. . . 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.

13 February 2010

La Mexicana

I wish you could have seen La Mexicana's furrowed brow as she fanned through her dictionary while studying this post of yours this morning, _________. It would have tugged at your heartstrings. We had an extended discussion of the words “irrefutable” and “nuance.” I have recommended that she no longer sound the “b” in the word “subtle.” Any metaphor that partakes of a feature of women's clothing makes for instant communication. She reconciles the irreconcilable in her style of dress, which I refer to as haute mode flash and trash. As I recall, you are passing familiar with that fashion statement.

In any event, you now have another admirer, instantly and totally loyal to an extent that is a bit frightening to me. She is worried about your family and hopes you are prospering. She is upset with me because I know nothing about your current state of affairs. I am now forbidden ever to disagree with you about anything. Is there anyone that you wish to have rubbed out? La Mexicana awaits your orders.

Here is the latest, an example of what I am up against here. La Mexicana smelled a rat as she read of Liz Norton's reaction to Edwin Johns' death. She locked in on me with narrowed eye and informed me that there is something more here than we are being told. Her current working theory is that Liz Norton was formerly married or is married to Edwin Johns or something.

Jesus, what am I supposed to do with that? I had forgotten that Liz Norton had previously been married or is still married or something. So of course, I must go back and paw through Part I in order to set her straight. There it is on page 35:
For a while they were silent and then Norton started to talk about her husband. This time the horror stories she told didn't affect Espinoza in the slightest.

I am still wandering around in Part I fooling with this startling theory to an accompaniment in the background of a constant staccato monologue from her about the Lola story at the beginning of Part II. Staccato means she is outraged about something.

I wanted to talk a bit about translation issues today as we are about to leave Part I, but that will have to wait until tomorrow

12 February 2010

Almost comical? Jeff, it is hilarious! As a matter of fact, I was just laughing with a friend earlier today about this business of the orderly grabbing at empty space where Johns’ hand ought to have been as Johns plummets into this abyss in the Alps just like Sherlock Holmes. That was before I stumbled upon your great post here. From my point of view, this is the absurd taken to the sublime.

Liz Norton is apparently very serious about this all, but I think that she too sees the absurdity in the story. Let me give you my take for what little it is worth. I cannot believe that I have the nerve to try this, but I am gonna.

Let us consider a choice that Natasha Wimmer faced when translating the phrase fábula tramposa, the phrase that troubles you. She chose “false representation.” I believe that she might have translated this as “deceptive fable.” I have checked this out with a native Spanish speaker and former English teacher here. In fact, she said that of those two choices, she prefers “deceptive fable” after reading the thing in context in Spanish.

In that case the fable clearly appears to me to be what you first thought, the story of the circumstances of Johns’ death. It is a comic fable about unforeseen consequences. The damned fool cut off his own hand for art’s sake little knowing that this would ultimately cost him his life. Norton considers the fable deceptive because the absurd (hilarious, I think) circumstances of Johns’ death cast an unfortunate light on his very serious artistry in a former time. . .from her point of view. I myself have no idea whether he was worth a damn as an artist or not.

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

We shall see what Jeff thinks of this. For my part I detect Bolaño's invitation to laughter even when his characters are not laughing. I believe that occurs many times in this book. When he gives us that invitation, we must accept it, even in the midst of the dreariest of circumstances.

We shall also await the Spanish language expert's appearance on the scene. It will be a woman, and in her comment she will tear my ass up about this post.

I will violate my own rule limiting myself to one posting per day to add a side note. My Mexicana companion is reading along with you in a beautiful edition put out by Bolaño's Barcelona publisher. She has been utterly seduced by Bolaño's Spanish, to the extent that I now feel as if I am part of some outré threesome with Bolaño. She has lived in Mexico City, Madrid, and Caracas and has a feel for regional variations in the language. She keeps mumbling something about how she loves that fact that Bolaño does not “put too much cream on the taco like those Argentine writers do.” As I imperfectly understand it.

Anyway, this ultimate liaison of Liz Norton and Morini is not a mystery to her. She contends that Liz's attraction arose from the simple fact that Morini maintained a distance from her. In other words, Liz Norton wanted the thing that was not offered to her. Mixed in with that in a minor way is something about Liz Norton's female caretaker instincts having been juiced up. The Mexicana cites text in support of this. Again, this is my translation of something that I only imperfectly understand.

That business about my reading of Pelletier being more perceptive than yours is so not true, __________. The man demands an entirely subjective response from his readers, our own participation in this novel. It partakes much more of poetry than of prose. Each subjective response is going to be different, sometimes our subjective responses will seem to be in opposition. I am not sure that the active reader that Cortázar envisioned would be active enough to satisfy Bolaño. Bolaño wants everything—every single thing--that we as his readers have to give him.

I feel as if every important novel that I have ever read was simply preparation for reading this man's work. And damn it, even after the better part of a lifetime of reading, I am afraid that I did not read enough to be worthy of him.

As for your question, it is frustrating not to be able to read something written by Archimboldi, isn't it?

Somewhere here Archimboldi is described as a person who didn't pretend to reconcile the irreconcilable, as was the fashion these days. (Sorry. I do not have a cite for that in my notes.) Based only upon that statement, I propose that we simply assume that reading Archimboldi must have been very much like reading Bolaño.

As for the coincidence of these four scholars discovering him independently, let us just swallow that little pill whole without chewing it.

11 February 2010


At page 803 of this novel, something occurred to me. It was an idea with the same beautiful simplicity and clarity of the little bell that I used to hear inside my head at cocktail hour. When I have finished this novel, there will be no point in reading any other novel for the rest of my life. I will finally be done with all of that.

I have had this vague feeling for some time that there was something else that I needed to correct, some further, last little personal adjustment. Clearly, this is it.

The ways in which novels have tricked up my head throughout my life to this point make the ways that liquor and women tricked up my head look like paltry, harmless eccentricities. First of all, I had no business ever undertaking great novels in the first place. I do not have the intellectual wherewithal to properly metabolize the best of them. And of course, I always tried to read the best. Why fuck around smoking kid's stuff when you can mainline a freight train?

Given that simple fact, to think that I chose English literature as my major at university! That is illustrative on several levels. It never crossed my mind to do my undergraduate work in a field in which one could earn money. Never crossed my mind.

Later, I practiced law--in the sense of the pure work, relatively successfully by the way. But there was never any time, energy, or inclination left over to think about money or care about money. No, all of my quality time, energy, and inclination was devoted to reading goddamned novels, when I was not talking about novels in a bar, that is. Pissing away my time on dreams that I was not mentally equipped to dream.

Second, I had no capability for keeping a proper emotional distance from these bastards. These novelists. Bellow, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Hemingway, Camus, and that too clever Updike, to name a few. The females are just as bad or worse. George Eliot. Austen. Those damned Brontë strumpets. I could not read novels for a little harmless escape and relaxation like a normal person not afflicted with this nameless disease. No, I made those novelists' problems my own problems, and let me assure you that their problems are all of the first order of complexity no matter how much some of them may make you laugh.

Perhaps I should have tried to start a conversation with one of those women to whom I was married, but I was too busy with Faulkner or Melville. I was more enamored with Eula Varner of Yoknapatawpha County (downright hot for her in fact) than I was with any of that crowd of real women. God, I feel sorry for them in retrospect.

This has been a bane of my existence. A plague upon my house, when I had a house. A plague upon my apartment, when I had an apartment. Clichés those, but I am too upset thinking about this to be able to come up with something original. I am not upset about myself. I have survived it after all and in a manner of speaking. Those novelists' problems are not going to be my problems any more.

I am upset thinking about those few young people out there starting to read novels. Not only do their parents do nothing to stop it, many times they encourage those young people in this incredibly dangerous endeavor. As for the proper authorities, they seem perfectly oblivious.

My own parents, God bless them, could have done something to save me. But not being readers themselves, they paid no attention whatsoever to what my young self was reading. Furthermore, they were utterly lax about enforcing lights out in my bedroom. They were too preoccupied with whatever was going on in their bedroom. So there I was at the age of thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen sitting up until 3:00 a.m. reading The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer or some other such mind rot. (I do remember that the word “naked” in that title caught my attention at the time.) I did not even have to hide under a blanket with the book and a flashlight.

The way that I see it, we could lose some of the best and brightest of another generation in just that way. Young people who might otherwise accumulate capital and invest it for the general benefit of mankind. Where would we be, for example, if Bill Gates had been screwing around reading novels and staring off into space instead of devoting every bit of his time, energy, and inclinations to devising MS-DOS and contractually fucking IBM? Now he is applying a chunk of the capital that he accumulated in an effort to help feed the world. (Is that the nature of his philanthropy, or is it some other wonderful thing that he and his bride are doing? I cannot remember.)

So this is Roberto Bolaño's posthumous personal gift to me, this novel entitled 2666. It is as if he handed this to me and said, “Señor Steve, when you finish this novel, you need not read another. It will all be over, you can put it all behind you, and you can truly breathe easily at last.”

If I get the urge to read a novel in the future, if I flirt with a relapse, I will simply reread this one. The book actually consists of five different novels, each of which will be entirely new to me every time I read it. That will do no further harm. In other words, I will never be done with this one and on to another novel with a whole new set of problems. That is the thing to be avoided here.

So that's it. No more. It's all over. I mean it. Don't laugh. I am serious.

Repetition, the Tool for Learning

You submit that “hanging around in Mexico . . . has itself the effect of bringing reality inexorably, excitingly, and sometimes even frighteningly closer to a person.” I will swear an oath to the truth of that if you require it, __________. If you hang around Mexico too much, you will find yourself living here for the very reasons you cite. Which brings me to Pelletier, the character with whom I identify the most, although I have come to love Amalfitano.

Pelletier is not only rereading three works by Archimboldi by that pool. He also laboriously studies the newspapers in an effort to figure out what is going on in Santa Teresa. The “reality thing,” as a former American president would put it.

As for Archimboldi's works, Pelletier for the first time admits that he does not entirely understand them. When Espinoza asks if he is preparing to write a paper on those three works, his answer is vague. Pelletier's arrogance is gone.

”Archimboldi is here,” said Pelletier, “and we're here, and this is the closest we'll ever be to him.”

The critics are never going to lead Archimboldi on stage to accept his Nobel Prize after all. But I detect the aroma of contentment in that statement. I am as sure as I can be that Pelletier will never leave Mexico.

You are saying in essence that Espinoza is a simpler case, which is as I see it, too. He has forgotten about Archiboldi's works that are stashed in his suitcase. Espinoza says that he is leaving but swears that he will return within a year. I take him at his word. I could be a fool. That business about maybe marrying Rebeca then and taking her back to Madrid I agree is clearly bullshit, however.

I freely admit that Liz Norton is an enigma to me.

10 February 2010

Messiness and Lack of Clarity

From Jonathan Lethem's review in the New York Times' Sunday Book Review, November 12, 2008:

A novel like “2666” is its own preserving machine, delivering itself into our hearts, sentence by questing, unassuming sentence; it also becomes a preserving machine for the lives its words fall upon like a forgiving rain, fictional characters and the secret selves hidden behind and enshrined within them: hapless academic critics and a hapless Mexican boxer, the unavenged bodies deposited in shallow graves. By writing across the grain of his doubts about what literature can do, how much it can discover or dare pronounce the names of our world’s disasters, Bolaño has proven it can do anything, and for an instant, at least, given a name to the unnamable.

Now throw your hats in the air.

I guess that is just Jonathan's strange way of bitching about the messiness and lack of clarity in the book.

Torture Redux

Oh, Jesus! If people are actually going to visit this blog, I need to get my act together.

Let us then return to the happy subject of torture and that exchange between Epifanio and Lalo Cura in The Part About The Crimes. I shall extract something further from the working paper at the beginning of this mess and clean it up.

Americans are fond of speaking of “death with dignity.” However, in my experience they use the word “dignity” in that phrase not in the dictionary sense of the word but as a euphemism for absence of torture. Death with dignity mean death without torture.

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 in México by three thugs in a small, remote room with a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Remember that Camus long ago dispensed with the notion that there is such a thing as instantaneous death.

Bearing in mind the disclaimer posted next to my photo on the left, I am going to venture something about México. Mexicans do not speak of death with dignity in the sense I have described that phrase above. Mexicans would rather speak of “death with courage.” I believe that the reason for this is that Mexicans have an intuitive grasp of the fact that we will all, each and every one of us, be tortured in the end.

There are two questions left for Mexicans then: 1. How long will my torture last? 2. Will my courage fail me before it stops?

The young man whom I have become fond of calling “the young prophet,” Marco Antonio Guerra, says this in The Part About Amalfitano:

People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth. People are cowards to the last breath.

There are other statements to this effect, but I am lazy at the moment.

With the structure of this novel, the novelist slowly forces the reader to shed his cowardice for a time and see some things that bear some relation to the truth—one of those things is that which I have written about here.

Here is another truth. If you are truly interested in a real discussion of this novel, and even perhaps participating in one, you ought to visit Las Obras de Roberto Bolaño or Infinite Zombies. Do not fuck around even one second longer at this blog maintained by The Solipsist.

More On The Same

__________, thank you for robbing yourself of a bit of sleep in order to write this thoughtful reply. For my part I have nothing better to do than sit in the sun during the day in an interior courtyard surrounded by a wall with glass shards embedded along the top and obsess over this book. Therefore, I have resolved to try to keep my word count under control and limit myself to one posting per day here. This one is it for Wednesday, February 10 anno Domini 2010. (Do I have the day and date correct?)

The only statement in your reply with which I adamantly disagree is that you “saw it as quite the opposite.” I believe that you said this because you inferred that I consider incomprehension, lassitude, and resignation to be unhappy states of mind. Not so, and I should have made that clear.

Just a bit more about Espinoza and Pelletier. You and I both see a transformation. I do think their situation is a bit layered though. (God, I hate that word “layered,” but what is the alternative?) First, with regard to Pelletier, yes, he is rereading Archimboldi but with acknowledgment, for the first time, that he does not entirely understand these works.
When he returned to the hotel Pelletier was reading Saint Thomas again. When he sat down beside him Pelletier looked up from the book and said there were still things he didn't understand and probably never would. Espinoza laughed and said nothing.

Espinoza asked whether he was preparing some article or essay on those three books in particular and Pelletier's answer was vague.

Even more important, I think, is that fact that Pelletier spends a good deal of time now studying newspapers trying to figure out what is going on in Santa Teresa.

As for Espinoza, I do not see any indication that he is now going to realize his dream of being a writer instead of a critic. Instead, he now has daydreams of marrying the decidedly unintellectual Rebeca and running off with her back to Spain. He is startled to realize that he had forgotten all about his copies of Archimboldi stashed in his luggage.

Moreover, Michael in his latest posting about those brushes with death observes of Espinoza that as a wealthy person he will escape Santa Teresa as Rebeca and the women of the city cannot. Really? Where in this text is there any assurance that Espinoza will escape Santa Teresa or that he can? Likewise with Pelletier.

