. . . 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.

05 March 2010

A Pause to Ponder the Structure of the Thing

As far as the relationship of the first three parts, it now seems a pretty straightforward thing. In the first part we are introduced to Archimboldi in absentia through the critics. We then travel with them to Mexico and ultimately Santa Teresa in their search for the elusive author. With the critics in Mexico, we make the acquaintance of Amalfitano and Marco Antonio Guerra, as well as a couple of lesser characters at the University.

The critics then fade out and Amalfitano fades in along with Marco Antonio Guerra. The Part About Amalfitano is extremely dense and permeated with what I see as Amalfitano's growing mental instability marked by premonitions and vague telepathic impressions of Rosa's growing danger in Santa Teresa.

Then Amalfitano fades out temporarily and Oscar Fate appears on the scene. Fate is the ultimate outsider—he does not even speak Spanish—and we experience first hand through Fate's imperfect perceptions the real netherworld of Santa Teresa as he rescues Rosa. Amalfitano again plays a role at the end of this part in financing and facilitating their escape.

With that we leave all of the characters from the first three parts with the exceptions of the German publisher's wife in Germany—and of course, Archimboldi himself. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 5 tie together structurally quite nicely—not in any traditional way—but quite nicely. There is a beautiful symmetry as we travel back to Santa Teresa toward the end of the novel, first with Superman's mother and then with his uncle, Archimboldi. . .

On second thought, let's not use the word "symmetry." We will think of another word.

04 March 2010

Robert Rodriguez

I am not a film aficionado. I was totally unfamiliar with Robert Rodriguez, the director who is the subject of a conversation between Charly Cruz and Fate at pages 280 to 281. When describing a film that Robert Rodriquez directed under another name, Cruz refers to his distinctive style. The Wikipedia article describes Rodriguez's style as one that involves “quick cuts, intense zooms, and fast camera movements deployed with a sense of humor that offsets the action.”

Later, we see the first half of a video at Charly Cruz's house that I have repeated referred to as one that I take to be a “snuff film.” Pages 320-21. At a minimum it is hardcore pornography. Cruz claims that this is the film made by Rodriguez under the name Johnny Swiggerson. (And of course at the end of this video fragment, the camera zooms in on a mirror.)

It strikes me as particularly bizarre that Bolaño would make use of a real person, Robert Rodriguez, in this way, public figure or not. Overall, it seems to me that Bolaño's repeated references to living contemporary people in similar ways to this is one of his devices for creating verisimilitude. At times he also slyly comments upon a living person's work through his fictional characters. Is Bolaño himself saying here that some of Robert Rodriguez's films are nothing more than "snuff films?"

I believe that we will come back to this whole subject in connection with The Part About the Crimes.

02 March 2010

What fun!

Working at 2666 is the best full-time job that I have ever had. Flexible hours. Work that I enjoy. No partners. No staff. I work at home in sunny México and send in the work product.

If I could get this pay thing worked out, I would be in fat city for sure.

A Fool's Sixth Installment About Fate

Nothing cerebral about this at all, an entirely subjective view of pages 291 through 349, The Part About Fate. . .

Roberto Bolaño had to be a true fan of films. He was clearly inspired in part by film when he undertook this section and appears to have attempted to create in print the atmosphere of film noir. This recreation is complete with a retrospective voice-over at the very beginning of this part as we pan in on a reporter at work at his desk in New York. I know I mentioned this before, but I liked it.

Actually, I think he succeeded in recreating the atmosphere of a descendant of film noir. Fate discussed David Lynch with the desk clerk at page 339. The atmosphere of this part reminded me most of a David Lynch film that they did not mention, Blue Velvet, a film that truly freaked me out when I first saw it lo, these many years ago.

While we are on the subject of that desk clerk, I was struck by something he said:

“Every single thing in this country is an homage to everything in the world, even the things that haven't happened yet,” he said.

It was as if he were telling us, “This all will be playing at a theater near you soon, folks.”

At any rate we went into Charly Cruz's house at page 319 with everybody a little popped after the boxing match and a night out in the nether world of Santa Teresa. I experienced suspense. I admit it. I am probably the most cooperative reader around. I willingly suspend my disbelief at the drop of a hat. When Oscar encountered the Virgin of Guadalupe in the garage on the way in, I saw it as a portent. Something was going to happen for a change. It was only later when Oscar saw her again on the way out that I concluded the Virgin of color had blessed the man of color with a wink.

