The Great (Un)Known
Encounters with the Unknown are awfully unsettling and wonderfully exciting. The discomfort of not knowing serves as inspiration for curious minds ready to abandon the safety of ‘common knowledge’ and navigate uncharted territory in search of… Who knows? Peace of mind, gold, adrenaline, magic? Creativity is an essential fuel of the intellectual journey between question and answer: the prerequisite for the composition of new answers to old questions, and the byproduct of the pursuit of questions not yet asked.
In recent years, there has been a shift in the notion of the Unknown. Modern fixations with material possessions, universal access to omniscient search engines approaching God, and the mere thought that most questions are clicks away from being answers, have culminated in a depreciation of the Unknown’s mysterious appeal; consequentially muffling the creativity of Generation Z.
Where our predecessors lived in a world of mystery, we live in limbo between ‘known’ and ‘unknown’. The two have been superimposed in Quantum Mechanic fashion rendering all quotidian questions (un)known, the differentiating element being Google or Safari. Pocket-size omniscience has murdered our childlike appreciation of terra incognita and degraded our ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant questions. Paradoxically, we are more comfortable than previous generations in our state of ignorance – best summed up by the all-too-common phrase “Whatever, I can just Google it” – and yet we cannot reel in the impulse to search up a celebrity’s star sign.
So, is there anything to be done? Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, 100 Years of Solitude, part of the Magic Realism movement, is an inspiring starting point. In it, García Márquez seeks to expose the dangers of excessive rationalization and reconcile our progressively pragmatic worldview with what he sees as a beautiful Unknown, full of mystery and magic.
Learning from Experience
Stendhal once said that “a good book is an event in life;” like certain events, certain books can be irrevocably transformative. Gabriel García Márquez’s chef-d’oeuvre, 100 Years of Solitude, is a prime example of this. Far-removed from any literary conventions of the time, Márquez’ magical realism and profoundly experiential style – pulling the reader across 100 years of the Buendía lineage – pushes the reader to purge any antecedent assumptions of ‘normality’ to unleash their creativity or expose their lack thereof.
Texts can challenge the notion of “normality” by presenting worlds that, while behaving in superficially absurd ways, explore concepts applicable to reality. Márquez does this by creating a parallel between certain characters’ experiences, and the readers’ experience after emerging from the novel. This parallel is present from the rising action: while character after character descends into madness trying to decipher Melquiades’ parchments – a collection of mystical scriptures – the reader begins to feel as if they are descending into madness trying to decipher 100 Years of Solitude. The characters, in a desperate desire to ‘escape Plato’s cave,’ so to speak, end up denying life itself, and isolate themselves inside Melquiades’ workshop, in limbo from reality. In a parallel sense, once readers finish the novel, they are overwhelmed by a feeling that their home – their mind – and everything in it, has been wiped away, severing their connection with reality.
The reader/character parallel climaxes in the closing paragraph. After seven generations, Aureliano finally manages to decode Melquiadés parchments only to realize they are a self-fulfilling prophecy of men going crazy while deciphering them, and that Macondo, their hometown, “would be wiped out from the memory of men” the moment he finishes reading. At this point, the readers’ and characters’ experiences deviate from each other. Instead of obsessing about deciphering 100 Years of Solitude, and sacrificing our sanity, readers can learn from the characters’ mistakes and suppress the urge to understand, instead, adopting a more fantastical worldview, in which any deviations from ‘normality’ are welcomed rather than shunned. Because the readers’ feelings correspond to the characters throughout the story, readers understand that their fate will be similar, unless they heed Márquez’ warnings and learn. The most important lesson is the danger of constantly trying to understand everything. Using the parallel experience between character and reader, Márquez helps the reader realize that from time to time, a little ambiguity or craziness is okay. Constant reasoning, as opposed to simply appreciating the infinite wonders of our world can only lead to frustrated confusion.
No novel is purely abstract. Every idea, no matter how crazy, stems from reality, and if there is a link with reality, that means real lessons can be extracted. Gabriel García Márquez immerses the reader in a world that is absurd, not because of any abstract elements but because of its ridiculous combination of realistic elements. In this world, the reader can vividly live experiences and extract lessons. This happens through Márquez’s use of characterization as a tool to trigger catharsis in the reader, his unique perspectives that unlock uncharted areas of knowledge for further exploration, and his challenge of what should be accepted as ‘normal.’ While these elements do not give definite answers or conclusions, they ask important questions and spawn ideas. Overall, the novel’s transformative properties stem from its enigmatic nature which exposes our modern world, albeit unintentionally, for its lack of magic and creativity. Márquez’ novel presents a valuable lesson on how to get it back. The first step is putting down one’s phone, looking around, and observing our world with renewed focus and a touch of creativity. Quickly one can realize that even our seemingly plain reality has hidden magic tricks up its sleeve.