Archive for the tag “Roberto Bolano”

Intertexuality and Structure in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666: EDWIN TURNER

The Librarian, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

1. I had been reading William T. Vollmann’s enormous book Imperial. I bought the book in paperback and then put an illicit copy on my Kindle (this riff is not about the ethics of that move). It’s just easier to read that way, especially at night. At some point in Imperial, probably at some mention of coyotes or polleros—smugglers of humans—I felt a tug in the back of my brain pan, a tug that wanted to pull up Roberto Bolaño’s big big novel 2666—also on my Kindle (also an illicit copy, although I bought the book twice).

This is how I ended up rereading 2666 straight through. It was unplanned.

2. Like many readers, I aim to reread more than I actually end up rereading.

Truly excellent novels are always better in rereading: richer, fuller, more resonant. Sometimes we might find we’ve thoroughly misread them. (Imagine my horror rereading Lolita in my twenties to discover the vein of evil throbbing through it). Sometimes we find new tones that seemed impossible on the first run through. (I’ve read Blood Meridian at least once a year since the first time I read it, and it keeps getting funnier and funnier). Most of the time, rereading confirms the greatness of the novel, a greatness inhabiting the smallest details. (I’m looking at you Moby-Dick).

3. Even a riff should have a thesis, and here’s mine:  2666 has a reputation for being fragmentary and inconclusive—and in some ways, yes, of course it is—but a second full reading of 2666 reveals a book that is cohesive, densely allusive, and thematically precise.

Rereading is one way of stepping back to see the bigger picture that  Bolaño twists together from smaller fragments. Rereading reveals the intertextual correspondences between the books of 2666 (the five books proper, the “Parts,” of course, but also the texts, invented or real, that those books house).

4. 2666 is also a book about writing.

Earth, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

5. To wit: “The Part About Archimboldi,” the fifth and final book of 2666, the book that features Benno von Archimboldi, the writer at the heart of 2666—this final chapter sews together many of the book’s (apparently) loose threads.

6. Two problems with point #5:

A. Benno von Archimboldi (aka Hans Reiter) is not at the heart of 2666 but rather a shadowy trace slipping through the margins, a ghost-presence that’s always there, but not generative or muscular like a heart. (I’m not sure exactly what I mean by this).

B. “The Part About Archimboldi” most decidedly does not sew together all the loose threads: That’s the reader’s job (or task or pleasure or plight or burden).

7. And so then point #4 (“2666 is also a book about writing”): 2666 is also a book about reading: A book about reading as detective work.

8. Who are the heroes of 2666?

They are all detectives of some kind, literal or otherwise.

Literary critics. Journalists. Philosophers. Psychologists. Psychics and fortune tellers. Police detectives. Private detectives. An American sheriff. A rogue politician. Poets. Publishers. Parents. Searchers.

9. Archimboldi shows up in the first book of 2666, “The Part About the Critics”; the eponymous critics, literary detectives are searching for him.

How does Archimboldi show up?

Inside a story (the Frisian lady’s) inside a story (the Swabian’s) (inside the story of “Critics,” which is inside the story of 2666).

The Frisian lady asks:

“Does anyone know the answer to the riddle? Does anyone understand it? Is there by chance a man in this town who can tell me the solution, even if he has to whisper it in my ear?”

And Archimboldi answers. He’s a reader, a detective.

10. Swinging back to point #4: 2666 is a book about writing, and it shares the postmodern feature of calling attention to its own style and construction, yet it never does this in an overtly clever or insufferable fashion: It’s far more sly.

Water, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

11. What is the construction or shape of 2666?

A straightforward answer: Five books in an intertextual conversation that seem to loop back around, where the last book prefigures the first book in a strange circuit.

Some possible metaphorical answers:

A void (“Voids can’t be filled,” Archimboldi says).

A labyrinth (the word labyrinth appears 14 times in Wimmer’s translation of 2666).

A mirror (61 times).

An abyss (22 times)

An asylum (43 times; madhouse appears 5 times).

12. And then, back to point #10: How does Bolaño slyly announce or criticize or puncture his style in 2666?

In Ignacio Echevarria’s “Note to the First Edition” of 2666, he tells us that:

Among Bolaño’s notes for 2666 there appears the single line: “The narrator of 2666 is Arturo Belano.” And elsewhere Bolaño adds, with the indication “for the end of 2666″: “And that’s it, friends. I’ve done it all, I’ve lived it all. If I had the strength, I’d cry. I bid you all goodbye, Arturo Belano.”

Belano is Bolaño’s alter ego, a trace who slips and sails and ducks through the Bolañoverse (he also shows up unnamed in 2666 with his partner Ulises Lima; they manage to father a bastard son, Lalo Cura).

