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.