2666 Readalong: Part II – The Part About Amalfitano

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Part II: The Part About Amalfitano

We’re back!  And only a little late into July (Happy 4th!) with another discussion of 2666, specifically Part II.  This little section packs a big punch, and just when I thought I had Bolaño pinned (silly me), he threw in a couple curve balls that have left me confused, but in the best way possible.

This review, instead of organizing by page number, I’m going to go by theme.  Some are themes we identified in the previous section, some are new ones.  I think I’m the last one to post, so after I get all my thoughts down, I’m going to look at what everyone else has said and have a section where I address the questions and comments left in other posts!  Sounds like fun?  Good, let’s get started.

Theme: Literature/Words & Language/Books/Authors

  • Once again Bolano has presented us with a character who is obsessed with an author.  Lola, Amalfitano’s wife and the mother of his child, is obsessed with a poet.  She imagines (we assume) a sexual encounter with the supposedly gay poet, convincing herself that he is not gay.  She leaves Amalfitano to go search for him and she finds him in a mental hospital.  This is a strange section on obsession and fantasy.
  • I’m continually struck by how much this novel is a book about books, a novel about novels, a story about stories.  So far, its own status as a “story”  is loose at best.  It is disjointed and I’m still not sure how it’s all going to come together.
  • The scene about the geometry book and the connection with Duchamp was very interesting.  I’m not sure I understand it, but I think it is like the artist from The Part About the Critics who cuts off his own hand for a painting.  It is about living art, letting art live.  This time, Bolaño has connected the themes of art and books.
  • Another theme that pops up regularly is language.  They often discuss the differences between  Mexican Spanish, Spanish Spanish, etc.  As a Spanish major/student, this is absolutely fascinating to me and something that I think I would understand more if I was reading it in Spanish.  I think I’m going to have to buy a Spanish copy.

Quotes:

Page 200:

People have a thirst to learn about other people’s lives, the lives of their famous contemporaries, the ones who made it big or came close, and they have a thirst to know what the old chincuales did, maybe even learn something, although they aren’t prepared to jump through the same hoops themselves.  Amalfitano asked politely what chincuales meant, since he had never heard the word.  Really?  asked Augusto Guerra.  I swear, said Amalfitano. […]  The word chincuales, said Augusto Guerra, like all the words in the Mexican tongue, has a number of senses.  First, it means flea or bedbug bites, those little red welts, you know?  The bites itch, the poor victims can’t stop scratching, as you can readily imagine.  Hence the second meaning, which is restless people who squirm and scratch and can’t sit still, to the discomfort of anyone who’s forced to watch them.

Page 206:

When they got home it was dark but the shadow of Dieste’s book hanging from the clothesline was clearer, steadier, more reasonable, thought Amalfitano, than anything they’d seen on the outskirts of Santa Teresa or in the city itself, images with no handhold, images freighted with all the orphanhood in the world, fragments, fragments.

That last one is probably one of my favorite quotes from the whole section.

Theme: Madness

  • I’m pretty sure every character is suffering from some sort of madness, but then, maybe every human is suffering their own personal madness.
  • “Madness really is contagious” (177): We saw this theme in the first section, when one character’s madness eventually drives another to insanity.  In the previous section it was the insanity of the critics, continually fueling each other. Now, Lola’s own personal insanity seems to drive Amalfitano crazy, literally.  He begins hearing voices, or at least that is what we are lead to believe.  Is he really hearing voices, or is there someone actually in the room talking to him?  As readers, we cannot be sure.  Our narrator seems to be unreliable.  What if the voice is actually Marco Antonio Guerra?  The Dean’s son.  There seem to be a lot of similarities between their voices and personalities.

Theme: Machismo/Sexual violence/Sexuality

  • I knew the sexualization of violence and sexual violence were going to pop up again.  This time, it was somewhat more subtle than with the critics and the taxi driver, but we have something similar with the dean’s son.  He goes out to the bars, where he says he acts like a gay man so that other men will beat him up.  He calls it a release.  I think this says a lot about machismo and perceptions of homosexuality in general.  The homophobia, the constant reassurance that says “but, really, I have nothing against gay people but I’m going to be completely inappropriate and homophobic” was difficult to read.  I’m still trying to understand Bolaño’s point.  I hope it will be made clear.
  • The scene in which Lola has sex with the poet is very strange.  In it, three men are watching.  Why?  What was the point?  It was here when I asked myself just how much of Lola’s story we are to believe.  What did you think of this strange scene on page 168?

