Art in a Time of Prosperity

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, son of Nobel laureate and Global Thinker No. 64 Mario Vargas Llosa, offers FP his look at the potentially bland future of Latin American literature.

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images
EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images
EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images

Societies that go through times of difficulty tend to generate a much bolder, much more creative, and much more transcendent type of art, particularly literature. That's why, for the last half-century, there was a tremendous gap between the creativity, force, originality, and power of Latin American art and the mediocrity and conformism of its politics and economics. Latin American writers became globalized when Latin American political systems were going exactly in the opposite direction.


Already we see that if there's one thing that characterizes this new generation of younger writers compared with the generation of the 1960s, it is the fact that they don't see their literature having any kind of political effect whatsoever. The question is: Is it possible to be subversive and transcendent and profound in a context in which things are becoming much more livable than it was? I am pessimistic, but I don't entirely rule it out.


I would not be surprised, if in the coming years we see writers in Cuba and Venezuela emerging as some of the dominant talent in the continent precisely because of the conditions in which they're operating. It's probably a little early to say, but eventually Cuba's going to open up, and I am sure that the hunger among aspiring writers there is going to be such that real masterworks are going to emerge.

Societies that go through times of difficulty tend to generate a much bolder, much more creative, and much more transcendent type of art, particularly literature. That’s why, for the last half-century, there was a tremendous gap between the creativity, force, originality, and power of Latin American art and the mediocrity and conformism of its politics and economics. Latin American writers became globalized when Latin American political systems were going exactly in the opposite direction.


Already we see that if there’s one thing that characterizes this new generation of younger writers compared with the generation of the 1960s, it is the fact that they don’t see their literature having any kind of political effect whatsoever. The question is: Is it possible to be subversive and transcendent and profound in a context in which things are becoming much more livable than it was? I am pessimistic, but I don’t entirely rule it out.


I would not be surprised, if in the coming years we see writers in Cuba and Venezuela emerging as some of the dominant talent in the continent precisely because of the conditions in which they’re operating. It’s probably a little early to say, but eventually Cuba’s going to open up, and I am sure that the hunger among aspiring writers there is going to be such that real masterworks are going to emerge.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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