Bolaño and the Literary Squabble
Not since Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude has a Latin American author managed to attain and capture such a wide international readership as has Roberto Bolaño. Stylistically the two are polar opposites, Marquez being the magical realist and Bolaño the diehard realist, more concerned with the mess of life, art, and the ways in which they intersect. Bolaño, aware of the keen differences between he and other top Latin American authors of his time, of any time, saw it fit to consistently direct insults at his counterparts and their work. For one, he dismissed Marquez as “a man terribly pleased to have hobnobbed with so many Presidents and Archbishops.”
Not unlike traditional athletics, fiction has always had a fierce element of competitiveness. Hemingway, for instance, viewed literature as a contact sport, frequently making known his determination to be the best to ever do it. In fact, he likened the art of serious writing to boxing. Speaking of fists, Norman Mailer once punched rival Gore Vidal to the ground. Bolaño, similar to Hemingway, similar to Salman Rushdie who publicly called John Updike’s novel Terrorist, “beyond awful”, took writing very seriously and was quick to dismiss anyone he felt was not worth their proverbial weight. It would not suffice to simply keep quiet and do his work. He hated Isabel Allende, too, called her a “scribbler”, said “she simply doesn’t know how to write.” He hated Octavio Paz to the bone.
The thing about Roberto Bolaño is that he was the writer’s writer. And he managed to, better than most, convey the realities of struggling novelists and poets, heroes and villains. And he did so with an urgency, an angst, seldom seen in the literary world. The novelist Jonathan Allen Lethem said, “Reading Roberto Bolaño is like hearing the secret story, being shown the fabric of the particular, watching the tracks of art and life merge at the horizon and linger there like a dream from which we awake inspired to look more attentively at the world.” Looking at the world more attentively, then, also meant looking at other writers more critically. Tell us how you really feel.
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