Week 15: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

851: Popescu listens to Romanian intellectuals who are asking him for loans as if he’s asleep or in a dream.

864: As a child, after Reiter goes off to war, Lotte hears him in her dreams, stepping like a giant homeward. Other times she dreams that she too is at war and finds Reiter’s body on the battlefield, riddled with bullets. Lotte’s father asks what the faces of the dead soldiers in her dreams look like, whether they look as if they’re asleep. He says that the faces of dead soldiers are always dirty. Reiter’s face is always clean in Lotte’s dreams, “as if despite being dead he was still capable of many things.”

868: Lotte dreams that Reiter appears outside her bedroom window and asks why their mother is going to get married. He then tells Lotte (in the dream) never to marry.

869: In the country, Lotte dreams about dead animals. Once she dreams of seeing a wild boar in its death throes in the bushes, surrounded by hundreds of dead baby boars. (Her strange response to this dream is to consider becoming a vegetarian but to take up smoking instead.)

870: Lotte’s nightmares have stopped. In fact, she never dreams at all. She suggests that she must dream like everybody else but is lucky enough not to remember the dreams when she wakes up. I think this is a close echo to Kessler’s reported experience of dreams.

875: Lotte dreams that her expatriate son has married and lives a normal domestic American life, but his wife has no face. Lotte sees her only from behind. When she dreams of him with children, she knows the children are around but never actually sees them. There are echoes of two prior dreams here, the first of Norton’s dream in which she sees the back of a head in the mirror and one in which Pelletier is living a domestic life with Norton and is aware that she’s around but never actually seems to see her. Also on this page, Lotte dreams that Klaus’s wife is cooking Indian food. She (Lotte) is sitting at a table with a pitcher, an empty plate, a plastic cup, and a fork, but she doesn’t know who let her in, and it troubles her. This becomes for her what she and her husband call “the Klaus nightmare” for its recurrence.

878: Lotte dreams (her first in a long time) of Archimboldi walking in the desert, wearing shorts and a straw hat. The landscape is all sand. She shouts to him to stop, but he keeps moving farther away “as if he wanted to lose himself forever in that unfathomable and hostile land.” She tells him it’s unfathomable and hostile, realizing that in the dream she’s a small girl again, and he whispers in her ear (sort of a god voice from afar, I guess) that it’s “boring, boring, boring.” Cue here a look back at the book’s epigraph.

880: Lotte is in Mexico and falls asleep with the TV on. She dreams of Archimboldi sitting on a huge volcanic slab, dressed in rags and holding an ax, looking sad. In the dream, she thinks that maybe her brother is dead, but her son is alive. She tells Klaus that she’s been dreaming about her brother, and he confesses that he’s been having bad dreams about his uncle too. When she admits that her dreams aren’t good ones, his reaction is to smile, and they move on to talk about other things.

882: Lotte dreams (back in Germany now) that a warm, loving voice whispers in her ear the possibility that her son really was the Santa Teresa killer. (Recall the dream a few pages back in which her brother is whispering in her ear from the desert.)

883: Klaus tells Lotte (having called from an illicit cell phone) that he had had a dream. She asks what it’s about, and he asks whether or not she knows what it was about. She doesn’t, and he says he’d better not tell her and hangs up.

884: Klaus’s trial passes as if in a dream.

889: Lotte is trying to reach Mrs. Bubis while in Mexico. She goes to sleep with the TV on but muted and dreams of a cemetery and the tomb of a giant. The gravestone splits and the giant begins to emerge. The head is crowned with long blond hair. She wakes up.

890: Archimboldi visits Lotte in Germany, and she tells him of Klaus’s dream that he’ll be rescued from prison by a giant. She tells Archimboldi that he doesn’t look like a giant anymore, and he says he never was one.

Week 15: Deaths

by Michael Cooler

p.834 — Leube admits that he killed his wife by pushing her into a ravine.
p.836 — We learn that Ingeborg has died in a remote village on the Adriatic coast, by drowning.
p.848 — Bubis dies in his office while reading a funny book.
p.855 — Popescu instructs two Hungarians to throw the crippled captain into the Seine.
p.856 — Popescu dies in a Paris hospital.
p.867 — The one-legged father of Hans and Lotte dies from illness.
p.871 — The mechanic married to Lotte’s mother dies.
p.872 — Lotte’s mother dies of cancer when Klaus is 12.
p.876 — Werner dies of heart disease.

Week 15: La guerre n’est pas finie

by Maria Bustillos

If I became somewhat quiet as our reading progressed, it’s not because I got lazy; it’s because the farther in we got, the more I realized I will be reading this book many, many times, because it rearranged so many of my comfortable ideas about political involvement, about human destiny, and the history of literature, and love relations, and how novels can be structured and written. I could go on with this list, but suffice it to say that this book rocked my little world like nothing since Infinite Jest, another book I have long shared with the brilliant Matt Bucher. So thank you, Matt, for including me in this wonderful project. I’ve enjoyed every moment.

One of the strangest things about the upshot of the book is that it ends on some quite conventional notes. For example, Reiter goes to Mexico for love of Lotte.  So often the human relations in this book are vicious, brutal, murderous, but the way Lotte feels about Hans is utterly tender, and so finely described. I hadn’t expected it to end this way, after the Crimes, with an innocent woman in distress, and people coming to her rescue.  Lotte is a “good guy” whose personal aims and ideas don’t include harming others or trying to take advantage of them in any way.  There aren’t many such in this book, but others have stepped in to protect them more than once: Lalo Cura is rescued from the narcos, Rosa Amalfitano is rescued by Fate. The ones who do the rescuing are relatively impure themselves, maybe, but they recognize the innocence and protect it, champion it, it seems to me. Maybe that, too, is part of what is being said.

(An aside: one of Bolaño’s greatest achievements in this book is to render characters so believably in so many nationalities. We have British, Italian, German and Mexican characters, Americans, a Romanian, a Frenchman. I’ve traveled in most of these places, have certainly met representatives of each, and was just bowled over by the correctness in details of each case.  I can’t think of a richer book, this way.)

I too will close with Fürst-Pückler-Eis.  This is a real kind of ice cream, by the bye. (While I’m at it, I will add that I quite agree that ice cream is far better in spring and fall than it is in summer.  As a quite keen cook myself, another thing I appreciate about the Bolaño, that nonstop polymath, is that he really knows his food, like many a good Latin American.)  So here we have a highly accomplished man, Fürst-Pückler, whose subsequent fame rests entirely on the ice cream treat named after him. Isn’t that absurd?  Okay, I submit that this last bit of reasoning applies also to two others.  One, to Archimboldi, who loved Lotte and Ingeborg, who struggled in war and peace, who made a great and final sacrifice at the end of his long life—one which none of his fans will ever know a thing about—what is left of Archimboldi?  Why his books, of course.  They’re his ice cream, I think.  They are good and satisfying, enjoyed by many, but they aren’t the man, they aren’t his life.

In fact books aren’t life; they seem like life, but they’re not. You may recall that the first paragraph of 2666 finds the nineteen-year-old Jean-Claude Pelletier reading d’Arsonval, Archimboldi’s French-themed novel, in Paris in 1980.  How distant from the actual concerns of Reiter’s life can this scene be?  But the book is so entertaining to Pelletier, so absorbing, so delightful, it really might as well be the ice cream with which the book ends.  It seems we’re being told that this book, all these dreams within dreams of 2666, can’t really teach us a thing. We may enjoy them, but books can never be more than ice cream. (An odd thing to hear from a man whose whole life must have been a positive avalanche of books, but there you go.)

So: thank you very much, Sr. Bolaño, for the ice cream, which is absolutely first-class ice cream, and which I hope to enjoy (if that is the right word) many times in future.

Week 15: I will not let thee go except thou be blessed

And so we came to the end, not with a bang but with a whimper. At the end of this week, the group read of 2666 is officially over. But I feel like there is a lot of unfinished business. There are a lot of sections in the novel that I still want to investigate further. The book is so dense with names and allusions that it will take a lot of work to explicate all of them. There are lists to be made, connections to tease out, and maps to be drawn.

But I am proud of what we have accomplished here. The level of discussion throughout has been superb. I have learned so much from my fellow contributors here on the site and on the other blogs.

I want to thank the lovely and talented Maria Bustillos for graciously agreeing to co-host this project with me. Her posts have been the highlight of the group read for me. It’s been so thrilling to see her reactions and interpretations of things I missed or couldn’t pinpoint. Thank you, Maria.

I want to thank Daryl Houston for consistently tracking one of the most complex pieces of data in this novel: who dreams what. Daryl’s analysis and posts at Infinite Zombies are some of the best extant scholarship on 2666. I look forward to reading Moby-Dick with him and the other zombies.

I want to thank Michael Cooler and Nicole Perrin who meticulously tracked every death in 2666. For those who wondered, Bolaño documents the murders of 112 women in The Part About The Crimes. Thank you both for volunteering your time and your excellent work every step of the way.

I want to thank Meaghan Doyle for tracking the vocabulary, Brooks Williams for tracking the characters, and Sara Corona Goldstein for tracking the locations. I truly appreciate it.

I want to thank Lorin Stein for talking about 2666 with me on this blog, and for helping to bring Bolaño to the forefront of world literature.

I want to thank everyone who commented here, on the forums, on Twitter, and Facebook. Your participation has added to everyone’s understanding of the novel. This is the end of the schedule, but it’s not the end of this blog, posts about 2666, or your welcome here. Please stick around.

Week 14: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

779: The old fortune-teller from whom Reiter gets his distinctive black coat tells Reiter that the coat belonged to a spy. Sometimes, she declines to say or hear anything about the spy, though, chalking the story of the spy up to dreams, fantasies, foolish visions.

780: The doctor who admires Reiter’s coat and goes on and on about its origins even as Reiter sits there heartbroken at the bad news he’s just been given about Ingeborg’s prospects for a long life finally comes around with something of a reasonable beside manner after what the narrator descries as his dream of leather coats.

782: While Ingeborg’s mother and sister’s are visiting, Reiter and Ingeborg go through something of a dry spell in the cramped boudoir. At last they break the drought, and as Reiter sees five pairs of what he calls cat eyes floating in the dark paying attention to their sex, he takes the eye count to be a sign that he’s dreaming, since there should be only three pairs of eyes (one per sister plus one for the mother).

804: Mr. Bubis’s loyal employee, whom it seems may have been something of a Moneypenny, is described as having had her share of nightmarish times.

Week 14: Deaths

by Nicole Perrin

p.771 — Reiter learns that Ingeborg’s father died during the war

p.827 — Reiter and Ingeborg stay with a man rumored to have killed his wife by throwing her into a ravine, which he denies

832 — Reiter discovers two dead border guards in their cabin

Week 13: Handshake Protocol

by Maria Bustillos

Of all the freakouts in this section (and there are many) this handshake story freaked me out the worst. It’s a joke, we’re told, read by Reiter, recalled by Ansky as having been told to him by Ivanov, who heard it “at a party at the offices of a magazine where he worked at the time.” What the hell kind of a joke is this! It’s a game of Telephone, to start with. “Half truth, half legend.” Fine. But just try to find a punchline.

In this alleged joke, a group of French anthropologists visit an isolated tribe in Borneo. First they attempt to find out if these natives are cannibals (!?) Their “first guess” is that they might be. No, the natives say, they’re not cannibals. A gentle people, very primitive, with one weird feature: when they touch someone, they can’t look him in the face. They have therefore got a method of shaking hands that makes the most esoteric hip-hop greetings seem quite ordinary; they’re passing the arm under the armpit and whatnot, and not looking at one another. When a French anthropologist attempts to engage one of the natives in a Western-style handshake, by way of demonstration, however, they go completely nuts and smash the Frenchman’s skull open. (Still no punchline.)

Having made their escape with some difficulty, the remaining anthropologists figure there must be a clue to the natives’ sudden hostility in the word one of them shouted during the rumpus: “dayiy; you’ll be perhaps relieved to hear I can find no evidence of this terrible word outside the book. In the book, it means any of the following:



Man who rapes me

If you howl first, it can also mean:

Man who rapes me in the ass

Cannibal who fucks me in the ass and then eats my body

Man who touches me (or rapes me) and stares me in the eyes (to eat my soul)

The joke ends here, apparently, still with no punchline in sight. I told Oliver about this story and he said he thinks Bolaño “sounds like he has some very unhealthy preoccupations.” Which, well (insert weak laughter here.)

So … this basic fear on both sides of being eaten, or violated, or both—between this fear and the language barrier between the two tribes (the Frenchmen and the natives,) so much tension and terror are created that the result is bloodshed, ineluctable albeit almost inadvertent, just through misunderstanding and fear. The weirdest fear, of your soul being eaten. So much of this book is about the ineluctability of violence that I cannot help but suppose there is much more here than meets the eye.

In closing, I should like to draw your attention to another series of victims of a similar violation and cannibalism, viz., the many women in Santa Teresa who are raped, sodomized and whose breasts are bitten off. Is this violence a fear of the tribe of women–women with whom men cannot communicate, and who might eat their souls?

And again, is the mutual fear of having one’s soul eaten, of being too much known, at the heart of the violence in men’s hearts generally … and more specifically, Latin American violence. Perhaps we’re being told that the oil of Native America just won’t mix with European water, not ever?

Week 13: Deaths

by Michael Cooler

p.703 — 1941 — Reiter and the Germans kill 5 Soviet soldiers dragging a field gun.
p.704 — Nietzke and several others from the company are killed.
p.710 — Ansky’s notebook — An engineer is murdered because he’s going insane.
p.724 — Ansky’s notebook — 1930 — Mayakovsky commits suicide.
p.724 — Ansky’s notebook — 1936 — Gorky dies, who Ivanov admires.
p.727 — Ansky’s notebook — Ivanov is arrested, questioned about being a Trotskyist, and shot in the back of the head.
p.733 — Ansky’s notebook — Ansky recalls a joke where a French anthropologist offends a native by vigorously shaking hands, and is killed by having his head smashed open with a stone. Some natives are killed in the resulting clashes.
p.736 — Ansky’s notebook — A well-known Russian poet disappears and is killed.
p.736 — Ansky’s notebook — Ansky returns to Kostekino and his father dies shortly thereafter.
p.737 — Ansky’s notebook — The Einsatzgruppe C has likely killed the Jewish inhabitants of Kostekino.
p.739 — 1942 — Sergeant Lemke is gravely wounded, Kruse and Bublitz are killed.
p.745 — 1944 — Reiter sees the Romanian General Entrescu crucified by his own troops outside a castle.
p.753 — Sammer’s recollections — 8 of 500 Jews die on the train trip to the Polish town.
p.755 — Sammer’s recollections — 2 of 500 Jews (elderly) die shortly after arriving in the village.
p.757 — Sammer’s recollections — 2 of 500 Jews (young mother and baby) die.
p.761 — Sammer’s recollections — 80 of 500 Jews are executed by the end of the first week.
p.762 — Sammer’s recollections — 20 of 500 Jews executed.
p.763 — Sammer’s recollections — 60 of 500 Jews executed by conscripted alcoholic soccer-playing Polish boys.
p.764 — Sammer’s recollections — 60 of 500 Jews executed.
p.765 — Sammer’s recollections — 8 of 500 Jews executed.
p.765 — Sammer’s recollections — Two of the Polish-boy executioners die from pneumonia. Now only 100 Jews are still alive and are released to fend for themselves.
p. 767 — Sammer’s strangled body is found in the POW camp between the tent and the latrines.

In a very few pages 400 Jews die in a Polish village overseen by the German Sammer during World War II, which is almost 200 more than all the women we’ve read about in The Part About the Crimes.

Week 13: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

706: Reiter has (unspecific) nightmares his first night in the village in which he discovers Ansky’s house.

717: Ansky dreams (in 1929) of the white coat of a doctor his lover, Mary Zamyatina, is also sleeping with. She describes the doctor “as if he were Jesus Christ reincarnated, minus the beard and plus a white coat” (the white coat in question).

722: Ivanov, having become successful, sometimes pinches himself to make sure he’s not dreaming.

729: As Reiter reads Ansky’s papers, he reads “Names, names, names. Those who made revolution and those who were devoured by that same revolution, though it wasn’t the same but another, not the dream but the nightmare that hides behind the eyelids of the dream.”

736: Ansky dreams that they sky is a great ocean of blood.

737: Reiter dreams of Ansky’s mother being herded off with the other Jews toward death, and he dreams of Ansky walking across country at night, nameless and felled by gunfire. Reiter thinks he was the one who shot Ansky and has nightmares that wake him up and make him weep.

738: Reiter dreams he’s back in Crimea. He shoots his gun amid the smoke of war, then keeps walking and comes upon a dead Red Army soldier. He turns the soldier over to see the face, which he fears (with great dread) is Ansky’s. It turns out to be his own face, which relieves him. When he wakes from the dream, his lost voice has returned, and the first thing he says is “Thank God, it wasn’t me.”

741: Thinking of semblances and of his sister, Reiter considers Ansky, falls asleep, and (explicitly) doesn’t dream.

743: Reiter dreams that he escapes from the Russians into the Dnieper river, where he swims and floats for days and over some distance, into the Black Sea. When he finally emerges from the water to safety, he discovers that Ansky’s notebook has been ruined by the water. Upon waking up, he returns the notebook to its chimney hiding place.

760: Sammer, having been ordered to dispose of the Greek Jews he’s been sent and having begun creating the sweeping and gardening brigades, has a big sense of boredom over the next couple of days. He plays dice and listens with half-comprehension to peasant jokes. The days of inactivity pass, dreamlike.

763: Sammer is riding around in the back seat of his car after the purge has begun, and he falls asleep and dreams that his dead son is shouting “onward! ever onward!”

764: The drunken, soccer-playing boys whom Sammer has enlisted to dig a huge grave can be found huddled in the town square asleep, dreaming (he imagines) about liquor-fueled soccer matches.

766: Contemplating how many Jews he has left to exterminate, Sammer describes the weight of the task, suggesting that fifteen or even thirty wasn’t an insurmountable number, but once you reach fifty, “the stomach turns and the head spins and the restless nights and nightmares begin.”

Week 13: pages 702-765

The Part About Archimboldi continues in this week’s reading (only two weeks left). Hans Reiter is still at war, and he is almost killed in three different battles. The second time he is almost certain he will die “and the nearness of the sea convinced him even more thoroughly of this idea,” which calls to mind the Part About Fate. The third time Reiter is injured seriously. He has a neck injury that prevents him from speaking, but he does receive the Iron Cross. He is sent to recover in the small town of Sweet Spring. In his house there he discovers a secret hiding place and the papers of Boris Ansky.

I wrote this paragraph of this week’s summary today and then I checked Ijustreadaboutthat and of course Paul has written a much more extensive, much more detailed an insightful summary and analysis than I can dream of doing today. Rather than try to say the same thing differently, I’m going to post an excerpt here and encourage you strongly to read the whole thing. Summaries like this take a lot of time to produce and I want to thank Paul publicly for following along with the group read for 3 months now and religiously taking notes.

Ansky was born in 1909. At 14, he enlisted in the Red Army, but the recruiting soldier said there was no one left to fight. When asked if he was Jewish, he answered yes. The recruiting soldier said he knew a Jew in the army, and that he was now dead. Ansky was less sure about joining now, but signed up anyway. He spent the next three years traveling as far as the Arctic Circle.  He also attended to several affairs, including reading and visiting museums, political lectures, and other intellectual pursuits. Around this time, Ansky met Efraim Ivanov, the science fiction writer.  Remember that name too, as he is also pretty important here.

The vast bulk of the rest of the week’s read comes from Ansky’s diary. And he begins with Ivanov.

Ivanov was a Communist party member since 1902. He had tried to write many different types of stories, mostly copying other writers. And then one day he was asked to write a story about Russia in 1940. He tossed off a science fiction short story in about three hours. And, it was a huge hit! No one was more surprised than the author (and his publisher). And thus began his life as a science fiction writer.

He wrote a series of stories along the same lines as that one: a bright future plus a hero who helps bring about the bright future and a boy or girl in that future (1940’s Russia) who enjoys the fruits of the labors of the hero.

And yet he felt empty writing this formula. When he met the young Jew Ansky, something stirred inside him which inspired him to become a real writer, a real artist, a creator.

Ivanov convinced Ansky to join the party. After all of the procedures were followed, Ansky was accepted. And on the night of his welcome, one of Ivanov’s ex-lovers, Margarita Afanasievn, grabbed Ansky by the balls and told him that to be in the party they needed to be made of steel.

Ansky tells her a true story (while she is still holding him) about a man he had met. The man had his penis and balls cut off. The man spent most of his time scouring the forest for his organs.  And yet despite that he seemed to be youthful and virile. Then one day he gave up and seemed to age 30 years. Four months later Ansky’s troops were passing through the village again, and Ansky learned that the man was happily married and looked as young as he did before he stopped looking for his organs. Afanasievna (letting go now) says it’s a pretty story but she’s been around too long to believe it.

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