In October of 2004 the novel 2666 was published by a prestigious Spanish publishing company and in less than three years it is already in its seventh edition. It was the last novel of Roberto Bolaño (1953 – 2003) who died before he could see it in print. The book is more than one thousand pages long and it is broken up into five parts.
The first part, La parte de los críticos/The part of the critics, tells the story of four critics who admire the same mysterious German author: Beno Von Archimboldi. A search for this writer brings them to Santa Teresa, a Mexican city on the border with the United States. Almost at the end of this section, on page one hundred and eighty one, the critics discover that in that city many women have been raped and brutally killed since 1993. This is the first reference to the crimes. They talk about the more than two hundred murdered women and about the inability of the police to find and arrest the culprits.
The second part, La parte de Amalfitano/The part of Amalfitano, is about the life of a Chilean philosopher who has served as a guide for the Europeans critics during their stay in Santa Teresa. He –as was the case with Bolaño himself- had to live in exile from his country during the Pinochet dictatorship and he has been living in a number of places before establishing himself in Mexico with his daughter, Rosa. The third part, La parte de Fate/The part of Fate, narrates the adventures of Antonio Fate; an African American journalist, a specialist in politics who arrived in Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match. He discovers the story about the crimes and decides to write about them. This part connects the killing of the women with the fight of African Americans for their rights because he writes for a very political magazine, (although they reject the article that Fate offers them about the crimes). It also serves as a bridge between the second and the fourth parts of the novel: the journalist falls in love with Rosa and, compensated by her father, he escapes with her to the States.
The fourth part or La parte de los crímenes/The part of the crimes, which is the section I want to focus on, narrates the murders of the women that have been taking place from 1993 to 1997 in Santa Teresa, Mexico. Santa Teresa is the name that Bolaño uses to refer to Ciudad Juárez, a city on the border with the United States where, as of the time I write this, more than 400 women have been killed, most of the murders being crimes that also entailed sexual violence. Finally, the last part of 2666, La parte de Archimboldi/The part of Archimboldi is dedicated to the biography of the writer Beno von Archimboldi. He turns out to be the son of a ex soldier from the First World War and he himself became a soldier of the Third Reich before deserting, changing his name and becoming a writer.
2666 is a very ambitious novel and as its own title infers –2666 can be read as "to 666", 666 being the symbol of the devil- this book explores the nature of evil. The writer had already worked on this question, particularly in his novel: Estrella distante/ Distant Star (published by New Directions Publishing Corp., 2005) but in 2666 he puts together a genetic blueprint of contemporary evil that goes from the Third Reich, the USSR of Stalin, and finally the unpunished crimes of the women in Santa Teresa. However, 2666 is not an account of horrors, or at least not only, and Roberto Bolaño is not an historian, neither is he a sociologist, he is a writer of fiction, and 2666 is a novel. In this paper I will try to explore the literary specificity of this text that deals with one of the most arresting and troubling capacities of the human being, the capacity for evil.
During three hundred and fifty pages Roberto Bolaño narrates a succession of crimes committed between 1993 and 1997. In 2000 Bolaño contacted Sergio González a Mexican journalist who was working on a book about the crimes in Ciudad Juarez. He wanted to gather information about some details of the murders such as the kinds of weapons that were used, or the kind of cars that were driven by the drug dealers, or details about the judicial proceedings that took place where the homicides were described1. Finally Bolaño uses Sergio González as a character in the novel, without changing the author's name. Then in 2002 Sergio González's book Huesos en el desierto/Bones in the dessert, was published by the same publishing house that brought out 2666 two years later. It is very plausible that after reading 2666 many readers of Bolaño might become interested in the crimes that occurred in Ciudad Juarez and that they – or maybe I should use the term 'we' since I am describing my own case here as well - look further into the chronicle of these grisly deaths in the non-fiction Huesos en el desierto, and vice versa. These two books are connected, and both of them are also related with the crimes in Ciudad Juarez. How does this relationship work?
In the case of Huesos en el desierto the text is a direct social denunciation of the situation in Ciudad Juarez. In the preface to the third edition (2005) Gonzalez cites a quote from Paul Ricoeur from Tiempo y narrativa (Time and narrative /Temps et Récit) to illustrate the intention of his work: "There are crimes that should never be forgotten, victims whose suffering demands not only vengeance but narration. Only the will to never forget can help prevent such crimes from being committed again." The language used by González is a 'performative' language, one that denounces the impunity of these crimes and fights the collective amnesia. The commitment to the facts found in this book is clear and straightforward and its ethical position is also direct.
What happens in 2666? Why is it that "La parte de los crímenes" has a fundamentally different relationship with the facts? Roberto Bolaño has invented a name for the city, Ciudad Juarez has become Santa Teresa. He also has changed the names of the victims and the names of most of his characters, however some of them maintain clear resemblances to the names of the real people. For instance Albert Kessler in the novel is clearly supposed to be a version of Robert K. Ressler, a prestigious US criminologist who was brought to Ciuded Juarez in 1995. A good number of elements in this part of the novel are based on the events that had been taking place in Ciudad Juarez. In many cases the texts on both books are indistinguishable grammatically and syntactically:
En el otoño de 1998 fue hallado en un basurero de Ciudad Juarez el cuerpo de una mujer de cerca de 20 años. / In the fall of 1998 the body of an approximately 20 year old woman was found in a garbage dump adjacent to the city of Juarez. (González, p. 159)
El siete de octubre fue hallado a treinta metros de las vías del tren, en unos matorrales lindantes con unos campos de béisbol, el cuerpo de una mujer de edad comprendida entre los catorce y los diecisiete años. / On October 7th the body of a woman, believed to be 14-17 years old, was found some thirty meters from the railroad tracks next to some baseball fields. (Bolaño, p. 724)
As Ann Banfield explains in her book Unspeakable sentence, we have to find the difference between the fictional and the non-fictional in a different realm.
If the difference between fictional narration and historical narration is not linguistic, we must then look outside the sentence itself for an explanation. We can find one in the difference between the novelist and the historian. The difference is not one that in anyway involves the person of a real novelist or a real historian; it concerns the differences in these two roles assumed by the real writers. The assumption of one role or the other is an intentional act that governs how the resultant narrative statements are read. (Banfield, p. 258)
She asserts: "the difference between them is that the fictional narrative statement is immune to judgments of truth or falsity; in fiction, they are suspended"2. But why does the reader enter in the game? Why do we decide to give this power to the writer and suspend our demand for veracity? Do we really suspend it?
When a journalist asked Sergio González why he decided to make a book from his articles, he answered that in 2000 he realized he had to write a book because the facts were becoming more and more complex and a book would give them order. This was right after he suffered an assault that sent him to the hospital after identifying in an article some politicians and policemen involved in the crimes. By narrating the crimes González makes the victims become "carnal presences" and it demands a figurative reading of the text. The body of his words couldn't be more "real" than the assault he suffered because of them. Sergio Gonzalez narrates the facts as a witness, and by writing them he has become part of his own narration. The consequences of his articles and of his book transform the different editions of his book that keeps growing. By writing his book Gonzalez is following an ethical imperative in the same way the evangelists were following a religious command by writing the life of Christ. In this sense he is a secular apostle and not a novelist. He is describing what he knows about the crimes. For him, narration is the best way to describe these facts. He is looking for the absence of form. The work of Roberto Bolaño is radically different. He is a novelist. He has written a fictional text. What is this process of becoming fiction? How does this happen?
Bolaño has been preparing the reader to enter into his account of the crimes for some four hundred pages, and then he has turned these events into fiction. He writes about one hundred and ten of the murders, with more or less detail depending on the case, using a forensic language, all of it inter-cut with the story of many other characters that are somehow related to the crimes. This is, in fact, the most polyphonic part of the novel. As in the rest of his books Bolaño only uses paragraphs to separate his narrations. The work of Bolaño is focused on form to such an extreme that the form gains ascendancy over the murders and becomes present for the reader giving the text an internal logic. In terms of Ranciere it has been passed from the figurative to the figural. Ranciere relates the term figurative with the concept of Mimesis used by Auerbach, and the figural with the "hermeneutic intrigue" of Kermode. Both theorists arrive at opposite conclusions:
Auerbach bases a theory of the realist novel on the becoming-flesh of Christian narrative. We can propose an opposite relationship. We can show that the event of flesh is first of all an event of writing, a production of writing by itself. And on that we can base a theory of the novel as a game. That is what Frank Kermode does in The Genesis of Secrecy. Not that he is preoccupied with refuting Auerbach. But he finds in the same Gospel of Mark and in the same episodes of the Passion a model of novelistic practice that is the exact opposite of Auerbach's analysis: no only in the side of the idea that becomes carnal presence but, conversely, on the side of the illusion by which the proposed carnal presence vanishes into the economy of the text. It makes this a simulacrum of a sacred text in which the novelist exercises his power to make the meaning it hides sparkle, a meaning that is finally nothing other than the pure relationship of writing to itself, the pure demonstration of the power of the writer. (Ranciere, p. 76)
For the success of this "figural reading" proposed by Kermode the writer should give the reader signs that allow him to interpret the text, that is how it could be seen beneath "the story for the meaning that another story will reveal."
