On infinity

16 03 2010

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I just wrote “infinite”. I have not interpolated this adjective out of mere rhetorical habit; I say that it is not illogical to think that the world is infinite. Those who judge it as limited, postulate that in remote places the hallways and the ladders and the hexagons can inconceivably end – which is absurd. Those who imagine them without limits, forget that they have the possible number of books. I dare to insinuate this solution to the ancient problem: The library is unlimited and periodic. If an eternal traveler were to cross it in any direction, he would prove after many centuries that the volumes repeat themselves in the same disorder (that, repeated, would be order: Order itself). My solitude rejoices in that elegant hope.

-Jorge Luis Borges, “La biblioteca de Babel”, my translation

On plaster saints

25 01 2010

Originally posted here:

When I visited the shops around the National Basilica of the Virgin of Lujan in Argentina, I couldn’t believe some of the kitschy statues I encountered. Some were badly painted and of poor quality. Others were just outright grotesque. Since we do not live in a Catholic country, religious art is monopolized by the official Church or reputable companies. In traditional countries, street vendors often sell religious art to make a living on the sidewalks in front of shrines or in random places in a city. My former abbot told me that in Greece, you can even buy your icons and pornography from the same stall…

After my encounter with these poorly made statues, I was overheard to say, “no wonder people become Protestant!” My aesthetic snobbery was unable to tolerate these poor examples of sacred art. Now I am beginning to see the error of my ways once again.
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Otra película corta sobre San La Muerte

4 01 2010

Otra película corta acerca de este “santo pagano” o santo popular argentino se puede ver en este sitio de Internet.

On the Church and Language

3 12 2009

Or: On Pizza, Beer, Machine Guns, Transliterated Greek Words, Argentine Sedevacantism, Taxi Cabs and Other Attractions of My Theological Freak Show

This essay was originally posted here

Sometimes I think that there is no such thing as Roman Catholicism. Rather, there are Roman Catholicisms. My religious experiences with Mexicans and Argentines seem so far removed from any conversations about religion that I have in this country among “non-Latins”. There is an antiseptic, dry quality to everything that is said in the United States about the Roman Catholic Church. This quality even penetrates to the fringes and extremes of any Catholic phenomenon in this country.

When we were occasionally let out of seminary in Argentina, I would sometimes be able to go into the actual city of Buenos Aires to see the sights and take a break from the usual diet of gruel and water. A few times, I went out with my best friend Nico, another bohemian who had no business being an SSPX seminarian, to spread clerical terror in the land of the porteños. One of my favorite things to do was to go to San Telmo, the old part of the city, and have some beer and pizza. Now, Argentine pizza is different from the pizza we have here: it is much less greasy, the crust is thicker, and it has less of a sense of being a type of fast food. And it goes wonderfully with a nice Argentine beer.
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18 11 2009


Esta mañana
Hay en el aire la increíble fragancia de las rosas del paraíso.
En la margen del Éufrates
Adán descubre la frescura del agua.
Una lluvia de oro cae del cielo;
Es el amor de Zeus.
Salta del mar un pez
Y un hombre de Agrigento recordará
Haber sido ese pez.
En la caverna cuyo nombre será Altamira
Una mano sin cara traza la curva
De un lomo de bisonte.
La lenta mano de Virgilio acaricia
la seda que trajeron
del reino del Emperador Amarillo
las caravanas y las naves.
El primer ruiseñor canta en Hungría.
Jesús ve en la moneda el perfil de Cesar.
Pitágoras revela a sus griegos
Que la forma del tiempo es la del círculo.
En una isla del Océano
Los lebreles de plata persiguen a los ciervos de oro.
En un yunque forjan la espada
Que será fiel a Sigurd.
Whitman canta en Manhattan.
Homero nace en siete ciudades.
Una doncella acaba de apresar
Al unicornio blanco
Todo el pasado vuelve como una ola
Y esas antiguas cosas recurren
Porque una mujer te ha besado.

-Jorge Luis Borges, del libro La Cifra
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The history of night

9 09 2009


Historia de la noche

A lo largo de sus generaciones
los hombres erigieron la noche.
En el principio era ceguera y sueño
y espinas que laceran el pie desnudo
y temor de los lobos.
Nunca sabremos quién forjó la palabra
para el intervalo de sombra
que divide los dos crepúsculos;
nunca sabremos en qué siglo fue cifra
del espacio de estrellas.
Otros engendraron el mito.
La hicieron madre de las Parcas tranquilas
que tejen el destino
y le sacrificaban ovejas negras
y el gallo que presagia su fin.
Doce casas le dieron los caldeos;
infinitos mundos, el Pórtico.
Hexámetros latinos la modelaron
y el terror de Pascal.
Luis de León vio en ella la patria
de su alma estremecida.
Ahora la sentimos inagotable
como un antiguo vino
y nadie puede contemplarla sin vértigo
y el tiempo la ha cargado de eternidad.

