Thursday, February 5, 2015

Characters in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa: Velásquez the Geometer

Velásquez the Geometer is not only my favorite character in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa; he's one of my favorite characters in all of 19th century literature. Obsessed with mathematics, Don Pedro de Velásquez finds ways of relating to every aspect of  life through formulas, ratios, or geometry. Impatience is in inverse ratio to the square of the force of inertia; the pursuit of happiness can be compared to the solution of a quadratic or cubic equation; human intelligence can be understood as permutations of the number of ideas people have been exposed to. In considering the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra, Velásquez sees a parallelogram composed of lines representing Antony's dueling emotions of ambition and love.
   "Now let us suppose love to have a positive value marked by a plus sign; hate, which is the opposite of love, will have a minus sign; and indifference, which is no feeling at all, will be equal to zero.
   "If I multiply love by itself, whether I love love, or love to love love, I still have positive values, for a plus multiplied by a plus always makes a plus.
   "But if I hate hate, I come back to feelings of love or positive qualities, for a minus multiplied by a minus makes a plus. But if on the contrary I hate the hate of hate, I come back to feelings which are the opposite of love, that is to say, negative values, just as the cube of a minus is a minus.
   "As for the product of love and hate, or hate and love, they are always negative, just as are the products of a plus and a minus or a minus and a plus. So whether I hate love or love hate my feelings are always opposed to love. Can you think of any argument against my reasoning, fair Laura?"
   "None at all," said the Jewess, "and I am convinced that there is not a woman who would not yield when faced by such arguments."
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 33

I believe that, in the character of Velásquez, author Jan Potocki is spoofing the exaggerated rationalism of some figures of the Age of Enlightenment; this seems to be the case with many of the intellectuals encountered in the book. Velásquez the Geometer exhibits an absurd degree of cluelessness, naivete, and absent-mindedness. Following Pandesowna and his associates as they stroll and exchange stories, he becomes so immersed in his calculations that he accidentally wanders down a separate trail and falls into the water. Alphonse saves him from drowning, but upon Velásquez's recovery, he becomes confused about what has happened and thinks that he has saved Alphonse from drowning. Throughout the rest of the book, he quietly congratulates himself on the brave rescue.

In spite of his foolishness, Velásquez remains endearing. His approach to God and nature is humble and thoughtful. As other characters plot, deceive, and seduce, consumed by greed, wrath, lust, or pride, Velásquez is consistently gentle and kind-hearted. His feeling are hurt when he becomes aware that others consider him insane or an imbecile, but when his equally eccentric father explains that the general public will never understand or respect people like them, Velásquez resigns himself and accepts the world for what it is.

Finally, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is full of stories in which people fall passionately in love with each other based on the most superficial of traits: the perfect face, the noble family, the sensual body, the gallant manner. Velásquez comes to love Rebecca for her intelligence and wit as well as her beauty. As a geeky girl myself, I like that in a man.

This character is introduced in Day 18.