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Pages 353-404: Mexican Zoetrope

March 8, 2010 4 comments

I speculated in the Fourth Installment on Fate entry about the possibility that when Bolaño was writing the passages concerning Professor Kessler and Hugh Thomas’s book, The Slave Trade, he was considering how he might use words in the service of revelation rather than avoidance in writing The Part About the Crimes.

Then Matt in his Tidbits piece got me focused on Professor Plateau and his invention that ultimately lead to the zoetrope.

I have finished my second reading of pages 353 through 404 of The Part About the Crimes. I originally gauged Bolaño’s intentions here to be to bring to each of these murder victims some small identity—to force us to contemplate them each individually for a moment. Words in the service of revelation rather than avoidance. The same sort of purpose the Vietnam Wall is designed to serve for 55,000 dead, in that case with severe space limitations. Some better feel for the magnitude of it all. I still think that.

However, as the crime victims fluttered by me this time, they became as individual images in an animation machine and a kind of persistent perception was implanted in my mind. The victims blended back together again into one image. The body of a girl with long hair, about five feet seven inches tall (tall for a Mexican woman), partially clothed, lying out in some vacant area along with garbage. No animation results, however. As this image slowly develops, it becomes a character in the novel that keeps reappearing. (There is a lot wrong with that whole metaphor, but still, I like it.)

Consider Epifanio’s dream of that female coyote dying by the road. Page 387.

And this was the last death of 1993, which was the year the killings of the women began in the Mexican state of Sonora, under Governor José Andrés Briceño of the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), and Santa Teresa Mayor José Refugio de las Heras of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), decent and upright men who did the right thing, without fear of reprisals, prepared for any unpleasantness.

Pages 393-94.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Charly Cruz at page 315:

And there’s no sense of the abyss anymore, there’s no vertigo before the movie begins, no one feels alone inside a multiplex. Then, Fate remembered, he began to talk about the end of the sacred.

See Daryl’s entry below on the sacred.

It is difficult not to think back on Oscar Fate’s ruminations on the sacred when we are confronted with the Penitent. The Penitent is only an inadvertent murderer, whom the interestingly named Juan de Dios Martínez began to like when the Penitent perfected his technique to eliminate the bloodshed. Page 368.

Thanks to Elvira Campos, another aspect of Fate’s experience comes back to mind, one that we have not discussed. Fate saw an eerie mural on the side of a building in Detroit. It was an image of a clock. Where each of the twelve numbers would normally have been, there were depictions of people working in the factories of Detroit with a recurring character, a black teenager. The mural looked like the work of a lunatic.

In the middle of the clock, where all the scenes converged, there was a word painted in letters that looked like they were made of gelatin: fear.

Page 241.

Elvira Campos brings these two abstractions, fear and the sacred, together nicely with her theory that the Penitent suffers from sacraphobia:

There are odder things than sacraphobia, said Elvira Campos, especially if you consider that we’re in Mexico and religion has always been a problem here. In fact, I’d say all Mexicans are essentially sacraphobes.

Page 381.

Even the Virgin of Guadalupe takes a hit from the Penitent at page 365.

(Will the asylum at which Elvira Campos is director be the one where Amalfitano eventually takes up residence?)

The Penitent is gone as quickly as he appears in the novel. Juan de Dios Martínez and Elvira Campos slowly fade from the picture, too. Sergio González, the arts writer from La Razón, files his story on the Penitent for the Sunday Magazine and promptly forgets about it all. It is as if these characters were invented and introduced solely to provide us with insight, if insight it is, into this confluence of fear and the sacred.

I guess we have to acknowledge, also, that Juan de Dios Martínez and Elvira Campos engaged in some ritualistic sex. She reminds me a bit of Liz Norton. But that all appears to be a throw-in. I liked these two, of course, but I had the odd feeling that the author was keeping me at some distance from them.

There’s for openers. I look forward to reading the thoughts of others. Later in the week something further concerning Olegario Cura Expósito, the illegal dump, El Chile, and some odds and ends.

–Steve Brassawe

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A Fool’s Sixth Installment About Fate

March 2, 2010 1 comment

Nothing cerebral about this at all, an entirely subjective view of pages 291 through 349, The Part About Fate. . .

Roberto Bolaño had to be a true fan of films. He was clearly inspired in part by film when he undertook this section and appears to have attempted to create in print the atmosphere of film noir. This recreation is complete with a retrospective voice-over at the very beginning of this part as we pan in on a reporter at work at his desk in New York. I know I mentioned this before, but I liked it.

Actually, I think he succeeded in recreating the atmosphere of a descendant of film noir. Fate discussed David Lynch with the desk clerk at page 339. The atmosphere of this part reminded me most of a David Lynch film that they did not mention, Blue Velvet, a film that truly freaked me out when I first saw it lo, these many years ago.

While we are on the subject of that desk clerk, I was struck by something he said:

“Every single thing in this country is an homage to everything in the world, even the things that haven’t happened yet,” he said.

It was as if he were telling us, “This all will be playing at a theater near you soon, folks.”

At any rate we went into Charly Cruz’s house at page 319 with everybody a little popped after the boxing match and a night out in the nether world of Santa Teresa. I experienced suspense. I admit it. I am probably the most cooperative reader around. I willingly suspend my disbelief at the drop of a hat. When Oscar encountered the Virgin of Guadalupe in the garage on the way in, I saw it as a portent. Something was going to happen for a change. It was only later when Oscar saw her again on the way out that I concluded the Virgin of color had blessed the man of color with a wink.

The Virgin of Guadalupe has historically blessed violence in the service of a sacred cause many times. When we saw what I took to be the first reel of a snuff film, another video fragment, and Rosa Amalfitano had disappeared in that house somewhere, I wanted Oscar to do something. I wanted Oscar to be the first major character in 323 pages to do something. If the only thing Oscar held sacred was beauty in the form of a pretty girl with perfect features, that was good enough for me.

I realize now that I was reading these scenes from the point of view of the other Oscar, Óscar Amalfitano. I myself am a father with beautiful daughters who sometimes did not display the sense that God gave an eel when they were younger. I did not want to know everything they did either, as long as they could handle it. But this was a different deal here. Little Rosa Amalfitano had gotten in over her head.

So then, what did my man do? (He suddenly became my man.) He dropped Corona with one punch and picked up his handgun. Count Pickett he may not have been, but my man had some stopping power in that fist. He had strained to let fly at somebody several times earlier in this part. He chose the perfect time and place to land one. In these new circumstances that sick Chucho Flores was immediately cured of his psychotic possessiveness. Good for a quick, bitter laugh for me.

It was a good little piece of violence, cathartic after the suspense. “Cathartic.” A pissant English Department kind of word. Actually, I wanted to smell some cordite in the air. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find that you get what you need. Isaac Hayes was singing the Theme from Shaft in my head. I am a sucker for stuff like this.

I still do not understand, however, why Oscar and Rosa gave that jerk Chucho Flores a ride to the bus stop though.

A satisfying conclusion for me, too.  Óscar Amalfitano finally found the wherewithal to do something. Calm did not let him down. It made no difference whether the guy in front of the house was a cop or a greaser.  Amalfitano did well in diverting his attention after fixing up Rosa with some money and telling them to get out of there. And we were on the way to the border.

”They’re good people, friendly, hospitable. Mexicans are hardworking, they’re hugely curious about everything, they care about people, they’re brave and generous, their sadness isn’t destructive, it’s life giving,” said Rosa Amalfitano as they crossed the border into the United States.
“Will you miss them?” asked Fate.
I’ll miss my father and I’ll miss the people,” said Rosa.

Such a truly cheap trick that by Bolaño. Still, it more than worked for me.

I sat back and relaxed in the sun. Rosa was out of there. Her father will never demand that she return to visit him in that mental lockup in Santa Teresa or Hermosillo. Nor will he forbid it either. But hopefully—a hope not entirely justified by the facts available—I clung to the thought that she will develop good sense, take comfort that Professor Pérez will visit her father regularly, and stay the hell out of there herself. Her father will be entirely satisfied with letters from her as he was with Lola. That scenario is not so bad, as he himself said.

If all this had to be purchased at some amorphous psychic cost to Oscar, that simply made him all the more admirable to me.

As for Rosa Méndez, Schopenhauer’s woman–she likes to have fun; life is short–Rosita is clearly going down. But we cannot save everyone, can we?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Interspersed with this is the story of Guadalupe Roncal, yet another reporter pulled out of her normal milieu, the city desk, and transformed into an anonymous crime reporter—after the real crime reporter had been tortured and murdered.

No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them.

It is through Ms. Roncal that we met Nietzsche’s Superman. If I had to interview Nietzsche’s Superman, I would not know what questions to ask him either. I cannot help but think that we will learn something more about the nature of that party going on back there in the cell block when he first appeared.

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A Fool’s Fifth Installment About Fate: Miscellaneous

February 28, 2010 5 comments

Everything I write here about 2666 ought to be read with an implicit question mark behind it. I earned my living for years saying things that I was not entirely sure of or that I flatly did not believe to be true. I must have been somewhat convincing because I did earn a living this way. The question marks here are going to be explicit. I am going to mash the question mark key occasionally.

Before we move on from page 290, I wish to mention some miscellaneous things that interested me in the beginning of The Part About Fate in the hope that one or two items may have interested others, too. There may be some repetition here of things discussed elsewhere, forgivable repetition, I hope.

1. It is repeatedly drummed into us that Oscar Fate’s understanding of what goes on around him is imperfect, as I suppose is the case with all of us. Earlier, I mentioned his inability to understand the words of the two women at the funeral, “words of consolation or rebuke.” Page 236.

At last a taxi stopped. When he was about to close the door he heard something like a shot. He asked the taxi driver whether he’d heard it. The taxi driver was Hispanic and spoke very bad English.
“Every day you hear more fantastic things in New York,” the driver said.
“What do you mean, fantastic?” he asked.
“Exactly what I say, fantastic,” said the taxi driver.

Page 239.

So did the Hispanic taxi driver with his bad English intend some word other than “fantastic?” Maybe. In any event, we are soon to go into Mexico with Oscar Fate who cannot speak Spanish, which will only enhance his imperfect understanding of what is going on.

This sort of thing happens again with the chant of the little girls jumping rope in Detroit at Temple A. Hoffman Memorial Playground, “something about a woman whose legs and arms and tongue had been amputated.” Fate is “[c]ompletely disoriented.” Page 245-46.

During the overheard conversation between Kessler and the young man, the young man “. . . said something about inspiration. All Fate heard was: you’ve been an inspiration to us.”

Anyway, you get the idea. This sort of thing occurs repeatedly. The upshot is that our own perceptions as readers are doubly imperfect.

2. Related to item one is the fact that Oscar is being sent on an assignment wherein he is out of his usual element, politics and social issues relating to the black community. (He will not be the last journalist in this predicament that we will encounter.) It is as if the sports editor assumes that any black man ought to know something about boxing. Nobody stereotypes African-Americans like other African-Americans.

3. How can one not wonder what the hell the deal is with Oscar’s stomach? I have studied all the contexts in which he vomits or suffers stomach discomfort, and I find no clue.

4. Antonio Jones’ answer to the question of why he kept doing what he was doing was remarkably simple and remarkably funny:

Because someone has to keep the cell operative.

Page 258.

You dummy, Oscar.

5. Dick Medina’s television news report on the woman from Arizona who had disappeared in Arizona obviously foreshadows. I find it fascinating that Oscar is asleep and dreaming of the last Communist in Brooklyn while it airs. I am not sure why I find it fascinating, but I do. Page 258.

6. Am I weird to be mulling over those identical twins with the Mexican woman in the diner as much I do? Pages 264-65. Maybe it is just that Espinoza, Pelletier, and Norton have me seeing threesomes everywhere. You must admit, though, that identical twins would be a nice touch.

7. Consider this:

She had a hoarse, nasal voice and she didn’t talk like a New York secretary but like a country person who has just come from the cemetery. This woman had firsthand knowledge of the planet of the dead, thought Fate, and she doesn’t know what she is saying anymore.

Page 273.

Could it be that Lola did not die and is now cleaning office buildings in New York instead of Paris? Or is this Lola’s ghost on the other end of the line?

8. Say what, Omar?

”What are you looking at?” Omar Abdul said to him.
“The landscape,” he said, “it’s one sad landscape.”
Next to him, the fighter scanned the horizon and then he said: “That’s just how it is here. It’s always sad at this time of day. It’s a goddamn landscape for women.”
“It’s getting dark,” said Fate.

Page 275.

Believe it or not, I am not blind to Bolaño’s faults. Quite honestly, I think he overdoes it with the dreams and the mirrors, tropes that are a bit shopworn, don’t you think? His foreshadowing can be a bit ham-handed. And the guy can get downright full of himself at times. I find it thoroughly improbable that Oscar Abdul would say this. As a result, this is too transparent an effort to create an atmosphere of foreboding. Too forced.

9.

“This is a big city, a real city,” said Chucho Flores. “We have everything. Factories, maquiladoras, one of the lowest unemployment rates in Mexico, a cocaine cartel, a constant flow of workers from other cities, Central American immigrants, an urban infrastructure that can’t support the level of demographic growth. We have plenty of money and poverty, we have imagination and bureaucracy, we have violence and desire to work in peace. There’s just one thing we haven’t got,” said Chucho Flores.
Oil, thought Fate, but he didn’t say it.
“What don’t you have?” he asked.
“Time,” said Flores. “We haven’t got any fucking time.”
Time for what? thought Fate. . . .

I love that passage. That passage boils with meaning in my opinion. And Fate’s thought of oil is funny to boot. Still, time for what? I have no idea either.

10. Johnny Swiggerson is a name very much like Dirk Diggler. Page 281.

11. Can we safely assume that Oscar knows how to kiss because he is critical of that dark-haired girls ability? Page 281. It is usually the woman who complains of the man’s ability at this, is it not? This one is not keeping me awake. However, I cannot recall another literary kiss that came about quite so abruptly. It was even more abrupt than, “Suddenly, they were kissing.” We bypassed that. “As he and the dark-haired girl who had come with Rosita Méndez were kissing. . . .”

12. Climacteric? Climacteric? Page 289. Male menopause? I am being stupid here, I know. Somebody please help. I need to look at the original Spanish there.

Enough. Let us read on.

And crawling, on the planet’s face, some insects, called the human race. Lost in time, and lost in space… and meaning.

The Criminologist in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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A Fool’s Fourth Installment About Fate

February 25, 2010 5 comments

On the way from Tucson to the border, Oscar overhears a conversation in a diner between a young man and a Professor Kessler, obviously some sort of expert in criminology. Excerpts from Professor Kessler’s mini-lecture delivered to the young man:

In the nineteenth century, toward the middle or the end of the nineteenth century, said the white-haired man, society tended to filter death through a fabric of words. Reading news stories from back then you might get the idea that there was hardly any crime, or that a single murder could throw a whole country into tumult. We didn’t want death in the home, or in our dreams and fantasies, and yet it was a fact that terrible crimes were committed, mutilations, all kinds of rape, even serial killings. Of course most of the serial killer were never caught. Take the most famous case of the day. No one knew who Jack the Ripper was. Everything was passed through a filter of words, everything trimmed to fit our fear. 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. [Emphasis mine.]

Professor Kessler, after widening his contemplations to the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries as well, then explains that in order for a murder to cause a sensation, it had to be a murder committed by people with victims who were both a part of society. Nobody cared if 20% of the “merchandise” in the holds of the slave ships died before delivery.

The ones killed in the Commune weren’t part of society, whereas the woman killed in a French provincial capital and the murderer on horseback in Virginia were. What happened to them could be written, you might say, it was legible. That said, words back then were mostly used in the art of avoidance, not of revelation. Maybe they revealed something all the same. I couldn’t tell you.

And then Professor Kessler’s opinions:

“All right, then,” said the white-haired man. “I’ll tell you three things I’m sure of: (a) everyone living in that city is outside of society, and everyone, I mean everyone, is like the ancient Christians in the Roman circus; (b) the crimes have different signatures; (c) the city seems to be booming, it seems to be moving ahead in some ineffable way, but the best thing would be for every last one of the people there to head out into the desert some night and cross the border.”

