Sunday, July 05, 2009

The part about Amalfitano

It's been some time since I read part 2 of Roberto Bolaño's 2666 (I'm near the end of part 4, and reading some books alongside this one). I made some notes as I went along (from which most of the below is constructed), but this section, to judge by the vividness of it in my memory, seems not to have made as much of an impression on me as The Part about the Critics.

While this part has more "story" to it, it's also somewhat more surreal.

Lola has assimilated what she learned from Amalfitano into her own memory. She believes the poet is a former lover of hers, but it was from Amalfitano that she first learned about him.

It's never clear if her letters to Amalfitano relating her history with and her meeting with the poet are complete fabrications, or whether any portion of it is grounded in her actual experience.

Amalfitano himself becomes increasingly unreliable as a narrator, casting double doubt on Lola's story.

A handful of allusions again in this section, again that I'm unable to make anything of.

- "Sometimes she [Lola] felt like Electra, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, wandering in disguise in Mycenae, the killer mingling with the plebes [...]
- Other times the mother of Medon and Strophius
- Pylades, Orestes stand for the faces of many men

Amalfitano and Duchamp
Amalfitano finds a book in his possession and goes through some mental contortions to place it. (I can relate: Imagine finding a book that you have no inkling how it got there! It would drive me crazy!)

On the front flap, the reader was informed that the Testamento geométrico was really three books, "each independent, but functionally correlated by the sweep of the whole,' and then it said "this work representing the final distillation of Dieste's research on Space, the notion of which is involved in any methodical discussion of the fundamentals of Geometry."

Much the same could be said of 2666's first 3 parts, triangulating on Santa Teresa.

Amalfitano hangs the book out on a clothes line, in the spirit of a readymade conceived by Duchamp, who meant for the wind to go through the book and find (and deal with) its own problems or, as Amalfitano interprets it, to see if the book learns anything about real life.

It's Art, I guess, but I don't think Amalfitano's intentions are artistic ones, exactly. The act has the feeling of an I Ching. It seems to affect Amalfitano via osmosis, in that he starts producing drawings, quite unconsciously, diagramming, possibly, relationships between philosophers.

At which point it appears that Amalfitano is losing his mind. He considers that the voice in his head may be a product of telepathy.

Lola imagined she was establishing telepathic contact with the poet.

Amalfitano relates the voice in his head to telepathy and reads about the Araucanians, who had refined telepathy as a viable means of communication, as well as sending messages by the movement of branches.

Morini in his dream (in part 1) faced Norton "and she said: 'There's no turning back.' He heard the sentence not with his ears but in his head. Norton has acquired telepathic powers, Morini thought. She isn't bad, she's good. It isn't evil I sensed, it's telepathy."

Mostly I think this passage is funny:

One of the employees was a young pharmacist, barely out of his teens, extremely thin and with big glasses, who would sit up at night reading a book when the pharmacy was open twenty-four hours. One night, while the kid was scanning the shelves, Amalfitano asked him what books he liked and what book he was reading, just to make conversation. Without turning, the pharmacist answered that he liked books like The Metamorphosis, Bartleby, A Simple Heart, A Christmas Carol. And then he said that he was reading Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. Leaving aside the fact that A Simple Heart and A Christmas Carol were stories, not books, there was something revelatory about the taste of this bookish young pharmacist, who in another life might have been Trakl or who in this life might still be writing poems as desperate as those of his distant Austrian counterpart, and who clearly and inarguably preferred minor works to major ones. He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartleby over Moby-Dick, he chose A Simple Heart over Bouvard and Pécuchet, and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential words, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and tench.

However. There's something going on here: refusing to take on literature (or reality?) head on.

There's a lot of magic in this book, in different forms. The magic of dreams, telepathy, superstition, art and literature.

Boris Yeltsin — "last Communist philosopher" — appears to Amalfitano in a dream, with wisdom to impart:

And he said: listen carefully to what I have to say, comrade. I'm going to explain what the third leg of the human table is. I'm going to tell you. And then leave me alone. Life is demand and supply, or supply and demand, that's what it all boils down to, but that's no way to live. A third leg is needed to keep the table from collapsing into the garbage pit of history, which in turn is permanently collapsing into the garbage pit of the void. So take note. This is the equation: supply + demand + magic. And what is magic? Magic is epic and it's also sex and Dionysian mists and play. And then Yeltsin sat on the crater or the latrine and showed Amalfitano the fingers he was missing and talked about his childhood and about the Urals and Siberia and about a white tiger that roamed the infinite snowy spaces. And then he took a flask of vodka out of his suit pocket and said:

"I think it's time for a little drink."

(This dream sequence really stood out for me, and weirdly, there's a bit in part 4 that I just read that makes reference to it: a highly respected serial killer profiler "dreamed of a crater and a man pacing around it. That man is probably me, he said to himself in the dream, but it didn't strike him as important and the image was lost." So I'm thinking it's not the identity of the man that matters so much as the existence of the crater (or latrine — Amalfitano considers that it may be a latrine), some void left by a force of destruction, something blatant, which still they circle, as if to stare into that abyss, or acknowledge it, would negate their existence.)

Lola spends her time circling the poet, daring to meet him only twice (or was it more than that? either way, I think my point stands). She seems always to be waiting for a sign (sign of her friend Imma) before taking action, or taking for signs some mundane thing to justify her action. Amalfitano has his own disconnect from reality, circling round his career, his daughter, the city he lives in without daring a head-on confrontation. Is he waiting for the book to give him a sign? Or the voice? Bolaño certainly is circling round the murders at Santa Teresa.

The epigraph of 2666 comes from Baudelaire: "An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom." I'm beginning to see what this means.


claire said...

You gave light to so many things I haven't even realized! I'm not ready to admit yet that Amalfitano is going off the edge completely. Still waiting for answers, I guess, though I'm sure I won't get any. It's difficult to extract the meanings from all the subtleties but your post has added more insight. I'll be going back to it again and again..

claire said...

Re: Lola's story. It was indeed ambiguous which parts of them are real or fabricated. We never get a demarcation line over which are directly from Lola's letters and which are Amalfitano's imaginings.

Isabella K said...

Re Lola — even if the story comes directly from her letters, there's no way to know how much of the letters is base in reality vs her imagination.

Richard said...

Interesting post, Isabella. I too loved the pharmacist passage, but I had completely forgotten about the Morini-Norton telepathy "link" from part 1. Looking forward to part 3 and what you make of it. Happy reading!