March 1, 2010

That which is absent from reality is that which is truly important


[Some lines copied out from the novel The Absent City by Ricardo Piglia:]

As soon as she walked through the bars she decided she would tell the truth. She was a madwoman who believed she was a policewoman who was forced to be hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic; and she was a policewoman trained to pretend that she was in a machine exhibited in a room in a Museum.

It was like an emotion, and yet it had a cold quality, so perhaps it was not an emotion at all.

There is only one known case in the history of the island of a man who knew two languages at the same time. His name was Bob Mulligan, and he claimed that he dreamt incomprehensible words whose meanings were transparent to him.

On the island, being fast is a category of truth.

“Look,” he said, “politicians believe scientists and scientists believe novelists. Scientists are big readers of novels, the last representatives of a nineteenth-century public, the only ones who really consider the uncertainty of reality and the form of a story. Physicists, Macedonio would say, added the quarks to the basic particle of the universe, in homage to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The only friend Einstein had at Princeton, his only confidant, was the novelist Herman Broch, whose books, especially The Death of Vigil, he could quote from memory. The rest of the world spends its time believing superstitions on television. The criteria of reality” the Russian said, “ has crystallized and become concentrated, and that is why they want to deactivate the machine.”

That is how the State thinks, and why the police mainly torture the poor, only the poor or the workers or the dispossessed, who you can see are darker-skinned or mesitzos, they are tortured by the police or by the military. Only in very exceptional cases have they tortured people belonging to other social classes, and these cases have always become major scandals, like when Bravo, the student, was tortured by Amoresano and Lombilla in the time of General Perón. Because when they decide to torture people of slightly higher social standing, it always leads to scandal, and in the last few years, in which the Army has acted with a homicidal and paranoid rancor, and men, women, and children belonging to distinguished spheres of society have been tortured and brutalized, everything has been denounced and become known. And even if, of course, the largest number of those killed were workers and peasants, they have also executed priests, landowners, industrialists, students, and at the end they had to retreat before international pressure, which accepts as a given that the humble from the fields, the wretched and feverish from the ghettos and the poorest neighborhoods of the city will be massacred and tortured, but reacts when intellectuals and politicians and the children of well-to-do families are treated this way. Because, in general, the latter already collaborate of their own accord and serve as an example and adapt their lives to the criteria of reality established by the State, without there being any need to torture them. The others would do the same, but they cannot because they have been leveled and cornered, and even if they wanted to and took great pains to that end, they can no longer act like model citizens.

In a way, a formula like the title "The Absent City" is the most Macedonian aspect of the novel. What I mean is that it alludes, even if it is not immediately obvious, to one of Macedonio's fundamental ideas: that which is absent from reality is that which is truly important. This idea expresses his nonpragmatic ethics, which I believe are very appropriate for our time.


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