I just ran across this video clip of – surprise – MARTIN, talking about how modernity and technology have advanced us materially but not spiritually. The theme is everywhere, it seems, and in different ways modern people seek to heal the wounds of civilization by seeking authenticity and roots.
Rules: Two densely written, well argued, analytical essays of 500-700 words each. Each essay must include an extensive discussion of a different novel, although you may choose comparative topics and refer to other texts. You must, however, show serious work with and thought about two of the following three novels: Los pasos perdidos, La vorágine, La casa verde. You may narrow down these topics as you see fit. Please title each essay in such a way as to indicate your focus. What I am looking for are interesting, cogent explorations, not ultimate answers. Pueden escribir en el idioma que quieran, con tal de que yo lo sepa leer.
1. Mujer y selva. The jungle as woman / as the feminine. Woman and jungle as Other. Woman and jungle as “dark continents,” chthonic forces to be tamed. Is the jungle voyage, in our texts usually undertaken by men with women (ambivalently) by their side, a masculine enterprise or a drama about masculinity? Why is it that it in the jungle, the narrators of Los pasos perdidos and La vorágine focus so strongly on the struggles in their relationships with the lovers they have brought from town? What is at stake in the voyage to the jungle: civilization? manhood? identity? race? all of the above? how are they intertwined?
2. The jungle or the uncivilized – the primitive – is a constant theme in modern literary and cultural discourse because it is the apparent opposite of civilization (and it could, perhaps, remedy some of civilization’s discontents [Freud]). Yet in many of the texts we have read, the locations and characteristics of the “civilized” and the “barbaric,” the the modern and the primitive, become confused or blurred, as though these stark dichotomies had shorted out (so to speak). Discuss, using examples. Why and how does this happen? What do you think its implications are?
3. In any two of our novels, how does the jungle function as setting, character, symbol, metaphor? What does the jungle seem to mean, or, how does the idea of the “jungle” generate meaning?
4. Most characters in La casa verde are in some way, at the very least, inhabitants of the jungle, not city people who have traveled to it. How do their “jungle” experiences differ from those of Cova or the narrator of Los pasos perdidos? Do we see the jungle through their eyes? Do they describe it in ways that at all resemble the descriptions of the people from the city? Does anyone in the novel – or the narrator – use jungle tropes we have seen in other texts?
5. In both Los pasos perdidos and La vorágine the hero is seeking some form of authenticity – which in Los pasos perdidos is explicitly located in art, and in La vorágine, more obliquely, in poetry. How are art, authenticity, identity, and masculinity intertwined in these narratives? When does the “native” or the “primitive” resist consumption as art? How does this affect the experience of the hero and thus, the sense of the text?
6. La vorágine presents the jungle as a whirlpool, that pulls the “civilized” character in and ultimately (or so it is suggested) eats him up. La casa verde as text presents its narrative, national history, and the jungle itself as a kind of web. How do these images work to imbue the jungle, as it is presented in these texts, with the meaning it may have in each?
7. Many of our narrators and narrators present the jungle as being outside history. Does the material in the novels actually support this construction of the world? How do non-Western histories, or fragments of them, appear in these novels to push against the narratives of the West?
8. Both La vorágine and La casa verde engage, and perhaps criticize the discourse of civilization, barbarism and nation we saw articulated in Sarmiento. How do they do this?
9-10. DOUBLE QUESTION (you would have to do this in five pages). Many of the narratives we have studied focus on the story of a “civilized” character who, in the jungle and with either “barbaric” or utopian “primitives,” seeks liberation from the pressures and distortions of civilization. At the same time they seek to assert some form of power or control over the jungle, so that it will conform to their expectations and give them what they need. That is to say that they that they seek, simultaneously, to civilize what is “barbaric” in modernity through a reunion with the “primitive,” and also to control or defend against what seems to them to be chaotic, dissonant, or simply incomprehensible in their experience of the “primitive”.
Yet in several cases these characters lose, in different ways, the “restraint” and the focus on work which are the hallmarks of “civilization” and modernity. At other moments the apparent “disorder” of the jungle appears to win (whether the characters maintain their “civilized” focus or not). Another problem is that the “primitive” is often not a pure origin, but a colonized space which has already been deeply scarred by Western exploitation, so that it is in fact a product of Western culture – its source of wealth, but also the place where the West deposits its waste.
(Is the “horror” Marlow sees the horror of evil itself – or of an uncontrollable Otherness – or much more concretely, of what Belgian colonialism did to the Congo? Why is it important that this question is hard to answer? How does that apply to La vorágine and/or La casa verde?)
Consider: 1) What is at stake in this struggle with the jungle / the primitive / the “timeless”? What issues does it engage? Why are is the theme of the jungle so prevalent, and so compelling? 2) In these narratives, which often emphasize the standpoint of the urban or “civilized” character, is there also material which pushes against the Western view, and thus allows the jungle to be something more than a mere mirror of the Western self? Discuss, engaging at least two of our recent readings in some detail.
This article on the novel as a “web of defeat” is old, but interesting, easy to read, and I think useful.
