In early reviews of the book, the reviewers—probably because of hasty readings—dwell on the obvious: Part 4 and the serial killings in Mexico. Also the title, that mysterious date, seems to draw similar attention. While these are worthy points of interest, I suspect they are part of Roberto Bolaño’s subterfuge.
If Part 4 and the murders is his reason for writing the book, why the four critics, why Amalfitano, why Mexico, why Archimboldi and his experience of the most brutal war in modern history? Surely something must tie these odd happenstances together.
For instance, what would tie Part 4 to Archimboldi’s story (other than the fact that he went there, probably to help out Klaus)? First, I think Bolaño, in depicting WWII’s eastern front akin to the brutal murders of women and the drug-related killings in Mexico, wants us to look at the role of violence in the human psyche. Germany, a heavily industrialized and technologically creative nation prior to WWII, committed its creative prowess to racial purity and war-fostered expansion, as did the Soviet Union.
Bolaño makes continual mention of Mexico’s maquiladoras, the import and assembly zones for products previously made (most often) in the U.S. These were supposed to be a commercial godsend to a society immobilized by class strictures and poverty. But Bolaño’s characters, while benefiting from these jobs, continually drift into crimes of various sorts, or are victims of such crimes. Whether he intended to expose Mexico’s population as remaining education-poor and barely living on low wages, or whether he believed that such jobs left Mexicans soul-poor is unclear. But he does depict that technology and economic well-being orchestrated for all the wrong reasons leaves humanity to wallow in their baser instincts.
And what to make of the sexual crimes, the constant references to his characters in the throes of copulation? This seems to Bolaño to be both a human escape from the ravages of poverty and war and a physical preoccupation to counter spiritual and intellectual poverty.
Amalfitano, in hanging his geometry treatise on the clothesline, seems to be saying that human efforts to raise itself up through intellectual and spiritual pursuits remain at the mercy of natural forces – violence and sex. In this, Bolaño’s thinking aligns itself with that depicted in Cormac McCarthy’s violence and sex-soaked stories.
Finally, Bolaño the writer wanted, I suspect, to pass on, as his death neared, his views of the writing life, literary fame and the value of literature itself. The irony of the four critics looking for Archimboldi in Mexico—while a few oblique references seem to mention him as a ragtag wanderer in Mexico’s outback—becomes poignant. They’re looking for an academic, a person of literary fame. Archimboldi, on the other hand is a man bearing the burdens of war and scratching out an existence through writing, a life that seems similar to the plight of modern Mexican workers. If one were to extend this as metaphor, we could see humans grappling for meaning in all the wrong places, much as the four critics continue to search for Archimboldi as something he is not nor ever will be. Archimboldi, through his persistence as a writer, gains a measure of literary fame, but this is a veneer the world has placed over him that in no way represents the person. As such Bolaño has created in Archimboldi the highest form of irony.
Next week, to end this examination of 2666 and Bolaño’s writing, I want to cite a passage in which he talks about such subjects.
As for 2666 – the date? I see nothing particularly significant about it, other than to say that Bolaño sees only a continuation of this state of affairs some 660 years into our future. But most good writers take the time to expose such aspects of the human condition in the hopes that awareness of them will allow the rest of us to cope with our foibles in a constructive manner, to turn our human swords into plowshares that will sustain us. One can hope that such a monumental task wasn’t beyond Bolaño’s vision—and isn’t beyond humanity’s capabilities.