Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"It's Mathematically Imposible": Reading 2666 Out Loud

Hi everyone!  It's taking me such a long time to read 2666 because there's something brilliant to share on every page.  Taking a little time-out today to read you one of my favorite passages so far, from "The Part About Fate."  Spoiler: it's about semen.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Castles & Globalization & Seaweed & Boxing & Baronesses & Creepy Dream Echoes


If you're going to write a masterwork before you die, then I recommend writing "2666" like Roberto Bolaño did, which is a masterwork in the literary novel form or perhaps a mutation of the literary novel form which sprawls and spreads across time and continents and eroded academic insularities and the insanity of hopelessness and the humor of the human condition and that of society, which in Bolaño's view is at once fickle and heavily driven by Fate, or driven by Fate but also by a side infatuation with ancient mythology making just as much sense as any sort of reason or meaning or perhaps equity in the modern or really the post-industrial world with fondness or idyllic and bucolic historical scenes as childhood and anachronistic remembrances where love exists not so much moment by moment and in fact might come off as quaint if you did sense it there but rather it ultimately exists in the grand sweep, the aggregation of our steps and strides as we either engage life with passion and intent or while and idle away the time with poor imitations of the real thing, indeed, as it might even be said that as we die by principle or live by compromising our principles or really our deep-seated morals but actually or quite possibly our accumulated human ethical baggage or perhaps trappings and traces of our circumstances and likes and dislikes, not to demean the color and consistency of personality or attitude or naively opinionated egos which seem to rival Providence in their drive to autonomy but a view of humor which at any rate can be illustrated by such compound backhanded levity as quotes like this one from a setting where so-called "vanished writers" (who, are, generally speaking, writers once known or lauded or even perhaps with a readership of some significance or at least a readership but for whatever reasons have faded from public view or were not smiled upon kindly by the whims of the larger arcs of history despite for the most part having been good and worthy writers overall with good ratings and fan appeal behind the eyelids of a dreaming great uncle from one of the World Wars) gather to live in serenity and quiet or relatively quiet and mild disharmony in the woods outside a smallish town somewhere in a countryside, part bed and breakfast, part retirement community in look and feel but (without me revealing the specifics in the context of the actual work despite the fact that in the actual work the settings aren't actually overly specific) where in this case the narrator describes a protagonist as coming down a hallway while wandering after dinner to a gym or a massage room, or a kind of a work-out room really, with a few people found there, whereupon the narrator proceeds to inform the reader that "The weight lifter seemed to be an employee and the old man in pajamas looked less like a vanished novelist than like a justly forgotten novelist, the typical hard-luck bad French novelist, most likely born at the wrong time" which is typical of Bolaño in conjuring for us an internal or mentally-visceral experience (not really visceral in the intestinal sense but in the dizzying sense of being inside an actual mind with its vast and convoluted flows and halts and genius and stupidity) of how perception and thought and image chase each others' tails in a continually unfolding sequence of discoveries, assumptions, judgements and surprises whether he is zoomed in on a given scene or reverie or voiced reverie that is sometimes more a soliloquy or really just a monologue in some cases which he achieves by such sure-handed and risky flows that weave mild surrealism with dream intuition and glimpses of insanity and unpredictable actions of treachery and forthrightness not to mention unabashedly real and complicated sexual and power dynamics that are themselves a blend of horror, animalism, tenderness, discovery and habit (not to mention a memorable penis of historic or actually even epic proportions at the junction where physical possibility and myth begin to blur like the edges of a fleeting voyeuristic moment) so that they take on a hyper-realism or a fairy-tale-tryst-in-the-woods nuance or an emotionless empty act that still involves a hint or a reflection in a dusty or really a grimy windowpane of love or something like love or possibly a sense of commitment or at least a momentary surge in caring while struggling to care or commit or love, or whether he is zoomed out in both time and narrative, far from the minutiae of the moment, both and all of them all at once as