It is my feeling that a particular type of literature or a poem or for that matter a colour like black, even a certain kind of sadness can only appeal to a few people. It does not make those people privileged or necessarily more receptive, it only reflects a way of responding to words, colours, life, sadness. From time to time, we talk of melancholy, the pretensions of melancholy even and how well educated it can be as a mood, a pose. Yet, certain anarchic attitudes, rebellion, surrender when it is required, welcome loves, hideous heartbreaks are more than a pose, an affect, for they can reflect the underlying persona of an individual.
I want to talk about the literary style and language of Roberto Bolano, for my eagerness about this writer, my enthusiasm is less than the generosity of delight and sorrow or sadness that I have found in his books. It is my naive consideration or opinion that Bolano can only become the chosen writer of a select band of literary maniacs, for whom style and form is as important as meaning and context. Bolano's fiction, for want of a better word is the screaming heartache of a generation, a generation of men and women, whose voices are shushed by the loss of youth and the advancement of hopelessness.
It must be the prerogative of literature and writers to invent a new language and to culminate rebellion and angst ( a word I dislike) on paper, through poetry, through the promise of poetry. This needs a total reinvention, because the exigencies that prompt this heartache are the results of cultural dominance by unfriendly powers, by social norms continued through a kind of imperial insistence, a denial of the right to live and die, political uncertainty, loss of human rights, slavery, death, disease, destruction. Thus this new writing must turn the old away and find a new idiom, a new love.
Most of The Savage Detectives is a kind of an answer, against the old kind of poetry, basically a cry against the established order. Thus visceral realism as I understand it, is a youngish attempt to fight, to reinvent the left, to reinvigorate the ideals of revolution against the tyrannical powers of unmoralistic capitalism, fetishism and the boredom of philosophy and classical literature. However, the savagery of this literature is evident in the total chaos of this attempt, in the unmitigated disaster of this realism, for it only survives briefly and then dies, for it is not well thought through because it is the naive response of youth, destined to die.
Language does not only belong to philosophers or to those who read it, or those who read philosophy or the semantics of everything. Language is created after heartache and after reason, for the language without terrible pain is droll, dull and inconsequential. Bolano's language is the language of a defeated revolution, a slangy heartache. It is important to recognise it. I may not speak this language myself because I don't know how to. It is a field language born out of living such loves, such terrible flights. Thus it gives expression, a ready expression, for it now revivifies the pestilence of defeated ideals, the triumph of the establishment and the defeat of youth.
Bolano's language, especially in his novels ( barring By night in Chile perhaps) is a street smart, earthy, frantic elegy, an elegy born on the roads of various continents, tried during the day and perfected during the nights. It is not recognised as an impossible deity by its speakers for it metamorphoses their hidden naivety or their earnest desires. It is a great language because it is a tragic language. It is not pretentious, not wordy, never classical. Far from it, it is funny and vastly idiomatic and reflective of the weather and seasons of the speakers and their lives and where they live them. It has a universal accent because it is deeply poetic. It is magical and not elusive. It does not hide behind tame metaphysics nor does it allow or want psychoanalytic reduction, a reduction to plain sexual emptiness.
One of the greatest achievements of this language is that it mocks and laughs at the speakers because the speakers are not as naive as the reader might think. The success of Bolano's attempt is in his distancing from the grandiosity of the dreams of this generation because his superior knowledge, from hindsight perhaps knows that success cannot be achieved. Thus his use of B as an alter ego in his stories and simply Belano ( same professions, habits etc) in his novels shows his realisation of Belano's success perhaps and Bolano's defeat, for this is a literature of equal participation and he would have failed in reality had Arturo Belano succeeded in his books.
Politics and social rage are important components of his stories and find expression in his language. Unlike European literature, especially the tame Eastern European type, Bolano has method and politics in his novels and stories and his characters are ready to die and hunt for the missing poem, for Mexico, for Latin America as they say, for the Third World. Thus this language is not new but compared to the processed and genteel politics of European writers, seems savage and harsh. But it too is only a pose, a slang, a response as Bolano is clever to point out.
Nights are duller and days insipid without any more Bolano to read.