viernes, 28 de octubre de 2011

Bolaño Infra. 1975-1977: los años que inspiraron "Los detectives salvajes"

Bolaño Infra.  1975-1977: Los años que inspiraron Los detectives salvajes (RiL Editores, 2010)
by Montserrat Madariaga Caro
Chile, 2010

A great little find for fans (and maybe even future fans) of a certain 1998 Roberto Bolaño novel, Bolaño Infra.  1975-1977: Los años que inspiraron Los detectives salvajes [Infra Bolaño, 1975-1977: The Years That Inspired The Savage Detectives] provides a short but thoroughly satisfying account of Bolaño's mid-twenties in Mexico during the time when the then aspiring poet was co-founding the Infrarrealist movement and raising hell with a gang of bohemian friends and sympathizers who would later become immortalized within the pages of The Savage Detectives as the "visceral realists."  While part of the fun in reading Bolaño Infra is getting to hear something from and learn something about many of the real life infras who inspired various Savage Detectives characters, an unexpected bonus for me was the faded snapshot of Mexico City's mid-1970s underground art and literature scene that eventually took shape as a result of Chilean journalist Montserrat Madariaga Caro's interviews and research.  For example, there are at least two wonderful anecdotes about how the infrarrealists targeted poet Octavio Paz for art terrorist attacks on multiple occasions for the crime of representing  establishment culture.  In the first such account,  José Vicente Anaya tells how "en una de esas reuniones donde discutían sus ataques, se le ocurrió ir con pistolas de salva a un recital de Octavio Paz para disparar y gritar: ¡la poesía ha muerto!  Pero la idea se desechó por un posible infarto del señor Paz" ["at one of those meetings where they planned their attacks, it occured to them to go to an Octavio Paz recital with starter pistols to shoot and to shout: 'Poetry is dead!'  But the idea was scrapped because of the possibility of Paz having a heart attack" (67).  In the second, Paz is remembered reading a poem of his called "La vista, el tacto" ["Sight, Touch"] that  plays with repetition of the word luz [light].  An unknown infra  begins to interrupt with shouts of "mucha luz, cuanta luz, demasiada luz" ["a lot of light, how much light, too much light"] to which Paz gets up, asks to see who's mocking him, and demands: "Qué es lo que tiene usted contra mí?" ["What is it that you have against me?"].  To which the infra replies: "Un millón de cosas" ["A million things"] before being ejected from the ironically titled "Encuentro de generaciones" ["Generational Encounter"] held at the UNAM bookstore (133). Great story!  In addition, there are several memorable word portraits of the young Bolaño.  Mexican novelist Juan Villoro, not an infra but a contemporary who became a friend of Bolaño's after meeting him in 1976, describes the Chilean wearing Groucho Marx glasses with hair "agitado por un viento imaginario que conservaría dos décadas después" ["agitated by an imaginary breeze that would still be preserved two decades later"].  "Imposible olvidar sus locuras, el entusiasmo, el disparate, su vitalidad para provocar conversaciones increíbles...  Roberto siempre fue muy exagerado y muy elocuente; sus elogios se disparaban hasta el cielo y sus críticas te llevaban al séptimo círculo del infierno, donde están los asesinos" ["Impossible to forget his craziness, enthusiasm, absurdity, his vitality for provoking incredible conversations...  Roberto was always very exaggerated and very eloquent; he'd praise things to high heaven, but his criticisms would take you down to the seventh circle of hell, where the killers are"] (101).  In one of the nicest surprises of all, an entire chapter is dedicated to the little-known Mexican poet Mario Santiago, the longtime best friend of Bolaño's who was the model for the Ulises Lima character in The Savage Detectives.  While details of the Bolaño-Santiago friendship were surprisingly affecting to learn about, one of the heads-up things that the author does with the material is to contrast how the ex-partners in crime approached life and literature after their infrarrealism days.  Bolaño, according to some who knew him in his pre-fame Mexico City youth, was a kind of sellout to the cause--a guy who wanted to be recognized as a writer so much that he turned his back on poetry and entered the world of the commercial novelist instead.  The eccentric Santiago, on the other hand, chose to live his life as a poem, circulating his poetry among friends and writing poems on apartment walls and other stray surfaces.  Which path was more honest?  To her credit, Madariaga Caro doesn't render a verdict on the question, instead leaving us with this:  "A fin de cuentas, los dos próceres del Infrarrealismo tenían la escritura tatuada en la sien.  Ambos vivieron intensamente y codificaron esas sensaciones en poemas, cuentos y novelas.  Murieron jóvenes.  Murieron sabiéndose deteriorados, como consumidos por sus letras pero aún así escribiéndolas" ["When all's said and done, the two leaders of Infrarrealism had writing tattooed on the brain.  Both lived intensely and codified those sensations in poems, short stories and novels.  They died young.  They died knowing themselves deteriorated, as if consumed by their literature but still writing it"] (124).  And this on what Bolaño hoped to achieve with his portrait of Mexico in The Savage Detectives: "Conoció a quienes hacen arte para poder vivir bien, y a los que viven mal para poder hacer arte; en consecuencia, aprendió la naturaleza dual de las cosas y concluyó que 'México es un país tremendamente vital, pese a que es el país donde, paradójicamente, la muerte está más presente.  Tal vez solo así, siendo tan vital, puede tener a la muerte tan presente'" ["He knew those who create art in order to live well and those who live poorly in order to create art.  As a consequence, he learned the dual nature of things and concluded that 'Mexico is a tremendously vital country in spite of the fact that it's the country where, paradoxically, death is most present.  Maybe only like that, being so alive, can it have death so present'"] (140).  An unexpectedly inspiring feat of research and one that's even more of a treasure trove for the fan on account of the "Primer manifiesto del movimiento infrarrealista" ["First Manifesto of the Infrarrealist Movement"] and some Bolaño-Santiago correspondence tacked on at the end.  (

