Carlos Fuentes spoke at the McGill Law Journal Annual Conference last Wednesday.
“I told my father I wanted to become a writer,” said the 82-year-old writer in French. “He told me, ‘You’ll die of hunger.’”
One of Mexico’s foremost literary figures, Fuentes is the author of two-dozen novels and numerous short stories, essays, and plays. He has been suggested as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times in the past few years. He is also a journalist, a political commentator, and has held diplomatic posts with the Mexican government.
Fuentes spoke to current Law students Wednesday as a former Law student himself. In English, French, and his native Spanish, he spoke of his education – of teachers, formative experiences, and books. He entertained the crowd, reciting a bawdy monologue about love and lust from the perspective of Niccolò Machiavelli.
A diplomat’s son, Fuentes talked of studying the internationalist tradition in Geneva at twenty, discussing matters such as “the tension between the equality of states and the hegemony of big powers,” and working as a junior member of the Mexican delegation of the International Labour Association. He ended his time in Geneva as secretary to the Mexican member of the international law commission of the United Nations, continuing his internationalist education.
Fuentes returned to literary pursuits while writing about issues of will in his law thesis. “The heart of the country was calling me and saying ‘Please, write for me,’” he explained.
Asked what makes a good writer, Fuentes responded, “Dilligence. I get up at 6:30 or seven, and start writing at eight. I work from eight to twelve, read all afternoon, then go to the movies. … I don’t wait for inspiration from the heavens.”
Law and literature, he says, are similar in that they are both “part of the civilizing process,” in contrast to events like the “tremendous violence” of the Mexican Revolution, which were part of the “de-civilizing” process.
On the subject of the drug-related violence that is plaguing many areas of Mexico, he said that “forbidding drugs and fighting the cartels violently will not solve the problems. We’re not offering alternatives to drug consumption. It is more than a criminal act. We need to start thinking of new policies and go forward with small steps.”
Concerning Mexican migration, he attested that, “It is the problem of Mexico, of Latin America, to retain our workers. … Some people leave, but most people stay. Latin America is moving, it is not an empty continent. ”
Fuentes called for a “reformed” United Nations to better equip us for the realities of the 21st century. “What can we say about the future, knowing that it is changing so quickly?” he asked the audience. “We’re going to see a lot of things we have never thought about before.”
“I ignored completely what was going to happen in Northern Africa,” he added. “This came as an enormous surprise…we had no inkling! The fact that there are societies that are forming themselves in order to act democratically – this is going to be a major factor in building this century’s politics.”