Posts Tagged ‘Nicolaes Tulp’

               Alfonso Reyes, 1889–1959

Mexican writer, diplomat, and educator. Reyes is  generally recognized as one of the greatest Spanish  writers of his time. After spending several years in Europe, Argentina, and Brazil as a diplomat, he became president of the Colegio de Mexico. Reyes gained international fame for his poetry, narratives, literary criticism, and essays. Quoted from


His short story about commander Aranda, who lost a hand in the war, is filled with what Reyes had so much of-imagination and fantasy. The story is surreal but gives a splendid picture of just how much man’s hand has figured in literature and art.

Translating anything that Reyes wrote is at best difficult. He uses colloquial expressions and vague references to subjects that have relevance to something in the story, but frequently only by reading further ahead does the rationality of it become apparent. Some trasnslated expressions don’t seem to make any sense, but they actually do.

Alfonso Reyes received much accolade during his life, including from Jorge Luis Borges, who considered him one of the finest Latin American writers of the twentieth century.

La Mano Del Comandante Aranda

Alfonso Reyes

Commandant Benjamin Aranda lost a hand in combat during the war and to make things worse, it was the right hand. Others collect hands of bronze, marble, crystal or wood that sometimes come from statues and religious images or that were old doorknockers; and the surgeons keep worse things in jugs of alcohol? Why not preserve this dissected hand, testimony of a glorious exploit? Are we not certain the hand is worth less than the brain or the heart?

Let’s think about it.

Aranda didn’t ponder, but a secret instinct impelled him. The man of God was formed in clay, like a doll, by the hand of God. Biological man evolved, served by his hand, which provided the world with a new natural kingdom, the kingdom of the industries and the arts. If the walls of Thebes (1) were rising to the echo of the lyre of Anfión, it was his brother Zeto, the bricklayer, who was laying the stones by hand. The people who work with their hands, the blacksmiths and metalworkers, appear in the archaic mythologies, wrapped in magic- like vapours: they are the stewards of wonder. They are the hands delivering the fire that Orozco (2) has painted.

El Hombre de Fuego (“Man of Fire”), Fresco by Orozco

Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara, painted between 1936 and 1939

In the mural by Diego Rivera (fine arts), the hand wields the cosmic balloon that encloses the powers of creation and destruction: and on the Chapingo(3), proletarian hands are ready to claim the heritage of Earth.

In Alfaro Siqueiros’s (4) painting, man is reduced to a pair of huge hands seeking the gift of reality, no doubt to remake it his own way.

Nuestra Imagen Actual

By Alfaro Siqueiros, painted in 1947

In the newly discovered shrine of Tlaloc (Tetitla) (5), divine hands are shown to hold and release the water of life.

Moses, holding his hands high, remains victorious in the war against the Amalekites(6). To Agamemnon ‘that sent far away’, corresponds our Hueman(7) ‘the one with the long hands’. The hand, a living metaphor, multiplies and thus extends the scope of man.

Other senses abide by the passivity; the physical touch experience and add to it, and with the spoils of the Earth, builds a human order, son of man. The same oral style, the great invention of speech, does still not manage to get rid of the style that created the hand— the oratorical action of the ancient rhetorical-their first explorations toward the ambient chaos, toward the unpublished and toward the future of poetry. The same hand can speak, quite regardless of the sign language for the deaf and dumb. What doesn’t the hand say? Rembrandt–remember Focillon(8)- he demonstrates in all his capacities and conditions, examples and ages: astonished hand, alert, shaded hand emphasized in the light that bathes the Lazarus’s resurrection, working hand, academic hand of the teacher Tulp(9), who is separating a bunch of arteries, the hand of the painter who draws the same

Dr Nicolaes Tulp’s anatomy lesson

painting by Rembrandt-1632

The inspired hand of Matthew who writes the Gospel under the dictation of the Angel, working hands that counts the florins. During burial of the Greeks, hands create waves to contribute to the ascension of the soul of the knight; and with only the gesture of having his gentleman hands on his chest he declares his Just nobility.

This minor God is divided into five people– God in the House, God within our reach, God ‘within reach of your hand’ has finished making the man and he has allowed him to build the human world. The same shapes the jar and the planet, moves the potter’s wheel and opens the Suez Canal. This delicate and powerful instrument poses the most fortunate resources discovered by physical life: hinges, tweezers, tongs, hooks, and touch needles, chains of bones, sails, oars, nerves, ligaments, pipes, cushions, valleys, mountains, and starry rivers. It has softness and hardness, powers of aggression and caress and in another way, already intangible, threatens and persuades, directs and disorients, scares away and encourages. The healers love and cure with their hands. What more? It discovered the pos and cons in trade, gave its weapon to the liberality and to the greed. We entered into the field of mathematics and taught it to the Ishmaelites (1o), and to Joseph (Roman fresco in Saint-Savin), to count the Pharos’s coins with his fingers. It gave us the feeling of depth and weight, the feeling of the gravity and rootedness in the cosmic gravitation; it created the space for us, and we owe to it the concept that the universe is not an equal plane that we just simply cast our eyes on.

