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The Life and Times of Mexico by Earl Shorris
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The Life and Times of Mexico

by Earl Shorris

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I actually like how he weaves historical information with his own experiences, but yeah, sometimes he waxes poetic and I start snoozing. It's also long and dense, so I have to keep renewing it at the library.

Otherwise, an excellent overview of Mexican history and culture. ( )
  snooksmcdermott | Apr 6, 2013 |
...to think about:

"A book about the United States must turn on ideas; a book about Mexico must live among echoes." (Shorris p xvii)

"Mexicans have had a relentlessly negative view of Mexicans for centuries...Mexican novelists, social scientists, philosophers, and filmmakers have developed great expertise is self-loathing. Octavio Paz...describes the Mexican as lonely, living behind a mask." (Shorris p 87)

"To argue with her is a form of madness, for her mind is made of many razors, and they are honed to the finest edge...Mercedes Olivera Bustamante is an anthropologist, and to be an anthropologist in Mexico is to study history in the mirror, for that is what 'mestizaje' means, not only the mixing of races but of epochs too." (Shorris p 123)

"Did priests like Hidalgo, who loved their parishioners and cared equally for the rich and the poor, belong to the same church as the Inquisition? In his own life, Hidalgo symbolized one of the key aspects of his Spanish origin...the ability to heed simultaneously conflicting desires, to love God and Mammon, heaven and earth, abstinence and pleasure, Europe and America...the tension of life in the Spaniard, Octavio Paz said was the mask worn by the Mexican." (Shorris p 129 - 130)

"The reinvention of the past is an old business in Mexico...it is not a matter of propaganda...in Mexico the rewriting of history is a matter of faith." (Shorris p 220 - 221)

"The Maya wrote: 'Time is a road in five directions'...the directions are the four cardinal points and the center. The notion of time and space as one is peculiar to the Maya." (Shorris p 221)

"Madera was betrayed on every side, and always with subtlety, always with sad eyes and tears of sincerity. Perhaps he lacked the ability to sense the ironic moment, for betrayal is always difficult to apprehend, the betrayer being both himself and another, an unrevealed comedy of identity." (Shorris p 238)

Rivera vs. Rockefeller discussed on p 390 -- refers to White's poem:

I Paint What I See
-- by E.B. White

(The last stanza was first printed in the New Yorker, 20 May 1933.)

"'What do you paint, when you paint on a wall?'
Said John D.'s grandson Nelson.
'Do you paint just anything there at all?
'Will there be any doves, or a tree in fall?
'Or a hunting scene, like an English hall?'

'I paint what I see,' said Rivera.

'What are the colors you use when you paint?'
Said John D.'s grandson Nelson.
'Do you use any red in the beard of a saint?
'If you do, is it terribly red, or faint?
'Do you use any blue? Is it Prussian?'

'I paint what I paint,' said Rivera.

'Whose is that head that I see on the wall?'
Said John D.'s grandson Nelson.
'Is it anyone's head whom we know, at all?
'A Rensselaer, or a Saltonstall?
'Is it Franklin D.? Is it Mordaunt Hall?
Or is it the head of a Russian?

'I paint what I think,' said Rivera.

'I paint what I paint, I paint what I see,
'I paint what I think,' said Rivera,
'And the thing that is dearest in life to me
'In a bourgeois hall is Integrity;
'However . . .
'I'll take out a couple of people drinkin'
'And put in a picture of Abraham Lincoln;
'I could even give you McCormick's reaper
'And still not make my art much cheaper.
'But the head of Lenin has got to stay
'Or my friends will give the bird today,
'The bird, the bird, forever.'

'It's not good taste in a man like me,'
Said John D.'s grandson Neslon,
'To question an artist's integrity
'Or mention a practical thing like a fee,
'But I know what I like to a large degree,
'Though art I hate to hamper;
'For twenty-one thousand conservative bucks
'You painted a radical. I say shucks,
'I never could rent the offices-----
'The capitalistic offices.
'For this, as you know, is a public hall
'And people want doves, or a tree in hall
'And though your art I dislike to hamper,
'I owe a little to God and Gramper,
'And after all,
'It's my wall . . .'

