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       Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003, p.1

           Roberto Bolaño
Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003

  Roberto Bolaño

  Between Parentheses

  Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998–2003


  Translated by NATASHA WIMMER




  Preface: Self-Portrait

  1. Three Insufferable Speeches

  The Vagaries of the Literature of Doom

  Caracas Address

  Literature and Exile

  2. Fragments of a Return to the Native Land


  Fragments of a Return to the Native Land

  The Corridor with No Apparent Way Out

  Words from Outer Space

  A Modest Proposal

  Out in the Cold

  Chilean Poetry Under Inclement Skies

  On Bruno Montané

  Eight Seconds with Nicanor Parra

  The Lost

  The Transparent Mystery of José Donoso

  On Literature, the National Literature Prize, and the Rare Consolations of the Writing Life

  3. Between Parentheses

  i january 1999–april 2000

  The Best Gang

  The Women Readers of Winter

  Pastry Cooks

  The Bookseller



  Springtime in Blanes

  Chilean Literature

  Ferdydurke in Catalan



  The Poet Olvido García Valdés

  Roberto Brodsky

  July Stories

  A. G. Porta

  Friends Are Strange


  Dimas Luna, Prince

  Ana María Navales

  Hell’s Angels

  The Ghost of Àngel Planells

  Blanes Christmas Story

  ii may 1999–july 2001

  An Afternoon with Huidobro and Parra

  Lichtenberg in the Face of Death

  Sergio Pitol

  The Incredible César Aira

  Memories of Juan Villoro

  Hannibal by Thomas Harris

  Miguel Casado: Poet

  The Rapier-Sharp Pen of Rodrigo Rey Rosa

  Osvaldo Lamborghini: Martyr

  Sara and Steva


  Borges and the Ravens

  Sun and Skull

  The Sinaloa Story


  Neuman, Touched by Grace



  Puigdevall the Strange

  Javier Cercas Comes Home


  Pezoa Véliz

  Una casa para siempre

  Grass’s Century

  The Rhapsode of Blanes

  A Soul Sold to the Devil

  The Ancestor

  The Novel as Puzzle

  A Perfect Story

  Alphonse Daudet

  Jonathan Swift

  Ernesto Cardenal

  A Novel by Turgenev

  Horacio Castellanos Moya

  Borges and Paracelsus

  Javier Cercas’s New Novel

  Braque: Illustrated Notebooks

  Il Sodoma

  Writers Lost in the Distance

  Philip K. Dick

  The Book that Survives

  Blood Meridian



  Speculations on a Remark by Breton

  An Attempt at an Exhaustive Catalog of Patrons

  iii september 2002–january 2003


  The Suicide of Gabriel Ferrater

  Rodrigo Rey Rosa in Mali (I Think)

  A Few Words for Enrique Lihn

  All Subjects with Fresán

  Memories of Los Ángeles

  Autobiographies: Amis & Ellroy

  The Curious Mr. Alan Pauls

  Javier Aspurúa at His Own Funeral

  The Real Way to Get to Madrid

  The Bukowski of Havana

  Sergio González Rodríguez in the Eye of the Storm

  84, Charing Cross Road

  Jaume Vallcorba and the Prizes

  Titian Paints a Sick Man

  Pages Written on Jacob’s Ladder

  Translation Is an Anvil

  Humor in the Wings

  4. Scenes

  Town Crier of Blanes

  The Maritime Jungle


  In Search of the Torico of Teruel

  Vienna and the Shadow of a Woman

  The Last Place on the Map

  Fateful Characters

  5. The Brave Librarian

  Our Guide to the Abyss

  The Mad Inventors

  Words and Deeds

  Vila-Matas’s Latest Book

  The Brave Librarian


  Two Novels by Mario Vargas Llosa

  The Cubs, Again

  The Prince of the Apocalypse

  Notes on Jaime Bayly

  A Stroll Through the Abyss

  Sevilla Kills Me

  6. The Private Life of a Novelist

  Who Would Dare?

  The Private Life of a Novelist

  Advice on the Art of Writing Short Stories

  About The Savage Detectives

  The End: “Distant Star” (Interview with Mónica Maristain)




  This volume collects most of the newspaper columns and articles that Roberto Bolaño published between 1998 and 2003. Also included are a few scattered prefaces, as well as the texts of some talks or speeches given by Bolaño during the same period. Taken together, they make up a surprisingly rounded whole, offering in their entirety a personal cartography of the writer: the closest thing, among all his writings, to a kind of fragmented “autobiography.”

  The starting date, 1998, isn’t arbitrary. Up until then (and despite the critical success of Nazi Literature in the Americas and Distant Star, in 1996, and the short-story collection Llamadas telefónicas [Phone Calls], in 1997), Roberto was a little-known writer who lived in relative isolation in Blanes, a coastal town in the Spanish province of Gerona, north of Barcelona. It was after the publication of The Savage Detectives, in 1998, and the powerful response the novel elicited, that Roberto was given the opportunity to write for various Spanish and Latin American publications, and he began to be called upon to give lectures, write prefaces, preside at book launches, and participate in conferences.

