Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Textual Stepping Stone

           The art of testimony is a dangerous one.  In the book Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia, Rigoberta Menchú faces violence, danger, and oppression at nearly every moment of her life.  She is fiercely proud of her Quiché culture and rituals, but at the same time, learns Spanish and adopts the bible and Christianity as a means to strengthen her power against her oppressors.  Although this apparent assimilatory gesture would seem to be at odds with what she stands for, this expansion of her identity is actually a rebellion.  In particular, her fascination with the bible could be seen as a kind of stepping stone on the path towards testimony.  In her book Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, Edwidge Danticat recalls a similar phenomenon in Haiti during the years of the François Duvalier dictatorship, where citizens would secretly stage plays or readings of classic Greek works, like Antigone, or Albert Camus’s Caligula

“Unlike the country’s own citizens, these writers could neither be tortured or murdered themselves nor cause their family members to be tortured or murdered.  And no matter how hard he tried, Papa Doc Duvalier could not make their words go away.  Their maxims and phrases would keep coming back, buried deep in the memories by the rote recitation techniques that the Haitian school system had taught so well” (Loc 167). 
Like the Haitian resistors re-appropriated classic literature, Menchú has recycled the Bible for her own purposes.  In this sense, her embracing of the bible is not so much a spiritual rebirth as a Christian, but a rebellious act in which she rewrites the lessons, stories, and heroes of the bible for her people.  Menchú describes this conversion: 

“Nosotros empezamos a buscar textos que representan a cada uno de nosotros.  Como comparando un poco con nuestra cultura indígena.  Tenemos un ejemplo de Moisés que representa a los hombres.  Tenemos el ejemplo de Judith, que es una mujer también famosa en su tiempo, que aparece en la Biblia, y que luchó tanto por su pueblo, hizo muchos intentos en contra del rey que había en ese tiempo, hasta quitar la cabeza del rey.  Va con la victoria en la mano, la cabeza del rey” (157). 
It would seem counter-intuitive that Menchú go outside her culture for strength and inspiration, but in practicality, it also makes sense.  The voices of most indigenous Guatemalans, much like in the Duvalier dictatorship, are either silenced or not made available to most of the population—especially the poor, indigenous population.  For this reason, Menchú repurposes what’s available and what cannot be censored, the Bible.  Of course, this repurposing is a double-edged sword, which also in some ways perverts her identity as Quiché.  For example, consider Menchú’s recounting of Judith and how she beheads the king: “Va con la vicotria en la mano, la cabeza del rey.”  Contrast Judith's violent hands, and her gesture of holding the King's decapitated head in her grip, with the importance and sanctity of a Quiché person’s hands, which Menchú describes in the second chapter of the book: “Inmediatamente cuando el niño nace se le amarran sus manitas… Esto significa que sus manos son sagradas para el trabajo y que esas manos tienen que actuar donde tienen que actuar, o sea, nunca van a robar; el niño nunca va a abusar de la naturaleza. Sabrá respetar la vida de todo lo que existe” (32).  Clearly, this mixing of biblical morality and Quiché morality is not without conflict.  The Quiché are supposed to respect the life of all that is in existence and never raise a hand in violence against nature.  However, in the context of oppression, it becomes necessary for Menchú to press the boundaries of her founding ethics to find examples that will guide the Quiché towards a new future.  In one of the most harrowing chapters of the book, where Menchú describes the murder of Petrona Chona, one hand of Chona’s baby boy is left mutilated, his finger chopped off with a machete (177).  This mutilation is a representation of the paradox that the Quiché as a culture are faced with.  Oppression and violence have disfigured them physically and spiritually as a culture; their identities are already irreversibly changed; so to salvage what’s left of their culture, is to salvage something already altered, and impure.  It is in this problematic space that outside influences become indispensable.  There exists a desperate need for difference, to find a textual other that can be filled like an empty basin—one that is solid on the outside, but hollow with potential within.  In this way, turning to the bible becomes a stepping stone for Menchú in articulating her own testimony.  She projects her stories and struggles onto those of the bible, then finds the voice to write with her own words in Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia.

