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).


  1. I really like your analysis concerning the passage we looked at in class with Paulina Bonaparte and Soliman. For me it seemed almost as if the magical manner of Soliman became the only real way to combat against the threat of disease. As you stated, the Europeans did not understand Soliman’s doings, as I’m sure Paulina Bonaparte did not as well, however, given the situation it was her only option. I also really enjoyed your analysis on the contrast in the manner in which black slaves and their white masters remember things. It never occurred to me that Soliman used his memory of touch to remember Paulina, as opposed to his mental memory. Thank you!

  2. I understand what you mean when you say that Paulina's choice in 'doctors' suggests a "superiority of black remedies over European remedies"; but also, I believe that this 'plague' described in the book was actually yellow fever brought from Africa to Latin America by the slave trade. European's had no biological defense against this sickness (to this day there are still more preventions than cures), and at one time West Africa was actually called 'White Man's Grave'. This makes me think that perhaps the black man's remedies weren't 'better', but 'foreign'. The blacks had been exposed to the disease throughout their history in Africa and so had better defenses/knowledge about the disease. I'm not sure if a dance or walking through a house without stepping on the cracks in the floor is better treatment, but you have to wonder about the human mind and when it 'believes' that something is better, if only because it is foreign, as I'm suggesting may have happened with Pauline Bonaparte and her obsession with Soliman's treatments.

    And as J. Hills has commented, I also enjoyed your analysis of the differing methods of memory the slaves had as compared to the Europeans. Could it be that their culture is much more somatosensory than the European culture is 'visual'? Would this also lead to differences in the writing styles of magical realism in latin america, and more of an observation of everyday life in European and its descendant cultures?

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post! you made some great points. I am also interested by the connection between los negros and animals/animal traits. Often associating people with animals is a form of degradation. While in this case, associating los negros with animals may imply their inferior position in society, I also see it as a way of empowering los negros with special knowledge and abilities