I started the new winter session this week and started some serious effortful hours for reading and writing every day. Have to to get some real work done and not be outdone by the world, i.e. work, sleep, and television. Did I mention cookies? Video games? Porn?
I've seen a few comments that Bolaño's 2666 is "weird", which is a comment I just don't understand, especially if you watch the nightly news. On the treadmill today in the gym I watched a program that was muted, silently flashing still photographs of a man in a cowboy hat and a black suit lifting two bottles of champagne into the air and a small building with absurdly large and silken neon lettering, a few green trees and an empty gravel parking lot, and read the transcript of the case of a lottery winner who carried a briefcase with 1/2 million bucks in it in the passenger seat of his Ford truck. Parked it at the Pink Pony where a stripper waitress emptied two blue pills into his second drink. Woke up the next morning with a rock through his pickup window and his money gone all except for a packet of 5 grand left out by the dumpster accidentally. I remembered the story from a few years ago when I worked in downtown LA for Transamerica Insurance and collected the best news stories every day purely for entertainment.
I think Bolaño recognizes the pure odd mystery of daily encounter. He doesn't even mention the murders of Mexican women until page 287. We're like his characters who use up our days with failed loves, elusive ambitions, familial poverties, crude humor. We don't see the myth we're living in. By this point we're traveling with a black american journalist who's mourning his fresh dead mother. Why not? The history of a person's experience doubled by the complicated tendrilic history of their nation, nailed down by the crimes of men, or, our strange relationships to good men, who are secret beasts, who commit crimes. He's in northern Mexico and he overhears a conversation of someone who's worked on the mass murder case:
"What does a child do when he's afraid? He closes his eyes. What does a child do when he's about to be raped and murdered? He closes his eyes. And he screams too, but first he closes his eyes. Words served that purpose. And the funny thing is, the archetypes of human madness and cruelty weren't invented by the men of our day but by our forebears. The Greeks, you might say, invented evil, the Greeks saw the evil inside us all, but testimonies or proofs of this evil no longer move us. They strike us as futile, senseless. You could say the same about madness. It was the Greeks who showed us the range of possibilities and yet now they mean nothing to us. Everything changes, you say. Of course everything changes, but not the archetypes of crime, not any more than human nature changes."
There's more here, more importantly addressing the way we write the significance of crimes, murders, how slaves could be massacred by thousands but a murder-suicide of a married couple could make the papers Europe-wide. Ditto for the unsolved torture and murder of several hundred missing women in Northern Mexico, near a border town, a whole civilization itself lit with corruption and desperation and hunger. I like these pages because they seem to set forth one triumph of the book, to give us the new testimonies, to write the evil inside us, the madness of our existence, in a way that will strike us meaningfully.
This passage reminds me of my lecture last night on Keat's "Ode on a Grecian Urn". What I love about Bolaño's work is that it's characters find themselves in "mad pursuits" of mythic proportions, and like us, they don't seem to know it.
I want other "weird" novels on the same shelf with this one, say
The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the Edge of the World by Haruki Murakami
Pubis Angelicus by Manuel Puig
The Assault by Reinaldo Arenas
My Mother: Demonology by Kathy Acker
They Call Me the Breeze by Patrick McCabe
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter
It's a really imperfect list, I can't seem to make up my mind.s.
Well, I don't want to be a critic anyway.
I'm after a different kind of monster.