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Loathing and enlightenment

On the op-ed pages of the Times yesterday, a piece by Mario Vargas Llosa ("the Peruvian novelist," as it says in the description at the bottom) on the impossibility of New York City — its complete irreconcilability with the fanatic's world view.

It's a poetic, beautiful essay, originally published in El Pais in Madrid, and translated for the Times. It appeals as much to sentiment as to logic, my training tells me, and reminds me of so much European writing, where what the author feels should be right often seems to count for more than what there is actual evidence to believe. But it is insightful, and compelling.

"It is impossible for fanatics of any species," Llosa writes, "with their obtuse rectilinear mentality, not to hate the motley variety of this city, which cannot be assimilated to any single way of belief, thought or action; ... a miniature refraction of humanity's infinite variety." For fanatics, he concludes, "New York, no doubt, is the first enemy to be brought down."

And the ultimate conclusion is inescapable: As to New York (but a refraction of all of humanity, as Llosa says), so to the world. The fanatic hates everything. The thing that he says he loves isn't real, isn't human; it is but a shell of a thing, a reduction to a simplicity that approaches emptiness. And the fanatic most loathes anything capable of transcending that void.

"I have never felt like a stranger in Manhatten," Llosa writes. And I understand, I think. I have never felt like a stranger in the world. But the fanatic feels a like stranger everywhere, both to himself and to the world. That is why he must destroy it.

December 12, 2001 12:37 PM

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Copyright ©2001-2003 Matt Pfeffer

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