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Bernardo O’Higgins

Before we leave The Part About Amalfitano, we ought at least to mention that fascinating book O’Higgins is Araucanian by Lonko Kilapán. Why I have taken this upon myself is as much a mystery to me as Amalfitano’s ruminations on the book are.

After the last appearance of the voice that we read of, Amalfitano begins to think about telepathy. That leads his thoughts to the Mapuches or Araucanians, the indigenous people whom the Spanish could never whip. For the 300 years before Chilean independence, the Mapuche lived in their own autonomous region abutting that portion controlled by Spain. His train of thought leads him to reexamine this book, which had been given to him at some time previously as a joke.

Amalfitano’s ruminations on the book are framed by and interrupted twice by descriptions of episodes involving Marco Antonio Guerra.

Somehow, Amalfitano concludes that Lonko Kilapán is half Indian. Perhaps there is something in that name that gives this away. This is a “vanity book,” the publication of which was financed by its author. Apparently, Amalfitano knows this because of his familiarity with the nature of the particular publisher’s business in Santiago.

The book has typographical errors. In one case Amalfitano infers a typographical error by assuming that an event described by the author actually occurred in 1974 rather than 1947 as written. (1974 happens to be the year that Augusto Pinochet became President of Chile.) The footnotes are strange, in one case simply repeating information that is given in the text itself and in another case asserting that Prometheus stole the gift of writing from the gods.

The author purports to establish through 17 “proofs” that the mother of Bernardo O’Higgins, one of the founding fathers of the nation of Chile, was an Araucanian. It is historically accepted that O’Higgins was the illegitimate son of Ambrosio O’Higgins, a Viceroy of Peru, which included the region of Chile, and María Isabel Riquelme, a criolla woman of Basque descent. Marriages between peninsulars, as Ambrosio was considered to be, and criollos, people born in the new world, were prohibited without permission from the Spanish crown. For reasons unknown Ambrosio never sought that permission and never married Isabel. (I have tried to save you some time nosing around in the encyclopedia.)

The Prologue noticeably refers to the famously illegitimate O’Higgins as “legitimate” for the reason that the text itself suggests that his father actually married the Araucanian mother in a traditional Araucanian ceremony that included an “abduction ceremony” causing Amalfitano to infer abuse and rape by old Ambrosio. Page 217.

At the heart of Amalfitano’s ruminations on this book, there occurs a weird but interesting passage at pages 224 to 225. This by the way is where Cortázar’s “active reader” is mentioned. It is here that Amalfitano thinks that the active reader could entertain the strange proposition that Kilapán was simply a nom de plume for one of any number of Chilean politicians of all political persuasions, not just neo-fascists,

which wouldn’t be so strange either, this being Chile, in fact the reverse would be stranger, in Chile military men behaved like writers, and writers, so as not to be outdone, behaved like military men, and politicians (of every stripe) behaved like writers and like military men. . . .

I have taken to regarding all this as I do Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad, freely conceding that it is witty to those who find it witty without my being able to appreciate the wit because I am not familiar enough with the personalities who are being mocked. It is clear to me, though, that Bolaño is unloading some bile here regarding the Chilean literary establishment and, when one reads on, Chilean society generally.

But back to the Araucanian mother of O’Higgins. The text leads inexorably to the conclusion that not only was Bernardo O’Higgins a telepath because his real mother was Araucanian, but also Lonko Kilapán is a telepath, all of this because Araucanians were telepaths who kept the Spanish at bay through the use of this power to gather intelligence and communicated via telepathy with other Araucanians in other parts of the world. Whew!

It seemed clear to me that when all was said and done, Amalfitano had concluded that he himself was probably a telepath. Page 225. Why does that seem clear to me? I have not the faintest idea. He was startled and his hair stood on end for five seconds after he considered the similarity between his own mother’s name and the name of the historically accepted mother of Bernardo O’Higgins–nothing at all to do with the alleged Araucanian mother.

I am not contending that this is the key to The Part About Amalfitano by any means. I am not sure there is any such key. But if I am wrong and if Amalfitano’s hair stood on end for some other reason, what was it?

And do these passages not remind you Borges people of Borges? Does anyone else smell a sly mockery of Borges here?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 20, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    It hadn’t occurred to me that Amalfitano thought himself a telepath (I didn’t get why his hair stood on end and figured maybe he just thought it was an eerie coincidence), but it doesn’t seem too out there. He does hear voices, after all, so why not telepathy? I wonder if you have any thoughts about how or if the stuff about telepathy in this part of the book ties back in any way to Morini’s dream of telepathy. Perhaps it’s significant that Morini drops telepathy in as a substitute for evil once he realizes the woman he’s turning to see in his dream is Norton. Is Amalfitano, with a well-placed sense of foreboding about his daughter’s fate and feeling as if he’s going off the deep end, making a similar substitution as some sort of coping mechanism?

