Thursday, February 2, 2012

My poem is called “Everybody Suffers.” I don’t care if people stare.

I could put together a book by now.  My complete works.  (Dec. 28)

The seventeen year-old Juan García Madero, having only recently entered into the adventurous life of poetry and sex, and on the verge of a more unusual adventure, wrote that.  He has written 55 poems of 2,453 lines.  I do not believe that Roberto Bolaño ever gives us a hint of what any of those lines actually look like, although I am probably wrong about that.  This is an easy book to be wrong about.  See, here’s a hint on November 29:

There’s no free table, I said and went on writing.  My poem is called “Everybody Suffers.”  I don’t care if people stare.

Oh good Lord.  Thank you, Roberto Bolaño, for sparing this reader that poem.  Also see the amusing Nov. 4 entry (“The first [poem] was about the sopes, which smelled of the grave”)

García Madero never publishes his book.  He vanishes.  The big central section of The Savage Detectives that interrupts García Madero’s diary is on one level a compilation of twenty years of the history of Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, but it is also the record of the absence of García Madero, who appears only in flickers.  The only explicit mention of his name is a denial of his existence.  I did not notice any of this until I was on the next to last page of the novel.  It is deliberately made hard to see – among the dozens of narrators and other characters, surely García Madero will turn up at some point.

So one strong temptation is to read García Madero back into the middle of the book, to tease out his complete works.  A valuable effort, although I am pretty sure there is no answer.  He is there in various ways, perhaps quite important ways, unless the lesson he learned in the Sonora desert in early 1976 was to escape from this crazy book, or perhaps to imitate Césarea Tinajero, with one improvement: publish nothing.  Publish just one word and they come after you!  By “they” I mean Death and the Eumenides.  Best to engineer your own absence.

Much of Bolaño’s art is the creation of absence, the undermining of meaning.  An analogy is a visual artist’s use of negative space.  Bolaño, too, writes around the void.  This is what I meant when I said yesterday that, while knocking down my fantastical theory about a particular detail of the plot, we found, as is typical with my experience with Bolaño, that even clearly stated points turn out to be deeply flawed as evidence, presented only by one of the novel’s many madmen, for example, or contradicted elsewhere.  Bolaño creates jigsaw puzzles with pieces that do not fit, but different pieces depending on how you start the puzzle.

The Savage Detectives reminds me of no other book so much as Wuthering Heights, another novel of the void, another malformed puzzle that continually strongly suggests solutions to its puzzles but refuses anything resembling proof. Wuthering Heights is, of course, an utter freak among Victorian novels.

The Red and the Black is also kin to The Savage Detectives, and unlike Brontë's novel is mentioned several times by Bolaño.  He wants us to know that García Madero has read it, for example.  Stendhal’s novel is another that seems to retreat from or withhold a clear meaning at key points.  Unfortunately, I am not such a good reader of Stendhal, so I am unsure how to pursue this idea.  Well, no, I know how – read more.  That is always the solution to the mystery, whatever it is, the only tool this Amateur Detective has.


  1. Interesting to contemplate Garcia Madero's absence as sculpted by Part 2 of the novel. I'm struck too by how characters seem to stand in for one another in an almost endless hall of mirrors: Garcia Madero is the missing poet that Cesaria Tinajero is that Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima sometimes are that Arthur Rimbaud was that...oh, and as Nicole pointed out, there's a suggestion of another generation down the line in the form of Garcia Grajales. It's as though the social sphere contains certain slots that are filled and unfilled and refilled endlessly. (Character in the age of mechanical reproduction?). I love the image of the jigsaw puzzle with pieces that don't fit; you can see the image they form, but just can't get them all to work right. And while I'd noticed the Stendhal references, a comparison to Wuthering Heights - what a great thing to contemplate - had not occurred to me. It might be interesting to itemize all these exceptions to the relative absence of novelists and novels mentioned in this book about poets.

  2. I fear that García Grajales embodies the inevitable decadent end of visceral realism. We have watched the poets live, really live!, but in the end they just become (shudder) literary history, entries in an unread, self-serving university press book.

    The Wuthering Heights thing is presumably just a sort of coincidence of method, but the Stendhal comparison would be directly informative, I suspect. You're right about the "novelists in the novel" question - what role do those references play compared to the poets? Different, or just more (more writers)?

    I maybe should also say that many readers of Wuthering Heights interpret it a bit differently than I do. They have a critical method the opposite of Belano and Lima's. They do not interpret a text by adding it, but by subtracting anything too puzzling or inconvenient.

  3. One of Bolaño's exquisite jokes, though, is that while García Madero the poet goes unpublished just like Cesárea Tinajero, García Madero the diarist or "novelist" does get published just like Roberto Bolaño. The work? Parts 1and 3 of The Savage Detectives. Guilted by you and Nicole and your freewheeling productivity this week, Tom, I think I'll write at least one more post on this novel touching on one critic's appraisal of the decadent end of visceral realism that you mention above. Or at least something along those lines, who knows? Simonel.

  4. Good point! I have so many choices: the book as we have it is a work of non-fiction published by who knows who - maybe by García Madero; the book as we have it is an assemblage of materials by who knows who, but never published, and we as readers are privileged to read it; or some part is published, but not all.

    Maybe García Madero really has gone wherever he has gone, living the pure life of the poet like Tinajero, and then here come his diaries, acquired who knows how. Perhaps in 1998 a new set of savage detectives set off to look for him. I wonder if they found him? I hope not.

    As with many "facts" of the novel, we have no evidence that the book as such exists in the world of the novel, although it is a good guess.

  5. As with many "facts" of the novel, we have no evidence that the book as such exists in the world of the novel, although it is a good guess.

    This has been driving me wild for days...

  6. It seems like the non-fiction book ought to have a fictional preface explaining where everything comes from. And pedantic but humorous footnotes.

    Now I am turning the novel into a completely different book.

  7. I bet that Vila-Matas is busily writing--or has already written--the work that you just described to Nicole!

  8. Distant Star actually contained just such a kind of preface. The novel at hand being an expansion of a previous story and a collaboration between two persons: Belano and Bolaño, if I remember it right.

  9. Yeah, I think "Bolaño" wrote Nazi Literature, but says he heard that particular story from Belano. But Belano thought he didn't tell it right, so they collaborate on Distant Star to correct the record or confuse it further.