. . . 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.

20 February 2010

Bernardo O'Higgins

Before we leave The Part About Amalfitano, we ought at least to mention that fascinating book O'Higgins is Araucanian by Lonko Kilapán. Why I have taken this upon myself is as much a mystery to me as Amalfitano's ruminations on the book are.

After the last appearance of the voice that we read of, Amalfitano begins to think about telepathy. That leads his thoughts to the Mapuches or Araucanians, the indigenous people whom the Spanish could never whip. For the 300 years before Chilean independence, the Mapuche lived in their own autonomous region abutting that portion controlled by Spain. His train of thought leads him to reexamine this book, which had been given to him at some time previously as a joke.

Amalfitano's ruminations on the book are framed by and interrupted twice by descriptions of episodes involving Marco Antonio Guerra.

Somehow, Amalfitano concludes that Lonko Kilapán is half Indian. Perhaps there is something in that name that gives this away. This is a “vanity book,” the publication of which was financed by its author. Apparently, Amalfitano knows this because of his familiarity with the nature of the particular publisher's business in Santiago.

The book has typographical errors. In one case Amalfitano infers a typographical error by assuming that an event described by the author actually occurred in 1974 rather than 1947 as written. (1974 happens to be the year that Augusto Pinochet became President of Chile.) The footnotes are strange, in one case simply repeating information that is given in the text itself and in another case asserting that Prometheus stole the gift of writing from the gods.

The author purports to establish through 17 “proofs” that the mother of Bernardo O'Higgins, one of the founding fathers of the nation of Chile, was an Araucanian. It is historically accepted that O'Higgins was the illegitimate son of Ambrosio O'Higgins, a Viceroy of Peru, which included the region of Chile, and María Isabel Riquelme, a criolla woman of Basque descent. Marriages between peninsulars, as Ambrosio was considered to be, and criollos, people born in the new world, were prohibited without permission from the Spanish crown. For reasons unknown Ambrosio never sought that permission and never married Isabel. (I have tried to save you some time nosing around in the encyclopedia.)

The Prologue noticeably refers to the famously illegitimate O'Higgins as “legitimate” for the reason that the text itself suggests that his father actually married the Araucanian mother in a traditional Araucanian ceremony that included an “abduction ceremony” causing Amalfitano to infer abuse and rape by old Ambrosio. Page 217.

At the heart of Amalfitano's ruminations on this book, there occurs a weird but interesting passage at pages 224 to 225. This by the way is where Cortázar's “active reader” is mentioned. It is here that Amalfitano thinks that the active reader could entertain the strange proposition that Kilapán was simply a nom de plume for one of any number of Chilean politicians of all political persuasions, not just neo-fascists,

. . . which wouldn't be so strange either, this being Chile, in fact the reverse would be stranger, in Chile military men behaved like writers, and writers, so as not to be outdone, behaved like military men, and politicians (of every stripe) behaved like writers and like military men. . . .

I have taken to regarding all this as I do Alexander Pope's The Dunciad, freely conceding that it is witty to those who find it witty without my being able to appreciate the wit because I am not familiar enough with the personalities who are being mocked. It is clear to me, though, that Bolaño is unloading some bile here regarding the Chilean literary establishment and, when one reads on, Chilean society generally.

But back to the Araucanian mother of O'Higgins. The text leads inexorably to the conclusion that not only was Bernardo O'Higgins a telepath because his real mother was Araucanian, but also Lonko Kilapán is a telepath, all of this because Araucanians were telepaths who kept the Spanish at bay through the use of this power to gather intelligence and communicated via telepathy with other Araucanians in other parts of the world. Whew!

It seemed clear to me that when all was said and done, Amalfitano had concluded that he himself was probably a telepath. Page 225. Why does that seem clear to me? I have not the faintest idea. He was startled and his hair stood on end for five seconds after he considered the similarity between his own mother's name and the name of the historically accepted mother of Bernardo O'Higgins--nothing at all to do with the alleged Araucanian mother.

I am not contending that this is the key to The Part About Amalfitano by any means. I am not sure there is any such key. But if I am wrong and if Amalfitano's hair stood on end for some other reason, what was it?

And do these passages not remind you Borges people of Borges? Does anyone else smell a sly mockery of Borges here?

19 February 2010

Los suicidas

_________, thank you so much for taking the time to transcribe that passage from The Savage Detectives. I have not read that novel. Interesting. It is apparent that Bolaño is awfully fond of this metaphor or symbol or whatever it is. I appreciate that he could be accused of being heavy-handed with this stuff at times, with some justification. My response would be that there is nothing necessarily wrong with heavy-handedness. It all depends on the hand.

That business about those scum having eaten the worm is a beautiful thing, isn't it?

All I can say is that based upon my observations only, I am so happy that I quit drinking before I ever discovered Mexican mezcal. I would never have survived it.

I want to add a piece of language trivia that signifies nothing whatsoever. I hope the fluent Spanish speakers attending will correct anything I say that is wrong here.

Initially, that word suicida, suicide victim, puzzled me because of the feminine ending. Initially, I thought suicidas referred to women suicide victims. But no. There was the definite masculine article “los,” which can be indefinite as to gender because it is plural.

It turns out that suicida is one of those rare Spanish words that can be either masculine or feminine. In other words, there is no such word as suicido for a man who commits suicide. All suicide victims, men or women, are suicidas. Apparently, “the male suicide victim” would be “el suicida,” which certainly looks weird to me.

A lot of asylums in this book, Maria. A lot of asylums.

18 February 2010

The Works of Benno von Archimboldi

The Works of Benno von Archimboldi

The following is a list of novels in order as their publication is described in The Part About Archimboldi with information found in The Part About the Critics appended.

1. Lüdicke. This is Archimboldi's first novel. [p. 800]

A very odd review of this book appeared in a Berlin newspaper after its publication. Mrs. Bubis kept it. Someone named Schumacher “tried to sum up the novelist's personality in a few words.
Intelligence: average.
Character: epileptic.
Scholarship: sloppy.
Storytelling ability: chaotic.
Prosody: chaotic.
German usage: chaotic.”
[p. 27]

2. The Endless Rose. [p. 815] Upon reading this Mr. Bubis was deeply shaken upon reading it. It was better than good. Looking back on it later, he recalls that it was upon reading this book that he became convinced of Archimboldi's story-telling powers. Archimboldi also displayed his “capacity to inject new blood into the sclerotic German language,” in Mr. Bubis's opinion.

This is the book by Archimboldi that Amalfitano translated. Page 117.

3. The Leather Mask. [p. 817 This book is one of Archimboldi's trilogy, a “Polish-themed” novel.

The critic Junge insists to Mr. Bubis that he has read Archimboldi, which of the books named above we do not know. Junge gives that opinion that Archimboldi does not seem to be a European writer. Finally, he settles on the opinion that Archimboldi is more like an Asian writer, Malaysian in fact. [p. 819]

The library in Santiago had a copy, and Amalfitano read this book when he was about 20. Page 117.

4. Rivers of Europe. [p. 823] This book is really only about one river, the Dneiper. The Dneiper is the protagonist, and the other rivers are the chorus. Mr. Bubis laughed when he read it. The book was translated and appeared in Italian in 1971. [p. 5]

The library in Santiago had a copy, and Amalfitano read this book when he was about 20. Page 117.

5. Bifucaria Bifurcata is Archimboldi's novel about seaweed. Apparently, this novel is nearly unreadable. Not even Mr. Bubis finished it. [p. 826] Nonetheless, Morini translated it into Italian in 1988. [p. 5] Other Archimboldi texts had already been translated into Italian at the time.

The library in Santiago had a copy of this book, too, but Amalfitano could not finish it. Page 117.

6. Inheritance. came to Mr. Bubis four years after Archimboldi's disappearance. [p. 837] A big book of over 500 pages originally to which Archimboldi added another 100 pages at the last minute on his last visit to the publisher, a chaotic text, in Mr. Bubis's opinion, but one that left him “with a feeling of great satisfaction.” Archimboldi lived up to all of Mr. Bubis's hopes. The book was translated and appeared in Italian in 1973. [p. 5]

7. Saint Thomas. “. . .the apocryphal biography of a biographer whose subject is the great writer of the Nazi regime, in whom some critics wanted to see a likeness of Ernst Jünger, although clearly it isn't Jünger but a fictional character.” [p. 846]

This is the second novel that Morini translated into Italian.

This is one of the books that Pelletier rereads on the terrace in Santa Teresa. [p. 142, 149]

8. The Blind Woman was sent to Mr. Bubis from Icaria. [p. 847] . “. . . it was about a blind woman who didn't know she was blind and some clairvoyant detectives who didn't know they were clairvoyant.”

This was the first Archimboldi work that Liz Norton read when it was loaned to her by a friend in Berlin. She liked it but did not then run out and buy every Archimboldi she could find. [p. 9] We do not know which work of his was the second that she read.

This is one of the books that Pelletier rereads by the pool in Santa Teresa. [p. 143, 149]

9. The Black Sea was apparently also written during the Icaria stay. [p. 847] “. . . a theater piece or a novel written in dramatic form, in which the Black Sea converses with the Atlantic Ocean an hour before dawn.”

10. Lethaea was apparently also written during the Icaria stay [p. 847], an explicitly sexual novel, and the first to go through five printings after the court case alleging it to be pornography was disposed of. It is a novel “in which he transfers to the Germany of the Third Reich the story of Lethaea, who believes herself more beautiful than any goddess and is finally transformed, along with Olenus, her husband, into a stone statue.”

Morini wrote a study on the various “guises of conscience and guilt” in this novel and the novel Bitzius. [p. 6]

This is one of the books that Pelletier rereads on the terrace in Santa Teresa. [p. 145, 149]

11. The Lottery Man was apparently also written during the Icaria stay. [p. 847]. “. . .the life of a cripped German who sells lottery tickets in New York.”

12. The Father. A son recalls the activites of his father, a psychopathic killer, “which begin in 1938, when his son is twenty, and come to an enigmatic end in 1948.

13. The Return came to the publishing house after Mr. Bubis's death. [p. 849]

14. The King of the Forest is not mentioned in connection with the publishing house. Is this Archimboldi's last book? Probably not. [See The Head below.] This is the book that Lotte purchases at the airport book stand. Upon reading it, she recognizes the characters as her family members and knows it is written by her brother. [p. 887

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

The following are miscellaneous works that I have difficult to place among the works listed above.

The trilogy:

D'Arsonfal. This is the first book by Archimboldi that Pelletier read [p. 3], a “French-themed” book. On his own initiative, Pelletier undertook a translation of it into French in 1983-84. [p. 4]

The Garden is another in the trilogy, an “English-themed” novel. Pelletier found it in an old Munich bookstore in 1981. [p. 4]

The Leather Mask [see above], is the other work in the trilogy. The book had already been translated into Italian by Colossimo in 1969, long before Morini had discovered Archimboldi. [p. 5]

Pelletier gave a copy of this to Vanessa, the prostitute with the Moroccan husband, thinking “that with some luck Vanessa might read it as a horror novel, might be attracted by the sinister side of the book.” Vanessa remarks that, “It's as if you were giving me a part of you.” [p. 82]

I wish to interject here that it is when Pelletier gives this book to Vanessa, we read this:

Pelletier had, along with a few others, instituted a new reading of the German, a reading that would endure, a reading as ambitious as Archimblodi's writing, and this reading would keep pace with Archimboldi's writing for a long time, until the reading was exhausted or until Archimboldi's writing—the capacity of the Archimboldian oeuvre to spark emotion and revelations—was exhausted (but he didn't believe that would happen), though in another way it wasn't true, because sometimes, especially since he and Espinoza had given up their trips to London and stopped seeing Norton, Archimboldi's work, his novels and stories, that is, seemed completely foreign, a shapeless and mysterious verbal mass, something that appeared and disappeared capriciously, literally a pretext, a false door, a murderer's alias, a hotel bathtub full of amniotic fluid in which he, Jean-Claude Pelletier, would end up committing suicide for no reason, gratuitously, in bewilderment, just because.

[p. 82-83] I include this note because it proves me wrong. Pelletier started to encounter difficulties understanding Archimboldi's works long before he went to Mexico.

Mitzi's Treasure is a small book, less than 100 pages. Pelletier found it in an old Munich bookstore in 1981. [p. 4]

Railroad Perfection. The book was translated and appeared in Italian in 1975. [p. 5] Morini wrote a study on the role of fate in this book. [p. 6]

The Berlin Underworld was a collection of mostly war stories put out by a publishing house in Rome in 1964. [p. 5]

Bitzius is a novel of less than 100 pages similar to Mitzi's Treasure. It tells “the story of the life of Albert Bitzius, pastor of Lützelflüh, in the canton of Bern, an author of sermons as well as a writer under the pseudonym Jeremiah Gotthelf.” Morini wrote a study on the various “guises of conscience and guilt” in this novel and the novel Lethaea. [p. 6]

This was the third work by Archimboldi that Liz Norton read. This is the one that did make her run out, but run out through the rain in the quadrangle. It was as if she had drunk a cup of steaming peyote. [p. 9]

When the four critics first talk avidly about Archimboldi by telephone, they discuss the “reconquest of the verbal and physical territoriality in the final pages” of this book.

The Head. When Espinoza and Pelletier are sleeping in Norton's sitting room after she first started to consider sleeping with both of them, Espinoza pulls out this book and starts reviewing his marginal notes at 4:00 in the morning. Espinosa and Pelletier both felt that this was the last novel that Archimboldi would write, although that had been said also about Railroad Perfection and earlier about Bitzius. I find no other reference in 2666 to The Head.

Some miscellaneous notes:

Espinoza never translated Archimboldi or any other German author. [p. 8] However, in 1990 he received his doctorate in German literature with a dissertation on Benno von Archimboldi. [p. 8]

At a twentieth century German literary congress held in Maastricht in 1981, Pelletier delivered a paper titled “Heine and Archimboldi: Converging Paths,” and Espinoza delivered a paper titled “Ernst Jünger and Benno von Archimboldi: Diverging Paths.” [p. 10] (I include this note because I love the titles of the papers). Earlier, Espinoza had terminated all dealings with the “ Jüngerians” after feeling slighted by them. [p. 7]

In approximately 1993 Pelletier and Espinoza adhered to an interpretation of Archimboldi's works marked by a festive, Dyonisian vision of ultimate carnival (or penultimate carnival). They also spoke of civic duty. Liz Norton supported this view. Leading the opposing group, Borchmeyer spoke humor, which Morini considered the height of gall. [p. 12]

In 1994 Pelletier presented a paper that focused on insularity, the rupture that divided Archimboldi from the German tradition but not the European tradition. [p. 15]

Espinoza read the Marquis de Sade in order to refute a paper by Pohl, one of Borchmeyer's allies that drew connections from Justine and Philosophy of the Boudoir to one of Archimboldi's novels of the 1950s [p. 44], Lethaea perhaps? That was the sexed up one.

15 February 2010

I would be more comfortable with the idea that The Part About Amalfitano is told from Amalfitano's point of view, rather than that he is the narrator. Occasionally, amid that narration we have the luxury of reading his own thoughts exactly as they occur to him and in the order they occur to him. But then, admittedly, my own comfort is beside the point.

Whatever, I get to the same point as Matt does but by a bit longer route. These interjections amid the quotations from Calvin Tomkins seem to me clearly to be Amalfitano's thoughts as he reconsiders the story as Tomkins told it. When he thinks that Duchamp was not just playing chess in Buenos Aires, he is initially admiring the conception of the wedding gift. Then when he considers that Duchamp himself really did not do anything but conceive the idea, he concludes that Duchamp was in fact only playing chess, but playing chess with pure ideas.

It is perfectly valid for us as readers to consider this experiment meaningless, just as Yvonne obviously so regarded all of Duchamp's “play-science” of that time. I have difficulty concluding that Amalfitano considered the experiment meaningless, however. If he did, why then did he himself hang out the Dieste book?

The answer to that question is that perhaps he did consider the experiment meaningless as he hung out the Dieste book. In which case it might simply have been only a gesture demonstrating his own growing doubts about the meaningfulness of his own identity, a professor of philosophy, a chess player playing with pure ideas.

Allotting one week to The Part About Amalfitano because it is the shortest part was an innocent mistake. It may be the shortest part, but it is by far the densest part.

