Week 2: Bolaño and the Academy

by Maria Bustillos

The academy in 2666 is very meticulously observed, viagra sale and yet I cannot find much detail out there about Bolaño’s own formal education. Nobody online seems to mention any specific institutions where he worked, capsule taught, visit web or wrote. It seems almost inevitable that if there were any such institutions, their representatives would have been very keen to claim such an association. So it appears that we are looking at an autodidact? A very, very learned autodidact, who lived all over the world, and who was superconnected in Spanish and Latin American literary and political circles. (Please comment, if you know more on this point!)

I’d like to know more about the apparent difference between the American literary world and the European/Latin American one that Bolaño was part of. “Serious” writers in the US seem in general to be more closely tied to the academy, though “establishment” figures like the Nobel-winning Octavio Paz taught at a whole lot of fancy schools. But Bolaño was a socialist, in some sense a revolutionary, and I think we can extrapolate beyond that to conjecture that he saw his contribution to literature (as to the world at large) as subversive, anti-authoritarian—as, generally, the work of an outsider.

So, as I was saying … despite the fact that Bolaño was not of the academy, he seems to have understood its workings very well indeed. The critics of 2666 are very like real academics in all their ambition and their weird intellectual competitiveness, shot through with a real and passionate desire to read, and understand, and to write, and be understood.

With all this in mind, let’s have a look at the following mind-blowing, virtuoso passage from the novel, quite possibly my favorite so far. It speaks clearly to Bolaño’s rejection of the academic life, and of institutions generally. This rejection comes on all fronts: societal, cultural, political and intellectual.

(And at this point it must be said that there’s truth to the saying make your name, then sleep and reap fame, because Espinoza’s and Pelletier’s participation in the conference “Reflecting the Twentieth Century: The Work of Benno von Archimboldi,” not to mention their contribution to it, was at best null, at worst catatonic, as if they were suddenly spent or absent, prematurely aged or in a state of shock, a fact that didn’t pass unnoticed by the attendees used to Espinoza’s and Pelletier’s displays of energy [sometimes brazen] at this sort of event, nor did it go unnoticed by the latest litter of Archimboldians, recent graduates, boys and girls, their doctorates tucked still warm under their arms, who planned, by any means necessary, to impose their particular readings of Archimboldi, like missionaries ready to instill faith in God, even if to do so meant signing a pact with the devil, for most were what you might call rationalists, not in the philosophical sense but in the pejorative literal sense, denoting people less interested in literature than in literary criticism, the one field, according to them—some of them, anyway—where revolution was still possible, and in some way they behaved not like youths but like nouveaux youths, in the sense that there are the rich and the nouveaux riches, all of them generally rational thinkers, let us repeat, although often incapable of telling their asses from their elbows, and although they noticed a there and a not-there, an absence-presence in the fleeting passage of Pelletier and Espinoza through Bologna, they were incapable of seeing what was really important: Pelletier’s and Espinoza’s absolute boredom regarding everything said there about Archimboldi or their negligent disregard for the gaze of others, as if the two were so much cannibal fodder, a disregard lost on the young conferencegoers, those eager and insatiable cannibals, their thirtysomething faces bloated with success, their expressions shifting from boredom to madness, their coded stutterings speaking only two words: love me, or maybe two words and a phrase: love me, let me love you, though obviously no one understood.)

Despite his fire-breathing (and hilarious) condemnation of these conventional representatives of the Life of the Mind, I don’t mistake Bolaño for any kind of “art for art’s sake” idealist, or for a sniffy or superior “radical,” either. He distinguishes between those who love criticism more than literature in a manner that suggests very clearly that there is a right side of that question to be on, but he doesn’t really tear these guys down in order to put himself above, in the manner, say, of Henry Miller, or Harold Bloom, or James Wood, even. There’s compassion in it, as well as a smackdown, and the ego quotient is not high. Indeed I have formed the impression that there was not one self-regarding bone in this guy’s bod. Just as an aside, because I know that there are so many admirers of David Foster Wallace here: it’s no surprise to me that so many Wallace fans are drawn to Bolaño, because of this pre-eminent quality of intellectual humility, plus low bullshit-tolerance.

(So I had written the above, and then I happened across the most beautiful illustration of this!)

Rodrigo Fresán’s eulogy of Bolaño (http://www.letraslibres.com/index.php?art=8981) is a lovely, gentle, rather elaborately worded remembrance of his friend. He paints Bolaño as a passionate and lively companion, but most of all, as a writer through and through; a man completely dedicated to and steeped in the literary life.

