18 abril 2014

García Márquez and literature classes

  The Mundo Today, the most pertinent false news journel in the Spanish language, entitled the death of Gabriel García Márquez: "That writer from the Selectivity dies". Selectivity is the colloquial name given in Spain to the entrance exams to the university. Garcia Marquez was one of the canonical writers of many types of exams like these. Literature professors worshiped him.
  We all have some kind of anecdote related to "Gabo". The anecdote I can tell you is at Almudena’s (Grandes) house the day she was giving a party to celebrate her birthday. Benjamin (Prado) had invited me, Luis (García Montero) who wanted to surprise his wife and was going to bring home "Gabo" (Gabo), and he made it happen thanks to Joaquín (Sabina). They asked the guests to please not overwhelm him or confuse him with Ernesto (Cardenal) and ask him questions about the brawl he had with Pope John Paul (II). But nobody told me anything and I asked him about Pantaleon (and the visitors) and he replied sourly that he was always confused with that fucking bastard Mario (Vargas). Almudena called me a fascist and threw me out of the house "sine die".

  Ok. I will start again. My real story with García Márquez is also quite rough but less exquisite. It was the year of grace of 1985. I was 15 years old and was in second year of something that had the stupid and pompous name of Bachillerato Unificado Polivalente (for the uninitiated, BUP) and then was replaced by the stupid name ESO (that?). In the last literature class before Christmas, the teacher asked us to prepare a paper on "any book" that we felt like reading during the holidays. I chose "Cien años de Soledad" (One Hundred Years of Solitude).

   Like most readers of the time, I too was fascinated by the novel. Of course I had not read anything like it. The names. It seemed like a story extracted out of the beginnings of time. Excited, I did the paper (unheard of in me) and I presented it with great satisfaction the day we returned back to school. Weeks later I got my score: "zero". Zero?? When I asked my teacher the reason for my grade, she blurted out, "I do not believe you have read One Hundred Years of Solitude".

  Anyway, the thing was that I was a rather weak student (but not disastrous), but an experienced reader and also a writer at my level. Since I was fifteen, these two activities and some that decorum prevents me from mentioning, have accompanied me. At that age I had already read Niebla (Mist), Últimas tardes con Teresa (Last Afternoons with Teresa), El nombre de la Rosa (The Name of the Rose), El Mago de Lublin (The Magician of Lublin) ... just to mention some titles that I remember.

   My experience was the first milestone on a path which was then reinforced with loathing. Literature classes are to books, what ants are to sugar: it makes it impossible to swallow. My literature classes during those years consisted in learning the names of books and gentlemen we were supposed to know. When we were starting a book, the teacher would previously give ​​us a "spoiler", telling us the beginning, middle and end. To make matters worse, sometimes the version was false, like when we had to believe that millstones that interpreted "La Celestina"(The Matchmaker) as an example of "courtly love".

  Not only did they rip apart the stories of books and manipulate them, but they also told you what you had to read. Forcing you to read something is as absurd from my point of view as making you like hugging people or red prawns. Can you be obligated to enjoy? A particularly dapper and smug teacher snapped at us that we had to read these authors now, because otherwise we would never do it.

  Forgive me for being smug, but in retrospect I have confirmed what I suspected before, I liked books more and read more than my deficient literature teachers. How do people who didn’t like literature try to pass on the love of books? In this reckoning I must save a book: "Course of European literature" by Vladimir Nabokov, and Dora Català, professor of Catalan literature at the Miguel Hernández Institute of Alicante, who skipping the official class program devoted an entire course for us to read together (without dogmas or gibberish)  "Crim de Germania” by Josep Lozano.

  The criteria of the books "to be read" changes so much, and we can say that what was "imperative" years ago, is now just after a few decades forgotten. In my day "those-who-understand" worshiped "Tiempo de Silencio" (Time of Silence) or "Rayuela"(Hopscotch), for instance two books that were on the altars and that nobody in their right mind would now read. I recently saw a list of recommended books for students of ESO and it included three Ruiz Zafon books, which is like studying the history of rock music by analyzing Maná. Which is it then, is there a criteria or not?

   If the criteria is measured in posterity, then it is a "fake" like the literature classes. It’s true that Gabriel García Márquez will be remembered for centuries, and me, hopefully, I will be remembered for a few months, and probably not for good reasons. But at the end you are dust and dust letters you will become. The remains of Lope de Vega were thrown who knows where because they had to make room to bury a recently deceased cleric, although in the Church of San Sebastian of Madrid a plate falsely insists that the remains are there.

   Do great writers always live in the hearts of their readers? Julian Barnes says in his book "Nada que temer" (Nothing to be Frightened Of), that at some point, irremediably, a writer will have his last reader. It may be many years from now, when the Real Madrid celebrates in the Cibeles Martian fountain its 84th Champions League. And then what?

  Isaac Bashevis Singer told Edmund Wilson that he believed in some kind of survival after death. Wilson said that as far as he was concerned, he didn’t want to survive, thank you very much. Singer replied, "If survival is predicted, then you will have no alternative."

Gabriel García Márquez

El humor está aquí, en alguna parte

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Translation by Amanda Perri

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