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¡ 2 6 6 6 !

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apr 8, 2011, 5:42pm

It seems an appropriate time to start this thread, so that those interested in reading 2666 can begin thinking about the book and its author (it's also a slow, boring day at work). There is a great deal of information about Roberto Bolaño on the internet, and I will try to post links I find relevant and interesting. I'm not exactly prolific in my posting in this group, so I'd love to get to know some of you a little better. To that end, I have some questions that relate to this group read:

1) Why do you want to read this book? What are your expectations?
2) What do you know about Roberto Bolaño? Have you read any of his other books? Did you like them?
3) Have you read much Hispanic literature? If so, what are some books and authors you've enjoyed?

BTW, I'm Matt, and I live in Indiana, where these days the dogwoods are blooming quite nicely. In answer to my own questions:

1) I read the first four parts of this book in 2009, but I got really busy and set it aside. I meant to finish it, but now it's been so long that I think it'd be better to read the whole thing again. I hope I enjoy it as much as I did the first time, and I'm excited to finally read "The Part about Archimboldi."

2) I can't remember when I started hearing about Roberto Bolaño. I spent six months in Chile in 2004 and at least a couple of my friends must have recommended him to me...maybe I was just too far gone off the Pisco when they did. I remember my mom sent me some of his books when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in 2007 and 2008, and I enjoyed them. Estrella distante (Distant Star) has been my favorite. I like it when he writes about Chile, a place that I'm familiar with, and the Chile that I encountered in that book brought back a lot of memories and made me think a lot about my Chilean friends and the way their country's past influenced their lives. I've read quite a few of his books, but (and I'm ashamed to say this) I have not read Los detectives salvajes. I think I'll really enjoy that book some day, and maybe I should be reading it now instead of 2666, but I'm excited about being able to discuss 2666 with other people. I just read his collected nonfiction, Entre paréntesis, which provided quite a lot to think about in terms of his influences and literary motivations.

3) I studied Spanish in college and started reading in Spanish in my free time because I love to read and because I wanted to build on what I was learning in the classroom and in life abroad. Since I graduated, reading in Spanish has been my way of keeping in touch with the language and finding intellectual stimulation in life as a non-student. And, since I was a kid, I've enjoyed learning as much as I can about the things I like. Back then it was baseball cards and airplanes, in high school it was rap music, now it's Hispanic literature. One of the things I like about Roberto Bolaño is that he shares my love of literature in Spanish. When I started learning more about him, I found that many of the authors that inspired him were favorites of mine as well (Cortázar, Sábato, Borges, Parra...). I enjoy thinking about the way books relate to one another, and in subsequent posts I'll start listing some of the books and authors Bolaño acknowledged as having influenced his writing...I apologize in advance for digressions into obscure nooks and crannies of Latin American literature not easily accessible to the English-speaking reader, but I will do my best to stick to what's available in English.

Well then, I shall now commence to post items of interest to a future reader of 2666! I look forward to meeting everyone and please, please contribute and help make up for my many shortcomings with respect to the thoughtful study of literature!

apr 8, 2011, 5:49pm

Here's a review of 2666 that I enjoyed:

The Triumph of Roberto Bolaño

It's got a fair amount of background information and also provides a general introduction to his literary project.

Redigerat: apr 8, 2011, 6:08pm

Hi, Matt. I read 2666 several years ago and won't be reading it again this time, but I'm looking forward to following the discussion. I've had several conversations about it on LT already, so I'm interested to see how opinions about it change (or not), as Bolaño-fever abates.

Of his other books, I've read Los detectives salvajes, La literatura nazi en América, Los perros románticos, and By night in Chile Čileanski nokturno. You can count me a big fan. I've Putas asesinas on my shelves; have been keeping it as a special treat.

I've probably read more Hispano lit than your average Jill, although it's not a special interest of mine (being interested in zillion things, NOTHING is special! ;))

I count several Hispano writers as big favourites, and at least one (Cervantes) speaks directly to my heart. Others include Arlt, Macedonio Fernández, Quevedo, Valle-Inclán, Unamuno and Ortega y Gasset (if non-fiction is allowed), César Vallejo, Sor Juana and Rosario Castellanos... I'm sure there will one day be more.

apr 8, 2011, 6:10pm

I also found a series of articles on a blog for the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors, entitled "What Bolaño Read." They don't easily link to each other, so I'll just post them one at a time.

What Bolaño Read: His top 5 and his top 5,000

Cortázar, without a doubt, should be kept in mind while reading 2666 (as should Cervantes). I read a quote a few months ago, I think it was by Juan José Saer, relating 2666 to a project defined by Cortázar in the 62nd chapter of Hopscotch and begun in the book 62: A Model Kit. I'll try and find the complete quote, and some more information about the connection between Cortázar and Bolaño.

I think it's also good to keep in mind that Bolaño only started writing novels later in life, after writing poetry during his younger years. His citation of poets like Sor Juana and Jorge Manrique is somewhat "obvious," considering their importance to the canon of Hispanic literature. In many cases, they've not been as successful in other languages. He had an article in Entre paréntesis pondering why, for example, Góngora and Quevedo are often considered to be amongst the greatest writers in the Spanish language, when they're relatively unknown outside of that language. In comparison, a man like William Shakespeare wrote plays that are popular around the world, whatever the language. As I recall, he concludes that Shakespeare's plays (and other universally-loved works) are great stories, stories that any human being could love; whereas the aforementioned poets are loved for the heights to which they elevated the Spanish language in poetry. More a question of language versus content.

Anyway, it was also a surprise to see him list A Confederacy of Dunces as one of his favorites...I liked that book a lot when I read it five or six years ago.

apr 8, 2011, 6:12pm

Thanks for getting a thread going!

1+2: I did not read Savage Detectives until last year because, well, too many people were reading it before then. I should have read it earlier as it was fantastic. That is why I am on board for 2666.

3: I've read Javier Marias, Isabel Allende, Alvaro Mutis, Borges and Marquez. I look forward to reading more from writers who write in Spanish and have a few sitting on my shelves. (Books not writers!)

apr 8, 2011, 6:17pm

3: Hi Lola! It's nice to meet you. I've noticed, and I've been meaning to mention this to you, that whenever I add a particularly interesting book to my library, it seems that without fail, you're listed as owning it. This week it was Vies imaginaires by Marcel Schwob. I'm very jealous of your awesome library!

I am also a huge Roberto Arlt fan. And Macedonio's Elena Bellamuerte is one of my favorite poems. He's a tough nut to crack, and I really struggled with Museo de la Novela de la Eterna earlier this year. Here and there, though, I'd find something that really, really caught my interest. I want to believe that he is something like a real-life incarnation of Pierre Menard, and that his abandonment of home and family after his wife's death was done to recreate in Buenos Aires the life lived by Don Quijote. I would like this to be true, whether it is or not.

apr 8, 2011, 6:24pm

I was lucky in that the U of Toronto has almost everything published by Fernández (he is practically non-existent in the current market) and tons of secondary material. His philosophical papers are marvellously interesting and provide, I think, the best framework for understanding his fiction. But there is also the ineffable dimension of a born surrealist and street person, and that is best grasped from the recollections of those who loved him.

Redigerat: apr 8, 2011, 6:55pm

5: Welcome! I read a book of short stories (Cuando fui mortal) by Javier Marías last year and really liked it. He actually reminds me a bit of Mr. Bolaño. I just (regrettably) returned another one of his books to the library, because it kept getting put aside and it was due back. I was less enthusiastic about Álvaro Mutis's Amirbar, but I think I need to read some more books by him before passing judgement.

Bolaño diverges from the whole García Márquez school of "magically real" literature. However, I think you'd have to keep in mind the excessive popularity of Márquez during Bolaño's life and literary career, and how that might have effected his writing. Márquez may have inspired him to provide the world with a different sort of literature from Latin America. I think in the battle of "Boom" writers, Bolaño would definitely be aligned with Cortázar, although that's not to say he didn't read and appreciate García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, José Donoso, et cetera. He mentioned them all, in somewhat positive terms, in the book I just read. I get the feeling he liked them and thought they were good writers, but they didn't always inspire him.

No love lost between Allende and Bolaño, though. I've only read Hija de la fortuna and Ciudad de las bestias and while the depiction of Valparaiso in the former pleased me greatly, the story didn't hold my interest when it moved to California. I think the two are like apples and oranges, and some people just really don't like one or the other. I don't eat many apples, but I can understand why some people like them. Actually, maybe apples versus strawberries. Because fresh strawberries are (in my opinion) clearly better than apples. And I feel the same way about Bolaño.

Borges is actually a good example of a guy who writes in Spanish and whose literature HAS been able to cross linguistic boundaries. More on him later...

apr 8, 2011, 7:13pm

What Bolaño Read: Antipoetry

Nicanor Parra is a Chilean poet who is often mentioned (I like to throw his name out there) as a potential Latin American Nobel Prize Candidate. His worldview reminds me an awful lot of that of Kurt Vonnegut, one of my childhood heroes and fellow Hoosier. His Poemas y antipoemas is a book divided into three parts. They roughly correspond to poetry that is 1) Anti-Mistral, 2) Anti-Neruda, and 3) Anti-Parra. In the past I've enjoyed poetry more in theory than in practice, and this is one of the books that opened my eyes to the pleasure of good verse.

This line, which is quoted in the above link, is also quite interesting:

Chile’s four great poets
are three:
Alonso de Ercilla and Rubén Darío.

Its humor lies (in part) in the fact that Chileans often tell people about their country's four great poets: Huidobro, Mistral, Neruda and Parra (or some slight variation, sometimes replacing Parra with another poet). Ercilla and Darío are both connected to Chile, but neither are Chilean. Bolaño mentions it as being a reinterpretation of a line by none other than Vicente Huidobro:

The four cardinal directions
are three:
North and South.

Or something like that (which has its own significance in the whole movement of Latin American artistic liberation). Bolaño, a man who was very true to his Hispanic literary heritage, certainly appreciated a line like Parra's, which recognizes tradition and cleverly turns it on its head.

I also think that Alonso de Ercilla, the Spanish soldier/poet who wrote the great Chilean epic La Araucana, in which he recounts the battles between Mapuches and Spaniards during the colonial conquest of Chile, is also an important figure to keep in mind while reading Bolaño's rather-epic novel.

apr 8, 2011, 7:57pm

I read this article when I was just getting to know the books of Roberto Bolaño, so the idea that he might not have been in Chile in 1973 has always been in the back of my mind:

A Chilean Writer's Fictions Might Include His Own Colorful Past

It's rather depressing to think about, and I think I'd prefer if it remains unconfirmed. The military coup was such a watershed moment in Chilean and Latin American history, and lying about being there and participating in the resistence is not cool. I was having a discussion the other day in another group about how important an author's moral standing is when reading their books (i.e. should I continue refusing to read books by Camilo José Cela since he was a fascist informant), and I concluded that I could allow myself to read his books, but that I'd not be able to forget the author behind them as I read. Maybe I could say the same here, and maybe I even slightly enjoy the ambiguity of not knowing who the author really was. I'd be interested to see the reaction if this were ever confirmed.

As for the drug use, I'm inclined to say I don't really care either way. That seems minor in comparison. When I read Playa it seemed like fiction to me.

apr 8, 2011, 8:46pm

What Bolaño Read: The Literature of Silence

Bolaño read and enjoyed Kafka, Juan Rulfo and Rimbaud...this comes as no great surprise. I wonder if he ever read any J.D. Salinger, whose name I saw mentioned in comparison to Rulfo a few times in the Latin American press after Salinger's passing. He certainly loved North American literature, so I bet he did...

Redigerat: apr 8, 2011, 8:56pm

What Bolaño Read: The Fake Encyclopedia

He mentions Schwob a lot in Entre paréntesis, and I was very intrigued. I got a copy of Vies imaginaires and started reading it. As a Borges fan, I've found it thus far to be nothing short of mind-blowing. It's like reading certain Borges stories, but they were written before Borges was even born (maybe he was born at that time, I'm not sure). I'm now tentatively planning a little swoop through fake encyclopedias, ending with Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas, providing I can find a copy of Wilcock's Sinagoga degli iconoclasti. I'll try and find a copy of the author's preface to Imaginary Lives to post here...

apr 8, 2011, 10:13pm

Dear Msjohns,

I regret not reading along--it's strictly financial. I have Savage Detectives but not 2666 and cannot afford to order 2666. I will follow the discussion,though, as I have found writers south of the US to be extremely inspiring. I think you will find some readers reluctant to admit that their favorites are the ordinary extraordinaires like Garcia Marquez and Cortazar, and too many who don't leave the relatively shallow Allende off their lists; both are extremes. I love Arlt, and readily admit paying him homage in my first published novel, though i believe every single reviewer missed that and instead thought me more innovative than I was. Hopscotch, or, if I remember correctly Rayuela, is a permanent stain on my brain. Mutis, who you are unsure of is my absolute favorite these days, these last several years. and I hope you try the NYRB collection of 7 of his novels.
I know little about Bolano except that he seemed to suddenly become quite popular and necessary to know about. That did not get me reading him because I know people who fit that description and I read them instead. but one of these writers, Sesshu Foster, author of Atomik Azteks, sent me Savage Detectives...Now it's on my list--not 2666 by chance alone.
I will try to get it soon nonetheless, on the black, and if not will simply enjoy such questions as Can any Mexican writer NoT be influenced by Rulfo and still be worth a shit...

apr 8, 2011, 10:33pm

13: Welcome! I think it's worth noting that Bolaño was a great lover of North American fiction and it's by no means necessary to limit ourselves to discussion of Latin American authors...for instance, it would be very interesting to read this book and analyze it in relation to Moby Dick, which I haven't read since high school.

I do have a compilation of Mutis's Maqroll books, but it's big and unwieldy and maybe that's why I haven't tried any of his others yet. It seems silly to check something out of the library that I already have in print, but maybe that's what I'll have to do. Any recommendations on a good place to begin?

Can any Mexican writer not be influenced by Rulfo and still be worth a shit? Why not? Pose the same question regarding any North American author and F. Scott Fitzgerald (or any number of others).

apr 8, 2011, 10:54pm

good point, although Rulfo seems to have a unique space in the south of the u.s. brain...who knows..
Mutis is in the hands of the borrowers, but i think Ilona Comes with the Rain would convtince any doubters--though he's a lot like Cendrars in that he has a hook--for some it is immediate, for others it may never even slash towards them...

Moby Dick again: another book off with the borrowers, but I've read it three times and love it more each time. did Bolan0 specifically read it and admire it?

apr 9, 2011, 1:09pm

Hi Matt, I'm coming along for the ride and it will be a ride for me as:
1) My reasons for reading the book are that it's sitting on my desk and the paperback copy that I have has a cut out section showing what I take to be an evil eye underneath staring up at me. It's reputation of course makes me want to read it
2) I know very little about Roberto Bolano, only what I have read on wiki etc. I have not read any of his other books.
3) Hispanic literature is a black hole for me.

Still one has got to start somewhere and although this book might not be the best place to start, I am hoping at least it will send my reading spinning off in yet another direction.

apr 9, 2011, 3:45pm

Thanks for all these links. I'd like to follow along too. I've had a book by G. Cabrera Infante forever. Maybe 2666 will help me finally read it. I didn't see him mentioned above. Does he rate with those you've all mentioned?

apr 9, 2011, 5:58pm

I liked Cabrera Infante's Three trapped tigers very much. Passionate, zesty storytelling with a nostalgic bolero motif--it feels like the book he poured his best into. Some stories I read later on didn't impress me as much, although I'd always try him.

But this reminded me of another great favourite, also a Cuban--Alejo Carpentier, in all of whose books music plays a part.

Redigerat: apr 10, 2011, 5:47am

1. I've read this book 1.8 times. The 0.8 is due to my skipping one section ("The Part About the Crimes") in my reread. I want to pick it up again.

2. I have read all of Bolaño's books in translation--14 books to date. Since I started reading The Savage Detectives, I decided to collect his books. As I'm a huge fan, I opened up a Bolaño group in Shelfari and started a reading challenge of his books.

3. I've started reading a lot of writers in Spanish 3 yrs. ago when I began reading Bolaño. My favorites are Cesar Aira's fiction (I loved everything that's been translated, especially The Hare), Borges's stories, the complete works of Rulfo (The Burning Plain and Other Stories and Pedro Paramo), Blow-Up and Other Stories by Cortazar, and the prose of Javier Marias (A Heart So White, Dark Back of Time). Recently, I finished Don Quixote (John Rutherford translation) which was full of wonders.

Redigerat: apr 9, 2011, 7:10pm

15: as I understand it, Bolaño had a lot of love for Moby Dick. I'll search for some more information on the connection between Melville and Bolaño on Monday. The search for an elusive and mythical author (a white whale of sorts) is a common theme in a lot of Bolaño's works...Carlos Weider in Estrella distante and César Vallejo in Monsieur Pain are two examples that come to mind.

@16, 17: Hello to both of you...I hope you enjoy the book!

18: I too enjoyed Tres tristes tigres. I recall it being a difficult read, but as I think about it, there were some really cool parts to that book. I liked the story of the husband and wife vacationing in Havana a lot, I remember laughing a lot as I read it.

And Lola, I share your love of Alejo Carpentier 100%. He's amazing, and both Los pasos perdidos and El siglo de las luces are in my rotation of books that I plan to re-read every couple of years. I learned recently that he was brought up speaking French, and Spanish was his second language. Yet he wrote so beautifully in Spanish. I've always compared him in my mind with Nabokov. Brilliant, brilliant men, who wrote great fiction and were also great academics. Nabokov had his butterflies, and Carpentier had his study of Cuban music (and music in general).

apr 9, 2011, 9:30pm

Hey all. Matt, thanks for doing this! You seem pretty damn well suited to lead. I'm excited.

1/2. I'm almost a blank slate where Bolaño's concerned. (So I really appreciate the orientation links.) Aware of his name, of course, and that he'd become increasingly reputed, and so I saw the Salon read basically as an opportunity to banish ignorance.

3. Again, fairly unversed in Latin American lit. I've read and loved most of Borges; I liked 100 Years of Solitude, didn't so much esteem Conversation in the Cathedral, and one of my very very favourite books, from the other side of the South American language divide, is Clarice Lispector's Hour of the Star. Pretty superficial. Looking forward to digging deeper!

apr 11, 2011, 5:12pm

21: thanks for the encouragement, and welcome! I hope you enjoy 2666. I've had copies of two Clarice Lispector books checked out from the library for months and haven't gotten around to them yet. I am, to put it mildly, quite excited to read them.

15: here's the beginning of Bolaño's essay on Melville and Twain. In Spanish, it's called Nuestro guía en el desfiladero...Our guide across the narrow pass, or something like that:

Every American novelist, including those who write in Spanish, at some moment in his life is able to make out the silhouettes of two books against the horizon, which are two paths, two structures and, most importantly, two stories. At times: two destinies. One is Moby Dick, by Melville, and the other is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.

The first is the key to those territories that, out of convention or convenience, we shall call the territories of evil, where man comes face to face with himself and with the unknown and generally ends up defeated; the second is the key to adventure or to happiness, a less-delimited territory, humble and innumerable, in which the character or the characters set everyday life in motion, let it unfold, and the results are unforseeable and, at the same time, recognizable and familiar.

We know that not everyone can be Ismael and only one in every fifty million can be Captain Ahab. We know this and it doesn't disturb us, although if we really think about it, it should. But we delegate. Huckleberry Finn, on the other hand, could be anyone, and this fact, which should make him more dear to us, if possible, horrifies us with that species of horror with which we sometimes remember some passages of our adolescence, an adolescence, Huck's and our own, full of vigor and of curiosity, full of ignorance and enthusiasm, when the act of lying wasn't a custom lightly censured by something that with difficulty could be called morality, but rather the most effective way to survive, in one way or another, on the Mississippi or on the turbulent and moveable river of our formless lives, that is to say our youth, when we, like Huck, were still poor and free.

All American writers drink from these two shimmering wells. Everyone enters these two jungles in search of their own lost face. Courage, audacity and the happiness of the man who has nothing to lose, or the man who has a great deal to lose but whose generosity or madness impels him to risk everything, with an elegance that has nothing in common with European elegance (that is to say, with the European point of view or the European literary form): these gentlemen are completely American, an impossibility, however you look at it, a voluntary act and an entelechy that neither Melville nor Twain construct consciously (at least not Twain), but which stands on its own two feet in an automatic fashion during the hunt for the whale, on that terrible ship full of motley individuals, and in the trip down the waters of the Mississippi. These are the founding fathers. From Homer to Whitman and from Whitman to the troubles of a slave and the madness of the captain of a whaler. Without transition, without method, in the manner of the new and indomitable world.

What was Melville trying to tell us? That is an enigma that to this day remains in the darkness because Melville is an enigma and also a writer of greater depth than Twain. What was Twain trying to tell us? Many things, all reasonably decodified: that life is only worth living in adolescence and that adolescence, the territory of immaturity, can be prolonged as far as the liberty of the individual is prolonged. At first glance it doesn't seem like much from a founding father. And it isn't unless the discourse (which is the discourse of Thoreau and of Rousseau, who was a venomous father) is supported with vigor and with humor, terrains on which Mark Twain has no equal: his vigor, which is supported by everyday speech and turns of phrase, is unique, and his sense of humor is of the very darkest sort.

apr 11, 2011, 8:17pm

4: I found that quote relating 2666 to Cortázar's Rayuela and 62: modelo para armar. It was from an interview with Ricardo Piglia, not Juan José Saer:

--Because he always cited Borges, Di Benedetto, Puig and Cortázar, some people say that he was an excellent Argentine author. In your opinion, how important is the relationship that he had with the narrative literature of your country?

--(Piglia) He was very familiar with Argentine literature. In fact, I've always thought that 2666, among many other things, is an extraordinary commentary, both elliptical and displaced, on 62: A Model Kit and the 62nd chapter of Rayuela. To me, this type of tension and dialogue between traditions defines what is happening today in Spanish language literature.

apr 11, 2011, 8:49pm

And here's a translation of Chapter 62 of Rayuela:

For a time Morelli had considered writing a book whose form remained in loose notes. That which most clearly described it is the following: "Psychology, words with an air of age and maturity. A Swede is working on a chemical theory of thought. Chemistry, electromagnetism, secret flows of life force, it all comes to strangely evoke the notion of mana; thus, in the margins of social conduct, an interaction of a different nature could be suspected, a billiard ball that some individuals sustain or suffer, a drama without Oedipus, without Rastignac, without Phaedra, a drama impersonal in the measure that the consciences and the passions of its actors only come to be compromised a posteriori. As if the subliminal levels were those that linked and unlinked the ball of yarn made up of the group of individuals compromised in the drama. Or, to give the Swede his due: as if certain individuals affected the profound chemistry of others and vice versa, such that the most curious and inquieting chain reactions came to pass, fissions and transmutations.

In such a situation, a genial extrapolation is enough to postulate a group of humans who believe themselves to react psychologically in the classic sense of that old, old word, but who don't represent anything more than an instance of that flow of inanimate material, of the infinite interaction of what we formerly called desires, sympathies, volitions, convictions, and which here appear as something irreducible to all reason and to all description: inhabiting, foreign forces that advance in an attempt to obtain their right to exist; a search superior to our own selves as individuals, that brings us together for its own ends, a dark necessity to evade the homo sapiens state, moving toward... what homo? Because sapiens is another old, old word, one of those that must be deeply and thoroughly cleansed before attempting to use it with any certain meaning.

If I were to write that book, standard behaviors (including those most bizarre, that most privileged category) would be unexplainable through customary psychological instruments. The actors would appear insane or completely idiotic. They wouldn't show themselves totally incapable of the usual behaviors of challenge and response: love, jealousy, piety and so on; rather, in their persons, a thing that homo sapiens guards in the subliminal plane would open laboriously as a pathway, as if a third eye were laboriously blinking below the frontal bone. Everythying would exist as an inquietude, an unease, a continuous uprootment, a territory where psychological causality would give way disconcertedly, and the puppets would destroy each other or love each other or acknowledge each other, only rarely suspecting that life attempts to change its key in and through and for them, that a hardly-conceivable attempt is being born in man as in other times were born the key-of-reason, the key-of-sentiment, the key-of-pragmatism. That in each successive defeat there lies a rapproachment to the final mutation, and that man is not, rather he seeks to be, designs to be, grasping between words and behaviors and happiness splattered with blood and other rhetorics such as this."

apr 11, 2011, 9:21pm

I'm in for this read.

I picked it up on a couple of interesting reviews having read nothing else of Bolano.

I'm pretty new to Hispanic literature, though it's an area I want to explore more. I've been working my way through a collectecd works of Ruben Dario and have a few others in the TBR.

apr 11, 2011, 1:03am

I've read 1/3 of 2666, when the book was taken from me! My wife has read the whole thing. I'll follow along periodically, but probably won't have time to read. You've got a fascinating thread going; I love his thoughts on Twain and Melville. Cool stuff all the way around!

apr 11, 2011, 2:39am

msjohns615, thanks for taking this on. Fascinating thread so far. I can't join the read, as I am stuck in the sewers of Paris, and imagine I will be there for some time.

I am woefully under-read in South American lit. It will have to stay that way for this year.

apr 12, 2011, 4:35am

I've got too much going on, reading-wise, to get into 2666 again just yet, but I absolutely love the book and I'll certainly follow all y'all's discussion. I had a great time doing likewise with Infinite Jest a little while ago and I look forward to seeing what all you smart people have to say about this (much more confusing) book.

apr 12, 2011, 1:25pm

@25-28: Hi everyone! It's nice to see that so many people are interested in this book, and I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts. I'm really excited to read this book with people who aren't overly familiar with Latin American literature, because you'll notice different things and find meaning in different places.

apr 12, 2011, 1:52pm

Finishing up on the series of articles on Bolaño's literary influences:

What Bolaño Read: Philosophy

What Bolaño Read: French Lit

What Bolaño Read: The Americans

What Bolaño Read: The Spaniards

As I read these, I come to realize that it might be better to call this series "What Bolaño mentioned reading in the texts that make up Entre paréntesis." Nonetheless, they do give a great representation of the breadth of his literary influences. I'll try to include a bit of his essay comparing Cervantes to his generation of Latin American authors in a post in the next couple of days.

apr 12, 2011, 2:11pm

I think you can compile a long and significant list of what Bolaño read from his own books--not inferences, but references. The first part of The Savage Detectives is especially rich in them.

apr 12, 2011, 2:39pm

31: Good point, Lola. You're making me wonder if I might just be able to squeeze in a read of Los detectives salvajes before getting down to 2666...

Here's a short story about Bolaño's epistolary relationship with another writer as they both enter short story competitions in Spain:

Sensini--Roberto Bolaño

This is a semi-autobiographical story, and Sensini is the Argentine author Antonio di Benedetto. The title of his most famous book, Zama, is altered in this story to become Ugarte. Considering that there is an extended search for an elusive author in 2666, his relationship with di Benedetto was perhaps influential in his creation of Archimboldi.

apr 12, 2011, 3:35pm

I'm in and enjoying it so far. The fantastical aspects of it remind me of Borges. Create a fantasy on academia (in the first section, at any rate) then riff on it. One of my favorite subjects. This is the first Bolano I've read.

apr 12, 2011, 4:16pm

33: In that case, I can virtually guarantee you would enjoy Savage Detectives, too. I am expecting 2666 to be quite a bit darker.

The end of S.D. thematically and geographically seems like it was pointed toward 2666.

Redigerat: apr 14, 2011, 7:06pm

I can't wait to discuss this book. It hits many Salon obsessions right off the bat: Baudelaire, the weather, authors off the beaten path, academia, the level of attention afforded to English lit vs other lit, lit in translation, the craft of writing, getting published, self-publishing, marketing, friendship, and on and on.

There is a three-page or so run on sentence in a widow's account of a long-past visit to Argentina that works perfectly. All this and I am but 23 pages in!

apr 14, 2011, 6:34pm

msjohns, am enthralled by all those articles about Bolano's reading. That tipped me over the edge, actually, so I shall be reading along. Wasn't going to because it wasn't available on Kindle, but I've succumbed, and it promises to be quite a ride.

Redigerat: apr 14, 2011, 9:22pm

Here's an article about the influence of Jorge Luis Borges on the writing of Roberto Bolaño:

Borges, Bolaño and the Return of the Epic

I'm not crazy about the idea of putting too much importance on this relationship (there are just so many authors who were important to Bolaño), but I plan to have Fervor de Buenos Aires handy as I read 2666, and maybe I'll re-read The Congress as well. The author of this article mentions it, and it's such a great story anyway, so I'll enjoy reading it again and maybe I'll be able to find something connectable to Bolaño's book.

I'm not sure, though, that an epically-long novel is what Borges meant when he said he hoped that the epic would return...

apr 15, 2011, 2:39pm

Here's an exerpt from Bolaño's Discurso de Caracas, given when he won the Rómulo Gallegos prize:

...I remember that page of the Quijote in which the merits of military service and poetry are discussed, and I suppose that in the end what is being discussed is the degree of danger, which also speaks of the virtue inherent to the nature of both professions. And Cervantes, who was a soldier, causes military service to triumph, has the soldier triumph over the honorable profession of the poet, and if we read these pages well (which I am not doing now, as I write this discourse, although from the table where I'm writing I can see my two editions of the Quijote) we will perceive in them a strong aroma of melancholy, because Cervantes causes his own youth, the ghost of his passed youth, to triumph over the reality of his exercises in prose and in poetry, up to that point so adverse. And this comes to mind because to a large degree everything that I've written is a love letter or a farewell letter to my own generation, those of us who were born in the fifties and who chose in a given moment the exercise of military service, in this case it would more correct to say militancy, and we made our small contribution, our great contribution, which was our youth, to a cause which we believed to be the most generous of causes in this world, and in a certain way it was, but in reality it was not. It goes without saying that we fought tooth and nail, but those in charge were corrupt, our leaders were cowards, a propaganda machine that was worse than a leper colony, we fought for parties that, if they had won, would have sent us immediately to a forced labor camp, we fought and we placed all of our generosity in an ideal that had been dead for more than fifty years, and some of us knew it, and how couldn't we have known it if we had read Trotsky or if we were Trotskyites, but we did it just the same, because we were stupid and generous, as young people are, they give everything and don't ask for anything in return, and now nothing remains of those young people, those who didn't die in Bolivia died in Argentina or Peru, and those who survived went to die in Chile or Mexico, and those who weren't killed there were killed afterward in Nicaragua, in Columbia, in El Salvador. The bones of those forgotten young people have been sown across all of Latin America. And this is the mechanism that moves Cervantes to elect military service to the discredit of poetry. His fellow soldiers were also dead. Or old and abanoned to misery and neglect. To choose was to choose youth and choose the defeated and choose those who had nothing left. And that's what Cervantes does, he chooses youth. And even in this melancholy debility, in this emptiness of the soul, Cervantes is the most lucid, because he knows that writers don't need anyone to sing the virtues of their profession. We sing its praises ourselves. At times our way of doing so is to damn the dark hour in which we decided to be writers, but as a general rule, we tend to applaud ourselves and dance when we are alone, because this is a solitary profession, and we recite our pages to ourselves and that is our way of singing our praises and we don't need anyone else to tell us what we must do and even less for the results of a survey to show that our profession has been elected as the most honorable of all professions...

apr 15, 2011, 7:26pm

i have the book. it's in india and will be hand delivered by my wife this wednesday

apr 15, 2011, 7:32pm

When is everybody else starting this? I am tearing through it and trying to remember things worth discussing.

38: Depressing, but a pleasure to read.

39: Hallelujah!

apr 15, 2011, 9:48pm


That's terribly strained. Really bad reading of Cervantes. Do you have a link to the original?

apr 15, 2011, 10:05pm

41: Here you go:

Discurso de Caracas

Well, in his defense, he does mention that he's not reading Cervantes as he prepares this speech...why do you think this is a bad reading of Cervantes? I'm far from an expert on El Quijote, although I do aspire to be one, as it has been my favorite book I've read in my adult life. I can see how the comparison is a stretch (Cervantes's military exploits versus the militancy of Bolaño), but would you care to expound on the matter?

apr 15, 2011, 10:13pm

Thanks for the link. I'm leaving now, but quickly--it simply doesn't work, not as a historical (biographical) comparison nor, frankly, rhetorically. Be back later...

apr 16, 2011, 2:22pm

Well, that was one bizarre speech--you must wonder whether he wasn't pulling everybody's leg... Not something I'd hold up as a shining example of oratory. Anyway, it was a mistake to shoehorn Cervantes' military experience into his mea culpa, when his 20th century leftist youthful idealism reeks of the literary fiction of Quijote. As for the soldier-poet debate, Bolaño's interpretation is doubtful in what he thinks Cervantes thought, and intended, for himself and his character. It is natural that Quijote upholds martial valour, knightly ideals and so on--but these are the very foibles Cervantes is making fun of. No, not merely deriding; there is eternal tension in the conflict between the ideals and the degrading reality (that of war included), and that makes for the pathos of Quijote--but in no way can one just conclude Cervantes "sided" with his character on this.

Of course, I dare say Bolaño is as much entitled to his opinion as I am to mine ;), and really, that speech is too weird a construction to take seriously... perhaps one "had to be there" to understand why he was saying what he said.

apr 16, 2011, 3:05pm

I took it as about tilting at windmills, but avoiding the phrase.

apr 16, 2011, 11:54pm

I have read the first 50 pages and I am delighted to find that the first part of the book is a literary detective story. First off it made me think of A S Byatt's Possession. I am enjoying the humour and Bolano's ability to tell a good story within a story: the horse racing sequence and Morini's dream. There are interesting thoughts on writing and critics and the strangely aloof world of academia. I am sure I am going to enjoy this and I am looking forward to tomorrows 50 pages.

Redigerat: apr 18, 2011, 1:07pm

44: Thanks for the thoughtful explanation! I think I agree with you about the perils of extending Don Quijote's feelings on the issue to Cervantes himself.

I guess, in an attempt to somewhat justify his line of thought, It might be possible to draw a connection between Cervantes fighting for a Spain in decline whose shining moment (Granada, 1492) was receding into the past, and the Latin American left-wing youth fighting for a cause whose greatest glory (Russia, 1917) was also long gone; there's also something downright quixotic about fighting for a communist ideal in the degraded political reality of the 1960s and 70s...anyway, it is an odd speech. Maybe he's trying to convey what it feels like to grow up with dyslexia. Colombia, Bogotá, Venezuela, Caracas, Rómulo Gallegos, Canaima, Bolívar, Cantaclaro...Cauquenes, Bío Bío. If I were listening to this speech, I'd probably be very confused.

I'm hoping that, if all goes well and I get some things done this week, I'll be able to start reading 2666 this weekend. I'm sure looking forward to it!

apr 18, 2011, 7:41pm

Recent headlines, somewhat relevant:

At Mexico Morgue, Families of Missing Seek Clues

Mass Graves Raise Concerns About Brazen Gangs Kidnapping Mexican Migrants

Victor Toro, Tortured in Chile, Fights Deportation

apr 19, 2011, 6:56pm

good christ! i just got 2666--it's enormous...i'll try, but I'm already tired.

apr 19, 2011, 7:06pm

Here's another interesting interview of Bolaño by the Mexican poet Carmen Boullosa:

Carmen Boullosa interviews Roberto Bolaño

apr 19, 2011, 7:07pm

We need a thread for Part 1, The Part About The Critics. And maybe even Part 2, The Part About Amalfitano.

49: You will be energized when you read it, I think.

apr 20, 2011, 5:38am

i love it already--and i like a book that's a block. also it has about 73 blurbs. tonight i will list the highlights, such as

blindingly obvious
2666 makes difficult sexy
extraordinary glamour

and my favorite:

the kind of novel borges might have been happy to have written

okay, i'm done, forget tonight

apr 20, 2011, 4:51pm

2666 makes difficult sexy ... it sounded sort of "engrish" to me until I looked at it twice.

apr 20, 2011, 5:26pm

"might have been happy to have written" ~ No comment.

apr 20, 2011, 5:40pm

I think Bolano was a confident enough writer that he does not need to go out of his way to show he's clever contra, say, David Foster Wallace. And, he is able to keep several narrative threads charging ahead, and slip in some Oulipoisms (for instance, a conversation described by toting up how many times certain words were employed.) You do get the impression in this and Savage Det.s that he was awfully well read and loved a broad spectrum of prose and poetry, not just his own.

apr 20, 2011, 7:55pm

i loved that conversation

and, among others, this:

...as if a breath of foul air had wafted into a commercial for sanitary pads...

a sentence that bridges Onetti and Antunes in my head

But be careful disparaging DFW: I haven't got Infinite Chest yet, but folks hereabouts convinced me i must read it. 2666 won the race.

oulipoisms? did you put that on the word thread?

apr 21, 2011, 11:35am

First thoughts.

I finished the first part of 2666 last night; The part about the critics. After enjoying this I wondered where the book was going and what it would be about. Reading the various reviews on the net the overwhelming conclusion seems to be that nobody really knows what the book is about. There will be no unifying story or major theme. That's OK for now having accepted that I can get on and enjoy the parodies, the literary jokes and some excellent writing. Of course serious issues are raised by the book, but its high modernist style means that the reader will need to garner from it what he can without relying on Bolano to do that for him/her.

Interesting discussions ahead no doubt

apr 21, 2011, 3:39pm

Hmm, no unifying story or theme? Can't agree with that. Even on the most superficial, "plot" level, the path of the mysterious Archimboldi at least touches on the places and people in all parts of the book.

Bolaño writes from deep inside Mexico. Maybe shifting the POV to this inner Mexico of his helps to discern how the themes connect?

Redigerat: apr 21, 2011, 12:06am

And there's a Piero and a Lola! Nipples, too.

I wouldn't put down Wallace. Most vividly-drawn characters I can think of. Many fun aspects to writing, plotting and treatment of themes. But, he does go out of his way in an effort to show he is clever. Sometimes a bit strained. Granted he makes it work more often than not. But, that is my opinion.

apr 22, 2011, 2:31pm

This would be the perfect time for a savage riposte since I haven't read the book yet or anything at all by him yet; so, Slick: Who taught you how to read?

apr 22, 2011, 3:22pm

How *did* everyone learn to read? That might be an interesting thread topic.

There was an article someone on Facebook posted yesterday saying that "Hyperlexia" was an actual dysfunction (like ADHD or something) and that kids should not learn to read too early (well the study it was mocking said that, actually the article was making fun of the idea that reading a lot at a young age is pathological behavior). I guess I am now officially crazy because my mother taught me how to read using Montessori methodology at age 3 1/2.

apr 22, 2011, 4:27pm

I never thought of myself as a bad reader until I found this group; not actually bad, but a bit lazy, rather mediocre...unless I really love the author. But here quite a few are writing reviews on their own blogs--I read tmurr's fun with Victor review: what energy you all have...

apr 22, 2011, 5:01pm

59: My Mom! Phonics.

Now, teaching my own kids I have to ask: Why must English letters have a "name" that is different from the sound they usually make? And, why are so many children's products oriented around upper case letters when most of the time you see a letter it is in its lower case incarnation?

I now am well into The Part About Amalfitano. Is the Duchamp bit true? Does anybody have great insight regarding the diagrams Amalfitano is drawing "automatically"?

apr 22, 2011, 5:24pm

shit! you saw the insult...

Slip: check out the new thread.

apr 24, 2011, 1:02pm

Amalfitano, despite initially being virtually dismissed by the three travellers, emerges as the most interesting voice. Part 11 is called The Part about Amalfitano. Where is the mystery in the book's construction?

Redigerat: apr 25, 2011, 2:51pm

I pulled the book off the shelf this past Friday...do the English versions have the note from the author's estate at the beginning? It explains how he left explicit instructions to have the five books of 2666 published separately, one a year, so that his children would be provided for by future book sales. Then, right after his death, Jorge Herralde, Ignacio Echevarría et al. decided not to respect their recently-deceased friend's wish, and they went ahead and publish it all at once. I wonder how things would have been different had this very, very big book been released as five smaller books instead?

Anyway, I'd set my book next to my bed on Friday afternoon, thinking I'd probably start reading it on Saturday morning. My girlfriend and I then went out to meet up with some friends, and I ended up consuming some alcoholic beverages...upon returning home, I thought, "hmm...I'm gonna go ahead and read the first paragraph now." The mention of Archimboldi's trilogy of three books, an English novel, a French novel and a Polish novel brought to my intoxicated mind the following three Argentine writers (except one isn't quite Argentine):

English novel: Jorge Luis Borges. He loved Anglo-Saxon literature, he was fluent in English, and Archimboldi's novel is called El jardín, which brought to mind Borges´s El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan.

Polish novel: Wytold Gombrowicz. Gombrowicz spent the years 1941-1963 in exile in Buenos Aires, and while there translated Ferdydurke into Spanish with the help of a circle of writers living in Buenos Aires, including the Cuban author Virgilio Piñera. Bolaño was a big fan of Ferdydurke.

French novel: Julio Cortázar. Cortázar spent the last three decades of his life in France. In his most famous novel, Rayuela, a group of erudite adults are obsessed with an elusive author named Morelli.

Is it possible that these authors are somehow related to Archimboldi? Bolaño admired all three, so maybe when he went about creating his elusive German Nobel Prize candidate for a quartet of young academics to obsess over, he included bits and pieces of these three gentlemen.

I'm about 120 pages in at this point, and I'm enjoying the book. I like its episodic form. On Sunday, I got up and sat down to read, and I thought: "I should make some coffee." I kept on telling myself I'd read one more segment, then go to the kitchen and put on a pot. I really did want the coffee too: I thought it'd go well with the Sunday morning and the book. However, I probably read six or eight more segments before I was finally able to tear myself away from the book. I especially enjoyed the story about the old lady eating dinner with Archimboldi and the cultural promoter: her trip to Buenos Aires, the meat being loaded onto the boats, the races at the estancia, the young gaucho's anger and shame at losing the rigged race. It was a great anecdote. I'm also intrigued by the painter who chopped off his hand; as I recall, he'll be visited later in the first part.

I've got a lot more questions than answers at this point. I also remembered one more artist that Bolaño mentioned a few times in Entre Paréntesis: David Lynch. I think he has one article where he lists things that he likes to talk about with Rodrigo Fresán when they get together, and one of the items on their list is "David Lynch y el palabrerío de David Foster Wallace." The quote at the beginning of the book, "An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom," for some reason made me think of Lynch and his movies, mostly of Blue Velvet, which is the one I watched most recently. It seems to me that Lynch and Bolaño may have a similar way of looking at evil and darkness lurking below the surface.

apr 25, 2011, 1:26am

66> Yeah, there is that note from his estate at the beginning of the English version also.

I haven't taken the time yet to closely examine this Archimboldi, but there's undoubtedly disguised allusions pointing to the writers you mention and also pointing to them from the four Archimboldi scholars. Note who found what Archimboldi novel where, the name of the bookstore where it was found, in what city, et cetera, and there's probably enough of a rabbit trail to make some good conjectures as to who Bolano was paying homage to ...

