Nostalgia for Mysticism: Catholicism in Latin America & Magical Realism

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Arianne Thomas
Professor Jessica Clark
Research & Documentation
28 November 2012
Nostalgia for Mysticism: Catholicism in Latin America & Magical Realism One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of the town of Macondo, sticky with nostalgia, and the Buendia family who lived out those very years of solitude. Gabo’s work is written in a style known as magical realism, in which elements of the magical and the mundane are interwoven seamlessly, making it impossible to determine where reality ends and the extraordinary begins. The story is set in an otherwise ordinary world, with familiar historical and cultural realities, although events which occur are not always explained by universal laws or familiar logic. The story was originally written in Spanish, and has since been translated into thirty-seven languages. However, as any origins or bloodlines are important- it is equally as important to note that the birthplace of this masterpiece is Latin America. Much of the magical and resonant elements come to a climax at the end of the book. As the last chapters surge into our hearts, we are presented with the line that both summarizes the story itself, and the extraordinary magic and mysticism that is artfully omnipresent within its pages. In reference to the Buendia legacy it reads, “The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by ants.” (Marquez) At the moment we read this, we realize that Aureliano Babilonia’s son, who is bloated and still damp with the dew of birth, is being carried away by all the ants in the world. Aureliano Babilonia, the last remaining Buendia’s, is reading the manuscript of the gypsy, Melquiades, the most significant character in the novel outside of the Buendia family, who wrote the prophecy of the family one hundred years before in Sanskrit, his mother tongue. He leads us to the demise of Macondo, as it blows away in torrents of dust and whirlwinds of longing, and as the novel comes to a close we read, Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth (Marquez).

The novel plays with our sensibilities however it is not fantasy. It is something entirely different, because it was born from the womb of a culture that is comfortable with the mythical and the conventionally unbelievable. Magical Realism could not have been born from any other mother, than the slippery Spanish speaking, and catholic mother of Latin America: a women who wishes on saints and casts spells in the form of prayers.

Magical Realism is an art form, and represents an important aspect of Latin culture. Therefore, in order to understand the symbiotic relationship between this literary style and culture, we must have a working definition of culture. Edward B, Tylor, a British anthropologist defined culture as “a complex whole including knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capability or habit acquired by human beings as members of society.” (Danesi, 3) So, culture is a conglomeration of the creations by the members of the society. However, more importantly, according to semiotician Marcel Danasi, “Societies are simultaneously the geographical and historical ‘reifications’ (manifestations) of cultures: i.e. they have existence in time and space, enfolding the signifying processes that shape and regulate the lives of the people who live within them.” (3) The logical process of the creation of culture is that culture manifests itself from the historical and ideological backgrounds of a...
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