Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unperturbed by that appalling fact

Zebra, by Victor Vasarely
The following days were strange. It was as is until then we had all been dreaming and had suddenly woken to real life, although occasionally it seemed to be the other way round, as if we had all been plunged into a dream. And we went on living day by day in accordance with the abnormal conventions of the dream-world: anything can happen and whatever happens the dreamer accepts it. Movement works differently. We move like gazelles or the way gazelles move in a tiger's dream. We move like a painting by Vassarely. We move as if we had no shadows and were unperturbed by that appalling fact. We speak. We eat. But underneath we are trying not to realize that we are speaking and eating.
— from By Night in Chile, by Roberto Bolaño.

[Who'd've thought that Bolaño's description upon the toppling of Allende's government would be so apt in conveying how it feels for an 18-year relationship to end.]

I reread this book for book club; in fact, I'd suggested it. What strikes me now is that for a book whose jacket copy touts the "clandestine view of the strange bedfellows of Church and State in Chile," there's remarkably little church in this novel, and not very much politics either. The politics that are there are presented nonjudgmentally; it'd be impossible to peg the narrator, or the author, as a leftist or otherwise on the basis of this text.

It strikes me also that this novella is in many way 2666 in miniature, with its lit critics and German writers, spaceships (yes) and labyrinthine torture basements. "An assortment of fruits and vegetables worthy of Archimboldo." The cultivation of art alongside some horror.

What the narrator expresses in the excerpt above, as well as in some of the anecdotes throughout the book — in particular, that of the Guatemalan painter in Paris, and the shoemaker whose dream of Heroes' Hill became his own crypt — where lassitude meets boredom, and a glimpse of immortality catalyzes it into some form of existential ennui, is some infernal detachment haunted by a secret knowledge. "That's how literature is made."

"It's good to love. It's bad to be impressionable."

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