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?

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21 Responses to “Crystallizations”

  • Comment from Jachov Sausue

    I can’t speak to the Spanish nuance of the original, but I did note that this passage is easily the most poetic out of the four depictions of the scholars’ respective Archimboldian discoveries – despite the narrator’s insistence that Norton’s coming to the author was the ‘least traumatic of all, and the least poetic’. Interesting.
    Also, if I remember correctly, this is the first real ‘surreal’ passage in 2666, and establishes an interesting hierarchical structure (the grimacing robot god in the ‘quadrangular sky’; the sprinting Norton (still aware enough to pick up her umbrella, however (10)); and the audible mini-war taking place between the grass and earth), of which I am not sure the significance, though it evoked in me a bizarre claustrophobia.

  • Comment from Katya Nelson

    What strikes me in Spanish is that there is a shift in the register of the vocabulary between the part of the passage quoted above and the later part where she has not forgotten her umbrella. The vocabulary is quite rarified in the first section (quadrangular, oblique, rictus, crytalized), mostly latinate. Words that you would never see otherwise. Then there is the line about drinking peyote. Then after that quite normal vocabulary (gray skirt, bony knees, pretty ankles).

    Now that I think about it, I’m on page 300 of the book, and Bolaño has used several words for vomit, but “vómito” (used here) is the most formal of them.

  • Comment from Katya Nelson

    Also, peyote itself originates in the Chihuahua desert I believe. It was used by indigenous people, making it both geographically and culturally remote from the intelligentsia…

  • Comment from Katya Nelson

    OK, last comment — the last 3 sentences in the English translation are all one long sentence in the Spanish original. Bolaño uses extremely long sentences a lot, I think up to a few pages. Somewhat disorienting.

  • Comment from Bruno

    I was also struck by the passage above, but don’t quite know what to make of it. It is indeed poetic and very intense but I fail to grasp its meaning, as I often do with anything poetic.

    But, for the benefit of those who don’t have the spanish original (there’s a pdf of Anagrama’s edition easily available on p2p — don’t know what’s the policy here on that), I’ll do the courtesy of quoting it:

    Cinco meses después, ya instalada otra vez en Inglaterra, Liz Norton recibió por correo un regalo de su amigo alemán. Se trataba, como es fácil adivinar, de otra novela de Archimboldi. La leyó, le gustó, buscó en la biblioteca de su college más libros del alemán de nombre italiano y encontró dos: uno de ellos era el que ya había leído en Berlín, el otro era Bitzius. La lectura de este último sí que la hizo salir corriendo. En el patio cuadriculado llovía, el cielo cuadriculado parecía el rictus de un robot o de un dios hecho a nuestra semejanza, en el pasto del parque las oblicuas gotas de lluvia se deslizaban hacia abajo pero lo mismo hubiera significado que se deslizaran hacia arriba, después las oblicuas (gotas) se convertían en circulares (gotas) que eran tragadas por la tierra que sostenía el pasto, el pasto y la tierra parecían hablar, no, hablar no, discutir, y sus palabras ininteligibles eran como telarañas cristalizadas o brevísimos vómitos cristalizados, un crujido apenas audible, como si Norton en lugar de té aquella tarde hubiera bebido una infusión de peyote.

    Pero la verdad es que sólo había bebido té y que se sentía abrumada, como si una voz le hubiera repetido en el oído una oración terrible, cuyas palabras se fueron desdibujando a medida que se alejaba del college y la lluvia le mojaba la falda gris y las rodillas huesudas y los hermosos tobillos y poca cosa más, pues Liz Norton antes de salir corriendo a través del parque no había olvidado coger su paraguas.

  • Comment from Dan Summers

    I’m thrilled that this reading experience affords the opportunity to hear from people who can contrast the original language and the translation. It’s a remarkable gift, so thanks to everyone who’s contributing. I feel like a richer reader for it.

    For my part, I interpreted the passage as descriptive of the surreal effect that Bolano [and can anyone tell me how to make the tilde?] had on Norton’s psyche. After all, “briefest crysallized vomitings” is probably the sort of thing that a person would think after downing a steaming cup of peyote. In that sense, the passage is very evocative.

  • Comment from Jimmy

    A few things jump out at me. 1. Bolano is rarely poetic in these first 51 pages, so it seems that when he is, it really AFFECTS you. 2. This isn’t usual poetic language, where things are being described through vivid imagery. The imagery here is really HARD to tie to what it is describing. The grimace of a robot god looking like a quadrangular sky? Crystallized vomit? I read a LOT of poetry, and this isn’t like way out there compared to some avant garde shit, but it certainly isn’t ordinary either. So it makes me wonder what Bolano is trying to do here. 3. “in our own likeness” this must be significant. Perhaps he is talking about god or perhaps he is talking about the god-like-ness of the author Archimboldi creating worlds in our own likeness? 4. I wonder if the word (drops) is meant as a verb or a noun (the drops of rain or the rain drops on the earth) or both? Any ideas, Spanish speakers? It reminds me of just the sound of a drop, because of the repetition, like a dripping faucet.

