2666 and Island are artistic expressions that capture the contradictions of their time. They also show a view of the world influenced by the socio-political debates of each era, whether dealing with them explicitly – such as the case of Pala, Huxley’s island – or conveying the shades of meanings and the distance between the rhetoric of human rights and the reality. Similarly, Bolaño’s work conveys, by his interpretative framework used to judge history, the influence of the process of globalization that incorporates a transnational view and also prevents the failure of utopias such as feminism.
Literature and art improve Humanity.
But they are established on a heritage of fatality.
This work begins with the question of whether a collective project or commitment to humanity is still possible and how it is reflected in literature, specifically in the novel 2666, by Roberto Bolaño. I will make a socio-political connection with concepts of sustainable development, the universality of human rights and how national and international current systems make it impossible to guarantee these rights to all those inhabitants of the world at a time when the role of the State withdraws, and transfers power to multinational businesses and global finances. To have an historical perspective, I will also analyse the novel Island, by Huxley, written in the 1960’s, a different time, when concepts such as sustainable development and third-generation human rights were not part of the global programme, but were already in the writer’s imaginary world.
Currently, the possibility of a collective project – despite some authors’ pronouncement of the end of utopia (or precisely because of this if we think of the definition by Marcuse)[ii] - tends to be linked with the agenda of human rights and the consolidation of a national and international order that can guarantee those rights for everybody. However, besides the slow achievement of those from the period after World War II until now, there is something missing in this global programme that Huxley already anticipated and Bolaño introduced in these, their last novels; something that is related to human nature, with the search for happiness and equilibrium, with insanity and madness but also with the dichotomy of good and evil. Hence, to understand the limits of this collective programme, I will explain the relationship that appears in the novel between all these components. What are the ethical implications - related to utopia, commitment and responsibility - in the analysed novels? How does the pessimistic view reflected in both novels deal with the possibilities of individual utopia? What past, present and future world do the novels show?
These are two seemingly very different novels, however, analysing them carefully, it is possible to find many layers of coincidences, sometimes in agreement, sometimes in opposition.If Island creates a specific and co-operative community like Pala’s oasis of freedom and happiness, but has little hope of survival, 2666 shows how the present constructs a future where the collective commitment is simply impossible, but where utopian cracks are still achievable. Pala, as a postulate of a perfect utopian society – the complete reverse of Brave New World – is finally invaded and subjugated to a negative foreign influence. Also in 2666,Santa Teresa – a city that is far from being idyllic - is determined by international dynamics: the easy purchase of weapons from USA that worsens the violence, the unfair market rules that increase the gap between developed and developing countries or the drug-trafficking that invades social spaces like a silent shadow. All these components impact on a complex view of reality that, more than a mirror, is a huge device that dissects the causes of our present struggles from the past, and the causes of our imaginary dark future from the present.
Besides the detailed reading of the aforementioned novels, the principal sources used for this dissertation have been: a) books related to the concept of utopia, both recompilations such as Ruth Levitas or Matthew Beaumont or other works that focus on those authors who looked for a reconciliation between Marxism and a positive view of utopia (Ernst Bloch, Marcuse or Adorno); b) Andreas Huyssen´s contemporary reflection on Modernism, and c) books related to development or human rights from a socio-political perspective (Samuel Moyns, Gilbert Rist) . I am also indebted to Peter Boxall, who supervised this work, and to Karen Tate’s assistance with my English writing.
- 2.EXPLORING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE PAST AND PRESENT COMMITMENT WITHIN LITERATURE
In this section, I will investigate the novels Island, by Huxley, and 2666, by Bolaño, reflecting on the past and present commitment within literature, and consider the more important differences between them. Both books convey a remarkable view of the world that deals with complex relations between aesthetic and political values, and are included in this imaginative literature that is capable of exploring the past and present contradiction in order to reorient the world. The novels take part in a cultural heritage that struggles against all kinds of fundamentalism, understanding that the present commitment within literature is in opposition to the concentration of wealth in a few hands and other sortsof obscene exhibitions of privilege in close proximity to poverty. And now, more than ever, the framework is universal.
This essay will use a definition of the term commitment in consonance with Bloch’s definition of ‘concrete utopia’: which allows humans to take destiny into their own hands achieving ‘the relative historical gains, revolutionary transformations and formations’ (BLOCH: 1996; xxvii). He believes in the potential of human beings to mould and shape the future and ‘the impulse of hope’ forms a type of consciousness ‘in which inklings of what they might become manifest themselves’:
For the individual, the not-yet-conscious is the psychical representation of what has not-yet become in our time and its world. Signs of the not-yet-conscious are found primarily in daydreams, where individuals have presentiments of what they lack, what they need, what they want, and what they hope to find. Unlike dreams... daydreams can be productive for the formation of individuals and the world since they occur in semi consciousness and point to real, objective possibilities. It is by moving away from the darkness... (BLOCH: 1996; xxxii).
Regarding the selected novels, although Island lacks the narrative strength of 2666 and its capacity to make you hold your breath and remain in a state of high expectation and intensity, the valour of Huxley lies in his daring to imagine a society, placed on an island in the Pacific - in this respect the author follows the utopian tradition beginning when Thomas More designated utopia as a topos - where the majority of people can live happily. Perhaps in the following description by Ruth Levitas it is possible to find a similar view to that which the English author hopes to achieve with his last novel:
Sometimes utopia embodies more than an image of what the good life would be and becomes a claim about what it could and should be: the wish that things might be otherwise becomes a conviction that it does not have to be like this. Utopia is then not just a dream to be enjoyed, but a vision to be pursued (LEVITAS: 1990; 1).
The Raja of the Reform and the first MacPhail pursued a particular vision, and after some years this idealistic idea became a fictional reality: an alternative society coexisting with a dark world. A real world – that existed when the novel was written - which Huxley parodies in its different manifestations, whether capitalism or communism, religion or art. Meanwhile, the author makes a big effort to present a new kind of society – a curious mix between the Orient and the Western world - as a ‘realistic project’ using a vast array of arguments and explanations about educational, psychological, spiritual or material pillars that support the island of Pala. These approaches are structured as Socratic dialogues in which characters discuss problems. The figure of the wise man is mostly personified by the inhabitants of Pala, such as the doctor or Susila, while Will Farnaby tries to understand this new world and finally is present at the birth. Although Huxley does not always achieve credibility,he continually searches for contradictions to redeem the possibility of paradise in Pala. But on some occasions, the island seems to be too perfect. Even Will Farnaby, the main character, suggests in the novel that it is very difficult for literature to blossom in this perfect place:
“And if one’s to believe your Old Raja,” said Will, “literature is incompatible with a lot of other local features besides your climate - incompatible with human integrity, incompatible with philosophical truth, incompatible with individual sanity and a decent social system, incompatible with everything except dualism, criminal lunacy, impossible aspiration and unnecessary guilt. But never mind.” He grinned ferociously. “Coronel Dipa will put everything right. After Pala has been invaded and made safe for war and oil and heavy industry, you’ll undoubtedly have a Golden Age of literature and theology” (HUXLEY: 2005; 177).
In that sense, Bolaño shares with Huxley his view about what is the essence of true literature, one that is interested in ‘real combat when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 227) and penetrates the dark side of humankind - perhaps for this reason in Island, the Rani and her son are the more literary wicked characters (see chapter six) - with the capacity ‘to spark emotion and revelations’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 82) rather than one where the writer is content with a ‘well written’ piece of work. When Lola meets a young poet, they talk about this last kind of literature:
His poems weren’t bad. His only problem was that he wrote just like the poet. These things can’t have happened to you, I said, you’re too young to have suffered this much. He made a gesture as if to say that he didn’t care whether I believed him or not. What matters is that it’s well written, he said. No, I told him, you know that isn’t what matters (BOLAÑO: 2007; 170)
And maybe to avoid this impossible duality between literature and perfection, Huxley opens some windows throughout the novel where he suggests that the end of this paradise is close, that avarice will triumph over the common good:
“In those days, Pala was still completely off the map. The idea of turning into an oasis of freedom and happiness made sense. So long as it remains out of touch with the rest of the world, an ideal society can be a viable society. Pala was completely viable, I’d say, until about 1905. Then, in less than a single generation, the world completely changed. Movies, cars, aeroplanes, radio. Mass production, mass slaughter, mass communication and, above all, plain mass – more and more people in bigger and bigger slums or suburbs. By 1930 any clear-sighted observer could have seen that, for three-quarters of the human race, freedom and happiness were almost out of the question. Today, thirty years later, they’re completely out of the question. And meanwhile the outside world has been closing in on this little island of freedom and happiness. Closing in steadily and inexorably, coming nearer and nearer. What was once a viable ideal is now no longer viable” (HUXLEY: 2005; 58).
As with Island, 2666 seems to encouragethe reader to feel that the future is hopeless and doomed to repeat the horror of the past. History, as is written in the novel, ‘has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 794). Now one might ask if, despite this negativity, it is still possible to leave space for commitment. Paradoxically, the answer can only be positive. If in the past, as Bloch has indicated, the designation of utopia as a place changed, and particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was projected into the future (BLOCH: 1996; 3); in the two analysed novels it is possible find a deep present commitment to the different times in which each novel was written.
