Monday, February 08, 2010

Bolano and Poe

After reading Bolano’s story in The New Yorker this week, I was struck by how Gothic Bolano’s writing is--a quality that isn’t often discussed when critics talk about his work. It might be because to even bring up the word “Gothic” frequently implies something lowbrow, something cheaply violent. Yet Bolano really does remind me of Poe at times--there’s the constant sense of existential unease (so different from the psychological unease in more realist fiction), there’s the atmosphere of irrational violence (the unsolved murders in 2666, the “unidentified assailants” in “William Burns”), and there’s that strange Poe-like combination of aesthetics and murder/moral corruption (the horrific photography exhibit in Distant Star).

In a way this makes sense: Bolano was influenced by Borges, and Borges by Poe. Even the detectives scattered through Bolano, including some of his poems, have echoes of Poe…

As does this wonderful line from “William Burns”: “We’d been tricked by the real killer, hidden somewhere far away, or more likely, by fate.”


Blogger Johannes said...

Oh absolutely. Distant star with its horrific photography show seems straight out of Poe. The horrific show-stopper that is "art" (or art-like murders). Great point.


1:29 PM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

I'd add that 2666 and Distant Star both put forward the idea that all of Western "art" amounts to a series of violently disarticulated female bodies. Duchamp, of course, both critiques and participates in this tradition in Etant Donnee (and in Large Glass and his other "nudes").

Artists such as Duchamp and Bolano and Hitchcock in many ways offer a sharp critique of patriarchy. They are unwilling to perform their traditional patriarchal roles insofar as their work, which appears on the surface to perform male power, actuality performs male abjection, paranoia, and even hysteria. Yet despite their complex vision of masculinity, these artists never dispute the hegemony of the male gaze and inevitably position the woman as erotic object and crime victim.

Poe, of course, is also part of this nervous, self-mutilating stag party.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I really like your analysis of Duchamp/Bolano, and I think it suggest the ways in which they very much offer a "critique" (though I increasingly try to stay away from that word) of gender roles in western art. You should do more with this. I love it.

What would it mean for them to offer a critique of the male gaze beyond what they are doing?

Would not addressing the dead woman that seems to be at the heart of our western culture somehow make a more astute critique? Seems like they're doing something more intriguing by engaging with this tradition.

THere's also dead women and dead women. I've recently been thinking about the relationship between Duchamp's dead woman and Pound's dead women (and men), and how Duchamp's work is so much more interesting. Maybebecause Duchamp's women aren't actually dead...

And, yes, it seems to goback to Poe and his idea that the dead woman is the most poetic subject matter. But there's intersting stuff going on in Poe too - women who can't be killed, occult women, women who blur life and death. And further, it seems that Poe is already commenting on the way art and image relates to life. These dead women seem to be as much about "art" as crime.


6:16 AM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

They are art. They are crime. They're anything but subject position, supplier of the gaze.

Duchamp, Bolano, Hitchcock, and Poe all destabilize the frame from within the frame, and they do so amazingly well. It's not that they're not astute, it's just that they fetishize the dead female body to the nth degree (the frame may be ironic, but the fetish is still there). Bolano does seem exhausted by his engagement with this trope--he multiplies the dead female bodies until they're more or less uncountable. His deep exhaustion feels important, a critique in and of itself.

All four artists have a double relationship to the disarticulated female form as both the site of their critique of the male gaze and as an erotic object. If you're not a straight male, you don't personally experience this doubleness, the edge of repulsion/attraction they're so carefully manipulating. If you don't view the female body as an erotic object (if you're a straight woman or a gay man), you observe the critique, but this art is not being made/performed for you. It's made for a male audience. I say this as someone who continues to be enormously influenced by all four of these men.

Pound, of course, is a total necrophiliac. If it's not long dead, he can't love it.

7:16 AM  

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