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.
“[…] there is no getting around the fact that Seaman’s lectures are absurd.”
That they are. Having spent a lot of time in churches (although mostly rural as opposed to this scene’s setting) I have heard a lot of ostensibly “motivational” lectures exactly like this one. The digressions, meanderings, obtuse points, lack of context, the connecting of things that are in no way connected–all of that is dead on. I thought Bolano did a very impressive job with this scene.
And have you noticed, paravil, that the presentations of motivational speakers all resolve down to the same subject–themselves?
But I must add, paravil, that I found Barry Seaman appealing. One can laugh at the hustle and still enjoy the appeal of the hustler.
Oh definitely. I liked the character. I liked the way Bolano portrayed him all around. In a weird way, I found him to be the sort of guy that anyone might be comfortable hanging out and sharing a meal with. Which is weird, I guess, considering his personal history.
I want to congratulate you and everyone else posting at Infinite Zombies on your perceptive posts about 2666, thus far. This is my second read through it. During the first read last year, I have to admit that I glossed over most of the references to other authors, books, historical figures. Just the same, I thought the novel was amazing for Bolaño’s ability to write all these fantastic, absurdist characters and situations (not really plot in any traditional sense) while at the same time maintaining this tone of dark, incomprehensible decadence, decay, and palpable evil. It seems just at the point where you think the novel has completely run off whatever rail you thought that it was on, Bolaño returns to his locus of palpable evil at the end of the 20th century, Santa Theresa.
Reading 2666 the second time with Infinite Zombies and bolanobolano has been an even more gratifying experience.
Having said all of that, my take on Barry Seamen is that Bolaño does a masterful job of portraying an elderly, reformed revolutionary broken by the his years in prison and the loss of his best friend. He evinces a mix of street smarts, experiential knowledge, and truncated book learning, all rolled into a daft, bordering on senile, wisdom that seems to make more sense for the twisted, incomprehensible world Bolaño depicts. I don’t see him as a parody of a motivational speaker because I sense that Bolaño has a great deal of affection for this character.
Terrell, your reply makes me realize that I did slight Barry Seamans in the way I wrote about him. My reply above about his appeal to me sounds downright patronizing. Your description of him is great. I really do think that our views of him, and probably paravil’s, too, are much closer than it might appear.
I loving hearing everybody’s reactions to the characters and the situations in which RB finds them. This makes me a better reader, especially of a book chockablock with meaningful connections internal to the novel and external to the actual world.