December 10, 2010

Conversation about a cathedral, 2

We play at believing ourselves immortal. We delude ourselves in the appraisal of our own works and in our perpetual misappraisal of the works of others. See you at the Nobel, writers say, as one might say: see you in hell.
- 2666


In his last interview for the Mexican Playboy, Roberto Bolaño was asked of his opinion of those who think he will win the Nobel Prize. “I am sure, dear Maristain, that I will not win it, as I am sure that some lazy person from my generation will win it and not even in passing mention me during his or her Stockholm speech.”

I’m not sure what Bolaño meant by a lazy person. Is that the same as a lazy writer? The present laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa, is not of the same generation as Bolaño. Nor did he mention Bolaño in his Nobel lecture, though the Peruvian did harbor certain opinions of the Chilean.

It’s interesting nonetheless that two young writers from Peru, in talking about Vargas Llosa’s win, couldn’t help but speak of Bolaño in the same breath.

Bolaño is not of the same generation as Vargas Llosa’s. Bolaño is what came after. We would have to wait until 2020 – at least that’s the year Carlos Fuentes predicted, in his novel, that César Aira will win the Nobel – when a Latin American writer of the same generation as Bolaño will stand on a Swedish podium.

The last interview took place shortly before Bolaño’s death, and one can surmise that Bolaño was sure that he will not win it because “death is certain”, as he wrote between his teeth in Last Evenings on Earth. His first book to be translated in English, Shit Storms By Night in Chile, will not appear until the end of that year (2003). But for the life of him, posthumous fame will certainly not qualify him for any well-meaning award.

Not unless it was decided in Comala.

Bolaño could not have predicted Vargas Llosa’s win. Or maybe he just did. In the last piece in The Insufferable Gaucho (trans. Chris Andrews), in an essay called “The Myths of Cthulhu” (a fascinating essay wherein Bolaño gave a diagnosis of Latin American literature, but really a meandering, perhaps unfinished, yet very snobbish essay, snobbish in a bookish-snobbish way, an essay of the most wicked negative psychology), he differentiated the virtues (vices) of the bestselling writers (Pérez Reverte, Muñoz Molina, et al.) from those no one reads anymore (Puig, Arlt, et al.). In the same essay, he discussed how critics cling to old masters and what this implies for Latin American letters. And how much literature loves power too...

Today I read an interview with a famous and shrewd Latin American author. They ask him to name three people he admires. He replies: Nelson Mandela, Gabriel García Márquez, and Mario Vargas Llosa. With that answer as a starting point, you could write a whole thesis about the current state of Latin American literature. The casual reader might wonder what links those three figures. There is something that links two of them: the Nobel Prize. And there is something more that links all three: years ago they were all left wing…. All three have made way for deplorable heirs: the clear and entertaining epigones of García Márquez and Vargas Llosa, and, in the case of Mandela, the indescribable Thabo Mbeki, the current president of South Africa, who denies the existence of AIDS. How could anyone name those three, without batting an eyelid, as the figures he most admires? Why not Bush, Putin and Castro? Why not Mullah Omar, Haider and Berlusconi? Why not Sánchez Dragó, Sánchez Dragó and Sánchez Dragó, disguised as the Holy Trinity?

And from there Roberto's own eyelids hit for low batting average.

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