Find a new tweet each day in the month of April @BeardofSteel on Twitter. 30 quotes from the first chapter of 1984 rationed for victory and assembled by the hashtag 301984. 30 years after 1984, in the year 2014, I also pieced together a literary analysis of 1Q84, V for Vendetta and 1984, that explores their lasting appeal. #301984 attempts to clarify all of the sudden resurgence in popularity of a novel published 70 years ago. Enjoy!
Behind La Tienda exists a lot where there once was a garage. Now fenced by unkempt chain link, the lot serves as a drive-through pickup point for housing contractors looking for day laborers. A white extended-cab approaches. The truck wears splashes of cement and random dents and bangs. The driver slows to a stop; he points at two guerros.
Coasting down the two lane highway, Karl and Bryan discuss the job ahead. Bryan spits into a 20oz. bottle of Mountain Dew already a quarter-filled with dark muck. Karl slams the accelerator to pass a dawdling minivan; he posts his right arm at the top of the steering wheel and slouches to the left as if he’s going to exit at any moment. Constantly eyeing the mirrors yet never noticing his reflection, Karl mutters about Canadian snowbirds. Bryan looks straight at the road.
After a few turns, they arrive at a site deep in the forest, an unincorporated part of the county. A narrow stretch of acreage extends from an aluminum hangar. As they draw nearer the scent of hot tar surfaces, pinching the nose. With the engine cut, the birds and crickets cause the most noise for miles out.
2:41 burned on the dash.
Diamond tears rolled back into the corner of John Doe’s eye at a blinking pace.
Outside, abyss pressured the black-coal landscape into a vortex forked by dull headlamps birthing a chain of pale reflectors, devoured.
Quadruple the wheels, the weight and size around the bend.
Animal magnetism approached.
Doe’s eyes lay heavy with weary, swimming through grassy medians
and opened to tears of blood.
The grill pressed on until all light was extinguished.
2:42 hung among a whirlwind of twisted hot metal.
Falling to grass and crawling to pavement, relieved, yet frightened by the unknown.
Hoses hissing, wheels spinning in air, burnt rubber, creaks and cracks permeated the dark
the rig came to a halt and the driver’s door opened.
Out fell a flattened frog, commanding attention;
appearing before the open gate flooded with self-emanating light.
a march of incomprehension. Out came mutilated armadillos, dogs, deer, cats, and birds gripping intestines, dragging organs, losing blood, trying to hold together all they had whilst stepping in line from the truck and down upon the road.
They took hold of him, hoisting him up and carrying him like pallbearers back on to the trailer.
clear and vibrant, possibly resembling a midsummer day.
A green lush world awaited contemplation.
asphalt burned his paws
A 2009 Guardian article claims that a treasure trove of additional writing from Roberto Bolaño exists and could possibly be linked to 2666. The publication is what it is, and the potential extension of a mysterious Part 6 (or more) simply underscores how prolific Roberto Bolaño was and still is. For all the research and reading surrounding this one novel, 2666, a reader could just as easily dwell within the world of the author exclusively. Top on the list of books to read next should be The Savage Detectives, but after gorging on 2666, readers may need a break from Roberto Bolaño.
Consequently, my literary interests collapsed into local Hispanic history and the myths of La Florida, my home. The Spanish conquistadors are a great topic to transition to from a novel like 2666. Just recently, I read Larry Richard Clark’s The Last Conquistadors of Southeast North America and Brutal Journey by Paul Schneider. All in preparation (really) to read and enjoy Laila Lalami’s critically acclaimed The Moor’s Account; it fictionalizes a true historical journey of conquistadors crossing Latin America and enduring unbelievable transformations. Truly, at the top of my reading list after all is said and done, The Moor’s Account is the next book to enjoy this summer.
From Cuba to Guatemala and across the Americas, if you’re looking for other Latino Literature classics, I recommend Héctor Tobar’s The Tattooed Soldier. Also, having studied under Virgil Suárez at the Florida State University, I strongly suggest readers find the 1999 Arte Público Press copy of The Cutter.
When you’re ready to dive back into some more Roberto Bolaño, check-out this interview with the English translator behind the scenes. Natasha Wimmer may have had a hard time grasping Bolaño’s style but neither would the author himself admit to as much. (Novelist Obsessed With Mythmaking Novelists Unexpectedly Accused of Mythmaking) And readers are encouraged to return to the earlier parts of this review for close examination, some hyper-links were hidden within the text.
The history of Chile is dramatic enough in reality and surreal to capture. Many documentaries and films have tried, and the 2006 docudrama Pinochet in Suburbia barely scratches the surface; nevertheless, perhaps the best cinematic expression of Bolaño’s 2666 could be found in the classic film The Wages of Fear.
The Wages of Fear is a 1953 French-Italian drama film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, starring Yves Montand, and based on a novel by Georges Arnaud. When a Mexican oil well owned by an American company catches fire, the company hires four European men, down on their luck, to drive two trucks over mountainous dirt roads, loaded with nitroglycerine needed to extinguish the flames.
The 2012 indie film 7 Cajas serves as a swift South American Slumdog Millionaire, if you’re looking for something a little more peppy and post-modern. 7 Boxes (released in Spanish as 7 Cajas) is a Paraguayan thriller film directed by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori.
Bolaño is an artist seizing his moment, just flexing in front of his audience and stretching the music. The rhythm of Roberto Bolaño can be as intense as live jazz and sometimes there is more to life than writing; it’s hard to admit. Every beat needs a rest.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert
The first two numbers were, in fact, from Scott’s new album Stretch Music. That’s his name for the particular type of jazz fusion he’s up to: something more seamless than a simple collision of genre signifiers; something whose DNA is already hybridized and freely admits sonic elements which potentially “stretch” jazz’s purported boundaries. (You may note that he showed up in a Joy Division sleeveless T-shirt and gold chain.) It’s sleek and clearly modern, awash in guitar riffs, but also bold and emotionally naked. Scott is particularly good at getting you to feel the energy he sends pulsing through his horn, and he never shies away from going all-in on a solo. The least we could offer was to let him explain himself in doing so.
In my third year of teaching, a student of mine told me about the story of Víctor Jara: the Chilean teacher, poet, singer-songwriter, and political activist brutally martyred in 1973. His gift of song best summarizes 2666 and the Bolaño experience: Vamos por Ancho Camino.
What significance does the titular year 2666 have in understanding this story? Critics may hold the 666 reference as devilish or simply shocking, keeping with a religious allusion of the biblical beast from ancient Rome. Yes, the conservative fear of numbers usually boils down to symbols and meanings, so the intent really is placed in a specific historical context. Cesar, the executioner of Jesus Christ, is the devil incarnate and the numerals 666 represent this villain. Bolaño fixates on the Roman culture because it mimics the dramatic bloodbaths of the Aztecs, but the real meaning of the year 2666 is not rooted in the Christian superstition, actually it fits neatly with the historical reality of Rome itself, the birth of Western Civilization.
April is the month of Spring. Windy, sporadically rainy, cloudy, full of ups and downs in temperature and in bloom. In the world of Literature, April has also become the month of Poetry and even more recently the month of Shakespeare. The icon of English, Shakespeare is famously born and deceased in the same month, possibly on the same day too — along with the other notable icon of Literature, Cervantes.
The language barriers between English and Spanish present different lenses to view the significance of these authors. Shakespeare and Cervantes are contemporaries and representative of the zenith in Western Europe’s Renaissance. Now, depending on the language, the view of these figures divides into the Spanish realization that Cervantes created the first literary Novel (and died as an artist and soldier), or the English capitulation that Cervantes happens to be blessed by the birth of Shakespeare (and “the zenith” of the English Renaissance does not conclude with Shakespeare, remember it is the British empire that supersedes the Spanish empire). The Sun never set on the Spanish empire, only for so long.
Shakespeare was a profitable capitalist and marketed his estate like a smart artist. Cervantes may be ignored or misinterpreted because of the dominance of English language instruction. If more readers read and understood Spanish, Cervantes would be seen as an equal to Shakespeare. The egalitarian in me knows that these authors deserve an equal amount of spotlight and apparently their shared death is notable for this bridging of cultures, so it is interesting to analyze the timing of this anecdote. The dates of recorded history differed between the English and Spanish.
By as much as a dozen days, some figures show 10 to 13 days differed between the English calendar based on the traditional Julian Roman calendar, named after Julius Cesar; and the Gregorian calendar adopted by Spain in the mid-1500s as part of a deal by the Pope of the name Gregory, asserting the continual power of the Holy Roman Empire as seated in the Vatican City by extension of the European monarchs and their royal blood lines that included the King of Spain. England did not conform to the Gregorian calendar until the mid-1700s and simply forfeited more than a week of time like a jumbo-daylight savings switch in which you lose not just an hour of time but more than an entire week’s worth of time in one stroke of the clock. So, Cervantes and Shakespeare could have died on different days depending on which calendar you observed at that time in history, or now.
Either way you look at it, UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) claims April 23 as World Book Day, with a substantial significance given to the shared death date of Shakespeare and Cervantes. A third author also claims a part in the history of this day: Gómez Suárez de Figueroa and known as El Inca or Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. He is the first published author (of European descent) of the New World born in the New World and writing about the New World. El Inca stands as an important figure in literature in that he is the first authorial American to enter the Western canon of Literature.
“Therefore their deaths demand vengeance of God, or rather mercy, in order that the people of these countries, who are in darkness, may be some day enlightened with the light of the Faith ; and that their lands, sprinkled with the blood of Christians, may bear fruit worthy of the sanctity of blood so sacred.”
Garcilaso de la Vega, el Inca 1539-1616
Florida of the Inca
The last words of his history on Florida are about the conquistadors dying in the New World at the expense of numerous Native deaths. He speaks of blood in such rhetorical ways like in the style of Spanish Catholicism, then and now. From the Romans to the Aztecs, Bolaño builds this bridge and ties up a ton of loose ends in the final part of 2666. Part five is a just dessert for the reader. After getting through the grueling part four, part five is satisfying and causes one to reflect. Furthermore, the goal from the very beginning, starting with the search by the Critics in part one to find this mysterious author finally pays off in the end. There are too many details that would spoil the experience of having read this book personally, but it is safe to say that part two and three are diversions and part four is a piece of penance, while part five reveals a solution to a puzzle; it’s also the point in which I realized the real meaning of the title, 2666.
Usually, the title is said to be not mentioned at all in Bolaño’s novel, yet mentioned in his other works rarely as a future date in time. His appeal as a sci-fi genre technician is possibly overstated, and it was definitely misinterpreted by myself. I kept thinking 2666 was a future date in the standard Gregorian calendar, I now realize that Bolaño was alluding to a different date in a different calendar, the truly Roman calendar, the AUC (ab urbe condita). The Roman scholars that dated their works with AUC timestamps paid honor to the “founding of Rome.” This record of time began earlier than the Gregorian calendar that starts with Jesus Christ.
2666 according to the Roman AUC calendar would be approximately the same year as 1913 according to the Gregorian calendar of the Modern West. 1913 makes perfect sense for the title of Bolaño’s masterpiece, 2666. 1913 is right in the middle of the Mexican Revolution, at the height of Pancho Villa’s power and his control of Ciudad Juárez, the exact setting of the novel’s universe, the fictional Santa Teresa. Not only was Pancho Villa criss-crossing the Mexican-U.S. border and fighting in the bloody Mexican Revolution, the anecdotal story of a famous author lost in the same setting also occurs in 1913.
Ambrose Bierce, the iconic American Literature figure known as a subversive liberal and talented outcast, travels to the Mexican border town and disappears in his last year seen alive. Bolaño has to acknowledge his knowledge of Ambrose Bierce as the true Benno von Archimboldi, also known as the German author Hans Reiter and the star protagonist of part five of 2666. Like World Book Day, Bolaño bridges the language barriers of English and Spanish culture by linking all of these global allusions within this novel. You may even say he builds tunnels rather than bridges, for in the same fateful year of 1913, the real 2666, the novel Der Tunnel by German author Bernhard Kellermann is first published in the month of April.
Der Tunnel is classic 20th century narrative about a tunnel connecting Europe to the Americas through the Atlantic; it was remembered as an ironically utopian take on the future from the year 1913, since the world suffered mostly war over the next thirty years rather than materially acquiring social progress on the level of infrastructure building and harmony between nations. In fact, the more modern movie version of the novel uses the Berlin Wall as symbolism, so it is not hard to see the tunnels of El Chapo in the same light. Bolaño builds tunnels connecting English and Spanish realities and threads them into a global garment, one to be worn and too, be-warned.
