- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Mario Vargas Llosa on Art, Life, Writing, Literature, and More.

 

Happy birthday, Mario Vargas Llosa! 84, today! Here are some quotes from his writing:

 

“Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life. When we look in fiction for what is missing in life, we are saying, with no need to say it or even to know it, that life as it is does not satisfy our thirst for the absolute—the foundation of the human condition—and should be better. We invent fictions in order to live somehow the many lives we would like to lead when we barely have one at our disposal.”

 

“Good literature erects bridges between different peoples, and by having us enjoy, suffer, or feel surprise, unites us beneath the languages, beliefs, habits, customs, and prejudices that separate us.”

 

“Literature is a false representation of life that nevertheless helps us to understand life better, to orient ourselves in the labyrinth where we are born, pass by, and die. It compensates for the reverses and frustrations real life inflicts on us, and because of it we can decipher, at least partially, the hieroglyphic that existence tends to be for the great majority of human beings, principally those of us who generate more doubts than certainties and confess our perplexity before subjects like transcendence, individual and collective destiny, the soul, the sense or senselessness of history, the to and fro of rational knowledge.”

 

“At times I wondered whether writing was not a solipsistic luxury in countries like mine, where there were scant readers, so many people who were poor and illiterate, so much injustice, and where culture was a privilege of the few. These doubts, however, never stifled my calling, and I always kept writing even during those periods when earning a living absorbed most of my time. I believe I did the right thing, since if, for literature to flourish, it was first necessary for a society to achieve high culture, freedom, prosperity, and justice, it never would have existed. But thanks to literature, to the consciousness it shapes, the desires and longings it inspires, and our disenchantment with reality when we return from the journey to a beautiful fantasy, civilization is now less cruel than when storytellers began to humanize life with their fables.”

 

“We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist.”

 

“That was why fictions were born: so that, through living this vicarious, transient, precarious, but also passionate and fascinating life that fiction transports us to, we can incorporate the impossible into the possible and our existence can be both reality and unreality, history and fable, concrete life and marvelous adventure.”

 

“[F]iction is more than an entertainment, more than an intellectual exercise that sharpens one’s sensibility and awakens a critical spirit. It is an absolute necessity so that civilization continues to exist, renewing and preserving in us the best of what is human. So that we do not retreat into the savagery of isolation and life is not reduced to the pragmatism of specialists who see things profoundly but ignore what surrounds, precedes, and continues those things. So that we do not move from having the machines we invent serve us to being their servants and slaves. And because a world without literature would be a world without desires or ideals or irreverence, a world of automatons deprived of what makes the human being really human: the capacity to move out of oneself and into another, into others, modeled with the clay of our dreams.”

 

“[L]iving is worth the effort if only because without life we could not read or imagine stories.”

 

“Life is a shitstorm, in which art is our only umbrella.”

 

“Memory is a snare, pure and simple; it alters, it subtly rearranges the past to fit the present.”

 

“Revolution will free society of its afflictions, while science will free the individual of his.”

 

“The writer’s job is to write with rigor, with commitment, to defend what they believe with all the talent they have. I think that’s part of the moral obligation of a writer, which cannot be only purely artistic. I think a writer has some kind of responsibility at least to participate in the civic debate. I think literature is impoverished, if it becomes cut from the main agenda of people, of society, of life.”

 

“That is one thing I am sure of amid my many uncertainties regarding the literary vocation: deep inside, a writer feels that writing is the best thing that ever happened to him, or could ever happen to him, because as far as he is concerned, writing is the best possible way of life, never mind the social, political, or financial rewards of what he might achieve through it.”

 

“‎Reading good literature is an experience of pleasure…but it is also an experience of learning what and how we are, in our human integrity and our human imperfection, with our actions, our dreams, and our ghosts, alone and in relationships that link us to others, in our public image and in the secret recesses of our consciousness.”

 

“Reading changed dreams into life and life into dreams.”

 

“Nostalgia is cowardice.”

 

“No matter how ephemeral it is, a novel is something, while despair is nothing.”

 

“‘One can’t fight with oneself, for this battle has only one loser.'”

 

“Writing stories was not easy. When they were turned into words, projects withered on the paper and ideas and images failed. How to reanimate them? Fortunately, the masters were there, teachers to learn from and examples to follow. Flaubert taught me that talent is unyielding discipline and long patience. Faulkner, that formwriting and structureelevates or impoverishes subjects. Martorell, Cervantes, Dickens, Balzac, Tolstoy, Conrad, Thomas Mann, that scope and ambition are as important in a novel as stylistic dexterity and narrative strategy. Sartre, that words are acts, that a novel, a play, or an essay, engaged with the present moment and better options, can change the course of history. Camus and Orwell, that a literature stripped of morality is inhuman, and Malraux that heroism and the epic are as possible in the present as is the time of the Argonauts, the Odyssey, and the Iliad.”

 

“Literature creates a fraternity within human diversity and eclipses the frontiers erected among men and women by ignorance, ideologies, religions, languages, and stupidity.”

