Bolano’s 2666

So I read 2666 with the Infinite Summer crowd, and posted here, weekly, my favorite quotes and my growing disenchantment with the novel.

And nobody in the whole wide world noticed that I stopped reading 50 pages from the end. Just fizzled out 840+ pages into a book…and don’t know when, if ever, I’ll pick it up again.

I’m glad I engaged with Bolano’s massive undertaking but I just didn’t like the text. Some moments, sure, but they were few, far between, and underleveraged. I’ll try Savage Detective some day. After the long list of books already recommended to me, and the stuff sitting in my pile of “the second I get a chance I’m reading this.” And after I finish some journal submissions. And client work. And another novel.

Maybe in 2026.

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Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (9)

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).

Sheesh.

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.

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.)

Bolano 2666 quote of the week (6)

This week’s reading succeeds in showing, rather than telling, Bolano’s intentions regarding Santa Teresa. “The Part about Fate” grows darker, more labyrinthine, misogynistic, bigoted, befuddled, surreal, and violent as we follow Fate around city, to the fight and a bar-hopping and city-encircling drive that grows increasingly menacing until he leaves with Rosa.

The section, the novel, the story of the crimes are twisted, hidden, dark, and ignored in favor of bluster and ignorant banter, which makes the characters in this section almost unbearable. As Rosa Amalfitano notes, “they seem right, they seem authentic, but they’re actually full of shit” (327). Oscar Amalfitano recognizes this, just as he clearly recognizes his own descent into madness (332). Like Seale in Detroit, Chucho and the other men Fate talks with in Mexico present their existential theories based on nothing; they mislead and confuse and cloak, which leaves both Fate and the reader more and more distanced from the city’s reality.

The sense of Fate having landed on a Martian landscape is reinforced each time he calls New York and someone who doesn’t sound quite right deflects and avoids; when his editor refuses to hear him; when the voice seems a million miles away. This section, as with the others, is well written, expertly crafted, intriguing, and intelligent. But Hobbesian in the “nasty, brutish, and short” life way, with booze and beatings and drugs and sex and talking all taking on characteristics of being dirty and dangerous and heavy handed and curtained yet cartoonish. This section’s metaphor lies in El Rey del Taco; and in the fight arena where Fate can’t find who is calling him; and on the maze-like dark streets and the closed doors and the dreams that swirl in and out of waking.

The same foreboding that clings to the end of The Part about Amalfitano lingers at the end of Fate’s section…was the black car Amalfitano spied outside waiting for Rosa? Will Fate get her out of the city? And is that imprisoned suspect Archimboldi? Bolano has a Dickensonian facility with cliffhangers.

Quote of the section, I think, is:
“The tone, he thought, was solemn and defiant, the battle hymn of a lost war sung in the dark. In the solemnity there was only desperation and death, but in the defiance there was a hint of corrosive humor, a humor that existed only in relation to itself and in dreams, no matter whether the dreams were long or short. Sonoran jazz” (308).

Your reactions?

Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (5)

Ah, “The Part about Fate.” I was pleased with the introduction to Quincy, and was ready to read on about him, but Bolano baited and switched for Oscar Fate, whom, I have to be honest, I almost loath. The man whose intimate moments open the section just doesn’t seem to be the same man whose nom de plume gives this chapter a sense of faux purpose. This meandering, lost chapter may be about Fate, but it doesn’t ring true about fate. And when I wasn’t careful, it drew me into some appalling dark corners that I’d rather shine a light on than hide in.

That Fate barfs through most of this week’s reading is pretty much spot on where I was in forcing myself to complete the section. “I don’t know, I don’t feel very well, if I felt better I’m sure I could figure it out,” (244). Clearly it’s not just me. Could be my fear of the next section, distaste aimed at a variety of things in my life while I read. But I think not. I think this section is overreaching and strikes chords that sing out “I’m supposed to be important or funny” instead of actually being insightful or funny.

Really, my first thought was, what does this Chilean author, who has been masterful with southern Arizona and northern Mexico (what I know of them, anyway), know about aging Black Panthers in Detroit? Yes, some people, particularly those in political and social movements, are caricatures. But seriously?
“As you all know, said Seaman, pork chops saved my life” (250). Seaman goes on to detail his nonsensical life philosophy and cholesterol-free recipes using relatively large amounts of butter in them. Funny if I’m in a good mood. Bordering on annoying stupidity if I’m not. The author, as always, is quite engaging. His characters and what they say, throughout this week’s section, are irritating.

