miércoles, 1 de abril de 2015

“Roberto Bolaño’s Flower War: Memory, Melancholy, and Pierre Menard.”

  “Roberto Bolaño’s Flower War: Memory, Melancholy, and Pierre Menard.” Roberto
           Bolaño, a Less Distant Star: Critical Essays. Ed. Ignacio López-Calvo. Palgrave
           Macmillan Publishing, 2015. 35-64. Print

For the printed version click here

Roberto Bolaño's Flower War:
Memory, Melancholy, and Pierre Menard  

Ignacio López-Calvo
University of California, Merced

            In a previous study on Chilean novels written in exile after Augusto Pinochet's coup d'état in 1973, Written in Exile. Chilean Fiction from 1973-Present (2001), I analyzed this narrative corpus from the double theoretical perspective of exile and liberation theology. The study tried to show the evolution of this literature from a denunciatory and testimonial approach to a demythicizing one that, while still lamenting the social collapse and denouncing the human rights abuses committed by the junta, problematized the contradictions of a sometimes dogmatic leftist discourse. Both the testimonials, for the most part written immediately after the coup, and the post-testimonial narratives questioned, through literature, the official discourse. Still within the context of demythicizing Chilean literature in exile, in this essay I shall analyze the reflection of this move from political activism to a melancholic skepticism and disappointment in Roberto Bolaño's body of work. I shall also consider the role of repetition in his writing, as an implementation of Jorge Luis Borges's theories presented in his short story "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" ("Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote"), from the 1944 collection Ficciones.

            José Donoso's Casa de Campo (A House in the Country) and Jorge Edwards's Los convidados de piedra (The Stone Guests), two novels published in 1978, presented tense class conflicts in Chilean society and the decadence or lack of integrity of the middle class as a premonition of the social collapse that took over Chile in 1973. This type of self-criticism was a constant topic in Chilean literature written in exile after Pinochet's coup as well as in Bolaño's literature, which may also be considered part of Chilean literature in exile, since he had originally planned to move back to Chile but had to cut his stay short because of the coup.

            Moving on to testimonial accounts, Hernán Valdés's Tejas Verdes, Diario de un campo de concentración en Chile (Tejas Verdes, Diary of a Concentration Camp; 1974), Ilario Da's Relato en el frente chileno (Account in the Chilean Front; 1977), and Aníbal Quijada Cerda's Cerco de Púas (Barbed-Wire Fence; 1977), among other works, questioned the government's official history by exposing the military junta's human rights abuses as well as the support they received from the CIA, which these testimonialists considered to be part of an imperialist scheme. The utopian discourse that began with Salvador Allende's electoral triumph suddenly turned into the description of a dystopian nightmare. Along these lines, liberationist works, such as Antonio Skármeta's La insurrección (The Insurrection; 1982), Juan Villegas's La visita del presidente (The President's Visit; 1983), Lucía Guerra-Cunningham's Muñeca brava (The Street of Night; 1993), and Isabel Allende's La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits, 1982), De amor y de sombra (Of Love and Shadows, 1984), and Eva Luna (1987) continued to protest the junta's oppression but offering this time a more nuanced denunciation. Tellingly, their protagonists, who often represented a model of revolutionary behavior against authoritarianism, tended to undergo a psychological evolution throughout the plot. Yet there was still no evident self-criticism or strong questioning of leftist politics.

            By contrast, demythicizing works responded to an introspective self-examination in search for the keys to the national collapse, which they often found in the middle-class man's or in the exile's values and daily behavior. In a way, this more reflective, demythicizing stage, which I termed “anti-epic literature,” complemented or corrected previous denunciatory testimonial works, demythicizing what they considered to be errors in the Unidad Popular's rhetoric. This is evident in Poli Délano's En este lugar sagrado (In This Sacred Place; 1977) and Casi los ingleses de América (Almost the Englishmen of America; 1990), Hernán Valdés's A partir del fin (Since the End; 1981), Ariel Dorfman's La última canción de Manuel Sendero (The Last Song of Manuel Sendero; 1982), and Ana Vásquez Les Bisons, les Bonzes et le Dépotoir (1977), translated into Spanish as Los Búfalos, Los Jerarcas y La Huesera (The Buffalos, the Hierarchs and the Boneyard), among many other works. Far from the somewhat idealized protagonist of testimonials and liberationist novels, the antihero protagonist in demythicizing novels rather than exposing external causes (U.S. imperialism, right-wing oppression), looks inward in search for the causes and consequences of the institutional crisis. As a result, these texts, whose plots often take place in exile, become less descriptive and more reflective, sometimes even flirting with postmodern tendencies. They demythicize life in exile, highlighting the former militants' uprootedness, personal decadence and lack of solidarity, or portraying them as abusive husbands. As we see in Fernando Alegría's Coral de Guerra (War Chorale; 1979), Ilario Da's Una máquina para Chile (A Machine for Chile; 1986), Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden (1991) and Ana Vásquez's Mi amiga Chantal (My Friend Chantal; 1991), for example, characters end up becoming part of a national allegory, as metaphors for their social group or Chile itself. Even the figure of President Salvador Allende is desacralized in novels such as Hernán Valdés's A partir del fin (Since the End, 1981), Teresa Hamel's Leticia de Combarbala (1988), and Jorge Edwards's El anfitrión (The Host; 1987). In all these works, although the guilt is never unfairly distributed in equal terms (the military is still the true culprit of the tragedy), self-criticism suggests that the repressive and dictatorial seed was already present in the essence of the middle class man's values and behavior. In a way, this is how some writers find some sort of logic in an otherwise chaotic world.

            This analysis of the Chilean demythicizing novel in exile sheds a decisive light on some of Bolaño's works. For instance, the short story "Últimos atardeceres en la tierra" ("Last Evenings on Earth"), from the collection Putas asesinas (Murdering Whores, 2001), includes memories of political defeat, violence, and what the protagonist calls Latin America's guerras floridas (flower wars), a term borrowed from the Meso-American concept of the xōchiyaoyōtl, an agreed war between indigenous communities in order to capture prisoners for ritual sacrifice, often in times of drought. This choice of the term flower wars suggests that violence is an essential component of life in the region since pre-Columbian times. It turns contemporary revolutions, dictatorships, wars, and femicides into a direct continuation of pre-Columbian indigenous violence, hence the seemingly out of context reference to Aztec human sacrifice in a conversation between Reiter and a young woman in 2666: "a stone like a surgeon's table, where the Aztec priests or doctors lay their victims before tearing out their hearts" (698).[1] Bolaño's brief adventure in post-coup Chile (he arrived just before the coup and was imprisoned for eight days) is lightheartedly described in "Últimos atardeceres en la tierra" as a mere ritual, without heroic or epic overtones. Instead, the memories of the autobiographical protagonist, B., are mingled with his recalling of reading the works of a minor French poet, his interaction with prostitutes at a Mexican brothel, and the description of his sense of relief once the plane arrived in Acapulco. Although at one point he mysteriously argues that certain things cannot be told, the minor, antiheroic tone of the events is emphasized by his father's reaction: when B. returns from Chile in 1974 and confesses to his father that he was almost killed, the latter simply asks "How many times?" (153),[2] before bursting out laughing. Not only is it evident that the protagonist's father does not take his son's imprisonment and near-death experience seriously, but the circumstances in which B. recalls them suggest that neither does he. In fact, Bolaño himself has spoken about his prison experience in a lighthearted tone in interviews such as the one published posthumously by the cultural magazine Turia, where he admitted:

            I was detained for eight days, although a little while ago in Italy, I was asked, "What 
            happened to you? Can you tell us a little about your half a year in prison? That's due to a             misunderstanding in a German book where they had me in prison for half a year. At  
            first theysentenced me to less time. It's the typical Latin American tango. In the first
            book edited for me in Germany, they gave me one month in prison; in the second book--
            seeing that the first one hadn't sold so well--they raised it to three months; in the third book
            I'm up to four months; in the fourth book it's five. The way it's going, I should still be a 
            prisoner now. (Álvarez 78)[3]

            Bolaño mentions the Latin American flower wars in several other texts, including his essay "El pasillo sin salida aparente" ("The Corridor with No Apparent Way Out") and his acceptance speech for the Rómulo Gallegos Prize. In this speech, he states: "Let this be clear: like Cervantes's veterans of Lepanto and like the veterans of the ceremonial wars of Latin America, all I have is my honor"[4] ("Caracas Address" 36). Then, after comparing it with Cervantes's speech on arms and letters, he clarifies how important these flower wars have been for him as a source of inspiration:  

            everything that I've written is a love letter or a farewell letter to my own generation, those of us who were born in the 1950s and who at a certain moment chose military service, though in this case it would be more accurate to say "militancy," and gave the little we had--the great deal that we had, which was our youth--to a cause that we thought was the most generous cause in the world and in a certain way it was, but in reality it wasn't. It goes without saying that we fought our hardest, but we had corrupt leaders, cowardly leaders with a propaganda apparatus that was worse than a leper colony, we fought for parties that if they had won would have sent us straight to labor camps, we fought for and put all our generosity into an ideal that had been dead for more than fifty years, and some of us knew it, and how could we not when we'd read Trotsky or were Trotskyites, but we did it anyway, because we were stupid and generous, as young people are, giving everything and asking for nothing in return, and now those young people are gone, because those who didn't die in Bolivia died in Argentina or Peru, and those who survived went on to die in Chile or Mexico, and those who weren't killed there were killed later in Nicaragua, Colombia, or El Salvador. All of Latin America is sown with the bones of these forgotten youths. (35)[5]

            These flower wars cast a long shadow in Bolaño's works, where we find a sad recollection of futile loss of youth and life, as well as a demythicizing, unheroic description of life in exile, despite the fact that, as Wilfrido Corral explains, Bolaño did not "think of himself as a memorialist of exile or of the woes of absence"[6] (197). Thus, the short story "El Ojo Silva" ("Mauricio ['The Eye'] Silva"), also included in Putas asesinas, opens with the protagonist in the title trying to escape violence, even though, in the narrator's words, his generation (that is, those who were around twenty years old when Salvador Allende died) can never escape true violence. The second paragraph clarifies that his experience is a synecdoche of his generation's trials and tribulations: "The case of The Eye is paradigmatic and exemplary" (106).[7] In line with the Chilean demythicizing novel in exile, harsh criticism of Chilean exiles' behavior appears early in the fourth paragraph: "He wasn't like most of the Chileans living in Mexico City: he didn't brag about his role in the largely phantasmal resistance; he didn't frequent the various groups of Chileans in exile" (106).[8] As in José Donoso's novel El jardín de al lado (The Garden Next Door, 1981), where the exiled protagonist exaggerates the ordeal of his prison experience to gain symbolic capital as a Chilean writer, in "El Ojo Silva" we are told that most Chilean exiles lie about their participation in the resistance against Pinochet's military junta.[9] The open criticism continues throughout the first pages of the story: we learn that they gossiped about The Eye's homosexuality, because it "added a little spice to their rather boring lives. In spite of their left-wing convictions, when it came to sexuality, they reacted just like their enemies on the right, who had become the new masters of Chile" (107).[10] And not only is the life of exiles boring rather than heroic or socially engaged, but they are also accused of being homophobic: The Eye confesses to the narrator that for years, he felt compelled to hide his sexual preference for fear of suffering the prejudice of fellow leftists. At one point in the conversation between The Eye and the narrator, they rant against the Chilean Left and the narrator extends his criticism to all Latin American exiles: "I proposed a toast for the wandering fighters of Chile, a substantial subset of the wandering fighters of Latin America, a legion of orphans, who, as the name suggests, wander the face of the earth offering their services to the highest bidder, who is almost always the lowest as well" (109).[11] In reality, The Eye, a rare positive example among Chilean exiles, is used as a point of contrast to expose the lack of integrity of other Chilean exiles.

            Although the narrator realizes that The Eye would object to the generalizations he is making, he never truly backs down from his condemnation of Chilean exiles' exaggerations, lies, and moral corruption, a criticism that at times seems somewhat disconnected from the rest of plot. The Eye goes on to save some young boys from castration and prostitution in India and, according to the narrative voice, this development should not surprise us: "the violence that will not let us be. The lot of Latin Americans born in the fifties" (117).[12] Toward the story's end, after telling the narrator that the children he saved ended up dying of a disease in India, The Eye weeps back at his hotel for those children, for other castrated children he never knew, for his own lost youth, "for those who were young no longer youths and those who died young, for those who fought for Salvador Allende and those who were too scared to fight" (120).[13] The short story therefore ends with nostalgia and disappointment for the end of a utopian dream, and with the acknowledgment of the inescapable violence that follows Latin Americans born in the 1950s no matter where they go. All things considered, The Eye's adventures in India are nothing but a desperate continuation of the same pursuit of justice for which his non-conformist generation had lost its youth. An omnipresent sense of melancholy and ontological failure seems to overwhelm The Eye, the narrator and, by extension, their implied author. Yet, just like Belano in the novel Amuleto (Amulet 1999), who bravely rescues the young gay poet from his pimp, here The Eye is courageous enough to fight yet another battle. Despite his profound disappointment, he has not given up on his struggle for social justice and, at least for some time, he is able to win a minor battle in India. As seen, some of Bolaño's characters have not entirely thrown in the towel, as Jean Franco seems to suggest in her essay "Questions for Bolaño;" behind their apparent resignation, they continue to fight, even if they now fight in minor, local battles. Bolaño himself refuses to see his own literature as pessimistic: "[My texts] are quite optimistic, because my characters do not commit suicide, they resist. At least not all commit suicide."[14]

            Along these lines, the short story "Días de 1978" ("Days of 1978"), included in Putas asesinas, opens with the presumably autobiographical protagonist, B., attending a party organized by Chilean exiles. We learn that he dislikes Chilean exiles in Barcelona, despite being one of them. During the party, he has a violent argument with another Chilean leftist man (a member of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria [Movement of the Revolutionary Left; MIR]), who, by the story's end, commits suicide in France. The omniscient narrator describes, in the present tense, B's disappointment with the Chilean Left: "U's violence bitterly disappoints B, Because U was and possibly still is an active member of the left-wing party to which he himself, at this point in his life, is most sympathetic. Once again reality has proven that no particular group has a monopoly over demagogy, dogmatism, and ignorance" (159).[15] U's suicide leaves the protagonist with a feeling of guilt and sadness. This contact with other Chilean exiles only accelerates his increasing melancholia and his disappointment in a Chilean Left to which he used to belong.

