2666 – Part 1, The Part About the Critics

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These are my thoughts on the First Section, The Part About the Critics, of Roberto Bolaño´s 2666. Hosted by Steph of Steph & Tony Investigate and Claire of Kiss a Cloud.

I apologize, this is beastly.  I didn’t know I had so much to say!

So far, I’ve been having trouble putting into words my thoughts and feelings about 2666, Roberto Bolaño’s posthumous masterpiece.  I know that I read the first section, The Part About the Critics, quickly and found it to be fascinating.  I actually read it in one sitting, but I’m starting to wonder if I did it a disservice because I read it so quickly.  Maybe I should have chewed over the passages more carefully. In any case, I took some notes while I was writing and I will share them with you here, organized by page number.

PAGE 9:

I think here was the first time I really got the sense that Bolaño was channeling his Boom predecessors.  The Latin American Boom, or el búm, was the emergence of prominent Latin American authors on the world´s radar, and included such literary giants as García Márquez, Cortázar, Quiroga, to name a few.  We are currently in what has become known as the Post-Boom, and it is clear that Bolaño is at once a child of the boom generation and something wholly different.  Influenced, but original.  The experimental nature of the passage on page 9 immediately made me think of the Boom, the question then becomes is this a throwback or something that will be found more in his writing?  So far, I haven’t seen it repeated.

Then the oblique (drops) turned round (drops), swallowed up by the earth underpinning the grass, and the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their incomprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings, a barely audible rustling, as if instead of drinking tea that afternoon, Norton had drunk a steaming cup of peyote.

I was a huge fan of this particular passage.

PAGE 19-22:

Similarly, I noted on these pages more time spent playing with the form.  Thus far, there definitely seems to be a lot of the experimenting with form found in Boom lit, but once again, I’m not certain if this is truly Bolaño’s style, or some kind of allusion.  (I’m not even sure if that’s the right question to be asking anyway.)

PAGE 40-41:

The folks who have already started their commentary on The Part About the Critics, have stated the that the details are overwhelming.  I think this is something I’m in the middle of the road about and can’t comment on until I’ve finished the book.  Perhaps the details really are meaningless, but I think they are going to come back in some form or another.  I like to think that there really is meaning to them and that no matter how minor they seem, they are integral to the story.  Clearly this may or may not be true.  But I can’t help but like them.  It’s a style that I like, that brings up the question: why are these the things we notice?  What is the purpose of singling them out?  I chose the conversation on page 40 and 41 to pull out to make my point:

The first conversation began awkwardly, although Espinoza had been expecting Pelletier’s call, as if both men found it difficult to say what sooner or later they would have to say.  The first twenty minutes were tragic in tone, with the word fate used ten times and the word friendship twenty-four times.  Liz Norton’s name was spoken fifty times, nine of them in vain.  The word Paris was said seven times, Madrid, eight.  The word love was spoken twice and the word happiness once (by Espinoza).  The word solution was said twelve timesThe word euphemism ten times….  The words eyes or hands or hair fourteen times.  Then the conversation proceeded more smoothly.  Pelletier told Espinoza a joke in German and Espinoza laughed.  In fact, they both laughed, wrapped up in the waves or whatever it was that linked their voices and ears across the dark fields and the wind and the snow of the Pyrenees and the rivers and the lonely roads and the separate and interminable suburbs surrounding Paris and Madrid.

So, why does it matter?  I think what I found so intriguing about this passage is that it says so much about the relationship between Pelletier and Espinoza, in both the frequency of what they talk about and the fact that anyone bothered to count it at all.  It’s an enphasis on the power of words to convey meaning, a topic that I predict will ultimately be at the heart of this novel.  Our four critics are bound and motivated by the written word of Archimboldi, this passage reflects that.

PAGE 42:

I was fascinated that the first mention of Sonora or Mexico at all was not until page 42, and it was just in passing.  So here is one small detail that comes back to haunt the reader.

