Sunday, June 5, 2011

Vargas Llosa's Victory

Mario Vargas Llosa's biggest win in the past twelve months may not have been garnering the 2010 Nobel prize for literature. It instead may well be his unexpected and, we may conclude, pivotal support for Ollanta Humala in the 2011 Peruvian Presidential election. As of * PM EST SUnday June 5, Humala is widely reported to have eked out a narrow win.

For decades, Vargas Llosa has been the scourge of the Left. If not quite the paladin of the Right--he has never been a supporter of organized religion and is pro-gay rights and pro-choice on abortion--he was a ferocious opponent of governmental intervention in the economy and an acrid critic of Leftist illusions about the "Third World." His endorsement of Humala was a striking swerve from that tendency True, he did not exactly deliver a ringing accolade, having earlier said that choosing between Keiko Fujimori and Humala was like choosing between cancer and AIDS. Nor, as somebody who found even the presidential candidacy of General Wesley Clark faintly praetorian, am I myself inclined towards occasionally demagogic former army officers as political candidates. But I can see, and support, Vargas Llosa's logic, and it has to be understood on a deeper level than commentators so far have,

To see his support for the left-wing, populist Humala as just a visceral grievance against Keiko Fujimori's father, Alberto, to whom Vargas Llosa himself unexpectedly lost in the 1990 election, is to miss the point. Yes, no doubt there is an element of personal vendetta here. But, as a novelist, Vargas Llosa is fully aware that political actors always are tinged with personal emotions, and that this presence of personal affect does not invalidate or delegitimize the grounds of their choice. Humala may, for Vargas Llosa, be wrong and unwise on all manner of issues; Fujimori promised corruption and the rehabilitation of corruption, all the more painful for Vargas Llosa as Fujimori's platform--Keiko Fujimori's, that is--subscribes to the same neoliberal mantras as does Vargas Llosa, and her support came from the beneficiaries of the neoliberal trends of the past generation. Peruvian public figures previously in line with Vargas Llosa's positions, such as the TV personality and novelist Jaime Bayly, have parted company from the Master on this issue. Vargas Llosa is now sundered from many of his former acolytes,

In my article in Vargas Llosa's novel La guerra del fin del mundo in the co-edited collection for Palgrave I coordinated along with Juan E. De Castro, I asked, rhetorically, if Vargas Llosa's critique of utopianism and millennarianism was meant only for the Left, whether or not there were enemies to the Right as well. SO many intellectuals have accused the Left of these 'sins' while not saying a word when the same syndromes manifest themselves on the Right. Even if Vargas Llosa was letting personal spite prevail over ideological conviction in supporting Humala, this can be seen in a way as a salutary brake on the ideological purism of neoliberalism, which--as seen in the US Tea Party movement--has as dangerous a tendency towards unanimity and intellectual conformity as any leftist equivalent. Moreover one can see in Vargas Llosa's latest novel, El Sueñõ del Celta, a critique of colonialism and of unfettered capitalism that shows that the very late Vargas Llosa might be swinging a little bit back to the left after his well-chronicled turn to the Right of the past thirty years.

It will be interesting to see what kind of President Ollanta Humala makes. Peru's national interests--and its curiously right-wing media sphere and intelligentsia-- will not permit him to depart too drastically from many of the policies of his predecessor, Alan Garcia Pérez. Humala has pitched himself as an emulator of Lula in Brazil, and the strong Peruvian economy may permit him to be both redistributionist but also reassure the capitalist powers that be. Of course, Humala may also be a disaster.  History will tell whether Vargas Llosa, and I, were right or wrong in supporting him. But this episode, if nothing else, represents an interesting turn in the fate of the neoliberal consensus which a few years ago thought itself unchallengeable. And it reaffirms Mario Vargas Llosa's stature as a writer of conscience unafraid to challenge--when they are wrong--even those ideological platforms of which he has so visibly been an active supporter...

Derek Jacobi's LEAR

The Jacobi LEAR was great--riveting, grimly funny at times, conveying Shakespeare's most unrelieved tragedy, something so dark MACBETH seems like a dry run by comparison. Jacobi projected anger, sadness, bewilderment in just the right places.  At the end of the production, birds twittered, as if to portend a new day after the worst had happened. I thought I could get my parakeets Actors Equity cards. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Millicent Dillon, In The Atomic City

Millicent Dillon came to fiction and literary writing only in midlife, yet in a series of books, fiction, nonfiction, and in-between, she has addressed more than any writer of our age  the overt ideologies of our time, the latent demands they make on our selves and our senses of agencies, and the art that can function as both resistance to these ideologies an, alas,  confirmation of their hold. Her current work is a memoir of her years as a junior physicist in the 1940s, which is both an essay in memory and the resistant pastness of the past, and an examinationof the forces of destruction that still, in different shapes, threaten us today. The Believer has published this excerpt of Dillon's work and I would recommend it for readers of this blog not only for its quality and insight but for the way it traces certain issues which  are also evident preoccupations of my own.