Below are extracts from “The Savage Detective,” a long look at Roberto Bolaño by his friend, the Argentine writer Rodrigo Fresán. Published in The Believer, March 07 (only a small portion is available online). Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.
“Then what is quality writing? The same thing it’s always been: knowing how to stick your head into the dark, knowing how to leap into the void, knowing that literature is basically a dangerous profession.”
“Writers are worthless. Literature is worthless. Literature only exists for literature’s sake. That’s enough for me.”
“Dreams are like psychiatrists, curing you every night.”
“I’d rather not die, of course. But sooner or later the great lady comes. The problem is that sometimes she’s no lady, never mind great, but a hot slut, as the poet Nicanor Parra says, which is enough to make even the bravest man’s teeth chatter.”
[O]ne of his recurring ideas was his suspicion that he had died ten years earlier, in a hospital in Gerona, where he was diagnosed with a severe case of pancreatitis, and that everything that had happened to him in the last decade - children and wife and books - was just his final hallucination, the merciful prolongation of the last seconds of a dying man. On more than one occasion, Bolaño confessed that he wished he were “a fantasy writer, like Philip K. Dick.” And it’s clear that Bolaño’s foremention obsession is an obviously and perfectly Dickian obsession.
Bolaño himself thought of The Savage Detectives as belonging to the genre of roman-fleuve and wrote, “I think I see it as yet another reading of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, one of the many that have followed in its wake; the Mississippi of The Savage Detectives is the flow of voices in the second part of the novel.”
Fresán also relates Bolaño’s favorite books:
“the complete works of Borges”
A Confederacy of Dunces (Toole)
Life: A User’s Manual (Perec)
The Trial and The Castle (Kafka)
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Wittgenstein)
the works of Philip K. Dick, especially Dr. Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After the Bomb