Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) August 31, 2015: The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who was born in 1936, won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2010. Pope Francis, who was also born in 1936, became the first Jesuit pope in 2013.
Both men were born and raised in Latin America, but in different countries, and both men come from a Roman Catholic background. However Vargas Llosa reports that he has lost his religious faith. But he is not anti-religion as are many American academics and journalists today, including the African American journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates in his new book BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME (2015).
In 2012, Vargas Llosa published a short collection of essays in Spanish, which has been published in 2015 in English as NOTES ON THE DEATH OF CULTURE: ESSAYS ON SPECTACLE AND SOCIETY, translated by John King.
In 2015, Pope Francis issued his eco-encyclical. The official Vatican translation into English has been published by Melville House in Brooklyn as ENCYCLICAL ON CLIMATE CHANGE & INEQUALITY: ON THE CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME, with a helpful introduction by Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University (pages vii-xxiv; with her footnotes on pages 153-154).
Both texts contain sweeping lamentations about our contemporary world -- and jeremiads.
If you were born and raised in Peru, you might understandably be interested in democracy as a form of government and in Karl Popper's ideas about an open society, as Vargas Llosa is.
If you were born and raised in Argentina, you might understandably be concerned about the downtrodden in the dominant capitalist economic system in the world today and its impact on climate change, as Pope Francis is.
However, as we might expect, Vargas Llosa does not discuss climate change in his book or express much concern about the downtrodden poor people in the world. Similarly, as we might expect, Pope Francis does not discuss culture in the sense in which Vargas Llosa means in his encyclical. Thus the main differences in the two texts are easy to spot.
As we might expect, the cultivated novelist writes elegant non-fiction prose. Even though Pope Francis is not uncultivated, he does not write elegant prose.
As we might expect, Pope Francis studiously and carefully anchors his eco-encyclical in his church's official teachings -- and in the thought of Fr. Roman Guardini's book THE END OF THE MODERN WORLD (see the pope's footnotes numbered 83, 84, 85, 87, 92, 144, and 154). Nevertheless, the pope explicitly states that he is addressing his eco-encyclical to "all people of good will," not just to practicing Catholics (Paragraph 62).
Whew! Big audience.
Vargas Llosa says that the essays in his book are "anchored in the realm of culture, understood not as mere epiphenomenon of social and economic life, but as an autonomous reality, made up of ideas, aesthetic and ethical values, and works of art and literature that interact with the rest of social existence, and that are often not mere reflections, but rather the wellsprings, of social, economic, political and even religious phenomena" (page 14).
Whew! Big agenda.
But isn't there a wee bit of tension in claiming that the realm of culture as an autonomous reality involves the wellsprings of social, economic, political and even religious phenomena? Doesn't the wellsprings imagery imply a transit from an autonomous reality to a social reality? If so, just how does this transit proceed -- how does it occur?
Now, Vargas Llosa as a novelist and essayist considers himself to be a committed public intellectual. The British novelists and essayists Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell were also committed public intellectuals. For example, Woolf was a public intellectual committed to promoting her feminist and pacifist views in her short book THREE GUINEAS (1938). In a similar way, Vargas Llosa is committed to promoting democracy as a form of government and Popper's ideas about an open society in his short book. In addition, Vargas Llosa is committed to promoting and valuing the creative imagination expressed in serious literary works and in other works of art -- "profound works of imagination" (page 87).