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Minor Canon

Cesarea Tinajero "Sión" poem postcard

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The Savage Detectives (Spanish: Los Detectives Salvajes) is a novel by the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño published in 1998; Natasha Wimmer's English translation was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2007. The novel tells the story of the search for a 1920s Mexican poet, Cesárea Tinajero, by two 1970s poets, the Chilean Arturo Belano (alter ego of Bolaño) and the Mexican Ulises Lima.

Belano and Lima consider themselves exponents of the "Visceral Realist" poetry movement, and they claim Cesarea Tinajero as their forebear. Her poem, "Sión" — which they finally discover after a search that occupies most of the book — is the only example of visceral realist poetry included in the novel. It comprises not words, but three lines drawn onto the page; on top of each line, moreover, appears a small box. This cryptic hieroglyph is the subject of unresolved debate among the protagonists.

The character Amedeo Salvatierra continuously refers to "Sión" as a "poem" even though he insists, "it doesn't mean a thing"; urged on by the question, "So why did you say it's a poem," Salvatierra explains, "because Cesárea said so .... If that woman had told me that a piece of her shit wrapped in a shopping bag was a poem I would have believed it." Belano and Lima, for their part, argue that "Sión" has meaning even if it isn't a poem.

Another character, Juan Garcia Madero, asserts that "real poetry" is something "you can sense," "you can feel it in the air, the way they say certain highly attuned animals (snakes, worms, rats and some birds) can detect an earthquake." And to the extent that an earthquake is felt — not read — what this analogy suggests is that a poem is intuited rather than understood. What is important is less its manifest content or style than its effect on the reader.

This puzzle at the heart of the novel places The Savage Detectives in the lineage of the Borgesian meta-literary detective story. In asking us to question what a poem (or a novel) is, or does, and by emphasizing the reader's experience, Bolaño gestures to the deconstructive revolution ushered in by Roland Barthes' notion of the "death of the author." Salvatierra's remark about Cesarea Tinajero also implies a certain allegiance to the Duchampian idea of the readymade so fundamental to conceptual art: the nominalism that assets "this is art if I, the artist/author, designate it as such."

Do you have a puzzle of your own to solve? Consider sharing your idea with a friend using one of these postcards, made from thick high-quality matte paper, so they serve as a great addition to a gift or just a thoughtful written note.

• Cardboard paper
• Paper weight: 7.67–10.32 oz/yd² (260–350 g/m²)
• Size: 4″ × 6″ (101 × 152 mm)
• Paper thickness: 0.013″ (0.34 mm)
• Coated outer surface
• Blank product materials sourced from Sweden, US, Brazil, or China