  2. February 20, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    Daryl, here is my working theory (Heh, heh. A pretentious phrase.). As you noted in your earlier post, Magnanimous Cuckold, the voice seems to be telling Amalfitano something about his daughter in a veiled way, veiled because the voice admits that it really cannot see anything—not much, anyway. The voice does pass along that ominous warning that things are coming to a head on page 210.

    Later, in the last part of The Part About Fate we learn that young Rosa was into a lot of problematic things. I believe that she was into those problematic things—trying not to ruin anything for anyone who has not finished that part—during the same period of time that the voice was speaking.

    My tentative conclusion is that the voice really was Amalfitano’s telepathy, that he was receiving imperfect knowledge of the activities of his daughter and the danger she was in telepathically via this voice. This realization is what makes his hair stand on end.

    Now, as for Morini, boy! I like to think that I understand a few things about Espinoza and Pelletier. I freely admitted elsewhere that Norton is an enigma to me. La Mexicana here contends that she understands Norton. But Morini? The waters run ever so deep there. I did appreciate your work on the dreams, but I still do not know what was going on with him. If you see some way that my theory about the telepathic voice fits in with that business about telepathy in the first part, I would be delighted of course. I cannot find it.

  3. February 20, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Do you both see 2666 as countenancing actual telepathy, then? It’s seemed to me an almost naturalist book—in lots of respects, anyway, even if it is peppered with surreal dreams presented basically without comment—so I assumed the telepathy was all bunkum (which I’ve just learned has a hilarious etymology), in the same way that I figured the voice Amalfitano hears is endogenous. (I’m pretty sure there’s another word for this in psychology, to describe an impression that has no external source.)

  4. February 20, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    This post is so good. It’s driving me crazy that everything is so scattered around, so I’ve spent the whole afternoon making an aggregate page of all the different places people are commenting and stuff. I’ll try to have it up by the end of the day.

    Maybe it’s just me but I simply could not believe this book was real. Even the author’s name is not to be believed. I thought at first that it must be an anagram or something, but no. There’s a page up somewhere online of some guy being introduced to Kilapán in like 1993 and he goes, “he was introduced to me as a shaman.” (Well I guess! naturally!)

  5. February 20, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Jeff, I think the telepathy and dreams are “real” insofar as they have a true connection to the waking world … but so far, I get the feeling that these forebodings and dreams and stuff are v. through-a-glass-darkly.

    • February 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm

      I am so sorry, folks. I keep mashing the “Post” button when I should mash the “Reply” button and vice versa. I will do better.

      Jeff, I do not know whether the book countenances actual telepathy. I do know that the last Communist philosopher, Boris Yeltsin, proposes that the third leg of the human table is magic. Now, if I could only noodle out what he means by “magic,” other than sex. That part I do understand.

      I know that you are frustrated by commentary on the novel scatter hither and yon, Maria. Again I return to the novel for a statement in a later part, “. . .he mentions the chaos of the universe and says that only in chaos are we conceivable.” p. 736.

      I am going to try to add a “Borges” tag to this one in the hope of luring in one or two Borges people. Those Borges people are never around when you need them and always around when you don’t.

      • February 21, 2010 at 4:57 pm

        I see what you mean about Yeltsin, but that was also in a dream, right? So whatever the character of the telepathy I’m trying to figure out, that dream probably shares it.

        (Incidentally, it is impossible for me to read about the last Communist philosopher without thinking of Aleksii Antediluvianovich Prelapsarianov. Which is a funny juxtaposition with Boris Yeltsin.)

      • February 22, 2010 at 12:44 am

        I wish to pass along one other thing, Jeff. La Mexicana has now read this. While disagreeing with me only in certain particulars, she is a bit amused at how hard I had to work to get here. She contends that generally speaking, Latin American people are much more mystical than norteamericanos among whom she has also lived for extended periods. They are much more tapped into their dreams. Their dreams often speak to them later. They commonly have premonitions.

        She tells me that she found Isabel Allende’s portrayal of this in La casa de los espirits (The House of the Spirits) to be well done. We are both aware of Bolaño’s low regard for Isabel Allende, but of course these little spats between writers mean nothing.

        I have been very lucky and able to participate in activities in Mexico with Mexicans that in my previous life I would never have had any truck with, things involving shamans and such. What she says appeared self-evident to me at the time when I participated in these things even though I remained ever the peripheral American to a significant extent. I ought to have immediately brought that to bear on my reading of this part without having to jump through logical hoops first.

  6. Maria Bustillos
    February 23, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Steve. Yes. You’ll think I’m crazy but the fact is that I never really focused all that much difference between the Latin way of being and the USA one until I started reading this book, although there was every reason to have done so. I suppose that having grown up in California and only traveled in Mexico, South America and Spain as a kid, I kind of put it out of my mind, some.

    My maternal grandmother was a santera, though. Could cure your stomachache via prayer in a dark room, making a little cross of oil on your tum first. She spoke in tongues. Weird woman, seriously, I never realized how weird until I grew up. Or rather no, I think I haven’t realized it completely yet.

    But what I wanted to say was YES, there is a big difference between the Latin person’s interface to the world and the Anglo or USA one. Bigger than we think, maybe!

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