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A Chilean Writer’s Fictions Might Include His Own Colorful Past


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A Chilean Writer’s Fictions Might Include His Own Colorful Past
By LARRY ROHTER
Published: January 27, 2009
Few writers are more acclaimed right now than the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, who died of an unspecified liver ailment in 2003, at the age of 50. His posthumous novel, “2666,” appeared on many lists of the best books of 2008, and interest in him and his work has been further kindled by his growing reputation as a hard-living literary outlaw.

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Courtesy of León Enrique Bolaño
The writer Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) at age 23.

Related
A Writer Whose Posthumous Novel Crowns an Illustrious Career (August 9, 2005)
Times Topics: Roberto Bolaño
Andrew Wylie's Letter to the Book Review
Sarah Kerr's Letter to The New York Review of Books
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Courtesy of New Directions
The author Roberto Bolaño left hints of a personal history that some are now questioning.

But his widow, from whom he was separated at the time of his death, and Andrew Wylie, the American agent she recently hired after distancing herself from Mr. Bolaño’s friends, editors and publisher, are now challenging part of that image. They dispute the idea, originally suggested by Mr. Bolaño himself, endorsed by his American translator and mentioned in several of the rapturous recent reviews of “2666” in the United States, that he ever “had a heroin habit,” that his death was “traceable to heroin use” or even that he had “an acquaintance with heroin.”

At the same time, some of Mr. Bolaño’s friends in Mexico, where he lived for nearly a decade before finally settling down near Barcelona, Spain, are questioning another aspect of the life story he constructed for himself.

They say that Mr. Bolaño, who is rapidly emerging as the pre-eminent Latin American writer of his generation, was not in Chile during the military coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power, despite his claim to that badge of honor.

Regarding Mr. Bolaño and drugs, numerous Latin American and European critics and bloggers have taken the side of his widow, accusing American critics and publishers of deliberately distorting the writer’s past to fit him into the familiar mold of the tortured artist. Mr. Bolaño’s life and work have been made into “a trivial spectacle,” Julio Ortega, a Peruvian critic and scholar, wrote in El País, the leading daily in Spain.

The focus of the heroin controversy is a four-page narrative that appeared in a collection whose title translates as “Between Parentheses,” published the year after Mr. Bolaño’s death but not yet available in English. Called “Beach,” the text consists of a single long sentence, whose opening words are, “I gave up heroin and went back to my town and started on the methadone treatment administered me at the clinic. ...”

The title page of “Between Parentheses” describes it as a collection of “essays, articles and speeches.” In the introduction Ignacio Echevarría, a Spanish critic and editor whom Mr. Bolaño named as his literary executor, explains that the book should be seen as “a type of ‘fragmented autobiography’ ” and “personal cartography” of Mr. Bolaño.

In separate interviews, however, Mr. Echevarría and Jorge Herralde, Mr. Bolaño’s publisher, said that the introduction and title page of future Spanish-language editions of the book would be changed to incorporate language to indicate that “Beach” is fiction, as will the English-language version, which New Directions intends to publish next year. “The situation lends itself to confusion because Bolaño liked to play tricks and create mysteries,” Mr. Herralde acknowledged. “But he may just have been trying to lay a trap for his future biographers.”

“Beach” was originally published by the Madrid daily El Mundo in July 2000 as part of a series in which 30 Spanish-language authors were asked to write about the worst summer of their lives. The editor of the newspaper’s literary supplement, Manuel Llorente, said most of the writers responded with “narratives that were clearly and unquestionably autobiographical,” but that he was never sure about the Bolaño contribution.

“I knew Bolaño was a writer who played with reality, who cultivated ambiguities and false identities, so I didn’t care whether the narrative he submitted was true or invented,” Mr. Llorente said in an interview. “To me, the only thing that mattered was its literary value.”

Mr. Wylie, who began handling Mr. Bolaño’s work last year, said in a telephone interview that the writer’s widow, Carolina López, whom Mr. Bolaño met after moving to Spain in the late 1970s, had “mentioned en passant” to him during a recent dinner in Barcelona that she regarded reports of her husband’s heroin use as “inaccurate.” Still, he balked at discussing the matter further, saying “literary detective work” did not interest him.

But literary sleuthing was one of Mr. Bolaño’s favorite themes. Both “2666” and its equally praised predecessor, “The Savage Detectives,” are about bands of poets and critics trying to track down the truth about writers who have vanished from history or who cloaked themselves behind murky versions of their pasts.



In interviews by telephone from Spain and Mexico, Mr. Bolaño’s friends and associates suggested that he also embraced ambiguity. “He created his own myth,” said the woman with whom the writer was romantically involved at the time of his death, but who asked that her name not be published because she wants to preserve her privacy. “Nobody can deny that he played that game, and he would be the first to admit it.”

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Related
A Writer Whose Posthumous Novel Crowns an Illustrious Career (August 9, 2005)
Times Topics: Roberto Bolaño
Andrew Wylie's Letter to the Book Review
Sarah Kerr's Letter to The New York Review of Books
According to the standard biographical accounts, Mr. Bolaño moved to Mexico in 1968, but returned to Chile in the early 1970s to support the Socialist government of President Salvador Allende. He was then supposedly arrested and jailed during the coup that brought General Pinochet to power on Sept. 11, 1973, but was saved from possible execution and allowed to escape by two guards who were high school classmates and recognized him.

But several of Mr. Bolaño’s Mexican friends, some of whom were in Chile themselves during the Allende years, say that the writer was in Mexico during the time he claimed to have been in Chile.

In the mid-1970s, “we talked a lot about Chile, and it was obvious to me that Roberto had not been there and was letting people think he had,” said Ricardo Pascoe, a Mexican sociologist and diplomat whose home was the setting for some of the parties and readings Mr. Bolaño later described in “The Savage Detectives.” “He would ask me about things that anybody who was there and on the left, or related to the left, would have known.”

Mr. Bolaño’s father, León, a former truck driver and boxer, said in a telephone interview from Mexico that he believed his son was in Chile, recalling a conversation in which the younger Mr. Bolaño said that he “was going to travel overland” to visit his father’s sister there. Though not sure of the date of that trip, León Bolaño, now 82 and ailing, said that after the coup he sought and obtained through his employer assurances from the Mexican government that it would evacuate his son through its embassy there.

Mr. Pascoe was one of thousands of young Latin Americans who went to Chile after Allende was elected in 1970 to participate in the revolution they all expected. During the bloodletting that accompanied the Pinochet coup, he and several hundred other fugitives took refuge in the Mexican Embassy in Santiago until they could be repatriated. Mr. Bolaño, Mr. Pascoe said, was “definitely not there.” He said that he once asked Mr. Bolaño directly if he had been in Chile and “his response was vague enough that it made me want to say, ‘Why don’t you just answer yes or no?’ But I liked him, and our friendship was not based on politics, so I didn’t really mind. But it was clear he had not been there.”


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Feb/3/2009, 1:48 pm Link to this post  
 
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Re: A Chilean Writer’s Fictions Might Include His Own Colorful Past


Mr. Bolaño’s Mexican friends said that he was simply ashamed to admit he was absent from what even today is considered his generation’s defining political experience, with status and credibility conferred on those who participated. “I understand why he lied, because he was remorseful at having missed out, at not having been there,” said Carmen Boullosa, a novelist, playwright and poet who corresponded with Mr. Bolaño.

Rodrigo Fresán, an Argentine novelist living in Barcelona, said, “Roberto’s biography is going to be interesting to read, and I am thankful that I was only his friend and not the one who is going to have to write it.” Somewhat ruefully, others who know Mr. Bolaño only from his work have come to the same conclusion.

“It’s a tough dance trying to keep up with the games of a writer who is playing with fact and fiction,” said Marcela Valdes, one of the American critics who has referred to heroin use in her essays on Mr. Bolaño. “On this one, he may have got us.”

================================

In "Streetcar Named Desire", Blanche, the sister in law of Marlon Brando, is accused by him of inventing a false biography, replete with exciting events and desperate wealthy suitors. She responds that it is preferable to lead an imaginary but enchanted life - then a real but dreary one.
 
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This is where the narcissist differs from others (from "normal" people).
 
His very self is a piece of fiction concocted to fend off hurt and to nurture the narcissist's grandiosity. He fails in his "reality test" - the ability to distinguish the actual from the imagined. The narcissist fervently believes in his own infallibility, brilliance, omnipotence, heroism, and perfection. He doesn't dare confront the truth and admit it even to himself.
 
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I lie to your face, without a twitch or a twitter, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. In fact, my lies are not lies at all. They are the truth, my truth. And you believe them, because you do, because they do not sound or feel like lies, because to do otherwise would make you question your own sanity, which you have a tendency to do anyway, because from the very beginning of our relationship you placed your trust and hopes in me, derived your energy, direction, stability, and confidence from me and from your association with me. So what's the problem if the safe haven I provide comes with a price? Surely I am worth it and then some.
 
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Question:
 
How can I expose the lies of the narcissist in a court of law? He acts so convincing!
 
Answer:
 
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Last edited by samvaknin, Feb/3/2009, 1:48 pm


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Feb/3/2009, 1:48 pm Link to this post  
 
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The dissolution of the abuser's marriage or other meaningful (romantic, business, or other) relationships constitutes a major life crisis and a scathing narcissistic injury. To soothe and salve the pain of disillusionment, he administers to his aching soul a mixture of lies, distortions, half-truths and outlandish interpretations of events around him.
 
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But these lies - both outright and borderline - are known to me as such. I can tell the difference between reality and fantasy. I choose fantasy knowingly and consciously - but it doesn't render me oblivious to my true condition.
 
