Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I sit at my desk, steaming chamomile tea in one hand and a pen in the other. Papers are scattered around with sticky notes peaking through dog-eared pages. George Winston tries to ease my thoughts as I wade through Machiavellian theory. Cruel, pragmatic and heartless, his political advice is chilling and this paper is turning out to be harder than I expected. Not because of the length or complexity of the prompt, but rather the emotional level is literally giving me goosebumps.

We're supposed to compare Miguel Angel Asturias' El Presidente to Machiavelli's The Prince to uncover cunning dictatorial strategies so prevalent in 20th century Latin America. El Presidente is beautifully written; the translated Spanish is magical and written in a confusingly breathtaking style that overwhelms the reader with the tormented psychology of a tyrannized society. Using a combination of magical realism, onomatopoeias, Mayan myth, and dizzying repetition, Asturias paints a devastating portrait of Guatemalan political culture under the rule of Gustavo Cabrera. The characters are real, the torture haunting, and the fictitious storyline full of hope and heartbreak. It definitely deserves the Nobel Prize it received.

But I'm here struggling to write. I haven't figured out how to separate my emotions from my studies. It's one thing to read books and accounts and then robotically regurgitate them into a neat, organized 7-page paper for some starving graduate student to read at 2am. It's called jumping through the hoops of an undergraduate career; analyze the book by throwing in a couple buzzwords from lecture and show that you actually did the reading. But the separation of heart and mind is hard for me. While these characters are inventions of Asturias' memory, the pain felt by their historical counterparts was real. All around the world pain continues to be real. Why am I sitting at a desk writing theoretical criticisms when there are people not-so-many thousands of miles away suffering?

I know the answers and I know why I'm here. Sitting at this desk. Writing this paper. It's the microlevel solution to greater, macro-level goal. I don't want to be here, but to get there you need training, knowledge, and oftentimes letters behind your name so policy makers and leaders will actually listen.

Still. I'm frustrated with reading about torture and injustice...and then simply sitting here writing a paper no-one will ever care about 2 weeks from now. In order to get a good grade and GPA that those suffering won't actually care about either.

"The streets were a tunnel of shadows. Sometimes they would be woken from their deepest dreams by the cries of an idiot who had last his way in the Plaza de Armas. Or sometimes by the tramp of a patrol, belaboring a political prisoner as they dragged him along, while women followed wiping away the blood-stains with handkerchiefs soaked in tears. Sometimes by the snores of scabby valetudinarian, or the heavy breathing of a pregnant deaf-mute, weeping with fear of the child she felt in her womb. But the idiot's cry was the saddest of all. It rent the sky." -Asturias, El Presidente

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