From the Library Stacks: Between Parentheses (Bolaño) / Exiles: Adam & Eve (Reconciliation in Christ alone)
From the Library Stacks: Between Parentheses…
I am enjoying this Labor Day 2020 with a day off work, yay, and some reading (alongside drinking coffee) – as well as attempting to de-clutter my bookshelves a bit (maybe with a goal of considering the ‘idol of books’ and its impact on my life).
I came to the works of Roberto Bolaño, at some point in the past, working my way through the labyrinth of Latin and South American authors – mostly inspired by reading Jorge Luis Borges. I have read most of Bolaño’s novels, minus, ironically, his most famous, Savage Detectives (I tell myself I will one day). On this day, today, I opened his posthumously published, Between Parentheses, Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003 (Bolaño died in 2003), published by New Directions in 2004 and was caught by a couple things: 1. a speech on the ‘exile’ in literature, and 2. a comment about looking for the grave of Jorges Luis Borges in Geneva where he is buried.
In the speech, “Exiles,” possibly presented on 13 August 1997 at a festival in Chile, Bolaño discusses the life of writers, the normative exilic adaptation to all times and places, and that writers are always writing, no matter their locale (he references such folks as William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick). He opens this little piece with mention of, who he says might be the first exiles in the books, Adam & Eve. This is true of course from the biblical worldview. He writes this important question,
“Probably the first exiles on record were Adam and Eve. This is indisputable and it raises a few questions: Can it be that we’re all exiles? Is it possible that all of us are wandering strange lands” (Bolaño, Exiles, 49).
I do not know if Bolaño was a believer in Jesus Christ or not, there is no mention of his faith, or lack thereof, in his Wikipedia entry. But the question he asks, whether tongue-in-cheek or in serious-ness, is worthy of response. In Genesis, we read,
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2: 16-17, 2).
As we read further through the book of Genesis, we find that Adam & Eve do eat of the fruit of which they are commanded to not eat.
“…therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3: 23-24, 3).
At this point, God sends Adam & Eve (in fact, all human beings) out of Eden and blocks their way from returning. He does so with a curse we can read about earlier in chapter 3 of Genesis. The rest is, actually, history…all the way to this very moment. But what does it mean to be kicked out of Eden, which we understand to be a very good place with no death or sin? We know there is death and sin as we see it all around us each day in one form or another. In this reading, relative to Bolaño’s bringing up Adam & Eve as exiles, we are to understand that exilic life, that of being forced out of Eden, as being thrust, 1. from Eden, and 2. from the presence of God. This is what it means to be kicked out of Eden and to thus live in exile – Adam & Eve, as well as all their progeny (all of us humans).
To go a bit further, this dying, as described in Genesis 2 mentioned above, is defined later in the Bible, in the book of Romans.
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, 1046).
This quote, following the flow and order of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, delineates an universal indictment of sin upon all members of the human race – no matter where they live or who they call their people. This sin results in death and judgment from God. In fact, we are to understand that each human is eternally dead and exiled from God by that sin committed by Adam. This is not a small thing, and that this exile is referenced by Bolaño, comes from the book of Genesis, the book of beginnings, we can realize that in the book of beginnings, the human race has sinned, fallen from grace, died, and is exiled from the presence of God. Again, irrespective of Bolaño’s status as a believer or not, his musings on authors as exiles is very interesting – especially if we consider that the human race itself is lost as a whole. This is how we can think about humanity’s exilic state on this planet – a much more serious exile than experienced by an author who lives in some country or other that may or may not be a ‘home’ state of said author (as discussed by Bolaño).
I am aware that ‘exile’ is not a purely correct theological term, but I am running with it here because Bolaño brought it up in his speech. This is why I took the further steps to connect that being forced out of Eden, as described by Paul, is really another result of dying when going against what God commanded us not to do (as referenced above in Genesis chapter 2) – resulting then in the fall as described in chapter 3. Paul’s writing in the letter to the Romans lets us know that Adam is our representative. He ate and died, thus, representationally, we ate and died.
But what does it take to be reconciled back to God, to have hope of getting into paradise?
Well, in the same section of Romans, in which Paul writes about Adam in chapter 5.
“So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5: 18-21, 1046)
This means that it is in Jesus Christ and Christ alone can one have hope of eternal life and life with God eternally. Adam & Eve sinned, sin and death came; Christ, living under the law, did not sin. In fact, he became sin on the cross to reconcile us back to God. Paul writes in one of the letters to the church in Corinth,
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5: 20-21, 1072)
In the gospel of John, Jesus says,
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6, 998)
Paul also writes to the church in Ephesus,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2: 8-9, 1084.
All this means is that in Adam, all fell, and in Christ alone, through faith, the many might be saved, reconciled to God to be no longer thought of, in the ultimate sense anyway, as ‘exiles.’ Ironically, this brings up another point – that in fact for Christians, our kingdom and our home, as stated by Jesus, is really not of his world (the NASB also translates that as ‘realm) (John 18: 36). It is in fact in heaven. But that is a sub-point in this post and fits nicely – even if it takes us much farther into a theological point for another time.
The cool thing in this is that as the Bolaño speech in “Exiles” sparked my theological thinking, that all have sinned and need a savior found only in Jesus Christ, there is another Bolaño essay, “Borges and the Ravens” in Between Parentheses, in which Bolaño writes about his visiting the grave of Jorge Luis Borges in Geneva, Switzerland. Anyone who knows Borges’ work must acknowledge his joy and pleasure in reading Edgar Allen Poe (and writing about his work). I bring up Poe because of this line from the short article, right after he describes resting a bit upon finding Borges’ grave,
“And then I sit on a bench facing the grave and a raven says something in a croak, a few steps from me. A raven! As if instead of being in Geneva I were in a poem by Poe. Only then do I realize that the cemetery is full of ravens, enormous black ravens that hop up on the gravestones or the branches of the old trees or run through the clipped grass of the Plainpalais [the cemetery of the narrative]” (Bolaño, Borges…, 156).
Two comments: 1. This is simply fun found in reading an author, who read another author, who read another author who is famous for a writing about ravens. Ha-ha, I acknowledge a mix of literary allusion and literary biography. And 2. The line or two right after this realization of the ravens all about the cemetery is the real loops us back to theology – or, rather, to a theologian.
“And then I feel like walking, looking at more graves, maybe if I’m lucky I’ll find [John] Calvin’s, and that’s what I do…” (Bolaño, Borges…, 156). [insertion by me]
Yes, the theologian John Calvin is buried in the same cemetery. interesting. But the theological allusion, even if unintentional by Bolaño, is the use of the word “luckily” when suggesting he finds the Calvin grave. The reason for this is that Calvin is the most popular theologian on predestination – which would mean, as maybe a theology joke, that it is not actually ‘luck’ that Bolaño would either be in the cemetery finding ravens, referencing Poe while looking for Borges’ grave, but that he was ‘supposed’ to be there. I am NOT making a real theological point here about the truth or falsity of Calvin’s theology, but having fun or another type by, finding another essay in this collection by Bolaño, for another allusion to authors such as Borges – but for Calvin.
I am not saying that Bolaño WAS there by “luck” or “predestined” to be there – but I am saying that I feel Bolaño is making another type of allusion in a short narrative in which allusion and reference is a significant part. When I saw that, rather than adding another post, I decided to describe a readerly aspect of looking at my bookshelves, make connections to authors for which Bolaño and I both have affinities, and draw out a theological point and some possible theology allusions.
I hope you have enjoyed this little thought-journey as much as I have.
Bolaño, Roberto. 2004. “Exiles” in Between Parentheses, Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003. New York, New York: New Directions. pages 49-45. (a talk, given in 13 August 1997 in Chile). (LCCN: 2011002586)
Bolaño, Roberto. 2004. “Borges and the Ravens” in Between Parentheses, Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003. New York, New York: New Directions. pages 155-156. (LCCN: 2011002586)
All Bible verses quoted from the New American Standard Bible (page numbers in the references in the body of the post):
New American Standard Bible, NASB Thinline Bible Large Print. 1995. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan (LCCN: 2019945220)
Just a quick note – now that I have changed cities and jobs…
‘Tis so good to have access to such a large academic library collection – my reading is not met with any significant limits. Yes, I know, not every library has every book by every author. Not even Library of Congress has EVERY book (and they have the largest collection in the world).
I have found some obscure theological works, books on physics and time, international literature, as well as some of the best apologetic books in history. If by chance, something is not available in the collection, I make use of the fabulous ILL department (which, by the way, is one of the busiest in the United States).
I guess then I will keep reading.
The time has come again for #RadioBookClub.
This is the 4th such edition we have done and this one should be really fun.
First, the logistics>>>
Date: 22 December 2015.
Time: 8:00 pm (probably)
Location: Fairfax Public Access Radio Radio Hotline.
Host: Dennis Price of Home Improvements by Dennis Price.
We will be reading Quicksand by Steve Toltz.
The publisher describes it as, “A daring, brilliant new novel from Man Booker Prize finalist Steve Toltz, for fans of Dave Eggers, Martin Amis, and David Foster Wallace: a fearlessly funny, outrageously inventive dark comedy about two lifelong friends.”
Should indeed be fun…and challenging.
Buy your copy at your local bookstore. I purchased mine from One More Page Books.
(click on the image to be redirected to the posting at Open Culture)
Some of the items I am quite familiar with, but some I had not heard of – neither generally nor in connection with JLB.
“Jorge Luis Borges’ terse, mind-expanding stories reshaped modern fiction. He was one of the first authors to mix high culture with low, merging such popular genres as science fiction and the detective story with heady philosophical discourses on authorship, reality and existence. His story “The Garden of the Forking Paths,” which describes a novel that is also a labyrinth, presaged the hypertextuality of the internet age. His tone of ironic detachment influenced generations of Latin American authors. The BBC argued that Borges was the most important writer of the 20th century.
Of course, Borges wasn’t just an author. When not writing fiction, Borges worked as a literary critic, occasional film critic, a librarian, and, for a spell, as the director of the Biblioteca Nacional in Buenos Aires. His tastes were famously eclectic….
1. Stories by Julio Cortázar (not sure if this refers to Hopscotch, Blow-Up and Other Stories, or neither)
2. & 3. The Apocryphal Gospels
4. Amerika and The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka
5. The Blue Cross: A Father Brown Mystery by G.K. Chesterton
6. & 7. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
8. The Intelligence of Flowers by Maurice Maeterlinck
9. The Desert of the Tartars by Dino Buzzati
10. Peer Gynt and Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
11. The Mandarin: And Other Stories by Eça de Queirós
12. The Jesuit Empire by Leopoldo Lugones
13. The Counterfeiters by André Gide
14. The Time Machine and The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
15. The Greek Myths by Robert Graves
16. & 17. Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
18. Mathematics and the Imagination by Edward Kasner
19. The Great God Brown and Other Plays, Strange Interlude, and Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’Neill
20. Tales of Ise by Ariwara no Narihara
21. Benito Cereno, Billy Budd, and Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville
22. The Tragic Everyday, The Blind Pilot, and Words and Blood by Giovanni Papini
23. The Three Impostors
24. Songs of Songs tr. by Fray Luis de León
25. An Explanation of the Book of Job tr. by Fray Luis de León
26. The End of the Tether and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
27. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
28. Essays & Dialogues by Oscar Wilde
29. Barbarian in Asia by Henri Michaux
30. The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
31. Buried Alive by Arnold Bennett
32. On the Nature of Animals by Claudius Elianus
33. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen
34. The Temptation of St. Antony by Gustave Flaubert
35. Travels by Marco Polo
36. Imaginary lives by Marcel Schwob
37. Caesar and Cleopatra, Major Barbara, and Candide by George Bernard Shaw
38. Macus Brutus and The Hour of All by Francisco de Quevedo
39. The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts
40. Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard
41. The Golem by Gustav Meyrink
42. The Lesson of the Master, The Figure in the Carpet, and The Private Life by Henry James
43. & 44. The Nine Books of the History of Herodotus by Herdotus
45. Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo
46. Tales by Rudyard Kipling
47. Vathek by William Beckford
48. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
49. The Professional Secret & Other Texts by Jean Cocteau
50. The Last Days of Emmanuel Kant and Other Stories by Thomas de Quincey
51. Prologue to the Work of Silverio Lanza by Ramon Gomez de la Serna
52. The Thousand and One Nights
53. New Arabian Nights and Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson
54. Salvation of the Jews, The Blood of the Poor, and In the Darkness by Léon Bloy
55. The Bhagavad Gita and The Epic of Gilgamesh
56. Fantastic Stories by Juan José Arreola
57. Lady into Fox, A Man in the Zoo, and The Sailor’s Return by David Garnett
58. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
59. Literary Criticism by Paul Groussac
60. The Idols by Manuel Mujica Láinez
61. The Book of Good Love by Juan Ruiz
62. Complete Poetry by William Blake
63. Above the Dark Circus by Hugh Walpole
64. Poetical Works by Ezequiel Martinez Estrada
65. Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
66. The Aeneid by Virgil
67. Stories by Voltaire
68. An Experiment with Time by J.W. Dunne
69. An Essay on Orlando Furioso by Atilio Momigliano
70. & 71. The Varieties of Religious Experience and The Study of Human Nature by William James
72. Egil’s Saga by Snorri Sturluson
73. The Book of the Dead
74. & 75. The Problem of Time by J. Alexander Gunn”
(accessed 11 October 2015)