One year ago, I started to write because I wanted to have something to show as my work and apply with it to a PhD at the EGS. I started with a piece on Bolaño’s Rat Police; I tried to argue that it’s perfect. I still think so. It named this blog, and was my disguise during a year. I went to the search the killer, armed only with my teeth, and I found blood and coldness; and a winter in Europe which almost took my life –nobody said it was going to be easy. Next Saturday, I go to London pursuing a dream: talk with the people who still thinks that thought is important. A stage is closed and the future waits for me. I dunno what I will find, as I didn’t know where I was going when I took over this difficult and sometimes lonely work of playing with words, looking for those eternal truths which are for us to create. I wrote, and I am still alive. I wrote, and my words brought me close, so fucking close, to people I love.
Today, I leave again. And to close the circle, or rather to continue with conversation which never ends, I write on Bolaño once again, this time as whole. The text is messy and angry, and written in the urgency of a present which flies away faster than what I can grasp. It’s not complete; years of patient re-reading are necessary to establish all the points I want to make. The conclusions, though, are in my opinion roughly right. Thanks to all of you, unknown readers, bearers of that otherness which keeps me living, trying, writing —in a word, loving.
The Empty Room, an essay on Roberto Bolaño.
Every young latin-american poet loves Bolaño; the question resides then on why is Bolaño so big. Up to now, there is no rational explanation of Bolaño’s work, this essay presents a possible answer. In order to understand Bolaño, we must harness Badiou’s notions of Event and Subject, and explain how, under this logic, Bolaño’s work qualifies as an event in the world of literature.
We love Bolaño. We desire him. We would like to give him a child, if we were able to give birth to something besides our stupid selves. We are worthless, sterile, old. We are dying and we are “un montón de maricones de mierda”. We don’t have the balls to face it, to face him, to look at his sick face and recognize the truth he touched with his life and work: that the only life worth living is the life of poets. We are such a bunch of pussies that we close the book and never answer to the question: What’s behind the window?
I was born in Chile. In a house surrounded by shit, as Parra said. I passed from a teenager who badly spoke Spanish and used to read poetry in the bus to a 27 years old PhD student living in Europe, with a nice salary, speaking (badly) three languages, and an understanding of the world which I would like it to be common: I understand from quantum field theory to Badiou’s writing and everything in between. What I mean is that I understand the world. And that I’m angry. And that the material conditions which saw me grow, which made me, are not so different from the ones that saw Bolaño grow, and which —this is our bet— are necessary to understand Europe. Why? Because we relate in a certain different way to what for you, Europe, is reality.
So, this is me, S. Someone who wants to embrace B and understand what the fuck was he talking about.
Bolaño’s greatness resides on his formalization of what I will call the latin american subjectivity. With his works, he managed to put into words what a real subject must endure in order to live a worthy life. That was not easy task.
Contrary to the critic, which always needs of a given order to criticize, Bolaño’s work creates, out of the ruins of our world, the New. And what is this? Precisely a life which lives for an idea. What Bolaño does is to exemplify in literature what Badiou will tell us in philosophy. He tells us that there is a future, Mexico 2666, a graveyard.
On the following, we sketch the main lines of argumentation which make up the case for Bolaño. A complete study is for others (or myself) to complete; a careful reading of the poems, face to face with the savage detectives, confirms many of the ideas here explained.
The Savage Detectives —this is our hipotesys— is the narrativization of an event, the story of a body of truth.
Formally, the novel is divided in three parts. The first (Mexicans lost in Mexico 1975) and last (The deserts of Sonora 1976) parts in the form of a diary, and the middle part (The Savage Detectives 1976-1996) in the form of interviews to people who, in one way or another, had contact with Belano and Lima. This division of the book resonates with the three lines of the Cesarea’s poem and the three windows which Garcia Madero draws at the end of the novel; the logical conclusion is then, that these three texts are three representations of a certain real, and that we must read them in a Levi-Straussean way. This real is the real of a dream; a dream that we are given to hear during the night in which Belano and Lima ask Amadeo Salvatierra about the roundabouts of Cesarea Tinajero, a night of mezcal and poetry, a night which lasts twenty years. (The interviews with Salvatierra are the only ones that don’t respect the chronological order of the text: during the whole middle part of the novel, we are brought back once and again to the night where the savage detectives saw for the first time the poem of Cesarea.)
A fact which cannot but strike the eye —and which nevertheless is constantly overlooked by Bolaño’s critic and readers— is that the existence of Cesarea tinajero and Garcia Madero is not part of the diegetic reality of the middle part of the book: Cesarea only appears in the interviews of Salvatierra —an old drunkard poet; she doesn’t exist for the rest of the world. Neither Garcia Madero, who is abscent untill the last interview of the book, where his existence is expressly negated by the only academic specialist on infrarealism. Consequently, it seems logic for us to conclude that the first and the third part of the book are fictitious while the second part correspond to a realistic story. Even more, one can even put forward the idea that Garcia Madero is nothing but an alter ego of Belano and Lima; a young poet whose sexual skills and knowledge of classical poetry are far from normal.
The final move to understand The Savage Detectives as the narrativization of an event, is to relate the temporal structure of the text with the structure of Cesarea’s poem and Garcia Madero’s drawings. The book, as we said, is divided in three temporal periods: 1975, 1976-1996, 1976. This has to be read in two ways: first, that the past can only be understood from the point of view of the future; it is only when we know what’s the end of the story of Belano and Lima that we can read what was the event which started the twenty years trip –the encounter with Cesarea Tinajero in the desert and the consequent killing of two men; second, that the structure of Cesarea’s poem and Garcia Madero’s drawings has to be altered and the proper order is: first, the straight line, then the broken line, then the sinusoidal line —and the same with the drawings: the star on the window, the broken line of the frame, the empty frame. What is the broken line? The broken frame? The encounter with Cesarea in the desert the firsts days of 1976? An event; an event which clears the table so the New can occur; and event that gets rid of the positive content of a world which seems to be in calm but which is violent as hell.
Here then we arrive to our first thesis: The Savage Detectives is the story of a body of truth —whose organs are Belano and Lima— which remains faithful to the event of poetry, while the rest of the world either forgets it or negates it. The joke is perfect: in order to tell the story of a faithful subject, Bolaño needs to make others talk about him, in a movement which makes him the one who can speak for the others; since he is the only one who is really alive and it is in his world where all the others live, in one way or another.
What Bolaño tell us with his Savage Detectives is this: you must live for an idea.
The formalization of what an event is from a literary point of view is in itself an event on the world of literature; Bolaño was aware of this. We think this is enough to put Bolaño amongst the great writers of the world. Nevertheless, he not only did that. He kept writing. We must do the same.
2666 is not only a novel, it’s a world. In order to properly tell the story —a story about murders in the desert, but which includes the lives and loves of four literature academics; an almost mad chilean professor of philosophy and his daughter; a black journalist drowned in the chaos of Santa Teresa; and finally, Archimboldi, who amongst other things incarnate Benjamin’s “there has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism”— Bolaño will go as far as poetizing reality: the air of the desert is charged with blood. And in that movement, we are caught, so our own world will become poetic once again; the same gesture which Homer already accomplished. This poetization of reality is what open the door —or rather the window— which conduces to the empty room: we ignore where it is, and if its occupants are alive or death, or if it is occupied at all. But we know it is somewhere; that would explain a lot of things.
Besides the four procedures of truth which Badiou names (Love, Art, Science and Politics) there is the fifth, which we ignore. The new humanity will bring it forth. Bolaño saw that room where I is an other, and told us to go there, even if we die in the attempt. Leaving everything behind again, trowing ourselves into the roads.
Time is out of joint, and it’s for us to continue what others before us have started.
We, the savage readers.