On the 8th of December in 1982, Gabriel Garcia Marquez gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature. A cold war raged between superpowers armed with nuclear missiles and all across Latin America, dictators still reigned.
On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said, “I decline to accept the end of man”. I would fall unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.
Marquez for me embodied the role of the artist in society–the refusal to believe that we couldn’t create a more just world. Utopias are out of favor now. We are too cynical to believe in the power of love. We have too much evidence of the power of money to triumph over justice. But Gabo never gave up believing in the transformational power of words to conjure magic and seize the imagination.
The other aspect of Marquez’ work that is crucial is that he teaches us the importance of regionalism. In a McWorld commercial culture of sameness where you can stroll in a mall in Shanghai and forget you were not in Los Angeles, Marquez’s work was distinctly Latin American. He was as unique as the songs of Gilberto Gil, or the cinema of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. God knows we need to celebrate more of our differences, but young artists also need to have the sense of history that Marquez celebrated when he said, “I cannot imagine how anyone could even think of writing a novel without having at least a vague of idea of the 10,000 years of literature that have gone before.” When I realize that 80% of the downloads of music go to 1% of the content, I am not sure that anyone has an appreciation of the cultural history that led to this moment. Amnesia only leads to death.