a microcosm of the layers of echoes across the five books that pit signification or representation or resemblance versus something that seems decidedly more real, solid frameworks no matter the cost versus cowardice and survival, randomness versus meaning, and beating the crap out of a taxi driver versus diving for seaweed at the risk of drowning, and such a work is a brilliant, engaging experience precisely because it works sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, turn by turn, striding, climbing, floating, acting with intent, giving up, obsessing, searching, dreaming, giving up once again until abstract and seemingly foolish sentimentalities like love and compassion as well as the ostensibly cruel indifference of the universe when it looks the other way at the wrong moments do exist at some higher order level as when hiking endlessly up a mountain path through the trees for hours in the flying, biting insects and forest-contained humidity only to emerge at the timberline to a cool breeze coming off nearby snowy peaks and alpine meadows with tiny flowers and gurgling water and a small brown furry mammal you've never seen before peering at you from behind a rock or actually several of them behind many different rocky outcroppings all watching you and possibly they are called marmots and then you turn and behold the breathtaking panorama below, the starting point of your odyssey so tiny and distant and in fact only remembered and not directly glimpsed as it is now obscured by having traversed so many changes in terrain since then and so therefore one is left to ponder on which scale, on which magnitude are these experiences real and on which are they imagined, filtered, dreaded or desired into virtual existence or even into a coveted pseudo-actuality until some other more substantial reality collides directly enough to shatter the illusion or at least rudely shove it aside or perhaps act friendly enough, plying it with drink and hospitality sufficiently to escort it to a safe, out-of-the-way place where it can be held comfortably out of the way or perhaps gently put out of its misery though in actuality just disposed of incompetently but disposed of nonetheless and those that come along later can never really piece together the vitality of what came before them any more than colorizing old black and white photos can allow the viewer to understand the faces peering back from the faded print now further removed from the ability to grasp such a thing under the unblinking proliferation of immediate camera effects and Instagram-like trinkets to pretend that something so temporally in the now feels like it has some sort of actual weight of history to it when really what has more weight despite just being electromagnetic waves in your cerebral cortex at the dead of night is a dream involving mirrors and yourself viewed from behind and in between the mirrors, the figure of your curiosity slowly turning until your mutual gaze must inevitably intersect but it takes great effort for the figure to turn further and further and then it's not you after all that is turning toward you and you become terrified of the moment when the two gazes will meet eye to eye and the inexorable turning and flitting expressions of madness and then imagine that someone else has this exact dream! or one very like it or that they have a dream kind of like it or like a shadowy movement behind a curtain that causes them suddenly to recall the dream in a moment of unfocused distraction but it is in a physical locale that is uncomfortable and uncanny in its similarity to the room you had your nightmare in, and also: there are many secrets to life and moments where we get to be close to that secret in times of duress or in dreams or in those rare instants of epiphany that come at the most unpredictable moments which we then of course attempt to latch onto with endorphins and subtle justifiable craving and whispers of nostalgia but if you really want to penetrate a secret go to the desert and allow what is there in that endless boredom to penetrate what is inside of you and also: do this without a sense of later today or tomorrow or next week or really sometime soon but not right away or what you might imagine yourself to be like when you are legitimately elderly after a long, hard-lived life but rather do this with a sense of how it might appear to someone reading about you and your life and your good times and your good memories and your revulsion and regret and the best and worst of your behavior and decisions and dead reckoning and times of despair and of inspiration and of straight-up luck and of truly hard work and of fiascoes, failures and fate, reading about all of these things from say, six or seven hundred years from now, peering into the few faded and permanently degraded hues and inscrutable blotches that are to that reader but a semblance of every fertile femtosecond we have been sentient for or nearly sentient for or perhaps mostly dreaming of until startled.