Mario Vargas Llosa narra en forma de rompecabezas espacio-temporal una historia en torno a una banda de contrabandistas de caucho, un prostíbulo que perdura sobre los alegatos y atentados del cura del pueblo, y una india que de recogida y educada por las monjas pasa a ser la esposa de un sargento del ejército y posteriormente prostituta del mencionado prostíbulo.
Es el personaje del sargento Lituma quien liga los dos escenarios fundamentales de la obra, la selva amazónica, donde se encuentra la misión de Santa María de Nieva y donde operan los contrabandistas, y la desértica llanura de Piura, donde se alza el prostíbulo llamado la Casa Verde. Natural de Piura, Lituma forma parte de las expediciones que buscan la captura de los contrabandistas de caucho que utilizan a los indios para sus actividades y al mismo tiempo los soliviantan con sus mezquindades. El jefe de la modesta pero persistente partida es un brasileño llamado Fushía, que nunca será detenido aunque acabará carcomido por una infección. Su compañera Lalita acabará siendo la esposa del navegante Nieves, que en cambio sí que irá a la cárcel. Además de los hijos propios, Lalita y Nieves cuidan a la joven india Bonifacia, a quien las monjas han expulsado de su misión, después de haberla criado desde muy pequeña, por haber permitido la huida de otras indias pupilas del lugar que echaban de menos la vida selvática.
El sargento Lituma se enamora de la modesta y encantadora Bonifacia, se casa con ella y se la lleva a Piura. Para aplacar la fanfarronería de uno de los notables del lugar, Lituma acepta jugar a la ruleta rusa y el otro muere en el juego, por lo que el sargento es encarcelado, y uno de sus amigos, Josefino, aprovecha la ocasión para caer sobre su esposa, corromperla, incitarla a abortar del embarazo con que había quedado y conseguir que responda a la falta de recursos en que ha quedado metiéndose a prostituta de la Casa Verde. Este prostíbulo, de larga historia en la ciudad, fue incendiado años atrás por el cura local y posteriormente reconstruido y dirigido con éxito por la joven Chunga, quien tras la muerte de su madre, venga los abusos que cometiera con ella su padre, don Anselmo, fundador del lugar, teniéndole como simple empleado como intérprete de arpa.
La novela se estructura en capítulos divididos a su vez en segmentos en los que la acción va avanzando en cada una de las localizaciones, aunque no en orden cronológico sino a lo largo de diferentes periodos que van desde la Segunda Guerra Mundial hasta más de veinte años después. Además, en cada uno de estos segmentos, se insertan breves flashbacks y flashforwards que amplian la información de lo que se va narrando.
Del Opus Dei, una organización que no apoyo, hay un buen resumen con un esbozo / esquema de la estructura de la novela.
We were talking about the voyage to the jungle as a masculine identity quest and now, it appears, someone has written about it as a feminIST one. I know about this from reading blogs, so excuse the informality of the writing in these posts – the material is interesting. The book in question is by Amanda Marcotte and it is a guide for women on how to survive the “jungle” of patriarchy. Except that all the women are white and all the scary, oppressive men are Black.
There is probably more on this book, and more of it available to read even without lighting out for Barnes & Noble.
+ See the Wikipedia page about Vargas Llosa’s essay “Historia secreta de una novela.” It is about how he came to write La casa verde, including research trips to the jungle. The descriptions in this essay of what he saw and went through as a traveler are fascinating (and somewhat harrowing).
+ On travel to the same jungle now: here is what it would be like on a deluxe tour from Iquitos to Manaus (“happy jungle”). Note the cost per day of that. Here’s another, similar tour description. Here, however, are some budget tourists’ descriptions of what it is like to go on the regular boats, that poor people ride on and the characters in La casa verde would ride on. I like this description of the trip from Pucallpa to Iquitos quite a lot. I read another more graphic description – about the smells on the boat and how crowded it was – but I cannot find it right now.
+ I notice that La casa verde uses some of the same language about the jungle we have seen elsewhere (e.g. in Heart of Darkness). Who is saying these things … the characters, the narrator, or both … ?
+ I reiterate: this novel is built like a mosaic. It’s a regular, systematic mosaic, and it gets easier to read after the first (unnumbered) section. But we keep jumping between threads of different stories, which are not woven together until the end. We have to accept that we’re jumping from place to place (usually in the same order, though) and get used to it.
+ Time in this novel jumps around, too, and overlaps. Sometimes characters are remembering, or telling each other what happened. Other times, new events are taking place in the present.
+ The narrative voice in this novel is also strange. The narrator is often representing or narrating the thoughts (or commentary) of a character, and blending his perspective with that of the character. The narrator is not, however, identified with the perspective of any particular character, and sometimes the narrator becomes a more distanced third person narrator.
So, hang on tight and just remember: we’re on an Amazonian boat trip, so things are supposed to be slightly strange!
For her presentation Katrice discovered this book: Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in French and it promises to be very interesting.
She also brought our attention to Mme. Delphine Lalaurie. She is rumored to be a quadroon, but I am not yet sure Louisiana writer George Washington Cable’s novel Madame Delphine (in which the character is explicitly quadroon) is about Delphine Lalaurie or not.