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9 septiembre, 2012


The Last Column

Kieran Tapsell es un abogado australiano quien, por capricho o curiosidad, decidió aprender español. Concibió entonces un método peculiar para su tarea: desde Australia, con una disciplina casi religiosa, leía algunas columnas de la prensa colombiana (y latinoamericana) y las traducía regularmente. Hace unos días recibí un correo electrónico de Kieran con el siguiente mensaje:

Estaba muy decepcionado de leer el domingo que has escrito tu última columna, porque siempre disfrutaba lo que escribiste. Y ya no tengo la oportunidad de traducirlos para mis amigos! Adjunto mis traducciones de las tres últimas columnas que no estaban incluidas en las 47 más o menos que te di en tu oficina en la Universidad de Los Andes. Vas a escribir otras columnas para otra prensa?  De todos modos, te deseo mucha suerte!

Un abrazo,


The Last Column

Alejandro Gaviria, El Espectador, Colombia, 3 September 2012.

Summary: In his last column in El Espectador, Alejandro Gaviria reflects on the columnist’s life.

The experts in the science and art of being a columnist say that all of us have ten subjects on which we can express a more or less coherent opinion in the limited space of a page, without needing a book, without having to look for an appropriate quote, without investigating the details of the subject, without consulting expert opinion, and without looking to Google the memorious for help.

But after ten weeks, after exhausting the hoard, (always scarce) of already existing opinions, the agony in the garden starts. Or rather, the columnist’s agony starts. Very quickly, in the space of a few months, we columnists move (and I use an appropriate quotation) “from writing to thinking because one has to think to write”, that is, to change beyond recognition. The lack of things to write about becomes a permanent state, a kind of distressing vacuum that almost sums up this improbable job of being obliged to express an opinion, habitually, whether or not you have anything to say.

We are chroniclers of the present, commentators on ephemeral political struggles, botherers and interpreters of yesterday’s events, makeshift theorists of the situation – that’s what we  columnists are (of course, I include myself). Often, according to the custom of sporting commentators (and with the same grandiloquence), we go about looking for serious interpretations of many fortuitous, eventful phenomena; in other words, we look for reasons when there aren’t any. That’s really what this occupation is often all about.

Some days ago I read, and already I can’t remember where (this time Google couldn’t remember either) that historians in their routine researches, in consulting old newspapers and magazines, ignore or look indifferently at columnists’ opinions, and concentrate all their attention on the news and the description of events. They are much more interested in ancient events than in the opinions of ancients. It’s almost unnecessary to say it, but this is an ephemeral genre. Newspaper columns don’t age very well. They fall rapidly into decline. A few last. But not for very long.

But in any case, whatever the situation, it is worthwhile pulling from oblivion, the entertainment value of columnists, their role as stirrers (and shit kickers) on politics, their importance in democratic discussion, their permanent, predictable and almost familiar involvement in ideological controversy and in public debates. Without columnists, politics would be much more boring, much more removed from the ideal (utopic) of deliberative democracy, more centred (much more) on specific interests than on general ideas.

A few months after starting to write this column, in May 2004, Fidel Cano, the manager of this paper, which was then a weekly, gave me some fundamental advice. “A good columnist,” – he told me that someone had said it – “is not someone who knows how to write, but how to get it done.” Over eight years and four months, I always got it done, every week, without fail. I leave this space with the satisfaction of having got it done. I say goodbye thanking my readers and forum contributors, whom I read with interest (and a bit of fear) every Sunday, despite the insults. See you later.