Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bolano on a planet around a Distant Star

One of the most interesting things about Roberto Bolano is that, as one excavates and uncovers his reimagined history of violence in the 20th century, the novels keep being written earlier. That is, the first Bolano novel I read (and posted on) was By Night in Chile which was published in 2000, one of the last works of this novelist who died in 2003. After that I read The Savage Detectives, published in 1998 but translated into English only in 2007. Then I went for the masterpiece 2666, "released" in 2004 and translated into English in 2008. At this point a complete devotee, I then read Nazi Literature in the Americas and was impressed to learn that it was published early, in 1996, although Chris Andrews' English translation appeared in 2008. The reason that this is impressive is that it appears that Bolano had generated his alternative world, not that different from this none, early: he always had a vision of what he wanted to do.

Even so it is fascinating to read Distant Star, published 1996 and translated by Chris Andrews 2004, and exhilarating (I can't think of any other word) to see the scarey, radical coherence of his vision from very early in his novelistic project (Bolano was criticized for straying from the purity of his early obscure-poet vision and for writing popular novels). In Distant Star he fleshes out an idea that is presented in the end of Nazi Literature in the Americas, but the publication dates lead us to think that Bolano saw all of his arch-satirical narrative very early on.

The last Borgian "entry" in Nazi Literature in the Americas is the story of Carlos Ramirez Hoffman, young Pinochet loyalist who stages a party in his apartment where his bedroom is decorated with pictures of his victims; in addition to being a poet he sees himself as an artist of the existential arts of political torture and murder. Central to this is his seduction of the Venegas sisters, scions of a wealthy and liberal family.

Dark Star elaborates the story of this character, here known as Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, who changes his name to Carlos Wieder and who stages the party (his victims include the Garmendias sisters, now frankly murdered by Weider). The hapless protagonist of Dark Star is drawn in to a plan to track Weider down and kill him. Killing him is something of an act of exorcism here, but it is unsuccessful: there will be no freedom from the history of violence that is washing over the world.

Weider was a poet who worked in the medium of sky-writing, perfect for the ephemeral, willfully-obscure presentation that Bolano thinks is essential for honest poetry. Weider is a fascist assassin and a poet: tracking down obscure poems and obscure murders are similar obsessions. Most people will just forget both the poems and the killings as they fade into the air.

No comments: