by Mathangi Krishnamurthy
Bomblet (1937), Julian Tervelyan, 1910-1988; Tate Modern, Surrealism and Beyond.
Display Caption: Trevelyan was living in Paris in the early 1930s when the Surrealists began to explore the idea of the Surrealist object, which appeared to embody hidden or repressed desires. Following the same tradition, Bomblet is at once disconcerting and vaguely comical. The tactile forms, suggesting organic or body parts, contrast with the elaborate framing. It was, apparently, the discovery of a baking tray that triggered the potential for the unsettling object.
So I start with the question, why are Marquez's bodily descriptions of the act and state of being in love nauseous? By nauseous, I am thinking of Sartre's understanding of nausea (often translated as viscosity or a state between liquid and solid) which he explicates as the “state of my facticity”, an ineluctable participation of the body. I also ask as to why love and squalor go hand in hand. And I think about how Marquez's physical rendition of love as not merely the handmaiden of magic realist excess, but instead as both philosophy and plot.
One Hundred Years of Solitude begins with a murder, the murder of Prudencio Aguilar. It is the marriage of Ursula and José Arcadio Buendia that is consummated by this act of violence, the attempt to render new life through the taking of one. And with this, the love story within the novel already already illustriously notorious proportions, hinting at what is to come. Conceived in violence by a mother traveling fourteen months on monkey meat and snake stew, Ursula's son José Arcadio grows into a “monumental” adolescent, displaying the same facticity of body that functions as the basis for his first liaison with his future lover, Pilar Ternera. Pilar inspires in him, a “terrible desire to weep” and his “bones fill up with foam” and a “languid fear”. Love is thus rendered as fact, as the material, corporeal transformation and slow movement of an inertial being, a refusal of childhood and a rendition of mortality. The language that describes José Arcadio finding Pilar is exquisite and muddy, a miasma of sweaty armpits and uncontrollable hubris. Marquez declares in what might one of my most treasured moments of novelistic lust, “If he had the boldness to knock the first time he would have to knock until the last.”
Thus does love enter make itself known; through the body, and through the knowledge and the certainty of death, of this “last” that the object of love will most certainly bring about. When Pilar is pregnant, José Arcadio moves on, refusing her and leaving Macondo to follow the gypsy girl with whom he makes love. Bodily squalor re-inserts itself at this point. On contact with José Arcadio, the girl's skin “broke out into a pale sweat and her whole body exhaled a lugubrious lament and a vague smell of mud”. Garcia Marquez further outlines the “tender obscenities” of Jose Arcadio that enter her ears and come out translated in her tongue. Jose Arcadio leaves, following the gypsies, and Ursula follows him.
José Arcadio then contaminates his brother Aureliano with the same biting, rancorous anxiety. Aureliano follows his brother's lead, falling in love with an adolescent girl, who is carried town to town, bedding men at the rate of twenty cents to pay off her debt to her grandmother for having burned her house. She causes “goose pimples in Aureliano's burning knees” and inspires in him insomnia, fever, and an irresistible desire to marry and protect her. But the girl leaves, diluting his mad proposal and aggravating his emotional and physical frustration. Aureliano then falls for Remedios, the daughter of the magistrate and suffers a physical sensation, “that almost bothered him when he walked, like a pebble in his shoe.” Many other such examples of bodily degradation and squalor dot the book, rendering tales of unbearable pain and irrevocable love. Rebecca pines for Pietro Crespi, eating strips of damp earth and whitewash, sacrificing the present, to past anxieties in the service of future possibilities. Garcia Marquez speaks of “mineral savors” and “harsh aftertastes”, “feverish prostrations” and “shameless deliriums”. Aureliano tells Ursula and José Arcadio Buendia of his decision to marry the child-woman Remedios and his father declares in anger and disgust, “Love is a disease”.
Love is indeed a disease that corrupts and reveals. It is the revelation of the body in its nausea and its “facticity”. Sartre writes with exquisite clarity in Being and Nothingness and brings to mind Garcia Marquez when he says:
“The thing which was waiting was on the alert, it has pounced on me, it flows through me. I am filled with it. It's nothing: I am the Thing. Existence, liberated, detached, floods over me. I exist. I exist. It's sweet, so sweet, so slow… It brushes by me, melts and vanishes. Gently, gently. There is bubbling water in my mouth. I swallow. It slides down my throat, it caresses me – and now it comes up again in my mouth”.
But to Sartre, this is facticity, not nausea because nausea is that which it is for others. And he says, “For it is the Other who grasps my nausea, precisely as flesh and with the nauseous character of all flesh”. By this reading, love and lust for Garcia Marquez is perhaps not disease, but rather the marking of the lover's body as diseased. The world is Other and the lover is Being. Love must therefore necessarily be simultaneously sacred and profane.
Purity, danger and disease, all tie into a notion of evolution and movement in One Hundred Years of Solitude. In the anthropologist Mary Douglas' understanding, dirt or pollution is “matter out of place”. The links between bodily facticity, its subsequent degradation and mad love in Marquez are therefore not about inevitable destruction but rather an indication of things constantly out of place, as mischief-mongers and as agentive and progressive forces, a trajectory of mutation if you will, one that will nevertheless lead to ultimate destruction and denouncement. But that is not the point. Douglas argues that dirt is essentially a disorderly substance and one that cannot be concomitant with the creation of order. Garcia Marquez's treatment of love is a device to inject anomaly and ambiguity into what religion, text, and word would have us believe to be the orderliness of the human condition. Love thus becomes the act that in dirt, degradation, and rebellion refuses the old order and renders alive a new one. This new one must reconcile to a solitude outside of law and land, a knowledge of individual decay, and the weight of unaccompanied revolution. There are no forces to be carry one along, because the body is one's own property and burden. All truth outside of this body is thus rendered unstable and can only enter as love. Only love must refuse, and only love can render.
Douglas, Mary. 1966. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Routledge Classics.
Murdoch, Iris. 1974. The Sacred and Profane Love Machine. New York: Viking Press.
Sartre, Jean Paul. 1956. Being and Nothingness. New York: Citadel Press.