Ernesto Sabato

 

From “On Heroes and Tombs”

By virtue of that notable attribute of independence and superimposition possessed by the universe, as a banker makes ready to bring off the most formidable operation involving strong currencies that has ever been carried out successfully in the Rio de la Plata (incidentally scuttling Consortium X or fearsome Corporation Y), a bird, a hundred paces away from the Powerful Office, hops across the grass of the Parque Colon, searching here for some little bit of straw for its nest, some stray grain of wheat or rye, some little worm of nutritional interest to it or to its young; while in another even more insignificant stratum, and one in a way even farther removed from everything (not from the Great Banker but from the slender cane of the pensioner), tinier, more anonymous, more secret beings live an independent, and on occasion an extremely active, existence: worms, ants (not only the big black ones, but also the little red ones and others even smaller that are practically invisible) and enormous numbers of other more insignificant tiny creatures, of different colors and very different habits. All these beings live in different worlds that are foreign to each other except when Great Catastrophes occur, when Men, armed with Fumigators and Shovels, undertake the Fight against the Ants (an absolutely useless fight, let it be said in passing, since it always ends with the triumph of the ants), or when Bankers unleash their Petroleum Wars; so that the infinite number of tiny creatures that until that moment lived on the vast greenswards or in the peaceful subworlds if the parks are wiped out by bombs and gases; while others that are more fortunate, those belonging to those species of worms that are invariably victorious, make hay while the sun shines and prosper with astounding rapidity, as meanwhile, up above, the Purveyors and Manufacturers of Armaments thrive.


"Nothing and everything" he almost said, with that habit of his of unexpectedly expressing his thoughts aloud, as he shifted to a more comfortable position on the parapet. He looked up at the stormy sky and heard the rhythmically lapping of the river against the shore, that river that (unlike the other rivers of the world) flows in no direction, stretching out almost motionless over an area a hundred kilometers wide, like a peaceful lake, or like a roaring sea on days when the wind is blowing from the southeast. But at that moment, on that hot summer day, on that humid and sultry afternoon, with the transparent haze of Buenos Aires blurring the silhouette of the skyscrapers standing out against the huge thunderheads in the west, it was only slightly rippled by a distracted breeze, its skin barely trembling, as though with the dim memory of great storms, those great storms that seas surely dream of when they doze, mere ghostly, incorporeal storms, dreams of storms, that can do no more than make the surface of their waters shudder slightly as great sleeping mastiffs dreaming of hunting or fights quiver and growl almost imperceptibly.


"It is not ideas that have saved the world, it is not intellect or reason, but their diametrical opposite: men's senseless hopes, their stubborn rage to survive, their ardent desire to breathe as long as possible, their petty, stubborn, grotesque heroism from day to day in the face of misfortune. And if anxiety is the experience of Nothingness, a sort of ontological proof of Nothingness, might not hope be the proof of a Hidden Meaning of Existence, somthing worth fighting for? And since hope is more powerful than anxiety (since it always triumphs over it, otherwise all of us would kill ourselves). might it not be that this Hidden Meaning is truer, so to speak, than the famous Nothingness?


"It is always terrible to see a man who believes himself to be absolutely and unquestionably alone , for there is something tragic about him, something sacred almost, and at the same time something horrible and shameful. For we always wear a mask... a mask that is never the same but changes for each one of the roles that life assigns us: the mask of professor, of lover, of intellectual, of cuckholded husband, of hero, of affectionate brother. But what mask do we put on or what mask do we have left when we are all alone, when we believe that noone, absolutely noone is observing us, keeping tabs on us, listening to us, making demands of us, begging us, threatening us, attacking us?"


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