30 setembro 2009

International Translation Day 2009 / Dia Internacional da Tradutora ;)

Working Together
The 2009 theme for International Translation Day invites translators around the world to take a fresh look at why and how it pays to join forces.
The days of the fiercely solitary translator working in splendid isolation are numbered, say many industry observers. Not that massive collectivization is in sight: in this language sensitive profession—or, more accurately, set of professions—a large share of added value remains intensely personal.
But technology and changing markets have broken down barriers. Today translators from around the globe can plug into a truly worldwide conversation that casts new light on traditional ways of working—and creates new opportunities. Even as the arrival of more demanding clients, more complex projects and tighter deadlines underscores the  advantages of exchanging ideas, information and best practices.
• Personal interaction between translation providers and buyers leads to better understanding of a text’s purpose and increased awareness of the impact an outstanding translation can have. From literary and technical translation to interpreting, terminology, subtitling and more, there’s no doubt that clients who get involved in the translation process—be they across the road or five time-zones away—make for better quality texts, and, ultimately, better working conditions.
Q: How can translation users best be brought into the process?
• New translation standards emphasize the importance of revision. At its most basic, this means four-eye review, but in practice far more people can be involved.
Q: Are too many cooks spoiling the soup, or is revision an opportunity for stimulating exchange among peers?
• Multilingual projects are on the rise, encouraging coordination and interaction between language teams; a solution found in one language pair may provide insights for partners around the globe. And as more and more projects require linguists to join forces, project management has taken on new importance. Q: How can translation providers adopt, adapt or create methods for working together quickly and efficiently?
• Practice meets theory meets information management: increasingly, translators and interpreters draw on the work of terminologists and, in some cases, academics, to better serve monolingual exporters and publishers, promote cultural exchange and enrich scientific debate.
Q: How can the insights of this multitude of players, who once worked in relative isolation, be harnessed to best effect?
• For professional associations and other bodies serving the translation industry, access to once-remote contacts has never been easier. Cross-border contacts are an email away, and
networking expands the reach and influence of institutions in ways that past generations of linguists could only dream of.
Q: How are the most innovative associations using these new resources to raise professional standards and enhance their clout?
These and other challenges will be in the spotlight in 2009, as participating associations examine how “Working Together” in new ways, both formal and informal, can enhance translators’ ability to use the power of language to help people around the world live, learn
and work together.
The International Federation of Translators is the world federation of professional associations bringing together translators, interpreters and terminologists. It has 107 members in over 60 countries and represents more than 80,000 professionals.

28 setembro 2009

Oren Lavie

So amazing that even the details are perfect:
on his website, the pages of the lyrics book actually rustle when we move them :)

Moby Dick's very, very short version (Melville died 118 years ago today)

Ishmael: Whaling’s cool.
Queequeg: Tattoos are cool.
Starbuck: Coffee’s cool.
Ahab: Fools! Stop yer philosophizin' and help me fight this fish.
Moby-Dick (rising from waves): Screw you, Pegleg!
All: At last! Some action!
Moby-Dick: [Crash! Chomp! Blow!]
All: Aaargh!
Ishmael (later, alone, clinging to wreckage): Whaling’s cool . . .


This because that Kazakh filmmaker wants to remake Moby Dick, 'cause of special effects and all... Fine by me :)

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

An Introduction, by John Krasinski

When I declared that I would “find myself”1 in college, I had absolutely no idea what that would entail. I was a normal-ish kid from the suburbs of Boston: pretty straitlaced, optimistically unfocused, and feeling like I had won the lottery in going to a school that surely had made some mistake in admitting me. Nonetheless, I was determined to take this gift of an opportunity head-on, expanding my brain and my horizons—and all without the assistance of hallucinogenic drugs! This enthusiasm led to my first theater audition and, I’m happy to say, my first part—not exactly the one I tried out for but rather the role no one wanted. And so after being asked by the director if I was “sure,”2 I entered the stage—as I did this new life’s journey—as a six-foot-three transvestite in Tennessee Williams’s Camino Real. My college experience maintained that special3 trajectory throughout my four years.
     High school, for me, hadn’t been much more than classes and sports. By graduation I had heard an estimated ten songs that weren’t played on mainstream radio; my favorite indie movie4 was the no-brainer Say Anything; and when asked what books I’d read I proudly recited the school’s yearly reading list. I don’t mean to say I was clueless, necessarily, but more like I was unaware of the inspiring power of—
     OK, I was clueless.
     My college education was more intense. Sure, there were the standard university classes—English, math, various sciences—and then there were my real classes,5 which ranged from what I called “Indie Music History”6 to “Play-Reading 101.”7 As the semesters flew by, I dedicated increasingly more time to the latter set than to the former. Long story short: I was quickly becoming a Frankenstein’s monster of extracurricular knowledge. And I was loving every minute of it.
     One day a good friend told me that his favorite book was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I picked up a copy, and what scared me off at first wasn’t its nearly eleven hundred pages but the sheer damn weight of the thing. As I attempted the first thirty pages8 it was immediately obvious both that this author was operating on a much higher level than any other artist I was downloading from and that there was no way in hell I had the cerebral capabilities to complete the book.9 So for the time being I continued along with those artists who greatly inspired me without necessarily giving me a nosebleed—like Nick Drake and Hal Ashby.
     Long story long: At the end of junior year my friend Chris was putting together a staged reading at the student theater. It was to be one night only, and he would cast it with the Big Guns of the university theater world—one of which I wasn’t. But I could dream! I vividly remember eating dinner in the cafeteria on the day of casting; as I grew more sure I wouldn’t be part of his plans, I nervously shoveled food into my mouth without actually tasting anything. And then, as if straight out of an eighties movie—and seemingly in slow motion—Chris appeared and told me that he had only one part left and that he’d like me to play it. This was what I had trained for! 
     The project was called Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and we would be reading from the book of the same name by David Foster Wallace. Once again I was confronted with Wallace’s true genius, as well as the worry that my stomach would be unable to withstand the large quantity of Advil I guessed I would need. But at least in comparison to Infinite Jest, this book was more accessible, more identifiable. We all rehearsed our particular interviews separately, meeting up as a group only on the night of the performance to go over minor choreography and staging.
     The tiny theater space was packed!10 Among the first interviews to be performed was mine, wherein one man recounts to another the story of the day he arrived at an airport, on business, to find a near-hysterical woman in the gate area. She had been waiting for the man of her dreams to return from Tulsa, where he had vowed he was going to break off his engagement to another woman so as to return to start a new life with her. He never showed up. The interview was one of the most well-written pieces I’d ever read and some of the greatest material to perform. The images were vivid, the dialogue flawlessly funny and in the exact same moment brutal and moving. It is, to this day, one of the most exciting things I’ve had the pleasure to be part of.
     Then the rest of the interviews came, and for the next hour or so I witnessed an awe-inspiring night of theater. Each interview was a tremendous performance, each actor creating a completely unique man armed to the teeth with prodigious wit and shattering insecurity, ruthless honesty and borderline hateful ideals. Some in the audience had tears rolling down their faces, while others walked out. Wallace’s writing was the very thing I had started college hoping to find, and without being overly sentimental I can say this night was the defining moment when I realized I wanted to give an acting career a shot.11 I had glimpsed the promised land of inspired art and understood the impact it could have on an audience.
     And that, in the end, is my idea of David Foster Wallace—whether his work moves you to tears or to angry retreat, his talent forces you to think about things, to confront things, and hopefully to talk about things.

