Sunday, April 11, 2010

Conclusiones de Span 365

I have thoroughly enjoyed this class. I think that the structure of the class - the blogs, commentary, paragraph discussion, etc – created a community in class in which students were able to develop opinions about the readings both in and out of class. I have to say something which I unfortunately can’t say about all of my upper level Spanish courses, Jon established an atmosphere in class where I think the majority of students felt comfortable expressing their ideas no matter what their level of Spanish.

The choice of readings in particular taught us about the evolution of Latin American literature and what led to the magical realism movement. The stream-of-consciousness narration in Leyendas de Guatemala shows how the European surrealist movement influenced Asturias. At the same time, he was very lyrical and poetic in his writing. I think that this experimentation with language and form was more attune to the indigenous Maya culture that he was trying to represent. In this first reading, we start to get a feeling for the importance of the question of Latin American identity in the author’s writing. For Asturias, although he had European parents, he still felt a strong connection to the Maya people. I think he identified with the culture’s spirituality, which inspired him to enter the mind of a Maya character in his book Hombres de maíz. By allowing himself to be influenced by the indigenous cultures of Guatemala, Asturias differentiated himself from the European literary movements.

The question of identity is also prevalent in El reino de este mundo. When I talk about identity, I’m thinking that the authors of the “boom” period were trying to differentiate themselves from European literature. Living in a culture thoroughly permeated by European customs, politics, and power, these authors felt that indigenous civilization and mythology, colonization, oppression, African Diaspora, mestizaje…were themes that were specific to Latin America and could not be properly represented by anyone but themselves and with a new style. While Asturias achieved this by writing about Maya mythology, Carpentier achieved this by telling the bloody political history of Haiti. Not just the history however, he told the story from the perspective of Ti Noel, a black slave who practiced vudu. Like Maya mythology, the vudu spirituality allowed Carpentier to experiment with form and narration style as well.

In 100 años, many common themes of Latin American history were brought together. Maybe we can look at Macondo as a microcosm and condensed history for much of Latin America. And it does represent certain parts of Latin American history and politics quite well. The authors of McOndo cannot disagree with this. I think that they were tired of being pigeonholed into a genre that did not adequately represent them. For that reason, more contemporary authors sought to break the stereotype/identity mold by trying something that nobody expected of them, to identify with North American/European culture. Identity remains a question for the authors as seen and discussed in “La mujer quimicamente compatible”. No matter what the authors in McOndo say, technology does not make them so similar to the rest of the world. Latin America experienced a very distinct colonization in which they were left to build a political/economic/social system by themselves post-independence. In most places this was styled after European governments, but was it viable a region so different? I think the question of identity is an overarching question that permeates all of the books we have read and should not be overlooked. Anywho…wrapping up,

Before I took this class, the idea that I had of magical realism was that that reality and fantasy were convoluted in a narration that exceeded the boundaries of time. Although the experimentation with time is a component in magical realism, I now put much more emphasis on the style of narration than anything. I think that the author of the book I am using for my wikipedia article could not have said it better:

“El realismo mágico es el tono en que se cuenta lo fantástico: lo mágico lo aportan las técnicas periodísticas utilizadas en la narración – todo lleno de datos precisos que concretizan el tiempo, el espacio, los personajes, la situación…-; el realismo lo pone la imaginación del escritor.”

Gutiérrez points to the writer when defining magical realism. I think we similarly have come to the conclusion that it is not so much time, space, and lyricism/rhythm that contribute to the genre (all themes that can be found in other genres as well such as surrealism), but how the writer tells the story. We put trust in the author who, as we have seen, manipulates that trust by making the fantastical normal and reality (ie the historical/politically inspired writing) fantastical.
I think this class was…fantastic! Sorry for not completing every single blog but I definitely put in the effort.

