. . . but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.

04 August 2010

B. Traven

In a comment posted last Monday under the 1 February entry, Tyler had this to say:

Do you think it's possible that Archimboldi's story could be somewhat inspired by B. Traven's bio?

I'm something of a simpleton with litereature [sic] (perhaps that's why I've read all of Traven's books, haha) so that's just a passing thought not meant to be considered seriously.

First of all, Tyler is no simpleton with literature. He need only learn to spell "literature" correctly. (I hope he accepts that ribbing for what it is.)

In any event, first, I had to read more about B._Traven, which was fascinating. I immediately took Tyler's point.

I did a little Googling in an attempt to see whether this had occurred to anyone else. See the caption under picture at this site.

Then at MacMillan's site regarding Treasure of the Sierra Madre, you will see the flat statement that Archimboldi was modeled on B. Traven, although I do not know where they got their information in support of that proposition.

I wish to thank Tyler again for that fascinating comment. Whether or not Archimboldi was modeled on B. Travern probably makes no difference whatsoever to any interpretation of 2666. Still, it very interesting. I would like to know whether Bolaño acknowledged this himself at some point.

Now, let me spellcheck this.

15 July 2010

Essay on Illness

The Writer is Gravely Ill.

By Roberto Bolaño, from “Literature + Illness = Illness,” in The Insufferable Gaucho, out this month from New Directions. Bolaño dedicated the essay to his hepatologist, Victor Vargas. Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews.

This essay from the collection appears in this month's Harper's.

20 May 2010


And then there was the tourist Vogel, a man with so much optimism, so much faith in the innate goodness of mankind, that he is nearly unbearable. Also, a great believer in masturbation.

Vogel saves young Hans Reiter's life on one of the two occasions that Hans nearly drowns. Vogel had initially mistaken Hans for seaweed. When he recollects this later, it perplexes him to no end. Page 646.

And then: in what sense can a boy resemble seaweed? And then: can a boy and seaweed have anything in common?


Good question.

Can a boy and seaweed have anything in common?

Laminaria digitata

19 May 2010

Prussia Rises from the Depths

The opening pages of The Part About Archimboldi are in one sense typical of a novel that tells a man's life story and in another sense completely disorienting. The passages relating to Hans Reiter's childhood are poetic, but it is poetry of a very distinctive flavor. I come back repeatedly to this paragraph, set off by itself, and consider who else would have or could have written anything like it:

When his one-eyed mother bathed him in a washtub, the child Hans Reiter always slipped from her soapy hands and sank to the bottom, with his eyes open, and if her hands hadn't lifted him back up to the surface he would have stayed there, contemplating the black wood and the black water where little particles of his own filth floated, tiny bits of skin that traveled like submarines toward an inlet the size of an eye, a calm, dark cove, although there was no calm, and all that existed was movement, which is the mask of many things, calm among them.

Page 639

Remember Amalfitano's voice? Calm will never let you down. That must hold true only in the terrestrial world. Here, under the water, there is only movement. And what is the movement from childhood to adulthood if it is not in great part a movement from poetry to prose?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Part About Archimboldi features a cast of extraordinary characters, characters that remind me of those of John Irving at his very best. The first whom we encounter is the one-legged man who lost his leg in the first world war and later becomes Hans Reiter's father.

Upon his return home from the war, the one-legged man seeks out the one-eyed girl before he either washes or shaves. He goes to her house. I love this that occurs there:

When the girl saw him standing at the door to her house, she recognized him instantly. The one-legged man saw her, too, looking out the window, and he raised a hand in a formal salute, even a stiff salute, though it could also have been interpreted as a way of saying such is life.

Page 638.

Such is life.

The one-legged man is of the opinion that all nationalities and ethnic groups are swine except the Prussians. But Prussia no longer exists. Later this occurs, which from my point of view is a truly beautiful image.

Then his mother stared at him with her blue eye and the boy held her gaze with his two blue eyes, and from the corner near the hearth, the one-legged man watched them both with his two blue eyes and for three or four seconds the island of Prussia seemed to rise from the depths.

Page 644.

Goddamn, I like that!

18 May 2010

The Mummy

With that overview of The Part About Archimboldi, let us take a look at some of the details.

The part opens with a description of “the mummy” in the bed next to Reiter's father in that military hospital of long ago. This figure, the mummy, is eerily reminiscent of “the man in white” in the hospital bed next to Yossarian in Catch 22. You remember that man in white. He had a jar connected to a tube that dripped fluid into him and another connected to a tube that eliminated liquid waste.

When the jar on the floor was full, the jar feeding his elbow was empty, and the two were simply switched quickly so that stuff could be dripped back into him.

Catch 22, page 18.

It is difficult for me to believe that Bolaño was not familiar with Joseph Heller's man in white when he wrote these passages about the mummy.