Harper’s Wyatt Mason often infuriates me, which I reckon is altogether one of the best reasons to read literary criticism. (His claim of a ‘preening literary self-consciousness’ in Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives is the very accusation it’s possible to level at Mason himself.) His post on Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, however, makes me want to get hold of a copy as soon as possible, though I’ve recently resolved only to read books getting a lot of attention once the hype has died down. They’re a lot easier to assess (and enjoy) then – and a lot cheaper too.
The sentences Mason quotes from Bolaño’s novel are indeed a marvellous way to confront cliché, so I’m going to reproduce them here:
The first conversation began awkwardly, although Espinoza had been expecting Pelletier’s call, as if both men found it difficult to say what sooner or later they would have to say. The first twenty minutes were tragic in tone, with the word fate used ten times and the word friendship twenty-four times. Liz Norton’s name was spoken fifty times, nine of them in vain. The word Paris was said seven times, Madrid, eight. The word love was spoken twice, once by each man. The word horror was spoken six times and the word happiness once (by Espinoza). The word solution was said twelve times. The word solipsism seven times. The plural, nine times. The word structuralism once (Pelletier). The term American Literature three times. The words dinner or eating or breakfast or sandwich nineteen times. The words eyes or hands or hair fourteen times. Then the conversation proceeded more smoothy. Pelletier told Espinoza a joke in German and Espinoza laughed. In fact, they both laughed, wrapped up in the waves or whatever it was that linked their voices and ears across the dark fields and the wind and the snow of the Pyrenees and the rivers and the lonely roads and the separate and interminable suburbs surrounding Paris and Madrid.
I have a dread of cliché and sentimentality, probably because I love them so much, but slowly I’m coming to see how to pick them up and scrape away the gunk.