March 22, 2008

El Ojo de Dios Part the First: Insects & Letters

El Ojo de Dios

For Leonardo Sciascia

“J’ai trop a ecrire, c’est pourquoi je n’ecrire rien.”—Stendhal, Journal, 1804

Part the First: Insects and Letters

El Colonel smiles. Bright birds sing in the morning air. Limpid light through the wide open windows bathes the high celinged room’s whitewashed stone walls. The coolness of night, refreshing as nearby mountain streams, rises in the wake of dawn’s departing mists. “The promise of a good day is given unto him,” El Colonel hums, imitating the cadences of a childhood hymn.

El Colonel smiles. With practiced precision, his favorite adjutant appears, “true to the appointed minute, ever mindful of detail.”

El Colonel smiles. Along with his great fondness for alliteration, El Colonel has an addiction for placing thoughts, those improvised compositions, in quotation marks. This brings “a deft touch of intriguing and entertaining irony to the most prosaic of ideas, events, and persons “ Habituated to an imaginative isolation, El Colonel’s intellectual companions are his “compositions” with their attendant “commentaries,” “asides,” “digressions,” and “annotations.” By means of this “ironic distancing” he continually invents “a hitherto unknown and as yet unpublished form of writing, never before seen nor heard.”

El Colonel smiles. This writing is a method of creating for himself a reader who is in turn accompanied by his own doubling as a writer. Where there had been “no one with who to share his most intimate thoughts, the fullness and agility of his life,” there is now not only such a companion; there is also a recorder of “his deeds and exploits.” In such a way El Colonel simultaneously acts, writes and reads both for himself and to another, who is also both a reader and an other author in turn, providing El Colonel with his own role as a reader. By these means his life takes on an aura of legend, and he acts both as though creating the performance of something which is happening, and of something which has happened “already.” By the latter means, his life is taking place in a futurity in which it is read, and in a present in which it is written. The simplest acts and words are invested with the immediacy of a drama “taking place,” the glow of “great acts having taken place ,” and, to heighten both drama and aura, the precisions of a prefatory “about to take place,” which allows for the insertion of the necessary commentaries, directions, and asides. “For the benefit of the listener, for the pleasure of the reader, for the background material necessary to the writer,” as El Colonel describes it with relish in a self-penned blurb.

El Colonel smiles. “Implacable face of an idol, obsidian eyes set in burnished copper,” the handsome adjutant stands before him with the morning’s first batch of dispatches, files, runner-delivered letters, and neatly folded and crisp “primarily Provincial” newspapers. The adjutant is one of El Colonel’s pet projects, “a raw recruit before our very eyes transformed into a perfect specimen of youth tempered with discipline.”

El Colonel smiles. The adjutant’s high cheek bones and broad shoulders “indicate a physiognomy and physique in harmony with the topography.” “Impassive, inscrutable, O what rock hewn ages has your being not known,” El Colonel hums as the bright birds sing.

El Colonel smiles. Snapping to attention, the handing over of the documents being accomplished, the adjutant speaks in clear, carefully enunciated tones. “Colonel today is the one appointed for your meeting with El Ojo, at 10.00 hours.”

El Colonel smiles. With a slight broadening of his lips, El Colonel indicates to the expectant adjutant that he, too, may smile. A smile which El Colonel “knows full well he is eager to indulge in.” El Ojo is well known to be a great favorite with the men of the “Heroic Patrol.” His meetings with El Colonel “inspire and arouse curiosity even among the most stoic.” Sometimes these meetings change nothing more in the daily routine than this “elevation of interest”; sometimes “they indicate an imminent Action of the Heroes.”

El Colonel smiles, the adjutant smiles. “El Ojo,” El Colonel pronounces with firmness, and, with a broad gesture indicating that a small table and two large chairs are to be advanced to the center of the room, adds, “Prepare the strongest Reserve coffee and bring two pack of unsealed cigarettes.” It is well known that El Ojo will only smoke cigarettes whose seals are broken before his watchful gaze.

El Colonel smiles. Going to the wide open window he gazes through aviator sunglasses at the bright birds, the luminosity of the landscape and “reflects on the irony that reflective glasses shield one’s reflections from observing eyes by their mirrored reflections of a thwarted inquiry.”

El Colonel smiles. Behind the reflecting sunglasses, “his own reflections concern themselves with a reflection found within the ‘Author’s Note’ to the Second Edition of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, a copy of which he found when literally ransacking a small private library whose owner he had been ordered to take possession of.” El Colonel “recollects in tranquility,” that the passage had “greatly interested, inspired and amused him, for in it Conrad had written: ‘Man may smile and smile but he is not an investigating animal. He loves the obvious. He shrinks from explanations. Yet I will go on with mine.’”

El Colonel smiles. Watching the play of light on large leaves upon whose surfaces insects have begun to gather “seems to remind him of the play of the light even in the cool dimness of the library on the leaves of the book, upon whose surfaces the letters had gathered.” This “doubly reflecting” aspect of his seeing and his recollections strikes him “as an image of the intimate intercourse of the natural and human worlds, of the revelatory union of the exterior and interior of consciousness, and of the synchronistic simultaneity of the moment and a memory which doubles as its mirror.”

El Colonel smiles. Conrad’s man who may smile and smile, loving the obvious and shrinking from explanations, he finds himself to be the “paradoxical embodiment of the contradiction of.” For, “reading Conrad’s words crawling on the leaves of the book in the cool, shadowy light, he had found himself, not as the one described, but as the union of the description and its author. As both the smiler and the investigative explainer who describes and refutes him, as the one whose task it is to bring into being their union. As and in himself. And in that moment he experienced the recognition of his unique Vocation and of himself. “

El Colonel smiles. “To smile, to love the obvious, and to present and preserve the explanation which both the smile and the obvious conceal, the reflections behind their reflecting surfaces. This, this is his alone, this unique vocation, this great passion, this most confidential mission.”

El colonel smiles. Checking his watch, he turns and approaches a chair on one side of the table set in the center of the large light filled room. This chair and the one on the table’s other side are high backed, with strong arms of a wood hard as iron and painted in a still shiny black lacquer. The upholstered seats and backs are not uncomfortable and of a worn red fading into rose. With studied and precise, angular movements, El Colonel begins to arrange himself in the correct position in which to be found by his “immanent and eminent visitor.”

El Colonel permits himself a barely audible and very brief laugh as “he takes possession of himself the better to assiduously arrange the head, the torso, the limbs, the folded hands, as though he were in the process of preparing a stuffed and mounted specimen of a representative example of a Colonel, whose taxidermist he himself was.”

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