Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate reads the admonition placed by Dante on the frontispiece of hell. According to Onetti’s story, that so feared advances latent and insidious with the perfidy of a woman capable of killing even from a distance, through letters. The dreaded winter is coldness, heartbreak and, finally, death. “His soul fell slowly into sleep as he heard the snow fall lightly over the universe and the snow fall lightly, like the descent of its last sunset, over all the living and over the dead”, this is how Joyce wrote the end of Michael Furey while “it was snowing all over Ireland.”
Siberia and the war, the dream of the staring eyes –credit to Macedonio–from the tree in the window, astonishing fixity, silent concupiscence, active hot passivity of allowing oneself to be looked at by the winter image: the dream of the wolf man .
As positions of a “dialectic” that never agrees to negation, the contrast between the cold and the hot poses an immanent hesitation that is not resolved. It is rather about positions that find their inconsistency from within, in immanence, without being denied from without.
On the other hand, the exteriority of nature under winter clothing collaborates with the staging of the final invocation. Surely for this reason there are many references that allude to autumn as the imminent proximity of the end.
the high point
Many times an oxymoron is a privileged figure to express the complexity of a moment of analysis. For this very reason, expressions such as “burning coldness”, “gentle hostility”, “hypersensitive indifference” or “luminous darkness” may be appropriate to characterize the human complexity revealed in some vicissitudes of the transference.
The cold and the hot, apparent opposites, however, as probably happens with all pairs of opposites, cohabit in the height of the fever and in the suffocated sexuality, as coagulated –or petrified– of the dream of the wolves.
In Onetti’s story, burning hell is the loss of the coordinates that held reality in place. She, Gracia, seems to go crazy when he leaves her; she then destroys her dignity with the transgression of social convention by revealing images of private life that were supposed to remain hidden. In other words, her obscenity is her way of falling into the misfortune of despair.
He, Risso, tolerates her obscenity badly, to an unbearable point: his daughter and the girl’s grandmother receive photos of Gracia having sex with another man. Risso experiences this as an irreparable disaster and infinite shame before his daughter and his grandmother. The suicide accounts, in his case, for the lack of interest in a life ruined by the display of what should remain in the shadow of a pious mantle of Noah.
In this very brief commentary on Onetti’s brilliant story, I think I detect at least two sources of polar cold: on the one hand, lack of love, which Gracia covers with a compensatory madness; on the other, the shame of irreparable damage, which Risso can treat only through (reparatory?) suicide.
the pointless hell
Gracia and Risso suppose a common denominator in a kind of logic that we could infer: the disarming of reality that shakes meaning, whose loss is unbearable. This situation, as Onetti masterfully shows, can lead to madness and suicide.
The high point of the story, however, is not the desperation that follows her dissatisfaction after Risso’s misunderstanding and abandonment, nor his extreme response after his limits of honorability and modesty were violated by the photos. hot that she sent to him, also to his daughter and grandmother.
The central point of the story, it seems to me, is the loss of meaning whose effect is to loosen ties with life. The appearance of nonsense turns the scene around, turns it upside down and maddens reality, its determinations; finally, she forces the worst. Far from inciting desire, the coercion of the superego ruins all possibilities and closes the paths to a single inescapable and, in this case, final solution.
spend the winter
Sometimes there are words that in themselves hold the secret of a sleepy oxymoron. “Algido” is one of them. In fact, it means “cold, very cold” and, capriciously, the use has made it a hot word, almost like the burning point of a speech, a dispute or any situation characterized by a certain degree of tension.
Taken to the level of political speeches, the unfortunate phrase of that ideologue of the worst right that we Argentines have had to endure resonates in our midst. I am referring to Álvaro Alsogaray and his pathetic speech in 1959 during the Frondizi government: “We have to spend the winter” was, then, the formula said in the same paragraph as this other one: “it is very difficult for this month to be paid on time public administration salaries.
In our country, the feared hell is also the loss of national and civic sense. What do we work for? What do we live for? Always the same? Soup again?!
For this reason, this cold winter, rather than the loss of meaning, I would say that our feared hell is the fall of the illusions that allow us to stand up, get up every morning and do our things believing that we are doing something worthwhile. Be it individually, family or socially. I mean politically.
My final reflection here –although provisional– is the following: the high point –acmé condensed of heat and cold– of an embarrassing situation is usually correlative of the putting in check of the everyday senses that keep us alive. According to Macedonio, Death with a capital “M” is “Oblivion in staring eyes”. A gaze that sees us stripped of the senses we believe we are, with which we tie ourselves to life, kills us.
Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, uses nonsense to delimit specific points out of meaning. The clinical relevance of this conceptual difference is such that the Dantesque admonition that I mentioned at the beginning should be reserved for those who enter the catacomb-office of someone who does not know it.
Martín Alomo is a psychoanalyst. Doctor of Psychology. Master in Psychoanalysis. Specialist in Research Methodology.