Roberto Bolano’s 2666: The Part About Fate

“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.” p. 267

Quincy Williams is called Oscar Fate. He is a political journalist from New York sent by his editor to cover the Pickett-Fernandez fight in Santa Teresa. But, he’d rather write about the women being killed. He proposes “a sketch of the industrial landscape in the third world, a piece of reportage about the current situation in Mexico, a panorama of the border, a serious crime story, for fuck’s sake.”   p. 295 His editor isn’t interested.

Fate meets several people in this section; one of them is Guadalupe Roncal, a Mexican reporter. The others include Rosa Amalfitano, daughter of Amalfitano from Part 2, and her boyfriend, Chucho Flores.

Chucho Flores is, to me, a terrifying person. The whole encounter he has with Rosa, after he sees her kissing goodbye to a classmate with whom she’s had a soda, absolutely chilled me.

“Suddenly someone she hadn’t heart approach her said: you whore. The voice startled her and she looked up, thinking it was a bad joke or that she’d been mistaken for someone else. Standing there was Chucho Flores. Flustered, all she could do was tell him to sit down, but Chucho Flores, his lips barely moving, told her to get up and follow him. She asked him where he planned to go. Home, said Chucho Flores. He was sweating and his face was flushed. Rosa told him she wasn’t going anywhere. Then Chucho Flores asked her who the boy was who had kissed her.

“A classmate,” said Rosa, and she noticed that Chucho Flores’s hands were shaking. “You whore,” he said again.

And then he began to mutter something that Rosa couldn’t understand at first, but after a moment she realized he was repeating the same words over and over again: you whore, uttered with teeth clenched, as if saying it cost him a huge effort.” p. 335-6

Maybe there is more than one way some men kill women, using their words or attitude or power as much as violence. Fortunately, Rosa leaves Chucho for Fate, and I leave this part with one final thought:

“No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them.” p. 348

The secret of the world…no wonder this novel is almost 900 pages long. It’s a rather large topic to uncover, but I wonder if the core of it doesn’t lie somewhere in respect for one another.

In late February, The Part About the Crimes and The Part About Archimboldi, where I hope, as a Russian professor of mine once said, “All shall be revealed.”

Roberto Bolano’s 2666: The Part About Amalfitano

Professor Amalfitano is crazy. He hangs a book of geometry on the clothesline (which perhaps is one of the smartest things to do with such a book). He constructs very simple geometric figures and labels each vertex with names of famous people such as Aristotle, Thomas More, Plato, Diderot and Mendelssohn, “dictated by fate or lethargy or the immense boredom he felt thanks to his students and the classes and the oppressive heat that had settled over the city.” He hears a voice which begs him not to be a queer.

It reminds me vaguely of the film A Beautiful Mind.

My favorite character in this section is not Amalfitano. It is the dean’s son, Marco Antonio Guerra, who says two such fascinating things I leave them here to ponder:

“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. I’m telling you between you and me: the human being, broadly speaking, is the closest thing there is to a rat.” p. 219

Now, I don’t for a minute thing that the human begin is the closest thing there is to a rat. But, I do think there is far too much cowardice. It is indeed far easier to see what we want to see, and it takes much courage to look at truth.

Then later he tells Amalfitano,

“I used to read everything, Professor, I read all the time. Now all I read is poetry. Poetry is the one thing that isn’t contaminated, the one thing that isn’t part of the game. I don’t know if you follow me, Professor. Only poetry–and let me be clear, only some of it–is good for you, only poetry isn’t shit.” p. 226 

I wonder why Bolano has one of his characters propose such a thing; is prose not his favorite medium? I think a very small part of him is mocking the great writers, and even his own efforts. But that’s just a supposition on my part, with no textual support any where.

Plus, I’ll take prose over poetry, or geometry, any day.

Tomorrow, thoughts on The Part About Fate.

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.

The Savage Detectives. Group Read Sans Moi

I tried. I really did. But, I abandoned The Savage Detectives on page 216. The first part grabbed me, at least better than the second part which had more or less random people giving snippets of their encounters with the central characters. Part One tells of Juan Garcia Madero, a seventeen year old poet relating his escapades with the two “visceral realists”, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, who walked into his literature class one day. He is entranced by them, as any seventeen year old would be, but that doesn’t make them any different than others who entrance him. Especially the Font family with daughters Maria and Angelica. Or, any other female for that matter.
When I heard the word savage in the title, I assumed it mean savage as in fierce. I didn’t equate it with savage as in undisciplined. I found it impossible to continue with a novel containing characters for whom I have neither respect nor interest. Reading about life in the ’60s and ’70s, the wild antics of teens who know no boundaries and have no goals, reminds me too much of the fools with whom I went to school. What’s so noteworthy about the lost souls of a few troubled decades?
I do respect that this is considered one of Bolano’s greatest oeuvres (although I far preferred Monsieur Pain and I’m very much enjoying The Third Reich). I do respect that he is paying homage to Latin America and avant garde poetry. I did find great interest in this particular passage:

Joaquin Font, El Reposo Mental Health Clinic, Camino Desierto de los Leones, on the outskirts of Mexico City DF, January 1977. There are books for when you’re bored. Plenty of them. There are books for when you’re calm. The best kind, in my opinion. There are also books for when you’re sad. And there are books for when you’re happy. There are books for when you’re thirsty for knowledge. And there are books for when you’re desperate. The latter are the kind of books Ulises Lima and Belano wanted to write. A serious mistake, as we’ll soon see. Let’s take, for example, an average reader, a cool-headed, mature, educated man leading a more or less healthy life. A man who buys books and literary magazines. So there you have him. This man can read things that are written for when you’re calm, but he an also read any other kind of books with a critical eye, dispassionately, without absurd or regrettable complicity. That’s how I see it. I hope I’m not offending anyone. Now let’s take the desperate reader, who is presumably the audience for the literature of desperation. What do we see? First: the reader is an adolescent or an immature adult, insecure, all nerves. He’s the kind of fucking idiot (pardon my language) who committed suicide after reading Werther. Second: he’s a limited reader. Why limited? That’s easy: because he can only read the literature of desperation, or books for the desperate, which amounts to the same thing, the kind of person or freak who’s unable to read all the way through In Search of Lost Time, for example, or The Magic Mountain (a paradigm of calm, serene, complete literature, in my humble opinion), or for that matter, Les Miserables or War and Peace. Am I making myself clear? Good. so I talked to them, told them, warned the, alerted them to the dangers they were facing. It was like talking to a wall. Furthermore: desperate readers are like the California gold mines. Sooner or later they’re exhausted! Why? It’s obvious! One can’t live one’s whole life in desperation. In the end  the body rebels, the pain becomes unbearable, lucidity gushes out in great cold spurts. The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up by turning away from books. Inevitability he ends us becoming just plain desperate. Or he’s cured! And then, as part of the regenerative process, he returns slowly-as if wrapped in swaddling cloths, as if under a rain of dissolved sedatives-he returns, as I was saying to a literature written for cool, serene readers, with their heads set firmly on their shoulders. This is what’s called (by me, if nobody else) the passage from adolescence to adulthood. And by that I don’t mean that once someone has become a cool-headed reader he no longer reads books written for desperate readers. Of course he reads them! Especially if they’re good or decent or recommended by a friend. But ultimately, they bore him! Ultimately, that literature of resentment, full of sharp instruments and lynched messiahs, doesn’t pierce his heart the way a calm page, a carefully thought-out page, a technically perfect page does. I told them so. I warned them. I showed them the technically perfect page. I alerted them to the dangers. Don’t exhaust the vein! Humility! seek oneself, lose oneself in strange lands! But with  a guiding line, with bread crumbs or white pebbles, and yet I was mad, driven mad by them, by my daughters, by Laura Damian, and so they didn’t listen.” (p. 185)

This is one of my favorite passages, ironically penned by a man within an asylum. But, it was simply not enough to cause me to continue, laboriously, through a book I found with little or no meaning to my life. Richard gave me permission to abandon it if it didn’t work for me. So begging his forgiveness, I threw in my towel, frustrated with my failed attempts to appreciate The Savage Detectives.

(There will be many more thoughts about this book throughout the weekend, but I’ll be in Florida and unable to update my post with fresh links or respond to comments left here. For now, let me link to Caroline‘s from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.)

Monsieur Pain by Bolano

Although Monsieur Pain is written by a writer from Chile, I read it for Paris In July because the setting is Paris, 1938.

It is the first novel I have ever read written by Roberto Bolano, and it remains as murky in my mind as Haruki Murakami’s works did when I first began reading him. Perhaps one reads him more for the atmospheric qualities, the surrealistic and the noire aspects, more than the plot. I don’t have a single astute thing to say, as my mind is reeling, except that this was a fascinating novel of mood…one that left me as confused and as unsure as Monsieur Pain was himself.

It does not escape me that his name, Pain, so resembles the English word “pain”, although the French translation is “bread”. Much to think about here…

Paris, 1938. The Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo is in the hospital, unable to stop hiccuping. His wife calls on an acquaintance of her friend Madame Reynaud; the mesmerist Monsieur Pain. A timid bachelor, Pain is in love with the widow Reynaud, and agrees to try to use his powers to help save the poet’s life. But then two mysterious Spanish agents intervene, determined to keep him from treating the patient.

Terrible anxiety enters the story–along with another practitioner of the occult sciences, tarot cards, nightmares, Mme Curie, WWII, hopeless love, and an assassination. Poor Monsieur Pain, haunted and guilty, wanders the crepuscular, rainy streets of Paris…(inside flap)
Have you read Bolano? Is he as difficult to define as I am finding?