Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World
By Eduardo Galeano
358 pages, $24
Days and Nights of Love and War
By Eduardo Galeano
Monthly Review Press
178 pages, $16
Some years ago, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano argued that the
effectiveness of writers on the left "depends on our capacity to
be audacious and astute, clear and appealing." He added, "I would
hope that we can create a language more fearless and beautiful than
that used by conformist writers to greet the twilight."
If one wants an illustration of the truth of this claim, and an
example of its achievement, you need only read Galeano's two most
recent books, the new and brilliant Upside Down and the lyrical
and moving Days and Nights of Love and War, just reissued
in an updated edition by Monthly Review Press.
In Upside Down, the subject under scrutiny is the world
capitalist order (or as he
jokes, "the system that used to be called capitalism"). In Galeano's
carefully reasoned argument, the accused stands condemned of destroying
our memory, our humanity, and the possibility that we have much more
of a collective future. Time is running short, and Galeano is not
tinkering around the edges of the system.
"Never have so many economic resources and so much scientific and
technological knowledge been brought to bear on the production of
death," he charges. "The countries that sell the world the most
weapons are the same ones in charge of world peace. Fortunately
for them, the threat of world peace is receding. The war market
is on the rebound and the outlook for profits from butchery is promising.
The weapons factories are as busy as those producing enemies to
fit their needs."
Designed as a counter-textbook, with boxed sidebars, playful asides,
summary paragraphs, aphorisms, prose poems, lesson plans ("Racism
and Sexism 101") and points for discussion, Galeano digs into the
contradictions of a world order that "enjoins everyone to consume"
while it "prevents the vast majority of humanity from doing so."
Though dense with facts and historical details, the writing in
Upside Down is so compelling that even familiar statistics that
risk becoming abstractions-- 1.6 billion people are worse off now
than they were 15 years ago; one Mexican billionaire is a rich as
17 million Mexicans; of every 10 poor people, seven are women--ring
with proper indignation.
With Brechtian simplicity, Galeano (translated by Mark Fried) jars
the reader, both visually and intellectually, though at times the
placement of sidebars interrupts the flow of the text and makes
one wish they had found a way of waiting for a paragraph break,
or at least the end of the sentence, before your eye is pulled to
the promise of a new narrative. Following Brecht's observation that
famines don't just happen under capitalism, but are organized, he
notes that poverty, torture and fear are consequences of the deliberate
plans of those running the upside-down world: "The system of power
that creates poverty is the same one that wages war without quarter
on the desperate people it begets. ... Jails and bullets are the
proper therapy for the poor." If one senses a dark and bitter sense
of humor here, as well as fury and condemnation, it's because Galeano
insists on humanizing and personalizing his analysis.