Testimonio v. Textimonio

In one of the most controversial texts in the field, David Stoll ‘exposes’ Menchú and her experiences as constructed truths that he argues did not actually happen. He essentially posits that Menchú was dramatizing herself in a crisis in the way that a script writer would. For Stoll, it was so important to prove that Menchú wrote a piece of fiction and thus undercutting the entire value of the genre of testimonio. It is this obsession with ‘truth’ and ‘validity’ that Moreiras is responding to in his work that I find so important. Menchú is grappling with real historical violence in which humanity is torn apart and fractured. Testimonio in this case, functions as a way to be in, as Moreiras describes, a form of solidarity with the shared pain and grief.

Moreiras argues that testimonio is extratextual; that is, it “suspends the literary at the very same time that it constitutes itself as a literary act: as literature, it is a liminal event opening onto a nonrepresentational, drastically indexical order of experience” (212). It already abandons the literary as part of its nature and is more political than it is literary. Moreiras seeks to put an end to the desire to see in testimonio a recuperation of the ‘real’ in the face of fiction or the literary.

Dealing with the tropes of secrets, truths/untruths, textual/extratextual, I think about Menchú is orchestrating this movement. For Stoll, the secret is that Menchú fabricated details and experiences, which I don’t think belittles the political narrative itself. While there may be contradictions in her work, she is grappling with the contradictions in human experience in a way that builds a political testimonio that exceeds any pigeonholing. I would say there is something deeply extratextual about her work that functions on a political level. For me what makes the testimonio political in nature is not its reducibility to either the ‘real’ or the ‘literary’ (whatever those categories actually mean), but rather because testimonio is able to traverse and blend these two domains into a third space ideal—it, in every sense, produces a political communitas.

Secrets and Lies

It is interesting to think about Rigoberta Menchu in relation to Borges' El etnografo regarding the idea of the secret. Last week the secret was held by the observer, the student held liable by the institution. In Menchu it is held by the observed. Not just held, as Sommer points out in "No Secrets for Rigoberta", but dangled in front of the reader. If according to Levinas secrecy is the inviolable core of human subjectivity how does the secret function in Menchu versus El etnografo? One difference is Menchu's refusal to take a subject-position. Menchu refuses to be a stable subject which can be observed by the authority. She is, instead polyvalent, shifting. She refuses to be the Other from which the truth is extracted. As Sommer writes, "Think of Dinesh's tirade when Stanford University made her testimonial part of a required curriculum. Instead of scientific information about genuine Indians, stable objects of investigation, he gets a protean subject of multiple discourses in Indian disguise" (117). This refusal turns, as Sommer argues, a scene of interrogation into self-authorization. The testimonio also questions the absolute nature of truth, blurring the line between fiction and factual data. Especially with the controversy surrounding Menchu as to the facticity of her story, I found As Sommer's argument that Menchu calls into question the notion of truth, as she quotes Hancke, "legends tend to be as true in substance as they are false in detail."

Rigoberta Menchú’s “Secrets” Weapon

             Rigoberta’s secrets are not of a personal nature. They are not her secrets per sé but the secrets of her ancestors, her community. So, as Doris Sommer asks in her essay, why has she then chosen to learn Spanish and speak? Why doesn’t she just “keep quiet”? Sommer expresses that “[Menchú’s] testimonial is an invitation to a tête-à-tête, not to a heart-to-heart.” (Sommer 127) She points out Rigoberta’s refusal is for her readers, which are Others to her and her people, to “forfeit the rush of a metaphoric identification.” (131) Menchú does not seek our sympathy she goes instead for the jugular. The harrowing account of the deaths of her brother and mother seem to rip out of the page and give the reader a visceral reaction rather than an emotional one. It’s as if she wants Elizabeth Burgos (and the readers) to throw up, to feel the nausea through every detail. She doesn’t want pity. She demands respect. She does not want to give away her identity. She wants to keep it. In truth, she still remains hidden behind the letter, the ciphers of the enemy’s language, the text of the ethnographer, Burgo’s editorial knife. She really does not want the reader to “live” through her, cause the reader could never speak her language, wear her worn out shoes, feel her hunger or her pain. She does not allow us that. What she seems to be doing is not revealing but employing her secrets:
“Cuando empezamos a organizarnos, empezamos a emplear lo que habíamos ocultado. Nuestras trampas. Nadie lo sabía porque lo habiamos ocultado. Nuestras opiniones…cuando estamos entre nosotros los indígenas, sabemos discutir, sabemos pensar y sabemos opinar… por eso cuando se trata de defender nuestra vida, nosotros estamos dispuestos a defenderla aunque tengamos que sacar a luz nuestros secretos.” (Menchú 196) This is the closest she ever gets in the text to explicitly stating what she means when she uses the word “secretos.” It’s not something you can unveil or translate, it’s the weapon that her culture can use – that they can argue, think and have opinions. It’s the fact that, even as Rigoberta is speaking to you, not about her but about her community, you can never truly know what her thoughts are, you will never know the thoughts of her community, what they are talking about, the traps they are setting. The enemy can never know their language, whereas she can (and has) learned the language of the enemy. Her testimony could be another one of the traps, as David Stoll might argue. The secret is the indigenous language itself. The enemy can never know what the Quiché’s are saying to each other, plotting, thinking, or how smart they really are, cause no one will ever teach them Quiché, no one will give away the secret.


Other thoughts: Is Rigoberta Menchú merely an edited subject? Her voice literally rearranged to resemble an autobiography? What exactly is the hand of Elizabeth Burgos in this text? She herself has extracted her line of questioning, her methods of leading Rigoberta’s testimony. Maybe it is the anthropologist who has secrets of her own, of her methodology, her hidden weaving of Menchú’s words to create a narrative. Is Menchú’s refusal to divulge her secrets a reaction to Burgos’ prodding questions? 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Expression & “El etnógrafo”

Frances Densmore with Blackfoot chief, Mountain Chief, during a 1916 phonograph recording session for the Bureau of American Ethnology

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, the definition of the word ethnography is “the study and systematic recording of human cultures; also : a descriptive work produced from such research.” In this way, the calling of “el etnógrafo,” Fred Murdock, in Jorge Luis Borges’s story is two-fold: to study and to record. Murdock completes his study of the indigenous tribes, but struggles with the “systematic recording” aspect of his research; he refuses to express “el secreto” that he discovers in writing or seemingly in any other way. 

When Murdock is first described, there are key traits which predispose him towards this choice. Borges describes him as a young man, “de muy pocas palabras,” also mentioning how, “naturalmente respetuoso, no descreía de los libros ni de quienes escriben los libros.” In this way, Borges describes Murdock’s relationship with words, writing, and writers. The choice here to use the word “naturalmente” in describing Murdock’s respectfulness seems to be sarcastic or ironic in some way. In Murdock’s choice to reject writing later in the story, the naturalness of this respect is undermined and called into question. This subtle undermining is very much in the style of Borges; in the story “El Sur” he manipulates the word “hondamente” in a similar way. In the case of “naturalmente”, Borges seeks to question the blind respect and faith that people place in writers and the written word. He examines the representational structure between (A) dreams, thought, secrets, and truth; and (B) saying, writing, and outwardly expressing. This structure is not as natural as it might appear, but the reason for this representational insufficiency is also not as simple as the common idiom, words cannot express. Murdock tells his professor: “en esas lejanías aprendí algo que no puedo decir.” And when his professor questions, “¿Acaso el idioma inglés es insuficiente?” Murdock replies, “Nada de eso, señor. Ahora que poseo el secreto, podría enunciarlo de cien modos distintos y aun contradictorios. No sé muy bien cómo decirle que el secreto es precioso y que ahora la ciencia, nuestra ciencia, me parece una mera frivolidad.” It is unclear here what “ciencia” Murdock is describing. He could be speaking about ethnography or science in the general sense—he could even be talking about the science of writing and language. The question that arises is: what is this secret? Why does it render “ciencia” frivolous? How is it possible that any truth could do this? Or is it possible that every real truth does this? How do the “caminos” that Murdock took to arrive at these truths related to this equation?

The Importance of Failure

I have elected to focus primary on Borges' short story. In short, I read "El etnografo" as a story of failure. A student that "goes native" while he is in the field, doesn't complete his work, and even ends on the note of failure, some would say, with his marriage ending in divorce. The theme of failure manages to float throughout the story in a way that I find to imperative to our thinking about how we develop the categories of "theory" and "Latin America" in the context of one another through literature. There is something about failure that operates as a way dismantling canonical ways of thinking, that forces things into a dialectic with one another, that I believe lends a political value to failure.

