Why literature matters

Dennis Robert Redmond dredmond at efn.org
Thu May 10 18:26:30 PDT 2001

On Wed, 9 May 2001, Carl Remick crossposted:

> [From "Why Literature?" by Mario Vargas Llosa in The New Republic]
> locations, their personal circumstances. It has enabled individuals, in all
> the particularities of their lives, to transcend history: as readers of
> Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dante, and Tolstoy, we understand each other across
> space and time, and we feel ourselves to be members of the same species
> because, in the works that these writers created, we learn what we share as
> human beings, what remains common in all of us under the broad range of
> differences that separate us. Nothing better protects a human being against
> the stupidity of prejudice, racism, religious or political sectarianism, and
> exclusivist nationalism than this truth that invariably appears in great
> literature: that men and women of all nations and places are essentially
> equal, and that only injustice sows among them discrimination, fear, and
> exploitation.

Oh dear. This is not the work of literature; this is the work of interpretation, of theory, of the collective consciousness better known as class praxis. This is standard Cold War liberalism, the open, free, democratic society vs. closed, totalitarian monsters, which are, of course, really the distorted self-reflections of precisely that supposedly free and democratic society -- he actually has the nerve to dump on Cuba, a country which has literacy rates orders of magnitude higher than other Latin American countries. What unites all human beings today is, of course, global capitalism itself; not surprising that he says not a word about schools, teachers, how literature gets taught, and what social functions narratives might serve, other than reminding us of how much reality (a.k.a. the global marketplace) sucks.

That said, Llosa's books are terrific. "The text knows more than the author", as Heiner Mueller put it.

-- Dennis

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