2666 Readalong – Part V: The Part About Archimboldi


Check out what my car mileage was!

I can’t believe we’re here!  The readalong is over and we have made it through the behemoth 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, all along the way sharing our ideas and interpretations and making it a better reading experience over all.  It has been an amazing time, and I don’t think I would have kept reading this book, let alone finished it and come to love it and, maybe, understand it, without all of your input.  I guess my point is: thank you!  Thank you to Steph and Claire for hosting, thank you for everyone for participating and making this an amazing experience.  I’m glad that we don’t have to give it up after this, I’m glad there’s more to come with the Kristin Lavransdatter readalong, for which I am very excited!  Now, on to the discussion:

The Part About Archimboldi

I have a confession to make.  After finishing this book last night, I realized that I made a huge mistake while reading this book.  I was reading it and trying to figure things out, to understand how everything was going to come together in the end.  I thought that all of the stories would somehow converge, that we would meet the critics again, that Amalfitano would make another appearance.  I was wrong.  This novel is more like a collection of events and the people that are affected by those events; their lives intersect, but there is no final conclusion where we see all of them together, where everything finally makes sense.  And though, when I finished, I was somewhat disappointed by that, I realized later on that no, this was perfect. This is a hyperrealistic novel and to have an ending like that would have been false.  It wouldn’t have rang true with the rest of the novel, because that is not how life is.  In this book, the lives are intersected in small ways.  I felt like we read the book backwards.  The Part About the Critics started us off with the mystery of Archimboldi and the mystery of the murders in Santa Teresa.  We are then introduced to two people who are impacted by the murders of Santa Teresa.  Then the murders themselves and finally Archimboldi and his story and connections.  The critics never find him, at least we never know if they do, because in the end it doesn’t matter.

About half way through the reading of The Part about Archimboldi I figured it out.  I realized I had been reading it incorrectly the whole time and then just let the last section take me along for the ride.

The beginning, Archimboldi’s childhood and his obsession with the ocean, was so wonderful to read.  I loved it.  It was filled with wonder, humor and beauty.  And of course, since this is 2666, tragedy.

“And who is that?” asked the former pilot.
“My son,” said the one-legged man.
“He looks like a giraffe fish,” said the former pilot, and he laughed. (652)

There is so much in this section about physical appearance and names and what, if anything, that means about who we are on the inside.  Archimboldi’s father is the “one-legged man”, his mother “one-eyed”.  Archimboldi’s own name has been changed.  Lotte defies all misconceptions about her age and learns Spanish over age 70.  Lotte, Archimboldi’s sister, thinks of him as a giant his whole life, and when they finally reconnect, she remarks that he isn’t a giant after all.

We know that Bolaño wrote this section at the end of his life and it’s interesting to read it with that in mind.  There is a lot of ruminations in this section about age and death and what it all means.  Then, further still, what does art say about the artist?  There were many times while reading 2666 that I thought that Bolaño’s voice was coming through and he was speaking about his own novel-writing process and his own concerns.

The book Animals and Plants of the European Coastal Region was stamped on his brain, and while he dove he would slowly page through it.  This was how he discovered Laminaria digitata, a giant seaweed with a sturdy stem and broad leaves, as the book said, shaped like a fan with numerous sections of strands that really did look like fingers.  Laminaria digitata is native to cold waters like the Baltic, the North Sea, and the Atlantic.  It’s found in large masses, at low tide, and off rocky shores.  The tide often uncovers forests of this seaweed.  When Hans Reiter saw a seaweed forest for the first time he was so moved that he began to cry underwater.  It may be hard to believe that a human being could cry while diving with his eyes open, but let us not forget that Hans was only six at the time and in a sense he was a singular child.

Laminaria digitata is light brown and resembles Laminaria hyperborea, which has a rougher stalk, and Saccorhiza polyschides, which has a stem with bulbous protuberances.  The latter two, however, live in deep waters, and although sometimes, on summer afternoons, Hans Reiter would swim far from the beach or the rocks where he had left his clothes and then dive down, he could never spot them, only fantasize that he’d seen them there in the depths, a still and silent forest. (641)

I really like that section.  I think it’s beautiful and Hans’s wonder comes through.

Hans said he didn’t know anything about his father.
“True,” said Halder, “one never knows anything about one’s father.”
A father, he said, is a passageway immersed in the deepest darkness where we stumble blindly seeking a way out.  (656)

This section as so fascinating.  Archimboldi does not know or claim to know his father, though he was raised by him.  And how true is it that no matter how well we think we know our parents, there is always something about them that surprises us, that we never knew before?

