Nothing has pushed forward cultural life as much as theninvention of printing, nor has anything contributednmore to its democratization. From Gutenberg’s time untilntoday, the book has been the best propeller and depository ofnknowledge, as well as an irreplaceable source of pleasure.nHowever, to many, its future is uncertain. I recall anlecture I heard at Cambridge a few years ago. It was entitledn”Literature Is Doomed,” and its thesis was that the alphabeticnculture, the one based on writing and books, isnperishing. According to the lecturer, audiovisual culture willnsoon replace it. The written word, and whatever it represents,nare already an anachronism, since the more avantgardenand urgent knowledge required for the experience ofnour time is transmitted and stored not in books but innmachines, and has signals and not letters as its tools. Thenlecturer had spent two weeks in Mexico where he hadntraveled everywhere, and even in the underground he hadnno difficulty, though he spoke no Spanish. For the entirensystem of instructions in the Mexican underground consistsnof nothing but arrows, lights, and figures. This way ofncommunication is more universal, he explained, for itnovercomes, for instance, language barriers, a problem con-nMario Vargas Llosa’s most recent book is La verdad denlas mentiras (A Writer’s Reality). Last November henreceived the Ingersoll Foundation’s J99J T.S. EliotnAward for Creative Writing, for which this was hisnacceptance speech.n14/CHRONICLESnPERSPECTIVEnLiterature and Freedomnby Mario Vargas Llosannn^*n^^Jn -^lngenital to the alphabetic system.nThe lecturer drew all the right conclusions, with no fear,nfrom his thesis. He maintained that all Third Worldncountries, instead of persisting in those long and costlyncampaigns aimed at teaching their illiterate masses how tonread and write, should introduce them to what will be thenprimordial source of knowledge: the handling of machines.nThe formula that the slender speaker used with a defiantnwink still rings in my ears: “Not books but gadgets.” And, asna consolation to all those who might be saddened by thenprospect of a world in which, what was yesterday made andnobtained by wriHng and reading, would be done andnattained through projectors, screens, speakers, and tapes, henreminded us that the alphabetic period in human history hadnin any case been short-lived. Just as mankind had, fornthousands of years, created splendid civilizations withoutnbooks, so the same could happen in the future. Why, then,nshould the underdeveloped countries insist on imposing annobsolete education on their citizens? So as to keep on beingnunderdeveloped?nThe lecturer did not think the alphabetic culture wouldntotally vanish, nor did he wish it. He forecast that the culturenof the book would survive in certain university and intellectualnenclaves, for the entertainment and benefit of thenmarginal groups interested in producing and consuming it,nas something curious and tangential to the main course ofnthe life of nations.nThe exponent of this thesis was not Marshall McLuhan,n