Sunday, April 11, 2010

Final post

Thinking about this semester-long class, one thing stands out in my mind: Until this class, I’ve never taken a course that centers on a literary genre where the genre itself wasn’t defined point-blank on the first day. At first, this seemed to be pretty frustrating and confusing, because I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for, what was important, etc. However, I think that in the end, it turned out to be a productive way to truly learn how to define a specific genre. Rather than memorizing a definition, it was something that I had to learn through my own reading experience with the help of guided lecture. In this way, I also feel confident that I’d be able to explain this genre* better because I had to fill in the blanks through my own experience.

As a point of criticism (which I think I may have mentioned in a previous blog entry), I think that this self-taught definition could be enhanced and refined through the addition of more texts that are truly considered to be magical realist texts. Now, I’m not suggesting that we should be reading more on top of what we already were assigned, but I think that maybe one of the texts which covers the build up to the magical realism could be replaced with short stories that fit in the genre. At the very least, it might be helpful to provide additional suggested texts that students can refer to if they still feel like they don’t fully understand what “magical realism” means/consists of [Side note: I lost the syllabus, so ignore the previous statement if these additional texts were included on that].

*Coming back to the idea of explaining the genre, something else that I never stopped to think about is that genres cannot be explained as something cut and dry. With magical realism, it is particularly easy to see, but even other movements that are considered to be pretty black-and-white cannot be so easily contained. Angel Flores points this out in one of the first articles written on magical realism in Latin American literature. He states that many literary critics attempt to classify novels and literary works in only one category, such as “romantic” or “naturalist,” not always taking into account that many works fall into multiple categories. In this way, Flores arrives at the idea that magical realism is, in itself a genre that depends on a balance of two “separate” genres.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Looking at Leyendas, ERDM, and CADS all at once...

When I consider the three novels that we’ve read for this class so far, I think of using a scale to find a balance. In Leyendas de Guatemala, the reader encounters an incredibly fantastic setting that seems to exist more as a feeling or vibe than a tangible world. Using constant references to nature and mythology, Asturias creates a dreamlike world that hardly seems to be weighed down by any explicit reference to fact or history. A sense of timelessness is created through the various chapters of the text which examine Guatemala from different perspectives and storylines, giving the reader a bigger idea of what Guatemala really is and has been as a result of its ancient roots. Interestingly enough, it is meant to be considered an anthropological work. As a student of anthropology, I really tried to think about what this means and how Leyendas is meant to be interpreted. I’d consider it a form of an ‘alternative’ ethnography, because rather than looking at a cultural other based on observations, the anthropologist is almost fully taken out of the picture and the reader is presented with a view of Guatemala for what it is according to its mythology, nature, and geography. This makes it hard to break Leyendas down into set, bullet-point ideas, but instead provides an experience that is hard to be accurately articulated. Out of the three novels, I would say that this text was the hardest to pin down. In terms of finding a balance, Leyendas falls under the fantastic extreme; it lacks the sense of reality to weigh it down and to make it seem truly believable.

El reino de este mundo, on the other hand, swings towards the opposite extreme: lo real. Although magical elements are exposed through the practices and beliefs of the African descendants in Haiti, there is a seemingly clearer focus on the history of the Haitian revolution and an emphasis on the different perspectives through which we can view history. This emphasis on perspective was one of the most outstanding themes that I pulled from this book; it made me reconsider what truth is. I found myself asking more questions about what truth is, where it comes from, and how the writers of histories that we find in textbooks are really only presenting us with one perspective that is assumed by many to be THE truth. I felt that this novel was much more cut-and-dry by the way in which the magic was assigned to a particular perspective rather than an accepted truth by all parts. I also think that the element of time being portrayed as linear and definite made the novel more realistic.

