Sidenote: I wrote this post a few weeks ago, but it didn’t make it into my 2666 week. So now that Bolano mania is in full swing, I’m posting it.
Bolano despised most other Latin American writers, often insulting them using humdingers like these:
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “a man terribly pleased to have hobnobbed with so many Presidents and Archbishops”
- Octavio Paz: The Infrarealists — a guerilla literary freedom fighter group started by Bolano — interrupted his poetry readings, and reportedly even threw wine on him.
- Isabelle Allende: Called her a “scribbler” whose “attempts at literature range from kitsch to the pathetic.”
- Mario Vargas Llosa: “the same sort of sycophant [as Gabriel Garcia Marquez] ‘but smoother.'”
- Pablo Neruda: Treats him as a stage to grow out of: “By that stage, I didn’t like Neruda anymore.”
For Jorge Luis Borges, though, he had nothing but praise.
For everyone on the side of shoehorning Borges into the “magical realism” category, it should be clear that Bolano disagrees with that connection. Borges is his own category, should not be considered a precursor to magical realism, and certainly doesn’t belong in the magical realism camp.
Bolano’s connection with Borges: Both poets and fiction writers, although Borges’ infamous avoidance of the novel is clearly at odds with Bolano’s massive Detectives and 2666. Also, both booksy types, inventing books and fascination by the overabundance of books, whether in infinite libraries or imaginary books.
Bolano clearly steals techniques from the detective genre, since his major works often include a search for a writer or a mystery about a writer’s identity, and Borges uses the techniques of mystery in “The Garden of Forking Paths” and “Death and the Compass.” Yet Borges also ends up tweaking the genre to fit his own purposes, always analyzing the detective genre inside the stories and almost caricaturing them, as Borges detectives are always onhealthy canada drugs outmatched by the mysteries they pursue and become lost in labyrinthine clues.
Bolano, especially in 2666, and not just because he didn’t finish the book, also has his detectives defeated by the mystery they’re trying to solve. The riddles are not unraveled, the search for Archimboldi ends but not in the way the pursuers had hoped, the mysteries of the deaths in the Sonora desert in Mexico have many solutions but no absolutist solution (And I’m not giving anything away here — there are many revelations in the book and many progressive stages of the mystery, most of which are quite enjoyable even if you know that it’s not going to wrap up in an ending tight as a sailor’s knot.)
Francisco Goldman at The New York Review of Books notes that the biographical lives of the two writers are quite at odds, as mentioned by Bolano:
Yet the writer with whom Spanish-language critics have often compared Bolaño is the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, renowned for his singular bookishness, and for the metaphysical playfulness, erudition, and brevity of his entirely asexual writings. With those comparisons critics have wanted, partly, to emphasize their sense of Bolaño’s significance, for Borges is probably the only Latin American writer of the past century whose greatness seems uncontested by anybody, though the more you read Bolaño, the more interesting and appropriate the comparison between the two writers becomes. Bolaño revered Borges (“I could live under a table reading Borges”). He would have been happy, Bolaño told an interviewer, to have led a life like Borges’s—relatively sedentary, devoted to literature and a small circle of like-minded friends, “a happy life.” But Bolaño lived most of his life in another manner. “My life,” he said, “has been infinitely more savage than Borges’s.”
LINK: All other BookFox writing about Bolano’s 2666.