Thursday, October 07, 2010

Maria Vargas Llosa Wins Nobel Prize for Literature: Some Thoughts

"I don't think there is a great fiction that is not an essential contradiction of the world as it is," Maria Vargas Llosa. (He won the Nobel Prize for literature, by the way.) I got this on micro-blogging site, twitter. I haven't read Llosa, I don't think I can read him for a long time seeing the amount of reading I have queuing up. But I know this: people who don't read novels, who don't read short stories, who don't even attempt to understand a poem don't know what they are missing. They are the poorer for what they are.

And they say the novel is dead. They say the novel is now written only by celebrities who are already famous or notorious. That's what happens when literary agents are failed copyright lawyers and editors are failed journalists. The world is vicious, accept it. They look at you judge your presentability and package you like a product on the shop shelf. But the novel isn't dead; no, sir, it can't be, at least not yet. (This blogger speaks as a fond parent who has sired two oeuvres now perishing on the shelves of his desk.) For them literature doesn't mean a thing except that they get their commissions and their share of the filthy lucre. Not for you the writing of novels, poor alienated man sitting in a dark room and fingering away. You will never get published, even if you do people will not buy your book, even if they do, they will not read your books, even if they do, they will never remember your stories, so on and so forth. In fact, the more they said these things the more I wrote. I felt the need to show an alternate life, an alternate society, an alternate entity. It's like saying, "Look, this may be contrary, this may be weird, but you have to read me, hear my voice out." Sorry, couldn't control the ire.

Yes, all great fiction is an essential contradiction of the world. (Remove the two negatives and the fact becomes clearer, isn't it?) We can be naive; we can go through life like a sleepwalker going through the motions of walking when he is really sleeping. Most of us like nothing better than to sit before a television and watch a ball being hit through a hole or on to a stupid stump. Life –for us – is a ball and a goal. We don't think anything contrary because we aren't creative enough. We think like morons because our leaders prefer it that way. We remain poor because we can't think anything contrary to what we have been trained to think by the thought leaders.

Many times I have thought about writing a story about a small slum that has come up in my locality. It has received political patronage from the local corporator, so nobody can touch it. Every morning I see them on my morning walk, going to work with their mobiles blaring songs, happily chattering away. They seem happy. They have water connections and though toilets have been provided they shit in the open. During elections they receive a thousand rupees each to vote for man or woman named by the corporator. Ah, I forgot the drinks. Yes, they get a bottle of Indian liquor. Life looks great from their angle: the protection of a powerful man, free electricity, free water, no taxes to pay, and free booze once in a while. They are free to earn their livelihood and spend it as they want without accumulating it like the middle class gentry does. Life is perfect for them. It couldn't be better. Half my city lives that way. They don't even bother to think.

Like the slobs who plonk in front of television, they can't imagine anything contrary or better. Great literature teases, it provokes, it contradicts. When writers aspire to be novelists they are doing the best they can to be contrarians dreaming of a better social ecology, a better understanding of life.

No, the novel can't be dead. It can't. It will survive and writers like Maria Vargas Llosa will write meaningfully about life and hold a mirror to life.

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