The past has much to teach us about the future. The last part of this monumental novel, 2666, reminded me of Steinbeck’s classic novella The Pearl. Even though Bolaño’s finale is about a European author coming of age in a war torn world, a reader can sense the universal struggle endured by countless others across this globe as equally fitting; and The Pearl’s narrative is inspired by a Mexican folk tale no less, so Bolaño is alluding to yet another American Literature icon. (Read the previous part reviews for more.)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won a Pulitzer Prize in the same year that 2666 was widely celebrated and honored. The two novels brought attention to Latin American Literature in contrasting ways and their critical reception is just as striking. 2666 was written earlier than Oscar Wao and it continues to amaze audiences. While Junot Diaz is eager to grow his portfolio and promote new projects, Bolaño’s collection is more engaged in preserving or conserving. Bolaño died before he could see the success of 2666, and the novel had to be translated; it garnered international audiences.
Growing up, my father would tell me stories about Trujillo’s control of the Dominican Republic. I would hear about his eye witness account of protesters gunned down and piled under a bridge near the Capitol’s airport; and spending time in jail for getting too close to the revolution. As a Dominican academic, I followed Junot Diaz’s publications. I bought Oscar Wao when it was released and read it quickly, but it did not resonate with me. Diaz is a talented and accomplished author and I prefer his poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction. Machismo, in writing and of writers, can best be explained by Junot Diaz himself.
Years after reading Oscar Wao, I discovered 2666, well after the hype of 2008. Full disclosure, I found 2666 in 2015, spent a few months reading it with no research or annotation, and then spent the last half a year or more annotating and re-reading and researching. Oscar Wao pales in comparison to my direct and visceral experience in the Dominican Republic, and in reflecting about the place. I simply cannot see the forest for the trees in this situation. I should be writing a review about Oscar Wao, but I’m more compelled to talk about 2666. The mystery and ignorance only strengthens its allure. Archimboldi, the author the Critics of part one are desperately seeking, lives the life of an artist, an artist especially of the 20th century.
Julia Alvarez wrote about the Mirabal sisters during the time of the Trujillo dictatorship, In the Time of the Butterflies. Roberto Bolaño wins a Kafkaesque victory, by posthumously writing the tale of a Latin American martyr, even if it is told through the egotistical lens of a European eye. The only literature more fitting for part five would be the 1984 play The Cuban Swimmer by Milcha Sanchez-Scott.
from the book “Trujillo: The Death of the Goat” by Bernard Diederich (1978):
“The cowardly killing of three beautiful women in such a manner had greater effect on Dominicans than most of Trujillo’s other crimes. It did something to their machismo. They could never forgive Trujillo this crime. More than Trujillo’s fight with the Church or the United States, or the fact that he was being isolated by the world as a political leper, the Mirabals’ murder tempered the resolution of the conspirators plotting his end.” (71-72)
In the end, Bolaño takes a play straight out of Castro’s playbook, greeting the U.S. President over fifty years later and as soon as Obama leaves the Caribbean, Castro rebukes the U.S. visit in the state controlled news source Granma. Bolaño builds this brilliant bildungsroman, or künstlerroman, of an European artist, the same kind the Critics of part one idolized and worship. After showing audiences, a glimpse into his real life (part 2), his best literary abilities (part 3), and the real lives of those around us (part 4), Bolaño concludes his magnum opus with the fantastic biography of the man he hopes to be remembered as, but instead of riding out into a glorious sunset, he miraculously ends on a delightfully humorous note, a cutting comeuppance that ultimately lets him keep his unique authority.
Bolaño hits a homer, no, a grand slam, with the mega-meta-novel 2666. His Euro-centric finale centered on a white giant seems to be pandering to the critics, or Bolaño could simply be showboating his skills once again. Either way the audience gets what they want. Bolaño delivers a buffet of bangers, and mashes it up into a crisp, salty mofongo; he plays the field like a Renaissance man and covers all the bases, you name the position and he’s got it covered; he’s the designated hitter ready for the sacrifice fly.
Minimum number of Mexican mayors who have been killed by hit men in the past decade: 44
According to the April 2016 Harper’s Index, narcos assassinating government officials disrupts society in profound ways, way more than what stylized portrayals of narcotraficantes in media dare to capture. Senior year of high school (Class of 2000), the most impressionable movie of the year was the film Traffic.
This novel, 2666, is very much about borders, both figuratively and literally. To review: the first part about the critics serves as prologue, and the second part appears to be semi-autobiographical, while the third part stands as a concise example of how skilled the author can write and copy the greatest hits of 20th century machismo in American Literature.
Weighing in as the belly of the novel, a white whale well into 266 pages long, part four is unavoidable and difficult to endure. The part about the crimes, catalogues over a hundred murders, compounded with a survey of maquiladoras, prisons, and boom-bust development (the oasis-mirage real estate of urban sprawl coupled by bank speculation, foreclosures, and renovations). Now we have Roberto Bolaño channeling Melville and Thoreau too.
Henry David Thoreau may have been inspired by Mexico to execute his infamous civil disobedience, but he spent the arch of his life chronicling the habitats of Cape Cod. The wreck of St. John sinks to the core of American muckraking. As the New Republic says, “It is a kind of extended prose elegy, written to bear witness to and make sense of the tragedy that befell that shipload of Irish immigrants.” Thoreau cared about the borders of his day that were most local, and the deaths of Irish immigrants washing ashore on the beaches of New England called Thoreau as much as the Mexican-American border calls Bolaño.
The obsessive compulsive, white giant draws the most attention through part four. Almost an identical reversal of a concept found in Murakami’s 1Q84 — the concept of the Little People — Bolaño uses the mythos of the Giant to build tension in an otherwise blatant political diatribe, akin to Orwell’s 1984 and the book within the book. Like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Bolaño uncovers the plight of turn of the 21st century proletariat.
Not that the Northeast has little to say about the human drama playing out in the Southwest, the 2000 film Dark Days lurks in the shadow of Hollywood blockbusters like Traffic. The underground dwellers in NYC have a lot in common within the dump dwellers of Mexico (complimentarily drenched in sunshine to the point of blindness).
Contemporary World News has covered the Syrian refugee crisis with an almost eager ignorance of any other border dramas simultaneously unfolding. North America fails to address its own immigration record when speaking grandiloquently about Europe and the Middle East. From Guantanamo Bay to Ciudad Juárez (aka Santa Teresa), serious Human Rights issues are frozen in an undefined state. American Democrats rarely criticize the Obama administration’s handling of immigration, but it is far from inept as Republicans are oft to paint it as. The frightening reality hides an ugly chapter in American History today.
The part about the crimes details the crimes alright, but it does not answer the question of who the criminals are for real? The character of Lalo Cura blurs the line between narco and police. Apparently the free trade agreements between countries are as insidious as the real estate schemes between banks or the under the table negotiations between criminals (on both sides of the fence). The 2001 documentary Life and Debt deftly sings a conspiratorial tune about the long term effects of the globalized economic assault of the West. The Juan de Dios Martínez of 2666 is a questionable character.
There used to be an Indian settlement here, remembered the inspector. A policeman who’d lived in the colonia had told him so. He dropped onto a bench and gazed up at the imposing shadow of the tree silhouetted menacingly against the starry sky. Where are the Indians now? (Page 366)
As precious as my little kitties can be,
country cats roaming the wild outdoors
in a Floridian National forest
I know how savage they can be
They hunt the birds I feed and enjoy hearing chirp
They torture the exotic lizards that harmlessly sunbathe
They decapitate the rodents that breed microscopic pests
and offer it up as sacrifice atop the altar,
Out on that Porch
my mind ruminated on the nature of existence
and the existence of nature
like a vinyl record scratched on purpose
like an obvious display of repetition
as if to point out figurative language
or the great chiasmus,
or the great chasm between us:
I mean those that have the melancholic burden of knowing what comes next and
those that don’t, yet
my mind ruminated on the nature of existence
and the existence of nature
like control copy and control paste
the day suddenly turned to night
This evening my precious little kitties left
a particularly poignant severed mouse head
as if they overheard my lamenting earlier in the day
and thankful for the good-mouthing, gave us a cut
of some of nature’s delicacies
Am I wrong to dislike a nonnative culture’s customs
whether they be food served to a guest
or an offering
from a tribe
Do my cats think of me as ungrateful or disrespectful?
Maybe they know it is not for me to consume, but
rather as a show it serves to display their abilities
Look at what we can do
We are working for you
Then again, I’m sure the rapacious raccoons that finish the remains of their allotted cat food
Out on that Porch
each day and night,
the same ones that wash their hands clean in the bubbling fountain
Out on that Porch
The gurgling water dribbling down slimy blue ceramic, rippling out and across a basin
full of cool purifying aqua ablutions
These very same raccoons may be the true recipients of the rat king
Or, does the severed mouse head send another message to these same raccoons
one that says look at what we can do
I’m never quite sure if my cats are friends with the raccoons,
and maybe my ego is as myopic as Schrödinger’s