Putting together Tuesday’s post, I naturally spent some time skimming back through many of the narratives, especially the earlier ones. I wasn’t so much amazed at how much I’d forgotten, but at how little I’d realized the tightness and cohesiveness of the section. Tightness, ha, how many narrators are there again? Yet I’m serious.
Take Laura Jáuregui, probably most famous in the world of Savage Detectives quotes as the woman who describes “the whole visceral realist thing [as] a love letter, the demented strutting of a dumb bird in the moonlight, something essentially cheap and meaningless.” Jáuregui certainly uses her interviews, conducted in January and May of 1976 and March of 1977, to lash out at her ex-lover Belano. But her comments on visceral realism and her telling of the story of their relationship and breakup foreshadow much of what is to come.
Before the visceral realists even exist, Járegui can tell their future—they will grow up. In January 1976:
And then other poets turned up, poets a little older than Arturo, none of them visceral realists, among other reasons because visceral realism didn’t exist yet, poets like Aníbal who had been friends with Arturo before he left for Chile and so had known him since he was seventeen. They were actually journalists and government officials, the kind of sad people who never leave downtown, or certain downtown neighborhoods, sovereigns of sadness in the area bounded by Avenida Capultepec, to the south, and Reforma, to the north, staffers at El Nacional, proofreaders at the Excelsior, pencil pushers at the Secretaría de Gobernación who headed to Bucareli when they left work and sent out their tentacles or their little green slips.
In the same interview, she also knows what will keep the group together for a while, and why their stories
Continue reading “That’s what Arturo Belano was like, a stupid, conceited peacock.”
Selena’s post on The Savage Detectives pointed me to this New Yorker Book Bench blog post, an alleged “user’s guide to Bolaño.” I’m not sure if I’d say so much I “disagreed” with the post as that it “depressed” me; is there a word for some mixture of the two? And it might seem hard for me to disagree per se because I’ve only read two of the books discussed, but I sort of do.
Putting aside the somewhat bizarre first paragraph, a necessary lede, at first I am almost taken in by this nice “For Completists Only” shelf idea. As a sometime-completist, I think these would be very sensible shelves to have. But then, Giles Harvey accuses Bolaño’s prose of being “often as flat as old seltzer water,” giving this as an example of such, from The Third Reich:
Her sweetness, her charm, her soft gaze, put everything else—my own daily struggles and the back-stabbing of those who envy me—into perspective, allowing me to face facts and rise above them
Am I dazzled? No. But wait. Let me go on before I justify this.
Harvey goes on to say that “prose-flatness is not atypical of Bolaño” and that he was “a great novelist who was not a great writer” with “little interest in the sentence” and “disdain [for] Jamesian refinement and polish.” Now, this Jamesian refinement and polish is, let’s not forget, a particular type of “good writing,” not some mathematical proof of it. He goes on to give an example, I suppose, of just this polish, but which Bolaño gives to a “moral toad” of a narrator, proof of said disdain.
But then as Harvey goes on to recommend five of Bolaño’s best works, you realize: gee, he keeps talking about narrators, and what the narrator
Continue reading On Bolaño, prose, and narration
Since I spent a lot of time thinking about exactly how the second section of The Savage Detectives worked—and who was reporting it, as discussed, for example, here, I decided to actually analyze the darn thing and try to figure some stuff out about it.
First, one possibly interesting observation that struck me as surprising but doesn’t seem super meaningful: other than the recurring presence of January 1976–vintage Amadeo Salvatierra, the interviews pretty much go in chronological order; there is exactly one non-Amadeo interview that is out of order (Joaquín Font, March 1977, page 222 in my Picador edition).
Back to the “substance” of this post. Something surprised me over the past few days, reading over others’ entries and comments for the group read—remarks here and there about a multiplicity of interviers, writers, listeners, whatever, in “The Savage Detectives” section. The thought had simply not occurred to me when I read it. Knowing me and knowing Bolaño, there’s probably a nicely hidden reason why the same person cannot have conducted all the interviews, but I decided, for this post, to go under my initial assumption: that one person (or perhaps one very small group of people, say, a duo) went to all the places and talked to all the people him- or herself. I believe that if you make what Nero Wolfe might call a few reasonable assumptions about this interviewer an interesting picture begins to emerge, so let’s suspend our disbelief and do it for a bit of fun.
