by Maria Bustillos
Barry Seaman is a reimagining of Bobby Seale, who founded the Black Panthers with Huey Newton. There are significant breaks with the real story; for example, Newton was murdered in Oakland, not in Santa Cruz. I don’t really know enough Panther history to compare point by point, but I have just ordered a copy of the real book, Barbeque’n with Bobby (pub. 1988.)
This is the second author we’ve met who brought himself back to reality by writing a cookbook; the first, as you will recall, was Sor Juana. Another fighter for freedom, and also another oppressed person. Another incarcerated person, you might say; Sor Juana in a convent, and Bobby Seale in a conventional jail. My understanding is that both of these cookbooks are very highly regarded qua cookbooks, that is to say, they are the work of serious cooks, not just some kind of literary joke, in either case. I sympathize greatly with this view of the world. Preparing and eating food really does bring people back to reality. It restores perspective.
The underlying message I’m seeing so far in this book is: art and literature can be made to liberate us, and to show us reality in its true colors, but we’ve built up a million dodges to prevent this from happening. In The Part About the Critics, the murders in Santa Teresa are completely abstract to the critics, whose concerns are almost entirely selfish, personal; the reality of the crimes is totally distant from them, even when they get to Mexico, until they begin to make contact with Amalfitano. I think that Bolaño is saying is, what they really ought to be doing, what we all really ought to be doing, is concentrating with all our hearts on the fact of these murders, and doing something about it. It bears thinking about that traditionally in Latin America, poets and writers have been activists as a matter of course–sometimes, even revolutionaries. And that is going back to the likes of José Martí. What else could possibly be more important than preventing all these atrocities? Intellectuals in Spain and Latin America see themselves as having a political destiny in a way that we don’t seem to, here in the States. Of course quite a number of them have gotten themselves thrown in jail or even shot, for their pains. Which is a subject for another day.
Amalfitano, getting back to the story, is a little closer to reality than are the critics. He has been kind of immune to all this blathering about Archimboldi, even though he is a professor of literature. This is because the dodges of the academy aren’t working, here in Santa Teresa. Reality is getting harder to ignore, for him.
And now we come to Oscar Fate, who is making the move toward reality, not away from it. Barry Seaman, or Bobby Seale, is very close indeed to the workings of reality. Dedicated his life, in however flawed a manner, to redressing the wrongs of the world, in the approved manner of a Latin American intellectual. Bobby Seale’s political activities were questionable, I believe … are we hearing a Latin American revolutionary who is giving a man like Seale too much the benefit of the doubt, I wonder? Seale renounced violence, in the end. His books are said to be worthy. I will start with the cookbook.