Bolaño’s simonel


…it is equally clear, if it wasn’t already, that Bolaño’s piety is not to be distinguished from his irony. Is it a noble, properly quixotic folly to address one’s life to such a God? And does the Holy Father of left-wing Latin American poets – their socialism never built, their great poems never written – appear an incomprehensible, jesting sadist only because of the shortcomings of his adherents? Or is invoking this God just the height of their bullshit? The ambiguity lies over Bolaño’s own created world: to the extent that his fiction refuses to behave anything like fiction, is this a mark of its triumphant reality? Or (the depressive obverse to the mania of belief) is the world of Bolaño’s generation, and perhaps the world generally, too refractory to order and understanding to permit its transformation into literature, leaving inconclusive testimony the only honest form?

To these questions the answer would seem to be a ringing . . . simonel. In the first section of The Savage Detectives, García Madero wonders about the Mexican slang term: ‘If simón is slang for yes and nel means no, then what does simonel mean?’ Four hundred pages later, at the end of the middle section, a former poet named Amadeo Salvatierra (‘Like so many hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, I too, when the moment came, stopped writing and reading poetry’) recounts the drunken discussion he had one night with Lima and Belano when they had come to seek out any information he might possess about their vanished Cesárea Tinajero:

And I saw two boys, one awake and the other asleep, and the one who was asleep said don’t worry, Amadeo, we’ll find Cesárea for you even if we have to look under every stone in the north . . . And I insisted: don’t do it for me. And the one who was asleep . . . said: we’re not doing it for you, Amadeo, we’re doing it for Mexico, for Latin America, for the Third World, for our girlfriends, because we feel like doing it. Were they joking? Weren’t they joking?. . . and then I said: boys, is it worth it? is it worth it? is it really worth it? and the one who was asleep said Simonel.

more from the LRB here.