27 February 2010
23 February 2010
Yesterday I wrote a reply to a note by Maria at wwww.bolanobolano.com, a brilliant person whom I have known for years. The gist of it was that middle class people derive meaning in life from the things they buy. When they purchase a copy of 2666, there is much gnashing of teeth when they do not find meaning in it. I mashed the “Post” button.
Within minutes I realized that was not close to the idea that I wished to propose nor was it at all in the spirit with which I wished to propose it. For one thing, I am aware that the phrase “middle class” is never uttered without a sneer by some. I was not sneering. After all, I are one. I was too lazy to come up with a phrase less freighted with that baggage. But what would that have been? "Bourgeois people?"
Then the problem was that I could not figure out how to take down that reply. I considered for time posting a reply to my own reply, a reply that screamed, “This man is a cretin!” Then I said to myself, “What the hell? It is not as if I accidentally discharged my pistol and killed a child.” I went about my business. Now I feel pretty much as if I had accidentally discharged my pistol and killed a child.
I gnash my teeth more than most as is demonstrated over and over here. It is in the nature of the beast.
All I wished to suggest was that in former centuries people derived meaning from faith. Before that was magic. With the erosion of faith, people began to derive meaning from the things that money can buy. Now materialism is proving catastrophically unsatisfactory globally and spiritually.
Maybe one of the questions being illustrated by 2666 is, “What next are we going to try in our attempt to find meaning in an existence the meaning of which is obscure at best?” Again, maybe the book as a whole, through the response of mystification that it elicits in us, illustrates that question as opposed to posing the question more directly, or even indirectly, in a particular piece of text within it.
Assuming we get by Amalfitano's philosophers' question of whether we actually exist at all, that is, whether our hand is really a hand.
If Bolaño has big questions in mind, he never asks them. He illustrates them. The problem is that the illustrations are Rorschach tests.
Maria had proposed a meaning, extrapolated from a section of the novel, that somebody needs to do something about these murders of women in the hundreds. Maria is brilliant, and I look forward to where she goes as she pursues that in the context of this novel. I say that with not a hint of sarcasm.
The kind of thing I said in that reply spilled from my partially fossilized left brain. Meanwhile, my right brain bubbled with delight when Oscar Fate later actually does do something—not much in the big picture of hundreds of murders, but something. Óscar Amalfitano, relying on calm just as the voice had admonished him, later does do something, too—again, not much, but something.
In the end, however, we are right back at the issue that Maria was pondering.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
For example, . . .
I cannot help but gnash my teeth regarding the meaning of the maquiladores churning out consumer goods, the stacks of garbage generated by the city, the parking lots carved into the sides of mountains, the stink of the place and such. Maybe these are nothing more than manifestations of the wonderful economic growth of the city as extolled by a couple of the less appealing characters, but the novel certainly has an apocalyptic feel about it.
The biocatastrophe people foresee a multifaceted worldwide apocalypse resulting from the infestation of the earth with human beings. That biocatastrophe, according them, will feature profound climate change, increasingly scant water, peak oil, diversified and intensifying waves of “ecotoxins” and “ecocontaminants,” antibiotic-resistant plagues, total collapse of ecosystems, and last but not least, the implosion of the monetary system—all occurring concurrently.
In other words war, famine, pestilence, and death with no rationale and no meaning from our perspective in the middle of it. No king's writ is going to hold the center together. They blame this all on the consumer economy in the broad sense of the phrase, including the consumer economy of weapons. They foresee us all ultimately being on The Road with Cormac McCarthy, another acclaimed novel in which folks strain to find meaning.
There are those that take the position that we are past the tipping point already. The biocatastrophe is already inevitable. There are those that insist that if we do something now, the biocatastrophe might be avoided.
One might argue that Roberto Bolaño is in part offering us a vision of the front edge of this biocatastrophe, that with his recurrent rat imagery, he is suggesting that there are too many rats in the cage. It might be said that his vision of the biocatastrophe places an emphasis on the dimension of lawlessness.
I discarded that possible reading of the Rorschach test. I do not buy any of that biocatastrophe stuff. The very word implies a value judgment. Oscar Fate contemplated the dinosaurs in Temple A. Hoffman Memorial Park, which, had they had the gift of self-awareness, would certainly have regarded their own extinction as a biocatastrophe.
It would only be a massive catastrophe from the human point of view. From the planet's point of view, the Earth would simply be cleansing itself of us in preparation for righting itself over geologic time. In which case the more women murdered in Santa Teresa the better. The planet is not as fragile as folks imagine. Bolaño may just as well be telling us to relax. Everything is going to be fine.
My current working theory is that the author has cleverly chosen to speak his meaning to us through the ditzy philosopher, Rosa Méndez: Have fun. Life is short.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Notwithstanding all that, I do still believe that it is premature at a point less than halfway through this novel to become frustrated that the relationship between the five parts is not yet clarifying let alone clear, that the overriding theme or theme of the book is not apparent, or that the large meaning of it all is not emerging from the mist. That might be legitimate cause for dissatisfaction when nearing the halfway point of a conventional novel. It might. But this is not one of those.
