Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Obituary for a Shipwrecked Sailor by Bronwyn Mills and Eric Darton


 

Gabriel García Márquez dies at 87

Creo, en realidad, que el trabajo literario uno siempre está solo.  Como un náufrago en medio del mar.

In fact, I believe writers are always alone, like shipwrecked sailors in the middle of the ocean.

            –  Gabriel García Márquez, Relato de un náufrago

 
 

"Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Age 1" by Katie Kehrig

“Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Age 1” by Katie Kehrig

The Elders are leaving us.
 
If we believe British novelist, Will Self, they are also taking the age of the “Gutenberg Mind” with them.  Serious novels, Self opines, will “continue to be written and read, but it will be an art form on a par with easel painting or classical music….” (See The Guardian, May 2, 2014)  And so, for me, the loss of Gabriel García Márquez is also a bit like a fire consuming whole shelves of a library. I keep wanting to say, “Stop!!” But of course, one can’t.  Any more than King Canute could stop the tides, one can’t.  One can’t stop death. Or change.
 
Gabriel García Márquez heralded my love affair with Latin American and Caribbean literature. That he was Latin American is obvious; what many norteamericanos might miss is that García Márquez was also deeply Caribbean, and thus an American, in the continental sense, of deepest antiquity. In his part of Colombia, the descendants of indigenous groups, of enslaved Africans, and various pirates, conquistadores, and other Europeans (largely Spanish speaking) mixed in a plantation culture that extended way past colonial times and made life both very difficult for many, and deceptively rewarding for a few. The climate is still hot, humid and what is left of the rainforest bears thick-leaved vines and strange fruits. Ghosts of the past live in empty rooms, their history infuses the landscape, and is grown over when lianas and heliconia take over what has been abandoned. Perhaps we have a difficult time understanding this. Perhaps some  read “magical realism”  as simply the waking dreams of a people profoundly and quaintly devoted to magical thinking.
 
What follows is a dialogue woven together from an email correspondenec (April 18, the day ofter Garcia Márquez’ death, through May 20) between  Eric Darton (E.D.) in NYC and me (Bronwyn Mills, or BGM) then traveling in Latin America.  Of course that phrase, “magical realism,” came up:
 
 
E.D.  I’ve been thinking about his work, obviously, and how it resonates with other streams of what I would call ductile, or supple realism. Personally, I’m also comfortable with resignifying “magical” to mean what it actually is: those powers devolving from hidden or ignored natural forces, just as I am happy to rehabilitate a number of words that once had a fuller range of meanings.  It’s always bad for business to let folks hijack words.

 
BGM: There’s an unfortunate tendency to become sidetracked by books like Love in the Time of Cholera and assume all of García Márquez to be sentimental journeys. However, his first book, The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, was not realismo magico at all, but a true story serialized in El Espectador—García Márquez was working for them then—and put into book form in 1955. Retold in first person, the story is about a man swept overboard in a Caribbean storm from a ship overloaded with contraband and miraculously washed up on Colombian shores. Exposing the Colombian Navy’s negligence here put the author at odds with dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla and García Márquez was hastily “promoted” to foreign correspondent in Europe. The full title says it all: The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor: Who Drifted on a Liferaft for Ten Days Without Food or Water, Was Proclaimed a National Hero, Kissed by Beauty Queens, Made Rich Through Publicity, and Then Spurned by the Government and Forgotten for All Time.

 
E.D.: I also think García Márquez’s journalistic career and the prime of his literary life coincided with an interesting moment in Latin American history. Even before: in 1928, the United Fruit Company-directed Banana Strike Massacre in Aracataca; the ten-year long period of “La Violencia” in the ’40s to ’50s (more than one Violencia, apparently); then the Cuban Revolution, and so on.

 
Okay, then, so what about language itself? Vittorini, in Travels In Sicily, had to write in code, because of the Fascist censors. Given the mindset of a time, what modes of expression, even temporarily bypass conventional thought patterns, the tendency of language to tropism and depletion of meaning? Unconscious or not, these expressions can be viewed as strategy to awaken, first the writer, and then the reader to at least a temporarily heightened mode of perception. It wasn’t Magical Realism’s style that blew folks’ doors off—it was language showing, yet again, that it isn’t a dead letter.
 

Magical Realism isn’t an arbitrary imposition of a concept, nor a “mystery” arising out of the individual’s creative imagination and genius (true of course), but rather from the writer actively demonstrating the inseparability of mode of address and content itself.
 

