Allied World War II soldiers
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I propose that the constancy of militarism and its effects on social reality be reintroduced as a crucial locus of contemporary feminist attentions, and that feminists emphasize how wars are eruptions and manifestations of omnipresent militarism that is a product and tool of multiply oppressive, corporate, technocratic states.(2) Feminists should be particularly interested in making this shift because it better allows consideration of the effects of war and militarism on women, subjugated peoples, and environments. While giving attention to the constancy of militarism in contemporary life we need not neglect the importance of addressing the specific qualities of direct, large-scale, declared military conflicts. But the dramatic nature of declared, large-scale conflicts should not obfuscate the ways in which military violence pervades most societies in increasingly technologically sophisticated ways and the significance of military institutions and everyday practices in shaping reality. Philosophical discussions that focus only on the ethics of declaring and fighting wars miss these connections, and also miss the ways in which even declared military conflicts are often experienced as omnipresent horrors. These approaches also leave unquestioned tendencies to suspend or distort moral judgement in the face of what appears to be the inevitability of war and militarism.  (Cuomo, C.  1996.  Hypatia, 11(4).)

One of the things I enjoyed so much about 2666 was its focus on this sort of cultural analysis: how the conditions of possibility for large interstate wars are also the very conditions of possibility for the ubiquitous and often invisible violence in those same cultures.  Bolano tracks this dichotomy and even prioritizes the importance of the micro-level violence, for lack of a better term, vis a vis the macro-level violence.  The first four parts of the book are an increasing crescendo into the micro violence culminating with a painful and gut-wrenching Part Four.  Part Five has Bolano treat the German character to World War II and the analysis traditionally done by those concerned with politics.  This is not, however, to say WW2 was unimportant, but in the scheme of grisly violence that needs to be dealt with the choice is clear and the neocons have it all wrong.

Bolano’s book is an implicit answer to how many people deploy this very piece of evidence: reading the section “While giving attention…declared military conflicts” as a reason why the conflicts of both micro and macro level violences ought to be weighed next to each other.  However, that is a misreading of this evidence.  Cuomo would argue that the divorcing of the two from each other is the very problem, that they are intertwined and only by resolving issues larger than arms control and global trade can we truly achieve a level of peace both internally and externally to the states.

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Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous LIfe of Oscar Wao (highly recommended), has an interesting bit about his writing process in an interview (Callaloo, 23, 892-907).  He says that in his editing process he will look at a sentence without looking at the composition of the sentence.  If the sentence does not look right on the page then he will change it so it does look right.  I wonder of this is common and I suspect it is more common than many writers realize.  Note, this is not same as pacing, keeping paragraphs from being too long and too short.

Bolano, however, does not do this.  In the beginning of the book there was more dialogue that looked normal, with line breaks.  But as the book progresses there are less and less with dialogue looking more framed than acted out.  The paragraphs are also decreasing in frequency as the passages are becoming longer in composition but shorter in content and plot devlopment.  The book now seems to be a collection of anecdotes about the characters as they move towards the inevitable, which I now believe is going to be a gruesome bloodbath.  I will admit an excitement to see what he does and how he does.

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Part 3 of this novel is odd.  Bolano has shifted the protaganist to a black American who writes for Black Dawn profiling former activists.  While not yet sure about the place of the character, named Fate, Bolano is making some moves to prepare us for the coming bloodbath.  This seems to be the political part as he continually reminds women are so un-valued in our world that a mass murder of them is easily distracted by a boxing match.  The criticism begins on page 266 with two stories.

The first is about the slave trade in the seventeenth century.  20% of the slaves would die in the ships crossing the Atlantic and yet this was dismissed as cost of doing business.  “But if a plantation owner went crazy and killed his neighbor and then went galloping back home, dismounted, and promptly killed his wife, two deaths in total, Virginia society spent the enxt six months in fear, and the legend of the murderer on horseback might linger for generations.”

The second story: “During the Paris Commune of 1871, thousands of people were killed and non one batted an eye.  Around the same time a knife sharpener killed his wife and his elderly mother and then he was shot and killed by the police.  The story didn’t just make all the French newspapers, it was written up in papers across Europe, and even got a mention in the New York Examiner.”