            Bolaño's criticism goes beyond the world of exiles. Other short stories expose how some leftists who stayed in Chile during and after the coup ended up betraying the cause. That is the case of the two soldiers in "Detectives" ("Detectives"), included in the collection Llamadas telefónicas (Last Evenings on Earth, 1997), who serve the dictatorship, even though they claim to have been imprisoned for three days immediately after the coup. On two different occasions, they show their feeling of guilt by reminding Belano (again Bolaño's alter-ego) that they secretly continue to be leftists. In spite of their regret for having killed so many brave, young men in 1973, the two detectives admit with no grief that they raped prostitutes every night and that they would have tortured prisoners had they been asked to do so. One of them even considered killing Arturo Belano, his former classmate. This story is, of course, a retelling of Bolaño's brief imprisonment in Chile, before actually being saved by former classmates who had become prison guards. In the fictional tale, the events are remembered years later through a dialogue between two characters that exposes, once again, the shortcomings of the Chilean Left, including its youngest militants (they were twenty years old at the time of the coup). In fact, this short story presents the most extreme case: that of formerly imprisoned militants who betray their original cause to the point of killing many of their former comrades and raping imprisoned prostitutes on a daily basis. The solemnity of the condemnation is emphasized by the fact that the story is based on the author's real-life prison experience in Chile.

            Bolaño brings up again his imprisonment in his 1993 novel La pista de hielo (The Skating Ring), the last chapter of La literatura nazi en América, his short story "Compañeros de celda" ("Cell Mates"), also included in Llamadas telefónicas, and "Carnet de Baile" ("Dance Card"), from Putas asesinas. In this last short story, the first-person narrator explains that in August of 1973 he returned to Chile, after a long trip through land and sea, with the goal of participating in the construction of socialism. As in the other texts, instead of attaching epic or heroic overtones to his actions, the narrator confesses that on the day of the coup, he volunteered for a neighborhood cell, but ended up keeping an eye on an empty street and forgetting the password he was given; in his own words, "for me, the eleventh of September was a comic as well as bloody spectacle" (214).[16] Bolaño then nonchalantly mixes memories of his political activism in Chile with those of recent readings, and even a commentary on the library of the communist worker who ran the neighborhood cell. One day, travelling by bus from Los Ángeles, capital of the province of Bío-Bío, to Concepción, he is arrested and imprisoned under the suspicion of being a foreign terrorist. The narrator recalls that although he was not tortured, he was given no food or blankets and survived only thanks to the other prisoners' charity. This time, his criticism of Chileans (very similar to the one expressed by Poli Délano in Casi los ingleses de América) comes after explaining that he was saved by two former high school classmates and his friend Fernando Fernández, who "possessed of a composure comparable to that of the idealized Englishman on whom Chileans were desperately and vainly trying to model themselves" (215).[17]

            In contrast with previous stories, however, the exiled Chileans portrayed here are not bored people or bon vivants, but brutally tortured women who may have inspired Bolaño's interest in the torture of women in Ciudad Juárez, fictionalized in 2666: "In Mexico I heard the story of a young woman from the MIR who had been tortured by having live rats put into her vagina. This woman managed to get out of the country and went to Mexico City. There she lived, but each day she grew sadder, until one day the sadness killed her" (215).[18] According to the narrator, this story seems ubiquitous: it also happened to a Chilean woman exiled in Paris and to another one in Stockholm, which makes him wonder whether it may be the same woman in all three cases. Then, he mentions the trials of three Argentinean brothers who died in three different Latin American revolutions, after betraying one another. In line with Bolaño's penchant for irony and sarcasm, he mixes these terribly sad stories with his recollection of apparitions of Hitler and Neruda in the hall of his home, only to close the story with the sadness of remembering all the young Latin Americans who lost their life in pursuit of a utopian dream: "all those who believed in a Latin American paradise and died in a Latin American hell. I think of their works, which may, perhaps, show the Left a way out of the pit of shame and futility" (218).[19] The last words of this quotation expose the protagonist's (and presumably also his author's) disappointment with the Latin American Left and leave the same aftertaste of sadness and melancholy seen in other texts. Perhaps even more tragically for Bolaño, the failure of the revolution carries with it the inevitable demise of the avant-garde. As Ignacio Echevarría points out, "The revolutionary project, therefore, was inseparable, for Bolaño, from the artistic project. And the failure of the first entailed that of the second."[20]

            Paradoxically, in other texts, such as the essay "Exilios" ("Exiles"), Bolaño nostalgically remembers the excitement of the five months he spent in Chile immediately after the coup:

            In any case, and despite the collective disasters and my small personal misfortunes, I   
            remember the days after the coup as full days, crammed with energy, crammed  
            with eroticism, days and nights in which anything could happen. There's no way I'd wish a             twentieth year like that on my son, but I should also acknowledge that it was an unforgettable
            year. The experience of love, black humor, friendship, prison, and the threat of death were
           condensed into no more than five interminable months that I lived in a state of amazement 
           and urgency (53).[21]

Memories of adventure and joy of living, therefore, are mixed with the terrible disappointment for the futility of resistance. Even if the youthful idealism has vanished, several of Bolaño's characters continue to be courageous and non-conformist, fighting minor battles until the end.

            Switching now to Bolaño's novels, in Los detectives salvajes (The Savage Detectives, 1998) self-criticism becomes even harsher. As if Bolaño were trying to put into practice Borges's theories in his short story "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" ("Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote") about re-writing the same paragraphs in different contexts and from different narrative perspectives, we are told again that Arturo Belano returned to his homeland "to join the revolution"[22] (178), after a long and dangerous trip, but ended up absurdly guarding an empty street on September 11, 1973. If
Borges's ironic assertions are true, the literal re-writing of the paragraphs serves a specific purpose: the paragraphs are almost identical word by word, but different; they are not a copy or a mechanical transcription. According to the narrator of Borges's "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote," the text written by the French symbolist in the title is infinitely richer and more ambiguous than Cervantes's: the new, contemporary context and narrative perspective have provided a wealth of connotations that were missing in the original text. As Santiago Juan-Navarro points out, "The possibility of reading previous works from new points of view ends up modifying the original work, multiplying to infinity its potential for meaning."[23] The same must happen, then, with the new, almost identical paragraphs that Bolaño is re-writing: rather than being self-plagiarism, these non-hierarchical variations of the same story must gain in connotative value as the story expands rhizomatically in his opus, without necessarily reaching a conclusion. In this context, it is important to keep in mind that Bolaño conceived of his oeuvre as a cohesive unit and declared, in several interviews, that all his books are related with one another and that, for this reason, the best way to understand them was to read all of them: "In a very humble way I conceive of the totality of my oeuvre in prose and even a part of my poetry as a whole. A whole that is not only stylistic, but also in the storyline: characters constantly dialog among themselves, appear and disappear."[24]

            Perhaps, just as Menard re-writes Cervantes's work and Cervantes parodically re-writes the Spanish literary tradition in his masterpiece, Bolaño may be re-writing the denunciatory and liberationist Chilean literature in exile, of which he was famously critical: "Of Chilean literature in exile I would say, first, that it is not literature and secondly, it is not in exile either. Essentially, there is not a Chilean literature in exile, and the one there is, in my opinion, quite bad."[25] Indeed, in his essay "Sobre la literatura, el premio nacional de literatura y los raros consuelos del oficio" ("On Literature, the National Literary Prize, and the Rare Consolations of the Writing Life"), Bolaño was particularly harsh with Isabel Allende, Antonio Skármeta, and Volodia Teitelboim, who are later placed in the context of an unflattering view of Chilean literature in general: "Chilean literature, so prestigious in Chile, can boast of only five names worth citing: remember this as a critical and self-critical exercise" (113).[26] From the perspective of this disdain for testimonial and liberationist literature in exile, his own militant experience is ultimately described in Los detectives salvajes as the traditional rite of passage of Latin American machismo: "the journey of initiation of all poor Latin American boys, crossing this absurd continent" (178).[27]

            Upon his return to Mexico, we learn, Belano began to frequent younger friends like Ulises Lima and to mock his former friends, all the while keeping his macho ego safe, a reference to machismo that is unfortunately more apparent in the Spanish-language original than in its English-language translation: "Arturito had done his duty, and his conscience, the terrible conscience of a young Latin American male ["machito" in the original], had nothing with which to reproach itself"[28] (178). Moreover, he feels that during his brief imprisonment "he behaved like a man"[29] (178). The protagonist's actions, therefore, are interpreted as a sort of macho posturing, a view that is corroborated in an interview carried out by Daniel Swinburn, where Bolaño answers: "In the case of my generation, well, our valor was as big as our innocence or stupidity. Let's say that in that epic, what counted was the gesture. Through gestures one constructed his own learning novel, something that, on second thought, is quite silly and eventually, if things had been different, would have turned us into victims"[30] (the italics are mine). Even more surprisingly, in another interview, this time carried out by Ima Sanchís, his involvement in revolutionary activities is actually presented as a continuation of his violent nature. To the question of whether he was a destructive boy, the author answers: "Yes, and I would show off being bad, but I'm embarrassed to tell you. I did not rob or rape, but I was a violent youth. At age nineteen, I decided that I wanted to join the revolution."[31]

            To continue with the parodic nature of much of Los detectives salvajes, although his new friend Ulises Lima claims that they are formerly imprisoned revolutionaries, he and Belano are often described as drug dealers, rather than as heroic freedom fighters or exiles. At any rate, throughout the book Belano's friends remember how he would tell "stories about friends who had died in the guerrilla wars of Latin America"[32] (387). The futility of these deaths is still an overwhelming feeling, but by blending with machismo, snobbery, and drug dealing, the author somewhat ruins the testimonial or denunciatory potential of these paragraphs. In other words, Bolaño intentionally undermines his own literary denunciation and even his own traumatic real-life experience, to mock indirectly the values of the Chilean (and, by extension, Latin American) Left, as well as the Chilean literature written in and about exile.

            Likewise, in chapter nineteen the narrator's sarcasm about the comments made by a group of Chilean exiles who meet in a Parisian café to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11 coup takes over the solemnity of the moment: "A group of masochistic Chileans had gathered to remember that dismal day. . . Suddenly someone, I don't know who, started to talk about evil, about the crime that had spread its enormous black wing over us. Please! Its enormous black wing! It's clear we Chileans will never learn"[33] (373). But, suddenly, what seems to be a simple mockery of a poor choice of lyrical language ends up turning into a conversation about evil in general (a key topic in Bolaño's opus), which may provide clues to understand one of Bolaño's master pieces, 2666: "Belano, I said, the heart of the matter is knowing whether evil (or sin or crime or whatever you want to call it) is random or purposeful. If it's purposeful, we can fight it, it's hard to defeat, but we have a chance, like two boxers in the same weight class, more or less. If it's random, on the other hand, we're fucked, and we'll just have to hope that God, if He exists, has mercy on us. And that's what it all comes down to"[34] (373). In any case, the image of Latin American exiles and emigrants in Spain remains quite negative, as seen in the description of the queues formed to use broken public telephones: "The best and the worst of Latin America came together in those lines, the old revolutionaries and the rapists, the former political prisoners and the hawkers of junk jewelry"[35] (387). These paragraphs add to the ongoing demythicization of the leftist social struggle in Latin America and of the exile experience that runs through many of Bolaño's works.

            As if Bolaño were trying to make sure that his message is received, and again using Pierre Menard's narrative tricks, the same rite-of-passage trip to Chile reappears in his novel Amuleto (Amulet, 1999), where, coinciding with Poli Délano's novel En este lugar sagrado, the protagonist and first-person narrator hides in a public toilet while major social changes are taking place outside. This time, it is Auxilio Lacouture, the Uruguayan narrator and self-appointed "mother of the new Mexican poetry" (37),[36] who informs us about Arturo Belano's experience in Chile and his return to Mexico. She describes how proud he was about Salvador Allende's victory in the Chilean presidential elections, his desire to participate in the revolution, and his long and dangerous trip to Chile: "an initiation, a Latin American grand tour on a shoestring, wandering the length of our absurd continent, which we keep misunderstanding or simply not understanding at all" (70).[37] Then, the trip is again pejoratively described in the context of Latin American machismo: "When Arturo returned to Mexico in January 1974, he was different. Allende had been overthrown, and Arturito had done his duty, so his sister told me; he'd obeyed the voice of his conscience, he'd been a brave Latin American boy, and so in theory there was nothing for him to feel guilty about" (73).[38] We are told that upon his return to Mexico, Belano changed so much that his friends no longer recognized him. He begins to look down on them, to mock them, and to go out with younger friends, selling marihuana and other drugs. Lacouture also recalls the participation of Belano's family in a Mexico City demonstration against Pinochet's coup, at a time when they still did not know about Belano's whereabouts. At one point, she considers the possibility that the young man has met his Latin American fate: "Perhaps Arturito is already dead, I thought, perhaps that lonely valley is an emblem of death, because death is the staff of Latin America and Latin America cannot walk without its staff" (75).[39]

            Once he returns to Mexico, Belano's friends and peers expect him to describe the horror of the Chilean coup, but he remains quiet and seemingly indolent, while his behavior is still, described in terms of Latin American machismo: "for them, Arturito now belonged to the category of those who have seen death at close range, and the subcategory of hard men, and, that, in the eyes of those desperate Latin American kids, was a qualification that demanded respect, a veritable compendium of medals" (80).[40] The autobiographical nature of this passage is corroborated in an interview with Ima Sanchís, where Bolaño admits that upon returning to Mexico he adopted a new attitude: "I devoted myself to writing with my war veteran aura."[41]           
                For some unknown reason, in Amuleto Lacouture, who knows that Belano spent eight days in prison behaving bravely but was not tortured, decides to exaggerate his deeds and invent others, always surrounding them with a heroic aura: "I painted his return with colors borrowed from the palette of epic poetry" (80).[42] Although most of Belano's friends do not fully believe all of Lacouture's stories, one of them, Ernesto San Epifanio, does think that his fearless Chilean friend can save him from a man who is forcing him into a life of prostitution. Against all odds, Belano agrees to help him and manages to intimidate the pimp, saving not only San Epifanio but also another young gay poet, Juan de Dios Montes, who was about to die. According to Lacouture, Belano had suddenly been promoted to the rank of veteran of Latin America's flower wars. The novel ends with Lacouture listening to the voice of an angel who knows the whereabouts of her continent's youth. The self-proclaimed mother of Mexican poetry now sounds like the melancholic mother of an entire generation of Latin American youngsters who naïvely gave their life hoping to create a better world. The last lines explain the novel's title: "And although the song that I heard was about war, about the heroic deeds of a whole generation of young Latin Americans led to sacrifice, I knew that above and beyond all, it was about courage and mirrors, desire and pleasure.
            And that song is our amulet" (184).[43]
            In spite of the overall sense of disappointment, then, the reader can easily perceive the implicit author's sympathy for these Latin American youngsters and their outlook on life. In fact, Bolaño considered himself a survivor from this struggle and expressed his admiration for this attitude in several interviews: "I feel enormous affection toward this project, notwithstanding its excesses, immoderations and deviations. The project is hopelessly romantic, essentially revolutionary, and it has seen the failure of many groups and generations of artists" (Soto 46). Yet Jean Franco's analysis of Bolaño's perspective of leftist Latin American struggles in Latin America is more negative: "Destitute of belief after the disasters of the twentieth century, Bolaño's characters have little left to amuse themselves besides occasional friendships and trivial pursuits including literature. Survivors of a great disaster, they are left chasing an always elusive real" (208). Indeed, in Amuleto Belano, the jaded veteran of the Latin American flower wars, acts with complete disregard for his own life, as if he no longer had anything to lose, other than literature and the fleeting friendship of a young man in need of help. The grand narrative of socialism no longer holds the key to a new and improved world, but the new neoliberal Latin America is not a welcoming place for Bolaño's characters either, as Nicholas Birns points out in his study included in this volume. Seemingly, all that is left is Baudelaire's ennui, as expressed in the epigraph to 2666: "An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom."[44] Yet, regardless of the reason, Belano, like Mauricio "The Eye" Silva, still has the courage to fight and win a minor battle, this time in Mexico City.