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The narcissist claims to be infallible, superior, talented, skilful, omnipotent, and omniscient. He often lies and confabulates to support these unfounded claims. Within his cult, he expects awe, admiration, adulation, and constant attention commensurate with his outlandish stories and assertions. He reinterprets reality to fit his fantasies.
 
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The narcissist often pretends to know everything, in every field of human knowledge and endeavour. He lies and prevaricates to avoid the exposure of his ignorance. He resorts to numerous subterfuges to support his God-like omniscience.
 
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The abuser's biography sounds unusually rich and complex. His achievements – incommensurate with his age, education, or renown. Yet, his actual condition is evidently and demonstrably incompatible with his claims. Very often, the abuser's lies or fantasies are easily discernible. He always name-drops and appropriates other people's experiences and accomplishments as his own.
 
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Yet, deep inside, the narcissist is aware that his life is an artifact, a confabulated sham, a vulnerable cocoon. The world inexorably and repeatedly intrudes upon these ramshackle battlements, reminding the narcissist of the fantastic and feeble nature of his grandiosity. This is the much-dreaded Grandiosity Gap.
 
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The False Self is nothing but a concoction, a figment of the narcissist's disorder, a reflection in the narcissist's hall of mirrors. It is incapable of feeling, or experiencing. Yet, it is fully the master of the psychodynamic processes which rage within the narcissist's psyche.
 
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One of the most important symptoms of pathological narcissism (the Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is grandiosity. Grandiose fantasies (megalomaniac delusions of grandeur) permeate every aspect of the narcissist's personality. They are the reason that the narcissist feels entitled to special treatment which is typically incommensurate with his real accomplishments. The Grandiosity Gap is the abyss between the narcissist's self-image (as reified by his False Self) and reality.
 
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The narcissist then resorts to self-delusion. Unable to completely ignore contrarian opinion and data - he transmutes them. Unable to face the dismal failure that he is, the narcissist partially withdraws from reality. To soothe and salve the pain of disillusionment, he administers to his aching soul a mixture of lies, distortions, half-truths and outlandish interpretations of events around him.
 
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A Grandiosity Bubble is an imagined, self-aggrandising, narrative involving the narcissist and elements from his real life – people around him, places he frequents, or conversations he is having. The narcissist weaves a story incorporating these facts, inflating them in the process and endowing them with bogus internal meaning and consistency. In other words: he confabulates – but, this time, his confabulation is loosely based on reality.
 
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Question:
 
Why does the narcissist conjure up another Self? Why not simply transform his True Self into a False one?
 
Answer:
 
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The irony is that narcissists, who consider themselves worldly, discerning, knowledgeable, shrewd, erudite, and astute - are actually more gullible than the average person. This is because they are fake. Their self is false, their life a confabulation, their reality test gone. They live in a fantasy land all their own in which they are the center of the universe, admired, feared, held in awe, and respected for their omnipotence and omniscience.
 
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The disparity between the accomplishments of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies and inflated self-image - the Grandiosity Gap - is staggering and, in the long run, insupportable. It imposes onerous exigencies on the narcissist's grasp of reality and social skills. It pushes him either to seclusion or to a frenzy of "acquisitions" - cars, women, wealth, power.
 
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The narcissist rarely admits to a weakness, ignorance, or deficiency. He filters out information to the contrary - a cognitive impairment with serious consequences. Narcissists are likely to unflinchingly make inflated and inane claims about their sexual prowess, wealth, connections, history, or achievements.
 
All this is mighty embarrassing to the narcissist's nearest, dearest, colleagues, friends, neighbours, even on-lookers. The narcissist's tales are so patently absurd that he often catches people off-guard. Unbeknownst to him, the narcissist is derided and mockingly imitated. He fast makes a nuisance and an imposition of himself in every company.
 
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The "modesty" displayed by narcissists is false. It is mostly and merely verbal. It is couched in flourishing phrases, emphasised to absurdity, repeated unnecessarily – usually to the point of causing gross inconvenience to the listener. The real aim of such behaviour and its subtext are exactly the opposite of common modesty.
 
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Question:
 
Why is there no connection between the behaviour of the narcissist and his emotions?
 
Answer:
 
A better way of putting it would be that there is a weak correlation between the narcissist's behaviour and his professed or proclaimed emotions. The reason is that his emotions are merely professed or proclaimed – but not felt.
 
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Narcissists, like children, have magical thinking. They feel omnipotent. They feel that there is nothing they couldn't do or achieve had they only really wanted to and applied themselves to it.
 
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The signs are here, the gestures, the infinitesimal movements that you cannot control. I lurk. I know that definite look, that imperceptible twitch, the inevitability of your surrender.
 
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Encyclopedia of Narcissism and Psychopathy

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Buy 16 books and video lectures on 3 DVDs about narcissists, psychopaths, and abusive relationships

http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/thebook.html
Feb/3/2009, 1:49 pm Link to this post  
 


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