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Héctor Hoyos on Roberto Bolaño

Héctor Hoyos holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. from Cornell University. He was born in Bogotá, where he studied philosophy and literature at the Universidad de los Andes. He is preparing two book-manuscripts, entitled Beyond Bolaño: The Global Latin American Novel and El deber de la travesura: César Aira y la crítica cultural. His interests […]

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>> This is KZSU Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison.
We're coming to you from the Stanford campus.
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Let's remember that the full title of this radio program is entitled opinions about life and literature.
If nothing else, it serves to distinguish us from all those shows where people work themselves into a froth of opinionation about politics and social issues.
It's amazing how even scoundrels feel sanctified when they wrap themselves in the mantle of ideological convictions.
An old bellows full of angry wind may win you membership in a party.
It may even get you elected.
But here, on entitled opinions, it won't do very much for you.
Because the kinds of topics we deal with on this program are far too open-ended for the passionate intensity of howlers and scalars.
Who, if they think at all, do so with closed minds.
What's called for here is open thinking.
And nothing friends is more rare than that these days.
Open thinking.
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Looks so good.
It looks so cool.
Your plan to live into the provident.
Speaking of thinking, we have a show for you today about an author who, in my view, is exceptionally thought provoking among contemporary novelists.
I say exceptionally thought provoking because from what I can tell, there aren't that many novelists writing these days who feel that they must not only recount, describe, entertain, and move, but also think.
To think in ways that only novels can think.
Even the most highbrow contemporary novels tend to be thoughtless these days.
The age of the thoughtless novel.
But we're not here to squabble about that or to howl about it or to diagnose it.
We're here to talk about one of the exceptions.
I mean the Chilean author Roberto Bolanio, who died in 2003 at the age of 50.
Now let me qualify that statement somewhat.
For when I say Roberto Bolanio, what I really mean is the author of the novella by night in Chile, which is the only book of his I've had occasion to read so far.
I read the novella thanks to the guest who joins me in the studio today, Hector Oios, who was a professor of Latin American literature here at Stanford, and who has just finished a book manuscript about Bolanio.
When I queried Hector a year ago about Bolanio, he recommended that I read by night in Chile.
I did so, and I found it to be a remarkable work of fiction, remarkable for many reasons.
The most important of which is that everything in his first person narrative makes you wonder, makes you question, makes you ponder.
Those are the kinds of novels that appeal to me the most.
Ones you feel you have to start over after you've finished since you don't know what to make of them.
Novels that think beyond conventions and standard expectations by night in Chile is definitely one of those.
It's a book that thinks in all manner of modes through concepts, but also through figures, landscapes, images,
and plotment, and the constant interplay between the spoken and the unspoken, the latent and the manifest, the act of telling, and the act of showing.
In some, it contains an open invitation to thinking or an invitation to open thinking, and I'm looking forward to talking about this book as well as its author with my guest today, Hector, welcome to the program.
Thank you for having me, Robert.
Roberto Bolanio is one of the most in writers today. His stock is very high, let's say.
Do you have an explanation for why there's this recent surge of enthusiasm about a writer who for many years was a poet and did not become a novelist until later in his life?
I can tell you there was quite a bit of uneasiness among Spanish-speaking readers when Bolanio suddenly became a sensation pretty much overnight in the US and in the rest of the world.
The sense of uneasiness had to do with the fact that Bolanio was no discovery for Latin Americans. He had been around for years.
We were reading him in the 90s and then he became a sensation in the US in the 2000s.
I guess we'll be coming from that sense of uneasiness.
I can tell you what a colleague of mine who teaches at CUNY in New York wrote about the situation.
She really nailed it. She says that Bolanio offers a comfortable choice for US readers, offering both the pleasures of the savage and the privileges of the segue.
That's a bit of a harsh statement, but I think there's some reason to that.
Why do you think that's a harsh statement rather than a grand compliment to him?
Well, I think he has been, um, used fully misread. He has been narrowed down and that accounts for a part of his success.
It's kind of a twisted sword because at the same time most Latin American authors be they living or recently did us in the case of Bolanio would like the sort of recognition that he has had, but not necessarily for the reasons that he has received it.
And do you think the reasons for his recognition are not only literary but they're also biographical?
Yeah, and I think this has to do with two reviews, two initial reviews in the New Yorker and in Harper's they took place pretty much at the same time.
And they might have overstated some points about the life of Bolanio.
You know, he's known to have taken heroin at one point, but he was hardly a beat poet.
And that was slightly overstated, which played into the stereotypes of Latin America as something wild.
So, you know, we were just talking before the show. It's a little bit of take a walk on the wild side with Bolanio.
And I think that is unfair to the extent that it narrows down what Bolanio is about, but it is not wrong.
I mean, Bolanio does yield himself for that kind of a reading. He was playing into those stereotypes all along.
