lunes, 24 de febrero de 2003

The face of nostalgia

Gabriel García Márquez

Feb 13th 2003 | From The Economist print edition
GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ, now 75 and suffering from cancer, made the most important decision of his life as a writer when he was 22—to accompany his mother on a journey, by steamer and rickety train, to Aracataca, a small town surrounded by swamps and banana plantations in the heart of Colombia's northern coastal plain. The ostensible purpose of the trip was to sell his grandparents' house, where the author was born and had spent most of his first eight years.

As Mr García Márquez observes in the opening pages of “Vivir para contarla” (Living to tell it), the memoir of his life to early manhood, “until adolescence, the memory is more interested in the future than the past, so my memories of the town were not yet idealised by nostalgia.” The family did not sell the house, which was both tenanted and in disrepair. But his visit to Aracataca was decisive in creating in his imagination the idealised world that so many of his readers have come to love.

Aracataca was to mutate into Macondo—the name plucked from a railside banana plantation—and his grandfather provided the model for Colonel Aureliano Buendía in “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, published in 1967. In its creation of a tropical world where the absurd and improbable becomes routine, its colourful exaggeration, its joyful jumbling of humour and tragedy, and its celebration of the extraordinary lives of ordinary people, the novel came to epitomise Latin American magical realism. It won its author a Nobel prize, and established him as the most successful, if not necessarily the greatest, of a gifted generation of novelists.

That success was based on his talent as a storyteller, which he marries to a poetic style and a sharp descriptive sense. Unlike many writers of Spanish, he prefers short and simple sentences, which give his writing a limpid intensity. His broadly leftish views and his friendships with the likes of Fidel Castro have made him the darling of Latin America's chattering classes.

This first volume of his memoirs has been eagerly awaited; now here, it is lording it over the Spanish-speaking world's bestseller lists, including that for the Hispanic market in the United States. Mr García Márquez's fans will not be disappointed. Once again, he mines the rich seam of his memories of Colombia's Caribbean coast from the 1920s to the 1950s that provide the material for his novels.

The book is suffused with a warm-hearted nostalgia for that world, in which the main preoccupations were love, sex, music, death, honour and the family. It is a world of unrepentant machismo. His mother's family was “a vast sisterhood of single women and unzipped men with numerous street children”. The writer describes his own deflowering by an eager and generous prostitute when he went, aged 14, to the local brothel to collect a bill for his father, a self-taught homeopathic chemist. Years of carousing in brothels with literary boon companions followed.

Even today, the Caribbean coast is markedly different from Andean Colombia, its people noisier and more outgoing. Back then, before it was troubled by drug traffickers, it was an easygoing tropical outpost. Bogotá, the capital, was a week or more away, up the Magdalena river. This was a journey the young García Márquez would make himself when he won a government scholarship to a secondary school near Bogotá. He then spent a year studying law and watching at close quarters the riots of 1948, which foreshadowed a decade of civil violence.

Interestingly, his memoir reveals its author to be a man of few deep convictions, for whom friendship is far more important than politics. He jokes of “a reputation as a communist that I had not won for my ideology but rather for my manner of dress”. The riots gave him a pretext for dropping out of university and returning to the coast. Already noticed as a budding writer, he scratched an impecunious living from journalism, which he saw as a form of literature. That took him back to Bogotá; the book ends with its author, aged 28, leaving for Europe.

Though the predominant tone is self-indulgent, Mr García Márquez does give glimpses of private torment. His family often struggled in respectable poverty. We learn that he lived with his parents for a total of only three years: their place was taken by his grandparents, books, friends and drinking. He reveals little of what he thought about this. But a picture emerges of a shy, determined, precocious youth, who would yell out in his troubled sleep. The eldest of 11 children, he was clearly both stimulated and troubled by the high hopes that his parents had for him.

This memoir may not win over those who have resisted being persuaded that Mr García Márquez is a great, rather than a very good, writer. His style is one of much poetry but sometimes less meaning than meets the eye: in a typical sentence, he says of his grandfather that “I knew what he was thinking by the changes in his silence.” And fecund though it was, magical realism has much to answer for: Mr García Márquez has rarely let historical fact get in the way of a good story, and Latin American journalism has suffered much from the blurring of its boundaries with fiction. But most readers will not mind. They will simply enjoy the anecdotes and the prose of a master of the narrative art and of the Spanish language.

Vivir para contarla
By Gabriel García Márquez

sábado, 22 de febrero de 2003

El detalle

Los pintores abstractos siempre dejan una duda en los que no somos entendidos sobre un tema ¿saben representar o se refugian en ese estilo para no tener que hacerlo? Con los historiadores que enuncian muchas ideas generales siempre queda una duda parecida. Uno no sabe si generalizan tanto porque han estudiado miles de casos y al final han llegado a una conclusión o si se aprendieron sus abstracciones de memoria y las largan sin pensar.

