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2666: Where Everybody Knows You’re Nobody

2666, “The Part About Fate,” p 283:

As he waited by the highway for three trucks to go by on their way from Santa Teresa to Arizona, he remembered what he’d said to the cashier. I’m American. Why didn’t I say I was African American? Because I’m in a foreign country? But can I really consider myself to be in a foreign country when I could go walking back to my own country right now if I wanted, and it wouldn’t eve take very long? Does this mean that in some places I’m American and in some places I’m African American and in other places, by logical extension, I’m nobody?

Identity is relative; it’s what distinguishes you from those around you. And the closer you get to home, the less identity you have to have.


He opened the door without knocking and the two men turned around at once, their faces stamped with a mixture of surprise and sleepiness. Now I have to try to be what I am, thought Fate, a black guy from Harlem, a terrifying Harlem motherfucker. Almost immediately he realized that neither of the Mexicans was impressed.

“Now I have to try to be what I am” — the suggestion of an ineluctable self that is at the same time utterly contingent. (And ineffectual.)


It’s likely, as Pat says, that Bolaño has read his Ellison and Reed — Oscar Fate also strikes me as a Walter Mosely character, or the kind of down-and-out P.I.’s that Gary Phillips likes to write. A politicized journalist who’s not on the New York Ladder. I don’t think that Bolaño “doesn’t get the US right“, but I do think that the U.S. is very purposefully decentered from his fictional universe.

The African-American/Mexican encounter may be central to the future of South L.A. politics, but not to world fiction or American history. South of the border, Fate isn’t having an Augie March picaresque or a William Walker conquest. His work — interviewing a latter-day radical in a half-dead city, covering an out-of-the-way sporting event — establishes him as a doubly marginal observer.

His experience of his identity, as drawn above, suggests to me that in Santa Teresa, Bolaño re-drawing cosmopolitanism to bear witness, trying to crack the calcified relationships between observer and observed that make the murder of women in a border town so easily not seen. But that’s just a hunch.

July 24, 2012 - Posted by | 2666 | , , ,


  1. This sounds right, thanks. The seemingly cosmopolitan American would be the serial-killer expert Kessler, who is full of bonhomie but is a jerk (and white).

    Comment by poc2666 | July 24, 2012

  2. Wimmer also notes that Bolaño was into Walter Mosely. Called it!

    Comment by Josh K-sky | July 24, 2012

  3. Kessler comes across quite a bit better in part IV than in our glimpse of him in part III.

    Comment by Josh Malbin | July 25, 2012

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