The Virgin of Guadalupe has historically blessed violence in the service of a sacred cause many times. When we saw what I took to be the first reel of a snuff film, another video fragment, and Rosa Amalfitano had disappeared in that house somewhere, I wanted Oscar to do something. I wanted Oscar to be the first major character in 323 pages to do something. If the only thing Oscar held sacred was beauty in the form of a pretty girl with perfect features, that was good enough for me.

I realize now that I was reading these scenes from the point of view of the other Oscar, Óscar Amalfitano. I myself am a father with beautiful daughters who sometimes did not display the sense that God gave an eel when they were younger. I did not want to know everything they did either, as long as they could handle it. But this was a different deal here. Little Rosa Amalfitano had gotten in over her head.

So then, what did my man do? (He suddenly became my man.) He dropped Corona with one punch and picked up his handgun. Count Pickett he may not have been, but my man had some stopping power in that fist. He had strained to let fly at somebody several times earlier in this part. He chose the perfect time and place to land one. In these new circumstances that sick Chucho Flores was immediately cured of his psychotic possessiveness. Good for a quick, bitter laugh for me.

It was a good little piece of violence, cathartic after the suspense. "Carthartic." A pissant English Department kind of word. Actually, I wanted to smell some cordite in the air. You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find that you get what you need. Isaac Hayes was singing the Theme from Shaft in my head. I am a sucker for stuff like this.

I still do not understand, however, why Oscar and Rosa gave that jerk Chucho Flores a ride to the bus stop though.

A satisfying conclusion for me, too. Óscar Amalfitano finally found the wherewithal to do something. Calm did not let him down. It made no difference whether the guy in front of the house was a cop or a greaser. Amalfitano did well in diverting his attention after fixing up Rosa with some money and telling them to get out of there. And we were on the way to the border.

”They're good people, friendly, hospitable. Mexicans are hardworking, they're hugely curious about everything, they care about people, they're brave and generous, their sadness isn't destructive, it's life giving,” said Rosa Amalfitano as they crossed the border into the United States.
“Will you miss them?” asked Fate.
I'll miss my father and I'll miss the people,” said Rosa.

Such a truly cheap trick that by Bolaño. Still, it more than worked for me.

I sat back and relaxed in the sun. Rosa was out of there. Her father will never demand that she return to visit him in that mental lockup in Santa Teresa or Hermosillo. Nor will he forbid it either. But hopefully—a hope not entirely justified by the facts available—I clung to the thought that she will develop good sense, take comfort that Professor Pérez will visit her father regularly, and stay the hell out of there herself. Her father will be entirely satisfied with letters from her as he was with Lola. That scenario is not so bad, as he himself said.

If all this had to be purchased at some amorphous psychic cost to Oscar, that simply made him all the more admirable to me.

As for Rosa Méndez, Schopenhauer's woman--she likes to have fun; life is short--Rosita is clearly going down. But we cannot save everyone, can we?

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

Interspersed with this is the story of Guadalupe Roncal, yet another reporter pulled out of her normal milieu, the city desk, and transformed into an anonymous crime reporter—after the real crime reporter had been tortured and murdered.

No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them.

It is through Ms. Roncal that we met Nietzsche's Superman. If I had to interview Nietzsche's Superman, I would not know what questions to ask him either. I cannot help but think that we will learn something more about the nature of that party going on back there in the cell block when he first appeared.

A Fool's Fifth Installment About Fate

Everything I write here about 2666 ought to be read with an implicit question mark behind it. I earned my living for years saying things that I was not entirely sure of or that I flatly did not believe to be true. I must have been somewhat convincing because I did earn a living this way. The question marks here are going to be explicit. I am going to mash the question mark key occasionally.

Before we move on from page 290, I wish to mention some miscellaneous things that interested me in the beginning of The Part About Fate in the hope that one or two items may have interested others, too. There may be some repetition here of things discussed elsewhere, forgivable repetition, I hope.

1. It is repeatedly drummed into us that Oscar Fate's understanding of what goes on around him is imperfect, as I suppose is the case with all of us. Earlier, I mentioned his inability to understand the words of the two women at the funeral, “words of consolation or rebuke.” Page 236.

At last a taxi stopped. When he was about to close the door he heard something like a shot. He asked the taxi driver whether he'd heard it. The taxi driver was Hispanic and spoke very bad English.
“Every day you hear more fantastic things in New York,” the driver said.
“What do you mean, fantastic?” he asked.
“Exactly what I say, fantastic,” said the taxi driver.

Page 239.

So did the Hispanic taxi driver with his bad English intend some word other than “fantastic?” Maybe. In any event, we are soon to go into Mexico with Oscar Fate who cannot speak Spanish, which will only enhance his imperfect understanding of what is going on.

