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?


  1. I like the feeling of the concealed mine shaft opening on the stage behind the shadowless intellectuals as the totality of the system they live and work in and their relationship to [any] consumers of their creations (which are perhaps not really real creations but translations of noise in the system modulated by differently uninformed input from the front row).

    And the idea of their shadows as being their true selves, which they must ditch at some point as they fall under the spell of the system and paradigm they find themselves in, but they stay loosely but sufficiently acquainted with their true selves (the shadows come home at night) to avoid going off the deep end and blowing their brains out.

    It's interesting to see what constitutes "selling out" or "selling one's soul" in different contexts, different paradigms.

    Doesn't it all just seem like nonsense sometimes? True, but nonsensical, all at the same time.