  1. I never actually said “find myself” out loud.
  2. I was, in fact, given a chance to rethink my decision, while the director said things like “an important part” and “You won’t have to wear heels.” In the end, I had to wear heels.
  3. Special meaning I had a kind of “Em . . . wait. What?” feeling while at the same time following the “It can only get better” bromide.
  4. My definition of indie at the time was anything I couldn’t find on the New Releases wall at Blockbuster.
  5. I actually did have pseudo assignments.
  6. This class would be more accurately titled “Are You F***ing Serious You Haven’t Heard These Guys???”
  7. Again, more correctly called “How Have You Not Read Angels in America???
  8. This required three full days and one bottle of Advil. 
  9. I did finally finish Infinite Jest! And the whole thing required only three bottles of Advil.
  10. Supposedly, over a hundred people were turned away. And while I’m sure that’s a complete fabrication, it did wonders to intensify the “night of nights” idea I had in my head.
  11. Nearly a decade later, I’ve written and directed a film adaptation of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, which was itself exactly like my college experience—another crash-course education resulting in one of the most defining episodes of my life. The film opened in theaters September 25.

Bolañomania, Sí... ;) (and acknowledging the translator's role :)

Short-stories published in The New Yorker:

Clara (Aug, 4, 2008)

None of these would be possible without Chris Andrews, translator, interviewed here:

(summer 2007)

As the translator of the first four books by Roberto Bolaño to appear in English, Australian Chris Andrews has played a key role in bringing one of the Spanish language’s major 20th-century voices to American readers. A member of the language department of the University of Melbourne, Andrews’s translation of Bolaño’s Distant Star won the Vallé-Inclan Prize in 2005. In addition to Bolaño, Andrews has translated novels by other Spanish-language writers, including César Aira. Andrews’s translation of Nazi Literature in the Americas, Bolaño’s first major novel in Spanish, will be published by New Directions in 2008.

Scott Bryan Wilson: When I read Roberto Bolaño I never feel like or notice that I’m reading a translation. Same for writers like César Aira, Javier Marias, Thomas Bernhard, Raymond Queneau. Is it that these authors inspire enthusiastic translators or do their voices just burst through no matter what?

Chris Andrews: I think the second explanation is right. All the authors you mention have very strong and distinctive voices, and in the cases of Bolaño and Aira, they are also quite robust, which is not to say that they’re easy to translate, but that, as long as the translator doesn’t get in the way too much, the voices will come through loud and clear. I’m glad you feel that way about Queneau too; he’s one of my favorites!

SBW: What do you mean by the translator getting in the way too much?

CA: I mean producing a translation that is unduly distracting, which I guess can happen if it isn’t quite complete, so that the syntactic patterns of the source language creep into the target language a bit too much and make the translation more syntactically odd than the original, or if the translation goes over the top and becomes showy. But I don’t much like pronouncing on this sort of thing because I’m no doubt guilty of under- and over-translating myself, and the whole business of translation studies can be a distraction from the works themselves, which are way more interesting in the end.

SBW: Do you encounter problems or pleasures with translating Bolaño that you might not encounter with other writers or texts?

CA: One difficulty that crops up frequently in Bolaño is how to translate regional familiar language: Mexican or Chilean slang, for example. If you use regional terms in English it can be confusing for the reader, because they will hear the Chilean or Mexican character as an Australian, say. So you have to try to respect the level of informality, make the expression fit with the character as he or she has been constructed, and rely on other markers of locality in the context. Just occasionally, I think, the best solution is to leave the word in Spanish, but only very occasionally (as with chido in Amulet).
Another difficulty is the syntax of Bolaño’s long sentences with many subordinate clauses. Those sentences often require quite a lot of rearrangement in English.
The pleasures are many! There’s a paradoxical energy in Bolaño’s prose that I find stimulating even when I’m going back over a passage for the nth time. Paradoxical because he is often telling stories of failure, loss, and damaged lives. I can’t help feeling that some of the improvisatory energy that went into the composition is transmitted through the text to the reader.
Another pleasure is seeing the books go out and find the appreciative readers they deserve, in a new language.

SBW: You’ve also translated two novels by César Aira, An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and the recent How I Became a Nun. To me he’s just as exciting a writer as Bolaño, although they’re also quite different. Aira’s a little funnier, for one thing, maybe a little less autobiographical (though both authors show up in their books in various forms). What are the differences you find when translating the two of them?

CA: I agree. I think Aira is just as exciting, and quite different. Aira’s style, in most of his books (How I Became a Nun is exceptional) is limpid and simple. The sentences don’t have surprising shapes. But the stories take extremely surprising turns, sometimes jumping from one genre into another, leaving just about everyone wondering why. The most flabbergasting example is a novel called La Prueba (The Test), which begins as a realist, psychologically acute story about how a pair of lesbians in Buenos Aires try to pick up a shy high school girl, then swerves violently to become a kind of B-grade action movie full of graphic violence. Once you’re addicted to Aira, you can be disappointed by a swerve like that, but somehow you prefer being disappointed by him to being satisfied by many other writers.
You’re right too, that Aira is less autobiographical. Many of his books are perversely pseudo-autobiographical: he uses the first person and talks about his childhood in Coronel Pringles, for example, or his life in the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires, but if you compare what these books say about his background, his family, his marriage and so on, they are contradictory. He’s not just creating a fictional persona for himself but fictionalizing his life differently each time, and never signaling where fact ends and fiction begins. So the reader is always wondering how “seriously” to take what he says. The same goes for his speculations and theorizing: some of it seems serious to me (and fits with what he has written in his essays), but other speculative digressions seem to be fictive theory, a kind of irresponsible, joyous playing with concepts. Again this can leave you flummoxed. Reading Aira is great fun, but not always a comfortable experience.
Bolaño, on the other hand, with his alter ego Belano, and the B of the stories, creates a fairly coherent fictional self, and one of the pleasures of reading his work is coming across new pieces of information about the life of Bolaño-Belano-B and fitting them into the unfinished puzzle. For example, in the book of stories and fragments that was just published in Spain (El Secreto del mal), there’s an interesting piece about him soaking up the sun on a beach in Catalonia between doses of methadone.