These things are what I was speaking of when I used the words “incomprehension, lassitude, and resignation.” Still, I am not contending that any of this is some sort of tragedy. Nor can I characterize it as an unqualified happy ending either. It is difficult to envision any such thing occurring in Santa Teresa. Nonetheless, they do seem content with the idea that they are as close to Archimboldi there as they will ever be. The idea that they will someday lead him on stage to accept his Nobel Prize is long, long gone.

As for Liz, she believes herself happy in the end. (She did escape Santa Teresa.) More power to her. She does write of her liaison with Morini, however, “I don't know how long we'll last together.” I don't know either. I really do not.

Developing Self-Doubt

I wish to add my congratulations on this marvelous piece! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this work by another obsessive like me. It was delightful. Very well done.

Pelletier most certainly has developed insecurities about his critical abilities during his stay in Santa Teresa.

When he returned to the hotel Pelletier was reading Saint Thomas again. When he sat down beside him Pelletier looked up from the book and said there were still things he didn't understand and probably never would. Espinoza laughed and said nothing.

I do not recall that Pelletier suffered any professional self-doubt whatsoever back in Europe. And this later. . .

Espinoza asked whether he was preparing some article or essay on those three books in particular and Pelletier's answer was vague.

09 February 2010

Solitude Is Just Alright With Me

To date my tracker indicates that this blog has had not one single visitor. Given the matter touched upon in the previous entry, that is just fine with me. The next logical step would be the suggestion that we make a list of the top ten travel destinations suggested by Roberto Bolaño in the novel 2006.

The Vital Question is the Unanswerable One

When a discussion of 2006 by Roberto Bolaño boils down to this question, it is time for me to quietly abandon that discussion:

After reading this book, I do sort of yearn for some travel, although too many places come to mind from this novel!

But I am curious, where does this novel make you want to travel to most?

We Will All Be Tortured

Every life, Epifanio said that night to Lalo Cura, no matter how happy it is, ends in pain and suffering. That depends, said Lalo Cura. Depends on what, champ? On a lot of things, said Lalo Cura. Say you're shot in the back of the head, for example, and you don't hear the motherfucker come up behind you, then you're off to the next world, no pain, no suffering. Goddamn kid, said Epifanio. Have you ever been shot in the back of the head?

Page 511.

Epifanio has undoubtedly not read Camus's Resistance, Rebellion and Death: Essays, which includes the essay entitled “Reflection on the Guillotine.” Yet he knows without having been taught that there is no such thing as instantaneous death without pain and suffering.

In the end even the healthiest and happiest among us—each and every one of us—will be tortured.

In the Deadly Embrace of the Book


08 February 2010

That Something That Terrifies Us All

Near the end of The Part About Amalfitno, he ponders the literary tastes of a bookish, young pharmacist whom he knew back in Barcelona.

He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartleby over Moby-Dick, he chose A Simple Heart over Bouvard and Pécuchet, and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, 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.

This seems to me to be Bolaño's manifesto regarding his own intentions in writing 2666. His intent was to write one of those "great, imperfect, torrential works" that would take on “that something that terrifies us all.”

Vacant Lot


__________ and __________, about a year ago, RMM posted this comment in The New Yorker discussion:

I laughed too. In fact, I laughed throughout the novel. It's telling that the Bolanistos never mention his sense of humor. Not dark enough...

I must say that I did not laugh throughout the novel. I think RMM overstates his case there. However, there are certainly humorous parts. The passage to which they were referring does not occur until Part V, however.

I mentioned my own favorite above, which concerns Rosita the philosopher.


Bolaño loves to jerk these journalists out of their accustomed milieu and set them adrift. Oscar Fate's previous area was politics and “social issues” affecting the black community, and then he is sent off to Mexico to write up boxing. Guadalupe Roncal previously worked the City Desk in Mexico City before being assigned to report the killings in a sort of undercover role. Later, we meet Sergio González, another Mexico City reporter whose previous beat was The Arts, for goodness sakes. (I do not think that last piece of information will spoil anything for anyone here.)