Indispensable and sensual pledge for jansenistas! (11). A wonderful flower with five petals that open and close at the slightest touch, like the mimosa. Is the number five essential in the universal cosmos? Does the hand belong to the order of the zarzarrosa, (wild rose) of the forget-me-not, from the order of The Scarlet Pimpernel?

The diviners are perhaps right on substance, though not in their puerile interpretations. . If the physiognomist of the past – like Lavater(12), whose pages gained the attention of Goethe – they had passed from the mouth to the hand, thus completing their vague suspicions, no doubt they are right. The face is both mirror and expression, but the hand is intervention. Moreno Villa(13) tries to lunge into the writers, based on the configuration of their hands. Urbina(14) has sung to his beautiful hands, the only material hint of his soul.

There is no doubt, the hand is worth singular respect, and could well occupy a site favorite among the abodes of commander Aranda. The hand was placed carefully in a padded case. The plain white wrinkles -supporting the small bones, – bridge to the lap for the pommel – looked like a tiny Alpine landscape. From time to time, he was granted the intimate privilege of contemplating it a few moments. It was a nice hand, robust, intelligent, and somewhat tensed by the hilt of the sword. Its preservation was perfect.

Little by little, the taboo, the mysterious object, the hidden talisman, became familiar. Then it was moved from the open chest to the display cabinet in the living room and a place was made for it between the campaign medals and military crosses.

Its fingernails started to grow, which revealed a slow, dull surreptitious life. For the moment it looked like something lazy, inactive, but later he saw it as a desirable property. With some repugnance at first, the family manicurist agreed to take care of the fingernails every eight days. The hand was always very well taken care of.

Without knowing how- this is the way that man is, he changed the statue of the God to an ornament-, the hand was reduced in its statute, suffered a reduction in rank, ceased to be a relic, and decidedly entered into domestic circulation. Already within six months, it was being used as a paperweight or served to hold the leaves of manuscripts- the commander was now writing his memoirs with his left hand; the severed hand was flexible, plastic, and the fingers gently kept the position that he put them in.

Despite its ugly coldness, the kids in the House ended up losing respect for it. Within a year, they were already scratching with it, or amusing themselves by folding its fingers in the form of a Brazilian figa (15), or a Mexican cart, and other international folkloric gestures.

The hand thus remembered many things that had been completely forgotten. Its personality was noticeably accentuated. It took on its own conscience and character. It began to elongate its tentacles. Then it moved like a tarantula. Everything seemed like a game.  One day, they realized that it was wearing a single glove and had fitted a bracelet on the severed wrist, yet no-one paid any attention to it.

It walked freely from one side to the other, like a monstrous crab-shaped little dog. Later, it learned to run with a gait very similar to rabbits, and jiggling up and down with the fingers, it began to believe that it was a prodigy. One day it was seen deployed in the wind: it had acquired the ability to fly.

But, considering all this, how did it navigate, how did it see? Ah! certain wise men say there is a dark light, not sensed by the retina but perhaps sensed by other organs, and more so, if they become specialized through education and exercise. And Louis Farigoule-Jules Romains (16), in letters  notes that certain nerve elements, whose real functions are ignored, terminates in the epidermis; the development of vision can come only from a local development in any part of the skin, which later develops into an eye: and insure that it is made possible for the blind to perceive the light, after some experiments in certain regions of the back, and did it not also have to see the hand? Later, it completes its vision with a touch, and almost has eyes on its fingers and the Palm can be oriented to the flow of the air as the membranes of the bat. Nanuk, the Eskimo, in his misty polar expanse, raised and waved the flat of his hands-perhaps also to perceive heat – perhaps also thermal receptors, to orient him in an apparently uniform environment. The hand catches a thousand fugitive things, and penetrates the translucent flows that escapes to the eye and to the muscle, those that neither can be seen nor hardly oppose resistance.

It happened that the hand, as soon as it was left alone, became ungovernable and temperamental. We can say that it is at this point that it “showed its true colours.” It came and went as it pleased, disappeared when it felt like it and returned when it fancied. It built castles of dubious stability with bottles and glasses. They say it would stay up all night until it got drunk,

It didn’t obey anyone. It was mocking and naughty. It pinched the visitors’ noses and slammed the door on the collectors. It remained motionless, ‘pretending to be dead’, to let itself be viewed by those who still didn’t know it, and then suddenly would  give them an obscene gesture. It was singularly pleased in softly padding its former owner, and also used to scare away the flies. And it was pleased with itself, eyes bathed in tears, as a son who had turned out bad.

