Mario Vargas Llosa – Literature, Freedom, and Power


dear friends you have been listening and watching those past three days all kind of human rights abuses committed by dictatorships all over the world tortures executions in cancellations etc etc I’m going to talk now about literature is this subject totally unrelated to human rights abuses not quite because in my paper I try to I try to answer this I think very pertinent question why all dictatorships in the past and present times ideological religious military dictators dictatorships have always been so suspicious of literature and have tried to control this activity establishing very strict systems of censorship the title of my paper is literature freedom and power I have heard this dozens of times this man and many thousands of men like him have so many important things to do so many obligations so many responsibilities in life that they cannot waste that precious time buried in a novel a book of poetry or a literary essay for hours and hours according to this widespread conception literature is a that is a dispensable activity no doubt lofty and useful for cultivating sensitivity and good manners but essentially an entertainment and adornment that only people with time for recreation can afford it is something to fit in between sports the movies a game of reach of chess and it can we sacrificed without a scruple when one prioritizes the tasks and the duties that are indispensable in the struggle for life this is the case almost everywhere in Spain for example a survey organized a few years ago by the general Society of Spanish writers reveal that half of that country population had never read the book the survey also revealed that in the minority that does read the number of women who admitted to reading surpasses the number of men by 6.2 percent I am happy for these women but I feel sorry for these men and for the millions of human beings who could read but have decided not to wait they are my pity not only because they are unaware of the pleasure that they are missing but also because I am convinced that a society without literature or a society in which literature has been relegated like some hidden bias to the margins of social and personal life and transformed into something like a sectarian cult is a society condemned to become spiritually barbaric and to jeopardize its freedom I wish to offer a few arguments against the idea of literature as a luxury pastime and in favor of viewing it as one of the most primary and necessary and the takings of the mind and irreplaceable activity for the formations of citizens in a modern and democratic society we live in the era of the specialization of knowledge thanks to the prodigious development of Science and Technology and to the consequent fragmentation of knowledge into numerable parcels and compartments this cultural trend is likely to be accentuated in years to come to be sure a specialization brings many many many benefits it allows for deeper exploration and greater experimentation it is the very engine of progress yet it also has negative consequences for it eliminates those common intellect and cultural traits that permit men and women to coexist to communicate to feel a sense of solidarity a specialization leads to a lack of social understanding to the division of human beings into ghettos of technicians and specialists this specialization of knowledge requires specialized languages and increasingly arcane codes as information becomes more and more specific and compelling and compartmentalized this is the particular reason when the division against which an old proverb warned us do not focus too much on the branch or the leaf lest you forget that they are part of a tree or too much on the tree lest you forget that it’s part of a forest awareness of the existence of the forest creates the feeling of generality the feeling of belonging that binds society together and prevents it from disintegrating into a myriad of solipsistic particularities the solipsism of nations and individuals produces paranoia and delirium distortion of reality that generates hatred wars and even genocide in our time science and technology cannot play an integrating role precisely because of the infinite richness of knowledge and the speed of its evolution which have led to a specialization and its obscurities but literature has been and will continue to be as long as it exists one of the common denominators of human experience through which human beings may recognize themselves and converse with each other no matter how different their professions their life plans their geographical and cultural locations their personal circumstances it has enabled individuals in all the particularities of the lives to transcend history as readers of Cervantes Shakespeare Dante and Tolstoy we understand each other across space and time and we feel ourselves to be members of the same species because in the worlds of these writers in the words that these writers created we learned what we share as human beings what remains common in all of us under the broad range of differences that separated us nothing better protects a human being against the stupidity of prejudice racism religious or political sectarianism and exclusivist nationalism that is truth that invariably appears in great literature that men and women of all nations and places are essentially equal and that only injustice Souls among them discrimination fear and exploitation nothing teaches us better than literature to see in ethnic and cultural differences the richness of the human patrimony the feeling of membership in the collective human experience across time and space is the highest achievement achievement of culture and nothing contributed more to its renewal in every generation than literature literature does not begin to exist through the work of a single individual it exists only when it is adopted by others and becomes a part of social life when it becomes thanks to reading a shared experience one of its first beneficial effects take place at the level of Lange at the level of language a community without a written literature expresses itself with less precision with less richness of nuance and with less clarity than a community whose principal instrument of communication the world has been cultivated and perfected by means of literary texts a humanity without reading untouched by literature would resemble a community of deaf mutes and ethics afflicted by tremendous problems of communication due to its crude and rudimentary language this is true for individuals to a person who does not read or reads little reads only trash can I speak much but he will say little because the vocabulary is deficient in the means to self-expression this is not only a verbal imitation it represents also a limitation in intellect and in imagination it is a poverty of thoughts for the simple reason that ideas the concepts through which we grasp the secrets of our condition do not exist apart from words we learn how to speak correctly and deeply rigorously and subtly from good literature and only from good literature no other discipline or branch of the arts can substitute for literature in crafting the languages that people need to communicate to speak well to have at ones disposal at rich and diverse language to be able to find the appropriate expression for every idea and every emotion that we want to communicate is to be better prepared to think to teach to learn to converse and also to fantasize to dream to fill in a sub repetitious way words reverberate in all our actions even in those actions that seem far removed from language and as language evolved thanks to literature and Richard high levels of refinement and manners it increased the possibilities of human enjoyment literature has even served to confer upon love and desire and the sexual act itself the status of artistic creation without literature eroticism would not exist love and pleasure would be poorer they would lack the legacy and exquisiteness they would fall to attain to the intensity that literature fantasy offers it is hardly an exaggeration to say that a couple who have read Garcilaso Petrarch gongura butler value pleasure and experience pleasure more than illiterate people who been made into idiots by televisions soap operas in an illiterate world love and desire would be no different from what satisfies animals nor with nor would date resent the crude fulfillment of elementary instincts nor are the audiovisual media equipped to replace literature in distress of teaching human beings to use with assurance and with skill the extraordinarily rich possibilities that language encompasses on the contrary the audio-visual media tend to relegate Wars to a secondary level with respect to images which are the primordial language of this media and to constrain language to its oral expression to its indispensable minimum far from it’s written dimension to define a film or a television program as literally it’s an elegant way of saying that is boring for this reason literary programs on the radio or on television verily captured the big public and this leads me to think that not only lead is literature indispensable for a full knowledge and a full mastery of language but its fate is linked also and invisibly with the fate of the book that industrial industrial product that many are now declaring obsolete anachronistic objects I would vigorously spirit this analysis can the screen really replace the books in all its aspect I am not so certain I am fully aware of the revolution that new technologies such as the internet have caused in the fields of communication and the sharing of information and I confess that the Internet provides invaluable help to me every day in my work but my gratitude for this extraordinary conveniences does not imply a belief that the electronic screen can replace paper or that reading on a computer can stand in for literary reading that is a Chashma that I cannot cross I cannot accept the idea that a non-functional or non pregnant pragmatic act of breathing one that seeks neither information or a useful and immediate communication can integrate on a computer screen the dreams and the pleasures of words with the same sensation of intimacy the same mental concentration and a spiritual isolation that may be achieved by the act of reading a book there is a stolen is there is still another reason to grab to grant literature an important place in the life of Nations without it the critical mind which is the real engine of historical change and the best protector of Liberty would suffer an irreparable loss this is because all good literature is radical and poses radical questions about the world in which we live in all great literary texts often with other authors intending it is seditious inclination it’s a vicious intonation is present literature says nothing to those human beings who are satisfied with their lot who are content with life as they now live it literature is the fruit of the rebellious spirit the promulgator of non-conformities the refuge for those who have too