Category Archives: Bibliography

Alphonse Daudet’s house of pain

Every evening, a hideously painful spasm in the ribs. I read, for a long time, sitting up in bed – the only position I can endure. I’m a poor old wounded Don Quixote, sitting on his arse in his armour at the foot of a tree.

Armour is exactly what it feels like, a hoop of steel cruelly crushing my lower back. Hot coals, stabs of pain as sharp as needles. Then chloral, the tin-tin of my spoon in the glass, and peace at last.

This breastplate has had me in its grip for months. I can’t undo the straps; I can’t breathe…

Since learning that I’ve got it for ever – and my God, what a short “for ever” that is going to be – I’ve readjusted myself and started taking these notes. I’m making them by dipping the point of a nail in my own blood and scratching on the walls of my carcere duro [punitive imprisonment].

All I ask is not to have to change cell, not to have to descend into an in pace, down there where everything’s black, and thought no longer exists…

The clever way death cuts us down, but makes it look like just a thinning-out. Generations never fall with one blow – that would be too sad and too obvious. Death prefers to do it piecemeal. The meadow is attacked from several sides at the same time. One of us goes one day; another some time afterwards; you have to stand back and look around you to take in what’s missing, to grasp the vast slaughter of your generation…

From time to time, a memory of the active life, of happier times. For instance, those Neapolitan coral-fishermen among the rocks, in the evening. The epitome of physical well-being…

Return to childhood. To reach that distant chair, to cross that waxed corridor, requires as much effort and ingenuity as Stanley deploys in the African jungle…

I only know one thing, and that is to shout to my children, “Long live Life!’ But it’s so hard to do, while I am ripped apart by pain.

This was first published in 1930, although Daudet died in 1897. Here is a related article, and here is the one in which I am finding my Daudet quotations. Here is more.

Axé.

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Final nadería

Note: “El escritor argentino y la tradición” is next, so no, you are not free. And it appears that being only seems to exist because time seems to pass.

No hay tal yo de conjunto. Grimm, en una excelente declaración del budismo (Die Lehre des Buddha, München, 1917), narra el procedimiento eliminador mediante el cual los indios alcanzaron esa certeza. He aquí su canon milenariamente eficaz: Aquellas cosas de las cuales puedo advertir los principios y la postrimería, no son mi yo. Esa norma es verídica y basta ejemplificarla para persuadimos de su virtud. Yo, por ejemplo, no soy la realidad visual que mis ojos abarcan, pues de serlo me mataría toda oscuridad y no quedaría nada en mí para desear el espectáculo del mundo ni siquiera para olvidado. Tampoco soy las audiciones que escucho pues en tal caso debería borrarme el silencio y pasaría de sonido en sonido, sin memoria del anterior. Idéntica argumentación se endereza después a lo olfativo, lo gustable y lo táctil y se prueba con ello, no solamente que no soy el mundo aparencial -cosa notoria y sin disputa- sino que las apercepciones que lo señalan tampoco son mi yo. Esto es, no soy mi actividad de ver, de oír, de oler, de gustar, de palpar. Tampoco soy mi cuerpo, que es fenómeno entre los otros. Hasta ese punto el argumento es baladí, siendo lo insigne su aplicación a lo espiritual. ¿Son el deseo, el pensamiento, la dicha y la congoja mi verdadero yo? La respuesta, de acuerdo con el canon, es claramente negativa, ya que estas afecciones caducan sin anonadar me con ellas. La conciencia -último escondrijo posible para el emplazamiento del yo- se manifiesta inhábil. Ya descartados los afectos, las percepciones forasteras y hasta el cambiadizo pensar, la conciencia es cosa baldía, sin apariencia alguna que la exista reflejándose en ella.

Observa Grimm que este prolijo averiguamiento dialéctico nos deja un resultado que se acuerda con la opinión de Schopenhauer, según la cual el yo es un punto cuya inmovilidad es eficaz para determinar por contraste la cargada fuga del tiempo. Esta opinión traduce el yo en una mera urgencia lógica, sin cualidades propias ni distinciones de individuo a individuo.

Axé.

