by Ignacio López-Calvo
University of California, Merced
Included in Gabriel García Márquez in Retrospect.
Edited by Gene Bell-Villada. Lexington Books, 2016.
To see printed version click here
To see printed version click here
Most critics who have theorized magical realism, including Wendy Faris, Maggie Ann Bowers, Lois Parkinson Zamora, Alberto Moreiras and Erik Camayd-Freixas, have disregarded, for the most part, its potential for the creation of comedy and humor. Regarding Gabriel García Márquez’s original use of magical realism in Del amor y otros demonios (Of Love and Other Demons, 1994) specifically, only a few of his critics have paid fleeting attention to the function of comedy or even the comic tone of his novel, perhaps because, as will be seen, many of the virtually untranslatable puns and jokes are lost in Edith Grossman’s translation. Among these few, Gene Bell-Villada mentions: “An unusually serious and tragic work, it nonetheless offers many smiling specimens of the author’s signature irony and humor, notably in the exaggerated portraits of its less-lovable characters” (257). Yet, in my view, García Márquez—and this novel in particular—has not received the praise he deserves for his key contribution to Spanish-language humorous fiction. In fact, in most cases Of Love has not even perceived as a comedy at all, presumably because of the tragic end to the love story and to the life of the first neglected and then abused child. From this perspective, while Bell-Villada describes this work as one of García Márquez’s saddest and most beautiful novels (García Márquez: The Man 258), as well as “among the Colombian author’s most masterfully conceived and constructed works” (“Gabriel García Márquez: life” 20), in the following paragraphs I shall maintain that it is perhaps the funniest. After all, the love story per se only occupies a few pages toward the end of the novel and, as Raymond L. Williams points out, it is “not the central focus of the entire novel . . . The main focus is on a young girl” (131).
Following in the footsteps of an impressive tradition of literary comedy by Spanish masters, including the authors of picaresque novels, as well as Fernando de Rojas, Miguel de Cervantes, and Francisco de Quevedo, numerous Latin American writers have also practiced different humorous styles. Paul McAleer identifies the beginnings of humorous writing in Latin America “in the lampooning genre of journalistic editorials of the nineteenth century, which developed into the short satirical portraits and novels of the costumbrismo tradition.” One could go as far back as Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi’s satirical novel El Periquillo Sarniento, first published in 1816. Among contemporary writers, McAleer lists Miguel Ángel Asturias, Enrique Araya, Genaro Prieto, Macedonio Fernández, Leopoldo Marechal, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Ernesto Sábato, Mario Vargas Llosa, Alejo Carpentier, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Julio Cortázar, José Donoso, Antonio Skármeta, Alfredo Bryce Echenique, and Jaime Bayly (McAleer 1). One could easily add to this list Rosario Castellanos, Ana Lydia Vega, Griselda Gámbaro, Luisa Valenzuela, Rosario Ferré, Roberto Bolaño, and Fernando Iwasaki, among many others. At any rate, in my view, García Márquez is among the brightest stars in Hispanic comedic writing.
In this essay, I argue that the Colombian author’s use of both true magical realism and what I call pseudo-magical realism (the case when an unrealiable narrator presents a case of apparent magical realism only to unmask it later as mere ignorance, superstition, or fanaticism) should not be separated from his talent to elicit laughter from his readers, a facet of magical realism that critics tend to ignore. I likewise contend that he resorts to both magical realism and pseudo-magical realism as sources of dramatic relief in what would otherwise be just the sad story of an innocent girl neglected by her roguish and resentful parents, possibly taken advantage of by an exorcist, and brutalized to death by a fanatically blind Inquisition. With this goal in mind, I explore the motivations for choosing the comedic genre and its implications, as well as a potential allegorical message in relation to national and/or regional cultural identity.