So Belano who narrates 2666 (how?!) is Bolaño: Okay: So? Now?

13. I suggested earlier on Biblioklept that 2666 is a grand ventriloquist act, a forced possession, a psychic haunting. Bolaño channels Belano who channels detectives, journalists, poets, writers. Readers.

14. The channeling is metatextual or intertextual, a series of transpositions between the various narrators and protagonists and readers (detectives all).

15. The passage that I see most frequently cited from 2666 points to its intertextuality.

The passage is likely frequently cited because

A) Ignacio Echevarria cites it in his note at the beginning of 2666 and

B) it describes Bolaño’s project in 2666, both internally (the book as a strange beast, with intertextual readings within its five (plus) parts), and also externally (intertextually against the canon). Here is the passage (from “The Part About Amalfitano”):

One night, while the kid was scanning the shelves, Amalfitano asked him what books he liked and what book he was reading, just to make conversation. Without turning, the pharmacist answered that he liked books like The Metamorphosis, Bartleby, A Simple Heart, A Christmas Carol. And then he said that he was reading Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Leaving aside the fact that A Simple Heart and A Christmas Carol were stories, not books, there was something revelatory about the taste of this bookish young pharmacist, who in another life might have been Trakl or who in this life might still be writing poems as desperate as those of his distant Austrian counterpart, and who clearly and inarguably preferred minor works to major ones. He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartleby over Moby-Dick,he chose A Simple Heart over Bouvard and Pecuchet, and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.

16. At the risk of belaboring or repeating the last point: Bolaño, ever the canon-maker, the list maker, situates 2666, his final work (he knows it’s his final work) along with ”the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown,” a book that struggles “against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.”

Air, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

17. So some metatextual moments that, read intertextually, perhaps (perhaps!) work to outline that “unknown,” that “something” of 2666:

18. Near the end of “The Part About Crimes,” a culminating moment, where a female journalist (NB: a female journalist is the first murder victim in “Crimes”) reads the work of the poet/journalist Mercado:

Hernandez Mercado’s style wavered between sensationalism and flatness. The story was riddled with clichés, inaccuracies, sweeping statements, exaggerations, and flagrant lies. Sometimes Hernandez Mercado painted Haas as the scapegoat of a conspiracy of rich Sonorans and sometimes Haas appeared as an avenging angel or a detective locked in a cell but by no means defeated, gradually cornering his tormentors solely by dint of intelligence.

A description of the style of “The Part About the Crimes”: “The story was riddled with clichés, inaccuracies, sweeping statements, exaggerations, and flagrant lies.”

19. And, from “The Part About Archimboldi,” a moment where some critics read Ansky’s novel Twilight and assess it:

Professor Stanislaw Strumilin read it. It struck him as hard to follow. The writer Aleksei Tolstoy read it. It struck him as chaotic. Andrei Zhdanov read it. He left it half finished. And Stalin read it. It struck him as suspect.

These are internal criticisms of 2666.

20. Another moment from Ansky’s journal that seems to describe “The Part About the Crimes,” 2666, and the Bolañoverse in general:

He mentions names Reiter has never heard before. Then, a few pages on, he mentions them again. As if he were afraid of forgetting them. Names, names, names. Those who made revolution and those who were devoured by that same revolution, though it wasn’t the same but another, not the dream but the nightmare that hides behind the eyelids of the dream.

21. While I’m using Ansky’s journal as a pseudo key for the intertextual labyrinth of 2666, let me grab this nugget:

Only in chaos are we conceivable.

(I added the note “thesis” in the electronic margin).

22. Or another description of the novel, couched in a description of history:

. . . history, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness.

23. Another description of 2666 can be found in Bubis’s description of Archimboldi’s second novel:

Lüdicke had yet to come off the presses when Mr. Bubis received the manuscript of The Endless Rose, which he read in two nights, after which, deeply shaken, he woke his wife and told her they would have to publish this new book by Archimboldi.

“Is it good?” asked the baroness, half asleep and not bothering to sit up.

“It’s better than good,” said Bubis, pacing the room.

Then he began to talk, still pacing, about Europe, Greek mythology, and something vaguely like a police investigation, but the baroness fell back asleep and didn’t hear him.

The names of the novels here also suggest something about the structure of 2666The Endless Rose suggests an eternal loop, as does Lüdicke, which etymologically suggests ludic, recursively playful . . . (Again, I’m just riffing here).

24. Another description of Archimboldi’s writing, which is of course a description of Bolaño’s 2666:

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.

Fire, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

25. Archimboldi’s name is some sort of secret key to the novel. He invents the name, of course, seemingly on the spot. (Invents is not the right word—rather, he synthesizes the name, cobbles it together from his readings. The name is intertextual).

