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PROLOGUE, Take-off 1, 25 pp

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[Editiorial note: I have extensively revised this English original and left some markings for future translation/editorial adjustments.]

LA MAGA´S WAY(S)…Down the Malecón one Day, 26 years later…

Caveat: "My Lord,´´ said Sune, now grave, " I know this: that events attain significance from the state of mind of the men to whom they happen, and no outward event is the same to two men.´´ From Isak Dinesen´s (Baroness Karen Blixen´s) Winter´s Tales (The Fish).

The Old Crone´s cat has come to nest on her shoulder as she types, purring into her ear and lulling the exalted blood pressure into submission. Nothing better to calm the heart´s pace than a kitten´s trusting purr on the lap, or neck, as reliable as any steady progression through the beads of a rosary which, well intoned, will recapitulate the soothing recurrence of a Sanskrit mantram. Om mani mani, Om. Ave María sin pecado concebida. Hail Mary full of grace. Eternally Mary... ¡Eternamente María!

Thus ran the title of an extremely popular soap-opera. Such a title seems most apt to cover the recurrent theme implicit in her “obsessions,” a story bound to be recounted over and over in the course of time from the fresh perspective of new generations of seekers --the kind whose wisdom issues from an understanding derived from direct experience, never (ever) from instruction attached to authority that has not been quite fully tested. The “gnostic Mary” whose “virginity” may have little or nothing to do with the hymen but everything to do with a peculiar state of mind attending conception and with an exceptional mode of perception. Indeed, not just any old Mary, or María...

For it comes to pass, in the course of human evolution, that the mind, finding itself in the wild, reflects upon itself, loses its way and lives in darkness before it is able to find its route home again, when it does --meaning “if it does”: since it is said that only the few arrive at that meeting which, in fact, feels more like a “reunion,” even though there may be no soundproof way of knowing how very many, or few, return to their original point of departure. Especially when one considers how Divine Mercy may be much more prone to come man´s way than man´s forgiveness for other people´s sins. All of which sounds like pure jibberish from a semantic/ analytic point of view, à la A.J. Ayer*, unless one is tuned-in to another sphere of Reality --with a Platonic capital letter-- more real than words and certainly not contained by them: a writer´s ultimate Nemesis.

*[For Ayer, it is tautological to say that God is Love. In his reasonable world of reasonable thoughts, a tautology is equal to nonsense --hence, to speak of god is nonsense. That God is nonsense, in a sense, is a point in fact; but, to say non-sense is not to obliterate the reality of the supernatural. What is non-sense in the purely rational mind means something in the other state of mind, albeit what is meant may only be communicated through poetry, which is the best of all philosophies, or the truest philosophy of all.]

That interlude between God and God, which is the site of man´s gaze upon a world reflected upon --not yet fully apprehended in its essence-- amounts to a Fall from which only the baptism they call “of fire” delivers us --other baptisms remaining mostly symbolic of that eventual Reunion of the personal with the impersonal.

Even while this “presence of presences” that is God must be thought of as a constant, for the “personal” it is a timeless moment within the limiting flow of time-bound consciousness, eternity in the palm of the hand (Blake). So that one can say that God finds “her” face again in “his” own mirror reflection thanks to an individual´s transparency or self-effacement in the light of Love. That God loves God through the open gaze of One who loves * (*marginal reference to Simone Weil’s notion of a “narcissitic God”). True, as well, to say, from this perspective, that God alone loves God, the mystery of the Incarnation thus appearing to refer not so much to a putative historical event as to a recurrent, on-going realization whose ineffability one may not be able to dispel entirely, only to render less obscure. A daunting task which this undeserving servant finds as repellent and unavoidable as altogether enthralling and, very likely, useless.

Having plunged chest deep into the thick grove where one loses one´s way forever unless it is to go beyond the world as previously known, it appears the time has come once again to attempt to communicate the findings of one whose path has been lost, far too long, in the dark crevices of faith, fully uncertain as to the prospect of succeeding where failure has ensued too many times already, unable to resist the hope of laying bare for a patient reader the brilliant landscapes and fathomless abysses encountered over a single, lonely, hidden path of awe and incertitude.

After years of telling her surprising stories to an occasional friend ready to listen, an acquaintance who, as a result of his relative distance, did not find it necessary to strain himself unduly in order to hear what begged to ascertain itself through them, that friend one day put his finger on the mark right before her eyes. Straight away she knew that he was right: As long as you have to start somewhere, why not take the central scene of your entire voyage as a bridge from which to travel back and forth: “This would be the scene, it seems to me, of your walk that day along the Malecón,” he said, “twenty six years after you had left the Island --that crucial moment when the meaning of your entire journey finally took root, fully and deeply, in your soul.”

That transcendent moment that had marked her so deeply “befell” her on the fourth day after her arrival in the City of her childhood. On a Monday it had been, when the sights of the formerly majestic, elegant streets of La Habana Vieja had wrenched her heart --men and women struggling in line in order to obtain the barest essentials of a life full of disappointment and regrets. It is said, in some esoteric book you´ve probably never read, that we are awarded seven hours of misery for every moment of happiness. From a solidly gnostic, direct-- experience-- knowledge-- point-- of-- view, the appraisal of such an imbalance between sorrow and joy sounds close enough.

