- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Roberto Bolaño on Writing, Reading, Literature, and More.

 

Happy birthday, Roberto Bolaño! Here are some quotes from his writing:

 

“Write in the morning, revise in the afternoon, read at night, and spend the rest of your time exercising your diplomacy, stealth, and charm.”

 

“For me, the word ‘writing’ is the exact opposite of the word ‘waiting.’ Instead of waiting, there is writing.”

 

“We never stop reading, although every book comes to an end, just as we never stop living, although death is certain.”

 

“Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people’s ideas, like listening to music (oh yes), like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach.”

 

“Reading is pleasure and happiness to be alive or sadness to be alive and above all it’s knowledge and questions.”

 

“Books are finite, sexual encounters are finite, but the desire to read and to fuck is infinite; it surpasses our own deaths, our fears, our hopes for peace.”

 

“Literature is a vast forest and the masterpieces are the lakes, the towering trees or strange trees, the lovely eloquent flowers, the hidden caves, but a forest is also made up of ordinary trees, patches of grass, puddles, clinging vines, mushrooms and little wildflowers.”

 

“Every hundred feet the world changes.”

 

“If you’re going to say what you want to say, you’re going to hear what you don’t want to hear.”

 

“So everything lets us down, including curiosity and honesty and what we love best. Yes, said the voice, but cheer up, it’s fun in the end.”

 

“Nothing happened today. And if anything did, I’d rather not talk about it, because I didn’t understand it.”

 

“What twisted people we are. How simple we seem, or at least pretend to be in front of others, and how twisted we are deep down. How paltry we are and how spectacularly we contort ourselves before our own eyes, and the eyes of others…And all for what? To hide what? To make people believe what?”

 

“The truth is we never stop being children, terrible children covered in sores and knotty veins and tumors and age spots, but ultimately children, in other words we never stop clinging to life because we are life.”

 

“Being alone makes us stronger. That’s the honest truth. But it’s cold comfort, since even if I wanted company no one will come near me anymore.”

 

“Loneliness is an aspect of natural human egotism.”

 

“When you know something, you know it, and when you don’t, you’d better learn. And in the meantime, you should keep quiet, or at least speak only when what you say will advance the learning process.”

 

“There is a time for reciting poems and a time for fists.”

 

“[O]nly in chaos are we conceivable.”

 

“Nothing good ever comes of love. What comes of love is always something better.”

 

“You have to know how to look even if you don’t know what you’re looking for.”

 

“We interpret life at moments of the deepest desperation.”

 

“As time goes by, as time goes by, the whip-crack of the years, the precipice of illusions, the ravine that swallows up all human endeavor except the struggle to survive.”

 

“People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth.”

 

“The world is alive and no living thing has any remedy. That is our fortune.”

 

“Metaphors are our way of losing ourselves in semblances or treading water in a sea of seeming.”

 

“Every book in the world is out there waiting to be read by me.”

 

“One should read Borges more.”

 

“How do you recognize a work of art? How can it be kept apart, even if only for a moment, from its critics, commentators, its indefatigable plagiarists, its defacers, and its final destiny in solitude? Simple—just translate it.”

 

“Those in power (even if it’s only for a little while) known nothing about literature, all they care about is power. And I’ll play the fool for my readers, if I feel like it, but never for the powerful.”

 

“Literature was a vast minefield occupied by enemies, except for a few classic authors (just a few), and every day I had to walk through that minefield, where any false move could be fatal, with only the poems of Archilochus to guide me. It’s like that for all young writers. There comes a time when you have no support, not even from friends, forget about mentors, and there’s no one to give you a hand; publication, prizes, and grants are reserved for the others, the ones who said ‘Yes, sir,’ over and over, or those who praised the literary mandarins, a never-ending horde distinguished only by their aptitude for discipline and punishment—nothing escapes them and they forgive nothing.”

 

“Probably all of us, writers and readers alike, set out into exile, or at least into a certain kind of exile, when we leave childhood behind…The immigrant, the nomad, the traveler, the sleepwalker all exist, but not the exile, since every writer becomes an exile simply by venturing into literature, and every reader becomes an exile simply by opening a book.”

 

“The pain, or the memory of pain, that here was literally sucked away by something nameless until only a void was left. The knowledge that this question was possible: pain that turns finally into emptiness. The knowledge that the same equation applied to everything, more or less.”

 

“While we are looking for the antidote or the medicine to cure us, that is, the ‘new’, which can only be found by plunging deep into the Unknown, we have to go on exploring sex, books, and travel, although we know that they lead us to the abyss, which, as it happens, is the only place where the antidote can be found.”

 

“As time goes by, as time goes by, the whip-crack of the years, the precipice of illusions, the ravine that swallows up all human endeavour except the struggle to survive.”

 

“Metaphors are our way of losing ourselves in semblances or treading water in a sea of seeming. In that sense a metaphor is like a life jacket.

 

“That’s what art is…the story of a life in all its particularity. It’s the only thing that really is particular and personal. It’s the expression and, at the same time, the fabric of the particular…Art…What I mean is the secret story….The secret story is the one we’ll never know, although we’re living it from day to day, thinking we’re alive, thinking we’ve got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn’t matter. But every damn thing matters! It’s just that we don’t realize. We tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, we don’t even realize that’s a lie.”

 

“We all have to die a bit every now and then and usually it’s so gradual that we end up more alive than ever. Infinitely old and infinitely alive.”

 

“In a brief moment of lucidity, I was sure that we’d all gone crazy. But then that moment of lucidity was displaced by a supersecond of superlucidity (if I can put it that way), in which I realized that this scene was the logical outcome of our ridiculous lives. It wasn’t a punishment but a new wrinkle. It gave us a glimpse of ourselves in our common humanity. It wasn’t proof of our idle guilt but a sign of our miraculous and pointless innocence. But that’s not it. That’s not it. We were still and they were in motion and the sand on the beach was moving, not because of the wind but because of what they were doing and what we were doing, which was nothing, which was watching, and all of that together was the wrinkle, the moment of superlucidity. Then, nothing.”

 

“I realized my happiness was artificial. I felt happy because I saw the others were happy and because I knew I should feel happy, but I wasn’t really happy.”

 

“Life is mysterious as well as vulgar.”

 

“The world is alive and no living thing has any remedy. That is our fortune.”

 

“And I thought: History is like a horror story.”

 

“History, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness.”

 

“Our history consists of the various ways we find to elude the traps that open endlessly before us. Routine and mettle. Recovering bodies and recording incidents. Identical, calm days.”

 

“When you know something, you know it, and when you don’t, you’d better learn. And in the meantime, you should keep quiet, or at least speak only when what you say will advance the learning process.”

 

“Permanence has been swept aside by the rapidity of empty images. The pantheon, we discover to our astonishment, is the doghouse of the burning asylum…We think our brain is a marble mausoleum, when in fact it’s a house made of cardboard boxes, a shack stranded between an empty field and an endless dusk.”

 

“Because, with time, vigilance tends to relax, because all horrors are dulled by routine.”

 

“There are silences made just for us.”

 

“This is my last communique from the planet of the monsters. Never again will I immerse myself in literature’s bottomless cesspools. I will go back to writing my poems, such as they are, find a job to keep body and soul together, and make no attempt to be published.”

 

“Jesus is the masterpiece. The thieves are minor works. Why are they there? Not to frame the crucifixion, as some innocent souls believe, but to hide it.”

 

“Still, American television is full of smiles and more and more perfect-looking teeth. Do these people want us to trust them? No. Do they want us to think they’re good people? No again. The truth is they don’t want anything from us. They just want to show us their teeth, their smiles, and admiration is all they want in return. Admiration. They want us to look at them, that’s all. Their perfect teeth, their perfect bodies, their perfect manners, as if they were constantly breaking away from the sun and they were little pieces of fire, little pieces of blazing hell, here on this planet simply to be worshipped.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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