SBW: I feel like in the past year or two there’s been a really wonderful onslaught of translated novels by Spanish-language writers. I picked up on Javier Marias first, which led to Bolaño and then Aira. Reading through all of their available books has been one of the most rewarding, exciting times for me as a reader–discovering three unbelievably talented writers who all have fairly large backlists of yet untranslated work. It makes me think of all the great writers that we’ve not even heard of in the English-speaking world. Who are the big ones we’re missing out on? What do we have to look forward to?

CA: Ah, I can only give very subjective opinions about that. There are two recent novels that I think are wonderful, and I would like to see them come across the translation barrier. First Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s La Orilla Africana (The African Shore), about a Colombian adrift in Marrakech. Rey Rosa is a Guatemalan writer, and some of his books have been published in English: the first books of stories were translated by Paul Bowles, and recently New Directions brought out The Good Cripple, translated by Esther Allen. He’s a master of ellipsis, and has found a form–the short novel in short chapters–that maximizes his power to disturb and intrigue. The other novel is El Testigo (The Witness) by Juan Villoro, an excellent Mexican writer. It’s a big, complex book about the state of the Mexican nation after the end of the PRI’s long reign. I recently translated a chapter of it for the journal Common Knowledge.
And there are lots and lots of others . . . a book I just read that impressed me was Antonio José Ponte’s La Fiesta Vigilada (Party Under Surveillance), which is a mixture of essay and autobiography, and meditates elegantly on surveillance, censorship and culture in Cuba.
Each country in Latin America has its literary culture and its interesting writers, but sometimes it seems there is a limit to the number that can come to be well known internationally, as if Mario Vargas Llosa had just about used up the quota for Peru, say.
It seems to me that interesting things are happening in Argentina: bitter polemics, but also lots of good writing, by novelists like Alan Pauls, Guillermo Martínez, Daniel Guebel and Pedro Mairal.

SBW: What are you working on now? Do you think the rest of Bolaño’s backlist will be translated? And César Aira has written over thirty novels, but only three have been translated into English. Is there hope for more of his work as well?

CA: At the moment I’m translating Nazi Literature in the Americas, Bolaño’s first major novel, and the matrix for a lot of his later fiction. It takes the form of a biographical dictionary of American authors who flirted with, or committed themselves to, fascist ideologies. Given the interest in Bolaño in the U.S. now, I think the rest of his books will be translated eventually. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux has the rights to the two supersize ones, The Savage Detectives and 2666, and New Directions has the rights to most of the shorter ones.
As for César Aira, New Directions is planning to bring out Ghosts and Varamo (neither of which is at all like the three published so far), and after that I dearly hope they’ll acquire the rights to other titles, like La Villa (Shantytown), El Tilo (The Lime Tree), Yo era una niña de siete años (I Was a Seven Year Old Girl), Ema, La Captive (Ema, the Captive), La Prueba (The Test) . . . the number and variety of them is bewildering.

Another interview here, at The Mookse and the Gripes

Wishlist, yes ;)


A review that compels you to read: Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives

The Visceral Realist

Over the last few years, Roberto Bolaño's reputation, in English at least, has been spreading in a quiet contagion; the loud arrival of a long novel, "The Savage Detectives," will ensure that few are now untouched. Until recently there was even something a little Masonic about the way Bolaño's name was passed along between readers in this country; I owe my awareness of him to a friend who excitedly lent me a now never-to-be-returned copy of Bolaño's extraordinary novella "By Night in Chile." This wonderfully strange Chilean imaginer, at once a grounded realist and a lyricist of the speculative, who died in 2003 at the age of 50, has been acknowledged for a few years now in the Spanish-speaking world as one of the greatest and most influential modern writers. Those without Spanish have had to rely on the loyal intermittence of translation, beginning with "By Night in Chile" (2003), two more short novels — "Distant Star" (2004) and "Amulet" (2007) — and a book of stories, "Last Evenings on Earth" (2006), all translated by Chris Andrews and published by New Directions.

The best way to offer a sense of this writer might be to take a scene, and a sentence, from "By Night in Chile," still his greatest work. The book is narrated by Father Urrutia, a dying priest and conservative literary critic, a member of Opus Dei, who comes to emblematize, by the novella's end, the silent complicity of the Chilean literary establishment with the murderous Pinochet regime. In one episode, Father Urrutia is sent to Europe, by Opus Dei agents, to report on the preservation of the churches there.

This is where Bolaño's imagination suddenly expands into a magical diorama. Father Urrutia discovers that the chief threat to the churches comes from pigeon excrement, and that all over Europe churches have been using falcons to kill the pests. In Turin, Father Angelo has a fearsome falcon called Othello; in Strasbourg, Father Joseph has one named Xenophon; in Avignon, the murderous falcon is named Ta Gueule, and the narrator watches it in action:

"Ta Gueule appeared again like a lightning bolt, or the abstract idea of a lightning bolt, and stooped on the huge flocks of starlings coming out of the west like swarms of flies, darkening the sky with their erratic fluttering, and after a few minutes the fluttering of the starlings was bloodied, scattered and bloodied, and afternoon on the outskirts of Avignon took on a deep red hue, like the color of sunsets seen from an airplane, or the color of dawns, when the passenger is woken gently by the engines whistling in his ears and lifts up the little blind and sees the horizon marked with a red line, like the planet's femoral artery, or the planet's aorta, gradually swelling, and I saw that swelling blood vessel in the sky over Avignon, the blood-stained flight of the starlings, Ta Guele splashing color like an Abstract Expressionist painter."

Much of the most successfully daring postwar fiction has been by writers committed to the long dramatic sentence (Bohumil Hrabal, Thomas Bernhard, W. G. Sebald, José Saramago). Bolaño is in their company: the quotation here is broken off of a phrase that takes about a page in the book. The musical control is impeccable, and one is struck by Bolaño's ability to nudge on his long, light, ethereal sentence — impossibly, like someone punting a leaf — image by image: the falcon, the red hue, the sunset, the dawn, the dawn seen from a plane, the femoral artery, the blood vessel, the abstract painter. It could so easily be too much, and somehow isn't, the flight of fancy anchored by precision and a just-suppressed comedy. (In Spain, amusingly, the falcons are too old or docile for killing, and the priests have none of the dangerous elegance of their French or Italian counterparts.) Likewise, this fantasia about falcons in every European city might have been thuddingly allegorical or irritatingly whimsical, and isn't. It is comically plausible, and concretely evoked; the surrealism lies in the systematic elaboration of the image. The Catholic Church is likened to a bird of prey, murderous and blood-red in its second capital, Avignon, and we are free to link this, without coercion, to the Chilean situation and the ethical somnolence of Father Urrutia.

That long sentence is a poem, really, proceeding by foliation; in fact the entire novella is a poem of a kind. It will not surprise you to learn that Roberto Bolaño wrote poetry before he wrote fiction. Even in a long novel like "The Savage Detectives," his favorite unit is the discrete, Browning-like monologue, not the extended scene. He was born in Chile in 1953, but came of age in Mexico City, where his family had moved in 1968. Returning to Chile in 1973 to help with the socialist revolution as he saw it, he was caught in the Pinochet coup and briefly arrested. He went back to Mexico, where he published two books of verse, and then began a long period of displacement and travel and drug-taking and odd jobs in France and Spain. He died of liver failure, in Barcelona, a far violin among near balalaikas (to adapt Nabokov's words on a fellow exiled writer). He knew time was short: the fiction that is currently being translated — there are more novellas to come, and a huge novel, "2666," will appear in English next year — was written in a spasm of activity in his last years.

"The Savage Detectives" was published in 1998, but its heart belongs to the Mexico City of the mid-1970s, when Bolaño was an avant-garde poet bristling with mad agendas. Like much of his work, the novel is craftily autobiographical. Its first section is narrated in the form of a diary, by a 17-year-old poet named Juan García Madero who is on the make, erotically and poetically, and who has been asked to join a gang of literary guerillas who have named themselves the "visceral realists." The group is led by two young poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, a wild duo who appear elsewhere in Bolaño's work (in "Amulet," for instance). Lima is based on one of Bolaño's friends, the poet Mario Santiago, and Belano is based on ... Bolaño. Literature in Spanish and Portuguese, from Fernando Pessoa to Javier Cercas, from Cortázar to Borges, seems especially infatuated with alter egos. (José Saramago wrote an entire novel, and a great one too, "The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis," with one of Pessoa's authorial stand-ins, Ricardo Reis, as its protagonist.)

A novel all about poetry and poets, one of whose heroes is a lightly disguised version of the author himself: how easily this could be nothing more than a precious lattice of ludic narcissism and unbearably "literary" adventures! Again, Bolaño skirts danger and then gleefully accelerates away from it. The novel is wildly enjoyable (as well as, finally, full of lament), in part because Bolaño, despite all the game-playing, has a worldly, literal sensibility. His atmospheres are solidly imagined, but the tone is breezy and colloquial and amazingly unliterary — Gide's novel about writers, "The Counterfeiters," comes to mind, or better, a kind of Latinized Stendhal, whose characters just happen to be writers (Bolaño often warmly invoked Stendhal). He places us there, in Mexico City, and reminds us of the excitement and boredom, the literary pretentiousness and ignorance, the erotic ambition and anxiety of being a young writer or reader in the company of like-minded friends. The juvenile diarist who is our guide can write things that made this reader, at least, wince in painful recognition: "Depressed all day, but writing and reading like a steam engine." Or: "Then I read William Burroughs until dawn." Or: "Nothing happened today. And if anything did, I'd rather not talk about it, because I didn't understand it." One of his friends, a gay poet, grandly and absurdly classifies all literature as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual: "Novels, in general, were heterosexual, whereas poetry was completely homosexual; I guess short stories were bisexual, although he didn't say so." The same poet announces that at present poetry is enough for him, "although sooner or later I'm bound to commit the vulgarity of writing stories." (The pleasure we take in this, as readers of English, owes everything, of course, to the book's talented translator, Natasha Wimmer, who repeatedly finds inspired English solutions for what must be a fiendishly chatty and slangy novel.)

The visceral realists conduct "purges," steal books (I particularly liked the sound of the Rebbeca Nodier Bookstore, whose owner is conveniently blind), write and read and have sex and attitudinize. Life is a heaven's kitchen, with everything simultaneously on the boil. "It's incredible how much free time Mexicans have," one character claims. The young diarist falls in with a mad family and loses his virginity to one of the daughters, María Font. Meanwhile, Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano have become peculiarly obsessed with a poet from the 1920s named Cesárea Tinajero, a surrealist and modernist who belonged to the forerunners of the later visceral realists. Her work is revered by other writers from that period, but is nowhere to be found. She herself seems to have disappeared into the Sonoran Desert. Lima and Belano, accompanied by the young diarist and a prostitute, set out on a quixotic hunt for their equivalent of Quixote's Dulcinea.

We are 120 pages in, and suddenly the book alters its form. The next 400 pages feature first-person interviews with scores of witnesses, friends, lovers, acquaintances and enemies of Lima and Belano. These are all people whose lives intersected, however briefly, with the two visceral realists, from 1976 to 1996. It is as if the novelist has taken a tape recorder and journeyed around the world, from Mexico City to San Diego to Barcelona to Tel Aviv, desperate to find out what became of the young, optimistic, but perhaps now doomed poets. Where did they go after the Sonoran Desert? What jobs did they have? What did they write? What became of all that ambition? Page by page, the novel begins to darken. An editor who met Lima and Belano before they set off for the desert says "it was as if they were there but at the same time they weren't there," and the novel precisely mimics this poignant presence and absence.

Again, it should be stressed that this is not just a postmodern game about the fictionality of novelistic characters (though it is that, too). Movingly, no one seems quite able to get the two young poets in focus; Lima and Belano flicker in and out of other people's lives, and the news is not good. They are dealing in drugs, they are often high, they drift from job to job. Lima is living in Paris for a while, desperately poor. He once found a 5,000-franc note on the sidewalk and now always walks with his head down. Belano is spotted near Perpignan, looking for a "friend" who has disappeared and who is about to commit suicide. A painter, interviewed in Mexico City in 1981, says that Belano and Lima weren't revolutionaries: "They weren't writers. Sometimes they wrote poetry, but I don't think they were poets either." Belano moves to Barcelona, and works as a dishwasher in a restaurant. Lima goes to Nicaragua, and disappears there; two years later he has returned to Mexico City, and is glimpsed by the secretary of Octavio Paz. In a wonderfully sad scene, Lima approaches Paz, and the two sit on a bench, talking. The impeccably establishment Paz had been the great bête noire of the visceral realists, but Lima now seems emptied of revolt. He meekly shakes the hand of the Nobel laureate — who has never heard of him, of course — and disappears.

"We poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness," are Wordsworth's famous lines, precious to a generation of American poets like Lowell and Schwartz and Berryman, whose lives ended in suicide or bouts of insanity. Curiously, "The Savage Detectives" is both melancholy and fortifying; and it is both narrowly about poetry and broadly about the difficulty of sustaining the hopes of youth. Bolaño beautifully manages to keep his comedy and his pathos in the same family. For instance, it is at once very funny and oddly appalling that not once does Bolaño quote a single poem of Lima or Belano. We know their careers were not hoaxes (some of the witnesses speak of reading poems by the young men); but were they dreams? What kind of actual poetic talent inflated the ballooning ambition of these young writers?

The terror of the MacGuffin always hangs over Bolaño's work. In "By Night in Chile," he tells the story of a rich shoemaker in the Austro-Hungarian empire who becomes obsessed with building a Heroes' Hill, a vast mausoleum dedicated to the heroes of the empire. When, decades later, Soviet troops storm the hill, all they find is a crypt containing the skeleton of the shoemaker, who gave up his life to the grand insanity of his dream. Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, whose work we never see, drove off in 1975 in search of a poet whose own work was never published! Well, that's not quite accurate. The two men do eventually find a single poem by Cesárea Tinajero, published in a one-off magazine, and it's not even a poem but a hieroglyph. It is called "Siíon" (i.e., Zion), and consists of three line-drawings. In the first, a square that looks a bit like a boat on a horizon, sits on a calm, straight line. In the second drawing, the line is wavy, undulating like a choppy sea, but the little boatlike square is gamely floating in the wave. In the third sketch, the line is stormily jagged, like a terrible EKG, and the little boat is barely clinging to the vertiginous wave.

This "poem" might mean lots of things, but in the context of the novel, it surely evokes the difficult passage from the bathwater of youth and gladness to more treacherous adult waters. An Israeli friend of Ulises Lima's says that the importance of the poets' lives had nothing to do with visceral realism: "It has to do with life, with what we lose without knowing it and what we can regain." He continues, and says that what we have lost we can regain, "we can get it back intact." Can we? Minutes after delivering this wisdom this same man dies in a car accident. A Mexican academic, interviewed late in the novel, says that hardly anyone remembers the visceral realists anymore. Many are dead. Lima, he says, is living in Mexico City. "About Arturo Belano," he says, "I know nothing." This is finally how the novel makes good on its playful, postmodern impulses. Roberto Bolaño's alter ego, Arturo Belano, whose life so closely shadows Bolaño's own (night watchman and dishwasher, life in Paris and Barcelona, and so on), disappears from the story — to re-emerge, of course, as the man willing to "commit the vulgarity of writing stories," the man who triumphantly wrote this marvelous, sad, finally sustaining novel. Truly, it is as if he is there but at the same time isn't there.

Today is the 2560th birthday of Confucius

Following the Path of the Great Sage

QUFU, CHINA — Ever since my father began traveling to China several years ago, he had wanted to visit Qufu, a small, dusty town in the north of the country where Confucius was born. So when his most recent trip to China came just before the Great Sage’s 2560th birthday on Sept. 28, I assumed the role of a good Confucian daughter and accompanied him on a pilgrimage to honor the philosopher.
Within easy reach of Beijing or Shanghai via new high-speed trains, Qufu has a laid-back vibe and its well-preserved culture stands in contrast to the frenetic pace and Western commercialism of China’s modern cities.
During the Cultural Revolution, a period of political upheaval carried out by Chairman Mao Zedong between 1966 and 1976, the Great Sage’s ideas were denounced and his temples were destroyed. But those years are quickly fading from China’s collective memory. The sage’s descendents recently completed a new family tree — it hadn’t been updated since the 1930s — that identifies more than two million people as Confucius’s relatives, in places as far-flung as Britain and South Korea. Next spring, a Chinese film studio is releasing a biopic of Confucius starring the young actress Zhou Xun and the martial arts star Chow Yun-Fat as the philosopher.
As a Chinese-American growing up in California, my introduction to Confucius was mostly through media caricatures and kitschy sayings embedded in fortune cookies. My father, on the other hand, was raised in Taiwan, where locals revered Confucius as a messiah-like figure. On our trip to Qufu, I hoped to gain a better understanding of the man who had loomed so large in my father’s mind.
The trip from Beijing to Qufu can take as little as three hours by train, but I’d booked an overnight train that arrived early in the morning, so my parents, my husband and I could take a full day to explore the town’s three main sites: Confucius Temple, Confucius Mansion and the Confucius Forest, where the sage and many of his relatives were buried.
Though I had visited temples dedicated to Confucius in Beijing, Taipei and Hanoi — there are about 2,000 Confucian temples around the world — I wasn’t prepared for the grandeur of the fortress. At more than one kilometer, or two-thirds of a mile, in length, Qufu’s Confucius Temple resembles Beijing’s Forbidden City in size and layout and is considered one of the best examples of historic Chinese architecture.
Though built in 478 B.C. from three rooms of Confucius’s original home, the temple was renovated numerous times over the next centuries as each imperial dynasty tried to leave a lasting mark on the complex. The structure that stands today echoes the architecture of China’s final two dynasties, the Ming and Qing. As in the Forbidden City, there are faded red walls, yellowish-orange glazed roofs and animal gargoyles that rank the importance of each hall.
We strolled past the temple’s sprawling courtyards, filled with large stone tablets recording the visits of past emperors — a dozen in total made the trip — and century-old cypress trees. A group of teenagers stopped to marvel at a thin trunk jutting from the ground. “Rumor has it that it was planted by Confucius himself,” a sign read. Though the original tree from two millennia ago no longer stood, according to legend, it miraculously sprouted again in 1732.
As we toured the temple, my father, who is a physics professor in Taiwan, talked about Confucius’s teachings. The philosopher believed in filial piety and respect for elders. He advocated a benevolent government and society based on the family structure. (To this day in China, strangers call each other brother and sister.) At the same time, he argued for a hierarchical and patriarchal order, qualities still ingrained among some older Chinese.
Though my father acknowledges that Confucian ideas run counter to Western ideas like democracy and women’s rights, he is deeply fond of the sage. “I think he must have been a loveable kind of guy,” my father said. “He was a musician. He enjoyed archery. He constantly read books.” In short, Confucius was a Renaissance man — long before there was a Renaissance.
My father added that he and many of his academic colleagues consider public education Confucius’s greatest contribution to Chinese society. Confucian thought influenced imperial authorities to create an exam system where students were judged on merit rather than social standing and connections. In fact, the sage’s legacy is so tied to education that even today, high school students across China visit Confucian temples to pray for luck before exams.
We saw evidence of Confucius, the educator, at the small Apricot Altar pavilion in the center of one courtyard, a site where he once lectured to his disciples. More impressive was the Hall of Great Achievements. The largest hall in the temple, it features a double-eaved roof held up by 10 pillars decorated with engravings of dragons, pearls and clouds. Inside the hall, an elaborate altar contains statues of Confucius and four of his leading pupils.
Confucius, known as Kong Zi in Mandarin, was so venerated in Chinese society that his direct descendents lived like royalty, as we learned on our visit to Confucius Mansion next door. The family functioned like a patriarchal monarchy. China’s emperors granted each new leader, who assumed the title of “Duke of Yansheng,” the power to make laws and tax citizens.
Since the family fled to Taiwan after the Communists seized China, parts of the mansion have fallen into disrepair. Even so, its two-story chambers, gray-tiled roofs, and muted walls in green and red give the palace an intimate feel.
After taking a break for lunch, we continued to Confucius Forest, where the great sage and more than 10,000 of his relatives are buried. That number continues to rise since plenty of plots remain in the 2,000-hectare, or 5,000-acre, cemetery. But not every family member is permitted burial; the rules bar a rather eclectic group, including criminals, children, Buddhists and married women.
We paused to read tombstones, some marked with recent dates and bright red Communist stars, others engraved with faded calligraphy of the imperial era. Then we followed a stone path to a 4.5-meter-, or 15-foot-, tall tombstone marked with yellow characters that read: “Tomb of the Prince of Literary Excellence and Sagely Achievements.”
My father kneeled in front of it and bowed deeply before the sage. When he rose, a content smile spread over his face.
Jen Lin-Liu is the author of “Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China.”

Time capsule found on the dead planet, by Margaret Atwood

In December world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to try to reach a global deal to tackle climate change. To support the launch of the 10:10 campaign to reduce carbon emissions, the [Guardian] Review asked some of our greatest artists, authors and poets to produce new work in response to the crisis.

1. In the first age, we created gods. We carved them out of wood; there was still such a thing as wood, then. We forged them from shining metals and painted them on temple walls. They were gods of many kinds, and goddesses as well. Sometimes they were cruel and drank our blood, but also they gave us rain and sunshine, favourable winds, good harvests, fertile animals, many children. A million birds flew over us then, a million fish swam in our seas.
Our gods had horns on their heads, or moons, or sealy fins, or the beaks of eagles. We called them All-Knowing, we called them Shining One. We knew we were not orphans. We smelled the earth and rolled in it; its juices ran down our chins.
2. In the second age we created money. This money was also made of shining metals. It had two faces: on one side was a severed head, that of a king or some other noteworthy person, on the other face was something else, something that would give us comfort: a bird, a fish, a fur-bearing animal. This was all that remained of our former gods. The money was small in size, and each of us would carry some of it with him every day, as close to the skin as possible. We could not eat this money, wear it or burn it for warmth; but as if by magic it could be changed into such things. The money was mysterious, and we were in awe of it. If you had enough of it, it was said, you would be able to fly.
3. In the third age, money became a god. It was all-powerful, and out of control. It began to talk. It began to create on its own. It created feasts and famines, songs of joy, lamentations. It created greed and hunger, which were its two faces. Towers of glass rose at its name, were destroyed and rose again. It began to eat things. It ate whole forests, croplands and the lives of children. It ate armies, ships and cities. No one could stop it. To have it was a sign of grace.
4. In the fourth age we created deserts. Our deserts were of several kinds, but they had one thing in common: nothing grew there. Some were made of cement, some were made of various poisons, some of baked earth. We made these deserts from the desire for more money and from despair at the lack of it. Wars, plagues and famines visited us, but we did not stop in our industrious creation of deserts. At last all wells were poisoned, all rivers ran with filth, all seas were dead; there was no land left to grow food.
Some of our wise men turned to the contemplation of deserts. A stone in the sand in the setting sun could be very beautiful, they said. Deserts were tidy, because there were no weeds in them, nothing that crawled. Stay in the desert long enough, and you could apprehend the absolute. The number zero was holy.
5. You who have come here from some distant world, to this dry lakeshore and this cairn, and to this cylinder of brass, in which on the last day of all our recorded days I place our final words:
Pray for us, who once, too, thought we could fly.

A review that compels you to read: Roberto Bolaño's 2666

Then again it's a review by Jonathan Lethem, and now I just have to read his work ;)

(click this book cover to go to the Portuguese blog dedicated to it)

The Departed

In Philip K. Dick’s 1953 short story “The Preserving Machine,” an impassioned inventor creates a device for “preserving” the canon of classical music — the sacred and, he fears, impermanent beauties of Schubert, Chopin, Beethoven and so forth — by feeding it into a device that transforms the compositions into living creatures: birds, beetles and animals resembling armadillos and porcupines. Outfitting the classic pieces in this manner, then setting them free, the inventor means to guarantee their persistence beyond the frailties of human commemoration, to give them a set of defenses adequate to their value. Alas, the musical-animals become disagreeable and violent, turn on one another and, when the inventor attempts to reverse-engineer his creations in order to prove that the music has survived, reveal themselves as a barely recognizable cacophony, nothing like the originals. Or has the preserving machine revealed true essences — irregularities, ferocities — disguised within the classical pieces to begin with?
Dick’s parable evokes the absurd yearning embedded in our reverence toward art, and the tragicomic paradoxes “masterpieces” embody in the human realm that brings them forth and gives them their only value. If we fear ourselves unworthy of the sublimities glimpsed at the summit of art, what relevance does such exalted stuff have to our grubby lives? Con­versely, if on investigation such works, and their makers, are revealed as ordinary, subject to the same provisions and defects as the rest of what we’ve plopped onto the planet — all these cities, nations, languages, histories — then why get worked up in the first place? Perfect or, more likely, imperfect, we may suspect art of being useless in either case.
Literature is more susceptible to these doubts than music or the visual arts, which can at least play at abstract beauty. ­Novels and stories, even poems, are helplessly built from the imperfect stuff: language, history, squalid human incident and dream. When so many accept as their inevitable subject the long odds the universe gives the aspirations of our species, degraded as it finds itself by the brutalities of animal instinct and time’s remorseless toll, books may seem to disqualify themselves from grace: how could such losers cobble together anything particularly sublime?
The Chilean exile poet Roberto Bolaño, born in 1953, lived in Mexico, France and Spain before his death in 2003, at 50, from liver disease traceable to heroin use years before. In a burst of invention now legendary in contemporary Spanish-language literature, and rapidly becoming so internationally, Bolaño in the last decade of his life, writing with the urgency of poverty and his failing health, constructed a remarkable body of stories and novels out of precisely such doubts: that literature, which he revered the way a penitent loves (and yet rails against) an elusive God, could meaning­fully articulate the low truths he knew as rebel, exile, addict; that life, in all its gruesome splendor, could ever locate the literature it so desperately craves in order to feel itself known. Is a lifetime spent loving poems in a fallen world only a poor joke? Bolaño sprints into the teeth of his conundrum, violating one of the foremost writing-school injunctions, against writer-as-protagonist (in fact, Bolaño seems to make sport of violating nearly all of the foremost writing-school rules, against dream sequences, against mirrors as symbols, against barely disguised nods to his acquaintances, and so on). Again and again he peoples his singular fictions with novelists and poets, both aspiring and famous, both accomplished and hopeless, both politically oblivious and committedly extremist, whether right or left. By a marvelous sleight of hand writers are omnipresent in Bolaño’s world, striding the stage as romantic heroes and feared as imperious villains, even aesthetic assassins — yet they’re also persistently marginal, slipping between the cracks of time and geography, forever reclusive, vanished, erased. Bolaño’s urgency infuses literature with life’s whole freight: the ache of a writing-workshop aspirant may embody sexual longing, or dreams of political freedom from oppression, even the utopian fantasy of the eradication of violence, while a master-novelist’s doubts in his works’ chances in the game of posterity can stand for all human remorse at the burdens of personal life, or at knowledge of the burdens of history.
In the literary culture of the United States, Bolaño has become a talismanic figure seemingly overnight. The “overnight” is the result of the compressed sequence of the translation and publication of his books in English, capped by the galvanic appearance, last year, of “The Savage Detectives,” an eccentrically encompassing novel, both typical of Bolaño’s work and explosively larger, which cast the short stories and novellas that had preceded it into English in a sensational new light. By bringing scents of a Latin American culture more fitful, pop-savvy and suspicious of earthy machismo than that which it succeeds, Bolaño has been taken as a kind of reset button on our deplorably sporadic appetite for international writing, standing in relation to the generation of García Márquez, Vargas Llosa and Fuentes as, say, David Foster Wallace does to Mailer, Updike and Roth. As with Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” in “The Savage Detectives” Bolaño delivered a genuine epic inocu­lated against grandiosity by humane irony, vernacular wit and a hint of punk-rock self-effacement. Any suspicion that literary culture had rushed to sentimentalize an exotic figure of quasi martyrdom was overwhelmed by the intimacy and humor of a voice that earned its breadth line by line, defying traditional fictional form with a torrential insouciance.
Well, hold on to your hats.
“2666” is the permanently mysterious title of a Bolaño manuscript rescued from his desk after his passing, the primary effort of the last five years of his life. The book was published posthumously in Spanish in 2004 to tremendous acclaim, after what appears to have been a bit of dithering over Bolaño’s final intentions — a small result of which is that its English translation (by Natasha Wimmer, the indefatigable translator of “The Savage Detectives”) has been bracketed by two faintly defensive statements justifying the book’s present form. They needn’t have bothered. “2666” is as consummate a performance as any 900-page novel dare hope to be: Bolaño won the race to the finish line in writing what he plainly intended, in his self-interrogating way, as a master statement. Indeed, he produced not only a supreme capstone to his own vaulting ambition, but a landmark in what’s possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, post-national world. “The Savage Detectives” looks positively hermetic beside it.
“2666” consists of five sections, each with autonomous life and form; in fact, Bolaño evidently flirted with the notion of separate publication for the five parts. Indeed, two or three of these might be the equal of his masterpieces at novella length, “By Night in Chile” and “Distant Star.” In a comparison Bolaño openly solicits (the novel contains a series of unnecessary but totally charming defenses of its own formal strategies and magnitude) these five long sequences interlock to form an astonishing whole, in the same manner that fruits, vegetables, meats, flowers or books interlock in the unforgettable paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo to form a human face.
As in Arcimboldo’s paintings, the individual elements of “2666” are easily cataloged, while the composite result, though unmistakable, remains ominously implicit, conveying a power unattainable by more direct strategies. Parts 1 and 5, the bookends — “The Part About the Critics” and “The Part About Archimboldi” — will be the most familiar to readers of Bolaño’s other work. The “critics” are a group of four European academics, pedantically rapturous on the topic of their favorite writer, the mysterious German novelist Benno von Archimboldi. The four are glimpsed at a series of continental German literature conferences; Bolaño never tires of noting how a passion for literature walks a razor’s edge between catastrophic irrelevance and sublime calling. As the four become sexually and emotionally entangled, the puzzle of their devotion to a writer who declines their interest — declines, in fact, ever to appear — inches like a great Lovecraftian shadow over their lives.
Following dubious clues, three of the four chase a rumor of Archimboldi’s present whereabouts to Mexico, to Santa Teresa, a squalid and sprawling border city, globalization’s no man’s land, in the Sonoran Desert. The section’s disconcertingly abrupt ending will also be familiar to readers of the novellas: the aca­demics never locate the German novelist and, failing even to understand why the great German would exile himself to such a despondent place, find themselves standing at the edge of a metaphysical abyss. What lies below? Other voices will be needed to carry us forward. We meet, in Part 2, Amalfitano, another trans-Atlantic academic wrecked on the shoals of the Mexican border city, an emigrant college professor raising a beautiful daughter whose mother has abandoned them. He is beginning, seemingly, to lose his mind. Bolaño’s genius is for weaving a blunt recitation of life’s facts — his novels at times evoke biographies, case studies, police or government files — with digressive outbursts of lyricism as piercing as the disjunctions of writers like Denis Johnson, David Goodis or, yes, Philip K. Dick, as well as the filmmaker David Lynch. Here, Amalfitano considers a letter from his absconded wife: “In it Lola told him that she had a job cleaning big office buildings. It was a night job that started at 10 and ended at 4 or 5 or 6 in the morning. . . . For a second he thought it was all a lie, that Lola was working as an administrative assistant or secretary in some big company. Then he saw it clearly. He saw the vacuum cleaner parked between two rows of desks, saw the floor waxer like a cross between a mastiff and a pig sitting next to a plant, he saw an enormous window through which the lights of Paris blinked, he saw Lola in the cleaning company’s smock, a worn blue smock, sitting writing the letter and maybe taking slow drags on a cigarette, he saw Lola’s fingers, Lola’s wrists, Lola’s blank eyes, he saw another Lola reflected in the quicksilver of the window, floating weightless in the skies of Paris, like a trick photograph that isn’t a trick, floating, floating pensively in the skies of Paris, weary, sending messages from the coldest, iciest realm of passion.” Bolaño has been, because of his bookishness, compared to Jorge Luis Borges. But from the evidence of a prose always immediate, spare, rapturous and drifting, always cosmopolitan and enchanted, the Bolaño boom should be taken as immediate cause for a revival of the neglected master Julio Cortázar. (Cortázar’s name appears in “2666,” but then it may seem that every human name appears there and that Bolaño’s book is reading your mind as you read it.)
By the end of Amalfitano’s section a reader remains, like the critics in the earlier section, in possession of a paucity of real clues as to this novel’s underlying “story,” but suffused with dreadful implication. Amalfitano’s daughter seems to be drifting into danger, and if we’ve been paying attention we’ll have become concerned about intimations of a series of rape-­murders in the Santa Teresa slums and foothills. What’s more (if we’ve been reading flap copy or reviews) we’ll have noted that “Santa Teresa” is a thin disguise over the real town of Ciudad Juárez, the site of a dismayingly underreported sequence of unsolved crimes against women, with a death toll that crept into the hundreds in the ’90s. In the manner of James Ellroy, but with a greater check on both prurience and bathos, Bolaño has sunk the capital of his great book into a bottomless chasm of verifiable tragedy and injustice.
In the third section — “The Part About Fate” — this real-world material comes into view in the course of a marvelously spare and pensive portrait of a black North American journalist, diverted to Santa Teresa to cover what turns out to be a pathetically lopsided boxing match between a black American boxer and a Mexican opponent. Before arriving in Mexico, though, the journalist visits Detroit to interview an ex-Black Panther turned motivational speaker named Barry Seaman, who delivers, for 10 pages, the greatest ranting monologue this side of Don DeLillo’s Lenny Bruce routines in “Underworld.” Here’s a bit of it: “He talked about the stars you see at night, say when you’re driving from Des Moines to Lincoln on Route 80 and the car breaks down, the way they do, maybe it’s the oil or the radiator, maybe it’s a flat tire, and you get out and get the jack and the spare tire out of the trunk and change the tire, maybe half an hour, at most, and when you’re done you look up and see the sky full of stars. The Milky Way. He talked about star athletes. That’s a different kind of star, he said, and he compared them to movie stars, though as he said, the life of an athlete is generally much shorter. A star athlete might last 15 years at best, whereas a movie star could go on for 40 or 50 years if he or she started young. Meanwhile, any star you could see from the side of Route 80 . . . might have been dead for millions of years, and the traveler who gazed up at it would never know. It might be a live star or it might be a dead star. Sometimes, depending on your point of view, he said, it doesn’t matter, since the stars you see at night exist in the realm of semblance. They are semblances, the same way dreams are semblances.”
At last, and with the blunt power of a documentary compilation, comes Part 4, “The Part About the Crimes.” Bolaño’s massive structure may now be under­stood as a form of mercy: “2666” has been conceived as a resounding chamber, a receptacle adequate to the gravity — the weight and the force — of the human grief it will attempt to commemorate. (Perhaps 2666 is the year human memory will need to attain in order to bear the knowledge in “2666.”) If the word “unflinching” didn’t exist I’d invent it to describe these nearly 300 pages, yet Bolaño never completely abandons those reserves of lyricism and irony that make the sequence as transporting as it is grueling. The nearest comparison may be to Haruki Murakami’s shattering fugue on Japanese military atrocities in Mongolia, which sounds the moral depths in “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.” Bolaño’s method, like Murakami’s, encapsulates and disgorges dream and fantasy, at no cost to the penetration of his realism.
BY the time we return to matters of literature, and meet Archimboldi, a German World War II veteran and a characteristically culpable 20th-century witness whose ambivalent watchfulness shades the Sonoran crimes, we’ve been shifted into a world so far beyond the imagining of the first section’s “critics” that we’re unsure whether to pity or envy them. Though Archimboldi’s literary career is conjured with Bolaño’s customary gestural fulsomeness, “2666” never presents so much as a scrap of the fictional master’s fiction. Instead the titles of Archimboldi’s books recur as a kind of pulse of implication, until the conjectured power of an unknown literature has insisted itself upon us like a disease, one that might just draw us down with the savagery of a murderer operating in a moonless desert.
A novel like “2666” is its own preserving machine, delivering itself into our hearts, sentence by questing, unassuming sentence; it also becomes a preserving machine for the lives its words fall upon like a forgiving rain, fictional characters and the secret selves hidden behind and enshrined within them: hapless academic critics and a hapless Mexican boxer, the unavenged bodies deposited in shallow graves. By writing across the grain of his doubts about what literature can do, how much it can discover or dare pronounce the names of our world’s disasters, Bolaño has proven it can do anything, and for an instant, at least, given a name to the unnamable.
Now throw your hats in the air.
NY Times

Our national politics viewed by the Times Online

Portugal is set to return the Socialist Government to power despite the country suffering one of the worst economic downturns in 20 years.
As polls closed last night, José Sócrates, the Portuguese Prime Minister, looked likely to win the parliamentary elections but with the loss of the Socialists' absolute majority.
With more than 98 per cent of the votes counted, the Socialists were on 38 per cent, against the 29 per cent for the opposition centre-right Socialist Democratic Party (PSD).
Mr Sócrates's Government would be only the second socialist administration in Europe, after Norway, to be returned in the midst of the global economic recession.
A minority Socialist government will have to form alliances with smaller parties such as the Left Bloc, a left-wing party, or the Communists to maintain power.
With unemployment standing at 9.1 per cent — a 22-year high — many Portuguese appear to have to turned to left-wing parties, splitting the vote on the Left.
Though the election was to select MPs for the country's single 230-seat parliament, it has largely been a personal battle between Mr Sócrates and his right-wing rival, Manuela Ferreira Leite.
Mr Sócrates, 52, who won a majority in the last elections in 2005, promised major public works such as a high-speed rail link and a new airport to create jobs.
Mrs Ferreira opposed large-scale public works, claiming that the country could not afford them.
The 68-year-old, who is known as a tough cost-cutter, also threatened to scrap a high-speed rail link between Lisbon and Madrid, saying that Portugal "was not a region of Spain".
Instead, the PSD promised voters tax breaks to stimulate private enterprise.
Mrs Ferreira, who has ambitions to be the country's first woman prime minister, failed to inspire, said analysts.*
"By focusing her entire strategy on criticism of the Government without proposing alternatives, Ferreira failed to excite the electorate," António Costa Pinto, a Lisbon politics professor, said.
However, just getting voters to the booths was the biggest problem facing both parties. In the last general election in 2005, 35 per cent of the electorate did not bother to turn out. By 1pm yesterday, only 21 per cent had voted.
"This is the day of the people and I am convinced are going to vote," Mr Sócrates said.
The Socialist leader convinced the likes of Filipa Pinto, 47, a Lisbon housewife.
"I don't agree with everything they've done but [Sócrates] was brave and has changed things that others daren't," she said.
Mr Sócrates faces a tough second term.
The Portuguese economy shrank 3.7 per cent in the second quarter compared with the same period last year.
The country, of 9.4 million, remains the poorest in Western Europe with an average monthly salary of €600 (£550).**
Productivity remains low in part because of antiquated labour laws brought in after the Crimson Revolution*** in 1974. The current deficit is 5.9 per cent of GDP, above EU guidelines.
During the past four years Mr Sócrates has raised civil service retirement age from 60 to 65 and introduced an evaluation scheme for teachers.
Under the Socialists, Portugal has pioneered clean energy development and electric cars.****
However, Mrs Ferreira said that economic reforms must go deeper.
Analysts said that a reduced majority would make it harder for Mr Sócrates to carry out big reforms.

[My bold formatting (ie, I beg your pardon?)]

* the late Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo (1930-2004) was our first woman Prime-Minister, and the second one at the time in any European Country, so there! :)
** Sad but true, or just plain sad?
*** Crimson is the 2008 Tibetan uprising in China, ours is The Carnation Revolution.
**** Where? Where?