Last week we mentioned the MobyLives series on What Roberto Bolano Read, which is tied into their recent release: Roberto Bolano: The Last Interview & Other Conversations. Well, I fell a bit behind, so here’s some info on the two most recent posts:
Roberto Bolaño once declared that Franz Kafka was the best writer of the twentieth century. He also said the same thing about Anton Chekhov. And Raymond Carver. So when he refers to Chile’s Nicanor Parra as “the best living Spanish language poet,” we have to take his word for it.
It is a well known part of the “Bolaño myth” that, even though his most heralded works are prose, Bolaño spent most of is formative years writing, reading, and living poetry. In fact, according to his last interview he considered himself a better poet than narrator because, he said, he was “less embarrassed” by his poetry. Among the many poets Bolaño fell in love with was Nicanor Parra.
Nicanor Parra has had enough of your nonsense.
Born in 1914, Parra, according to the standard biography, studied engineering at the University of Chile, physics at Brown University, and cosmology at Oxford, and spent many years as a teacher of mathematics and a professor of theoretical physics in Santiago. He published his first collection in 1938, and his major work Poemas Y Antipoemas in 1954. Much of Parra’s work resembles the later products of the American Beat poets.
In an essay Bolaño wrote called “Eight Seconds with Nicanor Parra,” he noted “I’m only sure about one thing regarding Nicanor Parra’s poetry in this new century: it will endure . . . along with the poetry of Borges, of Vallejo, of Cernuda and a few others.” In a veiled compliment, one Parra probably loved, Bolaño went on to write “But this, we have to say it, doesn’t matter too much.”
And from The Literature of Silence:
Roberto Bolaño is famously the author of two very long novels. The English edition of 2666 is 912 pages, The Savage Detectives, 672 pages. And though Bolaño died prematurely at age fifty, he produced more than 25 published volumes. A stash of unpublished manuscripts was discovered earlier this year. He was, simply, prolific.
But Bolaño was deeply interested in writers who chose not to produce or publish, as well as writers who were prematurely silenced. In an interview from 2005 in the Spanish literary journal Turia, Bolaño declared that “There are literary silences.” And he connected a number of his favorite authors to this notion.
“Kafka’s, for example, which is a silence that cannot be. When he asks that his papers be burned, Kafka is opting for silence, opting for a literary silence, all in a literary era. That is to say, he was completely moral. Kafka’s literature, aside from being the best work, the highest literary work of the 20th century, is of an extreme morality and of an extreme gentility, things that usually do not go together either.”
Another figure that Bolaño raised was Juan Rulfo, whose two books are among the most influential works of 20th century Mexican literature. After publishing the short story collection The Burning Plain (1953) and the novel Pedro Páramo (1955), Rulfo (who lived from 1917 to 1986) stopped publishing narrative fiction, despite the enormous critical success of the books. Both Faulkner and García Márquez admitted to having been influenced by his prose.
Rulfo’s silence, according to Bolaño, “is obedient to something so quotidian that explaining it is a waste of time. There are several versions: One told by Monterroso is that Rulfo had an uncle so-and-so who told him stories and when Rulfo was asked why he didn’t write anymore, his answer was that his uncle so-and-so had died. And I believe it too . . . Rulfo stopped writing because he had already written everything he wanted to write and because he sees himself incapable of writing anything better, he simply stops . . . After desert, what the hell are you going to eat?”
Click through to read the complete posts. And to get more info on The Last Interview. And if you haven’t read Pedro Paramo you must. It’s absolutely one of the best books of the past century.
It kind of makes me cringe to see one of the greatest works of twentieth-century Mexican literature referred to as The Perfect Novel You’ve Never Heard Of, but well, this is America . . .
Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo isn’t just a Mexican classic though—it’s one of the greatest books ever written. One of the strangest, most fully realized books I’ve ever read.
Here’s what Carlos Fuentes said: “The work of Juan Rulfo is not only the highest expression which the Mexican novel has attained until now: through Pedro Paramo we can find the thread that leads us to the new Latin American novel.” And when Gabriel Garcia Marquez first arrived in Mexico City in 1961, a friend pressed a copy of Pedro Paramo on him; he read it twice that night and so often thereafter that, he has said, “I could recite the whole book, forwards and backwards.” Moreover, he acknowledges, “The examination in depth of Juan Rulfo’s work gave me at last the way that I sought to continue my books.” And thus was Magic Realism born, although, in truth, Rulfo’s own book is more diabolical than magical and more phenomenal than real; and, more importantly, none of his descendants are like him at all. [. . .]
I was steered to Pedro Paramo by writer Ruben Martinez. (Thank you, Ruben.) I read it and then read it again almost immediately, and then again, and then again; I was trying to reverse-engineer it, but I never did figure out quite how it works. At the same time, I couldn’t understand how Rulfo had escaped my attention for so long; it was like happening on a new primary color, entirely unlike any I’d seen before. But then I read something else Marquez had to say. He, too, didn’t know Rulfo’s name until he was given the book; he, too, was surprised. How could a book be at once so admired and so obscure? “Juan Rulfo,” he said, “to the contrary of what happens with the great classic writers, is a writer whom one reads a lot, but of whom one speaks little.”
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