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THE POETICS OF DISAPPEARANCE: ROBERTO BOLAOS

ETHICO-POLITICAL DISQUIET

BY

FRANKLIN RODRIGUEZ

BA, University of Puerto Rico at Cayey, 2000


MA, Binghamton University, 2002

DISSERTATION

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for


the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature
in the Graduate School of
Binghamton University
State University of New York
2007
UMI Number: 3266496

UMI Microform 3266496


Copyright 2007 by ProQuest Information and Learning Company.
All rights reserved. This microform edition is protected against
unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.

ProQuest Information and Learning Company


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P.O. Box 1346
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Copyright by Franklin Rodrguez 2007
All rights reserved
Accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature
in the Graduate School of
Binghamton University
State University of New York
2007

May 7, 2007

Brett Levinson, Department of Comparative Literature, Binghamton University

Luiza Moreira, Department of Comparative Literature, Binghamton University

Nancy Apellbaum, Department of History, Binghamton University

Jason Corts, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Yale University

iii
Abstract

This dissertation examines the fiction and literary criticism of Roberto Bolao in

its relation to the history of violence and cruelty in the 20th century. Through an analysis

of his writings on the tensions among art and politics, I demonstrate ways in which

brutality and questions raised by mechanisms of accountability exceed the subject and the

cultural, social and political institutions that systematize society, the legal and religious

institutions, social constructions of identity, the State and the military, thereby allowing

us to rethink how we relate to the dead, the victimizers and the disappeared, and

consequently to the possibility of justice and responsibility. I particularly explore the

boundaries of subjective experience in relation to Bolaos representations of post-

dictatorial narratives of horror (Nocturno de Chile, Estrella distante), to the violent

events of 1968 in Mexico City and the disappearance of women in the Mexico/US border

(Amuleto, 2666), and to how Holocaust representations haunt Bolaos late narratives

concerning death and disappearance in Latin America (2666). My aim is not merely to

examine the significance of these historical events, but rather to address their wider

implications for the relationship between art, ethics and politics. How has literature

confronted its own horror? I also consider the works of writers and critics who contribute

to the concerns outlined above and to the understanding of Bolaos oeuvre: Jorge L.

Borges, Diamela Eltit, Octavio Paz, Raul Zurita, Leonardo Padura Fuentes, Elena

Poniatowska, and Paco I. Taibo II, among others.

iv
Bolao asserts the capacity of art and literature to participate in the debates

regarding the organization and critique of society; that the relationship between aesthetics

and politics affects social discourses and redistributes them in new forms by transcribing

a body of thought, imagination and experience that serves both as cultural expression and

political critique. The most productive aspect of the clash between aesthetics and politics

emerges in Bolaos oeuvre as an abyss or as a grieta, an obscure zone that exposes our

vacillations, contradictions and weaknesses.

v
Dedication

Para Ana Paula, Martina y Olivia.

vi
Contents

Introduction 1

1. The Aesthetics of Reduplication and Physical Disappearance in Bolaos


La literatura nazi en Amrica/Estrella distante and some Borgesian
Factors 18

2. Reading the Excuse in Nocturno de Chile 85

3. Towards a Post-pyramidal Critique of Sacrifice: Roberto Bolao


Intersects Octavio Paz 141

4. The Imperfect Photograph: Disillusionment and Disappearance in 2666 173

Conclusion 253

Bibliography 258

vii
Illustrations

Fig. 3.1. Chacmool. Excavated and photographed by Augustus de


Plongeon. Chichen Itza, Yucatan. 1875 160

Fig. 4.1. Unhappy Ready-made. Reproduction made by Marcel


Duchamp after Suzanne Duchamps Ready-made
malheureux de Marcel (Paris, 1920). Guido Rossi
Collection, Milan 189

Fig. 4.2. Roberto Bolao. Amalfitanos drawings in 2666, p. 246-


249 191

viii
Introduction

Roberto Bolao (1953-2003) published nine of his eleven novels from 1993 to 2003 and

rapidly became recognized as one of the leading figures in Latin American letters. Born

in Chile, Bolao lived most of his adult life in Mexico (1968-1977) and Spain (1977-

2003). In Mexico, in collaboration with the poet Mario Santiago, he formed the group or

literary guerilla known as the infrarealistas. The groups aesthetic, as Bolao comments,

was French Surrealism fused with Dadaism Mexican style. The collective published in

iconoclastic magazines and practiced many forms of provocation against the literary

establishment. Most of Bolaos prose was written in Blanes, a costal town near

Barcelona. Bolaos publications also include six books of poetry, three collections of

short stories, and numerous critical essays, discourses, reviews and commentaries.

Bolao died in 2003 leaving a collection of short stories, El Gaucho Insufrible, and 2666,

a long five part novel, to be published posthumously. Other texts that were in their

planning stages or in hibernation at the time of his death have been recovered and

published by Ignacio Echevarra. El secreto del mal (2007) is a collection of short stories

and prose pieces left unfinished by the author and La universidad desconocida (2007) is a

collection of poetry that continues the project initiated by Bolao in Fragmentos de la

universidad desconocida (1993).

1
According to many literary critics and writers Bolao was the leading figure of a

group of Latin American authors who, at the turn of the century, disassociated themselves

with the Boom and left their own mark.1 This dissertation focuses on the largely read but

still unknown body of prose and literary criticism of Bolao. Bolao has become largely

known as a writer of fiction, but before that he was actually an obscure but prolific critic,

poet and provocateur.

Fast Forward to the 1990s

The Boom, a literary movement often described as the culmination or climax of the New

Novel in Latin America, refers, in its broader sense, to the major novels and novelists of

the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Julio Cortzar, Carlos Fuentes, Garca Mrquez, Vargas

Llosa and Jos Donoso wrote major Boom novels during the 1960s. This group might

include many others, for example (a definitive list is impossible and not even desirable)

Alejo Carpentier, Juan Rulfo, Augusto Roa Bastos, Guillermo Cabrera Infante and

Lezama Lima. The factors contributing to the unity and coherence of the Boom are easily

identified when we look at the socio-historical and political atmosphere of the period.

The Cuban Revolution, the increase in communication among Latin American countries,

the Alliance for the Progress, the development of the cities, the growth of vast

readerships in Latin America and abroad or the greater attention to Latin America from

Europe and the United States, all contributed to the Boom. In terms of aesthetics, Boom

narratives are characterized by an ambitious architecture, a complex style, literary

experimentation, a constant questioning of reality and history through myth and

demythification, questioning of the writing process (the writers task), steady focus

1
For specific examples see Palabra de Amrica and La fugitiva contemporaneidad.

2
(obsession) on the literary process and language, interior monologues, chronological

discontinuities, plural points of view and speakers, and the demand of an active reader

due to the complexity of the text and the characters, among others. Although some of

these characteristics are present in previous periods in the regional novel or at the

beginning of the Latin American New Novel, it is during the Boom that they reach new

levels of sophistication and complexity.

The term Post-Boom refers to the series of Latin American novels written during

the 1970s and 1980s usually understood as Non-Boom novels by those who still

support the Post-Boom as a concept and movement. The works and writers grouped

under this term tend to be associated with certain general characteristics and tendencies:

criticism of the Boom, reader-friendliness, greater realism, humorous, monolinear stories,

reacting against elitism and extreme experimentalism, the emergence of a solid group of

women writers, emphasis on popular and youth culture (pop elements), return to a more

overt social and political commitment, movement towards the marginal (experience of

women, homosexuals, the experience of the exile, love, emphasis on plot, movement

towards historical and documentary novel, and a move towards genres associated with

popular culture.2 Gustavo Pelln identifies four currents: the documentary novel (novela

testimonio), the historical novel, the detective novel/story in its hardboiled variant, and a

fourth current made up of a diverse image of Latin America provided by Post-Boom

writers (Pelln 282). When we look at the two moments as a whole (the Boom and the

2
See Gustavo Pellns The Spanish American Novel: recent developments, 1975 to 1990, Gerald
Martins Alvaro Mutis and the Ends of History and Donald Shaws The Post-Boom in Spanish
American Fiction. Their essays provide a detailed discussion of these characteristics and tendencies in
relation to specific Post-Boom writers.

3
Post-Boom) we find both a development and reworking of the Boom and a reaction to its

worldview and aesthetics.

The pluralistic reading of the Post-Boom includes: transitional figures that do not

fit clearly within the main description of the Post-Boom but which mark the moment of

transition (Manuel Puig and Severo Sarduy), the writers of the Boom that went pop in

the 1970s (Garca Mrquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, Jos Donoso), and the so called Post-

Boom writers. It is this pluralistic reading of the Post-Boom that I consider most

interesting and useful. In an interview from 1991 Ricardo Piglia positions his poetics and

that of other contemporary Latin American writers (1975-2000).

Yo creo que esas son las dos grandes poticas del Boom. Nosotros no tenemos
nada que ver con eso, nosotros estamos en otro mambo. En que Mambo?
Estamos en el mambo de la cultura de masas: cultura de masas y alta cultura, ese
es el problemaTendemos a pensar la oposicin alta cultura-cultura de masas
que marco a la vanguardia con la clave: nosotros somos la alta cultura y eso es la
cultura menor, no es tal. Nosotros manteniendo la misma tensin y la dificultad,
tendemos al cruce, no? y a usar formas de la cultura de masas con contenido de
la cultura altaEs la misma problemtica que enfrenta Thomas Pynchon en los
Estados Unidos. O sea, es la situacin de la novela actual la que se enfrenta a ese
asunto (133).

The tendency to maintain or create the tension between styles, genres, and to create a

bricolage of forms or pastiche is one of the strongest impulses in postmodern writing.

The cruce that Piglia underlines is especially relevant in relation to Roberto Bolao and

the literary movements or events associated with the turn of the twentieth century:

McOndo and the Crack.

The 1990s: McOndo and the Crack.

McOndo, a term coined by the Chilean writer Alberto Fuguet (b. 1964), expresses a

critique of magical realism. Fuguet and Sergio Gomez edited the McOndo (1996)

4
anthology of short stories that gives the name to the idea of McOndo. As they affirm in

the introduction to the anthology:

El nombre (marca registrada?) McOndo es, claro, un chiste, una stira, una
talla. Nuestro McOndo es tan latinoamericano y mgico (extico) como el
Macondo Real (que, a todo esto, no es real sino virtual). Nuestro pas McOndo
es ms grande, sobrepoblado y lleno de contaminacin, con autopistas, metro,
TV-cable y barriadas. En McOndo hay McDonalds computadores Mac y
condominios, amen de hoteles cinco estrellas construidos con dinero lavado y
malls gigantescos (17).

The editors of McOndo decided to include texts that were written by males born after

1959. This fact leaves Bolao (b. 1953) happily out of the clan. The literary father of the

groups is established by Fuguet: No pongo a todos los escritores latinoamericanos en el

mismo saco. Ms que nada McOndo est luchando contra el estereotipo yanqui/europeo

que tienen de nosotros. Creo que Manuel Puig es el padre de McOndo (19). The mention

of Puig (b. 1932), an author highly identified with the post-boom and popular culture, is

perhaps the best indication of a tendency among McOndistas to emphasize the visual arts.

David Toscana (b. 1961), a Mexican writer born in Monterrey, underlines the

particularities of McOndo: "Por ms que leamos, al menos en McOndo, pasamos mucho

ms tiempo del da no leyendo que leyendo. Pasamos ms tiempo viendo cine [].

Estamos menos enamorados de la literatura como ciencia (20). Another McOndista,

Edmundo Paz Soldn, seems to follow the same line: Somos una generacin muy

urbana, que lee mucho pero que tambin ve mucho cine y televisin. Admiramos a

Garca Mrquez, pero es una admiracin a la distancia, no nos interesa seguirlo (25).

Rodrigo Fresn (b. 1963) is the most interesting writer of those included in the McOndo

anthology and the most critical of the idea: Si uno tiene que responder fielmente a ciertos

preceptos mcondianos, yo rompo un poco con el sistema McOndo me parece []. No

5
hay una identidad latinoamericana en lo literario (22). Fresan also aknowleges Puigs

legacy as the most influential for those writing at the turn of the century.3

In 1996, when Bolao begins to capture the attention of readers and critics with

La literatura nazi en Amrica and when the McOndistas publish their own manifesto, a

group based on Mexico and known as the Crack publishes in Lateral their own Manifesto

del Crack.4 Some of the key authors are Jorge Volpi, Ignacio Padilla, Angel Palau,

among others, connected to the editorial policies of Nueva Imagen (Pohl 55). Using Italo

Calvinos Six Memos for the New Millennium as a key reference, the five chapters

independently written by different members of the group, tend to adopt the aesthetic

innovation and the cosmopolitan attitude represented by several Latin American authors

of the 50s, 60s and 70s. In terms of form and content they adopt various factors

underlined by Italo Calvino: amenity, action against exaggerated experiments, fluidity but

also complexity, precision, multiplicity and consistency. In other words, they favor the

union between structural complexity and reading pleasure. The third section of the

manifesto, written by Ignacio Padilla, adds la comedia, la risa, la caricatura and visiones

apocalpticas and the search for a refined language based in the classical tradition and

not in orality (Septenario). The second section criticizes the lack of vanguard aesthetics

in the literary scene (Genealogia). In the fourth part Ricardo Chavez calls for

polyphony and the creation of universos propios, also present in Calvino, while

3
Mi fantasmael fantasma de mi generacinseria el de Manuel Puig. [] Pero Puig es, me parece, un
fantasma valido. El ms valido de los espectros, lateral al boom y, creo, especialmente novedoso y til para
los jvenes []. Puig como prctico manual de instrucciones donde se nos explica claramente como
escribir una gran novela poltica sin sacrificar el factor pop.
4
I am quoting the on-line publication of the manifesto in Lateral 70 (2000). I. La feria del Crack (una
gua), Pedro Angel Palou; II. Genealoga del Crack, Eloy Urroz; III. Septenario de bolsillo, Ignacio
Padilla; IV. Los riesgos de la forma. La escritura de las novelas del Crack, Ricardo Chvez; V. Dnde
qued el fin del mundo?, Jorge Volpi.

6
expressing a critique of lineal narration and realist aesthetics (Los riesgos). Implicitly

these factors reject the vuelta a la narratividad of the post-boom and the testimonial and

politico-realist trends of the previous generations.

The genealogy described by Eloy Urroz (Genealoga) points to the national and

transnational canon of novelas profundas (e.g. Rulfo, Fuentes, del Paso, Cortazar,

Garca Mrquez), a position also emphasized by Jorge Volpi, one of the most outspoken

members of the group (Dnde). The affinity between Crack and Boom can be better

understood through a reading of Volpis En busca de Klingsor (1999) and the multiple

compliments exchanged by Volpi and Carlos Fuentes, who officially legitimated the

writers of the Crack. This affinity and comparison has to be qualified in terms of the

Crack affiliation with the best of the Nueva Novela and the Boom, as well as its

denunciation of la literatura light, the defense of the great books against the good sells.

Looking at the components of McOndo and the Crack simultaneously one notices

common rejections of magical realist aesthetics, especially in their recycled versions, and

a lack of strong political ideologies. Their differences, however, seem even more

important. The Crack emphasizes a return to the best of the totalizing precepts of the 50s

and 60s. The McOndistas highlight their openness to mass and popular culture and have

an inclination to write about their own youth as related to the North American influence,

their daily life experiences, and as a protest against the local political and cultural elites.

The Cracks internationalism is not clearly linked to the Anglo-Saxon influence or the

very personal stories narrated by McOndistas, but inhabits the goal of a universal and

cosmopolitan literature and a noticeable aesthetic elitism. However, fix demarcations and

statements about these groups are probably out of order. The playful and serious tone of

7
these manifestos is still awaiting the development of texts that confirm their postulates or

reveal them as part jokes part literary snobbism, or maybe as the next key and perceptible

movement within the often ambiguous field of Latin American letters.

One of the best sources of information on the writers and their work since the

1990s is Palabra de Amrica, a collection of essays originally presented during the 2003

Encuentro de Escritores Latinoamericanos organized by Seix Barral in Sevilla. The

presence of Cracks and McOndistas (e.g. Rodrigo Fresn, Jorge Volpi, Paz Soldn,

Ignacio Padilla, among others) was supplemented by Roberto Bolao in a congress that

must have felt as the latters own farewell. In fact, all the assistants recognized him as the

key figure. Bolao is not much of a McOndista or Crack (maybe a little Crack), aside

from the fact that most of his texts were published after 1996. Bolaos position in

relation to these currents is closer to that of Cesar Aira (Argentina 1949), Fernando

Vallejo (Colombia 1942), Juan Villoro (Mexico 1956), Rodrigo Rey Rosa (Guatemala

1958), and Alan Pauls (Argentina 1959), slightly older writers who have remained at the

margins of these groups but have profoundly marked the literature of the continent in the

last two decades. These authors, perhaps with one of the Crack movement (Volpi or

Padilla) and one from the McOndistas (Fresn) will likely come to inhabit some day,

under a given name or notion, a position similar in significance to that of the Boom

writers. 5

5
This is what I consider my personal library of Latin American letters of the turn of the century. Please add
Javier Maras Franco (b. 1951), a Spanish novelist and translator, and novelist and film critic Enrique Vila-
Matas (b. 1948) to the list. These authors are closer to Bolao than any of the Latin American writers
mentioned during this introduction.

8
Roberto Bolao

Critical work on Bolaos oeuvre is still in the early or formational stages and the degree

of debate is still somewhat superficial, in the same way in which the groups discussed

above (Crack and McOndo) are in formation or disintegration stages, still roaming their

own spaces. This dissertation aims to help fill that void and to create a discussion of the

ethico-political overtones of Bolaos poetics. The current panorama promises an

avalanche of studies and arguments before the end of the current decade. Throughout the

dissertation I provide a reading of the few key critical readings published up to the

presentmostly essays and descriptive pieces and a few critical collections which tend to

review instead of analyze his opus.6

Through an analysis of Bolaos writings on the tensions among literature, art,

terror and memory, I demonstrate ways in which the experience of witnessing horror and

the questions raised by mechanisms of accountability exceed the subject and the cultural,

social and political institutions that systematize society, the legal and religious

institutions, social constructions of identity, the state and the military, thereby allowing

us to rethink how we relate to the dead, the victimizers and the disappeared, and

consequently to the possibility of justice and responsibility. I explore, in particular, the

boundaries of subjective experience in relation to Bolaos representations of post-

dictatorial narratives of horror (Nocturno de Chile, Estrella distante), to the violent

events of 1968 in Mexico City and the femicides in Cuidad Juarez (Amuleto, 2666), to

6
After Bolaos death, an international symposium: Jornadas Homenaje a Roberto Bolao (1953-2003)
was celebrated in Barcelona and later published as a collection of essays. The symposium consisted of eight
analytical lectures organized by themes that concentrated on the novels published by Bolao before 2666
(2003), the relationship between his poetry and his prose, and several autobiographical aspects of his
oeuvre, that although often border on the sentimental, also deliver insightful perspectives from which to
approach his works.

9
how Holocaust representations haunt Bolaos late narratives concerning death and

disappearance in Latin America (2666). My aim is not merely to examine the significance

of historical and catastrophic events, but rather to address their wider implications for the

relationship between literature, ethics and politics. How has literature confronted its own

horror? How have certain events affected the way literature thinks about and understands

the nature and significance of cruelty, memory, confession, the human and history? I

also consider the works of writers and critics who contribute to the concerns outlined

above and to the understanding of Bolaos oeuvre: Jorge L. Borges, Diamela Eltit,

Octavio Paz, Ricardo Piglia, Elena Poniatowska, Paco I. Taibo II, and Ernest Junger,

among others. This thesis is the first far-reaching study to propose a comprehensive

poetics as a way to examine Bolaos fiction and literary criticism in its inter-American

and transnational context.

Chapter one, The Aesthetics of Reduplication and Physical Disappearance, is a

reading of La literatura nazi en Amrica (1996) and its extension, Estrella distante

(1996). A novel considered by many not to be a novel, La literatura nazi is the

foundation of Bolaos literary project. As an introduction to the first chapter I compare

Bolaos novel to Borges Universal History of Infamy and other predecessors. Following

the introduction, I discuss several of the 13 biographical chapters of La literatura nazi but

focus on the last chapter, Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, El infame, and the reworking of

this chapter in Estrella distante. My overall argument is that La literatura nazi and

Estrella establish at least four major aspects of Bolaos narrative: (1) a fragmentary

quality that is a major characteristic of his poetics as it affects ethical, political and

aesthetical readings and compositions of his novels; (2) a preoccupation with the

10
uncanny [unheimliche]; (3) the problem of lo abyecto [the abject, abjection] and; (4)

the role of writing or art in translating experience. These major characteristics carry on to

the next three chapters but in different contextualizations and levels of importance.

Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, El infame and Estrella distante are meditations on

the Chilean dictatorship and the difficulties of dealing with traumatic experiences. In

Estrella, Carlos Wieder, Ramrez Hoffman in La literatura nazi, is a poet/aviator,

artist/celebrity, torturer/killer during Pinochets regime. The central argument of this

chapter is that Bolaos poetics in these texts is situated in the frontiers between the

uncanny and the abject. The abject and the uncanny are relevant because Estrella distante

mainly reworks the last biography of La literatura nazi via a hyperpoetics of the double

in conjunction with and this is the essential moment of abjection and uncanniness in

the novela narrator/character of apparent leftist inclinations that identifies himself with

the others (Wieder-Hofmann, Bibiano, Romero). The narrator, as a reader and interpreter

of Wieder/Hoffmann artistic works/crimes extends his own memories into the present,

tries to reconstruct Wieder/Hofmanns criminal/artistic trajectory, but ends up facing the

limits and risks of this reconstruction to the point that he becomes doubtful of his own

self and doubtful of the importance, at the political, aesthetical and moral levels, of

Wieders politics and ideology of disappearance. The narrator provides other examples of

these limits and crisis besides his own case that help prepare the reader for a key moment

of ambiguous catharsis, where the narrator projects an anxiety over the collapse of

vengeance and accountability as a systems of justice. It should also be emphasized that

Bolao calls La literatura nazi en Amrica and its spin off, Estrella distante, a novela

sobre la prctica de la moral.

11
Chapter two, Nocturnal Illuminations: Reading the Excuse in Nocturno de Chile,

establishes and discusses the relationships, interactions and relevance of the following:

confession and excuse, testimonio and confession, (auto)biography, technologies of the

self and the figure of the double (Father Urrutia/wizened youth). This chapter reads

Bolaos Nocturno de Chile in relation to or in opposition to non-literary testimonial

and confessional accounts that claim and seek truth, conversion, catharsis and

reconciliation and ties it to analysis of (post)catastrophy fictions and narratives in the

context of the so-called transition from dictatorship to democracy and from Boom to

cultural studies. The novel narrates a critical duel between Father Urrutia and the wizened

youth during a long feverish night of self questioning. By testing the limits and

possibilities of any potential self-defense and the implications of confessional practices,

the story entangles itself into an ethical, political and aesthetical examination of the self

and its relation to the community. Nocturno focuses on the possibilities and mechanisms

employed by confessional and excusatory practices, as well as the unavoidable ties

between both discourses and the testimonial form.

My purpose is twofold: first, to discuss the way in which Bolaos text intervenes

in the debates over national politics and ethics, which includes debates ranging from the

dictatorship and postdictatorship to questions about justice and literary politics; second,

to examine the confessional utterance as it appears in the text and in a broader historical

and theoretical context. I argue that the self, which the novelistic I or Father Urrutia was

supposed to express in form of confession, did not exist as a priori to the act of

confession. The self, faced with the compulsion and demand to confess, is created

through an imaginative as well as terrifying mechanism of confession as excuse, in which

12
the excuse is always simultaneous or a priori to the confession. If confession has been

forced and naturalized and Western man has become a confessing animal to the point that

we often no longer notice it, as Foucault or Kjin have argued, then the excuse as a priori

or simultaneous to the confession has also been institutionalized and naturalized in this

process.

Nocturno can also be read as a critical meditation on technologies of the self,

ethics and politics in the context of Chilean culture. The confession as excuse and as

technology of the self allows for mutilations and fractures that cant be so much

identified with Foucaults emphasis on technology of the self as improvement. The

problematic faced by these attempts are revealed in Nocturno, but also in confessional

and testimonials accounts that claim truth and non-fictionality as the ground for their

utterance, and which I discuss at the end of the chapter (Luz Arce, Marcia Merino). After

establishing the confession as excuse and their disctinction as undecidable, the chapter

turns towards meditations on testimonio or questioning of the nature or even absence of

testimonio, which Nocturno de Chile raises towards the end: Dnde est la literatura?;

Por qu nadie, en su momento, dijo nada? It leads directly, as La literatura leads to

Estrella distante or Los detectives salvajes leads to Amuleto, to Bolaos next novel 2666

and to a series of questions dealing with the problematic of abjection, the extension of

memory, melancholy, market, testimonio and accountability.

Chapter three, Towards a Postpyramidal critique of Sacrifice, focuses on

Bolaos Amuleto and Octavio Paz Posdata. The date of publication of Amuleto (1999)

contributes to its marginal position among Roberto Bolaos works. This short novel is

an offspring of one of the fragments that make up the central part of Los detectives

13
salvajes (1998). In the context of this dissertation, Amuleto fits properly with the previous

chapters focus on traumatic and violent events situated partially in the context of post-

1950s Latin America. One has to remember that although Estrella distante and Nocturno

de Chile deal with the Chilean dictatorship they also focus on the transnational aspects

Latin America, US America, Europeand complexities related to the act of witnessing

and practicing violence. These characteristics, also already present in Bolaos La

literatura nazi en Amrica, will be catapulted to the forefront in 2666. In Amuleto the

self-declared mother of Mexican poetry Auxilio Lacouture, an illegal and homeless

Uruguayan immigrant surviving in Mexico City, narrates her experience as part of a the

bohemian world of adolescents-poets in the 1960s and 70s (Bolaos generation).

Auxilios narration is focused and departs from the ten days she spent in el lavabo de

mujeres de la cuarta planta de la Facultad de Filosofia y Letras, while the Mexican army

violently took over the UNAM in September 1968.

Amuleto revisits the role of reading and writing in relation to violence and the act

of witnessing. It addresses the possibilities of writing and reading in relation to pain,

violence and suffering by examining Auxilios concept of writing as a possible form of

resistance but also as the possibility of examining the material and imaginative traces

of history. Auxilios actions, in this sense, are in conversation with Reiters poetics in

2666 and are set in opposition to Wieders (Estrella distante) and Father Urrutias

(Nocturno de Chile) previously discussed acts. I establish a discussion of the significance

of Auxilios strategies of narration in order to examine the events of 1968 in Mexico City

and the relation between writing, reading and politics. What significance do literary texts,

discourses on literature and writing have in the production, formation and resistance to

14
political identities and traumatic events in Amuleto? In addition, Auxilios condition as

homeless, exile and nomad (Charrua and Uruguayan), who disappears in the bathroom of

the UNAM during the violation of university autonomy, serves as point of departure

for my analysis of the otherness and the transhistorical and transnational politics in the

text. It is in this context that I discuss Octavio Paz Posdata (1970), an essay on Mexico,

Tlatelolco 68 and the events that led to it, as it constructively intersects and compares to

Amuleto. In Posdata, the Mexican Nobel Laureate interprets the events of 1968 in

relation to Mxicos past and present through its history, myths, politics and culture. He

pays special attention to the meaning of the Olympics, the Aztec past and present and

Tlatelolco 68 as they relate to modern Mexicos mythic and historic-political

complexities. Posdata is a critique of the government, but also, and even more

profoundly so, a critique of the Mexican historical unconscious, an examination of the

idols within ourselves and the intersections between history and fiction.

Chapter four, The Imperfect Photograph: Disillusion and Disappearance in 2666,

reads this classic in its entirety. 2666 is divided into five parts, five stand-alone novels

that recount the travels of several characters across Europe and Latin AmericaLos

criticos, Amalfitano, Fate, Reiter/Benno von Archimboldiand their repeated discovery

of the assassination and mass disappearance of women in Cuidad Jurez, among other

stories of calamity which they live or learn about on their own. In broad terms, their

discovery can be seen as a dialogic relationship between their own particular past stories

and socio-political context -which pose questions of disillusionment and hope- at the

macro-structural level, and questions of shame, guilt, memory and survival, among

others, at the micro-structural level.

15
Contrary to several descriptive readings of 2666 and Bolaos oeuvre that tend to

overemphasize Bolaos interest and focus on total evil, el mal absoluto or his

historical consciousness, I show that Bolaos project seeks to excavate the history of

calamity of the twentieth century through an articulation of the conflict and connections

between aesthetic production and political intervention, a conflict that frames his

narratives and his vision of the world, a conflict that oscillates between disillusionment

and hope. I suggest that Bolaos impulse in writing these novels is to look for narratives

suitable to display the ethical and political dimensions of the speculative meditations his

characters and narrators perform. Confronted with the bankruptcy and vanished

explanatory power and appeal of enduring dichotomies of left against right, good versus

evil, ethical versus political, rational versus irrational, aesthetical/cultural versus ethico-

political, Bolaos writing progresses towards an intervention in the present aimed at

opening up a new space for a cultural and political discourse, one which reaches its

highest contribution in 2666. This leads Bolaos writing, its narrators and its readers to

one fundamental question or exploration: if that history of violence and destruction is

indicative of the failures of aesthetic innovation and political intervention in the past:

what would or could be the art or the politics of the future?

Recent descriptive articles in the New Yorker or the biographical essay by the

English translator of Los detectives salvajes, Natasha Wimmer, try to construct a literary

persona where Bolaos personal history, vices and struggles are molded and even

exaggerated in order to create a mythical figure. He is portrayed as the consummated

vagabond, revolutionary, addict, thief, sexual machine, an image that sells more books

and attracts a wider public, as was the case with the talented Boom writers or their

16
miserable imitators. These strategies or exotization apply to Latin American and

European publishing houses and editors as well. My aim is to attempt an excessive and

perhaps endless reading of Bolaos textual machines and ethico-political concerns, and

to try, by reading and writing in excess, to forget Bolao.

17
Chapter 1

The Aesthetics of Reduplication and Physical Disappearance in Bolaos La


Literatura nazi en Amrica/Estrella distante and some Borgesian Factors.

Roots, in fact, represent the perfect counterpart to the visible parts of a plant.
While the visible parts are nobly elevated, the ignoble and sticky roots wallow in
the ground, loving rottenness just as leaves love light. There is reason to note,
moreover, that the incontestable moral value of the term base conforms to this
systematic interpretation of the meaning of roots: what is evil is necessarily
represented, among movements, by a movement from high to low. The fact is
impossible to explain if one does not assign moral meaning to the natural
phenomena, from which this value is taken, precisely because of the striking
character of the appearance, the sign of the decisive movements of nature.

Georges Bataille, The Language of Flowers

I. Introductory Remarks: Writing on Infamy in Roberto Bolao and J. L. Borges

Jorge L. Borges Historia universal de la infamia (1935) offers a thematic and formalistic

precedent that serves as a starting point to establish a discussion of La literatura nazi en

Amrica (1996) and Roberto Bolaos literary adventure. Historia universal is Borges

first collection of narrativesmost of them short rewritings of well-known adventure and

crime storieswhich the Argentine author describes in two prologues as exercises in

narrative prose characterized by mismatched lists, abrupt transitions, the reduction of a

persons entire life to two or three scenes and as having no psychological intentions

(Collected 3). In a later prologue from 1954, Borges describes them as baroque in nature

and as written for personal amusement:

18
They are the irresponsible sport of a shy sort of man who could not bring
himself to write short stories, and so amused himself by changing and distorting
(sometimes without aesthetic justification) the stories of other men. (4)

Gallows and pirates fill its pages, and the word iniquity strikes awe in its title,
but under all the storm and lightning, there is nothing. It is all just appearance, a
surface of imageswhich is why readers may, perhaps, enjoy it. (5)

Bolaos novel thematically focuses on the appearance of infamous characters from the

Amricas that share elements of nazism, fascism, nationalism, racism, homophobia,

xenophobia and a penchant for literature; Borges universal and heterogeneous

characters, on the other hand, are infamous murderers among which the reader can find

pirates, mercenaries, teachers, monks and cowboys. Infamy and appearance as the central

themes of Borges fragmentary and brief exercises of narrative prose remain, according

to the author, in the realm of vacuity, as a surface of images or appearance (4-5),

without real essence or purpose beyond mere entertainment and writing practice. Borges

emphasis on the humorous, the brevity, ambiguity and amusement aspects of his

heterogeneous and infamous characters is matched by Bolaos biographical chapters in

La literatura nazi. The ideology shared by all of Bolaos characters, however, takes his

biographies a step beyond Borges self-proclaimed and debatable vacuity, or the

ambiguity and nothingness that his prologues emphasize. Borges often described the

formative aspects of these stories, as he explained in An Autobiographical Essay:

The real beginning of my career as a story writer starts with the series of
sketches entitled Historia universal de la infamia (A Universal History of
Infamy) []. The irony of this is that Streetcorner Man really was a story but
that these sketches and several of the fictional pieces which followed them, and
which very slowly led me to legitimate stories, were in the nature of hoaxes and
pseudo-essays. I did not want to repeat what Marcel Schwob had done in his
Imaginary Lives. He had invented biographies of real men about whom little or
nothing is recorded. [] I never thought of book publication. The pieces were
meant for popular consumption in Crtica and were pointedly picturesque. I
suppose now the secret value of those sketchesapart from the sheer pleasure

19
the writing gave melay in the fact that the were narrative exercises. Since the
general plots or circumstances were all given me, I had only to embroider sets of
vivid variations. (42-43)

La literatura nazi, on the contrary, can be read as a text structured like a poly-

biographical novel of American naziphile writers that between 1930 and 2010 manifested

their ideological leanings in the cultural arenas of the Amricas, and to a short degree in

Europe. Using the fictional figures of miserable, infamous and laughable writers, the

novel recounts how multiple layers or combinations of fascism came to exist in the

Americas. The novel contains thirteen chapters or thirty biographies and an Epilogue for

Monsters. The chapters are labeled under a variety of headers, such as Magicians,

Mercenaries, Infamous and Precursors. Each chapter is also preceded by the name

and surname of the writer and his or her alias, followed by dates and places of birth and

death. These headers can be read as the inscriptions in gravestones, followed by a biblio/

biographical recollection. Although the reader can recognize connections between the

chapters, all of them can be approached independently or in any order, as Borges

recommends approaching his own infamous characters, or as Schwobs made-up

biographies. In an interview by Mihaly Des Bolao comments:

Yo creo que La literatura nazi es una novela, con exposicin, desarrollo y


desenlace. La novela ms tpica Ah hay otra cosa: es una novela, pero no
para ser leda como novela. Se puede abrir por donde t quieras, pese a tener los
tres estadios clsicos de la novela. Por ejemplo, creo que se puede empezar por
el eplogo. (151)

Borges, who at the time was a well known poet, considered part of Historia universal as a

preparatory exercise of a a man who could not bring himself to write short stories, of a

man who would soon write some of the best short stories ever written. His devaluation is,

to say the least, questionable, maybe presumptuous. The emphasis on nothingness and

20
vacuity can be ironical or double. Contrary to Borges dubious self-devaluations,

Bolaos narratives of infamy are the first great manifestation and foundational base of a

literary projectoften preoccupied with infamy as the next chapters will also attestthat

would meet its end in less than a decade, and that also started in the genre of poetry. Both

texts, el Borgeano and el Bolaesco, share the same thematic concern or focus on

iniquitous and infamous characters, but Bolao adds a minor novelistic touch by placing

his characters within a well established frame composed of a period of 80 years, the

Americas, an ideology, and several filial or professional links between the characters

described in each chapter.

Celina Manzoni, one of the key and earliest critics of Bolaos opus, locates

Bolaos and Borges recuperation of infamy and iniquity [recuperacin de lo infame]

(18) in opposition to the myth of the family house [gran casa familiar] (18) that

dominates some Chilean novelists addressing the (post) dictatorship. As she notices in

Biografas mnimas/nfimas y el equvoco del mal:

Si Historia universal de la infamia instala el deleitable estremecimiento, el


efecto liberador e incluso de verdad, que provoca la novedosa conjuncin de
lo horrible con lo bondadoso [], encuentro la misma antigua seduccin por el
mal en La literatura nazi en Amrica de Roberto Bolao. (18)

La lucha sorda entre olvido y memoria que escenifican algunas novelas recientes
de autores chilenos en las que es como si el repetido oficio persuasivo de la
dictadura hubiera realizado un desgaste de las palabras que luego busca
perpetuarse en una retrica que formula la democracia de los acuerdos y con
ella la poltica de la transaccin y el olvido. [] La patria como un mito
condensado en la imagen de la gran casa familiar que, herida pero an
reconocible como propia, recoge a los hijos dispersos. (18)

21
Manzoni recognizes this myth in writers such as Isabel Allende and Carlos Cerda.1 It is

not surprising that the former novelists are also in Bolaos black list. Manzoni argues

that La literatura nazi attempts to resist oblivion and narrates the terror by distancing

itself from the myth of the Chilean family or the Chilean home and choosing to narrate

from the wreckage and from unsheltered domains. Her comparison of Bolao and Borges

in opposition to the writers and narratives mentioned above sets the recuperation of

infamy against the recuperation of home/family. Borges El espantoso redentor Lazarus

Morell, one of the key stories in Historia Universal, serves as a vivid example of

recuperation of infamy.

Borges claims about the nothingness, vacuity, and preparatory character of

Historia universal are, at the most, a modest and cautious attempt of a young poet and

insecure prose writer to downplay the importance and prepare for the reception of his

emerging narrative project. The infamous stories in this collection, although certainly

derivative and readable when compared with his posterior production, overcome the

limitations adjudicated by his own author. They should be read as a recuperation of

infamy not for evils sake but for the illuminating, even though terrible, aspects of the

conjunction between good and evil [lo horrible con lo bondadoso] as Manzoni puts it

(18). In these infamous stories Borges reconstructs machineries and logics of destruction,

infamy and fascism that have repeatedly manifested themselves throughout the twentieth

century in a variety of forms. Often, as in the redeemer Lazarus Morells story, the

workings of infamy are tragic but reveal many hidden aspects of the social, political and

religious institutions. In El espantoso redentor Lazarus Morell Borges fictionalizes an

1
La base de esta hiptesis radica en una lectura, que no puedo desarrollar aqu, de Isabel Allende, La casa
de los espritus, Buenos Aires, Sudamericana, 1985, y de la novela de Carlos Cerda, Una casa vaca,
Santiago de Chile, Alfaguara, 1996 (18).

22
infamous, real and mythological, legendary figureJohn Murrell.2 Far from only being a

light fictionalization written for entertainment and consumption, the story provides an

insightful view into the works of infamy or Morells powers of horror.3 Morell, a poor

white man from abject mud flats [abyectos lodazales], is a bandit who preaches from

town to town around the Mississippi River in order to steal horses. He also, and most

significantly, travels around the river banks offering a questionable and terrible form of

freedom to African slaves. His method is the following:

Este mtodo [Morells method] es nico, no solamente por las circunstancias sui
generis que lo determinaron, sino por la abyeccin que requiere, por su fatal
manejo de la esperanza y por el desarrollo gradual, semejante a la atroz
evolucin de una pesadilla. [] Su facinerosa misin era la siguiente:
Recorran con algn momentneo lujo de anillos, para inspirar respeto
las vastas plantaciones del Sur. Elegan un negro desdichado y le proponan la
libertad. Le decan que huyera de su patrn, para ser vendido por ellos una
segunda vez, en alguna finca distante. Le daran entonces un porcentaje del
precio de su venta y lo ayudaran a otra evasin. Lo conduciran despus a un
Estado libre. Dinero y libertad [].
Lo vendan en otra plantacin. Hua otra vez a los caaverales o las
barrancas. Entonces los terribles bienhechores (de quienes empezaba ya a
desconfiar) aducan gastos oscuros y declaraban que tenan que venderlo una
ltima vez. A su regreso le daran el porcentaje de las dos ventas y la libertad.
El prfugo esperaba la libertad. Entonces los mulatos nebulosos de Lazarus
Morell se transmitan un orden que poda no pasar de una sena y lo libraban de
la vista, del odo, del tacto, del da, de la infamia, del tiempo, de los
bienhechores, de la misericordia, del aire, de los perros, del universo, de la
esperanza, del sudor y de el mismo. Un balazo, una pualada baja o un golpe, y
las tortugas y los barbos del Mississippi reciban la ltima informacin.
(Historia universal 23-26)

Morells figure sets the recuperation of infamy in opposition to the recuperation of home

and family. His method or modus operandi, his perversion, is his ability to manipulate the

2
A near-legendary bandit operating along the Mississippi river in the mid-1800s.
3
The phrase is taken from Julia Kristevas Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. For Kristeva what is
abject is excluded, casted away, or rejected, but never banished altogether. The abject [lo abjecto]
constantly challenges ones tenuous borders of selfhood. I will revisit and expand on Kristevas
conceptualization of abjection during the discussion of Estrella distante and especially in relation to the
figures of Carlos Wieder and the narrator.

23
law to either side of the moral spectrum. He offers life in the name of death and profits

from the offer; he profits from preaching to God in order to steal horses; he interprets the

law in order to legalize his horror.4 Morell shows the abyss, the arbitrary nature of Law,

Religion and Morality, its oppressive side. Borges writing recuperates this conception of

infamy, the subject as form of abjection, towards death, towards the collapse of the

distinction between subject/object. Borges writing shows, through the figure of Morell,

the doubleness and terrible infiniteness of laws, morals and religion.

The writing of infamy envisions death as a recuperation of infamy, as always

present in the naive recuperation of home and family. Writing on infamy thus implies an

ability to imagine the abject, a plea to maintain unbalanced the categories that organize

morality in order to keep unhealed the marks of infamy, against its legalization, against

an always present threat of abjection. Morells figure is ironically named Lazarus in order

to allude to resurrection, new life and vitality, but he is quite the opposite, as his

treatment of African slaves shows. At the end, his ultimate goal was to acquire a total

power of horror. He is in essence an ambiguous combination of goodness and evilness

that is manifested as being in infamy, and that manages to impose his will by masking it

as goodness (e.g. preaching, compensating, liberating). His figure, as presented in this

introductory section of the chapter, will gain greater relevance during the analysis of

infamous figures in La Literatura nazi and Estrella distante that, as Morell, promise a

freedom that is only fulfilled as such in death.

4
Falta considerar el aspecto jurdico de estos hechos. El negro no era puesto a la venta por los sicarios de
Morrell hasta que el dueo primitivo no hubiera denunciado su fuga y ofrecido una recompensa a quien lo
encontrara. Cualquiera entonces lo poda retener, de suerte que su venta ulterior era un abuso de confianza,
no un robo. Recurrir a la justicia civil era un gasto intil, porque los daos no eran nunca pagados.
(Historia universal 25)

24
Polar Twins: La literatura nazi en Amrica and Estrella distante.

At the form level, Borges and Bolaos texts share the constant use of abrupt transitions

and reductions of a persons life mentioned in Borges prologues. This can be understood

as a fragmentary quality that both authors will respectively grow to master in their short

stories and novels. Bolao manages to use this quality even in his first renowned novel,

Los detectives salvajes (1998), a text of more than six hundred pages in which more than

half are short fragments or stories of characters somehow interrelated to a central plot but

not clearly defined as such. The middle part, Los detectives salvajes, is divided in

twenty six chapters in which characters reappear to somehow shed light or darkness on

the narrative structure of the novel, framed by a short and also fragmentary diary written

by Garca Madero. In this sense, Los detectives salvajes is not too far from the formal

mechanism used in La literatura nazi or the first novel written by Bolao, Amberes

(although published in 2002), also composed of imprecisely interrelated fragments.

Bolao, in the prologue to Estrella distante (1996), indirectly points out that the stories of

La literatura nazi are mirror and explosion of themselves. This image is congruous with

Manzonis noting that the text of La literatura nazi is constructed as a kaleidoscope, as

Borges Historia universal or El libro de los seres imaginarios (1978), and that as a

result, it allows for a non-consecutive and fragmentary reading of the text that after all is

still united by various narrative devices and arguments. (21)5

5
Amberes and Los detectives salvajes are not peripheral in relation to the thematic focus of this dissertation
(Bolaos ethico-political sensibility) but I have chosen to limit their appearance in this work to a
designated hitter role and to expand on it afterwards. The fragmentary quality shared by both novels
compares to Julio Cortazars narrative exercises in 62/Modelo para armar. Cortazar, as Bolao admits,
influenced him greatly, as did Borges.

25
La literatura nazi is key for the foundation of Bolaos literary project. I focus on

Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, el infame and the reworking and extension of this chapter of

La literatura nazi in Estrella distante. Bolao took this chapter and reworked it into a

short novel, an operation the he will continue to adopt frequently throughout his writing

days.6 While La literatura nazi is a story divided into independent but interrelated

biographical sketches of a group of American writers with fascist inclinations, Estrella

distante repeats and extends the story of Carlos Ramrez Hoffman as mirror and

explosion of itself [espejo y explosin de s misma] (Estrella 11). In Estrella distante

Bolao provides a much more detailed account about the poetic culture in Chile during

the second half of the twentieth century, adding several characters to the pre-text or the

story told in Carlos Ramrez Hofmann, el infame. This extension preserves the essence

of La literatura nazi since Bolaos narrator also tells about numerous writers and their

workCarlos Wieder, a French translator of indigenous descent, a gay Chilean poet in

exile, a Russian-Jewish migr saloniste, leaders of literary workshops, twin sisters and

other poetsbut this time the examples come out of many areas of the political and

ethical spectrum instead of being just about fascist writers. While La literatura nazi is a

book mostly about Latin Amrica, even though it includes north-American writers,

Estrella distante is a book that, by focusing on Chilean Carlos Wieder and a group of

Chilean poets, becomes a novel about Chile and about individual Chileans in a very

specific context.

In Estrella distante Carlos Wieder, also known as Alberto Ruiz Tagle in the novel

or Carlos Ramrez Hoffman/Emilo Stevens in La literatura nazi, is a poet/aviator,

6
For example, Amuleto is a rewriting of one fragment from Los detectives salvajes and Nocturno de Chile
rescues a minor character from Estrella distante.

26
artist/celebrity, torturer/killer during Augusto Pinochets regime and afterwards. The

novel follows Wiederss career as an artist, torturer and killer from the

narrator/protagonist point of view. Based on a series of artistic documents and actions

and an organized investigation to which the narrator is an integral part, we follow the

attempts to find, judge and identify Wieder, probably or apparently in order to be

punished for the atrocities committed during the dictatorship with support from the

military apparatus. Part of the investigation is based on the Archives of the National

Library which contain Wieders air poetry, his photographic collection (of tortured

victims), a chronology, a theater piece signed as Osvaldo Pacheco, a bunch of magazines

and journals in which his poetry is identified, and an interview. Towards the end, Abel

Romero, a famous policeman from Salvador Allendes era and now private detective, is

hired to trace Wieders footsteps, but also needs help from the poet, the narrator of the

novel, since his literary knowledge is limited or canonical. Neither the reader nor the

narrator knows who hired Abel Romero or how he gets involved in the investigation. At

the end, Wieder is found by Romero and the narrator but, in line with antidetection

strategies, what actually happens during the final scenes and the last encounter is

understood, but at the same time, open to interpretation.7

The Author, the Narrator, and the Narration

In the first twelve chapters of La literature nazi, which are told in third person, the

narrators identity is left somewhat vague or ambiguous. The last chapter, followed by a

list of monstrous writers, turns to the first person narrative, in the story of Carlos

7
Antidetective and Neopolicial fiction are relevant variants of the detective genre. Both modalities are
important in relation to Bolaos oeuvre. The second section of this chapter provides an extensive
discussion of both.

27
Ramrez Hoffman, el infame. Towards the end of the chapter the narrator is called by his

name, Bolao, by the private detective in charge of finding Ramrez Hoffman. Assuming

that the narrator of the last story is a character called Bolao, Bolaos alter ego, or the

fictionalized author of the text himself, leads to view the third person narration of the

preceding stories as a way of creating an ambiguous presence of the narrator or author.

Although it is not made explicit, it is reasonable to suppose that the narrator of the last

chapter is also the narrator of the rest of the novel and the narrator of Estrella distante.

The narrator in La literartura nazi is a character called Bolao that hides behind the third

person until the I or narrator Bolao emerges in the final story of the novel. In the

prologue to Estrella distante and in the novel itself the question of the narrator and others

is somewhat answered, although at the same time an even more complex set of questions

is raised:

En el ltimo captulo de mi novela La literatura nazi en Amrica se narraba tal


vez demasiado esquemticamente (no pasaba de las veinte pginas) la historia
del teniente Ramrez Hoffman, de la FACH. Esta historia me la cont mi
compatriota Arturo B, veterano de las guerras floridas y suicida en frica,
quien no qued satisfecho del resultado final. (11)

Arturo B(elano), who to make things more complicated is also Bolaos alter ego in Los

detectives salvajes and appears in various short stories by Bolao as B, Arturo B or

Arturo Belano, becomes visible in the prologue having a conversation with the narrator as

another doubling or alter ego of the figure of the narrator, another author-narrator that

turns this already ambiguous presence of the narrator into a ghostly manifestation of the

figure of the narrator. Roberto Bolao, the author, has always stressed that his narrators

are fictional, although they overlap considerably with his own biography, history and

literary preferences. As we see in the present example, Bolaos narrators are named

28
within a frame of reference that leads back to the figure of the author, but only to mislead

and attest the fictionality of the narrator surrounded by familiar events found in Bolaos

biography.8

In the former quotation or prologue to Estrella distante, Bolao, or the unnamed

narrator who refers to La literatura nazi as mi novela, mentions this dialogue or

discussion with Arturo B in which the former reveals his dissatisfaction with the story he

told to the narrator and that became Carlos Ramrez Hofmann, el infame. This

dissatisfaction leads to the writing of Estrella distante but not without raising another set

of important questions beyond the problematic of the narrator, a problematic that can be

outlined as follows: (1) An unnamed third person narrator in the first twelve chapters of

La literatura nazi that turns into a first person narration by a character named Bolao in

the last chapter. We know, by reading the text and the prologue of Estrella distante, that

Bolao is the narrator of the previous chapters; (2) An unnamed narrator in Estrella

distante that, since this novel is an extension of the last chapter of La literatura nazi, can

be identified as narrator Bolao, but is not properly named as such in Estrella distante,

although the direct references to the pre-text are made. The prologue of the post-text,

however, also situates the narrator in a conversation with Arturo Banother alter ego of

the authorleading one to accept Bolaos play with the figure of the double and the

narrator as a chameleonic figure with traces of the author. This complex mechanism of

doubling and multiplication will be taken beyond its present form in the text of Estrella

distante and it will be central for this reading.

8
Bolaos characters often live in the same cities as the Chilean writer. They also experience the same
events, illnesses and more often than not, share the same literary preferences, among many other
similarities and differences.

29
As the prologue continues, the narrator describes the repetition of the story

Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, el infame in Estrella distante as espejo y explosin en s

misma, (11) a description that addresses the problematic of the narrator. As a mirror, the

doubling of the figure of the narrator is justified and explained as a game of mirrors that

allows for distortions and differences while retaining, at the same time, a common

ground. The reference to an explosion of itself [explosin en s misma] also reaffirms

what happens when the text is repeated, not word by word, but as an extension of the

former story, adding many details and characteristics to the narration, and also an

explosion of the figure of the narrator and the characters within the story, that leads to

one of the manifestations of the problematic that in an overall sense I call reduplication:

an explosion that distorts, doubles and mutates, fragments and expands, the former story

creating familiar but also unfamiliar elements:

El ltimo captulo de La literatura nazi serva como contrapunto, acaso como


anticlmax del grotesco literario que lo preceda, y Arturo deseaba una historia
ms larga, no espejo y explosin de otras historias sino espejo y explosin en s
misma. (11)

At the same time that the mirror and explosion image discussed above is presented in

terms of its multiplying effect on the post-text [Estrella distante], the narrator clarifies

that the last chapter, Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, el infame, serves as anticlimax or

contrapunto to its pre-text or the preceding twelve chapters of the novel [La literatura

nazi] and not as mirror and explosion of the preceding stories. The shift to the first person

in the story of Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, a detailed narration of the several events in

relation to Carlos Ramrez, the revelation of narrator Bolao as the storyteller and the

development of the biographic character of the preceding chapters into a longer story, are

some of the main manifestations of this anticlimax. At the same time the description

30
suggests that the preceding twelve chapters were espejo y explosin de s mismos, or as

described in my introduction of the novel, very congruous and consistent stories in terms

of form, thematic and argumentative levels. The first twelve chapters of La literatura

nazi en Amrica, as mentioned before, can be read independentlyas the last chapter on

Carlos Ramrez Hoffmanbut many of the characters reappear or are alluded to in other

chapters. Some of the chapters are only held together by filial ties (e.g. Los Mendidulce;

Los fabulosos hermanos Schiaffino), while others are only thematically coherent beyond

their infamousness (e.g. Visin, Ciencia Ficcin; Poetas malditos; Poetas

norteamericanos; Dos alemanes en el fin del mundo; Magos mercenarios and miserables;

La hermandad Aria). Most of them deal exclusively with male writers except for the first

one (Los Mendidulce) and one entitled Letradas y Viajeras. All the chapters can be read

as part of a literary dictionary that presents the failures, achievements and brief

biographical glimpses of the writers careersalthough always emphasizing one main

workin the context of what Bolao calls literatura nazi. The novel also invents nazi

publishing houses and journalsaround three hundredand often humorously joins real

writers such as Lezama Lima and Adolph Hitler with its fictional characters.

