"Annotations on an Implicit Text": the work of Nicolas Gomez-Davila.

By Nikos A. Salingaros.

 

Many persons of letters today consider the Colombian philosopher Nicolas Gomez-Davila (1913-1994) as one of the foremost intellectuals of our time. His work consists exclusively of brief comments, or aphorisms, which he called "Notes on the margins of an implicit text". Gomez-Davila published three different books (a total of five volumes) of aphorisms in Spanish. To the best of my knowledge, none of his work is available in English. My own interest in this comes from the extraordinary comments on artistic, architectural, and urban matters that Gomez-Davila's work contains, mixed in with observations about politics, religion, tradition, culture, and society.

Until the literary world turns its long-overdue attention to the aphorisms of Gomez-Davila, I would like to make a few of his comments available to a general readership. Admitting at once that I am by no means qualified to present a scholarly translation of one of our age's great literary and philosophical figures, I have tried to do the best job possible. My selection of which texts to translate is motivated by questions of contemporary architecture and urbanism, and their underlying philosophical underpinnings.

I need to warn the reader that Nicolas Gomez-Davila was unashamedly conservative, even reactionary. His political views do not concern me, but they do color his opinions on architecture and urbanism. They also go hand-in-hand with his deep religious convictions. Admirers of his writings have suggested that his political leanings were responsible for the neglect that his work received during his lifetime. I am presenting his work not for its political value, but for the insights it offers into humankind, society, and history.

Gomez-Davila's aphorisms have been published as follows:

[1] Nicolás Gómez Dávila: Escolios a un Texto Implícito, Volumes I & II, Bogotá, 1977.

[2] Nuevos Escolios a un Texto Implícito, Volumes I & II, Bogotá, 1986.

[3] Sucesivos Escolios a un Texto Implícito, Bogotá, 1992. Reprinted by Altera, Barcelona, 2002.

Escolios a un texto implicito: Obra completa, Six Volumes, Villegas Editores, Bogotá, 2006. This is the complete collection, making all the books available for the first time in years.

Escolios a un Texto Implicito [1], [2], and [3] reprinted in one volume by Ediciones Atalanta, Spain, 2009.

Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección, a selection by Rosa Emilia Gómez de Restrepo from [1], [2], and [3], Bogotá, 2001.

In Margine a un Testo Implicito, Italian translation by Lucio Sessa of a selection by Franco Volpi from [1], Milano, 2001.

Tra Poche Parole, Italian translation by Lucio Sessa of a selection by Franco Volpi from [1], Milano, 2007.

Les Horreurs de la Démocratie, French translation of [1] by Michel Bibard, Monaco, 2003.

Le Réactionnaire Authentique, French translation by Michel Bibard, Monaco, 2005.

There are also complete translations of his work into German: [1] by Günther Rudolf Sigl, Vienna, 1987; [2] by Michaela Messner, Vienna, 1992; & [3] by Günther Maschke, Vienna, 1994.


APHORISMS OF NICOLAS GOMEZ-DAVILA

Selected from [3], translated in 2003.

 

• Truths do not contradict each other except when they become disordered.

• A properly civilizing task is to revisit old commonplace things.

• The difference between "organic" and "mechanical" in social matters is a moral one: the "organic" is the result of innumerable humble acts; the "mechanical" is the result of one decisive act of arrogance.

• "Taste is relative" is the excuse adopted by those eras that have bad taste.

• The modernist object does not possess inner life; only internal conflicts.

• External influences enrich solely those with an original mind.

• Contrary to the modernist prejudice, the perfect adaptation of an object to its use has to always be paid for by the absence of style.

• To renovate it is not necessary to contradict; it suffices to make something more profound.

• Replacing the concrete sensory perception of an object with its abstract intellectual construction gains the world for man, but loses his soul.

• Contemporary persons do not admire anything other than hysterical texts.

• Humanity compensates for the solidity of the buildings it raises, with the fragility of the foundations upon which it builds them.

• The ugliness of today's urban environment is more an accusation of the modernist soul than of contemporary urbanism.

• Whoever says that he "belongs to his time" is only saying that he agrees with the largest number of fools at that moment.

• The most notorious aspect of all modern undertakings is the discrepancy between the immensity and complexity of the technical apparatus, and the insignificance of the final product.

• The criterion of "progress" between two cultures or two eras consists of a greater capacity to kill.

• In augmenting its power, humanity is multiplying its own servitudes.

• The modern machine gets more complicated each day, and the modern man becomes every day more elementary.

• Modernist mentality is the daughter of human conceit inflated by commercial propaganda.

• Mechanization brutalizes because it makes human beings believe that the universe is intelligible.

• The word "modern" no longer has an automatic prestige except among fools.

• Individualism is the cradle of vulgarity.

• Stupidity appropriates with a diabolical ease whatever science invents.

• The loss of transparency is the first symptom of decline in a language.

• Falsifying the past is the method that the Left used in pretending to produce the future.

• The modernist thirst for originality makes the mediocre artist believe that the secret of originality consists simply in being different.

• In general, "historical necessity" turns out to be merely a name for human stupidity.

• Modernist architecture is fundamentally anti-historical. It is the first architecture that does not derive from a preceding architecture; the first that begins with a vertical rupture in time.

• More irritating than someone's actual stupidity is their mouthing a scientific vocabulary.

• Architecture is the only art where it is aesthetically permitted to imitate what contemporary art has done right.

• That which is "modern" is the product of an initial act of arrogance; anything that apparently permits us to elude the human condition is "modern".

• Modern society works fervently to put vulgarity within the reach of everyone.

• What is deceiving about the aesthetic quality of certain new works is that their manner of being bad differs from the traditional manner of being bad.

• In the arts, the authentic product never gains as much authentic popularity as the false.

• Modern persons believe that they live in a plurality of opinions, whereas in fact what reigns today is an asphyxiating unanimity.

• In philosophy, a single naive question oftentimes suffices for the whole system to collapse.

• For the progressive modernist, nostalgia is the supreme heresy.

• Nothing turns obsolete so rapidly as that which is most boldly modern.

• Surviving fragments of the past put to shame the modern landscape in which they stand.

• Clarity of text is the sole incontrovertible sign of the maturity of an idea.

• If philosophy does not resolve any scientific problem, science, in its turn, does not resolve any philosophical problem.

• "Nature" was a pre-romantic discovery that romanticism propagated, and which technology is killing in our days.

• The much celebrated "dominion of man over nature" resulted simply in an immense homicidal capacity.

• Fashion, even more than technology, is the cause for the uniformity of the modern world.

• The modernist urban agglomeration is not a city; it is a disease.

• One of the worst intellectual catastrophes is found in the appropriation of scientific concepts and vocabulary by mediocre intelligences.

• Truths are not relative. What are relative are opinions about truth.

 

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UPDATE 2012: A very useful compendium of material is published by Stephen. Since we still lack an official translation of the aphorisms into English, one has to read individual pieces on the web. The most comprehensive collection is this online book on Scribd by an anonymous translator (obviousy Stephen), no date (obviously 2010-2011):

Don Colacho's Aphorisms

Michael Gilleland's page of translations is no longer accessible, so I have copied those HERE.