Author Archive

Bernardo O’Higgins

February 20, 2010 9 comments

Before we leave The Part About Amalfitano, we ought at least to mention that fascinating book O’Higgins is Araucanian by Lonko Kilapán. Why I have taken this upon myself is as much a mystery to me as Amalfitano’s ruminations on the book are.

After the last appearance of the voice that we read of, Amalfitano begins to think about telepathy. That leads his thoughts to the Mapuches or Araucanians, the indigenous people whom the Spanish could never whip. For the 300 years before Chilean independence, the Mapuche lived in their own autonomous region abutting that portion controlled by Spain. His train of thought leads him to reexamine this book, which had been given to him at some time previously as a joke.

Amalfitano’s ruminations on the book are framed by and interrupted twice by descriptions of episodes involving Marco Antonio Guerra.

Somehow, Amalfitano concludes that Lonko Kilapán is half Indian. Perhaps there is something in that name that gives this away. This is a “vanity book,” the publication of which was financed by its author. Apparently, Amalfitano knows this because of his familiarity with the nature of the particular publisher’s business in Santiago.

The book has typographical errors. In one case Amalfitano infers a typographical error by assuming that an event described by the author actually occurred in 1974 rather than 1947 as written. (1974 happens to be the year that Augusto Pinochet became President of Chile.) The footnotes are strange, in one case simply repeating information that is given in the text itself and in another case asserting that Prometheus stole the gift of writing from the gods.

The author purports to establish through 17 “proofs” that the mother of Bernardo O’Higgins, one of the founding fathers of the nation of Chile, was an Araucanian. It is historically accepted that O’Higgins was the illegitimate son of Ambrosio O’Higgins, a Viceroy of Peru, which included the region of Chile, and María Isabel Riquelme, a criolla woman of Basque descent. Marriages between peninsulars, as Ambrosio was considered to be, and criollos, people born in the new world, were prohibited without permission from the Spanish crown. For reasons unknown Ambrosio never sought that permission and never married Isabel. (I have tried to save you some time nosing around in the encyclopedia.)

The Prologue noticeably refers to the famously illegitimate O’Higgins as “legitimate” for the reason that the text itself suggests that his father actually married the Araucanian mother in a traditional Araucanian ceremony that included an “abduction ceremony” causing Amalfitano to infer abuse and rape by old Ambrosio. Page 217.

At the heart of Amalfitano’s ruminations on this book, there occurs a weird but interesting passage at pages 224 to 225. This by the way is where Cortázar’s “active reader” is mentioned. It is here that Amalfitano thinks that the active reader could entertain the strange proposition that Kilapán was simply a nom de plume for one of any number of Chilean politicians of all political persuasions, not just neo-fascists,

which wouldn’t be so strange either, this being Chile, in fact the reverse would be stranger, in Chile military men behaved like writers, and writers, so as not to be outdone, behaved like military men, and politicians (of every stripe) behaved like writers and like military men. . . .

I have taken to regarding all this as I do Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad, freely conceding that it is witty to those who find it witty without my being able to appreciate the wit because I am not familiar enough with the personalities who are being mocked. It is clear to me, though, that Bolaño is unloading some bile here regarding the Chilean literary establishment and, when one reads on, Chilean society generally.

But back to the Araucanian mother of O’Higgins. The text leads inexorably to the conclusion that not only was Bernardo O’Higgins a telepath because his real mother was Araucanian, but also Lonko Kilapán is a telepath, all of this because Araucanians were telepaths who kept the Spanish at bay through the use of this power to gather intelligence and communicated via telepathy with other Araucanians in other parts of the world. Whew!

It seemed clear to me that when all was said and done, Amalfitano had concluded that he himself was probably a telepath. Page 225. Why does that seem clear to me? I have not the faintest idea. He was startled and his hair stood on end for five seconds after he considered the similarity between his own mother’s name and the name of the historically accepted mother of Bernardo O’Higgins–nothing at all to do with the alleged Araucanian mother.

I am not contending that this is the key to The Part About Amalfitano by any means. I am not sure there is any such key. But if I am wrong and if Amalfitano’s hair stood on end for some other reason, what was it?

And do these passages not remind you Borges people of Borges? Does anyone else smell a sly mockery of Borges here?

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It’s All in the Details

February 19, 2010 2 comments

Here is what I mean when I say that there is really no macro approach to this part. It is all in the detail, detail that can affect us as readers if we are vulnerable. Our reactions are subjective, of course, but can be idiosyncratic in fact. That is the reason that it is difficult to make sweeping statements about The Part About Amalfitano. This also, by the way, makes it difficult to discuss.

Robert Bolaño can get into your head if you do not keep an eye on him. He fires off shotgun loads of rich images with the hope that a few hit you in the head. I have started to think that it would be a good idea not to get hit.

Admittedly, this is all about me. I am The Solipsist after all, and I spend a lot of time gazing at my own navel. But I write this as a public service. I write this as an object lesson. I have alluded to parts of this elsewhere, but here is the whole story.

