Why literature is good for us

"[...] the rationale for reading books in English class is not limited to the important goal of promoting strong reading skills.  For generations reading literature has also been the way that American students have learned their country's history and world history, how they learned about morality (by reading about virtuous and not-so-virtuous people), how they learned about good and bad leaders, and how they learned about the dangers of pride, greed, and other human foibles.

Reading literature also teaches, among other things, empathy: it puts us in another person's shoes [...] And certainly society could use a bit more empathy these days.  Literature enlarges our lives, it gets us out of ourselves, and at the same time, it helps us see ourselves more clearly.  In short, not only does literature make us better readers.  It also makes us better citizens and future employees, and most importantly, it helps us live our lives." SOURCE


Advice for a young writer

"Do not trust the dominant ideologies and the princes. Stay away from the princes. Do not contaminate your language with language of ideology. Believe that you are stronger than generals, but do not measure against them. Do not believe that you are weaker than generals, but do not measure against them. Do not believe in utopian projects, except in those that you create yourself. Be equally proud in front of the princes and the people. Have a clear conscience of the privileges a writing profession bestows on you. Do not confuse the curse of your choice with that of class oppression. Do not be swept by the tides of history, and do not believe in the metaphor of a train of history. Do not jump on the train of history, it's just a silly metaphor. Always remember that he who reaches the target misses the point. Do not write reports from countries that you've visited as a tourist. Do not write reports at all, you're not a journalist. Do not believe statistics, numbers, and public statements; the reality is that which cannot be seen with the naked eye. Do not visit factories, collective farms, or businesses; progress is that which cannot be seen with the naked eye. Do not get involved in economy, sociology, or psychoanalysis. Do not occupy your mind with Eastern philosophy, or teachings such as Buddhism, or Zen, you have a smarter job. Be aware that imagination is a sister of lies, so it is dangerous. Do not get involved with anyone, a writer is alone."
Danilo Kiš


The work of an artist

I took a break from my passion, Latin American literature, and read several works by Erich Maria Remarque, the non-war ones. I love those of his novels that deal with war and the consequences, all of them. They are enormously enriching, and more powerful deterrent than any that preaches against militarism and warmonging. I don't exaggerate when I say that reading his novels in my early teens was a contributing factor not to join the military, making me the first male in my family not to put on a uniform. I'm glad for these novels' existence, and wish that Remarque wrote more, though I know from his own comments that pressure from publishers forced him to abandon the subject.

Of all his non-war novels the most appealing for me is his first: The Dream Room (Die Traumbude). Partly autobiographical, it is nearest to the particular ambiance of his best works. Apart form all the existential questions raised by his characters it is also a story about an artist, a creator, which always draws me in. There's something immensely pacifying to find that one is not alone, and whatever ups and downs of the creative process may be, others feel the same.

"Work does not take much of an artist's time, on the contrary, it takes the least time. The idea, however, and its long maturing period is equally important. Creative work is divided into active and passive." Erich Maria Remarque, in The Dream Room.


Writing for the mental orgasm

Some inspiring words for today:

A Professor of Literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Segun Adekoya, dwelt on the essence of writing when he said, “Imaginative writing has no final objective aesthetic criteria for assessment, and it goes beyond winning a literary prize or awards. But writers who labour hard to imagine the impossible and hone their style acutely to express the inexpressible, find consolation in the mental orgasm that accompanies all rigorous acts of writing.”

From the Medieval, Greco-Roman, Restoration, Elizabethan, Romantic, Victorian to the Modern, some writers have, over time, proved their creative resourcefulness. Though they write essentially for change and not for awards, they are continually adorned with literary laurels for their preoccupations with the society.

As long as the muse still inspires, literature will continue to be courted by those from unrelated fields who covet the vibes surrounding the literati. MORE


The mind of a pirate

"Just as naval piracy is something more complex than "robbing people using a ship" information piracy is not just simply theft, as some opponents commonly claim. The key difference is that while copyright infringement may cause an economic loss it does not appropriate the object or deprive the copyright holder of the use of the copyright. Information is a non-rival good, and its value can change in nontrivial ways by becoming more accessible (e.g. widespread software piracy  has probably helped expensive software such as Photoshop and Windows to become standard even in poorer countries).

