Writing as a Radical Way of Living

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Last Monday I had the good fortune to catch a talk given by Natasha Wimmer, translator of Roberto Bolaño’s novels the Savage Detectives and 2666, at the 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco.

In the course of her opening remarks, she said that from the beginning, she was “struck by how different Bolaño’s novels are from one another.” Describing 2666 as “longer and wider-ranging” than his previous novels, it nevertheless “isn’t loose at all,” in contrast with the Savage Detectives: “there is a tension and blankness to it that give it the grandeur and alien quality of a classical frieze.”

Although those two books, and By Night in Chile, are very different, once she’d finished translating 2666, she thought she had “some clue as to what stylistically linked the three novels, and all of Bolaño’s fiction.”

She continued: “the answer I finally came up with was this: in each novel, Bolaño strives in different ways to avoid rhetoric, or in other words, to avoid entrenched habits of expression, ordinary eloquence, and even sense from time to time.

“He didn’t set out to do this just to prove something, to experiment, or to make some nihilistic statement. As he stated many times, writing was, for him, a radical way of living, and thus he had to find a vital, and arresting, and in some ways anti-literary approach to fiction.”

The full audio of Wimmer’s talk is available here, which includes her reading of a section of 2666 (“The part about Fate”) and an exciting sneak preview of her forthcoming translation of Bolano’s essay collection, Entre parentesis.


Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →