Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

30 Dec 2011

(Short Story) Professor Quemada's Last Words by: Eric Gamalinda

(Reaction) I was offered, I accepted, I wrote by: Antonio Conejos

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Professor Quemada's Last Words is essentially the Faustian bargain with a twist: in Gamalinda's short story the pact is proposed by the Lord (and not the devil) and the woman ultimately leads him to death (Gretchen on the other hand asks Faust to embrace life by repudiating his pact with the devil).

Of course we only have Quemada's point of view that the divine party in this compact was God and not the devil. It's quite possible that the devil would have use for Quemada's works, the better to stoke the fire of academic acrimony. (As any pompous ass who has ever had to debate literary theory with an even greater ass can attest!)

At first Quemada is happy to trade his transient life for the promise of scholastic immortality. This is not meant in a metaphorical sense. The professor literally views the surrender of his words as a surrender to death, the professor had always believed that the end of speech was the end of life itself

In essence Quemada is transmuting his life into intellectual brilliance, trading the almost infinite possibilities of combinations of words into one set pattern which is an essay, a speech, a dissertation. Quemada's bargain with the angel is to make his words a fossil and himself dust and ashes.

Yet the professor eventually comes to a greater conception of what life can be. The catalyst for this realization is the human longing for what could have beens - regret. He stared at the strange, revenant creature under the sheets and in those mornings recalled with sadness and desire the instinctive passions from which he had sublimated all his words, all his fire.

In the end the professor comes to regret his trade of vitality for dusty tomes, of life traded for immortal jargon. Fittingly then, the last word he gives up is life. (Vida in Spanish, Vita in Italian, Vie in French.) It is the girl who moved him whom he gives up last of all.


Witty, oh so witty short story. It has remarkable fun with itself (in a smug but not off putting way), as it pokes jest at the world of scholarship, criticism and profundity. Quemada's speech becomes, the new Joycean language, the Esperanto of the Cognoscenti. Underlying it all is the futility of all erudition, the acknowledgment that the river of passion runs not to the sea of the mind but towards the ocean of desire, He pictured her in so many situations alone in his room, tied up and spread-eagled under him, or curled to a tight embrace.

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