necessary the closest union of philosophy with Japhetidology as a general theory of linguistics, throwing a dazzling light on the theory and history of cognition” (Deborin, 1935, pp. 8–9).

The Marrist offensive aggravated the situation in linguistics and intensified the persecution of those scholars who did not take seriously the “guiding thoughts of Nikolai Marr”. In 1949–1950, the Marrists, not without risk to themselves (after all, the cosmopolitanism and anti-patriotism of Marr’s doctrine were too obvious, no matter how adherents tried to present Marr as a patriot) joined the fight against cosmopolitanism, accusing their opponents of it. Marr’s doctrine was “linked” to Soviet patriotism. Thus, in the last apologetic brochure of Isaak Tsukerman we read: “The materialist doctrine of Nikolai Marr is organically connected with the ideas of Soviet patriotism. One cannot understand the new doctrine of language without understanding the image of Nikolai Marr as a Soviet patriot” (Tsukerman, 1950, p. 4).

The impulses and escapades of the Marrists did not lead to serious shifts in linguistics: their offensive activity was apparently muted from above; often the outbursts of “righteous anger” of another Marrist furious “tribune” and “expositor” simply did not meet any response from the ideological leadership (among which only Yury Zhdanov supported them; others were relatively neutral). Petr Druzhinin writes: “And what followed? Nothing special (of course, taking into account the practice of science leadership during Stalin’s time); these linguistic debates did not achieve any significant result comparable to the defeat in biology” (Druzhinin, 2017, p. 313). For all that, it is impossible to deny the pressure on linguistics from a consolidated group of Marrists, which reached its height by 1950. According to Marina Dostal, “by the end of 1949, the cult of Marr reached its apogee. From the beginning of 1950 began administrative persecution of those who had not yet ‛repented’ of their deviation from his ‛teachings’” (Dostal, 2009, p. 292). As before, opponents were accused of various kinds of bourgeois “isms”, and political labels were attached to them. Thus, judging by the rhetoric, the last years of the dictatorship of Marrism could rightly be called the years of “linguistic terror”.

What was Marr’s “new” or “materialist doctrine of language” and what was its Marxist character? Passing off his grotesque constructions as Marxism, the scientist did not care about the consistency and logicality of his own “theory”, nor about the proofs of its conformity to Marxism. However, this was impossible because of the already noted incoherence and haphazardness of the totality of hypotheses and assumptions, which he tried to dress up in the Marxist toga against logic. Marr’s doctrine did not fit well into the framework of Marxism, so he rather adjusted Marxism to his “theory”, and “Marx and Engels made up for Marr” (Alpatov, 2010, p. 451). The classics of Marxism were not a hindrance to him: “Marr did not want to part with his favorite ideas even if they clearly diverged from the texts of K. Marx and F. Engels. Nothing so confused the Marrists in the ‛new doctrine of language’ as the position on the class role of sound speech at its emergence and on the class struggle in primitive society in connection with the sound revolution… However, Marr believed that it was not his doctrine but Marxism itself that should change” (Alpatov, 2018, p. 69). And yet, Marr’s Marxism was not so far from Marxism I, at least it was no more distant from it than Stalin’s Marxism II. Moreover, some researchers are of the opinion that Marrism, with its internationalist pathos, was close to genuine Marxism. After all, if we think about it, the ideas that the original function of language is productive, that language was originally not a means of communication but an instrument of production, are not so ridiculous, especially in the context of the Marxist schools of the 1920s, known for their vulgar economism and sociologization. A certain closeness of the “new doctrine of language” to Marxism is also evidenced by the fact that Abram Deborin accepted Marrism as a philosophy of language; moreover, he seriously developed Marr’s provisions on manual language, actually proposing an elaborated concept of the transition from manual to sound language (Deborin, 1935, pp. 11–30).

The creator of the “new doctrine of language” addressed it first of all to young scientists: it was they who could accept without much thought the ideas that sounded absurd, fantastic, or even simply insane to the linguists of the older generation. Thus, the Marrist document of 1948, a note to the Central Committee, proposes to strengthen the leadership of linguistics with “supporters of the New Doctrine of Language, for which purpose to boldly put forward young capable linguists standing on the positions of Marxist-Leninist linguistics” (Druzhinin, 2017, p. 351). It is characteristic of young neophytes to be ignited by mindlessly believing in some new doctrine, and this works best in a group, a sect, formed around a “teacher”. That is why he refers to that “group of comrades”, which, as it were, turned to Stalin, creating a formal occasion for discussion, as originating “from the youth”.

Language, by its origin in general, and sound language in particular, is a “powerful lever of cultural upsurge because it is an indispensable instrument of the class struggle. I affirm with full realization of the responsibility of such a statement, disagreeing radically with many of my comrades, that there is no language that is not class, and consequently there is no thinking that is not class” (Marr, 1934, pp. 90–91). Equally, there is no society that is not class-based: classes are present in Marr’s entire traceable history, beginning with the mythical “sound revolution” (a thesis directly opposed to Marxism I), and Soviet society falls out of this range only in perspective. Marrism itself positioned itself as an exclusively class doctrine, as a “proletarian antithesis” to bourgeois linguistics, and the Marrists took the dogma of the class nature of language seriously. Thus, as the critic of Marrism Viktor Sukhotin wrote, “at the meeting of linguists held in Moscow in February 1950, Nikolai Yakovlev, among the points of the ‛general platform’ of the supporters of Marr’s theory, put forward the demand for unconditional recognition of the class character of language, which, in his opinion, should be obligatory for the followers of the ‛new doctrine of language’” (Sukhotin, 1951, p. 19).

Of course, Marr was not the first to talk about the class nature of language, nor was he the “discoverer” of Marxism in linguistics, but both are associated with his name (and mostly with his) because of the vividness of the thesis and its broadcasters. In Soviet linguistic (not to mention political) thought, there were not only different versions of Marxism in linguistics—for example, Valentin Voloshinov’s concept (Alpatov, 2005)—but also different versions of language classism justified from Marxist positions. Outside the “new doctrine of language”, but around the same time, if not earlier, the principle of language classism was justified by the supporters of the “Yazyko-front” or “Yazykfront” (that is, Language Front) group, in particular, by Georgy Danilov. These concepts had much in common with the emerging Marrism, in which the “Yazyko-frontists” rejected the most ridiculous (but not for Marrists, of course) ideas. Moreover, the “Yazyko-front” group fought against the Marrists, which ended tragically for the “Yazyko-front” members. Before the disintegration of the “Yazyko-front” the expressions “Marxism in linguistics” (or “Marxist linguistics”) and “Marr’s doctrine” were by no means identical. “Marrists”, writes Marina Dostal, “turned out to be organizationally stronger and gradually pushed back and disavowed their rivals, appropriating for themselves the right to be called the only ‛true’ and faithful Marxists in linguistics” (Dostal, 2009, p. 276). As a result, it turned out that Marr, who by no means “discovered America” (this is Valerian Aptekar’s expression) in linguistics at all, was able to present such a version of Marxism in linguistics, which became the only political concept with weight and influence.

The transformation of the “Japhetic theory” into Marxism was not a one-step act, but rather a complex process. The “new doctrine of language” itself was not created by Marr alone. For example, Sergey Kovalev, an admirer of Marr, the historian of antiquity, participated in this process. He wrote an apologetic report Marxism and Japhetic Theory, which he delivered at the Japhetic Institute on January 28, 1928, and which influenced Marrism in many ways. Marr cites Kovalev’s theses in his General Course in the Doctrine of Language (Marr, 1936, pp. 111–119). Thesis 38—Marxism has no special linguistic theory of its own (p. 114)—sounds like a statement of the task of creating such a theory. The thesis was ostensibly an apologetics of Marr’s teaching, but in fact it was a catechism or, rather, a prolegomenon of “Marxism in linguistics” composed for Marr. Indeed, from what is known, it is not easy to imagine that Marr with his, to put it mildly, not too extensive knowledge of Marxism would have begun to study in depth this by no means simple theory and then single-handedly created “Marxism in linguistics”. Thus, in essence, it was a collective creation of a “new doctrine of language” in which many scientists and ideologists participated.

The principle of the class nature of language and the related understanding of language as a superstructural phenomenon (even though even anti-Marrists who rejected the class nature of language often accepted the thesis that language belongs to the superstructure, e.g., Arnold Chikobava) cannot be regarded as something superficial, shallow, just as they once spoke of the class nature of mathematics. Marrism was saying something that did not occupy the attention of the founders of Marxism: if language is a class phenomenon, then with the victory of the proletariat, which, together with the means of production, banks, post office, etc., also seizes language, a world proletarian language must triumph on a world scale and become the dominant language for the period of the world dictatorship of the proletariat until its transformation into the only classless language of the all-human communist society. “Revolutionary anti-imperialist rhetoric, with its image of a proletariat without a fatherland”, remarks Boris Gasparov, “played the role of combustible material thrown into the blazing fire of biblical and evangelical pathos, which from the very beginning characterized both the essence of Marr’s ideas and the manner of their presentation. Marr himself declared his ‛doctrine’ as a linguistic analog of the proletarian revolution with complete unambiguity” (Gasparov, 2021, p. 116). Marr was a kind of proletcultist of linguistics, following in the footsteps of Alexander Bogdanov with his conviction that the proletariat must create its own proletarian science, culture, and language. According to Vladimir Alpatov, “Marr was oriented to the ideas of the 20s, when the world revolution was expected soon, the construction of communism seemed to be a matter of the near future and many seriously hoped to have time to talk to the proletarians of all continents in a world language” (Alpatov, 2010, p. 448). Based on this quite Marxist perspective of the “revolution in language” and painting such pictures, neither Marr nor the Marrists thought about the Russian language.

The principle of class language was followed by the position that there are no national, nationwide languages: “…It is clearly shown that there is no national, nationwide language, but a class language; and the languages of the same class of different countries, while the social structure is identical, reveal more typological affinity with each other than the languages of different classes of the same country, of the same nation” (Marr, 1936, p. 415). Thesis 57 of Sergey Kovalev sounds even stronger: “The Japhetic theory discards the very notion of a national, extra-social, extra-class language as an unscientific notion” (p. 116). Indeed, national language did not and could not fit into the Marrist conception of language. In fact, it was the “conclusion” about the non-existence of national languages, vigorously pursued by the supporters of Marrism, that became the main reason for its defeat.

Thus, Marr’s writings and the works of the Marrists were permeated with the rhetoric of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Language, the proletariat, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the world revolution were linked in Marrism into a single ideological node; the people and nationwide language were rejected; neither the Russian language, nor the Russian and Soviet people occupied any prominent place in the Marrist political-linguistic conception and worldview. The Marrists continued the rhetoric of working-class solidarity of all countries, taking seriously the provisions on the proletariat as the ruling class and on proletarian internationalism, which in official Soviet Marxism had been turned into historical and rhetorical formulas, respectively. The Marrists could not accept (although they probably understood) that the “world proletariat” had long ago not been the center of the Stalinist quasi-Marxist universe, and that since the second half of the 1940s, to assert anything about the world language of the future communist society without assuming that it was the Russian language, the common language of the nationwide state, meant opposing themselves to the Soviet state.

Stalin’s Criticism of the Teachings of Nikolai Marr: Statism vs. Cosmopolitanism

The hierarchy of the principles of “Japhetic Marxism” and Marr’s political outlook can be presented as follows: the proletariat (the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat), the proletarian language as a revolutionary overcoming of the old class language, which is in the stage of revolutionary formation. The trinity of Stalinist political principles funded on the People (the creator and guardian of language) and looks like this: the Soviet People—the Soviet All-National State (Vsenarodnoe Gosudarstvo = State of the Whole People = All People’s State)—the Russian language as the all-national language of the USSR, in the long run—the language of the socialist commonwealth. For Stalin, argues Patrick Seriot, “language knows no division into classes; it is an instrument of communication, an instrument of the subject people” (Seriot, 2009, p. 120); Stalin himself did not doubt “the idea of the existence of the Unified Language of the Unified People” (p. 123).

Stalin rejected the basic principles of Marr’s “theory”: to the questions “Is it true that language is a superstructure over the base?” and “Is it true that language has always been and remains class-based, that there is no common and unified for society non-class, national language?” Stalin gives a negative answer: “Language is not generated by this or that base… but by the entire course of the history of society and the history of bases over the centuries. It was created not by one class, but by the whole society, by all classes of society, by the efforts of hundreds of generations. It was created to satisfy the needs not of one class, but of the whole society, of all classes of society. That is why it was created as a common language for society and common to all members of society” (Stalin, 1953, p. 7).

Stalin followed the statist line he had developed, building in a single order the fundamental principles of state-centrism: a single multinational Soviet state, the unity of the state and the people, the moral and political unity of the Soviet people, a single language of inter-ethnic communication and representation of the USSR on the world stage. Stalin’s exaltation of the Soviet state, the Russian and Soviet people is well known, and it unfolded vividly in the course of the campaign to affirm the principle of Soviet patriotism, which began around the mid-1930s and was particularly developed in the second half of the 1940s. The role of language, specifically the Russian language, in this perspective is enormous. In a bipolar world, Russian was prospectively the language of the socialist bloc, of socialist civilization; the language of the opposing bloc was English (these two languages were zonal in Stalinist terminology).

Five years before the release of Stalin’s works, Viktor Vinogradov wrote in his book, The Great Russian Language: “The creation of a common national language is the most important stage in the history of each nation. Only in such a language does the nation receive the means for the full disclosure of its spiritual forces and capabilities and for a wide participation in the world cultural movement. Only such a language can become the basis of national science and literature. It also contributes to the unification of the forces of the people, to the strengthening of the political power of the nation and the growth of its influence among other states” (Vinogradov, 1945, p. 9). “All peoples of the Soviet Union have a common cause, common tasks. In the new state situation, the Russian language fulfills the responsible mission of an ideological leader” (p. 10). In such a statement about national language, classism of language is unthinkable; it is difficult, perhaps, to write a more anti-Marrist text. Moreover, reading this book, as well as the pamphlet, The Greatness and Power of the Russian Language, published a year earlier, it is hard to imagine that Marr’s teachings even existed at that time. From the 1944 pamphlet: “The power and greatness of the Russian language is an indisputable testimony to the great vitality of the Russian people, its distinctive national culture and its great and glorious historical destiny. The Russian language is the great language of a great people” (Vinogradov, 1944, p. 9). “The Russian language as a language of high culture is an ideal and a model for the languages of all the peoples of the USSR” (p. 24). It is worth specifying that Vinogradov’s position became the basis for the attacks of the Marrists, whose assessments of such ideas were an expression of great-power chauvinism. However, these attacks manifested themselves in attacks on the scientist himself, whereas it was not safe for the Marrists to openly criticize his positions on the great Russian language and people.

For the Marrists with their “proletarian philosophy”, in their world without nations and states, the role of the Russian language appears to be ordinary, not outstanding in any way. Within the framework of Marrism, one cannot speak at all about the superiority (“greatness”) of any particular language: all languages and cultures, regardless of the achievements of a given nation or nationality, are equal. Marr’s obsessive desire to “prove” the almost decisive role of the Chuvash language in the development of the Russian language is well known. This tendency grew practically into a denial of the national identity of Russia and Russian culture. Since at least 1943, this attitude could not but raise questions in connection with the campaign to glorify Russian culture, science, and history. Stalin postulated the very “ideological foundations of the autocracy of the Russian language”, corresponding to the political foundations of the new “Stalinist autocracy”, which Marr tried with persistence to destroy. Taking this into account, it is rather difficult to call Stalin’s approach “Marxism in linguistics”, and here we should agree with Vladimir Alpatov, who argues that “if one analyzes Stalin’s work carefully, one comes to a conclusion that, at first glance, seems paradoxical: Stalin, speaking about the construction of Marxist linguistics, essentially denies it the right to exist” (Alpatov, 2005, p. 216).

With particular force Stalin and, following him, the critics of Marrism rejected the thesis of the need for revolutionary changes in the Russian language in the current era, the “explosion”, the breakdown of the language, which necessarily follows from the principle of its class and the denial of its nationhood. Marr, demanding a linguistic revolution, explicitly asserted that “here we have to speak not of a reform of writing or grammar, but of a change in the norms of language, its translation to new rules of really mass speech. What is needed is not a form, not a reform or a new decoration of the old content, but a new building with a new all-union, world function made of new speech material; the speech revolution, a part of the cultural revolution, one of its most essential parts, it is also the most revealing evidence of the masses creating a new world” (Marr, 1936, pp. 375–376). Abram Deborin wrote: “Revolution in the social and political sphere is usually accompanied by revolutionary changes in the sphere of language and thinking. Since each social class is characterized by a special ideology, a special worldview, these latter naturally require a new language to formalize new concepts and ideas” (Deborin, 1935, p. 62). The scientist resorts to an understandable argument in the spirit of the 1920s: “Of course, each social class formalizes its thinking in an appropriate language… But the fact is that often the old inheritance perverts the new thinking, the thinking of a new social class” (p. 25).

Despite the fact that life gave no clear signs of “explosive” changes, “revolutionary” linguists even in the late 1940s did not give up their dreams of a radical shift in the Russian language. If the capitalist formation was replaced by the socialist one (i.e., the first non-antagonistic formation in human history), there was no doubt that language as part of the superstructure must undergo revolutionary changes. According to Deborin, “in a classless society there are no class languages. We are on the way of creating the first classless language” (Deborin, 1935, p. 63). According to Marr, the future language of communist society, in which “the highest beauty will merge with the highest development of the mind” (Marr, 1934, pp. 111–112), is such a language, before which “no language, even a sound language, still connected with the norms of nature, can resist. Both great and small languages are equally mortal before the thinking of the proletariat, in the struggle to forge a classless society” (p. 121). If we summarize Marr’s reasoning, it turns out that we are talking about the transformation of the very nature of language, from which, logically, it should follow that a new level of language should correspond to a new nature of man; but the scientist did not go that far in his fantasies.

It is known that after Stalin’s speech of 1950. Marr and the Marrists were incriminated with intentions to destroy the Russian language as an obsolete part of the superstructure, replacing it with some kind of proletarian language. We should think about the following: when Marr himself wrote about the abolition of the old grammar, about bringing the language into conformity with the “thinking of the proletarian working masses”, did he realize the destructiveness of such ideas in relation to the people and the state? Apparently not, for all these thoughts were part of his worldview, built on a nihilistic rejection of the Russian autocratic state, which grew into a hatred of “ruling peoples” in general (respectively, of “ruling languages”). This trait was multiplied by the original youthful nihilism, the desire to oppose oneself to the world. Thus, Ivan Meshchaninov wrote about young Marr: “Remaining within the framework of the school that brought him up, he at the same time did not put up with its narrow formalism and was already laying the explosive element that led him to break with the linguistic environment, on the soil of which he grew up for its subsequent decisive refutation” (Meshchaninov, 1936, p. 8).

In his famous work, Japhetic Dawn on the Ukrainian Farmstead, Marr resents the state of affairs when “the scientific thinking of linguists of the dominant school… is still shrouded in the blinders of this or that national world (when it comes to Russian or Ukrainian—the mirage of Slavic ‘brotherhood’ and Slavic ‘primordial language’) as the original basis in the linguistic creation of each of the constituents of this later speech class commonwealth of ‘peoples’” (Marr, 1935, p. 248). Marr paid no special attention to either Russistics or Slavistics, but, as can be seen from the quotation, his attitude to the ideas of Slavic unity, and even more so to the ideas of a primordial language, was extremely negative. Such ideas began to sharply contradict a very important direction of Stalin’s policy of post-war settlement of the world, the realization of which can be rightly traced from 1942, if not earlier. At about the same time, the development of Russian and Slavic studies received a powerful impetus: work on the compilation of dictionaries of Slavic languages, grammars, textbooks, literary histories intensified; Stalin began to talk about “Slavophile-Leninists”, about “new Slavophilism”, which is not identical to the old imperial “great-power pan-Slavism”, about the equality of Slavic peoples, about the union of equal Slavic states.

The trend of strengthening Slavic-centrism, the search for the ideological justification of Slavic unity (including linguistic) is associated with the postwar construction of the political structure of the bloc of countries of people’s democracy (i.e., the consolidation of the Soviet bloc) as a Slavic union under the leadership of the USSR. It should not be overlooked that it is precisely the impetus for the development of Slavic studies—its very revival took place in the pre-war period, when, according to Marina Dostal, “the threat and the outbreak of World War II in 1939, which aroused the mood of general patriotism and considerations of increasing the prestige of science, convinced the Soviet leadership of the need to revive this scientific discipline in the USSR, first of all, in its historical part, which could more fully provide the ideological goals of foreign policy and the priorities of domestic propaganda” (Dostal, 2009, p. 10). Institutionally, this trend was expressed, in particular, in the organization of the Institute of Russian Language of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1944, in the revival of the Institute of Slavic Studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1947, and a number of other measures aimed at restoring Slavistics, which had been virtually destroyed after the repressions of the 1930s and the “Slavists’ affair”. However, it was difficult to imagine the development of Slavic studies without removing the obstacle in its way in the form of Marrism, within the framework of which Slavic unity was unthinkable.

The Marrists could not help feeling that the ground was getting out from under their feet, so it is quite possible that the series of their attacks after 1948 was caused by these very circumstances. The ideas of Slavic ancestry and the Proto-Slavic language (as well as the idea of Proto-language in general, which they had schismatized) were particularly attacked, and were actively supported by linguists from the countries of the People’s Democracy. The supporters of Marr’s doctrine were forced to restrain their indignation, since these ideas were now developing in line with the policy of Slavic unity.

Conclusion

Summarizing the above, we can say that Marrism became so contrasted with Soviet ideology that the intervention of a higher authority became inevitable. There is a communis opinio doctorum on this subject in modern Russian science. Vladimir Alpatov declares: “Gone were the dreams of world revolution, cosmic fantasies and ideas about great-power chauvinism as the main evil in national issues, ‘nationality’ and ‘originality’ from swear words turned into indispensable epithets of newspaper articles. In these conditions, Marr’s denial of national boundaries and frameworks and the special role of the Russian language, the complete rejection of the old science, the demand to force the creation of a world language could not please Stalin” (Alpatov, 2010, p. 464).

In Lenin’s words, the “nationwide state” is the crux of the issue; it is precisely what the principles of Marrism did not correspond to: the classism of languages and the consequent denial of nationwide languages. But what does this “nationwide state” mean, because the officially declared essence of the Soviet socialist state under Stalin did not cease to be the dictatorship of the proletariat (form: the Republic of Soviets); in any case, the statement that the dictatorship of the proletariat had fulfilled its historical mission and was no longer necessary in the USSR, was voiced only in 1961. Stalin, according to historians, was characterized by clarity of political constructions, at least in the field of state theory and ideology. However, the formula of the Constitution of the USSR “socialist state of workers and peasants” does not say anything specifically about the essence of the state, allowing to treat the dictatorship of the proletariat both as the essence of the state and as a political regime, not preventing also to treat the USSR as an all-people’s state [vsenarodnoe gosudarstvo] (with the possibility of identifying the workers and the people). How is it then that there is no clear, automatic answer concerning the foundations of the organization of the Soviet state of the Stalinist period: the dictatorship of the proletariat or the all-people’s state [vsenarodnoe gosudarstvo]?

It is not difficult to see that the term “nation-state” contrasts sharply with the initial Marxist postulates: the proletariat, world revolution and the world state of the dictatorship of the proletariat (not to mention the divergence from political reality). “People” and “nation-state”—these categories are generally outside Marxism and close to the doctrine of Jean-Jacques Rousseau with his maxims of the peuple souveraine and the volonté générale. Already by the beginning of the 1930s, and in the subsequent years, the slogans of world revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat ceased to satisfy the needs of Soviet ideology and the interests of the Soviet state. Proletarian cosmopolitanism began to interfere with the development of Soviet statism. The approaching war demanded greater consolidation of Soviet society; the needs of internal development, industrialization and economic growth led to the realization of the necessity of increasing foreign economic ties with capitalist countries and establishing normal relations with them. Bourgeois countries could hardly show any desire to trade with the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which had as its officially declared goal the stimulation and support of proletarian revolutions around the world and the ideal of the establishment of a world dictatorship of the proletariat. After the revolutionary-proletarian ecstasy of the 1920s was over, it became clear that it was impossible to represent the state as proletarian, i.e., one whose source was the proletariat. Although it was also impossible to eliminate internationalist motives completely, for in that case the universalism of Soviet ideology would have disappeared. In any case, the source of power and the state in the USSR would have to be the people; i.e., the state would have to become all-national, and in this regard Marxism I was transformed under the aegis of Stalin (Nikandrov, 2022). But it was difficult to do this overnight, without preparing social and political thought for such a “creative development”.

The concept of an “all-people’s state” [vsenarodnoe gosudarstvo] first appeared in Soviet political discourse before the publication of the draft Constitution of 1936. It seems that in the new version, instead of the “socialist state of workers and peasants”, it was the “all-people’s state” that was to appear. In the leading article, “To Organize Party Propaganda in a Bolshevik Way”, printed in the May issue of the Bolshevik magazine, we read: “Our country is on the eve of the adoption of a new Constitution of the all-people Soviet state”. In the same issue Andrey Vyshinsky writes: “The Soviet state is an all-people’s state” (Vyshinsky, 1936, p. 22). From the article of Mark Mitin in the magazine Under the Banner of Marxism: “The new Soviet Constitution… will be the first constitution of socialist society in the world: the constitution of a socialist, all-people’s state” (Mitin, 1936, p. 14). It should be added that before the adoption of the constitution there were persistent rumors that the dictatorship of the proletariat would be abolished and instead of it a nationwide state would be proclaimed (Losev, 2002, pp. 355, 570).

Since the dictatorship of the proletariat as a designation of the essence of the socialist state was not “disavowed”, it remained in force up to 1961, while the USSR, after the adoption of the Constitution of 1936, without ceasing to be considered a dictatorship of the proletariat, was increasingly referred to in political literature as a “genuinely people’s state”. The USSR, a socialist state, was paradoxically presented as both a “truly people’s state” and a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat at the same time; for example: “As a state of proletarian dictatorship, the Soviet state is a truly people’s state” (Vyshinsky, 1949, p. 246). This is how the period of “dual power” lasted: the source of power and the state was declared to be the Soviet people, but the proletariat (“the working class of the USSR”) continued until 1961 to fulfill the duties of the dictator—the temporary ruler. The uncertainty of the most important political texts in this respect only aggravated the ambivalence of the situation.

Marr’s ideas about the class nature of language were discarded by Stalin not because of their inconsistency with the principles of linguistics and not even because of their divergence from Marxism (which is not certain), but because of their sharp contrast with the state policy of the Soviet Union, in the area of internal policy aimed at affirming the unity of the Soviet people, and in the area of foreign policy—to unite the socialist commonwealth, to build a socialist bloc (union) in the emerging bipolar world. Based on this, it is easy to understand why Marr’s doctrine did not immediately become the subject of criticism; why it was for a long time considered quite correct Marxism in linguistics: Stalin did not dare, and did not dare within the framework of the state theory to directly declare the people the source of the state and the law (neither in 1936, nor in 1947 was the nation-state proclaimed). The all-national state was asserted by “roundabout” ways: by emphasizing the nationhood of the language, by glorifying the great Russian and Soviet people, by strengthening the rhetoric of the democratism of Soviet society, etc. Soviet Marxism from the early 1930s was filled with concepts that seriously contrasted with Marxism I: “classless socialist society”, “friendly classes”, “all-people’s state”, “truly people’s state”. Not to mention the thesis of building communism in one country while preserving the capitalist environment. If we ignore the Stalinist logic of state-centrism behind all this, there remain many unclear points; and the lack of clarity in state-theoretical questions gave rise to confusion in the whole social and political theory, of which linguistics was also a part.

The aim of the Stalinist discussion on linguistics, on the basis of all this, was to prepare Soviet public opinion, the ideologists and theorists of Soviet Marxism for a new turn in the field of “state Marxism”, for a new stage of its “creative development”: the introduction of the concept of the all-national (all-nation) state, presenting it as a development of Marxist-Leninist theory. Thus, apart from the reasons connected with the inconsistency of Marxism with a number of the most important directions and guidelines of Soviet policy, the “new doctrine of language” was excluded from linguistics and thus from Soviet social and political science also for reasons of a fundamental-theoretical order, i.e., because of its inconsistency with the basic parameters of Stalin’s Marxism II, or “state Marxism”, which had taken shape by the end of the 1940s.

For references, please consult the original:


Alexey V. Nikandrov is at the Moscow State University, named after M.V. Lomonosov.


Marcus Tullius Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero, equestri genere, Arpini, quod est Volscorum oppidum, natus est. Ex eius avis unus verrucam in extremo naso sitam habuit, ciceris grano similem; inde cognomen Ciceronis genti inditum. Suadentibus quibusdam ut id nomen mutaret, “Dabo operam” inquit “ut istud cognomen nobilissimorum nominum splendorem vincat.” Cum a patre Romam missus, ubi celeberrimorum magistrorum scholis interesset, eas artes disceret, quibus aetas puerilis ad humanitatem solet informari, tanto successu tantaque cum praeceptorum tum ceterorum discipulorum admiratione id fecit, ut, cum fama de Ciceronis ingenio et doctrina ad alios manasset, non pauci, qui eius videndi et audiendi gratia scholas adirent, reperti esse dicantur.

Cum nulla re magis ad summos in re publica honores viam muniri posse intellegeret quam arte dicendi et eloquentia, toto animo in eius studium incubuit, in quo quidem ita versatus est, ut non solum eos, qui in Foro et iudiciis causas perorarent, studiose sectaretur, sed privatim quoque diligentissime se exerceret. Primum eloquentiam et libertatem adversus Sullanos ostendit. Nam cum Roscium quendam, parricidii accusatum, ob Chrysogoni, Sullae liberti, qui in eius adversariis erat, potentiam nemo defendere auderet, tanta eloquentiae vi eum defendit Cicero, ut iam tum in arte dicendi nullus ei par esse videretur. Ex quo invidiam veritus Athenas studiorum gratia petiit, ubi Antiochum philosophum studiose audivit. Inde eloquentiae causa Rhodum se contulit, ubi Molonem, Graecum rhetorem tum disertissimum, magistrum habuit. Qui cum Ciceronem dicentem audivisset, flevisse dicitur, quod per hunc Graecia eloquentiae laude privaretur.

Romam reversus quaestor Siciliam habuit. Nullius vero quaestura aut gratior aut clarior fuit; cum magna tum esset annonae difficultas, initio molestus erat Siculis, quos cogeret frumenta in urbem mittere; postea vero, diligentiam et iustitiam et comitatem eius experti, maiores quaestori suo honores quam ulli umquam praetori detulerunt. E Sicilia reversus Romam in causis dicendis ita floruit, ut inter omnes causarum patronos et esset et haberetur princeps.

Consul deinde factus L. Sergii Catilinae coniurationem singulari virtute, constantia, cura compressit. Catilinae proavum, M. Sergium, incredibili fortitudine fuisse Plinius refert. Stipendia is fecit secundo bello Punico. Secundo stipendio dextram manum perdidit: stipendiis duobus ter et vicies vulneratus est: ob id neutra manu, neutro pede satis utilis, plurimisque postea stipendiis debilis miles erat. Bis ab Hannibale captus, bis vinculorum eius profugus, viginti mensibus nullo non die in catenis aut compedibus custoditus. Sinistra manu sola quater pugnavit, duobus equis, insidente eo, suffossis. Dextram sibi ferream fecit eaque religata proeliatus Cremonam obsidione exemit, Placentiam tutatus est, duodena castra hostium in Gallia cepit. Ceteri profecto, Plinius addit, victores hominum fuere, Sergius vicit etiam fortunam.

Singularem huius viri gloriam foede dehonestavit pronepotis scelus. Hic enim rei familiaris, quam profuderat, inopia multorumque scelerum conscientia in furorem actus et dominandi cupiditate incensus indignatusque, quod in petitione consulatus repulsam passus esset, coniuratione facta senatum confodere, consules trucidare, urbem incendere, diripere aerarium constituerat. Actum erat de pulcherrimo imperio, nisi illa coniuratio in Ciceronem et Antonium consules incidisset, quorum alter industria rem patefecit, alter manu oppressit. Cum Cicero, habito senatu, in praesentem reum perorasset, Catilina, incendium suum ruina se restincturum esse minitans, Roma profugit et ad exercitum, quem paraverat, proficiscitur, signa inlaturus urbi. Sed socii eius, qui in urbe remanserant, comprehensi in carcere necati sunt. A. Fulvius, vir senatorii ordinis, filium, iuvenem et ingenio et forma inter aequales nitentem, pravo consilio Catilinae amicitiam secutum inque castra eius ruentem, ex medio itinere retractum supplicio mortis adfecit, praefatus non se Catilinae illum adversus patriam, sed patriae adversus Catilinam genuisse.

Neque eo magis ab incepto Catilina destitit, sed infestis signis Romam petens Antonii exercitu opprimitur. Quam atrociter dimicatum sit exitus docuit: nemo hostium bello superfuit; quem quisque in pugnando ceperat locum, eum amissa anima tegebat. Catilina longe a suis inter hostium cadavera repertus est: pulcherrima morte, si pro patria sic concidisset! Senatus populusque Romanus Ciceronem patrem patriae appellavit. Cicero ipse in oratione pro Sulla palam praedicat consilium patriae servandae fuisse iniectum sibi a diis, cum Catilina coniurasset adversus eam. “O dii immortales,” inquit “vos profecto incendistis tum animum meum cupiditate conservandae patriae. Vos avocastis me a cogitationibus omnibus ceteris et convertistis ad salutem unam patriae. Vos denique praetulistis menti meae clarissimum lumen in tenebris tantis erroris et inscientiae. Tribuam enim vobis, quae sunt vestra. Nec vero possum tantum dare ingenio meo, ut dispexerim sponte mea in tempestate illa turbulentissima rei publicae, quid esset optimum factu.”

Paucis post annis Ciceroni diem dixit Clodius tribunus plebis, quod cives Romanos indicta causa necavisset. Senatus maestus, tamquam in publico luctu, veste mutata pro eo deprecabatur. Cicero, cum posset armis salutem suam defendere, maluit urbe cedere quam sua causa caedem fieri. Proficiscentem omnes boni flentes prosecuti sunt. Dein Clodius edictum proposuit ut Marco Tullio igni et aqua interdiceretur: illius domum et villas incendit. Sed vis illa non diuturna fuit, mox enim totus fere populus Romanus ingenti desiderio Ciceronis reditum flagitare coepit et maximo omnium ordinum studio Cicero in patriam revocatus est. Nihil per totam vitam Ciceroni itinere, quo in patriam rediit, accidit iucundius. Obviam ei redeunti ab universis itum est: domus eius publica pecunia restituta est.

Gravissimae illa tempestate inter Caesarem et Pompeium ortae sunt inimicitiae, ut res nisi bello dirimi non posse videretur. Cicero quidem summo studio enitebatur ut eos inter se reconciliaret et a belli civilis calamitatibus deterreret, sed cum neutrum ad pacem ineundam permovere posset, Pompeium secutus est. Sed victo Pompeio, a Caesare victore veniam ultro accepit. Quo interfecto Octavianum, Caesaris heredem, fovit, Antonium impugnavit effecitque ut a senatu hostis iudicaretur.

Sed Antonius, inita cum Octaviano societate, Ciceronem iam diu sibi inimicum proscripsit. Qua re audita, Cicero transversis itineribus in villam, quae a mari proxime aberat, fugit indeque navem conscendit, in Macedoniam transiturus. Unde aliquotiens in altum provectum cum modo venti adversi rettulissent, modo ipse iactationem maris pati non posset, taedium tandem eum et fugae et vitae cepit regressusque ad villam “Moriar” inquit “in patria saepe servata.” Satis constat, adventantibus percussoribus, servos fortiter fideliterque paratos fuisse ad dimicandum, ipsum deponi lecticam et quietos pati, quod sors iniqua cogeret, iussisse. Prominenti ex lectica et immotam cervicem praebenti caput praecisum est. Manus quoque abscissae; caput relatum est ad Antonium eiusque iussu cum dextra manu in rostris positum.

Quamdiu res publica Romana per eos gerebatur, quibus se ipsa commiserat, in eam curas cogitationesque fere omnes suas conferebat Cicero et plus operae ponebat in agendo quam in scribendo. Cum autem dominatu unius C. Iulii Caesaris omnia tenerentur, non se angoribus dedidit nec indignis homine docto voluptatibus. Fugiens conspectum Fori urbisque rura peragrabat abdebatque se, quantum licebat, et solus erat. Nihil agere autem cum animus non posset, existimavit honestissime molestias posse deponi, si se ad philosophiam rettulisset, cui adulescens multum temporis tribuerat, et omne studium curamque convertit ad scribendum: atque ut civibus etiam otiosus aliquid prodesse posset, elaboravit ut doctiores fierent et sapientiores, pluraque brevi tempore, eversa re publica, scripsit, quam multis annis ea stante scripserat. Sic facundiae et Latinarum litterarum parens evasit paruitque virorum sapientium praecepto, qui docent non solum ex malis eligere minima oportere, sed etiam excerpere ex his ipsis, si quid insit boni.

Multa exstant facete ab eo dicta. Cum Lentulum, generum suum, exiguae staturae hominem, vidisset longo gladio accinctum, “Quis” inquit “generum meum ad gladium adligavit?”—Matrona quaedam iuniorem se, quam erat, simulans dictitabat se triginta tantum annos habere; cui Cicero “Verum est,” inquit “nam hoc viginti annos audio.”—Caesar, altero consule mortuo die Decembris ultima, Caninium consulem hora septima in reliquam diei partem renuntiaverat; quem cum plerique irent salutatum de more, “Festinemus” inquit Cicero “priusquam abeat magistratu.” De eodem Caninio scripsit Cicero: “Fuit mirifica vigilantia Caninius, qui toto suo consulatu somnum non viderit.”

Cum nulla re magis ad summos in re publica honores viam muniri posse intellegeret quam arte dicendi et eloquentia, toto animo in eius studium incubuit, in quo quidem ita versatus est, ut non solum eos, qui in Foro et iudiciis causas perorarent, studiose sectaretur, sed privatim quoque diligentissime se exerceret. Primum eloquentiam et libertatem adversus Sullanos ostendit. Nam cum Roscium quendam, parricidii accusatum, ob Chrysogoni, Sullae liberti, qui in eius adversariis erat, potentiam nemo defendere auderet, tanta eloquentiae vi eum defendit Cicero, ut iam tum in arte dicendi nullus ei par esse videretur. Ex quo invidiam veritus Athenas studiorum gratia petiit, ubi Antiochum philosophum studiose audivit. Inde eloquentiae causa Rhodum se contulit, ubi Molonem, Graecum rhetorem tum disertissimum, magistrum habuit. Qui cum Ciceronem dicentem audivisset, flevisse dicitur, quod per hunc Graecia eloquentiae laude privaretur.

Romam reversus quaestor Siciliam habuit. Nullius vero quaestura aut gratior aut clarior fuit; cum magna tum esset annonae difficultas, initio molestus erat Siculis, quos cogeret frumenta in urbem mittere; postea vero, diligentiam et iustitiam et comitatem eius experti, maiores quaestori suo honores quam ulli umquam praetori detulerunt. E Sicilia reversus Romam in causis dicendis ita floruit, ut inter omnes causarum patronos et esset et haberetur princeps.

Consul deinde factus L. Sergii Catilinae coniurationem singulari virtute, constantia, cura compressit. Catilinae proavum, M. Sergium, incredibili fortitudine fuisse Plinius refert. Stipendia is fecit secundo bello Punico. Secundo stipendio dextram manum perdidit: stipendiis duobus ter et vicies vulneratus est: ob id neutra manu, neutro pede satis utilis, plurimisque postea stipendiis debilis miles erat. Bis ab Hannibale captus, bis vinculorum eius profugus, viginti mensibus nullo non die in catenis aut compedibus custoditus. Sinistra manu sola quater pugnavit, duobus equis, insidente eo, suffossis. Dextram sibi ferream fecit eaque religata proeliatus Cremonam obsidione exemit, Placentiam tutatus est, duodena castra hostium in Gallia cepit. Ceteri profecto, Plinius addit, victores hominum fuere, Sergius vicit etiam fortunam.

Singularem huius viri gloriam foede dehonestavit pronepotis scelus. Hic enim rei familiaris, quam profuderat, inopia multorumque scelerum conscientia in furorem actus et dominandi cupiditate incensus indignatusque, quod in petitione consulatus repulsam passus esset, coniuratione facta senatum confodere, consules trucidare, urbem incendere, diripere aerarium constituerat. Actum erat de pulcherrimo imperio, nisi illa coniuratio in Ciceronem et Antonium consules incidisset, quorum alter industria rem patefecit, alter manu oppressit. Cum Cicero, habito senatu, in praesentem reum perorasset, Catilina, incendium suum ruina se restincturum esse minitans, Roma profugit et ad exercitum, quem paraverat, proficiscitur, signa inlaturus urbi. Sed socii eius, qui in urbe remanserant, comprehensi in carcere necati sunt. A. Fulvius, vir senatorii ordinis, filium, iuvenem et ingenio et forma inter aequales nitentem, pravo consilio Catilinae amicitiam secutum inque castra eius ruentem, ex medio itinere retractum supplicio mortis adfecit, praefatus non se Catilinae illum adversus patriam, sed patriae adversus Catilinam genuisse.

Neque eo magis ab incepto Catilina destitit, sed infestis signis Romam petens Antonii exercitu opprimitur. Quam atrociter dimicatum sit exitus docuit: nemo hostium bello superfuit; quem quisque in pugnando ceperat locum, eum amissa anima tegebat. Catilina longe a suis inter hostium cadavera repertus est: pulcherrima morte, si pro patria sic concidisset! Senatus populusque Romanus Ciceronem patrem patriae appellavit. Cicero ipse in oratione pro Sulla palam praedicat consilium patriae servandae fuisse iniectum sibi a diis, cum Catilina coniurasset adversus eam. “O dii immortales,” inquit “vos profecto incendistis tum animum meum cupiditate conservandae patriae. Vos avocastis me a cogitationibus omnibus ceteris et convertistis ad salutem unam patriae. Vos denique praetulistis menti meae clarissimum lumen in tenebris tantis erroris et inscientiae. Tribuam enim vobis, quae sunt vestra. Nec vero possum tantum dare ingenio meo, ut dispexerim sponte mea in tempestate illa turbulentissima rei publicae, quid esset optimum factu.”

Paucis post annis Ciceroni diem dixit Clodius tribunus plebis, quod cives Romanos indicta causa necavisset. Senatus maestus, tamquam in publico luctu, veste mutata pro eo deprecabatur. Cicero, cum posset armis salutem suam defendere, maluit urbe cedere quam sua causa caedem fieri. Proficiscentem omnes boni flentes prosecuti sunt. Dein Clodius edictum proposuit ut Marco Tullio igni et aqua interdiceretur: illius domum et villas incendit. Sed vis illa non diuturna fuit, mox enim totus fere populus Romanus ingenti desiderio Ciceronis reditum flagitare coepit et maximo omnium ordinum studio Cicero in patriam revocatus est. Nihil per totam vitam Ciceroni itinere, quo in patriam rediit, accidit iucundius. Obviam ei redeunti ab universis itum est: domus eius publica pecunia restituta est.

Gravissimae illa tempestate inter Caesarem et Pompeium ortae sunt inimicitiae, ut res nisi bello dirimi non posse videretur. Cicero quidem summo studio enitebatur ut eos inter se reconciliaret et a belli civilis calamitatibus deterreret, sed cum neutrum ad pacem ineundam permovere posset, Pompeium secutus est. Sed victo Pompeio, a Caesare victore veniam ultro accepit. Quo interfecto Octavianum, Caesaris heredem, fovit, Antonium impugnavit effecitque ut a senatu hostis iudicaretur.

Sed Antonius, inita cum Octaviano societate, Ciceronem iam diu sibi inimicum proscripsit. Qua re audita, Cicero transversis itineribus in villam, quae a mari proxime aberat, fugit indeque navem conscendit, in Macedoniam transiturus. Unde aliquotiens in altum provectum cum modo venti adversi rettulissent, modo ipse iactationem maris pati non posset, taedium tandem eum et fugae et vitae cepit regressusque ad villam “Moriar” inquit “in patria saepe servata.” Satis constat, adventantibus percussoribus, servos fortiter fideliterque paratos fuisse ad dimicandum, ipsum deponi lecticam et quietos pati, quod sors iniqua cogeret, iussisse. Prominenti ex lectica et immotam cervicem praebenti caput praecisum est. Manus quoque abscissae; caput relatum est ad Antonium eiusque iussu cum dextra manu in rostris positum.

