One hundred years of Solitude

Image: Oto Vale

The centenary of the Soviet Revolution, and even the quincentennial of Luther's revolution, may distract our attention from a literary earthquake that occurred just fifty years ago and marked Latin America's cultural emergence into that new and greater stage we call globalization - itself a a space that ultimately turns out to be far beyond the separate categories of the cultural or the political, the economic or the national. I refer to the publication, in 1967, of One hundred years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, who not only triggered a “tree” Latin American in an unsuspecting outside world, but also introduced different national literary audiences to a new type of romanticization. Influence is not copying but unexpected permission to do things in new ways, to approach new content, to tell stories in ways you never knew you were allowed to use. What, then, did García Márquez do for readers and writers in a still relatively conventional post-war world?

He started his productive life as a film critic and writer of scripts that nobody wanted to film. It would be so outrageous to consider One hundred years of Solitude a mixture, an interweaving and a shuffling of scripts of failed films, with so many fantastic episodes that could never be filmed and that therefore had to be attributed to Melquíades' Sanskrit manuscript (from which the novel was “translated”)? Or perhaps one can note the striking simultaneity between the beginning of his literary career and the so-called bogotazo, that is, the 1948 assassination of the great populist leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (and the beginning of seventy years of Violence in Colombia); or that García Márquez was having lunch in the street while, not far away, 21-year-old Fidel Castro waited in his hotel room for an afternoon meeting with Gaitán about the youth conference he had been sent to organize in Bogotá that summer.

The solitude of the title must not be taken at first to mean the pathos affective role it becomes at the end of the book: first of all, in the foundation or refounding of the world itself by the novel, it signifies autonomy. Macondo is a place far from the world, a new world unrelated to an old one we never see. Its inhabitants are a family and a dynasty, albeit joined by their companions on the failed expedition that just so happened to have reached this point. Macondo's initial solitude is a purity and innocence, a freedom from whatever worldly miseries, forgotten in that initial moment, that moment of a new creation. If we insist on seeing it as a Latin American work, then we can say that Macondo is untainted by the Spanish conquest as much as by the indigenous cultures: neither bureaucratic nor archaic, neither colonial nor indigenous. But if we insist on an allegorical dimension, then this also means the uniqueness of Latin America itself in the global system and, on another level, the peculiarity of Colombia in relation to the rest of Latin America, or even to García Márquez's native region (coastal , Caribbean) from the rest of Colombia and the Andes. All these perspectives mark the freshness of the novel's starting point, its utopian laboratory experiment.

But as we know, the formal problem of utopia is that of the narrative itself: what stories can still be told if life is perfect and society is perfected? Or, to turn the question around and reframe the problem of content in terms of the form of the novel: what narrative paradigms survive to provide the raw material for that destruction or deconstruction that is the very work of the novel as a kind of metagenre. or anti-gender? That was the deepest truth of the pioneer The Theory of Romance by Lukács. Narrative genres, stereotypes or paradigms belong to the most ancient, traditional societies: the novel is, therefore, the anti-form proper to modernity itself (or, in other words, to capitalism and its cultural and epistemological categories, its life everyday). This means – as Schumpeter put it in an immortalized phrase – that the novel is also a vehicle of creative destruction. Its function, in a certain properly capitalist “cultural revolution”, is the perpetual undoing of the traditional narrative paradigms and their replacement not by new paradigms, but by something radically different. To use Deleuzian language for a moment: modernity, capitalist modernity, is the moment of passing from codes to axioms, from meaningful sequences, or even, if you prefer, from meaning itself, to operational categories, to functions and rules; or, in yet another language, this time more historical and philosophical, it is the transition from metaphysics to epistemologies and pragmatisms, we could even say from content to form, if the use of the latter term did not run the risk of causing confusion.

The problem with the form of the novel is that it is not easy to find sequels that replace those traditional narrative paradigms; replacements inevitably tend to take the form of new paradigms and fully-fledged narrative genres again (as witnessed by the emergence of the Bildungsroman as a meaningful narrative genre, based on conceptions of life, career, pedagogy, and spiritual or material development that are all essentially ideological and therefore historical). These newly created paradigms, though already familiar and obsolete, must in turn be destroyed, in a perpetual innovation of form. Even then, it is rare enough for a novelist to invent completely original substitute paradigms (a paradigm shift is as momentous an event in the history of narrative as it is elsewhere), let alone substitute narrative itself – something that modernism has craved all along. Partly and unsuccessfully I would say: for what is demanded here is a new kind of novelistic narrative that replaces all narrative, an obvious contradiction in terms.