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Further nadería

El yo no existe. Schopenhauer, que parece arrimarse muchas veces a esa opinión la desmiente tácitamente, otras tantas, no sé si adrede o si forzado a ello por esa basta y zafia metafísica -o más bien ametafísica-, que acecha en los principios mismos del lenguaje. Empero, y pese a tal disparidad, hay un lugar en su obra que a semejanza de una brusca y eficaz lumbrerada, ilumina la alternativa. Traslado el tal lugar que, castellanizado, dice así:

Un tiempo infinito ha precedido a mi nacimiento; ¿qué fui yo mientras tanto? Metafísicamente podría quizá contestarme: Yo siempre fui yo; es decir, todos aquellos que dijeron yo durante ese tiempo, fueron yo en hecho de verdad.

La realidad no ha menester que la apuntalen otras realidades. No hay en los árboles divinidades ocultas, ni una inagarrable cosa en sí detrás de las apariencias, ni un yo mitológico que ordena nuestras acciones. La vida es apariencia verdadera. No engañan los sentidos, engaña el entendimiento, que dijo Goethe: sentencia que podemos comparar con este verso de Macedonio Fernández:

La realidad trabaja en abierto misterio.

Axé.

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Hybridity in the word mestizaje

A través de un análisis genealógico de los términos mestizo y mestizaje, este artículo revela que dichos vocablos son doblemente híbridos. Por un lado, ellos albergan la hibridez empírica construida sobre taxonomías raciales de los siglos XVIII y XIX, según las cuales los «mestizos» son individuos no indígenas, resultado de la mezcla biológica o cultural. Por otro lado, la genealogía de los mestizos comienza aún más temprano, cuando la «mezcla» denotaba trasgresión de la norma de la fe y sus estatutos de pureza. Dentro de este régimen taxonómico, los mestizos pueden ser, al mismo tiempo, indígenas. Aparentemente, las teorías raciales dominantes, sustentadas por el conocimiento científico, no anularon sino que se mezclaron con las anteriores taxonomías basadas en la fe. Así, «mestizo» alberga una hibridez conceptual —la mezcla de dos regimenes clasificatorios—, la cual revela alternativas subordinadas para las posiciones subjetivas de los mestizos, incluyendo formas de indigenidad.

Axé.

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Ferrari, Moro, translation

I will study this.

Axé.

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Echt nadería

Whitman fue el primer Atlante que intentó realizar esa porfía y se echó el mundo a cuestas. Creía que bastaba enumerar los nombres de las cosas, para que enseguida se tantease lo únicas y sorprendentes que son. Por eso, en sus poemas, junto a mucha bella retórica, se enristran gárrulas series de palabras, a veces calcos de textos de Geografía o de Historia, que inflaman enhiestos signos de admiración, y remedan altísimos entusiasmos.

De Whitman acá, muchos se han enredado en esa misma falacia. Han dicho de esta suerte:

No he mortificado el idioma en busca de agudezas imprevistas o de maravillas verbales. No he urdido ni una leve paradoja capaz de alborotar vuestra charla o de chisporrotear por vuestro laborioso silencio. Tampoco inventé un cuento al derredor del cual se apiñarán las largas atenciones como en la recordación se apiñan muchas horas inútiles al derredor de una hora en que hubo amor. Nada de eso hice ni determino hacer y sin embargo quiero perdurar en la fama. Mi justificación es la que sigue: Yo soy un hombre atónito de la abundancia del mundo: yo atestiguo la unicidad de las cosas. Al igual de los más preclaros varones, mi vida está ubicada en el espacio, y las campanadas de los relojes unánimes jalonan mi duración por el tiempo. Las palabras que empleo no son resabios de aventadas lecturas, sino señales que signan lo que he sentido o contemplado. Si alguna vez menté la aurora, no fue por seguir la corriente fácil de uso. Os puedo asegurar que sé lo que es la Aurora: he visto, con alborozo premeditado, esa explosión, que ahueca el fondo de las calles, amotina los arrabales del mundo, humilla las estrellas y ensancha en muchas leguas el cielo. Sé también lo que son un jacarandá, una estatua, un prado, una cornisa…. Soy semejante a todos los demás. Ésa es mi jactancia y mi gloria. Poco importa que la haya proclamado en versos ruines o en prosa mazorral.

Lo mismo, con más habilidad y mayor maestría, afirman los pintores. ¿Qué es la pintura de hoy -la de Picasso y sus alumnos-, sino la verificación absorta de la preciosa unicidad de un rey de espadas, de un quicial, o de un tablero de ajedrez? La egolatría romántica y el vocinglero individualismo van así desbaratando las artes. Gracias a Dios que el prolijo examen de minucias espirituales que éstos imponen al artista, le hacen volver a esa eterna derechura clásica que es la creación. En un libro como Greguerías ambas tendencias entremezclan sus aguas e ignoramos al leerlo si lo que imanta nuestro interés con fuerza tan única es una realidad copiada o es pura forja intelectual.