“They call me Benno after Benito Juárez,” said Archimboldi, “I suppose you know who Benito Juárez was.”

So who was Benito Juárez?  His most famous quote is: “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”  Sounds like a pretty cool guy.  But I have no idea about the reference.

That night, as he was working the door at the bar, he amused himself by thinking about a time with two speeds, one very slow, in which the movement of people and objects was almost imperceptible, and the other very fast, in which everything, even inert objects, glittered with speed.  The first was called Paradise, the second Hell, and Archimboldi’s only wish was never to inhabit either. (800)

I feel like this post is turning into nothing more than a collection of quotes I liked.  I’m okay with that.  Finishing 2666 made me want to get out the first book and start all over again.  I want to find everything I missed when I was trying to make those connections that don’t, ultimately, even exist.

I am intrigued by the final note in the book, in which it is said that Bolaño believed there were two centers to this novel.  The obvious, the murders in Santa Teresa, and one that is much less obvious.  I don’t know what the right answer is.  I don’t know what that center is.  Maybe it is mortality.  Maybe the center of 2666 is the idea of immortality and mortality and how, even authors or artists or criminals, who have left their mark on society, will die.  There is no cure for it. All the characters are faced with this painful realization at some point and only Archimboldi seems to approach it with grace.  The Critics, faced with the death of one their own, approach it with disbelief and a lack of concern.  Amalfitano essentially loses his mind at the thought of losing his own daughter, though it might not look like that at first.  Fate, thinking about the death of Amalfitano’s daughter who he is attracted to, decides to help her escape.  Lotte, faced with her own mortality, defies convention and learns Spanish and travels to save her son.

That night, during dinner, they talked about the crypt, but they also talked about other things.  They talked about death.  Hoensch said that death itself was only an illusion under permanent construction, that in reality it didn’t exist.  The SS officer said death was necessity: no one in his right mind, he said, would stand for a world full of turtles or giraffes.  Death, he concluded, served a regulatory function.  The young scholar Popescu said death, in the Eastern tradition, was only a passage.  What wasn’t clear, he said, or at least not to him, was toward what place, what reality, this passage led.

“The question,” he said, “is where.  The answer,” he answered himself, “is wherever my merits take me.”

General Etrescu was of the opinion that this hardly mattered, the important thing was to keep moving, the dynamic of motion, which made men and all living beings, including cockroaches, equal to the great stars.  Baroness Von Zumpe said, and perhaps she was the only one to speak frankly, that death was a bore.  General Von Berenberg declined to offer an opinion, as did the two general staff officers.

Then they talked about murder.  The SS officer said that murder was an ambiguous, confusing, imprecise, vague, ill-defined word, easily misused.  Hoensch agreed.  General Von Berenberg said that he would rather leave the laws to the judges and the criminal courts and if a judge said a certain act was murder, and if the judge and the court ruled it wasn’t, then it wasn’t, and that was the end of the matter.  The two general staff officers agreed.

General Entrescu confessed that his childhood heroes were always murderers and criminals, for whom, he said, he felt a great respect.  The young scholar Popescu reminded the guests that murderers and heroes resembled each other in their solitariness…. (681)

Look!  More giraffes!

Maybe I am reading too much into what was happening in Bolaño’s own life while he was writing this, but I think it might not be totally off base.  Maybe it’s not what Bolaño had in mind, but I’m certain it’s there.  All I want to do now that I have finished 2666 is start all over again.  I want to find all of the things that I missed.  I know that there is so much to this novel that I will never understand.  And that’s a hard thing to accept.  All I do know is that reading this book has changed me somehow, as a reader and as an artist, and I do plan on reading it again.  I’m hope hope hope hope hope hope that at some point in my life, some university I go to will offer a class on Bolaño’s work.  Maybe next semester is too hopeful?  Maybe the next?

What do you think the alternative “center” to this novel is?   What did you think of the ending?  Do you want to read more?  Were you less enchanted, or were you like me, feeling lost and lonely with Bolaño to go back to?

I’m really at a loss now that I have turned the last page and closed the cover on 2666.  I just can’t believe that it’s over.  I think there might be more for me to say, but I’m not sure.  Thanks to EL Fay, Claire, Steph, Frances, Richard, Gavin, Isabella & Jackie for participating and I’ll see you again in October with Kristin Lavransdatter!

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

13 thoughts on “2666 Readalong – Part V: The Part About Archimboldi

  1. I was laughing at the car mileage photo, was thinking I would just skim this post, then fell in and got swallowed up by the lovely thoughts! and… I’m going to go read it again.

  2. I made your same realization, although for me it happened at some earlier point – maybe Part 3 or something. I totally agree about the desire to re-read, to revisit every stage of the journey now that I have some idea how it all unfolds.

    That’s such an intriguing statement by Bolaño about the two centers of the novel. Death and art? Mexico and Europe? Santa Teresa and Nazi Germany? Reading and writing? My guesses could go on and on.

    Anyway, thanks for these thoughts and quotes; some of them were favorites of mine, and others were beautiful moments I’d forgotten. What an amazing novel!

  3. I could quote from this book all day long too.

    I actually re-read “The Part About the Critics” after finishing “Archimboldi” and picked up on a lot of stuff I hadn’t noticed before, especially in light of what we learn in the later books. Like the cultural promoter remembering Archimboldi’s black leather jacket or the critics speculating on the relationship between Amalfitano and the Guerra kid. But since all the books are together, and Bolaño builds such an atmosphere of suspense that’s never resolved at the end of each one, you really can’t help but to read2666 as one big novel.

    “I’m hope hope hope hope hope hope that at some point in my life, some university I go to will offer a class on Bolaño’s work.”

    Can you let me know if you find one? I’d like to go too!

  4. Lu – Thank you for this wonderful, insightful post. I still haven’t collected all my thoughts about “Archimboldi” and I have no idea what Bolano meant by “two centers”. Like Emily I could go on guessing all day. I do know that I heard Bolano’s poetic voice in Part 5, and his tenderness.

    I don’t think you are reading too much into what was happening to Bolano as he wrote 2666. He was dying, and he knew it. What was he thinking, trying to get his whole world down on these pages?

    I want to read it again, along with all the other books.

  5. Two centres?! I guess, each section has its own centre, but how to define two? 1, the oasis of horror, and 2, the desert of boredom.

    I’m glad you remembered to look up Benito Juarez (I’m afraid I’ve forgotten many of the refeences I meant to investigate). Is it possible he was mentioned also int eh Amalfitano section? I’ll have to check…

    I haven’t been able to focus my thoughts yet, but like you I have noted several wonderfully evocative passages, including page 800 about the two speeds. I’d like to read the book again at both speeds.

  6. “All I do know is that reading this book has changed me somehow.”

    Lu, isn’t it great when a book can do that for you? I had a similar “whoaaa” reaction when I finished The Savage Detectives, and I haven’t run into a dull Bolaño work since then. 2666 kind of depressed me, both for the horrors it touches on and what you and others have mentioned regarding Bolaño’s own mortality, but I think it’s an amazing piece of work that’s as invigorating on an aesthetic level as it “difficult” on an emotional level. Glad so many in the readalong group liked it so much (the near-unanimity surprised me) and I’m also stoked that so many in the group will be collaborating again on the KL readalong. Anyway, thanks for all your contributions!

  7. “There were many times while reading 2666 that I thought that Bolaño’s voice was coming through and he was speaking about his own novel-writing process and his own concerns.”

    I just finished the book for the second time, in spanish. And suddenly I realized that bolaño was speaking in chileno, not in spanish. And his leather jacket, the same he loved so much.

    The center of the novel? I dunno. Rats. Rats killing rats.
    What did you think of the ending? It does not end, it starts again. Do you want to read more? Always. I come back to bolaño every 2 months or so. Or as a friend used to say: “Debemos leer a Roberto Bolaño. Y acto seguido, debemos volver a leerlo, pero esta vez en silencio. ”

    I went through the novel, and every page i read, I felt I know less of Archimboldi, and in some way I think he’s like Gregor Samsa, or Meursault, or Sisyphus, so I want know who is he.

    And I fell like going back to Chile. Reading again los detectives, try to recover all that I have lost.

    But then I say to myself: Mexico.

  8. I noticed all the giraffes too! I wonder why they are there? I love your summary – there are so many different things to think about that I’m sure you could study this book for years and still have more to investigate.

    I love the fact your car milage was 2666 – coincidences like that are great!

    Thank you for taking part in this readalong with me. I look forward to sharing Kristin Lavransdatter with you.

    1. Well, giraffes are unique, weird-looking creatures, and 2666 was certainly a unique and odd book 🙂 I’m considering using this book as my master’s thesis. I don’t know. It would be a monumental event, including reading the book in Spanish.

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