How did it go, then, that “central scene” witnessed by no other human soul but for the very two whose gaze suddenly met so unexpectedly on the day after the last contortions and professionally simulated fanfare of an out-of - season Carnival were all spent, the sea on one side and the empty streets silently bellowing across the deserted ocean drive: A “scenario” drenched in leaden sun, implacable, over streets and buildings now bereft of all vegetation, amenities, color --even all life, it seemed like, except for that single, tortured being whose entire existence, like an open book, she saw gathered at her feet, suddenly thrust into her immediacy as if benevolently --if somewhat brusquely-- torn away from a very distant place hidden in those recesses of the heart that one should wish best left alone, unvisited. But, first, the steps to that moment that crystallized for you the meaning of your quest.

You left Paz --that was the name of the Mexican schoolteacher who became your roommate at the Nacional * [asterisks refer to notes at the end of a paragraph] -- to take a taxi back to the Hotel in consideration of her impossibly flat feet, determined to walk back instead, so that you were now fittingly alone with your memories and reactions, moving leisurely now, instinctively, from the Plaza de la Catedral down to where the Prado meets the bay straight across from Morro Castle, past the decadent majesty of a boarded up Casino Español where, once upon a time, you and the other “lucky few” enjoyed watching the Carnival Parade each Spring just before Holy Week, all dressed up in mardi-gras costumes either rented or custom-cut by the modista: Once you were a piece of toffy, bare-legged and honey colored; another year, a turn of the century colegiala, student, in a blue dress and bonnet; another, still, a Hungarian peasant girl whose many colored folk costume had graced your stamping, twirling Hungarian Dance --a proper ending to the schoolyear´s toils at the Martha Abreu Ballet Academy, so conveniently close to home, upper class and ´´lily white´´ (on all counts). Your most memorable masquerade ball, however, came when you showed up as a Chinese damsel only to wind up doing “La Bamba” at full blast with a handsomely attired charro in his Mexican horseman´s regalia, all in silver gilded black, from wide-brimmed hat to boot. That, you warmly reflected as you proceeded past the stately palace, might be considered premonitory of your fate, your heart then still moved by a kind of faith which, like Paz, had not been left behind entirely, not just yet. That you were still able at the time to hang on to your steadfast confidence in matters of human affairs, of course, reveals the extent of your innocent nature inevitably bound to remain trusting beyond all prudence. [*Caveat encore: A couple of weeks after writing the above, just as I told someone of this experience, who often reports on Cuba, my memory suddenly and mysteriously restored my roommate’s real name –instead of Fé, or Faith, it was, or is, Paz, which means Peace: So it would seem like Hope, Faith, and Peace may all be welded in the recesses of my mind, as they may be in yours...]

Past the palace doors of the old Club house, where only men had regularly attended (family activities normally circumscribed to the great ocean--front property at the Playa de Marianao) you witnessed the derelict side of the “Revolution” in full scope. Street after street of crumbling ancient walls whose demeanor, like the people´s who inhabited them, displayed all the scars that accumulate when no maintenance or renewal has arrived and when, finally, there is no hope left that the worst won´t come to pass because it already has. La muerte en vida peor que la muerte a secas. Death in life remaining worse than death-period.

So there you stood at last, twenty six years after the episode that would take you to live elsewhere --as much by chance as by choice-- right across the Morro Castle, prison and dungeon throughout the centuries for that fallen part of humanity you might at any moment join unless you managed to remain very careful, or just plain lucky or both (which is like saying far, far away). Only once in your life had you found yourself engulfed in its caverns and, then, thanks to the impromptu visit of some Chicago family associates you dutifully took with you on the standard tour and whose most entranced moments would result from having had a chance to enjoy their succulent Morro crabs in the close proximity of an Ernest Hemingway, no less, imperturbably attentive to the sight and sound of frozen daikiris all lined up, like sentinels, on the polished surface of “Floridita´s” dazzlingly lustrous mahogany bar. The still famous restaurant thus stood as a fitting shrine to the memory of “The Old Man and the Sea” and its legendary author: it remained impeccably clean and cool in the siesta-like atmosphere of muted lights, ice clinking with glass, water gushing forth with the reassurance of a prompt effervescence marked by the steady undertow of guiros, maracas and drums.

It was the day after the last day of the Carnival, then, and “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse,” though not in expectation of any Santa Clause or divine attendant, such as the Three Kings might be, bearing gifts from travels afar --rather, the whole town slept in order to escape the dead-end of the Parade, like the dead-end of everything that the “Revolución” had managed to get started in expectation of a future now past and gone, unrealized. Gone with the wind, the hopes of a new man, of a new woman, of peace, love and understanding. Had the whole thing been anything but a sham from the very beginning?

The place ranked of fried fish, piss, and beer, not a soul strolling down the Malecón. The outward appearance of the Castle “standing guard” over the Bay and the town imparted a sense of serene timelessness, unmovable --if moving-- to the world outside: a façade in ironic contrast to the turmoil within the hearts and minds of hundreds of prisoners caught in its doomsday entrails throughout the centuries. A breeze, barely the semblance of a breeze! Only the sun mercilessly revealing how nothing was left of the warm creamy pastels that once enlivened that part of the old citadel now proudly referred to by UNECO as a precious “monument belonging to all of Mankind.” A city bombarded by the shockwaves of an implacable time, an implacable “history,” whose naked devastation allows one to understand man´s ardent hope that “history” might somehow be over and done with, el final de la historia already then, in the year of Our Lord 1986, the latest theme in vogue (in expectation of only God knows what benefits to come, and for whom...).

To my left then --to your left, “her” left (since that persona I once was appears to me now like another self whose innocence the present-day self deeply yearns for, misses, as one is bound to miss the better part of oneself that has been lost, or buried, not forgotten) --to “our” left (better, thus including the reader´s progression through María´s fateful steps and reveries) the harmonious alignment of columns gracing the faded frontispiece of “mankind´s patrimony” in the Caribbean. Silent, deserted streets converging upon the ocean front drive universally known as the Malecón, Havana´s most popular, free-for-all boudoir temporarily abandoned for the sake of that profound siesta that invariably takes over after all the beer´s been drunk.

“Tell it the way you told me,” I seem to hear my yucateco buddy whispering in my ear through the cat´s purr on my shoulder. (I´ve referred to him as an “acquaintance” because our encounters remained few and far between, though our kinship seems to have been rooted in something more elementary than mere “Caribbean solidarity.”) Yes! So:

“So there I find myself walking in my little white gown recently bought in the lingerie department of some Sears Department Store in L.A., my left arm in a cast all the way to the elbow matching the color of the gown, everything summer- white the way santería initiates go about --albeit, throughout those years, when I took to white as a kind of habit, I had not yet had my caracoles read, which is to say that I had no way of knowing to which santo I belonged nor did I believe in all that “jazz.” That was to come a few years later, much as a surprise to me since it is important to consider that my radical skepticism as regards that peculiar type of religiosity had remained fundamentally unperturbed even after my first real communion two decades earlier.

I have to say, however, that, by then, I had received intimations of a supernatural connection with La Guadalupana, the Virgin to whom virtually all Mexicans devoutly pray (and many other Latin Americans as well). That connection had established itself after several years of “on the field research,” so to speak, in Mexico. This work had begun soon after completion of a scholarly, rather elegant dissertation on critical problems of Surrealism, a topic that imposed itself quite naturally to my curiosity in the aftermath of what may be described as my “initiation” or “third-eye-opening-experience” that referred back to a single night in May, 1965. That had been the night that had changed my idea of the world as totally as Descartes’ or Pascal’s one-night-stand conversions did for them. An idea of the world that, from a certain perspective, would not be altogether at odds with the kind of “scientific objectivity” I had been rigorously taught to observe throughout many years of formal training and which seems to have come quite naturally to me. From this “stronghold of scientific objectivity,” in any case, the “immaculate conception” had always seemed like an absurd notion and my relation to the “Virgin,” in the wake of an intellectually rebellious adolescence, would become one of total denial, even scorn [an account of my impressions of that single, memorable, night follows this “prologue” in Spanish, English version pending...].

“Journeying down the Malecón, in the scanty, cheer white, Sears Robuck frock, hatless, not quite barefoot yet feeling close to naked in the looseness of the robe, I found myself proceeding steadily down the outskirt of that unforgettable colonnade that magnificently describes a half moon round the quiet sweep of Havana´s ocean drive. So deserted was the place that the surprise could not have been any greater for both him and me. As I stepped past this one column, about half way down the mile long colonnade, I suddenly happened upon the figure of a black man hunched over the ledge of the sidewalk facing the sea.

“I was virtually on top of him when the outburst of my presence made him raise his eyes to me as we came into view of one another, the very instant I emerged from behind the column next to which he sat, hands cradling his head deeply sunk between the knees, no longer looking at the immensity of the sea stretching out before him but inwardly, instead, as if past all hope, into the bitter depths of an unnamable affliction. He had raised his eyes to me just as mine fell upon his crunched humanity. The despair that over- flowed from them was so total, so helplessly so, that I don´t think I have ever encountered in my life, before or since, a graphic statement of personal horror such as his. The look in those eyes was like one long, silent scream --Munsch in the flesh-- and I have thought ever since that it was my privilege and good fortune to be there at that moment: to have been blessed enough to witness, to touch, a single human being´s capacity for immediate, radical transformation. Nor forgetting that everything is transitory, and that some changes are more permanent or less so than others.