De Domínguez Ortiz no cabe preguntarse tales cosas, porque siempre empieza con enumeraciones asombrosas de apellidos o de datos para al final darte con toda frescura una conclusión aplastante, contrastada. Domínguez Ortiz no pide ningún acto de fe al lector.

Lo mismo que el buen escritor que no se anda con vaguedades, don Antonio sólo ofrece detalles de cada periodo de la historia de España que recorre con su lupa. ¿Cómo es posible ofrecer tanta riqueza en sólo trescientas páginas? Difícil de explicar. Y difícil también explicar el placer de leerlo.

En el bando opuesto también hay mucho que señalar y criticar, singularmente la pastoral colectiva del episcopado español de 1 de julio de 1937 calificando de Cruzada la guerra que dirigía Franco. Una pastoral desafortunada, tanto por la doctrina como por las consecuencias, aunque puede alegarse en descargo de los autores las circunstancias espantosas en que entonces vivía la Iglesia española. No tienen razón los que hoy exigen a la Iglesia que pida perdón por ello; no tienen razón porque no es lógico que las víctimas pidan perdón a los verdugos.

Antonio Domínguez Ortiz. España Tres milenios de historia.

sábado, 15 de febrero de 2003

El tema del amor y la muerte

La película Solaris cita muchas veces un poema de Dylan Thomas que habla del amor que sobrevive a la muerte. Ese es también el tema de la película.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion
by Dylan Thomas

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

martes, 11 de febrero de 2003

El orden alfabético

Creo que el ejercicio de Carlos Fuentes debería hacerlo todo el mundo. El mexicano ha puesto en orden sus ideas, sus intereses, sus recuerdos, y les ha dado un orden alfabético.

En literatura son importantes para él Kafka y Cervantes. En política se define a la izquierda dentro de la democracia, y sorprende para un español que González le parezca modélico. Su religión es un teísmo sin curas. En filosofía se confiesa seguidor de Witgenstein.

Alguien puede pensar, después de leer su espléndido recorrido por la cultura en el recién inaugurado milenio que es inútil escribir algo parecido porque no se puede mejorar la marca. La historia del arte ha sido tradicionalmente el libro Ginness y las personas del montón nunca hemos tenido voz, pero yo invito a todo el mundo a este ejercicio de repaso. Fuentes ha vivido una vida intensa ha viajado mucho, y ha leído más. Y sin embargo no es la superioridad intelectual del autor lo que otorga el interés a su recuento, es la experiencia, la cercanía de lo que cuenta. Y es por eso que sus pasajes más intelectuales y poco personales son los que se leen más deprisa sin reparar mucho en ellos. El más íntimo se titula Hijos. Su hijo Carlos murió a causa de la hemofilia que le llevó a contraer el SIDA. Los más prescindibles son los del Carlos Fuentes entonando las admitidas consignas del ciudadano politely correct de nuestros días, que fustiga el racismo, la globalización o los gulags de Stalin sin salir de la abstracción de los rótulos.

Carlos Fuentes. En esto creo.

domingo, 9 de febrero de 2003


Y es que la tragedia, al fin y al cabo, propone un conflicto de valores, no de virtudes. Acostumbrados a vivir en un mundo melodramático donde el bueno y el malo se enfrentan, hemos perdido la sabiduría y la generosidad del mundo trágico, donde las partes en conflicto tienen, cada una, razón: Antígona, al defender el valor de la familia; Creonte, al defender el valor de la ciudad. Otorgarle la solución del conflicto a la comunidad que contiene al individuo y a la sociedad, a la familia y a la ciudad, es la misión del teatro trágico. Los valores no se destruyen entre sí. Pero deben esperar la representación que les permite reunirse, resolverse el uno en el otro y restaurar la vida individual y colectiva. Medea. madre y amante; Antígona, hija y ciudadana; Prometeo, dios y hombre, mediante la catarsis trágica, reconstruyen la vida de la comunidad. El teatro trágico, en la catarsis, permite que la catástrofe se transmute en conocimiento.

La pérdida de la tragedia, eliminada por un optimismo sobrenatural (la promesa cristiana de la felicidad eterna) y otro demasiado natural (la promesa progresista de la felicidad en la tierra), nos dio, en su lugar, el crimen. No creer en el Demonio es darle todas las oportunidades de sorprendernos, dijo André Gide.

Carlos Fuentes. En esto creo.