Quamdiu res publica Romana per eos gerebatur, quibus se ipsa commiserat, in eam curas cogitationesque fere omnes suas conferebat Cicero et plus operae ponebat in agendo quam in scribendo. Cum autem dominatu unius C. Iulii Caesaris omnia tenerentur, non se angoribus dedidit nec indignis homine docto voluptatibus. Fugiens conspectum Fori urbisque rura peragrabat abdebatque se, quantum licebat, et solus erat. Nihil agere autem cum animus non posset, existimavit honestissime molestias posse deponi, si se ad philosophiam rettulisset, cui adulescens multum temporis tribuerat, et omne studium curamque convertit ad scribendum: atque ut civibus etiam otiosus aliquid prodesse posset, elaboravit ut doctiores fierent et sapientiores, pluraque brevi tempore, eversa re publica, scripsit, quam multis annis ea stante scripserat. Sic facundiae et Latinarum litterarum parens evasit paruitque virorum sapientium praecepto, qui docent non solum ex malis eligere minima oportere, sed etiam excerpere ex his ipsis, si quid insit boni.

Multa exstant facete ab eo dicta. Cum Lentulum, generum suum, exiguae staturae hominem, vidisset longo gladio accinctum, “Quis” inquit “generum meum ad gladium adligavit?”—Matrona quaedam iuniorem se, quam erat, simulans dictitabat se triginta tantum annos habere; cui Cicero “Verum est,” inquit “nam hoc viginti annos audio.”—Caesar, altero consule mortuo die Decembris ultima, Caninium consulem hora septima in reliquam diei partem renuntiaverat; quem cum plerique irent salutatum de more, “Festinemus” inquit Cicero “priusquam abeat magistratu.” De eodem Caninio scripsit Cicero: “Fuit mirifica vigilantia Caninius, qui toto suo consulatu somnum non viderit.”


Featured: Cicero finding the tomb of Archemedes, by Paul Barbotti; painted in 1853.


A Student of Rhetoric. The Field of Art History: From Curtius to Panofsky

Marc Fumaroli (1932–2020) was a leading French historian who greatly advanced our understanding of art, rhetoric, culture and all those by-ways of culture which gird Western civilization. He taught at the Sorbonne and then at the Collège de France and was member of the French Academy. He was the recipient of the famed Balzan Prize, as well as many other honors. This paper was delivered at the Panofsky Symposium, Princeton, on October 2nd, 1993. Philippe-Joseph Salazar introduces us to the master himself, whom he knew well.

It is sometimes necessary to come back to the original and seminal texts. It is a principle of philological wisdom which may be welcome in a Panofsky symposium. I shall therefore begin this tribute to the Princeton master with two quotations from very famous texts, whose literal meaning is often obscured or forgotten. The first one is the main source of 20th century modern Art theory: Guillaume Apollinaire’s Les Peintres cubistes, 1912. We read there:

“Avant tout, les artistes sont des hommes qui veulent devenir inhumains. Ils cherchent péniblement les traces de l’inhumanité, traces que l’on ne rencontre nulle part dans la nature. Elles sont la vérité, et en dehors d’elle nous ne connaissons aucune réalité.”

This sort of sublime and compelling utterance, which has thrilled several European generations, has today lost its immediate power. But I want to quote in chronological disorder, an even more famous text, dating back to 1637, which is found in Descartes’ Discours de la Méthode:

“Ceux qui ont le raisonnement le plus fort, et qui digèrent le mieux leurs pensées afin de les rendre claires et intelligibles, peuvent toujours le mieux persuader ce qu’ils proposent, encore qu’ ils ne parlassent que bas-breton et qu’ ils n’eussent jamais appris de rhétorique”.

Both these texts may be superposed. They have, each on their own level, a common summoning content. The tabula rasa presupposed by the Cartesian Ego is no less radical than the methodic inhumanité Apollinaire required of the creative self. Cartesian or Apollinarian modernity supposes the elimination of memory, and of rhetorical invention founded upon a shared sensus communis. This superposition has abrasive potentialities which are today all around us. I dare to say that “we” (in a commonsensical meaning alien to the “nous” of Apollinaire in 1912) are more inclined to agree with the scholar who published in 1940 The History of Art as a Humanistic discipline, than the imprudent, if great poet, who invited artists to become inhuman before the two world wars had taken place!

It took thirty years before The Meaning in the Visual Arts reached the French public, in Bernard Teyssèdre’s translation, in 1969. When I read it for the first time, I was struck by footnote 18. There Panofsky quoted at length a Letter to the Editor published in the New Statesman and Nation, in June 1937. Written by an English Stalinist, this letter considered that it was morally sound that Stalin should fire from Russian Universities professors who insisted on teaching Plato and the classics of Western philosophy. This sort of teaching according to this moralist, was aimed at barring students an immediate and fresh access to the study of Marxism, the modern scientific truth. Panofsky contented himself with the following brief comment:

“Needless to say, the works of Plato and other philosophers also play an antifascist role in such circumstances, and Fascists too recognize this fact.”

Twelve years earlier, there appeared the French translation of a book which, in the field of literary studies, has had a decisive impact upon my generation: European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, by Ernst Robert Curtius. In the Preface to the 1953 German edition (the second one) Curtius wrote:

“This book doesn’t content itself with scientific purposes; it attests a concern for maintaining Western civilization.”

And further, the great German Romanist, Curtius, quotes Georges Sainsbury’s sentence:

“Ancient without Modem is a stumbling block; Modern without Ancient is utter and irremediable foolishness.”

Recently I happened to read the unpublished, pre-World War Two correspondence, between Curtius and a French lady poet, Catherine Pozzi. It throws an extraordinary light upon the genesis of the Curtius’ masterwork, and its philosophical significance. Curtius, who did his best since 1918 to awaken the French from their own nationalist conceit, is just as indignant about the so-called Nazi national revolution in Germany. He describes with a stern lucidity the budding lawlessness of the new regime and its cynical violence. But he is a scholar, not a hero, and he wrote in 1933:

“Je fais un cours sur la littérature latine du Moyen Age qui mt intéresse passionnément… Je suis lassé de toute modernité. Les siècles obscurs me reposent… Je me tapis dans mon coin. Le présent me dégoûte. Je ne désespère pas de l’avenir. Il nous apportera de nouvelles révélations de beauté et de bonté. Mais vivrai-je pour les voir? La beauté incréée ne vaut-elle pas mieux? Mais comment y atteindre?
      A spark disturbs our cloud. But at
      present I realize more the cloud
      than the spark.”

The reading of this correspondence makes clear what an immense labour of hope and love this European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, started as an University course in 1928-1929, had been until the end of World War Two. When it appeared in German, in 1948, dedicated posthumously to Aby Warburg and to the great Romanist Gustav Grober, it looked like a dove above the ruined landscape of Europe. In his correspondence with Catherine Pozzi, Curtius mentions on several occasions their common friend James Joyce, then working on Finnegan’s Wake. He says to his correspondent that this new novel in order to be correctly understood, will require a full acquaintance with Giambattista Vico’s Scienza Nuova. This first-hand information is retrospectively illuminating for me. When I first discovered Curtius’ masterwork, at the beginning of the Sixties, I was engaged in reading Vico’s Opening Lecture, On the Study Method of Our Time (1699), where the Napolitan humanist launches his first fierce attack against the excesses of Cartesianism, and defends the traditional primacy of rhetoric in the teachings of the humanities. Without being fully aware then of the issues at stake for us in these 17th century debates, I was nevertheless struck by the correspondence between Vico’s thesis, and the role a philologist like Curtius attributed in his masterwork to rhetoric as the frame for the correct reading and understanding of Western Literature. And when at last I had the opportunity to read, in the early seventies, Panofsky’s Meaning in the Visual Arts, I was ready to recognize the methodological kinship between the two German scholars—Aby Warburg’s disciple and Aby Warburg’s friend—who since the thirties had worked on both sides of the Atlantic, and Vico, whose Scienza Nuova is after all the Italian seed of German romantic historicism. I am personally convinced since then that this alliance between the Warburg school, the best of German Roman philology, and the most able spokesman for the Ancients in the 18th century, has been in our century the only spiritual home and pledge against the dominant anti-humanist trends at work in the modernist poetics of Apollinaire, as well as in the Cartesian Cogito. I should like to ponder upon this alliance today. There is more here, I think, than a nostalgic and respectful glance to the past and its scattered achievements: I see there a living moral and scientific force, a spark illuminating our own clouds.

So, before assessing how Panofsky’s method may be fused, without losing its own sharpness, with the same field of reunified and enlarged humanities as that of Curtius, I should like to recall briefly the latter’s originality and enduring contribution to literary studies. I hope that this suggestion of synthesis will be attuned to this symposium, and to our guest’s expectations, Professor Irving Lavin. I cannot forget that he has himself pointed out the same direction in his excellent Washington lecture: Art History as a Humanistic Discipline.

Nineteenth century positivism, the radical heir of Cartesianism, has split academic literary studies and teaching between res and verba. Res, related to the outside world, was left to biorgaphical and referential research; verba, related to the subjective talent of the author, was left to stylistical and philological scrutiny. This split reflected the Cartesian division between the knowing subject, related to positive science, and the sensitive or irrational one. The task of the literary historian was therefore to separate the expression of the subjective self, from the objective facts to which this expression may be related. Rhetoric was rejected from literary studies on the double grounds of a formalist hindrance to free subjective expression, and of an archaic cloud obscuring scientific truth. Curtius took a contrary stance, following the path opened up by Norden and Dilthey. He discovered—or rediscovered—that the Cartesian division between res and verba was not applicable to the res literaria. In the rhetorical regime of literature, res and verba, invention and style have been, in the Western past as in the contemporary most self-conscious writer, James Joyce, a continuum, not two ontologically different realms. Res were themselves language constructs in time, which have their home in collective memory, their kernels in classical texts, and their structure in the “places” among which rhetorical-literary invention moves in order to find the proper contours of the thing it has to say or write; order and style gave to the matter thus gathered the appropriate form in order to exert an effect upon the auditor or the hearer. Res, res literaria, were therefore forms of human experience accumulated and ordered by a collective and proleptic memory; it was there that the inventive ingenium had to journey before finding the right response to its own challenge, in prudent agreement with contemporary commonsense. This rhetorical artistic ingenium is not alienated, as the Cartesian raison or the Apollinarian génie, from its natural and social embodiment: it possesses the mnemonic resources to shape itself into a human form. Literature is the most complex and complete use of the rhetorical ingenium.

A friend and client of Carl-Gustav Jung, Curtius became a friend and admirer of Aby Warburg in 1928. He attended in the winter of that year, in Rome, at the Hertzian Library, the famous Warburg’s lecture about the great project Mnemosyne. Warburg died the next year. But Curtius, who had been enthusiast of the project, never forgot this decisive meeting. He found in the topoi re-used often with striking originality by medieval and Renaissance writers, the equivalent of Jung’s archetypes, of Warburg’s mythical places of memory, and of Vico’s universali fantastici, a vast and relatively autonomous frame of symbolic forms where the poetical, philosophical and social experience of the West, has been treasured and ever renewed since Antiquity. Even style, the persuasive new form that this mnemonic fount of accumulated wisdom has to receive in order to find new effectiveness, had its own objectivity and relative transcendence from circumstances and whims. Curtius enucleated in the medieval “longue durée,” what Vico called corsi and ricorsi of classic and mannerist styles, the first moulded on a few models of naturalness, the second eclectic and above all virtuoso, up to the point of ostentatious artificiality. Why can this rhetorical tradition be called humanist? Curtius hated the insipid and goody-goody abuse of the word. He insisted that humanist literature deserved this name because it was founded upon well-tried precedents crystallized in symbolic forms and classical texts, and confronting through them the past experience of humanity with the new, contemporary one. Time transfigured in Space was the compass of European wisdom. Antihumanism, either in the Cartesian school of modernism, or in Apollinaire’s, abstracted human reason or unreason from any reliance on the scale of wisdom summarized and symbolized in the literary tradition.

Far from being limited to medieval Latin Europe, this rhetorical approach, and the method of study it implies, could, and has been since Curtius, extended to Early Modern and Modern literature. If today we expect a renewal of literary studies in France, after the failure of the so-called sciences humaines, it will obviously be in the Curtian line. I am happy to say that I work in perfect intellectual agreement with Curtius’ best pupil, Harald Weinrich, who is German, and despite his nationality, if I may use that very inappropriate clausula, my full-time colleague at the Collège de France.

Why does Art history, as exemplified by Panofsky’s Meaning in the Visual Arts relate so naturally with literature history as exemplified by Curtius’ European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages? This is the question which haunted me since my first reading of Panofsky, and it is, I think, a good question to raise today if we agree that, at the end of this century, when the modernist credo has become less credible, the future lies in a wise reunification and renewal of the humanities.

It is not so much, in my view, their common philological and critical exactness, nor their common use of definite concepts, like classic and mannerist, that resume the kinship between Panofsky as Art historian and Curtius as a historian of Literature. It may be correctly assumed that this common ground of textual acribia was the general heritage of European and German Roman philology. What brings them so close, in spite of their specialized fields, visual images and literary texts, is their common rupture with the positivist assumptions of modern history and philology. This positivist rationalism could easily be associated with nationalism, which is absent in the generous Romanist Curtius and is subtly derided in Panofsky’s polemics, for example when he stresses the indebtedness of Albrecht Dürer’s classicism to Quattrocento Italian artists. The anti-positivist stand, in both Panofsky and Curtius, is manifest above all in their common reliance upon rhetorical notions in describing and understanding the working of the topical and inventive imagination. Both, before any theory, were magnificent performers of what they tried, as historians, to resurrect. Curtius, not only in his correspondence and essays, but in his scientific work as well, is a foremost and virtuoso writer. Panofsky’s own humanity combines moral insight and literary grace: he knows not only how to prove, but how to revive the contradictory human facets of his subjects, their natural evidence. In his magnificent piece about Suger, Panofsky exposes the elusive personality of the Abbot of Saint-Denis to the proof of the different places of human experience, character, temperament, national type, social persona, culture, taste, and his narrative synthesis, imbued with humour and sympathy, equals the art of the best novelists by its power of bringing alive a superb example of balanced and ogival humanity. It is a scientific, literary and moral portrait, it is history, it is history of art, at their best at one and the same time. But Panofsky’s rhetoric was inseparable, like Antique and Renaissance rhetoric he understood as few other did, from the philosophical quest for truth. This philosophical background, far from being impaired by literary skills, is serenely asserted in the concluding chapter of The Meaning in the Visual Arts. Cassirer’s friend quotes Goethe and Kant, and locates himself in a tradition of thought which goes back to Cicero’s New Academy. This tradition allows him to relate artistic and literary invention to the same memory. This memory, vital and ideal at the same time, harbours symbolic forms which may be mirrored in texts as well as in visual works, and generate plastic or literary eloquence. Humanistic emblematic language combined both regimes of expression. The memory-imagination is a store of “universals” which are not deduced from reality, by discursive abstractions, but give form and meaning to nature, through intuitive synthesis. This harvest of mnemonic forms allows a mutual understanding and a reciprocal stimulation between inventors of texts and inventors of images. It implies, between literary texts and visual images, rhetorical operations such as transposition, interpretation, variation and combination.

The description Panofsky gives of the genesis of Dürer’s etchings or drawings does not rely only upon logical deductions: it reconstructs the poetic logic of imaginative invention, according to the four major rhetorical figures: metaphor, metonymy, catachresis, and irony-allegory. The last chapter of The Meaning is the birthplace of Panofsky’s major achievement as a philosopher-historian of art: Idea, a book that fortunately reached France much earlier than its belated translation, in 1983, may let us to believe this. The influence of this book on French literary studies cannot be overstated. It has merged with the influence of the Latinist and Romanist Alain Michel, who has renewed Ciceronian studies along the same line as Panofsky. Since the 19th century the major role of Cicero in the Western tradition has been generally understated, notably in France. Cicero has been viewed as a rhetorician and a translator: he could not be an original thinker. Michel has shown that the Ciceronian synthesis of rhetoric and philosophy, of Aristotle-ism and Platonism, was an original Roman achievement, and a fertile and enduring one. We may now trace, through Renaissance and Renascences, corsi and ricorsi, the seminal and central function of Cicero in the development of Western thought, literature and arts. Vico’s Scienza Nuova has been, in full Quarrel between Ancients and Moderns, the most powerful re-assertor of this humanist tradition. What Panofsky’s Idea revealed to us, was the pregnancy of this tradition and its fertility in European Renaissance Art. Aristotelian pragmatism combined with Platonic idealism, according to the liberal Ciceronian synthesis, allowed experience of the phenomenal world to be enlightened and shaped by proleptic Forms, themselves inherited from the collective experience of Western humanity. These Forms are not a logically deduced system, but a Theater of memory where ingenious invention may find the matter and the models of new ideas, responding accordingly to time, person and place, in the everchanging world of human history. Panofsky insisted upon the aesthetic flexibility of the Ciceronian philosophic rhetoric, able to sustain as well classicism as mannerism. He showed convincingly its liberal and shifting fecundity, capable of thinking unity and multiplicity at the same time. But what emerges from Panofsky’s Idea, as well as from recent French studies on rhetoric, is the common ground that this new understanding of Ciceronism offers for literary and artistic studies. Modern Art theory, in spite of its debt to a poet, Apollinaire, has insisted upon the unbridgeable gulf between plastic and literary forms, between the visible and the word. This view, in a less systematic version, was not unknown to the rhetorical tradition. It is a founding presupposed principle of Ciceronian rhetoric, reasserted by Vico, that human experience ranges well beyond language, and that by its multifaceted and ingenious figures rhetorical invention essays what escapes unilateral words. The visual arts therefore offer another order of figures able to mean what is beyond the reach of words. But artistic invention, unless it claims to be creation ex nihilo, is no less rhetorical than that of the orator or the poet. Their invention draws upon a common mnemonic world of “places,” and symbolic forms, mapping the multiple richness of human experience. And their style, through metaphorical transpositions, may be tasted and evaluated according to analogous standards. At least if we intend to reconstruct the meaning of works, literary or visual, invented according to these rhetorical assumptions, we may and we must learn again how a Rubens painting could resound with Seneca’s Stoic amble or Ovid’s Epicurean savours. Panofsky’s own literary learning and sensitivity plays a major part in his reconstructing the full intended meaning and aesthetics effects of Old Master works.

There are, in the Western tradition, departures from the main Ciceronian line. Panofsky, like Curtius, was perfectly aware of this. Curtius has devoted brilliant pages to the theological domination of 12th and 13th century learning. Panofsky has devoted a major book to the scholastic background of the invention of gothic style. The Cartesian Ego, which pretends to do away with rhetoric, has been the cornerstone of a new rationalist rhetoric, which has been immensely productive, and which is the background of neo-classical aesthetics. The Rimbaldian Je est un autre is no less rhetorical, as Apollinaire’s Peintres cubistes, a topical and tropical text, shows abundantly. But even these departures and ruptures can be measured and understood in relation with, or in reaction against, the main liberal tradition of the West, which after all is best qualified to understand the whole gamut of the human experience, since its central assumption is the infinite variety of humanity and of its access to form in different times, places and persons.

I apologize for this rather too allusive apologetics for a prospective Scienza Nuova of which Panofsky and Curtius have been the forerunners in this century. I would have preferred to content myself with listening to the discourse that the greatest French Warburgian, the late André Chastel, should have delivered today in this room. I hope I have been faithful to the living and burgeoning legacy of these Masters.

Marc FUMAROLI
(last corrections made on September 22, 1993)


The Longer the Wait… Krogold: Triple Celinian Myth

With the publication of La Volonté du Roi Krogold (The Will of Krogold the King), Gallimard has brought Céline’s unpublished works to a close, putting an end to almost ninety years of uncertainty about the adventures of this legendary ruler. This will satisfy Céline aficionados first and foremost, while the uninitiated will find it a little-used gateway. If it is not easy to squeeze through, it nevertheless opens up new and unexpected reading perspectives.

Ecce Krogold! The famous Nordic king that Céline fans have been dreaming of since May 1936, when he made his appearance in Mort à crédit (Death on Credit), the second high point of a prolific body of work that is far more eclectic than the hasty reduction to the author’s regrettable (and condemnable!) ideological blunders generally suggests. Far from being part of the contemporary realist fictions that continue to make Céline so successful, King Krogold is an original figure with a doubly mythical aura, firstly, because the story of which he is the central character draws on a number of legends, episodes and memories, including the Arthurian cycle, the biography of François Villon, the writings of Rabelais and that mythical medieval figure from Breton legend, the Bard with the gouged-out eyes, imprisoned for standing up to Christianization.

The mythical brilliance of Krogold the king, then, manifests itself in the improbability, long persistent, of seizing concretely and in a palpable, “haptic” way an epic which has become, over the decades, as legendary as the collection of a few scraps of narratives that, in spite of everything, have come down to us.

Krogold vs. Gwendor

A reminder: From the moment Céline left his Montmartre apartment for Copenhagen, for fear of paying the price for the political upheaval in France in the wake of Operation Neptune, he never ceased to deplore, with the vehemence often characteristic of his writings since Mea culpa (1936), the theft (or incineration, as the case may be) of what he himself, in a letter to his faithful secretary, Marie Canavaggia, described as “a legend from the operatic Middle Ages.” We need only reread his two great post-war texts, Féerie pour une autre fois (Enchatment for Another Time) and D’un Château l’autre (From one Castle to Another), to be convinced.

The literary merit of Krogold seemed rather light, however: “I was disappointed to read it again. My romance hadn’t stood the test of time,” says the Ferdinand of Mort à credit, and judging by the rejection Céline received from his publisher Robert Denoël in 1933. Yet Denoël had not hesitated to publish L’Église (The Church), a five-act comedy of equally fragile merit, the first version of which had been rejected by Gallimard in 1927, just eleven months after the release of Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night). Literary choice or commercial calculation? In any case, important fragments of the legend were incorporated into the narrative of Mort à crédit, in whose pages King Krogold now runs like a weak, if stubborn, thread. It is as if Céline had sought to tacitly thumb his nose at his publisher.

Despite Ferdinand’s repeated efforts to provide a detailed account, the legend’s developing plot remains rather opaque. However, this has not prevented Celinian scholars, such as the American Erika Ostrovsky, from seeking to unravel the mystery behind it. In 1972, in her contribution to Cahiers de L’Herne, devoted to Céline, Ostrovsky noted that while the legend’s known beginning, the deadly confrontation between King Krogold, “mighty and damned monarch of all the marches of Tierlande” and the felon Gwendor, “grand margrave of the Scythians, Prince of Christiania” (and very secret fiancé of Wanda, Krogold’s only daughter) is “nothing out of the ordinary;” so much so that it “could almost pass for a pastiche of epic novels,” but it is special in that, on a more abstract level, it puts into perspective the defeat of the poetic (of which Gwendor is the embodiment) in the face of the degradation of everyday life, embodied by Krogold; the latter presented by Ostrovsky as an “executioner.”

Royal Magnanimity, Poetic Vagabondage

Although the idea of an antagonism between poetry and daily life is resistant to over-hasty expeditions, the development proposed by Ostrovsky half a century ago now requires nuance and even revision, particularly in the contortionist reading she gives King Krogold. This reassessment is all the more necessary given that, thanks to the recent publication by Gallimard of rediscovered pages, Céline enthusiasts and others can now look at a whole series of scenes and tableaux, differently elaborated, The common theme is the equipment of the legendary King Krogold (there is no need to go back over the incredible circumstances which, in the summer of 2021, saw the reappearance of the famous Céline manuscripts, stolen during the Liberation and thought to be lost forever, as well as the medico-judicial soap opera which has been making keyboards clack ever since).

First observation: the material of Le Roi Krogold gave birth to two distinct texts under Céline’s pen, La Volonté du Roi Krogold (a manuscript found in 1939/40) and La Légende du Roi René (an earlier version based on a typescript dated 1933/34). The former is presented by the collection’s editor, Véronique [Robert-] Chovin, as a rewrite of the latter. The numerous thematic parallels that emerge from one plot to the next support this assertion.

Second observation: the elements on which these two versions are based take off from very different starting points. One is based on the defeat of Prince Gwendor’s army by the victorious troops of King Krogold. Impaled by an enemy spear, Gwendor faces death from which, in a classic dialogue, he vainly seeks to obtain “one day… two days…” of reprieve. When the inhabitants of Christianie learn of the defeat of their protector Gwendor and the imminent arrival of King Krogold, they decide, in order to appease the latter’s a priori devastating grudges, not to prostrate themselves before the victor and offer him the city’s treasures, as might be expected, but instead to meet him by—dancing. This unusual stratagem had once saved the city from the advancing regiments of the Great Turk. Given the historical context of the writing, it is obviously tempting to read the advance of these armed troops as an allusion to the invasions (sometimes camouflaged as annexation) carried out by the Wehrmacht.

Alas! King Krogold is no connoisseur of dance. Indeed, he puts the harmless “dancers of the rigodon” to the sword. And yet, once he has entered the city, he heads straight for the cathedral and, while keeping his foot in the stirrup, throws his sword over a huge, panic-stricken crowd that has taken refuge under the nave’s vaults, “right up to the altar step.” This gesture of almost cinematic royal indulgence is greeted by jubilant singing, thanksgiving and even the appearance of an angel expressly sent down from heaven. Thus closes this first narrative, with its chivalric, popular and Christian overtones.

It is joined by another; this time centered on the wanderings of a trouvère, named Thibaut in René but Tébaut in Krogold. This vagabond poet with not-so-Catholic impulses seeks to join the victorious king (Krogold or René, respectively) in the North, to accompany him on his crusade. His itinerary takes him from Charente to Brittany, and in particular to Rennes, where—depending on the version of the legend—he is either about to be thrown into prison after narrowly escaping lynching by an excited mob (Krogold), or to stop off at the brothel where he casually abuses a prostitute (René). In both versions of the legend, however, he becomes the murderer of Prosecutor Morvan, president of the parliament of Brittany and father of Joad, Thibaut/Tébaut’s traveling companion secretly in love with Wanda, the king’s daughter. It is good to set up these triangles of conflict from the outset.

The Underpinnings of a Work

Make no mistake, however: Krogold, far from being an entertaining fabliau, is probably Céline’s most complicated text; René is a sort of first draft written in a French that is, if not academic, at least linguistically more accessible. In fact, these are pages not finalized by the author, with all that this implies of doubles, repetitions, unfinished business, which all very quickly causes a feeling of saturation, but also fatigue. At the same time, these pages are undoubtedly the most interesting and richest among the bundles of manuscripts found.

On the one hand, because together with the snippets of the legend inserted in Guerre (War) and Londres (London), (Gallimard, 2022), the other two recently exhumed unpublished works, they allow us to measure the important weight that throughout the 1930s, Céline gave to the possibility of giving birth to a medieval fantasy legend. That Krogold the King cannot be reduced to a unifying element of Mort à crédit, that he is much more than a mere vanishing point for Céline’s post-war rantings, constantly raising the specter of spoliation, which we now know were not completely aberrant, The major merit of this collection, published by Gallimard under the full title of La Volonté du Roi Krogold, followed by La Légende du Roi René, is that it does indeed create a coherent whole, the hitherto unexploited underbelly of a work that has been widely commented on for almost ninety years.

One of the things we need to look at is how this legend relates to Céline’s polemical writings. After all, the date chosen for the recovered manuscript is 1939/40. In the chronology of Céline’s publications, this corresponds to the period between the publication of L’École des cadavres (School for Corpses), (November 1938) and the release of Les Beaux Draps (The Fine Sheets), (February 1941). But Bagatelles pour un massacre (Trifles for a Massacre), published in December 1937, already invokes the Middle Ages, presenting ballet librettos populated by legendary characters and deliberately drawing on medieval imaginary.

We should also take a closer look at the legend’s many references to Christianity and its key concepts of blasphemy, sin, repentance, mercy and forgiveness, practices whose density is just as unusual here, as the invocation of a united Christianity is absent from the rest of the work—apart from Mea culpa.

“I am Celt”

On the other hand, it is undoubtedly in the linguistic contributions that the primary interest of the recovered pages lies. The few journalistic accounts published to date have made this clear. In the April 27 issue of La Croix, Fabienne Lemahieu writes of a “medieval Nordic tale with accents of Old French;” Alexis Brocas in the May issue of Lire/Magazine littéraire points to a “cousinly relationship between Céline’s language and that of the medieval Rabelais and Villon;” and David Fontaine in the May 10 issue of Le Canard enchaîné describes the Céline of Krogold as an “alchemist of style, [who] intends to resurrect medieval French.”

A single passage illustrates these observations: “The Queen in her finest attire, followed by her ladies and pages, slowly approached and descended the long marble steps. ‘Sir Knight, what would you have us give you?’ ‘Victory! Victory!’ he shouted ever louder, raising his hand to his chest to show his pure heart. ‘Victory? Victory? That it shall be [quickly]! But is not the King wounded? I had a sad dream… a fearful reverie yester night…’ ‘Nothing betides the King, my lady! Nothing betides the King! Apart from a mere wheal, a niggling scuff that his majesty little heeds.’ ‘You tell me so much, Sir Knight!’…’Excelras has won my wager!’”

While work on language is obviously one of the major constants in Céline’s work, his interest in pre-classical turns of phrase in this excerpt is not only in keeping with his well-known abomination of so-called academic French, but also reflects a more assertive approach to a linguistic (and hence literary) genealogy that emphasizes the Celtic heritage of the French language. At the expense of the Greek and Latin legacies advocated by the codifiers of classical French. It would probably be instructive to reread André Thérive’s Libre histoire de la langue française (Stock, 1954) to grasp the full ideological dimension behind this artistic approach.

“The intoxication of this existence must one day cease…”

Last but not least, Céline devotees will find it hard to pass up this collection which, in addition to the two versions of the legend, includes a rich appendix of all the passages in the work that can be associated, in one way or another, with the legend of Krogold the King: from Mort à crédit to D’un Château l’autre, via Guerre, Londres and Féerie pour une autre fois. A contextualizing essay by archivist and historian Alban Cerisier provides a more concrete account of the forces expressed in these two medievalist narratives. Although we are unaware of the legend’s “incompleteness,” “each scene offers, with the author’s ironic finesse and great humor, a variation on man’s relationship with his finitude.”

The aforementioned mythical dimension of the Krogold legend is further enhanced by the fact that it has remained incomplete and fragmentary, and that its material has somehow resisted literary form. But is not this a guarantee of its “legitimacy?” After all, how many medieval legends have come down to us without gaps?


Maxim Görke teaches in the German Department, at the University of Strasbourg.


Featured: King William I, folio 33 of Liber legum antiquorum regum, British Library, Cotton MS Claudius D. II, 14th century. [This article appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.]


Flos Triticum

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Wheat Flower erat in villa mea pulcherrima puella. Alta, bene erecta, pulchroque sui fiducia gradiens, Clara risum splenduit campis, alta viarum Vendée secat silvas. Cum primis tepidis veris diebus albedo lactea cutis, lentigines sidere punctis

Rustici dicebant: Dominus bonus manipulum furfure in faciem proiecit.

Furfur et farina, ut videtur, nam facies eius sub radiis solis tam alba manebat ac si tritico oppessato pulvere inspergeretur. Hinc cognomen fortasse, vel rufis fortasse capillis Debebat, fulvis magis aequantibus ocellis. Dedit unam impressionem omnium pulcri auri-brunnei toni maturi tritici. Wheat Flower pulcher erat, et hoc sciebat, quia sic tota die narrabatur.

Vir agris non longe abhorret. Sensus eius estheticus non est idem cum nostro. Non linea, forma, gratia formae moventis movetur, sed colore afficitur potenter, sicut omnes quos humanitas non excoluit. Wheat Flower igitur est coloris animali, voluptatem igitur audiendi se pulchram praedicabat, et ad propulsandam lasciviam, interdum robustiores blanditias, virilis iuventutis usque ab Sainte Hermine in Chantonnay. Florem, ubi vis, ibi congregabuntur apes. Ubicumque occurristi pulchritudinis, videbis homines ad pabulandum venientes, oculis et manibus et labiis. Inter urbem et patriam est sola differentia occasus.

Cuius fama ultra pagi fines propagata, Wheat Flower habebat admirantium turbas quae in vicinia per multos dies non visa sunt. Superbia eius in oculis suis praestringitur, et si ad Cleopatram, in quem spectata mundi obtutus dicta esset, non esset certum, quod regina Aegyptia plus prodesse putasset. Rus ancilla. Quam ob rem laudo, quod multam adorantium enumerare stulte lusum est. Regina autem mortua erat et puella rustica: optimum omnium argumentum.

Fabulae iucunda pars est, Wheat Flower, dum se ab omnibus admirari, et invidisse omnibus foeminis, animum suum fidum amico, qui noverat conciliare, in quo egregie a Cleopatra differebat. Ille autem amicus, quoniam ad confessionem tandem veniendus est, nullus alius fuit quam humilis servus tuus. Condonari possim istius advocationis superbiam: Wheat Flower amavi, et Wheat Flower sentiebat de me, quod exhibere minime nolebat. Sequebam eam circa prata cum cane suo “Rubrum Udones,” sic dicta propter quatuor fulvos manus, et dum grex nimis inepte pascebatur ultra limitem ruris custodiae, narravi ei omnia de Nannetensi, ubi. hiemem habui. Obstupui ex libris meis fabulis, aut mecum de animalibus, quid egerunt, quid sentirent, mecum locuta est; quae mihi narravit extraordinarias fabulas. Proximae sibi erant animae nostrae, non eadem pectora nostra dicam, nam tristis amor nostri pars erat, heu, viginti sex vel septem, si starem in gradu. Hoc non difficile est, alterutrum tamen alterum amplecti. Postmodum intellexi meam fortunam.

Nostri optimi dies erant in tempore messis. Nondum rus invaserat fumus arenae machinae nefandus. Scibis adhuc in usu erat. Luce prima viri ac feminae in partes divisae areae circuire incipiebant, motusque eorum numeroso impetu lignei flagelli, humi stramentis obvoluti; pars quadrille sensim cederet, media pars paulatim procederet. Necessitas observandi, et conatus silere deiectos. Sed quam cachinnus et cantus motus cum pice lignea subiguntur, positis paleis! Aspiciet instratam messoribus meridiana torva solis humum, fallaxque timet rusticus umbram. Ad ictum campanae, sonorus concentus scloporum iterum undique aerem replebat.

Ad vesperum erant choreae et carmina in quibus Wheat Flower excellebat. Sciebat omnis regionis illius cantus, et nasi, indocta voce canebat, delectamentum rusticae auris, poemata ingenua, in quibus “Filius Regis”, “Luscinia” et “Ros” in phantasmatibus apparuerunt; laeta vel tristis. Vatem loci etiam de Wheat Flower, carmen liberioris et liberioris dialecti, fecerat, cuius cantilena florem triticum sub messe flagelli dedere segetem dicebat. Wheat Flower sine pudore falso cantu celebravit se, et erant denique iurgia, si quidam adulescentuli per iocum crederent in agendo abstinentiam ponere.

Serius vel serius, Wheat Flower sub messoris flagello tenebatur. Atque hic lectoris animum ad hanc fabulam voco, cuius meritum est omnium fabulae. Nullius enim maioris erroris scio, quam ut singula- rum rerum casus opinari soleant, quae faciunt vitam iucundam. Si quis inspiciat, reperietur vere mirabilia ea esse quae nobis cotidie accidunt, eaque duella, sica, etiam autocineta, odio comitante, invidia, proditione, amore, perfidia, re vera vulgaria eveniunt. In enorme vitae communis a nativitate ad mortem.

Ut sine ulla nostra voluntate ad huius mundi conscientiam adferamus, fatali concatenatione gaudiorum ac dolorum subiaceat fortunae periculo, et finem in tarda corruptione, quae nos ad antecedentem statum reducit. Nostri, nonne hoc summum casus est? Quid magis opus est ut miremur? Quidam, qui pessimistae vocantur, quodam murmure accipiunt. Alii, optimates existimati, tantam fortunam considerant, ut ad eam per consolationem studiose addant somnium coelestis adventus, quem quisque liberet exornare quantum libet.

Wheat Flower eius mentem non ullo ex hoc vexavit. Viginti erat illa, eo occupatior. Audivit vocem adulescentiae suae sicut praegressae feminae et quae sequuntur eam in terra. In campis, natura tam propinqua, homines minime impediti sunt conventionibus socialibus magis minusve phantasticis, quae humanas necessitudines moderari incipiunt inter duas creaturas, inter se esurientes et sitientes.

Peculiare genus placentae, quae “échaudé” dicitur, praecipuum est fructus industriae meae villae: placentam ex farina et ovis, delectabilem recentem e clibano, sed gravem et gravem sititatis causa, tempore procedente per bracchium usque ad Niortum, Rupellam seu Fontenay. Noctu vehitur vectura longis bigis ab equina trahentibus, cuius tarda et stabilis incessus saxa somnos agitatoris et mulieris comitantis praeesset ad vendendum placentas. Hae plostra terribilia internuntius sunt. Odor filicis periculi plenus est. Iacent duo somno pariter, sub dio. Non semper dormiunt, etiam post longum diem laborem. Forum oppidum procul abest. Inhumani censoresque moenibus suis quattuor inclusi sunt. Temptatio augetur per succussos qui unum contra alterum proiciunt. Quare resistendum est, cum tandem cedendum sit?

Wheat Flower, qui in his liba locupletis domestici mangonis elaboraverat, diem unum egregium ei “dominum” duxit, postquam ei dedit, nemine mirante, duo certa argumenta dociliorum ad gaudium ac munia maternitas. Proximi ruri narrabunt nihil esse extra ordinem in vita. Vir eius tantum diebus dominicis post vesperas, quando nimium biberat, eam verberavit, nec plus vindicavit in eum, quam necesse fuit ut extraneis ostenderet quod ultimum verbum non haberet.

Post aliquantum temporis spatium iterum eam vidi. Manipulus farinae et furfures adhuc erat ibi. Lustrabant oculi, crinemque tenus ardentibus alis tena ardent. Sed mihi visus eius aspectus acutior, iamque labiorum curva taedium prodidit vitae. Pulchellus adhuc nomen ei adhaesit, sed flos florem amiserat. Illa adhuc risit, sed iam non canebat. Ad eam Fortuna venerat, annuli fibulae, torques aureae testatae. Diebus dominicis gerebat pallium sericum et praecinctorium ad ecclesiam, et librum deauratum portabat, rem utilem etiam ab iis qui legere non possunt, cum eis satisfaciat ad excitandam invidiam proximi.

Visitatio mea ad pagum iam brevis et longe distans factus erat. Longe longe vixissemus, cum quadam die ei occurrisset, in una nostra alta via secat, ad pascuum ducentem vaccam. Senex, annosa, fracta, obsoleta mulier. Curabitur ut cessavimus. Mortuus est autem vir suus et reliquerat eam bonis, sed filii instarent ut omnia eis traderet. Dixeruntque “ad notarii” eius salarium se habituros.

“Debeo statuere animum ut faciam” finivit cum gemitu. “Credisne me heri verberare appropinquasse filium meum, eo quod nolui dicere necne?”

Decem amplius anni transierunt. Quodam die, cum per vicinum vicinum iret, mihi monstratum est gurgustium ruinae, et dicebatur “barbotte” ibi suos dies finire. Wheat Flower non fuit. Illa nunc erat “Barbotte” a nomine mariti sui Barbot.

Intravi. In media luce videre potui, sub reliquiis veteris pallii, caput quassans vetulae mulieris, facie siccante, retorrida membrana, oculis duobus flavis transfixis, in quibus obscurissima oculorum vestigia obdormierunt. Vicinus mihi narravit omnia de eo. Liberi non perstiterunt, quod nemo miratur. Res erat usitata. Aliquando, attulerunt ei frustum panis, interdum pulmentum, aut frusta ciborum die dominico, post missam. Anus infirma erat, et aegre se habebat. Putabatur autem servus semel in die venire et videre eam. Saepe oblitus est.

“Cur non querar?”, dixi inconsiderate.

“Dixit quodam die notarium mittere. Verberavit pro eo. Et quis vellet accipere nuntium suum? Nemo studet inimicis facere. Iam liberi eius nulli satis placebant ut quisquam intraret tuguriolum. Nolunt homines rebus suis miscere.”

Per hunc sermonem lacrimae lucebant in oculis nictantes flavo. “The Barbotte” me agnovit.

“Noli me turbari” dixit tenui voce timorem verberum prodidisse. “Nihil egeo. Pueri mei valde benigni sunt. Veniunt quotidie. Forsitan sis sicut ceteri, domine, putes me tempus grave in manibus meis invenire. Scisne quid agam, cum ego hic solus sum? Cano. In corde meo omnia carmina antiquitatis oblitus sum eorum et nunc revertuntur ad me tota die illa cantabo sine ullo sonitu et intus cano in medio eorum cum ego omnia complevi, iterum incipio. Est sicut grana mea narrans. Ridiculum est, annon?”

Et ridere conata.

“Monsieur le curé me obiurgat”, iterum sumpsit. “Vellet me dicere vota mea. Sed preces non prius institui quam carmina redire. Non possum. Meministine, nonne tu, Filius Regis?’ O filius regis! et ‘Luscinia?’ et ‘Rose?’ Tibi unum cantare volo, clare, pro meo animo. Quis? ‘Flos triticum!’ Flos triticeus! Ah… ” Cantare videbatur, sed inde fluens exclamavit: “Vexillum messoris venit. Frumentum sublatum est. Nihil restat nisi palea… et hoc male laeditur. Nimium trituratum est… Carissime domine, qui omnia nosti, potesne mihi dicere quare venimus in hunc mundum?

“Aliud dicam tibi, mi amice, cum iterum venero.”

Sed numquam recesserunt.

1920.


Featured: A Seated Peasant Woman, by Camille Pissarro; painted in 1885.


Mirum-Vultus Homo

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Parvus vicus inter montes villae iacebat, ex qua quadriennio ad pugnam egressi sunt. Primo ierant optimi viri, deinde senes, deinde iuvenes, postremo pueri ludi. Videbitur neminem in villa remanere nisi pervetustis ac imbecillis corporis, qui mox exstinctus est, propter rei publicae belli rationem, ut pereat inutilis quo plus escae esset utilior.

Contigit autem omnibus hominibus praeterquam quod remanserant in tarta fame, pauci redierunt, pauci vero debiles et variis modis deformati. Iuvenis unus tantum partem faciei habebat, et pictam larvam stanneam induerat, sicut festus fabricator. Alius duo crura habebat sine bracchia, alius duo bracchia sed non crura. Vix unus a matre aspici poterat, exstinctis oculis de capite, donec instare morti aspiceret. Non bracchia, non crura, furens insuper aerumna, totumque diem in cunis velut infans iacebat. Erat autem ille senex admodum, qui nocte ac die strangulatus a veneni vapore; et alius juvenculus, qui, sicut folium in alto vento, a concharum concussione concussit, et ad sonum clamavit. Et ipse quoque manum et partem faciei amiserat, etsi non satis larvam ei sumptum ad warantizandum.

Hos omnes, praeterquam qui sui horrore extorres erant, ingeniosis adjumentis instructos, ut partim se sustentarent, et de tributis, quae victae genti onerabant, satis mereretur.

Ire per illum pagum post bellum erat quasi perambulans viculum vitae mediocris cum omnibus figuris mechanicis glomeratis et strepitantibus. Tantum pro figuris novis, hilaresque et bella, quassata et deridicula et inhumana.

Forent molendinum, et ferrariam, et domum publicam. Ordo casularum, villa, ecclesia, cataractae scintillantes, campi multicolores diffunduntur instar collium panniculorum, volucrum pompae, caprae et vaccae, etsi non multae postremae. Fuerunt mulieres, et cum eis aliqui pueri; perpaucae tamen, quia rationabiles feminae erant, et iam nollent habere filios, qui eis inermes ac furiosi aliquando remitti possent, in cunis gestari, fortasse multos annos.

Adhuc juniores, molliores impulsu, pepererunt aut duas. Horum unus, secundo belli anno natus, tribus admodum flavis et globulus scelestus fuit, truculento aere et piratico ingenio. Sed eae notae pueris satis teneris annis ineunt, et fuit quasi ludicra vicus, hic, illic, et ubique, in familiarissimis belli naufragiis, quod reipublicae gubernatio fecerat.

Ille in stagno quaesivit larvam et crus pistoris mechanicum ludebat, ita indulgens illi libidini suae; et saxum superflue oblectabat cunabula hominis, qui sine membris erat, et patrem.

In ac foras cucurrit, et flexis adsuevit. Alii amisisset filium, alii filium habere posset, si mundus aliter discessisset. Aliis brevis umbra futuri sine spe evasit; aliis tamen diversitas horae. Hoc maxime verum erat de caeco, qui ad fores suae veteris matris casae scopae ligaturae sedit. Praesentia pueri visa est ei sicut calidum solis radium per manum incidens, et eum ad morandum alliceret permittens tentare magnas caeruleas goggles quas in publico optime gestare invenit. Nulla tamen deformitas vel deformitas homunculi hominem terrere visus est. Haec ab infantia prima ludibria.

Quodam mane, mater, lotis vestibus occupata, eum solum reliquerat, confidens se mox aliquod fragmentum militis amicissimum quaesiturum, et usque ad meridiem et inedia se oblectaturum. Aliquando autem pueri habent notiones impares, et contrarium eorum quae quis supponit.

Hac aestate praeclaro mane puer solitariam vagari in ripa montis fluvii existimabat. Vage lacunam altius sursum petere voluit, et in eo lapides ejicere. Nunc in parvas valles, vel anates vias persequentes, lente errabat. Ante decem, quam virides nitentes spumeusque lacusque desuper adeptus erat, canae saxi delapsus in umbram, ter cui pinus in novo vertice plana flectitur aura. Sub illis, aspiciens puerum quasi nubem albam in viridi coelo, stabat juvenis pulcher, qui divei in meram ripam libratus. Vno momento ibi constitit umbra et sole obsita, proxime ita perite ediderat ut vix aquam circum se spargeret. Tum atro rorante caput constitit, micatque bracchia fixo navit ad litora. Alius divei scopulum conscendit. Has actiones in puro lusu et vitae laetitia repetivit toties ut spectatoris eius vertiginis excubiae fierent.

Tandem ille satis procubuit abiectis vestibus. Hos in occultiore loco gerebat, celeriter indutus, puer luscus et mirabundus, quippe qui multa in animo haberet.

Duo bracchia, duo crura habebat, totum vulto oculis, naso, os, mento, auribus, plenum. Videbat enim eum vestitum perstrinxisse. Loqui poterat, magna canebat. Audire poterat, nam cito ad stridorem columbarum alarum post se deflexerat. Pellis eius toto orbe teres erat, nusquam in eo atro coccineo tabulae, quas in brachiis, facie, et pectore exustis puer reperit. Non omne strangulavit pusillum, aut insano tremit, et ad sonum clamat. Vere inexplicabile, ideoque terribile.

Incipiente puero ad nutantem, tremefacit, matrem suam circumspectat, adulescens eum animadvertit.

“Bene!” avide clamabat, “si puer non est!”

Accessit per pontem peditem gratissimo risu, hoc enim primum illo die, quem puerum viderat, et mirum putabat, tam paucos natos esse in valle, ubi, cum haberet. Ante quinquennium ita fuerat, ut vix tot denarios invenire potuissent. Itaque “Salve,” inquit, “laete, et in loculos scrutatus est.”

At stupefactus puer flavos puerulus perterritus exclamavit in arma propere ad puellam confugit. Illa eum evidenti subsidio amplexa est, atque in eum modum objurgationis et deliciarum largiebatur, cum viator accessit, quasi laesus affectus.

“Mana mehercules,” inquit, “me modo filiolo tuo hos denarios dare voluisse.” Inspiciebat se admirationis. “Quid in terris est de me ut puerum terreat?” queritur quesiuit.

Utroque indulgens risit rustica virgo, ingemuitque puer, vultumque in oram abdidit, et in puero perplexum et formosum adulescentem.

“Est quia invenit Herr hospes tam inusitatus,” inquit, flectens. “Parvus est,” inquit, exiguitatem gestus ostendit, “et est primum totum hominem videri.”

(1917)


Featured: Untitled, by Gustav Wunderwald; painted ca. 1940s.

Iter et adventures baronis Trump et canis mirandus Bulger—V

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CAPUT VI.

Redeundo a primo meo itinere ad terras longinquas, senior baro et fidelis sponsus, dilecta mater mea, subsecuta omnes hospites hospicii, occurrerunt me Bulgerum et me ad portam exteriorem, et cum illa indomita et indomita laetitia domum nos excepit. Quae sola Germanorum corda capaces sunt.

Senior baro bracchia circa collum meum jactavit, et oblitus rei me mediae magnitudinis, me penitus de terra levavit in irrationabili gaudio cordis patris, me pene suffocans.

Calcavi fortiter, sed, mollia pedum orientalium meorum calceamentorum sensi percepi, quominus intelligam eum ieiunum me suffocantem ad mortem.

Animadvertit tandem pia mater, quod me in facie nigrescere, et crurum prehendere, me deorsum traxit ab amplexu periculoso, quo me senior baro obvolvit. Non tamen, donec ovum patris mei Nuremberg in frontem protuberantem graviler perforasset, aliam gibba in agro iam aspero addens. Quo animadverso senior baro famulum suum ad diaetam suam emisit cum mandatis ut quaereret cistam medicam pro lagena volatilis lini. Quod illatum laesionem solvendi cupidus, acrem liquorem torrens in oculos fudit, meque intensum dolorem effecit. Hanc vero meam rubeam et inflammatam conditionem tenentibus ac clientibus affectui meo attribuit, post tam longam absentiam intrantibus in aulam baroniam iterum.

Huiusmodi casus minime paenituit, nam cum in promptu animi mei genere, quem aliqui semper tenent, opponor, nobili et gravi lacrimarum usu nihil obiicio.

Supervacuum est dicere quod omne corpus gaudebat videre Bulgerum. Multitudine, pulchritudine et intelligentia invenerunt omnes.

Hoc totum obsequium cum dignitate conspicuum excepit.

Ad turbam vero illius disciplinae ac temperantiae, quam sibi constantem ac fidum sui domini comparaverat, turbam moveret, tot aestus ac delicata offensa, quae illi offerebant, minime tangere recusavit. Ceteri canes in rabiem ruentes cibo quem noluerant permoleste neglexerunt.

Lorem ipsum dolor erat ipsum.

Paucis interiectis diebus omnia sub baroniali tecto ad solitam quietem consederant. Ad vesperas transivi narrationes multarum rerum, quas in foris videram.

Ad haec subsellia pauci ex senioribus et secretioribus domestici servi admissi sunt.

Ea bona mater collocavit in semicirculo post cathedras baronis majoris et hospitum suorum. Ego cum Bulgero iuxta latus meum occupavi gradum, vel ad latus mensae sedens curiositates meas tenentes, vel stantem ante auditores meos in loco facili, dum eas narrando tenebam alligari.

Unum erat quod me anxium erat, et hoc erat: Quomodo senior baro recipiet annunciationem intentionis meae ut iterum exiturus, ante plures lunas?

Ad magnam admirationem et delectationem meam ne exspectes quidem me ut mea consilia cognosceret.

Dum in bibliotheca mea sedet, quodam die perferens rarissimum librum peregrinationis quam nuper emeram, lenem ad ianuam sonum effecit Bulgerum, ut caput levaret et rugirem humilem redderet.

“Venient in!” dixi ego.

Is erat maior baronum.

“Te turbare!” orsus.

“Habes hoc, baro,” respondi, blando risu; “Sede, quaeso.”

Et hoc dicens, disposui pellem pulcherrimi et rarissimi animalis, quod in foris occideram, ut faceret sedem commodam seniori baroni in conopeo.

“Fili mi!” Dixit baro, “Venio ad te offerendum hoc parvum signum a domino nostro clementissimo imperatore.”

Levavi oculos meos.

In manu insignium Magnae Crucis Vermiculi Cincture gerebat.

Vitrum in mensa posui.

“Parvus baro,” inquit, pater, “Conplacui tibi.”

Humilem adorationem feci.

“Ora omnia mirabilia tua casus implent. Novum decus familiae posuisti nomen tuum, et venio ad excitandam te de apparentia tua desidia. Faciendum sit et excute hanc socordiam, quae tibi singulis horis transeuntibus auctam obtinebit potestatem. Te novi expectant triumphi. Egredere iterum. De viis declinate. Mira et mirabilia quaere. Sed antequam exponis, pergameni huius voluminis contenta expende. Multos ante annos, cum primum ad genam meam descenderat humanitas, et antequam vitae onera gravarentur animae meae, reperi in humidis et atroces antra vetusti Romani Coenobii, quam pestilens aeris incusat. Palus exinanita inquilinis. Vestigia tua ad res novas et iucundus convertat!”

Gaudium patris mei verbis ac diligentiam cognoscendi contenta rotuli pergameni aegre celans, salutationem reddidi senioris baronis cum honore notabili, et discessit.

Lectorem pene anhelantem, qua volumini evolvimus, certiora non indigeo.

Lingua Latina erat, et scribae opus erat.

Atramentum aliquantum evanuerat, sed etiam in locis ubi penitus evanuerat, ope lentis validae facile verba lineas in membrana exaratas a puncto calami indagare potui.

Exemplar diurnae Romanae vetustae seu Acta Diurna fuit ac diem ferebant respondentem nostro anno quadragesimo quinto ante tempus praesens.

Florebat Caesar in potestate sua.

Pax regnavit, artes floruerunt. Romae, medium orbis terrarum, domicilium magnificentiae ac magnificentiae fuit, quam quod procul oculis hominum aspexerant.

Quae in hoc exemplari Acta Diurnae peractae sunt magnae rei gestae diurnae magni iudicii quae Romae peractae sunt, in qua septem statuarii notati damnati sunt veneficii formosae ancillae nomine Paula, cum singulas simulacrum perfecisset. Ea, ne qua alii statuarii unquam ad hoc uti possint.

Judices in eos sententiam mortis pronuntiaverunt: sed pro tantis meritis Caesar ad decorandam civitatem, supplicium de morte in longum exilium mutaverat.

Septem statuarii in triremis imperialis ad longinquam insulam in mari Australi devecti erant. Ut in hoc exemplari Acta Diurna erat ultima pars agri Romani imperii ad meridiem vergens.

Ad insulam remotissimam imperii Romani medianorum.

Accedit imperatoria clementia coniuges liberosque damnatorum statuariorum concessum, ut maritos patresque suos in atrocem exilium sequerentur.

Cum omnia perlegerem minutissima huius tanti sceleris et tam horrendi eventus, inveni sanguinem meum per venas furiali impetu currere. Ibam pavimentum tam rapido et nervoso gradu et trepidatione tam conspicuum in vultu meo, ut e reveretione mea excitatus sum anxia stridatione Bulgeri, qui me sequebatur circa cubiculi mei calcem.

Cur non quaeramus hanc insulam longinquam, ad quam hi septem statuarii ac familiae iussu Caesaris magni transportati sunt?

Forsitan in illa longinqua insula habitat genus hominum, qui, oblitus orbis, oblivio, insuetis moribus ac peculiaribus institutis ita interest, ut me ad omnia pericula transeundo ignara maria curram. Et declinans ab Oceano semitas.

Forsitan et posteri eorum adhuc supersint?

Haec idea totum meum nunc occupavit esse.

Somnus esse non potest.

Absit in noctem, prisca perspicio chartis.

Dum alta silentia tectis involvunt baronia, elaboravi animo, vel potius elaboraret animus, quem persequar cursum.

Nam mea semper consuetudo fuit, ut numquam insolubilem solvere tentarem. Re quidem vera primum compertum feci impedimentum aliquod a me impedire cum arcanis mentis operibus tendere potius suam actionem impedire.

Ita lucem placide expectavi.

Pervenit tandem.

Oculos claudens, oculis meis internis videre poteram mappam orbis orientis exaratam in candenti, lineas meridianas in atramento.

Atque ibi etiam viderem cursum meum discoloribus lineis igneis designatum.

Voce magna, tinnitu gaudii ad pedes meos prosilui et exclamavi: “Miram insulam hanc inveniam! Portas austri recludam maria! Inspiciam interfectores Paulae posteros!

“Veni, Bulger! Discedite! Discedite!”

Praecipitans iussa parentibus, ipse me in ephippia fixi, et, ense croupe tutoque Bulger, in Mediterranei litora furens proripuit.

“Filius baronis rursus insanus est!” exclamaverunt rustici, praetervolantes villas suas.

Tribus diebus steti super navi vasis mei.

In mandatis meis obtemperans, manu magistri gubernacula restitit.

Tota illa die stantem oculis in littus defixit, aliquid enim ei dixit me procul abesse non posse.

Omnia in promptu erant usque ad ultimum buccellatum.

Bulger et ego transivi per rail, bona mea navis rotunda ad ventum, et emicuit quasi res vitae.

Sanguis in venis tinctus caeruleis adspectus undis, Candida vela dedit.

Bulger in rabiosis ludis et auriculae latrat Saevit satis.

Fuit certe auspicatum.

Relicto navi ad maritum imperium, dux me in casulam adjunxit, ubi ei consilium meum explicavi navigandi in maria australi ad insulam diu oblitam quaerendam.

Festinavit chartulam suam evolvere et spectacula aptare, ut insulae locum cum latitudine et longitudine darem.

Fac trepidi paene, cum ei indicavi solum argumentum me esse talem insulam brevitatem in ephemeride Romana antiquitatis fuisse mentionem.

Num me insanire?

Nihilne magis vitae curavi quam abicere in tam stulte suscepto?

An nesciebam rabiem immanis Typhonis, fraudem abditi scopuli, pondus aquosi montes, quae nobis strata ruerent?

Poteratne sperare nautas ire ubi non erat recordatio periculosissimi nautae praeteritorum saeculorum umquam aquam arasse?

Risi.

“Magister,” inquam, post silentium temporis, “navis haec mea est, et iurasti mihi ut vero navita servire, sed si virtus tua te defecerit, in primo portu quem facimus exiens eris. Vade!”

“Immo parvus baro,” exclamavit nauclerus, “Iam sententiam tuam tentabam. Si audes in ignota navigare freta, audeo te sequi, veni, serenas lucidas undas placidasque ferat tibi nimbos et fulmina venti!

Senis manum excussi et eum ornare iussit, nam ad vigilias meos, primum in tribus septimanis, ad ultimum somnum venerat, et solus esse volebam.

Paucis diebus transivimus fretum Gaditanum, et ad meridiem venimus, in conspectu Africae tunicam habentes.

Praeteriebam me in Latino sermone perficiendo, ac saepe vehementissimas protestationes a Bulgero appellando in ea lingua evocavi, et utens in auditorio quodam, ante quod orationes meas promulgavi et expolivi eos.

Sola clausula nunc nobis erant aquae vel commeatus.

Luce et luce stellata mea praecordia navis cursum suo claudit, quasi quidam amicae nereides ad puppim impellentes. Longis vigiliis noctis in cubili recumbam et fingebam mihi illam Romanam triremem, septem illos exules cum dilecta terra sempiterno a carissimo parente suscepisse.

Priusquam alia luna sub vesperam lunam inflexisset, ad promunturium venissemus, atque in ancoras venissemus, quo navim nostram diligentissime traheremus, priusquam in meridiem iret.

Hoc complures dies occupaverunt.

Urebam moras.

Ter in die dominum navis meae ad casulam vocavi eumque hortatus sum ut properaret. Patientissime mecum tulit, cor saltum dedit, cum tandem dominum iubere vela vela dare.

Nautae canebant et schedulae in summa nixae in navi nixae erant.

“Quomodo illam capiam, parve baro?” dominum rogat, manus ad pileum elevata.

“Mortuus ad meridiem!” respondi.

Constitit, traiecit.

Promontorium nos circumituros putaverat, et solitum cursum ad Indos sequendum.

Movet labra quasi ad recusabo.

Praecidi tamen unda manu.

Complures nautae, pallorem conspicati, qui vultum principis invaserat, appropinquaverunt et aspicientes nos, semianimis admirantes, percontando steterunt.

“Dux!” dixi placide, sed satis clarae satis audiri a circumstantibus in coetu prope, “pistolae meae factae sunt ab armigero Imperatoris. Ignis numquam deesset. Inveniam te unum punctum orientis et occidentis meridionalis orientis vel occidentis cursum mutans te in vestigiis tuis te necabo!”

Hoc dicens, abiit.

Et ex hoc tempore omnia opera bona sunt.

Dominus navis me iudicatum est iter habere, etsi vitam perdideram, et ille cessit.

Conversus ad catervam nautarum clamavi, “Mille ducatos homini qui terram primus vidit.”

Magnanimus clamor aerem discidit, et vocato Bulgerum ad me sequendum, infra ad cogitandum ivi.

Illa nocte non solum cautum in lanternum suspendi, ut in cubili meo cubarem, et aliquando evigilarem gyrum navis viderem, sed timens ne aliqua fraude tentaretur, mandavi fidelem meum Bulgerum dormire cum. Dorsum eius contra ostium, ut minima vibratio eum excitaret.

Noctes quoque diligentissime haec cautela secuta est. Interdiu quoque sclopi mei semper in balteo fuerunt.

Bulgarum periculum in me essem sensit, et ille vigilanter commodum oculorum in occipitio mihi dedit.

Admonuit me humilis fremitus accessus domini vel unus e turba.

Sic munitus et custoditus sum nihil timeri praeter communem seditionem. Idque vix fieri posse sciebam, plures enim turbae mihi erant studiosiores ad quamlibet perfidiae propositiones. Percussissent dominum gelido sanguine, ausum Spirare seditionem!

Res bene per decem dies processit cum atrox proelium in mente ducis geritur vidi.

Vereri coepi ne ratione careat ac se in mare praecipitet.

Vultus eius colorem subpallidum suscepit.

Ad litteram ille erat pavore moriens.

Mane unus ante me provolutus genibus, lacrymis genas orabat ut iterum Africae reducerem.

Omnia potui ei sedare, sed frustra.

Tarde sed certe cedente ratio erat.

Vocans ad me coniugem, praeposui eum vasi, et ordinavi eum ad capitaneum in casula sua, et custodiam super eum collocavi.

Hoc me animo facere cogor, orabat enim miser ut cane navi praeesset relinqui.

Sed precibus ejus surdus fui.

iam omnem molestiam sensi esse confectam.

Horam quindecim nodis flabat ventus.

Omne pannum navium refertum erat.

Satis ex aqua quasi res vitae exsiluimus, medium volantes natantes.

Semper in sæculum inspexi circini.

Illa mortua est versus meridiem.

Tinxerunt genae meae et potui sentire sanguinem calidum per omnem venam in corpore meo.

Ascendens luna sicut scutum auro purum. Mare resplenduit sicut ignis liquidus. Turn porpoise insiluit ac mille orbibus orbes immisit volvens iterumque in aequora torsit.

Bona nostra navis vitreum sinum maris scindit, tanquam monstrum quoddam atri magni maris, et vestigia ignis in evigilando, quantum oculus attingere potuit, reliquit.

Media nocte ad quietem veni.

Sed nec quies, nec somnus dabatur.

Dimidium ephebum, me in hamum conjeci, et solitum Bulgerum ad fores assumpsit.

Lucerna plenae lunae lucem superare non valuit. Oculos tauri per infandum, radios phantasticos perfluebat, et casulam meam crebris et occultis formis frequentabat.

Septem erant!

Facies et figurae deiformes, tam albae, tam pulchrae erant.

Tristitia inenarrabilis erat in tenebris oculis plena.

Verbum non loquebantur.

Subito tabulatum cubiculi laqueatum divisum, et scalarum obscuritate involuta, lucem incertam patefecit.

Ad hos gradus veniebat clementissimus, tam candidus, tam formosus, et amabilis, ut vidi anhelitu.

Descendere, demittere, propius ac propius accedere.

Sed alas degebat ut angelus esset!

Sed, heu! Pulchro vultu maerore impleta!

Diffisi labra, diu nigros cinxere capillos confusos humeris.

In Cameram ingressa est. Tum celer e vultu, septem curvata figuras decidit.

“Paula!” clamaverunt, et attraxerunt super capita sua stolas albas.

“Ho terra! Terra ho!”

Quid est! Credere potui aures meas?

“Ho terra! Terra ho!”

Vincto e cubili meo exsilui, et in navim provolavi.

Immo vero! Ibi, quingentos passus ante nos, aspectus erat qui me velut ictum ephebi sopitum.

Tellus erat, sed non ea terra, quam me in somnis somnia speraveram.

Decem milia luminum arcana eluxit in litore, Romana ante templum lacte candidiora illustravit. Gradus marmoreus eiusdem coloris ad ipsum ripam aquae deductus.

Sacrificium edebatur.

Ex summo atrox fumi nigri columna lente sursum crispans.

Nullus ad aurem sonitus pervenit.

Prope sensibus orbatus steti.

Tandem oratio mea rediit. Ancoram proici iussi, et bone navis inhaerens scaenis, longam et laetam in vestibulo spectabat.

Terra enascebatur naturali solaria e litore, quacumque in partem aspexisti, prospexit in speciem decoris simulacrum aut coetum statuarum candidam lunam inter opaca, inter opaca folia, velut in albo vestitis figuris errans lignum.

“Debet esse!” Murmuravi ad me.

“Inveni eam! Hoc templum Romanum, hoc scala marmorea, haec statuaria circulis, omnia monstrant ad felicitatis meae navigationis inventionem. Haec est insula sculptorum!”

Quam diu ibi steterim hanc pulchram spectans litus nescio. Quidam manica mea leniter trahens me e reverie movit.

Bulger fuit.

Ego inclinavi et permulsi caput ejus paulisper.

Subito evigilavi ad sensum magnae taedii, et alium aspectum in arcanum illud litus proiciens, conversus sum et descendi ad Cameram.

Mox in soporem decidit.

Ex quo promunturium meum nervorum terribilem intendit, ex media seditione remigum, insania magistri navis, et vigilias longas, per quas iacuerat et audieram clamorem terrae, tandem mihi narraverat.

Sol aliquot horis altus erat, cum e cubili meo elapsus sum, et in navim provolavi.

Poteratne hoc omnes somnium fuisse? Egone templum nobile, scalas marmoreas, omnesque statuas eminentes in tenues auras defluxisse?

Ah non!

Adhuc ibi erat illud pulcherrimum littus, evolvitur ante oculos meos admiratio velut quaedam pulchra imago, plena lucis et gratiae ac delectamenti fuco.

“Homo est Lorem!” Clamavi celerius quam id narrare, deducebam ad litus Sculptorum Insulae.

Fidelis Bulger iuxta me sedit, ocellos lucidos et expressos in faciem meam intuens.

Ad pedem scalae marmoreae appulsus, leviter e launch, quam secutus est Bulger, marmoreis gradibus concludam.

Tres erant egressi priusquam ad gradum templi pervenissem, e quibus singulis gratior et suavior prospectus est. Pulchrum sane ad ea, quae arte et natura sese satis superaverunt. Tandem gressus fugam ultimam purgavi, et pavido corde tessellato aulam trajecit, et ante templi ostium moratus est.

Favillae adhuc linum in altari, circa quod steterunt sacerdotes aliquot albo-rolatos capite demisso capite et aversa facie. Sollemni officium irrumpere nolui. Verti secutus sum viam latam, strata marmorea, obumbrata amoenissimis arboribus et lentae vitis.

