Monday, January 25, 2010

And magical realism suddenly seems more appealing...

My first impression of El Reino de Este Mundo took root in the prologue, in which Alejo Carpentier lays the groundwork for the novel. I will say, after my confusion with Leyendas, I feel that I owe him a thanks. In a few short pages, Carpentier takes the reader through an explanation of ‘lo real maravilloso,’ and how it was created and changed over time through the different works of artists and writers. In particular, I liked his opinion regarding ‘lo real maravilloso’ in reference to the Americas in comparison with Europe. It starts:

Pero pensaba, además que esa presencia y vigencia de lo real maravilloso no era privilegio único de Haití, sino patrimonio de la América entera, donde todavía no se ha terminado de establecer, por ejemplo, un recuento de cosmogonías.

Then he continues with this idea for another page and a half until he comes to one key idea that I turned over while reading:

Y es que, por la virginidad del paisaje, por la formación, por la ontología, por la presencia fáustica del indio y del negro, por la Revolución que constituyó su reciente descubrimiento, por los fecundos mestizajes que propició, América está muy lejos de haber agotado su caudal de mitologías…

…todo resulta maravilloso en una historia imposible de situar en Europa…

If I think about El Reino de Este Mundo alongside Leyendas de Guatemala, it is clear to see the use of the exoticized non-European in order to create a sense of magic in these novels. In the case of Alejo Carpentier, the magical element in the novel is still attributed to the voodoo magic of the Haitian people, but is presented in a much more real way than I felt that it was in the case of Leyendas. From what I’ve quickly gathered from other sources, El Reino de Este Mundo tells the story of the Haitian Revolution, which I really don’t know anything about to be quite honest. This is where I could see the magic realism coming in: how are events portrayed? In particular, because the novel is told from the standpoint of Ti Noel, a slave and believer in voodoo magic, how does that affect the standpoint from which how things unfolded and what was the cause? In the prologue, Carpentier specifically says:

…el relato que va a leers ha sido establecido sobre una documentación extremadamente rigurosa que no solamente respeta la verdad histórica de los acontecimientos…sino que oculta, bajo su aparente intemporalidad un minucioso cotejo de fechas y de cronologías.

So I guess that statement leads me to question if in this story, reality and magic can be separated? Like I said, I’d like to know more about the history of Alejo Carpentier and his experience in Haiti, because I think it might uncover a bit of where he’s coming from.

As a quick side note: I am also intrigued by the quotes that start off the prologue and the parts of the book. I feel that Carpentier really tried to get some strong ideas in regards to the colonization of the Americas across, and specifically in the opening quote in part one by Lope de Vega, he did a great job of getting these ideas across. Once again, he gives us another frame through which we can read this interpretation of the Haitian Revolution. Personally, I really appreciate these additional quotes that he provides because I feel that he narrows the scope and lets his readers know more specifically what he's getting at.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Well I hate to say that once again I feel like this entry (as with the last) probably will leave more questions than provide answers. Hopefully you all may be able to help me out a bit. The second half of Leyendas de Guatemala proved to be a little less dense than the previous part, which was both disappointing and relieving; imagery in the previous part is much more evident. In the second half, the element of dialogue truly carries the plot along making for a clearer read but leaves less to the reader’s imagination. Although there are passages that I found to be very descriptive within the dialogue*, there were far less of them. I also felt as if I had more to decode in terms of what the symbolism means according to Mayan legends (I wish the index at the back was a bit more lengthy, seriously), which if anyone has some knowledge on the subject I’d be very interested to hear your commentary. I get the colors and the palace in the sky, but I’d really like to know more about the characters, significance of corn as teeth, the eyes of hummingbirds, etc.

On the flipside, the first half seemed as if it was just as much up to the reader to determine the images and sensations that Asturias creates, which is my own opinion that I could be completely wrong about, but I appreciate a bit of room for creative interpretation/reading. As confusing as it may have been a week ago, I found myself a bit bummed that I didn’t feel the dreamlike vibe this time around.

