Commentary — October 7, 2010, 10:57 am

Bacon’s Man

By Mario Vargas Llosa. “Bacon’s Man” appeared in the June 28, 1985, issue of Le Nouvel Observateur. Vargas Llosa is writing about Francis Bacon’s painting Head I. Translated from the Spanish by Elena Brunet. On October 7, Vargas Llosa won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature.

I lost the left ear to a bite, fighting with another human, I think. But, owing to the little opening that remains, I hear the world’s noises clearly. I also see things, although askew and with difficulty. Because, even if at first sight it doesn’t seem it, that bluish protuberance to the left of my mouth is an eye. That it should be there, functioning, capturing shapes and colors, is a miracle of medical science, evidence of the extraordinary progress that characterizes the age in which we live. I should have been condemned to eternal darkness from the great fire—I don’t remember whether it was begun by bombardment or by assault—in which all the other survivors lost their sight and hair, the result of oxidation. I had the good fortune to lose only one eye; the other was saved by the ophthalmologists after sixteen operations. It lacks a lid and waters frequently, but it allows me to entertain myself watching movies and, above all, to quickly detect the enemy.

This glass case is my house. I can see through the walls but no one can see me from outside: a very desirable system of security in this age of so much surveillance. The glass case is, of course, bulletproof, germ-proof, radiation-proof, and soundproof. It is always scented.

I have a highly developed sense of smell, and it is through the nose that I derive the greatest pleasure and the greatest suffering. Should I call it a nose—this immense membranous organ which picks up all smells, even the most private ones? I’m referring to the grayish lump, with white scabs, that starts out at my mouth and descends as far as my bull’s neck. No, it’s neither a goiter nor an Adam’s apple puffed up by acromegaly. It’s my nose. I know it’s not pretty, nor is it useful, since its excessive sensitivity becomes an indescribable torture when, for instance, a rat putrefies in the area or fetid matter passes through the pipes that run through my dwelling place. Even so, I worship it, and at times I think that my nose is the chamber of my soul (if the soul exists).

I have neither arms nor legs, but my four stumps are well healed and hardened, so that I’m able to move easily and even quickly if need be. My pursuers haven’t succeeded in overtaking me in any of the chases. How did I lose my hands and feet? An injury at work, perhaps; or by accident, before birth, while still in the womb, the fault of medication that my mother gulped down in order to have a benign pregnancy (science doesn’t guess correctly in all cases).

My penis is intact. I’m able to make love as long as I can find an understanding partner. I like to fornicate but I am not expert. Frequently I experience failure or the humiliation of premature ejaculation. I’m convinced that, more than love-making, humans enjoy defecation.

My greatest source of pride is my mouth. lt isn’t true that it’s wide open because I wail out of desperation. I hold it open to show off my lovely sharp white teeth. Wouldn’t anyone envy them? Scarcely two or three are missing. The others are intact and carnivorous. If necessary, they can grind stones. But they prefer to clench the breasts and rumps of calves, to embed themselves in the nipples and muscles of hens or the throats of small birds. To eat meat is a privilege of the gods.

I am not pitiful, and I do not want others to feel sympathy for me. I am what I am and that’s enough for me. To know that others are worse off is a great consolation.

It’s possible that God exists, but at this point in history, that doesn’t have the least importance. Could the world perhaps be better than it is? Yes, perhaps, but what’s the sense in asking oneself that? I have survived and, despite appearances, I am a member of the human race. Observe me well. Know yourselves.

Share
Single Page

More from Mario Vargas Llosa:

From the December 1990 issue

Questions of Conquest

What Columbus wrought, and what he did not

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2014

Cassandra Among the
Creeps

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

PBS Self-Destructs

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Monkey Did It

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
"In mid-August, hundreds of displaced Christians who had fled to Erbil were moved by Kurdish authorities into the concrete shell of a half-built mall. "
Photograph by Sebastian Meyer
Article
“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Iraq has every disease there is; its mind is deranged with too many voices, its organs corrupted, its limbs only long enough to tear at its own body.”
Photograph by Benjamin Busch
Post
Flying Blind·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“President Obama’s war against the Islamic State will represent, by a rough count, the eighth time the U.S. air-power lobby has promised to crush a foe without setting boot or foot on the ground.”
Article
The Monkey Did It·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Murakami’s fiction, what presents itself as a key reveals itself simultaneously to be a keyhole.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
PBS Self-Destructs·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The present state of PBS, the result of built-in deficiencies and ideological conflicts, was almost an inevitability.”
Illustration by Thomas Allen

Estimated percentage of U.S. gasoline consumption that occurs during traffic jams:

4

In India, 1.8 million female children were estimated to have died between 1985 and 2005 as an indirect result of domestic violence against their mothers; the boys of abused mothers were not at increased risk of death.

Vanilla latte and lemon pound cake continued to be the best-selling items at the Starbucks at CIA headquarters, where baristas do not write customers’ names on their cups.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today