The Savage Detectives

/, Essays, Blesok no. 84/The Savage Detectives

The Savage Detectives


The action of this grandiose novel is set in Mexico City but also throughout the country, and in different places in Latin America. It stretches also in European cities such as Paris, Barcelona, or at the Mediterranean shore. The geographical extension and the multiplication of places and episodes lead towards the construction of a monumental, totalizing work. The places mentioned are submitted to a game of decomposition that functions both on a local and global level. The expanding system revolves around the evocation of the life and work of a group of young poets, and especially around Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima (the two main characters), and Garcia Madero and the young Lupe. The subject of the novel is the disappearing of the poetess – Cesarea Tinajero, and the search of hers traces. The first three belong to a group of young poets (the “vice realist”) who give all their efforts in publishing a literary review. Being university students who, in order to study, occasionally sell marijuana with the pretext of believing in what they do and considering themselves as true hope of Mexican poetry. The figure of the disappeared poetess becomes more and more mystic while reading, keeping in mind the very few traces left of her. At first glance the novel may seem chaotic, but its totalizing principals confirm its meticulous structure. It is divided in three parts: Mexicans lost in Mexico; The Savage Detectives; The Deserts of Sonora. In all these parts the course of the action and its content is given by the confessions of the intimate journals of all the friends, parents and close family, acquaintances, editors, publishers and everyone else imaginable that in one moment of his/hers life was in contact with Cesarea. The confessions are not given in a linear time, but rather the voices of dozens of persons interchange. This totalizing explicitly structured game tells us that there is a certain and a direct relation between the search of the disappeared poetess and the amplification of places and episodes, especially when the structure of the novel stresses the paragraphs where history intersects events from the future which follow some years after the famous search. By extending their quest more places and episodes come to the reader’s mind: various everyday life scenes, some person’s intimate thoughts, some other’s fears and frustrations… The lost and forgotten poetess is at the same time the image of the aggregation and of de-aggregation, she is the aim of the search and the motif of their constant replacement.

Constructing the Aspects of the Otherness

The central figure of the poet is operationalized not only because the search consists of young poets in a chase of a poetess, but because the ideology in the novel shows the author as a person who could bring society to essential changes and indulge culture. This is most evident in the second part of the novel where intimate declarations of the others writers journals from the time when Cesarea was young can be read. If we rely on Bachtin’s notions, for a novel to exist as an aesthetical happening there must be a dialogical relation between the author and its characters.1F As man in art is a complete man, the characters from the “Detectives” are total entities who function as a whole. Being truthful they meticulously simulate reality. “The aesthetical creation and the building of the outer body and its world represent a gift from another consciousness – from the author spectator of the hero” says Bachtin. (Ibid. 19) The creation, the representation and the expression of a certain concrete idea is a productive, creative relation form the “other” within the author. The otherness is a conscious presence in the author’s and the characters’ minds. Being poets, they have no other option but to be in touch with their other self. They are also creators, they thrive to write. They organize the search which is another kind of creation. During the search they create themselves. The novel is entirely determined by the otherness – the reader is in expectance of the otherness to appear, to be analyzed, or to bring some interruption in the action. The poets and the reader are in a constant pursuit of the manifestations of the otherness – people, journals, trills, and the discovered otherness within themselves they try to manage along the way. The poets had to cross the entire Latino American continent, to come to Europe and wonder around towns and places, to realize that the other is a category and a value within. Our characters acting upon their own free will and motifs as they are complete artistic articulations, are related to Bachtin’s notion that “the compassionate understanding recreates the whole human innerness into the preferred aesthetical categories for a new life on a new level of the world.” (Ibid. 22) The world itself, it’s difficult to understand and easy to get lost state of being is a constructive and aesthetic crutch in the general understanding of the novel. The space dimension of the novel works as a mega metaphor. The real dimensions of the search would spread in thousands of miles. Through the characters-in-happening, the space dimension articulates itself as if it was a spider web. Through the constructs of the characters, the construction of the world map begins to reveal in the reader’s mind. They influence and shape the space they visit.
There is also a significant relation between the search, the Other and writing taken as creative action. This triple relation is a pillar around which the main action unfolds. The emotive burden in its totality for the person bearing it exists only in relation with the other. Without the other our own lives would not have that special weight (Bachtin, ibid 23-24). The young poets reshape themselves on a subconscious level in the projection they have for Cesarea. Without this distant other the young poets wouldn’t be creditable to be represented in a novel. But these emotional nuances of feelings and thoughts we have for the other seem to strengthen it. The more their search ends up in a dead end, the more importance Cesarea gains. The more unreachable the poetess seems to be the more space is needed for the poets-characters to come into being. Time and space limits for the author don’t have a formal, organizational significance as they have for the life of the other. The other is always completely defined in time and space frames. However vague the space determination of Cesarea may be she is well determined by the author Bolano first, than by the young poets, than by her peers and colleagues, and then by the reader holding the book. The space than stretches out, it too becomes into being. Furthermore, in Bachtin’s words – “the other is always standing across me as an object and his outer look is set in space and his inner life is set in time” (Ibid. 26). The reader deals with only the young poets’ projection of the poetesses, not with Cesearea as a fully constructed character.

The Margin Value of the Search

On the syntagmatic level the other writers’ stories can be systematically connected within a certain political, artistic and cultural context. The vanishing of the poetess happened during the seventies when the army entered into the university edifices forcing the students to leave the place. The paradox is that during this taking over Cesarea was hidden in the toilettes becoming a witness that saw nothing. After this she leaves her secretary employment, leaves the capital and moves to the most distant, forgotten place she could find in the state of Mexico. That is the little town in the deserts of Sonora situated in the middle of the country. If we again lean on Bachtin’s2F principals we would see that the cultural domain is a concept where the borders of the spatial entity is surpassed and enriched with the idea that it also represents an inner territory. The young poets, Cesarea and the other characters mentioned are bearers of their cultures. Following the same perspective, the author should leave his inner personal deeply rooted concept of culture to be able to transmit it into the work of art. All cultural acts in their essence survive on the border and the search itself, being situated everywhere and nowhere, being separated from the other conventional activities possible in the novel, has a border value. The search and its winding form function as a margin, as a specific spatial entity with its proper features. The search is the melting pot of ideas, attitudes, emotions and experiences – culture in happening. Cesarea’s work has left traces in the living and spatial context of the vice-realists – this connection of lived and artistic experiences is the existing sign of the logic of succession of the events and places in the novel. In the novelist creation, Bachtin carries on (Ibid. 40-46) the cognitive act comes from the aesthetic representation and the vision one has of the artistic object. We could relate this attitude towards our own reception of the novel, our “becoming of knowledge” of something in the novel that we weren’t aware of before. But, more deeply, the cognitive act happens within the structure of the novel, the art work of Cesarea and its influence. The vice realists become vice realists mainly because of Cesarea’s work. They lead this kind of semi hippy semi philosophical lifestyle because of the truth they seem to find in her work.
The artistic act exists in a special kind of ambiance that brings value upon what it seems to be consciously determined. The contemplation of poetry and literature is present on almost every page in the novel. The significance of poetry and the principals of l’art-pour-l’artism, accentuated almost everywhere, is another light-motif. The work of art lives and becomes full of significance in a certain reciprocal relation, active towards a certain reality, which is identified and valorized by the artistic creation. In our case a postmodern author like Bolano manages to transmit the idea, in a decomposing yet synthetic way, of modern existential uncertainties prostrated into the novelistic work by becoming the uncertainties of the characters. Reality is dynamic and alive in a distinguishable manner, but also in a social, political and religious manner; and all these phenomena are a part of an equally dynamic world. In this sense, the comparison of the act of creation and undertaking the search is functional and essential. The act of searching and investigating consist of projection of a specific personal vision of the same world where the search takes place. In this sense, also, a triad of notions is a knot in the narration of the novel: the reality of the young poets, the literature they take into consideration, the fact that they are searching in the name of literature. Life is not to be found only outside of the artistic creations but equally in its interior, in the total fullness of its axiological weight – social, political, theoretical or another kind. The artistic creation incorporates the known reality and it transfers it on another level of values. The possibility of finding the correspondent proportion between the notion, the realization of the search and the creative act is very much visible and logical. The entity of the search could bear the status of a work of art because the world increases its proper vision while the search is going on. The axiological content of the lived reality with all its forms is the event of reality. The artist is not a direct participant in this event but his position is more of a contemplator. By realizing the axiological sense of the event in accomplishment the author doesn’t bear the event but he sympathizes with it, and participates indirectly. Thus this search could be thought of not only as a stretching form but also as a rich content – the finding of the object of the search is like the form of an abstract work of art that completes its meaning gradually as the search comes to its end. For the form to have an aesthetical sense, the content that it encloses has to have cognitive and ethical significance. In this sense the search stretches on several distinguished directions that enclose the content creating simultaneously the form. The aesthetical important form encloses the semantic and autonomic intention of life – this is exactly Bolano’s intention, but it is also the practical goal of the young poets searching because their own life imports the form of the search.

