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 A stash of unpublished manuscripts was discovered earlier this year.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.
And now, their ten day feature on What Bolano Read:
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be hosting “What Bolaño Read,” a series of posts by Tom McCartan charting the reading habits of Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean novelist, poet, and short story writer. Bolaño was a prolific writer, the author of numerous books, including 2666, The Savage Detectives, and By Night in Chile, but he was also a dedicated reader. The series celebrates the publication of Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations, which is just out from Melville House. (And recently excerpted by the New York Times here.)
Today’s entry focuses on a 2003 interview Mónica Maristain did for Mexican Playboy in which she asked him about “the five books that marked his life”:
“In reality the five books are more like 5,000. I’ll mention these only as the tip of the spear: Don Quixote by Cervantes, Moby-Dick by Melville. The complete works of Borges, Hopscotch by Cortázar, A Confederacy of Dunces by Toole. I should also cite Nadja by Breton, the letters of Jacques Vaché. Anything Ubu by Jarry, Life: A User’s Manual by Perec. The Castle and The Trial by Kafka. Aphorisms by Lichtenberg. The Tractatus by Wittgenstein. The Invention of Morel by Bioy Casares. The Satyricon by Petronius. The History of Rome by Tito Livio. Pensées by Pascal.”
MobyLives is back!
Started by Dennis Loy Johnson years ago, MobyLives was one of the pioneering lit/political blogs. It was insanely popular and triumphantly smart, and it’s refreshing to have it back.
In case you’re wondering what DLJ (and his wife Valerie Merians) did in the years between shutting this down and relaunching, check out Melville House Press one of the premiere independent presses in the world today.
Their “Art of the Novella” series—including both classics and contemporary works—is both visually striking and one of the sharpest series out there. (We’re planning reviews of Imre Kertesz’s The Pathseeker, Benoit Duteurtre’s Customer Service, and Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai.)
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .