miércoles, 5 de febrero de 2014

Authorial Voice(s) in the First Half of 2666 #1

2666 (Anagrama, 2007)
by Roberto Bolaño
Spain, 2004

2666 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)
by Roberto Bolaño [translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer]
Spain, 2004

Aquella noche la voz no volvió a manifestarse y Amalfitano durmió muy mal, un sueño turbado por saltos y respingones, como si alguien le arañara los brazos y las piernas, con el cuerpo empapado en transpiración, aunque a las cinco de la mañana la angustia cesó y en el sueño apareció Lola que lo saludaba desde un parque de grandes rejas (él estaba al otro lado), y dos rostros de amigos a los que hacía años que no veía (y a quienes probablemente no volvería a ver jamás) y una habitación llena de libros de filosofía cubiertos de polvo, mas no por ello menos magníficos.  A esa misma hora la policía de Santa Teresa encontró el cadáver de otra adolescente, semienterrada en un lote baldío de un arrabal de la ciudad, y un viento fuerte, que venía del oeste, se fue a estrellar contra la falda de las montañas del este, levantando polvo y hojas de periódico y cartones tirados en la calle a su paso por Santa Teresa y moviendo la ropa que Rosa había colgado en el jardín trasero, como si el viento, ese viento joven y enérgico y de tan corta vida, se probara las camisas y pantalones de Amalfitano y se metiera dentro de las bragas de su hija y leyera algunas páginas del Testamento geométrico a ver si por allí había algo que le fuera a ser de utilidad, algo que le explicara el paisaje tan curioso de calles y casas a través de las cuales estaba galopando o que lo explicara a él mismo como viento.

[That night there were no further manifestations of the voice and Amalfitano slept very badly, his sleep plagued by jerks and starts, as if someone was scratching his arms and legs, his body drenched in sweat, although at five in the morning the torment ceased and Lola appeared in his sleep, waving to him from a park behind a tall fence (he was on the other side), along with the faces of two friends he hadn't seen for years (and would probably never see again), and a room full of philosophy books covered in dust but still magnificent.  At that same moment the Santa Teresa police found the body of another teenage girl, half buried in a vacant lot in one of the neighborhoods on the edge of the city, and a strong wind from the west hurled itself against the slope of the mountains to the east, raising dust and a litter of newspaper and cardboard on its way through Santa Teresa, moving the clothes that Rosa had hung in the backyard, as if the wind, young and energetic in its brief life, were trying on Amalfitano's shirts and pants and slipping into his daughter's underpants and reading a few pages of the Testamento geométrico to see whether there was anything in it that might be of use, anything that might explain the strange landscape of sreets and houses through which it was galloping, or that would explain it to itself as wind.]
(2666, by Roberto Bolaño, 260; ditto, as translated by Natasha Wimmer, 202-203)

A couple of people taking part in our January and February group read of 2666 have made comments to the effect that they think Bolaño is a cold or a distant narrator in the first half of the novel (question: what will they have to say about "The Part About the Crimes"?).  Although that reaction to Bolaño is so different from my own experience of his writing--in this novel and elsewhere, in first- and third-person narrations of his--for the sake of discussion, let's assume that that opinion represents an essentially unassailable viewpoint.  Given the circumstances, what can Bolaño's so-called cold and distant style tell us about the use of the authorial voice in the first half of 2666?  Tonight: a partial answer from "The Part About Amalfitano."  Later: related responses from "The Part About the Critics" and "The Part About Fate."
*
In the merely two sentence-long passage above, which comes about 30 pages from the end of "La parte de Amalfitano" ["The Part About Amalfitano"], the unnamed and seemingly omniscient narrator matter of factly describes the night after Amalfitano first began hearing voices and thought he was going crazy.  We are told that the professor's ex-wife Lola, who has died from AIDS, appears in his dream, as do two friends whom the professor hadn't seen in years.  There's nothing particularly memorable about the first sentence's description apart, perhaps, from the amusing editorial that Amalfitano's full room worth of philosophy books are still "magnificent" despite their accumulation of dust.  As if playing off of the burial service expression "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" [Spanish: "polvo eres y polvo serás"], however, the narrator stealthily takes advantage of this opportunity to link the rather pedestrian description of Amalfitano's dream in the first sentence with the jarring revelation in the second sentence that "at that same moment the Santa Teresa police found the body of another teenage girl, half buried in a vacant lot in one of the neighborhoods on the edge of the city."  Why the linkage between this information and Amalfitano's dream?  Does Lola's presence in the dream foreshadow the presence of the death of somebody else close to Amalfitano--such as their young daughter Rosa?  Is there any explanation at all?  Whatever the case may be, note that in the continuation of the sequence, the narrator goes on to describe an almost animistic "wind from the west" which is reported as being "young and energetic in its brief life" and maybe even curious enough as an entity to want to flip through the pages of Rafael Dieste's Testamento geométrico which has been hung out on the clothesline Marcel Duchamp style.  For me, on a purely technical level, the unexpected shift in perspective from Amalfitano's dream to the wind from the west is attention grabbing storytelling that rivals that great scene in Madame Bovary where Emma Bovary abandons herself to the cad Rodolfe and her interior world and the natural world seem to join forces to celebrate her orgasm.  On a thematic level, things are a little more distressing: Juan Rulfo fans, like Bolaño was, will remember that an evil wind also figures as a protagonist in Rulfo's short story "Luvina."  More immediately, the mention of the discovery of the dead teenage girl here and the description of the "young and energetic" wind "slipping into" Rosa's panties don't bode well for the future parts of the novel from what we know of the real life rapes and murders that inspired "The Part About the Crimes."  On that note, it probably won't ameliorate the almost perverse intimacy of this scene to explain that the Spanish word for dust, polvo, is also commonly used as slang for the noun form of the f-word.  Not bad for such a cold and distant narrator, eh?

