by Ricardo Lida Nirenberg
When round pure hearts a host of hopes assemble,
The Snake and Eagle meet -- the world's foundations tremble!
Shelley, The Revolt of Islam.
We flew to Buenos Aires, my wife and I, to see old friends and to celebrate the first birthday of my twin grand-nephews, who were born on September 11. That morning I left my sister's apartment early and started walking aimlessly, alone, past rows of crouching beggars wrapped in rags: winter was gone, yet full spring had not arrived; if the weather wasn't raw, one might say it was rare. There was something indefinite in the air, like an unconscious treachery. On all my previous visits I would spend hours roaming through the humble margins of the city, my beloved arrabales of low houses; now, though, everyone tells me such excursions are foolhardy: poverty and lack of jobs have brought a sharp increase in crime. So on this trip we limited our walks to the colorless but safer downtown, and having been warned that cabbies are all too often in cahoots with muggers, we never took a cab. I didn't even pay my yearly visit to the neighborhood where my mother used to live.

Whatever happens to me in Buenos Aires happens against a backdrop of sadness -- frayed fringes, the shrouds of the people I have loved, who used to live here, and who knew by heart the same streets and the same tango lyrics I happen to know by heart. Anthills full of dreams: so are the other cities where I have lived, New York, Rome, Paris, and in those, too, ghosts may accost me suddenly by daylight. But only in Buenos Aires do I, the passer-by, try to grab the beloved ghosts and breathe into them another life, an activity that leaves me out of breath and lifeless. Goethe writes in the Dedication of Faust that all he possesses now he views as from afar, but what's gone and vanished, was verschwand, becomes for him actual reality. He could write this, and he could write about giving new life to those beloved ghosts crowding, pressing on him, with quiet, supreme confidence in his poetic powers. My beloved ghosts are more like vampires: what life they acquire they suck from my own and use it to mock me and pelter me with filth -- or like vinchucas, the assassin bugs in the Argentine northern provinces which bite you, suck, then proceed to defecate on the open wound, injecting a parasite that slowly destroys the heart.

Three years ago, on a previous visit to Buenos Aires, I met Madame N. I was looking for a manuscript of Benjamin Fondane's long poem Ulysse; that manuscript had been, since the 1930s, in the possession of Madame N.'s late husband, dead in 1995. When I first contacted her by phone she was reluctant to see me. Later, as we were sitting in her living room, I realized that the old lady was not interested at all in the manuscript: her one, exclusive, interest was talking about another poet, her late husband. She told me about his pranks, showed me old photographs, and read to me, or had me read aloud, some of N.'s poems in French, written in the 30s and never published. The man glimpsed at through those stories, photos and poems, fascinated me; nor was there any need to turn my feelings into words (although I did my best), for Madame N. could see inside me. Her perceptivity for my moods reminded me of my mother.

From that day on, our vital needs were intertwined. Madame N.'s single-minded purpose was to win for her dead husband a fame he had not sought during his lifetime; she sensed that I could help her there. As for me, my mother had died in 1993, and now Madame N., who is childless, was telling me that I resembled her husband, that I was like a son to her. Why couldn't I replace my own genetic mother by an elective one, just as one leaves a bleak native land for a life under better skies? A genetic mother, semi-literate and brutally possessive, by another, civilized, polished, cosmopolitan... In the course of the following three years, Madame N. gave me copies of all her husband's poems and letters, some of his books, and the minuscule notebooks on which he used to jot down his many and multifarious ideas; she also gave me his clothes: tweed jackets, a camel hair overcoat, even pajamas. I translated some of the poems into Spanish and English, and wrote an interpretive essay, gaining her enthusiastic approval. In my spirit the idea gradually crystallized of writing a novel, with N. as a main character, and dedicating it to Madame N.

I hesitated long before plunging into a work that would take years and absorb all my energies. Just as I used to with my mother, I phoned Madame N. once a week from the U.S., and she kept encouraging me to tackle the job. By then, no living person knew as much about N. as I did. Reading what N. had left had made me the master of a spiritual realm, a rich Geisterreich, and I didn't miss an opportunity of thanking Madame N. for having inherited such treasures through her. Still, neither Madame N. nor anybody else seemed to remember much about N.'s earlier life, roughly his first thirty adventurous years, and I was aware that I would have to invent them. I preferred it that way, for it gave me much freedom; but I was obscurely conscious that in filling N.'s overcoat with my own body there lurked some danger. What finally decided me to go ahead was this: upon perusal of some document or consultation with some witness, scenes or situations I had made up turned out to have happened almost exactly as I had imagined them. Clearly I had developed an uncanny intuition for N.'s life.

