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If we do not say all words, however absurd, we will never say the essential words.

José Saramago

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Thursday, April 9th, 2009

🦋 The lost detectives

The 14th, untitled poem in The Romantic Dogs is only three lines:

I dreamt of frozen detectives in the great
refrigerator of Los Angeles
in the great refrigerator of Mexico City.
This introduces a series of five poems about "lost detectives" and "frozen detectives" and "crushed detectives" -- they moan desperately, they stare at their open palms, they are "intent on keeping their eyes open/ in the middle of the dream." These poems -- which are all about dreams -- make me think of Raymond Chandler; there is no stylistic similarity to speak of but I read "detectives" and "Los Angeles" and that is where my mind goes -- and they make me want to read Bolaño's novel The Savage Detectives to find out what his dream-detectives do when they are fleshed out into characters...

The fourth poem in this sequence, "The Frozen Detectives," has another painting reference in it:

I dreamt of detectives lost
In the convex mirror of the Arnolfinis:
Our generation, our perspectives,
Our models of Fear.
I had to look this up -- turns out to be a painting I've seen many times and read a bit about at some point lost to my memory, "The Betrothal of the Arnolfinis," by Jan van Eyck:

An amazing, incredible picture; I don't have much to say about it here but that mirror seems like a fine place for dream-detectives to get lost. Anyway Sylvia was looking over my shoulder as I looked this up and she immediately recognized it as appearing in her book Dog's Night, which is the story of the dogs in all the paintings in an art gallery getting loose after hours one night -- it's a fine book and I recommend it if you are looking for a present for a young kid -- as I recall it's best suited for about a five- or six-year-old.

posted evening of April 9th, 2009: Respond
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Saturday, December 5th, 2009

🦋 Antipoetry

(Every book in the world is out there waiting to be read by me.)
Today at MobyLives, Tom McCartan has written the first installment of their series on Roberto Bolaño's reading habits -- this one is about Nicanor Parra, Chilean anti-poet of my dreams. Bolaño believed that Parra's poetry will "endure... along with the poetry of Borges, of Vallejo, of Cernuda and a few others.... But this, we have to say it, doesn't matter too much."

Gives me a nice opening to mention that I read the opening pages of The Savage Detectives in a book shop this morning, and it moved several spots up on my priority list of what to read next -- just a hilarious book.

posted evening of December 5th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about Roberto Bolaño

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

🦋 Visceral realism

I checked The Savage Detectives out from the library yesterday and started reading it. (This may have been a foolish decision: it looks as of 20 pages in, as if this book is going to devour my consciousness utterly, and for a long time; when I had been planning to spend the next two weeks working on an essay about Pamuk.) What joy! Every page is just delightful. But here's the thing: on nearly every page, Bolaño is telling me about source material that I ought to read if I want to really understand where he is coming from.

For example, on November 8, Madero writes: "I've discovered an amazing poem. They never said anything about its author, Efrén Rebolledo, in any of our literature classes," and goes on to quote El vampiro -- he says it haunts him in the same way as his reading of Pierre Louÿs -- and then on November 10, at the end of a truly breathtaking scene, he mentions 9 books that the 3 visceral realists he has met are carrying:

So much new! Most of these authors I have not even heard of, much less read. (In this I find a point of identification with Madero, who at 17 is discovering poetry.)

A few more authors, from November 14: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is one of the earliest Mexican poets (unrelatedly, I am entranced by Madero's line from November 7, "I finished Aphrodite, the book by Louÿs, and now I'm reading the dead Mexican poets, my future colleagues.") -- Rodríguez wanted to name the visceral realists' magazine after her; and Laura Damián is (according to Rodríguez) "a poetess who died before she turned twenty, in 1972, and her parents established a prize in her memory."

posted morning of December 13th, 2009: 3 responses
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🦋 A point of reference

I was telling a friend today how much I'm loving The Savage Detectives and how he ought to take a look at it, and came up with: "Imagine if Jack Kerouac had been 30 years younger and lived in Mexico City." Interesting -- this is the second time I've been trying to describe Bolaño and come up with a Beat point of reference. (Previously I described one of his poems as sounding like Ginsberg.)

posted evening of December 13th, 2009: Respond

Monday, December 14th, 2009

🦋 Poetry, prose

I've noticed several times Bolaño's statement that he was "less embarrassed" by his poetry than by his novels -- don't remember where I first read that, but it was recently referenced at MobyLives -- it crossed my mind today when I remembered his poem about Lupe in The Romantic Dogs:

She worked in la Guerrero, a few streets down from Julian's,
and she was 17 and had lost a son.
The memory made her cry in that Hotel Trébol room, ...
-- very similar material to what he will later write about Lupe in The Savage Detectives. And the funny thing is, that poem seemed to me like about the weakest one in The Romantic Dogs, whereas the writing about Lupe in the novel is strong and resonant. Not sure exactly what to make of that... Perhaps that Bolaño wrote his fiction best as prose, that his best work as a poet was not narrative; perhaps that this poem was a rough draft for a characterization in the novel?

Update: ...or another possibility, that The Romantic Dogs does not contain Bolaño's strongest poetry work at all -- this is the assertion made by Chad Post in today's edition of Making the Translator Visible -- Post interviews Erica Mena, translator of (among other things) Bolaño's poem "Tales from the Autumn in Gerona," which will be published in the March issue of Words Without Borders and which Mena and (tentatively) Post find to be much better than the poems in The Romantic Dogs. Something to look forward to, certainly.

posted evening of December 14th, 2009: Respond

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

🦋 Who's who? -- the Visceral Realists

I'm wondering how many of the characters in The Savage Detectives are real people from Bolaño's cohort in D.F. in the mid-70's. According to, Ulises Lima is based on Mexican poet Mario Santiago Papasquiaro*; clearly Arturo Belano is Bolaño himself. I am assuming García Madero is made-up, and that the Font family must be based at least loosely on real people. The rest of the Visceral Realists must be a mix of real poets and inventions...

