Egginton on Mario Vargas Llosa
At Foreign Policy, Bill Egginton, the chair of German and Romance Languages and Literatures at Johns Hopkins — and more importantly, my best friend — has a fascinating article on Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here is a snippet:
[H]is latest book, El sueño del celta, which will be released on Nov. 3, is also fundamentally concerned with the plight of individuals and with the desire for self-determination. The book is based on the life of a historical figure, the Irish nationalist Roger Casement. As his Spanish-language publisher Alfaguara writes in the book’s promotional copy, “the author spent three years reconstructing the life of this defender of human rights, a British diplomat who ended up actively fighting in the cause for Irish nationalism.”
Vargas Llosa himself, however, notes something else about Casement that attracted his attention, namely, that “he led an adventurous and really novelesque life.” This last remark suggests one possible link between Vargas Llosa’s political interests and his creative motivation. In a lecture he delivered in Edinburgh in 1986, the author spoke of the power of fiction to intervene in human reality, a power he felt had even greater sway and potential in the Latin American context. Speaking of the program of censorship instituted by the Inquisition in the conquered territories and extended in the form of a prohibition on novels that lasted until the wars of independence, Vargas Llosa remarked that the censors “did not realize that the realm of fiction was larger and deeper than that of the novel. Nor could they imagine that the appetite for lies — that is, for escaping objective reality through illusions — was so powerful and rooted in the human spirit that, once the vehicle of the novel was not available to satisfy it, the thirst for fiction would infect — like a plague — all the other disciplines and genres in which the written word could flow.”
But if the culture of censorship lead to a present condition in which, as he said then, “we are still victims in Latin America of what we could call ‘the revenge of the novel,’” because “we still have great difficulty in our countries in differentiating between fiction and reality,” he also identifies in this condition a kind of saving grace, attributable to the writer’s art: “We novelists must be grateful to the Spanish Inquisition for having discovered, before any critic did, the inevitably subversive nature of fiction.
I prefer Jorge Luis Borges myself — he really should have won a Nobel Prize — but Vargas Llosa is indeed a wonderful writer. Check out Bill’s article.