Since passing in 2003, Roberto Bolaño has published a lot of books, probably more than you or I will put out in our combined afterlives. Because once you get famous—and you must be pretty famous if Heidi Julavits and other lit bigwigs are singing your praises at Galapagos—it’s not just your finished work that attracts readerly eyes. Some greedy fans will find the time to scrutinize marginal notes in your correspondence or drafts and sketches taken from your computer. When it comes to Bolaño, I am one of those eager gleaners; I have been ever since The Savage Detectives made me regret my somewhat sensible (read: mostly boring) life and pine for those of its voluntarily down-and-out (read: awesomely authentic) characters.
So I was excited about The Secret of Evil, the latest of Bolaño’s work to be translated into English. It’s a collection of “stories,” though it contains some of the putatively autobiographical work released last year in Between Parentheses (including a favorite of mine, “Beach,” the account of a recovering dope addict—perhaps Bolaño, perhaps not). That The Secret of Evil draws from the previous book is suggested even in its design: Evil has a blind embossed set of horns on its dust jacket, recalling, in invisible tactility, the foil-stamped parentheses on the cover of the former collection. Clever clever.
I’ve invested a lot of time both in Bolaño and Arturo Belano, the former's fictionalized self. But what about you non-fanatics? What would you think of the The Secret of Evil? It’s a solid collection of stories, sure, but some of them are hard to appreciate without the rest of Bolaño’s writings there in the background. And unlike, say, 2666, this was in no way close to being finalized for print.
Evil also marks a turning point in the way we pilfer dead authors’ “papers.” Its introduction goes into some detail about how the pieces were taken from Bolaño’s computer, going so far as to name the files it drew from. Hard-copy drafts are probably a thing of the past. The next thing to disappear may be the locally stored digital file; instead, all our manuscripts will be up in the cloud. And, of course, letters: they’re dead, and we're sure to see more and more volumes of email correspondence.
What's next? Maybe writerly Twitter and Facebook accounts will be combined with smartphone GPS logs—along with, we gotta hope, those of the writer's spouse, friends, publishers, fuckbuddies, etc.—and published as an app. Then future academics will make observations like this: "It appears that Rushdie was more prolific in the days he spent with Lakshmi than when he was when he was about town with Lieskovsky. I will use this dataset to to construct an algorithm that rates muses like Klout does social media yuppies."
The digitization of everything is gonna make for exciting, horrifying stuff, people. Just hope you don't become famous. Because if you do, you will have no secrets, no secrets at all.
Image: flickr user Kleiber Fragoso