Monday, November 14, 2022

Inventing the Wheel

Well, la! One head on the little YouTube screen
says we need a new religion, and another says
it's stupid to reinvent the wheel. And I would think
the second was right (because I like cathedrals),

but then I think: those of us unchurched 
are creating a new religion willy nilly, 
and the only question is do we do it right
or do we do it like chuckleheads -- worship at the temples
of commerce, make offerings to the algorithms
of liking, train our attention
to ever greater feats of distraction. That
is our present devotion. We're inventing it anyway,
a lonely lopsided Flintstone 
pentagon of a wheel. Stop.

Here is what we do in our church: 
we never gather and we never sing
we blame but never praise
we cultivate indulgence; we wallow in dread;
we pick the scabs of anxiety.
The stupidest Congregation of the Bigot
in Podunkville does better than that.

Any meditation, any contemplation, any prayer
is better than this. Any tradition, old or made up.
And the thing is, I have always had it backwards
You don't find out the truth first and then 
go looking for the church that matches. That's
a project bound to fail. 

The people of the church
must gather first, and build and find together.
What we know is: this does not work. That's
enough to start with. The rest comes later.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Aureliano José

There is a family tree at the beginning of Gregory Rabassa's splendid English translation of Cien años de soledad, but I found it confusing, because it didn't preserve birth order. So I've been constructing my own as I go along, and this is where I presently am:

                     José Arcadio Buendía

                     = Úrsula Iguarán



| | |

José Arcadio Buendía Colonel Aureliano Buendía   Amaranta

= Rebeca Buendía = Remedios Moscote

|           |

—----             -

|             |

by Pilar: Arcadio         by assorted women: 17 assorted Aurelianos

= Santa Sofia de la Piedad By Pilar: Aureliano José 



|          |                                   |

 Remedios José Arcadio Segundo Aureliano Segundo

            = Fernanda del Carpio



|                         |     |

José Arcadio Renata Remedios (Meme) Amaranta Úrsula

Laid out this way, the figure who keeps catching my eye is the person at the center, Aureliano José, son of the Colonel by Pilar Ternera. He's a minor character, although he is the only child of the Colonel who is actually raised in the household. He is murdered in the general slaughter of the Colonel's sons, and vanishes from the novel, without leaving much trace. His main significance seems to be as a link between the incest anxiety of the first generation and the actual incest of the last generation. He falls in love with his aunt Amaranta, into whose bed he regularly creeps as a boy. She shoos him away eventually, after some ambiguous dalliance. He goes away to fight in one of the Colonel's insurrections:
Así padeció el exilio... hasta que le oyó contar a alguien el viejo cuento del hombre que se casó con una tía que además era su prima, y cuyo hijo terminó siendo abuelo de sí mismo.

—¿Es que uno se puede casar con una tía? —preguntó él, asombrado.

—No solo se puede —le contestó un soldado— sino que estamos haciendo esta guerra contra los curas para que uno se pueda casar con su propia madre.
Two things to note here: the point of the shaggy-dog incest story, as told to Aureliano José, is that a man becomes his own grandfather -- the extremity of individualist, even solipsist fantasy -- and the identification of why the Liberal revolutionaries are fighting against the priests: so that one can marry one's own mother. This is not exactly the standard interpretation of the Liberal cause.

The question is: why? Why is this incestuous solitude what all of the Buendías seem to be struggling for?

I saw one of those silly lists of "the fifty greatest books" the other day. It was a composite, assembled by some algorithm that searched out a bunch of such ranked lists and crunched them together somehow. Cien años de soledad came in third, on this list. I doubt this conveys much information about greatness, but it certainly conveys a lot about current popularity and prestige. This is a central novel of our time, which suggests to me that this theme resonates far beyond the particular psychology of Gabriel García Márquez.