“For, instantly, in less than the time it takes to bat one´s eyes, the fathomless hunger that came more from the heart than from the stomach --that dark, tortured, distraught gaze he had brought to our fateful encounter became the scenario of the most extraordinary transformation of disposition I have ever had the joy of witnessing in anyone´s expression. Within a split second, that unmatchable look of gloom and emptiness had been instantly blown away by the winds of an irresistible grace, transfigured into a joy so profound that it loomed before my eyes as the exact polar opposite of the dreadful spiritual malady it had so immediately come to replace.

“I slowed down my pace yet found it inappropriate to halt altogether, not knowing what to do or say other than to smile down and nearly touch his head now stretched lopsidedly in my direction with an expression of complete exultation, as if ravished by what must have taken on the allure of an honest-to- goodness ghostly apparition, or a heavenly one, indeed. Could that explain how he had begun to stand up, only to fall to his knees at my feet in his effort to imbibe more fully the spectacle emerging from the “azure” right before his dazzled eyes.

“At the same time, he let out one long, uncontrollable sigh of grateful relief that seemed to emerge from another place as deeply hidden in the soul as the one from which his despair had previously flowed: “¡Ay, miha!” he let out in a sweet, mellow moan, a contraction of mi hija, literarily meaning “daughter” and expressing both familiarity and profound affection.

“It was a sigh of alivio –relief-- such as is bound to find its way through the lungs the moment one feels the exquisitely soothing effect of a straight-forward release from the grip of some unbearable pain. But what could have produced such a tremendous impact upon the spirit of this human being, only a split second ago bereft of all hope, a man whose face was as dark as it was picture-perfect, two long sideburns silver-lining a classically outlined face. He looked like he could have been an actor or a dancer. He reminded me, first and foremost, of one of the three fishermen traditionally presented in popular portrayals of the miraculous, life-saving apparition at the height of the storm by no other than “Cachita,” which is the Cuban people´s fond nickname for la Caridad del Cobre, patrona de Cuba.* *[The Virgin of Charity, in fact, may be said to be their own culturally modulated version of Tonatzín/Guadalupe, pre- and post- Colombian versions of a female deity not entirely governed by orthodox Catholicism --at least, not any more than would be “Ochún--Yeyé--Cari,” the Afro-Cuban deity identified with “Cachita,” whose powers and attributes result from an appropriation of the official --Roman—Church’s depiction of the “Mother of God”.]

“What could have so rapidly and effectively quelled the infinite thirst, the ravenous hunger of a soul totally bereft of the proper kind of food, if not that sudden intrusion, in the midst of the rampant squalor to which he had been heir, of a single ray of pure, fresh, simple hope descending upon him from above. And the name of that blessing so freely and unexpectedly given, so gratefully and readily received, could be none other than the resurgence, within the limited scope of vision to which despair had reduced his sight, of a wider, larger, more profound and infinite field of being: one whose proper name might be “Beauty Incarnate,” or Supreme Fairness, in all of its light, floating, passing, unassuming recurrence. God´s secret password waiting to be heard.”

Going back to the caveat at the beginning of this “prologue”: It is entirely conceivable that, given the diversity of interpretations that any event may be awarded in the eyes of a beholder, this “chance” encounter would have left a totally different impression on one individual and the other. “She” (or the “I” that I was then) had continued steadily on her way, not daring to turn her back in the direction she was coming from before reaching the Nacional a mile further down that practically deserted ocean drive, just in time for the midday meal and siesta which nature so peremptorily imposes on everyone at such humid, smoldering latitudes. Had it not been for that magic moment of instant transformation she had so enigmatically encountered in the eyes of a total stranger, her departure four days later from the Island might have marked a definitive break with her “roots,” a total sense of estrangement after an absence of more than half a lifetime --not to say centuries, when one considers that the sixties, followed by the vertiginous pace of events throughout the seventies and eighties, had precipitated changes outside our native land equivalent to what one might expect to see happen over a period of several centuries, if not millennia-- and, especially as well, when the place left behind has not merely changed drastically --though not always in the same fashion or direction as the world outside-- but remained just as drastically unchanged. How much, in effect, had changed and how little! It became difficult, in effect, for her to decide what disturbed her the most after so many years of longing for the patria chica, for that special place in one´s heart and memory whose nurturing environment during early childhood and youth all exiles or expatriates intimately long for: notwithstanding how much things might have changed or how very little!

What would not be erased from her memory and disposition in the years to come, at any rate, would be the knowledge of how immediately the most profound despair can be transformed into its opposite: into something akin to divine ecstasy. And she suspected that it was the radiance of her free floating stroll down the Malecón that day that had torn the stranger´s soul directly from the depths of utmost despair, delivering him into the arms of Love: Seeing this totally unexpected “golden” apparition alight upon him, it appeared to her, somehow, that he had Remembered once again, not “her” whom he knew not, personally, but HER, the infinite Beauty of Our Mother Ochún-Yeyé-Cari, Cachita cachonda --hugging and huggable-- the mistress of the river and of the forest where our sacred herbs and flowers grow.

