Week 10: The Infernal Comedy

by Maria Bustillos

Every life, Epifanio said that night to Lalo Cura, no matter how happy it is, ends in pain and suffering.

Here is a fact that recontextualizes the crimes for us. The weight of the crimes, not only the crimes against the murdered women but against the guys in the Santa Teresa prison, the guys who are stuck in the corrupt police force, and the crimes of the mass society, crimes of enforced poverty and ignorance, begin to assume new and different proportions in this week’s section.  As word of the crimes begins to spread, the whole world’s complicity begins to make itself felt.

The “snuff film” section speaks very clearly to this alteration.  There is a real film called Snuff that was filmed in Argentina in 1971, that depicted a “Mansonesque murder cult.”  The film was originally called Slaughter. The directors of the real film are Michael and Roberta Findlay. According to Wikipedia:

Independent low-budget distributor and sometime producer Allan Shackleton later re-released another version of the film, unbeknownst to the original filmmakers. Having just read a newspaper article on the rumor of snuff films being importer from South America, he decided to cash on the urban legend and added a new ending to the film in which a woman is brutally murdered by a film crew, supposedly the crew of Slaughter[2]. Filmed in a verite style by Simon Nuchtern, the new ending purported to show an actual murder. This new footage was spliced onto the end of Slaughter with an abrupt cut suggesting that the footage was unplanned and the murder authentic. This new version of the film was released under the title Snuff, with the tagline The film that could only be made in South America… where life is CHEAP

By this means and others that I’ll be getting to in the next few days, Bolaño demonstrates the involvement of pretty much everyone in the kind of mindset that would find the torture and murder of a woman entertaining.

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4 Responses to “Week 10: The Infernal Comedy”

  • Comment from Michael Mullen

    This part of the book pretty much wrecked me. We have been through scores of descriptions of murdered women, as well as other murders. But mostly in an after-the-fact forensic round-up. Grisly details, attached to remains. But the first time Bolano puts a torture/murder right up front and forces us to bear the torture unfolding (520), it is not of a woman, but of gang members responsible for the murder of a girl.

    The gang members really are implicated in Linda Vazquez’s death. They are not innocents being slaughtered, they are actually guilty (though it’s not clear who hit her and who knifed her or if this is even what happened since presumably they were tortured to confess).

    We so want the killings to stop, we so want justice: But the ultraviolent murder of these young petty criminals offers no triumph, no relief. It only makes it worse. The bastards torturing and killing these women deserve to die; Surely we’ve been led to some version of that sentiment by the painstaking descriptions of each newly discovered corpse. But nobody deserves to die like these boys die.

    All sorts of weird connections can be drawn, as elsewhere throughout this book. E.g., these prisoners are maimed because of money — because Linda Vazquez’s father has money and the murderers stand to gain. Way back in The Part About the Critics there’s another dismemberment “for money”: the painter who removes his own hand. (I get nowhere with this, but it somehow seems related, not in the action but in the way money is talked about in both instances.)

    But the point is that when Bolano moves in to describe a murder, it reads to me as an indictment of violence, period. It’s not limited to the femicides. The first violence described vividly in the book is of Espinoza and Pelletier kicking the cab drive, whose offense was insulting a woman. Vengeance is not sweet, it’s disgusting, both in the brutalizing of the driver who insulted Norton and, worse, in the maiming of the gang members who killed Linda Vazquez.

    And this prepares us for what happens to Juan de Dios only a few pages later. He doesn’t witness the murders of Estefania Rivas and Herminia Noriega (527), but he comes upon the hideous scene when it’s fresh. For the first time he’s truly shaken. It’s real for him in a way that it wasn’t quite before.

    Just to speak for myself, I felt like I had arrived at this point slightly before de Dios, because of my own visceral reation to the jail murders. Somehow moved out of the realm of abstract observation, to feeling literally queasy and sick at heart.


  • Comment from Maria Bustillos

    Very true about the jail murders. I couldn’t even bear to speak of that part to my husband, he goes what is going on in the book and I said no, it will only upset you. This awful, awful thing. An especially terrible moment, even after all we’d been told.

    I love and agree with your observation that all the violence described in the book is part of the same sort of shroud of grief and torment. It’s linked up in a way that I never really thought about before I read this book; the author has kind of decompartmentalized the entire subject for me, that had hitherto been neatly separated into kinds of distant and terrible events. Now it looks more and more like just one, with no beginning and no end.

  • Comment from David Winn

    Quote: “But the point is that when Bolano moves in to describe a murder, it reads to me as an indictment of violence, period. It’s not limited to the femicides.”

    This is an excellent point. I think there are a number of ways in which this book is “about” violence, and one of the themes is the consumption of images and reports of violence–both by the people of Santa Teresa who live in fear of becoming victims, and the readers of the novel who consume the images and accounts of violence in 2666. And one thing Bolano relentlessly denies the reader is the satisfaction that comes from seeing a violent crime avenged by violence (not to mention by legal means). The account of the evisceration of the Caciques in prison is a perfect example of this: we’ve had our indignation stoked for hundreds of pages by the accounts of the murders, and finally someone who actually killed someone is caught, but when they “get what they deserve,” in a sense, we can take no satisfaction in it because, as you say, “nobody deserves to die like these boys die.”

    Quote: “Bolaño demonstrates the involvement of pretty much everyone in the kind of mindset that would find the torture and murder of a woman … entertaining.”

    I’ve been trying to make heads or tails of the section about the snuff film, so I’m very interested in your take on this. It seems clear that it implies some kind of voyeurism on the part of the reader, and says something about our fascination with the spectacle of violence, especially in an age saturated with popular entertainment which is itself saturated with sanitized and digestible images of violence.

    • Comment from Maria Bustillos

      We need an emoticon for the ‘Charades’ thing where you touch your nose in order to indicate, ‘exactly,’ because if you just say ‘exactly’ it fails to give the desirable ‘right on the nose,’ feeling in such a compactly vehement manner.

      Thank you both for these.

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