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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: December ::
Re: The Human Condition
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 953.  Friday, 17 December 1993.
From:           Al Cacicedo <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Dec 1993 1:14:38 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0948  Re: The Human Condition
Comment:        RE: SHK 4.0948  Re: The Human Condition
There's a wonderful book by Italo Calvino, called *Mr. Palomar*, in
one chapter of which the hapless title character wanders through
some Toltec ruins while a learned friend discourses on all they are
seeing and at the same time Palomar and the friend overhear an
unknown schoolteacher tell his class, "no se sabe lo que quiere
decir," that no one knows what it all meant to the Toltecs.  Being as
he is, Mr. Palomar begins to wonder what exactly death (if that's
what the bas relief skulls signify) and resurrection (if that's what the
carved serpents signify) actually meant in the cognitive economy of
the Toltecs.  For the purposes of the novel, and for all I know for the
purposes of archaeology as well, such knowledge, essentially a
translation of one discursive system into another, remains impossible.
I think that that's what the historicists tell us.  What the humanists tell
us is that nevertheless those images seek to address the (for me) only
constant for all human beings in all human communities, that at our
backs we always hear the eternal footman snicker and, in short, it
puzzles the will.  Literary scholars and other humans, I think, have to
be like Mr. Palomar at the moment he pays attention simultaneously
to his friend and to the schoolteacher.  We are contingent, historical
creatures who transcend our contingency by recognizing our
By the way, puzzled though my will may be, whenever I read a paper
such as the one on *Paradise Lost* that I just read by my absolutely
first-rate student, I say, huzzah!
Al Cacicedo (
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Albright College

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