Structural Technicalities

The spatial dimension of the search is bearer of content and meaning. If we are to understand Bolano’s work as a reply to the socio-ideological state of Mexico in the seventies, we are to understand that the characters relate directly to the events from this period. The poetry and the discourse of these young people is socio – ideological-political unconsciously predetermined answer of the period mentioned. Cesarea’s discourse is a part of this very same response of the vast Mexican context. In the novel, the dialogism derives from the interior conceptualization of the same object and its expression. All the languages of the multilingualism abundant in the novel are specific points of view, a form of verbal interpretations that encounter themselves in the consciousness of the author and on a common level in the novel. The language stratification and the work that it indulges represent saturation and the more this language stratification endures the vaster is the social milieu that it embraces. The author doesn’t destroy the languages of the others and doesn’t deny its perspectives. He uses their worlds and their socio – ideological micro cosmoses that are hiding under this orchestrated polyphonic. The interior discourse of the novel demands declaration of the concrete social context oriented towards the entire stylistic structure, its form and its content. The decentralized world finds its novelistic expression and this implies a differentiated social group related to the tension in reciprocity with other social groups. The composition is always related to the decomposition of the verbal ideological and stable systems; and as a counter weight it stratifies and makes the structure of the novel more compact and more totalizing. The saturating elements in the “Detectives” are so numerous that the structural unity is clear because the novel is about innumerous episodes, places, voices, times that overlap and that create a gap in the chronological line but are presented coherently.

Postmodern Narration – Intern Landscapes Global Criticism

Following the articulation of different spaces and places we could agree with Homi K. Baba’s idea about what the modern narrative represents.3F Roberto Bolano is articulates the world’s multiplicity and the aspect of instant production. His postmodern style is thoroughly profound but digestible. The western nations (as the Mexican one is presented in the novel) have this uncertain but omnipresent narrative and way of living which enables “locality” to be global. The local colors, the special Mexican characters, the context in which they try hard to make their lives better revolves more about temporality than about historicity. Their form of living, of prevailing through life goes beyond the borders of “community”, and becomes more mythological than the ideology. The narrative of the nation- state and of the vast postmodern global world is a political ideologized pre given narrative that the author so skillfully uses. By presenting a critical response to his own nation and past society, Bolano articulates space to tell us an even deeper story. We continue to follow Baba’s thought that “in our theory of travel we are conscious about the METAPHORICITY of the people, and we are to find out that the space of the modern people – nation is never simply horizontal” (Ibid. 176-177). The new ways of living and existing demand a kind of “duality” while writing which refers to the temporality of representation that come from cultural formations (so clear in our novel: the university milieu, the reviews, the publishing houses, the bars and locals of Mexico City) and the social processes without a strictly centered cause and consequence logic. This is postmodern literature in happening.
The author incorporates the ambivalent and mixed processes of a certain time and place into his writings that construct the problematic contemporary or postmodern experience of the western nation. The novel is abundant in descriptions of the capital, of its venues, city parks, dirty streets, and smoky allies. The problematic boundaries of contemporary state of being are represented in these ambivalent temporalities of the nation-space. The different times juxtaposed in the novel relate to different places. Sometimes the same place is given in different time thus turning the grand search into a private search of the young poets, in the same time being a personal search for the author himself but also to the devoted reader. It is clear that all the landscape descriptions in the novel serve as mere metaphor for the chaotic yet structured meaning of the work. “The frequent metaphor of the landscape, as an essential interior characteristic of the national identity, accentuates the question of the social visibility” – says Baba (Ibid. 200). The official state rhetoric is excluded from the novel but we sense the subtle author’s critic while reading the inner voices of the young poets and their left winded logic. The reader is traveling along with the people on the margins, with a special underground community – people coming from particular secret, burdened by hard life and misery places. “The national time becomes concrete and visible in the chrono-top of the local, the particular, the graphic, from beginning to the end” (H.K. Baba. Ibid. 180-181). Being able to present the local in time and space, he transmits a universal message that the nation, being deprived from the visibility of historicism becomes a saturating symbol of modernity, but also a symptom of contemporary cultural ethnography. The bounder that limits the essence of the nation interrupts the self generating time for national creation and its narrative within a given space, and becomes a space for self representation. Thus, the limited nation becomes a narrow form of society’s presentation, a space marked from within by the cultural differences and by heterogeneous histories and strained cultural locations. The novel’s restrained image of space describes the nation it belongs to and it’s previously given and presently criticized narrative. The historic discourse is dissolved. Cesarea’s discourse in her own time and space, and socio – ideological surrounding is put by the existing regime at the margins. And then chronologically the discourse of the young poets is again marginalized.
The superposition of the discourses in the structure gives away the modern world as a no man’s land, without a specific name or history. The localized place becomes half of the world. The current political nation’s unity consists of irrevocable paradigms and dislocates its plural space in special archaic and mythical space; the new represented stylized space paradoxically demonstrates the essence of the nation. In this way the territory gets the stratus of traditionalism, something that the postmodern mind of Bolano so delicately is trying to transmit. Our author speaks indirectly about Mexican traditionalism and the way it can be surpassed by the young searching poets. The scrupulous characters emerge saturating from the inside of the content sense into the specific places to prove the cultural differences between the envisaged socio-ideological Mexican state and the national discourse. Bolano demonstrates the “confusion of modern living”. The space taken by human life is where life is pushed to absolute limits. The search nearly becomes a completed circle, instead, in the spirit of the true postmodern moral it becomes an evolving spiral.
The young poets’ attitude towards life is uncertain and errant. If refer to Benjamin (Ibid.203, 204)4F, we would come to realize that the novel became a personal refuge place for the author, as poetry is for Arturo and Ulises. To write a novel means to bring the immeasurable absurd of human life to the limits of presentation. Through the saturating presentation of life’s empty fullness, the author gives examples of contemporary living deep confusion deprived of real answers and solutions. In this way the author creates a hybrid space of meaning. And, it is quite natural that in the Western world, the city is that convenient metaphor that procures new identifications, new socio-ideological movements, where the acutance of modern chaotic living happens. The descriptions of Mexico City and some other cities is a clear metaphor of the postmodern humanity’s state of existing. Deprivations of traditional values, life on the streets where people go through life from day to day, uncertain occupations of the friends of the poets, existential issues, pursuit of happiness, self realization, confusion, depression – that is the global image of a unifying place.
Michel Foucault5F analyzes the notion where our time is a time of space, of simultaneous actions and events, of juxtapositions of everything and everyone. Western way of life and global socio-political-artistic ideologies currently happen in total dispersion. Today, emplacement replaces spatiality. Location is defined by the proximity of heterogeneous elements common characteristics. The problem of place is analyzed through people’s socio-ideological communal actions. “We find ourselves in an age where space is found in the form of different related locations” (Ibid. p.35). Our localized personalized spaces are spaces of superficial meanings, filled with interrelated phantasms, dark places and of “intellectual” or “spiritual” instant experiences. The typical yet customized space is articulated in the “Detectives”. We could use the words of Benjamin to whom Foucault refers to (Ibid. 190-192), that “the space in which we live in, that pulls us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our time happens, of our time and of our history, this space that corrodes us and ploughs us, is in itself a heterogeneous space”. The novel is a real conglomerate of spaces, active with different forces, different environments and suffocating milieus. One of the problems developed in the “Detectives” is precisely this – the lack of meaning in our multiple instant westernized society. We could use here Foucault’s term “heterotopias” to suggest the style of articulation of the concrete places in novel (Ibid. 37). This term refers to a simultaneous mythical and real doubt in the space that we live in. These heterotypic places are the places of deviation from the norm. These are the places where the young poets dwell and move. Cesarea’s place of living is also an example of e heterotopy. It is distant, hidden, unusual and untypical. That is the enclosed place that juxtaposed to a specific real place makes more of a kind of oxymoronic union of different location elements, incompatible by themselves. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that these places are burdened by their own story and history, or previously given socio-ideological politic. All these aspects of the different places incorporated into the heterotopy are articulated through Bolano’s writing. The heterotopy begins to function entirely when people are in one sort of absolute disruption with their traditional time. The traditional time of simultaneous events is interrupted by the decision to break through the “banal” Mexico City life and go for an unpredictable search. The young poets’ integration in the search is a proof of their abandon of society. Inside the search the poets function in their own chrono-top. The search is a way to find answers by exclusion. The chrono-topos either create a space of illusion that demonstrates the real space as even more illusory, or, they create another kind of real space that gets to be more perfect, well organized as our owns is untidy, badly organized and confused (Ibid. 40). The young poets search an idealized space (of Cesarea’s whereabouts) and they believe this place is organized and perfect opposed to the dusky, smelly streets of the capital, of European cities, places of uncertainty and despair. The other end of Foucault’s characterization is the search itself, the other absolute. The quest is in happening as the reader follows the story, thus the quest revolves around certain principals, and it is organized and structured, contradictory to the space of the western city full of ambiguities.

Ontological Value of the Search – Meta Metaphor

All the actions of the young poets initiate a distribution of principles between the meaning of the content of a given act and the historic reality of the subject, of his unique empiric experience. Only the unique act in its totality and authenticity really participates in the being-event, and inevitably it IS.6F If becoming means “it is” than we could say that the act of searching is an act of creation, that travelling for the sake of discovery is the same act as writing for knowing, thus the search becomes poetry and a proper poetics. We could consider the particularity of the poetic act as a being in happening. The act of the moral being-in-happening would be to localize its particular life in a thinkable, possible, imaginable world. But, in practice, the thinkable world is just a constitutive part of the real world. Our actions can be oriented according to this tension of diametrical poles where the relation between thought and reality is reciprocal. There is a kind of identification between the real responsible act of knowing and the particular being-in-happening. Thus a specific close relation exists between thought and poetry, i.e. the act of creating poetry and the act of knowing, the act of writing, the act of being in presence in the specific moment while traveling, looking, searching to know. The act of making the decision of going away is a responsible act where all the participants (the young poets and their adolescent responsibility) are put in motion in a new act of knowledge. What they are really doing is to place themselves within an act where the real knowledge, the truth can be perceived. The young poets thus enter in a kind of a vicious circle – they have to go out of Mexico City in order to write, and they have to write in order to leave the place.


Space and particular places are in relation with the culture. The cultural values are values per se, and the responsibility falls to the lively consciousness to organize itself according to them, to affirm them for what they are, because in the end, consciousness has the same value as knowledge. In this novel we deal with multiple consciousnesses: the one of the lost poetess and of her contemporaries – therefore a particular Mexican consciousness of a specific age. Then the consciousness of Arturo and Ulises and a vast range of the diaries and letters of the vice-realists and their friends that give away their private thoughts on life, their relation with the young generation of avant-garde poets in Mexico City in the eighties and the nineties of the previous century. The lived experience and the emotive and willing aspects find their unity uniquely in the totality of culture because the culture in its totality is integrated in the unique context and event of our life. Any universal value becomes really valid uniquely in an individual context. Thus, the Bolano’s novel saturates the meaning and its structure because his proper global culture is being represented. The quest for comprehension, for knowledge, for the need for writing is becoming a full being in the given moment, as the need for perpetual writing, i.e. traveling. Embracing the culture because we come from it, is an action of proclamation its own part-taking by revoking it and making a distance from it. Writing and pursuing a goal become responsible acts; they become acts of individualization. Thus the importance of the search gets this ontological mega dimension of the novel.
Thinking of time and space relations and being in happening we could apply on Borges7F idea who thinks that work and life are in a definite relation of coincidence where the circles of time, space and being try to find each other. The geography in the novel is constitutive regarding the totality of the content, equally being the creative mean of the novelistic form, as the temporal chain is inseparable from the space dimension. A certain particular memory is the content of every letter and every page of the intimate diaries. All the characters are created starting from their memories. The cultural frame is presented through the representation of geographic nomadism. According to Borges, the aesthetical reaction is born from the illusory sentiment of being one only when the encounter with the other happens.
We owe our world confusion and alienation to modernism although we live in a more organized but even more confused postmodern era. It is because of modernism that everything has changed in a baffle of uncertainties and fears. That is why we try to find meaning in such a clumsy way today. The structure of synthesized de – composition of one main event broken down to many dozens of personal confessions, along with the subtle critic of the current confused world, makes this novel a masterpiece of contemporary literature. Originating from the modernist style, but taking up an even more contemporary expression “The Wilde Detectives” offer a totalizing and unique experience and it definitely enriches and asks the essential questions about our world and time.


