Monday, April 14, 2008

final thoughts

I don't know why, but I completely forgot to do a last blog. Well, here it is now, better late than never, I guess.
All of the books we read in class had interesting premises, though the amount I enjoyed reading most of them was fairly low. Facundo made me bored to tears (though not literally) and I the Supreme was painful to push through. The President or Feast of the Goat were probably my favorites to read. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is just plain a good writer, though I know Feast wasn't his best work, either. The President was very interesting to me, because the style of it was very unique. It didn't simply complain about regimes, it took on the standpoint of many different people under the regime, and how the dictator system of government affects people psychologically. The Zany was really interesting and I thought it added a whole new layer to the Latin American dictator novel genre. Most authors just talk about how it affected them or the rich and well connected, this novel covered a broad spectrum, and was still saucy in its main relationships.
Facundo was just the most inapplicable for me, which is what I had trouble with. This isn't to say I don't feel for the plight of the political prisoner in exile, or anybody that has experienced the true injustice of a dictatorship, but the way in which most of Facundo was written was just dry as toast. My dad once said to me about his opinion on books, "books didn't start getting good until midway through the 20th century." My dad does tend to have black and white blanketing opinions that are often arguable, but generally there is some truth to them, and I think there is some truth to this opinion. There was a lot of dry, unrealistic language in older books, and a lot of self-indulgent writing because there wasn't just a demand for immediate entertainment. Facundo is a wonderful example of this.
All in all, this class wasn't so bad, but considering how many truly incredible Latin American authors and books are out there, a lot of the time concerning history, it would have been nice to read some more actually applicable, well-written Latin American books. But thank you, Jon, for your dedication and time and effort you put into this class, I enjoyed it overall.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Second half of Feast

I thought this book was interesting, though messy at points, obviously, as it jumped around quite a bit in its chronology. I thought it made a bold statement about the state of a country during its dictatorship, as all of the other dictator novels have. The character Egghead emobies the idea that though people are not stupid or unaware of what's occuring in their country and their government, they are forced to turn a blind eye to what's happening and specifically, in this book, to Trujillo's insanities. The people can't really make a stand against their leader, for fear of torture and/or death, and knowing what horrifying acts are being committed won't help them in the end, it will just make them more fearful and possibly more vulnerable.
What I find with Vargas Llosa's writing is that he has many ideas and characters that are good in theory, but slightly underdeveloped. Urania feels slightly two-dimensional to me, and her story seems like a good set-up for the plot, rather than a realistic portrayal of one woman's difficult existence. The scenes with Trujillo felt more real, and he felt more real, as well.
There's a good dialogue between Trujillo and Dr. Balaguer on page 222 that really exemplifies the paranoia even within the truly sociopathic dictator personality, and the extreme devotion among a few certain parties to the lost followers: "'You don't drink, you don't smoke, you don't eat, you don't chase women, money, or power. Is that the way you really are? Or is it a strategy with a hidden agenda?' Dr. Balaguer's clean-shaven face flushed again. His soft voice did not falter when he declared: 'Ever since I met Your only vice has been serving you. That was when I learned that by serving Trujillo I was serving my country. That has enriched my life more than a woman, or money, or power could have done. I will never find the words to thank Your Excellency for allowing me to work at your side.'"

Monday, March 24, 2008

Feast of the Goat: part one

One of my first thoughts about this book upon beginning to read it was who the narrator was in relation to the protagonist. It's an innovative way to convey the narrator, as the narrator seems to be just an unkown third person, but the style of speech isn't simply she did this she did that, the narrator has its own personality and commentary, and isn't omnitient. Even on the first page this becomes clear: "Was it his idea or hers? Too late to find out, my girl; your mother was in heaven and your father condemned to a living death. You'll never know. Urania! As absurd as insulting old Santo Domingo de Guzman by calling it ciudad Trujillo. Could that have been her father's idea too?"
This quote really confused me, because of this bizarre narrator sort of commentary. It doesn't explain any sort of relation, and yet the narrator talks to her. I noticed this a little with Facundo and pretty much all of the books we have read thus far, this sort of distorted idea of the traditional narrator, the narrator having an opinion and the main voice switching and changing, especially in I the Supreme, obviously.
The difference between Mario Vargas LLosa and other Latin American authors is the extent of dramatism used in his language, in addition to the content of his stories. I've read a different book by this author, or most of the book, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, which had interesting characters and premise, but his ideas weren't fully developed and he sort of meandered through their lives when the book could have been very intense and passionate. It was sort of a Latin American novel version of "The Graduate," which could have been fantastic. Hopefully with this book he explores his ideas more and doesn't let certain details go unnoticed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Second half of The General

After last class' discussion about words that come to mind when reading about the General, various other adjectives pop into my head when Marquez describes him. He's such a vulnerable character, with so many health issues, it's hard to understand how he has such a distorted self-view. His weakness, if not just physically, is so intense it's almost palpable, it's hard to feel what he feels, what with not being able to sleep, his ever-present constipation, and a plethora of other issues.
I've heard that other books by him, i.e. Love in the Time of Cholera and 100 Years of Solitude are easier to read, less daunting, which I could see. After I The Supreme, this feels much easier, but I think Marquez probably really shows off his skills in those books. I really love some of his descriptions, though, the way everything feels as though it's right in front of you. On page 144, he describes a setting beautifully: "After three days of rain, the light was a gold powder that filtered through the leaves of the trees and moved the birds to sing among the orange blossoms. The General listened for a moment, heard them in his soul, and almost sighed: 'At least they still sing.'" This not only exemplifies a beautiful description, but the General's vulnerability and loneliness, as well. There's such a tangible sense of sadness throughout the book, as his life, and what the book focuses on, is almost entirely revolving around his themes of disillusionment and how to overcome it. He is a proud, stubborn, cynical, high maintenance man with a somewhat heightened self-view, but ultimately, he's just trying to make through each day, and all of his life ambitions and accomplishments have been thwarted through one form or another.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The beginning of the General and his Labyrinth

Well this book feels like a picture book in comparison to I The Supreme. My first favorite (please excuse my American spelling) passage from this book was on page 5: "Then he plucked the hairs in his nose and ears, polished his perfect teeth with charcoal powder on a silver-handled silk brush, trimmed and buffed the nails on his fingers and toes, and at last took off the poncho and poured a large vial of cologne over his entire body, rubbing it in with both hands until the flask was empty. That dawn he officiated at the daily mass of his ablutions with more frenetic severity than usual, trying to purge his body and spirit of twenty years of fruitless wars and the disillusionments of power."
That was a long passage, I know, but it was all so packed with good detail and distinct images. If an author is able to do this by page 5, one must know that this will be at the very least a decent book. The reader begins to get an idea of the character by the absolute ridiculousness he goes to in primping and beautifying oneself. I laughed at the point when he poured cologne all over himself, just at the image and idea, I guess. Upon reading the last line, the image becomes less humorous and emphasizes and teaches even more about this man we know very little about. He's, in a sense, absolving his sins and memories through the scent of something nicer, something that would rid his memory. Already I can tell this will be a slighty more hopeful book than the ones we've read prior to this, and if Marquez can make me laugh and feel wistful and sad within the first five pages, that's a very good sign about the strength of his writing.
The sadness and empathy you feel for Simon at points is almost palapble. I think the message from some of it though is very ironic and makes some very interesting statements about human nature and life in general. Here this man is, he's liberated so many people, but it's not the Disney ending we would have hoped for. People still are angry and resentful, and a person who takes on the responsibility of freeing or helping a person, a nation, a people, whatever, has to know beforehand that they may not get the recognition or response they desired. Life has a way of going a different direction of one's expectations.

Monday, March 3, 2008

La segunda parte de I The Supreme

Oh god, this is pretty much the hardest book I've ever had to read. Who calls it the best Latin American dictator novel, why do they say that, and where are they? I'd like to understand its greatness a bit more... I think I actually liked The President more.
Moving on, what makes this a more painful read is its descriptions. A good example of the density of his descriptions is on page 233: "The Republic turns, slowly and majestically, toward the audience. She stands firmly on her scissored legs. The two blades spread slightly apart. Pubis shaved completely bare. Bathed in broken reflections, patches of light. Phosphorescent flashes- achiote, bija, orellana, tapaculo, uruku- turn it into a black sun. Likewise her mouth." This description continues on to the next page.
Why is it necessary to have all of these obtuse descriptions throughout the book? If you cut each weird metaphor he uses in half, this book would be half the length and somewhat more bearable to read. Okay, I'll stop complaining now.
I think what makes this book unintentionally humorous is how over the top it can be, even to the very last page, when Patino's describing the "ex" Supreme's slow, subtle descent into death, I almost began to laugh at how ridiculously bad it was. Maybe that's just my sense of humor, but it does begin to retract the ultimate powerful message of the book when every description must be drawn out into a slow, subtle torture in itself.
The second to last page (423) I thought was one of the best in the book, when it becomes clear that the author is really talking to The Supreme and drawing the crushing realization for him that ultimately revolution will carry out his fate in the end.
More specifically, one of my favorite lines from the book is also on page 423: "You misread the will of the People and as a consequence you misused your power, as your dotard's affections spun about gerontropically in the vacuum of your all-embracing will." This is when I really got a sense that it was the author speaking from his heart, demonstrating the pain he suffered while in exile.

la primera parte de I The Supreme

Wow, I The Supreme is quite the novel. It's a bit much for me at points, considering there's not much in the way of breaking up the pages, and the descriptions can get very tedious. I'm excited to see why it is considered the best Latin American dictator novel of all time.
What I find most interesting about the content of what The Supreme states is his agility and desire not to be forgotten, to be immortal and last forever, in some form or another. To me this shows his weakness, his vulnerability, and makes him a real person, instead of some tyrannical beast with no soul- all he desires, as is an innate human want, is to not be forgotten, to mean something so great that people will remember him and pay homage to his existence. His weakness is his mortality, therefore his weakness also reminds him that he is truly no greater than any other human, and the power he craves can only ever go so far.
I don't know exactly why there aren't any quotations to break up the dialogue between the Supreme and Patino. As we talked about in class, this seems intentional, not just a publishing error. The "I" is reflexive, and shows that no one "I" can be just one person, there is no one ultimate authority, like each power-hungry dictator seems to believe of themself.
It's interesting that there is no defined dialogue, it sets up both people, one with significantly less power than the other, on the same plane, and the one with true vulnerability, as they lie on their death bed, is the more powerful of the two. I think what Bastos intended was to show how futile it is for any person in power to crave to be the dominant source of authority, as eventually, we all are mortal and will end up in the same place, anyway. Ultimately there are no real divisions, it's just our actions while we're living that make us different.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The end of The President

What an interesting read this book was. All of the metaphors and similes really helped to create many interesting and creative images, as well as feelings associated with the characters. The story was very tragic, but that made the point of it all the more real and palpable. If everyone had gotten what they wanted at the end and the forbidden love had turned out to work out like some sappy romantic comedy, the point of the brutality and injustice of dictatorships couldn't have really been exemplified. Also, it just wouldn't have provoked the same sort of reaction in the reader.
It was a dysfunctional love to begin with, a love that also depicted a level of sexism that it felt like Asturias also wanted to exhibit. Ultimately the female lead had very little say in her life, she was just the object of affection of Miguel Angel-Face, and truly had very little apparent influence. However, he also showed that she had an underlying influence on Angel-Face by having his love and affection, making him inadvertently taking a huge risk to be with her, because of the malevolence of El Senor Presidente.
Because he became a political prisoner, this tied the dramatic conflict in the book that was more character-specific back to the essential idea of the harmfulness and destruction of one man having complete control over a country. The ending was so dark and painful, everything was stated in an emotionless, matter-of-fact manner, it really helped me understand the extent of how psychopathic these sorts of regimes really are.
The Zany was a really fascinating character, as well, and really added an entire section of the book that felt more surreal and bizarre. It was also necessary because it added a depiction of the opposite end of the spectrum, as far as social classes go. He was the lowest of the low on the food chain, so the reader gets to experience what being the lowest-class human in this society feels like, all the way to the top, where the political administration lies. Whichever class one can be a part of, none are safe, secure, or out of harm's way when they're a part of a dictatorship.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The first 1/2 of The President

Asturias writes in a very unique style, with many onomatopoeias, if that's what he's intending to use them as, such as on page 21, "They're going to bury them! Ta-ra-ra! Ta-ra-ra-boom!" Actually, I'm not completely sure what he was going for with that phrase. I love the idea of delving into what the subconscious effects are of a malicious dictator. The style of this writing is very descriptive and abstract, which makes it a little more difficult to just plow through it quickly, while maintaing complete understanding of the characters, plot, and basic idea of the book. There's a lot of subtext and hidden meaning.
I love how he creates a visual image through describing the context of a scenario. An example of this is on page nineteen, when he says, "doors and doors and doors and windows and doors and windows flashed passed him." This style is very poetic and fluid, and I really enjoy how he incorporates that into his storytelling.
That being said, I'm not sure I actually get a sense of the plot completely. I understand he's trying to expose a ruthless dictator, I understand he goes into a lot of dream sequences, but it's hard for me to differentiate between what's part of the plot and what's a character's psyche. I also don't really get how the dictator affects each individual, like "the Zany." What exactly does "the Zany" represent? Why is he/it called that? Maybe it was mentioned in the text, but I missed that completely. I'm probably just way too literal of a person to get all of Asturias' subtle and creative ideas. But the plot does begin to make more and more sense as it continues.
The angle of the head authority, the resident psychopath realizing something unjust (according to him) is occurring in his presence and he begins to take a gradual, diabolical revenge is a plot theme used in various other storylines since this book was written. Even in Disney movies we see this idea being used, all of the villains always take the one person captive that the protagonist couldn't live without, i.e. Peter Pan, Snow White, Cinderella, etc. The tragic part of this text is that Asturias is speaking out against tyrannical dictators with too much power, a character that does exist all the time, and often runs countries. Not just impoverished ones, either, an example being the current president of the United States.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sarmiento's writing style doesn't particularly light my board, but I enjoy how he shows all of the psychology behind Facundo, as well as behind the dictator's mind in general. Examining him from all angles gives a much greater perspective of a Sociopath's mind. He went into great detail about the man, how he enjoys gambling, but rigs his games so that if anyone beats him, they're severly punished (i.e. being hurt or murdered).
Though I like how Sarmiento intends to fully depict the other side of his argument, his descriptions of Facundo still seem so one-sided, as though he's just sort of making everything up about him as he goes along. I'd like to know how this book impacted its readers at the time and how they responded to it. Was it truly revolutionary? He just sounds like a guy with opinions, sometimes uninformed ones, attempting to display his rage and disgust for South America and its political regimes. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, but I'd like to know how much he researched and how much of this is truly what Facundo's like. Sarmiento doesn't show Facundo's vulnerable side or at least a complete three hundred sixty degree look at who a dictator, or a psychopath, really is, and how they come to be. He mentions hobbies and what he does, as if this is a tale of a man who came to power, but in the context of an old western or something.
Maybe he couldn't have made the character too blatantly paralleling who he was based off of, otherwise he'd be discovered almost instantly. I'm not sure, but I'd like to know more about who Sarmiento is and what kind of impact he had on society during his time.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The first 1/2 of Facundo