Apart from the heroine, he was also a kind of all-foncte-rebe in his, from what I gather, his fierce denunciations of the, especially the Latin American
in the Greek that at the class of his native country Chile.
Yeah, that is very much the case. And my new Bolanio, after the coup in 1973, he is no longer in Chile as, you know, so many of his countrymen.
He goes to Mexico first and then he ends up living in a small town close to Barcelona.
So everything that he writes as a mature writer, he writes from abroad.
This gives him perspective, but it also turned him into something of a ruthless writer when it came to denouncing those who would have been his peers had he been around.
So, but this, however, is not always conveyed. So we have all these characters in his books that happened to be, you know, well-known Latin American or specifically Chile, and intellectuals.
And the US reader will, unfortunately, not know about this. And there's lots of, you know, a review culture around Bolanio, but not necessarily the kind of in-depth reading.
Now, I don't want to sound too pessimistic. I think that this has been a first wave of reading Bolanio in translation, and it's very promising what happens from here on.
So, we're going to reread him as opposed to, you know, something, some product that we can consume and then forget about.
Can we talk a moment about his politics? Because he leaves Chile with a coup of Pinochet takes power.
It goes to Mexico and then he's extremely committed leftist activist, or not. Was that also more posturing than reality?
Well, I think biographically he was a partisan, and, you know, how could he not be? He was imprisoned at the age of 20 for being a student in the humanities and thrown into jail with lots of people, many of whom were tortured, or low, he wasn't.
So, you know, yes, he was a passionate leftist throughout his life. But this does not make his writing, you know, a straightforward partisan kind of writing.
Yeah, and I have to say that what really surprised me about bi-night in Chile is my expectation that it was going to have a very identifiable, discernible political agenda associated with the leftist Latin American.
I was in for a big surprise, not that it was the opposite, but it's much more dark and opaque and impenetrable as far as I can tell what the politics, if there is a politics of the narrative is, but we'll get into that in a moment.
I'm curious why he does not go back to Chile after Pinochet is no longer in power.
He goes back once he is a published writer, very briefly, and he attends a dinner party, a famous dinner party at the Amalai dishouse, the Amalai
did this huge Chilean writer, and she is part of what is now the leftist establishment, if, you know, that is not a contradiction in terms in Chile.
And apparently, Bolanio behaves very badly at this dinner party, and he actually writes about this. I understand that the account he gives of this dinner party will be published in English soon, so we'll be here here more about that.
But he returns to Spain, I mean, his life is in Spain, his wife is Spanish, interestingly, you know, a brief biographical note on Bolanio, his son is named Laotaro.
You know, the son he has with a Spanish woman, right? And Laotaro is a name of one of the Mapuche indigenous leaders that offered resistance to the Spanish.
I mean, is this political naming the son you have with a Spanish woman as a Chilean, right? Laotaro? Yes, but mind you, it's also very comical, it's funny, it's witty.
That's the kind of thing that this existing person has to bear with, you know, from his father who died.
He also spends some time in France, I believe.
Yeah, he traveled quite a bit after, you know, after he joined the local poetry scene in Mexico.
That was, you know, really his, you know, quote unquote, beat moment or something that we can assimilate to with the beatings in the Bay Area where.
He just sat around traveling, and this is something that you can see in his novels.
He's most popular work, the savage detectives, is about wandering poets, you know, poets that travel and they see the world both through their travels and through the, and through poetry.
You know, I really liked Robert, what you said, said a while back about open thinking and thoughtful writing.
A text like the savage detective, for instance, can be seen as, you know, a straightforward adventure novel about these poets who travel and, you know, that's the end to the story.
Or you can start to appreciate how this configuration, a certain vision of the world.
And, you know, this is no grand language here, it's really what's going on.
And also, you know, for the sake of readers who may not associate Bolania with thinkers at large, when one thing of what, you know, Hegel understood the task of philosophy was, you know, and he uses this image, please correct me if I misquote this, but he compares this to an owl that flies back and at night to, you know, tell what the deep was, but you know, after it has taken place.
Right. The owl of Minerva comes at the end of the story and then can understand what the story was about.
Right. So there's this, you know, backward gaze that is essential for, you know, Hegel's philosophy. And, you know, I think that's also a metaphor that one could use for Bolania, but also with a very loaded, you know, notion of what the metaphor of the night is all about.
The owl flies at night. Twilight, yeah. Twilight. So a dusk, Twilight, yeah. So what we'll find in, you know, a book like by night in Chile is nocturnal landscapes, but also think, you know, thought experiments. That's really, you know, at the core of what Bolania wants.
That's great. So, I have...
The first question I'm tempted to ask is how much philosophy did Bolania read and know and how committed was he in... how educated was he in the history of philosophy?
It's not necessary that he be at all for him to be a very thoughtful novelist, but I'm just curious. He does have references to a number of the Greek philosophers here in, by night in Chile for sure, Plato especially.
You know, I could only speculate on that question, which I think is really interesting, but he was a student during the years of Unil Populad, a Gentes government in Chile, and it is fair to say that philosophy was in the air.
Radical philosophy for the most part. But Bolania was a highly intellectual person throughout his life. He was a voracious reader, and he read not only Latin American writers, you know, as one perhaps would expect, but European fiction.
You know, some philosophers have made it's not clear exactly how much, but he was very aware of the discussions of his time.
Regarding the savage detectives' book I have not read, can you briefly... I mean, you said that it has a lot of thought experiments, but a strong thought impulses, and that it has to do with wandering poets.
What is it that holds it together as a novel, if anything?
Well, you could say it's a certain eilah, a certain spirit that these poets have. They are very committed, but they are not, as regular avant-gardeists would be the kind of poets that would abide by a manifesto.
But there is something that binds them together, which is a passionate and almost irrational interest in poetry.
And here poetry should be, I guess, listened to in quotation marks, if you will, because this is also a life force.
It's very open-ended, it's that sense, but the beauty of it is that this landscape of desire, poetic desire, or desire period,
configurates a certain world order. I mean, this is a novel that worlds as a verb, as it goes.
So, I think that one of the distinctive features of the second wave of readings of Boulaña will be appreciating how he thinks through the global condition from a Latin American vantage point.
Sounds like you have that second wave, your vanguard of that second wave, Hector.
That was a plug to the book, yes, it is, right, good.
Boulaña was a poet almost exclusively up until a certain till he got married.
And I was a little bit astonished that you just assumed that it's on the basis of everyone else's account that his poetry is really quite bad.
And how do you go from a mediocre poet to being such a very interesting novelist?
Another great question, I wish I could say more about. I can tell you this, Matias Ajala, a colleague from New York, Albert Orteo in Santiago, was the first person to put this in writing.
He said, "That's face it, Boulaña was a terrible poet."
And I think there is some true to that statement. What you can see in the poetry is the kernel to his plot lines and also some of his imagery.
So I think for Boulaña buffs, it's a great read, and every now and then you will find a poem that's very moving.
It's also very straightforward. It's not highly literary as the rest of his ever is.
And another interesting thing to consider is how Boulaña constructed his own myth.
So what you will hear is that Boulaña, he was a poet, he lived as a poet, and one day he realized that poetry did not pay.
And he was also ill because he had the liver problem that would eventually put him to death.
And he decided to just start writing novels because that's how he would become rich.
And this is also a funny statement. No one becomes rich or knows that he or she will become rich by writing novels.
That's not a good way. And that's what he will say because he's building his myth.
He just turns spontaneously into novels and then you come across these 100-page novels and you wonder, perhaps he was writing this all alone.
And he wouldn't say.
Well, it's interesting because the book that we want to talk about a little bit by night and chewy without presupposing that our listeners have read it is interesting at least and so far as its main protagonist is a poet.
In addition to being a priest and a literary critic and he's a very, it turns out that there's a lot of suggestion that he's a mediocre poet, not a great poet.
So I'm curious, did Boulaña have some kind of self-awareness to maybe identify with a failed mediocre poet in this book?
But we can talk about that later.
The first thing to approach this novella is the title because you tell me that it's really not an exact translation by night and chewy.
What is it in Spanish?
In Spanish it's "Noc-tour-noc-tour-nou" and "Noc-tour-nou" it's a literary form. They're famous...
A knock turns, yes.
And also, you know, very famous literary form in the Latin American tradition.
There's a Neruda for one wrote "Noc-tour-nou" and "Cilva" wrote "Noc-tour-nou" and the form is very musical, very apolitical, of course.
And it has to do with nocturnal landscapes and the beauty of the night. That's really what these poems celebrate.
And, you know, the topic of the novel is not quite apolitical.
Well, in fact, okay, so we have a first-person narrative of a priest who is a lover of literature.
I mean, deeply committed to literature as a poet and a literary critic he writes reviews in newspapers and magazines for books that are being published by Chilean authors, poets novelists and so forth.
The narrative begins with him on his deathbed, it would seem, that he's about to die.
So he's looking back, as you said, like the owl who was looking back over a long life, which takes place historically between in the period where I end, they're still president of Chile.
And then Pinochet with the coup takes over.
And then the Pinochet, I think, is already dead by the... or is, I don't know if Pinochet is dead by the end of the book or not.
But, nevertheless, this is a retrospective look at his own life.
I think, if I tell me if you agree, in the mode of an almost like a Catholic confession, self-confession,
because he hears the voice in his mind of what in English is translated as the "Wisened Youth", but which you tell me in Spanish is actually the age of youth or the... what in Spanish is...
It's the "Horn" in the Hicido, so yes, the age of youth and also an alliteration, right?
