. . . 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.

01 February 2010

About the Critics

About the critics. . . .

At page 39 the critics discuss the Swabian's article about his meeting with Archimboldi. Each offers his own theory as to the truth behind the article. They interpret it. Norton even floats the theory that the Swabian is Archimboldi, a theory that is quickly discounted. (Theories later surface that any number of characters are actually Archimboldi, including Mrs. Bubis.) So this is a nice microscopic study of what it is the four critics do generally in their careers. But notice how that passage ends.

Notice how the next passage concerning Pelletier's interpretation of Norton's diatribe about her former husband ends.

As for Archimbolidi's literature, however, the four are in alliance. They are all certain that they alone understand it correctly, or to put it in their terms, that they have constructed a valid reading of it. They are aggressive in their attacks on other critics whose reading differs. These are people certain that there are overriding themes and ideas in Achimboldi's work that they have unlocked. There is a neat illustration, by the way, of how they think when Pelletier and Espinoza consult Greek mythology to interpret the runic statement about Medusa by Pritchard at page 69.

Their belief that they alone correctly understand Archimboldi's work is extremely important to them. At page 82 the passage that begins Pelletier was a bit confused, since in a way it was perfectly true. Archimboldi was now a part of him, the author belonged to him. . . . is critical in that regard but it also introduces the idea that at times Archimboldi's work appeared to be a shapeless and mysterious verbal mass, bathtub in which Pelletier would end up committing suicide.

It may be intellectual suicide because it appears to me that that is exactly what is happening to Pelletier at the end of Part 1 as he sits by the pool rereading and rereading Archimboldi and understanding less and less parallel with his laborious study of the newspapers in an effort to determine what is going on in Santa Teresa.

Later, Archimboldi is described as a person who didn't pretend to reconcile the irreconcilable, as was the fashion these days. What a problematic writer that is for these critics, whose careers revolve around devising a reading of him that reconciles the irreconcilable.

It is at page 84 that México is foreshadowed for the first time with the appearance of the Mexican whore who is better than all the rest. These critics all slowly fade out intellectually. Morini goes first at page 107. Espinoza fades off into the land of possible marriage to the decidedly unintellectual Rebeca having completely forgotten about the books by Archimboldi in his suitcase. Pelletier fades out by the pool. Norton follows the resigned Morini. She starts to depart at page 113.

I think Amalfitano's poetic monologue on page 121 and 122 about Mexican intellectuals describes exactly what is happening to these four, although Norton says she hasn't the faintest idea what he is talking about.

While Part 1 wounds down and the four critics gradually fade away into incomprehension, lassitude, and resignation, slowly then Mexico, Santa Teresa, and Amalfitano fade in, to use cinematic terms.

__________, my point is this. If Bolaño himself is a person who didn't pretend to reconcile the irreconcilable, is not Part 1 then a cautionary tale for Whitaker and you in your endeavors to construct your own coherent reading of Bolaño as Pelletier thought he was doing with Archimboldi's work at page 82?


  1. 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 (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.

  2. Tyler, I cannot thank you enough for this comment. First, I had to read more about B. Travern, which was fascinating. I immediately understood your point.

    I did a little Googling in an attempt to see whether this had occurred to anyone else. See the caption under the 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. Travern, although I do not know where they got their information in support of that proposition.


    Again, thank you for your very interesting comment.