The Legacy of Ernesto Sabato

From Criterio magazine via Mirada Global: a tribute to the late Argentinian writer:

He would have made it to being a century old if it hadn’t occurred to him to die two months short of his 100th birthday. Argentinean writer Ernesto Sabato was born in Rojas, a city in the pampa, 240 km from Buenos Aires, on June 24th, 1911, in a large and demanding family of Calabrese immigrants. And he died on April 30th, on Easter week, in his old house in the outskirts of the Argentinean capital. It was not without irony that he wrote in Uno y el universo [One and the Universe]: “An honest program requires eight hundred years. The first one hundred would be dedicated to the games which are typical of the age (…), at four hundred, once we’ve finished secondary education, we could do something useful; marriage shouldn’t take place before five hundred; the last hundred could be dedicated to wisdom”.


 When he was a young man he obtained a Ph.D. in physics (science and music had been his great passions), and had was granted a research fellowship at the Curie Institute in Paris, and later at the MIT, in the U.S. He later fell into a deep crisis because of the “dehumanizing” course of science and rational “absolutism”. He moved to a very poor place, where there was no electricity or potable water, in the hills of Córdoba with his wife —of Jewish origin— and their two children. He would later dedicate himself fully to literature and later, painting.

He only wrote three novels (the first one was The Tunnel, and it was highly praised by Albert Camus, perhaps because of its closeness to pessimist existentialism, which was in vogue in those years) and a series of enlightening essays. As Italian writer Claudio Magris pointed out, Sabato always made a difference between daytime writing and nighttime writing, and he practiced both: the first one is typical of rational thinking and essays; the second one of poetry and the great novel. This is where the ghosts of the spirit show up, the protagonists, the nightmares, the representatives of the pain and the horror of the world, of evil and no-sense, of offended purity.

I think Sabato would have liked to be a sort of Argentinean disciple of the great Hedor Dostoyevsky, but in his readings he favored Melville, Poe, Conrad, Stevenson, London… (he was particularly fascinated by Flaubert’s Madame Bovary). And he remained like that, half way between the Russian internal torture and the American or English adventures. He was loved by young people: they saw him as a writer much in the line of Hermann Hesse. For the ordinary man, outside of the literary circles, where Sabato was deliberately ignored if not explicitly hated, he was the very image of the intellectual that is committed to the social issues. The general public didn’t care much for the frequent untidinesses of his prose or his emphatic declarations about man and his contradictions.

Also available in Spanish.

Tim Reidy


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