On Bolaño’s 2666 and Elevator Pitches

If you traffic in ideas for a living, chances are high that you don’t like those ideas until you can translate them into Elevator Pitches. I’m not sure how old the idea of The Elevator Pitch is but I’m under the (perhaps mistaken) impression that it’s grown to prominence in the relatively recent past, co-ascendant with the telecommunications boom. By all indications, entrepreneurship, creative enterprise, and that multi-disciplinary abstract, “The Next Big Thing”, are all at highs right now and all are dependent on The Elevator Pitch for their genesis, specifically at that point at which you’re asking others to contribute their money and/or talents. But while the Elevator Pitch is terribly useful for weeding out people whose ideas aren’t thought through, doesn’t it also weed out some things we like or, shit, need?

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot of unfocused, flabby stuff out there, too, and it’s well and good that that stuff dies before polluting our eyeballs and earholes. It does, however, seem that an entire generation threw out the patience baby with the Tarkovsky bathwater and now wants to sell us on pithy little THIS meets THAT narratives, exclusively–zombies meet dinosaurs, Jane Austen meets zombies, everything meets vampires and it’s all on acid as envisioned by Neveldine/Taylor.

On the other hand, I really do appreciate the Borges-ian condensation of a good pitch. Ideas become radiant when you remove exposition or execution and that’s the sublimated form in which they inspire us. That is why, for all the bitching I do about Elevator Pitches, I envy a good one for the power it exercises over our imaginations. It serves, in its ideal form, to crack the crust of the hardiest cynic and make her soul soar–as any good idea should do.

I can’t help but wonder though if there’s a bit of biological myopia at work in our image of idea conception. Borrowing the tree as visual, isn’t it possible that while some ideas start as saplings needing to blossom in multiple fertile grounds to create a healthy grove, while some are fully formed byzantine, branch-dense, trunk-less monstrosities that retain no glory as smaller components and furthermore need no peer group? Furthermore, is this preamble about elevator pitches my roundabout way of discussing the infuriating, intense dark mysticism of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, a novel that after the halfway point tips the scales of the discursive into the waters of the profound?

Yeah, for sure it is.

There’s a lot going on in this book and I won’t try to summarize it but the centerpiece of this story is a 300 page depiction of the massive streak of rapes, murders of the women of the fictional border town of Santa Teresa (a horrifyingly realistic, slow-motion dramatization of this). This is all so patiently and meticulously described, victim by victim, it makes you feel like you’re living it, like you’re the adopted family of the literally hundreds of women whose deaths he chronicles. Their crude traumas, sloppy burials, and generally inconsistent circumstances communicate so little, they have to be cataloged one by one, in the hopes that the lack of pattern in these deaths on a small scale is a thin veil for a horror of a more massive scope.

The seemingly pointless first few hundred pages (well, not pointless, but excessively discursive) come into focus after we begin to count the dead one by one. Bolaño was just easing us into this itemization of reality, running us through the days and habits of some important people and then some not so important people, to help our eyes adjust to a dimension where things can’t be boiled down, where the simplest atomic truth is still big enough to choke Galactus. Bolaño died poor and under-appreciated but one can’t help but believe he knew this to be his fate all along, choosing as he did to hoist the aforementioned unwieldy tree of a hundred branches and no trunks, perpetually carrying it through doorways too narrow with patience and grace. One also can’t help but wonder how many people in his life turned off their receptors whilst he was in mid-sentence (jeez, myself included), believing he was a fountain of meanderings when in fact he was always in the middle of a Sistine Chapel.

God, imagine, pitching a book like 2666. It can’t and shouldn’t be done at least not in that positivist, effervescent light-bulb-over-the-head way. 2666 doesn’t shine a light, it perturbs in the way that someone telling you that you’d been adopted might; it doesn’t inspire the broad smile of a good idea but instead suggests the portal to a different viewpoint, a galactic-sized viewpoint that has the potential to nauseate as much as fascinate. In fact, that’s my pitch for 2666:

“It’s a thousand page portal to a God’s eye view of the world.”

“That sounds rad.”

“It is. Kind of. You’ll want to give up several times before you get there, though.”

“Uh… but it’s worth getting there, right?”

“Yeah, sort of. It’s not a majestic and peaceful god’s-eye-view. It’s a bum you out and make you feel complicit with the evil in the world god’s-eye-view.”

“Hmmm… so this is a little like Todd Solondz meets William Blake?”

“Thank you!”

“Wow. That sounds like an awful pitch for, like, 90% of the world.”

“I know but it is what it is. Arr-eye-pee, Roberto Bolaño. Thank you for the fascination and perspective, and sorry if we fucked up.”

“Arr-eye-pee, Bolaño. Sorry.”