2666 quote of the week (7)

You know what? I’m tired of finding quotes in this book. It’s a little game I began with Infinite Jest last summer because I was rereading the book and found some passages so compelling, so central, so clever, or so erudite that I needed to share. Needed to share.

With Bolano’s 2666? I’m kind of over the quotes. Because the novel is both compelling and frustrating, and I don’t want to retype. I want to read and, honestly, finish this damned thing and move on.

The Part about the Crimes: I read the first twenty pages and got pissed, so I went back and made some notes about the chapter’s foci. Nine pages of short descriptions wherein women’s bodies are found dumped unceremoniously, scant details are collected, and cases are closed without substantive investigation. Some of the murders are similar, some are not. Nine pages. Then twelve pages on a guy peeing in churches. Back to the women for three pages. And the serial urinator for three. You know what? I don’t need to be hit over the head with a mallet to know this book is about misogyny. But the mallet is there, nonetheless: “The attacks on [the churches] San Rafael and San Tadeo got more attention in the local press than the women killed in the preceeding months” (366).

Shocking? Nope. The religion dominating the area is well known for being, despite its commandment against false idols, one that supports worship of consecrated land and general disdain for women.

My fury over the casual disregard of hundreds of brutalized and composting women whose lives seem completely meaningless is provoked by the text to make a point. The murderers dump the bodies, the establishment dumps any responsibility for understanding or preventing further deaths. The culture is more fascinated by and upset about symbolic destruction of religion than by actual destruction of humans. Blasphemy is more important than murder. A post-Neitzschean dead God is valued but a postmodern woman is not. Saw that coming a thousand miles away, when the critics flew into Santa Teresa.

Gotta tell you, I’m more than a little angry about the casual discarding of women’s bodies by the murderers and of women’s stories by the narrator. Chalk up this week’s frustration to being way far ahead in the reading and less willing to leaf through 50 pages of macabre bullshit, to being nine months pregnant and a bit protective of women and girls everywhere, or to being frustrated that, while this is a good text that I believe is valuable and necessary, is not the right read for me in search of post-Wallace, post-postmodern enlightenment. But the anger is supposed to move me to action, to changing the state of affairs. To helping, to expressing outrage, to making a difference. And how the f— am I supposed to do that?

I’m just saying…this section pisses me off. I know it’s supposed to. That doesn’t help.

“But somewhere along the way something happened or something went permanently wrong and afterward her mother was told there was a chance she had run off with a man. She’s only sixteen, said her mother, and she’s a good girl. Forty days later some children found her body near a shack in Colonia Maytoprena. Her left hand rested on some guaco leaves. Due to the state of the body, the medical examiner was unable to determine the cause of death. One of the policemen present at the removal of the body, however, was able to identify the guaco plant. It’s good for mosquito bites, he said, crouching down and plucking some little green leaves, pointed and tough.” (375.)

14 thoughts on “2666 quote of the week (7)

  1. Me three. I’m reading out of obligation only, at this point, with an openness to appreciation that I nevertheless don’t expect to materialize.

    My favorite quote from this section (I only bring it up here because it relates to your fury over the situation in Santa Teresa) is when Elvira Campos and Juan de Dios Martínez are talking about fears:

    “Some Mexican men may be gynophobes, said Juan de Dios Martínez, but not all of them, it can’t be that bad. What do you think optophobia is? asked the director. Opto, opto, something to do with the eyes, my God, fear of the eyes? Even worse: fear of opening the eyes. In a figurative sense, that’s an answer to what you just said about gynophobia.”

    • Jeff, I really like that quote on one hand, and find it incredibly heavy handed on the other. How did I miss it? Because I’m reading on fast forward, I guess. I’m relieved you and Dan did not eviscerate me for a meh attitude at this point, but I just don’t appreciate this the way I should. There’s a David Sedaris and Zadie Smith choice waiting for me when I’m done, and I’m just lowering my head to get to the last damned page. I don’t dislike the novel. I was just hoping for a Latin Infinite Jest.
      And Dan, the commenter on your site whom I choose to ignore at every single turn infuriated me even more this week than he does politically by suggesting we should stop reading just because there *are* crimes in the novel. Man I loath seeing his opinions on your site. But I won’t admit it for I know that’s all he wants is to raise hackles. Blech.

  2. I think you’re right about the desire to raise hackles. But, since we’re just a Wee Little Blog, I try to be glad to have regular readers at all.

    That being said, I’m finding it a little more irritating than usual that he’s choosing to comment about a book he’s not actually reading. Also, I think many of us DFW devotees are feeling the same way you are about the relative merits of 2666 compared to our beloved Infinite Jest.

    • I wonder, Dan, if it would be easier to stomach that 2666 is no IJ if Wallace were alive and still writing. Is this hitting harder because we’re even more lost if this is not the next loveable thing?
      Regular readers are nice, I agree. I dislike his point of view so much that it didn’t actually surprise me that he’s trying to bait you about something he has absolutely no knowledge of. I often type a scathing reply to him and delete it, because the first time he realizes anyone pays attention to him is the last time he’s silent on *anything*.