–JLB

Axé.

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On being “positive”

I made a few comments elsewhere, that these are nice instructions for living but are not psychology. I wanted to say more, but it would not have been polite, as it was on the author’s sister’s Facebook page and she is a colleague. The author holds a chair and is famous and powerful, but his work is superficial.

For instance, the fourth chapter of his book emphasizes that your mental health will improve if you can see your own faults. People do not do this, says the author. They do dishonest things and try to get away with them, and they blame others for their problems. I, on the other hand, find that only immature people behave this way.

I also find that when one is dealing with immature people, or abusive people or criminals for that matter, especially if they have legal or institutional power over you or seek to harm you, seeing your own faults is not to your advantage: you must insist on your rights. They will only take your balanced view as a sign of weakness.

I find it disturbing that major figures in psychology make pronouncements like this, and I think it is the height of condescension to assume the kind of unconsciousness and immaturity on the part of the audience that the author does. Yet many admire this kind of dictum. Does it really seem so wise to them … how is it that they, adults, are surprised to hear they might have any faults at all?

Also problematic is this author’s love of the cognitive-behavioral hypothesis. You are to recognize an irrational thought you have, and replace it with a rational one.

However, if you are in an irrational state it is hard to see this, and replacing an irrational thought with a rational one is not an easy procedure. In fact it is virtually impossible to do without analysis. You can exercise self-discipline and control behavior at a superficial level, for a limited amount of time, yes — but you will not solve your problem.

I am in fact not sure the author has ever met anyone committed to their irrationality. If he had, he would know that they will defend this, and that suggestions of more rational ways of looking at things will increase and not decrease their frenzy.

It is true that that some of the people who are most severely self-critical are also the most defensive and entitled. This can be seen a a cognitive distortion, but it has to do with egotism and rigidity and is not a mere error in logic. This condition requires a far deeper kind of treatment than our author is willing to countenance.

I really do not know what to say about all of these books. It is as though they had been written by and for people from another planet. I was born happy. I lived by the sea and was not baptized, so I never joined the circle of guilt and sin that seems to circumscribe the lives of so many. (My guilt complex comes from somewhere else, as we know, and it is not this religion and perfectionism based one most people appear to have.)

It seems to me that much of the “positive psychology” (see also discussions of “resilience”) that is touted now is:

(a) a reaction to the kind of faux analysis I once underwent, where one was asked to be unnecessarily negative;
(b) a throwing-in of the towel: people have given up on the treatment of mental illness but are not admitting this, but rather saying they have discovered it can be cured with vitamins;
(c) a cultural manifestation: have Americans, or “Westerners,” really never received basic instructions for living?

What do you think?

There is more I disagree with. For instance, that on my deathbed I will wish I had spent more time with family and less time at the office. I have always been encouraged to work less. There is so much I wanted to do, that I have not done, because I have tried to obey the kind of heartfelt instructions the author, who has allowed himself to achieve at high levels, purveys.

That is to say, I have sacrificed a great deal for the sake of some of the tiresome, mainstream ideas this author repeats. For me to be happier I need to work more, and think more deeply. I am glad I have the longevity genes I need to make up for the time I lost trying to fit in with the life strategies of people who do not have a life’s work or major projects they really love.

The fifth chapter of the Happiness book seems the most interesting. It appears to recognize that material conditions do contribute to happiness, and that adversity and even trauma can lead to wisdom (or to destruction, depending).

The sixth chapter says love is companionship and not passion, a commonplace I have decided I disagree with utterly. And all of the author’s writings, like those of so many other Americans, appear to be riddled with the idea of work: you “work on” your marriage, “work on” your happiness, and so on.

I find it ironic that all these psychologists who say one should not work so hard, not dedicate oneself to a life’s work, also think that daily life, relationships, connections and pleasure must be thought of as work.

Finally, I am completely convinced that most psychological problems have to do with sociopolitical issues (e.g. heteronormativity, racism, more), material deprivation (we do not live on air), and various forms of abuse. You cannot wish these things away with positive thinking, although living as well as one can is important.

Once again I will repeat that I am not against this author’s general advice for living. I myself was raised to decide to enjoy the days. Many appear not to have been.

Axé.

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