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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolano

B writes a book in which he makes fun of certain writers, variously disguised, or, to be more precise, certain types of writers. In one of his stories there is a character not unlike A, a writer of about B’s age, but who, unlike B, is famous, well-off and has a large readership; in other words he has achieved the three highest goals (in that order) to which a man of letters can aspire. B is not famous, he has no money and his poems are published in little magazines. Yet A and B are not entirely dissimilar. They both come from lower-middle-class or upwardly mobile working-class families. Politically, both are left wing; they have in common a keen intellectual curiosity and a deficient formal education. With A’s meteoric rise, however, a sanctimonious tone has crept into his writing, and B, who is a slave to print, finds this particularly irritating. In his newspaper articles, and with increasing frequency in his books, A has taken to pontificating on all things great and small, human or divine, with a leaden pedantry, like a man who, having used literature as a ladder to social status and respectability, now safely ensconced in his nouveau-riche ivory tower, snipes at anything that might tarnish the mirror in which he contemplates himself and the world. For B, in short, A has become a prig.

From the opening of A Literary Adventure, one of the stories in Bolano’s collection

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