June Meetup

Hello, hipsters,

We'll be meeting to discuss 2666: parts 1-3 at Frank's North Star Tavern on Tuesday, June 26th, 8:00 pm.  Why Tuesday?  For the $2 tall boys, obviously (you're welcome).

No spoilers, or you will be slain.  Game of Thrones style.  No joke.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Love and Enigmas in the Borderland

It took me about forty pages to fall in love, but Bolaño, you rascall, you've done it again -- I'm smitten, hopeless, want to curl up in the mystery of your geometry textbooks on clotheslines, your doppelganger nightmares, your insane painters with taxidermied hands.

One of my all time favorite books is Gloria Anzaldúa's feminist classic Borderlands / La Frontera, in spite of all its righteous angsty second-wave feminism.  I keep thinking about it while reading Pelletier and Espinoza's descent into the Mexican bordertown to hunt for their vanished (invented?) Archimboldi. What is it about the Borderland?  Anzaldúa would say:
A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. [...] Los atravesados live here: the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulatto, the half-breed, the half-dead; in short; those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the "normal."
For me this is what 2666 is about so far -- the descent into madness, the mingling of the rational puzzle-solving ethos of the academic with the irrational mystery of things like hedonism, passion, insanity.  Bolaño establishes this dialectic early on, page 9 specifically: "For [Liz Norton], reading was directly linked to pleasure, not to knowledge or enigmas or constructions or verbal labyrinths, as Morini, Espinoza, and Pelletier believed it to be."  It's perfect that Pelletier and Espinoza's insane hunt leads them to a borderland, and perfect that this is the place where young critics and academics go to lose their shadows; buy rugs from beautiful strangers; dream inexplicable dreams.  Perfect that they wind up more mad here than the pleasure-seeking Norton.  Perfect that this is what we can expect from an "increasingly, and terrifyingly, postnational world."

And so I wonder: where does Bolaño himself fall on this spectrum between logic and madness -- how many of the enigmas in 2666 are truly solvable, and how many are meant to remain unknown, just like E.M. Forster's Marabar Caves; the secret ScarJo whipsers into Bill Murray's ear; Edwin Johns' reason for chopping off his hand?  Is Bolaño, like his character Amalfitano, really just talking (beautiful) "nonsense"?  Or is Nog's skepticism founded, and can we pick up all the threads and tie them back together again in a tidy piece of lit crit?

I think I'm going with Lola and Amalfitano on this one... "madness is contagious."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Richard Critiques "The Part About the Critics" in Roberto Bolano's 2666

[Minor spoilers regarding Part One]

 If one had to identify a genre for the first part of Bolano’s 2666, “The Part About The Critics,” I’d probably call it a fusion of the “academic novel” and the “quest story.”

I’m not the most successful or ambitious of academics, but I managed to produce a dissertation (over a number of years and at the expense of a certain amount of sanity) and I have delivered a few papers at conferences solely devoted to my author of choice (August Wilson).  So I have more than passing knowledge of the subject matter that occupies the first of Bolano’s novel.   Devoting such excessive amounts of time to an author creates a fascinating felling of possessiveness, even ownership, after awhile.  At such conferences, many of the scholars have created a name for themselves through their focus on particular works, particular themes, or some other niche that separates them from the herd (I never quite got that far:  I was just “young white guy doing some work on Wilson”).  As Murray Jay Siskind tells Jack Gladney in DeLillo’s White Noise, Jack’s creation of a renowned “Hitler department” eventually led to everyone thinking of his subject as “Gladney’s Hitler.”   We see this occurring in 2666 as the four critics Pelletier, Espinoza, Morini, and Norton take an obscure, reclusive German author, Archimboldi, and through their various critical lenses manage to elevate him to an author on the verge of a Nobel.  In a sense, it’s almost as if they create Archimboldi out of thin air, and as they ultimately embark on a quest to locate him in a Mexican border town, we wonder how much of their pressing need to find him is truly for the common good (to bring a deserving artist into the public sphere) and how much is selfish academic egoism, a need to justify their life’s work.   As “The Part About the Critics” ends, Pelletier, in particular, seems to have drifted completely into Archimboldi-obsession, creepily reading the same three novels over and over, day and night, and insisting that “Archimboldi is here” (despite the fact that he can’t be found and no evidence of his presence has yet been discovered).

Random observations/questions:

I’m particularly intrigued by Amalfitano’s three-page monologue regarding Mexican intellectuals who, according to his tale, become so disengaged (or unreal?) that their shadows disappear:  “…your shadow is lost and you, momentarily, forget it.  And so you arrive on a kind of stage, without your shadow, and you start to translate reality or reinterpret it or sing it.”  At the end of the monologue, Norton (perhaps voicing the thoughts of the reader),  expresses utter confusion, to which Amalfitano says, “Really I’ve just been talking nonsense.”   Somehow I doubt it, Bolano!

Pelletier and Espinoza’s beating of the taxi driver establishes an obvious sex/violence link that I imagine will be developed as the novel goes on. “Pelletier felt as if he’d come…Norton, who was staring at them without seeing them in the dark, seemed to have experienced multiple orgasms”  Also, the beating is strangely paralleled later with another beating of a taxi driver (not involving any of our main characters).  Ideas?

How does the artist Edwin Johns and his severed hand factor into all this?