The perpetual resurrection of new narrative paradigms and subgenres from the still-hot ashes of their destruction is a process I would attribute to commodification as the first law of our type of society: it is not just objects that are subject to commodification, but everything that is able to be nominated. There are many philosophical examples of this seemingly inevitable process, and philosophers who – like Wittgenstein or Derrida, in different ways – set the goal of freeing us from stable, reified and conventional categories and concepts ended up being labeled. This also happens with the creative destruction of narrative paradigms: its “L-horse movement”, its deviation or defamiliarization, ends up becoming just another “new paradigm” (unless, as in post-modernity, one decides for the opposite). way of what used to be called irony, that is, the use of pastiche, the game with the repetition of dead forms with a slight distance).

Certainly, these are the consequences, in my opinion, of Lukács's ideas in The Romance Theory – ideas that could not profit, as we can, from generations of accumulated modernist experiments in this direction. returning to One hundred years of Solitude with a view to demonstrating and validating what I have just proposed, we can start with its main narrative paradigm, the family romance. This has been much discussed lately, the conclusion being that it is no longer possible, if it ever was (and perhaps, in fact, in the West it never was). O Bildungsroman it is not a family romance, but a family escape; the picaresque novel revolves around a hero who never had a family; in the adultery novel, his relationship with his family speaks for itself.

Someone, I think Jeffrey Eugenides, argues that the family romance is now only possible outside the West, and I think there is a profound idea here. We can think of Mahfouz, for example, but I would argue that one should first have in mind one of the greatest of all novels, the Chinese classic The Dream of the Red Chamber. After all, it comes from China slogan which epitomizes the ideal of the family as the fundamental structure of life itself: five generations under one roof! The great mansion or complex thus includes everyone from the eighty-year-old patriarch to the newborn baby, including the intermediate generations of parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents, according to the appropriate twenty-year generation gaps: patriarchy in its ideal form. or even platonic, one might say (turning a blind eye to the often malign role of the various uncles and matriarchs in the process). Popular wisdom throughout the ages – along with many philosophers, starting with Aristotle – has assimilated the State itself to this patriarchal or dynastic family, and it is this profound ideological archetype that One hundred years of Solitude brings to the surface and makes visible. The extended family founded by José Arcadio Buendía is the “mythical” State, which only later, in its days of prosperity, will be taken over by professional or formal State officials, in the person of the “magistrate” and his police, to whom at first a smaller, discrete position is assigned alongside other aggregates [hangers-on] of any city-state, such as merchants and booksellers. And just as the extended family has its own service personnel – gardeners, electricians, swimming pool workers, carpenters and shamans – these also occasionally appear and disappear around the Buendía family, of which they can be considered honorary members.

The family considered as its own city-state has, as anthropologists teach us, a fundamental problem: endogamy, the centripetal tendency to absorb everything external into itself, running the risk of consanguinity (cross-cousin marriage and even incest) and all the consequences of triumphant identity, including repetition, boredom, and that fateful genetic mutation, the familiar pigtail. What is not family, of course, is the other and the enemy. Still, the law of inbreeding has its own way of thinking the other harmless; it has its own categories of thought for recognizing difference and relegating it to a subordinate and intermittent category, even cyclical and harmlessly festive. These incursions from outside are called gypsies. These bring, like the opening pages of One hundred years of Solitude so memorably shows us, the radical difference, in the form of trinkets and inventions: magnets, telescopes, compasses and, finally, the only true miracle achieved by these tricksters and swindlers, the wonder that proves their authentic magical power: “Many years later ”, reads the immortal first sentence of the novel, “in front of the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice”. Ice! An element with inconceivable properties, a new addition to the periodic table. The existence of ice in the tropics is “memorable” because it is remembered, as Benjamin would say. He marks, in the opening sentence, the dialectical nature of reality itself: ice burns and freezes at the same time.