Muchas conjeturas cabe aplicar al acto de
Droctulf; la mia es las mas economica; sino
es verdadera como hecho, lo sera como simbolo3.
As a modern novel 2666 uses many signs that give body to the text and allows the reader to understand its internal logic. During the third part of the novel the reader receives many clues that warn him about the importance of the crimes that are taking place in Santa Teresa. There are two moments in particular that alert us to the symbolic nature of the crimes we are about to read about. The first one takes place when the receptionist at the hotel were the journalist Antonio Fate is staying shares his feelings about his own country:
- Cada cosa en este país es un homenaje a todas las cosas del mundo, incluso a las que no han sucedido –dijo. / -Everything in this country is an homage to every event in the world, including things that never happened – he said. (Bolaño, p. 428)
Almost at the end of this part, right before we enter in La parte de los crímenes we read:
Fate recordó las palabras de Guadalupe Roncal. Nadie presta atención a estos asesinatos, pero en ellos se esconde el secreto del mundo. ¿Lo dijo Guadalupe Roncal o lo dijo Rosa? Por momentos, la carretera era similar a un río. Lo dijo el presunto asesino, pensó Fate. El jodido gigante albino que apareció junto con la nube negra. / Fate recalled the words of Guadalupe Roncal. Nobody pays any attention to these murders, but the secret of the world is hidden within them. Guadalupe Roncal said it or was it Rosa? It was probably the murderer who said it, Fate imagined. The fucking monstrous albino that appeared with the black cloud. (Bolaño, p. 439)
However it is in the fourth part where we obtain a sign to decipher – if such a thing is ever possible - the body of the novel. In three different occasions some of the Bolaño characters use the adjective "weird"4 with a vengeance. Any time this word appears it can imply two different things: The first is that there is something that is seen as apparently outside of the "natural law". If we understand by "natural law" the convention that the society has established as a logic or paradigm from decodified "reality". And second, that there is someone who is able to step back from the established paradigm and realize that the old paradigm is unable to explain certain events. Therefore to discern what is the nature of the weirdness that is pointed to in the novel it is necessary to examine who the characers are that bring these anomalies to our attention. Who are the children who shout that the Emperor has nothing on5?