Perhaps the best thing to do at this point is to pretend that it has no meaning, and rather, focus on trying to understand the characters to the extent we can, making sure we know what happens to the characters, comparing impressions of the imagery, trading notes on the other authors to whom this author alludes, and the like. There will be whatever lifetime is left to each of us after finishing the novel to ponder the big questions.
This is only a suggestion.
Also, I believe that I need to give considerably more thought to my replies over in www.bolanobolano.com before mashing the "Post" button.
22 February 2010
The following is my the review of 2666 written on Valentine's Day, 2010, after finishing the novel for the first time.
HEADLINE: I do not recommend that you read the best novel that I have read in the last 20 years.
Yes, 2666 is easily the best novel that I have read in the last 20 years, perhaps longer. No, I do not recommend it to you or anyone else.
Nonetheless, in the event you are unfortunately tempted, I would like to be helpful. Please answer the 20 questions in the following questionnaire with a simple “yes” or “no.” You may answer with a complicated “yes” or “no” if you wish, but in that case please capitalize the first letters of “Yes” or “No.” It would be helpful if you could answer candidly without fear of someone attaching value judgments to your responses. No one need see your answers.
1. Are you unhappy when you encounter a “spoiler” that ruins a great ending to a novel that you are reading?
2. Have you ever before consecutively read five novels by the same author?
3. Is entertainment the most important benefit you derive from reading novels?
4. When you do not understand the meaning of a text in a novel, do you become either impatient or unhappy with the author or both?
5. Does religious iconography of any sort add a dimension to your life that you value?
6. Have you ever reread a novel in its entirety immediately upon completing it the first time, thus magically transforming an 893-page novel, for example, into a 1,786-page one?
7. Does a book, any book, have some separate, objective existence outside the minds of its readers?
8. Immediately after she is beaten to death, would you expect an Indian woman's skin to be orange?
9. Are you sick of novels in which Nazi Germany and World War II are major subjects?
10. Are you proud of the fact that you have read the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville? (You may answer “yes” or “Yes” even if you have not read Moby Dick as long as you have read The Trial by Franz Kafka. If you have read neither, then I would propose that your response probably should be “no” or “No,” but it need not necessarily be. A response of “Yes” with a capital “Y” might make some sense in certain individual circumstances for example.)
11. Is the “Trendlenburg position” usefully employed in waterboarding?
12. Have you more than once claimed that you enjoyed reading The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens? (Obviously, whether or not you have read The Pickwick Papers or actually enjoyed it is totally irrelevant to your answer.)
13. Did the andesites in the mountains between the states of Chihuahua and Sonora in México and your hand originate at the same time? (You need not necessarily know that there is a country named México that abuts the southwestern border of the United States nor do you need to know the geographical location of its political subdivisions in order to provide a meaningful response. This is not a trick question in other words.)
14. Do you believe that God has especially blessed the United States of America? (If George Carlin immediately popped into your mind, please consider skipping this question or simply answer a different question. Otherwise, you might then be giving his answer and not your own. That would skew the results.)
15. Do you believe that at some point before our deaths, every single one of us will experience a period of physical torture?
16. Do you believe that human beings and rats are both God's creatures and therefore equally deserving of our respect?
17. Have you ever considered killing another human being to the point that you were considering the various practical means available to do it?
18. Do you believe that the size of the human population of this planet has currently reached a level at which humankind must rationally be considered an undesirable infestation of this planet? (If you do not live on planet Earth, please respond as if you did.)
19. Are you willing to devote so much time, effort, and concentration to a novel that your friends or family consider you to be “absent” or “distant” for an extended part of every day for a period of one month?
20. Are you homosexual?
If the number of your “yes” answers exceeds the number of your “no” answers, you should clearly avoid reading this novel, although you are free to pretend that you have. If the number of your “no” answers exceeds the number of your “yes” answers, you should clearly not read this novel and neither should you pretend that you have.
If the number of your “yes” answers is precisely equal to the number of your “no” answers—in order to check yourself on this, make sure that the number of “yes” answers and the number of “no” answers are exactly ten each—then you should ask yourself why you wasted your time answering these absurd questions in the first place. However, as a sort of tie-breaker, you may proceed to continue to add questions of your own to the twenty listed ones until such time as you concurrently have an even number of questions and a preponderance of “yes” or “no” answers. In that event and without regard to the number of “yes” or “no” answers, you can read the novel without fear of more psychological damage than you have already sustained in life to this point.
If all of your “Yes” and “No” answers, regardless of the number of each, begin with capital letters, then go ahead and read this novel if you must, but don't blame me for any untoward consequences.
If you are curious about the psychological damage that I myself have sustained, you may read my blog entry entitled Libertad.
21 February 2010
Every time that I reread what appears to me to be a significant passage, I realize that I was reading it incorrectly before. So many of the things that I have written below are simply wrong.
However, I am not going to sift back through this blog and edit those wrong things. That would be cheating.