Sunday, January 29, 2012

Miguel Leon-Portilla, "The Figure of the Tlamatini," Pre-Hispanic Thought

In the pre-Hispanic world so familiar and well-known must have been the figure and the function of those who received the title "those who know something," the tlamatinime, that there is preserved in an old folio of the Códice matritense the ideal image of these ancient wise men and philosophers. The Castilian version of the text which describes the make-up and the concerns of the tlamatini will serve as an introduction to the study of the specific thought of the thinkers already mentioned, about whose ideas we shall concern ourselves presently:

Tlamatini! Light, and light
of the ample smokeless torch. 
Mirror on both sides
pierced through,
his is the ink black and red,
his are the codices, master
of the picture-books. Himself
the script and the content:
its wisdom incarnate. He is
the way, its truthful compass,
leading things and persons
through affairs human & 

Tlamatini! Doctor and guardian
of Tradition. From him, his
tongue, his eyes, wisdom
descends, undeviating, and
he desists not from counseling. 
He straightens the crooked face,
makes wise the strange, empowers
them to take up Countenance, 
to develop it. Opening their ears, 
illuminating their eyes, the holder 
of the arrows of the compass 
gives them their path, they 
who lean on his counsel.

He places the Mirror before them,
makes them prudent & vigilant,
makes them acquire a Face. 
He sets the path, establishes
what objects regulate the path, 
what laws, what orders, govern
the path. Knowing what sprawls
above us (Topan!) and what yawns
below us (Mictlan!) he shines his light
upon the path, upon the cosmic. 

Thought becomes him,
comforting those around him,
correcting them, teaching them. 
Thanks be unto him, for the people
make cities of their hearts, instruct
their desires as he has instructed them.

Heart-diviner, heart-counselor,
comforter of the people,
their succor and their support,
he brings healing unto all.  

Alejo Carpentier on Mestizaje

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Flower Song," Songs of Dzitbalche; transcribed by Ah Bam; trans. Munro Edmundson; lineation by Luis Enrique Sam Colop

We are here then in the heart of the forest
            at the edge of the stone pool
To await the appearance of the beautiful
            smoking star over the forest.
Shed your clothes!
Remove your hair stays!
Till you are as you arrived here
            on this earth,
O virgins,
Maidens of the changing moon . . .

R.H. Barlow, "Mythological Episode"

O that frog or flower that stealthily
Snipped from the bone Black Tezcatlipoca's foot!

Trapped with his hands full of magic, what could he do
But wither a projected sun,
Drop two or three eternities into his purse unwrought,
And leave us to make sacrifices forever?

Rodolfo Kusch, "Américan Thinking," Indigenous and Popular Thinking in América

It is different among the Aymara. An equivalent to Da-sein might be cancaña. According to Bertonion, cancaña means "barbecue spit, being, or essence"; it is also linked to "flow of events."But the term utcatha is much closer to the indigenous sensibility. Bertonion translates utcatha as "estar." Moreover, it appears to carry in the first syllable a contraction of the term uta, or dwelling, which would link it to the concept domo—that is domicile or being-in-the-house (estar en casa)—so vilified by Heidegger and Gusdorf. It also means "to be sitting down," which paradoxically takes us to sedere which is the source of the Spanish word being (ser). Finally Bertonio mentions the form utcaña, "the seat or chair and also the mother or womb where woman conceives." In short, the meanings of utcatha reflect the concept of a mere givenness or, even better, of a mere estar, but linked to the concept of shelter and germination.

The depth of feeling of an Indian when he is on Buenos Aires Street in La Paz and decides to take a bus to his ayllu must be understood in terms of utcatha and Da-sein. That is, he will inhabit his mere estar and under no conditions will feel the fall of any being (ser). Why? Because it appears that in that mere estar of utcatha, another element is present, which Bertonio points to when he transcribes a related term, namely, ut.ttaatha, "to exhibit or take things out to sell . . . in the plaza." Here the concept of plaza has an evident archetypal sense from the point of view of deep psychology since it is a symbol of the center of a world plotted in a magic planmy worldthe same one that Guaman Poma plots when he draws the map of Perú with the four couples that govern it. It is the existential and vital world of Guaman Poma and of the Indian in general that consequently has little or nothing to do with the real world detected by science, but rather with the reality lived daily by each person. And now the question can be posed: is this preference for the real which comes from a full feeling of estar no más [mere estar]is this not perhaps profoundly Américansomething in which both Indians and whites participate?

It is evident that a way of thinking sparked by a term like utcatha will not lead to a philosophy in the sense in which we understand that term today, but rather to a strict "love of wisdom." That is why it will not give rise to a theory of knowledge, but rather to a doctrine of contemplation. Terms such as sasitha, which Bertonio translates as "fasting in the manner of gentiles," or amuchatha, "to remember," whose first part, amu, or flower, also has a deep meaning in the psychology of the unconscious, seem to corroborate that the contemplative attitude toward the world predominates in indigenous thinking.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Juan Pablo Viscardo y Guzman, Extract from "Letter Addressed to the Spanish Americans"

Nature has separated us from Spain by virtue of an immense sea. A son who has found himself separated by a similar distance from his father would doubtlessly be labeled a fool if even in the resolution of his most trivial requirements he should be expectant of his father's approval. The son is emancipated by natural right, natural distance; and, in equal case, a large nation, which in nothing depends on another nation, and of which it reserves not the slightest need, would such a nation have to subject itself like an abject peon at another's beck and call? 

The spatial distance that divides one place from another, which in itself proclaims our rightful independence, is still minor in comparison to our true interests. We are yet in need of a government that could mediate our collective interests and distribute our resources, objectives of a genuine social unity. To depend on a government which lies two or three thousand leagues away is quite the same as to renounce its usefulness; and herein lies the interest of the Spanish Court, which does not aspire to grant unto us just laws, or to justly govern our commerce, our industries, our goods and persons, but instead seeks to sacrifice all of these to its own ambition, egoism, and avarice. In sum, under whichever aspect that our connection to Spain may be viewed, it is to be understood that our needs oblige us to terminate this dependency. We must cut this link out of gratitude to our forefathers, who did not aim to squander their efforts, nor spend their hard work soaked in blood and sweat, so that the stage of their labor or triumph should be converted into a most miserable thralldom for us, their descendants.

Domingo F. Sarmiento, "Physical Aspect of the Argentine Republic, and the Forms of Character, Habits, and Ideas Induced by It," Facundo, or Civilization and Barbarism

The Continent of America ends at the south in a point, with the Strait of Magellan at its southern extremity. Upon the west, the Chilean Andes run parallel to the coast at a short distance from the Pacific. Between that range of mountains and the Atlantic is a country whose boundary follows the River Plata up the course of the Uruguay into the interior, which was formerly known as the United Provinces of the River Plata, but where blood is still shed to determine whether its name shall be the Argentine Republic or the Argentine Confederation. On the north lie Paraguay, the Gran Chaco, and Bolivia, its assumed boundaries. 

The vast tract which occupies its extremities is altogether uninhabited, and possesses navigable rivers as yet unfurrowed even by a frail canoe. Its own extent is the evil from which the Argentine Republic suffers; the desert encompasses it on every side and penetrates its very heart; wastes containing no human dwelling, are, generally speaking, the unmistakable boundaries between its several provinces. Immensity is the universal characteristic of the country: the plains, the woods, the rivers, are all immense; and the horizon is always undefined, always lost in haze and delicate vapors which forbid the eye to mark the point in the distant perspective, where the land ends and the sky begins. On the south and on the north are savages ever on the watch, who take advantage of the moonlight nights to fall like packs of hyenas upon the herds in their pastures, and upon the defenseless settlements. When the solitary caravan of wagons, as it sluggishly traverse the pampas, halts for a short period of rest, the men in charge of it, grouped around their scanty fire, turn their eyes mechanically toward the south upon the faintest whisper of the wind among the dry grass, and gaze into the deep darkness of the night, in search of the sinister visages of the savage horde, which, at any moment, approaching unperceived, may surprise them. If no sound reaches their ears, if their sight fails to pierce the gloomy veil which covers the silent wilderness, they direct their eyes, before entirely dismissing their apprehensions, to the ears of any horse standing within the firelight, to see if they are pricked up or turned carelessly backwards. Then they resume their interrupted conversation, or put into their mouths the half-scorched pieces of dried beef on which they subsist. When not fearful of the approach of the savage, the plainsman has equal cause to dread the keen eyes of the tiger, or the viper beneath his feet. This constant insecurity of life outside the towns, in my opinion, stamps upon the Argentine character a certain stoical resignation to death by violence, which is regarded as one of the inevitable probabilities of existence. Perhaps this is the reason why they inflict death or submit to it with so much indifference, and why such events make no deep or lasting impression upon the survivors. 

Letter from Walter Lowenfels to Margaret Randall on Hotel Versalles stationery, Mexico 6, D.F; CABLE ADDRESS: "VERSAMEX"

Dear Margaret 

The Raingod Tlaloc was moved from his thousand year home in the mountains to Mexico City the other day. A crowd of thousands was on hand to welcome him to Chapultepec—in the rain, of course. That was the only way Tlaloc could say how he felt, being moved, suddenly, from his temple in the past to the city one thousand years ahead. He rained.

What will you rain on your typewriter—A young modern moved suddenly a thousand years backward, as you told us you were when you walked with your children over the mountains from the last road where you had to leave your car—into the past. That four hour walk, with your maid to her tribal home, saying, "it's just over the next mountain" took you to a time scheme & primitive life unknown in Mexico City, or to anyone except Tlaloc. For the people who live in the cottage you finally reached—they don't know the experience you had—moving in four hours from Chapultepec to Tlaloc.

While Tlaloc weeps his tears of Rain for the past, you serve him by singing elegies for the future, which otherwise will not know how our generation was dying with Tlaloc and living with your children in two different centuries at once.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pablo Neruda, "The Sand Betrayed," Canto General

The Indian fled from his skin to
the depths of ancient immensity from which
he rose one day like the islands: defeated,
he turned into invisible atmosphere,
kept expanding in the earth, pouring
his secret sign over the sand.

Javier Heraud, "Poema," trans. Ed Dorn and Gordon Brotherston


I don't






that I'm

not afraid

to die





Lima, Sept. 26

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Leonard Crow Dog, "SACRED STONES ARE COMING TO SEE YOU," Four Generations of Sioux Medicine Men, transcribed by Richard Erdoes

Inside we were huddling in total darkness. All I could see was a red glow from the heated stones. I could feel their warmth. Now I knew that I was truly in Grandmother's womb, in the darkness of the womb, the darkness of the soul. In the warmth and moisture, I felt that this was myself being born.

My father said, "The inipi uses all the powers of the universe. The fire, the water, the earth, the air are here, within the sweat lodge. Feel the power of inyan wakan, the sacred rock. All living things are in here." The scent of burning sweet grass and sage was around us like a blanket. I tried to catch this smoke with my hands and rub it all over me. My father prayed. He sang the songs. Then he poured cold water over the red, hot rocks.

All at once the initi was filled with white steam. It curled around us and enfolded us. It was very hot, so hot that I thought the steam would burn me up. My lungs seemed to be on fire. But I knew that this was a blessing, that it was the breath of the Creator purifying me. And out of the hot whiteness I heard my father's voice: "Immersed in this cloud, you will be cleansed. You will be prepared."

More rocks were brought in. Then the flap was lowered over the entrance. More water was poured over the rocks, and again Grandfather's breath enfolded us. And again I heard my father's voice: "Cultivate your mind, for all medicine goes there. Center the mind on the spirit. Ask the sweet grass to show you the way. Your vision will tell you the rest."

This was a four door sweat, meaning that the flap was opened and closed four times, and each time everything was repeated. I had the privilege to talk every time the flap was lifted, but what we talked then I'll keep to myself. After the fourth door we were given cold spring water to drink. And my father said, "The moment we drink the sacred water of life, we receive its blessings. The moon brought all the waters together, from a tiny drop, to a lake, to a river. Let your mind flow like the water."

Imagine yourself being thrown into a pool of inky, impenetrable blackness. You feel disembodied, isolated, though you are aware of friends being all around you. Imagine the roaring drums, the powerful voices of the singers, drowning out all other noises, emptying your mind completely of all that does not matter, making it ready to be filled with wonder. For those who believe, the darkness is welcome, concentrating their minds on the Spirit of Yuwipi. To them the trance-inducing drumbeat is the gladdening pulsebeat of life, upon skeptical whites the effect can be different. Sometimes the darkness frightens them. It makes them feel claustrophobic. But eventually they get used to this "Night Song." At the end of the Yuwipi ceremony, there are few skeptics left.

Suddenly, out of the darkness, come little whisperings, otherworld talk, muffled sounds—Spirit Voices, speaking a language only the Yuwipi man can understand. Little sparks of light appear out of nowhere, like so many fireflies. First one, then many, dancing around the people sitting along the walls, flitting back and forth over the ceiling. The Spirits have come in. 

The rattling gourds fly through the air. Sometimes they hit one of those who want to be cured. It is a good sign. The ones who are touched by the Wagmuha will get well. The thin high-pitched cry of eagles, the beating of their wings is heard. Feathers caress the faces of some of those who are present to experience these mysteries. The voices of the singers rise to a crescendo, this goes on for a long time, for hours even. Then, suddenly, all is quiet. The sparks of light fade away, the whispering stops. The Wagmuha are at rest on their proper places, next to the sacred staff. Someone turns on the light. The Yuwipi man sits in the center, unwrapped and untied. He has been dead, but brought back to life by the prayers of those taking part in the ceremony. He tells of what the Spirits Voices have told him, interprets what they have said about the cause of a person's sickness, or where something lost might be found. He doctors the sick ones, fanning them with his eagle wing, blowing on his eaglebone whistle, telling people what herbs to use, maybe giving them some of his special medicines. Going clockwise, the people begin to talk about what they have learned during the time of darkness. They speak about their feelings and problems. The Yuwipi listens and advises. He might tell of having been far away, hundreds of miles even, while lying wrapped in his star blankets. He might identify some of the spirits who had been present—the Spirit of Crazy Horse, maybe, or the Spirit of some humble, no-account, long dead fellow—one as important as the other. The sacred pipe goes around, clockwise also. Everyone takes a few puffs, says a few good words, as the air is filled with the aromatic smoke of Indian tobacco. They say: "Mitakuye Oyasiz," All my relations to include all living things in their prayers. This ends the ceremony. Afterwards, as after all Lakota rituals, there comes the feast. They eat the dog and the berry soup; drinking thick black coffee—Pejuta Sapa, our "Black Medicine," making small talk. At last they get up to greet the dawn, and go back to their homes. A few linger a little longer, until the sun is well up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Julio Ramos, "Machinations: Literature & Technology," Divergent Modernities

Quantification is not oriented toward the object of representation; the object only exists in terms of its interchangeability, its adjustment to the parameters imposed by the measure of exchange. Neither is it oriented toward the subject of representation, who becomes an agent in an anonymous circulation. Quantification places the weight of discourse on the very measure of exchange, in its universalizing apparatus that reduces the specific and heterogeneous.

[José] Martí's writing operates on the other side of such a rationalization, postulating the value of the exceptional word that veers from the linguistic and social norm. If technologization (from the perspective of the emergent literary field) presupposes the massification of language, literature would fold back on the notion of style, by authorizing itself to be precisely the critique of massification. We return again to literature, as Martí conceived it, as a strategy of legitimation that takes into account the "destylized" and "mechanical" languages of modernity as obliterated matter for the supposed "exceptionality" of style.

Hence, Martí would privilege another way of seeing:

Seeing them conglomerate to swarm quickly over the aerial serpent, squeezed together, the vast, clean, ever-growing crowd---one imagines seeing seated in the middle of the sky, with her radiant head appearing over the summit, and with white hands, as large as eagles, open, in a sign of peace over the land---Liberty.

Martí reworks the concept of sight into a hallucination. His discourse departs from a descriptive empirical instance ("Seeing them conglomerate"), which immediately undergoes a metaphoric transformation. The referential moment of the gaze is minimal. The "swarm[ing]" crowd and the bridge are erased behind the "aerial serpent." Martí's illumination begins with this brief moment when the common word (bridge) is obliterated, but not its essential trace. Bridge is assumed as the provision that opens up the possibility for a writerly transformation; the contrast between the referential and the literary dramatizes the literary task. Beginning with this instant, writing ascends toward apotheosis, thematized in the cited passage above as follows:

aerial serpent
ever-growing crowd

one imagines seeing
middle of the sky
over the land

The statement articulates a spatial hierarchization. The point of departure is the bestial low (where creatures swarm). The space below is crowded, full of people squeezed together. Starting with "one imagines seeing," the space opens up and expands: "in the middle of the sky," "white" The bestial is elevated (eagles) and the perspective closes with the moment of highest abstraction, "over the land---Liberty."