The sound there is very important "Horn" in the Hicido with the two "Hortas, the J's.
And so this "Wisened Youth" that's translated is a voice that he hears accusing him constantly in a kind of prosecutorial mode.
And the priest, the "Sibastian", I'm going to call him, his name is "Sibastian".
"Routi, la qua". Also known as "Father Ibachekache" was it?
"You are a kachekache".
He hears that voice, he understands the accusations, but he also defends himself against the accusations that he's hearing.
It's all very vague, there's a slightly hallucinogenic quality, owniric quality, dream quality that's appropriate for the night.
And he goes on reconstructing how he, as a young man, became a priest, became a poet, and then the kinds of activities that he got involved with as a member of the clergy,
and also as a member of Opus de, the very conservative Catholic organization that has been associated in Latin America and in Spain with far-right regimes.
And he says, "Yes, I'm..." and the "Wis and Youth" is accusing him of your member of Opus de, Opus de, I've never denied it.
So, he says, "I was probably the most liberal member of the Opus de" and so forth.
So there's self-excalation on the one hand, but there's also admission of guilt, the way I read it.
And we can go through the various episodes. It's really almost like one whole long paragraph, the entire novella, no?
So, what astonished me when I read it is the way in which it's very difficult for me to get a handle on whether the narrator is just a...
One of those...
Who is in bad faith or movis phua trying to excuse himself for being either a political in a moment of chili's history where you should have chosen sides,
or for actually having even despite himself collaborated with the Pinochet regime and the Opus de tactics, and that he's concealing the extent of his involvement from the reader, but leaving clues for it.
How do you see that?
Well, I think an important element is silence. In this novel strikes you as noise when you first open its pages because you have 150 pages of one paragraph.
So every time you open this book, you're going to see letters and letters and letters without interruption.
And then there is a second paragraph that's only one sentence in the end. That's like the end of a poem.
So, what is silence for a confessor? What are the gaps of a confession?
The space of the confessional and that which is not said even at the moment of an open confession.
This is something that really interests Polanyo and he will relate this.
He will over-determine the problem of silence and relate it to that of light and darkness. Is silence like specks, right?
Like stains on a white sheet of noise or is it the other way around? And he will play with this possibilities from very early on in the novel.
One of the opening scenes in the novel, the priest wonders, is that cow a black cow with white stains?
Or is it a white cow with a black stain? And it's very silly at that point. But then you realize it also depends on where you are standing.
When you look back at the history of Chile, if you happen to be of more authoritarian convictions, then you're going to see some things under a positive light.
And others as the exception. So, the exception of the rule, lightens some darkness, noise and sound.
All these are the elements that Polanyo modulates as he writes this long, long paragraph.
Do you believe that if we map out these pockets of silence in the narrative that they contain clues to actions that Sebastian committed that he is not telling us about and that we can reconstruct the fact that he was more of a son of a bitch than he is showing himself to be in what is manifest in his words?
Yeah, I think so. And even though Polanyo rescues a certain moral high ground on the part of this character, he is for the most part I would say a villain to Polanyo.
Polanyo is making the effort of writing about someone he despises yet he recognizes. And let me tell you a bit of the actual literati that Polanyo is alluding to.
Protagonist, as you said Robert, is called Sebastian Urrutia La Croa. And this may be a coincidence or it may not be, but there is an opposite priest who is also a poet and he is alive.
So, in Chile named Jose Miguel Iwannes Langua. So, you have Urrutia La Croa and Iwannes Langua. So, you know, it seems this is a homo enclave. And he is pointing the direction of someone like Iwannes Langua who has written about events like the fall of the Burning Wall in a very, very celebratory mood.
And I don't know, I mean, I guess Polanyo's politics were really on the opposite end of the spectrum of someone like Iwannes Langua. Now, Iwannes Langua, excuse me, Urrutia La Croa, that's why the novel is meant to be that confusing. Urrutia La Croa has a mentor in the novel.
The mentor's nomdaproom, his nickname, his writer's nickname is Farewell. And Farewell is a name in English of a famous poem by Niroo, a Communist poet.
And there was also an existing literary critic that was very influential whose nickname was alone in English, again.
So it sounds a lot, you know, or a little bit, like Farewell. Polanyo is really peppering the entire narrative with these kinds of keys.
It meant perhaps for the Chilean reader, but also meant for, you know, readers, I am not Chilean myself, and, you know, for readers who want to use this novel as a starting point to dig into the literary history of Latin America or of Chile, and also into its sometimes troubled relations to power.
The problems I have with this homo-acle thing is that it temps one to find correlates in the real world for the characters. And the way I read this novel is that it's all about the incongruity when it comes to the relationship of literature with life or with politics, and that the reason I find it the same thing.
The reason I find it difficult to be persuaded that Sebastian Rutia is based on this Opus de Priests is because he has a very refined literary sensibility.