The first to use this term is Klaus Haas the German suspect that has been arrested and put in jail while waiting for a trial that never happens. Klaus is talking with his attorney about a brutal crime that he has seen in prison. He says:
Yo podía verlo todo porque soy alto. Raro: no se me revolvió el estómago. Raro, muy raro: vi la ejecución hasta el final. / I was able to see it because I was tall. Weird: I didn't get sick to my stomach. Weird, very weird: I witnessed the execution from start to finish. (Bolaño, p. 655)
After three pages Bolaño puts the same word again on the lips of a young policeman called Lalo Cura:
Cuando Epifanio le preguntó por qué razón había ido al barranco de Podestá, Lalo Cura le contestó que porque era policía. Usted es un escuincle de mierda, le dijo Epifanio, no se meta donde no le llaman buey. Después Epifanio lo cogió de un brazo y lo miró a la cara y le dijo que quería saber la verdad. Me pareció raro, dijo Lalo Cura, que en todo este tiempo nunca había aparecido una muerta en el barranco de Podestá. ¿Y eso usted cómo lo sabe, buey?, dijo Epifanio. Porque leo los periódicos, dijo Lalo Cura./ When Epifanio asked him why he had gone to the Podestá ridge, Lalo Cura said it was because he was a cop. You're a little piece of shit, Epifanio told him, keep your fucking nose out of it. Then Epifanio grabbed him by the arm and looked at him straight in the face and said he wanted to know the truth. It seemed very weird to me, Lalo Cura replied, that in all this time not a single body had been found in the Podestá ridge. And how do you know that pal? Epifanio asked him. Because I read the newspapers, said Lalo Cura. (Bolaño, p. 658)
Lalo Cura and Haas Klaus share some interesting characteristics. First of all they are outsiders, a characteristic that gives them a different perception of what is happening in Santa Teresa since they haven't interiorized the codes of the city. Both of them are seen by the reader as some of the most naïve characters of the book. Klaus is the first scapegoat that is arrested for the crimes. Further on in the conversation with his lawyer he is still amazed that nobody did anything to stop the execution:
¿Y tú crees, dijo la abogada, que afuera no lo saben? Ay, Klaus, qué ingenuo eres. Más bien soy tonto, dijo Haas. ¿Pero si lo saben por qué no lo dicen? Porque la gente es discreta, Klaus, dijo la abogada. ¿Los periodistas también?, dijo Haas. Ésos son los más discretos de todos, dijo la abogada. En ellos la discreción equivale a dinero. ¿La discreción es dinero?, dijo Haas. Ahora lo vas entendiendo. / And do you believe, the lawyer said, that nobody out there knows about this? Oh Klaus, you are so naive. Maybe I´m just dumb, Haas replied. But if they do know something why don´t they say anything? Because people are discrete Klaus, the lawyer said. The newspaper journalists as well, asked Klaus? Those are the most discrete of all, said the lawyer. For them discretion equals money. Discretion is equivalent to money? said Klaus. Now you are beginning to understand. (Bolaño, p. 655)
Haas finds his own capacity to witness brutality weird. He wonders why they were looking at the prison killing without doing anything and his attorney's reaction is to judge Haas as a very naïve man, because he couldn't even imagine that everybody but him knew what the reason was for that crime; in this case money. Lalo Cura considers a characteristic of the crime they are working on as being weird and the reaction of Epifanio to his behavior is also meaningful. He reprimands Lalo Cura for investigating the facts of a crime that Lalo considers weird but worthy to explore in order to solve the case. In the context of the novel what should be the duty of a policeman becomes suspicious behavior since everybody else is discrete, as the attorney points out, and they do not want to stir up the crimes:
El consul meditó un instante y acabó dándole la razón al jefe de la policía. Mejor no mover la mierda, pensó. / The consul meditated for an instant and ended up agreeing with the chief of police. It was better not to stir up the shit, he thought." (Bolaño, p.568)
Los patrulleros pensaron que podia tratarse de narcotraficantes y que tal vez lo major sería irse y no remover más el asunto. / The patrolmen thought it probably had to do with the drug traffickers and that perhaps the best thing to do was to just leave and not stir anything up. (Bolaño, p.663)
Klaus Haas can be considered as a kafkanian character - or a kafkanian subject of the action, to uses the term of Blanchot- because like Joseph K. in The Process he has been accused of a crime and he has not received any explanation for what is going to happen to him. All through the book we can see Haas fighting for his freedom without success and becoming more and more despairing because, as in the Kafka novels, he can't see the end of this process. The novel describes a mechanism that has begun and that cannot be stopped.
For his part, Lalo Cura is the only character the reader has basically gotten to know since his childhood. He is a poor teenager that Pedro Negrete, the chief of police, selects from a village to work as a bodyguard for Pedro Refingio, a narco-traficker friend of his. Lalo Cura is presented to us as a very young boy, very quiet, brave and easy to get along with. He follows the orders he is given. When he is asked to protect the wife of Renfigio he does so without asking and only after he leaves them and becomes a policeman does he discover that his ex boss is a drug dealer and when he is sent to become a policeman he also agrees and he tries to do his job as good as he can without considering that the rules he reads in the manuals can differ from the non explicit rules that the policemen follow to save their lives or to get money. A parallelism could be made with the character of Herman Melville's Billy Budd. Following the reading that Deleuze offers about Billy Budd and Bartleby these are adaptable characters "almost stupid, creatures of innocence and purity, stricken with a constitutive weakness but also with a strange beauty. Petrified by nature, they prefer… no will at all, a nothingness of the will rather than a will to nothingness."6 Like Bartley and Billy Budd, Lalo Cura is demanding a new logic. The name of Lalo Cura is highly meaningful, if we read it all together it means: The madness (La locura), and we should remember now that until very recently madness was considered behavior that rejects the established social norms. That is exactly what Lalo Cura does by taking seriously what the rest of his colleges take as a joke:
¿Cómo es posible, dijo uno de ellos, que Llanos la violara si era su marido? Los demás se rieron, pero Lalo Cura se tomó la pregunta en serio. La violó porque la forzó, porque la obligó a hacer algo que ella no quería, dijo./ How is it possible, one of them said, that Llanos raped her if he was her husband? The rest of them laughed, but Lalo Cura took the question seriously. He raped her because he forced her, he made her do something she did not want to do, he said. (Bolaño, pp. 548,549)
Further on another policeman will again use the word weird. Juan de Dios is presented to us like a young investigator isolated from the rest of his colleges:
Qué cosa más rara, se dijo Juan de Dios. Uno está con los cadavers y tiembla. Luego se llevan los cadavers y deja de temblar. ¿está metido Renfigio en el crimen de las niñas? ¿Está metido hasta las cejas Campuzano? Renfigio era el narco bueno. Campuzano era el narco malo. Qué raro, qué raro, se dijo Juan de Dios. Nadie viola y mata en su propia casa. / What a weird thing, said Juan de Dios. One stands next to the cadavers and trembles. Then they take the cadavers away and you stop shaking. Is Renfigio involved in the deaths of these girls? Is Campuzano in this thing up to his eyeballs? Renfigio was the good narc, Campuzano the bad one. It´s so weird, so weird, said Juan de Dios. Nobody rapes and kills in their own house. (Bolaño, p. 667)
Juan de Dios gathers together the worries of Haas and Lalo Cura. In this paragraph he wonders about his reaction to the corpses of innocents kids and about the behavior of the murderers. One of the things that these three characters have in common is that they are surrounded by powerful women: the attorney of Haas is a woman, Lalo Cura comes from a family of five generations of strong women and Juan de Dios is in love with the director of the psychiatric hospital who is also a highly educated woman. They consider the women that being killed as subject to rights, as members of the society. This quality situates them in a very different position than the rest of the characters that do not question the manifest sexism that allows the crimes to go unpunished. Albert Kessler explains why these crimes that do not shake anyone can be compare with the slaves that died on the ships in the XVII century: "en cada viaje de un barco negrero moría por lo menos un veinte por ciento de la mercadería, es decir, de la gente de color que era transportada para ser vendida, digamos en Virginia. Y eso ni conmovía a nadie ni salía en grandes titulares. / In each slave-ship journey at least twenty percent of the ´cargo´ perished, which is to say, the people of color being transported in order to be sold, say in Virginia. This did not upset anyone nor was it deemed a worthy subject for headlines." (Bolaño, p.338) He also compares it with the thousands of people that were killed during La Commune de Paris in 1871 or to the Christians slaughtered in the roman circus.
Finally a little bit before the end of this part Lalo Cura and Epifanio agree about the weirdness they are living in:
…más tarde Lalo Cura le comentaría a Epifanio que era raro que no hubiera habido una rueda de reconocimiento del cadaver. Y también era raro que no hubieran aparecido los acompañantes del homicida. Y que también era raro que la Smith&Wesson, una vez guardada en los almacenes de la policía, hubiera desaparecido. Y que lo más raro de todo era que un ladrón de coches se suicidara. ¿Usted conoció a ese Francisco López Ríos?, le preguntó Epifanio. Lo vi una vez y yo diría que era un tipo atractivo, dijo Lalo Cura. No, más bien parecía una rata. Todo es raro, dijo Epifanio. / … later on Lalo Cura commented to Epifanio about how weird it was that an identification lineup had not been organized to try and identify the body. And that it was weird that no relatives of the dead girl had shown up either. That it was weird that the Smith & Wesson that had been kept under wraps at the police warehouse had disappeared. And then, weirdest of all, that a car thief had committed suicide. Did you know this Francisco López Ríos? Epifanio asked him. I saw him once, Lalo Cura replied, and I´d say he was an attractive guy. No, maybe what he most looked like was a rat. Everything is weird, said Epifanio. (Bolaño, p. 728)
Epifanio is one of the right hand men of the Chief of the police department. He is an older policeman that has taken Lalo Cura under his protection. Just as Lalo Cura he too has a meaningful name that means epiphany: the sudden comprehension of the essence or meaning of something in secular terms or, in Cristhian terms, the revelation of God to mankind in human form. By contrast with the other three men Epifanio is neither a naïve character nor an isolated one. To the contrary, he always looks to know more than he shows. He is one of the discrete subjects about whom the attorney of Klaus is refering to. But he is even discrete for the reader and the secrecy gives him some authority and mystery when he talks. In this paragraph Lalo Cura finds new evidence that makes not only the crimes look weird but also the official procedure around them. When he mentions his doubts to Epifanio, the latter answers him with a mysterious sentence: "Everything is weird". What does it mean? What is the revelation hiding beneath these words?
