The Part About the Crimes continued last week with a telling interaction between Sergio Gonzalez and his bedmate:
“As he was talking the whore yawned, not because she wasn’t interested in what he was saying but because she was tired, which irritated Sergio and made him say, in exasperation, that in Santa Teresa they were killing whores, so why not show a little professional solidarity, to which the whore replied that he was wrong, in the story as he had told it the women dying were factory workers, not whores. Workers, workers, she said. And then Sergio apologized, as, as if a lightbulb had gone on over his head, he glimpsed an aspect of the situation that until now he’d overlooked” (466).
So now we are brought face to face with the reality…the maquiladores produce tax-free exports, primarily for the U.S. The women who work there are disposable, and not only do the Mexican communities ignore their brutal murders, but the consumers in the United States, complicit in the womens’ low-wage employment, have never even heard about their mass deaths. Disposable economy, disposable humanity. Right there in the whore’s bed we are taken to task about how we value things over people, consumption over people.
Geez, this is a fun text, she typed wryly, trying to wrestle her guilt back into the closet as the bodies in 2666 pile up in the dumps, a grotesque metaphor of our disposal of everything we have no need for, including Mexican women. “What surprised the reporters most,” though not any reader who has been paying attention, “was that no one claimed or acknowledged the body” (467).
Lalo Cura finally figures out the town is run by narcos, Epifanio brings the misogyny in the novel to a new low by noting that a clerk was wearing a skirt and high heels and therefore must be sleeping with her boss (474), and Klaus Haas presents an interesting German figure that begins the “is he or isn’t he” wait for The Part about Archimboldi.
And finally, Florita’s crowning achievement, “to introduce the other women, who had something important to say. Then the WSDP activists stepped up to talk about the climate of impunity in Santa Teresa, the laxity of the police, the corrupttion, and the number of dead women, which had been constantly on the rise since 1993” (505). Of course, we are quickly ushered away from this scene of awareness toward a discussion of film, J.D. Salinger, and L.A. the rest of the week’s section shows the police solving several crimes, none of which involves women or murders. Because stolen cars are a priority, after all.
I despise myself for wanting The Part about the Crimes to end, because it should go on, every day, with body after body piling up until I can’t take it and actually DO something. But for now I’m writhing in discomfort watching nothing get done and wishing I could have Archimboldi or Amalfitano back for a while. That frustrating, incessant journalistic narrative march of case after unsolved case is clearly doing its job. I may have to retract my criticism of Bolano because this tactic is working. I am not growing numb to the deaths. I am increasingly uncomfortable.
Just what I need right now.
Steve over at Infinite Zombies argued in one of his recent posts that 2666 is not a call to action or attention regarding the Juarez murders, but simply a book about the awful realities of the world. I am inclined to agree with him, and will expand on that when I get to my own post later today. The only reason I mention this at all is that I don’t think you should feel like there’s some kind of moral obligation to dwell on the murders. Frankly, I’m beginning to think that Bolaño merely exploits them for his own literary ends, and is no kind of moral hero for writing about them.
Naptime: Nice to see you digging into the politics of the novel. I guess I agree with Steve at Infinite Zombies that this isn’t a “crusading novel” a’la Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but I do think it has a political point of view, and you are definitely tapping into it. I suppose you could say that, as far as the socio-political analysis goes, one doesn’t learn anything from 2666 that you couldn’t learn much more quickly by reading actual journalism, but that’s true of just about any topical novel. And The Jungle may have come down to us as the archetypal crusading novel, but while it was primarily intended to highlight the plight of immigrant workers in Chicago’s stockyards, it’s greatest impact was the passage of Pure Food and Drug laws. The book was designed to drum up sympathy for the immigrant working class, but wound up stoking middle class anxieties about health and diet instead. As Sinclair put it, “I aimed at the public’s heart and by accident hit its stomach.” I’m not sure what organ Bolano is aiming for, exactly, but the cumulative effect of the deadpan descriptions of the murdered women, for me at least, is to make them increasingly indigestible.
I was thinking about Dan’s charge that Bolaño exploits the murders for his own literary ends while reading David Shields’ bracing if problematic Reality Hunger, and this quote struck me as apropos: “There are two sorts of artist, one not being in the least superior to the other. One responds to the history of his art so far; the other responds to life itself.” (Shields is quoting Saul Steinberg) It seems to me that Bolaño is both kinds of artist (I think this is a false distinction). I didn’t mean to imply in my inaugural post that Bolaño was not aestheticizing the murders, or using them for his own literary ends (you could say that they are the literary version of a Weegee true crime photo). Only that there is an ethical dilemma at the heart of how to do so.