Germán List Arzubide, Ramón Alva de la Canal, Manuel Maples Arce, Leopoldo Méndez, and Arqueles Vela, Mexico, 1925.
I never really knew much about the journalistic works I'm about to talk about before making an exciting discovery at the library late last night, but I can now personally attest to the fact that the young Roberto Bolaño produced two super-interesting pieces on los estridentistas [the Stridentists] for the Mexican lit & arts mag Plural in 1976. Given all the wonderful discussions about The Savage Detectives that have taken place since last weekend's group read of the novel (see my post aquí and/or Rise's post here for links to the various participants' thought-provoking takes on the work), I thought I'd contribute a summary of the two Bolaño articles here as they are fascinating both for the window onto the future novelist's literary sensibilities they display and as possible blueprints for the oral history-like middle section of The Savage Detectives itself. Fun stuff.
Bolaño's "El estridentismo" ["Stridentism"], for some reason listed as "Los Estridentistas" ["The Stridentists"] in the magazine's table of contents, appears in Plural #61 (October 1976) on pages 48-50. In terms of its relation to the later writing of The Savage Detectives, it doesn't look like much at first: a one-page illustration with the beginning of the MANIFIESTO ESTRIDENTISTA, a second page by Bolaño discussing the movement and its origins in the era of the Mexican Revolution, and a third page dedicated to the conclusion of the Stridentist Manifesto. However, even a cursory look at the 23-year old Bolaño's text reveals some striking similarities to The Savage Detectives' preoccupation with the French and the Mexican avant-garde. "Yo no pienso, yo muerdo" ["I don't think, I bite"], it begins. "Para Alain Jouffroy, el artista de vanguardia es el primero en arriesgarse, el primero en tirarse al agua... Para Alain Jouffroy, y en esto se toca con los situacionistas, el artista de vanguardia es el que, por sobre todo, subvierte la cotidianidad, transformando y transformándose" ["For Alain Jouffroy, the avant-garde artist is the first to expose himself to danger, the first to throw himself into the water... For Alain Jouffroy, and in this he's connected to the Situationists, the avant-garde artist is the one who, above all else, subverts the day to day, transforming it and transforming himself"] (49, ellipses added). From this starting point in the just-post student protest present, Bolaño moves back in time to look at the "very heroic spirit" necessary to create a new poetry in the Mexico of 1921-1928, the fictional Cesárea Tinajero's heyday. Singling out Maples Arce's Andamios Interiores [Interior Scaffolding] and Poemas Interdictos [Banned Poems], List Arzubide's Esquina [Corner], and Luis Quintanilla's Avión [Plane] as "dancing stars" for their ability to help readers "comenzar a ver de una manera diferente la tradición de la poesía mexicana" ["to begin to see the tradition of Mexican poetry in a new light"], he then concludes: "Los estridentistas no pudieron sostener esas barricadas ácidas de la nueva poesía, pero nos enseñaron más de una cosa sobre los adoquines" ["The Stridentists weren't able to maintain those acid barricades of the new poetry, but they showed us more than a thing or two about the building blocks"] (Ibid.). After a republication of the humorous 1923 Stridentist Manifesto that follows ("Ser estridentista es ser hombre. Sólo los eunucos no estarán con nosotros. Apagaremos el sol de un sombrerazo" ["Being a stridentist is being a man. Only the eunuchs won't be with us. We'll turn out the lights on the sun with a big giant blow from our sombreros"]) (50), a note at the end of the piece declares that interviews with original Stridentists Arqueles Vela, Manuel Maples Arce, and Germán List Arzubide (all mentioned by name in The Savage Detectives) will follow in the next edition of Plural. For those who didn't want to wait, though, a round of Richard Brautigan poems translated into Spanish by Mario Santiago (Bolaño's friend and the model for Ulises Lima) could be found on the next few pages.
The promised interviews with the three now-elderly writers appear on pages 48-60 of Plural #62 (November 1976) under the title "Tres estridentistas en 1976" ["Three Stridentists in 1976"]. Full-page contemporary photos of each of the subjects accompany the work, which is broken down into three separate interviews with a short introduction for each segment penned by Bolaño. The opening intro could almost be a dress rehearsal for a description from The Part about Fate from 2666: "Si Maples Arce a veces me recuerda físicamente a Floyd Paterson y List Arzubide a Sonny Liston, Arqueles da la impresión de un Kid Azteca posando demasiado, demasiado sereno en un rincón eléctrico del ring" ["If Maples Arce sometimes physically reminds me of Floyd Patterson and List Arzubides of Sonny Liston, Arqueles gives the impression of a Kid Azteca posing far, far too serenely in an electric corner of the ring"] (49). That being said, if one were merely to remove the mini-introductions and the interviewers' questions from the text (NB: as in the 1998 novel, the flesh and blood interviewer sports company at times!), it wouldn't take any great leap of the imagination to see these testimonies as kindred spirits to the "interview fragments" found in The Savage Detectives some twenty years later. Here, for example, is a Quim Font-style half-crackpot pronouncement from Arqueles Vela (1899-1978) on the subject of his 1922 novella, La Señorita Etcétera [Señorita Etc.]: "Quiere decir que yo, sin conocer todas las renovaciones que hacía el gran creador de Ulises, y guardando las desproporciones repito, porque es un monstruo el Ulises de Joyce, y mi novela es un microbio, es el principio de lo que puede ser un animal antediluviano y antidiluviano, de antes del diluvio y en contra del diluvio..." ["By which I mean to say that, without knowing about all the transformations that the great creator of Ulysses was realizing, and--I repeat--aware of the distance