. . . 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 February 2010

Óscar Amalfitano & Oscar Fate

__________, regarding Oscar Fate, you inquired, “Do we each have our own view of the sacred?"

I did very much enjoy Charly Cruz's reminiscence about the big, old movie houses. It was well said. As for the bit about the great DVD, I do think he was simply interested in selling them.

Charly Cruz is a comedian, too.

In not very good English the girl answered that she liked to have fun. Life is short, she said, and then she was quiet, looking back and forth between Fate and Chucho Flores, as if reflecting on what she'd just said.

“Rosita is a little bit of a philosopher, too.” said Charly Cruz.

Still, I do not think that Rosita, philosophical though she was, appreciated just how short life can can be.

Yes, we all do have our own view of the sacred. Perhaps the question posed by the book is whether any of that makes any difference whatsoever.

Which brings me back to my consideration of a better, more fitting dust jacket. Madonna of the Ear would be very good, as I said.

Obviously, I love *Óscar Amalfitano's ruminations on the glass shards. Then when Oscar Fate is in Detroit, the short guy in the bar expresses displeasure with the name of the magazine Oscar Fate works for, Black Dawn, and says, “Why don't the brothers in New York do something with the sunset for once, that's the best time of day, at least in this goddamn neighborhood.”

So that is how I got the idea for a dust jacket picture featuring a sunset behind glass shards on top of a wall.

Black Sunset. The sunset of civilization.

*Somebody please correct my recollection if it is wrong. I do not believe we learn that Amalfitano's first name is Óscar until the end of The Part About Fate. In any event I sure as hell did not notice that until the end of The Part About Fate.

03 February 2010

Natasha Wimmer

About to start The Part About Archimboldi, I am just killing time here while I await the big discussion to commence February 15. I certainly do not intend to dictate a reading of any particular passage from the first three parts. There is an implicit question mark behind everything I write. I would certainly love to hear from anyone who has read anything differently than I.

My personal problem is that I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written about it, as Faulkner said.

By the way, the phrase is Traduttore, tradittore in Italian. (“Translator, traitor.”) It is apparently just an old Italian saying, the source of which is lost somewhere in antiquity--recently resuscitated and used for effect by Umberto Eco.

I am now nearly as much an admirer of Natasha Wimmer as I am of Bolaño himself. I would not be reading him if it were not for her. I cannot help but try to imagine her state of mind as she labored in solitude over the translation of these graphic sexual passages and, even more so, the translation of the grim, grim passages portraying sexually-related violence. She earned whatever money she was paid for this effort.

Here is abrief but informative article about Natasha Wimmer in Publishers Weekly.

My Mexican friend, Adriana, is reading the book in Spanish. Occasionally, she looks into my copy and is very enthusiastic about the job Natasha Wimmer has done.

Adriana's copy is one published by Bolaño's original house in Barcelona, Editorial Anagrama. It is a perfectly beautiful book. The paper feels like silk, the typeface is black, black, black, and immaculate, and the binding is quality stuff. Unfortunately, it was a bit expensive, too.

01 February 2010

Regarding the Author's Playing With Us

Thank you, ladies. Those thoughts are better than any that have crossed my mind yet.

Okay, __________. Got it. Makes perfect sense. Thanks.

Yes, in that sense I suppose he is. One could make the argument that it is closer to life as we experience it than it is to the usual fictional fare.

Getting In My Head

The guy gets into my head, _________. I contemplate my own glass shards now and ask myself, "What does Amalfitano mean when he says to himself offensive or defensive nature of his fortification? How can a wall with glass shards on the top be offensive in nature?"

__________, others have suggested he is just playing with us. Someone suggested that he is playing with us based upon our experience with traditional mystery or detective novels for example. By that I take it they are suggesting that he is setting up certain expectations in us and then defeating those expectations, or something like that. Is that what you are suspecting? Regardless of what anyone else means by that, what do you mean by "playing with us?"

I will say this. I was as freaked toward the end of The Part about Fate as I was the first time I saw David Lynch's Blue Velvet. David Lynch has been mentioned a couple of times before here, too.

I was right with Amalfitano. I, too, wanted Oscar to get out of there and get her out of there, too. Immediately.

Shards of Glass, Broken Bottles

The guy gets into my head, __________. I contemplate my own glass shards now and ask myself, "What does Amalfitano mean when he says to himself offensive or defensive nature of his fortification? How can a wall with glass shards on the top be offensive in nature?"

__________, others have suggested he is just playing with us. Someone suggested that he is playing with us based upon our experience with traditional mystery or detective novels for example. By that I take it they are suggesting that he is setting up certain expectations in us and then defeating those expectations, or something like that. Is that what you are suspecting? Regardless of what anyone else means by that, what do you mean by "playing with us?"

I will say this. I was as freaked toward the end of The Part about Fate as I was the first time I saw David Lynch's Blue Velvet. David Lynch has been mentioned a couple of times before here, too.

I was right with Amalfitano. I, too, wanted Oscar to get out of there and get her out of there, too. Immediately.

About Amalfitano

__________, thank you for that thoughtful reply at No. 235 concerning Morini. Somehow, I had missed it when I posted right after it. I adamantly agree with the way you have contrasted him with the other three. I accept everything you say, but I remain concerned that something more than a developing maturity of outlook was happening with him because of that passage. Still, your analysis of the Eurylochus story was spot on, I think.

And __________, I wish to add my thanks to that of __________ for the bit of research on Duchamps. I am sure __________ remembers when I was crazy about the guy, buying books, seeing as many of his things as I could, bending peoples' ears. Still, I was not familiar with this particular escapade. These passages, supplemented by your research, made me feel as if I was revisiting an old friend.

When readers become frustrated with a book, instead of invoking the tired trope of throwing the book against the wall or throwing it across the room, as exemplified by poor Kara at No. 61 and a couple of others here, they can hang the book on the clothesline now.

But about Amalfitano. . .

Whether or not he is going insane—and that voice he hears does not bode well, in my opinion—that Part is chock full of stuff. Too much to discuss, actually. I thought it was a tour de force by Bolaño. It seems clear to me, as others have said, that it is Santa Teresa that is having this effect upon poor Amalfitano. Some things that I did not notice having been mentioned already here. . .

When the voice asked him if his hand was a hand, that tied in so nicely with the painter John's masterpiece discussed in the previous part.

The voice delivers a lecture to Amalfitano on calm at page 208. Calm is the one thing that will never let us down. That looks forward nicely to the issue of calm as it comes up in the Part about Oscar Fate.

The story of crazy Lola and her poet was a light interlude with great humor, though certainly black. The poet now produces only smoke rings. (Who was it in the first Part who also blew smoke rings?) Asylums loom up repeatedly in the book.

The passages concerning the wild young prophet Marco Antonio Guerra are remarkable, also. “Young prophet” is my own phrase.

. . .the human being, broadly speaking, is the closest thing there is to a rat.

Amifitano becomes fascinated with the neighbor's wall that has glass shards embedded along the top. He mentions it three times. Glass shards are mentioned again in Part 3. I liked that because I am fascinated with them, too. I mentioned before I had even started the book that I am inside walls like that right now house sitting.
Of my freedom? thought Amalfitano, surprised, as he sprang to the window and opened it and looked out at the side yard and the wall of the house next door, spiky with glass, and the reflection of the streetlights in the shards of broken bottles, very faint green and brown and orange gleams, as if at this time of night the wall stopped being a barricade and became or played at becoming ornamental, a tiny element in a choreography the basic features of which even the ostensible choreographer, the feudal lord next door, couldn't have identified, features that affected the stability, color, and offensive or defensive nature of his fortification. Or as if there was a vine growing on the wall, Amalfitano thought before he closed the window.

That is a truly bizarre passage in couple respects, but beautiful.

Real Life Santa Teresa

I have finished Part 3.

Bolaño does a great job portraying the border town. Obviously, this one is modeled on Juárez, but it could certainly be modeled on Reynosa. They are all the same only to a little greater or a little lesser degree. One can watch videos of shootouts in Reynosa on youtube.com if you enjoy that sort of thing.

I drove across the border into Reynosa alone first thing in the morning on June 3. It was like driving into another world—into one of Federico Fellini's freaky movies like Amarcord. I use the term “freaky” in a non-generic sense. He was obviously fond of filming freaks sometimes. This entry into another world occurs abruptly. One simply drives across a bridge. Disorienting.

Trapped in nightmarish traffic in claustrophobic streets. Drunks jumping on top of my truck at stop lights. People pressing their faces against my windows. Starving horses, apparently abandoned, standing by the canal. Dogs that do not look like dogs anymore. Stuff like that.

Anyway, I could not get out of that place fast enough. Sure enough, I was stopped for speeding and had to bribe a traffic cop to get out of there. I had no Spanish at that time. I could not bargain effectively, but still, it was the best money I had ever spent.

But then at a federale checkpoint 20 kilometers out of town, I found out that my vehicle papers had gotten screwed up back at customs. I could not get out of the municipality of Reynosa--municipalities are like our counties--with bad vehicle papers. So I had to turn around and drive back into that shit hole, back to the place where you get your visa at the border. Sucked back into that place like Oscar keeps getting sucked back into this place. Then I had to drive back out again. Reynosa is a labyrinth, by the way. All this took me an entire day.

My point is this. I have done normal scary things before. Like jump out of airplanes or hang off the side of a mountain on a rope, for a couple of silly examples. Being scared in Reynosa had an entirely different quality about it. It is one thing to understand exactly what is scaring you. It is another thing entirely to not understand exactly what is scaring you. Reynosa frightened me in that way. Ominous. Bolaño captures that very well, I think.

If one gets in the swing of this book while taking it in big gulps and not worrying about the overriding themes. . . . I am kidding there. I went on a difficult hike in the mountains near here with Fred yesterday to escape this book and clear my head. I am off that kick now.

When one gets in the swing of this book, Santa Teresa starts to affect one's own thinking as it does those three critics, Amalfitano, and Oscar Fate in different ways. I am sure that is exactly what Bolaño wanted, and he succeeded with me. He sets you up just where he wants you to be psychologically at the end of Part 3.

But I still want to discuss Amalfitano a bit with anyone interested before getting to Oscar Fate. Later.


I suppose it could have been disillusionment, __________. But it sure does not read to me as if he is then in the real world of love and well being.

It appears to me that he has become mentally unstable for whatever reason. I don't know that we have to have a precise reason for that, but one cannot help being curious about what is going on with him.

What's Wrong with Morini?

__________, you were right to call me down a bit as you did in No. 224. I should not have referenced Joey Amalfitano in the discussion. He was an awful manager anyway. I should have made clear that I did not think Whitaker was full of it, but rather that the professor's statement was another false lead. It was just a measure of my frustration with the fact that at times the anticipation of big overall themes and meanings to come in February seemed nearly to preclude discussion of the text of Parts 1, 2, and 3 right now, parts which I am finding fascinating and not unnecessary at all.

As for your 226, I cannot figure out a simple way to direct you to that passage concerning Morini. So here it is:
Norton felt somehow insulted by Morini's decision not to go with them. They didn't call each other again. Morini might have called Norton, but before his friends set off on their search for Archimboldi, he, in his own way, like Schwob in Samoa, had already begun a voyage, a voyage that would end not at the grave of a brave man but in a kind of resignation, what might be called a new experience, since this wasn't 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 stops being a river or a tree that burns on the horizon, not knowing it's burning.

I think that you are correct when you say that Santa Teresa affected the thinking of the others. Certainly, young Rebeca affected Espinoza's thinking. He had trouble even remembering that Archimboldi's books were stashed in his luggage.

But what is going on with poor Morini here? And why?

Although you cannot feel too sorry for the guy who ends up with the girl. On the other hand, since the girl in this case is Norton, maybe we should feel truly sorry for him.

Babble About Overriding Themes

Okay, *Capitu. Fair enough. I just cannot believe that you are putting that much faith in something this author said about his own work.

How sad I am that you are leaving. Your notes are wonderful as always. And thank you for this parting shot.