Redigerat: apr 26, 2011, 5:53pm

I was futzing about at the Dalkey website and learned of this short piece on Manuel Puig by Natasha Wimmer, translator of Bolanyo. I am always curious how a translator's personal writing style differs, if at all, from their translations. Of course, after taking on all this Bolanyo translation, his may have influenced hers an awful lot. Also addresses some of the different strains in Latin American writing that freqeuntly are addressed by Bolanyo in a semi-fictional fashion.

apr 26, 2011, 7:17pm

Regarding Archimboldi: beware when a writer pointedly says this is not who you think it is. I think it is definitely Archimboldi and you are all on the right track when you try to tease out who the writer is comprised of. And, yes, the Polish novel and Gombowicz makes a lot of sense.

apr 26, 2011, 8:19pm

69: I was thinking the opposite, that he was a - pastiche is not the right word but I think it is related to the word I am trying to think of - a more real than real creation drawn from a lot of sources and adding a bit of literary invention to the mix. Bolano is good at creating nearly real or more real than real authors, literary movements, books, events, etc.

apr 26, 2011, 9:00pm

I agree, which I suppose means I should have been more expansive. Pastiche is fine with me...I haven't looked at an Archimboldi for a long time, but I recall hyper-real fish, which I believe fits. Gombrowicz was a surreal fish, but perhaps in the hands of Bolan--where is that snake?--yo, he's a hypersurrealfinless fish.

apr 27, 2011, 6:57am

A "composite" of many writers? Larger than life. Physically Archimboldi is a giant. And his oeuvre is diverse enough to contain universes.

apr 27, 2011, 12:20pm

@68: thanks for that article, I enjoyed it...I have been meaning to read a copy of El beso de la mujer araña I bought last year, and this gave me extra reason to do so. This part cracked me up:

"Puig borrowed from their ranks to assemble a giddy MGM lineup of Boom writers for his friend the Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante. Cortázar was Hedy Lamarr (“Beautiful but icy and remote”); Fuentes was Ava Gardner (“Glamour surrounds her but can she act?”); García Márquez was Liz Taylor (“Beautiful face but such short legs”); Vargas Llosa was Esther Williams (“Oh so disciplined (and boring)”). He included himself, as Julie Christie: 'A great actress, but since she has found the right man for her (Warren Beatty) she doesn’t act anymore. Her luck in love matters is the envy of all the other MGM stars'.”

apr 27, 2011, 1:51pm

It seems that there are some options:

1) the possibility that the elements of many different writers can be identified and traced in the story of the critics and Archimboldi. Rick, you brought my attention to the guy's possible namesake: Giuseppe Arcimboldo (also spelled Arcimboldi), a 16th century Italian painter who made portraits where human faces were represented by all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Identifying, say, the Cortázar, the Onetti, the Gombrowicz in Archimboldi would then be like identifying the cucumber nose or the pear chin of one of Arcimboldi's portraits. The many identifiable parts, looked at as a whole, would be the portrait of a man, the reclusive German writer of 2666.

2) any attempt to identify these specific parts could be doomed to failure: for as much as we want to go along trying to flesh out the specific authors who may be "parts" of Archimboldi, the houses of cards we're constructing will eventually fall down and we'll be left wondering why it was ever a good idea to look for connections between Bolaño's creation and Bolaño's favorite authors (although, in a way, failure might lead us back to Cortázar).

3) there could indeed be a specific and sufficiently small set of authors who, together, are Benno von Archimboldi. The critics are successful academics, their dissection of Archimboldi's work has brought them fame in their academic circles and the respect of their colleagues. Maybe the pieces are there and they're big ones, waiting to be put together.

4) it seems that Rise in #72 is getting at a conception of Archimboldi/the author as a creator, a god-like figure who creates worlds. So we could look at the author as the God of his literary world. Then, would the critics, in their search for Archimboldi, also be searching, in a way, for their creator, for Mr. Bolaño himself? What about an Archimboldi-Bolaño connection?

Anyway, I'm almost done with the part about the critics. One thing I noticed is that the two long monologues, the one about the trip to Argentina with the horse races on the estancia, and Amalfitano's extended reflection on the state of Mexican letters, are almost equal distances from the beginning and the end of the first section, kind of like bookends. I may go back and read them again, because I enjoyed them both. They almost seem like dual "state of the union" addresses on contemporary Argentine and Mexican literature...

I'm happy to see the scene shift to Santa Teresa, and I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with Amalfitano and Fate in parts 2 and 3.

apr 27, 2011, 3:48pm

i know nothing of bolano (pardon the absent snake--it has simply fled), but I love idea number two, in the sense that the novel re-creates itself endlessly with critics trying uselessly to find Archimboldi in this manner...

Do you know why he put Ciudad Juarez further west?

apr 27, 2011, 6:30pm

I am a ways into The Part About Fate and can feel the book turning darker and darker. Savage Detectives was a picaresque that drew upon Bolano's own travels and adventures - the exterior aspects of his life. 2666 seems like it illuminates Bolano's interior as it was constituted at the time it was written.

How do you make the "nyuh" N? I could cut and paste but that gets old.

75: Is it under Texas - mapwise - and not Arizona?

apr 27, 2011, 8:01pm

If your browser is Firefox, use the EasyAccent addon:


Then the ñ can be typed with Ctrl+Shift+~ followed by n.

apr 27, 2011, 8:08pm

Ciudad Juarez is across from El Paso

Redigerat: apr 28, 2011, 3:44pm

How are we pronouncing this? I have a friend who started it, she said: twenty-six, sixty-six, which after a few seconds, I thought was nicer than what I thought was: two thousand six hundred and sixty-six. I suppose it could be two, six, six, six (the number of the beast!). It's funny because, regardless of the langauges we speak we mostly all recognize the same numbers, but they are differently lettered words when we write or speak them. Still, I wonder if there is an intentional ambiguity here...Do we know what Bolaño was calling it, at least in terms of the number grouping itself? Did he identify it as one number, four seperate ones, two conjoined?...it looks as though the comma was left out intentionally (if it's supposed to be pronounced the way I initially thought it was), but perhaps in Spanish it's different, having a thousands mark.

If this is a lame question, or if I've missed where it's discussed in this thread (or the internet), my humblest apologies.

Redigerat: apr 27, 2011, 2:59am

79: At least two previous Bolaño (success in putting the ~ using the keys in #77) novels referred to this number as a year in the future. But certainly a year with apocalyptic flavor because of 666. Not sure how the author pronounced it. Mentally I’m reading it twenty-six sixty-six. Though I think the futuristic and the apocalyptic sense made it correct any way one pronounces the number.

ETA: Another novel may indicate that it can refer to the number of pages of a history book.

apr 28, 2011, 11:13am

>79 DanMat: (i cant get the ~ over the n, but i learned from murr the > business) : i hope you will take on the lame questions because I already have the lame comments. i guessed before knowing anything that 2666 would be the number of bodies dead referred to. then i read the note at the end of my copy, which speaks as if definitively of the title as a year. But along with the opening declaration that what I have in my hands is not what B wanted but that's all right is the note's declaration that what I have in my hands is not really finished but that's all right. Both notes are strangely limp. I recall all the reading I did about Kafka and the non-burning, which was taken very seriously and discussed at length by Brod (I think)--and the very idea that maybe it was a violation inexcusable made it acceptable...In this case I would rather it were taken more seriously

apr 28, 2011, 12:46pm

76: another option is to add a Spanish language keyboard to your language bar (at least on a PC). Then you can just toggle to the Spanish keyboard and simply hit the colon/semicolon button for an ñ without the ctrl/shift/tilde business. This also makes typing accents much easier. However, if it's just an occasional Bolaño, it may not be worth all the keyboard toggling.

My question is, is there any way to touchstone works that contain accent marks in their titles?

79: I've thought of it two ways: "Dos mil seiscientos sesenta y seis" or "Veintiséis, sesenta y seis," which rolls off the tongue a bit smoother in my opinion. However you choose to say it, it's a very awkward title. I prefer not to say it out loud. A quick google search of "how do you pronounce 2666" brought up some interesting (and less interesting) results, including the following comment, which provides some justification for the extended pronunciation, although, who knows how Spanish speakers will be pronouncing years in 2666:

Native Chilean speaker here. The book is referred to as "Dos mil seiscientos sesenta y seis" by my Bolaño loving, literature degreed wife. We spell out phone numbers, not years. Also, if you were going to spell it out, you'd probably speak each individual digit "dos seis seis seis", not "veintiseis sesenta y seis."

Also, from www.newyorker.com

A reader poses an interesting question: How should we pronounce the title? I’ve been calling it “Twenty-Six Sixty-Six,” as if it were a year or part of a street address, as opposed to a quantity. The novel’s translator, Natasha Wimmer, has said that she has “no idea” how it should be pronounced, noting simply, “In Spanish, when you say a phone number, for example, it’d be “twenty-six sixty-six,’ not ‘two six six six.’” And then there’s the provocative subject header of an e-mail from another of our readers: “To 666”—demarcating the number of the beast. Are we slouching toward Bethlehem?

apr 28, 2011, 1:32pm

or dos 666, two devils/hells?

apr 28, 2011, 2:55pm

If I type Bolano is their anyone here who does not know to whom I am referring?

Redigerat: apr 28, 2011, 3:30pm

“To 666”—demarcating the number of the beast. Are we slouching toward Bethlehem?

I like this interpretation. Se non è vero, è ben trovato. Anyway, I don't mind the title being a bit of a mystery. As for pronouncing it--not that I do often--I go instinctively with the literal two-six-six-six.

apr 28, 2011, 3:36pm

>85 LolaWalser:: i posted over on 2012 about West's lamb/falcon. i wonder if you agree.

> 84: i've given up on the snake over the n. I usually figure a way to pretend i don't need to type Bolano.

> 82/83: now that you put it down it seems obvious

> 82: When is it all right to post observations that would be meaningless to those who haven't read a part of the book, or even to some degree spoil it? I haven't been involved in this type of read aside from the DD thread.

apr 28, 2011, 5:54pm

86: I'm not really sure what constitutes proper "spoiler" etiquette, but I'd say go ahead and post away. Sometimes it's possible to talk about things in a way that doesn't give away too much, while at the same time making it clear what you're talking about. That might be good.

In any case, I, for one, won't be offended...

apr 28, 2011, 6:35pm

Here's an interesting article about the book. It sheds some light on how Bolaño was able to write about the murders in Ciudad Juárez in such detail:

Alone Among the Ghosts: Roberto Bolaño's 2666

Redigerat: apr 28, 2011, 6:38pm

I finished the part about the critics and read the first thirty pages of the part about Amalfitano. Some thoughts:

The final conversation between Espinosa and Pelletier about the prospects of finding Archimboldi seem to point toward a more god-like (or devil-like) entity. What does that make Santa Teresa? Does this have something to do with the fact that the city in question isn't a real city (Ciudad Juárez) but a fictional representation of a real city? Also, does anybody happen to be familiar with the work of Santa Teresa de Jesús? I bought her Libro de la vida last year but haven't gotten to it.

Peregrinations: Amalfitano's wife has a very bizarre trip to San Sebastián to visit a poet who's interned in the Mandragón asylum. Morini, Pelletier and Espinosa make a trip to go see another artist, Johns, in another asylum. Morini, Pelletier and Norton make a trip to Santa Teresa in search of yet another artist, Archimboldi. Amalfitano's geometry book bears the seal of a bookstore in Santiago de Compostela, and although he can't for the life of him figure out where and when he got that book, there's an implied peregrination there as well. Lots of journeys. And as more and more characters start to travel to Santa Teresa, the fact that two different groups have already traveled to mental institutions is intriguing.

That book hanging in Amalfitano's patio...it's described in the following manner, as he ponders how it could have possibly came into his hands (pardon my translation from the Spanish):

"The cover flap informed that the Geometric Testament was in reality three books, "each able to stand on its own, but functionally correlated by the destiny of the group." (En la solapa se advertía que aquel Testamento geométrico eran en realidad tres libros, "con su propia unidad, pero funcionalmente correlacionados por el destino del conjunto.").

It was compiled into a single volume by a group of the author's colleagues. Hm. Kind of like Mr. Bolaño's book...So Amalfitano hangs it up in the back yard to see how it stands up to the elements (the test of time?), then he starts drawing geometric diagrams of philosophers. That's where I stopped for the day. He looks at some of his diagrams and thinks they don't make any sense; if one were to try to make some sort of diagram of various authors who could together make up Archimboldi, it wouldn't be too different from what Amalfitano's doing.

apr 28, 2011, 7:00pm

here's what i'll do: assume everyone is keeping up with you. i brought it up because i had something to write about part one and was afraid i'd forget. i forgot.

apr 28, 2011, 7:04pm

I assume no one will complain if we start a thread for each of the Parts? Or do you think that will stifle conversation? People may follow a general thread more diligently.

apr 28, 2011, 7:08pm

You can always write it and post it later or whenever it seems more timely.

apr 28, 2011, 7:09pm

Det här meddelandet har tagits bort av dess författare.

apr 28, 2011, 8:24pm

roll call?

rh p. 210.

apr 28, 2011, 10:14pm

The boxing match just finished in the part about Fate. Bolano has a few idees fixed that he revisits again and again. I've noticed that is a frequent element in the literary writers I like. The ring of combat seems to be one of those for him. Are the critics in another ring? With what or whom is Fate's combat?

apr 28, 2011, 10:28pm

sound like someone needed to have his ideas fixed.

apr 28, 2011, 10:58pm

I am doing my best to fix them, in every sense of the word.

apr 28, 2011, 2:40am

>74 msjohns615: etc Re: Arcimboldo:

is it possible that Bolano has this in mind?

Arcimboldo: The Librarian 1570

apr 28, 2011, 2:48am

One of the academics actually mentions the confusion of Archimboldi with the Mannerist painter. Personally I think Bolaño (and "Archimboldi"--it is after all a pseudonym) just liked the name.

Redigerat: apr 29, 2011, 1:13pm

Here's a good background on the painter, related to the novel:

Giuseppe Arcimboldo: The prince of produce portraiture

apr 29, 2011, 4:06pm

In the Part About Fate, the characters have a "this place is hell" discussion, followed closely by a discussion about the loss of the sacred.

apr 30, 2011, 3:33pm

Woke up this morning and read in the news that one of my favorite authors had passed away:

Writer Ernesto Sabato dies, aged 99

Bolaño mentions him more than a few times in his essays, he was also a big fan. Anyway, It'd be cool if they re-released his books in translation, especially On Heroes and Tombs.

apr 30, 2011, 4:49pm

Just finished part 2; The part about Amalfitano and so time for second thoughts. I found this part really depressing.

A few themes are emerging; much is said about the art of writing, which Bolano seems to worry away at. The murders of the women in Mexico hovers over the characters like some sword of Damocles as Amalfitano becomes more and more fatalistic

Is this Bolano speaking through one of his characters: Marco Antonio Guerra- "People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth. People are cowards to the last breath. I'm telling you between you and me: the human being broadly speaking, is the closest thing there is to a rat."

Well I hope Bolano's mood, or my mood improves for part 3.

apr 30, 2011, 5:02pm

> That's funny. I began to love the book towards the end of Amalfitano. At times the prose shook off its chains, at times a savage metaphor: the sky the color of an Indian woman beaten to death...
I'm still waiting for Fate to reignite me.

apr 30, 2011, 9:45pm

@103: yeah, I've noticed how Bolaño circles around the crimes against the women of Santa Teresa, moving slowly closer to their story. The critics hear a thing or two about them, they're a worry in the back of Amalfitano's mind, and now I'm moving on to Fate...

apr 30, 2011, 9:49pm

Finished part 2 and on to the story of Oscar Fate...I enjoyed the story of Amalfitano's life in Santa Teresa, and the book hanging in his back yard continues to intrigue me. I liked the reappearance Marco Antonio Guerra. He has a couple of extremely bleak statements about his city and his country. Like this one:

"Dicen que estas colonias son el futuro de la ciudad, dijo Marco Antonio Guerra, pero yo creo más bien que esta pinche ciudad no tiene futuro." (They say these developments are the future of the city, said Marco Antonio Guerra, but the way I see it, this damn city has no future).

The comments about why this story doesn't take place in Ciudad Juárez made me think...Santa Teresa is not a real city, well, it is essentially Ciudad Juárez, but it's not, it's displaced to sit across from the Arizona border. It's very real, but not real as in you could find it on the map or retrace the characters' steps as they move through the novel. Three other imaginary places come to mind when I think of 20th century Latin American literature:

Juan Rulfo's Comala
Gabriel García Márquez's Macondo
Juan Carlos Onetti's Santa María

Bolaño was certainly familiar with all three authors. He railed on against some of the more lightweight descendants of GGM, but I don't think it was because he didn't like Márquez's books (I remember he writes fondly of El coronel no tiene quien le escriba in one of his articles), just that he didn't like what they spawned. And I'd like to think, while reading 2666, it might be possible to see this book as something of a response to García Márquez's literary project. An answer to "magical realism" or to 100 Years of Solitude, or something like that, or an alternate project of synthesis of Spanish language literature. So I'm planning to keep Macondo in mind as I read, even though right now it seems like a pretty odd comparison. I'm thinking about the possibility of reading this book not only as the story of Santa Teresa, Mexico, and the world we live in, but also as the story of the literature of that world. Both 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera are compelling because they have universal appeal, but they also work on another level, telling the story of the birth of a Latin American creative voice, or synthesizing a lot of the literature that came before them. I'm inclined to think that Bolaño might want to do the same kind of thing.

The apocalyptic talk of a city with no future certainly does make me think of Pedro Páramo. That's kind of a point of connection between Bolaño and GGM, considering the great influence it had on García Márquez. And Onetti, Santa María? I think I remember reading somewhere that Bolaño was a big fan of Onetti, and I also think maybe trying to find editions of Onetti's books in Mexico City, when Bolaño was in his wilder, young adult days, might have been similar to the academics' search for Archimboldi books as they were "discovering" him. I've been looking for hints of Onetti and the characters of Santa María (Larsen, Díaz Gray, the creator Brausen) in the characters of this book. Like Santa Teresa, Santa María occupies a definite space (on the banks of the river, upstream from Buenos Aires), but can't be found on the map.

Anyway, I think it's worthwhile to consider Bolaño's city in terms of the tradition of more-and less-imaginary cities that have come before it.

I also enjoyed the following passage from one of Amalfitano's dreams, the one he has as they're driving back to Santa Teresa after the outing with Pérez...the "sad American mirror of wealth, of poverty, and of continuous and useless metamorphoses, the mirror that navigates and whose sails are made of pain."

"Soñó con la voz de una mujer que no era la voz de la profesora Pérez sino la de una francesa, que le hablaba de signos y de números y de algo que Amalfitano no entendía y que la voz de su sueño llamaba "historia descompuesta" o "historia desarmada y vuelta a armar," aunque evidentemente la historia vuelta a armar se convertía en otra cosa, en un comentario al margen, en una nota sesuda, en una carcajada que tardaba en apagarse y saltaba de una roca andesita a una riolita y luego a una toba, y de ese conjunto de rocas prehistóricas surgía una especie de azogue, el espejo americano, decía la voz, el triste espejo americano de la riquez y la pobreza y de las continua metamorfosis inútiles, el espejo que navega y cuyas velas son el dolor..."

apr 30, 2011, 12:41am

Without Brausen I don't exist to read 2666.

apr 30, 2011, 12:44am

@107: Yes! I was hoping you'd respond in such a fashion, Rick!

maj 2, 2011, 11:09am

I just began part 4 and still don't have a grasp on Bolan~0. I endured part 3 despite disappointment that what I loved at the end of Amalfitano disappeared for this part, the brutal poetry...the wind seeking its meaning...

maj 2, 2011, 1:18pm

Part 3: The part about Fate is an excellent read. Its a bit like a well written noir thriller and of course leads the reader to wonder what part Fate is going to play in all this.

Part 4 is another kettle of fish, it would seem. The murders take centre stage and the relentless descriptions of the victims takes some getting through.

maj 2, 2011, 4:26pm

The Part About Fate, which also concerns the persistence of images, has its share of recurring (or, for Bolano, persistent) images from Savage Detectives. The business about girls wanted by dangerous men in powerful cars, and that father's walk to the driver was the most striking of them. David Lynch and Robert Rodriguez are mentioned and there are situations reminiscent of them both in the chapter.

109: I admire Bolano's ability to change it up. He can do it all and make it all compelling. At least for me.

maj 2, 2011, 8:03pm

I haven't had a lot of time to read the past couple of days, but I'm slowly moving through the part about Fate. I think it's one of the few times I've read a story in Spanish, by a Hispanic author, that takes place in the United States.

There's one part where Bolaño's depiction of the USA is not so accurate: in Seaman's speech, he gives his audience some recipes, and he gives the measurements in metric: 800 grams of brussell sprouts, 25 grams of butter, et cetera. In the land of resistance to all things metric, nobody would know what these measurements mean. I mean, the words "25 grams of butter" mean nothing to me. Is that a tablespoon or two? More?

I'm not complaining, I actually quite enjoyed imagining a former Black Panther giving a speech in Detroit and reciting recipes in measurements his audience wouldn't understand...

The other thing that I've been thinking about is, Bolaño was slowly dying as he wrote this, right? And he knew it. As I read, I think from time to time about the author's own impending death, hovering above the the stories of 2666 as he wrote them.

maj 2, 2011, 8:24pm

Seaman was well-travelled. Maybe he picked it up in the days of his Internationale celebrity.
I guess that would be 32 brussell sprouts to each brussell sprout sized scoop of butter.

maj 2, 2011, 9:22pm

Just started. Up to the episode with the Pakistani cab driver. This doesn't seem to bear the comparisons with Joyce, Pynchon, Gaddis, etc. Bolan~~~~o's superficially accessible, not dense and forbidding--wears his postmodernism lightly. It's like, he writes his way around to cool crystalline moments, but not laboriously or thickly--he's just telling a story that sometimes irrupts into something deeper, has a little artgasm. He's playful, too, and I like that.

maj 3, 2011, 6:02am

Seconding the artgasm assessment.

maj 3, 2011, 10:17pm

Part 4 The Part about the Crimes: finished this today and this was an endurance test. It reads like an endless recycling of "Silent Witness". Bolano has to be a good writer to pull this off and for me he does. He intersperses his clinical descriptions with enough asides and vignettes to hold the interest. The cumulative effect is numbingly horrible. Life is cheap and death is violent and nasty especially if you are a woman who lives on the wrong side of the tracks.

Racism is another issue that is emerging, which started with the beating up of the taxi driver in the first part and highlighted by Fate in part 3 and is all over part 4.

maj 4, 2011, 4:41pm

I can see the endurance test aspect but I find it so well done that I do not feel tested. He can do it all. Of course, I'm only about halfway. Bolano's reading was not limited to the high-falutin'. He could not have written that gripping story about the bodyguard kid without a wide range of grist for his mill.

maj 5, 2011, 2:15pm

I haven't been able to devote much time to 2666 lately; I work in an office on a college campus, and we receive a tuition remission that allows us to take one free class a semester. I took a medieval Spanish literature class, and have been busy studying for the final exam, which I took the other day. So now I'm back to 2666 and am nearly done with the part about Fate.

As I was studying my notes for my class, though, I found something I wrote down that made me immediately think of 2666:

Santa Teresa: the danger of not being able to distinguish between divine/diabolical visions.

I think it was in relation to one of Gonzalo de Berceo's Milagros de Nuestra Señora where a pilgrim commits a sin (he lies down with a woman) and is then visited by a messenger of the devil disguised as Sant Iago (who tells him to cut off the offending member then kill himself...María comes to the rescue at the end, as always). Anyway, I think my teacher mentioned Teresa de Ávila because she too had visions and had a very hard time deciding whether they were messages from God or from the Devil.

I just thought it was interesting, the mention of Santa Teresa staring out at me from the notes I barely remembered writing. Bolaño was a big fan of medieval literature: he mentions the early Provenzal troubadors like Jaufré Rudel in his essays, as well as Berceo, and once ponders whether critics who claim to be experts on literature in Spanish have ever really had a good read of the Libro de buen amor (which was my favorite book from class)...anyway, I occasionally notice moments in the immensity of this 1,000+ page novel where Bolaño might be referencing some of those early poetic texts, vaguely. For some reason, the four buzzards sitting on top of the fence on the border as Fate crosses to Santa Teresa made me think of four birds representing saints sitting in a tree in a verdant garden in the intro to Berceo's Milagros.

I was also thinking about the progression through parts one to three. In the first part, some European academics come to Santa Teresa in search of a writer and only get a vague hint or two about the crimes that are taking place in Santa Teresa; in the second part, a Latin American academic comes to Santa Teresa to live and the crimes hit much closer to home. His past in Chile also may have opened his eyes to some of the darker aspects of this world. In the third part, an African-American intellectual (not an academic, but certainly and intellectual) comes to Santa Teresa and comes much closer to gaining access to the dark world of the crimes. I wonder if this progression from first world academics who aren't really able to see what's really going on in Santa Teresa, to a black American who's no professor but who is a writer, and who is granted access to some rather seedy locales and comes much closer to the crimes, reflects Bolaño's relative disdain for academia and those writers who live off of distinguished grants and fellowships in middle America teaching at the University of Iowa...

Well, I hope I can finish the part about Fate today. Right now he's about to watch that Robert Rodríguez movie with Charly.

maj 5, 2011, 7:08pm

Very interesting comments, Captain.

Regarding the writer in academia, generally the punishment fits the job.

maj 5, 2011, 7:08pm

Maybe I should be more explicit: academia is more often than not the end of inspiration.

maj 5, 2011, 9:24pm

I just finished The Part about the Critics (started a little later than planned).

Curious that I had the same thought on the title - how to pronounce. I tend towards twenty-six sixty-six (how I would pronounce a year). So I asked my husband who doesn't read much and he agreed with above - it reads as a year for him: dos mil seisciento sesenta y seis. Interestingly he would spell it out the same in English. (I find some of his phrasings odd sometimes and usually it can be accounted for by the literal translation of the Spanish.)

I see what you're saying about the density, Martin. There's something almost journalistic about it. But, big but, there's something weird too. It's journalistic in that you seem to be circling around the characters, getting closer and closer to something, as they get closer to one another or their own fates or whatever, but then you fly out of there with something else and start over again.

The same keeps happening with the crimes it seems. First mentioned on page 43 but speaks more about the journalist than the crimes. Then not brought up again until page 137 and again focuses on the messenger. Interesting.

maj 6, 2011, 6:20pm

I finished the part about Fate. I was happy that my recent studies had put me in a medieval frame of mind, because I thought there were aspects of the relationship between Fate and Rosa Amalfitano that were downright chivalrous. Having spent the past four months studying courtly love in medieval Spanish literature, I felt like their relationship was somewhat similar to a knight serving a damsel. His feelings for her are pretty chaste until the very end when he realizes that something is happening down in his trousers.

I was also interested by the interactions between the two Rosas. Rosa Méndez wears revealing clothing, carouses with sleazy men, and lives a pretty fast life. She's also described as having a happy if somewhat slow-witted disposition and an intense curiosity and desire to learn. She's a bit naive or innocent, in a certain sense. Rosa Amalfitano, on the other hand, is an incredibly beautiful woman. There's a lot to her appearance that makes her seem innocent, but the things she says reflect a deeper, less innocent understanding of the world. There was one conversation between the Rosas that caught my eye at first, again because of my medieval literature class; it's a lot like a longstanding argument amongst academics about the old Spanish cancioneros and their origins. Rosa Méndez says:

"...es que los boleros tienen razón, mana, en realidad todas las letras de las canciones nacen en el corazón del pueblo y siempre tienen razón." (it's because the boleros are right, girl, in reality all the lyrics of the songs are born in the hearts of the people and they're always right)

To which Rosa Amalfitano replies:

"No," le decía Rosa Amalfitano, "parece que tienen razón, parece que son auténtica, pero en realidad es pura mierda." (No, said Rosa Amalfitano, it seems like they're right, it seems like they're authentic, but in reality it's all bullshit)

They're almost mirror images of each other, the two Rosas. One has a worldly (whorish?) look to her, a coarse sort of beauty that could lead one to believe that she's been around the block and learned a thing or two about the world. The other has a beauty that exudes innocence, that makes a guy like Fate want to save her, or protect her, or do whatever she needs. But she's the one who's able to look at the world and see things the way they are, differentiating between appearance and reality. So what might Rosa Amalfitano represent? Beauty and truth all rolled into one? I was reading, seeing little symbols here and there, and now I'm wondering about these two roses, one Mexican, one Spanish but living in Mexico. A Mexico described by the front desk guy at Fate's hotel as "a collage of diverse and extremely varied homages." As he puts it,

"Cada cosa de este país es un homenaje a todas las cosas del mundo, incluso a las que aún no han sucedido." (Everything in this country is an homage to everything in the world, including the things that haven't happened yet)

Anyway, now it's on to the part about the crimes.

maj 6, 2011, 12:32am

I finished 2666 tonight and set out my thoughts on the whole experience in a review on my thread at club read 2011 http://www.librarything.com/topic/106807#2682801

It indeed was an experience and one that I will come back to as I read other peoples comments and thoughts on this thread. There is soooo much to say about this book.

maj 7, 2011, 10:23am

#122 Interesting thoughts Matt.

I note that you put whorish? in brackets. I haven't counted but women and whore seem to be bracketed together throughout this novel.

warning for all you bibliomaniacs
1) If you find yourselves writing down authors names at random especially in three columns and then puzzling over any connections:
2) If you then hang a book on your clothesline and ponder over the effects of the elements:
3) You start hearing voices
4) and fret over large black expensive cars parked in your road.
Then you are probably insane.
(Part 2: The Part About Amalfitano)

maj 8, 2011, 8:42am

> 103

Is this Bolano speaking through one of his characters: Marco Antonio Guerra- "People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth. People are cowards to the last breath. I'm telling you between you and me: the human being broadly speaking, is the closest thing there is to a rat."

This quote reminds me of the story "Police Rat" in The Insufferable Gaucho, about a police detective in search of a serial killer. The detective happens to be a very literal rat.

maj 8, 2011, 10:02am

I've finished the part about the crimes, which also ends my reread of the book. A few months ago I skipped this black hole, going directly to the final Archimboldi section after Fate. This group read gives me the chance to revisit it.

After a second read I still find this part, and 2666 on the whole, an engaging text. Bolano immerses the reader into utter boredom, placing him in a barren wasteland to contemplate unimaginable crimes. He directly engages the reader with questions about the whole composition of the book - its form, themes and structure.

Implicitly he seems to be creating a space for the reader to engage into a dialogue with him, to ask him why he chose to write this particular section this way, why this character was suddenly introduced, why this digression, this sudden shift of focus. The many answers and interpretations make this a rich reading experience.

maj 8, 2011, 5:45pm

it ain't over yet--I'm nearing the end of the crimes, but if that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep searching. The writing is accomplished, of course, how could so many critics be so wrong?, but I would never read it again--it doesn't have the physical flair, the language--even the ideas, which I am beginning to think are foisted on the text by readers hoodwinked into thinking they are there. The list of crimes is not boring, because murder is not boring and he is not a boring writer; but I can't get out of my head the constant pounding thought put there 'reiventing the novel reinventing the novel...' whereas all I see is that he has collected five parts that are inter-related and said This is a novel. Faulkner wrote entire novels that were inter-related: had he called them all one book would it have been a tour do magnifico?

But like I said, it is not over.

maj 8, 2011, 12:53am

>127 RickHarsch: Harsch, I think that's well said, all of it, although I am crazed and moving and loving and drinking and the lack of demands on the part of the text suits me more than you currently. And it's not over!

Redigerat: maj 8, 2011, 3:55am

127 and 128: This is why I try not to bring my expectations to a book. It is a great book. You guys are setting an awfully high target (or letting it get set for you.) I also find myself more engaged when ideas and themes are engaged but not resolved or treated directly, even. Bolano does that well.
Great! You two have gotten me so worked up I got a chocolate stain from my cookie on the pages of my book.
Divination is another theme. I wonder what I can read in the stain?

maj 9, 2011, 10:05am

Well, I had decided to keep my reservations to myself til done, but then I decided a little cross-current wouldn't hurt. If my ultimate feeling is strong enough, negative enough, I will hurl myself into a lengthy review.

MSJohnny: your review calls the novel misogynist--I assume you mean it describes a misogynist universe. One move he makes that i love is in the midst of the Crimes he lists the ugly short jokes made by a cop over breakfast.

maj 9, 2011, 10:08am

My expectations: Definitely high given the hype from the highest. The re-inventing is currently what disturbs me the most...I am also disturbed by the heights reached in Amalfitano so far not being reached again in the next two sections. And while I'm at it, I think the Critics was, in retrospect, rather lame. This plot driven subnovel was utterly predictable in the two main ways--no, they do not find Archie; and of course the woman ends up with the guy on the wheelchair.

maj 9, 2011, 3:35pm

I'm about 100 pages in to the part about the crimes. I like the way the chronicles of the murders are mixed in with the stories of all kinds of other people, and I think it emphasizes the way that these murders aren't happening every day, just once or twice a month, and while there are people who are becoming increasingly concerned, there are still presumably many people who haven't paid much thought to what's been going on around them (I'm thinking about the people who live behind walls with jagged broken glass set into the cement to deter potential thieves and kidnappers). In conjunction with the stories of Amalfitano and Fate, I'm starting to get a rather good idea of what life in Santa Teresa might be like for a number of different people from very different walks of life.

And, once again there's an insane asylum, and now a man of God (in a way...Juan de Dios) has bi-weekly romantic get-togethers with the director of the place, and he wants to understand her better, get closer to her, but she won't let him. And the black car that is seen during some of the murders is a Peregrino (Pilgrim). Then there's Lalo Cura, whose name bridges the gap between the church and the asylum (cura=priest; la locura=madness). There's also a cop named Epifanio.

And Rick, I hope you find reason to consider this book worth your time when you finish (hell, I hope I do too when it's all said and done). You've had some positive things to say, and now you're down on it...maybe there's hope at the end, and when you've made it to page 1,000 and whatever, you'll be glad you read this book.

Why have I liked it so far? For one, I've read a lot of his books and gotten to know the author, so to speak. I've found certain affinities between his way of looking at the world and my own, and I've been to some of the places he's been. That personal connection, for me, has made this book worth my time. I also once spent an ill-concieved afternoon/early evening in Ciudad Juárez during a college road trip, and even though I was only there for a few hours, buying some tequila and some food before crossing back over, that connection, albeit slight, has made this story of the border city Santa Teresa more interesting to me. I'm very curious about Mexico, I've had friends and coworkers from different parts of Mexico at different times of my life, and this book gives me a chance to see a Mexico I hope to someday visit, in great detail and with a very diverse set of characters. Finally, Bolaño loves Spanish language literature, from the earliest works written in Spanish to the books of his contemporaries at the end of the 20th century. He was very conscious of the literary traditions of Latin America and Spain, and I would like to think that in this, his final, massive curtain call, he wanted to create a book that works in dialogue with other books in that tradition. I enjoy trying to find connections as I read, and whether I'm thinking of it as a continuation of a project started by Cortázar in El perseguidor, Rayuela and 62: modelo para armar (per Piglia's suggestion) or as another attempt to synthesize 20th century Latin American life and literature a la García Márquez in 100 Years of Solitude, I'll keep on trying to construct meaning and put together the bits and pieces that stick out to me. I'm probably grasping at straws, but I'll also be satisfied at the end, whether or not it all comes together. Satisfied because it's done and over at the very least, but I'm enjoying myself so far...

maj 9, 2011, 5:36pm

Rise: Why did you skip the part about the crimes, initially, on your re-read? Just curious.
What other Bolano would you suggest a reader prioritize if s/he was considering reading more of his work?

maj 9, 2011, 6:07pm

msjohnny: Your work and posts have already made it worth my while. But beyond that, the first few pages of section 5 are electric, hilarious, rivalling the Amalfitano bits in my soul.

maj 9, 2011, 7:16pm

@133: I'm partial to Estrella distante (Distant Star). I've also enjoyed his short stories, and Nocturno de Chile (By Night in Chile) is very good too. Those two shorter novels might complement 2666 well because their focus is on Chile, not Mexico.

@134: Glad to hear part 5 is pleasing you so far. I'm looking forward to it, because last time I tried reading this book, I was really busy and put it down after part 4.

maj 9, 2011, 9:44pm

I loved Lalo Cura, the dogged boy detective. Have you seen this, Matt?

Prefiguration of Lalo Cura by Roberto Bolaño

Similarly, Amulet is a monologue by one of the minor characters in The savage detectives. All his characters had deep roots...

maj 9, 2011, 3:13am

> 133

I skipped the crimes part because I want to save the worst for last. :p
Arguably it has forceful and provocative scenes in the book, a cold realization of all the hints and clues foreshadowed in the first 3 parts. But the murders can bog down. I think I can progress more if I jumped to the Archimboldi part, which was also cathartic in its own way.

Each Bolano book I think adds a little something to his expanding universe. I recommend The Savage Detectives as companion volume to 2666. Another favorite is Nazi Literature in the Americas. It shares a character with 2666 and is a homage to Borges' encyclopedia novels. For short stories, Last Evenings on Earth and The Insufferable Gaucho have some kind of unpolished beauty. Also recommended: The Skating Rink and Monsieur Pain.

maj 10, 2011, 4:10am

133, 135:

I've read a number of Bolano's shorter books and I'd like to second By Night in Chile. It's brilliant. Amulet is also fantastic. i found that eventually Bolano's style (which is so distinctive) becomes almost like a friend, and whenever I read something new of his, I'm delighted to be meeting this person I haven't seen for a while.

maj 10, 2011, 5:40am

>138 Sutpen: - I'm glad to hear you've identified Bolano's style. So far I've detected a number of them and I'm still in part I. (Got a late start due to other commitments.) Perhaps "it" is more identifiable in his shorter works. And I'll be watching the development of same as I make my way through.

Redigerat: maj 10, 2011, 6:44pm

I think it'll be difficult for me to reverse my current belief that this book should have been published as Bolan(~)o requested. In which case:
1. 3
2. 5
3. 4
4. 4
5. 5 (so far and probably little could happen to change that)

maj 10, 2011, 1:30pm

136: Thanks, Lola! I started reading that story over breakfast this morning. You'll find it in Putas asesinas as well.

Redigerat: maj 10, 2011, 2:59pm

136, 141:

Really interesting 'prefiguration'. I liked how details about Lalo Cura in this short story were totally at odds with the ones in the novel. The identity of Lalo's father was conspicuously different. The novel suggests it was either of the "two students" from Mexico City. But this early version mentioned a priest. There was a theory it could be Padre Urrutia Lacroix of By Night in Chile.

maj 10, 2011, 4:00pm

#140 I agree Rick. Is there any information out there as to what order Bolano wrote the parts, or did he have them all on the go at the same time?

Redigerat: maj 12, 2011, 11:12pm

I've got about 130 pages left in the part about the crimes. I wish I had more time to read these days. I continue to enjoy the way the crimes alternate with all the other stories of the residents of Santa Teresa. It has a nice flow, although it's sometimes difficult not to get lost in the forest whose trees are the dead bodies that keep appearing from month to month. I've noticed that the bodies seem to be moving outward: at first they were found in clandestine dumps and empty lots adjacent to the different working-class and lower-class communities of Santa Teresa, and now they're being found along the highways leading to neighboring towns. It doesn't seem to be cut and dry, but I think it is a trend. In one case, a body is found near the border with the United States.

Also, the clandestine dumps are interesting places in their own right. We in the United States tend to stay fairly ignorant of the way trash is disposed of in the rest of the world. I remember being surprised when I first came to Santiago and was out until the early morning, and suddenly there was an army of cartoneros out collecting cardboard on handcarts. It's funny that he named the most notorious of the dumps "El Chile." The scene where they tried to disband El Chile was one of my favorite moments of the part about the crimes.

Klaus Haas is an interesting character. In some ways, his apocalyptic comments remind me of some of the comments made by Marco Antonio Guerra (actually, considering Marco Antonio is the son of a university higher-up, it isn't all that surprising). When Epifanio pays his visit to Hass's house, Haas ends their conversation with a plea to drop the whole thing, making a clear and forceful reference to God:

"Por Dios, hombre, por Dios, déjese de chingaderas y déjeme en paz, dijo Haas." (For God's sake, man, for God's sake, drop all this bullshit and leave me alone, said Haas)

Why the emphasis on God?

My favorite Haas moment is when, in prison, he proclaims:

"Va a venir a esta puta ciudad alguien peor que yo y peor que el asesino. ¿Oyes sus pasos que se acercan?" (Someone worse than me and worse than the murderer is going to come to this damn city. Do you hear his steps? They're getting closer.)

I must say, I'm getting excited for part 5, because I want to know how Archimboldi's story ties into the first four parts, which build to this crescendo of violence in a border town.

Another part that caught my eye was when Jesús Chimal and his friends killed Linda Vázquez, they were driving a stolen black Peregrino, the car connected with more than a few of the murders. Then they went to prison and were, well, not exactly met with open arms. Klaus Haas's lawyer scoffs at his innocence:

¿Sabes tú acaso por qué mataron a los Caciques? No lo sé, dijo Haas, sólo sé que no estaban en un colchón de rosas. La abogada se rió. Por dinero, dijo. Esos bestias mataron a la hija de un hombre que tenía dinero. Lo demás sobra. Puro blablablá, dijo la abogada. (Do you have any idea why they murdered the Caciques? I don't, said Haas, the only thing I know is they weren't on a bed of roses. His lawyer laughed. Because of money, she said. Those beasts killed the daughter of a man who had money. The rest doesn't matter. Just a bunch of blablabla, his lawyer said.)

So the poor hoodlums steal the car of the shadowy entity that may be behind some of the murders, kill a rich girl, and pay a swift and hefty price. It seems to me that Linda Vázquez is pretty much the only rich girl who's been murdered. The rest seem to be lower-and middle-class domestic violence victims and the constant flow of victims related to the crimes. I think there was one point were Sergio González (based on a real person, the writer Sergio González Rodríguez, who wrote a book about the crimes in Ciudad Juárez called Huesos en el desierto), or Juan de Dios, I can't remember which, asks someone if nobody cares about these women because they're whores, and his interlocutor responds that they're not whores at all, they're workers. They're abducted as they walk back at the end of the shift, sometimes late at night, through dangerous neighborhoods. Many of them are happy to have the independence that comes with working and making money, as little as it might be. They come from all over Mexico. And get abducted and murdered.

Another thing I've noticed is that only rarely do the chunks, or whatever you want to call them, last more than a couple of pages. There have been two exceptions that I can think of in the part about the crimes: the story of Florita Almada and the story of the murders of Herminia and Estefanía (one of the more exciting sections of the book in my opinion). Why the occasional deviation from the norm? I remember in the first part, the woman's trip to Argentina and Amalfitano's breakdown of Mexican letters were the two exceptions. I can't think of any others, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention. The form, the endless series of short sections (what would you call these) is maybe the only justification I've found so far for the idea that Bolaño might be "reinventing the epic." The Cantar de Mio Cid is divided in a similar way into a series of tiradas, most of which are short, but with occasional longer ones. But, wouldn't it be a saga, not an epic?

Well, I'm hoping to finish part 4 by the end of the week...I hope everyone's enjoying the book!

maj 12, 2011, 12:04am

I'm just a little behind you, well established in the fourth section. I think I am enjoying the book, but I wonder whether it will ever make me feel that I have been exposed to the answer to the question, "So what?"


maj 13, 2011, 8:38am

Am way behind, but I'll get there. Just finished Part I about the critics, and so far there is much to like here. Obviously, I have been well primed for what is coming and so with that insight, I'm looking at Part I and asking what Bolano was thinking with reference to publishing 2666 as five separate novels. Part I doesn't qualify, IMHO, as a piece of stand-alone fiction. But as an extended first chapter, it works. There are enough hints within the text to make one want to go forward.

Someone commented above regarding Bolano's style. I would be hard-put to identify a single style at work here. In fact, Part I almost seems to reflect the author showing off how versatile he is. We have infinite minutiae reported about the four critics, including significant dates, all setting up a sense of reality. And I actually started a list of characters, Archimboldi's books, etc., in case they were important. (So far I haven't hung a book out in the backyard, so perhaps I'm not insane yet.) We have a six-page run-on sentence that is thrown in for no particular reason. And I laughed out loud at the paragraph where instead of quoting a conversation, Bolano reports:

"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."

And it goes on and on in this vein and is terribly tragi-comic. But I don't detect a single authorial tone or style that comes across. His way of interweaving the various plotlets, as I think of them, is clever and subtly encourages one to see what is coming next.

So, the man knows how to write and he has effectively set the stage. There are some aspects of the relationships among the four critics that don't seem quite plausible, to me at least -- for example, the bloodless menage a trois. It seems incredible that it would go on as long as it did without coming to blows -- or "end in a hail of bullets," as Espinoza said of the suspected gay relationship between Amalfitano and Guerra's son.

I have read a slew of reviews and nobody discusses Bolano's style except in the context of the narrative. To me, the narrative technique itself only tells half the story of Bolano's genius. Not everyone could juxtapose so many different styles of diction as well, although for the first twenty-five pages or so I thought it was rather disjointed, like he was searching for a style. Later on, the verbal acrobatics settled down a bit and one becomes absorbed in the story.

Anybody else have comments about Bolano's style? I'm eager to hear from all you Latin American literature experts as I'm not as widely read in that area as most of you, having only read some Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Borges.

So far, so good. Looking forward to catching up with y'all.

maj 13, 2011, 7:21pm

I think this is starting to come together for me (I'm at the start of the part about Fate.) I'm reading it as a novel about desire, the difference between a desire that wants to achieve a goal and a desire that is its own purpose and rationale. The arbitrariness of what we desire and human need to need. We'll see if that pans out for me.

maj 14, 2011, 4:48am

Making progress – on pace with Martini. Part 2 – which wasn't at all what I was expecting – conveyed a sense of waiting for something to happen – not directly, but obliquely – perhaps because basically nothing was happening and therefore there's no choice but to stop altogether or move on to Part 3.

maj 16, 2011, 9:14am

Fate wasn't grabbing me at first--it seemed like kind of uninspired American Gothic--but Jimmy Seaman's sermon was a piece of work. I read it out loud at the bus stop.

maj 16, 2011, 8:15pm

MM--you might want to silently tear through the next part. it does not become anything.

maj 16, 2011, 8:53pm

This is pretty cool:

Notes Toward an Annotated Edition of 2666 by translator Natasha Wimmer

I'd been flipping back through the last hundred pages of the part about the crimes looking for a mention of Pedro Páramo that had caught my eye, and I just could not locate the damn quote. I eventually resorted to the all-knowing Google, and the combination of 2666 Pedro Páramo gave me this link. I haven't read through it yet, but it's the kind of resource I enjoy having as I read a book like this.

maj 16, 2011, 11:49pm

I managed to plough through the rest of this book. While the ending ingeniously ties things together, my overall reaction is less than happy. Review posted here. Maybe I'll feel better after a good night's sleep.

maj 17, 2011, 8:43am

P: I agree with some, have different takes on my own disappointments which I will put in my own review soon.

maj 17, 2011, 2:50pm

I finished the part about the crimes. It was my favorite of the four I've read so far, and I thought it was very, very well-conceived and executed, with the incessant crimes against the women of Santa Teresa taking a central role (as the title implies, the murders are basically the protagonist), and all of the many charaters whose work and lives are affected by the crimes entering and exiting the story as their lives intersect with the murders. As a depiction of a true story, and a horrible, almost unimaginable story at that, the part about the crimes worked for me. I got to know a place where women came to live and earn money in maquiladoras and were abducted one, two, five a month over the course of multiple years as they walked home down dark streets (we in the USA generally take well-lit public spaces for granted). And in presenting an unexplained rash of brutal crimes (incredibly and inexplicably unsolved, especially for a person from the United States, where serial killers are caught, or at least we think they are; they are every day on Law & Order/CSI/whatever they're calling those shows these days), Bolaño gave me a compelling story about a place where this could happen. Even thought I'd read this part once before and remembered it hazily, the part where Juan de Dios and company are at the home where the two girls are murdered got my heart pounding and the subsequent brief powwow between the folks with the money and power left me feeling quite disappointed.

There was a mention of Pedro Páramo near the end of the part about the crimes, and I think it was an apt one. The men with the money and the power (although they never really come out of the shadows and we don't really get to know any of them) are almost like a projection of that Mexican archetype onto a different time. I think a person wishing to compare Don Pedro to the men in the shadows of this part, and also compare Santa Teresa to Comala, could find many compelling connections between the two entities and the two cities. Although, what's going on in Santa Teresa is worse, and more representative of an "evil" that Pedro Páramo, he who at least shows some humanity in his unrequited and consuming love for a woman, did not entirely possess.

And I, for one, thought the documentation of each individual murder was appropriate and necessary. It helped me look at the crimes with the eyes of an investigator, looking for patterns and clues that might help explain how something like this could be happening. It also underlined certain aspects of the crimes and the victims: so many of the bodies weren't claimed, and in later years, skeletons and decomposed corpses were randomly found, reminding us that many of the deaths went nearly unnoticed and there could very well be many more undiscovered corpses. It conveyed the hopelessness of the situation and the frustrations of the people who want desperately to put the pieces together...and I liked a lot of those people. I enjoyed reading about people in Santa Teresa in function with their involvement in a huge and terrible mystery. I might have liked to know more about some of them, such as Lalo Cura or the director of the asylum, but in the end I was glad that their characters were restricted to their direct (and sometimes indirect) contact with the crimes.

Now I'm about forty pages into the part about Archimboldi. It's quite different from the part about the crimes. Less grounded in reality (the different towns with the funny names like El Pueblo de los Gordos and El Pueblo de las Chicas Habladoras) and with an almost "magical" quality to it...the young boy fascinated by the underwater world and doggedly exploring the world under the sea. I'm a bit surprised, and I like the change of pace. I'm interested to see where this goes.

maj 17, 2011, 5:12pm

Since I haven't reread the book in four years, I fear falsifying my own then-opinions, but I must note that the murders were to me the central part of the book, and the experience of reading that part the central, most important part of the experience of reading the whole book. (And if I were to look for any "novelty" or unusualness in 2666, that's where I'd place it--in that experience.) They are an assault on the reader, an outrage and a trial--difficult to read, difficult to comprehend, impossible to come to terms with--which, I think (and I think Bolaño thought) is after all the only proper response to what has happened and is still happening in Juarez. He was revolted. He wanted us to revolt too.

It helped me look at the crimes with the eyes of an investigator, looking for patterns and clues that might help explain how something like this could be happening.

I'd say the forensic veneer is misleading. (Bolaño liked the detective story paradigm, but I'm thinking he liked even more to joke with it. Savage detectives indeed.) The truth that emerges about the situation--that there isn't one or even several serial killers, that the conditions of life are so terrible that almost anyone can abuse and kill these women unnoticed and unpunished--dwarfs and disperses any effort the police can make to solve the murders. The related incidents and characters in this part all depict this larger situation, what it is that creates it, that puts the victims and the killers in the position to kill and be killed: the poverty, the American capitalists, the drug politics, the corruption, the misogyny and sexism. In a single murder the most important thing may be who did it, but when you have a thousand--"how is it possible?" trumps, or at least subsumes that one.

I felt crushed under their burden, the enormity of the numbers, relentless repetition of the crimes (how many femicides amount to a holocaust of women?), and appreciative of the terse memorials they represented, even if mostly fictional (one fictional murder standing in for five, ten factual?)

I'll be interested to hear what, if any, connections you find between them and Archimboldi's war experiences, Matt.

Redigerat: maj 17, 2011, 6:08pm

Though mostly men, I sense an eery connection to the mindless, sadistic violence Bolaño compiles in the 'Crimes' section (warning, a little graphic):



Redigerat: maj 17, 2011, 6:20pm

I finished about a week ago, but I wasn't really impressed.
OK, the final part makes some connections with the preceding stuff.
But in essence the message seems to be: "life sucks".
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Indeed, reading books is often an attempt to enter a fictional world where life doesn't suck, or at leats, not as badly as in reality.
Bolaño doesn't buy that. He introduces story lines that could in a conventional novel lead to a resolution, but he terminates them abruptly or doesn't mention them after a while. The gringo professor, Lalo Cura who finds out about modern crime fighting methods, they lead you to a moment of hope, but in the end nothing happens.
What does happen? Women are raped and killed. In the story of Lalo Cora's parents it is revealed that rape without killing may be even more common, but no-one bothers to report that to the police.
We are informed that the region has the lowest unemployment figures of Mexico. In other words, women have income and power, therefore men are aggravated, so they rape and, more often than in the rest of Mexico, kill.
So is this all about misogyny? Do we need 900 pages of violence to be reminded about the condition humaine? I thought American Psycho did that more efficiently.

Edit: syntax

maj 17, 2011, 8:45pm

I've finished it. Lola and msjohns are more careful in their understanding than I, but I still don't know that I think the novel amounts to much.

I was touched by the wrap up at the end, so I must have got something from the preceding 800 and some pages. I also found the writing to be good enough that I wasn't tempted to set the book aside. But I question whether I will take away anything from the book that I didn't already have within me (like I'm going to stay away from Latin America).


maj 17, 2011, 9:24pm

Hm, and I'm bewildered by the richness of everything that I find in it, even after all this time and with only fragments of memory to go by. Perhaps it is a mistake to look for some overweening single "idea" to make everything jell?

Everyone has such different reading habits I never know what would be useful to another person, but I'll say this much--for anyone thinking about reading this, it is better, I think, to expect or plan a long read, BUT, an intense one. I read it over four months or longer, for example, and I feel I could have taken a year. In my case, the density of Bolaño's style required such long unravelling--not in order to get to the meaning, he is actually deceptively simple and "readable"--but in order to acclimatise myself to the frenetic succession of events. Reading any faster I wouldn't have understood anything at all, nor had time to think--you'll have noticed that in the book what characters do or say is reported almost in real time whereas we hardly ever get to read "what they think". So who has to do the thinking for them? You, gentle reader. Considering the mammoth size and structure of the book, with disparate parts and dozens of characters to each part, hardly any overlapping, yes, it's quite an enterprise.

For your consideration, also this (brought to my attention by SilentInAWay): Hysterical realism. Bolaño isn't mentioned but I agree with Silent that he fits. If you have read some of those authors, perhaps it will help to shed some light on the technical devices he uses, or what is achieved through them.

maj 17, 2011, 9:27pm

Pre-occupied, I am slow writing my review. As I have a lot to say, and much of it relatively negative--but mostly compared to the hype--let me say that I agree with Lola about the part about the crimes. I disagree that it is the best book in the book, but it is great as anti-novel, and his writing, though he barely uses what he has available, lifts it slightly above the journalistic.

maj 17, 2011, 9:41pm


Just in case you meant me, to be clear, I didn't say the crimes were the "best" part of the book, I'm not sure how I'd "grade" the different parts. (I'm not used to writers like Bolaño, and his literary aesthetics seem to be antithetical to mine, so really, I'd rather not.)

maj 17, 2011, 10:06pm

What you are all saying in defense of the novel has a certain ring of truth to it. One cannot deny the quality of the writing in places and the sweeping structure. I loved the first 50 or so pages. There is a lot of humor and wit between the lines, and the texture of the writing is energizing in a way.

But at some point I have the nagging sensation that the book crosses over from art to propaganda. And the propaganda impact of a novel such as this may actually have unintended consequences.

maj 17, 2011, 10:09pm

Okay, what is being propagandized?


maj 17, 2011, 10:14pm

> 161 no, msjohns said it was the best part (his favorite part). i agree with what you wrote about that part.

Redigerat: maj 18, 2011, 8:13am

>163 Mr.Durick: I'm speaking in terms of the old argument between art for art's sake versus art with an axe to grind, art that is trying to sell something. As I see it, by going overboard with his emphasis on the crimes and the way he has chosen to detail crime after crime after crime, it suggests to me that this is not art for art's sake. My comment is not about what he is propagandizing. I was thinking more in the context of aesthetics. And one example of the unintended consequence of his argument is the parenthetical statement you made above: "like I'm going to stay away from Latin America." It was that very comment, ironically, that put the notion of "propaganda" into my head.

maj 18, 2011, 5:55am

This is getting awfully confusing. I didn't write that i was going to stay away from Latin America.
As for the matter of aesthetics and The Part about the Crimes, I think that the book as a whole--the rest of the book--required a higher level of writing consistently to elevate that part to great literature. On the other hand, great literature is propaganda in one sense or another, and just because it is political doesn't mean it hasn't a place. In simple terms, the question is whether he 'pulled it off' or not. Some think not. I think not.

maj 18, 2011, 5:56am

By the way--in every book I've ever written I have an axe to grind. I don't know if it can be otherwise.

maj 18, 2011, 6:23am


I suspect that Poquette actually was replying to my question in 163.


Redigerat: maj 18, 2011, 8:16am

>166 RickHarsch: I was speaking with reference to Mr. Durick's post at 158. He is the one who mentioned staying away from Latin America. It occurred to me that that was an unintended consequence of the excessive didacticism of 2666. My comment at 165 was in response to 163. Perhaps that's a bit clearer.

I probably shouldn't have used the word "propaganda" in 162. I was thinking about the old aesthetic argument regarding art for art's sake versus didactic art. Didactic art is often thought of as propagandistic. You seem to suggest that "propaganda" means "political," but in my mind, that is a very narrow interpretation. We have museums full of religious art from time immemorial that is also didactic, or propagandistic. And we are subject on a daily basis to an overload of commercial propaganda as well.

To rephrase and clarify my previous message, I feel that 2666 crossed the line from any semblance of art for art's sake to didactic art because I felt as though I had been beaten over the head by the onslaught of reportage of the 200 murders. The author apparently didn't think that merely reporting the fact of the murders was going to get his message across, so he beat the dead horse, if you will. That's pretty didactic.

Now, let me say that I am not so naive as to think that art for art's sake is the norm. Far from it. Many novels have a message, subtle or otherwise. But when a work becomes as didactic as 2666 did in the part about the crimes, it is hard not to see it as bordering on propaganda. And the political views of the writer have nothing to do with it. We are talking about a work of fiction that impugns an entire country through artistic license, if you will, and we already know that at least one person has been affected to the extent he is thinking of avoiding the whole of Latin America. Pretty effective propaganda, if you ask me.

It's one thing to have an axe to grind. It's another to chop down a whole forest.

maj 18, 2011, 6:39am

Cross-posted with 168. I was busy writing while you were posting, Robert.

maj 18, 2011, 8:19am

Sir Poquette,

I think I understand your position and did not mean to imply that you thought propaganda is only political. for me the question that 2666 raises is how an author deals with extraordinary obscenity. In this case I like the idea more than its execution, pardon the term.

maj 18, 2011, 8:49am


I hadn't thought of it as obscenity, but it certainly is. I agree with you about the execution.

