Roberto Bolaño

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We never stop reading, although every book comes to an end, just as we never stop living, although death is certain.
~ Last Evenings on Earth

Roberto Bolaño (28 April 195315 July 2003) was a Chilean novelist, short story writer, and poet. At his death he left a unedited thousand page manuscript entitled 2666.

Quotes[edit]

How do you recognize a work of art?
If I were to say what I really think I would be arrested or shut away in a lunatic asylum. Come on, I am sure that it would be the same for everyone.
  • ¿Cómo reconocer una obra de arte? ¿Cómo separarla, aunque sólo sea un momento, de su aparato crítico, de sus exégetas, de sus incansables plagiarios, de sus ninguneadores, de su final destino de soledad? Es fácil. Hay que traducirla.
    • How do you recognize a work of art? How can it be kept apart, even if only for a moment, from its critics, commentators, its indefatigable plagiarists, its defacers and its final destiny in solitude? Simple — just translate it.
      • Entre Paréntesis (2004) edited by Ignacio Echevarría, p. 223
  • If I were to say what I really think I would be arrested or shut away in a lunatic asylum. Come on, I am sure that it would be the same for everyone.
    • As quoted in Mining Mirror Vol. 19 (2006), p. 3
  • Literature was a vast minefield occupied by enemies, except for a few classic authors (just a few), and every day I had to walk through that minefield, where any false move could be fatal, with only the poems of Archilochus to guide me. It’s like that for all young writers. There comes a time when you have no support, not even from friends, forget about mentors, and there’s no one to give you a hand; publication, prizes, and grants are reserved for the others, the ones who said “Yes, sir,” over and over, or those who praised the literary mandarins, a never-ending horde distinguished only by their aptitude for discipline and punishment — nothing escapes them and they forgive nothing.
    • "Meeting with Enrique Lihn" (The New Yorker,December 22, 2008)

Last Evenings on Earth (2006)[edit]

The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter.
Every single damn thing matters! Only we don't realize. We just tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, and we don't realize that's a lie.
Semblance was an occupying force of reality, he said to himself, even the most extreme, borderline reality.
  • The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every single damn thing matters! Only we don't realize. We just tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, and we don't realize that's a lie.
    • Dentist
  • We never stop reading, although every book comes to an end, just as we never stop living, although death is certain.
    • Dentist
  • It's strange how things happen, Mauricio Silva, known as the Eye, always tried to escape from violence even at the risk of being considered a coward, but the violence, the real violence, can't be escaped, at least not by us, born in Latin America in the 1950s, those of us who were around twenty years old when Salvador Allende died.
    • Mauricio ('The Eye') Silva
  • One day I heard that The Eye had left Mexico. I wasn't surprised that he hadn't said good-bye. The Eye never said good-bye to anyone. I never said good-bye to anyone either.
    • Mauricio ('The Eye') Silva
  • That night when he went back to his hotel, he wept for his dead children and all the other castrated boys, for his own lost youth, for those who were young no longer and those who died young, for those who fought for Salvador Allende and those who were too scared to fight.
    • Mauricio ('The Eye') Silva
  • I was imprisoned in Concepción for a few days and then realeased. They didn't torture me, as I had feared; they didn't even rob me. But they didn't give me anything to eat either, or any kind of covering for the night, so I had to rely on the goodwill of other prisoners, who shared their food with me. In the small hours I could hear them torturing others; I couldn't sleep and there was nothing to read except a magazine in English that someone had left behind. The only interesting article in it was about a house that had once belonged to Dylan Thomas. … I got out of that hole thanks to a pair of detectives who had been at high school with me in Los Ángeles…
    • His experience of being imprisoned during the regime of Augusto Pinochet, as depicted in "Dance Card", p. 215

2666: A Novel (2008)[edit]

