BY NIGHT IN CHILE by roberto bolaño

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i keep thinking maybe this next bolaño that i pick up will be somehow minor or irrelevant or merely clever. but it never is! it’s always consistently great and consistently surprising with thin yet deep connecting seams of evil and loss, tiny to large explosions of sex and examples of worldly power… structurally so genius and yet so natural, hopeless wisdom, sad beauty, perfect jokes…

and parts to remember (spoiler alert if you believe in such) : the first visit to Farewell’s estate (for some reason, reminding of Zuckerman the young writer meeting Lonoff “the great man” in THE GHOST WRITER) (the repeating scenes in all the varying literary worlds); the build-up, the launch to (and the story of) heroes’ hill/helsenberg and the visionary aftermath scene with Farewell; the audacity of depicting the marxist crash course with the junta; the collapsing telescope of history intertwined with Fr Urrutia’s reading of the greeks; the basement of the maría canales salon (the basement of history being a torture chamber) — but he pulls off that rather heavy metaphor …how much he pulls off(!) …the falcons… and overall that our narrator is a right-wing critic, pinochet-collaborating opus dei cleric, haunted by the wizened youth who is himself or bolaño or the other or…

and here’re bits from a sweet 2001 interview just stumbled upon:

“As to my writing, I don’t know what to say. I suppose it’s realist. I’d like to be a writer of the fantastic, like Philip K. Dick, although as time passes and I get older, Dick seems more and more realist to me. Deep down—and I think you’ll agree with me—the question doesn’t lie in the distinction of realist/fantastic but in language and structures, in ways of seeing.

…The truth is, I don’t believe all that much in writing. Starting with my own. Being a writer is pleasant—no, pleasant isn’t the word—it’s an activity that has its share of amusing moments, but I know of other things that are even more amusing, amusing in the same way that literature is for me. Holding up banks, for example. Or directing movies. Or being a gigolo. Or being a child again and playing on a more or less apocalyptic soccer team. Unfortunately, the child grows up, the bank robber is killed, the director runs out of money, the gigolo gets sick and then there’s no other choice but to write. For me, the word writing is the exact opposite of the word waiting. Instead of waiting, there is writing.

…Yes, plots are a strange matter. I believe, even though there may be many exceptions, that at a certain moment a story chooses you and won’t leave you in peace. Fortunately, that’s not so important—the form, the structure, always belong to you, and without form or structure there’s no book, or at least in most cases that’s what happens. Let’s say the story and the plot arise by chance, that they belong to the realm of chance, that is, chaos, disorder, or to a realm that’s in constant turmoil (some call it apocalyptic). Form, on the other hand, is a choice made through intelligence, cunning and silence, all the weapons used by Ulysses in his battle against death. Form seeks an artifice; the story seeks a precipice. Or to use a metaphor from the Chilean countryside (a bad one, as you’ll see): It’s not that I don’t like precipices, but I prefer to see them from a bridge.”

http://bombsite.com/issues/78/articles/2460

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PS and NB: according to this, “ Urrutia Lacroix is modeled on a real figure, the priest and right-wing literary critic José Miguel Ibañez Langlois.”

and here’re bits from a sweet 2001 interview i just stumbled on:
http://bombsite.com/issues/78/articles/2…
“As to my writing, I don’t know what to say. I suppose it’s realist. I’d like to be a writer of the fantastic, like Philip K. Dick, although as time passes and I get older, Dick seems more and more realist to me. Deep down—and I think you’ll agree with me—the question doesn’t lie in the distinction of realist/fantastic but in language and structures, in ways of seeing.
…The truth is, I don’t believe all that much in writing. Starting with my own. Being a writer is pleasant—no, pleasant isn’t the word—it’s an activity that has its share of amusing moments, but I know of other things that are even more amusing, amusing in the same way that literature is for me. Holding up banks, for example. Or directing movies. Or being a gigolo. Or being a child again and playing on a more or less apocalyptic soccer team. Unfortunately, the child grows up, the bank robber is killed, the director runs out of money, the gigolo gets sick and then there’s no other choice but to write. For me, the word writing is the exact opposite of the word waiting. Instead of waiting, there is writing.
…Yes, plots are a strange matter. I believe, even though there may be many exceptions, that at a certain moment a story chooses you and won’t leave you in peace. Fortunately, that’s not so important—the form, the structure, always belong to you, and without form or structure there’s no book, or at least in most cases that’s what happens. Let’s say the story and the plot arise by chance, that they belong to the realm of chance, that is, chaos, disorder, or to a realm that’s in constant turmoil (some call it apocalyptic). Form, on the other hand, is a choice made through intelligence, cunning and silence, all the weapons used by Ulysses in his battle against death. Form seeks an artifice; the story seeks a precipice. Or to use a metaphor from the Chilean countryside (a bad one, as you’ll see): It’s not that I don’t like precipices, but I prefer to see them from a bridge.”
http://bombsite.com/issues/78/articles/2…
and parts to remember : the first visit to Farewell’s estate (for some reason, reminding of Zuckerman the young writer meeting Lonoff “the great man” in THE GHOST WRITER) (the repeating scenes in all the varying literary worlds); the build-up, the launch to (and the story of) heroes’ hill/helsenberg and the visionary aftermath scene with Farewell; the audacity of depicting the marxist class with the junta; the collapsing telescope of history intertwined with Fr Urrutia’s reading of the greeks; the basement of the salon (the basement of history being a torture chamber) — but he pulls off that rather heavy metaphor …how much he pulls off(!) …the falcons… and overall that our narrator is a right-wing critic, pinochet-collaborating opus dei cleric, haunted by the wizened youth who is himself or bolano or the other or…

2666 by roberto bolaño

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after reading SAVAGE DETECTIVES — whose psychotropic magics utterly redistricted my limbic system — i’d decided to take my bolaño in little bits and had stayed away from 2666, saving it up i think.

just now i’ve finished it. and, while it wasn’t the same experience as SAVAGE DETECTIVES (which, relatively speaking, is more suffused with intoxicating romantic ideas) 2666 indeed was another complete deracination. rather than romantic epic, this work — the primary effort of the last five years of bolaño’s life — is a fearless, everything-risking tome on violence, history, sex, death and (the banality of) evil. after finishing it i feel changed in only a way, at least it seems to me, a novel can change you.

one important aspect of the book maybe to mention is its tedium. the book can be tedious. or, better said, it risks tedium to make a point about time and evil. especially this is true for a 300 page section called THE PART ABOUT THE CRIMES, which makes a fiction from the real violent deaths of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico — a mass murder given the grim name feminicidios.

an achievement only possible by a very great writer is this slowly unfolding effect, precisely built on tedium and our too-easy habituation to our race’s various evils. the reader is allowed, finally, to comprehend her or his habituation — with no small amount of horror.

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and two quotes from early and late in the book that might serve as self-descriptions of his method:

“On the front flap, the reader was informed that the testamento geometrico was really three books, ‘each independent, but functionally correlated by the sweep of the whole’…” (186)

“The style was strange. The writing was clear and sometimes even transparent, but the way the stories followed one after another didn’t lead anywhere: all that was left were the children, their parents, the animals, some neighbors, and in the end, all that was really left was nature, a nature that dissolved little by little in a boiling cauldron until it vanished completely” (887).

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also of potential interest: the translator has some “Notes Toward an Annotated Edition of 2666” here, which has this fine witticism:

“Proposition: Part I of 2666 as satirical sequel to The Savage Detectives. The visceral realists, young idealists, have grown up to become professors of literature, still seekers but no longer idealistic, writing scholarly papers instead of poetry and feuding with academic rivals instead of opposing schools of poets.”

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roberto-bolano-at-paula-chico

also: marcela valdes has a great long piece on 2666 in the nation. of particular interest is her description of bolaño’s relationship to the journalist and writer gonzález rodríguez, who took on the life-risking task of investigating the juárez murders. bolaño seems to have based much of his novel on details from rodríguez. there’s, for instance, a person who seems to be the partial basis for klaus haas named abdul latif sharif — and it is at a press conference held by sharif (eerily similar to ones in the book) that rodríguez comes to a pivotal conclusion about the case:

That day González Rodríguez watched a tall, middle-aged man with green eyes talk to some thirty reporters. Sharif Sharif barely spoke Spanish–he’d lived in Mexico for less than a year–so he gave his presentation in English while a bilingual reporter translated. What he said sounded like a soap opera. According to Sharif Sharif, the femicides were being committed by a pair of rich Mexican cousins, one who lived in Juárez and the other just over the border in El Paso. He told a love story involving one of the cousins and a poor, beautiful girl from Juárez. The press corps was annoyed–they exchanged glances, cracked jokes. González Rodríguez felt pretty skeptical himself, but the critic in him was intrigued by Sharif Sharif’s style. Rather than pound his chest and declare his innocence, the suspect calmly recounted his ninety-minute tale. He seemed to believe that if he provided an alternate explanation for the murders, the charges against him would be dropped.

At the end of the session, González Rodríguez introduced himself to a local reporter. In a park near the prison, the two chatted about the strange presentation. A mother and her daughter approached them.

Are you journalists? the mother asked.

Yes, they answered.

Then we want to tell you something we think that you should know.

The 14-year-old girl beside her wore a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. She told the reporters that the Juárez chief of police had forced her to accuse The Rebels. The chief, she said, had taken her by the hair and banged her against a wall until she agreed to say exactly what he told her.

For González Rodríguez, perspective suddenly shifted. Old facts (the nightclub sweep, the escalating charges against Sharif Sharif) glittered in a new light: the police were beating witnesses. “This,” he thought, “is the undercurrent.”

Read the full article, which includes more background material and a nice portrait of bolaño and rodríguez’s friendship, here.

roberto bolano’s poetry

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bolano poems in the latest issue of POETRY. good examples of a novelist’s poems (which seem less, in general, to me, than a poet’s novels) (which begs the question of the difference between the two practitioners) (beg beg) (“all a compact a words,” the poet and novelist robert creeley said about the difference, which he said didn’t exist)… in any case, the poems are somewhat soggily romantic, maybe not as successfully rid of sentimentality as his prose. here’s a taste:

and Dario whispers that he loves the French poets.

Poets that only he and Mario and I know of.

Boys from the then unimaginable city of Paris with eyes bloodshot from suicide.

He loves them so much!

In the way I loved the streets of Mexico in 1968.

I was fifteen years old and then I’d just arrived.

I was a fifteen-year-old emigrant but the first thing they tell me, the streets of Mexico

is that, there, we’re all emigrants, emigrants of the Spirit.

Ah, the beautiful, the never over-considered, the terrible

Mexican streets hanging in the abyss

while the rest of the world’s cities

are drowning in uniformity and silence…

from “Visit to the Convalescent,” translated by Laura Healy

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…it does make you wonder if maybe it was less a matter of aesthetic principle and more a kind of pragmatic resignation that there’s not a single line of poetry in THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES. hmmm…

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and/but: in a related, much-broken story, let’s hope 2666 live up to its hype and its admittedly good looks.

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…i’m now 66th in line at NYPL for 2666. I wonder which version i’ll get.

Amulet by Roberto Bolano

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bolano’s characters are some of the most beautiful. they miraculously avoid sentimentality while achieving a too-beautiful-to-speak-of romanticism — though reducing them so is an error, that quality he gets really does tear me up…

his characters remind me of the vow of poverty monastics make. it isn’t a negative vow–at least not for the nun. it is in fact a positive one, one that moves the renunciate closer to the divine. bolano’s poets and losers and mothers are an equal type. and one way to describe his natural, moving, ecstatic and elegiac style is to say that it simultaneously shows the mundane and profoundly human while it recognizes and manifests the divine (or maybe better said: the cosmic).