Yaocuicatl, "War Song," trans. Jose-Luis Moctezuma

Bell-clamor, a dust like smoke
rising. (Delight unto the Giver
of Life.) Flowers of the Shield
open their corollas, Glory 
extends, seeps into the Earth.
Here, on the plain, Death--
in between, amid Flowers.
War-bound, and war-bent,
here, in the Field, a dust
like smoke rising, self-
entangles, winds itself
in florid deathly turns.
(Chichimec princes!
Fearless heart o'mine!) 
Here, on the plain, Death--
& the obsidian blade my Heart
lusts for, for Death, death in battle.

Charles Olson, Mayan Letters

Because there was a concept at work, not surely 'sacred,' just a disposition to keep the attention poised in such a way that there was time to (1) be interested in expression & gesture of all creatures including at least three large planets enough to create a system of record which we now call hieroglyphs; (2) to mass stone with sufficient proportion to decorate a near hill and turn it into a fire-tower, or an observatory, or as one post of an enclosure in which people, favored by its shadows, might swap camotes for shoes; (3) to fire clay, not just to sift and thus make cool water, or, to stew iguana, or fish, but to fire it so that its handsomeness put ceremony where it also belongs, in the most elementary human acts. And when a people are so disposed, it should come as no surprise that, long before any of these accomplishments, the same people did an improvement, if one likes, of nature — the domestication of maize — which is still talked of as one of the world's wonders!

Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, The Eye in the Pyramid, The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Sam Three Arrows drew on the pipe, then raised his dark eyes to Hagbard's. "You mean that justice is not known like a dog who barks in the night? That it is more like the unexpected sound in the woods that must be identified cautiously after hard thinking?"

There it was again: Hagbard had heard the same concreteness of imagery in the speech of the Shoshone at the opposite end of the continent. He wondered, idly, if Ezra Pound's poetry might have been influenced by habits of speech his father acquired from the IndiansHomer Pound had been the first white man born in Idaho. It certainly went beyond the Chinese. And it came, not from books on rhetoric, but from listening to the heartthe Indian metaphor he had himself used a minute ago.

He took his time about answering: he was beginning to acquire the Indian habit of thinking a long while before speaking. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Walter Mignolo, "Immigrant Consciousness"

On the one hand, Indian memories throughout the Americas needed to be reinscribed in conflictive dialogue and tension with the presence of people of European descent, as well as with the emergence of social institutions (economics, politics, family) modeled on European social organization. It could no longer be an internal transformation as it had been for Europe. On the other hand, the reinscription that couldn't avoid European interference was, and continues to be, one that re-produces the difference. For the Indigenous people who decided, through history, not to assimilate, it was essential to resist the fantasy of a bygone past and instead to maintain the reality of a present in which the reinscription of the difference was crucial for just living. After all, if for any European it would have been difficult to live in the skin of an Indigenous person, there would be reason to assume that an Indigenous person would have difficulty living in the skin of a European.

Alberto Moreiras, "Hybridity and Double Consciousness," Exhaustion of Difference

To argue for hybridity against the reification of cultural identities as some kind of recipe for perpetual flexibility overdoes its usefulness once it is made clear that hybridity can also produce a form of conceptual reification. It certainly becomes a reified notion as it assumes the performative role of naming a space "where disintegration is elevated to diversity and inequalities... are reduced to differences." As hybridity moves through the power-knowledge machine toward its particular form of conceptual closure, it keeps us from understanding that the world is something more, and other than, the sum of its subjects: in other words, that a politics of subjectivity does not exhaust politics altogether. I want to propose a particular understanding, or critique, of hybridity along the lines of a double articulation that might enable us to retrieve it at the service of what I have called perpectival or relational subalternism. By  that I mean an understanding of the subaltern position in merely formal terms, as that which stands outside any given hegemonic articulation at any given moment. Relational subalternism can perhaps, as I will try to show, offer a sort of abyssal ground for a critique of the social able to see beyond some crucial ideological narratives of the present, and thus freer to confront the "central axis of conflict" in Paul Gilroy's sense. For Gilroy, writing a few years ago about the near future, "the central axis of conflict will no longer be the colour line but the challenge of just, sustainable development and the frontiers which will separate the overdeveloped parts of the world (at home and abroad) from the intractable poverty that already surrounds them" (Black Atlantic 223).