Cien años de soledad not only finds the balance on the scales between lo real and lo maravilloso, but uses these elements in relation to one another and to a fuller potential. Through the use of 'tiempo circular', GGM creates multiple layers of the same story line occurring at once. This in itself creates a 'magical' feel to it, although it truly is just an unconventional way to portray a series of events. On top of this, he mixes bits of magic into the writing as if it is a part of the everyday world. The characters don't react but subconsciously accept these fantastic happenings to be the norm; similarly, I think that this fantastic normalcy becomes ingrained in the reader as well.

I don't know if I personally can say that GGM demonstrates a mastery of what really is magical realism. Generally, I think it's important to note that by many standards, GGM was the one who created the blueprint for the genre of magical realism... so maybe I'm arguing a futile point. However, I've only read one novel that is considered as a part of the literary movement, so I have yet to have the chance to see the trend in a series of works that are considered a part of magical realism. I think that the novels that we read before CADS did a good job at demonstrating how literature evolved to arrive at the creation of magical realism. But in the end, I wish we had a little bit more to base our understanding of magical realism on.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


In the final segment of CADS, it was nearly impossible to avoid the idea of regression and repetition. It becomes a theme that is more and more prominent as the book progresses. After the massacre of the 3,000 plantation workers, José Arcadio Segundo retreats to his own solitude in Melquiades’s room, just as Colonel Aureliano Buendía did after his experiences in the war. The Buendía house as well as the rest of Macondo is ruined by the rain, bringing them back to square one in some respects:

Macondo estaba en ruinas. En los pantanos de los calles quedaban muebles despedazados, esqueletos de animales cubiertos de lirios colorados, ultimo’s recuerdos de las hordas de advenedizos que se fugaron de Macondo tan atolondradamente como habían llegado…La región encantada que exploró José Arcadio Buendía en los tiempos de la fundación, y donde luego prosperaron las plantaciones de banano, era un tremedal de cepas putrefactas, en cuyo horizonte remoto se alcanzó a ver por varios años la espuma silenciosa del mar (450).

The death of Ursula is portrayed to be a regression biologically, first, in the way that she slowly loses her mind and awareness and secondly in her physical appearance which is likened to that of a fetus:

Poco a poco se fue reduciendo, fetizándose, momificándose en vida, hasta el punto de que en sus últimos meses era una ciruela pasa perdida dentro del camisón, y el brazo siempre alzado terminó por parecer la pata de una marimonda (463).

Rebeca is described similarly upon her death: bald, looking shrimp-like. Not long thereafter, Aureliano Segundo and José Arcadio Segundo pass away, and are confused once again as they were at birth when the family places one’s body in the other’s grave.

GGM brings out an obvious feeling of repetition that fades into digression as the family repeats and recycles the same fate and the remaining members die or separate from the family. With the return of José Arcadio and Amaranta Úrsula to Macondo, a false sense of hope is brought to the surface and quickly put out by the repetition of the same acts/desires/interests as their ancestors. It is interesting, because as the return of José Arcadio is described and he resumes his everyday life again in Macondo, the echoes of all of the Buendía family are reflected in all of his actions (see p. 492-494), from the room that he chooses to stay in to the way that he bathes, etc. This idea is perpetuated constantly throughout the rest of the book up until the death of Amaranta Úrsula and their child with the pig’s tail (as promised and well-anticipated) all the way to the final words of CADS which mirror themselves and fold the story inside out to close the circuit of the Buendía family (and all of humanity?).

Overall, I’m feeling a lack for words; not to sound like an idiot, but I feel like I can't really say anything that will do justice in an analysis of this novel. It is beyond was so impressive and so exhausting. GGM kept and twisting the story until it is impossible to tell the end from the start in some respects. It has somewhat of a funnel effect, where the story slowly starts winding in a circle and continues to progress (and digress) faster and faster until everything seems to be in some sort of a moving standstill. I’m thinking after another read or two I’ll have a deeper appreciation for it, and a much better understanding and awareness for GGM’s creation and intention meant to be derived from CADS.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In the third segment of CADS, I was particularly drawn to two main things:

