On page 27, Mrs. Bubis (the widow of Archimboldi’s publisher) poses a question. She asks how well anyone could really know another person’s work. She shares an anecdote: She and an art critic friend were discussing the artist Grosz, and their two very different reactions to his work. It makes her laugh; it depresses him. The crux of the matter comes several paragraphs later: Which of the two actually knows his work? If presented with a painting that is supposed to be Grosz, and she laughs but he is not depressed—which of them is right?
The question of who is right is a little amusing. How could a reaction, an opinion, be correct? And yet, this new painting—it is either Grosz, or it’s not. Is the critic correct? Or the woman who simply enjoys looking at his paintings for the joy it brings? I don’t know. But it could be the woman, right? But then—what is a critic? Is a critic an expert? Or just another person with another opinion? Since the first section of the novel is called “The Part About the Critics,” it seems worthwhile to entertain the idea that, here, Bolano seems to questions the validity of this entire profession. These four critics value the work of Archimboldi above all else. They have dedicated their lives to it. And yet, the one review we see of his work (p26-27) states that another critic found it average, sloppy. Who is right? Does it matter?
I have an unrelated question. On page 13, the four pals are hanging out at a convention. Something struck me as peculiar: “[T]hey talked about future conferences, especially a strange one at the University of Minnesota… though Morini had reason to believe the whole thing was a hoax.” What? Why would it be a hoax? What could this possibly be referring to? Is this baffling or is it just me?
I would be remiss not to mention the three oddest, most surreal scenes I’ve read in a while. In quick succession, we go from Eurylochus, to Morini’s dream, to the Italian Gardens. “[B]ecause of the feast, the ship that bears Eurylochus capsizes and all the sailors die, which was what Pelletier and Espinoza believed would happen to Morini…” (p45) My goodness! No wonder those two had allowed Morini to fade from their lives! But why do they feel this way? We know that the two of them are equal in the eyes of Norton; are they jealous of her unique affection toward Morini?
Bolano then escorts us directly from this odd perception of a friend to the friend’s odd nightmare. The entire dream sequence is weird, but I’m particularly struck by, “She isn’t bad, she’s good. It isn’t evil that I sensed, it’s telepathy, he told himself to alter the course of a dream that in his heart of hearts he knew was fixed and inevitable.” Whoa. That seems awfully… final. And it’s a brand new view of Norton, that I’m not quite sure I understand at this point. Sure, she’s confused, she’s sleeping with two close friends, she obviously has both friendship and relationship issues. But that isn’t the perspective I’m seeing in this dream. He is truly frightened of her, of what she is.
And then we get the third bizarre scene: Morini visits Norton and stops at the park. He thinks to himself that “sometimes people are staggeringly ignorant of what’s under their very noses” and I can’t help but think he is referring to more than the ethnicities of the other patrons. To the stranger’s story about the type of mugs he likes to make, I can only repeat Morini: “I don’t know.” It obviously means something. Is it simply nostalgia for days past? I can’t imagine that is all there is to it; I just don’t feel like I thoroughly understand. I’m looking forward to reading what you guys thought!
I’m fascinated by the question about Grosz as well, and for me, it resonates very strongly with the bizarre horror movie Bolaño describes in this first section, in which two girls have different impressions of the same movie. Whether or not Bolaño is invalidating criticism or not I can’t say. He sure does poke fun at the critics and at the notion of any sort of right answer (he does some of this in The Savage Detectives too, I think), but on the other hand, every writer is also a critic of sorts. I think that for Bolaño, it’s probably the heart of a work rather than things like its structure or other elements that can be broken down and discussed that is important, and so maybe that’s what he’s getting at here.