Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño is a book of sly humor and dry wit. It masquerades as a catalog of short author biographies - authors who happen to be fascists and Nazi sympathizers. It traces their lives, reporting in a journalistic tone their sometimes subtle, sometimes overt allegiances toward the ideologies of white supremacy.
In some ways, Nazi Literature feels like a counter-mythos to famous writer salons, though the authors surveyed in the biographical catalog are dispersed widely in the Americas and do not all appear to have connections to one another (though plenty do). Still, it has the flavor of a movement, a grouping of genius. And that’s where I think the critique lies. It is not a critique against Nazis, nor even fascism in general, antisemitism, or white supremacy; Bolaño’s leftist politics are not in doubt here. He instead raises doubts about the literary community’s tendency toward insularity in an artistic sense, isolating themselves in an island of art and academia. And he imagines what it could look like in a worst-case scenario, where the protective coating splashed onto literary eccentricity allows - instead of rarefied oddity - poetic Nazification.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a novel written as much for our time as for his 1950’s America.
What brings this book to life though for us contemporary readers won’t be the parallels to our era of social unrest…
This book may not translate well into modern day’s cancel culture where the world of Arts & Letters has learned to pounce ferociously thanks to the backing of a social media army ready to denounce anyone called out for their attitude or actions (albeit an army not always willing to fact-check or forgive). However, Nazi Literature still comes across as all too germane as we have witnessed a rise in nationalism across the globe and a fascist movement here in my own United States of America. Nazi Literature serves as a warning to be vigilant about the fascists penning poetry and prose in our midst, lest Bolaño’s fake biographies be replaced with real people and real publications.
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