"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ortego Review: Enfant Terible: Roberto Bolaño and the Literary Imaginary; more El Paso Writer News


Review of 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, Translated by Natasha Wimmer, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 912 pages, $30.

By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca
Scholar in Residence, Western New Mexico University
2666 was the last novel by Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean writer who made his home in Mexico City for 10 years and the last two decades of his life in Spain. He died in 2003 at age 50 from complications of life (liver failure). 2666 was published posthumously in 2004 in Barcelona. The Spanish edition runs to 1,125 pages. Bolaño’s literary trajectory was no cake walk, made difficult by his own insouciance. 

Roberto Bolaño

In 1999, he received the Rómulo Gallegos Prize from the government of Venezuela for The Savage Detectives, best Spanish-language novel of the year in Latin America or Spain. In his acceptance speech for the prize, Bolaño explained part of his literary trajectory by describing writing as: “[thrusting] your head into the darkness, [knowing] how to leap into the void, and [understanding] that literature is basically a dangerous calling.”

Bolaño thought of himself as an infrarealist (visceral realism) -- an iconoclastic movement in literature (much like Dadaism was in art) of which he was a founding member when he was a Trotskyite in Mexico City during the 70’s. Francisco Goldman sees in Bolaño’s literary trajectory the inseparable forces of life and literature (“The Great Bolaño,” The New York Review of Books, July 19, 2007).

In many ways infrarealism is a mish-mash of literary tropes, sort of like a black hole of minestroni into which one throws whatever left-overs are available, proclaiming it in the end a soup du jour that surpasses all other soups du jour. Why not? If you're kicking the old horses out of the stable, who other than oneself to proclaim you "king of the hill"?

Nevertheless, Roberto Bolaño was in the vanguard of Latin American writers who were trying to break out of what they perceived as the constraints of "magical realism." That's why Bolaño had such harsh words about Gabriel Garcia Márquez who like the salt machine that fell into the ocean churning out endless salt was the salt machine of literature churning out “a long line of commercially promoted Garcia Márquez imitators,” according to Bolaño (Goldman, note 9).

There's a lot to be said for innovation. Magical realism was an extraordinary breakthrough at the time when the novel of realism was surfeiting us. In this sense, infrarealism is an effort to tap into the inner realism of the self, seeking to evade or avoid the realism of externalities or the deux ex machina of classical narratives.

In a way, Bolaño is to contemporary literature as Jackson Pollack was to art. That posits the question of aesthetic judgment. Pollack's art is not everyone's cup or tea (to mix the metaphors). The same is true of Bolaño's art.

It seems to me that as a writer, Bolaño was playing the part of the mischievous imp of literature (maudit), much like Poe's "imp of the perverse." There's no doubt that Bolaño was an enfant terrible. It was a role he cultivated. Whether that will shore up over time his characterization as genius is anybody's guess.

Part of that role was being compared to Jorge Luis Borges, the dendritical Argentinian writer par excellence in flummoxing the expectations of his readers by invariably leading them up blind alleys. Another part of that role was in beating up on Octavio Paz, sanctifier of official Mexican culture.

Though 2666 is a quester novel, that is, a search for some ignis fatuus always just beyond our reach, the novel is rife with cleverness. Take the title, for example. The three 6’s are supposedly the mark of Cain and are said to be the numerals of evil. Their sum is 18. Add the number 2 to that sum and the total is 20, a reference to the 20th century. Is Bolaño’s title meant to convey the intent of the novel — a story of the evil(s) of the 20th century and its violence? And what about the name of the mysterious German novelist “Archimboldi”? Half the name suggests the name of the Greek philosopher and mathematician Archemides — Mr. Bathtub himself! Here Bolaño reminds me of Jonathan Swift creating linguistic puzzles for the readers of Gulliver’s Travels.

Like so many quester novels, 2666 ends open-endedly, suggesting that the novel is not about the destination but the journey — the search. Unlike Diogenes, however, searching for an honest man, Bolaño’s search is for himself — the inframensch. Which may be why the story of 2666 is told like "Roshomon" from a number of perspectives. Which is the true telling? Perhaps all. One critic describes the novel as “rambling without urgency,” perhaps much the way Don Quixote rambles. 

Presented in 5 discrete parts, each of which could stand alone as texts, the novel traverses the literary imaginary of Bolaño’s conspective eye, ending with its focus on Hans Reiter, aka Archimboldi after the Italian painter Archimboldo who painted “the four seasons,” and his sister “Lotte Reiter” — which could be read as “lot of writer.”

Just as the center could not hold for Yeats, everything collapses in pain for Bolaño. In his effort to be transcendent, Bolaño has made of life a minestroni, tossing in this and that thinking he was the chef supreme of the soup du jour

2666 is not the “the first great book of the twenty-first century.” It’s the work of an iconoclast who believed that breaking icons was just as good as making them — if not better.
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ph.D. (English/Comparative Literature), Scholar in Residence, Western New Mexico University, ortegop@wnmu.edu

El Paso Writer News

Our survey, "If "PBS Mystery" featured a Chicano(a) mystery sleuth, who should it be (we've limited choices to the most veteran Chicano/a sleuths)?" continues to run. Please vote on the right side of our blog.

 Dago in Chuco

Dagoberto Gilb was in town last week for a return visit to El Paso. The whole UTEP MFA crew was in the house (sorry for the clinche, but just wanted to say it) as well as Miguel Juarez and David Romo and a host of other students, MFA students, and probably a serial killer or two. See our Interview with Dagoberto Gilb.

Dagoberto Gilb
David Romo, author of Ringside Seat to Revolution, and Dagoberto Gilb
UTEP librarian Juan Sandoval and Daniel Chacon shoot each other
Mayo and Mary

Award-winning author C.M. Mayo was be on the La Plata Campus (College of Southern Marykabd) to discuss and read from her new novel, “The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire.

The Monster Reviewed: Saenz

I don't know if I mentioned this one already, but see this review of Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin A. Saenz on the Latina Book Club: "Saenz captures the vulnerability and defiance of youth beautifully in his latest novel.  It is a poignant, heart wrenching and, sometimes too realistic, reflection of our society. It’s the story of a boy -- yes, an 18 year old is still a child -- struggling to survive his family, his hormones, his addiction, his life.  It’s also a story about the importance of family, either the one you are born into or the one you welcome into your life." READ IT NOW.

While on Ben, I see that Ben Saenz is in the line up for the 2011 Port Townsend Writers' Conference. Check it out.

Ray Gonzalez' Superstitions
Three poems of Ray Gonzalez are published in the Superstitious Review, Arizona State University's Online Literary Review:

he white storm
pushes me into
the canyon where
the poetry of shadows
emerges when I reach up
to the petroglyph on
the red wall, snow
hiding the lines
carved to save me
from what
I do not know.

Read all three poems. Read now

Mora in Loboland

The Daily Lobo has an article out on Pat Mora's recent visit to the University of New Mexico: "Beyond books to real, live authors."

Enrollment increases come with a price, says Paredes

Texas higher education news with Raymund Paredes. The Lone Star Report has an article quoting Paredes, "Paredes: Enrollment Increase Comes with a Price": "
While Texas is coming close to "Closing the Gaps" by 2015, said Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Chairman Raymund Paredes, there's a price to be paid for a gradual influx of lower-income students.

"We have clearly a very difficult situation," Paredes said. "State financial aid has been going up, but so has attendance. We've been spending a lot of money to make relatively modest gains. And that will be the case into the future." READ MORE.

Solis to speak to Tar Heels

Octavio Solis will speak on "A Writers Life" at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill.  This is a presentation of Teatro Latina/o Series. The event is free and open to the public. Sponsored by the Teatro Latina/o Series, The UNC Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series, and the Carolina Latina/o Collaborative.
For directions consult http://www.unc.edu/maps/index.html.

Event Date and Time: 
10/19/2010 - 6:00pm - 7:00pm
University Room, Hyde Hall 
Solis has a new anthology “The River Plays” published by NoPassPort Publishing. He is working on commissions for South Coast Repertory Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Most Unlucky Writers in Americas: John Rechy and Juan Felipe Herrera?
The Kate Gale Blog lists John Rechy and Juan Felipe Herrera as "unluckly" in her post The Luckiest Poets in Americas, Luckiest Prose Writers in America. READ THE POST NOW.

Luis J. Rodriguez Events

Luis J. Rodriguez tells us in his blog that he was at San Diego City College International Book Fair—held from October 1 & 2, 2010. A whole list of this October events are posted to his blog. See Luis J. Rodriguez Events Calender.

Ruben Salazar Panel at USC

This Thursday at the University of Southern Califas (USC), there will be a panel on Ruben Salazar: Ruben Salazar: 40 Years after his Death.

Thursday, October 14, 2010 : 6:00pm to 7:00pm
University Park Campus
Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
Annenberg Auditorium

Join Annenberg staff and students for a panel on former L.A. Times columnist Ruben Salazar’s role in empowering the Latino community.
CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California, the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, and the Annenberg Latino Student Association host a discussion on the impact Salazar had on Latino journalists in mainstream media. There will be an update on the continuing battle to get the sheriff’s department to release documents surrounding the killing of Salazar in 1970 by a sheriff’s deputy.

We will preview the upcoming documentary film Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle by Phillip Rodriguez.

Participants include Salazar’s daughter, Lisa Johnson; community activist Rosalio Munoz, former Los Angeles Times Editor Frank Sotomayor, Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Robert Lopez and USC journalism professor Dr. Felix Gutierrez.

No RSVP is needed. For more information, email juliomoran@ccnma.org.
Annenberg Events


Coming Soon:

Interviews with Carolina Monsivais (Elisa's Hunger), Michael Luis Medrano (Born in the Cavity of Sunsets), and  Dr. Mónica Perales (Smeltertown) 

Throwback Reviews Sergio Elizondo, raulrsalinas, Lalo Delgado, Sandra Cisneros, Luis Omar Salinas, and E.A. Mares

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