Currently we’re reading pp. 122 – 201 of vol 2, Dance and Dream, and these comments are going to pertain to both last week’s section and this week’s. As always, you can check the full schedule right here.
To start, a very general observation: I don’t know about you all, but I’m at the point where things are really starting to pile up. More and more I’m seeing stuff referring to stuff, referring to stuff, referring to stuff, and so on; basically I’m annotating lines all the time now with little cross-reference marks and jotting down ideas as to how what I’m currently reading relates back to what occurred in the preceding 500 pages. The work is really starting to feel cohesive for me. I guess you can say I feel like we’re at the point that Marias has dealt all the hands, and now he’s starting to play them out.
Now them, I’m sure everyone was very tickled by the restroom scene–I know I was. In a very broad sort of way, this scene made the book feel very real to me in a way that all the talk of the Spanish Civil War, 9/11, Bill Clinton (yes, he was in there), government surveillance, James Bond, and all that other “real world” stuff just didn’t. The restroom felt so prosaic: if Marias was going to take Deza into a public restroom there’s nowhere he wouldn’t take him. It just opened the book’s world up for me in a way it hadn’t been previously.
I found it interesting that Deza spends about 1 page describing the men’s room, whereas he spends about 15 pages in the ladies’ room, although there does seem to be far more in the latter to sustain his (and our) attention. Having never done what Deza did and ventured into a crowded women’s bathroom, I hope that some of the women reading along will jump in here to let us men know if what Marias wrote sounds true-to-life or not.
As to the scene itself, I was struck by the very palpable femininity that it seethed with. Clear this is brought out by the contrast of a women’s bathroom with the circumstances of Deza’s entry to it (to do Tupra’s dirty work), as well as the fact that these experiences were being filtered through Deza’s rather manly consciousness. But I think the femininity comes across most of all in this scene because of the way in which Deza defines the women sitting in the stalls as “eight pairs of legs” is certainly chauvinist, although it’s also something that feel quite truthful given the setting (how else would he describe them?). Essentially it reduces the women to one very erotic feature–disrobed legs, with underwear huddled at their feet–and the fact that Deza can see them, but not vice versa, makes for a kind of odd variation on the male gaze. So I found it highly interesting when the one woman–notably not wearing any underwear–reverses the situation by opening the stall door and staring back at Deza.
All in all, I thought this was a very strong scene, although I’m not sure how I felt about Marias’ final addition of a little (menstrual) blood, linking it back to the drop of blood he encounters in Wheeler’s apartment. Its an interesting link to make, although it seems a bit strained to shove it into the scene. I’m curious to know how other people took it. (Oh, and also, I would be remiss if I did not note that this blood incident gives Marias an opportunity to once again reference the socks drooping down, which he likens to the drop of menstrual blood on the woman’s white shoe.)
And then, right after the bathroom scene, we start getting into this week’s section and what, to my eyes, is the strangest section of the book yet. With the whole thing of Rafita and Flavia missing and possibly fornicating and Deza’s job (and maybe life) hanging in the balance, Marias jumps up out of this plotline for a lengthy series of philosophical digressions loosely structured around the idea of a last Judgement Day. Granted, this is a bit of an odd turn for the book to take, but what really struck me is how bleak this section is. We just have pages and pages of executioners and death and violence and eternal damnation (at one point Deza even says that limbo seems a paradise in comparison). It brought to mind that brutal fourth section of 2666–where Bolano narrates murder after murder after murder–which anyone who has read essentially considers about the bleakest thing set down on paper for at least the last decade.
There’s one thing in particular from this section that I wanted call out: Marias pretty baldly states something that he’s been implying for a while now. That idea would be that totalitarian government can be seen as a sort of real-life God-figure created by humanity to replace the conceptual, religious God that they had killed. You see Marias make that link starting page 128, where he’s attempting to imagine how people must have felt in the centuries where the idea of a vengeful, watchful God went unquestioned:
What an enormous solace to utter solitude it must have been to believe that we were seen and even spied upon at every moment of our few, miserable days, with super-human perspicacity and attention and with every tiresome detail and vacuous thought supernaturally noted and stored away: that is how it must have been if it truly existed, no human mind could have stood it, knowing and remembering everything about each person from each age, knowing it permanently without a single fact about anyone ever going to waste . . .
It’s quite easy to see how transferrable this description of the medieval conception of God would be to Big Brother from 1984, or even (to a lesser extent) to Hitler, Stalin, or some of the security states that people fear liberal democracy is headed toward post-9/11 (e.g. the odious Total Information Awareness program launched by the U.S. government to, essentially, monitor all electronic communication made by anyone within the borders of the United States).
I also think this paragraph becomes highly interesting in conjunction with the idea continually referenced by Wheeler and Deza that as people grow old and die all kinds of facts and memories are permanently erased from memory. This has been an idea that has been portrayed in a certain melancholy light so far, although I think that Deza and Wheeler would find it immeasurably preferable to the horror described above, which would be the opposite extreme.
I’m eager to hear everyone’s thoughts on these things, as well as all of the stuff from these sections I didn’t have a chance to address here. And now I turn toward reading the rest of this week’s section, where it looks like we’ll finally have some resolution about the bloodstain from vol 1 . . .