Thus, it is the raw material of the “family romance” that will be worked on in this opening section in all its resources and possibilities of musical variation, structural permutation, metamorphosis, anecdotal invention, in a production of infinite episodes that are all in fact the same, structural equivalents in the myth of 'magical realism', the production and reproduction of which are themselves what is then tautologically described as 'mythical'. However, the identity of this apparently irrepressible and irreversible proliferation of family anecdotes is betrayed by the repetition of names over the generations – so many Aurelianos (17 of them at one point), so many José Arcadios, and even some Remedios and Amarantas grouped on the female side. Harold Bloom is correct in complaining of “a kind of war fatigue [battle fatigue] aesthetic, insofar as each page is crammed with life beyond the capacity of any individual reader to absorb it”.

I would add to this an embarrassment which the literary commentator is loath to admit, namely, the difficulty of keeping characters' names separate from one another. This problem is quite different from students' complaints about impossible Russian (and now Chinese or non-Western) patronymics and matronymics, and deserves more attention as a symptom of something more historically important: namely, the renewed significance of generations and age. generational, in an overpopulated world and therefore condemned to synchrony instead of diachrony. I remember when, in the development of the now respected literary genre of the detective story, a writer of some originality (Ross Macdonald) began to experiment with multi-generational crimes: you could never remember whether the killer was the son, the father or the grandfather. . So it is with García Márquez, but in a deliberate way, in a spatial world beyond time itself (“where no one had yet died”; “the first human being born in Macondo” and so on). Everything changes in Macondo, the State arrives, and then religion and, finally, capitalism itself; the civil war runs its course like a serpent biting its own tail; the village ages and becomes desolate, the rain of the story comes and goes, the original protagonists begin to die; and yet the narrative itself, in its rhizomatic threads, is never extinguished – its strength remaining the same until the fateful turn of its final pages. The dynasty is a family of names and these names belong to the inexhaustible narrative impulse, not to time or history.

Thus, as Vargas Llosa observed, behind the repetitive synchronicity of García Márquez's family structure there is a whole diachronic progression of the history of society itself, against whose dark and inexorable temporality we follow the structural permutations of an ever-changing, yet static, family structure, whose generations change in their permanence and whose variations reflect history only as symptoms, not as allegorical markers. It is this dual structure that allows for a unique and unrepeatable solution to the problem of form for both the historical novel and the family novel.

But the familiar narrative has one last trick up its sleeve, one last desperate move in its moment of saturation and exhaustion: the absolute inversion or structural denial of itself. For what defined Macondo's autonomy and allowed its luxurious exfoliation of endogamies was its monadic isolation. Yet, as in the ancient cosmologies of atomism, the very concept of an atom produces a multiplicity of other atoms, identical with itself; the notion of the One generates many Ones; the force of attraction that draws everything external inward, which absorbs all difference into identity, now subverts and negates itself, and the repulsion to which attraction suddenly converts takes on a new name: war.

With war, One hundred years of Solitude acquires its second narrative paradigm, only in appearance a mirror image of the first, where the filial, secondary, eccentric protagonist now suddenly becomes the hero. The war novel, of course, is itself a peculiar and problematic kind of storytelling: it is, if you like, a manifestation of a deeper structural need of all storytelling, namely, what scriptwriters' manuals recommend as conflict and what theorists of narrative as Lukács (and Hegel) see as the essence of tragedy's pre-eminence as a form.

The Latin American version of the war novel, however, is a little more complicated than it sounds. Colombia's institutionalized civil war, the Austrian-style alternation between its two parties, is at first recalled by Aureliano's identification with the liberals, but is later transformed by his repudiation of both parties with the adoption of guerrilla warfare and the widespread social “banditry”. Meanwhile, in the country of Bolívar, this atomization is modified by a true Bolivarian Pan-Americanism (of the type aspired to by both the recent Latin American revolutions, the Cuban and the Venezuelan), which is itself but a figure of that “revolution”. world” that the original Soviet Revolution had hoped to initiate. The ambiguity is not just that of South America as a geographically and ethnically distinct “autonomous zone” in a world history of which it nevertheless wishes to be a central part; but also that of the imbrication of these various autonomies – from the village to the nation-state to the region – between which representation moves freely. Let's remember that the mythical founder, José Arcadio, left the Old World "looking for an outlet to the sea" (discouraged by his discovery of a primitive marsh, he settled in the position halfway to Macondo). The space of independence (and solitude) is, therefore, something similar to the attempt to become an island. The sea figures here as the ultimate frontier and the end of the world, socially and economically personified for Latin America by the United States. (It is true that the other large autonomous regional zone of which Cartagena de García Márquez is a part is the Caribbean, but this hardly has in One hundred years of Solitude the importance that the regional centrality of the Cuban Revolution had in García Márquez's own life).

This would be the time to talk about politics and One hundred years of Solitude as a political novel, because, despite the eternal Colombian civil war, the enemy is always the United States, as the inexhaustible sigh of Porfirio Díaz reminds us: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!”. But these gringos, a strange and foreign race, whose mere approach strains the muscles and always arouses suspicion, are here personified by the modest Mr. Brown, soon replaced by the faceless banana company, which brings with it capitalism, modernity, the persecution of unions, bloodthirsty repression and an inevitable relocation (an unusual anticipation of the plague experienced by the United States itself, decades later, of expatriation of factories). It also brings the desolation of eight years of rain: a world of mud, the worst possible dialectical synthesis between flood and drought. But what is truly and artistically political about this sequence is not just its mythical symbolism – or, for that matter, the way in which the set of formal problems of representing villains, foreigners and collective actors is deftly circumnavigated – but rather the replacement of the theme. greatest of García Márquez: not memory, but forgetting. The plague of insomnia (and the resulting amnesia) has long since been overcome; but a specific – we could say surgical – amnesia is revived here: no one but José Arcadio Segundo can remember the massacre of the workers. It was successfully eradicated from collective memory, magically and yet naturally, in that archetypal repression which allows us all to survive the immemorial nightmares of history, to go on living happily despite the “slaughterhouse of history” (Hegel). This is the realism – yes, even political realism – of magic realism.

In this context, however, there is something peculiarly sterile and skeletal about the paradigm of war as such: the warlike cannot provide the anecdotal richness of the familiar paradigm, even more so when it is reduced, as in the novel, to the rigid reciprocity of enemy sides. . What emerges is not so much a war novel as a game of executions – starting with that famous first sentence (“in front of the firing squad”) – and a set of surprising twists (Aureliano will not be executed – twice –, but his brother José Arcadio did, along with several alter egos). Here, in this temporal rather than geographic “end of the world”, what the performance promises is a momentary halt in that breathless continuity of replete time and perpetual narrative lamented by Bloom, thus creating space for a whole new type of event: memory ( “Colonel Aureliano Buendía would remember”). The representation of memory as an event transforms this temporality completely: totally different from the familiar Proustian version, it arrives like a lightning bolt with a force of its own. Nostalgia is anecdotal; memory here is not a resurrection of the past, in this space filled with incessant phrases, something like a Churrigueresque narrative. There can be no past in that traditional sense, nor can there be any present (what there is, as readers of the novel already know, is a manuscript, which we'll get to shortly).

But the structural inversions that make up the novel's series of events draw their most intense energies from the material of war, and this especially in the characterology of Aureliano (who, for that reason, most often seems to be the novel's protagonist, even though it has no protagonist). , other than the family itself and the aforementioned community space). García Márquez is a behaviorist in the sense that the characters lack psychology, deep or otherwise; without being allegorical, precisely, they are all obsessive, possessed and defined by their own specific and unrestricted passions. Secondary characters are marked by mere functions (plot or professional); but when the protagonists come out of their obsessions, it is to enter the nothingness closed spaces and locked houses – as with Rebeca, who remains forgotten in her advanced age in a kind of narrative kidnapping, where the distraction of the novelist (or rather, the impersonal chronicler) is rigorously identical to the forgetfulness of society (and the family). ) as such; without their anecdotal bondages, they don't just become normal, they disappear.

Or else his passions suddenly turn into new missions, new demonic possessions: this is what is paradigmatic in Aureliano, who moves from the fascination for ice in his childhood, passing through the year of artisanal alchemist production (in his father's laboratory) of small fish gold, to the political vocation for war and rebellion, which takes hold of him as soon as Macondo is threatened with being absorbed by the institutional reification of a State, and which again disappears as a deconversion and an access of discouragement at the end of the era. of revolutions, the moment he returns to his handicrafts and his secluded rooms: in Macondo, only incessant activity sustains life.

