LAC Digest 5 review

TILMANN ALTENBERG. “Bolaño against Babel: Multilingualism, Translation and Narration in 2666, ‘La parte de los críticos’.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 95.2 (2018): 217-233.


Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 has been widely considered as a canonical novel within the realm of Latin American literature. This article analyzes the strategies employed in the first part of 2666 from the perspective of how a monolingual narrative constructs a multilingual story. The author discusses the motives and implications of the latter by means of analyzing “how the languages spoken at the story level are organized relative to each other and to the language in which the novel is written, in order to then examine the ways in which the narrator renders speech events in the different languages involved.” What makes this article noteworthy among the vast bibliography dedicated to Bolaño’s 2666 is precisely that it argues “to dismiss the tension between multilingualism at the story level and monolingualism at the discourse level as a defect of the novel is to pass over one of 2666’s principal proposals and to deny a key aspect of Bolaño’s narrative poetics.” The article will be especially valuable to those working on Latin American literature, literary studies, multilingualism, translation, and critical approaches to narrative.

Abstract: This article examines the first part of Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666 with regard to the strategy of telling a multilingual story in a monolingual narrative. Discussing the motives behind, and implications of, this flattening of the text’s linguistic surface, it argues that to dismiss the tension between story and discourse as a defect is to overlook one of the novel’s principal proposals and to deny a key aspect of Bolaño’s narrative poetics. The article shows that in ‘La parte de los críticos’, effortless communication is confined to a utopian communicative space, which provides a level playing field for characters from different culturallinguistic backgrounds. The novel’s approach to multilingualism and translation, for which Bolaño may have found support in his readings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, suggests that to him, languages matter not for what separates them but for what they have in common as a generic means of communication. The article contends that the novel’s linguistic flatness is programmatic, exposing to ridicule narratives that claim to represent reality faithfully. In place of the myriad real-world problems of Babel, Bolaño sets an ideal of linguistic transparency and perfect translatability made possible by way of literature.

Keywords: 2666; roberto bolaño; multilingualism; translation; narration; multilingual story; monolingual narrative.

DOI: 10.3828/bhs.2018.13