Back to Tuesday September 11th, in Buenos Aires. The previous Thursday I had given my first six chapters to Madame N., and she had said, "Voilà, le grand moment est arrivé". I immediately felt something ominous in Madame N.'s thus putting herself in the role of doomsday judge. I wasn't wrong: on Saturday her negative tone was unmistakable, and by Sunday it had become mocking, sarcastic. Dialogue was not my forte, I did not understand anything about women's fashion, I wasn't able to write passable fiction. By Tuesday I was shaken, feeling that two-years' worth of hard work had been in vain. I bitterly reflected on my need for mother substitutes and maternal punishment. The spiritual realm I'd come to turned out to be a mirage, a Thebes torn by the plague, and now, the veil of illusion torn at last, I had retreated into myself, blind to the destitute crowd along Rivadavia Avenue.

Not so blind but I could sight a whore, which brought to my memory La Perla del Once, an old café which used to be about five blocks ahead. Once, before my wife and I left Buenos Aires for New York and were married, we had walked for hours until, exhausted, we had sat at the Perla del Once. It was one or two in the morning, and Isabel went to the ladies room. When she came back, she told me that a young woman who was making herself up in front of the mirror had said, "What a night - what a drag - how's your john? - mine is a bore." Isabel replied that I was fine. "Yes, he looks simpático," sighed the young woman. Now I decided to walk to that café, merely to secure an aim to my rambling.

Perla del Once, literally "Pearl of the Eleventh": the café faces the Plaza Once de Setiembre; by synecdoche and brachylogy the whole neighborhood is called Once. Incredibly, today it is September the eleventh: that perfect fit makes me walk faster. The café was not in the place I vaguely remembered, somehow it had moved across the street, and it looked quite new, not the old style; but the name was still the same. I ordered a coffee and for a while I ruminated about fate in general and mine in particular, when I heard a far-away rumor from the TV set: "Cayeron las Torres Gemelas".

The word "gemelas" ("twin") only made me think, briefly, of my twin grand-nephews and of my own twin children. After a few minutes, seeing that some people were standing and looking at the TV monitor, I stood too, and watched the plane hitting the tower, the flames, the smoke... An old man standing next to me said, "It's the Third World War." I left the café and on my way back to my sister's house I stopped in front of a TV store, just to check. The same images, ceaselessly replayed. Another old man showed me a piece of paper and said to me, "I was on my way to the bank to pay this bill; now I'm going back home, I'm paying nothing."

Then I remembered that the other name of Plaza Once de Setiembre is Plaza Miserere. Miserere nobis: have mercy upon us.

Leaving aside the conflicting claims of etymologists, I take the original meaning of the word "calamity" to be a disaster brought about by a writing instrument, a reed, the Latin calamus. The sort of disaster I had brought upon myself by trying to give N. a textual after-life. Now, however, calamity had struck with its full force, and I found myself frantically trying to reach the U.S. by phone. In between those invariably unanswered calls, I was talking with my sister, or rather thinking aloud in front of her, in a desperate effort to put some semblance of order in my mind. Even though I took the oath when I became an American citizen, I hold no truths to be self-evident. Personally, and for whatever it's worth, I hold two sorts of truths: those which, for one reason or another, I never bother to examine, and those which I am forced to examine in anguish, like now. Through the years I've defended my decision to live in America more or less as follows. Look at the history of power: it has been in the hands of either priests, warriors, bureaucrats, money-bags, or some combination thereof. Of all those kinds, the power of money is the least noxious, because priests, warriors and bureaucrats tend to perpetuate themselves, encrusted into castes, while fortunes are always being created and passing away.

My sister, who decided long ago to stay in Argentina, was looking at me somewhat ironically. In her opinion, terrorism feeds on mass poverty, which in turn is produced by the inequities of the free market system. I emphatically countered that her theory, widely accepted as it is, does not agree with facts; that poverty is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for fanaticism. I felt angry and despondent. I was detecting signs of sarcasm in my sister's tone; worse, her sarcasm was softened and tempered by compassionate patience, by her being aware that her brother was going through a hard time, trying in vain to connect by phone to his children in the U.S. Above all, I was angry at Isabel for not being with me: she had gone to a Yoga class, leaving me utterly alone at a time of bitter need. "I bet you," I said to my sister, "that when she comes back Isabel will know nothing at all about what happened." "No! That's impossible," my sister dismissed it. "Just wait and see," I said; "She's always, always the last one to find out."

Plotinus insisted on sucking from his nurse's breast till he was eight (so we are told by Porphyry in the Life of his master); then someone told him that he was being a pest, and the boy Plotinus felt so ashamed that he was weaned on the spot. There is a lesson here. A philosopher is born under the fateful conjunction of two stars: one, the feeling of the uncanny, the consciousness that each part and every corner of the world are profoundly unfamiliar, unheimlich, not like home; and the other star: the need, the bodily urge, to feel at home not just on one's native patch of land but everywhere in the vast, manifold universe. No wonder, then, that a child torn between such opposite influences would cling to the female breast for so long, that being our first way of being at home and one with the world.

But for Plotinus to become Plotinus, for a nurse's teat to ascend to the status of ineffable One, he had to be weaned; someone, at the right moment, had to tell him, sternly: "You are being a pest." To one who might shrug and object, Why did Plotinus have to be weaned? In what way is viewing the cosmos as emanating from the neuter metaphysical abstraction tò hen, the One, superior to viewing it as the realm of a Fellinesque female with a grin on her lewd mouth, a goddess who, lifting her breasts with generous hands, invites us, "Vieni, tesoro, succhi!"? -- to such a one I can only reply that I'm not putting down breasts; I am not so ashamed of the body as Porphyry tells us Plotinus was. But -- take my word for it -- a life mostly spent in a search for substitute mothers and ersatz nursing tits is sad; it is a wasted life.

While we are on the subject, let's throw a hard look on ourselves: on the average, each man, woman and child in the U.S. pays over $300 a year to suck gas (not to mention cocaine, heroine, etc.) from the tits of sheiks and tyrants, who grin at us and nurture Islamic fanatics. Isn't it time for us to heed the voice, "You are being a pest"?

While I was frantically switching between CNN in Spanish and CNN in English, finding chaos expressed in different languages, tits were mostly on my mind, alternately of the milk- and the oil-producing kind. At one-thirty in the afternoon Isabel came back, knowing nothing of what had happened, as I had predicted: this gave me a sort of wild, arid joy, not at having been right, nor at seeing her again, but because I took it as the missing part of a proof that when the ground fails under your feet and you are confronted with the vertigo of being, you can't expect help or consolation: you are alone. The only consolation is hopelessness, something like the joy one feels when reading Samuel Beckett. A little later our son David phoned from Baltimore and told us that all our relatives were safe and well. Till about four I convulsively turned the TV on and off, trying to find out what our government had to say, what our administration, most of whose members are ex oil-related business executives, would say to us Americans, for whom gas at under two dollars a gallon is a natural right, one of those truths we suckers take to be self-evident. Then I called a radio cab (they are safer) to go to a meeting with Graciela F., an Argentine writer I had been corresponding with for the last two years.

The cab driver was talkative. "Well, nobody can deny those guys did an incredibly good job. Wow! The Twin Towers, the Pentagon." Then, eyeing me on his rear-view mirror, "See, I'm half-Arab, half-Basque: a born terrorist." He said it with good-humored pride, as if explaining why he was a born poet or a born musician.

Having noticed the rosary and the cross hanging from the rear-view mirror, I remarked, "But you're a Christian, aren't you?"

"Yes, I'm a good Christian. I don't go for those Islamic fanatics and their priests. In fact I hate them. They've caused my mother a great deal of suffering, when she was over there." Then he went on enthusing about "the job," pointing out that those guys must have known exactly where to hit for maximum effect. As we were reaching our destination on calle Salguero, he concluded, "Too bad they didn't hit the White House."

I gave him a twenty-percent tip and he thanked me profusely.

My appointment with Graciela was at a café I'd never been to, El Canal. While I sat waiting, I wondered what sort of barge canal might have been running thereabouts in some forgotten age, and suddenly it dawned on me that the likely source of the name was some nearby TV channel headquarters (Spanish canal means both canal and channel). I was seized by the all-too familiar feeling of shame: I felt old, not by time (although that too) but by nature; I shouldn't have been born in the 20th century, I who can't stand TV and find it hard to write "who" when "whom" is called for, I whose pop culture was arrested ca. Xavier Cougat. How can one be an artist under such conditions -- didn't Rimbaud, more than a hundred years ago, write, "Il faut être absolument moderne"? Impossible. And now I was about to meet Graciela F., a modern, intelligent woman, and she was sure to detect, after five minutes, that I was born decrepit.

