The thing that makes Bolano’s novels so good and his criticism generally mediocre is the way he went about writing about poets, bravery, etc. In the context of the fiction, Bolano’s mystification of poets and romanticism in general comes across as sober and interesting. In the nonfiction it tends to sound pretentious, inconsistent, etc:
Whether or not he was planning to collect them for a book (as Echevarría claims), they form the backbone of a very good one. He makes us shake our heads when he goes from calling César Aira “one of the three or four best Spanish-language writers alive today” to “mostly just boring,” but there’s a central line to the book’s overall critique and investigation, and it has to do with what it means to be a poet and what it means to be brave. Cervantes may have said the soldier’s work is more honorable than the poet’s, but Bolaño’s hero is Archilochus, the Greek mercenary who fled the battlefield to save himself. “Not for nothing are [poets] descended from Orpheus,” he says, because sometimes doing the wrong thing, as Blanchot showed us with “Orpheus’s Gaze,” can bring about the most unexpected inspiration. “If I had to hold up the most heavily fortified bank in America,” Bolaño says, “I’d take a gang of poets. The attempt would probably end in disaster, but it would be beautiful.”
Francisco Goldman is exactly right, though, in saying that it’s wrong to consider Between Parentheses an “autobiography.” I think most writers would find it pretty bizarre if someone got together a bunch of middling work with little in common other than the fact that it was done for pay and called it an auto bio.
. . . adding, here’s a good response via Twitter:
@bluelephant Javier Moreno
@ScottEsposito: He wrote his best non-fiction within his fiction, I think.