A giant plume of dust, like the tail of a hallucinogenic coyote, and ninety-nine other similes from Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666

  1. The knife sharpener’s eyes narrowed until they looked like two lines drawn with charcoal.
  2. music like water tumbling over smooth stones
  3. like a child trying not to vomit
  4. he looked like a madman
  5. Like a child on the verge of tears.
  6. children scattering through the countryside like defeated soldiers
  7. a giant plume of dust, like the tail of a hallucinogenic coyote
  8. The sidewalk was gray but the sun coming through the branches of the trees made it look bluish, like a river.
  9. like a pig staring into the sun
  10. the tops of trees were visible like a green-black carpet
  11. he drifted like a ghost
  12. eyes were a brown so light they looked yellow like the desert
  13. letting the buckle dangle like a bell
  14. La Vaca stood motionless, waiting, like someone who walks down a random street and suddenly hears her favorite song, the saddest song in the world, coming from a window
  15. She fucks like someone on the brink of death
  16. like a hummingbird
  17. mazelike mountains
  18. like a gold nugget in a trash heap
  19. like a doll lost and found in a heap of somebody else’s trash
  20. like a procession of penitents with their purple or fabulous vermilion or checkered hoods
  21. Reinaldo felt a shiver descend his spine like an elevator, or maybe rise, or both at once
  22. A goddamn gash, like the crack in the earth’s crust they’ve got in California, the San Bernardino fault
  23. like a melon-colored pyramid, its sacrificial altar hidden behind smokestacks and two enormous hangar doors though which workers and trucks entered
  24. the world was like a creaky coffin
  25. like the stars
  26. corpselike pallor
  27. like dogs
  28. like extraterrestrials
  29. On the rare occasions when he laughed he sounded like a donkey and only then did his face seem bearable.
  30. Lying there with his ass in the air, Farfan looked like a sow, but Gomez fucked him regardless and they resumed their friendship.
  31. his eyes like a hawk’s as he strode that labyrinth of snores and nightmares
  32. For me, being in prison was exactly like being dumped on a Saturday at noon in a neighborhood like Colonia Kino, San Damian, Colonia Las Flores. A lynching. Being torn to pieces. Do you understand? The mob spitting on me and kicking me and tearing me to pieces. With no time for explanations.
  33. It’s like a noise you hear in a dream. The dream, like everything dreamed in enclosed spaces, is contagious.
  34. like a mosquito around a campfire
  35. paths off the highway that melted away like dreams, without rhyme or reason
  36. like a skull
  37. There were Cessna planes flying low over the desert like the spirits of Catholic Indians ready to slit everyone’s throats.
  38. like a madman
  39. He carried the amphetamines everywhere, like a tiny talisman that would protect him from evil.
  40. like commandos lost on a toxic island on another planet
  41. Gomez scooped the balls off the floor and remarked that they looked like turtle eggs. Nice and tender, he said.
  42. what it was like to be in purgatory
  43. like a flock of vultures
  44. the policemen, moving wearily, like soldiers trapped in a time warp who march over and over again to the same defeat, got to work
  45. like a free man
  46. she would go everywhere wrapped in bandages, like a mummy, not an Egyptian mummy but a Mexican mummy
  47. like an archaeologist who has just discovered an incredible bone
  48. like a girl who carefully unwraps, bit by bit, a present that she wants to make last, forever
  49. all the bandages slither like snakes, or all the bandages open their sleepy eyes like snakes, although she knows they aren’t snakes but rather the guardian angels of snakes
  50. they talked about freedom and evil, about the highways of freedom where evil is like a Ferrari
  51. like a troupe of gypsies heading into the unknown
  52. like a worm or an insomniac mole
  53. like a baby bird
  54. the steam was tinted green, an intense green, like a tropical forest, and when Garibay saw it he invariably said: fuck, that’s pretty
  55. they slunk out like vultures
  56. a long coffee shop like a coffin, with few windows
  57. like a squash ball
  58. women are like laws
  59. the slope of a hill that looked like a dinosaur or a Gila monster
  60. witchlike language and manner
  61. Living in this desert, thought Lalo Cura as the car, with Epifanio at the wheel, left the field behind, is like living at sea.
  62. like a fast-acting tranquilizer
  63. Sometimes he felt like a shepherd misunderstood by the very stones.
  64. like children hearing the same story for the thousandth time
  65. like somebody talking about medieval history or politics
  66. the night like a glove over the hotel
  67. that toadlike creature, that dumb, helpless greasy illegal, that lump of coal who in some other reincarnation could have been a diamond
  68. like someone talking in his sleep
  69. He could feel the Sonora night brushing his back like a ghost.
  70. And most surprising of all: tied around her head, like a strange but not entirely implausible hat, was an expensive black bra.
  71. like looking for a phantom
  72. Being a criminologist in this country is like being a cryptographer at the North Pole.
  73. It’s like being a child in a cell block of pedophiles.
  74. It’s like being a beggar in the country of the deaf.
  75. It’s like being a condom in the realm of the Amazons
  76. his neck long like a turkey’s
  77. we got out of there like a bomb was about to go off
  78. sinking like crocodiles in the swamp
  79. they spend money like water
  80. like a queen
  81. night crept like a cripple toward the east
  82. like a giant chapel
  83. like two whores allowed for the first time to dress their pimp
  84. like boiled fruit
  85. like a plaster cast
  86. like a statue
  87. ranches empty like shoe boxes
  88. like a puzzle repeatedly assembled and disassembled
  89. like a gift
  90. like a double spinal cord
  91. The truth is like a strung-out pimp.
  92. The truth is like a strung-out pimp in the middle of a storm, said the congresswoman.
  93. smiling and sniveling like a lap dog
  94. like an eternity
  95. trading puns like a couple of zombies
  96. like someone in a trance
  97. like a rat
  98. like Satan’s helpers
  99. like a mirror image
  100. like black holes

These similes are from “The Part About the Crimes,” the fourth part of 2666, a novel by Roberto Bolaño, in English translation by Natasha Wimmer.

47 or so similes from Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666

These similes are from “The Part About Amalfitano,” the second part of 2666, a novel by Roberto Bolaño, in English translation by Natasha Wimmer.

  1. It’s like a fetus
  2. he held the letter in his two hands like a life raft of reeds and grasses
  3. a doglike fervor
  4. a Turkish carpet like the threadbare carpet from the Thousand and One Nights, a battered carpet that sometimes functioned as a mirror, reflecting all of us from below
  5. standing there like a tiny and infinitely patient Amazon
  6. like pilgrims
  7. like mendicants or child prophets
  8. like someone who’s burned himself
  9. like sucking a small to medium dick
  10. like shooting a Zen arrow with a Zen bow into a Zen pavilion
  11. The lunatic, who was sitting down again, took it in the chest and dropped like a little bird.
  12. those days were like a prolonged parachute landing after a long space flight
  13. back and forth like a sleepwalker
  14. marched from the west like a ragtag army whose only strength was its numbers
  15. dropped down from the Pyrenees like the ghosts of dead beasts
  16. the floor waxer like a cross between a mastiff and a pig sitting next to a plant
  17. like a trick photograph that isn’t a trick, floating, floating pensively in the skies of Paris, weary
  18. like a memory rising up from glacial seas
  19. The University of Santa Teresa was like a cemetery that suddenly begins to think, in vain.
  20. It also was like an empty dance club.
  21. like a feudal lord riding out on horseback to survey his lands
  22. like provincial intellectuals
  23. like deeply self-sufficient men
  24. like a zombie
  25. like a medieval squire
  26. like a medieval princess
  27. Her hand was like a blind woman’s hand.
  28. like a cloud cemetery
  29. like a thick chili whose last simmer was fading in the west
  30. the coffinlike shadow
  31. purple like the skin of an Indian woman beaten to death
  32. laughing in a whisper, like a fly
  33. like an endoscopy, but painless
  34. slept like a baby
  35. I feel like a nightingale, he thought happily.
  36. like a lover whose embrace maddened the horse as well as the rider, both of them dying of fright or ending up at the bottom of a ravine, or the colocolo, or the chonchones, or the candelillas, or so many other little creatures, lost souls, incubi and succubi, lesser demons that roamed between the Cordillera de la Costa and the Andes
  37. very tan, like a singer or a Puerto Rican playboy
  38. A confident, mocking smile, like the smile of a cocksure sniper.
  39. like a joke
  40. something like laughter but also something like sorrow
  41. like the Greek state
  42. like an arrowhead
  43. burst out from a corner like someone playing a bad joke or about to attack him
  44. the slight shadow, like a hastily dug pit that gives off an alarming stench
  45. Something like the smoke signals
  46. military men behaved like writers, and writers, so as not to be outdone,
    behaved like military men, and politicians (of every stripe) behaved like writers and like military men, and diplomats behaved like cretinous cherubim, and doctors and lawyers behaved like thieves
  47. You’re like me and I’m like you. We aren’t happy.

