- Literature and the Secret of the World2666, Globalization, and Global War
Bolaño, 2666, Ciudad Juárez, globalization, global war, Derrida, Heidegger, Galli, Schmitt
This paper began to take shape in the context of a conference called “Literature and the Secret of the World.”1 The conference organizer proposed a dual point of departure for reading the title: first, Jacques Derrida’s assertion that literature is “the most interesting thing in the world, maybe more interesting than the world” (Derrida 1992, 47); second, the assertion in Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666 that in the serial murder of women in Santa Teresa lies hidden “the secret of the world” (Bolaño 2008, 348). My discussion of Bolaño’s novel pursues the relation between literature, world, and secret, to which I add important considerations by Martin Heidegger and Carlo Galli concerning what gives with this thing called “world.”
In a 2003 interview conducted shortly before his death, Bolaño described Ciudad Juárez—a city he reportedly never saw firsthand—as a contemporary [End Page 139] and terrestrial version of hell, calling it “our curse and our mirror, the troubled reflection of our frustrations and of our monstrous interpretation of freedom and of desire” (Bolaño 2010, 29-30). The distant echoes of Plato’s use of the mirror as metaphor for mimesis in the second book of the Republic are unmistakable. For readers of Bolaño’s posthumous novel 2666 (2004; English translation 2008) that description provides an enticing point of departure for analyzing Bolaño’s portrait of the fictive city of Santa Teresa. Located in the state of Sonora instead of Chihuahua, Santa Teresa displays many if not all of the recognizable traits of Juárez: it is a sprawling border town with a thriving máquila industry together with abundant sex and entertainment industries; and it is a major destination for migrants seeking employment as well as a nexus for transnational trafficking of people and narcotics.
For the moment I am going to pass over the distinction between Santa Teresa and Ciudad Juárez and treat them as if they were two names for the same thing. Later there will be occasion to look more closely at what is at stake in the composition of Santa Teresa as a literary space. Before delving into the myriad of epistemological and aesthetic questions that arise in relation to Bolaño’s positioning of Ciudad Juárez as an unsettling mirror that would bring into view a certain truth about our world today, a preliminary query I want to pose concerns the “we” of whom Bolaño speaks (nuestra maldición y nuestro espejo). Is Bolaño appealing to an idea of Latin America as a region defined by shared interests and a shared history and that served as a laboratory for early experiments with neoliberal economic reform (Chile beginning in 1974; Argentina from 1976 to 1981) imposed by force following the violent interruption of revolutionary projects? Or does the “we” refer to a less geographically determinate idea of collectivity, as in the West or a global community that could be expected to feel concern and responsibility in view of the brutal treatment of working-class women as well as the culture of impunity and corruption that must be presumed to exist in light of the fact that the killer(s) have been able to carry on for years without detection or prosecution? The question about the “we” is not an issue of semantic clarification but a matter of the possibility or impossibility of thinking and naming totality and the common today, and of how what calls out to us in the name Ciudad Juárez in turn shapes how we think about our world today. Under the dim light of [End Page 140] Ciudad Juárez, and to the extent that its reality is perceived as “unimaginable” in comparison with living conditions elsewhere, can we still speak of Juárez under the supposition that we have in common with it a world? Or does its unsettling, uncanny appearance precisely disrupt any possibility of conceptualizing the commonality of a network of significant relations...