Post #2 (pp.3-80): Bolaño’s Purple Patches
You won’t want to read this list of questions and comments until you’ve hit p.80 of 2666.
1. How omniscient is our omniscient narrator? Does he let us in equally on all four of our protagonists?
2. Why exactly do they love Archimboldi’s writings? Why do they love being literary critics?
3. I find the rhythm of the first half of this novel/part to be passages of omniscient narration of a careful psychological realism, complete with an equally well-weighted moral-psychological vocabulary (“will,” “rancor,” “resentment,” “jealousy,” etc.), as well as a somewhat comic chronological narration of a series of academic conferences, interrupted at times unexpectedly by strange events or purple patches.
[Weirdly, Bolaño seems to mock his moral-psychological vocabulary by the way that he describes the first long telephone conversation between Pelletier and Espinoza (p.40=41). He also at times invokes a very strange vagueness about abstract words, not just by the omniscient narrator, but also in his reporting of what other people say, and even, when the love triangle develops, signals his lack of interest in which of the two lovers proposes something. To be cleared up in the final revisions he never made, or a deliberate choice?]
3. The purple patches:
a. The Astounding Swabian! And the tale of his meeting with Archimboldi, especially Archimboldi’s jacket, hijacked by the fellow diner’s anecdote about her visit to Buenos Aires and the horse races with gauchos (17-23)
b. The post-coital memory by Pelletier in one hotel room, of seeing a Japanese horror movie with Espinoza in another hotel room (30-31)
c. The visit to Mrs. Bubis (25-29)
d. Morini’s reaction to reading about the killings of women in the Mexico desert (43)
e. Morini’s nightmare, introduced by that odd comment about P & E considering Morini to be like Eurylochus (44-47)
f. The London bum, his former job at the mug factory, and the recipes of Sor Juana Inés (48-51)
[The Spaniard and his wife looking at the statue of Peter Pan is a private-joke shout-out to his friend Rodrigo Fresán, who finally published his novel Kensington Gardens in 2004.]
g. The gentrification of a neighborhood based on the painter Edwin Johns’s self-mutilation (51-53)
h. The Serbian’s literary investigations, and Pelletier’s thoughts about old bachelors and machines celibataires (55-57)
i. Pritchard’s warning to Pelletier about the Medusa (69-71)
j. The aside on the new generation of literary critics (71-72)
The scene with the Pakistani cab driver does not, in my opinion, count as a purple patch, even though it looks as though it will not have plot-related after-effects, because of the psychological effects on the lovers and on their relationship. It was by far the most memorable event in the novel for me the first time I read it, and it sums up for me a lot of the novel. But inso far as it conforms to the episodic aspect of this novel full of conferences and purple patches one after the other, it also reveals the way that meaningful events happen to the four critics in a vacuum –no police, no State interact with their decisions; one is tempted to invoke Kundera’s ideas about the unbearable lightness of being.
k. Pelletier’s dream (78-9)
By listing these “interruptions” I don’t mean to undermine the narrative excitement involved in becoming involved in the lives of these critics, first as individual critics, then as a sort of team, and then as a lovers’ triangle. (The only counterpart on the same level as the triangle in this narrative are Morini’s health problems, which also make him seem older than he is –he’s only about twelve years older than Liz, the youngest of the other three.) These are all clearly the forefront of the story while the interruptions serve as…well, do they all serve as comments on the main story in the same way?
So halfway through this 160pp. novel/part, the question is, What is this novel (so far) About?
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