The last name he appropriates from the painter Arcimboldo, whose paintings are instructive in understanding the structure of 2666, a narrative that comprises hundreds of internal discrete narratives that define the shape of the larger picture.  The first name?

“They called me Benno after Benito Juarez,” said Archimboldi, “I suppose you know who Benito Juarez was.”

The dark heart of 2666, site of “Crimes,” is Santa Teresa, a transparent stand-in for Ciudad Juarez.

(Florita Almada, psychic medium and honest detective of “Crimes” channels Benito Juarez, the shepherd boy who became the president of Mexico; I’m tempted to quote here at some length but resist).

26. Re: #25: I foolishly suggest that Archimboldi’s name is some sort of secret key. I don’t think there is a secret key. Just reading. Rereading.

27. I seem to be focusing a lot on “The Part About Archimboldi” in this riff. I riffed about the first three books here, and “The Part About Crimes” here.

28. But, still dwelling on “Archimboldi,” there’s a moment in it where an old alpine hermit confesses to murdering his wife by pushing her into a ravine. In some way his confession seems to answer all the puzzles of “Crimes,” all the unresolved abysses, all the falls (literal and metaphorical).  How can I justify this claim? How does a man confessing to a murder in a remote German border town in the 1950s answer the murders in Mexico in the 1990s? Or any of the other murders in the book? I suppose it’s a thematic echo, not a solution. Sweating late at night, reading past midnight, the moment struck me as larded with significance. I’m losing whatever thread I had . . .

29. So to end—how to end? Perhaps I’ll raid my first review of 2666, from January, 2009—surely I must have remarked on the end of the book, or on its apparent inconclusiveness—

30. —and so I did. And I don’t know if I can do better than this: 

Readers enthralled by the murder-mystery aspects of the novel, particularly the throbbing detective beat of “The Part About The Crimes,” may find themselves disappointed by the seemingly ambiguous or inconclusive or open-ended ending(s) of 2666. While the final moments of “The Part About Archimboldi” dramatically tie directly into the “Crimes” and “Fate” sections, they hardly provide the types of conclusive, definitive answers that many readers demand. However, I think that the ending is perfect, and that far from providing no answers, the novel is larded with answers, bursting at the seams with answers, too many answers to swallow and digest in one sitting. Like a promising, strangely familiar turn in the labyrinth, the last page of the book invites the reader back to another, previously visited corridor, a hidden passage perhaps, a thread now charged with new importance . . . 2666 is a book that demands multiple readings.

It was a good suggestion three years ago and I’ll take it up again.

[Ed. note: Biblioklept originally published this essay in July of 2012; since then, a licit e-book of 2666 has been published].

Intertexuality and Structure in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666.

From ‘Tales of the Autumn in Gerona’ By Roberto Bolano

By Roberto Bolano

A woman—I should say a stranger—who caresses you, jokes with you, is sweet with you and brings you to the edge of the abyss. There, the character cries ah or pales. As though he were within a kaleidoscope and saw the eye that sees him. Colors that order themselves in an alien geometry beyond all that you are prepared to accept as good. So begins the autumn, between the Oñar River and the hill of Las Pedreras.


The stranger is sprawled on the bed. Between loveless scenes (flat bodies, sadomasochistic objects, pills and unemployed faces) you arrive at the moment that you name the autumn and discover the stranger.
In the room, in addition to the reflection that swallows everything, you notice stones, yellow slates, sand, hairs on the pillows, abandoned pajamas. Then everything fades.


She jokes with you, she caresses you. A solitary walk through the plaza of cinemas. In the center an allegory in bronze: “The battle against the French.” The private with pistol lifted, it could be said on the verge of shooting the air, is young; his face is contorted to show fatigue, hair disheveled, and she caresses you without saying anything, although the word kaleidoscope slips like saliva from her lips and then the scenes become transparent in something you could call the moan of the pale character or geometry around your naked eye.


“This could be hell for me.” The kaleidoscope moves with the serenity and tedium of days. For her, in the end, there was no hell. She simply avoided living here. Simple solutions guide our acts. The teachings of love have only one motto: don’t suffer. That which moves away can be called desert, rock in the shape of a man, the tectonic thinker.


She says she’s fine. You say you’re fine and think she really must be fine and that you really are fine. Her gaze is dreamy, as though seeing for the first time the scenes she’s always wanted. Later the stale breath arrives, the eyes hollow although she says (while you stay quiet, like in a silent film) that hell can’t be the world she lives in. Cut this piece of shit text! she screams. The kaleidoscope assumes the appearance of solitude. Crac, sounds your heart.


