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Strange -- the first impression I am getting from Aaron Bady's essay on García Márquez
(well besides noting his really extraordinary observation about Von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative) (and well, besides the insistent impulse that it be linked to in the same breath as to Juan Gabriel Vásquez' essay on literary influence and misunderstandings) is that it ought to be rendered in Spanish, that it could make really pleasant reading in Spanish. Some initial fumblings below the fold.
Cuando los críticos intentan explanar el génesis del Cien años de soledad (que es él mismo un tipo Génesis), encontramos en general dos modos fáciles de acceso: el joven Gabo transcribe los cuentos fabulosos de la abuela, así concibe en los orígenes modestos de la cultura colombiana, un modernismo del Realismo Mágico. O también, hay la Revolución Faulkneriana y su relato, que Pascale Casanova y sus discípulos proponen: acá demuestra el William Faulkner un modo particular de ser escritor en lugar periférico; y así ha el García Márquez aprendido a ser colombiano por leer el Mississippi , se ha juntado al Modernismo a través de imitar los Modernistas quienes lo precedían. Y también podríamos adjuntar a esos el relato de García Márquez el periodista , y muchos otros también.
ENTREVISTADOR: Ya que discutabamos el periodismo, ¿cómo se siente ser de nuevo periodista, después de tan largo tiempo como novelista? ¿Le hace usted con otra sensibilidad o con otra visión? GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ: Siempre he estado convencido de que mi profesión verdadera es periodista...
A mi me parece el segundo volumen de la Narración personal de viajes a los regiones equinocciales, durante los años 1799 a 1804 de Alexander Von Humbolt el punto perfecto de partida: el explorador y científico distinguido se sorprendió, mientras viajaba en la selva venezolana y eludía los tigres y anguilas eléctricas, en encontrar a un Ben Franklin selvático:
We found at Calabozo, in the midst of the Llanos, an electrical machine with large plates, electrophori, batteries, electrometers; an apparatus nearly as complete as our first scientific men in Europe possess. All these articles had not been purchased in the United States; they were the work of a man who had never seen any instrument,who had no person to consult, and who was acquainted with the phenomena of electricity only by reading the treatise of De Lafond,and Franklin’s Memoirs.
Senor Carlos del Pozo, the name of this enlightened and ingenious man, had begun to make cylindrical electrical machines, by employing large glass jars, after having cut off the necks. It was only within a few years he had been able to procure, by way of Philadelphia, two plates, to construct a plate machine, and to obtain more considerable effects. It is easy to judge what difficulties Senor Pozo had to encounter, since the first works upon electricity had fallen into his hands, and that he had the courage to resolve to procure himself, by his own industry, all that he had seen described in his books. Till now he had enjoyed only the astonishment and admiration produced by his experiments on persons destitute of all information, and who had never quitted the solitude of the Llanos; our abode at Calabozo gave him a satisfaction altogether new.
It may be supposed that he set some value on the opinions of two travelers who could compare his apparatus with those constructed in Europe. I had brought with me electrometers mounted with straw, pith-balls, and gold-leaf; also a small Leyden jar which could be charged by friction according to the method of Ingenhousz,and which served for my physiological experiments. Senor del Pozo could not contain his joy on seeing for the first time instruments which he had not made, yet which appeared to be copied from his own. We also showed him the effect of the contact of heterogeneous metals on the nerves of frogs. The name of Galvani and Volta had not previously been heard in those vast solitudes.
Tal vez conocen ya bueno éso los expositores García Márquezianos en español (tal vez me parezco al señor Pozo cuando inventaba de nuevo la rueda desde la periferia): no encuentro en el crítico inglés a ninguna referencia en este pasaje. Los paralelismos entre José Arcadio Buendía y el señor Carlos del Pozo son impresionantes, y impresionante es que ambos escritores llamen a la aspiración frustrada para estar a la vanguardia del descubrimiento científico como «soledad». Cien años de soledad en un momento incluso se quita el sombrero a Von Humbolt, cuando el Melquíades senil vuelve repetidas veces en sus monólogos confusos al nombre del explorador del siglo XIX y también a la palabra «equinoccio», que es tropo Humboltiano.
The first chapter of The Corrections makes Alfred Lambert seem very much like José Arcadio Buendía; I wonder if there is anything to this parallel, if it will be further elaborated upon in the rest of the book. I certainly did not notice that the last time I read The Corrections; but then I would not have been looking very closely for such a parallel... When I'm reading about Alfred's metallurgy lab in the basement and about Enid's clearing away of his features from upstairs, and about the growing distance between the two of them, it seems to be shot through with echoes of García Márquez.
