Roberto Bolano’s 2666: The Part About The Critics

“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 chose 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.” p. 227

I think that this is what Bolano is trying to write. Wrote. Will have written when I come to the end of Part 5, the end of his novel. It feels as if he’s struggling against something, emotionally, as he writes with sentences that can run up to two pages apiece and characters as numerous as a flock of geese flying south in autumn.

We start with the critics:  Pelletier, Espinoza, Morini, and a woman, Liz Norton. They are passionate about the writing of Benno Von Archimboldi, the writings of whom I’d love to read myself. Alas, he is a fictional character and frankly, I wonder what it is about him that make them so utterly besotted. More committed to Archimboldi, in fact, than they are to each other. Hopefully, it is yet to be revealed.

Annoyed at the way Bolano teases us, disclosing very little about this supposedly famous German writer, I cling to the aura of mystery circling him:

“When one of the drunks recognized the song, he gave a shout and rose to his feet. Espinoza, Pelletier, and Norton thought he was about to start dancing, but instead he went over to the terrace railing and looked up and down the street, craning his neck, then went calmly back to sit with his wife and friends. These people are crazy, said Espinoza and Pelletier. But Norton thought something strange was going on, on the street, on the terrace, in the hotel rooms, even in Mexico City with those unreal taxi drivers and doormen, unreal or at least logically ungraspable, and even in Europe something strange had been happening, something she didn’t understand, at the Paris airport where the three of them had met, and maybe before, with Morini and his refusal to accompany them, with that slightly repulsive young man they had met in Toulouse, with Dieter Hellfield and his sudden news about Archimboldi. And something strange was going on even with Archimboldi and everything Archimboldi had written about, and with Norton, unrecognizable to herself, if only intermittently, who read and made notes on and interpreted Archimboldi’s books. (p. 113)

Two other “mysteries” are mentioned in the Part About the Critics. One is about Edwin Jones, the artist who cut off his right hand to display it in a self portrait. Why do such a thing? To imitate Van Gogh? For the money, as is whispered? It is, perhaps, to show “the endless variety of ways we destroy ourselves.” (p. 293)

The other mystery is something that Espinoza remembered hearing the night before, the story of the women who were being killed.

“…more than two hundred women had died. But not over a short period of time, thought Espinoza. From 1993 or 1994 to the present day…And many more women might have been killed. Maybe two hundred and fifty or three hundred. No one will ever know, the boy had said in French. The boy had read a book by Archimboldi translated by Pelletier and obtained thanks to the good offices of an internet bookstore. He didn’t speak much French, thought Espinoza. But a person can speak a language badly or not at all and still be able to read it. In any case, there were lots of dead women.” p. 137-138

And now I think that this post has too many long quotes, and not enough opinion, but I’m still struggling with that, you see. I’m still trying to sort out the pieces and the point that Bolano is trying to going to make. I’m not bored. But, I am confused by the jumble of information laid out before me. How this will resemble a complete picture is unclear to me which is why I’m so glad to be reading this with Richard and others.

Tomorrow, thoughts on The Part About Amalfitano.

19 thoughts on “Roberto Bolano’s 2666: The Part About The Critics”

  1. I'm coming to the end of Part 1 – my second time around with 2666 – and “the jumble of information” seems only marginally more sensible than it did the first time around. For what it's worth, I think your choice above of presenting “long quotes” and what you characterize as “not enough opinion” may actually be a good one, as your selection of quotations is illuminating. In any case, there are clues scattered throughout 2666 that help make sense of the thing; the comment about “great, imperfect, torrential works,” for example, sounds pretty self-referential as regards a book like 2666.


  2. I read this a few years ago and loved it and hated it at the same time. Don't you wish you could borrow an Archimboldi book from the library just to find out what the fuss is about? It's probably just as well that we can't because it would only distract from the story.


  3. Thanks for this post, Bellezza–I hope to get mine up later today or maybe tomorrow. I don't think it will be giving away too much to let you know that your questions about the point of all this should be at least partially answered in the second half of the book: one set of crimes may be predictable; the other was certainly not for me the first time I read the book several years ago. As far as what the critics see in Archimboldi, I think that's mostly a diversionary tactic on Bolaño's part as he introduces some of the larger concerns of the novel. However, it may be helpful to contrast their initial attitudes to Archimboldi and their background of privilege when they arrive in Mexico to the status of the young Mexican fans of Archimboldi in Mexico that they meet as well as Amalfitano, who was an early translator of Archimboldi and a refugee from Pinochet's Chile. I think there's something important there if you look closely enough. Anyway, looking forward to your following posts.


