Marco Antonio Guerra is at the center of the weirdness of this latest reading portion, and I can’t wrap my head around this guy. He’s so out there, and the stuff just before he appears and his monologue on pages 225-226 and how all this links back to the voice Amalfitano is suddenly hearing at night in his house and the weird-ass book on O’Higgins–I can’t even.
Right, so, Guerra is first seen as Amalfitano’s possibly gay lover in “The Part About The Critics.” Here, however, is the sort of “origin story” to how they started hanging out. Yes, “The Part About Amalfitano” happens before “The Part About The Critics,” and now I need to go back and reread Amalfitano’s sections in that first part to figure out what happens with the Duchamp-inspired geometry-book-on-a-wire thing, Rose, Professor Pérez, and what kind of shit Guerra has gotten Amalfitano into. (This is definitely a book meant to be read twice.)
Before Guerra forces himself onto Amalfitano, Amalfitano starts conversing with a voice that first claims to be his grandfather, then his father. It’s hung up on “faggots” (figuratively, it claims), and keeps telling Amalfitano to stay calm. Stay calm, motherfucker! Stay calm! Right? So put that in your back pocket.
And then there’s this moment on page 213, when Amalfitano is walking home through an old residential neighborhood that has been transformed into some kludgey commercial district.
He was walking along Avenida Madero, and the four-story buildings had given way to ranch houses, imitations of a kind of California house from the fifties, houses that had be- gun to suffer the ravages of time long ago, when their occupants moved to the neighborhood where Amalfitano now lived. Some houses had been converted into garages that also sold ice cream and others had become businesses dealing in bread or clothes, without any modifica- tions whatsoever. Many of them displayed signs advertising doctors, lawyers specializing in divorce or criminal law. Others offered rooms by the day. Some had been divided without much skill into two or three separate shops, where newspapers and magazines or fruit and vegetables were sold, or passersby were promised a good deal on dentures.
This is such a weird moment to me. Why this sudden outcropping of capitalism in the decaying husk of suburban familial life? Bolaño, what are you saying!?!
Immediately after this, Guerra rolls up on Amalfitano and basically abducts him. They go to a bar and Guerra imposes himself on the reader. To be honest, now that I’ve written it as “Guerra imposes himself on the reader,” I’m definitely getting a real rapey vibe from this guy. Also, Guerra thinks he’s the shit, but he’s actually not:
Soon there was a change in the urban scenery. West of Colonia Lindavista the houses were new, surrounded in some places by wide-open fields, and some streets weren’t even paved. People say these neighborhoods are the city’s future, said Marco Antonio Guerra, but in my opinion this shithole has no future. He drove straight onto a soccer field, across which were a pair of enormous sheds or warehouses surrounded by barbed wire. Beyond them ran a canal or creek carrying the neighborhood trash away to the north. Near another open field they saw the old railroad line that had once connected Santa Teresa to Ures and Hermosillo. A few dogs approached timidly. Marco Antonio rolled down the window and let them sniff his hand and lick it.
That last sentence says so much about how Guerra views himself versus what he actually is.
Okay, back to the voice real quick, page 210:
The voice said: be careful, but it said it as if it were very far away, at the bottom of a ravine revealing glimpses of volcanic rock, rhyolites, andesites, streaks of silver and gold, petrified puddles covered with tiny little eggs, while red-tailed hawks soared above in the sky, which was purple like the skin of an Indian woman beaten to death.
Jump ahead to page 213, just before Amalfitano walks through that post-suburban capitalistic hellscape:
When he turned he saw Professor Perez and his daughter on the sidewalk across the street. He offered to buy them a soda. At the coffee shop they explained that the protest was to demand transparency in the investigation of the disappearances and killings of women.
Bolaño’s coming back to the violence and murders that underpin the entire novel. Amalfitano himself is pre-occupied with this and the safety of Rosa (there’s a car that he keeps hearing outside his house that speeds off before he can see it). Okay, so all of that is backdrop to this next section, Guerra’s bewildering monologue on pages 225-226.
I understand you, Marco Antonio Guerra said to him. I mean, if I’m right, I think I understand you. You’re like me and I’m like you. We aren’t happy. The atmosphere around us is stifling. We pretend there’s nothing wrong, but there is. What’s wrong? We’re being fucking stifled. You let off steam your own way. I beat the shit out of people or let them beat the shit out of me. But the fights I get into aren’t just any fights, they’re fucking apocalyptic mayhem. I’m going to tell you a secret. Sometimes I go out at night, to bars you can’t even imagine. And I pretend to be a faggot. But not just any kind of faggot: smooth, stuck-up, sarcastic, a daisy in the filthiest pigsty in Sonora. Of course, I don’t have a gay bone in me, I can swear that on the grave of my dead mother. But I pretend that’s what I am. An arrogant little faggot with money who looks down on everyone. And then the inevitable happens. Two or three vultures ask me to step outside. And then the shit kicking begins. I know it and I don’t care. Sometimes they’re the ones who get the worst of it, especially when I have my gun. Other times it’s me. I don’t give a fuck. I need the fucking release. Sometimes my friends, the few friends I have, guys my age who are lawyers now, tell me I should be careful, I’m a time bomb, I’m a masochist. One of them, someone I was really close to, told me that only somebody like me could get away with what I did because I had my father to bail me out. Pure coincidence, that’s all. I’ve never asked my father for a thing. The truth is, I don’t have friends. I don’t want any. At least, I’d rather not have friends who’re Mexicans. Mexicans are rotten inside, did you know? Every last one of them. No one escapes. From the president of the republic to that clown Subcomandante Marcos. If I were Subcomandante Marcos, you know what I’d do? I’d launch an attack with my whole army on any city in Chiapas, so long as it had a strong military garrison. And there I’d sacrifice my poor Indians. And then I’d probably go live in Miami. What kind of music do you like? asked Amalfitano. Classical music, Professor, Vivaldi, Cimarosa, Bach. And what books do you read? I used to read everything, Professor, I read all the time. Now all I read is poetry. Poetry is the one thing that isn’t contaminated, the one thing that isn’t part of the game. I don’t know if you follow me, Professor. Only poetry—and let me be clear, only some of it—is good for you, only poetry isn’t shit.
Guerra’s game at pretending to be gay so he can get into fights. Amalfitano’s voice’s pre-occupation with ho-mo-sex-u-al-ity. Bolaño casually using violent imagery to describe how the voice sounds. The cruel violence and murder of women underpinning Santa Teresa. It’s all starting to come together.
Okay, but what about the O’Higgins Is Araucanian book? Good god, this reads like a really deep inside joke for Chileans, and I just barely hung on in my understanding (thanks to the Revolutions podcast!). I’ll have to do more reading outside of 2666 to find out what this is all about–but I don’t doubt it has everything to do with Guerra.