PAGE: 43:

My favorite quote from this section is found on page 43:

Morini read the letter three times.  With a heavy heart, he thought how wrong Norton was when she said her love and her ex-husband and everything they’d been through were behind her.  Nothing is ever behind us.

PAGE 45:

There are epic literary references in this novel.  And I love-hate this.  On one hand, I feel all smart and full of myself when I get one of the references, on the other hand I also don’t get very many of them.

PAGE 74:

This is the section where Pelletier and Espinoza beat up the cab driver.  One thing that I was intrigued by was the complete sexualization of violence.  Is this going to be a theme?

Claire at Kiss A Cloud mentioned the dreams.  That was something I did not focus on, but now that she has mentioned it, I’m fascinated!  I want to go back and focus on them.  To answer some of the questions floating around this readalong:

Do you believe Archimboldi is real or a pseudonym? Could he be Mrs. Bubis?  (Claire)
  • I didn’t think about that one.  I’m fairly certain that when we find Archimboldi he (or she) is going to be living under a different name, either their original name or a psuedonym.  I don’t think that Mrs. Bubis is Archimboldi, because there was a picture of Archimboldi with Mr. Bubis.  Though who’s to say our narrator isn´t pulling a fast one on us?
Do you think that Pelletier and Espinoza’s violent act towards the taxi driver is a foreshadow of things to come? (Claire)
  • Like I said, I think this is going to be a common theme – the sexualization of violence and the violence of sex.  All of the people murdered in Sonora are women and I think the violence against the cab driver is a sort of introduction to this theme.
How eager or how hesitant are you to move on to the next books?
  • I was so eager!  I had to stop myself from continuing right then and there.
Questions about the cab driver (Jackie of Farm Lane Books):
  • I think the part about the cab driver and the labyrinth is very interesting, but I’m still not sure about its meaning.  Borges wrote a story called El Aleph and the exact quote from Borges is “Vi el populoso mar, vi el alba y la tarde, vi las muchedumbres de América, vi un plateada telaraña en el centro de una negra pirámide, vi un laberinto roto (era Londres), vi interminables ojos inmediatos escrutándose en mí como en un espejo, vi todos los espejos del planeta y ninguno me reflejó¨  (I saw a populated sea, I saw the soul and the afternoon, I saw the crowds of America, I saw a silverplated spiderweb in the center of a black pyramid, I saw a broken labyrinth (it was London), I saw never-ending eyes, immediate, scrutinizing me in a mirror, I saw all the mirrors in the world and none of them reflected me.)  But as far as I can tell, this is not a very well-known quote of his.  Borges is famous for his Labyrinths, his own masterpiece is titled Labyrinths.  I had to search for this quote, but it seems to be fairly obscure (someone tell me if I’m wrong in this.)
  • So then it is the main characters complete pretension, complete hubris, that leads them to assume that the cab driver is misquoting Borges.  They can only contrast what they feel is the extreme ignorance of the cab driver with their extreme intelligence.  But in the end, their act of beating is horribly low and does not fit with their own image of themselves as academics.   They might have been angry, but it didn’t deserve the beating.  So what are we supposed to pull away from this passage?  Is it the quote from Borges?  Is it the apparent randomness of the beating?  I’m still not sure.   With any other literary reference I would have said that it was probably mentioned in passing, not entirely relevant.  But the more I read of the Aleph, the more I’m wondering if it is not random.  The story is about an artifact that can reveal the entire universe at once.
  • I should stop rambling.

Can’t wait until the next part!  I’m loving this readalong business.

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12 thoughts on “2666 – Part 1, The Part About the Critics

  1. Great run-down, Lu. I finished Part One about two weeks ago, and in retrospect I should have either taken notes OR at least written my post then (and waited to post it)… I’m certainly not going to be anyway near as thorough as you have been. Oh well, I have five more sections to experiment and hopefully get it right (and I’ll call it an homage to Bolaño himself! 😉 ).

    I’m glad you enjoyed this first section, and I thought your discussion of Boom vs. Post-Boom authors was really interesting. Latin American writing is something I’m just beginning to explore, so getting that background was really interesting.