Reading the conversation Sarmiento printed between him and Dr. Don Manuel Ignacio Castro Barros made me very grateful for living in a free society, where not half the population is fleeing from lack of resources or government cruelty or a severe lack of medical care. This conversation I felt really exemplified the reason for why Sarmiento wanted to speak out against the injustice and pain his society has suffered and write about a dictator. He gives an unusual amount of background on some of the history of Argentina and barbarization, but it really sets the reader up for understanding 1) Where he's coming from, and 2) How dictatorships came to be in Argentina, or just in general.
Just this page long conversation alone really depicts the state of anarchy that revolution and/or war can bring about. This revolution in terms of Marx wasn't a failure, based on the fact that no one in particular had a lot of money; the doctor mentions that everyone is very poor, no one had any large fortunes of fifty thousand pesos. Therefore, everyone was relatively on the same economic plane. However, this revolution destroyed Argentine economy and even population.
It's easy to tell that Sarmiento is greatly impassioned by the history of Argentina and the vast amount of social problems it has faced. One way he shows this is by answering all of his own furious questions with a resounding "no!" He also ends many sentences in exclamation points. An example being, "Might you think that such mediocrity is normal for a city of the interior? No!"
When I got to the fifth chapter, Life of Juan Facundo Quiroga, it seemed to me that the book really should have started here. He had a wonderful, masjestic beginning that painted a vivid picture for the reader. It felt like the first few chapters were more of a self-indulgent rant, to show his knowledge of previous history and to set up the horrors that Argentina has faced, but much of these chapters involved his anger that could have been omitted. His writing takes on an entirely different approach and purpose starting in chapter five, to the point where it might have been easier to just do a bit of research on the 1810 revolution, The "Baqueano," and looked at a map of Argentina before reading "Life of Facundo Quiroga."
I liked the line on page 100, "I see in them a greant man, a man of genius in spite of himself and without knowing it, a Caesar, a Tamerlane, a Mohammed."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

first entry

This is my first blog, and I'm not exactly sure what the parameters are for this one. We talked about the correlation between writing and power in class today, and I was particularly interested in how powerful the medium of writing can be, especially when one is living with unfortunate circumstances, with no real outlet to express their pain. Writing can be very therapeutic and necessary to heal wounds from imprisonment, living under a dictatorship, and severe censorship in general, which becomes apparent with Sarmiento's Facundo.
Facundo isn't exactly the quickest or easiest read thus far, but knowing that it was immensely powerful for an entire culture at one point makes it more immediately interesting. The time period in which it was written, therefore the language that comes with it makes it a more difficult read, for me, at least. I've also noticed that having grown up in an ADD society and generation, I seek stimulous constantly and am bored with any form of entertainment unless it delivers action almost instantaneously. I've noticed that literature became a lot more interesting, on the whole, in the 20th century. Obviously there are exceptions, and there are certainly many influential, revolutionary books written before the 20th century, but the language becomes so dated, even the English translation doesn't feel like it's in a language I can understand fully.
The material for this class is a lot more promising than most literature classes that I've looked at in the UBC course catalogue. Latin America has a rich, fascinating history, that even outdated material can still be interesting because the content and emotion drives each piece of work. I haven't read too much Canadian literature, seeing as I'm not Canadian and have only lived here during University, but what I have read has proved my belief that Canada is too functional a country to produce a high quantity of engaging, passionate, and painful dramas, whether they be fictional or not. Canadians are too nice and the government here is so much more regulated and maintained than any of it's Southern neighbors, I would image that it's hard for the average Canadian to know what being truly screwed over by your government and alienated within your own culture is like. There was no slavery and were no revolutions.
Latin American and Spanish literature I've read thus far has all been worthwhile and interesting. At some point I plan on living in Spain and/or Ecuador, so knowing a bit of background about important works will probably prove ultimately helpful in me attempting to converse intelligently in Spanish (though I don't know if that's possible yet).