In the prologue, the narrator also refers to those twelve chapters as a literary

grotesque for which the last chapter serves as anticlimax. What is the literary grotesque to

which the narrator is referring to and why does the last chapter serve as an anticlimax or

contrapunto to it? The prior chapters to Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, el infame are

grotesque in the traditional sense of merging the comic with the tragic and reflecting a

sense of frustration with the moral world. Comic distortion and exaggeration of the

exemplary characters presented are dominant features of those chapters although the

31
comic element tends towards horror and repulsiveness.9 The writers in these chapters,

which were presented before in relation to Borges humorous and entertaining Historia

universal, are also attached to an element of frustration and tragedy by the emphasis on

their fascist ideology. La literatura nazi is grotesque in terms of the way it renders and

interrogates the ugliness of racist and fascist ideologies, an element that these biographies

of nazi writers share with Lazarus Morells story.

In the last chapter, Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, el infame, the sense of the

grotesque leans more towards horror, the tragic side, the side of fear and frustration that

no comic or humorous resort can overcome. That is another reason why Bolao calls it an

anticlimax or contrapunto: by adding an anticlimax, laughter can be tamed and turns into

tragedy and fear at the end of the novel. The anticlimax or contrapunto that Bolao

mentions in the prologue emphasizes shifts at the level of plot and techniques to the

tragic side of the grotesque, the side which results from the distrust in a moral world that

is essential for tragedy, and a shift from a previous distrust in a rational order, which is

essential to comedy but downplayed in the last chapter.

Bolao described these texts (La literatura nazi, Estrella distante) as novels

sobre la prctica de la moral10 therefore distancing his text from Borges

aforementioned vacuity or nothingness, entertainment and writing practice, which

nonetheless I have established as suspicious, or at least twofold, in a reading of Lazarus

Morells story. The emphasis on the side of the grotesque that is incompatible with

9
As Harmon and Holman note: Where nineteenth-century critics like Walter Bagehot saw the grotesque
as a deplorable variation from the normal, Thomas Mann sees it as the most unique style for the modern
world and the only guise in which the sublime may appear now. Jorge Luis Borges echoed Manns
sentiment. Flannery OConnor seems to mean the same thing when she calls the grotesque character man
forced to meet the extremes of his own nature (240).
10
Off the Record. Arcoiris TV. Chile. Interview.

32
laughter on the story of Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, el infame is such that repulsive

elements, horrifying features and seriousness overshadow the ludicrous and playfulness

aspects of the grotesque, turning this chapter into an anticlimax to the literary grotesque

presented in the preceding chapters. It prepares the terrain for the recuperation of infamy,

abjection and uncanninness in the post-text, Estrella distante, that emphasizes uncertainty

and horror or the serious-grotesque, that which differs from the normal or unified sense

of livable zones and art and therefore establishes a discussion sobre la prctica de la

moral or against a dichotomal conception of the moral world.

Pierre Menards Duplications

The prologue continues and ends as follows:

As pues, nos encerramos por un mes y medio en mi casa de Blanes y con el


ltimo captulo en mano y al dictado de sus sueos y pesadillas compusimos la
novela que el lector tiene ahora ante s. Mi funcin se redujo a preparar
bebidas, consultar algunos libros, y discutir, con l y con el fantasma cada da
ms vivo de Pierre Menard, la validez de muchos prrafos repetidos. (11)

Borges Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote is also a relevant precedent at a formalistic

and thematic level. The text is one of Borges stories which deal with false encyclopedias

and dictionaries, with invented authors and the apocryphal. Bolao is no doubt in debt

with these techniques or thematics exploited by Borges. The story of Pierre Menard is a

biographical account of Menards literary career that includes a bibliography, a

discussion of Menards main work and a concise description of the environment and

conceptualization in which the author produced his oeuvre. The emphasis, as in all of

Bolaos biographies in La literatua nazi en Amrica, is on one text or the importance of

that text. Both texts by Bolao and Borges are written in the form of a simultaneous

review and literary critical piece about fictional writers. Borges narrator tells the story of

33
a French writers work and his key dedication to repeating in a foreign tongue a book

[Don Quijote] that already existed. The fictional re-author of Don Quijote, among other

activities, also rewrites the magnum opus of his friend Paul Valery, Cimetiere marin, in

alexandrines, collaborates with the Italian futurist Gabriele DAnnunzio in a tribute to an

aristocrat patroness, and writes a manuscript translation of Quevedos Aguja de navegar

cultos, among other works (Collected 89). Eventually, he proposes his radical project of

writing Don Quijote exactly as it was written by Cervantes, three hundred thirty years

earlier, and which occupies most of the narration. Borges refers to this undertaking as

the other body of work: the subterranean, the interminable heroic productionthe

oeuvre nonpareil, the oeuvre that must remainfor such are our human limitations!

unfinished, as opposed to the visible oeuvre of the CV (Collected 90).

Menard writes his reading of Don Quijote, which even though is a word by word

copy of Don Quijote, is radically distinct in its meaning, a richer Don Quijote, as the

narrator argues, basically because it is read and rewritten by a different, a posteriori

cultural tradition; in Menards case, three centuries later. The narrator in Estrella Distante

is concerned with discutir, con l [Arturo B] y con el fantasma cada da ms vivo de

Pierre Menard, la validez de muchos prrafos repetidos (11). If Borges Pierre

Menard destroys the idea of texts of fixed identities and the traditional notion of the

author as maximum authority via Pierre Menardss gesture, in Bolaos Estrella distante

these ideas frame the two (re)duplications found in the prologuethe first was to

duplicate the figure of the narrator/character/author, which is also a key aspect of

Cervantes Don Quijote11or the decision to reduplicate the pre-text taken in

11
As Gonzlez Echevarra notes: Cervantes created himself as an author surrounded by several doubles as
the second most important character in the Quijote. The author of the Quijote is that manifold character that

34
consultation with Arturo B and the phantasm of Pierre Menard. The concern with the

validity of many repeated paragraphs literally addresses the rewriting of infamy, of

Carlos Ramrez Hoffmann, el infame and its consequences: it establishes the

problematic of rewriting or rereading the subterranean, the interminable heroic or the

unmatched oeuvre as opposed to the visible CV. Bolaos narrator, after hearing about

Arturo Bs dissatisfaction with the previous story, tries a few months later not only to

extend a previously narrated story but also to validate it, to validate the recuperation of

infamy, to validate his repetition of an infamous story and the moral practices affecting

its narration. According to the narrator of Pierre Menards story, or his phantasm in

Bolaos words, this is impossible because the truth (or the validation of Bolaos post-

text) is the daughter of history, or history is the mother of truth. Duplications are

impossible: the proper gesture is one of reduplication.

Carlos Wieders (Dis)appearances

The figure of the reader in a different historical context, or simply a different reader,

emerges here as key for a reading of the subterranean oeuvre that Ramrez

Hoffman/Carlos Wieder left at the disposal of his judges and persecutors. The readers

in the novel and of the novelas rewriters, narrators or ethical figures, emerge also as

the central characters of Estrella distante. The reader, as in Pierre Menard, is partially an

author, or the readers inversion of the traditional hierarchy authorreader. It is in this

context that the description of Bolaos narrator of Estrella distante as espejo y

includes (at least) the narrator, Cid Hamete Benengeli and the translator. In him (in them) Cervantes gave
us a prolix and profound dramatization of the modern mind in search of knowledge of self and of the inner
workings of the literary imagination. In that quest the mind found itself and the complex operations by
which it invents itself as it creates literature. It is a fragile construction -an unbearable lightness of being-
fraught with self-doubt and surrounded by mirages of its own making. To speak, to write, this emerging
self must create yet another, like the friend who comes to its aid in the 1605 prologue, who will give him a
temporary and precarious sense of being. (Cervantes)

35
explosin of the last chapter of La literatura nazi en Amrica gains its most significant

context, which will of course change, but for now will haunt us with its reduplications,

rewritings and rereadings. The reader is confronted with the first two reduplications in the

prologue. Other reduplications will follow, but the reader is now the one in charge of the

dreams and nightmares written at least with four hands or dictated by Arturo B to the

narrator of Estrella distante. The pre-text, anyhow, is impossible to repeat, validate or

rewrite since reading and writing are aesthetically and ideologically productive. It can,

however, be reduplicated.

The central argument of this chapter, framed by the discussions and presentations

in the preceding sections, is that Bolaos poetics in these texts is situated in the frontiers

between the uncanny and the abject. The abject and the uncanny are relevant because

Estrella distante mainly reworks the last biography of La literatura nazi via a

hyperpoetics of the double in conjunction with and this is the essential moment of

abjection and uncanniness in the novela narrator/character of apparently leftist

inclinations that identifies himself with the others (Wieder-Hofmann, Bibiano, Romero),

so that he becomes uncertain as to which his self is. The narrator, as a reader and

interpreter of Wieder/Hoffmann artistic works/crimes, extends his own memories into the

present, tries to reconstruct Wieder/Hofmanns criminal/artistic trajectory, but ends up

facing the limits and risks of this reconstruction to the point that he becomes doubtful of

his own self and doubtful of the importance, at the political, aesthetical and moral levels,

of Wieders politics and ideology of disappearance. The narrator provides other examples

of these limits and crisis besides his own case that help prepare the reader for a key

36
moment of ambiguous catharsis where the narrator projects an anxiety over the collapse

of vengeance and accountability as a systems of justice.

Manzonis description of Borges and Bolaos thematic recuperation of infamy

as deleitable estremecimiento or novedosa conjucin de lo horrible con lo bondadoso,

and as having a liberatory or truth effect (18), incites us to think these narratives in

relation to Freuds uncanny as the juxtaposition of the familiar and unfamiliar and to the

problematic of abjection in literature and society analyzed by Julia Kristeva in terms of

ambiguous catharsis and in terms of what we feel compelled to cast away from ourselves.

The concepts of the uncanny and abjection are certainly in opposition to reconciliatory

politics that emphasize transition, oblivion and the recuperation of family/home. In

addition, both concepts and their respective textual variations and representations

dominate Bolaos narrations of infamy. But what kind of liberatory effect or truth and to

what extent, if at all, is this relevant in Bolaos narratives? What mechanisms operate

underneath Bolaos narratives of infamy? What manifestations of the uncanny and

experiences of abjection can be identified in Bolaos narrative? It should be emphasized

one more time that Bolao calls La literatura nazi en Amrica and its spin off Estrella

distante a novela sobre la prctica de la moral and also pays homage to Borges

throughout the novel and in the last chapter of La literature nazi by entitling it C.

Ramrez Hoffman, el infame.

II. The Aesthetics of Reduplication in Estrella distante.

One of the main characteristics of Estrella distante is its intense play with forms of

duplication. The narrative of the novel is in itself a duplication and extension of Carlos

Ramrez Hoffman, el infame as I introduced it, and as the prologue to the novel shows.

37
Every major aspect of the plot that appeared in the last chapter of La literatura nazi is

also present, although not verbatim, in Estrella distante. Duplication here is not a process

of copying literally the contents of Ramrez Hoffman, el infame, but a process of

renaming and extending the pre-text or reduplication. Bolao changes names, adds

places, provides details, adds events and characters, to a story that at the level of thematic

and plot remains guided by the pre-text but gains in complexity. As the narrator puts it in

the prologue to Estrella distante: en La literatura nazi en Amrica se narraba tal vez

muy esquemticamente [] la historia de Ramrez Hoffman and then proceeds to

mention the discussions with Arturo B and the phantasm of Pierre Menard as part of the

rewriting process (11). In the prologue to Estrella distante the narrator justifies this move

by inventing his double (Arturo B) and creating a discussion with him(self) that alludes to

Arturo Bs dissatisfaction with the pre-text and to discussions with the phantasm of Pierre

Menard.

In Borges Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote the duplication of the text is

verbatim, although the text of Don Quijote de la Mancha is now richer and distinct in its

meaning. In Estrella distante it is better to speak of reduplication in order to distinguish

Bolaos reduplication from that of Pierre Menards, and to think about the possibilities

of this reference in the prologue to the post-text. Bolaos post-text or Estrella distante is

also richer and adds layers of meaning, but in this case through a process that includes

splitting and proliferating, mirrors and explosions, and not the exact duplication of words.

In Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote, the text and the post-text are presented as if they

were identical twins/texts but with different minds or different cultural and historical

contexts: the duplication of the textual body by Pierre Menard marks the beginning of

38
further transformations. The operation in Estrella distante is one of reduplication or that

of creating polar twins/texts. In Estrella distante, the process of doubling does not rely

solely on a contextual and historical adaptation of particular readings, but instead, the

first doubling provides also an extension of the pre-text, or to put it differently, the first

post-reading is the non-verbatim rewriting of the pre-text or reduplication. Reading

(Re)ad(d)ingis at the base of (re)duplication, as the prologue shows and as the

developments in Estrella distante will exemplify. The instant the text is read it is

(re)duplicated by the reader and the context from which the reading takes place. This is

the event that sets the supplementary logic of reduplication in a continuous process or

(re)reading and (re)writing.

Beatriz Sarlos reading of Borges Pierre Menard, in one of the few recent and

rewarding book-length readings on Borges, has this problematic in mind, which she

outlines as follows:

El proceso y las condiciones histricas de enunciacin modifican todos los


enunciados. El sentido es un efecto frgil (y no substancial) relacionado con la
enunciacin: emerge en la actividad de escribir-leer y no esta enlazado a las
palabras sino a los contextos de las palabras. ltima consecuencia de esta
hiptesis, la productividad esttica e ideolgica de la lectura hace imposible la
repeticin. No hay modo de que un texto sea idntico a su doble, no hay ningn
espejo que ofrezca una trascripcin exacta. (80)

Sarlo underlines the impossibility of exact repetition or duplication because the aesthetic

and ideologically productive activity of reading interferes with the possibility of creating

identical texts at all levels. Reduplication names this impossible repetition and

duplication and extends its reach to the realm of duplication with difference, a difference

that recognizes the possibilities of adding to the verbatim duplication and therefore

produces, at the most, polar twins/texts. Sarlo also uses an image in the above quotation

39
that confirms Bolaos description of his pos-text as mirror and explosion of the pre-text,

or reduplication. She uses the mirror image to state that the transcription of a text is never

the same as the original: there is no way in which a text can be identical to its double,

accurately describing Menards duplication of Don Quijote. Bolao adds an explosion to

the mirror image, an explosion of the mirror itself [espejo y explosin de si mismo],

further establishing the impossibility of repeating a text and the inevitability of its

expansion. As in Pierre Menardthrough a similar and also different process to the

one described above, and for which Ill provide more textual examples later onEstrella

distante destroys the idea of a text with a fixed identity and the idea of the author, but

also takes this meditations into the realm of reduplications.

The first step in this direction turns the figure of the author/narratorunnamed in

Estrella distante but named as Bolao in the pre-textinto a manifold figure presented in

the first part of the chapter. In three words, Bolao is multiple. Multiple are also his

sources and the conditions of his writing process, which is described as a group

discussion in the prologue. The narrators voice is a polyphonic, a redoubled and uncanny

narrator, a mirror but also an explosion, a recourse that Bolao will exploit to the extreme

in Los detectives salvajes. The narrator of Estrella distante, also the main character along

with Wieder, is at odds with himself, never clearly defined, but proliferated, uncanny.

What follows concentrates in reading instants of reduplication in Estrella distante as they

relate to the recuperation of infamy. The reduplications include places, things, characters,

and as hinted above, will concentrate on the figure of the narrator and Carlos Wieder.

40
The Uncanny House

Even though this reading continues to engage important aspects concerning the

relationship between la Literatura nazi en Amrica and Estrella distante, I concentrate

now in analyzing the post-text. In Estrella distante the multiple manifestations of the

notion of the double and the uncanny [unheilmiche] constitute the novels core. It is as if

the doubling games presented in the transition from pre-text to prologue and to post-text,

became now a narrative mechanism explored to the point of exhaustion.

The literature on the uncanny is overwhelming, to say the least, but Sigmund

Freuds Das Unheimlich (1919) remains the key text to start any study on the subject.

My observations on the uncanny, as those above, derive mostly from readings of Freuds

essay and from Nicholas Royles The Uncanny (2003). I concentrate on the uncanny

effects dealing with literature, doubles, dread and horror, always busy disturbers of the

distinctions between imagination and reality, between subject and object, to which Freud

dedicates plenty of effort. Bolaos critics have noticed the repetitive presence of doubles

and uncanny elements in his texts, but none of them thoroughly discusses their relevance

for Bolaos poetics and politics. The notion of the uncanny can be approached with

different levels of cohesiveness and success if from the beginning of our inquiry into its

territory we accept the complex, strange and unpreventable ghostly situations that it

presents. The intermingle of the familiar and unfamiliar is one of the key understandings

and constants in any approach to the uncanny experience, keeping any attempt at

reaching a definition basically unbalanced (familiar and unfamiliar). As Royle puts it:

But the uncanny is not simply an experience of strangest an alienation. More


specifically, it is a peculiar commingling of the familiar an unfamiliar. It can
take the form of something familiar unexpectedly arising in a strange and
unfamiliar context, or something strange and unfamiliar, unexpectedly arising in

41
a familiar context. It can also consist in a sense of homeliness uprooted the
revelation of something unhomely at the heart of hearth and home. (1)

The close ties of the uncanny to the notion of the double and reduplication reveal their

importance for the present analysis. Reduplications and duplications also rely heavily on

perceptions of familiarity and unfamiliarity. The indescribable aspect of the uncanny, its

ability to elude mastery, is a central part of our understanding of the experience. As

Samuel Weber puts it in the context of literature: Uncanny is a certain indecidabibility

which affects and infects representations, motifs, themes and situations, which always

mean something other than what they are (1132). Any effort to define it will have to be

in itself a double, and add up at least two linguistic constructions that appear to create

ambiguity for each other: (1) the uncanny isthis (2) the uncanny has to do with this

and that. The first one tries to make the notion familiar and stable by defining it, while

the second opens the door of the unfamiliar, the door of uncertainties and speculation.

Most critical attempts to work with this notion avoid limited definitions and resort to

describing the multiple manifestations of the experience.

The uncanny is phantasmal. It is an experience of strangeness

(familiar/unfamiliar) and liminality or inbetweennes. The uncanny is beautiful and

sublime but also frightening, as is the uncanny figure of the double. The uncanny is

duplication. The uncanny is a way to think in less dogmatic ways, a way to look at that

which is foreign within and outside us. The uncanny has to do with the sense of

something supernatural, mechanic, an automaton. It involves uncertainty regarding to

who one is and what is being experienced. It has to do with a sense of homeliness while

being displaced and vice versa. The uncanny may form out of curios coincidences or

strange repetitions. It disturbs the distinction between imagination and reality. According

42
to Freud, in fiction or literature, the effects of the uncanny can be extended or intensified:

But the writer can intensify and multiply this [uncanny] effect far beyond what is

feasible in normal experience; in his stories he can make things happen that one would

never, or only rarely, experience in real life (157). One thing is clear: the uncanny has to

be put in the context of specific experiences, whether created by an artist or experienced

in real life but my focus is on the feelings of dread and horror that Freud describes as

central for our understanding of the uncanny experience and that I posit as central for a

reading of Estrella distante. The examples represented in Estrella distante will help to

understand the relevance of the uncanny for the thematics presented before: recuperation

of infamy, recuperation of home, reduplication, abjection, and the grotesque.

At the beginning of the first chapter of Estrella distante, the narrator retells a

story that he first came to know through a letter from Bibiano, in which his friend and

also poet describes to him his visits to Ruiz-Tagle/Wieders home with the Garmendia

twin sisters, and also the one time when he went by himself but didnt go pass the door.

The letter, one among many that are referred to in the narration, was sent to the narrator

while he was living in Barcelona and still kept correspondence with Bibiano, who stayed

in Chile and worked in a shoe repair store. The narration of the novel is in this sense

chaotic. The narrator remembers and thinks about something that happened a long time

ago, but tells it to the reader through a letter that was sent to him way after the actual

event took place. At times the narrations of the a priori knowledge of any given event and

the a posteriori epistolary correspondence about the same event get intermingled in a way

that are difficult to separate, or might be purposely presented in this way to create

confusion, uncertainties and to double time and experience.

43
The key aspects of the letter under discussion, as the narrator emphasized, are the

description of Ruiz-Tagle/Wieders home and the atmosphere of this visit described in

the first chapter. The home is described as a place that lacks something: En la casa de

Ruiz-Tagle lo que faltaba era algo innombrable [] (pero presente, tangible) como si el

anfitrin hubiera amputado trozos de su vivienda (17). According to the letter this

feeling was more perceptible when he visited the apartment by himself: O como si sta

[la casa] fuese un mecano que se adaptaba a las particularidades y expectativas de cada

visitante (17). If we follow Rosemary Jackson when she notices that the uncanny is a

term both to describe and to create unease the scene in question seems to fit the

description (64). The house is described as missing something unnamable but at the same

time the presence of the unnamable thing is felt, giving the impression of an amputated

house with a part that is not present but is felt as present. This creates an uneasy situation

for Bibiano and for the reader: Bibiano feels that the house is uncanny by being aware of

something that is absent, while the reader is asked to imagine an amputated house. The

scene goes beyond this by also describing how Bibiano, at the door of Ruiz-Tagles

apartment, hears a voice and imagines that it is the voice of one of the twin sisters

listening behind the door of the amputated house. The narration links amputations with

something missing that is unnamable and with a house that seems to adapt to the

presence of the visitors but also as a clean house described by Bibiano as desnuda y

sangrante (18). The house is described as being able to be reduplicated, it can adapt to

the visitors, it looks clean but also sangrante y desnuda, something is missing in it but

is also present. The home is described as one would describe a haunted house with an

uncanny owner that seems to have special powers to frighten and create uneasy in his

44
visitors, to threaten them with evil intent. Freud takes these factors into account in his

description of the uncanny experience:

To many people the acme of the uncanny is presented by anything to do with


death, dead bodies, revenants, spirits and ghosts. Indeed, we have heard that in
some languages the German phrase ein unheimliches Haus [an uncanny house]
can be rendered only by the periphrasis a haunted house. We may in fact have
begun our investigation with this example of the uncanny perhaps the most
potent but we did not do so because here the uncanny is too much mixed up
with the gruesome and partly overlaid by it. (148)

Freuds description of the uncanny in relation to the translation of an uncanny house as

a haunted house reflect the links between death, evil, uncertainty and the supernatural

in the uncanny experience, although in this example the gruesome seems to take over or

dominate. One has to remember that Ruiz Tagle/Wieder is a murderer, so most likely the

immobile and unnamable presence (18) of someone inside the house points to the

possibility of Bibiano sensing Ruiz-Tagle/Wieders assassinations, in a scene so

appropriately described as a haunted house. The scene presents and also hides the

cadavers of the possible victims. In the context of my reading, this takeover of the

uncanny by the gruesome and evil, by dread and horror that Freud underlines, will be in

agreement with the movement towards experiences of abjection that will dominate the

last few chapters of the novel.

The scene of the uncanny home describes how uneasy Bibiano feels in a

haunted house before the presence, but only with the presentiment or anxiety, of evil,

horror and death. The scene also makes the reader feel uncomfortable, linking the

unnamable and immobile voice inside the house with the description of the place, making

one reach a level of uncertainty close to Bibianos feelings at that particular moment:

[Bibiano] En ese momento, probablemente, lo nico que saba era que deseaba

45
marcharse, decirle adios a Ruiz Tagle y no volver nunca ms a aquella casa desnuda y

sangrante (18). The uncanny in this example involves mostly two forms: one is the

reduplication of presence and non-presence (e.g. the twin sisters, other victims) and place

(e.g. the haunted house) while the other is the establishment of feelings of uncertainty and

uneasy, which in the scene described above focuses on uncertainty about Bibianos

reality in relation to what he is experiencing, imagining, during his visits and in relation

to how he narrates his anxiety to the narratorin a letterand how the narrator tells it to

us, uncanny readers. The house symbolizes disorder and chaos, which in the novel are

identified with Wieder but also with nature and animal behavior. The establishment of an

uncanny atmosphere in the novel sets the tone, sets the uncanny home, and remains at the

base of further experiences emphasizing uncertainty, violence and horror in opposition to

the recuperation of home as a safe space of reconciliation.

The Reduplication of Names, Poets and Detectives

Ruiz-Tagle/Carlos Wieder first appears in the life of the narrator when he infiltrates in the

poetry workshops to which the narrator and other friends assist around 1971-72 and

immediately becomes an enigma for him and Bibiano ORyan. A key question raised by

Estrella distante is related to his name. As in the case of the narrator, who is reduplicated

by the author, Wieder will also be the subject of doublings throughout the novel. In the

prologue, Bolaos reduplication concerns the name or the name as reduplication and an

uncertain double. From being a third person, an unnamed narrator in La literatura nazi en

Amrica, he becomes Bolao at the end of the novel and then becomes again unnamed

narrator in Estrella distante, although it is fair to assume that it is still Bolao since the

novel is presented as a retelling of the pre-text. The uncertainty surrounding the name is

46
extended when Bolao invents a conversation with his alter ego Arturo B. This

playfulness with the name and his double is almost absurd and humorous, and alludes to

well-known literary games and strategies in Edgar A. Poes William Wilson and Borges

and I.12

The same game with names and doubles affects our understanding of Carlos

Wieder. The first key moment comes at the end of the third chapter during the narration

of a previous experience remembered by the narrator who now lives in Blanes, when

Marta La gorda Posadas, Bibiano O Ryan and the narrator are talking about Ruiz-

Tagle without knowing yet that he is also Carlos Wieder, although the narrator has

already provided this information to the reader from the very first page. During this

conversation Posadas tells the other poets, all of them still in Chile, about her terrifying

experiences with Ruiz Tagle. She tells the story of a conversation when he confesses to

her that Las Garmendia estn muertas, dijo. No lo creo, dije. [] Me quers asustar,

huevn? Todas las poetisas estn muertas, dijo. Esa es la verdad, gordita, y tu haras bien

en creerme (49). At this point, in the third chapter, the narrator and Bibiano are already

embarked in an informal investigation in Chile of Ruiz Tagles and Wieders figures,

who are separate enigmas for them. After Posadas account of the terror she felt in the

company of Ruiz-Tagle, Bibiano, coincidentally or uncannily lectures his friends about

the different meanings, roots and understandings of Wiederthey dont know yet that

Wieder is also Ruiz Tagle and only consider Wieder as a famous vanguardist poet and

Ruiz-Tagle as a mysterious member of the same literary workshops. As a result, the

figure of Wieder is still not directly linked to the figure of the poet-pilot, Wieder:

12
The logic of Borges and Poes stories is that the double is already in the name. As Borges puts it: I am
not sure which of us it is thats writing this page. (Collected 324)

47
Wieder, segn Bibiano nos cont, quera decir <<otra vez>>, <<de nuevo>>,
<<nuevamente>>, <<por segunda vez>>, <<de vuelta>>, en algunos contextos
<<una y otra vez>>, <<la prxima vez>> en frases que apuntan al futuro. Y
segn le habia dicho su amigo Anselmo Sanjun, ex-estudiante de filologa
alemana en la Universidad de Concepcin, solo a partir del siglo XVII el
adverbio Wieder y la preposicin de acusativo Wider se distinguan
ortogrficamente para diferenciar mejor su significado. Wider, en antiguo
alemn Widar o Widari, significa <<contra>>, <<frente a>>, a veces <<para
con>>Y lanzaba ejemplos al aire: Widerchrist, <<anticristo>>; Widerhaken,
<<gancho>>, <<garfio>>; Widerraten, <<disuasin>>; Widerlegung,
<<apologa>>, <<refutacin>>; Widerlage, <<espoln>>; Widerklage,
<<contraacusacin>>,<<contradenuncia>>;Widernaturlichkeit,<<monstrosidad
>> y <<aberracin>>. Palabras todas que le parecan altamente reveladoras. (50-
51)

The name itself is an uncanny indication, a disturbance of the proper name, a

contradiction, and yet the same, a repetition. The name is familiar and unfamiliar. Who

hasnt thought about her/his proper name as alien, foreign, as belonging to others, and at

the same time, as proper? Im Wieder, today, again and another time. Im not Wieder, the

contrary, and a double. The multiple acceptations of Wieders name point to the problem

of doubles, repetitions and familiarity (e.g. otra vez; de nuevo, por segunda vez) but also

to the opposite, unfamiliar or the contrary (e.g. contra, refutacin, apologa) of the same.

Wieder is a double but also a non-double or contrary, a reduplication of the self, an

aberration and monstrosity (50-51). The uncanniness of the name, Wieder as uncanny,

also as a living person with evil intent, as the double and the contrary, the double and the

difference, a reduplication, seems to announce the refutation of the apparent narrative

closure and the apparent facts that have been provided so early in a narrative that

emphasizes search and investigations. The reader knows that Wieder is the assassin from

the beginning. It is no casualty that going back to the pre-text of Estrella distante,

Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, el infame, in La literatura nazi en Amrica, makes an

allusion to E.T.A Hoffman in the original name of Carlos Wieder (Carlos Ramrez

48
Hoffman), an author that Freud recognizes as the unrivalled master of the uncanny in The

Uncanny.13 Freud also provides a definition of the uncanny that indirectly, to say the

least, describes Carlos Wieder/Carlos Ramrez Hoffmann as subject, the subject behind

the uncanny name: We can also call a living person uncanny, that is to say when we

credit him with evil intent. But this alone is not enough: it must be added that this intent

to harm us is realized with the help of special powers (149). Bolao uses this reference to

the double or the repetition in the name for the pre-texts main character but gets rid of it

in the post-text, and establishing a reference to the double and the contrary through his

new name as mirror and explosion, as evil monstrosity with special powersWieder.

While the pre-text established the double, it remained in the realm of duplication or in the

realm of Hoffmann. The reference to the double now in the name of Wieder retains that

doubleness but adding a reference to the contrary or the difference which makes for a

good example of the mechanism of reduplication.

Argentine critic Celina Manzoni reads the confession made by Ruiz-Tagle to

Marta Posadas and the identification by the poets of Ruiz Tagle with Wieder as the event

that brings about Bibianos filological madness when he enumerates and explains the

possible meanings and variation of the name Wieder:

La identificacin de Ruiz Tagle con Wieder y con el asesino de las hermanas


Garmendia y de otras poetas por propia confesin o alarde: Todas las poetisas
estn muertas, desata la locura filolgica que a lo largo de cuarenta lneas
traduce las posibles acepciones del nombre Wieder en sus variantes antiguas y
modernas y en sus posibles combinaciones. (Narrar 45)

Manzonis remark misses the fact that when Ruiz Tagle confesses to Marta Posadas, the

trio of poetseven though we as readers already knoware still unaware of the fact that

Ruiz Tagle is Wieder, so they can only identify Ruiz Tagle as a murderer but not as
13
E.T.A Hoffmann is the unrivalled master of the uncanny in literature. (141)

49
Wieder, and therefore the philological madness quoted above is not directly related to

an identification of Ruiz Tagle as Wieder, which comes towards the end of the chapter. In

fact, Manzonis reading eliminates the uncanny effect by eliminating the possibility of

coincidence and uncanny prediction of something at that point unfamiliar. The poets only

start to speculate about Ruiz Tagle and Wieder as the same person after Bibiano has

displayed his knowledge about the name in question. The philological madness is derived

form Bibianos and the narrators obsession with everything that has to do with poetry

and with Bolaos games with the uncanny throughout the text. At the time, Wieders air

poetry leaded the vanguard poetry movement in Chile and was very popular. The young

poets were trying to understand his poetic acts. The filological madness is not derived

from identification, but maybe from the authors attempt to create an uncanny

atmosphere uncannily by presenting a future that is familiar to the reader but unfamiliar

to the characters in the novel. It creates suspense and uncertainty for the characters and it

provides a glimpse of the complexity of Wieders character, establishing an uncanny

presence of that which is buried in the story but threatening to return or reemerge via his

name. By the end of the third chapter the poets know for sure that Wieder is Ruiz Tagle,

but not before Bibianos enumeration of Wieders possible meanings. The author/Bolao

has also set an alarm for the reader by revealing the metamorphic quality of Wieders

character, which will remain in flux and not only as the dichotomal Ruiz Tagle/Wieder.

The first three chapters are in fact a hunting game in which the narrator, Bibiano

and Posadas, try to understand Ruiz Tagles participation in their poetry workshops and

try to decipher his secretive personality in a hunting game that the complexities of

Wieders names exemplifies. The narrator especially envies Ruiz-Tagle/Wieder, because

50
the twin sisters like him, and because he doesnt really fit in with the rest of the poets.

The reader knows all the time, through the narrators revelations about the storys future

developments, that Ruiz-Tagle and Carlos Wieder are the same person, that he infiltrated

the poetry workshops as part of Augusto Pinochets terror, that he killed many poets,

specially women, and that the acciones de arte or the air poetry described during the

first three chapters are also his actions. At the very end of the three chapters, however,

readers and characters are on the same page, they all know clearly that Ruiz Tagle is

Carlos Wieder, but not before Bibianos dissertation about the possible meanings of

Wieder. Bibiano seems to collect everything he can about Wieder and follows his

footsteps, while the narrator, at this time, meditates mostly about leaving Chile. The

events, as usual, are narrated in retrospect, from the narrators new home in Spain/Blanes.

The novel establishes many important aspects of the story up to this point, only to return

to the questions about doubles, to the constant remarks about conjectures and

uncertainties that we have heard form the narrator. The chosen narrative style, at times

very difficult to follow without having to reread many sections, reflects the complexities

of the events being narrated and the very uncanniness of the reading experience.14

After the first three chapterswhich are mostly concerned with the narrator,

Bibiano, Wieder, the Garmendia twins and Marta PosadasEstrella distante turns to the

figure of two poets and directors of poetry workshops to which the younger poets named

above assist regularly. Chapter four is a story about Juan Stein, a poet influenced by

Nicanor Parra and Ernesto Cardenal, and chapter five tells the story of Steins friend and

14
The narration of Estrella distante is characterized by statements that create uncertainty: A partir de aqu
mi relato se nutrir bsicamente de conjeturas (27). Despus Bibiano se levanto, se acerco a la ventana y
no tardo en rehacerse. Todo entra en el campo de las conjeturas, dijo dndome la espalda. Si, dije sin saber
a que se refera (47).

51
rival, poet Diego Soto, influenced by French poets. The focus on these figures defers

significantly form Carlos Ramrez Hoffman, el infame in La literatura nazi en

Amrica, where two poets and directors of poetry workshops appearMartn Garca and

Juan Cherniakovskiand are discussed only briefly. Garca and Cherniakovski are

turned into Soto and Stein in Estrella distante and their histories are detailed and almost

constitute independent chapters that remind the reader of the style of the chapters of La

literatura nazi. Cherniakovski serves as the pre-text for the character of Stein, but also

reappears, reduplicated, in Estrella distante as a relative of Stein and as the well known

general of the second war, but not as a member director of any poetry workshop.

According to the narrator both poets, Stein and Soto, disappear shortly after

Pinochets coup in 1973 and reappear in different places. The chapters on these poets

take the form of another game with doubles and contraries: they both direct poetry

workshops, they are both leftists, they both disappear and both have doubles. Stein is tall

and blond while Soto is short and dark-skinned, Stein focuses on Latin American poetry

while Soto focuses on French poetry, Stein belongs the revolutionary left while Soto

belongs to the pessimistic left, and finally, Stein becomes a revolutionary and dies

heroically after disappearing while Soto goes to France and lives the life of the

bourgeoisie, dying tragically and absurdly while defending a vagabond from neo-Nazi

attackers. Each poet is also compared by narrator/Bolao to another double which is also

its opposite, espejo y explosin, or reduplication. Steins double, as Bibiano found out

while he was looking for him and as he later told the narrator in a letter, is a professor

called Juan Stein that never got out of Chile and never fought in the guerrillas

52
latinoamericanas like Stein did. The double of Stein is presented also as the opposite or

reduplication, a doubling with difference.

Soto is opposed to a different figure which the narrator introduces by referring to

the double of Juan Stein: Es la historia de Petra y de alguna manera es a Soto lo que la

historia del doble de Juan Stein es a nuestro Juan Stein (81). If the double of Stein was

also his opposite and to some extent also his double, and if Petras story is for Soto the

same as the story of the double of Stein was for Stein, then Petra (also Lorenzo/a) is an

oppositional figure but also a reduplication. Why these complex, often bordering in

ambiguously confusing, games with what I have termed reduplication? Bolao doesnt

attempt to provide any easy solutions or dialectical progress with these oppositional

characters, there is no closure, improvement of a certain situation or synthesis, but instead

what he attempts is to retain the tension of the contradiction, maintaining the

reduplication as espejo y explosin, as repetition and difference. Stein, even without

considering his double that never left Chile, is a double in himself. He is heroic and a

man of action and history but at the end he is seen as a legend or myth of the Latin

Americans wars, a simulacrum of what he was. Soto seems to find his destiny beyond his

bourgeois life, but what he really finds is and absurdly heroic death, moral and amoral at

the same time. Petra (Lorenzo) is also a heroic character, a gay and armless, a man who

overcomes a lot of obstacles only to become annoying and banal. One cannot avoid

thinking again of the passage where Wieders name is philologically defined by Bibiano.

Wieders name means otra vez y de vuelta, which points to a repetition and duplication

but also refers to the contrary as in contrariamente and refutacin. The same

mechanism of doubles and contraries that I have been calling reduplication, or

53
duplication with difference, operates in relation to the two leftist poets and the main

character/poet in the novel, Wieder. This pattern reveals a strategy used by Bolao in

order to tie up similar discourses and characters with its opposites, therefore establishing

the difficulty of narrating the stories in question, stories about disappearance, murder,

torture and complicity. The influence of Borges labyrinths in these passages and in the

novel is indisputable.

Celina Manzoni has referred to these mechanisms and the complexities of

narrating these events by studying the figure of the narrator in terms of the other and the

double (41). But in fact, almost everything in the novel should be thought in these terms

(the uncanny home, the narration, the poets, the crimes, the investigation, the acts of

poetry, the narrator, the end) and to an extent that Manzonis analysis doesnt cover.

Everything in the novel is affected by otherness, doublings and contraries, which I

discuss in terms of reduplication. As Manzoni suggests in terms of the narrator:

La ilusin de ser otro, de desplazar a otro espacio y otro tiempo lo que no se


puede explicar, el horror que resiste al discurso, lo inefable, funciona como un
juego de la imaginacin que permite construir o construirse un mundo en el que
la historia pueda volver atrs, en el que la muerte no sea definitiva. [] Pero no
basta con que el narrador construya un doble de si mismo; la complejidad de lo
que se quiere narrar, la dificultad para encontrarle un sentido a lo narrado se
intensifican, aunque pueda parecer una paradoja, porque de algn modo,
socialmente, por una parte, es como si ya todo hubiera sido narrado y por otra,
porque es como si los lenguajes de la narracin se hubieran agotado. (41)

The critics remark of a turn back in history where death is not definitive may be over-

reading, but the basic argument that emphasizes doubles, displacements and the

overcoming of obsolete narrative mechanisms points to the overall sense in Estrella

distante of the need of criticism and rewritings of traditional discourses dealing with

trauma and catastrophes. The argument points to the necessity of going beyond

54
testimonio, realism and vanguardism, going for a new language of reflection, a language

that abandons mimesis and recuperates infamy: abandonar la ilusoria y antigua eficacia

colocada en las verdades dichas con estridencia, para adoptar en su lugar lenguajes de

reflexin, no solo esttica sino tambin tica y poltica (42). A similar emphasis on

languages of reflection and the abandonment of mimetic representation, as is key for

Bolaos poetics, is adopted by Daniuska Gonzlez approach to Estrella distante:

Sucede que a Bolao no le interesa la crtica como crnica, como filiacin de la

historiografa [] lo que considera es apropiarse de sus refilones, de algunos de sus

elementos y pervertirlos, cambiarlos, jugar con ellos, todo dentro del lenguaje del mal

(36-37). Gonzlez also emphasizes the task, not of narrating and denouncing historical

tragedies, but of adopting a language that superficially borders history (43). Bolaos

writing is in this sense a search for a language, a writing of the catastrophe. Both critics

distance themselves from testimonial and realist approaches based on an imitation or

literal transcription of history and focus on the possible doubles, repetitions and

contradictions. Patricia Espinosa emphasizes a different, more straightforward, historical

approach to Bolaos oeuvre:

Si hay algo de certeza en sus relatos, es lo efectivo de las acciones destructivas


de la represin en una persona cualquiera. Pero lo macabro consiste,
precisamente, en que puede ser cualquiera la vctima de los poderes. En
trminos metafricos, me paree posible leer en sus textos, y desde la historia
chilena, una suerte de mensaje tendiente a conmover y desconfiar ante los
enmascaramientos propios de cualquier autoritarismo. [] La escritura de
Bolao puede insertarse en la llamada postmodernidad perifrica. De acuerdo
con lo planteado por Huyssen, esta posmodernidad pone en el centro de la
discusin la cuestin de la tradicin y conservacin cultural del modo ms
fundamental, como problema tico y poltico [] Una postmodernidad que
recusa cualquier teleologismo y modernizacin como utopa y que, asimismo,
recoge el proyecto de la vanguardia histrica en tanto que elemento importante
para el cambio []. (28)

55
Espinosa reads Estrella distante from the Chilean history perspective and distances her

criticism from the former critics emphasis on language. Her analysis acknowledges the

importance of the mix between imaginative and realist aspects or a fictional and historical

metatextuality, and describes Bolaos brand of realism as problematic while trying to

emphasize and find a more direct socio-political Bolao, a subject that writes from his

Latin American condition (Quimera 23), a historical Bolao: Bolao asume los cdigos

del neopolicial latinoamericano, intersectando la bsqueda metafsica de sus personajes

que emprenden continuamente itinerarios junto a la historia poltica, en particular la

dictadura militar (28). Critics like P. Braham, and writers such as Paco Ignacio Taibo II

and Leonardo Padura Fuentes, promote the notion of the neopoliciaco in Latin America.

This concept that Espinosa and others15 claim as part of Bolaos writing codes, refers to

the self-conscious appropriation of structures and elements from the detective genre and

to how these appropriations can lead to the creation of original, political and historical

detective stories rather than literary parodies. The neopoliciaco focuses on political and

social criticism of the State and society, organized in part around the events of 1968 in

Mxico, the Cuban struggles, particularly after 1989, and the dictatorships in Latin

America during the 1970s and 1980s. In the neopoliciaco the traditional central role of

the detective or the criminal event is combined with an exhaustive examination of the

struggles of communities and secondary characters, usually associated with marginal

situations. The figure of the detective as restorer of order and executor of the law is

inverted in favor of balanced questioning and exposition of all the characters or

institutions involved in the crime. Amelia Simpsons panoramic study of detective fiction

15
See also Ezequiel De Rossos Una lectura conjetural. Roberto Bolao y el relato policial, and Magda
Seplvedas La narrativa policial como un gnero de la modernidad: La pista de Bolao.

56
supports this understanding of the genre in Latin America without making reference to

the notion of lo neopolicial:

While traditional classics, as well as more conventional and commercial duros


continue to appear in the seventies, detective literature of the period is generally
characterized by the use of the hard-boiled model to depict a fragmented and
menacing new social order. Many of these recent works are formally innovative,
integrating the novela dura with the focus on verbal reality []. (54)

Paco Ignacio Taibo II, considered the father of the neopolicial, defines it in similar terms,

as a mechanism of denunciation and reflection about social and political problems. He is

the author of a serial featuring Hctor Belascoarn Shayne, a leftist intellectual who turns

detective after spending several years working for General Electric. Belascoarn

Shaynes philosophical and social concerns emphasize the corruption of the political

system in Mexico, the living conditions of the lower classes, and the difficulty of

adapting the hardboiled variant of detective fiction to the Latin American context. In his

fiction, social denunciation, verbal reality and philosophical reflection serve to underline

the distance between theoretical and empirical knowledge. Taibos fictions of detection

emphasize the social function of literature or neopolicial strategies. According to the

writer, lo neopolicial is a better fit for the corrupt and chaotic socio-political atmosphere

of Mexico City (41-43). Taibo IIs response and attitude towards the question of parody

in detective fiction is similar to Brahams in that both posit the neopolicial as a new genre

deeply rooted in the Latin American historical and political context.

Interviewers have tried to link Taibos work with previous texts and writers,

particularly with traditional practitioners of the genre like Marlowe, Hammett and Himes,

and to Mexican writers like Antonio Helu, but his response has always rejected all links

to parody and to any significant influence of those texts. In the Mexican context, he

57
marks a clear distinction: Nada, nada absolutamente. Eran, o excesivamente naifs o

excesivamente pardicos. Y Belascoarn [] t no puedes fundar un gnero a partir de la

parodia (43). In terms of a broader and traditional understanding of the genre, Taibo

affirms a greater difference: El neopoliciaco rompi con la tradicin de una novela

basada fundamentalmente en la ancdota y abri las puertas experimentales hacia una

novela cuyo eje central es la atmsfera (43). Even if these negations are valid to some

extension, Taibo IIs Belascoarn Shayne shares too many connections to previous

hardboiled detectives to be ignored. Belascoarns most obvious ancestors are Chandlers

Philip Marlowe and Chester Himes African American detectives Grave Digger and

Coffin Ed. Like Marlowe and Himes detectives, Belascoarn is genuinely interested in

the welfare of people and the eradication of their suffering, without an economic

motivation. They are all willing to risk injuries in order to rescue or help their clients. In

addition, the importance of atmosphere that Taibo II points out in relation to the

neopolicial is, if not central, one of they key components and main attributes of

Chandlerss and Himes novels. Himess detectives are extremely close to Belascoarn

Shynes violent environment and his enduring of physical punishments that always

threatens the well being of most hardboiled detectives. Belascoarn is shot, stabbed and

drugged, while Himess detectives get acid thrown in their face (Coffin Ed), shot (Grave

digger) and beaten. The connection to previous practitioners of the genre is downplayed

by Taibo IIs analysis of the neopolicial, in favor of viewing the practice of the

neopolicial genre as a place for historical representation of marginality close to

testimonial discourse.

58
Bolaos narrative, contra Espinosas focus on the neopolicial, reveals a number

of antidetection strategies, many of which I have already discussed. Paul Austers

antidetective novels, The New York Trilogy, are well-known examples of writers

searching for writers and slippery identities. Auster follows the tradition of anti-detective

narratives written by authors such as Thomas Pynchon or Jorge Luis Borges. In the third

part of the trilogy, The Locked Room (1988), the narrator/character embarks into an

investigation of the whereabouts and identity of a childhood friend (Fanshawe) who

becomes a successful writer thanks to the role of the narrator/character as his literary

executor. His search ends with an acceptance of Fanshawes history and identity as a

locked room, and his own as double and uncertain, both metaphors for the impossibility

of truth and certainties that proliferate in antidetection. All three parts of the trilogy start

as a detection exercise, but each of them gradually unravels, leaving only traces of the

crime and the detective. The antidetective genre indicts the detectives lack of ability in

solving the crime and also casts uncertainties on the very nature of the criminal activity

and the categories of right or wrong; it deals with practices of moral, as Bolao puts it, or

as it appears in the games with doubles, identity and uncertainties in Estrella distante. At

the core of antidetective fiction or antipolicial there is a questioning of the methodology

of detection and the hermeneutic enterprise, or an impulse to frustrate the detection

process. This is achieved by emphasizing ontological dilemmas and by embracing the

defamiliarization of the world in question, as opposed to the linear progression towards a

final solution and the revelation or exposition of societys one-dimensional darkness

found in more traditional detective fictionas opposed to the recuperation of family.

Often considered as antipolicial are Borges The Garden of Forking Paths; Robbe-

59
Grillets The Erasers; Thomas Pynchons The Crying of Lot 49; Unsworths Morality

Play; and Albert Camus The Stranger. As conceived by William V. Spanos in The

Detective and the Boundary, (1972) antidetective fiction refers to a broad gamma of

postmodern antitexts in which there is an investigation, a search or a quest that resists its

own finality or the modernist self and his quest for a way of ordering:

It is, therefore, no accident that the postmodern literary imagination at large


insists in disorienting the mystery, the ominous and threatening uncanniness of
being that resists naming, and that the paradigmatic archeatype it has discovery
is the anti-detective story (and its antipsychoanalytical analogue), the formal
purpose of which is to evoke the impulse to detect or to psychoanalyze to
track down the secret cause- in order to violently frustrate this impulse by
refusing to solve the crime (or find the cause of the neurosis). (24-25)

While Spanos essay established the notion of antidetection and its links to ontological

concerns, Stefano Tanis The Doomed Detective (1984) is the most comprehensive study

of the postmodern transgressions to the detective formula and detective fiction. His

taxonomy of the anti-detective novel distinguishes between deconstructive, innovative

and metaphysical variations of the antidetective theme. The prefix anti, as well as the

adjective metaphysical (which is often used as synonym of antidetection), point to the

way in which postmodern authors have reconciled the postmodern open-endedness or

lack of conclusiveness, closure and ontological uncertainties with a literary model that

traditionally relies on the restoration of order and rational explanations of reality. The

anti emphasizes the distortion of the detective formula without rejecting or negating it,

in order to shift its emphasis from epistemological concerns (whodunit) to ontological

ones (the puzzle of being and the ambiguity of identity). The latter are the most relevant

in relation to Estrella distantes connections with the genre of detection. It is not about

60
whodunit or the neopolicial and its emphasis on denouncing the criminal or the

institution.

The reader of Estrella distante cannot ignore the relevance of antidetection

strategies and its narrative effects in Bolaos fiction. Estrella distante abuses the

threatening uncanniness that Spanos points out, the uncanny home, reduplications and

doubles that I have extensively discussed; it disorients the reader/mystery and

complicates the question of identity to the point of exhaustion, it cast doubts about the

origins of criminal activity and moral practices, as I have shown and will continue to

show in my analysis of the final chapters. Manzonis claim of Bolaos narrative for the

neopolicial and historical project is relevant in order to read Bolaos oeuvre, but in fact,

in this context, I will argue that Bolaos cannot be identified solely with any of these

transformations of the detective fiction (neopolicial or antipolicial) genre but has to be

thought as in a state of flux between both, and as emphasizing antidetection strategies.

The concern with complex historical and socio-political events is key in Bolaos

writings on horror and accountability but more so are his concerns with the slippery

riddles of being and identity usually identified with antidetective fiction. One has to

remember that the narrator of Estrella distante conducts a literary investigation or

detection project with the help of Bibiano, who could be thought as another manifestation

of the figure of his double, and in collaboration with a Chilean ex-policeman and now

private detective, Abel Romero. Both characters play roles as the narrators double. What

is this if not a reduplication of detectives and detection strategies? Can we make any

distinction between the reduplicated detection figures (e.g. Bibiano, Abel Romero,

Narrator, Arturo B) in the novel? My analysis moves towards those events in Estrella

61
distante, but not before setting them up discussing a few acciones de arte performed by

Wieder.

The tendencies emphasized by the critics discussed above illustrate the difficulty

of coming to terms with a narrative that constantly plays with historical and fictional

elements. Manzoni and Gonzlez tend to favor a poststructuralist brand of criticism in

which texts exploit and outplay the language or the codes in which they seem to rely on,

while Espinosas emphasis is on the attempt to reconcile art/literature with reality/history

and to underline the importance of memory and resistance. As revealed by her quotation

of Huyssen, Espinosas concern with history, memory and horror in Bolaos works

emphasizes a desire and necessity of reading from history. Is Bolaos narrative in

conversation with these alternatives or does it clearly subscribes to any of them? Can an

analysis of the question of abjection, as presented before, help understand the complex

narrative arrangements used by Bolao? A key way to approach these questions needs to

take into consideration why Bolao called this novel a novel about la prctica de la

moral, a category that may provide some room for the versions that Bolaos critics

emphasize. Wieders photographic exhibition and the search and encounter between

Wieder and the narrator are two significant events in Estrella distante that will help us

approach these questions.

III. Physical (Dis)appearance and Abjection

In this section, I investigate the concept of abjection in relation to Carlos Wieders figure

as threat and transgression. I offer two key examples: Wieders photographic exposition

and his final encounter with the narrator. Both are related to Freuds uncanny, since the

events deal with feelings of dread and horror, but now my emphasis is on Kristevas

62
concept of abjection as it relates to the juxtaposition of the figure of Wieder and the

narrator and to the latter acciones de arte. The discussion of the abject will be certainly

haunted by the notion of the uncanny.

