A common theme among them was that what Menchu “represented,” what she “symbolized,” what in fact she embodied was a truth that could not be sullied by the falsity of her expression of it. A few examples (I had quoted them here, back in 2004, in discussing “I, Dan” Rather and what the New York Times reported in a headline as his “fake but accurate” documents):
- Prof. John Peeler, Bucknell political scientist: The Latin American tradition of the testimonial has never been bound by the strict rules of veracity that we take for granted in autobiography.
- Pro. Karen Jaimie, NYU: Does it really matter that some of these events did not occur to her but have occurred to someone else? Not really. We need to globalize our perspective and not try to minimize the relevancy of the book regardless of some fabrications that may or may not exist. The experiences related were all within the realm of the possible.
- Magdalena Garcia Pinto, director of women’s studies, Univ. of Missouri: What Rigoberta Menchu is representing is not mendacity. Rather, it is a narrative about how large communities in the region are/have been oppressed. … It is fictional truth, if you will, that speaks eloquently about a reality that smacks at our faces.
- Francois Lapelerie, university librarian, Universite de la Mediterranee, Faculte de Luminy Marseille, France: Her book has a very high symbolic value; she, herself, is a living symbol of the fight of all oppressed people not only in Central America, but all over the world. Everybody knows that. So when we read Menchu, we don’t care about what really happened.
Leave it to the French, and also apparently to the Nobel committee, to be uninterested in “what really happened.” It’s the symbol, the “hope,” what “everybody knows” that’s important. As Geir Lundestad, then director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and permanent secretary of the Norwegian Nobel committee, said to the New York Times regarding the Menchu fabrications:
He was aware of the Stoll manuscript and had no reason to doubt its veracity. Nevertheless, he said, “there is no question of revoking the prize” to Ms. Menchu. “All autobiographies embellish to a greater or lesser extent.”
No doubt Mr. Ludestad, or someone just like him, and others on the Nobel committee today believe that “I, Barack” deserves honor for his soliloquies on the world stage today, not for anything he has actually accomplished as an actor. Europeans (and their reflections in American academia and the media) are funny that way.
In accepting the prize in the Rose Garden Friday morning, President Obama said he does not view the award “as a recognition of my own accomplishments” and that “I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize.” Given the paucity of his accomplishments to date, however, he does seem to many of us to deserve very much being in the company of fellow multicultural icon, Rigoberta Menchu.