Friday, April 6, 2007

Friday Reflection: 80 Years of Genius

There was snow this morning in New York. Just a few flurries that I first mistook for garbage or dust blowing through midtown. But it was snow. Among the ancients, snow in the springtime was considered an omen of great good fortune. Or maybe I just made that up.

However you may conceive of Destiny, we may all agree that its path is often littered with divagations; the stray commitments that distract our gaze from who we truly are, and where we are meant to go. Yet when we listen to their songs, the distractions themselves point us back, so that even the stray sideroad is found to lead back to the broad way of life. This is one theme of the source of our weekly banner quote—the classic from the Bard of Latin America, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The book is One Hundred Years of Solitude, published 40 years ago.

Little by little, and as the war became more intense and widespread, his image was fading away into a universe of unreality. The characteristics of his speech were more and more uncertain, and they came together and combined to form words that were gradually losing all meaning.

Clearly, this is a book for our time—indeed, for all time. Every reader who comes to it will put it down having taken a different journey than every other. This, in fact, is one of the marks of a true classic.

What I found in it was primarily a parable on how a natural social order degrades and collapses into chaos under the brutish weight of institutions and institutional thought. The clarity, peace, and calm ordering of Macondo—a community founded by a family exiled by a violent conflict represented in the cock fighting story of the opening chapters—are seemingly impervious to external influences, until the government and its army, along with their corporate brethren, insinuate themselves into the town.

It is a theme that we have hammered at here at the blog, though far more prosaically and with no art whatsoever. But though we may lack the beauty and endurance of Marquez's prose, the message must still be heard from all quarters available, that our individual selves already contain the necessary evolutionary and genetic equipment to succeed in life; and that our communities and our nations already possess the richness of unforced order. Chaos only comes when the collective wraps its iron grip around the throat of a community, turning neighbors against one another, until we come to believe that war is our natural state. The ghost of Buendia's cock-fighting antagonist follows him to his new world, and at last returns to call him from madness and into death.

The story of Buendia pere's descent into madness and the arrival of Death in the town of Macondo is, to me, a metaphor on the toxification of the natural social order by the institutional collective; the suffocation of Nature with the rigid code of a pestilential system of oppression and death.

But Nature, Marquez shows us, cannot be murdered or silenced with the poison of the corporate. Thus, when the old man dies, the town is visited with a blizzard of yellow flowers, which carpet the street for his funeral procession.

There is no seeming end to the depth and richness of this amazing novel: politics, war, corporate corruption, love, sex, greed, vanity, wisdom, deceit, murder, intrigue, and magic are all woven into this braid of light and immaculate prose. 100 Years of Solitude is the work of an artist in whom humanity is densely yet completely compressed, and through whose voice we hear the song of an entire culture, a world, and the timeless heart that beats within our human race, through and beyond the hundred years of solitude.

A short time later, when the carpenter was taking measurements for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outdoors. So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by.

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