From this side of the river all that interests you maintains the same mechanics. Terraces open to receive the most sun possible, girls parking their scooters, screens covered by curtains, the retired sitting on benches. Here the text isn’t conscious of anything but its own life. The shadow you provisionally call author hardly bothers to describe how the stranger arranged everything for her Atlantis moment.


Two in the morning and the white screen. My character sits in an armchair, cigarette in one hand and a glass of Cognac in the other. He meticulously recomposes some scenes. Like so, the stranger sleeps with perfect calm. Then she caresses his shoulders. Then she tells him not to accompany her to the station. There you see a sign, the tip of the iceberg. The stranger swears that she wasn’t planning to sleep with him. Friendship—her smile now enters the zone of overstretched—doesn’t presuppose any kind of hell.
It’s strange, from here it seems like my character is frightening flies with his left hand. He could, certainly, transform his anguish to fear if he were to lift his gaze and see between the rotting beams the eyes of a rat fixed on him.
Crac, his heart. Patience like a gray ribbon within the kaleidoscope that you turn over and over again.
And if the character were to speak of happiness? Does happiness begin in his twenty-eight-year-old body?


What there is behind when there is something behind: “call the boss and tell him that it has begun to snow.” There is not much more to add to the autumn of Gerona.
A girl showers, her skin reddening under hot water; over her hair, like a turban, an old discolored towel. Suddenly, while painting her lips in front of the mirror, she looks at me (I am behind) and says not to forget to accompany her to the station.
I replay the same scene now, although there is no one before the mirror.


To be near the stranger it’s necessary to stop being the invisible man.  She says, with every action, that the only mystery is the future secret. Can the mouth of the invisible man draw near the mirror?
Extract me from this text, I will mean to say to her, show me the clear and simple things, the clear and simple cries, fear, death, your Atlantis moment having dinner with family.


And so, it’s no wonder, the profusion of posters in the author’s room. Circles, cubes, cylinders fragmenting rapidly give us an idea of his face when the light presses in; his lack of money transforms into desperation for love; any gesture of his hands transforms into pity.
His face, fragmented around him, seems to submit to the eye that reorders it, the ideal kaleidoscope. (That is: desperation for love, pity, etc.)


Again, the stranger hangs from the kaleidoscope. I tell her “I am inconstant. A week ago I loved you, in moments of exaltation I even came to think we were a couple from paradise. But already you know that I’m a failure: those couples exist far from here, in Paris, in Berlin, in Barcelona’s zona alta. I am inconstant, at times I desire grandeur, at others only its shadow. They are the true couple, the only one, the famous leftist novelist and the dancer before her Atlantis moment. I, in contrast, am a failure, someone who will never be like Giorgio Fox, and you seem to be a common and ordinary woman, who wants to have fun and be happy. I mean: happy here, in Cataluña, and not on an airplane bound for Milan or the nuclear plant on Lampedusa. My inconstancy is faithful to this originary moment, to the fierce resentment of being what I am, the dream in the eye, the bony nakedness of an old consular passport sent from Mexico in ’73, valid until ’82, with permission to reside in Spain for three months, without the right to work. The inconstancy, now you see it, allows fidelity, a singular fidelity, but to the end.”
The image fades to black.
A voice off-screen lists hypothetical causes for Zurbarán abandoning Seville. Did he do it because people preferred Murillo? Or because the plague that lashed the city in those years left it without some of his beloved beings and full of debt?


It’s no wonder that the author paces naked in the center of his room. The faded posters open like the words he puts together in his head. Then, almost without transition, I will see the author leaning over a flat roof contemplating the landscape; or sitting on the ground, back against a white wall while in the next room they martyr a girl; or standing, in front of a table, left hand over the wood edge, gaze raised towards a point far from the scene. In any case, the author opens, paces naked surrounded by posters that raise, like an operatic cry, his autumn in Gerona.


A woman who caresses you, jokes with you, is sweet with you and then never speaks to you again. What are you talking about, the Third War? The stranger loves you and then recognizes the slaughterhouse situation. She kisses you and then tells you that life consists precisely of moving forward, absorbing sustenance and searching for more.
It’s funny, in the room, in addition to the reflection that swallows everything (and hence the immaculate grave), there are children’s voices, questions that arrive as though from afar. And behind the questions, she would have guessed it, there are nervous laughs, blocks that, before coming undone, release her message as best they can. “Take care.” “Goodbye, take care.”


