TRIBUTE: Roberto Bolaño, 4.13.07

Roberto Bolaño

November 2
I’ve been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no initiation ceremony. It was better that way.


before the reading
The crowd relaxes . . .

wmc with Francisco Goldman to left and Ken Levinson to right
Francisco Goldman, wmc, and Ken Levinson

waiting some more
. . . and waits . . .

David Rogers and John McGhee
David Rogers from Picador and
John McGhee from FSG

Michael Johnson, writer, and Jeff Frederick, painter
Michael Johnson, writer,
and Jeff Frederick, painter

. . . and waits . . .

Fran Gordon makes a list and checks it twice
Meanwhile, Fran Gordon makes a list.

Just a moment before the reading starts
. . . and waits for just a moment longer.



Francisco Goldman talks about Bolaño
Francisco Goldman talks about Bolaño . . .

Francisco Goldman introduces the readers
. . . then introduces the readers.



November 3
I’m not really sure what visceral realism is. I’m seventeen years old, my name is Juan García Madero, and I’m in my first semester of law school. I wanted to study literature, not law, but my uncle insisted, and in the end I gave in. I’m an orphan, and someday I’ll be a lawyer. That’s what I told my aunt and uncle, and then I shut myself in my room and cried all night. Or anyway for a long time. Then, as if it were settled, I started class in the law school’s hallowed halls, but a month later I registered for Julio César Álamo’s poetry workshop in the literature department, and that was how I met the visceral realists, or viscerealists or even vicerealists, as they sometimes like to call themselves.

Donald Antrim2
Donald Antrim

Carmen Boullosa
Carmen Boullosa

Monica de la Torre
Monica de la Torre

I still don’t really get it. In one sense, the name of the group is a joke. At the same time, it’s completely in earnest. Many years ago there was a Mexican avant-garde group called the visceral realists, I think, but I don’tk now whether they were writers or painters or journalists or revolutionaries. They were active in the twenties or maybe the thirties, I’m not quite sure about that either. I’d obviously never heard of the group, but my ignorance in literary matters is to blame for that (every book in the world is out there waiting to be read by me).

Aura Estrada
Aura Estrada

Rivka Galchen
Rivka Galchen

Francisco Goldman reads
Francisco Goldman

Fran Gordon
Fran Gordon

According to Arturo Belano, the visceral realists vanished in the Sonora desert. Then Belano and Lima mentioned somebody called Cesárea Tinajero or Tinaja, I can’t remember which (I think it was when I was shouting to the waiter to bring us some beers), and they talked about the Comte de Lautréamont’s Poems, something in the Poems that had to do with this Tinajero woman, and then Lima made a mysterious claim. According to him, the present-day visceral realists walked backward. What do you mean, backward? I asked.

“Backward, gazing at a point in the distance, but moving away from it, walking straight toward the unknown.”

I said I thought this sounded like the perfect way to walk. The truth was I had no idea what he was talking about. If you stop and think about it, it’s no way to walk at all.

Jay Kang
Jay Kang

Mr. Jiminez
Mr. Jiminez

Eduardo Lago
Eduardo Lago

Belano shook my hand and told me that I was one of them now, and then we sang a ranchera. That was all. The song was about the lost towns of the north and a woman’s eyes. Before I went outside to throw up, I asked them whether the eyes were Cesárea Tinajero’s. Belano and Lima looked at me and said that I was clearly a visceral realist already and that together we would change Latin American poetry. At six in the morning I took another pesero, this time by myself, which brought me to Colonia Ladavista, where I live. Today I didn’t go to class. I spent the whole day in my room writing poems.

Ernesto Mestre-Reed
Ernesto Mestre-Reed

Jose Prieto
José Prieto

Lorin Stein
Lorin Stein

The great Oswaldo
The great Oswaldo



panel - Boullosa, Goldman, and Lago
Boullosa, Goldman, and Lago
discuss the impact of Bolaño
and the anticipation of 2666

Lago: Borges and Bolaño are the same kind of writer. How? Borges writes such small, asexual stories, while Bolaño is bursting with sex and sprawling stories—but they are the same because they’re both original. Aura Estrada’s essay in Words Without Borders illustrates this perfectly . . . 2666 [Bolaño’s next novel] is an imperfect perfect work. Like Philip K. Dick, Bolaño said, “Let me violate every single law of writing.” And as is said of Philip K. Dick: “He’s good even when he’s bad.”

Goldman: I read 2666 on my honeymoon. I couldn’t put it down. Sorry, dear!

Boullosa: Boom, magical realism—these are for foreigners. We didn’t care about that. I don’t even know whether Boom existed . . . I couldn’t read 2666 immdiately when he died. Then The Savage Detectives was erased from my consciousness after I read 2666, which makes blocks of narratives, none of them complete. The book is painful, astonishing, powerful, and visionary. Yes, it is perfect storytelling of imperfect, broken blocks.



Greg and Paulina wmc and Greg
Greg of the Bronx, with
Paulina of Gramercy Park
and wmc, modeling
The Savage Detectives

Mr. X, Lorin Stein, Fran Gordon, and Donald Antrim
Mr. X, Lorin Stein,
Fran Gordon, and Donald Antrim

Frank and Maud
Francisco Goldman and Maud Newton


February 3
Lupe told me that we’re the last visceral realists left in Mexico. I was lying on the floor, smoking, and I looked at her. Give me a break, I said.


The Savage Detectives cover

Published in: on April 23, 2007 at 11:45 am  Comments (2)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.


  1. […] And given that I’m already more than a week behind on the promised Bolaño tribute highlights, you’ll probably want to check elsewhere before wandering the halls […]

  2. […] he argued, at a National Arts Club tribute to the late writer, that the praise being heaped on Bolaño originates not with newspaper […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: