That is, it was the fear that afflicts most citizens who, one fine (or dark) day, choose to make the practice of writing, and especially the practice of fiction writing, an integral part of their lives. Fear of being no good. Also fear of being overlooked. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear that one’s efforts and striving will come to nothing. Fear of the step that leaves no trace. Fear of the forces of chance and nature that wipe away shallow prints. Fear of dining alone and unnoticed. Fear of going unrecognized. Fear of failure and making a spectacle of oneself. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear of forever dwelling in the hell of bad writers.
— from 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer
Of course, if you live in a big city, they will also be wanting to know and admire all the impostors who have won the same celebrity with quite mediocre works extravagantly overpraised. So you may not be impressed by the company you’re keeping. And if you live out in the provinces, people will very likely have no notion of literary glory at all. Writing? I could have done that perfectly well myself, if I’d had time, if I’d wanted to turn my mind to it. You’ll get a lot of this. Only a handful of people will really appreciate what you’ve done, so that, in general, it’s hard to think of a commodity that comes at a higher price and brings fewer benefits than literary glory.
In response, you’ll withdraw into solitude. You’ll try to believe that the work itself is sufficient reward for your efforts. It isn’t. Then, since we all have to have something to hope for in the future, you’ll start to seek consolation in the notion that posterity will finally give you the true recognition you deserve. I’ll live on in the minds of generations to come, you tell yourself. But honestly, there’s no guarantee of this. Why should those who come after us be any better, or any more receptive and perceptive, than our contemporaries? On the contrary, the world will most likely have moved on and people won’t have any time for you at all.
— from Giuseppe Parini’s advice to a young writer by Giacomo Leopardi
— Vogue Italia interview with Antoine D’Agata
in this world, beauty is so common
— Jorge Luis Borges
Again I wake up with the sound of drums in my ears, the mattress hard under me. I bury my face in the crook of my arm that is on the pillow, while with the other hand I search for the watch. The drums seem nearer now; their beats ruffle the hair on the back of my head and slide down into my ears, but sleep has not left me entirely and it is with difficulty that I lift my head to check the time. It is not yet eight and I have already twice repeated these movements in the last twenty minutes, which could well be three hours. Then all at once the beating of drums ceases. The company has concluded its morning march. A bugle is heard three times. After that all is silent, though I now become aware of another sound, that of the old fan rotating above. Fighting the urge to fall back to sleep I turn around and rub my eye with a finger. I can think of nothing as I follow the movements of the fan through the mosquito net that closes on me from all sides – like a room within a room. In my sleep I recall feeling the warmth of a body. But here I lie alone, ignoring the discomfort of a full bladder. I see the road that passes through the forest, its trees yellowish-brown skeletons, their branches bare and rising willy-nilly towards a sky which is white with heat; the earth as far as you can look is covered with dead leaves. It is a landscape at the end of time.
From this red block of pure substance we look toward sea, separated from it by tiny flakes of white paint. Some finger has stuck itself in the same pot to draw wave tops, a line quivering but unbroken. Doctors speak of low iron levels in the blood and say things, “a nice broth is what you need” “a good cut of meat”, while the strength of the soul goes unmentioned. Yet here we rest, Soul and I, knowing better. I talk to you as if I’m old and you’re innocent, and I keep a shell in my hand. We sit in the shell of the boathouse, and my body remains a shell for you, and nothing passes through my mind except that I want to write lines clean and new. The wave top looks like a dishcloth wrung out, and the speed I move is not the speed of the water.
New York City — The Recent Past
There’s that “something” in the look she is giving you, something in her gaze which tells you that she thinks you’re interesting. You pretend not to notice it, of course, try to maintain your “cool detachment” but you aren’t sure why you’re doing it. You don’t really like to talk about yourself too much but she asked about your writing and writing is, at least to you, essentially the “core” of who you are. How could you not talk about it?
“What do you write? Would I know anything?”
Roberto Bolaño belongs to the most select group of Latin-American novelists. Chile of the coup d’état, Mexico City in the 1970s, and the reckless youth of poets are some of his frequent subjects, but he also takes up other themes: César Vallejo’s deathbed, the hardships endured by unknown authors, life at the periphery. Born in Chile in 1953, he spent his teenage years in Mexico and moved to Spain at the end of the seventies. As a poet, he founded the Infrarealist movement with Mario Santiago. In 1999 he won the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, previously awarded to Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, for his novel Los detectives salvajes [The Savage Detectives], for which he also received the prestigious Herralde Prize.