Bryce A. Suzuki and Dr. Dale J. Pratt, Spanish and Portuguese
In his 1982 Nobel acceptance lecture, Gabriel García Márquez describes the plight of the Latin American artist as a “solitary” calling, seldom understood by those not living within the cultural framework that fuels the work:
It is only natural that [the rest of the world] insist on measuring us with the yardstick that they use for themselves, forgetting that the ravages of life are not the same for all, and that the quest of our own identity is just as arduous for us as it was for them. The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary. . . our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.
García Márquez’s solution to this lonely vision was to use very unconventional means to write a novel called One Hundred Years of Solitude, which, ironically, rendered Latin American life more believable to the world than any “official” history written before.
My task for this project was to find how three celebrated Latin American novels ( The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes, Conversation to the South by Marta Traba, and One Hundred Years of Solitude) transcend a traditional western understanding of Latin American history, and then to write a formal paper about my findings. Having lived in Latin America for over two years, I turned to personal experience for inspiration; and for answers I looked to modern philosophers Nietzsche and Heidegger.
I found a great deal of similarity in the three novels’ structures, which are, by all traditional standards, unstructured. The breaking of the text’s continuity into anachronistic pieces in the reader’s puzzle is an effective way of taking the him/her out of the “comfort zone” of classical reading, thereby forcing the reader into a personal textual experience. (It’s a technique that we in the States are beginning to know better thanks the unorthodox cinema of Terantino’s Pulp Fiction.) This kind of fragmented but whole text forces one into what Heidegger calls the “hermeneutic circle,” a kind of interpretive marry-go-round without a single, correct point of entry or exit. Since these novels foster the type of reading that requires constant review and reassessment, the act of reading itself becomes necessarily a hermeneutic act – a constant interpretive act that engages the reader in a dynamic interchange between text and self: what reading should be! The intimate relationship the reader acquires with the novel is an important element in the “rewriting” of history, which takes place in the reader’s mind.
To understand the aspect of the reworking or “rewriting” of history, I used Nietzsche’s genealogical model found in Genealogy of Morals, wherein the author links the ideals of history to some power structure. Michel Foucault furthers the idea in his article “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” and connects written history to the same concept of power. What’s important is not who’s writing the history but why. Since most traditional history has been written by the conquerors, and since the individual is never free of subjective taste, the idea of objective history is impossible, and therefore, Foucault argues, little difference lies between history and other forms of literature. History is literature, not objective science.
Blending these two theoretical positions provided a rich view point in writing about these novels. Traba’s Conversación al sur sheds light on Argentina’s dirty war in an irrefutable personal way. Fuentes’ La muerte de Artemio Cruz chronicles (through first, second, and third person narrative) the life and death of a man that is at once casualty and cause of the way of life in Mexico. García Marquéz’s Cien años de soledad is a sweeping epic of several generations in small village, which serves as a microcosm of Latin America itself. All three novels exemplify the power of literature to move the individual. That personal relationship with the text has proven far more effective than the official history that dictators and generals have attempted to pass off as true. The gap between Latin America and the rest of the West that García Márquez so painfully describes has been at least shortened by these novels, which, in essence, have provided a truer history than the history books.
I continue to work on the formal paper for this project. The work I’ve done has amplified my appreciation for literature in general, and deepened my love for Hispanic literature especially. I plan to submit my final paper to some Hispanist conferences, such as the Chispa conference, where I would present it to several hundred specialists in the field of Latin American literature from universities all across the world.