previous chapter
Ramón Sender: Two Novels
next chapter

2

The world of Sender's most recent novel, The Affable Hangman , is one assembled, stumbled upon—as a man will stumble—again of necessity. We cannot call Ramiro "the affable hangman" until we have also stumbled, willynilly, into or upon, that thread of occasional purpose by which a man directs himself, given eyes and mouth, hands and legs, and a mind, and also a heart. Diotima tells Socrates, in Plato's Symposium , that:

On the day that Aphrodite was born the gods were feasting, among them Contrivance, the son of Invention; and after dinner, seeing that a party was in progress, Poverty came to beg and stood at the door. Now Contrivance was drunk with nectar—wine, I may say, had not Yet been discovered—and went out into the garden of Zeus, and was overcome by sleep. So Poverty, thinking to alleviate her wretched condition by bearing a child to Contrivance, lay with him and conceived


217

Love. Since Love was begotten on Aphrodite's birthday, and since he has also an innate passion for the beautiful, and so for the beauty of Aphrodite herself, he became her follower and servant. Again, having Contrivance for his father and Poverty for his mother, he bears the following character. He is always poor, and, far from being sensitive and beautiful, as most people imagine, he is hard and weather-beaten, shoeless and homeless, always sleeping out for want of a bed, on the ground, on doorsteps, and in the street. So far he takes after his mother and lives in want. But, being also his father's son, he schemes to get for himself whatever is beautiful and good; he is bold and forward and strenuous, always devising tricks like a cunning huntsman; he yearns after knowledge and is full of resource and is a lover of wisdom all his life, a skilful magician, an alchemist, a true sophist. He is neither mortal nor immortal; but on one and the same day he will live and flourish (when things go well for him), and also meet his death; and then come to life again through the vigour that he inherits from his father. What he wins he always loses, and is neither rich nor poor, neither wise nor ignorant.

An account of Love is, loosely enough, what later commentators have called the 'picaresque novel,' i.e., a story of a man who travels much, who becomes involved in untoward events for singular reasons, and who 'distills' (as the book jacket in the case of Sender's novel puts it) an 'idiosyncratic' philosophy.

Yet Ramiro is a hangman: "He felt real gratitude toward me [the story's narrator] because I had offered him my hand, knowing that he was a hangman . . ."; and Love would do no less.

But why does a man become a hangman—these days? Or, better, how is it that a man—in whom love moves, or else he is not—arrives at that 'authority' which allows, as Ramiro's instructor does: "It is not that one is ashamed of one's work. Someone has to do it, and nowadays they don't mistreat the pobreto —poor wretch—as before, but dispatch him neatly and rapidly . . ." And is not this, also, a rather familiar 'man's world'?

Faced with a loyalty to this or that idea, he finds himself on either 'side,' on the one hand witness of the killing of men and women with whom he has sided, and, later, on the side of those who have killed them, at another like incident, where men are forced to jump into a well and then sticks of dynamite are thrown in after them.

On the way back Ramiro was thinking: "This is more cruel than what they did to Chino and Curro Cruz and the peasants of Benalup. And the Duke, the priests of my town, the mayor, the judges know it or take it for granted. Everyone knows it and no one does anything


218

about it." They returned in silence. It suddenly occurred to Ramiro that it had been a good thing for him to make himself responsible for all that. To accept the responsibility that everyone shunned. With his presence he was already responsible. He wanted to be even more so. The word responsibility rang out inside him in an urgent way and with tremendous force. It was an obsession.

Sender's method, in this book, is a constantly shifting character of 'reality,' i.e., of fable, of naturalistic detail—of the supposed 'real' put against the hyper- or also-real. And in the narrative occur other 'stories,' for example, of Lucia, who is in love with her sister's husband, whom she denounces, whereupon he is killed. Ramiro thinks:

"I would like to make myself responsible for all the crimes in the world," he muttered to himself. "But how?" Then he remembered Lucia naked amidst the snow and he found her appealing. He liked not only her body but the disorder of her mind. He really believed that she had denounced Joaquina's husband and yet he regarded her as innocent. "She got into the game," he said to himself, "and had to do what she did, and now she is paying for it."

When Ramiro was a little boy, his mother "told tales that made [him] cry with pain, and then she would tell everybody how tender-hearted [he] was . . ." What is the man who will witness, and thereby 'do' what all others imply, but will not do—as, for example, we all know that this or that has to be done, yet wait for someone to do it. Is that why we have armies, etc. At the close of the book Ramiro and the narrator are sitting in a cafe, talking. Noise is heard, outside. A fiesta of some kind seems to be starting.

"But why all this?" I [the narrator] repeated, sensing an immense scandal in it all.

"I don't know. In any case it concerns me alone. Don't you worry, it's only because of me. It apparently has nothing to do with you."

He was more afraid than I. He looked at the cars lined up, at the patient crowd, and said very nervously:

"There is no doubt about it. It is the end. This is the end. Or the beginning. Who knows?"

People are all around the cafe, the building; the two men are 'prisoners,' and then going out, Ramiro asks "questions to the right and left of him, but no one seemed to give a satisfactory answer."

The procession was formed. The bands continued playing. Ramiro started marching under the canopy . . .


219

So that is the end of it. Thinking of the first book, The Sphere —why will we not believe, or try to, until the mind itself is broken, breaks back, forcing the world to declare itself. Finally? Or at least 'occasionally.' And of the second, The Affable Hangman —the sacrifice we make is a witness, of course, to that act; and is our authority for it.


220

previous chapter
Ramón Sender: Two Novels
next chapter