Not, of course, that she had had a chance to figure all this out by the time she had reached the hotel. But, as she mustered the courage to continue on her way, unable to find the courage to stop instead, the memory of the Virgin of Charity appearing to the three fishermen at the height of the storm moved in her bosom and filled her with both horror and shame. Shame at not being able to stop to take him in her arms, to embrace him, horror at the heightened sense of responsibility her deepened awareness had brought. The entire Island appeared to her, then, like a barge thrust into the turbulent waves of an implacable history while the lonely, dejected figure of the black man henceforward loomed as a symbol of the entire Cuban nation.

“And just as he has responded and become whole again and alive, joyful and full of gratitude for the exquisite radiance that is offered to us when we least expect it, so it will be possible for our people to turn all their trials and tribulations to joyful work and love, sooner or later.” Such would be the spirit behind many subsequent efforts throughout the years to stop the senseless (pretense of a?) war. [Not that any visible result has been come upon since these pages were first written, edited and re-edited, even now after the M-15 Movement, the Spanish Revolution and Occupy Wall Street and Washington etc… are knocking at our doors. Last I heard the optical fiber cable being extended from Venezuela to Cuba so our friends there might get to connect more freely with the rest of the world was promptly devoured by “sharks” before it ever got to be put into operation, or so they say…]

So, that is what that still fresh, innocent lady had begun to ponder on such a fateful day as she strolled down the Malecón twenty six years after her reluctant departure. That awe inspiring moment would be the most compelling memory left to linger with her over the years even after her most wistful judgment at the close of her visit had been formulated: Esto ya no lo compone ni el médico chino. (“Not even a Chinese healer can cure this patient.”)

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. I was so absorbed by what I thought were to be the last two paragraphs or so of this “prologue” that I failed to heed the temporary black-out and suddenly, precisely at the moment when you know you´ve got it right and are heading on at full speed towards that period at the end, my battery ran out and I lost it all. When the power came back just a few minutes later I saw clearly that all of the afternoon´s work was gone. Impossible to recapture the train of thought as it wove itself into a luminous cobweb of simplicity in spite of the complexity of what I was trying to say. As it turned out I never had a chance to read through it myself, even, and thereby to confirm that it was really as well rounded and complete and pertinent an ending as I felt it to be while the train of thought rushed me fatefully onto the blanked-out screen.

So, it looks like we´ll have to do without those two inspired paragraphs for now or forever, totally ignorant of how great or bad they really were. (Though the loss is probably far greater for me than for the reader.) That ending -to- end -all- endings, as far as I am able to remember, quoted Mallarmé’s famed coup de dés in the sense that “a single throw of dice” --for me, within this context, the selection of texts, out of many, that will finally make their way into these pages-- will never abolish chance (un coup de dés jamais n´abolira le hazard). And just when I thought I had the mot juste to wind up perfectly this new, hopeful beginning, le hazard --chance, or is it “ungovernable fate”-- introduced its head in the form of a black-out, leaving me temporarily knocked out! Which after all is what awaits us, always, at THE END. So this is the end of the beginning, long before (yet not so long before?) it gets to be the beginning of the end. Valle de Bravo, 8-16-98.


El camino del guerrero lleva hasta el abismo.

Planeando sobre él, mi corazón estalla

--rosa que se desgrana en un baño de


[ The warrior’s path leads to the abyss.

Hovering over it, my heart bursts

--rose cascading in a shower of lights.]

The compendium of disasters in this warrior’s path is as much the result of other people’s personal and public mistakes as of her own. Mistakes apparently small that can cost a lot, sometimes as mysterious and inexcusable as my ability to spend nearly two weeks calling this prologue an epilogue ‑-although in a real sense, all “real” beginnings are to be found equally at the end, just as it may be true to say that all “true” endings constitute a new beginning. Whether death, that “necessary evil” in most people´s minds, constitutes a new beginning is another matter. I am now more inclined to consider death as the gate to a more definitive departure from the personal to the impersonal --from that undifferentiated ground of being awaiting those willing to be transcended into a beyond that is as much here and now as nowhere and which remains, pretty much,”ineffable” beyond pure poetry --whose object and subject poetry is.

My mistake in not heeding the trumpets of doom when the lights began to go out, of course, might even yield something better than we would ever have had, dear reader (now that you´ve gotten this far), had it not been for that miserable (God-sent?) power failure just as I was rushing on to capture the dictates of inspiration in the face of a variety of logistical problems requiring some sort of a coherent solution. That is why it was important to refer to “chance” as the inevitable component involved in just about everything we do while, at the same time, noting that the word is apt to take on the allure of a divine intervention of some sort without implying necessarily that “danger” that “hazard” in English evokes. --a sense of peril remaining absent, at least to my ear, from the French voice hazard* --as in André Breton´s hazard objectif, about which more elsewhere).

It is this other way of looking at things that Jung had in mind when he spoke of chance as seeming quite often more like a “causality” --an intended or teleo-logically oriented or “intended” event instead of an undirected, random one lacking discernible purpose: the cause at the origin and the cause at the end of a “happening” that is perceived as such (any event requiring that it be identified and acknowledged, to start with) rather than a mere “casualty” (or casualidad in the sense of a “chance” occurrence: as it turns out, this voice in Spanish lacks the connotation of accidental death or fall --casualidades connoting merely coincidental chance occurrences, good or bad as the moment may suggest to our volatile subjectivity).