The gray dust of evil spells and the cobwebs of enchantment thickly cloaked the old electric arc furnace, and the jars of exotic rhodium and sinister cadmium and stalwart bismuth, and the hand-printed labels browned by the vapors from a glass-stoppered bottle of aqua regia, and the quad-ruled notebook in which the latest entry in Alfred's hand dated from a time, fifteen years ago, before the betrayals had begun.
Anne McLean passes along a link to her translation of Juan Gabriel Vásquez' essay on "Misunderstandings Surrounding Gabriel García Márquez" ("Malentendidos alrededor de García Márquez", El malpensante 2006) -- a wonderful piece of writing in which Vásquez examines how García Márquez chose his influences in the course of developing his voice: how an author consciously goes about choosing influences, how he can acknowledge the greatness of the magical realism of Macondo without considering it an appropriate influence for his voice. I have seen the line from García Márquez about Faulkner's being a Caribbean author but had never really thought about how strong of an influence Faulkner was on his voice (though looking back I see I have spoken of the two authors in the same breath).
The ideas from the essay seem similar to ones I've heard voiced by Diego Trelles Paz in relation to El futuro no es nuestro -- in particular the line that "there is nothing further from late-twentieth-century Bogotá, or the European experience of a young emigrant, than the Macondian method" -- Vásquez is not in that collection but perhaps I can think of him in a group with those authors.
100 Years of Solitude is a pretty engaging book overall. What is really making the reading experience work for me though, what I'm thinking of as the high points, is the 2-to-5-page narrative sections told in long, quickly flowing paragraphs, anecdotes from Macondo's history. The journey leading up to the founding of the village was one such portion, another is the epidemic of insomniac amnesia which ends when Melquíades returns to the village. It would be worth while to compile a list of these passages, they seem like the heart of the story to me but I'm not really sure what proportion of the book they make up. It is impossible to stop reading in the middle of one of these passages. Very difficult to quote from them, too -- I want to pick something from the insomnia passage which will communicate its feeling, but I can't quote one sentence without everything around it -- the passage is atomic in a way. Its impact lies in the flow of narrative from image to image rather than in any particular image. Well maybe this: Úrsula has been running a business selling candies shaped like little animals; these animals are how the plague of insomnia is eventually transmitted from the Buendía family to the rest of the village --
Children and adults sucked happily on the delicious little green roosters of insomnia, the exquisite rosy fish of insomnia, the tender little golden horses of insomnia, and when the sun rose on Monday, the whole village was still awake.
And, and look at this: Aureliano and his father have been fighting the amnesia by labeling everything in the village with its name and function -- "This is a cow. One must milk it every morning, and must warm the milk and mix it with coffee to make café con leche." A sign in the middle of town states "God exists." After months of this, when Melquíades (as yet unidentified -- no one remembers who he is) returns,
José Arcadio Buendía found him seated in the hall, fanning himself with a worn black hat, compassionate and attentive, reading the notes taped to the walls.
I now believe that what most interested me in the novel, was to tell the story of a family obsessed by incest.
— Gabriel García Márquez Interview with Claude Couffon, 1968
Incest is all over the place in 100 Years of Solitude, practically every narrative block contains an incestuous relationship or one that hints at incestuous desires. I wonder what it is doing, what it is signifying? I've always sort of thought of this novel as being about the history of Colombia and about the Spanish conquest of Latin America; I'm not sure what role incest (or inbreeding, or incest and inbreeding as metaphor) plays there. Likely, of course, not a simple metaphor...
It was interesting to watch Máncora last night, a recent Peruvian film about (among other things) an incestuous relationship, and have García Márquez in the back of my mind while I was watching it. Not much similarity at all between the two works or between the uses of incest in the two works, but fun to think about how the two different authors are using this device for their own ends. Looks like it's a bit of a central theme for this filmmaker, Ricardo de Montreuil; his other movie is called My Brother's Wife.
(...and now all of a sudden I am thinking about Ada...)
