Ernesto Sabato

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Chau, maestro… hace muchos dias, semanas, que estaba pensando en esa unica palabra y recordaba, constantemente, este epitafio que vos mismo pusiste en tu ultima novela:

“Ernesto Sábato

Quiso ser enterrado en esta tierra

Con una sola palabra en su tumba:

PAZ”

 de Abaddon, el Exterminador (1974)

What good is literature, anyway?

Jorge Majfud’s books at Amazon>>

 

 

American Author Ernest Hemingway aboard his Ya...

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¿Para qué sirve la literatura? (I) (Spanish)

À quoi sert la littérature ? (Spanish)

What good is literature, anyway?

I am sure that you have heard many times this loaded query: “Well, what good is literature, anyway?” almost always from a pragmatic businessman or, at worst, from a Goering of the day, one of those pseudo-demigods that are always hunched down in a corner of history, waiting for the worst moments of weakness in order to “save” the country and humankind by burning books and teaching men how to be “real” men. And, if one is a freethinking writer during such times, one gets a beating, because nothing is worse for a domineering man with an inferiority complex than being close to somebody who writes. Because if it is true that our financial times have turned most literature into a hateful contest with the leisure industry, the collective unconscious still retains the idea that a writer is an apprentice sorcerer going around touching sore spots, saying inconvenient truths, being a naughty child at naptime. And if his/her work has some value, in fact he/she is all that. Perhaps the deeper mission of literature during the last five centuries has been precisely those things. Not to mention the ancient Greeks, now unreachable for a contemporary human spirit that, as a running dog, has finally gotten exhausted and simply hangs by its neck behind its owner’s moving car.

However, literature is still there; being troublesome from the beginning, because to say its own truths it only needs a modest pen and a piece of paper. Its greatest value will continue to be the same: not to resign itself to the complacency of the people nor to the temptation of barbarism. Politics and television are for that.

Then, yes, we can say literature is good for many things. But, because we know that our inquisitors of the day are most interested in profits and benefits, we should remind them that a narrow spirit can hardly shelter a great intelligence. A great intelligence trapped within a narrow spirit sooner or later chokes. Or it becomes spiteful and vicious. But, of course, a great intelligence, spiteful and vicious, can hardly understand this. Much less, then, when it is not even a great intelligence.

© Jorge Majfud

Respect Without Rights: The Privatization of Morality

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Respeto sin derechos: la privatización de la moral (Spanish)

Respect Without Rights: The Privatization of Morality

Jorge Majfud

Despite the violent reactions of the owners of the world, the humanist wave that radicalizes the recognition of fundamental equality among human beings will not stop.  But the price paid in the last seven centuries has been very high.  Like any change in values, even when pointing to the center of the humanist paradigm (in part accepted by conservative discourse, very much despite itself), it must necessarily be considered “immoral.”

Just one example.

The very definition of “marriage between two people of the same sex” hides a preconceived idea: if the body possesses a penis and testicles, it is a man; if it possesses a vagina and ovaries it is a woman.  Biological sex is identified with gender.  We know that gender is a cultural construction; there is nothing biological about the fact that little girls are dressed in pink and boys in sky blue or that teenaged girls would die to look and act like a barbie doll while their brother is out looking for a scar or a prostitute to confirm his manhood

Paradoxically, it is understood that in order to be a “man” or “woman” it is not enough to possess a virile member or a reproductive womb: it is necessary, first of all, “to behave like” such, according to the naturalized formulas.  At the same time, in order to confer the category of sin upon a sexuality different from our own (supposing that all of us heterosexuals practice sex in the same manner), it is alleged that that person has chosen to be that way.  To respond to this accusation, the partisans of gay rights allege that their sexual condition is not rooted in a choice but in an innate, genetic fact.  The most repeated argument in support of this idea is formulated as a rhetorical question: “Have heterosexuals chosen their heterosexuality?”  A new paradox is derived from this argument: in order to defend a right to freedom, freedom is annulled as a legitimating principle

