The Cambridge Introduction to Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Cambridge Introductions to Literature)

Gabriel García Márquez
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To be persuasive the author must delineate the nature of and reasons for the. The character is placed in such a situation as to produce a crisis in his personality. His acceptance of the dictates of authority or the servile compliance with the prejudiced, uncritical and unreflective patterns of behaviour of the majority are placed under strain in such a way that a minor transformation takes place in the character himself, a change which could not be effected without the presence ofthe figure who stands in a position ofpower or influence over the character.

In No One Writes to the Colonel the confrontation is presented in a diffuse way, for the figures of authority - the mayor, Don Sabas, the guard, the clergy, etc. But we cannot doubt that the personality of the colonel undergoes a change. One might have expected a crisis point in the confrontation in the casino between the guard, the murderer of Agustin, and the colonel. Yet Garcia Marquez understates the moral superiority of his colonel at this point to reassert it in a spectacular way in the colonel's final words and when the reader least expects it. Thus the ground or the nature of the confrontation is often allusive rather than explicit; surprising rather than predictable.

In the cases of Don Aurelio, or the mother of Carlos Centeno or of Baltazar, the encounter and the direction it takes are unexpected. The dentist's surgery, the priest's waiting room and Montiel's patio become, of a sudden, arenas of opposition or resistance to the patterns of behaviour expected in such a situation. This, then, is the first aspect of such characterization: a specifically selected type who might pass unnoticed in a crowd but who, in a given moment, stands prominent in the affirmation of his personal integrity.

Secondly, the necessary presence of a figure of authority; thirdly, the occasion of the conflict itself when the forces of expected compliance collide with the irresistible or indomitable will of the unassuming individual; fourthly, and perhaps the most novel aspect of many of the short stories, is the unpromising location chosen as a backdrop for the confrontation which is to emerge.

This last aspect, together with the unassuming central character, contributes to the constant and consistent element of surprise which is a central feature of all Garcia Marquez's fiction. Finally, we might include another technique which, like the last, is both a narrative as well as a characterizing one. In each of the cases we have been examining, and commonly in other short stories, character conflict and change are also stimulated by an arrival often of the protagonist himself or sometimes by an object like Baltazar's cage.

As Mark Millington points out in his essay in this collection, 'The effect of the arrival is to. The character is destabilized, forced in a new direction, to undertake an action which signifies change and a return to a new equilibrium. By the same token, ofcourse, departure is used to terminate the process which the arrival inaugurated and so close the development.

Garcia Marquez uses the departure motif narratively to close his stories and as a closure for characterization. It is the perfect technical fusion. One common means of conveying character in narrative fiction is through dialogue; another is description, another symbolic language. All these techniques are used to consummate effect in No One Writes to the Colonel: in the conversations; in the description of the colonel and those who stand against him; in the symbolism of the climatic conditions, the letter and the cock.

A further technique, used with both economy and skill in the short stories, is that of signposting stages in the development or chronology of the story. Finally, we should not overlook the ironic or ambiguous general statements nor the allusive details of milieu or setting. All of these are used in 'One of these Days' and 'Tuesday Siesta' , the two stories chosen for analysis.

The story of Baltazar, the colonel or others might also serve as evidence for the present study. Let us consider the elementary presentation of the dentist. Aurelio Escovar is granted from the outset ofthe story the courtesy title ofDon. It is given by the narrator alone, for no one else in the story addresses Aurelio in this fashion. No specific interpretation can be applied to thisfact, however, for the man's son is unlikely to use it.

The fact that the mayor, the only other figure in the story, does not use it may suggest that the mayor views Aurelio as an inferior, unworthy of the title. Perhaps the narrator is conveying not only his own esteem but that ofAurelio's fellow townsmen. Perhaps it is used ironically, for the positive effect of the 'Don' is immediately deflated by the following description of 'unqualified dentist', only for the ironic - or positive? The reader is perplexed. We are not told why Don Aurelio never qualified or why he rises early. The surgery itself suggests penury and the struggle to make a modest living.

The spareness of the opening delineation also suggests that the town senses that it is fortunate, indeed, as the 'Don' implies, to have a man who can practise with skill and care. The descriptive technique, then, is economic yet richly suggestive.

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The rest of the description tells us of the inner man rather than ofhis social position. By far the greater part of the ensuing description evokes a single impression. We are given the following details of physical make-up and aspect: He was stiff, spare, with a gaze which rarely matched the moment, like the look of the deaf.

He seemed not to reflect on what he was doing, but he worked stubbornly, pedalling on the drill even when he was not using it. He went on working. The voice of his son. He held [the tooth] at arm's length and examined it through half-closed eyes. He went on examining the tooth. His expression still did not change. Without haste, with an extremely quiet movement, he stopped pedalling the drill, withdrew it from the chair and opened the bottom drawer of the table.

The characterization, we note, becomes increasingly verbal with description indicated by minimal adverbialization: 'smoothly', 'with a careful pressure of the fingers', 'still without haste', etc. It is a transition from nominal and adjectival description of the man to description of his actions. The dentist becomes animate; it is he who dominates the scene, monopolizes the movement and the conversa tion in the arena ofimplied conflict.