The arrival of the railroad to Macondo

With the introduction of the railroad, the people of Macondo are introduced to modernity: the movies, the phonograph, the telephone. And most (if not all of these things) are met with distaste and confusion. Interestingly enough, along with these introductions comes the first American, Mr. Herbert. His entrance is proceeded by the following quote:

En un pueblo escaldado por el escarmiento de los gitanos no había un buen porvenir para aquellos equilibristas del comercio ambulante que con igual desparpajo ofrecían una olla pitadora que un régimen de vida para la salvación del alma al séptimo día, pero entre los que se dejaban convencer por cansancio y los incautos de siempre, obtenían estupendos beneficios. (337)

It encompasses a distinct and obviously negative attitude towards Americans in Latin America that is humorously supported through the examination of the banana and later descriptions of the boisterous establishment made by them in Macondo.

The chapter which begins from the perspective of Úrsula as she prepares to send off José Arcadio to the seminary.

As she reflects on time and specific members of her family as an old woman, I think that there is a relationship between solitude and a specific condition/habit/fate that a person is born with/destined to have that leads to their solitude. As a result of being born with/destined to have this condition, I think it could be cracked up to be like original sin. For example, if we examine Coronel Aureliano Buendía, Úrsula says that he’s “un hombre incapacitado para el amor,” something that she sensed from the womb:

Una noche, cuando lo tenía en el vientre, lo oyó llorar…Ella (Úrsula), en cambio, se estremeció con la certidumbre de que aquel bramido profundo era un primer indicio de la temible cola de cerdo… (363)

This being his original sin or flawed condition ends up being his source of solitude. Continuing on in the chapter, I question solitude to be something that is suggested to be a part of the human condition – something that marks our lives to the extent that it separates and alienates us from others. For example, Remedios the Beauty’s beauty, Aureliano Segundo’s gluttonous lifestyle, or Úrsula’s conformity to the ways of the others around her (366). It is not initially what I would have considered solitude based on my previous idea of it, but more of what makes us unreachable for those around us.

And one other (big?) thought:

This book is formulated by different perspectives. Is this in an attempt to create one giant perspective? What does this mean in relation to the truth? Can truth be derived from a style like this?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A whole new perspective on time

After the second segment of Cien años de soledad, I am starting to see why some may consider this book to be literally magical. García Márquez stretches the act of writing beyond descriptive means, using the element of time and changing the typical role of narration (which until now, I took for granted and only really considered from one approach) to create a dynamic structure in the novel that transforms the Buendía family into a representation of an entire society. For example, I started to feel like I needed to re-read pages quite frequently as I got about ¾ of the way through the second segment. At first, I thought it was because I was tired, but upon reexamining the text, I realized that it really is pretty damn sneaky. García Márquez gives the characters all very similar names, whether it be that they are literally the same or else that they start with the same letters. Many times, these characters with similar names might also share a similar fate, making the reader start to question who is who and how/if the characters really are two separate people.

