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.