between what Joyce and I achieved, because Joyce's Ulysses is a monster and my novel is a microbe, it's the beginning of what might be an antediluvian and antidiluvian animal, that is before the flood and against the flood..."] (50). Did I say Quim Font? Maybe the mezcal Los Suicidas-loving Amadeo Salvatierra character might be more like it; at the very least, it's interesting to note that the Spanish language version of Wikipedia lists Vela's full name as Arqueles Vela Salvatierra, which is quite a coincidence if nothing else. Stridentist founding father Manuel Maples Arce (1898-1981) is the next in line to be interviewed, and here's where the connections between Bolaño's 1970s journalistic work and his 1990s fiction are at their most intertextually juicy. As you'll recall, one "Manuel Maples Arce" has a speaking role in the oral history section of The Savage Detectives where he subjects himself to an interview by questionnaire but shuns being recorded by the four visceral realists in attendance because he claims that tape recorders bother him the same way that mirrors bothered Borges. The foul-mouthed Barbara Patterson curses Maples Arce to hell and back in the following monologue fragment, calling him "Mr. Great Poet of the Pleistocene" in one of her milder sarcastic moments (178, in the Spanish edition). In the Plural interview, the real Stridentist sounds remarkably like what you'd expect based on his fictional double--only nicer and totally undeserving of the Patterson scorn! Bolaño, calmly explaining the set-up to the interview: "Lo que aquí aparece son sus respuestas a un cuestionario que redactamos en su casa, ante su negativa de que pusiéramos a funcionar nuestra flamante grabadora" ["What appears here are his answers to a questionnaire that we drew up in his house when faced with his refusal to let us turn on our brand-new tape recorder"] (54). The fictionalized Maples Arce from The Savage Detectives: "Las preguntas típicas de un joven entusiasta e ignorante" ["The typical questions of an enthusiastic and ignorant young man"] (177). The Savage Detectives' Barbara Patterson, raging that she noticed Maples Arce's "bad faith" from the outset: "Y pasó lo que pasa siempre. Borges. John Dos Passos. Un vómito como al descuido empapando el pelo de Bárbara Patterson" ["And what happened is what always happens. Borges. John Dos Passos. Nonchalantly throwing up all over Barbara Patterson's hair"] (Ibid.) Bolaño in the Plural intro: "Hicimos la verdadera entrevista bebiendo un café turco que nos invitó, escuchándolo contar anécdotas bellísimas; mirando sus cuadros" ["We did the real interview drinking Turkish coffee that he offered to us, listening to him tell the most beautiful anecdotes, looking at his paintings"] (54). Although the real life Maples Arce does mention Borges a couple of times, the only possible hint of what could have riled up a Barbara Patterson type is the Bolaño-like namedropping the gracious host indulges in when asked a question about Stridentism's ties with Ultraism and other Spanish-American avant-garde movements: "Con todas las publicaciones de alguna significación en América teníamos canje. Envíabamos y recibíamos libros de todas partes, a veces con expresiones significativas. Recuerdos de esta fraternidad tengo con Alberto Hidalgo, Jorge Luis Borges, Oliverio Girondo, Miguel Angel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Angel Cruchaga Santa María, Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Jorge Carrerra Andrade, Salvador Reyes, César Vallejo, Mariano Brull, Salomón de la Selva, Eugenio Florit, Jorge Zalamea, José María González de Mendoza, etcétera" ["We had an exchange system with all the significant publications in the Americas. We used to send and receive books from everywhere, sometimes with significant dedications. I have memories of this brotherhood with Alberto Hidalgo, Jorge Luis Borges, Oliverio Girondo, Miguel Angel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Angel Cruchaga Santa María, Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Jorge Carrerra Andrade, Salvador Reyes, César Vallejo, Mariano Brull, Salomón de la Selva, Eugenio Florit, Jorge Zalamea, José María González de Mendoza, etc."] (56). I realize I probably didn't need to type all those names out twice, but it has recently come to my attention that almost all readers of The Savage Detectives really love a good list of authors! The third Stridentist interviewed by Bolaño in 1976 was Germán List Arzubide (1898-1998), a real revolutionary considering he's said to have fought alongside Emiliano Zapata. List Arzubide spends a good chunk of his interview time talking about the street fights and the altercations that Stridentist manifestos provoked among the establishment literati, but in one of my favorite quotes by him the then seventy-something professional agitator says something that could have come straight out of Arturo Belano's or Ulises Lima's mouth: "Habría que ver lo que se dijo aquí sobre el estridentismo," he begins. "Dos historias de la literatura mexicana existen, la de Jiménez Rueda y este otro, no me acuerdo su nombre, en donde se va una incomprensión absoluta" ["You'd have to see what was said about Stridentism here. Two histories of Mexican literature exist, Jiménez Rueda's version and this other guy's, I can't remember his name, in which there's a complete lack of understanding"]. "No puede entrarles de ninguna manera el movimiento estridentista. Para ellos es una gritería de muchachos que se divierten molestando a la gente. No pudieron entender lo que es en realidad la ansia de crear una vida nueva dentro de la poesía. Se necesita tener un espíritu heroico para, por encima de todas esas cosas; seguir trabajando" ["The Stridentist movement couldn't enter into the history books in any way, shape or form. For them it's just a commotion among guys who get off provoking people. They couldn't possibly understand what in reality is the anxiety to create a new life within poetry. You need to have a heroic spirit, above and beyond all these things, just to keep on working"] (60).