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Borges and Bolaño

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In a prior post, I speculated about possible reasons for Roberto Bolaño's propensity to create writer characters whose oeuvres remain opaque to the audience.  By depriving these writer characters of an oeuvre, Bolaño isolates them from the possibility of literary dialogue with other authors and texts.  I conjectured that Bolaño might conceive of such a writer character as a symbol of mortality.

Now, however, I have a new theory.  I think Bolaño's oeuvre-less writers are a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges, after all, is the author who (as I highlighted in another prior post) eschewed composing actual novels in favor of imagining them and then commenting on them.  Borges' short stories, moreover, overflow with texts that we don't see (e.g., John of Pannonia's tract against the heresy of the Monotoni in "The Theologians"; Borges' own fantasy tale about the serpent Fafnir in "The Zahir"), and with texts that we don't see completely (e.g., Benjamin Otálora's tale in "The Dead Man"; Christopher Dewey's tale in "The Man on the Threshold").  Without too much mental gymnastics, one could truthfully describe Borges as a novelist who, instead of having an oeuvre, merely has a commentary on his own imaginary oeuvre.

By his own account, Bolaño loved Borges.  In The New York Review of Books, Francisco Goldman quotes Bolaño saying, "I could live under a table reading Borges." 

Knowing of Bolaño's reverence for Borges, and now having read some of Borges' work, I'm inclined to see the protagonist of Bolaño's novel, 2666, the enigmatic writer, Benno von Archimboldi (a/k/a Hans Reiter), as a Borges-like figure.  Like Borges, von Archimboldi is a man with a split identity (see Borges' short story, "Borges and I"); like Borges, von Archimboldi is withdrawn from the world; like Borges, von Archimboldi writes imaginary novels; like Borges, others (especially critics and criminals) see von Archimboldi as a figure of power and redemption; and like Borges, von Archimboldi hasn't won the Nobel Prize.

Goldman interestingly cites Bolaño's observation that, "[his] life . . . has been infinitely more savage than Borges's."  Benno von Archimboldi's life, however, has seen its share of savagery.  Perhaps, in Benno von Archimboldi, Bolaño was offering his mentor - who'd always been cagey about his identity as "Borges" - another identity, one less bookish and less focused on the 19th century, one more infused with the lessons that Bolaño had learned from his own life.  In Bolaño's hands, Borges could be everything he wasn't in life: a physical presence, a soldier, a killer, a lover - everything, in fact, but a writer with an oeuvre of novels. 

Even a novelist with an extensive oeuvre like Bolaño's, it seems, has some limits.   

(Image of Roberto Bolaño from Maud Newton; image of Jorge Luis Borges from Wikipedia

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the The Man on the Threshold category.

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