'We'll see if it is,' said Rivera.

On Diego Rivera:

"The industrial world fascinated him. The mural of the Ford factory is an advertisement for the genius of the engineer, but also for the organization of the factory, the employment of the worker...he was a genius of many sorts, but unable to understand the plight of the day to day. Alienation from one's labor was beyond his magnificent imagination. Was Rivera a painter or a propagandist first? Did he care most about pictures or ideas? He had theories; he lived by theories; he loved dabbling in politics. He lived according to a mix of theory and desire. Rivera had true empathy for the original people of Mexico and for their works. He collected the work, he adored the people, but he was not one of them...he lived art and painted non-fiction." (Shorris p 390)

"La Ruptura was...a form of capitulation. Rather than seek to discover Mexican art, the painters abandoned Mexico for universal themes, and perhaps what they thought would be universal recognition." (Shorris p 395)

"When Octavio Paz spoke, people listened, but it was not responsive reading, there was no chorus singing...he spoke; they listened. One does not argue with Paz. It is better to hum an agreeable accompaniment to his poems while reading them...He saw nihilism where there was only pain, masks when there only hope of salvation from an impossible life. He pleased foreigners with such views of Mexicans; some Mexicans were not so sure he was correct...His grandfather had written the first Mexican novel with an indigenous theme; the family had been Zapatista when Zapata still lived, and they had fled to Los Angeles until it was safe to return. Ironically, Paz, like Fuentes, was accused of being a gringo by other Mexicans, for he came home to Mexico knowing English...In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; in that moment he became officially a Mexican for the world. His acceptance speech ended with speculations on time, as befit a universal literary man of the classic period Maya." (Shorris p 419)

Fuentes "produced the first modern Mexican novel. Readers worldwide could at last find their way into the mystery of Mexico. Fuentes gave them the moment, ht ehistory, the middle class, questions of economics, and love...The novel, like Mexico, was light broken into parts by the prisms of three competing cultures: Spanish, indigenous, and universalist...Like Paz, he loved his country with an open-eyed embrace, his critical sense sharpened by the constant battle between the polarities inside every Mexican." (Shorris p 422)

"Folk art is succeeded by popular art in the age of repetitions; the hands of the artisans are anachronisms. The dexterity of their fingers is more profitably used in the arrangement of silicon chips in patterns that will not suffer the variations of the artisan's touch." (Shorris p 434)

On education and the future:

"The sorting in the rest of Mexico is done in junior high school, the last mandatory step. Whoever can manage to go on to high school is entitled to hope. All the rest will become commodified, labor." (Shorris p 547)

"Not all undocumented immigrants make the best citizens, but many do." (Shorris p 669)

"The old man's gift had been history; he had left me that glance into the future." (Shorris p 681) ( )
  LaurieLH | Oct 30, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393327671, Paperback)

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2004. "A work of scope and profound insight into the divided soul of Mexico."--History Today

The Life and Times of Mexico is a grand narrative driven by 3,000 years of history: the Indian world, the Spanish invasion, Independence, the 1910 Revolution, the tragic lives of workers in assembly plants along the border, and the experiences of millions of Mexicans who live in the United States. Mexico is seen here as if it were a person, but in the Aztec way; the mind, the heart, the winds of life; and on every page there are portraits and stories: artists, shamans, teachers, a young Maya political leader; the rich few and the many poor. Earl Shorris is ingenious at finding ways to tell this story: prostitutes in the Plaza Loreto launch the discussion of economics; we are taken inside two crucial elections as Mexico struggles toward democracy; we watch the creation of a popular "telenovela" and meet the country's greatest living intellectual. The result is a work of magnificent scope and profound insight into the divided soul of Mexico. 3 maps, 32 pages of illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:02 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"The Life and Times of Mexico is a narrative driven by three thousand years of history: the Indian world, the Spanish invasion, Independence, the 1910 Revolution, the tragic lives of workers in assembly plants along the border, and the experiences of millions of Mexicans who live in the United States. Mexico is seen here as if it were a person, but in the Aztec way - the mind, the heart, the winds of life - and on every page there are portraits and stories: artists, shamans, teachers, a young Maya political leader - the rich few and the many poor."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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