Oscar Guardiola-Rivera was born between the Andean mountains and the Caribbean sea of Colombia. Some of his father’s people come from the Guajira desert, and are ruled by the wisest women he’s ever met — the Wayuú. Another part of his family came from Africa against their will, instilling in him a love of music, dance, storytelling and the Yoruba religion (which saved his soul from the “poison of counter-reformist all-conquering Catholic monotheism”). Yet, another part came from Italy or Catalonia, and drove him towards law and politics.
Oscar describes himself as a lover of life, and a friend of truth. As a child he discovered and fell in love with stories about Lord Shiva. He started writing when he was ten and now teaches political philosophy and law at Birkbeck University of London. He’s been, at various stages of his life, involved in theatre, visual arts, radio and photography. Oscar says he only does what overtakes him, or might open up his sixth sense. He’s even taught Latin dance (which he claims he’s not qualified to teach, but I’ve seen his moves). “If I had been born as Plato,” he says, “my Academy would only accept women who have by choice forgotten all about mathematics and embraced dancing instead.”
Oscar’s most recent book, What if Latin America Ruled the World?, brings together politics, culture, history and economics, and outlines how the South will take the North though the 21st century. He tells me the book was born out of a desire to write a Kerouac-style Pan-American travelogue, but also, to fill a gap. After many conversations with friends, he realised that since Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America in the 70s, no one had written for a wider audience about the history of the Latin peoples of the Americas.
Oscar’s next book will be published in September 2013 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the military coup that unseated President Allende on September 11, 1973. “This is our September 11, and as you can imagine it’s a deeply controversial historical event which has become a sort of collective fiction. Researching the book wasn’t easy. “Nobody lies, nobody sets out to make things up or re-imagine what happened… In a way, everybody is telling the truth, but as soon as you think I’m about to get to the truth, to grab it with both hands, it vanishes. It’s not just a cognitive problem or to do with the finitude of memory, it’s something else: the fact that history steps into the lives of peoples as an intruder, unexpected, uninvited, incalculable, all the while private peoples are stepping onto the stage of history.”
On his bookshelf you will find The Book of the People, by the Maya Indians of Central America. Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the Aljaimado poetry of the Al-Andalús, Aimé Cesaire’s plays, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, and JG Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition. I ask Oscar whether he thinks the role of literature has changed. “The role that literature plays in todays society has not changed since it was correctly formulated by Julio Cortázar in 1974: ‘The time has come, once more, for the typewriters of free men to open fire against the arrogance of tyrants.’…. Or was it Lord Shiva who said it first?”