Week 4: Pages 163-228

The Part About Amalfitano

The second Part of 2666 is devoted to Professor Oscar Amalfitano. As Steve mentions in the comments of the previous post, healing this is a dense section, maybe the most dense of the entire novel. We’ll do what we can to unpack some of the details. There are so many topics to cover that it will be hard to cover them in one week (much less one post). I’ll focus on a couple of points today and a couple tomorrow.

The beginning is ominous (or at least bizarre):

I don’t know what I’m doing in Santa Teresa, Amalfitano said to himself after he’d been living in the city for a week. Don’t you? Don’t you really? he asked himself. Really I don’t, he said to himself, and that was as eloquent as he could be.

Amalfitano’s wife Lola travels to see her favorite poet, who lives in the insane asylum in Mondragón, near San Sebastián. Oddly, the poet is never named. This makes me think that the poet is a stand-in for Bolaño. Bolaño always considered himself a poet first and foremost and yet he felt trapped by the commercial appeal of fiction. It could be that the poet is a stand-in for Amalfitano as well.

San Sebastian is a town on the northern coast of Spain, near Bilbao and Pamplona, in Basque country. There are many places around the world named San Sebastián—usually named after the Christian martyr Saint Sebastian, who has been depicted shot through with arrows. Also, depictions of the saint have included a subtext of homosexuality, leading many gays and lesbians to adopt Saint Sebastian as the patron saint of homosexuals (c.f. Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane). It’s no coincidence that Bolaño has imprisoned his gay poet in the city named for the patron saint of homosexuals. Mondragón is a small town south of San Sebastián on the Autopista del Norte (AP-1). Mondragón is home to a psychiatric hospital, but it is most famous as the headquarters of the worker cooperative MCC. When Lola finally sees the poet in the asylum, the first word he says to her is “perseverance.”

A few more tidbits:

page 173: “When Imma had finished reading a poem about a labyrinth and Ariande lost in the labyrinth and a young Spaniard who lived in a Paris garret, the poet asked if they had any chocolate.” What poem is this? Borges? “Ariadne auf Naxos” by Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg?

page 189: how about the beautiful paragraph in the middle of this page? “They turned the pain of others into memories of one’s own” reads almost like a mission statement for 2666.

page 189: “the afternoon when he’d ranged over his humble and barren lands like a medieval squire, as his daughter, like a medieval princess, finished applying her makeup in front of the bathroom mirror” This felt like an explicit connection between Amalfitano and Don Quixote. Both have delusions of grandeur, but in some ways it’s Amalfitano’s wife Lola who goes on an adventure (to find the poet). Amalfitano is not daring enough to even track down the full lineage of the Dieste book: “For an instant Amalfitano envisioned a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago” (p. 187), but of course he does nothing except consider the thought.

page 200: “The word chincuales, said Augusto Guerra, like all words in the Mexican tongue, has a number of senses.” I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement at this statement. A couple of months ago I came across the phrase “gatos hidraulicos” and thought “hydraulic cats?” But I discovered that gato has about about ten different meanings, all depending on context and geographic location (hydraulic car jacks, in this case).

page 204: Do we think Bolaño knows the University of Phoenix is not exactly a top-tier university?

page 205: Amalfitano wakes up in the car, sweating. But why is Professor Perez also sweating? Did she molest him?

page 209: “Have you asked yourself whether your hand is a hand?” I think Edwin Johns has the answer to that one.

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