Lars Iyer on Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives

Great great great essay from Lars Iyer today at The White Review. The essay is called “Nude in Your Hot Tub, Facing the Abyss (A Literary Manifesto After the End of Literature and Manifestos).” You should really just read it; I think Iyer does here what David Shields might have meant to do with Reality Hungeronly Iyer is far more clear and cogent (and not, like, all whiny). Here’s a taste, Iyer on Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Savage Detectives:

A final example of literature that faces its own demise and survives: Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives is a book about an attempt to create a literary vanguard in 1975, written after the conditions for vanguardist practice had collapsed. It is a book about political revolution written in a period after the inevitable failures of such revolutions have revealed themselves. It is a novel about a literary avant-garde and yet the novel itself resists the conceptualization and stylization that a literary avant-garde requires. It is an ecstatic, passionate novel—Bolaño himself describes it as a ‘love letter to my generation’—that plays out as a parody of the desires for Literature and Revolution. It is a novel, like all recent novels, that comes too late, but unlike most others it finds a way to address this lateness. In doing so, The Savage Detectives provides another model for how all would-be authors can appropriately speak about our anachronistic dreams.

The supposed heroes of the book, Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, leaders of the literary ‘gang’ called the Visceral Realists, are rarely on stage in the novel for very long. For the most part, we hear of them only at a remove, through the disparate narrators Bolaño calls forward to tell their tale. And the verdict on them is mixed – they have an admirer in gauche and excitable law student Madero, whose brilliantly funny diaries bookend The Savage Detectives, but they have their detractors, too. ‘Belano and Lima weren’t revolutionaries. They weren’t writers. Sometimes they wrote poetry, but I don’t think they were poets, either. They sold drugs,’ says one of Bolano’s narrators. ‘The whole visceral realism thing was… the demented strutting of a dumb bird in the moonlight, something essentially cheap and meaningless,’ says another. In the end they head towards ‘catastrophe or the abyss’, as they wander the world, still attempting to strike literary and political poses when the time for Literature and Politics has gone. ‘We fought for parties that, had they emerged victorious, would have immediately sent us into a forced labour camp’, Bolaño writes of his generation. ‘We fought and poured all our generosity into an ideal that had been dead for over fifty years’.

(Read our review of Iyer’s novel Spurious. Read our interview with Iyer).

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