Cain's Stone - La piedra de CaínSunday, July 17, 2016
These days in my obsessive reading of Jorge Luís Borges’s literary output plus several biographies and articles in Argentine magazines that commemorate his death 30 years ago on June 14,1986 I sometimes think that the familiar old man (whom I never saw in person) will walk through my bedroom door.
For those who may not know too much about Argentine history I would state here that until we invented the cattle prod as an instrument of torture or slit the stomachs (so they would sink quickly) of “about to be disappeared” persons from a helicopter over the River Plate we did most of our killing with knives. While Argentines love American Westerns they did eschew until recently the “Peacemaker .45”.
Borges writes about knives and how men mostly killed each other not in anger or in passion but just to wield a weapon and show who was better at killing. He called it “la secta del cuchillo”, cuchillo being the word for knife.
Borges curiously writes about inanimate objects and gives them life. In one story several knives behind glass in a cabinet exist in wait for the human hand that will pick it up and use it to kill. The Argentine “cuchillero” would first go for the other man’s face and create a huge cut before dispatching him to the other world.
Borges thus states that knives like people search for their purpose in life. A knife without a human hand has no immediate purpose.
As I listened to CNN today Sunday July 17, 2017 I instantly remembered a short essay that Borges wrote on Kennedy’s death. It is all about one bullet, the same bullet throughout history. I will place below the poem in both Spanish and in English.
In Memoriam – J.F.K.
This bullet is an old one.
In 1897, it was fired at the president of Uruguay by a young man from Montevideo, Avelino Arredondo, who had spent long weeks without seeing anyone so that the world might know that he acted alone. Thirty years earlier, Lincoln had been murdered by that same ball, by the criminal or magical hand of an actor transformed by the words of Shakespeare into Marcus Brutus, Caesar’s murderer. In the mid-seventeenth century, vengeance had employed it for the assassination of Sweden’s Gustavus Adolphus in the midst of the public hecatomb of battle.
In earlier times, the bullet had been other things, because Pythagorean metempsychosis is not reserved for humankind alone. It was the silken cord given to viziers in the East, the rifles and bayonets that cut down the defenders of the Alamo, the triangular blade that slit a queen’s throat, the wood of the Cross and the dark nails that pierced the flesh of the Redeemer, the poison kept by the Carthaginian chief in an iron ring on his finger, the serene goblet that Socarates drank down one evening.
In the dawn of time it was the stone that Cain hurled at Abel, and in the future it shall be many things that we cannot even imagine today, but that will be able to put an end to men and their wondrous, fragile life.
— Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) In Memoriam, J.F.K. (1965)
In memoriam J.F.K. – Jorge Luís Borges
En 1897 la disparó contra el presidente del Uruguay un muchacho de Montevideo, Arredondo, que había pasado largo tiempo sin ver a nadie, para que lo supieran sin cómplice. Treinta años antes, el mismo proyectil mató a Lincoln, por obra criminal o mágica de un actor, a quien las palabras de Shakespeare habían convertido en Marco Bruto, asesino de César. Al promediar el siglo XVII la venganza la usó para dar muerte a Gustavo Adolfo de Suecia, en mitad de la publica hecatombe de una batalla.
Antes, la bala fue otras cosas, porque la transmigración pitagórica no sólo es propia de los hombres. Fue el cordón de seda que en el Oriente reciben los visires, fue la fusilería y las bayonetas que destrozaron a los defensores del Álamo, fue la cuchilla triangular que segó el cuello de una reina, fue los oscuros clavos que atravesaron la carne del Redentor y el leño de la Cruz, fue el veneno que el jefe cartaginés guardaba en una sortija de hierro, fue la serena copa que en un atardecer bebió Sócrates.
En el alba del tiempo fue la piedra que Caín lanzó contra Abel y será muchas cosas que hoy ni siquiera imaginamos y que podrán concluir con los hombres y con su prodigioso y frágil destino.