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SOLITUDE: And The Frenzy of RenownSOLITUDE
And The Frenzy of Renown
Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez(1927-2014) was a Columbian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist. Considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century, arguably the greatest writer in Spanish since Cervantes, he was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and in 1982 the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died on 17/4/'14, just yesterday as I write the initial draft of this prose-poem. On 25/10/'14 I updated this statement as I went through the 4th month of my 71st year of life.
García Márquez started as a journalist, and wrote many acclaimed non-fiction works and short stories, but he is best known for his novels, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). The book and its successors unleashed a worldwide boom in Spanish language literature and the literary genre of magical realism. The subject of solitude is, and arguably was, the centre-piece of his literary oeuvre.
Solitude is a subject that has interested me, in one way or another, since my first memories in the late 1940s when, as an only child, I had to learn how to occupy myself, how to deal with solitude, with no playmates around much of the time and, of course, no brothers and sisters to give me pleasure or annoyance. Marquez's career in journalism also began in those same late 1940s.
Marquez's maternal grandparents had a significant influence on his life in ways similar to the influence of my maternal grandparents, especially during the years of my childhood until the late 1950s when I was in my mid-teens. García Márquez's political and ideological views were shaped by his grandfather's stories. My own grandfather, an autodidact, wrote a 400 page autobiography which I first read as my essays were first being published in a remote backwater of the most remote continent on Earth(not counting Antarctica): Australia's Northern Territory in the early 1980s.
Marquez was 40 when novelistic success finally arrived. At the time, the year 1967, I had just graduated with a B.A. and a B. Ed., and had begun both my marital life and my professional career as a teacher in Canada's summer months in the Arctic on Baffin Island. The publication of my own literary work had to wait until I was 40, and living in one of the many dry-dog biscuit parts of the world's terrain, that same Northern Territory in the small town of Katherine. I turned to writing autobiographically throughout my 40s. Marquez did not write so explicitly in an autobiographical mode until 2002 when he was 75. He published his first memoir, the first of a projected three-volume autobiography, in 2002.
I was just finishing my FT and PT employment life, and gradually reinventing myself as a writer and author, poet and publisher, online blogger and journalist, reader and scholar, editor and researcher. I leave it to readers to follow the career, the biography, the life-narrative, of this famous novelist who died just 24 hours ago, and I leave it to readers to follow mine. I have taken an interest in Marquez especially during these years of my reinvented self; what I write here in this quasi-eulogy is partly due to a certain synchronicity between his life and interests and my own as they developed in the lifespan.
In 1999, the year I retired after a 50 year student-and-paid-employment life, 1949 to 1999, García Márquez was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. Chemotherapy provided by a hospital in Los Angeles proved to be successful, and the illness went into remission. The miracles of modern medicine entered my life via pharmacology or pharmacotherapy as far back as the late 60s when Marquez was achieving his first literary successes as a novelist. I knew nothing of him back then occupied, as I was at the time, with my academic and professional career as a teacher, the first years of my marriage and a new religion, as well as the rigors of bipolar disorder.
This cancer crisis prompted Marquez in that last decade of his late adulthood, the years from 70 to 80, to begin writing his memoirs: "I reduced all relations with my friends to a minimum, disconnected the telephone, canceled trips, and brought all sorts of current and future plans to an end", he told El Tiempo, the Colombian newspaper. "Then I locked-myself-in to write every day without interruption," he said firmly.
In 2002 he published Living To Tell the Tale, the first volume in that projected trilogy of memoirs. This episode, this radical change in his life-style, his life-narrative, was of particular interest to me because, by my 60s, my desire for solitude increased. Perhaps it was a desire to return to my first years of solitude as a child in the 1940s. I also began to disconnect from the telephone, and from the high level of social life that had been part of my very raison d'etre for existence for decades. A radical shift in my daily MO gradually took place, from my mid-to-late 50s to my mid-60s, when I took a sea-change, an early retirement, and was able to go on an old-age pension in Australia at the age of 65 in 2009.
At the age of 80, Márquez told fans at a Guadalajara book fair that writing had worn him out. But in 2009, 5 years before he died, he told the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo that his writing career was far from over; the only thing I do is write."(1) By my 70s, in 2014, that was also true of my own life-style, my own MO, my own daily, quotidian, routine, although perhaps I did not write as obsessively as Marquez. Of course, fame and wealth would be denied me and with it "the frenzy of renown."(2) And thank god for that!-Ron Price with thanks to (1) Wikipedia, 18/4/'14, and (2) Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History, Vintage Books, NY, 1997.