Walter Mignolo has used the conceptual pair "allocation/relocation" to point out that "identities are dialogically constructed within a structure of power. Hegemony and subalternity are two major players in this scenario: hegemony with the power of allocating meaning, subalternity as the relentless place of contestation and reallocation of meaning" ("Allocation" I). Subalternity is the site, not just of negated identity, but also for a constant negation of identity positions: identities are always the product of the hegemonic relation, always the result of an interpellation and, therefore, not an autonomous site for politics. With difference or hybridity, as with identity, the problem is elsewhere and cannot be circumscribed to the subjective terrain. A subalternist politics would entail for Mignolo the necessary theorization of that elsewhere, under "the double experience of simultaneously dwelling within the epistemology of Western modernity and in the difference created by modernity's subjugation of alternative epistemologies" ("Espacios" 8; my trans., here and below). Mignolo's "border epistemologies are based on the force of a double consciousness that incorporates civilization to barbarism at the same time that it negates the hegemonic concept of civilization" (8). For him, "borderless capitalism" paradoxically creates the conditions to "rearticulate modern epistemology in the encounter with local knowledges" (15). Against the danger that contemporary reflection can only rather feebly oppose capitalist flexible accumulation with a flexible identity under the name of hybridity, Mignolo's reflection alerts us to a possible alternative: a radicalization of the interplay between "local histories" and "global designs" on the grounds of their mutual incommensurability might lead into new determinations for thinking historically and geopolitically that would not appeal to identity/difference or its domestication as hybridity as a primary referent. A certain concept of subalternity might do for hybridity what heterogeneity did for, and to, transculturation.

Heriberto Yépez, "Re-reading María Sabina"

What this means is that Sabina was a wise-one not because she ate mushrooms and got into trips, but because she dominated a dynamical dictionary of meanings.

She re-produced those meanings in the ceremonies; she rewrote that dynamical dictionary throughout her life. She was trying to revolutionize the praxis. That’s why she even allowed foreigners to participate. She was trying to go beyond. She wanted to open the book. Maybe trying to open the book too much was the reason why her own book fell apart.

Understanding her praxis consisted in quoting means to reestablish the context. Understanding the recontextualization practice she made. Understanding time was her page. Her chants are the remaking of a cultural history. She was a woman working very consciously in the field of socio-metaphysics.

When she calls herself, let’s say, "opossum-woman" she is not referring to the animal but to a string of myths. Munn (using as sources the books of Carlos Incháustegui) synthesizes how the opossum represents for Mazatecs the power to play dead and gain invulnerability, the task of stealing fire--which is key because stealing fire creates ‘culture’. So if at first "opossum-woman" can bring images of Sabina identifying with ‘nature’ reading her more carefully brings us to the fact that Sabina chants are an interweaving of artificial meanings, and not an animistic exercise or ‘flow-of-words’ or a simple litany of plants, objects and characters. From the Moon to the Water, Sabina quotes cultural artifacts. Signs-with-histories. She re-constructs the order of words, meanings, contexts, subjects, cultures and things.

When reading

      I am opossum-woman

We should read,

      I am the interplay of nature and culture-woman.
      I am the performance-of-death-woman.
      I am the recasting-of-myths-woman.
      I am the keeper-and-changer-of-the-meanings-of-‘opossum’-woman

Our traditional understanding of Sabina (Paz included) falls very short of what she was really doing. Words for her are a therapeutic instrument, and a way to depict visions, but also a self-conscious flesh that remakes and investigates prior texts.

There’s nothing spontaneous, naïve, automatic or unconscious in María Sabina’s poetic praxis. Sabina is not a poet of the unconscious but of self-consciousness itself, a poet of cultural rereading and rewriting. 

"Thomas Jefferson Esqr Monticello Virginia;" franked; postmarked Portsmouth, 1 Aug., and Charlottesville, 26 Aug.; endorsed by TJ as received 14 Sept. 1813 and so recorded in SJL

Portsmouth Va July 31st 1813.
We the subscribers most earnestly solicit, that your honor will give us your opinion, on the following extraordinary Phenomenon Viz:

At      hour on the night of the 25th instant, we saw in the South a Ball of fire full as large as the sun at Maridian which was frequently obscured within the space of ten minutes by a smoke emitted from its own body, but ultimately retained its briliancy, and form during that period, but with apparent agitation. It then assumed the form of a Turtle which also appeared to be much agitated and as frequently obscured by a similar smoke. It descended obliquely to the West, and raised again perpendicular to its original hight which was on or about 75 degrees. It then assumed the shape of a human skeleton which was frequently obscured by a like smoke and as frequently descended and ascended &—It then assumed the form of a Scotch Highlander arrayed for battle and extremely agitated, and ultimately passed to the West and disappeared in its own smoke. We are honorable,