  • La literatura es un vasto bosque y las obras maestras son los lagos, los árboles inmensos o extrañísimos, las elocuentes flores preciosas o las escondidas grutas, pero un bosque también está compuesto por árboles comunes y corrientes, por yerbazales, por charcos, por plantas parásitas, por hongos y por florecillas silvestres.
    • Literature is a vast forest and the masterpieces are the lakes, the towering trees or strange trees, the lovely eloquent flowers, the hidden caves, but a forest is also made up of ordinary trees, patches of grass, puddles, clinging vines, mushrooms and little wildflowers.
  • About happiness he said not a word, I suppose because he considered it something strictly private and perhaps, how shall I say, treacherous or elusive.
  • Darling, Juan de Dios Martínez would say to her sometimes, sweetheart, love, and in the darkness she would tell him to be quiet and then suck every last drop from him- of semen? of his soul? of the little life he felt, at the time, remained to him? They made love, at her express request, in semidarkness.
  • He began to think about semblance, as Ansky had discussed it in his notebook, and he began to think about himself. He felt free, as he never had in his life, and although malnourished and weak, he also felt the strength to prolong as far as possible this impulse toward freedom, toward sovereignty. And yet the possibility that it was all nothing but semblance troubled him. Semblance was an occupying force of reality, he said to himself, even the most extreme, borderline reality. It lived in people's souls and their actions, in willpower and in pain, in the way memories and priorities were ordered. Semblance proliferated in the salons of the industrialists and in the underworld. It set the rules, it rebelled against its own rules...it set new rules.

Quotes about Bolaño[edit]

Part of Bolaño's genius is to ask, via ironies so sharp you can cut your hands on his pages, if we perhaps find a too-easy comfort in art, if we use it as anesthetic, excuse and hide-out in a world that is very busy doing very real things to very real human beings. ~ Stacy D'Erasmo
Bolaño's writing... is an incantation — against horror, against defeat, against oblivion... ~ Anderson Tepper
  • Among the many acid pleasures of the work of Roberto Bolaño, who died at 50 in 2003, is his idea that culture, in particular literary culture, is a whore. In the face of political repression, upheaval and danger, writers continue to swoon over the written word, and this, for Bolaño, is the source both of nobility and of pitch-black humor. In his novel The Savage Detectives, two avid young Latino poets never lose faith in their rarefied art no matter the vicissitudes of life, age and politics. If they are sometimes ridiculous, they are always heroic. But what can it mean, he asks us and himself, in his dark, extraordinary, stinging novella By Night in Chile, that the intellectual elite can write poetry, paint and discuss the finer points of avant-garde theater as the junta tortures people in basements? The word has no national loyalty, no fundamental political bent; it's a genie that can be summoned by any would-be master. Part of Bolaño's genius is to ask, via ironies so sharp you can cut your hands on his pages, if we perhaps find a too-easy comfort in art, if we use it as anesthetic, excuse and hide-out in a world that is very busy doing very real things to very real human beings. Is it courageous to read Plato during a military coup or is it something else?
  • Who said literature has no real power to affect history? Not Bolaño — for him, literature is an unnervingly protean, amoral force with uncanny powers of self-invention, self-justification and self-mythification. The mythmakers, he suggests, certainly do matter.
    • Stacy D'Erasmo, in "The Sound and the Führer" in The New York Times Book Review (24 February 2008)
  • The moment we "discover" a favorite writer is like our experience of a cataclysmic event — we can remember precisely where we were and what we were doing when it occurred... So I assume I'll always recall the doctor's waiting room where I opened a dimpled, out-of-date issue of The New Yorker and found Roberto Bolaño's story "Gómez Palacio."
    For the first time, I was glad the doctor was running late, so I could read the story twice, and still have a few minutes left over to consider the fact that I had just encountered something extraordinarily beautiful and (at least to me) entirely new.
  • Reading Roberto Bolaño is like hearing the secret story, being shown the fabric of the particular, watching the tracks of art and life merge at the horizon and linger there like a dream from which we awake inspired to look more attentively at the world.
    • Francine Prose "The Folklore of Exile", a review of Last Evenings on Earth (2006) in The New York Times (9 July 2006)
  • Bolaño's narrative style is fragmented and loaded. It is also full of a strange kind of gallows humour, as we are swept along by stories that are invented and presented entirely convincingly, only to be suddenly brought up short by a reminder that this has not been done innocently.
    • Nick Caistor in The Guardian
  • Bolaño has a laser eye and a frank, confessional first-person voice as relentless as it is irresistible. His "infra-realism" sears through the book's world-weary characters... Just behind the nervy, deadpan narrative a total breakdown perpetually looms... Bolaño's writing... is an incantation — against horror, against defeat, against oblivion...
  • By far the most inspiring talent from south of the border since the '70s. A Chilean who lived for years in Mexico and ultimately settled near Barcelona before he died in 2003 at age 50, Bolaño's oeuvre is slowly making its way into English... His hypnotizing style and restless approach to plot are at once refreshing and humbling.

External links[edit]

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