Nazi Literature in South America and India

Roberto Bolano in his recently translated novel Nazi Literature in the Americas weaves an entire literary universe filled with imaginary writers and their writings.Not all writers were,however, fans of Hitler or other Nazi leaders or even their ideology. Bolano’s biographies of these imaginary writers, inspired in a way by Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, are short- the longest runs into a few pages, the shortest about a page in length. Marked by sharply etched portraits of the writers and of their equally imaginary writings, the novel reads like a racy potboiler, except that there is no evident plot in the novel. Only the last story (which readers of Bolano’s novel Distant Star will be familiar with because it is a summary of the same novel) is somewhat longer and has Bolano himself speaking in the first person and somewhat gives the clues to the underlying impulses behind the novel.

In this he recounts the story of Ramirez Hoffman, a Chilean air plane pilot who seemingly heralded a ‘new era’ in Chilean arts after the coup against Salvador Allende’s socialist government and the establishment of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. Hoffman’s poetry is written in the sky using smokes from his air plane thus announcing the new blend of technology and arts as Chile was ‘recovering its manhood’ under a military dispensation.Some of Hoffman’s poems, all one liners written on the skies, read as follows:

“Death is friendship”
“Death is Chile”
“Death is responsibility”
“Death is growth”
“Death is communion”
“Death is cleansing” and so on till “Death is resurrection” and the generals themselves realize that something is amiss. It is, however, something far more macabre that leads to his downfall.

Bolano’s prose is marked by the alacrity of flash fiction (which to me is one of the most important developments in literature in the internet age), but nevertheless carries forward the tradition of the serious novel. The absence of an explicit plot in the story does not mean that there is no plot- as a post- modern reading would suggest. Instead, the plot is hidden below the surface, like an underground river.

The point that he makes is that Nazi- like brutality has a long lineage, and it resides perceptibly and imperceptibly in literature as well. Literature is, therefore, a battlefield in the recovery of humanity and is not outside the realm of politics, and neither is politics outside the realm of poetry and literature.

Reading the novel, I could not but relate very much to India where, interestingly, it is rather normal to have politicians, in the tradition of rulers of the past like Bahadur Shah Zafar and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, to double up as poets and writers. It is therefore not unusual that two major contemporary politicians- Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister and a present Chief Minister of Gujarat respectively, belonging to what is easily the closest we have to a fascist political movement, the Bharatiya Janata Party, have some claim to being poets.

To look for Nazi literature in India, one does not need biographies of imaginary writers. In India, they live among us, in our times. The question of literature and politics being separate also does not arise. They are so intricately tied up that both are the same. The nightmare and the muse.

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Author: bhupinder singh

an occasional blogger

4 thoughts on “Nazi Literature in South America and India”

  1. Thank you very much for this brief review/essay. I especially appreciate the point of view, from India, and the names of politicians/writers new to me, to learn more about. In Distant Star, mentioned here as the expanded version of the last piece in Nazi Literatures, and in the great novella By Night in Chile, Bolano explores some of the terrain of the interrelationships among poetry & fascism, poetry & politics, which in the 20the Century have been so famously evidenced by writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernst Junger (who figures in By Night in Chile), Marinetti, etc etc and among politicians who wrote &/or taught poetry–Mao, Pol Pot, Milsoevic, etc etc–Bolano is also examining the ways in which poetry becomes involved with, is an upholder of, States & Institutions (the Church in By Night in Chile)–a role poetry has played throughout history. Bolano’s insights have been powerfully useful & thought provoking for me in re what i call “The New Extreme Experimental American Poetry & Arts”–which I writeof at my blog and in various essays/reviews on line. Bolano’s work is a key to opening so many doors in this area, at once “hidden” in secret prisons, State secrecy, and “hidden in plain site/sight/cite” as is Poe’s Purloined letter, in the non-stop daily examples one finds disseminated by the media of all forms, including blogs, web sites and so on. Thank you very much for your insights & examples from India, which are new to me and will be following up on–all my best to you–david-bc

    1. I am glad you liked the post. My interest in Bolano has somewhat dimmed ever since he got hyped up in the English/US media. There are so many other contemporary Latin American writers that are so interesting- Tomas Eloy Martinez, who dies recently, being one among them.

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