Vanishing points - Page 4

Real change, or changing the subject — the search for truth within Roberto Bolaño's epic 2666

It could be written." For Bolaño, the search for justice is partially about who can be seen in print.

At a literary conference in Seville six months before his death, Bolaño joked that his literary stock might rise posthumously. Sure enough, Bolaño the man has, ironically, vanished after his untimely death, lost in the fog of fame in the English-speaking world. Mainstream critics call his work "labyrinthine" — perhaps English-language critics' stock adjective for Latin American writers — in a rush to "discover" a new Borges. Bolaño was a high-school dropout who bragged of discovering literature by shoplifting books. He claimed to be a former heroin addict who hung out with the FMLN in El Salvador. His genius deserves comparison to the great Borges, but it's safe to say that, unlike Borges, a literary lapdog of Argentina's generals, Bolaño would never have addressed the military leaders of the fascist Argentine coup as "gentlemen." Bolaño wrote without a net, over the abyss of atrocity into which his generation vanished. He did so in an effort to make a literature that recorded for all time where the bodies were buried. As a female reporter in 2666 says, "No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them."

The dangers of believing false narratives should be evident by now. In the wake of our current financial collapse, it is now widely understood that the U.S.'s sense of itself as the richest and most powerful nation in the world has been kept artificially afloat in the recent past by the import of cheap goods and credit from China. These cheap goods are manufactured under labor and environmental conditions much like those of Bolaño's maquiladoras — conditions we tell ourselves we would never allow here at home, yet which are vital to our economic survival. Dealings with China have, instead, spread repressive tactics in reverse back to corporations from the United States, such as when Google memorably agreed to remove all reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from its Google China site.

There is a crucial difference between hope and self-delusion. In its dogged search for uncomfortable truth, 2666 creates a hard-won hope that is different from the way in which that word manifests on the campaign trail. It respects the hope that truth matters, that staring it down can provide the shock of self-awareness that makes real change possible.

In the meantime, there is the hope of literature itself. In 2666, Bolaño devotes a scene to one of his disappeared characters, a Spanish poet who lives out his days in an insane asylum in the countryside. The poet's doctor — who in a classically deadpan Bolaño twist tells us he is also the poet's biographer — reflects on the asylum the poet has vanished into. "Someday we will all finally leave (the asylum) and this noble institution will stand abandoned," he says. "But in the meantime, it is my duty to collect information, dates, names. To confirm stories." *

Erick Lyle is the author of On The Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of The City, out now on Soft Skull Press.

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