Every life, Epifanio said that night to Lalo Cura, no matter how happy it is, ends in pain and suffering. That depends, said Lalo Cura. Depends on what, champ? On lots of things, said Lalo Cura. Say you’re shot in the back of the head, for example, and you don’t hear the motherfucker come up behind you, then you’re off to the next world, no pain, no suffering. Goddamn kid, said Epifanio. Have you ever been shot in the back of the head?

2666 Part 4

Trevor:

With Part 4, we dive head first into the darkness Bolaño has been circumnavigating for the first three parts. We’ve heard about, maybe even feared, the mass murders of young women in Santa Teresa, but here they come front and center. So front and center, in fact, that little else penetrates this part. Bolaño rushes the line of numbing us to these terrors, goes over it, and then continually shocks us back to sensitivity. How, then, is it such a masterpiece of writing?

As I’ve admitted already, when I first read 2666 I was unsatisfied, and I thought that was the book’s fault. Part 4 had a lot (not all) to do with that. Here we get one death after another. Some are certainly unrelated to any of the other murders. But other suggest — and only suggest — some connection, some pattern, which in turn suggests a solution. But there is no solution. As in life, we get pieces that possibly, maybe even probably, will never add up to anything. Some things cannot be solved because they are not composed of pieces. They cannot be contained.

In five pages we read about six murders. We read about the church desecrator. We read about Klaus Haas, Epifanio, a television psychic named Florita Almada, Juan de Dios Martínez, and a fellow named Lalo Cura, which put together differently is “la locura,” or “the madness.” None of these characters truly knows what is going on, though all — just like us — are trying to understand them, to shape them.

I admit that I cannot shape this part. It’s a horror I do not comprehend. I’m excited to read how others are doing and how you’re shaping this section, because . . . where is this laughter coming from?

Even on the poorest streets people could be heard laughing. Some of the streets were completely dark, like black holes, and the laughter that came from who knows where was the only sign, the only beacon that kept residents and strangers from getting lost.

Lee:

VIII

TO DEATH

You will come anyway – so why not now?
I wait for you; things have become too hard.
I have turned out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so wonderful. 
Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in 
Like a shell of noxious gas. Creep up on me 
Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me 
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me
glimpse 
The house administrator’s terrified white face.
I don’t care anymore. The river Yenisey 
Swirls on. The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes
Close over and cover the final horror.

      Anna Akhmatova

Why open with that Anna Akhmatova poem? Partly because it seems absolutely apt for what unfolds, and I think both Akhmatova and Bolaño are attempting to wrest a kind of terrible, desperate, solemnly deferential and disbelieving grandeur out of unspeakable murderous mayhem but also: its subject is Stalin’s terror and purges. In 2666, there are no such nefarious ideologies run amok. Something has run amok — but what, exactly? We can’t pinpoint a straw man here to hang our despair on. (I believe that all such men, Hitler, Stalin et al, are propulsive singular manifestations of something in our nature that is self-annihilating — I think Bolaño felt the same way.) There is no focus for us in Part 4 of 2666 as a propagator of evil: the killer or killers rampage unseen. We can’t fathom a justification for anything that happens, and we suspect there isn’t one. But is there a reason for the accumulation of mutilated corpses? And should we want to know it? What do the murders tell us, about us or anything? 2666, Part 4, brings up those old unanswerable questions over and over again, relentlessly, imploringly, confrontationally. What does mass murder mean? Even whilst wide-eyed, as I picked the book up again midway through Part 4, with a “once more into the breach” foreboding, I could see that there was nothing exploitative, nothing sensationalist, nothing underhand going on. I had been inducted into the requisite mindset, and was eager to know exactly what end Bolaño had in mind with this catalog of horror. And for me, this is what I found.

I think Part 4 is a kind of art piece, on the one hand. He’s trying to move us beyond ideas of grief and horror: he’s smelting the constituent elements of unspeakable nightmare and presenting them as a kind of mystical, eloquent whole. (Is it the strange statue emerging from trembling waters in part one?) What does a pile of bones mean? What does suffering actually mean, once it has passed? Has it passed, ever, or does it transmutate into its environment? Is it that environment and those inhabitants speaking to the world, or the universe? Why do we feel pain reading a fictional account of gang-rape and murder, and is there something we can do with that restoratively, in terms of our evolution? What can such empathy achieve, if anything?

Unchecked chaos: is it the inability of man to prevent this descent or is it man’s ultimate nature as self-annihilating? Is Part 4 a microcosm of our ultimate fate, that final testament to our species the mass grave Bolaño references?

The gradual feeling I had as Bolaño generated this numb concatenation of grueling horror was one of respect. I rejected the cheapness, the despicable ordinariness of shabby murderous violence. I felt angry: that this was happening, that it does happen, and we bury it, day-to-day, supposedly to protect ourselves from its corrosive soul-wrecking poison. We build layers around this truth, this, for some, unremarkable fact, and in doing that we bury self-indicting secrets. Bolaño drags them out into the open and it feels necessary. It’s not just cautionary: it’s a mirror. Let’s look at ourselves, what we are capable of, all of us, Bolaño asks.

Overshadowed by such horror, can we live better, more honestly? How many people never read a newspaper, or filter out the bleak stuff and swim in safe waters, all to perpetuate a comforting falsehood? Should we bear witness to these acts, wherever they occur? If not, why?

The repetitive viciousness of the clinical reports of murder and mutilation become a kind of white noise: Bolaño is working to occupy a keening pitch that circumvents disgust and becomes pure message, a stress signal redeploying all the forgotten dead as a kind of flat, ineffable music that can’t be repelled. And this particular piece says: human beings are in their final throes, at the end, with nowhere left to go, Godless, annihilating themselves. It’s a fight beyond everyone as it’s by everyone. The bystanders and witnesses, though, should not look away.

I don’t say I agree with Bolaño necessarily, but I do think that Part 4 is a compelling case for our species as a kind of viral strain being worked off the face of the earth by itself, cognizant of the end of its own arc and enacting self destruction. I can’t get away from that reading: I’d love to hear compelling counter arguments. I think it’s an interesting idea and this kind of mantra of extremely upsetting detail sounds almost like some end days otherworldly audit, disbelief switched with curious equanimity. These things can’t happen, but are.

Have we ever had a period of history when such things are not always occurring somewhere? Why? How can life be so cheap? Because it’s neither cheap nor expensive, it’s merely subject to our vacillating, geographically varying valuations, and in order to endure we feel we must look away from those befalling a fate much worse than our own. Bolaño demands to know what we feel gives us that right. Are these women just unlucky? Who is rolling the dice?

What is the message Santa Teresa writes that we are supposed to interpret? I’m not sure. But best to keep to Lalo Cura’s mindset — whom we see last in this penultimate part looking for clues at a murder scene long after everyone else, almost everyone else, has moved on — and keep looking, keep thinking. A solution seems unlikely, but at the very least, if you head into the spider cave, once out the other side the stars seem brighter.

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By |2014-11-07T00:55:29+00:00November 7th, 2014|Categories: Roberto Bolaño|Tags: |40 Comments

40 Comments

  1. Betsy Pelz November 7, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Once again, thanks, Trevor and thanks, Lee for leading us through this demanding book.

    Trevor, it is helpful to read how you were unsatisfied when you first read 2666. I have to say that without the company of this blog I would not be able to stay with it. The book is so long! so complex! so demanding! At times you cannot see where you are going. So much of it requires re-reading.

    Lee, you echo that when you say you began with a ‘once more, into the breach’ kind of foreboding. I agree with you, Lee, that the book builds and builds and builds successfully, and that it is worth the tremendous effort it requires.

    You say: “I felt angry: that this was happening, that it does happen, and we bury it, day-to-day, supposedly to protect ourselves from its corrosive soul-wrecking poison. We build layers around this truth, this, for some, unremarkable fact, and in doing that we bury self-indicting secrets. Bolaño drags them out into the open and it feels necessary.”

    I agree.

  2. Betsy Pelz November 8, 2014 at 1:03 am

    I want to comment on the many sections that detail the murders.

    Regardless of the matter-of-fact, not sensational, businesslike tone of these sections, I am also struck by their mindlessness.

    These sections function as the voice of an exhausted, weak community, sort of like a chorus. I am reminded of the way Faulkner reflects the opinions of the townspeople in the narrative of “A Rose for Emily”. In that story, there is a lack of cohesion to the narrative: time is confused, events are confused, but the narrators seems to think they are making sense.. Faulkner signals that the narrator is the voice of the community when he uses the pronoun we.

    I get the same sense from these “reports” – that these are people talking to each other about what they can piece together, but no one knows much, and all of these reporters are in a state of extreme lethargy, as if they are the fearful citizens of a police state.

    In Bolano, the sections that deal with the murders reveal a kind of resignation. While each paragraph on each murder tells a story, the narrative resigns itself to ignorance. The narrative resigns itself to the incoherence. The narrative resigns itself to paying no attention to what it’s actually saying.

    Patterns in the murders begin to emerge to the reader, but not to the narrative voice. For instance, numerous murders follow the same pattern: anal and vaginal rape, strangulation and the body left in a dump or the desert. Other murders are very different. Patterns in the (lack of) investigation begin to emerge, and patterns of corruption begin to emerge, but the voice(s) telling us about the murders appear to be half dead. Even though the reader can begin to see patterns in the narratives of the dead, the narrative itself with holds any analytical focus. A profound impotence pervades the voice of these “reports”.

    It feels like the voice of a community that has given up, gone underground, been shot dead. As one small example, on page 359, an executive from a maquiladora says to a policeman, “You’ll take care of everything, won’t you?” They are in a dump behind the plant where a dead woman has been found. In turn, “The policeman said yes, of course and tucked the money the other man handed him into the pocket of his regulation pants.”

    As Simon pointed out in another section, Bolano depends upon a slippery syntax. You often don’t know exactly who is speaking, exactly who is being pointed out. In this case, we don’t know exactly what the money is for. Perhaps it’s to pay the ambulance drivers. Perhaps, though, this is some kind of payment by the factory to the police. It’s all very offhand. The narrative voice is too tired to figure out exactly what is going on.

    In other sections, the narrative is crystal clear, though weird, and almost completely unconscious of its own weirdness. When a prostitute is murdered in a brothel, the police bring in all the prostitutes for questioning and lock them up. And then the police have a “party”. Screams are heard. “The policeman said there was a party in the cells….In other cells policemen were raping the whores…” (p. 401) We are told that Epifanio and Lalo watch for a while.

    Part of the horror in these “reports” is the lack of spiritual and mental energy in the narrative voice, and yet in this section about the “party” with prostitutes, the narrative voice finishes this appalling recitation with this comment: “The early morning breeze along the streets of Santa Teresa really was fresh and cool. The scarred moon still shone in the sky.” There is both an acceptance of atrocity and a protest in the juxtaposition of the concluding statement with what went before. The narrative voice is pointing out the terrible terrible distance between what is natural and what is going on within the police station. But there is a resignation – as if it is natural to be resigned.

    Although these sections that detail the murders are meant to mirror the police reports, we find no common procedure and no effort at comparison. Identities get lost. Witnesses are ignored or disappear. Vehicle identification is not pursued. Evidence gets lost. Suspects get lost. Opportunities are missed. No cooperation seems to exist between Santa Teresa and the state or the nation as a whole. There is a complete illogic to the the narrative of the dead.

    It is as if the people who wrote the original reports do not want to find out what happened, perhaps because they already know what happened, perhaps because they are afraid of what they know, and perhaps because they are being paid not to know.

    And it is as if this communal voice that has looked at the reports is so exhausted it cannot even comment on the complete lack of logic that pervades the reports as a whole, or comment on the horror of what it is reporting. One is reminded of the effects of day-in-day-out television reporting of bombings, body counts, drones, and refugees.

    Bolano’s “reports” are filled with irony. First of all, these are not reports in any real sense of the word. These are incomprehensible. They are fragments. These “reports” make an attempt to be businesslike, but they bear no comparison to real reporting done by real reporters. Occasionally, the narrative voice, which rarely seems to be aware of what it’s saying, slips into what sounds like sarcasm, and at that point, the voice allows itself to reveal its consciousness. .

    For instance, one morning at 6 A.M., some cops are having a birthday party when Emilia Mena Mena’s body is brought in. Bolano allows the narrative voice to comment, “Nobody noticed.”

    It is as if people can only protest through this subversive, almost coded, language.

    The “reports” about the murders are an act of resistance. But this is a resistance group that is not going to win a war. They do not have their wits about them. These “reports” do not have anything about them of Oscar Fate’s deadly uppercut to Corona’s jaw.

    They are ineffectual. They are vague suspicions. They are the voice of people afraid of their own shadow.

    One final thing: the sections about the murders are very difficult to read not because they are about murder, but because Bolano has purposely made them so incoherent, unfocused, and lacking in point of view – a situation that mirrors the mental state of the populace in a police state.

  3. petepel November 8, 2014 at 9:53 am

    I’m still reading through this part about the crimes. And it is gruesome. With every new report of a body found I cannot just read on and go to the next account of another dead victim. I refuse to just see these numerous accounts as a kind of ‘white noise’. But at the same time I don’t know which effect Bolaño had in mind with these ongoing ‘slaps in the face’.
    It did remind of a book by the Belgian writer Louis Paul Boon, titled Menuet. It is a book in three parts, where the same story (of a man betraying his wife with the household) is told first by the man, then the household, and lastly his wife. What was strange was that in the upper section of every page throughout the book a continuous stream of newspaper reports on all kind of cruel crimes was printed. It gave the story a very sinister tone.
    Anyway, I hope to finish this section this weekend and continue to read all the fabulous contributions of Lee, Trevor and all the people (with Betsy doing a fantastic job) who give their valuable comments on their reading experience of this remarkable book.
    I love this read-along!

  4. Betsy Pelz November 9, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    About the black Peregrinos:

    On page 356, a prostitute named isabel Cansino (who later dies of a severe beating) is clinging to a lamp post. “A black Peregrino with tinted windows passed by.” Presumably, the knife sharpener who discovered her also saw this car go by. An ambulance arrives, and the medics refuse to put her in the ambulance because there is no one to pay. The knife sharpener gets into an argument with the medics, and in the ensuing fight, one of the medics chases the knife sharpener away. (In another episode on page 426, medics outright tell bystanders to leave.)

    The narrative voice does not point out that now the police will not be able to interview the knife sharpener, nor will they find out about the black Peregrino.

    On page 392, we hear the story of Andrea Pacheco Perez, a 13 year old kidnapped student. “…two of Andrea’s classmates …saw her head toward a black car, probably a Peregrino or a Spirit, where a person in sunglasses was waiting for her. ”

    The police accuse a foreigner from Salvador of the crime. The narrative voice pities (seemingly appropriately) the man who subsequently died in an American jail. The police apparently do not interview every girl at Andrea’s school, apparently do not warn the school to warn the girls. Instead, the narrative voice says that “there were no witnesses, except for two of Andrea’s classmates”, thus indicating that school girls, or girls, were not considered real witnesses.

    No search is conducted for the black Peregrino.

    On page 402, Penelope Mendez Becerra, eleven years old, disappeared. Her brother talked to her friends. “One said she thought Penelope had gotten into a car with tinted windows and hadn’t gotten out again. By the description it sounded like a Peregrino or a MasterRoad.” The girl said it looked like “an expensive black car”. The brother searches for the black car, sees some, notes down their license plate numbers.

    It appears that the police do not investigate. The Medical Examiner declares her death a heart attack, but her assaults fit the pattern of anal and vaginal rape and strangulation. IT is as if the ME doesn’t want to focus on the pattern when it applies to a child.

    On page 412, Monica Duran Reyes, aged 12, is kidnapped as she was leaving school. “In the subsequent investigation, some friends said they had seen Monica get into a black car with tinted windows, maybe a Peregrino or a MasterRoad or a Silencioso. It didn’t look as if she was taken by force. She had time to scream, but she didn’t scream. When she saw her friends, she even waved good-bye. She didn’t seem to be afraid.” No search is conducted for the black Peregrino.

    There is such a swarm of detail in this section – names and more names, streets and places, and so many quick stories, that it is hard to keep any pattern or thread straight. So I would welcome hearing more about any other black vehicles with tinted windows.

    Why bother looking at such an insignificant part of a 900 page book? I think Bolano is very focused about what he is doing. He has more than an 8-track mind. And if we watch what he is doing in one particular thread over time, it would be easier to hypothesize what he means it to mean to the whole.

    What I think he means the “black Peregrino” to mean is this: the police investigations are so incompetent that what they overlook they deliberately overlook. I don’t think it is a question of not being able to know. It is a question of deliberate evasion.

