Sunday, 22 January 2012

"sharp instruments and lynched messiahs"

Kill yr Idols

I've taken a break from In Search of Lost Time in order to read The Savage Detectives for next weekends readalong. After reading the passage below, from The Savage Detectives, I'm now desperate to prove I'm not desperate by finishing In Search of Lost Time.
The following quote is from The Savage Detectives. The call to Kill Yr Idols is from Sonic Youth.

..."There are books for when you’re bored. Plenty of them. There are books for when you’re calm. The best kind, in my opinion. There are also books for when you’re sad. And there are books for when you’re happy. There are books for when you’re thirsty for knowledge. And there are books for when you’re desperate. The latter are the kind of books Ulises Lima and Belano wanted to write. A serious mistake, as we'll soon see. Let's take, for example, an average reader, a cool-headed, mature, educated man leading a more or less healthy life. A man who buys books and literary magazines. So there you have him. This man can read things that are written for when you're calm, but he can also read any other kind of book with a critical eye, dispassionately, without absurd or regrettable complicity. That's how I see it. I hope I'm not offending anyone. Now let's take the desperate reader, who is presumably the audience for the literature of desperation. What do we see? First: the reader is an adolescent or an immature adult, insecure, all nerves. He's the kind of fucking idiot (pardon my language) who committed suicide after reading Werther. Second, he's a limited reader. Why limited? That's easy: because he can only read the literature of desperation, or books for the desperate, which amounts to the same thing, the kind of person or freak who's unable to read all the way through In Search of Lost Time, for example, or The Magic Mountain (a paradigm of calm, serene, complete literature, in my humble opinion), or for that matter, Les Miserables or War and Peace. Am I making myself clear? Good. So I talked to them, told them, warned them, alerted them to the dangers they were facing. It was like talking to a wall. Furthermore: desperate readers are like the California gold mines. Sooner or later they're exhausted! Why? It's obvious! One can't live one's whole life in desperation. In the end the body rebels, the pain becomes unbearable, lucidity gushes out in great cold spurts. The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up by turning away from books. Inevitably he ends up becoming just plain desperate. Or he's cured! And then, as part of the regenerative process, he returns slowly - as if wrapped in swaddling cloths, as if under a rain of dissolved sedatives - he returns, as I was saying, to a literature written for cool, serene readers, with their heads set firmly on their shoulders. That's what's called (by me, if nobody else) the passage from adolescence to adulthood. And by that I don't mean that once someone has become a cool-headed reader he no longer reads books written for desperate readers. Of course he reads them! Especially if they're good or decent or recommended by a friend. But ultimately they bore him! Ultimately, that literature of resentment, full of sharp instruments and lynched messiahs, doesn't pierce his heart the way a calm page does. I told them so. I warned them. I showed them the technically perfect page....."

What is this literature of desperation? Are Bolaño's books included? All I know is that it sounds good and brings to mind Miss Lonelyhearts and Wiseblood. Maybe I am one of the desperate. If you look around how could you be anything else.


  1. This was one of the great passages I'd somehow forgotten about between my first and second readings of The Savage Detectives. It makes a marvelous bookend to that other character's 3-page long drunken rant about straight, gay and bisexual genres and poets at that visceral realist party early on in the book. Tremendous writing!

  2. I'd forgotten it too, Richard - I loved the earlier rant too and keep feeling it has an earlier source that I've read but I can't put my finger on it. (Might just be from when I read it before, though).

  3. Joaquín Font! He reminded me of Prof. Amalfitano. The "technically perfect page" here was somehow rehashed as "the perfect exercises of the great masters" in his tirade against the bookish pharmacist who preferred minor to major works.

  4. That line made me say "Yikes!" too, since I am part way through the last volume of ISOLT and have stalled for some reason. MUST FINISH. At least I've read all of Les Mis... :)