LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
Below are some issues that you may want to consider. Most of these were touched on in the lectures.
1. What is "magic realism"?
Below is an extract from an interview between Marquez and Mendoza on the nature of Marquez's "magic realism". Marquez provides some useful departure points for thinking about "magic realism" as a literary genre. The excerpt is from The Fragrance of Guava by Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, published by Verso in London in 1983.
PM: Was it through your grandmother that you discovered you were going to be a writer?
GM: No, it was through Kafka, who recounted things in German the way my grandmother used to. When I read Metamorphosis, at seventeen, I realized I could be a writer. When I saw how Gregor Samsa could wake up one morning transformed into a giant beetle, I said to myself, 'I didn't know you could do this, but if you can, I'm certainly interested in writing.'
PM: Why did it attract you so strongly? Because of the freedom of being able to invent anything you like?
GM: All of a sudden I understood how many other possibilities existed in literature outside the extremely academic examples I'd come across in secondary school text books. It was like tearing off a chastity belt. Over the years, however, I discovered that you can't imagine just whatever you fancy because then you risk not telling the truth and lies are more serious in literature than in real life. Even the most seemingly arbitrary creation has its rules. You can throw away the fig leaf of rationalism only if you don't then descend into total chaos and irrationality.
PM: Into fantasy?
GM: Yes, into fantasy.
PM: You loathe fantasy. Why?
GM: Because I believe the imagination is just an instrument for producing reality and that the source of creation is always, in the last instance, reality. Fantasy, in the sense of pure and simple Walt Disney-style invention without any basis in reality is the most loathsome thing of all. I remember once when I was interested in writing a book of children's stories, 'The Sea of Lost Time'. With your usual frankness you said you didn't like it. You thought the problem lay in your not being keen on fantasy and the argument devastated me because children don't like fantasy either. What they like is imagination. The difference between the one and the other is the same as the difference between a human being and a ventriloquist's dummy.
PM: What happens when the book you're writing is almost finished?
GM: I lose interest in it for ever. As Hemingway used to say, it's like a dead lion.
PM: You've said that every good novel is a poetic transposition of reality. Can you explain this concept?
GM: Yes, I think a novel is reality represented through a secret code, a kind of conundrum about the world. The reality you are dealing with in a novel is different from real life, although it is rooted in it. The same thing is true of dreams.
PM: The way you treat reality in your books, especially in One Hundred Years of Solitude and in The Autumn of the Patriarch, has been called 'magical realism'. I have the feeling your European readers are usually aware of the magic in your stories but fail to see the reality behind it...
GM: This is surely because their rationalism prevents them seeing that reality isn't limited to the price of tomatoes and eggs. Everyday life in Latin America proves that reality is full of the most extraordinary things... There's not a single line in my novels which is not based on reality. (31, 35-36)
2. How is Love in the Time of Cholera an example of "magic realist" fiction?
In Love in the Time of Cholera, Marquez is constantly blurring the line that divides the "rational" world from a world of irrational events and desires. In a sense, love itself is an irrational force which constantly erupts into and overturns an ordered, predictable, structured world; it is the fulcrum of the novel's "magic realism". In one sense, the novel can be read as a constant struggle between the violent forces of irrationality and the constraints of order. An attendant irony is that often the "irrational" is revealed as mundane and ordinary, and the predictable, everyday event is exposed as an instance of madness. Thus there is a sense of routine predictability and constancy to Florentino Ariza's exaggerated entreaties, while his startling delayed success in winning Fermina Daza's affection is predicated on missives that seem like business letters. We see how undeterminable nature disrupts the carefully planned luncheon of Senora de Olivella, despite the Director of the Astronomical Observatory's assurances that 'it had never rained on Pentecost' (34). Juvenal Urbino's medical conception of the body as an object for study is controverted throughout the novel: his relationship with Fermina Daza and with Barbara Lynch is rooted in a medical examination, and the consummation of his marriage to Fermina Daza is made possible by masking it as an anatomy lesson (158). The dividing lines between passion and detachment, imagination and reality, chaos and order, memory and history, and so on, are constantly being redrawn and traversed in this novel.
3. Different kinds of love in Love in the Time of Cholera
Different ways of loving, of being in love, are at play in Love in the Time of Cholera. The common ground is the "time of cholera", which can be read as a metaphor for mortality: love is always negotiated in a "time of cholera", against the backdrop of mortality. Within this framework, Marquez represents the complex interplay between Florentino Ariza's idealised, "spiritual" love for Fermina Daza, more carnal forms of love, the love borne out of marital routine, etc. Another point of commonality is perhaps that love is situated at the bifurcation between characters' "public" narrative and their "private" narrative - it is almost a condition of love that it is aligned to secrecy. Juvenal Urbino is shocked to discover that Jeremiah de Saint-Amour led a "double" life, Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza's relationship is most passionate when it is forbidden and is conducted surreptitiously, and Juvenal Urbino's vulnerability in old age is a secret shared only by his wife, whose acts of love resemble a mother's nurturing of a child. In this sense, love is like Fermina Daza's smoking: she hid it 'not only because it was thought improper for a woman to smoke in public but because she associated the pleasure with secrecy.' (128) It is also worth asking who the objects of love are in the novel - love is always subject to displacement, change, and substitution. Perhaps it is worth considering whether Florentino Ariza's love is not so enduring because it is a masochistic form of narcissism (self-love). In this regard, the passage where he purchases Don Sancho's mirror because it held Fermina Daza's image (228-229) is of interest.
4. Identity in Love in the Time of Cholera
The idea of a stable, innate, authentic identity is interrogated in Love in the Time of Cholera. As Transito Ariza becomes older, she assumes the identity of a character in a children's book (214). In a sense, she is staging explicitly something that is true of most of the characters in the novel. Florentino Ariza derives the shape of his love and ultimately his identity from the sentimental fiction that he devours, Lorenzo Daza hides from his past and orchestrates the marriage between his daughter and Juvenal Urbino partly in order to give legitimacy to his new gentility, Juvenal Urbino plays the part of a Parisian doctor... Identity is formed through complex intersections of texts, and texts are constantly shifting, being challenged and revised and dismantled in the novel. Simultaneously, characters refuse to conform to the closure that others attempt to force onto their identities: consider the Chinese poet who wins the poetry competition, despite everybody's prejudices about Chinese, and Fermina Daza's failure to identify who her husband was having an affair with, because she refused to entertain the possibility that he might sleep with a black woman.
(** still under construction**)
SOME USEFUL LINKS
* Book review of Love in the Time of Cholera (very good site).
* "Macondo": dedicated to Marquez and his work.
* Concise encyclopaedia article on "magic realism".
* The magical realist page.