Roberto Bolaño/A G Porta: Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce [Advice from a Disciple of Morrison and a Fan of Joyce]
This book was written before either Bolaño or A. G. Porta had made their name as writers though, obviously, Bolaño became much more famous. At the time of writing (2020) Porta is still alive while Bolaño sadly died in 2003. When the book was reissued in Spain, it was Porta who wrote the introduction.
In his new introduction, Porta mentioned that there had been some discussion as to how they wrote the book together. The general perception, which Bolaño did not discourage, was that they wrote alternating chapters. While this was one way of doing, it was not what they did. At the time, Porta was living in Barcelona and Bolaño in Girona. The two are around a hundred kilometres apart so interchange was possible. However, as Porta admits, he wrote a first draft and then Bolaño substantially revised it.
The title came from Consejos de un discípulo de Marx a un fanático de Heidegger, a poem by the Mexican poet Mario Santiago Papasquiaro, a friend of Bolaño and the basis for the character Ulises Lima in Bolaño’s Los Detectives Salvajes (The Savage Detectives).
Joyce obviously refers to James Joyce, while Morrison refers to Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors and, indeed, the book opens with quote from the Doors’ song The End:
This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end of our elaborate plans
The end of ev’rything that stands
It is in Spanish in the book but I have used Morrison’s original English.
Frankly, it is not a great novel but certainly interesting, to see how both writers started out. As Bolaño said, it is very violent. It is set in Barcelona and we can soon see that Porta wrote the first draft, as occasional Spanishisms creep in such as Picoleto, the Spanish for the Civil Guard. It is narrated by a would-be novelist, Ángel Ros, who is Catalan. He is writing a novel called Cant de Dèdalus anunciant fi [Song of Dedalus Announcing the End]. The character of Dedalus is influenced both by James Joyce as well as by Angel and his girlfriend. She is Ana Ríos Ricardi, twenty years old, South American and with short hair.
Both have had difficulty finding work, though Ana has managed to finally find work with a character called simply the old woman. Dedalus is a bank robber, with links to the Red Army Fraction (often, including in the Wikipedia link given, erroneously called the Red Army Faction and also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group).
It is Ana who initiates the pair into a life of crime. She starts by killing the old woman and robbing her and then they continue the crime spree. Ángel is worried about being caught by the police, Ana is not. We follow not only their crime spree but that of others Indeed, it seems that there is a major crime wave going in in Barcelona. Our heroes do not seem worried about being identified. They attack and rob Ángel’s former place of work and he recognises several of the people, and they recognise him. They rob a house, belonging to Ángel’s former boss and again he is, of course, recognised.
Meanwhile we get a fairly detailed description of Ángel’s novel-in-progress and we learn about Dedalus’ interest in Joyce, his love of prostitutes, his crime spree and his flight to France, something our heroes are considering. We also learn about his (Dedalus’) literary influences, which include, of course, Jim Morrison but also Dylan, Ginsberg, Kerouac, James Jones, Pound, Cummings and Stein, i.e. all US writers. Joyce is at the top of the list and two French writers (Le Clézio and Perec) and a couple of Catalan writers make the cut.
Their crime spree continues with full gory details of various heists, most of which end up in at least one bloody death. Inevitably, it does not all go smoothly, even if the police seem to have a host of violent criminals to chase, and the move to France seems like the best option.
As mentioned above, this is not a very good novel and naturally is only here because of its authors. Clearly, Spanish publishers shared my view as the pair (though, primarily, Bolaño) had great difficulty in getting it published. However, I would say that it is certainly not a terrible novel and the idea of a Barcelona Ulysses, with the hero as an intellectual armed robber, mirrored in the narrator, is certainly an interesting one though the violence may not be to everyone’s taste. Maybe it will appear in English as most of Bolaño’s other writings have.
First published 1984 by Ahthropos
No English translation
First published in French as Conseils d’un disciple de Morrison à un fanatique de Joyce in 2009 by Christian Bourgois
Translated by Robert Amutio
First published in Italian as Consigli di un discepolo di Jim Morrison a un fanatico di Joyce in 2007 by Sellerio
Translated by Angelo Morino