The conviction that we are faced with two commitment novels is supported by three principal reasons. Firstly, in both works there is an important commitment to the past. As Andreas Huyssen points out ‘memory discourses are absolutely essential to imagine the future and recover a solid temporal and spatial base for life and imagination in a consumer and mass media society, that progressively leaves temporality without any content and withdraws into space’ (HUYSSEN: 2010; 19).[iii]
In the current debate about history and memory there is at stake not only a change in our ideas about the past, but also an essential crisis about the possible alternative futures.
In fact, the post-Enlightenment imagination was trapped by the future in Europe and in USA after itsindependence. After the eighteenth century revolutions and the secular imagination that sparked them off, the utopian spaces, static and limited after Thomas More, were progressively changed and made temporal, and the way to utopia became a legitimate target for a sophisticated historical imagination. Progress and historic teleology are embraced by most of the political spectrum, supposing, conversely, to get rid of the past (HUYSSEN: 2010; 14).[iv]
But it noteworthy, regarding 2666, that part of this commitment to literature is conveyed when it reflects the past,because it goes beyond a limited view within the national borders to narrate from a more complex framework. This can be sensed by analysing specific examples (such as the scenario of Europe during World War II), but it is particularly interesting if the novel is considered as a whole. For instance, when the text refers to injustice, this is universal, and there is a connectionbetween the ancient Christians in the Roman circus (BOLAÑO: 2007; 267), those killed in the Paris Commune (BOLAÑO: 2007; 266), the Africans slaves (BOLAÑO: 2007; 266), the Panthers in USA (BOLAÑO: 2007; 251), the Jews in the German Third Reich (BOLAÑO: 2007; part five)... All conform to a long historical chain of events, the most extreme of which are the poor and murdered Mexican women and the street women in England, who are gang-raped and beaten (BOLAÑO: 2007; 146). It seems to be a mirror of time, a game of past reflexes that perhaps the author voluntarily depicts in the text:
The first mirror was by the door, as it was in the other rooms. The second was on the opposite wall, next to the window overlooking the street, hung in such a way that if one stood in a certain spot, the two mirrors reflected each other (BOLAÑO: 2007; 111).
And in this new way of dealing with the past, Huyssen’s theory fits squarely with Bolaño’s novel:
The way we think of the past is increasingly one of a memory without borders, more than a national history without borders. There is no doubt that modernity brings with it a very real understanding of time and space. But also in the register of imagery it expands our temporal and spatial horizons beyond local, national and even international boundaries (HUYSSEN: 2010; 16).[v]
Secondly, following the argument about how both novels are committed to a global project, it is also important to draw attention to the fact that Huxley and Bolaño reflect the big contradictions of their time, a time in the sixties when the most idealistic emancipated ideas were mixed with some predatory practices of capitalism and, at the beginning of the twenty first century, show the global scenario of the inequalities and the distance between political speeches and reality. Aldous Huxley wrote Island in 1962, one year before he passed away. More than forty years after that, in 2004, 2666 appeared after Bolaño died. Hence, we are facing two different moments that refer to the past and present utopia. In fact, there were important technological, political and social transformations in the gap between the two periods. The generalisation of colour television in all homes in Western countries at the beginning of the seventies, and two decades after, the creation of HTML language that became the World Wide Web (www) or internet reinforcing the power of communication and, in a different way, mass manipulation. In the political dimension, only a few years separate the publication of Island from the student riots and the workers strikes in Western countries[vi]. After that, the failure of revolutions in the Third-World (Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Cabral) resulted in a loss of hope for the progressive movement, allowing the hegemony of the right and neoconservative parties (Reagan and Thatcher) in the eighties, and finally making the triumph of universal capitalism possible, apparently reducing the political alternatives to only one: neoliberalism. Curiously, Island seems to predict this neoconservative era using the idea of the Crusade of Spirit. Mutatis mutandi has a lot of coincidences with the theory of Manifest Destiny that in the nineteenth century led Americans to believe that the United States was destined to expand across the North American continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The excuse that profit from oil will do ‘some good in the world’ (HUXLEY: 2005; 26), but is in reality financing a conservative mission, is combined with abusive practices that favour the business of the elite. Something that, in some ways, was not new, and that was used in extraordinaryliterary works such as The Heart of Darkness, with the greedy and double moral standards of Leopold II of Belgium, who also inspired more recently El sueño del Celta, by Mario Vargas Llosa.
But in these aforementioned moments, in which both analysed novels were written, there is a common denominator: the fight against the established system, the rejection of uncontrolled capitalism. Probably the heterogeneity of demands is wider today, but the nonconformity seems similar. It was in Geneva[vii], during the G-8 summit in July 2001, where the anti-globalization movement resulted in the most important riots of young people since 1968. If civil society’s[viii] (non-governmental organizations and social movements) increase in power is also born inmind, it is possible to understand what is presented as a ‘concrete’ and collective utopia today: the end of exclusions for a large part of humanity. Huxley and Bolaño gauge their time period well and put this exclusion on record. And as Ruth Levitas has indicated, using a quotation from Morris: ‘It is impossible to build a scheme for the society of the future, for no man can really think himself out of his own days’ (LEVITAS: 1990; 126)[ix].
But probably, the most remarkable difference that a skilled observer can realize in a close reading of the works is related to the backdrop of each novel. In spite of the common criticism and parody of the world that both works convey, it is possible to find, in a subtle exercise, an important distinction: if in Island the process of internationalisation is obvious, in 2666 there is something that points to a trend of transnationalization – that Huyssen defines as ‘a dynamic process of fusion and cultural migration’ (HUYSSEN: 2010; 41). It means that in 2666 the global project seems much larger and unstoppable than in Island. In other words, Bolaño is influenced by the time when globalization demands new ways of analysing the cultural process and, as Huyssen perceptively states, sets out theoretical and practical challenges to modernism studies (HUYSSEN: 2010; 24-62). The Chilean author clearly reflects an interwoven local, national and global space, where the centre of his imaginative geography is Santa Teresa that is both local and global: ‘a sketch of the industrial landscape in the third world’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 294). The metropolitan spaces - such as Madrid, London, Paris or Turin - become global cities, and the Eastern Europe of the Second World War, the USA of Fate, the Chile of Amalfitano and other scenarios where the novel is set, more than an enumeration of countries and cultures, converge in numerous parallelisms and impressions on the characters. Even Archimboldi is described by the critic that invites Mr. Bubis to his house, as African or Asian, from Indo-China, Malaysia, Persian perhaps, but not European (BOLAÑO: 2007; 822). But why? Is it due to cosmopolitanism or to the lumpem condition of the fictional German writer – a mirror where Bolaño himself was reflected? Thus, under which label would 2666 be included? Could it take part in the recent long disputed term of global literature? And if that were the case, would it not be a good opportunity to investigate how this global view is incorporated into the current utopia?
The third reason that could support my suggestion that both novels are good samples of literature commitment is related to the abundance of characters – for example, the MacPhail family inIsland or the brave journalists in 2666 - who defend collective projects, like the weavers of a utopia that, despite adversities, will reproduce hope in a better life and world throughout time. After all, a writer is the best symbol of commitment: one that is concerned with creation. And probably both authors are raising the not-yet-conscious – as Bloch reveals – ‘to a point where it could grasp the direction humankind would have to take to bring about the fulfilment of those needs, wants, and wishes that he saw scattered in dreams and daydreams’ (BLOCH: 1996; xxx).
Literature and art contain the anticipatory illumination of that which has not yet become, and the role of the writer and artist is similar to that of a midwife who enables latent and potential materials to assume their own unique forms’ (BLOCH: 1996; xx)
... art and literature mediated the relationship of human beings to one another and to the material world around them´ (BLOCH: 1996; xxx).
In that sense, writers have great power, especially those who leave a legacy to the future. And this power moreover means commitment, as Huxley described in the novel:
“… Were you ever interested in power?” he asked after a moment of silence.
“Never.” Will shook his head emphatically. “One can’t have power without committing oneself” (HUXLEY: 2005; 65).
A commitment to life and literature was Bolaño’s obsession throughout his posthumous work. The paradox is served when he tells us that a largework is not worth having if it does not engage with life. At the end of the novel, posterity will remember the man who was a writer and a botanist as the inventor of the fürst Pückler ice cream(BOLAÑO: 2007; 891). Why? The answer is suggested, in a latent way,in different allusions: ice cream can be tasted, it is part of our direct experience.[x] Perhaps this is the key to commitment, the relationship between life and literature. The old man who rents a typewriter to Archimboldi explains to him that all minor works can be nothing but plagiarism of some masterpiece, ‘a plagiarism as camouflage as some wood and canvas scenery as a charade that leads us into the void’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 787). To Bolaño, narrating through the words of the old man, writing is worthwhile ‘only if one was prepared to write a masterpiece’, but ‘most writers are deluded or playing’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 786). Commitment is an important element in the process of literary creation, and those who only look for posterity are parodied in the novel (BOLAÑO: 2007; 842).
