Sunday, January 31, 2010

I can see clearly now

After last week’s discussions of the first half of “El Reino de este Mundo”, this week’s reading felt much easier to comprehend. While reading the text, things jumped out at me, (descriptions, ideas, etc.) that reminded me of topics discussed in class.

We discussed the difference in knowledge between los negros and los blancos. Carpentier suggests that los negros know and understand the discourse of the black slaves as well as the discourse of their white masters, while the white masters only understand their own discourse. For example, when Paulina Bonaparte realizes that the remedies of European doctors are not curing the diseases being spread, she turns to Soliman, her black masseuse, for African remedies (p. 84), suggesting the superiority of black remedies over European remedies.

Carpentier also often relates the black slaves to animals, or describes them as having animalistic traits or abilities. For example, Soliman, the black masseuse and lackey to the Royal family, “saltaba como un pajaro” (p. 85). Carpentier also describes Ti Noel as having the ability to “transformarse en animal cuando se tienen poderes para ello” (p. 147), similar to the ability of Mackandal to morph into various animals. Finally, in the end when Ti Noel comes to understand how the world works, that “el hombre solo puede hallar su grandeza, su maxima medida en el Reino de este Mundo” (p.152), Carpentier describes Ti Noel waiting for “el sol con las alas abiertas” (p. 153). He could have simply said “las brazas abiertas”, however using “las alas” gives the feeling of magic, of “lo maravilloso”. Everyday happenings described or seen in a magical way.

One thing that I found particularly interesting was Carpentier’s contrast between the ways in which the black slaves and white masters remember things. This contrast is illustrated when Soliman encounters the statue of Paulina Bonaparte. At first glance, Soliman only recognizes the body, but cannot remember whose body it is. However, after he “paseo una de sus palmas, en redondo, sobre el vientre. . . sus dedos buscaron la redondez de las caderas…” (p. 137) he remembers whose body it is. Having passed his hands over her body time and time again as her masseuse, Soliman finally remembers that this is the body of Paulina Bonaparte. Soliman uses his physical memory or memory of touch, as opposed to mental memory usually used by Europeans. Carpentier describes Soliman as having “una imperiosa rememoracion fisica” (p. 138), implying that physical memory is stronger than mental memory.

However, just as the book started to make more sense to me, I came upon “los gansos”, and could not quite figure out who they are. Are they really animals, or is this Carpentier’s “maravilloso” way to describe a group of people?

Lastly, I especially liked Ti Noel’s revelation at the end of the novel, where he realizes that “el hombre nunca sabe para quien padece y espera. Padece y espera y trabaja para gentes que nunca conocera…” (p. 151). He understands that there is a higher power governing the Earth and all that happens in it, and I feel like this embodies the idea of “lo maravilloso”. Things, events, happenings, occur in this world that we may not be able to understand completely, as they are controlled by other beings in “el Reino de los Cielos” (p. 152).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Magical Realism: still a mystery

Just as I begin to think I'm grasping an understanding of this "magical realism" thing, it turns out everything I thought I knew about magical realism is not necessarily wrong, but not necessarily right either.

After reading "Leyendas de Guatemala", I formed a definition of magical realism as being a style of literature set in a real environment, in an existing place, where out-of-the-ordinary things happen (such as talking birds, tortoises, etc. etc.)

However, after reading the first half of "El Reino de este Mundo", it's difficult to understand how both novels can be described as "magical realism". "El Reino de este Mundo" presents a very different approach to the style of magical realism. There are no talking birds, or any other animal for that matter. The story is based on events that took place in Haiti. The one part I found that fit my previous definition of magical realism was when "dotado del poder de transformarse en animal de pezuna, en ave, pez o insecto, Mackandal visitaba continuamente las haciendas de la llanura para vigilar a sus fieles..." (p. 41). However, other than this small section, and perhaps a few others, I could not find any other elements that fit my definition of "magical realism".

I suppose this is why the "Prologo" is so important, as it is here that Carpentier elaborates on "lo maravilloso" which is the term he uses to describe his writing style. As opposed to being out-of-the-ordinary, or magical and mystical, Carpentier describes "lo maravilloso" as "una inesperada alteracion de la realidad" (p. 7) and "una ampliacion de las escalas y categorias de la realidad, percibidas con particular intensidad en virtud de una exaltacion del espiritu que lo conduce a un modo de 'estado limite'" (p. 8). What stands out to me in Carpentier's definition is the focus on "la realidad". "Lo maravilloso" is not based on other-worldly elements, actions, characters, etc. but rather is an amplification of what already exists in our world.

Carpentier's definition of "lo maravilloso" has expanded my understanding of magical realism. However, is "lo maravilloso" a type of magical realism? Or can we separate "lo maravilloso" into a different category entirely?

On another note, with "Leyendas de Guatemala" we discussed the elements of transculturation and hybridization present in the text. These elements also appear in "El Reino de este Mundo". I found it interesting that it is a Spanish text written about Haiti, a French-speaking country. I also found it interesting that the French excerpts included in the text were not translated (somewhat frustrating for a non-French speaker!). However, had they been translated I suppose it would be somewhat confusing, as I might think that the excerpt was originally in Spanish, and would wonder why, since they don't speak Spanish in Haiti.

Hopefully these questions will be answered in this week's class discussions. Looking forward!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

La segunda mitad...

Me parece más fácil a leer esta semana. No se si es porque ahora estoy mas acostumbrada al estilo escrito de Asturias, o si es porque la segunda mitad es puramente dialogo. Creo que es a causa del uso del dialogo por la segunda mitad. No hay las descripciones detalladas del medio ambiente que estaban presentes en la primera mitad.

Para mi, me gusta la segunda mitad mas que la primera. Y no es porque fue mas fácil a leer. El segundo grupo de leyendas es como una obra del teatro. Puedo imaginar como parecería en escenario.

También, me gusta la organización de esas leyendas y como se asocian ciertos colores con cada hora del día: amarillo por la mañana, rojo por la tarde, y negro por la noche. Es interesante como Asturias divide la historia entre las tres horas del día. Hay una historia pequeña que empieza en “la primera cortina amarilla”. Pero, esa historia para cuando seguimos en “la primera cortina roja”. En esa cortina, hay una nueva historia pequeña que empieza. Sin embargo, cuando volvemos a “la segunda cortina amarilla”, la historia sigue donde “la primero cortina amarilla” paro. Además, al final de las leyendas, las tres cortinas, sus historias, y sus personajes mezclan y combinan. Creo que ese juego con las historias es lo mas interesante para mi.

También, me encanta como lo significante esta escondido en las detalles, porque solamente hay poca narración o descripciones de una narrador. Lo que aprende el lector obtiene del dialogo entre los personajes y de las cortas descripciones entre el dialogo. Por ejemplo, en las terceras cortinas, se ve la angustia de Chinchibirin en perder su amor en la descripción que empieza cada leyenda. En la tercera cortina amarilla, Chinchibirin esta “viste de amarillo, mascara amarilla y arco y flecha amarillos”. Eso es normal de la cortina amarilla. Sin embargo, cuando seguimos a la cortina roja, Chinchibirin todavía esta “viste de amarillo, mascara amarilla y arco y flecha amarillos”, y eso no es normal. Cuando llega la tarde, el color es rojo, no amarillo. Y finalmente, en la cortina negra final, Chinchibirin no ha cambiado el color de su traje, todavía lleva el color amarillo. Es como Chichibirin estuviera desafiando los dioses por no cambiar el color con respeto a la hora del día.

Mientras ciertas detalles del texto me han hecho un impacto cuando estaba leyéndolo, todavía no tengo una idea clara sobre el tema profundo de esa segunda mitad de las leyendas de Asturias. Querría saber mas sobre los personajes del texto, y por que Asturias ha incorporado animales especificas por personajes. ¿Qué significa esas animales, por ejemplo las tortugas o el picaflor?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Leyendas de Guatemala

Where to begin...

The first reading for Span 365 had me feeling slightly overwhelmed. Upon reading the first few pages, I realized that I was NOT going to be able to understand Asturias' leyendas word for word. Looking up each and every unknown word would take me years to finish the text. So I settled for simply gathering an overall impression of "Leyendas de Guatemala" and the writing style of Asturias.

A few things I noticed throughout each of the leyendas:

1) Nature as an overall theme. Each leyenda is deeply rooted in nature and includes detailed descriptions of all the types of trees, flowers, animals etc. that one can find in the Guatemalan environment. This sets each leyenda specifically in Guatemala. There is no ambiguity here. While reading the leyendas, one is not imagining a story unfolding in some European city. The theme of nature also ties the leyendas to the indigenous people of Guatemala, as they have the longest history and ties to the environment.

2) Dream-like, poetic, descriptions. As Paul Valery writes in his letter to Francis de Miomandre, this piece of literature is a collection of "historias-suenos-poemas." A perfect way to describe each leyenda. The stories resemble dreams as they aren't explicitly described as taking place at a certain time in history. These stories appear to take place in a sort of limbo. The poetic use of words also creates strong, dream-like images. Asturias describes in "Leyenda del Cadejo" how Madre Elvira de San Francisco "habla tan candorosa que la palabra parecia en sus labios flor de suavidad y de carino." You can imagine the voice of Madre Elvira, how it would sound, the rhythm of her words, etc.

3) Use of repetition. In many of the stories, I noticed the use of repeated words or phrases. For example in "Leyendas del Sombreron" the phrase "tan liviana, tan agil, tan blanca" is repeated several times. I feel like the use of repetition gives the leyendas a poetic feel, as repetition is often used in poetry. Also, (this is just an idea I had, could be totally wrong!) I feel like the inclusion of repetition in the leyendas also gives them an element of the indigenous, as possibly when the indigenous people of Guatemala told their stories, they included lots of repetition to make their stories easier to remember as a story-teller, and easier to follow as a listener.

Although I may not have understood every leyenda, I could still appreciate the writing style of Asturias. I enjoyed the dream-like, poetic feel of the leyendas, and how they seem to take place in some other world, as we cannot attach each leyenda to a certain time and place in Guatemala.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010



Me llamo Kayo. Estoy en mi quinto año a la universidad, estudiando marketing y negocios internacionales. El año pasado, estudiaba en Barcelona y aprendía mucho sobre la historia, la cultura, y la gente de España. Pero ahora, estoy entusiasmada a aprender sobre Latinoamérica.

En mi tiempo libre, enseño el piano en una escuela de musica, toco los tambores japoneses, y me gusta comer y descubrir nuevos restaurantes.

No tengo un blog personal, pero me gusta la idea de mantener un blog. Por eso, ¡tengo ganas de escribir muchas más entradas!