A couple of people recently have jumped into a discussion I also have been holding off on, trying to figure out what I think of it: Bolaño’s representation of homosexuality (or, more often, homophobia) in 2666. Jeff Anderson has a good post on the relation of the homophobia in the text to the misogyny and general culture of machismo that frequently come up in the plot. Dan Summers has decided he is ready to fully dismiss Bolaño himself as homophobic—not just pointing it out but engaging in it.
I’m disappointed to say I mostly agree with Dan. I could equivocate on the example that sent him over the edge: the “faggot” sea anemones are called that by a fisherman, not the narrator, and could potentially be just another example of the pervasiveness of homophobia in everyday life (647). And there is a moment near the end of the book, which I will point out when we get there, that I think offers the biggest contrast to the novel’s norms for addressing homosexuality and thus a possible way to distance Bolaño from his characters. But overall in contrast to misogyny I have to confess that Bolaño seems at best indifferent to homophobia and quite possibly thinks it is just funny.
Maybe it is worth listing some of the key moments where characters have voiced homophobia or their homophobic thoughts are narrated to us. It struck me that each of the first four sections of the novel had at least one very prominent moment of homophobic reaction. Notably several of them happen with regard to characters that are otherwise not very likeable anyway, and yet their general hatefulness does not seem to fully explain their homophobia. At least for me, the uncertainty I had felt about the tonal relation to the homophobia comes from this sense of its excessiveness beyond explanations via character. Anyway, here are the moments that struck me most directly.
The Part about the Critics: Norton, Espinoza, and Pelletier temporarily worry that Amalfitano might be gay and in a relationship with Dean Guerra’s son. They are relieved when they decide the relationship is just Socratic “since the three of them had grown inexplicably fond of Amalfitano” (128, 130).
The Part about Amalfitano: The voice in Amalfitano’s head keeps asking him if he is queer (among other variations, most of which are more insulting), taunting him. (201 for the first time the voice appears; 207 for the beginning of the taunting over sexuality)
The Part about Fate: Fate watches a daytime talk show (a la Jerry Springer) in his hotel room, and thinks the man among the three people being interviewed “was clearly a faggot” (257). This is noticeable mostly because it feels so out-of-the-blue and gets dropped as soon as it is mentioned. Later, when Fate proposes he cover the Santa Teresa murders, his editor, sent into a rage by Fate’s use of a single French word (important given the U.S. context—it links up with the homophobia), rants that Fate “want[s] to coucher avec moi [fuck me], but you’ve forgotten the voulez-vous [please], which in this case ought to have been your first move” (295). In response, Fate tells his editor he can “stick Count Pickett up [his] black faggot ass.”
The Part about the Crimes: Klaus Haas considers at length his disgust with sex among men in prison, including his feeling that raping and killing women would be preferable to having sex with a man (488).
The second moment in The Part about Fate suggests that Bolaño is well aware of how homophobia can be tied to anti-intellectualism (the editor’s refusal of the story, and tied to it in this conversation the gay/French stereotype which is left implied). And in general he seems to me aware that it is tied to the misogyny the book otherwise seems to deplore. This is why it is especially frustrating to think that he might nonetheless endorse it.
I think Amalfitano’s voice is the clincher for me, actually, although I was open to there being some other explanation when I read that section. The conversation between Amalfitano and his voice with regards to the insinuation Amalfitano is gay revolves in part around his masculinity, whether he will “run away” (208) from the voice and the violence around him. And in that sense it is very much about Amalfitano living in the midst of a city experiencing horrible violence, doing nothing, and feeling inadequate about that. And it seems to me (and I’m open to other opinions on this) that Bolaño endorses the idea that there is a problem with his inaction—a problem that his actions at the end of the Fate section perhaps redeem (sending Rosa away, but also serving as a delay by going out to talk to the men in the black Peregrino). This critique of inaction might not be a problem in and of itself, but Amalfitano’s mode of regret and subsequent redemption, if it is that, suggest that the voice’s homophobic taunting was a necessary strategy to be “man enough” to do the right thing.
And this is a problem, because it suggests that Bolaño’s solution for combating machismo and the culture of violence it perpetuates is another kind of machismo.