Y pensar que no existiría
sin esos tenues instrumentos, los ojos.

-Jorge Luis Borges, found on this site

Throughout the course of the generations
men constructed the night.
At first she was blindness;
thorns raking bare feet,
fear of wolves.
We shall never know who forged the word
for the interval of shadow
dividing the two twilights;
we shall never know in what age it came to mean
the starry hours.
Others created the myth.
They made her the mother of the unruffled Fates
that spin our destiny,
they sacrificed black ewes to her, and the cock
who crows his own death.
The Chaldeans assigned to her twelve houses;
to Zeno, infinite words.
She took shape from Latin hexameters
and the terror of Pascal.
Luis de Leon saw in her the homeland
of his stricken soul.
Now we feel her to be inexhuastible
like an ancient wine
and no one can gaze on her without vertigo
and time has charged her with eternity.

And to think that she wouldn’t exist
except for those fragile instruments, the eyes.

Concierto para bandoneón y orquesta

21 08 2009

A piece by Astor Piazzolla. Here is the last movement, though I am not crazy about this particular performance of it. I still think, however, it was the best concerto written in the 20th century.

The Feminine Dyad

14 07 2009

At the most fundamental level, the Monad is the Primordial One and the Indefinite Dyad is Primordial Matter, because Prima Materia is the indeterminate, formless, quality-less foundation of all being; She is Sub-stance — She who stands underneath. Like the One, Primordial Matter is ineffable, obscure, dark; therefore They are both called Abyss. Thus, the Goddess of Matter is also called Silence (Sigê), because Silence must precede the Word, the in-forming Logos, embodying the Ideas of the Craftsman. Her role as Mediator between the Father of the Gods and the Demiurge is confirmed by the Chaldean Oracles:

between the Fathers is Hekate’s Center borne.

-John Opsopaus, from A Summary of Pythagorean Theology

On the Popular Canonization of Entertainers

12 07 2009


As a follow up from last week’s post, I present to you a few notes on “folk canonization” of singers in Latin America. The first is the already mentioned Carlos Gardel, whose tomb in the Chacarrita cemetery of Buenos Aires is a popular shrine complete with ex-votos thanking the deceased singer for “favors granted”. To be fair, I was reading that such ex-votos only began to appear about thirty years ago, so it may be a more “modern” phenomenon.

One author summarizes Gardel’s appeal with a very succinct formula:

Carlos Romualdo Gardés, conocido como Carlos Gardel, presenta dos de los rasgos esenciales para constituirse en un santo popular: murió joven y dramáticamente.

Carlos Romualdo Gardés, known as Carlos Gardel, has two of the necessary qualities that constitute being a folk saint: he died young and dramatically.

One personal anecdote: the way one porteño friend in seminary spoke of Gardel and his music, I found such a “popular canonization” hardly surprising. And this was in an ultra-correct, Lefebvrist religious house. I am kicking myself now that I didn’t go out of my way to visit Gardel’s tomb when I was down there.

Another Argentine artist “canonized” by the populace is the cumbia singer, Gilda, as you can see from this program on South American television:

According to a report from a couple of years ago from the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, some believe that the tomb of Mexican singer, Pedro Infante, who also died quite young and tragically, is also miraculous. The face of Pedro Infante was grafted onto the early 20th century outlaw, Jesus Malverde, leading to an indirect popular canonization of the singer by those devotees.

I sort of experienced this phenomenon when people in my predominantly Mexican-American hometown “freaked out” when Selena was shot by one of her fans back in the late 1990’s. Since she was a Jehova’s Witness, I don’t think many of her fans “pray to her” the way some Argentines would pray to Gilda or Carlos Gardel, but given another context, such a cultus would hardly be surprising.

La Juana Figueroa

17 06 2009


This time from Salta, Argentina:

According to sources such as Felix Coluccio’s Cultos y Canonizaciones Populares de Argentina and a folklore site from Argentina, Juana Figueroa was the wayward wife of Isidro Heredia, who was beaten to death by her husband during an argument about her infidelities. While by no means a woman of virtuous life, her “martyrdom” made her a “miraculous soul” especially for housewives in unhappy marriages. Her traditional day of veneration is Monday, and people gather around the shrine seen above and ask for a miracle.

It all seems like a the sacralization of a telenovela, but such spectacles are not uncommon throughout Latin America. As I have shown before, from Tucson to the pampas of Argentina, violent death is seen to have a canonizing authority all its own. Coluccio, however, tries to see a deeper cultural and religious significance in this cultus:

“Poor thing! How much she must have suffered! Who knows what really went on in their house! What do men know about women’s problems?” These and other expressions flowed in answer to my questions , one Monday afternoon next to the devotional tree, where I went as a curious observer. Before the popular feminine sentiment that forgives and overlooks a shameful fall, I could not but help think of the goodness of the Lord as He looked over the Magdalen: “Thy sins are forgiven… go in peace.”


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