On 29 May 2012, at the White House, Bob Dylan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honour existing in the US – by President Barack Obama in person. [see: ‘Bob Dylan Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom’, ‘Rolling Stone’, 29 May 2012 -].

The full citation text appears at: Mary Bruce, ‘Obama Awards Medals of Freedom’, ABC News site, 29 May 2012,; and in the Summer 2012 issue (No 43) of the UK Dylan zine THE BRIDGE ( (pp. 105-106). 

The citation describes Dylan as ‘one of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century’, going on to state: ‘Known for his rich and poetic lyrics, his work had considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades’, and recalling that Dylan has written over 600 songs and that 3000 cover versions of his compositions are in existence’ (THE BRIDGE, pp. 105-106).

Introducing Dylan, President Obama declared: ‘There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music’, describing himself as ‘a really big fan’ and adding: ‘I remember in college, listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up’ (THE BRIDGE, p. 105).


There were a total of 13 recipients of the medal including Dylan, one of them the African-American writer and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.

In her article, Mary Bruce states that the official function of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, according to the White House, is to recognise ‘individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavours’.

According to Malcolm Jones (‘The Daily Beast’, 29 May 2012:, previous musician recipients of the award include Irving Berlin, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, gospel singer Marian Anderson, and, believe it or not, country artist Tennessee Ernie Ford.


Concerning the ‘contributions to the … national interests of the United States’ and ‘cultural … [and] significant public … endeavours’ that have won Dylan the medal, it is certainly not every day that an American president praises a living musician in terms like those used by Obama. The citation text strikes a fair balance between Dylan’s career as a whole and his ‘famous’, early protest period. In the circumstances, of course, it is absolutely right to foreground the early 60s Dylan: ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ did contribute directly to the whole process which enabled Barack Obama to be president today. And did it cross Dylan’s mind that his country would have a black president in his own lifetime when he wrote ‘OxfordTown’, or ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’, or ‘The Death of Emmett Till’? Meanwhile, those of us who know ‘Huckleberry Finn’ (a Dylan favourite) may wish to imagining Twain’s Pap Finn, who said he would never vote again in a country that admitted a black college professor, turning in his unquiet grave …


On 17 July 2012, ‘El País’ published the list of Spain’s eleven most visited tourist locations (‘Los momumentos más visitados’, Europe print edition, p. 39; reproduced at:

Number one is the Alhambra in Granada, followed by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and the Prado in Madrid. Fourth, though – and this is the surprise – is the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, designed by Santiago Calatrava with Félix Candela. This remarkable complex is, then, now Spain’s most popular contemporary touruist attraction – surely refuting those who have dismissed it in the past as a mere white elephant! Congratulations to Calatrava!


Valencia Oceanografico

El 17 de julio de 2012, ‘El País’ publicó la lista de los once monumentos más visitados de España (‘Los monumentos más visitados’, edición impresa Europa, p. 39; lista reproducida en:

En el primer lugar encontramos la Alhambra de Granada, seguida de la Sagrada Familia de Gaudí en Barcelona y el Museo del Prado en Madrid. En el cuarto puesto, no obstante – y ahí viene la sorpresa – se coloca la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, la gran obra de Santiago Calatrava (con Félix Candela)  en Valencia. Este excepcional conjunto, entonces, se ha convertido en el monumento contemporáneo más visitado de España – un hecho que, seguramente, viene a desmentir a quienes ya en el pasado lo denigraron como un inútil espejismo … ¡¡Muchas enhorabuenas para el arquitecto Calatrava!!


From 18 to 20 June 2012 I attended the conference “Charles Dickens and His Time”, organised in Lisbon by the Universidade Nova de Lisboa and held at its Faculty of Social and Human Sciences ( Plenary speakers included international Dickens expert Michael Hollington, who spoke on “Dickens and Europe”, and the novelist’s direct descendant, the writer Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, whose subject was Charles Dickens’ brother Augustus. My own paper was on “Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe: From ‘The Chimes’ to ‘The Bells’”.

Note: My paper was published in 2013 by the Journal of the Odisha Association for English tudies (Baleswar, Odisha/Orissa, India). For full details, see entry on this blog for 2 June 2013.

Below, photos: two of the conference (second is my presentation); Universidade Nova campus; and three of Lisbon – castle; Museo do Azulejo (tile museum); and the Rossio square fountain.

Carlos Fuentes, 1928-2012: Homenaje / Homage

15 May 2012 witnessed the sad loss of Carlos Fuentes, the novelist who had incontestably held the position of the greatest living figure of Mexican letters, since the death in 1998 of the Nobel Prize laureate Octavio Paz (see: Juan Cruz, “Muere a los 83 años el escritor Carlos Fuentes” [“The writer Carlos Fuentes dies at 83”], El País, 15 May 2012,; and Joe Tuckman, “Carlos Fuentes dies at 83”, Guardian, 15 May 2012, 83).

Carlos Fuentes, born in 1928, had a rich and diverse literary career up to the end, practising fiction – novels, novellas, short stories – in the most varied genres (classical realism, the fantastic, historical fiction) and commenting as engaged intellectual on the issues of his time.  He never won the Nobel he would have richly deserved, but the author of works such as Agua quemada and Aura was the recipient of such major awards of the Spanish-speaking world as the Cervantes Prize and the Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts.

He chose to be buried in Paris, where he was at one point the Mexican ambassador. This was a personal decision taken before his death, which in no way detracts from his Mexican identity, since for Fuentes as for so many Latin American intellectuals of his generation, the French capital incarnated enlightened reason and the life of the mind. His mortal remains lie in the Montparnasse cemetery, also the last resting-place of Julio Cortázar, his contemporary and fellow exponent of the mid-twentieth-century Latin American literary “boom”, the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, and Fuentes’ own children, Natasha and Carlos.

So prolific and multifaceted an author may be linked by his readers with endless literary phenomena of past and present. But a handful of these connections may be mentioned here. Fuentes was a lifelong devotee of Miguel de Cervantes and his masterpiece Don Quixote, and famously argued that the whole of the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking universe should be denominated the “territory of La Mancha”. He also greatly admired Edgar Allan Poe, as evidenced in his prologue to a Spanish reissue of Cortázar’s translation of Poe’s tales which appeared in 2009 to commemorate the bicentenary of Poe’s birth. In addition, he had a particular link to José Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel-winning novelist. Saramago’s widow, Pilar del Río, told the Spanish press: “After he introduced Saramago to the Mexican writers, my husband felt Mexican thanks to him, and deeply connected to Mexico’ (“El mundo hispanohablante llora al autor de La Muerte de Artemio Cruz” [“The Spanish-speaking world mourns the author of La Muerte de Artemio Cruz”], unsigned text, El País, 15 May 2012,; my translation).

At the Paris Book Fair in 2009,  I had the privilege of listening to a lecture by Carlos Fuentes (see:, 18 March 2009). He spoke with lucidity, eloquence and passion. The death of such a writer, active and full of projects and ideas up to his last breath, can only be called an enormous loss for Mexican, Latin American and Hispanic letters, and for literature worldwide.


Note: the above English-language text was published (see entry on this blog for 11 January 2014), as: Carlos Fuentes, 1928-2012: A Tribute’, in Indian Journal of World Literature and Culture, Vol 9 & 10, July 2013, 6-7.


Me permito agregar mi voz a las tantas otras del mundo entero que en estos días le brindan homenaje a Carlos Fuentes, nacido en 1928 y fallecido este 15 de mayo de 2012, e incontestablemente el mayor exponente vivo de las letras mexicanas desde que nos dejó Octavio Paz (véase, en castellano, Juan Cruz, ‘Muere a los 83 años el escritor Carlos Fuentes’, El País, 15-V-2012,; y en inglés, Joe Tuckman, ‘Carlos Fuentes dies at 83’, Guardian, 15-V-2012, 83).

Aunque Carlos Fuentes nunca ganó ese Nobel que bien se hubiera merecido, sí que al autor de obras como Agua quemada y Aura se le otorgaron galardones tan importantes como el Premio Cervantes o el Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Artes. Se sabe que será sepultado en París, ciudad donde en su momento fue embajador de México – decisión personal tomada antes de su muerte, y que no le resta nada de latinoamericanidad, ya que para él como tantos intelectuales iberoamericanos de su generación la capital francesa encarnaba la ilustración y la vida de la mente: sus restos mortales yacerán en el cementerio de Montparnasse, último paradero también de Julio Cortázar, su coetáneo del boom hispanoamericano.

 De un autor tan prolífico y polifacético, incontables son los lazos que el lector puede tejer con el mundo literario de ayer y hoy, y aquí me contentaré con destacar, por un lado, su admiración por Edgar Allan Poe, evidenciada en el prólogo que dedicó a la reedición española de la traducción cortazariana de los relatos que salió en 2009, bicentenario del natalicio de Poe; y, por otro lado, una conexión especial con José Saramago, pues ha declarado a la prensa española Pilar del Río, la viuda del escritor portugués: ‘Desde que a Saramago le presentó a los escritores mexicanos, mi marido se sintió mexicano gracias a él y muy vinculado a ese país’ (‘El mundo hispanohablante llora al autor de “La Muerte de Artemio Cruz”’,  texto no firmado, El País, 15-V-2012,

 En la Feria del Libro de París de 2009, tuve el privilegio de escuchar una conferencia de Carlos Fuentes (véase entrada en esta bitácora, 18-III-2009 – Fue un orador lúcido, elocuente y pasional. El fallecimiento de tamaño escritor, activo y lleno de proyectos e ideas hasta su último suspiro, constituirá una enorme pérdida para la literatura mexicana, latinoamericana y mundial.


