A continent full of writers and publishers
by Kelvin Smith
Roberto Bolaño creates a whole world of writers and publishers in Nazi Literature in the Americas, and they are helpfully listed in the final chapter called “Epilogue for Monsters”. With names like Black and White, Black Pistol, City in Flames, Lamp of the South, and The Wounded Eagle, the book publishers are mostly small, political and financially precarious. The literary journals and magazines like American Letters, The Fourth Reich in Argentina, Literature behind Bars, Second Round, and Southern Hemisphere Literary Review are personal or political vehicles fraught with conflict and failure.
Some of the writers have very limited success with more mainstream publishers, and there is some successful sports, crime and erotic writing. One of the writers, Argentino (“Fatso”) Schiaffino, whose “life and work were comparable to those of Rimbaud“, starts off producing fifty mimeographed copies of his first book The Path to Glory. He sells this and other titles to gangs of Boca football fans and crowns his success in this market by selling 1000 copies of a long poem Champions to fans during the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. By 1988 Schiaffino has adopted photocopying and gradually acquires “something of a media profile”.
“He took part in a television program on soccer gangs, and was the first to defend their right to violence, on grounds such as honor, self-defense, group solidarity, and the pure and simple pleasure of street fighting. Invited as a defendant, he assumed the role of prosecutor. He participated in radio and television debates on all sorts of subjects: fiscal policy, the decadence of the young Latin American democracies, the future of the tango on the European music scene, the state of opera in Buenos Aires, the exorbitant prices of couture fashion, public education in the provinces, widespread ignorance about the nation’s extent and borders, Argentinian wine, the privatization of the country’s leading industries, the Formula One Grand Prix, tennis and chess, the work of Borges, Bioy Casares, Cortázar and Mújica Lainez (about whose work he made bold pronouncements, although he swore he had never read it), the life of Roberto Arlt (for whom he professed his admiration, although the novelist had ‘belonged to the enemy camp’), border incidents, how to end unemployment, white-collar crime and street crime, the inventiveness of the Argentinians, the sawmills of the Andes, and the works of Shakespeare.”
“Fatso” Schiaffino’s publishing and media career develops alongside his growing role as a gang leader, various marriages and business ventures, and it all ends badly in 2015 (the book’s narrative projects well into the future from its publication date of 1996) “in the backyard of a gambling den in Detroit”.
Is there any lesson here for self-published authors who put too much focus on getting media exposure at any cost?
Roberto Bolaño, Nazi Literature in the Americas, 1996