How can literature help us to address real mass-scale tragedy?
Freie Universität Berlin
Presented: October 6th, 2022
Edited in written form: December 10th, 2022
Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is a work which refuses to be reduced. Like its genre mates in the category of encyclopedic or maximalist novel, 2666 encapsulates the styles, knowledge, characters, and experiences of its cultural microcosm as completely as possible in order to reveal the ways in which its setting, the fictionalized Mexican border city of Santa Teresa, fits into the macrocosm of our globalized postmodern lifeworld. While being deeply grounded in the specific lived realities of those living and dying in Santa Teresa, 2666 also looks outward to the global conditions which create the situation at the core of the novel. Thus it is already clear that unlike Romantic, Realist, or Modernist novels, 2666 takes as its narrative center not the emotional development or interpersonal drama of one actor, but rather the collective suffering experienced by hundreds of murdered women, their families, their killers, and the witnesses to their lives and deaths. By positioning a chorus of the dead at the center of the work, 2666 does not allow the trajectory of any single actor to provide an illusion of moral or emotional closure to the narrated events. In fact, the possibility of a single hero swooping in Hollywood-style to shoot the bad guy(s) and tie up the loose ends is explicitly up-ended through the storylines of multiple itinerant characters (i.e. Oscar Fate and Harry Magaña). Thus having removed the convenient trope of the hero along with the comfortable arc of an isolated conflict which can somehow or another be dealt with, if not fully resolved, what does 2666 leave the reader with? The present study will investigate the ways in which 2666 presents collective rather than individual action as the most salient level of analysis, thereby moving beyond Modernist humanism and into a different mode of understanding not only narrative, but also lived experience.
II - Santa Teresa and the Real World
While perhaps not immediately obvious to the anglophone public, the fact that Bolaño’s 2666 is not purely fictional is essential to an understanding of the text’s urgency. The murders at the novel’s heart, tragically, were not invented, but pulled from a journalistic report published by Sergio González Rodriguez, a man who also appears in the book in fictionalized form. González’s intervention reformatted information that many Mexicans were already intimately familiar with; the stories of the murdered women had of course already been aggressively publicized, with images of battered corpses often being featured on the front pages of tabloids and used as B-roll footage for TV news. The conventional narrativization of these tragedies depicts each murder individually, with motives and narrative arcs patterned after those seen in films and novels. Rather than addressing the systems and conditions that make possible record numbers of shockingly similar murders year after year in the same place, tabloids and popular fiction media focus nearly exclusively on the individual scale, sensationalizing each event as if it were unique. On the one hand, it must be acknowledged that each individual life lost is a tragedy of its own, deserving of appropriate mourning and respect. On the other hand, the even larger tragedy is that the deaths themselves are not, in fact, unique. When the observer directs their attention from the event of a single murder to the life of the victim and those who mourn her loss, that observer may soon become overwhelmed with grief and convinced of their own impotence in the face of loss. When the observer, alternatively, scales up from the event of the death to see it in the context of the hundreds of women who have been, are being, and will be killed in the same way, in the place of despair come rage and disgust; there is no impotence in the observer that sees this tragedy as ongoing, rather there is a profound call to action. In other words, in order to address this crisis most effectively, it must be seen as a whole. In order to see the whole, what must be centered is the tragedy of the deaths, rather than the victims as the living women they no longer are. Sergio González’s Bones in the Desert presented his public with this alternative view of the deceased: not as isolated victims, but as one collective, ongoing horror. Bolaño’s addition to this approach was to wrap it in an epic narrative triptych. To what end?