BGM: No, I don’t think Magical Realism blew anyone’s mind per se.  But in Latin America, not García Márquez, but Mexican, Juan Rulfo, and Cuban, Alejo Carpentier, usually get credit for igniting the Magical Realism “movement.” Further, García Márquez was most influenced by Alvaro Mutis and his The Adventures of Maqroll, a kind of picaresque, funny, wide-ranging series, featuring Gaviero, “the lookout.”—viola! a series of novels about an observer as well as a personified early warning system.
 

But in Colombia, García Márquez had to jump ship several times because of politics, precisely because, unlike Vittorini, something he had written wasn’t sufficiently encoded.
 

Kamau Brathwaite taught Cien Años as part of a Magical Realism (MR[1]) course; and he defines it  as a response to trauma—not, as we might have it, a wound to the individual psyche, though that can happen. It is collective, geological, and imbedded in the landscape. García Márquez showed the impact of Europe’s invasion into the Americas’ landscape and demography; but, though absolutely not didactic, don’t forget his books like the Colonel novels,[2]  In Evil Hour, and The General in His Labyrinth—García Márquez is political—and in that sense, yes, you do have to know the codes.
 

You speak of language:  I am told that when Cien Años was first accepted by a Madrid publishing house, a horrified García Márquez withdrew it because Madrid rewrote it—in Castilian Spanish—from his mother tongue, the Spanish of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. This is an old dispute. Dante, himself, justified his use the language of his nurture—Italian—over imperial Rome’s Latin, in his De Vulgare Eloquentia, “I find that no one, before myself, has dealt in any way with the theory of eloquence in the vernacular,”  and, he went on, “we can plainly see that such eloquence is necessary to everyone. ….”
 

To me, this connects language used every day for genuine experience with a kind of history that is in the drinking water, in the bloodstream… That language does not separate you from community and others, and acknowledges the language one learns there.
 
 

E.D.: I need to be very circumspect in my observations of García Márquez’s work, not least because I don’t read Spanish very well and I’m not Latin American, much less Colombian. But what your thoughts open up for me is how, broadly speaking, Latin America’s mode of “twice-real” storymaking is distinct from that of ours. One of the most horrifyingly “Magical Realism” pieces I’ve read is Hawthorne’s “My Kinsman Major Molineaux.” Certainly Melville’s “Benito Cereno,” and Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gorden Pym—the journey south to madness and, presumably, death!—develop a possible line of comparison. Of course, these departures into delerium are identified with catastrophe and horror versus what I think of as the “organic miraculous” in García Márquez’s work.
 

In García Márquez, it all feels much more “processive.” His Magical Realism, like Cervantes’ in Don Quixote, creates an extraordinary world with its own “normality,” not unlike the best Sci-Fi, but which leaves room for the extraordinary to occur within it, thereby reinforcing both the realism of the magic and the magic within reality. Which is precisely what is missing from some warpings of realism, where the warp is in one dimension only. García Márquez’s exposition creates a new and unto itself “normal” where the exceptional is viewed with wonder, even though a reader’s perspective has been radically altered.
 

BGM: Something you said about magical realism just clicked:”…those powers devolving from hidden, or ignored, natural forces.” So, too, says Brathwaite and Wilson Harris.
 

Brathwaite observed that  in the metropole, when Europe was colonizing the “New” World, you find Shakespeare, Cervantes, the golden age of literature. In the colonies, Europeans committed the most horrible crimes against the persons and places they found, so contrary to the spirit of the Renaissance that Brathwaite coined the phrase, “alter-Renaissance” for it. Assigning a metaphorical icon to each culture, he gave Europe the missile: European—and, later, Euro-American—culture  thrusts itself into the Americas with terrible force. Leaving Europe, Brathwaite says, metaphorically the missile flipped; the cargo? spirit? of the Renaissance was set in reverse, emerging as its dark side.
 

Brathwaite emphasizes Magical Realism’s distortion of time; and here Wilson Harris comes in, speaking of the passage through “clichés of time into the unfathomable past….”
 

So, I want to point out, Cien Años begins “Muchas años despues….
 

Macondo era entonces una aldea de viente casas de barro y cañabrava construidas a la orilla de un río que se precipitaban por un lecho de piedras pulidas, blancas y enormes como huevos prehistoricos. El mundo tan reciente que muchas cosas carecían de nombre, y para mencionarlas había señalarís con el dedo.

