xposted: Apart from local diversity, which is important or vital, I see far more similarities across European, American (North and South), African, and Asian novels than differences. (Though maybe I’ve read too selectively.) It seems there’s more variance within place than across it. (I think science has determined that the same is true for race.) Underlying this is the socio-political commitments, no matter the place, the kind of basic ground-level commitments of the novel. And while those can vary vastly within a single city, given the interests or commitments of the novelist, they can and have also taken form of a global solidarity and movement, as Denning points out.
So, human nature is universal, socio-political and other commitments of novelists vary but can and have taken the form of an international, and yet too much discussion of novels goes on out of all broad socio-political or historical context, as if the form or genre were not a living organic socio-political (that is, historical) thing, a knowable creature in the overall socio-historical web. So often novels are treated like alien objects landed from outer space which must be hermetically probed and de-encrypted. This is flattering to the author but shows weakness or snobbery in the critic. Which then impoverishes thinking and making, including novel thinking and novel making, as it makes even utterly typical novels look freakish, strange, and more unique, promising, or interesting than they are, due to some idiosyncratic quirk or particular threaded element. And this suits short term or short sight marketing, which goes its own pathological way.
Which goes back to Denning:
“Like world music, the world novel is a category to be distrusted; if it genuinely points to the transformed geography of the novel, it is also a marketing device that flattens distinct regional and linguistic traditions into a single cosmopolitan world beat, with magical realism serving as the aesthetic of globalization, often as empty and contrived a signifier as the modernism and socialist realism it supplanted”
The vapid and pathological marketing of marginal or pathological or subservient novels, one is to be wary of, but the novels that do represent the “transformed geography of the novel” of liberation, that Denning gets toward, that’s where the discussion of novels would do well to be, for humanistic, intellectual, and artistic reasons all. To do otherwise, is to engage in discussion that is “often…empty and contrived,” trivial or marginal, or obscurant, however sometimes or seemingly complex.
2666 and the Bolano oeuvre by and large, including the short stories, fail to impress, though are not totally without interest. Not totally. As for The Kindly Ones, I get the sense it was written as a joke or as a sheerly careerist effort, or a dull combination of the two. The flood of commentary on the The Kindly Ones reads to me much like a Bolano novel, that is, as a stunted phenomena barely endurable or alive, a few lively or pointed moments aside. Overly harsh? I’m comparing the work of Bolano to the great and vital works that are neglected, that are where the greater life of the novel, of fiction, is really going on.
One can look at “The Part About the Crimes” as part 4 of 2666, or, as Bolano apparently wished, as a stand alone work. It hardly matters. Either way it’s the most vital thing there, and the greatest failure. It’s the most vital thing for obvious reasons, not least because the subject is so visceral and of serious magnitude. Unfortunately, because it is so relatively meaninglessly or minorly set forth (that is, contextualized) it is failed badly, if not utterly. What’s the point of the litany of gruesome horrific murders? Who knows? Could be this, that, or the others, depending on what you want to read into it, that is must read into it. There’s no reason a novel can’t posit great meaning to its subject, and yet then allow readers to read into _that_ at considerably more advanced levels. But here Bolano, as is typical in his work and in so much of the work celebrated by the establishment, fails in the former and thus effectively prevents, bars, vitiates the latter.
And I mean that criticism not primarily as a criticism of Bolano. Bolano did not make Bolano famous and prominent. The establishment did. So the main criticism goes to what the establishment values and celebrates (and reads, and allows published), first, and then to an analysis of his work, second. That said I think this secondary analysis is worthwhile too because it’s the sort of thing that goes too often unremarked, or decried: the importance of positing great meaning(s) to subjects, especially to dire subjects, before expecting readers to pay great attentions, or much attention at all.
Personally, I think Bolano is a mildly interesting minor author. Pretty tedious really. And that the adulation accorded him and other establishment stars is a far more interesting phenomenon, more worthy of study and critique. In many ways it can be more interesting, not to mention more worthwhile, to study what has not been published in any way, shape, or form (along with that which has been systematically marginalized) than to study what is regularly published and celebrated.