From Viaje maravilloso del señor Nic-Nac al planeta Marte by Eduardo Ladislao Holmberg
Translated from Spanish by Ana Lucía Alonso and sam smiley
This was published in Argentina, in serial form in the Buenos Aires Newpaper El Nacional
beginning in November of 1875. We will release it chapter by chapter on
this blog, and eventually on PDF. Rachel Haywood Ferrera provides some
excellent background on this story in English, in her book The Emergence of Latin American Science Fiction. We are translating right now from an edition offered in Spanish by the Biblioteca National in Buenos Aires.
To start from the beginning, you can take this link to: http://sciamremix.blogspot.com/2013/08/eng-chapter-1-preoccupations-of-author.html
My youth has been a blur.
My spirit had all the vagueness of infinity, and in spite of this, my name is Nic-Nac.
In 1856, when I was hardly 20, all of my preoccupations had developed, without having however, ties that bound them, the connecting link with which the years have strengthened them today. The more so as I have resolved serious problems unknown not only by philosophers without senses, but also by sensorial scholars.
A spiritualist had just arrived from Europe.
No one knew him.
Only one person consulted with him and that person who found the ideal of his aspirations in the word of this man, that person was me.
There soon existed between us the communion of the soul. However, if vast were his ideas when related with the world of the spirits, more vast still were mine, because they concerned the spirits and all matter, the Kosmos of the pantheists, the supreme dreamer of dreamers.
How beautiful is the life of dreams!
The dream is the link that binds the human spirit with the grand mysteries of Nature.
That spirtualist was named Friedrich Seele, or as he would want his name in Castilian, Federico Soul. [NOTE: we decided to use the English word Soul rather than the Spanish word Alma. We may decide to change that back to Alma, but are waiting to see how this unfolds]
No one has ever taken a name better given.
Many have taken the last name of Torres, [in English: "Towers"] and nevertheless, they are of smaller stature than average. Others flaunt the name León, [in English: "Lion] and I have know some to have fled from a cat.
But Seele, or rather, Soul, was as a supreme concession of truth to reality. Here there had no contrast, the shocking contrast between the Torres and the Leónes, because if any time there has existed on the world, a corporeal and tangible soul, it was in the personification of Friedrich Seele.
The material life had been sublimated in him, so to speak. Its manifestations transformed into a series of psychic phenomena, analogous to the ones that would be presented by a perceptible and intangible vision at the same time. It was similar to the vision of this black cat that for the last few hours, pursues with its immaterial form the power of my senses.
Seele, as his name indicates, was German and in his noble spirit, the full intellectual force of his nation had been concentrated: all the dreams, all the fogs, all the sylphs, all the beauty, and the lights that are born, shine, fly, roam, and color the German spirit.
Well versed in all the physical and moral sciences, he was as familiar with the interpretation of a cosmic phenomenon, as the explanation of a physic phenomenon. If to all of this, one adds his powerful strength as a medium, we must admit that Seele could have notable imitators, but never rivals.
Seele was not of those spiritualists, or, to speak more accurately, one of those mediums who know to call spirits very versed in the life of Doctor Agüero, but who ignores how many letters the world “sun” has in Quichua. [NOTE: we won't elaborate or footnote on Doctor Agüero at this time, but would like to note that in this passage, we think Holmberg might be talking about indigenous knowledge and western positivistic knowledge. We are also wondering if Quechua and Quichua have the same meaning.]
Seele was a learned man, but still, he was a spirit, and more still, he was a medium.
The spiritualists, in general, are treated like charlatans, but Seele was not treated as one of them, because Seele demonstrated in a palpitating way everything that he or his genie familiar found out. [NOTE: the word in spanish for genius and genie are the same..so it's hard to translate this wordplay. We are using genie at the risk of losing the wordplay.]
An example: a certain day, a learned man asked him: how many letters does the word carbonado have in Chinese? Consulting with one of his genies, he answered, it has nine letters, just as the word sombrero in English has eight.
“It is not true” said the man who asked. “Sombrero in English, is said to be hat: it has three letters, not eight.”
“Fool!” said the genie. “In English, hat has three letters, but sombrero has eight letters in the same or any other language...“
If the genie limited himself to carbonada, the learned man would have been satisfied, and would have left, recognizing the wisdom of Seele, who had at his service, such knowledgeable genies. However, when the learned man remembered positivism as the affiliation of his ideas, he and his assistants withdrew, treating Seele as a charlatan and the genie as phony.
This was later the opinion of the people, but it was well known to me that the people did not have, nor could have, nor must have an opinion.
I consulted with the spiritualist, and remained convinced, after the first meeting, that it was impossible to meet a man comparable to this man.
“The spirit,” he said to me, “and particularly the spirit of each one of the men, is not but a minimal part of the universal spirit, alone and unique, of which is a direct emanation. So as matter [NOTE: we are translating from “la matería” and will continue to use "matter" in English] is composed of atoms, the universal spirit is formed of atomic spirits, and in those exist all the strengths that characterize the human life in its spiritual form. In those, the sensations are manifested with all their purity, and encompass the image, or that which is perceptible. They are lacking weight, resistance, and impenetrability; but they are visible by encompassing the image.”
“So it is possible to contemplate one of those images without more help than our senses?” I asked him.
“Yes, because the senses of man form part of a spirit. And as one has the same nature as the other, both being at the same time integrated into the universal spirit, the image is perceived through the function of the senses.”
“And how can you explain, that the spirit being single [NOTE: We are using single instead of simple, perhaps meaning "undivided" in this context] since you have called it atomic, or even better, spiritual atom, may consist of parts with their own force, being that the essential condition of the atom is that it does not have parts?
“This is the atom of science; but the spiritual atom, it actually has parts, if you would like to call them in this way, they are but qualities that are manifested by vibrations called senses. “
“So that after death the spirit is separated from matter, preserving the senses and the image?”
“Yes, and even before death. Have you not observed that during the dream state all the corporeal functions retain their intensity in the spirit? Have you not contemplated your image floating in space like a bird, or a star, and that this image perceived all the perceptible phenomena? But nevertheless, matter was dead, although the vegetative phenomena continued.”
“But this spirit of mine that appeared to float was not but an emanation of the organ that secreted it.”
“Secreted? Perhaps the spirit is a secretion?”
“Yes, the proof of it is when the organ that produces less of the spirit, when the secretion is diminished, the spiritual force also diminishes.”
“Force, that on the other hand, retains all its action during the dream, is that not true?”
“You are right, Señor Seele. So that according to your doctrine, the spirit is an emanation of the universal soul, and this emanation is susceptible to receive impressions, independently of the matter in which it vibrates?”
“Yes, and also holds the image.”
“Can one spirit that is connected to matter detach from it at some predetermined moments?”
“Yes, and it does not only detach, but also it carries the image, the essential condition of its existence. This phenomena, whose most common form is in the dream state, presents something very characteristic. In a dream, the more we approach the universal soul, the less we remember, in waking, the marvels we have witnessed. And the weight of matter drowns, so to speak, the strength of the memory, which only retains but a vague idea, lost, of what it has contemplated.”
“And what could one do to break the material yoke?”
“Reduce its action, by depriving oneself of all nourishment.”
“And is there any means of recognizing when the matter has arrived to become spiritualized completely?
“When hunger has stupified us”
“That is for the dream state. And what if now I had the idea to launch my spirit image to visit the planets?”
“Beforehand, you would have to submit yourself to the same privations. When you felt that your weakness annihilated you, you would observe that the spirit moved away from you, becoming more fixed in its course, the greater the intensity of your desire.
“According to that, my spirit image can visit other celestial bodies, and encounter phenomena never before known to man?”
“Without a doubt, and what is even more, you will be able to communicate directly with the rest of the free spirits or slaves that populate the other planets or those that inhabit the ether.”
I retired with some appetite. Nevertheless, I was to begin from that moment to deprive myself of all that would weaken the spirit, strengthening the matter. As evidence of my energy, I spent the rest of the day reading the description of the “Wedding of Camacho” [from Don Quijote de la Mancha.]
Translators' NOTES: This was a really philosophical chapter that had a lot of narrative functions. Its primary narrative function was to explain the technology of space travel to Mars or in Star Trek terms "teleportation". These are ideas the reader will need to know for the upcoming chapters.
However, this was also a chapter describing Holmberg's philosophies of scientific knowledge. There was a lot of semantic word play which we interpreted to be texts that opened up questions of indigenous knowledge, of European knowledge, and the mixing and dialogue between European and Argentinean epistemologies. Translating this was really hard and took several meetings to work it out. We hope we did it justice!