He seems to speak with enough conviction that I have to believe that Polanyo put a lot of himself and a lot of his own literary sensibilities and aesthetic prejudices or aesthetic commitments into the voice of this,
this narrator.
I think that is true. I mean, that is fair to say. But it doesn't exclude the homo-acle entirely.
Polanyo was an aestheticist. I mean, he was someone that really thought that style mattered, that writing well mattered. Unlike other people who shared his politics, who would say, don't get language get on the way, we need to convey a message,
and we want to do this straightforwardly. So just don't mess with language. And this was definitely not Polanyo's aesthetic creed.
I grant you, there is some of Polanyo in this character. Now, what happens, and that's really interesting is if any American writer, where to write a novel where you have a character named
a corpsman, naylor. You immediately think of Norman Mueller and wonder what's going on. But this is lost in translation. And I think that's very interesting.
Who is Polanyo and who is he writing for? And he's certainly not writing specifically for Chileans. I mean, this is a very Chilean novel.
But the savage detectives is set for the most part in Mexico. It's written in Mexican Spanish. And anyone who's been to Mexico City will recognize the city that Polanyo portrays there. So, you know, he's really hard to pin down.
Well, here are some things that will throw out at you to trouble the identification of the priest with a neo-conservative or post-day. Fairwell, who if he's based on this alone character, is the person who is one of the premier literary critics in Chile.
But he adores as does Sebastian Neruda. In fact, at the beginning of the novel, we have a knock-turn scene where Sebastian goes to Farewell's house. First time he's been to the house of the elder literary critic. Then they will continue to have a long relationship.
And Neruda is there. And there is a scene where Neruda is speaking to the moon. And Sebastian stands behind him and then Farewell comes to stand behind him. It's almost like a figure. Well, there's a whole sodomy implication in the relationship between Farewell and Sebastian.
There's also a suggestion of a certain kind of genealogy of succession of generations. However, Neruda is a big hero. And Sebastian loves Neruda, thinks that he's the real thing, even though he was a lifelong communist.
Yeah. Yeah. It's actually what that scene is. I would say it's a beautiful homoerotic scene. And it's also, you know, it has a lot to do with guilt because, you know, clearly the protagonist is a priest. So he disevolves this erotism.
And let us perhaps read a passage from the scene that you just mentioned. The moon stood out clearly against a cloudless sky. My castle fluttered in the wind.
Boldly, I advanced toward the place where the shadowy figure had hidden. There he was, next to Farewell's equestrian fantasy. His back was turned. He was wearing a velvet jacket and a scarf and a narrow brimmed hat tipped back on his head. And he was softly in toning words that can only have been meant for the moon.
I froze in a post post-year like that of the statue with my left foot off the ground. It was Neruda. I don't know what happened next. There was Neruda and there a few meters behind him was eye and between us. The night, the moon, the equestrian statue, Chilean plant, Chilean wood, the obscure dignity of our land.
I bet the Wisten youth had no stories like this to tell. So, you know, that's a beautiful moment. He's looking back in his life. He was there with Neruda. But the Wisten youth was there naggingly. Remind him of something, but we just don't know what that's something is at this very moment.
So, that's one of those moments of silence that you're referring to now. Right, right, right. And a moment of great beauty. Later on, when the young priest assumes the functions of the elder literary critic, he will say, "I read everyone. I read the poets and the right, the poets and the left." And his position is, there is a space for literature above all disputes.
And he suffers trying to upkeep that space and at some points, you know, even against his best intentions, he cannot upkeep it.
What impressed me so much about the narrative and many things, certain of the emblems, I was impressed by the role that chairs play. It seems very discreet, but the chair is, it's intriguing because it's
it seems that when people sit in their chair, it restores the soul somehow. It's the chair is a kind of native homeland for the reader, the poet, the critic, whoever the lover of literature is. And maybe it's the only homeland of the poet or the lover of literature here on earth.
There's a passage and I failed to market before we came on air, but where the narrator speaks of a place in the sky where the angels dwell. And it's the only place where it's possible for man to live, he says, but which is also impossible to live in. And still, it's the only place for us to live in in its impossibility. And it would seem that the chair is the lieutenant of this place or no place.
And that the, which to me is associated with the place of literature, where does it is literature is in the world, but it's not of the world perhaps. And there's, there's a way in which even the most leftist poets crave a review from
Sybastian, not because he's a great reviewer, but because they need some place where their literature may be contained, stored, recognized. And I have a, I had a strong sense reading the book that there's, there's
And this tragic sense that it's almost impossible to create a lasting literary tradition of Chilean literature. And Sybastian is someone that has hordes of poets and writers asking of a word from him. If I can read you, well, maybe I'll read it later there, but there's this one story of that's told by farewell.
To Sybastian about the Shoemaker in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this is kind of amazing little thing that it's kind of a digression for about five pages. This Shoemaker who makes a fortune by making the very best boots and shoes of the empire.
