Friday, February 22, 2008

Roberto Bolaño: Nazi Literature in the Americas

John Brenkman reviews Roberto Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas.
Nazi Literature in the Americas is first of all a prank, an act of genius wasting its time in parodic attacks on a hated sort of writer. But beyond that, it produces an unsettling mix of overt satire and covert elegy. The reductive force of summary after summary starts to have an effect that transcends the satire; the book begins to convey a sense of the vanity of human endeavor and the ease with which a lifetime's work might be flicked into oblivion by a witty remark. As the mocking of the imaginary writers' lives reverberates through one entry after the next, it comes back to mock the mockery itself; if the lives and works are in vain, the mocking of them is even more acutely in vain. So, too, does the satirized impulse to fuse a poetic project with a radical political vision lose its right-wing provenance: The conviction that reality will be utterly transformed "by novel, unexpected, marvelous means" is, Bolaño implies, a sickness of the left as well as the right. A masterful satirist, Bolaño wields a scalpel sharpened on both edges. Ultimately, his almost juvenile imaginative exuberance expresses just the opposite: a precocious world-weariness.
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