Reading 2666: Part II
This is the second part of a dialogue/collaborative review about Roberto Bolano’s 2666 between contributors Jacob Singer and Benjamin van Loon. Read Part I here.
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The novel is broken into five sections, and the first book follows four academics (all from different European countries) searching for the mysterious novelist Benno von Archimboldi—think Pynchon in the sense that nobody know what he looks like. We readers follow von Archimboldi as he moves from being a cult writer to a canonized, mainstream author. So much of this section focuses on desiring someone or something that is elusive, which reminds me of Pynchon’s V. If they, the academics, could only get their hands on this person than they would understand something important, which puts emphasis on the artist and not the art. Is this a social commentary? Or is this a literary device that keeps characters in motion?
Liz Norton, the lone female academic, ends up having carefree sexual encounters with all three academics. This acts as a subplot that keeps the characters moving and interacting in way that keeps things interesting and plots one against the other, especially Jean-Claude Pelletier and Manuel Espinoza. At one point Norton finds herself saying, “Sooner or later I’ll have to choose” (35). This happens early in the 159 page section but is a theme that plays throughout most of the section. So plot wise you have a quest for von Archimboldi and a love triangle among friends.
One of the things I like about reading this text is how often he marks breaks on the page. When reading some of those other big books (Gravity’s Rainbow/ Infinite Jest) a reader can feel lost as pages continue with what feels like no end. This book isn’t dense, so its length shouldn’t intimidate readers.
One post-modern idea that surfaced in this section is the notion of doubles. On page thirty-nine, Moriri is credited with the idea that:
The Swabian was a grotesque double of Archimboldi, his twin, the negative image of a developed photograph that keeps looming larger, becoming more powerful, more oppressive, without ever losing its link to the negative (which undergoes the reverse process, gradually altered by time and fate), the two images somehow still the same: both young men in the years of terror and barbarism under Hitler, both World War II veterans, both writers, both citizens of a bankrupt nation, both poor bastards adrift at the moment when they meet and (in their grotesque fashion) recognize each other, Archimboldi as a struggling writer, the Swabian as “cultural promoter” in a town where culture was hardly a serious concern. (39)
Here we see Bolaño as a maximalist writer who can produce beautifully structured sentences that unravel before the reader. That’s one of the things I adore about his prose. Just look at how he blends biographical information with pure abstraction—the apprentice writer would shoot for pure abstraction (which falls flat and sophomoric) while the realist would simply compare and contrast the two men (most likely in different sentences or different paragraphs; most likely in different sections of the story, assuming that the reader will connect the facts). As a student of style, I live and die by moments like this in the text because this is the author sliding into a character’s language. Most of the text isn’t this complex; most sentences are not this long. There is another Proustian sentence worth noting: page eighteen to twenty-two. But for the most part these are exception to the norm.
Benjamin, do you consider this purple prose? Is his language too extravagant? All of it? Some of it? Think this is an interesting thing because every reader brings their own aesthetic temperament to a text. I acknowledge that I like convoluted texts, so for me this doesn’t feel overdone. I would consider this to be an Encyclopedic Narrative. Bolaño puts in a lot of factual information about the critics and the conferences they attend.
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BENJAMIN VAN LOON:
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