So after some further reading and reflection, I'm not so convinced that José Arcadio Buendía's dream at Macondo is intended as a reference to Jacob's dream at Beth-el... There doesn't really seem to be enough parallels between the two stories to give the reference any weight or any explanatory power. I got the idea from a footnote in the edition of Cien Años de Soledad that I'm reading (ed. Jacques Joset, 2003). Overall the footnotes in this edition seem pretty weak -- or that is to say, there are just unnecessarily many of them. The footnote references Michael Palencia-Roth's book Gabriel García Márquez: La línea, el círculo y las metamorfosis del mito -- who knows, maybe a convincing case for the reference is made there.
I am glad to have seen the note though, since it led me to reread the story of Jacob (Genesis 27 - 35, roughly), a story which I had by and large forgotten, in the kjv translation and in Crumb's illustrated version, and because I found Blake's painting of Jacob's Ladder -- highly productive weekend research! Reading about Jacob's travels back and forth across what would one day be the Holy Land, I felt distressed -- and remembered feeling this same distress in years past -- by the sheer universality of bad faith in the characters' dealings with one another; a bad faith that seems to me to be most pronounced among those who are identified as blessed by God. Just to take a few of the most brazen, least sympathetic instances --
(This happens in an earlier chapter, but very much setting the tone for the stories to come) Isaac tells the Philistines, when he and Rebekah are staying with them, that Rebekah is his sister rather than his wife, apparently in the expectation that they will rape her but will not molest him. When this deception is exposed, Abimelech shows himself to be just and honorable, forbidding his subjects from troubling either Isaac or his wife. What is this doing in the Hebrew people's national mythology?
Jacob, at his mother Rebekah's urging, deceives Isaac into giving him the blessing intended for his brother Esau. (This scene strikes me as pretty comical -- why should the lord's blessing be such a limited resource? Is a blessing bestowed under false pretenses even theologically binding?)
Rebekah deceives Isaac into thinking she is concerned about the lack of non-Caananite brides for Jacob locally, so that Isaac will send Jacob away and he'll be safe from Esau's vengeance.
Laban deceives Jacob by sending in Leah in place of Rachel on their wedding night. (And again I am befuddled -- what is Rachel's take on this? Leah years later accuses Rachel of stealing her husband, but that does not seem to be consistent with the rest of the narrative.)
Jacob and Laban deceive one another many times over in the matters of what Jacob will be paid and how Laban's flocks will be managed.
Etc. -- it just goes on and on. These characters seem to have no uplifting or redeeming qualities aside from their association with the Creator. What the deceptions all seem to have in common is their being inspired by fear and/or greed; I have to wonder what is the function of a national mythology showing its protagonists as being motivated primarily by fear and greed. (And note -- sure lots of national mythologies have deceitful trickster gods in them; but my untutored impression is that when e.g. Anansi deceives someone, it is done in good humor and with a sort of Koanic effect. I don't see that kind of thing operating here.)
10And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
12And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
13And, behold, the lord stood above it, and said, I am the lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
14And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
15And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
16And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the lord is in this place; and I knew it not. 17And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. 18And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. 19And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.
-- Genesis 28 (kjv)
—Está bien, Prudencio —le dijo—. Nos iremos de este pueblo, lo más lejos que podamos, y no regresaremos jamás. Ahora vete tranquilo.
Fue así como emprendieron la travesía de la sierra. Varios amigos de José Arcadio Buendía, jóvenes como él, embullados con la aventura, desmantelaron sus casas y cargaron con sus mujeres y sus hijos hacia la tierra que nadie les había prometido. ... Una noche, después de varios meses de andar perdidos por entre los pantanos, lejos ya de los últimos indígenas que encontraron en el camino, acamparon a la orilla de un río pedregoso cuyas aguas parecían un torrente de vidrio helado. Años después, durante la segunda guerra civil, el coronel Aureliano Buendía trató de hacer aquella misma ruta para tomarse a Riohacha por sorpresa, y a los seis días de viaje comprendió que era una locura. Sin embargo, la noche en que acamparon junto al río, las huestes de su padre tenían un aspecto de náufragos sin escapatoria, pero su número había aumentado durante la travesía y todos estaban dispuestos (y lo consiguieron)* a morirse de viejos. José Arcadio Buendía soñó esa noche que en aquel lugar se levantaba una ciudad ruidosa con casas de paredes de espejo. Preguntó qué ciudad era aquella, y le contestaron con un nombre que nunca había oído, que no tenía significado alguno, pero que tuvo en el sueño una resonancia sobrenatural: Macondo.
—It's OK, Prudencio —he said—. We'll leave this town, we'll go as far away as we can, we'll never come back. You can rest easy.
And this was how they began their crossing of the mountain. Several friends of José Arcadio Buendía, young men like him, with a taste for adventure, packed up their households and set out with their wives and their kids for the land which no-one had promised them. ... One night, after months of wandering through the marshes with no bearings, far beyond the last Indians they had met in their travels, they camped on the gravely bank of a river whose waters had the aspect of a torrent of frozen glass. Years later, during the second civil war, Colonel Aureliano Buendía would attempt to take the same route, in order to attack Riohacha by surprise; after six days of travel he saw that it was madness. On the night when they camped by the river, his father's army looked like a band of castaways with no prospect of salvation -- but nevertheless their numbers had increased during the crossing; and everyone there was meaning to die of old age. (They succeeded in this goal.) José Arcadio Buendía dreamt that night that on this spot a city was being erected, an obstreperous city, a city with walls of mirrors. He asked what city this was, and the reply was a name which he had never heard, which had no significance whatever, but which in the dream, took on a supernatural resonance: Macondo.
—Cien años de soledad, Chapter 2
And a reward, for reading all that text: Here is Alison Kraus singing about (another) Jacob's Dream.
* I am not sure what this means. Gregory Rabassa renders it literally in his translation, "and they succeeded"; but it does not mean anything in English. I am leaving it out of my translation. My best guess is that it means some of the travellers *did* die of exhaustion; but no mention of this is made elsewhere, and it seems like it would be a strange thing to throw in with no specifics. ... Got it! (Maybe) -- I think I am misreading this. I wanted "todos estaban dispuestos a morirse de viejos" to mean, "they were ready to drop dead of exhaustion" so I ignored the meaning of the words; viejos is old age, not exhaustion. So estaban dispuestos means "they were ready/prepared" in the sense of what they were planning to do, not what they were about to do -- they meant to die of old age, not to die on the journey. "(and they succeeded)" -- i.e. they did die of old age, years later, not on the journey. I think Rabassa's translation is very unclear. I modified my translation above.
Update: Some further thinking about Jacob (and Macondo) here.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía would remember that distant afternoon when his father had taken him to learn about ice.
Ellen and I have decided to start reading a book together -- one I have read before, one that she is reading for the first time, the book which inspired this blog's butterfly logo. She is reading One Hundred Years of Solitude in translation, I'll be reading Cien años de soledad in the original. Our goal is to read one chapter every week, and my goal is to post notes on the week's chapter every weekend.
Why now? Why García Márquez?... Just happenstance I guess. I've been carrying the book around in my backpack lately, reading bits of it on the train in to work, savoring the language and the imagery. Yesterday I mentioned it to Ellen and asked if she had ever read it; she has not but said she'd be interested in reading it if I have the translation. And lo and behold, I do! Looking forward to sharing it...
posted morning of March 20th, 2011: Respond ➳ More posts about Ellen
Writers can be divided (assuming that they will accept being divided...) into two groups: the smaller group, of those who can open new paths into literature, and the more numerous, those who go after and who use these paths for their own journey. It's been this way since the birth of our planet and the (legitimate?) vanity of authors will do nothing against the clarity of the evidence. Gabriel García Márquez used his ingenuity to open and to pave the way that would come to be called "magical realism," down which multitudes of followers would later proceed and, as always happens, detractors in their turn. The first book of his which came into my hands was Cien años de soledad, and the shock which it caused me was enough to make me stop reading at the end of fifty pages. I needed to put some order in my mind, some discipline in my heart, and above all, learn to get my bearings and orient myself on the paths of the new world which presented itself before my eyes. In my life as a reader there have been very few occasions that have produced an experience like this. If the word "trauma" could take a positive meaning, I would willingly use it in this case. But, it has been written, leave it there. I hope it will be understood.
I find very interesting the idea (which I found at La Bloga's interview with Daniel Alarcón, on the occasion of Zoetrope: All-Story's publishing its new Latin American Issue) that Latin American literature has fallen captive (at least as it is seen from North America) to the legacy of García Márquez -- that diverse strands of work are "interpreted through the single, constricting and somewhat outdated lens of magical realism." This issue looks like it will do something to push back against that tendency; I'm looking forward to reading it and perhaps to looking at Diego Trelles Paz' anthology of new authors (authors under 40, those born after Cien años de soledad), El futuro no es nuestro.
Alarcón and Trelles Paz have more to say about the legacy of Cien años de soledad (which "we would describe -- without exaggeration -- as perfect") in the editor's note to the Latin American issue.