2666: Fear and Semblances

What was Ivanov afraid of? Ansky wondered in his notebooks. Not of harm to his person, since as a longtime Bolshevik he’d had many brushes with arrest, prison, and deportation, and although he couldn’t be called a brave man, neither could it fairly be said that he was cowardly or spineless. Ivanov’s fear was of a literary nature. That is, it was the fear that afflicts more citizens who, one fine (or dark) day, choose to make the practice of writing, and especially the practice of fiction writing, and integral part of their lives. Fear of being no good. Also fear of being overlooked. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear that one’s efforts and striving will come to nothing. Fear of the step that leaves no trace. Fear of the forces of chance and nature that wipe away shallow prints. Fear of dining alone and unnoticed. Fear of going unrecognized. Fear of failure and making a spectacle of oneself. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear of forever dwelling in the hell of bad writers. Irrational fears, thought Ansky, especially when the fearful soothed their fears with semblances. As if the paradise of good writers, according to bad writers, were inhabited by semblances. As if the worth (or excellence) of a work were based on semblances. Semblances that varied, of course, from one era and country to another, but that always remained just that, semblances, things that only seem and never are, things all surface and no depth, pure gesture, and even the gesture muddled by an effort of will, the hair and eyes and lips of Tolstoy and versts traveled on horseback by Tolstoy and the women deflowered by Tolstoy in a tapestry burned by the fire of seeming.

—Roberto Bolaño, 2666

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