    • Comment from Dan Summers

      I don’t have much Spanish, but my understanding upon reading the Spanish excerpt posted above is that “drops” in this case would be the plural noun.

    • Comment from Katya Nelson

      In Spanish “gotas” is definitely a noun. The verb is deslizar, which he uses twice in 2 lines — it means to slip or slide. In like the repetition idea though! Also, the use of parentheses is very unusual here. It looks just as odd in Spanish as in English, and it’s the only time in at least the first 300 pages that Bolaño uses them that way.

      • Comment from Susan Zenger

        The use of parentheses Bolano automatically reminded me of DFW in IJ, who would, in long, elaborate sentences, put the name or title of whoever he was referring to, by the use of a pronoun, in parentheses to avoid confusion (I think). Here I’m wondering if the parentheses are added to avoid confusion, but also used intentionally to separate out and focus on the geometric (rectanguar, oblique, round).
        Mouths are only rectangular in the human imagination, we impose an analogy between the shapes we see around us that remind us of other things, particularly human anatomy and inanimate shapes. We “see” things in the clouds or the stains on a cieling…or the face of Christ in a grilled cheese sandwich.

  • Comment from Jamie

    I’m wondering what she read in Bitzius that elicited this response, i.e. a psychedelic drug experience. Albert Bitzius, a Swiss novelist, is best known for the short novel Die Schwarze Spinne (The Black Spider), a “semi-allegorical tale of the plague in form of the titular monster that devastates a Swiss valley community; first as a result of a pact with the devil born out of need and a second time due to the moral decay that releases the monster from its prison again.” Foreshadowing of an evil event that awaits Norton?

    • Comment from Chris

      Good comment, Jamie. The scene hinges on Norton’s reaction to this book. First, I wonder if our Spanish readers have any insight to how the sentence “Reading the latter, really did make her go running out” is translated. A slightly odd phrase here. I also wonder if her reaction is less a direct response to the reading of the book…and rather a “reaction” to a way of being. Bitzius is the pen name for Gotthelf, an imaginary, fictional self. The layering of “being” — for lack of a better word — corresponds to Bolanos’s direction with the literacy search for Archimboldi, who is not apparent other than his texual life.

    • Comment from Susan Zenger

      Speaking of plagues, what about Mr. and Mrs. Bubis? Bubo in Spanish refers a pustule lump. The bubonic plage was named after these. Ick. I can’t reconcile the idea of a cultured and elegant elder woman with a name like Bubis.

      • Comment from platero y yo

        the real Mr. Ignaz Bubis was president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, so I was a little shocked reading about your association regarding plagues!
        He was also involved in a quite infamous literary debate:


        • Comment from Susan Zenger

          Thanks for the info on Ignaz Bubis, any thoughts on why Bolano chose him to be the deceased publisher?

          • Comment from platero y yo

            I would not think that Bolaño really did chose “him”(i.e. Ignatz Bubis)as the publisher, I would prefer to say that he borrowed the family name. For example there is a Bubis-Bridge in Frankfurt/Germany. I am not sure, but I think we could not know the first name of Mr. Bubis in 2666. And the first name of the widow differs from Ignatz Bubis’ widow, if I remember correct-at the moment I am too lazy to check this stuff out.
            Sorry, if I irritated or confused you. I just wanted to point out, that the name is common, albeit rare in Germany.
            Well, thinking about it, I may have another idea concerning the literary context of the Walser-Bubis-debate and 2666 in general, but I think it is probably too early to discuss this right now, this would be kind of an argument regarding the book as a whole.
            Furthermore I regret that my english language skills may not be sufficient enough for such a discussion.
            What do you think, any ideas?


          • Comment from Susan Zenger

            This is regarding your second message.
            I’d not heard of Ignaz Bubis before. I read a brief biography of him and tried to search for this last name and it’s etymology on the internet and was not able to find anything in terms of meaning or origins–although my impression was that it was a Jewish name. I know it is not a common name here in the U.S. From what I gather Ignaz Bubis was well known for being involved in fighting anti-semetism. Interestingly, Bolano wrote a book “Nazi Literature in the Americas” which apparently involved the fictional lives of various Latin American writers who, while not being Nazis per se, had what might be construed as “fascist” type personality traits such as being overly nationalistic, xenophobic, etc. According to a review I read these fictional characters mainly came from countries known to have harbored Nazis after the war. I can’t say much for sure because I did not read that book. He also wrote “Chile by Night”, the death bed self defense of a Pinochet collaborator trying to justify his alliance with this dictator.
            Anyway, the point I’m getting at is that given all this it seems pretty believable that he may well have had Ignaz Bubis, indeed, in mind although I’m not sure why. Mrs. Bubis seems to be a catalyst for self analysis or personal discovery so far in the book. Still, I don’t know why he chose this last name.
            Again, thanks for bringing this up!

  • Nice thread. I just wanted to add that I’ve just started on the Spanish version, which I am reading in tandem with the English one, and it is quite striking just from these few pages how very exactly attuned to the original, how finely nuanced, the English version is.

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