It has been an adjustment to figure out how to approach Cien años de soledad; in my opinion, García Márquez completely redefines the saying, “And the plot thickens…” The novel is a complete work that cannot be separated, but rather, should be viewed as a whole, a process that begins with a family and a somewhat simple storyline that thickens and expands and tangles in itself as the generations of the José Arcadio Buendía family spread out and cross over themselves. This lineage creates a bit of a mind trip as individuals perpetuate the same acts as their fathers/ mothers/ sisters/ brothers etc. Time seems to be progressing but repeating itself simultaneously; García Márquez creates a vacuum in which the same story is retold over and over, both literally (through the narration of events that occur simultaneously, but are explained from different perspectives separately) and by the repetitive action of the Buendía family themselves. It is a motivating read, but exhausting at the same time, and almost impossible to reiterate. It would probably take another three or four reviews of the novel in order for me to even begin to explain what is going on. But from that standpoint, I feel like the actual events in the novel aren’t the main focus, but rather the sensation of time that García Márquez evokes and what this says about a particular society.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cien años de soledad thus far seems to be a novel of great proportion (as I would expect if it’s being leveled with the book of Genesis), with a very intricate story line explaining the town of Macondo through the descendants of José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán. I have to say, I’m a bit nervous to say that I think I’m following what’s going on, but I’ll quickly add that it’s probably only surface material. Through the lineage of José Arcadio Buendía, we begin to see the interactions of the Spanish settlers and the gypsies, along with the native people of South America that cross paths in Macondo. I’m guessing that through these stories, García Márquez symbolically explains historical relationships between different groups of people and the evolution of the land in relationship with the Spanish settlers. There are traces of historical information in the story, such as the exploration of new territories and the importance of new technologies, but I am interested to know if there’s a reason that these essential advances are attributed to the gypsies. More importantly, I’d like to understand the symbolism behind Melquíades, who seems to be a staple and a guiding source within the text. Up to the point that I’ve gotten (a little over halfway), I also feel some sort of symbolism in regards to the characters of the two sons, José Arcadio and Aureliano. It made me think a bit about the prodigal sons, a story from the Bible, but I may be going out on a limb there. Actually, overall I feel that by the way that García Márquez describes the individual characters with their contradicting personalities, it creates a tension and a drive in the story. The story is moving along, but truthfully, it isn’t a typical cliff-hanging/page-turner plotline (yet?). Another initial reaction to add and that I’m intrigued to discover as I continue the book is how exactly the story changes from maintaining a pre-colonial, untamed vibe that I gather from Macondo and the José Arcadio Buendía family in which the family literally discovers ice and magic carpets at traveling circuses that pass through town to the most certain death of Aureliano facing a firing squad (which curiously evokes a feeling of much more modern and real history). In this way, and so far through the writing style as well, I feel that Cien años de soledad manages to balance the tipped scales between Leyendas de Guatemala and El reino de este mundo in the sense that it has the fantastic/magical on the same plane with the historical in a much more blended fashion. I’m not quite sure yet how to elaborate on that, but I’ll hopefully be able to add more in a future update.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A quick glimpse at magical realism so far...

Hesitancy in accepting the reality of events is the very reaction that fantastic literature, including magical realism, induces in its readers, who always act as secondary witnesses of sorts. This response should not be understood so much as an unwillingness to acknowledge the “poetic singularity” of the event, but as a readiness to keep an open mind toward several—often even contradictory—ways of perceiving and understanding.
--From “Writing the Vanishing Real: Hyperreality and Magical Realism” by Eugene L. Arva

For one thing, this annotated bibliography has also helped to clear up the idea of what exactly IS magical realism. It has helped me to take this big idea and contain it. This particular quote that I found while reading summed up how I felt when I was reading Leyendas. And I can say that I definitely felt that there wasn’t one single way at approaching the book, and more than anything maybe all I needed to do was to relax and adjust to being unsure of how to interpret the text. I highly recommend Arva’s article, too, especially if you’re feeling like you need a different approach towards the concept of magical realism. For example, I found it really interesting in the way that Arva used Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle to help to explain magical realism. It also really gave me a better understanding of the purpose and the advantages of the use of magical realism in literature as a means of representing reality.

Another thing I’d like to add that I found very helpful, was the distinction between lo real maravilloso and realismo mágico. As a note, I feel that it’s pretty obvious after having read Carpentier’s preface to El Reino de este Mundo, however this article put it plain and simple:

…realismo mágico has a more universal connotation while Carpentier's lo real maravilloso is more criollista in the sense that it is magical realism that pertains solely to America.
-- From “Realismo Magico: True Realism with a Pinch of Magic” by Lee A. Daniel

So as skeptical as I was of this class in the beginning, I think that this Wikipedia project is filling in any existing gaps that I had (or that I felt that I had) with the readings. The research component paired with the examination of magical realist works first hand is shaping up to provide a very comprehensive coverage of the topic of literary magical realism in Latin America.