* Oops, and Papasquiaro is itself a pen name, just as Ulises Lima is; the poet's actual name is José Alfredo Zendejas Pineda -- that Wiki page also lists a number of other poets who are presumably represented in The Savage Detectives.

posted morning of December 20th, 2009: Respond

Friday, December 25th, 2009

🦋 The invisible interviewer

...So instead of writing that futile piece this week, I spent my time absorbed in reading The Savage Detectives. Lots to say about it! One thing I was wondering about pretty constantly was, who is the documentarian who is compiling the narratives that make up the middle portion of the book? It can't really be Belano or Lima for various reasons. It would be nice if it were García Madero, but that does not seem plausible either. (It is interesting to notice that García Madero is almost entirely absent from this middle section -- the only time his name is mentioned is by the Mexican professor who's publishing a book about the Visceral Realists, to say that he does not recognize the name. But who is he talking to?) One way to look at this middle section which does not require the presence of an archivist, is as a collection of short stories -- many of the narratives stand up on their own as short stories, and the linking, interweaving threads shared between them serve to draw the reader through the collection.

posted evening of December 25th, 2009: Respond

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

🦋 The real story and the told story

It's 1976 and the revolution has been defeated
but we've yet to find out.
We are 22, 23 years old.
Mario Santiago and I walk down a black and white street.
At the end of the street, in a neighborhood straight out of a fifties film, sits the house of Darío Galicia's parents.
It's the year 1976 and they've trepanned Darío Galicia's skull.
Another thing I spent a lot of mental energy on while reading The Savage Detectives, was on wondering how closely the events being narrated corresponded to actual events in the lives of Bolaño and his crowd. For example the poem "Visit to the Convalescent" from The Romantic Dogs narrates a visit Roberto and Mario Santiago make to the house of their friend, Darío Galicia, after he has surgery for an aneurysm. It reads like memoir, like something that really happened... In The Savage Detectives, Angélica Font tells the story of Ernesto San Epiphanio's convalescence and eventual death following his brain surgery at the end of 1977, by which time Arturo is in Barcelona and Ulises either in Europe or Israel, I'm not sure which, but in no position to visit Ernesto. So as I'm reading I'm wondering what changes have been made and what the reasoning is... Is Ernesto's character based on Darío? Or is Bolaño just using an event from Darío's life to tell a story that is much more about Angélica than about Ernesto, a relatively minor character? From poking around with Google it's clear that much of the broad framework of the story is true to life -- it would be interesting to learn where the story diverges from life.

posted afternoon of December 26th, 2009: Respond

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

🦋 ...and then I kissed her

So here is something I find frustrating about La sombra del viento -- it is seeming to me like way too much time is given over to Daniel's longings for female companionship. I understand that he's an 18-year-old kid, and one who has never kissed a girl, and he's going to be spending a lot of time thinking about that -- I can identify quite easily with that head -- but it just seems lamely cartoonish when every woman he interacts with is described in superlative terms as the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. Particularly annoying when he presents himself as such an ingenu, it seems like there are very labored descriptions of the beauty of women's faces and how he wants to kiss them but no acknowledgement of anything else. García Madero's constant harping on his virginity in part I of The Savage Detectives could get annoying certainly but at least he was up front about what he wanted.

Le hablé de mi primera visita al Cementario de los Libros Olvidados y de la noche que pasé leyendo La Sombra del Viento. Le hablé de mi encuentro con el hombre sin rostro y de aquella carta firmada por Penélope Aldaya que llevaba siempre conmigo sin saber por qué. Le hablé de cómo nunca había llegado a besar a Clara Barceló, ni a nadie, y de cómo me habían temblado las manos al sentir el roce do los labios de Nuria Monfort en la piel apenas unas horas atrás.

I told her about my first visit to the Graveyard of Forgotten Books and about the night which I had spent reading The Shadow of the Wind. I told her about my encounter with the faceless man and about that card bearing Penelope Aldaya's signature which I kept with me always, without knowing why. I told her how I had never gotten to kiss Clara Barceló, nor anybody, and how my hands had trembled brushing against the lips of Nuria Monfort just a few hours before.

See I can't quite picture him relating these particular details of his saga to Bea, the current object of his infatuation, as he's telling her about the mystery of Carax.

posted evening of January 20th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about La sombra del viento

Friday, November 4th, 2011

🦋 Bolaño Group Read

I thank Rise of in lieu of a field guide for hipping me to the group read of Savage Detectives happening in January. The participants include (but are not limited to, nudge, nudge),

Savage (and non-savage) Readers
Rise of in lieu of a field guide,
and of bifurcaria bifurcata
Amateur Reader (Tom) of Wuthering Expectations
Anthony of Time's Flow Stemmed
Bettina of Liburuak
Caroline of Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat
Emily of Evening All Afternoon
Frances of Nonsuch Book
Gavin of Page247
Jeremy of READIN
Mel u. of The Reading Life
Sarah of A Rat in the Book Pile
Scott of seraillon
Stu of Winstonsdad's Blog
Becky of Page Turners
Richard of Caravana de recuerdos

posted evening of November 4th, 2011: Respond

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