Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014)
Perhaps recognizing, in part at least, the illusion of the story that contained him, Gabriel Garcia Marquez “demanded a means of expression beyond the rationalities of old-fashioned narrative realism.” Marquez began to use magical realism to take his stories beyond the strictures of a reality he found too confining. In his stories the boundaries between dreams, imagination and his experience are blurred. This approach to writing has connected to readers, many readers, worldwide. This essay is written on the day after his death (April 18, 2014) at age 87.
Praise for Marquez’s work was not faint. “The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called it ‘the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since ‘Don Quixote.’ [and] The novelist William Kennedy hailed it (One Hundred Years of Solitude) as ‘the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.’”
Marquez received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. The flowering of his use of magical realism was rooted in the soil of Latin America and like all the soils around the globe in which humanity tries to find sustenance, it was poisonous.
Latin American history is dark with murderous dictators, romantic revolutionaries, poverty, illness and violence. In accepting his Nobel Marquez said: “Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination. For our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”
Indeed the universal human condition is one of magic illusion. There is nothing realistic about the way humanity lives on this planet and Marquez had some sense of that. “[The] storms rage for years, flowers drift from the skies, tyrants survive for centuries, priests levitate and corpses fail to decompose. And, more plausibly, lovers rekindle their passion after a half-century apart.”
And yet, this son of Colombia where during the late 1940s and ‘50s, La Violencia claimed 300,000 lives during political strife which for humans is always “crazy-making.” These events and others throughout Latin America “demanded a means of expression beyond the rationalities of old-fashioned narrative realism.”
Make no mistake, magic realism is about “reality,” the reality of our illusions. Salman Rushdie places Marquez’ work in the context of other writers who have recognized P-B in their dystopian stories. “We live in an age of invented, alternate worlds. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Rowling’s Hogwarts, the dystopic universe of “The Hunger Games,” the places where vampires and zombies prowl: These places are having their day. Yet in spite of the vogue for fantasy fiction, in the finest literature’s fictional microcosms there is more truth than fantasy. In William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, R. K. Narayan’s Malgudi and, yes, Macondo of Gabriel Marquez, imagination is used to enrich reality, not to escape it.”
Rushdie emphasizes that we may not appreciate the profound message in Marquez’ “fantasies.” “These are stories about real people, not fairy tales. Macondo exists; that is its magic.” Indeed, that is the tragedy of the human condition. We are using our imagination and energy to deny and distract ourselves from reality.
Despite the fact that Marquez is trying to tell us something we don’t want to hear, many of us have taken his stories into our hearts. “No writer since Dickens was so widely read, and so deeply loved, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez.”
Marquez writes of our identity in P-B with courage and an open heart and above all, with realism. “The men on the expedition felt overwhelmed by their most ancient memories in that paradise of dampness and silence, going back to before original sin, as their boots sank into pools of steaming oil and their machetes destroyed bloody lilies and golden salamanders. For a week, almost without speaking, they went ahead like sleepwalkers through a universe of grief, lighted only by the tenuous reflection of luminous insects, and their lungs were overwhelmed by a suffocating smell of blood.”
Marquez was part of an honorable lineage. “Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, metamorphosed into a large insect, would not feel out of place in Macondo, where metamorphoses are treated as commonplace. Gogol’s Kovalyov, whose nose detaches itself from his face and wanders around St. Petersburg, would also feel at home.”
“The first railway train arrives in Macondo and a woman goes mad with fear. ‘It’s coming,’ she cries. ‘Something frightful, like a kitchen dragging a village behind it.’” Indeed, it is coming.
The writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez resonated with so much of humanity for a reason. Can we guess what that might be?
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.