 

Many years later [the colonel remembers, as he stood before a firing squad, that] Macondo was a village of twenty houses made of mud and cañabrava[3] built by the bank of a river that rushed over a riverbed of polished stones–huge, white stones like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and to mention them you had to point at them with your finger.

 

From the first moment readers enter the world of the book, they are reminded of time (Muchos años despues.) “[E]ra,” indicates distant time; “prehistoric eggs,” ancient. Then the world is so new that things lack names. You have to point at them to say what you mean–like a child? Like an early ancestor lacking language? Like the conquistador who took the liberty of naming them as if no one was there before him who already know what they were, what they were used for, and what they were named?
 

La Fontaine’s first English language translator in the U.S., Elizur Wright, said, “Human nature, when fresh from the hand of God, was full of poetry. Its sociality could not be pent within the bounds of the actual.” Thanks to Gregory Rabassa, translator, we found a writer, García Márquez, not “pent within the bounds of the actual,” whose books, though “magical,” weren’t for kids or for aficionados of escapist fantasy. Here was a different world—though those who do not have Spanish must read him only in translation—which rejects a linear progression of things. It was, as you say, full of wonder but not empty.
 

When García Márquez died, Colombia declared three days of mourning, countrywide.
 

E.D.   I think you’re onto something regarding time and García Márquez, certainly in Cien Años.  It’s not clock time. What’s important about García Márquez’ work (at least what I’ve read, and this applies to the short stories too) is that “character” as we think of it, is sublimated to a presence that is part symbolic and part real. Thus, what happens is more significant than who it happens to, even when the narrative is in first person.
 

One of the reasons that García Márquez and Jorge Borges sometimes have a similar feel, I think, is they drop out of the monotheist miraculous, and tend toward the pantheistic. It makes sense if one is even remotely connected to the folks here before us. In much of Latin America, one sees the fact of their existence. I wonder how we would have processed things if, for example, the Navajo, like the Mexica, Maya and the Inca, had built pyramids. That boiling up of nature via the gods and the structures that take form in such a world—some folks don’t want to know about that stuff. Homer is bad enough.
 

In much Latin American writing I’ve read, the individual is constructed quite differently and signifies quite differently. It isn’t, obviously, something as bald as Catholic vs. Protestant. The earth in García Márquez is really alive. I think of  what Seneca once said,
 

This is the difference between us Romans and the Etruscans. We believe that lightning is caused by clouds colliding, whereas they believe that clouds collide in order to create lightning. Since they attribute everything to gods, they are led to believe not that events have a meaning because  they have happened, but that they happen in order to express a meaning.

 

You could also say that Magical Realism is a form of blowback, not against “realism” in the, er, Jamesian sense, but against Western rationalism carried to its deadly extremes.
 

BGM: When my friend Seidy went to Spain, especially in Grenada, she said she was stunned at how alive, how present, the past was; people spoke of the expulsion of the Moors and Jews in 1492, of the reconquista and the Spanish Inquisition, as if it were yesterday. That, too, is part of this Magical Realism puzzle come to rest in the Americas. Many parts of early Latin America were prime destinations for conversos (“converted” Jews and Muslims) during the early colonial period. There the challenge was to forget, bury the past, punish the child who blurts something out unawares. So of course the memory comes out obliquely, circumlocuitously. And the past is a Peeping Tom.
 

E.D.  Another view of the Alter-Renaissance idea is how “modernity” worked  in the Americas. I think García Márquez, more than Borges, and in some ways more like Machado de Assis, wrestled with how the forces of modernity were playing out in Colombia. Galeano is all over this in Memories of Fire.
 

So, part of what I think is going on in García Márquez’s work is a critique of modernity, its hubris, its claims to scientific domination of the natural world. Forcibly transplanted, modernity partly caused the disjunction, the paradox, in Magical Realism. Perhaps that’s another reason García Márquez supported Cuba. Castro seemed to try, when he could, to cherry-pick the best of modernity and reject the nihilisic parts–not just the capitalist ones.
 

BGM:  As I mentioned, another thing about Magical Realism is the torqueing of memory. Years ago, I was quite taken by Bolivian artist Nicomedes Suárez-Araúz, who put out an Amnesis Manifesto that assumes “amnesia is immanent to the psyche, that the mind invents “fables” when confronted with forgetfulness, that the notion of the lost object is integral to… amnesia.”  It assumes that as New World people, all of us in this hemisphere suffer from historical amnesia. The need for silence. It assumes lacunae.
 

Eduardo Galeano writes wistfully of wanting to “imagine the future instead of just accepting it…” and then goes on to say, in Ser Como Ellos, “La memoria que merece rescates está pulverizada. Ha estallado en pedazos.” (roughly, “The memory that deserves rescuing is pulverized, shattered in pieces.”) And I think when García Márquez writes his work is also an expedition to sort through the pieces: they don’t always fit in a rationalistic fashion (the rationalism gone mad you referred to.)
 

E.D. Your comment’s on the mark.  My instinct says so.  So now, what would I want to read about García Márquez if I could imagine what I wanted to read about him?
 

BGM.:  Good question! Oddly, García Márquez loathed success. In a series of interviews in The Fragrance of Guava,  he tells Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza,
 

I wouldn’t wish success on anybody. It’s like being a mountain climber who nearly kills himself getting to the summit and when he gets there, what does he do? Climb down, or try to climb down, discreetly, and with as much dignity as possible.

 

You know, I guess, the bare bones of his bio: first eight years with grandparents in Aracataca, at that time one of several “Mama Yunay” (United Fruit Company) banana boom towns on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, then further inland to be with parents when his grandfather died, then off to boarding schools. Aracataca was an obsession, his living a huge house surrounded by women who barely acknowledged the division between the living and the dead, rich gringos in their compounds outside town, a brief visit back as an adult to a ghost town–no, is this the same place? Yes… He grows up, hangs out in a lot of sleazy bars with drunks and hookers, becomes a journalist, nearly starves till 100 Years. At some point he gets in trouble with the Colombian government; he’s in, he’s out, he ultimately settles in Mexico City, his home base thereafter—
 

He didn’t even try to write in a social realist vein; but he insists that everything he writes about is based on reality: when Apuleyo Mendoza says, “I have the feeling your European readers are usually aware of the magic in your stories but fail to see the reality behind it…,” García Márquez answers, “This is because their rationalism prevents them seeing that reality isn’t limited to the price of tomatoes and eggs.”
 

“What would I want to read about García Márquez if I could imagine what I wanted to read about García Márquez?” you say. Try Fragrance. It contains good information about his process—despite some flaws, it offers nuggets, something tangible to react to.
 

E.D. Here’s one of my favorite limbs to go out on, which may be useful here:  In the U.S. and Europe, García Márquez’s “leftism” is an a priori. Like Baldwin’s blackness it mediates, or even deflects transmission and perception of the language itself. Even before translators have their day. You’ve said, he’s “political.” What if we didn’t know anything about García Márquez’s politics? What if we just tried, as reader-writers, to understand his text? What vision of existence, history, human relations and vicissitudes speaks from the “ground” of his language?  It may be a worthwhile to ask: apart from all else, García Márquez produced texts of undeniable power and considerable originality.
 

What if we sink into how his texts make us feel? Can we sink into them, or do we move over their surfaces, or sleepwalk through them?  How do we respond to their call? Do they call? I’ve always found his writing powerful and intriguing—though in an odd way not emotionally engaging. Yet something in the way he posits reality hooks me. He speaks in anomalies that are neither sensational nor spectacular, but very personal. As though we already understand the physics and topography and kinship patterns of his subjects. Yet there is something, for me, very non-dialogic about it. I know it’s by García Márquez—his name is on the cover—but it’s only the type of eccentricities he invokes that create his signature, that signal anything about the narrator behind the narrator.
 

I think what got me asking the question about García Márquez’s texts, apart from what we know of him as sympathetic to Cuba, is that they have never struck me as particularly “leftist” politically. They aren’t reactionary, either; in fact, they are pretty much ideology-free. They are, to me, as I said, curiously un-dialogic, with no clear I or thou, while at the same time never returning to the didactic. How the narrator feels about what he is writing, more accurately, what he thinks he ought to feel about his subjects, is played so close to the vest as to be quite opaque. That’s where space opens up for the reader. We’re given phenomenal stuff with not a clue from Señor Narrador as to what to make of it.  To me, this is a source of great intrigue. Inevitably, García Márquez’s “leftism” gets everybody off the hook, if they want to be, as his narrative obliquity gives some the excuse that we can avoid dealing with the text itself and simply position ourselves as our political tendencies dictate. Or project onto the text the angel or demon we wish for.
 

