Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction (Book Acquired, 07.24.2014)

Books, Literature

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So of course I’ve been eating up Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe, a new critical study by Bolaño’s translator Chris Andrews. I’ve read the introduction and the first three chapters so far, and the study, far from being dry and academic, compels me to dig deeper.

The book really starts with the second chapter, with Andrews simply trying to situate Bolaño-as-publishing-phenomenon in the first chapter. The introduction—which you can read at publisher Columbia UP’s site—offers a clear overview of what Andrews aims to do.

Andrews writes that:

…the interconnected series of narratives that begins with Nazi Literatures in the Americas (originally published in 1996) and ends with the stories that appeared posthumously in The Secret of Evil … can be regarded as forming a single, openly structured edifice whose two sustaining pillars are The Savage Detectives and 2666, and for which Woes of the True Policeman served as a preparatory model.

Andrews’s description recalls Javier Moreno’s geometry of Bolaño’s fictions:

moreno

This model has greatly influenced my own reading of Bolaño over the years, leading to my conceptualization of Bolaño’s later work existing in a self-creating, self-deconstructing Bolañoverse.

Andrews’s description of the Bolañoverse (he doesn’t use the term):

Bolaño expanded or “exploded” his own published texts, blowing them up by adding new characters and episodes as well as circumstantial details. He also allowed characters to circulate or migrate from text to text, sometimes altering their names and properties. Within his novels and stories, he inclded representations of imagined texts and artworks, that is, metarepresentations. Finally, some of his characters and narrators are over-interpreters: they seize on details, invest them with significance, and invent stories to connect and explain them. 

More to come; for now, the publisher’s blurb:

Since the publication of The Savage Detectives in 2007, the work of Roberto Bolaño (1953–2003) has achieved an acclaim rarely enjoyed by literature in translation. Chris Andrews, a leading translator of Bolaño’s work into English, explores the singular achievements of the author’s oeuvre, engaging with its distinct style and key thematic concerns, incorporating his novels and stories into the larger history of Latin American and global literary fiction.

Andrews provides new readings and interpretations of Bolaño’s novels, including 2666, The Savage Detectives, and By Night in Chile, while at the same time examining the ideas and narrative strategies that unify his work. He begins with a consideration of the reception of Bolaño’s fiction in English translation, examining the reasons behind its popularity. Subsequent chapters explore aspects of Bolaño’s fictional universe and the political, ethical, and aesthetic values that shape it. Bolaño emerges as the inventor of a prodigiously effective “fiction-making system,” a subtle handler of suspense, a chronicler of aimlessness, a celebrator of courage, an anatomist of evil, and a proponent of youthful openness. Written in a clear and engaging style, Roberto Bolano’s Fiction offers an invaluable understanding of one of the most important authors of the last thirty years.

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“Books in the West” — Morely Roberts

Books, Literature

“Books in the West”

from

Morely Roberts’s A Tramp’s Notebook

Since taking to writing as a profession I have lost most of the interest I had in literature as literature pure and simple. That interest gradually faded and “Art for Art’s sake,” in the sense the simple in studios are wont to dilate upon, touches me no more, or very, very rarely. The books I love now are those which teach me something actual about the living world; and it troubles me not at all if any of them betray no sense of beauty and lack immortal words. Their artistry is nothing, what they say is everything. So on the shelf to which I mostly resort is a book on the Himalayas; a Lloyd’s Shipping Register; a little work on seamanship that every would-be second mate knows; Brown’s Nautical Almanacs; a Channel Pilot; a Continental Bradshaw; many Baedekers; a Directory to the Indian Ocean and the China Seas; a big folding map of the United States; some books dealing with strategy, and some touching on medical knowledge, but principally pathology, and especially the pathology of the mind.

Yet in spite of this utilitarian bent of my thoughts there are very many books I know and love and sometimes look into because of their associations. As I cannot understand (through some mental kink which my friends are wont to jeer at) how anyone can return again and again to a book for its own sake, I do not read what I know. As soon would I go back when it is my purpose to go forward. A book should serve its turn, do its work, and become a memory. To love books for their own sake is to be crystallised before old age comes on. Only the old are entitled to love the past. The work of the young lies in the present and the future.

“The Common Reader” — Virginia Woolf

Books, Literature, Writers

There is a sentence in Dr. Johnson’s Life of Gray which might well be written up in all those rooms, too humble to be called libraries, yet full of books, where the pursuit of reading is carried on by private people. “…I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim poetical honours.” It defines their qualities; it dignifies their aims; it bestows upon a pursuit which devours a great deal of time, and is yet apt to leave behind it nothing very substantial, the sanction of the great man’s approval.

The common reader, as Dr. Johnson implies, differs from the critic and the scholar. He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously. He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole–a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing. He never ceases, as he reads, to run up some rickety and ramshackle fabric which shall give him the temporary satisfaction of looking sufficiently like the real object to allow of affection, laughter, and argument. Hasty, inaccurate, and superficial, snatching now this poem, now that scrap of old furniture, without caring where he finds it or of what nature it may be so long as it serves his purpose and rounds his structure, his deficiencies as a critic are too obvious to be pointed out, but if he has, as Dr. Johnson maintained, some say in the final distribution of poetical honours, then, perhaps, it may be worth while to write down a few of the ideas and opinions which, insignificant in themselves, yet contribute to so mighty a result.

The opening chapter of The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf.

 

If a man wants to read good books, he must make a point of avoiding bad ones (Schopenhauer)

Literature, Writers

As regards reading, to require that a man shall retain everything he has ever read, is like asking him to carry about with him all he has ever eaten. The one kind of food has given him bodily, and the other mental, nourishment; and it is through these two means that he has grown to be what he is. The body assimilates only that which is like it; and so a man retains in his mind only that which interests him, in other words, that which suits his system of thought or his purposes in life.

If a man wants to read good books, he must make a point of avoiding bad ones; for life is short, and time and energy limited.

Repetitio est mater studiorum. Any book that is at all important ought to be at once read through twice; partly because, on a second reading, the connection of the different portions of the book will be better understood, and the beginning comprehended only when the end is known; and partly because we are not in the same temper and disposition on both readings. On the second perusal we get a new view of every passage and a different impression of the whole book, which then appears in another light.

A man’s works are the quintessence of his mind, and even though he may possess very great capacity, they will always be incomparably more valuable than his conversation. Nay, in all essential matters his works will not only make up for the lack of personal intercourse with him, but they will far surpass it in solid advantages. The writings even of a man of moderate genius may be edifying, worth reading and instructive, because they are his quintessence—the result and fruit of all his thought and study; whilst conversation with him may be unsatisfactory.

So it is that we can read books by men in whose company we find nothing to please, and that a high degree of culture leads us to seek entertainment almost wholly from books and not from men.

From The Art of Literature by Arthur Schopenhauer.