28 April 2014

Barack Obama’s amazing Márquez moment

Gabrial García Márquez lived a life. He wrote of lives and relationships, continents and histories, insults and humiliation. He unwrapped structures, teased apart production relations, laid out political economies without ever using those terms.  He wrote of people and peoples and in doing so described the commonalities of subjugation as well as the commonalities of resistance and resilience.  He wrote of love and loves, lovers and heartbreak. He gave us desolate landscapes where single flowers are cause for mindless celebration. He died.
When he died, the world lamented his passing.  When the world takes note, self-appointed world leaders, he would agree, must submit the proverbial two cents’ worth.  And so we have US President Barack Obama expressing his sorrow.   Obama tells us that Márquez was one of his favorite authors. He calls him a visionary. Sorry, ‘one of the greatest visionary writers’.  He mentions ‘magical realism’.  He offers thoughts to family and friends.  That’s it.

Reading Obama’s note one can’t help wondering if he’s actually read Márquez in the first instance and also whether he, Obama, has no clue about how the USA treated the writer.  For decades, Obama of all people ought to know, the USA stopped Márquez from entering the USA. It was not just Márquez of course. The USA has a policy of keeping out suspected Marxists, socialists and communists and their sympathizers (suspected of course).  Obama, who lets people call him an intellectual and a liberal, would know that it was not just Márquez.  He would know that the McCarran Act was used to stop many distinguished human beings, some of whom went on to win Nobel Prizes or nominations for the same. 

Kobo Abe, Tom Bottomore, Dennis Brutus, Julio Cortazar, Mahmoud Darwish, Michel Foucault, Dario Fo, Carlos Fuentes, Graham Greene, Doris Lessing, Ernest Mandel, Farley Mowat, Jan Myrdal, Pablo Neruda, Angel Rama and Pierre Trudeau are some of the thousands thus barred.  Obama would know of at least some of them.  If called upon to comment on any of these individuals, he would no doubt shower them with accolades and tell the world how they inspired him with their humanity, courage, resilience, sacrifice and outstanding abilities.  That’s Obama.

How could he forget that Márquez wrote about the glaring injustices perpetrated by the class whose interests Obama represents and on whose behalf Obama orders troops to wage war, displace communities, ravage lands and so on?  How could he forget that Márquez wrote about forgetting, natural and induced?  How could he forget that memory was important to Márquez and not just to keep tab on ailing celebrities of all kinds so that condolences can be fired off to the particular address? 

How can Obama talk of ‘Magical Realism’ without noting the ironies and the scathing critique of everything that Obama stands for and defends embedded in those magically real or really magical pieces Márquez worked into his text so effortlessly that magic bled into real and vice versa? If Obama was asked to offer a comment on Marquez' Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, what would he have to say?

Obama could not have known that Márquez was denied visa to visit the USA when his ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ was published, prompting a group of US citizens, booksellers included, to try to fly to Cuba to see the author (‘We would go to him, since he couldn’t come to us’).  But that’s the USA that Obama rules.  Those are the rules that sustain the Obamas of this world and it’s those rules and rulers that Márquez writes about with senstitivity, noting human frailty but faulting the vile within them. 

A few days ago, Palesa Morudu wrote about Márquez.  Morudu wonders, ‘does President Jacob Zuma read Garcia Márquez during his free time at Nkandla?’  The reason for the wonderment is an oft repeated quote from ‘The Autumn of the Patriarch’ where the dictator ‘discovered in the course of his uncountable years that a lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth’. 
Perhaps that is a reality that grows on the Obamas and Zumas of this world.  This is why Barack Obama wrote what he did about Márquez.  And this is also why the Obamas and Zumas are read in particular ways by those who have read Márquez.

Márquez loved Cuba. He was friend to Fidel Castro.  He must have had reasons.  Those reasons are not too hard to fathom.