Is 2666 a “Total Novel”?
No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them.
–”The Part About Fate,” 2666, p.348
The question of whether 2666 is a total novel seems interesting enough for its own thread. I’m going to copy out below what we’ve discussed so far (mostly in the thread on The Part About Amalfitano) in hopes that we’ll continue the discussion in comments, and maybe glean enough insight for another blog post later — or figure out that the question merits revision.
The question first comes up in the text in relation to the pharmacist. I thought Bolaño was spoofing his own project:
I three was taken by the pharmacist who only reads minor works — interesting to see how it ties into Bolaño’s career. It tied for me directly into the passage that you also reference pages before about how the Kilapán book could have been written by anyone across the Chilean political spectrum. While you were primed to read that as a spoof of dry Chilean writing, I think it’s also a pinprick against the Novel of Everything, the Moby Dicks, Gravity’s Rainbows and 2666es whose errant art flirts ever with utter diffuseness. (Ishmael was the original “Guerran chincuale” (201).) It’s a joke on his own project, and then he changes tack to defend it with full-voice against the pharmacist’s taste.
Pat brought it up in relation to Oscar Fate:
But I also think that there’s something a little odd, from the perspective of a Total Novel that is also about Cosmopolitanism, to have Europeans from the educated classes represent Europe, while the US is represented by a member of the struggling black journalist world (alas, there’s nothing to my mind odd about having Latin America represented by a border town tourist trap on maquiladora steroids with a demonstrated contempt for human life).
Josh M. questioned why exactly we should think of 2666 as a Total Novel:
I hadn’t really been thinking of this as a Total Novel. To me that usually evokes a book that is trying to argue that everything in the world should be understood through its particular lens: paranoia for Gravity’s Rainbow, the stock market for JR, or the history of Western literature for Ulysses. What makes you describe this as a Total Novel, and if it is one, what is its totalizing lens on the world?
(What Bolaño/Amalfitano says is that some really big books are “the great, imperfect, torrential works” that struggle against “that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench” (227)). By the time they’re finished the novel, a lot of critics claim that everything should be understood through the lens of Evil, the ubiquity of it, the possibility of it everywhere. Just as you’re celebrating how civilly you can conduct yourself in a romantic triangle, some Paki cab driver mouths off and there you are, kicking him almost to death or watching with eager fascination. Und so weiter. (Hey, my spellcheck corrected that to “writer”!) But maybe you want to start working up a distinction between a Total Novel and a Global Novel?
If put on the spot, I would guess that some combination of “cosmopolitanism after the American century” and femicide is the totalizing theme of 2666, but I’m still chugging through Oscar Fate.
With 2666, Bolaño clearly chooses Moby-Dick over Bartleby. As Ignacio Echevarría points out in his “Note to the First Edition” of 2666, Bolaño “boasted…of having embarked on a colossal project, far surpassing The Savage Detectives in ambition and length.” In Fresán’s words: “What is sought and achieved here is the Total Novel, placing the author of 2666 on the same team as Cervantes, Sterne, Melville, Proust, Musil, and Pynchon.”
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