The Lens

“I write because I believe in the power of what I have read.”

These are the words of Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian novelist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, and who is considered one of the most important authors of the 20th century. These words were in his novella, Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2004). Quite the title for a book by a 76-year-old man: reminding us not to be shy about our meanings.

The quote is poignant in the context of his lifetime of writing, raising awareness of literature and politics in Latin America as a novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist.

He stakes out the contours of our minds–how those contours come to be defined by what we read and absorb, and the lens through which we see it all. When he accepted his Nobel Prize, in his speech[i] he described the fantastic, supernatural lens the world has applied to Latin America for so long in her art, literature and politics, therein lying her cultural “solitude,” echoing his masterpiece, the novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” He recounted the fantastic tales of Magellan and so many others after him who described fanciful creatures. He goes on to question: “Why is the originality so readily granted us in literature so mistrustfully denied us in our difficult attempts at social change? Why think that the social justice sought by progressive Europeans for their own countries cannot also be a goal for Latin America, with different methods for dissimilar conditions?” He challenged his audience to consider the lens through which they see the world. It’s a pretty bold thing to do: to stand in front of the Nobel Committee in 1982 and say this. It is a question that has changed our cultural dialogue. Twenty years later, authors of the educational curriculum at every level would be calling for more understanding of non-western views, in which this was oddly lumped. While Marquez’s reality is far from our own, it is a very powerful example of how everyone creates a lens and how a lens can affect an entire body of people for a century.

Imagine your world without everything you’ve read. Now try to reflect for a moment on the lens you apply to it all.

[i] “Gabriel García Márquez – Nobel Lecture: The Solitude of Latin America”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2013. Web. 7 Sep 2013. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1982/marquez-lecture.html>