While critics focus on the possibilities of Wieder as a denunciatory historical

representation of traumatic events, or as a fragmented figure in constant play with the

language of evil, none of them focus on the specific formulations of the text in which

Wieders actions, doubles and reduplications, merge his figure with the objects and

subjects in his surroundings. Instead of reading the language of evil or the historical

realism, both of which play into the hands of what Manzoni defines as the recuperation

of the family/home or the language of transicin and consenso, Im interested in

exploring and questioning Manzonis recuperation of infamy. Recuperation of infamy

is a useful notion to provide a reading of Estrella distante, although her approach to this

recuperation of infamy loses its force when she links it to a libratory effect, to truth

and to a certain reversing of history in which death is not definitive. I read Wieder as a

figure of othering and reduplication in himself and for the world around himself, as an

incarnation of the abject, a figure of abjection and creator of abjection by othering. The

abject is in this sense the collapse of the distinction between subject and object. As

Kristeva explains in Powers of Horror:

The abject has only one quality of the objectthat of being opposed to I. If the
object, however, through its opposition, settles me within the fragile texture of
desire for meaning, which, as a matter of fact, makes me ceaselessly and
infinitely homologous to it, what is abject, on the contrary, the jettisoned object,
is radically excluded and draws me toward the place were meaning collapses.
(1-2)

The abject then represents the collapse of meaning and a reaction to the same collapse,

the experience of abjection. The abject disturbs identities because it is what does not

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respect borders, positions, rules (Kristeva 4). It includes crimes such as dictatorships,

Auschwitz or Morells assassinations in Borges story, because it reveals the law as

fragile and breakable. At the same time Wieder, our key example of the experience of

abjection in what follows, is associated and at work with representations of death and

corpses, at work with abject materiality. The traumatic experience of facing your own

death exposes the materiality of the subject, the corpse. Death infecting life exemplifies

Kristevas concept of abjection and its relation to the uncanny experience because it

literalizes and makes present the collapse of the distinction between object and subject.

The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is

death infecting life. Abject. It is something rejected from which one does not part, from

which one does not protect oneself as from an object. Imaginary uncanniness and real

threat, it beckons to us and ends up engulfing us (4).

The abject is also tied to the question of literature, art, writing or the aesthetic

experience. Kristeva suggests that the best modern narrative explores the place of the

abject also as an experience where the boundaries between object and subject collapse,

where the reader is also confronted with the space before the establishment of the binary

object/subject: the space before linguistic and identitarian formation of rules/culture in

the name of the father or the lawwhere meaning and community persist.

On close inspection, all literature is probably a version of the apocalypse that


seems to me rooted, no matter what its socio-historical conditions might be, on
the fragile border (borderline cases) where identities (subject/object, etc.) do not
exist or only barely sodouble, fuzzy, heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed,
altered, abject. (207)

This final description of literature as experience of abjection will occupy the discussion

of Wieders actions and figure as they relate to art, but also in the context of its proper

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socio-historical and ideological conditions. Bolaos Estrella distante, and I will argue

the same for most of his work discussed in this dissertation, is part of the best modern

literature that Kristeva qualifies as exploring abjection: Borges, Celine, Dostoevsky,

Lautreamont, Kafka, Artaud. In Wieders figure and Estrella distante, doubles, animal

instincts, altered states, heterogeneous morals and metamorphosed subjects-objects

exhaust the aesthetic experience of abjection and question the moral history of events

related to the dictatorship.

Acciones de Arte in Providencia: as Recuperation of Infamy

After the chapters on Stein, Soto and their doubles, Estrella distante returns to Wieders

character in chapter six. Previously in the novel, Wieders acciones de arte or air

poetry where described by the figure of the narrator as something ambiguous and

confusing. In spite of the confusion, the narrator was able to make some observations:

quien lo leyera cabalmente ya poda darlas por muertas (42). The exhibitions of air

poetry remain mostly an enigma that the narrator observes from prison while the poet

pilot writes lines in Latin from the book of Genesis (40). At this previous juncture, the

career of the narrator took a detour into the world of prison while Wieders career

literally took off with dictatorial support. This oppositional moment in their careers will

become extremely important when their existences cross paths again towards the end of

the novel.

An amount of unspecified time passes between Wieders previous acciones de

arte at the beginning of the dictatorship and the exhibitions I am about to analyze, which

occurred in 1974. Wieders acciones de arte multiply as he becomes famous and

acclaimed in avant-garde circles. I find one particular event or accion de arte extremely

65
relevant: an air poetry session during the day which was combined with a photographic

exhibition or poesa visual at night. The versos of his air poetry in the day of his double

exhibition were the following: La muerte es amistad / La muerte es Chile / la muerte es

responsabilidad / La muerte es amor / la muerte es crecimiento / la muerte es communion

/ la muerte es limpieza / la muerte es mi Corazn / toma mi Corazn / Carlos Wieder / la

muerte es resurreccin; (89-91) versos that the public did not understand but took as the

witnessing of unique art of the future, (92) versos that the narrator questioned and

doubted but that other people confirmed: Todo lo anterior tal vez ocurri as. Tal vez no.

pero tal vez todo ocurri de otra manera. Las alucinaciones, en 1974, no eran

infrecuentes (92). Death as the thematic of the air poetry points out, a priori, the topic of

the photographic exhibition and underlines death and its constant company, dead bodies

or corpses, as preparation for the following radical moments of abjection that close the

novel. It should be mentioned that both acciones de arte establish an ambiguous but

provocative sub-text and conversation with Chilean neo-avantgarde movements and

artists that opposed the dictatorship (e.g. CADA (1979): Ral Zurita, Juan Castillo,

Diamela Eltit, Lotty Rosenfeld, Fernando Balcells). Bolaos meditations on the Chilean

dictatorship and the complexities of dealing with its practices, aftermath and transition

towards democracy, questions and transforms the gestures of solidarity and denunciation

and the effects of the acciones de arte practiced by CADA (Colectivo de Acciones de

Arte). Both Bolaos narrator or alter ego and Wieder, serve as critiques of Chilean neo-

avantgarde. As Ina Jennerjahn notes:

Ramrez Hoffman [Wieder] hace uso de las mismas estrategias que aquellos:
prepara happenings que nunca llevara a cabo o que, an peor, llevar a cabo
pero en secreto; hace poesa visual, experimental; organiza actos poticos
que involucran el espacio urbano como lugar y material de escenificacin y

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cuyos testigos casuals, de acuerdo con las ideas de CADA, seran los paseantes y
habitantes de la cuidad. (75)

The gesture is one of provocation and an attempt to surround the categories of good and

evil, left and right, progressive and conservative, with ambiguity and uncertainties. The

air poetry of that day, which topic is the definition of death, as understood by Wieder,

sets up and complements the posterior photographic exhibition that the narrator tells,

according to himself, exactly as it occurred. The air poetry exhibition is also part of a

previous exhibition which topic was creation or genesis. It is as if Wieders exhibitions

follow a chronology similar to the Biblea playful allusion to the messianic overtones of

Zuritas poetry. In Wieders version there is a genesis, a day of judgement, death as

salvation, suffering, apocalypses and as we will see later, a period when his gospel or

belief in recuperation of infamy is propagated throughout the world.

The narrators account of these exhibitions derives for Muoz Canos description

of his participation in them. In his book Con la soga al cuello, Cano accepted his

responsibility and his participation in these events. He describes Wieder that night as

having a look from another planet, and as if his eyes were separated from his body, as a

man completely under control. Previously the narrator/character describes the air force

pilot as having two pairs of eyes, como si detrs de sus ojos hubieran otro par de ojos,

(86) that revealed a coldness and distance from others, an uncanny image at the level of

doubling and repeating that emphasizes Wieders mastery of his self.

The people at the exhibition were to enter one by one to the room. The first

person to see the photos or the visual poetry, Tatiana Von Beck, couldnt stay in the room

longer than a minute and came out disturbed and pale, looking as if she wanted to say

something but was not able to find the words: pareca como si le fuera a decir algo [a

67
Wieder] pero no encontrara palabras, (95) and subsequently vomited. Tatiana is the first

clear example of the works of abjection in the novel. She experienced abjection in one of

his most frequent forms as unspeakable horror combined with vomiting. But what caused

her reaction, the expulsion of her own body? Following Tatianas reaction a Captain and

Wieders professor from the academy entered the room and remained there until

everyone, tired of waiting, decided to enter the room. The captain was sitting and seemed

calm as he was reading a note from the wall, a probable explanation of the exhibition.

Others reactions were closer to Tatianas: un cadete se puso a llorar y maldecir, los

reporteros surrealistas hicieron gestos de desagrado pero mantuvieron el tipo, (96-98)

while others left immediately. Others remained feeling as if they were among brothers.

The exhibition, as it was presented, caused reactions that match the most complicit type

of behavior, as well as opposition and rejection of the artists work.

According to Muoz Cano, the Garmendia twin sisters, as well as other

disappeared people, mostly women, could be recognized in some of the picturesin

pieces. They were described as looking like dismembered mannequins, which according

to Cano were still alive but dying in many of the pictures, which was what most likely

caused Tatianas experience of abjection. The former experience is one of the key

situations were abjection takes place, because the distinction between object and subject,

and life and death, are destroyed. The breakdown of the distinction between object and

subject exemplified by the corpses, some of which still look alive and wounded while the

pictures were being taken, points to the breakdown of the crucial factor in establishing

identity for any subject. The latter also prompted others in the exhibition to cry or curse

[maldecir]. The flows from within, the abjection of vomit, tears and cursing words of

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Tatiana and others were elicited by seeing the corpses, primary examples of what causes

abjection for Kristeva (3). The reaction of horror and vomiting is inseparable from the

corpse as threatening materiality: The corpse []; it upsets even more violently the one

who confronts it as fragile and fallacious chance (3). The corpse is a remainder of our

finitude and materiality. Tatiana, as well as other participants, cant bear the breakdown

of the distinction between object and subject, between death and life, and experiences

abjection as the loss of habitual distinctions or self-identity. But others, in line with

Wieders character, seem to be unaffected, like the captain that remains in the room, or

Wieders father, who seems mildly bothered by the condition of the event and not by the

event itself.

Cano also describes the ordering of the photos as an argumentation, a history

(cronolgica, spiritual) a plan which included hell, epiphany and elegy (97). The hell

was the actual dismembering of the bodies and the bloody mess and disarray that the

photographs somehow created by showing those dying. Hints of the epiphany or

revelation were exhibited in the topic of that morning air poetry, which reads as a

revelation of the meaning of death for Wieder: La muerte esamistad, amor

responsabilidad, crecimiento, communin, limpieza, resurreccin (89-91). His epiphany

or its own code is the revelation of the meaning of death, which was probably shown in

the photos of death-alive bodies accompanied by an elegy or melancholic tone as the final

part of the argument of death or the chronology of death. It is as if Wieders argument or

chronology reads as an evil gospel composed of death, revelation/resurrection and

passion. Death as the necessary evil, resurrection and revelation as proof of the unity of

69
all in one or epiphany, and finally passion as the melancholic tone or as the pain and

suffering necessary for Wieders artistic avant-garde project.

The chapter ends with the captain and military personal urging the assistants to

forget what happened there and with a series of comments about the figure of the

surrealist journalists portraying them as cowards, and implying that none of what had

happened that night was going to be revealed. It is worth noting that the acciones de arte,

apart from following the argument outlined above, were also set up in a chronological

order that feels like a vertical descent into infamy or evil, into hell, going from high to

low. The air poetry exhibition was the highest point and occurred first, as opposed to an

ascent to heaven. The narrator emphasized the clouds in the sky that day and Wieders

gospel emphasized an understanding of death as the maximum principle in his ideology.

The nocturnal exhibition of photographs completes a descent to death literally and

metaphorically, a descent to hell, to the place where the experience of abjection is

dominant. Ironically, the name of the town where these events are held is Providencia.

The exhibition of photographs is the lowest point, the place of appearance and

disappearance for the dismembered bodies, the place of reduplication as mirror and

explosion, but also the place of burning hell were the dismembered bodies become one,

rearranged, undistinguished, and reappear as corpses, as ambiguous reduplications of

abjected selves and body parts. The corpses represent a recuperation of infamy in the

unity of Wieders gospel of death. As far as the consequences of Wieders acts, we will

not get a clear picture of the impact of that days acciones de arte until later in the book.

It is implied that his artistic project, which Bolao describes as the representation of total

evil, was even greater or more transcendental, more relevant than the operations of the

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dictatorship. Wieder was apparently asked to change his name and disappear, which he

had already done earlier in the novel, but he nevertheless continued his avant-garde

projects in the same fashion, although Chile was forgetting him (120).

What follows the day of the photographic and air poetry exhibition is another

segment of espejos y explosiones, chapter seven, in which the narrator speculates about

Wieders whereabouts and his projects after that horrific night in Providencia. After that

night, Wieder literally disappears and what is narrated, described several times as legends

or myths, derives form different sources: once again Bibiano ORyan informs the

narrator, but the narrator also tells about his personal readings in relation to the figure of

the pilot poet. None of the information, according to the narrator, is completely reliable,

but it all seems to be consonant with the Wieders trajectory. Part of the investigation

performed by Bibiano and reported to the narrator is based on the Archives of the

National Library that seemed fed by Wieders father and which contained Wieders air

poetry, his photographic collection (of tortured victims), a chronology, a theater piece

signed as Osvaldo Pacheco, a bunch of magazines and journals in which his poetry is

identified and an interview. There are also references to poetry groups, table/war games

supposedly designed by Wieder, and a book written by Bibiano about the fascist literary

movements in Latin America during 1972 y 1989. In his book, Bibiano, as Bolao in La

literautra nazi en Amrica, dedicates one chapter to Wieder entitled La exploracin de

los limites (117). In the bookciting Borges as the narrator did in the prologue

Bibiano describes Wieders art but hesitantly and scared of his own writing: Yo afirmo

que se trata del primer infierno realmente atroz de la literatura (117). The narrator

explains that Bibiano tries to grasp the figure of Wieder but the pilot always manages to

71
escape his reach, Wieder siempre se pierde (118). Wieders disappearance is physical

and artistic, but it also happens in Bibianos writings.

Three military mates of Wieder come out in his defense during the period after

Bibianos publication. One of them describes Wieders beliefs:

En las guerras internas los prisioneros son un estorbo. Esta era la mxima que
Carlos Wieder y algunos otros siguieron y quin, en medio del terremoto de la
historia, poda culparlo de haberse excedido en el cumplimiento del deber? A
veces aada pensativo, un tiro de gracia es ms un consuelo que un ltimo
castigo: Carlitos Wieder vea el mundo como desde un volcn, seor, los vea a
todos ustedes y se vea a s mismo como desde muy lejos, y todos, disculpe la
franqueza, le parecamos unos bichos miserables; el era as; en su libro de
historia de la Naturaleza no tenia una postura pasiva, ms bien al contrario, se
mova y nos huasqueaba, aunque esos golpes nosotros, pobres ignorantes,
solemos achacrselos a la mala suerte o al destino (118)

Wieders philosophy of death, from high to low as the traditional conception of heaven vs

hell turned around, has been presented in these exhibitions and in the various accusations

and defenses of his work in the former two chapters. The figure of Wieder is established

as an unlivable zone, as a person watching from a volcano, an infierno realmente

atroz de la literatura. His position in the zone of social life defines him and his work as

an experience of abjection for others, as horror itself. The figure of Wieder represents the

attempt to breakdown traditional religious, moral and ideological codes, while

emphasizing a certain attraction and repulsion that recreates unlivable zones of abjection

for others. Wieders photos, poetry and narrations emphasize a form of narration as moral

vacuum where opposites and peripheral alternatives come together and become

ambiguous, mixed, unified, and therefore unnamable. Wieders contradictions and

ambiguity, the double and the contrary within himself, which are conditions of his name

as we saw before, remain uncannily productive as a recuperation of infamy, as a

reduplication of self and abjection. Wieders photographic exhibition is an experience of

72
abjection for others but it also clearly marks a fetishization of otherness, of subjects as

objects or corpses for his photographic exhibition that includes the uncanny

dismembering and reduplication of twin sisters while they were still alive or half dead.

The unity emphasized in his conception of death as resurrection, growth, purity,

responsibility, and friendship marks the place of abjection as an unlivable zone for those

with fixed notions and codes of what social lifes unlivable and livable zones really are.

Images of Arturo B: Espejo y Explosin

It is important to underline once more that Bolaos unnamed and ambiguous narrator is

reduplicated several times using various and complex narrative strategies which have

been explained in this chapter. The challenge for the reader of Estrella distante is to find

possible understandings for this narrative mechanism. The unnamed narrator may be

Arturo Belano (Bolaos alter ego in several novels), Arturo B (who tells Wieders story

to the narrator in the prologue), or a fictional Bolao, among other possibilities. The

image of Arturo B is, after all, the closest to the figure of the storyteller of Estrella

distante. It is Arturo B, as acknowledged in the prologue, who tells the narrator/character

this story, and who makes him a narrator among the many that populate the novel. The

narration is also filtered and reduplicated through the narratives of Bibiano, Cano, and

Romero, within Arturo Bs account. All are among the narrators doubles. In the context

of the novels reduplications and games with doubles one has to accept the ambiguity but

also the unity of the figure of the narrator and Arturo B. One has to accept the mirror and

explosion that defines these figures and the novel, the repetition and contradiction that is

contained in Wieders name, as key for the argument of the novel, as key for the

73
aesthetics of reduplication. One last event will show this mechanism at work but this time

as an ambiguous catharsis.

The last three chapters continue with Wieders story as told by the narrator but

now Abel Romero, a famous policeman from Allendes era and now private detective is

hired to trace Wieders footsteps in Europe, or more specifically Spain. Romero needs

help from the poet, the narrator and co-protagonist of the novel, since his literary

knowledge is limited or canonical. Neither the reader nor the narrator knows who hired

Abel Romero or how he got involved in the investigation, although it is hinted at the

possibility that now Bibiano counts with the economic means to hire Romero. The

narrator and Romero agree to a sum of money in order for the poet to help find the poet

pilot, although the narrator calls him criminal and protests when Romero calls him poet.

The investigation started as a reading investigation based on journals that Romero

asked the narrator to read in order to find a piece by Wieder, but of course under a

pseudonym. Most of the writers in the journals were part of Nazi, racist and anti-Semitic

groups. During the second day of his readings the narrator dreams with Wieder:

So que iba en un gran barco de madera []. Entonces alguien se pona a


gritar tornado!, tornado!, []. Exactamente igual que en una escena de El
beb de Rosemary, de Polansky. En ese instante el galen comenzaba a hundirse
y todos los sobrevivientes nos convertamos en nufragos. [] Comprenda en
ese momento, mientras las olas nos alejaban que Wieder y yo habamos viajado
en el mismo barco, slo que l haba contribuido a hundirlo y yo haba hecho
poco o nada por evitarlo. (131)

The dream is taken as some sort of revelation and reenergizes the narrator, who at the

beginning, when Romero approached him, was ambiguous about his interest in the case.

The next assignment is a little different: the narrator is asked to watch three videos, an

activity that the narrator says he doesnt perform, stating that he doesnt watch TV and

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only reads and writes, but accepts anyways. The films are pornographic and the narrator

watches the three of them twice looking for Wieder but cannot identify him. The next day

Romero tells him that Wieder is in all of them but only as photographer and that he got a

feeling that Wieder was behind all this because the films were criminal-hard-core, snuff

movies, or porn with assassinations included. Romero explains that all the participants in

this group of filmmakers and actors appeared dead but one of them, a photographer

named R.P. English who did not appeared and could not be found by the police. Romero

thinks that this was Wieder but needs to prove it, and his first lead takes him to see Joana

Silvetri, and old porn actress that failed to identify Wieder as English. Key to this point in

the novel is that, after Romero finishes his story about his search for Wieder in the world

of porn, the narrator confesses now to have a renewed obsession and repulsion with

Wieders figure and seems to have identified him in the journals given to him as an

assignment. The narrator starts the next to last chapter as follows: Esta es mi ltima

transmisin desde el planeta de los monstruos. No me sumergir nunca ms en el mar de

la mierda de la literatura. En adelante escribir mis poemas con humildad y trabajar para

no morirme de hambre y no intentar publicar (138).

His newfound obsession with Wieder and the declaration of literary principles

cited above strikes as consonant with his view of Wieder as criminal and not as poet, but

also emphasizes the novels characteristic emphasis on the links or complicity between

literature, arts, horror and memory. It sets up the figure of the narrator as Wieders

opposite one more time, a relevant transition from the position of closeness in which his

dream has located his actions as a man of letters in relation to Wieders. From his

readings of journals the narrator comes up with two key names that he thinks might be

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Wieder. He describes at length the sect of barbarus writers formed by a porter named

Raoul Delorme in Paris during 1968 which desecrated classic books in order to improve

their writing. The other was Jules Defoe, whose texts were found by the narrator in the

same journals besides some of the texts by barbarous writers. According to the narrators

suspicions they both are masks for Carlos Wieder. One more time the figure of Wieder is

multiplied or reduplicated. A few months later and with this information, Romero

manages to localize Delorme, still a night porter in Paris, realizing that he was not

Wieder, nor Defoe. As it turns out, Delorme and Defoe are related because Defoe lives in

an apartment in Lloret del Mar, near Blanes (where Bolao lived during his last years),

that belongs to one of the members of the Barbarous Writers sect founded by Delorme.

Romero takes the narrator to Lloret to identify or find out if Defoe is Wieder. In a bar the

narrator sits with the complete works of Bruno Schulz,16 waiting for Wieder, who

according to Romero visits the bar daily:

Entonces lleg Carlos Wieder y se sent junto al ventanal, a tres mesas de


distancia. Por un instante (en el que me sent desfallecer) me vi a m mismo casi
pegado a l, mirando por encima de su hombro, horrendo hermano siams [].
Miraba el mar y fumaba y de vez en cuando le echaba una mirada a su libro.
Igual que yo, descubr con alarma y apagu el cigarrillo e intent fundirme entre
las pginas de mi libro. Las palabras de Bruno Schulz adquirieron una
dimensin monstruosa, casi insoportable. [] Pareca dueo de si mismo. []
Se march []. Cuando sent que a mis espaldas la puerta se cerraba, no supe si
ponerme a rer o a llorar. Respir aliviado. (152-153)

The feelings of identification and misidentification with Wieder are ambiguous and

horrendous and the final relief is as ambiguous as his indecision between laughing or

crying. But an even more ambiguous moment occurs when Romero and the narrator talk

about Wieders future the same day in a park close to Wieders apartment: Es mejor que

16
Polish language novelist and painter shot dead by a German officer during the invasion of the Soviet
Union. He was shot right after finishing one of his works.

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no lo mate, dije. Una cosa as nos puede arruinar, a usted y a m, y adems es innecesario,

ese tipo ya no le va a hacer dao a nadie (154-155). Romero questions that affirmation

and goes to take care of Wieder. At the end the narrator and Romero say goodbye and

exchange a few more comments about Wieders case:

Nunca me haba sucedido algo semejante, le confes. No es cierto dijo Romero


muy suavemente, nos han ocurrido cosas peores pinselo un poco. Puede ser,
admit, pero este asunto ha sido particularmente espantoso. Espantoso, repiti
Romero como si paladeara la palabra. Luego se ri por lo bajo, con una risa de
conejo, y dijo claro, cmo no iba a ser espantoso. Yo no tena ganas de rerme,
pero tambin me re. [] Cudese, mi amigo, dijo finalmente y se march.
(157)

This last chapter demonstrates the key uncanny and abject moment of the narrator in

Estrella distante, a subject/narrator of leftist inclinations that identifies himself with the

other (Wieder/Hofmann), so that he becomes uncertain as to which his self is. This leads

directly to the problematic of abjection. The image presented by Arturo B or the narrator,

or Bolaos fictional self, is permeated with fear and uncertainty. It confirms Kristeva's

claim that abjection is above all ambiguity (9). She defines the abject as an undefined

and ambiguous catharsis, as a twisting made of thoughts and effects situated between the

uncanny and the sublime. Abjection, in this sense, unmakes identities, erases and

misadjusts the limits and distinctions between objects and subjects. The abject turns

moral codes and standard beliefs into doubts or contradictions, as it happened to the

narrator. The abject also works in the novel as a mode of narration that emphasizes

horror, emptiness and doubtfulness of the subject faced with abjection, understood as that

which recreates social unlivability, as a repressed exclusion that always threatens to come

back, as a loss of identity that serves as contrapunto to the moral norm. The narrator, as a

reader of Wieder/Hoffmanns artistic works tries to reconstruct Wieder/Hofmanns

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criminal/artistic trajectory but ends up facing the limits and risks of this reconstruction to

the point that he becomes doubtful of his own self-identity. For the narrator Wieder

remains a mystery and a contradiction, as his name implies. Before the impossibility of

resolving the mysteryas in antidective fictionor accepting vengeance as system of

justice, the narrator/author shifts this responsibility to one of his doubles, Romero.

Romero, as man of action, ex-policeman and now private detective, showcases the

determination that the narrator lacks and casts away the mystery that the narrator cannot

assimilate. Romero, well remunerated for his services and seemingly sure of Wieders

guilt, abjects the abject, that is, Wieder.

On the Practice of Moral: Una Proposicin Modesta

The insistence in Estrella distante on the unity, doubleness and reduplications between

victims and aggressors, desaparecidos y presentes, Wieder and the narrator, Soto and

Stein, goodness and evil, beauty and ugliness, destruction and construction, etc, asserts a

unity that threatens the existing cultural ideologies by suggesting that self and other

(good and evil, proper and improper, domestic and foreign) are constructed from the

same material. This is part of the reason why Bolao called La literatura nazi and

Estrella distante novels about the practice of moral, and therefore about the practice of

morals in different figures such as Wieder, the narrator, Stein, Romero and so on. The

power of horror so prevalent in Estrella distante is in the unity between opposite poles

that the figure of Wieder and the narrator expose to others. Beyond fictional testimonio or

denunciation, beyond the multiplicity of languages for evil, beyond good and evil,

beyond proper and improper, beyond domestic and foreign; it is this dangerous double

and originary unity of the former in constant reduplication of selves that constitutes the

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key critique or de-structuring of the transition and consensus society with its traditional

demarcations.17 The return of the other or original outcasting, the return of the long

forgotten self, the uncanny return of that which should be repressed, is at the heart of

Bolaos Estrella distante or his recuperation of infamy: Wiederism as a way to

investigate the complexities of moral practices. All the characters in Estrella distante, in

the course of pursuing their interests, are seduced by different circumstances which

appear to be true but turn out to have been based on an uncanny deception.

Bolaos novel doesnt attempt to provide a final answer to this problematic but

emphasizes the need for it to be present in any discussion. This is what his critical essay

on the abject, Una proposicin modesta, tries to show when he comments that: Todo

hace pensar que entraremos en el nuevo milenio bajo la admonicin de la palabra abyecto

[]. Una abyeccin dura y pesada y que por momentos parece irremediable (Entre 82-

85). His analysis focuses on the political debate in Chile and resonates with the questions

raised in Estrella distante. Bolao comments that the 11 de septiembre en Chile has

trained and wants to train Chileans in an irreversible way: Qu hubiera pasado si el 11

de septiembre no hubiera existido? [] La historia de Latinoamrica sera distinta. Pero

en lo esencial todo seguira igual. [] Otro tipo de represin tal vez (83). Bolao is not

merely speculating about possible horrors, but he is emphasizing the actual intolerance

and poverty of the political debate in Chile, an irreversible, unfixable situation that has

both the left and the right repeatedly asking for forgiveness and confessions from their

political adversaries. And here Bolao indirectly reveals a rare insight into his writing

when his comments are put in the context of Estrella distanteand other novelsand in

17
La transicin, the consensus, blanqueo and other significant concepts in relation to postdictatorial Chile
are addressed in chapter two.

79
relation to Chilean history, Latin American history and occidental history. Bolao

explains that in the political debate the right usually associated with the crimes

committed by the dictatorship believes to have the right to ask the left for a mea culpa in

relation, for example, to the Stalinist concentration camps or for any crimes committed in

Chile and around the world:

La izquierda cometi crmenes verbales in Chile (una especialidad de la


izquierda latinoamericana), crmenes morales, y probablemente mat a personas.
Pero no le meti ratas vivas por la vagina a ninguna muchacha. No tuvo tiempo
para crear su mal, no tuvo tiempo para crear sus campos de trabajos forzados.
Es posible que si hubiera tenido tiempo lo hubiera hecho? Claro que es posible.
Nada en la historia de nuestro siglo nos permite una historia paralela ms
optimista. Pero lo cierto es que los campos de concentracin en Chile no son
obra de la izquierda, ni los fusilamientos, ni las torturas, ni los desaparecidos, ni
la represin. Todo eso lo hizo la derecha. Todo eso es obra del gobierno
golpista. Sin embargo entraremos en el tercer milenio con los polticos de
izquierda pidiendo perdn, lo que [] resulta hasta recomendable, a condicin
de que sean todos los polticos los que pidan perdn, los de la izquierda y los de
derecha, y los de centro []. (84-85)

Bolaos comments shed light on the provocative reduplication of the narrator and

Wieder in Estrella distante and emphasize the necessity of avoiding easy distinctions

between perpetrators and victims, between left and right. Estrella distante makes it clear

that all the characters have some responsibility or dubious involvement with a double and

contrary of themselves (a reduplication, a Wieder of their own) and with the events in

question. The two key characters, victim and perpetrator at the beginning, become their

opposites at the end. The narrators identification with Wieders figure is not only at the

level of uncanny feelings of doubling or traveling in the same ship, but at the level of

acciones de arte and prcticas de la moral. If the novel emphasized Wieders acciones

de arte at the beginning, at the end the accin de arte is performed by the narrator as

reader and poet, the key mechanism or action for the assassination of Wieder.

80
Abjection is central here because it helps us to think about the aesthetics and the

politics of horror in Bolaos novel.18 The aesthetics of horror, just like the experiences

of abjection, reveal a repressed side that was originally part of a unity, a certain

familiarity, or as Bolao puts it, a sameness between los de izquierda y los de derecha, y

los del centro (Entre 85). Bolao does make distinctions between these groups in his

essay and in Estrella distante, as we have seen, but the key problematic is to study their

complicity and accountability, the originary and founding outcasting and reproduction of

social unlivability, which nonetheless is present as a possibility in all, to different

degrees, but in all, in the one itself. Bolao is not embracing abjection but positing its

rejection as an insufficient gesture of solidarity. Arturo B presents the story told in

Estrella distante by the narrator as a solidarity discourse but not as abjection of abjection

or as the vertical representation of abjection. The novel can be read as a horizontal

representation of abjection were discourses preserve what existed at the archaic level of

pre-objectal relationship (9), as Kristeva puts it, within the extreme violence as a

condition of a body becoming separated form another body but also doubled,

reduplicated and united with another foreign body. The negation of a post-literary

dimension in Estrella distante, against testimonio or historical truth but as a problematic

form of witnessing and practices of moral, allows the reader to question dogmatic

assumptions about the nature of literature, evil and moral practices.

In a short story included in Las llamadas telefnicas (1997), Bolao tells the story

of Henri Simon Leprince. Leprince is a writer who in the early 1940s in Paris finds

himself between collaborationists and the resistance. He rejects the offer of the

18
In this respect it is significant to mention that Bolao constantly quotes horror films (ej. Polanskys
Resemarys Baby in Estrella distante) and other cinematic genres.

81
collaborationists, an offer viewed as an opportunity to take vengeance on those on the

resistance who ignored him as a writer and condemned him to a life of misery. As a

writer, he decides to join the resistance, but even though he helps them greatly, he

continues to be ignored and marginalized, he is marginalized by all. One day he takes

refuge in the house of a young female novelist to whom he confesses all his dreams,

ambitions and frustrations. She responds with what she thinks his problems are and their

possible solutionan advice that will be revisited in 2666 but in a different context

through the figure of Archimboldi/Reiter:

Le habla con crudeza: hay algo en l, le dice, en su cara, en su manera de hablar,


en su mirada, que provoca el rechazo de la mayora de los hombres. La solucin
es evidente: debe desaparecer, ser un escritor secreto, tratar de que su literatura
no reproduzca su rostro. La solucin es tan sencilla y pueril que solo puede ser
cierta. (35)

He never follows her absurd advice, never disappears or sees the young novelist again but

continues to help well-known writers of the resistance, and after the war retires as a

teacher in a small town outside of Paris. When other writers see him around Paris, the

narrator tells us, they feel his fragility but also his sovereignty as opposed to their

dependency and treason. In Leprinces case, all the conditions are given to him, as a

writer, to become part of the collaborationists and to become a known writer and

marginalize or even get rid of those who treated him so badly before. However, he

chooses to remain faithful to the resistance and the writers who had marginalized him

even though he doesnt fit with any of the groups. Leprince represents an opposition to

the writers of La literatura nazi or Ramrez Hoffman/Wieder in Estrella distante.

Leprince is also, in this sense, opposed to the narrator, who didnt do anything, did little,

or did not know what to do to avoid the sinking of the ship (Chile) or when confronted

82
with the option of taking revenge. Leprince acts as a genuine and committed militant of

the resistance helping other writers and avoids turning his actions into a religion or cult

like Wieder did in relation to the dictatorship, into the indecisiveness of the narrator, or

into the remunerated commitment of Romero. Leprince, a marginalized and abjected

figure par excellence, rejects the abjection of abjections as a solution for his case, rejects

disappearance as suggested by the young writer, and becomes a radical form of

recuperation of infamy. Leprince seems to embody the belief in the fact that killing the

opponent or taking revenge will only trigger the appearance of another power of horror or

the perpetuation of the system of revenge. His figure remains as a recordatory for

othersa recuperation of infamyof the beast in themselves (collaboracionistas and

resistencia), a threat that emanates from the figure of Leprince as experience of abjection,

in the same way that Wieder was part of an experience of abjection, a threat, but from the

opposite side of a possible common origin and unity of good and evil.

Roberto Bolaos modest proposition begs to attend these possibilities of radical

exteriority to the traditional discourses rejecting abjection or the recuperation of infamy

and emphasizing a problematic unity amongst them that needs to be negotiated and not

defined vertically in the structures of power. Abjection and the uncanny return of the

same and the opposite, as reduplication, is in Estrella distante, perhaps above all, but

certainly underneath it all, a way to think in less dogmatic ways about the nature of the

world, ourselves, evil, violence, ethics and politics; it provides, however, no account of

how to avoid the practical indifference of a community towards evil and its passive

participation in disaster. Leprince is a start in this respect and we will return to him, or

more specifically to his possible double, in the last chapter.

83
The following chapter on Nocturno de Chile, which rescues a figure briefly

introduced in Estrella distante, continues this line of interrogation and tries to provide

answers and an exploration of the question of practical indifference by examining another

figure of horror, reduplication and abjectionFather Urrutia in Nocturno de Chile, critic

Ibacache (113) in Estrella distantewho shows how similar and contradictory discourses

are articulated without being separated or essentialized, in order to theorize a crucial

political and ethical moment of reflection and decision in which the possibility of taking

care of the self, of attaining a clear conscience and a stable narrative/identity is

complicated by the conflicting discourses and moral practices: testimonial, confessional,

autobiographical and excusatory.

84
Chapter 2

Nocturnal Illuminations: Reading the Excuse in Nocturno de Chile

Cuntos aos hace desde el ltimo toque de queda? Cuntos aos faltaban
para el prximo? A m no me perdonan que recuerde todo lo que hicieron, dice
Lemebel. Pero quieres saber lo que menos me perdonan, Robert? No me
perdonan que yo no los haya perdonado.
Bolao, El pasillo sin salida aparente

El fragmento referido a las lecturas <<del prometedor poeta Carlos Wieder>> se


interrumpe de pronto, como si Ibacache se diera repentina cuenta de que est
caminando en el vaco.
Estrella distante

I. Introductory Remarks: Nocturno de Chile

Testimonio forms part of a broader cultural turn in Latin Americanist critical discourses

that emerged, in part, as a reaction to the prominence of Boom narratives and literature as

the focal sources for reflections on Latin America. During the 1980s and 1990s the

literary and extraliterary aspects of testimonio occupied central stage in debates

concerning politics of solidarity, liberation struggles and the conflictive, but also

complementary understandings of testimonio as socio-political discourse and testimonio

as literature. The literature produced during the period of testimonial ascendancy80s

and 90sneeded to consider not only the impact of the testimonial form, but also the

spectral force and legacy of the Boom narratives that dominated the 1950s, 1960s and

1970s. I evoke the relation between testimonio and Boom literature in order to underline

and establish the unresolved tension between the socio-political and postcolonial

85
emphasis of many testimonios and the metafictional writing that characterized the

Boom1. My aim is not to offer a new reading or critique of testimonial or Boom

narratives, but to put the mechanism of confession as excuse in conversation with

autobiography, testimonio and fiction, in order to interrogate narratives that emerged

during the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century. In broad terms, the chapter reads

and analyzes the discursive mechanism of the confession as excuse in relation to Roberto

Bolaos novel Nocturno de Chile (2000) (By Night in Chile) (2003), and several key

texts that inform my reading of Nocturno and Latin American narrative.2

Reading Bolaos novel in relation to or in opposition to non-literary

testimonial and confessional accounts that claim and seek truth, conversion, catharsis and

reconciliation, ties it to analysis of postdictatorial and postcatastrophy fiction in the

context of the so-called transition from dictatorship to democracy and from Boom to

cultural studies. The confessional and testimonial move, at the level of self, culture and

politics, seeks conversion and risks at every step, the possibility of inversion, or the

repetition of transition but in reverse, that is, a repetition or revival of the catastrophe or

the suffering. Bolaos relevance here is textual because his writing questions traditional

understanding of confession and testimonio, as we will see, but also symbolic, since he is

one of the few writers in the last couple of decades to be recognized as a figure of the

1
A detailed discussion of this tension and how it relates to confession follows my introduction of Nocturno
de Chile.
2
Particularly helpful for understanding the generation from the writers perspective are the essays written
by the writers present at the Encuentro de Escritores Latinoamericanos in Sevilla (2003) [Palabra de
America]. Ricardo Piglia, Aguilar Camin, Alan Pauls, Jorge Volpi, Fernando Vallejo, Edmundo Paz
Soldan, Santiago Gamboa, Rodrigo Fresan, Ivan Thays, Damiela Eltit and Bolao are drawing alternative
critical interest at the turn of the twentieth century while the Boom remains crucial for our understanding
and for a critique of Latin Americanist reflections and Latin American studies. Recent narratives from the
turn of the century, 90s and 80s, can offer other paradigms to read Latin American literature as well as
alternative meditations leading to other ends.

86
significance of the Boom writers.3 In Nocturno and Bolaos oeuvre there is an attempt to

perform another transition that consciously or unconsciously recovers or transforms

literatures privileges or at least tries to fragment those privileges as claimed by other

cultural possibilities or institutions.4 Confessional and testimonial accounts such as those

written by Marcia Alejandra Merino and Luz Arce,5 both written before Nocturno,

participate on the side of the cultural turn that Nocturno in many ways deconstructs.

Nocturno de Chile narrates the life of two Chilean literary critics and

homosexualsFather Urrutia/Critic Ibacache and Farewellduring the second part of

the twentieth century and during a long feverish night of fearing death, confessing and

self-questioning. The novel opens with Father Urrutia in bed meditating about his past

and finishes the same way after a long exploration of his life. The reference in the title to

musical Nocturnos is a reference to the intimate and sentimental but also the obscure

character of these piano pieces. The style and the rhythms of the narrative, which flow

nonstop until the last sentence, also imitate a long musical composition. From the

perspective of Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix, a Catholic priest, poet and literary critic under

the pseudonymous Ibacache, Nocturno recreates fifty years of Chilean literature, history

and politics. In order to become known and respected by the literary community that

presides over literary production and criticism, Father Urrutia plays different roles and

assumes different postures within the institutions of the state and culture. His desire for

recognition as a literary critic and poet takes him to the world of Gonzlez Lamarca, the

leading Chilean literary critic better known as Farewell. Farewell introduces him to the

3
Julio Cortazar, Gabriel Garca Mrquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jos Donoso, Lezama Lima.
4
For meditations on transition see Kadirs Questing Fictions and Brett Levinsons The Ends of Literature.
5
Luz Arces Infierno and Maria La flaca Alejandras Mi Verdad.

87
Chilean literary elite and guides him up to the point of his second baptism, when he

becomes a recognized literary critic and participates, as a critic-priest-poet, in key

moments of Chilean history. The quartet formed by the (pre) revolution, the coup d'tat,

the dictatorship and la transicin are the most relevant for this analysis. Bolao stresses

the intense political rift preceding and following Salvador Allendes short-lived socialist

government in 1973.6

The novel also narrates a critical duel between Father Urrutia and the wizened

youthFather Urrutias alter egoin which Father Urrutia, also a member of the Opus

Dei, struggles with past and posthumous memories. By testing the limits and possibilities

of any potential self-defense and the implications of confessional practices, the story

entangles itself into an ethical, political and aesthetical examination of the self and its

relation to the community. Nocturno focuses on the possibilities and mechanisms

employed by confessional and excusatory practices, as well as the unavoidable ties

between both discourses and the testimonial form. The excuses of Father Urrutia clash

with a confessional drive and vice versa. The moments when confessions detours, the

(im)possibility of creating a truthful narrative about ones acts, ones identity and ones

community, are the starting point of this analysis. It should be noted that the narrative is a

long monologue that tells seemingly disconnected stories during Father Urrutias

deathbed confession, around seven semi-delirious stories, which can be read as

independent stories but also as connected to the center of the narration, Father Urrutia

reflections about his past and present. All the events are narrated in the span of one night.

The formal and thematic connections between the stories are important but subtle and any

6
Farewell and Father Urrutia respectively allude to Hernn Daz Arrieta (Alone) and Jos Miguel Ibez
Langlois (Ignacio Valente). Farewell is also the title of one of the most popular poems ever written by
Pablo Neruda, a favorite of Farewell.

88
attempt to read them as a coherent succession or juxtaposition of events leads the reader

to the complexities that my reading explores.

My purpose is twofold: first, to discuss the way in which Bolaos text intervenes

in the debates over national politics and ethics, which includes debates ranging from

issues related to the dictatorship and postdictatorship to questions about justice and

literary politics; second, to examine the confessional utterance as it appears in the text

and in a broader historical and theoretical context. Nocturno shows different discourses

that are articulated without being separated or essentialized, in order to theorize a crucial

political and ethical moment of reflection and decision in which the possibility of

attaining a clear conscience and a stable narrative/identity is complicated by the

conflicting discourses: testimonial, confessional, autobiographical, excusatory and their

relation to the dynamics of hyperliterary spaces.7 These are spaces where literature

overflows the other text or itself (testimonio, confession, novel) in a gesture that

destabilizes language, identity and authority.

Nocturno can also be read as a critical meditation on technologies of the self,

ethics and politics in the context of Chilean culture. The novel questions the boundaries

of what is justifiable and what is not on various levels of society, and not only in the

realm of letters. Michael Foucault defines technologies of the self as the practices by

which subjects constitute themselves within and through systems of power, and which

often seem to be either natural or imposed from above. A technology of the self addresses

7
Richards, Bordes, diseminacin, postmodernismo: una metfora latinoamericana de fin de siglo, Las
culturas de fin de siglo en Amrica Latina (Buenos Aires: Beatriz Viterbo Editora, 1994). Nelly Richards
develops the concept of the hyperliterary in relation to Damiela Eltits El padre mio where she notes:
La literatura desborda el testimonio a la vez que sealiza el borde-habla trnsfuga, subjetividad
minoritaria, localizacin-como lugar para tejer y unir creativamente distancias en una metfora
latinoamericana de las periferias transculturales: zona de junturas y disjunturas de los signos, de
articulacin y reconversin de las diferencias (246).

89
the question of how an individual acts upon himself in order to transform and improve

himself. The confession as excuse and as technology of the self allows for mutilations

and fractures not so much identify with Foucaults emphasis on technology of the self as

improvement (16).8 The problematic faced by these attempts are revealed in Nocturno,

but also in confessional and testimonials accounts that claim truth and non-fictionality as

the ground for their utterance.

II. The Bind between Excuse, Confession and Testimonio

In John Beverlys readings and analysis of testimonios, confession is seen mostly as a

dangerous element for the testimonial form. His well-known and debated defense of

testimonio hints at possible distinctions between testimonio and confessional accounts.

The basic distinction establishes testimonio as sociopolitical and committed discourse set

in opposition to confessional and autobiographical narrations, or autobiographical

confessions, that he understand as fictional. His understanding of testimonio marks a

distance and sets an alarm against autobiographical and confessional narrations, against

literature. In his Testimonio: On The Politics of Truth, the question of confession

collapses into a distinction between testimonio and autobiography, which he admits is not

always accurate, and is more conflictive than what he acknowledges (40-42). He

articulates the distinction between testimony and autobiography as fundamental for the

value of testimonio, as a narrative concerned with translating the suffering of

marginalized communities, and as vector of social consciousness. The fictional aspects of

8
Foucault, Technologies of the Self,16. As he notes:
[technologies of the self] permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of
others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way
of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity,
wisdom, perfection, or immortality.

90
confession and autobiography are the dangerous element mentioned above. The fictional

in Beverlys reading works against the possibilities of achieving social change.

Beverlys emphasis on testimonio as strategy of resistance leaves little room for

its hybrid character. He admits the existence of interplay between the real and the

imaginary in testimonio but the rest of his text discredits this statement in favor of a

highly ideological and postfictional reading of testimonio. The postfictional in Beverlys

sense refers to an understanding of testimonio as a discourse that eliminates the

uncertainties and liberties associated with fictional and literary texts. He concentrates on

Rigoberta Menchs testimony, among others. In the pages ahead I discuss how this

interplay between reality and imagination relates to Menchs text. It is this interplay

between reality and imagination or the hybridism of testimonio and fiction what allows

us to talk about the relationship between testimonio, literature, autobiographies and

confessions without essentializing or privileging one understanding of testimonio or

confession over another one.

Elzbieta Sklodowska has pointed out the complexity and difficulty of trying to

define testimonio monologically, and has offered one of the most complete explorations

of the possible fictional and nonfictional detours that testimonial discourses can follow

(76-77).9 What is important to underline is that there is not an essential form called

testimonio, even though in Latin America testimonio has been highly identified with

9
Sklodowska explains: A la vista de la naturaleza hbrida del testimonio queda clara que la enumeracin de
sus parentescos con uno u otro discurso permite extraer algunas conclusiones, pero nunca es totalmente
satisfactoria. El testimonio se parece a muchas formas narrativas-literarias y no-literarias-, mientras que
ninguna de estas formas se parece al testimonio. Aunque existe un consenso en cuanto a lo abigarrado,
hbrido, indefinible del discurso testimonial, el proceso de esta hibridacin puede verse desde ngulos
diferentes: para algunos, como Perus y Achugar, es posible leer el testimonio como novela, para otros
(Beverly, Narvez, Sommer), la matriz del testimonio est en el mbito esencialmente extra-literario
(periodismo, ciencias sociales, historiografa) o marginalmente literario (diario, memorias, biografa,
autobiografa). (Sklodowska, 76-77).

91
solidarity movements, liberation struggles or Beverlys postfictional version. As

Sklodowska argues, testimonio has functioned well beyond these boundaries, even before

its official inscription in Latin American letters as a political and aesthetical practice

through the Cuban cultural institution Casa de las Amricas in the 1970s (212). As

Alberto Moreiras puts it: Testimonio is testimonio because it suspends the literary at the

very same time that it constitutes itself as literary act: as literature, it is a liminal event

opening onto a nonrepresentational, drastically indexical order of experience.10 As a

liminal event, an event characterized by uncertainty and transition, testimonio as

understood by Moreiras is the antithesis of the representational goals encouraged by

testimonio as socio-political discourse. Beverlys variant of testimonio cannot be

testimonio without a claim to represent the reality of marginal communities via non-

fictional denunciation and witnessing.

Beverly hides confession under the rubric of autobiography and makes a clear-cut

distinction between autobiography and testimonio. At work here is a cautious effort to

distance testimonio from literature (novel, autobiography, fiction), and a need to negate

or at least to minimize the autobiographical and fictional side of testimonio. This move

attempts to safeguard testimonios political and liberatory claim, which is based in its

urge to make marginalized and collective social realities known by means of a truthful

referential and representational narrative that negates autobiographical or confessional

narrations of the self, usually associated with an ideology of individualism. My

understanding of the undecidable relation between autobiography and fiction follows

Paul de Mans Autobiography As-Defacement, where he suggests that: It appears, then,

that the distinction between fiction and autobiography is not an either/or polarity but that
10
Alberto Moreiras The Aura of Testimonio

92
it is undecidable (70) and posits prosopopeia, the fiction of the voice-From-beyond-the-

grave-, (77, 80-81)11 in opposition to the dominant referential elements traditionally

identified with autobiographical narratives. Autobiography, as an essential part of both

testimonio and confession, retains the undecidable relation to fiction that de Man

underlines and therefore questions any claims to a non-fictional and purely testimonial

representation of reality.

Beverlys reading of Rigoberta Menchs testimony emphasizes her ties to the

Maya-Quich community she speaks for, and the central importance of her testimonial

and autobiographical statements as standing for the experience of the community, but less

as an affirmation of Rigoberta as a writer or an individual. Beverly protects testimonio

against the undecidable relations between fiction and autobiography underlined by de

Man and against the problematic of authorship, which lend themselves to a negation and

reversal of his version of testimonio. The effort to separate what he calls the nonfictional

first-person narrative that is autobiography from testimonio responds to the impossibility

of negating autobiography and fiction as part of testimonial narrativesan effort to erase

any traces of fiction that might infect the testimonio. The necessity to force an

understanding of autobiography as nonfictional is symptomatic of the possibility of

testimonio as autobiographical and novelistic.

I now need to distinguish testimonio from (1) that central form of nonfictional
first-person narrative that is autobiography and cognate forms of personal
narrative, such as memories, diaries, confessions, and reminiscences []
Testimonio represents an affirmation of the individual subject, even of
individual growth and transformation, but in connection with a group or class

11
As de Man puts it: The dominant figure of the epitaphic or autobiographical discourse is, as we saw, the
prosopopeia, the fiction of the voice from-beyond-the-grave; an unlettered stone would leave the sun
suspended in nothingness. As soon as we understand the rhetorical function of prosopopeia as positing
voice or face by means of language, we also understand that what we are deprived of is not life but the
shape and the sense of a world accessible only in the privative way of understanding. (77, 80-81)

93
situation marked by marginalization, oppression, and struggle. If it loses this
connection, it ceases to be testimonio and becomes autobiography, that is, an
account of, and also a means of access to, middle-or upper- class status, a sort of
documentary bildungsroman. (40)

The meaning of her testimonio lies not in its uniqueness but in its ability to stand
for the experience of the community as a whole. Because the authorial function
has been erased or mitigated, the relationship between authorship and forms of
individual and hierarchical power in bourgeois society has also changed []. If
Rigoberta Mench had become a writer instead of remaining as she has a
member of, and an activist for, her ethnic community, her narration would have
been an autobiography. (41)

An interrogation of the autobiographical aspects of Menchs narrative testimony, aside

from its unquestionable collective endeavor as part of testimonio, becomes necessary in

the light of Beverlys precautions and preoccupations, not simply to discuss Beverlys

distinctions or the well known contribution of David Stoll12 to this debate, but to

interrogate the bond between both forms as a site of worthy critical inquiries. For

Beverly, even when autobiographies are written by people from the left of the political

spectrum these narratives are merely conservative accounts of individual growth in spite

of obstacles, narratives produced for a privileged reader. Beverly claims that the reader of

autobiography enjoys social privilege; he/she usually belongs to middle or upper class,

and autobiographical narrative serves to legitimize and maintain his/her social status. On

the other hand, Beverly argues that testimonio, even testimonios that come from the right

of the political spectrum, always claims the need for social change. The readers world is

always brought into question and testimonio achieves one of its main goals (41). His

reading can be turned into its opposite by interrogating the connection between

testimonio and autobiography, self and collective, not as the possible collapse of the

testimonial form efficacy as a tool for social struggle, but as a productive and necessary

12
Stoll, an anthropologist, critically examines Menchs testimonial text for factual contradictions.

94
one. The autobiographical aspects of testimonio and confession do more than legitimizing

class status, individual narrations of the self or the liberal imaginary of the bourgeoisie;

they also serve to undo the I of the statement as well as the readers notion of a

coherent and individual self. It works both ways. I like to suggest that Menchs

discourse subverts the division between autobiography (bourgeois/individual) and

testimony (oppressed/communal). At play in her discourse are flexible and conflictive

discursive elements that adjust according to the particular circumstances of her narration.

As a result, testimonio and autobiography are never set in a hierarchical structure but

constantly reconfiguring themselves and even borrowing from other discourses.

In his reading of Menchs and Domitila Barrios testimonies, Gareth Williams

has the problematic between testimonio and autobiography in mind when he states that

both women provide a personal testimony which is also presented as the testimony of the

community. Williams argues that this double gesture undermines the precepts of

authorial autobiography, but unlike Beverly, he does not see this move as solely

beneficial and essential for testimonio, but instead underlines how it places Mench and

Barrios in an ambiguous position, as being part of a culture, but also separated from it

(87). Williams understands this as an ambiguous self/collective positioning in which the

undermining of the precepts of autobiography by testimonio is unclear, the I of the

narration, in relation to the collective, is open both to dynamics of fracture when the I

breaks off from the collective, and dynamics of embodiment when the I is the collective.

The distinction is undecidable. In the case of I, Rigoberta Mench, Williams offers

various examples of these dynamics, which he sees not only as simple binaries, but as a

flexible discourse always capable of transformation:

95
Thus, by assuming unto herself the exigencies of armed struggled and her
leadership of the Comit de Unidad Campesina, it could be said that she
lives in an apparent state of enforced separation from the persevering laws
of the Maya-Quich: she has to take on the language of the colonizer in
order to communicate [], she has effectively come into contact with, and
worked within, the ladinos culture of capitalistic domination; she severs
herself from her ancestral heritage by assuming the need for armed
struggled; and she rejects marriage and childbirth, thereby causing an
affront to the mainstays of indigenous culturethe land and the
autochthonous link of woman to Nature. (90-91)

The fact that Mench needs to create and recreate her communal and autobiographical

self, breaking with the collective indigenous tradition, does not necessarily turn

testimonio into autobiography and diminishes its impact, but instead reveals the

complexities of her discourse and life-project. Her narration is also one of individual

growth in relation to alternative collectives with which the middle and upper class reader

can also identify (learning a new language, rejecting values of the community, mixing

with ladinos/others and so forth). In order to be able to give testimony Mench must

differentiate or change her autobiographical self into one very different from the

traditional Maya-Quich culture she wants to represent. Her act turns autobiography into

a relation with various collectives which includes and excludes her own and others.

Menchs rupture with her collective and traditions is practically and politically

necessary. Loosing her connection to the collective and writing a different

autobiographical self does not erase her testimonial act as Beverly argues. Loosing the

connection between self and collective allows her testimony to exist. That is why it can

be productive to speak of testimonial autobiographies, as Williams title suggests, and to

read Mench as a traveler and poet, as Brett Levinson has suggested in I, Rigoberta

Mench as Allegory of Death:

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In connection to the question of literature, I see Menchs world in a
slightly different fashion. Menchs intervention, because Menchs
locates herself as a relation to, but not firmly fixed within, certain
collectives, turns on the ceaseless creation and recreation of her in the
name of, her cause: the name for the ever shifting communal self and
communal practices in which she partakes. Poetics here is not the form by
means of which the bourgeoisie constructs itself but the condition of
subaltern politics. (154)

We recall that Mench is authorized to speak for her community in I,


Rigoberta Mench only if she is a member of that community, if she is
indigenous. Yet if Menchs political projects in fact force her to break the
laws of the ancestors, even if it is for the purpose of saving her people, she
potentially loses her membership status, becoming a kind of outsider.
Therefore, she also potentially gives up her license to serve as the
community spokesperson [] (156)

Levinson demostrates how in Menchs case testimonio fissures the connection, the tied

to a collective, which Beverly claims makes testimonio something other than simply

autobiography. He shows that reading the I as it becomes other, reading Mench

autobiographically, reading the invention of her poetics as going beyond any plural or

collective subjectivity, without totally rejecting its collective claim but identifying the

fissures of this reading, reveals even more about testimonio or makes testimonio reveal

itself even more: This is why Mench becomes, necessarily, a traveler and a poet. As an

individual, Menchs domain is larger than any particular self or collective [] (153).

The subject, autobiographical, testimonial or confessional, faces personal and

collective subjectivities that he/she necessarily and unavoidably has to confront in order

to speak about his/her life. The strict requirement of a truthful narrative as in testimonio,

in some versions, or confession demands in others, does nothing more than revealing the

impossibility of such requirement and the openness proper to all dialogue or attempt at

testifying, witnessing and confessing. In Beverlys reading of testimonio, this openness to

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individual or collective others diminishes the political and liberatory effect attached to a

certain narrative of the truth and reality of the subaltern.

Testimonio as document of social reality necessarily struggles against fiction or

the fictional elements in autobiography, against the institution of literature that it sets to

negate and substitute. I have shown an entrance to this interrogation through the question

of autobiography in Menchs case, but testimonios as dissimilar as Esteban Montejo:

The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave (Biografa de un Cimarrn) and Si me permiten

hablar also show conflictive elements which allow the reader to question the total erasure

of authorial presence, as well as the non-fictional character of testimonio. Testimonio

encounters problematic when it tries to simplify or hide the contradictions of its

informants in order to guarantee the aura of solidarity privileged by progressive

intellectuals. The attempt to literally transfer the experience of one subject into the reality

of the community is at times taken so seriously that it turns out as a form of cannibalism

where entire communities are devoured by the presence or exposition of one subject.

The confessional form suggests a connection with autobiography, but also an

inevitable connection with testimonial narrations. Establishing the importance of a more

ambiguous autobiographical effect in testimonio and the reconfiguration of the relation

between testimony and autobiography raises the question of how this

autobiographical/testimonial subject (self/collective) is also link to a confessional

subjects, and the problematic that this may originate. How confessional and testimonial

subjects deal with the intersections between both discourses? This question is especially

relevant for Nocturno de Chile, but also for other confessional and testimonial texts taken

from the 1990s cultural and literary production in the context of Chiles (post)dictatorship

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that I read as also informing the thematic discussed in relation to Nocturno. Among these

texts are Marcia Merinos attempt to write a nonfictional, confessional and testimonial

account in Mi Verdad (My Truth) and Luz Arces Infierno. Damiela Eltits testimonial

project El padre mio is also in conversation with these texts. Before turning my attention

to these texts in the second part of the chapter, I introduce and discuss some of the key

mechanisms and problematics related to the confessional utterance in relation with

autobiography and testimonio.

Practical procedures of confession have expanded its mechanisms and domains

beyond the medieval focus on the ritualistic sacrament of penance or self-punishment by

moving into the secular arena and the territory of truth. It has moved into the realm of

every day life and beyond the restrictions and regulations established by religious

institutions. Confession is significant in justice, friendship, education, family, love and

sexual relationships, torture, criticism, admission procedures, psychoanalysis, politics and

so on. One confesses fears, doubts, vices, illness, sins, desires, crimes or whatever is hard

to admit and speak about. A constant in the character of confession seems to remain

intact and consonant with the demands of testimonio in Beverlys postfictional version:

the demand for speech and the demand for truth to be revealed.

Michael Foucaults analysis of confessional practices in Abnormal, The History of

Sexuality and Technologies of the Self emphasizes the role of confession in the west as

a technique or power system for the production of truth, and as a technology or

mechanism used or adopted by the subject in order to take care and improve the self.

Foucault analyzes the history and mechanisms of confessional practices and argues that

western man has become a confessing animal while at the same time considers

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confession as one of the Wests most highly valued power techniques of producing

truth which he defines as:

The confession is a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is


also the subject of the statement; it is also a ritual that unfolds within a
power relationship, for one does not confess without the presence (or
virtual presence) of a partner who is not simple the interlocutor but the
authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and
intervenes in order to judge, punish, forgive, console, and reconcile; a
ritual in which the truth is corroborated by the obstacles and resistances it
has had to surmount in order to be formulated; and finally, a ritual in
which the expression alone, independently of its external consequences,
produces intrinsic modifications in the person who articulates it; it
exonerates, redeems, and purifies him, and promises him salvation. (61)

Certainly there is no essential form called confession, as is also the case for testimonio,

but Foucaults definition outlines its standard form and conception as a complete

processmediated by a power system but also and act of individual expressionthat

ends by producing positive modifications and transformations to the one that confesses. It

aims at transformation and transition from uncertainty, pain and guilt to pleasure, balance

and joy. One of the main problems with confession arises because the mere beginning of

the confessional practice as traditionally understood signals an a priori negation of the

possibility of innocence; it attempts to mark the beginning of a ritual of acceptance of

guilt, punishment, reconciliation and new life. The problem is that it does not limit the

possibility of excusing ones acts but encourages this possibility in both senses of the

word: excuse as asking for forgiveness and excuse as offering justification for ones acts.

The excusatory nature of confession contradicts its understanding as a technique for the

production of truth or the production of a new life. My analysis focuses on the

possibilities of questioning confession as a technique for the (re)production of terrifying

events in opposition to its standard regenerative and testimonial reading.

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While the spokesman of testimonio is usually considered a hero in his community

and is encouraged to speak the truth about and for the community, confessional subjects

often aim at a transformation, a transition, from the site of the sinner, traitor and liar to

the side of the hero. Only after that transformation the confessional subject might be able

to attempt to testify. Traditionally, the confessional subject is asked, feels the need, or is

forced to declare the damage he has done to himself and to the community, while the

testimonial subject offers a narration from a position of moral rectitude that demands at

its core, confessional acts from others. On the other hand, the confessional transformation

traditionally requires speaking not for the community but to the community, or to the

values and norms established by the communityGod and Lawsas a means to excuse

oneself, in both senses of the word, for the faults committed. The subjects of these

statements seem to come from the opposite side of the good vs. evil binary.

Confession can be understood as testimonio by means of which the subject looks

to be admitted back into the community and attempts to offer both discourses at the same

time, and therefore speaks in the name of a certain cause and confesses in the name of

and for the community, to the community. Both discourses allow for a continuous

retrospective narration of the subjects life, and therefore fulfill the condition of

possibility for autobiography. Confessions are autobiographical but autobiographies are

not necessarily confessional, or to put it differently, autobiographies can be confessions

repressed form. The confessional mechanism requires elementswhich it does not

necessarily achieve that are not necessary or desirable for the constitution of an

autobiography, such as veracity, the disclosure of shameful or humiliating acts, and

conversion or transformation of the self. Testimonios are always autobiographical as

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Williams and Levinson have suggested in their respective meditations on testimonial

practices.

The excuse is a key concept for the questioning of the contact zones or

problematics between confession and testimonio as presented above. Throughout the

essay I explain the links between Foucaults technologies of the self as strategies aimed

at self-transformation and the excuse as a priori to the confession which in various ways

defers this transformation figure in my rereading of testimonio as hybrid and confession

as excuse in Bolaos Nocturno de Chile. Does a confession in which the excuse reveals

a conflictive relation between the fault and its origins, between the avowal and the event,

have the possibility of being considered testimonial? The resulting antinomies, the

contradictions resulting from the assertions of the confessions, testimonies, accusations

and excuses, are the grounds for a critical exploration of the stories narrated by Father

Urrutia in Nocturno de Chile. The most obvious, and perhaps the better-known model of

confession as excuse in relation to my reading of Nocturno,, is found in the narrative

strategy used by J. J. Rousseau in his modern and secular Confessions. As Theodor Reik

notes in The Unknown Self Sings:

The desire to be admired and loved seems to reach beyond ones life.
There must be other motives of an unconscious kind that propelled men to
write autobiographies, for instance self-justification, relief for unconscious
guilt feeling and others. Such motives reveal themselves in Rousseaus
Confessions, in John Henry Newmans Apologia pro Vita Sua and in
modern autobiographies. (237)

This thematic is taken up by Paul de Man in Excuses(Confessions) where he analyses

the mechanisms of confession and excuse in Rousseau. The essay mainly examines the

lie, or should we say confessional-excuse, told by Rousseau when he perjures himself by

accusing someone else of his own acts. The de Manian demonstration of the works of

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confession as related to the excuse is organized around confession stated in the mode of

revealed truth (confession as avowal) in Rousseaus Confessions, and as excuse in the

Fourth Reverie. De Mans distinction/dissection of the two modes of confession is based

on referentiality and verificability. The two confessions, ten years apart, refer to the same

event but in a different way. According to de Man, the confession as avowal is referential

as in the Confessions. In this case, its referential to the ribbon as factual evidence and

corroboration of the truth, while in the confession in the form of excuse (Fourth Reverie),

the evidence can only be verbal or performative, and therefore cannot be verified.

De Man validation of his dissection establishes a system of possible or non-

possible verification. Confession as avowal can be verified because the evidence (the

ribbon) for it is not verbal but factual; it is about knowing that the fact took place.

According to de Man there is no such possibility of verification for the confession as

excuse because its purpose is to convince verbally, and not to make something known.

De Man views this textual event as the exposure of discontinuity between two rhetorical

modes. He localizes this textual event within a certain mechanism of repetition (the text-

machine), discontinuity and dissemination, in which the confession and excuse of the

theft of the ribbon are successive and not simultaneous: When this turns out not to have

been the case, when his claim to have lived for the sake of truth (vitam imprendre vero) is

being contested from the outside, the closure of excuse (quil me soit permis de nen

reparler jamais) becomes a delusion and the Fourth Reverie has to be written (286). In

other words, for de Man, the Confessions as part of a performative rhetoric shows its

structural functioning when the confession fails to change to the apologetic mode in the

Confessions, and therefore the need for Rousseau to write the Fourth Reverie.

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Jacques Derridas objection to this division or structural functioning is discussed

in Typewriter Ribbon: Limited Ink (2), where he argues that confession cannot be

reduced to a referential and revealed truth or to a performative and unverifiable

declaration. The confession as excuse or as apology does not need to modulate from the

confession in form of avowal; the excuse is always a part of it:

Confession is not of the order of knowledge or making known. This is


why Augustine wonders why he must confess to God, who already knows
everything. Answer: confession does not consist on making known,
informing, appraising the other, but in excusing oneself, repenting, asking
for forgiveness, converting the fault into love, and so forth. (108-109)

The objection to the principles of verificability and referentiality focuses on the

understanding of confessional texts as always already apologetic and excusatory. For

Derrida, the confession as excuse is not only verbal but also referential to the factual

evidence stated in the confession as avowal. The confession in the form of revealed truth

can be referential and can also function performatively:

Yes, but I wonder if the confessional mode is not already, always, an


apologetic mode. In truth, I believe there are not here two dissociable
modes and two different times, in such a way that one can modulate from
one to another. I dont believe event that what de Man names the interest
in Rousseaus text therefore its originality, consist in having to
modulate from the confessional mode to the apologetic mode. Every
confessional text is already apologetic. Every avowal begins by offering
apologies or by excusing itself []. This distinction organizes, it seems to
me, his whole demonstration. I find it an impossible, in truth undecidable
distinction. This undecidability, moreover, is what makes for all the
interest, the obscurity, the nondecomposable specificity of what is called a
confession, an avowal, an excuse, or an asked-for forgiveness. (110)

Derrida discusses de Mans reading of Rousseaus Confessions in terms of an excusatory

mechanism and expands on some of his own readings of the confessional act paying

significant attention to the rewriting of the confession in the form of excuse. Key to my

argument in relation to Bolaos Nocturno de Chile is that Derrida reads Rousseau as

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speaking the language of excuse more often than the language of pardon, forgiveness and

conversion in his confessions. The Derridian demonstration is played out around the

concept of text-machine, which he credits to de Man, and as found, invented and

produced by de Man in Excuses (Confessions). As de Man explains: By saying that

the excuse is not only a fiction but also a machine one adds to the connotation of

referential detachment, of gratuitous improvisation, that of the implacable repetition of a

preordained pattern (294). The machinelike effect of the text (confession/excuse)-

machine (repetition) consists of cold, calculated and automatic repetitions of the body,

text or excuse. The text-machine is the work or the oeuvre, as Derrida says, of a

writing machine (104), Rousseaus machine, a text as machine, inseparable from

repetition, entirely repeatable.13

The particular machinelike-text reproduced in Rousseaus Confessions produces

automatic excuses, automatic and mechanical excuses against and awkwardly in favor of

confessional acceptance, guilt and transformation. According to Derridas reading of de

Man, the concept of the textual machine should be thought in conjunction with the

concept of the textual event: In other words, how is one to think together the machine

and the event, a machinelike repetition and that which happens/arrives? (136). The

textual event refers literally in de Mans reading of Rousseau, to the double selection of

the theft of the ribbon in the Confessions and the Fourth Reverie, and the lie that

followed as the event or episode to be confessed, excused and repeated. The stealing of

the ribbon and the selection of the event to be written about in both narratives gives rise

to the textual event. The first time, the mention of the textual event in de Man points out a

13
The implacable repetition of a preordained pattern is at the center of Father Urrutias confessional
strategies.

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structure of repetition, or the repetition of the confession (the theft of the ribbon in the

Confessions and in the Fourth Reverie). The next time the textual event is narrated in the

Fourth Reverie, the recognition, dissemination or dissection of itself as a textual event

takes place.

Derridas reading of de Man opens the distinction between the cognitive and

performative confession and underlines the bind between these two forms of confession

as key. Derridas argument, which I also see as relevant for Nocturno de Chile, posits the

confessional mode already, or always, as an apologetic/excusatory mode. I want to

discuss the problematic inherited and created by this mechanism, but now shifting the

emphasis to a reading of those mechanisms in the other texts chosen for this study and to

the relation of these with the problematic of testimonio and accountability. I argue that

the self which the novelistic I or Father Urrutia was supposed to express in form of

confession did not exist as a priori to the act of confession. The self, faced with the

compulsion and demand to confess established mainly by a religious and political system,

is created through an imaginative as well as terrifying mechanism of confession as excuse

in which the excuse is always simultaneous or a priori to the confession. If confession has

been forced and naturalized and western man has become a confessing animal to the

point that often we no longer notice it, as Foucault has argued, then, the excuse as a priori

or simultaneous to the confession has also been institutionalized and naturalized in this

process. My interrogation turns to fictional and nonfictional machines,

confessional/testimonial autobiographies from the later part of the 20th century in Latin

America and in the context of Chiles (post)dictatorship.

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III. The Nocturnal Machine: Father Urrutias Autobioral Narration

The mostly oral but also written confessional account in Nocturno begins with a

declaration of purpose: Father Urrutia wants to protect himself against accusations, he

wants to justify his acts in order to defend and excuse himself against the infamies spread

around by the wizened youth [joven envejecido]: As que me apoyar en un codo y

levantar la cabeza, mi noble cabeza temblorosa, y rebuscar en el rincn de los

recuerdos aquellos actos que me justifican (11). Father Urrutia also describes himself as

not being in peace and in need to say [decir] many things:

Ahora me muero, pero tengo muchas cosas que decir todava. Estaba en paz
conmigo mismo. Mudo y en paz. Pero de improviso surgieron las cosas. Ese
joven envejecido es el culpable. (11)

The wizened youth is Father Urrutias alter ego. His voice circulates during Father

Urrutias confession and exposes him to memories and a past full of questionable actions.

His first confession, revealing his fall out of peace and admitting the bothersome

presence of the wizened youth, establishes the first moment in which Father Urrutia

expresses his double discourse of the confession as excuse. At times during the novel

Father Urrutia manages to repress his alter ego but as we will see it constantly reappears

as an echo or a murmur that circulates during his confession. The double discourse

articulated by Father Urrutia and the wizened youth, one, the same and the other, will not

only posit a doubling-up of the I but also a series of discursive doublings of the

confessional act in which God appears as the maximum authority and the virtual

confessor:

Lets make that clear. Clear to God above all. The rest I can forego. But not
God. I dont know how I got into this. Sometimes I found myself propped up
on one elbow, rambling on and dreaming and trying to make peace with myself.

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But sometimes I even forget my own name. My name is Sebastian Urrutia
Lacroix.

Que quede claro. Pero sobre todo que le quede claro a Dios. Lo dems es
prescindible. Dios no. No s de qu estoy hablando. A veces me sorprendo a mi
mismo apoyado en un codo. Divago y sueo y procuro estar en paz conmigo
mismo. Pero a veces hasta de mi propio nombre me olvido. Me llamo Sebastin
Urrutia Lacroix. (1/12)

The indications of confessional activity are clear, in this case a catholic priest addressing

his confession directly to God while doubting and creating a hybrid confessional

discourse. Chris Andrews translation of No s de qu estoy hablando as I dont know

how I got into this in the former quoteinstead of I dont know what Im talking

aboutis revealing due to what it lefts out. It shifts the emphasis of this statement from

the problematic involving discursive practices exposed in the Spanish version to a

translation that captures the confusion of the subject at an ethical level, but leaves out the

demand for speech and the obligation towards truth-telling found at the heart of

confession and testimonio. No se de que estoy hablando not only establishes this

demand and obligation, but also points to the problematic of misnaming and forgetting

that are proper in analysis of ruins and catastrophes which are central in Nocturno de

Chile or, as Bolao had intended to call his novel, La tormenta de mierda.14

After declaring No se de que estoy hablando and Pero a veces hasta de mi

propio nombre me olvidoboth declarations can be understood as a priori excuses

Father Urrutia repeats the double discourse of confession as excuse by deploying an

autobioral gesture which refutes his previous claim to a certain inability to remember his

own name and past actions: Me llamo Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix. Soy chileno. Mis

ancestors [] (12). His defense or excuse so far consists of misnaming and displacing

14
The Shit Storm

108
and therefore avoiding the discourse of confession but which is paradoxically followed

by a desire to confess and to respond to the compulsion to confess in the name of the

truth and in the name of God as virtual confessor. Arguing to be morally responsible for

his actions, words and silences, Father Urrutia pleads innocent against the accusation of

the wizened youth, recognizing God as the authority while also questioning his own

recognition, but cannot avoid the compulsion to confess, which implicates a sense of guilt

and shame that activates the machinelike repetition of confessions and excuses.

At times in Nocturno Father Urrutia confesses and comments about aspects of his

life, and then follows the confessions with a story or an account of someones else story

that works as a justification or excuse for his own acts. The reader finds various narrative

sequences or stories, which can be read independently or as interrelated, dealing with

someone elses actions as related to Father Urrutias past. The rest of the novel consists

of several stories, directly and indirectly related to Father Urrutia, told by him in order to

review his life since the late 1950s when he was already a young priest, until the period

of postdictatorship and transition in the 1990s. What dominates these stories is a

machinelike mechanism that tends to vacillate between confession and excuses and the

thematic of oblivion in a postcatasthrope and postestimonio scenario where the

dictatorship15 retains power in various forms. It is through a textual mechanism that

attempts to examine the ruins left by the dictatorship and to recoverfrom oblivion or

overexposureand question memories that Nocturno, as postcatastrophe and

postdictatorship literature, attempts to provide an entrance into a traumatic experience.

This entrance necessarily repeats itself in the novel in the textual narrations of different

15
The notion of dictatorship favored in this study understands dictatorship as a totalitarian state that
destructs and appropriates all forms of social and political representation.

109
stories. It is in this vein that Nocturno can also be read as a demand for testimonio and

confession, against oblivion and overexposure, but a demand that accepts the

impossibility of representing these events in their totality. Father Urrutias storytelling

ability inscribes the excuse as an a priori gesture of asking for forgiveness and providing

excuses, a simultaneous and automatic fertilization of the confessional attempt with the

seeds of its own neutralization or destruction. There is no passage from Father Urrutias

confessions to his excuses or defenses. The excuses are themselves the confessions or the

self-destructive nature of the confession as technology of the self. The technology of the

self understood as strategy aimed at self-transformation and improvement clashes with

the excuse as a priori to the confession and defers the possibilities of transformation and

improvement. Confession as a technology of the self is here a vehicle to become other

and not to accept guilt and convert past experiences into a new life. Father Urrutias

gesture attempts to erase his name and to posit a certain my name is not by naming other

names. Here, as in any act involving avowal, the distinction between confession and

excuse becomes undecidable.

IV. Father Urrutias Second Baptism

The first story I want to address relates how Father Urrutia meets Farewell (Gonzlez

Lamarca) and the first visit to his estate (La-bas); it recounts his baptism in the world of

Chilean letters. Farewell is described as having falcon eyes, as god Pan, as Bacchus in his

den, as some demented Spanish conquistador or as someone wearing an iron gauntlet. His

arrival to the estate is described in terms of an arrival to an inferno, and while waiting to

be picked up and taken to Farewells estate he hears birds singing quin, quin, quin

(17). The symbols identify Farewell as a figure of power and domination, as a demon or

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god that inhabits some sort of hellish place, while the birds questioning point to the

central and rhythmical question of this autobioral narration, who is Sabastian Urrutia

Lacroix?

Already in La-bas, Father Urrutia goes for a walk in the garden but gets lost in the

country or wilderness where he enters a cabin. He confesses feeling disgusted by the

woman that kissed his hand and recounts how little attention he paid to the remarks about

a child who was dying. His main preoccupation at this moment was what to wear for

dinner and the taste of the piece of bread given to him by the farmers. His excuse for

feeling like this was: Dios mo, yo no poda estar en todas partes. Yo no poda (21).

Instead, he had to be back to Farewells place in order to assist the dinner with other

members of Farewells literary and elitist circle. It is here when his double, the wizened

youth, seemingly makes his first appearance in order to question Father Urrutias

behavior, but has little effect at this point in his life. The young Urrutia dismisses him by

saying:

Entonces me pareci ver al joven envejecido en el vano de la puerta. Pero eran


solo los nervios. Estbamos a finales de la dcada del cincuenta y el entonces
solo deba tener cinco aos, tal vez seis, y estaba lejos del terror, de la invectiva,
de la persecucin. (22)

The next day at La-bas, Father Urrutia ventures in the countryside with the same result:

En realidad, todos eran feos. Las campesinas eran feas y sus palabras incoherentes. []

Que Dios me perdone y los perdone. Almas perdidas en el desierto. Les di la espalda y

me march (33). The whole story juxtaposes Chilean literary elite to the farmers and the

wizened youth, in a pattern that repeats itself throughout the novel in different scenes: a

group of people talk superficially about art, literature and theory while ignoring or

forgetting the others and the injustices or pain that they suffer.

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During this visit to La-bas Father Urrutia meets Pablo Neruda and other members

of the literary and cultural elite. They all have their literary party in Farewells estate and

recite poetry while ignoring completely those people in the countryside who Father

Urrutia visited by accident. From Urrutias point of view, meeting Neruda was an

extraordinary event that justified everything, an event that the wizened youth never had

an opportunity to experience. l no conoci a Neruda. l no conoci a ningn gran

escritor de nuestra repblica en condiciones tan esenciales como las que acabo de

recordar. Qu importa lo que pasara antes y lo que pasara despus (24).16 At this stage

Father Urrutia sounds strong and secure and eliminates remorse easily. After the visit to

Farewells estate, Father Urrutia became a known critic and decided to use a penname for

criticism, H. Ibacache (36-37), and to save his name for his posthumous work on poetry.

The next story narrated by Father Urrutia during his death bed confession was told to him

at another party in Santiago de Chile but it took place in Paris. The narrative in Nocturno

does not offer obvious connections or smooth transitions between these stories but

challenges the reader to find them. The reader should keep in mind that Ibacache/Urrutia

also appears, although briefly, in Estrella distante as someone who likes Wieders poetry

and knows him personally.

16
Father Urrutias homosexuality is dealt with in several scenes. Here, for the first time, Farewell touches
his waist and his hips during the literary party. Father Urrutia confesses the pleasure derived from the
moment, but also his sense of guilt, which leads to confession, narrating verses of the apocalypses, while
Farewell sodomizes him. This moment is interrupted by Neruda, and as Father Urrutia stated before,
meeting Neruda was more important than anything else that could have happened to him. The scene turns
into a trivial conversation about Sordello and a poem by Dario is recited in which Bolaos dark humor
shines. (24)

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V. Paisaje de la ciudad de Mxico: Melancholy as Extension of Memory17

Father Urrutia narrates a story told by Chilean diplomat and writer Salvador Reyes to his

guests at a party that included Farewell and Father Urrutia. At first glance the story seems

out of place in Father Urrutias examination of his past, but further analysis ties it to

Father Urrutias confessions and excuses. Salvador Reyes tells the story of his visits to a

Guatemalan painter in Paris, how he and Ernst Junger met for the first time at a party, and

later coincided at the attic room of a Guatemalan painter dying of hunger and trapped in

the city during the occupation of Paris in WWII. Salvador Reyes used to bring the painter

leftovers from the Chilean embassy in Paris and Junger is known for socializing with

artists an intellectual during his administrative position and role as army captain in Paris

during World War II.

During the first visit the Guatemalan painter sits in silence by the window

contemplating Paris in a state of deep melancholy. Salvador Reyes sits in silence and also

contemplates until he is able to identify the target of the painters gaze but cannot bear to

see, listen or speak about the things he see in the painters gaze and hesitates to look. He

reacts as follows:

Y cuando los ojos de nuestro escritor descubrieron la lnea transparente, el punto


de fuga hacia el que converga o del que diverga la mirada del guatemalteco,
bueno, bueno, entonces paso por su alma la sombra de un escalofri, el deseo
inmediato de cerrar los ojos, de dejar de mirar a aquel ser que miraba el
crepsculo tremolante de Pars, el impulso de huir o de abrazarlo, el deseo (que
encubra una ambicin razonada) de preguntarle que era lo que vea y acto
seguido apropirselo y al mismo tiempo el miedo de or aquello que no se puede
or, las palabras esenciales que no podemos escuchar y que con casi toda
probabilidad no se pueden pronunciar. (43)

Father Urrutia also faces this situation in relation to the events narrated in the novel as a

whole. Father Urrutia now tries to avoid and somehow justify not speaking or thinking
17
Landscape of Mexico City One Hour Before Dawn.

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about them, and telling the story of someone else, the story of himself, the story of those

who have: miedo de or aquello que no se puede or, las palabras esenciales que no

podemos escuchar y que con casi toda probabilidad no se pueden pronunciar (43). The

painter, functioning similarly to the wizened youth in the novel, remains focused on this

apparently terrifying vista in a melancholic recounting of the past while Reyes avoids it,

cuts it. Salvador Reyes cant bear to see, listen or to speak about the things he sees in the

painters gaze.

The question raised by the scene is not only about responsibility or about

denunciation, these questions, which are commonplace and become repetitive throughout

the novel, are mostly related to the dictatorial abuses in Chile. The key question of the

scene is the reason why Father Urrutia chooses to tell the story of a melancholic painter

in Paris during what apparently is his last night on earth, during his apparently

confessional and autobioral recounting of his life. One answer already introduced is to

answer to read the story as a defensive monologue and confession in which Father

Urrutia tries to justify and excuse the way he has lived by providing unverifiable

precedents for his own behavior. The de Manian modulation of confession into excuse is

here turned into its opposite and the excuse modulates into unverifiable confession. There

is not modulation of the confession into excuse; the excuse is not an a posteriori and

belated utterance but an a priori mechanism that repeats itself giving the impression of

posterior occurrence that can always be programmed a priori. In this case Father Urrutia

does so by giving examples of others who have acted in a similar way than he has, a

priori or a posteriori, like when he ignored the struggling farmers during his visit to

Farewells estate.

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The second answer is related to the scene when Junger and Reyes run into each other

at the painters attic room they have their highly intellectual talk and culturally informed

conversations. The painter remains fixed in the past and keeps looking through the

window in a melancholic state. Junger becomes curious about a painting of Mexico City

and asks the painter if he spent a lot of time in Mexico City. He responds that he was only

there for a week and that the painting was done during his time in Paris, without

remembering much about Mexico City but based on a Mexican mood [sentimiento

mexicano].

El cuadro mostraba la cuidad de Mxico vista desde una colina o tal vez desde
el balcn de un edificio alto. Predominaban los verdes y los grises. Algunos
barrios parecan olas. Otros barrios parecan negativos de fotografa. No se
perciban figures humanas pero si, aqu y all, esqueletos difuminados que
podan ser tanto de personas como de animales. (44)

In his analysis of Paisaje de la ciudad de Mxico una hora antes del amanecer, Junger

talks about the painters sealing wells of the memory [pozos ciegos de la memoria] that

had suddenly reopened, and voila, the painting was based on a vision captured many

years ago by the creative self of the painter. This is the version of the creative impulse

traditionally associated to melancholia. Salvador Reyes disagrees in silence, he assents to

everything that the general says, and interprets the painting for himself as an altar of

human sacrifices and weariness, the acceptance of the painters defeat beyond his

individualism as a painter in a moment when the war had begun. Reyes thinks of this as a

minimal part of the painters truth and links it to a grater reality beyond the painters life.

It gives him goose bumps, but as it happened before, when he was able to identify the

painters gaze, Reyes ignores these sudden revelations and immerses himself again in the

theoretical and abstract display of the general.

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The description of the painting points to a desolated panorama invocated by the

film negatives, death bodies and a city thats about to crash, like the barrios in the

painting that look like waves. The unburied dead bodies and the negatives invite to

understand the painters melancholy tied to the question of mourning or burial of the

dead. Mourning work, according to Freud, takes place when the loss/dead object is buried

but also remembered, represented, measured and therefore successfully substituted. In the

case of the melancholic painter there is no substitution and the dead thing remain present

as living dead and as the dead objects non-equivalenceas opposed to a measured

substitution. The failure to measure, represent and successfully mourn is not necessarily

negative or terrible. The film negatives as spectral presences in the painting, and the

unburied death bodies seem to reassure and maintain an important reality and the

melancholic state of the painter. Mourning work is rejected and we are left with film

negatives instead of clear narratives of the event, with unburied bodies instead of

mourned bodies, with a city thats about to crash like a wave. Instead of trying to get out

of his melancholy, to cure himself by telling his story or truth as in therapy, the painter

refuses to give up a reality to which Salvador Reyes cannot fully access or attest but was

close to when he saw a glimpse of the painters gaze twice. The painter is aware of the

fact that the possibility of mourning work, as suggested in the painting, implies the loss

of an important reality, and therefore reproduces his melancholia instead of curing it. The

painter and the painting stand for the event not to be forgotten and for mourning work not

to be substitutive or an erasure of the original loss or defeat that Reyes was able to

identify only momentarily in his reading of the painting. The ruins of the catastrophe, the

altar of human sacrifices and the defeat described but quickly forgotten by Salvador must

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be remembered and observed as the painters painting and his melancholic state suggests.

The painters refusal to bury the dead claims melancholia as the restitution of an

important reality in opposition to the erasure of the dead by burial.

Father Urrutias repression of his questionable past is only possible because he

excuses himself and is able, at least in this part, to proceed with his narration without

confronting his crisis directly but through others. At this point Father Urrutia fears and

avoids the narration of what he must tell in order to confess and address his crisis by

detouring his narration. Father Urrutia, through Salvador Reyes, excuses himself but most

important, he establishes the difficulty or impossibility of listening and speaking about

those events that torment him so much. On the other hand the melancholic painter, as

described by Father Urrutia and Salvador Reyes, confronts the horror directly by refusing

to let go or substitute the loss object.

It is important to record the appearance of the wizened youth in the previous story

in which he tells Father Urrutia that in Paris no one remembers Salvador Reyes even

though Ernst Junger talks about him in his memoirs. While Urrutia stresses this fact and

feels captivated by the story about Reyes and Junger, especially the fact that Junger

speaks of Reyes in his memoirs and speaks well of him, the wizened youth tries to

underline the oblivious nature of memory and the frivolity of his enchantment with Reyes

and the general. In the next scene Farewell partially joins the wizened youth in his

criticism of Urrutia and tells him a story that criticizes his understanding and appreciation

of Reyes tale. Father Urrutia and Farewell, who were very hungry at the time, left the

party at Salvador Reyes place and went to a restaurant recommended to Farewell. Not

once did they mention the hungry and melancholic Guatemalan painter, even though it

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was key in the story told by Salvador Reyes at the party, and now parodically run to a

restaurant. As in the first story were the farmers are totally forgotten and ignored, here

the other, or the struggling melancholic painter of the second story, is also forgotten and

ignored once more, not only by Salvador and Junger but also by Father Urrutia and

Farewell.

VI. The Shoemaker and Mission in Europe

Two antithetical stories of preservation, forgetting and personal crises follow and add to

the story of the melancholic painter. One is the story told to Father Urrutia by Farewell

about a shoemaker who attempts to build a place to remember the heroes of the Empire

but ends up remembering only himself. The other, told by Father Urrutia, focuses on a

research trip taken in order to study preservation of churches and to cope with his guilt

and homosexuality. The focus on the opposition between preservation or extension of

memories and forgetting is, along with confession as excuse, the other dominant narrative

in Nocturno. The personal crises of Father Urrutia and the shoemaker are emphasized in

these middle stories and are directly related to a narrative of preservation and extension

of memories that suspend the mechanism of the confession as excuse for a moment in

order to attempt the manipulation of memories that render unnecessary the confessional

act. Their respective breakdowns or crisis nullifies these techniques and allows for

confession as excuse to reemerge in the story as the key narrative of the novel.

Farewell told the story of the shoemaker after Father Urrutia, while walking

towards the restaurant and inspired by the recent story about Junger and the melancholic

painter the he had heard from Reyes, told him about an idea he had for a poem in which

Junger, who had written well about Reyes novels in his memoirs, ends up buried, frozen

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and preserved as a hero in the Chilean Andes. Farewell laughs and replies with the story

of the shoemaker at times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Farewell tells Father Urrutia

how a rich and skillful shoemaker had the idea of creating a Heroes Hill [Heldenberg]

financed by the state and the shoemaker, where the heroes of the empire would be buried

and remembered in order to save old values from oblivion. It would be a museum with

statues of the heroes and also a cemetery. The decision of who to remember and bury in

Heroes Hill was to be taken by the emperor, historians, lawyers, army officers and other

civil servants of the empire. The shoemaker presented the idea to the Emperor, who

received it well but soon forgot it. The shoemaker ended up doing all the work without

any support from the empire and during very stressful and nightmarish nights. Two wars

went by and a soviet colonel found Heroes Hill, desolated and neglected, and at the top

they could only find a crypt containing the shoemakers body.

Before narrating the end of the story Farewell had given Father Urrutia many

clues to understand his story in relation to the previous one told by Savador Reyes:

Colina de los Hroes, grave y quieta, oscura y noble, el proyecto, la obra de la


que conocemos slo fragmentos, la obra que a menudo creemos conocer pero
que en realidad conocemos muy poco, el misterio que llevamos en el corazn y
que en un momento de arrebato ponemos en el centro de una bandeja de metal
labrada con caracteres micnicos, unos caracteres que balbucean nuestra historia
y nuestro anhelo y que en realidad slo balbucean nuestra derrota [] y pareca
que se ahogaba [zapatero] [] mas luego cay en el olvido como suele suceder
con todo. (59-60)

Farewell, by underlining his naive understanding and appreciation of Reyes story, is

instructing his disciple on how social and literary customs are based on constructions,

conventionalities, lies, undecidable questions, ambiguous heroes, soon forgotten

memories, pretentious and empty Mycenaean and elitist traditions, as the wizened youth

had said before. The cult of the heroes or the shoemakers attempt to preserve the

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memory of heroes is an allegory of forgetfulness: the story combines the silence adopted

by the state by ignoring the project, and the shoemakers neurotic obsession with

monuments and tombs, with mechanisms of mourning and remembering that only cover

up the realities of the events being remembered.

Father Urrutias naive efforts and dreams to become better known as critic, with a

better reputation than Reyes, or even better than Junger, and his poetic efforts to leave a

posthumous body of poetry, are warned by Farewells story and the constant remarks of

the wizened youth. Of course Father Urrutia does not get it. The end of this story is a

battle between Father Urrutia, Farewell and the wizened youth in which Father Urrutias

repressed sexuality leads to a breakdown. In the middle of an intense exchange about the

future and present of Chile, of Chilean literature and their lives, Farewell says to Urrutia:

Y Farewell: si no me sintiera tan mal de la guata y tan borracho procedera a confesarme

ahora mismo. Y yo: para m sera un honor. Y Farewell: o procedera a arrastrarlo al bao

y a culermelo de una buena vez (65).

Farewells insists in discussing and testing Father Urrutias sexualityand to a

certain extend functions as therapistby calling him cock sucker and offering to screw

him. At this moment the priest gets away with a long list of popes and their lives, as he

did in the seminary, until he takes Farewell to his house and leaves (67). Father Urrutia

falls into a trancelike state of reflection, wandering through different neighborhoods of

Santiago in which he thinks about the moral questions involving his past and present.

Farewell opened the door for Father Urrutias success as a literary critic, but also for his

repressed past, mostly understood in terms of his homosexuality, his belonging to the

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Opus Dei, and certainly related to the moral conflicts he faced in the three stories

recounted so far:

Mientras una brisa fresca me acariciaba el rostro procurando despertarme de


todo, aunque del todo despierto era imposible, pues en el fondo de mi cerebro
oa las voces de los papas, como los chillidos lejanos de una bandada de pjaros,
seal inequvoca de que una parte de mi conciencia an soaba o
voluntariamente no quera salir del laberinto de los sueos, ese campo de Marte
donde se esconde el joven envejecido y donde se esconden los poetas muertos
que entonces vivan y que desde la inminencia cierta de su olvido levantaban el
interior de mi bveda craneal la miserable cripta de sus nombres, de sus siluetas
recortados en cartn negro. (68-69)

Right after this, the wizened youth, his double, reappears and accentuates Urrutias

revising of his past in order to underline his belonging to the Opus Dei, which he does not

negate but neither questions, nor his repressed homosexuality. Urrutia tries to find silence

and peace but fails, feels terribly bored with his life and starts writing poems full of

insults, blasphemies and worst things. He stops his classes and stops giving mass, his

literary reviews turn incomprehensible. In sum, his sexual repression, Farewell and the

wizened youth questioning leads to a breakdown during which he confesses feeling that

his cassock was like a well in which the sins of Chile sank without a trace (59/60). It is

here when members of the DINA [Odeim/Miedo y Oido/Odio] and seemingly related to

the Opus Deia religious section of the Catholic Church with ultra rightwing

conservative inclinations and known for masochistic practices and the repressive nature

of their institutional practicesdecide to intervene by sending Father Urrutia to Europe

to forget and to realize a study about church preservation which is the core of his mission

in Europe.

Father Urrutia is sent to Europe in order to help him overcome his breakdown, to

forget his problems and to repress his homosexualityto avoid a storm of shit in this

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case literally. His seemingly unimportant task is to research the preservation of churches

that results in falconry as the solution to the problem of pigeon droppings, a problem that

most churches seem to have in Europe. The story recounts Father Urrutias research and

also his recovery, as he starts writing again and working on his literary interests during

the trip.

One of the key aspects of this story is the recovery and development of the motive

of birds and the thematic of forgetting itself, that Bolao has introduced earlier in the

novel. Urrutias identity problem is related to birds representations outlined in the first

story. In his first encounter with Farewell Father Urrutia speaks with the naivet of a

fledgling, while Farewells eyes seem to him to be falcon eyes, the voice of a large bird

of prey and his hand is heavy, as if it were encased in an iron gauntlet or heavier still like

the ones used in falconry. In addition, while Father Urrutia is waiting to be picked up and

taken to Farewells estate, a band of birds seem to be yelling who, who, who, question

that Urrutia decides to ignore. He starts a journey to also become a bird of prey during the

weekend spent at Farewells estate.

The symbolism of the birds marks the difference between pigeons as symbols of

peace, sportsmanship and the Holy Spirit, while the falcons are violent birds of prey

dedicated to murder pigeons. During his trip Father Urrutia became familiar with the art

of falconry and he himself handled some falcons that were very successful in the killing

of pigeons. He now wears the iron gauntlet that he felt in his shoulder when Farewell

touched him at the beginning of the novel. But on a more fundamental level, the task of

researching methods for the preservation of churches underlines Father Urrutias role as

part of the church and his collaboration with the military regime, which, as we will see in

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the next story, is the institution for which Odeim and Oido work. The church was one of

the bastions of support for Pinochets regime.

VII. Automaticity Questioned: Pinochets Junta Learns Marxist Theory.

Before returning to Chile from his research trip in Europe, Father Urrutia was enjoying a

relative peace of mind according to his deathbed confession, but back in Chile he started

dreaming again, struggling progressively with his consciousness, and especially with

Father Antonios deathbed questioning of the use falconry, which translates in the

elimination of the symbol of the Holy Spirit in earth.

Fui a Roma. Me arrodill ante el Santo Padre. Llor. Tuve sueos inquietantes.
Vea mujeres que se rasgaban las vestiduras. Vea al padre Antonio, el cura de
Burgos, que antes de morir abra un ojo y me deca: esto esta muy malo,
amiguito. Vea una bandada de halcones, miles de halcones que volaban a gran
altura por encima del ocano Atlntico en direccin a Amrica. (95)

At this point, after Father Urrutias return to Santiago, Bolao crams the narration of the

novel with historical information and rapid cuts from one mise-en-scne to the other

without a clear sense of continuation or order. Just like the falcons of the churches and

his dreams, Father Urrutia also flew to America after the end of his research trip, were he

thought things were changing for the worst, and were the left and the socialist block

headed by Salvador Allende had won the elections. Allende governed for a short period, a

period when Father Urrutia and Farewell suffered dramatically as martyrs and read the

Greeks, until the coup d'tat and the establishment of the dictatorship in 1973, when the

critics regained a favorable view of the country and its situation. At this point the critics

went to Nerudas funeral together, Farewell flirted with some young boys and they

lamented the death of Neruda. However, not a word was uttered about the victims of the

coup or Nerudas significance. Sexual repression and a guilty consciousness reappeared

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(e.g. lascivious women, homosexuals, and abandoned children) and needed to be

repressed instead of confessed. Suddenly at this point the narration regains some

coherence once again that matches Father Urrutias new found stability thanks to a new

project. The mysterious members of the DINA intervened again and offered Father

Urrutia to channel his sexual desires and guilt by bringing Pinochets junta up to date on

Marxist theory. At this point the connection between Church and State is clearly

established and will be central in the next story.

Mr. Odiem (Miedo) and Mr. Oido (Odio) ask Father Urrutia to teach Marxism to

Pinochets Junta, a job that he could not refuse. It had to be kept a secret. La junta wanted

to learn the philosophy of the enemy, but members attended to the classes very

irregularly and often felt asleep. The classes had strong doses of Marta Harneckers texts

on Marxism published during the 1960s and 1970s and key texts from the Marxist

tradition. The classes helped Father Urrutia to deal with his demons, but also left him

undecided about his duty and with key questions about his task:

Lo he hecho bien? Aprendieron algo? Ense algo? Hice lo que tena que
hacer? Hice lo que deba hacer? Es el marxismo un humanismo? Es una
teora demonaca? Si le contara a mis amigos escritores lo que haba hecho
obtendra su aprobacin? Algunos manifestaran un rechazo absoluto por lo que
haba hecho? Algunos comprenderan y olvidaran? Sabe un hombre, siempre,
lo que est bien y lo que est mal? (113).

Father Urrutia, a right wing ultraconservative figure, turns into a more ambiguous figure

that questions his contribution and support of the military regime. While dining with

Farewell he cannot keep the secret any longer and confesses his teaching duties and the

remorse that he felt at the moment, as if looking for some kind of approval, forgiveness,

or to validate what he has done. But Farewell is more concerned with asking about

Pinochets persona and Father Urrutia responds with a story of a conversation they had

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about Allendes, Freis and Allesandris intellectual capacities. This reveals one of the

motives for this classes taking place in the first place which was to show that he was an

intellectual and that those who consider Allende or the other presidents as intellectuals

were wrong because they did not read, study or publish as much as Pinochet did.

Pinochet remarks that he wrote three books and multiple articles about military aspects

and published by military presses. He even read White Dove (Palomita Blanca)18 just to

be up to date. Other conversations between Father Urrutia and Pinochet, as well as the

conversation between Father Urrutia and Farewell about Pinochet, touched upon literary

and theoretical topics, but never, as in all the stories in the novel, addressed the pressing

issues related to injustices, violence and the trauma imbedded in the dictatorial regime.

The question of the nature of his task as instructor of Marxism is diluted into an interest

bordering on gossip about Pinochets persona. Father Urrutias intervention is not

questioned at all by Farewell. Soon the news spread and Father Urrutia sits awaiting the

reclamation of the general and Mr. Odeim and Mr. Oido, but nothing happens. No one

cares about what he did and instead of bringing him problems it helps his career as a

critic and poet at an international level:

Despus, con estupor me di cuenta de que a nadie le importaba un pepino. Las


figures hierticas que poblaban la patria se dirigan, inconmovibles, hacia un
horizonte gris y desconocido en el que apenas se vislumbraban unos rayos
lejanos, unos relmpagos, unas humaredas ninguna discusin, ninguna
investigacinDerecha, centro, izquierda, todos la misma familia. Problemas
ticos, algunos. Problemas estticos, ninguno. Hoy gobierna un socialista y
vivimos exactamente igual. (120)

The so called transition from dictatorship to democracy, from state to market, is depicted

here in the same terms that sociologist Toms Moulian uses in Chile Actual: Anatoma de

18
A bestseller novel by Chilean writer Enrique Lafourcade about adolescents growing up and overcoming
the traditional obstacles faced by young adults.

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un mito where he opposes mechanisms based on silence, blanqueo and consenso as

suggest a poetics as part of his sociological approach. In Bolaos controversial essay El

pasillo sin salida aparente a very similar critique of this problematic can be found but

using a different language and approach. El pasillo mainly recounts one of Bolaos

visit to Diamela Eltit and Jorge Arrate and adds at the end an analysis of Pedro Lemebels

prose and the story of the American torturer Michael Twonly (James Thompson in

Nocturno) and the Chilean writer Mariana Callejas (Maria Canales in Nocturno); stories

also recounted or fictionalized at the end of Nocturno. The combinations of these three

narratives created an uncomfortable incident were sensibilities were hurt and Bolao

added to his reputation as provocateur. Later, I return to this essay in relation to the

problematic of consenso and the last story narrated in Nocturno. Moulians critique

emphasizes silence as the main response to the atrocities committed by the dictatorship

and silence in regards to who, as Nocturno asks at the beginning, cooperated or

participated in one way or another. The point is that lack of meaningful discussion or

actions, the stability of the country is bought with silence, a silence with various faces:

common citizens were silenced with fear, others by remorse, and the elite in power

adopted silence to take decisions as part of the blanqueo strategy. Blanqueo focuses on

erasing the memory of both, the dictatorship and the power of the leftist movements that

elected the Allendes socialist government in 1973 in favor of the transicin and

consenso.

The main goal of the blanqueo was to turn Chile into a clean, safe, trustworthy

and valid neoliberal model: para ello era necesario la ciruga plstica, la operacin

transexual que convirti al dictador en el patriarca (39). Pinochet was at the center of

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this blanqueo and presented as the figure that needed to be cleaned, pardoned and turned

into a patriarch because to remember him too much as the dictator run against Chiles

present and future. His figure as a patriarch is also retained as the impossibility of another

dictatorship, and as the possibility of change and transition, not to democracy, but to the

market. The collapse of the apparent contradictions in Pinochets figure allowed for the

new Chile. The collapse of Pinochets figure as dictator is similar to the contradictions of

the confessions as excuses in the case of Father Urrutia because maintains the

possibilities of erasure, confession and new beginning as experienced in the confessional

sacrament.

Farewells interest in Pinochets persona, and not in his relation to the key events

of the dictatorship, remarks this process of blanqueo in which Pinochet metamorphoses

and is turned into a patriarch that resembles very little the Pinochet that needs to be talked

about, the dictator. Functioning also as blanqueo is Father Urrutias response, which

mostly focuses on their talk about the intellectual life of past presidents, literature and

publishing. Even more revealing in this respect is Nocturnos links between Pinochets

persona and Pinochet the reader. When Father Urrutia tells Farewell about his impression

and memories of the general, he mentions that Pinochet told him that Lafourcades

Palomita Blanca had been his last novel. Palomita Blanca suggests not only the blanqueo

but the beginning of the blanqueo during the military rule and its successful

transformation into neoliberal consensus after the dictatorship. The consensus then

comes to name a superior form of oblivion, an absolute oblivion, especially regarding

contradictions and the establishment of an imaginary harmony that substitutes the

discourse of the opposition: Derecha, cento, izquierda, todos la misma familia (120):

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La vida segua como un collar de arroz en donde cada grano lleva un
paisaje y yo sabia que todos se ponan el collar en el cuello pero nadie tenia
la suficiente fortaleza de animo como para sacarse el collar y acercrselo a los
ojos y descifrar grano a grano cada paisaje en parte porque los paisajes solan
deparar sorpresas desagradables como atades, cementerios a vuelo de pjaro,
ciudades deshabitadas, el abismo y el vrtigo. (112)

The perfect excuse, no one cares, why should I care, thinks Urrutia. It was necessary, as

Farewell justifies Urrutias actions, or as Pinochet tells him: Vyase con la conciencia

tranquila, me aseguro, su trabajo ha sido perfecto (112-113). His moral and ethical

questions are erased once more this time with the excuse of a certain political and ethical

relativism and a certain everyone is the same, a certain a priori excuse against which

Derrida warn us:

Right there were automaticity is effective and disculpates me a priori, it


threatens me, therefore. Right were it reassures me, I can fear it. Because it cuts
me off from my own initiative, from my own origin, from my originary life,
therefore from the present of my life, but also from the authenticity of the
forgiveness and the excuse, from their very meaning, and finally from the
eventnessof both the fault and its confession, the forgiveness or the excuse.
(135)

But the final story or event narrated right after Pinochets story and during this night of

delirium, confessions and excuses will force Father Urrutia to reconsider this position and

to face the questioning of the wizened youth, who had been ignored for a long time. The

image of the solid, consensus, neoliberal Chilean family is put into question again by the

demand of a critical task or a critical poetics. Me parece estar viendo el rostro del joven

envejecido y el joven envejecido tiembla y retiembla y arruga la nariz y despues salta

sobre la historia (124). The wizened youth is the representation of a poetics of the

questioning of history and the neoliberal consensus, the call for a language that may or

may not fissure the consensus, but that always returns to terrify and to question the

automatic and mechanic pardons established by the confession as excuse. This

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automaticity of the excusethat disculpates the I a prioricannot have the value of

the confession as technology of the self in its conception as improvement and new life.

