Sunday, February 7, 2010

The story so far...

You'd think sitting down and writing about my experiences with this class thus far would be an easy task, yet I currently find myself at a loss for words. Whatever - Here goes nothing.

Truthfully, I am not a fan of literature. I can't stand it. That is not to say I don't like reading, hell I love reading the Economist, the Guardian and other sources of print media. When it comes to books though, I could care less about searching for symbolic meanings, obscure interpretations or literary commentary about some period of history. What can I say, I'm a realist. I like fact, not fiction. Literature just isn't my cup of tea. While some of you may be appalled to hear me utter such blasphemous words, settle down, because I have something to say.

I think my dislike for literature began in high school where our English teachers would assign us some random book (To Kill a Mocking Bird, All Quiet on the Western Front), make us read a chapter a week, and spend copious amounts of class time discussing the book to the point that any enjoyment one might have derived from the experience had been completely neutralized by the mind-numbing classroom discussions. In this sense, it wasn't really the reading that turned me off so much, but rather the process of reviewing the reading. It always seemed to me that the classroom discussion was dominated by the opinions of a few super keeners with an affinity for literary analysis, meanwhile, those who didn't care or find the reading relevant, would sit on the sidelines counting down the minutes until class was over. Span 364 was much the same experience for me, we'd do a reading, come to class, the prof would lecture a little bit, the same four people would express their opinions and interpretations of the texts and then there would be a wrap-up of sorts where the prof would offer a consolidated list of points that we should "remember" about the text. Sounds like fun right? I was totally motivated to care about what I was reading... NOT!

Jon's class has been a complete 180 for me in many respects. While I could bitch and moan about the readings being too lengthy, it is also true that my Sunday afternoon/evening reading marathons are all a result of my own doing. For the first time in any literature class, I actually feel compelled to actively read the texts, and come up with something unique to say in my blog. I like the idea that our little weekly e-assignment gives us some sort of personal connection to what we're doing. Even if the opinions I express in my blog aren't correct, or shared by others, I don't feel as though I should hold them back. The idea of blogging for homework is truly innovative and unlike anything I've experienced in my UBC career. Kudos. Furthermore, giving us a few talking points as a class, then getting us "groupify" is far more conducive to sharing your opinions amongst your peers. So, to say that I enjoy the format of the class is a gross understatement. While my opinions of literature courses has not shifted entirely, there is definitely a revolution of sorts happening in my mind.

In terms of the actual course content, I've found that the two books we've read thus far have been interesting. Aside from the frustration of not being able to understand them entirely due to personal vocabulary limitations, I've been able to extract enough meaning from my reading adventures that I'm able to walk away from the experience saying "hmm... that wasn't so bad actually." On the one hand, you've got Asturias, whose prose conveys the mysticism of Guatemalan/ Mayan culture and the profound natural beauty of the Latin American landscape. However, as the title of the novel suggests, his stories are simply a collection of Leyendas and aside from some geographical locations, are purely, albeit beautifully written, fiction. Therefore, considering Asturias as "realismo magíco" is really quite a stretch. After reading Carpentier, on the other hand, it is clear that we are now taking quite significant a leap forward in terms of preparing ourselves to read what is probably considered THE definitive work in magical realism, Cien años de soledad. Carpentier's book was markedly different than Asturias. In el reino we are given Carpentier's account of the Haitian revolution. Black slaves revolt to overthrow the ruling French colonials, only to end up producing a regime more brutal and oppressive than the one preceding it. A testament in every sense to the often retrograde nature of armed conflict in the pursuit of progress, and the seemingly endless cycle of violence. Carpentier really distinguishes himself from Asturias in the sense that the setting of his novel, and many of the events that unfold therein, are rooted in actual history. Carpentier, however, adds an interesting dimension to his narrative by incorporating elements that are best described as supernatural. From characters that have transformational abilities, prophetic voodoo signs, the evidence of what we might like to call "lo magíco" is everywhere in Carpentier. As a whole, it is clear that our experience in this course is going to be a progression, from the humble beginnings of a genre to its climax. It's been a interesting ride so far.

Now all I have to hope for is that I don't get H1N1, I've had a nice streak going so far with Strep 2 weeks ago and some sort of super cold that kept me bed ridden most of this past week.


  1. Heh. Funny. But I'm glad you're enjoying the course... and hope you may perhaps enjoy other Lit courses in the future!

    Yes, Carpentier is quite different from Asturias. On the other hand, I hope you also see that there are continuities between the two.

  2. Apart from thoroughly enjoying your blog (ever thought of writing for that print media that you read so often?), you brought up some good points. I gotta admit, I'm one of those 'super keeners' who will dominate a class discussion if the leash isn't kept tight enough. It's just something I have to accept. My second confession is that I'm really not enjoying reading this literature in Spanish. Thank god for the class discussions because up until that point I often think that the plot is in some other, obscure corner of the playing field. "Ooooh! So *Henri* is the slavedriver now!" So, this has inspired two things: 1.) to improve my spanish lexicon, and 2.) to read these books English. [I always feel like lightening is gonna strike me when I say that!]
    Lastly, I'd like to comment on your discussion of the authors and their use of 'magical realism'. Interestingly enough (after a little research for the wikipedia article), I found out that Carpentier actually coined the phrase "lo real maravilloso" which is in fact entirely different from "realismo mágico". This explains your comment about Carpentier inviting supernatural elements into his story: Carpentier weaves his stories with basic colors of reality and then tosses in some glittery threads of 'lo maravilloso'; while Asturias takes a sturdy 'Harry Potter-esque' wand and transforms his leyendas into a brilliant collection of intangible myths. Although both are written with a sort of day-to-day, nothing out of the ordinary feeling, I find that I can relate better to lo real maravilloso simply because it's still teetering on my plane of reality.
    Nice pic of the Imperial....¡Pura Vida! ;)

  3. The fact that you point out the process of reading literature for a class is something I haven't really sat back to think about as simple and obvious of a thought as it may be... There's the reading at home part, and then the in-class discussion, and I think where my excitement comes in on the process is somewhat in between. I think I get satisfaction out of feeling like I get what's going on in the book (when I'm reading at home) and then realize in class the next day that I actually have some original ideas to contribute in class (apart from the handful of braniacs that always have something to contribute..I speak a bit out of my own jealousy). I will say, that may be one of the reasons Leyendas was so frustrating to me at the time was I felt so lost, and felt that even after reading for so long that I was really getting very little out of it.

    I completely agree with your comment about the use of blogs in class. The blogs have been something that I look forward to reading, and I think are very helpful in the process of learning in the way that we are all combining our ideas together outside of class with just a little bit of extra effort. I wish that other literature classes in the past had done something similar. It forces everyone to actually read and allows for more contribution and comparison across different interpretations of the text.

    Great entry!