A Zapatista Reading List

Article excerpt

The following remarks are excerpted from a longer interview between Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, representing the Mexican magazine Cambio, and the Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos. The full text appeared in Cambio earlier this year.

Garcia Marquez/Cambio: Do you still have time to read in the middle of all this mess?

Marcos: Yes, because if not...what would we do? In the armies that came before us, soldiers took the time to clean their weapons and rally themselves. In this case, our weapons are our words, so we have to depend on our arsenal all the time.

Garcia Marquez/Cambio: Everything you say--in terms of form and content--demonstrates a serious literary background on your part. Where does this come from and how did you achieve it?

Marcos: It has to do with my childhood. In my family, words had a very special value. The way we went out into the world was through language. We didn't learn to read in school but by reading newspapers. My mother and father made us read books that rapidly permitted us to approach new things. Some way or another, we acquired a consciousness of language not as a way of communicating with each other but as a way of building something. As if it were more of a pleasure than a duty or assignment. When the age of catacombs arrives, the word is not highly valued for the intellectual bourgeoisie. It is relegated to a secondary level. It's when we are in the indigenous communities that language is like a catapult. You realize that words fail you to express certain things, and this obliges you to work on your language skills, to go over and over words to arm and disarm them.

Garcia Marquez/Cambio: Couldn't it be the other way around? Couldn't it be this control over language that permits this new era?

Marcos: It's like a blender. You don't know what is thrown in first, and what you end up with is a cocktail.

Garcia Marquez/Cambio: Can we talk about this family?

Marcos: It was a middle-class family. My father, the head of the family, was a rural teacher in the days of [Lazaro] Cardenas when, according to him, they cut off teachers' ears for being communists. My mother, also a rural teacher, finally moved, and we became a middle-class family, I mean, a family without any real difficulties. All of this in the provinces, where the cultural horizon is the society pages of the local newspaper. The world outside, or the great city, Mexico City, was the great attraction because of its bookstores. Finally, there were book fairs out in the provinces, and there we could get some books. Garcia Marquez, Fuentes, Monsivais, Vargas Llosa--independently of how he thinks--just to mention a few, they all came through my parents. They made us read them. One Hundred Years of Solitude was meant to explain what the province was in those days, and The Death of Artemio Cruz was to explain what had happened to the Revolution. [Carlos Monsivais's] Dias de Guardar to explain what was happening to the middle class. To some extent, although naked, our portrait was The City and the Dogs. All those things were there. We were coming out into the world in the same way we were coming to know literature. And this shaped us, I believe. …