To conclude this chapter, it is possible to assert that the current novel conveys a present collective commitment, and a new way to look at the past, that in the next chapter I will try to describe within a socio-political framework and illustrate with several examples from the works of Huxley and Bolaño.
- 3.HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEVELOPMENT IN 2666 AND ISLAND
Perhaps it sounds absurd to mix concepts such as sustainable development and human rights – which can be defined with more or less exactitude - with the nature of literature – that is elusive and looks for complexities, for contradiction, and limitless possibilities. However, this purpose is endorsed, apart from my reading of the texts and my own intuition, by Huyssen´s words, when he points out that to escapewhat he calls ‘the double dead end of global literature’ perhaps cultural studies should be combined with other disciplines, such as cultural history and politics, as well as using an approach related to:
… questions concerning human rights and civil society, the imagined communities and the role of religions, genre and subalternity, the economic asymmetries and the emerging debate about the urban transnational imaginary as areas to self-understanding of the globalized world (HUYSSEN: 2010; 41).[xi]
In this and the following chapters I will investigate Samuel Moyn’s assertion that contemporary utopia is related to the achievement of human rights. The Columbia University fellow argues that it was only in the 1970s, when utopian ideologies such as socialism, anti-colonialism, and anti-communism fell by the wayside that human rights assumed their stature as the ultimate moral arbiter of international conduct. As Moyn states:
The best general explanation for the origins of this social movement and common discourse around rights remains the collapse of other, prior utopias, both state-based and internationalist (MOYNS: 2010; 8).
Also, I will examine the ‘concrete utopia’ and how the novels reflect commitment to the current world. All of this keeping in mind Adorno’s thesis, when he reminds us that numerous so-called utopian dreams have been fulfilled:
However insofar as these dreams have been realized, they all operate as though the best thing about them had been forgotten (BLOCH: 1996; 1).
With regard to the barriers that prevent human rights utopia becoming a universal reality here and now, the novels allude to the hegemonic model of development: the market system, the protagonist of individual interest against the collective. This clashes with the rational speech that maintains our socio-political imaginary since the Enlightenment. In Rist’s words:
But this modern anthropology, based upon the supposed equality and liberty of individuals who are no more than utility-seeking traders, leads to consequences that totally contradict its premises (RIST: 2004; 18).
A model of economic development –that in Island threatens the happiness and the sovereignty of Pala and that in 2666 reveals a work division that continues having slaves - that prevents the reality proposed by those who speak of human rights and human development. Clearly, the magic words of the current utopia are often separated from a world ‘characterized by the increase of inequality, by the environmental unsustainability and by the seriously threatened idea of democracy’ (MARTÍNEZ OSÉS: 2010; 417)[xii].
Nice comfortable people just don’t have any idea what the world is like (...) And as he spoke he was seeing, in a vision as brief and comprehensive and intensely circumstantial as a drowning man’s, all the hateful scenes he had witnessed in the course of those well-paid pilgrimages to every hell-hole and abattoir revolting enough to qualify as News. Negroes in South Africa, the man in the San Quentin gas chamber, mangled bodies in an Algerian farm-house, and everywhere mobs, everywhere policemen and paratroopers, everywhere those dark-skinned children, stick-legged, pot bellied, with flies on their raw eyelids, everywhere the nauseating smells of hunger and disease, the awful stench of death (HUXLEY: 2005; 232).
But it is the difference between this noble goal and the practices that prevent its achievement, in the huge gap between the rhetoric of freedom and social justice and the cruel daily mass violation of human rights, which allows Huxley and Bolaño to make inquiries. This contradictory reality is used by them as raw material for commitment and denunciation.The authors show what that they can see ‘(…) just an eye seeking out the tangible elements, not judging them but simply displaying them coldly’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 55): the abyss between commitments signed in international agreements and the unjust reality that constructs the financial and economic powers, which ignores the environment, human rights and democratic limits. But also, in the analysed novels it is possible to notice an invisible mortar holding the story together. They don’t want to leave the world as it is until now. This is Archimboldi´s mission, he is a hero reborn from the ashes and blood after World War II to give a testimony that can change the conscience of his readers, some of them - the four critics (BOLAÑO: 2007; 3-159) - even live through his novels.It doesn’t matter that the world continues being a dry desert in 2666, because his life is full of experiences, written words, and silence.
Concerning theunreality of this speech, questioned by literature, Gilbert Rist places human rights and development in the field of social beliefs (RIST: 2004; 22). The author indicates that this idea is doomed to achieve unanimous support because it is very attractive, and thus, despite failings, nobody questions its legitimacy (RIST: 2004; 1). He proposes another definition to supersede this that fluctuates between ‘the expression of a wish ... to live a better life’ (RIST: 2004; 11), but that voluntarily ignores the difficulties of its realization:
‘Development’ consists of a set of practise, sometimes appearing to conflict with one another, which require – for the reproduction of society – the general transformation, and destruction of the natural environment and of social relations. Its aim is to increase the production of commodities (goods and services) geared, by way of exchange, to effective demand (RIST: 2004; 13).
This definition, that of course ignores the more complex term of sustainable development coined in the eighties[xiii], seems related to the idea of progress and modernization that, since the end of the nineteenth century, has been rejected by a large number of authors of modern literature. In Island, the verb modernize appears as a nightmare to the Pala inhabitants, linked with the idea of economic growth resulting from an oil franchise to foreign companies that leads to a loss of sovereignty. Only the Rani and her son, disregarding the wish of the majority, want it to occur. The satire is conveyed when Murugan explains to Farnaby:
“These old idiots here only want to industrialize in spots and leave all the rest as it was a thousand years ago”.
“Whereas you’d like to go the whole hog. Industrialization for industrialization’s sake.”
“No, industrialization for the country’s sake. Industrialization to make Pala strong. To make other people respect us. Look at Rendang. Within five years they’ll be manufacturing all the rifles and mortars and ammunition they need. It’ll be quite a long time before they can make tanks. But meanwhile they can buy them from Skoda with the oil money” (HUXLEY: 2005; 46).
In the same way, Bolaño shows the negative effects of industrialization in the desolate landscapes of Santa Teresa, a city rebuilt to serve international trade, where anomie makes drug trafficking blossom.[xiv] Bolaño is also explicit in his criticism of political speeches, alluding to the pastiche that is constructed throughout history:
Kilapán, from that perspective, thought Amalfitano, moving his head in time to the (very slight) swaying of Dieste’s book outside the window, might easily be a nom de plume for Pinochet, representing Pinochet’s long sleeplessnights or his productive mornings (…). But there was no reason to get too excited. Kilapán’s prose could be Pinochet’s, certainly. But it could also be Aylwin’s or Lagos’. Kilapán’s prose could be Frei’s (which was saying something) or the prose of any right-wing neo-Fascist (BOLAÑO: 2007; 225).
Anchored in a world between the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first century, both novels convey the vast contradiction that human beings face in a time, coinciding with the moment of technological advances, shows an unstoppable increase in inequalities between the rich and poor.
“When you were in Rendang-Lobo, did they show you the slums?”
“On the contrary, they did their best to prevent me from seeing the slums. But I gave them the slip.”
Gave them the slip, he was vividly remembering, on his way back to the hotel from that grisly cocktail party at the Rendang Foreign Office. Everybody who was anybody was there. All the local dignitaries and their wives – uniforms and medals, Dior and emeralds. All the important foreigners – diplomats galore, British and American oilmen, six members of the Japanese trade missions, a lady pharmacologist from Leningrad, two Polish engineers, a German tourist who just happened to be a cousin of Krupp von Bohlen, an enigmatic Armenian representing a very important financial consortium in Tangiers, and, beaming with triumph, the fourteen Czech technicians who had come with last month’s shipment of tanks and cannon and machine guns from Skoda. “And these are the people... who rule the world. Twenty-nine hundred millions of us at the mercy of a few scores of politicians, a few thousands of tycoons and generals and money-lenders. Ye are the cyanide of the earth – and the cyanide will never, never lose its savour.”
After the glare of the cocktail party, after the laughter and the luscious smells of canapés and Chanel-sprayed women, those alleys behind the brand new Palace of Justice had seemed doubly dark and noisome, those poor wretches camping out under the palm trees of Independence Avenue more totally abandoned by God and man than even the homeless, hopeless thousands he had seen sleeping like corpses in the streets of Calcutta (HUXLEY: 2005; 80-81).
The huge gaps within society, apart from in the imaginary Pala, conveyed in Island have grown in leaps and bounds until now, as reflected in 2666. The model that was chosen by the elites years ago, today leaves half of the world population without the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. These were promulgated more than fifty years ago by the United Nations[xv]. Both works, as a whole, are a statement against the chosen development that is built like a wall that prevents, not only reaching the utopia of human rights, but also an alternative future. In Huyssen’s words:
Whatever their undeniable benefits, modern consumer societies seem to block any imagination of an alternative future. When everything is available (although not always accessible) to the consumer, it is more difficult to find room for effective political criticism (HUYSSEN: 2010; 40)[xvi].
Both novels, apart from bearing witness to the failure of humans to promote the most ambitious and global agenda in the history of humanity, also show the breakdown of the State and international systems in their task of guaranteeing human rights. Perhaps the clearest example in 2666 is the author’s view of the broken Mexican State, that not only evidences its inability to achieve justice and stop the murders, but also its participation in drug trafficking and corruption. The true invisible threads that move the world are not usually included in political speeches, but their harmful consequences are very visible to everyone: the craving for power and money that show the perversities of an ineffective system, or the illegal invasions to take raw materials such as oil (HUXLEY: 2005; end).
In the global context, the impotence of the international organization and the lack of governance in the world are starkly shown when Mr. Bahu – with the same diplomatic mask of Savonarola and Voltairean smile (HUXLEY: 2005; 58) - suggests that the palanes government is doing the right thing:
“Perfectly right”, he explained, “because so perfectly designed to make every man, woman and child on this enchanting island as perfectly free and happy as it’s possible to be.”
“…And there can be no doubt that the policies inaugurated by the original Reformers and developed over the years have been admirably well adapted to achieving these two goals.”
“But you feel,” said Will, “that these are undesirable goals?”
“On the contrary, everybody desires them. But unfortunately they’re out of context, they’ve become completely irrelevant to the present situation of the world in general and Pala in particular” (HUXLEY: 2005; 58).
In short, the authors’ commitment to literature to their coetaneous world shows the shadows of the increase of capitalism – in Huxley - or the neoliberal globalization born from the “New International Order” after the Cold War ended – in Bolaño. The economic model, omnipresent, reaches all fields of human activity, even in the cultural sphere. Bolaño makes allusions to the commercialization of literature in 2666 (BOLAÑO: 2007; 226), but also critiques the literary theorists who are ‘less interested in literature than in literary criticism, the one field, according to them – some of them, anyway- where revolution was still possible’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 72). If, as Huyssen shows ‘towards the twenties, they even had utopias about alternative mass culture with the capacity to avoid the commercialization of capitalism (Brecht, Benjamin, Tretyakov) and that have to be the prelude of a new world’ (HUYSSEN: 2010; 32)[xvii], now it seems impossible to escape from the big brother market.
But if up till now this chapter has referred to the obstacles, the rest will be focussed on the possibilities of the utopia of human rights. Following Marcuse’s thesis about the end of utopia, in the sense that currently ‘all the material and intellectual forces which could be put to work for the realization of a free society are at hand” (MARCUSE: 1898-1979; 64), the limitations of the past that prevented, for example, having enough food to feed the global population, have been beaten by technological advances. It rests therefore in the will of humans to change the chosen model –‘the abolition of poverty and misery is possible’, said Marcuse - and the ‘last utopia’ can materialize. As Levitas indicates summarizing a part of Bloch’s thought:
´Once the world is seen as in a constant state of process, but a process whose direction and outcome is not predetermined, there are always many possible futures – futures which are real possibilities, rather than merely formal possibilities (LEVITAS: 1990; 87).
If the international context that Island conveys was analysed earlier, as beingincompatible with the human rights utopia, let see now how Huxley reflects the possibility of a coherent society with the speech that shows, and allows “the expansion of people’s freedoms to live their lives as they choose (UNDP: 2009;14)”[xviii]. In a concrete time and space, the Pala state, is built as a utopian paradise while the rest of the world moves towards ambition, the military, the churches... This place allows the reader to fantasize about the possibility of choosing another model and gives us some clues about what has to be changed to achieve an oasis of stability. Mr. Menon pronounces words that seem to come from the philosophy of the non-Aligned Movement that was born after the Bandung Conference in 1955:
“…You people have no choice” – he went on … But the underdeveloped countries aren’t committed. They don’t have to follow your example. They’re still free to take the road we’ve taken – the road of applied biology, the road of birth control and limited production and selective industrialization which birth control makes possible, the road that leads towards happiness from the inside out, through health, through awareness, through a change in one’s attitude towards the world; not towards the mirage of happiness from the outside in, through toys and pills and non-stop distractions. They could still choose our way; but they don’t want to... (HUXLEY: 2005; 211).
Huxley investigates another model of development that goes beyond the idea of progress and modernization, and takes into account the human model. Using Adorno´s words ‘not only could they live without hunger and probably without anxiety, but they could also live as free human beings’ (BLOCH: 1996; 4). And this is one of Island’s best devices, showing that a more fair society is possible. At the end of Huxley’s novel, rather than communicating impossibility, it bears witness that the hegemonic model – based on ambition and selfishness - is wrong. But destiny is in the hands of humans, and the people from Pala chose another more moderate and cooperative model of production, work that was not alienating, an antimilitarist political system, without hierarchies, a comprehensive and individual education, and a different cultural, legal, judicial and social model.
But the discourse on human rights and development that was mentioned earlier doesn’t remain in the imagination, on the contrary it is supported by historical events. Rist reminds us that, although the practical experiences of development mostly happened in the second half of the twentieth century, development has been ‘constructed within a particular history and culture’ (RIST: 2004; 2). This discourse is therefore in the imaginary of society, and of course, also affects the view of the authors too. Their denunciation constructs better worlds, and also makes a narration of the past from a view linked with the present. For example, the theory of the ‘excluded people of society’ (see page 9 and BOLAÑO: 2007; 266) that Bolaño conveys in 2666 is easier to conceptualize after the human rights declarations[xix]. The language of these rights has largely been incorporated into the collective consciousness, and it allows a view of the past based on the philosophy of these principles, meaning that everyone was included by virtue of his human condition, to be guaranteed a life of dignity.[xx]
As has been analysed, we are faced with the views influenced by the political, cultural and social contexts of each author, but also by the more or less reliable knowledge of the past that they have. A past that the passage of time has dissected with a sharp scalpel. For example, if we refer to the way that Bolaño deals with the traumatic historical fact of World War II fifty years after the event, we find a framework influenced by the rhetoric of universal justice. Suffice it to reflect on the sense of justice that blossoms in Archimboldi and that allowed him to strangle a man who committed genocide in a prisoner - of - war camp (BOLAÑO: 2007; 767). He, who came from a modest family, from the class that cried at the Führer’s death, and would be doomed to take part in the Nazi army, and would thereby participate in one of the worst nightmares of the twentieth century simply due to circumstances. Island alludes to the people that swelled the ranks of the atrocity:
And always, everywhere, there would be the yelling or quietly authoritative hypnotists; and in the train of the ruling suggestion-givers, always and everywhere, the tribes of buffoons and huck-sters, the professional liars, the purveyors of entertaining irrelevances. Conditioned from the cradle, unceasingly distracted, mesmerized systematically, their uniformed victims would go on obediently marching and counter-marching, go on, always and everywhere, killing and dying with the perfect docility of trained poodles (HUXLEY: 2005; 285).
However, progressively, something working in a subliminal plane opens a huge gap between what he was and what he becomes. The horror – ‘the artillery, the mortars, the bursts of machine gun fire’- and after maybe the understanding that what happened during the war, made Archimboldi quiet (BOLAÑO: 2007; 873). Perhaps for this reason he starts to yearn to submerge in water, to take refuge in an amniotic fluid that protects him from any danger that saves him from the memory of a time when it was impossible to choose. He starts to imagine ‘that under his Wehrmacht uniform he was wearing the suit of garb of a madman’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 670). And then, when the war finishes and he kills Leo Sammer, a war criminal involved in the massacre of hundreds of Jews (BOLAÑO: 2007; 767), it seems clear that Archimboldi was conscious of the sin of taking part in Hitler’s army, and he thinks that this gesture will redeem him. But it is impossible; there is no rest for those who have suffered the horror under their skin. And it was only the process of writing about this that could help him avoid the dark and necessary impulse of living, although he passed through the hell of war. And surely, as Jorge Semprún (a real writer that recently passed away) experienced in the lager, he comes back to the world to ‘act, think, love and fight as if this stink of meat and gunpowder wouldn’t have stayed forever in his sense of smell, as if the horror wouldn’t have stayed in his sight forever’ (MAGRIS: 2011; 40). In other words:
He can only continue living if he continues taking, also in the name of someone who, unlike him, could not come back from the lager hell and can’t go on taking (MAGRIS: 2011; 40).[xxi]
Curiously, Archimboldi would be published by a Jew, who had escaped to London and who blamed himself for publishing several writers that then joined the Nazi ranks. If Mr.Bubis accepts Hans Reiter among his protégées it is because he knows that the writer had no other choice, which makes him different from those intellectuals that voluntarily served the Nazis. Mr. Bubis can learn about his participation in the war through his wife or simply by reading his novels. But perhaps also because of this, what he can find in his writing is linked with the nature of a man who has faced poverty and death, meaning, a man that really understands the value of life.
But what makes Archimboldi’s metamorphosis possible, why is he no longer a docile poodle? Perhaps the books help him, those that he read in the big mansion where his mother cleaned (BOLAÑO: 2007; 658). Again literature is a saviour, opening cracks that allow ‘the masses’ to escape to another place. Probably Archimboldi could probably never belong to the new one, but it changed him into a different person. Literature became his voice. But, as will be shown, Archimboldi, besides reading also has an experience of the past that allows him to be aware of others, the excluded, those that prove by their existence the long way it is still necessary to walk to reach the utopia of human rights. This is a world that is very difficult to see from the bourgeois point of view. Thus, the consciousness that makes it possible to understand the raw material that composes the surroundings of the human being seems one of the keys of his success as a writer: a consciousness that his readers will acquire.
In Island Will Farnaby finally will be saved by his self-awareness that he previously tried to avoid:
“Less aware of my fat income and other people’s subhuman poverty. Less aware of my own excellent health in an ocean of malaria and hookworm, of my own safely sterilized sex-fun in an ocean of starving babies...” (HUXLEY: 2005;236).
- 4.THE FEMINIST PROJECT: AN AMBIGUOUS PLACE
Situated in their time, the novels also reflect the huge social changes produced by the arrival of women in public life and the contradictions and limitations of the discussions on gender equality. If Island includes in the idyllic Pala the materialization of the main demands of feminism from the end of the nineteenth century until the beginning of the sixties – suffragist and liberation movements - 2666 shows in the narration many shades of meaning, perhaps influenced by contradictions and the eruption of new feminist movements at the end of the twentieth century. Bolaño´s balance is ambiguous, because although he conveys the transformation of the role of women in many aspects of Western society, he also bears witness to the fact that, in the majority of cases, the identity of women is still linked to a reproductive or ornamental function (for example the upper class wives in Santa Teresa), housework or sexual exploitation (BOLAÑO: 2007; 438). As was previously indicated, the rhetoric of human rights – in this specific case women’s rights - is limited byreality. Generally, in the novel, the macho male continues reproducing injustices against women. It makes a common project impossible because as Adorno said: “Whatever utopia is, whatever can be imagined as utopia, this is the transformation of the totality”(BLOCH: 1996; 3).
In Island, feminist utopia is fulfilled in Pala through a model of the family that liberates women from the care of dependants thanks to the Mutual Adoption Clubs (HUXLEY: 2005; 90), where several members of society support the bulk of breeding and education; Paleo-Birth Control is used as a “moral restraint” (HUXLEY: 2005; 83), and the free choice of sentimental relationships is not condemned(HUXLEY: 2005; 73). But there is something in the author’s view – perhaps his male condition - or influenced by the time when the novel was written that points to an imperfect project. Thus, although Huxley is close to touching it, he can’t build a perfect feminist utopia. In fact, the island is governed by men, who also carry out the most difficult jobs. The women described in Island, despite some progress made in the private sphere, are not as visible as men in the professional field or are dependent on men emotionally. Even the most intelligent, such as Susila MacPhail, after her husband’s death, must ‘love for two, live for two’ (HUXLEY: 2005; 28)”. Also Lakshmi,the doctor MacPhail’s partner, on her deathbed, said to him:
– But I’m still a flea… “And yet I did try… I was always on tiptoes, always straining up towards the place where you were doing your work and your thinking and your reading. On tiptoes, trying to reach it, trying to get up there beside you… Because I was just a dumb flea hopping about down here among the people... Your kind of highbrow world was a place I could never climb up to, much less find my way in” (HUXLEY: 2005; 37)
Moreover, together with the unconscious allusions inherited from a long period of patriarchy - seen when a character from Pala talks about masculine superiority (HUXLEY: 2005; 188) - Huxley openly criticizes the model of a sentimental partnership as a prison that prevails in the world outside Pala, as for example is reflected in Farnaby’s concept of marriage (HUXLEY: 2005; 103). And he also criticizes a world where women are ‘bent double under enormous loads’ (HUXLEY: 2005; 49),or ‘when the children are grown, go in for good works or organized culture’ (HUXLEY: 2005; 176),live resigned as Will Farnaby’s mother and sister (HUXLEY: 2005;7), or are valued by having ‘a first-rate midriff, first-rate navel and first-rate breasts’ (HUXLEY: 2005; 64). They are condemned to take care of the family, and because of this, the Rani describes the arrival of new kinds of families in Pala as an attack against “mother love” (HUXLEY: 2005; 56). IfBolaño demystifies maternity through a character such as Lola (BOLAÑO: 2007; part II), the English author no doubt reinvents it in Susila’s words:
In our part of the world ‘Mother’ is strictly the name of a function. When the function has been duly fulfilled, the title lapses; the ex-child and the woman who used to be called ‘mother’ establish a new kind of relationship. If they get on well together, they continue to see a lot of one another. If they don’t, they drift apart. Nobody expects them to cling... (HUXLEY: 2005; 89)
As well as Island, 2666 conveys an unfinished feminist project, although in this case there is no intention of creating a utopian society, and the bare reality is shown. Ingeborg, Archimboldi’s ill wife, expounds in a surprised way: ‘…there are many people who kill, especially men who kill their wives, who never end up in prison’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 828). Bolaño’s message seems clear: the murdered women of Santa Teresa - or Ciudad Juárez, if it is preferable to use its real name – are not alone in the most vulnerable place in the chain of injustices (see chapter two). The key is being a woman and poor, time and space are not important. The mirror where human history is reflected is included deliberately in the narration and reveals that the murders are so commonplace that people hardly notice, and they remain unpunished. But in 2666, women, besides being victims, also symbolize the rejection of a masculine world. Their invisibility does not prevent them from showing their resistance, although most of the time they have to express it through the cracks that they open in reality or in a truth that ‘is like a strung-out pimp in the middle of a storm’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 612).
Obviously, the levels of invisibility and the degree of strength that every woman has to open these cracks are unequal, but are included in a framework determined by power relations and the social class to which the woman belongs. Thus, throughout the novel it is possible to recognize several kinds of female characters, which could be classified in their extremes between those without empowerment, ravaged by reality, and those from the upper classes and powerful families – such as Mrs. Bubis or the congresswoman. If the former are condemned to not exercising any of their rights, the latter have the same advantages as their male peers: they seem false in their professional lives, in the high political field or managing a well known publisher, as if they are not in their rightful place, a place they inherited from a father or a husband. Azucena Esquivel Plata, the congresswoman, becomes an example of resistance that was mentioned above. She tells the journalist Sergio González:
…when I joined the PRI there was a slight domestic upheaval, to call it something. Some reporters who had known me for years stopped talking to me. Other, the worst, still talked, but mostly behind my back. As you’re well aware, this is a macho country full of fagots (BOLAÑO: 2007; 609).
Esquivel is forced to follow the political and male rules of play, and the deception arrives when she has to fight against a powerful system that leaves her like one of Kafka’s characters:
I wanted power... I wanted free rein to change some things in this country… I wanted to improve public health and the public schools and do my bit to prepare Mexico to enter the twenty-first century... Of course, I didn’t achieve much. I brought more hopes than hard headedness to it, I’m sure, and it wasn’t long before I realized my mistake. You think that from the inside you might change some things for the better. First you work from the outside, then you think that if you were inside the real possibilities for change would be greater... Not true. There are things that can’t be changed from outside or inside (BOLAÑO: 2007; 609).
Because of this, when the time to act against the status quo arrives, after the old friend of the congresswoman disappears in Santa Teresa, she realizes that she is alone. Male power is not interested in solving the case because it has many vested interests - the narcorrancho where her friend works belongs to a banker who launders money for the Sonora cartel, and simultaneously illicitly finances the congresswoman’s party (BOLAÑO: 2007; 618) - and consequently this power, managed by men, is responsible for the murders. As Loya - the detective that she contracts to find out more about the murderers’ nature - advises her, it is her own colleagues in the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) who do not allow her to go far in her research. And for this reason, when she tries to look for herself in the mirrors, those that link past and present, she becomes invisible:
I paced the room. I notice there were two mirrors. One at one end and the other by the door, and they didn’t reflect each other. But if you stood in a certain place, you could see one mirror in the other. What you couldn’t see was me. Strange, I said to myself (BOLAÑO: 2007; 621).
Mrs. Bubis, in contrast, is hardly affected by the scenario of misery or war that surrounds her, and she sails peacefully, without trying to row against a reality that always puts luck on her side. Her belonging to the upper class has resulted in an easy life, that she enjoys one hundred percent. Her freedom is safeguarded in a privileged and bourgeois individuality, without renouncing an existence oriented to pleasure, as unconcerned by the horror around her as the conservative prejudices typical of her class. She is the character that opens and closes the novel. In the first part she appears as an elegant old woman, ‘a woman who…was still as strong willed as ever, a woman who didn’t cling to the edge of the abyss’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 26); meanwhile in the fifth part, she is firstly a young woman, the baron Von Zumpe’s daughter who, in the war, has a relationship with a high ranking SS officer and an affair with the Romanian general Etrescu. After that, she adapts herself to the new situation and marries Mr. Bubis, a Jewish publisher who was persecuted by the Nazis. None of these things prevent her from becoming Archimboldi´s sporadic lover, whom she knew since he was a young man going with his mother to clean the Von Zumpe’s family seat. Perhaps as a consequence of this relationship, Mrs. Bubi’s eyes lit up ‘as if she were at the scene of a fire’, although ‘a fire that was about to go out’, when the critics asked her if she could help them get in touch with the German writer (BOLAÑO: 2007; 28).
As vital as Mrs. Bubis is, and also representing the resistance, as the congresswoman, Lola is an oversensitive character, who sincerely thinks that children should never be lied to (BOLAÑO: 2007; 184). Her ingenuity and sincerity can dissolve la pensée unique. When she was stopped in the airport because she carried a stainless-steel knife, her reply to the police – she used it for peeling fruit – left the officer defenceless (BOLAÑO: 2007; 164). This gesture showsthe collective neurosis – especially after September 11 attacks – in a world where every citizen is suspected as a potential terrorist. Lola’s freedom is never questioned by her status as wife, poor woman or mother – related to the already mentioned demystification. She faces every situation with dignity, even those produced by her imagination.
The dystopian view of the Chilean author also deals with the complex prisons where women remain: their concern for physical appearance - for example Elvira Campos’ extreme care of her body (BOLAÑO: 2007; part IV); their emotional dependence - the reason why Haas Klaus’s lawyer continues with him (BOLAÑO: 2007; part IV); and male domination. Prostitution is one of the obsessions throughout the novel. If in Pala its inhabitants are surprised that in the rest of the world people pay for sex (HUXLEY: 2005;102), in Bolaño’s work, prostitution is still part of a male view that pollutes relationships: it seems to justify the exploitation of women and the violence to which they are exposed, especially in the periphery of the world. When Klaus asks another prisoner what he thought about the dead women and girls, he replies that they were whores: ‘They deserved to be fucked as many times as anyone wanted to fuck them’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 490). This view makes the utopia of human rights impossible, leaving the feminist project ambiguous.
- 5.THE ENVIRONMENTS: CITIES, ISLANDS AND DESERTS
If the goal of a universal framework which includes human rights and fundamental freedoms is far from being achieved, it may be asked, due to the ‘anticipatory illumination of art’ (BLOCH: 1996; xxxiii), if it is possible that such a global culture already exists, or at least, as pointed out by Huyssen, ‘cultural practices that are somehow global’ (HUYSSEN: 2010; 30-31). Do 2666 and Island show this contemporary concern?
The global dimension of the works, apart from the difference made in chapter two between internationalisation and transnationalisation, seems unquestionable. Pala and Santa Teresa symbolize the main spaces of the novels, but they also work as allegories of the two worlds conveyed by the authors: the belief in utopia, through the Huxlerian construction of a paradise, or the lack of belief in it through the dystopian view of Bolaño. Pala is an island in a corrupt and foul world, a fold in the middle of the Pacific ocean, where all the dreams that the twentieth century announced were germinated, but were never achieved elsewhere: equality, comprehensive education, the eradication of hunger and poverty, breaking away from Judaeo-Christian culture, technological advances to help mankind rather than the economic system, the search for equilibrium and happiness, reduction of pain through meditation and knowledge to combat fears, specially death. A conscious threat of death is omnipresent in Pala and results in a life ‘more inestimably precious’ (HUXLEY: 2005; 165) and it can serve as an improvement of our existence. As Adorno said:
...if death were eliminated, if people would no longer die, that would be the most terrible and most horrible thing. I would say that it is precisely this form of reaction that actually opposes the utopian consciousness most of the time. The identification with death is that which goes beyond the identification of people with the existing social conditions and in which they are extended (BLOCH: 1996; 8)
If those existing outside of Pala are considered the same in the novel, in spite of the division of the Cold War, and are unable to achieve utopia; Bolaño’s novel includes several fragments of time and space in a kaleidoscope that randomly chooses pieces and that will finish by creating a perfect picture, capable of explaining, in a complex or simple way, the failure of the collective project of humanity. Thus, the scenes where the narration is set appear as allegories. For example, Santa Teresa is described like ‘a hellhole’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 196), or in words of the Azucena Esquivel:
From the window you could see the old plaza of Santa Teresa and people going back and forth, on their way to work or idling along. It struck me as a terrible place, despite the light, which glowed golden, very faint in the morning and strong and dense in the afternoon, as if the air, at sunset, was laden with desert dust (BOLAÑO: 2007; 619).
This desert – either Sonora or an imagined desert – is composed of sand. Sand that results from the erosion of stone or the disintegration of solids due to the battering of time. Sand that comes from rocks or mountains, but also from the remains of ruins. And the ruins, together with prisons, can be read ‘as allegories that question, and even cancel the modern utopia of freedom and progress, lineal time and geometric space’ (HUYSSEN: 2010; 60). In this sense, sand would be the product of history – because ‘the twentieth century only leaves rubble, but not ruins’ (HUYSSEN: 2010; 60) – on top of which humans build a global future. Perhaps the saddest thing is that in the current century - as it is possible to understand from Charly Cruz’s reflection on the demolition of movie theatres (BOLAÑO: 2007; 314) – the rubble became rubbish from a voracious consumer society[xxii]. Or, in other words, global future will have to manage the combination of past ruins, twentieth century rubble and twenty first century rubbish because the borders of time are shaded. Will its composition be different in 2666?
It is a curious observation that, when the congresswoman complains about the Mexicans ‘who talk and act as if this is all Pedro Páramo’, Loya replies: ‘Maybe it is’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 624). Namely, his view seems to anticipate the future visit of someone who, in search of his ancestors, will find a ghost city. In fact, Bolaño creates with Santa Teresa the same idea that Juan Rulfo does with Comala: an allegory of power, feudalism and peasant Mexican cacicazgo (Spanish pejorative word that refers to the acts of a chieftain), but the Chilean extends his view far from the Latin-American country, to point to a global scenario of exploitation, where new kinds of slavery appear.
Another allegory that cancels the opportunity for human developmentand freedom is war, although now the impossibility is witnessed by ash instead of ruins or rubble:
…and kept advancing, leaving a wake of burned Ukrainian villages and granaries and woods that suddenly burst into flames as if by means of a mysterious process of combustion, woods like dark islands in the middle of endless wheat fields (BOLAÑO: 2007; 700).
Likewise, Island has its own ruins: the oil. In fact, this is another kind of natural waste of the past from geological layers. This black gold is the ‘wave of the future’ where Murugan is riding (HUXLEY: 2005; 59), or in other words: it symbolizes the impossibility of Pala’s project surviving. The greed and concentration of wealth in a few hands will stop social development on the island. The curse of oil thus becomes a strategic weapon used by avarice, showing a future where collective schemes lose their value, where human rights plunge into a hole as black as the oil:
To go forward, Will asked himself, into what?... But whatever it was that she had gone forward into, he didn’t like it. There was an expression on that large florid face which he found peculiarly distasteful – an expression of domineering calm, of serene and unshakeable self-esteem. She reminded him in a curious way of Joe Aldehyde. Joe was one of those happy tycoons who feel no qualms, but rejoice without inhibition in their money and in all that their money will buy in the way of influence and power (HUXLEY: 2005; 52-53).
In that sense, the novels have in common the showing of the elites’ selfishness as the driving force of the world. In 2666, the Chilean author describes the ostentatious luxury of the Mexican upper class or the German nobility. Also the politicians and businessmen became rich due to corruption or illicit bribes. When the Honduran Asunción Reyes, Popescu’s wife, convinces him to invest in her country, with the ‘outlandish idea’ of building a metro in Tegucigalpa, the Romanian, the president and ministers of Honduras, the church, the French and American companies make money, yet the underground (BOLAÑO: 2007; 856) is never built.
In Island, Rani’s words about rich people sound ridiculous:
“…Bahu is the Last of the Aristocrats. You should see his country place! Like the Arabian Nights! One claps one’s hands –and instantly there are six servants ready to do one’s bidding. One has a birthday – and there is a fete nocturne in the gardens. Music, refreshments, dancing girls; two hundred retainers carrying torches. The life of Haroun al Rashid, but with modern plumbing.”
“It sounds quite delightful,” said Will, remembering the villages through which he had passed in Colonel Dipa’s white Mercedes –the wattled huts, the garbage, the children with ophthalmia, the skeleton dogs... (HUXLEY: 2005; 49).
One of the historic ruins removed by Palais the Judeo-Christian religion because, throughout history, it helped elites preserve privileges and exercise mind control. However, the Rani, who even believes that scarecrows draw children away ‘from the very idea of God’ (HUXLEY: 2005; 227), is ready to impose again the adoration to a supreme being:
“These people in Pala… don’t believe in God. They only believe in Hypnotism and Pantheism and Free Love”. She emphasized the words with indignant disgust.
“So now,” said Will, “you’re proposing to make them miserable in the hope that this will restore their faith in God...” (HUXLEY: 2005; 59).
Curiously, there seem to remain some vestiges of the past in the utopian Pala universe, such as the Raja’s institution. If the justification for maintaining it is that one of their ancestors helped MacPhail’s great-grandfather to start the Reform, it is still something that doesn’t fit properly in a society that was reinvented and that removed past privileges:
“Pala is a constitutional monarchy,” Murugan answered gravely.
“In other words, you’re just going to be a symbolic figurehead – to reign, like the Queen of England, but not rule”.
Forgetting his real dignity, “No, no”, Murugan almost screamed. “Not like the Queen of England. The Raja of Pala doesn’t just reign; he rules... He rules constitutionally; but, by God, he rules, he rules! (HUXLEY: 2005; 43-44).
The prisons, these inner and infinite spaces with no outside (HUYSSEN: 2010; 60), represent the other dystopian allegory. Bolaño refers to them at different times, for example, when an ex Panther speaks from the pulpit he says that black people learned nothing in prisons, ‘nothing but cruelty from the guards and sadism from our fellow inmates’ (BOLAÑO: 2007; 250). And the detailed portrait of Mexican prisons, where the schemers govern, is particularly interesting: overcrowding, drugs, impunity, murders, drug-traffickers bringing their own bodyguards, individual cells for rich prisoners, mistreatment by police and collective rapes (BOLAÑO: 2007; 652).In every prison, the time and space disorientation doesn’t prevent the blossoming of a dark world where human misery and all kinds of violence are concentrated.
In Island, the provisional achievement of utopia cancels the possibility of prisons. Susila explains it as follows:
“No Alcatrazes here,” she said. “No Billy Graham or Mao Tse-tungs or Madonnas of Fatima. No hells on earth and no Christian pie in the sky, no Communist pie in the twenty-second century. Just men and women and their children trying to make the best of the here and now, instead of living somewhere else, as you people mostly do, in some other time, some other home-made imaginary universe...” (HUXLEY: 2005; 96).
- 6.THE LIMITS: INSANITY AND EVIL
As was already indicated in the introduction, there is something missing from the global project of human rights, something related to human nature, to the capacity to do one’s best, but also to do the worst; to one’s solidarity and courage, but also to the wickedness that mankind can show. Until now it has been analysed how 2666 and Island convey an objective, institutional approach to utopia, but this last chapter will focus on ‘the subjective, experiential concern of desalination’ (LEVITAS: 1990; 8). That is to say, it will be concentrating on the human being as a single unit that could make the success or failure of a universal human rights project possible, one who is capable of imagining and carrying out utopia, but who is also capable of dragging the following generation into disillusionment. Referring to Bloch, Ruth Levitas said:
He reminds us that utopia involves fundamental questions about the human condition and its future, and he refuses to abandon faith in the possibilities of that future (LEVITAS: 1990; 105).
Utopia – in Levitas´s words – ‘is the expression of the desire for a better way of being’ (LEVITAS: 1990; 8). She reveals - in her book The Concept of Utopia that addresses the notion of the ideal society throughout European history – that ‘the emphasis (in the contemporary utopian fiction)[xxiii] has changed from the presentation of finished perfection to a more open exploration in which the construction of the individual, and thus the question of another way of being, has become the central issue’ (LEVITAS: 1990; 7). Hence it is not accidental that Huxley conveys the importance of the transformationof individuals in order to build a better world. In Island,the English writer, besides his criticism of bourgeois civilization and the idea of progress that a lot of modernist writers had made, makes use of his meeting with oriental culture. It was the same with Huxley’s other works written in the last years of his life that allow him ‘increasingly to believe that the key to solving the world’s problems lay in changing the individual through mystical enlightenment’ and ‘the exploration of the inner life through mysticism and hallucinogenic drugs’ (HUXLEY: 2005, summary).
From the first page of Island, the word ‘attention’ appears like an appeal to reality, perhaps to avoid the impossibilities of Aristotle’s sentence that heads the book. It is a call for awareness that will continue throughout the novel emphasizing the importance of the individual’s inner being, suitable education and the search for their internal peace.
Knowing who in fact one is, being conscious of the universal and impersonal life that lives itself through each of us – that’s the art of living (HUXLEY: 2005; 239).
Huxley uses the example of Pala to show that it is possible for an individual to change, leading to a successful social project, although once the end of the novel is known, it infers that this experiment can only prosper in an isolated context, far from polluting agents. The metaphor about rats used by Mr. Bahu is coherent with this idea of a laboratory:
“… Don’t try to behave as though you were essentially sane and naturally good. We’re all demented sinners in the same cosmic boat – and the boat is perpetually sinking.”
“In spite of which, no rat is justified in leaving it. Is that what you’re saying?”
“A few of them may sometimes try to leave. But they never get very far. History and the other rats will always see to it that they drown with the rest of us. That’s why Pala doesn’t have the ghost of a chance.” (HUXLEY: 2005; 66-67).
Because of the risk to Pala’s survival from those that come from abroad, it is easier to understand the phobia of anything foreign. Whatever, isolation achieves, it is necessary to work in the positive unconscious, an ‘attempt to help the patient to open himself up to the life force’ (HUXLEY: 2005; 69). Even the psychotics and neurotics, or those called ‘Muscle People’ and ‘Peter Pans; (HUXLEY: 2005; 151), receive treatment from birth to alter their behaviour. The mind-body education that links facts, ideas and experiences thus becomes a better weapon for avoiding negative actions. An education that contrasts with these examples in Western countries:
“I was thinking of two people I met last time I was in England. At Cambridge. One of them was an atomic physicist, the other was a philosopher. Both extremely eminent. But one had a mental age, outside the laboratory, of about eleven and the other was a compulsive eater with a weight problem that he refused to face. Two extreme examples of what happens when you take a clever boy, give him fifteen years of the most intensive formal education and totally neglect to do anything for the mind-body which has to do the learning and the living” (HUXLEY: 2005, 208).
Being aware of positive unconscious also leaves open the possibility of hope for those such asWill Farnaby, who are ready to overcome their fears. He is an example that change is possible, even for those that weren’t born on the Island. Susila will help him practice an inner exercise that will allow Farnaby to heal his own wounds and abandon the cynicism that he shows throughout the novel. He eventually admits the bravery of the Pala project. A place where, for the first time, the Englishman feels liberated from the experiences that determine his negative view of life: having suffered a drunk father, the responsibility of maintaining his mother, accepting this unfairness, the guilt over his wife’s accident after she knew that he had a lover, the horror and misery that he saw inevery place in the world... But, despite his inner liberation allowing a change in his intentions, this is not the same with the actions that will finish the Pala experiment.
Until then, Farnaby thought that his freedom would arrive through the money that lord Aldehyde promised to pay for the information that he needed for his dark purposes (HUXLEY: 2005; 26). He arrived in Pala disguised as a journalist, introduced himself as ‘our Special Correspondent, paid to travel about the world and report on the current horrors’ (HUXLEY: 2005; 20)[xxiv], although, in fact, it was to be known later that he was the special envoy of greed and selfishness, that he served the business of lord Aldehyde and the South-East Asian Petroleum Company:
Officially, Will had come to Rendang to sniff the death in its militarized air; but he had also been commissioned to find out what the dictator felt about foreign capital, what tax rebates he was prepared to offer, what guarantees against nationalization. And how much of the profits would be exportable? How many native technicians and administrators would have to be employed? (HUXLEY: 2005; 25).
His mission is clear from the beginning, but Huxley also declares early on, through this description of Susila,that Farnaby will renounce carrying it out:
“The physique of a Messiah. But too clever to believe in God or be convinced of his own mission. And too sensitive, even if he were convinced, to carry it out. His muscles would like to act and his feelings would like to believe; but his nerve-endings and his cleverness won’t allow it.”
“So I suppose he’s very unhappy.”
“So unhappy that he has to laugh like a hyena” (HUXLEY: 2005; 29).
When Will Farnaby decides not to follow Murugan and stays with Dr. MacPhail’s granddaughter it seems to be a utopian gesture, insofar as he is conscious of what will occur later, and knows that he is acting against his own economic interests. The inner process of change initiated by Susila’s lessons is working, but he still cherishes some doubts:
And not only away from the hope of freedom, away quite possibly if the Rani complained to Joe and if Joe became sufficiently indignant, from any further prospects of well-paid slavery as a professional execution-watcher. Should he turn back, should he try to find Murugan, offer apologies, do whatever that dreadful woman ordered him to do? (HUXLEY: 2005; 252).
In contrast, outside of Pala, in the world where a ‘new man’ never appears, wickedness and madness is the rule and they always have consequences:
Onward Nazi soldiers, onward Christian soldiers, onward Marxist and Muslims, onward every chosen People, every Crusader and Holy War-maker. Onward into misery, into all wickedness, into death! And suddenly Will found himself looking at what the marching column would become when it had reached its destination – thousands of corpses in the Korean mud, innumerable packets of garbage littering the African desert. And here (for the scene kept changing with bewildering rapidity and suddenness), here were the five fly-blown bodies he had seen only a few months ago, faces upwards and their throats gashed, in the courtyard of an Algerian Farm. Here, out of a past almost twenty years earlier, was that old woman, dead and stark naked in the rubble of a stucco house in St. John’s Wood (HUXLEY: 2005; 275).
Wickedness, produced by ambition and avarice, is the brake on the common social project. The history of humanity seems to lack any sense:
What happens is the senseless ambivalence of history – sadism versus duty, or (incomparably worse) sadism as duty; devotion counterbalanced by organized paranoia; sisters of charity selflessly tending the victims of their own church’s inquisitors and crusaders (HUXLEY: 2005; 40)
What make the difference between Dr. MacPhail and characters, who embody evil such as the Rani, colonel Dipa and Mr. Bahu? Are they people with intrinsically selfish genes? How can they be corrected by education and context? All of these questions were posed in the sixties, around the Marxist new man theory that had an impact on revolutions such as the one in Cuba that began only three years before Island was published
…and yet nobody could have been kinder that Dr. Robert and the others, no Good Samaritans were ever more simply and effectively charitable.
“I’m not denying their kindness,” said the Rani. “But after all kindness isn’t the only virtue.”
“Of course not,” Will agreed, and he listed all the qualities that the Rani seemed most conspicuously to lack. “There’s also sincerity. Not to mention truthfulness, humility, selflessness...”
“You’re forgetting Purity,” said the Rani severely. “Purity is fundamental, Purity is the sine qua non. (HUXLEY: 2005; 55)
Undoubtedly, selflessness and truthfulness are not in the nature of the Rani, who hides her own benefit behind her white clothes. She uses a mystic and spiritual language, but she is ‘another of Joe Aldehyde’s breed: ‘a female tycoon who had cornered the market ...but in Pure Spirituality and the Ascended Masters, and was now happily rubbing her hands over the exploit (HUXLEY: 2005; 53). She could exhibit a smile ‘charged with a sweetness that Will found positively menacing’ (HUXLEY: 2005; 63); the Voltairean smile of Mr. Bahu is no less wicked. Although, he is more pragmatic and expresses his arguments coldly:
“Don’t ever forget, Miss Radha: to the senseless nothing is more maddening than sense. Pala is a small island completely surrounded by twenty-nine hundred million mental cases. So beware of being too rational. In the county of the insane, the integrated man doesn’t become king.” Mr. Bahu’s pace was positively twinkling with Volterian glee. “He gets lynched” (HUXLEY: 2005; 68).
Bolaño’s view seems very different to Huxley’s, in coherence with the dominant values at the beginning of the twenty first century and the disappointment of unfulfilled promise in the twentieth century. It shows closed spaces without any exits, prisons – those already referred to in chapter five – that prevent social transformation. However, to avoid a fatalist view, the aporia of reality, the Chilean author leaves open two cracks in this hermetic space. One is embodied in the characters that follow his natural kindness and bonhomie, the other by those that suffer a benign madness. Both of them drift with a light that is seen everywhere, even in scenarios of terror and evil. They are characters that rescue dignity, bravery, vitality and also the possibility of finding happiness.
Madness also plays an important role in Bolaño’s work, but not to justify wickedness, but to differentiate what is insanity and what is evil. It is not a coincidence that three mental hospitals appear throughout the novel, in Spain, Mexico and in a non specific European place, where Archimboldi went to visit a friend thinking that it was a clinic for retired writers (BOLAÑO: 2007; 857). The German writer seems to feel an attraction for madness, and for this reason it is normal that he married Ingeborg. She embodies this kind of naked madness - just as the nobility of Lola is not subjugated to the patterns of a poisoned world – and goes against the well-known social conventions, leaving utopian cracks that show the rejection of inertia. It is a kind of madness capable of turning la pensée unique – that was mentioned earlier – these perverse currents of thought that sow fears to avoid the human being feeling responsibility for their own fate, and build walls to prevent communication. Thus, when Amalfitano’s daughter demands that he takes down Rafael Dieste’s book from the clothesline because the neighbours will think he is crazy, the Chilean answers:
The neighbours who top their walls with broken glass? They don’t even know we exist, said Amalfitano, and they’re a thousand times crazier than me. No, not them, said Rosa, the other ones, the ones who can see exactly what´s going on in our yard. …Then it’s not a problem, said Amalfitano, it’s silly to worry about it when much worse things are happening in this city than a book being hung on a cord (BOLAÑO: 2007; 196).
The wall with broken glass and the pages of Dieste’s book blowing freely in the wind symbolize those two worlds that the author seems to reflect. Two forces that collide through time and that, despite all shades derived from human complexity, represent good and evil. The former is present in small resistances to horror such as those made by Fate, Almafitano, the Congresswoman...; the latter is embodied in those that throughout history have been abusing other people and have attacked the common social projects. If Huxley writes about the possibility of achieving a ‘new man’, although he is also saying that the isolation of a laboratory is indispensable, Bolaño closes the door on this opportunity and looks head on at the abomination and the magnanimity that humans are capable of.
When Huxley finishes his novel with the end of paradise and Bolaño leaves his message that it ‘always has been like this and always will be like this’, does space still remain for hope? Perhaps the impossibility of an answer is contained in the existence of fragmented hope or small hopes, while it would be impossible to achieve our current utopia of human rights. At least, Archimboldi, with the trip to Mexico that the reader can imagine at the end, will arrive at the place where he always desired to live, because as Lalo Cura thinks at some point:
Living in this desert, thought Lalo Cura as the car, with Epifanio at the wheel, left the field behind, is like living at sea. The border between Sonora and Arizona is a chain of haunted or enchanted islands. The cities and towns are boats. The desert is an endless sea. This a good place for fish, especially deep-sea fish, not men (BOLAÑO: 2007; 559).
Because hope, as Bloch perceptively states:
... is not confidence. Hope is surrounded by dangers, and it is the consciousness of danger and at the same time the determined negation of that which continually makes the opposite of the hoped-for object possible (BLOCH: 1996; 18).
Island and 2666 are two novels committed to the present that were influenced by their socio-political context. The authors coincide in their criticism of the established system and deal with the obstacles that prevent utopia: uncontrolled capitalism and the wrong model fordevelopment. There is also an important commitment to the past in both works, especially in the case of Bolaño, who uses a unique mirror to reflect the history of Western countries, overcoming national borders to narrate from a transnational framework.
In this dissertation, the achievement ofhuman rights is considered as the current utopia. If in Island, this social collective project materialized - or was anticipated in some aspects – in the social paradise of Pala; in 2666 it appears as a latent presence behind the number of the title, as a memory that reminds us that everything is transient, both happiness and misfortune, and perhaps nothing will be too different in the future because human nature has been similar throughout history.
Perhaps literature can reorient the world in order to achieve the collective project of human rights, but it is noteworthy to know what Huxley and Bolaño – as witty observers of their times - are telling us about the dark and light side of human nature and the other limitations of utopia, but also about the importance of pursuing that vision.
ALKIRE, Sabina, UNDP, Human Development Research Paper 2010/01, Human Development: Definitions, Critiques, and Related Concepts, June 2010.
BEAUMONT, Matthew (2005), ‘History and Utopia at the Fin de Siècle’, in Utopia Ltd.: Ideologies of Social Dreaming in England 1870-1900.
BLOCH, Ernst (1996), The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England.
HUYSSEN, Andreas (2011), Modernismo después de la Posmodernidad, Gedisa, Barcelona.
LEVITAS, Ruth (1990), The concept of Utopia, Syracuse University Press.
MANUEL and MANUEL (1979), Utopian Thought in the Western World, Belknap Press.
MARCUSE, Herbert (1898-1979), ‘The End of Utopia’, in Herbert Marcuse, Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics and Utopia, Allen Lane, 1970.
MARTÍNEZ-GÓMEZ, Raquel and MARTÍNEZ OSÉS, Pablo (2006), ‘Iniciativas ciudadanas para el cumplimiento de los ODM’, Revista española de Desarrollo y Cooperación, nº17, IUDC-UCM, Madrid, pp.129-142.
MARTÍNEZ OSÉS, Pablo (2010) ‘ONG y ciudadanía del siglo XXI: incidencia política para el desarrollo mundial’, en Guerra, A., Tezanos, F., y Tezanos, S., (eds.), La lucha contra la pobreza y el hambre, VIII Encuentro Salamanca, Editorial Sistema, Madrid.
MOYNS, Samuel (2010), The last Utopia. Human Rights in History, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London.
Rist, Gilbert (2004), The History of Development: from Western Origins to Global Faith, Zed Book, London.
ABOUT ISLAND AND 2666:
ADORNO, Theodor (1967), 'Aldous Huxley and Utopia', in Prisms, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1983.
BOLAÑO, Roberto (2004), 2666 Anagrama, Barcelona.
BOLAÑO, Roberto (2007), tr. Natasha Wimmer, 2666, Picador, London.
HUXLEY, Aldous (1962), Island, Vintage Books, London, 2005.