    When Lucy Anne Sander disappears, the a policeman tells her friend Erica that he “didn’t know” if there were an American consulate in Santa Teresa. (p 407) The police take her report. Later, when she returns to the police station after having visited the consulate, she saw “policemen who knew nothing about the report she had filed.” Another policeman advises her to go home. She should “leave the matter in the hands of the consulate”. The American consulate is not much better; Kurt A. Banks seemed bored by her inquiry and seemed to jump to the conclusion that Erica and her friend were prostitutes. He seemed to be blunted by the knowledge of what had been going on in Santa Teresa. Another man at the consulate “gazed at her impassively and said: three days….at least.” You get the idea that everyone knows that it takes a little time for the women who have disappeared to show up as dead bodies. No on expands on this thought.

    But I will. The women are alive and tortured for the time they are kept in captivity. Once they are swiftly killed, they are dumped. Not a lot is made in the medical examinations of the bodies being outside for a long time. In fact, if the bodies had been outside for a long time, the coyotes would have gotten to them, and the buzzards. Only once do we hear about buzzards.

    Regarding the police evasion in just this one small area – the kidnapped children – they are shown up for what they are by a mere boy, .the brother of Penelope Mendez, who goes out searching for license plates.

    Searching for license plates is so simple a child could do it, but these police do not.

    Erica calls an American sheriff in her hometown in Arizona. This sheriff drives down to escort her back to the United States. He talks to the police in Santa Teresa, “Do you think they told you the truth, Harry?” she asks him. He says, “No, I don’t.”

    In fact, he says, “the whole thing stank like shit.”

    One other thing. When I see the black Suburbans with their tinted windows headed down toward UMass on a Friday afternoon, I don’t really think these are soccer moms. Bolano isn’t saying that the world cannot be understood. I think he is saying that people refuse, for various reasons, to identify what they see.

    Epifanio spends some time wondering about the woman whose body was found on the second floor of a construction site. “For two days he thought about it.” (p 425) “Until he decided that no matter how much he thought about it he wasn’t going to come up with a good answer, and then he didn’t think about it any more.”

    I do not think Bolano intends Epifanio to represent how the human race is doomed to not understand things. I think he means to point out that Epifanio gave up.

    Epifanio made no effort to ask other people what they thought, and he made no effort to do any reading on the topic, and he made no effort to question his boss. It is very clear that regardless of the fact that he is curious, he knows better than to do any real inquiry.

    Epifanio is a link to the Germans in WWII – the ones who knew that silence was in their best personal interest.

    The existential issue that I think Bolano is exploring is not that there are no answers, but this: just what makes a person able risk everything when the situation calls for it? Just what makes a person able to stand up to the tanks in Tienneman Square? I think this is the question he is asking.

  5. Betsy Pelz November 9, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Who is Pedro Negrete?

    He is, for one thing, the police chief of Santa Teresa, in charge of three police stations. (p354)
    He does appear to be in charge of all the police in Santa Teresa, however. The judicial police may be a competing group, maybe the way the FBI and the police coexist.

    Epifanio Galindo appears to be his right hand man.

    Pedro Negrete is a very good shot. When he goes out into the desert at dusk, to the scene where the body of an unidentified woman was found, he encounters “starving” wild dogs. Because they would probably attack him, he shoots one, on the run, in the low light, in the head. (360)

    We learn that he has a son in school in Phoenix. He thinks of his son’s remark that plastic bags might take thousands of years to decompose.

    Negrete never thinks of his wife that we know of.

    Negrete shows up in the middle of the night, and in a hurry, still wearing his pajama shirt under his leather jacket, when the police are called to the scene of a murder of a priest and a sexton. He is accompanied by Epifanio, Jose Marquez, and Juan de Dios Martinez. He assigns an officer to every church. As when shooting the dog, when he has to deal with the church he is capable of swift action. (370-71)

    He says he has a brother who goes to church – that he will ask him what he thinks of “The Penitent.” We see, no surprise, that Negrete doesn’t go to church. But the police treat the church with more speed and more deference than they do the women who are dying.

    When a reporter arrives from Mexico City to investigate the church killings and the “Penitent”, Negrete evades him. Sergio Gonzalez wants to interview Negrete, but Negrete assigns Zamudio to entertain him. They go to a club.

    Negrete travels to Villaviciosa to hire a boy to be the bodyguard of a “friend’s” wife. The reader surmises that they want a boy because kidnappers would not suspect a boy. Negrete has clout in this village; the elders respect him. The boy’s parents allow Negrete to take their son away without them ever talking to him. The boy is “chosen”. (384-5)

    Negrete sits in the back when Epifanio drives. (385)

    Negrete is able to reason closely with Epifanio about the coyote that Epifanio thinks is a wolf. He can be sharp when he chooses. Epifanio, on the other hand, seems young.

    Chief Negrete has a twin brother. Negrete dreams about their childhood, how they were exactly alike. One suspects from this passage that they are no longer exactly alike, but the only thing we know about the brother is that he goes to church. In the dream, trucks are driving by. They have odd logos on the side. All of the messages encourage a kind of bizarre leniency. “In a hurry? go right on under me.” It is as if Negrete is admitting that he is some kind of enabler. “Passing on the left? Just pump my horn.” This – after he has gone to pick up a boy for a “friend” to employ.

    (In contrast, Epifanio dreams that night that he has a body in the trunk and that he does not identify it. He knows that the body is alive, but he still closes the trunk. It is as if Epifanio knows that the women are alive when they are being transported out to be dumped – that they are alive and being tortured while they are missing.)

    Chief Negrete is there when they bring Lalo Cura in for shooting Rengifo’s wife’s assailants.

    Negrete, by means of a sign, orders Epifanio to “slash” one of the policemen from mouth to ear.
    The man does not complain, but cowers and calls Negrete “Boss”.
    Negrete is thus revealed to have a peculiar loyalty from his men – for them to endure mild torture.
    The assaulted cop says he is “fine”. ((397-398)

    (We find out that one of the wife’s attachers is Patricio Lopez, from the state judicial police.
    What is he doing there shooting at Rengifo’s wife? It seems unlikely this is purely official business. )
    Whatever the truth of the matter, Negrete takes this scene very seriously.

    He wants Lalo Cura not charged, and he wants he men to be afraid of him, Negrete, on this epiode.

    Negrete visits Rengifo’s ranch. Rengifo’s children have been sent out of Mexico and his wife
    has been sent to Cuernavaca. Negrete is there to retrieve Lalo Cura.

    But he is also there to threaten Pedro Rengifo. He comments that the reason he has to take the boy
    is because if the boy stayed at Rengifo’s, he “might get killed.” Rengifo’s response is to turn pale. He gets the message –
    Negrete thinks Rengifo is in a weakened position, and he is either threatening to go after him
    or pay no attention when someone else goes after him. (399)

    Despite his power, Negrete makes no effort to run a very tight ship at the police stations.
    When some prostitutes are brought in for question, Epifanio, Negrete’s right hand man,
    idly watches while the police rape them in the cells. (401)

    I have read to about 425 – only about 1/4 of the way through Part 4. What do we know about Chief Pedro Negrete?
    He appears to wield a great deal of power – both his men and a drug-lord appear to be afraid of him. He appears to have some kind of protection racket going on with a drug lord. He appears to like to bring in poor boys (both Epifanio and Lalo Cura are poor) to do his dirty work (Epifanio cuts the policeman). He has no qualms about cutting the policeman in front of Lalo Cura. He is baptizing Cura.
    It is possible, however, that Lalo Cura will turn out to be different than Epifanio. Lalo has already shown very quick wits and great bravery. Negrete appears not to be afraid of anybody – so far. He seems to run a very loose ship at the station – allowing police to rape prisoners. He also seems to run very inept investigations – even a boy can run plates better than he can.

    You may wonder why I would bother to do this! I find myself drowning in ever multiplying detail! This is my means to get a grip on at least a little of what’s going on.

  6. Betsy Pelz November 9, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    The last thing I want to mention about the first 75 pages of The Part About the Crimes is when the priest, talking with Sergio Gonzalez about books, says that he reads Liberation Theology, (p. 379) especially “Boff and the Brazilians.”

    Leonardo Boff is an ordained Roman Catholic priest who has written about the rights of the poor and has criticized Roman Catholic leadership. He was “silenced” for a year in 1985 by the Vatican. When threatened again with “silence” in 1992, he left the priesthood.
    (http://liberationtheology.org/people-organizations/leonardo-boff/)

    The same priest that reads Liberation Theology also says that there are crimes being committed “against women, mostly unsolved.” The priest talks Santa Teresa: about Central American immigration into Mexico and Sonora, relocation of thousands of Mexicans to the city looking for work at the factories, the others that want to cross the border, “the human trafficking by polleros and coyotes, about the starvation wages paid at the factories…”

    Bolano makes a point of this priest’s convictions. The priest is reacting to two deaths – the murder of a priest and a sexton inside a church. But he pointedly says that are “higher or more urgent priorities”. Liberation Theology says that changes can be made.

    In Santa Teresa, however, the death of woman after woman, and girl after girl, is business as usual. No changes are being made and someone is getting away with murder.

  7. Lee Monks November 10, 2014 at 5:15 am

    Betsy, Pete – great stuff, sorry I haven’t been back on, have been off the map for a few days. Will respond more fully as soon as I can guys – thanks for these great comments,

    Briefly: Petepel – I’m glad you refuse to listen to the murders as white noise: in describing them as such, I didn’t mean to lessen their impact. That’s one of the things the repetition-audit feel suggested. Ultimately I wanted to, instinctively, resurrect each and every murdered woman/girl from such mundane listing. They were so much more than that: however…

    Betsy: fantastic comment about police states. I think you are absolutely correct and I hadn’t thought about it that way. Bolano, from one perspective, is replicating the mindset of such a state, of horrific knowledge telegrammed to data nothings, to spreadsheet indistinct worthlessness. It’s what a no-frills account of mass murder looks like: completely unremarkable and virtually identical basic lists. And it says everything, really.

    ‘Lethargy’ – or soul sickness.

    Will be back as soon as time permits!

  8. Betsy November 10, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Lee – wonderful to hear from you. Just want to say again that having this reading experience in common with you and others is invaluable. Also just want to say that after this long weekend of reading and writing, I understand something I didn’t understand before.

    Sergio Gonzalez, the reporter who likes to read philosophy embodies two conflicting desires – the desire to pin down the facts, and the desire to pin down the ether. The priest who likes to read liberation theology also likes to read detective novels – again, the conflicting desire to pin down the process and the desire to imagine perfection. The priest, of course is the embodiment of impossibilities – violence and peace. Florita is the embodiment of the demands, pften or even usally conflicting, for an ecstatic imagination in a healthy body,

    Oscar Fate is the embodiment the nausea that any kind of death causes us and of the meta-physical ability to deliver the right-deadly uppercut at the right-life-embracing time. Seale and Florita and even the English North are the perfect readers – they read all the time. They thirst to match their mind against other minds. They experience what is written as the life of the other’s mind. And in a way, the English critic, Norton, has a piece of this, although Seaman and Florita excel. (And Bolano makes the point that they are not autodidacts. The ventriloquist is an autodidact. Seaman and Florita and Norton are thinking, changing beings.)

    All of these characters – the reporter/philosopher, the liberation theology priest who reads detective novels, the writer/boxer, the healthy/ecstatic, the complete reader – these are elements of Bolano’s own experience of existence. He is trying to unite elements of himself, and he is trying to paint a vision of what one perfection of humanity might be – the priest who could deliver the righteous uppercut, the reporter who can see the vast oceans that make up human experience, the esctatic who can survive the experience.

    And these are all elements of Bolano’s own psyche.

    This also explains the way Bolano resembles Dickens – so many characters that they must be brushed in with almost one stroke – lending to the criticism that the characters might be flat, or caricatures. but Bolano is attempting what Dickens and Michelangelo attempted – a description of the world. Wait, you say! Michelangelo’s people were three dimensional! But they have the same problem of being far away and crowded together. What Dickens and Michelangelo and Bolano want you to do is inhale the way these images interact, the way they comment on each other and on us, the way they embody our conflicting desires and possibilities.

    So you have Seaman, who is both murderous and caring. And you have Heidegger, who is both a visionary and a fool.

    And then there is the ecstatic, healthy, beneficent Florita – who is so touching. She might be thought a fool, and her followers might be thought fools, but these are the angels among us. Bolano is dying, perhaps of what were originally ecstatic excesses he pursued in the pursuit of art, or perhaps it is that he is dying of the inevitable the excess/imbalance that the making of art requires. But Florita is able to have her visions clean. She is that impossibility: a sound ecstatic who can minister to others in body and spirit and yet who is undestroyed herself. This – all while Bolano is himself dying – before he is done providing for his children, before he is done mapping out his vision, before he has been able to heal himself.

    The entire book is the vision of an impossible resolution of opposites.
    And in that way, Bolano is as much like Dante as he is like Cervantes. Bolano is, as he is writing, in his own dark wood.
    And – in this short time he had left, he expanded time: he created puzzles and paradoxes and parables that will keep him with his children and anybody else he loved (and us) for a very long time.

    Florita is in some ways the ideal. Heidegger and Seaman are both in their own ways treacherous. But Florita is an almost impossible ideal – whereas Seaman and Heidegger are human.

    I find what he has done so inspiring.

  9. Lee Monks November 10, 2014 at 10:37 am

    “The entire book is the vision of an impossible resolution of opposites.
    And in that way, Bolano is as much like Dante as he is like Cervantes. Bolano is, as he is writing, in his own dark wood.
    And – in this short time he had left, he expanded time: he created puzzles and paradoxes and parables that will keep him with his children and anybody else he loved (and us) for a very long time.”

    Hear hear: and let that stand in summary, as far as I’m concerned, regarding Bolano and 2666.

    Although I will expand on your comments (not that I expect to add much to this) when I get the chance, Betsy…

  10. Tredynas Days November 10, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Interesting comments, as always. Like Betsy I haven’t finished pt 4 yet. I must say I’m starting to revise my opinion of this novel, having posted several fairly critical comments here in previous weeks of this debate. I’ve always conceded that it’s a seriously important work, just not entirely to my taste. thanks to the comments here, I’m seeing it more clearly now.

    No more to add at this point then. Just saddened by the still unfolding story about the abducted, presumably murdered Mexican students. This piece by Alma Guillermoprieto at NYR blog is sobering; Bolano would not have been surprised by the brutality and corruption it relates; here’s the link: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/nov/05/mexico-not-sheep-to-be-killed/

  11. Betsy November 10, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Simon –
    Thank you for the link to this terrific article by Alma Guillermoprieto in The NYR blog. . I agree – this article should be read by anyone reading 2666 – and should be read by many more as well.

    I have quoted some of what Guillermoprieto wrote below.

    “Another [problem] is the state’s woeful inability not only to solve the crime, but also to provide a motive, or even a minimally coherent account of what is known so far. ”

    I note Ms Guillermoprieto’ s emphasis on incoherence of the stories.

    “Once again, the press has been put in the impossible position of disentangling various and conflicting versions of the events ”

    Note Ms Guillermoprieto’s emphasis on the confusion caused by conflicting stories.

    “Kidnappings and extortion are a part of life, daytime shootouts are routine, and the homicide rate, sixty-three murders for every 100,000 inhabitants, approaches that of Honduras.”

    “Still, there has not been one reliable word about the normalistas’ whereabouts, although the search for them has turned up nearly forty unidentified bodies no one seems to be paying much attention to, ”

    Then – Ms Guillermoprieto updates us on what is now known on Nov 9.

    The students were –
    ” only to be detained again by the Iguala police, who fired on them, rounded them up, and took them to the police station. Then, police from the nearby town of Cocula, about a half hour away, arrived in squad cars, and with their assistance the Iguala police drove the students to a point about halfway between the two towns some time before midnight. According to the reconstruction of events presented by the attorney general, police then handed the students over to Casarrubias’ waiting associates near that halfway point on the road. ”

    “The captives were driven uphill to a municipal garbage dump in a verdant ravine in the countryside around Cocula…”

    “Fifteen boys were already dead, one of the accused said. How? “Drowned…asphyxiated,” he mumbles in the video. The lackeys had their instructions: in the videos of their separate interrogations, carried out at the scene of the crime, two of the accused demonstrated how they took the dead bodies out of the trucks, while the boys who were alive were thrown on the ground next to them and shot, presumably by gang members. Subsequently, the lackeys said in the video, they were told to throw the dead bodies to the bottom of the ravine, where they were then stacked up like firewood. Men they identified only by their gang nicknames told them to pour diesel fuel and gasoline over the corpses and construct a pyre out of scavenged tires, planks, branches, plastic, and whatever else could be found in the dump that night, then set it on fire. It burned until mid-afternoon on the following day, by which point ashes were practically all that was left. Following instructions that one gathers were now phoned in, the lackeys waiting by the pyre filled plastic bags with the ashes, and then emptied them into a nearby river. ”

    These are excerpts. The long detailed article should be read in full to understand the involvement of the various branches of government. The resemblance of real life to 2666 is astounding – ten years later.

    http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/nov/05/mexico-not-sheep-to-be-killed/

  12. Mexico, Mexicohoo… | PETEPEL November 10, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    […] is om moedeloos van te worden. Op de site van The Mookse and the Gripes is vanaf afgelopen vrijdag dit vierde deel onderwerp van bespreking. En één van de vragen, misschien wel de kernvraag, is wat Bolaño […]

  13. Tredynas Days November 12, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks, Betsy. I didn’t have the time to make explicit the connections between the Guillermoprieto article and 2666: you’ve done so with acumen. As you say, the parallels are chilling. It’s times like this that make you take stock of what literature is about and for. Bolano was tackling the human condition in this novel in a way probably not attempted or conceived of before; its ambition is breathtaking. Dante has been mentioned previously, if I remember rightly. I’m also put in mind of Blake’s Songs of Experience.

  14. Betsy November 12, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Hi Simon – no, you are the one that located the article. That is the ticket. That is the ticket.

    I’m right about the place where Harry Magana arrives in Santa Teresa. He’s the Huntsville sheriff who came to get Erika after Lucy Anne Saner was killed. (p406)

    But Bolano makes it hard to notice that that’s who he is. He tucks the identity in the middle of a long paragraph, and you could miss it, just like that. So the narrative technique mirrors the way these people hide their tracks. And this Magana I.D. is a teaser. What he’s saying is that there are more identities hidden. You have to look for them. Oh no! That would mean if I read this monster again, I might get more!

    Any way, about Harry. I think he’s dead, and I am wondering if he will ever surface again. thing is, I got kind of lost following him down the rabbit hole – lots of people, lots of names, lots of incidents – in the long string. But I would have to reread the section that starts on 406 and ends on 449. Unless someone else can help me out!

  15. Betsy Pelz November 19, 2014 at 6:30 am

    Hi Lee, Hi Trevor –

    I have a request! Could we wait til Jan 1 to move on to Part 5? I need more time to process the rest of Part 4!

    For one thing, I needed to take a break. I was having Bolano trances.

    Well, actually, I was having trouble switching to the Haas section. Felt like I needed to take a breather. Felt like he was breathing down my neck. I felt lacking in fortitude.

    And then there’s the Thanksgiving intermission when nothing but cleaning and cooking and feasting and visiting will get done ….

    But I will understand if Jan 1 feels too much of a break in momentum.

  16. Trevor Berrett November 21, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Hi Betsy, I am okay with that. What does everyone else think? If no one else responds, let’s push the date back.

  17. Tredynas Days November 21, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I’m with Betsy on this: I’m really struggling with Part 4, not helped by having other commitments and interests competing (like writing something on H. James, R. Ford, etc.), so would welcome more of a chance to catch up (plus I’m off to S. America for Christmas! Not taking the enormous 2666 on a plane!) Sorry about the proliferation of exclamations…

  18. petepel November 21, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Although I’m not much of a contributor on the discussion I follow this read-along very closely with great interest and have almost finished the last part of 2666. But I really don’t mind if we push out the dates, as it gives me more time to get my thoughts around this book and all the valuable comments (for which I want to thank everyone).

  19. petepel November 21, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    And I’m thinking of getting my hands on an English version of the book so I can better search for the specific sections when you refer to page numbers.
    Is it somewhere mentioned which edition you use? Or can you tell me? Thanks.

  20. Betsy November 21, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Hey, Trevor, Thanks.

    Petepel, I’m using the paperback Farrar Strauss and Giroux: Picador – New York – 898 pages including the (end) note to the first edition. Translation by Natasha Wimmer copyright. 2008.

    I’m not sure what Lee is using over in England and whether or not the pages are the same.

  21. Lee Monks November 22, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Picador, 898: hopefully identical!

  22. petepel November 22, 2014 at 9:06 am

    I have ordered today: 898 pages; Picador USA; september 2009; translation by Natasha Wimmer.
    This weekend I hope to finish the reading of my Dutch edition and then I can start rereading certain sections in English.

  23. Betsy Pelz November 29, 2014 at 12:42 am

    “The Part About the Crimes” is about 280 pages, and although it is written in fairly lucid prose, it iss hard to follow, given that it contains 15 or so major characters, many minor characters, and a catalogue of the many women who are killed. The narrative method proceeds in short segments, interleaving brief accounts of successive characters (Haas, Harry Magana, Kessler, Plata, Sergio Gonzalez, Juan de dios Martinez, Epifanio, Lalo, Mary Sue Bravo,Plata’s friend Kelly, among others).

    When re-reading and taking notes, I found it easier to try to follow one character. I would start with Haas.

    Klaus Haas is a very memorable man: very tall and lanky, he has canary – yellow hair, he seems to have a terrifically imposing presence, and he has an unusual history – he is a German who has moved to America and then to Mexico. He seems to have a kind of charisma, enough that his female lawyer falls in love with him, is so smitten that one of the female reporters calls her out on it. There is a possibility he has come to Mexico to escape sexual assault charges in Florida. He runs two successful computer stores, but a girl who started hanging around the store is murdered, and Haas is picked up and charged for that murder. It is possible that he in fact did kill this girl. He is also charged with other murders, and the government happily proclaims him the serial killer, even though the murders of the young women continue after he has been confined to jail. While in jail, he has money and privileges, and it is somewhat obvious that he is being protected. The police think that it is the drug-lord Enriquito Hernandez who is protecting him, but they are not sure why. A reporter who interviews Haas doubts that he is the serial killer, but after interviewing him, the reporter thinks that “he’s guilty of something”.

    Bolano tips us off. Haas observes the homosexual activity that goes on among the inmates, but it doesn’t interest him. It leaves him cold..
    Instead, he thinks, “Raping women and then killing them seemed more attractive to him, more sexy…” (p. 488) So we deduce that he is in some way mixed up in the trafficking that is going on. The reader wonders if perhaps he is making videos of the rapes, tortures, and murders.

    The mystery of Klaus Haas propels Part Four, but Haas also performs a function for Bolano. For one thing, the police are eager to have a suspect, and continue to claim him as a suspect, even after it is clear he could not be murdering women all by himself from prison. So Haas is a canary yellow sign of the corruption of the police. We never hear the police talk about how convenient it is to have him as their mark, so we are not sure of the mechanics of why they need him to be a suspect. But we do hear them talk about why Hernandez is protecting him. We hear just enough before they slam the door shut on a curious fellow policeman.

    The fact that the police cannot figure out why Hernandez might be protecting Haas suggests that Santa Tereesa is like medieval Europe – many lords, many castles, many combatants, many ransoms, many alliances. Even if they are mixed up in it, the police do not know exactly what is going on.

    More important, however, is that Haas observes the killing of a recently arrived suspect, Jesus Chimal, as well as the killing of several members of his gang. Chimal killed a girl whose father had money, and the father clearly arranged to have Chimal tortured and killed in jail. Haas observes that when Chimal arrives at the jail, the whole prison hums at attention. Everyone seems to know that something is going to go down.

    “Haas told [his lawyer] he had witnessed the killing of the Caciques. The whole cell block was there, said Haas. The guards watched from a kind of skylight on the floor above.”

    And they did nothing.

    Clearly, the guards had been informed that Chimal was to be killed; clearly, they had been paid off; clearly, the murders of the inmates were a kind of entertainment, much the way, the reader is beginning to suspect, that the rape, torture and murder of many of the young women is probably a form of entertainment.

    Furthermore, Haas’s observation of the prison-house murders of Chimal and his gang foreshadows and explains something that happens somewhat later in Part Four. A group of policemen gather at a coffee shop for breakfast and for two interminable pages, they tell jokes that demean women and de-criminalize violence toward women. The joke-telling is a kind of permission giving bonding.

    “How many parts is a woman’s brain divided into? …that depends…depends on what…Depends how hard you hit her.” (page 552)

    These jokes go on and on and on in a sickening, happy, entitled, self-justifying litany. I don’t use the word litany lightly. It is as if the policemen have convened a church service and celebrated together the mass of their own power and cleverness.

    The very next segment involves an “event”. The narrator follows the primary joke-teller out of the coffee shop and to “an event”.

    “This kind of event was as popular among Santa Teresa cops as jokes about women. Even more so, in fact.” Two police cars drive out of the city. They are joined by ten other police cars. “News of the event had been radioed from one of the cars.” They get out, they don sunglasses, they smoke, they make small talk, they drink from a flask. “After half an hour all the cars drove off, leaving a cloud of yellow dust in the air behind them.” (p 554)

    What had just happened? What was the event?

    Bolano doesn’t say. But he does say the dust they left behind was “yellow” – the color of cowardice, as well as the color of Haas’s hair. The reader thinks of the torture and murder that Haas, the other inmates and the guards watched. The reader can only come to the conclusion that the policemen had watched a similar torture and murder take place that morning – after they had steeled themselves with sureties about how stupid women are.

    Do I think they were watching the murder of men? No. After the joke-telling about women’s stupidity and men’s right to confine them and beat them, it could only be a woman who was being attacked. How do I know the “event” was an attack? Bolano’s narrator calls it a “shit-kicking” that they are attending. And they wear sunglasses, as if to shield them from being recognized and as if to shield them from what they are seeing.

    Of the terrible brutality of the murders that Haas observed in prison he told his lawyer: “I could see it all because I’m tall. Strange: it didn’t turn my stomach. Strange, very strange: I watched all the way to the end.” (p. 524)

    In the same way, whatever the police watched at “the event”, they had seen it before. They knew where they were going. It didn’t turn their stomachs. It was an entertainment.

    Thus we see why cases are “shelved”, why evidence is “lost”, why victims are forgotten. The jokes explain that women are not equal, they are not intelligent, they are not independent, they are not treasured, they are not actually even human. “What’s the definition of a woman? Silence…a vagina surrounded by a more or less organized bunch of cells.”

    “How long does it take a woman to die who’s been shot in the head? …seven or eight hours, depending on how long it takes the bullet to find the brain.” (p 552)

    These sections I have been discussing are central to the corruption that pervades Santa Teresa. They are central to all the other clues that Bolano offers up regarding the possibility that many people know the truth about the murders and many people are complicit in them. These sections are almost as close as we get to a “smoking gun”, although taken together, all the other clues provide a smoking cannon – that the murders are a way of life for a large group of men who consider themselves entitled to kill women.

    Why is this happening? One reason is that for the first time, women are earning money in their jobs in the factories. The women are independent. They can make choices. Regardless that the salaries are pitiful, the women for the first time have autonomy. Bolano has structured the novel so that the reader can only draw such a conclusion.

    Haas is important to the novel because he is a kind of socio-pathic monster – but he is also representative of the monstrosity that is Santa Teresa.

  24. Betsy November 29, 2014 at 1:49 am

    Second part on Haas:

    Haas has one other extremely important role. He calls a press conference. (How does an inmate call a press conference? With whose permission?)

    He tells the assembled reporters that he knows who the killers are. They are Antonio and Daniel Uribe, wealthy, good looking brothers who, given that they have dual citizenship, live in Arizona and Sonora both. He describes the situation – that Antonio was doing most of the killing, but that Daniel was “aroused” by it, and has joined in. Haas says that the Uribes own a trucking business, something that would obviously be useful in the disposal of the bodies.

    Bolano gives the reader a take on what is going on: “Haas looks much thinner [now], his neck long like a turkey’s, though not just any turkey but a singing turkey or a turkey about to break into song, not just sing, but break into song, a piercing song, a grating song, a song of shattered glass, but of glass bearing a strong resemblance to crystal, that is, to purity, to self-abnegations, to a total lack of deceitfulness.” (p. 579)

    What does Haas mean by all this? What does Bolano mean?

    Bolano’s choice of words ridicules Haas – that he is like a turkey – a ridiculous bird, or that he is like a singing turkey – like a jailbird who is giving people up, or that he is like something that “bears a resemblance” but is not actually “pure”, or “self-abnegating” or lacking “deceitfulness.”

    The syntax is awkward, but the message is that Haas is playing a role. We know he is under the protection of Enriquito Hernandez. Perhaps Hernandez wants to frame his enemies, cause them little or a lot of grief. Perhaps the Uribe brothers are mixed up in the killings, but not the sole traffickers. Perhaps the coalition of men who are part of the trafficking game have decided to let Haas off the hook. Perhaps Hernandez wants to control public opinion.

    Whatever Haas has done, for whatever reason, his lawyer is mortified.

    At the end of his “press conference,” his lawyer “lifted her head and gazed at the pale face of her defendant, her beloved, her friend, a haughty and at the same time relaxed face (how could anyone be haughty and relaxed at the same time?) observing her with scientific rigor, not from that prison room but from the sulphurous vapors of another planet.” (p 607)

    Clearly, the lawyer knows that Haas is “guilty of something” as a reporter, Sergio Gonzalez, had thought. Clearly, the lawyer senses that Haas is a sociopath – seeing as how she thinks of him as being from another planet. Again, there is the yellow – the sulphur. And again, the suggestion of Hell – the sulphurous vapors.

    The lawyer has a sense of Haas’s depravity. She thinks:

    “If it had been up to her, everyone around her … would have disappeared instantly, and so would the room, the prison, jailers and jailed, the hundred year old walls of the Santa Teresa penitentiary, and all that was left would be a crater, and in the crater there would be only silence and the vague presence of the lawyer and Haas, chained in the depths.”

    The lawyer provides us a vision of Haas – an interpretation – clearly guilty of something and clearly be controlled by someone and clearly depraved, but clearly magnetic, given that she is willing to go to Hell with him. A photographer keeps taking pictures of the lawyer, and she appears attractive, and perhaps even noble, with her aquiline nose. In a way, she represents the way in which the murderer can draw people into his sphere – why the police could be drawn in, why people could be seduced. There is a magnetism to evil.

    Speaking of evil – the 666 of 2666 must be related to the monster in the book of Revelations – the Devil. But Santa Teresa is twice that – twice Hell.

    What does Bolano intend for us to make of Haas? That he is a kind of pied piper of evil? Yes, I think so. What exactly is his role?

    Bolano goes to lengths to discuss “snuff” films. A reporter appears from Argentina, a reporter who has written about how snuff films originated with a couple of Americans playing at making movies in Argentina. (p 540-545) Bolano goes to some length on this fictitious couple and their fictitious movie., in which an acttress is supposedly killed on film. This segment is five pages, while most of the other segments are usually only a page or two or three. The reader, while reading about the Americans in Argentina, cannot help but think of Haas, and his computer expertise, and the bedroom in the basement of his store, and the bit of blood discovered there. (For which, of course, Haas had an easy explanation.)

    Of course, Bolano may only mean that Haas is a copy-cat – that he has latched onto the culture of Sonora, where killing women is commonplace, and perhaps he merely expands it into a business. Or perhaps he is in business with the gangs who are doing this.

    But suddenly, we realize that the women who are being kidnapped, tortured, raped, and killed are being used for entertainment – whether it is Haas filming them or not, or someone else filming them or not. Santa Teresa is a culture of death. When you look at the hundreds of women who have been killed, it is obvious that while some of the deaths happen in a pattern, some of the deaths happen independent of the pattern, as if Santa Teresa is a killing ground where killing is catching – a kind of disease you come down with, sooner or later.

    So Haas, the charismatic, Haas, the singing turkey, is kind of ridiculous. There are hundreds of deaths and most likely more than one or two murderers. Are the Uribes the culprits? Bolano has set up another narco as a possible kingpin to the deaths – but more on that another time. Haas is merely, therefore, an operatic version of what everyone else is doing as well – playing a role, being played by the powers that be, and meantime playing the king for as long as he can get away with it.

  25. Betsy Pelz November 29, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    2666 inspires discussion, and a good thing, because I don’t think it can be understood without discussion.

    The canvas is so vast, but filled with so many blanks, that it is easy to misread it. Haas, for instance, is an enigma. The web of human trafficking is an enigma. The extent of the police corruption is an enigma. The pattern of the murders is a web so scattered that its patterns are distorted.

    Bolano leaves clues throughout the book, but it is easy to miss the clues.

    I am using my posts as an incentive to put the fragments together, but I think it is easy to misread here and misread there. So discussion is essential. I look forward to being put right.

  26. Betsy Pelz November 30, 2014 at 12:42 am

    Haas (on page 586) claims that the Uribe brothers are “proteges of Fabio Izquierdo, a narco who himself works for Estanislao Campuzano. It is said that Estanislao Campuzano was Antonio’s godfather. Their friends are other children of millionaires, but also Santa Teresa cops and narcos. Wherever they go they spend money like water. They are the Santa Teresa serial killers.” (p 586)

    At the end of The Part About the Crimes, we hear that a private investigator (Luis Miguel Loya) has discovered that a woman who has disappeared planned “parties” with prostitutes for Salazar Crespo, a money launderer for the Santa Teresa cartel. Some of the men who attended these “parties” were Sigfrido Catalan, a garbage hauler, and Conrado Padilla, a trucker and factory owner. “All had connections to the Santa Teresa cartel, which means Estanislao Campuzano…”

    Another word that Bolano uses to describe these “parties” is “orgy”. Campuzano is occasionally present at the orgies, and more frequently, his “two most notorious men, Fabio Izquierdo and Munoz Otero” are there….”as well as personages from the worlds of society, crime, and politics.” (628-629)

    So Haas links the Uribes to Izquierdo – and Loya, the private investigator, links Izquierdo to the disappearance of a woman from a Crespo party. . Haas seems not so crazy now, although his lawyer thinks he’s crazy for talking. The lawyer is described twice as seeming to be in a trance – perhaps because she is under Haas’s spell, and perhaps because she is afraid for their lives, now that Haas may have fingered the Uribes.

