In thinking about Tuesday’s lecture on Things Fall Apart (TFA), I believe there are actually two parallel tri-part structures in the layout of the text. The first, which was discussed in class, was the narrative structure from the point of view of the main character (Okonkwo): his early life, his exile, and life under the colonial government of the British Empire. As I see it, if the reader steps back from the “story” and looks at the text of TFA in terms of its post-colonial nature, another tri-part structure is recognizable: a richly detailed cultural overview of people and customs that composed pre-colonial Ibo society, a disjointed period of cultural contact (and contamination in the case of Ibo social structures) between the British and Ibo, and the beginning of the destruction of the pre-existing Ibo society that results in Okonkwo’s eventual suicide.
On November 17th, 2012, it was my privilege to witness a performance of José Rivera´s Marisol. The play was directed by Andrew Christopher Gaupp and performed by the Maverick Theatre Company in the Studio Theatre. The director and cast did a superb job of presenting the play, and the stage and lighting crews did a wonderful job of recreating Rivera’s New York in a manner that drew me deeply into the performance.
Wendy B. Faris’ book, Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification of Narrative, lists five primary characteristics of magical realism which are all present in Marisol; (1) The “irreducible element” of magic within the work is easily observable in actively engaged angels, a pregnant man, and water flowing uphill; (2) Rivera’s set and stage directions detail a strong presence of the phenomenal world that makes it clear that our “real” world now exists within the boundaries of the supernatural conflict between God and the angels, (3) the script can easily create unsettling doubts in the audience members as they attempt to reconcile contradictory understandings of events (e.g., the moon being drawn from orbit by a natural v. supernatural event), (4) the narrative merges the different “realms” of three of New York’s five boroughs with a post-apocalyptic universe in which “real” guardian angels have deserted humanity to engage in battle with the Creator, and (5) the play specifically disturbs our received ideas about time (e.g., Marisol’s statement that, “Thousands of years of fighting pass in an instant”), space (e.g., Scar Tissue tells Marisol that, “…the sun rises in the north and sets in the south”), and identity (e.g., Marisol’s moving monologue [Act 1, Scene 1] concerning her divided identity as a college-educated English major and young urban professional willingly separated from [cultural] sections of psyche and cultural heritage).
The play was clearly a work of magical realism, and it was very well presented. Two tumbs up from the “Old Guy.”
For this blog post I will provide a short comparison of Gabriel García Márques’ A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings to the five primary characteristics of magical realism presented by Wendy B. Faris in her book, Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification of Narrative. My purpose is not to prove that the text is a work of magical realism—it was assigned by my professor as an example of the genre (or narrative mode)—but to ensure my own understanding of the aforementioned characteristics.
Faris identified the following five primary characteristics identifiable in a work of magical realism [quoted directly from her book]: (1) an “irreducible element” of magic, (2) the descriptions in magical realism detail a strong presence of the phenomenal world, (3) the reader may experience some unsettling doubts in the effort to reconcile two contradictory understandings of events, (4) the narrative merges different realms, and (5) magical realism disturbs received ideas about time, space and identity. My comparison, element by element, follows:
(1) The very old man with enormous wings, or angel, and the spider woman are both clearly representative of the irreducible element of magic required for the first characteristic. A winged man and a ram-sized tarantula with the head of a woman are both clearly beyond any rational explanation allowed by western rationalism.
(2) Márques presents the world of his text with great attention to detail and realistic descriptions of a world that is very recognizable, while managing to present the angel and spider-woman as accepted parts of that world. We get clear, and disturbing, images of both characters that somehow manage to fit in with the verisimilitude presented around them. The text recognizes the supernatural nature of both creatures is recognized by the text while being integrated into a natural (or real) world.
(3) The expected “unsettling doubts in the effort to reconcile two contradictory understandings of events” proposed by Faris showed up very early in the text for me. The angel is presented in Márques’ first paragraph as a man held face down in the mud by his huge wings. The author follows almost immediately by offering me, the reader, an out—“Frightened by that nightmare, ….” Whew. I jumped at the chance for it to be a dream, but in the next few lines it became clear that this was real for Pelayo.
(4) The narrative does merge two different realms. In point of fact, the text seems to exist at the intersection of the two worlds presented. The first is the “real” world of a poor village inhabited by people influenced by the Spanish and Roman Catholic Church. The second is the supernatural world in which it was allowable for a young woman to be cursed into the form of a spider for disobeying her parents, and for an old man to fly away using only the power of his natural wings.
