2666: Part 1 – The Part about the Critics

The very first sentence, first paragraph, first few pages, establishes a clear milieu of European erudition.  Roberto Bolaño starts 2666 with an appeal to the guardians of the Western canon.  These critics, the critics that jet around the globe hopping from one guest lecture or academic seminar to another, the professors of World Literature that reside in ivory towers, these authors and devoted readers must be won over ultimately.

German, French, English, Belgian, Polish, Prussian, Italian, Latin, Christian, all are assembled and addressed like a hearty salad full of raw fruits and vegetables.  Bolaño projects himself as the mysterious author Benno von Archimboldi, a man of the 20th century methodically securing his position in the canon and surrealistically similar to the artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo.


The critics appreciate the mystery of this author, his allure stretches back to antiquity; but, one cannot fully grasp the true intention of this artist.  The form is apparent.  Still, there exists a “biographical lacuna” that lurks like a black hole deep in outer space.  Readers are forewarned about the incompleteness of the story, indeed the missing content, the deeper meaning evades those that look closely.

amigara fault

An apt analogy can be seen in The Enigma of Amigara Fault.  Voyeurs are infatuated by the holes that seemingly resemble a perfect fit for themselves, almost as if looking into a mirror.  Moreover, the view from the other side is frightening, particularly the longer we leer into the void.

Is this just a joke on still life paintings?  Or is this part about the critics an elaborate political cartoon, satirizing the global politics of the 1900s?  Either way, Bolaño leaves room for the freelance hacks and bloggers to chop it up and blend the metaphorical cornucopia of produce into a pulpy juice.

“… the glory he coveted was that of the writer, not the translator.”  (Page 6)

Multilingual translations add a layer of ambiguity to World Literature and are required of an author’s work to find a place in our contemporary canon.  Commercial and critical success compound when applied to multiple markets.  Who else but these overly-educated critics can even begin to translate the works of such reclusive authors?

Although 2666 stands as a date in the future, it fails to capture the technology of the future.  The same technology that enables amateur author’s to translate and publish in unprecedented ways, fails to affect the narrative in any noticeable way.  Would an Archimboldi of the 21st century really require an esoteric fan club of dedicated critics?

Roberto Bolaño takes the path commonly attributed to many Modernist authors.  He travels abroad, witnessing major political strife, dabbling in the third world, all to nestle into a death bed cocoon.  The resulting posthumous publication metamorphose the man into an ephemeral legend or myth.  Readers may glimpse a bit of compulsion.

“The word solution was said twelve times.  The word solipsism seven times.  The word euphemism ten times.”  (Page 41)

The theme of the misunderstood artist that enjoys the process way more than the results surfaces through the subplot of Edwin Johns.  Bolaño adds more layers of obfuscation by critiquing the critics.  He dares to bite the hand that feeds him.  Marcel Duchamp serves as the Dadaist poster boy for this paradoxical point.


Stacey D’Erasmo deftly summarizes the Bolaño-Duchamp connection in a New York Times review:

“Part of Bolaño’s genius is to ask, via ironies so sharp you can cut your hands on his pages, if we perhaps find a too-easy comfort in art, if we use it as anesthetic, excuse and hide-out in a world that is very busy doing very real things to very real human beings. Is it courageous to read Plato during a military coup or is it something else?”

Morini, Pelletier, Espinoza, and Norton would probably say “yes” to the above question.  Even though, the high priests of critical literature are late to the party, to cut off their nose to spite their face.   Bolaño writes for himself foremost; the publications are for his posterity, an investment and an inheritance for his estate.

“Because he believed in investments, the flow of capital, one has to play the game to win, that kind of thing.”  (Page 97)

Back on the streets, outside the bedrooms of the bourgeoisie, paces and pulses the next generation of young readers and writers.  Spitting truth nonchalantly, they see a story for what it is.  The author is omnipresent; he exists as an idea seized in the minds and hearts of his followers wherever they may be.

“The Internet bookstores worked.  Culture, despite the disappearances and guilt, was still alive, in a permanent state of transformation…”  (Page 136)