Singulis gradus incidit in aliquam effigiem stupentis formae, nunc nymphae; nunc dea; nunc ipse luppiter; nunc magnus Caesar; nunc formosae Gratiae; nunc atrox Pluton; nunc ridet alma Ceres; iam lunata coronata Diana venandi studio; nunc Satyri chori ; nunc capripedes Pana bipes; nunc aliquis Romanus heros aut capessivit; et identidem forma virginalis, miro modo formosa, sed ineffabili moeroris vultu in facie formosa erat. Ita saepe eadem figura oculis meis obviavit, me demum ad eius basim accedere in spem explicationis inveniendae. Clamavi quasi in sculptile nomen oculi mei.

Paula fuit.

Sed omne dubium dissipabatur.

Ego quidem sculptores inveneram Isle.

Latus anfractus, dextra laevaque ducens, nunc mea decepi vestigia. Nulla terra mediocris pulchrior esse potuit.

Fructus aurei micabant in viridi foliis opacis.

Florent undique innumerabiles colores emittentes unguenta delicatissima. Vites trahentes graciles festos pendebant, aut statuarum bases circumplexi, albas flores ad candidiora ferentes manus tacitis et immotis huius regionis solitudinis incolis. Dico incolas, nondum enim animam viventem viderat oculus meus, nisi sacerdotes adiuncti altari.

Litora apposui insulae, super quas natura larga manibus silvas, placidas, lacus, purpureas rivos, pomis onustas, floriferas floccis et cristas in odorato iactans aere vites. Frondem ab arbore in arborem copiose variegatae, caelo superne fulgidam, solo velutino subtus virentem obsitum, solum relictam ab homine relictam reperire; quid pulchritudinis et tamen solitudinis, mera polita et fucata testa, ex qua vita omnis excessit in aeternum?

Talis erat cogitationum series quae in animo meo inambulavi per has anfractus stratas marmoreas inclusas frondoso tecto, per quod identidem sol inluminabat magisteria artis sculptoris, circa cujus bases ascendebant. Et florentibus vitibus usta pereuntis, pars inflexis bacis in gremiis, nitidior auro quam polita, alii lanugine uvae magis ostro quam Lydia murice tenentes.

Dum per hoc cantatis hortum meum sequebar iter, in quo lilii flexiles caules unguentatos cyathos in genas flectebant, et arbores ad pedes meos aurum et purpureum fructum decidebant, in altoque frutice rubicundi fruticis virgulta. Et pinus sericans, melancholia luscinia, lento et querulo modulo movit liquidum melos, concupivit cor meum ad sonum vocis humanae.

“Utinam aliquod animal,” inquam, “quamvis inflexum ac detortum figura, vel quam dissonum voce, mihi in hac pulcherrima solitudine occurreret.”

Animadverti nunc viam meam clivum clivum leniter ascendere. gressum incitavi, nam cupiebam in aliqua altitudine consistere, quo latius viderem longinquam regionem.

Ut summum collis assecutus sum, scena ineffabilis pulchritudinis oculis meis occurrit.

Quantum oculus attingere posset, evolvit sub me notae tantae venustatis, ut haererem ligatum. Finge vallem inclusam silvestribus altis, Per quam placide currit argenteus amnis; hic nemus ingens lato diffundit in artus, atque ibi glebae pomiferis aurea solis gazis ostentant onus; hinc florentia virgulta nitent ut ebur contra virides opacas, inde trahentes vites et intonsa silices, multas umbraculae fantasticae imaginis thalamum fabricavit manus hominis; huic adiiciunt ustulo statuum in omni cogitabili habitu gratiae et pulchritudinis positae — hic coetus, illic una figura, et infra bini et terni, stantes, accumbentes, sedentes, ad ludendum, in meditatione, audiendo, legendo, pulsando. Fidibus, in habitudines venationis, discive proiciens, vel attingens fructus vel flores vellere.

“Estne hoc somnium?” Murmuravi. “Nonne ego ludibrio mali spiritus alicuius loci?”

Ex hoc profundo reveritus latratu voce Bulger me concussa vi excitavit.

Vidi in directione soni.

Pauper, stulte canis, de una statuarum alebat, et se oblectabat expergefactus voce sua.

Subiratus eram, interpellavi, et vocavi ad cessandum latratu suo.

Prope sacrilegium visum est mihi tam profundam pulchrae vallis quietem turbare.

Iterum latratus erupit. Hoc tempore barbari saeviores sunt quam ante.

Statua quae iuvenis erat, ut fructum aut florem ferret, satis amens videbatur circumeundoque circumeundoque, et in medium quendam furorem, medium malum, in serie corticum, fremit ac fremit querimoniis. Rara quidem erat quod Bulger votis meis, quamvis languide, non attendebat, sed nunc ne minax quidem vox in eo aliquid momenti habere videbatur.

Insaniens alea continuat latratibus acuta. Illi gravissime ob inoboedientiam exprobrare constitui, et in eum irato perrexi.

Accessi.

Et vidi! Vidi!

Cinis progenitorum meorum. Quid est? Statua oculos bipatentes habebat. Statua genas vitae ruborem habebat.

Motus, motus usque ad latitudinem capillorum nullus erat! Et tamen hi oculi caerulei in Bulgarum inflexi media percunctanti, semisi admiratione conspicati sunt.

Lumina detrivi et vidi iterum.

Accepi gradum.

Repente me fluctus timoris obrepsit super me sicut fluxus glacialis aquae. Vivumne marmor, diuturnis inclusae passionibus ad vitam calefactum, manum erigat, et me mortuum feriat?

Ipse in unum colligo, sub umbra frondis tectae frondentis et intertextae vites frondentis catervam virginum ludentium inspexi.

Dico citius quam capit, prosilivi et in eorum vultum defixi aspectum.

Mors humanam formam in habitu suo immobiliorem tenere non potuit.

Oculi tamen eorum mira luce repleti sunt.

Color vitae rubeus in faciebus pulchris fulsit, lucidus et calidus!

Ubi eram?

Insolens timoris sensus, pars laetitiae, nunc in me rapitur.

Et adhuc loqui non ausus sum. Vox mea franget incantatores, quo omnes hi spirantes terrae filii pectus teneant vitam, et in nihilum defluant.

Iamque propinqui mei oculi, nigrius magis quam politi carbonis, pleni in me visi sunt. Viderem, cogitabam, ebonum illorum globorum splendorem quasi lachryma in eos irruisse.

Manus eius extenta.

Quid, si tetigero, videro, an calor vitae in se habeat, an re vera non sit res lapidea, et ludibrio mali alicujus insulae spiritus?

Hoc faciam, si quasi vermiculus misellus occidar, qui appropinquante flamma tepefactus obviam repit.

Digitorum apices tetigi!

O rem miram!

Non lapidea erant, sed mollissima, caro calidissima.

Ego retro haesivi, exspectans videre globi in aere evanescentem.

Sed non; non movit.

Stabat ut ante.

Iamque sensi sub me convalescere membra.

Statui loqui, veni malum, vel veni bonum!

Defixus in vultus pulchros iuvenesque oculosque detexit et sic verba locutus est:

“O res novas atque arcanas, ne aegre feram hanc in sacram quietem mortalium audaciam tantilli irruptionis! Loquere ad me! Si vis, liceat mihi de solo tuae pulchrae insulae pedes tollere. Sed antequam vado, loquere ad me, sciam, an non sitis creaturas alicujus spiritus hujus insulae, an vere vivitis spirantes.”

Nullus ab illis roseis labris sonus edita, quasi in ipso dicendi genere scinditur.

Non motus, nullus tremor, horum pulchra figuras Marmora rumpere.

Totum momentum intercidit.

Mihi aeterno visum est.

Ego ad terram valde suspenso defixi.

Minuta corpora gravia una post alia trahebant.

Sed gaudium ineffabile!

Labia movere incipiunt.

Subridens, primo imperceptibilis, lente, lente, in faciem serpit.

Purpura genarum profundiorem colorem sumit.

Oculi dulcissimi et amicissimi me intuentur.

Verbum “nos” leniter in aurem cadit.

Alia pausa!

Procumbo, molestissima suspenso, ut sequentem syllabam tenui capiam.

Pervenit tandem.

“Vive!”

“Vivunt!” Clamavi magna et laeta voce, “vivunt! Non sum ludibrio ullius divinitatis. Hae figurae non sunt frigidi et sine sensu marmoris, sed sanguinis, spirandi, cogitandi, viventis!

Non possum tibi dicere altitudinem satisfactionis meae hanc inventionem a dilecto meo Bulgero factam esse. Vidit anxium trepidationis dominum suum, et festinat ad subveniendum; non frons, non minax vox satis erat avertere ab animo in obscuram lucem. Alta contritione vix potui adduci ut nomen eius dicam.

Quam indignus essem amore sensi.

Sed mihi ignovit generoso plusquam humano ingenio, veniamque dedit, blanditiis obtegens manus, et demissam corticum seriem exprimens.

Cum latere meo Bulger, nunc cum his carnibus et sangui- nibus comitibus incolarum marmorum insulae permistus sum, ab uno coetu ad alium transiens in admirationem stupens. Enimvero bona fide viverent, sed non magis quam flores, frutices, arbores, vites, quae conficiunt amoenissima, quorum erant pulcherrima ac pulcherrima ornamenta.

Celerius quam illi de loco ad locum moventur vites, citius germinant flores, quam virgines labra. Ut cerea figurae pulchrae, tardo demerso cuiusdam fontis occulto motae, statuae vivae permeant horas, imo dies, ad pedes exsurgentes, vel in velutino herbae subsidentes.

Ego per aliquot horas steti spectans candidam manum virginis emissam, motu insensibili, rubentem persici, qui juxta eam pendebat, vellere. Plena hora ibat antequam illi digiti delicati circa persici iuncti erant, alius antequam ad labra delatus esset. Ibi tota die pressa tenuit, sed cum sole occubuit nemorosis collibus, decidit a laxis manibus pedibusque revolvit. Tarde demittebam, neque enim diu inveniebam quod vivos motus meos has statuas animatas dolerem ac sustuli. Sentire potui, aliquod pulpamentum e fructu laetissimo extractum, sed cutis vix fracta, ita leniter super illo pascebatur.

Hoc momento, arridens vultu cuiusdam virginis conversus sum ut invenirem in quem vultum suum inflexit.

Pulcherrima iuventus, quae forte quinquaginta pedibus aberat, oculis in virgineis fixa.

Certe, sicut alias terras, motus eorum excitabo affectum meum; aliquantum iam properabunt ad invicem.

Sed nulla, longa crepuscula paulatim cedit ad umbras profundiores; nox venit; lunam in caelo rutilantem deposuit orbes, nec tamen adfuit ut iuventa teneret virginis illa manus.

A primo crepusculi adventu, risum lente ingerebant aliorum iuvenum et virginum ora, quorum oculi in amantes versabantur.

Nunc mitis “ha!” incidit in aurem meam, et, elapso semihorae spatio, alius ac clarior “ha!” secutum esse, post longiorem moram, sequitur etiam aliud “ha.” Hoc ultimum “ha!” producta est in notam claram et tinnitum quae tacuit tacuit. Tunc decrevit languidior et languidior, et exanimata est sicut resonatio absumpta. Laetitia peracta est.

Cum inter has vivas statuas iter plicabam, unum mane veni in coetum puerorum ludentium.

Primo non potui videre quod adventum meum omnino animadverterent, sed post elapsam quadrantis horae spatium sensi oculos pulchre lucidos suos sensim converti ad me, et decrevi prope secumbere et observare. Placet mihi, quod deliciarum tenui filo florentis vitis circumplexa est, et circa corpus parvae flavae ancillae circiter septem, collo cinctum multis coloratis foliis et coralliis, et se in modum coronae plexum. Purpureoque auro mollibus anulis, omissis floribus et claviculis, leniter circa caput et umeros descendit.

Videns stuporem meum, et verba mea delectationis audiens, mulier mitis facies ad me lente sedet, manus sensim levavit et digitos extendit ad me ut intelligerem quod isti cherubi decem dies in terra ibi ludentes fuissent.

Hanc, putavi, pulchram vitem, ioco iunctam. Quantum illi vivit, re vera unus e sociis suis se vulnerat et circa puerum amanter proxime sedet.

Iterum vidi. Ecce! Arbor onusta dulcibus nucleis in auram vibrabat et quatiebat in gremiis puerorum ludentium, cum illinc, alta et decora planta ferens cyathiformes flores apricis albedinis, quorum singula notavi impleta. Aqua limpida, cuius guttae tamquam gemmis nitidis in sole micantes, contra genam pueri ridentis leniter reiciebant, ac si diceret:

“Bibe, fratercule carissime!”

“Mirum dictu!” “Haec beata animalia, hae arbores et flores, haec poma et vites omnes eiusdem familiae liberi sunt. Nullae unquam tempestates istas caelos sereno obscurant. Ver aeternum hic regnat. Per lucem, stellam et lunam, vita eorum leniter fluunt sicut quidam latis, argenteus amnis, cuius motus tardior est oculis hominum ad notandum. Myste populus! Quomodo investigabo mirabile arcanum tuae vitae? Quomodo legam historiam populi, cuius soli libri obmutescunt rivi et nemori taciti, quorum linguas ita amiserunt vires interpretandi ut menses praeterirent et mysterium tamen insolutum remaneat!

Post paucos dies commoratus apud “Motores tardos”, ut ita dixerim, invenio quae me valde terrebat.

Hoc arcanum silentium, hoc novum fatum, quod me inter animalia objecerat, cum quibus sermocinari non potuit, hoc funditus non posse discernere vivos statuas a marmoribus, incipiebat depraedari animo meo.

Animadvertit bulger melancholiam meam ingravescentem, et ad oblectandum et consolandum me elaboravit.

Sed male respondi mille et uno versutis dolis et ridiculis antiphonis.

Equidem sensi animum meum sensim cedere ad aliquam vim horroris , quae pervasit ipsum aerem, quae etiam per singulas horas, ita convalescit, ut necesse sit, ut necesse sit, evelli a potestate superhumana. De me iam acquisierat, vel fierem vivam simulacrum et fratrem ad formas carnium et marmorum, quae incolebant hanc admirationem.

Non taedet lectores minutim consilium quod ad extremum periculum imminens concepi, quo me iam subrepens sentiamus morte ereptum essem.

Desperatio mea decrevi vetustissima tardis motoribus applicare meque ad ejus misericordiam, ut ita dicam, dicere, quod cupiens me ab imminente fato gravi effugere, ad meos parentes, ad dilectos parentes, redire. Maerens ad sepulchra descenderet, si, unicus infans, fastus et spes, non numquam reditura senectae.

Sed plusquam hoc statui, si fieri potest, historiam insule ejusque arcanam discere, eoque fine rogari decrevi, ut indicaret mihi ubi invenirem aliquam memoriam rerum gestarum, aliquem librum aut membranam; ne vitam gravem animi cruciatibus adirem cogitationem me non posse solvere hoc mysterium, quod si dies meos non minueret, certissime exacerbaret.

Quemadmodum iam exposui, cum tardis motoribus colloqui conanti mihi occurrit duplex difficultas. Primum, etsi impatienter rumpar, tamen tranquillissimam et placidam exteriorem servabo, deinde, cum post longam ac fatigationem morae venerit, ut respondeam quod respondeam. Non excedunt cochleae gressum tardi motorum sermonis, alioquin lucidi oculi obnubilant, et celeritate sermonis mei perculsi videbantur. Palpebrae eorum lente descenderunt, et visi sunt in soporem cadere, ex quo horae ad excitandum eas factae sunt.

Prima Aurorae series quaesivi longaeva motorem, Quem saepe in templo frondoso notaverat aede, Marmoreo residens tacito defixa cacumine, quae perfudit radicibus arborum, cujus pandi ramos. Adiuvisti tecti habitationis suae.

Tota dies illa et nox siderea que secuta est, sedebam ante pedes.

Finge tibi meam desperationem in eo studiorum, quod non verbum aut linea, non folium aut membrana exstiterint, quae formidolosam sollicitudinem finiret. Horrendum dico, quia fortius et validius per horas impetus crevit vitae inutilis, insensibili actui finiendae vitae, et ad multitudinem statuarum viventium adiungo, in quorum cor non inanis desideria obscurant vitam placidam somnii sui.

Mane secundi diei cogitatio in mentem inrupit. Hoc erat.

Habitet fortasse alicubi in hac insula, animal aliquod, qui, dissimiles fratribus, celeritatem sermonis vim habeat, cuius lingua aliqua ratione soluta remaneat.

Sic cogitabam: In omni terra erant contraria, bona et mala, pulchra et deformis, decora et inconcinna, velox et tarda. Certe in hac insula talia contraria sunt vivendum. Verum, exceptio fortasse; sed mirum si non esset.

Tota die exegi in tradendo sene tardo movens me cogitationum series.

Alta erat crepuscula, antequam interrogarem, an non esset aliquod animal in hac insula habitans, cujus loquelae magis similis esset mihi, et cui possem in me semper ingravescentem transmutationis horrorem. In tardum motorem, confugium a me, ad satisfactionem inexsuperabilis desiderii mei ipsius animae incumbentis.

Sed vespertinae umbrae non adeo altae erant ut obscuriorem umbram notare non possem, quae senis tardi motoris faciem colligere coepi cum interrogationem perfeceram.

Attonitus sum.

Tantae erant cordis pulsus cordis mei, ut streperet, licet obvolutus, super gemitum zephyri, murmur foliorum, querellarum strepitus luscinii.

Cum haec umbra ingravescentibus, magis magisque altioribus, in visu senis, sensi me aliquod vetustum vulnus tetigisse, quod, etsi diu oblitus, nunc denuo iecisti.

Labra dirupta, caput lente, tarde mersa, gemitus tam plenus significationis prodiit, ut quasi susurro diuturni doloris absconditi, ut timerem ad pessimum.

Membra rigebant.

Sanguinem sentire potui venas minuere gressum, et quasi incertus viae palpitare pergam.

Apices digitorum meorum pressi genas. Frigidum erant ut marmor politum.

Conatus sum dicere. Venire verba noluerunt.

Denique feci vehementi opera.

“Bulger!” in aurem.

Miser canis, ad pedes meos dormivit.

Certavi uno momento temporis effugere incantamentum, ut demitterem fideli amico vale blandiri.

Hist!

Tardus motor locutus est.

“Filius!”

Servatus sum!

Dicere debebat ille mihi.

Aetio fracta.

Cor cæpit iterum; perque meas venas ruit ille cruor.

Angustus effugium erat.

Iam digiti mei tepuerant.

Alio momento et turbam motorum tardarum adiunxeram et frater factus incolarum marmoreorum in insula sculptorum.

Tota nocte illa senex Tardus movens mecum loquebatur. Cum sol occumberet, novi omnia. Arcanum quod tam placidum vultum obscuraverat agnovi. Sciebam speluncam in qua habitabat eremita sculptorum insulae, ejectus, vinctus, clausus inter angustias cavernae maris, sine culpa ejus, sine peccato, sine injuria.

Natura sic voluit.

Cur, tardus motor nesciebat senex.

Erat nomen Antonius heremita.

Mane facto, quaesivi eum.

Inueni eum in porta spelunce sedentem intuentem gloriam orientis caeli.

Hoc fuit arcanum exilii sui.

Hunc quidam crudele fatum in iuventute horribilem morbum adiit, non dissimile illud quod tripudium sancti Viti notum est. Ubi febris incessit, non solum membrorum omnium potestate perdidit, ut pedes quo ire vellet, atque id quoque summa celeritate adficeret, sed arma etiam quam celerrime ac vehementes exercuisset. gestus, nunc apparente ira, nunc precibus, nunc admirantibus. Facile intelliges, cur infaustus Antonius e mediis tardis moventibus exul venerit.

Quorum frater, licet penitus amabilis, fulminis velocitate, motu violento, motu prope adsiduis animi, non modo tarda moventium offensa, attonitus est; abhorrent eos; tardumque cruorem vitae cohibebat venae, cunctaque lento sed certa morte minabatur.

Ire debet!

Fecit!

Antonius in speluncam maris relegatus est, ubi nunquam sonus venit, nisi Oceani fremitus a daemonibus agitatus, aut tristis ejus murmur ac sine intermissione perfringit ac torsit momenta somni et quies.

Sed foedissima omnium infelicis Antoni aegritudo formidolosissima fuit orationis eius celeritas taeterrima atque indomita.

Ut furiales equi, lingua et labia ruentia!

Oculis auribusque tardis, tam vis expressa facies, tam insana celeritas sermonis, ipsa mors!

Non unus mensis brevis in illo solido pectore statuam reperiret vivam, nisi abisset Antonius!

Gratum fuit Antonio illi dirae sententiae, quae eum in antro marique perpetuo collocavit!

Videbat sui populi dolores, et quamvis in illo brevi tempore plus lacrimae oculi flerent, quam omnes fratres sui semper in segnem vitam effusissent, tamen tam horrendi doloris quam pauperis documentum est.

Antonius ad me convertit, accedens ad locum ubi summa meditatione involutus sedit. Triste sed et blando volitante labra risu, fulminis in remoto ceu velox sed languido caelo.

Resurrexit.

Ego moratus sum opperiri iussum eius accedere.

Non locutus est verbum, sed extendit manum suam.

Circumdedi illud terminis meis, et premo ad labia mea.

Et continuo cecidit in eum locus.

Videre possem doloris aspectum qui per suam faciem emicuit.

Elapsus est, nunc retrorsum, nunc prono, nunc obliquo, nunc obliquo, porrecto magno conatu ad me, qui, pari desperatione, insano conatu ad capiendum quod me assidue fefellerat, cessit.

Bulger hunc inter scopulos illius litora scopuli, Insequitur furiose latrantem vestigia prorsus.

Non potui tempus sedandi.

Procul, geminato cursu tenditque Antonium, dextramque ad me veluti miserabili precatione capias, et sic aptam quatientem membra furibundus finiat.

Intermisso ut spiritum meum caperem, iterum figuram volitentem assecutus sum cum proposito ut eum consequeretur vel in conatu periret.

Tandem circuli minores et semper minores circuli videbantur.

Nunc tempus erat mi!

Exsilio in illam volubilem formam, insania quadam desperatione, manum extensam arripere ac tenere.

Tandem tenuit.

Sed non!

Venerat ad quietem corpus, nunc alte supra caput, nunc ad pedes, nunc emicare, nunc deprimere, nunc vibrare ante oculos meos, nunc cingere caput meum, sicut avis cita volatu; manus ibat semper in inmensum et arcanum.

Fortitudo mea me deficiebat!

Num semper id capere potero?

