by Roberto Bolaño
New Directions, 2012
96 pages / $9.95 buy from Amazon
1. I wouldn’t say that this is the big bang of Bolaño’s fictional universe. I would say that it’s a baby fictional universe growing in the black hole of another baby fictional universe growing in the black hole of another baby fictional universe growing in the black hole.
2. This book has a lot of quotations without identified speakers. Without particularized mouths. As in how do we know who’s speaking or what it means to claim possession of a speech act. As in how do we know what’s Tupac and what’s a hologram of Tupac.
3. It’s like if I were to say to my computer, “say banana” and it said “banana,” and if this went on for a while with me saying words and my computer repeating them, until eventually I wrote down only my computer’s part of the exchange and made a novella out of it. Except that instead of saying banana I would say things like
“ The evening light dismantles our sense of the wind.”
4. Machines that move you. People in cars and trains, racing across highways and fields, going nowhere fast, towards a multiplicity of voided horizons.
5. Once I had a dream that was also a film I was directing where the main character kept experiencing acute disassociation from her body every time she got on an airplane or into a car, etc, and in the dream I (as the director and actress of the film) kept feeling the words “I’m not here.” I wish I could describe the torture of that feeling besides just calling it singular and unforgettable. Similar to the feeling of watching the movie Inception in the middle seat of an airplane flying over the ocean. Also, the feeling of reading this book, in certain moments.
6. There’s someone writing a story, the one you’re reading, and as the words are being written they’re simultaneously being picked up and examined by the characters in the story, or they’re splattering onto the car windshield of the man driving across the desert, who every few minutes catches himself looking down at his wrist despite the fact that he’s never worn a watch, not once in his life. i.e. “The word ‘teeth’ slid across the glass, many times.” Its pretty much how I feel about being human and having to die- like I have the vaguest awareness of myself as a decaying thing, but only enough to be a minor irritation to whomever(s) or whatever(s) may or may not have put me here.
7. One really great thing is how many of the short, one page “chapters” are actually scenes from the avant-garde porn film Bolaño wanted to make but never did. Or maybe he wanted someone else to read the book and do it for him. He even gave clues as to what he imagined the premiere would look like: a hunchback in the forest watching while someone ties a sheet to a pine tree with a thick piece of yellow cord and then says, smiling, “I’m going to show a film.”
8. This is one of those literary works that make me wish I’d studied quantum physics as a kid instead of making timelines.
9. At one point someone diagrams the changes in the affective landscape of a dream using straight-wavy-jagged line patterns and follows that with “nnnnnnnn” repeated, which is a really estranging onomatopoeia because I don’t seem to belong to the sound-world it’s referencing.
10. There’s a character who’s just called “the hunchback.” I’m not going to be corny and say that this was my favorite character in the book, except that I’m not sure there are any other characters.
11. Actually there’s also the policeman. He’s not my favorite character though because there’s this scene where he’s moving his fingers in and out of this girl’s ass and we’re actually supposed to believe that he’s thinking, “my fingers have no literary rhetoric or adornment. They’re only fingers.”…
12. “The screen opens like a mollusk.” I love this image so much. I love sensual machines.
13. Also: “Only the inventors survive.” This morning I was watching the reality show “The Colony” which is about a group of people trying to survive in in this huge warehouse in pseudo-post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. What’s fascinating is that it’s unclear if the participants are professional actors or suffering from mass hysteria and/or collective delusions. Why don’t they just leave the warehouse and walk down to the highway and get a ride from someone (it’d be easy because they’re tv stars) and go home to their loved ones? There’s this one girl on the show who starts documenting the groups’ day to day experiences on the wall with a sharpie marker. I think if Bolaño had seen this he may have stopped writing altogether and become a hard-core proponent of pure-realism, which had he invented it would have become a new literary movement devoted entirely to committing acts of anti-literature, such as dog-grooming or data entry.
14. An obsession with mouths. Mouths that don’t open, mouths that open but make no sound, corridors of mouths, mouths that aren’t mouths.
16. In the midst of an oppressive disorientation you’ll come across a very simple, beautiful anecdote about a guy being dumped by his girlfriend and you’ll feel stupid for underlining it.
17. This “25 Points” piece is not that much shorter than Antwerp.
18. I’m not sure what the significance is of the word “applause” in parentheses, except that I felt weirdly powerful when I read it and heard nothing.
19. I really like the literary construction of the sea, despite it being cliché. Even if I’m reading a terrible book and a character is near the sea–he might be looking out at the horizon or examining the contours of a cockle shell in his hand or feeling the waves as they lap at his feet–it doesn’t really matter, I’m still overwhelmed for a moment by how infinite everything is. Well, not really, but I did feel a little of that while reading Antwerp.
20. The whole time I was reading I felt like I was separated from the world of the novella by a thin but very resilient pane of glass. I think the writer had the same problem, the only difference being that he was sad and I was pretty okay with the whole experience.
21. “Even though I was drunk I understood.”–reading this text reminded me of the dreams I have while I’m going through alcohol withdrawal. They’re always filled with these vibrant, evocative images, except that the feelings they evoke seem to exist in this completely alien affective zone. Like seeing a pair of child-sized high-top sneakers in the lobby of my apartment building and feeling nothing but despair.
22. I like to imagine that this is actually the novel Jack is working on in The Shining. Instead of looking down at a gigantic pile of pages and seeing the words “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” written over and over again in different formats, Wendy sees the words “The kid heads toward the house. Alley of larches. The Fronde. Necklace of Tears.” Etc, etc. She starts sobbing hysterically as she flips through the pages. Jack creeps up behind her and asks “How do you like it?” with a big, terrifying grin on his face. Basically it would be the same as the original film, except a whole lot more brutal.
23. Speaking of The Shining, it might be interesting to read this book while listening to The Caretaker’s An Empty Bliss Beyond this World. I think the text remembers and forgets itself in a similar way.
24.“Nothings written.” Normally refusals of this kind annoy me, but there’s something about Antwerp that makes a statement like this feel tender. I think it has to do with the sense of real longing that resonates throughout the text. The writer isn’t indifferent to aporia, he’s deeply hurt by it and desires something else; some kind of significant rupture, or a movement towards order.
25. “you are not sages-you are spacemen-see you later, then”
-“The Country Where Everything is Permitted,” Sophie Podolski
Tags: 25 Points, Antwerp, New Directions, Roberto Bolaño
thought provoking and thorough review
i read this book and thought that it was racist in a refreshingly cool way
And now I want to read Antwerp.