Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide

By M. Keith Booker | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION: THE TURN TO DYSTOPIA IN MODERN LITERATURE

The unnamed title character of Gabriel García Márquez The Autumn of the Patriarch is a composite figure not only of Latin American despots, but of dictators the world over from Julius Caesar onward. Indeed, this text is one of the most searching explorations of the ideology of despotism in modern literature. Among other things, García Márquez plays off the patriarch against the Latin American poet Ruben Dario, suggesting that poetry and totalitarianism are natural enemies--and even suggesting that poetry might potentially be the more powerful of the two. The Patriarch himself is both fascinated and frightened by the power of Dario's poetry, wondering in his own inimitable fashion "how is it possible for this Indian to write something so beautiful with the same hand that he wipes his ass with" (181).

García Márquez's text has special significance within the context of Latin American culture, where both dictators and poets have traditionally had unusual amounts of power, at least by North American standards. But García Márquez's suggestion that poetry and despotism are polar opposites defines a fundamental dichotomy that informs Western aesthetic thought in general. In a speech given at Amherst College only a week before his assassination, President John Kennedy delivered a typical description of this opposition:

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When

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