It upset everyone. Now it took the notion to tidy up and sweep the house and then to mix up the family’s shoes with true arithmetic genius of permutations, combinations and exchanges; or it broke the windows with stones, or hid the balls belonging to the boys playing in the street.

The commander observed and suffered silently. His wife had an irrepressible hatred for it, and was – clearly – its preferred victim. The hand, in turn began some other exercises, and humiliated him by giving him lessons on working in the kitchen.

Much to the dismay of the Commander, the epileptic contrariety of his wife and the concealed delight of the little people, the hand had taken possession of the dining room for its gymnastic exercises, and locked itself inside with the key, receiving those who wanted to expel it by throwing plates at their heads. There was nothing more to do than to give up the place and surrender completely, said Aranda.

The old servants, even “the nanny, who had raised the child” they all left. The new servants didn’t stay even one day in the bewitched house. Friends and relatives deserted. The police began to be concerned about repeated complaints from the neighbors. The last gate of silver that was still in the National Palace, disappeared as by magic. An epidemic of thefts was declared, blaming it on the mysterious hand that, many times was innocent.

And the worst part of the case was that the people did not lay the blame on the hand; they did not believe that such an animated hand had a life of its own, but everything was attributed to the trickery of the poor, one-handed man, whose severed dispossession was already threatening to cost us one day what the leg of Santa-Anna cost us. Certainly Aranda was a witch who had a pact with Satan. People were crossing themselves.

Meanwhile the hand, indifferent to the damage to others, was acquiring an athletic musculature, strengthening, perfecting continuously and all the time it learned to do more and more things. It did not want to continue relating its own memoirs to the commander. The night he decided to go out, to get some fresh air in the car, the Aranda family, incapable of holding on, believed that the world was coming to an end. But nothing happened, neither fines nor “bribes”. At least – said the Commander-this way we will keep the machine in good condition, since it was already beginning to rust and mold after the chauffeur had left.

Abandoned to its own nature, the hand was slowly embodying the Platonic idea that that let it be, the idea of grabbing, the yearning for possession, daughter of the prehensile thumb: this invaluable conquest of man the maker (Homo Faber) that are jealous of prey, although not the birds of prey. To see, above all, how the hens, with their twisted neck, turned up, or how foreign art objects came to the house– that Aranda then spent endless hours to return to their owners, between stutters and incomprehensible apologies–it was quite clear that the hand was an animal of prey and a thieving entity.

The mental health of Aranda was now questioned. There was also talk of collective hallucinations, the sound of knocking or noises of spirits that, by 1847, appeared in the house of the Fox family, and other things like that. The twenty or thirty person who had actually seen the hand didn’t seem credible since they were of the servile class that easily falls prey to superstitions; and the middle class people answered deceptively for fear of being ridiculed. A roundtable at the College of Arts and Letters was convened to discuss a certain anthropological thesis about the origin of the myths.

But there is something tender and terrible in this story. . Between dreadful shrieks, Aranda woke up at midnight one day: in a strange union, the cut hand, the right, had been connected to its left hand, its former partner, as if longing for its support. It was not possible to detach it. There it spent the rest of the night, and decided to spend the next night there also. Habit makes everyday things out of monsters. The commander finished by feigning ignorance. Then it seemed to him that the strange contact eased the mutilation and, in some way, it comforted his only hand.

The poor sinister hand, the female, needed the kiss and the company of the masculine hand, the right hand… Let’s not insult it. In its clumsiness, it conserves tenaciously, as a precious burden, the prehistoric virtues, the slowness, the delay of the centuries in which our species was being developed.  Correct the exorbitant audacities, the ambitions of the right hand. It is lucky – it has been said we do not have two right hands: if so, we would have become lost between the pure subtleties and tangles of the virtuosity; wouldn’t  be true men, no: we would be illusionist. Gauguin (17) knows well what he does when, as a brake to his ethereal sensitivity, once again teaches his right hand to paint with the candor of the left-hand. But, one night, the hand opened the door to the library and began reading. It found a Maupassant (18) short story about a severed hand that ends up strangling the enemy; and he found a beautiful fantasy of Nerval (19), where an enchanted hand travelling the world, making “marvels” and bad spells. He came upon a few notes about the philosopher Gaos (20) on the phenomenology of the hand. Oh heavens! What will be the result of this fearful incursion in the alphabet?

The result is both serene and sad. The proud, Independent hand, who wanted to be a person, a sovereign entity, determining his own conduct, became convinced that it was nothing more than a literary theme, a matter of fantasy, by now quite thoroughly elaborated on by the pen of the writers.  With grief and difficulty – and admittedly shedding many tears–it went to the display cabinet in the room, accommodated itself in its case, previously so carefully placed between the campaign medals and crosses of the military record. Disenchanted and sorrowful, it committed suicide in its own way; allowed itself to die.

