Jerome Rothenberg spoke as part of the 2017 seminar program on Writing Through: Translation and Othering as Forms of Composition.

Our Next Seminar - Room to Listen online seminar series 2020

‘Our Curse and Our Mirror’: Ungrievable Lives & Unframed Crime Scenes in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. 

Tobias Jochum  - chaired by Chris Andrews

Friday 28 August 2020
11:00am – 12:00pm

RSVP to and you will be sent the Zoom link and password on the morning of the seminar, 28 August.

At the center of his posthumous novel 2666 Roberto Bolaño famously re-imagined the historic femicides of Ciudad Juárez in a fictionalized version of the Mexican border town, named Santa Teresa. Altogether 109 crime scenes, each described in forensic detail, serve as a literary synecdoche: a powerful allegory for the failures of colonial capitalist modernity at large and at the same time, through an astonishing degree of documentary diligence, as testament to the real victims of Juárez and an indictment of the complex global forces that condition such atrocities under neoliberal capitalism today.

In this paper, I first want to address how the novel enacts, or mirrors, the ungrievability (Judith Butler) marking the lives and deaths of subalternized women at the edge of the Global South. The narration operates in a mode of radical unsentimentality and what Saidiya Hartman calls "narrative constraint;" the persistent refusal to fill in epistemological gaps in the historic archive around these murders or offer any sense of affective relief or closure takes the reader on a tour de force of ungrievability.

Secondly, I will explore Bolaño's critical negotiation of crime genre conventions, in particular his staging of the crime scene. On a formal level, the narrative moves through an extensive repertoire of detective genres, stresstesting and discarding established tropes and motifs only to effectively expose the inadequacy of these literary paradigms of Western modernity to grasp the synergies of capital and criminality shaping the political economy of the U.S.-Mexico border. Meanwhile, a closer inspection of the crime scenes themselves reveals the novel's self-reflective and interactive edifice. Bolaño's political critique is already inscribed in the very crime scene itself, which embodies the operationality of the larger political system—a device he had cultivated in earlier works on the Pinochet dictatorship. But where clandestine, closed-room scenarios served to capture the horrors of the fascist regime of Chile's past, in 2666 the serialized crime scenes in the open spaces of the neoliberal borderlands summon a more unsettling constellation of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. Neither historically confined nor framed by any narrative mediations, these scenes appear to leap right off the page to implicate us all: an author with a morbid fixation on the slain female body as much as an audience of guilty co-conspirators, impassive spectators, and potential voyeurs.

And this might be Bolaño's major achievement, after all: The recognition that great political art is always messy and inherently ambivalent, the position of the author never unencumbered; and consequently, holding himself accountable, while nevertheless committing to precisely such a project headfirst, in all its ethical complexity.

TOBIAS JOCHUM is a post-doctoral research fellow and lecturer in American literature at the John F. Kennedy Institute in Berlin. He holds a PhD in North American Studies from the Free University Berlin and an M.A. in Estudios norteamericanos from the Universidad de La Laguna, Spain. In 2018 Tobias Jochum completed his doctoral studies at the Graduate School of North American Studies at the Free University with a dissertation on "The Ethics of Representation in Contemporary Literary Narratives of Border Violence,"  which was awarded the Ernst Reuter prize for best dissertation in the Humanities that year. Beyond his time at the John F. Kennedy Institute he has studied at the University of California Berkeley and the Universidad de La Laguna in Tenerife, Spain, and established close academic ties to Ciudad Juárez in Northern Mexico. His research and teaching interests encompass 20th century and contemporary U.S.-American and Spanish American narrative, countercultures and social justice movements, with a particular focus on decolonial, gender, race, and critical human rights discourses, and combining the fields of Hemispheric American Studies, Latinx and Border Studies. In 2015 he co-edited a special dossier on new interdisciplinary perspectives on femicide at the U.S.-Mexico border. His current post-doctoral research examines transatlantic exile literature in translation.

RSVP to and you will be sent the Zoom link and password on the morning of the seminar, 28 August.

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