Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Poem #4

Sick Day

I'm a hot face against a no-longer-cool pillowcase,
A restless body sinking into a too-soft mattress,
A lost wanderer in an eternal desert, craving
Water, more water,
Until I'm nothing but liquids and fever and cherry cough syrup and frustration.

Digital numbers displayed on my nightstand
Torment my mind as each hour passes,
Until sunlight meets my ungrateful eyes,
And the morning breeze transforms itself into a relentless blanket of humidity.

I'm 24,
But I'm like a child again,
Craving parental pity and attention and maybe even some homemade, simmering soup.
I have no responsibilities,
I have only this room,
This stifling yet liberating room,
That suspends me between innocence and maturity
And lets me pretend that I can be invisible to the world,
If only for a day.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This book has been so heavily discussed, praised, and condemned, that I feel a lengthy description of its basic plot and themes would be fruitless. So instead, I'd like to briefly comment upon the novel's treatment of "love."

First, though, I must mention the prose, which some have criticized as "wordy." I found it to be elegant, well-crafted, and absorbing. A 350-page novel may be considered "long" by some, but this page count is not a reason to attack the book. The lush narrative is, I feel, one of the novel's only laudable attributes.

In fact, this very seductiveness of the prose has led me to reconsider my initial impressions of the novel: that its views of love are not romantic at all, but rather disturbing and repulsive. These initial impressions may sound harsh, but I don't know how else to describe a man who has "622 affairs" (not including his less serious flings), and has sex with a 14-year old girl when he is 70 years old. By no standards can this be considered romantic. Period.

Yet the novel forces us to question that initial shock and horror; maybe Florentino isn't so bad, despite his obsessive womanizing. Maybe he's a romantic at heart, who desires to transcend carnal lusts even as he absorbs himself in them, by maintaining an unflinching spiritual and immortal love for Fermina. The lyrical prose, as mentioned before, as well as the novel's conclusion almost, almost, negate the moral questionability of much of its content. But I cannot go that far. In the end, I'm only slightly moved by the so-called spiritual love that Florentino and Fermina share, and I'm disheartened by the assertions that Marquez makes concerning love.

For instance: "Florentino Ariza learned what he had already experienced many times without realizing it: that one can be in love with several people at the same time, feel the same sorrow with each, and not betray any of them." (270)

I have contemplated heavily on this passage, and yet I cannot identify it as truth. I assume that Marquez is differentiating between different types of love, as he does elsewhere in the novel; specifically, he contrasts physical love (which Florentino experiences in his affairs) with spiritual love (which Florentino reserves for Fermina). I believe that spiritual love and physical love go hand-in-hand; Marquez polarizes the two and places the former on a higher pedestal than the latter. In fact, he goes so far as to portray physical love as a passtime, an act as ephemeral as the relationships that contain it. Thus, the physical body becomes nothing more than a vehicle of fleeting passion, which can be disregarded as unimportant. I cannot follow this line of reasoning, nor do I agree with it.

I do admire Marquez's attempt to present spiritual love as a means for defying and overcoming death. A fear of temporality pervades the narrative, and Florentino's unrelenting desire for spiritual union with Fermina seems to be dually motivated; he wants to love her, and he also wants to establish something eternal. Physical love ends with physical death, but spiritual love can endure into the unknown. "Forever." This is the final dialogue of the novel, spoken by Florentino. Perhaps there is something that can never die, and perhaps that something is love.

There I go. I'm almost seduced by this book again. I'm almost convinced that it's romantic at its core, and profound and beautiful and hopeful and promising. But almost. Marquez fails to convince me because he juxtaposes physical and spiritual love. If he hadn't done that -- if he'd described the two as a perfect union, as a necessary union -- then I'd have fallen for this text, and fallen deeply. Instead, I'm left wading in a shallow pool of tempting, attractive, yet ultimately unfulfilling words.