by Roberto Bolaño
New Directions, 2011
352 pages / $24.95 Buy from Powell’s
“Reading, said Gil de Biedma, is more natural than writing. I would add (redundancy aside) that it’s also much healthier, no matter what ophthalmologists say. In fact, literature is a long struggle from redundancy to redundancy, until the final redundancy.”
– Roberto Bolaño
In this posthumous collection of his talks and newspaper columns Roberto Bolaño repeats his advice over and over again that writers, if they want to be any good, should read more. Read, read, he urges, as Bolaño read; the index is made up entirely of authors that he references in his writings, and they number in the hundreds. I didn’t bother to count them all. I hadn’t heard of most of them. Bolaño praises many little-known authors, criticizes many popular ones, and reminds us to read and re-read Borges.
He also insists that writing is dangerous, that writers need courage.
By writing voraciously about reading and writing, novels and short stories and poems, politics and geographies and nightmares, Bolaño puts the whip to the young, or not so young, reader, but especially to the young writer, to continue on. He tells us, Don’t feel bad because you’re sitting around reading great books, your pen lying idle, your heart and mind traversing through somebody else’s work instead of sweating through your own, that’s what I do, that’s what everybody should do. Besides, it’s not so terrifying to read, it’s actually enjoyable, while to write is terrifying.
This little piece on Bolaño is both a tribute and a way to avoid writing a poem tonight. This is easy compared with that.
Finally, I will follow Bolaño, who recommends that you read and re-read so many books, by recommending that you read his books. I normally don’t re-read books, perhaps I’m just not old enough yet, but already 2666 is calling to be read again. It is an incredible book, in scope, style, and substance. I also recommend The Savage Detectives, which made me feel drunk the entire way through.
Tags: Between Parentheses, New Directions, Roberto Bolaño
[…] September 6th, 2011 § 0 comments By writing voraciously about reading and writing, novels and short stories and poems, politics and geographies and nightmares, Bolaño puts the whip to the young, or not so young, reader, but especially to the young writer, to continue on. He tells us, Don’t feel bad because you’re sitting around reading great books, your pen lying idle, your heart and mind traversing through somebody else’s work instead of sweating through your own, that’s what I do, that’s what everybody should do. Besides, it’s not so terrifying to read, it’s actually enjoyable, while to write is terrifying. –From HTMLGiant’s review of Between Parentheses […]
does the title bother anyone else? this is a minor point but i’ve never heard “between parentheses” used. it should just be “in parentheses,” or better, get rid of the whole parentheses gimmick. unless there is something about the book that suggests the betweenness of individual parenthesis. between makes me think of something between two sets of parentheses… (in)between(in). it’s like saying you’re not in a house, you are only between its walls. so maybe the title is actually referring to what is outside parentheses? sorry im commenting mundane crap on htmlgiant cuz i’m bored at work today.
Bolano’s column, from which most of these articles are taken, was titled Between Parentheses.
oh ok. thanks. guess my beef is with the column title then?
Is ‘between parentheses’ the Spanish phrase, where, in English, it’s ‘in’?
If that’s the case, it’s an excellent example of a common translation issue: literalism word-for-word vs. larger units of literality (like prepositional phrases, idioms, and so on).
If, in Spanish, the word for “between” is used in the Spanish phrase for ‘in parentheses’, then (Darby is asking) why not translate the phrase properly?
As constantly not just in translation, but in understanding itself, it’s a matter of competing pedantries, not ‘pedantic’ as opposed to ‘natural’.
Bolaño’s mouldering bones emit new, non-fiction flavored fragrance… there’s your damn poem
This is a great/really fun book, and has a million recommendations that will occupy you for several years probably, at least for me.
It’s been over 2 years now I think that I read 2666 and I think I am probably going to re-read it this Fall; every time I pick it up to read a passage here and there that I have marked off I get the itch to start it again from the beginning.
If I am totally off base, please feel free to correct me. But I believe the original column was “Entre Paréntesis,” and the “entre” can mean either “in” or “between.” So choosing “between” over “in” seems to be the translator’s choice (or the editor/publisher, maybe). “In Parentheses,” seems almost diminutive, where as “Between Parentheses” could also mean among, or even in the company of, parentheses. There may also be some colloquial meaning that I am totally lost on. That’s my take on it.
I’m on posting from phone while drinking, so someone will have to fact check me here.
It would be interesting to get one of Bolano’s translators to comment on (this title). Chris Andrews and Natasha Wimmer have split the translating so far- (I think) he (he?) the stories/short novels and she the big books, SD and 2666.
Actually, HTMLG should jointly interview those two. Or maybe someone already has? It’s odd, but both ‘sound’ the same to me. My Spanish admittedly isn’t great, but I don’t prefer either. With multiple translators I think of my Borges life. I will always (kind of) remember ‘the equivocal clarity of dawn penetrated among the earthen patio’ (‘or something similar’), which is from the Kerigan (Karrigen? Kenman? Again, someone fact check me please) translation of FICCIONES and one of the first sentences I thought beautiful, and how it frilly it is compared to the trans. from his collected stories.
And, a note: Wimmer did (this) book, too, a fact the review should probably mention.
Interesting; I read (and use, I think) “in” and “between” almost the opposite to you.
To me, it’s “in” that implies ‘among’: ‘in the forest (among the trees)’, ‘in the room (among the six ‘walls’)’, ‘in the territory (surrounded by and so among its borders)’.
–whereas “between” entails ‘only two’.
If it’s as you say, and entre includes both ‘in’ and ‘between’, then the translator/s (of the column and the book) has/ve chosen to mistranslate the phrase into English–I guess, for creative reasons: for example, by emphasizing the bracketing at play in the writing (by indicating the two bracket-signs themselves in the phrase that refers to them).
I feel like you’re conflating the words ‘parenthesis’ and ‘parenthetical’
as understand it, “between” renders the plural noun after it a two-item set.
a is between parentheses: (a)
a is between parentheticals: ()a()
i cannot think of a single use of ‘entre’ that isn’t best translated ‘between’ or ‘among.’
Both ‘en paréntesis’ and ‘entre paréntesis’ get used in Spanish. However, ‘poner entre paréntesis’ has an idiomatic sense that is not summoned by ‘en paréntesis’. ‘Poner entre paréntesis’ means to ignore, or put aside for another day, rather like the English ‘table’ used as a verb.
The idiomatic sense is totally lost in translation either way, and a pretty standard approach to this sort of problem is to translate phrases like this that have both a literal and idiomatic meaning lexically rather than phrasally, so that, at the very least, the reader is aware of the phrase’s unwieldiness in his language.
Okay; so poner entre parentesis, ‘stick it in parentheses for the time being’, has something like the opposite sense to the English use of the adverbial conjunction “Parenthetically, …”, which means ‘the following is aside, but I’m interjecting it here and now’.
A way to translate the titles of the columns and the book might be “asides”, ‘the things put aside but, here and now, placed front and center’.
I think the sense that’s nagging at Darby is accurate: “between parentheses” is an interestingly purposeful mistranslation.
I’ve been reading the columns (which are very short) as nightcaps. The title seems more or less appropriate to Bolaño’s strategy, in both fiction and nonfiction, of constant deferral–talking around the subject, postponing, etc. It’s a technique that I really love but may be a turnoff for a lot of people.
It does seem like a minor and mundane point.
If saying “between parentheses” is like saying you’re not in a house, but only between its walls, it follows that there must be some larger, extra-dimensional structure which can be composed of parentheses in the same way that a house is composed of walls (assuming that ceilings and floors can be taken simply as being walls along a different axis).