It’s 1972 and I can see V.S. Naipaul strolling through the streets of Buenos Aires. Well, sometimes he’s strolling, but sometimes, when he’s on his way to meetings or keeping appointments, his gait is quick and his eyes take in only what he needs to see in order to reach his destination with a minimum of bother, whether it’s a private dwelling or, more often, a restaurant or a café, since many of those who’ve agreed to meet him have chosen a public place, as if they were intimidated by this peculiar Englishman, or as if they’d been disconcerted by the author of Miguel Street and A House for Mr. Biswas when they met him in the flesh and had thought: Well, I didn’t think it would be like this, or: This isn’t the man I’d imagined, or: Nobody told me.
So there he is, Naipaul, and it seems that all he can notice are outward movements, but in fact he’s noticing inward movements too, although he interprets them in his own way, sometimes arbitrarily, and he’s moving through Buenos Aires in the year 1972 and writing as he moves or perhaps only wanting to write as his legs move through that strange city, and he’s still young, forty years old, but he already has a considerable body of work behind him, a body of work that doesn’t weigh him down or prevent him from moving briskly through Buenos Aires when he has an appointment to keep—the weight of the work, that’s something to which we shall have to return, the weight and the pride that he takes in his work, the weight and the responsibility, which don’t prevent his legs from moving nimbly or his hand from rising to hail a taxi, as he acts in character, like the man he is, a man who keeps his appointments punctually—but he is weighed down by the work when he goes strolling through Buenos Aires without appointments to exercise his British punctuality, without any pressing obligations, just walking along those strange avenues and streets, through that city in the southern hemisphere, so like the cities of the northern hemisphere, and yet nothing like them at all, a hole, a void that someone has suddenly inflated, a show that is strictly for local consumption; that’s when he feels the weight of the work, and it’s tiring to carry that weight as he walks, it exhausts him, it’s irritating and shameful.
Read the rest of the essay at NRYB. From The Secret of Evil by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Chris Andrews, new from New Directions this month.