The novel’s occasional incongruity and lack of verisimilitude, together with a flowery and atavistic language that is sometimes reminiscent of the chronicles of the Spanish conquest of the Americas or of tales of chivalry (tellingly, the physician owns a copy of the novel of chivalry Amadís de Gaula), may bring to mind—like other works by García Márquez—the usual criticism about an alienating exoticism that tropicalizes Latin America and its cultures. On the other hand, Rudyard J. Alcocer contends that the mixed reviews received by Of Love respond to its problematical relationship with the magical realist style. According to him, instead of creating a “coherent” magical realist world, in this (in his opinion) flawed novel, García Márquez limits himself to isolated instances of the style that end up seeming forced and misplaced:
For a narrative of this genre to be successful (in terms of Khair’s internal coherence but also, perhaps, in terms of critical reception and sales), it has to be fully committed to the genre, that is, to the development of an internally coherent magical realist world. Similarly, an effective magical realist text probably needs a critical mass of magical realist occurrences for the illusion of internal coherence to be attained. The case of Of Love and Other Demons may suggest that even in a shorter novel, more than just a couple of magical realist events are necessary to keep these events from seeming random and unnecessary. (80)
In other words, García Márquez’s incorporation of magical realist techniques in this type of novel is problematical according to this critic.
While I see the merit in Alcocer’s assessment of García Márquez’s use of magical realism in Of Love, I argue that magical realism and its latter-day offshoot, pseudo-magical realism, which is much more commonly used in this novel, do work as comic relief and as a tool for corrective comedy, even if it hurts the story’s verisimilitude. In other words, for the most part the use of these literary modes in Of Love is quite different from the ones seen in more totalizing or ambitious novels, such as Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) or what, is in my view, García Márquez’s crowning achievement, El otoño del patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch). While still challenging—and more than ever before—the Eurocentric gaze and rationalist worldviews through the incorporation of alternative non-western subjectivities (the African and indigenous ways of being in the world), here (pseudo-)magical realism often becomes a more humble tool for mockery of intolerance, ignorant superstition and religious fanaticism, as well as for the creation of exuberant and transgressive comedy, a literary genre that is not always well received by critics. Along these lines, the archaic language in the novel, besides re-creating the world of eighteenth-century Cartagena de Indias, is often used as another tool for humor and mockery.
Therefore, I conceive of Of Love as a novel in which, twelve years after being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, the world-renowned author of One Hundred Years of Solitude decides that he can afford writing a fun and humorous novel without the totalizing scope or trailblazing ambitions of his masterpieces. Already in the 1980s, the Colombian author began to distance himself from magical realism, as critics’ respect for this literary mode was beginning to dwindle and more readers began to see it as a tired and commodified cliché or market strategy. Indeed, perhaps by this time tired of being labeled as a magical realist and disappointed with the path taken by his epigones, throughout the plot of Of Love, García Márquez toys with his readers, challenging them to discern in which passages he is truly resorting to his famous brand of magical realism and in which ones he is just mocking ignorant superstition or religious fanaticism through pseudo-magical realism. He creates this confusion through an unrealiable narrator that initially seems to be presenting an instance of the magical realism García Márquez popularized worldwide, only to end up clarifying, later in the plot, that what readers are witnessing are the outcomes of ignorant superstition, unfounded rumors, and religious fanaticism. Fernando Reati coincides with his assessment of Of Love as a novel in which the Colombian master is trying to separate himself from newer tropicalizing literary trends:
Aware that the magical realism of the sixties and seventies has become a caricature of the continent, and that some of its more recent manifestations–certain novels by Isabel her mouth” (118). Allende and Laura Esquivel, for example–contribute to the fossilization of a stereotyped image and for export of the continent, the author labors now to dismantle what Adriana Bergero terms the “holiday or tourist aesthetic of Latin America” practiced by some proponents of magical realism. (91; qtd Alcocer 73)1
Yet, to deepen the confusion even further, in a few passages the trompe-l’oeil works the other way around: something that is initially denounced as ignorant superstition ends up being reframed as a strange reality in the literary mode of traditional magical realism. Thus, whereas at one point father Cayetano Delaura, the seemingly progressive exorcist who is examining the protagonist, Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles, assesses that rather than being possessed by demons, she is only terrorized by credulous nuns in the convent, he later comes to the conclusion that the girl is indeed possessed by a demon: “Then Delaura witnessed the fearful spectacle of one truly possessed. Sierva María’s hair coiled with a life of its own, like the serpents of Medusa, and green spittle and a string of obscenities in idolatrous languages poured from her mouth” (118).2 This confusing and ambiguously magical atmosphere is enhanced by a premilinary note to the novel where the author explains how his grandmother would tell him, as a child, about the legend of the twelve-year-old daughter of a marquise with extremely long hair, who had died of rabies and been venerated in several Caribbean towns. When her cadaver was unearthed, García Márquez explains in the note, her hair was more than twenty-two meters long.