The dialogue makes the novel seem much more mythical and structured. Clearly, the myths set out to explain elements of nature and points to Mayan beliefs about natural processes, such as the sun’s trajectory across the sky, which played an essential role to this part of the text. These ideas were greatly developed with the use of color; what I really liked was how these colors were constantly brought up throughout the text, even in the most subtle ways, for example based on the different kinds of precious gems and clothing Cuculcán was dressed in. What I really kept coming back to, though, was wondering where all of these ideas stemmed from and what the Mayan ideas and attitudes were towards two main things: women and afternoon (el tiempo de la Cortina Roja). Now, forgive me if I completely missed a detail that would explain this, but firstly, the women seem to be portrayed to be a bit worthless considering the explanation of their relationship to Cuculcán and the fact that they are swallowed up by a lake and sucked to the depths past the mirror of life where they are never to be seen again after taking care of the sun god all night. Did attitudes towards women follow suit, were they secondary in society? Granted, I know Cuculcán was a god, but was there a difference in human sacrifice between women and men? Secondly, was the afternoon associated with wartime or a time of battle? I don’t know if that has to do only with this myth in particular, but I was just curious because I felt that suggestions of “warlike behavior”—for lack of a better expression—were very prevalent at this time of day. I’m thinking I’ll go back over the reading again and see what I can pull out. There may be more to read a bit later this week if I can come up with anything…

As a side note, I did like how Guacamayo was developed. I was pretty amused by this trickster with his drunken, irritable feather-fluttering and strange ‘cuác acuác cúac’s. Anyone else find it interesting to read the way different animal noises in Spanish are pronounced and how different they are from English? Call me a dork, but I found this really amusing when I was in Spain last year.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

So up to this point, Leyendas de Guatemala has proven itself to be quite dense, but still engaging as long as you have a (lots of) cup(s) of coffee and some time to split up the reading. The language Asturias uses in “Guatemala” introduces a style that creates a strong mystical sense of people and places that are seemingly captured in a timeless sequence of events lacking obvious order. Rather than providing a clear framework for the novel, the reader is provided with little traces of a storyline and is challenged to make sense of endless imagery in order to fashion the text into one form.

In this way, Leyendas de Guatemala is unlike any novel or collection of stories that I have read before; I felt that I walked away with a strong impression created through many unlikely sensorial comparisons in the text that are almost impossible to explain completely without some sort of reiteration. Unlike the majority of novels that I’ve encountered, thus far Leyendas de Guatemala did not provide me with something as simple as a storyline as I was expecting to gather. Instead, Asturias seems to carefully present these legends on a completely different plane. I was surprised and confused with endless descriptions that so perfectly capture a wide range of sensations told by way of surely tangible images of nature that are strung together on the skeleton of legends. For this reason, I think to take on half of the novel at once is definitely a sensory overload, leaving little time to really appreciate and understand these images that make up the backbone of Leyendas de Guatemala.

One of the elements of the legends so far that really interests me is the relationship between the pre-colonial and post-colonial within the text. At first, I felt as if there was not a distinct sense of time in the early parts of “Guatemala” as Asturias describes the different cities and practices (note: if one has a deeper understanding and knowledge of Mayan culture it may be a different story, but I’m speaking from a perspective with a pretty basic understanding of the Mayas). Once Asturias begins to describe the arrival of the Spaniards (17) and the text begins describing colonial scenes (18-20), everything seems more familiar, until the beginning of the second paragraph on page twenty where the text fades back into the unfamiliar once again with the line, “El Cuco de los Sueños va hilando los cuentos.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

bueno, soy megan para empezar...encantada de conoceros. estudio español ante todo, y lo demas es un baturrillo de mis intereses que incluyen: los artes visuales, antropología, linguísticas, la música, etc. a ver lo que va a ser de este blog...