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Arthur Bigelow

Union Institute and University

Final Paper

GLIT 160 21A

August 15, 2015


There is a saying I have heard: Art is not eternal. While this concept may be pragmatic in
the sense that it is often necessary to let go of artifacts that have transformed, it is my opinion that
art is the doorway to the eternal. Through the cultural expression of creative activity it becomes
possible not only to nourish and shelter our physical existence, it also provides a way for our
individuality to live beyond death, as well as guiding us into the timeless present. Much the same
way a carpenter builds a house ( which is certainly an art form), artists seeks to create something of
themselves that will help them subsist, outlive their body, and communicate their experience of
present moment awareness. The literary material explored in this class contains several examples
that I feel support my position on the eternity, or at least the longevity of artistic expression.
From a cultural Anthropology perspective, the emergence and expansion of artistic activity
is a distinguishing feature of our species, and much can be learned about human communities
through an understanding of their art. ( Goldman, 1983,p.253) The political economics expressed in
many of the writing we have studied in this class are also a reflection of, and participate in, the
accelerated and dynamic cultural changes which have appeared in the last one hundred years. Any
interpretation of these writings needs to have an awareness of the political and economic context in
which they were created.
As an example of the longevity, cultural influence and mechanics of the artistic process, The
Most Handsome Drowned Man In The World by Gabriel Garcia Marquez provides an allegorical
narrative that uses the genre of magic realism to communicate the way that humans form collective
cultural changes. This short story from 1972 depicts the transformation of a coastal village when a
drowned man appears on their beach. The text reads like a sophisticated children's story and it was
no surprise to learn that some editions carry the subtitle A Tale For Children. ( Korb,2002) The
genre of magic realism asks us to suspend our ordinary view of reality as a way to express the
message(s) the author wishes to convey. Although this style was defined in 1925 by a German art
critic, and revived as a literary form by Cuban author Carpentier in the 1950's, it received


international attention when Marquez published his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967.
( Korb,2002) The fairy tale like nature of this story seems to reflect the matter of fact approach to
the fantastic that is characteristic of folklore and the oral narrative tradition typical of remote
regions of the world. In Korb's overview she reports:
Garca Mrquez, who was a journalist, says that his style derives from his grandmother,
who told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete
Immediately humorous and absurd, the story begins with the children of the village finding the
drowned man and playing with him all afternoon, as if he were a beach toy. Continuing we learn
that the drowned man weighed more than any dead man they had ever known, almost as much as
a horse, speculation about the reason for the exaggerated size of the drowned man begins amongst
the villagers and it is thought that certain drowned people may continue to grow after death.
Marquez describes the village as a rocky, barren and windy environment, whose inhabitants are
simple and unadorned, in a way unremarkable other than their ability to accept and fantasize about
the significance of the drowned man, with an air of nonchalance. When the men of the village leave
to see if he is from some nearby village, the women clean up the corpse, when the fantastic ideas
about him become animated and erotic:
And these fantasies are specifically sexual; the narrator describes them as looking upon
the drowned man "with passion." (Brent, 2000)
He becomes known as Esteban and a collective narrative unfolds about the difficulties of his life
due to his large body. When the men return they are at first envious and non-plussed with the
affection that Esteban is receiving, yet upon viewing his face join in the fantastic empathetic
reverie. He is given an elaborate funeral where he is made a ritualistic kin to the villagers, and in the
splendor of it all they realize they want to improve their village and homes in his honor. As the
reputation of Esteban continues to grow, the story closes with a quote from a future sea captain on


observation of the village:

look there, where the wind is now so gentle that it stops to sleep beneath the beds, there,
where the sun shines such that the sunflowers don't know where to turn, yes, there, is the
village of Esteban.
There are of course several levels of meaning that can be found in this humorous and
imaginative short story. Structurally it is unusual, just by the effect of the protagonist being dead. In
his critique of this work, Brent sees this as the story of identity, that Marquez seeks identity for
Latin American culture in the acceptance of magical and extraordinary situations This village
identifies with the drowned man and Esteban gains identity through the village:
Through this dual construction, Garca Mrquez makes the construction of identity for the
village and Esteban contingent on each other. Without the other, neither entity is able to
claim any sense of identity.(Brent, 2000)
He goes on to present that it tells a story of private love being transformed into public identity. Korb
and others point out the obvious relevance to the heroes of mythology Esteban represents Odysseus
or perhaps St. Stephen(Esteban is translated from Spanish as Stephen), the first Christian martyr.
Korb also relates the possibility that he may represent the historical figure Estevanico, an African
slave who explored Florida in the 1500's and was revered by the natives there because of his
unfamiliar appearance.
My own interpretation of this story, prior to absorbing anyone else's observations was
similar in many respects to the above mentioned reviews; with a somehow more post colonial
perspective. Influenced perhaps by my recent anthropological research on the subject of the
intersection of nation states with indigenous cultures, or maybe by the similarly satirical expressions
of Salmon Rushdie, ( Could this story have helped inspire Haroun and the Sea of Stories?) I felt this
story reflected a historical narrative chronicling the effect of European cultural doctrine on the
native communities of Latin America. So far, not finding much support for that argument amongst


