I'm reading Roberto Bolaño's selection of short stories, translated into English by Chris Andrews as Last Evenings on Earth for New Directions. The stories in this edition remind me of first reading Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, likewise by New Directions. Bolaño's stories evoke Nicanor Parra as a Virgilian guide, not to be taken seriously, humor as an antidote to history's disturbances. The stories Andrews has selected make up an impressive Bolaño anthology, a preface to The Savage Detectives and 2666. What will these ambitious novels look like in English?
Parra as an anti-poet mentor of current waves of fiction, absurdist chapters from various corners of a dissolved Latin America. In the final story of Last Evenings on Earth, we get this literary footnote:
"43. Germain Nouveau (1852-1920), a friend of Rimbaud's, spent the last years of his life as a vagabond and beggar. He went by the name of Humilis (in 1910 he published Les poemes d'Humilis) and slept on church porches. 44. Everything is possible. Every poet ought to know that."
There are also lapses into Borgesian anecdotes in these short stories, which are preparations for more ambitious scenarios such as the one in Los detectives salvajes recounting generational antagonism against Octavio Paz. One of the radical young poets of the 1970s, a protagonist of the novel, meets Octavio Paz in a Mexico City park by chance in 1995, their conversations observed from a distance by Paz's obtuse secretary. The younger poet is semi-homeless and Paz's secretary canonically refers to her boss as "Don Octavio." What Paz and the younger poet discuss is never revealed.
Bolaño stages this semi-secret generational encounter in an unobtrusive corner of a sprawling novel, an intersection of literary vanguards from opposite banks. Poetry, or literature, being a central concern of this type of fiction. As in the Borges short story from the 1970s "The Other," where he meets his teenage self on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge.