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John Dos Passos Reconsidered


Celebrated author John Dos Passos. Source: Life Magazine

This 1969 Argentinian video of noted American author John Dos Passos is new to his family and could be new to the American public.

Dos Passos, painter, novelist, poet, and playwright, passed away in 1970. The year prior he suffered from heart disease and visited the hospital, but he packed his final days with strenuous adventure and rigorous study. “One must work and riot and throw oneself into the whirl,” he once said. “Boredom and denseness are the two unforgivable sins. We’ll have plenty of time to be before when the little white worms crawl about our bones in the crescent putrifying earth. While we live we must make the torch burn ever brighter until it flares out in the socket.”

John Dos Passos took his wife on a tour of the South Pacific and South America in early 1969. While visiting Easter Island, a region that long fascinated him, he collected material for a book on the subject, Easter Island: Island of Enigmas (1970). They also trekked to Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina. South American politics intrigued Dos Passos; he likely investigated the state of affairs in Argentina post-Perón during his visit. He immersed himself in local culture—food, music, etc—wherever he traveled.

In the video interview, Dos Passos describes in Spanish his principles of storytelling. He also talks about his current work—what became Century’s Ebb: The Thirteenth Chronicle (1970). His inexhaustible affection for the written word is in evidence.