Sunday, January 31, 2010

The End of Carpentier, the Dawn of a New Haiti

For whatever reason, I found that reading the last half of El reino was a remarkably difficult task. I suppose I only have myself to blame for my difficulties, given that I've had an incredibly busy (but awesome) weekend, I took to reading the rest of the book with a casual, somewhat apathetic attitude. I realize now, in retrospect, that reading Carpentier's prose with such a mindset is not the most fruitful of endeavors. That being said, I still ended up having a nice date with Carpentier.

This time around, I found myself trying to let go of my mind and let the words on the page guide my thoughts as much as possible. By reading in this way, I found myself being less aware of, and sensitive to, the elements of "lo magíco" in the book. Page after page, I found myself losing the ability to differentiate between "lo real" and "lo magíco." Instead, I felt like somehow the two elements were not distinct, separate entities, but rather, were a new integrated entity. I think that this was an important epiphany of sorts, in terms of learning "how" to read realismo magíco - cast your logic aside and let your perception of reality be changed.

I wish I had some deep insightful commentary to add tonight, but the reality is I don't. I'm not ashamed, or afraid to admit that fact either. To me, the conclusion of Carpentier's book was simply a continued iteration of all the literary fortitude that I encountered in the first half. One element that I did; however, find a bit distinct and interesting was that the flow in second half of the book was different. It seemed to me that, in general, the chapters in the second half of the book were considerably shorter and felt a bit anecdotal. In particular, the chapters titled "El nave de los perros" and "El sacrificio de los torros" stuck out to me. While reading through them, I couldn't help but think of Leyendas de Guatemala. Although the writing styles of Carpentier and Asturias are markedly different, I couldn't help but think that these chapters were more similar to mini-legends, or folklore than chapters in a novel based on a revolution. Upon further reflection, I also found it interesting that, as a whole, El reino was not a novel that contained significant graphic accounts of the violent acts that one generally associates with a bloody and hard fought revolution. Rather, Carpentier often opted to focus on the spiritual side of the revolution, especially in the second half of the novel. Carpentier gave us a further insight into the somewhat exotic and prophetic signs that the black population of Haiti derived from the land (yes, i'm referring to the twisted mangled tree) and incorporated into their religious beliefs. Coincidentally, I finally resolved the debate we had in class about who was right. I think the black perspective wins.

Bravo Carpentier, you did well!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Carpentier Strikes a Chord

Wow, that was definitely an interesting read. Although I enjoyed Leyendas de Guatemala, reading through it always felt like a chore. This was most certainly not the case with El reino de este mundo. While Carpentier does use a rich vocabulary that was somewhat daunting at times, as a whole, his prose was manageable and, more importantly, compelling. With every page I read, I found myself becoming more deeply connected to Carpentier's words, and the story that he was crafting.

Like many of my classmates have already commented, Carpentier's writing is definitely a clearer portrayal of what "realismo magíco" is, especially in comparison to something like Leyendas de Guatemala. In the prologue to the narrative, Carpentier offers his take on "lo real marvilloso" and why it a phenomenon that is specific to the Americas. For instance "Lo real marvilloso se encuentra a cada paso en las vidas de hombres que inscribieron fechas en la historia del Continente..." Carpentier expresses a certain mysticism that is associated with the Americas and, more specifically, the exploration and development of the land. After reading Asturias and now reflecting on Carpentier's prologue, for no apparent reason, it suddenly started making sense to me why there is a mystique surrounding Central/South America and the Carribean. In the grand scheme of things, the countries that now constitute these geographical regions are young. Moreover, they are littered with lush rainforests, diverse flaura and fauna, interesting animals, volcanoes and relics of ancient advanced civilizations. Since the beginning of the conquest, writers have struggled to describe the wonder and awe that is the reality of the Americas.

Natural beauty aside, Central America and the Carribean have also been a setting for numerous extraordinary events. The Haitian revolution is an example of one such event. If one is seeking a detailed historical account of the Haitian revolution, then Carpentier's novel is definitely no a good choice. On the other hand, if one is seeking an enchanting and mystical version of the revolution, then Carpentier is the man you should talk to. There is little doubt that the backbone of Carpentier's tale is deeply rooted in actual history- characters, settings, major events that all actually occurred during the revolution. However, Carpentier chooses to bend and warp the truth in such a way that the reader feels like they are experiencing reality, except in some chemically altered state of mind. I think the best example of this "tactic" is the way in which Carpentier chooses to illustrate Mackandal. By all historical accounts, Mackandal was a man of flesh and bone like any other; however, his rebellion against the white oppressors at the time helped garner him a certain amount of notoriety. Carpentier decided to play on this idea by transforming the man that was Mackandal into a sort of demi-god that possesses powers of transformation. The portrayal of Mackandal as a "demi-god" type of character is only one small example of the numerous instances that Carpentier consciously chooses to "embellish" the truth in a magical and fascinating way. The interplay between reality and the supernatural courses through the veins of Carpentier's pages.