    Haas is stuck in prison – and his protector, Enriquito Hernandez, a drug lord, is also in prison. Perhaps Haas is Hernandez’ mouthpiece. Or perhaps Haas knows what he knows on his own. After all – his outfit may have processed the digital porn (and snuff films) that the narcoranchos are producing.

    What is particularly ominous is that a young reporter, Hernandez Mercado, who has been writing about the femicides, disappears after being present at the Haas press conference and after he had made inquiries of the Uribe family about the brothers, Antonio and Daniel.

    About 50 pages separate these two BRIEF mentions of Izquierdo and Campuzano, and I missed the connection the first time. What else have I missed? Bolano has constructed a vast puzzle – and it would be foolhardy to underestimate his determination.

    What he appears to be suggesting is that methodical and fiercely determined investigation can crack these criminal webs – and he seems to be requiring the same of the reader!

  27. Betsy Pelz November 30, 2014 at 10:38 am

    About Haas: why is he surprised that he felt nothing when watching the Cacique gang be brutally murdered?

    Is it because he has felt something when he watched women being murdered?

    We know that when he thinks about jail sex with men he feels repulsed. but that he likes to think of women being raped and murdered. He finds that “sexy”.

    When the reader puts the two together, the reader realizes – he has watched women being raped and murdered.

    Bolano uses Florita and Kessler (and perhaps others, like Lalo) to depict the intuitive way people realize and experience the truth. Kessler has a dream where he is beside a dark crater. Florita has visions. I think Bolano tries to write in such a way that the reader has similar experiences – where the reader’s unconscious puts two and two together (with a chill) and realizes what’s true.

  28. petepel November 30, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Hi Betsy, thank you for sharing all your findings with us (and with my own English edition at hand it is now much easier to find all the references back ;-) ). They really help me to get more grip on this vast body of text . Hopefully you will continue with your detailed analysis.

    I think you are right with your observation that Bolaño expects from the reader some methodical investigation, but at the same time I have the feeling that we will find a lot and nothing at all. Being almost at the end of the last part it looks to me that Bolaño is describing a world where everything is connected but where the connectedness is more and more hidden by all the meaning we’re trying to see in it. Like the book critics who cannot decipher the literature by Archimboldi or who Archimboldi is. I can be wrong of course but 2666 is for me a book about us not being able to understand the world around us. How hard we try.

    On another topic. I read in a dutch review of 2666 the idea that Bola?o writes like a serialkiller. He introduces numerous persons in this book and gives them a background and a voice, and as easy as he has introduced them he let them vanish without hardly any reference later on. I’m not sure if this is a common interpretation as I haven’t read a lot about Bolaño and his work, but wanted to share it anyway.

  29. Betsy Pelz November 30, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    So glad to hear a voice in the wilderness, Petepel! Yep – the discussion is all.

    That’s interesting – the Dutch reviewer who remarks that Bolano writes like a serial killer. Very interesting. But I would amend it this way – the narrator of the victims’ catalogue is not Bolano himself but his construction of a narrative voice. So the voice is that of the bad writer the serial killer would be – as if this were the serial killer’s own catalogue.

    The segments that are the catalogue of the victims lack any kind of reasoning.

    This works for me, though. These segments are like the notes of a serial killer that he compiles from the newspaper accounts. His scrapbook.

    But it is a narrative voice, after all, of Bolano’s construction – jvery different, for instance, from the voice he constructs for Azucena Esquivel Plata’s monologue.

    So glad to hear from you. That was really interesting.

  30. Betsy Pelz November 30, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    On heroes: modern movies and modern literature often lack classic heroes. The heroes we favor in the twentieth century (and now) are anti-heroes, often isolated, often severely flawed, often taking things into their own hands, with mixed results, both for them and others.

    Bolano amends this vision of the anti-hero only in that 2666 has many heroes, who form a kind of composite (anti)-hero.

    These are the people who “see” the truth but in fragments, but nevertheless keep trying to see the whole picture. Some of them die in the process. Heroism in Bolano is a sisyphean task. By definition, the Bolano hero is working in the dark, with very little assurance the resolution will be found. None-the-less, these people persevere.

    Very clearly, the writer and the reporter and private investigator interest him as hero. Josue Hernandez Mercado appears late in “The Part About the Crimes” (p 610). He is a reporter for “La Raza de Green Valley” – what must be a Spanish language newspaper in the United States. He is an aspiring 32 year old Mexico-city born writer who is now a U.S. citizen. He lived alone, he wrote poetry and published it, wrote Spanglish novels, and wrote about the femicides. He had gone to the Haas “press conference” and he had approached the Uribes. And now he is among the disappeared, most likely dead. (Could he have been “the event” that the police went to watch? Could his have been the “shit-kicking” they so calmly witnessed? )

    Mary Sue Bravo is another reporter who is like a dog with a bone. She wants to know why Mercado has disappeared, and she looks into it. She meets with confusion and obfuscation, but she also meets the “boy reporter” – the one who cared about Mercado and understood him. What a name: Mary Sue Bravo. Which brings me to this peculiar observation – several of Bolano’s heroes are American (Kessler, Mercado, MAry Sue, Harry). Harry and Mercado fail, but they fail in the way martyrs fail: people can’t forget them.

    Sergio Gonzalez interests Bolano. Gonzalez had been an arts reporter, has looked a little into the femicides, has written a contemporary novel that might have offended some, but he has caught the eye of a wealthy woman who wants to find out how her friend Kelly disappeared.

    The good policeman also interests him. Could Lalo be the good policeman? Kessler is a good policeman – all method and careful investigation, but he is, in fact, beside here. He is the wrong consultant. His specialty is serial killing. He was hired by Santa Teresa precisely because he is beside the point. They want Kessler to focus the public on the idea of a serial killer – one person. What they don’t want is to have people focus on the web of complicity. None-the-less, Kessler senses what’s what, that the policemen “eat well” (take bribes) and that to be in Santa Teresa is to be beside an abyss – a “dark crater”. Luis Miguel Loya, who appears first on p 622, is the meticulous private investigator who looks into the disappearance of Kelly Rivera Parker and sees the web for what it is – vast and complex.

    And anyone willing to access intuition is of great interest to Bolano. The “boy reporter” (p 630) is able to read Mercado’s apartment; he “knows” that Mercado did not leave wililngly. He knows that Mercado would have taken his books, would have taken the books Mercado himself had published. The “boy reporter” intuits this. Kessler is able to read the situation and knows in his bones that he is “beside a dark crater”. And Florita, the seer, is celebrated for her goodness, naievetee and bravery, as well as for her foolish devotion to what seems to her to be the truth.

    And Bolano is greatly interested in Haas’s polar opposite: Azucena Esquivel Plata, the woman possessed of “the demon of command”, the woman who wants to find out what happened to her friend Kelly, the woman who does not give up. She has gone to great lengths and money to hire Luis Miguel Loya, and she has employed him for over a couple of years. When he dies, he says he will not be afraid to die if he hears Plata say she is not afraid. What he means is – he needs her to continue the work. Of all these, it is she who seems most likely to reach some kind of reslotuion, except that the reader worries that Sergio Gonzalez will not survive his mission.

    So there are heroes in Bolano – people who are kind of like resistance fighters. I sense in Loya a kind of model for Bolano – Bolano who was dying as he wrote this. As if Bolano, too, would not be afraid to die if he knew others would continue the fight. It is no accident that Loya’s apartment is filled with art books and records; it is no accident that Loya has the build of a boxer. Bolano wants his writers and seers to have the strength of the boxer and his lethal upper-cut as well. Regardless of whether we are working in the dark or not.

  31. petepel November 30, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks for your encouraging words, Betsy.
    For now I will first finish my reading of the last 100 pages of the part about Archimboldi. I want to know how ‘it ends’ before going to work tomorrow morning, although I know that it will probably not reveal that much.
    Anyhow, I hope that after my first complete reading of this book I can express better my thoughts on certain topics. At this moment I still feel insecure on some of my findings.

  32. Betsy Pelz December 1, 2014 at 10:49 am

    petepel – “I have the feeling that we will find a lot and nothing at all.”

    I don’t think so. Why bother to read it, then? Why bother to write it? There are pieces of answers here, glimpses, patterns, intuitions and visions.

    I think we underestimate Bolano’s power if we do not see a web of connections in what he writes. The vast canvas is not merely unrelated scribblings, day after day, year in year out, an amusement on the nothingness of existence while waiting for death. If we were to find “nothing at all” – then Bolano’s inscription (“an oasis of horror in a desert of boredom”) means nothing, and it is a waste of time to even wonder what it might mean.

    The book’s complexity is his gift to his children, if nothing else. You don’t leave a 900 page book “for Alexandra and Loutaro Bolano” whose meaning is ‘nothing and all’.

    People confuse two kinds of not knowings – Yes, we do not know how we came into existence. And yes, often , when young and in middle age, we do not know what matters about being alive. But after a while, it comes into focus. It is whatever is of ultimate concern to us. It is that “after a while” that is the writer’s domain and the reader’s as well..

    What relationship, for instance, between Barry Seaman and Amalfitano’s philosophers? what relationship between Archimboldi and every other writer we meet in this book (and we meet a lot of them)? what relationship between the Santa Teresa police and the police in the state of Guerrerro? what relationship between not knowing for sure what is wrong and still doing something?

    I agree that we do not know for sure who is murdering what girl. But it can be easily proved that Bolano thinks it is possible to find out.

    We cannot know if Amalfitano will ever recover from his depression and near madness. But I think we can deduce that Bolano thinks his madness is a loss, and his impotence is a mirror for the entire society of Santa Teresa..

    We cannot know what will become of Oscar Fate or Rosa, whether she will get herself together once out of Mexico, or whether he will write the definitive novel or the definitive reporting about the femicides. But we know Bolano thinks that Rosa’s escape is important, and I think we can deduce that there is a yearning for Oscar Fate, or someone like him, to deal an uppercut to all the deceit and deception of Santa Teresa.

    In medias res. This novel not only starts in medias res, it ends in medias res. Like all of life. The reader is left to piece together the relationships, piece together the meaning.

  33. petepel December 1, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Betsy, I admit my statement was a bit too much black and white. What I wanted to say is that it depends a lot on what kind of reader you are (what kind of investigator; how persistent; how good you are in intertextual relations, etc etc etc) to make meaning out of all the data/information which Bolaño has hidden in this book. I believe you when you say that Bolaño has put something together what you can (partly) decipher if you are really trying it and don’t give up. But not every reader will do so, or is able to do so. And what do they have at the end? A pile of paper which didn’t reveal any of his secrets.

    Again, I struggle sometimes with putting my thoughts on paper in English, but I will keep trying although in some cases maybe it will be interpreted not exactly as I wanted. But that is also a good learning experience for me :-)

  34. Betsy Pelz December 1, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    petepel – thank you for writing in again. I do not speak or write any other language but English, and I am humbled by the rest of the world – which often speaks and writes effectively in more than two. And the one language I do speak I often employ with excessive emphasis. My apologies if this was one of those times. And thanks to you for keeping the dialogue open.

    About deciphering Bolano – I agree with you. This book is devouring my fall. Some parts of it bore me or lose me. Sometimes I resent the fact that the book simply must be read at least twice in order to grasp even a few of the connections. I am about 100 pages into the Archimboldi section and I realize that I will have to read it twice, and I also realize that when I am done with that, I want to read the whole 900 pages again. It’s like Mount Everest or like Moby Dick. It’s almost insurmountable. It’s a little like an obsession.

    This is not relaxing reading. I cannot read it on the couch or lying in bed.The book almost requires that you take some sort of notes or do marginalia on the page. And I suspect some of the reviews that have been written. A couple of them do not read as if the reader read every page. But even though I am trying to read every page – and be inter-textual about it, as you say – I do not feel at all confident that my intuitions about it are correct.

    I am day dreaming that some one like the team that made “The Wire” or the team that made “The Sopranos” will attack this and serialize it – 5 years – 20 episodes a year. I have read a couple of reviews that remark upon Bolano’s love of movies and that some of these scenes read like movie treatments. Such a series might be good. Or it might be terrible – depending on how much attention the screenwriters gave to the whole before they started Season 1.

    But one of things that Bolano may be saying is that watching violence on the screen is seductive. Watching, a person may not hear the narrative voice – that voice which is constantly insinuating that we lie to ourselves about what is true and we lie to ourselves about our complicit relationship with the web of evil within which we live.

    I agree with you when you say, “Bolaño has put something together [that] you can (partly) decipher if you are really trying it and don’t give up. But not every reader will do so, or is able to do so. And what do they have at the end? A pile of paper which didn’t reveal any of his secrets.”

    But you and I both have other work to do to stay afloat. I’d best get back to mine. Florita, whom Bolano loves, sometimes spends her sleepless nights doing “useful” things. That’s the ticket I’d better ride the rest of this week!

  35. peter pellenaars December 1, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Thanks Betsy. No apologies needed.

    For me, it’s my first encounter with Bolaño and I tried to read it as I usually do when reading a new book: in a relax-mode. Making some notes now and then, but mostly trying to enjoy what I’m reading. Only then, when I’m finished, the digesting starts. I start to see patterns, themes, etc, and I start to re-reading (at least, when I want to blog about it, or when I’m really intrigued by what I have read).
    With 2666 this is no different, only that I needed to make a lot of notes already from the beginning otherwise I was afraid I couldn’t find anything back. But it is too much. It is overwhelming. If you don’t know how ‘the mountain’ looks like, it’s hard to identify what seems to be important and what is not.
    So during the part with Fate I just stopped with making (too many) notes and concentrated on the reading itself. With the knowledge that I have to start all over again. Because as you say, it’s a little like an obsession. This book will haunt me, for sure.

    Rather than a tv-serie I would love it when someone publishes every week 10 pages out of the book with notes to explain the text. But I’m afraid that with every next week the explanation would grow bigger and bigger and attracting all of the attention instead of the original text. Yes, I had my share of 2666-nightmares already…

    Enjoy your ride this week.

  36. Betsy December 4, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Grand Theft Auto, the video game, is tremendously profitable and award winning. But it encourages the gamer to hire prostitutes and then kill them. What’s the difference between Grand Theft Auto and 2666?

    Bolano wants the reader to figure out how to catch the murderers. He wants the reader to be shocked by the fact that people use torture, rape and murder as entertainment. He clearly suggests that some of these murders are being sold as video entertainment.

    So Grand Theft Auto is not so different from the Juarez drug lords – it also profits from encouraging people to murder women. The Grand Theft Auto gamer role plays murdering women they’ve just had sex with. When watches by a virginal teenager, Grand Theft Auto teaches that teenager to associate intense sexual experience with the freedom to murder.

    So Bolano’s outrage is not just appropriately aimed at Juarez or Mexico, it is also appropriately aimed at Walmart, Target, and American culture.

    I was so surprised.

  37. Trevor Berrett December 30, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    I know we said January 1, but I won’t be ready then. I’ve got it read but I put off writing about it until the holidays swept me away! I will post here with a definitive date when Lee and I touch base and get our act together :-) !

  38. Bhim Parelkar January 8, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    I don’t know if this discussion is still active (though Part 5, as I write this, hasn’t been discussed yet!), but I think, Betsy, that you are touching on something important in your most recent post, in tying these deaths to something larger. I couldn’t help but look at these murders as akin to a massive Hieronymus Bosch painting (perhaps a too obvious comparison?). And then I thought once more about Edwin Johns, who cut off his hand for money. I see this part as being inextricably linked to global economy; we hear so much about these workers in maquiladoras, and women working in other industries, women and children who work in the periphery of an ever-expanding global market.

    There is a passage in The Part About Fate (page 266-267) in which a white-haired man describes how many deaths happened even centuries ago, but went unreported, as these were people who were not part of society (“the ones killed in the commune weren’t part of society, the dark-skinned people who died on the ship weren’t part of society, whereas the woman killed in a French provincial capital and the murderer on horseback in Virginia were”). I feel as though the mutilation occurring in Santa Teresa is akin to that committed by Edwin Johns, a bloodletting that is reasoned as necessary, a sacrifice so that the flow of capital can be encouraged, and can continue unabated.

    Sorry for posting this so late! I just came across this website a week ago, and this discussion has been an enormously worthwhile conversation to eavesdrop upon. Thanks so much.

  39. Trevor Berrett February 23, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Okay, we’ve put off finishing this book long enough. I apologize. Once I got off track I really got off track, but let’s right this ship. Lee and I are planning to post the last section on Thursday, March 5.

  40. Andrew October 22, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    Whatever happened to part 5?

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