Fame and Literature, Irreconcilable Enemies


John Yargo in the LA Review of Books:

Bolaño’s biographers face a unique problem. The seductive popular image of him — something like a better-read Burroughs — is at odds with the voice of his fiction and his essays, which tends to be more generous, expansive, and penetrating than his image suggests. Even key events, like his arrest in Pinochet’s Chile or his “heroin addiction,” have been alternately credited as formative aspects of his personality, and discredited by his surviving family, friends, and rivals as erroneous planks of a legacy campaign.

What stands out in his fiction are the riotous voices, the contradictory and implausible characters, the restless equivocations and recapitulations: the polyphony. The first full-length biography in English, Bolaño: A Biography in Conversations, sidesteps “the authoritative biography” trap and attempts to recreate Bolaño-esque polyphony in telling the author’s own story. As the editor-in-chief of the Mexican edition of Playboy, Maristain conducted the last interviews, which appear with other conversations published between 1999 and 2005 in a handy collection, Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview. In those interviews, Bolaño clearly relishes talking about books and contradicting himself and his image. If the interviews are not confiding in the usual sense of personal disclosures, to his credit, he is far more intimate and vulnerable when answering a question about Cervantes than when other authors are sharing sensitive details about their families.

As in the essay collection Between Parentheses, the picture that emerges from the interviews and the biography is a Bolaño that draws from different sources than contemporary Anglo-American literary fiction incubated in the university workshop. In place of Hemingway, Borges and Nicanor Parra; Carver is substituted by Breton; Denis Johnson usurped by Jacques Vaché and Witold Gombrowicz.

In Latin American fiction, he had a similar effect, shifting the terms on which authors would be understood.

More here.