As stated, with only two or three exceptions, in all the other instances the Colombian author makes the reader of Of Love speculate with possible cases of magical realism or of supernatural, otherworldly events only to end up unveiling them as mere rumors, tricks, or jokes by the characters. For instance, from the beginning we learn that Sierva María, the only daughter of Don Ygnacio de Alfaro y Dueñas, the second Marquis de Casualdero, is able to speak three African languages and believes in Yoruba orishas simply because she was raised by African slaves after being rejected by her parents. It is even suggested that it was an African remedy that prevented her from getting rabies, even though she was bitten by the same rabid dog that killed four slaves: “Caridad del Cobre later revealed to the Marquis that Sierva María had given herself over in secret to the lore of the slaves, who had her chew a paste of manajú and placed her naked in the onion cellar to counteract the evil spell of the dog” (32).3 Yet the reasons the protagonist sings in voices different from her own or emulates the sounds of animals, satanic ghosts, and the dead are at best unclear. Some readers could interpret these scenes as instances of Santería trance-possession, in which, once the girl enters a state of altered consciousness, an Orisha “mounts” (possesses) her body and speaks through her. However, according to the narrator Sierva María’s voices and sounds would shock the slaves themselves. Surprisingly, Edith Grossman left the phrase in the original Spanish-version (“que los desconcertaban a ellos mismos” [19-20]) untranslated in the English version. Later, however, the narrator reveals these seemingly otherworldly voices and sounds as mere mischievousness through which the girl is trying to scare the nuns: “Sierva María would imitate voices from beyond the grave, voices of those who had been decapitated, voices of the spawn of Satan, and many believed her sly deceptions and attested to their truth in the acta” (70).4
Likewise, in another potentially metaphysical scene, we learn that Sierva María “seemed an invisible creature” (12):5 she walks in such a stealthy manner that her mother Bernarda has to hang a bell around the girl’s neck in order to be able to locate her in the house. The narrator later clarifies, however, that she had learned (it is, therefore, another of her mischievous tricks) to “glide past Christians unseen and unheard, like an incorporeal being” (42).6 Whereas at this point, we are only told that she seemed invisible, the exorcist Delaura later affirms: “When she learned that the Abbess was looking for her, she had made herself invisible only to her eyes” (91).7 But again, this could also be understood as another case in which the girl uses her slyness to avoid unpleasant situations or punishment.
Other passages, however, seem closer to the type of magical realism that García Márquez popularized in some of his previous works. We learn, for example, that Sierva María’s radiant red hair grows so rapidly that it could have impaired her walking had it not been for the slaves braiding her hair every day. This miraculous hair growth continues after her death, as one can see it grow rapidly from her shaved head: “The warder who came in to prepare her for the sixth session of exorcism found her dead of love in her bed, her eyes radiant and her skin like that of a newborn baby. Strands of hair gushed like bubbles as they grew back on her shaved head” (147).8 As Bell-Villada explains, this type of post-mortem hair growth is “medically impossible” (254). A last example of magical realism in which there is no attempt at verisimilitude or logical explanation by the author takes place when origami birds fall from the sky while the marquis, Sierva María’s father, is returning from the cemetery: “he was surprised by a storm of little paper birds falling like snow on the orange trees in the orchard. He caught one of them, unfolded it, and read: That lightning bolt was mine” (38). 9
By contrast, there are strange phenomena taking place that are not clear-cut cases of magical realism, such as the devilish, rabid monkeys that attack animals in town and people in the cathedral; or a black man, Judas Iscariote, who fights a bull with no weapons or protection. In this same category, a servant named Dominga de Adviento dies without finding out why corridors were cleaner in the morning than before she went to bed or why objects moved around at night. Other strange or unexplained occurrences attributed to Sierva María’s possession seem to be mere superstition or rumors: according to some nuns, a pig has spoken, bees and enraged cattle escape, and hens fly away to the sea.10 They also claim that she flies with transparent wings and blame her for earth tremors, pigs being poisoned, and water causing prophetic visions. And Sierva María is not the only object of strange rumors: the Jewish Portuguese physician, Abrenuncio, is said to have resurrected a dead tailor. In the same ambivalently magical category, Cayetano dreams of Sierva María looking at the winter in Salamanca before meeting her, and Sierva María has the same dream, even though she has never visited Salamanca.
