Does literature serve any higher purpose beyond entertainment? Mario Vargas Llosa argues that, unlike television or cinema, it has a special ability and responsibility to address itself to the problems of its timeby Mario Vargas Llosa / May 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Published in May 1997 issue of Prospect Magazine
Mario Vargas Llosa speaking in 1985
My vocation as a writer grew out of the idea that literature does not exist in a closed artistic sphere but embraces a larger moral and civic universe. This is what has motivated everything I have written. It is also, alas, now turning me into a dinosaur in trousers, surrounded by computers.
Statistics tell us that never before have so many books been published and sold. The trouble is that hardly anybody I come across believes any longer that literature serves any great purpose beyond alleviating boredom on the bus or the underground, or has any higher ambition beyond being transformed into telly- or cine-scripts. Literature has gone for light. That is why critics such as George Steiner have come to believe that literature is already dead, and how novelists such as VS Naipaul have come to proclaim that they will not write another novel because the genre now fills them with disgust.
But amid this pessimism about literature, we should remember that many people still fear the writer. Look at the criminal clique which governs Nigeria and executed Ken Saro-Wiwa; at those who persecuted Taslima Nasreen in Bangladesh; at the imams who declared a fatwa on Salman Rushdie; at the Muslim fundamentalists in Algeria who have cut the throats of dozens of journalists, writers and thespians; at those in Cairo who financed the attack which could have cost the life of Naguib Mahfouz; and at all those regimes in North Korea, Cuba, China, Laos, Burma and elsewhere where censorship prevails and prisons are full of writers.