Bolaño street art in Barcelona

Between Parentheses

From The Nation back in March:

Never one to proceed by half-measures, Roberto Bolaño dropped out of high school shortly after he decided to become a poet at age 15. The year was 1968, a time as wild in Mexico City, where Bolaño and his parents were living, as it was in the United States–but much more dangerous. There, student protests, rock ‘n’ roll and sexual liberation were the pursuits not only of poets but also of activists and leftist guerrillas, and the Mexican government greeted them with a dirty war. Four unlucky students died at Kent State in 1970; some 300 were killed in the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968. Yet for Bolaño, who’d just arrived from a small country town in Chile, the atmosphere of the big city was intoxicating. Years later he recalled that the capital had seemed to him “like the Frontier, that vast, nonexistent territory where freedom and metamorphosis are the spectacles of every day.”

The Caracas Speech

In 1999, Bolaño won the Gallegos prize for his novel The Savage Detectives.

“The Caracas Speech” is his acceptance of that prize.

What’s true is that I am Chilean, and I am also a lot of other things. And having arrived at this point, I must abandon Jarry and Bolivar and try to remember the writer who said that the homeland of a writer is his tongue. I don’t remember his name. Perhaps it was a writer who wrote in Spanish. Perhaps it was a writer who wrote in English or French. A writer’s homeland, he said, is his tongue. It sounds a little demagogic, but I agree with him completely, and I know that sometimes there is no recourse left us but to get a little demagogic, just like sometimes there is no recourse left us but to dance a bolero under the light of streetlamps or a red moon. Although it’s also true that a writer’s homeland is not his tongue, or not only his tongue, but also the people he loves. And sometimes a writer’s homeland is not the people he loves but his memory. And other times a writer’s only homeland is his loyalty, and his courage. In truth, a writer’s homelands can be many, and sometimes the identity of that homeland depends a great deal on whatever he is writing at the moment.

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