The Fabulating Gifts of Gabriel García Márquez
I do not feel inclined to join with those who hold that the poet should be relieved of his shamanistic duties, unburdened of his responsibility and role in enchanting his fellow man. The poet cannot be reduced to the task of merely collecting facts to feed the cybernetic monsters that are taking over, running and rounding our little lives and that are making us all identical moles striving to fill our quota of anthill chain-labor tasks and chain-life functions, where all shades of tergiversation are anathema and high treason, regardless of whether they are impelled by inner needs and nobly motivated; the creed in the shadow of the cybernetic tyrannosaurus rex of the encroaching brave new world is threatening to take over: mole stay mole. What then are our arms against the sea of robotification troubles and mechanization that threaten to suck out our souls and spit them into the void or onto garbage-dumps on the moon, there to wander undancing and bodiless among broken spaceships, surplus H-bombs, cyclonic gas containers and exiled warfare-germs as spirits ambulating from crater to crater over the lunar sands while the earth-bound bodies continue to do the blind St. Vitus dance to the untuned commands of robots who may one day acquire whims and suddenly delight in crushing legions of our frail kind of ants with their unticklish toes?
One is fantasy. And therefore my choice of candidate in the present race is a writer eminently endowed with a gift of speech animated by dynamic fantasy. Gabriel García Márquez is one of those writers who enchants us as he deals with those perennial forces that rule our lives and cast us hither and thither. He also represents a highly encouraging phenomenon in world literature, which has been designated as the South American boom in literature. In an age when more and more often we hear that the novel is dying or dead, as the fish in the sea and life in Lake Erie, under the threat of Menschendämmerung it is worthwhile, I feel, to find such a countercurrent of fantasy and to bewingedly reflect thus upon the human lot awhile, and refreshed, thence to renew our efforts and even gingerly resume taking arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing. . . .
García Márquez does not fail to deal with the dark forces, or give the impression that the life of human beings, one by one, should be ultimately tragic, but he also shows every moment pregnant with images and color and scent which ask to be arranged into patterns of meaning and significance while the moment lasts.
For: “You are the music / while it lasts.” (T. S. Eliot)
It seems to me that García Márquez marries realism and objectivity with a most singular sense of the fantastic and delicious fabulating gifts, often employing surrealistic clairvoyance to paint frescoes full of moral indignation and anger protesting against oppression and violence, degradation and deceit. Extolling pride, he clearly depicts certain ludicrous, even grotesque aspects, such as quixotic bravery and intransigent single-mindedness of purpose. It is a joy to encounter a poet who revels in his seductive powers as García Márquez does. And yet he is so exact in his formulation and precise in his composition. In juxtaposing the twin elements of humor and tragedy García Márquez often achieves contrapuntal heights where language and image are thoroughly fused.
It is my opinion that the role of a literary award like the BA / Neustadt Prize is not only to crown the glorious achievements of the living past (or a dying one, even one that may be dead, for that matter) which has quite often been the case with the Nobel Prize, but also to reward and call attention to the remarkable things actually happening and bursting into creation now. I have the impression that in the case of García Márquez we have a writer at the height of his productivity, and I feel it would be fascinating to award this distinction while that creativity is at its full flow. A book such as Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), a masterpiece, makes García Márquez indubitably one of the most important writers of fiction today.
In awarding García Márquez the BA / Neustadt Prize which he so well merits, I also feel that the great boom of South-American literature is saluted. This is a remarkable phenomenon of contemporary literature which revives optimism about the future of the novel. It is a fascinating body of literature that encompasses such varied and impressive writers as Asturias, Carpentier, Lezama Lima, Julio Cortázar, Vargas Llosa, Guimarães Rosa and Carlos Fuentes, and it induces me to revive the use of the word “South-American” instead of the term “Hispano-American” literature. Not forgetting the great poetry bred in this hemisphere, let me mention Neruda and Octavio Paz. Most of those just mentioned would also qualify for the present prize, but we should bear in mind that two of them have already been given the Nobel Prize, making it an act of redundancy to heap other prizes upon them.
García Márquez has invented a fantastic imaginary country of his own with its pertinent mythology of persons and events, recurrent in all his books, linked by allusion, with themes taken up and carried from one book to the other and elaborated upon, causing García Márquez’s mythological world to emerge and expand, addicting readers to a fantasy and humor that titillates the imagination and makes the reader eager for more. Nor should we forget its ubiquitous poetry.
Novelist, short-story writer, poet, essayist, and translator Thor Vilhjálmsson (1925–2011) was a leading exponent of Icelandic modernism. His awards included the Nordic Council Literature Prize and the Swedish Academy Nordic Prize.
In our sixteenth issue, we celebrate Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf, who in 2020 became the first indigenous writer to receive Chile's National Prize for Literature. We also feature dossiers dedicated to the work of Andrés Neuman, Latin American literary criticism, and the Latin American essay, plus a bilingual selection of texts from Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: 50 Years of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature commemorating Gabriel García Márquez, the first Latin American author to win the prestigious Neustadt Prize.