Week 1: pages 1–51

Welcome, everyone. This week we are discussing the first 51 pages of 2666. You can participate by leaving a comment on this post, posting in the forums or on your own blog, on bolano-l, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Tumblr, on Goodreads, Shelfari, or LibraryThing. Or invent your own way and let me know (matt@bolanobolano.com).

I should say from the outset that this is my second read of the novel. The first read was completed less than a year ago in conjunction with a group read on bolano-l. That read fizzled out way too early online, but there are still some excellent posts in the archives. I wrote some material there for the Part About the Critics that I will revise and post (where relevant) here.

This section introduces all the major characters of this Part: the four Archimboldi critics (Espinoza, Pelletier, Morini, and Norton) and Benno von Archimboldi himself (the star of Part V: The Part About Archimboldi). Plotwise, we see the development of each critic as an Archimboldean scholar and the subsequent enmeshment of their personal lives—namely that Pelletier, and then Espinoza, sleep with Liz Norton. We learn that Archimboldi’s life is shrouded in mystery. He was born in Prussia (and writes in German) with a name that looks Italian, but which he claims is Huguenot French (but with a German “von”), and his novels are either “English-themed”, or “Polish-themed”, or “clearly French-themed.”

As you will see in the timeline or locations index, there is quite a bit of traveling around in this section. The critics all live in different countries (England, France, Spain, Italy) and they frequently attend conferences in other countries to speak about a writer from a yet a different country (Germany). I believe that part of what Bolaño is doing here is showing the porousness of certain borders, that European national borders are so easily crossed and recrossed that it barely rates mentioning the difference between countries at all. Without giving anything away, the concept of the border plays a different role in later sections of the novel. Bolaño relishes the opportunity to cross borders and mix nationalities—almost as much as he enjoys mixing in the names of fictional writers with real ones. He himself is considered a Chilean writer, but he traveled throughout Mexico, Europe, and Central America before settling down in Blanes, Spain, where he spent the last 20 years of his life.

The first time I wrote about this section, I spent considerable time trying to look at the names of the characters. Some members of bolano-l thought that was too simplistic, but I still think it’s interesting. Here are a few tidbits:

Ostensibly French, Pelletier is probably a  more common Quebecois surname now. For example, there is a Canadian writer named Jean-Jacques Pelletier. I don’t think Bolaño based Jean-Claude on Jean-Jacques, but it helps me to visualize the character, to put a face to a name so to speak.

“Liz Norton” has got to be an homage to the Norton Anthology of English Literature (or any of the Norton anthologies).

“Espinoza” is closely identified with the Dutch/Portuguese/Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (who wrote in Latin and whose name in Portuguese was written Bento de Espinosa).  Here again we have an allusion to someone whose nationality is either ill-defined or not related to their work.

The Morini were a tribe in the Roman Empire that occupied a part of what is now French Flanders (the arrondissements near the border of Belgium). The descendents of Morini speak a difficult Dutch dialect called West-Vlaams (West Flemish). Morini is also the name of a large European target-pistol manufacturer that was originally founded in Italy but later moved to an Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. Both of these Morinis (the Roman tribe and the gunmaker) experience a shift, although they retain a language. In a way, Espinoza starts out studying Spanish and then shifts his focus to a German writer (Junger) before
discovering another German writer (Archimboldi) with an Italian name.

The name Archimboldi is very close to (Guiseppe) Arcimboldo, and Arcimboldo is sometimes written Arcimboldi. Arcimboldo is remembered for his portraits composed of fruit or other objects, but he was also multi-national: he worked in Italy and also served as official portraitist to the royal house of Habsburg in Vienna and Prague.

Michael and Nicole report no official deaths in the first 51 pages, but two brief mentions:

p. 30 – “A day later they found him in the yard, dead.”  Referring to the boy from the Japanese horror film recounted by Pelletier.  This one doesn’t count, but we are tracking death here.

Also on p. 43 we have the first mention of the femicides: “Around this time, Morini was the first to read an article about the killings in Sonora . . . the dead numbered well over one hundred.” Based on the timeline, this is late 1996 or early 1997.

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