Madame N. had told me Graciela has been married, is now divorced, and has recently found a man in Argentina who makes her happy. I needed Graciela, but you don't tell that to a woman you meet for the first time, you don't put it that way. I was going to ask her to read my chapters and give me her comments: she conducts writer workshops and used to be an editor in Paris; she's a professional and she had, in the past, commented favorably on some of my essays. I only wished I'd been in better spirits, to give Graciela a better impression of myself. Perhaps I should quote to her from the Tao Tê Ching?

"They look lively, self-assured;
I alone am depressed.
I am formless like the ocean,
adrift, finding no rest.
All men are of some use:
I, alone, am obstinate and boorish.
But here is where I differ most:
I only value milk from mother's breasts."


No, I wouldn't: strong, modern men don't quote: they appropiate, they digest, they burp.

Having seen her photos in the newspaper and on the back cover of her books, I had no trouble recognizing Graciela F. when she came in. She is petite, vivacious, about my age, and though she's only half Jewish, she looks entirely so. Indeed, when we came to her tsúres, being a hyper-Yiddishe-momma was at the top of her list; the others were of the prevalent sort, financial, the growing scarcity of paid work. She lamented that her life was spent teaching writer's workshops, like in the tango, which she quoted: "Procurando que el mundo no la vea / ahí va la pobre fea / camino del taller" (Trying not to be noticed, there goes the poor ugly girl on her way to the workshop). I laughed. I know that tango well, my mother used to sing it often, and when we were little, my sister and I would sing it whenever the neighborhood street-walker walked by, until the day she stopped dead in front of us and said she was going to tell our father, "and if he's a gentleman he'll sure give you a good spanking." Now that I reflect on it, appealing to father rather than to mother reveals some social instinct in a whore, for gentlemen are more likely than ladies to uphold her cause. I said to Graciela that the tango was apt, except that she was very far from being ugly. Graciela thanked me, a little drily.

Like most everyone in Argentina, she thought the country was crazy. I asked her why she had left France and come back, and she said something about pleasing her daughter and grand-daughters. Horrible things had happened back in France. Now, somehow, obscurely having to do with Graciela being such an Yiddishe mome, she was not on speaking terms with her daughter, and she was not allowed to see her grand-daughters. I didn't know what to say. I asked her if in spite of all those disasters she could write, which is, I suppose, what one asks a fellow writer in such cases.

"Oh, I always work nonstop, I'm like a horse," Graciela replied. I said I envied her. Going back to her original subject, she wistfully added that back in Paris she used to be quite sick of the Cartesian mode of thinking, but that now, in Buenos Aires, whenever she heard French being spoken she felt a keen nostalgia for logic. I sympathized wholeheartedly. Culturally, Argentines have retreated to primitive, magical stages; being fatalists and having lost all hope of communal improvement, those who can afford it undergo psychoanalysis, in a futile effort to keep their individual souls from reverting to the magical-repetitive. As for the hatred of the U.S. I find in so many of my old Argentine friends -- "envy," said Graciela, "envy of the success you have achieved."

Her presumption of my success in the U.S. struck me as comical. Besides, had I gone to the Congo and made a fortune in diamonds, my old friends might have hated me for it, not the Congo. That there's envy behind the Argentine hatred of the U.S. I won't dispute, envy of a country's wealth and power, to be sure; but mostly, I think, it is envy of hope. I mean the Enlightment hope of a progressive communal perfection here, on earth, which seems naive, stupid and perverse to those who have abandoned all such hopes and retreated into personal salvation or escape. Of course, when Communism was around -- but stop, enough! It's an embarrassment: whenever I'm abroad I feel I must defend my adoptive motherland against Argentine, French, Italian, Spanish cynics... and I end up getting into fights. My sister says to me, "Are you stupid or what?," possibly because she believes the U.S. has enough firepower to defend itself without my help.