For one addicted to the use of a Hi-Liter® as I am and speaking from my own experience, I suggest that one immediately highlight the whole thing, each and every word, and get that out of the way. Then throw the Hi-Liter® aside, and go back and read the thing all in yellow.

There are many who consider The Part About Amalfitano to be so much angst-ridden tripe. I am in no position to dispute that. I have read Dan's blunt appraisal of it, and I appreciated its honesty. I have read an initial reaction set out at iloveyousomething.com, wherein clearly, some of the right questions are asked.

Upon completion of the The Part About Amalfitano, a reader may have come to realize that this is not a novel that was written to entertain. Not in any sense of the word “entertain.” One feels a foreboding that it is going to get less and less entertaining for every single human being who reads it, male or female, parent or child, of every race, creed, or sexual orientation. For this reason the end of The Part About Amalfitano is the perfect place to make a thoughtful decision as to whether one truly wishes to press on.

The book constitutes an aggressive attack on each of our identities as human beings.

I do hope there can be an unguarded discussion of The Part About Amalfitano. I am obviously a complete fool for this part but would love to read the honest thoughts of others about it.

Marco Antonio Guerra, the young prophet, is my favorite character in the novel thus far. There is an honest thought for starters.

14 February 2010

The Heart of The Part About The Critics

Yes, The Part About The Critics has been quite a ride. I see development in the critics over the course of this Part in a more favorable direction than others.

In addition to Amalfitano's diatribe concerning Mexican writers, this is the passage that sticks with me. It refers to the next wave of young academics coming behind our four:

. . . the latest litter of Archimboldians, recent graduates, boys and girls, their doctorates tucked still warm under their arms, who planned, by any means necessary, to impose their particular readings of Archimboldi, like missionaries ready to instill faith in God, even if to do so meant signing a pact with the devil, for most were what you might call rationalists, not in the philosophical sense but in the pejorative literal sense, denoting people less interested in literature than in literary criticism, the one field according to them—some of them, anyway—where revolution was still possible, and in some way they behaved not like youths but like nouveaux youths, in the sense that there are the rich and the nouveaux riches, all of them generally rational thinkers, let us repeat, although often incapable of telling their asses from their elbows. . .[Emphasis mine.]

[p. 72]

That seems to me to be an accurate description what the four critics themselves had once been.

I think Pelletier, for example, first became interested in literature, rather than just literary criticism, when he read Archimboldi by the pool in Santa Teresa. “. . .to judge by Pelletier's face, the rereading was fruitful and thoroughly enjoyable.” [p. 145]

Norton and Johns

I am delighted that you see the translation discussion as helpful, __________. It was entertaining to consider it. I am actually happy that you were bugged by that phrase “false representation,” as I think you should have been.

Yeah, the business about some sort of liaison between Norton and Johns is actually too simple an explanation of her reaction. But the issue surely did get me scratching around in Part I again.

On a slightly related note. When Morini and Espinoza visit Johns and Morini asks him why he cut off his hand, Johns ultimately answers the question by leaning over and whispering something into Morini's ear. [p. 91] Later, Morini tells Norton that he believes he knows why Johns cut off his hand. [p. 97] I cannot believe, however, that the reason Morini gives Norton is the same reason that Johns whispered in his ear. Mystery upon mystery.

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

Back to Norton's husband by the way. The passage you quote is certainly apt. But then consider this similar passage, which comes later:

. . . for Norton made frequent and rather tasteless references to her ex-husband as a lurking threat, ascribed to him the vices and defects of a monster, a horribly violent monster but one who never materialized, a monster all evocation and no action, although with her words Norton managed to give substance to a being who neither Espinoza nor Pelletier had ever seen, as if her ex existed only in their dreams, until Pelletier, sharper than Espinoza, understood that Norton's unthinking diatribe, that endless list of grievances, was more than anything a punishment inflicted on herself, perhaps for the shame of having fallen in love with such a cretin and married him. Pelletier, of course, was wrong. [Emphasis mine.]

[p. 40]

If Pelletier was wrong, what is the right interpretation?

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

Morini is a fan of Sherlock Holmes, too, by the way. [p. 96]