In Macondo, only the specific and singular exist: the great abstract schemes of dynasty and war can dominate only minute and empirically identified activities. The specificity of García Márquez's narrative solution clearly resides in the coordination, something unique, not to say impossible, of these narrative levels: not in the unification of episodic poetic inventions within the continuity of the life of a bizarre singular character (as in the generic parallel line of the meganovels by Grass and Rushdie), but rather in a unique structural constellation, perhaps what in the last instance can be called “magical realism”. In fact, it's about stopping using that generic term for everything unconventional and throwing it in the basket where we keep those tired epithets like “surrealist” and “kafkaesque”. The original version by Alejo Carpentier is the one in which the real itself is a marvel (the “real wonderful”) and in which Latin America is itself, in its paradigmatic maladjustment – ​​where computers coexist with the most archaic forms of peasant culture and so on, through all stages of historical modes of production – a marvel to behold. . But this can only be observed and said with absolutely dry wit and the unsurprising undeniability of a mere empirical fact. García Márquez’s “method”, he tells us, must be that of “telling the story… in an imperturbable tone, with an infallible serenity, even if the whole world resists, without for a moment doubting what you are saying and avoiding the frivolous as well as the truculent… [That is] what the ancients knew: that, in literature, there is nothing more convincing than your own conviction”. There is, therefore, nothing remarkable, nothing miraculous, about the fact that Mauricio Babilonia, a man who is all love, pure love, is constantly surrounded by a cloud of yellow butterflies (“smelling like motor oil”); there is nothing tragic about his being put down like a dog by someone whose plans he interferes with; nothing magical about the fact that a priest tormented by the total absence of God or religion in Macondo tries to call its citizens to decency and devotion by levitating one foot above the ground (after fortifying himself with a cup of hot chocolate); or that Remedios the Beauty ascends to paradise like a heap of backyard sheets in the wind. No magic, no metaphor: just a grain captured in transcendence, a materialist sublime, drying dishes or changing oil captured in an angelic perspective, a heavenly dirt, the Platonic idea of ​​Socrates' dirty toenails. The storyteller must relate these things with all the ontological coldness of Hegel before the Alps: “This is it” (and even then without the ontological emphasis of the philosopher).

It is not the “magic”, therefore, but something else that must be evoked when considering the undeniable uniqueness of García Márquez's narrative invention and the way it allows it to come into existence. I believe that this other thing is his disquieting, captivating concentration on his immediate narrative object, which bears a resemblance to Aureliano's waking up to the world “with open eyes”:

“While they were cutting her navel, she moved her head from side to side, taking in the things in the room, and examining people's faces with an unastonished curiosity. Afterwards, indifferent to those who came to meet him, he kept his attention focused on the roof of palms, which appeared to be on the verge of collapsing under the tremendous pressure of the rain”[I].

Later, “adolescence… had restored the intense expression he had had in his eyes when he was born. He was so focused on his jewelery experiments that he hardly left the laboratory, and only to eat”. It is interesting, though not particularly relevant for our purposes, that, like his kidnapped characters, García Márquez himself never left his home during the writing of One hundred years of Solitude; what is essential for understanding the peculiarities of the novel is this very notion of concentration, which, much more than the vague ideas of magical or “maravilloso”, gives us the key to its episodic narrative.

We could go back and sketch a long journey from Aristotelian logic to Freudian free association, passing through the psychology of XNUMXth century associationism and culminating in surrealism, on the one hand, and Jakobsonian structuralism (metaphor/metonymy), on the other. In all these framings, what matters is the temporal succession and the movement from one topic to another, as when Aureliano’s nascent gaze moves from object to object or when the positioning of objects in this or that “theatre of memories” reminds the viewer of speaker the order of your comments. What I want to suggest is that, far from the baroque disorder and the excess of that “magical realism” with which he is so often labeled, the movement of García Márquez’s paragraphs and the unfolding of the contents of his chapters must be attributed to a rigorous narrative logic. , characterized precisely in terms of a peculiar “concentration”, which begins with the position of a specific topic or object.

From a relatively arbitrary starting point – the gypsies and their peculiar mechanical toys or games, the wife's family, the building of a new house (just to mention the beginnings of the first three chapters) – an association of events, characters and objects is followed with all the rigor of Freudian free association, which is by no means free, but demands maximum discipline in practice. That discipline demands exclusion, not the epic inclusion so often attributed to García Márquez's narrative. What does not emerge in the specific line of associated topics must be rigorously omitted; and the narrative line must take us wherever it goes (from the curse of the pig's tail to the defamation of Prudencio Aguilar, his murder, the haunting of his ghost and, consequently, the attempt to abandon the haunted house, the exploration of the region, the foundation of Macondo, its settlement by its children, the organ that is far from being a pig's tail, etc.). Each of these threads closely follows its predecessor, whatever format the series takes from its own momentum; it is not, however, the form of the narrative sequence, but rather the quality of its transitions, as they emerge from García Márquez's rapturous concentration on the logic of his material, as much as from the sequence of topics that emerge from that undistracted gaze, from which neither abstraction nor convention can move it. This is a narrative logic that is somehow beyond both subject and object: it does not emerge from the unconscious of some “omniscient narrator” nor does it follow the usual logic of everyday life. It would be tempting to say that it is integrated into the raw material of that Latin America that Carpentier characterized as the “maravilloso” (due, I believe, to the coexistence of so many layers of history, so many discontinuous modes of production). In any case, it is not really appropriate to attribute to the fictitious entity called “imagination” of García Márquez some exceptional genius of a storyteller. Rather, it is an equally indescribable or unutterable intensity of concentration which produces the successive materials of each chapter, which then, in their accumulation, result in the appearance of Loops and unpredictable repetitions, “themes” (to name another literary-critical fiction), finally running out of steam and starting to reproduce themselves in static numerical patterns.

That concentration, however, is the quality we consume in our single reading and which has no real equivalent in, say, the drum ou Gravity's Rainbow ou The Children of Midnight, even though their impulses are analogous, as are the associations from which their episodes are constructed. We don't have ready-made technical-literary terms to address the strange mode of active contemplation that is at the core of this compositional (and reading) process as well. It would be philosophical and pedantic to refer to the famous Fichtean formula – “the identical subject-object” –, which had its glory days in areas beyond aesthetics; but there is a sense in which it stands as the most satisfying characterization and prompts us to take an essentially negative approach to these narrative threads. No, there is no point of view or narrator (or reader) involved here. There is no stream of consciousness or free indirect style. There is no order initially challenged and finally restored. Nor are there digressions; the thread follows its internal logic without distraction and without realism or fantasy. The great images – ghosts that grow old and die, the lover that emanates yellow butterflies – are neither symbols nor metaphors, but only designate the thread itself, in its inexorable temporal progression and in its stubborn repudiation of any distinction between the subjective and the objective, the inner feeling and the outer world. Only the starting points are arbitrary, but they are given in the family itself; they are less a genre or a theme than a network of points, any one of which can serve until the associations begin to run dry and cease. The dialectic of quantity over quality leaves its mark as the episodes accumulate and begin to overwhelm what were previously new references with layers of memory. And indeed, this is what, for lack of a better word or concept, García Márquez calls the narrative logic of his threads: “memory,” but memory of a strange and non-subjective kind, a memory within the very things of his future possibilities, threatened only by that epidemic of contagious insomnia that threatens to liquidate not only the events, but the very meaning of the words themselves.

It would be philistinism of the most stodgy and tedious kind to utter the word “imagination” here, as if García Márquez were a real person and not (as Kant thought the “genius” himself) simply the vehicle of a physiological anomaly – like his own characters. – the bearer of that queer, inexplicable gift we call concentration, the inability to be distracted by what is not implied by the narrative sequence in question. As readers, it is a happy accident if we are able, in a similar way, to lose ourselves in that precisely situated oblivion, in which everything follows logically and nothing is strange or "magical," a hyperconscious yet unreflective attention in which we are unable to to distinguish ourselves from the writer, in which we share that strange moment of absolute emergence that is neither creation nor imagination: participation rather than contemplation, at least for a while. It is a defining feature of the enchantment of the marvelous that we ignore our own enchantment.


