Our Vargas Llosa who art in Nobel… / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Some words about the most recent Nobel Prize winner in Literature and the reaction literally in chains from the little Island of the Begrudger…

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

I came to Mario Vargas Llosa early in the 90´s (quite late in my life), thanks to a mention of him in a short story written by Senel Paz, which Paz later adapted for the script of the Oscar-nominated Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate.

Dramaturgically, even within the script, all the chatter about Cuban censorship always seemed ridiculously old-fashioned to me, a sign more of ignorance than intolerance. Not on the part of Senel Paz, of course, but by our nationalized cultural establishment. A system that at the turning of the new century, and new millennium, still revolves upon the same political sins from back in the ‘70s.

I am referring not only to the fiction narrative of Vargas Llosa, which now would be perfectly digestible for local Cuban publishers (a narrative that goes from breathtakingly brilliant to conservative without ever taking on the tone of a pamphlet), but also to his thoughtful prose, his exquisite essays that mortify most the Marxist mediocrity of our island proletariat and could never be branded as “reactionary” or “rightest” (not forgetting that the reactionary right, in addition to the disasters it shares with the “leftist revolutionaries,” has also played its worthy role in contemporary history).

What matters is that Mario Vargas Llosa survived the powerful prejudices against his “eternal candidacy” at the Academy in Stockholm, until now when he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Halleluja for the man from Arequipa! Ave, Vargas Llosa: those of us who are going to read you again, salute you…

Beyond his own Peruvian presidential episode (just another chapter of the Latin American soap opera, or perhaps the Ladino American one); setting aside his jealous punch in the face dealt to Gabriel Garcia Marquez in February 1976; discounting his ingenuous illusions of one or another sign with the Cuban Revolution (ingenious intellectuals are converts by definition); Vargas Llosa has been a gallant gladiator. An inveterate polemicist against all odds. A humanist heretic against the fires the ideological inquisition. A light in times of blackouts. A committed writer save with the idiotic notion of the “committed writer.” An incorruptible comrade, despite other complicit comrades. An old-fashioned liberal, despite the neoliberals. A man of revolutionary rhetoric who one day just said No, in order to preserve the independence of his social criticism.

And this is not a note of praise commissioned by any kind of editorial board. This is not a note of praise at all.

The conceptual wasteland inhabited by Cuban writers today, leaves us, paradoxically, in a terrific talkative freedom. In the middle of the desert, we must drink from any source, faithful or contaminated; and therefore such a radical relativism makes us hedonistic and ahistorical, a perfect pasture for plurality. In the middle of the barbed wire fence of impertinent permissions about what to write or what to omit, we soon discovered that we are all alone, abandoned by our own stinginess, like the guild that shouldn’t bite the ministerial hand that feeds it (Oedipal complex with our paternalist State). Amidst the paralyzing fear that exhausts us more than a best-seller from noir genre, here and now we Cubans could be already writing our truth, each one with his stubborn or trembling voice (I prefer the recombination of speeches rather than a single style), but we don´t. We knew how to kick our own way out with words, but, too much startled, we simply did not dare to play the star. So that Nobel Prize in Literature for a compatriot was cut forever in 1980 with a phone call from Sweden, that bumped into Alejo Carpentier just deceased (novelistically he had passed away two diplomatic decades before).

So, despite the opinion of a surprised Mario Vargas Llosa himself, personally I hope that he has not been given this maximum laurel “only for his literary work,” but also for his political views put into black and white with a keen clarity, with ethic and aesthetic reasoning, without concessions to any toppled Utopia nor market tyranny, for the sake of a vision of the end of the world which, however, did not yield to defeatism, much less to despotism. Latin America owes a great deal to Vargas Llosa, as the illusion of that bunch of modern states that our continent finally never was: at times from strongman rule to civil cretinism, from the barbarian force to a foolish vulgarity (Cuba always as a canon of all things). And this Peruvian, citizen not of Spain but of the planet, has been critically understanding with a sparse reality that breathes with more vitality within his writing than outside of it.

Moreover, the Nobel Prize, like all civilized activity, is and should be, also, political (though not politicized). Literature is too important to be left in the hands of the literati.

Finally, I apologize for the Paleolithic perversions that have been published about Mario Vargas Llosa by the imprisoned press in my country. If I do not start a petition against such newspapers, it is only not to expose the shameful lack of solidarity among Cuban intellectuals, and also because the professional press deserves, more and more every day and with every text, less attention after the e-mergence of our independent blogosphere despite the island´s limited access internet.

But let the rest of the world copy this “loud and clear” (to use the martial vocabulary of our functionaries or, better yet, of Vargas Llosa’s own character, Pantaleon): this 2010 Nobel is as much ours as the official Cuban enthusiasm (and not only symbolic support) for the previous Nobels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982) and Jose Saramago (1998). Besides, this prize belongs to a working man with a future and not to an icon from the past. And the Cuban Revolution now seems to bitterly envy this.

Mario Vargas Llosa resisted and eventually his words have become much more significant and deserve more respect (as they are more respectful) than the perishable populist blah blah blah of so many Latin America leaders. And the Cuban Revolution will never forgive him for this.


October 13, 2010
edited from previously published version