After this, Fate reads that passage from The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas that is a perfect demonstration of filtering the death in the holds of those slave ships through a fabric of words. That book has been discussed earlier.

I am wondering if, when Bolaño wrote this, he was considering how words might be used in the service of revelation rather than avoidance in connection with the women’s deaths in Santa Teresa, clearly people outside society as Professor Kessler explains it.

Or alternatively, if he wrote this after having written The Part About the Crimes–which I do not believe he did–perhaps he was explaining that he had tried to use words in the service of revelation rather than avoidance when he wrote that part.

It seems obvious to me that one endeavor in this novel is an attempt to make those murders “legible” in a way that they could not be made legible in news reports and the like, and in the process make death itself more “legible.”

At the same time, I am in no way suggesting that Bolaño was any sort of social crusader. I am not saying that he was not either. Whether he was or was not does not make any difference to me.

But that is only one of the endeavors. When I am foolish enough mention 2666 in conversation, for example when I am asked what I am reading lately, often the person will say something like, “Oh, yeah. That is the novel about the murders in Juarez, isn’t it?”

For the sake of keeping the conversation light and moving, I always lie and say, “Yes. That’s what it’s about.”

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A Fool’s Third Installmant About Fate: Meaning

February 24, 2010 6 comments

Yesterday I wrote a reply to a note by Maria at wwww.bolanobolano.com, a brilliant person whom I have known for years. The gist of it was that middle class people derive meaning in life from the things they buy. When they purchase a copy of 2666, there is much gnashing of teeth when they do not find meaning in it. I mashed the “Post” button.

Within minutes I realized that was not close to the idea that I wished to propose nor was it at all in the spirit with which I wished to propose it. For one thing, I am aware that the phrase “middle class” is never uttered without a sneer by some. I was not sneering. After all, I are one. I was too lazy to come up with a phrase less freighted with that baggage. But what would that have been? “Bourgeois people?”

Then the problem was that I could not figure out how to take down that reply. I considered for time posting a reply to my own reply, a reply that screamed, “This man is a cretin!” Then I said to myself, “What the hell? It is not as if I accidentally discharged my pistol and killed a child.” I went about my business. Now I feel pretty much as if I had accidentally discharged my pistol and killed a child.

I gnash my teeth more than most as is demonstrated over and over here. It is in the nature of the beast.

All I wished to suggest was that in former centuries people derived meaning from faith. Before that was magic. With the erosion of faith, people began to derive meaning from the things that money can buy. Now materialism is proving catastrophically unsatisfactory globally and spiritually.

Maybe one of the questions being illustrated by 2666 is, “What next are we going to try in our attempt to find meaning in an existence the meaning of which is obscure at best?” Again, maybe the book as a whole, through the response of mystification that it elicits in us, illustrates that question as opposed to posing the question more directly, or even indirectly, in a particular piece of text within it.

Assuming we get by Amalfitano’s philosophers’ question of whether we actually exist at all, that is, whether our hand is really a hand.

If Bolaño has big questions in mind, he never asks them. He illustrates them. The problem is that the illustrations are Rorschach tests.

Maria had proposed a meaning, extrapolated from a section of the novel, that somebody needs to do something about these murders of women in the hundreds. Maria is brilliant, as I have said, and I look forward to where she goes as she pursues that in the context of this novel. I say that with not a hint of sarcasm.

The kind of thing I said in that reply spilled from my partially fossilized left brain. Meanwhile, my right brain bubbled with delight when Oscar Fate later actually does do something—not much in the big picture of hundreds of murders, but something. Óscar Amalfitano, relying on calm just as the voice had admonished him, later does do something, too—again, not much, but something.

In the end, however, we are right back at the issue that Maria was pondering.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

For example, . . .

I cannot help but gnash my teeth regarding the meaning of the maquiladores churning out consumer goods, the stacks of garbage generated by the city, the parking lots carved into the sides of mountains, the stink of the place and such. Maybe these are nothing more than manifestations of the wonderful economic growth of the city as extolled by a couple of the less appealing characters, but the novel certainly has an apocalyptic feel about it.

The biocatastrophe people foresee a multifaceted worldwide apocalypse resulting from the infestation of the earth with human beings. That biocatastrophe, according them, will feature profound climate change, increasingly scant water, peak oil, diversified and intensifying waves of “ecotoxins” and “ecocontaminants,” antibiotic-resistant plagues, total collapse of ecosystems, and last but not least, the implosion of the monetary system—all occurring concurrently.

In other words war, famine, pestilence, and death with no rationale and no meaning from our perspective in the middle of it. No king’s writ is going to hold the center together. They blame this all on the consumer economy in the broad sense of the phrase, including the consumer economy of weapons. They foresee us all ultimately being on The Road with Cormac McCarthy, another acclaimed novel in which folks strain to find meaning.

There are those that take the position that we are past the tipping point already. The biocatastrophe is already inevitable. There are those that insist that if we do something now, the biocatastrophe might be avoided.

One might argue that Roberto Bolaño is in part offering us a vision of the front edge of this biocatastrophe, that with his recurrent rat imagery, he is suggesting that there are too many rats in the cage. It might be said that his vision of the biocatastrophe places an emphasis on the dimension of lawlessness.

I discarded that possible reading of the Rorschach test. I do not buy any of that biocatastrophe stuff. The very word implies a value judgment. Oscar Fate contemplated the dinosaurs in Temple A. Hoffman Memorial Playground, which, had they had the gift of self-awareness, would certainly have regarded their own extinction as a biocatastrophe.

It would only be a massive catastrophe from the human point of view. From the planet’s point of view, the Earth would simply be cleansing itself of us in preparation for righting itself over geologic time. In which case the more women murdered in Santa Teresa the better. The planet is not as fragile as folks imagine. Bolaño may just as well be telling us to relax. Everything is going to be fine.

My current working theory is that the author has cleverly chosen to speak his meaning to us through the ditzy philosopher, Rosa Méndez:   Have fun. Life is short.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Notwithstanding all that, I do still believe that it is premature at a point less than halfway through this novel to become frustrated that the relationship between the five parts is not yet clarifying let alone clear, that the overriding theme or theme of the book is or are not apparent, or that the large meaning of it all is not emerging from the mist. That might be legitimate cause for dissatisfaction when nearing the halfway point of a conventional novel. It might. But this is not one of those.

Perhaps the best thing to do at this point is to pretend that it has no meaning, and rather, focus on trying to understand the characters to the extent we can, making sure we know what happens to the characters, comparing impressions of the imagery, trading notes on the other authors to whom this author alludes, and the like. There will be whatever lifetime is left to each of us after finishing the novel to ponder the big questions.

This is only a suggestion.

Also, I believe that I need to give considerably more thought to my replies over in http://www.bolanobolano.com before mashing the “Post” button.

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A Fool’s Second Installment on Fate

February 23, 2010 7 comments

The helluva ride we are about to take in The Part About Fate is into the netherworld of Santa Teresa. We are going to leave poolside where Pelletier tried to noodle out what was happening there by studying the newspaper with his Spanish dictionary at his side. We are leaving Amalfitano, who only senses the miasmal atmosphere of the place and experiences premonitions and then attends cocktail parties with academics.

But first we encounter this series of episodes in Fate’s work life after his mothers death and before Mexico even enters his mind. What to make of these vignettes that have been discussed so perceptively elsewhere here?

These vignettes appear to me to be within the long tradition of absurdist literature. If one is more frustrated, perhaps even angry, than entertained by The American Dream by Edward Albee or Waiting for Godot, then certainly one is going to derive no entertainment from these introductory vignettes. We are in the world of Camus’ The Stranger and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis or The Trial. I am not the first to have mentioned The Stranger hereabouts, but I cannot find that earlier reference in order to give credit. If one does not enjoy these things, if one is more frustrated than entertained, that does not necessarily make one less sophisticated or artsy than the next person.

At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, nothing makes sense here. Nothing.

Certainly, Fate himself is not making sense of much. I was struck by two things. First, is his imperfect perception of things. After his mother’s funeral:

At the end, two of them came up to him and spoke words he didn’t understand, words of consolation or rebuke.

Second is his fragmentary perception of things, particularly these television programs and movies and cartoons. He perceives only fragmentary and fleeting images in these things. I believe this to be important because the centerpiece of The Part About Fate is a fragment of a film, a snuff film, and we as readers must infer the nature of the thing from an imperfectly perceived fragment.

Are not imperfect perceptions and fragmentary images part of the very nature of our own human existence? We seldom hear people perfectly and understand. We do not have a narrator in our heads on a day to day basis explaining things to us and then wrapping everything up in a ribbon with a neat, logical conclusion.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Of course, I must say something about Barry Seaman. I myself am not sure that we should make too much of the Bobby Seale connection. One who does that embarks on a fruitless attempt to make sense of something that is not intended to make sense.

We are about to go on a trip in this part, as I mentioned at the beginning. Seaman’s “lectures” remind me very much of Father Mapple’s sermon at the beginning of Moby Dick before the voyage is undertaken there. However, there is no getting around the fact that Seaman’s lectures are absurd. My picture of him much more resembles George Foreman with his motivational lectures and his George Forman Grill than Bobby Seale. They are masterfully done in the sense that at times he starts to make sense. It is not gibberish. But just when he starts to make sense, he veers off into some bizarre digression. And I do mean bizarre.

There is humor here, too. Upon the instant of their first meeting:

“I need to use the bathroom,” said Fate.
“Jesus,” said Seman.

The lectures are amusing for me to say the least. Seaman’s favorite book is not simply A Digest of the Complete Works of Voltaire. It is An Abridged Digest of the Complete Works of Voltaire. Perhaps he should have opted for the full digest.

Seaman’s lectures are an absurdist exhortation before we sail off into the world of the streets and clubs of Santa Teresa, a world that does not make sense. And who are we going with? A black man with issues who cannot speak Spanish.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Speaking of humor:

In not very good English the girl answered that she liked to have fun. Life is short, she said, and then she was quiet, looking back and forth between Fate and Chucho Flores, as if reflecting on what she’d said.
“Rosita is a little bit of a philosopher, too,” said Charly Cruz.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

All criticism is ultimately a nightmare, he thought as he washed his face in the apartment where his mother’s body no longer was.

Perhaps, but we need to try anyway.

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A Fool’s First Installment on Fate

February 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Surely, everyone has discerned by now that I am a fool for this novel.

I admit that as much as I admired the first two parts, I was a little lonely for some plot. I know. I know. That is like looking at a Willem de Kooning and asking, “But can he draw?” So you are going to have to take my word on this. I am a very sophisticated, artsy kind of guy. But even I was hungry for a more traditional story after the first two parts. Roberto Bolaño must have heard my mutterings ten years before I muttered them. This sort of thing can happen in his world, you know. I am sure that he said something like this:

Plot? You mean like opening, development, anti-climax, climax, and conclusion? You mean like story line? (He spat the words “story line.”) Yeah, I can give you that, Steve. I have settled enough scores with those other writers I detest–for the time being anyway. But I am going to give it to you on my own terms. This kind of thing bores me. I am going to have to amuse myself while I do this.

I love film noir. I am going to start with a voice-over speaking in retrospect as we pan in on a journalist at his desk in New York. But I need to add a degree of difficulty to something that I could otherwise do in my sleep. I need a challenge. I am going to make this journalist African-American. Let’s see if I can do black characters from the United States of America. I honestly don’t know myself whether I can.

I am going to give my main character a cheaply evocative name like John Shaft. He is not going to be a John Shaft though. Isaac Hayes is not going to be singing in the background. He is just going to be a black guy with a bad stomach.

Just for fun, I am going to adopt a totally different style of writing. I am going to channel Don Ernesto, giving you for the most part only the facts of what happens. I am not going to give you hints as to how you ought to feel. Let’s see if by doing that and only that, I can create some suspense. Maybe I can get some real emotion out of you as you read this. This is going to be poetry of an entirely different kind.

I have always admired Camus’ The Stranger. That opening with Mersault amid the aftermath of his mother’s death is good stuff. Mersault’s response to his own mother’s death is so flat. I am going to open this novel with my main character in the aftermath of his own neglected mother’s death. I think I can do it better than Camus did. . . .

And on he blathered. And I found it to be one helluva ride.

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