So, my question is, and I’m not sure it’s answerable altogether is:  what was he saying?
 

Well... in Cien Años, and other tales, por ejemplo, “Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes” [A very old man with enormous wings] that our perceptions go deeper than we imagine and that what constitutes reality is a confluence of equally credible perceptions. Credible in that they are authentically perceived! What García Márquez says to me, and I don’t know if this is intended, is that reality is not just perceived differently by different subjects with distinct perspectives and interests, but that reality is no more nor less than the collective product of diverse and even contradictory perceptions.
 

Reality isn’t refracted, it’s a unity. We all build it. In a very subtle way, it’s deeply collectivist. And egalitarian. Reality can’t exist without everyone’s perception because that’s all it is. Whether our perception is correct or  incorrect is of a secondary order altogether. What counts is we can’t opt out of creating reality unless we stop perceiving!
 

It’s so much easier to dismiss him as a Commie, or on the other foot, to say, yeah, his message is that we’ve got to make the world better. I defy anyone to point a solid piece of forensic prose in his work that suggests that. That much of his work is infused with a great sense of sorrow and loss is also difficult to deal with because it refuses to redeem. There is no heroism nor hubris that I can see or feel. Which makes him, at the very least, a serious corrective to the Greek way. No transcendence either, so sorry Christians and Buddhists. His worlds are full of impossible and even spectacular occurrences, but there is a curious absence of drama. He’s the anti-Lorca if such a thing exists, as much or more as Nicanor Parra is the anti-poet – the implied poet being Neruda.
 

Last, but not least, for me what’s beautiful in García Márquez comes out of his form, not his esthetics. He sublimates the latter, so the former emerges all the more fully-fledged.
 

BGM:  I’m thinking of Cristobal Colón: when he entered indigenous America via the Golfo de Paria on his 3rd voyage (1498) he advanced the notion of a geographical tit–yes, tit, teta!—that made the world was not so much round as bulging a bit at the equator like a breast.  Back in España that set ’em rolling on the palace floor.  Seriously, one thinks that realismo magico-istas just made this stuff up?
 

E.D.  So starts the fantasy. What would I want people to say about me if I were dead?  It seems natural to think and speak differently about non-respiring others. It jolts that process into another mode, since they aren’t able to extend that breath into speaking for themselves; that leaves a silence that cannot be filled but may be surrounded by words.
 

Yes, axiomatically, one dies alone. But in some cases one’s absence is collectively felt, or at least perceived. Which draws us into a different kind of speech. If your life and work are identified with a charged political or social moment, if you are, to many, a kind of holy outlier, that conversation swiftly becomes a special epistemological contest. I do not wish to contend, though; I’d rather ask, since his art mattered to us, what made it matter? Or, didactically, what was the nature of his truth-telling—those narratives that, now free of their author’s shadow, go marching on?  Profoundly not interested in the status of García Márquez’s work, its place within “Literature,” I am concerned with its qualities, its evolution. The precise forms of its call and response.
 

His best novels and stories are imbued with serious credentials that must have felt menacing to many lesser writers as well as political antagonists. In a different way than Sci-Fi or other genre work, García Márquez got one to believe in the actuality of stuff you knew wasn’t possible. Except it was. One sensed a reality not displaced to another realm but extended from this world. Radically.
 

His writing confirms that power is a very conditional thing. Now if that doesn’t scare the bourgeoisie, I don’t know what does. He wasn’t saying this to be scary, but because he simply observed it to be true. Obversely, that the stuff we think we annihilated in the Greekest sense—hello!—it endures.
 

Mala yerba nunca muerte. The ultimate impotence of the firing squad, despite having hit its mark. History is chronological, except not really. How do you know anything then? Easier to tag it magical realism than to see it as epistemology-rupture. Which I think was his revelation.  Think how safe Faulkner feels by comparison—where you can still imagine Mary Poppins putting all that stuff back in her carpet bag—magically. No, García Márquez said, reality is super-saturated. The whole is way more than the parts. The only scarier writer out there may be James. Again, the precision, the extension of the possible in this world, not it’s displacement to some other one where it has allegorical value. García Márquez wasn’t inventing; he was indicating.
 