With my penchant for overstatement, I have probably overstated the worthlessness of research with regard to this book. I did read the excerpt from the interview that you translated for us at No. 20 before I ever read one word of 2666. There among the big books in his life was this:

The Completed Works (my translation) by Borges. (Emphasis mine obviously.)

Initially, I took this to mean that Bolaño had himself translated the complete works of Borges and that he was so proud of the fact that he emphasized it there. When I saw that, my heart sank and I said to myself, "Oh, oh!"

Then I looked at the Spanish text and figured out that the phrase "my translation" was your phrase, *Capitu. I breathed a bit easier then. No much though, because the Complete Works of Borges is still up there toward the top of his list. But then again, I don't completely trust him in that interview anyway.

*Capitu is a fictional character in Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis, a classic Brazilian novel.

Literary Ovelap

Thank you, _________. I have noted down the number of that post, and I give you my blood oath that I will take a crack at the question when I get there. But in the meantime, what do you think?

__________, it is a little disconcerting to know that someone can see through me as easily as you do.

I wrote somewhere about the eerie experience of finishing off The Lacuna and diving right into 2666 and in the very first paragraph of 2666 I encountered the word “lacuna.” That is a rarely used word after all. It was like I was off on some weird continuation of the experience of Ms. Kingsolver's book.

Then I encountered Guerra's discussion of biographies—which we all know are exactly the same thing as historical fiction—at page 200:

People have a thirst to learn about other people's lives, the lives of their famous contemporaries, the one who made it big or came close, and they also have a thirst to know what the old chincuales did, maybe even to learn something, although they aren't prepared to jump through the same hoops themselves. (Emphasis mine.)

My reaction was immediate. There I had been, reading about those old chincuales Rivera, Kahlo, and Trotsky, trying to learn something but not prepared to jump through the hoops myself. That is the sort of “epiphany” that 2006 provides.

The Micro Approach, Not the Macro

About Amalfitano later. . .

But we certainly now have some feel for why it appeared that Amalfitano's nerves were shot and he damned near drowned in that swimming pool, don't we?

This is a novel that is immensely difficult to discuss productively in a forum like this. It reminds me of the run we made at [book:The Book of Laughter and Forgetting|240976] more than ten years ago. Nonetheless, it has been an enjoyable discussion to read up to this point.

The development of the discussion has been instructive, I think. Notice that everyone has abandoned the effort of pawing through reviews and interviews and essays looking for help in discerning the meaning of it all—the big picture of the pastiche of fruit that reveals a logical portrait. I honestly do not believe that the similarity of the names Archimboldi and Archimboldo has any more importance than the fact that Amalfitano shares a last name with Joey, the former utility infielder and manager of the Chicago Cubs.

I suspect that it February when folks have discussed the big meaning of the title, that trivia question posted at No. 110 above by Caeliban will be about as cogent an explanation as any.

Notice that when readers grapple with the question of the interlocking themes, the question of the overall meaning of it all, the discussion is sterile. However, when readers actually get down to a piece of text and talk about their reaction to it, the discussion lights up. The devil that hath the power to assuming pleasing shapes is in the detail. And there is a delightfully massive amount of detail.

*Capitu, I thought your note at No. 86 about the experience of reading Suttree was great wherein you say, I felt I had to abandon myself into the endless narration, letting the story take me anywhere it went. It is as if I just watched from a window the life passing outside. . . . But then you write somewhat wistfully concerning the fruit man metaphor, but if I let myself be carried along, with some patience, I will hopefully “see” the full figure. Why are you so hopeful about that? What is so important to you about seeing the full figure? I would venture to guess that you never saw the full fruit man figure concealed in Suttree.

__________, your notes have been fantastic once you lost interest in researching the commentators and turned your attention to the text itself. Yours at No. 53 concerning the word count, for example, was good. But then you addressed yourself to the cab driver episode at No. 120, and my heart leaped. That note with the questions you posed at the end was one of the most courageous notes I have seen posted hereabouts for a long time. You had stopped being a passive reader.

