Bleakonomy pointed out an interesting passage early in the novel that I think deserves a closer look. From page 9:

Five months later, back in England again, Liz Norton received a gift in the mail from her German friend. As one might guess, it was another novel by Archimboldi. She read it, liked it, went to her college library to look for more books by the German with the Italian name, and found two: one was the book she had already read in Berlin, and the other was Bitzius. Reading the latter, really did make her go running out. It was raining in the quadrangle, and the quadrangular sky looked like the grimace of a robot or a god made in our own likeness. The oblique drops of rain slid down the blades of grass in the park, but it would have made no difference if they had slid up. Then the oblique (drops) turned round (drops), swallowed up by the earth underpinning the grass, and the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their incomprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings, a barely audible rustling, as if instead of drinking tea that afternoon, Norton had drunk a steaming cup of peyote.

I would love to see someone with the Spanish version give us an idea of the nuance here, especially the (drops) and the crystallized vomitings. Anyone care to take a shot at what this means?

Week 1: Characters

by Brooks Williams

Jean-Claude Pelletier

Born 1961. Discovered Archimboldi (D’Arsonval) while studying German literature in Paris, 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 Junger 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).


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-Arsene 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, the fictional German fictionalist; the scholars who study him, 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 Ines de la Cruz, by Angelo Morino (1999). The subject of this book, Sor Juana, is a classic 17th-c. Mexican poet whom Bolano 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 Bolano’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, 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 Twitter, on Facebook, on Tumblr, on Goodreads, Shelfari, or LibraryThing. Or invent your own way and let me know (

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 (Junger) 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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