  4. I think a second time around with 2666 would be a good thing; there's much that seems elusive, and with a second go around I'd have some background. I'm so glad my 'long quotes' worked for you in this post. I really didn't have enough information to give an opinion at this point. I look forward to discussing it further, and I thank you for your comment here.


  5. Now loving it and hating it at the same time I can relate to. Unfortunately, I don't have the best relationship with Mr. Bolano. I abandoned The Savage Detectives halfway through, and since this seems to be his major work I thought I'd jump in for the ride and see if I couldn't gain a greater impression of his writing. And yes, the MacGuffin of Archimboldi is quite annoying to me! I wish I knew why he was so important to the critics!


  6. Thanks for hosting the read-along, Richard, because I truly want to have a better grasp of Bolano. Looking forward to the answering of my questions in the second half of the book, as well as the 'surprise' crime to come. Thanks for hints to contrast the critic's attitudes to Archimboldi and privilege; thanks for any hint at all! While I find Murakami's work often oblique, and Bolano's as well, there is little for me to hook into personally with Roberto. At least Murakami writes of emotions which I can sympathize with. Bolano seems to be almost emotionless. To me.


  7. Oh wow I'm so jealous that you're reading 2666! And with Richard, too! I read this with him and Frances and Emily and Isabella, Lu, Jackie, and a couple others, about 4 years ago! Wow it's been that long! I loooooooooved it. Though I can't say I fully understood it, I believe no one can fully understand it, but it was so good. I'll follow your updates, and maybe try to read a little bit myself as well, if I can catch up.

    I get the struggle and the “jumble of information” and it'll be like that throughout but doesn't it make you curious? I agree he teases the reader in every turn, and I was totally teased! Don't give up yet!! Just swing with it and have fun. x


  8. Claire, I remember the time that the group of you read 2666 together, and I was sad that I didn't get involved in time. Now's my chance, but I must say I am less effusive than you. I will take your advice, though, and “swing with it” knowing that it's okay to be teased. Phew!


  9. Glad you got around to this book. I remember describing it as a nightmare that is beautiful & a dream that haunts the edges of your waking hours, you could take a set square & compass to it & describe it logically, but all you would end up with is a pile of words, scattered across your floor. Funnily enough up until last weekend I had never owned a copy, but picked up this & The Savage Detectives in a charity shop for £4 in perfect condition & hardback


  10. I'm sure that's true, and i didn't write what I was thinking clearly. To me his writing seems devoid of emotion for people. I'm finding it rather cold and removed. But , I have yet to finish a Bolano book, and am only halfway through this one. Plus, I don't seem to have a very good grasp of him. So all these comments from people who do are quite helpful.


  11. My edition came in hardback, and perfect condition as well, free from our local library. I had seen much discussion of it, probably with the first read along with Richard and the others, so I knew I wanted it in my collection.

    Your reply, Gary, as always, comforts me in my understanding if this author which is so very little. But you encourage me, as did Claire, to continue for the journey, the experience, the je ne sais croix that keeps us thrilled before a piece of writing, the overall effect which cannot be named. And for that reason, I will continue to the second half.

    Thank you for commenting, I miss you a lot


  12. I'm so glad you're diving into this with such energy – and I'm glad it's an improvement over your Savage Detectives experience. I find Bolano's teasing an uncomfortable delight – like an itch that is somehow delicious to scratch. I'm eager to see what you think of the next bits.


  13. “An uncomfortable delight” is a good way to put it, and as I read other's posts (or comments) I'm glad to know I'm not alone in my confusion? I'm not sure there is a word for the way that Bolano is undefinable. Anyway, perhaps I could revisit The Savage Detectives now that I'm more familiar wih his style. I actually liked the first third of it, then it all became just too convoluted for me.


  14. Struggling beautifully! You who are not afraid “to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown.” I always think of Bolano as playful no matter how dark the subject matter gets. His love of language apparent throughout. I wonder if that sense of play also creates some distance from his characters? Thinking ….. Happy to be reading with you again!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s