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Torgovnick 9

Notes on Torgovnick, Chapter 9, “Adventurers”

– Westerners seek the primitive so as to find a home: often having to do with their own needs, not those of the other, and not common needs. Examples: Blair getting to experience a cosmic dream (in the sixties, originally funded by Ringo Starr); Schneebaum among the Asmat, where homosexual practices are allowed. But note that among the Asmat the Blair had been terrified when the prospect of getting killed and eaten had reared its head! They went there to film and make money on the film, but when things got sticky, they wanted an airlift. That is why Blair had more fun in Bali, where he went subsequently and had his cosmic dream. “We had found a home,” he said.

– So “going primitive” means a search for home and origins. We seek in the primitive a time before our troubles arose. In doing so, we construct the primitive as less advanced than we. By saying the primitive is ahistorical we bring it into the circle of our needs. We cannot let it have its own history separate from ours – it has to occupy a place at the beginning of our history – because if we allowed it a separate history, it would not fulfill our desires. Also, the primitive must be available and accessible to us. If not, once again, it cannot meet our needs.

– People particularly interested in finding a home in the primitive tend to be or feel exiled from their own societies (e.g. Schneebaum, a homosexual; Boas, uncomfortable in Germany due to rising anti-Semitism there; Malinowski, caught in Australia due to WWI).

– The Marxist literary theorist Georg Lukács coined the term “transcendental homelessness” as descriptor of the modern condition. Georges Bataille, the 20th French philosopher, wanted to transcend the anxiety of selfhood through cannibalism, human sacrifice, suicide – the obliteration of self in otherness.

– Leaving the city for the jungle in these contexts is very attractive. Yet colonialism and modernization have, paradoxically, brought the city and the jungle into closer and closer contact – and often the jungle is not the “wild” in the sense of being “pure” but is rather the rough underside of “civilization.” To the cities flock destitute primitives, who there become the urban poor. And the jungle becomes a place of “wild” capitalism and exploitation. In this context primitive art objects are more and more important in urban and elite spaces – university galleries, museums, well-heeled houses.

Western discourse on the primitive is about control and domination, but also about desire, about seeking salve for wounds, and about fear of losing power. And yet not every version of the primitive is the same. “When versions of the primitive show specific historical and cultural variations, they expose different aspects of the West itself. Primitivism is thus not a ‘subtopic’ of modernism or postmodernism: to study primitivism’s manifold presence is to recontextualize modernity.” (193)

STUDY QUESTION: Consider the bolded sentence in relation to La vorágine.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2008 in Rivera

 

THE VORTEX: Info and Resources

1. From the Encyclopedia of World Biography:

Born in the southern Colombian town of Neiva, José Eustacio Rivera came from a provincial family of modest means. After becoming one of the first graduates of the recently organized teachers’ college, he took a degree in law. For several years Rivera combined a law practice with modest literary activities and became a recognized member of Bogotá’s urban intelligentsia. Named legal adviser and member of the Venezuela-Colombia Boundary Commission, he traveled first to the plains and then to the Amazon region. Exposed to these less well-known regions of the country, he lived with the Indians, for a time was lost in the jungle, and eventually contracted beriberi. During a period of convalescence he wrote La vorágine (The Vortex), one of the greatest Latin American novels. Its publication in 1924 assured Rivera lasting fame throughout the hemisphere and beyond, and it was translated into English, French, German, and Russian.

The Vortex, a kind of romantic allegory, was also a novel of protest. It was the first realistic description by a Colombian of the cowherders of the plains and the jungle rubber workers. Rivera attempted to arouse humanitarian feelings concerning the exploitation of these people, and he reflected a cultured urban gentleman’s frightened vision of the barbarism foisted on them. The story is dominated by the magnificent yet savage setting, in which there is no law other than survival of the fittest.

Arturo Cova, the protagonist of the novel, is an urban man of letters who, forced to flee from Bogotá, encounters the brutal reality of life in the rural areas. Rivera’s experience in the Amazonian jungle permits him to describe the tragedy of rubber exploitation. In publicizing the condition of the workers and their degradation at the hands of Colombian and European adventurers, Rivera provides an impassioned image of decay, death, and violence. The Vortex, a work romantic in spirit and poetic in style, strongly suggests that the veneer of civilization is thin. For Rivera, civilization should not be taken for granted.

2. Some of Rivera’s poetry.

3. La novela de la selva hispanoamericana. Encyclopedia entry from the commercial site MONOGRAFIAS.COM. Discusses THE VORTEX as the prime example of this genre.

Note that the “novela de la selva” is also known as or overlaps with the novela de la tierra, regionalist writing, which preceded the literary “boom” of which Carpentier is a close precursor. Key in these subgenres is the idea that the exuberant Latin American nature produces, and yet is antagonistic to, Latin American culture. Note how familiar this contradiction is becoming, as we have seen versions of it in several other texts.

“Ni rastros de ellos, ¡Los devoró la selva!”, con esas palabras termina la novela La Vorágine de Eustasio Rivera. Valioso epílogo que condensa con gran vigor la característica principal del protagonista de la novela de la tierra: La selva inhumana y feroz.

La novela de la selva, o de la tierra, como la denominó Arturo Torres Rioseco, ha sido cultivada por los escritores hispanoamericanos desde Bolivia hasta el Brasil. La novela prototipo es precisamente La Vorágine del colombiano Eustasio Rivera. Escribe de la tierra con un apasionamiento propio que la conoce, porque ha vivido en ella, porque viajó a través de ella cuando fue miembro de la comisión de límites venezolano – colombianos. En ella contrajo el beri beri. Fué amenazado por el hambre, la sed, la fiebre y el tormento de los mosquitos.

Rivera presenta en ella el honor y la violencia, el desorden y la lucha titánica del hombre por la supervivencia. Nada de ruiseñores enamorados, nada de jardín versallesco nada de panoramas sentimentales. Aquí los responsos de sapos hidrópicos, aquí las malezas de cerros misantrópicos, los rebalses de caños podridos. Aquí la parásita afrodisíaca que llena el suelo de abejas muertas; la diversidad de flores inmundas que se contraen con sexuales palpitaciones y su olor pegajoso emborracha como una droga, la liana maligna cuya pelusa enceguese a los animales, la pringamosa que inflama la piel, la pepa del curujú que parece irisado globo y sólo contiene ceniza cáustica, la uva purgante, el corozo amargo.

La novela pinta la vida de los caucheros y la inicua explotación de los indios y mestizos que son esclavizados en el infierno verde.

En las descripciones de la selva, Rivera se muestra con pupila de poeta observador, y logra captar todos los detalles con extraordinario lirismo, y maravilla al lector, atónito ante la indómita naturaleza. Sigue en todo la teoría determinista, en esa lucha epopéyica del hombre contra la naturaleza. Lucha a muerte en selva y llano.

La novela, escrita en primera persona, le da un carácter autobiográfico. Arturo Cova, el hombre, el héroe, está admirablemente descrito en sus estados depresivos y de locura.

Rivera tuvo seguidores, entre ellos Rómulo Gallegos con su novela Canaíma y el brasileño Jorge de Lima con Calunga.

En Canaíma, Gallegos pinta, como lo hace el mismo Rivera, la violencia no es sólo objetiva; la de la selva y los llanos; sino la del hombre, Marcos Vargas, el personaje central se debate en una lucha contra las circunstancias que le obligan siempre a probar nuevos caminos. La naturaleza virgen se desborda en las descripciones y logra también salir victoriosa en su lucha contra el hombre. Solo que en Canaíma existe una esperanza. El hijo de Vargas será educado por Gabriel Ureña, quien lo hará un hombre de provecho y útil a la sociedad. La novela presenta una gran diversidad de tipos u caracteres, unos inadaptados, como Vargas, otros tratando de vivir lo mejor posible en el medio inhóspito en que se encuentran o asimilados a la naturaleza completamente, como Juan Solito. Rómulo Gallegos es uno de los más destacados novelistas de Hispanoamérica y sus novelas Canaíma, Canta Claro y Doña Bárbara forman m un grupo inimitable.

4. Detailed plot summary!

5. Elías Letelier, La vorágine – valor histórico y concepto estructural (Spanish – nonacademic but well informed site; does not view well in all browsers but is short, worth reading, and has good bibliography)

6. Doris Sommer, “Populism’s Revised Romance: La vorágine and Doña Bárbara,” in her Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America (English)

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2008 in Rivera

 

Slightly Revised Plans for April 1-3

1. This week, people who have not scheduled oral presentations should say when they want to do them – time is running short!

2. Spring Break reading was to a) Finish Los pasos perdidos and consider it in relationship to anything in Torgovnick, but especially chapters 4-6. That is the basis of our WRITING EXERCISE, due the TUESDAY WE COME BACK. b) Get hold of THE VORTEX – it’s our next reading (see the syllabus / reading list).

In class that Tuesday, we’ll talk about the writing and the end of Los pasos perdidos. Please take a look at the revised and constantly expanding Los pasos perdidos resources in this site.

THURSDAY I will discuss Torgovnick, chapter 9, and introduce THE VORTEX. Any time is a good time to start reading THE VORTEX, which is a short novel I am hoping we can finish discussing by April 10.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2008 in Rivera