Monday, October 1, 2012

BEYOND BEAUTY: Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives and 2666

Rebels are often attracted to storied lunatics and repelled by oppressors’ intuitive designs.

It also appears [anecdotally] that rebels throughout history [Diogenes, Thersites] have felt bourgeois methodologies irritated their sensibilities.[i]

Such radicals, being human, usually prefer running in their own circles, hoping to avoid the imaginary yet actual herd, which simultaneously defies the center while clinging to it. Everyone believes themselves a radical. Few see they’re in the herd, fewer still know the etymology of radical.

Among those who do see are some who linger open-eyed, squatting on the margins in Roberto Bolano’s The SavageDetectives and 2666, inspecting the fringes, discovering a numbing cruelty and complacency that becomes, in scope, a semblance of the whole species…a metaphysical super-organism existing for its own ends.

The reader reads the drip-drop-drip of a lunacy running amok in the imagined world[s] affected by particular cruelties and a generalized ennui, holograms that no longer coalesce over the old mythologies, re-imagining the emptiness of old rituals overturned by the arrival of maquilladoras, narcos and NAFTA, a post-communist unraveling of a previous order that reveals a mind trying to make sense of all the disintegrating contradictions—the cruelties of self fighting to exist in a multi-polar world—before being overwhelmed by the entropy of its own open-ended demise or conclusion [note: Bolano was dying while writing 2666, succumbing to liver disease shortly after finishing it].

The term “savage detectives,” like 2666, suggests more of a riddle than something concrete. Who or what are they? What’s savage about them? What are they trying to detect?

Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, semi-fictional leaders of Mexico City’s self-proclaimed “visceral realists” of the 1990s, flee with a whore from her enraged pimp into the Sonoran desert of northern Mexico hoping to find their poetic mother, Cesarea Tinajero.

These savage detectives are described as “sovereigns of sadness,” exploring the postmodern world’s slow-motion, metaphysical collapse. Belano [who’s also the alleged narrator of 2666] and Lima and those who follow them, read them, know or feel there’s no point to anything, nothing worthwhile, really, beyond rebellion for the sake of doing something visceral, something from the gut, something real that goes beyond mere semblance…to prove to one’s self that one’s really alive, to do something that asserts one’s existence in an irreversibly brutal mode that totally fucks with the man’s head while allowing the transgressor to spot something, anything, that might be construed as meaningful.

Over the course of the two novels, an amoral aesthetic based on youthful desperation and hunger [see “Mexicans Lost in Mexico”] gradually evolves into a magical fatalism as Lotte, Archimboldi’s elderly sister, informs the aging giant his nephew’s an accused serial killer in a Mexican prison, and though Archimboldi’s just a man, he’s done some amazing things, and may still do something amazing. The first novel begins with romantic writers in their youth searching for something real and the second ends with the greatest visceral realist of them all—Benno von Archimboldi—boarding a plane for Santa Teresa [Juarez] and a mysterious legacy, a magical fatalism where something is done when nothing’s possible anyway.

Abel Romero, a character in Detectives, says “…the heart of the matter is knowing whether evil (or sin or crime or whatever you want to call it) is random or purposeful. If it’s purposeful, we can fight it …If it’s random…we’re fucked.” [420]

Bolano, however, knows it’s more complicated, that it’s not good or evil if it’s random, it simply is. Good or evil requires purpose or intent, and he shows the divergent ambiguities of such aims in perhaps the most amazing part of either novel, when, in Detectives, Jaume Planells speaks of Arturo’s duel with literary critic Inaki Echevarne:

“…this scene was the logical outcome of our ridiculous lives. It wasn’t a punishment but a new wrinkle. It gave us a glimpse of ourselves in our common humanity. It wasn’t proof of our idle guilt but a sign of our miraculous and pointless innocence.” [510-11]

Both novels embody Eros’ struggle over Thanatos, where life tries to “abolish death” [2666, 710] even though “No one pays attention [to the carnage, even though] the secret of the world is hidden in [it]” [SD, 348]…even though neither artist or critic, producer or consumer, can ever win the duel if humans are to exist.

The man who rents Archimboldi his first typewriter tells him that “Jesus is the masterpiece. The thieves are minor works. Why are they there? Not to frame the crucifixion, as some innocent souls believe, but to hide it.” [790]

Which is another way of saying everything we innocently perceive is symbolic, a crucifixion of the truth, a “semblance” of the apocalypse, where “…it was all real… in appearance.…a tapestry burned by the fire of seeming.” [Ansky in 2666, 722-3]

It’s while fleeing from Stalinists that Ansky, a Soviet Jew whose journal the youthful Prussian, Archimboldi, had discovered while recuperating from his wounds on the Eastern Front in WWII, writes: “Only in chaos are we conceivable…something secret, horrible, and cosmic [is] afoot." [736]

Indeed. And Bolano’s fictions plumb this secret, giving voice to the ultimate mysteries of being human…a way of going beyond mere beauty with all the ugliness going on.

[i] I think of what’s happened re: the exploitation of Che Guevara. The Bolano myth’s on a par with “The Motorcycle Diaries” in the way the mainstream spectacle has sought to co-opt and invert energy antithetical to its existence for a profit, but that’s another subject…

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