BY Samuel SteinbergApril 29, 2014
BY Samuel SteinbergApril 29, 2014
Aureliano had never been more lucid in any act of his life as when he forgot about his dead ones and the pain of his dead ones and nailed up the doors and windows again with Fernanda’s crossed boards so as not to be disturbed by any temptations of the world, for he knew then that his fate was written in Melquiades’ parchments.
—Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
As I began writing about Gabriel García Márquez I found myself doing the very thing for which I have long held great disdain—indeed, I found myself adopting an approach I once criticized in print now years ago. Like too many of García Márquez’s readers—scholarly or not—who have tried to show the presence of García Márquez’s real-life friends and lovers in his works of fiction, or who have sought to track down the real events in which his narrative takes root, I began by writing to my friend Francisco Goldman, who happened to know him, and who maintains a close friendship with García Márquez’s family. I, rather unbearably, found myself writing to Francisco in the name of the boring question that I have mocked more than once: who was the real Santiago Nasar?1 That is, I was writing in order to find the real grounds of some mythos or fiction, something constructed that nevertheless referred to a related concrete thing that exists or that existed in the world. And yet reading the New York Times I was moved by a detail there that I had ignored or had forgotten: even before his death, García Márquez had stopped writing, owed, according to his brother Jaime, to his “senile dementia.”2
That detail seems to suggest the model for how we must all approach the possibility of rereading García Márquez, today. Is that not the lesson he taught us and also the antidote he offered to counter—and quite before the letter—the boring and unproductive reading to which we have submitted his work, against all good sense and perhaps against the grain of the texts themselves? We will have had to forget García Márquez in order to read García Márquez, that is, to read in his texts the chronicle of his own decline and death foretold, and thus to read in these texts the very body of literature itself. That would be the condition of his works’ potential actuality, indeed, the condition that we might one day read his works. Yet that condition was already foretold in his works themselves, in their lucid senility, we might put it, paraphrasing my epigraph. To be sure, we have read García Márquez in the everyday sense of that word. But beyond his influence, his inspiration—nearly every specialist in Latin American literature owes a great deal to reading that great book when they were 17 or 18 years old—we must somehow learn to forget García Márquez in order to read him, once more, as a deeply contemporary writer, and not as a folkloric remnant or a dash of local color.
For all the feverish remembrance of his creative genius, for his having “conjured,” as the title of the New York Times piece puts it, “literary magic,” we have perhaps avoided, or guarded under the monument of a literary greatness, the quite destructive, post-literary event upon which much of his best work centers, and indeed, with which his most famous novel ends. I am speaking, of course, of that great book, Cien años de soledad, in which García Márquez, having created or conjured a magical literary world, wills its destruction, wills the destruction of the very book he has written and the abandonment of the Latin American literary enterprise itself, foretelling the condition of its own rereading. The archive belongs to Melquiades, a set of “ásperos pergaminos” that are a gift he gives to Aureliano. Later in the novel, the work of reading those parchments becomes destruction, the text becomes not an archive or a commemoration, but a consignation to the wind, to disorder. Writes García Márquez, now very near the end of his great novel that “the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia finished deciphering the parchments.”3 If Macondo was the shelter in which writers have sought to dwell or which they have wanted to appropriate from their fathers, even in certain, now risible adaptations like McOndo, then who could blame them?4 But Macondo was always, in the very moment of its utterance, desolate; its lesson from the very beginning was that it was not a house in which to live or a place in which to dwell—no use trying to move into or move beyond what was never there. Writing, García Márquez told us at the beginning, and then at the end, and also many times in between, is intempestive destruction, a condition of living a la intemperie or of shelterlessness; or rather it is through literature that we encounter the intempestive and shelterless conditions in which our own lives unfold. In an age of global war, the end of the katechon, and climatological crisis, one can imagine few writers more actual, more intempestively contemporary, than García Márquez.5