An Oasis of Boredom in a Desert of Horror

Early on in the first installment of Infinite Summer, I blogged about front matter in David Foster Wallace’s books. The things I’ve read over the last ten or eleven years always seem in some way to circle back to Wallace — so much of my reading has been at the recommendation of people on the wallace-l discussion list — and 2666 is no exception. It’s fitting, then, that I return to front matter to kick off blogging my reading of 2666.

Or, to be a smidge more accurate, let me start with top matter. I own the three-volume boxed set, and the top of the box is emblazoned with the following review excerpt from The New York Review of Books:

[Bolaño’s] masterwork… An often shockingly raunchy and violent tour de force (though the phrase seems hardly adequate to describe the novel’s narrative velocity, polyphonic range, inventiveness, and bravery) based in part on the still unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Cuidad Juarez, in the Sonora Desert of Mexico.

If it’s on the jacket (or box), it can’t be considered a spoiler to bring up before a milestone, so I’ll confirm (having read the book a year ago) that much of the book does in fact center on the horrific murders in the Sonora Desert, so that the desert becomes in a very real way the desert of horror I refer to in my title. But my title is an inversion of the book’s epigraph, a quote from Baudelaire’s The Journey:

O bitter is the knowledge that one draws from the voyage!
The monotonous and tiny world, today
Yesterday, tomorrow, always, shows us our reflections,
An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom!

Of Baudelaire’s poem, which Bolaño named the most lucid of the 19th century, our author said the following (source):

The voyage that the crewmen undertake in Baudelaire’s poem resembles the voyage of the condemned. I’m going to travel, I’m going to lose myself in unknown territory, to see what I find, to see what happens….The voyage, this long and accidental voyage of the 19th century, is like the trip the patient makes on a stretcher, from his hospital room to the operating room, where beings with faces hidden behind masks are waiting, like bandits from the Hashishin sect.

and, of the line I’ve inverted:

There is no diagnosis more lucid that expresses the sickness of modern man. In order to get free from boredom, to escape the dead zone, all we have at hand….. is horror, that’s to say evil.

So, then, maybe we can take from this epigraph, in concert with the disturbing subject matter we know the book takes on, that Bolaño seeks to tell a story about the sickness of modern man. Whether an oasis of boredom in a desert of horror would be more welcome to Bolaño than the referenced oasis of horror in a desert of boredom we’ll just have to monitor as we go along.