  3. Pingback: Of Bladders and Blasphemy « Infinite Zombies

  4. If I can butt in, I think I’d be fine with 2666 not being IJ if I hadn’t somehow come to expect that it was going to be something really special, y’know? What it’s doing is well done, but I had let myself grow convinced—through osmosis, pretty much—that what it’s doing was going to be more in the line of IJ.

    If y’all haven’t read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, I recommend it highly. It’s the closest thing I’ve read to DFW, and I mean that in the important ways, rather than the superficial ones. Excellent, excellent book, and nourishing like IJ is and 2666 is not.

  5. I second Jeff’s recommendation of Cloud Atlas. It’s a really inventive book and a great read.

    I think the cloud of hype surrounding the publication of 2666 is a real obstacle to seeing it for what it is, whatever that is. I understand the publishing industry’s need to move product (and this is tough product to move), and the literary world’s need to canonize someone once every decade or so, but it just seems like the high expectations that were raised for this book get in the way of the actual text, leading to the suspicion that there’s no there there. To me the biggest obstacles are stylistic (and in fiction, style is pretty much everything): I can’t tell if this is some radical new form of storytelling that ten years from now will seem old hat, or if the construction is as haphazard as it often seems, and the critical pre-certification of the book as a bona fide masterpiece is some kind of Jedi mind trick causing us to try to read it’s flaws as virtues.

  6. Jeff, there is no butting in—even if I didn’t agree, which I do, your opinion is welcome. And I believe you and David articulate much better than I did (I’m tired and lazy lately so thank you for being more specific) that the book doesn’t meet expectations—not of a good book, but of the hype.
    Consider Cloud Atlas placed on the list.
    David, I feel from reading the first 700+ pages that this is not radical new storytelling…having studied Modernists and postmodernists for a while now, I see some of each, and a lot of interesting techniques that are neither new nor next wave. To me this is not avant garde, which is fine; it’s good but not earth-shattering.

    What made Wallace, I feel, part of a defining sea change away from postmodernism toward something new (that the academy is still, unfortunately but descriptively, calling post-postmodernism) was the self-aware sincerity, the emotion, and the deeply honest pain of his writing. Postirony, or informed by cultural cynicism yet screaming for honesty, or something else I can’t articulate at this advanced stage of exhaustion, Wallace represents a revolution in literature, and I was hoping 2666 contained glimmers of an international revolution that took this rejection of both modernism and postmodernism further. It does not. Doesn’t mean it’s not a good book, and I’m not going to stop reading because I appreciate the turns of phrase and the moral of the story, even though it’s blatant and head-top mallet wielding. But I’m not awed. I think that’s what I wanted, and though I don’t expect awe from most texts, the hype told me to. That’s why I’m frustrated.

  7. Truth be told I haven’t read much David Foster Wallace–I’ve read about half of Oblivion, which I liked A LOT (and I’m intrigued by what I know of the Pale King), but I haven’t read Infinite Jest and i can’t really comment on how well Bolano stands up to Wallace. Right now I’m equally fond of both, but given your description, Bolano seems to violently reject much of what Wallace embraced, and what people tend to love him for.

    As a recovering history grad student I feel like I have a pretty fair understanding of the concepts of modernism and postmodernism, but without having spent nearly enough time with their canonical literary expressions (I was too busy reading works of history and theory, so I’m at a disadvantage here). That said, I too recognize lots of previously approved methods in Bolano. His writing embodies trends that have been rising to the surface of contemporary fiction (and cinema) for some time–open-endedness; a refusal of narrative closure; a seamless blending of fiction and nonfiction; the blurring of the line between novel, memoir and journalism; self-referentiality; an almost documentary-like quality to the prose. I guess I was thinking that maybe I might come to see them as combined (mashed up) into a literary whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. I don’t know. For me the verdict’s still out, but you’ve given me something to gnaw on.