And once he's been, has enough money, he gets an audience with the emperor and proposes that he would like to create a hill for the heroes of the world, especially of the empire.
And he knows exactly what hill he wants, and he wants some funding and they will make monuments and they will be a place where they will be remembered forever.
And the emperor agrees to it and then forgets all about the Shoemaker and the Shoemaker commits all his wealth to making this hill.
And it turns out that he's forgotten about it, he doesn't get the state funding. And the, when the Russians come in to the country and they want to know what that hill is, they're told, let me see if I can find the passage.
That this was supposed to be a hill for all the world's heroes. And then what they find is that there's only one person buried there and it's the Shoemaker himself, no?
It's on page 70.
Yeah, that's it.
I have, I think a different addition which is a good thing, it means it has been edited several times already.
I think I have here in page 48 of this edition.
Okay, why don't you have, would you mind reading that?
And if, you know, people don't mind the accent as opposed to reading it is Spanish.
And they saw neither statues nor tombs, but only the isolation and neglect until at the very top of the hill they discovered a crypt that looked like a safe with a sealed door, which they pretty much have.
And then they were, which they proceeded to open.
Inside the crypt, sitting on a grand stone seat, they found the Shoemaker's body, his eye sockets empty as if he were never to contemplate anything, but the valley spread out below heroes' hill.
And his jaw hanging open as if he were still laughing after having glimpsed immortality, said farewell.
And then he said, do you understand?
And then this is followed by, I have a passage here, I don't know if it's followed, but it reminds me very much of the passage where he's speaking about the parade ground where the Wisen I'm quoting here.
The parade ground where the Wisen youth is hiding along with the dead poets who were living then, and who now against the certainty of imminent oblivion are erecting a miserable crypt in my cranial
vault. So it's, it's, it's, it's, mind his brain has become this crypt building it with their names, their silhouettes cut from the black cardboard and the debris of their works.
And although the Wisen youth is not among them, since in those days he was just a kid from the South, the rainy border lands, the banks of our nation's mightiest river, the fearsome B.o. B.o.
All the same, I sometimes confuse him with the swarm of Chilean poets whose works implacable time was demolishing even then, as I walked away from farewell's house through the Santiago night and continues to demolish now as I prop myself up on one elbow and will go on demolishing when I am gone, that is when I shall cease.
And while I shall exist no longer or only as a reputation and my reputation resembling a sunset as the reputations of others resemble a whale, a bear hill, a boat, a trail of smoke, or a labyrinthine city, my reputation like a sunset will contemplate through half clothes, eyelids, times, little twitch, and the devastation it wrecks time that sweeps over the parade ground like a conjectural breeze and so on and so forth.
All one sentence by the way, very nicely translated, but then it goes on to say that I wrote articles, I wrote poems, I discovered poets, I praised them, they would have sunk without a trace if not for me, I was probably the most liberal member of the Opus dei in the whole republic, the Wisen youth is watching from a yellow street corner and yelling at me, I can hear some of his words, he is saying I belong to Opus dei, I have never hidden that I say, but of course he's not even looking at me.
But of course he's not even listening, I would like to tell him that even the poets of the Chilean Communist Party were dying for a kind word for me, a word of praise for their poetry and I did praise their poetry and so forth.
So he is doing the kind of necessary work of commemoration, acknowledgement, recognition and these are the, I think the new heroes, it's not the poets, it's the reader, the critic, the person, because there's such a surplus of this.
And in Chile where there seems to be such an issue about how do you found a literary tradition and then this is followed by a whole meditation on the genealogy of popes, unbelievable, incongruity but nevertheless the church there becomes a figure of what a tradition is in its idea, it's something where you can name all the popes in succession, this is what the authors, poets, writers of Chile don't have the luxury of because they haven't been there.
They haven't built the hill of heroes is...
Or because the cool, just exploded what was in place.
That is a big scar that is throughout Polanius writing and certainly in this book, that there was a cool that changed the trajectory of the country completely.
So I can see how the Shoemaker is, to some extent necessary, there needs to be someone who memorializes but also note how Polanius is showing the Shoemaker at its most pathetic moment, having spent his fortune and the image of reader, a literary critic, perhaps even also of writers, right?
As someone who makes boots for army generals but they are not even paid attention by the generals, that's very unflattering.
That's someone who spent his whole life looking downwards at the shoes and now he wants to look up on the hill but even there are the burial he has to look down in the ground.
But now Hector, you say that the coup changed everything but there's also another very interesting passage where he is called on by some Opus de members to actually give lessons to the military june thing, including Pinochet on Marxism because they want to understand their enemy.
And this is strange way in which they themselves become like a communist cell, a secret cell, they meet secretly and say, "Bastjan gives him a series of about 10 lectures on instruction on the basic foundations of Marxist theory and so forth."