Seaman’s half page on metaphors about stars is another example. If I were grading a stack of typical freshman English papers, this would strike me as hilarious because it does highlight how inane most humans are, especially while pontificating. As it is, I’m not teaching this semester and found Seaman’s totally asinine view of metaphors sad, trying, and indicative of a whole culture of bullshit. That is, of course, the point. American pseudo-intellectual, self-help, social change culture is bullshit. But that strikes way too close to home, and made me resent this week’s reading.

So, fine, I’ll bite. let’s travel with Fate to Mexico to see if humans are somehow more…human…there. The illogical diatribes south of the border, a few pages later, are just as lame and hollow and misinformed. Humanity is screwed because we’ll all too stupid to live, really, is what I got from the beginning of The Part about Fate. Chucho and Charly are just as reprehensible as Barry Seaman. Reinforcing this frothing aura of stupidity and human foibles writ large is the abhorrent sport of choice…boxing…in which humanity’s worst instincts and natures come out for a modern version of bear baiting.

So this section is rife with racism, misogyny, and bullshit. Great. Can I get back to Quincy Williams and his intimate moments after his mother’s death? Please?

So this week’s quote? All I have, really, is the second-hand assertion that
“There’s no place on earth with more dumb girls per square foot than a college in California” (288). As with everything else in this section, it’s so wrong and so offensive and so pinpoint accurate and so galling that I don’t know where to go except to agree. And that’s the pain of The Part about Fate. We’re led, unless we shake our head to clear it after every sentence, to believe and feel and watch bullshit of our own volition.

Glad I’m forcing myself to continue, because this is too small a section in a huge book to break me. But it’s trying.

Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (4)

I’m not behind on my reading, but I certainly am on the blogging here and at bolanobolano.com, where they’re discussing 2666 over the course of 2666 hours.

[If what follows is derivative of the opinions blogged by the 2666 reading group, including our dear bleakonomy friend, so be it. I’m offering my first reaction and will go read their posts in a minute. i felt pretty lame last time offering a thin response to the richest sections only to find the other readers providing in-depth commentary, but such are the limitations of my life right now. I’m not writing a paper on this thing. I barely have time to read it.]

So. “The Part about Amalfitano.” Oh, my fair readers, I’m glad I made it to this section. *This* is why I agreed to tackle this novel with bits and parts of the erudite Infinite Summer group, and why magical realism is one of my favorite stylistic inclinations. This section leaves behind those self-absorbed critics and engages in the ponderous, the surreal, and the spooky. Hope the rest of the novel continues along this vein.

“For a second he thought it was all a lie, that Lola was working as an administrative assistant or secretary in some big company. Then he saw it clearly. he saw the vacuum cleaner parked between two rows of desks, saw the floor waxer like a cross between as mastiff and a pig sitting next to a plant, he say an enormous window through which the lights of Paris blinked, he saw Lola in the cleaning company’s smock, a worn blue smock, sitting writing the letter and maybe taking slow drags on a cigarette, he saw Lola’s fingers, Lola’s wrists, Lola’s blank eyes, he saw another Lola reflected in the quicksilver of the window, floating weightless in the skies of Paris, like a trick photograph that isn’t a trick, floating, floating pensively in the skies of Paris, weary, sending messages from the coldest iciest realm of passion” (182).

I don’t think I’ve read an author in a long time who writes scenery and visions and mirages as well as this.

But he’s awfully good at dialogue, as well, as in my favorite scene about the most awesome geometry-book weathering experiment:

“It isn’t mine, said Amalfitano. It doesn’t matter, Rosa said, it’s yours now. It’s funny, said Amalfitano, that’s how I should feel, but I really don’t have the sense it belongs to me, and anyway I’m almost sure I’m not doing it any harm. Well, pretend it’s mine and take it down, said Rosa, the neighbors are going to think you’re crazy. The neighbors who top their walls with broken glass? They don’t even know we exist, said Amalfitano, and they’re a thousand times crazier than me. no, not them, said Rosa, the other ones, the ones who can see exactly what’s going on in our yard. Have any of them bothered you? asked Amalfitano. No, said Rosa. Then it’s not a problem, said Amalfinato, it’s silly to worry about it when much worse things are happening in this city than a book being hung from a cord. Two wrongs don’t make a right, said Rosa, we’re not animals. Leave the book alone, pretend it doesn’t exist, forget about it, said Amalfitano, you’ve never been interested in geometry” (196).