TALKED AND LISTENED OUT
There are unearthly tidings, not quite the magical things that Gabriel Marquez writes about in his novels, in a genre that is now called magical realism, that the Baha’is have been bringing to others for nearly 80 years as part of their several Plans(1937 to 2014). These Plans are systematic programs to implement a Divine Plan set out by the Successor of the Prophet Baha'u'llah, His Son 'Abdul-Baha, in His Tablets written during the Great War and unveiled in New York in June of 1919. I have watched the process and been part of it now for more than 60 years(1953 to 2014).
There is a boundless realm, or so it has always seemed to me, an historic enterprise set in motion more than 150 years ago, of spiritual forces shaping and impelling the work of the mind and the spirit, the heart and the body. For decades I have seen a quiet resourcefulness, an unending obstinacy, a spirit that has born fruit and that blurs into legend leaving traces that may last for millennia, maybe forever. My mother always said that the Baha’is were the only ones who would go for a picnic in the rain. Persistence is, and has been, a critical trait during the implementation of these Plans by the international Baha'i community now with some 5 to 8 million adherents. Statistics are a complex subject, question, issue in many fields. Of all the sociology courses I ever took 'sociological statistics' was, for me, the most difficult.
I have often said to my fellow Baha’is, at opportune moments in our myriad conversations, that things of importance take time. This is especially true in the growth of the Baha'i international community in the more than 150 years since its birth in 1863, and arguably in the decades before 1863 back to 1844, or even back to the 1790s, when the first major precursor to the Babi-Baha'i Faiths, the founder of Shaykhism, began his travelling and teaching work in the Middle East.
Modern democracies took at least 2500 years to evolve to their position today. This model of democracy which we have in its several forms in the global community has come a very long way since its origins at least as far back as the Greeks in the 5th century B.C. and, I would hasten to add, as far back perhaps as the Hebrews in the second millennium BC. London took three hundred years to build its first city wall, and three hundred years more to acquire a bishop. Rome labored in a gloom of uncertainty for twenty centuries until an Etruscan King anchored it in history. The peaceful Swiss of today, who feast us with their mild cheeses, and for decades their apathetic watches, bloodied Europe as soldiers of fortune, as late as the sixteenth century.(1)-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Acceptance Speech for The Nobel Prize in Literature, December 1982.
Garcia, there’s an infectious logic
all its own in this writing business
which attempts to make sense of our
world and, in doing, it may leave
posterity traces of an immortality.
And, if you can come to it late
enough in life, you might prevent
that downhill slide which seems
to get to so many people who made
it big in their youth & middle age,
made it in sport in their early years,
made it in careers----the middle ones.
Of course, death gets us all in the end,
doesn’t it Gabriel Garcia?....Of course!
Eventually, life is about loss, failure,
going down hill, getting sick, the list
is long and you have to deal with it
somehow, eh Garcia?....My inglorious,
and partly glorious, athletic career
ended at 18, and my teaching career
at 58 with that Disability Pension.
This was all very useful for the final
career in my life which was writing.
No name, no fame, no rank here, but
the discovery of gold, tinsel, base
metal, a new, a fresh something born
of my own learned persistence and a
certain obstinacy from men and women
I have had endless cups of tea with,
argued, talked and listened until I
was absolutely talked & listened out:
excess of speech, it is said, can be
a deadly poison....a force which can
last until the end of your days/life!
5/2/'06 to 25/10/'14.
SOME REFLECTIONS: WITH THANKS
TO GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ
Resentments, it seems to me, stir up resentments; they reopen old scars, turn them into fresh wounds and nurture rancor. I have often hoped, and thought to myself that, when we rounded the corner of old age, we would laugh at the bitter-sweetness of life, more sweet than bitter I also hoped, of so much that had made us want to abandon our relationships and their attendant responsibilities and begin a new life without their incessant demands. Perhaps in some old and more placid state, we would simply avoid talking about old wounds, fearful that they might begin to bleed again.(1) Time would tell as I head into this last decade of late adulthood, 70 to 80, and old-age, the years after 80, if I last that long.
In this context I might add that I have come to depend on my wife in so many areas for advice: in my work, for companionship at home, for someone to share solitude with. I have always liked that definition of marriage as "the sharing of solitude." When I am separated from her for a day or so, and that is about all these days, I become conscious of the words of Huxley in relation to his wife, namely, that "nobody, children or anyone else, can be to me what you are. Even another man of fame, Ulysses, preferred his old woman to immortality." When I am away from you, from my wife, I am led "to see that Ulysses was as wise in that matter as in many other things." Again Huxley writes, "Against all trouble, and I have had my share, I weigh a wife-comrade 'trew and fest' in all emergencies."(2) The closeness I have achieved with my wife has little to do with sex, and much to do with common values, a spiritual bond, shared experience and, perhaps, those mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence that Gibbon, that greatest of all historians at least to some, described so aptly.
