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.

Week 11: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

571: This isn’t a dream, but as Florita tells Sergio about her visions of the killings, she explains that an ordinary murder (in her visions) ends with an image of liquid, as of a lake or a well being disturbed, while the serial killings have a heavy image, metallic, mineral, or smoldering. These images resonate with some of the critics’ dreams. The killers in her visions speak a mixed-up (made-up) language, another thread that ran through the critics’ dreams.

581: We learn that Kessler almost never dreams about killers and seldom remembers his dreams. He’s described as lucky for forgetting them. His wife dreams frequently, usually about dead relatives or friends they haven’t seen in a long time.

594: Kessler dreams of a man pacing around a crater and figures the man is probably himself before deciding it’s not important and losing the image.

605: Congresswoman Azucena Esquivel Plata, telling the story of her friend Kelly Parker, states a belief that when her friend began going by Kelly Parker rather than by Luz Maria Rivera, “she somehow took the first step into invisibility, into a nightmare.”

621: While in Santa Teresa investigating the case of her missing friend, the congresswoman finds herself pacing her hotel room, and she notices two mirrors — one at the end of the room and the other by the door — that didn’t reflect one another unless you stood in a certain place. Yet she couldn’t see herself in the mirrors from that place. She experimented wit positions as she tried to go to sleep. While this is not put forward as a dream, it bears an eerie resemblance to Norton’s dream about the mirrors in her hotel room. It’s almost as if Norton was dreaming the congresswoman’s experience somehow. I wonder if their hotel room was the same one, and I wonder how the timing of the two occurrences works out.

624: Reporter Mary Sue Bravo dreams that a woman was sitting at the foot of her bed. She could feel the weight of the body on her mattress but could feel nothing when she stretched her legs out to touch the body.

626: The following passage from the point of view of the congresswoman isn’t really described as a dream or a vision, but it must be one or the other, or something like it: “Those voices I heard (voices, never faces or shapes) came from the desert. In the desert, I roamed with a knife in my hand. My face was reflected in the blade. I had white hair and sunken cheeks covered with tiny scars. Each scar was a little story that I tried and failed to recall.”

Week 11: Deaths

by Michael Cooler

93 — p.569 — Aurora Cruz Barrientos — 18 yrs — May 1997 — killed in her own home, multiple stab wounds, raped, a neighborhood prowler is suspected
94 — p.573 — Sabrina Gómez Demetrio — 15 yrs — June 1997 — stabbed and shot by men in a Suburban, she walks to a hospital before she dies
95 — p.573 — Aurora Ibánez Medel — 34 yrs — June 1997 — worker, found by the highway, strangled and probably raped, her husband Jaime Pacheco Pacheco confesses after harsh interrogation
96 — p.575 — unidentified — 20-25 yrs — July 1997 — found in a sewage ditch, dead for at least three months, wearing an expensive velvet glove
97 — p.576 — Ana Muñoz Sanjuán — 18 yrs — September 1997 — waitress, found behind some trash cans, raped and strangled
98 — p.577 — María Estela Ramos — 23 yrs — September 1997 — worker, found in an empty lot, tortured, raped, blunt trauma to the head
99 — p.579 — unidentified — 14-16 yrs — October 1997 — found near railroad tracks, tortured, strangled
100 — p.583 — Leticia Borrego García — 18 — October 1997 — found near the Pemex soccer fields, half buried, strangled, Lalo Cura is confused by the crime scene
101 — p.586 — Lucía Domínguez Roa — 33 yrs — October 1997 — waitress, shot in the abdomen supposedly by chance while walking in Colonia Hidalgo
102 — p.591 — Rosa Gutiérrez Centeno — 38 yrs — October 1997 — worker and waitress, found by the side of a dirt road, strangled
103 — p.595 — unidentified — November 1997 — female bones discovered by a group of hikers on the steepest side of Cerro La Asunción
104 — p.599 — Angélica Ochoa — November 1997 — looked more like a settling of scores than a sex crime, shot five times by her husband the pimp La Venada
105 — p.603 — Rosario Marquina — 19 yrs — November 1997 — worker, found on the back lot of a maquiladora, strangled, raped
106 — p.607 — María Elena Torres — 32 yrs — November 1997 — found in her house, she had marched in the WSDP protest two days prior, stabbed in the neck, probably by her boyfriend
107 — p.611 — Úrsula González Rojo — 20-21 yrs — December 1997 — worker, found in a dry streambed by a rancher who was hunting, stabbed
108 — p.616 — Juana Marín Lozada — December 1997 — worked at a computer store, dumped in an open field by the highway, neck broken, probably not raped or tortured
109 — p.620 — unidentified — December 1997 — bones discovered on the edge of a ranch
110 — p.625 — Esther Perea Peña — 24 yrs — December 1997 — shot to death at the dance hall Los Lobos, perhaps by accident
111 — p.630 — unidentified — 15-16 yrs — December 1997 — remains found in a plastic bag on some land a few miles from a farming cooperative
112 — p.632 — unidentified — about 18 yrs — December 1997 — remains found in a plastic bag on the eastern edge of the city, close to the border

Other deaths or disappearances:

p.615 — Josué Hernández Mercado — 32 years old, the reporter for La Raza de Green Valley, disappears. We can guess that he has been killed for covering the murders of women in Santa Teresa.

p.616 — Kelly Rivera Parker — Friend of politician Azucena Esquivel Plata, disappears in Santa Teresa. We learn that she organized sex parties for narcos, and is probably dead, or more or less dead.

p.626 — Francisco López Ríos — The supposed killer of Esther Perea Peña in the dance hall Los Lobos, but possibly a scapegoat killed to conceal the identity of the real murderer, a judicial on the narcotics squad.

2666 Translation Question

Reader Jenny writes in with this question about the translation of a particular passage:

I have this one quotation marked and I wonder if the original is any clearer?  I don’t have access to the Spanish language version.

“…He gazed at his wife and had the vague impression he didn’t know her. But he knew her, there could be no doubt about that. … He knew her, of course he did, it was just that sometimes reality, the same little reality that served to anchor reality, seemed to fade around the edges, as if the passage of time had a porous effect on things, and blurred and made more insubstantial what was itself already, by its very nature, insubstantial and satisfactory and real.” -Robert Bolano, 2666, pg. 582

I’m most curious if all the “reality” instances are the same word in the Spanish.

Can anyone help her out? I’m curious, too.

Weeks 8-10 Vocabulary

by Meaghan Doyle

alkaloid any of numerous usually colorless, complex, and bitter organic bases
Anthropomtric measurement of the human individual for the purposes of understanding human physical variation
auricle an atrium of a heart
autodidact a self-taught person
bolus a rounded mass: as a : a large pill b : a soft mass of chewed food
bracken a large coarse fern
calamitous being, causing, or accompanied by a state of deep distress or misery caused by major misfortune or loss
calumny a misrepresentation intended to harm another’s reputation
capillaries any of the smallest blood vessels connecting arterioles with venules and forming networks throughout the body
coquettish a woman who endeavors without sincere affection to gain the attention and admiration of men
corolla the part of a flower that consists of the separate or fused petals and constitutes the inner whorl of the perianth
cyclopean huge, massive
diuretic tending to increase the excretion of urine
divination the art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge usually by the interpretation of omens or by the aid of supernatural powers
ecchymosis the escape of blood into the tissues from ruptured blood vessels
epithelium a membranous cellular tissue that covers a free surface or lines a tube or cavity of an animal body and serves especially to enclose and protect the other parts of the body, to produce secretions and excretions, and to function in assimilation
esplanade a level open stretch of paved or grassy ground; especially : one designed for walking or driving along a shore
excrescences a projection or outgrowth especially when abnormal
festering to undergo or exist in a state of progressive deterioration
harangued to speak pompously or bombastically
hematomas a mass of usually clotted blood that forms in a tissue, organ, or body space as a result of a broken blood vessel
hypovolemia a state of decreased blood volume
impervious not capable of being affected or disturbed
louche not reputable or decent
neuropathies an abnormal and usually degenerative state of the nervous system or nerves
odontology study of dental applications in legal proceedings
pachucos a young Mexican-American having a taste for flashy clothes and a special jargon and usually belonging to a neighborhood gang
palatine of, relating to, or lying near the palate
pestilential giving rise to vexation or annoyance
portend indicate, signify
posole a thick soup chiefly of Mexico and the United States Southwest made with pork, hominy, garlic, and chili
presentiment a feeling that something will or is about to happen
proliferation to increase in number
putrefaction the decomposition of organic matter
resoundingly producing or characterized by resonant sound
rudimentary very imperfectly developed or represented only by a vestige
stoic not affected by or showing passion or feeling
surreptitious acting or doing something clandestinely
unequivocal leaving no doubt
vehemently marked by forceful energy : powerful
ventriloquist one who provides entertainment by using ventriloquism to carry on an apparent conversation with a hand-manipulated dummy
verisimilitude depicting realism
vermillion a bright red pigment consisting of mercuric sulfide
virulent objectionably harsh or strong

Death in Ciudad Juarez

by Matt Bucher

We’ve mentioned this on the site before, but the situation in Ciudad Juarez, and across Mexico, has escalated significantly. The Drug War is separate from the femicides, but there is no coincidence in the fact that a region so accustomed to reports of murder and violence has seen the number of murders increase dramatically.

Paradoxically, Juarez is still a growing city. The history and entrenchment of the maquiladoras provide the steady allure of (unskilled and low-wage, but supposedly plentiful) employment. The fact is now that this is a mirage. Many of the assembly plants have closed in recent years due to competition with China. For many who cannot find legitimate work, they quickly turn to the dark life of prostitution, border smuggling, and the cartel business. “Hitman” is high on the list of preferred occupations.

The Drug War in Mexico is on the brink of tearing apart the country. Since December 2006, more than 19,000 people have died in battles across Mexico. Even to call it a “drug war” or a “war” does it a disservice. In many ways, what we see in Juarez (and Mexico) now is a new way of human beings interacting and fighting and killing each other. I suspect Roberto Bolaño knew there was something unique about this attitude towards death pre-2003.

One point I’d like to make is that the system that primarily fails Juarez (and Santa Teresa) is the civic system. It turns out to be a system that feeds on human bodies and deposits them in waste dumps outside the city limits. The religious system has failed (more on the Penitent later), the social system has failed, the federal political system is nonexistent, but the civic system is particularly accountable for the enforcement of local laws and the complete failure to maintain any sense of human dignity. One of the great secrets of the Part About the Crimes is that it is not just a litany of murders. There are other characters populating the storylines—but most of these characters hold civil offices: they are city police officers, investigators, contractors, employees of the city sanitarium. The economics of the city seem designed to rely on the availability of young, unskilled women to perform the tasks of the maquiladoras, and yet their relatively short lifespans mean that the true source of employment comes from the investigation of those murders, the enforcement of seemingly meaningless laws. And yet who has any idea how to stop the murders?

When I first read 2666, my least favorite part was The Part About Fate. I felt like it was just in the way of getting me closer to the Part About the Crimes. I didn’t really get it. Now, (this is my second read of the novel) it’s my favorite part. It’s the part that rings the most true to me as representing “the future” and what’s happening right now in Juarez. And I say this is someone who hasn’t really experienced Juarez. Someone who doesn’t really speak Spanish, but yet as someone who feels invested in what is happening there right now. To me, The Part About Fate and its dreamlike tale of inhabiting death and fear ring the most true. Maybe it’s because I’m an outsider, like Fate, looking at Juarez and knowing there is a galactic story there, but that I will probably have to return to the US without it, no matter how long I stay there or what I see. The critics can’t see the murders—they can barely hear anything outside of their small academic bubble. Amalfitano is also an outsider and he seems to be unable to pinpoint the danger facing his daughter. In a way, he lives in the past, part of the old systems and the old ideas (implicitly: of Europe). Amalfitano is oblivious to the routine murder and death (and big black cars) outside his windows. Fate is not oblivious, but he can’t make sense of it; he can’t grasp it. This is how I feel. I know that the nature of death and the way humans feel about it is changing here, but I can’t make sense of it. It is too new, even now (and at this point, I am referring to the hybrid of reality in 2010 Juarez and the world of 2666). How are the femicides allowed to continue? In what other city would this be possible? The “city” here seems key. Bolaño pays special attention to what Colonias the women live in and in what parts of the city their bodies are discovered. The fact that many are discovered in the city dump is symbolic of their status as both a fuel and a waste product of the city.

Which brings us back to the Penitent, the church desecrator. Clearly, he is bringing in gallons of urine and just dumping it in the churches. But, why? It goes without saying that Catholicism in northern Mexico has no point of comparison. It is as deep a part of the social fabric as any institution; more so than any sense of obligation to the city, state, or nation. To desecrate the church is to desecrate humanity and mortality. To do so with a waste product is a true offense. The massive amount of urine spent by the Penitent is on par with the massive amount of blood spent by the killers of women (and now the killers of anyone) who value nothing above violence and chaos.

Women are still being murdered in Juarez. Children are still being murdered in Juarez. I challenge you to set up Google alert for Juarez and read the news stories that are posted every day. I challenge you to read the Juarez section of the El Paso Times and count the number of deaths reported each day. Read the pundits speculate on how the US should or should not get involved. Raise the awareness that a new kind of horror is on the horizon. It’s on our borders and it appears to be unstoppable. War in the future will not look like Iraq; it will not look like governments; it will look like boredom: a list of names, years old, posted on a blog.






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.

Week 10: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

521: Thinking of the Caciques, Haas considers them lost in a dream.

534: Elvira Campos dreams of selling her properties and belongings to get enough money to fly to Paris and having plastic surgery to turn back the clock to her early 40s. When the bandages are removed, they fall to the floor and slither not like snakes “but rather like the guardian angels of snakes.” She approves of the surgery’s results, and with a nod, “she rediscovers the sovereignty of childhood, the love of her father and mother” and steps back out into Paris.

542: The cameraman for the original snuff film thinks he’s lost in a nightmare as they make their way to the ranch at which they’ll film.

554: It’s not presented as a dream, but as Lalo Cura thinks about his lineage, he’s “half asleep, drifting between sleep and wakefulness,” and he hears or remembers voices telling him the stories of his family tree.

561: Sergio Gonzales visits Michele Sanchez’s mother, and she tells him of a dream in which her dead daughter — not her youngest in fact — was the youngest of her daughters, a baby of two or three years who was there and then suddenly not there.

562: Haas contemplates, “as if in a dream,” some of the Bisontes moving around in the prison yard as if grazing. Some of the inmates seemed, he thought, to move in slow motion. This resonates with some other mentions in past dreams about time being somehow slowed down or sped up.

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