Roberto Bolaño’s work repeatedly asks readers to compare various entities (continents, national literatures, ethnicities, the realms of culture and politics). The essay reads this obsessive comparativism as the first step in a totalizing aesthetic project, one tied to Bolaño’s preoccupation with the twentieth century’s supreme comparand of state crime, National Socialism. Bolaño’s seeming promotion of Nazism to mythical status in fact serves the more urgent geopolitical project of mapping a continental American history with US political power firmly at its center.
The essays reads Bolaño’s fascist preoccupation—visible from early works like the coauthored Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce (Advice from a Morrison disciple to a Joyce fan) and The Third Reich—in terms of Erich Auerbach’s elaboration of figura, the mode of medieval exegesis according to which Old Testament events lose none of their historical validity once they are interpreted as figures for New Testament events to come. Bolaño’s employment of this arcane hermeneutic device records the insistent geopolitical closure that has been registered across a variety of cultural realms under the name of globalization. This obscurely but palpably unified world is Bolaño’s subject in 2666, which locates an Auerbachian interpretive provocation on the geopolitical ground of the US-Mexico border (one of the most spectacularly visible dividing lines between global North and South). Bolaño’s spatializing of Auerbachian figura offers a potent model for a contemporary comparative practice, one that recognizes the necessity of mapping totality precisely in recording the geopolitical obstacles to doing so.