Monday, February 11, 2008

End of Semester + Writer's Strike Over + Bolaño's "The Fabulous Schiaffino Boys"

Last Friday I taught my final Theory and Practice of Fiction class of the semester (or quarter-and-a-half; this and its poetry and creative nonfiction analogues are the only such course in the university's undergraduate college). TPF is the advanced, intensive, first half of a yearlong sequence that all the majors and minors take, and among the requirements, the students must read stories by a number of authors over the summer, and then be ready to discuss and analyze them once school starts in September. This time we read stories by the following 7 authors: Anton Chekhov, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Carver, Junot Díaz, Z. Z. Packer, Haruki Murakami, and Aimee Bender, with a final glance at James Joyce's "The Dead"). The students also wrote three short stories, two of which they had to revise, before switching over this week to a new professor for another semester (quarter-and-a-half), during which they'll complete a novella. The course is exhausting in terms of the workload, but one of the most fulfilling I get an opportunity to teach, because I get to see all 15 of these amazing young writers develop their distinctive voice (or voices) and styles, and see demonstrable growth not only in their skills as writers, but as critics of each others' work, the pieces by the established writers, and their own stories. This particular group was very lively, had a great collective sense of humor, possessed a penchant for speculative fiction and fantasy texts, and included some hardcore TV and movie fans who got all of Junot Díaz's references during his visit (I kid not), and most of mine. (The film repertoire of the 1970s remains an unexplored trove.) We had a farewell dinner this weekend, and I managed not to get verklempt. But I already miss them. I know they'll be in excellent hands, though, and busier than they ever imagined writing their novellas. I can't wait till our end-of-year senior readings to hear what some of them have come up with, though they'll also have stories they'd be proud to submit anywhere.


The 3 1/2 month Screen Writers Guild's strike over internet residuals and fair compensation is over. Here's a primer on the deal the writers and producers struck. I gather the deal is perfect but it does address some of the chief concerns the writers had, and it can be considered a significant union victory in this new century. On a practical level it'll mean the return of popular series and fewer "reality" shows, though I don't think cable or non-cable channels had yet reached the true abyss of mediated reality awfulness just yet. But they have been on their way.


Nazi Literatures in AmericaSpeaking of writers and fiction, here's "The Fabulous Schiaffino Boys," a Bookforum excerpt from Chris Andrews's new translation of Roberto Bolaño's early (1996) literary encyclopedia-as-novel, Nazi Literature in the Americas. A section of the novel became the important early novella Distant Star (1996), which I have been recommending, along with one of Bolaño's masterpieces, By Night In Chile (2000), and his award-winning novel, The Savage Detectives (1998) since I picked them up. The highly autobiographical, exquisitely pitched stories in Last Evenings on Earth (a 2006 English combo of selections from two of his earlier volumes) are also worth reading, though perhaps more of an acquired taste.

I plan on picking up the new New Directions volume soon, but I'm eagerly waiting on the translation, supposedly forthcoming from Farrar Straus and Giroux (is that right?), of his last and magnum opus, the (nearly finished) mammoth (1,100 pages) novel 2666 (2004) which has been widely acclaimed as one of the major Spanish language works of the last 20 years.

From the online story, a salty sliver:

He began the year 1974 by publishing the collection Iron Youth (fifty mimeographed copies): dense, militaristic poems with march-like rhythms, which, if nothing else, obliged Schiaffino to venture beyond the bounds of his natural thematic domains: soccer and humor. He followed up with a play, The Presidential Summit, or What Can We Do to Turn This Around? In this five-act farce, heads of state and diplomats from various Latin American nations meet in a hotel room somewhere in Germany to discuss options for restoring the natural and traditional supremacy of Latin American soccer, which is under threat from the European total-football approach. The play, which is extremely long, recalls a certain strain of avant-garde theatre, from Adamov, Genet, and Grotowski to Copi and Savary, although it is unlikely (though not impossible) that Fatso ever set foot in the sort of establishment given to the production of such plays. The following are only a few of the scenes: (1) A monologue about the etymologies of the words peace and art delivered by the Venezuelan cultural attaché. (2) The rape of the Nicaraguan ambassador in one of the hotel bathrooms by the presidents of Nicaragua, Colombia, and Haiti. (3) A tango danced by the presidents of Argentina and Chile. (4) The Uruguayan ambassador’s peculiar interpretation of the prophecies of Nostradamus. (5) A masturbation contest organized by the presidents, with three categories: thickness (won by the Ecuadoran ambassador); length (won by the Brazilian ambassador); and, most important, distance covered by semen (won by the Argentine ambassador). (6) The president of Costa Rica’s subsequent irritation and condemnation of such contests as “scatology in the poorest taste.” (7) The arrival of the German whores. (8) All-out brawling, chaos, and exhaustion. (9) The arrival of the dawn, a “pink dawn that intensifies the fatigue of the bigwigs who finally come to understand their defeat.” (10) The president of Argentina’s solitary breakfast (having let off a series of resounding farts, he climbs into bed and falls asleep).

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