Overally, I greatly enjoyed reading the first half of the book. I definitely feel as though I may have pushed through the reading a bit quicker than I should have and didn't pick up on some of the finer details, but I think that's pretty much an inevitability at this point. Looking forward to the rest!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Asturias Strikes Back

I can safely say that my experience reading the second half of Leyendas was considerably more pleasurable than when I read the first half. This time I managed to let myself read through the text without obsessing about being able to understand every single word. It turned out to be quite a fruitful strategy since I managed to read the text at a steady pace while still retaining a good overall level of understanding. At the end of the day, I ended up feeling triumphant rather than overwhelmed when I finished the reading.

Logistical details aside, I found the content of the reading itself to be quite interesting and vastly different than the first half of Leyendas. In the first half of Leyendas, each individual "section" felt like it had its own unique identity and there was no sense of continuity, at least in my opinion, between the various stories. This is most certainly not the case for the second half of Leyendas. As one reads from Cortina to Cortina, it is impossible not to feel as though each section is carefully woven together. Consequently, I ended up feeling like the reading flowed together and was more like reading a chapters of a novel than individual cuentos. Furthermore, there was a great sense of consistency between each of the Cortinas due to the fact that they shared common characters and were linguistically very similar. For instance, unlike the first half, a great deal of dialog is present in the second half. One of the most distinct features that was common to the Cortinas was the presence of dialog. Incorporating dialog into the text added another layer of depth to the Leyendas. Portions of prophetic narrative were bolstered by dialog where one got the sense that the characters were chanting. In the case of the Cortinas, the sections of chanting gave me the sense there were strong religious undertones present in the text. Asturias definitely made it clear that in ancient Guatemalan society, nature was link between the realm of gods and the realm of man.

As a final note, I must say that as I was reading this half of Leyendas I definitely got a stronger taste of what we now lovingly refer to as "Magical Realism." The alking turtles and birds, coupled with a healthy amount of invisible people made me feel like I was on some sort of wicked acid trip. I really hope this is a sign of things to come, cause I want another hit.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Asturias : A Feast for the Senses

Overwhelmed. That's probably the best word I can use to describe my experience reading the first half of Leyendas de Guatemala. Understanding the "core" of each legend wasn't the issue so much as being able to fully appreciate the finer details in each of the stories. The breadth of Asturias' linguistic abilities leads to texts that are linguistically dense in many respects. Due to the rich vocabulary Asturias uses, I found myself making a trade off between understanding the subtle details of the texts and understanding the stories as a whole. Initially, I was more largely in favor of reading in the former way rather than the latter. However, I was forced to abandon that method of reading in favor of understanding the stories as a whole to keep my sanity, and progress through the reading at an acceptable pace.

Although I was overwhelmed in the sense that the reading was challenging, I was also overwhelmed by richness of Asturias' writing. As I was reading the legends, I felt like I was being transported to a foreign, exotic world. Asturias poetically describes the sights, sounds and smells of the environments that play host to his stories. "Y el olor acompañaba a las imagénes. El cielo olía a cielo, el niño a niño..." is a passage from Lyenda del Cadejo that is still lingering in my mind. I find this description peculiar and elegant at the same time. To me it was peculiar in the sense you can't really describe what the sky smells like or a child for that matter, but on some level you know they have a smell, and how the smell. Therefore, it is in the simplicity of stating that "el cielo olía a cielo..." that the eloquence of Asturias' writing is embodied. Upon reflecting, my experience as a whole reading Asturias' leyendas is best compared to a mosaic of memorable little anecdotes such as the one above. My memory of the leyendas is studded with moments of pure sensory pleasure and fantasy.

Regretfully, I feel as though my experience thus far is incomplete as the limits of my vocabulary comprehension has hindered my ability to fully extract all of the beauty contained in Asturias' pages. You definitely need to take the time to smell the roses with Asturias.

Monday, January 4, 2010


What's up everyone? My name is Pat and I'm a fourth year econ student at UBC. Although econ is my major field of study, I also have a soft spot for the Spanish language which began after a four month trip to Central America. I will be the first to admit that literature is not my forte, so I look forward to any feedback I get from all of you. In terms of personality, I'm probably best described as charismatic, energetic and friendly. Outside of class time I enjoy spending time with my friends, playing guitar, hitting the gym and playing basketball. If you want to know more, come say "hi" after class, I promise I don't bite.