domingo, 30 de septiembre de 2007
Where can we go without reason?
Entrevista a Braulio Muñoz, el destacado novelista y sociólogo chimbotano, en el Swarthmore College
En la siguiente entrevista realizada en inglés al destacado narrador chimbotano Braulio Muñoz (Marea Cultural promete una pronta traducción al español), el autor de "Alejandro y los pescadores de Tancay" y "The peruvian notebooks", ensaya sus ideas personales acerca de temas disímiles como comunidad, religión, el fenónemo migratorio en América, el liberalismo, la "sociedad democrática" en Estados Unidos, el postmodernismo, entre otros ìtems, así como se dirige a la comunidad estudiantil.
A través de esta entrevista de Jeffrey Lott, es posible acercarse en parte a la manera de pensar de este autor peruano.
When we spoke in July with Braulio Muñoz, the Eugene M. Lang Research Professor of Sociology, he described his recent visit to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia. It’s the site of the Tiwanaku culture, one of the oldest pre-Columbian civilizations on the continent. He told me that his mother “is my connection to this pre-Columbian world.”
Born in Peru, Muñoz received a B.A. in sociology from the University of Rhode Island in 1973 and, in quick succession, a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught at Swarthmore since 1978.
Muñoz teaches social theory, social philosophy, sociology of culture, and courses on Latin American society, culture, and literature. He recently published his second novel, The Peruvian Notebooks (University of Arizona Press, 2006)—his first work of fiction written in English. He is currently working on two academic books and another novel. We started with a question about his sense of place.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “home”?
Community—my community of scholars, whether here or Paris or Rome or Lima. My identity as a Swarthmore professor is both local and international. But had I been a peasant, the first thing to come to mind would still have been community.
What about “heaven”?
Understanding—the ability to recognize value in difference. Heaven would be a place where there is understanding across difference.
Are you a religious person?
Kant, who clarified for us the idea of reason, said that it’s rational to strive for community. I am a rational being. Therefore, if religion’s highest purpose is understanding the other and the creation of community, then being religious is also a form of reason. Does that answer your question?
As both a social theorist and an immigrant, why do you think there’s such a disturbance in American society about immigration?
America has always been like this—as each succeeding new group has been accepted, they have tried to seal America's borders. What’s new is the controversy over language. Unlike other cultures, Americans have always been unwilling to learn, or even tolerate, other peoples’ languages. We’re interested in the free flow of goods and services but not in the free flow of people. It’s fear of the other—and ignorance.
Is classic liberalism still a force in today’s world?
It’s in trouble. Liberal democratic values were originally grounded in the enlightenment’s universal claims, such as the objectivity of reason and the idea of God making all of us equal. The world is very skeptical of claims that can’t be universally accepted across various cultures. Liberalism suffers from this. A society’s cultural values cannot be democratically chosen, and it’s difficult to claim any universal values that might be acceptable to everyone.
Is the United States still a democratic society?
In general, yes; de Tocqueville was right. It’s one of the most democratic countries around. But we don’t deal with the world democratically. Our foreign policy caters to interests, not values. A dangerous anti-democratic distinction has arisen between our political leadership and the underlying egalitarian ethos of the American people.
What’s the most important thing for a student to learn during four years at Swarthmore?
That there are no problems that he or she cannot attempt to solve. Nothing is so intractable that it is beyond understanding. But you must approach the world with humility and honesty. Teaching social theory has shown me that if you dedicate time, patience, and honesty, you’ll get through.
How do you see yourself as a teacher?
I teach social theory the old-fashioned way. I don’t patronize students. I don’t water things down. We read the primary sources—the thinkers themselves. I don’t lecture; I lead discussions. When the students get lost, I bring them back. If you read the primary sources, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff by yourself. Students like that because, at the end of the process, they can use these theories to their own ends.
Anything else your students should know?
I appreciate the beauty of a well-reasoned argument.
As a novelist, which authors have been major influences?
Kafka, for his ability to make the unbelievable appear common; Borges, for his deft, economical use of Spanish; Juan Rulfo, whose one small book Pedro Paramo uses the language of the common people to talk about great things; and Flaubert. I continue to read Flaubert for his brilliant use of French.
A reviewer wrote that The Peruvian Notebooks “takes the redundancy of a standard immigration story and twists it with a postmodern approach.” Can you explain postmodernism?
In literature, to be postmodern means to have a nonlinear perspective. Time and space are presented as fractured because there is recognition that there is no objective and universal way to represent the world. This also means that there is a questioning of the voices that present the world as neatly organized along clear-cut categories such as good and evil or black and white. As for The Peruvian Notebooks, I wanted my readers to think as they read it. I tried to present my protagonist as a multidimensional character, avoiding the Horatio Alger stereotype and its opposite, the drug-running criminal. It is not an easy book. Have you read it?