The concept of ownership is deeply ingrained in all humans, perhaps evolved from territoriality. It can be clearly observed when playing with children, who at an early age become aware that certain toys are theirs and become upset if others play with them. This innate "intuitive ownership" works well with material objects, which tend to be rival goods. It makes sense to have a right to exclude others from the property (since their use is rival) and control how it is used. On a more adult level, we tend to add principles such as the  right to benefit from the property and a right to transfer or sell it. If somebody handles our property without our permission we tend to become upset on an emotional level, regardless of any tangible loss. This is also why communal property is hard to maintain: it is non-intuitive, if people have no ties to it they will tend to undervalue/undermaintain it, and if they have strong ties there is a risk of jealousy." READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE HERE


Writers contribute to nation building

"I know that there are other [literary] prizes that are not worth their hype, in fact they corrupt the society. Those that are based on merit should be encouraged because what they do is encourage [and] recognise the effort and excellence of their recipients and fire them [up] to do more. But if there is any writer that allows his or herself to be conditioned or compromised by some kind of literary prize or awards, such writer is not worthy [of being] called a writer because, a writer should be an independent, conscientious and upright person. [...]

A writer is a social critic who all his/her life has been trying to rebrand his/her country. Though you don't call it that big name or go about telling people that is what you are doing, but when you are talking about corruption and other social ills, condemning and proffering solution for a better society, what you are doing invariably is contributing to nation building."
Chukwuemeka Ike (SOURCE)


Island of Passion

Some time ago I stumbled upon a story about Clipperton Island, or Island of Passion (Isla de la Pasión | Île de la Passion), a deserted rock in the Pacific Ocean. Scant information about its history sparked my imagination and got my creative juices flowing:

"Clipperton's name comes from John Clipperton, an English pirate and privateer  who fought the Spanish during the early 18th century, and is said to have passed by the island. Some others say he used the island as a hidden base for his raids on shipping [...]"

"On November 17, 1858, under Emperor Napoleon III, the French annexed Clipperton as part of their South Sea colony Tahiti. Mexico reasserted its claim over the island, on December 13, 1897, occupying and annexing it, and established a military outpost on the island; it appointed military governors from that time, including Ramón Arnaud (1906–1915). The US again held it briefly during the Spanish American War  of 1898"

"The British Pacific Island Company acquired the rights in 1906 to Clipperton's guano deposits and, in conjunction with the Mexican government, built a mining settlement. That year, a lighthouse was erected under the orders of President Porfirio Díaz, and a military garrison under Captain Arnaud of the Mexican army was sent to the island. By 1914, about 100 people – men, women, and children – were living on the island. Every two months, a ship from Acapulco sailed to Clipperton with provisions. However, with the escalation of fighting in the Mexican Revolution, the atoll was no longer reachable by ship, and the island's inhabitants were left to their own devices.

By 1915, most of the inhabitants had died, and the last settlers wanted to leave on the US Navy warship Lexington, which had reached the atoll in late 1915.

By 1917, all but one of the males on the island had died, some in a failed attempt to sail to the mainland and fetch help. The lighthouse keeper, Victoriano Álvarez, found himself the last man on Clipperton island, along with 15 women and children. Álvarez promptly proclaimed himself king and began a rampage of rape and murder, before being killed by one of the recipients of his attentions, the widow of garrison commander Captain Ramón Arnaud. On July 18, 1917, almost immediately following Álvarez's death, four women and seven children, the last survivors, were picked up by the US Navy gunship Yorktown."

What a fascinating story this would make for a book, I thought, and then forgot all about it.

Time passed and I came across an article about a Colombian author:

"Restrepo is one of the many contemporary Latin American authors seeking new routes for political writing. They reject both overt realism and phantasmagoria. Instead, their novels wander down less defined, more suggestive tracks: mysticism, irony, meta-literary games, and dreamlike, melancholy sequences are all recurring elements."

This was enough to make me seek out some of her books. Lo and behold, one of them turned out to be La Isla de la Pasión, Isle of Passion, about Captain Arnaud and his wife Alicia, two of the inhabitants of Clipperton Island. Well told!


A writer's profession isn't purely literary

"Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa said in an interview published over the weekend that he will not change his political convictions for the sake of winning literary prizes [...]

Vargas Llosa spoke about literature and said that he tries “to be coherent with the things” he believes in and that “a writer’s profession doesn’t end with the purely literary.”

Vargas Llosa said that the kind of literature he creates stems from ideas he learned as a youth reading France’s Jean-Paul Sartre, an author who in his opinion “aged very quickly” due to his writing’s lack of spontaneity, but with whose concept of the “committed writer” he agrees totally.

Nonetheless, he admits that he sometimes errs, since the only way not to make mistakes is to say nothing, something that, in his opinion, doesn’t agree with the kind of person he is." MORE