What is truly revolutionary about Bolaño’s narrativization of González’s reportage is that it steps into a form that has for centuries conformed to a convention of individualized, emotional drama. This is particularly clear in the opening section, “The Part about the Critics,” which contains little narratively besides the shallow personal and professional ambitions of a group of academics whose work - as well as their personal lives - is of little interest to anyone beyond themselves. It is this very irrelevance which makes Part One apposite to 2666’s larger argument: as all-consuming as their menage-a-trois is for the academics themselves, after having finished the other sections, the reader has no choice but to look back on this episode as disgustingly solipsistic and uninteresting, especially given the fact that the academics travel to Santa Teresa and care nothing for the atrocities being committed there. Likewise, “The Part about the Crimes,” (the section of the novel which focuses on the femicides directly) is populated with detectives who have other cases to deal with, detectives who fall in love and get distracted, and detectives for whom the force isn’t much more than a side gig to their own criminal activities. The relevance of these useless would-be heroes is again precisely in their failure. These characters (along with the more earnestly intended police work (i.e. Harry), which also fails) make abundantly clear that the reader should find no hope in messianic myths of indefatigable saviors: for Santa Teresa, no single hero – be he journalist, detective, talk show host, professor, vigilante, or writer – will suffice.
The most direct indictment of the trope of the rational modern hero comes at the end of “The Part about Fate.” The denouement of Part 3 involves the section’s protagonist, a Black American journalist known to his friends as Oscar Fate, following a group of Santa Teresa locals from a boxing match on to someone’s home. It is hinted that the woman Fate is interested in is in particular danger, (though of course the threat of violence hangs perennially over the heads of the women of Santa Teresa – Fate is not interested in this ongoing condition, he is interested in Rosa alone). Fate escapes the situation with the woman, Rosa Amalfitano, and brings her to her home, where her father insists that Fate take her back across the border with him for her own safety. At this point, it is important to note stylistic choices; Bolaño has not depicted Fate here as a hero. He was not able to identify the danger; he does not suggest any solutions to Rosa’s problem; he merely follows the commands of others to the extent that they align with his own romantic desire. Rosa and her father discuss their situation together strategically but also poignantly; this may be the last time they ever see each other. Fate understands none of this; he hardly speaks a word of Spanish.
Thus, although Fate is the figure in the driver’s seat, is the outsider who intervenes in the destinies of the local characters, is the savior of the damsel in distress, despite all of this, Fate is far from a conventional hero figure, especially since he would have accomplished none of this on his own. On the other hand, the force that Fate saves Rosa from is similarly depersonalized. Although the most predictable source of danger for her is her boyfriend, Chucho Flores, when Fate asks Rosa’s father if Chucho is “‘mixed up in [the killings]?’” Rosa’s father’s response is: “‘They’re all mixed up in it.’” Directly following this exchange, the make of car which has been connected throughout the work with the killings – a black Peregrino – is spotted outside the Amalfitano’s house, but the man who steps out of the car is not Chucho, but “‘a cop.’” Even the specification here only brings us to the level of profession, a category with hundreds of potentially violent members across the city.
As the time comes for Fate to save Rosa, he turns to her father to ask how the pair will leave the house, presumably imagining some kind of spy-thriller get-away. “‘By the door.’” Amalfitano answers, reminding Fate and the reader that this violence is not being staged for our entertainment. Fate responds to this situation, “as if it were a movie he didn’t entirely understand.” What is highlighted in Fate’s lack of understanding is not only his status as an outsider in Mexico, but also the way in which his understanding of reality has been conditioned by modern media. Fate expects this encounter – which, again, he doesn’t see as particularly heroic, since he has not identified the threat on Rosa’s life – to follow the conventions of filmic narrative. He is searching for the roles that would label and explain each figure’s actions. As is only natural to the modern mind, Fate is trying to fit the events he is experiencing into a familiar narrative structure, a structure based on logically motivated individual actors who can be definitively classified as good guys or bad guys. What 2666 insists on in this scene as in many others, is that such a structure is insufficient.
