22 August 2010

Third epilogue for variations: "Literature + Illness = Illness" (Roberto Bolaño)

The August issue of Harper's contains an excerpt from Roberto Bolaño's "Literature + Illness = Illness," an essay collected from The Insufferable Gaucho (El gaucho insufrible, 2003) which comes out this month from New Directions. The book contains 2 essays and 5 stories - two of which, the title story and "Álvaro Rousselot’s Journey," already appeared in The New Yorker. It's translated by Chris Andrews. You need to subscribe to view it online. The same essay, translated as "Literature + Sickness = Sickness" by an unnamed translator, was published in News from the Republic of Letters in 2005.

Sections of the essay have titles like “Illness and freedom”, “Illness and French poetry”, “Illness and travel”, and “Illness and Kafka.” The two versions are quite different in approach that one wonders if two patients were made out of one sick person. But no, it's obvious that both essayists are terminally ill. Here's a bit of comparison:

(from News from the Republic of Letters)

No wonder the lecturer beats about the bush. Take the following case. The speaker is going to talk about sickness. There are all of ten people in the theater. Each of them waits there with a dignified expectation worthy of a better subject. The lecture is scheduled for seven or eight in the evening. Nobody’s eaten a thing. So when seven o’clock comes round (or eight, or nine) everyone is sitting there with their cell-phones turned off. It’s a pleasure to speak to people with such good manners. Nevertheless, the lecturer doesn’t show up, and finally one of the organizers of the event announces that he can’t come: at the very last moment he’s fallen grievously ill.

(from The Insufferable Gaucho, translated by Chris Andrews)

No one should be surprised if the speaker loses his thread. Let us imagine the following scenario. The speaker is going to speak about illness. Ten people spread themselves around the auditorium. The buzz of anticipation in the air is worthy of a better reward. The talk is scheduled to begin at seven in the evening or eight at night. No one in the audience has had dinner. By seven (or eight, or nine), they are all present and seated, with their cell phones switched off. It’s a pleasure to speak to such a well-mannered group of people. But the speaker fails to appear, and finally one of the organizers of the event announces that he will not be coming because, at the last minute, he has fallen gravely ill.

[Note: This post edited Nov. 27, 2010. The passage translated by Chris Andrews above was taken from the book, not from the Harper's excerpt.]

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