Vargas Llosa and the False Dialectic of a Good Writer, But a Right-Wing Citizen

The Colombian journalist María Jimena Duzán published in El País, on 07.07.2022, an excellent article about Vargas Llosa. Under the title “Vargas Llosa, el equivocado eres tú”, she went straight to the point:

“The writer and literature Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa has said by way of a sentence that Colombians voted wrong because we elected a former M-19 guerrilla as the country’s new president. ‘If he acts in legality, welcome’ he said with a gesture of skepticism and deep distrust and, as if he had already made his judgment about what is going to happen to Colombia, he dropped his ultimatum by concluding that the election of an ex-guerrilla to the presidency endangered the legality that Colombia has had for years. ‘There is a legality that has been maintained all these years despite the fact that the guerrillas represented something else’, he concluded in his diatribe.

The Nobel Prize winner’s verdict on Colombia may sound good in Madrid, in front of his followers, but not in Bogota. Here his opinion is light, unfair and disrespectful to the 11 million Colombians who exercised their right to vote. His opinion is based on stigma and moral disqualification and turns Colombians who voted for Gustavo Petro into suspicious beings, who cannot be trusted”.

But at the end of the article she writes: “Vargas Llosa is a writer and essayist who has captivated the world. However, when he gets into politics he almost never gets it right”. It is from this point that I continue. There is a thought that appears to be dialectical when it expresses that reactionary individuals, even from the right, can be good or excellent writers. In the next step, they say that left-wing writers are not always good writers. This is a necessary step for the following statement, “left-wing writers are pamphleteers”. And because they write pamphlets, they are far from good literature. It is not even the case here to mention the excellent literature, pamphleteering, of Swift – who recommended poor countries to sell their children to the rich, so that the children could be roasted – or of Mark Twain who killed the hypocrisy of the super-honest in the novel “The man who corrupted Hadleyburg”, No, because I devote myself to continue. That is, on the solid basis that literature is not a left-wing pamphlet, let’s start with the insinuation that reactionary writers write magnificent romances! But  it is going to be necessary to move with caution on this stand, because the saint is made of clay.

The first thing to think about is that it is not enough to expose the contradiction, to be dialectical from there. Do you understand? To say that a black man can be a racist is to expose a contradiction. Or, in another way, to say that a worker can support a fascist is the flagrant moment of a contradiction. But dialectics will only be realized when the contradiction is more than exposed: it has to be understood in its deep contradictory movement, never as a fixed picture of a landscape. Ah, reactionaries can be good writers (and, surreptitiously, without one daring to express it, “the more reactionary, the better!”).

Ah, less and more. Look at that classic claim that Balzac was a monarchist, but revolutionary in his novels. But to stay on that is to fail to see that “de Balzac”: a) had his focus on the hateful bourgeois; b) that his monarchist characters, or nobles, had no flattering actions. And if we go to the Brazilian writers, it is always said – or rather, accused! – that Machado de Assis in his life was alienated, conservative, and yet, the greatest Brazilian writer. But friends, how we miss the Machado de Assis Dictionary, by the great José Carlos Ruy, to clarify and restore the place and genius of Machado de Assis (Editora Anita Garibaldi, why the delay in publishing José Carlos Ruy’s latest work?) On the other hand, or on the same side, we have Lima Barreto and Castro Alves, leftist writers worthy of any literature in the world. And more recently, the fertile Graciliano Ramos. Where then would be the “dialectic” of the reactionary citizen, but writer of genius? When we leave Brazil, we can go to the highest point where we find Leon Tolstoy. This Russian made a masterpiece, or rather masterpieces, all driven by a deep love for the peasant, and with the very spirit of anarchist ideas in his life. Where would be the “dialectic” that only sees the point of the landowner in the person of the writer and Count Tolstoy?

That said, let’s go to a much smaller writer by the name of Mario Vargas Llosa, who captivated the world. And I return to what I had written about the Peruvian writer before. In 2010, when I published the text “Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Prize for Literature”, I had criticized in passing the unfortunate recreation of him in the book The War at the End of the World. Even though at the time the Stockholm communiqué informed that in Llosa’s literature the central theme was the fight for freedom in his country, because prizes, like obituaries, lie in the proclamation of virtues, the biggest lie was in the Brazilian press when it reported the book about Canudos as one of his great achievements.

On the contrary, I had already noticed that at least in The War at the End of the World Mario Vargas Llosa had been a huge failure in committing a flawed book, unworthy of a creator a little above average, because it was not sustained on several levels: a) by the very creation of characters – and one of them was none other than Antonio Conselheiro; b) by the disproportionate abyss between the human/political dimension of Canudos and the little book made; c) by the inevitable collision with the masterpiece Os Sertões – Llosa’s and Euclides’ were two strange, antagonistic, mutually repellent worlds; d) by the demeaning of Euclides da Cunha, an intellectual of absolute honesty. But, let’s say, this is the past.

The devil is that the past in literature is an endless present. In literature there is no old newspaper or expired product. In literature there is an eternity far above that of diamonds, because instead of stones, it is humanity that shines. And if you forgive the step, passage and fall, we mean, that bad, precarious and pretentious past of Mario Vargas Llosa comes back again in Aunt Julia and the scribbler. So let’s say, that is present.

In the case of Aunt Julia, it matters little whether the narration is attributed to a radio soap opera author, Pedro Camacho, a man crazy for sound-bites and extravagances, or to a writer whose memories are confused with the memories of the one known as the Magnificent Mario Vargas Llosa. What matters is the whole, the form of the general mortar of the book, and the feeling of pity, the embarrassment that it causes even in the eyes of those who only wanted to be entertained, but without lowering their own intelligence. For what would a reader say before this literature whose eternity is more like diamonds than humanity?

The author reports like a bureaucrat, he tells incidents without reflecting in the characters what he tells of what they do. In a novel, or rather in art, this is serious. He describes facts, he doesn’t narrate people. The reflection of the event in the person sails by. What we learn in drawing, in images from the good old cinema, that the shadow of the character, in dramatic moments, is more human than the person, and we don’t even need to go to Eisenstein, because we only need what the brilliant Kafka teaches us when he eludes the prosaic nature of simply telling facts, forget it.

In the novel, the eighteen-year-old Vargas and his thirty-plus-year-old aunt were in the throes of a family explosion, with death threats from an arbitrary lord, the narrator’s father, under moral scandal and mores. And yet they were heading for the center of the volcano in Lima kissing and squeezing. Anyone who has experienced the strained and pursued love and passion knows that the lines quoted above are empty of meaning. Lovers on the verge of dissolution do not act with such levity, to say the least. In these two flawed characters there is no dying and rebirth, dying and rebirth, like the beating of a muscle in the chest. Julia and Varguitas are far from heading for the center of their lives with red eyes, because they would wish to be reborn, when in fact they would do a forceps birth, coming from that light emitted by Goethe. “Until you understand that everything dies and everything is reborn, you will remain just a visitor to a sad planet.”

Which. Why a luminous classic, why demands for humanity in comic, burlesque characters? In Aunt Julia and the scribbler, Mario Vargas Llosa overcomes scandal, trauma, storm, adolescent inexperience, for what he tells in his lines. “The marriage to Aunt Julia was really a success and lasted much longer than all the relatives and even she herself had feared, desired or prognosticated: eight years.” What a success!

This is the writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who coincides his reactionary years with artistic decadence. But it may be that it is all just a coincidence. Or maybe a new dialectic of nature.

Uriarano Moto is author of the novel “Never-Ending Youth.”