viernes, 7 de febrero de 2014

Authorial Voice(s) in the First Half of 2666 #2

2666 (Anagrama, 2007, original; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, translation)
by Roberto Bolaño
Spain, 2004

     Por aquellos días Pelletier y Espinoza, preocupados por el estado actual de su común amante, mantuvieron dos largas conversaciones telefónicas.
     La primera la hizo el francés y duró una hora y quince minutos.  La segunda la realizó Espinoza, tres días después, y duró dos horas y quince minutos.  Cuando ya llevaban hablando una hora y media Pelletier le dijo que colgara, que la llamada le iba a salir muy cara, y que él lo llamaría de inmediato, a lo que el español se opuso rotundamente.
     La primera conversación telefónica, la que hizo Pelletier, empezó de manera difícil, aunque Espinoza esperaba esa llamada, como si a ambos les costara decirse lo que tarde o temprano iban a tenir que decirse.  Los veinte minutos iniciales tuvieron un tono trágico en donde la palabra destino se empleó diez veces y la palabra amistad veinticuatro.  El nombvre de Liz Norton se pronunció cincuenta veces, nueve de ellas en vano.  La palabra París se dijo en siete ocasiones.  Madrid, en ocho.  La palabra amor se pronunció dos veces, una cada uno.  La palabra horror se pronunció en seis ocasiones y la palabra felicidad en una (la empleó Espinoza).  La palabra resolución se dijo en doce ocasiones.  La palabra solipsismo en siete.  La palabra eufemismo en diez.  La palabra categoría, en singular y en plural, en nueve.  La palabra estructuralismo en una (Pelletier).  El término literatura norteamericana en tres.  Las palabras cena y cenamos y desayuno y sándwich en diecinueve.  La palabra ojos y manos y cabellera en catorce.  Después la conversación se hizo más fluida.  Pelletier le contó un chiste en alemán a Espinoza y éste se rió.  Espinoza le contó un chiste en alemán a Pelletier y éste también se rió.  De hecho, ambos se reían envueltos en las ondas o lo que fuera que unía sus voces y sus oídos a través de los campos oscuros y del viento y de las nieves pirenaicas y ríos y carreteras solitarias y los respectivos e interminables suburbios que rodeaban París y Madrid.

[Around this time, Pelletier and Espinoza, worried about the current state of their mutual lover, had two long conversations on the phone.
     Pelletier made the first call, which lasted an hour and fifteen minutes.  The second was made three days later by Espinoza and lasted two hours and fifteen minutes.  After they'd been talking for an hour and a half, Pelletier told Espinoza to hang up, the call would be expensive and he'd call right back, but Espinoza firmly refused.
     The first conversation began awkwardly, although Espinoza had been expecting Pelletier's call, as if both men found it difficult to say what sooner or later they would have to say.  The first twenty minutes were tragic in tone, with the word fate used ten times and the word friendship twenty-four times.  Liz Norton's name was spoken fifty times, nine of them in vain.  The word Paris was said seven times, Madrid, eight.  The word love was spoken twice, once by each man.  The word horror was spoken six times and the word happiness once (by Espinoza).  The word solution was said twelve times.  The word solipsism seven times.  The word euphemism ten times.  The word category, in the singular and the plural, nine times.  The word structuralism once (Pelletier).  The term American literature three times.  The words dinner or eating or breakfast or sandwich nineteen times.  The words eyes or hands or hair fourteen times.  Then the conversation proceeded more smoothly.  Pelletier told Espinoza a joke in German and Espinoza laughed.  In fact, they both laughed, wrapped up in the waves or whatever it was that linked their voices and ears across the dark fields and the wind and the snow of the Pyrenees and the rivers and the lonely roads and the separate and interminable suburbs surrounding Paris and Madrid.
(2666, Roberto Bolaño, 61-62; ditto, as translated by Natasha Wimmer, 40-41)

