17 April 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014)


I just heard that Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today.  In his memory I would like to cite (part of) the most remarkable sentence I've ever read.   It was 25 years ago that I first read Love in the Time of Cholera, and a year or two later One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Autumn of the Patriarch.  The first two are in my view the better books, but Autumn of the Patriarch [fulltext at the link] has one truly awesome sentence.  It begins like this, at the start of the final chapter of the book...
THERE he was, then, as if it had been he even though it might not be, lying on the banquet table in the ballroom with the feminine splendor of a dead pope amidst the flowers in which he would not have recognized himself in the display ceremony of his first death, more fearsome dead than alive, the velvet glove stuffed with cotton on a chest armored with false medals of imaginary victories in chocolate wars invented by his persistent adulators, the thunderous full-dress uniform and the patent leather boots and the single gold spur that we found in the building and the ten sad pips of general of the universe to which he was promoted at the final moment to give him a rank higher than that of death, so immediate and visible in his new posthumous identity that for the first time it was possible to believe in his real existence without any doubt whatsoever, although in reality no one looked less like him, no one was so much the opposite of him as that showcase corpse which was still cooking in the middle of the night on the slow fire of the tiny space of the little room where he was laid out with candles while in the cabinet room next door we were discussing the final bulletin with the news that no one dared believe word by word when we were awakened by the noise of the trucks loaded with troops in battle gear whose stealthy patrols had been occupying public buildings since before dawn, they took up prone positions under the arcades of the main commercial street, they hid in doorways, I saw them setting up tripod machine guns on the roofs of the viceregal district when I opened the balcony of my house at dawn looking for a place to put the bouquet of wet carnations I had just cut in the courtyard, beneath the balcony I saw a patrol of soldiers under the command of a lieutenant going from door to door ordering people to close the doors of the few shops that were beginning to open on the commercial street, today is a national holiday they shouted, orders from higher up, I threw them a carnation from the balcony and I asked what was going on with so many soldiers and so much noise of weapons everywhere and the officer caught the carnation in midair and replied to me just imagine girl we don't know ourselves either, the dead man must have come back to life, he said, dying with laughter, because nobody dared think such an earthshaking event could have happened, rather, on the contrary, we thought that after so many years of negligence he had picked up the reins of his authority again and was more alive than ever, once more dragging his great feet of an illusory monarch through the house of power where the globes of light had gone on again...  [and ends thus]... he had arrived without surprise at the ignominious fiction of commanding without power, of being exalted without glory and of being obeyed without authority when he became convinced in the trail of yellow leaves of his autumn that he had never been master of all his power, that he was condemned not to know life except in reverse, condemned to decipher the seams and straighten the threads of the woof and the warp of the tapestry of illusions of reality without suspecting even too late that the only livable life was one of show, the one we saw from this side which wasn't his general sir, this poor people's side with the trail of yellow leaves of our uncountable years of misfortune and our ungraspable instants of happiness, where love was contaminated by the seeds of death but was all love general sir, where you yourself were only an uncertain vision of pitiful eyes through the dusty peepholes of the window of a train, only the tremor of some taciturn lips, the fugitive wave of a velvet glove on the no man's hand of an old man with no destiny with our never knowing who he was, or what he was like, or even if he was only a figment of the imagination, a comic tyrant who never knew where the reverse side was and where the right of this life which we loved with an insatiable passion that you never dared even to imagine out of the fear of knowing what we knew only too well that it was arduous and ephemeral but there wasn't any other, general, because we knew who we were while he was left never knowing it forever with the soft whistle of his rupture of a dead old man cut off at the roots by the slash of death, flying through the dark sound of the last frozen leaves of his autumn toward the homeland of shadows of the truth of oblivion, clinging to his fear of the rotting cloth of death's hooded cassock and alien to the clamor of the frantic crowds who took to the streets singing hymns of joy at the jubilant news of his death and alien forevermore to the music of liberation and the rockets of jubilation and the bells of glory that announced to the world the good news that the uncountable time of eternity had come to an end.
What is remarkable is not the content per se, but the fact that I used the ellilpsis in the center of the citation to pass over 53 pages of text - all of it one single sentence.  I once estimated that the sentence comprises about 17,500 words.  One might consider this creation to be a whimsy or a conceit by someone just playing with words, but in my view it is a sort of prose poem by a superbly skilled writer who loves the craft of language.  If you'd like to give it a try, go to this link.

See also: One Hundred Years of Solitude with Lolita.

10 comments:

  1. One of my most favorite authors. The world has lost a great man, but his books will live on.

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  2. Sorry. This artificial ungrammatical construction does not impress me. It comes off as an academic exercise and pulls the reader out of suspension-of-disbelief.

    Lurker111

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  3. I found it quite strange how you mentioned him yesterday. It seemed almost portentous.

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    1. I have to admit that the coincidence gave me pause. I think for the next linkdump I'd better cite someone who is already dead.

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    2. I was thinking the same thing... have been sitting her discussing Marquez and Joyce's Ullysses and their lengthy sentence.

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  4. I adore GGM. He's such a marvelous writer.

    There's a very interesting article about him over on Slate ("What Gabriel Garcia Marquez Means to His Fellow Colombians") that explains in part why he is so beloved by Spanish speaking peoples. I think that part of the reason why I love his work so much is because a lot of it illustrates cultural beliefs that I never even realized were missing from literature simply because white people have no idea about them.

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  5. Sorry, but a "sentence" is meant to be "a set of words that is complete in itself, typically containing a subject and predicate, conveying a statement, question, exclamation, or command, and consisting of a main clause and sometimes one or more subordinate clauses."

    The idea that "one or more subordinate clauses" can run to more than a few lines and then on to more than 53 pages and be comprehensible is just silly. If that's true, then you could make the case that an entire book could be written that way.

    While you may find it brilliant, I find it tiresome and contrived.

    I agree that some of the things we feel and experience can't be broken down to quantifiable, discreet units/packets, but as far I can see from you quoted above, GGM starts off describing a room and then veers off into...what? Stream of consciousness? Not interesting. I have my own stream of consciousness to deal with, thanks!

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    Replies
    1. An open mind is a terrible thing to waste!

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    2. Glad someone else agrees with me. This doesn't mean I bemoan the others who find joy in this work, I just can't see why anyone would want to enter a 50+ page brick of text.

      Of course, I was also of the opinion that Huxley in _Brave New World_ did not make his case that his dystopia was, in fact, a dystopia. (Hmm. The editor's spell-check does not have "dystopia" in it.)

      Lurker111

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