This sort of thing happens again with the chant of the little girls jumping rope in Detroit at Temple A. Hoffman Memorial Playground, “something about a woman whose legs and arms and tongue had been amputated.” Fate is “[c]ompletely disoriented.” Page 245-46.

During the overheard conversation between Kessler and the young man, the young man “. . . said something about inspiration. All Fate heard was: you've been an inspiration to us.”

Anyway, you get the idea. This sort of thing occurs repeatedly. The upshot is that our own perceptions as readers are doubly imperfect.

2. Related to item one is the fact that Oscar is being sent on an assignment wherein he is out of his usual element, politics and social issues relating to the black community. (He will not be the last journalist in this predicament that we will encounter.) It is as if the sports editor assumes that any black man ought to know something about boxing. Nobody stereotypes African-Americans like other African-Americans.

3. How can one not wonder what the hell the deal is with Oscar's stomach? I have studied all the contexts in which he vomits or suffers stomach discomfort, and I find no clue.

4. Antonio Jones' answer to the question of why he kept doing what he was doing was remarkably simple and remarkably funny:

Because someone has to keep the cell operative.

Page 258.

You dummy, Oscar.

5. Dick Medina's television news report on the woman from Arizona who had disappeared in Arizona obviously foreshadows. I find it fascinating that Oscar is asleep and dreaming of the last Communist in Brooklyn while it airs. I am not sure why I find it fascinating, but I do. Page 258.

6. Am I weird to be mulling over those identical twins with the Mexican woman in the diner as much I do? Pages 264-65. Maybe it is just that Espinoza, Pelletier, and Norton have me seeing threesomes everywhere. You must admit, though, that identical twins would be a nice touch.

7. Consider this:

She had a hoarse, nasal voice and she didn't talk like a New York secretary but like a country person who has just come from the cemetery. This woman had firsthand knowledge of the planet of the dead, thought Fate, and she doesn't know what she is saying anymore.

Page 273.

Could it be that Lola did not die and is now cleaning office buildings in New York instead of Paris? Or is this Lola's ghost on the other end of the line?

8. Say what, Omar?

”What are you looking at?” Omar Abdul said to him.
“The landscape,” he said, “it's one sad landscape.”
Next to him, the fighter scanned the horizon and then he said: “That's just how it is here. It's always sad at this time of day. It's a goddamn landscape for women.”
“It's getting dark,” said Fate.

Page 275.

Believe it or not, I am not blind to Bolaño's faults. Quite honestly, I think he overdoes it with the dreams and the mirrors, tropes that are a bit shopworn, don't you think? His foreshadowing can be a bit ham-handed. And the guy can get downright full of himself at times. I find it thoroughly improbable that Oscar Abdul would say this. As a result, this is too transparent an effort to create an atmosphere of foreboding. Too forced.

"This is a big city, a real city,” said Chucho Flores. “We have everything. Factories, maquiladoras, one of the lowest unemployment rates in Mexico, a cocaine cartel, a constant flow of workers from other cities, Central American immigrants, an urban infrastructure that can't support the level of demographic growth. We have plenty of money and poverty, we have imagination and bureaucracy, we have violence and desire to work in peace. There's just one thing we haven't got,” said Chucho Flores.
Oil, thought Fate, but he didn't say it.
“What don't you have?” he asked.
“Time,” said Flores. “We haven't got any fucking time.”
Time for what? thought Fate. . . .

I love that passage. That passage boils with meaning in my opinion. And Fate's thought of oil is funny to boot. Still, time for what? I have no idea either.

10. Johnny Swiggerson is a name very much like Dirk Diggler. Page 281.

11. Can we safely assume that Oscar knows how to kiss because he is critical of that dark-haired girls ability? Page 281. It is usually the woman who complains of the man's ability at this, is it not? This one is not keeping me awake. However, I cannot recall another literary kiss that came about quite so abruptly. It was even more abrupt than, “Suddenly, they were kissing.” We bypassed that. “As he and the dark-haired girl who had come with Rosita Méndez were kissing. . . .”

12. Climacteric? Climacteric? Page 289. Male menopause? I am being stupid here, I know. Somebody please help. I need to look at the original Spanish there.

Enough. Let us read on.

And crawling, on the planet's face, some insects, called the human race. Lost in time, and lost in space... and meaning.

