Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

8. Literary expressions of the problems of Sustainable Development

"A rising tide may float all boats, but not if yours has a hole in it, or you do not have one". Michael Meacher, Environment Minister, UK

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible
summer."   (Albert Camus)

Prior to the people of Nicaragua turning to the Sandinistas and their kind of revolution, an American having just visited that country described following scene: a rich man’s son throw a party aboard a cruiser; from nearby shorelines poverty stricken people could only watch them as they had no boat of their own but merely the bare ground to lay down their overtired bodies. These poor people could hardly see so tired they were but what they did catch a glimpse of was another kind of life being waste away like their own but now by such factors as money, alcohol and ‘idle times’. What strikes in this observation by this American is the linkage between these two classes of people: idle times. The poor ones have all the time because they have nothing to do. They are without jobs. The rich folks have too much time at hand. They are bored. The two groups do not get together except if it becomes a part of the entertainment or tourist attraction to visit some of these places where poverty produces also original expressions, handicrafts and something like a relict of the past. Perhaps deep down the ancestors of those rich city folks had come also from the farms and from such poverty stricken places but now they no longer remember their ancestors.

Once a society has gone astray in different directions of development, it is difficult to find bridges especially when no water exists to quench the thirsty and only a few memories of another life being possible hidden somewhere in a deep corner of a tired mind.

In such a situation only a person who can read and write, that will allow letters to be send back home and to ask the ancestors what they as witnesses of such absurd scenes should think.

Marques in “100 years of loneliness” describes people giving letters to the one about to die in the hope he will take it with him to those infinite plains. The realms beyond death are impossible to be compared with the situations they live in. Caught up between superstition and hardship, people tend to surround themselves with relicts of those who have kept their imaginations alive until now. The latter may well be called ‘cultural sustainability’: keeping precious memories alive.

But then Marques describes, how with the coming of the railway, there came death into the village in the form of soldiers and policemen. And with them came the new business people. There were erected very quickly many invisible fences and barriers as the new developments created such dividing lines as made explicit in ‘100 years loneliness’. There were the folks who lived to the North of the railway line: the poor folk, while to the South there settled the rich people.

Always the Poor indicate that due to a lack of money and opportunities they have no other compassion to live left under their dried out skins. It has become wise to them to survive in a strictly passive way.

Carlos Fuentos says the Mexican identity is like a broken mirror: no self image will be reflected as a whole but merely as a thousand fragments forever scattered into the winds of the past.

What is so terrible about poverty aggravated by lack of water is that people no longer want to see what has happened to their bodies as they drag themselves over a land completely neglected.

As such people are grounded down once state machineries are only there to plunder those who cannot defend themselves and who are driven off the land under the pretext of creating a new state and society more just, more free and more sustainable than the regimes before.

The history of the land is then what promises were not kept.

There is also another important lesson to be learned from Nicaragua and failed revolutions. The land is said to be potentially very rich in biodiversity and could produce such rich variety of agricultural products, but due to long centuries of colonial practices it is nearly impossible to bring people to cultivate such variety of food. It is not merely the lack of knowledge on how to grow them, that is an obstacle; no one seems to know anything about cooking and if yes, then there is still the obstruction due to uniform taste prevailing as to what food is acceptable as basic diet for all people, what not. It proved very difficult or next to impossible to alter eating habits in that land despite all potentialities.

Cultural backwardness is really a systematic inability to sustain life at such differentiated level. Like a broken back of the slave, there exists no culture to become innovative and interested in the variety ways of preparing food, whether simple or exotic. That means, even if good food with a high quality of nourishment would be grown, if there would be no one who could prepare and cook this other kind of food, then things would go in vain.

It just goes to show that not every kind of agricultural revolution, never mind different diet can be brought about, if the governing taste allows nothing else but the food accustomed to over the centuries to be eaten.

Why then literature in such a context? It might be important to listen into what a mother tells her daughter and what real cooking is reflected in literature – not as kind of cook book, but as a way to describe life as daily creativeness. With such food go stories, discussions and especially children listening what grandfather is saying. Forms of eating habits destroy communication, as many realize by now with the growth of ‘fast food’ chains, while others are over emphasized as the expensive dinner on the 111th floor of the former World Trade Centre and to which one of the fireman working at Ground Zero referred to when interviewed: how strange to have been able to go up there as unique in a life time and now he is here to rescue those people who went up there on a daily basis.

Basically the topic ‘sustainability’ for literature is very much unexplored. It remains to be seen what other literary fibres need first to be brought together before creating this genre ‘literature of the world efforts towards sustainable development’.

In following the footsteps of Naipaul when he transverses in Pakistan from village to village, when he describes the wide open fields and areas where the cows and other animals are kept, he draws a fine line connecting farming to village life and from there to the bigger cities. Always religion and education intervene in different and often in a mutually reinforcing way especially in the land of the ‘converts’.

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