The fourth section of this novel worked me over. What I mean by thatis I felt like a piece of dough being worked in a repetitivemotion—except it wasn’t physical at all –it was all mind and soul.Rape, anal rape, murder, unrecognizable corpses found by a road, etc.Bolaño isn’t sentimental about how death looks. He writes like a crimereporter on deadline. But we the reader get enough information aboutthe hard lives of these women living in small border towns, workinglate shifts in factories without a real income, without a future,without any sense of security.
All of these deaths are packed into one long section. It worked me.Then it worked me more, until I felt nauseous with the deaths. I hadto acknowledge that pace of the chapter was slowly dragging mymiddle-class American sensibilities to these gritty places wherebrutal deaths are normal. As a reader each life becomes less and less,eventually becoming boring. It was intentionally so—it must’ve been.It was Bolaño’s way of showing us how death had worked the communities of Mexico, Central America, and South America. The amount of violence and blood those communities have seen in the 20th Century is beyond disturbing. It’s not enough to sit in the comfortable air-conditioned café and intellectualize it. We need to feel it in order to make it real. That‘s what Bolaño was doing.
The chapter could’ve been called 1,001 Mexican Nights because it feels like all the young women are being sacrificed by a malevolent ruler whose blood was driven by hate and misogyny. While Arabian Nights alluded to the death of hundreds of daughters and sisters, Bolaño drive the reader to the execution site, not dissimilar to Jacob Riis or William T. Vollmann. I currently think of the curses from theOld Testament where God, prophet, and politicians are vengeful andangry. As I read I thought about the music video for Mars Volta’s “theWidow” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude because it wasn’t focused around an individual but an entire community that wasbeing afflicted with the curse. I thought about the School of America and how my country has played a part in the destabilization of my neighbors to the south. I thought about banana republics and druglords.
Maybe this makes me a bleeding heart ninny, but that is simply how I was reading. It made me feel guilty because I’ve never had to deal with such horrors. For many people death and rape aren’t simply something reported by some talking head on the nightly news; it’s not just something on the Huffington Post’s aggregated news feed, or some blurb on NPR. For millions of humans the situation described in 2666 are normal.
I’m not sure what it says about Americans, humans, or religion, but it struck a chord in me that filled my entire body with nausea. It is the most important chapter in the book. To feel sick like that is only a drop of the real thing because at some point I got to finish the chapter, close the book, and move on to something new. But for many the horrors mentioned in the book will never leave their side.
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Benjamin van Loon:
The obvious parallel between ‘real life’ and the fourth chapter of 2666 is the fucking non-stop cartel brutality in Mexico. They don’t make any attempts to sugarcoat the violence in the Mexican media either. There you have heads, innards, tongues, dismembered bodies… the works. It’s a bloodbath, and it’s killing the tourism industry to boot (is that in bad taste?).
But this comparison suffers from some chronological confusion, because Bolano was writing this well before things really fell to shit in Mexico. Sure there were drug killings, but nothing on the scale that there is now. This is to say, it’s too easy to draw the parallel between Bolano’s fictional, anonymous murder reportage and the current Mexican murder craze.
For the sake of conversation, let’s say there are a few different types of killing. (1) There’s the killing that the drug cartels are doing. It shows power and it exacts vengeance (for revenge or for deals gone bad or to teach people a lesson). Despite all the gore, this type of violence is very cinematic, because it has a story. (2) Then there’s the crimes of passion. A man kills his wife’s secret lover; a man kills his wife for having a secret lover, etc. Not to say that this type of killing is banal, but it has all the elements of a trope. Real dime-novel stuff. (3) And then there’s the sociopathic killings. Serial killers and many dictators fall into this category, as do mass murderers (a la the Batman shooting, the Sikh temple shooting, the Empire State shooting) and mothers suffering from post-partum depression who drown their children. Of the three listed here, this category is the most malignant, because there is indeed a story to tell, but it’s impossible to spin or romanticize. It’s a fucked up world with fucked up people and you should consider yourself lucky for not getting the shit end of that stick (yet).
The real ‘horror’ of this section of 2666 is that Bolano isn’t talking about any of this. Sure, some of the ‘death reports’ contained in this chapter seem to be the work of sociopaths or revenge killers or crazed lovers, but there’s a stark anonymity running through the whole thing which suggests a fourth type killing. It’s a type of killing manifested by volume. Though the circumstances of these deaths might be different, by the sheer volume of death, it almost seems as if there is a Force causing these deaths through any means possible. That is, while every killing is ‘unique,’ the amalgamation of these particularities suggests that a Force beyond the realm of human comprehension is working through human vehicles to bring about Death. It’s sort of like the message in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men. Even if you stop the killer, you’ll never be able to stop the killing.
What I believe Bolano is conjuring in this chapter is this immaterial Force. If anything, this Force is the main character of 2666. And, much like God, this Force can only be described negatively, or by its attributes. 2666 is an apophatic novel. From this apophasis stems the non-linear narrative, and the iconographic deluge of raped and dismembered human bodies. I also felt nauseous and terrified by this chapter. It’s giving us a glimpse of God, and are we not made in God’s image?
This Force is likewise what makes it easy for us to draw ‘real life’ parallels between the novel and the daily news. A lot of people have been getting killed in Mexico. Most of them at the hands of the cartel. But death of this volume leads us to suspect that there is something more sinister using the cartel to bring about these deaths. Same thing in Chicago this year. We keep hearing the escalating numbers and records being broken. It’s very much in vogue. What would 2666 look like in a nameless American city?