Friday, January 23, 2009

Alvaro Mutis, "The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll"

The Snow of the Admiral

"April 2

We're stranded again on sandbanks that formed in minutes while we pulled ashore for repairs. yesterday two soldiers cam aboard who have malaria and are heading for the frontier post to recuperate. They lie on the palm leaves and shiver with fever, but they never let go of the rifles that knock with monotous regularity against the metal deck.

I know it's naive and useless, but I've established certain precepts, one of my favorite exercises. It makes me feel better, makes me think I"m bringing order to something inside me. remnants of life at the Jesuit academy, they do no good, lead nowhere, but they have that quality of benign magic I always turn to when I feel the foundations giving way. Here they are:

Thinking about time, trying to find out if past and futre are valid and, in fact, exist, leads us into a labyrinth that is no less incomprehensible for being familiar.

Every day we're different, but we always forget that the same is true for others as well. Perhaps this is what people call solitude. If not, it's solemn imbecility.

When we lie to a woman, we revert to the helpless boy who has nowhere to turn in his vulnerability. Women, like plants, like jungle storms, like thudering waters, are nourished by the most obscure designs of heaven. It's best to learn this early on. If we don't, devasting surprises await us.

A knife in the body of a sleeping man. The bare lips of a wound that does not bleed. Vertigo, the death rattle, the final stillness. Like certain truths that life fires at us-insoluble, unerring, erratic, indifferent life.

Some things must be paid for, others remain debts forever. That's what we believe. The trap lies in the "must." We go on paying, we go on owing, and often we don't even know it.

Hawks screaming above the precipices and circling as they hunt their prey are the only image I can think of to evoke the men who judge, legislate, govern. Damn them.

A caravan doesn't symbolize or represent anything. Our mistake is to think it's going somewhere, leaving somewhere. The caravan exhausts its meaning by merely moving from place to place. The animals in the caravan know this, but the camel drivers don't. It will always be this way.

Putting your finger in the wound. A human occupation, a debased act no animal would be capable of. The inanity of prophets and fortune-tellers. A gang of charlatans, yet so many seek them out and listen to them.

Everything we can say about death, everything we try to embroider around the subject, is sterile, entirely fruitless labor. Wouldn't it be better just ot be quiet and wait? Don't ask that of humans. They must have a profound need for doom; perhaps they belong exclusively to its kingdom.

A woman's body under the rush of a mountain waterfll, her brief cries of surprise and joy, the movement of her limbs in the rapid foam that carries red coffee berries, sugarcane pulp, insects struggling to escape the current: this is the exemplary happiness that surely never comes again.
In the ruins of the Krak of the Knights of Rhodes, standing on a cliff near Tripoli, a nameless tombstone bears this inscription: "This was not where." Not a day goes by that I don't think about htose words. They're so clear, and at the same time they contain all the mystery it is our lot to endure.

Is it true we forget most of what has happened to us? Isn't it more likely that a portion of the past serves as a seed, an unnamed incentive for setting out again toward a destiny we had foolishly abandoned? A crude consolation. Yes, we do forget. And it's just as well."

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