Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bolano!

A RANT

We hear now from every segment of the literary Establishment, including from the bistro Bolsheviks at N+1, all about Roberto Bolano. Bolano. BOLANO!

Yet I tell you Bolano is shit. Bolano is nothing. Bolano was involved in a Latin American underground literary movement that never accomplished, in ideas or action, one-tenth of what was accomplished THIS decade in this country by the literary rebels in the ULA.

The only reason the name Bolano was discovered and promoted by U.S. literary Overdogs was as a way to co-opt and obscure the more immediate problem-noise of the ULA; of literary revolution HERE. After all, when resurrected Bolano was not only safely distant, he was safely DEAD.

We see literary pods (meaning: without thought) like Francine Prose reviewing Bolano's latest book and admitting, though she doesn't really like it, that at least this time it's a book she's able to read. What she's saying beneath her posturing is that Bolano is stultifying, Bolano is boring, yet by reviewing the book for a major publication she's taking it seriously. She's implicitly endorsing Bolano-- the propaganda project of Bolano-- in a way she would never acknowledge American literary rebels in groups like the ULA.

Why is this?

It's solely this: That Bolano has been approved by the Machine to which Francine Prose like a brainwashed drone is wholly obedient.

Is this what we want from literature? The tired noddings of unmoving bureaucrats and bureaucracies? Should not literature represent the wild loud sound of active rebellion, contention, and actual change?

If we burn down the moldy institutions of an imprisoned art, and chase out the obedient black-robed overseers, THEN we'll honor the authentic, unco-opted spirit of Roberto Bolano.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wenclas,

I've been lurking on your blog for a while now--often amused, occasionally edified, and sometimes baffled. This is one of the latter instances.

What it appears that you've been insisting on (the inclusion, in the pantheon of contemporary importance, of writers who did not attend the same schools, come from the same sort of privileged background, and drift toward the same New York City milieu) is absolutely the case with Roberto Bolano. You quite uncharitably describe his posthumous success as co-optation, then blame him for the incomprehension of his reviewers. You also suggest that Bolano's American success is a way of diverting attention from the activities (literary, I presume) of the U.L.A. My question, I suppose, springs from your statement that Bolano "never accomplished, in ideas or action one-tenth of what was accomplished THIS decade in this country by the literary rebels in the U.L.A." Can you elaborate a little? The U.L.A.'s authors seem to be pretty disparate, a movement in name but lacking unanimity of purpose, certainly stylistic or political purpose. What sort of "action" are you referring to? Political action? Social action?

This leads me to another observation, one I'd appreciate your responding to, if you would. I've been following the recent string of remarks about the Nation, Ivy Leaguers, the New York literati, etc., with some interest. It's difficult not to agree, at least to a point, with your observations. I think where I, and I would imagine many others, part ways with you is the point at which you suggest that the U.L.A. is the only authentic solution. It got me thinking thinking about my acquaintance Dana Spiotta. Dana was a military kid, who lived a peculiarly peripatetic kind of childhood. She attended not a tony east coast (or west coast) private university or college, but Evergreen State, in Washington. She lives far from Manhattan, in Upstate New York. Her work doesn't deal with the goings-on of the rich. Yet she's won a Guggenheim, been a National Book Award nominee, received the Rome Prize from the American Academy. Do you see this as co-optation? Do you agree that there is at least some room for "inclusion" of excellent writers who don't come from or sign on to what you abhor?

King said...

Yes, you've been lurking-- and posting. Who are you??
You miss my point about Bolano, which is that rather than look into American underground writers, the lit establishment chose to celebrate someone from an entirely different world-- with a book whose cover graphics were strangely reminiscent of the graphics on publications of the Underground Literary Alliance.
Co-optation? SURE. Your kind always co-opts outsider writers once they're safely no longer around.
As far as criticizing the corruption of American literature, yes, the ULA has done a lot. It's been the only real dissenting voice-- which is what so bothers you.
The ULA's actions include publishing our own books, no conglomerates involved thank you, as well as our decades of samizdat.
Your biggest mistake:
as always turning reality on its head, by claiming that we writers shut out of literature are advocating that we be the only writers. Not so! We've been fighting for a seat at the table.
We who have 0% of the literary pie are hardly in a position to dictate to those who have 99.9% of it-- people like you and your buddy posting on the thread below.
OF COURSE we're going to emphasize our strengths, our distinct AUTHENTICITY if you will-- that we're the more representative voice of the American public. Exceptions to the rule excepted of course.
Anyway, you've lost the game; checkmate approaches. Show for once in your life a commitment to honesty and truth. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

So, you are upset that the literary establishment publishes a foreign underground writer, but also brag that "no conglomerates are involved" in U.L.A. publication?

