THE PART ABOUT THE CRIMES: BOLAÑO, RITA, RIHANNA

I’m about 600 pages into Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 –a book that is both horrible and hypnotic, one of the few Bolaño works I’ve been able to finish (Amuleto was the other one). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a lot of most of his books, some in English and some in Spanish; I simply think he’s overrated and overtranslated when compared to the amazing wealth of other contemporary Latin American writers. 2666’s spot-on epigraph begins things with a quote from Baudelaire: “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom”. The 1000+ page book is divided into five parts. I’m drowning in part four, “The Part About The Crimes”. It describes, in blunt unaffected language, dozens upon dozens of brutal rapes and murders that occurred in Santa Teresa. The Mexican border city is Bolaño’s fictional stand-in for the very real Ciudad Juárez, where hundreds of women have been killed in unsolved murders stretching back to 1993. As in 2666 , many of these women worked in the American-owned maquiladoras in the nearby desert, making products for export north.

womanpainting

If it were the stand-alone work of an unknown writer, The Part About The Crimes would be an insane, unpublishable anti-novel . But Bolaño’s writing has long embraced themes of systemic violence and the relationship (if any) of literature to any actual world.

Today, taking a break from the dark gravity of Part Four, I came across several related articles.

The New York Times reports that: “Foxconn, a Taiwanese firm that makes iPhones, Dell computers and other electronics, is one of several Asian companies taking root. It opened a plant in Juárez last summer. . .Despite several murders a day, trade between Juárez and Texas rose 47 percent last year to $71.1 billion.”

And The Guardian says: “Not by coincidence, Juarez is also a model for the capitalist economy. Recruits for the drug war come from the vast, sprawling maquiladora – bonded assembly plants where, for rock-bottom wages, workers make the goods that fill America’s supermarket shelves or become America’s automobiles, imported duty-free… ‘It’s a city based on markets and on trash,’ says Julián Cardona, a photographer who has chronicled the implosion.”

That quote brings to mind a scene from 2666‘s Part Three “The Part About Fate”, which chronicles a black New York City journalist who ends up in Santa Teresa covering a boxing game but learns about the killing of women (and ultimately engages in a favored Bolaño trope: having an outsider enter in a potentially lethal situation and extract a person at risk with the power of words or at least without physical force). This excerpt is rich in its typical Bolañoid blankness (“the sandwich was full of all kinds of things”), laced with a humor so dark you almost forget the room has no windows and we’re running out of air:

He could see hills on the horizon. The hills were dark yellow and black. Past the hills, he guessed, was the desert. He felt the urge to leave and drive into the hills, but when he got back to his table the woman had brought him a beer and a very thick kind of sandwich. He took a bite and it was good. The taste was strange, spicy. Out of curiosity, he lifted the piece of bread on top: the sandwich was full of all kinds of things. He took a long drink of beer and stretched in his chair. Through the vine leaves he saw a bee, perched motionless. Two slender rays of sun fell vertically on the dirt floor. When the man came back he asked how to get to the hills. The man laughed. He spoke a few words Fate didn’t understand and then he said not pretty, several times.

“Not pretty?”

“Not pretty,” said the man, and he laughed again.

Then he took Fate by the arm and dragged him into a room that served as a kitchen and that looked very tidy to Fate, each thing in its place, not a spot of grease on the white-tiled wall, and he pointed to the garbage can.

“Hills not pretty?” asked Fate.

The man laughed again.

“Hills are garbage?”

The man couldn’t stop laughing. He had a bird tattoed on his left forearm. Not a bird in flight, like most tattoos of birds, but a bird perched on a branch, a little bird, possibly a swallow.

“Hills a garbage dump?”

The man laughed even more and nodded his head.

 

And that’s that. The complex — and extremely macho — intensity of Bolaño’s Grand Novel can certainly benefit from queering interventions & inversions more about seeds than graves. First there’s Rihanna’s new single, in which the pop star from Barbados goes reggae as she recounts gunning down Chris Brown “a man”, in broad daylight, with immaculate hair and styling. Personally, I believe guns should be illegal. But I’m willing to make exceptions for Rihanna.

Edging further towards 2666 is Rita Indiana’s punk-mambo apocalyptic embrace of a song, whose title translates to “The Devil’s Takin’ Us Away”, which we produced and released on Dutty Artz awhile back — Rita was in NYC recently and whipped crowds into a frenzy with each performance of “No Ta Llevando El Diablo”. Here’s footage from her Summerstage rendition of it, “a tune so bold and out-of-this-world, that it really seems like a trip to hell.”

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14 thoughts on “THE PART ABOUT THE CRIMES: BOLAÑO, RITA, RIHANNA”

  1. Jace, I read 2666 over two months while I was in Senegal, and it kicked my ass. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I felt like I was drowning the whole time. It made me think of the things my friend Pancho had told me about growing up in Juarez — including the fact that men who didn’t know each other couldn’t look each other in the eye without starting a life-and-death confrontation. (And I thought PR and Miami were rough!) BTW, Rita Indiana is one of the hippest things I’ve heard in a long time!

  2. Es cierto que el estilo de Bolaño es muy ‘macho’, pero fíjate que a mí La Parte sobre los Crímenes me pareció un relato brutal y muy revelador sobre cómo funciona la violencia machista…

  3. (I like Rihanna’s video, and song)

    This post reminds me the movie ‘Monsters’ (UK 2011) , have you seen it?

  4. Si Irene, estoy de acuerdo contigo. Para mi, La Parte sobre los Crímenes tiene muy poco que ver con otros temas machistas con los que uno se tropieza en Bolaño. Has leido “Viva la Vida, los sueños en Ciudad Juárez”? Es super interesante y da una vista muy distinta a las mismas circunstancias (y aparece Bolaño).

    And yes, DJ Paso — i saw Monsters (UK 2010). Terrible acting but interesting concept!

  5. Hm well. I guess this makes me think of a pretty ‘useful’ (Brecht) piece of advice I heard once which is summing a series (the reading of a book in this case) before, well, the series has sort of finished its unfolding (in this case, the finishing of the reading of the book at well, its last printed page) is, well, dangerous. Not illegitimate or whatever. We got this tidbit info from Guatteleuze on Series in a thousand plateaus- how each piece in a series alters, forwards and backwards, all that come into the series. ‘the last drink’ ‘the last woman’ ‘the middle of the storm’ So anyways lets get going here

    I mean, ‘overtranslated’? I guess Im not exactly sure what that means. I mean, well, we could play a lot of games with what it means. But Im taking it that overtranslated means something like **’overly’ (in what sense? fair? profitable? cardinal aesthetic reordering?) produced in its translated language/publishing ‘market’** or something like that. And well, I mean, i’m not going say that english language readers **shouldn’t** read ‘other contemporary spanish language writers’ which i think is the collective noun you made. no of course not. in the sense that well, more reading is better! haha. read more!! of course. meanwhile, during that, still, to say that english language readers should be turning away from bolano **because** he is **overtranslated** or overwrought or now has received, ‘earned’ haha some cachet of a spanish language author (all of this perspectivized from this place where we sit on a platform and make theory from how, really, the aesthetics of its translation operation!! i mean – again- this is actually hilarious), because he has this cachet, we should thumb our noses at the cachet AND (??!?!?!) not read his books? This second part i am uncomfortable with. Sure there is a bolano fetish. no doubt.

    But as we have been taught again and again from Jameson (from Lukac) ‘the enemies aren’t on the Left’ !!

    With all these caveats in place, I would say that the book shook me in a way in which was important, for me, at the time of the reading event haha. I was living in a ‘south’ city of 15ish million with factories and factories and loud motorcycles and no trees.

    I was also reading another book simultaneously. by another author who has received unfair repackaging, but in a complete different way and aesthetic reordering- michel foucault. the slimish book is FEARLESS SPEECH. and well, its really lecture notes, so it reads like a listen, like a song if you want to remake his speaking of it, because, well, he did speak it! it was audio at one point!!

    anyways this book is great and well im not going to spoil it for people who are interested in reading it but its erudite but not recondite. All about Parrhesia- the word which we can translate as FEARLESS SPEECH, sort of. But of course, this too is a translation. i read this ‘audio’ in english. not in the french that the audio came from NOR from greek that MF reads and quotes at length. I mean this is no Borges story. We are always reorganizing and reordering libraries!! So MF goes through Euripides’ Ion plays and Socratic dialogues and ends up with Diogenes. A real man who lived. And well Diogenes’ dialogues with King Alexander are texts that you can read. And the point is, are these true? (yes) Are these fearless speeches fearless? (hm) are they possible? (yes) Are these words that Diogenes speaks about fearless speech are they true? In opposition to taking them as ironic, reified dialogues. Well you can decide for yourself when/if you read them, but for the sake of play , lets say, yes, Diogenes was a fearless speaker, a parrhesiatic, and that, yes, the point is to **change yourself**. That there is no such thing as a unkingly king- that it makes no sense!! its as off as saying a bad good man!!