much or too little in life one sixth century in literature so as not to be unhappy and so as not to be incomplete to write alongside his crony Rocinante and the confused knight of La Mancha to sell disease on the back of a whale with capital a hot to drink arsenic with Emma Bovary to become an insect with Gregor Samsa these are all ways that we have invented to divest ourselves of the rounds and the impositions of this and just life alive that forces us always to be the same person when we wish to be many different people so as to satisfy the many desires that processes us literature pacified this vital dissatisfaction and momentarily but in this miraculous instant in this provisional suspension of life literal illusion lifts and transports us outside of history and we become citizens of the timeless land and in this way in mortal we become more intense richer more complicated happier and more lucid than we are in the constrained routine of ordinary life when we close the book and abandon literary fiction will return to actual existence and compare it to the splendid land that we have just left what a disappointment await us yet a tremendous realization all while all we also await us namely the de fantasize life of the novel is better more beautiful and more diverse more comprehensible and more perfect than the life that we live while awake alive conditioned by the limits and the tedium of our condition in this way good literature genuine literature is always subversive and submissive rebellious a challenge to what exists a free and democratic society must have responsible and critical citizens conscious of the need continuously to examine the world that we inhabit and to try even though it is more and more an impossible task to make it more closely resemble the world that we would like to inhabit and there is no better means of fermenting dissatisfaction and existence than the reading of good literature no better means of forming critical and independent citizens who will not be manipulated by those who govern us and who are endowed with a permanent spiritual mobility and a vibrant imagination the inventions of all great literature literary creators open our eyes to unknown aspects of our condition they enable us to explore and to understand more fully the common human ADIZ so literature and realities literature lies and also a patience vehicle for the knowledge of the most hidden of human realities the truths that it reveals are not always flattering and sometimes the image of ourselves that emerges in the mirror of novels and poems is the image of a monster yet the words in these pages is not the blood the humiliation the abject loss of torture the worst is a discovery that is violence and these successes are not foreign to us the worst is the discovery that is violence and this violence would be party to our profound human condition uncivilized barbarian devoid of sensitivity and crude of speech ignorant an instinctual inept at passion and crude at love this world without literature this nightmare that I am delineating woodruff as his principal traits confirm his and the universal submission of humankind to power in the sense it will be a purely animalistic world basic instincts good data mind the daily practices of alive characterized by the struggle for survival and the fear of the unknown and the satisfaction of physical necessities there would be no place for the spirit in this world moreover the crushing monotony of living would be accompanied by the sinister shadow of pessimism the feeling that human life is what it had to be and that it always beat us and that no one and nothing can change it when one imagined such a world when he stand up to picture primitives in Loring clocks dismay small magic religious communities that live at the margins of modernity in Latin America Oceania and Africa but I have a different failure in mind the nightmare that I am warning about is the result not of underdevelopment but of other development as a consequence of technology and our servants to it we may imagine a future society full of computer screens and speakers and without books or a society in which books that is words of literature have become what alchemy becomes in the era of physics and art I curiosity practice in the catacombs of the media civilization by an erotic minority I am afraid that the cybernetic world in spite of his prosperity and its power the hits highest standards of living and its scientific achievements would be profoundly uncivilized and utterly soulless I resign Humanity of post literary zombies who have abdicated freedom it is highly improbable of course that this makeable utopia will ever come about the end of our society the end of history has not yet been written and it is not data mine what will become depends entirely on our vision and our will but if we wish to avoid impoverishment of our imagination and the disappearance of this precious dissatisfaction that refines our sensibility and teaches us to speak with eloquence and rigor and the wakening of our freedom then we must act more precisely we must read and read the good books

3 thoughts on “Mario Vargas Llosa – Literature, Freedom, and Power

  • I know Mario Vargas Llos, woul had been really great friends if we had ever met. Love his way of thinking (except for his bull-fight go)

  • To speak well is to better prepared, better prepared to think, to dream that just can't come from the poverty in TV.    Great speech, thank you….now what to read now.

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