Now you slide into action. You arrive at the river. There you light a cigarette. At the end of the street, on the corner, there’s a telephone booth and it’s the only light at the end of the street. You call Barcelona. The stranger answers the telephone. She tells you she won’t come. After a few seconds, in which you say “well,” and she mimics “well,” you ask why. She tells you she’s going to Alella on Sunday and you say that you’ll call when you’re next in Barcelona. You hang up and the cold catches the booth, unexpectedly, while you were thinking: “it’s like an autobiography.” Now you slide through twisting streets, how luminous Gerona can be by night, you think, there’s only two streetcleaners talking outside a closed bar and at the end of the street the lights of a car disappearing. I shouldn’t drink, you think, I shouldn’t sleep, I shouldn’t do anything that might unsettle the fixity. Now you are stopped beside the river, on the bridge built by Eiffel, concealed in the trellis of iron. You touch your face. By the other bridge, the bridge called de los labios, you hear footsteps but when you look for her there is no one, only the murmuring of someone descending the stairs. You think: “and so the stranger was like this, like that; and so I’m the crazy one; and so I’ve been having a magnificent dream.” The dream you’re referring to just passed before you, in the subtle instant in which you allowed yourself a reprieve—and therefore you went transparent briefly, like the lawyer Vidriera—, and it consisted of the apparition, at the other end of the bridge, of a population of eunuchs, merchants, professors, housewives, stripped and exposing their castrated testicles and vaginas in the palms of their hands. What a most curious dream, you say to yourself. You’re definitely trying to cheer yourself up.


THE REALITY. I had returned to Gerona, alone, after three months of work. I had no chance of finding more, nor did I hope to. The house, during my absence, had filled with spider webs and things seemed covered by a green film. I felt empty, not wanting to write, and, when I tried to, incapable of sitting more than an hour before a blank page. The first few days I didn’t even bathe and soon I got used to the spiders. My activity was reduced to going down to the post office, where very rarely I found a letter from my sister from Mexico, and to the market to buy scraps of meat for the dog.

THE REALITY. In some inexplicable way, the house seemed touched by something it didn’t have at the moment of my departure. Things seemed sharper, for example, my chair seemed sharp, brilliant, and the kitchen, although full of dust stuck to scabs of grease, gave an impression of whiteness, as though one could see through it. (See what? Nothing: more whiteness.) In the same way, things were more distinct. The kitchen was the kitchen and the table was only the table. Some day I will try to explain it, but back then, two days after my return, if I put my hands or elbows on the table, I experienced a piercing sorrow, as if I were eating away at something irreparable.


THE KALEIDOSCOPE OBSERVED. Passion is geometry. Rhombuses, cylinders, lateral angles. Passion is geometry that falls into the abyss, observed from the depths of the abyss.
 THE STRANGER OBSERVED. Breasts reddened from the hot water. It is six in the morning and the voice of a man offstage says he will accompany her to the train. That’s not necessary, she says, her body moving, her back to the camera. With precise gestures she puts her pajamas in the suitcase, closes it, picks up a mirror, looks at herself (there the viewer will get a glimpse of his face: eyes wide open, terrified), opens the suitcase, stows the mirror, closes the suitcase, fade . . .

Original Spanish text of “Prosa del Otoño en Gerona” from Tres,  By Roberto Bolano copyright 2000




The Timid Investigators: An Homage to Roberto Bolaño

The Timid Investigators: An Homage to Roberto Bolaño.

by Frederic Tuten

Then Maria came in and I said do you want café or café con leche, and then Bebe came in and I said do you want a café con leche or a mescal. Maria said she wanted a mescal with a fat worm and then Bebe said she wanted a clear tequila, then Maria said Verlaine is a better poet than Rimbaud who turned Verlaine from anapest to pederast, then Luiz came in with a kitchen knife and started cutting his dick right in front of us, but when Maria, who came from Xochimilco and whose father was a tram conductor and whose mother had run a small brothel in Taxco before she saw the light of Jesus and married and had Maria and several other Brats as Maria called them, and Maria said stop cutting that huge magnificent dick of yours or at least don’t do it here in the kitchen, and Luiz said he was going to start a magazine and publish only nuns and queers. Fuck you, I said, fuck you, chinga tu madre! Then two guys I didn’t know came in high from pot and giggling like tweens, Maria said hello Paco, hello Paquito. They were the twins from Guadalajara and wrote for a magazine called Anal Retention and they were stars in the poetry world faction that sided with Quevedo against Gongora and said they would stomp anyone who read that pussy Quevedo, but they were frail and I could not imagine their stomping a sleeping cockroach drunk on pulque, then I said, Hey! Twins, you want a café solo or a café con leche or a diet Coke or a zero Coke or maybe a Fanta lite, or maybe an Aztec cola but just then Maria took me by the arm and said come with me, I have to tell you something. And we went to the bedroom where a young woman was sleeping off the night before and Maria said don’t mind her, that’s just Silvina, she’s blind and gives handjobs for five pesos, and an extra five if you come on her face. She must make a lot of money I said. She does, she’s rich and owns property in Pedregal and in Chapingo but nobody knows so don’t tell, anyway I wanted you to know I don’t love you and that I will never sleep with you no matter what you do so don’t write any poems for me because that won’t work the way it did when you fucked my sister, Leche de Amor—I never fucked her I said. Yes you did she said, Carlota el Camino told me and Leche de Amor told her. I saw bright lights flash in the window, then the slam of a car door, then two huge guys the size of shipyards barged in pistols in hand. “Where is that faggot Noche de Azul?” one said, spitting out a plank of a toothpick cut from plywood.

