HE’S GOT THE FEVER . . . and the only cure is more literature

Stephen Akey in The Smart Set:

ScreenHunter_2754 Jul. 17 00.56Towards the end of Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a newly graduated magistrate is sent to a small Colombian town to investigate the circumstances surrounding the murder of the novel’s ill-fated protagonist, Santiago Nasar. 25 years after the murder, the narrator, conducting his own investigation, travels to the Palace of Justice in Riohacha to examine the magistrate’s report. Although the narrator can’t find the magistrate’s name on any of the surviving papers, “it was obvious that he was a man burning with the fever of literature. He had doubtless read the Spanish classics and a few Latin ones, and he was quite familiar with Nietzsche, who was the fashionable author among magistrates of his time . . . He was so perplexed by the enigma that fate had touched him with, that he kept falling into lyrical distractions that ran contrary to the rigor of his profession.”

In the decades since I first read Chronicle of a Death Foretold, I’ve often thought back to that unnamed magistrate, for one simple and terrible reason: He reminds me of me. Not that I’ve ever been tasked with anything so consequential as a murder investigation. My professional responsibilities as a lifelong librarian have tended to such things as answering reference questions and pointing patrons the way to the bathroom. What I share with the magistrate is the “fever of literature,” together with a choice of métier at variance with any literary dreams we might have had. Spiking our official reports about murder (in his case) and circulation statistics (in mine) with allusions to Nietzsche afforded some temporary relief of the fever but “ran contrary to the rigor” of our professions. Lamentably, no supervisor ever congratulated me on the lapidary elegance of my inter-office memos. I was lucky I didn’t get fired.

More here.