Sunday, November 16, 2008

Balano's By Night in Chile (1)

I’ve begun reading Roberto Bolano’s By Night in Chile. Unlike Bolano’s priest, Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix who can remember events and the scenery, tastes, sounds, and impressions of long ago in amazing detail, I must write them down soon after I encounter them or I’ll forget.

I am encountering something I have come to expect in Balano, long lists of literary figures. I see on the back of this book that the London Times Literary Supplement calls it “Bolano’s intelligent indictment of Chile’s literary elite . . .” But it is obvious that Balono spent huge amounts of time studying his fellow Chilean writers as well as other Latin American and European writers. He knew what it was like to join “Visceral Realists.” No doubt there is a stinging indictment of someone’s “literary elite” in The Savage Detectives as well but it isn’t coming across that way to me.

Balano is never heavy handed, but in The Savage Detectives the reader can’t escape the understanding that the “Visceral Realists” is going to make no impact on Mexican literature. But does Balano intend to indict the “Visceral Realists” or is his treatment a nostalgic longing. Perhaps none of the groups like this one amounted to much, but there was a camaraderie that they enjoyed, friendships that developed, and maybe one or two of them went on to gain a deserved reputation – long after no one not in it could remember the Visceral Realists. Is Bolano part of some school? I haven’t read mention of it. He does seem to have been impressed by the “stream of consciousness” style Joyce popularized, or perhaps merely the “interior monologue” style which can hardly be credited to anyone, unless it be Shakespeare. But Bolano’s priest is no Hamlet. Perhaps he, and Bolano himself, is a bit like Dante describing the various realms of purgatory (not the Inferno nor Paridiso) that he has travelled through, replete with long lists of the people he has encountered.

Bolano wasn’t so dedicated to his craft that he gave his life for it as perhaps Hart Crane did if he indeed leaped (as opposed to being thrown) from the aft end of a ship. Perhaps Crane realized that he would never be a great poet and had done as much as he could bear. But Bolano suffered liver failure as the result of Hepatitis C contracted while sharing needles many years earlier during his drug-using days. He was on a liver-transplant list. He didn’t want to die so young – 17 years older than Hart Crane, however.

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