Sunday, October 11th, 2009
Roberto Bolano’s novel 2666 is a turbulent structure. The reader may be interested after reading “The Part about Archimboldi” to go back to “The Part about the Critics” to rethink the timing of events–when do the critics venture to Mexico in their hunt for Archimboldi? And where is Archimboldi while the critics are in Santa Teresa, chasing ghosts?
In addition, The “Part about the Crimes” demands a re-read because we are re-introduced to Klaus Haas, Lotte’s son, and Lotte’s Hans Reiter’s little sister, and, of course, Hans Reiter is the great Benno von Archimboldi, whose story is told in The Part about Archimboldi.
2666 indicates its structure through titles. The novel is broken into Parts and Parts provide a frame for thinking about how each character, each section, and each story is associated. The reader can read 2666 as a history of accumulating relations. Appropriately, 2666 begins with Pelletier, the French critic, “discovering” Archimboldi. The Part about the Critics begins with a series of Archimboldi discoveries and these discoveries form the link between Pelletier, Morini, Norton, and Espinosa. The sequences of discovery goes like this: Jean-Claude discovers Archimboldi (Reiter) in 1980 at Christmas; Piero Morini in 1976; Liz Norton reads Archimboldi in 1988. Manuel Espinosa’s discoveries are treated differently. We know he wrote his dissertation on Archimboldi in 1990, but we aren’t told when he first reads Archimboldi, but we do know that he comes to Archimboldi by way of other failed enterprises.
Bolano wants the reader to consider dates, as he persistently glues the narrative with them. He also wants us to know context: what was the date, what was the circumstance. In “The Part about the Crimes” each revealed murder comes with circumstance, but these have nothing to do with solving murders (circumstantial evidence leads nowhere, typically) but everything to do with what detectives are doing day to day. This leads to an interesting question: how does one “solve” mass murder? In “The Part about the Crimes” finding the murderer or murderers comes off as a trivial expectation, as it does in “The Part about Archimboldi,” as the meaning of World War II’s murderous scope and all other mass murders in history become frames of reference not events “to solve.”
The reader is thus provided with a way of putting sequences of events together for later association. We can conclude that Pelletier’s Christmas discovery is a contiguous part of the world contained and developed in 2666. Each revealed part adds to the world’s puzzling complexity; they reveal more puzzles. This additional knowledge does nothing for the other characters, whose vision is limited by their own field. Take Lotte as a case in point and the reader. Lotte lives most of her life knowing very little about her son and her brother. Likewise Archimboldi knows very little about Lotte and his nephew. The critics, who are well versed in Achimboldi’s novels, don’t know the writer’s given name, Hans Reiter. This is only one of 2666’s great jokes. But it’s an interesting joke, as the joke is also on Reiter, who alters his identity to avoid charges for murdering a civil servant, who, during the war, dispassionately killed hundreds of Jews. The reader knows nothing about Archimboldi’s novels, though can infer much about them from his experience of the world in “The Part about Archimboldi.” The reader understands that the critics are members of an enamored academic club but that it’s their private lives that form the energy of this first part of 2666, which is entirely absent of romance conventions.
For a while, Ezpinosa and Pelletier wandered around as if possessed. Archimboldi, who was again rumored to stand a clear chance for the Nobel, left them cold. They resented their work at the university, their periodic contributions to the journals of German departments around the world, their classes, and even the conferences they attended like sleep-walkers or drugged detectives. They were there but they weren’t there. They talked, but their minds were on something else. Only Pritchard [a love interest of Norton’s], the ominous presence of Pritchard, Norton’s constant companion. A Pritchard who saw Norton as the Medusa, as a Gorgon, a Pritchard about whom, as reticent spectators, they knew almost nothing about.
After reading “The Part about Archimboldi, there will be no recognizing the Archimboldi of the Serb (The Part about the Critics) to the Reiter of “The Part about Archimboldi,” as these parts are causally indeterminate. 2666 is not a novel to read for deterministic plot. The very notion of causation is made strange in the novel, a curious human concoction.
We know when the critics becomes critics. We know when and the circumstances behind their meetings and movements. Norton’s and the other critic’s internal landscapes are rich, wondrous, and frightening. The critics won’t gain meaning from their studies, however, or from their professional connections. They can’t be intimate with Archimboldi, which is a privileged knowledge reserved for Mrs. Bubis; they have difficulty being intimate as friends. A reader may be left wondering what true intimacy might mean for them. We’re left at the end of “The Part about the Critics” with ironies so think, the puzzle is nearly impossible to solve:
“Archimboldi is here,” said Pelletier, “and we’re here, and this is the closest we’ll ever be to him.”
and Norton writes to her friends
I don;t know how long we’ll last together, said Norton in her letter. It doesn’t matter to me or to Morini either (I think). We love each other and we’re happy. I know the two of you will understand.
Pelletier and Norton are wrong on several counts. But this is exactly why they’re fantastic.
It bears more consideration, but Bolano, in 2666, has written a novel that’s a kind of opposing force to Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. In Marquez frail love and intimacy are ripe as fruit; in 2666, love is out there somewhere, but it’s escaped us.