            The same topic resurfaces in Bolaño's novel Estrella distante (Distant Star, 1996), where the first-person narrator claims, in a sort of preface, that he heard the story of lieutenant Ramírez Hoffman from Arturo B., "a veteran of Latin America's doomed revolutions, who tried to get himself killed in Africa" (1).[45] Addressing the aforementioned fact that many of his paragraphs are repeated from one text to the next, and perhaps giving us a clue about one of the ways in which an active reader can approach Bolaño's works, he mentions his discussions about "the reuse of numerous paragraphs with Arturo and the increasingly animated ghost of Pierre Menard" (1).[46] In fact, as is well known, this ghost is still present in Estrella distante itself, a rewriting or expansion ("explosion," in the words of Bolaño's fictional alter-ego) of the last chapter of La literatura nazi en América (Nazi Literature in the Americas, 1996), just like Amuleto is an expansion of an episode in Los detectivas salvajes, and Nocturno de Chile (By Night in Chile), according to Ignacio Echevarría, is a re-writing of his crónica "El pasillo sin salida aparente" ("The Corridor with No Apparent Way Out") ("Bolaño internacional" 186).

            The epigraph from Augusto Monterroso at the beginning of La literatura nazi en América, which corrects Heraclitus's idea that one cannot swim twice in the same river, is yet another way to vindicate the power and productiveness of re-writing. Readers must therefore assume that even if the paragraphs are similar from one work to the next, the different points of view and literary contexts (whereas Estrella distante is an independent novella or short novel, "Carlos Ramírez Hoffman" is just one of several chapters in a sort of collection of literary stories or fictional literary biographical encyclopedia that Bolaño liked to consider a novel) separates the two texts, making them increasingly richer and more ambiguous. Perhaps this should be read in the context of Bolaño's assertion, in several interviews, that he has always been writing the same book and that, when all is said and done, all authors are always writing the same book.

            The young and naïve leftist poets who participate in a 1970s poetry workshop in Concepción, Chile, in the first pages of Estrella distante, represent the dreamy Latin American youth that was looking forward to the utopian changes that the socialist revolution was supposed to bring: "the armed struggle that would usher in a new life and a new era, so we thought, but which, for most of us, was like a dream, or rather the key that would open the door into a world of dreams, the only dreams worth living for. And even though we were vaguely aware that dreams often turn into nightmares, we didn't let that bother us" (3).[47] The narrator mocks the Marxist jargon they often use and then presents the director of the poetry workshop, Juan Stein, as a case study of the fatal destiny of many of these young Latin American poets. While it is not clear whether he is dead or alive, rumors have him fighting alongside guerrillas and revolutions in Nicaragua, Angola, Paraguay, Colombia, and El Salvador: "He appeared and disappeared like a ghost wherever there was fighting, wherever desperate, generous, mad, courageous, despicable Latin Americans were destroying, rebuilding and redestroying reality, in a final bid that was doomed to failure" (57).[48] Yet all these stories are surrounded by myth and exaggeration. Tellingly, talking about the exile in Europe of another character, Soto, the narrator states: "According to the melancholy folklore of exile—made up of stories that, as often as not, are fabrications or pale copies of what really happened—one night another Chilean gave him such a terrible beating that he ended up in a Berlin hospital" (66).[49] Bolaño's readers may then wonder, if half of the stories about exile are fake, are Bolaño's autobiographical stories also questionable? Be that as it may, in the end the effort of many of his characters, like that of so many young and hopeful Latin Americans, seems to have been in vain, a waste of energy and life. Yet some continue to fight until the end.

            The same worldview is reflected in some of Bolaño's poems. "Autorretrato a los veinte años" ("Self Portrait at Twenty Years"), included in the collections Los perros románticos (The Romantic Dogs, 2006), envisions this same loss of innocent life: "Ant it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing / that strange spectacle, slow and strange, / though fixed in such a swift reality: / thousands of guys like me, baby-faced / or bearded, but Latin American, all of us, / brushing cheeks with death" (5).[50] Likewise, in "La visita al convaleciente" ("Visit to the Convalescent"), from the same collection, the poetic voice talks about the early failure of the revolution: "It's 1976 and the Revolution has been defeated / but we've yet to find out. / We are 22, 23 years old. / . . . / It's 1976 and even though all the doors seem to be open, / in fact, if we paid attention, we'd be able to hear how / one by one the doors are closing" (57).[51] Bolaño also mentions his lost youth and the lost youth of his countrymen in "El último canto de amor de Pedro J. Lastarria, alias 'El Chorito'" ("The Last Love Song of Pedro J. Lastarria, Alias 'El Chorito'"). Still in the same collection, "Los pasos de Parra" ("Parra's footsteps") continues to describe the end of the utopian dream: "The revolution is called Atlantis / And it's ferocious and infinite / But it's totally pointless / . . . / There where the only things heard are / Parra's footsteps / And the dreams of generations / Sacrified beneath the wheel / Unchronicled" (131).[52] If Bolaño's poems in The Romantic Dogs are interconnected in themes and style with his short stories and novels, so are they with other collections of poems, such as Tres (Three). Thus in the section "Un paseo por la literatura" ("A Stroll Through Literature"), we read: "I dreamt that I was dreaming, we'd lost the revolution before launching it and I decided to go home" (132).[53] Then, his typical rewriting takes place: "I dreamt I was dreaming and in the dream tunnels I found Roque Dalton's dream: the dream of the brave ones who died for a fucking chimera" (157).[54] And later, the flower wars resurface: "I dreamt the dreamers had gone to the flower war. No one had come back. On the planks of forgotten barracks in the mountains I managed to make out a few names. From far away a voice was broadcasting over and over the orders by which they'd been condemned" (167).[55]

            In another example of this re-writing exercise, in the chapter (or pseudo-encyclopedia entry) "Harry Sibelious" in La literatura nazi en América, we are told that in his novel The True Son of Job, Sibelious reflected on Borges's story by modeling its structure on that of Toynbee's Hitler's Europe. Sibelious entitles his prologue like Toynbee's and then transcribes word by word a passage from the English historian, which will paradoxically have an entirely new meaning: "Sibelius, of course, is animated by intentions of an entirely different nature. In the final analysis, the British professor's aim is to testify against crime and ignominy, lest we forget. The Virginian novelist seems to believe that 'somewhere in time and space' the crime in question has definitely triumphed, so he proceeds to catalogue it"[56] (121). Whereas Toynbee reflects historical facts, we are told, Sibelius offers a distortion of reality. The American novelist then proceeds to borrow characters from numerous other writers and filmmakers. Bolaño, therefore, provides an additional twist to Borges's devise, a sort of double of Menard, Cervantes's double.


Re-writing runs, as we have seen, throughout Bolaño's oeuvre. In yet another example, the passage from Los detectives salvajes where the gay poet Ernesto San Epifanio distinguishes, according to their attitude toward ethics and aesthetics (and with no pejorative implications), between poets who are queers (maricas), faggots (maricones), etc. reappears in the first pages of the posthumous Los sinsabores del verdadero policía (Woes of the True Policeman 2011). In this last work, the déjà vu continues when we see Amalfitano recall his leftist activism when he was a student, his utopian (and naïve) faith in change, his being tortured in the Tejas Verdes concentration camp, only to question once again the blindness and lack of self-criticism of these leftist groups: "I who predicted the fall of Allende and yet did nothing to prepare for it . . . I who kept up my ties with leftist groups, that gallery of romantics (or modernists), gunmen, psychopaths, dogmatic people, and fools, all brave notwithstanding, but what good is bravery? How long do we have to keep being brave?" (21).[57]  His job as a college professor in Santa Teresa and his fear for his daughter's wellbeing in this fictional Mexican city or Arcimboldi's (here without the h) disappearance, along with other episodes (the Andalusian in the Blue Division tortured by the Russians; the rape, torture, and killings of young women in Santa Teresa; the five generations of raped women since 1865) that also appear in 2666, only add to the feeling of déjà vu. On the other hand, Amalfitano's joy of living as "a dissident in a civilized country"[58] (23), his desire to be (or to be with) a young man, Padilla, and his disappointment in his daughter Rosa's lack of interest in Chilean matters are all reminiscent of José Donoso's El jardín de al lado (The Garden Next Door) and other Chilean exile novels. Then, we find "Otro cuento ruso" ("Another Russian Tale") turned into chapter seven of part II. According to Echevarría, the reason for this repetition is that Los sinsabores del verdadero policía is not a novel: "they are materials aimed at a project for a novel that was eventually set aside, some of whose narrative lines led to 2666, while others were left on hold, useless, or pending to be retaken by the author."[59] Likewise, the barbaric writers also appear in Estrella distante and the story about the soldiers who raped Rimbaud is also present in Los detectives salvajes.

            The anecdote told by several Latin American writers about Bolaño's retelling of the same joke in several different variations may be one of the clues to understand how the Chilean virtuoso understood literature: the same story can provide different messages when told several times in different styles, using different types of discourses or literary forms, from different points of view or in different contexts, and readers must become savage detectives in search of meaning. As seen, throughout his oeuvre Bolaño melancholically pays homage time and again to the hopeful Latin American youths who risked or lost their lives in hopes of creating a better, new world.[60] This homage, however, is blended with resentment for those who, both in Chile and in exile, betrayed their own ideals.

            Several critics have noticed the recurrence of melancholy in Bolaño's oeuvre. Carlos Franz, for example, wonders, "Almost all of B.'s books are fiercely melancholic (ferocity and melancholy, concomitantly). So much so that they dangerously border on sentimentalism--B. borders everything dangerously--, and then they fully walk into it. And then they 'drown' in that melancholy and come out stronger, almost invulnerable. How the heck did B. do it?"[61] Franz also points out that his characters' melancholy is mixed with wrath and resentment, which he considers part of the author's nihilist aesthetics. Indeed, Bolaño's self-deprecating descriptions of his alter-ego character Arturo Belano confirm his ultimate disappointment with the Latin American Left and the flower wars they lost. In a way, Cervantes's famous "Discurso de las armas y las letras" (Discourse on arms and letters; for him, the symbolic capital of having served as a soldier fighting for the Spanish Empire was superior to any capital attained as a writer), which Bolaño mentioned in his "Caracas Address," is reversed in the Chilean author's oeuvre: risking his life as a young man fighting for the construction of Socialism in his fatherland is seen as a futile and somewhat absurd enterprise; only writing about it, that is, the letters, his literary activity, save him, giving him the "respectability" he needed.[62] As stated, regardless of how futile the efforts were, Bolaño never ceases to admire these young Latin Americans' valor. This is evident in his essay "Acerca de 'Los detectives salvajes'" ("About 'The Savage Detectives'"), where he states: "the novel tries to reflect a kind of generational defeat and also the happiness of a generation, a happiness that at times delineated courage and the limits of courage" (353).[63] The author, however, is careful not to try to portray himself as the voice of Chileans. In fact, as if Bolaño were talking about himself, in Los sinsabores del verdadero policía we read: "(Though what Amalfitano knew about Chileans was only supposition, considering how long it had been since he'd associated with any of them)" (87). In any case, judging by his reputation as the most influential Latin American writer of his generation, he turned his failure as a militant into a success as a man of letters. And in this ultimate effort to gain cultural capital as a writer, the techniques recommended by Borges's Pierre Menard became a successful tool for communication, criticism, and parody. Bolaño rehashes over and over again the same stories, as if he were implementing Menard's theories or Raymond Queneau's ninety-nine exercises in style, often paying homage to Latin Americans of his generation who lost their youth in a futile struggle to pursue a utopian ideal of liberation.

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Vásquez, Ana. Los Búfalos, Los Jerarcas y La Huesera. Santiago, Chile: Galinost, 1987. Print.

