2666: The Part About Amalfitano

I really hoped to be able to write that I was loving this book by this point.

But I am not loving this book. At least not yet.

It's a bit dispiriting, to be honest. One wants so much to Get It. To belong to the coterie of enlightened readers who truly appreciate some new, great novel, and to partake in the shared enjoyment and understanding. By that same token, one fears that the inability to join in on the love is a reflection of some flaw in the reader. (Which is to say, me.) Perhaps I am too lazy. Too lacking in erudition. Too dull. For while I don't exactly apologize for hating either great classics or contemporary darlings (I thoroughly detested The Corrections) not to my taste, there is always the niggling. bothersome suspicion that a "better" reader would have appreciated them more. And so far, I just don't understand why 2666 is such a lauded piece of fiction.

Thus far, 2666 is neither plot-driven nor character-driven. Where it succeeds most truly is in its creation of atmosphere. The Part About Amalfitano is nothing if not atmospheric. One gets a genuine sense of vague foreboding and barely suppressed frustration, and Bolaño's writing is deeply portentous. An arid menace and desolation pervades the pages. If nothing more, I will concede that a stage has been well set.

I am still enjoying the book well enough to keep going without undue effort. Bolaño is an expressive writer, though I suspect I would admire his prose more in the original Spanish. (My high school/medical Spanish is laughably insufficient to tackle this challenge.) Strangely, the part I enjoyed most about this Part was Amalfitano's decision to recreate a Duchamp ready-made in his backyard (thus clearing up a mystery from the previous part); it's an odd state of affairs when the aspect I enjoy most about anything has anything to do with Marcel Duchamp. But there we are.

I ended last week's 2666 post on an up note. Sadly, I'm going to end this week's rather differently. While it wasn't enough on its own to make me dislike this section of the novel, neither was I endeared to The Part About Amalfitano by its preoccupation with homosexuality. It begins with Lola's malcathected [tip o' the hat to DFW] obsession with a gay poet, and continues with Amalfitano's father, the disembodied voice that speaks to him at night, and Guerra's son. More bluntly -- enough already with "faggot." Yes, I realize that Enlightened Readers should be past such petty concerns as the use of ugly, unpleasant words in the service of Art. Fine. But, as a gay male reader, I don't really love reading that particular word over and over and over, and if I'm going to be asked to read it thusly, I'd like to get a sense that its use is earned. I realize that Bolaño is an Artist, and has a certain degree of license. But he chose to make this Art this way with these characteristics, and I'm not entirely sure I understand why he felt the need to hit that note quite so hard. (I felt similarly during Pulp Fiction wherein Quentin Tarantino gave us White Guy So Down with Black People He Can Use the Word "Nigger"a Lot, and then obnoxiously cast himself as said WGSDBPHCUWNL.) If it's meant as some kind of indictment of the various characters who use it, it seems lazy and a bit heavy-handed. (The voice's insistence that it doesn't dislike gay people per se while still using a term of abuse for them [aka the Eminem defense] was a tidy, well-done little example of hypocrisy, I will grant.) In any case, I'm not accusing Bolaño of being a homophobe, and I don't think it ruins the novel or anything so hysterical. But neither did it enhance my enjoyment thereof.


  1. Here is the thing. I love the book and I love this section and yet I don't think you're "missing" anything in what you say. The difference between your perspective and mine is kind of twofold. One thing is, you can't read this book as if it were just a story, I don't think. It's more like testimony, about what human beings are like. It's not even an indictment; it's observation, but writ very large and in great detail. You know how a lot of people don't care for e.g. the Wardine section in Infinite Jest? This is like that, only more so.

    It's really a cri du coeur, which sounds melodramatic but the question Bolaño is asking is, how am I supposed to write a novel in the face of the kind of stuff that is really going on in this world? A man like Bolaño is not going be writing some kind of Agatha Christie tea-party whodunit in the face of the unholy shit that is going on every day. The purpose of this book is the opposite of escapism, I am saying. It's to grab your head and make you look. Not judge so much as see.

    The other thing is, "faggot." Here is where I submit you have to let go of the yanqui a little bit and think about what it is to grow up in the purest culture of macho on this earth (at least I can't think of a more extreme case, right down to the etymology.) It's not like "faggot." For a Hispanic man (I really don't include Frenchmen or Italians in this, though they aren't all that far behind) masculinity, power, virility, all these things are linked in a way that an American could maybe understand best by considering someone like Tony Montana or Tony Soprano. What would a guy like that think of a homosexual male? To such guys, gay men are like Martians. They are fascinated and repelled in a manner that an ordinary educated American guy would find hard to fathom. It's so far away from them that it literally does not seem human to them, they're so centered in their sexual identity and "performance" issues of power and sex and strength that are all mashed together in that horrible way they have. This is true today, right this minute, and it is nothing like the American ideal of virility exemplified by say, Humphrey Bogart (not even getting anywhere near Matt Damon.)

    (In short, I want you to like this book more!!)

  2. First off, I'm not reacting to this book with resentment, as opposed to how I felt when I threw in the towel reading Against the Day. While I'm certainly not loving 2666, neither am I hating it. But I really want to be loving it. I suppose the best way of putting it is that I appreciate it, which is far less than how I'd choose to feel if I could.

    I don't need it to be an Agatha Christie whodunit. However, I would point out that Infinite Jest managed to say some remarkably beautiful, profound, true things, and did so while creating indelible characters and telling an engaging story. I don't really ask for escapism, but I also have a hard time seeing what it is that Bolaño would have me see. It's not clear to me yet, but I'll be patient.

    With "faggot," well... yes, I (again) appreciate that all you say is true. I suspected that my reaction reflects a cultural divide to a great degree. But, as one of those Martians incomprehensible to macho men [cue Village People], it is past tedious for me to be reminded of how goddam alien I seem to a particular type of man. I. Get. It. And Bolaño returns to that theme many times in this section for reasons that aren't clear to me.

    I also think Guerra's son is as gay as a tree full of hummingbirds, for what it's worth.

    Before I leave, thanks for taking the time to write such a lengthy, thoughtful response. Your posts over at the main Bolaño page have really deepend my appreciation for the book, and have brought me closer to loving it than I would have if left to my own devices.

  3. Never again will I be able to look at a tree full of hummingbirds without exclaiming delightedly, "That is so gay!"

    I'm loving these conversations SO much, can I say.

    Absolutely I get too how you are fed up with the "you're different from us" thing. (So am I, for different reasons.) Consider, though, the truly effete remark Bolaño made to that interviewer about his relationship to his own prizefighter father, and how it would have been a 'magnificent aesthetic response' if he'd been gay, but it didn't work out because he was straight. I thought oh my god, how patronizing, but then I remembered the total fiasco of my own sole attempt at fashionable part-time lesbianism, and had to shut my mouth. Anyway I could go on about this stuff forever, but what I meant to say was: this book is 100% about how effed up these hetero guys are, it's literally nothing to do with "maricones" per se. Is it testosterone poisoning? We don't know, but what we do know is that it's men, not women, who are abducting a ton of girls and then torturing and killing them in that strange, sad border town. And this is a real thing that is really happening, in a real border town, to this day.

  4. Laughing out loud at the tree full of hummingbirds.

    Ah, Dan. Herein lies the difference of life experience. Every time I read the slurs in this section, I rolled my eyes and sighed "macho fuckheads" and chalked it up to a Latin culture that I have always found so misogynistic I can baarely tolerate it. I wasn't rubbed too raw by the homosexual slurs, though, for the same reason I will later be really, really upset at some of the crime stuff that might not affect you as deeply.

    Sorry you're not loving the novel yet. I can't claim to love it, but I did enjoy this section enormously. It was the bleak and mystical and surreal bordering on insane atmosphere that I've wanted from 2666. I'm not willing yet to say I love anything more than this section, but I'm glad I tolerated the critics to get this far.

    Your point, btw, about the portentous arid menace means you do "get" this text, and you are not lacking in any reading skills. the book might not wind up to be your cup of tea, but you know damned well that any lack of passion on your part for art is not a sign of your lack, but of a fundamental lack of connection that indicates different taste, not thickheadedness. I'm saying that if you wind up tossing 2666 aside, neither you nor the novel has failed.
    After all, some intelligent, creative, thoughtful people didn't like Infinite Jest. I don't *get* them, but I don't think they're missing anything. I think it didn't resonate with them the way it did with us. And I know, thus far, I'm not recommending 2666 to anyone. We'll see how the next 600 pages go.

  5. Well, this is quite remarkable and delightfully odd.

    As I read the book in real time, I find myself struggling with it, and wondering what makes it so celebrated. I feel like I don't grasp its meaning and am missing its value.

    And then I read these comments, and the various marvelous posts at Infinite Zombies, the main discussion page and your blog, Naptime, and my appreciation deepens. I recall various transcendent sections and images I genuinely loved (Lola cleaning the offices in Paris, the dream of the last Communist philosopher) and suddenly I find myself enjoying the book much more in retrospect.

    I still don't know that I understand what Bolaño is trying to say with the book as a whole. And I'm still not loving it, per se. (And I'm having the same confounded reaction to the first section of the Part About Fate!) But this discussion has been of immense value to me.

    Thank you, sincerely. This is turning out to be an incredibly rewarding experience.

  6. Oh, my god, I don't want to post a comment about this week's reading in The Part about Fate because it's too early...we'll talk in a few days.