The Criminologist in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

01 March 2010

A Fool's Fourth Installment About Fate

On the way from Tucson to the border, Oscar overhears a conversation in a diner between a young man and a Professor Kessler, obviously some sort of expert in criminology. Excerpts from Professor Kessler's mini-lecture delivered to the young man:

In the nineteenth century, toward the middle or the end of the nineteenth century, said the white-haired man, society tended to filter death through a fabric of words. Reading news stories from back then you might get the idea that there was hardly any crime, or that a single murder could throw a whole country into tumult. We didn't want death in the home, or in our dreams and fantasies, and yet it was a fact that terrible crimes were committed, mutilations, all kinds of rape, even serial killings. Of course most of the serial killer were never caught. Take the most famous case of the day. No one knew who Jack the Ripper was. Everything was passed through a filter of words, everything trimmed to fit our fear. What does a child do when he's afraid? He closes his eyes. What does a child do when he's about to be raped and murdered? He closes his eyes. And he screams, too, but first he closes his eyes. Words served that purpose. [Emphasis mine.]

Professor Kessler, after widening his contemplations to the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries as well, then explains that in order for a murder to cause a sensation, it had to be a murder committed by people with victims who were both a part of society. Nobody cared if 20% of the “merchandise” in the holds of the slave ships died before delivery.

The ones killed in the Commune weren't part of society, whereas the woman killed in a French provincial capital and the murderer on horseback in Virginia were. What happened to them could be written, you might say, it was legible. That said, words back then were mostly used in the art of avoidance, not of revelation. Maybe they revealed something all the same. I couldn't tell you.

And then Professor Kessler's opinions:

“All right, then,” said the white-haired man. “I'll tell you three things I'm sure of: (a) everyone living in that city is outside of society, and everyone, I mean everyone, is like the ancient Christians in the Roman circus; (b) the crimes have different signatures; (c) the city seems to be booming, it seems to be moving ahead in some ineffable way, but the best thing would be for every last one of the people there to head out into the desert some night and cross the border.”

After this, Fate reads that passage from The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas that is a perfect demonstration of filtering the death in the holds of those slave ships through a fabric of words. That book has been discussed earlier.

I am wondering if, when Bolaño wrote this, he was considering how words might be used in the service of revelation rather than avoidance in connection with the women's deaths in Santa Teresa, clearly people outside society as Professor Kessler explains it.

Or alternatively, if he wrote this after having written The Part About the Crimes--which I do not believe he did--perhaps he was explaining that he had tried to use words in the service of revelation rather than avoidance when he wrote that part.

It seems obvious to me that one endeavor in this novel is an attempt to make those murders “legible” in a way that they could not be made legible in news reports and the like, and in the process make death itself more "legible."

At the same time, I am in no way suggesting that Bolaño was any sort of social crusader. I am not saying that he was not either. Whether he was or was not does not make any difference to me.

But that is only one of the endeavors. When I am foolish enough mention 2666 in conversation, for example when I am asked what I am reading lately, often the person will say something like, "Oh, yeah. That is the novel about the murders in Juarez, isn't it?"

For the sake of keeping the conversation light and moving, I always lie and say, "Yes. That's what it's about."

28 February 2010

Stand By for a Brief Reminiscence

I was house sitting alone for a week in January in the middle of Colonia San Antonio here in San Miguel de Allende. I read the first four parts in this courtyard in that chair. The dog was the only one available with whom to discuss the thing, but Zumm only speaks Spanish. I am not fluent enough in Spanish to discuss this book. Hell, I am not fluent enough in English to discuss this book. What an experience.

With that, we will get back at it.

A Fleeting Thought

I feel like rereading Gone With the Wind or some other swish and spit. Instead, I am going to reread The Part About The Crimes. For the same reason that I did not cut my hair when that fleeting thought came. I feel like I owe it to someone.

Janet Maslin's Review

Books of The Times - A Trip Through a Literary Labyrinth in Roberto Bolaño’s New Novel, ‘2666’ - Review - NYTimes.com

Highway 61 Revisited, huh? Okay, I will buy that as an analogy, Janet.

But this?

“2666” earns its place in posterity by burying a hint at the book’s overall secret, to the extent that it has one, in the midst of one critic’s story.

You must be talking about Morini, Janet. And it is because I do not understand Morini that I do not understand the “overall secret?” But this presupposes that you understand the “overall secret,” Janet, and I am not going to accept that on faith.

Yes, “the Fate section is more entertaining than plausible,” but we were due for some entertainment at that point, Janet.

Dammit, Janet, I love you.

Brad in the The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Roberto Bolaño's Fictions Might Include His Own Colorful Past - NYTimes.com

Roberto Bolaño's Fictions Might Include His Own Colorful Past - NYTimes.com

So then. Never a heroin addict? Not in Chile during the Pinochet coup? I agree. This is going to be a tough biography to write.