On The Part About Amalfitano (2666)

02Feb09

In which The Gay Recluse reads Roberto Bolaño in stages.

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As the title indicates, the second book of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is devoted to Amalfitano, a professor of philosophy (or maybe sometimes literature) at the university in the Mexican town where — in the previous book — the three pretentious European academics/literary critics gathered to look for an elusive German writer who is the object of their scholarly pursuits. In this book, far more than the first, Bolaño offers us oblique symbols, odd gestures — a book of geometry left to hang on a clothesline plays a major role — arcane references to obscure texts and authors (although not all are obscure, though some may be made up?), and (dreaded trope of post-modern literature; although he may be mocking it?), mathematical equations. This is a book that would be perfect fodder for the detestable literary critics, as if Bolaño wants to please and mock them at the same time.

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Not coincidentally, all of this is put to the service in describing what appears to be a descent into madness by Amalfitano, who by the end of the chapter is hearing voices in his head (among other things). In getting there, we learn a little bit about his childhood in Chile, and quite a bit more about his first wife (and the mother of his daughter), who ran away many years earlier after becoming obsessed with a Spanish poet who was also insane (and maybe gay, or at least enough to catch AIDS from a male lover and pass it along to the wife?) and living in an asylum.

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Because this book — although short — is so abstract and dense, we were somewhat less enthralled than we were with the first one, and relieved when it came to an end. Not all fiction, of course, is meant to please — or be understood — and Bolaño seems more than aware as he tests our patience. But we never felt compelled to give up; there was too much unresolved mystery hanging on from the first book, and there was also at times a new and more intimate quality to the prose that made us suspect that in this character, we were probably getting as close as Bolaño would allow to himself, i.e., the writing at times seems to reflect not only the madness of the character, but of his creator. So we were carried through by deep currents of what felt like regret and anger and desperation; there was a bitterness to some of these words that made it hard to believe the author, when writing, didn’t know he was about to die.

The 2666 Review Roundup:
The Part About the Critics
The Part About Fate
The Part About the Crimes
The Part About Archimboldi

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One Response to “On The Part About Amalfitano (2666)”

  1. What a beautiful statue- where is it?


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