On trying to secure an interview with Marquez – Everyone said it was like getting an audience with the pope. As in: Don’t even bother trying.
I read Gabo’s interviews in the early hours of the day, just when the consciousness is evading sleep and yet drifting towards it with an elusive restraint. Marquez’s words rise up from the text and begin to spontaneously connect the dots for the fiction I’ve read from him so far. It’s a remarkable experience in itself, knowing the master personally, the man behind the magical One Hundred Years of Solitude and the poetical Autumn of the Patriarch, the reverential No One Writes to the Colonel and the meditative Memories of my Melancholy Whores.
Solitude was the most famous novel in the world, and perhaps the last to have a demonstrable effect on it.
The interviews, though brief, lend a vision into his meditations on politics and revolutions, the nature of power and violence, his attitude towards womenfolk, creativity and writing, personal superstitions, Latin American culture, the mystery of love and his aversion to fame. A recluse figure, a legend of mythical proportions in the literary world, Gabo still comes off as a giant in the most mundane of conversations. I’m most intrigued to read his biography by Gerald Martin.
ON POLITICS AND THE NEED FOR A UNIFIED REVOLUTION
Marquez was an active figure in Latin American politics, using his influence as a literary giant to change the course of corrupt governments and dictators who had long ruled the area, thrashing its culture, literature, economy all into a forgetful stupor. He stressed on the importance of using literature as a weapon to counter dogmatic beliefs and practices that had wreaked havoc on the Latin American society.
We need to use our imaginations in Latin America, after so many years of ideological petrification, of swallowing things whole; the right already knows all our tactics.
For Gabo, the idea of revolution was the “search for individual happiness through collective happiness, which is the only just form of happiness.” He opposed the practice of active martyrdom for the sake of country.
I want revolution for life, not for death; so that the whole world can live better lives, drink better wine, drive better cars … Material goods aren’t inherent to the bourgeoisie, they’re a human heritage that the bourgeoisie has stolen; we’re going to take them back and distribute them among everyone.
With deep socialist inclinations and a dedicated friendship with Castro, Marquez’s fervent ideas on true governance, opposition to despotic advances are often reflected in his views on power and violence as the two are inextricably linked. His views and personal friendships barred him from entering United States for many years till the sanction was lifted. Once during his visit to the States, the interviewer asked him about the state of affairs back home, to which he candidly replied “I never talk about Colombian politics when I’m outside of Colombia.” And when the interviewer proceeded to his views on American politics, Gabo in all amusing seriousness replied “I never talk about American politics when I’m in America.”
Marquez’s sense of reality was deep rooted. He recognized the evils of power with an acute sense of profound understanding. “Violence has existed forever, and it’s an ancient resident of Colombia,” he recalls. On bitter criticism of his association with Fidel Castro, the writer says:
I believe when people sign a petition, they make a great noise. They don’t really care about the cause. They’re just thinking about themselves—what the public is going to think of their petition.
This also rings true of modern era petitions, either of a political or social nature – these entreaties are more true to the egotistical demands of those creating it or promoting it than to fostering real change in society.
It was a Frenchman who said, “There are no impotent men, only unfeeling women.”
I was most fascinated by Gabo’s personal opinion on womenfolk whom he holds in high regards, and how he dealt with them in his fiction – always giving them a focal role to play. The matriarchal dependency of many of his male characters pushes the boundaries of Latin American culture and give us a keen insight on how Gabo revered the female sex in terms of their wisdom, resilience and mystique.
All through my life there has always been a woman to take me by the hand and lead me through the confusion of existence, which women understand better than men.
Women have played a pivotal role in Marquez’s life. He grew up surrounded by oral stories from his grandmother, and a horde of aunts to tend to him. His wife Mercedes provided him with unconditional support. His literary agent Carmen Balcells had been working with him since 1961, his earliest years as a writer. All these matrons have been in one way or another immortalized as fictitious characters in his stories – altering the course of states, families as a whole or lone men in indubitable power.
Women uphold the social order with an iron hand while men travel the world bent on boundless folly, which pushes history forward. I’ve come to the conclusion that women lack any sense of history. Otherwise, they could not fulfill their primordial function of perpetuating the species.
At another instance, the writer details on the mystifying aspect of women, the allure of their beauty and femininity without any causal link to sexual advances.
When I walk into a place full of people, I feel a kind of mysterious signal drawing my gaze irresistibly toward the most intriguing woman in the crowd. Not necessarily the most beautiful, but the one with whom I obviously have a deep affinity. I never do anything, I just have to know she’s there and I’m quite happy. It’s something so pure and beautiful that even Mercedes sometimes helps me to locate her and choose the best vantage point from which to see her.
On women with corrupted morality, vengeful tastes and unstable lifestyle, Marquez has nothing but kindness for them. “All they need is some good company, a little understanding, and a little love, and they are usually grateful for it. I say “a little” because of course their solitude is incurable.”
ON LOVE AND FAME
STREITFELD: There is a stamp in Colombia with your face on it.
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ: I hope it’s only used for love letters
Like Marquez reveres the female sex, he also venerates not just “love”, a singular emotion but also the ability to love which for Marquez is granted to only the extremely fortunate ones. Power and love stand as polar opposites. “Power is a substitute for love,” he says. This indeed is true for all his characters who practice supreme authority, are masters of their own fate and that of the country’s, and stand alone as bastions of terrible sovereignty – they all lack the fervent ability to love another, or to be an object of love themselves. Their lawlessness and arrogance equates to a crippling incapacity to function as normal human beings, and scarcity of experiencing love either ends in their downfall, death or both.
MENDOZA: Do you really think the inability to love is very serious?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ: I don’t think there’s any human misery greater than that. Not only for the person afflicted but for all those whose misfortune it is to come within his orbit.
For Marquez, the evident problem with love is making it last.
I don’t see love as a quick lunge with no consequences.
And just as he admires love, he derides fame as a catastrophe for private life.
Fame unsettles your sense of reality, almost as much as power perhaps, and it continually threatens your private life.
The thematic use of Solitude in many of his books is undoubtedly linked to the author’s persona. It is his elusiveness that cemented his legend and he intended to keep it that way until the very end.
It’s as if you could even measure solitude by the number of people around you. You’re surrounded by more and more people, you feel smaller and smaller and smaller.
It isn’t a small wonder that journalists across the world had a hard time getting to him. This perhaps multiplied in the years after he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His aversion to fame was not just to protect his family but also to prevent any disturbances hindering his own sense of reality. This, for me, is a true mark of humility in a man.
More than most authors, he tried not to repeat himself, even as he got older and the temptation to revisit triumphs must have been acute
One of the most amusing and surprising instances of the book covers Gabo’s attitude towards superstitions, including his own personal, somewhat peculiar superstitions.
I believe that superstitions, or what are commonly called such, correspond to natural forces which rational thinking, like that of the West, has rejected
Here, Latin American culture holds a keen similarity to South Asian culture where superstitious beliefs are a crucial building block of societal norms. In context of their geography and value, they are not “irrational beliefs” per se but hold a key to morals most valued. Gabo, earnestly discloses some of his personal superstitions such as “smoking in the nude did not mean bad luck, but smoking in the nude while walking about did”. He even details an instance from private life where getting out of a city and never going back again stands between life and death. These curious little fallacies can be spotted in almost all his stories, and which most definitely influenced his life as a story teller.
ON THE ART OF WRITING
My father would say I was born in 1927. My mother said, “Let him be born whenever he wants to be born.” Clearly, she’s a practitioner of the new journalism.
When asked about his first publication Leaf Storm, Marquez candidly recalls how many years he had spent writing, re-writing, editing, cutting, correcting, tearing the many notebooks of the story just to bring a few final pages to the publisher. He adds as to how the ideas that he had initially trashed later formulated the plot to his second book.
For Marquez, “a writer writes only one book, although that same book may appear in several volumes under different titles.” And when asked what his collective book would be about, he calls it “The book of solitude.”
Marquez started his career as a reporter for the local newspaper. He’d often live in one of the shabby rooms in a hotel which also functioned as a brothel. Many a times, due to dire financial circumstances, he’d leave his manuscript as deposit with the hotel porter.
Journalism is my true vocation. It keeps my feet on the ground. Otherwise I’m like a balloon, I float off. Journalism keeps me nailed to reality. Curiously, as time goes on, I find the professions of fiction and journalism merging. The essence of literature and of journalism is the credibility they create. People are convinced by details.
His journalistic integrity is best shown in an instance where one interviewer proceeded to use a tape to record the interview session to which Marquez politely declined as he considered himself “an enemy of the tape-recorder. It has an ear but no heart.”
Marquez was dismayed at the immense success of Solitude as it seemed to eclipse the importance of Patriarch which he himself had declared as his masterpiece. Though he had no favourites, it became increasingly challenging for him to write the next book after each published work’s achievement.
I don’t think of one book as being better or worse than the last; I just want to take that step.
During the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Marquez had taken to writing on a computer, abandoning the old practice of using a typewriter.
On a computer, a novel is infinitely correctible. It’s so easy. You go on endlessly. But in the end it’s faster. The proof is I used to put out a novel every seven years, now it’s every two years.
When asked on the usage of run-on sentences and “breathing commas”, Gabo’s reply echoed the style of each of his work
My idea of a literary text is actual hypnotism. It’s very important that the rhythm does not have any stops and starts, because when you have a stop or a start, the reader can escape
This is indeed true whilst reading any of his stories where the reader is given a momentary relief with the aid of a comma or a semicolon amidst reading sentences that last the entire length of a chapter. The style mesmerizes and bounds the reader till the very end in a trance like state, where a single breath could break the spell of the magical realist story.
In his old age, Marquez had stopped writing entirely and devoted his time to being an avid reader. Inspired by works of Faulkner, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, he noted that “when novelists read another novelist’s work, they take it apart as if it were a machine. Nothing teaches you how to write a novel except another novel.”