“Where is that Quevedo faggot?” the one with the flat nose said; “We have a little present for him,” the other with a flatter nose said.

“Who’s looking?” I asked.

“The Gongora twins,” they answered with flames.

“I see,” I said. “Where are your flowers, the dead ones you rob from the graves of orphans? Where are the moist pennies you steal from your mother’s bra?”

They pretended to cry. And I said, real poets do not cry, they write poems to make others cry.

They were insulted they said and would never forgive the insult or the faggot who engineered it and I would pay with my dick they said and brandishing knives long like swords they inched toward me but I leaped out the window and landed on Octavio Rima as he was pissing against the wall. I always knew you loved me he said shaking the last drops off his smallish dick before tucking it away in his pants, really filthy chinos like they had never been washed and he said who’s got time for laundry when poetry must be rescued from the dens of faggots without talent and who shit on Catullus and Wallace Stevens. He was getting started on the New York School whoever they were and imitated their verses:

The milk
On the Table
Of emptiness
With a lump
Of Sugar
& two shots of café Pico.

I told him that the Gongora Brothers were after me and that I had no time for his parodies because actually I could see the brothers hanging out the widow and the one with the flatter nose took out his stringy thing and starting raining down on us with his piss. God! That smelled like garlic and mouse shit boiled in goat milk and I ran off just in time not to get drenched but got stopped ten feet away by Leche de Amor, who hoisted a broken umbrella over our heads and said, Don’t believe my sister, she loves you and wants so much to fuck you, learning from me what a limp fuck you truly are.

Oh! Mexico! I sang. Oh! Leche de Amor with your love of café con sangre de bachelor penguins and of disgusting sex on piss-soaked mattress. Oh! Obsidian night of the soul and of trucks spilling the fat of book grease along the Carretera Toluca on the way to Tira al Pichon. Oh! Mexico and its oblong shadows of teeth and its back streets with lampposts of hanging men and goats. Oh! Fat churros boiled in motor oil and powdered with fine Chinese chalk; sombreros packed with dog shit and nails.

We got into Lope de Luna’s parked car—a ’68 blue Chevy with faux-leopard-skin seats and souped-up engine—and sped off, Octavio and Leche de Amor and me, with the Gongora Brothers in such close pursuit I could read Vallejo’s poems in their headlights. Octavio turned off his lamps and made a dramatic swerve down a dark earthen road, not that I could see the road or anything ahead, only a slice of moon and a few boring clouds above. What a thing, thinking that the last thing to see were the boring fat clouds and a ten-cent slice of shitty moon, and to be crashing in a lunatic car with a poet with a worm for a dick and a woman who liked it limp, like Neruda’s rhymes. Octavio finally flashed on his brights and ahead we saw the Gongora Brothers waiting for us with shotguns and square balloons. I had just enough time to sing out “adios muchachos, compañeros de mi vida” before the car veered off down a ravine and into a forest of magueys and frightened boulders.

When I woke, I found Octavio Rima with his severed head in his lap and Leche de Amour with a thin glass shard through her chest, I myself was no bargain or sight for sore eyes, with my front teeth on my lap like little chicklets with bloody roots. I thought: Let me write one more poem, one more poem that I will dedicate to Rios Juliano, the mad Joycean from Madrid, the one who fishes sonnets and sombreros from his window. Adios!

Frederic Tuten is the author of five novels, notably The Adventures of Mao on the Long March and Tintin in the New World. His book of interrelated short stories, Self Portraits: Fictions, was published in 2010. He lives in New York.

So many Insights in one interview : Roberto Bolano

1.Underdevelopment only allows for great works of literature. Lesser works, in this monotonous or apocalyptic landscape, are an unattainable luxury.

2. 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.

3. I’ll insist at the risk of sounding pedantic (which I probably am, in any case), that when I write the only thing that interests me is the writing itself; that is, the form, the rhythm, the plot. I laugh at some attitudes, at some people, at certain activities and matters of importance, simply because when you’re faced with such nonsense, by such inflated egos, you have no choice but to laugh. All literature, in a certain sense, is political. I mean, first, it’s a reflection on politics, and second, it’s also a political program. The former alludes to reality—to the nightmare or benevolent dream that we call reality—which ends, in both cases, with death and the obliteration not only of literature, but of time.

