Friday, August 12, 2011

Chekhov egregiously twitted

Adam Roberts on deliberate massive flouting of Chekhov's law of relevance (in the first part of the novel 2666 by Roberto Bolaño):
The most striking thing about Bolaño’s style is what you might call its egregious twitting of the Chekov principle. If Bolaño were to have a character hammer a nail into the wall at the beginning of Act 1 not only would the character not hang himself upon it at the end of Act 3, but he would spend Act 1 hammering nails all over the place, selling his hammer to a character who never appears again, describing elaborately detailed but wholly oblique dreams, observing, doing and thinking a blizzard of things that seem to have no relationship to the larger pattern.
[a] broken toilet is mentioned […] several times, and Pelletier even has a detailed dream about it. Is it relevant? Does it, perhaps, symbolize something important about this tale, about waste, about shit, about gaping absences […] ? Or is it just another element in a shifting mosaic of data, some relevant, most not, because that’s what the world is actually like? The problem with Chekov’s nail is that, once you’re aware of the principle, it constrains the audience’s response: like a whodunit in which there are only two characters, it closes down your interpretive options. Bolaño works hard against that.

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