Mario Vargas Llosa on youth, words, age, and running out of time…


Mario Vargas Llosa chatting with John King, 2013. (Photo: Zygmunt Malinowski)

Nobel prizewinner Mario Vargas Llosa is 78, and he has no intention of slowing down. The Peruvian writer has just published a new book, The Discreet Hero, and he wants to talk about it. He also wants to chat about writing, youth, words, and age in an interview “Mario Vargas Llosa: ‘the novels we read now are purely entertainment'” over at the Telegraph here.

A couple excerpts:

“When I was young,” Vargas Llosa nods, “I was influenced a lot by Sartre and Camus. Sartre said that words were acts, and that with literature you could produce changes in history. Now, I don’t think literature doesn’t produce changes, but I think the social and political effect of literature is much less controllable than I thought. I thought that you could really direct the effect by writing in a certain way and about certain subjects. Now I think that was completely wrong.”

“But I don’t think literature has no effect,” he goes on. “I think its most important one for me is to develop a critical attitude in readers, in very general terms. I think if you’re impregnated with good literature, with good culture, you’re much more difficult to manipulate, and you’re much more aware of the dangers that powers represent. So in that sense, I still believe in committed literature, but not, let’s say, in a dogmatic or sectarian way.”

[Actually, the word in the first sentence was “wars” not “words,” but I assume that’s a mistake in the original article – otherwise the sentence makes no sense – ED.]


discreethero“One very positive aspect is that censorship is now practically impossible,” he says. “But on the other hand, you have such a mass of information about everything that qualification disappears completely, and everything is equally measured. The function of the critic was very important in establishing categories and hierarchies of information, but now critics don’t exist at all. That was one of the important contributions of the novel, once, too. But now the novels that are read are purely entertainment – well done, very polished, with a very effective technique – but not literature, just entertainment.”

Hasn’t he ever read a superficial novel? “Ha, ha!” he says. “Sometimes I might. Sometimes they’re very well done. I like serials – I like House of Cards, it’s fantastic, very entertaining. But it doesn’t remain in the mind. It doesn’t produce positive effects in political terms, in ideological terms. My impression is that this extraordinary digital revolution is producing also an extraordinary confusion.”

Even so, he is determined to keep engaging with the world.He keeps up a regular newspaper column in El Pais, has several projects cooking – “I don’t have a lack of projects, I have a lack of time!” – and, as he approaches 80, shows little inclination to slow down. “Well,” he says, “I think what is important is to be alive until the end. Not to be defeated in life. I think it’s very painful and very sad, people who feel defeated before time and lose the idea of doing things. That is something that terrifies me.

“Not death,” he clarifies. “Death I think is all right, you know? It’s a natural ending of everything. But I think it’s very important to be alive until the last moment. It’s important that death seem to be just an accident.”

He nods judiciously. “So I keep making projects, planning many different things. This is a way of being alive, and taking advantage of the fantastic possibilities that life offers.”


Read the whole thing here.


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