AMULET is a slowly shifting machine, moving from a narrative built first on a natural and sad and graceful character development into a kind of modernized persephone-in-hell myth then into a creepy symbolic tale (though for what is hard to say) and finally into a long description of an icy, abstract landscape.

i probably didn’t do a good job assigning the sections descriptions–and i missed a few–but there are distinct parts to this novel. and bolano gently leads the reader (and virgil and dante are explicitly mentioned) through these passages, a series of subtle changes. the book is one long song describing the horror story (that the narrator proclaims will not appear to be a horror story, but is, nonetheless) of living through history–in this case latin america’s revolutionary 60s and 70s.

here’s one paragraph, within which bolano seems to convey succinctly and impossibly some of the tumult of that era. a phone call is made asking about arturo (a boy who has gone from mexico to chile in 1973 to ‘take part in the revolution’) (and where he barely escapes execution):

“One night, at a party in Colonia Anzures, propped on my elbows in a sea of tequila, watching a group of friends trying to break open a pinata in the garden, it occurred to me that it was an ideal time to call Arturo’s place. His sister answered the phone. Merry Christmas, I said. Merry Christmas, she replied sleepily. Then she asked where I was. With some friends. What’s with Arturo? He’s coming back to Mexico next month. When exactly? We don’t know. I’d like to go to the airport, I said. Then for a while we said nothing and listened to the party noises coming from the patio. Are you feeling OK, his sister asked. I’m feeling strange. Well that’s normal for you. Not all that normal; most of the time I feel perfectly well. Arturo’s sister was quiet for a bit, then she said that actually she was feeling pretty strange herself. Why’s that? I asked. It was a purely rhetorical question. To tell the truth, both of us had plenty reasons to be feeling strange. I can’t remember what she said in reply. We wished each other a merry Christmas again and hung up.” p.76.

find used or find in a library

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

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i just finished the first section… what a book! this is the hottest book i’ve read in a long time. very very sexy. whatever your orientation, i think this book would steam you up… to be a young thing around town! …and the writing is so natural… he makes it seem so easy. so far it reminds in a way of frederick ted castle’s ANTICIPATION, not too similar except that fast fast momentum of being young and everything happening at once, the gush to speak. the immediately-recognizable genius *and* likeability of someone like brautigan, though with a much longer, more sustained development. sprawling like a wong-kar-wai film (and i think i think that not just cuz 2666 sounds like 2046) but the coolness and the beautiful men and women, the youth-cult and moral wideness to speak credibly and generously while also truthfully about pimps and crime and prostitution and drugs, the ability to flow the whole mix all together. the underlying (glamourous) sadness. but really he stands alone and apart from all these, unique.

the idea of poetry in it, like how bunuel would speak about the surrealists as being governed by an invincible and strict moral code. an unstateable moral code but one governed by the laws of poetry!

let’s see how section two goes…
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…now reporting from the middle of the middle. i thought that the middle would sprawl too much, but it doesn’t. a long but comfortable narrative, once you’re in it. slowly the story of ulises and arturo becomes revealed. an amazing (and actually: sweet) bit of autobiographical fiction.

constantly reflective about literature, how to live a life of one, its mechanics, the people, the gossip, the magazines, the rejections, the attitude.

to wet yer whistle, to remind you of how yours was once wet… here’s a bit i liked, from p. 184, from the POV of an older professor-type:

“There are books for when you’re bored. Plenty of them. There are books for when you’re calm. The best kind, in my opinion. There are also books for when you’re sad. And there are books for when you’re happy. There are books for when you’re thirsty for knowledge. And there are books for when you’re desperate. The latter are the kind of books Ulises Lima and Belano wanted to write. A serious mistake, as we’ll soon see. Let’s take for example, an average reader, a cool-headed, mature, educated man leading a more or less healthy life. A man who buys books and literary magazines. So there you have him. This man can read things that are written for when you’re calm, but he can also read any other kind of book with a critical eye, dispassionately, without absurd or regrettable complicity. That’s how I see it. I hope I’m not offending anyone. Now let’s take the desperate reader, who is presumably the audience for the literature of desperation. What do we see? First: the reader is an adolescent or an immature adult, insecure, all nerves. He’s the kind of fucking idiot (pardon my language) who committed suicide after reading Werther. …the kind of person or freak who’s unable to read all the way through In Search for Lost Time, for example, or The Magic Mountain ( a paradigm of calm, serene complete literature, in my humble opinion)… Am I making myself clear? Good. So I talked to them, told them, warned them, alerted them to the dangers they were facing. It was like talking to a wall.”

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finished it. man–what a book! bradford morrow says, truly, about coleman dowell’s ISLAND PEOPLE, “The kind of novel that can change a reader’s life,”–and this one too! fantastic! it changed my life!

consume.

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