Since the publication late last century of Dr. Borges’ 500 Theses of the Destruction of Cathindos, a generation of scholarship has eliminated some theses and added some others, but really not much progress has been made. There are yet 500 theses, or more. A visit to the Dancing Wall, which the more mystical and philosophical historians have said is essential to solving that mystery, will probably not assist in any substantial way.
We know the destruction was purposeful. We know it was expected. The few reliable records of that time explain that no escape was permitted. The Dancing Wall itself is proof that the people of Cathindos knew the day, the hour, the direction and the means of that destruction. But still no one knows why. A visit to the wall merely hints at whom.
Of course each figure has over time grown its own “500 Theses.” The Mother and Daughter, individually and taken together, are well-known as the most popular themes, but the Ballerina boasts the most well-known story, Thos. Hammonds lyric The Fifth Position.
At the wall, of course, there is the Guild of Wall-Tellers to remind us of some of the finest stories that have grown up. Some Wall-Tellers boast of knowing 10 stories for every figure. Others specialize in figure groupings. The grouping called The Bohemians has its own brand of specialists who only arrive in the evening to tell their evening flavoured tales. And of course, Simona, the Elder Wall-Teller, has been relating stories exclusively of The Engineer for close to five decades.
Yes, that’s The Engineer, to the left of centre, perpetually looking behind him to the left, back to the wall itself. His is one of the Three Profiles, one of the few traditional groupings which is not standing together, for obvious reasons. No one means to blink or turn away at the moment of flash, but they do. The Man Looking Around at His Heel, third from the right, and The Mother Watching Her Child are the other of the two profiles. (The Mother, of course, is part of The First Family Grouping as well.)
And though some of their activities have been curbed in recent years, still among the most striking of fellow visitors to the Dancing Wall are the religious pilgrims, many of whom are administered to by priests, priestesses, acolytes and holy folk of all sorts who live near by. It is correctly said that the Dancing Wall has seen more religions than Jerusalem.
But still, despite the stories, the legends, the words of sages and philosophers, it’s still the shadows on the dancing wall which ultimately fascinate us.
Dr. Borges said, “We cannot see shadows without seeing shadows of whom, and filling in that whom with the stuff of our selves.”
How many times have the outlines on that wall been painted? How many faces has The Bicycle Boy worn? Some first time visitors to the Dancing Wall have even expressed chagrin that the shadows are blank, truly just shadows, when they had come somehow expecting to find some, at least some, with traditional faces in some subtle fashion traced in the stone.
But after awhile, almost everybody says, the faces begin to come. Even the broken corner of the wall—which fell the moment Cathindos fell, as has been well established—has accreted its own dimensions, its own stories, and not only around the hand and arm reaching out from it towards The Teapot whose downward curving hand—representing the spout—the hand from the broken wall almost touches.
The pictures begin to fill in, as the eminent Dr. Borges also informs us, because the Dancing Wall is ultimately about The Moment. Standing before the wall The Moment becomes obvious. We see the people posing for it, looking for it, looking up at it. Posing, but in subtle disarray as well, spontaneous in a way that no artist could capture. Watching the place in the sky, awaiting the moment that turned them into shadows on the wall. The Ballerina goes into fifth position. The Impresario tips his top hat. The Engineer turns to see that the barrier is ready to melt, the chemicals to flow, to preserve the shadows on the Dancing Wall forever.
It is The Moment that everyone comes to see when they visit the Dancing Wall. And unlike the stories, the words, the promises, the colours and shadows that have been painted in, which are truly seen only in the minds of the tellers and those who stand outside, The Moment is truly there for everyone to see.
“Every time The Moment is seen,” said the Doctor of the Dancing Wall, “another philosophy is born.”