40 years of the Nobel who did not come to make speeches

“What is needed now is for the novel to be bad,” said his wife, mercedes barchaafter all that ordeal to be able to send to Editorial Sudamericana the manuscript of a book that Gabo had been thinking about for twenty years and that had taken him 18 months of feverish writing without earning a penny, while she did all possible domestic miracles to keep the house, the two children and that he did not lack the paper. Some were not miracles, as he himself had to confess. Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his memoirs (Live to tell) so many years later, such as selling part of the furniture in the house and even their own wedding rings, and others, rather coincidences of Providence, such as the final number in the Post Office itself: “The clerk put the package on the scale, did his calculations and said: ‘It’s eighty-two pesos.’ Mercedes counted the bills and loose change that were left in her wallet and she faced reality. ‘We only have fifty-three.’ We opened the package, divided it into two equal parts and sent one to Buenos Aires without even asking how we were going to get the money to send the rest.”, Gabo himself recounted only 15 years ago, during the opening of the IV International Congress of the Language, in 2007, held in his honor after his 80th birthday, 40 the publication of One hundred years of solitude and 25 his Nobel Prize for Literature. “Only later did we realize that we had not sent the first half but the last. But before we got the money to send it, Paco Porrúa, our man at Editorial Sudamericana, eager to read the first half of the book, advanced us money so we could send it. This is how we were reborn into our new life today”.

The truth is that the Nobel Prize for the Colombian novelist would not have been possible without the publication of that book that already contained all his literature. Four decades have passed since that highest award of World Letters, because the telephone announcement was received by Gabo on October 21, 1982, although the Prize itself, in whose ceremony he appeared without a tailcoat, but with a Caribbean liquiliqui, was not they delivered it in Stockholm until December 8. And it was that day, at the Concert House and surrounded by the other laureates – Kennet Wilson (Physics), Aaron Klug (Chemistry), Sune Bergstroem, Bengt Samuelsson and John R. Vance (Medicine) and George J. Stitgler (Economics) – where the boy who had said goodbye to his high school classmates in Zipaquirá (Colombia), in 1944, assuring them that he had not come to give a speech, had to say the most transcendent of his entire life, not remembering himself, but from a forgotten continent to the other side of the globe. The speech was titled “The loneliness of Latin America”, and the applause received was such that Gabo himself, who had considered “speeches as the most terrifying of human commitments” was committed to pronounce many more in the more than thirty years of life that remained to him.

Pigafetta and magical realism

In his Nobel reception speech, Gabo precisely remembered the only navigator who began to write on the voyage of Magellan and Elcano, now that 500 years have passed since that first circumnavigation. “Antonio Pigafetta, a Florentine navigator who accompanied Magellan on his first trip around the world, wrote a rigorous chronicle on his way through our South America that, however, seems like an adventure of the imagination. He recounted that he had seen pigs with their navels on their backs and some legless birds whose females hatched on the male’s back, and others like tongueless gannets whose beaks looked like a spoon. He recounted that he had seen an animal monstrosity with the head and ears of a mule, the body of a camel, the legs of a deer and the neigh of a horse. He recounted that they put a mirror in front of the first native they found in Patagonia and that that angry giant lost the use of reason because of the fear of his own image”. The award winner also cited, as antecedents to the invention of magical realism, other adventurous writers of the stature of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vacain search of the source of Eternal Youth, but he referred, with an unusual courage in a ceremony like that, to the harsh reality of his continent whose magic had perhaps put the writing that attested to not needing imagination…

There have been five wars and seventeen coups, and a Luciferian dictator emerged who in the name of God carried out the first ethnocide in Latin America in our time. Meanwhile, twenty million Latin American children died before they were two years old, which is more than the number born in Europe since 1970. Almost one hundred and twenty thousand disappeared due to repression, which is as if today no one knew where they were. all the inhabitants of Upsala. Numerous pregnant women arrested gave birth in Argentine prisons, but the whereabouts and identity of their children, who were given up for clandestine adoption or interned in orphanages by the military authorities, are still unknown.”, García Márquez said before the Swedish king and his wife Silvia, and continued adding: “For not wanting things to continue like this, close to two hundred thousand women and men have died throughout the continent, and more than one hundred thousand perished in three small and willful countries of Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. If this were in the United States, the proportional figure would be 1,00,600 violent deaths in four years”. She came to make a closer comparison for them to finish understanding: “The country that could be made with all the exiles and forced emigrants from Latin America would have a larger population than Norway”.

“The knot of our loneliness”

That solitude of Latin America was reminiscent of the 1950 essay by the Mexican Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitudebut Gabo -always a reporter- had enough humility to concretize that loneliness in the misery of an extraliterary reality that until then had not had a better loudspeaker: “I dare to think that it is this colossal reality, and not just its literary expression, that has received the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters this year. A reality that is not that of paper, but that lives with us and determines every moment of our countless daily deaths, and that sustains an insatiable source of creation, full of misery and beauty, of which this wandering and nostalgic Colombian is no more. than a number more marked by luck”. And he added: “Poets and beggars, warriors and scoundrels, all the creatures of that outrageous reality have had to ask very little of the imagination, because the greatest challenge for us has been the insufficiency of conventional resources to make our lives believable. This, my friends, the crux of our solitude”.

That brave speech by the author of One hundred years of solitude ended up also remembering who he considered his teacher, William Faulkner, who had said in that same circumstance of receiving the Nobel, in 1949, that he refused to admit the end of man. “I do not feel worthy to occupy this place that was his if I were not fully aware that, for the first time since the origins of humanity, the colossal disaster that he refused to admit thirty-two years ago is now nothing more than a simple scientific possibility”, said the Colombian, defender in the heat of the cold war of the creation of “the opposite utopia”. “A new and devastating utopia of life, where no one can decide for others even the way to die, where love is truly true and happiness is possible, and where the lineages condemned to a hundred years of solitude have finally and forever a second chance on earth”.

Only two days later, at the banquet offered by the Kings of Sweden in honor of those who had received the Nobel prizes, in the Blue Room of the Stockholm City Hall, it was Gabo who had to make another speech, and it was a “Toast to poetry ” that he had improvised with four hands with his soulmate Álvaro Mutis. “In each line I write I always try, with greater or lesser success, to invoke the elusive spirits of poetry, and I try to leave in each word the testimony of my devotion to its virtues of divination and its permanent victory against the deaf powers. of death”, said then who a quarter century later, before the Kings of Spain, was surprised that his most famous novel reached a million copies sold after being translated into more than twenty languages. “To think that a million people could decide to read something written in the solitude of a room, with twenty-eight letters of the alphabet and two fingers as an arsenal, seemed obviously crazy.” Today, eight years after leaving for the other world, Gabo would go completely crazy if he knew that his novel has far exceeded 50 million copies sold.

Committed to peace

Many of the speeches that the writer had yet to say had to do with the defense of ecology and world peace in the face of the nuclear threat. The most celebrated of all titled it “The cataclysm of Damocles” and pronounced it in Mexico, his other homeland, in August 1986, with the assistance of the leaders of the countries that had formed the so-called Group of Six: Argentina, Mexico, Tanzania, Greece, India and Sweden. “Presidents, Prime Ministers, friends, friends: This is not a bad plagiarism of John’s delusion in his exile from Patmos, but the anticipated vision of a cosmic disaster that can happen at this very moment: the explosion -directed or accidental- of only a minimal part of the nuclear arsenal that sleeps with one eye and watches with the other in the magazines of the great powers”, he began saying, appalled because “no science, no art, no industry has folded itself as many times as the nuclear industry since its inception forty-one years ago, nor has any other creation of human ingenuity ever had as much determining power over the fate of the world”. We would also like to think about what you would have to say today to Putin. On that occasion, with the desire to throw into the oceans of time “a bottle of sidereal castaways”, he imagined what his message would say: “that here life existed, that in it suffering prevailed and injustice prevailed, but that we also knew love and were even able to imagine happiness. And let him know and let it be known for all times who were to blame for our disaster and how deaf they became to our cries for peace so that this would be the best of all possible lives, and with what barbaric inventions and for what petty interests. they erased her from the universe”.

The writer who never came to give a speech, but who eventually gave a few, made fun, in short, even of that need of writers as famous as he, imprisoned in the eternal trap of concatenating speeches until his death: “A complacent intellectual could be born within a congress and continue to grow and mature in other successive congresses, without more pauses than those necessary to move from one to the other, until he dies of a good old age in his final congress.”. Fortunately, the best of Gabo did not feel the need to be said before an audience, but written for the eternity of its readers, who never wait for the end.

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40 years of the Nobel who did not come to make speeches