In our readings of Borges we have raised up how a disagreement (una discordia) or a paradoxical tension is always in place. But perhaps it is in this discordia that identity is found and made, yet never resolved. This even takes form in the text when Murdock's ancestry is described in connection to the border wars: "esa antigua discordia de sus estirpes era un vínculo ahora." How do we makes sense of unreconciled differences? It would appear that Murdock is working through his own internal enmity with what to do with the acquired secret doctrine he gained in the field and his role as a scholar and student. I read Murdock's internal conflict, his failure even, as a way of rethinking how we educate. Astonished by his decision not to publish, his advisor helps to demonstrate the point I'm trying to articulate and make sense of myself:

— ¿Lo ata su juramento? preguntó el otro.
— No es ésa mi razón — dijo Murdock —. En esas lejanías aprendí algo que no puedo decir.
— ¿Acaso el idioma inglés es insuficiente? — observaría el otro.
— Nada de eso, señor. Ahora que poseo el secreto, podría enunciarlo de cien modos distintos y aun contradictorios. No sé muy bien cómo decirle que el secreto es precioso y que ahora la ciencia, nuestra ciencia, me parece una mera frivolidad.

There is something powerful about Murdock's failure to produce written work. In many ways, it is a way of saying no to the status quo. He changes what we one does with acquired knowledge, it is a change in the educational model. Education should alert us of the contradictions in human experience—which I believe is at the heart of the dialectics produced through the tensions in identity politics.


After reading Borges “El etnografo,” what struck me was the theme of the secret as an ethical responsibility. Fiction doesn’t presume a reality but posits its own truth, institutes own context. In “Acts of Literature”, Derrida talks about the “strange institution of literature” and the way it has a right to “say everything”. At the same time, it can be better to not say anything. Literature has a secret, and in Borges’ story, the secret of the character is a secret without a secret because it is a textual secret. The author’s highest responsibility is to not say everything- a right to non-response. The character of Murdock has a secret which he keeps from the institution to which he is held accountable. He is a resolutely irresponsible academic and in being so answers to a higher responsibility. At the same time, Borges has a secret which he keeps from us- this is a secret without a secret because it is a textual secret. This refusal to say everything reminds me of last week’s discussion about the way in which Borges exposes the limits of literature, the part literature plays in the social order. To be forced to tell secrets is totalitarian. Sometimes the irresponsibility of the author is the highest responsibility- not answering to the institution that creates literature or discourse. This happens within the narrative when the main character refuses to disclose the secret his superior, and meta textually, as Borges refuses to disclose the secret to us. As Avelar points out, he also leaves unanswered the question- what happens between the refusal of the project and Murdock’s working at the elite university? This is not ambivalence but absence.

To write, or not to write, that is the question: Borges and The Violation of the Other

            To write “the Other” is to enslave them as an Other. The refusal of Murdock to write about his experience can be equated as a refusal to “violate” the Other. But, as Derrida would describe it, “The mere presence of an spectator, then, is a violation.” If we follow Derrida’s logic here, then Murdoch’s return is propelled by a sense of guilt rather than an ethical action. Avelar asks ‘what if "respect" for "other traditions and commitments" requires renouncing the project of a global dialogue in the terms in which it has been posed?’ (Avelar 89).  Is this is what happens in El etnografo? The anthropologist respects the natives resistance to written speech so he opts not to write about them as that would constitute a violation, a rape so to speak, of their culture and thus not ethical in the least? Or, as Derrida would have it, is his silence not out of respect but out of shame, the violation has already been committed just by merely looking?

            Early in the text, Borges hints at the reasons why Murdock pursues his research of the natives: “Uno de sus mayores había muerto en las guerras de la frontera; esa antigua discordia de sus extirpes eran vínculo ahora.” (Borges 59) He seeks to reconcile the border, the orilla, which his ancestors where fighting over. His anthropological intrusion is a way to, so to speak, bring them together, reconcile the difference. Derrida writes: “writing as the possibility of the road and of difference, the history of writing and the history of the road, of the rupture, of la via rupta, of the path that is beaten, broken, fracta, of the space of reversibility and of repetition traced by the opening, the divergent from, and the violent spacing, of nature, of the natural, savage, salvage, forest.” (Derrida 107-108) Hence, writing becomes a way of reaching the Other, of reigning them into the side of the Us, of creating a pathway to them so we can perhaps invade them, civilize them, write them. If Murdoch were to write his experience down, he would be violating that threshold, that orilla, and thus performing, in Derrida’s terms, an act of violence.

