Book Excerpt: In(ter)ventions of the Self

In honor of Gabriel García Márquez’s birthday today, below is an excerpt from In(ter)ventions of the Self: Writing and the Autobiographical Subject in Hispanic American Literature (1974–2002), in which Professor Sergio R. Franco discusses the Nobel laureate’s autobiography Vivir para contarla:

Vivir para contarla appeared in 2002. It is both necessary and useless to recall that at that time Gabriel García Márquez was the most famous Latin American novelist in the world, and that for good or ill his work was one of the epitomes of “magical realism.” Born in 1927, García Márquez was already well into his seventies. That fact distinguishes his “memoirs” from the texts we have seen thus far, for unlike those others, Vivir para contarla is a work of old age (Confieso que he vivido differs somewhat, insofar as the text incorporates material from various time periods). Of course, old age would seem to be the ideal moment to write one’s autobiography, since by that time one’s life is already filled with accomplishments and those vast palaces of memory, as Saint Augustine says in Chapter X of the Confessions, are now full. Moreover, it seems reasonable to think that since there are no longer so many things for which to live, it is the moment to relive. Hence comes the importance of childhood for the person of age, since memories of childhood restore that sensation of an unlimited future at the moment when death ceases to become a vague and abstract destination, and instead changes into a personal event of the near future. Paradoxically, the ability to remember declines with age, and the past manifests itself in a discontinuity of images, fantasies, and affective attitudes. Some hint of this idea comes quite late in the pages of Vivir para contarla, when one of the author’s brothers, El Cuqui, says that “lo primero que un autor debe escribir son sus memorias, cuando todavía se acuerda de algo.” This remark has the epigrammatic strength so characteristic of García Márquez’s dialogue and its humor; that humor which informs the world vision implicit in Vivir para contarla is preceded by the following declaration: “La vida no es la que uno vivió, sino la que uno recuerda y cómo la recuerda para contarla.”

Memory is a means by which we relate to the past; in reality, it is a construction of that past, something that only exists as a recollection. But memory demands narrative since it emphasizes causality, the temporal sequence of meanings, and the interrelationship of subject and community, for individual memory depends on a culture’s system of communication, and all cultures require a supra-individual means of creation, transmission, and conservation of certain information, a means that possesses its own paradigm of memory and forgetting. Nevertheless, we have known for centuries that there is a difference between writing and memory. In Phaedrus and the Seventh Letter, Plato objects to writing because it externalizes something that should rightly remain in thought. A written text does not respond to the questions we put to it, and more to the point of our discussion, it destroys the individual’s mnemonic abilities by making that individual depend on contrivances. That is to say, writing convulses the original form of memory (anamnesis) and in its place substitutes a system of external recollection (hypomnemata). Since the beginning of Western culture there has been a suspicion regarding the artificial nature of memory that writing makes possible, and which in turn harms memory. When speaking of Margo Glantz’s Las genealogías, we mentioned Walter Benjamin’s proposed comparison between autobiography and archaeology. Without repeating all that we have already said, it is worthwhile to bring up Proust’s concept of mémoire involuntaire, which Benjamin understands as a poetic principle closer to forgetting than to remembering. In recalling a given moment, this latter process provides a rejuvenating charge that compensates for the aging process. It involves a method of actualization, not reflection. It is necessary to mention the French writer if we recall the Proustian manner in which memories are produced in Vivir para contarla. The protagonist and his mother travel to Aracataca to sell the family home. They meet up with some old acquaintances and have dinner with them. “Desde que probé la sopa tuve la sensación de que todo un mundo adormecido despertaba en mi memoria,” something that resembles the famous episode in of the madeleine pastry in Du côté de chez Swann, the first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu.”

In(ter)ventions of the Self: Writing and the Autobiographical Subject in Hispanic American Literature (1974–2002) by Sergio R. Franco is available in hardcover. It is also available in different ebook formats, which start at $19.99 to purchase and $9.99 to rent. Professors who wish to use this book along with others in the  Cambria Latin American Literatures and Cultures Series for their classes should use the Cambria Book Cloud, which allows for the bundling of ebooks at only $9.99 per title for each student.