“That’s what Arturo Belano was like, a stupid, conceited peacock.”

Putting together Tuesday’s post, I naturally spent some time skimming back through many of the narratives, especially the earlier ones. I wasn’t so much amazed at how much I’d forgotten, but at how little I’d realized the tightness and cohesiveness of the section. Tightness, ha, how many narrators are there again? Yet I’m serious.

Take Laura Jáuregui, probably most famous in the world of Savage Detectives quotes as the woman who describes “the whole visceral realist thing [as] a love letter, the demented strutting of a dumb bird in the moonlight, something essentially cheap and meaningless.” Jáuregui certainly uses her interviews, conducted in January and May of 1976 and March of 1977, to lash out at her ex-lover Belano. But her comments on visceral realism and her telling of the story of their relationship and breakup foreshadow much of what is to come.

Before the visceral realists even exist, Járegui can tell their future—they will grow up. In January 1976:

And then other poets turned up, poets a little older than Arturo, none of them visceral realists, among other reasons because visceral realism didn’t exist yet, poets like Aníbal who had been friends with Arturo before he left for Chile and so had known him since he was seventeen. They were actually journalists and government officials, the kind of sad people who never leave downtown, or certain downtown neighborhoods, sovereigns of sadness in the area bounded by Avenida Capultepec, to the south, and Reforma, to the north, staffers at El Nacional, proofreaders at the Excelsior, pencil pushers at the Secretaría de Gobernación who headed to Bucareli when they left work and sent out their tentacles or their little green slips.

In the same interview, she also knows what will keep the group together for a while, and why their stories will intertwine for a while, but also why they will eventually drift apart and lose sight of each other:

[A]nd then we were together for several months…and then what happened happened, or in other words we broke up…and strange things started to happen to Arturo. That was when visceral realism was born. At first we all thought it was a joke, but then we realized it wasn’t. And when we realized it wasn’t a joke, some of us went along with him and became visceral realists, out of inertia, I think, or because it was so crazy that it seemed plausible, or for the sake of friendship, so as not to lose a whole circle of friends, but deep down no one took it seriously. Not deep down.

At the time I was beginning to make new friends at the university and I saw Arturo and his friends less and less.

By May of 1976, Jáuregui had moved far past being impressed with the visual realists (perhaps spurred on in this direction by her own outbirst at the end of her first interview?). At this point she openly derides them, but this passage is much more than just a knock on the group for acting childishly. The reason she notices their flaw, or the reason that it finally gets to her so badly, is because her own life is going in a completely different direction. Her new studies catapult her into “real adult” status several years before it happens to the others, but Jáuregui is just the first of the bunch to go down this road:

Why did I keep hanging out with the same people he hung out with for a while? Well, they were my friends too, my friends still, although it wasn’t long before I got tired of them. Let me tell you something. The university was real, the biology department was real, my professors were real, my classmates were real. …Those people weren’t real. The great poet Alí Chumacero…was real, do you see what I mean?, what he left behind was real. What they left behind, on the other hand, wasn’t real. Poor little mice hypnotized by Ulises and led to the slaughter by Arturo. Let me put it as concisely as I can: the real problem was that they were almost all at least twenty and they acted like they were barely fifteen. Do you see what I mean?

In March 1977, Jáuregui reports on her final meeting with Belano, when the two were already long broken-up. The two are clearly on separate sides of a deep chasm, on his side “countries like Libya, Ethiopa, Zaire, and cities like Barcelona, Florence, Avignon” and on hers studying and biology and money. Grown-up things.

At first I’d pretended I wasn’t interested in his plans, his talk, anything he had to say to me, but then I realized that I really wasn’t interested, that everything having to do with him bored me to tears, that what I really wanted was for him to go and let me study in peace. …I told him that when I was a biologist I would have the time to see those cities and countries, and the money too, because I didn’t plan to travel around the world hitchhiking or sleeping just anywhere. …I’ll travel when I have money. Then you won’t have the time, he said. I will have the time, I said, you’re wrong, I’ll be the mistress of my time, I’ll do what I like with my time. And he said: you won’t be young anymore.

This devastates Belano, and the encounter ends in one of Bolaño’s characteristic (it would seem) incidents of unresolved violence.

