Mario Vargas Llosa | Critical Essay by Mario Vargas Llosa

This literature criticism consists of approximately 7 pages of analysis & critique of Mario Vargas Llosa.
This section contains 1,308 words
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Critical Essay by Mario Vargas Llosa

SOURCE: "Epilogue: Literature Is Fire," translated by Maureen Ahern De Maurer, in Doors and Mirrors: Fiction and Poetry from Spanish America, 1920–1970, edited by Hortense Carpentier and Janet Brof, Grossman Publishers, 1972, pp. 430-35.

Vargas Llosa delivered the famous speech "Literature Is Fire" in Caracas, Venezuela, upon acceptance of the 1967 Rómulo Gallegos Prize, which he was awarded for The Green House. In the following excerpt from that speech, he expounds on the writer's vocation as the critic and conscience of society.

In general, the Latin American writer has lived and written under exceptionally difficult circumstances because our societies assembled a cold and almost perfect machinery to discourage and kill in him his vocation. That vocation, in addition to being beautiful, is absorbing and tyrannical and demands of its skilled total involvement. How could they make of literature an exclusive calling, a militant cause, if they lived surrounded by people who in their majority did not know how to read or could not buy books, or who in their minority had no inclination to read? Without publishers, without readers, without a cultural environment that stimulated and pushed him, the Latin American writer has been a man who fought battles knowing full well from the very beginning that he would lose them. His vocation was not recognized by society, it was barely tolerated; he couldn't live on it, and it made of him a minor, ad honorem producer. The writer in our countries has had to split himself, separate his vocation from his daily action, multiply himself in a thousand jobs that deprived him of the time so necessary for writing, jobs that often revolted his conscience and his convictions. For in addition to not admitting literature into its midst, our societies have encouraged a constant mistrust toward this marginal being, a bit anomalous, who, against all reason, set himself to practice an art that in the Latin American circumstance was virtually unreal. This is why our writers have failed by the dozens, deserted their vocation or betrayed it by practicing it in a half-hearted and hidden fashion, with neither diligence nor discipline.

However, it is true that in the last few years things have begun to change. Gradually one senses a more hospitable climate for literature in our countries. The circle of readers begins to grow, the bourgeoisie discover that books matter, that writers are something more than harmless madmen, that they have a function to fulfill among humanity. But then, at the same rate that the Latin American writer begins to be treated justly, or rather, at the same rate that this injustice which has weighted him down begins to be rectified, a threat may emerge, a devilishly subtle danger. These same societies that exiled and rejected the writer may now think it convenient to assimilate him, integrate him, confer on him some kind of official status. Therefore, it is necessary to remind our societies what awaits them. To warn them that literature is fire, that it signifies non-conformism and rebellion, that the writer's very reason for being is protest, contradiction and criticism. To explain to them that there are no half-measures, that societies always suppress that human faculty which is artistic creation and eliminate once and for all that social agitator who is the writer, or that they admit literature into their midst, and in this case, they have no choice but to accept a perpetual torrent of aggression, irony, satire that will range from the descriptive to the essential, from the temporary to the permanent, from the tip to the base of the social pyramid. That's the way things are and there is no way out: the writer has been, is, and will continue to be a non-conformist. No one who is satisfied is capable of writing, no one who agrees with and is reconciled to reality would commit the ambitious folly of inventing verbal realities. The literary vocation is born of a man's disagreement with the world, of his intuition of the deficiencies, vacuums and filth around him. Literature is a form of permanent insurrection and recognizes no straitjackets. Every attempt destined to change its angry, ungovernable nature will fail. Literature may perish but it will never conform.

Only if this condition is fulfilled is literature useful to society. It contributes to the process of attaining human perfection by impeding spiritual swamps of self-satisfaction, immobility, human paralysis, moral and intellectual softening. Its mission is to agitate, disturb, alarm, keep men constantly dissatisfied with themselves: its function is to unconditionally stimulate the will to change and improve, even though in order to achieve this the most deadly and poisonous weapons must be employed. It must be understood once and for all that the more terrible and cruel an author's writings against his country, the more intense the passion that binds him to it. For in the realm of literature, violence is the test of love.

Of course the American reality offers the writer a virtual orgy of motives for being a rebel and living dissatisfied. Societies where injustice is law, these paradises of ignorance, of exploitation, of blinding inequalities, of poverty, with economic, cultural and moral alienation, our tumultuous countries provide sumptuous material, examples galore to demonstrate in fiction, either directly or indirectly, through deeds, dreams, testimonies, allegories, nightmares or visions, that reality is distorted, that life must change. But in ten, twenty, fifty years all of our countries will have reached, as Cuba has today, the time of social justice and all Latin America will have freed itself from the empire that sacks her, from the castes that exploit her, from the forces that today offend and repress her. I want this time to arrive as soon as possible and for Latin America once and for all to reach dignity and modern life; for socialism to free us from our anachronism and our horror. But when social injustices disappear, in no way will the writer have reached the time of consent, subordination or official complicity. His mission will continue; it must continue to be the same one; any compromise in this realm constitutes on the part of the writer a betrayal. Within the new society and along the way that our personal devils and ghosts drive us, we will have to continue as we did before, as we do now, saying no, rebelling, demanding that our right to disagree be recognized, demonstrating in a living magical way as only literature can do, that dogma, censure, abuse are also the mortal enemies of progress and human dignity, affirming that life is not simple nor does it fit into neat schemes, that the way to truth is never smooth nor straight, but often tortuous and brief, demonstrating with our books again and again the essential complexity and diversity of the world, the contradictory ambiguity of human acts. As yesterday, as today, if we love our vocation, we must continue fighting the thirty-two wars of Coronel Aureliano Buendía [a character in Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude] even though, as he was, we are defeated in them all.

Our vocation has made of us the writers, the professional malcontents, the conscious or unconscious disturbers of society, the rebels with a cause, the world's unredeemed insurrectionists, the intolerable devil's advocates. I don't know if this is good or bad, I only know that it is so. This is the writer's condition and we must claim it for what it is. Now that literature is beginning to be discovered, accepted and patronized, Latin America must also know the menace that hangs over her, the high price that she will have to pay for culture. Our societies must be alerted; for rejected or accepted, persecuted or rewarded, the writer who deserves the name will continue throwing into men's faces the often unpleasant spectacle of their miseries and their torments.

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This section contains 1,308 words
(approx. 5 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Michael Wood