BGM:  When you said, “…axiomatically, one dies alone. But in some cases one’s absence is collectively felt, or at least perceived. Which draws us into this different kind of speech,” it sent me scurrying for what Galeano said to mark Garcia Márquez’ death:
 

There are pains that are shut up in silence; they are silent, but they hurt just as much; that is like the pain we feel for the death of ‘Gabo’ García Márquez…

 

Others surround the silence with words.  So do we, I guess.
 

E.D.  François Jullien says something (in relation to Zhuangzi) that struck me as useful here too: “For discourse to stop hiding the source of things, it must be removed from its norm; to liberate it from its hidden arbitrariness, it must be made conspicuously strange.”
 

He cites, e.g., a section of Zhuangzi, ”Xiaoyaoyou” (transliterated “free” “distant” “wandering”):
 

Far away on a mountain called Gushe, there live holy men whose skin is like snow and who are as sensitive as virgins. They do not eat the five grains but live off wind and dew; mounting the clouds, yoking dragons, they travel beyond the four seas. The simple concentration of their spirits is enough to cure disease and make crops ripen... Now I think this is preposterous, and I do not believe it.

 

Did García Márquez, like many writers we find liberatory and compelling, attempt, in Jullien’s formulation, “to invent a speech that baffles its condition as language and breaks its mold…” while freeing language from its own constraints and those we impose on it, so articulating “the eternal transition of things...”? Thus Magical Realism keeps its distinction and cultural specificity. For language to fly, even strut around the farmyard for a spell, it needs to shatter its egg from inside. Some of us chickens would understand.
 

BGM:  By choosing to use his Caribbean Spanish,[4] García Márquez puts us outside España, in a place that’s harder to dismiss or write off as familiar, one despised by the imperium. Maybe his Spanish-speaking audience gets it automatically. A person who reads a translation might miss semantics, syntax, etc.,  get only metaphor (if translatable) and certain fictions unfolding on the page.  Could the “strange” be strange  only to us?
 

E.D. I wasn’t suggesting that the strangeness be in using Caribbean Spanish as in the vocabulary and grammar of his images and symbols. Like Zhuangzi, who deliberately distorted things to make reality clearer. Could be that García Márquez’s writing is strange to both readerships, but in different ways. García Márquez seems to have intended to pull us into a place where we didn’t question the veracity of his language, as much as confront the limitations of our own interpretation of reality. Magical Realism may be a strategy for doing this—as in Zhuangzi‘s deliberate distortions that force us to consider a more dimensional, less particularized universe than the one just words tend to confine us to.
 

Wind in the Willows, which we both love, has a lot is going on besides reinforcing some sort of Anglo-Confucian notion of class and social norms. In the end, Grahame seems to be saying: “see, love and friendship are possible”—as much because of our differences as despite them. In our world that’s a pretty fantastical notion, in need of honest affirmation. If Grahame makes us believe love and friendship are part of an immanent reality, well, how did he do it? Here, by going outside factual reality in order to embrace a wider unity.
 

We like to think you can separate content from style. Much of the world knows better.
 

Finally, I think François Jullien puts what I’m trying to express about García Márquez quite beautifully, while talking about something else entirely:
 

Words need only overflow the limitations of language, no longer approaching the real in a compartmentalized and arrested way – in short, they need only ceaselessly be an allusive variation to allow us to rejoin the spontaneous coexistence of things and to give us access to the natural.

 

BGM: A man wakes up to find that he is a cockroach… so Márquez tells Pinio Apuleyo: when he read Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” he realized, “I could be a writer….I understood how many other possibilities existed outside the rational and the extremely academic.”
 

Not 100 years after El Colón sailed West to find the East, Hernán Cortés entered Aztec Tenochtitlán, a verdant city of floating gardens, canals, colorful birds and striking temples. Yes, the Aztecs had a dark side, and so did the conquistadores; after a long struggle, in 1520, Cortés burnt the city to the ground, built over it a faux Eurotown he named “Mexico.” In Macondo—García Márquez’s fictional Aracataca—people could not name, only point at, their surroundings(Cien Años). They were not conquering heroes.
 

Much later, United Fruit Company established huge banana plantations in and near Aracataca, brutally exploiting Colombian bananeros. When workers struck for written contracts, eight hour work days and a six day work week, the U.S. threatened to send in the Marines if Colombia’s government didn’t protect United Fruit’s “interests.” The Colombian army came, opened fire in a public square, killing at least 2000 men, women, and children [see García Márquez’s La Hojarasca (Leaf Storm.)]
 

