2666: The Part About the Crimes, pages 404-464

First of all, David Winn over at the spanking new Blog about 2666 says in his post what I was trying to say in my past one much, much better than I did. It's always humbling to read a better version of what one is trying to write, but it's worth reading for interested parties.

We're waist-deep in the Crimes by now, and there still seems little one can say about them in and of themselves. By the end of this section, they seem to be occurring at a sickening, accelerating rate, and it finally seems that there is some awareness of them in the city at large. But the murders themselves still defy understanding.

With that in mind, all I really have is a bunch of unrelated observations about the things that happen in and around the Crimes. At this point, I'm beginning to think it's the best I can really hope for.

1) I don't know if it's intentional or not, but the seer Florita's ramblings reminded me a great deal of Barry Seaman. Midway through her exposition on the various forms of divination, I sighed internally and assumed we were in for another lengthy passage full of meaningless heaps of words. And then the vision of Santa Teresa came, and suddenly there was something meaningful. Is Florita a real seer? What are we to make of this? Does this mean I should go back to the Part About Fate and see if there's something to Seaman's sermon?

2) I can only assume that it's intentional on Bolaño's part that the only two people thus far to put themselves in any kind of danger for the sake of Santa Teresa's women were American. First Oscar Fate nearly gets himself killed rescuing Rosa Amalfitano, and then (presumably dead) Harry Magaña gets himself in all kind of trouble investigating the death of the young woman from Huntsville. Why Bolaño makes these the only two who care enough to do something meaningful (if futile, in the latter case) is another thing to ponder.

3) The gender role reversal in the sterile romance between the police officer and the asylum director is an enjoyable side plot. He longs for romance, and she keeps things abrupt, private and primarily sexual. This inversion of sexual norms was an amusing little fillip.

4) I nearly threw in the towel at page 414, on which we learn of Harry Magaña. It started promisingly. Bolaño paints a masterful picture of Magaña as an outsider by subtly describing his use of language, for example his inability to understand puns. It was shaping up to be one of my favorite passages. And then there it was, sitting like a pile of dog crap in the middle of the page.

I have had it. Up to here. With "faggot." I was willing to chalk it up to the vagaries of character and culture in the Part About Amalfitano. With gritted teeth, I was willing to move past it when Oscar Fate randomly considered the man on the Springeresque talk show and concluded that he must be a "faggot" (for some reason). But for the life of me, I have no clue as to why Magaña is described as a "self-sucking faggot" by the narrator. None. This opinion is ascribed to no character, and is simply laid out there as casually as the color of his hair or the kind of shoes he wears. That he ends up being a brave, dedicated man (if dismayingly willing to physically abuse a prostitute to get the information he wants) only makes this incongruous slur more infuriating.

I'm not going to go so far as calling Bolaño a homophobe. I did not know him, and am reluctant to draw a broad conclusion about him as a person from a flaw in his writing. But his persistent and unjustified use of a deeply offensive slur mars his writing, and he does not get a pass from me because he is such a respected artist, or because of his culture of origin.


  1. I'm going to go check out David's post, but I'm so freaking done with this book. I won't stop, but your being done with the f word and my being done with the shrugging at rape and murder conspire to make this time to plot our Zadie Smith read for whenever this freaking book finally ends. Good thing there's a Archimboldi section still to come, because if this thing ended with The Crimes I'd be stopping now.

  2. Dan: First, many thanks for the shout out. I’m new to this bloggin’ business, and I appreciate it.

    Next, I also made the connection between Florita and Barry Seaman. Daryl over at Infinite Zombies makes the connection as well. I find her one of the more likable characters in the novel, maybe because she’s one of the more better-drawn portraits—almost more than a sketch. One of the (many) things that frustrate me about this book is that, despite all you learn about the characters, you never really feel like you are getting inside their heads. I felt less like this with Florita.

    As to the F-word, I too find it more than a bit dismaying to keep tripping over this word (or, to continue your metaphor, stepping in it). I can’t claim to know what Bolano is up to but I agree it seems completely gratuitous, in the case of Harry Magana (truth be told I’m not really sure who, exactly, is narrating this book). Your comment brought to mind the section from The Part About Amalfitano, where the voice in his head keeps dropping the F-word, prompting Amalfitano to ask (something like) “what have you got against homosexuals?” And I remember thinking, “What indeed?”

    First of all, whether or not Bolano was a rank homophobe, or had he lived would have marched in the streets of Mexico City in support of gay marriage, doesn’t make the use of the word in the novel any less offensive. But your post did prompt me to think about other things I’ve read by and about Bolano for clues to his politics in this regard. I didn’t really come up with much, but here’s what popped into my currently under-caffienated brain:
    -A quote from an interview in Bomb magazine: “For me, being a poet meant being revolutionary and completely open to all cultural manifestations, all sexual expressions, being open to every experience with drugs. Tolerance meant—much more than tolerance, a word we didn’t much like—universal brotherhood.” Not that this proves anything: as the seemingly endless parade of closeted republican champions of family values shows, you can certainly be gay and a homopohobe.
    -It’s been awhile since I read the Savage Detectives, but it’s probably his most autobiographical novel, a fictionalized account of the circle of young, libertine, self-styled revolutionary poets and artists that he ran with back in the day. Anyway, that book is peppered with F-words as well (12 uses in a 600 page novel, maybe peppered is the wrong word) but it also features what I remember to be at least one sympathetically drawn gay character, Luscious Skin.

    I don’t know. I think one thing at play here that I haven’t heard remarked on anywhere (maybe I just haven’t heard it), is the connection between 2666 and so-called “transgressive” literature—the line that runs from De Sade to Bataille to Burroughs to Gary Indiana. I don’t really know much about this literature, to be honest, but it’s sort of an unconstrained, quasi-pornographic, literature that takes a perverse pleasure in flouting the social conventions of the day. At the same time, the people who practice it see themselves as outsiders, libertines, sort of aesthetic libertarians, and at least the last two writers in my list—Burroughs and Indiana—were gay. There’s plenty of use of the F-word in Burroughs (I think), but Burroughs came of age in a much more closeted era and, while “out”, was famously uncomfortable with his homosexuality. This is certainly not the case with Indiana, who is sort of straddles the 70’s counterculture, 80’s lower east side art world, and the dawn of the AIDS epidemic (his Gone Tomorrow is about all of this), and who also feels free to use the word. Not really sure what I’m getting at here but your post got me thinking. Maybe this helps explain just a little bit, though not excuse, the use of the word.

  3. David, thanks for your comment.

    As I said above, I'm not willing to call Bolaño a homophobe. By all the lights I can see, when it comes to the person he was, he was probably supportive or progressive, or whatever other word one might wish to choose. That being said, I think his use of the word "faggot" is flagrantly unjustified, and is being used for its transgressive potential rather than its having any particular literary valence. In other words, I think Bolaño is being cavalier for its own sake, which has become a significant impediment to my ability to appreciate his work.

  4. I think y'all are right in your reluctance to assume the narrating voice is Bolaño's, but I'm right with you Dan: enough is enough. Épater les bourgeois never strikes me as very valuable on its own anyway, but when it comes at my own expense and ties into current oppression I have to set my back against every day, my patience stretches very thin indeed.

    Boy, there's just so much about this book I dislike...

  5. Dan: I think that’s a spot-on description of the problem. In many ways Bolano’s work is rather juvenile—even at 50ish he still can’t resist playing the Enfant terrible. You’re definitely right that his use of the word seems to lack any kind of literary justification, and comes off like an attempt to scandalize for its own sake (there’s a lot of this in Savage Detectives, too).

  6. Jeff, it seems opinions vary about that funny, funny pun of Bolaño's. I, myself, am wiping tears of mirth from my eyes at this very minute.