Monday, April 5, 2010

McOndo - Introducción

The Name: McOndo

I think the name of this collection of stories is a little troubling. While Fuguet and Gómez explain they respect GGM for his contribution to Latin American literature, they dislike how it reduced the identity of L.Am literature to the magical realism genre (in the minds of North Americans). It seems that they are concerned with establishing a new identity for Latin American writers by differentiating themselves from their predecessors for a North American audience. WHile they differentiate themselves from magical realism, they compare themselves with North Americans and the stereotypes of our culture. They want us to know that they too have smog, McDonald's, condominiums, five star hotels, MTV, etc. Ok, so their point is that they are not so different from us? Or that they are different from the people portrayed in magical realism-genre'd books? Isn't there a more constructive and imaginative way to create the identity of contemporary Latin American writers? Or was the literary movement based on urban reality and the quotidian?

They emphasize their mestizo culture, the introduction of technology, the balance between old and new but this is what GGM was doing in 100 años except for 30 years before. In 100 años we see all of these aspects minus lame corporations like McDonalds and in a rural setting.

La introducción

The name of the book aside, i thought their search for a new literary movement/identity was pretty interesting. Even though the writers all had current technology and lived in big cities, they were not yet connected. This project brought them together and made them not only aware of each other but aware of a similar goal. i don't think its necessarily possible to "create" a literary movement or a revolution per se. I think that humans evolve together (more or less) and new movements and ideas come into conception. So while I don't think they have created a new genre, or something really interesting, they have moved together and forward. I think these writers are more in a transition generation. it kind of reminds me of the literature written by young mexicans in the 60s from "la onda" movement (check out "literatura de la onda" on wiki if you are interested). there weren't doing anything amazing or different but they were talented writers with an very blunt style ie they talked about drugs, rock n roll, promiscuity, etc. In fact, it reminds me a little too much of Jose Agustin's ciudades desiertas in which a group of latin americans go to a writing work shop at a university in the states. has anyone else read this? it was written in the 80s i think......hmmm and Fuguet and Gómez compiled this book in 96? were they really doing something that hadn't been done before. i would say no.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

100 años - parte cuatro y comparaciones

To conclude with 100 años and magical realism as we have come to understand it, i will make some comparisons between the three books we have read and their treatments of time, narration, history, and of reminding us of our origins (maybe not "our" origins per se, but the origin and evolution of different latin american cultures).

Time is a very important concept to magical realism. It is divided into 3 categories in Leyendas de Guatemala: before the conquest, during, and after. At the same time, the short stories bring history alive in the present because they are "historias olvidadas". The purpose of the myth is to remind people of their origins by repeating a story, no matter how fantastical, that explains to us where and from whom we came from.

In comparison, the prophecy of Melquiades - which we can assume to be the book we have just read - serves a similar purpose; the book/prophecy teaches us where the Buendía family came from. Instead of repeating the story in order to pass knowledge from one generation to the next, Marquez has history repeat itself within the story. In that way, the repetitions present in both the books are different yet represent a connection between past, present, and future (in no particular order).

I find that Don Chepe and Doña Tina in Leyendas can be compared to Melquiades and his book of prophecies. In both books, the characters remind us of a narrator that exists outside of the story. In Leyendas the don and doña count time with grains of maiz as they repeat the stories of their antepasados in a rythmic repetition representing the knowledge of those who came before them. Time exists in the shop with these two people as it does inside the stories they tell of the past. In this way, history exists in the present. Similarly, Melquiades knows the inevitable trajectory of the Buendia family. Marquez plays a similar role in that he too knows the beginning and end of the story before it happens. Maybe Marquez created Melquiades as a character that represented himself. in this way, his character reminds us of the world outside the story. which reminds me of the glass house spoken about by Jose arcadio buendia at the beginning of the book. its is almost as though we are watching the story transpire through the glass walls created by the narrator.

A similar sort of control is given to the protagonist in El reino de este mundo. Ti Noel as well as Mackandal hold the power to step outside of reality by transforming into different animal camouflages. (i would talk more about el reino more if i had the time because it definitely shares some of the themes i have discussed).

