Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bolano's Nazi Literature in the Americas (2)

The second half of this “novel” is good, but I had a few problems with it here and there.   Beginning with “Speculative and Science Fiction” he writes several vignettes about U.S writers.   They are clever but not as impressive as when he writes about characters in Argentina or Chile.   He doesn’t have a solid block of U.S. vignettes – as if to indicate that we are all (South and North America) one screwed up entity.  The U.S. writers J.M.S. Hill (who writes science fiction) and Zach Sonderstern who wrote a “Fourth Reich Saga,” the opening pages of which introduce “a mutant, stray German Shepherd with telepathic powers and Nazi tendencies.” 
But the fourth novel (of the Fourth Reich saga) is entitled The Crystal Cathedral.  Did Bolano know there was an actual Chrystal Cathedral in Orange County California?  Surely, he did for he centers Sonderstern in Los Angeles, but he describes The Crystal Cathedral as being “a story about God, fundamentalist preachers and the ultimate meaning of life.”  Robert Schuller, the founder of the Chrystal (not the spelling used by Bolano’s translator, and presumably Bolano) Cathedral is the very opposite of a fundamentalist preacher.  In fact the fundamentalist preachers, and they are in abundance in Orange County, have been critical of Schuller for being too liberal.  So if Bolano intended something interesting in this allusion, it fell flat – at least for someone who used to live in the very city (Garden Grove) where Schuller.
And to some extent I have the same complaint about his other vignettes about U.S. writers.  His section on “The Aryan Brotherhood” is an example.  The Aryan Brotherhood is a prison gang (in reality and not just in Bolanoity).  The Whites against the Mexican Mafia and the Black Guerillas . . . or more recently the Aryans and Mexican Mafia against the Black Guerillas, but names intending to be intimidating.  This gang has little to do with the German or Italian Fascists.  They like invoking the Nazi image in order to scare those that might challenge them, but do they have anything to do with what Hitler believed?   Don’t be too quick to say “racism,” because Hitler wasn’t a racist in U.S. terms.  His greatest enemies were the Russians, who are “white” and therefore acceptable to the Aryan Brotherhood.  Nazi, after all, stands for “National Socialism.”  Hitler believed the Germans and not a “white race” should rule Europe, if not the world.  I’m sure the real Nazis would have shuffled those Aryan Brothers off to the nearest crematorium if they had encountered any of them. 
The concluding vignette on “Carlos Ramirez Hoffman” was further developed in Distant Star, the story of an Allende assassin who (on orders) kills twin girls, one of whom he is in love with, is a fighter pilot who writes poetry in the sky, and is finally killed by a Chilean assassin (also on orders).  I read Distant Star back in 2007 and so don’t have it vividly in mind, but it was written after Nazi Literature in America; so I assume the story fascinated him so much that he sought to develop it further.  It is 25 pages in Nazi Literature in America and 149 pages in Distant Star. 
The relative briefness of the “Carlos Ramirez Hoffman” vignette gives it a different flavor than Distant Star.  I was reminded of the conclusion of Kafka’s The Trial in a way I was not in Distant Star.  But if that was intended, and I am reluctant to accuse Bolano of “not” intending any allusion I think I see, in what sense was Hoffman or (in Distant Star, Carlos Weider) like Kafka’s Joseph K?  Hoffman/Weider both engaged in violent acts in support of a brutal government; so one might say that they didn’t understand the reality of their situation with the proper (or at least ultimate) reality.  They were not guilty in any clear sense.  They acted as agents of a legitimate government.   So that vagueness is perhaps relatable to Joseph K’s crime or sin which is never defined.   Bolano seems to have some sympathy for him.  In Nazi Literature he (Bolano) pleads that Hoffman’s life be spared, but the narrator of Distant Star, while suitably “horrified,” doesn’t plead for Weider’s life.  But Bolano in Nazi Literature seems more an actor in the death of Weider than the narrator does in Distant Star; which made me think of the men in the pork pie hats who came to execute Joseph K.  Someone unidentified determined that Hoffman, Weider, and Joseph K. should be executed, and so they were.
Is Nazi Literature in the Americas truly “a novel”?  Not in any traditional sense, but Bolano is so good we must let him have his way.   After all it must be the writers who write them and not the critics who review them who determine the nature of the “novel.”   But I’m reminded of the poetry of E. E. Cummings and the novels of Kafka here.  Who could write like them?  No one.  I am also reminded of J. R. R. Tolkein who created a whole world of fictitious beings who have taken on a reality that is still with us.  I’m tempted to reread Distant Star, thus getting his stories in their proper order and determine if I still believe what I’ve written here.

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