Doodlings from Antwerp: Bolaño V


The other thing we should mention about Bolaño is that he was plumb crazy. I don’t mean that in the romantic sense. I mean it in the crazy sense. He was a serious writer, but he was crazy.

I bring this up because we were talking last week about crime. We were thinking about the way that crime has the structure of all experience. We can have all the information we ever want when it comes to crime. We have the whos and whats and wheres and whens. We even have the whys, in a trivial sense. But all the little whys always fail to add up. You mighta done it for this and that reason, for a million reasons. But the explanations never come together. They never fully satisfy. In the end, we have a bunch of whys but we don’t know Why. The funny thing is that even the guy who done the crime finds himself in the same position. He can’t really tell you why, not really. He can’t even explain it in his own head.

Everything is like that, actually. Crime just brings the insanity of it to the front and center. The wrongness of crime, the inevitable punishment makes crime an extreme case of an everyday affair. Because every experience we have lacks in why. Every decision we think we are making becomes incomprehensible if we interrogate the details long and hard enough. Generally, of course, we don’t do this, valuing our sanity.


James M.Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice (one of the single greatest novels in the English language, to my mind) once put all this business about crime and experience into a very succinct comment. He said, “I write of the wish that comes true – for some reason, a terrifying concept.” Well, that’s a hardboiled thought from a hardboiled man.

It is a sentence that comes at our problem the other way round. The wish that comes true is terrifying, for the simple reason that we don’t know what we really want. Since we do not know what we are doing, it follows that we do not have any idea what to wish for. You can’t have one without the other. Just to make the human condition extra ridiculous, it also happens that we don’t understand this whole situation of not knowing what we are doing or what we want. And so we cannot accept it. And the wheel turns around once more, the postman comes back to ring again. The comedy continues. Cain captures this final absurdity with his seemingly thrown away phrase, “for some reason.” It shouldn’t be terrifying that a wish come true. But it is.


Ever an insightful psychologist, Spinoza once wrote in his Ethics the following:

It is clear that we neither strive for, nor will, neither want, nor desire anything because we judge it to be good; on the contrary, we judge something to be good because we strive for it, will it, want it, and desire it.

Judgment comes second. A terrible thought, if you think about it. Of course, the essence of crime is contained in this thought. And the reason that crime is nothing more or less than a sub-species of all experience.


If crime tells you something about experience in general, then murder tells you something essential about crime. Murder is the most extreme case. In murder, The Why looms at its largest in terms of incomprehensibility. The crazy thought, the thought that people like Bolaño and Cain allow themselves to play with, is the idea that murder is thus the most authentic form of experience. I’m not saying that crazies like Cain and Bolaño are “for” murder. They are simply super-interested in murder. And that is because they are interested in experience. And that is because they are interested in the whylessness of experience at its root. Sometimes, Bolaño liked being from Latin America because the violence was closer. It scared him, but he liked it. He could smell the murder and so he knew that experience was right there.



There are no police stations, no hospitals, nothing. At least there’s nothing money can buy. “We act on instantaneous impulses” … “This is the kind of thing that destroys the unconscious, and then we’ll be left hanging” … “Remember that joke about the bullfighter who steps out into the ring and then there’s no bull, no ring, nothing?” … The policeman drank anarchic breezes. Someone started to clap.


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