Week 1: pages 1–51

Welcome, everyone. This week we are discussing the first 51 pages of 2666. You can participate by leaving a comment on this post, posting in the forums or on your own blog, on bolano-l, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Tumblr, on Goodreads, Shelfari, or LibraryThing. Or invent your own way and let me know (matt@bolanobolano.com).

I should say from the outset that this is my second read of the novel. The first read was completed less than a year ago in conjunction with a group read on bolano-l. That read fizzled out way too early online, but there are still some excellent posts in the archives. I wrote some material there for the Part About the Critics that I will revise and post (where relevant) here.

This section introduces all the major characters of this Part: the four Archimboldi critics (Espinoza, Pelletier, Morini, and Norton) and Benno von Archimboldi himself (the star of Part V: The Part About Archimboldi). Plotwise, we see the development of each critic as an Archimboldean scholar and the subsequent enmeshment of their personal lives—namely that Pelletier, and then Espinoza, sleep with Liz Norton. We learn that Archimboldi’s life is shrouded in mystery. He was born in Prussia (and writes in German) with a name that looks Italian, but which he claims is Huguenot French (but with a German “von”), and his novels are either “English-themed”, or “Polish-themed”, or “clearly French-themed.”

As you will see in the timeline or locations index, there is quite a bit of traveling around in this section. The critics all live in different countries (England, France, Spain, Italy) and they frequently attend conferences in other countries to speak about a writer from a yet a different country (Germany). I believe that part of what Bolaño is doing here is showing the porousness of certain borders, that European national borders are so easily crossed and recrossed that it barely rates mentioning the difference between countries at all. Without giving anything away, the concept of the border plays a different role in later sections of the novel. Bolaño relishes the opportunity to cross borders and mix nationalities—almost as much as he enjoys mixing in the names of fictional writers with real ones. He himself is considered a Chilean writer, but he traveled throughout Mexico, Europe, and Central America before settling down in Blanes, Spain, where he spent the last 20 years of his life.

The first time I wrote about this section, I spent considerable time trying to look at the names of the characters. Some members of bolano-l thought that was too simplistic, but I still think it’s interesting. Here are a few tidbits:

• Ostensibly French, Pelletier is probably a  more common Quebecois surname now. For example, there is a Canadian writer named Jean-Jacques Pelletier. I don’t think Bolaño based Jean-Claude on Jean-Jacques, but it helps me to visualize the character, to put a face to a name so to speak.

• “Liz Norton” has got to be an homage to the Norton Anthology of English Literature (or any of the Norton anthologies).

• “Espinoza” is closely identified with the Dutch/Portuguese/Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (who wrote in Latin and whose name in Portuguese was written Bento de Espinosa).  Here again we have an allusion to someone whose nationality is either ill-defined or not related to their work.

• The Morini were a tribe in the Roman Empire that occupied a part of what is now French Flanders (the arrondissements near the border of Belgium). The descendents of Morini speak a difficult Dutch dialect called West-Vlaams (West Flemish). Morini is also the name of a large European target-pistol manufacturer that was originally founded in Italy but later moved to an Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. Both of these Morinis (the Roman tribe and the gunmaker) experience a shift, although they retain a language. In a way, Espinoza starts out studying Spanish and then shifts his focus to a German writer (Jünger) before
discovering another German writer (Archimboldi) with an Italian name.

• The name Archimboldi is very close to (Guiseppe) Arcimboldo, and Arcimboldo is sometimes written Arcimboldi. Arcimboldo is remembered for his portraits composed of fruit or other objects, but he was also multi-national: he worked in Italy and also served as official portraitist to the royal house of Habsburg in Vienna and Prague.

Michael and Nicole report no official deaths in the first 51 pages, but two brief mentions:

p. 30 – “A day later they found him in the yard, dead.”  Referring to the boy from the Japanese horror film recounted by Pelletier.  This one doesn’t count, but we are tracking death here.

Also on p. 43 we have the first mention of the femicides:  “Around this time, Morini was the first to read an article about the killings in Sonora . . . the dead numbered well over one hundred.” Based on the timeline, this is late 1996 or early 1997.


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21 Responses to “Week 1: pages 1–51”


  • Comment from Ben

    This is a tangent, but does anyone know if the Japanese horror film described on P. 30 is real? I assumed that it was fictional, being so close to Ringu, but given how easily Bolano combines the fictional and real I’m no longer certain.

  • I love how those italics came out. I assumed it was Ringu, though I’ve only seen the American remake.

  • Comment from adamgn

    The beginning of sex. What is to be made of all the sex in this book? It begins here with Norton and Pelletier/Espinoza… but needless to say, continues on throughout.

    What is Bolaño saying about sex? Is it nothing, or is it much more?

    Of course, I ask this question of seemingly everything in the book — is it nothing; or is it everything?

    But given where we are, I will stick to the sex question for now.

    • Comment from Matt

      I think that the sex is related to the theme of death, specifically the fear of death. Sex is a way of forgetting about or fighting against mortality.

      • Comment from Terrell Williamson

        I thought it was Ringu, so I checked the plot summary. Close, but not exactly. I think this is probably a fictional movie, but maybe not.

  • Comment from Hank

    This may be somewhat unrelated, but the surname Arcimboldo/Arcimboldi was also used in “The Savage Detectives,” in reference to an artist of some kind. I don’t remember if it was in reference to the “real” one (the painter) or not.

  • Comment from Jimmy

    Also, Morini sounds very similar to Angelo Morino, and he even reads his book in the park.

  • Comment from Lee

    On naming similarities, the Angel Moroni is said to have visited Mormon founder Joeseph Smith with the Gold Plates of the original Book of Mormon. The originals were lost, leaving only Mr. Smith’s transcriptions. Even the later (“original”, the first of whom there is concrete evidence) cloth-bound Books of Mormon are rare. Most were destroyed in the succession of anti-Mormon riots.

  • Comment from Nick Courage

    Focusing on import of character names is a great way in – technically called “onomastics”… Critically, people will cut you a little more slack on the proper name front if you say you’re doing “onomastical inquiry”. Great post, excited about the read.

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mattbucher: Any Spinoza or Arcimboldo experts out there? http://www.bolanobolano.com/2010/01/25/week-1/ #2666…

  • Comment from Dan Summers

    I’m very excited to see where this goes, as well. Bolano’s prose and humor are brilliant, and he has a wonderful descriptive voice. I particularly enjoyed the recollections of the Swabian, and his memory of the widow’s story of her trip to Argentina.

    Perhaps (as I commented over at my own blog) this is part of Bolano’s desire to make national identity malleable, but I’m having a hard time differentiating between Pelletier and Espinoza. They seem largely interchangeable. Anyone else feel this way?

  • Comment from Paul Debraski

    My first week’s post is up. It’s a bit flimsy I feel as I’m just getting my footing for the book, and I haven’t really thought up any themes. but of course I’m interested in any input.

    Cheers,
    Paul

    http://ijustreadaboutthat.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/roberto-bolano-2666-week-1/

  • Comment from Jeff Stern

    I also assumed the movie was Ringu (haven’t seen either version).

    I found the sex stuff to be similar to the stuff about the different countries: an examination/exploration of how we expect there to be certain borders (between countries/colleagues), but when these are traversed they seem irrelevant. Even cross-cultural behavioral borders can be broken down (Pelletier and Espinoza choosing to remain friends and also continue relationships with Norton).

    I got the feeling reading these first 50 pages that Bolano is playing with the idea that despite real changes in technology and transportation (changes that make today’s world markedly different than it has ever been), humanity may not have changed much at all. I really liked how Bolano played around with different ways of communicating to the reader what the characters are thinking/saying/feeling. I found the word count for Espinoza and Pelletier’s conversation particularly brilliant.

  • Comment from Jeff Stern

    @Dan,

    I also found Espinoza and Pelletier to be a bit interchangeable, with the notable exception of the description of their sexual history/ability (finding out that Bolano lived in Spain for so long also adds a bit more color to that already colorful bit).

    I have a feeling that Bolano is setting something up to show that they both came to this scholarship in traditional ways, and will therefore be less successful than Norton and Morini who come to it from less traditional pathways (passion for subject and blatant careerism/self-interest). But I haven’t really thought any of that through.

  • Comment from Trent Crable

    The movie certainly sounds like Ringu to me.

    About Archimboldi: As I understand it, “imboldi” means impulse in Romanian. Pair that with the prefix “arch” and you get something like “principle impulse.” Which is interesting, but for now I’m guessing that it’s just a coincidence mostly because I don’t think “arch” is used as a prefix the same way in Spanish.

  • [...] Morini because he’s crippled, but the other two are virtually interchangeable. Matt Bucher suggests that the way Bolaño tosses these people — all of different nationalities, recall — [...]

  • [...] I also enjoyed the suggestion over at bolanobolano that Archimboldi may be based loosely on the painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo who is famous for works [...]

  • [...] month, eBookNewser reported on the formation of an online Roberto Bolano reading group eMeeting at bolanobolano.com. The group formed to read the Chilean author’s door stopper masterpiece 2666, and the group [...]


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