Gabo the Great2015-10-31
Let’s start with a pretty obvious statement: Gabriel García Márquez is a great writer. Whatever one might think about how the processes of canonization, marketing, literary criticism, archival politics and celebrity shape how we remember certain writers and artists, it would be hard to argue against the fact that Gabo had a way with words. In my opinion, the opening sentence of Cien años de soledad remains one of the best first lines in the history of literature, or at the very least one of the best first lines that I have ever read. It is a grave understatement to say that the praise he has received this week is 100% deserved.
García Márquez, it turns out, also happens to be a Great Writer™. For proof of this, one needs to look no further than the recent events organized around the inauguration of the author’s papers at UT’s Harry Ransom Center. There, García Márquez joins other Great Writers™— figures like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett— in the exclusive club for those designated as the most important contributors to an institutionalized conceptualization of the Global Humanities. All of these Great Writers™ are also great writers, but not all great writers get their papers in the HRC, a symposium in their honor, or an opening talk by Salman Rushdie.
These are the thoughts that raced around my head during Gerald Martin’s talk at the García Márquez symposium. Neat the end of his insightful and provocative talk, the literary biographer claimed that Gabo represented a different time, and that now “There are no more great writers. There is no more great literature.” The leading Gabo scholar and a staunch advocate of genetic literary criticism, Martin admitted that in the digital age, without handwritten letters or stacks of manuscripts covered in red ink, the kind of meticulous biography that helped turn García Marquez from a great writer into a Great Writer™ is in danger of extinction.
Martin stopped short of lamenting the fall of the Latin American Literary Canon, but it wouldn’t be difficult to follow his line of thought to that kind of argument. In a way, this would be a good point. The current academic environment is moving away from Great Writers™, towards marginalized literatures and non-written forms of cultural expression. At times, this anti-canonical turn causes us to forget about the amazing literary accomplishments of these iconic figures, that Great Writers™ are also great writers. Speaking from personal experience, just as I cannot deny my feelings upon reading that opening line of Cien años de soledad for the hundredth time, I also cannot ignore the emotional and physical impact of diving back into canonical texts like Rayuela and Tres tristes tigres. At the same time, events like the García Márquez symposium show that the canon is still alive and well.
While Martin mourns the death of the Great Writer™, I see the situation as more progress then loss. As much as I cherish the works of “important” writers like García Márquez, Julio Cortázar and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, out from under the fall of the canon rises a number of new voices that provoke similar feelings and deserve more scholarly attention. In just the last few months as a reader, the works of great writers like Yohamna Depestre Corcho, Salvador Plasciencia, Josefina Báez and Urayoán Noel have thrilled me as much if not more thant hose of the Greats. As we continue to bestow this well deserved honor on García Márquez, placing his bust in a literary Hall of Fame, it’s important to both recognize his incredible legacy and continue attending to new literary voices that may never make it to the HRC.