Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Reverse Abecedary Poem for the Visceral Realists

Marcel Duchamp, Étant donnés (Given: 1 The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas, French: Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau / 2° le gaz d'éclairage.) 1946-1966.
View through the keyhole of its outer door at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

your Xanadu washed vacant under torrents
stupid rain
quiet precipitation offering no meaning
like ketamine junkies in hallways
greedily, feverishly eating death
carrying bones around

The visceral realists are the group of poets around which Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives is centered, traveling the world in an unclear quest after one of their comrades. The Savage Detectives is one of those books I love but I have a hard time describing appealingly to others - it is akin to hanging out for an extended period of time with people your other friends find distasteful, and in all honesty, you agree with your other friends, but you still like the air with these people in it.

Much is made about the supposed similarity between Bolaño and his characters, particularly on of the main poets Arturo Belano (My theory is that he snagged the Arturo from Arturo Bandini, hero-poet-loser of John Fante's supposedly autobiographical trilogy). personally, I think this kind of activity is foolish. These are works of fiction; do we really need to believe they are factual (or to borrow from Stephen Colbert, have truthiness) to benefit from their Truth? Have we really lost our capacity for mediation of information with all this Internet-grade access to sketchy data and instant emotions. Just that I do not believe reality television is real, I don't believe that Bolaño was necessarily like the people in his books. His ex-wife says as much in recent claims in this NYTimes article.

It made me think of Duchamp, how he told everyone he was quitting art for chess while secretly slaving away over Étant donnés for twenty years in his apartment, how it was shocking that he was creating art after all. Imagine that, an artist, especially one who like playing games with public perception like placing a urinal on a podium, lying about quitting art for chess. I realize this is a simplification of Duchamp, and not the same as writing fiction, but it applies when you look at this giant book about poets who talk about their poetry that they never manage to produce, but how this poetry is so important that they form a group called the Visceral Realists, and you, the reader, are straggling around behind them.

Bolaño may have indeed been one of these poets - the book jacket blurb claims he founded the Infrarealist poetry movement in Mexico, detailed in this article in The Nation - but none of that matters. In Bolaño's fiction, he exhibits affinity and irritation with his wandering poets because that's what writer's do - dissect themselves and the company they keep and most importantly, the company they make up. I like these guys! I want to be one of these poets scribbling important things in notebooks in Mexico City bars! Lurking destitute in the filthiest walkup in Paris! Who wouldn't? I made up the makeshift poem above while walking the dog last night, thinking about them. But I don't need to believe any of it is real for it to work.

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