Here is the story of the interviews, broadly and in chronological order: a long, in-depth interview is conducted in January 1976 with Amadeo Salvatierra in Mexico City. Further shorter interviews were conducted with a variety of visceral realist–types in Mexico City from March 1976 through May 1977, interrupted
Continue reading Cutting out and clipping together The Savage Detectives
Since I didn’t wrap up reading The Savage Detectives until last night, I’ve stayed away, so far, from most other participants’ posts. One of the few I did read, because I could tell right away that she had stopped before the point I had already reached, was Dolce Bellezza’s lament that the second part of the novel, “The Savage Detectives,” put her off. In the comments to his own post on The Savage Detectives, Rise suggests that in some sense this middle portion is the novels version of 2666‘s “The Part About the Crimes”:some people will not make it through.
There was never any question of whether I would make it through “The Part About the Crimes,” though it did start to wear me out, and there was little question whether I would continue my race (compared to War & Peace, at least) through to the end of The Savage Detectives, either, but in the present case things seemed to get much easier as they went along. This is because the narrative surreptitiously changes from one, as Bellezza put it, about “the wild antics of teens who know no boundaries and have no goals” to one about a subtly different group of people, ones who have grown up and realized in many cases that “youth is a scam.”
The first part of the novel, which is really solidly about those wild kids and the crazy things they get up to, ends at New Year’s of 1976, when most of the principal characters are in their teens or early twenties (there are a few of an older generation as well, but this is the age of the core group of second-generation “visceral realists”). Then “The Savage Detectives” begins its stream of interviews or anecdotes: dozens of people,
Continue reading The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
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
Continue reading 2666: The Part About Archimboldi
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how The Part About the Crimes was easier to read because of its form, and was surprised to get pushback on that idea. Perhaps I should have said that the form makes it deceptively easy to read; as Steve Brassawe notes, the just-the-facts approach to the crimes “is a Hitchcock technique in the sense of making what we do not see much more horrific than anything that we might have been shown.” That is certainly true of not only the femicides but of all the crimes in the section, including those of the Penitent and the killings of the Caciques.
By the end of The Part About the Crimes, though, one notable thing about its form has more to do with deviation from tradition. The dispassionate descriptions of police procedure do not extend much further than finding the bodies; the forensics don’t lead anywhere or reveal much, the investigators muse for a few moments on the M.O. of the murders, but they don’t do much to really analyze the crimes either individually or as a group. They reflect on the crimes, but impotently. They lament the state of the city, but hopelessly. They don’t take the cold analytical mind of detective fiction to it.*
Lalo Cura is one exception to this trend. Plucked from a small village to work as a teenage bodyguard for a narco’s wife, he becomes a policeman after saving her from assassins. He finds piles of untouched textbooks on investigative technique at the police station, which he takes home to read since no one will miss them. He makes a few noble—but yes, still quite impotent—attempts to analyze motives, noting that a body must have been dumped in a particular location because the murderer wanted it found,
Continue reading 2666: The Part About the Crimes
It’s no secret that 2666 is long. So long that my edition comes in three volumes, that I’m participating in a months-long group read of it, and that I’m through the first three parts and still have no idea what it’s about.
I mean, I can tell you that it’s about the femicides in Ciudad Juarez, but that’s not saying very much. What was The Part About Fate about? Something about how there are no Mexican light heavyweights, I think.* But because of the stature of both Bolaño and 2666, I have put myself into his hands entirely. I don’t know what he’s doing yet, but I’m willing to assume he does and it will be something in the end. Of course, I do this to some extent with almost all books, but only to some extent. Sometimes you’re working on a big one where you have to just close your eyes and not look down…for several hundred pages.
And that’s great. But it leaves me fixating most of all on passages where you know that, in whatever indirect way, the writer is saying something about his own book, his own writing. When I caught that breeze in The Part About Amalfitano, it alluded to novelistic structure and ambition. In The Part About Fate, my ears perked up at an interlude regarding the novel and society.