            Borges, in my opinion, revels in the presence of such a border. He cherishes its ambivalence and does not choose, much like Murdock: “Cautivo de su propio secreto, Murdock no pertenece ya a ninguna parte, y Borges lo relega al no-lugar de la biblioteca, espacio intermedio donde las interrelaciones culturales y las tensiones ideologicas existen solo en estado de suspension.” (Morana 119) This is key to illuminate where Borges stands in all this. He refuses to take a side, the colonized subjugation or the bourgeois superiority. Borges is only concerned with la Orilla, the border between the two. That’s why he hides in the library, in a space of silent self-knowledge, a place both private and open with written pathways to the world. Maybe he's implying that the Other should speak for themselves (whenever, if ever, they choose to) and that it is impossible to express them in writing, in translation. It is impossible to become the Other, so that's why Murdock resists the task of writing about the other. The secret belongs to them. And it is not for Murdock, or Borges, to write about.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Vanessa's post

Here's Vanessa post for this week:

Jorge Luis Borges punctuates the first sentence of “El sur” with a semicolon. In doing so, he divides two independent clauses, each corresponding to related yet dissimilar men: Johannes Dahlmann and Juan Dahlmann. The names Johannes and Juan are translations of one another, and it can be assumed that Juan is likely named for his grandfather, Johannes. In this way, their names are mirrored by language, culture, and family ties. The sentence structure is a means to accentuate this mirroring effect, simultaneously pairing and dividing Johannes from his grandson, Juan. The two clauses represent a displacement in time and a generational gap. Each depicts a snap-shot of both men separated by 68 years; both are classified by their occupations and respective statuses as Argentinian citizens. Johannes has just stepped off the plane in Buenos Aires, presumably for the first time, presumably as a newcomer. Juan in contrast is “hondamente argentino.” The choice of the word “hondamente” is of particular importance in this opening sentence. The Spanish word “hondamente” is synonymous with English words “deeply” or “profoundly.” The use of this word implies that Juan has some kind of profound insight into his Argentinian identification. It is an unusual word choice and seems dramatic or exaggerated, possibly even sarcastic. Borges goes on to place other details in opposition to Juan’s deeply Argentinian sentiments; after a description of Juan’s maternal grandfather being lanced by Indians from Catriel, the narrator mentions how “Juan Dahlmann (tal vez a impulso de la sangre germánica) eligió el de ese antepasado romántico, o de muerte romantic.” This “impulso de la sangre germánica” to favor the more romantic ancestors places Juan in a paradoxically mixed place. It is because of his German blood that he chooses to be profoundly Argentinian. When the narrator goes on to mention Juan as possessing nationalism that is “voluntario, pero nunca ostentoso,” the words “voluntario” and “impulso” push up against one another. If there are impulses inherited from his German blood that make him choose Argentinian nationalism, is this nationalism truly voluntary?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

'Argentino' in crisis

I read the works of Borges as wrestling with the category of ‘argentino.’ Who is the ‘argentino’? Where did he come from?

I believe that Borges is commenting on these questions in his short story, “El sur” and in his talk, “El escritor argentino y la tradición.” I concur with the intent that Patrick Dove raises in his article, to consider “the possibility that Borges’ text poses a question…concerning the absence of a clear definition of the political, and thus politicality at work in the processes of inheritance, interpretation, and definition itself” (62). The romanticized idea of honorable death presented through Dahlmann’s character in “El sur,” I believe, presents a reflection about the internal conflict that he [Dahlmann] has about his mixed identity, which relates to the larger discourse of identifying and describing who the ‘argentino’ as a category is in light of its contact with the European and the West as a whole. In other words, it is through these internal conflicts we find the frustration with the absence of a clear definition of the political that Dove describes—the phantasm.

 The reflection on death in Borges’ work creates a very unique temporal space to problematize and question the identity and category of ‘argentino’ and its tradition. For Dahlmann, the threat of having his life taken away by force in the knife fight is a liberating experience for him, which I read as him uplifting his Argentine side as the honorable side of his identity in contrast to his passive German side. It seems to me that this presents the threat of forced erasure though, which I wonder why that may be significant in locating identity and tradition. Perhaps it is summed up by Borges’ argument that “nuestra tradición es toda la cultura occidental, y creo también que tenemos derecho a esa tradición, mayor que el que pueden tener los habitantes de una u otra nación occidental.” The category of death is a deeply political and theological notion that I think needs more unpacking. It seems to function want to function as a baptismal category, but is equally death-dealing—it baptizes as it erases.

