Yes, that moment. More precisely, I’m having a crisis of faith in this book. I’m afraid that whatever it amounts to after 900 pages will be a nasty something. Outside of Quincy Williams’s dislocation at the beginning of the the Part About Fate—which I think we can reasonably interpret as grief—I’ve barely even seen anything humane in this first third of the book. (Perhaps I should exclude the Part About Amalfitano; easy enough to do, as much as I like it, since it makes up so very little of the book.) Sure, there are funny bits, but every time I’ve laughed, it’s been in what Mario Incandenza would recognize as a way that isn’t happy. And I don’t expect to find much comfort during the 300-plus pages we’re going to spend slipping down the drain.
I take Steve’s point that these concerns hang on a short nail, but I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that what I have read of the book (everything up to the current spoiler line) is deeply pessimistic, maybe nihilistic, with respect to the idea that the world can be improved or even understood. And I also don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that I see no indication that the book will suddenly swing sails and beat back into this wind of hopelessness. My apprehension may prove to be incorrect, but it’s hardly unfounded.
When I was contemplating this post, before Daryl struck up the conversation about a successor book, I already had my single reading of Gravity’s Rainbow in mind. That novel seems similarly skeptical of ordering the world, except it takes paranoia as its model rather than pessimism. (By which I mean the world is equally meaningless if it never had any meaning as it is if there have been so many meanings piled onto each other that there’s no viable way to choose one.) It’s hardly an uplifting book: It’s got more than its fair share of rape, torture, and coprophagy (I wonder what a fair share would be), and it was all I could do to get through the extended fantasia of Through the Toilet-Bowl, and What Slothrop Found There. But that book at least had lingering pleasures—the octopus attack, the Kenosha Kid fugue, the divinely silly image of a hot-air balloon fighting back against a warplane with cream pies. It was, in enough places anyway, funny, and it surprised me with its reverence for love. Through everything, it struck me as a basically humanist book. (Folks who’ve read it more carefully or often than I have, speak up.) I don’t have the same impression of 2666 because I don’t see that it cares for anyone. (Naptimewriting’s comment has more.) At least not anyone who’s still alive.
It’s not that I require a book to have a positive message; it’s that I’m distressed by a book that seems so contemptuous of practically every person in it. If the point is merely to show that people are brutish and nasty, and that as one global race we permit and perpetrate atrocities so we’re all complicit—I got that, thanks. I hope that’s not the extent of what the book is going to have to say about the condition of living in the world as a human being. If there’s nothing more, then art’s just for suckers, and there’s no point in writing. I don’t believe Edwin Johns is correct, but my reading so far suggests that the book might.