“Two Thousand Six Hundred and Something”: a lecture about performing a text

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Photo by Maria Baranova-Suzuki

Lecture performance, 110 minutes with intermission.

This lecture performance began with what I considered good journalism. In December 2015, American Theatre magazine hired me to write an article on the Goodman Theater’s adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666. Robert Falls, who’d steered the project to fruition, told me a remarkable story about how it all began: On vacation in Barcelona in the mid-2000s, he saw posters all over the city with a photo of “pink crosses in the desert, and this mysterious number, 2666.”

As Falls recounted it, the posters, he learned, announced the publication of Bolaño’s posthumous masterpiece in paperback (the book having originally been released in 2004). I set out to find the image for the article–it’s a great story!–but didn’t have much luck until, eventually, I found an image meeting the description. The only problem? It wasn’t for a book, it was for a theatrical adaptation that pre-dated his own by a decade, from Spanish director Àlex Rigola.

The article I wrote for American Theatre was mostly concerned with translating Bolaño’s long, digressive, multi-part narrative into a script, but nagging me the entire time was a different question: What does it mean to translate the violence contained in the novel into a visual image, for the stage?

The heart of 2666 concerns the very real feminicide that’s been occuring in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, since at least 1993. But the novel is at least as much about how violence–feminicide or otherwise–is represented as it is about these events. Not only does the novel employ its own distinctive literary devices, but it delves deep into film, pornography, visual art, and literary depictions of violence. Its primary concern, in essence, is how we are to understand violence and interpret it in a larger frame, however seemingly oblique and obscure it may be in the present. In fact, this the best sense I can make of the novel’s enigmatic title (which actually occurs in a different Bolaño novel), as a future date of reckoning, a sort of vanishing point in the future, from the perspective of which that which is hidden in the present is revealed and knowable. Continue reading