Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Part about the Office

Reviews of Bolaño’s 2666 tend to focus on the book’s epic scope and darker aspects—primarily, the femicides in Juarez (called Santa Teresa in the book) that continue to this day—but Bolaño is also at times quite a funny writer. In the book’s final section, I laughed aloud at the following passage, which takes place in the offices of an elderly publisher named Bubis. It’s a bit long, but I want to set the scene for the discussion of lapsus calami, or slips of the pen, that so animates Bubis and his employees. There is nothing here that will give the plot away, so just enjoy.

“The atmosphere at the publishing house was one of feverish activity. Sometimes, however, everything halted, and the copy editor made coffee for herself and [an author] and tea for a new girl who worked as a designer, because by now the house had grown and the slate of employees had grown and sometimes, at a nearby desk, there was a young copy editor, Swiss, why on earth he lived in Hamburg no one knew, and the baroness came out of her office and so did the head of publicity and sometimes the secretary, and they talked about all sorts of things, about the last movie they’d seen or the actor Dirk Bogarde, and then the bookkeeper and even Marianne Gottlieb would drop by with a smile, and if the laughter was very loud in the big room where the copy editors worked, then Bubis himself would peer in with his teacup in his hand, and they would talk not just about Dirk Bogarde but also about politics and the dirty business that the new Hamburg officials got up to or they talked about some writers who had no ethical sense, self-confessed and happy plagiarists who hid expressions of mingled fear and outrage behind a cheerful mask, writers prepared to cling to any reputation, with the certainty that they would thus live on in posterity, any posterity, which made the copy editors and the other employees laugh and even prompted a resigned smile from Bubis, since no one knew better that posterity was a vaudeville joke audible only to those with front-row seats, and then they started to talk about lapsus calami, many of them collected in a book published long ago … and it wasn’t long before the copy editors got out a book … and began to read aloud a selection of cultured pearls:
‘Poor Marie! Whenever she hears the sound of an approaching horse, she is certain that it is I.’ Vie de Rancé, Chateaubriand.
‘The crew of the ship swallowed up by the waves consisted of twenty-five men, who left hundreds of widows consigned to misery.’ Les Cages flottantes, Gaston Leroux. …
‘ “Let’s go! said Peter, looking for a hat to dry his tears.” Lourdes, Zola.
‘The duke appeared followed by his entourage, which preceded him.’ Letters from My Mill, Alphonse Daudet.
‘With his hands clasped behind his back, Henri strolled about the garden, reading his friend’s novel.’ Le Cataclysme, Rosny.”

The list goes on, followed by commentary about particular pearls that if anything is funnier than the pearls themselves. I submit that the reason writers and editors so enjoy this kind of humor is that they—we—are all too conscious of the ease with which such goofs can make it into print, and so we laugh loudly (while knocking on wood to protect against further embarrassments).
I will end this post by reproducing the typo I make most often, and that on dark days I suspect describes me a little too well: edioter.

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