I am resistant to pawing through a writer's life for clues about his work. Yet, I have already done that concerning that mockery of the Chilean literary establishment. Here, one has to speculate that during his work as a journalist, Bolaño himself experienced some similar experience of being thrown into something that was over his head, at least initially.

* * * * * * * * * *

We do encounter some real deal, professional crime reporters, male and female, ___________. But only briefly. They are all soon dead. We can only speculate as to whether Oscar Fate ever did write anything about the killings. . .or the boxing match either, for that matter.

I, too, anticipate a veritable fiesta of thoughtful posts in less than eight days now, __________!

Thank you for giving the warning about the spoiler in The New Yorker discussion, ___________. I neglected to mention that.

I was interested to note how few comments were posted in that discussion. The book obviously shelled out a lot of New Yorker readers, too. On the other hand, those book discussions are buried in the magazine's web site in a way that makes them difficult to find. The comments that were posted were generally thoughtful, however.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Speaking of The Stranger, __________, there is something about the passages concerning Oscar Fate's mother's death and funeral that reminded me of Meursault's mother's death at the beginning of that novel. Perhaps you can help me put my finger on that.

One thing is for sure, __________. The passages concerning Fate's mother's death and funeral are written in a "flat" way, very similar to Camus's style in that book. (I need to think of a better word than "flat," but right now I cannot.)

The New Yorker Discussion

__________, that little New Yorker piece to which you cited us long ago was actually a part of a The New Yorker's Book of the Month discussion. It is extraordinarily difficult to navigate around there, but I found that entire discussion. It took place a year ago. I have recently felt more comfortable with reading things about the book now that I am almost finished reading the book itself. This New Yorker discussion is a dandy. I continue to blunder through the Spanish material that __________ provided.

As for the little snippet that you cited, I actually did think of the sermon in Moby Dick when reading the section on Seaman, I did also notice the mirrors. . .but snakes? What snakes? I guess I will have to go back and read that particular comment.


I have not forgotten about your long standing questions concerning Oscar Fate, __________. Let me see if I can keep my word count under control in this one.

1. How does the death of his mother affect his attitude and actions?

In the beginning we read, . . .maybe it all began with his mother's death. It strikes me that his mother's death simply marks the end forever of the world of Quincy Williams, a mundane world. After that event he never refers to himself nor is he ever referred to by anyone else as Quincy Williams again. After that, Oscar Fate is no longer simply a nickname at the office. He enters a new world becoming a different person named Oscar Fate. The gateway to this new world is the news that the “chief boxing correspondent” was stabbed and killed.

2. How can/should we interpret his continual vomiting?

This damned thing looms up bigger than it really is for some reason, I think. It did for me anyway.

I was sure that he had vomited at some point while in Santa Teresa, but as near as I can tell now, all he did was complain of stomach trouble on the drive from Tucson to the border. He may have had stomach problems when Chucho asks him if he feels all right in the parking lot. His stomach hurts while he waits for Rosa to go to the restroom after wiping that pistol clean and disposing of it.

He actually vomits the first time before Mexico has even crossed his mind just after his mother's funeral. He vomits the second time in Seaman's bathroom right after arriving, again before his editor tells him he is going to Mexico.

Therefore, I think that we should regard the vomiting as simply a premonition of things to come. Or perhaps he is vomiting up whatever remains inside him of Quincy Williams.

Have I missed a heave somewhere?

Interstate 80

What a kind thing to say, *Capitu, when clearly most of what I talk about are simply childish fascinations.

For example in The Part About Fate, I was startled and delighted suddenly to be transported back to a place I know so much better. In his lecture on the stars, Seaman talks about the stars we see from Interstate 80 between Des Moines and Lincoln.

Less ethereally, Campbell, a short time later, is reminiscing about going to college in Sioux City and a bar in Smithland near the Little Sioux River.

It was a bit disorienting to encounter that in this book. But fun.

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