26 Valencia

On Valencia St. just now: attractive semi-rocker work-out lady (27?) and mean-looking/strong-looking short-necked fitted-cap guy walking down the street together, on their way to or from awesome weekend sex that their pit bull sits in their one-bedroom’s kitchen in order to avoid. I was surprised to hear that the woman (blonde) had a thick accent. It could have been Eastern European or Brazilian; it was hard to tell from the one fragment I heard her say:

“They were brown-shing!”

Pretty sure this word was brunching. Bronching. Made me happy.


Who is Bohumil Hrabal? Bad “netiquette” to link to literary essays you haven’t (yet) read? [UPDATE: please read the Whitehead. It’s hysterical.]


On Friday, walking back to the office from a mail/salted-nuts run, I saw the 26 bus coming down Valencia. Even though I was 2 blocks away from my desk, I still had to suppress the urge to board and pay the fare, since it’s such a rare delight to see the 26 coming in the direction you’re walking. Just then, a crazy guy, who also saw the bus coming, started dancing on the sidewalk and shouting, “26 letters to the word!!!” I was impressed.

Speaking of “26”, you can read Part One of 2666 by Wednesday night no problem. 160 pages. Do so, and join Tommy’s Book Club! I wonder if Tommy is mad that I’m jocking his book club so hard on this mangy square of the Internet’s carpet.

In college, there was an intranet thing called MyBlackboard where you posted discussion questions for classes. Also, I’m feeling more and more the deeply regrettable impulse to just post everything I think and smell and eat onto the internet, for better or worse, why not, maybe someday I’ll be stranded at the Santa Teresa airport and wish I had my notes for Part One of 2666 online. So, without further delay, I’m going to type out my notes to Part One of 2666 in the interest of remembering and clarifying things. If you’re planning on reading the book, or if you think I’m not illiterate, or if you hate me, or if you don’t care about me, I urge you not to read these notes, or this blog, or El Pais. Page numbers are from the ARC.

I see now that it would be pointless to type out all these wee fripperies. Instead, I’ll just “share” a smattering of thoughts that will be useless to anyone but my insomniac bachelor pit-bull, who is called Pouncey.

Is there a strain of homophobia running through 2666? What about the derision that Pelletier and Espinoza have for the publicity director at Bubis, Archimboldi’s German publisher? “That faggot is the closest thing to an eel I’ve ever seen,” Espinoza says, and Pelletier agrees with him despite himself (25). Later, “They discovered, or believed they discovered, that the bond between the Chilean professor and the dean’s son was more socratic than homosexual, and this in some way put their minds at ease, since the three of them had grown inexplicably fond of Amalfitano” (130). Why would Amalfitano’s homosexuality mitigate their fondness for him? Perhaps this is just realism — that is, these are real and honest homophobic feelings that these particular European literature professors  have.

There aren’t many references to music, which makes the few that do appear relatively dramatic, cinematic even. In particular: The African drums that can be distantly heard from Espinoza’s Madrid apartment, and the Salzburg hotel’s “constant musical hubbub in the hallways and on the stairs, sometimes louder and sometimes softer, as if the musicians never stopped humming overtures or as if a mental (and musical) static had settled over the hotel” (36).

I couldn’t agree more with Wyatt Mason re: the wonderful, evocative effectiveness of the occasionally “statistical” or quantitative narration.

Natasha Wimmer’s translation is awesome. The sentences are long and lucid and lyrical. They’re funny, melancholy, and sharp. Politics, literature, sex, philosophy, etc etc etc all feel alive and real in the characters and in the narration, and the dialogue… works.

“Nothing is ever behind us.” (Morini reading Liz Norton’s email, 44)

The “rigorously academic standpoint” re: which of Pelletier or Espinoza is a better lover is brilliant and hysterical (and of a piece with Mason’s “statistical” observation above). I had to look up corpography COPROPHAGY [thanks to “reader” “Threadbare” for alerting me to this heinous typo], which is, literally, the eating of shit. (Has any writer ever described a grin as “corpographic COPROPHAGIC”?)

Lotsa classical references — both E. and P. are Ulysses (46), Gorgons, etc —  I’ll let Tommy sort these out. 😉

Savage Detectives–style invented (?) artistic movements: The New Decadence; English animalism (53)

Rodrigo Fresán is an Argentinian novelist and was a friend of Bolaño’s. FSG published his novel Kensington Gardens, which Natasha Wimmer also translated. I was excited to recognize him making an appearance in a scene near the Peter Pan statue in London, thinking I’d made a nice discovery (60). Then I went back to check the Believer article (also translated by Wimmer)  I see that in a footnote, he says:

In 2666 I show up as myself in Kensington Gardens taking notes for my novel Kensington Gardens. I show up again as myself in his book of short stories, El secreto del mal.

Who cares? Well, this is interesting maybe in part because of the way Bolaño includes real writers in his work alongside fictional ones. Archimboldi, for instance, is compared to Günter Grass, Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, and so on. This is maybe even more important in the Savage Detectives, which is stuffed with “the names of internationally eccentric poets & writers,” some of them fictional, but many real.

What is a “Pottery Lane musician”? (33)

Fun Spanish slang: badulaque: a “fool of no consequence” (67)
(is this for real? could easily be fictional slang)

More on narrative style:

And then all they managed to say was: stop the cab right here, we’re getting out. Or rather: stop this filthy car, we’re not going any farther. (74)

This happens a lot in Bolaño’s sentences, where one way of saying something is reported, to give you the gist, which is immediately followed by what they really said, for the sake of accuracy. Why not just say what they really said? It creates a richer effect. In this way, you feel like you’re getting both the summary and transcript; the story and the language, the content and the style. Maybe. I don’t know. Tommy? [Sips tea with fury; glares at the other book-club members]

The beating of the Pakistani cab-driver (75): maybe this can be linked with the homophobia questions above. What of the ugliness of P. and E., and, maybe to a lesser extent, Liz Norton? It’s unsettling, to say the least, to have your protagonist display such brutal acts of xenophobic violence. [Stomach makes involutary growling sound; crosses arms over gut; drinks and chews tea-dregs; farts silently. Glares at other book-club members]

I’ve never heard of Azuela, whose novel Mangy Parrot is referenced

“he’s a typical Mexican intellectual, his main concern is getting by.” (121) This is followed by Amalfitano’s amazing riff on shadowless intellectuals on shrinking stages with indescribable mines or caves behind them. “A person can go out reasonably relaxed, with his shadow on his heels, and stop in a park and read a few pages of Válery. And so on until the end.”

PRI vs. PAN? Time to learn about Mexican politics. “…the silhouettes of industrial warehouses, the horizon of the maquiladoras.” (130)

A lot of dreams are described in this section, and the characters’ dreams echo each other’s. Sometimes fantasies or reveries, daydreams are described, which can be as surreal and involved as the dreams.

Rafael Dieste book hanging on a clothesline, not to dry, evoking “deep, boundless sadness” in Amalfitano (134) = awesome

“A person can speak a language badly or not at all and still be able to read it. In any case, there were lots of dead women” (138). That pair of sentences astonished me….

I sort of hate having read reviews of this book before starting it, because it’s so deft and gradual the way it leads into the murders. You do have the sense that the whole book will revolve around Norton or the literary mystery of the reclusive author, Archimboldi — and who knows, maybe it will. But I wanted to be more suprised by the growing focus on the murders. The Part About the Critics feels like it’s preparing you to read 2666 by having you read about people whose lives are devoted to an author and his books so that the non-literary business of the murders has all the more impact. Maybe? But I shouldn’t conclude anything until I see where the rest of the book actuall goes. [Spills scalding tea all over poorly ironed khakis, vomits tinily into breast pocket of Oxford shirt]

coincidence and fate in 2666 — cf the coincidence of Liz Norton going to the Johns retrospective, and Johns’s comments about coincidence in the Swiss asylum. Also holy shit the self-portrait with the hand of the artist? But I’m outta steam. See you Wednesday.