One benefit of the history of philosophy – or the history of ideas, as it’s sometimes referred to – is that it’s a nice reminder of what philosophy used to look like before it became a hyper-specialized, overly technical corner of academia, that is, before it was all but irrelevant. In particular, it’s a helpful reminder of how blurry the lines were between philosophy and, well, everything else.
As I look more into the work of José Revueltas, the Mexican activist-writer, I find myself learning at least as much about the man, his world, and his lucha from his prose and poetry than from the stuff we’re planning to translate. Is this an act of academic Self-intervention, as Revueltas called it?
Here’s a translation of a poem I just came across and which struck me sideways. What does it have to do with Mexican philosophy? Don’t know, but I’m sure it’s not nothing. (I’m not a poet, so please excuse the shitty literal translation.)
Time and Number
Things fall, cease to exist, disappear
and something keeps them in their own shadow,
where they remain, lifeless, alive no more
because of the impulse to remain without being anything.
Love itself is a thing
over which new things are placed,
each time, a palimpsest where
memories are different from the past
and seem beautiful without having been so
because death retouches them with compassion
and masks them with chance encounters that never were
but which seem pure to us, so that the present
receives us without so much pena (bitterness, sadness)
and doesn’t snatch from us our last bit of sustenance.
The day will come when we no longer have
an able body and when all
the past is nothing but a long emptiness,
mountains of words said differently,
and distant voices, thoughts, and shades
indifferent and foreign.
All this becomes our nothingness,
defeated, names without a body
with which we will try to recover
a deaf life distant and finished
in which we ourselves were also