Week 11: The Part About the Crimes concludes

I know that many people are glad to see this part end.

When I first read this part of the novel, I felt like it needed to be cataloged in some way. We’re doing that here with tracking all of the deaths and all of the dreams and whatnot, but I have been more detached from this part this time around and I am way behind on even posting a weekly summary of what happened in the novel. Apologies. Part of what confounds me is that there is just so much data to process I find it hard to dig in without either seeming like some grand, bird’s-eye-view of the world or transitioning quickly back and forth between topics and ideas (see tidbits previously and below).

As I’ve mentioned several times, there is a correlation between the femicides and the Holocaust. I believe that Bolaño’s motivation in writing this Part and this novel is not to exploit these murders for their shock value or because he loves describing horrific violence against women. I see no pleasure here. By describing over a hundred cases in some detail, I believe he is trying to honor them in some way. A belief that each life is important motivates many Holocaust works (fiction and nonfiction). Israel’s official memorial to the Holocaust is called Yad Vashem—which comes from the Bible verse “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (Yad Vashem) that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5). The name, I believe, is important. [A little tangent: Yad Vashem bestows the title Righteous Among the Nations to non-Jews who helped Jews escape the Holocaust. Only three Americans have received this honor: the Sharp couple and Varian Fry. Fry helped thousands of artists, writers, and filmmakers escape Europe, among them: Hannah Arendt, Max Ophuls, Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton, Marc Chagall, and Max Ernst. How is this guy not better known?] What do you think? Is Bolaño’s portrayal of the murders insincere or exploitative or does he end up honoring the lives of the women?

Looking back over my notes for this whole Part (volume 2 of the 3 volume set), I have a few tidbits I’d like to put out there for conversation. Apologies if some of these have been covered in the forums or on other blogs.

On page 579, Hass says the name of the killer of women in Juarez is Antonio Uribe. We see a lot about the slipperiness of the Uribe family. In fact, one of the men arrested for the murders in Juarez is named Uribe. “Juarez bus driver Victor Garcí­a Uribe was given a 50 year sentence on October 13 by a Chihuahua judge for the rape and murder of eight women whose bodies were found in a cotton field in November 2001.”

I mentioned how parts of The Part About Fate reminded me of Tarantino and Pulp Fiction, well I was surprised to feel that parts of The Part About the Crimes reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson and Magnolia. I am particularly thinking of the behind-the-scenes TV show sections and this part about Reinaldo: “there was the famous host, Televisa’s star of the moment, sitting at the foot of the bed, with a drink in his hand…” which brought to mind a scene from Magnolia of Philip Baker Hall’s character, a famous TV show host sitting at the foot of his bed with a drink, feeling miserable, contemplating a confession to his wife. A tenuous connection, but just thought I’d mention it.

In that same scene (page 566), Reinaldo realizes the famous TV host wants to kill himself and Reinaldo says “Anything I might say, I realized then, would be useless.” I think this is metaphor for the femicides. How can they be stopped? Should you intervene? What can you even say that will be useful?

Way back on page 433, I saw this passage which reminded me of the themes of David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel The Pale King: “And at this point, after sighing deeply, Florita Almada would say that several conclusions could be drawn: 1) that the thoughts that seize a shepherd can easily gallop away with him because it’s human nature; 2) that facing boredom head on was an act of bravery and Benito Juarez had done it and she had done it too and both had seen terrible things in the face of boredom, things she would rather not recall.”

In our first bolano-l group read of 2666, Andrew Haley wrote: “The Part  About the Crimes is particularly tricky, as it obviously is based on real events, and apparently was inspired by a book length cataloging of the victims (Huesos en el Desierto; Anagrama, 2002) put together by the Mexican reporter Sergio Gonzalez on whom the character of the Mexican reporter named Sergio Gonzalez is based. Are we meant to read The Part About the Crimes as a kind of New Journalism? Is Bolaño using the vessel of his fiction to perform a political or social function that is essentially journalistic rather than literary? Is he in essence using 2666 as a vehicle to deliver Huesos en el Desierto to a broader audience?” Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez’s book does not appear to be translated into English yet (publishers: get on it!), although there is a French edition. Somewhat related is Diana Washington Valdez’s book The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women.

If you are interested in seeing how some of the characters from this Part might look on stage, I’ll link to a post from last year about a theatrical adaptation of 2666. (Warning: Possible Spoilers)

The affair between Juan de Dios Martinez and Elvira Campos seems awfully reminiscent of a relationship in a Manuel Puig novel, but I’m forgetting which one. Anyone remember if it’s in Blood of Requited Love or Pubis Angelical? There is a lot about being in dark bedrooms at dusk, looking out across the city.

The passing mention of Sherlock Holmes on page 610 reminded me that Borges wrote a poem called Sherlock Holmes. His short story Death and the Compass also bears a strong resemblance to a Sherlock-type detective. There is even a novel wherein a character named Jorge Luis Borges is a crime-solving detective.

Some quotes:
“If life is misery, why do we endure it?”
“Every hundred feet the world changes.”
“Trust in God, He wont’ let anything disappear.”
“When you make mistakes from the inside, the mistakes stop mattering. Mistakes stop being mistakes.”

Once again, there is a fantastic summary of this week’s reading, with commentary, over at ijustreadaboutthat:

Since most of us in the online readalong also read IJ, we have a tendency to use it as a point of comparison (even though it really isn’t comparable at all). But I will get in the comparison game as well, just to say that like IJ, each Part of this book ends with something way up floating in the air.  And while the IJ ending was initially discomfiting, upon later reflection, it works quite well. I only hope that 2666 offers the same satisfaction.

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9 Responses to “Week 11: The Part About the Crimes concludes”

  • Comment from naptimewriting

    Hey, Matt.

    I agree that we leave the Part About the Crimes without a bird’s eye view and that is frustrating. I can’t decide whether Bolaño honors or exploits the murders, but I find that I leave the section thinking that the depiction of this town, where women are disdainfully seen as useful only as sex objects, are disposable and thrown in the trash, is a commentary on a disposable market economy, where everything made in the maquiladores is eventually thrown in the trash. Where the workers themselves are, in life, disposable, which might be more horrifying than finding a body dead in the trash—these workers are viewed as worth slightly more dead (for only then do they get 15 seconds of mention) than alive.

    We have a lot more at stake in what happens/is happening/happened to these murdered women and to the disposable workers because, as consumers, we’re complicit in the murders. In buying cheap imports, we contribute to the low valuation of the workers; in buying the media’s Santa Teresa story (or ignoring it) and not calling law enforcement to task, we are complicit in closing cases before they’re actually investigated.

    In short, I feel that the murders, horrific in detail and as grotesque backdrop, are an indictment of Mexico, of the U.S., of men, of women, of factories, of capitalism, of people who look and refuse to see. Whether exploitation or reverent chronicle, Bolaño seems to use these murders to make larger points about the value of life and of goods in the global market.

    • Comment from Matt

      Hey naptime, I really appreciate your comment. I agree with you that there is a connection between the disposable economy and these women ending up in the garbage dump. One point I tried to make earlier is that, as a civic problem, the city is feeds on young women—it literally chews them up and spits them out. You make an interesting point how they are worth slightly more dead as they also support an industry that exists solely to investigate and “prosecute” the crimes. That industry depends on its own inefficiency to exist. If they actually solved these crimes, they would have even less to do, even less reason to go out and hire their own Lalo Curas.

      Like you say, consumers are complicit in this. I think NAFTA plays a role. Shifting the locus of cheap to production to China only leads me to believe that one day we will read horror stories of the rape and murder of Chinese women (or workers).

      • Comment from Peter Hiller

        Hey Matt, I like your conclusion about the part of the crimes. Re your last sentence in a.m. reply “….me to believe that one day we will read horror stories of the rape and murder of Chinese women (or workers)….” We just talked about yesterday with friends, and we conclude that this is a question of cultural behaviour what is completely different between the mexican and the chinese people.
        Hey Naptimewriting, by the way, at least to think, consumers are complicit, is not only a shortsighted view of the facts, but connot a moralic appreciation far away of any literary adoption and recension.
        (“we are all guilty”)

  • Comment from David Winn

    Matt: Great post. Lots of food for thought here.

    Regarding 2666 as New Journalism, I notice that you flagged an editorial by Charles Bowden in a previous post. Bowden actually is a New Journalist who writes about Juarez, and the contrast between his and Bolano’s style is instructive. Bowden, the journalist, writes about real events in a very novelistic style–his prose has the vivid, transparent quality that is the gold standard for writers of realistic fiction. Bolano, the novelist, writes lightly fictionalized versions of real events in a more “documentary” style. His language (much of the time) is the language of the report–it’s either the forensic language of the autopsy or crime report, or the language of the detective observing outward behavior from a discreet distance, but refusing to speculate about motives. The point of New Journalism was to bring novelistic techniques to bear on nonfiction subject matter, not only to make it more readable, but to get at the kind of underlying novelistic truth that traditional journalism saw as compromising its objectivity. Stylistically, Bolano sort of goes in the opposite direction, and I think this is part of the reason why readers feel free to raise the question of whether his treatment of the crimes is exploitative (for the record, I don’t think it is). If he’d novelized and fictionalized them more, I bet it would be less of an issue.

    Regarding 2666 and the Holocaust, I’m going to be reading for that parallel or connection, though I don’t think its blindingly obvious. Here’s a guess: one of the things I think Bolano narrates quite well in The Part About the Crimes is the way people learn to accommodate themselves to atrocity in an environment ruled by a criminal regime, which seems like an increasingly accurate description of Mexico under the narcos. This seems to me more the point of the novel than any lurid fascination with the gory details of the murders, though as Maria suggests, Bolano may also be critiquing the fascination with violence as spectacle.

    Finally, regarding Bolano and David Foster Wallace: I’ve yet to read The Pale King (has anyone?), but I gather it’s a deliberately boring book about the therapeutic effects of boredom. Both DFW and Bolano deploy boredom as an aesthetic strategy, but my guess is that the similarities end there (maybe not!).

    • Comment from Matt

      David, thanks for your comment. I have read excerpts from The Pale King. They are linked on the wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pale_King
      I don’t think it’s “deliberately a boring book” but rather a book about the nature of sustained boredom. I don’t really know if or think there are similarities between Bolaño’s work and TPK, just that this one quote from Florita reminded me of TPK’s theme.

      Also, the bit about the Holocaust and WWII is something to keep in mind as we read The Part About Archimboldi.

      • Comment from David Winn

        Matt: thanks for the pointer to the excerpts from The Pale King. I’ll definitely check them out, and I’m really looking forward to reading the book. I was thinking of the New Yorker article about DFW’s struggle to write TPK when I described the book as “deliberately boring”. But the NYer article describes Wallace as focusing on boredom as an “antidote to our national dependence on entertainment”. So maybe the challenge was to write about boredom in a way that wasn’t totally boring, but that also didn’t satisfy a craving to be entertained.

        Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/09/090309fa_fact_max?currentPage=2#ixzz0kXThIvRY

  • Comment from Dan Summers

    I’ve made no secret of how I feel about this book, though I’m feeling some of the heat dissipating in my reaction to it. At this point, I can’t say that I “hate” the book outright, though I still think it is a world away from the wonderful book I read all about.

    I am not sure if I think Bolaño is being exploitative about the femicides. I am willing to admit the possibility that he isn’t, though I certainly don’t think he’s done anything at all valuable with them. The best I can say about him is that he is taking a very literary approach to what ends up being an extended example of reportage.

  • Comment from 3DTV Informer

    loved this post!

  • Comment from Paul Debraski

    Hi All,

    I hope I’m not too late to be useful here.

    I’ve been reading a lot of Bolano’s other books lately and in every single one he provides very detailed biographies of characters, incidental or otherwise. Bolano really seems to love love creating people or cataloging them. And these section about the Crimes seems to fit in very nicely with that technique.

    Perhaps hew as writing to is strengths to humanize the victims?

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