    • David, I enjoyed some of the stories in Oblivion , but not 10% as much as I adore Infinite Jest and of Wallace’s non-fiction, particularly the bits collected in Consider the Lobster. (I think in a post on the alleged best fiction of the millennium, Dan agreed that Oblivion didn’t bowl him over as mucch as IJ, but you’ll have to ask him. A lot of the Wallace scholars I’ve talked to have varying degrees of dissatisfaction with the complete product of Oblivion but still like each story. It’s certainly not a weak text but it’s no Infinite Jest.) I don’t know if I can read Pale King for a variety of reasons, the biggest of which is an inexplicable residual sadness over his death that simply won’t go away. I just can’t bear to read anything new yet. I hope that changes.
      Ah, we could have long, involved talks on the overlaps and gaps between literary and historical theory on Modernism and postmodernism. I love the reference to yourself as a recovering grad student…I can’t decide if I’m still recovering or if I’m going back for more, for the PTSD didn’t last long in my case. Not deciding this week, though, so it would be interesting to hear your history department flashbacks. You have pointed out many of the techniques he’s using, and i don’t know enough about Latin American literary studies to speak intelligently about magical realism and its new forms in the labyrinthine and hallucinatory sections of 2666…but it doesn’t feel to me as though he’s developed a new form just in using a variety of approaches. The agglomeration itself, as you note, might be a new form. Right now it just feels like millennial fiction (just…how condescending and annoying does that sound?) in its style and therefore nothing so groundbreaking that I’m floored. And, technique aside, I’m finding more and more about the sections heavy handed and clumsy despite his facility with prose. But, as you say, I’m willing to be surprised. I like the novel’s framework, really appreciate his family’s unwillingness to go along with the money-making plan of a novel a year, and am able to generally allow the text to wash over me instead of fighting to discern a map from the language. If I ever have time to come back to the book, I might look for more. In short, I agree with you that I just don’t know yet. But right now, I’m hanging on for the ride, and willingly trudging past body after body so I can be told that we as humans devalue humanity. It’s a valuable point, even when made 3,000 times in one book.

  8. Well Infinite Jest is definitely on my must read list. Maybe I’ll knock down a couple of short story collections after 2666, as a palate cleanser, and then dive in to IJ.

    I don’t know how much Bolaño you’ve read, but one thing’s for sure, he’ll never be as beloved as David Foster Wallace, especially given that most readers’ first and last encounter with him will probably be 2666. 2666 is just a difficult novel to love, both because its formally difficult (this is not to say that it’s innovative—the verdict’s out on that–only that it goes out of it’s way to deny you the pleasures of “traditional” narrative fiction) and so profoundly emotionally withholding. The Savage Detectives is actually a much warmer book, though at the same time it’s essentially a record of generational failure. The protagonists of SD are young, full of energy and ambition, and intoxicated by literature and the left-wing politics of the 1970’s and 80’s. It’s the story of a generation of Latin American artists and activists who came of age in the era of Allende and the Sandinistas, and experienced the implosion of revolutionary optimism that followed the Pinochet coup, the defeat of the Sandinistas at the ballot box and the vicious political violence in Central and South America in the 1980’s. The picture that emerges over the twenty-year span of the novel is as much of dissipated ambition and squandered promise as of artistic success, and all of this takes place against the backdrop of sustained political reaction. So there’s a sense of fatalism and futility that permeates Bolaño’s otherwise most life-affirming book, and I think that’s somehow part of the subtext of 2666. And the environment in which 2666 is set–a stand in for contemporary Juarez, an utterly lawless narco state–compounds the sense of futility many times over. Its almost as if the futility is materialized in the very structure of the novel–a labyrinthian narrative structure packed with dead end plotlets. So that’s my riff on why 2666 doesn’t really work as a successor novel to Infinite Jest.

    Good luck with the grad school decision. I left the field of battle over a decade ago, so I’m actually fully recovered. My only advice would be a) pick a good school–one with strong faculty that match your interests, and with a good record of placing their graduates b) if you are planning to get a PhD, be prepared to slog away at it for up to a decade (though obviously it doesn’t have to take that long) c) don’t take on a lot of debt and d) have at least one other plausible career goal beside tenured professor.

    By the way I’m blogging about the book here: http://ablogabout2666.wordpress.com/ so if you haven’t already feel free to stop by for a visit.

    • David, you’ve hit the nail on the head on two reasons I’m struggling with 2666. “profoundly emotionally withholding” captures very well why I loathed Fate and the critics and am just trudging through the Crimes. I told someone last night, as we discussed Savage Detectives, that the whole freaking novel reads like reportage, and I want more dialogue, more humanity, more emotional reaction to the horror. If I wanted to read about robots living in Santa Teresa, I’m sure that book exists.
      I expected the record of international social failure. I’m down with that and welcome it when addressed richly, as it feels Bolano did in Amalfitano. I just don’t like the thin, cold, labyrinthine walk that leaves me wanting a bowl of oatmeal at my grandma’s house.
      The final reason for my struggle is tonight’s post. Suffice it to say I am having an increasingly difficult time with the reality of juarez as I read a fictional account that’s 1/1000th as bad as the pain there. I want to shake every character in the book and slap them, and it gets very tiring.
      Thanks for the link to your post. And for the grad school advice. I enjoyed my thesis committee for my Master’s but despised the school. I know I’d enjoy the process of getting the PhD at all the schools I’m considering. But I’m old enough and have several established, well paying careers that grad school now is gratuitous and serves only as mental and ego masturbation. Which seems like an expensive reason to go back for 7 years in my waning prime. Ah well. Today is not the day to decide. And for that I’m grateful.

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