P.S. I'm a dame.

maj 18, 2011, 2:03pm

I'm well into the part about Archimboldi; I've got less than two hundred pages to go...coming down the home stretch, finally. I just read the story of Ivánov, nested in the story of Ansky, read by Archimboldi, nested in his cozy little hideout in the house in Kostekino. The story was rather quixotic: Ivánov is something of a lesser noble in the world of Russian letters, a guy who once had a little bit of promise but whom nobody really cares about now. One day he starts hanging out with a country boy named Ansky, and with Ansky's oddball ideas, he writes the science fiction adventure of a Russian saved by aliens and plopped down in America, where he has some bizarre adventures.

Then, his greatest achievement, the one that elicits a shout-out from Gorki, is rather quixotic too, with the young Russian revolutionary/protagonist accompanied by a veteran of the Mexican revolution (which itself was a rather quixotic affair, if you think about it) in his search for the lady who has captured his heart and fled to Kansas City.

Hell, the whole idea of communist science fiction, of a writer from the Soviet Union wandering into a world of aliens and whatnot, that's rather quixotic as well.

In the learning progression of Archimboldi, he's gone from a book about the flora and fauna of littoral Europe, to Eschenbach's Parzival, to Ansky's diary. In his life, he's gone from a childhood full of underwater exploration to a young adulthood fighting in World War II. He is a soldier and he will become an author, which is the path followed by Cervantes, Manrique, Garcilaso et. al.

I've enjoyed Archimboldi's story so far. It's nice to finally break new ground after re-reading the first four parts, which I had read a couple of years ago. It's been interesting to see all of the negative comments streaming in the past couple of days; largely, they are opinions that I do not share, but I've enjoyed seeing why some may not like a book that I've liked so far and how different our reactions have been with respect to a single text. I don't think 2666 will enter my pantheon of books I habitually re-read, but it has been a quite positive experience so far. I think Mr. Bolaño is a good storyteller, and he sees the world from a perspective I can relate to.

maj 18, 2011, 2:17pm

I am nearly finished with the part about the crimes and still loving the book. The many stories Bolaño weaves through the blanket of crimes are fascinating. And the blanket is absolutely necessary to the atmosphere. They are an essential feature of the landscape over time. I do not find it didactic pedantic or propagandistic. I think one reason the book is so hard to get a grip on is it is a forest book, not a tree book.

maj 18, 2011, 3:06pm


Hell, the whole idea of communist science fiction, of a writer from the Soviet Union wandering into a world of aliens and whatnot, that's rather quixotic as well.

What do you mean? SF and utopian/dystopian literature was hugely popular in the USSR; "naturally", one could say, since they were building a society of the future, and sf is the "literature of the future". Speaking of Soviets wandering into alien worlds, there's the famous boundary example of Yakov Protazanov's Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924), in which Mars becomes Communist with the aid of Russian comrades. (There were more like it in decades after WWII). I don't see how "quixotic" would apply to such a scenario, though.

it is a forest book, not a tree book.

Well put, slick.

maj 18, 2011, 4:01pm

173: I have very little experience with Soviet art (I saw Battleship Potemkin once...) but I'd always thought of it in terms of what I vaguely understand as "Socialist realism." The idea of a Soviet writer, creating pro-Soviet science fiction adventures while adhering (more or less) to the party ideals, struck me as quixotic, as in relatable to Don Quijote and his adventures: Don Quijote, after reading tons of novels of chivalry, applies the ideals and fantasies he encounters in those books to a "real" world. I was thinking of the Soviet author, being well-educated in marxist theory, applying those ideas to works of science fiction/fantasy that clashed with my conception of Soviet realist art.

The problem is, not only am I poorly versed on Soviet Russia, but I also misunderstood the meaning of quixotic (at least in English). I wanted to say I saw something in those writers of Soviet science fiction that made me think of Don Quijote. Thanks for bringing my attention to this issue; I would like to use the word "quixotic" appropriately in the future. In Spanish, "quijotesco" can mean "characteristic of Don Quijote," among other things. In English, not so much.

maj 18, 2011, 4:05pm

I think a book like 2666 does a pretty good job highlighting that "art for art's sake" seems a little bit irresponsible in light of what's going on in northern Mexico right now. It's not an absolute judgment, but it's an angle worth considering every once in a while. The protagonist of By Night in Chile is a more direct dramatization of that idea.

I'd suggest that another part of what Bolano wanted readers to get out of The Part About the Crimes involves an interrogation of the particular kinds of discomfort the section can evoke. It's certainly not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but notice that "yeah, yeah, I get it" in response to hearing about femicide on the scale of what happens in Santa Teresa in the book is kind of horrifying on a meta-level. And it's also completely natural. Recall the book's epigraph: "An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom."

As for "impugns an entire country," I don't understand what you mean. What exactly is being impugned?

Redigerat: maj 18, 2011, 4:27pm


Aha. I don't want to derail the thread, just a note that soc-realism was only one strain and relatively short phase in Soviet culture, imposed and promoted by the authorities, but overall a fiasco, petering out even as an "official" precept after Stalin's death. And even during its heyday (late 1940s through 1950s) there was plenty of non-ideological art produced. Otoh, literary fantasy and sf sprung out of reservoirs of Russian tradition, helped along by space-conquering and cosmopolitan zeitgeist, and the possibility of ambivalence which the genres allowed.

I don't remember Archimboldi's Russian episode very well, I know I wondered who Ansky could have been--there's any number of candidates, and possibly--likely, even--he's a composite. But that type of Russian futurist is actually very common in the USSR of the 1920s and 1930s.



maj 18, 2011, 4:38pm

Based on the little I know and have read of Bolano, he must have been a fan of Lem.

maj 18, 2011, 5:30pm

Bolano slips a few times and refers to a broken hyoid bone as the cause of death when, I believe, it is only a mark of death by strangulation.

The Elvira Campos/Juan de dios story makes an especially interesting counterpoint to the crimes.

maj 18, 2011, 6:16pm

>180 slickdpdx: that's interesting, if I were gonna strangle someone I'd go lower than the hyoid, more around the larynx. Seems like it'd be hard to get your thumbs in there. Also, thoroughly creeping myself out at the moment.

maj 18, 2011, 6:47pm

Its very difficult to stop up the windpipe! Strangulation deaths are caused by the stagnation of blood to the brain. Even if some new blood comes in (artery harder to close than a vein) its not leaving. Oxygen gets all used up. Capillaries that burst from the increased pressure is a more common sign of strangulation than a broken hyoid. Inside lips and eyes/inside eyelid are the place to look.

maj 18, 2011, 6:53pm

Two things I've learned over the course of my life from the teevee: petechial hemorrhaging is a sign of strangulation, and murder is nearly impossible to get away with. I actually learned a third thing, but it's not relevant here.

Redigerat: maj 18, 2011, 7:24pm

I don't know what the tube says. But, I imagine since it takes a couple of minutes to produce unconsciousness, the strangle-ee (sp?) is struggling and your hands or your ligature would slip upwards rather than downwards.

Regarding the difficulty of extracting meaning from the book, the difficulty of divining any meaning from the world is a theme in the book. And the book encompasses the world more than a narrowly focused work might.

I think your identity and its relationship or expression in your library is something else Bolano explores in the book - like the scholars of Archimboldi, the gay Latino that only reads fiction by gay Latino authors, the autodidact black power figure or the atheist medical examiner who doesn't read novels.

I think the key to the book, if there is one, is likely to be Seaman's sermon. It has the same oblique approach as the novel as a whole.

Another theme in the book is the way art reflects or doesn't reflect life and the difficulty of reaching truth through criticism. Its explored with books and films, including the phony snuff film. I think the critical problem is also expressed in the story of the penitent.

I admit my thoughts are as inchoate as the book may be. Perhaps that is its appeal.

maj 18, 2011, 8:43pm

Dr. Poquette,

sorry about the presumption: i had a vice principal in h.s. of that name and therefore until you all Poquettes had to be male.

Redigerat: maj 20, 2011, 9:50pm

I am only now moving to the final part. Chewing on this bit spoken by Azcuena Esquivel Plata, the female politician, I think I have realized something about this book, Savage Detectives, and other books I really like.
Nothing out of the ordinary. Everything was the same as always. I tried to sleep, but I couldn't. I spent a while looking out the window at the city's dark buildings, the yards and the streets, empty except for the occasional new-looking car. I paced the room. I noticed there were two mirrors. One at one end and the other by the door, and they didn't reflect each other. But if you stood in a certain place, you could see one mirror in the other. What you couldn't see was me.
There is a hermetic element to this and those other novels I really like; as if Bolano is dropping clues to something very important about which he cannot directly speak.

maj 21, 2011, 10:01am

I reviewed 2666 if anyone is interested.

maj 21, 2011, 10:45am

So what then is 2666? Rick - excellent review

maj 21, 2011, 2:45pm

Rick's 2666 review.

Excellent indeed.

maj 23, 2011, 10:33pm

I've added one of the touchstones for this work to the About box at the upper right of this thread.


Redigerat: maj 26, 2011, 2:57am

Stars, trees, mirrors, books, authors, bodies, readers.

maj 28, 2011, 5:03pm

I finished the book last week, but didn't have time to post my thoughts due to a busy stretch at work. I enjoyed the story of Archimboldi as he transitioned from soldier to author, and was entertained up to the end. The trip to the forgotten authors' home was pretty bizarre, and I thought it was a nice way of ending the cycle of peregrinations to insane asylums.

I started to wonder as the book wound to its close how much the declining health of its author influenced the final pages. The transition to the story of Lotte was pretty abrupt, as if he suddenly realized that it was time to start wrapping things up. Then, maybe he had the Füerst Puckler anecdote waiting up his sleeve for when it was time to end the book, either because he didn't have anything else to say or because his health had declined to the point where he didn't know if he'd be able to say all he wanted to, or a combination of the two. I thought it was a very nice ending. I was wondering how it was going to all come to a close, and I thought the story of how the man's ancestor's name endured for an unexpected reason was a compelling way to close this very, very long book.

Anyway, it's been fun reading this book with y'all. I enjoyed reading 2666 in a group setting, and I feel like my personal reading experience was richer due to everyone's contributions. The group read motivated me to pull this book back off the shelf and finish it; I'm glad I did. Thanks!

jun 1, 2011, 12:29pm

Thanks Matt for guiding us through 2666, especially those of us who had little knowledge of South American Literature. I for one enjoyed my experience reading Roberto Bolano and I will be exploring some more South American writers sometime soon.

jun 7, 2011, 8:39pm

@193: Thanks, Barry!

And, for those interested, an English translation of Between Parentheses was recently released. I saw a review of it in the NYT this morning:

Freewheeling Essays Pair Nicely With Bitters

I thought this collection was a good companion to his fictional works, and I enjoyed learning a bit more about Roberto Bolaño the reader.

jun 10, 2011, 12:39am

My inchoate, four-in-the-morning, gotta-catch-a-plane-in-four-hours thoughts:


jun 11, 2011, 9:38am

Good thoughts. You lugged that book all the way to Turkey?

jun 11, 2011, 9:51am

I did! God, I'm dying under all the books I lugged here (doing thesis reading, in theory). But the weight gave me the incentive to finish it. I traded it in on the English bookshelf at my hotel for a copy of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.

jun 11, 2011, 4:12pm

Solid stuff per youzzgga. (I'm trying to shorten the word "usual" there, but can't get the phonetics right. How does one shorten "usual" to just the first syllable of "usual." -- useggz?)

I liked The Corrections a lot. Wasn't so thrilled, after a rollicking start, with his recent follow up.

jun 11, 2011, 5:31pm

Yeah, I always wonder about that too. Last time I went with "yuzhe", which looks more like a furry Mongolian hat.

God, you guys, Istanbul has the best English-language bookstores in the non-English speaking world. Maybe the whole world.

jun 12, 2011, 12:23pm

Okay, guys! There's one more thing that we need to credit Bolaño for, because I had never heard of Robert Rodriguez, but then I read this book and now I just watched Machete and holy shit. Amazing. I think now I also have to read the book in that touchstone.

jun 12, 2011, 3:04am

If it was this Machete, I also saw it and thought it good enough to watch. I've seen some of Rodriguez's other pictures which could be taken merely as shoot 'em ups but seem always to depict more than that.


jun 13, 2011, 2:22pm

@195: enjoyed your review! And you should definitely watch El mariachi...it's a good little movie. I haven't seen Machete but maybe I should check it out, wasn't it coupled with a Tarantino movie?

Redigerat: jun 13, 2011, 6:36pm

>202 msjohns615: Grindhouse, I believe--started life as a fake trailer and then became a whole movie, because we live in an age of wonders. I'll download El mariachi immediately!

jun 14, 2011, 6:23pm

Every time I think to pick this book up my stomach begins turning flip-flops. I don't give a shit about Archimboldi. I don't give a shit about the Archimboldians. I don't give a shit about four narcissistic baboons wasting time over a made up controversy. I get enough of that shit in real life (see Weiner, A.). In short, this book has a negative impact on me every time I pick it up. Is this Bolano's point, that hundreds of pages can be devoted to elements that instill no interest? I can read any number of books famous for just this point. Why do I need to read this one? Because it's written by a literary genius? Or because it's so uninteresting that water won't even soak in? I think not. After spending two months getting to page 81 I'm going to declare this a misfire and move on.

If my problem is that I'm just not smart enough to read this book, then it is not for a general audience and should not be sold that way. But then, I'm not smart enough to read Ulysses, but at least Joyce makes it interesting along the way. I just don't get this book. What's the point. Just to drone on through the banality of life? I LIVE the quintessentially banal life, why should my reading be an accomplice to even more banality?

Put me down in the WTF column on this one.

jun 14, 2011, 6:38pm

Wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole G. If being smart enough was a requirement for reading a book or no, that list beside our bed would be no higher than an ant hill.

jun 14, 2011, 6:42pm

Different strokes, I guess.

jun 14, 2011, 8:45pm

see what you think of the rick harsch review

Redigerat: jun 20, 2011, 11:07pm

I managed to will myself to the end of The Part About the Critics. Actually, once the three Archimboldians (minus Morini) arrived in Mexico, things began to pick up. I'm now into the early pages of The Part about Amalfitano and fair zipping right along. It's as if while in Europe Bolano just could not warm to his subject, or was maybe casting around for a way out when he stumbled on Mexico and the change of scenery.

For now, I'm past the blahs of the initial eighty or so pages and now feel a current leading somewhere still undistinguishable in the mists of words, but finally going somewhere definite. Bolano seems to have found the handle.

jun 21, 2011, 2:35am

@208: glad to hear you've found reason to give it a second chance, Gene! I hope you enjoy the progression as the book hones in on Santa Teresa, and that you end up feeling that it's been worth your time.

jun 22, 2011, 5:20pm

Oh, I'm enjoying it much more now than I was when I let out my plaintive cry. I finished the Part About Amalfitano last night, and will start The Part About Fate today. I'm actually looking forward to it now.

okt 8, 2011, 7:46pm