Archive for April, 2010

The following passage from Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives is blasphemous if you’re into literature. And has to be included on this blog. A further example of his fusion of the high literary world with characterization from the more base, coarse world of crime and detective literature, I nearly rolled over laughing the second time I read it (the first I was just a bit confused).

In the scene older visceral poet, San Epifanio, schools García Madero on his radical views of the world of poetry. And Epifanio is naming names, holding nothing back.

San Epifanio had said that all literature classified as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Novels, in general, were homosexual; I guess short stories were bisexual, although he didn’t say so.
Within the vast ocean of poetry he identified various currents of faggots, queers, sissies, freaks, butches, fairies, nymphs, and philenes. But the two major currents were faggots and queers. Walt Whitman, for example, was a faggot poet. Pablo Neruda, a queer. William Blake was definitely a faggot. Octavio Paz was a queer. Borges a philene, or in other words he might be a faggot one minute and simply asexual the next. Rubén Darío was a freak, in fact the queen freak, the prototypical freak.
“In our language, of course,” he clarified. “In the wider world, the reigning freak is still Verlaine the Generous.”
Freaks according to San Epifanio, were closer to madhouse flamboyance and naked hallucination, while faggots and queers wandered in stagger-step from ethics to aesthetics and back again….

…Anyway, the poetry scene was essentially an (underground) battle, the result of the struggle between faggot poets and queer poets to seize control of the word

… More names: Gelman, nymph; Benedetti, queer, Nicanor Parra, fairy with a hint of faggot; Westphalen, freak; Enrique Lihn sissy; Girondo, fairy;…” (Bolano, 80-83)

These name-signifiers point straight outwards to an actual world of American letters, which Bolaño shamelessly employs in the book, giving a fictitious description that is all-to-real for comfort. Reading like the script of a stand-up comedy skit directed at an audience of literary aficionados. North American readers will recognize Walt Whitman and William Blake off the bat. Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío and Mario Benedetti, the Uruguayan poet, are more accessible to Latin American readers. Even Girondo, who I have been translating on this blog, is included—a fairy.

Bolano's character, Epifanio, calls Rubén Darío, who has been praised as The prince of Castilian letters and Father of Modernism, a “fairy with a hint of faggot.” A comedic form of patricide?

Bolaño is known for poking fun at the literary world and those genealogies that spring forth out of it. His other novel, Nazi Literature in the Americas, is, and I think the New York Times says it best, “a wicked, invented encyclopedia of imaginary fascist writers and literary tastemakers… composed of a series of sketches, the compressed life stories of writers in North and South America who never existed, but all too easily could have.”

Bolaño makes an art of pointing fingers at an exclusive and elitist literary world. At the same time, still finding a way to make it oddly lovable.

Is The Savage Detectives a kind of dark realism, like that of North American writer Raymond Carver, a fantastic, postmodern literary-mobster novel, or, is it visceral realism, infrarealism…? I can’t put a finger on it.


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I have worked on the translation of the poem, “Record Of the Miasma” the second in Girondo’s collection The Persuasion of the Days (or would it be better A Day’s Persuasion) for some time. Still unable to complete it. Things have gotten very busy around here at New College. If anyone has any advice on the translation I would really appreciate the input. Here it is below accompanied by the original text. Thanks!


Este clima de asfixia que impregna los pulmones
de una anhelante angustia de pez recién pescado.
Este hedor adhesivo y errabundo,
que intoxica la vida
y nos hunde en viscosas pesadillas de lodo.
Este miasma corrupto,
que insufla en nuestros poros
apetencias de pulpo,
deseos de vinchuca,
no surge,
ni ha surgido
de estos conglomerados de sucia hemoglobina,
cal viva,
soda cáustica,
pis úrico,
que infectan los colchones,
los techos,
las veredas,
con sus almas cariadas,
con sus gestos leprosos.
Este olor homicida
brota de otras raíces,
arranca de otras fuentes.

A través de años muertos,
de atardeceres rancios,
de sepulcros gaseosos,
de cauces subterráneos,
se ha ido aglutinando con los jugos pestíferos,
los detritus hediondos,
las corrosivas vísceras,
las esquirlas podridas que dejaron el crimen,
la idiotez purulenta,
la iniquidad sin sexo,
el gangrenoso engaño;
hasta surgir al aire,
expandirse en el viento
y tornarse corpóreo;
para abrir las ventanas,
penetrar en los cuartos,
tomarnos del cogote,
empujarnos al asco,
mientras grita su inquina,
su aversión,
su desprecio,
por todo lo que allana la actitud de las horas,
por todo lo que alivia la angustia de los días.


This asphyxiating air that fills lungs
the longing anguish of freshly caught fish.
This stench that lingers and travels
that intoxicates life
and sinks us in viscose nightmares of mire.
This corrupt miasma,
that grows in our pores,
appetite of the octupos,
desires of the conenose,
do not rise,
nor have risen
of this conglomeration of filthy hemoglobin
cal life,
caustic soda,
uric piss,
that infects mattresses,
with soul rot
with its leprous gestures.
This murderous odor,
sprout of other roots
torn from other fountains.
Across the years of deaths,
of rancid and ancient dusks,
of gaseous sepulchers,
of subterraneous channels,
that have been compounding with pestilent juices,
the stinking debris,
of corrosive viscera,
las esquirlas podridas que dejaron el crimen,
the purulent idiocy,
the humiliation without sex,
the gangrene deceit;
until rising into the air,
spreads itself in the wind
and becomes physical;
opens windows,
penetrate into the rooms,
takes our pride,
spurns us to disgust,
while screams su inquina,
their hate,
their scorn,
for all that agrees to the hours,
for all that alleviates the day’s anguish.

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