BOGOTÁ - Great writers are not just observers, narrators or interpreters of social happenings, but also prophets who survey history from above. They fill us with auguries and scenarios on how we live and what will happen if we keep seeing our surroundings with the same gaze.
There are figures to show that recent events, like the rise of the Trump dynasty in the United States, Marine Le Pen's triumph in French electoral polls or in our country the victory of the No vote to the peace deal
with the FARC, have increased the readership of apocalyptic works of fiction like George Orwell's 1984.
Events suggest an increasing distance between people and awareness of human rights, or with beauty in the world or empathy for others. Reading such works can take us toward a deeper understanding of what is happening and what we are leaving behind. I would cite three fragments of texts here, which have worked for me as mirrors of the world and illustrate how our lifestyles are making us forget our human nature.
The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote an article in 1950 in the paper La Nación, entitled "The Wall and the Books" (La muralla y los libros), on the Chinese Emperor Shih Huang Ting. He wrote, "I read some days ago that the man who ordered built that almost infinite wall of China was its first great emperor, Shih Huang Ting, who also ordered that all books preceding him be burned. I was both inexplicably satisfied and worried that one person should be the source of two vast operations, one of putting up five hundred and sixty leagues of stones against the barbarians and the other, the rigorous abolition of history, or the past."
That history inevitably reminds us of our own times, when walls that had come down are being rebuilt stone by stone, ensuring our ignorance of other people's particular humanity, making us deaf to their voices and languages, and blind to their visions of God. Like that Chinese emperor, history today condemns us to forget ourselves, our pasts and what we did to arrive here. Burning books symbolizes the destruction of all knowledge and the histories of peoples, which robs us of our legitimate curiosity and the right to mould our reality.
The world today is sending us back, blinded, to situations and tragedies that must not recur. As if we were living a never-ending present that makes us subservient to the potent, ubiquitous forces of a general order. The French playwrite Eugene Ionesco foresaw our present fate in the mid-20th century, when automatic processes were already taking shape within the grand strategy of productivity. He told a conference in 1961 that "the modern, universal man is the busy man. He has no time, is a prisoner to necessity nor can he contemplate the absence of utility, though he also fails to understand that useful things are themselves a useless, depressing weight."
Such individuals have not only forgotten an innate curiosity inherently human impulse toward knowledge and beauty, but also placed themselves at the eternal service of whoever commands them, sacrificing their lives to mass production, and paying homage to an empty life filled with wealth and belongings.
Both Borges and Ionesco painted then eminent portraits of our times. One depicted the historical forces that move us, with an emperor that may remind us of Trump or Le Pen, and the other, ourselves: the little people who work everyday and submit to the reckless rythm of productivity, without curiosity or a moment to pause and admire a setting sun.
Beside bequeathing us their predictions, the souls behind those masterful writings invite us to recall everything we have forgotten: our taste for beauty, our vibrating minds or the yearning for knowledge itself.
The Japanese writer Kakuzo Okakura observed in The Book of Tea (1906) that men transcended their animal condition with that first bouquet of flowers ever offered a girl. "Lifting himself above his natural and primitive needs, he made himself human. And when man sensed there was use in the useless, he entered the realm of art."
With these words Okakura reminds us of our identity, and fills us with nostalgia. He helps us see how the present, that overwhleming tide that brings and takes all, has cast the treasures of our humanity on a distant shore of stillness, waiting to be found.
See more from Opinion / Analysis here
All rights reserved © Worldcrunch - in partnership with EL ESPECTADOR