The OF Blog: A powerful phrase

Monday, December 22, 2008

A powerful phrase

I just finished reading Carlos Fuentes' most recent novel, La voluntad y la fortuna (Will and Fortune, 2008) and this passage (one among many, but representative of so many of them) stood out as encapsulating much of what the novel deals with in regards to Mexico's relations with itself as seen through the metaphor of the novel's protagonists:

Recuerdo y saboreo todo esto porque El Príncipe, la obra que tú estudias por indicación de tu profesor Sanginés, fue recibida en 1513 como una obra del Diablo (Nicolás Maquiavelo, Old Nick, el Demonio, el sosías de Belcebú, Belial, Azazel, Mefisto, Asmodeo, Satanás, el Deva, el Cacodemonio, el Maligno, el Tentador, y más familiarmente, Viejo Nick pero también Viejo Harry, Viejo Ned, el Dickens, el Rasguño, el Príncipe de las Tinieblas), todo porque traje la luz al quehacer político, a nadie engañé, les dije así son las cosas, les guste o no, no es juicio moral mío, son realidades políticas nuestras, léanme con seriedad, no me inspiran las tinieblas sino la luz, aprendan que un buen gobierno sólo se acuerda con la calidad del tiempo y el mal gobierno se opone al espíritu del tiempo, aprendan que los gobiernos antiguos son seguros y manipulables y que los gobiernos nuevos son peligrosos anteriores y dejan insatisfechos a sus partidarios que creyeron que con el poder obtendrían todo lo que sólo se puede dar con cuentagotas, en la tensión entre la legitimidad del origen que no asegura, para nada, la legitimidad del ejercicio...

¿Para qué sigo? La política es sólo la relación pública entre seres humanos. La libertad es la regularización del poder. Los hombres están locos y quisieran ver el origen del poder en la revelación sagrada, en la naturaleza, en la raza, en un contrato social, en la revolución y en la ley. Yo les digo que no. El poder es sólo el ejercicio de la necesidad, la máscara de la virtud y el azar de la fortuna. Insoportable. ¿Sabes? Para restaurar mi ánimo, a veces regreso del campo y me cambio de ropa. Me pongo togas y medallones, sandalias de oro y coronas de laureles y entonces, solo, converso con los antiguos, con los griegos y los romanos, mis pares... (pp. 450-451)
Or in English (again, apologies for any loss of meaning that my quick translation might cause):

I recall and relish all this because The Prince, the work that you study because of your Professor Sanginés' instruction, was received in 1513 as a work of the Devil (Niccolo Machiavelli, Old Nick, the Demon, the Doppelgänger of Beelzebub, Belial, Azazel, Mephistopheles, Asmodeus, Satan, the Deva, the Cacodemon, the Malignant One, the Tempter, and more familiarly, Old Nick but also Old Harry, Old Ned, the Dickens, Old Scratch, the Prince of Darkness), all because I brought to light the political routine, I deceived no one, I said to them such are things, like it or not, it is not my moral judgment, they are our political reality, read me with seriousness, darkness doesn't inspire me but instead light does, learn that a good government is only in accord with the mood of the times and the bad government opposes the spirit of the times, learn that old governments are secure and manipulable and that new governments are dangerous beforehand and they leave dissatisfied its partisans who believe that with power they would obtain all that which one can give with a dropper, in the tension between the origin's legitimacy which doesn't assure, at all, the legitimacy of the exercise...
What does it mean? Politics is only the public relation between human beings. Liberty is the regularization of power. Men are crazy and they want to see the origin of power in sacred revelation, in nature, in the race (raza contains more nuances than just "race," however), in a social contract, in revolution and in law. I said to them that it is not. Power is only the exercise of necessity, the mask of virtue and the luck of fortune. Insupportable. You know? In order to restore my spirit, I sometimes return from the fields and change my clothes. I put on togas and medallions, gold sandals and laurel crowns and then, alone, I converse with the ancients, with the Greeks and the Romans, my peers...
Considering that there was a lively discussion here about Machiavelli's most famous work on Friday, I thought it was a propos for this passage to be presented and translated. Thoughts on it? On Machiavelli? Questions about how well Fuentes did with this theme and others? More on the book itself will appear in about a week, when I write an essay on Spanish-language and translated fictions for my year-end series.

8 comments:

Elena said...

This is utterly tangential, but I just wanted to say I'm looking forward to your 08-in-review of the Spanish language books you read. I was telling my dad (who is extremely well traveled...has been doing work as a naturalist all over the world for 30+ years now) about your blog, since he was unclear on what blogs really are and what the appeal is, and he was impressed that someone is taking the time to talk about spanish books in a genre like spec.fiction (though I'm not sure the genre would have the same connotation it does here?). Anyway, I know some folks skip those entries but I love them. Just wanted to say. :)

Ana said...

How interesting..this brings me back memories of university years - reading Carlos Fuentes for History of America , I think it was El Espejo Enterrado? I remember it was the first time I read an academic Spanish text (my mopther tongue is Portuguese)..../random

Larry said...

Cool! Elena, I'm glad your dad is now intrigued by what I'm doing (and yes, there is a difference in how genre is presented in Latin America compared to the US/UK and even Spain to an extent) with these books. I'd say more, but that'd spoil what's going up in a few days ;)

Ana, been meaning to read that one particular Fuentes (mostly have read his latter work from the 1990s onwards). And as for Portuguese, I understand a bit of it, enough to understand most of what I read (there were two Portuguese books in this year's reading list). Lovely sounds to it as well, even better than how Spanish sounds...random as well ;)

Ana said...

Larry, where can I find your list (I am such a lazy bum)? I want to know which Portuguese books you read (presumably European and not Brazilian? ) and yes, I quite agree that Portuguese sounds better than Spanish but I still think English sounds better than all of them. ; )

Larry said...

Here's the list. I read Camões in Portuguese, in addition reading Brazilian SF writer Fábio Fernandes earlier this year (read Saramago's Memorial do Convento last year).

As for language sounds, while my own accent can sound quite nice (hybrid of Standard American - TV- English and a Southern dialect), I still like the sound of other languages better. I guess it's a "the grass is greener on the other side" deal?

Ana said...

Oh wow, Camoes? I am impressed! I read Os Lusiadas when I was a teenager in Graphic Novel format - it was AWESOME. Fabio Fernandes runs Post-Weird Thoughts right? I didn't know he was a writer as well....I could never get into Saramago's books though.

and yes, probably that - I live in England and I absolutely adore the accent , so much so I cringe now when I listen to Brazilian Portuguese , thus pissing off all of my friends and family. *g*

Larry said...

Well, a bilingual edition of his poetry, not that I needed much help, since I have had quite a bit of exposure to Spanish, Latin, and even spoken Portuguese from Portugal (two students of mine years ago were from Lisbon, their parents however were from Angola and Mozambique). And yes, that Fábio (unless he's on vacation, I bet his ears are burning now and he might respond sooner rather than later). He sent me three books in which his work appears. Although I'd imagine that he'd be upset at your characterization of Brazilian Portuguese (then again, it might be a post-colonial attitude; I tend to cringe at most British accents)! :P

E. L. Fay said...

Powerful stuff. I prefer Mario Vargas Llosa (The War of the End of the World is an absolutely amazing historical epic) but I'll have to check this one out.

I read Machiavelli in college for a course on the Middle Ages. I remember thinking that a lot of it just sounded like common amoral sense.

 
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