When the very old man with enormous wings falls from the sky and lands in Pelayo’s courtyard, Pelayo and his wife, Elisenda, figure that the old man is a Norwegian sailor. His dialect is unintelligible. Yet they want to make the unknown known. So they force their best conjecture upon the old man, ignoring the inconvenient fact that the old man has wings. Norwegian sailors don’t typically have wings. Yet Pelayo and Elisenda are satisfied with their explanation, and ignore the inconvenient fact. They prefer to know, that this world would wax intelligible, rather than to endure the ambiguity of not knowing.
The substance of their conjecture is supplied by children’s books. With this bit of evidence — the very old man with enormous wings — they can substantiate the narrative they’ve been telling one another in their more private hours of drudgery and monotony. In these hours, they have imagined a wide world of adventure, filled with ships and pirates, in which escape is possible. They have contorted fact to fit fantasy.
Ironically, they miss what is infinitely more interesting: very old man with enormous wings has fallen from the sky and has landed in their courtyard.
A wise woman who knows everything about life and death lives next door to the couple. She does not ignore the old man’s anomolous wings. She draws the obvious conclusion: the very old man is the angel of death. He has come for Elisenda and Pelayo’s sick baby, to carry the child away into the dark shadows of death. So the old man must be clubbed to death.
Pelayo and Elisenda then decide to cram the old man into a chicken coop. After all, this very old man has wings; and things with wings belong in chicken coops. He is a foreigner; he is the angel of death; he is a chicken: he belongs in a box.
We know these people, their presumptions, their prejudices. The priest, however, knows better.
Father Gonzaga, whose knowledge of the world is supplied by the Good Book, learns of the disconcerting news. Rumor has gotten out to the villagers about the angel, and they have begun to charge a fee to view this very old carnival freak. Father Gonzaga knows better, much better. He is a man of God.
When he arrives, he notes that the very old man has parasites in his wings. The old man is therefore too human to be an angel. Angels are more than human, he knows, and are no metaphor of what we are or could be. An angel’s is a fey grace.
Father Gonzaga is right that the others are wrong. He is right that the very old man is not an angel. But he is wrong that the very old man is not an angel. The very old man is not an angel, but he is not not an angel.
Ganzaga’s vocabulary is wholly inappropriate for the problem — indeed, his vocabulary covers and conceals Being itself.
Father Gonzaga’s deep learning and reliance on authority have blinded him and have masked the truth from him, which simply is that before him is a very old man with enormous wings.
Father Gonzaga, reliant on authority, sends a letter to Rome to get an official verdict from the Pope. But Rome doesn’t get back to him. Meanwhile, the carnival grows and grows, and Pelayo and Elisenda get rich at the expense of the very old man, treating him like a zoo animal.
But a zoo animal in a cage is not itself. A lion in a cage is not a lion, and a very old man with enormous wings in a chicken coop is not a very old man with enormous wings. It is a chicken.
Soon enough, the fickle villagers grow tired of the very old man with enormous wings, and a new freak show comes to town: the spider woman, who was changed to spider for having disobeyed her father.
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