Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Forgetful Reader

My morning reading is random, whimsical—whatever happens to catch my eye between bedroom and bathroom. This morning: "The Lost," a short essay by Bolaño, constructed as a single paragraph, about the Chilean poet Rodrigo Lira and, more generally, about suicide.

The essay is an exquisite example of Bolaño's finely honed recklessness:
The best thing about Latin America are its suicides, voluntary or not. We have the worst politicians in the world, the worst capitalists in the world, the worst writers in the world. . . . . Our discourse on wealth is the closest thing there is to a cheap self-help book. Our discourse on poverty is an imaginary discourse in which the only voices are those of madmen speaking of bitterness and frustration. We hate the Argentines because the Argentines are the closest thing in these parts to Europeans. The Argentines hates us because we're the mirror in which they see themselves for what they really are—Americans. We're racists in the purest sense: that is, we're racists because we're scared to death. But our suicides are the best.
As with the rest of the essay, some of this seems true to me and anything that doesn't seem true I've  forgotten.

Because reading isn't like life: in life we forget the moments of truth and remember the lies; in literature we forget the lies and remember the moments of truth.

This contrast is true largely because in literature everything is invention, so the reader creates moments of truth for himself. A good reader, a reader who permits a writer to write, collaborates in the process of creating truth from a writer's bravery. Bravery is always—like the last line above—a bit absurd; but through laughter, through delight, the reader transforms that absurdity into truth. The absurdity is forgotten; the truth remains.

So the fundamental problem for the writer is not to be truthful but to be brave.

But of course there's nothing more difficult in writing than being brave. The last line of "The Lost" explains, at least in part, why: "The cowardly don't publish the brave." The brave risk an audience of one. And only a madman writes for himself.

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