Bureaucratic Imagination on the Bolaño phenomenon
The Bureaucartic Imagination has an interesting post on the Bolaño hype in the States. It also touches on one of the ‘big problems’ of literature in translation:
Moreover, his books are often about the mundane details of very specific and frankly petty literary disputes and details that must make little sense to, say, readers of The New Yorker, which just published his short story “Meeting with Enrique Linh,” wherein a first person narrator named Roberto Bolaño spills out a multi-page, unparagraphed dream in which he hangs out with the Chilean poet Enrique Linh in a bar.
Most American poets, let alone subscribers to The New Yorker, don’t know who Enrique Linh is, and I’m certain that neither group has any clue who Bertoni, Maquieira, Gonzalo Muñoz, Martínez, and Rodrigo Lira; Linh identifies these writers, along with the narrator, as “the six tigers of Chilean poetry in the year 2000.” Far from having universal appeal, this story speaks to a very particular plight, namely, that of “young poets with no support…who’d been shut out by the new center-left government and didn’t have any backing or patronage.”
Nothing much happens in “Meeting with Enrique Linh.” The Bolaño character talks to Linh at the bar then goes out into the street where he meets a “hit man” named “Jara,” who looks like a “fifties gangster.” There is no explanation in the story of who Jara is, so most New Yorker readers won’t understand the reference to Victor Jara, the Chilean poet and folk-singer who was brutally murdered after the 1973 coup.
Please beware before you click that link: the site is blood red with black type, and after looking at it for a few seconds your head will feel like it’s about to explode. Press on. Your head won’t explode. But you will be left with a bit of a headache.