And at a certain point he has a conversation with Pinochet, which I think I'd like to get your read on it because it's very indicting of Iende.
And it seems to debunk the idea that there was a golden literary age under Iende and then this was put to an abrupt end with the...
And then the general, Pinochet asked me a question, if I knew what Iende read, if I thought Iende was an intellectual and caught by surprise I didn't know how to answer as I confessed to Carol.
And the general said to me, "Everyone's presenting him as a martyr and an intellectual now because plane martyrs are not so interested anymore, are they?"
And I tilted my head and so on and so forth and he said, "What do you think? I shrugged my shoulders like a wounded bird, beautiful metaphor."
But you can't, can you said the general? If someone doesn't read or study, he's not an intellectual. Any fool can see that.
And what do you think Iende used to read? I moved my head slightly and smiled.
And I sing magazines. All he read was magazines, summaries of books, articles, his followers used to cut out for him. I have it from a reliable source believe me. I've always suspected as much I whispered. Anyway, then he goes on saying that "Fray," it's not how you pronounce the president and the other. These were people, even the head of the Christian Democratic Party had never even read the Bible.
I have written three books and many articles. And at least, you know, there might be military history. But if anyone should be called an intellectual among, you know, the other, it should be me, not them.
What do you make of it? Well, I think this, you know, tells us a lot more about how partisanship works in these novels.
You know, I guess Polanyu's real foe, right, in this sort of party-some-view is the beautiful soul, wherever, you know, he or she may come.
Is it a Bella-I-ended, perhaps? I don't want to go in there. But maybe for another program. Yeah. I mean, the beautiful soul who believes that by being an intellectual, right, you are not immersed in history. You are not complicit of anything.
You are not part of larger social structures that being an intellectual means, for instance, being a leftist. You know, there is a certain instantiation of the beautiful soul, where, you know, the very thought of intellectuality in the right is almost an oxymoron.
And this is what Polanyu is playing with. For, you know, I hesitate to put it this way, but I guess I'm more a pious reader. This would strike you as a paladin. I mean, Pinotchett is an intellectual. But Polanyu is saying, well, why not? And that is what's really creepy about Pinotchett in this depiction.
And you were also pointing out to me in a separate conversation that this scene seems to parallel the Neruda scene that you quoted the nocturnal scene because it takes place outside in the garden there's moonlight, no? So it's almost as... Pinotchett and Neruda have a strange bed fellowship here.
And I'm sure Polanyu, you know, had a ball at presenting this parallelism, which is so kind of classic. Let me read the passage where, you know, this is more evident. They are walking again in the garden, but this time it is not the priest, the Lyraic and the poet, but the priest and the hunta. And he says,
I heard a flapping of wings that seemed to rip through the night and then the deep silence returned unscathed. Let's take a walk, said the general.
As if he were a magician, as soon as we stepped through the window frame and entered the enchanted gardens, lights came on, exquisitely scattered here and there among the plants.
Then I talked about the origin of the family, private property and the state, which angles wrote on his own and the general nodded at each stage of my explanation.
Now I'm then asking a pertinent question and from time to time both of us fell silent and looked at the moon sailing on alone through infinite space.
And they go on to talk about the party, by the way. And this is also a scene of eroticism between the opposite priests and pinages. I mean, Polanyu is really a provocateur.
And I read it not just as him being the enfantéri, but he's asking us to think. But the question there again, when I don't know what to make of it after I finish reading the novel, what is he asking me to think about?
And I understand that the priest can have a great quotient of bad faith in his psychology.
But I also am reminded of Camus book the fall in which you have the huge penny done, the penitent judge who is at spent his whole life, you know, accusing others and so forth.
And then finally realizes, now wait a minute, there's something here that that it's not only me who is in bad faith, the whole kind of intellectual presumption to judge others and always beyond the side of the angel.
What you call the beautiful soul, there's an intellectual version of that where you're always on the right side of it.
Right, no.
And I think he's asking me to think about the way in which literature is not that literature is apolitical, but that there's a yearning, whether you're on the left or the right of all these people who gather at the house of Ma'Dia,
I cannot, by the way, we haven't talked about that, but nevertheless there's this desire to make room for a kind of relationship to the world, to the land, to the nature, to the landscape, to the moon that is not reducible to the political.
Now, of course, in Bolandio's world and in our own world, you can never divorce.
The literary from the historical and the political, although one strives to achieve independence from the other.
And this is figured, I guess, in the house of this sad-long woman, Ma'Dia Canales, who's married actually to a CIA guy, and has revealed years later that there was actually torture, the basement was a torture room for the interrogation of prisoners while the Lita Ratti, on many of them leftist,
were holding forth all night long upstairs, no?
Yeah, and this is the kind of thing that would strike anyone as implausible. You're reading this novel and you think, "Oh, this must be a fictional element that Bolandio threw in, even though he has the homo-clay."