 

“I was eleven years old, and from that moment everything changed. I lost my innocence and discovered loneliness, authority, adult life, and fear. My salvation was reading, reading good books, taking refuge in those worlds where life was glorious, intense, one adventure after another, where I could feel free and be happy again. And it was writing, in secret, like someone giving himself up to an unspeakable vice, a forbidden passion. Literature stopped being a game. It became a way of resisting adversity, protesting, rebelling, escaping the intolerable, my reason for living. From then until now, in every circumstance when I have felt disheartened or beaten down, on the edge of despair, giving myself body and soul to my work as a storyteller has been the light at the end of the tunnel, the plank that carries the shipwrecked man to shore.”

 

“Although it is very difficult and forces me to sweat blood and, like every writer, to feel at times the threat of paralysis, a dry season of the imagination, nothing has made me enjoy life as much as spending months and years constructing a story, from its uncertain beginnings, the image memory stores of a lived experience that becomes a restlessness, an enthusiasm, a daydream that then germinates into a project and the decision to attempt to convert the agitated cloud of phantoms into a story. ‘Writing is a way of living,’ said Flaubert. Yes, absolutely, a way of living with illusion and joy and a fire throwing out sparks in your head, struggling with intractable words until you master them, exploring the broad world like a hunter tracking down desirable prey to feed an embryonic fiction and appease the voracious appetite of every story that, as it grows, would like to devour every other story. Beginning to feel the vertigo a gestating novel leads us to, when it takes shape and seems to begin to live on its own, with characters that move, act, think, feel, and demand respect and consideration, on whom it is no longer possible to arbitrarily impose behavior or to deprive them of their free will without killing them, without having the story lose its power to persuadethis is an experience that continues to bewitch me as it did the first time, as complete and dizzying as making love to the woman you love for days, weeks, months, without stopping.”

 

“Why would anyone who is deeply satisfied with reality, with real life as it is lived, dedicate himself to something as insubstantial and fanciful as the creation of fictional realities? Naturally, those who rebel against life as it is, using their ability to invent different lives and different people, may do so for any number of reasons, honorable or dishonorable, generous or selfish, complex or banal. The nature of this basic questioning of reality, which to my mind lies at the heart of every literary calling, doesn’t matter at all. What matters is that the rejection be strong enough to fuel the enthusiasm for a task as quixotic as tilting at windmillsthe slight-of-hand replacement of the concrete, objective world of life as it is lived with the subtle and ephemeral world of fiction.”

 

“A person who does not read, or reads little, or reads only trash, is a person with an impediment: he can speak much but he will say little, because his vocabulary is deficient in the means for self-expression.

This is not only a verbal limitation. It represents also a limitation in intellect and imagination. It is a poverty of thought, for the simple reason that ideas, the concepts through which we grasp the secrets of our condition, do not exist apart from words.”

 

“It is the case that, albeit to a lesser extent, all fictions make their readers live ‘the impossible,’ taking them out of themselves, breaking down barriers, and making them share, by identifying with the characters of the illusion, a life that is richer, more intense, or more abject and violent, or simply different from the one that they are confined to by the high-security prison that is real life. Fictions exist because of this fact. Because we have only one life, and our desires and fantasies demand a thousand lives. Because the abyss between what we are and what we would like to be has to be bridged somehow. That was why fictions were born: so that, through living this vicarious, transient, precarious, but also passionate and fascinating life that fiction transports us to, we can incorporate the impossible into the possible and our existence can be both reality and unreality, history and fable, concrete life and marvelous adventure.”

 

“Without fictions we would be less aware of the importance of freedom for life to be livable, the hell it turns into when it is trampled underfoot by a tyrant, an ideology, or a religion. Let those who doubt that literature not only submerges us in the dream of beauty and happiness but alerts us to every kind of oppression, ask themselves why all regimes determined to control the behavior of citizens from cradle to grave fear it so much they establish systems of censorship to repress it and keep so wary an eye on independent writers. They do this because they know the risk of allowing the imagination to wander free in books, know how seditious fictions become when the reader compares the freedom that makes them possible and is exercised in them with the obscurantism and fear lying in wait in the real world. Whether they want it or not, know it or not, when they invent stories the writers of tales propagate dissatisfaction, demonstrating that the world is badly made and the life of fantasy richer than the life of our daily routine. This fact, if it takes root in their sensibility and consciousness, makes citizens more difficult to manipulate, less willing to accept the lies of the interrogators and jailers who would like to make them believe that behind bars they lead more secure and better lives.”

 

“From the cave to the skyscraper, from the club to weapons of mass destruction, from the tautological life of the tribe to the era of globalization, the fictions of literature have multiplied human experiences, preventing us from succumbing to lethargy, self-absorption, resignation. Nothing has sown so much disquiet, so disturbed our imagination and our desires as the life of lies we add, thanks to literature, to the one we have, so we can be protagonists in the great adventures, the great passions real life will never give us. The lies of literature become truths through us, the readers transformed, infected with longings and, through the fault of fiction, permanently questioning a mediocre reality. Sorcery, when literature offers us the hope of having what we do not have, being what we are not, acceding to that impossible existence where like pagan gods we feel mortal and eternal at the same time, that introduces into our spirits non-conformity and rebellion, which are behind all the heroic deeds that have contributed to the reduction of violence in human relationships. Reducing violence, not ending it. Because ours will always be, fortunately, an unfinished story. That is why we have to continue dreaming, reading, and writing, the most effective way we have found to alleviate our mortal condition, to defeat the corrosion of time, and to transform the impossible into possibility.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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