In the London Review of Books, Fredric Jameson reflects on the legacy of Gabriel García Márquez’s iconic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which was first published exactly fifty years ago. Jameson examines how Márquez’s vivid and vibrant novel both incorporated and undid the dominant novelistic forms of the twentieth century. Check out an excerpt from the piece:
The solitude of the title should not at first be taken to mean the affective pathos it becomes at the end of the book: first and foremost, in the novel’s founding or refounding of the world itself, it signifies autonomy. Macondo is a place away from the world, a new world with no relation to an old one we never see. Its inhabitants are a family and a dynasty, albeit accompanied by their fellows on a failed expedition which just happened to come to rest at this point. The initial solitude of Macondo is a purity and an innocence, a freedom from whatever worldly miseries have been forgotten at this opening moment, this moment of a new creation. If we insist on seeing this as a Latin American work, then we can say that Macondo is unsullied by the Spanish conquest as also by indigenous cultures: neither bureaucratic not archaic, neither colonial nor Indian. But if you insist on an allegorical dimension, then it also signifies the uniqueness of Latin America itself in the global system, and at another level the distinctness of Colombia from the rest of Latin America, and even of García Márquez’s native (coastal, Caribbean) region from the rest of Colombia and the Andes. All these perspectives mark the freshness of the novel’s starting point, its utopian laboratory experiment.
But as we know, the form-problem of utopia is that of narrative itself: what stories remain to be told if life is perfect and society is perfected? Or, to turn the question inside out and rephrase the problem of content in terms of novelistic form, what narrative paradigms survive to provide the raw material for that destruction or deconstruction which is the work of the novel itself as a kind of meta-genre or anti-genre? This was the deeper truth of Lukács’s pathbreaking Theory of the Novel. The genres, the narrative stereotypes or paradigms, belong to older, traditional societies: the novel is then the anti-form proper to modernity itself (which is to say, of capitalism and its cultural and epistemological categories, its daily life). This means, as Schumpeter put it in an immortal phrase, that the novel is also a vehicle of creative destruction. Its function, in some properly capitalist ‘cultural revolution’, is the perpetual undoing of traditional narrative paradigms and their replacement, not by new paradigms, but by something radically different. To use Deleuzian language for a moment, modernity, capitalist modernity, is the moment of passage from codes to axioms, from meaningful sequences, or indeed, if you prefer, from meaning itself, to operational categories, to functions and rules; or, in yet another language, this time more historical and philosophical, it is the transition from metaphysics to epistemologies and pragmatisms, we might even say from content to form, if the use of this second term did not risk confusion.
Image of Gabriel García Márquez via especialgabo.fnpi.org.