The Writer between Two Worlds

By Jelloun, Tahar Ben | UNESCO Courier, May-June 1986 | Go to article overview

The Writer between Two Worlds


Jelloun, Tahar Ben, UNESCO Courier


The writer between two worlds

THE Third World intellectual must live with a terrible fact: over 80 per cent of people in the Third World can neither read nor write. No magic wand can be waved to change their plight; it will be a long, hard struggle which will call on men and women with a real determination for change.

Is it not a paradox to write in a continent of illiterates? "No,' says the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, "it is not as paradoxical as it may seem. Perhaps the writer knows that he is working to keep alive a relationship with a past which has rarely found its political equivalent.'

A literature in which many poor and dominated peoples find a recognizable picture of themselves has come from a single fissure etched in the warm and human earth of Latin America. The waifs and strays of Bogota are part of the same wound as the urchins of Cairo and the shayatin ("little devils') of Casablanca. A peasant dispossessed of his land has the same dreams whether he lives in north Africa or northeast Brazil; the same imagination broken by injustice, forbidden to express itself, thwarted by a tragic fate.

Once he has resisted blandishments and pressures, the writer born of this reality cannot accept that a dispossessed peasant should be left to live what political and military authorities call a reasonable life.

"A continent of illiterates' has a greater need of writers than a continent sated with knowledge. Writing here is a refusal to accept defeat.

And so we have this gamble on liberty and on the future, for this continent will not always be afflicted by the inevitability of illiteracy. Those who come later, perhaps the children of this period, will be entitled to call us to account. The writer will have to declare his books or his silence.

The commitment of the artist implies solving his country's problems at the same time as creating a work of art. This still has a meaning in countries which are confronted with life-and-death problems, not intellectual fads. In this respect the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has noted something which is valid not only for Latin America but for the Third World as a whole. "Elsewhere, to be a writer means, primarily and often exclusively, assuming a personal responsibility for a body of work which, if artistically valid, will enrich the culture of the country in which it is created. …

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