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Paulo Lemos Horta

Published On


Page Range

pp. 277-300

Print Length

23 pages

8. Euforia, Desencanto

Roberto Bolaño and Barcelona Publishing in the Transition to Democracy

  • Paulo Lemos Horta (author)
The myth of the solitary genius of Chilean author Roberto Bolaño writing furiously in a lonely exile in the small town of Blanes, north of Barcelona, has obscured the networks of print culture that enabled his career as a novelist in Catalonia. In the United States, the perception that he authored a vast oeuvre in a short half-decade burst of creativity before his death at age fifty, writing 2666 against the looming approach of death, is very much part of his legend. And the marketing of the author in rebellion against the statist socialism of the generation of Gabriel García Márquez resonated with publishing markets. But this mythology overlooks the fact that some of the works published to wide acclaim between 1998 and 2004, the dates of The Savage Detectives and 2666, were first attempted and drafted and sometimes finished in the years before Spain joined the European Union in 1986 and the fall of the Berlin wall. In 1986, for instance, he wrote to A.G. Porta, his sometimes co-author, that he had finished The Ice Rink, only published in 1993. Porta and Bolaño met through their involvement with small literary magazines that published poetry in both Catalan (as was the case with Porta) and Spanish in the late 1970s, at a time of transition to democracy when the linguistic decolonization of literary culture with reference to Castilian was still very much contested. This chapter takes as a point of departure the collaboration between Porta and Bolaño that reflected a wider exchange in the print culture of the period, their first published novel Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce, which remains curiously unavailable in English. In the vast emerging scholarship on Bolaño, numbering over forty monographs to date, the rubric of exile and the exilic, as privileged in a monograph by his translator Chris Andrews, has acquired a certain currency, helping locate Bolaño beyond the left of Latin American writing. This chapter suggests the need to read Bolaño within the print culture of his own time, and his work, a surprising amount of it completed before 1991, against the backdrop of the tensions of linguistic decolonization and the Cold War. Graphic novel and dramatic adaptations of Bolaño’s fiction today more explicitly ground his writing in his experience of Pinochet’s Chile and the Mexican Dirty War of the 1970s, and print culture study of Barcelona in the 1970s and 1980s can likewise root an understanding of the “lone genius” within wider contested cultural and political currents.


Paulo Lemos Horta