VIII. Mara Canales Basement and Free Market Confessions (Excuses)

The central figure of this final story is Mara Canales, an aspiring Chilean writer married

to American James Thompson. During the military regime she offered her place for

literary and artistic gatherings after the curfew [toque de queda] enforced by the

dictatorship. Her home was a safe location for all night gatherings in which artists,

intellectual and writers, those who needed to share and exchange their anxieties, avoided

any conflictive encounters with the dictatorial regime. James Thompson was a North

American representative of a company that had installed branches in Chile and Argentina

during Pinochets regime. This last story repeats and takes to its limits a well-known and

basic scene in the novel by this time: people discuss arts, literature, theory, painting and

film while ignoring those in difficult situations. In the basement of their house James

Thompson had a torture chamber while working for the Chilean Military Police (DINA).

Father Urrutia assisted to these gatherings and was suspicious about why the police never

intervened any of these meetings or why Canales son Sebastian, which is also Urrutias

first name- was so sad and didnt look like any of his parents. Later during the story, a

theorist of avant-garde theater discovered the torture room by accident but didnt say

anything.

Father Urrutia also repeats a pattern here by telling a story that excuses his own

actions but at the same time is a confession of his participation or failure to act. He

reemphasizes that he did not know anything but he suspected and didnt say anything at

all. Ignoring his suspicions, Father Urrutia goes back to the gatherings hosted by Mara

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Canales until the truth about James Thompsons torture room in the basement comes out.

Por qu nadie, en su momento, dijo nada?(142). The question of testimonio

introduced at the beginning of the chapter is raised by Nocturno in relation to literature,

autobiography and confession:

Dnde est la literatura?, me preguntaba a m mismo. Tenia razn el joven


envejecido? Finalmente tiene el razn? Escrib o intent escribir un poema. En
uno de los versos apareca un nio de ojos azules mirando a travs de los
cristales de una ventana. Qu horror, qu ridiculez. (135)

Father Urrutia asks himself if he should have talked, and why no one testifies these

atrocities but comes out of this questioning with excuses or more questions. Why does

everyone choose to forget? Literatures place and role is questioned to the point of

exhaustion. With these meditations in mind he tries to write a poem and the image of

Sebastian -alluding to the melancholic painter and to himself whos name is also

Sebastian- appears looking trough a window repeating with difference the scene of the

melancholic painter, but Father Sebastian Urrutia misses the point one more time, even

though literature, the poem, a written confession, has suggested a way of reflecting on his

questioning by referring to the melancholic painter and the present situation. A poetics

has suggested itself not as solution but as possibility. The Guatemalan painter and

Sebastian Canales-Thompson adopt a melancholic state of reflection that is not a solution

in itself but does avoid total oblivion, blanqueo and automatic consensus by questioning

mechanism of forgetting and searching for a language to speak about the events. The

horror is not in what Father Urrutia wrote or did not write about Sebastian but in the way

he read it and failed to make the connection.

In search for answers, he visits Canales and finds that the question is not simply a

decision between testifying, speaking, giving voice or remaining in silence, but a

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question of addressing the ruins of the catastrophe, the present and the future. Mara

Canales also wants to forget and only thinks about her literary career, and in a sense

imitates or repeats what Father Urrutia did in the past (13),19 ignoring real problems just

to achieve recognition. She doesnt want to talk about politics or about her husbands

actions, so she charges for interviews in order to talk about politics with journalists when

what she really wants to talk about is literature. She adds that very few Chilean or

Argentine journalists come to interview her, a situation that helps the blanqueo/consensus

and the unity of Chile, and that the majority of these journalists are foreigners.

Everything seems to be buried into oblivion while at the same time adopting an aberrant

way of remembering. The only information that comes out of her is part of a monetary

exchange that imitates the shift from dictatorial terror to the neoliberal market; from

torture and death in the basement of her house to oblivion and imposition of a free market

economy that curiously has not adopted a way of forgetting the ruins and the atrocities of

the dictatorship but a painless way to remember them by overexposing and blurring the

stories and the events. The dictatorship repeats itself as a neoliberal market and blurs the

distinctions between remembering and forgetting.

Father Urrutia last visit ends but not before Canales also accuses him of the same

sins and he recognizes himself in Mara Canales, as a relative of Canales, as Sebastian,

something that is too much for him to bear. Mara Canales invites him to see the

basement and he refuses. She tells him that the original owners or the property, Jewish

immigrants, are reclaiming their property and will win their case. De mi casa, dijo Mara

19
Many scenes in the novel are meditations on Urrutias behavior in relation to the question of literature.
One of those meditations captures the basic form and content of those scenes:
He [wizened youth] didnt meet Neruda. He hasnt met any of our Republics major writers in a
setting as elemental as the one I have just described. What does it matter what happened before
and after? (Nocturno 13).

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Canales, no quedar memoria alguna [...]. Asi se hace literature en Chile (145-46) and

Urrutia responds that thats the way literature is made everywhere. The possibility of

bearing witness is buried once more, the possibility of memory, the possibility of

testimonio, even the possibility of literature, by adopting a mutilated way of

remembering. Father Urrutia cannot bear to view the basement and to become a belated

witness. The house of Mara Canales, the basement and the house as ruin will also be

buried, and something new will replace it very fast. Its memory will not be necessarily

buried because in the first place it was already buried, it was a basement and no clear

image of this event remains available, as opposed to the clear image that Father Urrutia

has promised at the beginning of his narration. This is the terrifying nature of Father

Urrutias failed confession and failure to testify. Even if he testifies, it will only be as part

of the overexposure of events and excusatory acts that reveal nothing and only play in the

hands of the sinister transition form dictatorship to market, a transition that resembles

mutilated repetition of the same. The mutilation in this case cuts the military and leaves

visible the market economy established by the military itself. As any amputation, the cut

leaves the feeling of something that was always there and in sense still Is and Is not.

The final lines of the novel emphasize collective forgetting, they contain a final

confession, a final breakdown, desperate accusations and finally acceptance of the ruins.

Towards the end, Father Urrutia has completely replaced and supplemented Farewell. He

is the victim of the same jokes and is also ill. He has seen himself in Mara Canales and

asks if this terrible situation has a solution, while claiming victory over the wizened

youth. Father Urrutia is obsessed with the same question:

Tiene esto solucin? A veces me cruzo con campesinos que hablan en otra
lengua. Los detengo. Les pregunto. Les pregunto cosas del campo. Me dicen que

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son obreros, de Santiago o de las afueras de Santiago, y que nunca han trabajado
en el campo Tiene esto solucin? (149)

There is no solution. Even the farmers, which at the beginning of the novel are

represented as living in terrible conditions, speak the new language of the transition and

the market turn, they speak and live in the language established by the dictatorship. They

forgot their own language and their past or how they got to the present situation, although

the present situation is constructed with the language of the past. Father Urrutia asks

himself where the wizened youth is and why he left, and answers with an image of the

reality as he couldnt see it before but that he presented in the story of the melancholic

painter:

Y poco a poco la verdad empieza a ascender como un cadver. Un cadver que


sube desde el fondo del mar o desde el fondo de un barranco. Veo su sombra
que sube. Su sombra vacilante. Su sombra que sube como si ascendiera por la
colina de un planeta fosilizado. Y entonces, en la penumbra de mi enfermedad,
veo su rostro feroz, su dulce rostro, y me pregunto: soy yo el joven envejecido,
este es el verdadero, el gran terror, ser el joven envejecido que grita sin que
nadie lo escuche? Y que el pobre joven envejecido sea yo? (144)

The image of dead bodies and the sea was already present in the melancholic painter

visual rendering of Mexico City, Paisaje de la ciudad de Mxico una hora antes del

amanecer, where cadavers and waves could be distinguished along with film negatives

that resemble the shadow that Father Urrutia is able to see now. The scene also brings

back the image of the hill (Heroes Hill) and the wizened youth taking the place of the

shoemaker who tried to create a place for remembering and mourning but was ignored

and ended up burying himself at the top of the hill. Now the wizened youth climbs the

hill in cryptic victory over total oblivion. The wizened youth is the trace of all the

victims, all the forgotten cadavers, a forgotten memory of the injustices that by this time

seem to have disappeared but always seem to reemerge. The wizened youth is all that

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Father Urrutia couldnt see or didnt want to see, all that was familiar and repressed, but

was present and part of him all along and now returns. Finally, Father Urrutia questions

his own role in all these events accepting that he repressed part of himself, and that now

that repressed other is reemerging. His acceptance of a guilty consciousness and his

responsibility for ignoring and repressing his own involvement in these atrocities,

together with the recognition that he and the wizened youth are oneone that is

terrifying and that failed to come together and turn the confession into a new life or

testimoniooverwhelms him. The final breakdown is inevitable: And then the storm of

shit begins, Y despues se desata la tormenta de mierda (130/150). Confessional and

testimonial wanting fails, in part, due to oblivion, fear, indifference, terror and a

mutilated way of remembering that does not disappear with the invention of solidarity

and excuses.

Nocturno as a failed call for confession and testimonio is also about the

impossibility of this call. The delirious confession of Father Urrutia narrates also the

oblivion, the lack of testimonio but also the impossibility and problematic of testimonio

and confession as a solution. The narrative demands a confession and a testimonio that

thinks the shit storm, the catastrophe and the horror instead of some factual denunciation

or apology. Testimonio and confession fail because they repeat and adopt the language

and the institutions that made the catastrophe possible in the first place: they cover up the

evidence in their attempt to reveal the truth and end up facing the inevitability of

phantasmal resurrections of the terror.

The allegorization of the literary critic in the figure of the priest in Nocturno

permits a reading of the critics task not as the traditional decipher of truth or

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autobiographical detective, but as risking a mechanical cover up operation. In Father

Urrutias case he is both the one who tries to confess and the one who listens to

confessions, in a double register of the truth that at the same time demands the secrecy of

both registers. His own confession is a register of alternative stories and excuses leading

to the recovering of other stories that nonetheless cannot be revealed as truth due in part

to his priestly responsibilities and to his own actions. His task and the norms of the

institution he represents suspend any possibility of access to reconstructive evidence, to

reading as revelatory, in the same way that literature, fiction, can serve to cover up the

evidence of reality or to disclose it. Nocturno, as we have seen, is full of cover up stories

in which literature, church and the state are the key machinists. The traditional role of the

critic as uncovering and reconstructing is cancelled by the critic role inversion, as the one

who tries to erase the marks and the traces.

The critical fiction of Father Urrutia as reader and teller of stories related to his

own confession becomes part of the undoing of his own account and the revelation of the

critic as puzzle creator, as enhancer of undecidability and disseminator of false clues. The

role of autobiography here is as relevant as in Menchs testimonial account. Menchs

ties to the collective are severe by her own autobiographical history while at the same

time literature allow her testimonial account as shown in the first part of this essay. The

importance of her testimonio lies in what it reveals and what it keeps as a secret, or, in the

fact that it performs both actions at the same time creating both a fiction and a testimonio.

Nocturnos fiction operates around Father Urrutias confession but always eluding it,

opening spaces to narrate ones story as belonging to someone else, to a collective

depository of blame and excuses that cancels out the possibility of testimonio and

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confession by adopting a hyperliterary mode. The literary critic does not write his/her life

or his/her autobiography while believing to be writing his/her reading, he/she always

writes more. To reconstruct ones life, to create again, to fictionalize the self based on an

immense archive of readings and experiences is always writing more, writing more or

rewriting in a dangerous and sometimes nave mode. What seems to be the process of

writing ones life and ones confession in the tradition of Rousseaus Confessions is

properly the undoing of this tradition, as the confessional excuses narrated by Rousseau

and Father Urrutia show via a mechanism that uncovers the illusion of allegedly

distinctive selves and unique life stories and reveals a dominant hyperbiographical or

hyperliterary machine.

In the context of the Chilean (post) dictatorship and transition there is a

substantial body of texts, many of them considered non-fictional, that Nocturno addresses

directly or indirectly. Marcia Merinos confession, Mi Verdad (My Truth), narrates her

conversion from left to right and back to left, or should we say to the center, during the

years of the Chilean dictatorship. After being tortured she sold out to the DINA (Chiles

Military Intelligence) and helped in the detention of other leftists. Her confession shares

various elements with Bolaos fictional account and Derridas understanding of the

confession as excuse: it is a contemporary example of the machinelike repetition of

confession as excuse, as criticized by Derrida, but also a terrifying mechanism in which

the fictionality of the subject reveals a resistance to confession and attempts at

testimonio. In Lo impdico y lo pblico (28-43) Nelly Richard underlines the

ambiguous zone shared by confession, accusation and denunciation in Marcia Merinos

confessional/testimonial autobiography. Merinos confession is one of many testimonial

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and confessional autobiographies that were published after the Latin American

dictatorships in the second part of the 20th century. In her reading of Mi verdad Richards

points to the mechanical repetition of the gesture of enumerating names. As Father

Urrutia in Nocturno, she tells the stories of those complicit in the atrocities committed by

the dictatorship and uses them, partially by accusing them and partially as excuses and

argument for her own (anti) confession, conversion and belated testimonial offering.

Confession once again functions here as a vehicle to become other and not to accept guilt

and convert past experiences into a new life. Her gesture attempts to defer her name and

to posit a certain my name is not by naming other names. The naming names in

opposition to her own is done in order to negate her own and to try to establish what her

name is not and therefore to recuperate what her name is. The publication of a narration

in book format, a narration already public and already testified and confessed by herself,

is the gesture that tries to recover her name, the I, via publication, signatureat the

beginning and end of her textand rearticulation of her narration in the same market that

guarantees a degree of reconciliation, guarantees a name, via the consensus.

In a video produced by Carmen Castillo about Merinos Mi verdad (La flaca

Alejandra, 1994), Castillo creates a character that is not part of Merinos account. The

role of this character is similar to the one played by the wizened youth in Nocturno de

Chile. The character decides not to believe Merinos account and to laugh at her and her

attempt at conversion. It plays opposite to Castillo, who shares a serious tone and

attentive ear to Merino. As the wizened youth, his position is anti-testimonio and anti-

confession. His role is to question not only the confessional and testimonial account, but

also the climate surrounding the consensus in Chilean society. His intervention

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establishes the undecidability in regards to the verificability of her confession-

conversion. Richards points to the impossibility of verification and therefore to the

terrifying aspect of her story. The only guarantee offered in her account is religious; God,

the Catholic Church, is the complicit guarantor as in Nocturno de Chile.

Diamela Eltit has also offered an important critique of Merinos (and Luz Arces)

autobiographical confession/testimonio in which their treasons, complicity with power

and chameleonic abilities are underlined. In Cuerpos nomadas (Nomadic Bodies),

Eltit suggests the reading of the collective suicide history of three indigenous sisters in

relation, or properly in opposition, to Merinos narration and other similar narrations

(Emergencias 61). In 1974 the Quispe sisters hanged themselves from a wall of rock after

killing their animals and slashing their dogs that were the only possession they had while

living a nomadic life in the Andean Mountains were they remained close to their

indigenous traditions. They left nothing behind but a radical gesture in a scene of

desolation and vitality that was captured by photographers and the Chilean tabloids.

The implications and difficulties of conceptually connecting these events are

many but one of them seems important in relation to Merino and Father Urrutia. Both of

them choose to avoid trauma and adopt a process of ritualization and identification proper

to confession and conversion, a process that creates the illusion of testimonio. Their

identification with God and Christ, with the Law and Literature as institutions, allows

them to retain a place within their communities and cope even if this means adopting the

values that created the crisis in the first place and risking its repetition. The Quispe sisters

on the contrary, create a text or a scene that can certainly be read as denunciation, as

Eltits points out, but most important, their scene narrates the ruins, an apocalyptic

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narration of the defeat that retains its marginality and its vitality. It refuses to be read

because it was not conceived as documentation of social reality or denunciation but as the

disaster itself.

In Diamela Eltits testimonial project, El padre mio, another delirious figure

comparable as the opposite of Father Urrutia, that of an urban-schizophrenic vagabond,

retains his marginality via the gesture just adjudicated to the Quispe Sisters and offers an

alternative to the testimonials narrations adopted and defended for their functionality and

referential narration as the main corpus of Latin American testimonios. One of the better

known examples of this systematic approach based on cause and effect, Menchs

testimonio, was discussed in the first part of the chapter in an attempt to show the

fragility of those privileges. Testimonios characterized by their broken form and

discontinuities at the level of language and representation were never considered part of

this corpus.

El Padre Mio frustrates the attempt to provide an identitarian narration of the

truth so common in politics, religion and the social sciences. Instead of providing

linguistic and socio-political consistency that plays into the hands of authority, El Padre

Mio fissures those attempt by adopting a delirious narration that offers a narration of the

ruins and a ruined narration of the disaster that is not possible to unify or tame. It

preserves its flux and the uncertainty that characterizes traumatic experiences and creates

an untamed imaginary that avoids therapeutic canalization into fixed versions of the

center or periphery. In El Padre Mio testimonio adopts a hyperliterary mode where the

errant or vagabund substitutes the privileged notion of the testimoniante and the critic as

possessing the truth and the secret that need to be uncovered and transformed into good

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actions. The substitution takes place by overflowing the borders of representation and

disarticulating the politics of the center. The notion of the hyperliterary marks the

possibilities beyond stabilization and closure, beyond mourning and coping, by opening

the fixed distinction between lo crtico y lo literario. That El Padre Mio refuses to be

read as identitarian and testimonial construction; it refrains from the trap of conversion

and representational monuments of social emancipation.

Father Urrutia, the docile functionary of the state (researcher, educator, cultural

critic), tries to confess (excuse) and testimoniar via the narrative machine that regulates

its own production of narratives but fails to retain the cohesiveness and coping

mechanisms that Marcia Merino, rightly or wrongly, apparently seems to achieve in her

confessional testimonio. In the end Father Urrutia, very lucid during most of his narrative

sequences, fails to maintain the pose that confession allowed him to adopt via quotation

of other stories and via self-justification. His final brake down and delirium is

comparable to that of El Padre Mio but in the opposite sense. It is an overflowing, a

hyperliterary journey towards the hidden terrible thing, towards the space of disaster,

towards the recognition of the I in the figure of the mutilated and forgotten other.

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Chapter 3

Towards a Postpyramidal Critique of Sacrifice: Roberto Bolao Intersects


Octavio Paz

The acts were real; their interpretations were imaginary

Octavio Paz, Introduction to Poniatowskas Massacre in Mexico

I. Introductory Remarks: Roberto Bolao and Octavio Paz

The publication of Amuleto in 1999 has contributed to its marginal position among

Roberto Bolaos works. This short novel is an adaptation of one of the fragmented units

or short stories that make up the central part of Los detectives salvajes (LDS) (1998) and

was immediately followed by the controversial and often considered Bolaos best short

novel, Nocturno de Chile (2000). Amuleto is buried between two main works which has

caused its position and contribution to Bolaos oeuvre to often be devalued or

misunderstood.1 The importance of Amuleto relies in the fact that it should be read as a

thematic pretext to Bolaos 2666 (2003) which continues the cycle of Mexican related

1
As Mihaly Des comments: [Amuleto] ha tenido una recepcin dispar en cuanto a su valoracin pero
unnime en lo que se refiere a la insistencia de emparentarla con Los detectives salvajes, la novela anterior
[]. En efecto Amuleto esta basada en el captulo cuatro de Los detectives salvajes, tal como otra novela de
Bolao nace de una de las historias de La literatura nazi en Amrica []. En lugar de un libro menor,
como lo han calificado algunos, Amuleto es una obra ms arriesgada y, por tanto, ms minoritaria que Los
detectives salvajes. (Amuleto, 171-173).

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narratives, as significantly contributing to interpretations of Tlatelolco 68, Tlatelolcos

literature, Mexico, and as a fantastic text driven by conflicting imaginations.2

In terms of specific thematics, Amuleto maintains Bolaos previous analysis of

horror and accountability and provides a prelude to 2666s meditations on State violence,

horror, Mexico, genocide, transnational ethics, literature and politics, history and fiction,

death and other topics. This chapter introduces and keeps in mind the relation between

Amuleto and 2666 in order to prepare the way for the fourth chapter, but focuses on

Amuletos relation to Mexicos 68. In the context of The Poetics of Disappearance,

Amuleto follows the previous chapters attention to traumatic and violent events situated

partially in the context of post-1950s Latin America. My reading of Estrella distante and

Nocturno de Chile dealt with the relationship between literature and horror in the broader

context of the Chilean dictatorship and society and the complexities related to questions

of guilt, witnessing, violence and death. I bring transnational, transhistorical, and global

aspects of Bolaos literature, which were somewhat downplayed in my readings of

Estrella and Nocturno, to the forefront of the discussion in the last two chapters on

Amuleto and 2666.3

In Amuleto, the self-declared mother of Mexican poetry Auxilio Lacouture, an

illegal Uruguayan immigrant surviving in Mexico City, narrates her experience as part of

the bohemian world of young poets in the 1960s and 1970sBolaos generation.4

2
Conflicting imaginations refer to Auxilos mode(s) of narration in Amuleto. This notion will be developed
throughout the chapter.
3
These aspects, also already present in Bolaos La literatura nazi en Amrica, will be exhaustively
explored in my reading of 2666.
4
In the 1970s Bolao founded and participated in an avant-garde poetic movement called Infrarealismo,
whose aesthetic and performative salliesaimed to shock the bourgeoisreappear in his first novel
(WLT 80: 6, 48).

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Auxilios narration is attached to a fragmented recounting of the days she spent in los

lavabos de una de las plantas de la facultad, la cuarta, creo, no puedo precisarlo (28)

(Facultad de Filosofia y Letras) while the Mexican army violently took over the

Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico (UNAM) in September 18, 1968. The violent

massacre occurred two weeks later (October 2) at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, better

known as Tlatelolco68.5 She names these events: mi mirador de 1968 (52). Although

Amuleto is not only concerned with Tlatelolco 68 or the takeover of the UNAM, the

entire novel can be read as a powerful commentary on the events of the summer of 1968

in Mexico. Bolao develops and interweaves two distinct narrative lines: one narrates

Auxilios experiences as part of the literary and artistic bohemia of Mexico City in the

1960s-70s, and the other focuses on Auxilios chaotic and fragmented narration of the

takeover of the UNAM, which she experienced from the bathroom of the Facultad de

Filosofa y Letras, as it relates and guides her memories towards the posterior massacre

in Tlatelolco. These seemingly unrelated narrations must be read as a commentary about

each other. Amuleto recounts her thoughts and feelings in a psychotic and repetitive

discourse on poetry and State violence6 combined with stories narrating her peripatetic

experiences as en exile and bohemian poet living in Mexico City. She survived the

takeover of the UNAM in 1968 by hiding in the bathroom, reading Pedro Garfias, and

writing on toilet paper in order to remain calm and maintain her resistance.

5
Auxilos story is based on real events but Bolaos recounting is of course fictional. Tlatelolco 68 refers
to the massacre of hundreds of students at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas by the Mexican government
armed forces. The event and the plaza are commonly known as Tlatelolco or Tlatelolco 68 and la noche
triste.
6
Her discourse shares many similarities with Eltits El padre mio.

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My reading of the novel is twofold: first, Amuleto revisits the role of reading and

writing in relation to violence and the act of witnessing. It addresses the possibilities of

writing and reading in relation to pain, violence and suffering by examining Auxilios

concept of writing as a possible form of resistance but also as the possibility of

examining the material and imaginative traces of history. Auxilios actions are, in this

sense, in conversation with Reiters poetics in 2666 and in opposition to Wieders

(Estrella distante) and Father Urrutias (Nocturno de Chile) previously discussed poetic

acts. I establish a discussion of the significance of Auxilios strategies of narration in

order to examine the events of 1968 in Mexico City and the relation between writing,

reading and politics. What significance do literary texts, discourses on literature and

writing have in the production, formation and resistance to political identities and

traumatic events in Amuleto? Second, Auxilios condition a as homeless, an exile and a

nomad (Charra and Uruguayan) who disappears in the bathroom of the UNAM during

the violation of university autonomy serves as a point of departure for an analysis of

the otherness and the transhistorical and transnational politics in the text. It is in this

context that I discuss Octavio Paz Posdata (1970), an essay on Mexico, Tlatelolco 68

and the events that led to it, as it constructively intersects and compares to Amuleto. In

Posdata, the Mexican Nobel Laureate (1990) interprets the events of 1968 in relation to

Mexicos past and present through its history, myths, politics and culture. He pays special

attention to the meaning of the Olympics, the Aztec past and present and Tlatelolco 68

as they relate to modern Mexicos mythic and historic-political complexities. Posdata is a

critique of the government, but also, and even more profoundly so, a critique of the

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Mexican historical unconscious, an examination of the idols within ourselves and the

intersections between history and fiction.

Posdata is one of the most suggestive and controversial analysis of the events and

can be compared, in terms of importance and popularity, to Paz The Labyrinth of

Solitude. Paz himself called it a continuation to The Labyrinth. Octavio Paz writing on

Tlatelolco 68, often criticized but also admired as a writer or persona in Bolaos

writings, is significantly connected to Bolaos narration in Amuleto. Both authors

emphasize seemingly peripheral stories to the events of Tlatelolco 68 as key for its

understanding. Their examples or stories emphasize mythical, transhistorical and

transnational approaches to the questions raised by Tlatelolco 68. I propose that Amuleto

and Posdata, contra many readings downplaying their importance or political statements,

address the crucial history/memory debate that is necessary for an understanding of

contemporary Mexico and global politics. Read in conjunction with Posdata, Amuleto

reveals the antinomies present in modern day Mexico. My analysis is complemented by

readings of Paco I. Taibo II memoirs (68) (1991) and Elena Poniatowoskas testimonial

narrative on Tlatelolco 68 (La noche de Tlatelolco) (1971) in the second part, and Carlos

Fuentes short story Chac Mool (1954) in the third part of this chapter. Chac Mool,

even though it was written before 1968, still reflects on similar issues to those discussed

by Paz and Bolao.

My reading locates Amuleto alongside Paz Posdata and shifts the emphasis from

the workings of the powers of horror, so visible in Nocturno and Estrella, and still visible

in Amuleto and 2666, to meditations on responsibility and the affirmation of a

postpyramidal approach to the events of 1968. In Posdata, translated into English as The

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Other Mexico (1972), Paz outlines what he considers to be a unique image that ties

Mexicos past to Tlatelolco 68, an image of a pyramid, which he sees as key for a

critique of Mexico. The last section of Posdata, properly entitled Critique of the Pyramid,

will be the focus of my analysis and the center of my attempt to explain how a

postpyramidal understanding of Bolaos Amuleto can also shed light on Paz

controversial essay and vice-versa. By suggesting the term postpyramidal I do not

merely intent to perform a critique of Mexico by using the image of the pyramid,

something that Paz performs well and creatively in his essay, but to offer a term and

notion that aids to the understanding of Paz pyramidal critique and to develop an

extension of the pyramidal critique or an alternative to the impasse created by the

Aztec/pyramidal image. Paz provides several descriptions for the understanding of the

pyramidal argument, but the following quote covers its main concerns:

Por eso creo que la crtica de Mxico y de su historiauna crtica que se


asemeja a la teraputica de los psicoanalistasdebe iniciarse por un exmen de
lo que signific y significa todava la visin azteca del mundo. La imgen de
Mxico como una pirmide es un punto de vista entre otros igualmente posibles:
el punto de vista de aquel que est en la plataforma que la corona. Es el punto de
vista de los antiguos dioses y de sus servidores, los seores y pontfices aztecas.
Asimismo, es el de sus herederos y sucesores: Virreyes, Altezas Serensimas y
Seores Presidente. Y tambin el de la inmensa mayora, las vctimas aplastadas
por la pirmide o sacrificadas en su plataforma-santuario. La crtica de Mxico
comienza por la crtica de la pirmide. (1970, 134-35)

Paz arrives at this image of the pyramid by conceptualizing a double Mexico: the other

Mexico [el otro Mxico] and modern Mxico. The other Mexico (poor peasants, the

unemployed, students) is submerged, repressed, while modern Mexico is the developed

country as it corresponds to the social and economical realities of the countrys privileged

classes following the revolutionary battles at the beginning of the past century. This

duality can also be seen as one, as a unity, as Paz is quick to point out: cuando hablamos

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con l (el otro Mexico), hablamos con nosotros mismos (109). Drawing loosely from

Freud, Marx, Dumezil and Kant, Paz defines el otro Mxico as a gaseous reality formed

by beliefs, fragments of beliefs, images and concepts that history deposits in the

subsuelo de la psiquis social, a notion indebted to theories of the unconscious (Freud),

but, according to the author, not limited to or limited by Freudian notions (109-10). The

other Mexico is a heterogeneous reality composed of multiple layers that appear and

disappear through Mexican history. Paz conception of history, man and society at a

national and global level is built around the aforementioned figure of the double or an

otherness [otredad]:

La dualidad no es algo pegado, postizo o exterior; es nuestra realidad


constitutiva: sin otredad no hay unidad. Y ms: la otredad es la manifestacin de
la unidad, la manera en que esta se despliega. La otredad es una proyeccin de la
unidad: la sombra con que peleamos en nuestras pesadillas; y a la inversa, la
unidad es un momento de la otredad: ese momento en que nos sabemos un
cuerpo sin sombrao sombra sin cuerpo. (111)

Otredad is the reflection of itself, that is, an otherness that is part of a unity, a past that

reappears because it is part of a hidden and almost imperceptible present, an other that is

also the I of that other. Both at the top of the pyramid, underdeveloped and developed

Mexico, invisible and visible Mexico, performing a ritual of sacrifice and marking

history. As Paz says:

Cada pueblo sostiene un dilogo con un interlocutor invisible que es,


simultneamente, el mismo y el otro, su doble. Su doble? Cul es el original y
cul es el fantasma? Como en la banda de Moebius, no hay exterior ni interior y
la otredad no esta all, fuera, sino aqu, dentro: la otredad es nosotros mismos.
[] Aquello que pas efectivamente pas, pero hay algo que no pasa, algo que
pasa sin pasar del todo, perpetuo presente en rotacin. La historia de cada
pueblo contiene elementos invariantes o cuyas variaciones, de tan lentas,
resultan imperceptibles. (110-111)

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Paz combinatory conception of history and otherness as an uncanny event is marked by

atemporal distanceperpetual presentand a circular otherness that returns to the same:

la otredad es nosostros mismos. According to Paz, what happened on October 2, 1968

and the events leading to it marked the apparition of the other Mexico or one of its

aspects: the massacre or sacrifice of hundreds of students by the government made visible

the other Mexico in the image of the pyramid. The Mexico of Tlatelolco 68 reenacts the

past established by the Aztects cults, mainly the sacrifice of war prisoners as a cult to the

sun in order to secure its return or the continuity of time. This understanding of history

posits the inheritants of the Azteca power as adopting an unconscious model of power

and domination based on the pyramid and sacrifices. The modern pyramidal sacrifice

took place in Tlatelolco 68 and signifies the apparition of the other Mexico, the

submerged history and repressed past, in a present ritual of sacrifice. This violent present

marked by the image and history of the pyramid is what Paz attempts to explain and

criticize by going all the way back to the history of pre-Columbian societies and tracing

their influence in Mexicos present and specifically in Tlatelolco.

El ejemplo del psicoanlisis me ahorra demorarme en una demostracin


fastidiosa: la persistencia de traumas y estructuras psquicas infantiles en la vida
adulta es el equivalente de la permanencia de ciertas estructuras histricas en
las sociedades. Tales estructuras son el origen de esos haces de rasgos
distintivos que son las civilizaciones. Civilizaciones: estilos de vivir y morir.
(64)

Paz essay works the tensions between self and other in relation to their enunciation in

terms of time; the past is to the present what the other is to the self. There is no before or

after because the past reappears, because it is the hidden part of the present. From the

point of view of any given historical present, what is repressed is always bound to

another group of repressive acts and their repressive manifestations, or as Paz would call

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it, explosions. Paz has been highly criticized for his mythical-historical-poetical approach

to Mexican history in the present and for positing the Aztec myth of the pyramid and its

sacrifices as constitutive, or as the point of view, consciously or unconsciously, of the

majority of Mexicans in the present. But Paz essay does not focus on judging the role of

the students in the events leading to Tlatelolco, or even the governments role in the

massacre, nor is he passing judgment over Aztec traditions and religious beliefs; he has

something more universal or transcendental in mind that maintains a general critique of

all who were involved in the events, a global image of the pyramid: La metfora del

mundo como montaa y de la montaa como dadora de vida se materializa con pasmosa

literalidad en la pirmide (118-19). Paz critique of the pyramid attempts to undermine

the unconscious or conscious adaptation of the Aztecs myth to modern Mexicowhich

his essay traces in detail from the times of Aztecs through the independence, revolution,

domination of the PRI and Tlatelolco 68in order to establish and target what he sees

as a key problem for Mexican and global societies: the pyramidal point of view. The

Mexican students, both consciously and unconsciously, entered in a confrontation with

the government that lasted many months and required the sacrifice of the defeated. The

PRI government fulfilled its victors role as part of the pyramidal myth, ironically and

tragically, in an Aztec pyramid surrounded by a Spanish cathedral and modern Mexican

buildings: La plaza de las tres culturas, Tlatelolco. Paz essay, certainly sympathetic but

also critical of the cause and destiny of the students movement, is more concerned with

showing the transhistorical and transnational aspects of these events, and is therefore

interested in calling for a critique of the pyramid that notices this repressed, invisible and

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returning Mexico, the Mexico that reappeared as Tlatelolco 68, in order to move beyond

its outcome, to cure it, properly speaking, and as his multiple references to Freud reveal.

Paz critique identifies the problem and the need to criticize it. A short poetical

affirmation of imaginative criticism, democracy and liberty are offered. My purpose is to

read Paz meditations on Mexican history alongside Bolaos Amuleto and to suggest a

postpyramidal approach to Tlatelolco 68 that addresses the questions posited below, and

provides an extension and examination of Paz critique via Bolaos text. What are their

affirmations? Can these affirmations be considered relevant for what I call a poetics of

disappearance? The simultaneous presence of present, past, victims, soldiers, priests,

kings, students, presidents, gods at the top of the pyramid and sharing the same point of

view (289) poses particular ethical and political questions concerning the representation

of the past and the present, of sacrificadores y sacrificados, as a symbiotic relation

condensed in the image of the pyramid. A postpyramidal critique thus poses the ethical

and historical question of how the identification of the past with the present can refuse to

accept appropriation and incorporation or resist annihilating the space between past and

present, between self and other. It also raises the aesthetic question of how the

postpyramidal analysis is to represent the others life if the past cannot merely be

documented but must also be (re)created in an imaginative act. At stake here is not only

the examination of presents, pasts and their conflicting trajectories, but, as Andreas

Huyssen puts it: a fundamental crisis in our imagination of alternatives futures (2). The

chapter moves towards the examination of the crisis underlined by Huyssen in Presents

Pasts (2003), which I have termed a postpyramidal critique of sacrifice in the context of

Mexico.

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II. Images of Mexico: The Adaptation of History and Imagination

The Mexican students protests of 1968 branched out from an apparently unimportant

incident, a fight between male students in July of that year. The fight led to wider police-

student confrontations when students objected to the police intervention. In a series of

subsequent demonstrations and protests the students pressed for several demands while

the government was anxious to avoid social unrest during Mexico Citys hosting of the

upcoming Olympic Games. Antagonism between student protesters and government

authorities gradually worsened, with the takeover of University City at the center of these

escalating events, until the clashes culminated in a bloody confrontation in the Plaza de

las Tres Culturas or Tlatelolco in October 2, 1968. Estimates of the number killed and

disappeared vary according to the source.7

Amuletos historical reference, or as Auxilio calls it mi mirador de 1968, are the

events of that summer in Mexico City. Its argumentative core, as related to my reading,

focuses on a question that Auxilio asks Pedro Garfias and the poets in the first chapter of

the novel and that it is asked, directly or indirectly, to all the characters in the text. In the

beginning of the novel Auxilio recounts her exporadic jobs as a cleaning lady for two

exiled Spanish poets living in Mexico City (Pedro Garfias and Len Felipe):

Y luego, an temblando, me levant y me volv a acercar, yo creo que con la


sana intencin de coger el florero y estrellarlo contra el suelo, y esta vez no me
aproxim al objeto de mi terror en espiral sino en lnea recta, una lnea recta
vacilante, si, pero lnea recta al fin y al cabo. Y cuando estuve a medio metro del
florero me detuve otra vez y me dije: si no el infierno, all hay pesadillas, all
est todo lo que la gente ha perdido, todo lo que causa dolor y lo que ms vale
olvidar. Y entonces pens: Pedrito Garfias sabe lo que se esconde en el interior
de su florero? Saben los poetas lo que se esconde en el interior de su florero?

7
Some sources report the number of deaths in the thousands but most report between 200-300. The
government version claims 4 incidental deaths and 20 wounded. For the best accounts of the events see
Carlos Monsivis Parte de Guerra.

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Saben los poetas lo que se agazapa en la boca sin fondo se sus floreros? Y si
lo saben por qu no los destrozan, por que no asumen ellos mismos esta
responsabilidad? (17)

The call for help contained in Auxilios name, the indirect allusion to the massacre of

68, to the invasion of the UNAM and to questions of horror and accountability in the

former quote are introduced early in the novel. Amuletos first chapter announces: Esta

ser una historia de terror. Ser una historia policaca, un relato de serie negra y de terror.

Pero no lo parecer [] Pero en el fondo es la historia de un crimen atroz (11).

Immediately after that Auxilio Lacouture introduces herself as the mother of Mexican

poetry, as Uruguayan, and later as someone who knows Arturito Belano (11). The history

of terror and responsibility is concerned with the implications of acknowledging the

terror inside of us, knowing the terror within, in the mouth of the vase [florero] an

object that during the narration is interchanged with others as the space of terror: books

(15), mysterious objects (18), tiles. The terror inside the vase alludes, of course, to

Tlateloco 68 and the occupation of the UNAM, but also to several events that permeate

Amuletos pages and are juxtaposed to other key events of the 20th century: the Spanish

Civil War, Latin American and Spanish dictatorships, the First War and the Mexican

Revolution. The connection with Paz Posdata is very clear and needs to be underlined:

even though Posdata doesnt seem to be the history of horror of 1968, it certainly is; it is

the history of 1968 and the story of that historymainly the Mexican revolution and the

Aztec past as understood by Paz and represented in the image of the pyramid, and as the

horror within ourselves. Both texts, el paciano y el bolaesco, attempt to interconnect a

variety of events concerning Tlatelolco 68.

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In the previous block quotation Auxilio questions the Spanish poets apparent

passivity or indifference towards the issue of knowing the terror and its objects by

remaining apparently inactive or in a state of melancholy (17-18). At the same time, and

this is narrated in the specific context of her visits to Pedro Garfias, Auxilio questions her

own accusation of Garfias inactivity by noting that maybe he did broke many vases or

mysterious objects throughout his life (18), maybe his melancholic state and inactivity

against the terror she sees is something he fought against in the past. In Amuleto the

allusions to that possible past are not explained, but Garfias biography is specially

revealing when addressed in terms of these thematics. Garfias, who was a militant

republican during and after the civil war that led to Generalsimo Francisco Francos

dictatorship, was forced to flee Spain after the civil war (1936-39) as many others. His

writing reflects on that experience and his biography is an extended account of his years

as a soldier, a journalist and a poet in defense of the Republican standpoint.8 Yo era

vuestro comisario / yo era una llama de fiebre / y un retumbar de locura / en el filo de mis

dientes (Moreno 358). His writings are characterized by his commitment to the ideals

he physically and poetically stood for, and also to the always present attempt to connect

his exile with his past. This is very apparent in Primavera en Eaton Hastings (Poema

buclico con intermedio de llanto) (1941) which was written in England and focuses on

the ethical aspects of writing while in exile: mientras duerme Inglaterra, yo he de seguir

gritando / mi llanto de becerro que ha perdido a su madre (44). Garfias poetry addresses

mainly the victims of the civil war via the combination of imaginative acts and personal

experience as he reflects on the possibility of a closer encounter with the other, or in this

8
See specially the extensive critical and anthological volume by Francisco Moreno Gmez entitled Pedro
Garfias, Poeta de la Vanguardia, de la Guerra y del Exilio.

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case, with the victims and the dead that he left behind after his exile. His is an attempt to

bridge, aesthetically and through memory, the past with the present, the experience of

exile and that of a militant defender of the republic with the experience of those who

perished during the war.

In the former block quotation (17) Auxilio raised the same question of

responsibility once again, as if the writing attempts of Garfias and other poets had not

been enough, whatever their circumstance had been. However, it was in part because of

her reading of Garfias poems in the bathroom of the Facultad de Filosofa y Letras that

Auxilio was able to survive the occupation of the UNAM by the Mexican Police Especial

Force [Granaderos]: el pasillo estaba vaco, sumido en sus desvados colores crema y la

gritera que suba por las escaleras era de las que atontan y hacen historia.(30)9 But

Auxilio also sees Garfias poetry as one that couldnt resist her reading at a moment like

the one she was experiencing: la poesa de Pedrito Garfias apenas pudo resistir (hay

poetas que resisten cualquier lectura, otros, la mayora, no) y en esas estaba cuando de

repente o ruido en el pasillo (32). In this sense Garfias attempt to write is the correct

strategy, as Auxilio will later confirm when she claims that her successful resistance was

so because she wrote [porque escrib resist] although his poetry did not achieve the

capacity to resist her reading. This part of Auxilios story benefits the act of reading and

leaves the door open for the act of writing, for the poet as someone that can resist

9
De hecho, gracias a Pedro Garfias y a mi inveterado vicio de leer en el bao, yo fui la ltima en enterarse
de que [] el ejercito haba violado la autonoma universitaria, [] Qu hice entonces? Lo que cualquier
persona, me asom por la ventana [] vi furgonetas en donde los granaderos y algunos policas vestidos de
civil estaban metiendo a los estudiantes y profesores presos, como en una escena de una pelcula de la
Segunda Guerra Mundial mezclada con una de Maria Flix y Pedro Armendriz de la Revolucin
Mexicana, una pelcula que se resolva en una tela oscura pero con figuritas fosforescentes, como dicen que
ven algunos locos o las personas que sufren repentinamente un ataque de miedoy entonces yo me dije:
qudate aqu, Auxilio. No permitas, nena, que te lleven presa. Qudate aqu, Auxilio, no entres
voluntariamente en esa pelcula, nena, si te quieren meter que se tomen el trabajo de encontrarte. (30-31)

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anything, but not Garfias poetry. Garfias himself, in Primavera en Eaton Hastings,

questions the limits of the poetic task: El verso humano pesa / Yo lo cojo en mis manos /

y siento que me dobla las muecas, a conception of poetry against which Bolao stands

firmly. For Bolao, the poet, el verdadero poeta lo puede todo (Off the Record, Chile),

as he has expressed in several writings and interviews. The scene is important because it

establishes Bolaos conception of poetry, the poet and the possibilities of writing and

reading in relation to horror via the allusion to the militant Spanish poet and his exile in

Mexico. The multiple stories that Auxilio narrates are all linked to her mirador de 1968

just like Garfias interventions, and to Bolaos conceptualizations of the bind between

poetry, politics and accountability.

Auxilios narrations are intermingled with her descriptions of sporadic jobs,

personal stories and hallucinations somehow related to the world of letters or art, her

bohemian life in houses, streets, bars and cafes in the DF, her memories of 1968, and her

determination to defend the last reducto of university autonomy (33). Her monologue

does not situate her in any particular space, location or time, even though her stories refer

to specific locations. Maria Martha Gigena has studied how Amuleto reformulates notions

of time and space using Auxilios narration in order to create a notion of time that is

always another time, a notion of the subject that is always another subject in constant

shift throughout real and imaginary locations.10 Auxilios narration is in this sense a form

of memorialization that does not reveal her present situation or location, but focuses

completely in the remembering of her past from a seemingly floating center. The notions

of time and space are fantastic in the novel and questioned by the multiple plays with

past, present and future, but also by the aspects of her narration that constantly fluctuate
10
Maria Marta Gigena, in Manzonis La Fugitiva Contemporaneidad.

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between imagination and history and between self and other: Quiero decir: Me puse a

pensar en mi pasado como si pensara en mi presente y en my futuro y en mi pasado, todo

revuelto y adormilado en un solo huevo tibio (35) Auxilio has access to all the times:

mi nave del tiempo (mirador del 68) desde la que puedo observar todos los tiempos

(52) Her discourse also challenges fixed notions of the subjects and proposes an

atemporal I that is also the other I. Auxilio introduces herself as Auxilio Lacouture y soy

Uruguaya (11) only to moments later suggest herself as other, something which lead us

back to la otredad paciana. Auxilio refers to herself as others: yo Remedios Varo, yo

Leonora Carrignton, yo Eunice Odio, yo Lilian Serpas. These notions of time, space and

subject are fantastic in the traditional Southern Cone literature but also, and particularly,

in the tradition of Mexican stories such as Fuentes Chac Mool, which I will discuss in

the third part, and Paz notions of time and the subject which were explored in the first

section. The militant and straight forward poetry of Pedro Garfias cannot resist Auxilios

approach. In this sense Garfias melancholic, bucolic, militant and testimonial poetry is

closer to those strategies adopted by several commentaries on the events of Tlatelolco 68

which adopt militant standpoints. Nonetheless the writing of the Spanish poet helped her

to resist even though it wasnt resistant enough.

Criticism of Mexico 1968 tends to fluctuate between an aura of solidarity

exemplified by memoirs, documental and testimonial writings (Elena Poniatowoska and

Paco Ignacio Taibo II), historical (Montemayor, Camin), a more hybrid approach that

opens the discussion to the interplay between imagination and history (Paz, Bolao,

Volpi, del Paso, Aguilar Mora), interpretative and journalistic essays (Paz, Montemayor,

Fuentes, Volpi, Monsavais) and novelistic attempts to address a historical reality from

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several perspectives or areas of the political spectrum (Bolao, Sainz, Martres, Volpi).

These categories are certainly visible but not entirely, since many of them overlap in

form, style and narrative strategies. It will be useful, for the sake of contrasting, to review

Taibos and Elenas accounts before continuing my analysis. Their attempt to provide a

truthful and militant account of the events ended up incorporating Bolaos and Paz

main strategies fiction, myth, imagination, memory, history- providing a strong contrast

and also a similarity or certain dependency to the strategies used by the main texts

analyzed in this work. My analyses of Paz and Bolao will show how they, without

claiming a militant stance ala Poniatowoska and Taibo, also address questions of

accountability providing key understandings of Mexico 68.

Poniatowoskas La noche de Tlatelolco is a collection of testimonios arranged by

the author and intersected with her subjective interventions. She calls it a collage of

voices bearing historical witness. Critics have underlined the mix of novelistic strategies

with the first person accounts collected by the author. David W. Foster sees the authorial

intervention in organizing the material gathered, the eloquent juxtaposition of oral texts

with various other sources, the interplay between personal commentaries and antiphonic

choruses (47) as conscious artistic decisions and interventions that lend La noche its

novelistic texture. Ponitowoska interviews witnesses and participants from all sides of the

political spectrum, victims and victimizers, left and right, but the tone of the narrative

clearly condemns the governments massacre and pays passionate homage to the victims,

including the authors subjective point of view as well as a strong ideological

identification with them. The arrangements of the interviews and testimonios collected by

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Poniatowska rely on modern narrative techniques, for example a non-consecutive

arrangement or chronological disorder of the storyline.

Taibo IIs account is a deeply personal memoir that relies on the authors

emotional and romanticized attachment to the events and a testimonial inclination to

recover micro and macro stories related to the student movement and the government

repression. It is based on his journal entries from those four months which were

originally intended to become a novel that he had never managed to write: It is probably

a novel that does not want to be written (13). The value of these memories lies in what

they negate or try to escape but to which they inevitably return to. At various points

Taibo II claims as a problem the fact that for many, Tlatelolco 68 and the months

leading to the massacre have fallen in to the realm of myth or into the realm of fiction, or

that novel which he never wrote: Transforming into myth, into a mere collection of

intransigencies. I have come across some people who go so far as to say that none of it

ever happened (14). And then through the book, and specially towards the end of these

memoirs, Taibo II returns to the discussion of myth, in his characteristic overdrive tone,

only to adopt it and claim it as part of his vision of the student movement consequences:

I am thus in favor of the fantasy, the antiauthoritarian myth of the movement []. I

dont give a royal shit about objectivity. [] Because, when you get down to it, this is a

myth that gives them a major pain in the ass (130). Even though Poniatowaska and

Taibo II try to present a historical reality of a militant vein, their accounts are matizados

by novelistic and mythical strategies that raise questions about the ethical and aesthetical

problematics faced by any attempt to recreate an event through a combination of memory

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and imaginative acts. While trying to avoid writing a narrative invested in imaginative

acts, they both end up relying on the use of these strategies.

Bolaos and Paz texts acknowledge and adapt this problematic faced by

Poniatowoska y Taibo II and adopt a narrative style that puts historical reality to work in

combination with imaginative acts. An example is how Auxilio narrates, alluding and

using standard procedures of horror films, how a soldier who entered the bathroom

almost found her, how he could have dropped his hat over the stools door, and the

listening of his steps without seeing him, and how at the end he did not find her. The

techniques of the horror filmic story are used several times throughout the text and are

more pronounced in the recounting of Erigones myth towards the end of the novel. The

use of horror films strategies is not something new in Bolaos narratives, in which

references to and use of literary and filmic genres such as Horror Films, Detective

Fiction, Pornographic Films, Novela Costumbrista, Ejemplares y de Aventuras, are

plentiful.

In relation to the question of history, Paz Posdata emphasizes poetical and

mythical strategies, while Bolao recurs to a highly exploited strategy through his carreer

and which he employs in all the main texts discussed in this dissertation. It consists of the

skillful combination of fragments or short stories slightly interrelated that hover around a

semi-stable historical center, place or event, and a genre such as: Father Urrutia, the

Chilean dictatorship and the Costumbrista and Confessional in Nocturno; Carlos Wieder,

the narrator and the Chilean dictatorship and lo policial in Estrella; the Sonoran desert,

the disappearance of women, and various genres (narrative journalism, lo policial,

novela acadmica, among others) in 2666; and finally Auxilio, the violent events of

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Mexico 68, and the psychohistorical novel in Amuleto. What follows is a study on how

these adaptations occur in Amuleto and in Posdata and what they reveal about pyramidal

and postpyramidal critiques. In Amuleto, Bolao tried to destabilize the sense of firm

history or imagination, time and space. His critique of Garfias militant poetry or the

examples I critique (Ponitowoska and Taibo II) emphasize the erroneous sense of truth,

directness and compromise that characterizes the left political spectrum that Bolao

thinks as obsolete. Bolaos key gesture is to posit Auxilios conflicting imagination as

past and present, as fiction and history, with no single goal besides the attempt to move

towards (but beyond) what we cannot know for certain: Tlatelolco 68.

III. The Postpyramidal Critique of Sacrifice.

Carlos Fuentes Chac Mool provides another angle for the examination of Posdata and

Amuleto. The short story narrates the story of Filiberto, a frustrated Mexican bureaucrat

living in Mexico City who collects Mexican indigenous art and enjoys vacations in

Acapulco. Filiberto, close to retirement, buys a Chac Mool, a pre-Columbian deity

associated with water, rain, thunder and human sacrifices.11

Fig. 3.1 Chacmool excavated by


Augustus Le Plongeon from the
Plataform of the Eagles and Jaguars at
Chichen Itza, Yucatan. 1875.

11
A sculptural figure seated on the ground with its upper back raised. Its hands hold a vessel on the
stomach where offerings may have been placed or human sacrifices carried out.

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He puts it in his humid basement, flooded because of pipeline problems. Filiberto then

starts noticing changes in the sculpture, which slowly starts coming to life because of the

extreme humidity and constant rain. The Chac Mool becomes a subject, at first friendly,

but later more and more demanding and violent, terrorizing Filiberto with his endless

need of water. The living sculpture ends up killing Filiberto and taking over his life,

revealing a complete change of roles. We had learned at the beginning of the story that

Filiberto, a good swimmer, had drowned in Acapulco. By the end of the story we are led

to assume that it was the Aztec deity that, using his fantastic powers, drowned him and

indirectly brought him back. Now a yellow Indian, it is the Chac Mool who opens the

door when Filibertos dead body is brought back, and orders for it to be put in the

basement.