How have "my kind" co-opted Bolano? His work was published, not re-written and made more palatable. He increased the small audience he had publishing with New Directions (no conglomerates involved) by publishing with the conglomerate division FSG. It seems like a triumphant story to me, not a sad and corrupt one.

I've never once read a post in which you seemed pleased about the work (much less the success) of a writer who wasn't involved with the U.L.A. My "biggest mistake" is actually a reasonable assumption.

www.theamericandissident.org said...

Good entries, King. I just read through a whole bunch of them. I like your style of blogging... different from mine, which I suppose is a bit more stodgy. I need to loosen up a tad. This one on Bolano is real good. I agree with you entirely on it and wish I could get you to send me a nice little essay. Last week a librarian called the cops on me cause I was trying to get her to subscribe. Then the library issued a no trespass order which I received via certified mail. It's crazy how thin skinned so many citizens are and are encouraged to be. Democracy cannot thrive with so much thin skin. Best, G. Tod

King said...

To Tod:
Thanks much for your generous remarks.
I still believe that if dissident writers like ourselves act together, with coordinated voices, we can bring about real change in the house of American literature.
Certainly in any new or renewed vehicle of literary rebellion, whether in the ULA or elsewhere, you'll be a major player. We need new leaders. . . .

Literary said...

Some proof of the pro-Bolano conspiracy:

One of the innumerable lit blogs I read is "Cahiers de Corey" by poet Joshua Corey.

On September 21, 2007, back towards the start of the Bolano boom, Corey was plugging an essay by critic James Pate. Corey wrote:

"Pate's piece mentions Bolano by sheer coincidence, or not—-there's something in the air regarding this mysterious Chilean, something which makes him feel like an author I've already read though I haven't yet—-a phenomenon I last experienced years ago with W.G. Sebald . . . [S]omething tells me I must clear the decks for Bolano soon."

This is a fascinating first-hand glimpse of a literary conformist responding to the establishment's directives. Corey senses that Bolano's sudden ubiquity is not a mere "coincidence," but rather signals a shift in the establishment's party and/or product line.

He scrambles to board the Bolano bandwagon, indicating that acquainting himself with Bolano is not optional, but rather something that higher powers have decreed that he "must" do.

Also notice that Corey practically swears his allegiance to Bolano before even having read him, much as he apparently did with earlier "it" boy W.G. Sebald.

It's as if Corey has "already read" Bolano, because he already knows what his response will be. That response doesn't grow out of the reading; it is dictated in advance. Once Corey knows the party line on Bolano, actually reading him is merely a formality/afterthought.

King said...

To the intellectual coward who posts as Anonymous:
As always, you're very adept tactically-- able to rationalize your behavior and corrupt stance. It's all misdirection.
You keep the focus on Bolano, or on the perceived and real flaws of myself-- when we should keep our eyes on the ball, which is American literature itself.
Remember that I'm one voice out of ten thousand declaiming on literature. In the larger hurricane of noise, I have scarcely any influence at all.
Yet you blow the strength of my words out of all proportion!-- as if I'm excluding anyone, or adversely affecting poor Bolano.
I wish the reputation and writings of Bolano well. In his own country, he undoubtedly paid his dues. One can't kick against this.
The fact remains that his resurrection keeps the mandarins of American literaturenow from addressing more relevant issues-- including literary rebellion here, NOW.
I've in fact celebrated non-ULA underground writers like Aaron Cometbus. Making noise about the underground is what I do. Someone has to! That's my role. You expect me to be "balanced"; i.e., give equal noise to mainstream writers who already receive a ton of attention and largesse-- including, likely, yourself.
Does your conscience bother you?
I think it's fine if one or two dissident writers in the entire country can give their attention to outfits like the Underground Literary Alliance. That's perfectly fair.
We're trying to even the playing field just a smidgen.
Curious that you're always so hyper that the most privileged writers in America may not be getting their fair share-- at least here-- when in fact they get it everywhere else.
If a friend of yours is getting Guggenheims etc up the ass, why would she need my help?
It boils down to the Carthage Syndrome-- you want no dissent and no difference whatsoever. You treat the merest hint of it as a threat, and want to wipe it out. Not satisfied with 99% of the attention and influence, you want it ALL. Reveal your real identity and this will be well proven. Which is why you won't.
What the ULA has done, which Bolano did not do, is build an intellectual foundation for future rebellion-- and made starts in self-and-small publishing and distro in creating a truly new, independent, alternative American literature.