Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bolano's SAVAGE DETECTIVES and Jack Miles' GOD

Near the beginning of God: A Biography by Jack Miles (a book that's about as interesting as an extended exercise in reification can be), the author discusses the form of the Hebrew Bible as though that compendium of disparate texts were a single, coherent work. This intentionally ahistorical approach (I think the book would've been much more interesting if it had taken a more materialist, social historical approach) leads to this observation:

"The beginning and end of the Hebrew Bible are not linked by a single, continuous narrative. Well short of the halfway point in the text, the narrative breaks off. What then follow are, first, speeches spoken by God; second, speeches spoken either to or, in some degree, about God; third, a protracted silence; and, last, a brief resumption of the narrative before a closing coda. The narrative suspense that lasts from the Book of Genesis through II Kings is succeeded, past that point, by another kind of suspense, one more like the kind jurors experience in a courtroom as different witnesses take the stand to talk about the same person. A sequence of testimonies--each in its own distinctive voice, with its own beginning and end--can be as effective as narrative in suggesting that the person about whom the words are spoken does not stop where the words stop."

Now, Miles's project of reading the Bible as a kind of novel (instead of what it is, an anthology) and the Bible's God as a coherent novelistic character (instead of what he/it is, a combination of the various god-figures in different stories by different tellers) seems more than a little dubious to me, but the passage I've just quoted reads like a marvelously observant and prescient commentary--not on the Bible, but on a book written about the same time as Miles's "biography" and published three years later, Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives. The narrative that begins strongly, breaks off unexpectedly, and then resumes near the end; the long middle section consisting of voices speaking about the central character(s), like witnesses called to testify--is this not uncannily like the form of Bolano's novel? And isn't Miles's description of the effect of this form uncannily like the effect of reading the midsection of Savage Detectives? I seriously doubt that there could've been any direct influence here, and I have no reason to think that Bolano based his form on the Bible, but the similarity between Miles's description and Bolano's novelistic form is almost too remarkable to be coincidental. But then again, aren't all coincidences exactly that remarkable? (Because if they were less remarkable, no one would remark upon them.)

[Insufferably pedantic comment on this post's first sentence: Yes, I suppose that technically it's not reification but hypostatization. I stand corrected--by my own insufferably pedantic self.]

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