Wednesday, January 14, 2009

De Man, Condillac, Borges and March

De Man illustrates Condillac's thinking in reference to abstractions that are extraordinarily fecund in being necessarily defective with an extensive passage from Ausias March, Catalan poet, which was quoted in the 1944 edition of Borges' Ficciones. The 1944 edition was divided into two halves, the first containing the collection published in 1941, El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, and the latter a collection of new fictions. The first half of this collection includes a story not published in 1941, but published alone in 1936, El acercamiento a Almotásim; a genius which skipped a generation.

I have seen the edition once, when visiting a library outside Barcelona in Mataro. The local library there had a worn copy--lesser funding affording them a serendipitous gift of stowaway surprise. I was fortunate to have translated it at that time (I was in that country to both evade some problems with the police in my own and to better learn the languages there by immersing and translating). I sent the translation to a few of my friends and am doubly fortunate that one of them still had it in their email inbox, because I have since changed emails and had no copy, carbon or digital, of my translation of the work.

De Man never mentions Borges but I do because in searching Ausias March for the stowaway passage, both in his homeland and here in the better fed libraries of New England, I've found no such composition. It would seem then that Borges' edition is the only edition, in addition now to mine. De Man must have read the passage in Borges, and Joanat Pujol, who quotes it in a survey of troubador, Catalan literature published in 1996, Senza Catala del quindicesimo secolo, have read it in either Borges or De Man. Ausias March, as an exemplification of the Condillacian genius for De Man, must be Borges going backward on the two--or, more recently, three. The passage follows:

I have hidden my death. It is written on a paper which I slipped in the node of a gray rose and in the same field where I found the rose I found the rabbit in whose ear the sound of the drying rose hid. And the rabbit ran around with the rose in his ear until he whispered it to a pig and my death went afterwards hidden in the headache of a pig, until one day when the pig was driven to slaughter my death fell in the xanthous smell of the rotting wood. And after a summer rain the vapors rose from the wood to a bush of low-crowding hyssops. The hyssops grew tall and colored the air with smells of honey and my death went quietly in the thought of their eventual withering away. It was found again in the eye of a camel that was drifting in and out of sleep in the greeny shade of a plastic tarp.

The tarp was eventually brought down and the camel taken again through the desert where my death was left behind along with some other merchandise because the camel couldn't bear so much anymore. It was then found by a group of travelling Bedouin who brought it all the way to Al-Faiym and in Faiyum it spent a September until it got tangled in the bending note of a pearish rebab. This note was then carried by a drunkish cavalryman to the doorstep of his unspeakable love but quickly back again to the tavern where he wrote his love's name on a napkin slipped in a groove under the wooden counter. And noone has ever found that note and it wouldn't much matter because he wrote it in an obscure, unaccented scrawl of classical Arabic. Moreover, when I wrote the note, I wrote it in a system of algorithms which do not iterate and which only I could ever understand.

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