“The Prize of the Defeated”: Matthew Walther on Don Colacho

“The Prize of the Defeated”: Matthew Walther on Don Colacho November 23, 2014

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Nicolás Gómez-Dávila’s name is not one to conjure with on these shores or, probably, any others. His work, almost exclusively collections of short—indeed one- or two-sentence—compositions, was long available only in limited editions from small presses in his native Colombia, and even then only because his family and friends urged him to publish. Translations, especially into German, have made him a cult figure in Europe, but in the United States, where he has never appeared in any publisher’s catalogue, his influence has been limited to the odd journal article, posts on a handful of dedicated blogs, and a pair of entries at RapGenius.com.

This is a pity. His minute reflections on aesthetics, politics, and theology are rewarding out of all proportion to their length. Villegas Editores, a small Colombian house, has now given us the first official translation of Gómez-Dávila into English: Scholia to an Implicit Text: Bilingual Selected Edition. The translator, Roberto Pinzón, has a somewhat shaky grasp of English grammar, and an even looser understanding of idiom, but that should not diminish the pleasure of this overdue arrival.

Aphorism is the most convenient English noun to describe Gómez-Dávila’s laconic prose specimens. But he rejected this label, preferring to call them “scholia,” short glosses or commentaries like the ones found in Greek and Latin manuscripts. Gómez-Dávila saw his own scholia, which he invited readers to consider as his responses to specific though unnamed texts, as fragments from which historians of the future might reconstruct bits of a century that he thought would “bequeath nothing but the traces of its hustle and bustle at the service of our filthiest desires.”

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