Monday, August 16, 2010

Vargas Llosa on Wagner: are foreigners better at judging us?

Since it is Sunday for once I can have a totally off topic post.  I just read in El Nacional the Vargas Llosa bi-weekly commentary reprinted from Spain's El Pais which referred to his visit at Bayreuth. Some of you might remember my fondness for opera, but that is not the point.  Some of you might hate Wagner for whatever reason, including political, and neither is this the point.  The point is that this is the best article on Wagner I have ever read.  By far. Spanish, sorry.

I have wondered often if the best way to discuss the icons of a culture is through the eyes of a foreigner.  For example, the best book on the French Revolution, in my opinion, is Citizens from Simon Schama.  Although I have not read it, shame on me, Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville remains a classic and apparently can still be of use today to understand the US of A according to a Seattle friend who read it recently and could not believe I have not read what is also considered a classic of French Literature. I suppose that as a penance I should get it next time I travel to France...  And of course, the best blogs about Venezuela are written in English even though the writers are Venezuelan (cough, cough..)

Last lame joke aside, there is a kernel of truth in that a fellow countryman has a hard time in gaining enough distance from its most iconic cultural subject.   We might even see that in Venezuela today as the best book on Chavez so far is El Poder y el Delirio by Mexican Krause.  Maybe not the most detailed or complete, but certainly the one with the clearest understanding of what is going on.

Just food for thought in a quiet Sunday afternoon.


  1. amieres4:50 PM

    Also, probably the best book on the events of April 11th 2002 is the Silence and the Scorpion by Brian Nelson...

  2. amieres

    i am talking about books and people that reveal something about a country, not a narration of events which the scorpion is.

    in citizens, for example, schama certainly narrates the french revolution events but he makes a case that the revolution as such started before bastille day and ended when robespierre was guillotined. this tend to go against the french historical grain where some napoleon apologists or royalists like to push the limit of the revolution all the way to waterloo. in that way schama was quite a novelty and offered a time division to which i have subscribed tot his day since after the fall of robespierre the reaction came back as a major player again and thus it was not anymore a revolution. what ever the revolution achievement might have been they were achieved before the fall of robespierre, what came next was a codification of the worthy achievements, so to speak.

    in the same vein what makes krause book so good is that it explains us a decade, not just april 11, which after all was a single day event, just as if the french revolution could be condensed in all of its meaning to bastille day.

    now in all earnestness i suppose that also individual events might be also better explained by a foreigner but an individual event can also be explained by a national if he was not involved in the event himself. there was a good book about april 11 also by two Venezuelan journalists that did not have some of the access that brian nelson managed to get. not to mention that too many people of april 2002 have yet to talk, starting with chavez himself....

  3. Daniel, I agree and disagree at the same time.I think words often divide us where music( if deeply listened to) can Unite us.We really need to separate a composer's music from the circumstances in which it was written.Though I must say in your defense that there are outer defects not easily perceived when immersed in a culture but at the same time without essential understanding the defects have no meaning.Essential understanding we can get from music.

    Music transcends cultural barriers.We can " see" what a certain culture " sees" and can see what others see and what our own culture sees and bring them together.I don't think it is necessarily true that a native sees more or less.I think it all depends on sensitivity and objectivity- which Music has NOT the only key around but a special key to.

    I love Mozart opera, though I realize that extremes often meet.Extreme emotion seems to be rife in Wagner with its musical consequence: emotional catharsis.Following emotional catharsis can come the lightness of being so characteristic of Mozart.They are a part of each other.They are not really divided.

    Without the use of words that divide us we can perceive any spirit,and we can appreciate and understand any essential way of being IF WE ARE OPEN TO IT.When I listen to Wagner's 'Der Tannenbaum' I can so appreciate the emotional depth and enter into the world of a certain aspect of the German Soul more easily that I can through words.


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