From this perspective, nothing big or little happens by chance even though everything may appear to be as if by chance --which is to say, without an intention that anyone might coherently or empirically perceive. In this sense, the “training” that I received at the hands of the most famous of my mentors during the course of my dissertation (“Surrealism between East and West,” Wayne State University, 1977) was geared as much to encouraging previously un-experienced modalities of dreaming as to the feat of noticing sundry “details” that “common consensus” would never have begun to recognize or perceive or might simply dismiss with a smirk and without second thought.

Magical thinking --a belief that ultimately little if anything results from pure chance, even when everything may have the appearance of randomness, of incoherence-- is finally identical to the artistic, creative mind-set. The sorcerer is one who notices these “winks” from the beyond in the process of creating --or co-creating with the “ineffable”, impersonal power (Don Juan´s “Nagual”) -- his destiny, so to speak. That is the object of his art: to give a name to what has not been named and to “inherit himself,” which is to say, to realize his potential, to bring forth his “children,” of which all who share in that co-creation become godparents.

The greatest danger a sorcerer encounters, hence, is to fall into a “madness of interpretation,” given that all “events” can be reformulated a posteriori in view of later “events” whose “reality” and possible meaning remains --for all practical purposes-- between the follower of “the path that has a heart,”and the Unnamable, the Tao, the nagual, you name it! All the marvels he witnesses will be useless to those around him (and service to others remains central to any authentic quest, I believe) unless the warrior is able to display the colors of his visions, relay the notes of the melodies he has heard in the course of his “travels.” And of course, as the old “custom´s inspector” [“el inspector de aduanas” …link] would tell me, unless he acts in accordance to his knowledge.

At the same time, it is this very madness that ultimately leads to the quietude at the center of the storm. Nothing he attempts will ring true unless he manages to sit at the center of that quietude, of that silence meant to sustain his own rhapsody-in-blue. (As the nahuatl poet so felicitously put it: “It is from God´s house that the flowers come and it is in his house one must seek his song”: handwritten quote I found just now inside Gordon Wasson´s The Wondrous Mushroom... Mycolatry in Mesoamerica, Mc. Graw-Hill, 1980, probably copied from this same book).

Without the mistake of referring to what was to come at the beginning as if it were meant to come at the end, I might not have found the right lead to introduce some of the notions in this “epilogue to the prologue” --a prologue that, re-read as an epilogue after what is to follow, might amount to an alternative reading, text or story, illuminating further --or in a way so far unrealized-- all that transpires in the course of this coup de dés: this passionate, deliberate and decisive “throw of the dice” which is the artist´s bet in favor of beauty, meaning, justice, love and --inevitably-- the kind of recognition without which the service-aspect of the shaman´s quest goes unrealized. This latter is the part fatefully left up to the reader as co-creator in what may become, through his agency, a shared performance in the generation of multiple meanings, if the very possibility of meaning is to be preserved and hopefully enhanced --even when, at last, all interpretation, like time itself, must have a stop (recalling the good Aldous Huxley’s telling title). And artists, finally, is what they ultimately were, those famous toltecas that el nagual Carlos” almost jokingly* brought into his account of the now legendary apprenticeship which, all too rapidly, catapulted him into fame.

[* Carlos´ account of how come he started calling don Juan his “Toltec Devil”: “I was strolling down the UCLA campus one day, shortly after Tales of Power came out, when one of my former students stuck his head out of a window and called out to me very gleefully: ‘You did it again, you Toltec devil.’ That phrase gave my heart a jolt of happiness and it stuck.” So this is how, by Carlos’ account to me on the phone, the toltecas found their way into the don Juan books...´´]

These Toltecs were considered artists first and foremost since that is what the word toltecátl originally meant in their speech –at least, following Hugh Fox´s rendition (in Gods of the Cataclysm, Harper´s, 1976, pp. 121-125) of Diego Durán and León-Portilla´s accounts. For the ancient Aztecs looked upon the people of Tula (Tollan) --where the palaces of Quetzalcóatl and his mysterious “double” Topiltzin stood-- with a reverence bordering on adoration that surpassed that which the ancient Romans displayed for their Greek teachers, who were equally their slaves. These Toltecs were seen by the Aztecs as having come from faraway, “wizards and magicians, who would change their forms as they wished” (verses translated and quoted in León-Portilla´s Aztec Thought and Culture) even though these same prodigious shamans apparently managed to get caught, killed or exiled by their enemies (not unlike Jesus Christ, Our Lord):

“Painters, sculptors, carvers of precious stones,

feather artists, potters, spinners, weavers,

skillful in all they made . . . .

The Toltecs were truly wise;

they conversed with their own hearts. . . .

They played their drums and rattles;

they were singers, they composed songs

and sang among the people. . . “

(Same source, quoted by Fox p. 123)

My surprising and equally “discombombulated” life experiences may not be said to have begun since my apprenticeship with Castaneda (which followed by a full eight years “the night that changed my idea of the world”), nor may they be said to have come about since that illuminating and not unnerving night in May, just a few days before my twenty sixth birthday, when I first realized how perception may be considered an act of creation (a phrase Carlos liked), but to have begun rather at the dawn of childhood memories, if not earlier. These memories belong to the time when I could already talk, if not yet walk, since my first steps were taken on my first birthday, if one is to trust my mother´s memory in this respect.

At any rate, at the age of one I had been talking a while and would continue to do so at full speed. * Yet it is to that night that changed my idea of the world that I must refer to “in order to order” some of the things which have come to pass in the course of all of my travels and travails (from the French travail, no doubt, meaning work and, in an aberrant sense only, “hardship”) just as my “Journey to Havana” holds at its center the gaze that, from time to time, forces me to glance back almost as if doing so might still make sense. So much senselessness looking to make sense: even for just a bit of plain, common sense...

*[My tendency to daydream in class, however, sometimes got me behind in school. In languages and history I was almost always on top and held my ground with the ablest, usually --though I, for one, have never been immune to winding up a complete flop.]

Among the memories worth recalling to the task of weaving some sense out of the non-sense that goes on, is the evening when I attended the presentation of the Spanish version of Gordon Wasson´s book quoted above. My conversation with him was inhospitably rushed by the woman accompanying him, who had the demeanor of a gendarme. Octavio Paz and Fernando Benítez each managed to put their bids in, respectively, in favor of alcohol (Paz) and against attempting to commune with God since “we´ve killed him” (Benítez) The entire scenario at the University, house-packed, struck me as carefully orchestrated to prevent Wasson from proving his point, that I solemnly agree with, that we are duty-bound as scientists to distinguish between “entheogens” such as the ones many of us have taken for the sake of knowledge and a host of other substances, such as alcohol and cocaine, which tend to divorce the soul from all truth (besides devastating one physically and morally in every way, especially when they have to be bought in the black market).

In modern times it has become increasingly fashionable to allow the writer to show the reader the seams of his writing: the story of how a certain text emerges within a specific personal and historical context can appear as interesting and pertinent as the stories that are woven within the context surrounding the text and suffusing it. Indeed, what happens while writing is as much a part of the story as is the impossibility today of totalizing knowledge in the same way the epic genre did throughout the centuries. The “era of information,” reproducing and diversifying meanings at the speed of light, puts an additional pressure on writers who attempt to understand and portray their world. The complexities of the old wedded to the new require the ability to nuance in ways that may be termed “exquisite” as much as they require gross caricature: impressionistic strokes profiling the minds and events which act upon the sensibility of whosoever seeks to say his world: In the beginning was the Word.

A narrator genuinely searching, as he goes along, for answers to the major questions that plague humanity cannot but inscribe his text within the matrix of all history, which is to say, of all writing past, present, and future, assuming fully the fluidity that accompanies these three: like the Holy Trinity and the Three Musketeers, all in one and one in all, all for one and one for all). And the Word was God!

Until recently in historical times, all history was “written” history. Now we have movies and soundtracks to tell the story, although what that story really says will increasingly depend on the eyes of the beholder, or the ears of the listener, no longer very predictable participants in the narrative event --as compared to, let´s say, the audiences that received the news from the battlefront back when Rolland was able to cut the miscreant in half with a single stroke of the sword. All stories, finally, weave themselves in and out of specific, historically pertinent live frames within which we “swim” like fish in an aquarium.

In this aquarium we are swimming in today, Western medicine has finally come to grips with death after decades of pretending to do away with it. CNN International carried this important piece of news today, September 2nd, 1998, alongside further news on the virtual collapse of Russian capitalism “six years after its birth.” Of course, capitalism in Russia developed quite widely (and wildly) over the twentieth century in the form of what we now refer to as the black market; a similar system having been consolidated throughout the Eighteenth Century that today we derisively call mercantilism. The “new-liberalism” appears to be its continuation through different means (as well as many of the same).

That “free enterprise” and “capitalism” are not the same thing is one of those obvious truths that everyone or nearly everyone seems to (or pretends to) ignore.

Now they want to be able to determine that the Russian economy´s poor performance in favor of its speculative investors is really the outcome not of “democracy´s” or “capitalism’s” bad performance (they don´t seem to be able to distinguish between democracy and capitalism either) but of bad practices inherited from a corrupt communist system. The latter may be so; still, what their inability to distinguish between free-enterprise and capitalism yields is that they fail to see communism’s shortcomings as issuing from the fact that it was at once rabidly statist and capitalist --as must be the case whenever the black market becomes the predominant form of exchange. Communism failed, not because of how different it has been from capitalism, but because of how much it resembled the worst conditions that have defined the latter since its very origins. The fates of one and the other merge at the end.