Sir with Sentiments of very high respect & esteem Your most Obedient very humble Servts

Edward Hansford, Keeper of
the Washington Tavern in
the Town of Portsmouth Virginia&—
John L. Clarke, of Baltimore

Sunday, January 22, 2012

William Carlos Williams, "The Discovery of the Indies," In the American Grain

Bright green trees, the whole land so green that it is a pleasure to look on it. Gardens of the most beautiful trees I ever saw. Later I came upon a man alone in a canoe going from one island to another. He had a little of their bread, about the size of a fist, a calabash of water, a piece of brown earth, powdered then kneaded, and some dried leaves which must be a thing highly valued by them for they bartered with it in San Salvador. He also had with him a native basket. The women wore in front of their bodies a small piece of cotton cloth. I saw many trees very unlike those of our country. Branches growing in different ways and all from one trunk; one twig is one form and another is a different shape and so unlike that it is the greatest wonder in the world to see the diversity; thus one branch has leaves like those of a cane, and others like those of a mastic tree; and on a single tree there are five different kinds. The fish so unlike ours that it is wonderful. Some are the shape of dories and of the finest colors, so bright that there is not a man who would not be astounded, and would not take great delight in seeing them. There are also whales. I saw no beasts on land save parrots and lizards. 

On shore I sent the people for water, some with arms, and others with casks; and as it was some little distance, I waited two hours for them. 

During that time I walked among the trees which was the most beautiful thing which I had ever seen...

Eia ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte. Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende. O clemens, o pia, o dulces Maria. 

Historie del S. D. Fernando Colombo; nelle quali s'ha particolare, et vera relatione della vita, et de' fatti dell'Ammiraglio D. Christoforo Colombo, suo padre

And this said, two hours before midnight, the Admiral being on the sterncastle, saw a light on land, but he says that it was a thing so occluded that he dares not affirm it might be land; still, he called one Pietro Guttieres, Credentiere to the Catholic King, and told him to look if he might see said light and he responded that he saw it, so immediately they called on Rodrigo Sanches de Segovia that he might look towards that part, but he could not see it because he did not climb up so quickly to where it might be seen. Nor did they see it thereafter, save once or twice; because of this they reckoned that it could be a candle or torch of fishermen or travelers who were raising and lowering the said light, or that haply they were passing from one house to another; whereas it disappeared and re-turned suddenly with such quickness, that few by this sign believed it to be near land.

Tzvetan Todorov, "Columbus as Interpreter," The Conquest of America

Columbus does not succeed in his human communications because he is not interested in them. We read in his journal for December 6, 1492, that the Indians he has taken on board his ship try to escape and are distressed to find themselves far from their island. "Moreover he did not understand them any better than they understood him, and they were greatly afraid of the people on this new island. Therefore, in order to make converse with its people, he would have had to tarry there for several days. But he did not do so, in order to see further lands and from doubt that the weather would hold." Everything is in the sequence of these few sentences: Columbus's summary perception of the Indians, a mixture of authoritarianism and condescension; the incomprehension of their language and of their signs; the readiness with which he alienates the other's goodwill with a view to a better knowledge of the islands he is discovering; the preference for land over men. In Columbus's hermeneutics human beings have no particular place.

Paul Metcalf, "Tihuanacu," Patagoni

the earth is a great creature, the rivers the bloodvessels, the earth turns one way and another, to warm itself at the sun . . . the first man mated with a gentle doe, and deerlike, generation by generation, the race of indians evolved . . . out of the phallus of the chief came the first maize, from his head, gourds

the spirit of the bird is in his feathers, of the flower in its blossom—a flower, at the fullest bloom, is dangerous, to be avoided
it is death to
sleep under the molle bush
                                    the great serpent, mother of waters, will draw an indian to his mouth with an inspiration of breath
a floating log, fish
or boa, or the rays of the sun, may invade a woman, bring forth a child deformed . . . the rainbow—shadow of the great waterserpent—will get her with demon

                                    there is a wild man of the woods, a hairy little creature, strong and wiry, with feet on backwards, who loves to carry off indian women
         the freshwater dolphin takes the shape and form, performs the office, of an absent husband
                                             in a jungle full of ghosts, it is wise for a man to make many noises, to establish his vitality
                                                                        the falling stars are urine,
the dew saliva of the stars