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Duality

Almost exactly a year ago, as the first bolano-l group read of 2666 was getting sparked up, I wrote the following post about the opening sections of the novel:

It’s hard not to bring up twinning. Specifically, there’s a sort of  twinship between the Swabian and Archimboldi because even before Morini  suggests that they may be the same person, it occurs to you. Then of course there’s Pelletier and Espinoza. And in a way, there’s Liz as a doppelganger to herself, as she conducts these oddly separate but also oddly related romances (or whatever they are) with Pelletier and Espinoza, many aspects of which are similar but some of which are different (e.g. speaking different languages, different post-coital habits).

Also interesting to me is the horror movie whose plot Espinoza relates to Pelletier (p. 30). As I was thinking about twinhood, I recalled the two teenage girls as twins, though they’re not portrayed explicitly as such. The girls’ different reactions to the story about the boy who sees the face reminds me of the publisher Bubis’s wife’s spiel about art and the art critic and how one author’s work depressed him but made her cry. In the horror movie bit, it also stands out to me that there are two channel 34s that the boy seems to think must be the same but that are actually very different.

Let’s call it not twinhood but duality.

A bit later (p. 45), there’s the bit about Morini as a sort of Eurylochus, with the two divergent stories about him. (Side note: It
struck me that the Bolano fakes imprecision here — “Zeus or whichever god it is” — but you know darned well he knows the myth and wouldn’t just neglect to look it up and be precise about it if he didn’t mean to be imprecise. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, but it piqued my curiosity, and I’ll be looking for similar thing throughout.)

“Nothing is ever behind us,” Morini says to himself in response to Liz’s email about resolving her issues with her ex-husband. Later, in Morini’s dream (when he’s fleeing from an inevitable, evil thing [or maybe not evil, he decides] behind him), she  says “There’s no turning back” and paradoxically turns back. The way Bolano (or the translator) specifically mentions the face of the stranger who turns out to be Liz took me back to the horror movie and the white-faced woman telling the boy he was going to die (a fate from which indeed there is no turning back).

The last bit in this section puts (Piero) Morini in the Italian Garden reading to a London bum recipe titles from a book by Angelo Morino, and the bum points out the similarity in names (which Morini shrugs off; this makes me think back to the confusion of Archimboldi’s name with the artist earlier in the book).

The final bit of duality I guess I’ll point to I think has already been called out: We have all these non-German people converging to study a German author who himself has a weird hybrid sort of name.

So there you have it. There’s lots of doubling going on. I don’t have a thesis as to what it means or anything, but it seems intentional and probably significant.

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  1. January 25, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    “Zeus or whichever god it is”

    I took this to be a comment about the narrowness of academic interest. Pelletier and Espinoza will attend conference after conference to dissect the minutest aspect of Archimboldi’s ouevre, but can’t be bothered to know the details of a literary figure outside of that particular ambit.

    • January 25, 2010 at 5:18 pm

      I like that reading. These scholars surely do compartmentalize. There’s more mention of stories from the classics (including what seemed to me like a really weird reading) on the near horizon that may back up what you’re suggesting here.

  2. Jeff
    January 25, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Daryl, I think this doubling that you highlight has a lot to do with why I don’t really have much of a feeling for any of the characters; it’s like every action each character takes just goes at the end of a list of actions, rather than taking its place in a constellation of attitudes and behaviors that make a character identifiable. I don’t have any way to be able to judge whether any given action is in character or out of character. And now that you’ve articulated it, I’m pretty sure this pattern of characters as versions of each other, rather than as individuals, is some of the source of that.

    • January 25, 2010 at 10:56 pm

      Jeff, I totally agree. See the post I just added for more on my take on the critics as a sort of composite. 🙂

  3. January 27, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Re: “Zeus or whichever god it is”

    This struck me as odd, too, but also very DFW-ish. Wallace does the same kind of thing in Infinite Jest (although without the book in front of me I can’t call up an example)–presenting the “omniscient” narrator as not so omniscient. Which may beg the question of whether we can trust this narrator. On the other hand, it may be one of those moments where the third person voice only speaks for one character, and with his limited knowledge or memory. I’d have to read the section again to be sure.

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