Mario Vargas Llosa – Touchstones

Seed of Dreams

What for many people is a stereotype — the paradise of childhood — was for me a reality, although doubtless since that time this reality has been embellished by distance and nostalgia.

Without the wonderment that I felt when I discovered the richness of shades, allusions, perspectives, harmonies and ambiguities of his prose, and the absolutely original way in which he organised his stories, I would never have dared to rearrange ‘real’ narrative chronology in my own work, or to present an episode from different points of view and levels of complexity, as I did in … …, nor would I have written a book like The Green House, in which the words are so visible, and sometimes more visible, a presence as the characters themselves — a landscape for the story – and in which the construction — the perspectives, the flow of time and the changing narrators — is all of labyrinthine complexity.

Mrs Dalloway: The Intense and Sumptuous Life of Banality

What is significant about the story is not this episode, or the myriad small events and memories that make up the story as a whole, but the fact that all this is narrated from inside the mind of one of the characters, that subtle and impalpable reality where life becomes impression, enjoyment, suffering, memory.

In Mrs Dalloway, reality has been reinvented from a perspective that mainly, but not completely, expresses the point of view and condition of a woman. And for that reason, it is the feminine experiences of the story that are most vivid in the reader’s memory, that seem to us essentially true, … …

The balance between the form and content of the tale is perfect, and readers never feel that they are witnessing what this book is as well, a daring experiment; only that they are witnessing the delicate and uncertain network of events that happen to a handful human beings on a hot summer’s day in the streets, parks and houses of central London. Life if always there, on each line, in each syllable of the book, brimming with grace and refinement, prodigious and incommensurable, rich and diverse in all its aspects.

What gives a novel its originality — marks its difference from the real world — is the added element that the fantasy and art of the writer provide he or she transforms objectivity and historical experience into fiction. The added element is never just a plot, a style, a temporal order, a point of view; it is always a complex combination of factors that affects the form and content and the characters of a story, and which gives it is autonomous existence. Only failed fictions reproduce reality: successful fictions abolish and transfigure reality.

The narrator is always the central characters in a fiction. Invisible or present, singular or multiple, embodied in the first or second or third person, omniscient god or implied witness in the novel, the narrator is the first and most important character that a novelist must invent in order to make the tale convincing … … The narrator of the novel is always located in the private world of the characters, never in the outside world.

La Condition humaine: The Hero, the Buffoon and History

Concise, sharp, the style never says too much, always too little. Every episode is like the tip of an iceberg; but they radiate such intensity that the reader’s imagination can reconstruct the totality of the action from this sparse description without difficulty, the place where it occurs as well as the state of mind and secret motivations of the protagonists. This synthetic method gives the novel a great density and an epic breadth.

An excess of intelligence is often fatal in a novel because it can work against the persuasive power of the fiction.

Tropic of Cancer: The Happy Nihilist

In Tropic of Cancer we see the flip side of this story. Its world is Parisian, but it is light years away from that society of winners and prosperous optimists: it is made up of pariahs, pseudo-painters, pseudo-writers, drop-outs and parasites who live on the margins of the city, … … Many use vague ideas about art to justify themselves — I have to write the important novel, to paint redemptive pictures, etc. — but in fact the only seriousness the group displays is their lack of seriousness, their promiscuity, their passive indifference and their slow disintegration.

… … I really can appreciate the feat of transforming this milieu into literature, of transforming these people, these rituals and all this asphyxiating mediocrity, into the dramatic and heroic characters that appear in the novel. But what is perhaps most noteworthy is that in this milieu, that was eaten away by inertia and defeatism, it was possible to conceive and complete a creative project as ambitious as Tropic of Cancer.

It is a fine book, and its somewhat naive philosophy touches us. Of course no civilization can sustain such intransigent and extreme individualism, unless it is prepared to go back to the days when men held clubs and grunted. But, even so, we still feel nostalgia as we read this summons to total irresponsibility, to the great disorders of life and sex that preceded society, rules, prohibitions, the law …

L’Estranger: The Outsider Must Die

One of the great merits of The Outsider is the economy of the prose … … It is so clear and precise that it does not seem written but spoken or, better still, heard. The absolute way in which the style is stripped of all adornments and self-indulgence is what contributes decisively to the versimilitude of this implausible story.

The one seemingly lasting legacy of the revolution of May 1968 — that movement of idealistic, generous and confused young people ad odds with their time and their society — is that human desires are now emerging from the hiding places where they had been confined by society, and are beginning to acquire acceptability.

… … There is no doubt that Western civilization has torn down many barriers and now is much freer and less repressive, … … than the society that (perhaps) cut off Meursault’s head. But at the same time we cannot say that the freedom that has been won in different spheres has led to a marked increase in the quality of life, to an enrichment of culture for all or, at least, for the great majority. Quite the reverse, it would seem that in so many cases these barely won freedoms have been turned into forms of behaviors that cheapen and trivialize them, and into new forms of conformity by their fortunate beneficiaries.

The Outsider, like other good novels, was ahead of its time, anticipating the depressing image of a man who is not enhanced morally or culturally by the freedom that he enjoys. Instead this freedom has stripped him of spirituality, enthusiasm and ambition, making him passive, unadventurous and instinctive, to an almost animalistic degree.

Lolita: Lolita Thirty Years On

Perhaps even more than the seduction of the young nymph by a cunning man, the most provocative aspect of the novel is the way it reduces all of humanity to laughable puppets … … It has been said that the novel is, above all, a ferocious critique of middle-class America, a satire of its tasteless motels, its naive rituals and inconsistent values, a literary abomination that Henry Miller termed the ‘air-conditioned nightmare’ … …

I am not sure that Nabokov invented this story with symbolic intentions. My impression is that within him, as in Borges, there was a sceptic who was scornful of modernity and of life, and who observed both with irony and distance, from a refugee of ideas, books and fantasies, where both writers could remain protected, removed from the world through their prodigious inventive games that diluted reality into a labyrinth of words and phosphorescent images. For both writers, who were so similar in the way they understood culture and approached the task of writing, the distinguished art they created was not a criticism of the existing world but a way of disembodying life, dissolving it into a gleaming mirage of abstractions.

Literature and Life

Borges always got annoyed when he was asked: ‘What is the use of literature?’ He thought it a stupid question and would reply: ‘Nobody thinks of asking what is the use of the song of canary or the crimson glow of a sunset!’ Indeed, if these beautiful things exist and, thanks to them, life, albeit for a moment, is less ugly and less sad, isn’t it rather small-minded to seek practical justifications?

If we want to prevent literature — this source that powers our imagination and our sense of dissatisfaction, that refines our sensibilities and teaches us to speak with elegance and precision, that makes us free and gives us richer and more intense lives — from disappearing or being relegated to the attic

A Dream Factory

There are people who go to galleries to study a period, find out about customs and important events, get to know the faces of their forebears and the fashions of the women. They are perfectly entitled to do so, … … We go to a museum as we go to the cinema or to the opera, to step out of real, pedestrian life and live a sumptuous unreality, to have our fantasies embodied in other people’s fantasies, to travel outside ourselves, to discover the ghosts that are lurking in our innermost being, to change skin and to become other men and women in other times and other places, to flee the precise limitations of the human condition and what is possible … …

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