III - Those Fate Left Behind
An optimistic reader can be granted the conceit that Fate succeeds in saving the beautiful Rosa Amalfitano, but what of the women Fate did not save? The screen fades to black behind Fate’s car driving off into an Arizona sunset, leaving readers without the comfort of Hollywood fantasies as they turn the page into Part Four, which opens immediately with a corpse. The first sentence, the first of many like it, reads: “The girl’s body turned up in a vacant lot in Colonia Las Flores.” Although as veteran consumers of true crime and detective fiction we have been conditioned to speed past this sentence to more tear-jerking or gasp-inducing details, it is worthwhile to stay with this particular first sentence’s brutal straightforwardness. First of all: “The girl’s body turned up,” this formulation leaves no room for the finder or the leaver: neither detective nor murderer nor witness are centered. The girl herself is the only person present in this sentence, and yet, of course, she is dead. All she has left is her passive possession of a body; this body is not merely a shell (like the vacant lot it is found in), it is given the subject position in the sentence, it is the open phrase and the agent. Thus, our focus throughout this section must not be the would-be heroism of the police and detectives or the would-be evil genius or brutality of some killer, rather it is, as discussed above, the fact of death and the victim as one among many. As in the writing of Sergio González mentioned earlier, what is centered from the onset is not the individual actors, but the facts of the tragedy itself.
Throughout Part Four, what is asked of the empathetic reader is that they remain present in the face of death. This gesture necessitates a radical form of empathy for which no trite romanticizations of the victim will be either needed or accepted. In order to mourn, this radical reader requires absolutely no assurance that the victim is deserving; it is enough to know that she lived and died in the desert and that her life ended too soon. This minimal recognition makes visible the ideological grounding of so many accounts of the lives of victims, which argue for grief on the basis of the victim’s accomplishments, not only implying but enacting a hierarchy of those worthy of our empathy and those whose deaths will be forgotten. The women discussed throughout Part Four are treated equally: whether their bodies were claimed or not, whether their names were known or not, whether they were young or beautiful or hardworking or unconditionally loved or not.
Staying with the bodies of the women, facing their lives as irretrievably lost, is also a necessary first step towards seeing them as a collective, as the chorus of those fate left behind. The most crucial step in the creation of this collective is the acknowledgement that the one thing shared by all of them is the basic circumstances of the ends of their lives and the recognition that this is important enough of a fact that it keeps them from resting, separately, in peace.
The chorus of the dead women is explicitly acknowledged in the novel by the “seer” Florita Almada, who, importantly, also specializes in the material conditions of psychological disturbances in the living. It is clear from the moment of Florita’s first introduction to the reader that this character is not truly all-knowing; on the contrary, the source of her knowledge, even in the herbal remedies she swears by, has a questionable foundation. Beyond this, Florita’s understanding of the woes of the women of Santa Teresa is said to come from, “visions, the moon, pictures in the sand,” but most importantly from “the newspapers.” This detail reminds the reader that the news of the deaths, the weight of hundreds of deaths, is readily available throughout Mexico; i.e., it is not information, but perspective that is required to hear the wailing of Florita’s chorus. Florita is admittedly an uneducated woman, but her insight into the situation in Santa Teresa (a city she never visits, knows only from her visions and the media) is pivotal. Without Florita’s imagining of the murdered women as a united force, as an unsettled collective calling out for justice from beyond the grave, these victims might have remained isolated: spirits left alone in the desert or in the dump whose peace would be won when their individual murderers were brought to justice. What Florita shows the reader is that even those women whose killers were unequivocally identified and imprisoned cannot rest. What Florita sees is that these women are not on individual crusades for justice, but united as victims of one greater crime.
Although in death each individual is undeniably, irrevocably, tragically alone, by conceptualizing the victims as part of a greater whole, each of their deaths is given a significance it might otherwise lack. This is especially visible in the deaths of those women whose murderers are explicitly identified, such as the case of Erica Mendoza, a woman brutally murdered by her own husband for no explicitly stated reason. There is no reason to believe that Mendoza’s murderer was acting as a part of any organization which would therefore tie Mendoza into a group of victims of a single cartel, for example, or conspiracy. If the group of women were to be united merely by their shared status as victims of a single cartel, the narrative of their victimhood would be easily assimilated into the simple good guy-bad guy model, readymade for Hollywood. Including Erica breaks out of simple tropes of individualized morality in that her husband and killer is neither pre-established as morally repugnant nor motivated by specific rational factors. In fact, the atmosphere the night of Erica’s murder is explicitly described (a rare occurrence throughout Part 4), and it’s details are telling:
“[Erica’s] husband was a jealous man and often hit her. The night Olivárez decided to kill her he was drunk and his cousin was with him. They were watching a soccer game on TV and talking about sports and women. Erica Mendoza wasn’t watching TV because she was cooking. The children were asleep. Suddenly Olivárez stood up, got a knife, and asked his cousin to come with him.”
Erica Mendoza’s husband becomes a murderer and his cousin an accomplice to murder, but why? There are no passions. No fights. no drug trafficking or prostitution or pedophilic conspiracies. Instead there are only the everyday oppressive structures that uphold the average heteronormative household. The only additional element beyond the ordinary playbook of marital violence is the presence of the husband’s cousin, connecting Erica’s murder to the problematic of violent male bonding behaviours. The conspiracy that killed Erica, then, was no more secretive, no less insidious, than the patriarchy, as it exists in an environment of judicial impunity. This seeming senselessness requires the reader to look outside of the frameworks they are accustomed to, away from the overused tropes of jealous rage or personal vendettas. Instead, the cause of the murder needs to be found in larger-scale conditions, beyond individual logic or affect. This is a scale that no detective story or crime drama, or indeed legal systems as we know them, are equipped to work with. But if we do not see the systemic motivators of patriarchal violence, of judicial impunity, of systematic regional economic depravation and over-exploitation, and of the power of toxic group dynamics to embolden violent acts, if we do not see all of those factors which unite the murders of the 109 women of Santa Teresa, then Erica Mendoza’s murder can only be read as utterly senseless.
Another striking anomaly in Part 4’s annals of slain women is Perla Beatriz Ochoterena, who is included in the list although she may be the only one who was not murdered; Perla took her own life. As much as the reasons behind Perla’s decisions are repeatedly pondered, no melodrama is found that would satisfy a telenovela-conditioned audience. Instead, Campos prognosticates:
“What was it [Perla] couldn’t stand anymore? [...] Life in Santa Teresa? The deaths in Santa Teresa? The underage girls who died without anyone doing anything to stop it? Would that be enough to drive a young woman to suicide?”
Interestingly, rather than even assume some mysterious personal tragedy (since this has already been fairly satisfactorily ruled out by previous police investigation), our considerations are forced to move onto the structural. When all individualized narrativizations are stripped away, what is left is structural conditions: Perla was a young woman, living in a city in which dozens of young women are killed or go missing every year. Perla was a young woman in a place in which the lives of most of the population, regardless of gender, have been chronically, systematically neglected and undervalued. This systemic neglect is clear in the geographic contrast between the maquiladoras and the illegal dumps beside them as well as in the utter lack of effective police work, and one may assume that it would be tragically obvious in the public school in which Perla was employed as well.
On the scale of individual cases, especially those with certain explanations and concrete endings such as those of Perla and Erica, a modern framework of concise formal continuity would be sufficient. To the reader satisfied by such cheap closure, the unnamed victims will remain forever unfathomable, in the modern purgatory that is all a solipsistic, purely individually narrativized worldview has to offer. This point has been a central focus of the scholarly work of Saidiya Hartmann, for example in her “Venus in Two Acts,” wherein she writes the stories of two enslaved girls, reclaiming the individual personhood they lost to structural violence. Hartmann’s work is fundamentally fictional, in that it relies on unconfirmable content. As Hartmann herself often notes, she dances on the edge of the impossible, desperately longing to hear the voices of these women, and her instinct is undeniably a charitable and good one. But the deepest tragedy of the lives of these women lies in the fact of their loss of power, in the way in which their voices will never truly be heard. This tragedy is moved to the background of Hartmann’s project, but remains in the nearly unbearable foreground of Bolaño’s. Faced with very similar understandings of the core of atrocity, Hartmann and Bolaño move in opposite directions in their call to bear witness to it: one to what could have been and the other to the ultimate fact that whatever could have been is not. By staying with the facts of their deaths, Bolaño foregrounds structural violence: the conditions under which all of these women can be seen as one cohesive group, rather than that which would divide them.
What the inclusion of Erica Mendoza, Perla Beatriz Ochoterena, and the unnamed victims show is that the 109 killings discussed in Part 4 are not a meaningful set due to any master-narrative or super-villain behind the scenes, but rather because of the inescapable devastation of the devaluation of human life under rampant global neoliberalism. In a classic postmodern device, 2666 manipulates readers’ genre-conditioned expectation of an overarching plot and stretches this convention past its believable limit, thereby portraying its unsuitability to an increasingly fractured and involuted world. What can begin to address the problems of such a world, however, is attention to oppressive structures and systemic causation.
IV - The Men and Boys They Face
Brian McHale defined the literary postmodern as focused on the ontological, whereas modernist fiction, in his view, was concerned with the epistemological. McHale also extended this distinction to a generic analogy, pairing postmodern fiction with sci-fi and modernist fiction with the mystery. Interestingly, Bolano himself also described crime as “the symbol of the 20th century”, which is perhaps not so surprising when one remembers that it is along these very same lines that 2666 portrays the methods of the police procedural as well as the narrativization of the detective story or crime drama as inadequate to the serving of justice in the case of femicides. The 20th century has ended, and with it, the neat and manageable world in which even amateur detectives always find the killers, and criminals are unambiguously brought to justice. It is precisely because our questions have moved from the epistemological – in search of objective facts, of some bit of knowledge that will complete the cipher and bring a satisfying closure – to the ontological – where additional knowledge only serves to add texture to experience as it unfolds – that the revelation of information in itself discloses no narrative closure. Ontological questions are more fitting to the case of Santa Teresa’s femicides when one conceptualizes them as a state of being simultaneously experienced by practically the entire population of the town (not to mention those interlopers who recall our attention to global metropoles (the academics, Oscar Fate, etc.)) rather than isolated incidents confined to the lives of individual actors.
In 2666, the crimes and the criminals are not singular, and therefore do not offer any unidimensional, mystery novel style resolutions. In parallel, the police officers are not singular, but exist as an office full of mostly faceless figures in various uniforms. A perfect illustration of the collectivized amorality of Santa Teresa’s police precinct is portrayed on page 401:
“The policeman said there was a party in the cells, and he could go down if he wanted. [...] There were twenty people jammed into one of the cells. [...] The ones in the back were a shapeless mass of darkness and hair. It smelled of vomit. The cell must not have been more than ten feet square. In the corridor he saw Epifanio, who was watching what was happening in the other cells with a cigarette between his lips. He moved toward him to tell him the men were going to suffocate or be crushed to death, but with his first step he was silenced. In the other cells policemen were raping the whores from La Riviera. How’s it rolling Lalito? Said Epifanio, going to get in on the action?”
The above quoted scene features multiple collective actors: the police, the men, and the sex workers. The experience of the men is made clear through the atmospheric description of their circumstances. In such a situation, no individualized perspective would add substantial richness to the reader’s understanding of the experience of the group. The policemen as a collective agent perform one coherent crime. Their victim also exists collectively, as a unit to which one crime is committed. The two individualized figures present in this scene are Lalo Cura, the naive police officer in training qua mythical hero, and Epifanio Galindo, kingpin of corrupt dealings between Santa Teresa’ criminal elites and the police force. Intriguingly, their actions do not provide significant moral contrast to those of their colleagues. As the unnamed mass of officers assault the sex workers, Epifanio and Lalo look on. Their complicity is even further emphasized through the interweaving of Epifanio’s words into the fabric of the paragraph which sets the scene; typographically, Epifanio’s invitation to Lalo to join in is undivided from the assault itself. This image of the violence perpetrated inside the office of the police itself by a collective of officers left pointedly unidentified is central to the logic of 2666 as a whole, as read by the present study. The perspective 2666 takes to mass violence, as exemplified in this scene, is neither that of the perpetrators or of the victims. What is left, then, is a depersonalized consideration, nevertheless centered on human actions, i.e. on humans as they act and exist within groups.
Santa Teresa’s complacent homicide detectives, for whom any number of corpses is just more paperwork. This complacency is driven by a justice system in which murder is met with near total impunity and embodied throughout Part 4 of 2666 in the figures of lazy or distracted policemen. When the reporter Sergio González tries to interview a member of the force, for example, he is met with this situation:
“You must be wondering, he said as he adjusted his Desert Eagle .357 Magnum in its holster under his jacket, why the building is so empty. Sergio said the logical answer was that the inspectors were all out working. Not at this time of day, said Márquez. Why, then? Asked Sergio. Because today is the indoor soccer match between Santa Teresa police and our boys. […] As they were leaving the locker room, the inspector told him he shouldn’t try to find a logical explanation for the crimes. It’s fucked up, that’s the only explanation, said Márquez.”
This statement strikes the reader midway through Part 4, at which point one might justifiably have reached a point of exhaustion that would concede that it’s all just “fucked up,” as much of Santa Teresa seems to have accepted. Acceptance, from the perspective of the powerless, is hardly a choice. Acceptance from the perspective of those within the very machinery of oppression, is unacceptable. Sammer’s story moves us from one to the other: from a mere provincial administrator, to a perpetrator of genocide, simply through the mechanism of acceptance of delegated tasks, and a commitment to see them through. By emphasizing this perspective, 2666 puts the reader in the uncomfortable position in which a reaction of post-traumatic empathy or mourning is not enough. Bolaño demands in such moments, that one look into the heart of darkness, and see no tropes or excuses, but the complications of true evil in action.
The collective given voice through Florita’s visions is paralleled by other groups of victims addressed in the fifth part of the novel, a section which moves the reader through wartime Europe to witness multiple massacres. Unsettlingly, the groups in this section which are united by their shared suffering and deaths are not given voices of their own. This lack points us back towards the woman of Part 4, whose nightmare is ongoing (concurrent with both the beginning, the end, and the middle of the work), and whose suffering may provide insight into “the secret of the world,” according to the journalist on the case at the chronological end of 2666’s narrative, Gaudalupe Roncal. The women of Santa Teresa are united in a call for justice voiced by Florita Almada as well as redeemed in the journalistic work of Roncal and her predecessor, Sergio González. It is through their tireless advocacy that the women of Santa Teresa have some cause for hope.
V - The Killers in their own Eyes
To return, then, to Santa Teresa, let us consider the ways in which individual narrativizations fit into the situation of the border city’s epidemic of femicides. A trio of secondary thinkers will assist in this endeavor. The motives of killers like the husband of Erica Mendoza are granted hardly any narrative recognition, gesturing to systemic motivators as primary and personal passions as secondary, if indeed present at all. The differentiation here recalls a distinction identified by Chris Andrews, one of Bolano’s original English-language translators, which identifies two types of characters: the episodic and the diachronic. The first are characters whose stories fit into an individualist narrative model premised on their own development, overcoming, or heroism, while the second are characters for whom time is more cyclical than teleological, whose actions are not singularly directed toward some constitutive lack, who are not, in other words, modern protagonists from any narrated perspective. The line between the individually and the systemically motivated, though, is never truly clear in Bolaño, an author whose work, as Tobias Jochum put it in his “The View from the Distance,” is characterized by an overwhelming “dialectical ambivalence”, due to which it would be unjust to attempt to force the work into an argument for the primacy of one factor over another. One way of transcending this dichotomy, then, is presented by Sayak Valencia, for whom the motivation behind unspeakable crimes is a central focus.
In her seminal work Gore Capitalism, Valencia puts forth a far-reaching analysis of the real-world murders taking place on Mexico’s Northern border from the perspective of an activist poet and philosopher writing in Tijuana in the 2010s (half a decade after the original publication of 2666 and a full decade after Sergio González Rodriguéz’ Bones in the Desert). Overall, Gore Capitalism searches for a reason behind the overwhelming amount of extreme violence going on at the border in a way that incorporates sociological factors and historical conditions, but also individual decision-making. This unique combination of inputs results in an insightful analysis of the ways in which an endriago subject (a term she coins to describe proletarian Mexican men steeped in Neoliberal hyper-capitalist ideology, but without sufficient access to the means of wealth accumulation) might narrativize their own participation in a neoliberal capitalist world order. This narrativization relies on the ability to gain respect and self-worth if not through wealth (a pathway that is prematurely foreclosed due to historical political-economic conditions) than through performative acts of violence; when the accumulation of wealth is precluded, endriago subjects accumulate bodies, a destruction that functions as both resistance and compliance to a neoliberal world order in which the lives of the endriagos are perpetually devalued. Violence for the endriago subject simultaneously addresses multiple valences of their experience as marginalized figures in relation to their hyper-consumer (another of Valencia’s own terms) northern neighbors, filling the needs for a sense of belonging, “a sense of believable future”, a livelihood (especially through narco-trafficking), affirmation of masculinity, and other natural human needs.
2666 is abundantly clear, on the other hand, that it does not accept this individualized endriago logic of accumulation. Although violence as performative accumulation might explain very well the actions of endriago subjects from their own perspective, their perspective is not a central focus of 2666’s narrative, despite the fact that the fruits of their labor are prerequisite to its telling. An excellent example of an endriago subject would be a single Mexican man with a disturbingly high body count and a distinctive style of corpse disposal. Such a figure would align well with many reader’s expectations throughout their journey through Part 4 and this expectation is explicitly manipulated through the serial killer narrative the Santa Teresa police import from US-American FBI strategies, importing alongside it a US-American investigator as consultant. His work, along with the entire serial killer theory, are cast in irony and refuted at length. Although undoubtedly there are repeat killers at work in 2666 (as evidenced by idiosyncratic marks on some bodies which appear repeatedly), they are not granted the perverse respect the title of serial killer often prompts and neither are they granted any narrative space in which to explain what might have motivated their crimes. Rather than allowing any empathy with perpetrators, Bolano refuses to shift focus for a second away from the fact of the atrocity itself: 109 dead women in one small city, no matter who killed them.
What 2666, as well as the present study, are interested in, therefore, is not a straining of the epistemological framework of liberalism to encompass the brutal reality of mass death at the border, as magnificently set out in Valencia’s work. Rather than an adjustment of the modern epistemologies (empiricism, liberalism, etc.) which justify the work both of detectives and the serial killers they hunt, what both 2666 and the present study seek is a post-individualist mode of conceptualizing human experience. Although nearly all of the media we as western audiences have consumed would guide us toward individualized explanations of individual crimes, 2666 urges us to see the larger picture. It is through greater understanding of systematic causes of violence we may hope for a more peaceful future for all. Through formal literary gestures, 2666 urges its reader to reconceptualize human action, guilt and innocence, individuality and collectivity. While staying embedded in the specificity of a fictionalized town on Mexico's northern border, 2666 reaches out to global, particularly transatlantic, structures of power and histories of thought, meaning that this work and its implications are not only relevant at the border, but around the world.