Archive for July 19th, 2009

On “You’re Welcome”

I find social norms interesting especially when it isn’t entirely clear why they exist. One I was pondering in a state of half-sleep last night was the norm of saying, “You’re welcome” after “Thank you.”

Why do we say it? The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites the first documented usage in W.W. Jacob’s 1907 Short Cruises. And, OED defines it as “a polite formula used in response to an expression of thanks.” While “you’re welcome” is sometimes used as a “polite formula,” those who use “you’re welcome” often have a more precise intended meaning. When someone responds, “you’re welcome,” they are acknowledging that thanks is owed. Let’s call this type of response to “thank you” a category one reply.

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2666 and Authorial Legacy

Readers, I made a mistake. In the open to my review of Netherland, I talked of the novel’s declaring its own eulogy “in the grand tradition of Louis XIV.” The facts are right; the wording isn’t. Substitute “epitaph” for “eulogy,” understand that in both cases it was accidental, and perhaps I’ll have a shred of credibility left after this week’s introduction.

It is impossible to read Roberto Bolaño’s massive masterpiece, 2666, and not immediately think of the circumstances surrounding his writing of it. Bolaño penned 2666 during the last five years of his life, suffering from the liver disease that he knew would ultimately kill him, as it did July 15, 2003.

As a result, 2666, an 898-page tome of a novel that Kirkus Reviews called “unquestionably the finest novel of the present century—and we may be saying the same thing 92 years from now,” is nothing short of Bolaño’s preemptive and fully conscious attempt to crash his funeral and deliver a eulogy not looking back on his life, but rather looking forward to his legacy.

Bolaño’s preferred subject has always (and here, I mean in his fiction; I am unfamiliar with his poetry) been the writer. His novels and novellas have, hitherto without exception, been told by writers and about writers. Whereas his other major work, The Savage Detectives, explored the lives of writers, 2666 deals in their deaths. The novel is, quite simply, enamored with death and its (non-corporal) consequences.

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