zunguzungu

Teaching One Hundred Years of Solitude

I’m teaching One Hundred Years of Solitude again, and I’m nervous I won’t have the same zest of “teaching-it-for-the-first-time” that made it at least a qualified success last semester. It’s amazing how often that’s the case, at least anecdotally: teaching a novel you’ve just finished and have only begun processing, you so often teach substantially better classes than when you know exactly what you think and want to say. Ah well, into the breach.

Passing over the opening and its obsessive fascination with the logic of the feminine domestic vs. the mad scientist husband — at one point, our patriarch tries to burn down the house with a magnifying class, for example, and generally ignores the kids, registers the wife only to the extent that she screeches at him to stop, and the only part of the house directly described is the room he builds in the back to get away from his family — I’m trying to think about how to address the mad dream logic of the novel.

This description of Melquiades, for example, the “fugitive from all the plagues and catastrophes that had ever lashed mankind”:

“He had survived pellagra in Persia, scurvy in the Malaysian archipelago, leprosy in Alexandria, beriberi in Japan, bubonic plague in Madagascar, an earthquake in Sicily, and a disastrous shipwreck in the Strait of Magellan”

We hear the phrase “hereditary memory” a few lines later, and that seems an apropos phrase; after all, so much of the early history of the Americas is the story of germs and the ways our bodies experience them and remember the experience, and while Jared Diamond had a few good idea which he buried under dumb social Darwinism and massive hubris, it is nevertheless true that the conquistadors carried both diseases and resistance to them to the new world, and — in passing on only the former — had a massive social advantage in how they set about conquering indigenous peoples. But as with so much of the novel, knowing this only lets you notice that he’s creatively misremembering it, producing a fictive dream that reminds us of the truth without realistically portraying it.

I imagine I’ll make my students endure some Freud today, and I’ll offer up some warmed over capsule histories of the new world. But can you appreciate how dreams misremember if you only have someone telling you what is being mis-remembered?

Or maybe a different approach. Freud claims that:

“In the following pages I shall provide proof that there is a psychological technique which allows us to interpret dreams, and that when this procedure is applied, every dream turns out to be a meaningful, psychical formation which can be given an identifiable place in what goes on within our waking life.”

But isn’t the interesting thing about that Persian pellagra quote the very fact that you can’t actually interpret it with any certainty? Sure, you can understand that the “hereditary memory” of genetic resistance is being obliquely referenced, and you can think about how and why that historical factotum has been re-membered in the way it has, but can we really make it meaningful and identifiable the way Freud wants to? Perhaps I can pose this as a question to my students as a way into the royal road of interpreting fiction.

“I meet them, yes. I go around”

I found this Swahili Forum article by Uta Reuster-Jahn absolutely fascinating:

“It can be said that newspaper serials are the most popular form of Swahili literature in Tanzania at the moment. This is all the more important for the assessment of reading culture in Tanzania, as book sales via the established channels of distribution using book stores are weak, or even on decline, as in the case of Ndanda Mission Press’ entertainment books. This decrease seems to be counterbalanced by an increase in fiction published in newspapers. In addition to being read in the papers, it must be noted that a number of serials appear in the form of books after the stories have reached their end in the paper, thus contributing to the book market in Tanzania. However, they tend to be overlooked by scholars because they do not turn up in book stores. Rather, they are sold on the streets using the distribution channels of the papers…

Since the privatisation of media in the 1990s, the number of newspapers and tabloids has multiplied, and serials have become abundant…they are the most popular form of fiction at the moment in terms of quantity of readers. They are especially prevalent in the tabloids, where there often are more than three stories being serialised at a time…However, the most prominent writer specialising in newspaper serials is Eric James Shigongo, who probably is also the most prolific author of popular literature of the last decade in Tanzania altogether. In his case, novel writing has reached a new quality as a well organised, apparently successful, self-owned business. His history as a writer is inextricably connected to his activity in the publishing sector, as he serialises his stories in his own newspapers. Eric James Shigongo is owner and chief executive officer of Global Publishers & General Enterprises Ltd., located in Sinza, Dar es Salaam. Together with Abdallah Mrisho Salawi, he founded the company in 1998, and only then did he start publishing novels too.”

I bought a Shigongo novel from the window of a bus once, a little gem called (in English) The President Loves My Wife. Reuster-Jahn focuses on Shigongo in particular:

“Shigongo’s stories reach a large audience, which, as Shigongo himself is aware, is mainly comprised of women. This was confirmed by sellers of newspapers in the streets whom I asked. They told me that they have female customers who are especially interested in the stories, and buy the newspapers exactly out of this reason….The author’s serials are not only published in Global Publishers’ printed newspapers, but also on their web-site, which was established in July 2007 (Salawi in Bongo Celebrity 08-072008). According to Salawi, the wish of readers to read sequels they might have missed was a major reason to set up the web-site, which within one year had almost two million visitors (Salawi in Bongo Celebrity 08-07-2008). Each sequel on the web-site is provided with a link to maoni (comments), where readers can and do react and comment on the developments of the stories. There they comment on the behaviour or fate of protagonists, but they also evaluate the story by saying whether they like it or not, and what they think of its author. As Shigongo said in the interview, the readers’ comments sometimes can even change the dénouement of the stories. Moreover, according to Shigongo there is also a direct exchange between the writer and his readers, as he receives their emails and even meets them personally. According to information from several Tanzanian writers, this is something that generally marks popular writing in newspapers and fiction books sold in the streets, and it is almost a rule that writers provide their contact details like mobile phone number, or email address, in order to facilitate communication with their readers. It may happen that readers demand a certain story development or complain about a bad treatment of a certain character. This can even lead to a change in the writer’s original plan, as the newspaper serials are often produced more or less simultaneously with publishing, on the basis of a pre-existing draft.

This part of the interview elaborates :

URJ: Do you communicate with the readers? You do not put your telephone number in the newspapers.

ESh: Emails. Ya, they write. I meet them.

URJ: You meet them?

ESh: I meet them, yes. I go around.

URJ: Does that communication contribute to your writing of stories and novels?

ESh: Ya. They will tell you the truth.

URJ: Do you sometimes also get complaints?

ESh: Mhm. A lot. A lot, a lot.

URJ: May you even change the development of the story because of the communication with readers?

ESh: Very much so.

URJ: Isn’t it that when you start publishing a novel in a newspaper, you have already written it from the start to the end?

ESh: No. I write every day.

URJ: Every day for the next issue?

ESh: Mhm. But I know everything. Because everything is in my head. I just put it on the paper.

URJ: But when you get the comments of the readers you may consider them?

ESh: Ya.

URJ: And you aim at what kind of people as your readers?

ESh: All people, but my readers are especially women, and, you know, people from the middle class and below. But it is especially women who read. And the women make other people read too.

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