The physical characteristics ofthe absorbed or abstracted demeanour are prepared for by his earliest actions, the preparations in the surgery: 'he placed on the table a handful of instruments which he laid out in order from the largest to the smallest, as in an exhibition'. Despite his lack of qualifications and evident poverty, the author implies a richness of personality.

The outer man, somewhat ridiculous in his braces over a striped shirt with a gold stud but no collar, belies the inner composure. The physical description is, in reality, the bearer ofan implied spiritual description. The qualities evoked are resilience, orderliness, determination, concentration, tenacity,joy in work well done, that is, inner harmony. But the shift in emphasis in this description from adjectival to verbal , from the man beginning a weekly routine to a man exacting payment for sins committed, is signposted by three further devices: dialogue, surprise and symbolism.

The introduction of dialogue i s used, of course, for narrative effect. It bears the burden of tracing the mayor's discomfiture and the payment for past sins. But it also signposts the development of character. The first is the dentist's ' "Tell him I am not here. The reader has been prepared for inner composure but not outright antagonism and rudeness.

The next stage in the building process is the laconic ' "Better" ', whose effect is underpinned by the readiness to allow a rupture with the expected norm - ofsocial grace as well as ofvocational duty to treat the suffering - implied in the speech itself and in the contrastive refusal to allow the present task - that of polishing the tooth - to be interrupted. The next stage of the process again coincides with the dentist's further reply in the elaborate charade ofoffence by proxy. Again this laconic utterance is embedded in a series of actions: 'stopped pedalling', 'withdrew it from the chair', 'opened', 'swung the chair'.

The building up oftension in the series of precise actions whose narrative burden points to confrontation implies a corresponding tensing of will in the person of the dentist himself. The threat ofthe mayor's revolver is met by that ofthe dentist. But the implied violence of the mayor's threat is matched by coolness and control on the part of Don Aurelio. Garcia Marquez does not overtly describe this quality; rather it is implied in the sentence beginning 'Without haste, with an extremely quiet movement' and the concluding line of the sequence leading to the appearance of the suffering mayor: 'He closed the drawer with his finger tips and said softly, "Sit down.

Yet by the moment of the invitation to be seated the dentist has grown in inner strength and in authority. What the dentist sees in the eyes of the mayor is a further device of characterization, for it explains the veiled contempt of the closing of the drawer and the lowered voice. The control of action and of voice emphasizes, by contrast with the violent threat and the effects of prolonged suffering in the mayor's face together with the submission of the mayor to the ministrations of his antagonist, an upsurge of moral superiority. Physical well-being implies spiritual well-being.

Garcia Marquez charts this last phase of the change the dentist undergoes by a contrast of relative calm, suggested by the description of the room and of the mayor seated in the chair, and the return to dialogue and movement. Again surprise is used to add to the effect in the revelation that anaesthesia cannot be used. It is an ironic comment for both men. The refused smile indicates the increasing gravity of the dentist and points to the next stage of Don Aurelio's role. But Garcia Marquez does not allow his dentist to torment the mayor further for he is now to assume another, more symbolic role, that ofretributive justice.

The confrontation moves, at this point, from an implied social, perhaps political one, to a metaphysical one. Where the dentist could have caused pain 'he only moved his wrist'.

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The change in characterization is signalled first, then, by verbal action, second by the adverbial 'without rancour. The surprising command to wipe away tears where to wipe the mouth would have been more appropriate points to the theme of social interaction and humiliation of an antagonist. But the final question concerning the destination of the bill, while combining both, emphasizes the theme of retribution, for in the final words of the mayor and of the story , he is forced by the dentist to admit that public office has become private patrimony.

Contrasts of dress neatness against untidiness , of bearing, of speech, etc. But there remains one last level of implied delineation: symbolism. As with other techniques, so here Garcia Marquez employs a diffuse, implicit, allusive mode of presentation. The apparently incidental details ofthe buzzards on the roof, the gold tooth and the cobweb in the window serve to focus the topos of confrontation.

The buzzards evoke an atmosphere of predation and death which, subsequently, the mayor comes to incarnate. The infected tooth also suggests decay. But the gold tooth becomes the dentist's symbolic sword in the moment he resists the mayor. Ironically the mayor is resisted by gold, a metal only he and his supporters might be supposed to afford. He is resisted by the image of his own class. But the gold theme becomes more complex and subtle when we recognize that it is used not only thematically in the confrontation but as a means of characterization.

The dentist is associated with incorruptible metal perhaps to become at the point of retribution the 'shining sword of the avenging angel' ; the mayor's tooth is abscessed, corrupt. Similarly, the contrast of 'the clear sky' and the 'dusty cobwebs filled with spiders' eggs and dead insects' reinforces the characterization of both protagonists and underscores.

The 'clear sky' seems to suggest idealism, aspiration, hope; the cobwebs a structure which inhibits, even prohibits, the surging flight of such idealistic aspiration. The 'spiders' eggs' appear to make less possible that hopeful bound of the human heart in that more spiders will appear to spin more webs. The corpses of the insects, the victims ofthe spiders, suggest defeated ideals, aspirations and hopes and, as the telling statement concerning the payment for murders committed by the mayor, the death of idealistic men.

Against such forces the indomitable spirit of the dentist seems doubly powerful. The poverty which, in a strange way, confers a heroic grandeur and nobility on the colonel is also borne by this woman. We never learn her name but she is carefully and subtly described. Unlike the tale of Don Aurelio, this story eschews the motif of confrontation and of surprise at its outset.

The introduction to the story is allusive in its narrative quality and generous in description. Dialogue, too, is eschewed in favour of monologue, for only the mother speaks during the train journey. All of her utterances evoke the same qualities of personality: solicitude for her child and an awareness of social proprieties, of appearances. Her statements are authoritarian yet combined with gentleness as witnessed in the 'gentle expression' with which she returns the look of the child.

The primary burden of characterization at the outset is, however, by description. The pair are travelling third-class, their belongings are of cheap materials, the flowers wrapped in newspaper, they are dressed in 'rigorous and poor mourning clothes'. The reasons for the mourning are not yet disclosed. The journey, the flowers and the solicitude ofappearances all suggest, as the story confirms, a visit to the grave of a near relative.

The description goes on to reveal the mother as prematurely old, a shapeless, ill-dressed figure. Life, clearly, has been unkind and, as the setting suggests, is still unkind. The smoke, the heat and the smells are used as incidental background description but they also suggest the forces ranged against her. The brooding silence and the crushing heat of the siesta subsequently perform the same function and prepare the way for the corporate hostility to the couple as the story closes.

But the description and, thus, the characterization takes on a new direction with the insertion of two key sentences. The first notes how she travelled 'with her spine pressed firmly against the back of the seat'. Characterization in the early fiction Her physical posture is the bearer of her spiritual strength. Physical rectitude is moral rectitude.

This is confirmed by one of Garcia Marquez's most revealing portrayals of character, one which we might associate with the person of the colonel, the author's most enduring hero: 'She had the scrupulous serenity of those people accustomed to poverty. The juxtaposition of words, as with other similar instances in 'One ofthese Days' and other stories, typifies the skill of the narrator to evoke the abstract and elusive nature of spiritual strength and power. We find, too, in this story a singular transparency ofcharacterization, a simplicity not only of detail or of significant feature but a revelation, in the simplest and most economic oflanguage, ofthe inner coreofpersonality.

Nothing is obscured, nothing ambivalent. The mother shows no naivety or ingenuousness, she is the victim of no humour or irony. In her we perceive the indestructible core of the essential self which Vargas Llosa has noted in the writings of Garcia Marquez. This simplicity of characterization is, arguably, one of the most prominent aspects ofhis technique. With the arrival in the town, the inimical forces reappear, suggested by the silent anonymity of the sleeping town and the tiny eyes behind thick lenses ofthe priest's sister.

The mode ofcharacterization changes at this point from physical description and telling juxtaposition of word to verbal and adverbial delineation: gesture, tone and inflection of voice, regard, demeanour. The inner serenity and integrity of a woman undertaking a sad and uncomfortable journey grows stronger at this point in the story. It coincides, as we have already seen in 'One of these Days', with a moment of confrontation. She refuses to be de flected from her purpose. Strength of will with serenity, resolve with relaxed control.

She refuses to wait for an hour and miss her train. Now dialogue bears the burden of characterization and the refusal spoken in a tone of voice 'still gentle, with a variety of nuances' conveys the same combination ofqualities as 'reposed tenacity'. The impression is evoked by physical demeanour and inflection of voice of a force of personality to be reckoned with. The mother might be poor, haggard,.


But her will, her integrity and dignity, her serenity of inner control all emerge in the conversation with the priest. The burden of their dialogue is shaped to highlight these qualities. The unpromising story takes on a promising direction and explains the mourning clothes and the hostile silence with the emergence of the soporific priest and the request for the cemetery key.

When he finally understands who she is, he reacts in a very special way. He 'scrutinizes her'. Garcia Marquez adds nothing else. But the text discloses, in the reaction of the mother, further details. We return to the theme of confrontation. The priest accuses with his stare; the mother returns his look 'with a quiet authority'.

Such is the intensity of her gaze that the priest blushes. The accuser yields the psychological advantage to the accused. If, in the first confrontation, the issue was one of convenience now the arena of conflict has shifted to a moral ground. It is an example of the signposting alluded to earlier. In this shift the mother undergoes another significant change and, in so doing, grows in moral stature. But the priest, though humbled, cannot resist the question, ' "Did you never try to direct him on the proper path? The inner serenity and control hold firm and she replies only after she has signed the ledger.

She offers no justification, only an affirmation of her son's goodness.

This statement, too, is revealing. Clarity of conscience needs no justification. The adjective inalterable is used here to singular effect. This is what the priest comes to recognize and here, as in 'One of these Days', the interaction ofcharacter is used to establish character.

The priest's reaction tells us more about the mother than the priest himself. Indeed, the whole section which follows, giving the bare essentials of a morality divorced from the morality of a property-owning society, leads the priest to the point of capitulation. His utterance of a pious cliche and Garcia Marquez's revelation that 'he said it without much conviction, partly because experience had made him a little sceptical, partly because of the heat', marks a high point in the spiritual ascendancy of the mother.