Fuentes story addressed the question of Mexican identity by recovering the

indigenous past; the same otherness or invisible Mxico that Paz underlines in Posdata,

and which both authors bring to modern history as the other which is the same, as a

preoccupation with the past and the subconscious mind. The main difference is that, as

explained before, Paz posit this past as the continuation of the Aztec power structure and

rituals of sacrifices, reflected in events such as Tlatelolco 68 or in other past events such

as the revolt of 1692.12 Fuentes, on the other hand, offers a take over by the past, an

inversion of roles or a repressed past that returns to haunt the present. Paz sees a

continuation between the Aztec kings, Virreyes and Seores Presidentes which also

translates into the manifestation of the invisible or the other Mxico that participates with

its blood in the sacrifices. In Posdata Paz demands a critique of this past but the core and

the tone of his critique focuses on the solidification of power in the figure of a President
12
Paz discusses this revolt in relation to 1968 in his introduction to Poniatowoskas La noche de Tlatelolco.

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of quasi religious status and the students role in this process, or their inability to turn the

acts into real changes: in place of tactical and strategic realism, what we find at this

juncture are empty formulas, rigid programs, dogmatic oversimplifications slogans

(ix).This fact makes us question Paz decision when writing the prologue to

Poniatowskas book, a testimonial account abundant in slogans and uncritical of the

student movement. On the same hand, Taibo IIs book, full of oversimplifications,

slogans and anecdotes that praise the student movement, does little to escape Paz

criticism, which the detective fiction writer defines as essentialism, and attacks in his

memories of 1968. After his straight forward critique of the Mexican government, Paz

points out that in fact the student movement benefited the government, thus solidifying

the pyramid and the status quo, instead of accomplishing their demands for democracy

and reforms, much less the take-over fictionalized in Fuentes story.

Paz makes this clear in his introduction to Poniatowoskas La noche de Tlatelolco

(Massacre in Mexico): the truth of the matter is that the primary beneficiary of the

events of 1968, and very nearly the only beneficiary, has been the regime itself, which in

the last few years has embarked in a program of reforms aimed at liberalizing it (xvi).

But to be fair, Pazcritique emphasizes that reforms that start at the top very rarely bring

out changean alternatative altogether different from the PRI is requiredbecause they

perpetuate the pyramidal structure. In fact, Paz critique stops short of suggesting

directly, I think he does it indirectly, a terrible parallelism towards the end of Posdata

between the Museo de Antropologa in the Bosque de Chapultepecseen as another

manifestation of the hypocritical and simultaneous showcasing of guilt and celebration of

the Aztec past by the governmentand the celebratory tone of the many books and

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homage to the student movement and especially those massacred at Tlatelolco. As he puts

it:

La glorificacin de Mxico-Tenochtitlan en el Museo de Antropologa es una


exaltacin de la imagen de la pirmide azteca, ahora garantizada, por decirlo as,
por la ciencia. El rgimen se ve transfigurado en el mundo azteca. Al
contemplarse se afirma. Por eso la crtica de Tlatelolco, el Zcalo y del palacio
Nacionalla crtica poltica, social y moral de Mxico modernopasa por el
museo de antropologa y es as mismo una crtica histrica Al Mxico del
Zcalo, Tlatelolco y el museo de antropologa tenemos que oponerlo no a otra
imagentodas las imgenes padecen la fatal tendencia a la petrificacin, sino
la crtica: el cido que disuelve las imgenes. En este caso (y tal vez en todos) la
crtica no es sino uno de los modos de operacin de la imaginacin, una de sus
manifestaciones. En nuestra poca la imaginacin es crtica. Cierto, la crtica no
es el sueo pero ella no ensea a soar y a distinguir entre los espectros de las
pesadillas y las verdaderas visiones. (154-55)

Arent the celebratory and melancholic books revering Tlatelolcos students perpetuating

the pyramid rituals, celebrating and cynically showcasing the guilt and pride that started

the rituals and add to the possibility of another Tlatelolco? Isnt the museum of

anthropology a homage and guilt exposition of the pyramidal faith of the student

movement? Is it not any attempt to write the story and history of Tlatelolco an uncanny

experience where familiar opposites collide? In other words, what Paz callsand

compares to the 1692 revoltthe spontaneous and healthy negation of 1968 has not been

followed by any kind of affirmation in terms of change and on the opposite sense, it has

been an affirmation of the pyramid, of the same point of view. What apparently

manifested itself as an explosion demanding change became an uncanny repetition and

celebration of the same through the figure of the opposite, through the figures of

resistance. Poniatowska and Taibo IIs efforts also partake in the solidification of the

pyramidal image through a mechanism of resistance: when attempting to speak out they

end up reenacting and praising the role of those sacrificed and therefore restituting the

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value and the validity of the pyramidal power structure, of the sacrificial value, while

attempting to do the opposite.

A valuable critique of the pyramid needs to be a critique of a process of

solidification of the pyramidal structure that is able to identify and exploit the antinomies

presented by institutions like the Museo de Antropologa, but also the failures,

shortcomings and blindness that solidify any attempt to change Mxico from the bottom

up. The Chac Mools victory or its return helps to understand Bolaos postpyramidal

approach to Mexico 68 because both imply a rupture with the continuation or repetition

of the past, the sacrifices of the past or the sacrifices of the PRI that Paz emphasizes and

criticizes. What can be learned in terms of this critique of the solidified pyramid beyond

Paz call for a postpyramidal approach, which he sums up as democratization and

imaginative (self)criticism of the sides involved in the struggle for a different Mxico?

What postpyramidal strategies are present on Amuleto and Chac Mool that add to Paz

critique? Are these texts offering a way to distinguish between espectros de las

pesadillas and las verdaderas visiones (155) that Paz establishes as the center of the

pyramidal criticism in Posdata?

Amuletos critique of a continuous and solidified pyramidal power is seen in its

critique of lineal notions of time and subject positions or identities (see part two) but also

in its critique of the past and the recuperation of a subterranean world, the other Mxico,

or the invisible Mexico, which we have seen in Paz and Fuentes. Amuleto explicitly

situates America at the center of its critique recovering the same problematic past as part

of Auxilios meditations and chaotic ramblings: este continente que en mala hora

encontraron los espaoles, que en mala hora poblaron esos asiticos despistados (51).

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This is a clear allusion to the Aztecs and other pre-Columbian societies, and to the

Spanish conquerors. The postpyramidal approaches found in Chac Mool or Amuleto posit

imaginative acts at the forefront of their critique, which respond to Paz call for a critique

of the pyramid. Not only does Amuleto recover the espaoles and Aztecas despistados

but also the Aztecs guerras floridas (76) or wars of honor and responsibility between

Aztec groups, in order to provide bodies for sacrifice and satisfy the gods. Auxilio praises

Arturo Belanos participation in the Guerras Floridas throught Amuleto and calls for the

adoption of the same responsibility. She narrates how Arturo Belano participated in the

Guerras Floridas of Latin America and returned as a veteran who continued to help his

friends in Mexico City, especially in the scene of El Rey de los Putos (78-89) were

Belano and Auxilio save the life of a homosexual slave. As in Paz analysis, where the

1692 revolt or spontaneous explosion is compared to the Tatelolco 1968, the Guerras

Floridas in Amuleto are associated with the older generation of the 1968 student

movement in a translation of the act of responsibility via an imaginative act: the rescue of

a homosexual about to die at the hand of el Rey de los Putos en la Colonia Guerrero of

Mexico City. Arturo Belano returns from his participation in the Chilean Unidad Popular

and translates his experience into a battle against a modern King. It is a postpyramidal

critique because the battle is not merely a battle against the solidification of the PRI that

returns to the same, but a battle in all fronts, transnational and transhistorical, Arturo

Belano against dictatorships through Latin American, against the sexual exploits of a

King in Modern Mexico City, and as we have seen before, Auxilio against time, against

the violation of autonomy and against parricide, against the same petrified point of view.

In Fuentes Chac Mool the return of the other Mexico, the return of the invisible

165
other which is the same, as the story clearly shows, posits a postpyramidal takeover and

literal destruction of the pyramid. The Aztec Chac Mool comes to life and after initially

establishing a relation of cooperation takes over Felibertos life, or the modern Mexican

subject, thus reversing the ritual of sacrifice and bringing the Aztec past to the present as

a visible entity, as a visible other that manages to occupy a space above the ruins of his

own Aztec past. The Chac Mools switch of the sacrificial hierarchy recovers the Aztect

past not to provide continuation to the pyramidal myth but to conquer the myth and

therefore call for a postpyramidal understanding of the present in aesthetic and political

terms that reply to the historical realities of Mexico. In Bolaos Amuleto the historical

and aesthetical recuperation of the Guerras Floridas and the battles against modern kings

accompanies Auxilios efforts as a subterranean and invisible other to resist occupation

by the structures of power in modern Mxico, or the same structures of power that put

Chac Mool in the basement of Filibertos house at the beginning of the story. This is an

aesthetical recuperation that hints at the impossibility of historical truth and at the

political possibilities of overturning the pyramid.

The key issue raised in this chapter, which remains tied to the aesthetical

dilemma, poses ethical and historical questions in relation to how identification of past

with present can avoid annihilating the distance between them, between self and other. In

relation to a postpyramidal critique Bolaos text provides a key scene which recovers

the Greek myth of Erigones and juxtaposes it to Auxilios narration. The story is well

known; Agamemnon returns from Troy and is assassinated by his wife Clytemnestra and

Egisto, who had become lovers during his absence (and now get married). Agamemnon

and Clytemnestras children, Electra and Orestes, decide to avenge their father and

166
recuperate the kingdom by assassinating their own mother and Egisto. In the middle of

this story of parricide and horror it is the beautiful Erigone, the daughter of Egisto and

Clytemnestra, who now remains at the mercy of the new king and his sister, her

stepbrother and stepsister (Orestes and Electra). One night Orestes rapes her stepsister

and falls in love with her. Orestes knows the problem facing him, he is in love but she is

Egistos daughter and he must sacrifice her as the rest of Egistos followers. Orestes gets

Erigones pregnant and with Electras advice decides to kill her in order to avoid any

chance of Egistos bloodline taking over the kingdom again. Orestes, however, changes

his mind and gives Erigones the option of leaving the kingdom. Erigones accepts after a

long night of doubts, confessions and revelations amongst them. Orestes travels

accompanied by Pilades and becomes famous all over Greece. Erigones end is not

certain. She apparently committed suicide or was rescued by Artemisa, who made her her

priestess.

Carlos Coffen Serpas is the character that tells the Greek myth to Auxilio when

shes visiting to let him know that Lilian Serpas, his mother, was going to spend the night

somewhere else. This scene was preceded by Auxilios recounting of a fantastic story

where she talks and follows the Spanish exiled painter Remedios Varo, who had died

years before. There is no break between the stories, and the narration flows as if

Auxilios madness had reached an unprecedented level of conflicting images, stories and

atemporal situations: as era Lilian, as era la mujer que me puse a seguir desde el sueo

de Remedios Varo, la gran pintora catalana (105). At certain point Auxilio, during the

recounting of Coffens retelling of Erigones myth, thinks that Coffen Serpas is playing

games with her, trying to scare her as if they were playing the roles of Orestes and

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Erigones, and reflects on the story imagining that she is back in the bathroom of the

UNAM (once more) and that she is taken to the birth of history in a hospital bed: y los

mdicos me miraban y decan no, seora, slo la llevamos para que asista al parto de la

historia porque el parto de la historia no puede esperar, porque si llegamos tarde usted

ya no ver nada, slo las ruinas y el humo, el paisaje vaco (128-9). Auxilio then

opens her eyes, delivers her message to Carlos Coffeen and leaves to go to (or to appear

in) her apartmentmuch closer to the birth of historywhere she reads something that

its not Pedro Garfias: No recuerdo qu le. Seguro que no a Pedro Garfias (130).

Towards the end of Amuleto, specifically in the last two chapters and after Auxilio

has experienced the dreams and recounting of the myths, she literally assists to the birth

of history. Still in a psychotic state she becomes a dreamer of prophecies and predicts the

future of many writers, as she has predicted the graveyard of 2666 (77), but most

importantly she returns to the space of history, to the space of memory and the takeover

of the UNAM, to Tlatelolco 68. Auxilio recounts how she listens to her own legend told

by others and how it changed according to the storyteller. The narration is now an

extreme intersection of thoughts, prophecies, memories and opinions that exhaust the

discourse of conflicting memories, images and stories in order to open space for her last

vision of the students marching towards their death in Tlatelolco, towards the moment of

death and sacrifice, towards the sacrificial pyramid:

Los o cantar y nada pude hacer para que se detuvieran, yo estaba demasiado
lejos y no tena fuerzas para bajar al valle, para ponerme en medio de aquel
prado y decirles que se detuvieran, que marchaban hacia una muerte cierta. [..]
as pues los muchachos fantasmas cruzaron el valle y se despearon en el
abismo. [] y aunque el canto que escuche hablaba de la guerra, de las hazaas
heroicas de una generacin entera de jvenes latinoamericanos sacrificados, yo
supe que por encima de todo hablaba del valor y de los espejos, del deseo y del
placer. [] y ese canto es nuestro amuleto. (153-54)

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Erigones story is the opposite in terms of outcome, but is essentially the same pyramidal

structure relating to a history of State violence and sacrifice. After all the bloodshed and

parricide she left the kingdom, and although her end is uncertain, she did not become part

of history as one more sacrificed body by the State. She brakes the cycle of pyramidal

sacrifices. Erigones becomes an outsider and a nomad, an exiled, just like Auxilio, and

not a victim. The key to Auxilios narration is its uncanniness; she, as is the case of

Erigones, is an outsider an exile with an uncertain future, but also the mother of the

poetas Mexicanos and an insider who witnessed the violent events of 1968. Her narration

recognizes this double positioning and exploits it by providing a narration that conjoins

several stories told from the oppositional spaces de la cultura y la locura as to avoid

the trap of the pyramid. The repressed past returns in each of the stories, annihilated and

appropriated by the pyramidal history or the pyramidal homage but also returns to

disappear. The distance between past and present remains open just like the distance

between self and other. Auxilio watches the students walk towards their death and cannot

save them, cannot join them, cannot eliminate the distance between past and present

revealing the falsity of the truth, revealing the intersection of truth, fiction and history:

narration.

The narrative in Amuleto underlines a postpyramidal critique in which there is not

a unified point of view or a constructed system of interpretation; there is instead a

negation and affirmation of history, a recuperation of otherness, myth, analogy and

creative destruction which is also emphasized in Paz critique. It is plausible and most

169
certainly possible that Paz viewed his critique of the pyramid from self-ironic distance

without necessarily forcing its total validity as some have tried arguing.13 The emphasis

in Posdata, as well as in Amuleto, in images and metaphors of flux, diversity and its final

call to dissolve idols through use of the critical imagination, points towards the paradigm

of creation and escape from repression as a kind of imaginative escape from the pyramid

of horror and creation:

La pirmide asegura la continuidad del tiempo (el humano y el csmico) por el


sacrificio: es un espacio generador de vida. La metfora del mundo como
Montaa y de la Montaa como dadora de vida se materialize con pasmosa
literalidad en la pirmide. [] Cual es el juego de los dioses? Juegan con el
tiempo y su tiempo es la creacin y la destruccin de los mundos. [] creacin
y destruccin son nociones antitticas para los hombres pero idnticas para los
dioses: todo es juego. [] La destruccin creadora de los dioses es el modelo de
los ritos, las ceremonias y las fiestas de los hombres: sacrificio es igual a
destruccin productiva. (119)

As I hope to have shown Paz and Bolaos narratives converge at various key points

helping to illuminate what a postpyramidal critique could provide without eliminating the

contact zones where history and fiction unavoidably meet. As Paz puts it in Corriente

Alterna in relation to the thematic of otherness: Espero que, a pesar de su aparente

dispersin, sea visible la unidad contradictoria de estos fragmentos: todos ellos apuntan

hacia un tema nico: la aparicin en nuestra historia de otro tiempo y otro espacio (1).

This temporary conclusion of how the Aztec past affects contemporary events is

grounded on the view of man, which informs Posdata and the view of the poet, which

informs Amuleto. It regards mans gestures, events and deeds as part of an ever-changing

flux, as signs in rotation to quote Paz title of a chapter form El arco y la lira. The

notion of sins in rotation places fiction at the center of mans search for identity: As is

13
See for example: La Divina Pareja: Historia y Mito en Octavio Paz by Jorge Aguilar Mora.

170
the case with nouns and pronouns, we are masks, [] we are inseparable form our

fictionsour factions. (11) The ambiguous quality of fictions and narrations, their

capacity to imagine, enslave and liberate, is the controlling fact in Posdata. Both Posdata

and Amuleto perform a critique of the pyramid that assumes the responsibility of

addressing the interdependence between historical events and the erasures proper to the

task of remembering, between the opaqueness of the world and the nave transparency of

certain accounts. The manipulation of memories occupies a central space where the

struggle for imagining a future takes place, for questioning the abstractions of history and

the facts of fiction.

In Amuleto, Auxilio, the mother of all the poets and the mother of history, reveals

the postpyramidal body that attempts to distinguish between the nightmares and the

visions, between creation and destruction, via her imaginative and writing acts. Amuleto

is a text born out of the relation between words and death: Pens: porque destru lo

escrito me van a descubrir, me van a pegar, me van a violar, me van a matar. Pens:

ambos hechos estn relacionados, escribir y destrur, ocultarse y ser descubierta (147).

Amuletos vision of the poets seems to aggressively engage this question from the outset

as if trying but failing to affirm a politics and ethics in relation to the narration and the act

of writing form the beginning. Its contradictions, repetitions, phantasmal deliriums,

pyschohistory and inconsistencies locate Auxilios narrations in a poetic narrative mode

that focuses on the uncertainties of death and disappearance. As Auxilo puts it, the poet is

against aquellas tirnicas leyes del cosmos, que se oponen a las leyes de la poesa (34),

or the poet as facing las aventuras de la poesa que son siempre aventuras de vida o

muerte. The conflicting imaginations that Auxilio underlines in her narration, the

171
different times as the incarnation of the same time and the different selves as the

incarnation of the same self, or Arturo Belano as active revolutionary and herself as

passive spectator, are all in agreement with Paz call for a postpyramidal critique of

conflicting histories. Paz gesture of solidarity called for the halt of the sacrifice rituals

and the avoidance of a return to the same. His risky postpyramidal critique gained him

many enemies; including those still enamored with the idea of revolution or with the

governments status quo, but suggested the only way out of the terrible repetition of the

events of 1968: the dissolution of the idols (de izquierda o derecha) within ourselves.

Why do the murderers of Ciudad Jurez come to my mind at this particular moment? Let

Paz have the last word:

Fue una interpretacin arriesgada pero no insensata ni carente de fundamento.


Hay una continuidad en la historia de Mxico (como en la de todos los pueblos)
y esa continuidad es secreta: est hecha de imgines creencias, mitos y
costumbres. Si nuestra imagen de la autoridad tiene races precolombinas y
virreinales, tambin tiene la del castigo y la opresin. Hay que saber leer lo que
est escrito detrs de los acontecimientos. La historia es, siempre, un
palimpsesto. (Cited in Volpi 397)14

14
Volpis La imaginacin y el poder, an excellent hybrid account of the intellectual history of 1968 from
literary, political, ethical, journalistic and several other perspectives.

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Chapter 4

The Imperfect Photograph: Disillusionment and Disappearance in 2666

Y Cesrea apunt una fecha: all por el ao 2600


Los detectives salvajes

Ni a un cementerio de 1975, sino a un cementerio del ao 2666


Amuleto

I. Introductory Remarks: 2666

Roberto Bolaos novel 2666 (2003) is structured around the relationship between the

narrator and various other characters that gradually bring to light segments of the history

of violence and destruction in the twentieth centurya history of disillusionment and

ethico-political questions. 2666 is divided into five parts, five stand alone novels that

recount the travels of several characters across Europe and Latin AmericaLos criticos,

Amalfitano, Fate, Reiter/Benno von Archimboldiand their repeated discovery of the

assassination and disappearance of women in Santa Teresa / Cuidad Jurez, among other

stories of calamity which they live or learn about individually. In broad terms, their

discovery can be seen as a dialogic relationship between their own particular past stories

and socio-political contextwhich pose questions of disillusionment and hopeat the

macro-structural level, and questions of shame, guilt, moral corruption, memory and

survival, among many others, at the micro-structural level.

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In 2666 and the previously discussed novels Bolao poses the old question of the

artistsspecially writers and paintersrelation to society, but 2666 is by far his most

intense and provocative representation of the bind between political-ethics and aesthetics.

It is in this sense that the notion of writer or intellectual needs to be redefined; Bolaos

main character is a German writer of the post-war, and the other characters approach to

the main issues in 2666 is intimately connected to his ethics and aesthetics. What is then

Bolaos project?

The overall objective of my study aims at proposing a comprehensive poetics as a

way to examine Bolaos fiction and literary criticism in its inter-American and

transnational context. Through an analysis of his writings on the tensions among

literature, visual art, terror and memory, I demonstrate ways in which the experience of

witnessing horror and the questions raised by mechanisms of accountability exceed the

subject and the cultural, social and political institutions that systematize society, the legal

and religious institutions, social constructions of identity, the state and the military,

thereby allowing us to rethink how we relate to others, including the dead, the victimizers

and the disappeared, and consequently to the possibility of justice and responsibility in

the contemporary world and the future. My project oscillates between the atmosphere of

disillusionment and the possibility of a future or questions of hope in Bolaos texts and

throughout the history of the twentieth century. I have explored the boundaries of

subjective experience in relation to Bolaos representations of post-dictatorship and

horror (Literatura nazi en Amrica, Estrella distante, Nocturno de Chile), to the violent

events of 1968 in Mexico City (Amuleto) and now I move to the disappearance of women

174
in the Mexico/US border and to Holocaust representations as they haunt Bolaos last

narratives (2666).

Contrary to several descriptive readings of 2666 and Bolaos oeuvre that tend to

overemphasize Bolaos interest and focus on total evil, el mal absoluto39 or his

historical consciousness, I show that Bolaos project seeks to excavate the history of

calamity of the twentieth century through an articulation of the conflict and connections

between aesthetic production and political intervention, a conflict that frames his

narratives and his vision of the world, a conflict that oscillates between disillusionment

and hope. I suggest that Bolaos impulse in writing these novels is to look for suitable

narratives to display the ethical and political dimensions of the speculative meditations

his characters and narrators perform. Confronted with the bankruptcy and vanished

explanatory power and appeal of enduring dichotomies of left against right, good versus

evil, ethical versus political, rational versus irrational, aesthetical/cultural versus ethico-

political, Bolaos writing progresses towards an intervention in the present aimed at

opening up a new space for a cultural and political discourse that reaches its highest

contribution in 2666. This leads Bolaos writing, its narrators and its readers to one

fundamental question or exploration: if that history of violence and destruction is

indicative of the failures of aesthetic innovation and political intervention in the past:

what would or could be the art or the politics of the future?

The narrator is identified by Ignacio Echevarra as Arturo Belano, Bolaos alter

ego in several texts, in the note to the first edition. Echevarra points out that he found a

note that says: El narrador de 2666 es Arturo Belano (1125). The note is important

because it opens a space for an inter-textual dialogue with previous texts (Los detectives
39
J.C. Galdo and Ignacio Rodrguez de Arce.

175
salvajes, Amuleto, Estrella distante, and several short stories and poems) where Belano

appears as the narrator or a character. The fact helps to add new and more precise

contexts to the extensive and complex narration presented in 2666. Curiously, the letters

that spell Belano form the word Nobela and Nobel, and Arturo can be almost certainly a

reference to the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. In Los detectives salvajes Arturo Belanos

sidekick is Ulises Lima, both obvious literary references but in their Latin American

version. As we will discuss, Belanos Nobela is full of theories of the novel.

II. The Critics

The first part of 2666, La parte de los crticos, tells the story of four European critics

whose development as scholars and critical work is centered on the figure of Hans Reiter

(whose later penname is Benno Von Archimboldi), an obscure German writer of the post-

war period. The key problem faced by the critics during the 1990s is their ignorance of

Archimboldis biographical information and his whereabouts, which weakens their

scholarship and prestige. They spend most of their time presenting and defending their

reading of Archimboldi in conferences and visiting each other in order to alleviate their

solitude. Pelletier, the French critic, and Espinoza, the Spanish critic, share sexual

encounters with an English critic and graduate student Liz Norton; they expect her to

choose one of them as a committed partner. On the bench is Morini, an Italian critic with

multiple sclerosis and restricted to a wheelchair who also frequents the same conferences

and whose role within the group, it appears, is more of an observer. Towards the end the

critics end up in Santa Teresa, Mexico, where they expect to find Archimboldi. This

section will focus on the critics while also exposing some of the coded insights provided

in this part about Archimboldis literary production.

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The three male critics are middle-aged professionals born around the 1960s who I

believe are intended to represent the mindset of that group in the post-1960s era. Born

between the 1950s and 1960s, decades that intensively flirted with revolution, change,

and progressive ideals that ultimately faded, the critics were too young at the time to feel

anything but contempt and maybe a superficial identification with or rejection to their

elders nostalgia for (or opposition to) 1968, Cuba, Vietnam and other key events. Their

full integration to the work force as middle age intellectuals occurred in the mid 1980s

and 1990s climate of conservatism and political disillusionment. This is Bolaos

generation (b. 1953). Bolao, known for his marginal jobs and semi-lumpen existence,

came of age at the same time as a writer and is in many aspects the complete opposite of

what the critics represent as part of a professional group of scholars. The critics main

motivation for finding Archimboldi is improving their reputation, as their intention of

presenting him at a possible Nobel Prize ceremony (141) reveals, or to procure a

testimonial prize for him (57).

The critics are fully integrated into their profession but are fundamentally asocial

and melancholic subjects. This leads them, at various points during the novel, to abandon

their interest in the German writer and to concentrate in biological and private existential

pursuits. The seemingly unimportant love triangle that borders on novela rosathat latter

becomes a squarebetween Pelletier, Espinoza and Norton, one that requires constant

travels between England, France and Spain, reflects their borderline depressive

symptoms, their repressed need to fill a void. At one point during the novel, when they

take some time apart from each other, the male critics recur to frequent visitations to

bordellos and lose interest in their professional work. On the contrary, the 26 year old

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divorcee Liz Norton, behaves as if afraid of any kind of commitment and therefore

maintains several relationships at once. Her lifestyle covers up her maniac depression,

ultimately confessed in an email-letter to Espinoza and Pelletier: Esos impulsos eran

seguidos de otros ms destructivos: prenderle fuego a mi apartamento, cortarme las

venas, no volver nunca ms a la universidad y llevar en adelante una vida de vagabunda

(192). Morini also participates of these conferences, visits and personal exchanges, at

first mostly from the limited space of the wheelchair though later as a key protagonist.

But before the critics reach the resolution of their sentimental and professional

dilemmas, which manifests itself as a repetition of the same old patterns or mechanisms

of coping, a couple of events show a process of change from functional normality to

disillusionment and back to normalcy. Once the love triangle, the friendship between the

four scholars, and their common quest for Archimboldi has been established, a series of

events reveal that, far from lacking connections or seemingly acting as bourgeoisie

completely disconnected or absent from the terrible situations surrounding their daily

lives, the critics are actively involved in the former. From J.C. Galdos point of view, the

story of British painter Edwin Johns and the mutilation of his hand, which later became

part of a painting, comes to substitute that absence in La parte de los crticos: Hay en

La parte de los crticos un atisbo de lo terrible que est ausente de sus [los crticos]

vidas cotidianas en la historia de Edwin Johns (29-30). Galdo adds that the mutilation

needs to be understood as an expression of the spiritual state in which the contemporary

artist debates his role and compares it to The Scream by Edvard Munch.

The figure of Edwin Johns, on the contrary, introduces new questions which are

not so much related to the absence of the terrible or the spiritual state of the

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contemporary artist/critics but to an economic issue, transaction or investment. We first

hear this story when Norton is telling it to Morini while they are walking through the

neighborhood where the painter used to live, and who moved there due to the more

affordable rent. Norton also told him how the painter became famous because of the self

mutilation of his hand, which he later located in the center of one of his paintings, making

the exhibition a total success (76). The reason for the mutilation is revealed later, during

Pelletiers, Espinozas and Morinis visit to the painters madhouse in Switzerland, but

we learn about it when Morini is telling the story to Liz Norton: -Por dinero -dijo

Morini.-Por dinero? -Porque crea en las inversiones, en el flujo de capital, quien no

invierte no gana, esa clase de cosas (132).

Edwin Johns masterpiece is in fact a ready-made in collaboration, as many of

Marcel Duchamps were, since the British painter had already thought out his painting

before cutting his own hand, having it stuffed and put into a painting that he later sold.

The act corresponds to Duchamps precise definition of the ready-made: a ready-made is

a work of art without the artist to make it (Cros 55). Edwin Johns selected an object, a

part of his body, and decided to change it from body part to art piece. The process set in

motion by Edwin Johns and Duchamp redefines artwork, in the case of Duchamp at the

beginning of the 20th century (1910s-20s) and in the case of Edwin Johns at the end of the

century (1990s), a timeline that certainly has its value if we compare the selections of

objects at their respective periods. Duchamp selected bicycle wheels, books, shovels, a

bottle rack, but Edwin Johns used himself as the object. The key gesture of both painters

and Bolaos selection is to take an object directly from reality, therefore challenging and

questioning the value of another long debated dichotomy that locates copies and originals

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as opposites. In these cases of selection and minimal artist intervention the status of an

artwork as an original or a copy, together with key classical artwork-judging methods,

become obsolete or superseded. Duchamp40 lived modestly and clearly achieved his goal

of showing his detachment and indifference to the beauty and value of the work of art;

Edwin Johns selection is a ready-made investment that speculates successfully on the

value of shock gestures and narratives of terror in the art market.

Even though he was living in a madhouse, Edwin Johns explanation of his

mutilation corroborates Nortons earlier account of his economic situation. In addition,

during the three critics visit to a very lucid Edwin Johns (as if his stay in the institution

was unnecessary), the painter is explaining his vision of the world when the friends

notice an anthology of German literature from the 20th century that includes one of

Archimboldis stories. Johns explains that even though he doesnt read German, he

bought the book because he liked the painting by Hans Wette that appeared in the cover.

As Edwin Johns explained:

El mundo entero es una casualidad. [] La casualidad, por el contrario, es la


libertad total a la que estamos abocados por nuestra propia naturaleza. La
casualidad no obedece leyes y si las obedece nosotros las desconocemos. La
casualidad si me permite el smil, es como Dios que se manifiesta cada segundo
en nuestro planeta. Un Dios incomprensible con gestos incomprensibles
dirigidos a sus criaturas incomprensibles. En ese huracn, en esa implosin sea,
se realiza la comunin. La comunin de la casualidad con sus rastros y la
comunin de sus rostros con nosotros. (122-123)

Far from expressing a terrible situation, Edwin John expresses an economic issue, which

he solved by taking the chance of investing his own hand and, as the former quote shows,

has a very coherent vision of the world. Galdos allusion to the painter refers to the

40
As Duchamp notes: No, I really dont feel like broadening my horizons. When I get a little money, I will
do different things. But I dont think that the few hundred francs or whatever cash I would get out of it
could make up for the hassle of seeing this reproduced for the public. (Cros 10)

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absence of the terrible in the critics life, something that is, however, only partially

absent, if we consider their conflictive relation to the murders and mass disappearance of

women in Santa Teresa/Ciudad Jurez, where the critics end up looking for Archimboldi.

For the most part, the critics accept the fact and go on about their business looking for

Archimboldi, concerned with their own situations as any other tourist. However, instead

of being absent from the critics lives, lo terrible, as Galdo puts it, is manifested in their

relation with Liz Norton and later as a partial coming to consciousness during their stay

in Santa Teresa.

A key event takes place in London, when Pelletier and Espinoza, infuriated after

finding out that Norton had yet another lover, violently attacked, insulted and possibly

killed a Pakistani taxi driver who insulted Liz Norton. The narrator describes the feeling

after the beating as: Era como si, por fin, hubieran hecho el mnage a trois [with

Norton] con el que tanto haban fantaseado, (103) as a multiple orgasm felt by the two

male critics and Norton as the voyeuristic observer. But later, when discussing the event,

Pelletier and Espinoza remain perturbed by it but also terribly attached to their violent

ways:

Pero al cabo de unos pocos minutos volvieron a lamentar el incidente, por ms


que en su fuero ntimo estuvieran convencidos de que el verdadero derechista y
misgino era el paquistan, de que el violento era el paquistan, de que el
intolerante y el mal educado era el paquistan [] En estas ocasiones, la verdad,
si el taxista se hubiera materializado ante ellos, seguramente lo habran matado.
(110)

The incident establishes a precedent that links the three critics to the murderers of women

in Santa Teresa: the possibly dead taxi driver is left abandoned and found by others, just

like what happened to the women in Santa Teresa. The incident causes the critics a

certain shame and culpability, who go on their separate ways for a while. Espinoza and

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Pelletier start frequenting prostitutes. Then, after an unspecified period of time, the critics

meet again El tiempo, que todo lo mitiga, termin por borrar de sus conciencias el

sentimiento de culpabilidad que el violento suceso de Londres les haba inoculado (117).

The spiritual state of the critics didnt need, then, the figure of Edwin Johns to put in

evidence the terrible state of the artist, intellectual or writer of the contemporary world.

Through them, the terrible manifests itself as part of the horror presented in 2666. These

events mark a key moment that takes the critics from a functional normality, exemplified

by their relation with Norton and the academic world, to a period of violent

disillusionment, and back to normalcy, as noted in the previous quote.

Towards Santa Teresa

The critics trip to Santa Teresa is made possible by a key piece of information about

Archimboldi provided by a Mexican artist named Rodolfo Alatorre who they meet in a

seminar in Toulouse and who tells them about Almendros (el Cerdo) dealings with

Archimboldi. Mrs. Bubis, the wife of Archimboldis editor, had given Archimboldi

Almendros number as a reference before his trip to Mexico. Archimboldi called

Almendro for help when Mexican policemen were trying to rob him on his way to Santa

Teresa. Mrs. Bubis had met Almendro at a cultural gathering in Berlin, and we will find

out more about him in the last part of the novel. Almendro, alias el Cerdo, was able to

help Archimboldi, and Alatorres grant to Toulouse, because of his privileged position in

the Mexican government. El Cerdo, or the Pig, explains it all: Bolao is reiterating

one of his frequents criticisms to the intellectual or artists attachment to the workings of

the state, which has its roots in the years of the infrarealistas and their attack of cultural

events or poetry readings that they did not like or agree with.

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The information provided by this encounter is not as relevant as the critics would

like to think it is, but serves to connect them with a net of mostly Mexican pretentious

intellectuals that guide them upon their arrival to Mexcio City, and later in Santa Teresa.

The key figure among them is the Chilean Professor of Philosophy at the University of

Santa Teresa and expert on Archimboldi, Amalfitano, the protagonist of the second part,

but introduced here as a melancholic and suicidal exile who helps the critics in their

pursuits. Amalfitano is very critical of Mexican politics and intellectuals. As the narrator

puts it: Amalfitano solo poda ser visto como un nufrago, un tipo descuidadamente

vestido, un profesor inexistente, de una universidad inexistente, el soldado raso de una

batalla perdida de antemano contra la barbarie (152).

Amalfitano can be seen as the Latin American version of the critics. He belongs

to their generation, was born during the 1950s and 1960s, but is an advanced state of

disillusionment, which the critics will reach during their stay in Santa Teresa. It is

important to point out one monologue in which Amalfitano describes Mexican and Latin

American intellectuals and writers relation to power before moving on to the critics

experience in Santa Teresa and before continuing with the discussion of Amalfitano in

the next section. Amalfitanos vision, which acknowledges exceptions to its overall

outlook, presents a bleak panorama of an attachment to the state that was explored in the

previous chapter entitled Towards a Postpyramidal Critique of Sacrifice: Roberto

Bolao Intersects Octavio Paz. Paz Posdata develops a critique of the pyramid that

attempts to undermine the unconscious or conscious adaptation by intellectuals and

writers from the right and left of the political spectrum of the Aztecs myth of sacrifice to

modern Mexicowhich his essay traces in detail from the times of Aztecs through the

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independence, revolution, domination of the PRI and Tlatelolco 68in order to

establish and target what he sees as a key problem in Mexican and global societies: the

mythical pyramidal point of view or the solidification of power represented by the image

of the pyramid and controlled, in the case of Mexico, by the PRI and the PAN, or in the

case of other societies controlled by the strong state. The simultaneous presence of

present, past, victims, conservatives, progressives, soldiers, priests, writers, kings,

students, presidents, and gods at the top of the pyramid and sharing the same point of

view (Posdata, 289) poses particular ethical and political questions concerning the

representation of the past and the present, of sacrificadores y sacrificados, as a symbiotic

relation of the state and its detractors as condensed in the image of the pyramid. This is

the same scenario described by Amalfitano in 2666:

La relacin con el poder de los intelectuales Mexicanos viene de lejos. [] en


Europa los intelectuales trabajan en editoriales o en la prensa o los mantienen
sus mujeres o sus padres []. En Mxico, y puede que el ejemplo sea extensible
a toda Latinoamrica, salvo Argentina, los intelectuales trabajan para el Estado.
Esto era as con el PRI y sigue siendo as con el PAN. El intelectual, por su
parte, puede ser un fervoroso defensor del Estado o un crtico del Estado. Al
Estado no le importa. El Estado lo alimenta y lo observa en silencio. Con su
enorme cohorte de escritores ms bien intiles, el Estado hace algo. Qu?
Exorciza demonios, cambia o al menos intenta influir en el tiempo mexicano.
(160-161)

Pelletier certainly understands the painted picture of disillusionment and hopelessnes: -

Todos los intelectuales latinoamericanos estan preocupados basicamente en sobrevivir,

no? dijo Pelletier (160), but not by Norton, the youngest of the critics, who admits her

incomprehension of Amalfitanos monologue on the conditions of Latin American

intellectuals (164). Bolaos repetition of his concern to demonstrate the ethical

dimensions of the speculative meditations his narrators or characters perform is

confronted here with the bankruptcy and vanished explanatory power and appeal of

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enduring dichotomies of left against right, art against politics, and the predominantly

economic questions and dilemmas surrounding Latin American intellectuals and

writers.41 But more than criticism of a suspicious economic interest, Bolaos project

clearly attempts to posit the blurry demarcations or divisions between both sides of the

political spectrum, between the state, its soldiers and its critics, by emphasizing Mexicos

case in Amuleto and 2666 but also Chile in Nocturno and Estrella distante.

The key point here is to analyze how Bolaos texts can serve to study the

possible alternatives to the impasse described above and how it rejects the old political

dichotomies that dominated the 1960s and 1970s. Underlining the story of Edwin Johns

neo-vanguardist mutilation as a marketplace strategy in 2666 and the criticism of Latin

Americans intellectuals survival maneuvers puts to question the neovanguardist

strategies in Europe and Latin Americathe case of Zuritas air poetry or Eltits

mutilations comes to mind42, and reexamines their gestures of protest and resistance. In

Bolaos oeuvre, the criticism of neovanguardist strategies travels from the mostly

Chilean context of the brotherly transition from dictatorship to marketplace, to a

suggested global and post-statal neovanguard that follows exclusively markets flows, as

is the case of British painter Edwin Johnsthis critique, of course, needed to be located

in Europe. The critique of Mexican intellectuals, on the other hand, remains attached to a

critique of the still prevalent authoritarian state in Latin America, dominated at the

present time mostly by left-center coalitions and multiple flirtations with market policies.

41
At a recent national conference and after otherwise interesting presentations exploring the archival
material on Boom writers at Princeton Univeristy, the discussion round sadly turned into a discussion of the
proper amount of economic compensation the writers should have received or should receive in the future
for their documents or personal archives.
42
See chapter one.

185
This is key for an overall reading of 2666. The novels main figure, Archimboldi, will try

to avoid this flux of capital and complex economic concatenations and its circumstances,

which in the case of Amalfitanos monologue makes the distinction between left and

right, an inoperative one, or one that only serves the state. In the case of Edwin Johns it

posits the question of art and politics in a post-state context. The discussion of

Archimboldis poetics in the last part of the chapter will bring to light what I think can be

read as response to these problems in 2666, and which remains here as an impasse, an in-

betweeness with no direction. As Pelletir describes Archimboldi: Un tipo que no

pretenda conciliar lo irreconciliable, que es lo que est de moda (142).

Thus, two aspects of La parte de los crticos remain crucial for my reading: the

insights into Archimboldis literary productions and criticism provided by the critics and

which I will address in part five, and the European critics experience in Santa Teresa.

The latter is marked superficially by the critics failed search for Archimboldi. The

experience, in fact, becomes one of self-discovery.43 It includes meetings with the

academics of Santa Teresa, who the critics approach with disdain and arrogance, trips

around the different neighborhoods of Santa Teresa, which are described as if in a state of

decomposition, and other search activities accompanied by the melancholic Amalfitano.

The consummation of the often mentioned mnage a trois takes place in Santa Teresa and

seems to operate as an agent of change. Little is known about the event, except that it was

initiated by Norton and that afterwards she could not sleep and thought about Morini,

who stayed in Italy, and that Espinoza and Pelletier fell profoundly asleep. Soon after the

narrator describes their mood change:

43
Similar to the narrator in Estrella distante

186
Durante tres das vivieron como sumergidos en un mundo submarino. Buscaban
en la tele las noticias ms bizarras y peregrinas, relean novelas de Archimboldi
que de pronto ya no entendan, se echaban largas siestas, por las noches eran los
ltimos en abandonar la terraza, hablaban de sus infancias como nunca antes lo
haban hecho. Por primera vez se sintieron, los tres, como hermanos o como
soldados veteranos de una compaa de choque a quienes ya no les interesa la
mayora de las cosas. Se emborrachaban y se levantaban muy tarde y solo de vez
en cuando condescendan a salir con Amalfitano a pasear por la ciudad, a visitar
lugares de inters de la ciudad que acaso podran atraer a un hipottico turista
alemn entrado en aos. (172)

A very revealing fact about the sexual encounter, which was previously compared to the

beating of the Pakistani taxi driver (103), is that it changes the purpose and priorities of

their stay in Santa Teresa. Soon after Norton announces that she is leaving, Pelletier and

Espinoza, after various vague attempts to locate Archimbolidi, seem to interact more with

Santa Teresa in their respective ways (179, 181). Espinoza starts a relation with a young

carpet street salesman and Pelletier rereads Archimboldi and tries to become acquainted

with Santa Teresa by reading newspapers. Towards the end of this part they both receive

an e-mail letter from Norton recounting the story of her return to safety and normalcy, far

away from the horror she perceived in Santa Teresa, and now involved in a relation with

Morini. The e-mail letter is intercalated with short fragments in which the narrator

describes Espinozas relation with the young salesman and Pelletiers readings. Both

have had opportunities and have superficially played with the possibility of immersing

themselves into the murderers of Santa Teresa or other strategies as a way to search for

Archimboldi, who is there in order to help his nephew, who has been accused of the

murders. Instead, they return to the normalcy of their disillusionment and are at least one

step closer to the state of consciousness exemplified by Amalfitano (152). The Chilean

professor of philosophy, as we know, is already in state of disaster, cynicism and

disillusionment, but La parte de Amalfitano will take us to previous events leading to

187
his current situation or to his encounter with the European critics already discussed in this

section.

III. Santa Teresa II: The Sonoran Landscape According to Amalfitano

Oscar Amalfitano is a Philosophy Professor at the University of Santa Teresa who moved

to Mexico with his sixteen-year old daughter Rosa after the expiration of his contract at

the University of Barcelona. His wife, Lola, abandoned him before their move to Mexico.

She went in search of a new life with her favorite and idealized poet, who ultimately

rejects her. At the time the poet was living in a madhouse in Mondragon, Spain. The

reference to poet Leopoldo Maria Panero (1948) is clear.44 Lola, also in a psychotic state,

lives precariously and risks her health during strange sexual encounters and finally falls

ill. She visits Amalfitano and Rosa on more time after seven years, only to let them know

about her unsteady situation and imminent death due to AIDS (237).

Now in Santa Teresa, in a suicidal state of complete disillusionment and mental

chaos, Amalfitanos figure raises two important questions among several others: what has

happened to enlightenment, to the ideal of rational discourse since the 1960s? How can

we study the antirationalist tendency perceptible in all Western societies in the present

day? Or, in his own words: No s qu he venido a hacer a Santa Teresa No lo sabes?

Realmente no lo sabes?, se pregunt (211).

The key manifestation of Amalfitanos state is his imitation of Marcel Duchamps

Unhappy Readymade [Ready-made malheureux]. Duchamp, via letter from Argentina,

instructed his sister to hang and expose a geometry textbook to the elements of nature and

consider it her wedding present. Amalfitanos imitation uses the Testamento Geomtrico

44
Spanish poet fascinated with the radical left. Known also for his stays in prison or madhouses.

188
by Catalan poet Rafael Diestea textbook he has, although he does not know how it

came into his possessionand also exposed it to the elements by hanging it up from his

clothes line upon his arrival to Santa Teresa. The readymades, according to Harriet and

Sidney Janis explanation in Marcel Duchamp, Anti-Artist, are what the name

suggests: complete objects which are at hand, and which by reason of the artists

selectivity are considered by him as belonging to the realm of his own creative activity

It [selection] becomes a complete technique (35). In 2666 Bolao cites Calvin

Tompkins, a leading Duchamp scholar, and his account of Duchamps Unhappy

readymade:

Duchamp mand por correo un regalo a la pareja. Se trataba de unas


instrucciones para colgar un tratado de geometra de la ventana de su
apartamento y fijarlo con cordel, para que el viento pudiera hojear el libro,
escoger los problemas, pasar la pginas y arrancarlas En los ltimos aos,
Duchamp confes a un entrevistador que haba disfrutado desacreditando la
seriedad de un libro cargado de principios como aqul y hasta insinu a otro
periodista que, al exponerlo a las inclemencias del tiempo, el libro haba
captado por fin cuatro cosas de la vida. (246)

Fig. 4.1 Unhappy Ready-made Bote en valise


reproduction made by Duchamp after Suzanne
Duchamps painting, Le Ready-made malheureux de
Marcel (Paris, 1920).

189
Duchamps Unhappy readymade plays with notions of chance and links the textbook to

human experiences and feelings, as the title shows. As Harriet and Sidney Janis put it:

This ready-made epitomizes the conflict between human knowledge and the eternal

verities. Duchamp accepts as inevitable the action of the forces of nature, the changes

which time effects, its proclivity for corroding, destroying, reducing to rubbish all that

man builds (38). This understanding of the ready-mades, which is congruous with

Duchamps own descriptions and vague explanations of his artistic selections, has

striking similarities to Edwin Johns conception of the world and theory of casualidad in

La parte de los crticos (123). This resemblance can be seen especially with the casual

and arbitrary exposition of the Unhappy readymade, the exposition of la seriedad de un

libro cargado de principios, (246) a geometry book, to the random forces of nature.

Amalfitano also reenacts this ready-made as an expression of his own ontological

conflicts against the forces of nature and in relation to his troubling presence as part of

the Sonoran landscape.

Amalfitanos questioning of the idea of rational discourse, as reflected by his

imitation of Duchamps readymade, and the gradual deterioration of his mental capacities

to organize his life can be put in two key contexts. The first one is his antirationalist

inclinations, which include his ready-made and his drawings of geometrical figures with

various apparently random names of thinkers in their vertices, and secondly his random

meditations about Santa Teresas climate and atmosphere of destruction and desolation,

190
intertwined with his concern for the safety of his daughter Rosa, conversations with the

ghosts of his father and grandfather, and other people from or visiting Santa Teresa.

After describing the hanging of Diestes book from the clothes line the narrator

relates Amalfitanos discrediting of the logic of geometrical figures and ideas which he

continues in the form of drawings. These were drawings of random geometrical figures

with names in their vertices and which he draws unconsciously during his classes or

while sitting at home. The description of the third figure, which has a B on the top of the

triangle (B, Belano, Bolao) reveals a continuous and progressing process of

antirationalism:

dibujo 1 dibujo 3

dibujo 6

Fig. 4.2 Amalfitanos drawings.

El dibujo 3, por el contrario tenia cierta lgica, una lgica de adolescente


tarado, de adolescente vagabundo en el desierto []. Todos los nombres, se
poda decir, pertenecen a filsofos preocupados por el argumento ontolgico. La
B que apareca en el vrtice superior del trangulo incrustado en el rectngulo

191
poda ser Dios o la existencia de Dios que surge de su esencia. Slo entonces
Amalfitano repar en que el dibujo 2 tambin exhiba una A y una B y ya no
tuvo duda ninguna de que el calor, al que estaba desacostumbrado, lo haca
desvariar mientras dictaba sus clases (248).

Amalfitano produces three more drawings with names, which also share the pattern of

ontological preoccupations and a peculiar mix of philosophical schools. These drawings

were found in his study desk, and even though he recognized them as his he had no

recollection of drawing them. Drawing number six partially breaks the pattern of the

previous five and presents the figure of Vladimir Smirnov on one side, disappeared in the

Stalinist concentration camps in 1938, and on the other side the figure of Suslov,

ideologist of the Stalinist regime. This seemingly logical ordering is turned into comedy

by two horizontal lines that include the names of Harold and Allan Bloom. Amalfitanos

geometrical, philosophical, literary and ethico-political drawings show his

disillusionment with his profession and the ideals of enlightenment at a theoretical level

which, as La parte de Amalfitano progresses, will become incrusted in the socio-

political context of Santa Teresa and its landscape, as in his last drawing, which attested

to the socio-political context of the Stalinist period.

His general disillusionment and concern with Rosas safety, in a city were women

are murdered and disappear, drives Amalfitano to the point of suicidal thoughts: Hay

que volverse ya mismo, se deca, pero a dnde? Y luego se deca: qu me impuls a

venir aqu? Por qu traje a mi hija a esta cuidad maldita? Por qu lo que deseo, en el

fondo, es morirme? (252). As part of this uncertainty and antirationalism, Amalfitano

starts hearing a voice that questions him, and again, starts making a confusing list of

thinkers, this time without the geometrical figures (265). His state of mind and

meditations on Santa Teresa are captured in the descriptions of the Sonaran landscape.

192
During an undesired trip to the outskirts of Santa Teresa with a female colleague

romantically interested in him, Professor Prez, the narrator, describes Amalfitanos

understanding of the landscape as follows:

Y Amalfitano se senta cansado y abrumado por el paisaje, un paisaje que le


pareca apto slo para jvenes o para viejos imbciles o viejos insensibles o
viejos malvados dispuestos a infligir o infligirse una tarea imposible hasta el
ltimo aliento. [] pens Amalfitano que todo lo que haba visto en el
extrarradio de Santa Teresa y en la misma cuidad, imgenes sin asidero,
imgenes que contenan en s toda la orfandad del mundo, fragmentos,
fragmentos. (263, 265)

These descriptions, the feeling of someone following him, the moments when he hears

the voice or worries about Rosas safety and future, his olympic rejection of professor

Perez sentimental advances, his philosophic lists and geometrical drawings, as well as

the news offered to the reader about newly found murdered bodies of women, are often

intersected with Amalfitanos thoughts about or contemplation of his unhappy ready-

made, which he contemplates every morning before departing to work, upon his arrival

home and before bedtime. It is the contemplation of failure and defeat of a Chilean

philosopher at the hands of casuality and the forces of nature. But besides the

development of a critique of enlightenment and the depiction of life as an unhappy ready-

made, there is in Amalfitanos figure a hint of hope which nevertheless remains

irreconcilable with the former critique of reason. Amalfitano is talking with the voice that

introduces itself as his father or grandfather:

Amalfitano dijo: todo lo dems nos traiciona? Y la voz: si, en efecto, si, es duro
admitirlo [] pero es la puritita verdad. La tica nos traiciona? El sentido de
deber nos traiciona? La honestidad nos traiciona? La curiosidad nos traiciona?
El amor nos traiciona? El valor nos traiciona? El arte nos traiciona? [] No,
dijo Amalfitano, el valor no nos traiciona jams. Y el amor a los hijos tampoco.
Ah, no?, dijo la voz. No, dijo Amalfitano, sintindose de pronto en calma. []
As que todo nos traiciona, includa la curiosidad y la honestidad y lo que bien
amamos. Si, dijo la voz, pero consulate, en el fondo es divertido. (267)

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After this visit from the voice Amalfitano recovers some relative confidence and

happiness and seems to believe in the advice uttered by the voice: Y despus: tienes que

tener cuidado camarada, me parece que aqu las cosas estn al rojo vivo; Ponte a hacer

algo til (269) Todo est muy bien deca la voz, todo es cuestin de que te vayas

acostumbrando (270). And in fact Amalfitano seems to adjust to the circumstances and

returns to functional normalcy. He plans how to send his daughter to a safe place in

Barcelona, talks with Dean Guerras son about the precarious situation in Santa Teresa

and Mexico, which they seem to see from similar bleak lenses, reads about Chile and

dreams with Boris Yeltsins ridiculous explanation of life (Oferta + Demanda + Magia)

(291). It is an apparent return to his initial normalcy, but within his current state of

failure, depression and frequent mental collapses. As we know, the crisis will return to

haunt him and drive him once again to the point of suicidal thoughts as La parte de los

crticos previously confirmed (152-3, 181, 194).