the literary reviews, I looked into the text to find evidence which might.
Prior to the arrival of the drowned man, this village seems simple but impoverished. Why
are these people living in such a harsh environment? The language of the narrator often indirectly
uses somewhat clandestine references to the Colonization process. The first sentence of the piece
speaks of the children imagining the drowned man to be an enemy ship, hinting that they may be
familiar with what that means. Later, when the men recognize his name as Estaban, the narrator
refers to Sir Walter Raleigh in comparison, how they would have been impressed by his battle
gear,and we learn of the entranced sea captain who appears on the quarter deck with his astrolabe,
his pole star, and his string of medals. Too me these were allusions to the military force, disease,
and ethnic poverty that the Spanish occupation of Latin America produced and how the introduction
and integration of Christian religious ideals were transformed into a community building substitute
for the suppressed animistic communal spirituality of indigenous and slave cultures. The drowned
man represented the way the religion of Christianity was given new life through the fantastic
narratives of those who were oppressed. This may well not be what Marquez was trying to convey,
yet I feel his message of the power of solidarity within a community, based on a mythological figure
is an almost universal phenomena in human populations. This is something that can assist
communal well being as well as, in contrast, be used as a way to supress any revolutionary elements
within a population.
On another level of meaning, relevant to the thesis I began this paper with, Marquez is
showing how our fantasy animates our artifacts, gives life to a dead object. That even in death the
body of art that is created continues to grow, often beyond the awareness of the artist. It's unlikely
that Esteban had any idea the meaning that his body would carry. He is reborn through the
imagination of the living, as a piece of art is reborn within the imagination of each observer.
On an even more personal level, Marquez urges me to appreciate life and the living. That it
is the celebration, not what is celebrated, the artist not the artifact, which is important. That how we


live, moment to moment, has likely implications on future generations, Metzger says:
In a 1985 interview with Marlise Simons, Garca Mrquez told the interviewer that often
the source of his writings is an image. In "The Handsomest Drowned Man" the image is
of a man, one who is larger than life, but a man who is a corpse. Still, perhaps this initial
image is not the image Garca Mrquez visualized for this short story. Instead,
consider the image of a community united in generosity and love, and working together to
create a better community in which to live. This image is one of renewed life, and this is the
final image of Garca Mrquez's short story. Later in the same interview, Garca Mrquez
explained to Simons that the subject of his work is life, and "that the subject gets larger the
longer I live."
Marquez urges us to find solidarity in our communities, and creative imagination within
In contrast to the magic realism of Marquez, the confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath presents
a skilled and dramatic perspective on the topic of how art transcends death. Her difficult and
expressive life, her tragic death, and the acclaim for her work in the aftermath, exemplify the
longevity and power of artistic work. Author Charles Newman says Plath:
"evolved in poetic voice from the precocious girl, to the disturbed modern woman, to the
vengeful magician, to ArielGod's Lioness." ( Poetry Foundation, 2015)
Speaking from the perspective of the personnel she is able to explore the universal on a kinesthetic
level. When reading her poems we connect on shared levels of awareness, either consciously or
Published in 1960, the poem Daddy exemplifies her ability to confront personnel suffering
and oppression on a visceral as well as collective level. Her assertive, cathartic, and graphic
exploration of anger, disappointment, and exorcism in her paternal relationship, not only serve the
purpose of inquiry into traumatized and stressful emotions, it gives voice to the victims of the


ubiquitous discriminations of patriarchal and racist culture. In the context of the time this was
written, it expresses a distinctly radical feminine narrative, emerging from centuries of oppression.
Like Marquez she brings life to the dead , as well as using the imaginary to bring solidarity to
community aspirations:
By the time she took her life at the age of thirty, Plath already had a following in the
literary community. In the ensuing years her work attracted the attention of a multitude of
readers, who saw in her singular verse an attempt to catalogue despair, violent emotion, and
obsession with death.( Poetry Foundation, 2015)
Again, similar to the magic realism of Marquez,with it's fairy tale tone, Plath begins Daddy
with a deranged nursery rhyme(Gale,2000) This first stanza, lyric and satirical, seems to set the
stage for belief in the exorcism that is being presented; by employing cognitive associations with
childhood experiences. Also, like Marquez, this is a search for identity, a redefinition of self.
Marquez's concern is apparently personnel affecting communal affecting personnel, whereas Plath's
is apparently personnel vicariously affecting communal.
In the second and third stanza's Plath announces her intention and her dilemma, and begins a
scathing series of caricatures of the narrator's deceased father. A statue( drowned and huge), a Nazi,
a devil, and a vampire emerge like demons from a Zombie corpse. She vividly paints a picture of
the brutality, trauma, and mayhem that has enslaved women, stratified populations, and perpetrated
genocide. She admonishes her protagonist for constricting her expression( I never could talk to
you) and abandoning her without roots, without identity, without nurturing and love. Eventually
she brings her estranged husband into the dialogue, acknowledging and elucidating the psychodynamic transference of gender roles in adult marital relationships. Rebelliously, she distinguishes
her individuality in this mileau of brutality, by identifying as a Jew with Gypsy ancestry. No longer
can she let her aborted genetic ethnicity define her. Amongst her survivalist rhetoric is a transparent
ambivalence, a love for the jailer: I used to pray to recover you and get back to you as well as


Every woman adores a Fascist, Effectively understated and sardonic, it belies the human search
for identification even in constricting circumstances. Simultaneously and spontaneously expressing
both despair and triumph.
There is little doubt in my mind that this poem was written as a sincere report of existential
circumstances in Sylvia Plath's life. Conversely though, there has been some conjecture that she
suffered a more difficult relationship with her mother when a book of her private letters was
published by Plath's mother in 1975 :
According to Janet Malcolm in the New Yorker, "The publication of Letters Home had a
different effect from the one Mrs. Plath had intended, however. Instead of showing that
Sylvia wasn't 'like that,' the letters caused the reader to consider for the first time the
possibility that her sick relationship with her mother was the reason she was like
that."( Poetry Foundation,2015)
When I read this I felt like it supported the collective and communal intentions of Sylvia Plath's
work. Certainly she had been inhibited and repressed by her father, I'm sure there are few women
that don't feel that way, even today, on some level. Certainly she had not received the recognition
and income her talent deserved in the male dominated marketplace, and again I'm sure there are few
women that don't feel that way, even today, on some level. Given this collective context, it seems
evident that Plath was prescient of the emerging feminist movement, and aspired to provide fuel,
motivation, and dignity to those that would survive her.
Both of these literary artists, Marquez and Plath, present examples of how cultural artifacts
have the potential to affect populations beyond the scope of physical existence. Through distinctly
different genres they celebrate the liberation of permeable individuation and the empowerment of
communal solidarity. They tease us into obscure and supernatural realities, sometimes with
grotesque absurdities, ( I've never witnessed an actual drowned person, I've heard it's not pretty
though) and challenge us to re-frame our culture(s) with confidence, dignity, and equanimity. Once


on board they shove us into the zone where past and future become the eternal now and compel us
towards consideration and awareness of the ramifications of what we do. Marquez does this by
enhancing our objectivity and exposing the nuts and bolts of our social mechanisms. Plath achieves
this by spelunking into the dark corners in the depths of the collective unconscious.
To the credit of the authors of these narratives, and the challenge of this assignment; I feel
grateful for the opportunity and inspiration to continue to explore the dynamic nature of both
personnel and collective identity, and feel empowered in the process of individuation and social
activism. Inspired by current events as well as the study of these literary works, a poem I liked came
to me in the writing workshop I attend that I felt may be appropriate, in the spirit of the
constructivist/ critical research paradigm, to share here. Untitled, and unedited, I present it here as
evidence in support of the cognitive process engendered by this process:

I noticed they were there
sometimes a blank spot
sometimes all of who
I am.
All id and all in.
waiting for a revelation
that has already happened

What to do with all this trauma?

The industry found the right product to remove
some stains.


All head and no heart

another blank.
Somehow I will say it
one way or another.

Couldn't I just unbelieve

the eternal oppression
I notice.
Make Texas a blank spot?





Brent, Liz. "Overview of 'The Handsomest Drowned Man'." Literature of Developing

Nations for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Literature of
Developing Nations. Ed. Elizabeth Bellalouna, Michael L. LaBlanc, and Ira Mark Milne.
Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2000. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.

Goldman,James A.:Review:
The Anthropology of Art by Robert Layton
Vol. 16, No. 3, Special Issue: Psychology and the Arts (Summer, 1983) , p. 253
Published by: The MIT Press

"Explanation of: 'Daddy' by Sylvia Plath." LitFinder Contemporary Collection. Detroit:

Gale, 2000. LitFinder. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.

Korb, Rena. "An overview of 'The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,'." Short Stories
for Students. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.

Metzger, Sheri E. "Overview of 'The Handsomest Drowned Man'." Literature of Developing

Nations for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Literature of
Developing Nations. Ed. Elizabeth Bellalouna, Michael L. LaBlanc, and Ira Mark Milne.
Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2000. Literature Resource Center. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.

Poetry Foundation, 2015, www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/sylvia-plath#poet