Mario Vargas Llosa, the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature and the 1994 Miguel de Cervantes Prize, is in Manila at the invitation of Instituto Cervantes Manila, the cultural arm of the Embassy of Spain.
On Monday, November 7, 2016, the author of La Guerra del Fin del Mundo (The War of the End of the World), was in the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas (UST) for a Special Convocation for the conferment of the title Honorary Professor upon him. After the awarding of the title, the Peruvian author gave a lecture, in Spanish, to a roomful of dignitaries and members of the press and the academe.
Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., Vice-Rector of UST says that Llosa makes his “novels as meaningful avenues of critiques about life” and bases his works on historical materials and personal experiences. Carlos Madrid Álvarez-Piñer, Director of Instituto Cervantes Manila calls Llosa “one of the main architects of Spanish literature” whose good literature “erects bridges among people”.
In the speech, Llosa stated that “es difícil hablar de la literatura” (it is hard to talk about literature) but it is “fundamental en el avance de la civilización” (fundamental in the advancement of civilization).
According to Llosa, (and this is only according to what I hurriedly wrote and all English translations are mine) literature enriches the lives of human beings because the magic of literature converts their world into a world of dreams where they see the world from another point of view. In doing so, humans realize that their world can be richer and can be more, much more. He added that a nicely written story touches every fiber of our being and it makes us know our own language and history in a more intimate way.
Llosa added that after unraveling the mysteries of language, we get to express ourselves and think in a more precise manner, which makes learning the language all the more important. Literature makes us closer to and reveals to us the cultures of human beings because our differences as peoples disappear and we realize that we feel the same way and love the same way. This last part makes the progress of humanity the major contribution of literature.
A good literature also awakens in us a subversive attitude, which makes dictators fear it. Those under totalitarianism, whose lives are controlled “desde la cuna hasta la tumba” (from the cradle to the grave), can learn that life can be different. Those who read literature start to look at things with dissatisfied and discerning eyes and may start to yearn for a better life, completely dissimilar to the one under the regime of dictatorship. This gives literature “una influencia liberadora” (a liberating influence) on its readers, like those written by Wiliam Faulkner and Miguel Cervantes’ Quijote de la Mancha. Llosa stated that this makes literature not only entertaining but also an indispensable part of a free society where the citizens can criticize without fear of being censored or punished. He mentioned that good literature, like those written by William Shakespeare, Miguel Cervantes, Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoevsky, reflects true human conditions.
However, literature, especially political ones, can also be manipulated by the author to have an immediate but ephemeral effect. This type of literature is propaganda and the makers of this kind do not know their responsibilities as writers. Propaganda (irresponsible writing) does not happen often in the literary world, but it does exist.
The last part of the talk is about something personal. Llosa revealed that he discovered literature at the age of 5. He found that reading is the best way to pass time. He imagined that words of the text he read and converted them into images in his mind. Inconsequential things that occurred in daily life became part of an extraordinary world of literature. He remembers that at that point, literature was “una vocación difícil de materializar”. At that time, writers were actually lawyers or other professionals who moonlighted as writers only every Sundays and did not consider writing as vocation. But the world of Spanish literature has changed. The Latin America of Llosa’s childhood is not the same as the Latin America of today. He said that it is “un poco quijotesco” (a little quixotic) to dedicate his life to literature but it has been worth it because literature, as a testimony and as a truth, has positive impact on the society.
After the lecture by Mario Vargas Llosa, there was an open forum moderated by Prof. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, Ph.D., Director, Center for Creative Writing, UST. Three people were lucky enough to ask Mr. Llosa their questions.
The open forum was followed by photo opportunities with Mr. Llosa. Then, everybody proceeded at the ground floor for the book signing. 50 early birds were given the opportunity to have a copy of Mr. Llosa’s book signed. Guess who was number 49? 🙂
I wrote the notes in Spanish, all 3.5 pages of them. I translated Mr. Llosa’s words as I typed this entry. All mistakes are mine.