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Francisco Ayala

Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 1998

As the recipient of the award granted for Literature by this meritorious Prince of Asturias Foundation, I have the onerous honour of giving thanks in the name of all those favoured this year with identical awards, presented in order to highlight each one's superior performance in very diverse fields of culture.

It is expected that, in effect, those of us who, our different specialisations notwithstanding, dedicate ourselves specifically to the cultivation of literature should be charged with the task of speaking on behalf of everyone and for everyone in a common language. Literature, however, is not exclusively that which has usually been regarded as beautiful, belles-lettres, that is, poetry, a creative activity whose instrument is the word and whose aim consists of giving expression to a personal aesthetic vision of the world. Literature is also, in a very broad sense, a writer's efforts to put forth a rational interpretation of this world in which we all live to the public. Apart from this or that ceremonial function, like the one of acknowledging this prestigious institution for the astuteness with which it has been carrying out its objectives, how is one to perform, if only minimally and occasionally, the mission that society usually assigns to the "intellectual", to the writer whose literature is more discursive and explanatory than it is artistic? It so happens that lately this world of ours has become so complex, so changing, and so confusing that, if the truth be known, it induces uncertainty, or rather, invites a mute perplexity. If specialists in the diverse spheres of knowledge and technical skill can today feel sufficiently confident in their work, then holistic speculation on universal perspectives that, as it is supposed, is the province of this "intellectual" has reached a supreme degree of inherent difficulty, so that any assessment of humanity's development at this historical juncture, as well as about its future outlook, must be made with extreme caution and be formulated with all manner of reservations.

I take this to mean that, in today's ceremony, rather than reflecting on literature and its particular problems, as I could do, it would be more fitting to venture some thoughts, hardly comprehensive and certainly very tentative, on the disarray in which culture and society find themselves mired in at this century's end; this situation that sociologists have a knack for describing and that affects us all; a situation whose origin no one fails to recognise as the radical and increasingly dizzying technological revolution that has changed the systems and modes of human behaviour from top to bottom, making any reference to the traditional values that were in effect no too long ago unreliable, equivocal, or vain.

Affronts and laments would be useless before such a situation, which some consider to be intolerable, but that, like it or not, constitutes our current reality, from which it is impossible to withdraw. Moving beyond the negative attitudes of grumbling criticism, we ought to recognise that the fabulous progress provided by science to society, and undertaken by it, although it has shaken up and plunged into disarray the course of culture that was relatively stable before, undoubtedly furnishes us with an invaluable set of new resources whose availability promises the human race a superior quality of life within a unified world, always on the condition that humanity itself is able to sensibly and positively handle these formidable instruments that technological progress puts in its grasp. Such potentialities are being used today -right before our eyes- as much for the benefit of man and nature as for their destruction. And in the immediate future, the direction that is set for said use will depend on the proper organisational management of those who flip the switches of power; all too clear is the danger of such formidable resources coming under the sway of insane or criminal minds; or simply, of their being manipulated by half-wits and clumsy hands. Any of us who pays attention to everyday happenings on the international scene, who reads a newspaper or watches a television news program will realise that this terrific danger lurks around every corner and is closer than ever.

The dilemma that we are today faced with is none other than this: either a giant-sized leap toward the superior organisation of shared existence on the planet or, if not, its catastrophic sinking into chaos... This has to do with, let me insist, an open alternative, for the march of history -at a remove from any brand of determinism- is guided by the union of diverse factors, chance among them, but also to a certain degree by free human decisions. The condition of Homo sapiens, insofar as the species has to some extent overcome the imperatives of the animal instinct, leaves room, in effect, for reckoning and rational action in the search for good. And within the social whole, this element of rationality is at the service of those personalities determined to find solutions to the diverse problems raised nowadays by the challenges of technological progress, with the intention of making it so that in the course of human co-existence constructive tendencies predominate.

For this reason, such are the thanks in need of expression for the persapicacity with which the Prince of Asturias Foundation selects from among the different fields of cultural activity those names of a few singular personalities who have distinguished themselves with their creative efforts, persons chosen by their calling and enabled by their training to perform a fruitful labour in their respective disciplines, thereby holding up said names as a stimulating, living example in the face of a demoralised, disoriented, and apathetic world.

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