Photo originally published in Pájaro de calor, ocho poetas infrarrealistas, 1976.
Top: Margarita XX, Mario Santiago, José Rosas Ribeyro, Roberto Bolaño, José Vicente Anaya.  Bottom: Rubén Medina, Dina XX, Ramón Méndez, Guadalupe Ochoa, Ramón Méndez.

Montserrat Madariaga Caro

10 comentarios:

  1. Hola, Richard. Según tu reseña, parece un libro muy interesante.

    Cuando vivía en México me contaron un par de anécdotas más de esa guerra entre los Infras y Paz. No sé si sean ciertas; en todo caso, son parte del mito.

    En una de esas historias, los infrarrealistas entran a una lectura en la que Paz está leyendo un poema en el que alitera con la palabra "luz. Bolaño y Cía., sentados al fondo, se ponen a gritar "¡mucha luz! ¡mucha luz!". Los echan.

    La otra —que me contó la misma persona— es más sencilla: nuevamente, Paz lee en una lectura pública; los Infras (¿cuántos de ellos?) entran, se sientan lo más adelante que pueden y se ponen a leer el diario.


  2. *Martín: ¡Hola! y muchísimas gracias por compartir esas anécdotas conmigo. Justo corregí mi post para incluir la de "¡luz...mucha luz!" (yo la había olvidado ayer noche pero el incidente está mencionado en el libro en la página 133), pero te debo otro aplauso para contarme la segunda anécdota sobre el leer de los diarios a la otra lectura de Paz. ¡Qué divertida esa historia tuya! En cuanto al libro, sí, no dudo en calificarlo como rebueno. Una sorpresa agradable. ¡Saludos!

  3. Poor Paz. To be honest, I like his poems quite a bit. But maybe they are not very avantgarde.
    I ordered my copy of the Bolaño and am looking forward to it. 2666 stares at me accusingly from a shelf... Eh well... it will have to wait a bit longer.
    I went to a book shop today and one wall was plastered with his novels. I saw a few I hadn't heard of before but don't know the titles now as they were all German translations. One was slim and looked interesting.

  4. *Caroline: I've not read Paz's poems that I can remember, but the prose I've sampled by him has been unobjectionable enough. Actually looking forward to reading his Sor Juana biography one of these days. I think he was just singled out for being emblematic of "official" Mexican culture, something the infrarrealists were rebelling against. P.S. I think it makes sense to read The Savage Detectives before 2666, so don't let that second book stare accusingly at you anymore! The two books are very different in tone and spirit, of course, but both are top shelf Bolaño that will let you experience him in peak form (he has some really fine shorter works as well, though). Cheers!

  5. Wow great find, just wishing I could read this without translation. As to Paz have enjoyed his poetry & I think Bolano's attitude was partly kicking against the established poets, whether as establishment figures or because they were successful. None of this distracts from Bolano as a writer & anything that can add light to his life has to be for the better. Will wait impatiently for a translation.

  6. *Parrish Lantern: Completely agree on both of your points about the young Bolaño's attitude and whether it does anything to diminish his own writings. Will have to check out Paz's poetry someday, too. Cheers!

  7. Ooooh this looks GREAT Richard! I also wish I could read this without translation...I can understand about one third of what I read in Spanish, which just isn't quite enough. In any case, thanks for bringing it to attention!

  8. *Emily Jane: If you can understand a third of what you read in Spanish, you're almost there. Don't give up yet! In any event, thanks for the visit and I hope you find this in translation someday then. It was enough of an eye-opener, by the way, that I'm now even more geeked up about revisiting The Savage Detectives in January!

  9. La mitología es una de las ciencias más inexactas de este planeta. Bolaño no vivía en México cuando sucedió el sabotaje a la lectura que Paz hacía, al lado de David Huerta durante el ciclo "Encuentro de generaciones", que se realizó en la librería universitaría de Insurgentes, en el DF, hacia 1979. De hecho tampoco estuvo Mario Santiago esa noche.

    1. ¡Hola Erre! y muchas gracias por la información sobre la fecha del llamado "Encuentro de generaciones" en el DF. Como apunta Martín Cristal en su comentario arriba, no se sabía si las anécdotas fuesen la verdad o la mitología (y, por su parte, la autora del libro sobre Bolaño escribió de un Infra sin nombre como el provocador de Paz y no de Bolaño sí mismo). De todos modos, gracias por la visita al blog y por los datos. ¡Saludos!