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Collection: INTERAMER
Number: 64
Year: 1998
Author: Isabel Rodríguez Vergara
Title: Haunting Demons: Critical Essays on the Works of Gabriel García Márquez


García Márquez’s works have nurtured and stimulated my interest in literature and culture in Latin America throughout my career. He stands out as a humorist narrator and as a cultural satiric poet. His works expose Spanish American culture from different angles developing in a social milieu without loosing contact with the historical space. Culture in García Márquez’s works comments on symbolic systems, among them language, rules of marriage, economic relationships and religion. All these systems point to the expression of certain aspects of the physical, social and political reality allowing a plural reading of his impeccably structured texts. His works display the function of literature as a body of signification with multiple layers of meaning, features that entice novice and erudite readers alike.

Since being awarded the Noble Prize in 1982, the Colombian writer has published four novels and a collection of short stories: Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), The General in His Labyrinth (1989), Of Love and Other Demons (1994),  News of a Kidnaping (1996), and Strange Pilgrims: Stories (1992). In this book, I dedicated one essay to each of these works and to  Chronicle of a Death Foretold a journalistic detective story which appeared in 1981. I relate his early works to critics like Mikhail Bakhtin and his most recent works to Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Hayden White, Clifford Geertz, and Michel Foucault. My main critical concern deals with dismantling metaphors of culture and violence woven in this vast fictional world.

In “Chronicle of a Death Foretold: Violence as Genre,” I discuss the relationship among history, chronicle, and journalism in this novel. I read the narration of cultural events in a society in the Caribbean coast of Colombia as a Bakhtinian satire of cultural values that function as an inoperative system in contemporary times such as machismo and the cult of virginity. I examine the structural mechanisms that staged this work as a police novel; I comment on Chronicle’s relation with Greek tragedy and identify the parodical level of the discourse. The butchering of Santiago Nasar’s body is interpreted as a Foucaultnian metaphor relating death and writing. I conclude that the tragedy in this novel is possible because of an error in the rules of love, an infraction of the code of honor and the repression of the instincts.

In “Sacred Parody in Love in the Time of Cholera,”  I study the metafictional and self-reflective character of the discourse of this postmodern novel. This work, deceptively assembled as a XIX century “realist” novel, explores the cultural limits imposed upon love in a Caribbean city. I analyze the presence of Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, a very interesting character - who appears briefly on the first part of the novel as a dead body to impetuously disappear-, as a parody of the biblical prophet Jeremiah. The presence of Jeremiah de Saint-Amour invites and challenges the curious reader to undertake a detective role following his threads and textual clues very closely in order to identify him as a tool used to disseminate meaning throughout the novel; in other words, to discover that the novel is constructed over his dead body, a metaphor of the text that needs to be deciphered.

In “The General in His Labyrinth: Writing as an Exorcism,” the relationship between history and fiction is central to my discussion. I read this novel in dialogue with Hayden White’s theoretical work on the writing of history and Mikhail Bakhtin’s study of parody. I point out the differences between the historical Bolivar and the Caribbean figure created by García Márquez and the political impact of these transgressions. I analyze, through a close reading of the text, Simón Bolívar  as a parody of Jesus Christ and his surroundings as codified in a sacred code that needs to be deciphered by the reader.

In “Writing, Creation and Destruction in Strange Pilgrim: Stories,” I offer a detailed deconstructive reading of the “Foreword” by Gabriel García Márquez as an invitation to the reader to experience the act of writing and reading as a sheer pleasure. This piece shows García Márquez as a critic, reaffirming the interpretative process as incidental, arbitrary, and dependant on a countless number of linguistic and cultural variants. I analyze the “author” describing the signs that play multiple parts in the game of language, as Ludwig Wittgenstein has already formulated it.

I offer an analysis of three stories, all of them metaphors of creation with a narrative center that resides precisely in the act of interpreting, in the search of meaning for the disordered signs. The stories are: “I Sell My Dreams,” “I Only Came to Use the Phone” and “Maria dos Prazeres”.

In “Of Love and Other Demons: Burning the Colonial Devil,” I present a feminist reading of the novel, centering on a female character as an excuse for the construction of the discourse. I propose a reading relating the text of this novel with an “original” case tried by the Tribunal of Inquisition in Cartagena de Indias in 1613. I interpret colonial culture following Clifford Geertz’s analysis of culture, and offer an explanation of madness following Michel Foucault’s study of the asylums. Commenting on the oppression of the Spanish colonial world, the discourse of this novel displays the central feminine character, Sierva María de Todos los Angeles or María Mandinga, in an undefined boundary between two worlds: the white European and the black and Indian American; the healthy world and the sick world; the moral and amoral world. Her suicide is interpreted as an affirmation that her “being” has became lost under the politics of colonialism.

In “News of a Kidnapping: History as Apocalyptic Horror,” my discussion focuses on the relationship between history, journalism, culture, and violence, reflecting on the ideas of Walter Benjamin and Michel Foucault. I establish links with previous works of García Márquez and dismantle, in connection with Jacques Derrida, words such as “gratitude,” “news,” “horror,” “holocaust,” and “apocalyptic,” polemically printed in the pages of this novel. I comment on the meaning of a “state of emergency” (the power of drug-trafficking in Colombia), a condition that could be apocalyptic, and on a temporal emergency (the kidnapping), which anticipates a dangerous future.

From the six essays contained in this book, Chapter I and III are translations from my book in Spanish El mundo satírico de Gabriel García Márquez (1991), and Chapter II is an abbreviated version of Chapter III in the Spanish edition. Chapter IV, “Writing, Creation and Destruction in Strange Pilgrims: Stories” was published in its Spanish version in the Hispanic Journal, Fall 1994, Vol. 15, no. 2, 345-359. Chapter V, Of Love and Other Demons: Burning the Colonial Devil” appeared in Spanish in Apuntes sobre literatura colombiana (Bogotá: Ceiba, 1997) compiled by Carmenza Kline. (123-136).

Isabel Rodríguez Vergara