A list of 81 (or more) similes from Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666

  1. a horrible and notably unhygienic bathroom that was more like a latrine or cesspit
  2. A rather ordinary picture of a student in the capital, but it worked on him like a drug, a drug that brought him to tears, a drug that (as one sentimental Dutch poet of the nineteenth century had it) opened the floodgates of emotion, as well as the floodgates of something that at first blush resembled self-pity but wasn’t (what was it, then? rage? very likely)
  3. the quadrangular sky looked like the grimace of a robot or a god made in our own likeness
  4. their incomprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings
  5. went on the attack like Napoleon at Jena
  6. demolished the counterattack like a Desaix, like a Lannes
  7. old Hanseatic buildings, some of which looked like abandoned Nazi offices
  8. like people endlessly analyzing a favorite movie
  9. the parade of immigrants like ants loading the flesh of thousands of dead cattle into the ships’ holds
  10. the little gaucho sounded like the moon, like the passage of clouds across the moon,
    like a slow storm
  11. his eyes shining with a strange intensity, like the eyes of a clumsy young butcher
  12. the lady would begin to howl like a Fury
  13. like an ice queen
  14. news spreading like wildfire, like a nuclear conflagration
  15. a rock jutting from the pool, like a dark and iridescent reef
  16. like a painting by Gustave Moreau or Odilon Redon
  17. I suffered like a dog
  18. now the fucking mugs are like samurais armed with those fucking samurai swords
  19. the appearance of the park, which looked to him like a film of the jungle, the colors wrong, terribly sad, exalted
  20. The words old man and German he waved like magic wands to uncover a secret
  21. like drudge work, like the lowest of menial tasks
  22. that abyss like hour
  23. Like the machine celibataire.
  24. Like the bachelor who suddenly grows old, or like the bachelor who, when he returns from a trip at light speed, finds the other bachelors grown old or turned into pillars of salt.
  25. like a howling Indian witch doctor
  26. like talking to a stranger
  27. like a whisper that he later understood was a kind of laugh
  28. like a hula-hooping motion
  29. you’re behaving like stupid children
  30. they attended like sleepwalkers or drugged detectives
  31. like missionaries ready to instill faith in God, even if to do so meant signing a pact with the devil
  32. they behaved not like youths but like nouveaux youths
  33. drifted through Bologna like two ghosts
  34. who once said London was like a labyrinth
  35. he could soar over the beach like a seagull
  36. which circled in their guilty consciences like a ghost or an electric charge
  37. they were so happy they began to sing like children in the pouring rain
  38. Their remorse vanished like laughter on a spring night.
  39. smiling like squirrels
  40. like a fifteenth-century fortress
  41. circles that faded like mute explosions
  42. Coincidence, if you’ll permit me the simile, is like the manifestation of God at every moment on our planet.
  43. a voice that didn’t sound like his but rather like the voice of a sorcerer, or more specifically, a sorceress, a soothsayer from the times of the Roman Empire
  44. like the dripping of a basalt fountain
  45. he and the room were mirrored like ghostly figures in a performance that prudence and fear would keep anyone from staging
  46. Aztec ruins springing like lilacs from wasteland
  47. like a river that stops being a river or a tree that burns on the horizon, not knowing that it’s burning
  48. the city looked to them like an enormous camp of gypsies or refugees ready to pick up and move at the slightest prompting
  49. the missing piece suddenly leaped into sight, almost like a bark
  50. It’s like hearing a child cry
  51. a kind of speed that looked to Espinoza like slowness, although he knew it was only the slowness that kept whoever watched the painting from losing his mind
  52. brief moans shooting like meteorites over the desert
  53. The words tunneled through the rarefied air of the room like virulent roots through dead flesh
  54. The word freedom sounded to Espinoza like the crack of a whip in an empty classroom.
  55. The light in the room was dim and uncertain, like the light of an English dusk.
  56. Literature in Mexico is like a nursery school, a kindergarten, a playground, a kiddie club
  57. the movement of something like subterranean tanks of pain
  58. The stage is really a proscenium and upstage there’s an enormous tube, something like a mine shaft or the gigantic opening of a mine
  59. like a bad joke on the part of the mayor or city planner
  60. like pure crystal
  61. like the legs of an adolescent near death
  62. his eyes were just like the eyes of the blind
  63. clung to the Chilean professor like a limpet
  64. grimaced like a madman
  65. like a reflection of what happened in the west but jumbled up
  66. The sky, at sunset, looked like a carnivorous flower.
  67. For the first time, the three of them felt like siblings or like the veterans of some shock troop who’ve lost their interest in most things of this world
  68. a smell of meat and hot earth spread over the patio in a thin curtain of smoke that enveloped them all like the fog that drifts before a murder
  69. long roots like snakes or the locks of a Gorgon
  70. like a shirt left out to dry
  71. reality for Pelletier and Espinoza seemed to tear like paper scenery
  72. lectures that were more like massacres
  73. feeling less like butchers than like gutters or disembowellers
  74. the boy on top of the heap of rugs like a bird, scanning the horizon
  75. She was like a princess or an ambassadress
  76. cry like a fool
  77. I felt like a derelict dazzled by the sudden lights of a theater.
  78. drew me like a magnet
  79. a cement box with two tiny windows like the portholes of a sunken ship
  80. a very soft voice, like the breeze that was blowing just then, suffusing everything with the scent of flowers
  81. The cement box where the sauna was looked like a bunker holding a corpse.

These similes are from “The Part About the Critics,” the first part of 2666, a novel by Roberto Bolaño, in English translation by Natasha Wimmer. I was originally going to try to record 666 similes, but then I didn’t. I’ll record similes from the other four parts of the novel though.

Blog about the first paragraph of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s surreal novel The Snail on the Slope

I have been listening to Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s 1972 novel The Snail on the Slope on audiobook over the last two weeks.

This new English translation is by Olena Bormashenko, who also translated Roadside Picnic and Hard to Be a God. (I listened to Roadside Picnic last year—this fantastic audiobook is read by Robert Forster—and read Bormashenko’s translation of Hard to Be a God after watching Aleksei German’s 2013 film adaptation. All are excellent). Chris Andrew Ciulla narrates the new audiobook of The Snail on the Slope and he does a very good job. 

Like I said, I’ve been listening to this new translation of The Snail on the Slope for a few weeks. I should be done (the book is only 9.5 hours), but I’ve listened to most of the chapters twice, and restarted the book once, because The Snail on the Slope is fucking bonkers. The novel is a wild trip, full of bizarre transformations, failed plans, jungle swamps,  marching ants, deadlings, mushrooms, foolish bureaucrats, and broken calculators—it’s abject, savage, funny, and just so fucking weird, a bizarre beast tumbling around on its own radical logic. I have about 3 hours left, but I don’t think I’ll muster a review—or a summary, I mean. Or anyway—

I mean, here’s my review: I love itI love its strange mucky weirdness, its refusal to clearly delineate the contact points of its allegorical satire, its sheer absurdity, its utter alterity. But a summary seems too much to ask so—

Here is publisher Chicago Review Press’s blurb—

The Snail on the Slope is a neglected masterpiece by Russian science fiction greats Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, who thought of it as their “most complete and important work.” now, in a stunning translation, this tour de force is ready to be introduced to a new generation of American readers. The novel takes place in two worlds. One is the Administration, an institution run by a surreal, Kafkaesque bureaucracy whose aim is to govern the forest below. The other is the Forest, a place of fear, weird creatures, primitive but garrulous people, and violence. Peretz, who works at the Administration, wants to visit the Forest. Candide crashed in the Forest years ago and wants to return to the Administration. Their journeys are surprising and bizarre, and readers are left to puzzle out the mysteries of these foreign environments. Brilliant, enigmatic, and revelatory, The Snail on the Slope is one of the greatest literary works to come out of Soviet Russia.

Here is the cover + blurb of Bantam’s 1980 edition of The Snail on the Slope (translated by Alan Meyers). Bob Larkin’s cover is more interesting to me than the “respectable” cover that Chicago Review Press put together so—

thsnlnthsl1980

This edition was apparently recalled, distribution was halted, and existing copies were destroyed.

The German cover (credited to Ute Osterwalder and Hans Ulrich Osterwalder) is also pretty cool—

dschnckmhn1978

But I promised in this blog’s headline to riff on the first paragraph, which isn’t that long, but in some ways reveals the sheer oddity of The Snail on the Slope. So here is that paragraph:

From this height, the forest looked like dappled, fluffy foam; like a gigantic, world-encompassing porous sponge; like an animal that had once lain hidden in wait, then had dozed off, becoming overgrown with coarse moss. Like a shapeless mass, hiding a face no one had ever seen.

The viewer at this height is one of the novel’s two heroes, Peretz, who dangles his feet over the forest that calls to him. I could go on about Peretz’s attraction to the unknowable forest, but let’s look instead at the similes the Strugatskys (and their translator Bormashenko) deploy here:

The forest is like

  1. foam
  2. a sponge
  3. a dozing, bemossed animal
  4. an indefinite mass with an unseen face

The utter alterity of the forest is announced at the novel’s outset. This shifting series of similes shows that the central space of The Snail on the Slope cannot have a fixed definition—it cannot even have a stable referent of similitude. Rather, the forest is ever-shifting, from the playful guise of a space of “fluffy foam” to the sinister aspect of a “shapeless mass” that hides an unknown (and unknowable) visage. The Strugatskys shuttle us from simile to simile, foregrounding one of the novel’s central themes—language has a limited purchase of reality. Peretz, a surrogate for the reader, cannot settle on a simile, which only entices him more: What is this place? What would it mean to know this place—in language? Significantly, Peretz is a linguist, but he—and the reader–have no training to properly comprehend what enfolds when The Snail on the Slope takes us into the forest. And this is the fucked up joy of the novel—one weird transformation morphs into another, similes unwinding in a stretch toward an ultimate referent that refuses to arrive on time.

(Probably not) All of the similes in Blood Meridian

It was like…

like a wild animal

ribs like fishbones

like thin red leeches

they drank like dogs

It was like a sermon

true as a spirit level

like a string in a maze

He was bald as a stone

like rival bands of apes

silently as a bird alighting

mute as a tailor’s dummy

men or creatures like them

they buried their stool like cats

like effigies for to frighten birds

Yonder sun is like the eye of God

They rode either side like escorts

dark falls here like a thunderclap

The men looked like mud effigies.

like an army asleep on the march

their chins in the sand like lizards

like some naked species of lemur

something like a pound of powder

like a man beset with bees or madness

black waters all alight like cities adrift

like beings for whom the sun hungered

great steady suck­ing sounds like a cow

fingers spiderlike among the bolls of cotton

the fires on the plain faded like an evil dream

abdomens like the tracks of gigantic millipedes

leather wings like dark satanic hummingbirds

us behind him like the disciples of a new faith

he come along and raised me up like Lazarus.

jerking and lurching like a deputation of spastics

holding the coins cupped in her hands like a bird

the mules clambering along the ledges like goats

they labored on sideways over the sand like crabs

shambling past the fires like a balden groundsloth

whores call to him from the dark like souls in want

Men whose speech sounds like the grunting of apes

A hardlooking woman with a wiry body like a man’s.

They were shambling along the road like dumb things

our mother the earth as he said was round like an egg

The watchers looked like forms excavated from a bog.

is voice passed from him like a gift that was also needed

the old man sitting in the shrubbery soli­tary as a gnome

the parasol dipping in the wind like a great black flower

in his sleep he struggled and muttered like a dreaming dog

dragging themselves across the lot like seals or other things

an old anchorite nested away in the sod like a groundsloth

blackened and shriveled in the mud like an enormous spider

the kid behind him on the mule like something he’d captured

he had codified his threats to the one word kill like a crazed chant

the squatting houses were made of hides ranged like curious dorys

little cloven hoof-prints in the stone clever as a little doe in her going

a watered figure like the markings of some alien and antique serpent

The shadows of the smallest stones lay like pencil lines across the sand

the top of the sun rose out of nothing like the head of a great red phallus

the tent began to sway and buckle and like a huge and wounded medusa

he comes down at night like some fairybook beast to fight with the sailors

the blackened rings of the burnedout fires lay in the road like bomb-craters

Buzzards shuffled off through the chaff and plaster like enormous yardfowl

he naked bodies with their wounds like the victims of surgical experimentation

a deeper run of color like blood seeping up in sudden reaches flaring planewise

Then he waded out into the river like some wholly wretched baptismal candidate.

the barman labored over the floor toward him like a man on his way to some chore

He looked like a great clay voodoo doll made animate and the kid looked like another.

the burnt tree stood vertically in the still dawn like a slender stylus marking the hour

he looks like a raggedyman wandered from some garden where he’d used to frighten birds

the bloody stump of the shaft jutted from his thigh like a peg for hanging implements upon

The wagons drew so dry they slouched from side to side like dogs and the sand was grinding them

They crossed a vast dry lake with rows of dead volcanoes ranged beyond it like the works of enormous insects. Continue reading “(Probably not) All of the similes in Blood Meridian”

Ugly/beautiful (Wittgenstein)

Screenshot 2015-08-05 at 12.05.32 PM

From Culture and Value.