But it turns out this is historical, and he will do this over and over again. He has another book which I recommend, just as much as I recommend.
And this one, Nazi literature in the Americas, in Spanish, Lita Ratuan, Nazi, and Amédica, so he means the whole continent, not just the US, where he will have Nazi science fiction writer, writing some completely implausible plotlines, alongside with the stories such as the following.
There is a Colombian who goes to Spain, and he ends up joining a force of volunteers that fight for the Nazi army in the Second World War.
And you read this and you laugh out loud. I mean, how come there's this Colombian young man who is a volunteer for the Nazi army, this has to be so far fetched?
It is not that far fetched because as I'm sure many of our listeners know, there was a blue division that I wish you on a sword of volunteers, Spanish volunteers under Franco, who actually fought for the Vémacht.
And at the same time, there was a group of international brigadists who joined in the cause of the Republic.
So what I'm trying to do is to make you wonder, what is this plausible, but not only within the space of fiction, but within your own understanding of history.
What is the moment when you're going to say, "Oh, no, this just could have never happened," as in, for instance, the case of the thousands of disappearances in Chile or in the South and Corn more broadly.
And what is the moment when you're going to come to terms with, "Okay, this happened?"
And this tells me about how people have been carrying out politics in the real world.
Yeah, and since our time is running out on us, unfortunately, we wanted to talk also about what happens after Bolan, but maybe we can do that in another show, Hector.
The idea of the Owl of Minerva, the Hegel's, you know, "Bird of Philosophy," which is looking back at the twilight of a history or a story.
I know you believe that Bolan, you know, it's certainly in this book, is looking back to a period of the Chilean past, which is over by the time he's writing this, basically, because it's something that took place in the 70s, 80s, perhaps.
But that now it's a completely different situation, and so he in a certain sense is the Owl coming at the end of the day of this particular moment in the history.
And I gather that you believe that there's actually life after Bolan, in Chilean as well as Latin American literature.
So, you know, on the two points you make there, these events happened yesterday.
Pinochet was arrested in London in the late 90s, even though the human rights violations occurred in the 70s.
So, you know, this really stretched over time.
And then beyond Bolan, and actually the book I mentioned earlier is partly on Bolan, but mostly about other authors from Latin America, almost all now available in translation, that think, you know, about the country.
And you know, about the global in different ways, not with the kind of literary resources that Bolan uses.
And, you know, just to mention a few names for the sake of readers out there, I think Cesar Ida is, you know, by far.
And many people would agree the most important and creative Latin American writer alive.
>> I'd say IRI.
>> A-I-R-I-S.
And he has also been translated by new directions.
They have available an episode in the life of the landscape painter.
And I think, a fan-tasms and several.
>> How I became a nun.
>> How I became a nun?
>> Yes, they're very true.
Then there is also Mario Eletine, who is, he was born in Mexico, lived most of his life in Peru, and then came back to Mexico.
So he's, you know, a Pan Latin American writer at this point.
And one of his books actually came out through a city lights, or very own Francisco-based city lights.
He's called Beauty Parlor, Salondere de Cesar in Spanish, for Beauty at Salón.
And I'm not sure how they translated that.
You have someone like Gamera Lett, you know, on the opposite.
And aesthetically of Bolanio in Chile, but very, very interesting.
Some of her works has been translated.
Someone like Ferdando Ajejo from Colombia.
He's most renowned work in English as our Lady of the Assassin's, also a great read.
And I mean, when you look at this bigger picture of Bion Bolanio, I mean, my take is, they are thinking about the global condition.
That's, I guess, my reading.
But, you know, beyond this, what you see is the vibrancy of, you know, a literary milieu where literature still matters.
Where literature is not derivative, where people, you know, can pick a fight over literature because it matters, you know, that much.
And I think that you don't get that in the U.S. where literature is to a great extent, and unfortunately, a highly institutionalized affair.
And all, you know, us readers here in the U.S., right?
We have a certain credential.
And there are hierarchies, and, you know, there is a church of knowledge which has many advantages, but also some disadvantages.
And I think there's a lot of, you know, fresh literature being produced in Latin America all the time that we should be paying more attention to.
And these writers that you mentioned are they also as concerned about the political as the earlier generation or not?
By contrast, no. I mean, you know, the Cuban Revolution happened in 1959, and that was really a partisan moment.
And it's not like we are post-partisan, but the political spectrum is a lot more broad today than it was 30 years ago.
Well, Hector, I look forward to doing another show with you about the after Bolanio crowd of Latin American writers.
I think that would be a really fascinating show to do, so I hope to have you on very shortly in the future.
Thank you very much.
Thanks for coming on.
I want to remind you we've been speaking with Hector Hoyos from the Department of Iberian, Latin American cultures here at Stanford.
I'm Robert Harrison for entitled opinions. Please tune in next week. Bye-bye.