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Reviewed by:
  • Nicolás Gómez Dávila. Parteigänger verlorener Sachen
  • Virgil Nemoianu
Till Kinzel, Nicolás Gómez Dávila. Parteigänger verlorener Sachen. Schnellroda: Antaios, 2003 (Perspektiven vol. 7). 154 pages.

With unspeakable slowness the name and work of Nicolás Gómez Dávila has begun to be known in the Western world. Not the only reason, but at least one of the reasons for this lentitude has to be attributed to the author himself. Born in 1913 in Bogotá, the Colombian sage died in the same city in 1994. He had spent his childhood and his teenage years studying in Europe (mostly in France), but after he returned at age 23 to his home country he hardly ever left it (in 1949 he took a trip to Europe with his wife; he had been married in 1936 and had three children). Privately affluent, one assumes (biographical information is incredibly difficult to obtain for the ordinary reader or even researcher), he refused different honors and high positions. In 1958, President Alberto Lleras, who had followed the previous long-lasting [End Page 1110] military dictatorship, wanted to have Gómez Dávila as his chief advisor (a kind of Colombian Kissinger, if you will); he turned this down, just as, in 1974, he turned down the position of Ambassador to London, and not necessarily just for political reasons. In publishing he was equally reserved. His early work (1954, 1959) was privately printed and only in 1977 did he bring out the bulk of his Escolios a un Texto Implícito in two volumes, to be followed by three others in 1986 and in 1992. The circulation was small, and Gómez Dávila remained unknown outside Colombia. German translations, followed by Italian (and, in the works, French) began to appear in selective slim volumes in the 1990s and have continued to appear over the last few years. He lived surrounded by an enormous library and a small number of close and trusted friends, a regular, secluded, (apparently) contented and uneventful life, observing from a distance the world's events: a Horatian life, or one that a philosophical eighteenth-century English country squire would have aspired to. It is only in the last few years that Gómez Dávila's books have come back into print in Colombia (together with some well-done anthologies); a handful of biographical essays (e.g. by Franco Volpi) can also be found, though not easily.

The other main reason for the slowness with which Gómez Dávila's work has come to be widely known is, of course, the ideological one. "Don Colacho" (as some of his friends called him) never pulled his punches and never tried to hide his preferences. He was a forthright anti-modernist reactionary, a satirist of the contemporary world in virtually all its aspects, a traditionalist Roman Catholic, a firm supporter of the canon. He presented these positions without qualms, with defiant pride. Till Kinzel, the author of the first short, though substantial, monograph on Gómez Dávila, builds his argument in a very interesting way. He regards "the author" and speaker as a character constructed by the author in order to utter his short and cutting statements. He does not suggest that Gómez Dávila is not identified with his literary character: yet in his opinion it is better to read the text keeping in mind a certain distance between the former and the latter.

One good reason why we should take this way of reading seriously is the very discourse chosen by Gómez Dávila to which he remained faithful virtually all his life. The "glosses" (escolios) are brief paragraphs, aphorisms, observations, comments on the greatest variety of issues, from politics to religion, from human nature to social history, from the West to the world as a whole. (The "implicit" text may be, Kinzel speculates, an obscure youthful essay.) This style is a deliberate and significant choice. It reminds us of course of Nietzsche and the Schopenhauer of Parerga und Paralipomena, but certainly farther back (and perhaps even more interestingly) of the great French moralists: La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère...