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.


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17 Responses to “Week 1: Characters”

  • Dear Brooks Williams,

    nice job! Following posts from the German 2666 reading might be of interest for you:

    http://www.cloud-gate.de/poeta/?p=189 (especially the comments, although the page numbers are from the German edition)

    http://www.cloud-gate.de/poeta/?p=285 (very nice character Mind Map by one of our guides including the first three parts, right click and view image to enlarge)

  • Brooks, this is a treasure.

    I’m kind of thinking that Saint Thomas is more likely to be about Aquinas, though?

  • Comment from brooks

    Thanks for the links Marvin! I had to run them through Google’s translator, but I get the gist of most of it. The mind map is especially fun.

  • Comment from brooks

    Curious why it might be Aquinas rather than Thomas the Apostle – is it because Aquinas was Italian? More contemporary? His impact on philosophy?

    • Two reasons, I guess, though on reflection, the ‘doubts’ set up here are interesting too. One is that Aquinas is this towering figure in the world of letters whom so much has been written about, whereas the apostle’s writings are noncanonical and have never excited a whole lot of attention in literary circles (to my knowledge.)

      The other reason is that some of Aquinas’s most famous writings are about the nature of knowledge and reason itself as distinct from divine revelation and I guess that seemed kind of Archimboldian to me, given the various tastes and interests of the critics (?)

      Maybe we are supposed to be doubting, though.

  • Comment from Trent Crable

    Your quotation about Piero Morini has a typo that suggests he’s a she. I’m not trying to be a hyper-correcter, I just thought you might want to fix it. Thanks for the great work–this is very helpful and extremely thorough.

  • Comment from Susan Zenger

    For what it is worth, the concept of “bifurcar” is very important in the work of Luis Jorge Borges. The philosophy of bifurcated time, for example, or bifurcated destiny, bifurcation in the labyrinth, etc. alternating options or choices. I don’t know enough about Borges to make exact comparisons, but the themes seems to come up regularly in his work and the games he plays with time and space.

    • Comment from Terrell Williamson

      Susan, I think that’s a point worth bearing in mind. This is my second time reading 2666. This time I’m trying to read much more closely. Based on the first 51 pages, I’ve found this to be extremely fruitful. I think Bolano uses both fictional titles and real titles, authors, and artists to hint at the themes he intends to explore and to prefigure where the story is headed. While Bolano doesn’t describe Archimboldi’s books, he compares the fictional oeuvre to that of real authors to indicate the important aspects of Archimboldi’s books.

  • Comment from miette

    A quick connection I’d made between the supporting cast in this section (N.B. this is my first read, so please indulge what may a current moment of ignorance and what may become a down-the-road Archimedes moment if I’m stating the obvious):

    Ernst Jünger proves an interesting note to me as he lived through Imperial Germany, Weimar Germany, Nazi Germany, and the Federal Republic, settling his final years (he lived to be 102) in, of all places, Swabia.

    And, it’s perfunctory for any fan of Jünger’s writing to disclaim that while he was a radical right-winger opposing the Weimar Republic, he was deeply critical of the Nazis. Jünger is also mentioned in By Night in Chile, about which I can’t say much as it’s buried somewhere in my now knee-deep to-read pile.

    So, I’m not sure if there’s a Jünger-Swabian connection, or something more to suss out with Bolaño (or Pelletier’s) forays into Jüngerian study, but there it is.

    And Brooks, let me add a “holy shit, thanks for all this” to the well-earned encomia above.

    • Comment from brooks

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the Jünger stuff with Espinoza and why Bolaño would have chosen Jünger over another writer. As far as Espinoza’s timeline goes, I’d guess that it was probably the mid to late 1980’s. Was there a Jünger resurgence at that time? Was he enjoying a resurgence with the university crowd?

      As for the Swabian stuff – you’d be surprised at how many of those German artists referenced in my post are from that region! I wonder if the whole Swabian thing is interesting or seems notable to us because it’s something foreign. For example, if the Swabian had been referred to as “the south-westerner” I think we’d be far less interested.

      • Comment from miette

        Oh, I know, re: the Swabian Infestation. A quick look at the Wikipedia shows it houses Western Europe’s greatest collection of (among other great qualities) very self-serious 20th century philosophers. Another thing to note: the Swabian dialect is notoriously difficult for many speakers of Standard German to make any sense of, which is a trivial little bauble but perhaps a thing to consider — could some of the inconsistency in the Swabian’s story be lost in (the characters’) translation of that story?

    • Comment from Terrell Williamson

      Junger is presented in By Night in Chile as being associated with the supporters of Pinochet, i.e, associated with Nazism. Notably, Junger first book has been criticized as glorifying war. So in this context, Bolano may be suggesting something about Archimboldi’s fictional oeurve: that it is anti-Nazi (conceivable since he is a post-WWII writer) and that is doesn’t glorify war (also conceivable under the circumstances). I think this is clarified by the comparison of Archimboldi’s fictional oeuvre to Heine, presumably Heinrich Heine, who was a Jew and a German ex-patriot. In contrasted to the perceived Nazism of Junger, Heine’s works were among those burned by the Nazis in Berlin in 1933. “To commemorate the terrible event, one of the most famous lines of Heine’s 1821 play “Almansor” was engraved in the ground at the site: “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” (“Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.”)” Archimboldi oeuvre is associated with ideas antithetical to Nazism.

  • You have to wonder what a Chilean who grew up in Mexico and Spain, who “regarded himself as a Latin American,” would think of such stuff. What is the politics here? We know hat Bolaño regarded himself as a Trotskyist, a term I’ve never understood exactly (beyond a seeming Marxist intent to slide clear of Leninism, or Stalinism?)

    Enlightenment, if you”ve got it!

    • Comment from Terrell Williamson

      Maria, I’m not sure at whom your post is directed, but I’m take a shot, re: the politics. Based on By Night in Chile, Amulet, and Nazi Literature in the Americas, Bolano is clearly opposed to fascism. I would go so far as to say that Bolano places blame with Europe for the prevalence of right-wing dictatorships in South America. In my view, Bolano is a very political writer and one of his main concerns is how easily in morality and art can be divorced from one another. That’s been one of his main concerns in his earlier short novels and I believe that you will see it is one of his concerns in 2666.

      Hope that’s helpful.

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