    So 2666, the part about the crimes, well i encourage you to reserve a resummation until the end of the book because the crimes are **changed** by what comes, in the book, but in life, at the same time, or usually, before, the crimes.

    To sort of say something a bit different, I remember thinking something during the book which, with professors, journalists, crimes ( and soon a different kind of war and more crimes) that there is a reordering operation that he is doing in that place you repeatedly referred to as a **fictional** stand in for a very **real** place of CJ. Well, i mean, dialectics of fiction and real? i mean really? no. the point is to see how they are coextensive. they cut into each other. i mean we all know that. and well thats important for crimes (i imagine in your real pole) but also in the way in which 2666 confronts, well, art, which, i hope, doesnt rest for too long in a pole of fiction. i mean of course its feet get wet there (art’s) but i meannnnnnnnnnnnn. A real sort of hat tip or sort of head shaking laugh goes to the language used to relay these crimes. The sort of visibility necessary to relay in this way is, well, i fell shows great kinship with someone like Lovecraft.

    And if we need another example about why to disentangle any ‘media’ (it is the media we must remember) cachet from a text would be Margaret Atwood’s novels.

    2 fragments here seem relevant about horror

    ‘ignoble slogans, which carry a repressed conception of posterity within themselves, and unconsciously fantasize the canon as a form of personal immortality, whose opposite must- naturally enough- be personal extinction’
    Fred Jameson
    and

    ‘one thing destroys another, things emerge, develop, and are destroyed, everywhere is like this. if things are not destroyed by others, then they destroy themselves. why should people die? Does the aristocracy die too? This is a natural law. Forest live longer than human beings, yet even they last only a few thousand years…socialism, too, will be eliminated, it wouldn’t do if it were not eliminated, for then there would be no communism… the life of dialectics is the continous movement towards opposites. mankind will also finally meet its doom… we should always be bringing forth new things. otherwise, what are we here for? what do we want descendents for? new things are to be found in reality, we must grasp reality’
    mao

  6. Mr. Rupture, I’m over here now.

    The main thrust of my comment was that it doesn’t seem to me that Ernesto is claiming to be an arbiter of who should or shouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to speak for the victims of the atrocities that are occurring in Mexico. If I’m reading him correctly, he’s merely stating that these voices aren’t coming from Mexico because they’re unable to publish.

    However, Ernesto does claim that “the culture is disempowered to tell”. What seems implied in the “empowerment” argument, is that there are Mexican voices that, just by nature of being Mexican (and by extension, members of a kind of community of victimhood), have more authority on the matter than outside voices do – they’re just not able to publish.

    I think Ernesto’s claim, if I’m reading him correctly, is merely about the victim’s (Mexican authors in general? the victims of Ciudad Juárez?) inability to be published, and not about their (or others’) legitimacy or authority to speak or lack thereof.

    That said, I am greatly skeptical about the tacit assumption that “the victim” has the truth, and is ready to tell it, but is merely robbed of the means to do so, while “outsiders” will always tell a skewed tale. I don’t really know what kind of work would emerge from Mexico, were we (hypothetically) “fully empowered” to comment on the violence that occurs in our country on a more global stage. Trauma has a way of distorting things to the point where the core of trauma remains incommunicable, even to the community of victims themselves.

    Still, one would hope more Mexican work could get published. The times are even more difficult to endure when the voices that might speak for us internationally are rendered mute.

    Cheers,
    Alan.

  7. thanks for the comment & clarification Alan! I hope Ernesto finds time to add his voice… I was surprised I admit — I recommended a graphic novel to my cartoonist friend, and suddenly Ernesto’s tweeting at me about disempowerment and a kind of ethics of representation, using terms like “the culture.” (“being honest about how you look at a particular culture doesn’t take away the fact that culture remains disempowered to tell.”) Issues of who has a platform to speak or represent are quite important, but thinking about that in terms of insider/outsider or in terms of national identity seems rather limiting… Especially when talking about Juarez/El Paso and a drug crisis tying Mexico to the US!

    Later Ernesto tweeted “Es sólo que es un hecho que los libros (en cómic) sobre México que se están haciendo y conociendo afuera no son hechos por mx”. It felt as it he was writing off “Viva La Vida” by Baudoin & Troubs on the basis of their “outsider” or non-Mexicanness. Following that logic, a book like Elmer Mendoza’s Balas de Plata (narconoir written by a Mexican – not translated into English) becomes more instantly valid that Bolano’s 2666 (Juarez book written by a Chilean – widely available in translation, presumably one of the most read recent fiction books set largely in MX)…. seems like a slippery slope.

