Literate Gangsters

“BY NIGHT IN CHILE” is another novel discovery by the great Chilean author Roberto Bolaño

By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño,  Chris Andrews (Translator) Paperback, 118 pages Published December 1st 2005 by New Directions (first published November 2000)
By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño, Chris Andrews (Translator) Paperback, 118 pages Published December 1st 2005 by New Directions (first published November 2000)

A mediocre Chilean poet, far more famous as a literary critic and priest, is dying. All his life he had been alone, Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix writes. He then proceeds to a monolithic paragraph of his laborious justification, in which it is unclear what the reproaches are and whom they are raised against. These are just some of the things that would instantly hit you in this dark Chilean noir piece.

The flow of the speech of the narrator produces digressions from digressions and meandering anecdotes, which seem to omit what really happened and are only implied by hints and unreliable narrations. This opens the door to the harsh conjectures: What about the libido of the priest, does he refer to the direct advances of the criticism paper Farewell? What happens when he spends “unforgettable hours” with another clergyman?

Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix is a windmill. Though it is so rough in his life, he will always be haunted by crises, fiasco feelings, and great dreamy misfortune without being able to name reasons.

And the real disaster is not far. The secret center of his eloquence is not the prohibited desire of the priest, but the aestheticist existence of the art critics and artist in politically highly troubled times. During the demonstrations against Salvador Allende, as a shortage and inflation spread, he reads Greek tragedies. When the military putsch is there and killed Allende, he pauses briefly, “a finger between the pages of the book that I read, and thought: What a peace.” And what does the Church do? She sends him to Europe during one of his unexplained crises to investigate how church buildings are damaged by pigeons. And that while Chile is burning.

It is about the obscenity of an existence based purely on art under dictatorship, about the relationship between art (enterprise) and violence, including church and violence. This obscenity culminates in a party of the “Literatengesindelsel”, when a guest finds in the cellar of the Privathaus in the search for the toilet a half-dead tortured: “And the avant-garde theorist quietly closed the door without making noise.”

Even the narrator himself is entangled in the regime as if he were only reading through the clause: upon request, as a fully educated man (and in no case a Marxist), he gave the putschists around General Pinochet tutoring lessons in Marxism-so that they could better understand the enemy.

The path of the author Roberto Bolaño was opposite to his figure. The literary late-only perceived, who barely experienced his international success through his early death in 2003, wanted to help build socialism under Allende, for which he was imprisoned under Pinochet for a short time. Then he left Chile forever, most of the time he lived in Spain. He had to pay the price of the exile.

His books, however, are far from being “engaged” in a pedagogical sense. Bolaño shows reality as surrealistically inspired monstrosity. “Chilean Nightmare” neither uses literature nor denounces it, the novel is the celebration and parody of art at the same time.

Bolaño’s irony sometimes works with strong breaks, but often it is hard to grasp. When the narrator meets Pablo Neruda at a young age, the portrayal of this scene combines his pathos with the author’s irony to a sort of tender mockery of enchantingly slate poetry. The great poet muttered in a deep voice words for no one I could not tell what happened, I was not there, where Neruda, a few yards away, was standing in the middle of the night, in the middle of the night Moon, surrounded by the equestrian statue, the plants, and the shrubbery of Chile, surrounded by the dark dignity of the fatherland. ”

In this friction lies also the art of convincing an ego-narrator as a mediocre poet, and at the same time to have written a glittering book on the highest floors. Over the narrator, in the second paragraph of the book, which consists of a single line, “the hurricane of shit” breaks, the one which he has tried to restrain for 156 pages. Great.


By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño, Chris Andrews (Translator) Paperback, 118 pages Published December 1st 2005 by New Directions (first published November 2000)


Unknown University (Roberto Bolaño, 2013)

The Unknown University by Roberto Bolaño, Laura Healy (Translation) Hardcover, 888 pages Published July 11th 2013 by New Directions (first published 1993)

Roberto Bolaño, in several interviews, confesses that his entrance to literature was through writing opoetry. In his books of pose and in his novels we find recurrent lyrical figures, who plot below the main story a pictorial, sensitive substory, which woul condense in the image of the Unknown University, a nightmare enclosure frozen in the time, like the myriad experiences that shake Amparo in her novel Amulet: locked in a bathroom while the dictatorship cracks down on the university system.

The book ‘The Unknown University’ crystallizes, thus, a whole poetic universe of which we have already had samples in several novels, in well-known stories – but with an overflowing freedom, almost childish, that resorts to constant images to build a global spectrum of terror. Why Bolaño stands out as the narrator par excellence of horror, of the ominous splinter of everyday experience, but that is there crouched within each gesture, awaiting the estrangement that awakens him. In this book, that horror is told in various ways. We are at the beginning of a series of poems, soon followed by an extract entitled People in Exile, in which a series of impressions describe the writer’s particular world, centered on his experience in Chile. These impressions, evidently, can be twinned with those of the cursed poet Rimbaud, but with respect to their contrast, since those of Roberto Bolaño are subsumed by the dismal, horrified atmosphere of a whole generation that belongs to that Unknown University of uncertainty and terror, the marginal and what is almost declared illegitimate.

These impressions are followed by an amazing story, embedded in a cloudy and crystalline atmosphere, which has certain eccentric and wonderful ideas, centering on the public bathrooms of Chile as the precincts that have the air mystery, tucked away in the dirty part of the city- but also the most authentic part, the one that promises a certain revelation, without ever presenting it except by means of indications.

The last poems are a warning. It is possible to say, to anyone who hesitates whether or not to read this book, whether or not to find Bolaño as a poet, if it is worth it (horrible criterion) or not to scroll through its pages, to read The Unknown University in reverse, to start with the last incantations, these last manifestos of Bolaño’s lyrical world. If there is any doubt about this book, you could say that you should start reading from page 391, finish it, go back to the beginning. It will be enough to convince yourself. To enter the immediate vicinity, in the endless corridors that run through the unknown university, the one that trained an entire generation, the silent ones, which have a peculiar anatomy, which chains the bodies to its wild, numbing, alienating rhythm and at times, terrible and true.

The Unknown University by Roberto Bolaño, Laura Healy (Translation) Hardcover, 888 pages Published July 11th 2013 by New Directions (first published 1993)