The Fantastic EnumeraciónSaturday, October 30, 2010
(Del lat. enumeratĭo, -ōnis).
1. f. Acción y efecto de enumerar.
2. f. Expresión sucesiva de las partes de que consta un todo, de las especies que comprende un género, etc.
3. f. Cómputo o cuenta numeral de las cosas.
4. f. Ret. Parte del epílogo de algunos discursos en que se repiten juntas, con brevedad, las razones antes expuestas separada y extensamente.
5. f. Ret. Figura que consiste en enumerar o referir rápida y animadamente varias ideas o distintas partes de un concepto o pensamiento general.
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A couple of months ago my daughter Ale returned from Mexico and brought me Homero Aridjis’ latest novel Los Invisibles which is about an invisible man living in contemporary Paris. In it, there is one fantastic enumeración of diseases real and imagined that delighted me. I then began to think that this had the makings of a blog. But no idea came up on how I could do it until Saturday. It was Saturday that I read about Mario Vargas Llosa’s lectures at Princeton in the New York Times. The Times gave a link for a video in which Vargas Llosa, to my delight, explains in Spanish the use the enumeración by Borges in his story , El Zahir!
Of enumeración Vargas Llosa says:
Borges mezcla cosas absolutamente distintas con una ironía profunda. Este cuento es un cuento que usa muchísimo más que otros la enumeración. Hemos visto que la enumeración es un recurso borgiano al que Borges recurre constantemente.
Aquí en el Zahir hay enumeraciones continuamente. Son como cascadas de palabras que tienen un ritmo un poco encantatorio, una música, una música que concentra mucho la atención, que apela a nuestra sensibilidad, no solo conceptualmente por el contenido de palabras, sino por el ritmo, es un ritmo que nos va distrayendo, mareando, hipnotizando. Eso no es gratuito, eso consigue crear unos climas en los que para lectores, más admisible el hecho inusitado, extraordinario, sobrenatural o fantástico.
Borges mixes absolutely different things with a profound irony. This story [El Zahir] uses enumeración a lot more than in other stories. We have seen the enumeración is a Borgesian technique to which Borges recurs frequently. Here in the Zahir there are constant enumeraciones. They are like a waterfall of words which have an enchanting rhythm, a music, a music that which concentrates our attention, not only conceptually but also because of the word content. It is a rhythm that distracts us, makes us dizzy and hypnotizes us. It is not gratuitous; it manages to create a climate for readers in which the extraordinary, the supernatural and the fantastic become more admissible.
In Buenos Aires the Zahir is an ordinary coin worth twenty centavos. The Letters N T and the number 2 are scratched as if with a razor-blade or penknife; 1929 is the date on the obverse. (In Guzerat, towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Zahir was a tiger; in Java, a blind man from the Mosque of Surakarta whom the Faithful pelted with stones; in Persia, an astrolabe which Nadir Shaw caused to be sunk to the bottom of the sea; in the Mahdi’s prison, along about 1892, it was a little compass which Rudolf Carl von Slatin touched, tucked into the fold of a turban; in the Mosque of Cordova, according to Zotenberg, it was a vein in the marble of one of the twelve hundred pillars; in the Tetuán ghetti, it was the bottom of a well.) Today is the thirteenth of November; the Zahir came into my possession at dawn on June seventh. I am no longer the “I” of that episode; but it is still possible for me to remember what happened, perhaps even to tell it. I am still, however incompletely, Borges
El Zahir, Jorge Luís Borges
I asked for the brandy. They gave me the Zahir in my change. I stared at it for a moment and went into the street, perhaps with the beginning of a fever. I reflected that every coin in the world is a symbol of those famous coins which glitter in history and fable. I thought of Charon’s obol; of the obol for which Belisarius begged; of Judas’ thirty coins; of the drachmas of Laïs, the famous courtesan, of the ancient coin which one of the Seven Sleepers proffered; of the shining coins of the wizard in the 1001 Nights, that turned out to be bits of paper; of the inexhaustible penny of Isaac Laquedem, of the sixty thousand pieces of silver, one for each line of an epic, which Firdusi sent back to a king because they not of gold; of the doubloon which Ahab nailed to the mast; of Leopold Bloom’s irreversible florin; of the Louis whose pictured face betrayed the fugitive Louis XVI near Varennes. As if in a dream, the thought that every piece of money entails such illustrious connotations as these, seemed to me of huge, though inexplicable, importance.
The Zahir, Jorge Luís Borges
Of silver the slender knives, the delicate forks; of silver the salvers with silver trees chased in the silver of the hollows for collecting the gravy of roasts; of silver the triple-tiered fruit trays of three round dishes crowned by silver pomegranates; of silver the wine flagons hammered by craftsmen in silver; of silver the fish platters, a porgy of silver lying plumply on a seaweed lattice, of silver the saltcellars, of silver the nutcrackers, of silver the goblets, of silver the teaspoons engraved with initials…All these were being born gradually, without haste – carefully, so that silver should not bump against silver – toward the glum, waiting penumbras of wooden cases, of slatted crates, of chests with stout locks, overseen by the master in his dressing gown, who made the silver ring from time to time when he urinated with stately stream, copious and percussive, well aimed into a silver chamber pot, the bottom decorated with a roguish sliver eye soon blinded by the foam which, reflecting the silver so intensely , ultimately seemed silvered itself…
Concierto Barroco, Alejo Carpentier (translated by Asa Zatz).
- No quiero leer ahora.
- Te pareces a tu padre, tendrás sus padecimientos, heredarás sus fobias como heredaste sus chaquetas huérfanas, sus pantalones, sus calcetines, sus chalecos. Te recitaré la lista de males que te afligirán en un futuro próximo. Tu como él , estás expuesto a sufrir adiciones, artritis, hipertensiones, halitosis crónica, cortedad de aliento, gigantismo, dedo grande, coma diabético, silicosis y tuberculosis, colitis, anorexia, obesidad y colesterol, Parkinson, Alzheimer, sida, encefalitis, meningitis, malaria, infartos, cánceres, hipertrofia prostática, desórdenes de conducta, defectos hereditarios, amputaciones, biopsias y metástasis, quemaduras químicas del esófago, sordera y cataratas, bacterias aeróbicas, bacterias intestinales, mordidas de ratas y de cobras, síndrome de restaurante chino, alucinaciones esquizofrénicas, delirium vs demencia, alergias y fobias, objetos extraños en el recto, fractura de tobillos y de pómulo, de cadera y de mandíbula, de hombro y de vértebras, dolores de espalda, espasmos y pigmentación café de la cara, pérdida de pelo por quimioterapia, cambios en la nariz, afecciones al hígado, corazón, pulmones, ojos, oídos y piel, cánceres en el sistema digestivo y en el sistema reproductivo.
- Deténgase, padezco de hipocondría.
Los Invisibles, Homero Aridjis, 2010
|Homero Aridjis by Alex W-H|
I will not translate the above Aridjis litany of diseases (Chinese restaurant syndrome, snake and rat bite, etc.) Even in Spanish it is scary and funny. The passage begins with:
I don’t want to read now.
You are like your father. You will have his maladies. You will have his phobias like you inherited his orphan jackets…
And it ends:
Stop. I am a hypochondriac.
There is one more delightful enumeración from José Saramago’s The History of the Siege of Lisbon which is about a proof-reader who decides to inject error into a textbook on the siege of Lisbon (occupied in 1147 by Muslim armies) by the King of Portugal:
One day, but Allah is greater, every proof-reader of books will have a computer at his disposal which he will connect umbilically, night and day to the central databank, so that all he, or we need worry about is that amongst these comprehensive data, no tempting error has crept in, like the devil invading a convent.
In any case, until that day comes, the books are here, like a pulsating galaxy, and the words, inside them, form another cosmic dust hovering in anticipation of that glance which will impose some meaning or will search therein for some meaning, for just as the explanations of the universe tend to vary, so does the statement that once seemed for ever immutable, suddenly offer another interpretation, the possibility of some latent contradiction, the evidence of his own error. Here in this study, where the truth can be no more than a face superimposed on endless different masks, stand the usual dictionaries and vocabularies of the Portuguese language. Morais, Aurélio, Moreno and Torrinha, several grammars, the Handbook of the Model Proof-Reader, the vade-mecum of the profession, but there are also histories of Art, of the World in general, of the Romans, Persians, Greeks, Chinese, Arabs, Slavs and Portuguese, in short, of almost everything that constitutes and individual race and nation, and the histories of Science, Literature, Music, Religions, Philosophy, Civilization, the pocket Larousse, the abridged Quillet, the concise Robert, the Encyclopedia of Politics, the Luso-Brazilian Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia Britannica, incomplete, the Dictionary of History and Geography, a World Atlas on these subjects, that of João Soares, ancient, the Historical Yearbooks, the Dictionary of Contemporaries, the Universal Biography, the Manual for Booksellers, the Dictionary of Fable, the Dictionary of Mythology, the Biblioteca Lusitana, the Dictionary of Comparative Geography, Ancient, Medieval and Modern, the Historical Atlas of Contemporary Studies, the General Dictionary of Literature, Fine Arts and Moral and Political Sciences, and, to conclude, not the general inventory, but what is most in evidence, the General Dictionary of Biography and History, Mythology, Ancient and Modern Geography, Antiquities and Greek, Roman, French and other Foreign Institutions, without forgetting the Dictionary of Rarities, Inverisimilitudes and Curiosities, which, a surprising coincidence, fits in perfectly with this adventurous account and contains as an example of error the affirmation by the wise Aristotle that the common domestic fly has four legs, an arithmetical reduction that subsequent authors continued to repeat for centuries thereafter, when even children knew from their cruel experiments that the fly has six legs, for since the time of Aristotle, they have been pulling them off and voluptuously counting one, two, three, four, five, six, but these very same children, when they grew up and came to read the Greek sage, said amongst themselves, The fly has four legs, such is the influence of learned authority, to such an extent is truth determined by certain lessons we are always being taught.
The History of the Siege of Lisbon, José Saramago, 1989, translated by Giovanni Pontiero
Vargas Llosa Lecture in Princeton