Toward the end, Fresán’ quotes a remarkable email that he received from Bolaño:

Yo no sé cómo hay escritores que aún creen en la inmortalidad literaria. Entiendo que haya quienes creen en la inmortalidad del alma, incluso puedo entender a los que creen en el Paraíso y el Infierno y en esa estación intermedia y sobrecogedora que es el Purgatorio, pero cuando escucho a un escritor hablar de la inmortalidad de determinadas obras literarias me dan ganas de abofetearlo. No estoy hablando de pegarle sino de darle una sola bofetada y después, probablemente, abrazarlo y confortarlo. En esto yo sé que no estarás de acuerdo conmigo, Rodrigo, porque tú eres una persona básicamente no violenta. Yo también lo soy. Cuando digo darle una bofetada estoy más bien pensando en el carácter lenitivo de ciertas bofetadas, como aquellas que en el cine se les da a los histéricos o a las histéricas para que reaccionen y dejen de gritar y salven su vida.

(This is my own translation … please let me know if I’ve botched anything.)

I don’t know how there can be writers who still believe in literary immortality. I understand that there might be those who believe in the immortality of the soul, and I can even believe there are those who believe in Paradise and Hell and in that freaky intermediate station that is Purgatory, but when I hear a writer speak of the immortality of definite works of literature I feel like slapping him. I’m not talking about really belting, so much as just one slap, and afterwards, probably, hugging and comforting him. In this I know that you won’t be in agreement with me, Rodrigo, because you are basically a non-violent person. As am I. When I say, deliver a slap, I’m more thinking of the palliative character of certain slappings, like those in the movies that are administered to hysterics so that they will react, stop screaming, and save their own lives.

Week 2: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

76: In the aftermath of beating the Pakistani cab driver, page Pelletier and Espinoza discover that there was a sort of almost sexual feeling for them during the beating, help not as if they wanted to have sex with the cab driver but rather more masturbatory. The experience is described has having taken place during a dreamlike state.

78: Pelletier is married to Norton and living near a cliff overlooking a beach. People are always on the beach, medicine usually doing frivolous, meaningless things and apparently waiting for something. Sometimes he can soar over the beach like a seagull. Norton is something of a background presence in the house, sometimes making noise or speaking, but declining to enter a room he’s in. Pelletier loses any sense of time and tries to sleep sitting in his chair but keeps his eyes on the beach, looking for a glimmer of light. He discovers that the Archimboldi papers before him are in fact written in French rather than German. One day, the beach folk leave the beach, so that all that’s left is a “dark form projecting from a yellow pit.” He wonders if he should go bury it but thinks about how far he’d have to walk to get to the beach (compare to Morini’s observations of distance in his own recent dream). He sees a tremor in the sea and hears a hum of bees, and then silence. He calls Norton’s name but she doesn’t answer. He weeps and watches the remains of a simultaneously horrific and beautiful statue (formless stone, remnants of a hand, wrist, and forearm) emerge from the bottom of a metallic sea. This statue recalls Morini’s dream of a female figure making her way to a rock jutting from the edge of the pool.

85: Having slept with a Mexican prostitute (among many others of late), Espinoza dreams one night that he remembers some indecipherable words she had said to him. Within the dream, he knows he’s dreaming and fears he’ll lose the words and resolves to remember them before he wakes up. The sky is spinning and he tries to shout to wake himself up but all he hears is a distant moan as of an animal or child. The bulbs in the house seem to have burned out. All he remembers of the dream after waking up is watching the woman standing in a dim hallway. She’s reading something written on the wall and spelling it out as if she doesn’t know how to read.
94: After meeting with Edwin Johns, Morini disappears, and Espinoza and Pelletier spend a lot of time worrying about him and trying to find him. One day, he suddenly appears as if he had never been gone. Bolaño describes Pelletier’s first talk with Morini afterward as having been like waking from a bad, baffling dream.

Week 2: The White Hind

by Maria Bustillos

So this morning I came across my loveliest find in the book so far. Pelletier and Espinoza are finally forced to discuss their joint and several loss of Norton at the symposium in Mainz. Everybody has left the bar, cure and Pelletier finally brings up the subject of Norton. How is she? Espinoza confesses that he does not know. The white phone in her apartment “floated in their conversation.” Then:

Oh white hind, information pills little hind, white hind, murmured Espinoza.

(What a strange, pretty phrase!)

“Pelletier assumed he was quoting a classic […]”

Since I am attuned to the subject of quotation/rewriting in this book (see my earlier post,) I made haste to source this quote. My first instinct was to look up what I remembered of the phrase, “the white hind,” in English. On a Wiccan site I read that “According to Celtic myth, Otherworld deities sent a white hind or stag to guide chosen humans into their realm.” (http://paganismwicca.suite101.com/article.cfm/deer_pagan_symbol_of_gentleness)

And then, the White Hind is an old image of purity and immortality; an image of the pursued beast, eternally pursued, as in Dryden’s “The Hind and the Panther” (okay so the Hind also symbolizes the Catholic church, here, but still):

A milk-white Hind, immortal and unchang’d,

Fed on the lawns, and in the forest rang’d;

Without unspotted, innocent within,

She fear’d no danger, for she knew no sin.

Yet had she oft been chas’d with horns and hounds

And Scythian shafts; and many winged wounds

Aim’d at her heart; was often forc’d to fly,

And doom’d to death, though fated not to die.

Then I thought I’d better check the Spanish for this phrase, and it turns out that “La Cierva Blanca” is a freaking beautiful poem by Borges—a poem that came to him in a dream! A poem transcribed from the dream of a beautiful, fleeting, “one-sided” English hind. No, seriously. I am so blown away by beauty and complexity of this book, for I could quite easily have swept past this phrase without pausing; what else am I missing? (I haven’t even begun to unpack the Borges poem, really. What is the Persian reference, here?)

Here is the poem, in the original and in translation, and I promise you that it will knock your socks off.

LA CIERVA BLANCA

¿De qué agreste balada de la verde Inglaterra,
De qué lámina persa, de qué región arcana
De las noches y días que nuestro ayer encierra,
Vino la cierva blanca que soñé esta mañana?
Duraría un segundo. La vi cruzar el prado
Y perderse en el oro de una tarde ilusoria,
Leve criatura hecha de un poco de memoria
Y de un poco de olvido, cierva de un solo lado.
Los númenes que rigen este curioso mundo
Me dejaron soñarte pero no ser tu dueño;
Tal vez en un recodo del porvenir profundo
Te encontraré de nuevo, cierva blanca de un sueño.
Yo también soy un sueño fugitivo que dura
unos días más que el sueño del prado y la blancura.

In English:

THE WHITE HIND

From what rustic ballad out of green England,
from what Persian picture, from what secret zone
of nights and days that our yesterday encloses,
came the white hind I dreamed this morning?
It lasted only a second. I saw it cross the meadow
and lose itself in the gold of an illusive evening,
a slight creature made from a pinch of memory
and a pinch of forgetfulness, a one-sided hind.
The gods that govern this peculiar world
let me dream you but not be your master;
perhaps at a bend in the deep time to come
I’ll find you again, white hind of a dream.
I too am a fleeting dream that lasts
a few days longer than dreams of meadows and whiteness.

[Via http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com]

Week 2: pages 51-102

When we left off at the end of week 1, what is ed Morini was sitting in more about +Italian+Gardens&sll=51.506178,-0.207367&sspn=0.200873,0.408554&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Buckingham+Palace+Gardens&ll=51.508208,-0.160203&spn=0.006611,0.012767&t=h&z=16&layer=c&cbll=51.51013,-0.157141&panoid=D96-RJWRNaCmc6kloBm_Uw&cbp=12,212.42,,0,-7.25″>Hyde Park reading Sor Juana’s recipes aloud to a stranger. The next day, Liz Norton tells Morini the story of the tortured artist Edwin Johns, who cut off his own hand and then went mad. Clearly Johns’ story is a metaphor for an idea about the role of the artist, but what do we make of the role of the critic in relation to the artist? Why are these literary critics suddenly talking about painters?

We also learn about the article a Serbian critic published in Pelletier’s academic journal. The Serb’s article details the life of Archimboldi, mainly to confirm Archimboldi’s human, worldly existence. The four critics search for tiny clues in this article and offer their own interpretations of what those clues might mean in terms of where Archimboldi might be located at this very moment and even what Archimboldi might look like.

Liz Norton feels a need to change her life and effectively breaks up with both Pelletier and Espinoza. Despite some awkwardness at subsequent conferences, the two cannot be enemies and remain good friends. Three months later, they decide to pay a visit to Norton in London and then they meet Alex Pritchard. There is some name-calling and tension, but Pritchard leaves them alone. On a later visit, Pritchard tells Pelletier that Norton is The Medusa.

Pelletier and Espinoza continue to worry about the role of love and sex in their lives and what future the pursuit of either brings. In the midst of this, things take a turn toward the dark side. Pelletier and Espinoza get into an argument with a Pakistani cab driver in London and beat the man within an inch of his life. The two critics never felt more alive. Pelletier and Espinoza turn to prostitutes. Pelletier becomes involved with a prostitute named Vanessa. When Pelletier tells Espinoza about this involvement, Espinoza responds: “Whores are there to be fucked—not psychoanalyzed.”

The critics (minus Morini) unite in London and Espinoza tells Norton about the time that the three of them, oh yeah, went to Switzerland to see Edwin Johns. Morini asked Johns why he (Johns) cut off his own hand. Johns leans over and whispers in Morini’s ear and walks away. The next day, Morini has disappeared, fled back home to Italy without saying goodbye. Pelletier and Espinoza cannot reach him by phone for days. Norton tells them that during that time Morini has been in London. Morini tells Norton that Johns cut off his hand “for money.”

During a seminar in Toulouse, the critics meet a Mexican scholar named Rodolfo Alatorre. Alatorre tells Morini that one of his friends in Mexico City saw Archimboldi just the other day. Alatorre tells the story of El Cerdo (the poet Almendro) being called to Archimboldi’s hotel room, to rescue the old German. In the brief glimpse we have of El Cerdo and Archimboldi together, El Cerdo seems like the more charismatic and interesting person because the narration is from his point of view only. Bolaño does not give us access to any of Archimboldi’s thoughts or motivations. Go figure.

Nicole reports that there are no deaths to count this week. However, the gallery owner on page 97 mentions the death of his grandmother, who left him the gallery and may now be haunting it.

Week 1: Vocabulary

by Meaghan Doyle

abstruse

difficult to comprehend

anodyne

not likely to offend or arouse tensions

ascetic

practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline

au pair

a usually young foreign person who cares for children and does domestic work for a family in return for room and board and the opportunity to learn the family’s language

charcuterie

dressed meats and meat dishes

cirrhosis

widespread disruption of normal liver structure by fibrosis and the formation of regenerative nodules

colophon

an identifying mark, clinic emblem, or device used by a printer or a publisher

conflagration

fire; especially : a large disastrous fire

coprophagy

feeding on dung

creole

of or relating to Creoles or their language: a person of mixed French or Spanish and black descent speaking a dialect of French or Spanish

Dionysian

characteristic of Dionysus or the cult of worship of Dionysus; especially : being of a frenzied or orgiastic character

Eurylochus

second-in-command of Odysseus’ ship

flamenco

a vigorous rhythmic dance style of the Andalusian Gypsies; also : a dance in flamenco style

Fury

any of the avenging deities in Greek mythology who torment criminals and inflict plagues

garde du corps

bodyguard

gastronomic

the art or science of good eating

gaucho

a cowboy of the South American pampas

goulash

a stew made with meat (as beef), assorted vegetables, and paprika

Hecate

a Greek goddess associated especially with the underworld, night, and witchcraft

Huguenot

a member of the French Reformed communion especially of the 16th and 17th centuries

insularity

characteristic of an isolated people; especially : being, having, or reflecting a narrow provincial viewpoint

lacuna

a blank space or a missing part

licentious

lacking legal or moral restraints

macerated

to cause to become soft or separated into constituent elements by or as if by steeping in fluid

maestro

a master usually in an art

Mnemosyne

the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the Muses by Zeus

Nerval

was the nom-de-plume of the French poet, essayist and translator Gérard Labrunie

oblique

neither perpendicular nor parallel : inclined

oeuvre

a substantial body of work constituting the lifework of a writer, an artist, or a composer

omertà

conspiracy of silence

osmosis

a usually effortless often unconscious assimilation

pastoral

portraying or expressive of the life of shepherds or country people especially in an idealized and conventionalized manner

penultimate

next to the last

pergola

a structure usually consisting of parallel colonnades supporting an open roof of girders and cross rafters

petit comite

small group

peyote

a hallucinogenic drug containing mescaline that is derived from peyote buttons and used especially in the religious ceremonies of some American Indian peoples

phosphorescent

exhibiting phosphorescence : luminescence that is caused by the absorption of radiations

Promethean

daringly original or creative

prosody

the rhythmic and intonational aspect of language

purloined

to appropriate wrongfully and often by a breach of trust

quadrangle

a 4-sided enclosure especially when surrounded by buildings

redoubtable

causing fear or alarm : formidable

sardonic

disdainfully or skeptically humorous

scatology

interest in or treatment of obscene matters especially in literature

simulacrum

image, representation

solipsism

a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing

soporific

causing or tending to cause sleep

spleen

feelings of anger or ill will often suppressed

structuralism

psychology concerned especially with resolution of the mind into structural elements

thrall

a state of servitude or submission

transmuted

to change or alter in form, appearance, or nature and especially to a higher form

Ulysses

Odysseus : a king of Ithaca and Greek leader in the Trojan War who after the war wanders 10 years before reaching home

Zapatista

The Liberation Army of the South was an armed group formed and led by Emiliano Zapata which took part in the Mexican Revolution.

Week 1: Locations

by Sara Corona Goldstein

Week One (pp. 1-51)

Paris, no rx France – Pelletier studied German literature at University here in 1980. (p. 3)

Munich, buy information pills Germany – Pelletier travels here in 1981 and finds Archimboldi’s Mitzi’s Treasure and The Garden. (p. 4)

Turin, more about Italy – Morini teaches German literature here and is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. (p. 6)

Madrid, Spain (El Escorial) – Espinoza is excluded from a trip here with the Jüngerians. (p. 7)

Berlin, Germany – Norton lives here for three months in 1988, where she is introduced to Archimboldi. (p. 9)

Bologna, Italy – German literature colloquium held in 1993, attended by Morini, Espinoza, and Pelletier. They meet Liz Norton. (p.11)

Bremen, Germany – literature conference held shortly after Bologna conference. (p. 12)

Avignon, France – the four critics meet again at the postwar European literature colloquium at the end of 1994. (p. 15)

Amsterdam, The Netherlands – they meet again in 1995 at a panel discussion on contemporary German literature. They meet the Swabian. (p. 17)

Frisian town (unnamed), Germany – the Swabian met Archimboldi and the widow here while working as a cultural promoter. (p. 18)

Buenos Aires, Argentina – the widow traveled here in 1927 or 1928, where her husband won three horse races and the lady talked with the little gaucho. (p. 20)

Hamburg, Germany – Pelletier and Espinoza travel here to visit Archimboldi’s publisher. They meet with Mrs. Bubis. (p. 24)

Salonika, Greece – Morini, while attending a conference, suffers a mild attack of temporary blindness. (p. 35)

Salzburg, Germany – the four meet again in 1996 at the contemporary German literature symposium. They learn that Archimboldi may be a Nobel candidate and declare peace with the other faction of Archimboldi scholars. (p. 36)

Hyde Park, London – Morini, while on a visit to see Norton, sits here reading a book about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and her recipes. He talks with and reads to a bum. (p. 48)

Week 1: Dreams

By Daryl L. L. Houston

Our first encounter with dreams in 2666 isn’t so much an encounter as a brush-by. On page 14, help we’re told that Morini may have dreamed some horrible unrecollected dream.

On page 22, website we have another non-dream, about it but a sleep disturbance, as the Frisian lady in the gaucho story the Swabian recounts is kept up one night, tossing and turning as she tries to unpuzzle the gaucho’s son’s revelation that her husband’s horse racing victories had been fixed.

Yet another false-start on the dream front is the sort of hypnotic state Norton enters after sex with Espinoza, as revealed on page 34.

Another curious episode could be construed to be a dream (pp. 35 – 36). Morini apparently wakes up blind one morning. After making his way over to the window he had been gazing out the night before and having a dizzy spell, he goes back to bed and wakes up an hour later with sight, then calmly goes about his morning. The episode is presented matter of factly as if it happened as described, but it’s tempting to suggest that Morini merely dreamed the blindness.

On page 40, we have again not a dream proper, but mention of dreaming: “with her words Norton managed to give substance to a being whom neither Espinoza nor Pelletier had ever seen, as if her ex existed only in their dreams.”

Finally, starting on page 45, we have not just a dream, but a full-fledged nightmare on Morini’s part. The three male scholars are playing cards around a stone table while Norton is diving into a pool situated behind Espinoza and Pelletier, who are absorbed in the game. As he plays, Morini watches people in the area, and they begin to leave. Pelletier seems to be winning the card game. Morini abandons the game and wheels himself to the edge of the pool, which turns out to be huge, with oily patches here and there. He’s looking for Norton. A fog appears, and suddenly the pool empties and turns out to be very deep. He sees a female figure at the bottom, and she starts to make her way to a rock jutting from the edge of the pool. Meanwhile, he senses someone behind him that he believes to be evil and who wants him to turn and look at his/her face. He backs away but finally turns and sees a young Norton’s face. He wonders who’s walking in the bottom of the pool and feels “deeply and inconsolably sad.” He turns to face Norton, and she says “There’s no turning back,” apparently via telepathy. She repeats it in German and turns paradoxically and walks away into a forest giving off a red glow. Note this utterance of Norton’s alongside Morini’s own thought, expressed on page 43, that nothing is ever behind us.

Week 1: Characters

by Brooks Williams

Jean-Claude Pelletier

Born 1961. Discovered Archimboldi (D’Arsonval) while studying German literature in Paris, link Christmas 1980 at the age of 19 (3). Read Mitzi’s Treasure and then The Garden. Translated D’Arsonval into French in 1983. A professor of German in Paris (by 1986). Translated two other (unnamed) Archimboldi works. “…regarded almost universally as the preeminent authority on Benno von Archimboldi across the length and breadth of France” (4).

Experiences a sort of rebirth while translating D’Arsonval. Not unlike the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:22-32). “…first, that his life as he had lived it so far was over; second, that a brilliant career was opening up before him, and that to maintain its glow he had to persist in his determination, in sole testament to that garret.” (5)

First met Morini in 1989 at a German literature conference. First met Espinoza in 1990 at a conference. First meets Norton in 1993 or 1994 (12).

Realizes he loves Liz Norton (16) and is first to sleep with her after the meetings with Schnell and Mrs. Bubis in 1995 (30).

Piero Morini

Born 1956, near Naples. Discovered Archimboldi in 1976. Translated Bifurcaria, Bifurcata to Italian in 1988. Shortly afterwards, published two studies – “one on the role of fate in Railroad Perfection, and the other on the various guises of conscience and guilt in Lethaea, on the surface an erotic novel, and in Bitzius, a novel less than one hundred pages long, similar in some ways to Mitzi’s Treasure…” (6). Also translated Saint Thomas in 1991.
Has multiple sclerosis, “suffered [a] strange and spectacular accident that left her permanently wheelchair-bound.” (6)
Teaches German literature at the University of Turin.
First met Pelletier 1989 at a German literature conference. First met Espinoza in 1990 at a conference. First meets Norton in 1993 or 1994 (12).

Manuel Espinoza

Younger than Pelletier and Morini (no date of birth given). Originally wanted to be a writer and studied Spanish literature. Had a brief period of interest in Ernst Jünger before becoming interested in German Literature. Completed his doctorate in German literature in 1990. Never translated any German author “since the glory he coveted was of the writer, not the translator.” (6)

First met Morini and Pelletier in 1990 at a conference. First meets Norton in 1993 or 1994 (12).

Realizes he loves Liz Norton (16) and sleeps with her after the meetings with Schnell and Mrs. Bubis (33-34).
Some additional thoughts:

• Bolano infers that in The Sorrows of Young Werther Espinoza would find a “kindrid spirit” (6). As a plot device it infers that Espinoza is chasing a career in writing that he will never have and he ought to just murder that desire and get on with it. At the same time Espinoza’s character is illuminated – he is emotional and likely to perform mellow dramatic acts of passion that have grave consequences. Or maybe not.

Espinoza seems fundamentally immature. Example – “He also discovered that he was bitter and full of resentment, that he oozed resentment, and that he might easily kill someone, anyone, if it would provide a respite from the loneliness and rain and cold of Madrid.” (7-8) I guess it’s supposed to reflect some kind of Spanish passion, but to me it just feels immature. Rather emo, really.

Liz Norton

Born 1968 in England (9). She is divorced (33). Discovered Archimboldi in 1998 when visiting Berlin – was loaned The Blind Woman by a friend. Later discovered Bitzius in a college library (9).

Teaches German literature at a university in London. Not a full professor. Discovered by Pelletier, Morini, and Espinoza via an article in Literary Studies (#46) in 1993 or 1994. Met them around the same time at a conference (12).
Has no close friends (44).
Sleeps with Pelletier in 1995 (30). Some time afterwards sleeps with Espinoza (33-34).

The Opposing Group of Archimboldians

Schwartz, Borchmeyer and Pohl (11) and later Dieter Hellfeld (37).

The Swabian

Unnamed, obscure German author that speaks at a 1995 penel discussion on contemporary German literature in Amsterdam. Tells a story about being a cultural promoter “for a Frisian town, north of Wilhelmshaven, facing the Black Sea coast and the East Frisian islands…” (18) where Archimboldi had come to do a reading.
Notes that Archimboldi had read two chapters from his second novel, a work in progress. His first novel, according to the Swabian, was short – between 100 and 125 pages [Lüdicke] . Archimboldi is 29 or 30 years old [so this is probably around 1950]. After the reading, the Swabian and Archimboldi go to dinner with a teacher and a widow. The latter tells a long story involving a gaucho, a horse race, and a riddle. By the next morning Archimboldi had disappeared.
The Swabian reappears via an article in the Reutlingen Morning News in which a bit more information is given about Archimboldi and the widow (38).

Schnell

Editor in chief of Archimboldi’s publisher (in Hamburg). Pelletier and Espinzoa visit him shortly after the encounter with the Swabian (and believe him to be gay) (24).

Mrs. Bubis

Widow of Archimboldi’s publisher (Mr. Bubis). Visited by Pelletier and Espinzoa. Tells a story about how the work of George Grosz affects her (joy) versus how it affects a critic friend (sorrow) (26-27).

Shares an odd review of Archimboldi’s first novel by someone named Schleiermacher (27-28).

Mr. Bubis

Archimboldi’s publisher. Knew (and was loved by) all of the famous German writers, according to his wife (26). Aside from the publicity director and the copy chief, he is the only person at the publishing house that had actually met Archimboldi in person (24).


Liz Norton’s Ex-Husband

“… six foot three and not very stable…”
“…the worst husband a woman could inflict on herself, no matter how you looked at it. (34)

“…a horribly violent monster, but one who never materialized…” (40)

Referenced again in an email from Norton to Morini (43).

The Stranger

First mention: (48)

The stranger sits next to Morini in a park in London while Morini is visiting Liz Norton (48).
“The stranger had straw-colored hair, graying and dirty, and must have weighed at least two hundred and fifty pounds.” (48)

The stranger worked for a mug company that shifted their focus from text to pictures. This shift made the man very unhappy and he quit his job. He said that it was the new modernness of that caused his unhappiness (“they’re destroying me inside”) (49-50).

He asked Morini to read him some recipes from the book Morini is reading (Il libro di cucina di Juana Inés de la Cruz) (50-51)

Historical Characters

  • Page 6
    • Friedrich Hölderlin (1770 – 1843) – German Romantic poet. A Swabian (!!)
    • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) – German writer and polymath. Famous works: Faust, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Interesting trivia – the second part of Faust was published posthumously.
    • Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805) – German poet and playwright. Schiller was buddies with Goethe from 1794 until his death. A Swabian (!!)
    • Ernst Jünger (1895 – 1998) – German writer. A leader (?) in the Conservative Revolutionary movement of the 1920’s. Among the forerunners of magical realism (which would be later used to great acclaim by Gabriel García Márquez).
  • Page 7
    • Camilo José Cela (1916 – 2002) – Spanish writer. Fought on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Nobel Prize (Literature) in 1989.
    • William James (1842 – 1910) – American psychologist and philosopher.
  • Page 10
    • Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856) – German Romantic Poet (assumed reference here, only the last name is used in the text)
    • Arno Schmidt (1914 – 1979) – German author and translator.
  • Page 11
    • Miguel de Unamuno (1864 – 1936) – Spanish essayist, novelist, poet, playwright and philosopher
  • Page 12
  • Page 19
    • Gustav Heller, Rainer Kuhl, Wilhelm Frayn – invented authors
  • Page 26
    • Chaim Soutine (1893 – 1943) – “… Jewish, expressionist painter from Belarus. He has been interpreted as both a forerunner of Abstract Expressionism and as a proponent of painting in the European tradition”
    • Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) – Russian painter. Early abstract painter
    • George Grosz (1893 – 1959) – German artist. Known for caricature work in his early career. A member of the Verist-wing of the New Objectivists group.
    • Oskar Kokoschka (1886 – 1980) – Austrian expressionist painter
    • James Ensor (1860 – 1949) – Belgian painter
    • Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955) – German writer. Nobel Prize (Literature) 1929. Younger brother of Heinrich Mann.
    • Heinrich Mann (1871 – 1950) – German writer. Exiled in 1933. Older brother of Thomas Mann
    • Klaus Mann (1906 – 1949) – German writer. Son of Thomas Mann. It’s notable that each mentioned member of the Mann family lost their German citizenship between 1933 and 1936 and ended up living (and dying) in the US.
    • Alfred Döblin (1878 – 1957) – German expressionist novelist. Heavily influenced Günter Grass.
    • Hermann Hesse (1877 – 1962) – German born Swiss writer. Nobel Prize (Literature) 1946.
    • Walter Benjamin (1892 – 1940) – “a German-Jewish Marxist philosopher-sociologist, literary critic, translator and essayist”
    • Anna Seghers (1900 – 1983) – German writer.
    • Stefan Zweig (1881 – 1942) – Austrian writer.
    • Bertolt Brecht (1868 – 1956) – German poet and playwright
    • Lion Feuchtwanger (1884 – 1958) – German novelist and playwright
    • Johannes Becher (1891 – 1958) – German expressionist writer and politician.
    • Oskar Maria Graf (1894 – 1967) – German writer. Sometimes used a pseudonym – Oskar Graf-Berg.
    • Hans Fallada (1893 – 1947) – German writer. Born Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen.
    • Marlene Dietrich (1901 – 1992) – German-born American actress and singer.
  • Page 42
    • Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) – French poet and translator. “Baudelaire’s name has become a byword for literary and artistic decadence.”
  • Page 44
    • Marquis de Sade (1740 – 1814) – French aristocrat and writer, famous for his erotic novels.
  • Page 47

Misc. References

The Sorrows of Young Wertherpublished 1774, written by Johann Wolfgang con Goethe. Plot summary is essentially that there’s this dude (Werther, a thinly disguised Goethe) who falls in love with this girl (Charlotte) but she’s already with another guy (Albert). Regardless, Werther becomes very close to Charlotte and Albert. The marriage of Charlotte and Albert cause Werther all kinds of mental anguish and after Charlotte sends him away, Werther commits suicide.

Huguenot (38) – “…members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France (or French Calvinists) from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Since the eighteenth century, Huguenots have been commonly designated ‘French Protestants’, the title being suggested by their German co-religionists or ‘Calvinists’. “

Some Additional Notes On The Works Of Archimboldi:

D’Arsonval – possibly a reference to Jacques-Arsène d’Arsonval, who was a French physicist. The D’Arsonval phenomenon is commonly referred to as the Tesla Current (“An alternating current having a frequency of 10 kilohertz or greater produces no muscular contractions and does not affect the sensory nerves”). Remember that this is the first Archimboldi that Pelletier reads and is also the first that he translates from German to French. We’ll discuss this more next week…

Saint ThomasThomas the Apostle was known mostly for disbelieving in Jesus’s resurrection (John 20:28). The phrase “doubting Thomas” finds its origins in Saint Thomas. It is Morini that translates this work – I wonder if there’s any significance?

LethaeaLethaea – From Wikipedia:

“a mythological character briefly mentioned in Ovid‘s Metamorphoses. Due to her vanity, she was turned to stone at Ida by the gods. Her lover Olenus wished to share in the blame, and so shared her fate. The story is used a metaphor for how stunned Orpheus was after a failed attempt to bring back his wife from the underworld. It was as if he too were turned to stone.”

Again, this work is linked to Morini through a paper he authored on “on the various guises of conscience and guilt in Lethaea, on the surface an erotic novel…” The paper also uses Bitzius as a primary reference.

Bifurcaria, Bifurcata – Some science-y stuff here – Bifurcaria is a source of unique diterpenoids which may prove pharmaceutically beneficial. In one preliminary study, an extract of Bifurcaria bifurcata halted the proliferation of cancer cells. This work of Archimboldi was also translated by Morini, who has multiple sclerosis. So maybe there’s a link between this stuff that might offer some kind of cancer relief and the one character that’s confined to a wheelchair? Also, Bifurcaria, Bifurcata makes me think of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! mostly for the sound and the shape of the words.

Bitzius – Probably a reference to Albert Bitzius, who wrote under the pen name Jeremias Gotthelf. All we know of Bitzius is that it’s a short novel, less than 100 words. More of a novella, really. This one is tied to Morini again, but I don’t see a clear connection within the context of 2666.


The Fictional Intelligentsia

by Maria Bustillos

The first thing that struck me about this narrative is the wonderful layering-up of fictional intellectuals over the historical ones. We are introduced to the tenebrous character of Archimboldi, unhealthy the fictional German fictionalist; the scholars who study him, visit themselves fictions; the gentle, sardonic narrator, at least somewhat fictional, who points out all their little flaws and dodges. But when Morini sits down to read in a London park, he’s reading a real book: Il Libro di Cucina di Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, by Angelo Morino (1999). The subject of this book, Sor Juana, is a classic 17th-c. Mexican poet whom Bolaño claimed as an influence, and whom educated readers of Spanish would be expected to recognize at once. Sor Juana was an extremely undeceived writer, a sensualist, a feminist, a nun, a prodigy, an altogether intense character; Morino’s book is apparently an extremely cool transcription of recipes that the poet copied down in the convent where she lived for 27 years, together with her thoughts on the philosophy of cuisine, which are decidedly non-trivial. There’s a suggestion that she conceived of a correspondence between food and knowledge: between sabor and saber. She also said that if Aristotle had cooked, he would have written a great deal more (to which I could not help inwardly responding jeeps, how much more do you want? But I digress.)

I saw the mention of this book as another instance of the literary recursiveness that seems to be developing in 2666: copying and recopying, studying, going back over, the re-re-combination of ideas, words, names into this huge literary palimpsest that the book itself is re(re-re-re)-reproducing, and hilariously we are also most of us reading it in translation. In this way the realm of the imagination folds outward into the “real” world, which is also the literary world, itself imaginary (taking place in the mind,) one that’s already been so much written-over before we ever happened on it ourselves; in the real/imaginary world of the novel, the story also folds back into itself and the mysterious world of Archimboldi. (Where the hell is that guy?)

The warmth, friendliness and humor of the book have been a very pleasant surprise, so far. I suppose I had been expecting something a little more forbidding from an author so widely celebrated. Certainly one can’t help but respond to Bolaño’s overwhelming love of and dedication to literature. He said: “In one way or another, we’re all anchored to the book. A library is a metaphor for human beings or what’s best about human beings, the same way a concentration camp can be a metaphor for what is worst about them. A library is total generosity.”

Week 1: pages 1–51

Welcome, cure 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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