Free enterprise is not what thrives in a black -market war economy but quite its opposite: capitalism at its worst --which is like saying “at its best” when it comes to exacerbating the profit margins of the most rapacious and destroying its own base. Free enterprise has existed as long as people bartered. Bartering is not a capitalist practice. Changing goods for money in a situation in which price bears no relation to real value is. Turning money into an end-in -itself, instead of forcing it to conform to its original role as facilitator of exchanges, is one of several monstrous inversions of “means” and “ends” that are costing humanity its own survival and the survival of all, or most, species (not even the cockroach may be offered today as a possible exception to generalized extermination).

Another equally disastrous inversion of those two elements, “means” and “ends,” involved in any action is the one that has been made between “life” and the “sacred.” That life is a means towards the realization of the sacred instead of the only end-in-itself one may properly term “sacred,” has slowly (and not so slowly, but surely) turned the means (life) into an unsustainable end: an unlivable life. Life devours life before it is able to yield what to us may be most sacred: beauty, truth, justice ... the very love of God who, alone, is a legitimate end- in-itself. Bad theology and bad home-economics, thus, have got us all in the grip of a wordly chaos that seems increasingly unworldly.

So much for the infinite capacities of language to conceal as much as to reveal. Perhaps, when we talk, we should make an orthographic distinction between “life” small case and “Life high” case. Small case life is the means for the realization of high case Life, the “end in itself” of life (small case). Nemesis results from taking what is pure means as if it were the end for which those means exist. Small case life must bend to serve Life, high case --the first is a relative good, the second an absolute one. (I owe this invaluable reflection concerning the dangers of confusing what are purely means with the final end of everything to no other than Simone Weil, but also to Ivan Illich, his well found comments on the deceptive, sneaky “fetishization” of “life” --small case--in detriment of la Vraie Vie, the real, true Life -- which does not necessarily have to always be elsewhere, remembering Rimbaud´s forlorn cry “la vraie vie est absente!”: “true life is absent”).

Increasing turmoil has brought with it a sharpening of my awareness in relation to aspects of reality that only a few weeks ago I had decided to catalogue as bearing no relationship to the “real workings” of nature. What I would have dismissed just a short while ago as pure poppy- cock now returns with a vengeance to wink at me from that peripheral place in our vision where great transformations begin to take root. The “Discovery” channel talks about awesome phenomena the description of which just a decade ago cost my Mentor a substantial portion of hard-to-come-by credibility. In spite of the many states of awareness that I was able to experience as a result of my apprenticeship, certain types of events that Castaneda narrated remained inadmissible to me as much from a “scientific” point of view as from a philosophic, ethical, point of view. While my objections in some areas remain, and my distaste for the evidence has not abated, I am now less prone to discard the notion, for example, that two different bodies cannot possibly occupy the same space at the same time --a logical assumption that I have begun to find disturbingly questionable.

These are some of the things that I hope to clarify for myself in the process of writing and ordering my notes --or, at least, to leave a testimony of, pending future understanding by someone other than myself. [Add reference to recent experiments with what amounts to an entity remindful of the definition of God given in the Livre des XII Pères, XIIIth C: “the infinite circle whose center is everywhere, the circumference nowhere”… the Ether?…]

In the last couple of days, I have begun to refer to this collection of papers gathered under the old working title “the infinite womb” as belonging to the old/new genre of “creative autobiography,” fully cognizant of the fact that “creativity” is not a personal as much as an impersonal matter, and that only those who let go of themselves will be able to realize themselves in “the now” --which is “always” -- just as history continues to play the part of the big, bad wolf ready to devour us. So, here goes Little Red Riding Hood, la Caperucita Roja, venturing decidedly into the thickest of the woods where, perchance, she will come across what she´s meant to find --without naming “the Beast” or “Angel” ahead of time (though this may already have been done, in part).

What form that battle with the Big Bad Wolf will finally take is unpredictable all the way to the end and attempting to define it, before it has fully happened, would most definitely defy the purpose of the quest --one whose only guarantee of authenticity is that it remain open to the very end: that is, all the way back to its source at the beginning which has no end.

And here´s as good a place as any to close this “epilogue to the prologue” that fate, as much as choice, had in store for us. Except to add, perhaps, that just as “don Juan´s” ability to “stop the world” (possibly a faulty translation into English of parar el mundo,* which may mean instead “to make the world stand up” --to raise up the world, put it squarely on its feet, transform it, create it) relied on his ability to stop “the inner dialogue,” there are those of us for whom the exact opposite holds true, seeing that it is language, poetry, that allows us to set the world up on its feet, to confer meaning to it, even when “all order (like “time”) must have a stop” (don Genaro of Ixtlán). Silence, all the same, providing the backdrop of all resonance in the soul.

* An ample discussion of this expression’s fate in the hands of persistently devious and uninformed critics, such as Richard de Mille, will appear, by and by...

So much, then, for ´´the end of the beginning...´´ (at least for now!)!

[PROLOGUE, Take-off 2, follows…]

Last Updated on Sunday, 27 November 2011 18:14