In a passage reminiscent of the magical realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude (perhaps an ironic wink to his long-time readers), the Jewish physician, Abrenuncio de Sa Pereira Cao, assures the marquis (who hopes that this doctor can cure his daughter) that his horse is one hundred years old; later, however, the marquis admits that it was just a private joke. Among other suspicious events in the novel, a nun falls down the stairs and breaks her skull right after trying to take Sierva María’s African necklaces away from her. A possible explanation to some of these events and phenomena could be that, as the exorcist Delaura explains, the clerics confuse Sierva María’s African worldview, behavior, and customs with devilish possession. Indeed, along with African bodies of knowledge, the novel includes indigenous ones that also contest Eurocentric rationalism, such as that of an indigenous woman called Sagunta, who is said to perform abortions and restore virginity, and who claims to be the only one with the healing powers to combat the rabies plague. At one point, Sagunta tries to heal (the perfectly healthy) Sierva María by spreading ointment onto her own naked body and then rubbing their two bodies together.
But aside from all of its possible literary merits or flaws, Of Love is an entertaining and funny novel (funnier in the original Spanish than in the English translation) that often uses corrective humor and satire to mock ignorant superstition or the sordid fanaticism of the omnipotent Catholic Church at the time. Some of these superstitions provoke hilarity throughout the plot. For instance, Sierva María’s father, a symbol of a decrepit criollo aristocracy, believes that there could not possibly be a plague in town because there had been no sights of comets or eclipses. He also boasts publicly: “‘En mi casa se hace lo que yo obedezco’” (36), a funny contradiction that is unfortunately lost in Grossman’s translation: “In my house I do not say, I obey” (25).11 Similarly, his proud conclusion after retelling the numerous lies that his daughter constantly says is that “Perhaps she will be a poet” (31).12 And when the servant Dominga de Adviento concludes that the newborn Sierva María is going to be a saint because she cries after hearing her promise to her saints (that, if the girl survives, she will not get her hair cut until her wedding), the marquis disagrees: “She will be a whore,” he said. “If God gives her life and health” (42).13 Along these lines, when Abrenuncio tells the marquis that his hated wife will be dead by September 15, this is his only reaction: “The only problem is that the fifteenth of September is so far away” (48).14
The physician, Abrenuncio de Sa Pereira Cao, who is comically described as “Identical to the king of clubs” (18)15 and wants to bury his horse in a cemetery, is also a funny character. As an enlightened intellectual who reads Voltaire in Latin, he represents the voice of the new reason against the anachronistic blindness of the Church. Yet the unorthodox and eccentric ways in which he makes medical diagnoses for his patients often elicit laughter. For instance, perhaps a mockery of some of the outrageous medical beliefs at the time, Abrenuncio claims that Sierva María’s heart, which he describes as a little caged frog, has told him that she is aware that the dog that bit her was rabid. Later, he claims to know that her marquis’s wife has a liver disease because she is complaining with her mouth open.
There are also plenty of sexual and scatological humorous scenes, most of them dealing with Sierva María’s mother, the mestiza Bernarda Cabrera, who is comically described as a sort of nymphomaniac: “She had been an untamed mestiza of the so-called shopkeeper aristocracy: seductive, rapacious, brazen, with a hunger in her womb that could have satisfied an entire barracks” (8).16 The hyperbolic tone assumed by the narrator in describing the grotesque and carnivalesque ways whereby Bernarda tries to retain her lover Judas Iscariote through the use of costumes, or the scene in which she jumps onto the marquis’s hammock and sexually assaults him, all add to the irreverent humor that pervades the novel: “They continued to make hurried, heartless siesta love in the evangelical shade of the orange trees. The madwomen encouraged them from the terraces with indecent songs, and celebrated their triumphs with stadium ovations” (41).17 Still challenging accepted societal norms, another source of comedy is the vulgarity of Bernarda Cabrera’s coarse vocabulary, which transgresses dominant codes and values: “‘And no woman, white or black, is worth one hundred twenty pounds of gold, unless she shits diamonds’” (9).18 Even the mean, disparaging remarks she makes about her own daughter, Sierva María, are quite comical: “Not a bad little business: You could breed American-born marquises with chicken feet and sell them to the circus” (26). 19 Like Bernarda, the black servant Dominga de Adviento elicits laughter through her unrefined colloquial expressions: “Dominga de Adviento lo dijo mejor: ‘El culo no le cabía en el cuerpo’” (62), which is translated by Edith Grossman as: “Dominga de Adviento said it best: ‘Her ass was too big for her body’” (44).
