I read the news
“Obama’s not our boyfriend anymore”
they’ll say anything to stay confused
as though romance is a democracy
or a vote can bring a love that’s true
I’ll tell you the secret of the Word
(No, I won’t tell)
These songs just write themselves
The tools of the hex
The dam that holds back the happening
the ocean of the years
I’ll tell you the secret of the Word
(No, I can’t tell)
These songs just write themselves.
You blew in like an evil wind,
and when you left it was like a candle blowing out.
You sang to us with the strength of sin,
and chased the darkness with your shout.
Time chips away white pain in white rooms
Where all that’s left are amplifier cords
And we still wander like a minotaur
In the agony and kindness of your words
Fear and grandeur
Love and loss
Charity and pity
Understanding of the scene
Of human heartache and doomed rebellion
In every frozen city where you’ve been
Screaming for every one of us
lost and never found
and running our whole lives ever since we hit the ground
Broken as a rule, you taught us that when it hurts
We can always jump like wrenches in the works.
When you’re uncertain—really uncertain—but you have some idea of where and who, what kind of a kind person you were supposed to be… When this is where you find yourself, and someone reaches out unbidden with a real, connective recognition and hello… The feeling dawns that perhaps I can still be the person I want to be, too, and someday I’ll feel good about where I stand if I learn what that takes.
You can live alone for decades, a walking tombstone monument to others’ joyless material aspirations. You can broadcast yourself like a business card. This seems to be the way things are going. Voices unconnected to bodies, unconnected to ears, unconnected to individuality. Bodiless brands in endless market circulation. Free. But to do what? Does communication work, or has the misuse of language for material ends supplanted what it means to connect to others? Just this freedom to compete to be the most visible? Not free, not when freedom is the brand slapped on satisfaction, an undying dread drive to which you must submit or be surpassed. Liberty is only manifest in not collaborating with this death drive.
Does communication work? Does communication work? Does communication work?
The other day on the Late Show I saw a game developer demonstrate his soon-to-be-released wares, a game called “No Man’s Sky”. The dev was himself suitably impressed with his own marketing hyperbole, but the demonstration, as per the usual in these circumstances, gave the lie to all the hype. The game generates an impossible-to-fully-explore universe the player exploits for resources. In the game, a universe consists of a fairly restrictive set of variables, summed up as planets and resources. The player looks at the pretty
screensavers virtual landscapes, marvels at the life-forms that populate them (generated by the recombination of a limited set of variables determining animal appearance and behavior), and monotonously collects abstracted “resources”. The reductionist ideology that guides the gameplay would have us believe that the only things to do in a “universe” is to engage in a mechanically simplified imperialist exploitation of foreign resources. That’s it! You’re G-d, and of course that means that all you want to do is collect energon cubes from hapless natives and watch your galactic credits pile up. The player gets a whole universe, and all he gets to do is play a monotonous farming game. It would be laughable if this ideology wasn’t so apparent all around us: places of cultural value, such as bookstores and revered record stores, close in towns across the country only to be replaced by Chase bank branches pushing the empty signs of monetary value.
The universe is bigger than dollar value. To attempt to reduce it to a place that only abides the predatory regard of others is cynical propaganda.
Of the many books in Bolaño’s interwoven oeuvre, this was the first posthumously-edited, as-yet-unfinished volume that betrays the presence, or rather the absence of the author. It flatly addresses questions floated or hinted at in other works (What about the UFOs? Why so many characters? Why so many retellings of the same stories from slightly different angles with slightly different details?). It seems to end mid-sentence, but then it does so appropriately, at just such an “I’ll be right back” moment as readers have become accustomed to. This pause, though, has the unmistakeable weight of finality, the epistolary finality of a farewell that has reached its recipient on the other side of an unbridgeable gap of distance and time. So it is that we are left to silently contemplate Padilla’s fate in Barcelona, thousands of miles removed from Amalfitano’s eerily bloody Mexico. This feeling of definite separation has its counterpart in the final break of reader from author, in the feeling from which readers have been thus far shielded; that of the author as an individual taking his leave. Whether this was a deliberate drop of the curtain or the unintended consequence on a work in progress of the drawing of the shroud, the reader takes away the rare feeling that, more so than in his other works, Bolaño has undisguisedly revealed more of himself to the audience than in any of his other works.