"I didn't know Madame N. was sick," Graciela said, referring to our phone communication of the previous Friday, when I told her that the old lady had blood pressure problems, but was doing better now. "She's so sweet," Graciela went on; "her single-minded passion for N. and for making him known... love beyond the grave: don't you find that delightful?" I didn't reply, just made a nasal sound. Graciela too had been recruited by Madame N. as a valuable element in the campaign for N.'s posthumous fame, along with quite a few others: poets, translators, editors, journalists, critics, the Director of the Alliance Française in Buenos Aires, and me of course. Indeed, if I remember correctly, it was through Madame N., or at her prodding, that I first established epistolary contact with Graciela. For Madame N., unlike the bureacrats in the U.S. government, strives to maintain free, open communications among her agents. Now, however, I had been fired. Worse, I had been ridiculed -- in private so far, but there was no doubt in my mind that sooner or later Madame N. would tell the others what a terrible disappointment I had been for her. A narcissistic wound, my psychoanalysing acquaintances would call it: yes, a deep, fresh, festering wound. I now had a fantasy, that Graciela would read my chapters, then report to Madame N.: "It's wonderful, truly a masterpiece!" Ah, what bitter regrets Madame N. would have then!

I asked Graciela if she would be kind enough to read my chapters and give me her advice. Of course, she said, gladly. Very well, then I would mail them to her as soon as I got back to the U.S. I didn't mention Madame N.'s negative reaction, and of course nothing of my fantasy, yet I couldn't help trying to convey to Graciela the urgency of my request, the importance I attached to her helping me. And so I added: "You see, since I'm writing this novel in Spanish, I can only show it to my wife, who's not a writer; none of my writer friends in the U.S. reads Spanish, you are the only writer I trust who does. I feel terribly isolated doing this work, like on a desert island."

Graciela looked at me straight in the eye, and with a tone of austere matter-of-factness without a trace of Yiddishemommaness, she simply said, "We all are on a desert island."

It is one thing for a man to try to prove that we are incurably alone, and quite another to hear it from a woman: from her we learn it with a deeper, darker certitude.


When I arrived at my sister's apartment, she and Isabel were dressed and ready to leave for my grand-nephews' birthday party. As we walked, I felt the need to talk about my meeting with Graciela. I tried it weakly, ineffectively: in depression, one wants the others to understand one's feelings and needs without recourse to the strenous artifice of language. Had I been alone with my wife, perhaps we could have done a better job; as it was, the two women were so ecstatic in their grandmotherly joy, trading sweet stories of grandchildren, that there was room neither for Graciela's ill-starred grandmotherhood and her desert island, nor for my own feelings and my own desert island.

At the birthday party I sat in a corner with my glass of wine. I wasn't up to small talk. My twin grand-nephews crawled on the floor, giggled, gurgled and played with their new toys. The consensus was that they were adorable, yet I caught myself looking at them with resentment and -- may God forgive this old man -- with envy. Surrounded by the adoring glances and noises of the adults, sollicited to a dozen laps and bosoms, they were not on a desert island, definitely not. They will go on living in that blissful state until some stern voice tells them that they are being a pest, then they'll be weaned, and start going to school, and begin training in the unforgiving world.

For many years (I now remembered) I've had in my study, penned by myself with Gothic characters, the following little poem by Goethe: "Sich des Halben zu entwöhnen, und im ganzen, vollen Schönen, resolut zu leben". Wean yourself from mediocrity, and resolutely live in the fullness of beauty. It is remarkable that the German word for "to wean" is "entwöhnen," with the privative prefix ent-, followed by wohnen, to dwell, which is akin to our English wont (as in "it was his wont to suck from the tit.") The Germanic root wan, or wun, meant to accustom or to be accustomed, to dwell, and in Old English áwenian, "to wean," still had, like in modern German, a privative prefix, which was somehow lost in Middle English. It now occurred to me that there is a lesson in this lackadaisical attitude toward the privative prefix: the only way to disaccustom someone to something is to accustom him or her to something else, so it really doesn't matter whether there is a dis- or not. And I suppose one gets accustomed even to living on a desert island, provided there is decent food and good wine. At the beginning of Fear and Trembling, the book dealing with Abraham, "the Knight of Faith," Kierkegaard scatters several parables on the weaning a of child, here and there and for no obvious reason, as it should be (I made a mental note to develop later at leisure this "should be") when one is about to say anything at all about faith. I remember only one of those parables: "When the child is to be weaned, the mother has stronger sustenance at hand, so that the child does not perish. How fortunate the one who has this stronger sustenance at hand." By this second stronger sustenance of course faith is meant. How much I wish I had at hand that stronger sustenance of faith...

With a slap on the shoulder my ex-brother-in-law interrupted my cogitations. Since the divorce, more than twenty years ago, Isabel and I see him seldom. He and I tried to ascertain for how long we hadn't seen each other. We finally agreed the last time was probably five years ago, at the café Tortoni, and having solved that problem he now commented on the day's news: "Terrible." "Yes, terrible," I agreed. Then, leaning towards me, in an low, sententious tone of voice, as if we were two lawyers conferring extra-curia: "I am of course against this evil, unjust system, but I must say I don't condone such methods. I don't approve of violence."

What could I say. For as long as I remember this man has worked for the Ford Motor Company; perhaps he thought Ford was not part of "the system." Or again, perhaps he thought it was, but had his salary cut (as most Argentines recently have), and felt the system had been evil and unjust to him. I didn't ask; instead, I inquired about his health. After the party, as we were walking back, I told my sister and my wife what he had said to me about "the system." "Well, he's right, isn't he?" my sister snapped back.

Again, I didn't say anything, I was speechless: for the first time in more than twenty years I'd heard my sister agree on anything at all with her ex-husband. This system is evil. For the rest of the walk and once inside the apartment, the two women talked about babies. We went to bed.

I picked up the book Madame N. had lent me, a recent French book about the artist Music, one of N.'s friends; some beautiful ink drawings of his hang on Madame N.'s walls. I read that Music was a tall, strong man -- like N. -- and that during the war the Nazis tried to recruit him for the S.S. Music refused, and was sent as a prisoner to Dachau; there, he drew all the horrors he saw -- the hanged men, the piles of rotting corpses. He survived with the help of his art; his drawings of the camp also survived; some were reproduced in the book. I read for a long time while Isabel gently snored by my side. The American general who took Dachau in '45 forced the German local population to tour the camp and view the horrors: an excellent decision, the author opined, which obviously the American general must have taken unconsciously. Disgusted, I dropped the book on the floor. Gone are the likes of Lafayette: I have never met a French person who's willing to credit an American with consciousness.

I turned off the light, and lay face up under the covers. A welter of images, confused ideas, bits of phrases kept rolling through my mind, a subjective correlative of the chaos of the day. The post-war criticism of the Allies for not having bombed from the air the Nazi camps: if the foci of evil must be destroyed regardless of the cost, and if this system is evil, then maybe the terrorists were justified in crashing those planes against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? The First World War started with a terrorist act at Sarajevo and the consequent Austrian ultimatum to Serbia: now the U.S. will send an ultimatum to Afghanistan... Several times I've tried to read the Koran and found it forbiddingly tedious; now I resolve to read it from cover to cover, and take notes. Peoples of the Book! -- I wish someone would tell me, unequivocally, in what way it is better to adore a bunch of written words than to adore a golden calf or a godly female's fleshy calves. Cabbalists and all fetishists of the written word, Jew, Christian or Muslim, should be rounded up, confined, forced to eat paper and drink nothing but ink; then let them adore their own excrement, or hurl it at each other. Yet I cannot forget that it was long ago in Gerona, at the medieval house of Isaac the Blind, master cabbalist, that I had the single numinous experience of my life. The night garden, the tiled roofs, the lemon trees, the scent of jasmine, the sense of the world as perfectly beautiful, the fullness, the clear and mysterious justification of myself. And while I was standing there in a mystical trance on the old Gerona terrace, here, in the dungeons of Argentina, thousands were experiencing the horrible antipode, torture. Those thoughts and those images seldom fail to visit me when I can't sleep. As if having left my native land twelve years before the full horror of "the dirty war" closed in upon her, I felt some guilt and the need to repay what I owe her in shudders and hatred for the monsters she bred. Who knows, perhaps I haven't quite escaped it yet, perhaps now the U.S. too will breed monsters. For it is not by plea-bargaining that you extract life-saving information from someone suspected of being a fanatic terrorist who'd gladly die for Allah; there is only one method, to torture him skillfully until he begs for a swift death. But the day America resorts to torture as policy, as many other countries have done, she will stop being a pest and will become a full-fledged, fully-weaned, cynical beast: she will simply not be America any longer. Then perhaps the Europeans, the Argentines, the whole world will be more pleased with her. Lost all childish faith in the Novus Ordo Seclorum of her dollar bills, self-loathing as befits normal adults and having finally joined the old, macabre concert of nations, America might still be envied for her wealth and power, though not, as she is now, for her hope.

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