Poet, visionary, historian, chronicler of the forgotten, scorned, and oppressed. Eduardo Galeano held court to a packed auditorium at a PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature conversation held at The New School. The event was facilitated by Jessica Hagedorn.
“Art is a lie that tells the truth,” the legendary writer asserted in his soft-spoken manner, an argument I recently attempted to make with translator Susan Bernofksy, and one fervently asserted by David Shields in his book Reality Hunger. How can this be? There is an agreement between the artist and the audience, says Galeano: that you, the reader, will believe what I, the writer, says, with the understanding that a greater truth hides beneath the surface.
A man of the people, Galeano claims his only purpose is to recover the brightness of the human rainbow. This does not mean that all his writing is goody-goody. Fans of the bard from Uruguay know that his truth telling simultaneously exposes injustice and lifts the human spirit. The man is an eternal optimist.
For most of the evening, Galeano read excerpts from his newest collection of vignettes, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History. The prose is divided so that one short story is assigned to every single day of the year. With understated gravitas, the man shared one sketch after another, each delivering a truth in the form of the fictional lie.
Asked about bravery, the theme of this year's festival, Galeano scoffed. The accolade is too often given to those who kill thousands of innocents in war. If such absurd logic continues, he warns, then soon we will be calling drones brave. No. When it comes to bravery, Galeano has others in mind. He read from May 10's story, "The Unforgivable," here presented in full:
The poet Roque Dalton wielded a defiant wit, he never learned to shut up or take orders, and he laughed and loved fearlessly.
On the eve of this day in the year 1975, his fellow guerrillas in El Salvador shot him dead while he slept.
Criminals: rebels who kill to punish disagreement are no less criminal than generals who kill to perpetuate injustice.
When he finished the story, Galeano was visibly moved.
Another piece: "The Shoe" (January 15):
In 1919 Rosa Luxemburg, the revolutionary, was murdered in Berlin.
Her killers bludgeoned her with rifle blows and tossed her into the waters of a canal.
Along the way, she lost a shoe.
Some hand picked it up, that shoe dropped in the mud.
Rosa longed for a world where justice would not be sacrificed in the name of freedom, nor freedom sacrificed in the name of justice.
Every day, some hand picks up that banner.
Dropped in the mud, like the shoe.
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Eduardo Galeano, PEN 2013, Poetry, Uruguay, Justice, South America