On Fascination

“How is it possible that the greater the amount of nonsense the more passive is my spell state?” asks the Venezuelan writer and architect Federica Vega in his essay where he explores how a fascination for the devastating developments in Venezuela risks paralyzing artists and writers in the country.

January 22 2019 Text: Federico Vegas Translation from Spanish: Tanya Almada

We Venezuelans are not only being displaced from our homeland, but also from our privacy, from the unpredictable designs of our inner life. Everything that happens to me, everything that I observe and absorb, ends up running aground or sinking in our tragedy and does not manage to move towards the irreducible regions of creation. The presentiments are being taken over by resentments, the premonitions by reiterations, the fiction by a truth that surpasses it.

I watch on my cell phone a video where a Canadian pedagogue explains what happens to children when they are fascinated by a cell phone. Catherine L'Ecuyer argues that it is a highly addictive device, because it introduces the child into a reward cycle through the production of dopamine. “What happens in front of the screen at those early ages, when you have not yet developed qualities such as temperance and will, is a state of fascination, not that of sustained attention.”

The video ends and, instead of thinking about my grandchildren, I ask myself: Is my relationship with Venezuela’s drama one of fascination or of attention?

For Catherine, attention is an attitude of discovery, of an openness to reality in which we ask questions and look for answers without any filter or prejudice. On the other hand, fascination is a passive attitude towards novel, frequent and intermittent stimuli that generates a state of dullness. This spending all day looking for new sensations can create addiction, inattention, a decrease in vocabulary, and impulsivity.

According to the pedagogue, before before the age of two, the exposure to these media should be zero, and between two and five years old, less than one hour a day. How much time do I spend in it? I don’t keep track, else I’ll get depressed. I only know that I always end up stuck in the same mud hole and in a state of battered fascination.

On the web, I find a page called: NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE (nothing new under the sun) where an essay, “The Fascinating Origin of the Word Fascinating”, discusses that state of stupefaction that I want to avoid. It begins by reminding us that, in the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, “to fascinate” derives from the Latin fascinare and has three meanings: to cheat, to hallucinate, to obfuscate. To attract irresistibly. To give the evil eye.

The third meaning is the most interesting, and perhaps the most ancestral. For the Romans, Fascinare meant to cause or give evil eye, to charm, to enchant, to bewitch. For the wise Pliny, the “fascinating” were sorcerers, and the fascino could be a phallus with a monstrous erection. The page in question gives us an example: In the fourth century, the rhetorician Arnobius, after his conversion to Christianity, in one of his attacks on Greco-Roman mythology, ridicules the god Tutunus (a version of Priapus) when he tells the pagans: “And there is also Tutunus, in whose huge private parts and in his horrendous fascino you want your midwives to ride, considering it a propitious signal?” I understand that to test such a monstrosity was a kind of premarital initiation.

In smaller versions, the fascino was also an amulet that children wore around their necks to avoid the evil eye, and victorious generals put in their cars to protect themselves from envy. Some say that, because the phallus was a symbol of fertility and abundance of goods, it was perceived as the opposite of a curse; others propose that the vision of the virile member, considered obscene, obliges people to look away and, therefore, protects whoever carries it from malicious looks.

Pascal Quignard, author of the book Sex and Dread, is quoted on this page. For Quignard, “man is the fruit of an act in which he was not present, and this generates an enormous curiosity and uneasiness; therefore, the vision of the sexual act or the erect male member paralyzes, fascinates, attracts and bewitches him, absorbs his gaze. The vision of the representation of the most visible participant in the copula provides an always extreme emotion of which we defend ourselves with fright.”

With this very old, hurried and badly rolled baggage, I begin to analyze my state of mind in face of the recent statements of Maduro and Jorge Rodríguez. How is it possible that the greater the amount of nonsense the more passive is my spell state?

Rodriguez's scandalous equation about a pizza mixer that works 800 hours a month, said once, can be a mistake; repeated, is a setback; printed on a sheet, an imbecility as inexplicable as bewitching. Maduro's announcement about his “zero kills zero”, claiming to have created a magical formula which is going to be applied for the first time in the history of economy, produces both fright and a fascination that goes from mockery laughter to the surprise of indignation. Certainly, that fascinum has nothing to do with fertility and abundance, but with the obscenity of a monstrous erection of Ego, full of destructive delusions. There's still more. If we consider Quignard's theory, I am afraid, dear compatriot, that we are contemplating a ceremony where they are simply screwing us with a bestial tool, while feeding us an incessant and masochistic need for absurdities. Our soul seems to say: “Since there is no solution, at least give me some fun”, and we vent by exclaiming: 

—Can you believe that nonsense? It’s unbelievable!

Like children between two and five years old, we should spend no more than an hour a day on the obscenities with which they dope, immerse and plunge us. And avoid Jaime Baily, who is an accelerator of the spell taking it to the extents of comedy, rating and fooling around. During the rest of the day, we must pay attention, keep the ability to discover, open ourselves to reality by looking for the first causes and the ultimate future consequences, and not what we are leaving behind.

Catherine L'Ecuyer argues that education systems are going through an attention crisis. To the Venezuelan crisis we must add our fascination by our worst aberrations. It is not a crazy theory to assume that this avalanche of horrors and errors is an instrument of submission. How to face the inconceivable, the monstrous, the alienated?

In the Venezuelan portals, you will find dozens, hundreds of excellent attention exercises in which questions that try to understand what is happening to us are asked and answered, but unfortunately, they are always far behind the facts. They are attentive reactions to that insatiable and fascinating monster that is screwing the country in a continuous and destructive violation.

We must move on to action, to foreboding, to premonition, to the poetics of creativity. We are muddled in stagnant reactions. We can foreshadow the country of return, the country of the end of the plague, how we want its cities, its urban legislation, its economy, the relationship between the civilian and the military, the judicial power, and the management of our wealth to be.

Rómulo Betancourt wrote Venezuela, Política y Petróleo (Venezuela, Politics and Oil) in the darkest and saddest years of his exile, when Pérez Jiménez's military tyranny was at its height. In that book, he presents his vision of the past and an agenda for the future. We already know how far our oil industry went in the 20th century. The book that this government is writing could be called: Venezuela, Politics and Full Stop.

Another enlightening case is that of Sergio Fajardo, who was the mayor of Medellín. During his administration, the most comprehensive and successful urban transformation in the history of Latin America took place. It came to pass that, for several years, the School of Architecture of the Pontifical Bolivarian University had been studying and proposing how to carry out a profound, just, liberating urban renewal, and when the former mathematics professor, Sergio Fajardo, unexpectedly became mayor, he found an already traced and prefigured path. The city project already existed, it only needed to be carried out.

These are just examples of how to replace fascination by barbarity, defeat and perfidy with attention and a creative spirit full of temperance and strength.

The purpose of the action requires using all means to save the country. Here I barely take a glance at the need to articulate and shape the salvation that children exposed to a show that they should not see nor live deserve.

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Federico Vegas (Caracas, Venezuela, 1950) is an architect and a writer. He has been a professor at Princeton University and Harvard University. He has published books on architecture and literature such as short-story books El borradorLa nostalgia esféricaEl terrón; the novels Historia de una segunda vezSumarioLos incurablesand El buen esposo. His non-fiction work includes Venezuela VernacularLa ciudad sin lengua,La ciudad y el deseoand Ciudad Vagabunda.