Academic journal article Hispanic Review

A Collision of Rationalism and Spiritualism in "El Hombre De la Rosa" of Manuel Rojas: Decoding the Secret Signals

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

A Collision of Rationalism and Spiritualism in "El Hombre De la Rosa" of Manuel Rojas: Decoding the Secret Signals

Article excerpt

THERE are works in literature which, by virtue of their curious and thought-provoking nature draw the reader back irresistibly to the tale and invite a closer look. Such a work is one of the short stories of the Chilean-Argentinean writer Manuel Rojas (1896-1973), the haunting tale of "El hombre de la rosa." The work has been anthologized in

North American readers, but considerably less so than another of Rojas' stories, TI vaso de leche," and it has provoked far less analytical commentary than other tales by the author. It is, however, one of the most powerful short stories by Rojas, and surely stands among the works described by Rojas' close friend and literary contemporary, Jose Gonzalez Vera, as stories that "se aduehan de quien los lee" (899). It is a tale that demands retelling and leaves the perceptive reader stunned by its climax and groping to understand the apparently calamitous conclusion.

Stylistically, "El hombre de la rosa" is Rojas at his best: elegant and eloquent simplicity in a tightly-structured work that belies its enormous philosophical and symbolic complexity. Written in 1928, it was first published in La Naci6n (November 4, 1928) and later included in collections of the author's work and in Hispanic literary readers (Rodriguez Reeve 290), and it has been translated, albeit imperfectly, to English.' The tale flows smoothly and inexorably from beginning to end, bearing the unwary reader from the comfortable confines of Western rationalism and depositing him rudely among the unsettling realities of Eastern spiritualism. "El hombre de la rosa" in one of the most succint and complete expressions of the metaphysical, philosophical and intellectual preoccupations of Manuel Rojas during his formative years as a writer of prose and poetry (1920-1930), preoccupations that will later express themselves in his involvement in Freemasonry. 2

The story of "El hombre de la rosa" seems deceptively simple: A group of Capuchin monks gathers in the Chilean city of Osorno to carry out a week of evangelizing work among the rural natives. During the period of confession, a man presents himself to the protagonist in the tale, Father Espinoza, and asks the good monk to permit him to confess to him a terrible secret that weighs upon his soul: he has knowledge and is a practitioner of the black arts. Assuming the man's claim to be superstitious nonsense, Father Espinoza gives the man the opportunity to demonstrate his occult "powers," believing that his attempt will end in failure, repentance and absolution. The two agree that within an hour the man will bring to the priest a red rose growing in Santiago-a seemingly impossible task. To Father Espinoza's dismay, the man presents a dramatic demonstration of his magical abilities by leaving his headless body behind while performing out- of- body travel. He delivers the rose to the bewildered and disheartened priest, who questions his faith and the very nature of God. The tale culminates in the departure of Father Espinoza from Osorno with the man of the rose, whose life will apparently be permanently linked to the priest's.

An understanding of the broader meaning of Rojas' tale must begin with the careful and patient probing of several important elements in the work: the figure of Father Espinoza, the rose that the man brings to the monk as proof of his magical powers, and the symbolic use of numbers. The name Espinoza immediately suggests the figure of the Dutch rationalist philosopher, Baruch (Benedict de) Spinoza (1632-1677). Raised as a Jew but excommunicated by rabbis for his philosophical positions and free thinking, Spinoza surely must have served as an inspirational and sympathetic figure to Rojas, who read widely during his twenties and early thirties. The Andean author whose ties to anarchism began at the age of fourteen (Espinoza, Manuel Rojas, narrador 81) and endured thoughout his life would find a spiritual support in Spinoza's resistence of intellectual restrictions. …

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