Friday, May 14, 2010
All too human monsters.
I had just read yet another in an epic but short list of Roberto Bolaño novels, this one called Nazi Literature in the Americas, when I noticed an article on BBC news website about the death of Paul Schäfer, the bizarre ex-luftwaffe, cult leader and pedophile. Schäfer died in Chile, Bolaño's country of birth on April 24th, 2010, as I was finishing Nazi Literature in the Americas. Good riddance Schäfer, scumbag. Reading the description in the BBC article of the cult that Schäfer started in 1961, Colonia Dignidad, a little faux Bavarian village in the Andes visited by Josef Mengele and that served as a Pinochet torture camp...I started to think that it sounded familiar and started looking back through the Bolaño book that is a compendium of supposedly fictitious authors who wrote in the Americas all sharing fascist ideologies of various flavors. then I found it! One of these fictitious writers, the experimental poet named Willy Schürholz, came from a village called Colonia Renacer (colony of rebirth) that sounded just like the very real Colonia Dignidad. In reading Bolaño it quickly becomes apparent that his "fiction" is a thin label applied to allow him to speak openly about very real history or even events that were current up until when he died in 2003. Like Santa Teresa, Bolaño's stand in for the Ciudad Jaurez femicide in his book 2666. So it made sense that his fictitious little cult in Chile might be based on a real place. So then are we to think that the entire list of nazi writers are based on real writers or partially?...as they interact with Gary Snyder and Alan Ginsberg alongside characters from Bolaños own literary universe like Eugenio Entrescu, the Romanian general, lover of Daniela de Montechristo in this book and Baroness Von Zumpe in 2666...in the back of Nazi Literature in the Americas there is a section called Epilogue For Monsters which is a reference of secondary figures, publishers and a bibliography of this pantheon of American Nazi authors. Since of course fiction is based on reality, what does it serve to relate this fictional catalog so close to reality...does it strengthen the absurdity of the fascist ideologies to know that their adherents are all too real? Does it get anymore absurd than the famous figures of fascism, the Mussolinis, Hitlers, Francos, David Dukes? Well maybe it doesn't get more absurd not but it does get more commonplace...from the spoiled Argentine, Columbian and Bolivian fascist rich kid book worms to the porteño nazi soccer hooligans, Topeka, Kansas science fiction writers, Haitian plagiarists, Aryan Family poets from California and Bolaño himself comes into the novel to observe a Chilean Pinochet skywriter in exile...the descriptions of these writers that are nazis but artists none the less are so compactly poetically complete that though they are monsters, they are monsters that we can begin to understand. That can be fit into a real framework rather than remain veiled in mythically gigantic horrible shadows...sometimes their framework makes them laughable other times exalted but fleshed out and somehow less mythical and more human. Maybe Bolaño's triumph here is making monsters human without discounting that they are human monsters...ones that can be learned from and if not changed or killed, then at least recognized in the people all around us.