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.


  1. Yikes, sorry about the color. Having a hard time getting it to change...

  2. I also have had a hard time describing what Leyendas is really about, beyond the fact that it's asserting the centrality of indigenous identity in Guatemala. I agree that from our perspective it lacks the weight of reality that the other 2 books have, which makes it difficult to grasp.

  3. Appreciated that your comments were really clear and succinct, unlike much of the lit we've read so far (ha)! I totally agree on the tangibility of the Leyendas world: it's pure fantasy (and on top of that, difficult to read). You really have to be in a psychedelic mind state to follow the image-storytelling. Reino is a nice smattering of real meets magic - it's a sad work, makes sense that a questioning of truth would ensue... I can see how one might dislike Cien Anyos: it's a true hodgepodge of events, people, historical and plot lines, images, paths, everything under the sun. I would recommend it to mid-life crisees. ;) (but I do love it though!)