Jáuregui is not the only early narrator unimpressed with the young Belano’s travels—because, remember, these are some of the oldest stories about Belano too. Perla Avilés (the second narrator of the entire section; Amadeo Salvatierra is first and Jáuregui is third) is nearly as bitter as Jáuregui when she hears about “his latest adventures” from his sister after a chance meeting.

He had traveled all over Latin America, returned to his native country, suffered through a coup. …I imagined him lost in a white space, a virgin space that kept getting dirtier and more soiled despite his best efforts, and even the face I remembered grew distorted, as if while I was talking to his sister his features melded with what she was describing, ridiculous tests of strength, terrifying, pointless rites of passage into adulthood, so distant from what I once thought would become of him….

By this time, like Jáuregui’s, Avilés’s “life [had taken] a ninety-degree turn.” College, growing up—but you guessed that already.

4 comments to “That’s what Arturo Belano was like, a stupid, conceited peacock.”

  • Nicole -what a terrific post (btw, I’m thrilled to have discovered your blog thanks to this challenge). Those scenes with Laura really do stand out in the book as one of its more self-critical aspects. And as you so nicely point out, they also underscore how much The Savage Detectives is a work about youth, rebellion, avoiding the traps of adulthood. So if there’s an actual model for Laura Jáuregui out there in the real world, I wonder: Does she have regrets? Did she become a famous biologist?

  • Thanks, Scott! According to the Wikipedia page on the novel, Laura Jáuregui is the real-life Lisa Johnson. This blog post mentions “Lisa Johnson, su amor de juventud, a quien invoca constantemente en su obra posterior” (Lisa Johnson, his childhood love, whom he invokes constantly in his later work–translation mine, and note that I do not actually speak Spanish!). A Spanish-speaker or someone more up on Bolaño than myself (or perhaps simply someone with better Google fu) might be able to find out more.

  • MFB

    I just finished this book last night and it is the first Bolaño I have read. I saw you were blogging it extensively so this is a comment on all your posts. I didn’t know anything about this book’s structure or content and I was quite taken aback when I first started reading and then further thrown when I got to the second part of the book that forms the bulk of the narrative.

    “…I’ll travel when I have money. Then you won’t have the time, he said. I will have the time, I said, you’re wrong, I’ll be the mistress of my time, I’ll do what I like with my time. And he said: you won’t be young anymore.”

    It’s really interesting you singled out the above passage. This was the first part where I started to feel an inkling of what this book was “about” overall (or at least what it would come to mean to me). What is it about? Well, its true that youth is a scam but getting old seems even worse. Reading it now, it’s such a heartbreaking/real exchange and I would really like to know what happened to Laura Jáuregui/Lisa Johnson!

    As a commenter on a previous post said, completism seems a reasonable goal. I have stacks upon stacks of other books to read piled up at home but all I can think of is getting my hands on more Bolaño. I spent a bit of time trying to sort out the chronology of his works based on when things were actual written, not on publication or translation date and it’s quite a convoluted process.

    Did you read the most recent story published in The New Yorker (“Labyrinth”)? It was a nice read alongside Savage Detectives as its kind of an x-ray/microcosm of the “speculative reminiscence” (this is a fake thing I just made up) structure of the middle section of Detectives.

  • I didn’t know about the structure beforehand myself—or really much about it at all, which is strange considering how hyped it was a few years back (before, I guess, I read book blogs).

    I felt the same way when I first “met” Laura Jáuregui, and going back over her sections I was even more struck with how important she is to the novel—especially for someone who is (I think) totally abandoned by about halfway through the second section. She is one of these people who disappears. But we are all very keen to know what happened to Lisa Johnson! (New task: compare Cesárea Tinajero to Laura Jáuregui—two mothers of movements, in their own ways, who outgrow the movements and disappear from sight entirely into some kind of “adulthood” [c.f. Laura’s biology, Cesárea’s altered physique])

    I did read “Labyrinth,” and I was struck by how close a companion read it seemed to The Savage Detectives. But then, at least based on my still-limited reading, all Bolaño seems so tightly related! Hence the desire for completism, I think, at least in part. I too was driven to the same convoluted research as you, and I have a couple early works sitting here toward the top of the pile.

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