The Problematic for Language, Speech and Writing: How to create culture from a wasteland?

Five factors emerge as central to the development of the present problematic.

A specious liberalism. This pulverizes the large majority of the people in the name of such slogans as "equality" and "progress." These are used to justify disregard for the culture of the people and hence for their personal and social dignity, their labor and their land.

An autocratic power center. A substitution of the figure of the "Dictator" for the social ego implies the suppression of social space and social time not related to the autocratic power center. This results in terror, both as a cause inasmuch as the exercise of power by the state was untrammelled, and as an effect inasmuch as the individual was left unprotected.

Propaganda. Under the control of the "Dictator" the media consistently and insistently repeats the repressive ideology. Interpreting all in these terms, it thereby forms in the people a warped vision, with associated distorted emotive responses.

Censorship. This has four dimensions:

(1) material: for lack of knowing just what has been censored its effects spread pervasively to the entire area of social action;

(2) protective speech: in order to avoid condemnation speech is directed away from the concrete present and into the future, whose very realization is thereby impeded;

(3) guilt: by making people guilty beforehand censorship creates a kind of second original sin by which the person is alienated from the society; and

(4) internalization: becoming internalized through the preoccupation which it generates in persons, censorship reduces them to acting as ventriloquists of the "Dictator" who, in turn, becomes the only valid interlocutor.

Arrogant speech. In various ways and on multiple levels all are guilty of this general phenomenon when they generate on the part of the hearer a sense of personal emptiness or social insufficiency. In the situation of the "Dictator" this takes on the character of a systematically corrosive attack upon the person and upon society.

Literature: How to regain one's country and oneself by

processing through language what one has been suffering

The goal here is not merely to describe, but to improve reality by shaping it in terms of justice (Asturias), and liberating the people from economic and political oppression (Cardinal). In this it is the task of the writer to be both prophet, carrying out a critique of society, and soothsayer, pointing the way to the future and initiating change. From this, in turn, there follows a criterium for distinguishing good and bad literature. Good literature will open for the reader the possibility of exercising one's freedom and responsibility more reflectively by contributing the vision and mobilizing the will which enable people to live more fully. Bad literature, on the contrary, deadens and diminishes these capacities by repetition (propaganda) and the exclusion of other dimensions of meaning (censorship). The focus of the work of E. Cardenal at Solentiname and since has been to extend this creative work from an elite few to a broad popular base so that the people as a whole can become more fully alive and take charge of their culture--and hence of the sense of their lives.

Vision can be developed through literature in a number of ways. First, exteriorism, as adopted by Cardenal, shifts language from the abstract to the concrete in order to enable literature to bear witness to the actual situation of the people and to the harsh realities of their daily life. Such testimonial literature, while often not possessed of the aesthetic qualities of interiorist literature written in terms of abstract symbols, is nonetheless an important contribution to awareness of dimensions of a nation's life which often are ignored due to cultural or ideological prejudices and then forgotten, systematically camouflaged by propaganda or hidden by censorship.

Secondly, imaginative variation of the concrete is another way of developing needed vision. Beyond direct description of concrete realities, the writer can also distance him/herself sufficiently to be able to create new symbols which unite people, open horizons for hope and stimulate new initiatives. Central American literature has a number of special resources for this. In Mayan culture for example, the word is seen as directed and dedicated to the gods in such wise that one creates or assumes power over the reality one names. Thus, reality arises from the imagination so that stories are at once both dream and reality, both what is imagined and what is seen (Asturias). This enables poets such as Claribel Alegria to fuse the mythic and the concrete in ways that free the mind from the controls of the current ideology so that it might analyze its limitations and articulate hopes which transcend suppression and reach toward freedom.

Christian symbolism is used in various ways by Darío and Cardenal. The former draws more upon the sense of transcendent harmony. The latter proceeds by way of the image of Christ as a prophetic voice from outside the centers of power, identifying himself with the poor and the suffering. This is presented in terms of confronting the contemporary means of economic or political repression with their apparatus of "Dictator," concentration camp and secret police. Christ expresses the plenitude of human reality toward the realization of whose image society should be made to converge.

Thirdly, Darío recognizes multiple levels of vision in the one mind or in speech which, in principle, is open to new modes of reflexive awareness. In terms of communication it becomes possible: (a) analytically to distinguish multiple currents within the one work of literature, (b) to identify within us veiled speech which implicitly shapes our explicit speech or talks through us, and (c) to become aware that all language is embedded in presuppositions of which we are not conscious but of which we might become aware. Such presuppositions may be various forms of egoism, e.g., racial prejudices, which were initially inherited from Europe, then formulated under the mottoes of equality and progress, progressively institutionalized in socio-political structures, and eventually applied through the various instruments of institutionalized repression.

In relation to literature, these instruments are especially propaganda and censorship. By using all three approaches in appropriate combination the writer is able to expose the reality, nature and method of terror and repression which, by this very fact, are lessened in their repressive impact and made vulnerable to effective counter action. As this work of critique is essential to the poet it can be asked whether it would be possible for a poet such as E. Cardenal to remain over time both true to his work as poet and an acceptable part of a power structure with more limited concerns.

Emotions. Literature not only treats the entire situation, but communicates to the entire reader. It not only effects intellectual understanding and the imagination through the generation of effective symbols, but also moves the will and forms the emotions. Thus it provides the dynamic impetus needed to achieve change in embedded and well-implemented structures.

Literature enlivens the person, even through the process of Christian suffering (Cardenal). By enabling one to feel sorrow literature makes it possible to regain a lost or suppressed sensibility, to distance oneself from oppressive structures, and to open new fields of vision and hope. By thus enabling creative action, not only for oneself but with others, it frees one from the atomized paralyses induced by oppression.

Resources for Critique and Reconstruction

The task of the writer as integral to the common human effort to reshape social reality in terms of justice has a number of implications. First, one cannot simply identify present or past vision as bad in contrast to future notions as good without identifying where present sensibilities militate against justice and how future vision might be shaped in relation thereto.

In turn, this implies the need to attend to that level of a people's consciousness at which is found its sense of what is right and just, and its fundamental adhesion thereto. If this is not simply inborn and identical for all peoples, but reflects in its shape and mode the historical experience of each people, then it is more than an abstract ideal or even a future projection. It relates also to the past from which it is drawn, and thus can be called tradition. Loss or rupture of this access to its tradition leaves a people radically subject to manipulation.

Tradition must contain also the resources for reviewing characteristics of our speech which are destructive of others, that is, for enabling us to recognize arrogant speech as such and to move to change. For this we need to be able to see ourselves as others see us. This, in turn, requires a sense, not only of justice, but more fundamentally of love by which one shares with, or identifies with, the other (see Aristotle's notion of sunesis). In today's circumstances this gives new and more urgent importance to the symbols of Christ's identification with the poor and of their liberation through His suffering.

Finally, in the present problematic circumstances external and institutionalized structures attempt to distract attention from injustice, to explain it away, to justify it in terms of future goals or to suppress all related information through propaganda and censorship. In response, powerful struggles take place within the person to cope with this situation by denial and transference. In these circumstances, a number of crucial tasks challenge the writer and speaker: (a) to draw on the various sources of information and scientific analysis in order to understand these external and internal dynamics, (b) to evoke the sense of value and moral probity experienced positively in a tradition through its symbols and myths--and possibly even more vividly and in an inverse manner through the suffering inflicted by injustice and oppression (i.e., through the evil of what is evil)--and (c) to work out symbols which open the path toward new growth and make it possible for the various dimensions of society and the various fields of expertise to work creatively toward social reconstruction.