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Although I have done it all these thirty years or more, although I live my life surrounded by other people who are always doing it, still I think that there are few activities so worthy of inspection as the reading of novels.

Juan Gabriel Várgas


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Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Abstract and Particular

I am spending some time in recent days trying to figure out how to respond to the essay -- it's not a form of writing that I've traditionally read much of, but lately that seems to be where a lot of my interests are pulling me. Last night and this morning I have been reading Octavio Paz' "The Pachuco and Other Extremes", the first piece of The Labyrinth of Solitude -- I like the abstract idea of this essay a lot but have not quite connected with the particulars of how Paz explains his idea.

The abstract is contained in the first 4 pages of the essay, which are just masterfully written -- he is comparing the development of national consciousness with a person's emerging from childhood, and comes up with gems like "The adolescent is also ignorant of the future changes that will affect the countenance he sees in the water" and "To become aware of our history is to become aware of our singularity." "But the adolescent cannot forget himself -- when he succeeds in doing so, he is no longer an adolescent -- and we cannot escape the necessity of questioning and contemplating ourselves."

In the remainder of the essay, Paz talks about the pachuco gang members he encountered in the years he was living in Los Angeles -- I haven't been able yet to wrap my head around what insight his observations here are supposed to afford into "questioning and contemplating ourselves." I'm spending some time on the train this afternoon, I'll try rereading the essay and see what I can come up with.

posted morning of May 30th, 2009: Respond
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Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Iterative Misreadings

...I was thinking this would be a good alternate title for this blog...

So the observations about pachucos don't make up the full body of the essay I was talking about yesterday by any means. It looks like on the first reading my brain turned off and did not process after the first 10 pages or so... The point of the discussion of pachucos is as a jumping-off point for drawing distinctions between the national characters of Mexico and the United States. (These distinctions are generally bald assertions of the form "Mexicans are like this, North Americans are like this", and seem pretty suspect and perhaps out-of-date; Paz does explicitly say something to the effect of, in 50 years this may all be nonsense.) This is reading more like the introduction I had been thinking it would be -- I am hoping to read more in the rest of the book, about what Solitude is and how it is an essentially Mexican attribute.

posted morning of May 31st, 2009: Respond

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