Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.

2666 Part 2

First off, we want to thank everyone who is participating. Your comments for Part 1 were exceptionally helpful and heartening. How are you doing? Did Part 2 throw any of you out of the game? Did it bring any of you further in? We’re excited to hear how it’s going and to dig into what’s going on as this books gets more and more strange.


The day-long, low-level action beneath the surface intensifies, like bad wood warping under veneer: the garden is stolen by foxes rooting in turned dustbins, emptiness takes form and approaches from the centre of the lawn, a white devil, smiling out of the dark, and the realisation dawns that I live in an invented place whose only purpose is avoidance, and what I would avoid, I carry with me, always.
                    ~John Burnside, “Suburbs”

Forgive my opening this brief introduction to Part 2 with a fragment of a John Burnside poem. 2666‘s second section always reminds me of it . . .

We first met Amalfitano in Part 1 of course. I always think of him as leading the critics across the River Styx, so to speak, for their dalliance with the deathly. He is the necessary link between the first two parts: a moribund academic, a bleak and cautionary (to those three travelling critics) representation of the life of the mind in such a place, plagued by demons, some formed out of others, a multiplication of self-immolations.

He’s neurotic about what he’s doing in Santa Teresa in the first place, and we never satisfactorily understand why; he questions himself as to whether or not he has a death wish; he fears for his daughter, who, latterly, is always out late in an environment we know is fraught with murderous danger (and we will see a fair bit more of a deeply imperiled Rosa in Part 3). His sanity, clearly, is beginning to slip. We twice hear the line: “Madness is contagious.” Part 2 having been foreshadowed by the desertion of Amalfitano and a young Rosa by Lola, Amalfitano’s wife, who vanishes in pursuit of a poet with her friend Imma. The poet resides at a mental asylum in Mondragon she hangs around. Lola, we (or I certainly) feel, is way beyond troubled and romantic and susceptible to wanderlust: she’s lost and, as we read, via her letters to Amalfitano, about her hitch-hiking, liaison with Larrazabal and subsequent cemetery-frequenting, hellishly-unmoored exploits, we await the worst. (After a long hiatus in her correspondence she sends a letter from Paris which leads to Amalfitano’s gloriously melancholy vision of Lola which is clairvoyant and strangely harrowing.)

Lola returns, unexpectedly and briefly. When she leaves once again, after relating news of what she suggests is her imminent death, Amalfitano checks the radio in the early hours, fully expecting to hear of another murder: a hitch-hiker in the middle of the night, to add to the tally. But there is no such news, and Amalfitano turns his attention to a book on geometry, as his paranoia, about Rosa’s vulnerability in the main, deepens. The book is Rafael Dieste’s Testamento Geometrico, published, it seems, limitedly and with the help of friends all immortalized on page 4. He finds this strange book in one of the many boxes shipped from Barcelona. He has no recollection of the book, and can’t figure out how he came to possess it, nor imagine why he would ever want such a book. Is there a lacuna in his memory or is he losing his mind? Intriguingly, the book is three books, “each independent, but functionally correlated by the sweep of the whole.”

We also, then, wonder about Amalfitano’s decision to make a particular use of Dieste’s book as a Duchampian “readymade.” He hangs the book on an improvised washing line and subjects it to the elements which will “choose their own pages.” As he sits in his garden, the pages of the book fluttering in dusty winds, he decides he’s going to plant some flowers and a tree, but quickly rubbishes such an idea. He does not want to put roots down in such a place: he is rootless now, having travelled extensively and often, in terminal exile from Chile and clearly unable to rest or reside anywhere for long, and doesn’t expect to be in Santa Teresa for too much longer either. The houses either side of his are “empty and dark” and yet he feels at one point “as if he’s being spied on”: the menace that naturally seeps into emptiness once again. The voices that have begun to assail him are not urging him to do anything about his plight: they are manifestations of a deathly infection, a soothing inertia looking to encourage his self-abnegation. The voice of Santa Teresa, of a place become sentient and maleficent?

(The voice, purporting to be his father, mocks Amalfitano.

And you’ve also thought about your daughter. And about the murders committed daily in this city . . . But you haven’t thought seriously about whether your hand is really a hand.

Amalfitano denies this. But the voice continues: “If you had thought about it you’d be dancing to the tune of a different piper.”)

Or, of course, he may be responsible for Lola’s madness, a madness, as has been suggested, that’s contagious, but the source spreading the contagion remaining unclear. It’s the kind of absence that makes 2666 so interesting. It’s a book full of gaps and blind-spots we can’t comprehend or apprehend, just out of reach, the dread of not-knowing that’s worse than any terrible certainty and which has claimed, in its way, another victim in Amalfitano. There’s only so much he can control or conceive: all the philosophers and great minds assembled on his six drawings and listed columns don’t have the answers: his incipient-insanity marshaling of them in strange agglomerations is the desperation of philosophical dead-ends when it comes to this terrible, blighted species. He can’t evade a “pain which will finally triumph.” All he has left is fear and abstraction and vividly horrifying imaginings, with “purple skies the color of an Indian woman beaten to death,” unspeakable nightmares that set out pathways leading back to his immediate, daily terror.

Amalfitano has passed up another kind of male existence: one in which he talks to his father about boxing, one his daughter will gravitate towards in Part 3, circling ever closer to a sense of lawlessness and murderousness, the cusp of an underworld in which those responsible for the Santa Teresa murders frequent, along with another man who is cut out for such a world, who has had to evolve as such, for complex reasons. Amalfitano is merely left with questions: Bolaño, through him, asks bleaker and bleaker ones. No answers are forthcoming, but a coalescent cohesion is forming, eloquent but mystifying.


Nearly six years after first reading 2666, Part 2 is the part I remember best. It was my favorite the first time through, though perhaps it was also the most frustrating. It haunted me (affecting pretty much everything else I’ve ever read by Bolaño), and left me no assurances I’d ever understand why. I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s here that Bolaño approaches what he’s trying to say most closely and overtly. Yet I also think it’s one of the trickiest parts, and I am positive I’m not even scratching the surface of understanding it.

It begins with uncertainty, and then a doubt about that very uncertainty:

I don’t know what I’m doing in Santa Teresa, Amalfitano said to himself after he’d been living in the city for a week. Don’t you? Don’t you really? he asked himself. Really I don’t, he said to himself, and that was as eloquent as he could be.

Yes, there’s the question: what am I doing here; I don’t know. Then the uncertainty is subverted: “Don’t you? Don’t you really?” I believe Amalfitano when he tells himself that he really doesn’t. I also believe the voice is right to question that. After all, Amalfitano stays in one of the worst possible places in the world with a wandering seventeen-year-old daughter, Rosa.

Interestingly, almost the first half of this relatively short part is not about Amalfitano or Rosa but is about the woman who abandoned them years before: Lola. And though we met Amalfitano in Part 1, for me the more substantive links to Part 1 are between Lola and the critics. Lola’s quest for the poet — her own literary obsession — brings to mind the critics’ search for Archimboldi; the poet residing in an insane asylum brings to mind the painter who cut off his hand. Lola writes letters to those she abandoned, like Liz Norton. Yet the story here goes in a different direction: Lola is mentally unstable from the get-go (probably more insane than the poet she visits), and she ends up wandering around in cemeteries.

When the books shifts to Amalfitano, whom we’ve seen a few times reflecting on the letters he’s gotten years before from his long-gone wife, he notes that madness is contagious. Whether he means he’s gotten it from his wife (probable) or from the constant dread he experiences while simultaneously being absolutely bored as his daughter is at constant risk in Santa Teresa (also probable) isn’t what’s important. The thing that’s sure is that Amalfitano is going mad.


From the conventional perspective, yes. And yet there’s the idea that Amalfitano (like some of the philosophers he brings up in his strange, incoherent diagrams) isn’t so much going mad as becoming free. His fear is driving him mad, and yet his fear is completely rational. His desire to explore the ontological lead him to discard much of what typical human beings do, because he sees such pursuits are quite removed from the deeper question: why am I here in Santa Teresa? When he thinks it would be great if his daughter could go to Spain and start again, he asks, “To start what?” He’s going mad. He doesn’t see the point. Or, rather, he’s seeing beyond the point.

There’s a point to organizing life in a way that allows for security and happiness and order, yes:

Anyway, these ideas or feelings or ramblings had their own satisfactions. They turned the pain of others into memories of one’s own. They turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which is human, brief, and eternally elusive. They turned a brutal story of injustice and abuse, an incoherent howl with no beginning or end, into a neatly structured story in which suicide was always held out as a possibility. They turned flight into freedom, even if freedom meant no more than the perpetuation of flight. They turned chaos into order, even if it was at the cost of what is commonly known as sanity.

But this is exactly what Bolaño is not doing in 2666. He’s doing this paragraph in reverse. Like Amalfitano, he’s looking beyond order and asking why? What good is turning chaos into order if it is just an illusion, one with a human life-span (a bit less, in some cases)? And is that a suggestion at the end that doing so, that finding some organizing principle, is insane? Whether you agree with his sentiments or not, I feel you have to respect that he’s grappling with some deep issues here, whether the fear of emptiness we find in “The Whiteness of the Whale” from Moby-Dick (which I talk about here) or the eternal pain and deep evil out there. Melville’s Ishmael says, “. . . pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper . . .”

Well, one thing’s for sure, for Amalfitano that famous void is approaching fast. He can either look into it (he’s peering at the edges throughout this whole part) or he can “wake.”

Here are some questions we’ve put together as potential sparks for discussion (or to help us understand things better), but feel free to talk about whatever you’d like in the comments below:

  • Part 2 mentions telepathy at least three times, and other forms of coded communication often, including Araucanians’ “secret” triangle of writing (which links to Dieste’s book) and Adkintuwe. What is the significance of such matters in 2666? Is there a coded message in the mass murder? Does Amalfitano’s vivid image of Lola working as a cleaner in Paris suggest telepathy? And what of Amalfitano’s strange and yet interesting theory of jet lag, that phenomenon of turning “the pain of others into memories of one’s own”?
  • What do we make of Marco Antonio Guerra?
  • Why does Bolaño end with a dream about Boris Yeltsin, which provides Amalfitano with a conversation about “the third leg of the human table” and an equation: “supply + demand + magic”?
  • Who or what do the voices in Amalfitano’s head represent?
  • If “madness is contagious,” what is the source of the contagion in 2666?
  • What doe we make of the connections to ancient Greece, both in Lola’s visions of herself and in the alleged connection between Greece and Chile?
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By |2014-10-03T00:00:26-04:00October 3rd, 2014|Categories: Roberto Bolaño|Tags: , |41 Comments


  1. Lee Monks October 3, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I think Chris Andrews’ idea, that Bolano is trying to assume an “impossible position”, somewhat ‘outside philosophy’, is particularly apt here.

  2. Trevor Berrett October 3, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Though the post has been up for only a few hours, it feels relatively silent. I hope those who joined in the discussion of Part 1 come back and let us know how Part 2 went.

    How many people are still reading this part? How many stalled? How many have given up? I’d love to know. The post on Part 3 is due in two weeks, but just let us know if we’re pushing this too fast.

  3. juliemcl October 3, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Hi Trevor, just a quick note that I’m still trying to get my thoughts together for Part 1, although now that you’ve moved on, I hope they won’t be in vain. Life got in the way, and I’m resigned to it now that I’ll be a little behind everybody else! Thank you for doing this, by the way. The posts & comments for part 1 were so amazingly good.

  4. Betsy October 3, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Great questions, Trevor, both the list you posted above as to whether anybody got “stalled!

    I’ll tackle that last one first. I’ve finished Part I and was able to only negotiate writing one reaction – an exploration of the names. There are several other small aspects of Part I I want to tackle, but close a reading pf 159 pages of Bolano requires time! (not to mention your bigger questions – I kind of told myself I’d get to those after I’d dealt with the small fry I feel capable of doing.)

    I took notes while readin Part I, and I see now that I will have to go back and take notes while reading Part II. The notes help me stay focused, which is a help when the text is so like a monkey-mind – now it’s here, now it’s there and how did it get there anyway?

    As for Part 2 – “The Part About Amalfitano” , it is very appealing (if demanding) because Amlfitano is so very human. I like his conversations with “the voice”. Truthfully, he doesn’t seem mad so much as trying to work things out.

    There is a side to him that reminds me of Hamlet.

    Amalfitano is in a situation where he doesn’t seem to be able to act. There is a kind of paralysis at work in him, although, or perhaps because, there is a lot that he sees and understands. Was Hamlet mad? Well, anyone would be mad in his situation. But the defining thing is that Hamlet is driven to pause to think. And does he think. There a Montaigne-like quality to me to Hamlet’s thinking, and there is that same maddeningly leisurely quality in Amalfitano.

    Anyone reading 2666 wants Amalfitano to get the heck out of there, and here is A. talking to his voice. As with Hamlet, there is a determination in A. to review things, allow dreams to surface, wonder about the past, consider whether anyone he’s read could help him get a handle on what it is he is supposed to do – plant flowers, run,

    So that’s where I am with Amalfitano – he feels driven to thought, even though the situation seems to require action.

    It’s that very fact that he wants to think things through, no matter where thought takes him, that makes him such a sympathetic character. I am going to miss him and worry about him if Part II is the last we see of him.

  5. Ana Catarina Palma Neves October 4, 2014 at 1:44 am

    The comments for part 1 were so good that I felt the need to re-read the rest of the book just to be able to keep up. I think Part 2 is about madness – or better yet what madness really is. Here’s Amalfitano, a guy who likes to watch nature taking its course, thinking is going mad and his neighbors are closed in their homes, like they were in prison (or in a madhouse), surrounded by big walls with glasses on top. His neighbors don’t care about what is going on outside, like the poet in the madhouse doesn’t care either. But Amalfitano does care – and perhaps the role of the voice is to make him do something (even if it’s just washing the dishes), to break the lethargy. The “sane” ones seem to be living like zoombies – alive in the outside, dead in the inside.

  6. Betsy October 4, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Ana – I found what you say about Part 2 (it being about “what madness really is” ) helpful. I read that this way – that there is one kind of clinical “madness” in which people cannot function or interact in ordinary ways, to the degree that they seem frightening and have historically been imprisoned. I guess I am thinking of schizophrenia, or catatonia – in the classic sense.

    Amalfitano, though, does the dishes, lives with his daughter, goes to class, does the thing where he greets the visiting critics on a junket – but he doesn’t seem blind to his situation, doesn’t seem incompetent and he doesn’t frighten anyone, so any clinical definition of madness does not seem to apply – the key elements in madness, historically being incompetence, first, a certain degree of unconsciousness, second, and being frightening, most of all.

    But as you point out, the whole society is frightening. The people in Santa Teresa are the living dead, so to speak, and for Amalfitano not to be functioning just as they do is a kind of madness, perhaps a kind of futility. I’m just talking to myself here, using what you’ve said to explore what I’ve read.

    I like it that you point out the situation – that people around Amalfitano are “closed in their homes”. His isolation is so palpable – he lives among people, but he is only really able to attend to his own thoughts – they are what make the most sense to him. So as you point out, he is isolated because he is the only one thinking. Everyone else has given up.

    The fact that we have the artist, who in Part I really does seem to go mad, and then the poet in Part 2 who also ends up institutionalized – these riffs on how close the artist’s existence are to madness are quite compelling. For one thing, an artist can live an isolated life, alone with his own work most of the day, and he or she can perhaps have periods when a single piece of work demands such concentration that in fact the artist is living breathing and thinking only about that work – to the degree that all ordinary interaction with the world drops away. And to both the artist and anyone looking at him, this is very close to madness. And yet, you get the feeling with Bolano that this is a necessary state – something that the artist must do, something that society needs.

    But I also get the sense that artists like the painter in Part I and the poet in Part 2 sometimes seek out “madness” and the isolation of “incarceration” just in order to escape the people who want a part of them, like Lola. At the same time, I get a sense of the fine line the artist must negotiate so that their life as an artist does not end frightening people – as Edwin Johns frightens people when he cuts off his hand. And that fine line for the artist also has to do with getting so far into their own head that they lose too much contact with the world, and so in fact, commit a kind of artistic suicide. Somehow, that dead hand as a work of art is a representation of dead art – art that does not represent life as it is.

    Bolano’s collage-like method of juxtaposing so many different stories requires so much of the reader. In one way the story-telling feels crazy – like a crazy quilt – except that it seems as if Bolano wants the reader to let it all percolate – let it all create a kind of mood where initially nothing really makes sense. Like snorkeling in the Atlantic – where the water is naturally turbid – and thinking you will see sea creatures the way you will see them in an aquarium or in the National Geographic. You have to accept the rules of the environment – that there is only so much you can see at any one time and it’s up to you to piece it all together. Like a detective would have to piece together a crime – which I suppose is the point of Part 4. That the ordinary person, in order to decipher his own society, must have the concentration and vision of an artist and the determination of a detective, plus his or her forensics skills.

    Or that it’s really important to him to say – wake up! not much of what you hear really makes any sense – don’t you realize that? wake up – what are the through-lines … but I’ll admit, perceiving the though lines in 2666 (which is so big) is difficult for someone like me – who looks for logic and clock-work. But it’s bigness is probably the point – that society is big. Really big.

    So if Joyce had his Dublin – with all its variety and inconsistency and danger for the artist – Bolano has his Santa Teresa, Santa Teresa maybe being a representation of the way Fascism works – how it depends upon people giving up, how it depends upon people being able to think the “disappeared” have nothing to do with them.

    Actually, I am one of those people. I live in a little hill town in Massachusetts. One of my neighbors was showing me pictures of her daughter’s friends, and told me me an incomprehensible story – that this one girl was Latin American, had been for some reason to a Mexican border town (Juarez) with her mother, and while they were there her mother had been brutally murdered and dumped in a dumpster and the girl had to come back alone, and according to my friend, was now depending on the good will of the people in this hill town in Massachusetts to save her.

    The story was incomprehensible to me. It had so many gaps that it was hard for me to see what it meant. I remember thinking that somehow the woman was at fault for choosing to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – otherwise the story didn’t make much sense to me. Somehow I needed to know who was responsible in order to figure out who should take care of this child. And I was teaching at the time, and that consumed my life – trying to do that as well as possible. So that was how I made sense of the story that was more fragment than story. I dismissed it as being alien to how people really live, as being illogical, as being apart from my responsibilities. So there is a “disappeared” person whom I have brushed up against, and whose story mystified me to the point I decided I couldn’t credit it or that I should have a part in it..

    Of course, my friend, the artist, knew exactly what the story meant – that the child needed to be loved. So in this case, I am the half alive person living in the isolation of my house, thinking that a half-told story that’s a fragment at best and therefore makes no sense, has nothing to do with me.

    So that brings me to the method of the story telling – that Bolano’s method mimics the very way I encountered evil. The way we perceive evil is in fragments. Which also is the way we perceive goodness – in such fragments that it is hard to actually recognize it when we see it, say for instance, the way I could hardly hear my friend being willing to reach her hand into the pit and pull the girl, whose mother had been murdered, part-way out. My friend was willing to listen to the girl’s story and believe it – even though the story had big gaps and was illogical and had no possibility of explanation or resolution. My friend (the artist) accepted the little girl’s story and encouraged her daughters to listen to it and believe her and befriend her.

    Not knowing the girl myself, not knowing what to do with the story, I put it in a box in the attic of my memory.

    Of course, Bolano is talking about Germany and Chile and Argentina, and Franco’s Spain and me, if I admit it. How people become immobilized by the futility of ever actually understanding the big picture, how trying to understand the big picture can make you crazy. I suppose he’s talking about any state where the state is monolithic and operates in secret and with enormous power.

  7. Ana Catarina Palma Neves October 4, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Yes, that’s an excellent development of what I said. Thank you. Amalfitano, too, needed to see the bigger picture but he didn’t have enough data to fully understand it. It’s like the book: he needed to understand how the book was in his possession but he just couldn’t figure it out. Amalfitano is a good person and he’s the only one who seems to pay attention to nature (that image of him in the messy garden and he always looking at the book after he has hung it to see how nature would take care of it). He’s trying to break through but all the people around him are pulling him into lethargy. At one point, he starts a conflict inside him – and that’s when he starts hearing the voice and starts thinking he’s crazy. And because he’s a philosopher, he starts looking for answers in philosophy.

  8. Peter Pellenaars (@petepel) October 4, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Just to confirm that I’m still reading (just started with part III) and following all the comments on part I and now on II, and trying to make up my mind with all these pieces of information. I had not expected that this book is so complex, and I admire the (deep-)reading skills of everyone who is contributing to this read-along. Although I have started with part III, it doesn’t mean that I have clear answers on the questions raised for part I and II. For now I make a lot of notes and keep going back to previous pages while at the same time I want to know how the story proceeds. And with every new page I read it seems that I have to re-evaluate my findings. It makes me uncertain if I understand anything at all of this literary labyrinth.
    But I’m working on a blogpost (in Dutch) on part I for my own site, and when ready I will share some of my opinions in the comments section for part I. Same for part II when I feel comfortable to do so.

  9. Trevor Berrett October 4, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks everyone for your excellent comments. Betsy, your story about the Latin American girl who lost her mother in Juarez (which is exactly the place Santa Teresa is meant to represent) expresses my own feelings precisely. I too feel that Bolaño mimics the way I’ve encountered evil in my life. And perhaps those who are “mad” — those who do not contend with reality — are those of us who can go about our lives pushing these things away. So, I wonder, is Amalfitano descending into madness or ascending out of it, only to, in the end, go back down.

  10. Tredynas Days October 4, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    I’m glad I stuck with ‘2666’, for I enjoyed pt 2 far more. Maybe I prefer its less discursively fragmented structure: it’s certainly more cerebral, internal – we’re inside A’s head much of the time (after the Lola section – and even that leads to more cerebration by him; he seems bemused by things, detached, struggling to make sense – maybe that’s the point of the novel: B is reproducing the continual act of reading as making sense, or trying to, from fragments, ‘glass shards’ like those on A’s neighbours’ walls).

    I find my thoughts similarly fragment when I try to put together a comment here. One thing does occur to me: nearly all the posts and comments so far have been, largely, attempts to make sense of the narrative – acts of tentative interpretation. My guess is that B would have liked that. I found those above on Pt 2 very interesting and perceptive.

    So I’m going to offer a slightly different approach: I’m going to look at a short section, and hope that commenting on it will act as a shard of my own that connects, or doesn’t, with others.

    This is the section pp. 185-89, which ends with the much-quoted and beautifully written, gnomic riff on A’s ‘ideas or feelings or ramblings’ & the ‘satisfactions’ they give A. I feel that paragraph is one of the finest in the novel, but as others have written about it I’ll look earlier.
    The section begins with A. going out to his yard, reflecting on Dieste’s book on geometry, unable to remember bringing it to Mexico. He muses on the book’s triadic structure (2666 has five ‘parts’ – this section is self-reflexive as ever); pt 3 ‘was the most enigmatic by far’. A has ‘no idea’ what it’s about, ‘nor did he mean to find out’…RB seems to be constantly teasing us, knowing we’re trying to decipher his enigmatic book; A, he tells us, did not ‘mean to find out’ what it consisted of. Is that a hint to us? Just enjoy the patterns and puzzles. Let the wind riffle the pages as they will, don’t try to impose order on what is by nature disordered.

    Dieste was a real person (d. 1981). He was Galician, born Santiago de Compostela. So why does the narrator have A reflect: ‘A Galician poet, of course, or long settled in Galicia. And his friends and patrons were also Galician, naturally, or long settled in Galicia…’ The narrative is constantly equivocating, qualifying, patching. A goes on to imagine Dieste’s ‘distinguished university colleagues…like provincial intellectuals…like self-sufficient men’ (an echo of Pt I with its critics and fusty, self-absorbed academics). ‘Finally he concluded that for the moment it was a mystery beyond his powers to solve, but he didn’t give up.’

    I’m starting to read 2666 then as a sort of coded letter by RB to his readers: I know I’m teasing you with enigmas, but don’t give up.

    As a Chilean exile himself, RB seems to write mostly about exile and liminality. A is a Chilean in Mexico, sweltering under ‘the dry, dusty heat of a bitter sun’. The bitterness of exile. Galicia has its own language and culture, fiercely aware of its cultural differences with Castilian Spain. Dieste’s book was published there, its author was Galician, the stamp in A’s copy is from a bookshop in Santiago de Compostela: A ‘envisioned a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago’. Earlier Lola has proposed to the poet she’d pursued to his asylum in the Basque country – another autonomous region of Spain with its own language and culture – that he accompany her across the Pyrenees to France, to St-Jean-de-Luz, that noted stopping-point on the Camino de Santiago, and a Basque-speaking border town.

    A thinks he bought the book in Barcelona, where Rosa was born. Yes, that’s right, another autonomous region, Catalonia, with its own language and culture. When A asks Rosa if she recognises the book she answers in Catalan, and he uses that proudly independent language back to her.

    What’s this all mean? I don’t know, but I’m beginning to think RB may not either. He’s doing what A does: assembling fragments that mean something in themselves, something maybe to do with liminal zones, exiled solitaries like A (and RB) considering a pilgrimage to a place of deliverance or meaning; with the murderous brutality of the outer world (so A retreats to his own inner world; the exterior becomes dreamlike); but try as we might, we struggle to make them all cohere. Or something.

    Sorry this has become such a lengthy ramble. I may even continue with Pt 3…

  11. Lee Monks October 4, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    More rambles like this, please! Ramble at leisure!

    I will henceforth think of a copy of 2666 on a makeshift clothesline, not Dieste’s geometry tome. An interesting thought. It’s about a gestalt, isn’t it, perhaps?

  12. Betsy October 5, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Toward the end of Part 2, Amalfitano is reading a book that a friend had sent him long ago from Chile as a joke. The book attempts to prove that Bernardo O’Higgins, founder of Chile, was born to a Native American woman, an Araucanian. Despite the fact that Amlfitano talks continually about authors and books, it is this strange book to which he devotes the closest attention, and it the experience of reading this book that appears to precede some resolution for him – the resolution, so to speak, offered by the dream about Boris Yeltsin.

    In the middle of reading the book about the native American mother of O’Higgins, Amalfitano talks about the way he is reading the book. At first, he takes the author at his word – that the author is a Native American himself. Then, Amalfitano imagines that the book was written by someone in the pay of the military, and finally, he imagines that the book was written by Pinochet.

    This allows Amalfitani to do a riff on Chile (p 225), a whitmanesque catalogue that spans the “madness” that is Chile.

    In the middle of this 8 page section about the Auricanians and the possibility that O’Higgins is part Auricanian, Amalfitani addresses directly what he calls being an “active reader”, says that what he is doing is what Cortazar imagined when he imagined what an active reader should be.

    Key to Julio Cortazar’s (1914-1984, Argentina) idea is that the writing should be a collage, and that the reader should have to put together the meaning – and that the author should not explicitly tell the reader what to think. In the process of reading, the reader would write the book with the author, would construct new meaning, and become a “new man” – open to a new kind of freedom of thought and experience.

    (By the way – I found this article on Cortazar helpful:

    What matters here is that this is the very spot where Amalfitano is able to begin to resolve his situation. He has already adjusted to the voice that he has been hearing in his head – he has found the voice exhilarating, perhaps because it offers guidance – DO NOT RUN, it says. He remarks that he feels “like a nightingale”. He is in the noisy college cafeteria, which was a “less than ideal spot for reflection”. But he then thinks “there could be no better place. Equally good, yes, but no better place.” So the process of settling into the “madness” had already begun. It is important to note here that Cortazar had a theory that accepting a state of “madness” was essential to actually living in society.

    And why has this book been meaningful for Amalfitano? For on thing, it encapsulates his sense of Chilean history in the word “Rape”. And to a degree, this must connect with the present situation in Santa Teresa.

    Anyway – to take us to the moment when Amalfitano begins to truly calm down (as the voice has been begging him to do) is in the midst of his dream about Boris Yeltsin, just after he has spent a great deal of time being changed by his experience of reading the little book about the Auricanians of Chile. Searching in the book for the names of O”Higgins mothers, he cites Kinturay and Dona ISabel Riquelme – the latter, coincidentally being similar to Amalfitano’s own mother’s name – Eugenia Riquelme. And “his hair stood on end.”

    Somehow, in the process of reading the little book on the putative Auricanian mother of O’Higgins, Amalfitano has experienced a recognition – somethng about who he really is, something about bravery (which the voice has been insisting he adopt), something about being Chilean, something about writing.

    Immediately thereafter, the twenty-something Marco Guerra says to him – “only poetry isn’t shit.”

    Immediately following in the montage is Amalfitano’s thought that some people only want to read lesser works – they don’t want to take on “great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown.”

    He lets himself consider that this kind of “torrential writing” is the “great master” in “real combat”. I want to pause here and say that that this is the violence Bolano really admires – all Marco Guerra’s masochistic play acting, all of Lola’s violent fantasies of owning a poet, all the stalking of writers that goes on in this book – none of it is brave in any way. what is brave is the violent encounter you have with someone you don’t understand, and with whose writing you create a new understanding of yourself.

    The great combat that great writers do is the struggle against “something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on….”

    Then – the Boris Yeltsin dream – and Bolano says: “And yet the dream was at peace with Amalfitano’s soul.” Why?

    Yeltsin says – “So take note. this is the equation: supply + demand + magic. And what is magic? Magic is epic and it’s also sex and Dionysian mists and play.”

    So me – being the active reader – I imagine the thing that is in constant supply is terror and mystery. Rape is in constant supply. Attack is in constant supply, it seems to be part of our nature. And the thing that is in constant demand is our yearning for answers and solutions and logic and science and … answers. And the thing that will suffice to be the balance is – whatever transports us – sex, play, wine, dance, .

    So what is Amalfitano going to do? I think he is going to play with the truth, try out different ways of looking at it, maybe try writing. I think maybe he is not going to run. Now – we don’t know exactly what it is he is not going to run from. Maybe he is going to stay in Santa Teres and try to live some sort of life there, plant that garden. But maybe he is going to leave – but in leaving NOT RUN from something else very important – something that made him flee Barcelona, some deadness in his own soul that makes him unable to read any of his books, unable to have any close relationships. We don’t know what not running is going to be. That is for the active reader to make up. As for me – I think he is going to try to write something that allows hm to experience life as torrential – and maybe as he is doing that – the connections to other people may develop – or not – after all – the artist’s life tends to be rather visionary, with a lot of time alone. But as Amalfitano says – it is bravery and the love of your children that will never le you down.

    To return to Bolano himself – Amalfitano has a houseful of books. He has lost the ability to be the “active reader”. After all, he is the one who is reduced to hanging a book on the clothesline – like an effigy of his soul – like the perfect image of how lifeless he has become. But with the strange little Auricanian book – he comes alive. The art of telepathy (whether by secret adjustment of branches or knots on a string or triangles on a page or writing or active reading) – the art of telepathy is the art of unfettered imagination.

    That is why Amalfitano feels like a nightingale – he is beginning to find something to say – though just what, Bolano leaves it to us to imagine. He has left us twigs and triangles as clues — Amalfitano is possessed by a vision of chile as rape, and he has been possessed by devotion to his child and he has been possessed by an awakening to bravery.

    So I really do not think suicide is what will follow. Suicide is what he has averted.

  13. Lee Monks October 6, 2014 at 5:51 am

    A typically intriguing, fascinating contribution, Betsy.

    I think Part Two is about any number of things, but I’ll stick with maybe three to respond.

    Firstly, Hopscoth, which as Cortazar instructs, can be read (in terms of its chapters) in any order (it’s important to note, as well, that he suggests ways of reading it: the activity is not entirely without influence) has no real centre. It’s, like 2666, about a kind of gestalt, a tenor as a message, a stance. And Cortazar immediately puts the onus on the reader to think about ways of conjoining the segments: that’s what we do. We can’t enjoy a novel without retaining some tether to overarching themes and cohesive intent. Both books are ‘about’ the biggest possible themes, and only by having no centrifugal focus can you tend towards the concerns in question here: the meaningless (or otherwise) of existence; the origins of man; the coping mechanisms of a conscious species; the grandeur of chaos in a void and so on and so on.

    As opposed to Hopscotch, which Bolano often cited as the greatest of all contemporary works, here we have an inescapable structure: Part One, academics, Part Two, Amalfitano, Part Three, a journalist. All writers and thinkers of varying temperaments (Reiters). Kafka: ‘In the struggle between you and the world, back the world.’ I think he’s talking about the meaning of words on paper here, as much as anything. The act of making shapes (triangles, letters) that mean something on paper, our poetic tabulation of existence which has always required that we record our acts, or our curious interpretations of them, through an additional prism of artifice or otherwise. Information conceived out of artful intervention. Or Borges: literature as architecture. Solidity. And the most solid of all writing, the least subsumable, is poetry. Only that isn’t shit. Why? Because it’s the most ridiculous, the most miraculous of all writing. The old quote: “All writing beyond the holocaust is redundant.” And yet it still comes. There are poems written every day about the most intangible or transient or vulnerable or supposedly insubstantial matters, and there is a recognition there, when reading it, a truth. I think part of that truth is: somehow we are still worthwhile.

    So is it partly about durability, of a species, of forms of representation of that species? If the book of geometry on the washing line, slowly perishing as it will, is the earth reading itself, so to speak, the elements flipping the diminishing pages, which contain needlessly (ostensibly) collected symbols, are the murders the writing on its own pages?

    Secondly I think that Amalfitano is undergoing the subtle induction of a madness that is basically a form of self-abnegating numinosity. It’s, as you say, prompting no resistance. The voices hint at things Amalfitano – and all of us, to a degree – will have pondered at length. He is at a personal dead-end of intellectual evolution. We hear rape referred to as a ‘small red-eyed mammal’. We all contain, still, remnants of all the different epochal manifestations, and Amalfitano has spent too long denying, running away from what he is as a human animal. He has made a leap for the poetic and fallen between the gap, landing in Santa Teresa. The voice tells him that it’s his father – a sane Amalfitano wouldn’t consider such a possibility; the Amalfitano we meet is ready for the comfort of a madness that ties all loose strands together. His personal history and identity dangling on a psychosis-induced mental opiate. He won’t plant that tree; nor will Bolano. He will die surrounded by stacks of books and maybe empty bottles, his salvation, along with those voices.

    It’s a madness that says: go mad, you need it. You are a failed species. You will die. You will never understand. All your understanding is in the form of art and symbols on paper. It soothes and mocks and induces. I’m not saying I necessarily agree with this but that’s what I think is going on. He puts that which is the best of us up against the elements: and Bolano knows 2666 will long outlive him. It’s his final offering: he won’t have to watch the rain destroy the pages.

    The tension is that Bolano is in the midst of a sprawling epic. He too is possessed by these things he often believes to be forms of madness, certainly of little ultimate import.

    Supply + Demand + Magic.

    The big bang, life on Earth and on whatever other planets, chaos + Linear time + The Poetic.

    Boris Yeltsin: wasn’t he a perpetually drunk leader of a major world power? Just a thought.

    So after those three ‘writer’ parts, part four is the writer no-one can stop: life playing itself out. Part five being Bolano absolutely confirming that writing is less enduring than ice cream…and yet you imagine there will be someone scribbling something, somewhere, about our plight at the moment the Earth dies.

    “The art of telepathy is the art of unfettered imagination.”

    I like that idea. That opens up some serious possibilities. I wondered – in a mawkish Hollywood moment – if telepathy might be a hint at inter-connectedness. There are things we don’t understand about the brain – I wonder if it might refer to the repercussions of a kind of mental slurry. Wasted, tamped-down imaginative thought, radioactively bleeding into thought?

    This could be a terrible old ramble, Betsy – but that’s the name of the game! Apologies if it’s a bit fuzzy.

  14. Lee Monks October 6, 2014 at 6:27 am

    PS sorry, forgot to qualify my Cortazar waffle:

    Namely, two things. That the contract between writer and reader is of course very different with 2666 and Hopscotch than it is with something far more enclosed. You are forced to bring more of yourself to the work: your interpretation of it writes you, to an extent. In that light, you are quite possibly more positive a person than I am, Betsy! And this responsibility means that the omniscient narrator, in this case, is you, as you read it.

    The other thing being an extension of that: the opening quote, about ‘bookish pharmacists’, suggests that people now are more fearful of taking on such works. Why might that be? Fear of the self that the mirror of the work holds up? Have we settled into a kind of moribundity in this regard, and is Amalfitano an example of this?

  15. Betsy October 6, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Lee, what a great piece you have written – so clear, on a topic so formidable. I am new to Latin American writing, and
    I find this explication so helpful. There are so many single sentences I wanted to respond to, ask questions about. For one – Thanks so very much for the way you differentiate Cortazar and Bolano.

    In particular, though – I notice that you say “He has made a leap for the poetic and fallen between the gap, landing in Santa Teresa. The voice tells him that it’s his father – a sane Amalfitano wouldn’t consider such a possibility; the Amalfitano we meet is ready for the comfort of a madness that ties all loose strands together. ”

    One of the things that I noticed about the end of Part 2 is his return to ideas about his father, his mother and Chile – as if it is important that he make that return, in the same way that he admit into human existence the fact of our natural born inclination to violence. Chile is the beauty of the street vendor selling pumpkin fritters and it is also collusion with violence, just as, I think he’s saying, any nation has those two inter-twined strands – as if this is a step he has to take. When he uses O’Higgins mother to conflate propriety and rape and to also connect with his own mother, is he questioning the natural violence that exists between all men and women? What do you make of the fact that Amalfitano’s hair stands on end when he thinks of his mother, that her name is Requelme also?

    When the voice says it’s his father, and it says don’t run away – is it saying – ‘don’t run away from the truth that Santa Teresa is” ?

    If he is – then he must accept that possibility for violence intertwined with his love for his daughter. And it he does accept those two things – is he not required to do something?

    Lee, the way you framed Amalfitano’s possible suicide – “He will die surrounded by stacks of books and maybe empty bottles, his salvation, along with those voices” – well that’s a take that works, although my positive side would phrase it as he ‘could’ die – etc. The real question is whether this segment ends with realizations that will push him forward, or whether he will be sunk in this interior land of dreams and voices.

    About Boris Yeltsin. Yes, of course he was a terrible drunk – and his incompetence contributed to the rise of Vladimir Putin. So there’s a lot of violence implied in the presence of Boris Yeltsin. I think I lost my way there. So what do you make of Amalfitano feeling at peace with a dream of Boris Yeltsin? Is it that this washed up guy is simply another guy like himself? Plying comfortable nostrums?

    About Amalfitano as a writer – do we have any evidence that he has done any more than an article or two and his translations? So then are his peculiar diagrams that try to make sense of philosophy a kind of writing? – a beginning? Or are they signs he is just overwhelmed? I suppose to me his madness a start. A necessity. The way Hamlet’s was.

    So anyway – that was a terrific reply you wrote. Thank you. Hope you have time to answer a little further.

  16. Betsy October 6, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Well! I don’t mean to ask you answer ALL these questions!

  17. Lee Monks October 6, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    I’ll have a go, Betsy!

    I don’t think Bolano is overkeen on sex full stop. He rarely talks about it with any attempt at elaboration. It’s always ‘screwing’ and ‘fucking’. When does anyone ‘make love’? I think he considers sex in 2666 inherently and inextricably violent. I think that’s partly what Part Four is. Sex is an act of aggression and intent, here. There’s a scene in Part Five that sums this up perfectly involving Baroness Von Zumpe…

    And then of course: no-one is ever born without that act…sex then is a return. It’s an origin and an end.

    I think that the voices are basically saying: “You cannot intellectualise this place. It is beyond mental modification or modulation. It is what we all, ultimately, are. This is real: it’s unendurable in terms of sanity. Go mad and free yourself of the battle between the illusory and the actual.” Something like that. Who can say? It depends on how you interpret the “You haven’t considered that your hand isn’t a hand” query. Is that to check he’s stopped philosophising? Or is it a plea to resist?

    I prefer your positive take!

    Yeltsin: it’s a fallen man of supposed greatness. It’s high, nightmarish comedy. It works and yet it’s such an odd moment. I think he’s going back to origins again. There’s so much here that hints at beginnings and a yearning to go back. It’s the familiar recalibrated as very strange as familiar. If that makes sense. We think we know Yeltsin. And we do: but we don’t. He no longer exists, but he resides as a set of meanings. Yeltsin’s appearance very much reminds me of Gerhard Richter’s ‘Mao’ picture, which always terrifies me and delights me in equal measure. That’s wooly but it’s the best I can do! All those things that have gone are equal.

    I think his diagrams are meant to tantalise us, the avid, active reader. They are an absolute nonsense, but we look for substantial equations out of them. Notice how he throws Lessing in there. I think it’s a series of dead ends: but maybe more important is the compulsion, the impulse that led to their formation. What is that? Is that magic?

    Don’t they all die at the end of Hamlet?:-)

    What are we accessing when we create? You read all the time about what a ‘mysterious’ act it is. Is it? “I want to write long enough so I’m not thinking about it any more and can bypass the intellect in order to get to an automatic something.” At least two dozen writers have said words to that effect, from Jennifer Egan to Norman Rush. Amalfitano has no recollection of forming those symbolic constructions. Is that relevant? Is he particularly susceptible to a very creative madness harnessed by Santa Teresa?

    Part Four, I’m almost convinced, is a homage to James Ellroy, whose My Dark Places Bolano loved, a big influence here. Murder as art. A catalogue of horrors. Is Amalfitano’s madness a warning to us?

  18. Betsy October 6, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Great Stuff, Lee. So – before we move on – what do you make of Amalfitano’s mother’s name being Requelme – ( the same as O’Higgins’ mother)? And the hair standing up on his head when he thinks about his mother’s name? As if he is realizing his blood relation to all this blood violenc?

    I am hearing an identification with the rape of Chile that he has already – talked about. BUt perhaps I am missing some other connection.

  19. Paul October 6, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Still here and still reading – both the book and the thread. I’m loving the experience but am struggling to add much to the excellent comments above, although they’ve given me a ton to think about. This is the second time I’ve read the book but it still feels like drinking from a fire hose … in a good way, of course.

  20. Lee Monks October 7, 2014 at 2:33 am

    Sorry, forgot to refer to that bit – I think that’s a moment where yet another protective layer is peeled back. We’re one and the same – Bolano’s obsession with names throughout is about that “red eyed mammal”. We hide behind ideas of being civilised that appellations bring.

  21. Betsy October 7, 2014 at 7:17 am

    “We hide behind ideas of being civilised that appellations bring.” That works for me. Thank you for that.

    And – there is a dream-like, oceanic mood-like, web-like construction of juxtaposed images/names/stories at work on the reader, rather than an a one-to-one correlation. But still, part of this ocean is Amalfitano’s Chilean identity. So he works through the Chilean through to the “red-eyed mammal”

    Names – and how they work – Georg Trakl. Here’s, I think, the lure of abdication (from bravery and love of your children -which may, actually, be one and the same). Trakl represents abdication in all its forms – alcohol, drugs, madness, suicide – since Trakl did all of those. You could probably add in lying, since Trakl appears to have had an addiction, but chose as a profession pharmacy.

    So how does the name Trakl work here? He appears (on page 226) when the young student Marco Guerra (who must represent in some way Bolano’s younger poetic rebellious self), when Marco says Georg Trakl is one of he “favorites”.
    That’s it. That’s all we hear from Georg Trakl. Except that Bolano is immediately reminded of a pharmacist he once knew – which tells us he also is familiar with Georg Trakl. And the reminiscence involves the way the pharmacist abdicates – cannot engage with any literature except the more contained – Bartleby, for example, rather than Moby Dick.

    So Trakl definitely represents suicide (as an option – an option Marco Guerra is holding up in his own self-destructive life). But he also represents, as the pharmacist, lesser abdications – lying, for one, addiction, for another, and incompletion. I think Bolano has a horror of incompletion. Anyway – we should know that Trakl, and the constellation of abdications that he represents, is a temporary magnetic pole for Amalfitano.

    James Wright and Robert Bly have translated 20 of Trakl’s poems at this web-site (, and Wright introduces the collection with a very nice short essay. He emphasizes that silence, perhaps is the form of listening or honesty, is very important to Trakl.

    But Trakl (and suicide) are the bridge to the very last section in Part 2 – the section that is the dream about Yeltsin.

    So then Yeltsin. To me, key to Yeltsin is that although he wanted a market economy, the transition to a market economy led directly to the oligarchs who now control Russia and Putin. So you have civil action (not silence), and you have rebellion, but the results are not salubrious. So Yeltsin is the two faces of the rebel. And the face that appears in the dream is the red face of the drunken fool.

    But here’s the thing – in this kind of literature, some kind of truth can be spoken by the fool.

    So – on the one hand, Yeltsin is the failed rebel, and on the other he speaks to a certain kind of artistic vision – the one where magic is “epic and sex and Dionysian mists and play.” I notice epic, here, given that Amalfitano mourns the way epic is missing from the contemporary reader’s interests. But then you have Dionysus and his two faces – vision and self destruction.

    It’s troubling that Amalfitano is “at peace” while he dreams of Boris Yeltsin. There’s a lure there. But here’s the thing: the very last word of this section is “wake”. In fact, Bolano has it that Amalfitano has “no choice but to wake”.

    Just a few pages before (224) Bolano makes the point, by specifically mentioning Cortazar, that the reader has the option of giving an author or a work multiple possible readings.

    So my reading is that Amalfitano chooses to wake. And that this “madness” has been a necessary journey toward some kind of truth – something having to do with the nature of humans, the nature of states, the nature of life. That doesn’t mean that waking will not lead to Amalfitano’s death – Hamlet sees what’s going on – tests his sense of it – and this leads to his death.

    There is so much in this Amalfitano section, that I many variations of just what he is are implied.

    But my reading is that he wakes. (I especially want to note that he pulls himself out of his terrible rumination about Lola – something I think he has been stuck in for years. “This vision of Lola lingered in his mind for many years, like a memory rising up from glacial seas…” (185).) Waking is something you do in stages, and letting go of having Lola dominate your day is one stage. Going through a process where you allow yourself to see just how violent humans are is another.

    To let in a sense of how violent this world is – well – that’s deranging. For instance, right now there is the mystery of the 43 missing Mexican students, the discovery of a mass grave and charred and dismembered bodies in southern Mexico. That, and all its gaps, is deranging. How do you wake from that?

  22. Lee Monks October 7, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Superb stuff.

    From the introduction to the Trakl poems:

    In a good poem made by Trakl images follow one another in a way that is somehow stately.
    The images have a mysterious connection with each other. The rhythm is slow and heavy, like the mood of
    someone in a dream.


    As is the idea you touch upon, of ‘schweigen’, choosing silence and tamping down words, or understanding expressiveness but finding silence more eloquent, or even a lack of articulacy that becomes something else. That’s my understanding of the word, possibly wonky. Perhaps a rapture quelled to the point that it forces a manifestation?

    Re: Yeltsin – can change really be effected at the level he was operating? Is this some kind of hint at forces of such enormity that all players are not players but pawns? All idealism ultimately falling into the hands of a fate with very different ideas.

    The pharmacist is leading a certain type of existence – but is he truly alive? Is Amalfitano? Your take suggests what’s happening to him is a kind of opening up to terror and possibility. I’m not so sure. I’d like to think that – I think instead that he’s perhaps offering himself – involuntarily or not – with the voices a way of occluding himself that feels permissible.

    “But here’s the thing – in this kind of literature, some kind of truth can be spoken by the fool.”

    Absolutely – and the truth surely can also be spoken by the landscape, a sunset, an act, a glance – as an agglomeration of truths.

  23. leroyhunter October 7, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Still here as well folks, I have been taking a pause before embarking on Part 4.

    I am enjoying the book but I am also immensely perplexed by it. Part of the experience, I am finding, is letting what you are reading wash over (and through) you, as too much analysis is impossible (for me anyway) on a first read. I am finding these discussions incredibly interesting and illuminating – thank you all! The sheer number and complexity of tangents and developments being explored here is both impressive and somewhat terrifying. I have a new and enthusiastic respect for Bolano’s achievements (or rather: the challenges he poses readers). And thank you to Betsy and Lee for a marvellous dialogue (which I hope continues).

  24. Trevor Berrett October 7, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I wanted to second Leroy in thanking everyone — especially Betsy and Lee — for their in-depth comments. I am a bit behind in reading through them, though! I’m catching up, and gearing up for the next Part!

    Thrilled that all of you have come to help us put this down as a kind of record.

    Incidentally, we are considering what title we should try out next, if folks are interested. More on that later.

  25. Betsy October 8, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Back a few days, Lee, you commented that Amalfitano is “at a personal dead-end of intellectual evolution.” I see that argument. The unread book hanging on a clothesline in the desert, for one, and for another, the fact that his main reading is a book written by another madman – albeit a madman who is speaking a kind of truth, ie, that the European conquest of the Americas was rape in figurative and literal terms. Although the writer seems to want to pretty it up by saying that his subject, Bernardo O’Higgins, a liberator of Chile, was legally married to an Araucanian woman. wheels within wheels.

    So that brings me to the suffocating homophobia in Part 2, and to a degree, in Part 1. I need help with this – . FOr one, I am confused as to whether my difficulty with the way Bolano uses homophobia is my own misunderstanding of the way Bolano is using his own culture, or whether my difficulty is simply that his artistic use of homophobia would be challenging for any reader to understand. And then, there are the cultural leaps of acceptance that the United States has been making – (i.e., just this week it appears that Supreme Court is going to take a breather on gay marriage, in order, say some writers, to let the country catch up with itself, with what is reality and what is fairness. The air that the Supreme Court – no bastion of liberlaity, seems to be breathing is a different air than Bolano’s narrator is breathing.)

    Lola’s bizarre idea that she is going to “save” the poet she is stalking from being known as homosexual is only the beginning. And truthfully, I am a little at sea (so to speak) with her altogether, given that she is part of the 2666 campaign to talk about criticism and reader involvement. It is clear that she is nuts and dangerous and an affront. A writer should be able to write without readers deciding to (violently) impose themselves into the artist’s imaginative life. The rape of the artist by the reader seems a real fear here – in literal and figurative means – and this is a fear that Philip Roth would echo – also in a hilarious manner. Bolano says, no – the rape of the artist is serious business. And so, figuratively speaking, we have the real threat that the artist faces from “fans”, and then we have all the layers of misunderstanding that readers get up to – down to locking the writer up. So there is a riff in Lola’s escapades on the paranoia a writer might legitimately have, say in a country like Mexico, where the police seem to be infiltrated with people obsessed with their own power and privilege. So the homophobia in this section is addressing the writer’s honesty in general, not his or her honesty specifically about sexuality. Although It feels like Bolano is very invested in the fact that sexual honesty seems to be in short supply everywhere – from Liz to Lola to Marco Guerra.

    Amalfitano does not seem to have a sexual life. He does not remember one, either. Lola is someone whom he allows to operate in his life, someone he allows presence, someone he allows to withdraw. But I don’t think he remembers a sexual life with her. He remembers a keen sense of abandonment – that Lola is leaving Rosa – that she does not seem to be aware of that.

    The critics, when they first meet him in Part 1, worry that he is gay. They encounter him at a faculty party in the presence of Marco Guerra, and this leads them to think they are both gay. they wonder further whether Guerra’s father knows what is going on. This was a “dreadful suspicion” (p 128). A day or so later, “they discovered, or believed they discovered, that the bond between the Chilean professor and the dean’s son was more socratic than homosexual, and this is some way put their minds at ease, since the three of them had grown inexplicably fond of Amalfitano.”

    As this is laid out, it is their perception and their reaction to it that is the most important. What is strange is that Pelletier and Espinoza strike me as having a homoerotic affair of sorts, given that they are way more able to talk with each other than with Norton, the woman they are both “in love” with, and that their enthusiastic mutual love of the same woman seems more like an affair with each other than with Liz. When together they brutally beat up the taxi driver, it felt to me as if this was an explosion of sexual feeling – although I wonder if I have misread that completely.

    Given that Pelletier and Espinoza seems to be having a chivalric (and also kind of silly) affair with each other in their admiration of the ideal Liz, there is some preparation for their concern that Amalfitano is gay.

    But then when Amalfitano’s voice keeps at him, hammering him with what to me is offensive language, and what may be more casually intended than I hear it, but anyway, the voice keeps hammering Amalfitano with the “figurative” question of whether he is gay. I take that on one level to be the way Amalfitano questions his own lack of action – that he is not interacting with Rosa as a parent should, that he is not acting to protect her, that he is not really attemptng to live in the daylight, that he is paying no real attention to the murders goin on in the city, except to be vaguely afraid of Rosa’s safety.

    That is – the fact that the voice is embodied with contempt and homophobia is a means, as the voice protests, to address the issue of Amalfitano’s weakness and lack of action.

    But I also sense that the voice (as used by the narrator) is actually addressing Amalfitano’s lack of sexual connection.

    In addition, I get the feeling that the voice is addressing the very real possiblity that Amalfitano is actually gay, cannot act on it, and has burdened himself with Lola, to begin with, and then Perez, out of some kind of weak deference to society. But I take the vehemence with which the voice insists that it is speaking figuratively seriously – that it is addressing that collective weakness of the world to wake up.

    But then you have Marco Guerra, who insists he is not gay (“I don’t have a gay bone in me” p.226.) He describes the fights he gets into as “apocalyptic mayhem”, fights he provokes by going to a bar and acting like “an arrogant little faggot that looks down on everyone.” and he is able to lure some “vultures” into a fight in the back alley, and sometimes, if he has his gun, they get the worst of it. Are we talking murder here? Are we talking the privilege of the elite to get away with murder?

    I get the feeling that one of the uses of this trope – the homophobia – is to emphasize the way people dissemble, lie, lure, and posture, as a means to permit themselves access to violence.

    There is, for instance, the way Espinoza and Pelletier beat up the taxi cab driver and lie to themselves about what they have done (and their strange, Arthurian pact of friendship), and then there is Marco Guerrs and the way he permits himself to attack people – both situations overlaid with wrappings of homsexuality gone awry and homophobia in full flower.

    So that brings me to this: homophobia – literally (not figuratively) a fear of men, or a fear of other humans. So is Bolano playing with this idea? Is he suggesting that at the root of our existence is a paranoid fear of humankind, of others, of ourselves? And thus the homophobia is what we are. The homophobia is a fear of connection, as well, given how afraid we are of each other to begin with.

    Short aside here about clear writing: there was a terrific article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday (10-7-2014) about how the world is ls bogged down by poor writing. There are several iterations of this article on-line. Steven Pinker argues, for one, that no one can access ideas that you express as they occur to you. That is what I’m doing here! My apologies.

    Anyway – Lee – I am saying that I see the thread. I am just not sure I am on terra firma with it – the homophobia. I think there are layers of more threads wrapped in this one thread – but I cannot make my way very clearly. What do you think?

  26. Lee Monks October 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    I think, if I can return to your opening paragraph referencing Amalfitano being at a “dead end”, that it links in to your wider question. Certainly, the question of the homophobia is a tricky one, but I have a take on it.

    I believe that Bolano is talking about the end of a species here. I also think that it’s a species unconsciously aware of that. He never, unless I’m mistaken, uses science to back this up – the ‘every successful species normally exists for around 100000 years’ and so on (although that is relevant – guess how long our current iteration has been around for?).

    That’s what I was hinting at when I mentioned Marco Guerra’s manifestations of ‘self-hatred’. I think he is a huge key to the novel’s wider theme. Death of humanity – the end of civilisation. I really do think it’s that grand – or bleakly attenuated! – a vision. Now, there is a problem, if you run with this idea, as to just what Bolano is saying about sexual orientation. I’m not sure, precisely. What I will say is: propagation is an issue here, I think. Not just in terms of homosexuality – and here it gets a bit murky and contentious, and the ideas I have on this regarding this book are maybe a little out there.

    What do we have with the act of rape and murder of a woman? Possible impregnation cancelled followed by death of the possibility of further life, on the one hand. But what if the murders in 2666 are meant as a prelude to our extinction, self-willed? A much wider strain of what blights Santa Teresa?

    You mention ‘fear of other humans’. I think that’s fear of ourselves, ultimately. What we’re capable of, sure, what we have done and so on. But really fear of what others are doing as representative of a universal plight. I think this whole fear of sex, rampant murderous machismo, denigration of ‘faggots’ is all about how we are written-out, in 2666, as a species. All we have left is internecine manifestations of self-hatred: expressions of a terminal disquiet borne out of a knowing, a hardwired-adherence to self-extinction. Perhaps homosexuality as a reference to non-propagation is a little too close to home to a mass subconsciousness that understands its collective fate.

    Marco Guerra is an unwitting catalyst. A kind of test-model for a kind of psychology, I think.

    Lola is a series of deeply disturbing self-annihilations. I really think she represents what Bolano sees as woman’s fate. Rosa, when Amalfitano speculates about her escape, quickly reins in his hope. He doesn’t have any; neither does Bolano.

    In part three we have a great example of the machismo that’s self-annihilating. There is a long stream of domestic-abuse wisecracks that becomes a kind of philosophical mantra. The men affirm their identities as men as woman-haters. Other men in 2666 affirm their heterosexuality by dint of being ‘faggot’ haters. Machismo borne out of hatred and fear, not strength. But no individuals are referenced: it’s an ‘idea’ of ‘a woman’ and ‘a faggot’ or ‘faggots’. Camaraderie is drawn from attacks on a non-existent concept of a gender or a sexual act. Fear is assuaged thus. Fear of what? Isn’t camaraderie the erasure of individuality? How about the erasure of a species? (I know this is all a stretch, Betsy, trust me!) The idea of homosexuality threatens accepted norms amongst heterosexuals, of course, surface-wise. The existence of both makes both conspicuous. Either way, sex without propagation is proof of our transience. It’s an act meant as a propagation tool. Is Bolano’s poetry actually the creativity of recreational sex and love without children? Is this Amalfitano’s suicide, the death of a corporeal delusion? Is he in the midst of a recognition of a species-wide burgeoning tendency? Is he trying to leave his body behind, with his acts, with his submitting to the voices?

    Is homosexuality honesty here? Of our plight as redundant in terms of procreation? Is the wiping out of hundreds of women a nudge in the direction of self-cancellation, as a species? The references to the year 2666, for me, are clear references to a mass grave. The question is, how might we fathom what might’ve led to that, in Bolano’s mind, if that is the case?

    Amalfitano, with all this in mind, is an absolute avatar of a species. His asexuality compounds this. The voices are an echo in a void.

    The sexual throes we see during the attack on the taxi driver – is it an excitement borne out of following this self-negating idea? Or is it a much more prosaic interlinking of sex and violence? Sorry about all the questions!

    That’s my rather nebulous take, partly, which I’ll leave there before it gets a bit too speculative and digressively waffly. Apologies for wooliness, these ideas are, obviously, works in progress. Do pull me up/let me know what your take is.

  27. Lee Monks October 8, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    PS Marco Guerra as an example of a human being toying with notions of sexuality – sexuality no longer having any purpose beyond something destructive.

  28. Betsy October 8, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    Well, Lee – that’s a lot to absorb!
    My first reaction is is, yes, absolutely, I see what you are talking about.
    But I need to process that!

  29. Lee Monks October 9, 2014 at 3:48 am

    It’s a bit half=baked, but the essence of it all is there I hope.

    More succinctly, after having thought about all that (and your response led to some realisations that I’d half-considered), you might sum it up with: ‘The role of machismo as annihilating catalyst during an end times sexual identity species implosion’. I am now ready to be admitted to the pseuds gallery!

  30. Betsy October 9, 2014 at 8:26 am

    three things – first – what is a “pseuds gallery” and why would you be admitted to it?

    second: I have to reiterate here that I think he is describing relationships where characters deny their homosexuality and it is that denial that leads to violence.

    third: Last night I dipped into Part 5, the part about Archimboldo, and I see that the ocean and its murky depths are a huge trope for the book. The ocean, as a metaphor, for me, stands for simultaneous multiple readings. The murkiness of the Atlantic, together with its depths, makes it difficult to make things out clearly. There are varieties and multiplications of the same type of life – for instance, in Part 5, Bolano goes to great lengths to show that there are many varieties of seaweed. I do not think he means to make a blanket statement that homosexuality is leading to the death of the species. What is clear is that denial of homosexuality leads to a lot of violence.

    finally, that Bolano thinks in layers and multiples and double lives is underscored by his insistence that his narrator’s name is Arturo Belano, a play on his own name that includes the words “art”, “beauty” and “time” or “year”.

    If Bolano himself has two identities, then right away, reality is torqued by the doubleness. And there are many other examples of doubleness in the book – not just two kinds of sexuality.

    Well, and really finally, I was afraid to go to the word “machismo”. I am not Hispanic, I am not a man – and I feel completely at sea with the concept of machismo and how Bolano is using it in 2666. But my own understanding of machismo (from reading only) is that for one thing, there is a machismo understanding of machismo that allows men to both experiment and express homosexual feelings that are none the less distorted – thus, MArco Guerra denies that he is gay, and somehow insists on being punished for being gay.

    It is the denial that I think Bolano is investigating, not the homosexuality itself.

  31. Lee Monks October 9, 2014 at 8:35 am

    A paper over here called ‘Private Eye’ carries a section that deals with blustery intellectual/jargonistic waffle called ‘Pseud’s Corner’…

    Yes, I get that, and you may well be right. It’s all conjecture isn’t it? As we move through the book different emphases will jump out I’m sure, to each of us.

    I don’t for a second mean to say that homosexuality leads to the end of a species! If I suggest that, I apologise for the wooly prose. I will respond more fully later…

  32. Lee Monks October 9, 2014 at 10:56 am

    PS you mention the ocean – very much so. There’s reference to it in all but one part (and probably there) to my recollection, and I always remember the nightmare in part one with something both beautiful and awful emerging from beneath the water’s surface, which ‘trembles’ as it does. Does that play in multiple ways into fear of origins? Is this really all about nature?

    I also can’t help but think of 2666 as I read about the Ebola outbreak.

  33. Betsy October 9, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    Hi Lee – me again. I would like to make this one additional comment about homosexuality and homophobia in 2666. Regarding these twin topics, this book feels to have multiple strands of argument, position, appeal, and lament, as well as what I would call a web of meaning. The danger is in pulling one of those threads and identifying it as the single meaning. The difficulty is in balancing the various points of view, ironic and otherwise, in order to emerge with what might be the book’s over-arching opinion on these subjects. In other words, the way Bolano works is symphonic – you have individual instrumental lines – but then you have the entire impression that the piece makes upon the listener.

    (Bolano’s attitude toward and use of homophobia and homosexuality could make a master’s thesis. I.E. – very difficult to cover here.)

    Further, I would suggest that the author’s opinion (about his use of homophobia and homosexuality) might be different than the narrator’s opinion.

    And further, if (and I stress if) the author has a political opinion on these topics, it still might differ from the way he uses these topics. For instance, the church has argued that gay relationships are unacceptable because they are non-procreative. Bolano may not share that poltical opinion, but in the course of the book, he gives that opinion voice, and in a weird way, it does echo that fear of self-annihilation that the book warns against, but to me, it feels as if he thinks this is a false argument – that the danger actually lies elsewhere.

    At the close of the book (page 897), the editor quotes at length from Bolano’s earlier novel, “Amulet”
    “Guerrero, at that time of night, is more like a cemetery … in 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else.”

    I do hear your “end of a civilization” in ‘forgetting everything else.’.

    But in that quote I also hear him warning that we fear the wrong things. Homosexuality, perhaps.

    Nevertheless, I understand that this novel takes place in the desert. Things are not flowering, things are coming to an end. Nobody so far is having any babies, and no one is taking great care with the children who do exist.

    I am fascinated by your apocalyptic vision of Bolano’s purpose. The word Jeremaiad comes to mind. This vision does explain why the book is in some ways, so repellent, so resistant to understanding.

  34. Lee Monks October 10, 2014 at 4:12 am

    “Further, I would suggest that the author’s opinion (about his use of homophobia and homosexuality) might be different than the narrator’s opinion.”

    Indeed – and I would hope that my speculatively pulling at one particular thread is not meant in any way to espouse any negative aspect Bolano may or may not be expressing as an interrogation of a culture or psychology. If I make a comment on here, trust me, that’s not lost on me! Which is why I expressed my caution at even heading into such territory.

    If we think about Amalfitano and his voices, that might be an interesting segue into such thoughts. He has, maybe, created, involuntary or no, a voice with which to come to terms with things. That does not make that voice authoritative: it makes it a symptom of a malaise, potentially. Coping mechanisms in the face of the impossible to to endure or articulate. It’s not rational – but then the world isn’t. Horses for courses.

    Another thread to look at, digressing slightly, is the gap between genders. Men and women, at their most intimate in 2666, are miles apart. What is Bolano saying there? Does that feed into this line of enquiry?

  35. Betsy October 10, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Interesting point, Lee, about the distance between men and women so far.

    Take Rosa and her father, Amalfitano, for instance. We can deduce that Amalfitano is worried about whether a murderer will abduct Rosa. We hear no conversations between them on the topic, no effort at protection or solution. I also suspect that Amalfitano is at that stage in fatherhood where he realizes Rosa is going to grow up, or more like, has already grown up, and that the fear of murderers is also the fear of losing her to adulthood. But Amalfitano is so paralyzed there isn’t even a glimmer of self-consciousness. You don’t hear him speculating about boyfriends, you hear him speculating about murderers. And, regarding the changes that women’s liberation have occasioned, Amalfitano does not fit the mold of the house husband or the daddy who is the mommy. It seems as if the narrator questions whether or not men can actually fill that role, given that Amalfitano appears to be having visions when he might better be taking his daughter out for tacos. Bringing women’s liberation into the discussion is not idle. Amalfitano’s friend Perez invites him to a dinner for three women friends from Mexico City who are professional feminists. That is a chapter that Bolano has left out, and perhaps the dinner I would have loved to have eavesdropped on! What has caused the great separatiion between Rosa and her father, his abdication from his dual role as mother and father? Maybe exhaustion.

    Take the beautiful Lizzie Norton and her three lovers. She is certainly a manipulative, self-satisfying person, if not selfish. I note particularly that she wilfully does not communicate with either Espinoza or Pelletier in a way that satisfies them. She almost perversely does the opposite. She is distant. If she were a man, feminists would hate her/him for the way she uses people. And why she has chosen the ill, crippled Italian, is not clear. It would be nice if it were true love, like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. But we don’t have much to go on. It could be because he will allow her to keep on dangling him aside while she has affairs.

    What we know is that the most beautiful woman is the iciest, the most electrifying (Lola) is crazy and dangerous, and that neither are pursuing traditional gender roles.

    Perez, the somewhat ordinary professor who has supposedly lured Amalfitano to Mexico is certainly pursuing him, but he, for instance, falls asleep while riding in the car with her on the family style jaunt they have taken into the hills.

    And between the rector and his wife, we see a glance of hatred from the woman toward her husband, and fear from him in response. Both Amalfitano and Guerra notice this. The narrator says, “for a moment the rector’s fear nearly brushed [Amalfitano’s] own skin.”

    So we have power plays, abandonment, inept seduction and hatred from women.

    We have fantasy (on the part of Espinoza and Pelletier), passive acceptance of Lola’s crazy behavior from Amalfitano, disengagement and distance from a daughter and all other women thereafter (Amalfitano), and fear of women from the rector that is so palpable it feels to Amalfitano like a butterfly’s flight that brushes or even emerges from the rector, and once emerged, threatens Amalfitano as well. It is as if the one man has given birth to fear, and the other man must necessarily feel it or be changed by it. And, Marco Guerra “notices” the fear (or – emasculation) as well.

  36. Betsy October 10, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Another line of inquiry rises from the manner of Bolano’s narrative method. Below follow clumsy notes on about 10 pages.

    The story telling proceeds in short sections that are divided by bullets. Bulleted sections are often less than a page, rarely more than two pages, occasionally three or so. These bulleted sections do not proceed in the manner of a realistic novel. They function more like stanzas in a modern poem, filled with dream, vision, memory, and description.

    The last eleven bulleted sections of part 2 go like this (my numbering is probably off):

    Section 58 (on page 219) the dinner at the rector’s where Amalfitano notices the FEAR on the rector’s face

    59 (p220) EVeryone goes into the garden; Amalfitano seems to overhear more than listen to the conversation which proceeds from the words “Los Suicidas mescal” to a detached discussion of the right words to describe folk music. Guerra (pale in the moonlight) gives Amalfitano a drink. So the boy offers him SALVE TO THE FEAR in the room.

    60 Amalfitano is home again, reading the book about the Araucanians, the part about 2 kinds of writing, SECRECY necessitated by the conquistador’s TERROR from the Spaniards, and TELEPATHY or COMMUNICATION or ART, and the part about Bernardo O’Higgins, the liberator of Chile, being born to an Araucanian woman.

    61. Short section on the way the author of this crack-pot book appears to think Araucanian is related to Greek.

    62. Nine “conclusions” that Amalfitano (ironically) thinks up about the (philosophic) implication in this discussion ofTELEPATHY.

    63. Amalfitano imagines the writer of this book (“half out of his head”) appearing at a distinguished Santiago publishing house; Amalfitano imagines the interchange between writer and printer, an exchange which turns on the word “distinguished” and Amalfitano becomes short of breath. “Ah, Chile” he finishes – as distinguished is not what mattered in Chile at the time – murder was what mattered. So – TERROR again.

    64. A riff, a la Cortazar, on alternate readings that one might make of this crack-pot book, ending with Amalfitano applying the word “madness” to Chile – which, of course, it had bee – the 1973 revolution was followed by 17 years of brutal repression – a season of NATIONAL MADNESS.

    65. Amalfitano FEELS A CHILL from the name of O’higgins’ mother – which is the same (Requelme) as his mother’s.

    66. MArco Gerra and Amalfitano are together. Marco talks about his compulsion to seduce men, by his provocative fake gayness, into fights in which Marco sometimes uses his gun (more TERROR). “Only poetry isn’t shit.”

    67. MArco says Georg Trakl is his favorite poet (a poet of SILENCES/LISTENING) (This section is one sentence.)

    68 LAter, Amalfitano has his rumination on the necessity for “great, imperfect, torrential works” of literature – “books that blaze paths into the unknown” about what “TERRIFIES US ALL”

    69. Amalfitano dreams of Boris Yeltsin, his need to feel “AT PEACE”. The section ends without obvious resolution.

    These eleven sections discuss fear and terror (in the guise of Chile, MArco Guerra, conquistadors, Pinochet); they discuss silence and secrecy; they discuss the art of communication under terror; they define what great literature is – a response to terror; and they discuss the exhaustion that terror produces – as in Yeltin’s drinking, as in the need for what he calls magic or what AMalfitano calls peace. Terror is implied by Yeltsin, in the memory of Stalin – who killed 20 million people (one example being his subjugation of Ukraine through famine).

    So the subject of this collection of 11 bullets is terror and the art of responding to it regardless of one’s need to escape it.

  37. Betsy October 11, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Bolano frequently sets up variations on a theme. So there are the critics in (silly) combat with each other, and in deadly combat with the taxi driver, there is Amalfitano in combat (so to speak) with insanity and inaction, there is Marco Guerra in deadly combat with homophobes, there are probably other examples, and finally – there is the epic writer of “torrential” literature who is “in combat” with what “terrifies us”. But I would pull the thread and argue that in this book it is the writer’s combat with terror that matters.

    But, I notice that I have rattled on in this section. A little listening, as Trakl urged, would not be out of order.

  38. Lee Monks October 14, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Dizzying stuff, Betsy – long may you continue!

    It’s impossible to avoid the fact that all the women are distant figures. I don’t know how much that is about Bolano not being able to draw strong women or whether he’s intentionally loading them with a sense of mystery and unknowability – Part Three upcoming has a potentially interesting example of this (and, to digress wildly, I notice that the reviews of Gone Girl veer from ‘misogynistic’ to ‘feminist’).

    Combat – yes. Part Three follows that line of enquiry just a bit! Again, it’s very much about masculinity and machismo, warped ideas about them and the peculiar manifestations. Fate assumes a role but we never know how comfortable he is – is he posturing to get through it? But more on that later. I do wonder if Amalfitano, who worries horribly about his daughter, isn’t made to deal with such terror, cannot posture, has no reference points that allow him to assume a relevant useful persona, and so turns inward and deranged. How we inoculate ourselves against terror may be a theme. With a name, with a guise, with acceptance of horror?

    Maybe: natural terror prompts very differing reactions. Terror as entwined with beauty; heightened states. One indivisible from the other?

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