“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.

The inability to comprehend or to place within a frame of sense-making is a central theme of the novel, and the need (and failure) to make sense of, to understand, lies at the heart of its famous fourth section, “The Part About the Crimes,” in which 108 murders of women are presented as a mystery that challenges the ability of any authority to “solve”. The risk for the artist adapting the novel, then, is self-evident: Given a series of atrocities that defy tidy explanation, what crimes of representation do we become guilty of when realizing such images of atrocity onstage? Much as Falls mistook a play bill for a book ad, while images always communicate something, there are gaps between what their makers intended and what their readers take away.

Employing fiction, lecture, and re-performance, Two Thousand Six Hundred and Something manifests various representations and artistic enactments of violence and atrocity in an attempt to expose the hidden ideologies of representation, and to intervene in a discourse that includes now three stage adaptations and a forthcoming TV series based on the novel.

Two Thousand Six Hundred and Something was initially presented at JACK in Brooklyn on September 19, 2016. JACK’s programming is made possible by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, The DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund, the M & T Charitable Foundation, the Mental Insight Foundation and by The Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Credits:

Conceived, developed, written & performed by Jeremy M. Barker

Production Manager: Patrice Miller

Design Support: J. Gustavson

Research Assistant: Julia Cavagna

 

 

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