Sunday, January 11, 2009

Caffeine-Fueled Miscellany About 2666

I spent the last three days hammering out my essay on 2666 that clocked in at a probably overly high nine pages. But there is so much that has already been written about the book, most of it in the most gushing ways imaginable, praise which is mostly justified I feel but strange at the same time. I'd like to think such an overwhelmingly positive reception is a combination of various factors--among them, Bolano's masterfully rebellious genius-- and not just our cultural obsession with violence.

2666 is a vicious, bludgeoning, despairing, visceral and brutal book concerned with the extremes of human depravity (mostly directed against women) as well as the futility of art, or anything else for that matter to do anything about it. But weirdly enough, it is art like that, and not all such art can do this, that makes me feel that life is worth living and worth striving for. Not every exercise in sounding the depths of darkness can be life-affirming. Most become morbid, nihilistic indulgences, like collecting serial killer souvenirs or the unfortunate genre of concentration camp exploitation films.

A word I think that is instructive, for our culture and many others (like the one Bolano explores in his works), is a German word: Schadenfreude.
Its interesting to see this concept in other languages as well.

In my opinion, most of what passes as "sick and twisted" is just exploitive, heartless dispatches from our collective fascination with other people's misfortune, or else just more installments in the torture-porn culture that has become the substitute for meanginful, human explorations of fear and pain. And yes, there remains slippery slopes as always, movies that are deplorably hard-to-watch but still amazingly insightful regarding the wiles of the human heart, like
Audition and Old Boy.

Which is to say that 2666 is still not for everybody. Even subtracting the 300 page murder narrative, the book is still rife with nightmarish riffs on love, disease, sex, war, insanity, betrayal and loss--capturedly darkly and vividly, often like a fever dream, but also with Bolano's quintessential humor. Gallows humor, yes but very much about living life intensely even in the face of obvious futility.

Yesterday, after finishing the essay, I went to Philz Coffee on 24th and Folsom, sat outside on cold metal in the warm shade, and while admiring a slowly-shifting slant of light on the yellow wall across the street, I drank a large coffee and people-watched until the caffeine made me reach for my notebook. All sorts of people congregate there, not too far away either from various scenes of recent gang-related homicides. The best jolt to the mind in my opinion is a not-too-sweet cup of the So-Good blend.

There in the failing light, the gathering, street-odorous shade, I thought about other odes to mortality unfolding, like Warren Zevon's
The Wind.

I felt pretty damn good drinking that coffee, and I started work on a short story based on a couple deaths of fellow Santa Cruz college students I used to know. The story is also about a phosphorescent algae that makes people go mad. It could have been a very morbid afternoon but, for whatever reason, everything felt gloriously alive despite the funereal timbre of my thoughts.

Both 2666 and The Savage Detectives (which I read last year) will continue, hopefully in a good way, to influence the way I write and the way I view the world. At first I couldn't pinpoint exactly what accounted for the magic of the language, which is often spare, and the style, which is often excessive and monstrous until I read an essay by the translator, Natasha Wimmer. She acknowledges what makes his writing so compelling: a distinct lack of rhetoric, a candor bordering on dementia.

Laundry needs to get done. Money needs to be made. Furniture needs to be assembled.

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