“Guayaquil,” cuento críptico / Cantórbery Antonio Cuevas

“Guayaquil,” Cryptic Story

The unwitnessed interview between Bolívar and San Martín on 26 July 1822, at the Ecuadoran port of Guayaquil, suggests the topic for a capricious homonymous tale by Jorge Luis Borges. The story begins with the pompous and melancholic first-person lament of a narrator resigned to never being able to see, directly, Bolívar’s handwriting in a letter that has allegedly been exhumed, where the Liberator refers to the events of this enigmatic encounter. The speaker, an imaginary Borges, a History professor at a Buenos Aires university, is officially selected to take a copy of the noteworthy letter to Argentina from a fictitious Caribbean republic. However, another candidate is proposed by the Universidad del Sur, doctor Eduardo Zimmermann, a German-Jewish scholar who had been persecuted by the Third Reich because of a tangential accusation by Martin Heidegger. The two academics agree on negotiating who should be the definitive choice and they meet at the Argentine’s home. Doctor Zimmermann, physically insignificant, scruffy and at first somewhat nervous, slowly begins to transmit a growing confidence in his handling of the topic and of himself. According to him, San Martín’s resignation could have obeyed any cause: that he fell into a trap; that he was actually a European soldier who really didn’t know where he stood; that he resigned due to abnegation, or merely that he was tired. And as for the stray letter, he downplays the importance of the handwriting and places it on the person who writes it. He says to the other: “Bolívar could have wanted to mislead his correspondent or, simply, he could have been misled himself. You […] know better than I do that mystery lies within us, not in words.”

We gradually come to suspect that what is really happening is that, in parallel, two battles of will are taking place, where one of the parts imposes itself by sheer insistence that the mission corresponds to him – and that he will obtain it (in the case of the professors, the defeated one ends up signing a letter already written by the other man, explaining to the minister the reasons for his resignation). The intrigue regarding the contents of the epistle passes to a second plane: it is merely the pretext for a speculation on determination and will in man.

* * * * *

And another hidden message: Higuerota; the Placid Gulf; the Occidental State, as the story opens; and later: captain José Korzeniowski; Sulaco; doctor Avellanos and his grandson Ricardo; and the fifty-year History of misrule all turn out to be (save for Korzeniowski, its author’s real name) items borrowed from Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo. It’s likely that few Spanish-speaking readers knew the original English version of that novel when Borges published “Guayaquil” in El informe de Brodie, and thus they would have been unaware of what he was discussing at first.

{ Cantórbery Antonio Cuevas, Tal Cual, 13 March 2008 }

No comments: