September 17, 2018

She could only hope that when the moment came, she’d be wise enough to know it, and brave enough to act.

Lovecraft Country
By Matt Ruff

“A wanderer in darkness, she followed an eccentric orbit, each new disturbance angling her closer to some long-awaited rendezvous. She could only hope that when the moment came, she’d be wise enough to know it, and brave enough to act.”
(p. 186)

September 15, 2018

The richness of Latin America lies in being many things at once, so many that they make of it a microcosm in which almost all the races and cultures of the world coexist.

© Farrar Strauss & Giroux
Sabers and Utopias: Visions of Latin America
By Mario Vargas Llosa

Entire essay worth reading, but I can't find it anywhere (in English or Spanish).

"Observed in this way, without the deforming goggles of mythology and utopia, Latin America is neither paradise nor inferno, although for millions of its poor and marginalized it is closer to the latter than the former. It is, pure and simple, a continent that has still not overcome basic obstacles that impede development or deform it and that, in contrast to what is already luckily happening in all of North America, nearly all of Europe, and a good part of Asia and Oceania, has not yet accepted itself for what it is, preferring, in the manner of those who would still like to find in it the Seven Cities of Cibola, the Fountain of Youth, or the Paradise of Leon Pinelo, the visions of the marvelous real over simple reality.
Let's try to approach the reality of Latin America that lies beneath the phosphorescence of images, witches, or horrendousness with which ideology, religion, and literature have dressed Latin America, making an effort to be rational—and knowing that this is difficult, since we Latin Americans, whether we like it or not, are infected with mythology and utopianism.
Let's start with a very simple question that throughout our history has received contradictory answers. What does it mean to feel Latin American? Above all, it means feeling beyond national borders, like an active member of a transnational community. To be conscious that the territorial demarcations dividing our countries are artificial, arbitrarily imposed during the colonial years and that, instead of repairing them, the leaders of the emancipation and republican governments legitimized and sometimes aggravated them, dividing and isolating societies in which the common denominator went deeper than particular differences. The Balkanization of Latin America, as opposed to what happened in North America, where the thirteen colonies united and their union set the United States on its way, has been one of the conspicuous factors of our underdevelopment, since it stimulated nationalisms, wars, and conflicts in which Latin American countries have bled, wasting huge resources that could have served for their modernization and progress. Only in the field of culture has Latin American integration come to be something real, a product of experience and necessity—everyone who writes, composes, paints, or carries out any other creative task discovers that what unites them with other Latin Americans is more important than what separates them from other Latin Americans—while in other realms, politics, economics, and especially attempts to unify governing and market actions have always been restrained by nationalist reflexes, very deep-rooted in the continent: this is the reason for which all of the organisms conceived to unite the region have never prospered."

"The richness of Latin America lies in being many things at once, so many that they make of it a microcosm in which almost all the races and cultures of the world coexist. Five centuries after the arrival of the Europeans on its shores and mountain ranges and in its jungles, Latin Americans of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, African, Chinese, or Japanese origins are as much natives of the continent as those who have ancestors in the ancient Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayas, Quechuas, Aymaras, or Caribs. And the mark that Africans have left on the continent where they have also been for five centuries is present everywhere: in human beings, in ways of speaking, in music, in food, and even in certain ways of practicing religion. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is no tradition, culture, language, or race that has not contributed something to that vortex of mixtures and alliances that can be seen in all aspects of life in America. This amalgam is our best patrimony. To be a continent that lacks one identity because it has them all. And because, thanks to its creators, it keeps transforming, every day."

(pp. 177-9; 183 "Dreams And Reality in Latin America"; Mexico, April 2007)

September 09, 2018

Because men and women from both places are interested in the same thing: living peacefully, freely, without fear of the future, with work and the opportunity to succeed.

© Farrar Straus and Giroux

Sabers and Utopias: Visions of Latin America
By Mario Vargas Llosa

"But the United States and other countries in the West should understand that solidarity and friendship do not signify vassalage or servitude, but respect and mutual understanding, and this demands a constant effort to understand reciprocal reasons and problems.
This will be achieved only when knowledge replaces the web of prejudices and myths that still greatly distort the images forged in the mind of the South about the North and vice versa. But now, besides the great wave of democracy in Latin America, there is another powerful instrument to achieve this difficult deed of communication and understanding. It is the other factor that can contribute to radically renewing relations between the Anglo and Latin American cultures. I am referring to that world that is so present and that has had such an important role in the modern history of the United States: that of the "Hispanics."
The Latin American community in the United States is, in many states, a presence as alive as it is in Miami. And it is increasingly conscious of its historic tradition, its language and culture, which affects all of North American society. As in Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, or New York, the Hispanic influence can be seen in culinary habits and ways of dress, in music and religion, and in the way Spanish-language usage has slipped into businesses, shows, services, schools, and street life. It is possible that, long-term, given the traditional ability of metabolism and freedom that it has forged, the United States will integrate this community, as it did with Italians and Poles. But the process will be long and it can be expected that when it peaks, integration will have achieved the feat of opening the minds and spirits of many North Americans to the realities—instead of the myths—of Latin America. Or, at least, to have incited the curiosity and interest of the United States in getting to know them, such that instead of the hate that seems like love, or that hateful love that is still the norm, an equitable and productive relationship can finally emerge between the people of the continent.
This is a task that the "Hispanics" of the United States are already carrying out, although they are not even aware of it. In contrast to politicians, prisoners of rhetoric and of calculations, and diplomats whose life is played out rather removed from the average citizen, they do know the hustle and bustle of men and women on the street. Those in their new homeland and in the homeland they left behind, because of political persecution, know how hard life is, or, simply, the legitimate desire for an improvement. And in contrast to expatriate intellectuals, who have to perform acrobatics to justify their ideological positions, the average immigrant can act with authenticity and dignity.
He knows both cultures in that intimate way born of direct experience, what is lived, and this has taught him—counter to what they say about stereotypes—that despite the different languages (and that in the North there is abundance while in the South there is poverty), the differences are not that big. That beneath the customs, beliefs, and prejudices that make groups distinct, there are basic similarities. Because men and women from both places are interested in the same thing: living peacefully, freely, without fear of the future, with work and the opportunity to succeed. The "Hispanics" of the United States—20 million strong–can be the bridge that gringos and Latinos cross to recognize each other and be reconciled.
(pp. 111-3 "The "Hispanics"; Lima, January 4, 1992)

"This is something that we liberals should celebrate with serenity and happiness, not triumphalism, and with the clear conscience that, although what has been achieved is notable, what still remains to be done is more important. And also that, since nothing is definitive or fateful in human history, the progress obtained in recent decades for a culture of freedom is not irreversible, and, unless we know how to defend it, it could come to a standstill, and the free world could lose ground, due to a push by two new masks of authoritarian collectivism and the spirit of tribalism that have come to substitute communism with the most hardened adversaries of democracy: nationalism and religious fundamentalism."

"Of this kind I'd like to point out an emblematic case: that of Robert D. Kaplan. In a provocative essay, he maintains that, contrary to the optimistic expectations about the future of democracy prompted by the death of Marxism in Eastern Europe, humanity is on the path toward a world dominated by authoritarianism, revealed in some cases and, in others, hidden by institutions of civilian and liberal appearance that, in fact, are mere decorations, since true power is, or soon will be, in the hands of large international corporations, owners of technology and capital that, thanks to their ubiquity and extraterritoriality, enjoy almost complete impunity for their actions. "I submit that the democracy we are encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation toward new forms of authoritarianism; that democracy in the United States is at greater risk than ever before, and from obscure sources; and that many future regimes, ours especially, could resemble the oligarchies of ancient Athens and Sparta more than they do the current government in Washington." His analysis is particularly negative regarding the possibilities of democracy managing to take root in the third world."
(p. 153; 157 "Liberalism Across Two Millennia"; Berlin, May 12, 1998)

September 03, 2018

The way in which a country strengthens and develops its culture is by opening its doors and windows, widely, to all intellectual, scientific, and artistic currents.

© Farrar Straus and Giroux
Sabers and Utopias: Visions of Latin America
By Mario Vargas Llosa

wild how inevitably history repeats itself.

"Fujimori's trial lasted almost seventeen months, was televised, was attended by journalists and international observers, and the accused enjoyed all the guarantees to a defense. The three-member court, presided over by a prestigious criminal attorney, magistrate, and university professor, Doctor César San Martín, whose conduct throughout the proceedings was of a calmness and uprightness recognized by all sides, issued a sentence that should be published and read in schools across Latin America—abridged, because it is almost 700 pages long—so that new generations learn, through concrete events and identified people, about the tragedy of human suffering, public insecurity, criminality, distortion of values, lies, and contempt for the most basic civil rights in modern society in a country, and within the corruption and degradation of institutions of a dictatorship like the one Peru experienced between 1992 and the year 2000, when Fujimori, failing in his attempts to be reelected in rigged elections, fled to Japan and quit the presidency via fax."
(p. 38 from "Warning to Dictators"; Madrid, April 15, 2009)

"But it is vain to attempt to reason thus with those who have made the logic of terror theirs. It is rigorous, coherent, and impervious to dialogue. The greatest danger to a democracy is not terrorist attacks, no matter how painful or onerous they end up being; it is accepting the rules of the game that the terrorist tries to impose. There are two risks to a democratic government in the face of terror: to become intimidated or to go too far. Passivity in the face of attacks is suicide. To allow instability, psychosis, and collective terror to spread is to contribute to creating a climate that favors a military coup d'etat. A democratic government has the duty to defend itself, firmly and without any inferiority complexes, with the assurance that by defending itself, it is defending all of society from a greater misfortune than what ails it. At the same time, it cannot forget for a second that all of its power depends on its legitimacy, that in no case should it go beyond what laws and "ways"—which are also the essence of a democracy—allow. If it goes too far and commits abuses, jumps over laws like a bullfighter in pursuit of efficiency, relies on misdeeds, it could be that it defeats the terrorist. But the latter will have won, revealing a monstrosity: that injustice can lead to justice, that the path to freedom is dictatorship."
(p. 55 from "The Logic of Terror"; Lima, December 1980)

"Let's briefly summarize what nationalism consists of in the realm of culture. Basically, it asks one to consider what is one's own absolute and unquestionable value and to devalue all that is foreign as something that threatens, undermines, impoverishes, or degenerates the spiritual personality of a country. Although such a thesis withstands the most shallow analysis with difficulty and it is easy to demonstrate how prejudiced and naive its reasoning is, as well as how unrealistic its aims—cultural autocracy—are, history shows us that it takes root with ease and that even countries with an ancient and solid civilization are not immune to it. Without going too far afield, Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Stalin's Soviet Union, Franco's Spain, Mao's China all practiced cultural nationalism, trying to create a culture that was pure, cut off from and protected from the hated corrupting agents—foreignism, cosmopolitanism—through dogma and censorship. But in our days, it is in the third world especially, in underdeveloped countries, where cultural nationalism is preached more stridently and has more followers. Its defenders start from a false assumption: that a country's culture is, like natural resources and the raw materials held by its soil, something that must be defended against the voracious greed of imperialism, and kept stable, intact, and unpolluted, since its contamination with anything from the outside would adulterate it and make it vile. To fight for "cultural independence" and to become emancipated from "foreign cultural dependence" with the goal of "developing our own culture" are habitual formulas in the mouths of so-called progressives in the third world. That such catchphrases are as hollow as they are cacophonous, true conceptual gibberish, is not an obstacle to the many people finding them seductive, due to the air of patriotism enveloping them. (And in the realm of patriotism, Borges has written, the people only tolerate affirmations.) They allow themselves to be persuaded by them, even the media who believes themselves to be invulnerable to the authoritarian ideologies promoting them. People who say they believe in political pluralism and in economic freedom and that they are hostile to the idea of only one truth and omnipotent, omniscient states subscribe nonetheless to the theses of cultural nationalism without examining what they mean. The reason is very simple: nationalism is the culture of the uneducated, and of these, there are legions."

"The way in which a country strengthens and develops its culture is by opening its doors and windows, widely, to all intellectual, scientific, and artistic currents, stimulating the free circulation of ideas wherever they come from, in such a way that its own tradition and experience is constantly put to the test, and corrected, completed, and enriched by those who, in other territories and with other languages and in different circumstances, share with us the misery and greatness of the human adventure. Only thus, subject to this continuous challenge and encouragement, will our authentic, contemporary, and creative culture be the best tool of our own economic and social progress."
(pp. 92-3, 96 from "Elephant and Culture"; Lima, November 1981)