Saturday, April 17, 2010


First I was afraid, I was petrified
I thought how could I ever read this much and I stay alive
But I spent so many nights looking up so many words
and I survived hey hey...

...I just finished analyzing that song for my ear training class so it is infiltrating everything I do at the moment.
What I liked most about 365 is that we covered the whole curve of the boom from Asturias to McOndo. I got to see how magical realism evolved form a seed to a flower to a ball and chain. It put L.A. literature on the map and then it became a tourist trap, a kind of theme park. I can see the frustration that writers outside of the genre must have felt and are still feeling today.
The book I enjoyed most was Leyendas de Guatemala. Asturias' language was unlike anything I had previously encounterd. It drips with the sweet nectar of life. His descriptons of nature come close to what I've experience hiking and trail walking here on the west coast. Watching Avatar while reading the book made me think of how James Cameron could have very well read Leyendas and been influenced by its images and myths. In the same way that Cameron lacks authenticity when he tries to represent the experience of an indigenous people, Asturias too sacrifices accuracy for sensationalism, but the effects of both of their art is mesmerizing.
I struggled with Cien an~os de soledad. After a valient effort to read it in Spanish, I gave up and finished it in English. In my Spanish attempt, I got lost in the details and had a hard time extracting the themes and point of all the Buendia and Macondo drama. I look forward to reading it again in Spanish because the enchanted aura of the book is lost in the translation. What I liked especially about the book is how the theme of solitude manifests in different ways in each character (Aureliano Buendia especially, -It reminded me of the Vietnam war book "Johnny got his gun" in how the effects of PTSD numbed both protagonists). I appreciate the book for its scale and complexity, but as a book to read while balancing too many credits, it became a frustrating chore more than an enlightening glimpse at the hottest flash of the boom.

I like how we spent so much of class time doing group work. As well as getting to know the class more so than in other lecture-based classes, I felt like we were a large book club that met three times a week to figure out what the bleep was happening in these books. I enjoyed hearing how many different takes people had on the material. We can never know for sure what the author means in his/her work and I got a lot out of hearing the range of interpretations we all had.
I'm inspired to read more by the authors we covered. A little Marquez or Asturias on Spanish Banks will be happening this summer for sure.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

La Mujer Quimicamente Compatible

La Mujer Quimicamente Compatible
by Jordi Soler

I think a lot of what Mcondo is about is de-romanticizing Latin America. It is busting the Disneyland-esque bubble that grew with North American and European perceptions of magical realism. Soler's story is brutally unromantic. It is basically an essay in which the narrator describes a man's cold, calculated and chemical method for choosing his women.

There is interesting play on the identity of the narrator. Up until the last page, the story seemed like a description of how a man named Vancouver chooses his women. Then we get to the last page and the identity of the narrator is revealed and it turns out that the narrator is not the one man who chooses many women, it is one woman (who is also the many women -Alabama, Nebraska, Milwaukee- described in the story) who is writing the story to better understand how her lover, Vancouver, operates. Why do all the people in the story have the same names as cities or states? And cities or states outside of Latin America, no less? I haven't a clue, but Soler, I'm sure, had a reason.

The piece has a sterile aura. I almost feel like I'm peering into a scientist's laboratory. The subject, choosing a mate, has to be one of the most mysterious and magical undertakings in a persons life. There few ways to describe it logically and Soler lays it out with the feeling of a lab coat and fluorescent lights rather than a nice shirt and candlelight. He could be reacting to the “latin lover” stereotype.

There is nothing being exoticized in this story. It reads like an essay in which the narrator is describing how Vancouver chooses women based on 1,000 year old French alchemist theory. The reference alchemy reminded me right away of Cien An~os de soledad, but in this context, the alchemy is used in a dry and mechanical way for a purpose that generally involves more mystery.
Vancouver could use some dating advice (just saying). Using an old french alchemist's technique based on how people respond to stones has some romantic resonance, but his method has about as much soul as a well balanced chemistry equation. He says, “Amor es pura quimica”. The author is removing the mystery out of finding a mate by distilling it down to a purely chemical process. It is mechanical, scientific. He describes how Vancouver watches his women like a scientist watches lab results.

A modern-day version of the stone test is something like the machine naturopaths use to test for allergies. The method is called Vega testing and operates on the premise that each element has a frequency and if that frequency doesn't gel with our organism, there is an audible changing page on the machines display. I guess sometimes we have reactions to certain people that can almost be considered allergic.

This story shows a very different vision of Latin America than the “boom” presented. Is not about the land and it's fantastical inhabitants. The reader can't taste or drink in anything specific to Latin America. La Mujer Quimicamente Compatible could take place anywhere and the only thing that gives it time and place is the sushi that the lovers eat and the Smashing Pumpkins that comes on the radio: lovers in a globalized world practicing love-chemistry like a science rather than a mystery.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

a plethora of comparisons

(ok, maybe not a pleathora, but it's just so fun to say)

Marquez is in no way giving us a history lesson, he's more concerned with human behaviour than the telling of events. Cien an~os de soledad is more centered around the playing out of the impulses of individual characters rather than the playing out of socio-political events that is central to El Reino and less so to Leyendas. When the war comes to Macondo, Marquez devotes more attention to showing how it effects individual characters rather than describing the ins and outs of the war. For example, the way the war changes Aureliano, his initial blooming out of his shell and then slow spiral into ever deeper solitude is more important to the story than the war itself. What keeps the reader's interest is not the ideological struggle between liberals and conservatives, it is the everyday struggle of the rich characters of Macondo and especially the Buendia family. Many characters central to the story seem to be suffering from some classifiable disorder, be it post traumatic stress disorder in the case of Aureliano Buendia or OCD in the case of the soil eating. Cien an~os reads like an epic soap opera because it is so centered around family and individual psychology. Its setting is much more contained than the other two book. The bulk of the novel takes place in a single house which gives the story an insular feeling and also a feeling like this story could be taking place in the small town of any country. El Reino and Leyendas are the stories of whole countries.

Two of the three books have specific objectives. Leyendas de Guatemala has an anthropological objective, El Reino de Este Mundo has historical objective and Cien An~os seems more like a study of human behaviour with great attention to the cyclical nature of families over generations and the effects of these cycles on human civilization. Asturias had a strong cultural agenda in writing Leyendas de Guatemala. He was motivated by a need to tell the story of the Guatemalan people in the face of the country progressing into modernity and losing its collective identity. In the book he tells the myths of a specific group of people through time. Cien an~os, jumps back and forth in time. The absence of linear time gives the book a mythic quality that in some ways resembles the mythic qualities in Leyendas but it has no sign being a myth to inform. Didactic it is not. I'm not sure if Marquez intended for it to have any message no matter how deeply hidden. The one that I can extract most readily, and here it is in a crude form, is that history repeats itself because human behaviour is predictable. Marquez tells a fable about a family and a town while at the same time, telling the history of human civilization. El Reino also tells of how history repeats itself but unlike Cien An~os, it follows a linear path, telling the events of the revolution in chronological order. It shows the cycles of oppression. Ti Noel cycles between being a slave and being free. He never escapes the oppression. When he escapes the oppression of the whites, he becomes oppressed again by the black leadership. The members of the Buendia family are caught in a cycle that could be called the oppression of genes and place of nurture... hmm food for thought.

ps -If anyone has found a way to write accents in Open Office using accent codes, please let me know. Thanks

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cien años de soledad (3)

(I wrote this before the war started) As I'm reading, I find I'm trying to compare the book to other stories I've read. The closest I can come up with are the fairy tales that I read as a kid, with their supernatural qualities and the immediacy of nature. What's missing is any sign of a moral message. Marquez has many opportunities to add in this element, but he leaves no trace of anything didactic. In its place, heaps of absurdity and only vague hints at moral lessons that come across more ambiguous than strong (and then the war started). Now Macondo is gripped by war. I see the message creeping in, subtle and without slogans. I see how Marquez is subtlety using this story as a platform to show the absurdity of war. He shows this, in large part, through Aureliano -who can't understand how people wage war over things that cannot be touched with the hand. Marquez is not trying to make a political statement from either side of left or right. He shows how Macondo is caught between sides her in a war that isn't their own. The houses first painted blue, are then painted red creating a hybrid shade in between.

As we discussed in class, Aurelino Buendia survives the war but not the solitude that it brings. If war psychiatrists were to get a hold of him, they would say he's suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Many characters in this book are suffering from PTSD and the book is full of trauma. Amaranta is traumatized by Pietro Crespi's suicide. She self-medicates by burning her hand in hopes that the scars will grow over her emotional wounds. The scars don't go away and she wears bandages on them until her death. Trauma is at every turn. Partly what makes this book so exciting is seeing how the characters are shaped by it. Some eat dirt, others go numb, some go on a rampage, others seem to go on with life, and others kill themselves. If any one is to be called the hero, it should be Ursula. She is the keystone of the craziest family of all time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cien años de soledad (2)

The comic images are sublime. One that sticks out in particular is J.A.B. putting together the player piano. Like everything he does, he does it with great enthusiasm and disregard for detail. The moment when the piano starts playing all out of tune because the strings are out of order is truly hilarious. And does it stop the people of Macondo from having a party? No. They dance until dawn to music void of any key or rhythm. I love this image. A celebration of the spirit of celebration. The party goes on even though the music is all wrong.

On page 74 (of my copy) we find out that Aureliano remembered something else as he faced the firing squad: Melquiades' disjointed writing. Writing that he didn't even understand. This is an even more unlikely scenario than him remembering the day his father took him to discover ice. I think Marquez is again playing with the reader's faith in the narrator.

The moment when the insomnia virus hits the townspeople of Macondo and they work day and night without noticing the need for sleep, echoes Genesis. God had a lot to do in those first six days and nights and the townspeople of Macondo have a lot to do to catch up with the outside world. I'm not sure about the rest of the townspeople, but J.A.B. is hell-bent on progress. The gypsies keep on introducing new objects into the town and pitch them as objects of entertainment (the flying carpet for example), he sees them as possibilities for progress. I'm interested to see how Marquez will explore the impact of progress. Will it bring happiness or misery to the people of Macondo? Or will they remain unchanged and continue to be just as absorbed in family affairs.

Melquiades didn't die! More evidence that we can't trust the narrator. Certain mysteries carry their thread through the myriad of stories that Marquez throws at the reader.
The questions I have are...
-What will Macondo transform into?
-What happened to Jose Arcadio after he left with the gypsies.
-And when and why will Aureliano face a firing squad?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cien años de soledad (1)

My mind is a whirlwind with all that has happened so far in the book. But has anything really happened? Really being the key word. Marquez weaves stories together with such speed and finesse that one can begin and end in a paragraph. Some of his sentences are large enough to make Proust jealous. And in them, a blizzard of activity and comas. One such sentence describes the sex act between Jose Arcadio and Pilar. In a run on sentence nearly a page in length, he captures the breathlessness and frenetic pace of the act.

Every sexual encounter is out of the ordinary. Aureliano is a very broken man when he approaches Pilar for sex. He is delusional from his rejection by Remedios, has mud and puke all over him and it is in this moment that he asks for sex. Marquez paints the picture of a man down further than on his knees and what better way to do that than with mud and vomit. Brilliant!

The sex scene between Jose Arcadio and the prepubescent gypsy girl is disturbing. The contrast of her age and fragility with his massive member is just wrong. I get the feeling that Marquez is deliberately provoking the reader by showing what is possible in the twisted world of Macondo where incest and sexual acts of questionable morality are the norm. And then... it was “Jueves”. Out of the red, the sex scene is interrupted by an arbitrary time marker.

Now is a good moment to talk about randomness and its effects on the mind of a student trained to read stories that follow a linear direction. It's dizzying, confusing and exciting. I'm enjoying spending time in this world where anything can happen at any moment. That said, it's also exhausting keeping track of what's going on. If this book with the quilt, it would have infinite squares from of the number of the stories woven together.

I find it interesting that the town changed more from the changes that came with the spike in population than from the new arrivals than from the exciting imports of the Gypsies. I'm interested to see how Macondo will change as the book goes on. The clocks that J.A.B. installed in every house is telling of things to come. Progress is in the air. Or is it? The only thing certain is that nothing in this book is predictable.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Asturias 1

Mejor tarde que nunca... I'm not sure how well that expression translates. Reading Asturias quickly has been like listening to music in an art gallery full of essential oils. My senses are filled and overwhelmed. He practices anthropology through more through the human than the scientific. I enjoy this because it captures the vitality, the dance and breath of a culture deeply woven with its environment. I want to digest each page and let sit with my senses, but I'm plowing through it because, well that's the only way to surf the wave of course materials. So reading page after page, without the proper time to digest, I'm finding that I'm on sensory overload and the metaphors often bleed into each other in a kind of a goopy way. This book was meant to be savoured like a cup of oaxacan hot chocolate.

I think Asturias could teach us a thing or two about language, some enchantment a la Asturias. For example, the way he describes a woman's hair: “una lluvia de esmeraldas en el cuello carnoso de los cocos.(23)” -There is a real satisfaction that comes with reading a good metaphor and Asturias has the gift. He applies deeply romantic language to describe not only people, but also nature. His descriptions are not only sensual, they are often sexual. To describe the forests, he taps into the sexual fertility of the land, el bosque: “ una masa maleable, tierna, sin huesos...(24).

He also isn't shy of exclamation marks. He uses them like a singer uses dynamics. “!Nuestro Nahual! ! Nuestro Natal! (33).” He is singing off page to not only emphasize an idea, but to give reverence to an image. That said, with so many of them on a single page, they tend to lose their individual emphasis.

When he wrote about cities formed over cities, it made me think of Vancouver and UBC. It made me wonder what city Buchanan was sitting on. What colours existed before it's pale white frame. There is a sliver of a reminder in between Marine Drive in the ocean. Our rain forests are just as rich as the ones that Asturias describes. I have no doubt that he would tune in with their magic just as he has with selva of Guatemala.