[lit-ideas] Re: The Sect of the Phoenix

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2007 21:43:23 EDT

What is interesting about the sect of the Phoenix is that by relying on De  
Quincey's "Phoenix Club" -- he's referring to that demi-monde of English 
Culture  that may well be the ambience where H. S. Ashbee felt most at ease.
Balderston qualifies Borges's reference to Whitman:
         "the divine husband knows,  from the work of fatherhood" 
Balderston writes: "The exchange replays some of the misunderstandings  
between Whitman and Symonds and can hardly be regarded as the last word on the  
--- Interesting. I am fascinated by all the fuss Symonds and notable  
heterosexual HAVELOCK ELLIS had to go through to publishe "Sexual  Inversion".
More from D. Balderston's interpretation, at
"In 'The Sect of the Phoenix', Borges writes: 
"Without a sacred book that brings them together like the  Bible for the 
people of Israel, without a common memory, without that other  memory that is a 
common language, scattered over the face of the earth,  differing in race and 
aspect, only one thing--the Secret--unites them and will  go on uniting them to 
the end of time. . . . I can testify that the  performance of the rite is the 
only religious practice observed by the members  of the sect. The rite 
constitutes the Secret. This Secret, as I have already  indicated, is 
from generation to generation, but custom requires  that mothers not teach it 
their children, nor the priests either; the  initiation in the mystery is left 
to the lowest individuals. A slave, a leper  or a beggar serve as initiators. 
Also a child can teach another child. The act  in itself is trivial, brief 
and requires no description. . . . There are no  decent words to name it, but 
everyone understands that all words name it or  rather that inevitably they all 
allude to it; in conversation I have sometimes  said something that made the 
initiated smile or grow uncomfortable, because  they felt that I had referred 
to the Secret.]
Balderston writes:

"The content of this passage is  undeniably homoerotic. The secret taught by 
one boy to another, the secret  revealed in empty spaces such as basements."  
"The revelation of the Aleph takes place in Carlos Argentino's basement, and  
I have already noted elsewhere (El precursor velado 40) that the  basement 
scene is charged with erotic energy, perhaps with suggestions of mutual  
:Also vacant lots (charged with frightening energy for Borges,  as revealed 
by Estela Canto). Canto writes of Borges's fear  of beaches (50) and vacant 
lots (52), repeatedly insinuating that as a boy  Borges must have suffered some 
sort of rape: " One is tempted to imagine that  some strange and terrifying 
experience that happened to young Georgie in one of  these vacant lots. . . . 
of this, of course, is pure  "conjecture."] 
"This is the secret which serves to unite a diverse group of  people and is 
jealously guarded from others, the secret whose name one dare not  speak: that 
secret, for Borges, was male homosexuality. 
"Earlier accounts have tended to see the "Secret" in "La secta del f énix" as 
 sexual intercourse in general, and perhaps male-female genital intercourse 
in  particular: in particular, see Christ 155-59. In a note on this passage 
Christ  clarifies that in a conversation with Borges in New York in 1968, 
claims  that the "Secret" is procreative heterosexuality, citing Whitman on 
what "the  divine husband knows, from the work of fatherhood" (190). The 
exchange replays  some of the misunderstandings between Whitman and Symonds and 
hardly be  regarded as the last word on the story."  
"The phoenix is the symbol of this secret because in it male  creates male 
without the intervention of the female." 
"The eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica  notes:  
"According to Pliny (Nat. hist. x. 2), there  
is only  one phoenix at a time, and he,  
at the  close of his long life, builds  
himself a nest  with twigs of cassia and  
frankincense,  on which he dies; from  
his corpse is  generated a worm which  
grows into the young  phoenix"  
(21: 457).  
Woscoboinik, commenting on the appearance of the phoenix in this  story and 
in a couple of other Borges texts, comments:  
,the Phoenix is simultaneously father and son, "heir  to itself," immortal, 
reborn from the ashes and testifying to the passage of  time. A fantasy of 
narcissistic and deathly self-engendering, which denies  paternity and sexual 
The "phoenix sect" of the Borges story must be constituted  through that 
ultimate act of "male bonding," anal penetration, but that act is  shrouded in 
secrecy. But of course if he returned so often  to this secret, once even 
it a "fecal dialectic," it must be because he  was in some way implicated in 
that dialectic. 

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