In La parte de los crticos, there is also a glance at Amalfitanos defeat or

hanging of his book, of his means of survival, of his method. Invited for dinner at

Amalfitanos, the critics Pelletier and Espinoza take a look at Amalfitanos unhappy

ready-made while the Chilean observes them: Desde la ventana Amalfitano los

observaba mordindose los labios, aunque ese gesto en l, y en ese preciso instante, no

era un gesto de desesperacin o de impotencia sino de profunda, inabarcable tristeza

(177).

The link between Amalfitanos condition, the bleak panorama and socio-political

atmosphere in Santa Teresa, and Diestes/Duchamps unhappy ready-madewhich

exemplifies the clash between human knowledge and the stable verities in Amalfitanos

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struggle with selection and decisionsmake the argument concerning Amalfitanos

character as a clear case of disillusionment and paranoia in which the failure of any

possibility of rational discourse makes for a sarcastic critique of enlightenment and for an

establishment of cynicism and the cynic throughout Amalfitanos figure: the ultimate

suffering body and the consciousness of a disillusioned and pessimistic rationalist.

IV. Fates Abjection and the Death of the Mother: The Crisis of Identity Politics (La

parte del vmito)

Oscar Fate, also known as Quincy Williams, is a young African American journalist from

New York who works for a racially defined magazine: Amanecer Negro. La parte de

Fate follows Fate throughout the course of several journalistic assignments combined

with several personal experiences. During these the narrator and Fate recount Fates

attempts to diversify the magazines political approach, to come to terms with the death

of his mother, and with the socio-political and ethical panorama that surrounds his

journalistic travels and interviews.

The story of Fate is constructed, among other things, around a key and elemental

body function: vomiting. From beggining to end Fate vomits or feels nauseated (302,

328, 332, 383, 412). The fact incites us to think Fates narratives in relation to the

problematic of abjection in literature and society analyzed by Julia Kristeva in terms of

ambiguous catharsis and in terms of what we feel compelled to cast away from ourselves,

to vomit. As Kristeva puts it:

During the course in which I become, I give birth to myself amid the violence
of sobs, of vomit. Mute protest of the symptom, shattering violence of a
convulsion that, to be sure, is inscribed in a symbolic system, but in which,

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without either wanting or being able to become integrated in order to answer to
it, it reacts, it abreacts. It abjects. (3)

Throughout the novel, Fate will journey through moments of abjection as a mode of

narration that emphasizes horror, emptiness, gradual defeat and doubtfulness of the

subject faced with abjection, understood as that which recreates social unlivability, as a

repressed exclusion that always threatens to come back, as a loss but also a gain of

identity that serves as counterpoint to the moral norm, and that threatens Fates own

notions of marginality, repression and racial discrimination. The questioned marginality

imbedded in his position as an African American journalist working for a marginal and

narrowly defined magazine stages a symbolic domain of representation for the crisis of

identity politics.

The Death of the Mother

The novel begins by outlining a sense of disconnection between Fate and his deceased

mother while he takes care of funeral arrangements and assists to the funeral right before

departing to Detroit to interview a member of the Black Panthers. The city of Detroit is

later compared to Santa Teresa, where Fate will later end up in order to cover a boxing

match. Fate doesnt know any of his mothers friends or neighbors and ignores basic

details about her and her life (301), while working for a magazine that emphasizes a

sense of racial and communal support. The death of the mother is put into words towards

the end of this part: El dolor impreciso que siento ante la desaparicin de mi madre?

(398). Before Fate does not manifest any emotion or thoughts about his loss but moves on

pass the corpse of his mother. After the funeral service he vomits for the first time (302).

The thought of his mother, the corpse and the vomiting accompanies him during

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his work assignments. For Julia Kristeva the corpse is the crucial site of the abject, the

site where meaning collapses. It, the death of the mother or the corpse, is a threat to

Fates identity, which combined with the almost simultaneous death of his mothers

neighbor-friend and the murder of a colleague from the magazine, expose to him the

fragility of his own identity and body as an African American, a journalist and a son. The

corpse then introduces another key element of La parte de Fate and 2666: fear. This

fear, however, will arrive slowly as Fate immerses himself in the atmosphere of Santa

Teresa and eventually has to abandon the safety of the funeral ritual for the space of

unburied bodies and potential cadavers who are lying and walking around in Santa

Teresa, and faces the constant presence of his dead mother (340, 344, 353, 360, 382, 433,

438) as a corpse laying outside the realm of the sacred. After the funeral he leaves the

ashes literally abandoned in her own house.

Fates first assignment is to interview Barry Seaman, a founder of the Black

Panthers Party in 1966 who is now living in a rundown and apparently dangerous (309)

neighborhood in Detroit. When he finally reaches Seaman the first thing he does is to ask

for the bathroom and vomits. Two decades after intensive flirtation with revolution,

change and progressive ideals that ultimately faded, Seaman remains as a preacher of

nostalgic discourses and a writer of cooking books. The caricature painted by Bolao

captures the remains and the political disillusionment of an armed movement reduced to a

small place in the margins of history or in the subterranean history of modernity to which

the murdered women of Santa Teresa also belong. Seaman, aware of his position in

history but still idealizing the movement and surviving as well as he can, states this

better: [] preocupado por mis hermanos, a la mayora de los cuales les importaba un

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pimiento el que yo me pudriera o no (326). In the same line of Seamans story the

narrator tells the story of Antonio Ulises Jones, and African American member of the

Communist Party in the United States, who Fate had interviewed in the past. This

reportage had given Fate a certain stature in the magazine. Antonio Jones ended up in the

worst possible corner of Brooklyn, disrespected by kids, defeated, abandoned by other

members of the party and in an augmented degree of marginalization.

These stories of defeat and the crisis of ideological and identitarian movements,

which include several others that will be mentioned later, are not meant to inform the

reader of events or histories certainly familiar, but to set up Fates politico-ethical relation

to his past, to his job and to his future visit to Santa Teresa. Fate is entangled in a history

of marginality and defeat that still seems to believe in itself, as the magazine orientation,

the illustrious figures he interviews and his actual job show, even though they are the

folkloric residues of generations that strived for radical change. Up to this point we are

only teased with contradictory notions of Fates positions in this dilemma, positioned as

involved and disconnected, as vomiting and nausea: Nunca ms volvi a ver a Antonio

Jones, de la misma manera que era muy posible que nunca ms volviera a ver a Barry

Seaman (332). Both activists are alive but also dead father figures. One could also say

that they are dead mother figures that gave birth and maintained radical movements of

emancipation and resistance and that, as Fates mother, finally succumbed to stronger

forces and were forgottenas the ashes of Fates mother left alone in her own house

turned into mere dreams and nostalgia after their death: El dolor impreciso que siento

ante la desaparicin de mi madre? (398).

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The imprecision of these disappearances (i.e. maternal, ideological) and the

disillusionment that accompanies them is the main topic of La parte de Fate and the

framework for the following questions: what has happened to leftists and minority

movements, to the ideal of revolutionary and resistance discourses since the 1960s and

1970s? How can we examine the reduction of activism and new resistance movements

noticeable in all Western Societies today? The European critics of the first part were a

manifestation of these reduction or disdain and now La parte de Fate introduces a

figure that belongs to the younger sector of the same generation, a generation born

between the 1950s and 1960s, and therefore too young at the time to feel anything but

contempt and maybe a superficial identification or rejection of their elders nostalgia for

(or opposition to) 1968, Cuba, Vietnam, Civil Rights, and other key events. Their full

integration to the work force as middle age intellectuals occurred in the mids1980s and

1990s climate of conservatism and political disillusionment that the thirty year-old Fate

needs to negotiate form his marginality and not from the position of privilege occupied

by the European critics.

Santa Teresa III: The Sonoran Landscape According to Fate

Before leaving Detroit, Fate gets a message asking him to go to Santa Teresa to cover a

boxing match. He then goes to Seamans house to say goodbye, and as hes leaving, he

laughs while running downstairs remembering that one of the books that Seaman read in

prison was an abbreviated compendium of Voltaire. On his way to Santa Teresa, driving

from Tucson, Fate stops at a restaurant where he is the only black person and where he

overhears parts of various conversations. The most interesting one takes place between a

a young and an old man who talk about crime in general and about the murderers

199
occurring in Santa Teresa. The old man, Professor of Criminology Edward Kessler, states

his theories about the assassinations. He is on his way to Santa Teresa for the second

time. I will return to his theories in La parte de los crmenes, where Kessler plays a

prominent role and where the details of his first visit are revealed. At this point Fate is not

informed about the crimes and disappearances of women in Santa Teresa, although he

overheard parts of Kesslers conversation and still focuses on the boxing match (341).

This section of La parte de Fate is intercalated by passages from other textsan

overused formal technique in Bolaos writingthat Fate reads from La trata de

esclavos, a book written by a white professor and that Fate saw at Seamans apartment

and later bought. Fates reading is totally arbitrary and emphasizes its banal aspects: a

flag he cannot identify and the beauty of some names (334, 340). Crossing the frontier he

is asked again if the purpose of his visit is investigating the crimes but Fate doesnt seem

to be interested on the topic at this point (344).

The Faceless Mother, Fates Discoloring and Mexican Blanqueo [Whitening]

While Fates journalistic experience as a sport writer is incidental, it serves to introduce

new charactersmainly Mexican sport journaliststhat will play a key role in this part

and also enhance Kesslers discussion of the assassination in Santa Teresa and the

discussion of Fates identity-politics dilemma:

-Tiene que pagar primero -dijo la mujer en espaol.


-No entiendo -dijo Fate-, soy americano. (358)

Soy americano. Por qu no dije soy afroamericano? Por qu estoy en el


extranjero? Pero puedo considerarme en el extranjero cuando, si quisiera, podra
irme ahora mismo caminando, y no caminar demasiado, hasta mi pas? Eso
significa que en algn lugar soy americano y en algn lugar soy afroamericano y
en algn otro lugar, por pura lgica, soy nadie? (359)

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But the best example of the problematic of identity as politics and politics as identity,

however, is not based on the convenience of changing identities according to

geographical space or location, even though Fate hesitates when his identity comes into

play. Throughout the narration Fates apparently stable politico-racial identity and

stancean African American journalist working for an African American magazine and

reporting on African American issuesis tested by his coming to consciousnes with the

assassinations and disappearance of woman in Santa Teresa and the death-disappearance

of his mother. His constant thinking about his dead mother reveals an approximation to

Fates eventual commitment to an issue outside the African American spectrum. While

driving to go interview the African American boxer Count Pickett, Fate thinks of his

mother as overcoming the identity issue, as a faceless mother: La vi caminar, la vi de

espaldas [] Su rostro, sin embargo, permaneci en la sombra todo el tiempo, como si de

alguna manera ella ya estuviera muerta o como si le dijera, con gestos y no con palabras,

que los rostros no eran importantes ni en esta vida ni en la otra (360). The image

indirectly suggests that the issues should be faceless or colorless and puts Fates general

dilemma in terms of his relation to his mother and the two journalistic tasks he needs to

cover in Santa Teresa.

Fate is just learning about the importance of these assassinations and

disappearances. Chucho Flores, a young sports writer who dated Rosa Amalfitano

introduces Fate to the confusion surrounding the assassination cases: La mayora son

trabajadoras de las maquiladoras. Muchas jvenes y de pelo largo [] Hay algunos

detenidos. Hay algunos casos solucionados. Pero la leyenda quiere que solo sea uno y

adems inatrapable [] ms de doscientas (263). Eventually Fate becomes interested

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and asks permission to write a reportage about the murdered women and becomes

irritated when Mexican resembling their pre-Columbian past are ridiculed by another

North American journalist. The North American journalist comments: A eso le llaman

mejorar la raza. Un enano mexicano manda a su hijo enano a estudiar a una Universidad

de California. [] Universidad norteamericana, esposa norteamericana, hijos cada vez de

mayor estatura. La clase alta mexicana, de hecho, esta haciendo, por su cuenta y riesgo,

lo que hicieron los espaoles pero al revs (365). Fate reacts and tries to punch him for

his commentaries: T qu eres, un publicista del Ku Klux Klan? (366). The story told

by the North-American journalist is in fact told in a playful tone aimed at ridiculing the

attempts, by the middle and upper classes in Mexico, to cover up their past. The story

also explains the reason why there are not many Mexican heavyweights, or for the same

reason, Latino heavyweights. But the racial critic of the Mexican racist bourgeoisie,

which has enough accuracy to be stated, infuriates Fate who has entered into a process of

decoloring and recoloring himself but in the opposite direction to the whitening process

described by the other journalist. Fate now wants to write about the disappeared Mexican

women in the border with the United States or the Sonoran landscape, to make them

appear or noticed, while the journalist accused by Fate of being a propagandist of the Ku

Klux Klan, describes another formula for their disappearance in the present.

After receiving a negative response to his proposed reportage on the situation in

Santa Teresa Fate remembers a previous proposal for an article about La Hermandad de

Mahoma, a group of black radicals from Harlem that manifested themselves in favor of

Bin Laden after September 11, 2001 and that described Fates magazine as dated (369)

and September 11 as a scheme designed by the CIA or the FBI. The rejection of the

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article on La hermandad by magazines director is based on the grounds of insignificance

or the degree of radical stupidity manifested by the members. Fate accepts the rejection

but gives an explanation of his reason for proposing such article: La estupidez -dijo

Fate-. La variedad interminable de formas con que nos destrozamos a nosotros mismos

(372). The statement outlines Fates understanding of the African American struggles as

a unified front that rejects attempts to diversify the resistance and probably confirms the

criticism of La hermandad when its members discredit Amanecer Negro as dated. But

even if Fate does not sympathize with La Hermandads support for Bin Laden after

September 11 or their apparent stupidity and international approach, his coming to

consciousness in relation to the assassination and disappearance of women in Santa

Teresa moves his politics and approach to journalism beyond the fixed boundaries of the

identity politics practiced by himself and Amanecer Negro: -Y sobre qu escribes,

entonces? Sobre poltica dijo Fate-. Sobre temas polticos que afectan a la comunidad

afroamericana. Sobre temas sociales (394). Fate accepts and supports the narrow,

identity-based and nostalgic-folkloric approach of his magazine: to practice journalism

this waycovering the story of a black boxer in Santa Teresa simply because he is black,

or the Black Panthers, or the black communistcancels the possibility of any relevant

discussion and opens the possibility for any group, marginal or not, to manifest

themselves from the same narrow optic. But after days learning about the murders and

disappearances in Santa Teresa, a phone discussion with the director of the magazine will

show Fates new face and approach to his journalistic activities, a change provoked by

his experience in Santa Teresa:

-Qu me estas proponiendo?

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-Un retrato del Tercer Mundo -dijo Fate- un aide-mmoire de la situacin de
Mxico, un panorama de la frontera, un relato policial de primera magnitud,
joder.
-Un aide-mmoire - dijo el jefe de seccin-. Eso es francs, negro? Desde
cuando sabes tu francs?
-No se francs -dijo Fate-, pero se lo que es un jodido aide-mmoire.
-Yo tambin se lo que es un jodido aide-mmoire. -dijo el jefe de seccin []
-Aqu hay material para un gran reportaje -dijo Fate.
-Cuntos putos hermanos estn metidos en el asunto? -dijo el jefe de la seccin.
-De qu mierda me hablas? -dijo Fate.
-Cuntos jodidos negros estn con la soga al cuello? -dijo el jefe de seccin.
-Y yo que s, te estoy hablando de un gran reportaje -dijo Fate-, no de una
revuelta en el gueto.
-O sea: no hay ningn puto hermano en esa historia -dijo el jefe de seccin.
-No hay ningn hermano, pero hay ms de doscientas mexicanas asesinadas,
hijo de puta -dijo Fate.
-Qu posibilidades tiene Count Pickett? -dijo el jefe de seccin.
-Mtete a Count Pickett en tu jodido culo negro -dijo Fate. (373-74)

The editorial manager and Amanecer Negro posit one of the key problems of essentialist

conceptions of identity and race: one that privileges particular categories and aspects (e.g.

sexual orientation, race, color, political struggle) as the key determinants of social

meaning and politics of changethe interviews by Fate to the Black Panthers founder

and the Black communist from Brooklyn are also examples. The narration in 2666 shows

these political figures in an advanced state of marginality and political decadentism that

surpass what they faced at the beginning of their struggles. This essentialist approach, as

shown in 2666, loses sight of the instability and heterogeneity of identity categories. The

example of La Hermandad de Mahoma shows a way out of this essentialism that even

though is politically dangerous and violent, it manifests the need to open up the politics

of solidarity instead of constructing limited identities. Fate, even though he supports the

essentialist tendencies of Amanecer Negro and critics what he calls the stupidity of La

hermandad, moves in the direction of a new task as the former quote describes: to

undermine and question identity politics in order to destabilize the normalizing forces,

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progressive or reactionaries, that bring these essentialist categories into being in the first

place. Fate moves towards the coming into being of the faceless mother (360). To give an

example from the realm of identity politics, Fate is closer here to the late Gloria Anzalda

and her not so popular politics and notions of identity bridges. As the author of

Borderlands/La Frontera states in This bridge we call home:

While This Bridge Called My Back displaced whiteness, this bridge we call
home carries this displacement further. It questions the terms white and women
of color by showing that whiteness may not be applied to all whites, as some
possess woman of color consciousness, just as some woman of color bear white
consciousness. This book intends to change notions of identity, viewing it as
part of a more complex system covering a larger terrain, and demonstrating that
the politics of exclusion based on traditional categories diminishes our
humanness []. Many of us identify with groups and social positions not
limited to our ethnic, racial, religious, class, gender, or national classifications.
Though most people self-define by what they exclude, we define what we are by
what we includewhat I call the new tribalism. [] to include whites is not an
attempt to restore the privilege of white writers, scholars, and activists; it is a
refusal to continue walking the color line. [] These inclusions challenge
conventional identities and promote more expansive configurations of
identitiessome of which will soon become cages and have to be dismantled.
(2-4)

Fates impulse to write an aide-mmoire with transnational and transracial flavor points

to a movement similar to the one described above by Anzalda, a step that many groups

based on identity and community formation are still unable to accept and for which

Anzaldua was highly criticized. Fates movement attempts to explain, highlight and study

the heterogeneity of social struggles and marginalized groups, the manifold and

contradictory constitution of subjects. If we follow Anzaldas or Fates newly adopted

strategies, their potential for change and transformation should be exposed to the outside,

to a transnational or global level, a retrato del tercer mundo (373) by a journalist

working for a magazine that limits itself to African Americans issues. Fates figure shows

the inseparability and complicity between third and first world issues. His aide-mmoire

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never materializes but Fate experiences first hand some possible explanations and

procedures of the murderers in Santa Teresa, as we will see, and also realizes the limited

and prejudicial scope of Amanecer Negro.

Fate meets Guadalupe Roncal at the hotel were the sports journalists covering the

boxing match are staying. She is a journalist from the DF forced to cover the events in

Santa Teresa and afraid for her life while performing the task. Three other journalists

have been killed in the DF for investigating the assassinations in Santa Teresa, as she puts

it: El brazo de los asesinos es largo, muy largo (376). Roncal, who inherited the files

gathered by her predecessor and is terrified, invites Fate to interview the main suspect at

the present, a German-American, in order to feel safe (378). After Fate accepts the

invitation he goes on with his report of the boxing match and Roncal wont appear again

until the end of the novel. Her contribution is to tie the assassinations and disappearances

to Mexico City. After the encounter with Roncal Fate will confront doubts about their

encounter (383) and his interest in the assassinations; he will also confront his own vomit

or the smell of vomit once more (383), and finally he will cover the boxing match

thinking about departing immediately to Tucson in order to fly back to New York.

Leaving Santa Teresa

The fight was over only after two rounds, and Fate was invited for a last meal by the

sports journalists Charlie Cruz, Chucho Flores, Corona and two girls (Rosa Amalfitano y

Rosa Mendez). The reason Fate gives to change his plans is the beauty, the relative

beauty of Rosa Amalfitano (399). They also go to a few dancing places were Rosa seems

to be taking drugs and later ends up at Charlie Cruz house. After watching a rare and

unknown film by Richard Rodriguez with Charlie, Fate looks for Rosa Amalfitano, who

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is sniffing cocaine while Corona, and Chucho discuss something unknownprobably

who is going to have sex with herand Fate, almost murdering one of them, violently

takes her away and they leave Charlies house. The narration suggests the possibility of a

murder but this is not confirmed. Fate apparently thought that she was in danger or that

something wrong was going to happen and takes her to his hotel (427). Once in the hotel

Rosa tells him story of her relationship with Chucho, Charlie and Rosa Prez. Rosa had

met them at Charlies video store and started dating Chucho, who introduced her to

cocaine and later lost her for being too jealous. Fate met them briefly after those events.

La parte de Fate offers another glance at Amalfitanos figure and situation. The

additions dont change previous commentaries and arguments on La parte de

Amalfitano but add to them and to the story line, specifically in regards to what

happened to his daughter Rosa before the arrival of the critics, and about his

understanding of Santa Teresa. The additions to Amalfitanos story in La parte de Fate

take place before the visit of the European critics, and the latest news we have about

Amalfitano are consequently found in La parte de los crticos.

Rosa and Fate left the hotel because someone supposed to be a policeman called

looking for them. They went to Oscar Amalfitanos place, where he asked Fate to take

Rosa to the United States and then put her in a flight to Barcelona. Fate brings up the

assassinations after the father asks him to take Rosa to the US: Se trata de los

asesinatos? dijo-. Usted cree que ese Chucho Flores est metido en el asunto? Todos

estn metidos dijo Amalfitano. (433). After Fate and Rosa leave, the novel intercalates

their trip out of Santa Teresa with the appointment with Roncal at prision where the main

suspect (Klaus Haas) was being held. The narrative strategy is the same used in the

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previous parts. La parte de los crticos intercalates Nortons e-mail with the critics

description of their last days in Santa Teresa while La parte de Amalfitano intercalates

Amalfitanos reading and thoughts about Lonko Kilipan with his conversations and

experiences with Guerra. Just like in the previous parts the ending remains open.

Key at the end are Amalfitanos, Rosas, Roncals and Fates suggestions and

ideas about Santa Teresas situation. Amalfitano insinuates that everyone is involved

(todos estn metidos) (433), that the problem, as the criminologist Keesler put it before,

is one that could involve everyone in the community: B: los crmenes tienen firmas

diferentes C: esa ciudad parece pujante, parece progresar de alguna manera, pero lo mejor

que podran hacer es salir una noche al desierto y cruzar la frontera, todos sin excepcin,

todos, todos (339). Amalfitano precisely follows Kesslers advice and gets Rosa out of

Santa Teresa. Rosa, after calling Rosa Perez without any success, suggests that she is

dead: Creo que Rosa est muerta (435). The suggestion links Chucho and Charlie and

their friends to the assassinations in Santa Teresa and to Fates previous comments about

them: [Chucho] lo not como si tuviera algo demasiado grande en la cabeza. Y como si

no supiera qu hacer con lo que tena en la cabeza, aunque sta al final le reventara

(427) or when he asks Amalfitano about the assesinations: Se trata de los asesinatos? -

dijo-. Usted cree que ese Chucho Flores est metido en el asunto? (433). Towards the

end, in company of Fate and Rosa, Roncal freezes before the presence of the American-

German suspect of the assassinations that she was supposed to interview, Fate remembers

that maybe Roncal, Rosa or the suspect himself, said the following: Nadie presta

atencin a estos asesinatos, pero en ellos se esconde el secreto del mundo (439). Fate

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responds to the statement with more questions that were provided by the narrator at the

beginning of the story:

Cundo empez todo?, pens. En qu momento me sumerg? Un oscuro lago


azteca vagamente familiar. La pesadilla. Cmo salir de aqu? Cmo controlar
la situacin? [] Realmente quera salir? [] Y tambin pens: el dolor ya no
importa. Y tambin: tal vez todo empez con la muerte de mi madre. (295)

Fate ends up sharing the same predicament of the critics and Amalfitano, but in his case

and at thirty years old, the degree of disillusionment and cynicism is just starting to grow,

as manifested in his ideological brakeup with the magazine and his pursuing of the sacred

according to his meditations: Rosa Amalfitano as the ideal of beauty, the sacred, and the

assassinations of Santa Teresa as his transformed conception of identity politics. The

situation and his decisions lead Fate once more to the death of the mother, to his dead

mother (433), to a lost and irreparable situation from which he is trying to escape. So

what is that Fate abjects, that Fate vomits? Is it the essentialist politics, the vomit of the

essentialist position he abandons while in Santa Teresa? It is as if he has drunk something

too dense, too strong to stomach for a long time and now needs to abject it, to expulse it,

in order to encounter his faceless mother. He vomits: El dolor impreciso que siento

ante la desaparicin de mi madre? (398).

V. Some Structures of Modern Cruelty: From Criminological to Mechanical

Speculation.

La parte de los crmenes deals, to some extent, with the destruction of the physical

landscape by human acts and with the suffering and violence of the inhabitants of those

landscapes, the Sonoran landscape. The dumps, maquiladoras, and the run-down city of

Santa Teresa all present a pattern of violence and destruction only mitigated by a few

209
instances of hope. The atmosphere of dissolution is also intensified by nature, by the

desert and the heat, by the semi-apocalyptic tone of the narrative. This part is made up of

a variety of complex, fragmented and documentaristic narratives that present a highway

of intersecting deaths and assassinations. The fragmentary exposition of death as a chain

of events that surpass the simple police report and investigation attempts to present a total

but imperfect photograph, a negative, of the living and dying conditions of modern

society. The effort of some policeman, journalists, clairvoyants, and feminists groups

usually falls into oblivion. Politicians and drug dealers seem to be implicated.

In an interview included in Entre parntesis Bolao is asked to describe the

infierno: Como Ciudad Jurez, que es nuestra maldicin y nuestro espejo, el espejo

desasosegado de nuestra frustracin y de nuestra infame interpretacin de la libertad y de

nuestros deseos (339). Ciudad Jurez is Santa Teresa in 2666, but Bolao moved this

city, which in strict geographical terms is located across the border from El Paso, Texas

to the West, and closer to Hermosillo, Mexico, in the Sonoran desert and below the

border with Arizona. La parte de los crmenes is an alephic report in which the

Bolaian imagination is informed by Sergio Gonzlez Rodrguez Huesos en el desierto

(2002) and by the Mexican journalist in direct collaboration with Bolao. No one better

to explain this than Bolao himelf:

Hace algunos aos, mis amigos que viven en Mxico se cansaron de que les
pidiera informacin, cada vez mas detallada, adems, sobre los asesinatos de
mujeres de Cuidad Jurez, y decidieron, al parecer de comn acuerdo,
centralizar o pasarle esta carga a Sergio Gonzlez Rodrguez, que es narrador,
ensayista y periodista. [] [Huesos en el desierto] transgrede a la primera
ocasin las reglas del periodismo para internarse en la no-novela, en el
testimonio, en la herida e incluso, en la parte final, en el treno. Huesos en el
desierto es as no solo una fotografa imperfecta, como no poda ser de otra
manera, del mal y de la corrupcin, sino que se convierte en una metfora de
Mxico y del pasado de Mxico y del incierto futuro de toda Latinoamrica. Es

210
un libro no en la tradicin aventurera sino en la apocalptica, que son las dos
nicas tradiciones que permanecen vivas en nuestro continente, tal vez porque
son las nicas que nos acercan al abismo que nos rodea. (Entre parentesis 214-
215; my italics)

This abyss, in an apocalyptic and adventuristic tradition, is what Bolao works with in

2666. In Huesos en el desierto Sergio Gonzlez, who becomes a fictional character in

2666, details the femicide of more than three hundred women in Cuidad Jurez

between 1993 and 2003. Gonzlez account mixes forensic reportage, journalism,

testimonio, essay format, no-novela, political and criminological investigation of the

femicides45 in which the average age of the victims was twenty two years. Gonzlez

emphasized the coincidences between some of the crimes and the serial aspect of some of

them in terms of modus operandi, being aware of the heterogeneity of the possible

perpetrators and the situations in which these took place. Bolao compares his book to

the work of Michael Herr, Gunter Wallraff and Ryszard Kapuscinski (Entre, 215).

Gonzlez unclassifiable report is also critical of Robert K. Ressler, who he cites in

Huesos en el desierto. Ressler is a criminologist involved in the investigation of the

crimes in Ciudad Jurez who is also transformed by Bolao into a character named

Edward Kessler in 2666.

The reader of La parte de los crmenes is presented with: (1) a disquieted

mirror of the frustrations and infamous interpretations of our liberty and desires (Entre

339) as Bolao describes Cuidad Jurez, (2) a reportage heavily informed by Gonzlez or

his imperfect photography (Entre 214), a picture of evil and corruption that Bolao

considers as a metaphor of Mexico and its past and of Latin America and its apocalyptic

future, (3) the Bolaian imagination revising and arguing with Gonzlez account and (4)

45
The concept belongs to Jane Caputi and Diana E. H. Russell: Femicide: Sexist Terrorism against
Women.

211
Bolaos fluctuations between an imperfect photograph of Latin America and its

extension and connections to other Western histories of disquiet and disillusion (Los

crticos/Europe; Amalfitano/Latin America, Fate/North America post-1980s;

Archimboldi/Germany).

La parte de los crmenes zooms in the concerns and theories about the crimes in

Santa Teresa introduced in the previous parts by the critics, Amalfitano and Fate, among

other figures. It also ties the human apocalypses and extreme criminal behavior

represented by Santa Teresa in La parte de los crmenes with the genocide and terror of

the Second War and the holocaust as presented in La parte de Archimboldi that closes

2666. It is in part the aide-memoire proposed by Fate and rejected by his editor in-chief.

It sets forth the points and theories to be used for discussing the crimes and explores the

multiple relations between the vast spectrum of figures involved in the criminal cases and

the world view presented in 2666. In addition, it serves as a bridge and as a center, as the

point that contains all the points, and as the space of arrival and departure for the key

figures of 2666. Chronologically it covers the period between 1993 and 1997. It should

follow or correspond to La parte de Amalfitano (pre-1997) and should be followed by

La parte de Fate (post-1997). La parte de los crticos and La parte de Archimboldi

coincide partially in terms of time period after the end of La parte de los crmenes and

more or less at the beginning of the 21st century. None of these parts or novels is limited

to these temporal boundariesthere are significant incursions to the past and allusion to

the future in all the partsbut the chronology offered above provides a sense of

continuation. Of course this sense of continuity is obscured by the many temporal and

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thematic detours and deviations that Bolao takes in each of the many united fragments

or short stories that compose 2666.

Kidnapped, tortured, raped, stabbed, shot wounded, strangled and mutilated, poor

young women bodies of long dark hair fill this part:

En el caso de Mnica Posadas, esta no solo haba sido violada por los tres
conductos, sino que tambin haba sido estrangulada. El cuerpo, que hallaron
semioculto detrs de unas cajas de cartn, estaba desnudo de la cintura para
abajo [] La vagina estaba desgarrada. La vulva y las ingles presentaban
seales claras de mordidas y desgarraduras. (577)

The bodies, abandoned in clandestine dumps (El Chile) or left to rotten in the desert, are

surrounded by a plethora of characters and stories related and unrelated to the crimes:

suspects, love stories, police investigators and investigations, detectives, snuff-movies,

prostitution networks, domestic violence, businessmen, stories of the revolution,

journalists, politicians, drug dealers, clairvoyants, physicians, gangsters, etc. The reader

of this part is also exposed to many stories seemingly unrelated but always somehow

connected to the crimes, to the fragmentary investigation of the crimes, to several

hypotheses accompanied by more than a hundred lifeless bodies. In what follows I will

focus on several key characters and readings of the crimes that amount only to a

minimalist exposition of the alephian, noir and apocalyptic world presented in the fourth

part of 2666.

Santa Teresa IV: The Crimes and the Sonoran Landscape According to Kessler

(Robert K. Ressler)

During Fates drive from the United States to Santa Teresa in La parte de Fate, the

African American journalist stops at a restaurant where he listens to different

213
conversations. The most remarkable of these takes place between Professor of

Criminology Edward Kessler and a young man. The professor states the following:

Todo pasa por el filtro de las palabras, convenientemente adecuado a nuestro


miedo. [] Los franceses por ejemplo. Durante la Comuna de 1871 murieron
asesinadas miles de personas y nadie derram una lgrima por ellas. Por esa
misma fecha un afilador de cuchillos mat a una mujer y a su anciana madre (no
la madre de la mujer, sino su propia madre, querido amigo) y luego fue abatido
por la polica. La noticia no solo recorri los peridicos de Francia sino que
tambin fue reseada en otros peridicos de Europa e incluso apareci una nota
en el Examiner de Nueva York. Respuesta: los muertos de la Comuna no
pertenecan a la sociedad, la gente de color muerta en el barco [negrero]no
pertenece a la sociedad, mientras que la mujer muerta en una capital de
provincial francesa y el asesino a caballo de Virginia si pertenecan, es decir, lo
que a ellos le suceda era escribible, era legible. Aun as, las palabras solan
ejercitarse mas en el arte de esconder que en el arte de develar. (338-9)

- [] Y cual es su opinin no oficial sobre lo que esta pasando all? [Santa


Teresa]
- [] Bien dijo el tipo canoso-. Compartir contigo tres certezas. A: esa
sociedad esta fuera de la sociedad, todos absolutamente todos son como los
antiguos cristianos en el circo. B: los crmenes tienen firmas diferentes. C: esa
ciudad parece pujante, parece progresar de alguna manera, pero lo mejor que
podran hacer es salir una noche al desierto y cruzar la frontera, todos sin
excepcin, todos, todos. (339)

This is the first time in which someone develops an extended opinion about Santa

Teresas crimes. This explanation is a continuation of Kesslers story or the discourse

introduced, but never delivered, during La parte de los crmenes, when Kessler visited

the city to study the problem and instruct the local police. His appearance during the

fourth part borders the mockery of his methods and theories, as in Huesos en el desierto,

and concludes precisely at the moment when he is supposed to deliver his knowledge in a

conference in Santa Teresa. Then, during La parte de Fate, we find out the possible

results of this lecture cited above and set in a cafeteria of the border and during Kesslers

second visit to Santa Teresa.

214
In Kesslers theory Santa Teresa is established as a peripheral commune, which

the filter of words keeps isolated from societal scrutiny or relevant exposition. This

isolation from social scrutiny is not solved merely by exposing it because, as presented in

the case of the horseman/assassin, who belongs to society and whose acts are writable

[escribibles], words serve primordially to hide instead of uncovering. The statement is

one of the moments when the narrator analyzes his own role and questions, through the

figure of Kessler, his own narration and exposition of the situation in Santa Teresa. The

complexity of transferring this information into a modality of communication,

recognition and action is presented as the negative of a photograph, as escribible, an

exercise in writing and the ethics of writing which hides more than it reveals. The

fragmented, incomplete and vacillating structural narration of La parte de los crmenes

accentuates this theory. One should also remember that at the time of the conversation

between Kessler and a young man during La parte de Fate, Fate, a journalist and

watchman for the rights and conditions of African American minorities, the subject

supposed to grab and turn this type of information into a successful social and political

agenda, fails to listen, record and report the conversation, fails to gather the information

that his profession requires. The fact is symptomatic of the narrators tone and style. As

the reader knows, even when Fate finds out about the assassinations and becomes

involved with the community in Santa Teresa, his role is limited to asking for permission

to write an aide-memoire that never materializesunless we consider La parte de los

crmenes as the narrators aide-memoire, accompanying Roncal to interview a suspect

(Klaus Haas) and taking Rosa Amalfitano away from Santa Teresa.

215
Kesslers own theory of the assassinations is marked by its pessimism and the

way it cancels itself. At the end, Kesslers proposition is a massive exodus from Santa

Teresa towards the desert and the United Sates (339). A mass departure and evacuation of

Santa Teresa which would probably end as a massive form of genocide, due in part to the

difficulty of surviving a border crossing because of natural but also human elements, in

the border between the two walled nations. Kessler doesnt speak to these possibilities

but does propose the exodus and clearly suggests a politics of inaction and contemplation

of the same or a catastrophic exodus: Usted dir: todo cambia. Por supuesto todo

cambia, pero los arqueotipos del crimen no cambian, de la misma manera que nuestra

naturaleza tampoco cambia (338). A similar position is adopted by Professor Garca

Correa, a Mexican criminologist in 2666, who describes Kesslers work and succinctly

satirizes his techniques and professional background (722-723). Aside from the critique

of Kesslers work, experience and methods, Garca Correa seems to be in agreement with

Kesslers understanding of the futility of any effort to provide solutions to the problems

in Santa Teresa: Ser criminlogo en este pas es como ser criptgrafo en el polo norte.

Es como ser nio en una cruja de pedofilos. Es como ser merolico en un pas de sordos.

Es como ser condn en el reino de las Amazonas (723). In fact, the previous statement

could be understood as the essence or the key argumentative line in La parte de los

crmenes.

The Foreign Body as Main Suspect: Klaus Haas

Klaus Haas is Hans Reiters / Benno von Archimboldis nephew and a businessman with

a previous criminal recordaccused but never convicted of attempting to rape Laurie

Enciso. He had also been accused of dealing with prostitutes and improper sexual

216
conduct while living in Tampa, Florida and Denver, and his behavior after moving to

Mexico continued to be that of an eccentric with a drive for sexual exploits, frequent

visits to whorehouses and a loveroom in one of his stores (598). Haas was born in La

Repblica Federal de Alemania in 1955, where he also had a criminal past, and was later

nationalized American (USA) in the 1980s. When arrested he was operating very

profitable computer stores in Santa Teresa and Tijuana. The evidence against him for the

assassination of Santa Teresian Estrella Ruiz Sandoval was not conclusive but his

criminal past, his reactions to policeman Epifanios interrogations (597) and several

accounts confirming his relation with Estrella seemed to portray him as guilty of that

murder. His incarceration provides a scattered view of the corrupted and chaotic

correctional system in Santa Teresa, his additional theory about the crimes in Santa

Teresa, and a reason for Hans Reiter/Benno von Archimboldi to travel to Santa Teresa.

After he is arrested and detained the crimes continue in Santa Teresa, and while he may

be guilty of the accusations related to Estrella it is obvious that he is not responsible for

other assassinations, as the authorities try to show.

In Estrellas case, the blood that was found in the basement of one of Haas

computers stores in Santa Teresa was sent to a laboratory for DNA testing in order to be

compared to that of Estrellas relatives, but the blood got lost on its way to Hermosillo

and San Diego. The attempt to incriminate Haas fell through the cracks of the system. It

is insinuated that Haas paid for the disappearance of the incriminating evidence or that

the system just didnt work. Haas case is a typical example of the destiny of many of the

crime investigations or theories narrated in La parte de los crmenes. The vast majority

of the cases are closed by lack of evidence or leads, and the totality of the theories about

217
the crimes are often turned into ambiguous theorizations and sometimes superstitious

speculation.

The theory that points to the possibility of a serial killer in relation to the

assassinations in Santa Teresa is improbable, but there is the possibility that a smaller

amount of the femicides fit the serial category. Sergio Gonzlez affirms this possibility

in Huesos en el Desierto when he mentions that among the 300 assassinations: [] est

detectada la existencia de un centenar de asesinatos en serie (11). Bolaos intercalated

descriptions of the criminal cases, similar to those that appear in one of the chapters in

Huesos en el Desierto (La vida inconclusa), also point to this possibility of a serial

chain within the approximately three hundred murders (719).46 In the same line, Klaus

Haas proposes a serial theory that exculpates him since he is still in prison and the

assassinations continue. Haas, during one of the various press conferences he arranged

from prison using his cell phone, explains that Estrella Ruiz Sandoval and at least other

thirty women were raped and killed by Antonio Uribe and his cousin Daniel Uribe, both

with double nationality, Mexicanos y Norteamericanos, rich sons of successful

businessmen with strong ties to drug dealers and police officers and to the United Satets

(731-732). Haas explains that Antonio started the rapes and assassination and that later

Daniel found pleasure in these events in which he was, at the beginning, only a peeping

46
Many suspects are questioned and incarcerated for political reasons but none is found guilty of the serial
crimes. The Mexican authorities emphasized the impossibility of a Mexican serial killer and pointed to a
foreigner. Gonzlez gave several examples in Huesos en el desierto including the model for Bolaos Hass:
El 3 de octubre de 1995, la PJECH detuvo al egipcio Abdel Latif Sharif Sharif, un qumico que llevaba
poco tiempo de vivir en Ciudad Jurez despus de una residencia de dos dcadas en Estados Unidos. Tena
49 aos de edad y sus antecedentes penales le hacan sospechoso de antemano: 14 denuncios en juzgados
estadounidenses por violacin y atentados al pudor [] Una jven a la que haba conocido en un bar
juarense le acusaba de violacin, secuestro y lesiones, lo que haba llamado el inters de la autoridades.
(16). Abdel Latif Sharif Sharif also appears in Seorita Extraviada, a key documentary on the Jurez
murders produced by Lourdes Portillo. See also Whitechapels Crossing to Kill: The True Story of a Serial-
Killer Playground.

218
Tom and Antonios helper during the clean up and the disappearance of the bodies. Haas

theory implies multiple reasons such as sexual fetishes and the Uribes social position,

rich kids with double nationality whose fathers had married North Americans, the

marriage between North and Central America, in a process of whitening, blanqueo and

demexicanization. It also points to their ties to the police and drug cartels, but no specific

link to any of the assassinations is provided. The polices attempt to corroborate this

information, gathered and corroborated by Haas while in prison, where everything is

known, is unsuccessful. Just like all the theories that had been provided so far, this one

also falls in death ears.

It is important to highlight that the accusation and incarceration of Klaus Haas is

connected to several important aspects of the novel. One of them is his description of a

bloody giantread Archimboldithat will come to rescue and avenge him (603), and

the second one is the atmosphere of fear, degeneration, chaos and corruption that is

captured in the microcosm of society represented by the prison where Haas is

incarcerated. The topic of corruption and its links to the state and the narco-industry are

visible in the activities, forms of community and dialogues that Haas leads from prison,

and is continued in one of the key stories narrated in this part: the investigation

performed by Sergio Gonzlez and his informant Azucena Esquivel Plata.

Journalism and Politics: Sergio Gonzlez and Azucena Esquivel Plata

The imperfect photography of Mxico and Latin America is accentuated by two

characters from Mexico City that visit Santa Teresa. Sergio Gonzlez is turned into a

character that follows very closely the biography of the Mexican reporter and author of

Bolaos main textual, human and testimonial source for this part: Huesos en el Desierto.

219
Sergio Gonzlez, in need of some extra cash, visits Santa Teresa to investigate, for the

newspaper La Razn, the case of the desecrator of churches, an investigation that leads

nowhere (470). Gradually, back at work in Mexico City, he becomes interested in the

femicides and returns to Santa Teresa. During a press conference in prison Haas gives

him a phone number and they establish a fragmented conversation about the crimes.

Besides his conversations and interviews with Haas and with members of the

police department, Sergio Gonzlez interviews a clairvoyant named Florita that believes

she understands part of the situation (715), but her explanation is in reality very vague.

Sergio Gonzlez does not believe in her profession but suggests that impunity is one of

the key aspects of the situation. Florita replies that the immensity of the problem doesnt

have anything to do with impunity: Cmo si se supieran impunes? No, no, no, dijo

Florita, aqu no tiene nada que ver la impunidad (715). The key character in relation to

Sergio Gonzlez reportages is Azucena Esquivel Plata, a Mexican deputy who also gets

involved in the femicides by chance. Azucena contacts Sergio Gonzlez and tells him

the story of a good friend, Kelly Rivera Parker, who disappeared in Santa Teresa and was

never found. While telling the story of her friend she reveals to Sergio all the information

she had about the crimes in Santa Teresa and also provides another imperfect photograph

of political commitment and corruption in Mexico:

Uno cree que desde adentro puede mejorar algunas cosas. Primero trata de
mejorarlas desde afuera, luego crees que si estuvieras dentro las posibilidades
reales de cambio seran mayores. Al menos uno cree que desde el interior uno va
a tener mas libertad de accin. Falso. Hay cosas que no cambian ni desde afuera
ni desde adentro. Pero aqu viene la parte ms divertida. La parte mas increble
de la historia (y me da lo mismo que sea la historia de nuestro triste Mxico o de
nuestra triste Latinoamrica). Aqu viene la parte in-cre-i-ble. Cuando uno
comete errores desde adentro los errores pierden su significado. (761)

220
Kelly Rivera Parker was a party planner who did business in Santa Teresa. She organized

parties with prostitutes for rich people that included rich businessmen, drug dealers and

PRI politicians. Azucena finds this out duringnLoyas investigation. Loya, a former

employee, tells her that the people involved in her friends death or disappearance are her

own people, or PRI politicians that participated in these parties and that had ties with

drug dealers in northern Mexico: Quines? Su propia gente diputada, sus propios

compaeros de partido (780). Loyas help is therefore clarifying but also setting the

limitations of the kind of job hes been asked to do. From his point of view Mexico was

similar to the landscape provided by Juan Rulfo in Pedro Pramowhere everyone is

half-dead and half-alive (780). During a two-year period Loyas reports continue and

Azucena gains a better picture of her friends disappearance, and also realizes that her

selfish and egocentric efforts and thirst for vengeance have turned her personal interest,

little by little, from finding her friend into a political consciousness that actively seeks to

resolve the femicides. The parties that Kelly organized were orgies for bankers,

politicians, drug dealers and people with ties to the maquiladoras industry.

It is after Loyas death, apparently of natural causes, that Azucena recruits Sergio

Gonzlez in order to continue with the investigations, or as she tells him, to revolcar el

avispero (790):

He ledo sus artculos. Son buenos, pero a menudo golpea all donde slo hay
aire. Yo quiero que golpee sobre seguro, sobre carne humana, sobre carne
impune y no sobre sombras. [] Conozco los nombres de todos o de casi todos.
Conozco algunas actividades ilcitas. Pero no puedo acudir a la polica
Mexicana. [] Hay gente a la que no le quiero hacer dao y a la que sin
embargo daar. Lo doy por bueno puesto que los tiempos estn cambiando y el
PRI tambin tiene que cambiar. As que slo me queda la prensa. [] He dicho
casi siempre, no ponga esa cara de incredulidad, dijo la diputada. Aqu uno
publica lo que quiere sin problemas. (789)

221
Azucenas alternative is to give Sergio Gonzlez all the information gathered by Loya

and ask him to investigate more and to publish it in order to instigate reactions. She

claims a certain liberty of speech that is relative to the circumstances and that, as we

know, lead to the assassination of Sergio Gonzlez in 2666 and almost to the same

outcome in his real life.47 Sergio worked side by side with Azucena and kept publishing

material about the disappearances and assassinations, but as revealed in La parte de

Fate by journalist Guadalupe Roncal, ends up being assassinated. There was too much at

stake in these cases to let any reporter reveal too much. Azucenas claims about the

almost total liberty of expression in the Aztec nation is negated and interrogated. She is

part of the pyramidal ritual of sacrifices, as are her intentions to change the PRI and the

structures that dominate the Mexican labyrinth.

The combative front presented at the end of La parte de los crmenes by

Azucena, Loya and Sergio is brought down to a localizable human dimension in which

the figure of the politician/private investigator and the journalist/writer and their hopes

and consciousness are useful as a critique of the pyramid, rationality and patriarchy, but

not as a politics of the future or change. After Sergios assassination Fate and Guadalupe

Roncalwho inherits Sergio and Azucenas filesalso attempted and failed to produce

anything remotely convincing as an strategy to deal with corruption and the femicides

occurring in Santa Teresa. Once again in 2666 Bolao presents a picture of

disillusionment alongside questions of hope which cannot be reduced to an attempt to

present total evil as many have argued. Good intentions and political activism may not

be enough to stop the infamous assassinations or the race towards disaster presented in

Santa Teresa as microcosm of modernity, Latin America and later Europe. Even before
47
The life threatening beating is described in Eplogo Personal, Huesos en el desierto.

222
his encounters with Azucena Sergio had understood a key aspect of the problem:

Obreras, Obreras, dijo (583).

Sergio raises a political and ethical problem that is tied to the multinational

capitalism exploitation of women laborers in the maquiladoras that have flooded the

Mexican border since the 1960s: the reproduction of quasi mechanical female subjects

without life protection or the female as a subject, object of sexual and mechanical

exploitation in which any attempt of self-preservation is negated by labor and mechanical

production and adaptation of the body and soul to the machine. The machine-body can be

overworked, exploited, overused, and raped until it breaks or stops functioning, until it

dies or becomes obsolete. In real life Sergio had been tortured and badly beaten by

unknown raptors linked to the political system in Mexico, but also with connections to

the very profitable business of las maquiladoras, especially in northern Mexico. In 2666

Bolao scatters throughout the text the names of these assembling companies (e.g.

Horizon W&E, EMSA, TECNOSA, Aiwo, Nip-Mex) that usually accompany the

description of one of the assassinations. The real Sergio Gonzlez and author of Huesos

en el Desierto, from whom Bolao borrows a lot of information and fictionalizes and

develops many segments, addresses this problematic too:

Los crmenes sexuales contra mujeres seran posibilidades definidas por la


cultura. Apunta [Julia Estela Monarrez Fragoso] que los crmenes sexuales se
han caracterizado por la imagen del cuerpo de la mujer desnuda, cuyo cadver se
arroja como si fuera basura: el cuerpo de la mujer es acomodado y exhibido en
posiciones ginecolgicas, como si le fueran a tomar una foto. (37)

Monarrez Fragoso subraya que, en estos casos, la mujer es menos que mujer, es
un sujeto a quien se le niega su experiencia subjetiva. (37)

En sntesis, Jurez encarnara un territorio vehicular e intenso en todos los


sentidos, un puente, un enclave de la economa multinacional, cuya industria

223
maquiladora impone un paradigma que penetra y ordena el cuerpo de la
sociedad (41)

The connection between female-body and female-machine penetrated by labor as an

activity of death and reproduction of sadistic desires and economies tries to negate the

function of breadwinner to the female body and instead posits her as threat that must

disappear. However, after the pervasive sense of political and ethical disillusionment that

dominates the previous parts of 2666 and La parte de los crmenes, especially its end,

2666 ironically turns to the obscure but somehow hopeful figure of a German soldier and

writer. Despite the sense of alienation and depersonalization that surrounds him,

Reiter/Archimboldi is the key figure of a politics of the future set against the strong

critique of political and ethical cultures that permeate the 2666.

VI. La parte de Archimboldi: The Biography and Bibliography of a 20th Prussian

Soldier/Writer.

One of the focal points of this section is to read La parte de Archimboldi as a

knstlerroman,48 a narrative in which the writer or narrator charts the evolution of an

individual-artist/writer. It is a rewriting of the self by an artist that confronts his creations:

an affirmation of self-making as art which will be central for a reading of

Reiter/Archimboldi. The main difference in relation to the buildungsroman is the focus of

the knstlerroman on the subject as an artist rather than as a man in general. In La parte

de Archimboldi the knstlerroman marks the passage form nio-alga to soldier and

finally artist-writer, from Reiter to Archimboldi, and to the fluctuation between one and

48
A type of bildungsroman where the protagonist undergoes an education. Key examples of
knstlerroman are Joyces Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dickens David Copperfield. The
knstlerromans, especially after 1914, are often social-political snapshots of society, a relevant aspect for
the readers of 2666 and La parte de Archimboldi.

224
the other throughout his life. The knstlerroman genre is a popular form of disseminating

an authors concern about his or her artistic and social persona based on different depths

of fictional or biographical data. In Bolaos writings multiple strings of this genre

appear before and in a more direct autobiographical vein (Amuleto, Estrella distante, Los

detectives salvajes) but it is not until La parte de Archimboldi that an overall

manifestation of the formal elements associated with the knstlerroman appear in a

highly fictional and obscure form of the genre. Regardless of whether or not Bolao

intended to write a knstlerroman or fictional biography of a Prussian writer, La parte

de Archimboldi demands a dialogue with the genre, as many other Bolaian texts, which

do not clearly belong to any genre, but demand dialogues with other genres:

detection/policial, adventure, terror, confessional, testimonial, and biography, among

others.

I read Reiters/Archimboldis writings in relation to several key events during his

life and evolution as soldier and a writer: (1) Reiters childhood, (2) traumatic

participation in WWII where he doesnt kill anyone but gets hurt and loses his voice for a

while, (3) reading of Anskys manuscript and becoming obsessed with the life of this

victim of the war, (4) listening to the story of a German bureaucrat who disappeared

many Jews and who he later kills at the prisoners camp, (5) becoming an extremely

prolific writer with multiple concerns but especially the atrocities of the war and its

victims and the reasons why the critics of the first part claim that Reiter/Archimboldi

should get a Testimonial Award, (6) disappearance from the social body.

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Hans Reiter

Second World War veteran Hans Reiter (b.1920), who later becomes a very prolific

postwar writer under the penname Benno Von Archimboldi is the son of a First World

War Prussian veteran, a cojo, and a blonde, blue-eyed mother who is tuerta (795).

