Sunday, February 26, 2006

Guide to Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Chronicle of a Death Foretold


While many readers focus primarily on magical realism in all of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's work, the short novel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, provides an opportunity to examine the text through multiple critical vantage points and perspectives. Each yields a particular insight, and reveals much about the nature of the narrative, ideas about what it means to be human, the nature of reality, and community / individual identities. This is brief guide for readers who would like to employ the techniques to enrich their understanding of the work, as well as of literature in general.

Overview and themes:

The fact that Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold is structured as a non-linear narrative can make the plot a bit difficult to follow. Here is a resource that provides an overview plot, the characters, and author background.

Sparknotes' plot summary. (very clear).

Textual issues:

Dialogical imagination -- Bakhtin and the Dialogical Imagination This concept is useful because it gives the reader a way to look at the presence of voices and polyphony in a text. In the case of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, interrelationships, juxtapositions, and connections are more important to
the narrative than a linear plot and clear character development.

Fragmentation and disintegration -- Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) holds that the way to understand phenomenon is not to try to find a unifying theory or explanation, but to "dissolve" the explanations that we have. In the disintegration process, there will be fragments that reveal often overlooked relationships. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, we see literal fragmentation and disintegration in the case of disemboweled rabbits and the body of Santiago Nasar, cut to ribbons. This is figurative as well as literal, and serves as a metonymy for the fragmentation of reality that occurs once one disrupts the equilibrium. Fragmentation and disintegration characterize the self, and they also are employed against the story (or lack of, which could be considered silence), that has been told about the murder. The fact that people mention that they foretold the murder, but they only mention this after the murder has taken place foregrounds the notion of artifice and a constructed reality, which is destabilized when problematized.

The corporeal self vs. the disembodied collective self -- In Chronicle, there is a tension between what is considered to be the individual self, and that of a collective self that is comprised of the multitude of voices in the community. The voices comprise a disembodied collective self, and it is a self that is constantly in a state of growth, evolution, and change as the voices rise up in unison or in a counter-cantus. In this case, the "cantus" refers to the motif that is repeated throughout a fugue. A "counter cantus" would be a motif that is not repeated exactly as it first appears. Instead, it would run counter to it; perhaps appearing backwards, or with different rhythms and meter. The counter-cantus in Chronicle is a story told many times, but distorted each time. The function is to undermine the notion that there exists a predictive quality in a narrative, and that patterns matter. Instead, Chronicle suggests that patterns deceive, and that you cannot really trust the conventional way of interpreting a story.

Death throes and ecstatic transcendence:

Antonin Artaud. Theatre of Cruelty. The Wikipedia entry for the Theatre of Cruelty contains an excellent overview of how Artaud sought to shake people up and rouse them from their conventional ways of seeing and perceiving the world. His goal was to awaken them to see that what they had believed to be reality was simply a convenient illusion.

George Bataille. Tears of Eros. Bataille's final work, the Tears of Eros suggest that one's final agonies are actually pleasurable. His work was condemned by the French Minister of Culture. Although his work is problematic on many ethical and moral levels, the basic notion that extreme experiences cause a fundamental reperception of reality and reclassification of what one has learned to consider truth, is useful when looking at Chronicle. An overview of Bataille, his life, times, and work, appears here:

The presence of the "Other"

It is significant that Santiago Nasar, the man who is murdered in the story, is clearly identified as Arab, and that he speaks to his mother in Arabic. One could argue that he is both victimized and revered for his difference, which starts to put him in the realm of the sacred. Nasar and his family also function as a bridge from one world to another. The beliefs, customs, and behaviors of Nasar and his family are shaped by their constant contact with something that lies outside the dominant culture. In other works, Garcia Marquez uses ghosts, spirits, and the energy of ancestors to bring about the same effect. The fact that they could be viewed as the "Other" makes it possible to look at them as a kind of doubling (or doppelganger) for the collective, community identity. The mysterious, violent, or otherwise poorly understood parts of their psyche can projected onto the "Other," thus preserving the illusion that they do not exist. The theories of Jacques Lacan apply nicely to Chronicle, in the sense that what Lacan proposed as a "mirror stage" in developmental psychology gives rise to the presence of an "Other," which is composed of displaced thoughts, projections, and above all, desire.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Biographical Notes

Garcia Marquez was born in 1928 in northern Colombia, where he was raised by his grandparents. The website, The Modern World, has an outstanding entry for Garcia Marquez, which provides biographical details as well as historical contexts and backgrounds.

Contexts and Backgrounds: Honor Killings and Blood Feuds

Hispanic "honor killings"

The blood feud: Corsica to Appalachia

"Body Count" -- Review of Blood Feud by Annabell Thomas,
a novel about two feuding Appalachian families.

Excerpt - First chapter of Blood Feud:

Blood Feuds Trap Albania in the Past,6903,1046385,00.html

Hatfield-McCoy Feud

Hatfield McCoy Feud-- chronology and history of Matewan (economic connections)

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Guide by Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D., 2006