    Aside: to me, all this raises the question of narcocorridos — how do these fit into the balance of things? Have we learned any lessons from debates on US gangsta rap and representations of the black community that would be applicable here?

    I’d love to hear what people think about all this –representations of narco-chaos & frontera friction ranges from Bolano’s literary novel to Baudoin & Troubs ‘post-realist’ comic to gangsta cowboy music to sci-fi flicks like Sleep Dealer and Monsters…

    Ernesto, donde estas?

  8. Indeed.

    That was where I think you were misreading Ernesto. I don’t think he’s writing off other interesting or valid work for being “outsider”. You just have to understand how fragile the Mexican public sphere is, which is another way of saying how tenuous it is to speak out here (in any cultural form). Tenuous as in, you can write, but god knows who will hear you, if you’re heard at all. Here, the clamor of indignation is such, and the power of publication so weak, that it’s hard to sort out where the lucid analysis/good writing/interesting work is going on, if and when it is.

    It seems to me there are two things we have to be careful with:

    1. Empowerment. I think we’re using it in two senses here (though of course there are more to look at). The first is empowerment as the mere possibility of publishing, the ability to get things out there that get read and have an impact. The second sense is empowerment in the sense of authority, i.e. who can speak authoritatively about the situation/massacre. We shouldn’t confuse the two, (which is what I think started this discussion) as it’ll bring up the question of whether those who have the power to publish have the authority or legitimacy to comment on the situation, or the inverse.

    2. Publics

    I think it’s healthy to assume that the representation of Mexican victimhood, or writing about the crisis operates in a U.S. public sphere, a Mexican one, and a third, more intersection of the two. But to assume it’s all one thing is just going to make Mexican authors come off as unjustly underepresented within the American public sphere, (which they are, but that’s not the whole story.)

    (That said, this issue is really tricky, because there is also a sense among the mexican bourgeoisie that if you really want to get heard, you have to get heard in the states. I’m overstating this case, but I think it has to be taken into account.)

    This goes to respond to your point about the narcocorrido vs. gangsta rap. Though they may seem similar, what is truly different is how you theorize what would be the mexican equivalent of “whiteness” or hegemony, or whatever the hell it purports to offset itself against. It just isn’t the same. i.e. they insert themselves very differently into the publics that consume them.

    Which is also to say, we still don’t really have a strong hipster population that consumes the narcocorrido as a means of performing this or that “political” position.

    Y sí, ojalá puedas entrarle a la discusión, mi buen Ernesto, que llevo parafraseando argumentos tuyos y ni sé si estás de acuerdo con mi lectura.

    Saludos a los dos,
    Alan

  9. thanks for this points and clarifications Alan, I appreciate this. I’m curious how this all plays out with the circulation and reception of the book that sparked this thread, “Viva la Vida” (which hasnt been translated into English yet!) — and i’d love recommendations for Mexican writers to check out (from comics to new fiction on small presses to whatever seems most exciting really).

    I threw in the narcocorridos thing b/c, in addition to being incredibly narrative in form, they seem to bring with them a whole other set of concerns regarding issues of representation, power, and publics. Bands like Grupo Exterminador play in NYC several times a year; I think of narcocorridos as the cultural response to Juarez-type chaos with the largest audience if not the most cosmopolitan reach.

  10. I don’t have much to add to this conversation, which has been really enjoyable, except to object to Bolaño as a ‘Chilean author.’ Didn’t he live in Mexico for quite a while? And then Spain… I’m not sure if I need to be in the game of identifying a dead author’s identity, but it is relevant to this discussion of the Mexican public sphere and representations etc.

  11. Jace, I’ve thought on and off for a couple of years about translating “La estrategia de Chochueca,” the super-messy and very queered 1st novel of Rita’s. I know I still owe you a .pdf copy, I have to dig it out of storage. Among the difficulties are the same compacted slang you see in her songs and the messy city, which is more similar to other Global South cities than ever, and which has become unintelligible to a lot of us who know fewer and fewer nodules of it because it has metastasized in our absence.

    In the one moment we got to say hello, she promised me a copy of the reissued “Papi” (or maybe it was the new one, “Los nombres de los animales”).

    The point is, how can literature make sense of these spaces, their violence, their mis/communications, their economies? And how can we translate more, to get across the bottlenecks of non-fluency in more languages?

  12. Man–that section of 2666 was rough. Beautiful book, though, all in all.

  13. Caro — It would be amazing if you were to translate ‘La Estrategia…’ Wow. /// years later, patiently awaiting the PDF. was hoping I could find Papi in Spain, but it doesnt seem to be in stores here — anybody have a link for the reissue publisher?

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