“Appearing and Disappearing Like True Poetry”

Ben Ehrenreich expands on his LA Times review in the Poetry Foundation’s Journal:

Of course Bolaño himself was first of all a poet. Only in his last decade, with a family to support and death swiping at his heels—he learned in 1992 that he was terminally ill—did Bolaño turn to prose, fiction being a more gainful grit than verse. He wrote furiously during those years, publishing four novels, as many novellas, and three short story collections before his death at the age of 50 in 2003. His last and greatest novel, the gargantuan 2666, was released posthumously and is only now available in English. Relatively few poets appear in its 900-plus pages. All of his other longer works, though, are swimming with them. Most of them are very, very bad.

So many of these reviews are long rehashes of Bolaño’s life and bibliography that one wonders if a compelling (or at least neatly packaged) biography is necessary for literary greatness. Perhaps this is what Pynchon and Salinger were trying to avoid–although their withdrawal from the celebrity-author complex gives them a compelling and neatly packaged biography. Bolaño is a unique case in that he is truly being launched into the English-speaking literary stratosphere (post-mortem) without a cumulative appreciation of his works or “story.” It’s all being crafted as we watch.

Is 2666 a Masterpiece?

Garth Risk Hallberg, of The Millions Blog, tries to answer the question in More Intelligent Life.

In his treatise on drama, “Three Uses of the Knife“, David Mamet cribs a distinction from Stanislavsky. Some narratives, he suggests, leave us saying, “What a masterpiece! Let’s get a cup of coffee,” while others ask us to wrestle with them for the rest of our lives. It’s a contrast that feels almost obsolete in book publishing. On the supply side, publishers rush to promote “instant classics” before posterity can render a verdict. On the demand side, we feel grateful for the distraction of “a good read.” An academic cottage industry has arisen to debunk categories of high and low, obscuring tensions between inspiration and craft, between edification and mere delight. Still, the old Horatian binaries tend to obsess the serious novelist, whose medium lives and dies along the borderline where art and entertainment meet.

Why Bolaño Matters

From The Millions last year:

Nothing more or less than the sum of the stories told about them, Bolaño’s visceral realists come alive in a new way. Not only do we see Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano from every possible angle; we see them from impossible angles as well. Among the novel’s 52 + 1 voices, conflicting accounts proliferate: The visceral realists are geniuses. They are hacks. They are liars. They are saints. The author refuses to render a verdict. And yet his narrators aren’t wholly unreliable: in each version of Ulises and Arturo, we recognize something ineffable and unchanging. However plastic or fantastic, they are always somehow themselves. As we are always somehow ourselves. Among other things, then, The Savage Detectives is a treatise on human nature.

Interview with Natasha Wimmer

From New York Magazine:

The young Archimboldi’s dialect, which is based on puns — how did you go about transferring Spanish puns (spoken by a German character) into English?
Is it really puns? I just looked back over the dialogue, viagra dosage and I’m not sure what you mean. You strike fear into me! Missing things like that is the translator’s great dread, but it’s probably inevitable occasionally, especially with Bolaño.

Janet Maslin drops a lot of names

“The style was strange, ” it is said here, really about both of these literary lions. “The writing was clear and sometimes even transparent, but the way the stories followed one after another didn’t lead anywhere.” And: “In the end, all that was really left was nature, a nature that dissolved little by little in a boiling cauldron until it vanished completely.” All fair except for the vanishing. Vanishing: the exact opposite of what “2666” will do.

Publishing Bolaño’s Poetry

Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine, talks about how they came to publish Bolaño’s poetry:

Bolaño came to us by way of Fred Sasaki, our assistant editor. He was interested in Bolaño and he found out that they [book publisher New Directions] were going to do Bolaño’s poems. Nobody knows anything about Bolaño’s poems; they haven’t been translated into English before. So we asked to see the entire manuscript and just hastily read it and picked the poems we thought were the best and featured them. So that’s how that came about.

More 2666 reviews and coverage

A solid overview of the book from Zach Baron in the Village Voice. He then follows up the review with a post about a few great things that you probably won’t see in other reviews of 2666, including the fact that Bolaño’s funny.

New York Magazine pulls out the five most unskippable passages of 2666.

If you speak/read Spanish, this article asks why Americans are so crazy over Bolaño.

More on Bolaño and heroin addiction.




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