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Be quiet the doctor's wife said gently, let's all keep quiet, there are times when words serve no purpose, if only I, too, could weep, say everything with tears, not have to speak in order to be understood.

José Saramago

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Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Accent marks in Spanish

I checked out Cien Años de Soledad from the library today -- not sure how far I'm going to be able to get with it, but I'm having fun with it. So far I have gotten to where I can read the first two paragraphs (about 5 pages) pretty fluently; I've been going back over them to try and work the vocabulary into my brain before I move on. I was made very happy by the sentence, "El mundo era tan reciente, que muchas cosas carecían de nombre, y para mencionarlas había que señalarlas con el dedo." -- "The world was so new, many things did not yet have a name, and in order to mention them, you had to point them out with your finger." I loved this sentence when I read the book in English but had forgotten it.

I am curious about what exactly accent marks do in written Spanish. Are they optional? In these first 5 pages there are several instances of aun and aún, which seem to be the same word and pronounced the same way. Maybe there's a subtle distinction I'm not picking up on. And I seem to recall seeing solo both with and without an accent over the first "o".

...Well this page solves at least one piece of the puzzle; accent marks are not optional, and "sólo" means something different from "solo" ("only" vs. "alone") -- it doesn't mention "aun," but I'm assuming there is a subtle difference in meaning between the two spellings. That distinction looks pretty synthetic to me; forcing different spellings for what is essentially a single word, according to how it is used in a sentence. Seems like it must be a pretty common mistake to leave the accent off of "sòlo" or put one onto "solo".

...Okay: this page says, "The word aún means todavía or still, while aun means incluso or even." So, problem solved, I guess.

posted evening of January 24th, 2009: 10 responses
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Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Readings from Cien Años de Soledad

At there is a site dedicated to Cien Años de Soledad -- it is a Flash application so I can't link to pages inside it; but if you click "Entrar" and watch the lovely video of mariposas amarillas, and then click "Fragmentos", several recorded readings of passages from the book are available, along with the text being read. Following each reading is some discussion of the passage; I am not understanding Spanish well enough yet to follow that.

Another useful page is Macondo at The Modern Word -- a huge trove of links and information about the author and his works.

posted morning of January 25th, 2009: Respond
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Wednesday, January 28th, 2009


I commented at The Great Whatsit today that I was not finding the second and third books of the His Dark Materials series quite as overwhelmingly great as I found the first. But as of the reading I did with Sylvia tonight -- chapter 2 of The Amber Spyglass -- I want to take that back, and just say the middle book is a lull between two masterpieces. The beauty of the narrative here is just enough to take my breath away.

I am realizing that these books could be made into a truly fantastic series of movies if only the studios were not so attached to live action and CGI -- I think they are a perfect match for anime (or maybe I mean "for Studio Ghibli", which is about the sum total of my exposure to anime). Reading about Will talking to Balthamos and Baruch, especially the fight against Metatron, was bringing visions of Spirited Away flickering across my mind. Metatron is even a perfect name for an anime bad guy!

I also noticed a couple of coincidences of imagery with Cien Años de Soledad, which I take as a very good sign -- I am absorbing enough of the book even without knowing the language well, for it to be on my mind when I'm not reading it. When the narrator noted that Will's knife could cut between worlds but could not "abolish distance within worlds," I immediately flashed on Melquíades' statement that "la ciencia ha eliminado las distancias"; and when Will's boots were sinking into the soft sand in the hot, humid new world, my mind jumped to "aquel paraíso de humedad y silencio,... donde las botas se hundían en pozos de aceite humeante..."

posted evening of January 28th, 2009: Respond
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Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Shaggy Dog Story

José Arcadio Buendía no logró descifrar el sueño de las casas con paredes de espejo hasta el día en que conoció el hielo.
This (in chapter 2 of Cien Años de Soledad) seems like the first really strong punchline of the book. There have been plenty of chuckles throughout the first chapter and the beginning of the second, but this one absolutely cracked me up. My memory of reading the translation suggests that there are a lot more to come.

posted evening of February 4th, 2009: 2 responses

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

After García Márquez

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.

posted evening of March 25th, 2009: 4 responses
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Sunday, August second, 2009


Saramago posts today about reading García Márquez:

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.

posted evening of August second, 2009: Respond
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Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Our own little group read

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
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Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Founding Macondo: Jacob's Dream

Some text! Let's look at two longish quotes.

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.

posted evening of March 24th, 2011: Respond
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Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Jacob's Travels: Bad Faith in Genesis

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.)

posted afternoon of March 27th, 2011: 1 response

Cien años de incesto

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...)

posted evening of March 27th, 2011: Respond
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