    Anyway, wonderful rundown of your thoughts and impression on Part One, and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Part Two!

  2. I love that your post is beastly, as you call it. Mine was the same! Lol. I thought I would write down two or three paragraphs at the most, but then, like you, I had such a hard time pinning down my thoughts.

    I love all the passages you picked. It was hard to pick favourites as I loved his writing so much that there were so many I wanted to post.

    The conversation of Espinoza and Pelletier and how many times they used the words, especially, I felt exactly the same about it as you. It pronounces so much about these two characters, without pushing it in our faces. Love it.

    It was very interesting to read about the Boom and Post-Boom Latin American lit. I am a fan but still not familiar with most of the authors, but would love to explore it even more. (I learned something today, thanks!)

    I didn’t think to look up the Borges quote.. thanks again for that! What a beautiful quote, I have read it three times since I checked your post. I’m definitely reading Labyrinths in the future.

    Don’t stop rambling. Keep on. 😀

  3. I just got this one Lu! And personally, I love your rambling post 🙂 Can’t wait to dig into this myself…I love the quotes you’ve shared.

  4. I can’t believe that you read it in one sitting! I found the writing so dense that I could only cope with about 20 pages at once, as I needed time to process the large amount of information I was reading. I think this book could benefit from several re-readings, as even reading just the little quotes everyone is giving has made me see things I didn’t see the first time.

    Thank you for finding out about the Borge quote – I found that all very interesting. I hope that we have a better appreciation of what was happening by the end of the book.

    I found your section on Latin American Boom authors enlightening. I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of this before. I really should read more South American authors, as I’m feeling very under informed on them now.

  5. Lu, props to you for what I thought was a very interesting post! Although I’m no expert on the subject either, I think it’s good to be cautious about Bolaño’s complicated relationship to the Boom authors. On the one hand, he was no doubt influenced–like most Spanish speaking authors of his generation–by the genre innovations and fervor for experimentation of the Boom heavyweights you mention. And in interviews, he frequently mentioned his admiration for Borges and Cortázar. On the other hand, he’s said to have hated magical realism and has been quoted dismissing (jokingly, but still disparagingly) García Márquez and Vargas Llosa as “those two old machos.” Representatives of the old guard, if you will. Bolaño also grew up in a much different/much later era than most of the Boom authors, when the early enthusiasm for the Cuban revolution (and by extension, the future of a “liberated” Latin America free from the traumas of the past) had waned and the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile had made the present all too depressing for any optimism about the future. I don’t mean to highjack your lit blog with a misplaced political rant, but I think this post-Boom political malaise has a lot to say about the grimness at the heart of much of his work. P.S. You, on the other hand, have a very nice and non-grim blog here by the way!

  6. Compelling thoughts! I, unlike you, did not have the self-control to stop myself reading then & there, and as a result I’m on the fourth book at the moment, struggling very much with the sexualization-of-violence issue…so it’s interesting to hear you pick out that phrase from just the cab driver incident. (I don’t know what it says about me, but that scene didn’t stand out as much to me as it seems to have for everyone else on first reading.) It’s interesting to think about the different roles misogyny & racism play in the cab driver incident versus the later killings…I’m so eager to hear everyone’s thoughts as we all progress!

  7. I totally identify with your first paragraph – I had a hard time getting into words everything I felt about this book too. I knew my post wouldn’t do it justice. I also feel that I might’ve read it too fast.

    Thanks for including about el bum generation. I would never have known that! I also like the part where you contrast the critics’ hubris and pride in their own intelligence with the brutal beat-down of the cab driver. I saw it as simultaneously satirical and disturbing in a Heart of Darkness kind of way (the savage beneath the veneer of highest civilization).

  8. Rather strange, but I used your page citation for the cabbie to refresh myself for my essay (I’m writing about information seeking and behavior within The Part About the Critics), and remembered how much I loved this post when I initially read it!

    Thought I’d let you know 🙂

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