“Know thyself” (gnōthi seafton)
Delphic maxim in the Temple of Apollo
I started Hojas Susurrantes (HS) in 1988 and added the last touchups last year. It is neither a novel nor an essay; nor memoirs in the traditional sense nor a pamphlet or poetry. It is difficult to define this non-fictional genre in few words. My first reader, Andreas Wirsén, a Swede lover of literature, wrote in an online forum that I am “a pioneer developing a new sport.”
As stated in Day of Wrath which contains a Spanish-English translation of the longest chapter of HS, Stefan Zweig wrote in Adepts in Self-Portraiture that when Western literature began with Hesiod and Heraclitus it was still poetry, and of the inevitability of a decline in the mythopoetic talent of Greece when a more Aristotelian thought evolved. As compensation for this loss, says Zweig, modern man obtained with the novel an approach to a science of the mind. But the novel genre does not represent the ultimate degree of self-knowledge:
Autobiography is the hardest of all forms of literary art. Why, then, do new aspirants, generation after generation, try to solve this almost insoluble problem?
[For a] honest autobiography […] he must have a combination of qualities which will hardly be found once in a million instances. To expect perfect sincerity on self-portraiture would be as absurd as to expect absolute justice, freedom, and perfection here on earth. No doubt the pseudo-confession, as Goethe called it, confession under the rose, in the diaphanous veil of novel or poem, is much easier, and is often far more convincing from the artistic point of view, than an account with no assumption of reserve. Autobiography, precisely because it requires, not truth alone, but naked truth, demands from the artist an act of peculiar heroism; for the autobiographer must play the traitor to himself.
Only a ripe artist, one thoroughly acquainted with the workings of the mind, can be successful here. This is why psychological self-portraiture has appeared so late among the arts, belonging exclusively to our own days and those yet to come. Man had to discover continents, to fathom his seas, to learn his language, before he could turn his gaze inward to explore the universe of his soul. Classical antiquity had as yet no inkling of these mysterious paths. Caesar and Plutarch, the ancients who describe themselves, are content to deal with facts, with circumstantial happenings, and never dream of showing more than the surface of their hearts.
Zweig then devotes a long paragraph to St Augustine’s Confessions, the thinker I abhor the most of all Western tradition and whose theology about Hell caused massive psychological damage in my own life (also recounted in HS). Then Zweig wrote:
Many centuries were to pass before Rousseau (that remarkable man who was a pioneer in so many fields) was to draw a self-portrait for its own sake, and was to be amazed and startled at the novelty of his enterprise. Stendhal, Hebbel, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, Amiel, the intrepid Hans Jaeger, have disclosed unsuspected realms of self-knowledge by self-portraiture. Their successors, provided with more delicate implements of research, will be able to penetrate stratum by stratum, room by room, farther and yet farther into our new universe, into the depths of the human mind.
This quote explains why I decided to devise a hybrid genre between the self-portraiture that betrays the author and thus penetrates beyond the strata pondered by Romantic autobiographers. Over the boards anti-Nazis have been making fun about my experiences in London last year. They have no idea what I am trying to say because they completely lack context. Together with the Zweig quote my December 31 entry, “Etiology,” provides a bit of the context of what I’m trying to say in the book I’m presently writing.