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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Laureates  

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"Vuelta" the Review, headed by Octavio Paz

Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities 1993

'Vuelta', the review
The Speech delivered by Mr. Octavio Paz,

Your Majesty,
Your Royal Highness,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have been entrusted a task that is both pleasant in the extreme and extremely difficult - that of thanking his Royal Highness, the Prince of Asturias Foundation and the distinguished members of the jury who bestowed the awards on behalf of the people and organisations who have been honoured this year. The task is a pleasant one because expressing one's gratitude ennobles both the person who expresses it and the person who receives it. But the task at hand is also difficult because I know that gratitude, heart-felt and sincere though it may be, does not suffice. This event is not only a ceremony; nor can it be limited to mere sentimental overindulgence. First, how can one speak authoritatively and competently on behalf of the outstanding figures who have won these 1993 awards? Furthermore, it is impossible not to dwell, albeit briefly, on the significance for Hispanic culture of there being an organisation such as the Prince of Asturias Foundation. The whole question deserves broader and deeper consideration. This is neither the occasion, nor am I the right person, to attempt such an undertaking. I will simply give you all a few brief reflections, in the consolation that, inadequate as they are, they at least reflect some of the sentiments that I am sure that all the award winners share: emotion and gratitude.

The Prince of Asturias Awards have two hallmarks. First, they are wide-ranging - eight awards covering different disciplines and activities: from language and literature, sciences, and arts, to communication, solidarity, cooperation and sport. Second, the awards can go to a person, group or organisation. The individual and the collective: work that is the outcome of solitary effort or work undertaken by a group, work that expresses a vision of the world or of mankind and work that explores the secrets of science and philosophy, work that fulfils a social and ethical function and work undertaken for the general good or in defence of individuals, peoples or the helpless and destitute. All such works and activities belong to the domain of what has traditionally been called culture. In other words, they are the outcomes born of nurturing sciences, the humanities and the arts. Yet they also belong to a different concept of culture, one that has spread to such an extent that nowadays it is the prevailing one: culture in the anthropological sense, culture conceived of as a set of things and ideas, tools and organisations, beliefs and monuments, customs and artefacts, works and symbols which constitute a society and at the same time define it in relation to other societies. Used in this sense, culture is inseparable from society; culture is society's physiognomy, but also its skeleton, the forces that move society and the ways society expresses itself; it is the blood that flows through society's veins and the soul that lives within. Culture is society and its image; it is society's creator and its creature; society fulfils itself through culture and sees its reflection within it.

Considered in this light, the Prince of Asturias Foundation Awards are something more and something apart from mere acknowledgement of one scientific or literary work or another; they are signs highlighting the different tendencies and directions of contemporary Hispanic culture, its concerns and its limitations, its conquests and its defects, the obscure and the resplendent areas. They are symptoms, signs and indicators of a collective situation in which movement lives in constant struggle with tradition and with what might be called society's force of gravity. A healthy culture stands out for having a slight bias in favour of movement as opposed to immobility. Societies and cultures die, some - most, in fact - from repetition and self-imitation that condemns them to petrification, and others - fewer - collapse into the void because of too great a love of change. That is the danger stalking Western civilization; technology will eventually strip nature, as it has already stripped the soul. In short, a correct understanding of the awards bestowed by the Foundation in recent years, and a consideration of how they are each linked to each other, would quickly highlight how they trace out a kind of moral, intellectual map of our culture.

Until such times that somebody decides to study the Prince of Asturias Awards from an anthropological and historic perspective, it seems to me that in the meantime it would be immediately useful to highlight a further hallmark that is central and complementary to the one I have just mentioned - their geographic scope. This is, of course, the scope of Hispanic culture, which covers two continents. Geography is history, which means that the word Asturias, the name of the awards, is not simply a geographic reference. It refers to a starting point rather than a land; Spain commenced, or re-commenced, here. A history that began in a tiny kingdom in the mountains with its back to the sea becomes a warrior nation, mutates into a world empire, and is now a modern state incorporating several peoples and languages. It is likewise the history of colossal geographic expansion across four continents. Similarly, the plurality of lands that came into being on either side of the two oceans coincides with a plurality of peoples and nations that are no less diverse. The Hispanic world surprises both because of its physical enormity and because of the variety of races and cultures that form part of it, some stretching way back in history, like the races and cultures of Peru and Mexico. Variety, not heterogeneity; there was violence and war, but also fusion and mingling. Hispanic culture is both one and many.