As luck would have it, that scene from part one of these two authorial voice(s) posts having to do with Amalfitano's dream and the animistic wind sweeping through Santa Teresa's back alleys and backyards is situated almost midway along the space/time continuum as it were between two others that I wanted to talk about.  And so even though today's sequences could not seem to be any more outwardly different in terms of style or tone, I'd like to take a quick look at some of the narrative parallels and divergences that they present.  In the passage above, approximately 50 pages into "La parte de los críticos" ["The Part About the Critics"], the unsuspecting reader can partake of a particularly saliva-rich example of Bolaño's exuberance, humor, and narrative mischievousness all delivered in one well-aimed spitball.  At first glance, what I feel obligated to refer to as "the part about the telephone call" offers up a lovely tearing down of the omniscient narrator conceit via the arch and over the top enumeration--by an omniscient narrator!--of how long the phone call lasted and how many references were made to specific words.  Internally, the joke is exploited by comparing how many times English critic Liz Norton gets mentioned by her two lovers (fifty) to how many times love gets mentioned (only twice, how sad)--not to mention how many times dinner or eating or breakfast or sandwich get mentioned (nineteen times!).  On a personal note, I also like the narrator's light comic touch in drawing attention to the fact that the Spanish critic Espinoza, who is sometimes portrayed as being maybe both a little more "emotional" and a little less "intellectual" than the French critic Pelletier, is the one who mentions "happiness" while the latter is the one who mentions "structuralism."  A good inside joke.  The Javier Marías-like poetic flourish at the end of the passage, captured so well in Natasha Wimmer's translation, makes for a nice exclamation point to the spare, bullet point realism of the sentences that precede it, but I want to hold off commenting on that for now until we get a chance to take a look at a complementary passage from "La parte de Fate" ["The Part About Fate"].  The set-up: Fate, a Harlem-based journalist, is spending the night in a Detroit hotel not long after having interviewed Barry Seaman and having just heard Seaman deliver an in-real-time speech at a church that runs over a dozen pages in my Spanish edition of the work (storytelling style points for that feat: off the charts):

Mientras Fate dormía dieron un reportaje sobre una norteamericana desaparecida en Santa Teresa, en el estado de Sonora, al norte de México.  El reportero era un chicano llamado Dick Medina y hablaba sobre la larga lista de mujeres asesinadas en Santa Teresa, muchas de las cuales iban a parar a la fosa común del cementerio pues nadie reclamaba sus cadáveres.  Medina hablaba en el desierto.  Detrás se veía una carretera y mucho más lejos un promontorio que Medina señalaba en algún momento de la emisión diciendo que aquello era Arizona.  El viento despeinaba el pelo negro y liso del reportero, que iba vestido con una camisa de manga corta.  Después aparecían algunas fábricas de montaje y la voz en off de Medina decía que el desempleo era prácticamente inexistente en aquella franja de la frontera.  Gente haciendo cola en una acera estrecha.  Camionetas cubiertas de polvo muy fino, de color marrón caca de niño.  Depresiones del terreno, como cráteres de la Primera Guerra Mundial, que poco a poco se convertían en vertederos.  El rostro sonriente de un tipo de no más de veinte años, flaco y moreno, de mandíbulas prominentes, a quien Medina identificaba en off como pollero o coyote o guía de ilegales de un lado a otro de la frontera.  Medina decía un nombre.  El nombre de una joven.  Después aparecían las calles de un pueblo de Arizona de donde la joven era originaria.  Casas con jardines raquíticos y cercas de alambre trenzado de color plata sucia.  El rostro compungido de la madre.  Cansada de llorar.  El rostro del padre, un tipo alto, de espaldas anchas, que miraba fíjamente a la cámara y no decía nada.  Detrás de estas dos figuras se perfilaban las sombras de tres adolescentes.  Nuestras otras tres hijas, decía la madre en un inglés con acento.  Las tres niñas, la mayor de no más de quince años, echaban a correr hacia la sombra de la casa.

[While Fate was sleeping, there was a report on an American who had disappeared in Santa Teresa, in the state of Sonora in the north of Mexico.  The reporter, Dick Medina, was a Chicano, and he talked about the long list of women killed in Santa Teresa, many of whom ended up in the common grave at the cementery because no one claimed their bodies.  Medina was talking in the desert.  Behind him was a highway and off in the distance was a rise that Medina gestured toward at some point in the broadcast, saying it was Arizona.  The wind ruffled the reporter's smooth black hair.  He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt.  Then came a shot of some assembly plants and Medina's voice-over saying that unemployment was almost nonexistent along that stretch of the border.  People standing in line on a narrow sidewalk.  Pickup trucks covered in a fine dust the brown color of baby shit.  Hollows in the ground, like World War I bomb craters, that gradually gave way to dumping sites.  The smiling face of some kid who couldn't have been more than twenty, thin and dark-skinned, with prominent cheekbones, whom Medina identified in a voice-over as a pollero or coyote or person who leads illegal immigrants over the border.  Medina said a name.  The name of a girl.  Then there was a shot of the streets of an Arizona town where the girl was from.  Houses with scorched yards and dirty silver-colored chicken-wire fences.  The sad face of the mother.  Exhausted with crying.  The face of the father, a tall man with broad shoulders who stared into the camera saying nothing.  Behind the two of them were the shadowy figures of three teenage girls.  Our other three daughters, said the mother in accented English.  The three girls, the oldest no more than fifteen, went running into the dark of the house.]
 (2666, Bolaño, 328; ditto, as translated by Wimmer, 258)

In this passage, approximately 30 pages into "La parte de Fate" ["The Part About Fate"], the exuberance, humor and narrative mischievousness of the phone call scene have been replaced by prose that feels and reads like something that's meant to suggest dry reportorial objectivity.  From a narrative standpoint, the flashiness--if there is any--is purely conceptual in the sense that the narrator, who had previously described the Archimboldi critics Espinoza, Morini, Norton, and Pelletier as "nuestros cuatro amigos" ["our four friends"] happily living a life that "siguió deslizándose o fluyendo por el plácido río de los departamentos de alemán de las universidades europeas ["proceeded smoothly, flowing along on the placid river of European university German departments"] (60 in the original, 40 in the translation), has abandoned his chumminess in favor of a studied neutrality to deliver a sobering bombshell anticipating "The Part About the Crimes."  On that note, I also admire how this scene touches on some of the larger themes in the work--the violence perpetrated against not just young women but young girls, the disproportionate percentage of poor people on both sides of the border affected by the crimes, the manner in which large-scale transnational human migration tends to reduce individuals into groups of predators and prey, and the anonymity of the victims--while subtly commenting on one of the reasons the real life crimes have gone unpunished: people's indifference to or unawareness of the problem.  How can Fate, for example, who like Huck and Jim is about to "light out for the territory" constituting the U.S./Mexico border, be expected to care about the latest nameless victim in Dick Medina's report when the transmission itself is broadcast while Fate is sleeping?  In terms of how this passage relates to both the phone call sequence and the one involving Amalfitano and the wind in terms of the smorgasboard of storytelling dished up in the novel, I think it's a great example of Bolaño's magical realism--not "magical realism," mind you, as practiced by García Marketing and his copycats, but magical...realism in the qualitative and maybe even in the Bioy Casares, Borges, and Cortázar senses.  Note that not only are we increasingly treated to accounts of things that take place in dreams but that things are also being divulged that are happening while the main characters are asleep that have nothing to do with dreams.  Much as in the Divine Comedy, where the three sections of the poem have a distinctive tone depending on whether you and Dante are journeying through Inferno, Purgatorio or Paradiso, the tonal axis of 2666 shifts as its trajectory moves away from the critics' safe European home and gets closer to the scene of the crime(s): Santa Teresa.  The authorial voice itself reflects that as evidenced from the disconnect between the last two lines in each passage above and the way that the second sentence in the fragment on Amalfitano in Wednesday's post seems to suggest that the wind has just as much agency as the expat Chilean professor.  In fact, I think it's clear that the narrator, or the narrative itself if you prefer to speak of it in more impersonal terms, increasingly fragments and even warps under the influence of Santa Teresa as the desert city and the enormity of the crimes come into focus.  Which shouldn't be a surprise, I guess: Santa Teresa, which elsewhere is described as having a sky which "al atardecer, parecía una flor carnívora" ["at sunset, looked like a carnivorous flower"] (172 in the original, 129 in the translation) and which was "morado como la piel de una india muerta a palos" ["purple like the skin of an Indian woman beaten to death"] (269 in the original, 210 in the translation), seems to have been sending out bad vibes or releasing noxious fumes into the ether for quite some time.  Is that an SOS?  Or a siren song sung by killers?
*
Please visit my intro post on the novel if you have any interest in checking out the links to the really fine commentary that other 2666 group read members have contributed so far.  We're up to about a dozen posts already with many more in the works.  Updates will be added throughout the end of the month.  Also, I previously wrote about the first three parts of 2666 here, here and here nearly five years ago.  Although all but the last one on "La parte de Fate" ["The Part About Fate"] are pretty much embarrassing to me these days, I'll link to them here in case any gluttons for punishment care to pick over the verbal roadkill manifesting itself as my first impressions of the novel.
Natasha Wimmer's two translations above do a tremendous job of replicating the rhythm and the tone of Bolaño's prose.  People reading those passages in translation rather than in Bolaño's Spanish won't be missing out on much.  However, whether due to an oversight or a translation decision I couldn't say, Wimmer omits Bolaño's penultimate line from the first sequence--"Espinoza le contó un chiste en alemán a Pelletier y éste también se rió" [following Wimmer's lead: "Espinoza told Pelletier a joke in German and Pelletier also laughed"]--a minor thing, to be sure, but one that lessens the parallelism worked at elsewhere in the passage.  In the second sequence, people reading the novel in Spanish would have the advantage of deciding whether the third line from the end which mentions "las sombras de tres adolescentes" and which Wimmer justifiably translates as "the shadowy figures of three teenage girls" might mean that and that alone or might hint at something extra: sombra, in addition to meaning "shadow" in the sense that's probably intended here, can also refer to a "shade" or "ghost" as if hinting at the fate of the missing American girl who had disappeared in Santa Teresa, leaving her three sisters and her parents bereft.