On the limits of modernity and the dream of a limitless marginality

* I apologize for the length. I didn’t keep track of my word count so it got long fast.

            There’s an oxymoronic desire in El Sur to make what is perceived as marginal to become infinite. As Dahlmann travels from the city to the countryside, everything becomes “vasto, pero al mismo tiempo íntimo y, de alguna manera, secreto” (Borges, El Sur). Is this journey a “renunciation of artifice,” of “cosmopolitan life” and “imported literature,” as Patrick Dove points out? Is it a movement against the universal or a journey to illustrate the universality of the marginal? As the train travels south, Dahlmann closes the book Las Mil y Una Noches and seems to live in the moment, experience nature, to expand with the growing landscape. The title of the book itself is a finite measurement of time (one thousand and one nights), yet its connotation is that of an eternity, Scherezade’s tale with no end (like El Sur). It seems like that many nights would take forever. It’s almost the way we perceive the temporality of our existence. It seems like a long time, but it does have an end. As an author who seems to have positioned himself against the closed order of nationalism and a proponent of Argentinean literature to embrace universality and incorporate the cosmopolitan, Borges is playing an interesting game here. He equates the city, modernity, the cosmopolitan, with blindness (Dahlmann can only be aware of his accident through the Other’s horror at the elevator), artifice, insufferable nightmares and the infernal “sanatorio” – all limited and/or limiting.

            Literature provides an escape, but it is a dangerous one, one that excises Dahlmann from reality and almost kills him (yet, like the ambiguity of the tragic ending, the emphasis here is on almost). Interestingly, the finite eternity implied by the title of the book, Las Mil y Una Noches, is a desired one, since the book is viewed as an enticing distraction, much like Scherezade’s tales expand her life within the book itself. But then, paradoxically, Borges describes Dahlmann’s feverish days after his accident as “ocho días pasaron, como ocho siglos” (Borges, El Sur). Here we have a short amount of time that is so undesired it expands to an eternity, albeit a finite one like the book title. Further on, at a café, Dahlmann differentiates himself as a finite creature in relation to the eternity of a magical cat because it exists in “la eternidad del instante” (Borges, El Sur). Dove explains, “this [temporal] gap, which not only separates the human from other beings but also separates the human from himself, is framed as a confrontation between temporality and infinitude” (Dove, 77). The question arises if this journey to the marginal, to tradition (to perhaps the setting of Marti’s bucolic revolution) is a universal one. One could interpret his one night in the south, a night that most likely will end his life, as that extra “una noche” in the title of the book. Again, that last night seems to have an intimacy, a secret, in opposition to the vastness of the other thousand. If that last night is viewed as the eternal instant, as the moment right before inevitable death, then we have a solution as to why the story refuses to give its reader the ending the protagonist seems to already know. Dahlmann thinks of his journey as a tragic one (he had already found affinity in the romantic heroism of his Argentinean grandfather), but must we think that as well? Borges refusal to agree with Dahlmann’s tragic affinity by ending the story in that instant of hopelessness to death is superseded by imbuing him, at the same instant, with a sense of fearlessness: “si en Dahlmann no había esperanza, tampoco había temor” (Borges El Sur). In my opinion, Borges could mean that only in our acceptance of that which is beyond ourselves (such as death) can we overcome our limits. He could be essentially incorporating the marginal into the universal, not choosing one over the other. He could be saying that as Dahlmann moves further south, further into his past, his tradition, his Gauchoness, his sense of romantic heroism, he also becomes vast, more infinite, universal, perhaps even paradoxically cosmopolitan… or is Borges satirizing that impossibility, saying that eternity can never be found by travelling south, backwards, to the past? Is he implying it is as unlikely as the deux ex machina “gaucho estático” handing over the knife because such a journey is in Dahlmann’s head?  Is it as artificial as the book Dahlmann carries, as illusory as the eternal moment of a magical cat or as impossible as the finite eternity of a thousand nights?