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."


  1. Great Passage to India reference! Now let's see if all Bolano's "echoes" add up (as soon as I finish Gillian Flynn's thriller and you all return from your erotica breaks).

  2. Those fucking Marabar Caves really stuck with me!