Alejo Carpentier's A Kingdom of this World

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In 1949, when Alejo Carpentier formulates his theory of the marvelous reality of Latin America and the Caribbean, he remains insistent on being able to identify sites of difference. As he remarks, the Haitian Revolution represents a history that is impossible to situate in Europe.


By virtue of its difference from Europe, "lo real maravilloso" provides the promise of escape from the grip of colonialism. As his commentary about regionalist prose reveals, despite the distance he wishes to create between his work of the sixties and that of the thirties and forties, Carpentier did not abandon the aspiration that literature might somehow reach the transcendental essence of things. The difference in his later novels, beginning with The Kingdom of this World, and more emphatically apparent in Explosion in a Cathedral, is that Carpentier acknowledges and exploits the baroque ironies that result from the writer's repeated failures to identify unambiguously the parameters of marvelous reality.
The snail [caracol] was the mediator between evanescent, fugitive, lawless, measureless fluidity, and the land, with its crystallisations, its structures, its morphology, where everything could be grasped and weighed.... Esteban reflected on how, for millenium upon millenium, the spiral had been present to the everyday gaze of maritime races, who were still uncapable of understanding it, or of even grasping the reality of its presence. He was astonished by this science of form which had been exhibited for so long to humanity that still lacked eyes to appreciate it [sin ojos para pensarla]. ...
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