- The Impossible Closing: Death, Neoliberalism, and the Postcolonial in Bolaño’s 2666.
(He left, he came back, he left again. He decided to leave for good. The story should stop here, the book close upon itself.)—Abdelkebir Khatibi, Love in Two Languages
[I]t is impossible to think of death as the last thing pure and simple. Attempts to express death in language are futile, all the way into logic.—Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics
Written in the aftermath of Auschwitz, Theodor Adorno’s “Meditations on Metaphysics” represents a painful wrestling with the possibilities for culture in the wake of genocide. In part a philosophical treatise against an immaterial metaphysics, he writes, “The course of history forces materialism upon metaphysics, traditionally the antithesis of materialism” (365). Adorno’s essay’s main preoccupation is, as we well know, the work—the value—of writing after Auschwitz. Adorno’s declaration is a famous one: there can be “no poetry after Auschwitz.” And yet, he does more than qualify himself: “it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no [End Page 689] longer write poems” (362). His meditation offers a signal challenge: Adorno does not simply stipulate how difficult it will be to produce thought—literature, “poetry,” criticism—after the event of the Holocaust; he simultaneously denounces any notion of “death as the last thing pure and simple” (371). The political effect of death does not, by any means, end with death. In the face of genocide, one of the immediate acts that must be undertaken is to produce a language for death; nothing less than working toward such a language will suffice. In death, out of death, the language of death must be the first—and perhaps the most enduring, reliable, sustained—bulwark against rhetorical futility even if language cannot guard against the possibility of a future genocide.
Death must, as it were, secure for itself an unconquerable logic, a logic resilient enough to withstand even the horrors of a genocide. In and through living with death, a language must be forged that is strong enough to allow for speech—“poetry”—about Buchenwald and Rwanda; after all, poetry is crafted out of the Banana Wars of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the Amritsar massacre and the India-Pakistan wars of Midnight’s Children. As an event, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and all the other camps can be said to have inaugurated, with an unwitting fatality, a mode of death that we now understand as belonging properly to, or having as its heir, the postcolonial death, as it constitutes the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Chinua Achebe, and Arundhati Roy. At issue in establishing this “lineage” is, to invoke Martin Heidegger, the recognition that “there is a legacy from epoch to epoch. But it does not run between the epochs like a band linking them; rather, the legacy always comes from what is concealed in the Geschick, just as if from one source various streamlets arise that feed a stream that is everywhere and nowhere” (91). Heidegger warns that the shared legacy is always (in this instance, the Holocaust and the anticolonial struggle) difficult to establish because there is no direct or obvious connection, no “visible” “band linking them.” Consequently, the only way to understand the Geschick (destiny or fate) of the age is through interrogation so that it becomes possible to glean what it is that “runs between epochs.”
The political waters that feed the streamlets and the stream must, as it were, be carefully studied because the constitutive elements of the epoch are difficult to read, not least because their effects are at once ubiquitous (everywhere) and untraceable (nowhere). The links between one era and another are not easy to discern because they turn, always, on this legacy, the political DNA of the age, on “what is concealed in the Geschick” of each “epoch.” The Holocaust and the postcolonial have in common a “legacy” with the following [End Page 690] critical component: both are unthinkable without the elucidation of death. They both point to how death was shaped—that is, how it was “concealed,” which is to say, enacted in the...