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[1] "una piedra semejante a la mesa de un quirófano, en donde los sacerdotes o médicos aztecas extendían a sus víctimas antes de arrancarles el corazón" (872).
[2] "¿Cuántas veces?" (260).
[3] "Estuve detenido por 8 días, aunque hace poco en Italia me preguntaron: ¿cómo fue su experiencia de pasar medio año en prisión? Se debe a un error de una edición alemana, donde pusieron que había estado seis meses en la cárcel… Es el típico tango latinoamericano. En el primer libro mío publicado en alemán pusieron que había estado un mes; en el segundo–viendo que el primero no había vendido mucho–lo elevaron a tres meses; en el tercero subí a cuatro y en el cuarto fueron cinco meses. Así como va el asunto, debería estar prisionero hasta el día de hoy" ("Roberto Bolaño. Cómo se forjó" n.p.).
[4] "Esto que quede claro, pues como los veteranos del Lepanto de Cervantes y como los veteranos de las guerras floridas de Latinoamérica mi única riqueza es mi honra" (39).
[5] "todo lo que he escrito es una carta de amor o de despedida a mi propia generación,
los que nacimos en la década del cincuenta y los que escogimos en un momento dado el ejercicio de la milicia, en este caso sería más correcto decir la militancia, y entregamos lo poco que teníamos, lo mucho que teníamos, que era nuestra juventud, a una causa que creímos la más generosa de las causas del mundo y que en cierta forma lo era, pero que en la realidad no lo era. De más está decir que luchamos a brazo partido, pero tuvimos jefes corruptos, líderes cobardes, un aparato de propaganda que era peor que una leprosería, luchamos por partidos que de haber vencido nos habrían enviado de inmediato a un campo de trabajos forzados, luchamos y pusimos toda nuestra generosidad en un ideal que hacía más de cincuenta años que estaba muerto, y algunos lo sabíamos, y cómo no lo íbamos a saber si habíamos leído a Trotski o éramos trotskistas, pero igual lo hicimos, porque fuimos estúpidos y generosos, como son los jóvenes, que todo lo entregan y no piden nada a cambio, y ahora de esos jóvenes ya no queda nada, los que no murieron en Bolivia murieron en Argentina o en Perú, y los que sobrevivieron se fueron a morir a Chile o a México, y a los que no mataron allí los mataron después en Nicaragua, en Colombia, en El Salvador. Toda Latinoamérica está sembrada con los huesos de estos jóvenes olvidados" (37-38).
[6] "ni se pensó a sí mismo como memorialista del exilio o de los males de la ausencia" (197).
[7] "El caso del Ojo es paradigmático y ejemplar" (215).
[8] "No era como la mayoría de los chilenos que por entonces vivían en el DF: no se vanagloriaba de haber participado en una resistencia más fantasmal que real, no frecuentaba los círculos de exiliados" (215).
[9] Bolaño analyzed El jardín de al lado in his essay "El misterio transparente de José Donoso" ("The Transparent Mystery of José Donoso"), included in the collection Entre parenthesis (Between Parentheses).
[10] "alimentaba la vida más bien aburrida de los exiliados, gente de izquierdas que pensaba, al menos de cintura para abajo, exactamente igual que la gente de derechas que en aquel tiempo se enseñoreaba de Chile" (216).
[11] " yo brindé por los luchadores chilenos errantes, una fracción numerosa de los luchadores latinoamericanos errantes, entelequia compuesta de huérfanos que, como su nombre indica, erraban por el ancho mundo ofreciendo sus servicios al mejor postor, que casi siempre, por lo demás, era el peor" (217).
[12] "la violencia de la que no podemos escapar. El destino de los latinoamericanos nacidos en la década de los cincuenta" (225).
[13] "por todos los jóvenes que ya no eran jóvenes y por los jóvenes que murieron jóvenes, por los que lucharon por Salvador Allende y por los que tuvieron miedo de luchar por Salvador Allende" (228).
[14] "[Mis textos] Son bastante optimistas, porque mis personajes no se suicidan, aguantan. Al menos no todos se suicidan" (Braithwaite 117).
[15] "La violencia de U, sin embargo, lo lleva a sacar amargas conclusiones, pues U ha militado y tal vez aún milita en uno de los partidos de izquierda que B contemplaba, en aquella época, con más simpatía. La realidad, una vez más, le ha demostrado que la demagogia, el dogmatismo y la ignorancia no son patrimonio de ningún grupo concreto" (266).
[16] "El once de septiembre fue para mí, además de un espectáculo sangriento, un espectáculo humorístico" (402).
[17] "cuya sangre fría era sin duda equiparable a la imagen ideal del inglés que los chilenos desesperada y vanamente intentaron tener de sí mismos" (403).
[18] "En México me contaron la historia de una muchacha del MIR a la que torturaron introduciéndole ratas vivas por la vagina. Esta muchacha pudo exiliarse y llegó al DF. Vivía allí, pero cada día estaba más triste y un día murió de tanta tristeza" (403).
[19] "todos los que creyeron en el paraíso latinoamericano y murieron en el infierno latinoamericano. Pienso en esas obras que acaso permitan a la izquierda salir del foso de la vergüenza y la inoperancia" (406).
[20]  "El proyecto revolucionario, pues, era inseparable, para Bolaño, del proyecto artístico. Y el fracaso de uno conlleva el del otro" ("Bolaño internacional" 197).
[21] "De todas formas, y pese a las desgracias colectivas y a las pequeñas desgracias personales, recuerdo lo días posteriores al golpe como días plenos, llenos de energía, llenos de erotismo, días y noches en los cuales todo podía suceder. No desearía, en modo alguno, que mi hijo tuviera que vivir unos veinte años como los que viví yo, pero también debo reconocer que mis veinte años fueron inolvidables. La experiencia del amor, del humor negro, de la amistad, de la prisión y del peligro de muerte se condensaron en menos de cinco meses interminables, que viví deslumbrado y aprisa" (53).
[22] "a hacer la revolución" (195).
[23] "La posibilidad de leer obras anteriores desde nuevos puntos de vista acaba por modificar la obra original, multiplicando hasta el infinito su potencial significativo" (106).
[24] "concibo, de una manera muy humilde, la totalidad de mi obra en prosa e incluso alguna parte de mi poesía como un todo. Un todo no solo estilístico, sino también un todo argumental: los personajes están dialogando continuamente entre ellos y están apareciendo y desapareciendo" (Braithwaite 112).
[25] "De la literatura chilena en el exilio yo diría, en primer término, que no es literatura, y en fegundo que tampoco es en el exilio. En rigor, no hay una literatura chilena en el exilio, y la que hay a mí me parece bastante mala" (Paz 60). Along these lines, in his interview with Swinburn, Bolaño expresses his disdain for denunciatory literature in general: "Because writing this way to end up having, for example, a novel of denunciation, well, it's better not to write anything." ("Porque escribir sobre ese tema para que al final tengamos, por ejemplo, una novela de las llamadas de denuncia, bueno, mejor es no escribir nada" [75]). Corral has also underscored Bolaño's rejection of this type of literature: "he sensed that . . . soaking his narrative with revolutionary tears lacking any historical and political insight was counterproductive as a structuring absence, and he knew that it would be going back to the type of engaged literature that he always rejected. And neither did he become anyone's spokesperson." ("intuía que . . . empapar su narrativa de lágrimas revolucionarias carentes de perspicacia histórica y política ere contraproducente como ausencia estructurante, y sabía que efectuarlo era volver al tipo de literatura comprometida que siempre rechazó. Tampoco se convirtió en portavoz de nadie" [99]).
[26] "La literatura chilena, tan prestigiosa en Chile, no tiene más de cinco nombres válidos, eso hay que recordarlo como ejercicio crítico y autocrítico" (104). Incidentally, in this same essay, Bolaño adds a comment that could easily be considered sexist: "La literatura, supongo que ya quedado claro, no tiene nada que ver con premios nacionales sino más bien con una extraña lluvia de sangre, sudo, semen y lágrimas" (104). In another essay titled "La literatura chilena" ("Chilean Literature"), Bolaño affirms: "Chilean literature, I say to myself in my sleep, is an endless nightmare" (124) ("La literatura chilena, me digo en medio del sueño, . . . es una pesadilla sin vuelta atrás" [116]).