What do we include inside the word "everything": the capacity to presence the horror as Haas proposes?; the strange procedure of commiting a crime as Lalo Cura wonders?; the trembling in front of a corpse of a innocent child that surprises Juan de Dios?; the invalidness of the old paternalistic paradigm to explain the universe of Santa Teresa that these three characters reveal?; the unlimited horror in front of the limited life the narration of these crimes makes the reader confront?; the immensurable pain constrated with the forensic account of the crimes?; the fictionalization of brutal crimes?; the alien distance with which the events are narrated?; the questions that are opened by the text and the new entity that the questions give to the novel?; the incapacity of reading this text with the comfort of distance?
With the sentence of Epifanio we have passed from the "who" to the "what". From the characters and from what they symbolize, that could be read from a safe distance, to the own enigma of the novel that directly questions the reader who cannot avoid feeling interpolated by the word. "Weird" is a very powerful adjective because it refers to something that cannot be explained and even though it exists. The word "weird" is one of the limits of the language itself. The weird in this case appeals to the sacred. Both the weird and the sacred are unspeakable, using Grossman's words they are "the non narratable source of narrative"7.
It will be impossible to go any further trying to decipher the 'weirdness' of this book if we don't step forward and overcome the figural reading of the novel. At this point it is necessary to come back to the words of Jacques Ranciere:
"We must, I think, pass through this illusion of the sovereign literary game to reach an understanding of the literary semi-corporality, to think about what links a stance of utterance, that of the narrator going back an forth between the inside and the outside of the book, with a sociotheological fable, than of the madman of the letter. The quasi-existence of the narrator is not simply what assures the sovereignty of the writer over the experimental quasi-body of the character whom he makes his hostage. It is / also what links this "sovereignty" to the position of his character or hostage: one whose madness is to read books. (Ranciere, p.91, 92)
The character Ranciere is talking about is of course Don Quixote, a mad character because he breaks the borders between fiction and "reality". Don Quixote is a madman for ingenuously taking serious the books of chivalry he has been reading. In 2666 we find the opposite case; one of the forensic surgeons of Santa Teresa:
"A veces pensaba que ya no leía precisamente por ser ateo. Digamos que la no lectura es el escalón más alto del ateísmo o al menos del ateísmo tal cual él lo concebía. Si no crees en Dios, ¿cómo creer en un pinche libro?, pensaba. / Sometimes he thought he had stopped reading because he was an atheist. Let´s just say that this act of not reading is the highest step of atheism, or at least the kind of atheism he believed in. If you don´t believe in God, how can you believe anything written in a fucking book, he thought. (Bolaño, p.687)
And we can find a middle way with Lalo Cura who takes serious the newspapers and the manual books that he has been reading to become a policeman.