History takes a long time to bleed out of one’s pores. Wilson Harris argues that it seeps into the landscape.  When we obsess about making things “real”—i.e., lifelike—all I can conjure up to compare such mimicry to is the way undertakers tart up a corpse. It  doesn’t enliven a lifeless body. I’m sure you know the Spanish words for history and story are the same—historia and historia—and it’s not because those folks can’t distinguish fact from fiction. One bleeds into the other, they do know; sometimes an artist must get out of the way to let that show (there’s your François Jullien?)  If that’s a strategy, it’s also a given.
 

That the truth of fiction is often quite visceral doesn’t mean it’s always aimed at the individual psyche.  As you’ve said, Eric, García Márquez’s work, oddly, does not appear to elicit emotion; it is not pitched at resolving individual angst or giving catharsis.
 

Around the 1560’s, Flemish painter, Brueghel the Elder, began making art about signal events. In one clifflike foreground, a peasant ploughs and a shepherd tends his herd; below, to quote U.S. poet William Carlos Williams, “in a splash quite unnoticed… was Icarus drowning.”  Brueghel  dealt similarly with the Crucifixion and with the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Under the shadow of trauma writers can, I suppose, leave unpleasant events to run their course in the background, like the hum of your refrigerator at night, and foreground the mundane. Life does go on.
 

García Márquez gave us a world where the ghosts of his grandfather’s house were as real as the price of tomatoes and eggs, where communities of ordinary people, often quite powerless, confront arbitrary power. You said, Eric, García Márquez reads ideology-free. He graciously lets us make up our own minds. He would show us Tenochtitlán, it’s beauty—more than any European city said the conquistadoresand a terrified, heavily drugged captive, brought up the temple steps to have his heart ripped out and given to the gods. A bit like Mutis’ Maqroll, El Gaviero, the lookout, García Márquez delivers no sermons, no Hollywood endings.  Anodynes can be found elsewhere, with lesser artists.
 

Adieu, Gabo.  Adieu, dammit!

 
 


 
 
[1] Brathwaite has a wonderful 2 volume set called, simply, M.R. (Magical Realism,) which puts forth, in creative style, his generative ideas about, well, Magical Realism.

[2] Leaf Storm; No one Writes to the Colonel Anymore; Chronical of a Death Foretold; Autumn of the Patriarch

[3] Cañabrava (Gynerium sagittatum) is wild sugercane, which grows all over Central and South America.*

[4] A Spanish inflected with African and indigenous languages conquistadores and colonizadores encountered, and separated from the imperium by several centuries.

 

 

Bronwyn Mills received her MFA under poet James Tate (UMass, Amherst); her Ph.D.(Comparative Literature) under poet Kamau Brathwaite and novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o at NYU; and was an Anais Nin Fellow. Besides New York, she has also lived in Istanbul, Turkey; La République du Bénin (where, on a Fulbright Fellowship, she played hooky with voodoo priests); Paris, France; and Western Massachusetts. She reviewed dance and theatre for the Valley Advocate, was senior editor for the online literary journal, Frigate, and most recently guest edited the Turkish issue of Absinthe; New European Writing (#19.). She taught at Stevens Institute of Technology; Kadir Has University in Istanbul; and Abomey-Calavi in Bénin. Books include Night of the Luna Moths (March Street Press) and the fabulist novel Beastly’s Tale (Rocky Shores). Now living and writing in a tiny mountain village far, far away, Bronwyn is interested in the palimpsest of language and how it reveals our deepest collective secrets.

Eric Darton was born in New York City in 1950. His books include Divided We Stand: A Biography of New York’s World Trade Center (Basic Books, 1999, 2011), and Free City, a novel, (WW Norton, 1996). The final two books of his five-volume cultural memoir Notes of a New York Son, 1995-2007 were published in November, 2013. Darton teaches at Global College of Long Island University, Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies (Empire State College) and New York University. Previously, he has been an editor of Conjunctions, American Letters & Commentary and Frigatezine. Darton is currently writing a book-length study of the literary, political and philosophical ideas of James Baldwin. He is particularly engaged by prose that feels as if the writer has used her or his craft to make legible the work’s inherent form.