Kenneth Reeds, World Languages and Cultures
Travel is an experience which tends to teach a succinct yet enticing amount about where you visit and considerably more about yourself. This is a healthy and valuable practice. That said, for many years I have joked that I dislike travelling. In stating this I do not mean that I avoid visiting other parts. Quite the contrary: familiarity with foreign countries has contoured my life and fashioned the background for many of the most important choices that personally and professionally have made me into who I am. What I mean is that I remember flying on planes when there were smoking sections. Since those days the space between seats has reduced, the lines for boarding passes and tickets have grown, and our luggage has been slowly exiled while passengers are increasingly dehumanized to a luggage-like degree. This I do not enjoy. The paradox is a dislike for the travel experience contrasted by the essentialness of new perspectives.
While smoking is certainly not a loss, it is sad to think how much enjoyment of the trip has been reduced through this chattelization. Travel should be invested with romantic notions of wind-blown hair and challenges overcome through resourceful self-reliance. Be it Ibn Jubayr’s descriptions of early Christian Sicily to Robert Luis Stevenson’s inspiring young readers with accounts of derring-do; or George Orwell’s description of the disintegration of Spain’s Republic and Bruce Chatwin’s fictionalization of real people in varied lands… writing about travel has long been a mainstay of human experience. After all, a trip somehow feels incomplete until the tale is told.
Those stories usually begin with a mention about the destination, but this is rarely important. What matters are the obstacles overcome and the knowledge attained. Arriving to the terminus means the anecdote is over and although making it to the end was the point of the trip, it is seldom a highlight of the telling of the tale. Narration is movement and stopping means ending the story. This is a fact people sometimes need to be reminded of. We hurry to reach our goals, rush towards the future, and hastily progress; always moving forward towards something that we think will somehow be better. In this focus on a seemingly reachable, but never caressed destination we have the potential to miss the good of the negotiated obstacles or the gratification of the travel experience. In this, of course, travel is a metaphor for life and it is something that Roberto Bolaño illustrates well in his story “Una aventura literaria”.
The short fiction is an experiment in literary technique. Bolaño creates tension through two characters who, slowly –over the course of the narration- move closer to the moment of coming face to face. What will happen? Will one kill the other? Is there a peaceful way out of the assumptions that each has developed? It seems likely that all will end horribly, but will it? The reader will never know. The story closes with the moment of their meeting, but does not reveal what happens. Throughout Bolaño plays with the tension like a musical crescendo. It increases and decreases, steadily moving towards the unrevealed climax. As the final paragraph runs short and it becomes clear that the last words will not divulge what the reader needs to discover, disappointment ensues. Yet this feeling is overwhelmed by the realization that Bolaño has played with his reader and taught a lesson. The lesson is to enjoy the trip. The destination is not as important as the process of getting there and the fun is in telling the tale. As the title suggests, this is a particularly literary lesson. An author, of course, wants someone to concentrate on the story.