Today’s guest post is from Cuban writer, photographer and blogger, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.
Our Vargas Llosa who art in Nobel…
by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
I came to Mario Vargas Llosa late in life, thanks to a mention of him in a short story written by Senal Paz, which Paz later adapted for the script of the Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate.
Dramaturgically, even within the script, all the chatter about Cuban censorship always seemed ridiculous to me, a sign of more of ignorance than intolerance. Not on the part of Senal Paz, of course, but by our nationalized cultural establishment. A system that at the turning of the new century, and new millennium, is still atoning for its sins of the ’70s.
I am referring not only to the narrative of Vargas Llosa, which would be perfectly digestible for local publishers (a narrative that goes from brilliant to conservative without ever taking on the tone of a pamphlet), but his thoughtful prose; this exquisite essayist, more than mortified at the Marxist idiots of the island proletariat, could never be branded a “reactionary” and much less a “rightest” (not forgetting that the reactionary right, in addition to the disasters it shares with the “left” and its “revolutionaries,” has also played many worthy roles in contemporary history).
The important thing is that Mario Vargas Llosa survived the powerful prejudices against his “eternal candidacy” at the Academy in Stockholm, until now when he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Hallelujah for the man from Arequipa! Those of us who are going to read you again, salute you…
Beyond the Peruvian presidential episode (just another part of the latin soap opera, or perhaps the Ladino American one); setting aside the jealous punch in the face dealt to Gabriel Garcia Marquez in February 1976; discounting his island illusions of one or another slogan within the Cuban Revolution (smart intellectuals are converted by definition); Varga Llosa has been a gallant gladiator. An inveterate polemicist against all odds. A humanist heretic against the fires the ideological inquisition. A light in the times of the blackouts. A committed writer, save with the idiotic notion of the “committed writer.” An incorruptible comrade, despite other complicit comrades. An old-fashioned liberal, despite the neoliberals. A man of rebel rhetoric who one day said No.
And this is not a note of praise commissioned by the editorial board. This is not a note of praise.
The conceptual wasteland uninhabited by Cuban writers today, leave us, paradoxically, in a crazy and talkative freedom. In the middle of the desert, we drink from any source, faithful or contaminated; our relativism makes us hedonistic and ahistorical, a perfect pasture for plurality. In the middle of the barbed wire fence of impertinent permissions even to shut up, we soon discover that we are alone, abandoned by our own stinginess, like the guild that shouldn’t bite the ministerial hand that feeds it (Oedipal complex). In the midst of paralyzing fear that exhausts even the crime genre, here and now we can speak by writing, each with his true or implausible voice.
We could, and knew when and how to, kick with words, but simply did not want to play the star. So the Nobel Prize in Literature for a compatriot was cut forever in 1980 with that phone call from Sweden, that bumped into Alejo Carpentier, already a cadaver (novelistically he had died two diplomatic decades earlier).
So, despite the opinion of a surprised Mario Vargas Llosa, personally I hope that he has not been given this maximum laurel only for his literary work, but also for his political views put into black and white with a startling clarity, with ethical and aesthetic reasoning, without concessions to any dense Utopia nor atrocious tyranny of the market, narrated in the sea for the sake of a vision of the end of the world which, however, did not yield to defeatism, much less despotism. Latin America owes a great deal to Varga Llosa, like the fiction of an encircling range of States never altogether modern: at times from strongman rule to cretinism, at times from the barbarous to the ludicrous (Cuba as a canon of all things). And this Peruvian, citizen not of Spain but of the planet, has been critically understanding with a sparse reality that breathes with more vitality within his work than outside of it.
Moreover, the Nobel Prize, like all civilized activity, is and should be, also, political (though not politicized). Literature is too important to be left in the hands of the literati.
Finally, I beg pardon in my own name for the Paleolithic perversions that have been published about Mario Vargas Llosa by the imprisoned press in my country. If I do not propose to start a petition against such newspapers, it is only so as not to expose the prevailing lack of solidarity among the intelligentsia, and also because every time the professional press touches anything in this country there’s one less piece of the pie to go around.
But the rest of the world copies loud and clear (to use the martial vocabulary of our functionaries or, better yet, of Vargas Llosa’s own character, Pantaleon), that this Nobel is as much ours as was the Cuban “boom” sparked by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jose Saramago. Mario Vargas Llosa resisted and eventually his carefully chosen words have become much more significant and longer lasting than the flood of verbiage that spills from our island stage.
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