Although this everyday trivia may not reveal a substance, a core, of life, some of it does reveal a curious, at times interesting and humorous, aspect of one's life worthy of comment, worthy of inclusion, in a book, a set of volumes, like my autobiography. More importantly it may not be worthy, but somehow it seems appropriate. Once upon a time, I might have shrunk from the act of self-revelation and self-exposure in my memoiristic writing. But some fundamental creative impulse moves me to include an anecdote here and another there. I was reminded of this smallest of impulses, this most trivial of details, with little or no literary value, of supreme banality, very private, secret, intimate, but quite universal, by my wife when she was reading an account of a similar experience described by Gabriel Marquez. Marquez describes the situation better than I could and so I will simply quote him here:
"Ferminia Daza could never resign herself to Dr. Urbino's wetting the rim of the toilet bowl each time he used it. Dr. Urbino tried to convince her, with arguments readily understandable to anyone who wished to understand them, that the mishap was not repeated every day through carelessness on his part, as she insisted, but because of organic reasons:.....with the ravages of age his stream was not only decreasing, it was also becoming oblique and scattered....impossible to control despite his many efforts to direct it.....On the eve of old age this physical difficulty inspired Dr. Urbino with the ultimate solution: he urinated sitting down.....which kept the bowl clean and him in a state of grace."3
Having to deal with a urological surgeon and the perils of the prostate with their associated urinary flow infirmities, as well as a renal physician in these my latter years, my retirement years, I could fully appreciate Marquez's references to "the ravages of age" and "the decreasing stream, the decreasing urinary flow" which my surgeon warned me about only recently in early 2014.
On the eve of old age or, more accurately, in this last decade(70 to 80) of late adulthood(60 to 80), according to one model of the stages of the lifespan used by developmental psychologists, I am in the process of applying the same ultimate solution, but with great difficulty. I see my own autobiography as the story of a life that suggests, exemplifies, a psychological reality that opposes and withstands as much of the plague of popular fantasies that bombard consciousness as I have been able in these epochs that are my life-narrative. My identity is not associated with an image, an image that is ultimately empty, that is part of another's demand in an image-conscious society. I accept that image has become a central aspect of life today; indeed to some extent I revel in it. I play the game, but I realize it's a game. I know that much of what I desire I have been taught to desire through my only partly avoidable immersion in society's realities, what is known as socialization.
I have been hooked, as we all have been to varying extents, by the "aesthetics of consumerism." "Coolness," "glamorousness," a host of images I am aware of, but I know my reality and the reality of others is not this. Still I must admit that all this surface piffle, surface reality, has influenced me in much of my life. Of course, I am not the only one to realize this; so, too, do millions of others who sit and take in what some have called 'secondary reality.'(4) In the last two centuries(1814-2014) these electronic media products have bathed society, and now billions of its citizens, in a cornucopia of products and pleasures. In the last seven decades I, too, have found that they have not been without their value, their pleasures and meaning.
Given the quantity of time in my life in which I have absorbed products from film, TV, radio, musak, advertising, hi-fi sound-music systems, video, CDs, VCRs and DVDs, I would guesstimate a minimum of one-eighth of all the hours of my life and, perhaps, as much as a quarter, they really deserve a separate study of their own.
In every book you tried to take a different path;
I do the same with each of my non-books, my
essays and prose-poems. As you say, Gabriel,
one doesn't choose the style; one investigates
and tries to discover what the best style is for
a theme...Yes, style is determined by subject,
by the mood of the times. As you say, if one
tries to use something that is not suitable....it
just won't work. I, too, only respond to a way
of life, in your case the life of the Caribbean,
and in my case a fast-emerging planetisation.
The participation of the reader in what I write
is an crucial to me as it was to you, but I'm not
into magical realism, Gabriel...Solitude, as you
say, is a problem everybody has. Everyone has
their own way and means of expressing what is
in some ways a highly enigmatic reality of life.
The feeling, this solitude, pervades the work of
many writers, although to each very differently.5
1 G. Marquez quoted in What's So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey, ePub Format, 1997.
2 T. H. Huxley, Letters and Diary, 3/11/1892.
3 G. Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera, 2003.
4 Martin Pawley, Private Future, 1975.
5 In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Solitude of Latin America, Marquez relates the theme of solitude to the Latin American experience, "The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary."
Márquez is now recognized, in the words of Carlos Fuentes, "as the most popular and perhaps the best writer in Spanish since Cervantes." Fuentes was the famous Mexican novelist and essayist who died less than two years ago, and whose novels began to take him to heights of popularity in 1962, the year I began my travels for the Canadian Baha'i community. Among the many tributes that have flowed-in during the first 24 hours since his passing were the words of Barack Obama who said: "the world had lost one of its greatest visionary writers".-Quoted in today's eulogistic piece in The Guardian, Friday 18 April 2014.