[27] "el viaje iniciático de todos los pobres muchachos latinoamericanos, recorrer este continente absurdo" (195). In Los sinsabores del verdadero policía, we find the same reference to machismo: "Of longing for the conversation of my friends who took to the hills because they never grew up and they believed in a dream and because they were Latin American men, true macho men, and they died?" (85). And it is further questioned a few lines bellow: "Was their dream the dream of Neruda, of the Party bureaucrats, of the opportunists?" (85).
[28] "Arturito había cumplido y su conciencia, su terrible de machito latinoamericano, en teoría no tenía nada que reprocharse" (195).
[29] "se comportó como un hombre" (196).
[30] "En el caso de mi generación, bueno, nuestro valor fue tan grande como nuestra inocencia o estupidez. Digamos que, en esa épica, lo que contaba era el gesto. Mediante gestos uno construía su novela de aprendizaje, algo que bien mirado es bastante tonto y que a la postre, si las cosas hubieran sido diferentes, nos habría convertido en víctimas" (74; the italics are mine).
[31] "Sí, y me exhibía como malo, pero me da vergüenza contarlo. No robe ni violé, pero fui un joven violento. A los 19 años decidí que quería hacer la revolución" (80).
[32]  "historias de amigos que habían muerto en las guerrillas de Latinoamérica" (411).
[33] "Estábamos un grupo de chilenos masoquistas reunidos para recordar la infausta fecha. . . De repente alguien, no sé quién, se puso a hablar del mal, del crimen que nos había cubierto con su enorme ala negra. ¡Hágame el favor! ¡Su enorme ala negra! ¡Los chilenos está visto que no aprendemos nunca!" (396-97).
[34] "Belano, le dije, el meollo de la cuestión es saber si el mal (o el delito o el crimen o como usted quiera llamarle) es casual o causal. Si es causal, podemos luchar contra él, es difícil de derrotar pero hay una posibilidad, más o menos como dos boxeadores del mismo peso. Si es casual, por el contrario, estamos jodidos. Que Dios, si existe, nos pille confesados. Y a eso se resume todo" (397).
[35]  "En esas colas se juntaba lo mejor y lo peor de Latinoamérica, los antiguos militantes y los violadores, los ex presos políticos y los despiadados comerciantes de bisutería" (412).
[36] "madre de la poesía joven de México" (38).
[37] "el viaje iniciático de todos los pobres muchachos latinoamericanos, recorrer este continente absurdo que entendemos mal o que de plano no entendemos" (63).
[38] "Cuando Arturo regresó a México, en enero de 1974, ya era otro. Allende había caído y él había cumplido con su deber, eso me lo contó su hermana, Arturito había cumplido y su conciencia, su terrible conciencia de machito latinoamericano, en teoría no tenía nada que reprocharse" (66).
[39] "tal vez Arturito ya esté muerto, pensé, tal vez este valle solitario sea la figuración del valle de la muerte, porque la muerte es el báculo de Latinoamérica y Latinoamérica no puede caminar sin su báculo" (67-68).
[40] "para ellos Arturito ahora estaba instalado en la categoría de aquellos que han visto la muerte de cerca, en la subcategoría de los tipos duros, y eso, en la jerarquía de los machitos desesperados de Latinoamérica, era un diploma, un jardín de medallas indesdeñable" (71).
[41] "Me dediqué a escribir con mi aura de veterano de guerra" (81).
[42]  "orné su retorno con colores tomados de la paleta de la poesía épica" (71).
[43]  "Y aunque el canto que escuché hablaba de la guerra, de las hazañas heroicas de una generación entera de jóvenes latinoamericanos sacrificados, yo supe que por encima de todo hablaba del valor y de los espejos, deseo y del placer.
               Y ese canto es nuestro amuleto" (154).
[44] "Un oasis de horror en medio de un desierto de aburrimiento."
[45] "veterano de las guerras floridas y suicida en África" (11).
[46] "el fantasma cada vez más vivo de Pierre Menard, la validez de muchos párrafos repetidos" (11).
[47] "la lucha armada que nos iba a traer una nueva vida y una nueva época, pero que para la mayoría de nosotros era como un sueño o, más apropiadamente como la llave que nos abriría la puerta de los sueños, los únicos por los cuales merecía la pena vivir. Y aunque vagamente sabíamos que los sueños a menudo se convierten en pesadillas, eso no nos importaba" (13).
[48] "Aparecía y desaparecía como un fantasma en todos los lugares donde había pelea, en todos los lugares en donde los latinoamericanos, desesperados, generosos, enloquecidos, valientes, aborrecibles, destruían y reconstruían y volvían a destruir la realidad en un intento último abocado al fracaso" (66).
[49]  "Se cuenta, en el triste folklore del exilio--en donde más de la mitad de las historias están falseadas o son sólo la sombra de la historia real—, que una noche otro chileno le dio una paliza de muerte" (75).
[50] "Y me fue imposible cerrar los ojos y no ver / aquel espectáculo extraño, lento y extraño, / aunque empotrado en una realidad velocísima: / miles de muchachos como yo, lampiños / o barbudos, pero latinoamericanos todos, / juntando sus mejillas con la muerte" (4).
[51] "Es 1976 y la Revolución ha sido derrotada / pero aún no lo sabemos. / Tenemos 22, 23 años. / . . . / Es 1976 y aunque todas las puertas parecen abiertas, / de hecho, si prestáramos atención, podríamos oír cómo / una a una las puertas se cierran" (56).
[52] "La revolución se llama Atlántida / Y es feroz e infinita / Mas no sirve para nada / . . . / Allí donde sólo se oyen las pisadas / De Parra / Y los sueños de generaciones / Sacrificadas bajo la rueda / Y no historiadas" (130).
[53] "I dreamt I was dreaming, we'd lost the revolution before launching it and I decided to go home" (133).
[54] "Soñé que estaba soñando y que en los túneles de los sueños encontraba el sueño de Roque Dalton: el sueño de los valientes que murieron por una quimera de mierda" (156).
[55] "Soñé que los soñadores habían ido a la Guerra florida. Nadie había regresado. En los tablones de cuarteles olvidados en las montañas alcancé a leer algunos nombres. Desde un lugar remoto una voz transmitía una y otra vez las consignas por las que ellos se habían condenado" (166).
[56] "las intenciones de éste, por supuesto, difieren de las de Toynbee. El profesor británico en última instancia trabaja para que el crimen y la ignominia no caigan en el olvido. El novelista virginiano por momentos parece creer que en algún lugar 'del tiempo y del espacio' aquel crimen se ha asentado victorioso y procede, por tanto, a inventariarlo" (131).
[57] "Yo que predije la caída de Allende y que sin embargo no tomé ninguna medida al respecto . . . yo que seguí manteniendo los lazos con grupos de izquierda, una galería de románticos (o de modernistas), pistoleros, psicópatas, dogmáticos e imbéciles, todos sin embargo valientes, ¿pero de qué sirve la valentía?, ¿hasta cuándo hemos de seguir siendo valientes" (43). Some of these phrases are later repeated in the fifth chapter (196).
[58] "estar en la disidencia en un país civilizado" (45).
[59] "se trata de materiales destinados a un proyecto de novela finalmente aparcado, algunas de cuyas líneas narrativas condujeron hacia 2666, mientras otras quedaron en suspenso, inservibles o pendientes de ser retomadas por el autor " ("Bolaño. Penúltimos" n.p.).
[60] Paradoxically, Bolaño declared, in an interview with Carmen Boullosa, his admiration for the struggle against melancholy: "I'm interested in . . . [Pascal's] struggle against melancholy, which to me seems more admirable now than ever before" (63).
[61] "Casi todos los libros de B. son ferozmente melancólicos (ferocidad y melancolía, a un tiempo). Tanto que bordean peligrosamente el sentimentalismo—todo lo bordea peligrosamente, B.--, y luego entran de lleno en él. Y luego 'se ahogan' en esa melancolía y luego salen más bien fortalecidos, casi invulnerables. ¿Cómo diablos lo hacía B.?" (103).
[62] In El secreto del mal (The Secret of Evil, 2007), Bolaño connects this desire for respectability with the origin of the new Latin American literature: "It comes from the terrible (and in a certain way fairly understandable) fear of working in an office and selling cheap trash on the Paseo Ahumada. It comes from the desire for respectability, which is simply a cover for fear" (140). ("Viene del miedo. Viene del horrible (y en cierta forma bastante comprensible) miedo de trabajar en una oficina o vendiendo baratijas en el Paseo Ahumada. Viene del deseo de respetabilidad, que sólo encubre el miedo" [177]).
[63] "la novela intenta reflejar una cierta derrota generacional y también la felicidad de una generación, felicidad que en ocasiones fue el valor y los límites del valor" (327).
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