Political Solitude


"One of the definitions of political is ‘involving or charged or concerned with acts against a government of a politcal system’. Like with political prisoners."

— Pelican Bay prisoner

When eminent Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez received his Nobel Prize for Literature in ’82, the Stockholm audience was treated to a dissertation on solitude. GGM, only the fourth Latin American to have received the award up to that time, said:

"I dare to think that it is…outsized reality, and not only its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters. Poets, and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This…is the crux of our solitude."

He, then, asked for something very special. It was:

"…a new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will really prove true and happiness be possible; and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth." (1)

Someone mentioned solitude the other day when describing another blessing from Colombia, Maria Full of Grace; Catalina Sandino Moreno has been nominated in the Best Actress category for the upcoming Oscars. She appears in almost every shot of the film.

Amidst many others throughout, she stands as a solitary figure somehow in her journey to escape from unemployment, an exploitive family…and more. She might as well be from any of the myriad places in South America/Central America that Gabriel Garcia Marquez frequented throughout his career. But she is no two-dimensional symbol.

The film focuses on foreclosed opportunities, and writer/director Joshua Marston deserves much applause for his narrative of the drug trade from a female smuggler’s POV, something sorely missing from mainstream products.

We see young women emigrating to Western cities –having to endure capitalist crimes in the process– in singular cinematic fare like Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things, Julie Bertucelli’s Since Otar Left and Claire Denis’ I Can’t Sleep, but the solitude embodied by Marston’s cinematography begs for acknowledgement. It is a standout among outstanding alternatives.

One thing they all have in common, as Vojislava Filipcevic points out, is "less an echo of feminist liberation…than testimony to the growing number of responsibilities women have taken over in their home countries without corresponding reward." (2) Italics are mine.

There are other common denominators, but the penetrating loneliness of Maria respecting maltreatment in the workforce/by her partner is particularly poignant. Perhaps the New York setting contributes to this.

There is solidarity shown at special moments, and there’s a documentary-like quality about the proceedings at times; Orlando Tobon, a real-life community activist helped to produce and act in the film.

In the subtitle of the film’s poster we are told that the work is "based on 1,000 true stories." It harks to Garcia Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude for me.
North American values juxstaposed with those born South of the Border. What a prescription for injustice and violence, yes? Risk borne on the backs of tortured bones.

Marston is only in his mid-thirties, and the movie is quite an accomplishment as a first, all of its flaws easily embraced; he spent years risking his own life to complete this work.

Luchino Visconti had an enormous influence over me in the late fifties/early sixties. His Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli) put me in a state of solitude for weeks; I could hardly talk to anyone where I grew up in Newark’s Seth Boyden Housing Project. The future cops who surrounded me in the playground were too busy using the word "nigger" –and fingering bats they planned to use in the next gang war– to listen to me about anything I had discovered.

Solitude. I know it’s not the same as loneliness, but they do have some common denominators.

Mira Liehm, in addressing Rocco, provides a touching commentary which includes an invaluable take by Visconti on the subject:

"Drawing not only on Verga and Thomas Mann (he often acknowledged his indebtedness to Mann’s novel Joseph and His Brothers) but also on Dostoyevsky, Visconti elevated Rocco’s story to one of the mythical symbols of conemporary Italy. The saintly goodness of this boxing champion with Prince Mishkin’s soul becomes a mirror that reflects the weariness of a society trapped in the growing emptiness of private relationships. Rocco’s solitude in the middle of a 1959 booming city seems to confirm Fellini’s apprehensions voiced in 1955 in connection with La strada: "Solitude will be the greatest pain of modern man." (3)

Personally, I am no longer looking for people with whom to march in solidarity. First, I am interested in holding hands with others in solitude.

RICHARD OXMAN, all alone by the telephone, can be reached at: dueleft@yahoo.com.


(1) Translated by Patricia Pitchon.

(2) Cineaste, America’s leading magazine on the art and politics of the cinema Vol. XXX No. 1 (Winter, 2004), p. 45.

(3) Mira Liehm, Passion and Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), p. 174

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