1. Baba, Homi. K. “Dissemination: time, narrative and the margins of the modern nation”. Sonja Stojmenska Elzeser. Aspects from the Otherness. Ed. Chrestomathies. Theories of the Otherness. Skopje: EvroBalkan Press, Menora, 2007
2. Bachtin, Michail. “The time Unity of the Hero (the Problem of the Inner Man – the Soul)”. Sonja Stojmenska Elzeser. Aspects from the Otherness. Ed. Chrestomathies. Theories of the Otherness. Skopje: EvroBalkan Press, Menora, 2007
3. Bakhtine, Mikhaïl. Esthétique et théorie du roman. Paris : Coll. Tel, Gallimard, 1978
4. Bakhtine, Mikhaïl. Pour une philosophie de l’acte. Lausanne, Suisse: Editions L’Age d’Homme, 2003
5. Borges, Jorge Luis. L’art de poésie. Coll. Arcades. Paris : Gallimard ; 2004
6. Borges, Jorge Luis. Enquêtes, traduit de l’espagnol par Paul et Sylvia Bénichou. NRF. Paris : Gallimard, 1974
7. Borges, Jorge Luis. La jouissance littéraire, traduit de l’espagnol par Jean Pierre Berrés. Paris : La Délirante, 1991
8. Entretiens sur la poésie et la littérature suivi de quatre essais sur Jorge Luis Borges. NRF. Paris : Gallimard, 1990
9. Le Goff, Marcel ; Jorge Luis Borges, L’Univers, la lettre et le secret, préface de Michel Lafon. Paris : L’Harmattan, 1999
10. Todorov, Tzvetan. Mikhaïl Bakhtine le principe dialogique suivi des essais du Cercle de Bakhtine. Coll. Poétique Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1981
11. Foucault, M.; “On the Other Spaces – heterotipies (1967)”; in “Aspect of the Ohterness” edited by Ivan Dzeparoski; EuroBalkan Press, Menora, Skopje; 2007

1. Bachtin, Michael. “Time Unity of the Hero (the Problem of the Inner Man – the Soul)”. Aspects of the Otherness. Sonja Stojmenska Elsezer. Ed. Chrestomathies. Theories of the Otherness. Skopje. Evro Balkan Press, Menora, 2007. 19
2. Esthétique et théorie du roman ; Coll. Tel, Gallimard ; 1978
3. Baba, Homi. K. “DissemiNation: time, narrative and the margins of the modern nation”. “Aspects from the Otherness”. Sonja Stojmenska – Elzeser. Ed. Chrestomathies. Theories of the Otherness. Skopje: EvroBalkan Press; Menora, 2007. 175
4. In the article mentioned Homi. K. Baba refers to Benjamin. Sonja Stojmenska Elzeser. Ed. Chrestomathies. Theories of the Otherness. Skopje: EuroBalkan Pres, Menora. 2007
5. Foucault, M.; “On the Other Spaces – heterotipies (1967)”. Aspect of the Otherness. Ivan Dzeparoski. Ed. Chrestomathies. Theories of the Otherness. Skopje: EuroBalkan Press, Menora, 2007. 33
6. Bakhtine, Mikhaïl. Pour une philosophie de l’acte. Lausanne, Suisse : Editions l’Age d’Homme, 2003
7. Le Goff, Maral. Jorge Luis Borges, L’Univers, L’être, Le secret préface de Michel Lafon. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1999

AuthorNikolina Stojanova
2018-08-21T17:22:48+00:00 July 1st, 2012|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 84|0 Comments