(5) The question of time, space, and identity is, for me at least, the most difficult. While I suppose you can make an argument that the presence of blended human beings (bird/man, spider/woman) automatically creates problems with space and identity—I’m not sure that’s what Faris actual meant in her book. The closest I come to recognizing an issue with identity is when Pelayo and his wife forgo their roles as poor (economically oppressed people) in order to seize the role of oppressor by putting the angel on display.
I believe I have presented relevant examples each of Faris’ five characteristics from the text.
In reading Chapter 8, “Adventures in Hyperspace”, of Philip Weinstein’s Unknowing: The Work of Modernist Fiction, I came to believe that he was working very hard to show that his previous argument for a modernist focus on unknowing (reflected in the unlawful presentation of space/time and the self as other) is superseded in post-modernist works by similar [to modernist texts] unlawful presentations of space/time and self that differ because unknowing is replaced by a motive to display reality as dependably unknowable. Even worse, the frustrating experience of reading Kafka’s (unknowing) modernism is replaced with Weinstein’s depressing post-modernist Fredric Jameson quote that nothing is knowable [an idea for which I can find no use whatsoever]. The quote reads: We have reached “a situation in which we can say that if the individual experience is authentic, then it cannot be true; and that if a scientific or cognitive model of the same content is true, then it escapes individual experience” (Jameson qtd. in Weinstein, 198). While comment does capture the hopelessness and depressing nature I expect in post-modernist fiction, I am not convinced that the distinction is meaningful in terms of differentiating the unlawful treatment of time/space as recognizably different between the two genres of literature.
This may be a bit of a stretch, but the following passage from The Heart of Darkness seems, at least in my opinion, to relate at least tangentially to Weinstein’s discussion of “Subject and/as Other” in Unknowing: The Work of Modernist Fiction.
“It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend” (85).
I believe Conrad was using the indigenous people—“inhuman savages”—as a mirror for his narrator and readers. In asserting the recognition of kinship under the skin with “people” so quintessentially “other” [at least to him at that period in time], he set up the “othering” of Kurtz during time with the local people. Marlow, presented as a very credible narrator, is presented with Weinstein’s “unknowing” self and/as other by being situated between Kurtz and the natives as he tries to make sense of the world he is exposed to in The Heart of Darkness.
This posting is in response to the Encyclopédia of Diderot & d’Alembert essay entitled “Intolérance” (Vol. 8, Pg 843-844) as translated at: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.564.
Diderot’s essay on intolerance reveals a powerful bias against the use of any type of force to regulate religious behaviors and beliefs, and would likely have been considered radical and seditious by church and governmental leaders.
The rhetorical bias of the piece becomes apparent early in the essay. It opens with a definition that says, “The word intolerance is commonly understood as this ferocious passion that stirs one to hate people that are in the wrong” and then goes on two distinguish between two types of intolerance; ecclesiastical and secular. He gives the ecclesiastical type (the certain knowledge within one’s self of one’s religious belief, and the concurrent unshakable belief in the falseness of other religious ideas, which causes one to reject the “false” ideas even unto the risk of one’s life) a pass, and thereby avoids insulting Christian martyrs and saints directly. The decision was probably wise because such comments could very well have led to death or imprisonment in 1765 when the essay was completed.
Diderot then goes on to rail against Secular intolerance, which it defines as, “… completely ostracizing and in chasing, through all sorts of violent means, these that think differently from us about God and his cult.” He brands as impious anyone who would use force or violence, or the threat thereof, to compel religious belief, behavior, or conversion. He then uses a laundry list of passages from the Bible to support his argument, liberally quoting Christ and Saint John. Near the end of the essay, Diderot poses a powerful set of questions: “What is humanity’s path? Is it that of the striking persecutor, or that of the plaintive persecuted?”
He closes with a paragraph that must have been viewed as seditious by any Pope, bishop, or Monarch who read it. In part it states, “If the prince states that the unbelieving subject is unworthy to live, is it not to fear that the subject in his turn says that the infidel prince is unworthy to rule? Intolerants, bloody men, observe the consequences of your principles and fear them.” This type of enlightenment thinking clearly represented a serious threat to the power of the Church and monarchies by putting forward the enlightenment idea that the subjects might have a say in who and how they would be ruled.
I believe I’ve demonstrated successfully that Diderot’s essay on intolerance reveals a powerful bias against the use of any type of force to regulate religious behaviors and beliefs, and would likely have been consider radical and seditious by church and governmental leaders.