In conclusion, I think it is really interesting to notice that all three stories have told the story of a part of Latin American history. With Leyendas telling the Maya story of creation, the arrival of the Spanish, and the conquest. For Carpentier, he told the story of Haiti's fight for independence as well as abolition, the first black ruler come dictator, and the second arrival of the French. And finally, 100 años which takes place in no particular Latin American town tells the of the progression of events that much of the continent went through since the arrival of the Spanish. Time's fluidity is so important to magical realism because, as i have mentioned before, it bring the past alive in the present and future. By blurring the lines between these three categories we are reminded of how close we are to our ancestors and by hearing their story, we learn from their mistakes and are reminded of our roots. this has special relevance because Latin American history has had repetitions of its own in which one culture (european/spanish/french/american) is transposed on top of another (maya/mestizo/african). with each sobreposicion de culturas, a part of the culture is either lost succumbing to colonization, or strengthened in retaliation.

Friday, March 19, 2010

100 años - parte tres

I know, very late post. However, better late than never.

I was really interested in what we were talking about today in class but was so groggy that I couldn't figure out what I wanted to say. Now I have a somewhat better idea. We were discussing the political aspect of magical realism in 100 años as well as in the other books we have read. Whether or not this has anything to do with history being subjective (it is because history writing is inevitably subjective) or not, does not really matter.

How does GGM make a commentary on Latin American politics with his inclusion of the Banana Massacre? I will get to that in a minute.

FIrst, what immediately came to mind was the documentary about the 2002 attempted coup d'état on President Hugo Chavez called La revolución no será transmitida (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised). To summarize the film, I'm going to borrow from wikipedia because I saw the movie a couple years ago. What happened in a nutshell is this:

Chavez aims to redistribute Venezuela's oil wealth by nationalizing the oil companies. In April 2002, a group of Chavez supporters gather outside the Presidential palace while a group of protestors march through the streets nearby. When the protester's march reaches the palace, shots ring out and civilians are killed. Some of Chávez's supporters begin firing in the direction they think the shots came from. A former private television journalist said selective footage of the incident was aired by the private media to make it look like Chávez's supporters had shot at unarmed opposition marchers. Meanwhile, the state television channel is shut down and pressure is put on Chavez to step down. The entire event spirals out of control and he does end up stepping down (for a few days before everything is sorted out) and the opposition leader takes his place.

The people in opposition of Chavez's reforms were undoubtedly connected to the private media of Venezuela. They manipulated footage of an event in order to get the president out of office. It shows the power of wealth and force over politics and reality. It also demonstrates their ability to manipulate public opinion. In a similar way Mr Brown and his soldiers manipulate the nation's public opinion by issuing false proclamations and killing anybody who knew otherwise with the cover of the night. GGM is without a doubt making a statement about the politics of Latin America. I think he wants us to ask ourselves: if we are not witnesses to the violence and injustices that happen to our brothers and sisters, can we pretend it did not happen? can we rely or allow people with wealth and arms to tell us the history of our people. GGM wants us to think about more than just this. however this is a start.

Monday, March 8, 2010

100 años - parte dos

Round and round and round we go, where we stop, nobody knows!

This book amazes me. Where some authors may choose to write an entire book concerning what happens in a single day or over the course of a few years, or even one persons lifetime, GGM has written a book that covers countless generations and lives. There are a multitude of themes, names, and personalities that reoccur in this book. Personality traits - almost identical to their father, mother, aunt, or uncle's - are passed down from one individual to the next. Events seem to repeat themselves or we get stuck on a certain event such as the death of Aureliano in front of the firing squad. Once we learn that he will not be killed in that particular scene, the event is prolonged and teased at an infinite number of times. We also learn of the many attempts to murder him throughout his life. These themes, names, and personalities lend a particular confusion to the book. I often have to refer to the family tree at the beginning of the book in order to remember which Aureliano or which Arcadio. The fact that Ursula and José Arcadio Buendía never seem to die does not help to understanding the progression of time or where exactly we are in the story.

I wonder why GGM chose to write like this. I wonder what his vision was and what exactly he was trying to say with this book. Certain aspects of the book remind me of torture. For example the way Amaranta locks herself away in her bedroom when really she wants to spend time with the Colnel Gerineldo Marquez and before that Pietro Crespi. She denies herself love and companionship when it is what her heart longs for. In the same way, Melquiades, Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula hold on to a string of life which they refuse to let go of. Life for them continues on until they are no longer lucid but their soles seem to be immune to death. Amaranta's toying and kissing with Aureliano José is another torture for both of them because they never fully give into their desires. This self-made suffering, torturing of the soul, and drawn-out lives are major themes in this book and I just can't quite understand why. I don't think that every aspect of a book has to have so hidden meaning but literary repetition is well-thought out.

Thoughts? Anyone else on the same page? I would love to hear what other people thought of this.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

100 años de soledad

I read this book in English back when I had no understanding of the magical realism genre. I thought the book was marvelous, unlike anything I had ever read. Because translations like movies never do the origin novel justice, I am happy to be reading this book again and in Spanish.

Marquez mentions incestuous relations, people driven by their passions leaving logic aside, and magical obsessions without the slightest tone of condemnation, surprise or fascination. In this way, as Jon talked about in class today, Marquez creates a narrative that plays with our conceptions of reality, magic, and morality.

One thing I noticed that fell into this category was how Macondo was introduced to readers as being a very primitive town. People live in basic houses without any thought to the world outside the swamp. The rocks shaped as “prehistoric eggs” in the river, the dirt floors of the Buendía house. Marquez’ descriptions of the pueblo lead readers to believe that the story begins in a time long ago before modern inventions. However, the more I read, the more it seems that it is only Macondo that is stuck in time on its own, somehow cut off from the modernizing world around them. Marquez gives us hints of this fact when Ursula returns from her five month sojourn in search of her son. She reveals that there is another town only two days away that they have never known about. Melquíades also gives us knowledge of the scientific world outside of Macondo with the treasures he brings to the town.

I really like this idea of not being able to “trust” the narrator. I had never considered this aspect of the novel when I read it the first time. I’m not sure if I’ve ever really questioned the word of the narrator outside of nonfiction. We so easily fall into the world that Marquez creates that we forget the author’s ability to bend our interpretations. It is easy to critique the protagonist but the narrator we assume to be telling the story from as it exists in their minds. Marquez attempts to do something else with his narrative, something that adds to the magical realism aspect of the novel or perhaps creates it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Conclusión de Asturias y Carpentier

Después de leer dos libros, de los cuales ninguno era exactamente del género realismo mágico, he encontrado una tema que me interesa. En Leyendas de Guatemala, la lengua que usa Asturias es muy poética. Hay un ritmo en las repeticiones de palabras, en su incluso de sonidos, y en sus juegos de palabras. Además, sus cuentos están llenos de colores. Por ejemplo en la segunda mitad del libro, los capítulos tienen un temático de colores. Los diferentes colores significan diferentes partes del día. Con este estilo de escritura, los mitos de los Mayas viven en la página. Aunque este libro procede la creación del género del realismo mágico, para mi, Asturias ha creado un mundo fantástico.

En El reino de este mundo, encontré un aspecto de magia similar en la cultura vodú de los negros. La religión dio poder y respecto a la naturaleza. La integración de la naturaleza con su cultura formaba parte de su identidad. Esto me di cuenta de la cultura Maya. Los cuentos por Asturias, o las recreaciones/improvisaciones de los mitos Maya, dio voces y identidades a animales y la naturaleza.

El realismo mágico (o lo que sea) es algo separado de la cultura de los europeos. Es algo que precedió la llegada de los conquistadores y sigue viviendo como un movimiento contra la cultura no indígena o mestizo. En el caso de Asturias, sus estudios sobre la cultura de los indígenas de su país de nacimiento lo permitió dar una voz a una parte de la cultura Maya no conocido o no entendido por los europeos. En comparación, la cultura mística de los negros en Saint-Domingue era algo que los separaba de los blancos más que la esclavitud. La conexión que tenían los negros con la naturaleza era algo incomprensible y miedoso. Eso les dio poder a sublevar contra los blancos.

Hmmm me gusta lo que he escrito pero no se si estoy convencido de mis propios pensamientos. De todos modos, me interesa mucho el realismo mágico porque es un género de la tierra de América latina. Estoy muy contenta con las dos selecciones de libros y estoy curiosa en lo que queda en el curso.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

deuxieme partie

I was really, really impressed by this book. After the first half of the book, I thought that lo real maravilloso had to do with brujería and vodú. However, I now think that the genre was created possibly not on purpose but because of the unbelievable history of Haiti's Independence and the many conflicts that followed its success. I find it very interesting to think that Haiti was the first country in Latin America that gained independence (2nd in the Americas) and that it was the lowest class in society that succeeded in doing so. The majority of the independence revolutions that followed throughout Latin America were led by Creoles (european-blooded elites)! The story of how Haiti gained independence is also the story of the first country in the Americas (i think) to have abolished slavery. What a magical story.

I really liked Carpentier's style of storytelling. Something in particular that I picked up on was that after Henri Christophe's people destroyed his castle in the sky and he is standing there realizing how quiet it is without his servants, he describes a bat flying up the empty staircase and a butterfly in one of the rooms. Subtly, nature begins to enter into the mansion. To me, this represented Christophe's culture. Not the european one he had tried so hard to adopt, but the magical african/american vodú culture of his people. Christophe denied his roots, his natural beginnings and a culture deeply connected his nature. He exploited his people and his island's resources only have them ultimately destroy him. I also found his death to be a perfect end.

p.s. did anyone else notice a theme of frio in the second half. it was word i kept stumbling upon but was the last word i expected in a climate like Haiti's.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lo real maravilloso

I just kind of wanted to add my thoughts from friday's class before I delve into Alejo Carpentier's novela. I've been considering the idea of storytelling, myth, magical realism and other themes we have discussed in class. When we look back at the things created, thoughts and theories conceptualized, and struggles overcome by humans, they are difficult to comprehend when taken out of context. Political and intellectual revolutions for example, are products of their time. Generally speaking they do not simply occur but are the result of political and social agitation, suffering, and stimulation. The stories of our origins are even more difficult to believe the farther we grow from our roots. In the Maya culture, stories about their beginnings, - steeped in nature - were passed down from generation to generation; each storyteller adding emphasis and elaboration to what they found interesting and to keep their audience listening. So, hundreds of generations later, how are we to distinguish what is real and what is magical? As words take on new meaning, is it possible to make this distinction? Maya leaders dressed in quetzal feathers or the skin of a jaguar could have been named quetzal or jaguar in a story. Isn't it possible that myth and legend only became categorized as such as we separate ourselves from our past with time? I would like to think that whether we call a story "magical" or "real" should depend not as much on our interpretation of the story but by contextualizing it within its culture and history. [b.t.w. i am not talking about contemporary magical realism but the kind in Leyendas]

As for El reino de este mundo, I am just getting into this story which so far I am enjoying. Bit by bit I am coming to understand the genre of lo real maravilloso (or at least I think I am). Told in chronological order, El reino de este mundo follows the story of Ti Noel, a black slave. Unlike the Leyendas de Asturias, this novela doesn't have singing flowers or guacamayo bird as the protagonist. The genre created by Carpentier in this story is based loosely on the very real revolution in Haiti and (as wikipedia so nicely informed me) includes some historical characters as well, such as Mackandal. His character is based on the rebel leader of the same name. At this point in the story there is definitely as aspect of lo maravilloso although it is nothing I can specifically pin-point. Could the voodoo interests of Mackandal qualify? Mackandal seems to me to be a very unlikely candidate to be a leader. He is one-armed slave who busies himself with collecting mushrooms and other natural remedies and poisons for his brujería. I think there is more to the maravilloso genre than voodoo but I'm still figuring it out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

el Palacio de los Tres Colores

Magical realism is not an entirely new genre to me. I have read a few Garcia Marquez books and other stream-of-consciousness style books. However, the genre comes to its readers in many shapes and forms. There were several elements in the "cortina amarilla/roja/negra" stories that I identified as being part of the genre. Some are more obvious than others such as the dream-like structure of the narrative and the mythical characters that are at times humans, animals, spirits, gods, and plants. There were other aspects in this series of stories that confused me though. Maybe my compañeros can help me out... I was wondering if the characters such as Guacamayo and Chinchibirín exist in all the amarilla/roja/y negra stories at once. For example, in Primera cortina amarilla, Chinchibirín asks Guacamayo to tell him about the night saying "Sí, cuéntame de la noche!" (84). In Primera cortina roja, Chinchibirín asks the same question (88) either having no recollection of asking it in the first story or more likely that these stories and characters exist at the same time and not in a chronological order per se. This would explain why lessons learnt in one story are not necessarily passed on to the same character in the following story (also allusions are sometimes made - p.95).

On a different note, something else that interested me about these stories was the character of the Guacamayo. This colourful bird plays many parts in this series of stories. He is sort of an omniscient character who watches over and listens to the action below the treetops. He takes pleasure in arousing conflict and confusion such as in in 1era cortina roja as a drunk and in 2nda cortina roja, warning Yaí of her emanating sacrificial death. There was tension not only between Cuculcán and Guacamayo but between him and Chinchibirín as well. He seems to see through the long held customs and traditions of the Maya and likes to meddle in their problems (or make problems). Although he is definitely a trouble maker, it seems his intentions are somewhat good such as warning Yaí, flor amarilla that after spending a night with Cuculcán, she would be sacrificed. It might be beneficial to learn about the Maya's symbolization of plants, flowers, and animals in order to better understand (if thats possible) the significance or the stories and characters.

Finally, I found the form of the stories to be very interesting such as the use of the three cortinas with reference to the three parts of the day - morning, afternoon, and night - in order to create three different trajectories of storytelling. The image of the guerreros shooting arrows at the cortina roja gave me a vivid visual of hundreds of warriors shooting their arrows into the reddening, late-afternoon sky. The use of colour and imagery in the stories is another theme that I would love to discuss - possibly in class - because its time for me to sign off!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My interpretation

In Leyendas de Guatemala, Miguel Angel Asturias combines nature with human traits, personality, and myth. It is more than simply personifying nature; mythical creatures and people exist within nature. In these stories, nature breathes and is brought alive by the many characters and creatures introduced to us.

The fluidity between human and nature reflects the stream of consciousness style of narration. At times, I found this style to be confusing and difficult to follow. The thoughts that begin one story continually transform so that by the end of the story we are either in a completely new place with new characters or we are brought back to the original characters, reminding us of where we started off.

In Leyendas de la Tatuana, there is an example of how the author connects nature with humans. Humans speak with nature and one understands and works with the other. Asturias writes that the Maestro Almendro "[sabe] el vocabulario de la obsidiana - piedra que habla - y leer los jeroglificos de las constelaciones" (41). Maestro Almendro (a tree or a sacerdote?) has a strong connection with nature. He knows the language of the obsidian stone or the stones many uses and he reads the stars as if the were written by humans (like jeroglificos) or as if they could teach him something. The focus on nature and humans reminds of that these leyendas are based on myths from the maya culture, a culture that had to speak the language of nature and understand it in order to survive.

In the introduction by Paul Valery, he speaks of a translation saying that "la traducción de su trabajo es deleitable, por lo tanto, excelente". What he means when he speaks of a translation - as we spoke about in class - is not entirely clear. He could have read the Leyendas in another language but to me, the translation is from an oral story to a written story. The maya culture depended (although not completely) on storytelling in order to pass on their history to younger generations. The way the stories are narrated follow a stream of thought integrating as Valery says "historias-sueños-poemas". So to me, the translation is from oral history to a modern legends in a postmodern form. From something tangible in ones own mind or in the words of another to words, history, fact, dream-like poetry onto paper. What I like is that even though history and imagination are combined on paper, nothing is final. Not time or meaning. Everything is left open to interpretation.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Hola todos!

Todavía, no he venido a clase pero mañana, les prometo que vendré. Me llamo Tessa y estoy en mi cuarto año en el UBC. Estudio relaciones internacionales con un menor en español. En el año pasado, hice un intercambio en México en la ciudad de Guadalajara. Estaba allí durante todo la confusión del pinche swine flu. Durante mi seis meses allí, viví con una famillia y me gustaría pensar que mi español ha mejorado pero la verdad es que...bueno, vamos a ver.

Me encanta el género del realismo mágico y estoy emocionada de leer y aprender más sobre el. Bueno! voy a comer mi desayuno. Nos vemos en clase el viernes.