Nostalgia póstuma de Roberto Bolaño / Alfonso Carvajal

Posthumous Nostalgia for Roberto Bolaño

The year before last an important and jovial writer died. A self-exiled man, an animal of letters. A man who wrote until the last moment and who maintained an ironic awareness of passing through death's implacable borders against the illness that was corroding his body. Los detectives salvajes was his greatest legacy, a classic of contemporary literature; perhaps the most important Latin American novel of the last two decades: an exhuberant map of Latin American exile and an important example of new narrative forms.

He also wrote poems and short stories, which he collected in Llamadas telefónicas and Putas asesinas, and he invented Literatura nazi en América for himself. Roberto Bolaño was born in Chile but he was a citizen of the world and two other flags fought for his heart: Mexico and Barcelona, where he died. He was a Romantic dog –the title of one of his books–, simultaneously skeptical and idealistic. He was hesitant about fame and about discussing his work and private life. He wrote extensively: that's where he cultivated his heaven and hell. In December of 2002 I had the chance to interview him in Blanes. He acknowledged that death entered while he made his exit. He knew this without any pain. Bolaño rested. His literature is alive.

Life Memory

Roberto Bolaño lives two blocks away from the sea, in Blanes, a town of 30,000 residents, half an hour outside Barcelona, Spain. He lives in his wife's house, with two children who are now alseep. He prefers peacefulness to noise, he prefers writing's silent and sometimes unbearable jail.

Outside, an autumnal moon shines on the night’s fragments. There are 3,000 books in the hallways of the house. Bolaño anxiously smokes and drinks Coca-Cola, since liquor has damaged his liver. Irony shines in his eyes. The Chilean writer doesn't like interviews, he believes that everything that matters is in his books, but he finally agreed to talk.

What type of things annoy you about life?
Lots of them. Stupidity, intolerance, resentment. Overblown egos. Of course I know worse things exist. But, fortunately, due to chance or lack of time, I don't frequent them. Things such as the homicidal instinct, homicidal stupidity and homicidal greed. The "evil" beings that intersect with my life or whom I glimpse or whom I cannot avoid every now and then, these are vulgar and mundane.

What things do you like?
Very simple things. A good novel, movies, falling in love, listening to interesting or entertaining stories, food. The truth is, as I get older I like to eat more and more. Going to a good restaurant and eating without hurrying, enjoying an intelligent conversation.

What's your opinion about Catalonians?
Well, I've learned quite a bit from Cataluña. I feel a great admiration for certain Catalonian artists and for a certain prosaic feeling toward life that many Catalonians have. I like the Catalonians' seny, which can be translated as common sense, and which manifests itself in the tolerance, in the live and let live, in the respect for the other, which is the first step toward the acknowledgment of the other. I also like Catalonian women very, very much.

Vicarious Freedom

Early on, you worked with poetry, a genre that is more and more isolated from the editorial world. What's your opinion about poetry as an art form and as a phenomenon nowadays?

I don’t think poetry’s going to disappear. I suspect that every once in a while poetry suffers a metamorphosis, transformations, hybridizations. Of course, it’s no longer possible to sell many poetry books, as was the case with Byron’s books. But being Byron remains a possibility, which is enough. Perhaps poetry survives now within certain novels. Or within forms that aren't considered artistic, bastard forms, products of the ghetto and marginalization. Perhaps when the last lyric poet dies, poetry will be reborn from his ashes.

Los detectives salvajes has vortexes that stand out. One of these is exile, an exile that embraces, among other countries, Mexico and Spain.
Oddly enough, I have never considered myself exiled. Maybe if I had lived in Sweden, although I suspect not even in Sweden. What I have felt like is a foreigner. But I’ve felt like a foreigner everywhere, starting with Chile. Because I was a pedantic child, I felt like a foreigner since childhood.

Are you disenchanted with politics, or was your exile related more to a search for individual freedom?
The only freedom I believe in is individual freedom. Or in the conjunction of individual freedoms. An individual freedom, the one we have at hand, quite vicarious and quite rudimentary but for now it’s the only one we have.

I’m not disenchanted with politics, although I don’t lack reasons for feeling that way, neither myself or others, since politics in general is a nest of snakes. I continue to be a leftist and I continue to believe that the left, for more than 60 years now, maintains an empty discourse. A propped–up discourse and a hollow representation which could only sound good-that waterfall of cliches-to a sentimental mob. In reality, the actual left is the quintessential sentimental mob.

Many years after the violent fall of Allende, how do you feel about Chile from a distance?

I have the impression that democracy is taking root, which is already a major event, and that society is slowly learning how to coexist. Of course, at the price of some memory loss and some lobotomies.

Working Exhausts

In Los detectives salvajes, more than narrating the intellectual world, you narrate the world of the young poets from two decades, their penury and dreams. It's like a demystification of the intellectual, a humanization of the artist. What do you think of this?
When I hand in a novel to my editor, I don’t think about it again.

What writers have been crucial in your sentimental literary education and which ones would you recommend not reading?
Cervantes, Stendhal, Rimbaud, Poe. And let each person read what he wants and what he can. I feel incapable of advising anyone against reading anything, at least for tonight.

What (or who) are you drawn to in current fiction?

In Latin American fiction, Rodrigo Rey Sosa, Daniel Sada, Rodrigo Fresán, Alan Pauls.

What do you think about the autobiographical in literature?

Everything, in some way, is autobiographical, which clearly shows the futility of writing autobiographies.

What does the date September 11th mean to you?

A fucking mess. The beginning of a dance similar to the San Vito dance. The fall of Allende, plus Catalonia's national holiday, which commemorates another defeat, along with the suicide attacks against the twin towers, which ends up being a third defeat of culture against religion. I didn't witness the Catalonian September 11th first-hand, and if I had I would keep it a secret, since that would mean I’m a vampire or immortal. I lived through the Chilean 11th. I suffered it and, since I was twenty years old at the time, I also enjoyed it.

Young people always ignore death. They only want their dose of adrenalin and sex, and so did I. The New York 11th found me in Milan, with my wife and my two children, and when I saw the explosion, at first I thought about the images we had of World War III in the 80s. Of course, we returned to our hotel immediately.

What comes to mind when you hear these names:

César Vallejo: Virtue and spraining. The lyric that neutralizes itself.

Onetti: For those older than thirty-three.

The center of the Latin American canon.

Neruda: Two extraordinary books and nothing else.

García Márquez: A man who’s enchanted by the fact that he’s known so many presidents and archbishops.

Vargas Llosa: The same, but more polished.

Cabrera Infante: A strange writer. Actually, out of all the writers you've named, only Vallejo, Onetti and Borges interest me.

You're now writing an extensive novel (referring to 2666, Anagrama, 2004). What can you tell us about it?
Writing something so long, it exhausts you. Writing exhausts, as Pavese said. And I get exhausted, moreover, with astounding ease. But this is my work and I must continue.

And death?
She enters and I exit.

{ Alfonso Carvajal, El Nacional, 4 February 2005 }

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