I started this book while house-sitting for an acquaintance who was off in Mexico City on business. I was alone there for several days with an old dog. I read the book in long sittings in the sun in an interior courtyard bordered on two sides by a high wall with glass shards embedded along the top. This is a very common home security device here if you cannot afford an alarm system and bodyguards. A wall with glass shards on the top and a dog–preferably two dogs. I took in this book in big gulps, which was my first mistake.

In The Part About Amalfitano there was this:

He walked to the back of the yard, where his wooden fence met the cement wall surrounding the house behind his. He had never really looked at it. Glass shards, he thought, the owner’s fear of unwanted guests. The edges of the shards were reflecting the afternoon sun when Amalfitano resumed his walk around the desolate yard. The wall of the house next door was also bristling with glass, here mostly green and brown glass from beer and liquor bottles.

Page 187.

Nicely done, I thought. Shortly thereafter there was this regarding the book on the clothesline:

Well, pretend it’s mine and take it down, said Rosa, the neighbors are going to think you’re crazy. The neighbors who top their walls with broken glass? They don’t even know we exist, said Amalfitano, and they’re a thousand times crazier than me. No, not them, said Rosa, the other ones, the ones who can see exactly what’s going on in our yard.

Page 197.

That is when it first sunk in that Amalfitano’s yard was open to the outside. He does not live in a classic Mexican house closed in with high cement or brick walls with an interior courtyard. Like the one I was in.

Then this after the voice begs him not to consider the voice a violation of his freedom:

Of my freedom? thought Amalfitano, surprised, as he sprang to the window and opened it and looked out at the side yard and the wall of the house next door, spiky with glass, and the reflection of the streetlights in the shards of broken bottles, very faint green and brown and orange gleams, as if at this time of night the wall stopped being a barricade and became or played at becoming ornamental, a tiny element in a choreography the basic features of which even the ostensible choreographer, the feudal lord next door, couldn’t have identified, features that affected the stability, color, and offensive or defensive nature of his fortification. Or as if there was a vine growing on the wall, Amalfitano thought before he closed the window.

Page 202.

Feudal lord? The offensive or defensive nature of his fortification? How the hell can it be offensive? Okay. Anyway, it had become an ornament at night rather than a barricade. Fine. But I was taking breaks now and staring at the glass shards above me on the top of my wall, which does have vines growing on it. Instead of my navel for a little change of pace.

Now who knows what this all means. Amalfitano was spooked by that voice that was so real. Perhaps at this point the poor guy was thinking that if he had cement walls around his yard with glass shards along the top like any sensible Mexican’s house does,  that damned voice would not have gotten into his.

As for me, it was always in my mind that Rosa lived there, too. That was when I was still house sitting alone, and it could get a bit spooky at night. I was not sure that old dog–Zumm is his name–would be worth anything in a crunch. It was silly. But I’ll tell you, I have been through about 37 theories concerning Bolaño’s glass shards since, usually while staring up at them here.

Then came this:

Young Guerra’s voice, breaking into flat, harmless shards, issued from a climbing vine, and he said, Georg Trakl is one of my favorites.

Page 226.

I bumped into shards again in The Part About Fate.

They can indeed be pretty at night. Just last evening I saw colored shadows on the wall of a room, shadows of the glass shards on an exterior wall outside, backlit by a streetlight. Guess what I thought about. To tell you the truth, I would rather not think about it anymore.

All I am saying is, be careful out there in Bolaño land, young people.

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Amalfitano’s Fate

February 18, 2010 3 comments

Daryl in focusing on what I call Amalfitano’s impotence comes as close as one can to an overview of the man at this point in his life. There is really no macro approach to this part. I believe that it will take more form in our minds as we read further into this novel and look back on it.

I have been exchanging thoughts with others about Marco Antonio Guerra and the voice over in the forums at Las obras de Roberto Bolaño . In that context I hope to discuss Lola’s telepathy, Amalfitano’s bizarre epiphany that he himself is probably telepathic because of the similarity between his mother’s name and the name of Bernardo O’Higgin’s telepathic mother, and all that weirdness. I will not take that up here.

In anticipation of leaving The Part About Amalfitano, I return repeatedly to this reverie:

He imagined himself locked up in an asylum in Santa Teresa or Hermosilla with Professor Pérez as his only occasional visitor, and every so often receiving letters from Rosa in Barcelona, where she would be working or finishing her studies, and where she would meet a Catalan boy, responsible and affectionate, who could fall in love with her and respect her and take care of her and be nice to her and with whom Rosa would end up living and going to the movies at night and traveling to Italy or Greece in July or August, and the scenario didn’t seem so bad. [Emphasis mine.]

p. 212.

Now does this not echo Lola and her poet in that other asylum nicely? Perhaps Amalfitano can learn to blow smoke rings during his commitment, which was the poet’s primary pastime.

I like the man so much that I would prefer that he not get into that Las Suicidas mezcal too seriously. When I consider all the alternatives, it appears to me that his impotence will prevent him from ever leaving Mexico himself. He simply cannot bring himself to take any action now on any front. Of those alternatives I have concluded that the asylum scenario does not seem so bad to me either. . .as long as Rosa does get out of Santa Teresa and back to Barcelona.

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