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Thoughts on writing and publishing, and the various sources of entertainment...
A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 03/05/2006
The Timelessness of Whores

Memories of my Melancholey Whores

I have a fetish for old literature.

I don't mean the classics-though those fascinate me too. I'm talking about the literature of old age. The philosophical inversions of Plato and Ludwig Wittgenstein in their later years and Diana Friel McGowin's tour through the deterioration of her Alzheimer's-ridden mind in Living in the Labyrinth are frightening premonitions. I am haunted by a prevision of myself bursting into tears when rereading Joseph Heller's Portrait of an Artist as Old Man, this time when I myself am one, either with empathy or regret but most likely both.

Gabriel García Márquez is the Columbian writer of the well known One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and most recently Memories of My Melancholy Whores (translated by Edith Grossman). Melancholy Whores is the story of a journalist who on his ninetieth birthday has a revelation: he must, tonight, deflower a virgin. By default, she must also be a harlot, because for eight decades our hero has only ever made love to purchased women. And because the taboo is less severe in Columbia, the girl is, unsurprisingly, but fourteen years old.

So the stage is set. We quickly find that the world of Melancholy Whores is the domain of the untrustworthy, of bitter octogenarians intent on making the succeeding generations earn their way through life the hard way. Márquez' sentences seethe with descriptive reversals that delight the mind with their unpredictability, unintuitive axioms hard won by the author from the sheer labor of living.

Every character, his or her dialogue painted with truths my vulgar friends will utter in their old age, is despicable. Every character, including the protagonist, is only cowed into being sympathetic at a given moment because he or she sees what they themselves must look like in the decomposing faces of one another. Death is arrived-So take is the message: take while you still can.

This is the philosophy of every character as these selfish human beings realize that all they have is each other, and not even that for much longer. Yet, here is the monstrous truth: while we, the grief-stricken, the bitter, know every one of their premonitions is true, and every bit of advice sage, it all must be defied. The hero approaches the cynical truths of his so-called friends with a renewed spirit, the spirit of youth. His reward is to find happiness for the first time.

Ultimately, the book is a rejection of inevitability, an illustration of Zeno's infinity or an approximation of Wittgenstein's Proposition 6.4311-Death is not an event in life. Though we know death is certain, though the ancient characters feel its encroachment at every moment of their improbable longevity, though others, younger, die around them, their own fatal rendezvous remain only, terrifyingly, promised. The unhappy are motivated by this fear toward embracing life selfishly, while our hero, equally afraid, stands his ground for reasons not even he understands. It is a celebration of dignity and humanity's incomprehensible mortality.

-- Abel

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