A “white-haired man” eating at a diner with a young man is discussing death, and how “society tended to filter death through the fabric of words.” He gives the young man a history lesson, on how “[r]eading news stories from back then you might get the idea that there was hardly any crime…yet it was a fact that terrible crimes were committed, mutilations, all kinds of rape, even serial killings.” But the society
Continue reading 2666: The Part About Fate
Philosophy professor Oscar Amalfitano, unlike the critics of the first volume of 2666, is for me a highly sympathetic character. The first thing to note about The Part About Amalfitano is that it very quickly seems not to be about Amalfitano at all, but about his wife and her leaving him and their daughter. Right away we find that Amalfitano, who has no idea how he ended up in Santa Teresa, isn’t actually there after all—he’s in his own head. He lives in a world of memory and reminiscence, mulling his abandonment by Lola, the origins of old books, Duchamp readymades.
On the 2666 group read blog, Maria Bustillos describes Amalfitano thus:
Part of the trouble with Amalfitano is, he’s like Hamlet, kind of. He’s stuck, largely because he has no faith in the significance of his own actions, so it’s like he just can’t move. He is outside all these games everyone else is playing; he can’t understand them. For example, he is neither macho, nor is he gay. He likes Archimboldi just fine, but his head wasn’t turned by Archimboldi as the heads of the critics were. He’s not doing any of that stuff; he’s just a human being, just trying to figure out what the hell is going on.*
This is what makes him so much more likeable than the critics, who are only playing games. They have a brittle, opaque veneer, so that we can’t get at them at all or know what they’re thinking. We don’t know much of what they think about Archimboldi, except for the most superficial asides. And it’s only when the veneer is chipped away by some out-of-the-ordinary incident that we discover the machismo, say, bubbling within Pelletier and Espinoza.
From their perspective, in The Part About the
Continue reading 2666: The Part About Amalfitano
Last week, 2666 project contributor Maria Bustillos wrote about the passage in The Part About the Critics where a taxi driver is badly beaten. The scene is jarring. Three sophisticated, middle-class university professors are one moment in a taxi on their way home from a fancy restaurant; the next moment they are involved in a brutal street fight, unleashing a violence we didn’t even notice under the surface before. According to her post, “it is no surprise whatsoever that the first blows administered (predictably, by Espinoza) are described as ‘Iberian.’”
I hadn’t really thought of that myself, but that post immediately came to mind as I finished The Part About the Critics, which concludes with three of the critics making a trip to Mexico, to a fictionalized version of Ciudad Juarez. We’re not into The Part About the Crimes yet, which I expect to be beyond jarring, but there is a definite undercurrent of this violence the whole time the critics are in Mexico.
The first night they spend there, Liz Norton looks out her hotel room window in Mexico City and sees a taxi driver beaten by hotel employees. Their guide, El Cerdo (who has dirty fingernails), explains that there is a “war between taxi drivers and doormen”; this is an exotic place. In Santa Teresa, Pelletier finds a chunk missing from his toilet bowl: “It looked as if someone had ripped it off with a hammer. Or as if someone had picked up another person who was already on the floor and smashed that person’s head against the toilet, thought Norton.” The critics can feel the change, that “something strange was going on,” but eventually:
…[T]hey lost the sense of being in a hostile environment, although hostile wasn’t the word, an environment whose language they refused
Continue reading “So who’s guilty?”: early signs of violence in 2666
I’ve read the first chunk of 2666 for the read-along and let’s just say Frances was right: I don’t think I will look back. I can’t yet say much about the narrator; my ideas are only murky and need more than 51 pages to develop. But I can already tell he’s going to be a favorite, and I’d say with at least 85% certainty that I’ll be reading not just more Bolaño but, um, all of it. (Can she really be saying this after 51 pages of a single book? Well, you never do know what will happen, but so far I love it.) The narrator is the main thing for me at this point, though I’m also loving the story about the critics. But how can you have this story without the critics without this narrator?
With such a slow schedule, I probably won’t post about this every week, only when I’ve really got something to say. But I’m looking forward to the forum and blog discussions and very pleased I decided to go ahead with this. (Clearly, you should listen to Frances about everything. She was right about Virginia Woolf, too.)