Against Professional Secrets

César Vallejo

From Feuerbach to Marx

When an organ carries out its function fully, there is no possible malice in the body. At the moment a tennis player masterfully tosses the ball, he is possessed by animal innocence.
The same occurs with the brain. At the moment the philosopher discovers a new truth, he is a complete beast. Anatole France said that religious sentiment is the function of a special organ of the human body, yet to be discovered. One could also affirm that, at the precise moment that this organ of faith functions at its peak, the believer is also a being so devoid of malice that he could be called utterly animal.

The Head and Feet of Dialectics

Facing the stones of Darwinian risk that compose the Tuileries palace, Potsdam, Peterhof, Quirinal, the White House and Buckingham, I suffer the pain of a megatherium, who meditated standing upright, the hind legs on the head of Hegel and the front legs on the head of Marx.

Explanation of the Red Army

A man whose level of culture—I'm talking about culture based on the idea and practice of justice, which is the only true culture—a man, I was saying, whose level of culture is driven by the creative force that gives rise to the invention of a rifle, this man does not have the right to use it.

Reputation Theory

I have been in the famous Sztaron tavern on Seipel Street, in Budapest; a tavern, they say, of a secret Bolshevik company whose manager, Ossag Muchay, has been quite courteous to his clientele. Muchay has been with me for quite a while, talking at length and sipping Viennese absinth, that religious and potent liqueur, the color of an inch worm that he extracts from a strange wild grass, called sleeping spirit. This evening, the tavern was visited by a great number of parishioners, who entered, stretching out their limbs, drinking maliciously at the bar and then leaving with utter perfection. In the corner on the first floor, two young girls were playing a game of leap-frog with tiny caped turtles bedecked in ribbons. In the doorway of the same room, good Muchay and I were talking. We spoke about the superstitions of Asia Minor, about the salubrious sciences of apprehension, about witchcraft.

I said goodbye to Muchay and left the tavern. I headed toward the corner and took Prague Street, which appeared to be invaded with people. The crowd was looking over the brick walls at the police maneuvers.

I realized, through timely waning swells in vignette, that they were chasing the criminal of a high crime, one which no one could identify. A group of officers left one of the towers of the Ravulk church, leading a man in handcuffs. As they led the prisoner down the steps of the entrance hall, I could see him through the crowd, wearing a coat with lozenges, enormous eyes, a large well-bred dog, who had just bitten a queen.

I followed the throng of people to the station. The commissioner himself interrogated the prisoner in a tone of legal indignation:

"Who are you? What is your name?"

"I don't have a name, sir," said the prisoner.

His name has been sought in Loeben, the village where the shackled man was residing, but to no avail. There is no official record of his family. Nor was any paper at all discovered in his pockets. All that is proven is that he lives in Loeben, because everyone has seen him there on a daily basis, walking through the streets, sitting in the cafes, reading newspapers, talking with passersby. Yet, no one knows his name. How long has he lived in Loeben? This remains unknown, as does whether he is Hungarian or a foreigner.

I returned to Ossag Muchay's tavern and explained the case to him in great detail and even gave him the minute description of the prisoner. Muchay told me:

"That individual, in all truth, lacks a name. I am the only one who holds his name. Do you want to find out what it is?"

He took me by the arm, we went up to the second floor and he led me to a desk. There, he took a scrap of paper out of a tiny case, where appeared, in thick and loose lines, but so crumbled that it was impossible to decipher them, a signature penned in frog green ink, like the kind Hungarian country folk use. I argued with Muchay:

"Can one really take a person's name and hide it in a case, like a simple ring or bill...?"

"Nothing more or less," the tavern owner replied.

"And what is the explanation of all this? So then, what is that name?"

"Neither you nor anyone can know it, since this name is now in my sole possession. You, sir, can find out what it is, but you cannot know it..."

"Mr. Muchay, are you mocking me?"

"Not in the least. That man lost his name and he himself, although he would like to, cannot know it now. It is absolutely impossible for him, as long as he does not have in his possession the signature that you see before you."

"But if he signed it, it will be easy for him to sign it again and again."

"No. The name is but one alone. Signatures, there are many of these, no doubt, but the name is only one out of all the signatures."

His unexpected billiard subtleties began to make my mind swim. Muchay, on the other hand, spoke without faltering. He lit his pipe with two flicks on his Croatian flint. He closed the steel case and led me down.

"The life of a man," he said, walking down the stairs, "is completely revealed in only one of his acts. The name of a man is revealed in only one of his signatures. To know that representative act is to know his true life. To know that representative signature is to know his true name."

"And on what grounds do you believe that the signature you possess is the representative signature of that man? What's more, what does knowing a person's true name matter? Doesn't one know everyone's true name?

"Listen, sir," argued Muchay, placing a prudent inflection on his words, "the true name of many people remains unknown. This is why the worker from Loeben, and not the owner of the factory where heworked, was imprisoned.

"But do you know the crime he is accused of ?"

"An assault on Regent Horthy."

I lowered my eyes, blowing air into my medium-sized organs and remained Vallejo facing Muchay.

translated from the Spanish by Joseph Mulligan