Between noise and death

Jackson Pollock, Untitled, c. 1938–41


Considerations on the book “Memory of my sad whores”, by Gabriel García Márquez


In a thought-provoking essay on the role of the narrator in Chronicle of a death announced, Juan Villoro suggests a kind of link between the two trades, journalism and literature, to which Gabriel García Márquez devoted his life. In both ways of using the words, he takes into account a postulate: reality is an incorruptible court of truth, that is, facts cannot be modified. What can be changed is the interpretation of the facts or the way of chaining them.

In this chaining logic lies the difference between the two, which García Márquez himself highlighted in an interview with Paris Review: in journalism, “a single false fact undermines the whole work. In fiction, however, a single true fact gives legitimacy to the entire work. This is the only difference, and it rests on the writer's commitment. A novelist can do anything he wants, as long as he makes people believe” (p. 237).

Relying on just one instrument – ​​the word –, the challenge seems to have always been to grab the reader and make what was told credible. The truth maintains its status as something uncontroversial, but if, for the journalist, it must be verified, for the fiction writer, it must be explained by the logic of the unverifiable.


When opening the 1997st International Congress of the Spanish Language with his speech, held in Mexico in XNUMX, Gabriel García Márquez told how, at the age of twelve, he discovered the power of words – which appears to him to be linked to the possibility of suspending death. The discovery happened like this: a bicycle just didn’t run over the boy Gabriel because a priest shouted “be careful!” and the cyclist ended up falling to the ground. Then, close to the boy, the priest instructed him: “Did you just see the power of the word?”.

Years before that speech, in 1982, both in the conversations he had with his friend Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, published in the book guava smell, and in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, “The loneliness of Latin America”, he recognized that words are insufficient to account for the experience (personal or historical). This lack can only be overcome by the narrative exercise: when narrating, language is transformed.


A few years before he died, García Márquez published, in 2004, a novel, Memory of my sad bitches, which became his last fictional work. In it, the narrator, an old ninety-year-old, after forty years working in a local newspaper, finds himself retired from the profession of "cable inflator".

This job consisted of reconstructing and completing the world's news that arrived via shortwave or Morse code. A telegraph operator listened to the news and transcribed it. It was then up tocable inflator” – which the Brazilian translator Eric Nepomuceno translated as “tamer of telegrams” – transform the scribble into news, that is, write it coherently and correctly, date it, title it and later spread it to the main newspapers in the city.

From a biographical point of view, García Márquez was close to the professions of telegraph operator and “cable inflator” not only because he worked in newspapers, but because he was the son of a telegraph operator. From a linguistic point of view, the verb “inflate”, in Spanish, also has the meaning of “exaggerating”: exaggerating a piece of news, a fact. “Cable” designates the telegram or written message transmitted by submarine electric cable. “cable inflator” can be read as one who exaggerates the news.

If we move this denomination from the journalistic to the literary sphere, it can characterize the position of the narrator (chronicler or storyteller): this is a cable inflator. Narrating, he, on the one hand, calibrates the language to handle the formless (a noise, a rumor, scribbles), transforming it into cadenced prose, and, on the other hand, faced with a withered language, he, the sovereign blower, inflates it to broaden our understanding of what we call reality.

It is not, therefore, a matter of exaggerating or even reframing the language, but rather – assuming its public, shared nature, through which we can think and reach our common “organization” of the internal and external world – to tone it up in order to allow possible input.


By defending that every writer inhabits the thick jungle of reality, Juan José Saer wanted to throw away the thousands of stereotypes and clichés that are made up and applied to think about literature – especially Latin American literature – from different languages ​​and regions of the planet. One of them – magical realism – is precisely what has been applied without distinction to all of García Márquez's work since 1967, the date of publication of One hundred years of Solitude. Just a simple comparison between this novel and the telenovela Chronicle of a foretold death and we will see that the label hinders rather than illuminates the works.

Another writer, JM Coetzee, takes a similar position. In the long essay he wrote on Memories of my sad bitches, maintains that although Garcia Márquez still bears the label of a “magical realist”, he actually operates in the tradition of psychological realism, whose premise is “that the operations of the individual psyche have a logic that can be followed” ( p. 315). This displacement would bring him closer to the authors of fantastic narratives.

