Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Memory of Nestor Kirchner

I am very surprised by how little coverage the sudden and unexpected death of former Argentine President  Nestor Kirchner has received in the US media, This was the pivotal recent leader in one of the four most important countries in the hemisphere, one of the thirty most important in the world. This was someone who took a country many had given up on and made it a factor once again. I was not in lockstep with his every political move or viewpoint, and, follow it as I can, I am insufficiently attuned to the interstices of Argentine domestic politics to judge the nuances of his, and now his wife Cristina Fernandez's, every move or policy. Bur he deserves to be noted and, as appropriate, mourned.  Surely if Jacques Chirac had unexpectedly died, there would be more attention. And, despite his recent heart problems, it was unexpected: he was at the New School (which has developed an institutionally strong relationship with Argentina and Argentine institutions) to speak last month and looked fit as a fiddle, vigorously taking on those who accused him and his wife of passing the presidency between them as a political football.

In any event, Argentina matters to me, though apparently not the US media.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vargas Llosa Wins Nobel Prize

I am thrilled that the great Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has been declared the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature. Vargas Llosa has had an exemplary literary career. As a novelist, he has excelled over five decades in many genres and modes, from the grim confines limned in The Time of The Hero to the portrayal of the life of disaffected youth  a dictatorship in Conversation in the Cathedral, from the engaging satire of soap opera and young love in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to the searing yet empathetic portrait of millennialism in The War of the End of the World, to his masterpieces of the past decade, The Feast of the Goat with its convulsive sense of trauma and machinations amid an authoritarian regime, to the moral progress, or regress. of the boy-made-good gone bad in The Bad Girl.  Effortlessly adapting himself to eroticism in the Don Rigoberto books, the mystery-thriller in Death In The Andes and Who Killed Palomino Molero?, and the historical novel, in some of the books mentioned above as well as in El sueño del Celta, his forthcoming novel about Roger Casement in the Congo, Vargas Llosa is a deft craftsman even as there is always substance, heft, behind his every gesture.  Vargas Llosa is also an accomplished critic, writing on authors from Flaubert to Hugo to Arguedas. encompassing the European and Latin American inheritance. I don;t agree with a lot of his politics, rather obviously, but his role as political commentator has also been distinguished, especially as exemplified in his widely syndicated Piedra de Toque columns. Vargas Llosa has lived out his imaginative vision in public life; while he asks no one to approve of all his positions, he has thrown his moral weight behind them in a manner that commands respect. I am very pleased to have edited, with my Lang Literary Studies colleague Juan E. De Castro, an anthology on Vargas Llosa's recent work; those looking for an orientation to the latter half of Vargas Llosa's career may find it useful.

Murnane Wins Nobel Prize

I am stunned and thrilled beyond words--stunned and thrilled despite the spiralling rumors in recent days--that the great Australian novelist Gerald Murnane has won the Nobel Prize. Murnane is the author of nine books, including five novels--Tamarisk Row, A Lifetime on Clouds, The Plains, Inland, and last year's superb Barley Patch--three books of short stories,  Landscape with Landscape, Velvet Waters, and Emerald Blue, and the invaluable essay collection--which I believe is the work that first garnered him this new spate of attentoon--Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs. Murnane is a special writer-he is self-reflexive, steeped in his homegrown version of narrative theory, in the tradition of Borges and Nabokov (neither of whom won a Nobel, so Murnane's win is in a way posthumous vindication). Murnane is a cosmopolitan writer who makes easy reference to  Latin American and Eastern European writers and motifs, yet in his obsessions--with grasslands, with horse racing, with destinies lost and hopes never realized--he is indelibly Australian. His fascination with the Hungarian language--for him it is very nearly a sacred tongue--is in a sense a figure for all the strains of lyricism, yearning, and ironic distance that suffuse his work.

I am pleased to  have been able to  read his work for so long, and to have written several pieces on it, and even more to have met and corresponded with the man himself, but the pleasure should now be all the myriad readers who now gain access to the treasure trove of literary craft and dedication that awaits them.