Reither doesnt have any physical limitations and instead develops a strange capacity to

dive for extended periods of time and to see under water, as well as a preference, as a

child, for the sub-aquatic world, the underwater world. He does not fit the often common

identification of the Germans with the woods or the sea as the mirror of the British

(Canetti, Borges). He prefered: esa otra tierra, llena de planicies que no eran planicies

y valles que no eran valles y precipicios que no eran precipicios (797). His seaweed-like

body seems appropriate for the underwater world and as a boy he manifested a particular

capacity to resist extreme situations such as the lack of oxygen, which is compared in the

novel to an infernal experience (798). As the narrator comments: No pareca un nio

sino un alga (797). A seaweed, a plant that symbolizes an elemental form of life, life

without limits or end, hope. Born at the moment when Prussia became a free state of the

Weimar Republic and was destined to disappear, Reiters figure is a figure of conditional

hope within an atmosphere of disillusion and disappearance. As his father says:

Slo los prusianos se salvan. Pero Prusia ya no existe. Dnde est Prusia? T
la ves? Yo no la veo. A veces tengo la impresin de que murieron todos en la
Guerra. [.] Dnde estn entonces los prusianos? Me acerco a los requeros y
los busco en el horizonte gris? [] Solo te veo a ti [Reiter], tu cabeza entre las
olas que aparece y desaparece [] y aunque a veces mis ojos te pierdan de vista
o aparece tu cabeza a mucha distancia de donde te habas sumergido, no temo
por ti, pues se que volvers a salir, que las aguas nada pueden hacerte. (802-803)

Ever since he was born, and as the son of mutilated parents leaving in Europe between

wars, Reiter is intimately linked to the European conflicts during the first half of the

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twentieth century. As the Prussian nation is disappearing, Reiter grows up and becomes a

nomad, full of peripatetic and aquatic experiences and is eventually kicked out of school

at the age of thirteen, curiously enough, the same year that Hitler took power. The school

official recommended teaching him an occupational skill because he was not capable at

school, his verbal skills seemed awful, and he was seemingly uninterested in school. As

his country disappears, so does his formal educational grounds, which cause him to go

through a series of jobs from which he is fired because of his lack of dedication. He ends

up working at the same place where his mother works, in a baron Prusianos countryside

house, where he meets Hugo Halder, the barons nephew, and helps him steal things from

the barons place. Halder is a dreamer and a trickster, always with multiple plans to

become successful in the least possible amount of time. Reiter often works cleaning the

books in the Varons library but does not read them until one day, when Halder asks him

to pick one. Another key description of Reiter is given, indirectly, when after picking

Parsifal, by Wolfram von Eschenbach, Halder tells him that that book, even though he

wont understand it, is the best fit for him:

De la misma forma que Wolfram von Eschenbach era el autor en el que


encontrara una mas clara semejanza con el mismo o con su espritu o con lo que
el deseaba ser y, lamentablemente no seria jams, aunque solo le faltara un
poquito [] Wolfram, descubri Hans, dijo sobre si mismo: yo hua de las
letras. Wolfram, descubri Hans, rompe con el arquetipo del caballero cortesano
y le es negado (o el se lo niega a s mismo) el aprendizaje, la escuela de los
clrigos. Wolfram, descubri Hans, al contrario que los trovadores y los
minnesinger, rechaza el servicio a la dama. Wolfram, descubri Hans, declara
no poseer artes, pero no para ser tomado como un inculto, sino como una forma
de decir que esta liberado de la carga de los latines y que l es un caballero laico
e independiente. Laico e independiente. [] Por supuesto hubo poetas
medievales ms importantes Pero la soberbia de Wolfram (yo hua de las
letras, yo no posea artes), una soberbia que da la espalda, una soberbia que dice
morios, yo vivir, le confiere un halo de misterio vertiginoso, de indiferencia
atroz, que atrajo al joven Hans como un gigantesco imn atre a un delgado
clavo. (822)

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Wolframs description is conveyed to Reiter via Halders perception. It will prove very

important when Reiter becomes a writer to understand many of his decisions, especially

when Wolfram says: yo hua de las letras, yo no posea artes or when Halder mentions

that Wolfram used to wear his vestimenta de loco underneath his gentleman attire, or

when he speaks of the independence of the medieval poet or of his uneducated education.

La parte de Archimboldi will often, directly or indirectly, return to this description as

part of the knstlerroman. In this case, however, the first revision of the genre takes place

by moving away from the arquetipo del caballero cortesano (822) or the traditional

middle-upper class bias of the genre.

According to Maurice Beebe,49 the knstlerroman, analyzed in terms of the

struggle described in the former quotation, forces the creator into two groups: the Ivory

Towers and Sacred Founts. The first category privileges isolation in self-created ivory

towers or spaces for creation, and regards their sacrifice as worthier than a life fully

lived. The sacred founts are the opposite: they equate art to life experience or the

participation in history. Reiter, as we will see, fits well in the sacred founts category,

but also crosses over to a place of isolation, although not in its conception as privilege

space or ivory tower.

After the baron closes his house Reiter moves to Berlin, where Halder helps him

get a job. He later finds a better one in a place where they manufacture fusils. In Berlin

Reiter shares with Halder and his friends. All of them seem to be artists or second rank

diplomats, caballeros cortesanos, that Reiter distrust. His German improves, he loses his

49
What I call the Sacred Fount tradition tends to equate art with experience and assumes that the true artist
is one who lives not less, but more fully and intensely than others. Within this tradition art is essentially the
recreation of experience. The Ivory Tower tradition, on the other hand, exalts art above life and insists that
the artist can make use of life only if he stands aloof. (13)

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virginity and sends most of his money to his family, especially to his beloved sister Lotte.

Later in 1939, at the age of twenty, he is called to serve in the army although he prefers

the Marine Corps, especially the military service in submarines, which he cannot join due

to his size.

The Military Life of Hans Reiter: Reading the Self and the Other during War Time

As an infantry soldier in a hipomvil division, Reiter represents a problem because to his

extraordinary height, but also an advantage due to his high capacity to concentrate and

remain calm during battles, as the previous comments about his capacity to hold his

breath while diving and experience an inferno while doing so show (798). As a soldier,

he travels great part of Eastern Europe carrying his only book, Algunos animales y

plantas del litoral europeo, while serving as a good soldier who apparently never kills

anyone during active duty. Bolaos description of his war experiences provides an

outline of Reiters growth alongside a historical compendium of the times leading to

World War II, as well as some of the key and decisive moments of the war. On one

occasion, while in Normandy, he thinks about the possibility of quitting and living

naturally by the sea where he could dive until his death came (845).

Four key experiences are relevant in relation to Reiters formation and growth

during his time in the army: his visit to Draculas Castle, his encounter with Ingerborg

Bauer during an allowed visit to Berlin and his family, his finding and reading of Boris

Ansky Abramovichs manuscript at a village where he is recovering while in Rumania,

and his encounter with a German bureaucrat in a prisoners camp at the end of the war.

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Draculas Castle

In one of his missions, Reiter is assigned to visit Draculas Castle in Rumania, where a

gathering and expedition had been organized by Rumanian General Entrescu, who at the

time was accompanied by an erudite, Pablo Popescu, and the baroness Von Zumpe.

Reiter is there to serve the Army Generals and their visitors, but witnessed several key

events and encounters, one more time, the baroness Von Zumpe, or Hugo Halders

cousin, who Reiter had seen during his time working at the country house while still in

living in his hometown. She is sympathetic to his presence but nothing else happens and

her presence in such a gathering is partially a mystery. Others present include the General

Von Berenberg along with the Reichs writer Herman Hoensch, an official of the SS, and

two more important officers. One of the key moments describes the visitors as divided

into two unidentified groups after visiting an amphitheater in the castle:

Cuando los visitantes volvieron a la superficie [] estaban divididos en dos


grupos, los que emergan con el rostro empalidecido, como si hubieran visto
algo trascendental all abajo, y los que aparecan con una semisonrisa dibujada
en al cara, como si acabaran de recibir una leccin ms sobre la ingenuidad de la
raza humana. (850)

The overtones of the encounter and the location and the people invited signals to an

alephian scene where everything, and specially the horror of life, as opposed to the

ingenuity of the human race, is prevalent. Reiters dream, who is waiting outside the

amphitheaters entrance, reveals possible interpretations: So que entre todos se

disponan a comerse a la baronesa Von Zumpe (850). Some conversations and situations

witnessed by Reiter also shed light on this gathering and visit to Draculas Castle:

Esa noche, durante la cena, hablaron de la cripta, pero tambin hablaron de otras
cosas. Hablaron de la muerte. [] Despus hablaron del asesinato. El oficial de
las SS dijo que la palabra asesinato era una palabra ambigua, equivocal,
imprecisa, vaga, indeterminada, que se prestaba a retruecanos. [] El general

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Von Berenberg dijo que si un juez deca que tal acto era un asesinato pues era
un asesinato. [] el general Entrescu confes que sus hroes infantiles eran
siempre asesinos y malhechores por los que senta siempre un gran respeto.
(850-60)

After long conversation speculating about death and assassinations, evil and madness, the

officers and the Baroness go to bed. Reiter is awakened by another soldier, Wilke, and

they enter some secret passages in the castle from which they are able to spy on the

distinguished visitors of the castle during their private moments, and their findings add to

the mysterious scene at Draculas Castle: El rostro de Von Berenbergr estaba contrado,

advirti Reiter, como si sobre sus espaldas tuviera que soportar un peso enorme [] el

peso de su conciencia [] (863). They also spy on the Baroness Von Zumpe and

masturbate as she and general Entrescu have sex: sentada a horcajadas sobre las piernas

de Entrescu, celebraba cimbrando hacia atrs y hacia adelante, como una pastorcilla

enloquecida en las vastedades de Asia [] refregando la sangre que aun manaba de su

mano derecha en la cara de su amante [] (865). The whole scene at Draculas Castle is

full of sadomasochist motives and indirect allusions to the connections between pleasure

voyeurism, violence, sex, abuse and death in a war context. The destiny of General

Entrescu, impalement by his own soldiers towards the end of the war, will add to the

horror presented in the castle scene. There is no clear notion of how these elements are

organized, but they should be read as part of Reiters development and experiences that

situate him in a constant informal education. Most of his experiences, up to the point

when he becomes a writer, contribute to this pattern in a knstlerroman. Reiter will find

education from a variety of sources, such as his previous friendship with Halder, his army

experiences, or his previous and present peripatetic and aquatic experiences.

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Ingerborg Bauer

The appearance of Ingerborg Bauer could be considered a satiric and somewhat

ambiguous homage to Ingerborg Bachmann. During one of his visits to Berlin while on

leave from the Army, Reiter goes to Halders old place, and finds Ingerborg, who is now

living there. The crazy daughter of a nazi party member, Ingerborg Bauer has a

conversation with Reiter in which she establishes disbelief about almost everything. The

two facts are similar to Bachmanns family history and works, her father was a member

of the Austrian Nazi Party and her works dealt with the establishment of truth and the

philosophy of language in a Heidegerrian and Wittsegnian vein. She lectures Reiter on

several aspects of life and is described as mad crazy by the narrator and Reiter. The

partial allusion is probably part of Bolaos many games and provocations that usually

have writers or intellectuals as targets, but here it should be read more as a moment of

progress in Reiters learning experiences during the war, in which he understands Bauers

skepticisms and even learns about the Aztecas, one of the few things in which Bauer

believes, besides storms. A veces incluso me olvido de las cosas en que creo. Son muy

pocas, muy pocas, y las cosas en que no creo son muchas, muchsimas, tantas que

consiguen ocultar las cosas en que s creo (869). Bauers experiences also show a deep

historical pessimism. Later Reiter, during the process of becoming Archimboldi, will

come across her one more time.

Boris Abramovich Ansky

During the attacks to the Soviet Union in 1941 Reiter almost dies a few times but is only

hurt during the attack to Sebastopol. A bullet went through his throat and Reiter lost his

voice but was able to recover it gradually after two surgeries (881). After the surgeries in

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Ukraine Reiter is sent to a nearby village in Kostekino, a village at the banks of the

Dnieper, where all the Jewish inhabitants had been murdered. Reiter is unable to speak

due to his throat injuries, but in one of the empty houses close to the river where Reiter

likes to stay he finds a hiding place, a whole behind a chimney and within a manuscript

by Boris Abramovich Ansky. The manuscript and the design of this hiding place occupy

Reiters time: he becomes obsessed with Ankys experiences as narrated in the

manuscript and with the circumstances surrounding the construction and planning of the

hiding place. Durante muchos das este problema ocup su mente, pues crea que su

resolucin lo llevara a conocer mejor la vida o la forma de pensar o el grado de

desesperacin que alguna vez aquej a Boris Ansky o a alguien a quien Boris Ansky

conoca muy bien (884).

An experience of reading and an attempt to understand the thinking behind the

construction of a place for surviving becomes Reiters main activity during this time at

Kostekino. A reading experience therefore figures as central in Reiters formation and

leads to a question of testimony and transmission insofar, as it is structured and

constructed around the exchanges between the narrator, the protagonist and the

manuscript he reads. Gradually, those connections bring to light the story of a Jewish

writer and his family, who where persecuted and finally disappeared during World War

II. Later, when he becomes a writer or Archimboldi, Reiters writings will add to this

process of transmission as an attempt at recuperating the accounts of Anskys life but also

of other experiences related to the war. Reiter enters into a process of understanding the

role of reading and writing, into translating traumatic experience into a commensurable

language that will guide the last part of 2666. This experience will be key for Reiter: the

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evolution and formation of the subject, as in most knstlerroman, goes hand in hand with

the formation of the writer, as we will later see.

According to the narrator Anskys manuscript details how he joined the red army

at the age of fourteen thinking that the revolution would eliminate death. He later meets

Efraim Ivanov, a professional but mediocre writer of science fiction and member of the

communist party. They make a pact and Ansky, with his stories and ample imagination,

helps him become famous and revive his career as a writer. In exchange Ivanov helped

Ansky to join the communist party. After this they apparently follow separate ways, but

Ansky continues to help him with his writings and during the time Ansky also becomes

the founder of magazines and theaters and helped others to publish, but never published

anything under his own name. He becomes a cultural institution in himself. Ivanov is

arrested various times and his publications are cancelled. Later, in 1937, he is arrested

and questioned about ties to members of the Trotskian opposition:

Lo sacaron directamente a un patio, alguien le peg un tiro en la nuca y luego


metieron su cadver el la parte de atrs de un camin. [.] A partir de la muerte
de Ivanov el cuaderno de Ansky se vuelve catico, aparentemente inconexo,
aunque en medio del caos Reiter encontr una estructura y cierto orden. Habla
de escritores. (910)

In fact, Anskys manuscript also reads as Ivanovs knstlerroman, since many of his

entries deal with Ivanovs struggles as a writer and political figure, a struggle that leads to

fame and prestige but also to his death. More specifically it will be a knstlerroman sub-

type: the artiste manqu, which follows the defeat of the writer or artist. The structure

and order within chaos found by Reiter responds to the life of writers and indirectly to

Ansky himself as an obscure writer. These sections then read as knstlerromans within

knstlerromans or, what is the same, habla de escritores (910).

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In these sections of the knstlerroman, Bolaos mapping or socio-political

snapshot of the history of violence and destruction during the 20th century moves, based

on Reiters reading of Anskys manuscripts, to a questioning of the ideological

ramifications and cruelties of communism side by side with Nazi Germany. As the

former passage implies, Ivanov and Ansky become suspects within their own Party and

Ivanov is executed without reason or proof. At the same time this is happening, the proud

communist and revolutionary Ansky needs to reevaluate his position, an experience

similar to Reiters evolution from soldier to writer but in the opposite direction. In

Bolaos oeuvre this is a common occurrence: subjects from any side of the political

spectrum or from any ethical or ideological position always need to reevaluate their

position. As the new descriptions of the manuscript as disordered and chaotic insinuate,

Ansky needs to escape from the ideological trap but also from the possibility of his

assassination by his own people (913).

These moments of disorder and chaos also include the first time in which the

manuscript mentions the Italian painter Arcimboldo, a name that Reiter will later adapt to

his condition as a writer, to whom Ansky returns in his writing and life every time he

feels defeated or depressed (918). After the war Reiter will imitate this gesture with his

own return to Archimboldo or the adoption of his name as key part of the knstlerroman.

In addition, the manuscript discusses all kind of ideas, from god to sex to writers and

painters and many stories and meditations, until towards the end of the manuscript, when

Ansky returns to Kostekino, at the time when Hitler invaded Polonia. Reiter concludes

that the hiding place was constructed by Anskys father, that it had served to hide the

manuscript, and that the Germans had finally killed them (921). He imagines Ansky

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walking towards the West to fight and find his death. The possibility of Reiter having

been the author of Anskys death troubles him but is later disregarded (922). When he

comprehends that he wasnt Anskys murderer he recovers his voice.

Reiter returns to battle and seems obsessed with dead bodies, which he

contemplates (923), and eventually returns to Kostekino as the Russians are approaching

and puts Anskys manuscript back in the place where he found it before leaving: Que

ahora lo encuentre otro, pens. Luego abri la puerta, la cerr con mucho cuidado y se

alej de la aldea con grandes zancadas (929). Again in battle, defeat after defeat, Reiter

comes across the Rumanians and General Entrescu. Entrescus soldiers, in desperation

and defeat and against the inaction of the General and the proximity of the Russians,

decide to torture and kill him in the same way associated with Dracula: impalement

(931). The soldiers confess that they had built a cross without knowing that there were

going to kill the general. Reiters general experiences of war, reading Ansky, the castle,

his encounter with Ingeborg, defeat and his final encounter with the impalement of

Entrescu almost round up the stories of his war experiences and promote a profound

encounter with questions of guilt, death and responsibility in his future as a writer. One

more event will be key in order to give some sense to the stories which deal with the

incomprehensible: his encounter at a prisoners camp with a German bureaucrat.

Leo Sammer the Burocrat

After the war Reiter surrenders at a prisoners camp close to Ansbach were he meets Leo

Sammer. According to Reiter, Sammer shows a progressive and simultaneous inner

struggle combined with an apparent dignity and serenity, a fight between opposite forces

within him (936-37). Sammer, talking to Reiter, describes himself as a German

236
bureaucrat working in a Polish region in charge of sending foreign workers to the Reichs

industries, until one day, when he gets a train with five hundred Jews:

Combat, no quiero que creas que no combat, lo hice, como cualquier Alemn
bien nacido, pero yo serv en otros teatros, no en el campo de batalla militar sino
en el campo de batalla econmico y poltico [.] Entonces lleg una nueva
orden: tena que hacerme cargo de un grupo de judos que venan de Grecia.
Creo que venan de Grecia. Puede que fueran judos hngaros o judos croatas.
No lo creo, los croatas mataban ellos mismos a sus propios judos (938-940).

Sammer, in fact, does not know what to do with them and tries to find them jobs. The

instructions he gets from his contacts are ambiguous, so he decides to send them to the

farms in the region to help the farmers while a decision is reached (945). He tries to find

out but noone wants to tell them him what to do or take responsibility. Later he gets a

phone call:

Hasta que por la noche recib una llamada de Varsovia, de la oficina de asuntos
judos, un organismo cuya existencia hasta el momento desconoca. Una voz que
tena un marcado tono adolescente me pregunt [] Le dije que si y aad que
no saba que hacer con ellos, pues nadie me haba avisado de su llegada.
Parece que ha habido un error -dijo la voz. []
Ese tren tena que descargar en Auschwitz []
Mire como est la situacin no disponemos de transporte para ir a buscar a los
judos. Administrativamente pertenecen a la Alta Silesia. He hablado con mis
superiores y estamos de acuerdo en que lo mejor y ms conveniente es que usted
mismo se deshaga de ellos. []
As es -dije yo-. Pero me gustara recibir esta orden por escrito -aad.
No sea usted ingenuo -dijo la voz sin la mas mnima arrogancia-, estas
rdenes nunca se dan por escrito. (947-49)

Then Sammer, after a sleepless night, proceeded with normalcy to consult his

administrators, acting as if this was one more administrative task which needed to be

conducted effectively. The course of action was to shoot and bury them in the snow.

They were taken to a remote location with the excuse that they were going to clean the

area, and there they were shot by policemen and farmers who volunteered to do the job.

237
Soon they started to feel the pressure and moral questions attached to their task and the

people willing to do the job started to decline it: Quince est bien. Treinta, tambin. Pero

cuando uno llega a los cincuenta el estmago se revuelve y la cabeza se pone boca abajo

y empiezan los insomnios y las pesadillas (957-8). Then Sammer starts recruiting

drunken kids to do the killing, but that occasionates other problems, which he solves as

any other of their bureaucratic and logistic problems. Even the moral problem is dealt

with in the same way, which inevitably invades the life of the participants in the

genocide. But soon the Germans have to evacuate and Sammer frees the remaining Jews.

As he tells Reiter: Fui un administrador justo. Hice cosas buenas guiado por mi carcter,

y cosas malas, obligado por el azar de la guerra (959). Reiter, as we later corroborate,

kills him and escapes from the prisoners camp. Reiter/Archimboldi, as in previous

occasions, listens attentively to Leo Sammer even though he might seem lost at times, but

all these characters, including the ex-writer that sells him the typewriter, are his

formation informants, and all together inform us of Archomboldis poetics and the

possible content and arguments of his obscure writings.

Sammers confession and excuses are a listening experience for Reiter, and the

last step in the informal education that leads to his decision to become a writer, and at the

same time to disappear form the social body due to his experiences during the war and to

the possibility of being persecuted by the police and charged with killing Sammer. The

events leading to this point negotiate with Reiters future writing self or Archimboldi, as

one that should function within a political and cultural context, and reposition the soldier

within society as sacred fount rather that in an ivory tower or privileged space of

creation.

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The Postwar Writings of Benno Von Archimboldi (Hans Reiter)

After escaping from the prisoners camp and working sporadic jobs in several towns

Reiter reunites, apparently by chance, with Ingeborg in Colonia, where he now works at a

prostitutes bar. The descriptions of Reiter and the narrator recreate the chaos and

disorganization of the postwar period. Reiter and Ingeborg move together, and although

Reiter still thinks that Ingeborn is mentally ill he loves her and takes care of her fragile

health or tuberculosis. It is during this period that Reiter confesses killing Sammerthe

bureaucrat and killer of many Jewsfor which Ingeborg and a clairvoyant seem to

excuse him without problems. Ingeborn later tells Reiter that she thinks that he only

killed one man and for good reasons (972). She gives him a mysterious leather jacket

similar to the one Bolaos is wearing in the picture published in 2666which was

apparently waiting for him and suggests he should change his name, since both are

concerned with the possibility of his capture by the Germans or the US Army for killing

Sammer. Reiter takes this action and becomes Archimboldi after writing his first novel,

Ludicke, and at the precise moment when he needed to rent a typing machine from an ex-

writer who expresses his moral judgment about what happened during the war or a

certain collective German guilt:

-Este pas -le dijo a Reiter, que aquella tarde se convirti, tal vez, en
Archimboldi- ha intentado arrojar al abismo a varios pases en nombre de la
pureza y de la voluntad. Para m, como usted comprender, la pureza y la
libertad son puro mariconeo. Gracias a la pureza y la libertad nos hemos
convertido todos, entindalo bien todos, todos, todos, en un pas de cobardes y
de matones, que al fin y al cabo son lo mismo. Ahora lloramos y nos afligimos
y decimos no lo sabamos!, lo ignorbamos!, fueron los Nazis!, nosotros
hubiramos actuado de otra manera! Sabemos gemir. Sabemos provocar
lstima y pena. [] Ya habr tiempo para que inaguremos un pequeo lago de
amnesia. (981)

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This confession, acceptance of guilt and shame closes the cycle of the experiences part of

the knstlerroman, one among the many that Reiter has before becoming a writer. The

ex-writer also tells Archimboldi that nothing can be found within a writer, that there isnt

anything inside a writer: En las entraas del hombre que escribe no hay nada (983).

The knstlerroman then comes to name, define and interrogate, by definition an aesthetic

theory, the transformations of Archimboldis views on art and writing. The remainder of

La parte de Archimboldi presents his life as a writer supplemented with fictionalized

episodes and historical events of the postwar period. Examining La parte de

Archimboldi as an artists novel or knstlerroman and exploring the intersections

between historical and artistic discourses shed light on Reiters artistic identity, and to

some extent, on Bolaos aesthetic and political-ethics. The knstlerroman is in what

followsa convoluted rhizome of stories and texts with no meticulous development

about or by Archimboldi, his travels, writings and lifean exercise in self-exploration

and self-positioning in regards to a past that haunts his writing in the present. In what

follows I concentrate on some of these key experiences and texts that lead to the final

pages of this open ended novel.

Archimboldis first novel, Ludicke, is sent to a leftist publishing house run by

Jacob Bubis, a Jewish that went into exile to London during the war, and to many other

publishing houses. Finally, after many rejections, Bubis offers Archimboldi a book

contract and tells him of the many writers he had published to later find, much to his

despair, that they had become Nazis, in one capacity or another. Archimboldi travels to

Hamburg to see Bubis and to make arrangements for his book. Bubis questions his

penname or the mixture between Italian, German and Spanish in his name but the

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encounter, at some point about to be terminated by Archimboldi, is saved by Bubis

desire to publish his book. Archimboldi tells his real name to Baroness Von Zumpe, now

la Seora Bubis, and with whom Archimboldi had had sex during his visit to Hamburg.

The Baroness is still an hedonist and exotic person, like her encounter with the General

Entrescu had revealed during the scene at Draculas Castle. She says that she had

changed (1014), but no clear indications of these changes, or what she meant by it, are

given at this point.

La rosa ilimitada is the second book sent to Bubis publishing house and the

editor also accepts it with enthusiasm. It shows Archimboldis capacity of fabulation. The

sales are not good and nor are the reviews, but Bubis supports Archimboldi and asks his

wife to support him after his death. The reader knows little about the content of these

books and the things we do know are due to the commentaries by the critics in La parte

de los crticos and thanks to the previous narrations in this last part of Reiters

experiences. The texts are probably favorable or in a constructive conversation with

Bubis leftist ideology and his point of view as a Jew. A glimpse at Archimboldis vision

of literature, (one should also remember the previous comparative description by Halder)

(822), is given at this point by the narrator:50

50
Among other books mentioned in the novel is La mscara de cuero, his third novel, which runs the same
luck as the previous two. During the readings that Archimboldi gives in Colonia people seem to leave due
to the thematic of the book; but in places farther form the city people tend to stay. Still, the sales are very
low (1022). After the publication of La mascara Bubis travels and visits a German critic, Lothar Junge,
who has read Archimboldi but does not want to talk about him or his works. Bubis concludes that the
German critic doesnt like him (1029). From the critics point of view Archimboldi does not seem like a
European writer. In fact all the critics that really support Archimboldis works are non-German, as La
parte los crticos shows, and many of the German critics presented in 2666 are against Archimboldi. Ros
de Europa was Archimboldis fourth book. It was a humorous novel about the Dnieper, which causes a lot
of funny moments for Bubis. During the same time Ingeborgs health worsens and with the pre-payment for
Rios Archimboldi moves with her to Kempten where the dry and cold weather could improve her
tuberculosis. Bifurcaria Bifucatas argument was about seaweeds. The book suggests a topic that deals with
Archimboldis childhood and his time in Normandy, when most of his adventures at the bottom of the sea
took place. This one was the first novel that Bubis, his editor, did not like. The pre-payment was

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[] en el primero estaban los libros que el lea y relea y que consideraba
portentosos y a veces monstruosos, como las obras de Doblin [] o como la
obra completa de Kafka. En el segundo compartimento estaban [] sus
enemigos. En el tercer compartimento estaban sus libros [] que vea como un
juego y tambin como un negocio, un juego en la medida de placer que
experimentaba al escribir. (1023)

After an unspecified amount of time the baroness Von Zumpe visits him in Italy were

Archimoldi is living with very little, his clothes and his typewriter that he later throws

away to buy an old laptop. He later buys one with a modem to look for rare news on the

internet (1064). Only one more novel is mentioned in La parte de Archimboldi. But

before, in La parte de los crticos, other novels appear which are not mentioned in the

last part and several comments by the critics add, as pointed out before, to some of the

novels already mentioned here in the previous paragraphs and the previous note. After

this I will return to the end of 2666 and La parte de Archimboldi.

consequently lower than usual; Archimboldi protested in writing and after thinking about it Bubis decides
to give him an amount similar to what he paid him for Ros. After the publication of Bifurcata Ingeborgs
heatlhs worsens and she wishes to travel. They then travel all over Europe with the economic help of his
editor and friends and stealing what they could. Then, after she dies, Archimboldi disappears for four years.
Herencia is the next novel received by Bubis. It is a chaotic text of more than five hundred pages which
Archimboldi sends from Venecia. The Baroness Von Zumpe, who at the time had a lover in Italy, goes to
see Archimboldi following Bubis recommendation and ends up staying with Archimboldi and sleeping
with him. Archimboldi is now working as a gardener and seems depressed due to Igneborg death. He has
reconnected with his family. Santo Toms is the apocryphal biography of a biographer whose biografiado
is a Nazi writer. The critics pointed to the possible allusion to Ernst Junger. By this time some of his works
were being republished, and although he could live with what literature had given him he apparently keeps
working as a gardener in Venice. At this point, the narrator is almost always uncertain of the narration and
the facts being stated. La ciega is sent to Bubis from Icaria: Tal como caba esperar, esta novela trataba
sobre una ciega que no saba que era ciega y sobre unos detectives videntes que no saban que eran
videntes (1061). The next four novels also came form Greece, were Archimboldi lived in different islands
with very little. According to the narrator the diver or the nio-alga had already died. Archimboldi still and
swam and dove but not much (1062). El mar negro is a theatrical piece in which the Black Ocean dialogues
with the Atlantic Ocean. Letea is one of his most sexually explicit novels. This brings the story of Letea to
the world of the Third Reich. The novel sold five editions and became the first book by Archimboldi to do
so. In La parte de los crticos it is described as a novel of erotic appearance in relation to which Morini
had done a scholarly study about the masks and caretas of the consciousness and guilt. El vendedor de
lotera was about a handicapped German seller of lottery in New York. El padre, the last one sent from
Greece, is about a son that remembers the adventures of his father as a psychotic assassin. These adventures
start in 1938, when the son was twenty years old, and end enigmatically in 1948. El regreso arrives at
Bubis editorial house after the editors death and it coincides with Archimboldis return to Italy. A year
before sending El regreso, Archimboldi had heard of Bubis death and thought about sending a note.

242
El jardn deals with English topics and is part of a trilogy. La mscara de cuero,

mentioned above, is also part of the trilogy. DArsonval is the other part of the trilogy and

it deals with French topics. Together, the three seem to be or could be about the Allies

during World War II and not surprisingly Archimboldis gesture to write and think about

all aspects and sides of the war and not only the side in which he participated. El tesoro

de Mitzi and Bitzus were similar short novels of less than one hundred pages. They both

dealt with similar topics to those addressed in Letea, the masks of the consciousness and

guilt, and have an erotic component. One of the three, probably Letea, was about the

Baroness Von Zumpe, the key erotic character in the novel, with links to many of the

people in power during the war who committed some of the atrocities that 2666

underlines.

La perfeccin ferroviaria seems to deal with destiny, if we follow Morinis study

of the novel. Los bajos fondos de Berln is a selection of war stories. La cabeza,

according to Espinoza y Pelletier, is the last novel published by Archimboldi. El rey de

la selva is the last novel mentioned in La parte de Archimboldi and probably the last

one he wrote. It reveals much of the biographical information that the critics were unable

to find and that the reader of 2666 finds in this last part. The critics obviously went to

Santa Teresa before the publication of this book.

La parte de los crticos reveals more information about Archimboldis poetics

but in a highly codified manner. It is given in the form of comparisons that the critics

make between Archimboldi and other German writers or the comments that the narrator

made about the texts the critics write about. These are scattered comments made by the

critics. Among other things, for example, Espinoza, the Spanish critic, negates the

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connection between Sade and Archimboldi (66) and Pohl, a critic only mentioned a few

times in the novel, gives a magisterial conference about Archimboldi and shame in the

German literature of the postwar (110). And there are many more examples:

(Pelletier llevaba una ponencia titulada <<Heine y Archimboldi: caminos


convergentes>>, Espinoza llevaba una ponencia titulada <<Ernest Junger y
Benno von Archimboldi: caminos divergentes>>). (23)

Al acercarse un poco ms vi que el libro no era Santo Toms, sino La ciega,


[] Pelletier alz la mirada y no le contest. Dijo en cambio, que era
sorprendente, o que a l no dejaba de sorprenderle, la manera en que
Archimboldi se aproximaba al dolor y a la vergenza.
De Forma delicada dijo Espinoza.
As es dijo Pelletier. De forma delicada. (189)

The various comparisons and thematics situated him in opposition to several German

writers known for their involvement with postwar thematics and questions of guilt and

shame. The key and more explicit comparison sets Archimboldi in opposition to Ernst

Junger, a writer often criticized for glorifying, comodifying and aesthetizising the

Holocaust (Huyssen 1995, 134). Archimboldi, on the contrary, approaches pain and

suffering in a delicate manner (189). The figure of Archimboldi is in fact as far as

possible from the public persona that Junger cultivated and with his manner of

conducting himself. If Archimboldi is characterized by his desire to disappear, Junger is

characterized by his desire to appear, to be seen in public. The mention of Archimboldi as

compatible with Heinrich Heine (1797-1856),51 the 19th century Prussian poet, probably

refers to their similar precedence and their satiric stress in their critique of utopian

politics. Heine was also a nomad through Europe and befriended Karl Marx (526-31).

La parte de los crticos also addresses the relationship to several writers of the time:

No era la primera vez que colaboraban con la revista Berlinesa. En el nmero 44


haba aparecido un texto de Espinoza sobre la idea de Dios en la obra de
51
Heine was also an innovator of modern journalism and politically engaged writing. (Bernstein 526-31)

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Archimboldi y Unamuno. [] El nmero 46, sin embargo, es el que nos
importa, pues all no solo quedaron patentes los dos grupos archimboldianos
antagnicos, el de Pelletier, Morini y Espinoza contra el de Schwarz,
Borchmeyer y Pohl El pblico [] entregado a la visin dionisaca, festiva,
de exgesis de ltimo carnaval (o penltimo carnaval) defendida por Pelletier y
Espinoza. Dos das despus Schwarz y sus adlteres contraatacaron.
Contrapusieron a la figura de Archimboldi la de Uwe Johnson. Hablaron de
sufrimiento. Contrapusieron a la figura de Archimboldi la de Gunter Grass.
Hablaron de compromiso cvico. Incluso Borchmeyer contrapuso a la figura de
Archimboldi la de Friedrich Durrenmatt y habl de humor, lo que a Morini le
pareci el colmo de la desvergenza. Entonces apareci, providencial Liz
Norton y desbarat el contraataque como un Desaix, como un Lannes, una
amazona rubia que hablaba un alemn correctsimo [] (25-26)

Several of the writers mentioned in the above quotation from page 26 were members of

the Gruppe 4752, a German literary club or gentlemens club with the ambiguous goal of

teaching Germans about democracy in the post-hitlerian era and to encourage the post-

war generation of authors (Roberts 892-94). The group was very elitist; members were

allowed by invitation only and based on literary merit, undoubtedly very far from the

isolation and openly lumpen existence and humble politics and customs of Archimboldi.

Archimboldis persecution of anonymity, as opposed to the self-glorification of Gruppe

47, is also a key topic of investigation or the critics obsession:

El trabajo del francs estuvo concentrado en la insularidad, en la ruptura que


pareca ornar la totalidad de los libros de Archimboldi en relacin con la
tradicin alemana, no as con cierta tradicin europea. El trabajo del espaol
[] gir en torno al misterio que velaba la figura de Archimboldi, de quien
virtualmente nadie, ni su editor, sabia nada; [] de la leyenda de los escritores
desaparecidos. (29-30)

Morini, [] fue el primero en hacer notar que Archimboldi no haba recibido


nunca, al menos que l supiera, un premio importante en Alemania, [] caba
esperar, dentro de lo razonable, que, [] sus compatriotas, aunque solo fuera
para curarse de salud, le ofrecieran un premio nacional o un premio testimonial.
(57)

52
A group of writers disintegrated in 1967-68: [] a body of writers that had been the moral-critical
authority and representative voice in West German literature for twenty years. (Roberts 892)

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The point that they miss is that the strategy of disappearance is precisely what helps

Archimboldi to stay away from the institution of literature as understood by Gruppe 47,

or by any organization that gives prizes which would trap Archimboldi in the game of

appearances. Even if such testimonial prize existed in Germany, Archimboldis

experience reading Anskys manuscript and Anskys posterior disappearance are the

strategies that Archimboldi wants to adopt. The adoption of Ansky favorite painters

name as his penname shows that Ansky is key for his literary projects and poetics. If it

was fully possible to establish a critique of the state and intellectual protagonism, it

would suggest Archimboldis anti-critics and anti-Gruppe 47 positioning. The critique

should arise not as part of the state or addressed to its representatives, but instead it

should question the role of the socio-political actors (such as intellectuals, artists ,

writers) themselves. This question leads back to the situation of disillusionment

established in the previous sections in relation to Sergio Gonzlez, Azucena, Fate,

Amalfitano and the critics. Archimboldi, as the intellectual protagonist of this last

section, makes use of an identification with silence and disappearance, only interrupted

by his texts, and a denial to allow access to his direct life stories, to his culture, politics

and testimonio.

The topic of Archimboldis disappearance also brings into play his situation as an

ignored writer (57) but contrary to the critics preoccupations and pursuits it works in his

favor, as he manages to escape the total commodification of his works. The scant

information offered about Archimboldis autobiography emulates the physical

disappearance that purposely practices the postwar German writer. It is part of his writing

technique to disappear as a subject and to provide very little information about his texts.

246
The Baroness Von Zumpe describes his texts as dark and difficult, but not much else is

given besides the information offered in the above biographical list and some

comparisons made by the critics. In a scene involving a French writer and essayist

Archimboldi, who never befriended any German writer, accepts an invitation to go visit a

house for disappeared writers. As it turns out it was a madhouse in which the French

writer was living and from where Archimboldi quickly leaves. This implies that there is

no possibility for a disappeared writer to have a place for disappeared writers. The former

implies the contradiction of their own disappearance. Archimboldi must remain without a

stable place, and even in that situation he runs the risk of cooptation.

Archimboldi continues his existence as a disappeared writer and only

corresponds and sees Baroness Von Zumpe, who tries to convince him to give an

interview since he is now famous. To this Archimboldi responds: Slo en mis peores

pesadillas, le escriba Archimboldi (1079). After these sections the narration of 2666 is

rare and apparently random at points. If the previous novels in 2666 were often

chaotically organized in changing patterns, here, towards the end, the narration seems

simply chaotic. This may be due to Bolaos health condition or to the editors job, who

apparently cut out more than two hundred pages of text and the details about that process

are not available.53 After these unclear moments of the unfinished 2666, however, the text

returns to two key narrations that close the novel and at the same time lead us back to

previous narrations and to an approximation to Archimboldis ethico-aesthetic strategies.

53
See the essay by Rodriguez de Arce on 2666 where his sources are not revealed.

247
Reiters Return

The narrative returns to some details about Archimboldi and the baroness Von Zumpe,

now at an old age, and to the narrative of Archimboldis family and Lottes story. It

concentrates on Archimboldis sister starting from when she was little, and depicts the

Nazi ideology of his family and their several relocations (1085-86). After a period of time

his father dies, but Lotte and her mother go on and establish a good living. Lotte gets

married and gives birth to the main suspect in La parte de los crmenes, Klaus Haas.

Archimboldi is never around and they think he has completely disappeared (1093) or that

at least thats what they say to little Klaus. As Klaus grows older he always gets in

trouble and has problems with the law and decides to move to the United Sates, where as

we know, he becomes a successful businessman but also continues with behavioral

problems and ends up in a jail across the border. Lotte visits him frequently and even

learns Spanish in order to facilitate the trips. It is during one of these trips in 2001 that

Lotte buys by chance El rey de la selva by Archimboldi. The description of the book by

the narrator adds to Archimboldis poetics of disappearance:

El estilo era extrao, la escritura era clara y en ocasiones incluso transparente


pero la manera en que sucedan las historias no llevaba a ninguna parte: solo
quedaban los nios, sus padres, los animales, algunos vecinos y al final, en
realidad, lo nico que quedaba era la naturaleza, una naturaleza que poco a poco
se iba deshaciendo en un caldero hirviendo hasta desaparecer del todo. (1111)

The different forms of violence that characterized 2666s excursion throughout the 20th

century have been problematized and in fact Fates, Azucenas, Amalfitanos and others

particular histories of disillusionment are still enacted and experienced by communities

and subjects. What Archimboldi seems to reject or tries to avoid are political and cultural

undertakings within which the Nation and the Stateas concepts and political realities

248
still take pride on their role. From Archimboldis point of view, then, to transform society

or to radically transform the nation-state, to evacuate the violence inherited in it, one has

to bring about its disappearance via the inaccessibility of the subject. Soon the narration

of 2666 itself will question this strategy or possibility which, after all, is not completely

negated.

Using the information form the book Lotte contacts Archimboldis editor,

baroness Von Zumpe, and tells her the details of her situation and current address. Von

Zumpe says that she hasnt talked with Archimboldi for a long time and cannot do

anything. She apparently did contact him, however, and after three months Archimboldi

appears, or should we say Hans Reiter, at Lottes house in Paderborn. Lotte asks him to

take care of everything, asks if he could win the Nobel Prize and tells him everything

about her son. At the end the readers learn that Archimboldi/Reiter left to Latin America.

Archimboldi is back into the domain of the Nation State as he needs to come to the

rescue of one his main institutions, the family, in order to help his nephew who is in

another institution of the State, the prison. It is implied that after his visit to Latin

America, where he is assaulted by the police, the writer will probably die or disappear

again. Jean Louis Deotte puts Archimboldis situation, the relationship between aesthetic

innovation and political intervention as disappearance, into perspective:

Me parece evidente que desde la segunda Guerra mundial, se ha constitudo una


comunidad de la sensibilidad alrededor de un cierto tipo de afecto ligado a la
desaparicin. Somos parte de ella. [] Estas obras [de arte] no sirven de
soporte, de infraestructura o de suelo a la comunidad tico o poltica, sino ms
bien de balizas. Esta comunidad no obra: no se constituye en las obras (Nancy,
Blanchot). Las obras no le dan identidad, no son lugares de la memoria ni
monumentos. Al contrario, sealan que los que nos conmueve no puede ser el
herosmo de algunos, ni tampoco la imaginacin de la barbarie, sino el
sentimiento de un derrumbe del sentido. [] Lo que ah aconteci no es
recuperable por ninguna dialctica. Es lo que sugera Lyotard con la idea de la

249
postmodernidad como el fracaso de la modernidad. [] Podemos casi de
manera novelesca, es decir, ficcional, sin ninguna pretensin en cuanto al saber,
sugerir que existe una poca de la melancola post-totalitaria. Una poca que
podemos evocar en contraste con la poca del sublime revolucionario. (150)

The epoch of melancholic post-totalitarianism is the hangover confronted by the critics,

Amalfitano, Fate, Esquivel, Gonzlez, and other key characters in 2666. 2666 and

Bolaos oeuvre are not about key historical events but about the hangover experienced

by those who lived or inherited the world after the 1950s. The poetics of disappearance

posits a form of liberty in the figure of Reiter/Archimboldi that oscillates within the

possibility of the abyss, between the possible world and the interruption of thought and

communication.

Posdata

Before leaving Hamburgo for Latin America, reversing the journey of Los detectives

salvajes, Archimboldi goes to a park and asks for a furst Puckler or a three flavored ice

cream: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. While sitting at a table he is approached by

Alexander furst Puckler, a descendant of the man who created the ice cream Archimboldi

was eating. His descendant was a botanic and a gardener per excellence who had written

many books about those topics and thought that he would go into history because of it.

Instead, he goes into history or is remembered not for his books but for the invention of

this ice cream flavor. Then the descendant talks about his ancestors projects and visions

of the world from a botanic and gardeners perspective. Reiter was also a botanic and

gardener, although in an amateur fashion. If you substitute the ancestor for Archimboldi

or Reiter, and maybe even Bolao, you can see a fine farewell letter to literature which

includes a poetics, a concern with posterity and death at the time when the Latin

250
American author was about to die. Bolao often joked about how his name had been

confused with Aztec comedian Roberto Gmez Bolao, and therefore the possibility of

passing into historical confusion as a comedian form Central America. The farewell

monologue-description, give or take one thing or two, fits nicely and obviously with the

Reiters/Archimboldis/ or the narrators poetics of disappearance:

Sus libritos, pese a su, cmo llamarlo?, revestimiento botnico, estn llenos de
observaciones ingeniosas y a travs de ellos uno puede hacerse una idea
bastante aproximada de la Europa de su tiempo, una Europa convulsa, cuyas
tempestades en ocasiones llegaban hasta las orillas del castillo de la familia,
ubicado, como usted sabr, en las cercanas de Gorlitz. Por supuesto, mi
antepasado no era ajeno a las tempestades, del mismo modo que no era ajeno a
las vicisitudes de la, cmo llamarlo?, condicin humana. Y por lo tanto escriba
y publicaba a su manera, humilde pero con buena prosa alemana, alzaba su voz
contra la injusticia. Creo que no le interesaba saber a dnde va el alma cuando el
cuerpo muere, aunque algunas pginas sobre esto tambin escribi. Le
interesaba la dignidad y le interesaban las plantas. Sobre la felicidad no dijo una
palabra, supongo porque la consideraba como algo estrictamente privado y
acaso, cmo llamarlo?, pantanoso y movedizo. Tena un gran sentido del
humor, aunque algunas de sus pginas podran contradecirme con facilidad. Y
probablemente, puesto que no era un santo y ni siquiera un hombre valiente, s
pens en la posteridad. (1118)

The knstlerroman seems completed at this point. In the 20th century, knstlerromans

joined modernisms aims at the liberation of the individual marked by a discovery of the

alienation of modern capitalism. The artist or the writer in La parte de Archimboldi

soon discovers that art itself is part of the divisions of labor, that it is detached from any

experience of totality, and therefore attempts to disappear. This bolaesco knstlerroman

takes the genre to its limits and needs to be read as a confrontation of the artist with the

mirror created by himself and his socio-political surroundings, based on his childhood,

his years as soldier, writer and traveler. But the mirror and his image is, to quote Bolao,

espejo y explosin of itself/himself. As many knstlerromans, La parte de Archimboldi,

ends on a note of rejection of the commonplace life and experience. Bolaos characters,

251
as I have been insisting, do not seek a rational world or truth but instead depart from

them. They are, above all, peripatetic subjects in disquiet. The split between Reiter and

Archimboldi is condensed in the former quote and in Reiters return to his filial ties. His

role as writer, which is nourished by life experience and counterbalanced by his role as a

creator, leads to the oscillation between solitude and separation from life and a repeated

return to civil society. His gesture oscillates between disillusion and hope. The irony of

the poetics of disappearance is that it signals, for the reader, the narrator, the characters

and author, the incomplete disappearance of any possible form of closure.

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Conclusion
Todo hace pensar que entraremos en el nuevo milenio bajo la admonicin de la
palabra abyecto []. Una abyeccin dura y pesada y que por momentos parece
irremediable.

Bolao Una proposicin modesta

Roberto Bolaos texts bring together las prcticas de la moral and set themselves

against any dichotomal conception of the world. The author creates his doubles and the

doubles of others as espejo y explosin of themselves. The narrator in 2666 is perhaps

the best example, but Wieder, Father Urrutia and Auxilio also function within

mechanisms of reduplication. To approach the fragile construction of the self Bolao

must create another self as opposite or contrast, but also as the same, not in order to

establish a convention but to approach different practices of morals and their inner

workings (e.g. Weider/Narrator, Father Urrutia/Wizened Youth, Archimboldi/Narrator,

Auxilio/Narrator, Belano). These inner workings gain their maximum exposition as

mirror and explosion of themselves in 2666s complex operations by which they invent

selves as they create literature.

Bolao affirms the capacity of art and literature to participate in the debates

regarding the organization and critique of society, that the relationship between aesthetics

and politics affects social discourses and redistributes them in new forms by transcribing

a body of thought, imagination and experience that serves both as cultural expression and

253
political critique. The most productive aspect of the clash between aesthetics and politics

emerges in Bolaos oeuvre as an abyss or as a grieta, an obscure zone that exposes our

vacillations, contradictions and weaknesses to the concrete reality, to the livable and

unlivable zones where positions are negotiated and multiplied into results or living

conditions during these times of post-totalitarian melancholies.

Bolao often asserts a unity of the self and the other that threatens existing

cultural ideologies (good and evil, proper and improper, domestic and foreign), by

suggesting that these are constructions made of the same originary material and only

categorized in frames or momentos ejemplares by conventions and practices of morals.

The power of horror so prevalent in Estrella distante, for example, is the unity between

opposite poles that the figure of Wieder and the narrator expose to others. Father

Urrutias conflictive situation is not a fictional denunciation or confession but a musical

exposition of the mechanism that works to eliminate shame, guilt, responsibility and

accountability.

Many of the key characters in 2666 reach high levels of disquiet and

disillusionment to an extreme where they seem half-dead and half-alive. This seems to

change in the last part of 2666, when Reiter/Archimboldi, in an attempt to disclose the

ingenuity of the human race, equates art to life experience, using the figure of the writer

as reference. The gesture reminds us of Auxilio in Amuleto. In Bolaos texs subjects

from any side of the political spectrum always need to revaluate their position after

crashing against the balizas that will help shape their acts. Reiter/Archimboldis

kunstlerroman, as well as Leprinces in a previously discussed short story, situate the

reader and these characters before an irremediable loss: De lo perdido, de lo

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irremediablemente perdido, solo deseo recuperar la posibilidad cotidiana de mi escritura,

lneas capaces de cogerme del pelo y levantarme cuando mi cuerpo ya no quiera aguantar

mas (Amberes 119). But what does Reiter/Archimboldi recovers after the war? By

examining La parte de Archimboldi as an artists novel or knstlerroman and exploring

the intersections between ethico-political and artistic discourses we learn about Reiters

artistic identity, and to some extent, about Bolaos aesthetic and political-ethics. The

knstlerroman is a convoluted rhizome of multiple stories with no meticulous

development about Archimboldi, his travels, writings and lifean exercise in self-

exploration and self-positioning in regards to a past that haunts his writing in the present.

The attempt is to narrate the life of a subject inhabiting a loss of sentido in an apocalyptic

adventure that tries to recreate that same loss and its repositioning in a post-totalitarian

imagined present and future. Reiter both disappears and appears, as part of the

conventions and institutions of civil society, but always with a melancholic longing, and

as an attempt to practice a post-statal non-identity.

Bolao created himself as an author, narrator and character of primary importance

in his texts. Surrounded by multiple doubles or reduplications, espejos y explosiones, the

author provides a dramatization of the modern mind in search for knowledge of the self,

and the inner mechanism of literary imaginations as sources of this knowledge, often

trapped in the interruption of thought and communication and the complexities of

affective dynamics. These are, without a doubt, fragile mechanisms full of self-doubt and

mirages in a quest of the mind that invents itself as it creates literature.

Roberto Bolaos ethico-political disquiet is the story of a pursuer that always has

to do more in order to move beyond the logic of good and evil, beyond left and right,

255
beyond life and death. Bolaos oeuvre challenges fixed conceptions of identity,

normality, good, evil, responsibility and the attachment of these categories to fixed codes.

What he challenges is not an essential notion of total evil but the cruelty found and

installed in institutions and operations of normality, including literature, as well as in

normalizing strategies of survival, whether personal or collective. His challenge also

involves a certain cruelty, the cruelty of unsettling the normal or the dualities that

reassure society and provide closure, because that cruelty seeks to unsettle the order that

establishes prevailing identities. His own autobiographical and ethico-political persona is

at stake, or is the target of this cruelty, of these attempts to imagine new relationships

between culture and politics. The numerous expressions of doubles and reduplications,

disappearance an appearance and vacuums point to the principle of ambiguity and

uncertainty imbedded in his writings as necessary for the subterranean explorations of the

diversity of experience. The disappearance of writers, central image of la idea bolaiana,

is at the same time their multiplication and extension. This particular aspect shows

Bolao at his very best, as Borges meditating on the unity of the multiplicity of things or

as Calvinos meditations on the Manifold text which replaces the oneness of a thinking I

with a multiplicity of subjects, voices and views of the world (Calvino 1988). Bolaos

idea of the Nobela (Belano) as an apocalyptic adventure, reduplication and grieta is

possibly encyclopedic and Borgesian in the way that it connects people, things, and

events in the world. Within Bolaos opus each chapter, short story, novel and poem is

connected in many ways to one another forming labyrinths and reproducing noises ad

infinitum, as imperfect photographs that demonstrate the ways in which the private and

256
public experience of the world exceed the subject identity and the cultural, social and

political institutions that systematize society.

257
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