The sun was shining when the commandant, who had passed the night tossing and turning, distressed by the prolonged absence of his hand, discovered it stiff in the case, somewhat blackened and as with signs of asphyxia. He couldn’t believe his eyes. When he finally understood what was going on, he nervously crumbled the paper that requested its discharge from active duty, stretched himself to his full height, resumed his military attitude, rushed violently out of the house and shouted at the top of his voice

-Attention, Stand firm! Everyone at their post! Bugler, sound the victory call!


1) http://www.artoftheprint.com/artistpages/picart_bernard_amphion_builds.htm    Quote “The myth of Amphion and his twin brother, Zethus, belongs to the earliest times of the royalty of Thebes. They were the sons of Zeus and Antiope. Persecuted by her father, Antiope sought refuge at Sicyon. Soon after, Lycus conquered Sicyon and made Antiope his prisoner. She shortly thereafter gave birth to Amphion and Zethus. They were left to die on Mount Cithaeron but were found and raised by shepherds. After many years Antiope escaped from Lycus, who now reigned over Thebes, and rejoined her twin sons. The sons then attacked Thebes, killing Lycus. Amphion and Zethus then proceeded to fortify the city: Zethus carried the stones while Amphion, with the magical music produced from his lyre, caused the stones to move of their own volition and gently slide into place atop the walls.”

2) The painting by Orosco is titled “Hombre del Fuego”, painted in 1939 in the dome of the Instituto Cultural Cabańas in the Mexican city of Guadalajara.

3) Chapingo refers to a mural titled “La Tierra Fecundada, painted in 1927, located in Escuela National de Agricultura in Chapingo

4) David Alfaro Siqueiros (born José de Jesús Alfaro Siqueiros, December 29, 1896. The painting may possibly be “Nuestra Imagin Actual” For a detailed story of his life and art, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Alfaro_Siqueiros#Selected_other_works

5) Tlaloc (Tetitla) Aztec rain God. For more detailed information, see http://archaeology.about.com/od/tterms/a/Tlaloc.htm

6) The Amalekites. This nomadic nation was, in ancient times, Israel’s eternal foe

7) Hueman: A Toltec chief and priest. For additional reading, see  http://books.google.ca/books?id=P24LAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA248&lpg=PA248&dq=The+Toltec+chief+Hueman&source=bl&ots=GNeBodanex&sig=qg0qIU5jVJ9rloZirxW9TJ8y9tE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=g3prUKOVNdKr0AGO54HwDQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=The%20Toltec%20chief%20Hueman&f=false

8) Henri Focillon (1881 – March 3, 1943) was a French art historian. Director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. Professor of Art History at the University of Lyon. For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Focillon

9) Tulp: This refers to:The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, which is a 1632 oil painting by Rembrandt housed in the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, the Netherlands.

10) According to the Book of Genesis, Ishmaelites are the descendants of Ishmael, the elder son of Abraham

11) Jansenism was a Christian theological movement, primarily in France, that emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination.

12) Johann Kaspar (or Caspar) Lavater (15 November 1741 – 2 January 1801) was a Swiss poet and physiognomist. Lavater was born at Zürich.

13) José Moreno Villa (16 February 1887, Málaga – 25 April 1955, México) was a Spanish poet and member of the Generation of ’27

14) Urbina, Luis Gonzaga (1864-1934). Mexican writer and poet Born in Mexico City and died in Madrid, Spain

15) Brasiliab figa” a rude gesture

16) Romains, Jules, 1885–1972, French writer, whose original name was Louis Farigoule. A brilliant student of philosophy, he became known as the chief exponent of unanimous, a literary theory positing the collective spirit or personality, e.g., the spirit of a city. For more information read: http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Romains%2c+Jules

17) Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (French: 7 June 1848 – 8 May 1903) was a leading French Post-Impressionist. For additional information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Gauguin  and other web sites.

18) Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant: Born 5 August 1850 –died 6 July 1893) was a popular 19th-century French writer, considered one of the fathers of the modern short story and one of the form’s finest exponents. The story referred to is called “The Hand” which can be read at


19) Gérard de Nerval (May 22, 1808 – January 26, 1855) was the nom-de-plume of the French poet, essayist and translator Gérard Labrunie, one of the most essentially Romantic French poets. For details of his life, see  http://www.answers.com/topic/g-rard-de-nerval

20) José Gaos Born 1900 in Gijón, Spain –died 1969 in Mexico) This Spanish-born philosopher obtained political asylum in Mexico during the Spanish Civil War.

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