Literature Master Ernesto Sabato: A Writer Who Conquered His Ghost
By Mirna Santana
Sabato was a famous Latin American writer and Nobel prize candidate. He received some of the most recognized awards among writers: the French Legion of Honor Award, and The Medici Prize from Italy. He also received from Spain the Cervantes Prize for his contribution to the Literature written in Spanish. In 2010 he was proposed as a candidate for the Nobel Prize of Literature. All of that is impressive yet these are not the reasons I am writing about his legacy. I am writing a goodbye letter to him because he taught me to look at books and literature in a different way.
Through the Writer's and his Ghost, Sabato taught me about the shadows and fears one may encounter when bringing an idea into form as art or writing. This book taught me about writing to find answers… In a time, when I thought that writing was only for writers, not for me, Sabato told me that writing is almost inescapable. It is something one ought to do. I selected to write about this book because I learned about Sabato and the lifestyle of a great Latin America writer through its lines.
Many writers have confronted their own ghost. Sabato artfully explained what that meant to him in his book The Writer and his Ghost. I read the book many years ago, and it stills remain in my memory. I sought it today when the news of his death reminded me of one of my teachers. He did not know me but he left me his words. And for that I am grateful.
Sabato was a physicist and later left science and became a full time writer. As a physicist, he was involved in the development of nuclear technologies before the first atomic bomb. He abandoned his career when the use of the technologies he had helped to create shocked him. Yet a scientist is always a scientist, even if he is not active. For science is a moral obligation. A scientist carries within himself, the search for knowledge and truth and that Sabato always kept.
Sabato’s investigations into the political crimes that clouded his nation (Argentina) as well as his creative writings, which included reflections, essays, novels, and fiction had hints of his scientific insights. His fiction and research were also link to his global views—that included: politics, literature, science, and a deep search for justice. People tend to focus on certain particular idealistic views when referring to Sabato’s early years as Communist. Yet we know that humans have many views, and someone like Sabato could not realistically be constrained by a particular doctrine. Indeed, he changed his perspectives through life.
Sabato was commended to lead a Commission to investigate political crimes in Argentina (1976-83). He was deeply touched by learning about corrupted systems –and the pain they inflict into people. The report Nunca Mas (Never Again, 1985) about people who disappeared during Argentinean military regimes led to many arrests. This was perhaps one of the most difficult tasks of his life. He never forgot what he learned about the violence of corrupted political systems not only in Argentina but over the world. He wrote about those events and unknowingly inspired many others to fight for freedom.
His art and written works
helped him ease the pain and suffering of others- and even escape from it. He was solitary but not
lonely or unhappy. In fact that solitude was needed for the writer to produce the kind of works he did.
In his book, The Writer and his Ghost, Sabato tells us why fiction matters. Fiction is a way of knowing and even predicting or carrying the mind beyond conventional boundaries. Fiction exists not only for a writer to fills its yearning to write. For Sabato it was a way to answer one’s own philosophical questions, and a way to understand the world. He understood that by writing ‘fiction’ he was also constructing national and regional ideologies and was bringing about new ideas that spread like a Diaspora.
I remember him saying that in his later years he preferred to write instead of missing his time reading and or being influenced by others. Yet, he was already obviously a cultivated man. Sabato was correct, at some point we need to stop, at least temporarily reading other writers— and write. We need to stop reading others and produce the fruits of our own minds.
There is a difference between the research papers— and the fiction and art that characterized his works. He had the ability to paint and he could paint his characters with oil and with words. He was a visual thinker and at the same time, a very complex mind.
He was very critical and fearless to express himself. As such he criticized colleagues, governments, ideas and human behaviors—yet all his arguments were carefully constructed. As a literary critic, he dissected the works of contemporaries such as Jorge Luis Borges and Jean Paul Sartre among others. Through those critiques we learned to see other writer’s minds and works—and also got insights into Sabato’s mind.
I did not read all his prolific writings—some of the one’s I did read stayed with me to this day. I highlight the following: The Tunel (1948); Heroes y tumbas (From Heroes and Tombs, 1961); Abbadon (The Angel of Darkness 1974); and The Resistance (2004).
Sabato lived almost a century and gave so much through his writing. From him one could learn about philosophy, art, history, and the ways of a writer. Here are a few examples: From The Tunel , one learn about the intellectual and artistic developments of humanity since Renaissance to the time of its publication. In this book he gives preponderance to arts and letters as a way for developing and understanding oneself. Amongst his essays and reflections, One and the Universe (1945)—discusses our relation with the universe, truth and beauty, and the more controversial misuse of science and technology. From his other works, The writer’s and his Ghost (1963) not only represents a sample of his views and personal history—but it is his legacy as a writer--his advice to the young writer. It thus continues to be a sort of writer’s& philosophical manual for many people.
In the same way that Pavlov wrote to the young scientist, or Maria Rilke wrote to the young poet, Sabato lead the young fiction writer into the world of art and fiction as a way of finding the self, the whole, and the writer. Why shall anyone need to write fiction? What is the purpose of it? In the book the writer and his ghost Sabato integrated the artist, the intuitive man, and the rational scientist.
I reiterate that I am writing these lines
to make sure that I don’t forget one of my teachers Mr. Ernesto Sabato. This is my humble interpretation of Ernesto Sabato life
Mr. Sabato, thank you for your words. I am not sad because you have departed, instead I smiled to you-- you almost managed to live a century (1911-2011)! And you certainly lived it well.