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Two Posts running up to July 12, on 2666. Post one, no spoilers

I’m exactly halfway through “The Part About the Critics,” so I figured I could post some questions and guideposts.  This first post is two general questions, and has no spoilers.

These first two general questions do not contain spoilers.

1.  The title of Part One is The Part About the Critics.  It has four protagonists who are European critics of the somewhat contemporary German novelist, the recluse Archimboldi. How do all of these various ideas –“critics,” “European,” “somewhat contemporary,” “German,” “novelist,” “recluse”–structure our expectations about the range of this first section?  (I.e., they’re not US critics; their topic of interest isn’t Petrarch or Rousseau; their object of study is more like Pynchon than Norman Mailer (although as old as Gunter Grass); and they’re literary critics, not ethnographers or firefighters or hedge fund managers.)  What kind of stories do you think one can tell about people like these?

2.  A good warning about Bolaño’s style from Jonathan Lethem’s New York Times review of 2666:  “…Bolaño seems to make sport of violating nearly all of the foremost writing-school rules, against dream sequences, against mirrors as symbols, against barely disguised nods to his acquaintances, and so on.” If he does get away with violating all these rules –you’re allowed to decide that he doesn’t– how does he get away with it?


July 9, 2012 - Posted by | 2666 |


  1. To question one: is there something a little antiquated about these literary critics? They seem like belles-lettrists, maybe escapees from a Borges story, rather than academics of the 1980’s. Is my sense of Comp Lit = Theory something that comes a little later?

    Related, and recommended: “On the Theory Generation”, from the new n+1. Departing from Chip’s character in The Corrections (liquidating his shiny copy of Negative Dialectics to buy a fish for his girlfriend) and going on to talk about who the realistic novel doubled back to absorb the theory that would dismantle it by simply including it in lived experience.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | July 9, 2012

  2. In my humble opinion he gets away with it because he doesn’t want to get away with it. As the warning shows it is somewhat of a miracle that the thing got published in the first place. I’ve read the entire thing (I hope I will be able to rely on my bad memory to avoid any spoilers): the first part is a bit of an ordeal. Kind of an ironic entry ritual to ensure only a couple of European literary critics would make it to part two. And zero publishers. There is every chance that 2666 will compete with Musil for the highest ratio of bought vs. actually read. Over time it may even compete for the highest multiple of people commenting vs. people having read.

    That and the rules only apply to helping mediocre writers to avoid writing horrible prose. Bolaño isn’t mediocre and displays the rules don’t apply to him.

    PS: your reading schedule seems very aggressive but maybe that is mainly because it co-incides with some of my vacation weeks

    Comment by Guido Nius | July 10, 2012

  3. Josh: The people who discover and champion new authors (or rediscover old authors) never have much literary theory. Europe has more of these sorts of literary critics than the US has. That being said, yes, I am a bit miffed that Bolaño characterizes critics of my age and more than a bit younger (Morini is born is ’56, Norton in ’68, the other two in between) as being before the theory generation, when Eco started publishing in 1962 and Derrida’s major works are from 1966-8 –to say nothing of the Germans! And yet even in Paris there are parts of the academy that have been simply impenetrable to the higher theory.

    Started reading the n+1 essay a few nights ago, and got sidetracked. I liked the question in principle –how do realist novelists deal with living and writing in an age of Theory that would seemingly reward only metafiction or other non-realistic fiction?– but of course my tastes run to metafiction and other non-realistic fiction. if your tentative conclusion is that Bolaño thinks that nobody reading his book actually cares about that kind of stuff because they’re interested in real(istic) people and their real(istic) problems, that might be right.

    If I were to write an essay on this first book and tie it to some of the Higher Theory, I would probably use your buddy Pierre Bourdieu and Franco Moretti’s literary sociology, especially a French disciple of theirs, Pascale Casanova (what a name!)’s The World Republic of Letters, which argues that literary prestige is still in the hands of the center (until recently, Paris; now, a few centers), and that oeuvres, and critics, have to negotiate all sorts of center-periphery relations in order to become part of that world republic. A Chilean-Mexican-Spaniard who shifted from poetry to prose in order to find a readership and who is writing a novel about a hitherto unknown German novelist who had better win some provincial prizes first if he is going to be a serious candidate for the Nobel sounds like an apt candidate for Casanova’s theory. I especially liked Bolaño’s making fun of the Spanish literary circles of Espinoza’s youth, all reading Junger, then jumping to Pío Baroja, then Ortega, then Cela (who are all pretty crappy, imho, even if Cela did win a Nobel Prize)–all this is proof that Madrid, as Espinoza confesses sadly to Pelletier as he looks at the cultural supplements of the city’s newspapers, is very provincial.

    But it would be a lot harder to connect this book to Barthes, or Derrida, or Lacan/Zizek, fer sure.

    Comment by poc2666 | July 10, 2012

  4. Pat: Pierre Bourdieu is my buddy now? Not till he pays me back for lunch.

    (As a good man once taught me to say, I haven’t read him, but I know what to say about him.)

    Guido: Sorry if the reading schedule is inconvenient. I know Pat wanted to get ‘er done before the academic calendar started up again. I did find this eminently suitable for vacation reading, FWIW.

    The advantage of the blog, of course, is that the posts and comments will stay up, so hopefully we’ll be able to continue the conversation beyond the specific weeks.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | July 11, 2012

  5. Mark here: I just finished Part 1. It looks like I am a few days behind the discussion, but hopefully will catch up soon. Regarding the critics, I was pleased that Bolano’s was a portrayal of academic life that didn’t involve sleeping with students or being trapped on a dreary campus, like White Noise, Corrections, or Disgrace. The conference-hopping kept the scenery fresh, and the love triangle (or square) was a legit adult one where the problems came from within, rather than being imposed by the inherent impropriety of the situation.

    I thought the late rant on Mexican intellectuals / Mexican literature was fun — and one of the the more striking passages of part 1. I am going to go read it again.

    Comment by Mark E. | July 16, 2012

  6. Welcome!

    Comment by Josh K-sky | July 16, 2012

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