Thursday, 20 November 2008

Bolaño's 2666, Part I: "They supplied the stamp of ultraconcrete canonical literature, a nonspectulative literature free of ideas, assertions, denials, doubts . . ." So submits Roberto Bolaño, in the universally praised 2666, about scholars like me. He falls prey here to the Robertson Davies' romance of academic life, in which even minor disagreements are elevated to shrieks against creed as red in claw as they are long in the tooth. Scholars like myself and Bolaño's "insignificant Serbian critic" argue passionately but ultimately purposelessly, for the "ideas, assertions, denials, [and] doubts" we don't have are free of any intent to serve as guide, [are] neither pro nor con, just an eye seeking out the tangible elements, not judging them but simply displaying them coldly, archaeology of the facsimile, and, by the same token, of the photocopier. (55) That Bolaño flips Benjamin the finger here is obvious enough. A work of art emancipated from "its parasitical dependence on ritual" bobs on the restless and relentless tide of technological progress, degraded first by facsimile, later by photocopier, today by scanner, by email, tomorrow by technologies of reproduction yet to be invented. His academics drift aimlessly, a cult without a leader, dependent upon the ritual of reading Benno von Archimboldi (the author whose biography is as mysterious as his novels are spectacular) but incomplete without personal, unmediated contact with the him. They coagulate into a cult and embrace its trappings, its curdled factions, apostasies, anathemas, the evidences of intellectual combat in extremis. Their soft solid masses attend conferences devoted to German literature, chair panels in which their opponents counter their "festive, Dionysian vision of ultimate carnival" by "[speaking] of suffering . . . civic duty . . . [and] humor" (12). They do this often, eleven times by my count, across a Europe overteeming with conferences devoted to high modernist literature about which Bolaño only speaks of obliquely through a critical language emptied of everything but the academic clichés, brood references to solitary men and their signal women. When this sullen lot "[meets] their Moses" (23), a Swabbian journalist who once spoke directly to their absent father, Archimboldi, they discombobulate like jealous underlings: Pelletier (male) and Espinoza (male) bed Norton (female), ignore Morini (cripple), contemplate polyamory and redirect their incestuous agresssion away from their totemized father and toward the hapless Pakistani cabbie disgusted by the frankness of the conversation. The cabbie confessed that London was such a labyrinth, he really had lost his bearings. Which led Espinoza [male] to remark that he'd be damned if the cabbie hadn't just quoted Borges, who once said London was like a labyrinth—unintentionally, of course. To which Norton [female] replied that Dickens and Stevenson had used the same trope long before Borges in their descriptions of London. This seemed to set the driver off, for he burst out that as a Pakistani he might not know this Borges, and he might not have read the famous Dickens and Stevenson either, and he might not even know London and its streets as well as he should, that's why he'd said they were a labyrinth, but he knew very well what decency and...

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