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Digesting Márquez

A post from Bluestem Fiction Reader Tj Martinson.

Over the past few weeks, I have been studying for GRE subject test in Literature. A common strategy for this undertaking is the simple task of association. This association takes the form of taking an author and his or her body of work, condensing it into a small list of traits, and digesting it whole. Edgar Allen Poe = Gothic. The Odyssey= Epic. Jane Austen = Rich, white people complaining and this is somehow ironic. However, one name seemed to jump out from the myriad, likely owing to his recent passing this past April: Gabriel García Márquez.

For the GRE, if the name Gabriel García Márquez pops up, the test-taker is to think primarily one thing: Magical Realism. I understand the strategy behind this utilitarian approach to studying literature, but that doesn’t detract from the inherent problematic behind it. Thinking “Magical Realism” doesn’t quite capture Márquez. However, this “watering down” extends beyond the heinous GRE. Following his death, news stations and radio broadcasts paid dainty homage with something along the lines of, “Gabriel García Márquez was a Colombian-born writer, known for his popularization of Magical Realism…” Considering the audience of these broadcasts, it’s an understandable compartmentalization, but this still falls drastically short. Márquez was an incredibly influential novelist (Thomas Pynchon picked up a thing or two from him), short story master, political participant, journalist, and screenwriter, whose work has been praised world-wide, receiving the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. Whew.

To banally attach Magical Realism with Márquez is a terrible injustice to his name. In a 1973 issue of The Atlantic, Márquez noted that his use of surreal happenings in his writing was not so far removed as it may initially appear to an American reader. Instead, he said, “In Mexico, surrealism runs through the streets. Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America.” In a sense, when we think of Márquez’s contributions as belonging primarily to popularizing or defining Magical Realism, we are heavily diluting the cultural significance of his work. He wrote to the shared consciousness of a populace, and his work represented the strikingly unfamiliar culture for a general reader in an accessible, fascinating manner.

I would urge a meditation on his Wikipedia page (cue the Wikipedia groans) to gain a sense of Gabriel García Márquez as a figure that extends well beyond his masterfully-crafted novels. For example, he was so outspoken in matters concerning U.S. imperialism that he was denied a U.S. visa by immigration until Bill Clinton lifted the ban, citing One Hundred Years of Solitude as his favorite novel. For those who are unsatisfied with gleaning information from Wikipedia, or who are understandably fascinated by a fascinating man, pick up his autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale.

We, as readers or bibliophiles, develop our passion by reading bodies of work, comparing them, and learning about the context that they were written into which they were received. Although it is likely inevitable for an author to posthumously escape his entire body of work being compartmentalized by the general student of literature, we should recognize that this is not true knowledge of a subject. Knowing those key facts should tantalize us into diving head-first into the texts and gaining a sense of the magician who wrote them. Not even for the sake of parlor-trick, name-dropping knowledge, but for the sake of preserving the richness and profundity from which the bite-sized, easily-digested factoids will inevitably rear their ugly little heads.

-Tj Martinson