But it is not the highest point, for once more the story takes an unexpected direction and we return to the implicit theme ofhostility. And yet this frail creature, whose physical condition belies that inner core of growing strength, like the colonel, when faced by the challenge to her morality and her value system, accepts and takes on the challenge. There is a remarkable similarity of spiritual strength, resolve and integrity ofselfhood in the final lines of the two stories, in spite of the difference of tone and register.

The mother will not be deflected from her duty; she will not accept the easy compromises or excuses offered by the priest and his sister; she faces the hostility of the prejudiced townsfolk resolutely and squarely. All this is implied in the words of the priest and sister. In the two final verbs of the story the mother transcends the compromise of life and towers in magnificent moral ascendancy over her fellows: 'She took the child by the hand and went out into the street. Thus we can see that characterization is achieved in an original way.

Garcia Marquez relegates the role of omniscient narrator in favour of a more indirect and allusive approach to the delineation of his favoured type of character. His stories begin in an unassuming, even unpromising way. His protagonists are similarly unassuming. Yet, with the introduction of another figure, representing vested interest or authority spiritual or temporal , the chosen character begins to develop. The chosen milieu, too, may seem unpromising yet the background details serve a further but importantly symbolic role.

The combination of the given arena of conflict and the chosen antagonist produces a point ofcrisis in the development of the humble character. From the simple and economic sketching in of outward physical attributes which, as we have seen, are often the bearers of an implied inner being and condition, the delineation is taken over principally by action verb and adverb as the 'character' emerges and by speech the dialogue revealing the emergent spiritual qualities.

Nor should we overlook the careful marking, in the narrative, of key points in the development of character. In the end, we perceive that, while Garcia Marquez is able to present a realistic portrait of these characters, his interest is primarily in alluding to their 'spiritual' or 'moral' character. The same is true of the building of'moral' character. And the reader must perceive that process in a study ofand reflection on the literary text itself.

We return to the point made at the outset of the essay and Garcia Marquez's commitment 'to write well'. He is, above. Yet he is also a political writer and commentator whose ideology and views are well known. His art, however, never becomes the handmaid of pamphleteering. I n any reading of his fiction we need to consider the less conspicuous features of his story telling for much of Garcia Marquez's 'artfulness' and his skill as a narrative innovator lie in what critics have called his 'magical realism'.

In fact there is little that is 'magical' in these early stories save in the sense ofimaginative excitement for we are dealing rather with an extreme subtlety of technique, the transformation of the raw stuff of reality, even the very ordinary and insignificant, into a social reality and a commentary on it. But the very tenor of his article in 'Tabla Redonda' Imagen, 40, Caracas, 1 , p.

The message must not control the artistic creation, rather the meaning is conveyed by suggestion. There can never be a question of sermonizing. In the face ofGarcia Marquez's own conviction that much of Latin America suffers from a form of political bankruptcy, he offers, in these stories and the mature fiction, a vision of humble but potent idealism. His evocation of spiritual values in his writings, of which his unassuming characters are the bearers, is part and parcel of that conviction he expressed memorably in his speech of acceptance of the Nobel Prize in 1 98 2 , that there is a need for change in society and in its outlook.

In the practice and commitment to 'write well' and in the evocation through that writing of an alternative vision of human conduct and of human and spiritual values he emphasizes and exemplifies his own part in that need for change. It is hoped that the foregoing commentary has helped to provide some understanding of the practical and technical aspects ofGarcia Marquez's commitment. Jesus se fUt obstinement refuse a faire des prodiges que la foule en eut cree pour lui; le plus grand miracle eut ete qu'il n'en fit pas; jamais! Les miracles deJ esus furent une violence que lui fit son siecle, une concession que lui arracha la necessite passagere.

Aussi l'exorciste et le thaumaturge sont tombes; mais le reformateur religieux vivra eternel Ernest Renan, Vie de Jesus lement. Speaking of the main task of his Essai sur le don 1 92 5 , Marcel Mauss says that he intends 'to catch the fleeting moment when a society and its members take emotional stock of themselves and their situation as regards others'. Of particular interest is his emphasis on emotions and feelings as pre-eminent objects of analysis. In The Gift, Mauss rebuilt an instance ofsocial being which was significant in that it seemed to be total and, in spite ofits aberrant display ofexcess and waste, practical.

He saw the act ofgift-exchange, or total presentation, as that juncture in time and space where structure and event intercept each other. As an object of story-telling, the group becomes, it begins at such a moment: social reality originates as kairos, as an occasion overruled by its own disclosures. Behind Mauss's faith in rational analysis, there was a sober awareness ofhaving to be timely in its exercise; for the surest attribute of social phenomena is not found in their constancy, but in how quickly the full force of their meanings might perish.

The deftness of his dissertation creates the illusion that the practices it dissects and illustrates are being held hostage to inquiry within a fleeting measure of time which will not again be accessible. In this fashion, the accent The lasting exemplariness of Mauss's practice might be demon strated by a reading of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short tale, 'Baltazar's Prodigious Afternoon', as if it were an occasion akin to the one that Mauss saw in gift-exchange.

However, by context I shall understand not so much the story's realistic setting in this case the Colombian countryside as the implicit links existing between a story and those instances of ethno social learning which give genealogical antecedents to a given tale. At issue will be what we might call the canonical significance ofstories or of narrative cycles aimed at disclosing the meaning of persons as social beings. Readers of Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude will be familiar with the elder Jose Arcadio Buendia's fondness early in that novel for wild experimentation and relentless tinkering, as he is driven by the spell cast on him by Melqulades, the Gypsy Magus.

In Macondo's morning, objects and instruments of all kinds rise from their slumber when reached by the zeal of the elder Jose Arcadio become demiurge. The plot of 'The Prodigious Afternoon' hinges on a similar act of creative frenzy. As the story opens, its protagonist, the humble and naive carpenter, Baltazar, has just spent much toil and disturbed sleep building a birdcage. His talents as craftsman have exceeded carpentry; on this occasion he has managed to fashion a prodigious object, worthy of the skills seen only among master artisans of former times.

Baltazar lives, unmarried and childless, with the level-headed Ursula. Upon its completion, the birdcage soon becomes the centre of increasing polemics. From the start, Ursula is exclusively interested in the product's cash value, while on his part Baltazar seems to agree with her strong sense of profit; but, in the end, a motive other than obtaining cash will rule over his actions. The town's children are the first to gather as celebrants of the cage's beauty, but soon a more keenly disposed observer appears.

Doctor Octavio Giraldo wants to offer the cage to his invalid wife, a bird lover. Giraldo's prodigality is spent in rhetoric. His speech is at once terse and hyperbolic. Beware of gift-bearing tales: 'Baltazar' addresses the cage, and through it Baltazar, as ifinstead ofbuying it he were engaged in selling it to its maker. Giraldo's rhetorical elegance transforms the cage into a synoptic illusion.

Metaphor acts here as a kind ofhomeotropic gesture which foreshadows the cage's imminent tonality: Doctor Giraldo is the first executor of this tropism when he puts into play his gift for metonymic sympathy. There is no need, he says, to put birds in the cage, 'It would be enough to hang it in the trees so it could sing by itself' p. Baltazar's contact with the cage's resonance is of a different sort, perhaps one nearer the object's tacit occupancy of space, a form of public dwelling which is meant to resist metamorphic seizures: he indexes the cage's intricacies and then sounds it with one definitive flourish ofhis wrist: ' "The measurements are carefully calculated" - he said - pointing to the different compartments with his forefinger.

Then he struck the dome with his knuckles, and the cage filled with resonant cords' p. The cage becomes a tuning fork which registers the resonances of each individual's perception of it. In the end, the good doctor's efforts are thwarted. According to Baltazar, the cage has already been promised to Chepe Montiel's son Montiel enjoys the accursed reputation of being Macondo's rich man.

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Giraldo quibbles to no avail: can Baltazar prove that the cage is meant for troupials and not for other birds? During the bargaining Ursula supports Baltazar, moved by her desire to sell the cage to the richer Montiel. It is to be noted also that it is Ursula, and not Baltazar, who first mentions Montiel as the buyer when she estimates the best price which the cage is likely to command.

The reader might surmise at least two things: that Baltazar has told her in the implicit past of before the story about the child's request; or that, led by her common sense and good business practice, she takes for granted that ifBaltazar has ended up building such an extravagant cage, it had better be for the only person in town with the means to buy it. The point is a crucial one since, as we are about to see, the story offers a minute account of the role played by inference in social affairs. His presence brings before our eyes the achieved object in all its complexity.

Until then, the cage has existed as sheer inference, as rumour devoid of form; subsequently, it becomes a visual reality as well as an individual mental perception. The doctor's visit establishes several things: first, it forces both. Ursula and Baltazar to declare that the sale to Montiel has i n fact already taken place which of course is not the case ; second, it underscores the fact that selling a product involves more than the ability to exact the best possible price: social prestige and power being a Montiel and not a Giraldo might be stronger factors in creating commercial ties than just the amount of money exchanged; and last but not least, Giraldo's visit heightens the conflict between maker and user concerning the thing made, its value and contingent meanings.

The first paradoxical outcome of the story's plot is to be found in Giraldo's odd victory over Baltazar, for the doctor's failure to obtain the sale through rhetorical ploys cannot match the lasting contagion produced by his diagnosis. As a failed owner, he still manages to prescribe the spreading force of word over deed, of unstable metaphor over the presumptive accuracy of action or labour perhaps Giraldo is destined to own only a wealth of words in which the never-to-be-owned object lies buried in the shadows of rhetoric's illusion.

I n a curious way which testifies to the depth of practical wisdom conveyed to the tale - in the manner of a medieval exemplum Giraldo's devious attempt to buy the cage anticipates Montiel's subsequent refusal even to consider buying it. Both men would seem to regard the transaction as something of far greater importance than a simple commercial deal. Giraldo's quaint elegance and cunning give way to Montiel's beastly alertness. No matter how much his son raves there will be no deal.

It is at this point that readers ofMauss's The Gift might see in Montiel's refusal to honour his son's request, as well as in his suspicions ofBaltazar's motives, something more than just the fear of parting with money at the whims of a child. With respect to exchange, and surrounding the meanness of Montiel, there lies an area of intertextual prodigality which, in this particular case, happens to deal with the unrestrained giving and taking of objects. As is well known, Marcel Mauss understood communal gatherings such as the potlatch as affairs in which primitive groups engaged in prolonged bouts of gift-giving and taking, under the common and necessary belief that a pervasive force - a sort of 'mystic cement' in the words of Marshall Sahlins - existed binding donor and recipient; a force conveyed in and by the thing given, a force whose flow could not be arrested: receiving meant giving in turn to a third party and so, relentlessly and sometimes for weeks, men bound themselves through reciprocity.

In refusing Baltazar, Montiel manifests a tacit and inadvertent sense of the logic mapped out in The Gift.

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His character becomes attuned, pretextually, to the knowledge of the central moral put forth by Mauss. Montiel seems aware ofsomething in the sale which exceeds the mere notion ofa transaction, something in the order ofa reciprocal bond, more deeply rooted in human soil than the overt exchange of cash for object. In other words, and in line with Mauss's lexicon, it is fear ofconnubium, of a lasting dwelling in the other, and of the other in oneself, through the force held in what is given. I t is such apprehension which haunts Montiel into breaking this act ofattempted commercium.

On the social plane he fears the rupture of hierarchy in the feeling of being beholden. Baltazar's excessive and, until now, unfocused zeal meets in Montiel's denial a fitting and complementary force. The clash of wills brings about a shift from market affairs to the older stricture of gift exchange: Baltazar's zeal and frenzy which remain mystifying and naive at a narrowly realistic level point beyond selling, while Montiel's refusal grasps, negatively, the gift element dwelling in the object, its poisonous talents, its gravity.

Here I am of course alluding to Mauss's use of etymology to create his own sense of analytic contagiousness: in several languages, including German, gift and poison stand in neighbouring complicity cf. Wagner's Tristan. In our story, Montiel's refusal to buy is followed by Baltazar's gift of the cage to the child, an act far more offensive and threatening to Montiel than the attempted sale itself. This again points to social rupture. In terms of the need to reciprocate shown by Mauss, Montiel gets away without buying because nothing like the gift relationship exists in Macondo and this in itself is revealing.

One must see the archaic norm of symbolic exchange as hypothetical, being the opposite of function, yet working in not working.

Had it been actual, it would have answered Montiel's refusal with strife. But Baltazar's gift is as unreciprocal as Montiel's non-buying: it shows as the poison foreshadowed in the refusal. As Montiel knew well, something archaic and potentially threatening lurked beneath the blank mirror of the carpenter's face.

I have tried to show that our understanding of the meeting between Montiel and Baltazar is heightened when merged with the textual contingencies activated by The Gift. I would also argue that when Mauss interprets the act or institution of gift-exchange he is dealing with the phenomenon of heightening itself.

In other words, he is. Without such heightening of communal purpose, the structuralist project could not meet its proper object of study, an object both discrete and universal. Firstly there is an advantage in generality, for facts of widespread occurrence are more likely to be universal than local institutions or themes, which are invariably tinged with local colour.

But particularly the advantage is in realism. We see social facts in the round, as they really are. In society there are not merely ideas and rules, but also men and groups and their behaviours. We see them in motion as an engineer sees masses and systems, or as we observe octopuses and anemones in the sea. We see groups of men, and active forces, submerged in their environment and sentiments. Mauss, p. These words should explain how the institution of gift-exchange became the inaugural structuralist construct. Levi-Strauss sees The Gift as such a beginning when, in his introduction to the main writings of Mauss, he recalls experiencing 'the entire gamut of emotions' upon reading the essay for the first time, comparing his experience with Malebranche's evocation ofhis first reading ofDescartes: 'a thumping heart', 'the head boiling', in other words, a total seizure.

Mauss's emphasis on the possibility of transcribing feelings and of moving beyond ideas and rules, casts him in a heroic role, given the reductive and arid character of much ofwhat nowadays is offered as a semiotic account of social action. At any rate, he aims at a total gathering of social means, feelings and imaginings held in normative concert. Such a total construct achieves both its integrity and logic by opposing, replacing or holding at bay other, equally encompassing and frequently lethal, domains.

In the case of The Gift, the adversary turns out to be war itself. Just as gift-exchange must become total in order to prevent strife, Mauss's reconstruction of it must also achieve analytical integrity and wholeness if it is to stem chaos and randomness in the realm ofanthropological analysis. As the American anthropologist, Marshall Sahlins, has so elegantly demonstrated, The Gift shows the savage state of constant 'war' against 'warre',. Beware of gift-bearing tales: 'Baltazar' amounting to 'a new version of the dialogue between chaos and covenant'.

Thus the plot of the story unfolds as a series of polemics, it makes itself- or thus is our illusion as readers - out of a primal ground of reciprocal contingencies. I am reminded of Paul Ricoeur's rhetorical exclamation when confronting the ingenuity of the structuralist who, like the Argonauts, builds his vessel as he sails on it. The Peruvian novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa, speaks of 'the war which creates divisions in fictional reality' and of the primordial struggle which, active at the heart of the story, transcends a narrowly defined socio-economic understanding of its incidents.