Antonius quoque dirae potentiae dirae quam torquebat cederet.

Vultus insolito pallorem suscepit! Pectus eius convulsivos. Uno tandem conatu desperato, manum volitans circum caput arripiebam!

Adhaesi strenue!

Meus tactus a venis discutit venenum.

Visus est evigilare tanquam ex aliquo horrore somnio. manu trans oculos transmisit.

Subridens.

Ad manum haerens, super scopuloso scamno eum sedere sensim compuli, cui velutini maris gramen et zizania texuerat oceanus.

“Antonius!” “Pax super te veniat; Oblivisci doloris tui. Esto sicut olim. Tactus meus potest tibi saltem breve spatium dare!

Compulit manum meam. Suspirans extulit pectus. Novissimus anhelitus daemonis oppressit eum.

lam quiescendum erat.

Celeris ad me eius sermo fuit, sed non magis quam multorum acutorum cum quibus locutus sum.

“Quid vis?” Submissa, inquit, sed mirae suavis, vocis lenis.

Eum rem veniam explicavi.

Redii ad actis diurnum Romanum et ab domo discessum meum.

Omnes, omnes; ei omnia dixi; quomodo venissem in domum tardi motorum, quomodo eos ad marmora fefellissem, sicut reliquae insulae figurae, quomodo patefactum mysterium habere cupiebam.

Totus illo die Antonius et ego ad mare iucundissime conloquor.

Semel in meridie, fabulae suae modum brevem posuit, dum in specum ejus transivimus ad sumendum cibum et potum.

Animo magno, audivi fabulam de septem Sculptoribus in insulam descensu. Primum opus fuit, ut longos marmoreos educere templos volatu ad mare deducens. Tunc illi, et postea filii, et filii eorum, hanc insulam pulcherrimam hominibus paene infinitis figuris rarissimae gratiae operam navare decreverunt.

In silvis, per ripas fluvii, per vallem, per clivum, subtus solaria, in ipso aquarum ore, statuas sine mira pulchritudine et profusione sustulerunt.

Hic illic et ubique refulsit egregiae formae gratia, niveis inter frondea nemora aut perplexum.

Arcanus exsulis artificum praecordia urebat ardor. Ferae spei videretur, ut aliam illam urbem longe aliam Romam, infantulam filiam, candidiorem et candidiorem marmoreo magnificentia quam gloriosa mater, quae septem montibus insidebat, educeret.

Iterum atque iterum ter denos terque quaterque denos, misera Paula e lapicidinis orta, formosior semper et formosior semper, nunc flexa tremendo maerore, nunc ipsa sui specie resupinato pudore sethera ponens; blanda et miseranda facies.

Hic quoque magnus Caesar stetit, nunquam oblitus divinae clementiae statuarios ex gravi morte rapuit.

Cum secundo exsilii saeculo regnum parvum Romanum longe sub caelo meridionali exortum sit, eo ipso tempore, quo colonia invalescit ac viget res nova et obscura, habitantibus in hac insula domicilio suavissimae acciderunt.

Non plures pueri masculi nati sunt!

Septem statuarii, iam senio inflexi, et facies eorum acutis compunctionibus cavata, una post alteram in mortis tenebrosam regna ibant.

Filii quoque eorum in maturam aetatem pervenerunt. Et filii eorum creverunt, felices possessione splendidi ingenii, qui tam eximiae pulchritudinis formis insulam impleverat.

Sed iam genus ad finem longi imperii pervenit in arte.

Decennium post decennium defluxit et adhuc non venit unus puer masculus qui domum sculptoris laetificavit.

Desperatio quaedam in coloniam delapsus est.

Maiores statuarii scalpturas in summa desperatione deposuerunt.

Nam et minoris et minus.

Nullus adhuc puer erat, qui carmen priscum excitaret et risus quondam illius insulae laetae domum rediret.

Rigebant arte digiti callidissimi senio.

Corda gloriosa inspiratione plena hebetata sunt et sopita! Singillatim omnes ibant viam, quam mortale pedes calcare debent.

Atrox, mira mutatio in populum venit.

Hoc plumbeo maerore praegravatus, his stupefactis et immotis marformis die ac nocte circumdatus, quae, licet ipsa glaeba tacita, tamen indesinenter exclamavit: “Date nos in his solitudinibus plures”. Isti miseri paene ad ipsum marmora conversi.

Vero sane fratres ac sorores marmorarii in hac insula facti sunt.

Tandem venit finis!

Novissimus sculptor sculpsit super feretrum magni templi albi ad mare.

Tamdiu silentium, tam altum, tam atrox invasit populum, ut paene in perpetuum oratio eorum amissa sit.

In obscuro specubus et nemoroso truculento, ab ipsa luce diei se occultare prorepserunt.

Eorum artus, olim tam molles et elastici, prompti dominis suis per clivum et per campum ferendi, choreis adsueti generis delectati, nunc graves et tardi facti sunt.

Visi prope ad saxum converti, et tacita circum se iungere consortia.

Nimirum tale imminebat fatum, cum euentus laeta res avertebat.

Annus erat elapsus ex quo ultimus sculptor iverat ad comitatum umbratilem quae per desertum aeternae Silentii semper movetur, cum septem filiae eius tristes ab infantis clamore commotae sunt.

Sed ecce!

Infanti subnixa in amplexu stat mater vidua.

Filius est!

Laetus nuntius nonnisi e familia ad familiam subrepit.

Eheu! serum revocare ad priscos mores moresque, serum cruorem pristino cohibere, cursu per venas salire.

Homines mutati erant!

Felicitas vera eorum iterum venit, sed eadem non fuit. Ridere et ridere poterant, sed vix plus quam facies marmoris arcano quodam numine movebantur. Loqui potuerunt, sed verba tam lente ceciderunt ut prope videri statua aliqua inter frondea insulae secreta locuta sit. Movere poterant, sed cochlea vel testudo facile eos praevenit.

Tarn mutati sunt; fatis posthac populis pulcherrimam insulam domum cum statuis viventibus.

Longa nam fuga fugit annos, donec alia centuria secuta est, nec tamen mira ingenii res rediit.

Perpetuum perierat!

Iampridem etiam populus fabulae patrum oblitus est.

Paucorum electorum in cordibus vivitur, idque singulis saeculis iunioribus ad id delectis tradunt.

Antonio ita creditum est.

Talis autem narratio mihi narravit!

Levato animo, iam inde dubitationis et incerti ponderis elato, valedicens Antonium iubebam, deinde Bulgerum ad tardum moventium domicilia repetentem.

Praeterirem nemorum, qui marmora ferebant, Constiti, ante magni cur miranda Caesaris imago.

Adjunxit me Bulger, et ibi stetimus, pueri huius diei, oculis elevatis ad faciem eius, cuius minimus sermo in tabulis ceratis olim descriptus est, quasi dei vox.

Caesarem semper amavi.

Multis inter se similes sumus.

Ambo viri pugnandi fuimus.

Misertus sum nunc eum, ut etiam in marmoris effigie, inter tam hebes et inertes homines, quam segnes motores, vivere cogeretur.

Sic ei dixi.

“Et tamen”, inquit, “Iulius”, inquit, “vocavi ab hominibus, Magne Caesar, quam felix nunc non es; nam pudore vincere vis omnes casus meos legere, dum scripsisti librum. De Gallia in brevibus bibliothecarum mucida et pulverulenta iacet!

Sequenti die obiter iter faciens et magni Caesaris vultum respexi, animadverti risum modo in dextro oris eius angulo coepisse. Ita stolidissimus factus est per longam mansionem apud motores tardis ut nuper coeperat oblectari dicto priore die.

Cogitationes domus iam animo obortae sunt.

Re vera paulo post, cum Antonio in caverna maritimo colloqueretur, Bulger manifestas domesticae aegritudinis signa coeperat ostendere. Itaque eum chirographo praefecto navis meae misi ut de reditu suo statim pararet iter.

Bulger festinavit ad faciendam commissionem.

Profectus est ad pedem scalae marmoreae, ac deinde latratu maximo magistratus quem praefecerat admovit.

Navem in eiectam misit et Bulger cum meis litteris in ore suo occurrit.

Ut verum fatear, per septimanam vel tam diutius inter motores tardiores morari vellem, sed apparebat apparere quod ad meam praesentiam resuscerent.

In genis eorum multa persici rubicundi signa evanuerunt.

Quotidie magis magisque crescebant fratribus marmoreis.

Celeres motus eorum oculos ita defatigavi ut paucis horis in medio eorum commoratus me dormientium soporatum coetu circumventum inveni.

Nec audeo dicere.

Nam quamvis vocem delenirem, vel quam lente proferret verba, lentorum moventium aures offenderunt, et vultus signa doloris praeteribant.

Celeriter igitur formatum est consilium meum.

Gradu cochleae transivi a coetus ad catervam, ab arcu ad ima, a nemus ad nemus, sono molli et mensurato dicens: “Vale bene! Bene valete!”

Tunc gressus meos direxi ad templum candidum iuxta mare, nam cymbam meam sciebam sub pede scalae marmoreae me opperiri.

Ante Magni Caesaris statuam praeteriens novissimam valedicendi fluctum verti.

Quid ego te vidi existimare?

Quin idem risus, qui ante aliquot dies in dextro oris eius angulo coeperat, ad alteram faciei partem traiecerat, et in sinistro oris eius angulo suberat.

Dextro, unde venerat, omnia tam trux ac placidus erat, cum sedisset Romae sedentem orbem terrarum.

Aliquot post horis, cum bonae navis meae vela poneremus, incidit in aurem meam verbo sono molli et resonante.

“Vale!”

Motores tardi coeperant valedicere. Ventis secundis.

Vela repleta.

Cum sol occubuit, diluvium aureum infundens super scalas pulchras marmoreas, templum magnum candidum, et statuae multae niveae, quae inter opaca arborum et vinearum folia tam clara et pulchra fulgebant in arcano illius insulae. Posui me in cincinnis intentis oculis ut quam diutissime in amoena scena defixos servarem.

Bona navis in altissimo silentio enavigavit. Mandaveram enim ne quis supra susurrum loqueretur.

Nunc Sculptores Insula in mera spelunca in horizonte defluxerat, et nunc in noctis umbris colligendis absorpta est et in perpetuum amissa!

Cor aggravatum est.

Tum caput in gremium irrepsit, oculisque amantibus in me plenum defixis.

Ambos somnus devicit.

Caelum erat stelliferum cum evigilantes.

Frigida me nocte ventus refecit.

Egrediendi animo infra exorsus sum. Ilico volitans vesperi auram, instar montis repercussus pene consumptus, sonus mollis arcanus.

Auris mea eam cepit! erat.

“B-e-n-e!”

Motores tardi finem suum valedicunt.

Tocsin of the Absolute: Armel Guerne

Armel Guerne (1911-1980) was a French poet and translator. A friend of Mounir Hafez, Georges Bernanos and Emil Cioran, he is the author of numerous translations, including those of Kawabata, Hölderlin, Novalis, Woolf, The Book of a Thousand and One Nights and Moby Dick, to name only the most famous. The fame of his work as a translator has somewhat obscured his own immense poetic work. Yet, according to his own admission, he had no other ambition “than to be welcomed and received as a poet, to be able to count myself one day among the holy number of those divine ruffians of love.”

In the midst of an indigent modernity, dominated by the “absurd and monstrous accumulation of the things without souls,” Armel Guerne knew how to tear open an irredentist breach—a breakthrough “against the world” to sound the tocsin of the Absolute. From his first arrow to his final salvo, his work never deviated from its outgrowth—all were charitably oriented towards a poetic star, the only herald of a “truth that lasts, that begins at the ground level and goes to the sky, and that remains.” And as a cliff carries its other side, his work as a translator and poet are rooted in the same mythical Vale of Tempe—that land of the German Romantics, on which they silently set the “very seal of eternity” on poetry.

Of Armel Guerne’s critical writings (collected in Le Verbe nu [The Naked Word] and L’Ame insurgée [The Insurgent Soul]), chanted at the edge of inner constellations, one could say what Bettina von Arnim said of Hölderlin’s poetry: they are “in the eternal fermentation of restless poetry.” Without ever feeding on any “flavor of the day”—whose constant frenzy is only a proof of its latent paralysis—Armel Guerne watched over a branch of speech, which it is up to each generation to revive in a “grace of living charity” (Lettres Dom ClaudeLetters Dom Claude). Like a guardian of the Pyrenees, like the crypt where the Mazdean priests maintained a sacred fire for a thouysand years, Armel Guerne praised and preserved this heritage of “incessant orations”—thus re-establishing the preeminence of the poem, this “brazen shaft of all words, this axis around which all the worlds revolve and all the ages turn.” (La Nuit veilleNight Watch).

In fidelity to this stellar decree, one finds in each of Armel Guerne’s poems the destined reflection of the “infinite Silentiary” (JournalDiary), which gave his poetry a vesperal and definitive character—in the image of the burnt sky which culminated above Tourtrès, where Guerne sat with his mill, like a watchman on an inalterable Acropolis. It is from this “mill of miracles,” rooted in “the mineral of the wind and forgotten times” that Armel Guerne wrote his greatest poetic work, including Les Jours de l’Apocalypse [The Days of Apocalypse], Le Jardin colérique [The Angry Garden], or the Rhapsodie des fins dernières [Rhapsody of the End Times].

In spite of the overwhelming confidentiality in which his work remains walled up, Guerne remains a sentinel in our night, reminding us of the imperative necessity of poetry, this “Ravenous hunger of the Holy Spirit” which never gives up its weapons to any world, and only gives its eyes to the expectation of a Word—without ever dimming its “purple wing” (St. John of the Cross).

If the poets are immutable and that they alone “found what remainsm” as Hölderlin said, the conservation of their voices seems however to be endangered by the modern pandemonium, which does not cease to reduce the range of their insolent brisures. Guerne hurled in particular violent anathemas at the prolific critical logorrhea which, contrary to its initial mission of “passer-by,” is now happy to palaver blissfully, by assembling and disassembling the great texts upon a mechanical and inert frame. In this necropolis of the word, erected by these merchants of contraband, we find “Nothing true. Nothing alive. Nothing lived. Death put in tomes. Death. Easy to recognize: it cannot be silent, since it exists only in its chatter” (Le Verbe nu). By thus spatulating its plaster of quibbles, this “necrophilic literature of professors, doctors, commentators, exegetes, analysts, biographers, historiographers, anecdotists, nomenclators” proves in the same gesture that it does not actually reside in the poem—its learned objectivity was thus only a scarecrow, upon which it leaned its disarmament—its escape before a sovereign Word. According to Guerne, this denial is the very sting of this pantomime modernity, which, by fear or by cowardice, gesticulates ceaselessly on its own rubble: “For there is a modern thought… clothed in a barbaric or zany language, caught in a corset, a thought without breath; its circle has been reduced to the dimensions of a tiny circus… without ever risking a glance outside” (Le Verbe nu). From then on, we have to consider, following Guerne, that this tropism to the dismantling of the poets is only an umpteenth modality of the “technical Moloch” demystified by Bernanos—this specter of orphaned ashes, which voluntarily forgets as its corruption of the world advances, the vital ferments which made it get born.

Drained and brutalized, the modern soul—whose each edges seems dedicated to the countable osculation of the world—does not know how to measure itself with this sibylline and elusive truth deposited by poetry. It is against this seated deciphering that Guerne crystallizes his rock of insurgency: his anger has no other aim than the fight against all these debilitating deadlocks—tightened every day by the modern dementia, “whose characteristic is to never think, but to turn in circles, faster and faster, in the sawdust and the dung of the time, with the other civil servants, without ever risking a glance outside” (Le Verbe nu).

It is thus against the grain that Guerne reveals to us the dawn of an interior vox cordis, that of poetry—since it is “the only language still alive enough, still armed enough, still powerful and whole enough, close enough to the mystery also of the word, to carry away the fortresses of the inertia and to burst the concrete of the lie, carrying in it a grain of human truth which can still germinate, a seed of beauty which will bloom in the hideousness” (L’âme insurgée).

“All true language is silence”

In response to this deadlocked language, padlocked in its own corrosion, Guerne enjoins us to scrutinize the incandescent hearth of poetry, where only “silence” crackles—this pneuma of an unconquerable breath that whispers its “Unavowable absence impossible to grasp” (Le Jardin colérique). This absence—unavowable because unforgivable—is not this withdrawn mutism that a certain poetry obscure to itself claimed in a self-sufficient glory. On the contrary, with Guerne, silence is an immemorial tear to be safeguarded, a mythical Palladium which guarantees to the world the perpetuation of an island of freedom: “Silence is not what one believes, an extinction, an immobility, a not closed in a yes wide open. Silence is a movement that contains itself, of such power and intensity that to move beside it becomes a grotesque caricature, a stunning simulacrum. The movement of movement, the universal source… The hand of all caresses, of all pains, beyond evil and good, of all acts” (Fragments).

To be disposed to this poetic grammar, it is necessary to imagine that poetry shelters in its torn center a baptistry of silence, where is imperially maintained the forefinger of Angerona, that ancient goddess whose finger affixed to lips—symbol of an ordered silence—is an insolence opposed to all the noises of the world, be they the sweetest. And it is from this preserved archipelago—where the eternal and the temporal intersect—that Armel Guerne composed his Adamic alphabet, wherein culminates in its summit “the unique human voice that stands behind the words and that resounds, mysteriously, each time man reaches out to himself… Sometimes open to the heavy night and echoing in the depths of the abyss, sometimes torn by supernatural gleams, this authentic voice of man, which reappears suddenly at the crucial hours, pierces and disperses his languages” (L’Ame insurgée). For Guerne, perhaps even more than an inapparent heart or a founding axis, silence is the very strength of the poet—indeed, the only one he truly possesses. [“That the most sublime poetry is really, in the end, only the learning of silence” (Le Verbe nu)].

And to connect the corolla of the diamond cutters, who set poetry with an aura of silence, it is appropriate to quote Max Picard and his Monde du silence (World of Silence), in which he writes that “Poetry comes from silence and for the nostalgia of silence.” [Max Picard wrote of Hölderlin that his words “seem to come from a space that existed before creation” (Le Monde du silence)].This echo without return acts thus in the manner of a liturgical screen, by which the poet sifts the relics of a word which precedes the creation, to collect the deposit of a new clarity—opened in the immobile one. This is what Guerne’s poem Le Poids vivant de la parole (The Living Weight of the Word) evokes, in which he dips his hieratic blade, ever more deeply into the “amassed” powers of silence [“The most difficult thing is still to gather the silences, all the silences of the most diverse kinds, and to bring them back intact, one by one, by the dozens, by the thousands, the smallest and the largest, to collect them carefully as they pass and to bring them home delicately. Without breaking them, without tarnishing them, without crumpling them” (La nuit veille)]:

You can write, and you write;
You can be silent, and you are silent.
But to know that silence
Is the great and only key,
One must pierce all the symbols.
To devour the images,
To listen in order not to hear,
To undergo until death
Like a crushing
The living weight of the word.

It is thus about poetry as about an asceticism: a constant and heroic “mine of will” which arms itself in a column of silence. In these two secret nobilities, the same language of oracle is whispered: an awakener of the Spirit who goes “to seek behind the noise; who picks it up and who collects it for all those who are exiled from it. In such a poetic alchemy, there is no place for embellishment or ornament: each word, however simple, is chanted at its “maximum flavor“—thus crystallizing this concretion of the poem into a secret pearl, which testifies before its living weight: “The silent meditation of the most silent of monks is, in this sense, a listening of the word until the finest of the ineffable. Almost perfection” (Fragments).

The Abyss of Time

For Guerne, much more than a simple aggregate of captious and scattered words, the poem is a tension—torn at the two points of the infinite, between the previous Word and the words that seek it. This caesura of abyss, as violent as a “silent storm,” reminds us of the famous letter of the American poet William Carlos Williams [1913 letter to Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry magazine], where he, after having written that ” Now life is above all things else at any moment subversive of life,” indicates that it is the same for the poem: ” Verse to be alive must have infused into it something of the same order, some tincture of disestablishment, something in the nature of an impalpable revolution.” With Guerne, it is a question of the same perseverance of the poem in a stellar conatus, of the same light accentuating itself in a coruscating force—all these ardent powers concur to this “oxidation of the infinite, of the eternity or of the things” carried by the poetry.

Detecting then a “source of all fires,” the poet fans the mythical remains of it to the point of setting his own word ablaze in a burning firebrand—to be able to welcome “the deposit of a truth” which is not his own. It is this lightning rearrangement that the poem Soudain [Suddenly] encloses, spurring even more deeply this “urge for renewal is gaining ground in the aftermath of monstrous destruction,” of which the poem is only one meteor:

Words, just to put them down
One next to the other,
That say more and go further
Than we go; words
Suddenly no longer ours
And stand so close
Close to a supreme truth.
Words that cease to be said
To better come, suddenly, to become again.
Words of the word.
(Le Poids vivant de la parole)

And if “the ark of the world is on the waters of time,” as Guerne writes in his Jours de l’Apocalypse, it is because it is the poet’s responsibility to go up the tubular corridors of time—themselves linked to the “pillar of Eternity”—to ring the bell of the unalterable. Split between these two temporal poles, his own and that of the word, the poet condenses a “hurricane above the deserts” and breaks the anthropic bodice by a ray of lightning—such as the “interior blood and its irrevocable mystery, until then contained in the night of the body” (La Nuit veille). For, contrary to a modern taxonomy, which requires of the poet a hectic inventiveness turned towards artifice or imagination, Guerne teaches us that the “clairvoyance” of the poet is above all an inclination of the soul towards itself—a sovereign expectation of the living Weight of the word: “The true mystery of all poetry, it is that the poet is in us; the other one, the one who speaks, doesn’t speak; it’s not true: it’s not him, it’s just the Word. Thus, it is by an august gesture of allegiance that the poet makes himself Sphinx, by putting himself in tune with an anterior sovereignty—being able thus only “to give his voice—even if it is breathless—to the voice which calls” (Au bout du tempsAt the end of time).

And it is in this beginning of a rediscovered word that we detect the first strain of Guerne’s thought—the vital point from which all its foliage branches out. It is based on the intuition that poetry should not “second the world” as Kafka said about the novel, but that it aspires to be a mirror of the Apocalypse, taken in its primary sense of “revelation” and “unveiling”: “We have passed the threshold of the Apocalypse and, in my opinion, we are mistaken when we want to look at or read the Apocalypse as a prophecy. In reality we should read and understand it as a lived history, already past in part, and in the depths of which we are charitably engaged. This is what is happening every day. It is more than at our doors; it has entered our lives, we are living it, absolutely.” This apocalyptic bottom generates a deep caesura in his poetic thought—it calls him to a conversion, which carries the word on the imperious way of necessity. As if, by the tear that it would impose, the Apocalypse definitively breaks the vitiated fabrics of the babble, so that poetry finds its innocence of the aerolith. It is with this breaking star that Armel Guerne hoped to hang poetry, as shown in one of his confessions, written in the beating of a revealed abyss: “About poetry, I have ambitious and clear ideas which put it a little higher than the ditty: I want to say, today, vigil of the end time” (Letter to his editor).

