Geez louise, everything I’m learning lately seems so connected. I think of this post as a sort of continuation of the last one, though I’m not sure I will be able to express how they are related in my head very clearly.

I just finished One Hundred Years of Solitude (finally), and I am tempted to just go back to page one and read it all over. And then again. It is without a doubt the densest novel I have ever read—so dense, in fact, that I found the experience of reading it a lot more enjoyable than trying to talk about it.  Not because there isn’t anything to talk about, but because there is just too much. I walked away from almost every conversation we had in class feeling like we never got to the root of what Marquez is saying.

One concept we kept coming back to was the idea of cyclical time. By following the same family, the Buendia’s, through six generations, Marquez is able to present a pattern of familial habits impossible to ignore. The family not only recycles names (there are literally five characters named Aureliano, not counting the 17 sons of one Aureliano, all named Aureliano…), they also recycle obsessions and vices.

Ursula, the matriarch of the family, seems to be the only one that recognizes that time is repeating itself, that the same mistakes are being made by each generation. But since she has too vague a grasp on the past to retell it, the most she can give are subtle warnings. She warns her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren against incest, but they refuse to listen—aunts are impregnated by nephews, sisters by brothers. It’s all a physical manifestation of a deeper problem: the family’s inability to break out of itself.

In interviews about his book, Marquez says he is not trying to make general statements about humanity through the Buendia family, but rather illustrate problems brought about by the colonization of Latin America. Still, I think we have something to learn from the Buendias.

In Torrey, we just finished up the semester with the book of Ecclesiastes. This book used to really intimidate me, but the more I learn about it, the more I love it. I’m still pretty confused about a lot of it, but One Hundred Years of Solitude has actually helped me understand bits and pieces.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon (or the narrator, who most scholars believe to be Solomon) reflects on the vanity of “life under the sun” and the cyclical nature of human actions:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun…No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11)

I am finally beginning to understand one reason my Torrey mentors think reading primary sources is so important. Instead of reading 21st century commentaries on Aristotle or Locke, we read Aristotle and Locke, because intellectual history is important. It helps me see what parts of my worldview are just products of the culture I live in, and what parts are essential.

And though I am thankful for my education, there are some days I find myself relating a little too much to Aureliano Buendia. In the last few pages of the book, Aureliano finds himself sitting in a chair that was occupied not only by his recently deceased lover, but also by his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. And, for the first time in his life, “he was unable to bear the crushing weight of so much past.” Just like I felt when I was little and began to learn just how big the world is, there have been many times over the past year or so when I have felt overwhelmed by how big the past is. It sounds silly, but there is even a loneliness that comes with an awareness (however small) of the past, because our world seems so present and future-minded.

But instead of being ignorant of the past or crushed by its weight, Aureliano chooses to look at the present worlds for clues telling him how to keep living: “he admired the persistence of the spider webs on the dead rosebushes, the perseverance of the rye grass, the patience of the air in the radiant February dawn.”

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