Art and Anger: Essays on Politics and the Imagination

Art and Anger: Essays on Politics and the Imagination

Art and Anger: Essays on Politics and the Imagination

Art and Anger: Essays on Politics and the Imagination

Synopsis

Ilan Stavans's vast and subtle knowledge deftly emerges in this engrossing collection of essays. Fascinated by the idea of Western civilization as a sequence of innumerable misinterpretations and misrepresentations, a magisterial Tower of Babel where everybody communicates at once in a different tongue, these nineteen pieces cover a broad range of personal and philosophical topics with the unifying theme being the crossroads where politics and the imagination meet. An essay on linguistics and culture discusses the shaping of Latin America's collective identity as a result of a translation loss. Peru's modern history is approached as a bloody battle between enlightenment and darkness, as personified by the archetypal clash between novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and the leader of Shining Path, Abimael Guzman. In his critiques of Octavio Paz and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Stavans reflects on the dichotomy between pen and sword in the Hispanic world and wonders why we are so mesmerized by magic realism, a literary style that poses as unsettling while remaining thoroughly conventional at heart. In "Letter to a German Friend", Stavans returns to his fate as a Jew in the Southern Hemisphere, and in "The First Book", he connects his passion for literature to his initiation into Jewishness. Finally, in the brilliant meditation on Columbus's afterlife, he reflects on the many ways in which we reinvent ourselves in order to make sense of the chaotic world that surrounds us.

Excerpt

Saul Bellow is right: it is not always pleasant to read what you wrote almost a decade ago. I began writing these miscellaneous essays about a year after I moved to New York City--or better, after I moved into the English language. To say that the transition was an arduous one is to undermine its true significance: I was aware since day one that my writing skills in Shakespeare's tongue were quite precarious; still, I was ready to do anything not to become an intellectual parasite, a pariah. I grew up with Yiddish and Hebrew around, aside from Spanish of course; translingualism, then, could be seen as a challenge, not an impediment. I immediately took to earnest the old dictum attributed to Anzia Yezierska, which described Jewish writers as "communicating vessels across cultural and linguistic lines." As I began writing in borrowed words, I devoted myself to the enterprise of explaining Hispanic culture to Anglo- Saxon readers. But I did so while remaining loyal to my native tongue, hence living two parallel lives: in Spanish I wrote about H. P. Lovecraft and B. Traven; in English, about Fernando Pessoa and Mario Vargas Llosa. Every so often I would have tête-à-tête with my doppelgänger, which resulted in a moment of intense confusion and despair, making me feel as the personification of a no-man's-land. Did I belong north or south of the border? Or was it perhaps in (and on) the border? Eventually I came to realize that a writer's career is about mutation and that, as an immigrant, I was undergoing a profound process of reeducation, of cultural reexamination. As a result, in more than one way this volume is only half of an ongoing autobiography, a record of my metamorphosis and acknowledgment of the many masks I wear in English. (The other half is to be found in Spanish.) These nineteen collected essays are a side-

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