The Open Palms

“On a sinking ship, panic comes from the fact that all the people, and especially the sailors, obstinately speak only the language of navigation; and no one speaks the language of shipwrecks. Only prophets and poets know how to use this language of meltdown panic, according to Guerne. In a disoriented universe, where dissolution and siltation seem to be the only avenues of the future, these two passers-by of the absolute raise the lost by only their glances “turned right side up.” It is one of the multiple possible meanings that we give to the Apocalypse evoked by Guerne—beyond a material state of the world, it is an interior accentuation by which the poet does not write any more for himself, nor for the others, but in front of the end of times. Howling thus his Rhapsodie des fins dernières, under the porch of the agony of the world, his verses are consumed in an irrevocable detonation, which tremble with equal intensity with all the “revelations”—”For the poet, the universe is an incandescent drama. Its tragedy enlightens” (Fragments).

Guerne initiates us then into a blessing by the desert—understood as the voluntary desiccation of the poet where the waiting and the attention become his only prayers, his only consoling sources. In these latitudes—dug in an unfathomable abyss that summons all the chasms of silence and night—the freedom of the poet is strangled by the very power of the word: “The word speaks; and I listen to it speak. It sings; and I listen to it sing. It commands; and I listen to it obey and I see it obey. This is the School of the Seer.” And it is from these specular sighs, which reflect even more deeply the received light, that the poet abandons his lower maneuvers to receive the break of a superior verb: “The writing is only a bark of which one makes a divine cup; remains the One who fills it and the one who is thirsty and who takes it to drink. Begging before the one and begging before the other, the poet is between the two ” (Rhapsodie des fins dernières). It is this hieratic snatch of which each poem is the palpitating witness that makes Guerne’s poetic thought so necessary. It reminds us that beyond the dislocation of the poet, between supplications and thundering, it is the simple word carried by poetry which bequeaths to us an effulgent crystal—”The poet did nothing but open his blood, source of word” (Le Verbe nu).

It is up to the poet alone to hold out this open palm of the beggar—whose bruised phalanxes are only the pulverized reflection of his own charity—to pick up this immemorial tear of the word. Like a herald, the poet then remembers this mythical needle by affixing it on all the ruins of the world—and carries in front of a new Axis Mundi, like an Atlas armed with the sword of the Archangel: “All set their traps for you, scholars, politicians, bankers; the traps in which they themselves are caught. The poet holds out to you his buoy, and if he can, his hand”. (Preface to his translation of the Disciples at Sais, Hymns to the Night, religious songs of Novalis).


Henri Rosset writes from France. “Everyone wants to own the end of the world.” This articles through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.

Derrida the Negator

There are posthumous editions that are only of secondary interest in relation to the work already known by their author. Such is not the case with this work, written by Derrida in 1960. It cannot be reduced to its sole pedagogical aim, which was to provide the learned correction of a dissertation subject given to his philosophy students at the Sorbonne, on a subject that is none other than a sentence written by Alain: “To think is to say no.” Indeed, in his Preface, Brieuc Gérard stresses that Derrida, then an assistant in “general philosophy and logic” at the university of the Sorbonne, enjoyed for four years “a complete autonomy as to the subject-matter of his courses and the organization of his directed works,” which ceased in 1964 when he was forced to follow the program of the agrégation of philosophy at the École normale supérieure of Paris. In virtue of this autonomy, proper to any enterprise of “general philosophy,” Derrida thus professed his own thought through those he taught. By the mediation of the philosophers that he summoned and discussed, according to a well determined direction leading to his master Heidegger, Derrida who became one of the greatest thinkers of “French Theory” gives us to read and to think the most important premises of his philosophy of deconstruction.

Deconstruction

The title given by Derrida to his four-session essay thwarts the reader’s expectations—instead of representing an apology of negation, in the logical sense of the term, it first follows faithfully Alain’s original proposal to lead to a thought of “neither yes nor no,” where the implications and presuppositions that organize the two affirmative and negative modalities of thought are deconstructed, that is to say, unpacked, and not eliminated. The opposition that Alain makes between thought and affirmation begins in fact, at first, by being translated in the terms of an opposition between thought and belief—for him, Derrida tells us, “the idea of proof as a technical instrument of truth is to be refused, because as soon as one says yes, one ceases to think and one begins to believe.” In this sense, Alain, more Cartesian than Descartes, would adopt an “ultraradicalism of doubt” which consisted in not using it to reach a certainty under the aegis of a veracious God, but on the contrary in remaining at “the hypothesis of the deceitful God and even of the Evil Genius to save thought and the initiation of thought… which has no initiation except in the “no,” hostile to any proof, to any definitive destination in the true.

Even before opposing the ready-to-think provided against it by “the world, the tyrant and the preacher,” the thought is thus constituted by a movement of negation: on the one hand, negation of appearance, insofar as to think, that is to say, to examine objects and to reflect on them, is to refuse to stick to what one perceives; on the other hand and above all, negation of what one holds oneself to be apparent, since “in order to see something, necessitates [already] a whole implicit work of selections, criticisms, questions;” that is to say, of negation of what one excludes in our perceptual sorting: “to believe everything, therefore to say yes to everything, is to choose to see nothing,” Derrida comments. To say yes, one must say no.

In fact, this raises an objection to Derrida, in that this total affirmation, instead of being only a total deprivation of the visible, can be, on the contrary, under different conditions of the rational or discursive thought, the way of access to the invisible itself. Doesn’t the naive “yes to everything” deserve to be measured and rethought by the “I choose everything” of Saint Therese of Lisieux?

Notwithstanding what the saint may object to in the dialectician, Derrida pursues Alain’s reasoning, whose antithesis does not fail to put classical skepticism out of the game: if belief signifies a halt in the movement of thought, its being put to sleep, it is only as “credulous thought.” On the contrary, faith, in its broad sense of an act of trust, is not naive credulity, but the inevitable presupposition of all awakened thought, of all thought that says no: “without a kind of primitive axiological adherence to the legitimacy of truth, it would not even be possible to challenge opinion in general… as a de facto breach of the truth.” In other words, to be able to deny, one has to feel that one has to do so: to say no, one has to have confidence in truth as an ideal against which an opinion can be refuted because it is wrong: “to say no, to doubt, to refuse, one has to want to, to decide to. It is a necessary fiat or a be that is a yes to the will to say no.” The actuality of doubt is based, if not on the ideal certainty in the truth, at least on a confidence in it. To say no, one must say yes.

By showing that thought says neither yes nor no, Derrida leads to the deconstruction of affirmation and negation. This in a double sense: by revealing, on the one hand, the negation supposed by affirmation (in the form of a sorting, a selection) as well as the affirmation supposed by negation (in the form of a confidence in one’s own project), he denies—on the other hand, the pretension of both to represent two modalities of thought, each one provided with its own and definite meaning. In so doing, Derrida challenges classical logic and ontology, which respectively make non-being and negation the symmetrical opposites of being and affirmation, in order to disseminate the meaning of these two opposites in the variety of their mutual implications.

Dissemination

While following Bergson, Derrida notes that negation in classical logic is not a negation; it is only a “modalization” of affirmation, since it consists in refusing an affirmation in the name of another implicit affirmation. For example, to say that such and such a table is not white is to affirm in disguise that the table is of another color. This is why, in the same way, the nothingness in the classical ontology is not a nothingness either, because if it is a nothingness; it is nothing at all; we don’t have to talk about it; it is thus, on the contrary, under the mode of “the haunting” that it means something: “it is necessary that the nothingness haunts being so that negation is possible.” The negation, logical or ontological, must therefore be rethought. By ending his course on Heideggerian phenomenology, Derrida announces what his philosophy will be based on: a renewed thought of negation. For a negation to be really such, in fact, it is necessary, while remaining discursive (without which there is no judgment), that it is the affirmation of nothing. For there to be negation, it must not be a contrary affirmation, but the contrary of any affirmation; consequently, not the determination or definition of any meaning, but the dissemination of meaning.

Derrida has indeed a neantizing conception of freedom. He repeats in his course that humanity experiences its freedom only through its power of “neantization” of the world, of negation of everything: “for my affirmative judgment to have a value of truth,” he says, commenting on Bergson, “it is necessary that I be free to choose for the truth and that I be able to say something other than what I say;” that is to say, to negate the truth. It is thus “by the negation or the thought of nothingness that the spirit authenticates itself as freedom,” he concludes. However, it was Bergson’s mistake, as well as Husserl’s and finally Sartre’s after him, to think negation incompletely: if, indeed, consciousness that denies all existence does not deny itself as existence (or as “being”), its negation is not complete. To affirm its freedom, the subject must be able to deny itself also, to include itself in the hyperbolic negation: “The most comprehensive phenomenological reduction, the most extended, the deepest anguish [will be able] to negate the totality of the world, the totality of the states, the totality of the regions of the being [only by negating also] the man, the for-itself, the consciousness included. It is thus necessary to exceed this opposition consciousness-world.

This is what Heidegger finally understood when, abandoning his theme of anguish, he refused to affirm the power of neantisation “from to be [or] from being,” and to think it on the contrary from “the difference between to be and being,” by which “to be shows itself by hiding itself in being.” Indeed, for Heidegger, nothingness haunts everything, since everything appears and disappears on a purely undetermined background—the fact that any phenomenon can appear and disappear indicates to us that any phenomenon always rests on an empty place; that nothingness is not the opposite of existence but its condition of appearance, as a blackboard allows any form to be drawn on it. But as long as we remain in the order of logically measurable language, this Heideggerian theory of “ontological difference” is an error, since logically speaking, “there is only difference within a genus, [and] being is not a genus.” To assume the ontological difference, it is thus necessary, for Derrida, to make language incommensurable, to subtract it from any possibility of logical measurement, by thwarting any attempt to fix meaning, to define it. Such was the Derridean enterprise of the “dissemination”—once deconstructed the sense of the words, necessarily, instead of recomposing what has been deconstructed, leave the elements of sense scattered, without a coherence definitively assignable to a system or to a given interpretation; it is necessary to let the elements show themselves scattered in an irremediable multiplicity and without substance. Derrida thus saveed the coherence of the Heideggerian phenomenology by exceeding it in a more radical theory—that of the meontological “differentiation,” true contrary thought of to be.

Unbinding

The “differentiation” that Derrida theorized consisted in substantiating the insubstantivable—not the fact of differentiating one thing from another, but the fact of deferring in time the meaning of a concept by its inscription, in a chain of other concepts. Against the traditional principle of identity which, at the foundation of the other principles (of contradiction and of the third-excluded), stipulates that “every thing is what it is,” “A is A,” the course “Thinking” is saying no; it intends to show that the two fundamental elements of language, the yes and the no, have no determined meaning—the yes is not a yes, the no is not a no, since their meaning is always deferred, awaiting donation through the diversity of their uses and their mutual implications. We thus understand why Derrida concluded his course by saying that Heidegger’s “ontico-ontological difference” “would allow us to really hear Alain when he says that ‘to think is to say no'”: this thought indeed opens a breach in the possibility of thinking a negation that is really one, by preventing any determination, any assignment of any meaning whatsoever to a given sign by disseminating it, by always ceaselessly deferring the sign from itself.

The Deconstruction inaugurated by Derrida is thus much more subtle, and therefore more pernicious, than what many contemporaries understand it to be by associating it, wrongly, with an enterprise of pure and simple destruction. Derrida does not destroy anything—he deconstructs to disseminate, to untie. He exhibits the constructions of thought and language, without suppressing them nor recomposing them, by leaving them “disseminated” out of any possibility of stable recomposition. To the antipodes of the philosopher Albert Leclère who, in 1901, defended in his Essai critique sur le droit d’affirmer (Critical Essay on the Right to Affirm) that “the thinking subject cannot consider thought without immediately noticing that it poses the existence of some reality,” concluding that “the reality of being, of metaphysical being, is a necessary affirmation of thought.” On the contrary, Derrida wrote, sixty years later, a succession of essays to show the necessity, for thought, of denying. All of Derrida’s originality is to see to it that this negation is a true negation; that is to say, not a contrary affirmation, but the contrary of any affirmation—this is why he considered that “to criticize a philosopher is a lamentable gesture” and, refusing all criticism, does not seek to refute but to dissolve the problems by taking care to never completely satisfy the need for comprehension, by thwarting all attempts at definition.

Derrida thus represents the most coherent attempt to dissolve the traditional philosophical “realism” of a Saint Thomas Aquinas, by denying to signs not only their connection to things, to which they refer (as the nominalists were content to do), but also their capacity to coincide with their own meaning. If, from this course, the sense is untied from the real (“the noem is nothing real since it is a sense,” he infers about Husserl), the sense announces itself similarly to be untied from itself in the justification of the thought as “saying no.” Thus, it is not excluded to think that Derrida completed, in the 20th century, the whole process of desubstantialization of language inaugurated by nominalism from the 14th century, completing the modernization of thought in an enterprise of final dissolution of meaning.


Paul Ducay, Professor of philosophy with a medievalist background. Heir to the metaphysics of Nicolas de Cues and the faith of Xavier Grall. Gascon by race and French by reason. “The devout infuriate the world; the pious edify it.” Marivaux. [This article comes through the kind courtesy of PHILITT].


Featured: “Via Dolorosa,” by Sybil Andrews; linocut print, 1935.

On Cancel Culture

Back in the 1970s, Jorge Luis Borges complained that American publishers would not publish his novels and short stories because he called the black man “negro” and not “colored man” and the blind man “stone-blind” and not “visually-impaired.”

Around that time, Yankee intellectuals began to use what is today known as “inclusive language”: the use of invented and repetitive rhetoric like “everyone” for “men and women,” “child and children” for “boys and girls,” “”workers,” for “the working man,” etc. In North America it now no longer needs to be used; but, as usual, it arrived twenty or thirty years later in South America where progressives have adopted it as a novelty.

Progressivism, that senile disease of old ideologies such as Marxism and liberalism, found in this pseudo-language its most successful expression: it speaks without saying anything and defines without defining. Its method is to be always at the forefront of everything. Hence, man cannot have a pro-ject (something moving forward) because he (the progressive) is his own project.

When political analysts ask themselves about this or that project of a progressive government, they are asking a false question, or a question without foundation. It is like pretending to ask the hanged man about the noose or rope he’s hanging from.

This senile disease, a mixture of liberalism and Marxism, supported by the secular religion of human rights, is slowly occupying all the governments of the West, thus establishing a single, politically correct way of thinking.

The common areas of this thought are: concern for humanity and not for the needs of the people; concern for individual well-being and not for that of families; concern for consumption and not for savings; concern for the Earth and not for the land; concern for ritual and not for the sacred; concern for the economy and not for politics; concern for virtual companies and not for work; and so on in all aspects of behavior and thinking.

As early as 1927, Martin Heidegger, in Being and Time (Section 35), spoke to us of the dictatorship of the “anonymous one (das Man)” who “says, thinks and acts [in me] as one says, thinks and acts,” which governs improper being. In nearly a hundred years, the issue has worsened and intensified.

Today the power of progressivism, being hegemonic, is unconditional. This explains why any questioning is considered right-wing, fascist or imperialist. If multiple sectors of society say “no” to erroneous measures, the response is “no response,” silence, ignoring—in short, the canceling of the objector. Canceling has become a mechanism of denying everything that discomforts or questions progressivism. What is particularly serious is that at the same time that cancel culture denies or does not listen to the objections of its opponents, it yet calls for dialogue on the basis of a consensus that does not reach a consensus; that is, by way of a false consensus.

This pernicious mechanism is the basis of progressive governmental action. The philosopher Massimo Cacciari has rightly observed that these governments do not resolve conflicts but only manage them. The lack of a firm ideological definition (President Fernandez of Argentina is both a Peronist and a social democrat, as he has declared) allows governments to swear allegiance to Biden, Putin and Jinping at the same time.

But all this is nothing more than feints; appearances used by progressive governments to join the globalization process that seems to be inevitable in the world.

After two years of Covid, the economy became completely independent of politics. The indirect powers (the lobbies, the mega-corporations and the international imperialism of money), according to Pius XII’s preclear expression, justify their actions in and with progressive governments.

However, the indirect economic powers demand that progressive governments be installed on the basis of the “one man, one vote” mechanism, since they need to have the legitimacy offered by the democratic mask. Democracy, being limited only to the legitimacy of origin, denies any demand for legitimacy of exercise, which is the requirement of good governance. Just and correct actions are what characterize good government, which is why there have been and will be good governments without them necessarily being democratic.

In South America, the ten governments we have are progressive in their different variants: in Argentina a Peronist who defines himself as a social democrat; in Chile a Marxist who calls himself a Peronist; in Bolivia a Marxist who calls himself a nationalist; in Uruguay a liberal who defines himself by Agenda 2030; in Paraguay, as usual, nothing; in Brazil a nationalist who lets multinationals do business; in Peru and Ecuador Marxists subjected to the crudest capitalism; in Colombia a liberal partner of the United States (now, a former FARC guerrilla converted to green ideology is taking office); and in Venezuela a Marxist with a calling to be rich, to the torment of his people.

Who governs South America? In reality, the international imperialism of money with all its ramifications, although nominally the ten progressive governments that with their disregard for a legitimacy of exercise facilitate the work of anonymous imperialism that has neither hands nor feet.

In this sense the great corruption of the ruling class counts a lot. To give an indisputable example, a thousand kilos of gold and ten thousand kilos of silver leave Argentina every year for Europe and the USA, practically without paying taxes. In the ports on the Paraná River, from where the grain production, worth millions (wheat, corn, soybean, sunflower), is shipped out, the annual tax evasion comes to 10 billion dollars. Fishing depredation in the South Atlantic by hundreds of Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Norwegian and English ships is uncontrolled.

Cancel culture has ensured that these and many other issues are not talked about. The title of Marcello Mastroianni’s movie, De eso no se habla (I Don’t Want to Talk About It) is the rule.

When Perón returned from exile in 1974, he stated that the Argentine man is broken and it will be very difficult to recover him. Since then, no attempt has been made to systematically recover our system of civic values, such as savings, hygiene, conduct, etc. Such values have been left, more and more, to their own devices, without any restraint. Those institutions that made Buenos Aires great (la piu grande cita italiana del mondo, as Franco Cardini said), such as the neighborhood clubs, the libraries and the popular swimming pools, the schools that gave on to the streets, the parishes with their festivals and tents—all them disappeared. The support for that Argentine man, who is all of us, was null. And so, teachers who do not read, professors who do not study, priests who do not take care of the soul but of food, librarians who do not invite to readings, clubs where drugs and not sports are the main focus; the combination of all this ended up with the promotion of the mediocre. And that mediocre, today between 40 and 60 years old, is the one that is holding office in the progressive governments of South America.

What to do with a subcontinent like the South American one that covers nearly 18 million square kilometers; that is, twice the size of Europe, or twice the size of the United States. It has 50,000 km of navigable waterways in its interior that take us from Buenos Aires to Guaira in Venezuela; or from the Atlantic in Belém do Pará in Brazil to Iquitos in Peru (San Martin, when he was governor of Peru in 1823, donated his salary to build a ship to stem the advance of the Bandeirantes, by sailing the Amazon from one end to the other). This subcontinent has minerals of all kinds, forests still impregnable, oil, gas, electric energy, and the largest reserve of fresh water on the planet in the Guarani aquifer. And above all, the subcontinent has a diverse human type (about 440 million) but with similar customs, habits and traditions, and speaking the same language as the Hispanic man, according to Gilberto Freyre, the greatest Brazilian sociologist, who speaks and understands without difficulty four languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Galician and Catalan. This extraordinary advantage has never been promoted as a State-policy by any of the ten countries that integrate it.

Anyone who studies us should not underestimate the order of these magnitudes. Hegel has readily taught that the order of magnitudes, when it is immense, transforms them into qualities.

The disadvantage of this great space is that anti-Hispanic colonial powers, such as England (in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Malvinas), Holland in Aruba and Surinam, and France in Guyana are still installed in it. (All plans for subcontinental unity since the time of San Martin and Bolivar have been aborted by the contrary intervention of these three countries).

I proposed in the Social Forum of Porto Alegre in 2002 the theory of the rhombus, with its vertexes in Buenos Aires, Lima, Caracas and Brasilia, as protection of the South American heartland. But this idea did not succeed. Chávez surrendered to Cuba, and the latter, as it has been doing for 70 years, sterilizes any Hispano-American nationalist project.

I invite European and Yankee researchers to study sine ira et studio the process of Cubanization of Our America as the source of all the failures of regional integration attempts.

Lenin’s question returns: What must we do? To dissent, which is nothing more than to raise, to propose “another version and vision” to that established by the single thought. To practice dissent in all its forms and ways is to stop being the mute dog of the Gospel. Dissent is not a negative thought that says no to everything. It is a propositional and existential thought that starts from the preference of ourselves. It rejects imitation and relies on our genius loci (climate, soil and landscape) and on our ethos (customs, experiences and traditions). You may consult my book Teoría del Disenso (published in Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Porto Alegre and Santiago de Chile).

Finally, you may note that I never spoke of “Latin America” because it is a spurious, false and misleading term, created by the French to intervene in America. The Italians know it very well because none of them call themselves Latin except those from Lazio. And in the USA, they are Italian Americans, never Latin Americans. Latin excludes the Basques who have done so much for America since the time of the conquistadors. The concept of “Latin America” is clearly a politically correct one, as it is used by everyone: the Church, the Freemasonry, the liberals, the Marxists and, obviously, the progressives—and also the clueless nationalists.

When we speak of Hispanic in America, it is not like in Spain, which is limited to the monarchy and the Catholic religion. Here, the Hispanic opens us to the whole Mediterranean culture (Italy, France, Portugal), the Arab world (Syria, Lebanon, Morocco). This explains why the millionaire Italian, French and Syrian-Lebanese immigration to South America has been comfortably welcomed.

The first thing to be lost in a cultural struggle is the semantic war, when one adopts the enemy’s denominations. We are Hispano-Creole, neither so European nor so Indian, as Bolivar affirmed.


Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles.


Featured: “Daniel Defoe in the Pillory,” by Eyre Crowe; painted in 1862.