4. 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. Well, I’m probably wrong—it’s possible that writing is another form of waiting, of delaying things.

5. I’m not one of those nationalist monsters who only reads what his native country produces.

6. 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.

7.  A self-portrait requires a certain kind of ego, a willingness to look at yourself over and over again, a manifest interest in what you are or have been. Literature is full of autobiographies, some very good, but self-portraits tend to be very bad, including self-portraits in poetry, which at first would seem to be a more suitable genre for self-portraiture than prose. Is my work autobiographical? In a sense, how could it not be? Every work, including the epic, is in some way autobiographical. In the Iliad we consider the destiny of two alliances, of a city, of two armies, but we also consider the destiny of Achilles and Priam and Hector, and all these characters, these individual voices, reflect the voice, the solitude, of the author.

8.  Nicanor Parra says that the best novels are written in meter. And Harold Bloom says that the best poetry of the 20th century is written in prose. I agree with both. But on the other hand I find it difficult to consider myself an active poet. My understanding is that an active poet is someone who writes poems…….  the important thing is to keep reading it. That’s more important than writing it, don’t you think? The truth is, reading is always more important than writing. 


कारमेन बौल्लोसा द्वारा लिया गया रोबेर्तो बोलानो से एक साक्षात्कार – मेरी कुछ पसंदीदा-चुनिंदा पंक्तियाँ

Phone Calls By Roberto Bolaño

B is in love with X. It is, of course, an ill-fated love. B, at one time in his life, was prepared to do anything for X, more or less what everyone in love thinks and says. X breaks up with him. X breaks up with him over the phone. At first, of course, B is in anguish. But eventually, as is usually the case, he gets over it. The
years pass.

One night, when B has nothing to do, he manages, after making two phone calls, to get in touch with X. Neither of the two is young and this can be heard in their voices that cross Spain from one end to the other. Their friendship is reborn and a few days later they decide to meet again. Both carry the baggage of divorce, new illnesses, frustrations. When B takes the train heading for X’s city, he is still not in love. They spend the first day holed up in X’s house, talking about their lives. (Actually, it is X who speaks; B listens and asks a question now and then.) At night X invites him to share her bed. Deep down, B has no desire to sleep with X, but he accepts. When he wakes in the morning, B is again in love. But is he in love with X or is he in love with the idea of being in love? The relationship is problematic and intense: X borders on suicide from day to day, is in psychiatric treatment — pills, lots of pills, which nevertheless do nothing to help her. She cries often and without any apparent reason. So B takes care of X. He cares for her tenderly, diligently, but also awkwardly. His ministerings imitate those of a person truly in love. B realizes this right away. He tries to lift her out of her depression but only succeeds in leading X down a dead-end street or one X judges to be a dead end. At times, when he is alone or when he is watching X sleep, B also believes the street to be a dead end. He tries to recall his lost loves as a kind of antidote; he tries to convince himself that he can live without X, that he can save himself on his own. One night X asks him to leave and B catches the train and leaves the city. X goes to the station to see him off. Their farewell is affectionate and desperate. B travels in a sleeping car but is unable to fall asleep until very late. When at last he goes to sleep, he dreams of a monkey made of snow walking through the desert. The path of the monkey is bordered off, leading most likely to failure. But the monkey prefers to ignore that and its cunning turns into its will: it walks by night when the frozen stars sweep the desert. When he wakes up (now in the Estación de Sants in Barcelona), B believes he understands the meaning of his dream (if it had one) and is able to make his way somewhat consoled. That night he calls X and tells her his dream. X says nothing. The next day he calls X again. And the next. X’s attitude is getting cooler and cooler, as if with each call B were receding in time. I am disappearing, B thinks. She is erasing me and knows what she’s doing and why. One night B threatens X that he will take the train and be standing on her doorstep the next day. Wipe that thought from your mind, X says. I am going to come, says B. I can’t stand these phone calls any longer, I want to see your face when I talk to you. I won’t open the door for you, X says, and then hangs up. B doesn’t understand a thing. For a long time he thinks, How can a human being possibly go from one extreme to another in her feeling, her desires? Then he gets drunk and seeks comfort in a book. The days pass.

One night, a year and a half later, B calls X on the phone. It takes X a while to recognize his voice. Oh, it’s you, she says. The coldness in X’s voice is enough to put his hair on end. Nevertheless, B senses that X wishes to tell him something. She’s listening to me as if no time had passed, he thinks, as if we had spoken yesterday. How are you? B says. Tell me something, says B. X answers with monosyllables and after a while, hangs up. Bewildered, B dials X’s number again. When they are connected, however, B prefers to remain silent. At the other end, X’s voice says: Hello, who is it? Silence. Then she says, hello, and is quiet. Time — the time that separated B from X and that B was unable to comprehend — passes through the telephone line, is compressed and stretched, reveals an aspect of its nature. B, without realizing it, has begun to cry. He knows that X knows who is calling her. Then, silently, he hangs up.