Now, although we can accept two antagonistic categories, nature and culture, we must observe how both concepts are manipulated to the benefit of one sector or another.  For example, the ability to give birth (in Spanish “dar a luz,” to bring to light, one of the more beautiful metaphors) is proper to women, therefore we could define it as a “natural faculty.”  The problem arises when that faculty is interpreted by other members of society according to their own values, which is to say, according to their own interests.  Thus arise feminine roles that have never been dictated by nature but by social power

Recently, a legislator from my country repeated on the radio a well-known rationale. 1) He supported the right of lesbians and homosexuals to “be different.” 2) For this reason, he would not vote in favor of legislation that attempted to extend to them the same legal rights we heterosexuals enjoy because 3) he was in favor of the defense of family and values.  4) The defense of heterosexuality is the defense of nature, he concluded

We should observe that to allege a defense of values, without specifying to which values one refers, constitutes a new ideolexicon.  The implication is that it is possible not to possess or not to be in favor of “values.”  Nevertheless, nobody lacks a determinate system of values.  Even criminals and even more so organized crime are based on a determinate system of values.  Very traditional values, if we review the history of crime, whether private, religious or governmental.

We can say the same when the noun values is made more precise with the adjective family: “we defend family values.”  But, which family?  “The traditional family,” comes the response, supposing an absolute, ahistorical, natural category.  And to which tradition does one refer?  In the face of this kind of questioning, there is a quick retreat to safe ground: the Holy Scriptures.  I say “safe” for social reasons, not because of its theological implications, since from the latter point of view there is nothing less unanymous than interpretations of the sacred books.

If the defense is of “the values of the traditional family,” we might understand that the speaker is in favor of the oppression of women, of the denial of interracial marriage, interreligious marriage, etc.  But I do not believe that many people support this position, since this kind of “traditional values” has been defeated in the historical struggle in favor of a secular (not necessarily irreligious) humanism.  Because if many present day religions defend gender and racial equality (and although primitive Christianity also did so in a radical and revolutionary degree for its time), a millenarian history demonstrates the contrary.  We owe to progressive humanism and not to “traditional values” those principles of which even the most reactionary among us now boast.

When one assumes that the prescription of heterosexuality is a defense of nature in order to deny marriage rights to people “of the same sex” there is no explanation of why homosexuals (almost) always came from heterosexual families.  Even more curious: in the need to legitimate the denial of others’ rights, a Catholic priest praised the Uruguayan legislator for defending nature.  This demonstrates the immersion of the priest in the humanist paradigm.  It would have been more logical and traditional to take recourse to the will of God (assuming that anyone can arrogate to himself this right) or some Mosaic law, like those that Jesus used to abolish.  Since it is recognized that the State of an open society should be secular, one recurs to the paradigms of humanism.  But, how does one speak of natural when we are talking about the least natural animal of all the species?  What is natural about the celibate man, sexual abstention or the wearing of skirts in the style of the Middle Ages?

Yes, at least the Catholic Church has a long tradition of recognizing faults and errors.  Which is a virtue and the humanist recognition that ideas like the “Papal infallibility” decreed by the Vatican was an authoritarian fantasy.  The problem lies in the fact that those who hold traditional power recognize their errors a hundred years later, when it no longer matters to the victims.  As if errors were always in the past and never in the present.   As if repentance were part of the strategy of that power in the face of the rise of contrary values.

Since when can a right I possess be perceived as threatened because a peer demands it in the same measure?  Or is it that that peer is a peer but not as much of a human being as I because he arrived later in the world?  What right do some of us equals have to organize a State in order to exclude other equals at the same time that we brag about the diversity of our societies?  Why do we believe we are doing others a favor by tolerating them, instead of recognizing that they are the ones doing us a favor by not rebelling violently in order to finally recoup those rights that we deny them?

Because the right to be different does not consist of having different rights but, simply, the same.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

¿Para qué sirve la literatura?

Jorge Majfud’s books at Amazon>>

 

 

don quijote

À quoi sert la littérature ? (French)

What good is literature, anyway? (English)

¿Para qué sirve la literatura? (II)

¿Para qué sirve la literatura?

 

Estoy seguro que muchas veces habrán escuchado esa demoledora inquisición “¿Bueno, y para qué sirve la literatura?”, casi siempre en boca de algún pragmático hombre de negocios; o, peor, de algún Goering de turno, de esos semidioses que siempre esperan agazapados en los rincones de la historia, para en los momentos de mayor debilidad salvar a la patria y a la humanidad quemando libros y enseñando a ser hombres a los hombres. Y si uno es escritor, palo, ya que nada peor para una persona con complejos de inferioridad que la presencia cercana de alguien que escribe. Porque si bien es cierto que nuestro financial time ha hecho de la mayor parte de la literatura una competencia odiosa con la industria del divertimento, todavía queda en el inconsciente colectivo la idea de que un escritor es un subversivo, un aprendiz de brujo que anda por aquí y por allá metiendo el dedo en la llaga, diciendo inconveniencias, molestando como un niño travieso a la hora de la siesta. Y si algún valor tiene, de hecho lo es. ¿No ha sido ésa, acaso, la misión más profunda de toda la literatura de los últimos quinientos años? Por no remontarme a los antiguos griegos, ya a esta altura inalcanzables por un espíritu humano que, como un perro, finalmente se ha cansado de correr detrás del auto de su amo y ahora se deja arrastrar por la soga que lo une por el pescuezo.

Sin embargo, la literatura aún está ahí; molestando desde el arranque, ya que para decir sus verdades le basta con un lápiz y un papel. Su mayor valor seguirá siendo el mismo: el de no resignarse a la complacencia del pueblo ni a la tentación de la barbarie. Para todo eso están la política y la televisión. Por lo tanto, sí, podríamos decir que la literatura sirve para muchas cosas. Pero como sabemos que a nuestros inquisidores de turno los preocupa especialmente las utilidades y los beneficios, deberíamos recordarles que difícilmente un espíritu estrecho albergue una gran inteligencia. Una gran inteligencia en un espíritu estrecho tarde o temprano termina ahogándose. O se vuelve rencorosa y perversa. Pero, claro, una gran inteligencia, perversa y rencorosa, difícilmente pueda comprender esto. Mucho menos, entonces, cuando ni siquiera se trata de una gran inteligencia.

© Jorge Majfud

Montevideo

Diciembre de 2000

Litterae (Chile)


What good is literature, anyway?

I am sure that you have heard many times this loaded query: “Well, what good is literature, anyway?” almost always from a pragmatic businessman or, at worst, from a Goering of the day, one of those pseudo-demigods that are always hunched down in a corner of history, waiting for the worst moments of weakness in order to “save” the country and humankind by burning books and teaching men how to be “real” men. And, if one is a freethinking writer during such times, one gets a beating, because nothing is worse for a domineering man with an inferiority complex than being close to somebody who writes. Because if it is true that our financial times have turned most literature into a hateful contest with the leisure industry, the collective unconscious still retains the idea that a writer is an apprentice sorcerer going around touching sore spots, saying inconvenient truths, being a naughty child at naptime. And if his/her work has some value, in fact he/she is all that. Perhaps the deeper mission of literature during the last five centuries has been precisely those things. Not to mention the ancient Greeks, now unreachable for a contemporary human spirit that, as a running dog, has finally gotten exhausted and simply hangs by its neck behind its owner’s moving car.

However, literature is still there; being troublesome from the beginning, because to say its own truths it only needs a modest pen and a piece of paper. Its greatest value will continue to be the same: not to resign itself to the complacency of the people nor to the temptation of barbarism. Politics and television are for that.

Then, yes, we can say literature is good for many things. But, because we know that our inquisitors of the day are most interested in profits and benefits, we should remind them that a narrow spirit can hardly shelter a great intelligence. A great intelligence trapped within a narrow spirit sooner or later chokes. Or it becomes spiteful and vicious. But, of course, a great intelligence, spiteful and vicious, can hardly understand this. Much less, then, when it is not even a great intelligence.

© Jorge Majfud