Theme: Dreams

  • I paid a lot more attention to the dream sequences this time around, though there was technically only one, on page 206.  I’m still not sure what to make of it, what did you think of this dream sequence?

Theme: Indifference

  • When you read the descriptions of the novel, all point to the murders of women in Santa Teresa.  But at this point, they have only been mentioned.  Why?  I have thought about this a lot as I read, and I wonder if it is saying something about indifference.  It is only mentioned in passing by the critics, though they are searching for Archimboldi in Santa Teresa.  It is only mentioned by Amalfitano in reference to fear he feels about his own daughter.  The characters are horribly indifferent about the horror happening around them, and I think eventually it is going to hit them in a big way.

I found this section to be a complete contradiction.  For me, the beginning was absolutely beautiful.  The sections about Lola and Amalfitano’s loneliness were so beautifully written.

Sometimes, at night, he remembered Rosa’s mother and sometimes he laughed and other times he felt like crying.  He thought of her while he was shut in his office with Rosa asleep in her room.  The living room was empty and quiet, and the lights were off.  Anyone listening carefully on the porch would have heard the whine of a few mosquitoes.  But no one was listening.  The houses next door were silent and dark.

This quote, for example, beautifully describes Amalfitano’s loneliness.  I love it.  The section takes a turn for the bizarre when Amalfitano begins hearing voices.  His descent into madness is well executed and subtle.  It hits you over the head before you even realize it’s happening.  At first I was really put off by this part, but the more I think about it, the more I’m impressed by Bolaño’s skill.  It’s like someone you actually know goes crazy.  I can’t really explain it.

Okay, now for the questions brought up by other bloggers:

Claire @ Kiss a Cloud:

We picked up on a lot of the same themes!  I didn’t even notice the similarities in names between O’Higgens and Amalfitano’s mothers.  Very interesting.  That’s why I love this,  I never would have noticed something like that.  I too was a huge fan of Amalfitano, even after he started going crazy.

Jackie @ Farm Lane Books:

I found the sections on geometry/philosophy completely beyond me as well.  All the references are  above my knowledge, so hopefully someone can tell us about them!  Then again, even Amalfitano seemed puzzled by his choices. I really like what Richard said in the comments of this post, that it is about understanding the world.  That really makes sense.

Gavin @ Page247:

It’s so interesting that you describe the text as shards of glass.  Okay, maybe this is obscure and really ridiculous, but Duchamp has another work called The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even.  It is also known as The Large Glass.  It is a weird painting done on two panes of glass, supposedly about a bride.  It’s themes fit with the novel, and best of all, when it was being moved, it broke into thousands of tiny shards of glass.  Duchamp put it together piece by piece, saying it made it even better.  The whole time I was reading this section, I thought of this piece of art.  More info here.

Biblioaddict:

I completely agree that this section’s writing was very beautiful, much more so than the first section.

Richard @ Caravana de Recuerdos:

You’re right, about the chaos.  This section for me mirrored life: we are going through many of the same emotions as the characters.

Emily @ Evening all afternoon:

Double meaning seems to be another theme, like the quote I pulled out at the beginning about the double meaning of words.

E. L. Fay @ This Book and I Could Be Friends:

I loved your comparison to Heart of Darkness, it really does feel that way a lot of the time.  The dense, both in terms of language and in terms of setting, descent into madness.

Steph @ Steph & Tony Investigate!:

I think that I liked this section so much for some of its bizarre and chaotic nature, but I agree that there were parts I didn’t completely understand or parts that were uncomfortable.  I’m not sure if I liked the first section better, I definitely thought the writing was more beautiful here.  I’m going back and forth between thinking that the section is chaotic because it needs good editing or because it’s mirroring the chaotic descent into madness.  I don’t know!

This read along is a blast!  Once again I’m eagerly anticipating Part III, but since I finished this section a little late, I think technically I can go right ahead and get started.  Can’t wait to read your thoughts on part III!

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11 thoughts on “2666 Readalong: Part II – The Part About Amalfitano

  1. I’m glad you brought up the homophobic attitudes; I found them difficult to read, as well, but I’m not sure I have any brilliant insights about them. It is interesting that the portrayal of sexualized violence against women in the novel involves grotesque rape/murders, but the sexualized violence against men, at least in the case of Guerra, is self-inflicted.

    On the indifference front, I definitely got the idea that the critics were indifferent to the murders, but I wasn’t sure whether Amalfitano was actually indifferent, or whether he was intentionally avoiding thinking about the crimes for some reason. It seemed as though, increasingly, there was a part of his character shut away from his conscious mind – the part that packed the geometry book, and draws the geometric figures he can’t remember later, and perhaps the part that speaks to him in a disembodied voice. Maybe he’s only able to address the murders with that locked-away portion of his psyche, so we as readers just see an odd lack.

    Anyway, thought-provoking notes!

  2. Same here, what would I do without all of you??

    I think the indifference stems from the characters being not directly involved (yet). It’s like they’re always viewing the crimes on the periphery. Isn’t it such a clever build-up, so subtle?

    I agree with Emily, that perhaps, with Amalfitano, there isn’t much indifference as there is intentional avoidance, because of Rosa.

    Like you, I love that this book is so much about books and writers!

  3. Lu – What a great review! You’ve broken out so many themes with such succinct descriptions.

    Thanks for bringing up “The Bride Stripped Bare..”. I hadn’t really thought much about the connection between Edwin Johns, Duchamp and Amalfitano’s “hanging book”, but I really like you idea about living art and letting art live. 2666 is so much about books and writers and language, that is one reason I’m enjoying it.

  4. I love the way you have broken this down into themes. It does make everything a lot clearer for me.

    I find all the sexual aspects of this book a bit strange. I just can’t connect with them at all. I don’t understand why Lola had sex with 3 people watching or nearly on a grave. I’m sure there must be some deep symbolism to it all, but I just don’t get it!

    The going to clubs pretending to be gay is also a bit weird. I just don’t think I’m in the same mindset as Bolano at all. Hopefully it will all make a bit more sense as it goes on.

  5. Lu,

    This is a tremendous post in many regards, and the way you engaged the other read-along participants was both novel and interesting to me. On the Duchamp connections, for example, I don’t think you were very farfetched at all. I’d mentioned “Nude Descending a Staircase” in my comments on Gavin’s post because of Duchamp’s (Bolaño-like) play with perspectives; however, I had completely forgotten that “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” (aka “The Large Glass”) was the title of the other big Duchamp piece that Gavin’s “shards of glass” reference reminded me of the in the first place! Thanks, I stand corrected.

    On the dean’s son inviting violence by “acting gay,” I’m not sure anyone can know what to make of this 2/5 into the novel. However, there was an infamous ’70s pre-punk band from Cleveland called the Electric Eels who did much the same thing (wikipedia will confirm this); 2 of the male members of the group used to go into working class Cle bars and start dancing together, knowing this would cause problems among the clientele that would eventually lead to fisticuffs. Why did the musicians do this? They were bored, liked to shake things up among the squares, and they just liked to fight! I mention this anecdote here not because I think Bolaño ever heard about this so-called “art terrorist” band but because a lot of the things that seem “weird” to some readers are the sort of things that sometimes actually happen in real-life outside of coffee shops and blogger conventions!

  6. I’ve been following this accidentally, looking for some insight to ‘Critics’, not noticing the dates and the fact that I am on the same page (literally) as so many other people! At first I was led to believe that the voice was Amalfitano’s doppelganger, the realization of his (or his father’s) buried psyche, but that is not evidently so. Is the foil between him and his wife obvious? You bring up interesting points, and I will be following this web (because it is not a mere thread) you all have spinning!

  7. Hi, fantastic notes and discussion. I’ve just finished my second read through of this novel and your blog has been awesome to find. Do you have any other chapters after this one discussed yet on your blog? I’ve been looking but can only find Part 1 and Part 2.

  8. My brother recommended I would possibly like this blog. He used to be totally right. This put up truly made my day. You cann’t consider simply how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

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