Monday, November 17, 2008

Bolano's By Night in Chile (3)

Here is another interesting section from Bolano’s By Night in Chile, pp 81-2. The activities of the priest in this section reminds me of a friend from Argentina whom I will not name but will send a copy of this note to. This priest who is making his death-bed narration, perhaps “confession” is a better word, but he isn’t confessing to another priest so I’ll call it a narration. Also, he doesn’t feel he has anything to confess. He stands behind everything he did and regrets nothing. But he is sounding more and more, the further I read, like one of the fascists or right-wingers Bolano satirizes. Bolano was a socialist and this following section covers the period of the Socialist Allende’s presidency. We can read what this Opus Dei priest, father Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix does after he learns of Allendes victory:

“When I got back to my house I went straight to my Greek classics. Let God’s will be done, I said. I’m going to reread the Greeks. Respecting the tradition, I started with Homer, then moved on to Thales of Miletus, Xenophanes of Colophon, Alcmaeon of Croton, Zeno of Elea (wonderful), and then a pro-Allende general was killed, and Chile restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and the national census recorded a total of 8,884,746 Chileans and the first episodes of the soap opera The Right to be Born were broadcast on television, and I read Tyrtaios of Sparta and Archilochos of Paros and Solon of Athens and Hipponax of Ephesos and Stesichoros of Himnera and Sappho of Mytilena and Anakreon of Teos and Pindar of Thebes (one of my favourites), and the government nationalized the copper mines and the nitrate and steel industries and Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize and Diaz Casanueva won the National Literature Prize and Fidel Castro came on a visit and many people thought he would stay and live in Chile forever and Perez Zujovic the Christian Democrat ex-minister was killed and Lafourcade published White Dove and I gave it a good review, you might say I hailed it in glowing terms, although deep down I knew it wasn’t much of a book, and the first anti-Allende march was organized, with people banging pots and pans, and I read Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides, all the tragedies, and Alkaios of Mytilene and Aesop and Hesiod and Herodotus (a titan among authors), and in Chile there were shortages and inflation and black marketeering and long queues for food and Farewell’s estate was expropriated in the Land Reform along with many others and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs was set up and Allende went to Mexico and visited the seat of the United Nations in New York and there were terrorist attacks and I read Thucydides, the long wars of Thucydides, the rivers and plains, the winds and the plateau that traverse the time-darkened pages of Thucydides, and the men he describes, the warriors with their arms, and the civilians, harvesting grapes, or looking from a mountainside at the distant horizon, the horizon where I was just one among millions of beings still to be born, the far-off horizon Thucydides glimpsed and me there trembling indistinguishably, and I also reread Demosthenes and Menander and Aristotle and Plato (whom one cannot read too often), and there were strikes and the colonel of a tank regiment tried to mount a coup, and a cameraman recorded his own death on film, and then Allende’s naval aide-de-camp was assassinated and there were riots, swearing, Chileans blaspheming, painting on walls, and then nearly half a million people marched in support of Allende, and then came the coup d’état, the putsch, the military uprising, the bombing of La Mondeda and when the bombing was finished, the president committed suicide and that put an end to it all. I sat there in silence, a finger between the pages to mark my place, and I thought: Peace at last. . . .”


Is this not what intellectuals sometimes do, especially intellectuals who don’t enjoy rubbing elbows with ordinary people? There is a political upheaval; so begin a reading project or work on a book. I recall in War and Remembrance, Aaron Jastrow puts himself, his niece and her son in danger when he can’t turn away from his book project as the Nazis advance. The priest isn’t in that sort of danger, and neither am I after Obama’s victory, but when something of an unpleasant political nature occurs, we take the opportunity to engage in literary projects.

Interestingly, I only learned from Wikipedia’s bio that Bolano was a Socialist and supported Socialist projects. I have seen no evidence of that in his writing thus far. One might argue that the piece above supports a Socialistic position in that it satirizes this priest who reads the classics until Allende is forced to commit suicide, but the Allende activities in this section aren’t described in such a way that we can see anything good in them. If he intends to satirize the non-Socialist position here, I can’t see it.

But yes this Opus Dei priest who believes in common work does no work while but while the people are fighting back and forth during the Allende presidency. He escapes from this time of trouble into the Classics, a class of literature remote from his difficult times. Looking for application, wondering if Bolano would accuse me of a like activity for abandoning the discussion of foreign affairs to read his novels, I think he might. And yet I haven’t given up foreign affairs entirely. It is just that I am no longer interested in focusing upon it exclusively. But if there were any anti-Obama riots occurring, I doubt that I could keep my attention focused on Bolano.

I thought about my Argentinean friend, someone who spends huge amounts of time in the classics. I wonder if he is as fast a reader as Bolano’s priest who completed his reading program (in the original languages) in the three years of Allende’s presidency. As far as I know he isn’t escaping from difficulties in Argentina through his study program. Surely all such programs cannot be suspect – can they?

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