Still, some attributes of the work of art in general offer us privileged access to what the Frankfurt School used to call truth content; among them, temporality has always played a significant role in the most fruitful analyzes of the novel as form. Just as Le Corbusier described housing as a “machine for living”, so the novel has always been a machine for living a certain kind of temporality; and in the multiple differentiations of global or postmodern capitalism we can expect an even greater variety of these time machines than there was in the transitional period we call literary modernism (whose experimental temporalities, paradoxically, initially seemed, in front of it, much more varied and incomparable ).

The novel is a kind of animal, and just as we speculate about the way a dog experiences time, or a tortoise, or a hawk (all within their limits and possibilities, and granting that we measure it in terms of our own experiences) temporal humanities), so too each particular novel lives and breathes a kind of phenomenological time behind which non-temporal structures can sometimes be glimpsed. That is why, for example, I have insisted on understanding what is here called the act of memory as a punctual experience, an event that interrupts the anecdotal yet irreversible flow of narrative sentences and that is at once reabsorbed into them as if still another narrative event. Soon, what seemed to be the pause and distance of a moment of self-awareness reveals itself as another instance of non-reflexive consciousness, that incessant attention to the world that is itself shaped and tensioned by a contradictory ontology in which everything has already happened to the moment. same time it is occurring again in a present where death barely exists, although time and aging do. Repetition has become a popular theme in contemporary theory, but it is important to dwell on the varieties of repetition, of which this temporal repetition – past and present all at once – is a unique type.

This particular temporal structure therefore intersects with another, in which fundamental historical breaks are registered: the foundation of Macondo is one of these “breaks”, but it is reabsorbed thanks to the tendency of mythical events to return to themselves. The arrival of the banana company, which records the traumatic event of US economic colonization, is assimilated into the continuity of everyday Macondo life as its agents and actors become part of Macondo's secondary staff; and afterwards it is all swept away by the misery of the rainy years which make its presence invisible. Here too, therefore, temporality as a formal problem reflects that more general dilemma I have characterized as inbreeding, in which the autonomy of the collective and its internal events must somehow find a way to defuse external shocks and assimilate them. to their factory, either through marriage, war or, in this case, through a naturalization that turns what is socioeconomic into acts of God or forces of nature. Historical temporality becomes natural history, albeit of a miraculous kind; while its recipients retain the option of retreating into the actual interior space of collapsing buildings.

Such withdrawals, the long-awaited deaths of the main protagonists, and even the very indicators of capitalist modernity in the figure of imperialist penetration, by the banana company, of Macondo's increasingly threatened autonomy, and with all this the gradual exhaustion of the two plots or paradigms narratives (the cyclical repetition of names; the growth and gradual nullification of military rivalries in ideological conflict and the dialectic between guerrilla resistance and “total war”): all this indicates a growing impatience with the paradigms whose structural originalities have been exhausted and which, after their double development, give rise to the endless repetition of fibs and the accumulation of anecdotes upon new anecdotes. (Where does the break take place? This is the historian's unspeakable vice, the hidden enjoyment of periodization: a deduction of the final times of its beginning, of "when it happened" or, in other words, when everything stopped - the opposite of the primary scene I would personally select the moment when “Colonel Gerineldo Márquez was the first to realize the emptiness of war”, but I leave it to others to identify their own secret “break”.

This type of memory event is totally different from its great predecessor: Absalom, Absalom! by Faulkner.

"Once upon a time - have you noticed how the wisteria, receiving the full impact of the sun on this wall here, distils and penetrates this room as if (unhindered by the light) by a secret and attrition-filled progress made from particle to particle of dust from the myriad of components of darkness? This is the substance of remembrance - touch, sight, smell: the muscles with which we see and hear and feel - not the mind, not the thought: there is no memory: the brain remembers exactly what the muscles seek: nothing more, nothing less: and the resulting sum is generally incorrect and false, and only deserves to be called a dream.”[ii].

Faulknerian memory is deeply sensorial, in the Baudelaire tradition – the odor that brings a whole moment of the past with it. Despite his attribution to a poetic avant-garde, this is the dominant Western ideological conception of time and the body, while García Márquez's is, on the contrary, a reversal of chronological time: the time of miracles and curiosity, of heightened attention, of the memorable, of the exceptional event (Benjamin's storyteller) –, what usually happens in collective and popular memory, although here it is the “popular memory” of an individual character. And the opposite: for is not everything in Faulkner somehow transmitted by memory as such, so that the events, drenched in it, can no longer be distinguished as present or past, but only conveyed by the endless murmur of the reminiscent voice? There is no such voice in García Márquez: the chronicle registers, but does not evoke, does not fascinate and immobilizes us, captivating, in the network of a personal style; and lack of style is also, in general, the hallmark of the postmodern.

“The family's history was a wheel with irreparable repetitions”, says Pilar Ternera towards the end of the novel, “a revolving wheel that would go on turning until eternity if it weren't for the progressive and irremediable wear of the axle”. We can recognize the beginning of this final section by the emergence of pure quantity as its organizing principle and, above all, by the apotheosis of those dualisms so dear to structuralism in general, where content gives way to standardized and empty formal proliferation; but also, as I already mentioned, for the signs of modernity that are beginning to appear in the village, like so many unwanted foreigners who somehow need to be accommodated.

The denunciation of imperialism would hardly be new to Latin American literature: the genre of “novel of the great dictator” would be another version of this (García Márquez himself adopted it in his following book, The Autumn of the Patriarch) – the portrait of the political monster who is alone strong enough to resist the Americans. Here, however, the analysis is more subtle: only rain can force the banana company out of the country, but the cure leaves behind its own insurmountable desolation – the very epitome of “dependency theory”.

The ways in which this penetration of “Western modernity” is registered in temporality itself are more problematic, as they bring with it what we now call “everyday life”, but which the title of the novel has already identified as “a pitiful loneliness”, the lack of a miraculous event, whose boredom must now be filled by soulless routine work: in Amaranta's case, sewing, whose “very concentration provided her with the calm she lacked to accept the idea of ​​frustration. It was then that he understood the vicious circle of Colonel Aureliano Buendía's little gold fish”. But this introduction of “understanding” into the pure activity of the chronicle is already a contamination and points to other types of narrative discourse that the novel intends to avoid. The same happens with the notion of “truth”, which appears at the precise moment when José Arcadio Segundo discovers that the memory of the massacre of the workers was, in an Orwellian way, erased from the collective memory. Truth then becomes the negative in an almost Hegelian sense: not the chronicle's endless listing of events, but rather the restatement of old events rather than their distortion or omission. But this is also another type of discourse, another type of narrative, different from the one we were reading.

This is the other side of the exhaustion and emergence of reader boredom to which Harold Bloom gave voice: for here the chronic mode has fallen into disrepair and the novel itself has begun to lose its raison d'être, threatened by psychology on the one hand, and by deep analysis on the other. The chronic mode was itself a kind of archaic utopia, but of a more subtle and effective kind than those thoroughly indigenist novels that Vargas Llosa so bitterly complained about. The chronicle took us back to an older kind of time and place, an older way of origin. Now, suddenly, for the first time, we begin to understand the novel as a duality in itself – the existence, parallel to the impersonal yet contemporary narrative of García Márquez, of ancient Sanskrit parchments on which Melquíades composed the same story, but in a different way. another way, more authentic. And at that point, One hundred years of Solitude paradoxically it becomes a text-trend that embraces all the ideological furor of the “écriture” of the 1960s; for, in an unexpected final blossom, a conclusive originality emerges to match that of the novel's beginning, and when "real life" finally coincides with the parchment confabulation, it all ends up in a book, just as Mallarmé had predicted, and the novel leaves in a whirlpool of dead leaves, just as Macondo is swept away by the wind.

* Fred Jameson is director of the Center for Critical Theory at Duke University (USA). Author, among other books, of Archeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (Verse).

Translation: Carlos Henrique Pissardo

Originally published in the magazine London review of books on June 17, 2017.

Translator's notes

[I] GARCIA MARQUEZ, Gabriel. One hundred years of Solitude. Translation by Eliane Zagury. 53rd edition. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2003, p.20. Other passages cited by Jameson are taken from the same edition [Translator's Note].

[ii] FAULKNER, William. Absalom, Absalom! Translation by Celso Mauro Paciornik and Julia Romeu. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2014, p.132.

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