New Criticals

All the time in the world

b. There's a line from Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch that comes to mind from time to time: "…with all the time in the world to woodshed some of his bop ideas and kill us softly with some blues." Cortazar writes quite a lot about jazz, and this sentence is directly about jazz performance, but he also off-handedly nods toward a kind of improvisational poetics in his own work. Hopscotch is thrilling, a labyrinth as disconcertingly beautiful as any novel can be, and all along, Cortazar's playful instinct develops themes, motifs, and phrases at the leisurely pace of a man who knows he can afford to take his time. All great art is made in the meantime, in between time.

c. Roberto Bolaño, in 2666, imagines literature as a forest, and the monumental works, the lasting masterpieces, are the lakes, or strange mushrooms in the undergrowth. The image is inapt almost to the point of ridiculousness, exactly the kind of gambit that only Bolaño can pull off. At the center of 2666 Bolaño placed "The Part About the Crimes," a catalog of horrifying murders and failed police work, a city quietly made hellish, life there made meaningless by degrees. The repetition of small details gives the section its energy (I admit I was unfamiliar with the hyoid bone until I read this novel), but it remains one of the most difficult works I have ever read. Whenever I have felt like rereading 2666, "The Part About the Crimes" has stopped me. One day I'll get the better of such readerly cowardice, since the rewards of the book outweigh the horrors encountered. The image, becomes apt after all: you have to muster the energy to dive to the bottom of that lake again.