The illogical nonsequitors in these characters’ dialogue, which read so logically, are my favorite part of this novel. And this passage has two nonsequitor retorts that honestly sound exactly the way people talk…just ludicrous.

This section was simply dreamy.

Bolano 2666 quote of the week (3)

So many to choose from. I have to admit I’ll be glad to be rid of the critics, but this week had several intriguing quotes. So. Vote if you feel like it.

1) “…he, in his own way, like Schwob in Samoa, had already begun a voyage, a voyage that would end not in the grave of a brave man but in a kind of resignation in any ordinary sense of the word, or even patience or conformity, but rather a state of meekness, a refined and incomprehensible humility that made him cry for no reason and in which his own image, what Morini saw as Morini, gradually and helplessly dissolved, like a river that stops being a river or a tree that burns on the horizon, no knowing that it’s burning” (107).

2) “It was as if the light were buried in the Pacific Ocean, producing an enormous curvature of space. It made a person hungry to travel in that light, although also, and maybe more insistently thought Norton, it made you want to bear your hunger until the end” (110-11).
[one of the best descriptions of the Sonoran desert I’ve ever read.]

3) “And yet your shadow isn’t following you anymore. At some point your shadow has quietly slipped away. You pretend you don’t notice, but you have, you’re missing your fucking shadow, though there are plenty of ways to explain it, the angle of the sun, the degree of oblivion induced by the sun beating down on hatless heads, the quantity of alcohol ingested, the movement of something like subterranean tanks of pain, the fear of more contingent things, a disease that begins to become more apparent, wounded vanity, the desire just for once in your life too be on time. But the point is, your shadow is lost and you, momentarily forget it. And so you arrive on a kind of stage, without your shadow, and you start to translate reality or reinterpret it or sing it” (121).

[This third quote is hands-down my favorite, made even more poignant by Norton’s painfully ignorant and heartless proclamation that she didn’t understand a word of it. Nothing thus far has made me like her less.]

Bolano quote of the day ~2666~

Okay, we’re at the first Bolano benchmark (someone email me with tilde instructions because the en rather than enyay is killing me) and I’m not sure yet. Engaging, amusing, smart. But the whole mocking of academia and its internal machinations has grown a bit tedious, in part because it reminds me of what I dislike about conferences, departmental in-fighting, and journal publishing.

Oh well. I’m still in this for the long haul. I think.

Quote of the day: tie. Because I’ll probably only post once a week, I’m willing to give the daily award to two bits from the first 50 pages of the novel…

“A rather ordinary picture of a student in the capital, but it worked on him like a drug, a drug that brought him to tears, a drug that (as one sentimental Dutch poet of the nineteenth century had it) opened the floodgates oof emotion, as well as the floodgates that at first blush resembled self-pity but wasn’t (what was it, then? rage? very likely), and made him turn over and over in his mind, not in words but in painful images, the period of his youthful apprenticeship, and after a perhaps pointless long night he was forced to two conclusions: first, that his life as he had lived it so far was over; second, that a brilliant career was opening up before him, and that to maintain its glow he had to persist in his determination, in sole testament to that garret. This seemed easy enough.” (5)

“The first twenty minutes were tragic in tone, with the word fate used ten times and the word friendship twenty-four times. Liz Norton’s name was spoken fifty times, nine of them in vain. The word Paris was said seven times, Madrid, eight. The word love was spoken twice, once by each man. The word horror was spoken six times and the word happiness once (by Espinoza). The word solution was said twelve times. The word solipsism seven times. The word euphemism ten times. The word category, in the singular and the plural, nine times. The word structuralism once (Pelletier). The term American literature three times. The words dinner or eating or breakfast or sandwich nineteen times. The words eyes or hands or hair fourteen times. Then the conversation proceeded more smoothly.” (40-1).

See, just when I feel bored with the professional and personal nonsense, he waxes all Cervantes funny on me. And I dig that.