Bolano explains these differing resposnes as the work of exclusion and inclusion based on economic lines.  I do like that explanation, but his examples seem possibly poorly chosen if his argument later on becomes that the murdered women are not valued.  The two examples are an exaltation of women above the outsiders.  Maybe they were insiders and hence these examples are consistent?  Maybe the rubric of the invisible murdered is more complex than just an economic analysis (the wife of a knife sharpener is considered included within the economic order?)  A more spohisticated approach would analyze the methods of the murders, i.e. Zizek’s distinction between systemic and individual violence.

A passage:

“I’m a reporter,” he said.

“You’re going to write about the crimes,” said the cook.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I’m going to cover the boxing match this Sunday,” said Fate.  (268)

Another:

The customs officer asked if he was coming to write about the killings.

“No,” said Fate, “I’m going to cover the fight on Saturday.’

“What fight?” asked the customs officer.

Notice the inconsistent day of the fight.  There are several editing issues like this that I have found so far.  I do not think this error is significant nor designed, this translation is a posthumous one, after all.

Besides the editing, or maybe another example, is the constant breaking fo the 4th Wall in this section.  Numerous times Bolano uses an ‘I’ without identifying anyone as speaking.  Is the ‘I’ an as of yet unknown narrator/character.  Is this just an editing error.  I have not yet found them to consistent or meaningful, the book has not yet acknowledged these breaks.  Section three is told in the past tense, but as the action is happening (“…Fate saw a man…[who] swung his arms as he walked.”)  And then sometimes Fate will remember something as though the story is a Frame story, but these slight ruptures are the only places where the framing is hinted at.

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I am still working through 2666, still?  the tome is only 900 pages long, I will be working on it for quite some time, and I think I know what has taken me by surprise here.  There are plenty of writers that write about writing and about writers, as a way to insert autobiographical events, but Bolano has taken a different tack.  The beginning of the book is about 4 literary critics that are chasing one author.

The critics are not obsessed and they strike me as normal, as far as academics are normal.  The author they follow is non-existent: they do not know any biographical information about him and yet he is still publishing.  This seems to be a way to keep the critics normal, a mechanism for Bolano to restrain himself from making the usual critics-as-nuts story.  The critics in the book do not write, they publish.  Bolano spends no time discussing writing and instead focuses mainly on their non-academic lives.  It’s a strange inversion and one that I am enjoying if only because it is easy to see how it would probably go awry with a less capable writer.

I just finished a passage where the critics are put into the psychoanalytic microscope as writers normally are by the critic.  The critics in this case are motivated by a desire for love.  I suspect/hope Bolano will turn to why these wants are manifest in criticism and not in creative production.  He does offers a glimpse into the presence/absence of imagination as a possible source of this split, but I have not yet seen the commitment for that to be his answer.  Right now 2666 strikes me as a treatise about extravagance.  I fear that he will make the critic’s task one of superfluousness and hence unnecessary.

I have just started reading the new Roberto Bolano book, 2666, the very one that is making all kinds of waves for its immanent changing of literature.  I will make some comments here as I work through it.  It is a massive tome so it may take me some time, but I guess that is then why god invented the ‘next item’ button at the bottom of the RSS viewer.

In his introduction of Liz Norton, Bolano says that she does not have the drive present in the other three characters.  My ears always perk up when I cross this word because of its complex and ubiquitous presence in psychoanalytic literature.  Drive, according to Zizek, “persists in a certain demand, it is a ‘mechanical’ insistence that cannot be caught up in the dialectical trickery: I demand something and I persist in it to the end.” (1998.  Looking awry.  21)

I will probably butcher the theory here, but the demand is, in short, the opposite of desire.  We are driven to something not because we are told to want it and not because we are told to not want it.  The drive harkens back to the fundamental lacuna.  It is this reference that makes Zizek and Bolano arrive at the same conclusion: drive is in opposition to “the word life [hence ‘death drive’], and, on rare occasions, happiness.” (Bolano, 2004, 8)  The obvious difference though is that Zizek believes true happiness is best found by following the drive and enjoying the symptom, whereas Bolano has set up the binary in the other direction.

Needless to say he has already struck upon some ground that is both deep and also treacherously close to the jagged rocks lurking below the waters.

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