But perhaps the funniest voice in the novel is that of the narrator. For instance, he assesses that the marquis is acting “with all the clumsiness of a borrowed father” (58)20 when, following years of utter neglect, he attempts to help and care for his daughter. Earlier on, in a dialogue in which the marquis confesses that he does not know Latin, the narrator ironically explains Abrenuncio’s reaction in the following way: “‘There is no reason you should!’ said Abrenuncio. And he said it in Latin, of course” (20).21 Similarly, when the marquis is trying to steer his daughter Sierva María away from African culture (the conflict of identities is emblematized by the fact she even gives herself an African-sounding name, María Mandinga), the narrator states that he “Trató de enseñarla a ser blanca de ley” (66), making a pun with the expression “oro de ley” (fine gold). Once again, because it is so difficult to translate such jokes, the humor is unfortunately lost in Edith Grossman’s English-language version: “He tried to teach her to be a real white” ). These passages prove that sarcastic and grotesque humor, which elicits laughter through comical exaggerations and scatological transgressions to society’s accepted norms, is central to García Márquez’s recreation of the colonial world in Latin America (and particularly in eighteenth-century Cartagena) in this work, making it one of his funniest. This approach, however, does not prevent the author from including a parody of Eurocentrism as well as some harsh criticism of the colonial Catholic Church, two aspects of coloniality (to use Aníbal Quijano’s term) that are still relevant in contemporary Latin America. This use of subversive humor to denounce historical abuses and to mock anachronistic beliefs fits right in with the traditionally corrosive attributes of comic literature in Latin America that have been pointed out by numerous critics.
One of the main vehicles for this anti-clerical criticism is the Jewish physician Abrenuncio, who sarcastically describes the port city of Cartagena de Indias, in what used to be Nueva Granada and is now a Caribbean city in Colombia, as “an outpost of the world intimidated by the Holy Office” (47).22 He suspects that Sierva María may not have been infected with rabies, criticizes the marquis’s decision to bury his own daughter alive in a cloister convent, and even questions openly (thus risking his own life) the credibility of exorcisms and autos da fe: “‘There is not much difference between that and the witchcraft of the blacks,’ he said. ‘In fact, it is even worse, because the blacks only sacrifice roosters to their gods, while the Holy Office is happy to break innocents on the rack or burn them alive in a public spectacle’” (72).23 On the other side of the spectrum, we have the bishop of Cartagena, don Toribio de Cáceres y Virtudes, who is convinced that Sierva María’s body is condemned by demonic possession, but that her soul can still be saved through exorcism. The bishop mistrusts the enlightened Abrenuncio for several reasons: the latter is said to have resurrected a tailor, was once persecuted by the Inquisition, and his Portuguese surname, Cao (cão), means “dog” at a time when there is a rabies epidemic in town. The ridiculed bishop also disapproves of the physician’s libertine, Enlightenment readings and suspects that he may be a pederast when, in fact, the real pederast (at least by today’s standards) turns out to be the priest sent by the bishop himself to exorcise Sierva María. But the bishop’s most disgraceful acts are his orders to have the innocent girl exorcised several times and then interned—ninety-three days after being bitten in her ankle by a rabid dog and with no real symptoms of having rabies—in the convent of Santa Clara, where she dies shortly afterward. To make his image even more despicable, García Márquez depicts the overweight bishop arriving at the first exorcism in rich ceremonial garments and being carried by four slaves.
