Little is known in the United States about the Republic of Tinieblas. One sympathizes with the confusions of the unlettered, the inquisitive cabby, say, who upon extracting a disclosure of his passenger's nationality can squint into his mirror and remark: "Tinieblan, huh? Ya don't look like a African." Tinieblas is neither large nor much endowed with resources. It has refrained entirely from international barbarism. Why should the "man in the street" know anything about it?
The strident ignorance one finds in academe is another story. The inevitable mention of bananas, as though their cultivation were our only national pursuit; the ubiquitous delusion that the Reservation--a tract adjacent to Ciudad Tinieblas which the U.S. leases as a military base--is a U.S. territorial possession; the crass quip by one tenured ichthyosaur that "Tinieblans clock their history in revolutions per minute"; the conviction of a former classmate (who proved his solidarity with the masses by defecating in the dean's filing cabinet) that since my father and uncle were both Presidents of Tinieblas, I belong to an exploiting class--all this has been a bottomless font of pain.
Nor are Tinieblans themselves very much better informed. Political rapists have made our history their slavey, have bent her to grotesque, degrading postures to serve their powerlust. Those of our intellectuals who have not pimped in these abuses have committed others on their own, distorting our heritage in undocumented screeds. The world perceives Tinieblas through the glazed eyes of wire service stringers and nomadic hacks from Time. Tinieblans know their country through the lies of demagogues, or through the half truths of lazy poseurs. There is, then, a clear need for authoritative investigations by qualified scholars into aspects of Tinieblan history and culture. This dissertation is such a work.
The Text presents the life and times of my father, León Fuertes--street-urchin, vagabond, self-made degenerate, lecher, and main-chance legal trickster; also athlete, artist, scholar, soldier, preserver of the nation, and forty-third President of the Republic. The span is from the discernible origins of our family in 1840 to León Fuertes' assassination in 1964. The setting is mainly Tinieblas, but extends to North America, Europe, and Africa. The scope is epic, the events enthralling, the prose at all times vivid and delightful.
The Notes document the Text, but because of the original research technique I have developed and perfected (see note 4), also provide extensive information about the next world, our life after so-called "death." No writer since Dante Alighieri has addressed this subject in comparable depth. My treatment is less panoramic than Dante's, but a good deal more accurate.
Either Text or Notes alone would amply satisfy that doctoral requirement which the Regents of Sunburst University term "an achievement in research constituting a significant contribution to knowledge." But I am no skinflint, dear Drs. Grimes and Lilywhite. I give you both.
I trust, besides, that this dissertation will do more than merely meet requirements. It is not often that an act of historical inquiry is also one of filial piety and civic duty; or that the grist of scholarship is also that of national epic and universal cosmology; or that the material of a Ph.D. thesis is the stuff of pity and terror. But here's a hero blown to tartar steak at the height of his powers; and here's a once fortunate land cruelly oppressed; and here's a scholar mining the next world for veins of truth. I shall fulfill the requirements. Fear not, Professor Lilywhite; doubt not, Professor Grimes. But at that stroke I'll ease an honored ghost, unmask a tyrant, and describe the universe--, and all the while amuse my gentle gringo readers.
My subject is my father, my country, and (to a certain, unavoidable extent) my special gift. I care about my subject passionately. Much is made, nowadays, of the value of scholarly objectivity, as though the less one cared about his subject the better he would treat it. This attitude, which is characteristic of graduate schools and the dissertations they produce, corresponds to the alienation of assembly-line workers, business executives, and other slaves. But Ortega y Gasset has commented wisely (somewhere in Estudios sobre el amor, and don't expect me, pig-headed examiners, to interrupt the crafting of this Foreword to track down and snare page references for you) on obsession as the mark of both love and genius. The lover is obsessed with his beloved; the artist is obsessed with his art. So it is with the true scholar and his subject. An idea disturbs him. He cannot dismiss it. It lies reeking on the pavement of his mind like a blasted chunk of human flesh. It magnetizes his attention day and night, waking and sleeping. It gives him no peace. It haunts him and hunts him until he makes it mean something. Meanwhile his associates snicker and tap their foreheads; his wife whines that she's neglected; quacks and deans combine against him to condemn and punish his deviation from respectable mediocrity. He accepts it all, the inner torment, the outer hostility. For he serves truth and knows that anything less than an obsession engenders only doodling, or the pack-ratting of random scraps.
I had once thought to preface this dissertation with a few pages of backhanded tribute to the numerous morons, academic, psychosnoopic, and otherwise, who in attempting to thwart me, unwittingly spurred me on. Naming them, however, would be an act of resentment and revenge, very stupid pursuits (it strikes me now) for a man of talent. I do wish, though, while leaving them anonymous, to thank those who furnished me suffering. Without them I should never have achieved mastery. I owe as well a great debt to my wife, Elizabeth Cleaver Fuertes, who besides sometimes wandering into the group mentioned above, preserved the manuscript of this dissertation during some very dark hours; to the spirits of several close relations, who sustained, encouraged, and aided me; and to all those in this world and the next who helped me in my research. Should this work contain any inaccuracies--something which, by the way, I very strongly doubt--, the blame is, of course, my own.
It is an abomination on one's reader to make him yo-yo down and up the page between text and notes. I have marshaled my Text in the van, my Notes in the rear. This dissertation may be approached in that order. Yet should you prefer, revered examiners, accomplished Professor Lilywhite and gifted Professor Grimes, to swing your attention leisurely back and forth, like fortunate spectators of an entrancing Tilden-Budge rally, that is perfectly jake with me. By all means please yourselves! Your lives are, I know, in the main dull and tedious, but you are now about to be enlightened, uplifted, and entertained. Sit back. Be at your ease. Enjoy the slices I shall serve you "Of what is past, or passing, or to come."