The Reader as Detective: Intertextuality in Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives
Mentor:Nhora Serrano, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, California State University Long Beach
Born out of Edgar Allan Poe’s short-stories about the amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin, the genre of detective fiction centers itself around the phenomenon that is the detective character. Presupposed by the genre’s narrative structure, the detective, as a reader of clues, is involved in a semiotic process of investigation, a method of meaning-formation by way of textual analysis, i.e., sign-interpretation. In the past, Jorge Luis Borges utilized the genre’s semiotic conventions for language deconstruction. In Los Detectives Salvajes (The Savage Detectives), Chilean author Roberto Bolaño continues the Borgesian tradition. A contemporary example of detective fiction, Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives is a first-person narrative in three parts about two poets’ investigative search for the mysterious founder of a poetry movement, Cesárea Tinajero. While the Visceral Realist poets Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima are the protagonists of this search, they are, in fact, never actually present in the text. This is because Bolaño hides them right under the reader’s nose, coded throughout a variety of narrative texts and intertextual literary references. Through a focused analysis on semiology and intertextuality theory—particularly using the theories of Jacques Lacan and M.M. Bakhtin—I will show that Bolaño, by placing the reader in the role of detective, is positing that the late 20th century Latin American reader often gets lost in the labyrinth of languages and literatures, caught in a complexity of clues and signs which he/she has forgotten how to read. By understanding the post-structural implications of this work, I hope to display where Bolaño is situated in relation to the literary traditions of Latin America, how that positioning lends itself to a recognition of Latin American heteroglossia, and why such insight corresponds to a greater theoretical understanding of Visceral Realism’s real-life counterpart, Infrarealism.