  Today, it’s hard to grasp how quickly all of this happened. In fact, the oldest of the pieces collected here — “Who Would Dare?” — is an isolated article that appeared in Babelia, the literary supplement of the Spanish newspaper El País, in January 1998. Less than a year later, Bolaño agreed to write a more or less weekly column for the Diari de Girona. The first was published in January 1999, and from then on, Bolaño — who had begun to acquire a taste for this new kind of writing —
continued to publish articles on a fairly regular basis, and also to field a growing number of requests for his presence at different events.

  As a result, all of the texts collected here were written in the short span of about five years. It makes sense, then, that the tone should be consistent, that multiple internal resonances should be revealed, and that the pieces should fit together in a natural way, with surprising neatness. In assembling the volume, a strict chronological order might have been adopted. But in the end this was rejected in favor of a more deliberate scheme, according to which the different materials are grouped in six main sections, preceded by a brief “Self-Portrait” and concluding with one of the last interviews that Bolaño gave shortly before he died.

  First come three talks or speeches (either term is better than lectures) delivered by Roberto on very different occasions. The adjective “insufferable” has been attached to all three, deliberately: to underscore the close relationship of these speeches with the two that Roberto himself included at the end of his posthumous collection, El gaucho insufrible (2003) [The Insufferable Gaucho]. “Literatura + enfermedad = enfermedad” [Literature + Illness = Illness] and “Los mitos de Cthulhu” [The Myths of Cthulhu] were surprising because of their aggressive stance, provocatively full of categorical statements. “The Vagaries of the Literature of Doom,” the first of the “three insufferable speeches” gathered here, continues in the same provocative vein; it begins with a discussion of Martín Fierro, the ultimate insufferable gaucho, and is dedicated to the patron saints of post-Borgesian Argentine literature. The other two speeches are somewhat different in character, much more personal. The “Caracas Address” is the text that Bolaño read in Venezuela when his novel The Savage Detectives won the 1999 Rómulo Gallegos Prize. It’s an unexpectedly confessional speech, in which Bolaño makes a public profession of his literary faith and comes to state, with moving seriousness, that “everything I’ve written is a love letter or farewell letter to my own generation.” “Literature and Exile,” meanwhile, reflects on a subject as crucial to Bolaño’s work as to his life; very shortly after giving this speech he faced the intense experience of returning, for the first time in twenty-five years, to Chile, the country of his birth.

  “Fragments of a Return to the Native Land” is the title of a long piece that Bolaño wrote upon his return from the first of two trips he made to Chile, at the end of 1998. The same title heads the block of texts that serve as the backbone of this volume. The first was written — like the speech “Literature and Exile” — just before Bolaño’s return to Chile. His first impressions of this trip are very clearly described in the piece cited above, which is wary yet warm in tone, full of humor. Shortly afterward, however, Bolaño published a much darker, more bitter piece in the Barcelona magazine Ajoblanco. It’s the account of a dinner to which he was invited by the Chilean writer Diamela Eltit and her husband, the socialist minister Jorge Arrate, spokesman of the Frei government. The story — recast later in By Night in Chile — was soon making the rounds in Chile and, not surprisingly, feelings were hurt. As a result, when Bolaño traveled to Chile for the second time, in December 1999, the atmosphere was stormy, and even hostile, and Bolaño was shut out by the country’s cultural establishment. This had to happen sooner or later, given Bolaño’s visceral response to Chilean politics and society, as well as culture, and, more specifically, poetry. The texts collected in this section give a good sense of this response. Among them, special mention should be made of the piece on Nicanor Parra, a crucial influence on Bolaño’s work, as is evident in many places. It’s impossible to explain Bolaño’s poetry (and Bolaño, of course, was first and foremost a poet) without keeping in mind Parra’s influence. But the deep effect of the great Chilean poet is also recognizable in Bolaño’s more or less insufferable speeches and his increasingly cantankerous, irreverent, and havoc-wreaking public persona.

  The bulk of this volume consists of the columns that, under the heading “Between Parentheses,” Bolaño wrote for the Chilean newspaper Las Últimas Noticias. Their forerunner was the column that Bolaño wrote regularly for more than a year for the Diari de Girona, of the Catalan city of the same name. The staff there, particularly Salvador Cargol, the editor of the arts section, deserve credit for having been the first to think of him as a columnist, when such a thing had never crossed Bolaño’s mind. Starting in January 1999, Bolaño wrote for the Diari de Girona as noted, and continued to write for it for almost a year and a half, until the spring of 2000. Bolaño’s column usually ran alongside the paper’s editorial. There was something humorous, it must be said, about Bolaño sharing space with the Catholic writer Josep María Gironella, once-renowned author of The Cypresses Believe in God and One Million Dead, among many other books. In the end, Bolaño published nearly fifty articles in the Diari de Girona, as well as a number of reviews. The pieces were translated at the newspaper’s offices. Some of the Spanish originals were never found, and as a result those articles are not included here.

