Category Archives: chilean

A continent full of writers and publishers

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

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We aren’t laughing any more

The visceral realists in The Savage Detectives sometimes hang out with publishers.  In one short section, a variety of characters speak from the Feria del Libro, Madrid, 1994.  They variously end their interventions with comments that what “begins as comedy ends as tragedy…tragicomedy…comedy…cryptographic exercise…horror movie…triumphal march…mystery…a dirge in the void…a comic monologue“.  The last commentator adds: “…but we aren’t laughing any more“.

A bit like publishing really.

Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives, 1998

Like the pyramids of the Aztecs

In Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, Benno von Archimboldi is published by Mr. Bubis’s publishing house in Hamburg. Mr. Bubis, re-establishing his company after the second world war, takes on the pseudonymous novelist’s first book with the assurance that “the book would receive the finest treatment and be carried in all the best bookshops, not just in Germany but also in Austria and Switzerland, where the Bubis name was remembered and respected by democratic bookshop owners, a symbol of independent and high-quality publishing“. On another occasion, we hear that all Mr. Bubis “really cared about was the adventure of printing books and selling them“.

Bubis sticks with Archimboldi in spite of very poor sales. He buys him a typewriter, pays larger than warranted advances, and, when he dies (laughing at a novel by a new writer from Dresden), his wife Baroness Von Zumpe continues as his publisher (and occasional lover), not even bothering to read his latest novel, The Return, before giving it to the copyeditor with instructions to publish it in three months.

When Archimboldi wanted to know why she kept publishing him if she didn’t read him, which was really a rhetorical question since he knew the answer, the baroness replied (a) because she knew he was good, (b) because Bubis had told her to, (c) because few publishers actually read the books they publish.

Much of Archimboldi’s dealings with Bubis are covered in the later part of this monumental book, although we first hear of him in the first section of the book: The Part about the Critics. Two of the Archimboldi specialists, Espinoza and Pelletier, visit Hamburg to see the publisher, but learn little. On a visit to Mexico, they hear an interesting view on publishing from Amalfitano.

In Europe, intellectuals work for publishing houses or for the papers or their wives support them or their parents are well-off and give them a monthly allowance or they’re laborers or criminals and they make an honest living from their jobs. In Mexico, and this may be true across Latin America, intellectuals work for the state.

There are various other references to writing and publishing, with Archimboldi himself declaring the importance of the book.

“An old book is the past, too,” said Archimboldi, “a book written and published in 1789 is the past, its author no longer exists, neither does its printer or the ones who read it first or the time in which it was written, but the book, the first edition of that book, is still here. Like the pyramids of the Aztecs,” said Archimboldi.

Like the pyramids of the Aztecs, 2666 is large, mysterious but obviously of some great significance. Even if the novel suggests that publishers have motivations very different from those of writers, it is clear about the importance of the act of publishing.

Roberto Bolaño, 2666, 2004

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