An Itinerary For A Digression
Macedonio Fernandez’s great work, Museo de la Novela de la Eterna, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel, was first published in Spanish in 1967, fifteen years after his death. He started working on it in 1925 and continued working on it for his entire life in five different versions. He never published it himself. And it wasn’t translated into English until 2010.
Museo is an experimental novel beginning with 50 prologues, and it is a difficult, perplexing but often touching and funny read. There can be no spoiler here. Macedonio seeks to transform the reader into fiction. He seeks to overcome impermanence. That’s his intention. Here, there can only be the announcement of my embarkation on the book. And my good intentions somehow to write about the journey. Or perhaps send a postcard. Or a photo.
Already the book has brought a small, quite unintended, very coincidental surprise. A gift. The kind of digression that makes reading on a rainy, windy April Sunday such a pleasure. I share that here. I hope my not filling in all the blanks can be easily forgiven.
In the Translator’s Introduction to the English volume, Margaret Schwartz writes,
In his classic book of Buenos Aires essays, The Man Who Is Alone and Waits (El hombre que esta solo y espera), Raul Scalabrini Ortiz writes: “Buenos Aires’s first metaphysician and its only authentic philosopher is Macedonia Fernandez.”
I knew the name, Scalabrini Ortiz, from an avenue in Buenos Aires in the Palermo neighborhood. I had no idea who SO might actually have been.
Scalabrini Ortiz (1898-1959) was an Argentine writer, essayist, and poet. He was also a Marxist. But, it turns out, the name of the Avenue has been changed. Frequently. These changes are emblematic of the past 150 years’ struggles in Argentina. They reflect Argentina’s dramatic history:
In 1867, when this avenue was still a dirt track, it was named El Camino del Ministro Inglés (English Minister's Road), because English diplomat Henry Southern used it to go downtown from the country house where he lived with his family.
A decree on November 27, 1893 changed its name for the first time to Canning, as a tribute to George Canning, former Secretary of Foreign Relations of the United Kingdom.
Another decree, dictated on May 31, 1974 by the government of Juan Domingo Perón, stated that Canning Ave. changed its name into Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz Ave. as a tribute to Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz....
Two years later, during the military dictatorship, the name of this avenue was changed again into Canning Ave.
Finally, with the arrival of democracy, Canning Ave. was renamed again to Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz Ave., on December 29, 1985.
It remains Avenida Scalabrini Ortiz. I wonder in passing about other oscillating changes in the names of streets. In Buenos Aires. In Havana. In New York. And what that says about how history and public remembrance is controlled by its authors.