Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski died this week. Kapuscinski built his reputation as an unobtrusive, lyrical observer of seismic changes taking place throughout the developing world. But his narrative style also led to charges of blurring the line between fact and fiction.
MIKE PESCA: And now, after about an hour of calling to the carpet all media members who would prevaricate, equivocate or sleep in a bed bought by AIPAC, it comes time to praise one of journalism's famous liars. Ryszard Kapucsinski was a citizen of Communist Poland who documented tin-pot dictators and their downtrodden subjects to great effect. His masterpieces include Shah of Shahs, about the late Shah of Iran, The Emperor, revealing the inner Haile Salassie, and The Shadow of the Sun, about Africa.
His books worked on three levels. Each was a document of what Kapuscinski said he was documenting, and, backhandedly, a document of the Polish peoples' oppression. Kapuscinski allowed Poles to contemplate their own situation via one degree of separation.
The third element was non-fiction as fable or totem or grand allegory. So this one Soviet customs inspector is not just that Soviet inspector but the face of all malignant authoritarian bureaucracy.
The London Times Literary Supplement has a thorough rundown of Kapuscinski's inaccuracies, not the least of which is that it seems impossible for the people he quotes to have talked in the compelling manner in which they were quoted.
Now, I don't think that Jake LaMotta's fights really looked like operas, but I'm glad I saw Raging Bull. And I'm certain that a Spanish bull never contorted itself in exactly that way, but I'm still bowled over by Picasso's Guernica.
So in the search for reality as opposed to facts, consider Kapuscinski's words about real violence against the truth. He wrote, "First you destroy those who create values. Then you destroy those who know what those values are and who also know that those destroyed before were, in fact, the creators of values. But real barbarism begins when no one can any longer judge or know that what he does is barbaric." I'm glad to have read that.
Ryszard Kapucsinski, the man Germany's Der Spiegel dubbed the greatest reporter in the world, died on Wednesday.
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