Hispanic culture unites different peoples in a common language and a set of values and customs, as is also the case in Anglo-American culture, and amongst Arabs and Chinese. Cultural and social unity is far greater in the Chinese world than it is in ours; so is the weight of three millenniums of history, and the quasi-sacred authority of a script that unites the diversity of languages. Unity is similarly greater in the Arab countries, mainly due to the predominance of their religious beliefs. Theological absolutism has paralysed these nations. I find the greatest affinity with the Anglo-American world, which was spawned in the same period of history as ours, and which also spread throughout the same continent. They are the offshoots of an island; Latin Americans and Brazilians are the offshoots of a peninsula - two ends of Europe. In both the U.S.A. and Latin America, a single language - English, Spanish, Portuguese - links peoples of different races and origins. Such similarity fails to hide a radical difference - different evolvement over the past. The history of the United States is one of a truly dazzling ascent; the history of Spain and its former dominions since the turn of the seventeenth century has been arduous, and setbacks have been frequent.

Historians still argue as to the causes of the slump of the Hispanic peoples in modern times. Whatever the reasons, the truth is that we were late in embracing modernity, immersed in ideological conflicts and civil wars that interrupted our evolvement. You, the Spanish, have finally achieved modernity. It has been a great victory, even though modernity now confronts situations that were inconceivable fifty years ago. Many of the principles that accompanied it at birth, during the Enlightenment, and which are its very bedrock, have been, and are being, cruelly disowned during this awful turn of the century. Modernity originally stood for universalism, yet we now witness the resurgence of out-and-out nationalisms and obtuse religious fanaticisms. What is even more serious is that there is an enormous vacuum at the very heart of technological civilization. Nobody knows that awaits us. Nevertheless, you are better armed than we are to face the future. Perhaps the secret of the great historical achievement of contemporary Spain - what explains its peaceful transition towards democratic modernity - lies in it having brought together the old monarchical institution and liberal, representative democracy; in other words, you have managed to reconcile tradition and modernity. You have thus annulled the dispute that ripped Spain apart during the nineteenth and a good part of the twentieth century. In contrast, Latin American nations, since their independence, have not been able to fully establish the balance between tradition and modernity, which is the only way to break the vicious circle that has led us for two centuries from dictatorship to anarchy and back again to dictatorship. Nevertheless - though I am aware that there are still dark sides to our lands - I believe that hope is justified for the first time in many years. Latin America is on the mend and most of our countries are moving towards more democratic, pluralist forms of government. Mexico is going through an intense period of modernization that will not be easily stopped; the same can be said for Chile; Argentina is picking up, and recovery is beginning almost everywhere.

Launching the Prince of Asturias Awards has been a historic demonstration of sensitivity. They have made a major contribution towards encouraging what we most lack: an awareness of our identity and self-confidence. They are a sign of re-union, a call that reconciles us with our past and an invitation to be what we are. Yet they cannot be hived off within the borders of the Hispanic community, for the work and activities receiving the awards are universal and transcend national borders and the boundaries of given cultures. Sciences have no fatherland, or to be more exact, their fatherland is human understanding, which is everywhere and belongs nowhere, blossoming wherever the spirit pervades. The laws of science are devoid of local colour, and equations have no identity cards. You might argue that that literary works are made up of words; each people and culture has a language that differs from the languages of other peoples and cultures. This is true. But each language is a vision of the world and each of these visions is a window opening on to other languages. The Slavonic soul is supposed to be mysterious to the point of being impenetrable, but thanks to Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy I can converse in silence with Ivan Karamazov and cry and laugh with Ana Karenina. Poetry is supposed to be impossible to translate. I am not so sure. But what I am sure of is that the history of poetry in every language, particularly in modern times, is the history of many translations; Darío is inconceivable without Verlaine, Elliot without Laforgue, and so on and so forth. What about the visual arts and music? Each of these works, if indeed it is work, is a closed universe that bursts open, not like a frontier but instead like a fruit or a heavenly body. To enter their secret chambers, we do not need a visa; we just need to love them and care for them. The same can be said of the other activities that receive awards from the Prince of Asturias Foundation, whether it be communication, social solidarity, or sport. It is not the case that these awards do not acknowledge the works of the Hispanic community. But they go further than that. They acknowledge the universality of mankind's genius and of virtue, which belongs to all men. In the dark times of a return to nationalisms, the Prince of Asturias Foundation Awards remind us that every piece of work is carried out by a man or a group of men, but that its beneficiaries are many: all men.

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