Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Story Hour: Bolaño's Fake Nazi Poetry

Good Morning: Welcome to Saturday Story Hour!

Even though it's February, we are not done with the great Roberto Bolaño! At this point, Fosco has almost worked through the translated Bolaño oeuvre, and he still adores him. Luckily, we have more works to come as Bolaño continues to be translated into English (and we have another one due this summer!).

The most recent Bolaño book that Fosco read is the faux literary encyclopeadia, Nazi Literature in the Americas. In a NY Times review last spring (enjoyably titled "The Sound and the Führer"), Stacey D'Erasmo describes the work:

Cross-referenced, complete with bibliography and a biographical list of secondary figures, “Nazi Literature” is composed of a series of sketches, the compressed life stories of writers in North and South America who never existed, but all too easily could have. Goose-stepping caricatures à la “The Producers” they are not; instead, they are frighteningly subtle, poignant and plausible.
Indeed, each biographical sketch is a fully-realized portrait of a life, completely convincing in both the general trajectory and the minute details. The sketches are also, frequently, laugh-out-loud funny.

In today's installment of "Saturday Story Hour," Fosco excerpts one of the funniest passages from the book--a passage that gives free rein to the full ingenuity of Bolaño's imagination. The three paragraphs below are from the portrait of "Pedro González Carrera." The first sentence of this portrait is "A few hagiographies of Pedro González Carrera have come down to us; all concur in affirming, and perhaps with good reason, that his work was as brilliant as his life was dull" (61). And from there, things start to become very strange...

An excerpt from Roberto Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas, translated by Chris Andrews:

[González] stubbornly continued to exploit his peculiar poetic vein. The next three poems he published (not in Iron Heart, which had folded, but in the cultural supplement of a Santiago newspaper) are free of surrealist images, symbolist baggage and modernist vagaries (González, it must be said, knew almost nothing of the three schools in question). His verse had become concise, his images simple; the figures that recurred in the six previous poems have also undergone a transformation: the Merovingian warriors have become robots, the women are now dying beside putrid streams of consciousness, and the mysterious tractors plowing the fields without rhyme or reason are either secret vessels sent from Antarctica, or Miracles (with a capital letter). And now these figures were counterbalanced by a sketchy presence, that of the author himself, adrift in the vast spaces of the fatherland, observing the apparitions like a registrar of marvels, but unenlightened finally as to their causes, phenomenology or ultimate purpose.

In 1955, at the cost of great personal sacrifice and tremendous effort, González financed the publication of a chapbook containing twelve poems, printed by a press in Cauquenes, capital of the province of Maul, where he had been transferred. The little book was entitled Twelve, and the cover, which was the author's own work, is noteworthy in its own right, as it was the first of many drawings he produced to accompany his poems (the others came to light only after his death). The letters of the word Twelve on the cover, equipped with eagle talons, grip a swastika in flames, beneath which there seems to be a sea with waves, drawn in a childlike style. And under the sea, between the waves, a child can in fact be glimpsed, crying, "Mom, I'm scared!" The speech bubble is blurred. Under the child and the sea are lines and blotches, which might be volcanoes or printing defects.

The twelve new poems add new figures and landscapes to the repertoire developed in the previous nine. The robots, the streams of consciousness and the ships are supplemented with Destiny and Will, personified by two stowaways in the holds of a ship, as well as The Disease Machine, The Language Machine, The Memory Machine (which has been damaged since the beginning of time), The Potentiality Machine and The Precision Machine. The only human figure in the earlier poems (that of González himself) is joined by the Advocate of Cruelty, a strange character who sometimes speaks like a regular Chilean guy (or rather, like a grammar school teacher's idea of a regular guy) and sometimes like a sibyl or a Greek soothsayer. The setting is the same as for the earlier poems: an open field in the middle of the night, or a theater of colossal dimensions situated in the heart of Chile. (64-65)
I don't know about you, but I wish those poems actually existed--like almost all of the works described in this book. This is part of the genius of Bolaño's achievement here: he's created a reality that, despite some of its horror, you wish were actually real.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Oh, wait. What was the funny part?

Word Verification: gibinki

I imagine it to be small coitus. Gibinki.