8 comentarios:

  1. I'm liking your posts, Richard, you're tackling aspects everybody else, myself included, have been neglecting, giving us a fine analysis of voice and tone in the novel. Although I've been on the side of those who think the narrator is too cold and distant, your posts have made me reconsider that position.

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    1. Thanks, Miguel. I think a wide variety of topics is being addressed by the group, so I can't really take any credit for tackling neglected aspects in talking about voice and tone in these last two posts. That being said, I think it was a blessing in disguise for discussion purposes that you and Bellezza were/are maybe a little less receptive to Bolaño's narrative strategies than some of the rest of us early on. "The Part About the Crimes" and to a lesser extent "The Part About Archimboldi" should enable all concerned to continue the debate.

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  2. A post to inspire a lot more thought about 2666, Richard. I like your distinction between magical realism and plain old magical realism.

    The report going on while Fate is asleep is like the obverse side of the critics' dreams. There, something from within is struggling to get to the surface, whereas here it's as though Fate is absorbing some germ of awareness of the murders from without.

    That telephone call is almost Chaplinesque in its relentless pushing of a joke, and a quite funny barb at those computational literary analysts who try to get at a text by counting up and sorting its words. There's seems to be an awful lot of math in 2666, doesn't there?

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    1. Thanks, Scott. You know, I hadn't even thought about a barb directed at the "computational literary analysts," but that would of course make for an even funnier joke! However, I particularly like what you say here about the bit while Fate was sleeping. I think it's fair to suspect that the character is "absorbing some germ of awareness" plus, as Rise notes below, the narratorial intrusion mimics how information is being fed to the reader. If I weren't so lazy, it'd be worth exploring the connections to all the telepathy scenes in "The Part About Amalfitano" and to the TV clairvoyant scenes in "The Part About the Crimes" in regard to Fate's scene.

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  3. There does seem to be an awful lot of math in 2666, but I love how it is offered to create an objective finality, however farcical as with this section from the critics that Richard so brilliantly highlights. I'm grappling now with the images in Amalfitano. Indisputable answers in a time, as Richard observes, where perceived reality, time, voice, perspective are all warped byt he influence of Santa Teresa.

    Richard, this is an inspiring and thought-provoking post! You have raised the bar of the conversation once again.

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    1. Frances, thanks so much for your very kind--but far too generous--words. Now I don't feel so bad that my hand almost cramped up from all that typing! By the way, I'm intrigued by what you and Scott have had to say about all the math in 2666. I hadn't really thought all that through, but I think you're on to something with the "objective finality" vs. "perceived reality, time, voice, perspective" stuff. Geekily, was actually skimming through the biblical book of Numbers earlier in the weekend because I'd remembered some people writing about how 2666's five books could be read as a takeoff on the Pentateuch in some way. Don't know if that's a good lead or a sort of conspiracy theory type of thinking, but maybe someone will take up that idea by the time of our third group read, ha ha. P.S. Amalfitano reminded me of a more world-weary Bolaño this time around even though all the haters always seem to want to push the idea that Bolaño was comparing himself to Archimboldi . At the very least, their token similarities (Chileans who lived in both Mexico and Spain, "exiles" from Pinochet, their age, the fact that Bolaño's son is named Lautaro after the indigenous resistance leader who gets a lot of play in "The Part About Amalfitano") are fairly striking. I almost wrote about some of this, but I think I need to catch up on my reading for a while.

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  4. A great deconstruction of the "progression" of tone in the novel as the book approaches the dark heart of Santa Teresa. That authorial voice can appear 'cold' to the characters and yet 'intimate' to the reader, mediating and processing information. RB seems to apply a novel case of free indirect style here. Are the characters totally oblivious to the information provided by the narrator? As in Fate's sleep, the narrator’s intrusion seems to enter into Fate’s (and the readers’) horizon like an insidious voice. There’s a subliminal perception of dread, an effective device of prefiguration of dread. The first three parts are prefigurations of evil.

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    1. Thanks, Rise. I think what you say about the authorial voice sure goes a long way toward explaining the difference of opinion that Miguel and I have had on this matter, as does the mention of the "free indirect style" which I always associate with its truly brutal (but aesthetically beautiful) application in Flaubert's Madame Bovary. I also think you nailed it--as I mentioned to Scott above--about the narrator's intrusions and its effects on what you call "the prefiguration of dread" among the (otherwise oblivious?) characters. The narrator's almost like an archetype of some of the voices we'll hear in "The Part About the Crimes," but whether that makes him merely "activist" or an "unreliable narrator" in some way is an interesting problem to sort out.

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