In his meeting with Montiel, however, Baltazar deviates into transcendent significance. He recognizes and seizes upon the prodigy of the cage that is the gift; he defeats meanness in Montiel and, as a result, he engages ruin. His surrender of the cage seems to be at once ridiculous and magnificent. The reader is left with a heightened sense of the conflicting meaning held in abeyance by the notion ofprodigality embedded in the title. Is to be prodigal to be reckless, wasteful and even idiotic, or is it perhaps to exercise the noblest of human talents?

Answering this question involves addressing the complex issue of the christological aspect of Baltazar's figure broached in my epigraph, placing emphasis on the theological and existential hiatus that separates Jesus from Christ. Baltazar will remain oblivious to certain metaphoric gains. Instead ofproclaiming his triumph by basing it on the prestige ofgiving gifts to the children of the rich thus acknowledging his failure to sell and to.

Thaumaturgic generosity, and its embarrassment of symbolic riches, is thus defeated by a different sort of metamorphic excess. As such, Baltazar's flight into the realms of metaphor is inflationary. It is so at least in a triple sense: he pays for the celebration of his own heroics with money from a sale that never takes place; not having such money, he leaves his watch at the saloon as token offuture payment to be made with wages not as yet earned; and, once drunk, he dreams of building thousands ofcages until becoming a millionaire.

One might ask ifsuch inflation could not be something meant to imply the inherent fictionality of both monetary and personal values, something that betrays the ill-begotten powers put into these tokens in order to abstract from flesh, toil and thing their specific talents, their concrete modes of being. We have here an allegory of alienation: could it be that ours is like the fate of things which become commodities and, further, tokens of exchange? Baltazar's fate tells us about feelings, about times lived and felt, time known in the deed; but it tells us about all of it becoming, in the long run, not a form of being, but one of having been, ofhaving to lag behind ourselves, lengthening the hiatus ofour own life told as a tale ofdispossession.

The allegorical drift of the individual towards abstraction and alienation just sketched amounts to a move on the part of both plot and character into the latent realm ofpolitical economy and away from any other modes ofexchange and symbolic value. Jean-Pierre Vernant has described the status of artisans in ancient Greece in pertinent terms.

The models provided by the latter were the ones which ruled over the product's significance and social place. Men acted only when they used and not when they made things; they stood free, on account of this reigning ideal, only when they acted as users and not as makers.

Shop with confidence

In fact, according to Vernant making was denied the philosophical status of being an action. But such had not always been the case. In archaic times, before the flowering of the polis, there were thaumaturgoi or wandering makers shrouded in demonic prestige. These men engaged in making marvellous thaumata or agalmata, objects as sumptuous in their intricacies as they were useless, which these magicians displayed before their audiences.

Building such captivating. Beware of gift-bearing tales: 'Baltazar' devices rested on the faculty demiurgic as well as, in a radical sense, poetic to seize the right occasion, the kairos or pregnant moment when the maker's labours stood the best chance of achieving the rhythms linking them with the force and values latent in matter. It should be clear that the same principle of sumptuous excess and prodigality discerned by Mauss is at work here, in the art of the thaumaturgus.

Baltazar, too, inscribes his actions as maker within a similar domain of values, although in his case the spellbinding uselessness of the cage proves ephemeral. His increasing failure to resist the encroachment of the contending forms ofuse value which others would impose upon the cage equals his own drift as constant as his heartbeat towards the politics of economics and the economics of politics. It seems that there is in the order of things a cunning sort of reciprocity which pays the tribute ofawe before the thing made, only to exchange it immediately for the appropriation ofuse value.

Nothing ofvalue can exist free from two temporal modes: first, the one in which value is found and, second, the one which marks the object's fate as exchangeable value as it becomes currency. This temporal drift characterizes the strictures of political econ omy. In his Le miroir de la production Paris, , Jean Baudrillard argues in favour of regarding political economy as a category set within the Western, European and, by extension, capitalist under standing of production.

In his view, the systems of symbolic exchange that characterize archaic or savage societies of the sort treated by Mauss are not economic. In viewing them as such, Marxist and other theories of production perform an act of cognitive imperialism. Regardless of the validity of Baudrillard's thesis in the realm of pure economics, I would like to underline its relevance to practical criticism: to subject literary fictions to semiotic transcription might result in a similar act of imperial appropriation.

Without necessarily having to return to a subjectivist or emotionalist approach to literary values or, for that matter, without turning literature into the eternal savage within our midst , one might search for modes of understanding more in sympathy with that aspect of literary fictions which remains a wayward act, a gesture not exhausted by being reflected in the atomistic mirror of semiotic jargons. I now turn to 'Baltazar's Prodigious Afternoon' to suggest that the story resists economic closure. For example, there are the women: Ursula is a Penelope who awaits and keeps time slicing onions and who, like her namesake Ursula Iguaran from One Hundred Years of Solitude, joins each single day with the next to form an endurable measure oflife.