Bolañno demands an active reader--the reader as envisioned by Cortázar. (See page 224.) In other words, what the reader himself brings to this book is every bit as important, perhaps more important, than what the author brings to the book. This line of thought would demand that you answer the questions that you posed in No. 120, ___________. Perhaps you have. But who the hell is going to post their answers to those questions thoughtfully in a somewhat public forum such as this? Yet that is the way to tackle this book, and that is why it is so difficult a book to discuss.

Nonetheless, later I will try to practice what I preach and to describe my own idiosyncratic reactions to certain passages—the text--in the hope that somebody else will describe theirs. Therein I think would lie the real fun.

This is a book to be approached in micro fashion, not macro fashion. Anybody who undertakes the effort to construct some grandiose theory of the overall meaning of this book—a “reading” of this book as Pelletier uses the term—will come to the same end as the critics did.

So there you go, __________. February will tell the tale.

*Capitu is a fictional character in Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis, a classic Brazilian novel.

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?

In Anticipation

__________, thank you for the invitation. Things could not have worked out better on all levels. 2666 arrived from Powell's yesterday morning just as I had finished the previous book. Today I began house sitting for a Mexican friend who is in the big city for a week on business.

The house is deeper in my neighborhood, which is called Colonia San Antonio and is very Mexican. It has a high wall around it with broken bottles embedded along the top and comes with a large yellow dog named Zumm. There is a great interior courtyard with lots of large plants where I read in the sun during the day. No heat inside at night, but I am used to that.

I have a 19 liters of potable water and a full refrigerator. There are a meat shop, tortilleria, bakery, vegetable and fruit shop, and two small grocery stores within one block of me. I have intermittent electricity and a strong wifi signal when the electricity is on. All my wants and needs.

Zumm and I have nothing to do but read this book, and he is not hogging it. I have finished The Part About the Critics today. I should be able to finish one part every day and still have time for personal hygiene. I will soon be caught up with y'all. Looks like the dust is starting to settle a bit here in this discussion so my timing is about right.

For anyone who might be interested in a little extra credit reading, I suggest this interesting article that appeared in Harpers last spring, The Sicario: A Juárez Hit Man Speaks by Charles Bowden. I do not have the permission of Harpers to offer it to you in that form, but it is clearly for educational purposes here.

31 January 2010

Stream of Consciousness Re: 2666 by Bolaño


Speaking of borders, a bit on the cross-cultural barrier. I do not hold myself out as any authority. I write the following in all humility, confident that there are a couple in attendance here capable of knowledgeably correcting me wherein I am wrong.

We in the United States like the phrase “a death with dignity.” People throw that phrase around all the time. The problem is that the usage is sloppy. When I have heard that phrase used in conversation in the United States, whether with regard to others or with regard to the speaker himself, it seems to me many times to be an implicit or euphemistic reference to avoidance of torture. “I hope for a death with dignity” might read “I don't want to be tortured.”

When used with regard to the deceased, it often seems to mean that the deceased person avoided excessive torture through some miracle of modern pharmacology that killed him before he was dead. Hospice people, whom I consider to be angels on earth, might take issue with me about that, but hear me out.

I am of course using the word “torture” here in the broad sense. One might be tortured by Mother Nature in the form of a slowly growing cancer, for example. One might be tortured by old age. One might be tortured by three thugs in a small, remote room with a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

The problem is that there is no such thing as death with “dignity” in the sense that I have described above. Look up the word. One might be able to undertake death with 1. the state or quality of being worthy of respect; 2. a composed or serious manner; 3 a sense of pride in oneself. [book:Compact Oxford English Dictionary] None of that has anything to do with the absence of torture.

There is no such thing as instantaneous death either. Albert Camus eloquently dispensed with that happy notion in his essay on the death penalty, “Reflections on the Guillotine” in the collection [book:Resistance, Rebellion and Death: Essays].

I am confident that any dead person could verify these things.

Mexicans do not talk about a death with dignity in the sense of avoidance of torture. Insofar as I can understand anyway. They tend to use words related to “dignity” in its dictionary sense. Mexicans tend to talk about death with courage or calmness. He died with courage. That's big here.