Roberto Bolaño

10 comentarios:

  1. I think that means that it's a playful narrator, I still don't think he's very close to his characters, but I don't think he has to be, even if I was one of the commentators you were probably thinking about. I think distance and coldness are stylistic decisions like any other.

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    1. Miguel, not that it matters all that much, but I guess I'm still struggling to understand exactly what you mean by referring to Bolaño not being "very close to his characters." As compared to whom? Eça? Dickens? I think I know what Bellezza means more now in this regard, but in any event I'm glad you both made the similar comments since it's forced me to think more about the "critique" and Bolañ's narration in general. I agree with you about the often playful nature of Bolaño's narrator(s), though, and the point you make in your last sentence.

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  2. What a scene, with lots to unpack. And quite amazing that the passage ran for only two sentences.

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    1. Rise, agreed, naturally! I suspect that Bolaño occasionally challenged himself, as if he were an OULIPO member, to write scenes like this involving a challenge of sorts (i.e. a two sentence-limit). Maybe just for fun. It's only a suspicion, of course, I have no proof.

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  3. I'm concerned that my lack of Spanish, and having read none of Bolano's work before, inhibit my full appreciation of this work. I want to like it, I do, but I feel like I'm looking at it through a veil.

    The comments you, Rise, Seraillon, Miguel and Tom have made all help clarify the odd bit for me.

    Still, I feel Bolano is telling us a story which he has observed from afar, and he's still at he edge as he discloses teeny piece after teeny piece.

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    1. Bellezza, I can relate to the frustration that must be inherent in reading something that feels like it's being perceived "through a veil." However, I wouldn't be concerned about your lack of Spanish or your limited previous experience with Bolaño being obstacles because some of his biggest fans among our blogger friends only know him in English translation and everybody who's already a fan only became one after giving him a try in the first place (sometimes this happens with the first book, others not, as with any writer). That being said, I'm glad that the conversations the group is having have clarified some things for you (as they have for me) and the comment you make at the end above helps me understand some of your disconnect (if that's the rigfht word) with Bolaño's storytelling style so far. By the way, a really curious thing happened during the earlier 2666 group read: somebody who wasn't liking the book throughout and who had been giving the individual parts mediocre ratings or worse suddenly turned around and gave the book a five-star rating or something like that because something about the book suddenly clicked for her! I'm not suggesting the same thing will happen for you, of course, but at least there's room for hope. :D

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    2. I don't dislike it by any means. In fact, I'm loving the conversations (left in comments, teeny bit by teeny bit ;) and they spur me on in my pursuit to grasp Bolano's work. It's so dense, and by that I mean packed with meaning and layers of it, that it requires me to think more carefully than I normally do while reading. However, I hold the hope that this will change from a minimum of three stars for me to the full five. Boy, I have to come to things the long way around sometimes. I never make a friend straight away, either, only after many encounters.

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    3. "It requires me to think more carefully than I normally do while reading" is an interesting contrast with my experience of Bolaño, not so much because he doesn't make me think but because there are so many things he does with his writing that appeal to me that I just get carried along on the waves of excitement (well, usually). I imagine this is how you relate to Murakami? The conversations with you and the others about 2666 have been spoiling me, though; it will be a bit of a drag not to have a built-in audience and such great discussion partners ready for most of the other books I'll read this year. Thanks for giving Bolaño another try with this group read!

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  4. Great discussions going on about this book. I am very much enjoying them.

    Though I have not read this one, POVs and narration style have been of particularly interesting to me lately. As the commentary on this book indicates, it is not a simple subject at all.

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    1. Thanks, Brian, it's a terrific group and the conversations reflect that despite my own paltry contributions to whatever dialogue is taking place. Of course, it helps that the novel is so tremendously rich in ideas and stylistic elements to explore. You'll have no shortage of interesting "exhibits" re: POV and narration should you ever read 2666 or The Savage Detectives, by the way, but Bolaño's writing almost always makes them feel natural somehow. Anyway, thanks for following along with the posts--am sure the other readalongers appreciate your input as well!

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