There is Giraldo's wife, the enigmatic invalid from the short novel, 'In Evil Hour', always silent, bird-like in her gilded isolation. Finally there is Montiel's wife, who is better known to us as the widow of'Montiel's Widow', and whose only moment of graceful acquaintance with life seems to have been her welcoming of Baltazar into the house and her delight at the cage. Her son, who is dismissed by most critics as a spoilt brat, exceeds such a minor role, being perhaps twice an orphan: orphan to Montiel's callousness and to Baltazar's childless prodigality.

Between child and cage there is a transparent affinity - ' the child j umped up, embraced the cage which was almost as big as he was, and stood looking at Baltazar through the wirework without knowing what to say' p. Both child and cage are contested objects, two marks of disownment, the cage in its joyous emptiness as the vanishing point of the tale's allegories, the child as the inheritor of the blessings through which his dual orphanhood twice denies him the chance of becoming prodigal. Giraldo is seen as diagnostician of Baltazar's predica ment, offering neither a prescription nor a cure for his increasing isolation.

Matching Giraldo's eloquence with some borrowed jargon, I would call Baltazar a hysteresiac. In other words, he might be said to suffer from belatedness; he lags behind the effects ofhis own wilfulness and craft, vibrating to the tune that someone else plays with his creation. By hysteresis I do not mean a psychological malady, but rather a rupture of temporal and semantic immediacy taking effect between person and surroundings, an acute state of ontological displacement with respect to life, habits and common values.

Only as such could these few hours be at. The plot that befalls Baltazar removes him from his social cradle, from the contrived space and time which his craft carves out. If there is a token ofliterature in the tale, or a critical point where this peculiarly modern affiiction is best registered, it might be found in the p rotagonist's resistance to structure. For all that we know, when at the end Baltazar lies by the wayside in death-like sleep 'The women who passed on their way to five-o'clock Mass didn't dare look at him, thinking he was dead' , he might be enjoying that exorbitant condition of abjectness which Georges Bataille places as the unassail able realm of meaning known as the heterogeneous.

In juxtaposing Garcia Marquez's story and Marcel Mauss's essay, I have tried to outline what should be regarded as a basic structuralist ploy, ofwhich The Gift is a seminal example. It consists of arresting the flux of social phenomena at a virtual point in time, or at a moment of potential crisis when systems of belief as well as practices can be grasped in dualistic confrontation. When the ethics of structuralism are imagined, it becomes apparent how perhaps from Hegel the method has invariably tried to break such dual confrontations by means ofgenerating a third realm ofsynthetic resolutions.

I have tried to suggest that both essay and tale heighten for us the perils ofpassing from randomness to culture, doing so through a sort of transactional cadence. The giving and taking ofgifts liberated culture from what Mauss saw, in line with other French moralists, as a brutish and stagnant condition. But in so doing he altered the views ofclassical contract theories by demonstrating that chaos had not preceded commonwealth, that before civilization coercion had not been the price oforder such is the case made by Marshall Sahlins.

Similarly, the tale helped us establish a minimum coefficient of sociability in Macondo's life. In both essay and tale, culture swings precariously between confrontation, its risks, and the dispersal of energies. Garcia Marquez tells the story ofMacondo as a struggle to remain reciprocal, or to believe in the alien graces of the other, to welcome the gift of his arrival, thus sustaining what Melville calls in Moby-Dick 'the Siamese connexion with a plurality of other mortals'.

Sooner or later, however, social affairs will break away from the gift's enclosure. Macondo will evolve from Eden-like hamlet to boom town to ghostly ruin. The gypsy Melquiades's early offerings those marvellous toys which Jose Arcadia changed to the point of madness become in the end the Book itself, the one gifted occurrence which some characters will have to unravel, making of their own lives a fitting tune for its mute script. If, as Gerard Genette has said, structuralism views language as a process of inexorable degradation of the symbol into the sign, the transfer of gifts offers us one of the earliest instances of such a drift.

For archaic symbolic exchange encompasses a struggle, a pugna where symbol and thing meet, as the former is being institutionally born. But before the motivated character of the symbol with respect to that which it embodies gives way to the unmotivated and arbitrary sign, a prior severance will have occurred: the thing would have been designated or named, all perceptive immediacy between persons and world having thus been broken a passage which structuralism can adopt or simply assume, but could not describe without going beyond its own epistemological strictures.

The tale brings us closer to this primal scenario than does the essay, since for Mauss gift-exchange must amount to at least a rudimentary institution, while in Garcia Marquez's text the birdcage would exceed all stable linguistic designations, being either an unnamable aspect of thinghood, or a generator of the most extravagant efforts to describe it. The theoretical preoccupations ofJacques Lacan tell us how close gift-giving was to the earliest vestiges of symbolic practice known to humans. Symbol, or what might correspond to our notion of it, designates in several languages 'bond', 'intercourse', ' twisting together', 'knotting' and, in archaic Greek, 'a contribution to a common meal or feast'.

Walter Benjamin also left us a fable of the story-teller's craft and of its imagined historical origins. Thus at one point in his essay Benjamin speaks ofhow 'traces ofthe storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel'.