Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (24)

Louis Riel, from 'A System of Philosophical Theology,' with commentary

Translated from French by Antoine Malette and Bryan Sentes.


Système philosophico-théologique: If the state of harmony before original sin had endured.


40. If man had persevered in that state of happiness, he would have taken to it more and more. And the more tender he would have found his intimacy with the active essences, the more he would have worked to render it perfect. His obedient love would have attracted to him every day a new quantity of active monads. They would have condensed in his person to a considerable degree. The weight of his body would have finally become comparatively light in the bosom of their density. This prodigious concentration of the infinite essences in man would have constituted for him the gift of subtlety.


They would have absorbed him entirely. They would have carried him away to heaven wholly alive, as the sublime movement of wings lifts the volatile body of the eagle and like the air carries objects less dense and less heavy than the matter of its own invisible gases there.


31. This rupture may be more or less complete.


32. If the soul commits an act whose disorder consists only in weakening this harmony, the sin is venial. By applying herself to do better, the soul can redeem herself. Her efforts toward this shall be sufficiently efficacious: that is to say that by relations still harmonious enough with He-Who-Is she can naturally recover her lost strength.


Religion consists in binding (religare) human essences and divine essences together.


Sex is in the monads that is to say that each monad alternates with its male form and its female form.


As is proper to it, each active male monad possesses an inert monad which is female.


And, as is proper to it, each active female monad possesses an inert monad which is male.




SOURCE: From a longer projected work, Massinahican [Cree for “book” or “bible”]. Still in the process of reconstruction.


My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back. (L.R.)


1/ Louis Riel was a Metis Canadian born in 1844 [died 1885] near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He was the leader of two resistance movements that attempted to preserve Metis rights in the face of the expanding Canadian government in the East. Writes Bryan Sentes in a rapid summary: “A controversial figure — hero, revolutionary, lunatic, self-proclaimed messiah, traitor — Louis Riel is as much an inspiration for anti-colonial struggle on Turtle Island, politically and artistically, as a real man. A profound religious experience undergone between the two rebellions he led imbued his efforts with a prophetic vision and zeal, partly articulated in the Massinahican. Riel was finally tried and hanged for his efforts.”


The formal resemblance to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations as a work of cyptopoetry (D. Antin) is also worth noting.


2/ A note on the translation. “Riel’s notes were composed under various pressures, of inspiration and material conditions. They are, therefore, often orthographically and grammatically compressed to the point of obscurity, an obscurity further complicated by Riel’s own idiosyncratic inspiration and expression. We have often attempted to reproduce these ambiguities and difficulties in the English rather than present an artificially smooth and clear version of Riel’s thoughts.”