The Bolano Exhibit

So they’ve been showing Roberto Bolano’s notebooks and assorted ephemera in Barcelona for a while now. The exhibit sounds like it’s worth seeing, if you’re in Barcelona (or if it ever travels to where you are). There’s a nice overview of it here.

The LARB also just ran a very long piece on it, which, in my opinion, should have been edited down to about half its size (for instance, I have no idea why there’s a long digression about FSG’s 2666 release party right in the middle of it), but if you skim through there’s some useful information. This struck me:

With the CCCB exhibition, Carolina López draws this fantasia to a close, asserting control of her husband’s narrative. The exhibition has an air of correction, evident in prim assertions in the catalogue, as in this section by Valerie Miles, who worked closely with López on the exhibition:

Contrary to what has been repeatedly claimed about Bolaño the poet versus Bolaño the prose writer, his notebooks show that he had every intention of becoming a novelist [. . .] [Bolaño], whose exploration of violence and evil had probed the dark recesses of the human psyche, was in fact a happy man who experienced immense joy when he was writing. [. . .] It’s also obvious that he never used heroin and that his drink of choice was tea.

By displaying his private archive, López reclaims her lost husband, a restoration Miles explicitly endorses:

[López] belongs to another tradition, that of the practical genius whose role has been instrumental in creating an environment for a writer to work. She brought economic and emotional stability, the framework of a family, grounding, and encouraged him through the days of fasting in the desert when his manuscripts were being rejected by editors and agents alike. An author’s archives and the living memory of his family are undoubtedly the most trustworthy sources of information, and in the case of Roberto Bolaño he stated it clearly in one of the last interviews he gave: “My children, Alexandra and Lautaro, are my only homeland,” and “Carolina reads my books first, then Jorge Herralde” (his publisher).

“Bolaño Archive. 1977–2003” returns the story to Bolaño himself, whose vivid voice rings from each manuscript page in his tiny, neat handwriting, whose unflinching gaze stares from each photograph.

Overly credulous tone aside, this is interesting for pointing out that the Bolano estate is continuing its efforts to wrest Bolano’s image back toward something that they control, rather than the icon that has been constructed by journalists and readers throughout Bolano’s rise to the staggering heights of fame. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out as we inevitably begin to get more and more personal histories told by Bolano’s friends and associates, and as his reputation and iconic status comes in for an inevitable re-evaluation now that his meteoric passage through the world of literature is about done with.



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This reminds me of the control Richard Wagner’s widow tried to exert over his legacy after his death in 1883 e.g. suing opera companies over unauthorized productions of Parsifal.

With Bolano the one thing that seems to stick in his wife’s craw is the allegations of heroin use. To me, the wife and family are likely the least trustworthy.

I’m inclined to trust his family over anyone else.

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