Friday, February 12, 2010
2666 Part 2: Amalfitano
[Part 1 here] ‘The Part About Amalfitano’ is a little over a third the length of ‘The Part About the Critics’, and it picks up one of the characters from the first section: the academic philosopher at the Mexican University of Santa Teresa, Amalfitano. It is one undivided piece of prose, although it falls in the telling into two roughly equal parts. In the first we learn that Amalfitano, whom the critics were sure was gay, ‘had a daughter who always lived with him. Hard to believe but true’ ; we learn all about the mother of this child, a crazy Spanish girl called Lola, in Barcelona. Amalfitano’s passive, suffering love for Lola is only a small part of this; much more space is given to the story of Lola’s passion for an insane poet, whom (she claims) had sex with her once at a party in Barcelona. The poet is now confined to an asylum in Mondragón, near San Sebastián (in Spain), and Lola abandons Amalfitano and their small daughter to hitch-hike there. She hangs around for a while, eventually meets the poet, sleeps in a cemetery, has sex with pretty much any man who approaches her, makes her way up to France, occasionally sending Amalfitano letters detailing her adventures. In Paris she gets work as an office cleaner, and has another child, a son this time. When she returns to Barcelona she has AIDS. She sees her husband and daughter, and then hitch-hikes away again.
This vision of Lola lingered in his mind for many years, like a memory rising from glacial seas, although in fact he hadn’t seen anything, which meant there was nothing to remember, only the shadow of his ex-wife projected on the neighbouring buildings in the beam of the streetlights, and then the dream of Lola walking off down one of the highways out of Sant Cugat, walking along the side of the road, an almost deserted road since most cars took the new toll highway to save time, a woman bowed by the weight of her suitcase, fearless, walking fearlessly along the side of the road. 
Then the action shifts to Mexico, where Amalfitano has taken a university position. He lives in a house with Rosa, his (now) grown-up daughter. His life seems settled enough externally, but actually Amalfitano is a mass of anxieties. Some of these are more-or-less rational—a serial killer is murdering Santa Teresa’s young women by the hundreds, and he (and we, the readers) are concerned about the safety of his daughter. But some are harder to understand. When the critics visited Amalfitano’s house in Part 1 they noticed a weatherworn book hanging pegged to a line in the back garden, about which Amalfitano behaved strangely. In this part we discover this reason it is there—a geometry textbook hung, originally, in imitation of a Duchamp readymade, but which assumes enormous though inchoate symbolic significance for Amalfitano.
The theme of this part, if I might venture a reductive reading, is madness. Amalfitano’s ex-wife Lola is ‘mad’ in a certain way: stalking her poet according to an obsessive personal narrative that is disconnected from reality (that she and the poet are destined to be lovers forever), she is also unhinged from conventional responsibilities (for instance: the duties towards her daughter) and rather more sexually disinhibited than is good for her. Amalfitano worries that ‘madness is contagious’ , and although he is a much more conventional fellow, behaviourally and mentally, the second half of this section details a number of psychopathological developments: his anxiety becomes all consuming and prompts compulsive ritual behaviour (for instance, about the dangling book); he has gaps in his memory and, schizophrenically, he hears and indeed has lengthy conversations with the voice of his dead father. This haunting voice is by turns reassuring (‘I beg you to forgive me, I beg you to relax, I beg you not consider this a violation of your freedom’) and aggressively, homophobically hostile (‘Yes, queer, faggot, cocksucker … are you a queer? are you?’). The section ends with Amalfitano becoming fascinating with a mad little book he has acquired, a privately printed treatise that seeks to prove the natives of the South American continent with super-civilized telepathic race descended from the ancient Greeks.
Madness is probably too capacious vague a word, and pejoratively loaded to boot; but the explicit focus of this second part reflects us back upon the first—for the critics too, in their way, were evidently mad: driven by an obsessive compulsion that fixated, in the first instance, upon Archimboldi, and in the second became an inwardly directly quasi-sexual obsession within the group. It might not go too far to suggest that the novel, by presenting a glittering cloud of scattered detail and inviting us to make sense of it, to assemble it into something coherent, doesn’t in its way seek to interpellate us as mildly mad ourselves. We are caught in a search for meaning, we consider ourselves to have a ‘special’ relationship to a writer (Bolaño), we spend our time constructing elaborate and doubtless improbable theories to explain all this welter of stuff. There’s the sense of the book zeroing in on the serial killings, too; although whether this is, lengthily and rather obliquely, establishing valences of ‘madness’ through which to read those crimes remains to be seen.
There seems to be a certain amount of Rosa/Lola confusion in this, e.g. ‘Rosa abandons Amalfitano and their small daughter to hitch-hike there’... or is that on purpose? (I haven’t read the novel.)
Thanks, Sam; you’re quite right. Sloppy of me ... I have corrected it.
Trying to figure out how reading Adam on 2666 is not going to become my chosen substitute for reading 2666. . . .
Is it fair to say that *2666* is what happens when Ballard or Stewart Home rewrites Byatt’s *Possession*? Tell me no; I need something to convince me that fiction since 1950 isn’t a slow crawl up its own ass.
I’m in the middle of Part 4 at the moment, and it’s more like CSI: Mexico mated with LA Confidential and directed by David Lynch.
Which is to say, I wouldn’t say that fiction since 1950 has been crawling up its own ass; I’d say it’s been crawling up cinema’s ass. To be precise, I’d say ‘arse’; but I wouldn’t want to fight over it.
While it may appear that the novel collapsed in the “West” of its own weight around the turn of the century, a century ago, very roughly, I think it’s more accurate to note that it collapsed, or was warped, due to sociopolitical throttling.
The novel was partially revived in the twentieth century by the international and multicultural forces of the left - from where it seems to me the most exciting and promising developments continue to appear.
Much of this history and creativity is explored in our recently released Liberation Literature anthology. Do your students a favor and get one into your respective institutional libraries:
...if I might venture a reductive reading...
I just realized that people without formal training in literature don’t use this phrase, but if they did, they’d probably use it to refer to actual reading - i.e. being one with the book, over simultaneous storytime and lifetime. That would seem to be a heavy venture in its own ways - and the very opposite of reduction. Variegation, perhaps? Fractalization, presenting more skin about the same soul? ‘If I might venture a multiplication, friends...’
Or maybe all I mean to say is that any ‘reading’ (in the lit-crit sense) must by definition be ‘reductive,’ so I start wondering what purpose the preemptive polite formality serves, assuming it’s a darker or more fallen thing than a throat-clearing.
Maybe it’s just the flu talking. I am fucked up in the respiratory system right now. Feels like I consist today of nothing more! Well I’m enjoying these posts anyhow - though I can’t help thinking you led me astray a bit re: Brasyl...
Wax: sorry to hear about your flu. What did I say about Brasyl?