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In Defense of the Word

by Eduardo Galeano

One writes out of a need to communicate and to commune with others, to denounce that which gives pain and to share that which gives happiness. One writes against one's solitude and against the solitude of others. One assumes that literature transmits knowledge and affects the behavior and language of those who read... One writes, in reality, for the people whose luck or misfortune one identifies with—the hungry, the sleepless, the rebels, and the wretched of this earth—and the majority of them are illiterate.

... How can those of us who want to work for a literature that helps to make audible the voice of the voiceless function in the context of this reality? Can we make ourselves heard in the midst of a deaf-mute culture? The small freedom conceded to writers, is it not at times a proof of our failure? How far can we go? Whom can we reach?

... To awaken consciousness, to reveal identity—can literature claim a better function in these times?... in these lands?

. . Our own fate as Latin American writers is linked to the need for profound social transformations. To narrate is to give oneself: it seems obvious that literature, as an effort to communicate fully, will continue to be blocked ... so long as misery and illiteracy exist, and so long as the possessors of power continue to carry on with impunity their policy of collective imbecilization through ... the mass media.

. .. Great changes, deep structural changes, will be necessary in our countries if we writers are to go beyond... the elites, if we are to express ourselves. ... In an incarcerated society, free literature can exist only as denunciation and hope.

.....We are what we do, especially what we do to change what we are....In this respect a "revolutionary" literature written for the convinced is just as much an abandonment as is a conservative literature devoted to the . . . contemplation of one's own navel. ...

Our effectiveness depends on our capacity to be audacious and astute, clear and appealing. I would hope that we can create a language more fearless and beautiful than that used by conformist writers to greet the twilight.

... In Latin America a literature is taking shape and acquiring strength, a literature... that does not propose to bury our dead, but to immortalize them; that refuses to stir the ashes but rather attempts to light the fire .. perhaps it may help to preserve for the generations to come . . . "the true name of all things."

Eduardo Galeano, 1978

translation by Bobbye Ortiz

from Days And Nights of Love and War (1983)

reprinted by Monthly Review Press to honor Judy Ruben

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