Literary piracy in Albania

An Albanian literary journal published in Tirana, ‘Mehr Licht!’, recently pirated (and translated) an article of mine on José Saramago. Number 39 of the journal (2010; the title is German, a quotation from Goethe) also includes material, entirely in Albanian, by Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, John Barth, Saramago himself, and others.

The section on Saramago, reflecting the writer’s death in 2010, includes two texts by the novelist himself, another by Mira Meksi, and a translation of my own essay, published on-line in 1988:  

‘Literature as history: on José Saramago’s « The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis – »’ (

It may be legitimately asked whose permission, if any, this journal secured for its multiple translations and publications: comments welcome!


En un reciente artículo sindicado a varios órganos de la prensa mexicana, el respetado periodista Federico Campbell plantea la comparación entre las galerías parisienses del siglo XIX, tal como las describe Walter Benjamin en su obra ‘El libro de los pasajes’, y la estructura de la Internet de hoy. El texto, ‘De los pasajes de París a Internet’, apareció en:  La Crónica, 22 de abril de 2012,; Riodoce (Sinaloa), 23 de abril de 2012 –; y Milenio Semanal, 29 de abril de 2012 – – en todos los casos, tanto en la versión impresa como la electrónica de la respectiva publicación.

 Afirma Federico Campbell: ‘Lo fascinante de este sistema de conexiones, dice Christopher Rollason, es que allí y entonces Walter Benjamin vislumbra históricamente lo que viene siendo el Internet: el principio de interrelación (…) Ya José Luis Cebrián y Manuel Castells han llamado la atención sobre la naturaleza dialogante y no jerárquica de la comunicación en Internet y ahora, diríamos nosotros, del Twitter, que puede considerarse la expresión más activa de lo que Gramsci llamaba la sociedad civil participativa (…) Ese despliegue de ocurrencias e ideas o aforismos es lo que constituye la red’.

 Le agradezco al señor Campbell el citar en su texto varios extractos de mi artículo (primera versión publicada en inglés en 2002), ‘El Libro de los pasajes de Walter Benjamin, la historia no lineal e Internet’, Mapocho: Revista de Humanidades (Santiago, Chile: Ediciones de la Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos), 66, julio-diciembre  2009, pp. 13-31;  – véase entrada en esta bitácora, 27-IX-2005. El apasionante debate sobre Internet y escritos y filosofías del pasado sigue en pie …


 In a recent syndicated article in the Mexican press, the respected journalist Federico Campbell proposes the comparison between the Parisian galleries of the 19th century, as described by Walter Benjamin in his book ‘The Arcades Project’, and the structure of today’s Internet. His text, ‘De los pasajes de París a Internet’ (‘From the arcades of Paris to the Internet’) has appeared in:  La Crónica, 22 April 2012,;

Riodoce (Sinaloa), 23 April 2012 –; and Milenio Semanal, April 2012 – – in all cases in both print and electronic versions.

 Federico Campbell affirms (I translate): ‘What is fascinating about this system of connections, says Christopher Rollason, is that there and then Walter Benjamin glimpsed historically what is now the sense of the Internet: the principle of interrelation (…) Already, José Luis Cebrián and Manuel Castells have drawn attention to the dialogic, non-hierarchical nature of communication via the Internet – and now, we would say, the same happens with Twitter, which can be considered the most active expression of what Gramsci called participative civil society (…) This unfolding of occurrences and ideas or aphorisms is what makes up the network’.

 I thank Señor Campbell for quoting and citing various extracts from my article (also published in a Spanish version): ‘The Passageways of Paris: Walter Benjamin’s “Arcades Project” and Contemporary Cultural Debate in the West’, in ‘Modern Criticism’, ed. Christopher Rollason and Rajeshwar Mittapalli, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2002, pp. 262-296 – :  see entry oinn this blog, 27-IX-2005. The fascinating debate on the Internet and the writings of philosophies of the past continues … 

Journal of the Odisha Association for English Studies, Vol 2(1)

Now published is Vol. 2, Issue 1 (2012) of the Journal of the Odisha Association for English Studies (ISSN 2249-6726), edited from Baleswar (Orissa, India), by Santwana Haldar. Among the subjects of the articles are: ‘Translation and the Context’ (Mohit K. Ray), ‘English and Information Technology: Reading Literature for Comprehension and Communication’ (Rajeshwar Mittapalli), Sri Aurobindo (Subhranshu Mohapatra), R.K. Narayan’s ‘The Dark Room’ (Subrata Debangana), Swedish Nobel laureate Thoms Tranströmer (Santwana Haldar) and Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ (Geetashree Ray). Also prominently featured is Orissa’s leading living writer, the poet Jayanta Mahapatra, with an interview, a critical study (by Bijay Kumar Dey) and two poems. There are also several book reviews: inter alia, of Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Riverof Smoke’ (Bikram Keshari Mohanty) and (pp. 210-214)my own review of Salman Rushdie’s ‘Luka and the Fire of Life’ (also available at:; see entry on this blog for 22 February 2011).

 For further information, please contact the editor at: 


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