Saturday, November 22, 2008

You may be done with 2666, but 2666 isn't done with you!

From Roberto Bolano's 2666:
Which in the final analysis was a good thing, because it's common knowledge that a conversation involving only a few people, with everyone listening to everyone else and taking time to think and not shouting, tends to be more productive or at least more relaxed than a mass conversation, which runs the permanent risk of becoming a rally, or, because of the necessary brevity of the speeches, a series of slogans that fade as soon as they're put into words.
The past week has seen a couple of worthy additions to the growing number of online resources for the reader of Roberto Bolano's 2666. First, Marcia Valdes, who has written before about Bolano's nonfiction, has a review of the novel in the December 8th issue of the Nation. Her review is unusual, less a description or assessment of 2666 than an account of how it came about: drawing from Spanish-language sources and interviews, Valdes offers insight into Bolano's research methods and sources, and the origins and growth of his obsession with the Ciudad Juarez murders. It's the sort of review I'd never recommend to someone who hadn't read the book yet--I think it reveals too much and, in the quantity of background information it offers, risks foreclosing a number of avenues of interpretation. But for a reader who has already grappled with Bolano's text, Valdes's review is a fascinating supplement.

A similar source of supplemental information is translator Natasha Wimmer's "Notes Toward an Annotated Edition of 2666", which Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading pointed out. As Wimmer's title would suggest, the notes are far from comprehensive, more tantalizing than totalizing. If what she's written already is any indication, should she ever decide to embark on a fully annotated edition of the novel, the result would be essential reading. Though I would disagree with some of her interpretations--as in her assertion that the characters in The Savage Detectives "endlessly plumb their inner lives" while the characters of 2666 don't--but her notes are a model of what notes to a contemporary novel can be, offering a mix of clarification, interpretation, and expansion, while drawing on a wide range of sources generally unavailable to the English-language reader.

Over the coming years, as more of Bolano's work--including, I hope, his nonfiction--is translated into English, the conversation about 2666 should only become more rich and informed.
There's nothing inside the man who sits there writing. Nothing of himself, I mean. How much better off the poor man would be if he devoted himself to reading. Reading is pleasure and happiness to be alive or sadness to be alive and above all it's knowledge and questions. Writing, meanwhile, is almost always empty.
And the result of that emptiness is material for an endless conversation, even an endless argument. Time for everyone I know to read 2666 so that they can join in!


  1. New Directions has just published 44 of Bolano's poems, translated by Laura Healy. The collection is called THE ROMANTIC DOGS. Bolano started as a poet and was influenced by Nicanor Parra. It seems to me that the best poems here are the longer narratives and persona poems (adopting the voices of others). In 2666 he seems to achieve the farthest reach of what is announced in the poems -- thematically, narratively, politically, aesthetically. Here's a shorter one called "The Frozen Detectives":

    I dreamt of frozen detectives, Latin American detectives
    who were trying to keep their eyes open
    in the middle of the dream.
    I dreamt of hideous crimes
    and of careful guys
    who were wary not to step in pools of blood
    while taking in the crime scene
    with a single sweeping glance.
    I dreamt of lost detectives
    in the convex mirror of Arnolfinis:
    our generation, our perspectives,
    our models of Fear.

  2. FYI, we are doing a group read of 2666 (starting in January) on the Bolaño listserv, bolano-l

  3. Ron,
    I've actually got a review of The Romantic Dogs coming out in the Quarterly Conversation sometime soon. I, too, thought the best poems were ones where Bolano, in a sense, gave over the mic to other voices.

    And Matt, thanks for the heads-up on the group reading. That should make for fascinating discussion.