Argentinian Writers’ Pension Scheme Proposed

Julio Cortázar, who spent much of his writing life in exile in Paris, via WikiCommons

Julio Cortázar, who spent much of his writing life in exile in Paris, via WikiCommons

Argentinian lawmakers are considering a proposal that will pay a special pension to established writers in their dotage. The proposal could see writers who have had a minimum of five books published, or devoted at least 20 years to “literary creation”, receive a government pension three times above the regular pension. Whereas the old age pension in Argentina is about $1000 per month, the writer’s pension would be around $3000 per month. Australia’s old age pension for a single person is $1340. The proposal seeks to recognise the social benefits of literature as well as its lean monetary pickings. Many a promising young writer’s career has been cut short not by deprivation in the here and now - which is, after all, easier to bear in youth - but out of fears of destitution in life’s increasingly long autumn.

The politician who initiated the proposal is Carlos Heller of the Solidarity Party (PSOL), a party that supports Argentinian president’s Cristina Kirchner run for another term in October. “Writers add to a community’s general culture,” states his proposal. “They are creative individuals who generate a kind of ‘social richness’ that’s difficult to quantify.” The City of Buenos Aires introduced a similar, but less generous, scheme three years ago. It’s had 100 applications, 72 of which have been approved. Similar arrangements are already in place in Spain and France. Ironically, in 2008 Kirchner’s government nationalised Argentina’s private pension funds - covering about 85% of Argentinians - in a desperate move to stave off a debt crisis.

Latin American literature is to the 20th century what Russian literature was to the 19th: a source of excellence as unlikely as it is fecund. The continent’s governments have veered between honouring their writers and oppressing them. Before the professionalisation of politics, some Latin American countries would reward its best writers with ambassadorial appointments (Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes is a case in point). Peruvian writer Mario Vargos Llosa came within a hair’s breadth of becoming his country’s president. The Argentine Jorge Luis Borges was director of the Argentina’s National Public Library from 1955, although the position was titular rather than administrative. Legend has it that after Borges published an essay critical of Juan Perón’s regime, the dictator offered Borges a new job running the city abattoirs. Needless to say, Borges politely declined the appointment.

Borges is a giant of literature, it goes without saying. But Argentina’s ever-surreal and self-reflexive literary landscape boasts many other stars: Julio Cortázar (pictured, best known for his novel Hopscotch), Adolfo Bioy Casares (a kind of Latin American Kafka), Ernesto Sabato (whose Tunnel is sadly out of print in English) and Beatriz Guido are just for starters. At the forefront of contemporary Argentinian literature is César Aira, whose imagination is as wild as his output is prolific. His novel The Literary Conference is currently in the running to win a Translated Book Award. It’s about a literary translator turned mad scientist, who decides to take over the world by cloning Carlos Fuentes.

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