A more enlightened and tolerant voice from the Church is the thirty-six-year-old exorcist Cayetano Delaura, who is unfairly rumored to be the bishop’s son or lover. Initially, Delaura tries to convince the bishop that Sierva María is not possessed; he argues, instead, that the rancorous and narrow-minded abbess, Josefa Miranda, is the one with psychological problems.24 Although Delaura may be perceived by contemporary readers as a lecherous pervert who feels pleasure when the pre-adolescent Sierva María bites and scratches him, García Márquez, in the spirit of the novel, does not describe the priest in a negative light: turning the male nightmare of the possessed witch into the male fantasy of the (very) young lover, Cayetano falls madly in love with the thirteen-year-old girl and looks forward to marrying her. Eventually she reciprocates and looks forward to his secretive, nocturnal visits to her convent cell. Even though he is not described with an accusatory tone as a pederast in the novel, Delaura ultimately takes advantage, as an exorcist, of a thirteen-year-old whom he finds in the malodorous convent cell, she laying on a stone bed without a mattress and with her hands and feet tied. Yet they never consummate their relationship, limiting themselves instead to kissing and hugging each other, between literacy lessons and declamations of Garcilaso de la Vega’s love poetry. Delaura even dreams about escaping with her and marrying her one day. Again playing with a possible instance of magical realism, one night the guardian enters Sierva María’s cell yet never sees the exorcist there. Tellingly, Delaura jokes about the purported invisibility of hs beloved Sierva María: “‘Lucifer is quite a villain,’ he mocked when he could breathe again. ‘He has made me invisible too’” (126).25 When their secret romance is discovered, Sierva María is locked away in a cell and Delaura is never allowed to meet with her again. After confessing his love for the marquis’s daughter, the exorcist-priest is condemned by the Inquisition as a heretic, although he is later allowed to work at a leper hospital. In the end, Sierva María goes on a three-day hunger strike, before “dying of love” in her cell.
To return to the function of comedy in this novel, McAleer argues broadly that “there is an intrinsic relationship between all comic expressions, including generic ones, and the very human desire to affirm one’s identity, both individual and social. Whether transgressive or prescriptive, comic laughter always relies on the pre-existence and internalisation of social norms and rules. Consequently it is deeply related to articulations of individual, social and cultural narratives of identity” (4). Indeed, García Márquez’s satirizing of colonial Latin American society, with all the different brands of intolerance, superstition, and closemindedness that an ideal reader can still partially recognize in today’s society, can be framed within McAleer’s parameters for narratives of identity affirmation and social reconciliation. García Márquez’s focus on such aspects as the African and indigenous cultures in the Caribbean region of Colombia, the history of black slavery, class antagonisms, the degeneration of Criollo aristocracy and the presence of the omnipotent Church, serves to highlights key ingredients in the Colombian national identity of yesterday and today. And it is precisely the use of a corrosive humor in all these social critiques that prevents the novel from appearing too moralizing or sententious.
McAleer also maintains that “from the very beginning of its inception into prose, comedy has been facinated with the bawdy and exuberant tale of youthful progression and maturation” (14). Of Love also corroborates that assertion through the character of Sierva María, who chooses to become the Africanized María Mandinga and never gives up her agency, in spite of Criollo society’s absurd association of African languages, dances, and culture in general with the realm of the demonic. Since the action takes place over little more than three months, the novel is not a Bildungsroman. Yet the individual struggle of this indomitable girl to affirm her own adopted African identity against the Eurocentric impositions of both her father and the Church, ultimately functions as an allegory of Colombian and Latin American identity struggles. The lack of a happy ending and the failure of her romantic relationship with a member of the antagonistic Church signals the end of a potential utopian impulse and points to a pessimistic, allegorical view of social reconciliation in a dystopian country. The only character who truly understands Sierva María’s rejection of Eurocentrism and Catholic dogma from the outset is Abrenuncio, who is an outsider himself on account of his Portuguese nationality and Jewish background. The physician, who feels the oppression of being a desired target of the Holy Office, is also the only one who suspects, from the beginning, that there is nothing wrong—either physically or mentally—with the girl.
In conclusion, because of the difficulty of translating Spanish-language jokes and puns into English, the novel is not as funny in translation as it is in the original version. Still, Of Love is, in my opinion, a comedy, one of the funniest texts by García Márquez, if not the funniest, even if there is a short, tragic, unfulfilled love story toward the end of the plot and an innocent girl is unfairly punished by the absurdity of religious fanaticism. The comedy itself, together with the evolution of most of the potentially magical-realist scenes into what I call pseudo-magical realism, are plausible devices to mock his latter-day epigones’ commercial use of magical realism. More so that in any of his previous novels, Of Love challenges Eurocentric rationalism and positivism from the post-colonial Latin American periphery through the incorporation of subaltern and racialized African and indigenous thought systems. It also engages in an identity quest that problematizes—and ultimately rejects—the European modernity historically imposed in both Colombia and Latin America. As a result, the novel announces the essence of a future Colombian national identity that is the final outcome of transculturation: a palimpsest formed by the clash of different ethnocultural identities, mostly European, African, and indigenous, but also, on a smaller scale, Jewish identities.