Pinche escuincle mamón, ¿así que lee los periódicos? Sí, dijo Lalo Cura. ¿Y también lee libros, supongo? Pues sí, dijo Lalo Cura ¿los putos libros para putos que yo le regalé? Los Métodos modernos de investigación policiaca, (…) ¿No sabe usted, pendejete, que en la investigación policiaca no existen los métodos modernos? Usted todavía ni ha cumplido los veinte años, ¿me equivoco? No te equivocas, Epifanio, dijo Lalo Cura. Pues ándese con cuidado, valedor, ésa es la primera y única norma, dijo Epifanio soltándolo del brazo y sonriéndole y dándole un abrazo y llevándoselo a comer. / You fucking little cocksucker, so you read the newspapers? Yes, Lalo Cura said. And I suppose you read books as well? Well yes, said Lalo Cura. Those fucking books for assholes I gave to you? The Modern Methods of Police Investigation, (…) Don't you know jerk-off, that in the world of police investigations there are no such things as modern methods? You're not even twenty years old yet, am I correct? You are not wrong Epifanio, said Lalo Cura. Then walk very carefully my friend, that is the first and only rule, said Epifanio, letting go of the young man's arm and smiling at him and giving him a big hug and then taking him out to eat. (Bolaño, p. 658)
Epifanio's attitude is again ambiguous. First he is surprised that Lalo Cura reads, then he questions whether the application of the reading to the investigation is going to help his boy. Therefore what he is questioning is the literal and direct embodiment of the letter. However, the smiling, and hugging at the end of the quote could be interpret also as a sign of celebration, as if Epifanio was proud of the fact that Lalo Cura is reading. This behavior can be interpreted as a symptom of respect towards the letter. So Epifanio is as well a believer, but a very cautious one. Thus can we draw a scale that comes from the maximum believer: Don Quixote to the maximum atheist: the forensic surgeon. Lalo Cura would be in the middle, because he gives corporality to nonfiction text as journals and manual books, and then between Lalo Cura and the atheist we would find Epifanio.
What then is the place reserved for the readers of this novel? In what do they (or we) believe in? According to Ranciere:
The novel is nothing other than the manifestation of a general poecity of the human spirit. It is nothing other than poetry: manifestation of the polymorphic activity of the mind that is at the same time fabrication, fiction, figuration, and interpretation. (Ranciere, p. 84)
If this is true it implies that the reader has to believe in the existence of this poecity and also in the capacity of the poecity to be shared. Therefore the novel would be a bridge to the Other, not a direct one as Don Quixote or Lalo Cura propose, but a devious one as Epifanio seems to insinuate. The contact with the Other cannot be direct. The Other is the weird, it is beyond the limits of language and narration. To get access to it we need a medium. Florita Almada is one of the feminine strong characters of Bolaño's text. She is a medium and as the crimes were succeeding she began to hear voices that ask her to look for justice, so she goes to a television program and reveals what she knows. She is presented to us as a very wise woman, whose bigger secret is "common sense". Sergio González (the character) interviews her about the voices she hears.
¿Y qué dicen, Florita? No lo sé, hablan en español, un español enrevesado que no parece español, tampoco es ingles, a veces pienso que hablan en una lengua inventada, pero no puede ser una lengua inventada puesto que entiendo algunas palabras, así que yo diría que es español lo que hablan…/And what do they say, Florita? I don't know, they speak in Spanish, a complicated mixed-up Spanish that doesn´t resemble Spanish or English, sometimes I think they speak an invented language, but it can´t really be a made up language because I can understand some of the words, so I would say it was basically Spanish they speak. (Bolaño, p.714, 715)
The contact with the Other is produced through this complicated language, exactly the same as the language of the novel. It is not a completely new invented language because we can understand certain things but neither is it the language of every day; it is not a completely symbolical text but neither an absolute representative text. As Maurice Blanchot would say, "what counts for a great novelist –Melville, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, or Musil- is that things remain enigmatic yet non arbitrary: in short, a new logic, definitely a logic, but one that grasps the innermost depths of life and death without leading us back to reason."8 These depths are weird, and this book by Roberto Bolaño is a quest for comprehension without conclusion.
Bannfield, A. Unspeakable sentences (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1982)
Blanchot, M. "The Narrative Voice" in The space of literature (Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 1982)
Bolaño, R. 2666, (Barcelona: Anagrama, 2004)
Deleuze, G. "Bartleby, or the formula" in Essays Critical and Clinical (Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, c1997)
González, S. Huesos en el desierto, (Barcelona: Anagrama, 2002)
Grossman, A. "Holiness" in The Long Schoolroom: lessons in the Bitter Logic of the Poetic Principle (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, c1997)
Ranciere, J. "The body of the letter" in The flesh of words: The Politics of Writing (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2004)
To John J. Healey for the translation of the quotes from 2666.