This is about the work
15 April 2009
From Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives:

There are books for when you’re bored.  Plenty of them.  There are books for when you’re calm.  The best kind, in my opinion.  There are also books for when you’re sad.  And there are books for when you’re happy.  There are books for when you’re thirsty for knowledge.  And there are books for when you’re desperate.  The latter are the kind of books Ulises Lima and Belano wanted to write.  A serious mistake, as we’ll soon see.  Let’s take, for example, an average reader, a cool-headed, mature, educated man leading a more or less healthy life.  A man who buys books and literary magazines.  So there you have him.  This man can read things that are written for when you’re calm, but he can also read any other kind of book with a critical eye, dispassionately, without absurd or regrettable complicity.  That’s how I see it. I hope I’m not offending anyone.  Now let’s take the desperate reader, who is presumably the audience for the literature of desperation.  What do we see?  First: the reader is an adolescent or an immature adult, insecure, all nerves.  He’s the kind of fucking idiot (pardon my language) who committed suicide after reading Werther.   Second: he’s a limited reader.  Why limited?  That’s easy: because he can only read the literature of desperation, or books for the desperate, which amounts to the same thing, the kind of person or freak who’s unable to read all the way through In Search of Lost Time, for example, or The Magic Mountain (a paradigm of calm, serene, complete literature, in my humble opinion), or for that matter, Les Miserables or War and Peace.  Am I making myself clear? Good.  So I talked to them, warned them, alerted them to the dangers they were facing.  It was like talking to a wall.  Furthermore: desperate readers are like the California gold mines.  Sooner or later they’re exhausted! Why?  It’s obvious!  One can’t live one’s whole life in desperation.  In the end the body rebels, the pain becomes unbearable, lucidity gushes out in great cold spurts.  The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up by turning away from books.  Inevitably he ends up becoming just plain desperate.  Or he’s cured! And then, as part of the regenerative process, he returns slowly – as if wrapped in swaddling cloths, as if under a rain of dissolved sedatives – he returns, as I was saying, to a literature written for cool, serene readers, with their heads set firmly on their shoulders.  This is what’s called (by me, if nobody else) the passage from adolescence to adulthood.  And by that I don’t mean that once someone has become a cool-headed reader he no longer reads books written for desperate readers.  Of course he reads them!  Especially if they’re good or decent or recommended by a friend.  But ultimately, they bore him! Ultimately, the literature of resentment, full of sharp instruments and lynched messiahs, doesn’t pierce his heart the way a calm page, a carefully thought-out page, a technically perfect page does.  I told them so.  I warned them.  I showed them the technically perfect page.  I alerted them to the dangers.  Don’t exhaust the vein!  Humility! Seek oneself, lose oneself in strange lands! But with a guiding line, with bread crumbs or white pebbles!  And yet I was driven mad, driven mad by them, by my daughters, by Laura Damian, and so they didn’t listen.

From Michelle Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island

I don’t mean that my sketches were unfunny; they were funny.  I was, indeed, a cutting observer of contemporary reality; it was just that everything seemed so elementary to me, it seemed that so few things remained that could be observed in contemporary reality: we had simplified and pruned so much, broken so many barriers, taboos, misplaced hopes, and false aspirations; truly, there was so little left.  On the social level, there were the rich and the poor, with a few fragile links between them – the social ladder, a subject on which it was the done thing to joke; and the more serious possibility of being ruined.  On the sexual level there were those who aroused desire, and those who did not: a tiny mechanism, with a few complications of modality (homosexuality, etc.) that could nevertheless be easily summarized as vanity and narcissistic competition, which had already been well described by the French moralists three centuries before.  There were also, of course, the honest folk, whose who work, who ensure the effective production of wealth, also those who make sacrifices for their children-in a manner that is rather comic or, if you like, pathetic (but I was, above all, a comedian); those who have neither beauty in their youth, nor ambition later, nor riches ever but who hold on wholeheartedly, and more sincerely than anyone, to the values of beauty, youth, wealth, ambition, and sex; those who, in some kind way, make the sauce bind.  Those people, I am afraid to say, could not constitute a subject.  I did, however, include a few of them in my sketches to give diversity, and the reality effect; but I began all the same to get seriously tired.  What’s worse is that I was considered to be a humanist; a pretty abrasive humanist, but a humanist all the same.

WILLIAM POWHIDA
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