-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — For writers — and artists and intellectuals in general — there is constant tension between embracing reality and escaping it.

If you're someone who's pinned down by reality, you're likely writing about the controversial Ituango hydro-power project in northern Colombia, or about the Venezuela crisis and its effects and possible solutions. But a mathematician, poet or musician, and even a novelist like myself, feels both compulsions.

On the one hand, there is a temptation to devote yourself entirely to your craft (be it illustrating a conjecture, finding a verse or melody, telling a story with the apposite rhythm and words). To flee reality, in other words, and hide in an ivory tower. Or, you are tempted to enter reality's miasma, join its bustle and infect yourself with the ire of exchanges on the right way to generate electricity or topple a tyrant.

If I were to chime in on the Ituango controversy, for example, I would write to defend the memory of José Tejada, a great engineer who first spoke of the hydroelectric potential of the Cauca river canyon [Ed. note: where a massive, soon-to-be-completed dam project under construction since 2011 was delayed late last year because of damaging heavy rains].

Tejada's visits to the area and visions for the project date back more than 50 years ago. And so all these years later, when newcomers to the story come in and hysterically link the massive dam project to paramilitaries or denounce it as expressing the greed and arrogance of big business in Antioquia, one inevitably despises the foolishness of seeing a profit motive behind every human initiative.

There is constant tension between embracing reality and escaping it.

Those calling for the dam to be dismantled and instead want solar panels in the Eastern Plains or wind turbines in La Guajira are both ignorant and — by taking advantage of possible mistakes made in relation to the project — resorting to political manipulation.

That is how reality drags you its way, even when you just want to write novels. But there is an opposite force pulling us away from mean, abusive arguments on social networks or the rabble-rousers' lies and half-truths, toward an interior refuge where you can play the instrument nature gave you, and compose your inner music.

About that, the New York Review of Books recently had a brief essay recalling the lives of writers and thinkers who lived through the Soviet experience, suffering restrictions like bans on foreign travel or political participation. There is a lesson here on the unlikely advantages of the tyrannical banishment that forces you to migrate into oneself.

In principle, living in confined conditions is dismal for artists and scientists. And yet it may, strangely, arouse creativity or impose inner peace — at least for those of us suffering not from claustrophobia, but claustrophilia. We who rather enjoy shutting ourselves away, and admire the contemplative life chosen by certain monks (be they Buddhist, Orthodox or Benedictine).

For such people, the contemporary world, with its sham democracies and fake news, frayed nerves, unfettered rage and obsessive updating online, encourages confinement and separation. Or as our poet León de Greiff would say, such conditions induce us to don "an asbestos toga" that protects us from rage, the idiocy of the embittered, and unpalatable praise.

When life is consumed by inane rivalries and transactions, amid enraged palpitations that raise your blood pressure, internal flight becomes advisable, even remedial. And when conversation simply becomes insane speculation on kitsch and trivia, I find that the best temptation is to move away from the noise of the world.


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