Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A brief discussion on why I love them

They are Roberto Bolaño and Patrick Hamilton, and they more so than any other author have been the objects of my obsession, or something like it.

There are writers whom I've admired, followed. It's only natural, I think, if you like a book to look to other books by that same author, and so I have done. In this way, various authors over the years have been curiosities, projects, familiar territory, intellectual challenges, bad habits, and, yes, guilty pleasures.

But: obsession!

Only Bolaño and Hamilton fit this category. A kind of deep-down necessity, like air. It produces something in my head that is undeniably addictive. And I'm not sure it's altogether good for me.

I've just finished reading Bolaño's Amulet (all quotations here are taken from this novella):

I'll tell you, my friends: it's all in the nerves. The nerves that tense and relax as you approach the edges of companionship and love. The razor-sharp edges of companionship and love.


Perhaps it's a function of age. Why is it that suddenly, on the eve of my 38th year I should encounter literary obsession, something profoundly visceral, the likes of which I've never known? It's a midlife literary awakening. Perhaps I'd brushed up against obsession when I was younger and didn't recognize it for what it was, let alone let myself react to it.

And when I heard the news it left me shrunken and shivering, but also amazed, because although it was bad news, without a doubt, the worst, it was also, in a way, exhilarating, as if reality were whispering in your ear: I can still do great things; I can still take you by surprise, you silly girl, you and everyone else; I can still move heaven and earth for love.


I've been trying to determine what these two have in common. (Help? Anyone?) The best I can come up with is, in a word, the breathlessness. These gorgeous sentences that swim circles round my heart and plummet to melancholy depths, leaving me gasping.

Saramago shares this quality of breathlessness to a degree, but his is intellectual, a matter of syntax, a hypnotic rhythm of a thought process. What Bolaño and Hamilton have, that Saramago does not (at least not in his fiction), are passion and desperation, Hamilton's fuelled by alcohol, Bolaño's by poetry.

To look for commonalities of theme? I don't think I can do that. Love, of a sort, yes. A romantic vision of something that doesn't quite exist, not quite. And the question of art; Hamilton consorted with London's theatre people, Bolaño with Mexico's poets. But truly, their greatest connection is the effect they have on me. Both dead, and soon I will run out of books of theirs to read for the first time.

And then I saw myself and I saw the soldier who was staring entranced at his image in the mirror, our two faces embedded in a black rhombus or sunk in a lake, and a shiver ran down my spin, alas, because I knew that for the moment the laws of mathematics were protecting me, I knew that the tyrannical laws of the cosmos, which are opposed to the laws of poetry, were protecting me and that the soldier would stare entranced at his image in the mirror and I, in the singularity of my stall, would hear and imagine him, entranced in turn, and that our singularities, from that moment on, would be joined like the two faces of a terrible, fatal coin.


This is not news, of course, that the cosmos and poetry are one and the same.

Where does this leave me? Finding the universe in a grain of sand. At last.
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