1 “Consciente al parecer de que el realismo mágico de los años 60 y 70 ha terminado por convertirse en una caricatura del continente, y de que algunos de sus productores más recientes–ciertas novelas de Isabel Allende y de Laura Esquivel, por ejemplo– contribuyen a fosilizar una imagen estereotípica y for export del continente, el autor colabora ahora en desmontar lo que Adriana Bergero denomina la ‘estética vacacional o turística de América Latina’ que practican algunos cultores del realismo mágico.’”
2 “Entonces Delaura asistió al espectáculo pavoroso de una verdadera energúmena. La cabellera de Sierva María se encrespó con vida propia como las serpientes de Medusa, y de la boca salió una baba verde y un sartal de improperios en lenguas de idólatras” (160-61).
3 “Caridad del Cobre le reveló más tarde al marqués que Sierva María se había entregado en secreto a las ciencias de los esclavos, que la hacían masticar emplasto de manajú y la encerraban desnuda en la bodega de cebollas para desvirtuar el maleficio del perro” (45-46).
4 “Sierva María imitaba voces de ultratumba, voces de degollados, voces de engendros satánicos, y muchas se creyeron sus picardías y las sentaron como ciertas en las cartas” (98-99).
5 “Parecía una criatura invisible” (20).
6 “Deslizarse por entre los cristianos sin ser vista ni sentida, como un ser inmaterial” (60).
7 “Cuando supo que la abadesa la buscaba, se hizo invisible sólo para ella” (126).
8 “La guardiana que entró a prepararla para la sexta sesión de exorcismos la encontró muerta de amor en la cama con los ojos radiantes y la piel recién nacida. Los trocos de los cabellos le brotaban como burbujas en el cráneo rapado, y se les veía crecer” (200-01).
9 “Lo sorprendió una nevada de palomitas de papel sobre los naranjos del huerto. Atrapó una al azar, la deshizo, y leyó: Ese rayo era mío” (54).
10 In another comical scene, the nuns, seeing that Sierva María does not speak, wonder whether she is deaf and mute or just German. This joke is reminiscent of his short story “Un hombre muy viejo con unas alas enormes,” where the neighbors wonder whether the angel is a Norwegian with wings.
11 “‘En mi casa se hace lo que yo obedezco’” (36)
12 “‘Quizás vaya a ser poeta’” (45).
13 “‘Será puta’, dijo. ‘Si Dios le da vida y salud’” (60).
14 “‘Lo único malo es que el 15 de septiembre esté tan lejos’” (68).
15 “Idéntico al rey de bastos” (27).
16 “Había sido una mestiza brava de la llamada aristocracia de mostrador; seductora, rapaz, parrandera, y con una avidez de vientre para saciar un cuartel” (15).
17 “Siguieron haciendo el amor en la siesta, de prisa y sin corazón, a la sombra evangélica de los naranjos. Las locas los alentaban con canciones procaces desde las terrazas, y celebraban sus triunfos con aplausos de estadio” (58).
18 “‘Y no hay mujer ni negra ni blanca que valga ciento veinte libras de oro, a no ser que cague diamantes” (16).
19 “‘No sería un mal negocio parir marquesitas criollas con patas de gallina para venderlas a los circos’” (38).
20 “Con una torpeza de papá prestado” (81).
21 “‘¡Ni falta que le hace!’, dijo Abrenuncio. Y lo dijo en latín, por supuesto” (31).
22 “Un suburbio del mundo intimidado por el Santo Oficio” (66).
23 “Entre eso y las hechicerías de los negros no hay mucha diferencia’, dijo. ‘Y peor aún, porque los negros no pasan de sacrificar gallos a sus dioses mientras que el Santo Oficio se complace descuartizando inocentes en el potro o asándolos vivos en espectáculo público” (101).
24 The narrator also describes the abbess, Josefa Miranda, in negative terms: “She had been brought up in Burgos, in the shadow of the Holy Office, but her talent for command and the rigor of her prejudices came from within and had always been hers” (65). (“Se había formado en Burgos, a la sombra del Santo Oficio, pero el don de mando y el rigor de sus prejucios eran de dentro y de siempre” ).
25 “Lucifer es un bicho’, se burló él cuando recobró el aire. ‘También a mí me ha vuelto invisible’” (173).
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