I have read a lot of brilliant posts about 2666 over the past 15 weeks, but like Maria Bustillos, I have only felt quieter and quieter as I went through it. She ends her last post on the Bolaño group blog thanking the author for “the ice cream, which is absolutely first-class ice cream, and which I hope to enjoy (if that is the right word) many times in future.” The metaphor is strange but not at all wrong.
The Part About Archimboldi was in some ways fated to disappoint me, capping as it does such a big novel. As the fifth of five parts, its job is to pull everything together; not to answer every unanswered question, but to draw a circle around the novel, so you can say this is in, this is out, and not deal with the overwhelming impression that everything is in. I didn’t expect Archimboldi’s connection to Santa Teresa to be such that I’d be satisfied with the strength of that circle, but I was.
I was also satisfied with Archimboldi, I think, though for a while it was touch and go. His experiences on the Eastern Front in World War II left me cold. What new thing could any writer make of that? So Bolaño takes us out of the front lines and to the past in Moscow for Ansky’s story. That is good, but it’s not amazing. It does have the effect of piling on the stories, just like we have been in every part up to now, getting somewhere and then doubling back to tell yet another character’s life story. But when Archimboldi comes out of the whole thing disdaining “poor fools convinced they’ve been present at a decisive moment in history, when it’s common knowledge…that history, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness,” I feel reassured that the project is working for me. This is what I got out of things up till then anyway. The real key idea for me comes later, when Archimboldi’s sister dreams of talking to him in the desert:
“It’s unfathomable and hostile,” she told him, and only then did she realize that she was a girl again, a girl who lived in a Prussian village between the forest and the sea.
“No,” said Archimboldi, and he seemed to whisper in her ear, “it’s just boring, boring, boring…”
Many readers find 2666 very outward-facing, almost a call to action. I don’t see it as unengaged, but I perceive it much more as a bringing together of the tropes and ideas of a lifetime, in the form of a great, imperfect and torrential work. That means I have a lot of work to do before I’ll be ready to come back to this particular Fürst-Pückler-Eis.