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Gabriel Inzaurralde: ‘Literature lets you live four times as long'

As a young boy, Gabriel Inzaurralde, lecturer and researcher in Latin American studies, wanted nothing more than to become a writer. He still writes and passes on lessons from Latin American literature and culture to his students. 'My lectures are a constant attempt to reopen closed minds.'

Turning preconceptions upside down

'Our age suffers from a scary form of dogmatism: one that is not experienced as such. I therefore like to add a confrontational element to my classes. Students enter my class with certain ideas. They come in carrying certain prejudices about Latin America and during my classes I try to turn those preconceptions upside down.' 

'An unsuccessful lecture is one that confirms ideas that already exist in a student's mind. I have done a good job when a student leaves the room and thinks: 'hey, I need to completely rethink my view of Latin America because it's not correct'.'

Studying yourself

'Apart from the fact that you learn something about the region when studying Latin America, you learn a lot about yourself by studying other cultures. If you never question your own experiences and culture, if you never see how things can be done differently, then you can never really understand what you're doing.' 

'Because knowledge is relational. We used to think: when I look at a study object, I understand the object. But that's not how it works. Because who you are, with all your history and prejudices, colours the object you are looking at. There is no real knowledge without self-knowledge. I try to convey this insight in my lectures.' 

From Uruguay to the Netherlands

'I haven't always lived in the Netherlands. In the 1970s - after the coups in Argentina and Uruguay - my parents came to the Netherlands as political refugees. I was 17 years old and didn't speak a word of Dutch yet. First, I obtained my high school diploma in Spain and then I went on to study Latin American studies in combination with literature and philosophy at Leiden University.' 

The power of culture

'I wanted to become a writer, so studying literature seemed like a smart choice. But I soon found out that you shouldn't be studying literature. You start analysing writing styles, get a sense of quality and become overcritical.'

'But I've never regretted my choice. Literature lets you live four times as long. Not because you visit more places, but because literature forces you to have a sensitive and exciting dialogue with your surroundings and with tradition. Art, fiction, literature and film are thought processes. That's what we do in Cultural Analysis: thinking through our time in a critical way.'

From interpreter to teacher

'In my opinion, I have never really had a 'career', the big constant in my life has always been my relationship with literature. To earn money, I have taken on all kinds of jobs, such as a job as an interpreter or a Spanish teacher at various institutions. I am very grateful for the fact that it is a coincidence that I now have a job in which I can combine most of the things I like with my work.'

In the Humans of Humanities series, we will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members or students, every other week. Who are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.

Julia Nolet
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