Doodlings from Antwerp: Bolaño II


Read Part I of Morgan’s Meis’ notes on Antwerp here >>

Bolaño wrote a preface to Antwerp in 2002 when he found out it was finally being published. He called the preface, “Total Anarchy: Twenty-Two Years Later.” The “total anarchy” is a reference to a piece of paper tacked over Bolaño’s bed in those days, the late 70s. He’d asked a Polish friend to write ‘total anarchy’ on the scrap of paper in Polish. Maybe there is another connection to our Sophie Podolski here, our suicidal Belgian muse?

This preface is like a little drink of water for the dying men who read Antwerp, I suppose. Bolaño seems to tell you a thing or two in the preface, explain the context within which he wrote his opaque novel. I read the preface three times before I realized it was a trick. He says, “I wrote this book for the ghosts, who, because they’re outside of time, are the only ones with time.”

That’s a joke, man, it’s just a joke. Dead people are the only ones with time enough to sort this novel out. You’d have to be dead, and in possession of infinite time, to figure out if the hunchback really did it and what movie they are watching on that sheet hung between the trees at the campground.

I think the hunchback did do it. I’m just not sure what he did.


At the end of the preface, Bolaño says, “Then came 1981, and before I knew it, everything had changed.”

willem elsschotThe sentence didn’t even register with me the first time I read the book. Then, this morning, I was walking down an ancient alley near the Letterenhuis where they have an exhibit about the literature of Willem Elsschot, a Flemish man Bolaño would have appreciated if he’d known him. Elsschot wrote an entire novel about a man who is trying to unload some cheese. It’s called Kaas (Cheese). I was listening to Duran Duran. Suddenly, the number 1981 popped into my brain. 1, 9, 8, 1.

What happened in 1981?


I don’t know anything about Roberto Bolaño. How am I supposed to know what happened in 1981? I was living in the Hollywood Hills at the time, with my parents. Many Americans live with their parents at that age. I was nine. I’d barely even begun to develop my own prose style.

Bolaño was living in Spain. He was writing, I suppose, Monsieur Pain. That was the first novel that got Bolaño some attention. Maybe that is what he is referring to in the preface to Antwerp. In 1981 he started to become a public artist. But then I’ve seen reference to the fact that Bolaño started writing Monsieur Pain in 1982.

Did Bolaño start using heroin in 1981? Did he ever, actually, use heroin? Did his liver give out, finally, because of the heroin?

Important things happen in The Savage Detectives and in 2666 in 1981. I can’t remember, right now, exactly what they are.

2666 minus 1981 is 685. On the other hand, 2666 plus 1981 is 4647. The Byzantine emperor Constantine IV was born in 685. We do not know, as of yet, what will happen in 4647.


Anyway, it is true that space and time are mysterious. Specific dates are the craziest of all. They pick out a moment and make it concrete. But why one thing and not another? Why is anything in one spot of space or time and not another? That’s a variation on the biggest question of all, why is there something and not nothing?

Bolaño opens Antwerp, his first novel, with the following quote from Pascal:

When I consider the brief span of my life absorbed into the eternity which comes before and after—memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis—the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here? By whose command and act were this place and time allotted to me?

In the notes that were later collected together and published as Pascal’s Pensées, this quote appears on page 1981.

I’m just kidding….

Or am I?


Part I of Morgan Meis’ excursion into the novel Antwerp can be read here >>

Read the first post in Morgan’s Owls project “Doodlings from Antwerp” here >>



  1. Here’s one thing that popped up when I Googled Mexico 1981 – a great interview with KISS:

  2. […] of Light Doodlings from Antwerp: Bolaño III 03/08/2010 Read Parts I (here) and II (here) of Morgan Meis’ unfolding essay on the novel […]

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