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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
I thought the twins you mention in 6 were pretty interesting too. Twins and doubling are just all over this book (and they go along with the mirrors you express disdain for, I guess). Even in this section, we’ve got two Oscars and two Rosas, with Oscar Fate himself a sort of doppelganger to the other self we learn is named Quincy. I’m not really sure what to make of it all, but I also find it interesting.
I think the mirrors often seem to be: someone like myself, or someone whom I believe to be like myself.
Love this post.
I’ve got one cooking, but it won’t be ready until tomorrow.
Thanks for this, Steve. I know how much you admire this book (and it was also very helpful a post or two ago to read your clarification of you feelings for it), and so I’m kind of wryly grateful to read that even admirers can become a wee bit tired of all the omens and portents that seem to lurk around every corner. Does nobody just simply have a cup of coffee and go to work in this book without pondering the dark bitterness of the beverage and somehow thinking about death?
However, given what this book increasingly seems to be “about,” the sense of a living nightmare also fits. Part of me says “enough already” and part of me feels like it’s all of a piece.
Darn it! I forgot to mention one other passage in this section that interested me even more than some of those that I listed. It is with regard to the blind masseur reading books in braille.
Fate imagined the masseur reading in a dark room and a shudder passed through him. It must be something like happiness, he thought.
Unless, of course, the blind masseur is reading 2666.
I should add that up there, but I am not going to fool with formatting those numbered paragraphs anymore. With that, Dan, I am going to have another cup of coffee and not go to work.
Visual perception (and tomfoolery therewith) seems to be pretty important in this section of the book. I had forgotten about both the blind masseur passage and the zoetrope passage somebody brought up in a post this morning, but both have to do with flawed visual perception. Then there’s the winking Virgin of Guadalupe and the mention (which I tie to the virgin) of Blind Justice. I wonder if there are others I’ve missed. It certainly all seems to tie in with the theme of flawed perceptions of reality, e.g. the unsatisfactory filters through which we get accounts of abuse.