|EDINBURG, April 27 - A cascade of bright yellow butterflies anointed devotees of Gabo—Gabriel García Márquez--in the stately Bellas Artes Palace of Mexico City.
The paper homages, also fluttering in his hometown of Aracatraca, Colombia, were reminiscent of scenes from his famous One Hundred Years of Solitude. Ceremonies were solemn in both countries but, as in his life and his novels, also playful and delightful, as in an enormous, celebratory wake.
Gabo gave us almost one hundred years of his life. Now he has his rest, his solitude. I will try here to pay homage, to do justice both to Gabo’s amazing stories and to his stalwart politics. We, in south Texas, near the strategic U.S.-Mexican border, join Latin America and the world, in our praise of this Nobel Laureate, recently deceased at age 87. A public, country-wide reading aloud of his novel, No One Writes to the Coronel, is underway in Colombia. In Mexico, his adopted home, the ceremonies were led by the President of the Republic and other dignitaries. Mexico excels in giving refuge to intellectuals and humanists.
If only writers and artists were appreciated as much in the U.S. as they are, traditionally, in Mexico and the rest of Latin America! Indeed, many of them (Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes) have been formal and informal Ambassadors for their countries, or political candidates for high office (Mario Vargas LLosa, Peru). They have repaid with their prose, their philosophies, and with their public service.
Many Latin American writers fully participate in current affairs and foreign policy debates. Far better, I think, an ambassadorship for an artist rather than for the largest donor to a campaign. The ability to distill a sense of the nature of the people of one’s country, to write about it with passion and clarity is, indeed, a skill and service to be desired and honored.
However, there are some, in South as well as North America, who disparage the life or the personae of a writer if and when the ideology of that writer is not to their liking. One such commentator, a neo-liberal (meaning, conservative), is Enrique Krauze, of Colegio de Mexico. His portrayal of Gabo in Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America reeks of disrespectful carping.
He opens with an unflattering photograph of Fidel Castro, arm around Gabo, both in unattractive short shorts, emphasizing their spindly legs. He castigates García Márquez for his embrace of socialism. If he sides with globalization and privatization, that is fine. But it is also fine for another intellectual (who has studied, even experienced poverty and oppression) to develop a broader vision and to support strong leaders who share that vision.
Krauze even petulantly sniffs and snipes at Gabo’s academic preparation. He reluctantly recognizes the contrary opinion of the Swedish Academy and the rest of the world for this Nobel Prize winner of literature. But the recognition contains only faint praise: “The beauties of the fiction of Gabriel García Márquez will survive.” He cannot resist adding: survival will come despite “the contorted loyalties of the man who created it.”
Actually, those loyalties came personally, from Gabo’s experiences with atrocities by conservatives, which provoked decades of violence in Colombia. They came naturally from his opposition to United Fruit Company colonialism and its protection by U.S. imperialism. Today Colombia, along with Mexico, remains closely connected with U.S. policy and at odds with the creative, moderate leftist trends, the “third way” of much of the rest of Latin America.
Now, with Gabo’s death, we may see a resurgence of interest in his marvelous literature. He is often called the “father” of modern magical realism. An appropriate genre for Latin America, it, too, has been subjected to snobbish ridiculing by a few literary (U.S.) critics. Here, of course, to each his/her own; appreciation of literature is personal and subjective. But on the political side, we may also see a revitalization of support for socialism. There is a growing disgust with oligarchy’s growth in the U.S. (the “one percent vs. the 99 percent”). That sad, alarming fact is not only contended by liberal pundits but proven recently in a major Princeton study. This phenomenon mirrors the innate opposition to economic unfairness and oppression by the masses in Latin America, the workers, the poor and indigenous peoples.
Gabo knew them, wrote about them. It is said “write what you know.” That Gabo certainly did. He is extolled for his ability to blend what he saw and heard with a spirit world. At the same time, he also revealed some contradictions, to include complicity with betrayals of friends by what Krauze calls his “Patriarch,” Fidel. At times, he seemed to take liberties with good journalism, by not covering “all the story,” all the time. But then, who does?
What Gabo saw and wrote was extraordinary. He grew up in a Caribbean cultural context that was “lighthearted, full of “liberality . . . carnivalesque sensuality, worship of poetry, musicality, black magic, and easy death” (Krauze). These beginnings and his later, rather murky private, Bohemian life were transmitted into his unique reporting and his poetic, powerful fiction, into his magical realism that echoed the culture and politics around him.
Perhaps there was too much “magic” and too little realism at times? Perhaps historical and contemporary “gun-boat diplomacy” by the U.S. fueled his anger? Perhaps he learned, too late, that the mixing of literary genres has its limits. He perhaps never learned there are even more dangers to mixing writers with those who possess excessive power and large egos. Intellectuals may want access to power but they need to be careful, or they will be exploited. But now, for me, his flirtation with power is secondary.
Let the celebration of Gabo’s life and literature, the mourning of his death, and the inevitable return of (fair and unfair) criticism calm down. Then perhaps a synthesis can arise. Maybe we will find a better truth between some of the scurrilous epithets by other writers and journalists (Vargas Llosa, Oppenheimer) and the paeans of praise quite rightly heaped on Gabriel García Márquez.
Maybe we will also find another useful middle ground. That ground does exist; it must exist. It lies between the rampant, exploitative capitalism of a U.S. Gabo distrusted (con razón) and the more humanistic policies of a Latin America dedicated to its own “third way,” its own magic, its own realism. We must test those policies: how do they treat and raise up humankind? Then we can compare them with the dystopias of the oligarchs in times past (i.e., our own times). At that point, one day, we can be thankful for Gabriel García Márquez and for other writers and artists who helped us overcome darker days. But we may not be privileged to bathe in a shower of bright butterflies showing us the way to that truth and to that progress.
Dr. Gary Mounce is political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American. His columns appear regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.