  Soon after he stopped writing regularly for the Diari de Girona, it was Bolaño himself who, in reponse to an invitation to write a piece for his friend Andrés Braithwaite at Las Últimas Noticias (a venerable Chilean newspaper with a large circulation), proposed a weekly column. Roberto’s correspondence with Braithwaite, full of nudges and in-jokes, makes it possible to follow their planning step by step. It’s worth noting Bolaño’s original proposal, as he described it to Braithwaite in July 2000: “On a different subject: I’ve been thinking that we might publish (emphasis on might) my one-page articles that have only appeared in Catalan, along with some other completely new things. These are pieces on writers, occasionally on European and American movies and artists. They’re yours if you want them. Let me know if you’re interested [. . .] I could make it a weekly column (there are more than forty already written).”

  The next day, Roberto specifies: “I’d like to have a column where I can talk about everything from the most obscure Provençal poet to the most celebrated Polish novelist, which will all sound like the same gibberish in Santiago. The truth is, these pieces will be collected into a book at some point, and that’s why I want to get in the ones that were already published in Catalan. To be perfectly clear: this would be an essentially literary column.”

  Andrés Braithwaite accepted Bolaño’s proposal, and the two immediately began trying to come up with a good title for the column. “I think it should have a title,” says Bolaño, and he suggests, tongue in cheek: “HELLO, GOD SPEAKING? THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA? THE ORACLE OF DELPHI? THE DIVINE SCOURGE?... I’m joking. I repeat: joking. The truth is I can’t come up with anything. page gues is a bad title, but that’s the idea. Or: NOTES. Something along those lines.” The matter was resolved after some back and forth around a list of suggestions sent by Braithwaite that caused Bolaño “considerable amusement.” Among them was “Between Parentheses,” which they both liked.

  As this demonstrates, the idea of collecting Bolaño’s newspaper columns in a book was very much a part of his own plans. The long section into which they’re gathered is divided into three parts. I) In the first are the pieces that Bolaño didn’t reclaim for his column in Las Últimas Noticias. Not all are included, since, as noted, the Spanish originals of some couldn’t be found. II) The columns in the second part were all published in Las Últimas Noticias but many were previously published in the Diari de Girona. III) As for the pieces in the third part, almost all were originally published in Las Últimas Noticias.

nbsp; In the case of the columns that were first published in the Diari de Girona and then in Las Últimas Noticias (about twenty), it was decided to follow the sequence that Bolaño established for the Chilean newspaper. This makes sense considering the greater care that Bolaño seems to have taken in his second stint as a columnist, when he was beginning to be a well-known writer and to contemplate the possibility of collecting his journalistic writings in a book. In any case, it’s important to stress the periodic nature of the columns gathered in this section, written at weekly or bi-weekly intervals, all more or less similar in length and linked to one another in the manner of diary entries, in which the author expresses his likes, loves, infatuations, and obsessions.

  The next section, titled “Scenes,” collects some travel articles and other occasional pieces whose common denominator is the evocation of places that were familiar to Bolaño, or that he visited occasionally. The Catalan town of Blanes, a strong presence in a number of Bolaño’s columns, naturally takes center stage. Bolaño always felt very comfortable in this seaside town, which he encountered for the first time — as he explains in “Town Crier of Blanes” — in Últimas tardes con Teresa [Last Evenings with Teresa], the novel by Juan Marsé, which he read avidly while he was still living in Mexico. The Blanes beach, meanwhile, is the setting for “Beach,” a purely fictional piece that might have been included in any of Bolaño’s story collections.

  In this regard, it should be stressed that Bolaño’s books, from very early on, displayed a marked tendency to flow easily from one genre to another. In his last two “story” collections, this translated into the grouping together, without any sort of distinction, of texts of very different types. In the collection Putas asesinas [Killer Whores] (2001), a piece like “Dance Card” already has an unequivocally autobiographical slant. And in the collection El gaucho insufrible Bolaño planned to include what were originally two talks or speeches that, as we’ve seen, bear a clear resemblance to those included in the first section of this book. At the start of El gaucho insufrible, too, comes “Jim,” which Bolaño originally wrote as a column for Las Últimas Noticias and which the reader will find here again, so that it remains part of the series to which it first belonged. Like so many of the other pieces gathered here, “Jim” is ambiguous in nature, midway between autobiographical sketch and fiction. Meanwhile, “Beach,” whose narrator is an ex-junkie, belongs fully to the genre of fiction, though it clearly has its origins in another column by Bolaño: “Sun and Skull,” first published in the Diari de Girona, in 1999, and republished a year later, with slight modifications, in Las Últimas Noticias. All of which leads to the conclusion that this book sits naturally alongside the books that Bolaño himself published before his death, making it possible to speculate that, far from trying to conceal its very miscellaneous character, Bolaño himself would have underscored it, assigning the book to the same category as Putas asesinas and El gaucho insufrible.

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