Después de estudiar por mi examen final por la clase de sociología, pienso de repente en este cuento sobre la investigación cualitativa y la etnografía en particular. Aquí tiene un cuento muy corto de Borges y mi traducción original. [Original in Spanish, here]
The Ethnographer by Jorge Luis Borges
The case was recounted to me in Texas, but it had happened in another state. It concerns a lone protagonist, although in all the stories, the protagonists are thousands, visible and invisible, alive and dead. He was called, I believe, Fred Murdock. He was tall in the manner of the Americans, not blonde nor brunette, with an ax-like profile and of very few words.
There is nothing strange about him, not even that fictitious peculiarity that is so typical in young men. Naturally respectful, he did not distrust that which are written in books nor those who write them. He was of the age in which men do not even know who they are and are ready to surrender to that which fate proposes to them: the mysticism of Persia or the unknown origin of the Hungarians, the adventures of war or of algebra, Puritanism or orgy. At the university, they advised him to study indigenous languages. There are esoteric rites that pervade in certain tribes of the west; his professor, an elderly gentleman, proposed to him that he should make the tepee his home so he can observe the rites and discover the secret that the shamans reveal to the initiated. On his return, he would draft a thesis which the institution’s authorities would give to the press. Murdock accepted with alacrity. One of his ancestors had died in the wars of the frontier; that ancient discord that lives in his veins was now a link to his present. Prior to that, no doubt, were the difficulties that awaited him; he had to achieve it so the red men accept him as one of their own.
He undertook a long adventure. More than two years was spent living on the praries, under tents of leather or under the open skies. He would get up before dawn and go to bed at dusk, and soon, he began to dream in a language that was not of his forebearers. He accustomed his palate to sharp tastes and covered himself with strange clothes. Forgetting his friends and the city, he began to think in a manner that confounded logic. During the first months of this strange apprenticeship, he took furtive notes that he would tear up after perhaps so he would not awake suspicion in the others, perhaps because he no longer needed them. At the end of a predetermined period of certain exercises of moral and physical nature, the priest ordered him to record his dreams and to confide them to him at daybreak. He determined that on the nights of the full moon he would dream of bison. He confided those repeated dreams to his master; this ended with the revelation of the secret doctrine. One morning, without having said goodbye to anyone, Murdock left.
In the city, he experienced nostalgia for those initial afternoons on the prairie the same way he had felt, long ago, nostalgia for the city. He made his way to his professor’s office and told him that he knew the secret and that he had resolved not to publish it.
—Are you binded by oath?—asked the other.
—That is not my reason—said Murdock—. In those far reaches I had learned something that I cannot say.
—Perhaps the English language is insufficient?—observed the other.
—Nothing like that, sir. Now that I possess the secret, I could enunciate it in a hundred distinct and even contradictory ways. I do not know very well how to say it, only that the secret is precious and that science, our science, seems to me but a mere frivolity now.
He added after a pause:
—The secret, for the rest, is not worth as much as the paths that I have taken to get it. Those paths one must walk for themselves.
The professor said to him frostily:
—I will communicate your decision to the Advisor. Do you plan to live among the Indians?
Murdock answered him:
—No. It may be that I will not return to the prairies. That which those men have told me can serve me in any place and in any circumstance.
That, in essence, was how the dialogue went.
Fred got married, then divorced and is now one of the librarians of Yale.