So I’m the throes of a love affair with Robert Bolaño at the moment. I’ve nearly finished reading his master statement 2666 and I’ve just finished his book of poems The Romantic Dogs.
Both have hit me in that Kafka, ice axe to the chest, sort of way and both in very particular ways. The Romantic Dogs opens with the poem from which the collection takes its name and despite obviously being very much about Bolano’s life as an ex-Chilean revolutionary - I’d lost a county/but won a dream - it doubles as a moving poem for all those who feel like they are moving away from a time in their life when emotions or the experience of life was the most apparent and effecting. The time when poetry such as this worked its best on you.
A dream within another dream.
And the nightmare telling me: you will grow up
You’ll leave behind the images of pain and of the labyrinth
and you’ll forget
and the collection ends with an equally touching piece of melancholy and joy with the poem With the Flies
Poets of Troy
Nothing that could have been yours
But what I really wanted to talk about was his mammoth book, 2666. As it stands it is five different novels all rolled into one, the five stories circling around a prolonged string of copy cat and serial murders in the fictional Mexican city of Santa Teresa and the search for a German author named Benno von Archimnboldi. From each of these five stories six or seven others spring forth, from short stories from a murder victim or a long confession from a war criminal. These are, like the dreams, stories growing from other stories.
But above all, as I said above, it is a statement and there is a point near the end where a writer who has given up on writing lends, at a price, a typewriter to a writer who is just about to undergo the craft and it is here where a prolonged metaphor emerges describing writing and fiction and art being very much like a forest. In that forest you would find deep dark caves, towering oaks and small, delicate exotic flowers but to find these treasures you must wade through the mediocre, uninspiring trees and the common grass. The writer is talking about masterpieces being hidden by the common work of mediocre or copy cat writers. It is why the writer gave up the work and why he seems reluctant to sell the new writer the typewriter.
It’s enough to make any writer reconsider the task and indeed there is some catharsis to the idea, as the ex-writer points out, to just reading. It’s a telling part of the story and something that has the sharp ring of truth to it. We’re all copy cats to our heroes and if we aren’t going to write Ulysses, In Search of Lost Time or The Trial, then why even bother starting? The answer of course lies in the The Romantic Dogs, because if we gave up on our dreams or leave the labyrinth and the pain of doubt then we would forget and we would grow up into the cynical non-writer who refuses to sell a typewriter to a new, hopefully one day masterful writer.