When Italo Calvino organized the collection of fantastic tales from the 9th century – justifying that this type of narrative “says many things about the interiority of the individual and about collective symbology” –, he dated its beginnings in the philosophical field to the 1776th and 1822th centuries, having as a theme the “relation between the reality of the world we inhabit and know through perception and the reality of the world of thought that lives in us and commands us” (p. XNUMX). And one of the first authors of his collection is the German ETA Hoffmann (XNUMX-XNUMX) – not only one of the first inventors of the fantastic tale, but also of psychic realism. In his narratives, an intimate gaze – which really sees – scrutinizes the inner and subjective world and exposes the logic that presides over it.


In the case of the solitary bachelor, narrator of the Memory of my sad bitches, he seems to abandon the prison of himself when, already an old man, he realizes that he had never been gifted by the feeling of love.

Until he was ninety, he had spent his whole life in the house where he was born and where his parents also lived and died; he had had relationships with women who were almost always paid, whether they were prostitutes or not; he had broken off his engagement to a woman; he had endeavored to put and keep everything in its place. In his obsession with order, he had concealed disorder, his true nature.

To celebrate his ninetieth birthday, he decides to treat himself to a night of love with a virgin teenager. As he repeats the act he has always done with women, something gets out of hand. What happens in that first encounter is the starting point of the only experience he deems worthy of being left to his survivors. And the narrative, in which the soul of an old man can be probed and understood, is the material inherited by the readers.

This relationship between an older man and a teenager seems to have been born, according to JM Coetzee, from an episode in the novel Love in the Time of Cholera, which García Márquez had published almost twenty years earlier. In this, the central character, Florentino Ariza, also had relations with a fourteen-year-old girl.

Not only in this type of relationship are Florentino and the old narrator of the Memory of my sad bitches, but also in some other characteristics: Florentino, for example, “has been single all his life, is an amateur poet, writer of love letters for people with speech problems, devout concertgoer, somewhat avaricious in his habits, and Shy with women. Still, despite his shyness and lack of physical attractiveness, half a century of surreptitious romances yields him 622 conquests, about which he keeps notes in a series of notebooks”. The old man also kept a record of encounters with women (up to the age of fifty he had accumulated the sum of five hundred and fourteen women) and, in addition to teaching Spanish and Latin, he writes chronicles and reviews of music and theater for the newspaper.

If Florentino gets rid of the relationship with the girl to carry out his love affair with Firmina, in this soap opera the one who will awaken the old man to love and leave him completely taken by that feeling will be a girl who waits for him, always asleep, in a bedroom brothel.

On the first night, in front of the girl, the old man feels veneration for the woman's body – which he had never contemplated before – without feeling the anguish of desire and the constraints of modesty. From that day forward, eroticism inflates his senses and contaminates his entire life (from the chronicles he writes to the rearrangement of his relationship with women – from his mother to his weekly cleaning lady).


As it is a memorialistic narrative, oscillating between fantasy and reality, some real facts can be forgotten, says the narrator, just as some that never happened can be remembered as if they had happened. When, in the old man's soul, the absence of the girl sets in, always an absentee, whether animal or human, dead or distant, reappears as if they were still alive. The concatenation between the lived and the non-lived is only possible because memory is inflated by imagination. Thus, even if in old age memory may lose what is not essential to it, it rarely fails for what really interests it.

Both the author and the narrator of Memory of my sad bitches coincide at least on one point: narrating is the way that both find to postpone death. By giving written testimony of his learning – sex “is a consolation for those who do not enjoy love” –, the old narrator will be able to postpone his death to any day after his hundred years. Gabriel García Márquez, in the solitude of a room, with an arsenal of only twenty-eight letters and two indicators, fought incessantly against the deaf powers of death.

José Feres Sabino is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Philosophy at the University of São Paulo (USP).


Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Memory of my sad whores. 7a ed. Buenos Aires: Debolsillo, 2011.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Memory of my sad whores. Translation by Eric Nepomuceno. 22a edition. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Record, 2010.

Italo Calvino (org.). Fantastic Tales of the XNUMXth Century. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2004.

  1. M. Coetzee. Internal mechanisms. Essays on Literature (2000-2005). Translation by Sérgio Flaksman. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2011.

Marcos Maffei (selection). The writers 2: the historic interviews of Paris Review. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1989.

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