Mario Vargas Llosa at the Wharton Center

I have just come back from a lecture by Mario Vargas Llosa at the Wharton Center on the MSU campus. He spoke about the similarities and essential differences between literature and history. It was very stimulating.

He said (and I’m paraphrasing much less eloquently) fiction is about lying and using those lies to show the hopes and passions of people at points in history. What history can’t do. History having a moral obligation to sticking to the facts. But the writer, working from his or her own memory and personal conflicts, in using these lies to create fiction, affirms the sovereignty of the individual.

Here’s an excerpt from another essay:

Removing blindfolds, expressing indignation in the face of injustice and demonstrating that there is room for hope under the most trying circumstances, are all things literature has been good at, even though it has occasionally been mistaken in its targets and defended the indefensible.

The written word has a special responsibility to do these things because it is better at telling the truth than any audiovisual medium. These media are by their nature condemned to skate over the surface of things and are much more constrained in their freedom of expression. The phenomenal sophistication with which news bulletins can nowadays transport us to the epicentre of events on all five continents has turned us all into voyeurs and the whole world into one vast theatre, or more precisely into a movie. Audiovisual information-so transient, so striking and so superficial-makes us see history as fiction, distancing us by concealing the causes and context behind the sequence of events that are so vividly portrayed. This condemns us to a state of passive acceptance, moral insensibility and psychological inertia similar to that inspired by television fiction and other programmes whose only purpose is to entertain.

I have only read “Death in the Andes” which I thought was excellent. Now, some more books to go get to add to my TBR pile.


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