I think healthy Mexicans as individuals appreciate one fundamental thing in a very concrete way better than healthy, individual Americans do, that is, that we will all be tortured at some point, perhaps only at the end if we are extremely lucky. Every single one of us. There are only two questions left for Mexicans then, men and women. 1. How long will the torture last? 2. Will my courage fail me before it stops?

Again, that is all based upon my imperfect understanding. But I am pretty sure of this. Millions of Mexicans think in those very terms every day. Americans are resistant to thinking in such terms and would usually rather delude themselves with the idea that modern medical science gives them, if they can afford the health insurance, a good chance at death without torture, which, when you think about it, would not be death at all.

I know that I speak in generalities here, nor do I intend to disparage Americans. I do not know any other way in which to speak of such things.

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

The foregoing is by way of illustration. As I alluded to earlier, I believe that Bolaño in this book with his art works slowly but surely to bring the individual reader to a mental place by the end of Part 3 where he is calmly contemplating such things at a deep level. It is an entirely different place than where one goes when watching the torture episode in Pulp Fiction, a place that is anything but calm. Calmness, you will recall, is a virtue extolled in Part 3.

Bolaño will fail with some readers and succeed with others. One of the ways Bolaño that succeeds when he succeeds, and I haven't the faintest idea how he does it, is to bring us to the slow realization that Santa Teresa is not a fictional town that fictional characters can drive out of. Santa Teresa is the reality of the world that each of us everywhere lives in.

For me personally, this means that when I crossed into Reynosa, the illusion of having driven into another world was just that. In my heart I truly regarded it as an alien place. In reality it was the same world that I live in and always have lived in. And, we must add, one that I will not always live in. I just did not truly appreciate Reynosa as such until now.

Is it not interesting that Bolaño handed off to us such a thing from the place of his own final torture?

So there you go, *Capitu. I concede. You were right.

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

The killings of the young women are a perfect vehicle for Bolaño. What an inspiration that story out of Juárez must have been for him. I will not say that something good can come out of anything. I cannot bring myself to relate life and art in that way. I do, however, agree with those brighter than I who say that this is a modern masterpiece. Whatever the content of Parts 3 and 4, I am not going to change my mind about that.

On a related note, I was a bit disappointed in one of my literary heroes, Francine Prose. Her blurb on the back of my edition ends with . . . 2666 seems like the work of a literary genius. Seems? Seems? Geez, Francine. Stop equivocating.

Damn it all. I would still like to get back to Amalfitano.

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

Calmness is a virtue extoled in Part 3. Calmness is not an American virtue. It might be that if we could accept the reality of things with some calmness and courage, we might be able to act more effectively as a nation than we do, riddled as we are with a multitude of fears. Maybe not. But in a bassackwards sort of way, Bolaño hands us an idea related to that from the place of his own torture.

Such art simply will not “take” with readers who cling with white knuckles to the illusion that through the miracle of medical science the have a good chance at for a dignified death, if they ever let death cross their minds at all. It takes a powerful piece of art to bring many readers to a calm contemplation of the concept that they themselves will inevitably face torture. Everybody will face torture. And to be fair, that is asking a lot of any reader, even Cortázar's active reader.

But I have not done a good job of explaining. What I am trying to say is that for individual Americans torture and death is a spectator sport and only becomes participatory in the end. For Mexicans it is a participatory sport for their entire lives. And from what I have seen, they try to play it with courage.

Now one could throw down the 9/11 card if one were so inclined. I do not dispute that many Americans vividly imagined themselves having to leap off the building at the time. But they put that away very quickly. Very few Americans have imagined themselves leaping off that building at some point in every day since. Some who were close particularly, but very few.

He pulls out all the stops, too, with the specter of torture leavened with sexual abuse. Moving us there gradually, he wrote graphic passages that explore the fuzzy, fuzzy line between sexual gratification and sexual abuse. What I take to be a “snuff film,” Tape II of which I have not seen, takes all that over the top of course.

The only thing I have to say about this subject is that any male reader constitutionally incapable of vividly envisioning himself being sexually abused is going to miss out on something here.

I choose not to write any more about all that here ever again. I would even rather construct some list than do that, perhaps of my own top 25 movies. And that is saying something.

*Capitu is a character in Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis, a Brazilian classic.