Up to this point it is a familiar story — sad but familiar. B understands he must never call X again. One day he hears a knock at the door and standing there are A and Z. They are policemen and wish to question him. B asks what the reason is. A is reluctant to tell him. Z, after awkwardly beating around the bush, explains. Three days ago, at the other end of Spain, someone has murdered X. Initially B collapses, then he realizes that he is one of the suspects and his survival instinct puts him on guard. The police ask him about two days in particular. B doesn’t remember what he has done, whom he has seen during those two days. He does know — how couldn’t he — that he hasn’t left Barcelona, that in fact he hasn’t left his neighborhood and his house, but he can’t prove it. The police take him away. B spends the night at the police station. At one point in the questioning he believes they are going to transfer him to X’s city and he finds the possibility strangely seductive, but in the end that does not happen. They take his fingerprints and request his permission to do a blood analysis. B agrees. The following morning they let him go home. Officially, B has not been arrested, he has only agreed to work with the police to clear up this murder. When he gets home, B gets into bed and immediately falls asleep. He dreams of a desert, of X’s face. Just before he wakes up he understands that they are one and the same. It is not hard for him to conclude that he is lost in the desert.

That night he throws some clothing in a travel bag and heads for the station, where he takes a train whose final destination is X’s city. During the course of the trip, which takes the whole night, from one end of Spain to the other, he is unable to sleep and spends the time thinking of all that he could have done and didn’t, of everything he could have given X and hadn’t. He also thinks: If I were the dead X, I wouldn’t have taken this trip in the other direction. And he thinks: That’s precisely why I am the one who’s alive. During the sleepless trip, he contemplates X as she actually was for the first time, he once again feels love for X and scorn for himself, almost unwillingly, for the last time. When he arrives, quite early, he goes straight to X’s brother’s house. X’s brother is surprised and confused, but nevertheless invites him in, offers him a cup of coffee. He has just washed his face and is half dressed. He hasn’t showered, B notices. He’s only washed his face and splashed some water on his hair. B accepts his offer of coffee, then says that he just found out about the murder of X, that the police have questioned him, that he should explain to him what happened. It’s awfully sad, says X’s brother as he makes the coffee in the kitchen, but I don’t see what you have to do with all of it. The police think I could be the murderer, says B. X’s brother laughs. You always had bad luck, he says. It’s funny he should say that, B thinks, when I am the one who’s alive. But he is also grateful that X’s brother doesn’t doubt his innocence. Then X’s brother goes off to work and B remains in his house. A while later, exhausted, he falls into a deep sleep. X, as one would expect, appears in his dream.

When he wakes up he thinks he knows who the murderer is. He has seen his face. That night he goes out with X’s brother. They go to bars and speak of trivial things and no matter how hard they try to get drunk, they fail. As they walk down the empty streets heading home, B tells him that once he called X and didn’t speak. Son of a bitch, says X’s brother. I only did it once, says B, but then I understood that X was getting these kinds of calls. And she thought it was me. Follow me? says B. The murderer is the anonymous phone caller? asks X’s brother. Exactly, says B. And X thought that it was me. X’s brother frowns. I think, he says, that the murderer was one of her ex-lovers. My sister had many suitors. B chooses not to respond (X’s brother, it seems, hasn’t understood a thing), and they are both silent until they get home.

In the elevator B feels like he is going to throw up. He says, I am going to throw up. Hold on, says X’s brother. Then they quickly walk down the hallway, X’s brother opens the door and B takes off like a shot for the bathroom. But when he gets there he no longer feels like throwing up. He is sweating and his stomach aches but he can’t throw up. The toilet bowl, with the lid up, looks to him like a mouth full of gums laughing at him. After washing his face he looks at himself in the mirror: his face is white as a sheet. He can barely sleep the rest of the night and passes the time trying to read and listening to X’s brother snoring. The next day they say good-bye and B returns to Barcelona. I will never visit this city again, he thinks, for X is no longer here.

A week later X’s brother calls him to say that the police have caught the murderer. The guy had been harassing X, the brother says, with anonymous phone calls. B doesn’t answer. An old lover, X’s brother says. I’m happy to hear it, says B. Thanks for calling me. Then X’s brother hangs up and B is alone.

Translated from the Spanish by Mark Schafer

From Grand Street 68, in memory of Roberto Bolaño, 1953-2003

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